Welcome to Day 2 of the Author Up Challenge! I’m on a roll so far!
Today’s challenge was equally simple and open to a wide variety of possibilities:
Day 2: Write in the Third Person (Limited)
There was a prompt also given, but the email for this challenge mentioned internal struggles versus external struggles–so I felt this piece would be the perfect way to accomplish some of both. I already had about the first half dozen or so paragraphs written prior.
The above image is a D&D black dragon. The dragon and his/her surroundings (a very creepy looking swamp) partly inspired this piece.
This is the first scene a longer short story, to be concluded later.
The Dead Swamp
Moern knew the terrors that cried in the night were not his imagination. They were real. But he didn’t know their names, if they had any. And he didn’t know their faces, nor did he want to.
Whatever light the moons and stars shared with the denizens of Dadreon that night got swallowed up by the thick fog that hung in the swamp like a soggy curtain. It made a night that was impenetrably black. The fog muffled the sounds of the swamp, making them less distinct and seemingly faraway, but more eerie for their lack of location.
The merchant wished there were a better route from Balk to Traeg, but to bypass Dead Swamp would add several days to this trek. Time he could not afford to lose–time was money. The market would not wait. The customers would find other traders for their wares.
He’d finally broken down and hired a mercenary to guard himself and the wagon. Solvi was a northerner from her accent and her pale, cragged skin. Her temperament was colder than the tundras of that icy place, and Moern mostly left her to herself. As long as she performed as paid to when it mattered, he might get through this ungodly place without an incident like the last time, when he’d lost most of his goods to a band of roguish knolls.
Moern knew far worse things crept just outside the flickering, swaying light of the lantern lashed to the front corner of the wagon. Its dim yellow light lit the back of the horse’s head and little else in the murk. Occasionally, the lantern would tilt just so and a shaft of light would stretch out and illuminate the edge of the road. Each time, Moern swore he saw something skitter out of the light. It made his imagination stir with the dark possibilities of what lurked there, just beyond the light. Further out, Moern saw only curtains of black moss and what he swore were hundreds of eyes, watching, some blinking, some unblinking.
Wiping the chill sweat from his brow, Moern flicked the reins gently and made a clicking noise with his tongue. The horse perked up and quickened from a walk to a trot. Solvi did the same without a comment or even a glance in Moern’s direction. Her eyes scanned the darkness around them, her sword out and ready to strike, and Moern breathed easier for the knowledge.
“That sword will not protect you from the terrors of this place,” a rumbling voice purred. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, impossible to place in the damp and suffocating swamp.
Moern swallowed and became uncertain whether to continue forward or take off back in the other direction. Before he could even mutter, “To the abyss with this!” the horse had made the decision for him, stopping dead in the road, prancing and tossing its head. The whites showed in the beast’s terrified eyes. The man barely succeeded in keeping hold of the reins and the panting creature ignored his tugging.
Solvi looked on edge but collected. Her outward calm kept Moern from full panic.
“I would ask you to drop the weapon, but it will not stay me from slaying you both.” The voice seemed amused in a nonchalant way.
“I will not let you rob this wagon, villain,” Solvi said to the disembodied voice.
“Villain?” There came a rough coughing sound that Moern realized to be low chuckling. “What makes you call me a villain?”
“You mean to rob us, surely,” Moern sputtered.
“Rob you? There is nothing in that wagon that could possibly interest me.” The voice dragged out the last syllable until it strung out into a surreal note that bored into Moern’s head like a termite into soft wood. It set his teeth on edge and made his head ache.
“Then, why impede our progress and terrorize my horse?”
The horse, now frothing at the mouth, continued to quiver and stamp its hooves.
“It does not know true terror.”
Giant yellow eyes blinked, appearing suddenly from the surrounding blackness to the left of the road, their greenish pupils adjusting to the lantern’s light. A great reptilian head detached from that same murk, its face resembling a lizard skull with the ebony scales and skin beneath drawn too tautly. Pointed teeth lined a smirking mouth that could not contain them. Spines jaunted from its cheeks and up the side of its head to two giant, curling horns, making it almost look like an emaciated mountain goat, and completing the nightmarish visage.
Moern only noticed the horse was frozen in fear because the reins had stopped shaking in his hands. He too was unable to move, unable to tear his gaze from the dragon’s yellow eyes. He could only watch, jaw slack and eyes wide, as the wyrm snapped its jaws around the horse, ripping an ear-splitting shriek from the beast. A quick shake snapped the horse’s neck and tore it loose of the wagon. Moern barely noticed as the reins were ripped from his hands. Then, it two quick motions, the black dragon swallowed the horse whole.
“That is terror. Wouldn’t you agree?” The dragon grinned and it was a ghastly sight.
When Moern and Solvi remained silent, and wyrm continued on, unperturbed. “Don’t worry. I promise your fates will be far more interesting.”
With a foreclaw supporting talons the length of the tall northern woman, the dragon grabbed Solvi by the face and snapped her neck with barely a sound uttered. Only a noise like crackling underbrush and the clatter of her sword broke the silence of the stifling swamp.
Then, it came face to face with Moern and grinned again, its wicked teeth jutting in every direction. “You will make an excellent test subject.”
Moern fainted, sparing him from witnessing his own fate.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.