Hi there. I've been stuck on this storyline for around a year now, and I seem to progress halfway, and come back to edit out the old version and i end up writing a completely new version of the same story. I'll post the first chapter here, and i hope i get some critiques on my work. Thanks in advance!
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Lassa- Chapter 1- The Improbable Answer
Tripping again was the last thing she wanted. Another moss covered tree root failed her. In a forest of such proportions, Lassa struggled to find a suitable footing. Losing track on the way was frustrating, and now that she reached the cohort, her cohort, it was disconcerting to find them in such disarray.
“Listen here!” She shouted, and the ones close by turned, surprised at her arrival.
She ignored the swear words she heard. She didn't choose to be here anyways. That was all Ardhyne’s fault. If they had to blame someone, it was him.
“Reten is calling.” The voices echoed, until there was a discrete scream in the distance.
“What-” Lassa traced the shouts following the scream, to the banks of the slow stream tracking through the forest. “-happened? Denner?”
One of the laziest of the cohort, perhaps excluding Lassa herself, was Denner. She walked towards him, as the whimpering continued.
“The stream is corrosive.” She said, her matter-of-fact tone bringing a few more scowls than usual.
Denner screamed again. His legs were not anywhere near suitable for walking. It seemed to have melted the skin off, and his toes were smoking. There was a good deal of exposed bone, and much of the tissue seemed gangrenous.
“You could have told us this before you went off.” Kerin, the only other female in her cohort, frowned at her. It was normal, by the usual proportions. She never got any of the respect a Reten deserved, anyways.
“I was told of it by the Guard to the cave. Besides, it's not like i knew of this beforehand.” She shrugged. A rock placed near the cluster of trees that Denner now laid against, caught her eye. Launching herself up with a branch, she waved her spear above. “I had an audience with the Answerer.” Her voice still didn't cross much. The others were now closer, though, and she continued.
“He believes we have a big threat incoming, and we ought to inform General Aswan of this.”
Denner growled in pain at her feet. She ignored it and raised her voice.
“And what?” She very well knew what was being asked.
“What is the threat?” Fram Dervish, almost a local of Mandale, had been a well-spoken member of her cohort. Another reason to hate Mandale. As if the post in a desert was not bad enough. And ironic, as a coastal city in a desert.
“The Answerer forbade me from telling it.” Far from the truth, but she couldn't care less. “To anyone but the General.” That would get her an audience with Aswan. Not anyone below him. Not Ardhyne, the Chief Reten, or Melle Mereligue, the Strategist of the legion.
“And?” Fram drew it out, but Lassa wasn't feeling the sense of camaraderie with them. There were laughs around him.
“And I think it would be best if we leave the forest before dusk. Not to lose another man to a forest lion. Or those black things with the stings.”
“Crab-scorpions.” Someone suggested, amidst giggles.
“Think of a better name. Or to the water, which already made its attempt on Denner’s life anyways.” She was using the word too often. It seemed awkward.
“Aren't you returning the horse?” Asked Heral, an archer who wielded halberds a bit too violently. She cursed herself for remembering people this way.
“No, the Guard gave it to me. And I bet they can spare the money.” She sighed. The Answerer demanded a hefty fee, one which she intended to speak to the General about.
The news she had gathered was alarming, but she couldn't think it was at the least possible. An army in the desert? And the way he made connections, it was like he cut the pieces of a puzzle, just to make them fit. She couldnt see the whole picture though.
General Aswan would be interested in this, and would probably know more about it's history than anyone else. He was a wrong man at the wrong place, and that made him just as hated as Lassa was, probably worse. The man was a great historian, an even great strategist, but from what she heard, he had been worse in fighting when not on horseback. There were affairs in the court of Mandale that ended up with him in the Fourth legion as Commanding General. He had previously been in the Seventh, composed purely of equestrians. A role model, if Lassa had had enough interest in the vast boredom of history and horse dung.
“It would be nicer if you gave your horse to Denner.” Fram was by her side, looking at Denner, who gave a well-timed moan. It was three hours since they had decided on leaving, and now they had been following the edge of the forest till the Heron Sharp, where the forest had an outpouching leading into the desert. They would have to trace southeast after that.
“Oh.” She really considered giving it, before deciding not. “No. He is comfortable enough on the cart.” He wasn't. But on the side of positive thoughts, they would have had to guide him on the horse, and from his appearance, he wasn't in any state to ride one. Besides, if he wanted, the carriage driven by two mules would suffice. She wasn't risking her legs in the desert. A horse would last the distance easily; Mandale was quite near, only a day’s journey from the Answerer’s cave.
She felt relaxed and guilty at the same time.
“Ill scout ahead.” She said, following the forest’s slowly diminishing outline into the desert, looking for breaks. They had stocked enough water for this journey, and so the forest stream hadn't been the sole option. She saw it course into the outlines of the forest, tracing back in the forest in vague branches, wherever the canopy broke. Sunlight filtered in the darkened sky, through the last remnants of the clouds as the desert loomed in front.
She lifted the spear, throwing it at a tree stump, which had been much covered by overgrowths that it didn't raise suspicion of recent human activity. She rode the horse towards it, and picked it off in a swift stroke, but before she could get back to her erect posture, the horse bucked.
She fell forwards, her head missing a tree trunk by inches. She moved with the spear, looking back, as she saw the horror.
A lean, almost mummified corpse stuck to the horse, holding its leg in place with a skeletal hand. She noticed the smell, and suddenly realized what it meant.
The horse kicked the corpse. Lassa screamed as it rolled past her, the odour of lavender penetrating her nose in a comforting way. The corpse violently shook, a large depression in its abdomen. It erupted back, much like a cockroach. Lassa grasped the spear in a hand, her old dagger in another. She heard some shouts behind her. She was surprised. She thought she was out of earshot. Her cohort appeared beyond a limb of the forest, and some even ran towards her.
She flexed her hand, but the corpse appeared quite slow. She raised the spear, pointing it at its chest, but the corpse suddenly pulled it, its fingers curling with cracks over the spearhead. Lassa gasped, and thrust it inwards. It broke the sternum, piercing as a finger cracked, fractured. It sure was persistent. She pulled the spear out, and suddenly felt nauseous, the smell getting to her head. Dark flecks of clots lined the tip of the spear. She aimed it at the neck, but shrieked, as it evaded it expertly, and lifted a shattered hand as it broke the shaft.
“What in the name of Avassea is this?” Fram had come there, swearing amid gasps. He lifted a spear, stabbing the corpse as Lassa moved backwards.
Wrong decision. She tripped over, her horse moving aside as she fell, hooves by either side of her bare face. She remembered her helmet was in the cart, with Denner.
“It is dead.” Fram said.
“This is what the Answerer guessed.” Lassa said. Fram kinked his head, his eyes angry. The others had caught up with them. Amidst swears, Lassa noticed that it's head had been parted, as were all its limbs. It didn't bleed much, but the sickening smell lingered.
“Guessed?” Fram asked sarcastically.
“Predicted. Said. Whatever.” Lassa groaned as she pulled her leg up. It bore a bruise on the back of the knee, but nothing worse. “He was right. This was the Nerine army.”
“Army?” Kerin brought herself to the front of the group. Only a few had come there, Lassa realized. Far in the distance, she saw the cart and another ten accompanying it. “Too small and too dead to be an army.”
“There is a large army in the desert. It would have destroyed many villages by now, that's what the Answerer said.” She got a hand from Fram and Vervan, getting back on her feet. “Mandale can expect it soon. Remember those travellers? They must be near.”
The Answerer’s words now seemed more ominous. She felt bad for not trusting it in the beginning. It seemed too otherworldly.
“The Answerer is always right. You must dispose of your arrogance before hearing his words, for he speaks what he knows, and what he knows is much more than any other living being.” The guard’s words rang through her ear, annoying, as if to remind her of disobedience.
The head of the corpse groaned again, as Fram plunged the spear through it's head, pressing into the sand. It stopped moving.
They spent another four hours in the night before they decided to rest for the day. Lassa rallied the twenty members of her cohort as they arranged themselves, with the exception of Denner, of course.
“We have to send word to Mandale soon.” She said, and a few heads nodded.
“There was a First legion messenger passing by.” Said Denner, from the cart. “You could have called for him, Reten.”
The others, including Lassa turned to him. “When did a Palladier cross us?”
Palladiers were the cream of the bunch. They rode Pallindren, sweetly called the Palls or Pallii, depending on the speaker or writer. They were magnificent beasts that Lassa had never had the luck to touch; antlered stags that flew. They had origins in some extinct carnivore, from what she had heard.
“Dunno, maybe two hours ago.” His face looked earnest, compared to the others Lassa turned to face, who mirrored Lassa to a murderous look.
“Why didn't you tell us?” A collective groan, mixed with the question sounded, as he babbled in retort.
“I honestly thought you had seen him.”
“You were lying face up, for Threla's sake. Damn you.”
“Could have moved me, though. I had to see the sun for hours.” He commented, earning more shouts.
“We'll send one, maybe two of us on a horse.” Kerin said, carefully avoiding Denner. Lassa shook her head.
“It wouldn't do to split. We should rather travel during the night, if all are not averse to the idea.”
“You have a horse, Reten.” The respect didn't seem to roll off that easily from Vervan’s tongue. Lassa hastily shut down a remark that was indecent before she spoke out, and stared him down. “Put a few years on yourself with the walking, Vervan. Might just pull it off.”
A collective whisper showed her the problem. General Aswan's promotion details had recently ‘slipped’ the tongue of Chief Reten Ardhyne, and it was obvious. How else did a Chief Reten of the Seventh Legion get promoted to General in so few years? His father had pulled some strings, being close to King Deschar himself. And Ardhyne, General Ardhyne, had to bear with Aswan Kale getting the position. No wonder the man was bitter.
Promotions were bad topics to discuss.
“That Palladier. Which direction did she go toward?” Lassa changed the topic, rather visibly, but it was effective. Palladiers were First legion. It was common knowledge that the best of the best get the top, the ones with the fear of heights get the last legions. The ones which were treated as scum, well, they ended up in one of the central numbers. The Third, Fourth or Fifth Legion. And Pallindren preferred women riding them. That was the reason why a ‘she’ rolled off her tongue.
“It's a he. East. Not towards Mandale, that's for sure. And he must have been high ranking, probably a Reten. He had the cloak.”
“If he has spotted the Nerine army, I suggest we take no chances; we deviate course, more into the desert and southward. We have enough to cross the desert safely, and this news has to reach the General fast.”
“No.” Fram said, his arms crossed. Some others murmured their dissent.
“Wait, it is not a suggestion. An order.” She corrected, frowning at the group. She tried to imagine herself, being the arrogant villain, but she couldn't. Somehow, she just wanted them to suffer for all they did.
“As you say. But don't expect a good word with the Chief Reten.” Vervan stuck out a tongue. So much for being Reten. Things were much easier when she had been just a trainee at the academy.
“And Fram?” She called over his retreating back. “Take the horse. I'll come by foot.”
He didn't do it at once. She jumped down, and walked across the others to get him. He gulped, but she pointed back at the horse. Fram hadn't expected this, she guessed. Or he had. Did the threat with Ardhyne’s name strike bad notes? Lassa frowned at his hesitation. He responded by taking the reins, and followed her lead in a slow strut. They walked south, towards Mandale.
“What if the Palladier already saw the army?” Denner wasn't giving up, now that it struck him that he should have alerted Lassa before.
“He would've gone to Mandale, the nearest centre. Not East.” Lassa said. The sand lapped up at her foot, grains drizzling down her sandals with each step.
“Svenham? The Foxwar?”
Foxwar seemed ridiculous, but it was actually the name of what was happening there. Foxes in war with humans. Even strange was that they had the upper hand for years, maybe a decade. Since last year, there had been news of improvement in the situation.
“That would mean he didn't see the Nerine.” Lassa shrugged.
“It looks nice from here.” Fram whispered audibly.
“If you meant it to be taunting, it shouldn't have been so down in the tones, Fram.” Lassa glanced at him, his proud face glistening with sweat. He smirked.
“Consider Ardhyne pleased, Reten. No bad comments from me about you.” He saluted in mockery, but Lassa felt a smile developing. Another year of good commentus and she would be ranking high, maybe shifted to a Reten in a higher legion. If enough, she would make Chief in three more.
It was a macabre thought, of multiple Chief Retens dying to make space for her, but the end still sounded pleasing.
“Camp again, Reten. I can't stand seeing Fram up a horse.” Kerin brought herself close to Lassa and whispered. “Now that I think of it, we need you here, if only to put Fram in his place.” Lassa smiled. This was a compliment, all things considered.
“Camp for three hours. Once the light of the Moon crosses the mid-sky, we leave. Three hours of sleep if you can muster it. Hamsler, Fram and Forch keep the watch.” Lassa shouted as loud as she can, but it wasn't necessary. Except for the groan from the dismounting Fram, sighs of relief dotted the night at the Cerni desert.
Sorry if it is too long. Hope you liked it!
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