When the soul pops out for a while the pains of life ebb away. Brief that time might appear, but welcome when the world is wretched and carnage sprawls everywhere.
A while back the story sequence dropped into a field tent with two new characters called Ras and Morgan. It was suggested I visit them again so try I have. Alas it has called upon other tales. Places and creatures keep popping up. A sorcerer, Dragon Stones and places belonging in other places. I blame the Amanuensis, who, as an aside, does not appear here!
To Morgan it wasn’t the blood and guts, it was the smell of death lingering in a halo around those with no way back to life. Outside the field tent an unfavourable breeze lapped against the tent. With it the scent of those left alone as the battle moved on. With it came the sounds too. Subtle nuances amidst the background roar. She likened it to picking out a songbird from the dawn chorus. One sound from many. A skill her mum used to say.
“To listen to one voice among many is such a wondrous thing Morg… it shows you can concentrate and not drift away with the wargs.”
Here it was a curse. Tuning into a man pleading to his God for deliverance while bleeding out or begging for aid was not wondrous at all. Even her pet name seemed appropriate now…Morg. That was what this place had become.
Her conscious was drifting back now. Integrating with her body again. The pain was returning. As were sounds, even if they were lying behind a concussion wall. Her head hurt and she could feel a dampness dripping down her face.
The field tent was a husk. Burnt out with rag vestiges drifting in the wind. A lump formed in her throat. She swallowed it quickly. Now was not the time for sadness. That would burn and grow later.
She tried to recollect what happened. Ras deep inside some lost souls innards trying to repair the impossible. Stretcher bearers stacked up outside waiting for the nod from one of the tents where duplicates of her and Ras held court.
A blinding flash and a sound like thunder rocking the earth. Ras had just suggested she check the next dying hero waiting for surgery. It was then something hurled her back against an outcrop of rock turning her world into darkness. She probed deeper, but lost it as pain blurred her vision again into the calming void.
Ras, on the other hand, had a sixth sense. Or was it an instinct suggesting gambling might be a profitable career? Better than field surgeon at least. It told him to get Morgan clear of the tent. Which he had. Then to leave through the rear flap to fetch more water. Something a menial could do, but not this time. This was more than instinct, it was foresight. He could see a force wall spreading. Not a vision as such, more a replay in his mind. Deja vu they might call it elsewhere. He put it down to his ties with the elf. She could put things into his head.
“Easily lead Ras,” she used to say
“Never,” he’d reply.
“Then why are you stood in the pond again?”
They used to laugh at that in happier times. Later she’d say simply, “Heed it Ras, one day it will save your life.”
That day was now. The oncoming storm whose wind was about to breathe death to the back ranks of a ghost army whose final tier was the field hospital.
Yish had sent more. Naz and her lost in the Barrow Woods. A small group separated as their ranks broke. Save by confusion magic enabling them to escape. Long enough to send to Ras.
Just before the force wall hit he’d dropped into a gully. It lay behind the tents, falling away toward the mountains. Some primordial flute scoured in the land when ice flowed freely. He had hoped Morgan would avoid the main surge. He’d find her after and together they could head for the foothills. From there he hoped more would arrive from Yish.
He heard the roar of the wall arrive. Saw it blast rocks away from above his sanctuary. Watched tents rally in the wind then burn. With it the dying found peace and the living found death.
As with many things, time slowed down. Creeping forward in adversity, speeding up when less so. By the time the wall passed over, the battlefield was an extermination. He saw Morgan lifeless with blood curdling from a gash in her head. Checking was not possible. The camp was a already overrun by the horde. A union of races and creeds under one banner. To serve the darkness in Ang Nafud. What wasn’t slain or pillaged was enslaved or burnt.
He hoped, no, prayed, Morgan was dead. If she was unconscious to remain so until the darks waves ebbed and moved on. If they found otherwise… he stopped there. Some things were best not dwelt upon.
Alone he slipped deeper into the gully and headed toward the mountain where another beast sat watching while a split tongue tasted the air.
Steel rested against skin. The blade, once honed enough to slice air, now flecked from battle. It, like the flesh it caressed, was bloody. The eyes belonging to the girl showed fire and fear in equal proportions.
I want the pubescent witch alive, fool.
The wretched felt ice crawl through his mind. Complying he sheathed the sword and grabbed hair, forcing the girl forward. Another roped her wrists together, then threw her onto his shoulder. Together they headed back into the growing fog gloom.
“Dammit Yish, that was a massacre.”
“I know Naz, they got Morgan too.”
“No, I was able to send to him in time.”
“Where’s he heading?”
“The Dragon Yard of long ago.”
“The mountain, surely dwarves have heard that legend.”
“Aye,” Naz spat blood on the ground. “The graveyard guarded by the haunted wyvern.”
Yish looked at him, “You’re injured.”
“I’ll survive,” he grinned. A feature lost behind a beard, now singed in places. “But Yish, you seem on edge.”
It’s more than a legend. I’ve read the elven texts remember. Long ago our ancestors laid waste to the dragons. Deceived by the shadow risen again. That mountain was sacred to them. The graveyard guarded by a Black Dragon. It’s Key Stone was all that tied it to us.”
Naz noticed her eyes glaze into some distant lore. He’d seen it before, usually when her words lost him. “Thing is, we’re on the opposite side of the horde host to the mountains now.”
Yish dropped back into the present. “Naz, please tell me you’re aware of where we are right now.”
“Trees and woods, your world surely.”
“And you know why it’s called The Barrow Woods yes?”
Naz felt his skin begin to crawl. There was an undertone of urgency in her tone. He shook his head.
He did, and doing so disturbed him more. Nothing. No birds or insects. No rustling of voles in the undergrowth. If the battlefield was death then here was the place the dead lived on. “The Wight Wood?”
Yish nodded. “The texts beyond the Elder Mages. Do you never read? The sorcerer passed through here sacrificing his guard to the undead as payment to pass. He travelled through here to the Dragon Yard and beyond into the badlands seeking the green Dragon Stone.”
“So we are once again in trouble.” Naz sighed trying to ignore pain trying to eat into his head. “A bad day all round. Routed on the field, Ras lost to the east, us to the west, both about to touch historical myths that aren’t and little Morgan taken by the horde.” He thought about that, “Why take her though?
“Because of what she will become.”
This was awesome, Gary! I love the role that Morgan is growing into. I knew big things — both terrible and heroic — lay in her future. I really look forward to seeing what happens to her now. I wonder, was Ras right in thinking she’d be better off dead?
Speaking of Ras, I do feel sorry for him — sensing that wall coming (or being told it was coming, rather). What do you do when you know death is coming for you and those you tend to? What do you do when you know you can’t save them all? Do you die trying to save as many others as possible, or do you do what you can and then save yourself — as Ras has done here — to live to fight another day? I wonder whether this will prey on his mind, survivor’s guilt and all that.
Also, Yish and Naz’s conversation was rather unnerving. “The sorcerer passed through here sacrificing his guard to the undead as payment to pass.” The thought of this mage, dragging his guard along just to use them as sacrificial fodder is incredibly dark — I wonder, will they stumble across this shadowy character? Evokes LotR with Sauron and Saruman — this sense of one who is immensely powerful.
Brilliant as usual, Gary! 🙂
Too kind Joshua. I’m still toying with Morgan and Raz. They get a transient mention in Temporalis, but as I said on your post, I dip in time and that ones long after the battle. I really ought to join some dots up. Although it back story becomes a prequel maybe that will occur while writing it. Mind you, my WIP mojo is pretty far away at present.
Ras was well aware of the wretcheds method of war relating to prisoners. Friends like Yish and Naz don’t hold back with that aspect of levelling the mind. I’m unsure yet how Morgan fits in with Raz. Daughter, step daughter, foster equivalent if parents were killed by the horde previously. I’m sort of liking that slightly as it might mean they were hunting her before and Ras took her in to shield her. That may well alter the battle intention too. The force wall being deployed as a certain antagonist located her presence. Hmm stream of conscious thinking lol.
It could explain your point though. Feeling sorry for him. It gives him a massive tie to Morgan. That and a huge guilt trip as you mention. Might use that as a tester if I get to write his escape route to The Black… out of the frying pan into the fire as it were!
Like others, I am intrigued by the ending.
Is there supposed to be a hidden meaning behind the different font sizes or am I reading too much into it?
Sadly the font thing is not some uber hidden meaning, but an issue bringing text in that seems to confuse my editor here as it brought HTML formatting coding in that WP decided was bad so displayed it thus in annoyance. Odd because it’s no different to what I’ve done before. That said, scheduling and comment access also went AWOL this time too. I thought I’d fixed the font thing last night and looking this morning it seems OK at my end. It’s possible you commented while I was investigating the problem 🤕
You’re not the only one intrigued by the ending either. It sort of created itself… although I have a nagging feeling Morgan might become someone I’d prefer her not to be!!
Thanks for commenting and mentioning the font thing too!!
Nice that you leave the reader thinking about Morgan… and even though she appeared lifeless, is she really dead? Taken by the horde because of what she might become.. You’ve set the scene well. There’s alot to hang on to as well.. elven texts, the black dragon and its keystone.. and more.. an interesting read.
I’m thinking it might be better if she were! I have an idea of who she becomes, but I quite like Morgan so I’m thinking of stream of conscious to see if there’s a rescue potential.
All this is woven into Dragon Stone (working title) which I’m sure you’ve seen bits of from BUYB. These are sort of back story pieces to help develop characters. Much more fun than sitting with a character sheet and filling it in from scratch ha, ha.
Thanks Marian and next time I’ll try and get the blasted font formatting sorted 🤔
I have to admit my favorite sentence was the last: “Because of what she will become….” Wow! Morgan seemed like ‘just’ a young woman in her previous appearance, a character who was more a part of the story than one who moves it. Finding out her role may be significantly more crucial reminds of the saying to watch out for the quiet ones! I liked how Yish and Naz got worked into this story, also. I was unaware they were part of the same battle until Ras had his ‘deja vu’ moment. There is one detail I’m not sure about: Was Yish close enough to see the force wall coming and warned Ras, or did she ‘sense’ it despite her distance and warned Ras anyway? I have to suspect the second option since the bad guys took off with Morgan, and you’d think Yish and Naz would have intervened if possible…. Lots of fun learning about these characters!
I also have to admit initially Morgan was just supposed to be a young innocent that was intended to show the fear and catch all of war. It was a readers comment that made me reconsider and slot it into something I’ve already written about. A creation that had a backstory hole that might just have been plugged.
The quiet ones I play on a lot too. It leaves people unsure who in the cast might develop into core characters later. Obviously Yish and Naz are pretty much established. Both were in the heart of the battle too. Yish is strong in detecting magical auras. She saw the force wall, but quite late. Early enough to get her and Naz away from its main impact and “send” a mental warning to Ras who was at the rear of the battle dealing with casualties. By the time he got that the wall had already hit the actual battlefield. That left no time to actually grab Morgan and take her with him.
You’re intuition is good Abe, your interpretation of events is indeed true. If you can picture a large battlefield then consider Yish and Naz are at one edge while Morgan and Ras are at the other. The end Ras is running to is not that safe because of The Black (the wyvern referred to), the end Yish and Naz are at equally naff as that’s full of wights. The middle ground with Morgan…well she’s pretty much in trouble too. All in all, not a good day for the protagonists methinks!
Thanks for the detail in the comment too. Roll on next time now as I’m keen to discuss the IMP!
Yeah! I can comment 🙂
As I’ve already chatted to you about this post 🙂 you already know how I liked it. The ending is a cliff hanger for sure and leaves the reader thinking – what in the world, does that entail? lol. Nice job, yet, again even if you felt it was a little disjointed.
Yes, thanks for letting me know there was a commenting issue too. Re-theme must have reset the dashboard settings!
Just need to figure out why it’s formatting the post badly now!!
As for leaving the reader thinking… I’ve no idea as the writer either… very stream of conscious this one!