Sunset Dancer Homepage
Author Bio
Characters, Descriptions, Glossary and Artwork
Author Postings
Contact Author

A Saga of Epic Adventure,

Supernatural Horror,

and Perilous Romance



Ten days ago in Brillatain . . .

Yorrik drew the short straw but this was no surprise.

The newest and youngest recruit to the Brillatain guard had been conscripted to the oldest and crankiest of it members, Seward and Madric. His appointment completed the three man detail assigned to the next shift, the midnight watch, and there seemed no end to the constant pulls, tugs, and taunts inflicted upon their young charge - all in infinite jest.

"Bah!" Seward said each time Yorrik pulled at either of the two green strands held in Madric's left fist, his iron grip refusing release. Madric would shake his head and wink at Yorrik each time the lad made his attempt at the greens, and Seward's gruff barks came with a sly grin as he looked over Madric's shoulder and mimed annoyance at each of Yorrik's trys. It was the third strand, the pale one made to look taller than the rest, to which Yorrik was invited and which bore his elders' nods of approval.

Thus, for the third time in as many draws it was Yorrik's Lot to fetch more fuel for the campfire. But in truth the weight of that burden seemed fairly balanced, if not indeed a good bargain to the young man: A momentary break from the humor of his masters and a solitary respite from their poor table manners - for dinner had just been served.

"Not to worry laddie" Madric said, as Yorrik gripped the pushcart and started out, "the crescent moon's tonight. Hah, look! It rises even now. . ." He pointed to the tip of the curved silver, a sickle point against the deepening blue of the sky. It had just emerged from the mountain ridge to the east, ". . . Ther'll be no trubles' tonight."

"And when yew get back," Seward added as he handled a leg of mutton roast, it's browned bone shank glistening with warm grease, "there should be food aplenty left to eat." He bit into the meat, pulled away a gobbet of flesh and swallowed without a single chew. "At the very least yew can feast on our scraps and leavings." Seward belched, casting speckets of meat and saliva in Yorrik’s direction, then held out the mauled roast, the shank's grease now running down the length of his arm. "I'll save this piece special for yew."

Yorrik's stomach lurched at the visage, and his appetite quailed.

"Jesst be quite on your return and don't wake us." Madric said. "We needs our sleep for the upcoming watch."

Yorrik gave his superiors a nod, turned, and without a word, proceeded down the well-beaten path that led from their encampment to the fuel supply.

The trudge to the wood depot, a journey of only ten minutes, took twice that long - for Yorrik lingered along the way. He was in no hurry to get back. As he pulled the wagon he looked at the multiple back and forth footprints before him, all his, and wondered if it's traveler had stepped any closer to graduation from the apprentice ranks of the Brillatain guard. The incessant hazing had grown old and it did seem to entertain his masters less and less, so he sensed it would all be coming to an end soon enough and this thought gave him great comfort.

When Yorrik reached the pile he looked about and noticed that the sun had just disappeared below the horizon. Striated clouds, spent remnants of those that had cast down their burdens earlier in a burst of late summer rain, caught the last rays of the sun and bloomed into twisted scarves of burnt orange, amber gold and blood reds. The evening mists, drifting in from the cool of the forest bore the fragrant scent of the meadow flower, and down by the spring a chorus of frogs began their serenade. Though their song had not the vigor of times past it was a pleasing melody that Yorrik new well. Often he had drifted off to sleep to their lullaby, and he hoped they would again assist him in his efforts to ignore the rasps and snores of his two mentors, noises that would no doubt greet him upon his return.

The last glows of twilight had faded when Yorrik began his trek back to camp, his wagon filled with gnarled branches and thick chunks of dried wood. Again he took a slow and even pace, that he might extend his respite as well as save his energy for the future lots he would be certain to lose later that evening. Yet he knew not to linger overlong. He reminded himself that Dontyre, their commander in chief, had ordered all to stay alert this night and take no comfort in the rising moon.

Still, over two months had passed since the troubles began and never once had the menace appeared during the day nor when the moon was out at night. Dontyre had even allowed some of the guards' family members to come and assist with supply and support for this evening's watch - something he had never permitted before.

As Yorrik neared the camp he stopped and took a short rest. He looked back upon the shrouds of fume and steam uttered by the rips and tears of the earth that littered Brillatain's landscape, features of the land as common to Brillatain as the air they breathed and the waters from which they drank. Molten reds and yellows glowed from some of the holes and cracks, while some simply gurgled up bubbling water and sulferous mists. Still others groaned a soft and subtle sigh as mud boiled and plopped and hissing gas escaped from the lava flows deep underneath.

At a distant vent, near the tree line, he caught a glimpse of a billowing fog as it broke free from the dull orange light of its fissure and floated toward the forest like some hellish wraith, lighted as it was by the pale lumens of the moon from above and the tortured colors of the magma pores below. As it made its ghostly journey Yorrik fancied that he saw crooked arms and serpentine limbs lashing about within its mists.

The Menace?

He stifled a gasp but shuddered nonetheless at the sight, a chill cresting up his neck and onto his scalp. Though no one had ever clearly seen the menace and lived to tell about it there had been much descriptive speculation over the past fortnight. Yorrik closed his eyes for a moment and conjured up undulating images: Snakelike coils that wrapped and gripped its victims in a fatal embrace.

He recalled the tears and rips of skin and muscle and the sickly stench and milky filth left upon those who spoke no more. He then shook his head and opened his eyes.

Yet when he looked again at the apparition the same ghastly sight greeted him. This time it seemed to have stopped dead still. It hovered for only a moment or two then continued, but as it passed into the wood and dissipated, only the crooked branches and still limbs of the tree line remained, etched as they were by moon silvered silhouettes against the utter black of the forest.

Yorrik chided himself and shook his head for such foolish imaginings. Still, he took the cart grips anew, leaned forward and resumed his trek back to the camp, with quickened pace.

The footpath had softened from his multiple trips and the sand did its best to swallow the wheels of the cart, burdened as it was from its load of wood. In fact, the path seemed to get softer the closer he got to the camp. Great beads of sweat rolled down Yorrik's brow and back and his breath had abandoned its measured pace. He now took in large and ragged gulps of air as he labored the last 100 feet. He no longer looked down to follow the path nor behind him, but looked ahead into the gloom, focusing on the flickering light of the dying campfire.

Behind him

Try as he may Yorrik could not dispel the sense of dread which was now mixed well with the sweat upon his back. It pressed him forward and pulled him back like some foul dreamtrap dulling his efforts to move along. Refusing to cry out he instead devoted all his energy, his strength against this bubble of despair and leaned forward pushing and driving his legs. He made every effort to lift up his steps and drive his feet down upon the shifting sand, not drag or shuffle them though.

And Yorrik was only paces away when it wrapped itself upon his right ankle and clung, its wet embrace coiled and cold, its hard bite hot and deep. He fell headlong onto the path, his arms outspread, face pressed into the sand.

Gutted of breath he could not call out. Filled with terror he could not think. His only instinct was to reach down to his ensnarled leg and claw.

As he tore at his captor he felt the bite and slash of the innocent, the thistle vine, slick with dew and sharp with thorns. He had first spied this nettlesome foe earlier in the day on his first trip down to the woodpile. Its lengthy arm, a willowy spring, had moved to and fro in the day's breeze obstructing the foot path, and he had made a mental note at that time to avoid it - but now it quite entangled his leg.

He calmed his breath and thanked his birth star that he had not called out to his seniors. Nonetheless the noise of his stumble, accompanied by the crash and spill of the cart brought the men up and out of their repose, running.

"By the gods Yorrik I said quiet!" Madric reached down with his knife and sliced off the vine at its base, freeing Yorrik's leg. Seward, over by the spilt pile of fuel picked up a crooked branch and leered at Yorrik pointing the timber at him "Boy, yur sweatin like yew saw a ghast! You lettin yer maginations get to'yah?"

Yorrik kept quiet and shook his head - afraid his voice might betray his quelling fear. He had always been the quiet type, calm and steady, never voicing complaints and certainly not one to call attention to himself - nor speak up or out of turn.

Silence was his golden rule.

Soon they were all back at camp and settled. The fire, freshly fueled, crackled, and Seward and Madric, well fed, cackled, their rasps and snores in full bloom.

But it was a cacophony Yorrik could not suffer.

He remembered the sweet song of the frogs at the spring, and in hopes of gaining a measure of peace moved his bedroll to the very edge of the campfire's circle of light, that he might capture their siren call. He listened. And lo! the melody came to him, soft and faint at first but as he trimmed and focused his attention their serenade grew rich and deep, to the memories of years gone by, to evenings lulled and finally lost to sleep, a young child given over to enchantment.

Lying on his back Yorrik teetered on this brink, that cusp of consciousness that borders the oblivion of deep sleep, yet hesitates before it drifts ever nearer to or further from its sweet abyss. He wavered upon this precipice, a mere filament short of passage over when he passed instead to a waking dream, of his mother washing and tending with gentleness the cuts on his ankle so recently gripped and ripped by the thistle vine.

It was a soft tickle at first, a caress, cool and wet upon his left ankle.

Yorrik recalled how she would stroke his brow and shush his cries and whimpers. "A strong boy never cries out" she would say. "He should always use his mind and think away the pain".

And the gruff voice of his father would always follow, appending itself in agreement lest there be any doubt in mother's wisdom: "Cry when you die boy, no sooner, for fate favors those who grin at pain - and think for gain."

Yorrik then recalled that it was his right not left ankle that had suffered the embrace of the nettle vine, and the thought pulled him away from the brink of his dreams.

Could it be Seward and Madric, up to jest me for disturbing their sleep?' he thought. He kept his eyes closed, relaxed, and measured his breath feigning deep sleep. 'if so, soon they will tickle my other leg and perhaps my arms as well.' he thought and do their best to mimic a horrid embrace.'

Yorrik fought to keep a smile from breaking upon his face as he indeed felt a winding clasp, wet and cold, slip itself around and about his other leg, and then others upon his wrists, sharpness compressing but not quite yet cutting into flesh.

And the smell. "That must be Seward's breath" he thought. "By the gods and all that is holy, it so reeks of fish rot - worse than ever. He must be making a special effort to annoy, to awake me.' 

Yorrik's face twitched as he held composure, thinking his way through this last taunt.

'Maybe this is the final test.' he thought - the trial that would elevate and grant him some degree of respect from his tormentors, and perhaps graduate him from his apprenticeship. He remained still, eyes closed.

And then he heard the sound, not that of the frog song for that had ceased, not the crackle of the fire for it had ebbed. It was the rasp and rattle he had tried so hard to ignore, to escape earlier that evening: the unabated snore and cackle of old and cranky men in deep sleep.

Yorrik snapped open his eyes.

This time Yorrik Screamed.

"A Saga of Epic Adventure, Supernatural Horror, and Perilous Romance"

To continue: click on STORY