Attempts At High Fantasy: Chapter II

Yeah, so I wrote chapter two of that last thing I did… you might want to read that before you read this. You know… so you know what’s going on.

As before, comments are both welcome and expected. This chapter has a lot of dialogue, as well as a long internal monologue, so I fully expect it to be several degrees more horrible than the last one I posted. I would appreciate help with anything you consider awkwardly worded, or just plain wrong-sounding.

I still don’t have a title, so here we go:

II

 

That tavern in Gilean’s Crossing, thought Azar as he was marched toward the dungeons. That’s where my troubles began.

This time, he amended himself. That’s where my troubles began this time. Well, not really. I still have all those overarching troubles to deal with. It’s just that right now I have to deal with more immediate troubles. And those troubles began at that gods-damned tavern.

What happened there, anyway? I remember ale… quite a lot of ale, in fact. And there was that barmaid… she certainly was attractive… although, in retrospect, that may have just been the ale.

So, why in the seven hells did I wake up the next morning gagged, bound, and surrounded by soldiers? I guess I may have been a bit loose with my tongue… I vaguely remember bragging to that barmaid that I was the leader of the rebellion… of course, I also remember bragging that I had invented the longsword, so that shouldn’t have done it at all.

Was that it, though? Did she call some soldiers based on the fact that I might have been the leader of the rebellion? I suppose she could have; I can’t even remember how much gold they’re offering for my head at this point. After all, why not take the chance? If I was lying, it didn’t particularly matter; if I was telling the truth, she gets rich. A wonderful catch on her part…

Well, if the barmaid is why I got caught, I guess this entire incident is my fault. But damn it, I deserved some celebration! We’d just won a major victory, we blew up… damn, I can’t even remember what we blew up. It was something to do with those damn wizards… the renegades, or the black serpent or whatever in the hells they’re calling themselves now…

What’s with wizards, anyway? Why are they always so… eccentric? I mean, I heard the reason the renegade order exists is because some damn wizard set fire to some other damn wizard’s cat… of course, I heard that from a drek, so in all likelihood it’s total rubbish. But who’s to know? It could happen. Anything can happen, with wizards. Like all those experiments with reality the renegades were doing… in that strange tower… with all the rods and things coming out of the roof… gods, how far away do they have to put the damn dungeons? Can’t they just throw me in some cell already?

What were those things on the roof for, anyway? I heard something about them being used to channel the body heat given off by moths into usable energy… who did I hear that from? Damn, I think it was another drek… I really need to stop talking to those guys. Or just stop remembering. Anyway, some of those experiments were really unethical. I heard they were using dwarfs as test subjects… and I’m pretty sure I heard that from a human, so it’s at least halfway credible. Someone really should destroy that tower… oh, yeah. That’s what we blew up. That’s why we were celebrating. Of course, the smart ones in the group advised against going to some tavern to celebrate. Too dangerous, they said.

But how could anything have gone wrong? I was surrounded by loyal rebels. All drinking and having fun… ah. That’s what went wrong. Maybe next time there should be someone who doesn’t get drunk… that’s a good idea. I’ll take along one of those young ones next time, someone who still has some idealism left.

That is… if there is a next time. Damn, why did I have to think that? That really didn’t help. I have to keep an optimistic-

Azar’s train of thought was interrupted when he was thrown headfirst into a cell. Behind him, the cell door slammed shut.

Azar picked himself up slowly and looked around. The cell was roughly five paces wide by five paces long. Grime and filth covered the walls. Two objects barely qualifying as beds moldered in the darkness, one along each wall. A torch on the wall of the corridor outside the cell barely illuminated the front half of the cell. Shadows cloaked the back half. Sitting in the darkest corner was a person. The shadows obscured the person’s age, race, and gender.

“Another one?” said the person. Its voice revealed it to be female.

“Another what?” asked Azar in reply.

“Another prisoner thrown in here to be interrogated later. I guess this means Finley finally gave in. Such a pity, I was starting to like him…”

“Why do they put prisoners they want to interrogate in here?” asked Azar warily.

“Oh, back when they first threw me in here, some of the guards were looking at me in a way I didn’t like at all. So I pretended to be crazy to turn them off. It’s worked out great – of course, now they put all the people they want to crack in here. I think they think you guys will cave sooner if you’re in a cell with a crazy girl, but that really doesn’t work very well, what with me not being crazy and all.”

“Pretended to be – look, may I see the person I’m speaking to, please?” asked Azar politely, if rather impatiently.

“What? Oh, sure… I keep forgetting about these damn shadows, always being so… shadowy.” The girl emerged from the shadowed corner.

She was young. Azar guessed she had most likely seen eighteen years. She wore rags that had probably once been finery, but were now dirty and torn. She was slightly too skinny to be healthy, but still very attractive, with raven hair and pleasant brown eyes.

“Hmm. Anyway, how did you pretend to be crazy?” asked Azar curiously.

“Oh, it was easier than you’d think,” replied the girl. “These guards are so gullible it’s almost criminal.” She then pulled her hair in front of her face, and spoke in a voice growing steadily more raspy, and wavering more with every word, “Blood for the faceless priest! Souls for the nameless god!” Returning her hair to its place behind her ears, she giggled slightly.

“Very impressive…” muttered Azar. He began to wander the cell, pawing the filthy walls and knocking in certain places.

“What are you looking for?” asked the girl.

“A way out,” said Azar, still wandering around the cell.

“Why would there be one?”

“This dungeon was built by aristocrats. They’d have left themselves some way out, should the people rise against them.”

“That’s silly. No one would do that, it’s too much work.”

“How do you know? It’s aristocrats, they’re like wizards, everything we consider odd, they consider normal.”

“Hey! That’s not true!”

“Again, how do you know?” asked Azar, turning toward the girl. She seemed reluctant to speak.

“My… my father was an aristocrat. It’s why I’m in here, they consider me untrustworthy. The only reason they didn’t execute me as soon as they took over was that my mother was a peasant woman,” said the girl, speaking fast.

Azar took in this information, and then turned to the wall and continued to search. After a while, the girl spoke again.

“Your ears… are you a half-elf?” she asked hesitantly.

“Quarter. My grandmother on my father’s side,” said Azar, still looking over the wall. “I don’t envy her, so far she’s outlived her son and three grandchildren…” he muttered under his breath.

There was silence for a while more. Azar walked all around the cell, putting his ear to the wall and rapping it with his knuckles. The girl stood around, looking vaguely bored, watching Azar move around. After a few minutes, her eyes narrowed and she looked at Azar interestedly.

“Hey… I think I’ve seen you before…” she muttered. After staring at his face for several seconds, she snapped her fingers and smiled. “I know! You were on a wanted poster in town. Something about arson.”

Azar paused in his inspection of the walls and looked at the girl quizzically. “When did you see that? They’ve only been putting up posters about me for a year or so… how long have you been in here?”

“Only a few months. Before that, my father and I were in hiding.”

The quarter-elf looked as though he were about to say something, but turned and went back to examining the wall. The girl stood around looking bored for several more seconds before speaking again.

“So, is that what they put you in here for? Arson?” she asked.

“At this point, they’ve stopped caring about individual offenses,” said Azar, chuckling. “I’ve committed so many crimes, I doubt they can even keep track of them all…”

The girl looked at him interestedly for several seconds, and then opened her mouth, as if to ask a question. She appeared to change her mind halfway through, and closed it again.

“What kind of crimes did you commit?” she asked warily after several seconds.

“Oh, quite a few… to be honest, I can’t even keep track of them anymore,” said Azar absentmindedly. “Arson a few times, assault at least once, quite a lot of theft… maybe a bit of graverobbing? I can’t exactly recall…”

“What are you?” the girl asked, slightly frightened. “Some kind of bandit?”

“In a way. Tell me,” he said, looking up from his work, “how much do you hear of the outside world?”

“Some. Every time a new prisoner is thrown in here, I find something out. They’re usually quite talkative.”

“What do you know of what is currently happening in this glorious kingdom of Esyrea?” asked Azar, speaking the last phrase with massive amounts of sarcasm.

“People are unhappy with the way things are going… there’s a rebellion against Lord Sheth… ooh!” she said excitedly, “Are you a rebel?”

“Technically, I’m the leader of the rebellion,” said Azar, going back to his examining of the wall. “That’s why I’m in here… any other rebel, they probably would have just executed.”

“The leader?” said the girl, a questioning look on her face. “The wanted poster didn’t say anything about that…”

“They don’t particularly like people to tell people that they know who the leader of the rebellion is, but are completely incapable of catching him,” said Azar. A perturbed look crossed his face, and he corrected himself. “Were completely incapable of catching him…”

The girl looked at him for a moment. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Azar.”

“Azar?” The girl frowned slightly. “That’s an odd name… it’s not elven, I know that much…” she muttered to herself.

“My mother came from… strange lands. Far to the southeast. She missed her native land greatly, and gave me a traditional name from there…” muttered Azar, still searching the wall.

“Oh…” said the girl. “It’s a nice name, anyway. I’m Katalyn. It’s nice to meet you.” Katalyn waited for several seconds, but he did not return her friendly greeting. “What are you doing, anyway?” she asked, slightly upset at the lack of friendliness.

“I’m searching the wall for hollow places. It’s unlikely I’ll find an actual passage, but a hollow sound could mean a hidden alcove, possibly containing a switch or lever of some sort…” As he said this, he hit an area of wall that produced a decidedly different tone than the rest. Working his fingernails into a nearby crack, he dislodged a thin sheet of stone about as large as a man’s hand from the wall.

Reaching inside the uncovered hole, Azar withdrew a small sheet of parchment, brittle and yellow with age. He looked at it rather disappointedly.

“Parchment. That’s not very useful at all… even worse, it’s written in dwarfish… entirely useless,” he said, tossing it aside.

“Hey! I might be able to read that…” said Katalyn, grabbing the parchment before it fell to the ground. “My tutor was a dwarf, so he took special care to teach me to read and write dwarfish. I can’t speak it though, it’s far too guttural… my throat starts hurting after about the fourth word.” She fell silent, mouthing the words to herself as she read the paper.

After several seconds, she too threw aside the note. “It’s a letter from a dwarf to his wife,” she said. “Boring. And entirely useless. Are you sure there isn’t a switch or something in there?”

“It’s a pretty shallow hole. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing else.”

Katalyn began pacing back and forth. “That’s so annoying! You find something that could get us out of here, and it turns out to be a bloody love letter… ouch!”

“Ouch?”

“I cut myself on that piece of stone you pried from the wall… gods, that hurt…”

Azar picked up the stone sheet that had previously been guarding the dwarf’s hiding place. Along the bottom edge, it was sharp enough to draw blood without much effort.

“Hmm…” he muttered, “We may have a chance to get out of here…”

“What? How?” asked Katalyn.

“How often do the guards make their rounds, and do they all carry cell keys?” asked Azar, ignoring Katalyn’s questions.

“They come here every half hour or so… I think they all carry keys,” she answered.

“Do they come near the cell bars?”

“I’ve heard them taunting some of the other prisoners, but they usually keep their distance from me.”

“That’s no good, then… when do they give us food?”

“Every morning, a few hours after sunrise.”

“Do they come all the way into the cell?”

“Usually, yes…” Realization dawned on Katalyn. “You’re going to kill one, aren’t you?” she asked, horrified.

“Only if necessary. I’d rather just tie them up and leave them here… maybe lock the cell behind me, just to annoy them.”

This didn’t seem to calm Katalyn very much, and she still looked rather disturbed. “How will we get out after that, anyway? They’re bound to ask questions if we just go wandering about the dungeons!”

“We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it. Now, I’ve had a long day, what with being marched for miles and thrown into a dungeon, so I’m going to go to sleep now. Wake me at dawn.” With that, Azar threw himself on one of the bed-like objects and closed his eyes.

“What? Aren’t we supposed to cross bridges, not burn them?” asked Katalyn, slightly confused. Azar, already asleep, did not respond.

 

And that’s that. Be nice.

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Attempts At High Fantasy

So, first off, I apologize profusely for my lack of posting in these last three weeks or so. What with one thing or another, I’ve been busy.

Fortunately for you, I return with this offering: HIGH FANTASY LOL. This is the first chapter of a fantasy book I’m working on… of course, what with my incredible lack of dedication to any task, it might just end up being a series of posts on this blog, or it might just die. I promise nothing. Anyway, first chapter, right here. I warn you… this shit is long. I mean long as in LONGCAT IS LOOOOOOOONG long.

Comments are appreciated to the point of me coming after your family if you don’t comment. I fully realize that most of the guys reading this have a massive disdain for High Fantasy, but fuck that. I want to know if the actual writing is good or not… plotline, characters, etcetera.  Suggestions on grammar, phrasing, wording, spelling, and any other mundane muckdyguck are also welcome. This doesn’t have a title yet, so I’ll just kinda start.

 

I

It was a bleak winter. Though it was bitter cold, no snow fell. The naked trees stood, barren and lonely, casting forlorn shadows over the dead, brown grass. The sky was clouded, the sun not deeming this depressing scene worthy of an appearance. Biting winds tore through the forest, making the cold even colder.

Through the trees wound a little-traveled path. Fallen and decaying leaves covered it, in places obscuring it so badly that it was impossible to tell what was path and what was forest.

Along this path trudged a long line of armed and armored men, as bleak and desolate as the forest around them. They marched in silence, grim expressions on their faces. They were cold, hungry, and tired. Their armor was designed for protection from the blades of their enemies, and was useless against the relentless assault of the elements.

At the head of the column rode a solitary figure on horseback. Like the men at his back, he wore a grim expression, but his included a hint of smugness. He was accoutered in armor of purest ebony, shining like the depths of the blackest night. Behind him swirled a deep purple cloak. He seemed to exude a feeling of formality. He rode straight-backed, motionless, staring at the path ahead.

A figure marching slightly behind him and to the left coughed slightly. “Yes, Captain?” said the man on horseback, still staring straight ahead.

“Sir…” started the captain, “I believe we should stop for rest soon. The men are tired.”

“We will continue to march. I want to present our… prize… to Lord Sheth by tomorrow.”

The man on horseback turned around briefly, and let his eyes fall on the figure stumbling along behind the horse. He hands were manacled, and the manacles were attached to the back of the horse by means of a long rope. Outfitted in several layers of cloth and a leather tunic, he was probably warmer than anybody else in the column. His eyes were a piercing blue, and his slightly pointed ears and high cheekbones betrayed the hint of elven blood within his veins. His hair was down past his shoulders, and colored somewhere between brown and blond. A long scar ran down his right cheek.

The mounted man turned back to the path ahead. The captain who had raised the question continued to march in silence. It was not a good idea to argue.

As the column marched on, the sun began to set. Soon, it was obscured entirely by the horizon, plunging the forest into darkness. The wind whipped through the trees, sounding eerily like the breath of some otherworldly creature. The owls hooted and the crickets chirped, seemingly amplifying the silence.

Although this imagery had no effect on the man riding at the head of the column, the men of the column, hungry and tired, grew nervous. The moon had not yet risen; the clouds obscured the stars. In the shadows of deep night, imagination took its course.

A muttering emerged from the column, a frantic buzz of superstition and rumormongering that grew steadily in volume. Raising his left hand, the man at the head of the column shouted “Silence!” The muttering died; the column marched on.

A rustling in the bushes caught the attention of the captain who had earlier been silenced by the leader of the column. “Sir…” he started apprehensively.

“Yes?” said the man on horseback, again not bothering to look back.

“Sir… there are sounds coming from the bushes.”

“An animal, most likely a deer.”

“Sir, his archers could be hiding in there! You know they’d love to get a shot at you, and-” The riding man raised his left hand abruptly, cutting off the captain’s protests. After a moment, the captain began again. “Sir, don’t you think you should at least get down? You’re far too easy a target, up on that horse!”

“Captain Morrison, what kind of message do you think that would send to my men? That I am one to cower in the face of even hypothetical danger? No, I shall remain riding, and you shall be silent.”

Captain Morrison marched on in silence, not daring the wrath of his superior. After a time, his eyes widened. “Sir, get down!” shouted the captain, pulling the cloaked man off his horse forcefully. In the moment immediately after, an arrow pierced the air directly where the man’s neck had been, not a second prior.

Standing abruptly, the dismounted man pointed forcefully to an area of bushes to the left of the path, still looking straight ahead. Several of the braver men in the column immediately leaped off the path, into the dark of the forest.

Turning to the manacled man standing behind the now stationary horse, the cloaked man smiled and began to speak.

“Another attempt of yours foiled. How you’ve managed to cause this much trouble to Lord Sheth with such a meager and untalented group of followers, I really don’t know.”

When the prisoner said nothing, the man continued. “They really would love to have you back, wouldn’t they? Without you, their whole operation falls apart. Cut off the head, and the body dies. It’s why Lord Sheth has such an extensive bodyguard. Most would think you would have anticipated an attempt at your capture on our part. Apparently not. Who knows what goes through the minds of such deluded rabble-rousers as yourself?” The prisoner continued his stoic silence.

Grunting, the cloaked man turned away, walking toward the captain, who saluted stiffly. “Captain…” began the man, “you appear to have been right this time. However, excepting you saving my life, never lay hands upon me again.” This said, the man remounted his horse.

The men who had entered the forest returned, throwing an object at the feet of the mounted man. It rolled, coming to a stop in front of the prisoner. The man looked down, staring. He beheld clouded eyes and bloodied hair, adorning a recently decapitated head.

Muttering under his breath, the prisoner glared with hatred at the man on horseback.

The column marched on.

 

The men marched into the city. There were no cheering crowds to be seen. It was far too cold to be outside, and in any case, their coming had not been announced beforehand.

The city was filthy, covered in dirt and grime. Most of the houses the men passed as they marched were in bad states of disrepair, their roofs falling in and their windows broken. Those citizens that were outside shuffled along, looking at naught but their feet, intent on their destination and nothing else.

The only part of the city that looked cared for was a massive fortress, near the very back of the city. The fortress was situated at the edge of a sheer cliff. Beyond it, there was a seven-hundred foot drop into churning, rocky waters. Had one bothered to find a way down, they would have undoubtedly found the battered skeletons of many an ill-fated, ill-footed man.

The column of men paid no attention to the squalor surrounding them, marching instead directly toward the fortress. Upon arriving, the man at the head of the column motioned for his men to halt.

“Captain…” he began, “follow me. Bring the prisoner.” With this, he entered the fortress. The captain untied the prisoner from the horse, and followed the cloaked man, dragging the manacled man along unmercifully.

Inside was a large entry hall. Toward the back was a massive, closed, double door. In front of this door stood two guards wielding sizable halberds.

“Wait here,” murmured the man as he walked past the guards. Captain Morrison, prisoner in tow, stopped and stood at attention.

Throwing open the double doors, the man walked in, kneeling before a man sitting upon a throne. It was a rather plain throne, with no ornamentation whatsoever, made purely of stone.

The man upon it seemed to suit its cold silence. His face was angled, his nose resembling the beak of a hawk. His face was scarred. He had long black hair, black eyes, and armor to match. On his back he wore a cloak of equal hue.

The man on the throne looked up.

“Ah, Sir Hugo. Back from your manhunt, I see. It does not escape me that you arrive a month late.” said the man on the throne.

“I apologize, sire. He was… elusive,” replied Sir Hugo.

“Have you at least succeeded? Tardiness I can tolerate, but failure is entirely unacceptable, Commander.”

At this, the commander stood, and, his eyes remaining on the throned man, called “Bring him in.”

Captain Morrison entered, dragging the prisoner along behind him. On the throne, the man began to chuckle, a guttural, unpleasant sound. Reaching the area where Sir Hugo was standing, Captain Morrison threw the prisoner brutally to the floor.

“Wonderful… even late, this is quite a prize…” said the throned man greedily.

“Yes, sire,” began Sir Hugo, “I believe his capture will lead to the end of the rebellion, and a restoration of the peace.”

“Rebellion?” spoke the throned man sharply. “What rebellion? There is no rebellion, and to term it as such validates their pitiful cause.”

“Lord Sheth, I did not mean to offend!” said Sir Hugo quickly.

“Be that as it may, you need this lesson ground into you!” Lord Sheth rose angrily from his throne, and continued to speak, his words pointed, almost painful. “This meager resistance is no rebellion. It is simply the scurrying of ants, attempting to prevent themselves from being devoured by a mighty wolf!”

The manacled man coughed slightly. All present turned to him.

“Sire…” he began, speaking for the first time, “I feel inclined to point out that wolves do not actually eat ants.”

“Silence!” shouted Lord Sheth, his face now contorted with rage. “You have the insolence to stand there, manacled and in the keep of your enemies, and mock me? I should have you executed this very moment!”

“Sire, that is not a good idea,” interjected Sir Hugo quickly. “He should be interrogated. Thoroughly. He knows of many things. We may have here the key to the end of the… resistance. Simply executing him would be foolish if he knows what we think he knows.” Sir Hugo finished speaking quickly, as if to stave off any attempts to interrupt him.

Lord Sheth stared appraisingly at the commander for a moment, and then sat down again on his throne. All present waited for him to speak.

“You are, as ever, the voice of reason, Commander,” said Lord Sheth when he finally spoke. There was a barely audible release of held breath from the commander.

“What shall we do with him for now, sire?” said the obviously relieved Sir Hugo.

“Throw him in the dungeons. I will question him when I wish. Deprive him of food and water until then. Oh, and Commander… I wish to speak to you alone,” said Lord Sheth.

Turning to the captain, Sir Hugo nodded to the a door to the left of the throne. Captain Morrison exited through it, dragging the prisoner along behind him.

After he had left, Lord Sheth turned to the shadows behind his throne. With a barely perceptible gesture, he dismissed two guards stationed in the shadows. Had one not known where to look, they would have been entirely invisible, as their black leather armor and cloaks blended with the gloom. The guards exited silently, following Captain Morrison to the dungeons.

“Your bodyguard is as frightening as ever, I see,” said Sir Hugo, a slight smile touching his lips. He spoke with a more relaxed tone, one that hinted of familiarity.

“That’s just for show, as you well know, Hugo,” replied Lord Sheth, sharing Sir Hugo’s friendly tone. “If anyone in this pitiful city did not fear me, I would be dead before tomorrow. Thus, I hire only the most highly skilled fighters – the two you just saw are trained assassins, imported from eastern Erneth. I also have among my guard berserkers from the sands of the far south, fencers of the former aristocracy, and one dwarf so crazy that he believes anyone speaking to him is a herring.”

“If all these guards are so highly trained, why must you continue your… gruff facade among them?” asked Sir Hugo.

Lord Sheth grunted. “Highly trained they may be, but that doesn’t mean they can hold their tongues. I learned that after the rebellion nearly assassinated me… the third time, I think. They had chased down a half-elven swordsman – the most skilled guard among my retinue, I might add – and bought him ales until he couldn’t stand, much less withhold secrets. That night, there was a rebel under my bed…” Lord Sheth trailed off disjointedly. “Come to think of it, I’m still not sure which secret the half-elf gave away… how did that bastard get in, anyway?” The throned man stared off into the distance, deep in thought. A cough from Sir Hugo brought him back to reality.

“Enough of idle chitchat, Hugo. How did you fare in your… other… mission?” asked Lord Sheth.

In response, the commander withdrew a small object from a pouch around his waist. It was a book, roughly an inch thick and bound in black leather. On its front and back covers swirled silvery patterns that enthralled and confused the eye, not seeming to have any discernible beginning or end. The book had no title. It seemed incredibly old.

Lord Sheth inhaled sharply. “Bring it here!” he commanded roughly. Sir Hugo climbed the stone steps ascending toward the throne, and handed the book to the throned man. Lord Sheth grimaced slightly as he took the book, but he quickly concealed his reaction. Pocketing the book, he stood abruptly.

“I will need to study this. Take your men and report to the army garrison just outside of town. Wait there until I have further need of you,” spoke Lord Sheth decisively.

“Sire, if I may ask…” started Sir Hugo quickly, “What secret does the book contain? Why is it of such value to you?”

Lord Sheth, already hurrying toward a door in the shadowed back of the room, looked back at the commander and smiled grimly. “That is what I intend to discover. From what I know, the book is supposed to be the key to power unending. As to what that means…” Lord Sheth chuckled briefly, and departed to his personal chambers.

Sir Hugo stood silently. After several minutes, the captain returned from the dungeons, followed by the two silent guards. The commander jerked his head toward the door, indicating that they should leave. Sir Hugo left the room quickly, Captain Morrison jogging slightly to catch up.

“Sir, what did his lordship want?” inquired the captain.

“The gods only know…” muttered Sir Hugo. Captain Morrison stopped, perplexed.

“Sir… what does that mean?”

Sir Hugo did not reply.

 

And that’s that.  Don’t be too cruel with your comments – I want to maintain  some vestiges of self-esteem.