Vicissitudes in the Dark Wood (Pt. 4)

Trapped, staring frozen into the bonfire, Rubin felt the presence swelling behind him. Screaming internally at his body to respond, it was as if his spirit was no longer attached to his body. This wasn’t fear that froze him, he’d known that failure enough to recognise it. This was magic, but so subtle and natural that it could have been breathing.
Vibrations shook the air around him. Not the air, he realised, the ether. His spirit shuddered like a leaf before a mounting storm, the proud Weatherford scholar felt very small and powerless. The vibrations grew, unconcerned by Rubin’s terror until they were almost too much to bear. Instinctively he sought to protect himself from the onslaught on his senses, willing his eyes closed and his hands to cover his ears, but whatever form he now held seemed incapable or unwilling to obey.
And then the thundering roar of the ether stopped.
Something is different, was the first thing he noticed, the colours seemed more vibrant. He looked around and was startled to find that he could. Around him the woods stood, exactly as they had before, but in every way alien, like someone had recreated the world from perceptions of it rather than objective reality. Rubin turned slowly on his heel, cautiously taking in the world, searchingfor explanation or reason. Finding no answer he sought the familiar power of his magic, opening his essence to the ether as he’d done countless times before and instead of trickling forth as he was used to this time the magic erupted like wildfire, igniting the very nature of what he was and burning his very soul. The sudden, indescribable rush of power was too much, far too much for Rubin to contain, let alone control. He screamed, thrashing wildly in his torment when a voice pounded inside skull.
“Kneel. Kneel and worship me.”
Somehow through the mind destroying agony, Rubin remained conscious enough to understand and believe the words. Collapsing into a ball on the ground, he grovelled as sincerely as he could through the pain, praying earnestly for release.
And it was granted.
Weeping on the ground, as much from relief as the recently banished pain, Rubin remained motionless where he lay. Every nerve ending felt raw and tender, every sensation felt a thousand, thousand times more intense, such that the light breeze felt like sand paper. Even this, was bliss compared to the memory of before.

Eventually Rubin opened his eyes, it felt like hours later, but time seemed less real than it had. The woods, exactly as they were in reality, not that terrible other place, but he lain upon his bedroll and it was bright like the sunrise.
Slowly he lifted his head, feeling the weight of his body again. It was heavy, he’d never noticed how heavy it had felt simply to be in his body. Looking around he saw the others going about their early morning business. There was no chance that was a dream, he thought, though the evidence may points, it was simply too much to not be real. With a groan he rolled onto an arm and shakily pushed himself off the ground. Heavy footfalls nearby announced Telfor’s approach.
“Take a walk with me Rubin,” the gruff voice scraped itself across the scholars shoulder before boring its way into his ear. Without waiting for an answer, the grey soldier stomped past, moving into the woods. Unwillingly, but not wanting to start a fight just yet, Rubin followed despite his stiff joints and burning skin. Telfor took him deep enough into the wood to be out of earshit before he wheeled upon him.
“What happened during your watch?”
“I don’t know,” Rubin replied honestly, something about the way the question was asked made him want to lie, “Something happened. It was… horrible.”
Telfor raised a querying eyebrow, his grey, semi-beastial features made him less expressionate than most but this one was obvious. It was disbelief. That brought Rubin back to himself, heat filled his cheeks and he straightened his posture.
“It’s the truth. Some magic took me, and did something that I cannot explain yet. It must have been the work of that witch you made us bring along.”
“Careful, Rubin,” Telfor’s voice was low and quiet, not threatening, but also not without steel, “That’s a serious accusation considering you just told me you don’t know what happened.”
It was true, a malediction like he’d just described was a death sentence. His rational mind understood this, and told him to drop it, but he couldn’t. Something inside him snapped. Anger and frustration refused be contained and before he realised it, it was flowing out of him.
“No. No I refuse. I will not. I have been ignored, assaulted, and overriden. I am not one of your soldiers, Telfor. I am a Journeyman of the Weatherford University. I was entrusted to your band to bring a Necromancer to justice, and now she travels under our protection with promises of secrecy. A crime, punishable by death. I have had enough of your Leadership, on this matter. We have failed to report the undead we encountered in  timely fashion. Verumaleus is dead. And The Necromancer has maledicted me. This is where I draw the line, either you arrest her. Or I’m leaving.”
After the words were out, he already regretted them. He somehow felt wearier than he had before saying them. But unwilling to back down, he set his gaze and waited for a response. The pair stood staring at one another in silence for a time, until eventually Telfor bowed his head.
“Alright, Rubin. I’m listening, tell me exactly what happened. I believe you.”

Welcome back,
Third consecutive upload, and this one wasn’t completed the night it was due. Go me.
I’m quite pleased with this one, it’s probably fairly obvious how much I enjoy cosmic horror, I have a deep appreciation for the unfeeling, incomprehensible, things that awe and terrify us. Whether that concept comes to you through the vastness of space, the search for meaning or purpose, or something else, I find that style very powerful.
And as a fairly novice writer who enjoys a thing, I probably overuse said thing. I expect the story will become more grounded by the time the party arrives in the city. The series is called Blood and Lies after all, and we’ve had surprisingly little of both.
In news about my life; writing off the blog has gone slowly, and to my shame I haven’t read anything new, but I’m continuing to lose weight down 3kg now, and finally I’m very excited to run the first game of new Vampire: The Requiem next sunday.
My song for this installment: Baying of the Hounds – Opeth
Featured art: Shadow Demon by Keith 

Hope you enjoy it,


Vicissitudes in the Dark Wood (Pt. 3)

The frigid early morning chill eventually warmed as the party crashed through the foliage. The deep mysterious greens had brightened during the time they’d been resting in the village, orange and yellow leaves shone brightly in the noon day light.
“It feels like time hasn’t passed since we entered this forest,” Pan thought out loud, feeling the heat beneath his warm clothes despite the mild temperature.
“The forrest is a fairy kingdom,” Zsófia offered, “Their magic keeps the forrest green all year round.”
A scoff from Rubin interrupts the priestesses explanation, “Nonsese. Fairies or no, these trees will keep their colour all year round. It has no more to do with fairy magic than our slaying that monster had to do with your pagan gods protection.”
To her credit, Zsófia bit back whatever argument she thought of and continued the walk in silence. It was apparent that she was less conditioned to the pace Vahkragg set, and despite the large man secretly steadying his pace for her, she was sweating and breathing heavily. Rubin had noticed, but elected to remain silent making smug eye contact with Telfor at any opportunity. The scholar’s attitude was wearing on the veteran’s patience, who had begun to consider the merits of ordering Rubin to carry Zsófia’s pack as well as his own when Vahkragg silently halted to group and stealthily lowered himself, gesturing for those behind him to do the same.
As quietly as possible, Telfor moved up to where Vahkragg knelt motionless and peered through the overgrowth in the same direction. Ahead, all he saw was more trees, like the countless hundreds they’d passed already. Tall, dark green to almost seem black, damp, and covered in smaller plantlife.
“What did you see?”
“Not sure, might have been nothing.”
If there was one thing Vahkragg could have said to make Telfor feel wary, that was it. The nomad was the best outdoorsman he’d every travelled with, and at the same time the most bluntly understated speaker. More than either of those things, the giant had exceptional instincts. If there was something stalking them that Vahkragg wasn’t confident he’d noticed it, it was dangerous.
“What do you think?”
Silence hung delicately for minutes as Vahkragg considered, eventually rising slowly and signalling to the others they were moving again, “Arms reach.”
Nodding as the giant started moving, Telfor dropped back to hurry the stragglers into a tighter group. This caution further slowed the groups progress, and before long it was obvious that they were rapidly losing the sun and they weren’t escaping the forest before then. As the light began to fade, Zsófia’s voice, weak from exhaustion cut through the dreadful quiet, “We have to stop, if we keep going we won’t be protected by the time they come.”
The bounty hunters paused, exchanging uncertain glances in the face of this sudden exclamation. Not missing the looks of bewilderment, Zsófia answers the look with horrified disbelief, “You don’t know about the Fae? But that’s impossible, you couldn’t have made it to the village without passing through their domain!”
The terror in her voice immediately dispelled any uncertainty as to her meaning, the mood was immediately tense in the face of an uncertain challenge. Telfor approached the forest-dweller, resting a large palm on her slight shoulder comfortingly and asked, “What are you talking about girl, take a breath and explain it calmly so we can understand you.”
“The Forest is a Faerie kingdom, they slumber during the day but at night they come and hunt interlopers without adequate protections.”
“They didn’t trouble us when we were wandering lost, fleeing from the undead. Perhaps they have no interest in you.”
“No, that’s not it. They hate dead things, they’re filled with life and the undead repulse them. If you were being chased a horde, their stench would have driven off the fae for miles around. I’m an idiot for not realising that, I thought your crusader must have warded you all from them.
“We have no time to waste,” she contiued, her initial panic quickly being replaced by single minded efficiency as she analysed each of them and their equipment against some mental checklist, “We are fortunate, you seem to have almost perfectly equipped yourselves despite your ignorance.”
A tick of annoyance from Rubin is ignored as Zsófia hurriedly instructs the group to make camp, demanding fire and fuel enough to burn bright until dawn.
Within the hour the camp is made. Light and heat from the fire enough to be uncomfortable to stay by, while each of the groups weapons is carried free from their sheathes. Rubin had flatly refused to wear his clothes inside out, halting Zsófia’s mounting protective wards in their tracks when Telfor had sided with the scholar at this point. The fire, bare steel and iron, and Pan’s revenant aura would have to be enough to ward off any faeries the night had to offer. After praying for protection from the Horned God, Zsófia seemed content they would be safe and so the party turned in for the night with Rubin volunteering for first watch.
Wrapped in blankets to ward the biting cold that dug into whatever part of his body that wasn’t directly facing the fire, Rubin stared into the fire as he unfolded the many thoughts he’d kept to himself throughout the day. Frustration at Zsófia’s presence, as well as a dark mixture of anxious uncertainty regarding Oliver, if he’d doomed the hermit unwittingly to a faerie capture or if he’d made it safely to Verwich. With everything balanced on the edge of the knife and so many variables he couldn’t have prepared for, the scholar almost didn’t notice through his thoughts the sound of something behind him. Rather than spinning around and raising his arms to draw upon his magic, like he intended, an languid, nightmarish weight swallowed him and transformed his body’s motions to be agonisingly slow. The dreamlike weight on his chest was too heavy for him to scream, so when his eyes met the horned beast that dwarfed the anathema while somehow still managing to fit entirely within his view, all he could do was stare helplessly. Drowning under the power that saturated the air.

Hello everyone,
Today’s my second regular upload in a row lets see how long I can keep this rolling. I’ve been finding a lot of creative outlets lately, started a D&D game with my housemates and friends, and a will be starting a Vampire: The Requiem game on the 7th. Perhaps this new game will inspire me delve into Urban Fantasy, or Horror again after this series.
I’ve been reading a lot more, though still not as much as I should. My most recent finished read was The Temptation of Dragons (Penny White #1) by Chrys Cymri which I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys contemporary fantasy, british pop culture and humour. Considering a 5/5 to be something lie Neverwhere I gave this book a 3/5, I felt it was an easy to read fun story which was hard to put down. And it’s free on Kindle unlimited and only $1.29 aud for ebook, so the price is right.
My song for this series: Pagan Revolution by Elvenking

Hope you enjoy it,

P.S. Featured art is Gwent Illustration: Fiend by Marek Madej

Vicissitudes in the Dark Wood (Pt. 2)

The cottage loomed over them. Like a living thing it cast a presence upon like shadows that surrounded them. Filled with something more inimical than darkness, it pooled beneath their feet growing as if sought to consume them whole. Acutely aware of the unnatural sensation, Pan felt the cold as surely as any of his companions but only he recognised the faint taste that permeated the air before transorming to mist on their breath. It reminded him of home.
Striding purposefully forward, Telfor’s heavy boot crashed through the overgrown path and broke the silence few of them realised they’d been observing. In the time it took for the slower members of the group to recover and follow, he was baisically at the door. From where he stood near the back of the group, Pan could make out Rubin whispering a prayer behind him. Watching Telfor’s fist as it brought his knuckled down on the door, Rubin’s sudden outward display of piety seemed only sensible.
From within the sound of movement carried. The noise held colour, when all around them felt black. Natural like nothing else there felt, it lifted a weight that had settled in their chests.
The door opened and Zsófia’s greyish-green face greeted them with a wide smile, “Come in, all of you. Please.”
Inside the cottage bore none of the malevolant foreboding that had characterised the clearing outside the familiar taste, however, Pan noted seemed stronger though. In addition the style of the building was distinct from those of the village. Curious, as Zsófia led them through a hall to what must have been her sitting room, Pan’s searching eyes noticed the concealed basement entrance behind a curtain which implied further room below ground. Basements were common in the kingdom, but he had seen none within the village itself. Finally he noted the walls were not made from wood, but stone. Particularly odd for a village isolated by the forest.
“Thank you for agreeing to come see me before you left,” Zsófia’s quiet voice spoke over the crackling fireplace where they had gathered around, Vahkragg gratefully warming his hands.
“It was nothing,” Telfor answered, “How can we be of service?”
Bashfully shifting her gaze to the flame, Zsófia seemed to hesitate before she answered, “I have a request for you all, I believe it would be of benefity to all of us.”
Pausing slightly longer than was normal, Telfor had opened his mouth to prompt her when she finally got the rest out, “Please let me come with you. With the death of your friend, you are without a representative of the gods and I have never seen the world beyond the forest!”
The force of her plea came as a shock, left speechless Telfor was blindsided once more by the answer that came from behind him.
“Absolutely not.” Rubin’s hands were clenched in tight fists by his side, but his face was of impassive determination, “We have suffered your continued freedom due to the supposed debt owed for your service in reviving our companions, but this is too much. You are a necromancer, and a heretic. Even if we agreed to take you, you would be arrested the moment you entered the kingdom. It is impossible.”
Face flushing with colour, Zsófia’s cheeks filled with a darker green, her body balling with frustration to mirror Rubin’s own, “I have told you, I am not a necromancer. The Wild God works through me, his divinity is as true as Atyx or any of the Pantheon worshipped in the kingdom. I am no more necromancer than your friend was.”
“Alright, that’s enough your two.” Telfor interrupts, rubbing his head wearily, “Zsófia, doesn’t the village need your ministrations to keep your god civil?”
“Not until the solstice. I have a full turn of the seasons before the next ceremony I’m required for. I’m not merely asking out of fancy, winter is coming and there are things the village needs that we can’t get here. I’ve already spoken with the elders, they’ve agreed that this is the best option, the wild god’s creatures won’t attack me and I’ll hire people to escort me and the goods back to the village. And as to your friend’s objection, I shan’t call upon the wild god within the kingdom, no-one will have any reason to suspect me of any crime.”
Telfor’s rough fingers stroke the stubble that lined his chin. Pan wondered what thoughts were going through the veteran’s head, seemingly a simple man, Telfor had proven time and again to make decisions with deeper consideration than the quick witted scout could have. Glancing back at Rubin, the scholar’s cheeks were pools of vibrant bloody red, his prejudices ran deep, it would be difficult to picture him going along with any decision to bring Zsófia along.
“Alright,” Telfor answered, to a spluttering wordless exclamation from Rubin. Pre-empting the scholar’s objection, the veteran continued, “You can travel with us as far as the capital. Understand that you’re putting me in a difficult and dangerous position with your requestion so for as long as you travel with us the wild god stays here unless it’s a matter of life and death. Rubin, I recognise your distaste for Zsófia’s faith and it’s practices, as such I’m giving you the task of watching her. If you have reason to suspect she’ll bring us trouble, you tell me and we’ll send her home. Satisfied?”
By their experessions, Pan judged that neither of them were in any way close to satisfied, but eventually Rubin inclined his head in a stiff nod. Raising an eyebrow, Pan tried to read the room but other than that lingering taste of home, nothing really stood out. Whatever it was that convinced Telfor to agree, Pan simply had to trust the old soldiers’ instincts for now.
“Good. Are you packed? If not you’ve got five minutes, we’re already behind schedule.”
Despite the gruffness in the words, Zsófia brightened noticibly, and rushed into the hall emerging shortly after with a small pack that seemed much larger upon her small frame, “You won’t regret this, I promise.”

Part two, two weeks late unfortunately, my apologies. I’m not the best at forming positive habits it seems, but I’ve been doing pretty well at keeping up with my goals for eating better, exercising and writing more, so hopefully I’ll keep improving as the year progresses.
I’ve been making progress on my novel, still early days but it’s better than the cycle of write something, delete more, that I’ve had so far. Working title “Outcast”, the story shares a universe with many of the stories I upload on this side under the category “The Chrysalis” if you’re curious. It’s a fantasy coming of age story, with some influence from science fiction.

Hope you enjoy it,

P.S. Featured Art Herne the Hunter by Angela Jayne Barnett


The Arbiter: Turning Pages [fiction]

Brhi Stokes is a really cool author in the urban fantasy genre. She’s released one novel I really enjoyed called “Caligation” and has a new one “The Arbiter” coming out soon. Check out an excerpt on her blog.

Brhi Stokes

I had intended to have the first Arbiter book out last month. However, there’s been some delays. So I thought I would share the introduction with everyone, to give you a little preview of the book. This is before its final edit – naughty, I know – but I feel the need to share something by now.

Don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list, too! You’ll receive a free copy of my anthology as well as monthly updates.

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Vicissitudes in the Dark Wood (Pt. 1)

The early morning fog mingled with the bounty hunters misty breath as they hurriedly dressed themselves in the frigid morning cool. The weather reminded Telfor of home, his mind drifted back to his family and filled his thoughts with bittersweet wondering over how they were faring, if they were thinking of him like her thought of them.
Before the questions got too painful he dragged himself back to the present, he was dressed and had checked his pack twice with the military precision they’d drilled into him in the King’s Army. Across the room Vahkragg waited by the door in obvious discomfort, the giant hated the cold. More than two decades since he’d left the desert and he still sulked at a cool breeze. Dropping his face to hide his smirk from the scowling giant, Telfor shouldered his heavy pack with a grunt and stepped out the door.

Stood some distance from the house Jacob and his family were happily chatting. His wife Aria, as well as their son Jack, Aubrey and their child Luke must have gathered to see them off, Telfor supposes. The gesture was appreciated, he enjoyed the time they had spent with the family and knew he’d miss them when they left.
Having noticed the pair’s approach first, Aubrey smiled and waved, prompting Jacob to cut off whatever story he was telling and turn back towards them, beaming at them.

“Finished packing, already, I see.” The old man nodded, “Did you wake your scholar alright?”

A grunt of annoyance broke from Vahkragg, so out of character with the giant’s usual stoic politeness, the reaction won a patter of laughter from the gathered People. Telfor shook his head with a grin, “He’s up, shouldn’t be long. He’s been on the road with us long enough to be used to early starts, but he doesn’t have the same number of years doing it so he falls out of practice quickly when he’s allowed a bed.”

Jacob laughed at Telfor’s answer, but something in it felt off to the grey soldier. The feeling lasted hardly a moment, Jacob shifted uncomfortably in place like how a man without his great confidence might in a crowd of strangers. It also seemed the other adult villagers were also watching Jacob like they were expecting him to do or say something.
Then as soon as it came, the moment was gone. Jacob’s jovial self-confidence had returne and he seemed about to speak when the sound of dirt crunching announced the presence of someone approaching from out of sight, beyond the corner of the house. The old man’s mouth closed, keeping his words safe from being overheard.

From the sound of the footsteps, Pan dressed and ready for the road emerged rubbing his bleary eyes and ponderously working his way through the process of yawning. Telfor assumed he’d come from Jack and Aubrey’s home, they had taken him to stay with them after the first party and kept him since.
The young couple greeted the scout warmly, teasing his weariness like old friends. It was good seeing Pan connect with people his own age, they hadn’t known him before her had died, but Telfor would bet gold that he’d been a different man before then. His skills were invaluable to their business, but seeing the three of them together made Telfor wonder, not for the first time, if they weren’t doing Pan a disservice by keeping him.

“That’s three. As soon as Rubin’s here, we’ll make a start,” Telfor spoke the thought aloud, mostly for Pan’s benefit, when Jacob politely interjected.

“Before you go, Zsófia asked me to invite you all to come and speak with her.”

They way he said it, it seemed to Telfor like he hadn’t said all he had intended to. He understood discretion, and when it was best to respect a man for keeping it, and his instincts and experience with the old man told Telfor that he’d get nothing more from Jacob until the old man chose to share it.
Thankfully, as Telfor debated whether to waste the breath asking, Rubin emerged. More vibrantly coloured in his dyed robes, chosen to complement his rose coloured skin, than even the young hunters adorned with bright and colourful feathers, and tattooed skin. At least the scholar seemed packed and awake for the road, and hadn’t made them wait too longthis time, Telfor thought.

“That’s everyone. Alright, men, the priestess has requested we speak with her before we go, we won’t be taking long so don’t get comfortable.” Telfor barked with familiar authority, before turning to Jacob and in a more civil tone, “Lead on.”

“Aye, this way,” Jacob nodded and kissed his wife before setting off. As the group started across the village, and towards the forest, the rest of their new friends remained behind, waving and wishing them good travels.
Looking back to wave to them for the last time from the back of the group, Pan wondered to himself why it seemed Zsófia, despite her prestigious position within the village kept residence in such isolation. As they passed the last houses before the forests edge, he recalled the fairy stories Aubrey had told him about the forest at night. Of the dangers that lurked in the dark.
At the end of the clearing a small footpath, partially worn into the vegetation through people walking this way in lieu of any design, that Jacob led the group down. Immediately the cold, empty air, became thicker and warmer, but with an entirely unwholesome weight. The trek into the forest was longer than any of the visitors had expected. Telfor grew frustrated at losing the early morning start to this side trip but kept his silence, feeling his debt for her saving his life was worth at least this much. Only Vahkragg noticed the unnatural silence that came from the complete lack of any animals sounds as they passed.

“This is where I leave you,” Jacob spoke quietly, taking the group by surprise with the sudden announcementm Jacob grasped them each by hands one by one in a final gesture of farewell. The silence in the air dissuaded any of them from responding with speech, but they each returned his farewell with the same friendliness he had offered them. Before returning down the path towards the village, Jacob pointed towards a gnarled stump which seemed to glare at them and said, “Her home is just past that stump, be respectful in there, the place has a mind of it’s own… or so the stories say.”

Finally the trees opened into a small clearing, within stood a small, worn down old cottage with smoke slowly rising from the chimney. The dark sloping roof and overgrown walls made the cottage blend seemlessly into the forest, like it had simply grown here in ages long past.

Happy Belated New Years everyone. Best of luck to everyone who made resolutions in completing those, I’m hoping to get back into the shape I’ve fallen out of in the past couple years and finally finish my first novel.

As I’m sure you’ve realised; I’m back! Sort of…
So, the reason this upload is so late without a word is that shortly after I posted my intention to continue this story in January my computer went out of commission, I’ve borrowed a friends laptop to use until mine is fixed on which this installment was written and uploaded.

I’ll be trying to keep a weekly upload schedule this year, so I can give my novel the time it would actually need to be made, but if I manage to keep to my goals you should expect stories appearing at 12pm UTC on Sundays.

Hope you enjoy it,

P.S. Wasn’t able to find the photographer for the Featured Art again, if you know let me know so I can credit them, thanks!


Blood and Lies (Recap)

The Blood and Lies series will be returning, and concluding in the new year. As such I’ve written a quick summary of the first 20 parts as a refresher for those who read it, or as an introductory resource for those who haven’t.

When we left them the band of bounty hunters were busy escorting their quarry, a sorcerer who calls himself Oliver back to the Capital for trial. Accused of necromancy, enchantment and espionage, the judgement seems a foregone conclusions, especially given the undead encountered defending his hidden cave lair.
Driven off course by an unexpected army of undead, they found a village in the woods with no roads, nor that any of them could recall on any map. After some initial uncertainty, the group approached the settlement and earned their welcome by fending off a monster known by the villagers as Anathema. Their victory was won only at great sacrifice, however. Crusader of Atyx, and beloved friend, Verumalleus sacrificed herself for the kill. Even with her sacrifice, the giant Vahkragg and groups leader Telfor, both also succumbed to an affliction carried by the monsters claws.
Rescued by the villagers revealing their secret, a necromancer Zsófia who’s magic draws back the two afflicted from death’s door. In the wake of this, the university trained scholar Rubin seems to betray the group, using his own magic to enslave Oliver to his will, learning the truth of the sorcerer’s noble parentage and that the charges against him are false. Orchestrating an escape behind the guise of attempting to arrest Zsófia for her necromancy, Rubin’s compulsion is set to deliver the sorcerer to unknown allies in Verwich, the second largest city in the kingdom.
His plan comes to fruition sooner than expected, the other bounty hunters intercept the attempt to capture Zsófia, after an explosive tussle the lingering affliction arises in Vahkragg’s causing his body to fails and allowing Oliver to escape while they are unable to pursue.
For the following week the adventurers recover from their lingering injuries, resolve the conflicts between themselves, enjoy a celebration with the villagers as the village hunters return from a successful hunt. Eventually our protagonists are able to continue movie and resolve to return to the capital to report their failed mission as well as the presence of the seemingly unmolested army of the dead within the kingdom’s borders.

Ahead of them lie a number of mysteries and challenges. Who framed Oliver and why? What is Rubin’s secret agenda? How did an army of undead appear within the southern portion of the kingdom?
All this and more will be revealed before the climax, in Blood and Lies.

Hope you enjoy it,

P.S. I’m also going back and fixing part 15 onwards where I apparently forgot that Oliver had escaped and just kept writing him in scenes. *facepalm* Should be done today.

Featured Image found on pinterest, unfortunately I couldn’t find the original source to credit.


Cogs of War

Sighing heavily, Andela’s head slumps towards her desk before hanging defeated, propped up by her arm. Pushing her glasses up the bridge her nose to rub her eyes, the strain of the dim lighting threatening to transform into a headache. The sun had been down for hours and judging from her windows view of the moon, it was late.
The draft resolution lay unfinished, silently taunting her. How long had she been stuck at this point. Too long, that much was certain. Usually she’d stop for the night, start again after some sleep, but unfortunately she couldn’t afford that luxury any longer, the deadline was tomorrow.

Five minutes, she grants herself silently, Then I need to get this done. Leaning back into her less than luxurious seat, she stares out the window at the moon. Not quite a full moon, she realises, Was it a full moon when I first agreed to this take this nightmare of a job? She marvels at how naive she’d been to think that a desk job would be less tiring than field work. I’ll take my sword over this any day, at least there’s honour among soldiers.
Turning away from the moon to face the sword hanging on the wall behind her desk, Andela rises from her seat, feeling the weight of the hours behind the desk weighing heavier than her soldiers kit ever had. Stretching out whatever tension she could, she clicks her tongue then speaks to the sword, “What would you say if you could see me now I wonder, sir

“I’ve been wondering that for a while now,” crossing her arms across her waist as she leans on the desk, “This was your genius idea after all. Would you be proud of me, fighting the war from the rear?

“How many years has it been? And still no end in sight. You underestimated the opposition we faced, either that or you overestimated what I’d be able to do about it.

“The empire is crumbling all around us, and no-one’s willing to look out the window and face it. Even the soldiers on the ground keep sending rosy stories describing how the most recent lost garrison or uprising is well under control, or playing right into our hands somehow.
There’s absolutely no chance the senate approves the changes we need to hold the land we’ve already got. As far as they’re concerned I’m a glorified tax collector, the pompous bloated swine. If I was out there I could actually have some impact, or at least I wouldn’t have to spend every waking moment banging my head against this wall.”

Staring impassively at the sword, receiving no response, Andela recognises the tension in her muscles and exhaling slowly forces herself to relax. Stupid.
Turning back towards her desk, she spies Zlatan stood in the doorway of her office. Years of practice allows her annoyance to manifest as a polite impassivity. His smile, usually described as charming always felt vaguely sinister to her. She remains standing as he speaks, “May I come in?”

Wordlessly, Andela gestures to the seat across her desk, sitting only as he does. Shutting the door behind himself, she always felt guarded around him, not because he was particularly imposing. He didn’t have the intimidating presence of a brute or a killer, after all.
He was perhaps half a head shorter than her, undeniably attractive, but more beautiful than handsome. She wasn’t intimidated by attractive men, and besides he was definitely not her type. He was rich, and he wore that wealth plainly how he presented himself, but money didn’t frighten her either.
Whatever it was in the man that made her uncomfortable, she couldn’t place it, but it was there.

“I apologise for eavesdropping, General. I overheard you as I was leaving, say that you didn’t believe the senate would approve something vital to the empire’s stability, is that correct?”

Seeing no reason to lie here, Andela inclines her head in affirmation.

“I see,” he leans forward across the desk, “I suspect you might be right. The Senate was originally created to give all of The People the chance to be represented, even the common folk. Unfortunately the Empire has become too centralised, too stagnant.
I want to do something about that.

“You are a good soldier, General. I’ve spoken to some of the soldiers who served under you, and the good majority of them speak very highly of you. I think you are someone who is the kind of person you want to have as a friend.
I like to think that I might be the same kind of person for you, may I see your resolution?”

Thousand Eyes of Heaven, what a snake. Her first reaction. Her hand on the resolution resists her decision to slide it across the desk towards him, her instincts reacting as if she had stuck her hand into a vipers nest.
Time seems to slow as the page crosses the distance between them, rushing back to full speed as Zlatan takes the page and reads it.

His eyes scan rapidly across the page before lifting over it to face Andela, “You’re asking for a lot here, is so much truly necessary?”

“This would be enough to stem the bleeding,” she answers, taking back the page, “Our funding has been stagnant for years. Numerous positions have been left vacant because they’re seen as unnecessary. Right now, we’re losing ground, if this was to pass we could probably stop the backward momentum. Retaking what’s been lost would be far more costly.”

Zlatan is silent, watching her like he expected her to continue. Then slowly, seemingly cautiously he asks, “And that is the course of action you would take?”

She shrugs, his caution making her suspicious, “I’m a soldier, my role in the senate is to advise in matters of the military. For a military solution, I would spend everything that was necessary for a decisive resolution immediately, rather than bleed for a century then die.”

“And if you were advising beyond a solely military solution?”

Raising an eyebrow, “The uprisings come from the burden of taxes and the sense of separation from the Stella. The Empire’s golden age came out of the time the Empire built, instead of simply taking.”

Smile drawn widely across his face, Zlatan nods and rises to his feet, “I’m glad the army is in the hands of those who know history. I appreciate you sparing the time to share your thoughts, I won’t take up any more of your time. Best of luck with your resolution tomorrow. I’m sure we’ll speak again soon.”

For me, one of my favourite things in stories is when a system exists that is impacted by the actions of innumerable individuals. While I can turn my brain off and enjoy a story where things like massive armies just work. I’m always particularly intrigued when a story has the time to explore the difficulties of politics, bureaucracy and infighting.

Colonel Mustang in the anime Fullmetal Alchemist, is one of my favourite examples of this, as the story itself is high energy with lots of fighting and shouting, the fact the Mustang exists and operates in the background for so long with the goal of becoming the Fuhrer from within. I’m sure there are better examples, but he’s one I enjoyed.

Hope you enjoy it,

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