The Hunt of Dominance: Creative Writing Award Winner

Our final assignment for the Novel Project was to vote on each other’s stories according to several categories. Some included best protagonist, best setting, best opening/closing lines, etc. I was blessed with the award of “best quote.” That’s fun. I was a poet before I was a novelist, so I guess I’ve thought a lot about phrases, words, and how they fit together. But anyhow, here’s the quote:

A day will come when death will die, and in that day our hope realized…

Actually, I repeated variants of that five times throughout the story, the goal being to tie it all together in something I call the “anchor.” If you look, just about every story has one.

The flagship honor of receiving an award was the right to post the below artwork, with the catchphrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.” I’m honored, and I look forward to using both as life marches on.

the pen is mightier than the sword

The pen is mightier than the sword.

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S12: Driving me Crazy part3

Editing notice: This is part of a very long, somewhat boring story that was assigned as part of the Creative Writing class. If you wish to read something more succulent, please feel free to scroll down.

Well, this is it. The final segment of our round robin story, and the last assigned post of this year. It’s been driving me crazy, you might say. But you’re here to read the story, not my thoughts on the class. So here you are–may it ooze blessing for all who read it.
Enjoy!

Amy jerked awake from the nightmare. It had plagued her constantly, even weeks after leaving the hospital. She knew she had gone through trauma. She knew there was no murder—her mind had created it. What with being kidnapped, being knocked out, and lying in a coma for three months, the hallucinations were understandable. Laura, doctor-by-day-CIA-agent-by-night, had warned her that with trauma often came bad dreams and day-time flashbacks. But no matter how real they seemed, looked, or felt, she would always wake up in the real world.

As hard as it was for Amy, it was even harder for Zach. After coming home, she learned the murdered woman—also the agent killed in her dream—had been especially close to Zach. Jessica MacKaerning had been Zack’s fellow agent, best friend, and as of her doomsday, fiance.

Amy shook her head, berating herself. There was no murder, why did she keep forgetting? “I saw Jessica yesterday—she and Zach love each other. I’m trapped inside a dream world. It’s a furious cycle, like a prison or something where I keep “waking up” to yet another dream. I have to find a way out of this imaginary world!”

She gripped the sheets in white-knuckled, sweaty fists, trying to clear her mind. “Okay, the only time a dreaming person knows she’s dreaming is during lucid dream. In that case the person can either command the dream or wake up.” She tried to grow wings and fly out the window, but failed. “Neither is happening, so I must be awake.”

Satisfied, she breathed a sigh of relief. Before long she began to nod off again, but was wakened by a sound at her window. It had been opened from the outside, and the young immortal man from her dreams was climbing through it into her room.

Slowly, the image of the man began to transform into that of a fully-armored cybernetic penguin wielding a cavalry sword and a rocket launcher. The penguin waved at her and began speaking in what Amy thought sounded like Polish. Awake–yeah right–awake my FOOT!

Amy wrestled her mind awake, and found herself alone in her own room again, panting and breathing hard. “I need something to keep me wake… like coffee… energy drink… Monster… yeah…

She stood up and softly crept her way into the kitchen, pulled a drink from the fridge and opened it, then padded back to her silent room. But it wasn’t silent. As she thought before the dream of the penguin, (and where that came from, she had no idea) there was the immortal man, a dashing smile on his face. Amy tried to wake up like before, but couldn’t. She felt very, very awake.

As if on cue, a lizard barbarian riding a jet-ski crashed through the wall of her room, embedding his vehicle in her bed and cursing in Latin. The penguin Amy had seen previously had been riding with the barbarian, and presently slapped him with its sword, still speaking in polish. Though there was no apparent sign that the two could understand one another, both of them seemed to be bothered by the perpetual apparition known as the immortal man, prompting the penguin to fire his rocket launcher at the specter. This caused everyone in the room except the barbarian to lose their eyebrows–because the barbarian had no eyebrows, being a lizard.

Amy grabbed her hair and screamed at the top of her lunges. She fell backwards into the sofa and slipped back into reality. Jessica ran over her to her. “What happened?”

Amy turned to look at Jessica, unsure of whether or not she was real. Shrugging, she muttered in a toneless voice, “The nightmares…the visions…its all returning, again. This time it’s stronger. It’s like someone out there is in my head, trying to turn me insane.”

Jessica stared hard at her friend, before asking, “I need you to fight this Amy; let’s start with something simple–do you remember who I am?”

Amy blinked, trying to convince herself that Jessica was not dead. She was alive, standing right there.

Jessica smiled and pulled her dark brown hair out of her face, saying, “I’m your sister, at least since being engaged to your brother almost four months ago. By the way, is he staying with you and your parents for now, or did he get dragged back to the Agency?”

Amy frowned, grumbling, “I don’t know. Right now I’m not sure about anything; I’ve been through penguins, immortals, and telepathic doctors… I’m pretty sure I’m hungry though–got anything to eat?”

Jessica grabbed her by the arm and led her into the kitchen. Not unwillingly, Amy sat down at the dinner table, staring curiously at her friend.

“Zach says you’re into baking cookies,” Jessica started a little small talk while she pulled various ingredients out of the refrigerator.

Things were finally starting to get back to normal. Amy heard a small pop in the distance, just before Jessica collapsed to the ground, dead. A sniper, Amy thought, though she wasn’t sure how she knew that. Following her instincts, she thrust her arm in the direction of the noise and felt something slide down her arm like grease before flying off her fingertips–a bolt of lightning. The lightning fired in the direction of the sniper and Amy could hear a man screaming in agony in the distance.

Amy’s body moved, seemingly without her willing it too. She knelt down by the lifeless form of Jessica and placed her hand on the bullet wound. The projectile floated back out of her body, flesh healing behind it. Jessica’s eyes flashed open and she sat up unsteadily.

“Amy, Amy, what’s wrong?” came a foggy, swirling voice. Amy shuddered out of the waking dream to find a perfectly normal, mortal Jessica peering into her eyes with deep concern. She held a can of coffee that apparently had made the pop noise when she opened it.

Then suddenly, through an open window came a real gunshot, and both girls immediately dropped to the ground. Amy saw a spurt of blood coming from an ugly gash on Jessica’s upper arm.

“Okay, postpone the cookies,” gasped Jessica as if she were trying to lighten the situation for Amy’s sake. “We need to get out of here… Zach!” Zach had already rushed into the room with a raging expression on his face. He tried to pinpoint the gunman’s position outside the door, holding an assault rifle ready for when he did.

Another bullet barely missed Zach before he ducked down next to Amy.

“Get in the car!” he yelled, “I’ll lay down cover fire!” Gunshots rattled through the house as Amy and Jessica ducked toward the garage. They jumped in Zach’s heavily-armored covert SUV, watching the garage door open with painful slowness. As Zach turned the key and stepped on the gas, a massive orange fireball engulfed the vehicle, but a moment later they escaped the ruins of the house.

Jessica leaned back in the passenger seat as the car rapidly bumped down the gravel road. She closed her eyes with an anxious sigh. “I’ll never get used to that kind of thing. Thank God there were no people in there!”

Amy was curled up in the back seat, clutching her head so tightly her fingernails dug into her scalp. She found herself teetering on the edge of reality again, and she struggled to reason it away. True, her parents were at a conference in the city, but then why were they sitting in the car next to her, laughing and discussing the relevance of microbiology?

“Dear? Look, this is a medicine I picked up from the hospital today. It should help you,” stammered her mom anxiously.

“Mother, am I crazy?” asked Amy, her fingers tangled in her matted, sweaty hair.

“Well…” stammered her mother, thinking back to the days and weeks of screaming dreams that bordered on hallucinations. She absently tapped the bottle of prescription medication against her palm. “No dear. You’re not crazy. But seriously, take the meds. The doctor said there’s enough sedatives in there to drop a cow for a week.”

Amy put her face in her hands and tried to shake off the sticky feeling of abnormality. “So I’m a cow now. That’s… pleasant.”

Amy’s mother tapped the rattling bottle gently against Amy’s bent head. “Take them. I know everything that’s happened has been very hard, and you’ve been bumped around to the point of almost brain-damage.

“But for own happiness and for my peace of mind, you need to be able to move away from it all, sweetie. Here,” she placed two pills next to a glass of water on the table, “Take these and then go get showered and dressed. We only have three hours left until the wedding, and I don’t you on the stage screaming that Zach and Jessica have turned into giant purple squids in medieval garb.”

Amy swallowed the pills and rose, grinning. “Mom, the image that conjures is deeply amusing. Okay, got it. Going.”

There was a twinge of regret in Amy’s mind as the sedatives started to kick in. Being insane was a high like no other, due to a sense of intense focus and clarity. “I will miss the madness,” she whispered silently to herself, “And the chaotic mental inferno that burned brightly within my mind. Who wouldn’t miss a world where anything is possible? Even now, I can only hope that I am seeing reality. There is one thing I do know–and that’s Zach’s love for Jessica. I will see them happily married if it’s the last thing I do.” With this thought, Amy fell into slumber.

It seemed suddenly that she had awoken from a deep sleep, or time-traveled a few days into the future. But there she stood, underneath the flowers and silk around a marvelously decorated balcony. Clothed in a pink satin dress, Amy looked up to see Zach gaze into Jessica’s eyes and say the words, “I do.”

Like clockwork, at the worst possible moment, her old friends Lizard and Penguin showed up, shuffling in the back door with grins on their faces. A righteous fury boiled up inside Amy, but she bit her tongue, furiously thinking, Not today–NOT IF I CAN HELP IT. Reaching out with her hand, she sent a purplish bolt of lightning at them, instantly killing the two duo—again. No one else noticed the specters besides Amy. Turning away, she caught her breath when she recognized the young immortal man from her dreams, sitting in the front row of the audience. She tensed, waiting for him to begin his attack. But he only glanced at her lazily, and gave her a knowing wink.

Is he really there? Amy wondered in her head, Could it be possible? She rose from her seat–following his lead–and met him in the middle of the aisle. On an impulse, she kissed him, her long-lost lover, and desperately prayed that she wasn’t kissing a phantom.

I’m not supposed to be doing this. Mom said something about making a scene. Oh for crying out loud, what’s the fun of being insane if you don’t make a scene? Fine, I’m crazy, no matter what anyone says! And I love it, and as long as I accept the fact that I live both in reality and a world of insanity, EVERTHING WILL BE GREAT.

Looking back, she couldn’t remember how long she’d been like this. But she no longer wanted to focus on the past, but on the future. She knew there were great things ahead of her. And so she continued to look ahead, but with one last reminisce on the past, she made one decision. She would never play around with her brother’s laptop, EVER AGAIN.

THE END.

S12: Driving me Crazy part2

Editing notice: This is part of a very long, somewhat boring story that was assigned as part of the Creative Writing class. If you wish to read something more succulent, please feel free to scroll down.

Part 2 of the creative writing class’s round robin story.  This is where it starts to get crazy. Just try and keep the plot straight in your head, I dare yeh.

Though we were allowed only three sentences at a time, there was no restriction on the length of those sentences. I had a time breaking up some of the *ahem* Kingly ones, and there might still be a flaw or two. Please feel free to let me know.

Just kidding. Hannah saved us from the clutches of sci-fi, and that’s worth a 100-word sentence or two. This is driving me crazy…

The shield lowered as the air shook with the sound of helicopters. A large man in black picked Amy up and asked, “This is her?” Someone confirmed this, and he said, “Amy, come with me, there’s a few things we need to explain to you.”

Feeling safe at last, Amy followed the man to a helicopter. Noise drumming in her ears, she watched the cityscape below her as they neared an airport.

Three hours later, Amy sat in a conference room in a part of the world she didn’t recognize. The officer sitting in front of her smiled. “I know all this is overwhelming Amy, and you probably won’t believe me, but the fact is you are special, and your safety is more important than that of our entire world.”
Her heart thudded unevenly as her stomach flipped. “This isn’t a big practical joke, right?”

The officer shook his neatly-groomed head regretfully. “No, though that would be a blessing–by the way, my name is Captain Cleo.”

“But–but, what? Why? How can one person be more important than the whole world? And what was going on back there?”

Captain Cleo leaned back in his chair. “Your brother’s good. He promised not to tell you anything. But then again, our superiors wouldn’t be happy if he had. The CIA doesn’t tolerate leaks.

“My brother… works for the government? The CIA?” Amy asked in amazement. Cleo nodded, but Amy noticed something wrong with the Captain’s face. It shifted and warped, as if it was made of wax. The whole conference room was spinning as Amy sank to her knees.

Jesus wept.

Amy’s world faded to black, and when she finally opened her heavy eyelids, she was blinded by a white light glaring in her eyes. Sitting up with a jolt, she yelped as something tugged painfully in her arm–an IV.

“Ah Amy, you’re awake!” a cheerful blonde nurse exclaimed nearby.

“What happened to Captain Cleo and Zach?”

The nurse’s eyebrows wrinkled in confusion, “Amy, you’ve been in a coma for three months. Who is Captain Cleo?”

“I was just talking with the Captain a few minutes ago in the conference room. Where did the three months come from?” Amy was beginning to doubt her sanity.

The nurse gave a look of concern and switched on an intercom. “Agent Laura, Amy’s awake, and apparently had an unconfirmed conference with someone she’s calling Captain Cleo just before she lost consciousness. Amy, honey, don’t move.

Within a few moments, Laura, the muscular agent from before, thrust the door open and strode in. Zach followed behind as Laura demanded with an oath, “Amy, tell me everything. How did he look, where were you, what did he do, and what did he say?”

Confusion coursed through her. Why was the muscular woman in a doctor’s uniform? Zach knelt beside her bed. “Amy, the doc says the man who hurt you, the one who kidnapped you—he may have been incorporated into your dream. But I need you to realize, everything you experienced wasn’t real. It was your mind’s way of dealing with what happened.”

“So…so none of it was real then?” Amy asked with disbelief.

“Yes Amy,” Zach said gently, “None of it was real.”

He took a breath. “Amy, did you dream about us? The man who kidnapped you was a felon, and you were the only witness to his crime. If you dreamed about us, you need to tell me everything that happened. It could be the key to solving the case.”

“Crime? What crime?” Amy asked, her voice trembling slightly.

Sorrow was evident on Zach’s face. “It was murder.”

Amy held a hand to her head, trying to think through the dream. It seemed more and more ridiculous as she looked back on it. “That must be why Cleo said I was important, I’m the only one who can solve the case. Tell me, how’d I end up in a coma?”

“You were walking home when a man, who we now know as Cleo, brutally murdered a woman. We don’t know the details, but you received a blow to the head. I happened to walk by as he was loading you into his van. It’s probably the only reason you’re still alive.”

“A van… He said something about the CIA and the government. Laura was a CIA agent, and so were you. Zach, I know I’m still a bit dreamy, but are you an agent?”

Zach looked up at Laura, and she rolled her eyes in annoyance. “She was going to find out anyway, considering how sloppy you are in covering your tracks.”

Amy continued. “There was a younger, crazy, immortal dude in the dream. I wonder—was he the same as Cleo? He had some weird, purple-lightning weapon that made Zack immortal too.” Zack made a face but she kept speaking, “But I don’t remember anyone dying—wait! He killed a lady soldier with his lightning!”

Even as she said this, a shudder ran through her body—voices were speaking in her mind, saying, Do you think she bought the story?

I don’t know but she can’t face reality right now; there’s only so much we can do to deceive her though.

Shhhh–she can hear us right now!

The third and final part will be posted tomorrow!

S12: Driving me Crazy part1

Editing notice: This is part of a very long, somewhat boring story that was assigned as part of the Creative Writing class. If you wish to read something more succulent, please feel free to keep scrolling down.

For our twelfth and final sandbox, the class was assigned to collectively produce a story in something known as a “round robin.” Each person contributed a few sentences at a time, and the story was to grow as we worked together. Well, we didn’t end up working together all that well, and the plot began taking massive twists as different people vied for their chosen plot.

Somehow though, we ended up with a really believable plot that encompassed everything, and our craziness was rewarded. In the final stages we realized the Owl City song “Dementia” fit the story perfectly, as shown by the title. I’ve included a YouTube of the song.

Because the story is so long, I’m going to post it in sections. I’ve also done extensive editing for cohesion and smoothness, but this on the whole is how it turned out. As always, enjoy!

Amy shuddered when she saw the clock. She knew she was late. The captain had ordered her to be in his office at 3:00 and it was already 3:10. She left her room and turned down the main hall of the space transport. Soon she was running past metallic windows, and into the control center.

She entered a room paneled from ceiling to floor with flickering controls. A lone chair presided over the screens, and Amy eased into the padded seat. She picked up the helmet on the table in front of her and gingerly placed it over her head, stretching her hand in anticipation over a panel of silver buttons.

“Amy, get off that computer and come help me in the garden.” Amy sighed as she snapped back to real life. “That was a boring sci-fi game anyway,” she thought. After clicking the “save” button, she turned off her brother’s high-tech laptop. He always hated it when she used his computer without permission, but she honestly didn’t care what he thought. Amy stood up, stretching, and then opened the sliding door that lead out into the back yard. Grabbing a hat to fend off the afternoon sun, she sauntered into the garden with a mischievous smile on her face.

“Hey, so Zach, I was thinking…”

Her brother interrupted her, “Uh oh, what now? And hold this plant for me, will you?” He handed her a pot-shaped clod of dirt with a spindly-looking origami plant sticking out the top. Reaching for the pot, Amy took it, but it slipped from her hands and promptly shattered at her feet. Amy looked up at her shocked brother, “Sorry?” she apologized.

Zach looked at the shattered pot and the flower still sticking out, then shrugged and bent down to pick it up. “It’s okay, I was going to replant it anyway. So what were you going to say?”

The cellphone in his pocket gave a series of whirring chirps. He answered it, growing pale as he looked over at a red van with dark windows parked across the street. He pulled out his cherished handguns from a hiding place, saying urgently, “Amy, I need you to pack a suitcase with anything you absolutely need to travel, along with all the communication devices—right now. Grab the duffel bags in my room and especially my computer. Get in that van–trust the people inside–then call mom and dad and tell them it’s time. They’ll know what that means. I’ll cover you until you get to the car.”

Shaking, Amy backed up a few steps, protesting, “What are you thinking, are you crazy?”

She tripped and landed in the damp, black soil as her brother yelled in panic. “Just go!” He reached down and pulled her off the ground so quickly it hurt her, then practically shoved her inside, frantically calling, “Hurry!”

Amy randomly swept the contents of her closet into her biggest suitcase, along with every electronic device she could remember the family owned. Snatching up her ever-packed purse, she ran back to Zach’s room and stuffed his laptop in the suitcase, then shouldered the three large duffel bags stacked by his bed.

She tumbled outside, and Zach grabbed two of the bags. A focused, muscular-looking woman had exited the van and soon began helping them inside. Through the excitement Amy wondered if Zach’s job as a music engineer involved these kinds of incidents, or was there something secret and dangerous she had never known about?

The van’s door slammed, and Amy heard rubber squealing as they sped off. “Package on board–ETA seven minutes,” she heard a man’s voice say in the confused darkness. “Amy, I need you to wear this,” a stranger said, holding up a heavy-looking vest. Amy stared up at the roof in an effort to keep tears of confusion from slipping out. She heaved the jacket on and zipped it up, but then asked the man in hesitation, “What is it for?”
“It’s a bullet proof vest.” Amy’s eyes widened in realization, but before she could reply, the man shoved her down to the floor of the car. With a sudden crash the van ground to a halt. From her spot on the floor Amy saw three soldiers grab their assault rifles, slide open the side door, and leap out. It was obvious that a strategically placed roadblock had crumpled the front of their van.

Amy pushed herself into a sitting position and craned her neck in an effort to see Zach. He was the only person she knew—but even that wasn’t certain anymore—and she had to be sure he hadn’t vaporized or disappeared. He hadn’t, but was busy sifting through a stack of papers, looking uncommonly worried.

Just then one of the soldiers stuck his head back in. “The van’s not going anywhere; the radiator is busted and the battery is leaking.”

A man to Amy’s right cursed under his breath. “Looks like we’ll be going on foot.”

Zach snapped out of his tense, focused silence, protesting, “We can’t! Amy’s here. She not trained. She’s a civilian, a minor, a girl, my sister, and a long list of other things that endanger her the minute she steps out of this van!”

The muscular woman shook her head. “Listen kid, relax. With six agents surrounding her—including yourself—she ought to make it a half mile to the rendezvous point. She’ll be fine; you panic too much.”

Uncertainly, Amy eased out of the vehicle, trying not to snag her clothes on its sharp metal interior. Turning to another female agent, she stammered, “What should I do? Do I need to… well, shoot a gun or something? I can learn.”

Unfortunately, the soldier never had a chance to respond, due to a flaming sphere of purple energy vaporizing her instantly. Amy turned and saw a young man approaching–he looked to be in his 20’s–carrying a silvery-bronze sword in his hand. His other hand crackled with dark energy, and he gazed at the group menacingly.

Through instinct trained by years of dodge ball, Amy dropped to the ground, gasping and sobbing in shock as the muscular woman wrapped her strong arms around Amy protectively. Zack’s focus seemed to awaken into action, and before the newcomer had time to move again, he pelted the man with bullets, continuing after the man had dropped dead. After his rounds were spent, he rushed to inspect the body.

Amy saw him stoop and pick up something. He straightened and said, voice shaking with grief, “Amy, you wanted to know what was going on. There are these rebels–some of them escaped criminals, some geniuses, some quite likely insane—carrying around some new kind of weaponry technology. They’re threatening to conquer the world, and with their weapons, they very well can.”

Suddenly, the man on the ground leaped into the air with a harsh, cold laugh. The purple energy in his hands blazed to life once again, and he spoke in a cruel tone, “Foolish mortals. You cannot fathom the power I have, so you ascribe it to technology–I shall enjoy watching you suffer in your ignorance.”

The man reached out with his hand, and his bronze sword flew back into his grasp. Amy gasped. His wounds had healed, and his skin glowed with a silvery sheen. He smiled at Amy and spoke in a chilling voice. “My dear, I suggest you run.”

Terror gripped her completely, and she automatically turned to flee. She felt blinded by her panic. But despite her fear, her feet would not move.

Zach turned to the muscular woman. “This is not like the others. He possesses something greater—something we can’t face right now.”

“You’re right,” the woman hissed back.

“Any last words?” the immortal man said with a laugh.

Zach still held the object he had taken from the body. Amy saw his face as he realized it might be a weapon.
“Get down!” she shrieked to the people around her, and they dropped to the ground. Zach hurled what appeared to be a lightning bolt—but it flashed black and purple and cobalt—from the weapon just as the immortal man let loose the energy in his.

The young man shuddered and turned away, writhing in pain from the bolt. “You have courage, foolish courage, O insignificant ones who dare to oppose me,” a sibilant voice half-sang in a high screech that ended in a laugh as he recovered. “I shall watch your lives with deep interest.”

Amy was still breathing hard, and she found herself quivering in the woman’s hold, but now that she realized that the young man had not killed them, she was able to begin thinking again.

Then she saw Zach lying on the ground, and knew that what had only hurt the immortal must have destroyed her brother. A whimpering wail came from somewhere inside her,. Amy stared at the body, thinking it almost looked as if was still alive and moving slightly. As she watched, Amy realized that it was moving, and a vein of purple light seemed to run through it. The ashen pallor of death seemed to be erased, and suddenly her brother rose from the ground, fully alive. He turned toward their enemy with an attitude of righteous wrath.

Then gas leaking from the fuel tank caused the to van explode in an earth-shaking blast. Zach faced the fireball and used his new powers to throw up a shield around his sister and the remaining agents.

All around her debris crashed and fire roared, but none of it came close to Amy. It was stopped by an invisible force, one that Zach had created.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow!

NP12: Finding the Courage

This is the tenth and final chapter! In the aftermath of a devastating battle with the orcs, King Pickford and his people begin to recover, and try to make sense of the mysterious force that gave them victory. Soon, however, they begin to suspect that their work has only begun.

Ellar’s hand still ached beneath its bandage. Several days of ponderous labor had lessened the pains of war, but still the army was picking up its fractured pieces. The mysterious courageous power that had delivered them was gone, leaving an eerie silence in their hearts.

Ellar stood with his back to the carnage, facing east toward Sarton, from whence the evil had come. On his left the mountains marched away into the distance, overshadowing the rolling, waving plains to the right. Intermittent forest covered the foothills, broken by glades of bare grass. A warm southern wind tugged at Ellar’s clothes, but even with its briskness he could smell the stench of rotting bodies.

As his eyes swept over the landscape, a single hilltop attracted his gaze. He looked closer, and the slumped form of a man became apparent. Wondering how a wounded soldier could have run that far from the battle, Ellar stumbled toward the body.

On reaching him, the first thing he noticed was the man wasn’t wearing armor. His clothes were torn and spoiled, but he appeared to be alive. Ellar looked at his face, and thought it seemed familiar. Around the man’s wrist was clasped a bracelet of solid iron, and this Ellar recognized. It was the same iron band Ellar had dreamed about before, and he guessed where it had come from. The man wasn’t from the battle, he had come from Sarton, nearly a hundred miles away.

King Pickford sat with Melvin and a few other advisers, but his main attention was centered on Ellar. “You feel the man was chased? I concur that he came from Sarton; his dress tells me that much. But if he fled in terror so far, I would guess there is more to his misery than a runaway slave.”

“You know what I’m thinking,” said Ellar, “The spirit we saw in the Evandad would not have driven a man across the plain. It was a shadow, almost a memory of evil. To us it seemed powerful, but I think it was only the beginning.”

A long pause ensued, then Melvin spoke. “Shadows need something to cast them. I’ve been wondering how Nomeane could have summoned such a fell spirit, but now I wonder if he has any control at all. Perhaps our true enemy lies beyond him, in the darkness behind Sarton.”

“It’s time we did some recking,” murmured Ellar. “That’s what Nomeane said in my dreams. But what is recking?”

Pickford’s face became grave. “It’s an old way to say ‘heeding.’ I’ve only seen it in old histories that talk of things I wish to forget. Long ago the world was tormented by dark spirits of old, creatures ancient and terrible before the world was made. For centuries they had power to torture the world of men as they could—with perfect malice and unbridled hate. They were shades of glory, and their voices were like the cold wind in a lonely sky. In time, men began to call them the Wailing Shades, and they were feared beyond all things.

“But something changed, and the Shades were banished from the world. A stronger power shut them out, and since then we have fought the evil they left behind. But though we try, you and I cannot sense the one who drove them away. It was prophesied they would return, but in that age we would finally see the mighty power that delivered us.

“A day will come when the world will mend, and in that day our hope will be realized. The time is near, my friends. Even today our work points toward that end.”

Ellar nodded. “We are close, but there are dark times ahead. Nomeane is not our enemy. The Shades have returned to the world, that much is clear.”

“There is one Shade,” said Pickford. “And I know his name. The prophesy names him. Our foe was once a steward of darkness, sent forward to prepare the way for eviler spirits. His power is less than many of his brethren, but still he is truly an Ancient. No wonder Nomeane teased us with his trickery. The Shade’s name is Reckinghen.”

Ellar stood again facing Sarton, gazing over the swaying hilltops toward an enemy that now had a name. The world was becoming a grim, unlovely place. Monsters lurked in dark corners, and evil men controlled armies. Ancient spirits descended out of the past, hungering to swallow the world. A stronghold of misery seemed to grow in the distance, threatening to engulf Ellar in its growing webs.

But then he remembered the courageous voice. In the battle when all seemed lost, a voice of courage had whispered strength to his soul. Surely there was a hope beyond the nightmares and rumors. There was work to do and terrors to endure, but at that moment Ellar thought he could face the darkest night and the strongest foes, if only the voice gave him the strength. “A day will come when death will die, and in that day our hope realized…”

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NP11: The Voice of Courage

We’ve reached the climax of this adventure. In chapter nine, a trail of disturbing signs has lead the army to the doorstep of a ruined stronghold. In the first light of morning they prepare to battle the evil horde of monsters that waits within.

Dawn was the light hoped and prayed for in the ancient days of terror. Watchmen scoured the eastern sky in growing despair, doubting they would survive to see its glowing rays, and wondering if at last the eternal night had come.

Now dawn’s light glimmered on the swords of an army of men, each proudly arrayed with his armor and weapons. Their horses snorted and stamped, eager to be off into the stronghold of Evandad, the ancient city where the enemy’s forces lurked.

Ellar sat astride his own horse, clothed in armor that felt uncommonly heavy. The warriors packed around him were grim. One by one they readied their weapons in the growing light. Several places in front he could see King Pickford, and watched as he nodded to a herald. The time had come.

Bold, loud and brave was the sound of the war horn. It rung out over the people like a voice of thunder, calling them to battle for the destruction of darkness. The call was answered twice, once from the left and once from the right. Next moment a rider shouted at his horse, and the creature leaped forward with glee. The entire company galloped away in the furious rush of battle.

If Ellar could not fight, he could ride, and he skillfully guided his steed through the rubble. The roar of iron-shod hooves shook the air, but even above it he heard a harsher sound. Deep drums boomed out, throbbing in time to a cruel, grating battle chant. The orcs were waiting for them.

As they rounded a wall, a swarm of black monsters were seen running toward them, quickly crossing the stones of what had once been a courtyard. The leading riders leveled their spears, and there was a clash of metal striking metal. Everything became confusion. Somewhere a horse screamed, and Ellar’s leg was crushed against something painfully solid. He was jolted sideways, and glimpsed an orc’s snarling face as it was slashed in two. His horse kept on, lashing out with its hooves at anything in its way. Before Ellar could begin to fall off, the fighting ceased. They had torn completely through the group of orcs, the remainder running away to the side.

The warriors had suffered losses as well, but they reformed quickly and continued to advance. Before long they met a stronger line of orcs, and the battle began in earnest. Hard, shining steel plunged into orcish flesh, tearing armor and rending bones. Horses were hewn and men died. Even in the cool of the morning, the heat of struggling bodies was stifling.

Soon most of the fighting was on foot. Ellar stood beside a man he didn’t know, hoping together they could stay alive. He fronted his shield, bracing for a blow. The warrior’s battleaxe swung in mighty arcs, crashing on helmets and crooked iron armor. Clouds of bird-like arrows soared over their heads, arching over the front line to find targets behind. Step by step the men advanced, their feet careful to avoid stepping on the slain.

Ellar’s comrade was taken by a spear, and fell sideways out of sight. Another warrior took his place, and they went on without a rest. Each moment the air became thicker, the sun dimmed by a layer of black vapor. When the chance came, he glanced up and saw a dark pillar of smoke belching from the ground. A pang of uneasiness swept through his thoughts.

Eventually Ellar was pushed back from the fighting, and someone grabbed his iron-plated shoulder. “Come, the king calls for you.” He followed the messenger to a small clearing, where several people stood in a circle. King Pickford sat on a rock, drinking from a flask.

“Ellar,” the king said over the battle noise, “You see the smoke? My heart tells me to fear it. The enemy has some evil stored there. What do you see?”

Ellar took a hasty glance at the billowy haze. “All I see is mist. I feel as if something doesn’t want me to look. It’s stopping me.”

The king nodded grimly. “Still, we must press on.”

Minute by minute the warriors neared the mysterious fumes. On they fought, but suddenly there appeared a rift between them and the orcs. The enemy force drew back, revealing the vapor’s source.

It was a fire that burned with black flames. In its heart there danced a jumping, willful life, and the burning coals seemed possessed by a demon eager to be released. As he watched, Ellar saw the formless smoke condense into a solid, deliberate shape. It became a swirling, twisting torso and head, wrapped in flame and beset with flashing eyes. Ellar knew without being told that this was an ancient shadow of old, a spirit banished long ago but now returned to haunt the land.

It stretched itself over the roiling battlefield, and spoke a word of destruction. Tumbling and thrashing the word grew, driving its snarling self through the air, like the voice of anarchy itself.

Now the orcs came on, their weapons black in the dampened light. They crashed through the warriors’ feeble resistance, swinging blades with merciless fire. Ellar managed to fend off one attack, but that was all. He feldt the grasping, throttling darkness begin to finger his soul.

As if chosen by fate, one single weapon pierced the air, framed in the sky like a monolith of dominance. Ellar didn’t see it strike his shield, and barely felt its edge rebound against his helmet. A time passed of blind, thoughtless tumbling through painful space, and Ellar came to rest amid stamping feet.

His vision blurred, and a horrendous pain jumped up his arm. Vaguely he observed the fighting above him, but something else stepped into his mind. He remembered the first time he’d seen his bound enemy, Nomeane. The man’s black eyes gleamed in the eerie light, and his lips parted—like an incision in a corpse—revealing broken, rotten teeth. Nomeane laughed. “You fool,” whispered a voice in Ellar’s mind. “You fell to the darkness of my master. Now you are mine.” Black, bottomless despair opened like a chasm before him. All was lost. A power stronger than Nomeane had toyed with them the whole time, leading them on toward destruction. Some horrible consciousness lay behind Ellar’s fearful nightmares, and nothing held it back. Even as he fell into the abyss of unknown terrors, a new voice spoke out in conflict, in courage, in song.

Look out the window, and passing by

The hope of men is clothed in light

A day will come when death will die

And in that day is all made right

Stronger than a war horn, the voice of courage rang through the air, sweeping away the webbings of fear like sunlight chasing fearful shadows. Only Ellar heard it, but he saw his comrades fight with renewed vigor. Their enemies were suddenly dismayed, and it seemed that a tremor of jealous wrath rumbled through the ground. All at once the dancing fire was extinguished, and a shout of rage echoed from the spirit within. Its plans were foiled, its mission undone.

Soon a new kind of terror filled the battlefield. A terror of sleepless courage, of boundless strength. Of mighty thunderstorms and land-rending earthquakes. A dark spirit may have come sulking out of the past, but another light power had arisen to condemn it.

The warriors of men took heart and drove the orcs before them. They slaughtered the vile horde as they ran, pursuing the evil through its very lair.

Ellar could barely stand, but he shouted in triumph into the rising wind. The rushing torrent seemed to laugh, and redoubled its strength. The shackles of his fear fell away, and for the first time he thought darkness had no power over him. Evil had failed, and now there was something else far greater.

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NP10: When Darkness Knocks

Chapter eight: A horde of vile orcs has been seen inhabiting the ancient stronghold Evandad, and an army of men has come up to meet them in war. King Pickford asks Ellar for advice, and seems to know more than he says.

A burning summer sun bore down on the plain, tossing the grass in fitful gusts. It glittered proudly from a thousand points of shining metal, moving in unison across the rolling slopes. Ellar watched from the shade as the multitude moved slowly nearer, never changing pace. The army had come from Vanderan.

When the vibrations of hoof beats could be felt through the ground, Colig started up with an expression of delight on his face. “Hurrah, they’ve come at last! I’ve been sitting too long.”

Melvin joined him, taking up his gear and leaving the shade. “It’s a sight for lonely eyes. Come, let’s meet them or they’ll pass us by.” Before long the thunder of hooves and shouting of riders resounded around them. Ellar saw the army was divided into companies, each one headed by a captain. One or two scouts led the procession, followed closely by the king’s royal guard. King Pickford rode grandly in the center, flanked by a number of dignitaries and nobles. Ellar caught sight of Fendin for a moment, but soon the horses were upon them.

To stop would have been too much trouble, so the three newcomers were swept up on spare horses and absorbed without a pause. Only a shouted greeting was possible over the noise, so the reunited friends pushed on toward their chosen camp.

The smell of woodsmoke mingled with trampled grass and animals. The army was camped slightly north of the ruined town, in sight of a consistent pillar of smoke that rose from The Evandad. Ellar weaved his way through the orderly rows of canvas tents, occasionally passing a large bonfire. He was going to see the king. The thought was both cheering and foreboding.

Reaching the king’s tent, he waited for the guards to announce him, then entered. Ellar had expected a gathering of scouts and tacticians, but to his surprise Pickford was alone. He was bent over a map, but didn’t seem to be looking at it. “Ellar, I need your help,” he said, sounding unusually weary. “You see Nomeane more closely than I. Cast your thought toward the mountain, and tell me what you find.” His gaze flitted in the direction of their enemy.

Ellar winced at the request. His encounters with Nomeane had been less than enjoyable, but he determined to obey. He thought of the Evandad, the ancient stronghold where Nomeane’s horde of monsters lurked. He remembered standing on the mountains encircling it, several nights ago under the moon. His memory’s eye seemed to see a man standing beside him, face turned toward the old city. The man looked at him, and Ellar recognized Nomeane.

The sorcerer’s black eyes bore into Ellar’s, writhing with dark, unwholesome secrets. They enthralled him, as if some masked evil had reached through and seized his spirit with an ancient strength. He tried to look away, but he was caught. Deeper the sorcerer delved, wrapping his mind in a piercing grip, cold like ice and burning like fire. Clouds of dark conscience seemed to flow down his veins.

Ellar thought he was doomed, but suddenly he was wrenched away. A stronger force seemed to fling him back to himself, and he opened his eyes. Pickford was gazing at him gravely, and seemed to know what had happened. “He knows we’re here,” Ellar panted. “Nomeane has been waiting for us.”

The king nodded. “Thank you. Come, drink this and look at our battle plans.” He indicated a metal flask. Ellar undid the stopper and downed a small mouthful. The drink was vibrant and powerful, and he felt refreshed after another swallow.

Pickford rang a bell, summoning an errand boy. “Send for Melvin and Lord Darwin. They know their business.” As the boy ran off, the king questioned Ellar about his travels with the group, and seemed particularly interested in the desert wolves, or yahskies as they were called. “We met them upon leaving the wood, but they wouldn’t attack an army. I hear the creatures gave you quite a meeting. My experts tell me that’s unusual.”

Ellar chuckled. “Melvin said so. I wasn’t sure Colig could run that fast, but after all they were after our blood. I daresay he was the last to reach safety, though.”

“Colig comes from a good family. His father used to stand guard over my wall, day and night through the fiercest weather. I’m glad to have him on my side.”

Before long Melvin entered the tent, along with another man Ellar hadn’t seen before. Lord Darwin was a tall, regal person who seemed to understand the practical details of the world. After introductions went around, they crowded around the map.

“See,” the king said, “our force will divide into three prongs; each will enter the city from a different direction. The walls have crumbled long ago, so the main struggle will be within the city itself.”

“Won’t they rebuild the walls?” asked Ellar, “this place was a stronghold, after all.”

Melvin smiled. “I think not. Orcs aren’t much for building walls; they like tearing them down too much for that.”

“I agree,” said Darwin, his voice calm and educated, “We won’t find resistance at first, but we must remember they’ve been preparing for us. I don’t doubt the creatures have some surprise for us, savage though they are.” Ellar thought the surprise would be Nomeane’s doing, not the orcs, but didn’t say so.

Pickford continued. “Ellar, you will be riding with me in my company. I’ll want you close beside me.” Their eyes met a moment, and it seemed Pickford was implying more than he said. Ellar only managed to nod; he hadn’t expected to be near the battle.

Lord Darwin missed the interaction, and began debating a potential weakness at their right wing. The talk rambled on awhile, but Ellar understood little of it.

Ellar lay on a cot, staring at the sloping sides of the tent above him. Moonlight glowed behind its fibers, slowly changing as clouds passed over it. He tried to not think of the dreams that lay behind, nor of the darkness soon to be faced. He dreaded the terrible roaring power—and yet, something had saved him from it. Nomeane would have destroyed him, but some stronger force had plucked him from the sorcerer’s grasp. He had almost forgotten about his father’s song, but he whispered it now into the night.

A day will come when death will die

And in that day will hope be joy

Hope seemed weak and doubtful, but with its feeble flame burning in the back of his heart, Ellar sunk into a restful sleep.