Spotlight #5: Iris

spotlight 5 header.png
I couldn’t find an iris, unfortunately…but this is a pretty flower too.

This Spotlight has been the most finicky one. I’ve written three full drafts of it, one about character voices in Enhanced, one about starting sentences when I was rewriting Enhanced, and one with snippets from the rewrite of Enhanced. But this post has nothing to do with Enhanced, so I’m crossing my fingers that it will work out. (Plus, the fourth time’s the charm, right?)

P.S. If you don’t know what a Spotlight is, the definition is “weekly hahhaha no excerpts, commentary, and random stuff about my writing”. Read my previous Spotlights here.


Anyway. The story.

I know I just talked last post about how I was starting a “new” writing project, The Blade. But you know those times when inspiration actually hits you? Yeah, you’ve just got to follow it. So I did.

Before I give you an excerpt (yay!), here’s some backstory & information on the short story, currently titled Iris.

A few years ago, one of my best friends and I wrote a novel called Eyes Closed, about…well, royalty, a throne, magic, and trust. One of the two main characters is a princess named Aleria, and this short story is a prequel about her parents’ story. (Because they die before the novel begins, we never get to know much about them.)

It’s probably actually going to end up being more of a novellette/novella instead of a short story, which isn’t good for The Blade, but eh–this is more fun! (Pro tip: Always write whatever is most fun. It’ll definitely help you finish things.)


And here’s your regularly scheduled excerpt!

There’s so many to choose from! *has small crisis* Okay, here’s one that should work (a.k.a. it’s not very spoilery, it includes both Garic & Iris, and I also just really like it).

She led him up a flight of stairs and knocked on a door. “Rosie? Are you awake?”

A few moments later, the answer came. “Come in.”

“I brought you a visitor,” said Iris, and he found he loved the smile of anticipation on her face as she opened the door.

He stepped inside to find a girl lying in bed. Though she was pale and obviously sick, she looked much like Iris, and he couldn’t help but smile at her wide, blue eyes.

Iris was smiling so widely that she could have rivaled the brightness of the sun. “Rose, this is Prince Garic. Prince Garic, this is Rose.”

“You can call me Rosie,” said the girl in the bed, a little shyly.

“Rosie. You have a name fit for a princess.”

If saying kind things to Rosie would make Iris smile at him like that again, he thought he’d never tire of it.

“Have you seen my garden?” whispered Rosie, nodding her head toward the window.

He was about to reply that he hadn’t, when he saw the handkerchiefs hanging down. He crossed the room to them. Beautiful flowers were embroidered on each one of them, each a different kind. Pansies, carnations, lilies, and a rose… He fingered it, knowing it was the one that Iris had been working on when he was last here.

Warmth flooded him as he looked at the flowers, then back at the two sisters. “It’s the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen,” he said quietly, his voice wavering just slightly. “It rivals the castle’s.”

Rosie’s smile was beautiful and innocent, but he found Iris’s even more entrancing. She motioned subtly to the chair by Rosie’s bedside, and he sat down in it, unsure of what to say.

Rosie spoke first. “What is your favorite flower?”

Garic was tempted to say an iris, but he was sure that would leave Iris’s eyes shooting daggers at him, so he refrained. “Peonies. The yellow ones.”

“Iris,” Rosie breathed, “will you embroider me a peony next?”

He couldn’t help but wish that her smile was bestowed on him rather than Rosie as she spoke. “Of course.”


what think ye?

Do you like the excerpt? What do you think of Garic and Iris (and Rosie, of course)? Do you want to know more? Did I finally do this Spotlight justice? How often should I do Spotlights? And what are you currently writing? I want excerpts & commentary & random stuff about it!

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Short Story: The Magician’s Rabbit

I’ve had the idea for this title for a while, and I finally wrote a story to go with it, though I’m not sure if it fits as well as I wanted anymore. Oh well.

Just a disclaimer before you read: it mentions and describes some abuse, so if you don’t want to read about that don’t read. But if you think you can struggle through it, it does have a happy ending. It’s also rather Christian, so again, if you don’t want to read it, I understand.

Also, if you want to give critique, I’m happy to hear how I can improve. 🙂


The Magician’s Rabbit

Ilyna sagged to the ground and laid her head on the rotting wooden wall. Through closing lids she could see only darkness.

Blinking, she forced herself to stay awake, and in the distance, a pinprick of light entered her vision. Sitting up, she watched it, not the wobbly flickering light of a candle that cast shivering shadows on the walls, but the steady, warm light of a lantern.

A figure held the lantern, clean face illuminated with the whitish light. It was a boy, dressed in beautiful clothing that could only mean he was from a rich family.

“Hello,” he said, reaching out toward her. She moved back, pressing herself against the wall. “I know what you want. I can help you.”

Ilyna stared at him, not daring to breathe, not daring to believe.

“I’ve come to take you away from this place, to somewhere safe.”

“I—” She stopped and looked at her bare feet, dirty, small. “Chendo would never sell me.”

The boy smiled and it was the sweetest smile she’d ever seen. “You’re free now, Ilyna. Your price has been paid.”

“I’m…free…?” The words tasted odd in her mouth.

“Yes.” He reached out his hand for her to take, and this time she stretched her fingers out, reaching, reaching…

Ilyna jerked upward at a slight noise, trying to orient herself from the dream and the harsh night wind blowing through the cracks of the wall. Searching the darkness, she found no light and breathed a sigh of relief that Chendo had not seen her sleeping.

Standing upward slowly, Ilyna walked forward, fingers tracing along the wall, her other hand out in front of her, fumbling through the air. Finally her hand touched the old shelf in the corner, and from across the dark barn, one of the white mares made a soft noise and pranced for a second.

“It’s alright,” she told the horse, running her hand along the shelf until she found the bucket. She pulled it down from the shelf and left the barn, running to the well by the light of a thousand little stars. Ilyna used the rope to bring up a bucketful of water and then ran back to the barn.

Water splashed against her legs as she ran, dripping from the long cracks in the side and bottom of the bucket, where it had been stepped on by one of the mares months ago. Chendo had been so angry that day… All you have to do is put the bucket on the shelf, slave girl! Is that too hard for you? Are you too high and mighty to just— Stop screaming, you idiot girl!

It always seemed to take so long to get enough water for all the animals with the water spilling everywhere, but after an hour or so by view of the moon, she was putting the bucket away. The food would be easier.

After separating sections of hay and distributing them to the animals, Ilyna searched along the shelf and found the small bag of seeds for the little yellow birds. She grabbed it and held it close to her, moving to the birdcage. The birds pecked at her fingers as she put the food in, already red and raw from using the rope in the well so much.

Biting her lip to not think about the pain, Ilyna turned back to the shelf. As she stepped down, she stumbled over herself, falling. Reaching out to catch herself, she released the bag. A second too late, she realized what she’d done, the seeds raining down around her. She could hear them skittering along the ground, far away to every inch in the barn.

It was all Ilyna could do to keep from sobbing. She would not sleep tonight, and Chendo would still expect her to perform tomorrow.

She began to pick up the seeds, one by one, starting at the corner of the barn and moving outward inch by inch. Chendo didn’t care that she couldn’t see a thing in this darkness, so she made sure to be careful, though part of her just wanted to give up, curl in a ball, and cry herself to sleep.

By the end of the night, Ilyna’s tears had dried and the seeds were picked up. When the sun’s pale light hit the horizon and peeked through the cracks between the walls of the barn, she took the acrobats’ three white mares outside and tied them. Again to the well she went and washed the horses, and herself, while she was at it, brushing their coats until they gleamed in the sunlight. With stiff fingers, she braided their manes and tails, and brushed her own.

At noon, she’d disappeared, before the acrobats came for their horses. She changed into her stiffly starched rose-colored dress, with a thousand different frills and layers. She twirled around once, wishing she would never have to go to the circus, wishing she could be the kind of girl that would wear this dress.

But she did, and she wasn’t. Slipping in through the tent behind the stage, she met Chendo there. “Ugly,” he told her as he circled around her. She looked at the ground, at her small feet now clothed in brown slippers. Never look me in the eyes, slave girl. Never.

After inspecting her for a few more seconds, Chendo shoved her away, which meant he couldn’t find anything specific to criticize. “Stay here until I call you out and don’t move an inch from that spot. Do you hear me?” He leaned in close and she tried not to shudder. “Not one inch.”

From her spot she could see glimpses of Chendo on the stage, and of the audience. They loved him when he danced, and even she couldn’t look away. He was mesmerizing, able to twist anyone’s emotions, as if he were spreading some sort of magic through the air, magic that made even her want to love him.

When his two songs ended, and the clapping had died down, Chendo cried out to the audience, “Now, I will dance with my lovely daughter, Isabella!” Your name is Isabella now, do you understand? Your name will never be Ilyna again.

Ilyna ran to Chendo and threw her arms around him. He grabbed her and grinned, spinning her up in the air so that for a second, she believed he did love her as if she was his daughter.

The music started and the dance began, the two of them capturing up the audience in the magic of the dance. Ilyna took each delicate, lifting step as carefully as she could, but she felt weak and tired, as if nothing was holding her but empty air, and as soon as her body figured it out, she would fall.

She stumbled.

It was one little trip, one little step, and Chendo tried to smile and keep going, but they both knew it had broken the spell. No matter that the rest of her steps were perfect, no matter that she danced better than she ever had before afterward. The audience were no longer part of the dance, and he knew it was all her fault.

The audience applauded at the end, and for once, Chendo let her stay and curtsy the whole time. Maybe he knew that she wanted to run away to the moon and the stars, where a little breeze would blow and she would be so high no one could ever catch her.

Chendo took her to the barn, and her heart felt like it was about to explode from being squeezed so tightly. He pulled the red dress and the brown slippers off her, leaving her standing barefoot in only her raggedy, dirty slip of a dress, arms wrapped around herself.

She watched as he walked toward the mares’ stalls and took the long whip off the wall. It was used to scare the horses into obeying.

It scared her, too.

The whip cracked in the air and she knelt on the ground, forehead in the dirt, waiting. The pain came a second after the sound, searing along her back. She bit back the shout in her throat as tears leaked from her eyes.

“Do you know what you did, slave girl?” Crack. “Do you know?” Crack. “You ruined the show!” Crack.

The scream tore out of her, even though she tried to keep it in, the sound filling the barn. Chendo kicked her. “Get up, girl. Get up!”

Ilyna rose to her knees slowly, then dragged herself to her feet, wavering in the air, waiting.

The whip snapped. Her face burned.

Her hands rose to her face and came back with blood. Chendo had never hit her in the face before, never. Never where her rose dancing dress couldn’t cover…

She fell to the ground, but Chendo didn’t make her get back up again. The whip snapped again and again as Chendo screamed. Slowly the pain blurred into numbness, and then her eyes closed against the world and she felt herself flying.

When she opened her eyes, she saw the light again, and the boy standing there, from her dream. Only this time she realized there wasn’t a lantern making the light…it was him. He was glowing, brighter than bright, and when she looked down at herself, she was glowing too, wearing a white dress that felt like sunlight on her.

Ilyna rubbed her face. No blood. No pain. She looked at the boy. “This is a dream. I know it is.”

“No,” he said, holding out his hand just like he had before. “This is heaven.”

“What does that mean?” she asked, hesitant to reach for his hand if it would make this all go away.

He smiled at her, and it was the sweetest smile she’d ever seen. “It means you’re free, Ilyna.”

Biting her lip, she reached out toward him, stretched out her fingers…and he was warm and real, and he held her with hands so soft that they felt like the feathers on the little yellow birds.

Holding the boy’s hand, she walked with him, and when she looked around her she could see the moon and the stars, and a little breeze blew a whisper on her. “But who bought me?” she asked.

“Our brother. Do you want to go meet him?”

She stopped. “I…I don’t know.” What if he was just like Chendo?

The boy gave her another one of those sweet smiles and pulled her along. “He was whipped too, you know.”

She looked up at him and felt her fears start to melt away. He would know, then. He knew what it felt like, and that’s why he had bought her. “Is he a slave then?”

“No.” The boy pointed in front of them, where Ilyena could see more white light, brighter than the sun. She squinted and saw a man standing in the middle of all the light, arms outstretched, waiting for them to come to him.

“No,” said the boy again. “He is our Savior.”

Short Story: Resolve

This is a short story I wrote for an English assignment, but I like it anyway and I think it’s at least somewhat decent. But be warned, though it’s not gory, it does go into some murder stuff, so if you don’t like reading about that sort of thing, you might not want to read it, just warning you. (I don’t think it’s too bad, but then again, that’s me, the heartless author.)

Also, for the school assignment I had to use 20 words invented by Shakespeare in the story. If I’ve done my job right, though, you won’t notice any of them. Hopefully. Here’s my short story, Resolve, and yes, that’s a word Shakespeare apparently invented.

“He’s trying to kill you.”

In the darkness of the abandoned factory, Evon Demarco’s eyes found those of Nivera Clare, his business associate-turned-fellow runaway. The frown on her face was quickly mirrored by one of his own. “I’m not going to hurt him.”

She held out the gun to him once more, but just the thought of pulling that trigger made Evon feel sick. “No,” he said again.

“He’s been hunting you for four days, and he’s not going to stop no matter how long or far you run.” The shadows on the gun’s surface writhed as Nivera shook it at him. “He doesn’t just want to drive you off, he wants you.”

Evon refused to look at it, instead watching the faint dawning glow through the factory’s high windows, not yet bright enough to pierce the gloom below. “Regardless, Nivera, I will not shoot my own son, no matter how misguided he may be.”

“Misguided? He’s a devious, cold-blooded snake who’s trying to murder his own father.”

His thoughts fell on Drane. He could still remember when he’d been a bright-eyed boy, looking up to “Daddy” in everything he did. It was hard to connect that with the jaded, haunted face that had threatened to kill him. “Yes, misguided. He… They pulled him into this.” And yet, Drane had made his own choice.

“I don’t think you understand how dangerous he can be.”

Evon sighed. He knew it full well, knew that Drane would kill him in an instant if he was given the chance. His little boy was hardly recognizable anymore, dark and distant. And dangerous. “I do understand, Nivera, more than you know.”

“Then you know how much bad he’s doing. Better for him to die than for him to kill a thousand more people.”

Evon forced himself to look at the gun. One flex of a finger, and thousands of lives would be saved. One single second, one single shot.

He averted his eyes to the dusty, broken machinery left here years ago. Could he leave Drane here, to be laid to rest, his only companions the mangled remains of a once busy factory, now numb and faded and lonely?

No. “You do it,” he whispered.

Even though he was looking away from her, Evon could feel the look she was giving him. “We only have one bullet, and you’re a better shot than I am. By the time he got close enough for me to shoot him, we’d both be dead.”

Evon’s stomach twisted. Nivera didn’t understand that, no matter what Drane did, he would still love him. How could he hate someone who he’d raised to adulthood, when he could remember seeing that six-year-old smile and kissing away all his bumps and bruises? Nothing could erase that love.

Dauntless, Nivera walked around in front of Evon, forcing him to look at her, and thrust the gun into his hands with determination in her eyes. The metal burned cold against his skin.

Protests welled up inside him, but none of them made it past his lips. His fingers refused to drop the gun.

Far away, a door opened.

The silence that followed was deafening. They both knew what it meant. Drane had arrived, and he wasn’t going to leave until there was only one person alive, and it wasn’t going to be him or Nivera.

Evon met Nivera’s wide eyes, and she motioned at him, lowering herself silently under the tangle of unused machinery, the only viable hiding spot. A few seconds later, he followed with a vague scuffle, crouching under the grasping arms of the dying factory.

Neither spoke.

The dust they’d stirred up drifted noiselessly to the ground.

That was when the footsteps came. Evon could hear at least three sets, moving through the factory. It was easy to pinpoint which one belonged to Drane; they were the same footsteps he’d heard for over twenty years.

“I know you’re in here, Father,” called Drane, mocking voice echoing through the quiet air. “It’ll be just like those games of hide-and-seek we used to play.”

In the stillness, Evon could hear Nivera’s shallow breathing from beside him. She looked at the gun. Nodded at him.

Evon’s fingers were slick, sliding along the gun’s smooth surface. Through the partly twisted metal, he could see a spot along the wall where, if Drane would walk past, his head would be in exactly the right spot for a killing shot.

The thought made him shudder.

The sound of the hurried, searching footsteps filled the air, but Drane’s whispered voice carried itself above all the noise. “Ready or not…here I come.”

Evon tried not to breathe, tried not to think about the gun in his hand and his son walking toward him. Tried not to see Drane in the corner of his vision, walking toward the exact spot he’d found earlier.

His heart weighed more than stone, squeezing against all of his organs as if he were drowning, and yet it was pumping more rapidly than ever before. His palms were sweaty, his breathing becoming more labored though he tried to stop the noise.

Nivera said he needed to kill Drane.

The very thought made bile rise up in his throat. Evon took a deep breath, closed his eyes against the pounding in his head.

And remembered.

Drane had loved it when Evon threw him up in the air and caught him in an embrace, or when they spun around and around and around in dizzy circles until they fell to a heap, laughing. Evon missed the sound of that six-year-old giggle, the one that bubbled from his mouth whenever he discovered something new and wonderful about the world around him.

He missed everything about his son.

Maybe that was because none of those things existed in Drane now.

Eyes opening, Evon could see Drane nearly at the perfect place for the shot. Nivera elbowed him, and slowly, he pointed the gun at the face of his son.

One single shot, just one shot.

“Daddy, Daddy, come see!”

To save a thousand lives.

“Look at the flower, Daddy!”

One shot.

The face of his six-year-old son overlaid the years older face of Drane for a single second, as the gun lined up perfectly with his head.

“Now!” Nivera shouted.

The gunshot rang through the empty factory, bullet screaming in the air before slamming into its target.

Sound drifted away as Evon’s gaze blurred between his bloodstained fingers and the gun that dropped from Drane’s hand and clattered to the ground.

Evon Demarco looked into the eyes of his son for the very last time.

“I could never have killed you.”

Melodies and Harmonies in Writing

I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written a music-related post, so I decided to write one, about melodies and harmonies–or rather, plots and subplots.

For example, take this song, All the Pretty Little Horses. It’s a slightly creepy lullaby that I love because my mom used to sing it to me when I was little. I love the melody and the minor tune that makes it interesting.

Or on the other hand, there’s songs like Entreat Me Not to Leave You composed by Dan Forrest. (I shared a song by him in this post.) Based on the story of Ruth and Naomi from the Bible, it’s absolutely beautiful, a cappella, and goes to 8-part harmony at times.

The first song only has one melody, while the second has a melody plus a whole bunch of harmonies. But just because All the Pretty Little Horses doesn’t have the harmonies that Entreat Me Not to Leave You has doesn’t mean it’s bad. They’re both beautiful pieces of music.

But what would be bad is if you had a choir full of beautiful singers who had the capability to sing 8-part a cappella harmonies, and you had them all singing unison throughout the whole song.

If we compare All the Pretty Little Horses to a short story, then having just the melody–the main plot–is just fine. The story is short enough that it would be hard to incorporate more than one plot, just as it’s impossible for one voice to split into multiple parts. (Although, that would be awesome. I wish I could do that.)

And thus, Entreat Me Not to Leave You would be comparative to a novel, with a main plot, as well as a whole bunch of subplots and characters and worldbuilding and all sorts of awesome stuff like that.

But despite that each harmony is different from all the others, they also fit with one another. I could put eight random notes together, but it’s likely that putting those eight together at once would sound…eghhgh.

Yet in Entreat Me Not to Leave You, even though it does often split into eight notes, they go together. They harmonize with each other.

So, how does harmonization of melodies and harmonies go along with writing novels? When writing plots and subplots, they have to, well, fit together somehow. Usually they don’t weave together until the end, but then, suddenly, you realize how everything fits together.

Finding out how everything fits is one of my very, very favorite things about writing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you write a novel, you want all the pieces to sort of fit into the main plot. Not only just the subplots, but also even down to the scenes. Every scene should contribute something to the plot, right? So writing something random about gemstones turning all the characters insane is probably not a good idea. (Yes, I did do that in my first novel.)

Similarly, characters that last for more than one scene/affect the characters/are not “extras” should also play roles in the plot, and at least affect it a little bit. Everything, or nearly everything, that goes into the plot should come out of it at sometime in another place, at a way that can either help or hinder your characters.

Like every scene should contribute to the story, so should each character, each setting, each piece of the plot. If they don’t come together like that, the tune will become discordant and confusing.

But when they do flow together and change the story, each piece pushing the main plot along, all the notes will harmonize, and you will get a beautiful song.


 

(My apologies if this post is really disjointed or confusing. I was not only distracted while writing it, but also wasn’t sure how to write out my thoughts very well.)

Short Story: Deserter

I mentioned in my last post that I was participating in a short story writing challenge, where we were supposed to write, edit, and publish a story in 24 hours or less. So, with two minutes to spare before my 24 hours are up, here’s my short story, Deserter. (Helpful critique is appreciated, if you’d like to give it.)


 

Zavat’s sword was knocked out of his hand, just before one of the razor-sharp spikes on the duvolon’s tail slashed across his leg. He dropped to the ground as the tail writhed above him, trying to find where his sword had landed among the corpses that littered the ground.

There. His eyes focused in on his weapon, and he dragged himself toward it, trying to stay low, out of sight of the duvolon. It was hard to move himself forward, the ground slick with blood, but he forced himself to keep going. He had to find the sword, had to keep fighting.

Zavat’s fingers slipped around the hilt of the sword. For a moment, he just clung to it, feeling the cold metal beneath his fingertips, remembering the first time he’d seen it, so long ago.

The other soldier—Zavat thought they’d said his name was Tiren—grinned, unsheathing his blade. “You’ve never seen one of these before, kid?”

Zavat shook his head, staring in awe at the sword. “Will I get to use one of those?”

“Not until you’ve trained with this,” he said, tossing him a wooden practice sword.

The younger boy caught it, feeling the rough ridges of the wood beneath his fingertips. Swinging it through the air once, experimentally, he smiled, then looked up at the older soldier. One day, he’d be like him. One day, he’d get to fight.

The gash in Zavat’s leg didn’t look too deep, and he pushed himself upward, moving back toward the duvolon. His eyes caught sight of the battlefield, scattered with bodies. So few men remained, slowly being overpowered by the huge duvolon—the beasts of blood.

A shout of fear and pain reached Zavat’s ears, and his blood ran cold as he recognized the voice. His captain stood a few hundred feet away, fighting one of the duvolon, alone and unaided, looking tiny compared to the ten-foot-tall beast. He wouldn’t be able to survive this, not without help.

He looked up in surprise to find Captain Lucann entering his barracks. Zavat jumped to his feet to salute, but then saw what he was carrying. Fear jolted through him, and he stumbled backward, bumping into his cot. “W-what are you doing with Tiren’s sword?”

“I’m sorry, son. He asked me to give it to you.”

Zavat couldn’t breathe. No. No! “Where is he?”

The captain seemed to be having trouble finding the right words to say. “Tiren died in the battle. He fought bravely, and was killed while defending those he loved. He died well, Zavat.”

“No! You’re lying… He can’t be dead!” The tears were starting to fall from Zavat’s eyes, and he frantically wiped them away.

Captain Lucann didn’t say anything, his face weary, and for a moment, Zavat wondered if he was going to punish him for calling him a liar. He took a step forward, and Zavat pulled away. “I didn’t mean it, Captain,” he said, though his words were marred tears.

“I know, son,” the captain whispered, and then his arms were around Zavat, holding him still and quiet while the boy sobbed. “I know.”

He trembled in the captain’s arms, tears streaming down his face, nose running. “He died. He left me. He left me!”

“No…his death was a brave one. Just because he has died does not mean his life has ended. He will continue to fight in the afterlife, and he will always be with you.”

Zavat couldn’t speak. His world was crashing down around him, crumbling into pieces. His friend was dead, and now he was all alone.

Captain Lucann held him while he wept.

He was almost to the captain when one of the duvolon spotted him, turning its huge head toward him, white tusks and fiery scales glinting in the sunlight as his orange eyes narrowed in on him. Two men were already fighting it, but it ignored them, taking lumbering steps toward him.

The line of men in front of them charged, coming directly toward them. Zavat couldn’t breathe. There were so many of them…they would be slaughtered…he would die…

Unless he ran.

Zavat looked at his captain. The duvolon was too close now. He could not go to him now, unless he wanted it to kill him. He’d have to kill the huge beast first, but would no one help their captain? He was still alone.

The duvolon coming toward him raised its spiked tail, and he ducked under it, aiming for the chink in its scales between its leg and its body. His sword bounced off the scales, and Zavat frantically tried again. He couldn’t hit the tiny open area between the two plates of scales, but Captain Lucann would be dead soon if he didn’t help.

The other two men were stabbing at the creature too, but it would take to long for even the three of them to finally hit it. He needed to be faster, to take it down in time for him to help the captain.

A plan formed in his mind, as he continued dodging out of the way of the tail. The biggest opening between the armor of the scales was on the duvolon’s neck, too high in the air to normally attack. But if he could…

Zavat slid his sword into its scabbard, and waited for the perfect moment, as the tail whipped above him, and the duvolon roared its battle cry. Finally, it moved its head toward him, and he lunged forward, grabbing to one of its huge tusks and clambering onto his face.

The scales were sharp and slippery, slicing his hands and the fabric of his uniform as he tried to move his way upward. It shook its head wildly, trying to fling him off, but he held steady.

He would not run.

Not anymore.

Zavat scrambled down the other side of the duvolon’s head, pulling out his sword while trying to keep his balance.

“Watch out!” someone yelled from below him.

He would not run.

With all his strength, Zavat slammed the sword down into the duvolon’s flesh down to its hilt, then ripped it free.

Its tail smashed into him from behind. Spikes pierced him through, then were torn out as the duvolon threw him to the ground among the rest of the bodies.

The corpses covered the ground, pale and blood-spattered, piling on top of each other in some places. So many of them…Zavat felt sick to his stomach.

Pain spread throughout his entire body. He couldn’t open his eyes.

He should have been there. He should have died. He should have been one of those corpses on the ground.

Zavat thought he could hear his captain’s voice, from far, far away.

Captain Lucann stood among the bodies, weeping. From behind the trees, Zavat could see the pain on his face. He shouldn’t be crying, shouldn’t look like that. The guilt rose up in him again, and he stumbled out of the trees to kneel at the feet of his captain.

“Zavat? You survived? Oh, thank the gods, you survived.”

He looked into the captain’s eyes, red-rimmed, filled with pain, and yet smiling to see him. Him.

The tears started to trickle down his face as well, and he lowered his head to the ground. “Captain…”

“Yes?”

Could he say it? Could he admit it? “I d-didn’t survive, Captain. I…I… I ran.” The tears came faster now, and he choked up. “I…deserted.”

The captain didn’t say anything for a long, long time, and finally Zavat could bear it no longer. He raised his eyes, and this time, all he saw was disappointment. He had disappointed him. He had left the other men to die alone, had let his fears consume him.

He had failed his captain.

“I will forgive you of this,” said Captain Lucann. “You will be allowed to come back, and will not be punished for your desertion.”

Maybe he knew that the disappointment in his eyes was punishment enough. Maybe he knew that it would haunt him forever. Maybe he knew that execution would be less painful than living on with this guilt.

Zavat fixed his eyes to the ground, unable to speak, and the captain left the same way he’d come.

Weeping.

No…

No.

Zavat forced himself to his hands and knees crawling across the bloody ground. “I’m coming, Captain.” His voice was weak, but he kept moving. “I won’t run anymore. I’m coming…”

Blood spilled from the wounds the duvolon’s spikes had given him. Feebly, Zavat crawled along the ground toward the sound of his captain’s voice, too dizzy to open his eyes. He could feel the life fading from him with every second that passed.

He would not run.

The sunlight hurt his eyes, so bright. Everything was blurred, like an abstract painting, with huge splotches of red-orange paint for the duvolon, and smaller blue swipes for the soldiers, on a background of blue sky and plains dotted with bodies.

Zavat’s eyes finally found the captain, battling with one of the duvolon. He was still alive… He had to help him.

Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth as Zavat rose to his feet, swaying.

He would not run.

Zavat managed a few stumbling steps before his legs collapsed under him and he fell to the ground. One of the other soldiers ran past him, going toward his captain, to help him. Zavat reached after him, but he could barely move.

No… He would not run.

He barely moved a few inches toward the captain, the soldier, and the duvolon. His strength was fading, and now all he could do was lie there, breathing in agony.

He had failed him. He was supposed to have helped him, was supposed to be there for his captain. But now he was dying, deserting his captain again. His captain would find him lying there when his last breath had disappeared, and would wonder why he hadn’t helped him.

Disappointed eyes…

Zavat had failed his captain.

The sounds of battle slowly faded around him. The colors slowed and blurred. With each inhale and exhale, Zavat’s life disappeared into the darkness.

A hand touched his shoulder, and the pain rushed back as Zavat struggled to open his eyes, to find out who was there, next to him. He slowly blinked them open.

“C-Captain?” The tears tumbled from his eyes. “I’ve…failed you. I said…I would not run. I…deserted you. I…I’m…sorry.”

He didn’t want to see the disappointment in his captain’s eyes, but Zavat couldn’t help but look, one last time.

The captain’s eyes were filled with tears. “No. I watched you try to come to me when all other men would have let themselves die. You have shown me more loyalty than any other.”

“But…I’m…a deserter.” Zavat coughed a few times, the blood choking in his throat.

He could feel his captain’s hands lifting him up, helping him breathe. “No, Zavat. Not anymore.”

“I…ran. I’m…running…now.” He was dying, leaving his captain behind.

“You must go now…to your new life. You must go bravely, Zavat. You have helped me more than you know, but you cannot stay in this world any longer.”

“Captain…” The darkness was about to consume him. He would be brave, as his captain had commanded. Brave into this new life.

“Yes?”

He knew what he must do.

“I…will…not…run.”