Thursday, July 2, 2009

Gathering Darkness

Gathering Darkness1

Chapter 1

Duke Charles of Staffordshire halted his steed and removed his great eagle-crested helmet2. The battlefield lay still and calm around him, silent save for the moans of pain from the wounded and the dying. All of his enemies were either dead or dying, not counting a handful who fled. Undoubtedly to bring news of their defeat to their general and to get reinforcements.

It was no easy victory, though. Of the Duke's once proud army, only a handful of men remained. There were now about fifty men left, most on foot, but ten or twelve cavallerists3 still were in fighting condition. These included sir Michael Stackpole4, the famous knight with his characteristic blue and white shield, emblazoned with a golden griffon,and Jaques Remeaur, the French wizard with the fiery disposition.

Sir Michael dismounted and kneeled beside a dead enemy soldier. After a few moments he shouted for sir Charles to come and have a look, which he did.

-"Chaotics5," he said, pointing at an eight-pointed star on the fallen warrior's black armour.

-"Yes, my lord," sir Michael replied. "But they have never been sighted in Britain! Something terrible must have happened if they suddenly arrive in such numbers6." He hesitated for a moment, then continued:

"And all the while I think that this was just a small part of their might. So why didn't they wait for reinforcements before attacking us?"

-"Arrogance!" snapped the wizard angrily. "They thought we'd be easy. But now they're warned, and no general makes the same mistake twice in a row."

-"True," said the Duke and remounted his stallion, accepting a lance taken from a slain English knight instead of his own splintered and broken one. "Now, we have to warn the King7."

Chapter 2

The twelve battle-scarred men on their great stallions travelled fast. Speed was of the essence, and they knew it; that was why the infantry had been set under Captain Burns' command, on guard duty at the border between Staffordshire and Clwyd, the Welsh dukedom from which the attack originated8. That was a hopeless mission, but still one that had to be pursued.

-"I don't like this," said sir Michael. "It's too easy. We've been going for five hours now, and still no resistance."

-"Calm down, sir," replied one of the knights. "We're riding east and they came from the west. Surely they must have a hard time catching us then, don't you think?"9

-"You're probably right." Sir Michael sighed and smiled at the knight. "But it's still too easy."

The duke turned to the wizard and asked if he couldn't gaze into a crystal ball or something and tell something about the road ahead, but only received a sneer for an answer.

-"Like I was some kind of charlatan or street illusionist," Jaques muttered and shot a dark gaze at sir Charles. He thought a bit of going home to France, leaving those ignorant, teadrinking barbarians behind, but his thoughts were interrupted by a battlecry and the sound of eleven lances being levelled and locked in their rests.10 Two hundred yards away stood perhaps thirty warriors in black and red armour11, brandishing axes, swords and great maces. As the knights charged forward, the Frenchman trotted slowly after them with a definite feeling that something was going to go terribly wrong.

Chapter 3

The flower of British chivalry crashed into the massed ranks of heavily armoured warriors like a great wave hits the shore. Several of the footmen fell, impaled on the heavy lances, but some managed to avoid them and struck back like frenzied beasts. A bitter close combat ensued, and the knights dropped their clumsy lances and drew their longswords instead.

Jaques could see that his comrades would win easily, and he therefore decided he had time enough to survey the surroundings. The fighting took place on the road, with a lush forest to the right and row upon row of low, rolling hills on the left. Behind him, he saw quite a similar scenery, except that the forest was less dense. Quite a perfect place in which to stage an ambush. Well, he thought, let's not give them the chance, shall we? He invoked a word of power, and he and his horse rose slowly and majestically into the air, robe and barding fluttering in the breeze. The hills seemed safe and devoid of enemies, but he had to rise higher to peer into the woods. A gesture and a soft-spoken command accomplished that, and what he saw almost made him lose control over his levitation spell.12

-"Sir Charles! SIR CHARLES! GO FOR ZE HILLS!"13 he shouted and sent a bright red ball of roaring flame straight for the woods. Jaques didn't linger to watch it hit, though.

Chapter 4

Sir Charles impaled another massive warrior with his longsword, withdrew it from the twitching, dying man, leaving behind a deep wound. Then he turned his steed14 towards the hills, dug his heels into its flanks and shouted for his men to follow. He had known the wizard long enough to trust in his advice. A quick glance over one shoulder told him that his loyal knights followed hot on his heels, but no sign of some great army or powerful monster was visible in the forest. He halted on a hilltop to reform his forces and to wait for Jaques, watching the woods closely for the announced danger. As the wizard hurried past them over their heads, screaming and shouting and cursing in French15, the trees started to part before suddenly breaking like matches, sending splinters flying all around.

-"What the ..." the duke gasped when the surviving black-and-red marauders kneeled16 and paid homage to the being that had emerged from the forest. The problem was that sir Charles didn't see any being17 ...

Chapter 5

For a moment all was still. Neither the chaotics nor the Englishmen moved, and even the soft western breeze that had been blowing calmed down into nothingness. It was like England itself held its breath in excitement. Then Jaques cast a spell that lifted the veils of ignorance18 from the eyes of the knights, thereby allowing them to see what is hidden from normal sight, and upon seeing the subject of the evil men's worship, one knight fainted dead away, while another went mad and started to draw small circles in the grass with his finger, shouting "Suppertime! Time to eat!"19

It was a toad the size of an elephant and the colour of pus from an infected belly wound. No head topped off the unholy creation; instead, there were thousands of blasphemous tentacles in a slightly more diabolic shade of that horrible colour, each wriggling and grasping for thin air as if they had a life of their very own. Some of the tentacles ended in a bright red eye with an oval pupil, black enough to make midnight in a dungeon look pleasant. All of the abnormally unblinking eyes were fixed upon the British knights. Then, somehow, from some bodily orifice, it let out a long, undulating howl that soon, with unabated horridity, evolved into a great, hellish roar that sounded like a god being tortured by millions of devils and demons20. Then it fell silent for but a moment before lurching forward, squelching a couple of insane, black-and-red-armoured warriors beneath its huge webbed feet. The flower of British chivalry21 took one look at it and fled as fast as they could.

Chapter 6

Now let's have a quick break and take a look at the situation22. The scenery is as follows: a well-used road leads from east to west, skimming the edge of a lush forest. North of the road, we see a stretch of hills and hillocks, marching in uneven ranks and files towards the horizon. The sky is overcast with apparently no hopes of sunshine until tomorrow, and the air is dense, almost palpable, like it usually is before a great thunderstorm. A handful of British knights are presently digging their heels into the flanks of their horses, galloping north as fast as possible. Ahead of them and a few yards above as well, a wizard clad in crimson robes flies on his horse23.

The woods are divided by a long line of broken and fallen trees, about ten feet wide, and the reason for this destruction is currently climbing the nearest hill in long, slow-seeming leaps; the thing that almost defies description is large, slimy and sanity-blasting to behold, and a plethora of dark warriors follows in its wake. On the hilltop we notice two men24, both doomed to an imminent and ghastly fate, but none of them knowing it. One is unconscious and the other is insane, driven over the edge by the events of the latest ten heartbeats.

Things look dire for our heroes.

Chapter 7

The duke glanced quickly over his shoulder in the midst of the wild flight. He saw the creature stop for a few moments to claim the souls of the two horrorstruck knights, but when it resumed its jumping it was clear that it was a little faster than the British warhorses.

-"Wizard! Can't you do anything, for Christ's sake?" he roared in desperation.

-"My fireballs are of little use against …"25

-"I mean DISPEL IT or something! For the love of God, man, I've seen you do such things before!"26

-"Normal demons, yes, but a Gorhoth … C'est impossible!"

-"No! You must do it, or we are surely doomed! Doomed, I say!"27

The red-robed wizard said nothing, just lowered his horse to the ground to allow it to run by itself28. He himself remained in the air. He floated higher and higher, slowly spinning to face backwards when he had ascended enough.

Jaques saw the monster draw closer by the second, and he realized the truth in sir Charles' words. But it was so big! For a moment he thought of his own painful demise, but that raised his infamous hot tempers above and beyond anything he had ever experienced before. He pushed his doubts aside, raised his arms and began to chant. No big frog would dare to harm Jaques Remeaur!29

Chapter 8

-"Perdo vim, perdo animál, creo ignem! Parma magica ad mithas sodalitis et consortis, cértamen Gorhoth! Perdo! Perdo!"30

The wizard plunged his left hand into a small pouch as he chanted, and withdrew it clutching a handful of small, glowing rocks. His other hand traced intricate patterns in the air with firm, bold strokes. A circle of blue and white witch-fire formed in front of Jaques, and the air within it began to emit a disgusting smell.31

Jaques spun to face the quickly approaching demon, and when his circle completely encompassed the image of the creature, he dropped all of his inherent inhibitions32 and let fly his spell.

With a great cry, he tossed his little rocks through the circle, made a cutting motion with his right hand and focused his entire mind and body on the effort of tossing that spawn of Hell back to its home in the middle echelons.

The pebbles blinked out of existence, and the demon suddenly found itself surrounded by a golden net of energy that quickly constricted around it. Where the net touched the demon's flesh, clouds of yellow, sulphurous smoke arose, and the net fastened itself to the abomination's skin.

Jaques' heart filled with pride and eagerness when he saw that his spell really seemed to work. The net was soon completely engrailed33 in the Gorhoth's hellish hide, obscuring it in thick clouds of putrid vapors, searing its flesh and hindering its movements, The Gorhoth wailed in pain and frustration, and its mortal followers, seeing their god be defeated34, turned and ran for the woods.

It was time to finish the spell.

Chapter 9

Jaques Remeaur initiated the last stage of his spell. Beads of sweat streamed down his forehead as his mind made contact with the demon's, each of them trying to destroy the other. The Gorhoth was already weakened, thanks to the energy net, and Jaques was very strong-willed, but even so it was an even struggle.

The evil creature bellowed out its anguish and frustration. In all its six millennia it had never been challenged like this, neither by humans, nor demons, nor faeries. The Frenchman, however, had gone through this countless times, albeit versus lesser demons.35

Slowly, painfully, he pushed the Gorhoth back, paying for every inch with his own life force. It made a last, desperate surge, powered by all its hate, malice and fear of death, but that was countered at the last moment by a wave of pure, fiery magical power.36 Jaques would win, and he knew it.

-"Listen! It roars!" The duke slowed his horse down, eventually coming to a halt, and twisted backwards in the saddle. He saw his allied wizard float in the air, seemingly unharmed.

-"Jaques seems to win!"37

A ragged cheer rose from the handful of British warriors. Sir Michael, always the sensible one, cut off their manifestation of joy and spoke.

-"He's obviously not done with it as yet, and we all know that magic is a fickle force. I say we wait for a little while before celebrating the victory!"

A great bellow rolled across the landscape, followed by the wizard wincing from pain, and then ­ silence, stillness, motionlessness.38
And then a tremendous explosion shook the very earth beneath the horses, an intense, white flash of light blinded all who beheld it, and Jaques Remeaur came hurtling through the air at a great speed, unconscious.

To be continued?

Teacher's note: "What will your future be like? Professional writer?"

1This story was written in weekly installments in the spring of 1994. Transcribed from longhand and annotated by the author, 15 years later. No edits of any kind.

2Not a bad opening sentence!

3Oh lord ...

4Pop culture points if you know that name ...

and for naming the fantasy universe I'm stealing
from here.

be lots of clumsy English like this. I was 18, okay, and English is
my second language.

thus we have a quest. Rock on!

my love of long, convoluted sentences. This is but a gentle
introduction to that heinous practice.

a helpful lad. This guy deserves a name.

time for action!


breaks? Dialogue? White space? All clearly overrated.

believe I used that stereotype.

a "steed" or "stallion" with this guy, never a
plain old horse.

pay to see the movie version.

"knelt." Like we said, no edits.

likely, the author didn't particularly feel like coming up with a
monster this week.

Stupid English ke-niggets!

like this guy. Let's hope he's not the helpful dude from Chapter 2.

I was reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft at the time. Iä!
Iä! Cthulhu phtagn!


22I still love these intermezzos. Sorry! Also note the switch to present tense in this chapter only. Advanced storytelling technique, indeed.

23Do you get the mental image?

24Who the heck are "we" here?

25So far, so good.

26… and then it goes from cheesy to pathetic in a

27This line is a train wreck. That's why I love it.

28How kind of him.

29You gotta motivate the heroes to superhuman deeds somehow, right?

30Ars Magica, how I've missed you. The fake-Latin is supposed to mean something like this (but doesn't even come close): "Destroy magic, destroy animal, create fire! I dispell thee, back to the peers and brothers of the Gorhoth! Destroy! Destroy!"

just like to know what kind of nasty smell, but otherwise, not too shabby.



Possibly the worst of my Swenglish errors.

35I guess Jaques (hold the c) is pretty special, ain't he?

36And so we can avoid any actual description.

37Good grief, Charlie Brown!

38Motionlessness is a real word, just a clumsy one.

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