Posts tagged ‘novel’

May 7, 2013

The Dragon Tongue War Part VI

by Paul Davis

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Fishermen stopped to watch the bedraggled crew in the boat. Three days had passed, and the men had not eaten. Two had already died, the bodies thrown into the river to lighten the load. Such a disrespect to the dead would anger the spirits and ancestors, but Tai Shi felt the spirits were angry enough. As for the ancestors, if these snake men proved as powerful and numerous as they appeared, it wouldn’t be long until all joined their ancestors. By noon the day after the battle, the armor and weapons had also gone overboard.

The final man on the boat was with Winter squad, a bright, young alchemist by the name of Rai. A few final potions around his belt allowed the men to sustain themselves on water alone, though there was only so much of the liquid and the men were already badly beaten. Tai Shi suspected Rai held out a bit with the elixirs, but the captain couldn’t begrudge the youth the selfishness considering the circumstances, and he didn’t want to rouse the youth to some act of stupidity when cornered.

Dock hands were sitting on empty crates, talking, drinking, gambling, and a few even pissing off the piers. When the small boat was spotted, everyone went into action, shouting out towards the men. Most of the calls were incomprehensible, each drowning out the other. News of Zu and Lu Tan was asked for. One or two wanted to know if the men were alright, and if anything could be done to aid the strangers. Soldiers started to the docks and slowly pushed back the curious peasants until all the docks were empty.

A soldier in bronze plated leather armor stood at the end of one dock. He wore a bronze helm with gold inlays and held a spear of green wood with a bronze tip. He said, “Haven’t had many of your kind this way. The south has been pretty quiet.”

“It has been cut off,” Tai Shi said. The three men rowed to the dock where the armored man aided them.

“Cut off? You don’t look well. Cut off by what?”

“What’s your name?” Tai Shi let Rai go first, then aided Jung up to the dock. The soldier on the dock extended a hand to help up Tai Shi.

“Tua of the Bleeding Spear. You?”

“Tai Shi. This is Jung and Rai. We’re from Zu. Lu Tan is conquered.”

“By what?” There was a skeptical look on Tua’s face, which Tai had expected.

“I’ll tell you everything after we rest.”

The three men were escorted by Tua to an inn. The city was very busy, and large throngs were heading towards the docks. Several whispers were heard about the people from the south. Rumors had even started about how the spirits beat the visitors into submission for fishing too greedily, and how Bai Ding would never suffer such a fate due to the gentle fishing practices of the city. Tai Shi was too worn down to argue or comment on any of the conjecture, and just continued to the inn where he could find something resembling comfort.

The Worthy River was on a canal dug through the city to fields far to the west. Water was brought in from the canal, though it was forbidden to dump refuse in it. Some children swam in the canal, though they were fended off from time to time by the elderly. Jung snapped when he saw the youths playing in the canal, “Out of the water!” His eyes were wide and his breathing became erratic and raspy. “They’ll swallow you. Out. Out right now. Before they….”

Tai Shi silenced his friend and dragged him into the inn. Tua looked at them suspiciously. “What did you see down there, that causes men to act like that?”

Jung was helped to a chair, where he continued to move back and forth, muttering incomprehensibly under his breath. Tai Shi said, “Tua, can you take us somewhere private? I will speak to you there. See to Jung and Rai, that they have food and a bath.”

Tua motioned to a few people, and food was set out, along with hot drinks. “Follow me.” The two went into a back room, a curtain separating it from the rest of the inn. There was a booth with a wood table. It was a tight area, but it was segregated well enough. “So what happened?”

“There are snake men down stream. Our men were devoured whole after being poisoned. There were five of us, but two died rowing here. We are the only survivors.”

“Is this one of those, ‘the spirits are after us for our sins,’ speeches? I’ve been getting enough of those already. Everyone’s saying the south disappeared, and it must be the spirits.”

“I don’t think it is. I think there was something else in the river.”

“Then why are they after us? I don’t see why they would want to eat us.”

Tai Shi thought a while. “We took their fish.”

Tua quirked a brow.

“As long as these creatures had food, they staid in the river. We took the food. This is why the spirits warned us.”

Tua laughed, “You’ve been in that boat too long. You should eat and rest and we can discuss in the morning. I’ll send a small squad to look into it.”

With urgency, Tai Shi grabbed Tua’s arm, “Don’t do that. These creatures, they appear as we do. It’s a clever monster, and you will not see those men again. Do not send men. Trust me on this at least.”

“As you say, friend.” Tua firmly removed Tai Shi’s hand. White marks were left where the fingers had gripped. “But honest, you need sleep. Your mind isn’t working right.”

“It’s not.” Tai Shi put his head in his hands, tears starting to well up. The images were all there, of his friends and soldiers which trusted him, poisoned and fed upon. “Nothing is working right anymore, Tua. Nothing will ever be fixed.”

Tai Shi was led out into the main hall. Food was placed in front of him, and all three men were brought to a corner table, far from the other people. Two strong looking men sat at tables near the three from Zu, keeping away anyone with enough courage and curiosity to brave the insane men with questions. Tai Shi didn’t like the treatment, but he understood why it was happening. Jung didn’t have enough wits about him to figure out they were cut off, while Rai was too inexperienced to see it as more than a courtesy to three very hungry and tired men. But Tai Shi could allow the naivety, as ignorance was better than a tantrum from a hot blooded youth.

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April 23, 2013

The Dragon Tongue War Part IV

by Paul Davis

Part I
Part II
Part III

Tai Shi was appreciating the quiet day. Off in the distance, on the Dragon Tongue, boats arrived at port and left port, all from the south. Drinking his tea, Tai watched the dock hands strain under large crates and sacks of goods. No doubt some were food for his own soldiers. A few may have been the tea leaves he would use the following morning, or perhaps in a month.

Children took off across the beaches, ducking and weaving between the beams supporting the docks. Now and then, an adventurous one would climb crates to ambush friends, the youths sprawling out in the sand, laughing until a dock worker yelled at them. Most didn’t care, but the older workers lectured children on the dangers of playing about the heavy equipment. It did little to persuade them to stop playing.

Outside of the room there was the sound of crowds moving about. Vendors shouted about goods loud enough Tai could hear them. Mothers hollered after their children to not run so fast and stop bumping into people. Tai couldn’t help but grin, remembering his own youth. His brothers would go out into the streets with wood swords and fight with each other, making a spectacle for coin. It didn’t take long for them to gather quite the crowd and purse, though mother had disapproved very vocally on the matter.

Then there was an unfamiliar sound. Curses were issued, women were crying, and the vendors went silent. Soon everyone started to whisper, with the occasional call that a child gets away from that man. Tai took a final sip from his tea and set it down. “Just one nice day?” He stood and went to the door, but the door flung open before Tai was half across the room.

Ming stood there, eyes wide, body bloody and dirty. His hair was matted to his forehead, and sweat soaked his tattered clothing. “They ate them.”

“Where is everyone else? What happened?” Tai went to the man and closed the door. He brought Ming to a chair, but Ming fell and laid huddled on the floor.

“Dead. Eaten. The mouths just opened and. And in they went.” Ming looked up into Tai’s eyes, the bulging whites and dilated pupils sending a shiver down the captain’s spine. “Teeth. They stole our skin.” His body started to tremor, and his lower lip shook. “They took our flesh.”

Ming started to crawl across the floor, the captain backing away. The battered arm reached out, touching Tai’s boot. Ming’s body tensed, he gave out a grunt, and then went limp, color and temperature leaving his body.

Tai Shi stood there, looking at the corpse. He placed a hand on his sword out of habit. There was no danger, he knew this, but something about this news had him on edge. Soldiers filed into the room a few moments later, Tai still staring at the scout.

The front soldier shouted, “Is everything okay, Captain?” Swords were drawn, the bronze weapons pulled.

“Yes. I think we have a problem.”

***

It had been a beautiful day. The sky was still blue and the sun was still shining high above, but the brilliance was muted by the silence. As word spread of the mad man, Ming, traveling into the city shouting about creatures which looked like humans but ate them whole, people hid. Captain Tai Shi couldn’t blame them for the action: it was unsettling even for him.

The barracks sprung to life as soon as the horns sounded. Then entire military was assembled, approximately two hundred. A reserve of three hundred citizens could be brought if it was found the troubles were truly difficult. However, the three hundred would be slaughtered by any but the greenest force, and were treated as shock troops. It was bad for the city to lose the foundation of workers.

Tai sighed, looking up at the warm sun. The soldiers fidgeted in formation, lacking discipline in the face of fairy tales. It was a sad time. “Spring, I want strike teams to hit Lu Tan. Create chaos over killing specific targets. You have trained for this, now put it in practice. Civilians to be eliminated along with any military personnel.” The crowd started to mutter. “Discipline! Is this what we have been reduced to? A man comes in spouting about superstitions, and we lose our sense and our inability to maintain order? I assure you, in these times order is what we require.”

The military went silent. Tai said, “Summer, you will wait one day after Spring arrives. Strike and clean out the streets. If you notice any major struggles before then, interfere that Spring might retreat. We will need them when we start finding priority targets. Autumn, you are to cover Summer from afar. Retreat if required, but do not engage the enemy. If the fighting becomes unruly, Winter will advance with fire. If needed, burn it to the ground.”

Tai paced a few times in silence, letting the orders set in. The military of Zu had trained for numerous engagements, but the only action seen had consisted of small territory skirmishes. The men looked nervous. “This will be a moment we have waited for. It is a moment to test our meddle. We are facing an unknown foe, and we will be victorious. You will be known as great warriors, the greatest of this new age of fish. Hold firm in this, and we will not fail. The spirits be with you.”

The comments weren’t quiet as the men went to their posts. Tai heard clearly the worry that the spirits were what they fought. If the spirits were not with them, there was no victory to be had.

Tai took up his armor and went to the head of the army as it started to assemble. Spring would have left minutes after the assembly. The rest were a hundred fifty strong, with a hundred of them being Summer. Winter was a small group well versed in the use of creating and using highly volatile substances. There were only ten of them, but from the power of their explosives, that was all they needed to burn down Lu Tan.

A younger man, in his thirties, approached Tai. Jung was Tai’s second. He had long black hair braided behind him, leather armor with bronze plates, and two curved swords. “Captain, we will be prepared by sunset. Should we wait the night?”

Long ago Tai mentored Jung, showing him how to survive in Zu. When Tai joined the military, Jung followed in his footsteps, lost on the streets without his sworn brother. The two swore an oath in blood a few years after Jung was accepted into the ranks.

Tai responded, “No, we must leave now. I don’t want Spring by themselves too long. I’ll be charging beside summer.”

“Captain, I suggest against it. If you die, who will….”

“You will. Stay back with Autumn. You were always good with those cursed bows.”

Jung smirked, “Sir, you pull on them too hard. It requires both strength and restraint.”

“I think you kept weakening them on me so I’d snap them.”

“Only the first couple times.” Jung looked back over the men. “But seriously, sir, you should not be advancing with Summer.”

“I’ve waited a long time for this sort of conflict. I won’t shy from it. You’ll do well and get your own house name. Few people can say they have a house name.”

“You haven’t spread yours yet, Tai,” Jung looked to his friend. “You aren’t married, and with you the name dies.”

“I accepted that long ago. Sound the horn. The ranks are ready.” And so they marched forth, towards Lu Tan.

April 16, 2013

The Dragon Tongue War Part III

by Paul Davis

Part I
Part II

The inn was normal enough with people eating questionable hunks of meat and drinking a strange smelling brew. Villages could be close to each other, and yet the culture was so different. A good deal of the meat was raw, something common for fish. However, Shu noted it wasn’t fish. From some of the interesting bones and tendons the people were gnawing at, every bit of the creature was certainly used. More than likely an ox or cow, Shu thought, though he had never seen such large hunks of the meat.

Ming was turning pale. He stood still a moment and whispered to Shu, “Whatever you do, no eating the meat.”

Shu nodded, staring at the meat more carefully. Sure raw could be dangerous if allowed to sit too long, but most of it looked fairly fresh.

The barkeep took Shu out of his culinary thoughts, “You two needing food or room? Plenty of either, few travelers of late.” The voice was gravely, with a slight gurgling. The man was sweating profusely, wearing thick clothing. His hair was dark and thick on his face and head.

Ming stepped forward, “No thank you, sir. We were just checking the local color. Every village has such an interesting culture in and of its own.”

“Travelers for the sake of travel, then? Mighty nice gear for that sort of folk.” As conversation continued, eyes started to move to the pair. Shu squinted at one person and noticed the patron had slit eyes.

Terror started to seep into Shu’s nerves, his body becoming weak. He tugged on Ming’s sleeve, “I do need a bit of a rest. The heat’s getting to me.”

Shu was helped to a chair where the boy collected his wits. Ming continued to speak, “We had some good fortune back a bit. Bandits made off with what seemed to be Ta Ning’s entire treasury and we helped the merchant regain it. Quite the thankful merchant.”

The barkeep eyed Shu, “Sounds it, it does. Boy need some water? We’ve plenty.”

“I think he’ll find his footing soon enough. Either way, we must be going. I have heard Lu Tan has some rare items and we should be seeing what we can buy from there. It’s amazing what the lazy traders will leave off here, so I’ve been told.”

“Few places have items as we do. Make your way there, then.” The barkeep cleaned tankards, the patrons continued to watch, but Shu and Ming were left alone when they exited.

Shu was breathing hard when they were in the street and slumped down against the wall of the inn. “Ming,” his voice was quiet, but frantic, “Ming, we shouldn’t….”

Ming kicked the boy, then helped him back up. “We really should. I know the prices will be outrageous, but if we want to make pay for the year, we’ll need something of worth. Big risks, big gains, all that. Now keep moving, Shu. Now’s not the time to fret such small things. It’s only money.”

The boy was helped along the road and they went north. The people moved south as the sun started to set and when the chance was given, Ming brought Shu into an alley. “We need to leave here. Your cursed stories of spirits is true.”

“What do you mean?” Shu didn’t need to ask, but it was the obvious response to deny everything happening, and that’s what he felt safest doing in that moment.

“Don’t play dumb, boy. The scent of those drinks? Those are not from here. The flesh they ate?” He smacked Shu’s gut, “Same as hangs on you and me. We get to pay for our ancestors.”

A knot formed in Shu’s stomach, and he did what he could not to vomit. “I can’t be right.” Then Shu flinched, a sudden pain in his ankle. When he stepped away he saw a snaked. Blood and venom dripped from the fangs and Ming crushed the creature’s skull. “I’m going to die, aren’t I?”

“Shu, don’t talk like that. It’s just a snake. I know we have some anti-venom at the camp. Just keep moving and keep your spirits up.” Ming held the boy’s hand and started out of the alley, but stopped when he saw town folk blocking the path. He turned and saw a swarm of snaked slithering towards them.

“Ming, go. I know you can get onto the buildings.” Shu slouched down. His ankle was already swelling.

“I can get you up there, kid. Don’t you….”

“Just tell people it was something great. Tell them I slayed an army of poisonous creatures. Not that I was bitten, cowering in this alley.”

“You slayed a thousand great serpents. Your name will be remembered, Shu.” Ming placed his thumb on Shu’s forehead, then kissed it. “May you find peace with your ancestors, Shu. They’ll be proud to accept you into their numbers.”

A weak smile appeared on Shu’s face, his color gone, “Thank you, Ming. Now go.”

Ming jumped between the two buildings until he had flung himself atop a house, out of Shu’s sight. The snakes stopped approaching the wounded man, but the villagers had started to advance. Shu weakly stood up, pulling out his sword, “You won’t take me so easily.”

Moving away from the building, Shu tried to walk to the throng, but the poison was too strong. The sword fell from his hand and soon he collapsed to a knee. A woman came up to him, “Your kind tastes good, did you know that? The river provides, this is what our family would say. But then it stopped. Until it provided you.” Her jaw unhinged, dropping grotesquely wide. Shu could see jagged teeth as her mouth enveloped his head. It was dark and damp as he was devoured whole, muscles contracting and relaxing around him to usher him deeper within the creature.

Once more Shu tried to struggle, everything from his knees up consumed. It wasn’t the way he would die. But his struggles were met by nips in his calves, and he could feel more poison coursing through his veins. Finally his head swam and he lost himself to the darkness.