Meet Scammander & Evander. They’re Not Trying to Save the World. They’re Trying to Destroy it.
Doom and Destruction Are Coming to this World
As pools of blood dry around the rotting corpses in ravaged cities, the races of the world band together to find a group of young heroes to capture—and preferably kill—Evander and Scammander.
The Gathering of Heroes
Assembled by Scammander’s own mother, these heroes are given arms and armor from the legendary Hall of Relics. Noble, educated, and all descendants of the ancient aristocratic families of the world, civilization’s hopes for survival rest on their shoulders.
The Desperate Search for Lost Knowledge
While the heroes are hunting the two villains, the elf and the minotaur are busy hunting books. Books, after all, are some of the most dangerous things around. Especially if you know the right way to read them.
The only problem is that all the books they need have either been lost over the centuries or reside with Scammander’s old wizarding tutors, former unsavory accomplices to sinister schemes and assassinations, and greedy power-hungry monarchs. And not a single one of them want to see Scamander ever again, unless of course it’s his corpse.
A Wizard, a Warrior, & an Aristocrat
Scammander is lost in his own labyrinth of lies, unable to remember who he’s betrayed, who’s betrayed him, and who he should betray next.
He used to be the greatest wizard of all time, and now time is running out on his greatest plot.
Evander is suicidal, reckless, and cynical. He wants to kill and destroy everyone and everything—including himself—which is going to be a problem due to a spell Scammander cast on him. Maybe Scammander is actually the only one he should be trying to kill.
He’s also narrating this tale to Tristan D’Mure, very much against his will.
Tristan D’Mure is an entitled aristocrat, and is entitled to the truth. As the only living survivor besides the minotaur he is interrogating, he is forced to discover increasingly innovative ways to pull the truth from Evander’s mind. Many of these ways seem to guarantee his death, leaving only the ignominious minotaur alive. But the risk is worth it, if only to see the minotaur wince and writhe for just a little longer.
Discover Complex Fantasy Novels That Break the Mold
Are you tired of fantasy books about saving the world? Are you tired of the heroes always winning at the very last minute, no matter how much apparent sacrifice is required?
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Are you looking for fantasy books with a first person narrator?
Are you tired of living in a dystopian world?
So was a young scholar at Oxford.
His name was Christian Winter, and he wrote a series of lyrical and wild and complex fantasy novels. He shared them with a close circle of friends who studied philosophy, literature, and science before vanishing to Greece.
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How was the first living creature killed? Was it an accident? Was it on purpose? Was it while it slept? Was it in a bowery meadow, next to a lover? Was it while its back was turned? Was it with magic? Was it with a knife? Was it with an arrow? Was it with a stone? Was it with two hands? Was it with a hatchet? Was it with the eyes? Was it because of greed? Was it because of hate? Was it because of sadness? Was it because of love? Was it from behind? Was it many against one? Was it one against another? Was it inevitable? Did it take courage? Was it quiet? Was it loud? Did it—did it feel—good?
The death shroud’s hood whipped around my face, flapping and snapping in the loud wind. I looked out off the back of the Criseida into the deep night sky as the vessel glided over swelling hills of soft clouds, and then silently across deep, tenebrous chasms.
The clouds were bigger than gods.
“There is a hole in the back of your hood,” someone said behind me. When I looked to the side, I could see September standing there, looking up at me with a strange twinkle in her eye. “I almost thought a giant, wandering ghost was dreaming on our ship, or praying to his goddess in the moonlight.”
“Would a ghost dream of the past or future?” I asked.
“I don’t know, what do you dream of?” she smiled.
“Of what may come,” I sang. “And I didn’t know ghosts had gods and goddesses.”
She shrugged. “The living do, so why not?”
“You know what I think the greatest superstition among the ghosts is?”
“No, what?” She said, leaning in curiously.
“That they’re alive.”
As she reeled away laughing, another voice spoke: “Ghosts are known for their prophecies.” I turned around as a second, pale, thick ebony haired, older and yet tremendously beautiful woman extended her hand to me. “I’m Sapphire,” she said as I shook her outreached hand. She had a nose like a fairy queen, with a small shinning stud on the left side. Behind her ear I saw a fluorescent butterfly tattoo glowing in the dark, trailed by a shower of luminous ultraviolet stars, some large, some small.
“And I’m Karamel,” a new voice behind me said. I turned back around to where September was standing, now with the other girl, Karamel, whose hair was the color of autumnal fire. “And ghosts always need so much blood for their prophecies, so I guess he hopes to un-riddle himself in strife and splatter.”
“I’ve never met a minotaur before, do they have gods and goddesses?”
“I’m sure they do, but I don’t worship them,” I said.
“Why are you whispering? No one can hear us up here,” Karamel said with a slight giggle.
“Stunt says he doesn’t like to talk,” Sapphire said, looking at me.
I shrugged and looked back out into the sky. “The world speaks and sings, and I’d rather listen to its deep, eternal rhythms than spoil it with speech. But that’s wisdom for some sweet future I suppose.”
There was some moaning and muttering between them, then Karamel exclaimed, “You’re worse than a ghost! You’re a philosopher!” And then they all started laughing.
I shook my head and grinned inwardly. “I thought they were the same thing,” I said, turning around.
“He sounds like he reads a lot,” said Karamel, biting her lip.
“September reads a lot,” said Sapphire, sidling over to Karamel and folding her arms around her fellow warrioress. “I’d say she is a philosopher.”
“Do you know of any female philosophers?” the two asked with sparkling eyes. I felt like I was being set up for something.
“I suppose the world is still waiting for one,” I said. “But I don’t read, so you would have to ask Scammander.”
“Then where did you learn to speak like an oracle?” they asked.
“Golden soil,” said September.
I chuckled. “Old proverb.” Sapphire and Karamel looked from me to September then back at me again. “There was supposed to be wisdom in our golden soil,” I said and glanced over at September.
“I used to read on campaigns,” she said with a smirk.
“A real soldier?” And I finally slipped. Two more females had arrived just in time for my error.
“Wish, Cinnamon,” Sapphire nodded to the newly arrived members as all five of them lined up across from me. “This cow doesn’t think a girl can fight,” she quipped.
“Do you think we are all simply lip gloss and chainmail?” said Wish.
“I bet I’m as good as a fighter as you are,” said September.
“I don’t fight. I kill. There’s a difference.”
“Presumably fairness,” said Cinnamon.
“I’m especially good with swords,” September said and winked.
“Well, I’m good with all words,” I joked. I thought for a moment. “Fighting is not the right word, nor is killing. Living is the right word. You do not live as I do.”
September strutted away from the line and joined me. She turned and rested her back on the ship’s rail, crossing her legs. “And how do you live?”
“That doesn’t seem right,” she countered. “Surely you could just give up in all these fights you throw yourself into.”
“I should die the right way,” I said. “Death, like life, is an art.”
“Death is a part of life. Your quest for a perfect death seems to be inexorably linked to a quest for a perfect life—and a perfect life is something everyone finds ridiculous.” She leveled her gaze on me, and calmly narrowed her jade eyes.
“Death is the end of life,” I said. She rolled her eyes at me. “Death is distinct from life,” I continued, “and for someone who claims to be good with swords, you haven’t done a good job of cutting so far.” I grinned.
“So you will cling to life until you find this perfect death?” She tilted her head back, and gazed up at the stars. Her ebony locks flowed out into the midnight sky in a hypnotic stream.
I waited a moment before answering. My response was slow and somber, just like the words written on tombstones. “I am preparing a great hecatomb for the Cadaver King, for I would like to be his prince, a cavalier of the shade. So many want to be kings in life, which is fleeting, but death—death is forever, and in forever is where I would like to rule. So again, it would be improper for me to visit my king before the ceremony is over, before my offering is complete.”
“Well if it’s a hecatomb you are preparing, you need more heifers,” she said smugly.
“It is a great hecatomb, and I am the final offering. I will go down to the underworld as no other has ever done,” I said turning my back to the others and clenching the ship’s dark rails. “A thousand screams from scalpless victims, from crawling monarchs with broken crowns unjewled, shattered faces, and shredded robes will announce me. A thousand distraught wives with a thousand self-inflicted wounds will toss a thousand tears from their urns to anoint the withered path I tread. These will be followed by a thousand un-limbed heroes whose rent armor, broken blades, and expired hopes. This will be the incense I throw across the marble altar of oblivion.”
I wrapped Coffin’s shroud tight around my body and whispered. “I don’t need life, and that’s what sets me beyond life. My task needs life, and when I’m done with it, then I won’t need life anymore.”
“You will finally be a true free spirit,” said September as she patted my arm and turned and strode away.
“Ah, here is a soul in fear and trembling and much spiritual trial! Judge for yourselves! See how much ruin his good name brings upon him!” Stunt said behind me, leading a whole pack of aged, beautiful women. With weapons.
“Sorry, I thought you were a werewolf or some bloodthirsty revenant, here to massacre us,” a woman in tattered chainmail and leather said as she lowered her crossbow. “I’m Delicioux.”
“Perhaps at some point I will be,” I said as I swept my eyes over all of them. “But for the moment I’m Evander.” I guess no one had talked to September and her friends.
“I think he’s already been with Scammander for too long,” she said over her shoulder.
“Oh, no one is around Scammander for too long, they tend not to last,” Stunt said to snickers and jeering.
“A werewolf, though?” I had never seen one of those, only heard of them in stories.
A bronze skinned woman in a ripped chainmail vest with crossed scimitars behind her back strutted forward to speak. “Yes, some lycanthrope has been killing women all over the countryside—but seems to have a predilection for nobles.”
“Guess that means most of you rapscallions are safe,” I joked.
“I’m Nevada, by the way,” she said walking past me in tall leather boots to stand next to her swashbuckling captain. I could see two outstretched mountain lions etched in gold crawling down the side of each dark leather boot.
I looked over to Stunt. “Where do you find these—”
“You tell me where you found your latest acquaintance first,” he interrupted.
Stunt sauntered up beside me and grabbed the railing along the stern of the ship with both hands, then leaned out into the sky, taking a large breath. He slowly straightened, then rested his elbow on the rail and planted his chin in his palm, still looking out into the lavender and ebony sky.
Finally, he stood up: “Scammander has played many parts throughout his life—traitor, madman, dreamer, peasant, courtesan, murderer, lover, but perhaps the most perplexing one yet is his decision to play your friend.” He sighed and looked away. “No one really knows how old he is or what he knows or even what he doesn’t know. He goes away from time to time, but he always appears again as a grinning young elf, like he has never aged a day. Even elves age!” he said flinging his arm up in the air. “But not Scammander! He is like some sojourning attempter-god that has bent his frame to our mortal laws, but bends our laws to his immortal frame of mind.”
I said nothing, but continued gazing out into the night. Eventually, I thought up a worthy question to ask an immortal poet.
“What’s the worst word in the world?”
“Scammander,” he said, without hesitation.
“Why does he spell it with two m’s?” asked Nevada.
“Because I’m duplicitous,” said Scammander, emerging from the shadows.
“Sneaking up on us, instead of sneaking away!” I laughed as I shoved him. There was some snickering among the gathered ladies. “Where have you been? Sleeping all this time?”
“Oh no, he certainly hasn’t been sleeping,” said Stunt. “Scammander is an insomniac.”
Scammander nodded. “An old curse my mother cast on me a long time ago. I’ve never been able to remove it.”
The conversation whisked by me before I could ask how long he had actually remained awake for.
“He nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth,” quipped Stunt.
“That seems more pertinent to your wretched ilk,” jeered Scammander.
“What in the world is Scammander doing with a minotaur?” said Delicioux. “Are you teaching him magic?” An uneasy silence fell down across the floating boat, and I could see the gathered girls looking worriedly at one another amid the shade and lavender light from the sky.
“Does anyone else know about this?” Stunt suddenly seemed very worried. “Harboring you as a murderous criminal is one thing, but harboring you as a villain teaching a minotaur the dangerous art of magic is something else entirely.”
“Evander isn’t my pupil, he is my brother,” said Scammander. No one bought it.
I reached into my shroud and began to pick targets.
“Oh, I think he’s your lover,” Stunt said and laughed uneasily. “I just didn’t know you had taken your relationship to that level of bondage,” he laughed again and turned to face his companions as he pointed to the metal cuff still wrapped around Scammander’s wrist, shinning in the moonlight. There was another uneasy silence before the gathering of ladies slowly thinned out, leaving the three of us alone with the night.
“What are you holding by your side there?” I said, pointing to the shadows near Scammander.
“De Brevitate Vita,” he said lifting a shotgun up from out of the shadows, which dripped away from the gilded silver barrels as they pulsed in the moonlight.
Looks like I wasn’t the only one picking out people to shoot.
“I’ve been holding it for him…for quite some time,” Stunt said peering down at it.
Scammander was absorbed in the shotgun, but finally spoke as he slowly admired the weapon.
“When the dwarves closed a mine, with the last cart of metal they would make drinking goblets; sometimes they drank from them in the bottom of the mine and sang songs then left them there, and sometimes they carried them to the surface. The metal for this weapon was forged from cups found one hundred years after a deadly mine collapse in Mount Tolkien, that fecund hill, full of rich ore, and most of it from a cup that lay on the opposite side of a wall of rocks, just a few inches away from an outstretched skeletal hand, with the rest of the body buried behind the wall.” Scammander paused as his fingers drifted down the fat twin barrels, gleaming with moonbeams. “But this part,” he said as he tapped the thick wooden handle, “this part is perhaps even more sacred. It is crafted from the sacrosanct wood of trees cut down in a consecrated grove by a heretical druid.”
Stunt scoffed. “Scammander triumphed in a debate when he forced a halfling hierophant to agree that a plant was an animal. The little hierophant was so enraged at being embarrassed in front of an assembly of his fellow druid peers, that he ran through the grove cursing and cutting down trees.”
“Still wonder how that never stirred up Ol’ Neddy,” Scammander said.
“Hah, that angry forest deity?” Stunt laughed.
“Yes, that old wrath of nature, that feral knight. If ‘every first drink is poured to the Hart of the Woods,’ as the song goes in the hunter’s tavern, then that great stag is greatly named, for he’s too staggering drunk to hit anything. And now you see the malice of the hunter’s supplication, that they are not trying to appease the verdurous deity, but in fact keep him drunk and impotent, so they make take the lives of his beloved subjects.”
“Knowing, all-too-knowing, Scammander,” Stunt said with a sigh and slow shake of his head. “Some of the hunters even dip their arrows in ale, so at least death will be sweet. You might have remembered that if you weren’t so intent on subverting old myths, or at least tempered your learning with more poetry.”
“Poetic knowledge can only know the ways of gods and men, but never the gods and men themselves.”
“And philosophy can only question them, and never know anything,” Stunt quickly countered. Then he turned to me: “Which would you choose Evander?”
“Whichever helps me die,” I said. There was a flash in Stunt’s eyes as he turned back to Scammander, who was smirking as usual. Someone had won something, though I wasn’t sure who.
“And once you die, what will your tombstone say?”
“I’ve gone to get my sword,” I said. “What about yours?”
“Your verses did this,” Stunt replied.
“Buried, but not put to rest,” I said, thinking about my lonely tombstone.
“Here lies one who never lied before, but will now lie forever, and especially lie before forever.” Scammander said, joining in our game. “I only wish I had started lying earlier.”
Stunt shook his head. “Here lies Scammander, but he lied everywhere else too.”
“Wenches, wine, and a little bit of murder,” Stunt said.
“And thievery,” added Scammander.
“Never again. Never again will I be foolish enough to live,” I said.
“Trust not the eyes. Trust not the ears. Trust not the hands. Trust not the nose. Trust not the mind,” said Scammander.
“And definitely not Scammander,” said Stunt. The two looked at each other and grinned. I could have listened to them quarrel for my entire life.
“From nothing to nothing,” I said.
“Why go on? You’re already here,” jeered Scammander.
“Strive for women, not ideals,” said Stunt.
“Soon, this face too will be gone,” I said.
“I can no longer hear, and am thankful,” said Stunt.
“Fortune favors herself,” said Scammander.
“Neither in Time, nor Eternity, but a desolate Never.” I said.
A grave silence fell across the three of us. I had a way of ending conversations.
“I had originally come updeck to invite you both to the Troubadour’s Test, the Test of Breath, which I intend to enter, under my old name,” Stunt said finally. The ancient poet put up his hand as Scammander started to protest. “It would be perfect for you to asylum in the great theatre.”
“It might even give you some time to recollect some things,” I said.
“After all, given your renowned hatred of the theatre and playwrights, it will be the last place anyone will come looking for you.”
Stunt obviously wanted us off The Criseida, but Scammander wouldn’t give in. “I’ll think about it.”
“I also want to tell you something else. Something more poetic.”
“What’s that?” I said. It wasn’t every day that one was fortunate enough to hear a tale from the greatest bard to ever live.
“Listen Evander, and I will tell you a story of a poet amidst the philosophers—”
“Just remember he’s telling a story,” Scammander quipped.
“At its most sacred, philosophy is a debate about Being versus Becoming. The first philosopher to most diamondly articulate the argument for Being was a young, radical aristocrat known for his broad body and even broader mind, which poets of the time openly admired, even if they disagreed with its conclusions.”
“He was a formidable wrestler too,” Scammander noted.
Stunt consented and continued. “It took millennia for the proponents of Becoming to find his equal, and some believe that all philosophy, indeed all of civilization, is a mere working out and reply to this young philosopher’s theories.
“However, there is an oral legend not written on any scrolls and known only to a few, which suggests an equally potent and equally cogent formulation of Becoming, and which originated from a young and ardent pupil of the great philosopher. He too had written his great theories in a text known to antiquity as Of Mutability. This student, however, respected his teacher too much to openly challenge the theories of his teacher and was deeply in love with a young girl, which was forbidden in the philosopher’s school. Persi—for this was the name of the great student of water and all that changes—confessed all of this to the love of his life late one night. He was in distress, and asked for his love to save him. She looked into his eyes, and then into the fire.
“The young philosopher understood what his love had suggested. Full of turmoil, he grabbed the book with a trembling hand and threw it into the flames; he begged his love to kiss him until it had burned to ashes so that he would not throw himself into the flames in an attempt to save it. And so she did.
“To the students of Becoming, this is the greatest lesson, their most sacred teaching, and also what made Persi their great master. For while masters of Being seek to preserve their wisdom in writing, those of Becoming know that knowledge is fleeting, and must someday pass away again, only to be lost and created anew.”
“For your own sake I hope you come up with a better story for the Troubadour’s Test,” Scammander said, folding his arms across his chest.
“What exactly is the Troubadour’s Test?” I asked.
Scammander buried his face in his hands and let loose a deep groan.
“A minstrel competition, held the first weekend of every new year, in the courtyard of Castle Mulberry. There will be a surfeit of corybantic capering, a tour of its legendary vineyards as a prelude to a comic play, and there will also be a tragedy. The test is on the third morning, and is to see which poet can make a rose bloom in a young maidens cheek, or as some say, make the sun rise twice in one morning.”
“Doesn’t sound like much of a challenge,” muttered Scammander. “What young girl doesn’t tread the flowery path of love with an armful of novels and poetic sentiments?”
“May a thousand novels blossom in your heart,” whispered Stunt, “for you sound like one of us who is loved by the muses, and so I greet you with the lyrical salutation of our sect.”
Scammander didn’t seem to be too thrilled about being invited to the Troubadour’s Test or initiated into the mysteries and rites of the poets.
“Love is Death’s mask,” grumbled Scammander. “And as the old poet says, he whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad with Love.”
Stunt shook his head as though something had been profaned. In fact, it seemed that all Stunt did when Scammander was around was shake his head. “Evander is this really the kind of knowledge you want? Is this really the sort of thing you want to spend your life saying? Do you really wish to use sabers against flowers?”
Stunt had asked a potent question, and out of reverence I honored it with the most precious of perfumes that one can bring to the altar: silence.
“Well, what do you want Evander?”
I looked far up into the sky from deep within my hood, then consecrated a falling star with my phrase: “That the world should stop killing good people, or that good people should start killing it. That is my one wish.”
I realized after I had finished speaking that I was shaking.
Stunt’s eyes were very large, but he swallowed and spoke: “So there is a teleological suspension of the ethical.”
“Grave robber,” snarled Scammander.
“You’re still young Evander, there are volcanoes in you.” Stunt clapped his hand on my back and gazed out into the night sky. “The world has turned its back on you and you have been given an excellent opportunity to stab it.”
“Don’t miss,” Scammander said wistfully as a light wind tossed his hair around his shoulders.
“I almost forgot,” Stunt said as he handed something over to Scammander.
“What is it?” I asked hoping for a magic book of spells or another weapon.
“Pendicott Ponder’s Bestarium vocabulum,” Scammander said, reading the cover. “I don’t need this garbage,” he said, flinging the book over the rail of the sky-sailing ship. Stunt’s blade flashed past my nose, skewering the old book just before it dropped out of sight. The bard slowly brought the sword in front of Scammander’s face, then gently tilted his wrist down. Reluctantly, Scammander tugged it off the weapon.
“It is a terrible thing to destroy knowledge,” Stunt said with a chilly seriousness. “Besides, it belongs to you,” he said relaxing his voice and sliding the blade back into its sheath. “You asked me to hold it for you, along with that gun you’ve become so enamored of.”
“Oh, well then,” Scammander said. “That certainly settles it.”
Stunt relaxed in a moment of triumph, then Scammander chucked the antique volume up into the air once more. Stunt leapt up as the tip of his sword pierced the book at the zenith of its arc, saving it from oblivion.
“Very well then Scammander, I suppose I will add this to my library,” the balladeer said, gently removing Pendicott Ponder’s bestiary from the tip of his sword.
Scammander waved his hand. “After thousands of years of reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that reading is one of the worst things one could ever do,” he said turning to me. “Evander whatever you do, never read a book. Especially an academic book,” he added.
I chuckled and turned back to the sky, which had been growing lighter. “I think your mother found out the wrong ogre is king,” I said, looking out into the sky. I could see two large, dark shadows passing through the clouds, getting closer to the ship.
“Dragons,” muttered Stunt. I couldn’t tell if it was a curse or a statement of fact.
They slowly split apart, one flying towards the right side of the ship, the other, the left. Their long, spikey tails calmly extended behind, gently rising and falling as the lizardy leviathans listlessly floated towards us. Finally, I realized that their long tails were actually armored riders, holding lances upright. Two columns of elves carrying long, silver lances mounted on the backs of proud gryphons trailed each dragon as they glided calmly across the pink and purple dome of dawn.
The ship began to slow as the two large dragons, one blue and one black, floated idly on either side of the ship.
“Now is probably the time to speed up,” I said.
“He can’t,” said Scammander as he fiercely cocked the shotgun.
One by one the gryphons landed elegantly on the edges of the mothership. Some of the armored riders dismounted and established a motionless, glittering parameter while others returned to the sky on their gryphons and began revolving in a floating circle not far above The Criseida’s main mast. I could just barely see a few gryphoneers looking down from their swirling circle of soaring animals.
I glanced over my shoulder and saw the blue dragon before returning my gaze to the great black dragon across the deck. Golden light bounced off the ebony scales, which must have been touched by three-hundred thousand sunrises. Its eyes were sharp like Scammander’s, and the thick reptilian scales of the beast belied the mind of an old sage.
It looked at me. It looked at the ship. It looked at the sky. And it looked past it all, and past everything else in this world. More than anything, I wanted to talk with the dragon.
Scammander nudged me in the stomach. “Evander, stop looking into its eye. It will hypnotize you, and then kill me.” His voice was fading and seemed far away. I kept staring into the wonderful orb until Scammander stepped in front of me and blocked my view, severing the gaze shared by me and the wyrm.
I noticed one of the elves was pointing up to the sky, then to the mast, and then again back to the standing wall of shining armor. When he had finished giving orders, the armored elf strode over to Stunt, took his helmet off, and grinned. “Robyn Goodfellow, you—”
From the corner of my eye I saw another armored sky lancer smile at Delicioux, lean over, and smack her butt; he immediately caught on fire. Scammander chuckled, Stunt disappeared, and the sky captain roared and slammed his helmet back on.
“It’s a trap!” he screamed as his blade flashed out of his scabbard. “It’s a trap!” he repeated as he turned his head left and right shouting over his shoulder, whirling his sword over his head.
Other elves were engulfed in fire and stumbling around the ship like streaming fireballs with legs. I grinned before the sky captain shoved his sword up under my nose.
“You’re under arrest for the murder of John Ignatius Mayflower, Honorable Justice Among Humans and Ambassador to the Lower Rounds of the Academy.”
“The poets sang about Justice leaving our world a long time ago,” I said, leaning into the blade. “And I’ve killed more times than you have ever drawn your sword,” I whispered down the gleaming metal, looking into his eyes.
“We don’t care about ogres,” he sniffed and turned his head away, glaring at Scammander. “Scammander. You will have to answer for what you have done to our sweet Unicorn Grove.” He narrowed his eyes with malice. “And your mother won’t be saving you from any charges this time; in fact, she was the most ardent member of the council formed to obtain you for this crime. It seems while murdering and philandering, you also stole Brock Highkeep’s coveted garments with the aid of this stupid minotaur, ruining the New Year’s celebration planned to unite Elves and Humans.”
So we were being framed by Scammander’s mother. I should have expected that the only creature wicked enough to raise a villain like Scammander would be wicked enough to betray him.
Scammander raised his hand as if making a polite refutation at a learned banquet. “Don’t forget that in stealing the clothes which were to appear in conjunction with another idiot’s publication party, I also ruined the celebration of another tepid scholarly book on Brock Highkeep, which, I submit, might be considered a feat for herohood.” He paused and tilted his head. “Go and fetch a quill captain, I’ll tell you the four types of wine I prefer, and in which order I prefer them to be served to me,” he said shooing the soldier away.
The captain snarled. “Both of you are coming with me, my father—”
“Washes my boots and begs for mercy,” barked Scammander. There was a loud thump and a rush of air as the captain was blown off the ship, sailing high into the sky until he became a small speck on the horizon. Two smoking shells tumbled onto the deck as Scammander cocked the shotgun. “Mediocrity always becomes arrogant when invested with the power of small offices,” he mused.
“It’s good know you can do philosophy anywhere,” I joked as battles broke out all around me.
And then, there was calamity.
Fighting broke out along the railings of the ship as fast as swords could be drawn. A volley of curses nursed with aeons of loathing soared from the lips of both sides as they clashed in bitter battle.
No one fought fair.
Two elves overpowered an isolated woman and hoisted her over the side of the ship. Another grabbed a female by her long, shimmering curls and flung her over the rails. The elves quickly set into their strategy as lines of glistering knights enveloped the tanned women in pockets of melee and mayhem.
A few of Stunt’s ladies who weren’t instantly pinned in against the railings ran towards the boxes to help their surrounded friends.
One female warrioress with metal talons was rushing through battling packs, grabbing groins and scratching eyeballs. Following close behind was a companion who severed the genitals and stashed them away, flung them at other elves, or tossed them off into the sky.
I looked over at Scammander who was aiming his shotgun at a woman as she sprinted across the deck. An elf turned away from the fray and raced towards her, and as their swords clashed Scammander’s shot gun blast tore through their legs, ripping calves from thighs. The two foes wailed in unison as the wizard marched away and stood over the injured elf. He aimed as the knight squirmed, then blasted him at close range.
Scammander whirled around and jammed the gun into the woman’s head. The warrioress raised a trembling hand across her face as Scammander steadied the gun, then paused for a moment.
“I wanted your pain to last longer,” he hissed with icy malice. Another blast went off, and so did almost everything attached to her body.
“Who’s side are we on?” I said, dumbfounded.
“Our own,” he replied, dumping two shells out of De Brevitate Vitae.
Across the ship two of Stunt’s warriors had surprised a lone elven knight. A slender piratesse grabbed both wings of his helmet and pulled him down to his knees as the other lady in front of him drew back for a vicious kick. The elf winced and clenched his teeth right as the boot struck his throat, throwing the other lady off his shoulders. As the boot drew away I expected to see a bloody knife, but instead there was only the boot tip. The reeling elf’s eyes swelled with surprise as he coughed and clutched at his throat and tried to recover.
“Hurry up Nadia!” the other woman screamed, scrambling back and grabbing the helmet wings again.
Nadia drew back and kicked the stunned knight once more. “It’s not working!” she screamed as she began stomping the deck repeatedly, trying to force the blade to deploy as the dazed knight fell forward in front of her.
Just then a gryphon swept down and as its rider drove his lance through the stomping female’s back, the screeching gryphon plucked the crouching lady off the deck and soared off into the wild morning. When they were but blue shades upon the billowing dawn, rider and beast flung their victims off into the transpicuous sky.
Two bodies fell, but one was still alive enough to scream.
The elf recovered and stood up, flinging a quick salute to the circling riders above. “That’s for trying to set fire to our sacred forest,” he muttered.
Scammander could fight for his own side, but I would fight for the Cresida.
I sprinted across the deck and jammed my crossbow into the knight’s cheek, firing as the ship lurched left. The golden dart zipped past his face and hurdled off into the young morning sky. The ship paused then rolled right just as I shot another arrow, which soared out into the dawn and flashed when the sun struck it.
I dropped my crossbows and drove my hands into his breastplate. He kicked wildly and chopped and hacked my arms but I hurled him out into the howling sky. I snatched a sword from the ooze on the deck and charged two knights rushing towards me, too late to help their friend.
Right as we collided I dropped to a knee and shoved the longsword into the groin of the knight on my left, then twisted the blade and screamed as I leapt up, flipping the impaled elf on his back. I glared at the knight on the right, who froze as my eyes locked with his. I filled his face full of arrows and as he sank to the deck I shook his companion off my blade and wiped the crotch-slime and thick blood on his face.
With a pounding heart, I searched for battles to join. Further up the deck I heard an elf cursing a fallen female.
“Don’t ever forget: our wizards lowered your city into the putrid pond it is today, and yesterday we all pissed in the waters that pour into your stupid pit!” A musket ball soared into his face followed by a billowing cloud of grey smoke which swept over his body.
“Where are your wizards now?” A woman said stepping through the smoke as it slowly cleared from the deck.
Before she could help her companion to her feet, a gang of elves rushed the two women. Three kicked the kneeling woman in her face, sending her to the deck as another two grabbed the woman who had just fired her lone shot. They circled the unconscious female and raised their swords as her companion thrashed and screamed.
“For our ancestors!” They screamed, driving their swords down into the woman.
“For our forests!” They cried, piercing the dying human again.
“For our children!” They cried with a third thrust.
“For your lies!” They cried as their etched swords sank simultaneously into the corpse. From the looks of the corpse, they stabbed her for every branch and leaf in the forest.
The writhing female broke free for a moment before one of her captors recovered and hooked his arms under hers, shoving her breasts out and locking her arms behind her as the second elf grabbed her throat and shoved his sword through her bare navel. Both spat on the corpse as they flung it to the deck.
“Curse your entire line right down to the lowest river!” one snarled as a second arc of spit sailed onto her face.
By now the skirmishes had consolidated into one ferocious battle, leaving the survivors to settle the scores for the dead. The group of knights spun their swords and rushed to the teeming, sweating pack of melee.
I looked over at the other edge of the ship. It was quiet and lonely. The sky beckoned. I could leap off to oblivion and no one would ever notice. I was tired, nervous, alone, and without hope. I knew the epigram that would be etched on my gravestone, for it was already carved upon my life: tired, solitary, and hopeless. My shoulders drooped under the weight of existence. Why give someone else the victory of running a sword through my stomach when I could just do it myself?
I closed my eyes as the morning sun struck my face and released a deep sigh. After a moment I opened them and frowned at life.
Then I began running.
I shook off the thick numbing balm of what so many call “life” and with each huge and humid breath I pressed against the edges of existence. I ran towards the screams, the splatter, the gun smoke—the death. I always ran towards the death. I ran towards the writhing battle pile and hurled myself into the fray.
I lowered my shoulder and slammed into the back of an armored marshall, and as he fell away I skewered him from behind. I kicked the corpse away and drove forward into melee as my heart slammed and heaved with psalms of dark riot. Everyone was packed in so close it was impossible to swing a sword. Stiff corpses stood upright and bounced around in the throbbing melee careening from shoulder to shoulder. Blades were locked and teeth were grit. I noticed a lot of daggers hanging out of groins, stomachs, breasts, and backs.
Suddenly a burst of small arms fire went off in the crowd. A burning ball crashed into my back and burst out of the front of my shroud. I gasped as everything turned to shadows and silhouettes and a cold gauntlet busted my snout. I stumbled a little as I sucked in the humid gun smoke and began to cough.
“Stupid cow,” I heard as I fell backwards in the pile of skirmishing women and knights. “Get off me you blundering bovine!”
I took another breath as life lurched back into view. As a thin forearm wrapped around my neck and began choking me, another swung a cutlass into the neck of an elf just as he was about to run a dagger into my guts.
A pair of legs wrapped around my neck and a tiny hand grabbed my horn. I recognized Nevada’s golden cougar boots and the flashing scimitars that she swung down onto her enemies’ bare necks. Elves fell away with gushing gashes in their necks and across their faces as Nevada hacked through the fray, clearing a space of bloody boards in front of us.
I saw the giant shadow first.
Then I heard the beating wings and the screech as the gryphon swooped down behind me. Nevada’s scimitars scattered to the ground in front of me along with her upper torso as a mounted knight rushed over my head, using both hands to hold a bloody blade the size of a lance.
The bird and rider had come in too hard and too low. An undisciplined beast would have saved its own life and tossed the rider out in the sky so it could soar away to safety, but this one continued its low course. Even as the gore tumbled off the giant two-handed sword a burst of thick bolts thudded into the mounted marshall’s back and the gryphon’s backside and wings. The giant creature screeched as it crashed into the deck, crumpling its wing and breaking it in a different place with each tumble. It slid to a stop and hopped to its feet with one limp wing dragging along the deck as it glowered at its opponents. The dead rider slumped awkwardly in the saddle, hanging off to the side with mangled legs and a back full of bolts.
Two females ran by me and dipped down and plucked the sabers off the deck. I saw them douse the blades in some strange potion which caused the metal to fizz for a moment as they rushed the wounded gryphon. The elves had created a protective barrier around the injured beast, but it was too thin to matter. Even as they ran their blades through one female, she shoved the toxic sword into the gryphon just as the other leapt over the line and drove the scimitar deep into its side.
The gryphon began screeching and convulsing and beating its one good wing as the poison pumped through its veins. Then it began to stumble and moan until finally it fell to the deck with the two gleaming scimitars hanging out of its ribs, like giant fangs torn from the mouth of a snake. I think every elf on and above the ship saw it die.
If there were any rules left restraining either side, they were abandoned.
The elves tore their helmets off and started screaming. Then they pulled the dazed pirate off the dead beast and took the time to beat her until everything was broken. They stomped and battered the body long after the chest has ceased to rise and fall with breath. The gang lifted her up in unison and each knight pulled a different direction and heaved the bits and pieces out into the sky, before grabbing their weapons and rushing back to the fight.
Discipline dissolved as hatred lifted swords that were too heavy to swing, as anger pumped blood to weary hearts and made them warry. They weren’t fighting for each other anymore, they were fighting for memories. The calm circle of mounted knights above broke as they began swooping down, plucking and slashing Stunt’s crew, screaming “Remember our forests!”
I was up on my feet just in time to feel a sword brush the back of my neck, and spun around to see September locking blades with a sky marshall, who looked just as surprised as she did. She pulled her sword off his and spun away to parry an arcing slash from another elf.
The marshall thrust the long sword at my head and I fell backward to the deck as its silver point brushed over my face. I balled up with the momentum and rolled backward as the dawn sky blended with the golden deck. I popped up and fired an errant volley of bright darts as the fierce marshall rushed me again with his blade. Once more I fell back to the deck, tucked my knees into my chest and flipped up over the sword and crashed into the deck on top of the elf knight.
He flicked his visor over his face and grabbed my horns as he slammed his helmeted head into my snout. He twisted my neck left and right in a fit of rage then suddenly held it firm and pounded my face with his metal visage. I coughed blood and wheezed as my neck went loose and my head went heavy. He growled and slammed my body into the deck next to him. I heard him scream as sword-steel crashed through his metal breastplate, and if the philosophers are right, released his soft spirit. It certainly released his silky blood, which I felt leaking and meandering between my fingers.
I drug my face along the deck as I scrambled blindly away from the melee until I hit one of the masts and propped myself up on it. A dead body sat next to me, with a bleeding armored corpse next to it. When I looked back, I saw September frantically jerking her sabre out of the marshall’s breastplate right where my body had been.
“I was wondering when you would finally wise up and get over here,” the corpse next to me said. I wiped my eyes. It was Scammander. I pressed myself up closer to the mast.
“Shouldn’t we be helping them?”
“It’s Stunt’s ship, what do I care?”
I peered around the mast in time to see two gryphons land gracefully on the deck and quickly lift off again as their riders dismounted. Two armored elves with giant sledge hammers slowly strode over to the other mast and began smashing it. Karamel and Wish broke away from the fighting and began firing their shortbows while sprinting at the two hammering sky marshalls. The arrows simply bounced off the heavy armor, much the way splinters from the hammered mast did.
I turned my head back again to see the giant sledge hammer crash down on Cinnamon’s chest. Her whole body buckled up around the hammer, then flapped back against the deck. Wish screamed and dropped her dagger as she fell to her knees, holding Cinnamon’s limp head in her lap. I winced as the mallet crashed into her face and sent pieces of it scattering across the deck. The body remained seated, still holding Cinnamon’s head in its hands.
He rejoined his companion in the methodical pulverizing. The cabin door flung open, and a tall and slender female with a bright blonde ponytail emerged in a suit of form fitting glass. In her left hand she held a slender glass oval, and in her right hand was a golden hilt with no blade.
“Champagne,” Scammander said.
“Looks like she forgot the one thing she’s going to need to actually kill anybody.”
Scammander chuckled. “The blade is invisible.”
The elf took a few more swings into the mast before stepping away to deal with the newest threat while his companion labored on in the slow destruction.
“They’re going to get massacred. Then what are we going to do?”
“Take over the ship. Then we will fight for what’s ours.”
“You must have some magic hidden up your sleeve to even think we would stand a chance against these odds.”
“Speaking of odds, let’s make a wager,” he said. “Who do you think is going to win?”
“That pellucid champion,” I said. “If she wins, you have to kill me, on the spot,” I said hoping to cheat the wench life out of a little sport and torment.
“Very well. My wager is on that imperturbable hammerman who will crush the hourglass of your glassy warrioress.”
We turned and watched our chosen champions right as Scammander’s struck. The hulking sledgehammer slammed into the woman’s thigh sending cracks racing out across her armor from the blow. But Champagne didn’t flinch. She screamed as she swung the hilt across his shoulders and sent helmet and head hurdling off into the sky. A faint outline of a curving sabre emerged as the dark gore dripped down it.
“Easiest wager I’ve ever made,” I said turning back to him. “Time to fulfill our pact.”
“I make promises,” he scoffed. “I don’t keep them.”
He was actually a little upset. “I know,” I said. “Especially to someone like your brother.”
“Especially,” he emphasized as he peered around the mast. “I think I simply bet on the wrong knight.”
“Double or nothing?” I said standing up and looking around the mast.
He shook his head. “If you want to die right now, you’ll have to do the work yourself.”
“I’ll help you die you pathetic coward,” a voice behind us sneered.
I screamed as a lance crashed through my shoulder and pinned me to the thick mast. I stifled a second scream, which bounced off my teeth and rolled around my gums until it dissolved into a compressed groan. I closed my eyes and shoved my hand into the wood to keep from falling over.
“Try to take Lord Scammander alive,” another one said. “But keep that sword at his throat; if he moves you have my permission to kill him.”
I kept waiting for September to save us, but I couldn’t even hear the melee anymore. The battle must have carried to the opposite side of the ship.
“Which one of you has the stolen garments?” the voice said as it walked around me. A young, arrogant elf glowered in my face.
“Stunt does,” Scammander said.
The knight frowned and disappeared behind me once more.
“He’s lying,” I gasped.
“Of course he is,” the comely sky marshall said, walking back in front of me.
“Don’t be an idiot Evander, not now,” Scammander said. “It’s only just begun.”
The young elf took my chin in his fingers and softly turned my head so that I was looking into his eyes. “Come now, Evander. Scammander has gotten you into enough trouble for one lifetime. Tell me. You’ve got them, don’t you?”
“I’ve got them,” I muttered.
He smiled and cut his eyes over to his companion who was guarding Scammander, then grabbed my shoulder and squeezed. I wouldn’t scream but I had to close my eyes. “See? The great theft is over. Hand them over you foolish cow, and I will keep my promise to end your life.”
He released my shoulder and I wheezed and opened my eyes.
“Come now, it is a much better fate than dying in a cell. Remember your ancestors who were thought to be so honorable? At least die with their honor.”
“Of course, even they were just as stupid as this one appears to be,” his comrade shouted.
The elf in front of me chuckled. “Here is your chance to prove us wrong Evander. Die with honor and sagacity. Give us the garments. Die noble and wise.”
I nodded as I lay my neck on the mast and shut my eyes once more.
“My elbows,” I said. “I tore the shirt and tied it around my elbows.”
I opened my eyes as the knight scowled and leaned in to untie the ripped, legendary shirt.
I jerked my neck and shoved my horn through his soft temple. The deep blast of Scammander’s shotgun went off next to me. I didn’t need to turn around to know that the other elf was tumbling through the sky and missing body parts.
My eyes turned to the dead elf hanging off my horn by his crushed temple, staring at me. His body swung back and forth as Scammander tugged on the lance, trying to wrench it out of my shoulder. Thick red clots bubbled out of his broken temple and dripped down his face. Some collected in large clumps on his cheek, sliding to a halt as the rest of the crimson rivulet rolled down his neck and splattered on the deck. I shook my head back and forth until the corpse slipped off my horn and fell into a limp pile on the ship.
When Scammander finally pulled the lance free, I dropped to a knee and grimaced. I shut my eyes as the horrible healing magic wove my shoulder back together and stitched me back into this dark existence.
Scammander dropped the lance, but I tilted my head towards it. “Give it to me,” I said. I grabbed the lance and turned to see Champagne battling the other elf, furiously slashing at the knight.
He backed away until he parried a wild blow with the thick tower shield and then lowered his shoulder and charged into her. Her feet shot up as her back smashed onto the deck and he tucked his shield to his shoulder, crouched, and hurled himself on top of her. There was the unmistakable snapping and crunching of breaking bones as the elf and his heavy tower shield crashed onto Champagne and pinned her to the deck. Champagne screamed and writhed under the sky soldier as he shouted for help now that she was pinned and helpless. He began stabbing madly around the shield but her glimmering armor deflected all the blows. Champagne managed to push the soldier off her and as they separated she swung.
He reeled back as the tip of the sword scraped across his eyes, then collapsed to his knees holding his face as crimson rivulets slid down his knuckles and trickled down the back of his hands. Champagne rose up behind the wounded elf and with a quick thrust her translucent sabre sank down again into the back of his neck. She kicked him onto his face as she twisted the sword out of his corpse. She looked like she was wearing a broken mirror, with cracks and dents running all over the shimmering armor.
Suddenly Champaign wailed and buckled as another elf slammed his sledge hammer into her spine, sending her sprawling across the deck. The hilt with the transparent blade popped out of her hands, skipping halfway across the deck to me. The soldier calmly whirled the hammer then slammed it down onto her back. Everything cracked and snapped.
I was already running as I flung the lance which sailed out into the sky and pierced neither armor, nor flesh, nor cloud.
I grabbed the hilt with the invisible blade as the sun shimmered along the golden boards of the ship and I began to feel golden, potent, and dawn-like.
“You won’t be the first minotaur I kill,” he said.
I took a few practice swings then looked at my opponent with a grim stare and froze.
There is a secret poetry to existence, when life becomes rich and tumultuous and young, and it can be heard only along the hazardous borders where Death plays his alluring lyre and maybe even speaks—through life. That is the music I heard that morning, laced with sunlight and blood.
I jerked the crossbow out and rushed the elf, screaming and spraying. The golden bolts bounced off the heavy armor but I kept pumping volleys into him as I closed in and swung the translucent scimitar at his head.
The elf knight flung his arm up, blocking the swing, then stomped my foot. Pain seized me as I dropped the sword and crossbow and was shoved backwards by the elf. Suddenly the sledge hammer smashed into my ribs and I wailed with all the breath that wasn’t knocked out of me. I slammed my eyes shut as my mushy side stiffened and the cracked bones regenerated.
“Where’s your arrogance now? Your homeland is in ash, your ancestors sit in bits and pieces inside of lurking worms that dwell below the mud, and in one birth-cycle there won’t even be memories of the minotaurs,” he said above me. He knelt down and grabbed the back of my neck and pressed my face into the deck. “You’ll be a fiction,” he said with a heavy whisper into my ear.
When he released his grip I could barely breathe, and still couldn’t see, but I forced myself up anyway. I immediately dropped back to the deck, then stood up again, lurched to one side then fell down. The elf began laughing. I jumped up once more to spite him and tried to take a step towards the laughter but fell backwards and crashed to the deck again. The laughter continued followed by more insults.
“Just imagine what I’m going to do to your corpse,” I heard him say. “After I’m done, I’m going to mount your skull in my ancestor’s dining hall. It will look excellent next to the ogre, goblin, and human trophies we have collected over the years.”
I groaned and drooled and rose up again then flopped to the deck, exhausted. The elf continued with his mocking and laughing until I rolled under him and swept him off his feet. I heard the mallet come loose and clatter on the deck then forced my eyes open and stood on my gelatinous, burning, aching legs.
I snatched the warhammer and drove its staff into his face, then flipped it around in my hand and smashed his arm. He lay there gasping, staring at the shattered bone and armor and skin. As he recovered from the shock of the first blow, I brought the heavy hammer down on his arm again. This time there was screaming and thrashing.
“I’ll be a fiction one day, but I’ll be a fiction they’re scared to talk about because I do things like this,” I said heaving the mallet aside then leaning down and picking up the glass sword.
I drug the maimed knight to the edge of the ship, gurgling and cursing, then held him out by the scalp into the sky and glared into his eyes.
“I’ll see you in the line to the gloomy gate!” he screamed, clutching at my arm and kicking wildly into the empty vault of the morning.
“I wouldn’t recognize you from all the others I have sent down.” As the hair on his head began to tear away, I swung the sword under my forearm and across his neck, leaving me holding his head as the body plummeted down into the clouds.
“I wouldn’t have saved you,” Champagne’s weakening voice said from behind.
I dropped the head over the side of the ship as I turned to see her sprawled on the deck, bleeding beneath her cracked glass armor. “My ancestors killed a lot of your worthless kindred,” she said. “I was going to come for you next after I finished with these two,” she said glaring at me. She tried to speak but a grimace cut her off. She swallowed hard, then slowly lifted her head back up to glare at me again. “And end your horrible race.” Champagne propped herself up on an elbow, locking her gem-like blue eyes with mine. Few times in my life have I been looked upon with such searing loathing. “Hopefully someone else murders you this morning cow…so many accidents can happen in battle…” she flopped over as she was interrupted by a fit of coughing.
“To the lowest river with you and your slithering companion,” she wheezed, propping herself up on one elbow to deliver the curse. “And look, he’s gone!” she laughed and rolled over, receding into the dark forest of death, her skin becoming pale like the moonlight that shines there.
I don’t know why, but I walked near her so I could hear her final words.
“I want…to kill you…” she growled and coughed and glared at me. “I want…to…kill you…” The final utterance came the faintest, as she mustered all her remaining strength to breathe a final insult across my brow, straining to complete the curse. “I…want…to…kill…to…kill…you…”
Though she could no longer speak, her englassed eyes kept repeating the hateful phrase long after she had ceased to draw breath under the vaults of life.
I pulled my eyes away from another corpse, as I had learned to do so often in this life.
Suddenly I saw the two wyrms emerge from the clouds, speeding straight towards the ship like they were going to ram it until at the last second, the sky-ship groaned and tilted backwards as the two dragons streamed underneath it.
I dashed across the golden deck as the morning sun splashed across the gleaming boards. Soldiers, loose lances, corpses, and scantily-clad aged warrioresses tumbled by me, cursing and skirmishing even as the Creiseda kept lurching back.
I leapt off the boat right as the two dragons emerged from under it. The silent sky bellowed and roared as wind ripped across my ears and through my fur, standing it all on end.
And for a moment—just one moment—my sandals tread the rushing wind like stairs of marble.
Suddenly my head snapped as my thick arms chopped the back of their slick, scaled necks and I wrapped their heads under my biceps and squeezed. Shock turned to anger as the great beasts began to snort, chomp their jaws, and beat their wings. Then for some reason, we began to fall. Fast. Shock returned to their eyes mixed with a moment of confusion. Then, the two beasts, staring right into each others’ eyes spoke at once: “Scammander.”
Two arrows zipped into the dragon’s snout on my left, followed by two more into the snout of the dragon on my right. Each released a heavy, basal groan as their eyes glossed over and slowly rolled up in their heads. I looked up as the boat began to grow smaller and smaller to see the faint outline of September, bow drawn, leaning over the ship halfway out into the vivid sky.
“Dragons,” I muttered.