Legends of Cobalt

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March of the Dead

“Our mission is to kill Duke Iliya Sofka. He has failed his people. It is time for change. The people need a leader who serves them,” Serephina declared.

“We thought we succeeded in assassinating him a few years ago. I watched Master Orryn sever Sofka’s carotid myself. Three days later, the White Guard raided us. They captured Master Orryn. That bastard watched as a team of horses ripped Master Orryn limb from limb.” Katsu slammed a fist on the table. “One of our initiates tried to help him. The guards hauled her away too and we haven’t seen her since.”

Serephina placed her small hand on Katus’s and relaxed his fist. “We have lost many brothers and sisters in our time here. Often we thought we had won, to discover our failure days later. There is some force keeping Sofka alive that we can’t beat.”

“In my time wandering the world, I have found you can not kill something that is already dead,” Wyanet replied.

Bucephalus added, “Not without the aid of the gods or powerful magics.”

Aramil dropped his chair back to its proper number of legs. “You mean the old bastard is already dead?”

I thumbed through the extensive stack of papers Serephina had given us. “Do you know anything about Sofka’s daughter?”

Althaea frowned, “He doesn’t have a daughter.”

“We have watched the palace for years. We have never seen a child belonging to the Duke,” Serephina replied.

“Hees wife died feefteen years ago,” Fayaad said. “She never bore a child. Many thought her eenfertile.”

Phebes interjected, “His daughter wasn’t born through his wife. He adopted her after his father died.”

“She’s the one we are after.” Bucephalus clenched and unclenched his fist. “We don’t care about the duke.”

“The duke’s daughter is the true cause of this sickness,” Wyanet stated. “We came to kill her.”

The assassin acolytes shifted in their seats and backed away from the table.

“You want to kill a child,” Katsu accused.

“I did not realise the murdering of children was an issue for goblin-kin.”

“One of us has publicly murdered someone, and it’s not the one with goblin blood.”

I extended my arm across Wyanet’s chest. Serephina pounded a fist on the table.

“Enough! We are not enemies here!”

“Yes, master.” The assassin acolytes bowed their heads.

“Why do you hunt this girl?” Serephina steepled her fingers in front of her face.

“The girl is not mortal,” Wyanet replied. “I do not know of a name in my language or yours that can describe her. She is a perversion of life.”

Bucephalus rolled his eyes. “She’s a vampire.”

“How is that possible?” Serephina looked at Bucephalus. “The Inquisition eradicated the curse of vampirism centuries ago.”

“There are many places the combined authorities of mortal empires and the Cardinal Conclave do not reach. It is possible a vampire hid away in one of our blind spots. The Ravagers still roam the plains, it is also possible they created the curse anew.”

“Is it possible Sofka is a Vampire as well?” Katsu asked.

“It’s possible,” I nodded. “Nellie could have turned him or whoever their greater master is.”

Katsu waved away my statement. “A vampire is tough enough to believe, I doubt a vampire lord escaped everyone’s notice.”

“We are out of our depth, Katsu.” Althaea interjected, “You watched master Orryn kill Sofka yourself, but he still lives. Perhaps it would be better for us to take any information we are given as plausible.”

“There must be something else we missed.”

“I have much to discuss with my acolytes,” Serephina interrupted. “You are welcome to our home as you like. Don’t leave the property, we will tell you what we decided when we are done.”

***

We explored the ransacked inn. I followed a creaky narrow staircase to the roof. My feet thudded across the heavy wood. The rain had stopped and a thin fog from the bay replaced it. A small shed with a heavy lock stood beside the roof access trapdoor. Rows of kneehigh planter boxes ran the length of the roof. A waist-high brick wall enclosed the entire space. I walked along the barren planters and leaned against the wall facing north.

“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?” Phebes asked from behind me. “I know helping people is a good thing to do and all, but are we the right people to do this?” What qualifies us? Just because we know how to fight, doesn’t mean we should go looking for them. What is Ceph is right? What if we all die here? We’re the only ones who know what’s happening. Maybe we should have gone to the Conclave like Ceph said. Wouldn’t an army of the gods be better for this?”

I stared at the rooftops that stretched out to the city’s curtain wall. “I don’t know. I didn’t want to come here. I don’t even want to be labelled a hero. I want a quiet life in a small cottage hidden in the forest, but Wyanet saved me and I still feel like I owe her.”

Phebes leaned against the wall beside me. “We could leave together. I don’t think our friends would argue.” She put her hand on mine. “We could do whatever we wanted. Go wherever we want to, and never have to worry about doing things we don’t want to. It could be you and I, us against the world.” 

“I can’t.” I pulled my hand back. The soft glow of lamplight glittered on the other side of the curtain wall. “Wyanet and I have been through a lot together. She still needs my help. I can’t abandon her yet.”

“It’s natural to have doubts in the face of death.”

Phebes and I jumped at the sound of Althaea’s voice.

I spun around. “How did you get up here without one of us hearing you?”

“You were distracted.” Althaea sat on the edge of one of the planters. “And I am an assassin, remember. You’re doubting your abilities. I don’t blame you. We face impossible odds and all of our futures are unclear.”

The clouds above our heads began to churn. 

“When Aramil and I left our home beneath the sea, we were terrified of what might happen to us. Our future was uncertain then as it is now, but we trust each other and we trust our friends. We don’t know what the future holds, but we face everything together. If we succeed, we succeed together.” Althaea put a hand on each of our shoulders. “If we fail, we do that together too. When we stand beside our friends and loved ones, regardless of how frightened we are, we grow and get stronger.”

The boiling clouds over our heads glowed with a sickly pale green light. Thunder shook our bones. A vortex of swirling green-glowing clouds spiralled to the sky from the centre of the city. Moans and lamentations of the dead filled the city to a deafening roar. Thousands of spectres descended from the clouds and lifted themselves from beneath the cobbled streets. The sea of ghosts formed a ghastly procession and marched toward the city keep.

I ducked beneath the wall. “What’s happening?”

Phebes dove between the planters. “Are we safe?”

“We’re safe,” Althaea leaned against the wall and watched the ghosts on their journey. “As far as I am aware, the parade has never harmed any of the living.”

“What are they?” Phebes got back to her feet and stood beside Althaea.

“We call it the parade of phantasms.”

I watched the spectre of a crying boy run along the street below. “Why are they here?” 

Althaea shrugged, “No one knows. Every night they gather and march to the keep. The legend is that they gather to hunt whatever ended their lives.”

“They have a creepy beauty to them,” Phebes replied.     

 “With your help,” Serephina appeared at my elbow, “They will soon find rest.”

The story will continue, September 24th,  2020.

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Written by: Sweeney (@oceansoul316 on twitter)

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Legends of Cobalt

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Secrets and Doors

  “Release them.” The halfling woman waved her hand at us. “We can help each other.”

“Master,” The hooded figure that had slapped Bucephalus protested. “They are wild and untrained. How do we know they won’t kill more innocent people? They aren’t sworn to our codes.”

“We have partnered with more dangerous individuals in the past, Acolyte. We are sworn to hold the corrupt accountable, sometimes that means allying ourselves with those who don’t take our oaths.”

“But, Master.”

“I have spoken. Release them, get them some food and show them to the initiate’s quarters.” The halfling woman turned back to us. “Rest and eat. We’ll speak more in a few hours.”

The acolyte, shorter than the rest, stormed out of the room. 

The halfling woman followed the acolyte out and the other three acolytes undid our bindings. They lead us through a well-appointed building to a set of small rooms. Each room contained a single bed and a small trunk.

“Get some sleep.” The tallest of the acolytes ordered, “Someone will be around with food and medicine in an hour or two. If you need anything else, let one of us know.”

I closed the door and fell into a dreamless sleep before I hit the lumpy straw mattress.     

     ***

A teal-haired elf woman shook me awake. The woman balanced a tray with a clay cup, a wooden bowl and a thin glass vial on one hand. 

I sat up in bed. My head throbbed, but the room didn’t spin anymore.

“Drink this.” The woman set the tray on the trunk and handed me the vial. “It will help the headache.”

I took the vial and drained the bitter liquid. “Where are we?”

“There’s water here, and some food if you can stomach it.”

“What is your name?”

“Master Serephina will answer all of your questions soon.”

The elf woman left the room.

“Your help is invaluable,” I muttered to myself. 

After draining the clay cup I spooned some runny oatmeal flecked with dried fruit into my mouth. Despite my stomach’s protests, I finished the oatmeal. The door opened and the Elf woman entered with my sword and rucksack.

“Master Serephina is ready for you.” She set my stuff on the bed. “Come with me.”

I followed the elf woman into the hallway. A male elf with hair that matched the woman’s lead Phebes and Wyanet toward us. Bucephalus followed the women with an annoyed human blocking his path backwards.

“That’s everyone,” the elf woman announced.

The elf man fell to the back of the group. “You’re not prisoners, but don’t do anything stupid.”

The three acolytes marched us down two hallways and up a flight of stairs. We exited through a wine rack into a dark room. The elf woman leading our party pulled a small lamp from her pocket.

“Watch your step. It’s a mess down here.” She shone a directed beam of light across smashed crates and broken bottles.

“What happened here?” Phebes asked.

“The hunger riots. They ripped through us over a year ago.”

We left the cellar up another staircase and entered a spacious room littered with broken tables and chairs. Tattered, moth-eaten velvet curtains dangled over a dusty stage on the North wall. A cold breeze blew icy rain through boards nailed over shattered windows.

“They thought because the inns and taverns continued to sell food, we hoarded everything to drive up the cost for profit,” The Elf woman said. “They raided every member of the Guild of Hostels, Taverns, and Inns.”

“We got off lucky,” The elf man interjected. “They killed one of our initiates, but we managed to keep them out of the hidden halls.”

“The Duke sent out the White Guard to disperse the crowd,” The elf woman continued. “Many more than one of our brothers died that night.” 

We walked up another five flights of stairs through a dismal ransacked building. We stopped at the end of a dead-end hallway. An empty frame clung to the wall by a single nail it’s painting laid in shreds on the floor. The elf woman lifted the frame and pressed a button concealed behind it. A section of the wall slid away. Through the new opening, a steep staircase ascended to another floor.

We climbed the stairs to a warm spacious room. A window large enough to fit Bucephalus through allowed the dark grey twilight in. A small fire cracked in a minor hearth. The elf man pushed past us and tugged at a book on a floor to ceiling shelf. The middle of the shelf swung inward to a hidden room illuminated by magic lights. A red-skinned hobgoblin and the halfling woman waited for us at a round table.

“Come in and sit down. We have a lot to discuss.” The halfling woman ordered.

We filed into the room and claimed chairs around the table. The elf man sealed the door behind us.

Phebes quipped, “You guys really like secret doors.”

“Our secret doors allow us to speak without the worry of eavesdropping.” The hobgoblin locked eyes with Wyanet. “And they keep us safe to plan our missions. Secrecy and anonymity are our greatest weapon.”

“I’m certain you have many questions.” The halfling woman steepled her fingers on the table. “We will get to your questions in time. We must introduce ourselves first. I am master Serephina Shadowquick. The elf twins are Althaea and Aramil. The human to my right is Fayyad, the hobgoblin on my left is Katsu.”

She stared at us expectantly.

“Nice to meet you all,” Phebes replied. “I’m Phebes of Last Oasis. He’s daaa…” Phebes stretched out the first syllable of my real name. “Percy VonVeltliner, she’s…”

“I am Captain Wyanet of the Ghost Nation,” Wyanet interrupted. “My warriors knew me as Goblin-killer.” Wyanet stared at Katsu.

“And you are?” Serephina intervened.

“Name’s Father Bucephalus. I serve with the Inquisition.”

Fayyad asked, “The Inquisition ees returning? That ees good news.”

“Not the Inquisition, just me.”

“I had suspected that was who you are,” Serephina leaned back in her chair. “I am sorry for the loss of your fellows. If I had known your mission before, we could have helped you.”

Bucephalus nodded in response.

“Now,” Serephina returned to her straight posture, “With the formalities out of the way, let’s move on to business. My students and I are members of a secret organisation. Our sworn mission is to hold those who would abuse their power and oppress the free will of others accountable for their actions.” Serephina pulled a sheaf of papers bound with a string from beneath the table. “It has come to our attention that Duke Iliya Sofka has betrayed his responsibilities. The power he holds has corrupted his mind and now his subjects suffer for it.”

Serephina slid the papers across the table to me. I caught it and picked it up. A charcoal drawing of an old man stared back at me.

“Our mission is to assassinate that man.” Serephina pointed at the drawing. “And I bet you are on the same mission.”

The story will continue, September 17th,  2020.

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Written by: Sweeney (@oceansoul316 on twitter)

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Creating original content in an online space is a time-consuming process. If you find it in your heart, please donate a few dollars at the link above. Thank you, you are appreciated!

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Legends of Cobalt

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From Shadow

Wyanet slid her dagger across the battered goblin’s throat. Brackish blood spurted from the gash at an alarming rate. The goblin grabbed at its throat and crumpled to the ground. The gang of boys tripped over each other to flee in horror. Bucephalus grabbed Wyanet’s wrists and pinned her to a wall. The building shook with the impact.

“Why did you do that? We’re here to help these people, not slaughter them for sport.”

Wyanet fought against Bucephalus’s hold. “It was a goblin. They are not people. They are monsters who will destroy everything we love. I did these people a favour by killing it.”

“Not all goblins are evil,” Bucephalus put more pressure on Wyanet. “If the people here thought they were dangerous do you think they would have let them in?”

“It could have been a scout,” Wyanet spit back. “Gathering information for the rest of its clan to come back and slaughter everyone.”

“We should do this somewhere else,” Phebes pleaded. “A guard might find us if we stay here.”

I put my hand against Bucephalus’s chest.  “Phebes is right. We need to get out of the open.” 

“You’ve seen what hides in these forests. The goblins are refu…”

Three darts with vibrant fletching sprouted from Bucephalus’s neck. He dropped Wyanet and staggered back a step. Bucephalus fell against the opposite wall and slid to the ground.

“Move! Now!” I grabbed Wyanet and shoved her towards the mouth of the alleyway.

A cloaked figure dropped into the alley from above. It knocked Phebes to the ground and pulled a black bag over her head. Wyanet ran to help. The cloaked figure pulled out a small tube then spit a dart at Wyanet. The dart sank into Wyanet’s left breast. Wyanet’s dagger clattered to the ground and she followed it.

I took one step to help. A second cloaked figure jumped at me from the roof. I caught the cloaked figure by the throat and wrist. Using their momentum, I hurled the second attacker to the ground. Shifting my weight onto the balls of my feet, I settled into a defensive stance.

The first attacker shot a dart at me. I caught the dart inches from my throat and tossed it away. A second dart pierced my thigh. A jolt of neurotoxin rushed into my veins. A third dart caught in my arm and a fourth in my chest. More neurotoxin flowed in. 

I took two steps toward our attackers. My limbs and mind felt heavy. Another step. A fifth dart pierced my neck. The toxin felt like part of me. The second attacker whipped out a damp rag and advanced toward me. I lashed out with a wild punch. The attacker ducked the assault then juked around behind me. A damp rag locked over my mouth and nose while an arm restrained me. 

I fought to pull the rag away. A sickening sweet smell overpowered my senses. My attack held fast. The edges of my vision became fuzzy. The strength of my muscles didn’t exist anymore. My legs refused to support me. The world faded to black.

***

   “Good work Acolytes. We’ll interrogate them when they wake up.”

My eyes opened to more darkness. I still couldn’t feel my arms or legs and my head pounded like Sumi war drums. My world spun. I closed my eyes to quell the nauseousness and make it stop.

***

My body bathed in the surf. Cool sea water soothed my heavy limbs and warm sand heated my skin. The resplendent visage of the Everlight blocked the sun from my eyes. My head rested in her lap. She stroked my hair and kissed my forehead.

“Trust these people. They will help you on your quest.”

The cool sting of peppermint overpowered the calm smell of the sea.

***

I opened my eyes again. Dim lights floated around the room. Sharp bindings bit into my wrists and ankles, holding me to an uncomfortable chair.  The world spun and my head throbbed. I closed my eyes to hold the world still, but it spun faster. The urge to vomit overwhelmed me. My breakfast splattered the floor beside me.

“Percy?” Bucephalus moaned, “Do you know where we are or what happened?”

“Ask me again when the world stops moving.” I fought back the urge to vomit again. “Where are the girls?”

“I think they’re behind us. I haven’t been able to look.”

“We are here Percival,” Wyanet replied. “Some of us are in better shape than others.”

Liquid splashed the floor behind me. Phebes coughed and spit. “I’m alright.”

Wyanet asked, “Did you get a good look at who attacked us?”

 “No,” Bucephalus jerked against his restraints. “They drugged me before I had the chance. Fucking cowards.”

The cold stone walls shifted into finer focus. “There were two of them. Both were well trained. Ceph, you’ve been here before, are you sure you don’t know who attacked us?”

“Bucephalus flexed against his bindings again. “The knowledge of the gods is infinite, mine is not.”

A door opened and two hooded figures stepped into my line of sight. One pulled my head back and poured a hot bitter liquid down my throat.

“Drink this. It will help the nausea.”

Bucephalus thrashed his head from side to side and knocked his cup away.

“Stay sick, see what I care.” The second person sneered.

Two more hooded people joined the first.

“Someone wants to speak with you four.” The person who forced the tea down my throat undid my bindings. “Don’t make any trouble and we won’t have to knock you out again.”

Our assailants forced us to kneel. The four hooded figures flanked the door. Blowpipes sat ready in their hands. A Halfling woman wearing similar armour to the hooded figures stepped through the door. A short sword dangled from her belt and a series of tawny braids wrapped around her head.

“Who are you and why have you come to Spinel?”

“We’re refugees from a farming village near Vercingetorix.” Bucephalus didn’t raise his head. “We’re passing through looking for food and work.” 

“Do you know where we can find some?” A line of bile-tinged saliva dripped from Phebes’s mouth. “I’m starving so much I could eat a goat.” Her cheeks puffed out and Phebes swallowed hard. “Maybe I’ll start with some bread.”

One of the hooded people stepped forward and smacked Bucephalus across the face. “Stop lying.” He stepped back into line massaging his hand.

“Of all the refugees I have seen, never once have I seen them murder their fellows.” The Halfling woman scowled at Bucephalus’s assailant. “If you are refugees, why did you kill that goblin?” Her penetrating gaze fell upon Wyanet.

“I am sworn to eliminate any evil that threatens the lives of others.” Wyanet met the Halfling’s eyes. “All goblins are evil. They threaten the lives of those I love. I will destroy them and their kin where I find them.”

“What is good and what is evil is based on perspective, warrior of the River Runner tribe. If you ask him, the bull-headed priest you travel with would condemn the entire faith of the First People as evil.”

“I am not a River Runner.”

“We came to Spinel to heal the curse on this land,” I interrupted.

The Halfling’s head snapped toward me. “What did you say?”

Bucephalus hissed, “Percy! What are you doing? We don’t know if we can trust them”

“Quiet!” A hooded figure ordered.

“Lord Tiarna of Vercingetorix sent us ahead of him. We encountered the enemy a number of days ago in Vercingetorix. We managed to wound it and make it flee. Lord Tiarna ordered us to go ahead of him and keep the enemy week. He will be here in a few day’s time with a force of liberators to destroy the enemy. We are here to help heal Crescent Moon Bay.”

The halfling stepped in front of me. She pulled her sword from her belt and rested it against my throat. “How do you know I don’t serve the enemy you hunt?”

“Someone I trust told me to trust you, and she hasn’t lied to me yet.”

“Well then,” The halfling re-sheathed her sword. “This changes things.”

The story will continue, September 10th,  2020.

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Written by: Sweeney (@oceansoul316 on twitter)

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Creating original content in an online space is a time-consuming process. If you find it in your heart, please donate a few dollars at the link above. Thank you, you are appreciated!

Show us your fan art at us with the hashtag #CobaltLegends on Instagram and Twitter for the chance to be featured on one of our posts.

Legends of Cobalt

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Lovely, Dark and Deep

“What’s that?” I pointed into the woods.

A set of glowing red eyes shifted through the fog and trees towards our camp. Branches around us creaked in a steady, footstep-like pattern.

Bucephalus scrambled to his feet and scooped up his shield. “What’s what?”

“That,” I pointed at the glowing eyes. Another set of eyes flickered to life on my right. “And that.”

“I don’t like this.” Bucephalus fidgeted with his hammer. “I don’t like this at all.”

The last licks of our fire sputtered out. Darkness rushed in. Four more sets of glowing eyes converged on our camp. Bucephalus kicked a new log onto the hot coals. The fire flared back to life. Six humanoid figures made of twigs and branches haunted the edge of the firelight. I dove back into the tent.

“Get up! We’re under attack!” I shook both of the girls awake.

Wood scratched at metal. I tossed my scabbard down and rushed back out of the tent.

The living brush piles pushed into our camp. One scraped at Bucehpalus’s shield while the others circled around him. Ceph jabbed the point of his war hammer into the one attacking his shield and shoved it back.

I stealthed forward, sword at the ready, and cut off both of a living shrub’s legs from behind. The wooden creature clattered to the ground like a bundle of sticks. It swiped at my shins with sharp claws. I bunny hopped over the living shrub’s attacks and kicked it in what would be its face. I bounced back and readied myself for another round of attacks.

A second living shrub broke off their attack from Bucephalus and turned toward me. The second one swiped at my head. I dodged backwards a step and blocked with my sword. My sword sheared through the living shrub’s wrist like butter. The first shrub balanced itself on one arm and slashed at my groin. I twisted my leg to shield my sensitive parts. The shrub’s claws tore through the fabric and flesh of my thigh. 

I screamed in pain, recentered my chi and plunged my sword into the shrub’s back. It fought against the length of steel locking it in place.

Wyanet sprinted past me. She tackled the second shrub and rolled towards the fire. She plunged an oil-soaked torch into the coals and pulled back a lit torch. Wyanet sighted a target and hurled the torch at a third living shrub. The torch lodged itself in the shrub’s torso. The shrub forgot about Bucephalus and scraped at the blooming flames in its chest.

“Destroy them with fire!” Wyanet lept to help Bucephalus.

The handless shrub lunged at me and wrapped its spear-length arms around me. I searched for a way out, the shrub crushed me against its body. Fifteen feet away our hand axe rested in the trunk of a tree. I headbutted the mass of twigs and used the little leverage I had left to break free. The bark and thorn-covered limbs of the shrub scratched at me as I pushed clear of its embrace. I took a deep breath and focused my chi. I vanished into the cold, secret pathways of shadows. 

The shrub stabbed at the ground where I vanished. I reappeared behind the tree with the hand axe. I pulled the axe free and threw it at the shrub. The axe chopped deep into the shrub’s neck. I chased after the axe. I jumped into the air, twisted my body into a flying side kick and knocked the living shrub’s head off with a loud snap.

An explosion showered the campsite in twigs. Wyanet and Bucephalus dove to the ground.

“Ha! It worked!” Phebes knelt in front of the tent, bow in one hand and a clutch of arrows beside her.

Wyanet scrambled to her feet, ready for another attack. “How did you do that?”

“Olivia told me how some Elven warriors could charge their arrows with magic to do a variety of things. She walked me through the basic principles of casting, but I figured out the blasting arrow on my own.”

“You could have killed us.” Bucephalus pulled twigs from his fur.

“But I didn’t.”

The legless shrub continued to struggle against my sword. I yanked my sword free and hacked the shrub’s head off. “What are these things?”

“Vengeful trees, blights on the world.” Bucephalus lifted a shrub corpse and dumped it on our dwindling woodpile. “The influence of evil awoke them from their slumber and gave them a thirst for blood.”

“Are there more of them?” Wyanet dragged another corpse to the woodpile.

Bucephalus up-ended his flask down his throat. “Undoubtedly.”

I slid my sword back into its scabbard. “Should we make a run for Spinel?”

“No point to it.” Bucephalus stuffed his empty flask into his rucksack. “When beset by shadows, one should dwell in the light. Besides, Spinel locks their gates at night. They don’t want any of the monstrosities that roam the woods getting into the city.”

“Double watches for the rest of the night.” Wyanet put a hand on Bucephalus’s shoulder. “Get some sleep, we’ll move out at daybreak.”

***

Thick fog clung to our camp. We tore our camp down in five minutes and shouldered our packs. The fog parted, revealing a towering figure who stood hunched over. The figure beckoned to us with a long, slender figure at the end of a multi-jointed arm. The figure locked eyes with me and smiled. The image of the Elven woman from my dream flashed across the figure’s face.

“Does anyone else see the creepy old witch?” Phebes knocked an arrow.

“Ignore him. We do not have time to waste.” Wyanet braced her spear on her shoulder and walked toward the road.

Phebes took a step towards the figure and tugged her bowstring back. 

Bucephalus forced Phebes’s bow down and pushed her back. “Hags are more trouble than they’re worth.” 

The hag’s visage shifted to the slender elven maiden. She smiled and laughed at me. “Everything you’ve ever wanted.”

Bucephalus’s firm hand snapped me out of my trance.

“Let’s go, before anything else creeps out of the woods.”

We jogged with weapons in hand back to the road. Muddy ruts stretched south. The hag appeared on the road behind us and beckoned us back. We ignored her and pushed forward.

We walked for three hours. Heavy mud caked our legs from the knee down and spattered everything else. Nothing ventured out of the forest to accost us. We walked through the grey misty morning until the forest vanished. 

The road continued two-hundred yards through a field of tangled weeds and gnarled shrubs. The road ended at an earthen rampart crowned by a wooden palisade of interwoven branches. The air reeked of old wine, rotten fruit and excrement. Two half-dead guards manned a flimsy wooden gate.

Bucephalus flipped up his hood. “Welcome to Ringtown. Don’t ask anyone for anything and assume everyone will gut you for an apple core.”

We waded through throngs of skeletal people. Their eyes bore into us like the fangs of a hungry wolf.

“What is this place?” Phebes slipped her cloak over her sword.

“Food got scarce and the land wouldn’t grow anything. Refugees flocked to the cities hoping to find food and work. The city could only take so many people, the rest set up a camp outside the city gates. It didn’t take long and monsters from the forest pressed into the camp. The surviving refugees, and the new ones flooding in, built the wall to keep the monsters out. They have little food or clean water, and Spinel ignores them.”

A gang of teenage boys beat a shrieking creature in a shadowed alleyway. Wyanet ducked down the alley and the rest of us followed her.

“What is going on here?”

The boys stopped what they were doing and backed away. Hatred glittered in their eyes. A bloody, battered body lay on the ground between us

“It’s one of ‘ose monsters ‘at brought ‘is plague on us,” the oldest boy spat. “If you ‘elp it, you one too.”

The gang of boys changed their stance and moved towards Wyanet.

“DISPERSE!” Bucephalus loomed behind Wyanet with crossed arms. “We will defend ourselves.”

The boys hesitated, sized up Bucephalus and retreated down the alleyway.

The body on the ground struggled to its knees. A goblin pawed its broken fingers and hands at us. Blood poured from several fresh cuts and dribbled from the goblin’s mouth. “Tank you, Tank you.

Wyanet knelt in front of the goblin. She slipped her dagger from her belt and sliced the goblin’s throat.

The story will continue, August 20th,  2020.

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Written by: Sweeney (@oceansoul316 on twitter)

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Legends of Cobalt

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Miles to go

“Huh, this is new.” Grazer reigned the wagon to a stop at a crossroads under a cloudy midday sky. Thick forest walled in the rutted road. Two gnarled trees as thick as barrels blocked the road ahead of us.

“Maybe we can go around?” Pehebs leaned against the back of the driver’s bench and tried to scout a path around the trees.

“That could take a few days,” Grazer shrugged.

“Give me an axe.” Bucephalus jumped off the wagon, twigs snapped under his feet where he landed. ”we can hack our way through.”

I pulled the hand axe from the chest and handed it to him. “This is the only axe we have.”

Bucephalus sighed and tossed the axe back into the wagon. “Maybe we can move them.” Bucephalus marched toward the downed trees. The road squelched beneath him as he went. 

“I don’t think you can do that,” Grazer called.

Bucephalus wrapped his arms as far as he could around the first tree. He squatted in the mud and let out a monstrous roar. Bucephalus lifted the tree a few inches off the ground and dropped it again.

“If someone helps me we can do it.”

“I don’t think so, friend,” Grazer shook his head, “You’re stronger than all of us, and you could hardly lift it. You four will have to continue from here on foot. This is where I have to leave you.”

“You are not coming with us to Spinel?” Wyanet asked.

Grazer took Wyanet’s comparably small hand in his and patted it. “My part was to take you as far as I could. I would have taken you to Ringtown if I could, but it seems the Wildmother has other plans for me. I have a farm to tend and people to feed. You will have to continue without me, while I stay back to help those I can.”

“I understand.” Wyanet pulled her things out of the trunk. “May the spirits watch over you and keep you safe. Thank you for bringing us this far.”

“This last day has been a pleasure.”

Grazer helped pack the last of our things. We jumped down into the mud and walked to the font of the wagon. 

“Take care of each other. Spinel is another day’s walk farther South,” Grazer collected the reigns, “Try not to camp in the forest overnight. The closer you get to Spinel, the more strange and unnatural creatures you will find. According to some of my brothers, even the trees walk about looking for blood.” Grazer coaxed the horses toward the road heading West. “The Wildmother bless and keep you safe until our paths cross again.”

“What do you think is in the woods?” Phebes used my shoulder to lift herself onto the first log. 

 “My t’unwin in the River Runner tribe told me stories as a child,” Wyanet vaulted over the logs with her spear, “Of a being from the spirit world that appears human. Her stories claimed the monster lived deep in the dark forests of the land and devoured lost children.”

“My foster-father had a similar story. He always warned Grom and me not to wander the forest where we lived alone. He told us the lands of Faery and Shadow found gaps between our world and theirs and played with their victim’s minds to trap people who came too close. He told us the magic seeping through from those other places could warp the land around their portals.” I jumped over the trees with little effort.

“Enough with the spook stories.” Bucephalus hauled his bulk over the first log. “There is real danger in this forest. It’s a piss poor idea to scare yourself even more with stories of witches and monsters.”

“We have a day’s journey ahead of us.” Wyanet asked, “Do you expect us to stay silent the entire way?”

“I expect you to pay attention and not draw any attention to us.” Bucephalus pulled his flask out, got it halfway to his lips and returned it to his belt. “We shouldn’t linger any longer.”

Wyanet pulled her spear from the muck. “Lead the way. You have been there before.”

“Try to keep up, I don’t want to sleep out here.”

Phebes walked beside me. “Who’s Grom?”

“My foster brother. Our father found him on the shore before he found me. We grew up together.”

Wyanet walked behind us. “You have never mentioned him before.”

I shrugged, “It never came up or felt important. Last time I heard from him was before I met you, and I haven’t seen Grom since I left the grove.”

“Where has Grom gone that you don’t talk to him anymore?”

“He joined a merchant ship and left the grove a week before I did. We wrote a few letters back and forth, but it cost too much and I never knew where he was going.”

“Of course,” Bucephalus grumbled ahead of us. “You know someone with a ship, but still refused to leave or help me leave.” 

“I don’t own a ship and neither does my brother. He goes where his captain orders him to.”

We slipped into an exhausted silence and continued to slog through the thick mud. The sun dipped below the horizon without any sign of a city. Skeletal tree branches loomed over us, waiting to pluck us from the ground. Thin fog wrapped around our ankles. Phebes tripped and landed face first in the mud for the third time in an hour.

“Get her up.” Bucephalus kept walking. “We can’t stop.”

Wyanet pulled Phebes from the mud and held her up. “We need to rest. We are tired and will not make it to Spinel if we do not set up camp.”  

“No,” Bucephalus replied. “It’s too dangerous to stop.”

I helped Wyanet support Phebes. “It’s getting dark. We won’t be any safer on the road.”   

“We are making camp.” Wyanet walked Phebes to the edge of the road. “We will all take a watch through the night and continue in the morning after we have rested.”

“Keep going if you want. We’re staying here.” I pulled a length of rope and the spare blanket from Wyanet’s rucksack. Wyanet wadded through the trees collecting wood and sticks while I strung up a makeshift tent.

Bucephalus dropped his rucksack, war hammer, and shield beside Phebes. “Help her get a fire going. We’re going to want it.”

Wyanet and I fought well after sunset to get the fire lit. We shared a meagre meal of stale bread while Phebes slept. I crawled into the makeshift tent beside Phebes after I ate and used my rucksack as a pillow. I closed my eyes and let my physical exhaustion drag me into unconsciousness.

***

“Da…mi…an,” a melodic voice like honey sang my true name. “DA…mi… AN.”

I opened my eyes and felt beside me for my companions. The mid-morning sun glowed beyond the edge of the tent. Wyanet and Phebes had left the tent. I grabbed for my sword, but couldn’t find that either. I scrambled out of the tent and into an empty campsite.

“Phebes! Wy!”

Thick fog swirled around me and made it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.

“Ceph! Where are you guys?”

“Your friends abandoned you.” A seven-foot-tall Elven woman floated out of the fog. Her luxurious blonde hair flirted with a breeze that only touched her. A slender loincloth pulled a thin gold chain tight around her hips. Her statuesque hands reached out and cupped my face. The Elven woman pressed her lips close to mine. “Come with me, Damian. I can make you the happiest creature in all the worlds. You can have everything you ever wanted, for the price of a kiss.”

On instinct, my hands went to the Elven woman’s hips. Her skin felt soft and warm beneath my hands. My mouth moved towards hers. Every fibre of me wanted to kiss her.

A hot, hurricane wind whipped the fog away. Boiling, tropical sunlight tore through the gnarled tree branches engulfing everything in radiant light. The elven woman screeched and shoved me away. I stumbled backwards and tripped over a root. My arms windmilled around to catch my balance.

***

I jolted awake in the dark tent. I tapped the ground beside me and felt Wyanet there, fast asleep. Phebes felt me move and pressed closer to me, snoring softly. I grabbed my sword and wormed my way out of the tent. 

Tree branches throughout the foggy forest creaked and scraped at the sky. The dying fire hissed and popped with damp wood.

“I wish I could tell you that the more nightmares you have, the easier it gets.” Bucephalus poked at the fire with his war hammer. A plume of sparks climbed into the air with the smoke.

I ignored Bucephalus and watched the shadowy woods. “What’s that?”

The story will continue, August 13th,  2020.

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Written by: Sweeney (@oceansoul316 on twitter)

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