There is no fight left anymore. No desire to carry on, no will, no strength. Instead, there is but sadness filling the place where there was once courage and love.
A heart beat here, but it has stilled, worn down by hours and days and years of pain. Perhaps there is a flutter of life within this breast, but if so, it is the last grasp of a dying creature.
This heart has fought many battles, lost many wars. Now it is content to lie still, to surrender the field. There is no fight left anymore.
Tasala slumped down by the fire, chewing on the burnt leg of week old meat in his hands. Tough, the first hints of rot coming through in the taste. It was nourishment, but only just. His unit had been chased all across the central plains of Karlak, never given time to stop and rest, and was now so battered and bruised that it was at less than half normal strength. Most of the other half, well… the other half was chasing them. Tasala had seen one of his friends kill another, hacking at the head until it had been a pulped smear on the ground. One had been dead then, and both of them were dead now.
The necromancers and channellers who’d risen against the emperor had been waging a war for five years, pushing inward from the northern border, each year another chunk disappearing under their control. This year… this year was the worst of all. The undead were all the way to the fertile plains, and that meant no crop for the kingdom. Another year like this one and they’d lose not to the undead, but to starvation. There had already been circumstances of cannibalism to stay alive, and the coming days promised more.
Troops were free for the necromancers. They dug up graveyards, slaughterhouses, old battlefields, wherever there were dead bodies. The kingdom had been warlike enough to make the supply limitless. Tasala had seen, and smelled, some of the rites to their god, needed to bring the dead to life. The sorcerers liked performing the rites across from the living, letting the human soldiers know that the horde grew every night. The next morning, the channellers would be marching the newest warriors out to fight.
The living had seen every conceivable beast by then, from freshly killed warriors to farmyard animals. Tasala and the troops with him had laughed when they’d first seen the chickens. “We’ve won this war now, they’re reduced to fighting us with food!” Joy became fear once the tactics became apparent. The undead troops would attack, and while the living were occupied with those their own size, the chickens would peck at their feet and legs. The necromancers had pulled out the beaks and replaced them with nails, spikes, bits of broken blade, anything that could wound. Rusty and filthy, anyone injured by one of these weapons would have wounds that festered and rotted, making them a heavy drain on the living’s resources.
Tasala continued to gnaw on the meat, the sour taste overcome by the fear of starvation, the knowledge that the next meal was a day or more away. He and his soldiers had fought today, and lost, again, forced back further across the plains. The generals had thought they could hold the undead cohorts here, for the rotting soldiers moved slowly and disjointedly, the necromancers who kept them mobile unable to control the whole army at once. So, raiding parties had been sent out, Tasala among them, to harass the supplies coming for the living leaders of the dead army.
They had failed. The supply trains were not wagons and mules, but long strings of undead soldiers marching to join their brethren at the front, carrying the supplies with them on crude carts. Once attacked, they dropped the supplies and pulled out weapons, winning the battles by weight of numbers. The deep raiders dwindled, eventually forced to flee by hunting groups of undead or caught and wiped out.
Harassing attacks on the main army had served no better. Through long experience, the living knew that ruining the head or chest of an undead destroyed the store of magical energy that kept it powered. The first two raids had gone well enough, only a few men lost to infrequent resistance, and large numbers of the undead smashed by bullets from the slings and crossbows the cavalry now carried.
After those first two, the dead had come back with their own counter: rotting corpses of swift animals. Horses, deer, even birds were seen among the undead ranks. Those large enough carried riders with bows and arrows or javelins, matching cavalry to cavalry. All of the animals had their front legs and forward torso studded with spikes, crushed glass, or blades. Those carrying no rider simply picked a living cavalryman and ran into him, impaling man and mount. These wounds didn’t kill unless the dead had gotten lucky, but they crippled, removing any hit from the field of battle for months, maybe forever.
Tasala’s legion had been one of these raiding parties. They’d had a successful raid today, cutting a great swath through the flank of their enemy, but as they rode away a pack of these devilbeasts, hidden in a thicket along the route home, had swarmed into the cavalry, leaving almost a third of the raiding force as casualties. After that débâcle, his cavalry unit had only four of every ten men healthy for duty, barely enough for them to remain operational. It was a ratio that was sure to get worse.
This story was co-written by E. P. Marcellin for a fun little contest we came up with, and I think she did a brilliant job of it.
I’d be interested if anyone could tell where one of us stopped writing and the other picked up.
Rupert was affronted. His neighbours had no manners at all. They plucked his opulent blooms right out of his garden, never mind the picket fence! When he complained, they had the audacity to imply it was his own fault they picked his flowers. “If your repugnant odour were not so overpowering, we would have no need to bury our noses as we passed by,” they would holler at him from the lane, pilfered blooms unabashedly in hand.
Repugnant odour, indeed! Rupert could not believe that elves, even wood elves, could be so rude. A mountain elf himself, he should have been cool, icy calm. He was not. Crouched behind the glazed glass of his window, peering out at the thieving wood elves, he seethed inside, anger twisting him into untangleable knots. Narrowing his eyes in hate, he bit ruthlessly into a garlic bulb, enjoying the satisfying crunch and subsequent burst of sharp flavour, barely noticing the intense aroma that made his eyes sting. How could they say he smelled anything but pleasant, surrounded by flowers as he was?
Then one day, as Rupert watched from the shadows, a statuesque elf snapped off his biggest, most beautiful begonia. He did not notice the pleasure the bloom gave her, the way it lit up her gorgeous face, how she tenderly carried it home. All he saw was the naked stem, and a terrible rage gripped him. If his neighbours were going to act like goblins, snatching up beauty and sneering at him, then goblins they should be!
Stony-faced and silent, Rupert donned a light cloak and disappeared into the night, slipping away from the elf village. Filled with malicious intent, it was no great difficulty to find those of like mind, the dark elves who thrive on hatred. They danced under the glaring eye of the moon, capering to a drumbeat that matched the rhythm of Rupert’s heart.
“What do you here?” demanded an old elf who watched from the verge as Rupert approached. She looked like weathered wood, spindly branches for limbs, fingers like twigs that reached for him.
“I wish to cast a spell,” he said, shrinking back slightly from her knobby, grasping fingers. Ignoring his movement, she caught hold of his face, turning it this way and that, studying him in the moonlight.
“Your heart is twisted and dark,” she muttered. “This is magic we can work. But all spells come with a price.”
“I couldn’t say,” the old elf cackled. “The price names itself! What spell would you cast?”
“I wish to curse the village of wood elves. Turn them all into the goblins they are at heart!”
“Dear boy, that is a simple matter,” she said, spindly fingers digging into his arm as she led him into the cavorting circle of dark elves. They ceased as the wizened elf held up her hands. “Children,” she called, “we have a spell to cast!” Looks of glee danced from face to face as the other elves bared their sharp teeth in feral grins. They joined hands in a long line, then twisted into a spiral with Rupert and the aged elf at the center, chanting and swaying as she turned her face to the rotund moon. Her skin, like translucent parchment, seemed to take on the moon’s glow as she gathered power, lank hair suddenly turning to silken tresses. The wrinkled skin that hung on her bones smoothed to perfect alabaster. Fresh pink, like rose petals, infused her cheeks; her lips, red as spilled blood, continued the chant. Soon a vision stood before Rupert, a startling combination of pale skin and jet hair, eyes black pools he could drown in.
“Speak your curse,” she said, her voice the whisper of the wind through the trees.
“Wood elves, tremble, for your doom is upon you,” he said, chest puffed out in a theatrical gesture. “You think yourselves garden goblins, so you shall become. As you stole beauty, so it shall be stolen from you. I curse you!” The dark elves groaned in unison as power was released from their leader, a shockwave that swept through the forest, bending the protesting trees before it.
“It is done,” the leader said, wrapping her soft arms around Rupert’s neck. Leaning in, she kissed him, slow and lingering. Her ruby lips tasted of honeysuckle; her body, pressed against his, banished thought of all else. Gathering her in his arms, he would gladly have stayed in that moment for eternity. And then she shrank back to a bag of bones, the skin pulling back from her teeth against his lips. Revolted, he pulled away.
“So the price has been named,” she said with a half-smile. “Your seed shall dry up and never be planted in fertile womb. No woman will come to your bed, you half man. You wished to pay the price? Well, live you now in celibacy.”
Walking away from the chuckling circle of dark elves, Rupert was not certain he had gotten the better end of that deal.
For the next several days, he sat and watched from his garden. No visitors! No thieves! He capered and danced and spun, until he fell down dizzy. Those silly little wood elves, acting like goblins. Why, now they were goblins, and they would bother him no more!
Rupert slept that night with a grin. After eating a garlic and black bean dinner, of course. He loved the way the tastes comingled in his mouth and roiled in his gut. Such a sensation! He’d mailed the recipe off to the best chefs in the land, hoping to sell it. The responses he had received had all been rude. Tasteless philistines.
Morning came, and Rupert rush to his window, peering out over his garden. His blooms, they were intact. Intact intact intact. The old crone really had worked her magic. He must send them a gift of radishes dipped in cayenne powder. Then again, maybe he should wait until a woman came to his bed. If not, he’d probably paid quite enough.
“Wait…” Rupert pressed his nose to the window. “I see a small red cap growing from the bush. A mushroom? I don’t grow mushrooms there! My mushrooms are round the back, in a tasteful little circle around the old tree stump.” Stomping out to remove the offending mushroom, Rupert recoiled in horror.
“A gnome! There is a garden gnome! Eek!” Rupert hid behind the nearest tree, shivering. He hated gnomes and their bulbous noses and red peaked caps. He peered closer. Oh, a statue of a garden gnome. How cute.
Those elves must have pranked him in the night! That’s where the statue came from. Glaring horribly, he picked up the gnome by its silly red cap and threw it over his picturesque white picket fence. “And stay out!” Rupert yelled in satisfaction. Now to tend the poison ivy garden.
The next morning, he woke with a smile. The ragweed should be blooming, and the begonia might have another blossom. He peered. “Is that, is that!” Not one, but two garden gnomes sat right out in the open, on the little stone pathway! Why those cursed little demon elves, playing twisted jokes.
Although when Rupert thought about it, none of them had walked past his front door since the curse. Curious. Still, there were those stupid garden gnomes to get rid of. He threw them over the fence.
A nice walk in the woods would calm him. And he could pick some of those lovely little berries off the bushes, the ones that dyed your pee purple. That was always good for a laugh.
Rupert came back to a garden covered in gnomes. Hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of gnomes. They’d covered every inch of his beautiful flower beds except the stone path, and he swore their perky red caps turned to face him when he arrived.
Rupert ran down the path and cowered inside his house, barricading the door and peering out the window. No movement. But gnomes, oh the gnomes. He slammed the shutters. They’d be gone in the morning, right? Right. Of course they would.
He fixed himself a casserole of pepper, avocado and forest mice and went straight to bed.
“So, Rupert, how do you like your garden goblins?”
He opened his eyes to find the crone perched on the end of his bed, a stormcrow of doom in her image.
“Wha… wha.. what are you doing here?!”
She cracked the knuckles in her hands. “Your curse wasn’t strong enough, and a wood elf came to me and asked what I could do, and I offered him the same services that you engaged.” Her voice rasped across his ears, bones tumbling against one another.
“You cursed me? What? How?!”
“May you be lusted after by a thousand virile male gnomes!”
She flung open the door, and in poured the garden statues.
So, you may have noticed I had a sale on last weekend. Well, Jim Bronyaur was kind enough to interview me, and talk to me about sales, selling ideas, and ebook pricing. Wander over to see what I thought, then come back for the #FridayFlash.
The hum lived, and silence fled.
It was persistent, this hum. It vibrated from the foundation of the building to the peak, creeping and crawling through cracks and crevices.
It slipped inside of us, and we hummed with the structure.
No voice could overcome it, no noise slip past its embrace.
Swelling, it became the centre.
The hum grew, and became more.
The building collapsed, vibrations having shattered its core.
Bones broke, and we perished.
Growing, it became all.
Yet something was not right, for the hum changed pitch.
It became a wild thing, a creature of scales and chords and reverberations.
Like all before it, the hum must pass on too.
The hum died, and silence reigned.
This is the second post in a series about the process of writing. Each week, I will discuss one aspect with a Pantser, while I’ll provide my (a Plotter’s) point of view. For those who don’t know the terms, a Pantser is an author who writes more or less without a plan, while a Plotter is someone who lays everything out before starting work. As with most things in life, there’s a spectrum between the two. Personally, I plot everything over about 10k words in length. Under that, I freewrite. Mandy Ward, my guest author this week, is mostly a Pantser, as she’ll explain shortly.
This week’s topic is Distraction, or just how much those new ideas can drag us off course in a story. Read on to see how one of those crazy Pantser people does it, and then follow the link at the bottom to see my response.
I have been both a Plotter and a Pantser. When I started out on the steep climb of the Writing Path, I read every single creative writing book I could get my hands on… and as the accepted way to build stories in the Fantasy Genre (my favourite one) is to build a whole world before you even touch the first chapter / prologue, I did just that.
For two whole years, I built my world and plotted my story out, each chapter receiving a short paragraph of what was going to happen in it.
What no one mentioned in those writing books is that all that plotting and building is useless when you start actually writing the story!
What does this have to do with distraction?
I’m glad you asked. You see I just demonstrated the answer to the question I was asked, when I was asked to write this blog post. It’s an interesting question to be asked actually…
Quit rambling. Get to the point!
What point do you want me to get to? I could continue with the story about me writing my first (ill-fated) novel, I could continue my line of thought about why the question is interesting, or I could go off on a completely different tangent!
You’re doing it deliberately now. Go back to the beginning. What was the question that you were asked to answer for this post?
Hmm? What? Oh, sorry, yes… that’s what I was doing… I got slightly distracted for a moment or two there. Y’see. I’m currently multitasking and I was taken away from the computer to start dinner, do a load of washing and finish the row I was on. I’m currently typing one handed… excuse me a second…
Okay then. Where was I?
The question I’d been asked to answer was “How easy are you to distract to another project?” from the Pantser point of view.
*looks back at the previous 300 odd words and grins*
The answer is: I’m an easily distracted person anyway.
All sorts of things distract me and having more than one muse doesn’t help. When I’m supposed to be writing, my crafting muse will kick in and suggest a project for knitting or making jewellery. When I’m trying to finish a knitting project, I’ll get a story idea screamed at me by my writing muse.
I’m a little like a pinball in that respect. I hurtle from project to project without much in the way of a plan.
And that’s where my initial start point came from… I started out in writing being a Plotter and that helped a lot with my focus in the beginning phases of building a world and a story, but as soon as I started writing, the story caught me up and I became a Pantser.
Therefore, that’s where I stayed. Happily in fact.
Oh, I’ll write with an idea of where I’m going in my head and for a while the story will flow along well, but then an idea for something completely different will poke its nose in and I absolutely have to get the idea down in a rough format.
I have eleven WIP now, and I’m not even counting the number of short stories I’ve started and not finished…
One of these is a five book series, which a publisher has contracted me for. Wisely, my Editor has reassured me that I don’t have a specific deadline to finish the series in (See how well she knows me!)
I am collaborating on a children’s book series that is being self-published. The illustrator (who also knows how I work) prods me to do stuff every so often, in an effort to get things moving.
I have another YA Series which is far from being in a publishable state and a SF/Fantasy novel which has ground to a halt, a paranormal series that isn’t close to being ready (but has interest from a publisher) yet I can’t work on Paranormal while I’m writing Sword & Sorcery…
So in answer to the question – “How easy are you to distract to another project?”
I would say that I’m very easy to distract, it’s getting me to focus that is the hard part!