Okay, first an apology. Last week my brain apparently needed a reboot. I’ve been progressively slowing down in my writing for several weeks. Work’s been busy and stressful at the height of our season. I’ve been coming home brain dead and going straight to bed. Last week, I wrote exactly zero words. No forward progress with my novel. No new short story. And that was after only the 100 words of my drabble I posted the week before.
I also suffer from anemia on top of my anxiety and depression. Silly me, I stopped taking my iron supplement, because I thought it wasn’t doing anything. Boy, did I prove myself wrong. Anemic, I’m tired and grumpy. So that’s back on track too. I won’t do that again.
This week, after my unintended vacation from writing, I’ve written almost 6000 words so far.
I’m to the climatic scene in my novel WIP and I’m working on replotting my novel from NaNo last year. It faltered about 2/3 through because the plot unraveled to the point where I was making more editing notes (which were more questions than notes) than actual writing. The story is solid and I love the premise and characters. So hopefully giving it the same plotting work-up I did for the one I’m working on currently will fix things.
Today’s short story has actually been in process for a few weeks. Yet somehow it only ended up at about 1300 words.
I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading. 🙂
In the darkest night in the darkest swamp paced the darkest dragon with the darkest heart. She wore a circular path through a swirling fog that reeked of old death and moist rot, mumbling to herself.
The hazy darkness absorbed the scant light of the twin moons, and Nehalennia’s black scales faded from view except when they caught the light of candles held by her deathless minions. Humanoids in various states of decay stood perfectly still until she came near, then lowered their head in deference. She hissed and bared her fangs at each of them, whispering words not meant for their decayed ears, and swept her head back and forth in a hypnotic display.
At the center of her scored and worn path lay a jumbled pile of bleached bones. Every dozen paces or so, Nehalennia would brush the bones with her talons in a touch that lingered.
“Now, what are the words?” the dragon hissed. She cocked her head as if listening, while tapping her chest plates with her talons. She let out a long hiss that was equal parts excitement and sigh. “Yes, now I can begin.”
Nehalennia continued in a circle and began to chant in a long forgotten language. Made up of hisses and long consonants, it seemed well fitted to a dragon’s tongue. The black dragon continued to pace as she chanted. The undead around her stood motionless.
The pile of bones quivered. They made a hollow clatter and reached upwards.
Nehalennia barked a noise of triumph. It interrupted her chanting, and the bones settled into silence once more.
Triumph turned to rage, and the black dragon stomped a foot, setting swamp animals, sleeping and nocturnal, on edge from the tremor. She roared. She flailed her talons and shredded the nearest undead. The creature fell in silent, bloodless gore.
The others stood stoic and unfazed. If their mistress chose to end their unlife, they had no opinion.
Nehalennia hissed and murmured to herself, chiding her impetuous display. Now there was a break in her circle, a candle with no bearer. Nehalennia cursed whatever gods were listening. She would need a new corpse to raise. The spell was abhorrently specific about the number, meant to be cast by one flanked with many followers.
Nehalennia had created her own followers, painstakingly, one at a time.
The first group had been easy, taken from a tiny village at the edge of the Dead Swamp, but humans had become more difficult to find after that. The last two had come to her completely by chance, a hapless merchant and his guard.
She sniffed the still air. Only wet and death and damp fur met her nostrils.
Nehalennia touched the bones with her talons, caressed them. “Soon,” she promised.
With an irritated hiss, Nehalennia settled on all four of her legs and lowered her body until it slithered along the ground as she walked. She hit the dark, stagnant water with barely a splash, only the faintest ripple, and swam out into the black of night.
She was not a patient dragon, but her determination outweighed her impatience. She waited near the single human road through the Dead Swamp with only her head and the ridge of her back visible in the water. Even as the sun rose and illuminated the greyish-green fog that always hung here, she would be hidden among the reeds and muck.
It could go weeks without a visitor to the swamp, but eventually the sound of horse hooves and wagon wheels over the pocked road brought Nehalennia out of a light doze, and she hissed in anticipation. Bubbles tickled her muzzle.
“That’s a big crocodile,” came the voice of a man.
She saw an arm stretch out, a finger pointing her way. Two faces peered over the side of the wagon. It brought with it the smell of sweaty horseflesh and unwashed human.
“That’s no crocodile…” the woman next to him began. She trailed off as she tried to get a better look. “I don’t know what…”
The black dragon held very still. She waited for the wagon’s front, where the two humans sat, to be nearly even with her waiting maw. Then she sprang forward with all the strength of all four of her legs, striking like a coiled snake, and catching both humans in her mouth.
They still wriggled briefly. By the time the wagon, led by the two panicked horses, was out of sight, they were still. Nehalennia was already back in the water, just two eyes scanning the stillness as a tail twitched behind and four legs pumped invisibly below.
She would have an extra, just in case.
Raising a human into undeath was easy, she’d had much practice now, but it was nothing compared to her ultimate goal. Nehalennia had spent years learning the art of necromancy. Her invisible companions had been invaluable. Before them, she’d seen failure over and over.
Now, their whispers instilled her with the knowledge she needed.
Her circle once more unbroken, a continuous wall of candles perfect in placement, the black dragon once more began to pace before the pile of bones gathered in the center.
“I have forgotten the words,” she hissed into the silent heavy fog. Her ever-present invisible mentors responded, whispering the old words to her silently. She tilted her head, listening, and her head began to nod in recognition. “Yes, yes.” A pleased smile tugged her lips back from her long, protruding teeth.
She began to pace and chant, swaying on her hind legs while making delicate gestures with her foreclaws.
The pile of bones wavered. The voices in her head cautioned focus. Nehalennia didn’t falter. Her voice grew stronger and more sure with each repeated line.
The shadows of the swamp been to coalesce like fog in the early morning. They swirled and danced and entered her circle of light. The undead never wavered. They did not feel the cold fingers of the dark magic Nehalennia summoned brush their skin, for they were beyond such senses.
Their stoicism strengthened her spell. She felt its power thrum around her.
The dark tendrils entwined the quivering bones, infused them.
Nehalennia’s eyes widened and she chanted louder. Her pacing quickened and it rumbled through the swamp like earth tremors.
The bones began to raise and dance with the summoned shadows.
The bones came together. They formed legs and feet and toes. Nehalennia continued reciting. They formed a tail from vertebrae, one at a time. Nehalennia continued chanting. A backbone grew from the tail, then a neck. Nehalennia continued, though her throat began to protest under the harsh rumble of the unfamiliar syllables. A skull, elongated, reptilian, and full of sharp teeth, attached to the neck.
The dark tendrils acted as tendons, pulling and holding the bones together as Nehalennia finished the final lines of the spell.
“Velenos!” she cried into the heavy night air, summoning his essence to the bone shell and giving him back his name.
The skull’s eyes began to glow with a green light. They raised on the long neck and came level with Nehalennia’s. The great dracolich rumbled and thrummed as it searched for its voice, flexing talons and neck and tail like a swamp lion waking from a nap.
“I am returned,” it said with a voice echoey as if it came from the bottom of a deep hole. The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.
“Yes, my love,” Nehalennia whispered, her voice hoarse, her energy drained. She panted and stumbled forward. She sighed and nuzzled against the neck and chest of the bone dragon. “We are together again.”
The dracolich thrummed.
Nehalennia could have faded into that moment for eternity, but the voices returned.
Now you will do something for us.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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/.