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Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Sense of Duty

This was the story I wrote for the state writing test, with a few edits. I received 57/60, so it can't be too bad. Please tell me what you think.
A Sense of Duty

A fire burned in her deep brown eyes. Her whispered promises softly enticed him, and slowly she leaned in for a kiss. Her tongue quickly found his with a ferocity that surprised him. He pulled away. The gypsy laughed at his startled look. “You act like you’ve never been kissed before, Kale,” she said with a grin.

Kale blushed and looked away into the green woods. What was he doing here? A soldier of the king had no business traipsing around with a gypsy girl. Calia didn’t love him; she just wanted the thing between his legs and the coin in his purse.  “Not like that,” he said after a moment.

She laughed again, as she pulled him closer to her. “Well, it’s about time,” she whispered into his ear. Her voice sent shivers down Kale’s spine. “Forget about duty for once.”

He could feel himself surrendering to her warm touch, truly forgetting all about duty. Then the night call came. Captain Lerris summoned all the soldiers back to the city barracks. The woods held no safety after dark. The Damned were walking. Even Calia’s people would camp as close as they could to the city wall. Disentangling himself from Calia’s embrace, Kale stood up from the cool meadow grass. Her deft finger had already unlaced his breeches. He quickly laced them back up.

Calia still lay on the ground, one arm supporting her head. “You’re leaving me again,” she stated coldly. A scowl lay on her lips, and, strangely, it made her more beautiful. The last rays of sunlight tickled her scantily clothed body. She was his idol, his mistress, and Kale had no idea what he was to her. She would seem to care, and then the next day he would see her with one of the other soldiers, acting like she did with him. He was the only one she was seen with more than once, he remembered.

I’ll try to see you tomorrow night,” Kale said as he put on his boots. The night call sounded once again.
Calia turned away for a second, and when she turned back Kale could see that tears threatened to fall from her eyes. I’m not sure I believe you,” she said in an uncaring tone. “It seems that duty is more important to you than I am.”

Not knowing what to say in return, he just turned to in the direction of the walled city. “Good night, Calia,” he said softly. She didn’t answer, so Kale made his way in the direction of the city. It was still too early for the Damned to arise. Calia would be safe once she returned to her people. A short walk on a dirt road was all that lay between Kale and the city. The sword hanging at his hip reassured him of his safety, so he walked slowly and deep in thought.

Late last spring, Kale and the rest of his company arrived at the walled city, Aevus. The attacks of the Damned grew more constant, and the king kept sending soldiers to the border cities to help defend the kingdom. Every night after the sun set the Damned would rule the woods. Once they even tried to scale the walls.

Kale clearly remembered the captain’s barked orders, and the determined stances of his comrades, but what he remembered the most was the features the features of the Damned. Most of they had horns growing from their skulls, and a few flew on batlike wings. The walking dead scared Kale the most. It was said that when the southern kingdoms had fallen the Damned raised many of the dead as walking corpses, ready to do the bidding of their demonic masters.

A quick movement caught Kale’s attention. “Who’s there?” he said in an attempt at bravery. He drew his sword in the process. Only silence answered his question. Kale turned full circle in a panic. He swore that he heard something.

Kale slashed out at the darkness before him. His sword whistled as it cut through the empty air. Something cold lightly touched his shoulder. He turned around. Before him stood one of the Damned. It’s skin hung from its body, shriveled and dry, but it still appeared vaguely human. A hard cunning could be seen in its eyes. “Isn’t it a bit too late for you humans to be out?” the creature said with a cold laugh. “I thought you liked to hide as soon as the sun started setting.”

From behind him Kale heard a scream. “We found her walking towards the gypsy camp,” another one of the Damned said in a guttural voice that contrasted with the soft, sharp voice of the first one. With a thump a dark form landed next to Kale’s feet. It was Calia.

“Two humans wandering the woods after dark?” the first creature said. “What a treat. It has been so long since I feasted on human.”

“Please let the gypsy go,” Kale begged.

The monster studied them. “So you two were meeting each other,” it said. “One of my many masters once said that the souls of lovers were the most delectable."

Kale leapt at the monster with his sword outstretched. His blade entered the monster’s flesh, but the creature only watched him. It pointed its finger at Kale and spoke three words in a harsh language. Kale lost his hold on life. His sense of duty was gone. The love he felt for Calia was a bare glimmer. Death swallowed him.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bear Hunt

“I wouldn’t trust a single one of them, my lord,” Tresk said carefully. From across the table Lord Sven sat in silence.
“And why not, Sir Tresk?” The old lord’s blue eyes studied Tresk closely. Once Tresk had heard that Lord Sven’s blonde hair was then envy of many, but the years had left the handsome lord with a head full of grey hair. The lord’s sons sat on either side of their father, but they appeared disinterested with Sir Tresk.
Tresk swallowed before answering. Hopefully, Sven could not tell that he was so nervous. “We lost sixteen men in the past week,” he said, forcing his voice to stay steady. “Sir Woden says that the bear must be dealt with soon, but I would not send such new troops.”
“Then we will send you to lead a group of them,” Lord Sven said. “You can take some of your best men with you as well just kill the bothersome beast.”
“The natives believe the bear to be their guardian spirit, my lord,” Tresk said. “They will not take its death kindly.”
“The people of Teol must learn to fear us,” the elder of Lord Sven’s sons, Lord Derrich, said loudly. “If we kill this guardian of theirs we will establish ourselves as their masters.”
Lord Sven nodded. “Derrich is right. Kill the beast, and the natives will realize just how weak they are.” He glanced towards the door of the tent. “You are dismissed, Sir Tresk.”
Tresk left the tent quickly. Lord Sven always demanded a lot from his commanding officers, and at times Tresk wasn’t sure that he could comply. Sir Woden met him outside of the tent. “What did he say?” he asked.
“He wants the bear dead,” Tresk said with a sigh, “but he still won’t march. I was commanded to take the new men with me.”
All around them the members of the camp went about their daily business. It was already getting dark, and they all tried to finish quickly. They’d already camped in the same area for a whole moth. Lord Sven would not give them the order to march. The men grew impatient, but Lord Sven still waited for word from the capital.

The last message they received contained dark news. The king had halted all expansion until he was done mourning the death of his mother. Some of the highest ranking lords returned to the capital to pay their respects. They had not returned.

“The bear should be easy enough to deal with,” Woden said, “but if we don’t move soon we might have a mutiny on our hands."
“It’s up to the king to send a messenger,” Tresk said.

“Lord Sven should send a messenger to the capital,” Sir Woden said angrily. “We can’t live on nothing.”

Shouts interrupted their conversation. A few feet in front of them a knight stood over one of the natives. The Teolan spit at the knight’s feet, and shouted in her own language. Tresk stopped the knight from kicking the woman. “What’s going on here?” he asked.

“I caught this woman sneaking around the camp,” the knight said, removing his helmet, and allowing Tresk to identify him. It was Sir Erin, a son of some lesser noble.

Sir Woden was helping the woman up. “The Teolans are usually sneaking around our camp for one reason or another,” Sir Tresk said. “What made you think this one of unusual importance?”

Sir Erin scowled. “She was acting suspicious.”

Sir Tresk nodded and turned to speak with the Teolan. Sir Woden had already gotten a name from her, Neveyah. “Why were you in our camp?” he asked gently.

A bruise covered the right side of the woman’s face, but other than that she did not appear harmed. “I was trying to reach the other side of the camp,” she said in lightly accented Arkacian. “The healer needs some herbs.”

Her grasp of Arkacian surprised Tresk. One of the foolish mages must have been teaching the natives more about Arkacia. They thought this all a fun experiment. He would have to speak with them. “Where are the herbs?” Sir Tresk asked.

Neveyah glanced towards the far side of the camp. “I couldn’t find any,” she said with a slight edge to her voice. The Arkacian army was not being very kind to the surrounding land, an army never was.

“What plants were you searching for?” Sir Woden asked. He was now standing beside Tresk. Sir Erin had moved on after Tresk questioned him.  Hopefully he wouldn’t cause more trouble.

“I don’t know what your people call it,” Neveyah said, “but my people call it bearpaw.”

“I’ve never heard of any such plant,” Tresk said. “You might want to speak with one of the mages.”

Neveyah frowned at Tresk’s words. “Your mages surely do not wish to be bothered by one of my people,” she said harshly. “I must return to the healer now.” She turned to leave, and Sir Tresk didn’t stop her.

“Where do you think she learned Arkacian?” Tresk asked Woden. “I don’t think one of the mages taught her.”

Woden shrugged. “I’ve heard that their healer knows many languages. It was most likely she that taught her.”

Sir Tresk just stared in the direction Neveyah had gone. She perplexed him. “Shouldn’t you be choosing men for your hunt of that bear,” Woden interrupted. “I’ve heard it’s larger than a warhorse.”

“I’ve heard anyone who sees it doesn’t live to tell the tale,” Tresk said mockingly. “You will be joining me, Woden, and most of those green recruits that Lord Hael sent us a few days ago.”
“Why is Lord Sven sending the recruits?” Sir Woden asked. They were now walking toward Sir Tresk’s tent. A few of the men hailed them as they passed by.
“He believes it’s the perfect way to test their mettle,” Sir Tresk said.
“When will the hunt begin?” Sir Woden asked.
“Tomorrow at dawn,” Tresk said. “ I want this done quickly.” With those words Tresk entered his tent, leaving Woden standing outside. A moment of quiet was sometimes all that Tresk wanted.        He sat at a desk inside his large tent and pulled out a piece of paper and ink.

He listed the names of the men that would join him at dawn. He called for a page to deliver his message. The bear would not be much of a problem. He was sure of it, but the hunt would only alleviate a bit of the army’s impatience.

Suddenly Tresk felt very enclosed in his tent. He walked out into the woods. The full moon lighted his way to a small clearing. Back at home, in the capital, Tresk would have midnight picnics with his wife in the woods near their home.

“What are you doing here, Arkacian?”

Tresk stood up and faced Neveyah in the darkness. Her eyes were wary as she watched him. “I could ask the same of you, Teolan,” Sir Tresk retorted.

“This is my land,” Neveyah said. “My people place no weight onto your claim of ownership. This land will always belong to us.”

“Not if my people have their way,” Sir Tresk said. Neveyah glared at him and then disappeared back into the woods. Tresk felt a little wary about her. She was too smart for her own good. After a few moments Tresk returned to his tent to sleep for the few hours he could.

Dawn found him at the head of a party of knights. Only a few were dressed in full armor. Most of the men Lord Hael sent weren’t rich enough to buy their own armor. Sir Woden rode on Tresk’s left. “We’ll have this bear dead before noon,” he said to Sir Tresk. “Then we might have some peace.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Writing Prompt #1 - Returning the Life to the Dead

This is my first entry into the writing challenge in the NaNoWriMo forums. Please comment. It's a short story that came to me in a dream and would not leave me alone until I had written it. The Prompt "Start a story with the sentence 'It was lighter than it should have been'" fit perfectly. I don't normally write in Spanish, but my mind decided that the main character was Mexican.

It was lighter than it should have been. I held it as far away from me as I could, while still being able to read it. No moon shined to allow me to, but the words glowed with their own innate luz, light. The title of the black tome was written in a language I hoped I would never have to learn.

The old fools in the city cared not for the secrets inked in la sangre de demonios, the blood of demons. They thought them too dangerous and unpredictable, but I was doing it for her.

Alicia’s face popped into my head, her black hair and soft, caring, brown eyes. She had been trying to summon a particularly dangerous demonio when la magia, the magic, spiraled out of her control. Her death destroyed me.

Stealing the tome had been easy. None of los brujos, the witches, paid any attention to me. “Deja que el dolor se le pase,” Wait for the pain to fade, they said.

Now I stood facing the grave where they buried her. I would bring her back to the land of the living. I opened the tome to see the letters constantly changing and reforming. I closed my eyes and focused, forcing the language to become Spanish, and the right spell, to appear on the page.

The title read Regresando la vida a los muertos, Returning the Life to the Dead. Alicia would be mine once again. The words of the spell erupted from my mouth. All traces of nervousness disappeared.  From very deep in my throat laughter bubbled. I could feel the dead awakening.

The first part of the sell called her alma, soul, back from el infierno, hell. I prepared myself for the second part when I noticed one of los muertos standing before me. It must have risen with only the first part of the spell. No meat clung to its body, and in the moonlight its white bones reflected the light. It opened and closed its mouth in an attempt to speak. I cast a spell that allowed him to do just that.

“Necesitas ayuda, Carlos?”  Do you need help, Carlos, it said in a man’s voice.

I stepped away from him. Dealing with los muertos was dangerous. El muerto moved closer to me, peering at the tome in my hands. “I asked you something, Carlos,” he said with a skeletal grin.

I searched for any strength with in the creature, but I only found a little, barely half the power that I myself contained. Controlling him would be easy. With his help I could strengthen la magia of the spell and surely succeed in my endeavor.  “I accept your help,” I said.

El muerto smiled and moved to stand right beside me. He took long, confident strides. I resumed the spell and found myself finishing the spell quicker with the added magia. Alicia struggled to rise from her grave. I could hear the cheap wood of her coffin splintering deep within the ground. When the spell finished she dug herself out of the ground and now stood before me. Carlos, she mouthed in happiness. Her eyes widened in fear when she saw el muerto.He laughed from beside me and took the black tome from my arms, pushing me to the ground. I cried out. With another maniacal laugh he called forth los muertos, who were already half awake. Slowly they rose to the surface of the earth, breaking their dark, mahogany coffins or their cheap, pine coffins.

Alicia ran towards me, and I realized that she was not fully alive. El muerto had stolen power from the spell. “His name is Sagaz,” Alicia said when she reached me. “Once he was human, but he is now un demonio.”

Without warning a wave of hopelessness hit me. Sagaz now led los muertos in the direction of the city. Alicia knelt beside the only muerta that Sagaz didn’t control. I recoiled when the cold flesh of her fingers touched me. The spell had returned her body to a perfect condition, but no warm blood pumped through her veins, and no life sparkled in her eyes.

“You need to help, Carlos,” Alicia pleaded with a hurt look on her face. In my despair I almost shouted at her. This creature was not Alicia, but I did have a duty to the city, a duty to right my wrong. Slowly I rose from the ground. Sagaz had to be stopped.

Alicia searched my face for more signs of disgust or fear; she found none. “He is an old one, Carlos,” she said softly. “We must be very careful.”

“Can you still use la magia?” I asked her.

She shook her head and turned away from me.

The trail that los muertos had made was easy to follow. At the end of the trail we found ourselves at the outskirts of la ciudad. A few meters away from us a bridge stood over a small river. It led the way to a small island where the fair was held every summer. The screams that came from the island told us where los muertos were.

We ran to bridge to find a scene of carnage before us. Los muertos ripped the fairgoers to shreds right before us. I saw Sagaz biting into the neck of a screaming young woman, draining her life. He carried the black tome with his left hand. I panicked. How could I defeat un demonio?

The killing ended, as fairgoers either lay dead or ran away, and Sagaz took a seat in the middle of the fair. With a grin at the destruction around him, he commanded the recently dead to arise. His spell sent a tremor through my body. Sagaz was using my magia to cast all his spells.

Alicia laid her frigid hand on my shoulder. “One of los brujos would help us,” she said. She peered out into the clearing darkness. “I think Don Miguel comes here now.”

I followed her line of sight and saw that Don Miguel was walking towards Sagaz with a determined gait. He carried a cane topped with the silver head of a hissing cat. He stopped in front of el demonio. Sagaz laughed at him. “The old brujos come to face me?” he asked.

“I command you to return to el infierno, demonio,” Don Miguel sent a wave of pure power against el demonio. Sagaz lifted his hand and deflected the attack, causing me to crumple to the ground. The pain enveloped my whole body. I wished I would die, and then maybe Don Miguel would have a chance.

“You have to get up, Carlos,” Alicia said next to me. “Don Miguel is in trouble.”

With great difficulty Alicia helped me up to my feet. Don Miguel was now swamped by los muertos. He still cast a few spells that either turned los muertos to dust or completely immobilized them, but he was weakening.

I rushed to his side. When he saw me his face darkened as he glared at me. One of los muertos took advantage of the distraction and pulled Don Miguel down. The rest tore into him as well. In that moment I let out a primal cry from the depths of my being. Los muertos left the remains of Don Miguel’s body alone. I marveled at the strange burst of strength.  Then I realized that I was draining Sagaz of his power. The bond created by the joining of our magias worked both ways.

Sagaz stood before his seat. I could see that every move pained him. “You are stronger than I thought,” he said to me. “Let me make you a deal, Carlos.”

“No,” I said, “no deals.” With a flick of my finger I summoned the black tome to me. I opened it and carefully read the counter spell to the spell I had cast before. I felt Sagaz attempt to cast his own spell, but by using his power to cast my spell I weakened him.

I was almost done with spell, when I saw Alicia watching me. Her skin was already returning to its decaying form. A sad smile lay on her lips, and I knew that she accepted my choice. When the spell was done I sat on the bloodstained grass, surrounded by los muertos. Soon los brujos from la ciudad would arrive to help me clean up the mess.