First of all, no, I’m not dead. The beginning of a semester is always a bumpy affair, and so I took a leave of absence while I sorted out the muddy road of my future. Apologies to you loyal readers who missed me. But hey, every big shot blogger takes off at some point, so I figure I’m just following the trade.
Second of all, I discovered another technique to share with you. As I went home this weekend, the memories of the past swirled in my head and compelled me to turn on the old desktop. I dived into the Writing folder, the one started in eighth grade, and dug up the horrors of the past. And yet, though the style was crude and the plot anything but subtle, I looked through the first “novel” (even with quotations, I’m being generous) I ever wrote, and something magical happened. I began to write.
Tapping into the vein that had started me down this path so long ago, I felt the past all around me. My younger self spoke to me in his form, cynical, oppressed, and confused. He forced his characters to live out this grisly environment he forever captured on the page, so that one day, six years later, his adult self could return and find him among the words. His struggles became mine once more, and with this original angst that inspired him to lay pen to paper, I revived his characters once more.
That all sounds well and good, but what does this mean for you? My point is short and simple. We all have plenty of stories that we had to write before we could truly master fiction. Most of us would want to flee the country if any of these were ever published. Yet, they offer a certain opportunity: inspiration. Think back to what made you first want to write, all those days ago, and this impulse will prove its strength still.
Use your old stories and the ideas within them to build new stories, borrowing the original aspects you liked and pushing the ones that make you cringe from memory. I did that very same thing this weekend. So, I’ll shut up, and let the writing do the talking.
The Harbinger Before the Abyss
This is a short story set well after the events of Outcast and Uprising (half-written sequel), but carrying on the stories of the protagonist and antagonist.
The hoof crashed against Kad’s skull. Pain was a temporary thing, something that ebbed and flowed like the stream before and after the spring melts. Warm blood trickled down his muzzle, spattering the amber meadow grass. The whitetail laughed.
“Is that the best you have?” he said to the Stone, the best warrior of the Council. He chuckled. “Where I was born, fawns hit harder than you.”
The Stone did not even blink as he cracked his hoof down again. A good soldier, Kad thought with a nod as his hide burned. Cannot speak, cannot think. Perfect for following orders.
“I believe he’s had enough,” the soothing voice of the viper reached his ears. Kad gritted his teeth, agonized more by the doe’s smirk than a thousand blows of the Stone. Speaking of which, Kad thought as his head reeled back.
“Stand down, Stone,” the doe said, standing before Kad. “Do you know the suffering you have caused? Feel the pain as if it were your own?”
Kad nodded. “A soldier wakes from his dreams each day seeing the faces of those he battled, those enemies he slew. A commander wakes each day seeing the faces of those he ordered into battle. Those friends he slew.”
The doe’s smile widened. “So you will repent then? Only admit that your crimes against the Spirit, and you can live out your days in exile.”
“You mistake me,” Kad spat. “I do not come here to seek your forgiveness, Rusan.”
Her eyes turned to black. “Then you have not known the pain of your wrongdoing enough.”
Another barrage lashed down on Kad’s head. To the hushed gasps of the assembled herd and woodlanders, Kad shrugged off the blows like flies. “You think I don’t know pain?”
“You do not know honor and humility.”
“Honor!” The word boomed through the meadow. The Stone stumbled back, eyes wide. Kad’s sides heaved, his teeth bared. “Where was your honor when we took our oaths and marched off to war? Where was your honor when we were surrounded by mountain lion tribes and begged for reinforcements?”
Rusan shifted her hooves, but her voice was firm. “We stayed behind to guard the does and fawns.”
“Ha!” Kad scoffed. “You think too much of your ‘council’ to call yourselves guards. Your wolf and you are only snakes, hiding in the shadows while we fight for the forest, letting your prey weaken itself so that you can strike.”
“He is no wolf, he is my mate.”
Kad chuckled. “He is a wolf. Strong, keen, ruthless, but taught all its life to answer to another, only to obey orders and keep its tail down. Remove these stones,” he nodded to the rocks pinning his legs and stomach to the ground, “and I will show you how a real buck fights.”
For the first time, Kad looked out at the assembled creatures. Bucks, does, foxes, squirrels, birds, and burrowers of all sorts looked on at him. Some were wide-eyed, some glaring on, a few nodded. Rusan held her tongue, meeting his eyes.
“Kill him!” Kad’s eyes shot back to the crowd. A female fawn had pushed her way to the front of the crowd. Despite years of fighting, Kad felt cold water running through his veins at the sight. It spread like wildfire through the crowd.
“Kill him!” The chant echoed through the forest.
Kad glanced back, finding Rusan standing beside him. “Your allies are gone, traitor.”
“Traitor,” Kad said, but there was no fire in his voice. He shook his head. “Deep in the mountains, abandoned and cut off, my soldiers never spoke of retreat. Even as the howls of the demons echoed through the valley, they never gave ground. We fought our way out, every last buck. Shoulder to shoulder, we gave everything we had. There is your honor, an honor that held firm even as they charged forward into the abyss.
“And when those few of us left alive finally reached home again, we were given no welcome. Caked in the blood of our comrades, the blood spilled to break the mountain lions, we were told there no place in the forest. Not enough grazing areas, too many deer, your son said. After all we had given to make our home safe, we could not even return to it.”
Rusan’s head turned. The assembly had fallen quiet, all silent as they stared on at the aging stag. Commander, soldier, and murderer.
“Prag had sworn to us that if we took up our oaths, we would be allowed to live out our lives in peace. Released of duty, he said, able to travel free and mate freely. There, in that clearing, with the battle cries of our fallen mates ringing in our ears, we were told our duty was not fulfilled.”
Kad took a deep breath. “In that moment, I saw your son for what he was: an oath breaker, a hound that only knows what it wants and fights all for it. I admit to all you what I did. I killed Prag, fought him in open combat and broke his neck.” His voice hardened. “And I would do it again.”
The words sent a ripple through the woodlanders. “Murderer,” Rusan hissed.
“I avenged all the fallen bucks in that moment,” Kad said. “They understood honor like your son never did. Like you never will.”
“The last of your rebels are dead, hunted down by true soldiers of the herd.”
“Ambushed and betrayed,” Kad snorted. “If you and your ‘mate’ weren’t so afraid to engage them in fair combat, you would’ve seen how many souls true soldiers can take with them to meet the Spirit.”
“I grow wary of this,” Rusan sighed. “You have confessed your crimes. Do you repent for your abominable ways?”
The eyes of dozens bore into him, but Kad did not flinch. “No.”
“You know that those who do not realize their wrong cannot be allowed to live?”
“No,” Kad repeated. “I do not repent. Prag knew nothing of honor. He did not understand what separates deer from the mountain lions that slaughter each other just for the sake of territory. Without honor, we are nothing. Your son was nothing.
Rusan opened her mouth, but Kad cut her off. “You can kill me, but I will take those words to the grave. Kill me, and the forest is doomed.”
“Empty threats,” Rusan snorted, nodding to the Stone.
“You needed bucks that were willing to do what was necessary,” Kad said. “It’s why you hunted me down in the frozen north. You needed one experienced in battle, one whose soul was already lost to the Spirit. You needed a soldier.”
“Your time only withers away the more you talk,” Rusan said.
“This goes beyond your pathetic mate,” Kad said. “Haven’t you ever wondered why the mountain lions came down from the mountains? There is something at work out there, deep in the shadows.”
Rusan shook her head. “Fear mongering and threats.”
“You need soldiers. Your son’s herd shall become nothing more than prey. All herds will follow, until the whitetail, the mule, the roe, all fall. The Council will crumble.”
About to speak, Rusan paused.
“Yes.” It was Kad’s turn to smile. “Your greatest fear. This corrupt order will scatter like leaves to the wind.”
Rusan turned to the assembly. “The longer he speaks, the more his poison spreads. The accused refuses to atone for what he has done, only the Spirit can wash his soul now. Are there any who would speak on his behalf?”
Most stared on in silence, eyes pointed towards Kad. But some glanced away.
“So be it,” Rusan said. “I sentence you, Kardika the Scourge, murderer of Pereno, murder of Prag, enemy of the Council, scourge of the forest, to death.”
She nodded to the Stone. Kad heard the cracking of joints as the wolf prepared for the grisly deed. His heart beat no faster; it mattered little.
“You would not even give a soldier a death by combat,” he hissed to Rusan. “To think, when your bucks came for me, I almost thought, just for a moment, your heart had changed.”
She grinned at him. “Even beneath all those scars, you are still the scared fawn I met in the meadows. How ironic that you should die the same way.” Her head turned. “Warriors of the Council, prepare to send him to the Spirit.”
The crowd looked on with fire. Rusan’s eyes shared the blaze. “After all these seasons, do you finally know fear, Kad?”
Kad stared at the ground. “I died long ago.”
Tremors. The earth shifted with the salute of five bucks. Strong lads, Kad nodded. At least it’ll be over quick. He drew in a deep breath, letting the air flow through him one last time. A taste of oak in the air, with a crisp snap of cold. It tasted sweeter than any doe’s love.
“Kardika! Kardika!” Kad looked back up, seeing the assembly part as whitetails rushed forward.
“Warriors,” Rusan shouted, but it was too late.
The stones rolled off his hooves. “We stand with you, Lord Kardika,” the buck nodded to him, before leaping into the fray. Stretching his limbs, Kardika drew another breath. The Stone stamped his hooves in front of him, nostrils flaring.
Kad feigned left, drawing his opponent out. He rolled right, lunging off the ground and smashing into the Stone’s lower stomach. Footing lost, the warrior went flying. “Sorry, mate,” Kad called after him. “You’re a good wolf, but not much else.”
Turning, Kad found himself facing Rusan. Her eyes darted around. All the Council warriors were locked with his supporters. She stepped back a pace, but no further.
Kad nodded. “You were always made of more than most. It’s why I fell for you.”
“Your words mean nothing, Scourge,” she spat. “Or should I remind you how you got that title?”
Kad turned to the ongoing battle. “The Stone is beaten! Retreat, flee for your lives!”
At the booming voice, the entire meadow fell silent. Panting, the Council Warriors looked from Rusan to Kad, then turned and bolted for the woods. His newfound supporters turned their antlers towards Rusan.
“No, no,” Kardika stepped in front of them. “The Council is a fly, a mere pest. She’s no more threat than the mold on a log.” The bucks wavered, and Kad squared his shoulders. Then they raised their antlers.
Rusan stood still beside him. “Consider this one last token of affection,” Kad hissed. “Away, let us regroup!” he called to his supporters.
His hooves churning up the ground at the head of the dozen, Kad swung his head back. There she stood, alone amid the yellow grass. Moments before, she had been happy to see him die, yet Kad could never deny her beauty. Her eyes met his, then the racing trunks swallowed her up. It made his heart sting, a pain he had long thought himself numb to.
“Someday,” he told himself between breaths.