An Ogre Needs Saving

My good friend and writer, Rebecca Williams, has written a lovely short story for a guest post this week!  If you enjoy her story, you can find out more here.

 

“Help!” 

Vivvy tripped backwards when a large brown eye filled the window. She caught herself before knocking over the stack of bandages and crashing into IV poles.

“Hello?” she asked to the eye that fixed on her. 

“Help!” 

Vivvy observed the rumbling voice and the wart above the eyelid. An ogre.

Drawing closer to the window, she called out: “LARGE mythical folk can seek attention at the GIANT’S ward on the other side. We regretfully cannot accommodate you here.” As she spoke, she motioned to the room—tiny by ogre standards, filled with beds for small patients.

“Closed,” the ogre said, and his eye blinked. Her trained ears heard pain in that voice. She pulled back the curtain further and peered out to assess her unusually large patient, and the nurse smelled the injury before she could see it: ogre blood stank worse than ogre sweat. There, on his left leg, a bandage oozed with patches of sticky brown ogre blood. 

“Your leg!”  

The night visitor stepped back so Vivvy could see both his eyes, which now stared at the ground.

“Gimbly Mountain,” he mumbled. 

“Gimbly Mountain—but that’s covered in bittersnag.” Vivvy looked now at the wound in horror. The ogre’s expression told Vivvy he already knew the lethality of the mountain’s spiny plant.

“Help,” he said again. 

Vivvy’s hands went to her hips. “Yes, but—I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“Paul the Ogre.” Ogres in those parts had simple names. 

“Right, Paul, the only cure for bittersnag is oil from the scales of a behemoth.” 

Paul nodded, hope shining in his large eyes. Vivvy looked from one to the other because at such close range she couldn’t look at both at the same time.

“I found behemoth. I take you.” Without further explanation, Paul the Ogre reached inside the window and grasped Vivvy with two fingers, lifting her out of the ward and into his hand. 

Vivvy stifled a scream. “No, no, don’t take me,” she protested. The tiny nurse had been punched and kicked by patients, but none had attempted to do her so much harm as take her to a behemoth. Behemoths filled the folklore of the Balsam Woodmarsh, a forested wetland with firs and vines. Marshes interlaced the valleys between the mountainsides. Though undeniably real, the monstrous creatures slipped in and out of deeper streams with such stealth that they lurked out of view. People shared stories and fables of the beasts in fervent whispers. Preferring the valley though, behemoths never climbed to the mountaintops where most woodland creatures lived, and Vivvy hadn’t heard of a behemoth sighting in years. 

“W-where?” she asked as she struggled to get out of Paul’s grip. With limping strides, his long legs distanced them from the hospital at an alarming rate. She could have called for help, but the hospital sat on the rim of an outpost facing the jungle forest. No one would hear her. 

“In valley. I show you.” The ogre swung his arms back and forth as he lunged ahead, and Vivvy grew dizzy. 

“Why me?” She turned her head to watch the hospital lights grow dim behind them.

Paul the Ogre grunted. “You get scale and heal wound.” 

The little nurse squeaked. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t collect medicine. Sprites do. We chispas work in the hospital.”

“Chi-spa help me.”

“Chee-spa,” she corrected, sounding it out. 

“Sprites not here,” he added, and Vivvy frowned. Her luminescent wings flickered on her back. That morning, the medical sprites had left to gather eel’s tooth, a plant that bloomed one night a year on the eastern side of Hale Mountain. Meanwhile, the other chispas slept in their dorm inside the outpost—now perhaps half a mile already behind them, and she alone covered the night shift of their empty ward that evening.

“Couldn’t you get it?” she asked, trying to squirm out of Paul’s grip as they took a sharp descent. An ogre seemed a better match for a behemoth. 

With his free hand, Paul motioned to his size and then to hers without breaking a step. “Behemoth notice Paul. Behemoth not notice you. You fly and get scale without behemoth notice.” 

Vivvy’s palms broke into a sweat, and she fingered her wings behind her back. Fly? With her left wing damaged, she could no longer soar over the mountains like she once had. Now, she could only hover. She hadn’t met Paul before though, so he didn’t know. 

“Please?” asked Paul. They had already covered far too much ground for the kidnapped nurse’s comfort. How far away was this behemoth? Vivvy knew from nursing school that only fresh oil of behemoth scale would heal bittersnag wounds that could overtake victims within hours. Paul would not survive the wait for the sprites’ return.

For several minutes, Vivvy searched her mind for any excuse, but before she could answer, Paul dove to his belly on the soft marshy ground in the valley that seemed 1000 spans from her safe hospital ward. They had descended her mountain and breached the border of a marsh. He caught her eyes and nodded ahead. Her gaze followed until she saw the outline of a shadowy colossus in the marsh, rising up like a small mountain from the ground. She stifled another scream. 

“Behemoth smell blood. Paul stay here.” He then opened his hand as if expecting her to fly off towards the behemoth without hesitation. But Vivvy did hesitate. 

“Paul, I can’t fly,” she said, red-hot heat flushing her face.

“You fly. I believe.” 

Vivvy wavered on his palm. If only it were that easy. In her mind, she could hear the soft chime of the hospital ward’s clock as if she stood next to it, reminding her that Paul had an hour—maybe two before the poison would overtake him. Too choked to speak, she unfolded her butterfly-shaped wings and began to beat them, the soft whir imperceptible to larger creatures like Paul or the behemoth. Hesitating one more time, she looked at Paul and saw hope still lighting up his face. She sighed.

Vivvy lifted herself above his palm, hovering, but only hovering. She didn’t know how she was going to fly UP to a behemoth, but dredging an ounce of courage from somewhere in her faltering heart, she turned and moved out over the shallow water, refusing to look back at the safe, dry spot on Paul’s hand. 

No other noise filled the marsh; behemoths scared away even the crickets, and the beast’s large shadow took form as she approached. Closer, closer—she could see the glint of scales in the moonlight. The beast’s body loomed twenty times larger than Paul’s. She could hear the hum of deeper water on the other side of the beast, which appeared to be asleep next to the marsh’s outlet where it could easily slip into the dark waters that plumbed the unknown depths of their valley. 

Trembling, Vivvy hovered towards its face. Thick crusty scales along the backs of behemoths yielded less oil—enough for a dozen little folks and perhaps enough for a dwarf, but certainly not an ogre. The best scales for oil lay above a behemoth’s eyes. Vivvy knew from textbook sketches were to look, and sure enough, there in the starlight, she could see brown scales with a bluish tint of softness on its brow. 

I’m a nurse, I help people. I’m a nurse, I help people, she repeated in her head as she came to the edge where water met the snout of the behemoth at rest. With all her might, she beat her wings and gained perhaps an inch of height over the water. She tried again, another inch. Again, another inch. The tiny chispa inched until she reached the level of the bluish scales. Edging closer, straining to keep her height, she stretched out her arms between the behemoth’s closed eyes and touched the closest scale. 

Fearfully, she glanced at the eyes. Neither one flickered. Taking all the care she could, Vivvy wrapped her fingers on either side of the scale as tall as she was and pulled. Such scales did not give easily. Yet something from her learning told her to shift the scale to the left and then upward. As she did, beating her wings and willing them not to lose her altitude, the hard scale loosened. Vivvy pulled it back with one swift break and clasped it close to her chest in disbelief that she held a genuine behemoth scale, fresh from the very beast’s forehead. Its absence left a miniscule opening on the large brow, and for a moment, the trained nurse looked for any broken skin that could risk infection, and thankfully, she found none. Her concerns for the predator were interrupted however when both enormous eyelids popped open, and the behemoth’s eyes clapped on her. 

Vivvy stopped breathing, certain she was about to die. Behemoths notoriously left no attacker alive. 

Its eyes shifted between her and the stolen scale. 

As Vivvy’s anxiety turned to panic, she saw the creature focus on her wings. They were unique in size and shape, larger than wings of sprites who normally hunted such animals for their scales. Their butterfly shape and iridescent color glimmered in her hovering movements and reflected dim moonlight in the darkness. 

The behemoth snuffed and exhaled a hot breath she could feel around her feet, and she wondered why it didn’t strike. Could she get awayNo. With the heavy scale, she couldn’t fly fast, if at all. 

Interrupting her thoughts, the behemoth rose back on its haunches, scooping her up on its rough nose and towering above the tree line. Its eyes never moved from the chispa, and Vivvy stood fearful and still. Then the creature’s tail curled to one side. Glancing at the movement, she noticed a scar stretching down its thigh. Only two things leave scars on behemoths—the claws of another behemoth, the damage of which can be life threatening, and the treatment of snarffle root that can heal the behemoth’s tough skin. 

Snarffle root grows on mountaintops though. How had the valley-bound behemoth gotten there? 

Glancing between the eyes and scar, Vivvy wondered if she truly grasped the gesture. The behemoth must have had help. Had it been from another chispa? The beast seemed to recognize her wings, and she wondered if he was trying to tell her something.

Vivvy nodded, to let it know she understood (perhaps). With the delicacy of one trying to slip away from death, she beat her wings until she hovered again. Meeting the behemoth’s gaze, she backed away, high above the marshy ground, and the mythical beastly creature made no move to stop her. 

Further and further she retreated until she was halfway back to Paul, still at the height of the behemoth’s eyes. At that point, the creature blinked, lowered itself to the ground, and rolled into the deep waters beside its resting spot. She saw the water ripple outward from its exit. Signs of the behemoth disappeared as shallow marsh water filled the impressions of where the beast had slept. 

Quivering, she watched the empty space for a moment until she remembered the scale gripped in her arms, its scentless oil clinging to her hands and tunic. Spinning around, she hurried back to Paul the Ogre and his poisoned wound. With such an abundant amount of the cure, they should have just enough time to stop the poison and save his life. 

Dragon Sight

I am not ashamed to say that I did not go quietly to my death.  

I bucked, kicked, and fought all the way down the gilded hallways with their velvet draperies and marble statues.  I caught one guard squarely in the shin as we passed under the baleful ruby gaze of the stone dragon that stood sentinel outside the hidden room.  The guard cursed me as the dragon seemed to mock me in the otherwise deserted corridor. The guard smacked the back of my head hard enough my eyeballs nearly left their sockets.  Chuckling, he a button on the bottom of a sconce.  With my head still spinning, I was dragged from opulence into the dank shadows of a secret cave.

            Once my vision cleared, my chest heaved, and my nostrils flared.  Before me stood King Hiclyr and his wretched daughter, Princess Marguerite.  

            All my life, I’d been told the Creator had blessed me to so closely resemble Renvale’s beautiful princess. I never gave it a second thought until I was stolen away in the dead of night to take her place as the Dragon Sacrifice.  

            The Sacrifice took place every ten years.  Every girl in the kingdom aged thirteen to twenty-one had their name entered.  I thought I was safe.  There was no way I could have foreseen this treachery.  Ice ran through my veins.

            “Be still,” Hiclyr said.  “The Dragon will not want his prize bruised.”

            I spat at him.  Wrym.  He wiped his face disdainfully.  

            He clapped once.  A timid maid rushed from the shadows into the circle of light cast by the torch bracketed on the wall.  

“Make sure she is Marguerite before she leaves this tunnel.”  His voice was hard like granite.

            My gaze landed on the princess.  We’d been friends once.  Some deep place inside me understood why this was happening.  We had all lost someone we’d once loved to the Dragon.  The King had lost his son, Marguerite had lost her brother, and I had lost my best friend.  Hiclyr was desperate to save his remaining child.  

But this was wrong.  

It was wrong to steal me away.  Wrong to sacrifice me instead.  Not because my sacrifice wouldn’t be worthy, but because my sacrifice wouldn’t be enough.  If I went instead of the girl rightfully chosen by lot, King Hyclir would break the treaty that had existed between the Kingdom of Renvale and the Dragon Lords for over a century.  It would bring open war down upon us if ever discovered.

            So, while I was here, I’d use every means within my power to fight for my life.  But if I couldn’t escape before dawn light lit the sky, I’d have to put on the performance of a lifetime to save my people and my country.  At the expense of my own life.

            The next hours were full of forced pampering.  I was scrubbed, washed, shaved, styled, and put into a dress with a ridiculous number of pleats.  But at the end when they stood us together—the princess and the falconer’s daughter—even I had trouble telling us apart. 

            I fought like a banshee as the guards once more took my arms.  Thrashing and digging in my heels did no good as the soft satin of my slippers tore against the rough floor.  The guard cracked the door open and weak sunlight filtered in.

            I bit the inside of my lip hard enough I tasted blood.  There was nothing more I could do but continue the ruse.  I prayed it would be enough to save my kingdom—save my family.

            On wobbling legs, I stumbled to the wooden platform raised on the beach beside the castle.  The ocean’s waves lapped calmly, lending me their strength with their soothing swooshes.  Terror seized me as memory flooded my mind with images I’d refused to acknowledge for the past ten years.  Fire, gaping teeth, blood, smoke, screams, and Daniel’s face as he’d been caught in the crossfire.  I relived the Dragon’s teeth closing over his body, taking him from me forever.

            A sob choked out and I would have fallen to the ground had the guards not been holding me.  My friend.  And now I would meet the same fate.

            The ropes cut into my wrists as they tied me to the stake.  The drums beat, the wind howled, the waves began crashing in fury.  

            I saw the Dragon’s aura before he came into view.  Fiery red and streaked with yellow that caught the sun and set spots dancing before my eyes.

            His grating shriek pierced the morning and screams of terrified villagers echoed off the crags.

            Creator be merciful…

            Unable to hold back a wail of terror, the breath left me in a staggering rush as the Dragon morphed out of the clouds, his black talons outstretched. 

            The Dragon blotted out the sun.  Leathery wings folded and sent sand pounding against my sides.  Bright scales, eyes like fire, and a face framed in horns stole the breath from my lungs.  The wings creased, revealing an odd-shaped hunch on the creature’s back.  

            Before I could see any more, the talons crushed around me, lifting me and the stake into the air.

            Dignity left far below, I screamed as the beast rose into the air, wings beating the winds into submission.

            Soaring, wheeling, gliding over the clouds would have been exhilarating if it hadn’t meant certain death.

            At last the beast landed on a high crag, tossing me and the stake into an enormous nest.  A groan escaped then turned to another scream as flames bit through the ropes binding me to the stake.  I tore my hands away from the ropes as the fire stopped.  

            Shakily I stood, mouth falling open as a dark figure slid from the Dragon’s back, favoring his left side.  Throwing back his hood, the sun caught the marled, puckered skin of his cheek, the wide red rope of scar from scalp to chin.  But the eyes.  Those crystal blue eyes were the same.

            “Daniel.”

            The scarred mouth wrinkled on one side before pulling into a frown.

            “Marguerite?”

            My mouth dried as my eyes grew larger.  

            “Emma.”

            It wasn’t a question this time.  His eyes lit with excitement.

            “Emma?  It’s you, isn’t it!”

            “Daniel,” I whispered.  I was incapable of anything else.

            The smile died on his face.

            “This is my father’s doing.  Truly, it was my sister’s name drawn from the lottery?”

            I saw no point in keeping the ruse now.  “Yes.”

            The Dragon snorted and my knees quaked in terror.

            “It’s alright.  She won’t hurt you.”  He stroked the amethyst scales covering the beast’s flanks.  His eyes found mind again.  “My father may have just started a war he cannot win.”

            “What do we do?”  I had to save my family—save the kingdom.

            “We must go appeal to the High Dragon Lord.  Will you come with me?”

            He stretched his hand to me, tiny scars crisscrossing his palm.

            Dread lodged in my throat.

            His fingers were cool around mine.

Kelpies

Kelpies are said to be giant water beasts that live in rivers, streams, occasionally the ocean.  They’re most often horrid creatures who lure innocent victims to sit on their backs, then drag them down into the water, drown them, and eat them.  Charming creatures!

 

It.  Reeked.

Never again would I trust that red-headed scoundrel.  It was his fault I was here, gasping for breath, gagging at the edge of the Kelpie pen.  

“Hold this,” he’d said.  “I’ll be right back,” he’d said.  Were I not so new at this school, were I not desperate to fit in after being kicked out of the last three schools I attended, were I not so distracted, I would have realized that the thing he handed me wasn’t a wet suit, it was a Selkie skin.  And said Selkie had come marching down the hallway in all her nakedness shooting sparks from her eyes not one minute later.  

Guess who was left holding the bag.  Literally. 

My first week at Magik Prep Academy, and I was already serving detention.  My punishment was to clean this stinking Kelpie pen.  While taking care not to touch the beasts.  Because they’d happily drag me down and eat me for dinner.  Wonderful.

I snapped on the long rubber gloves to protect my skin from the ick in the water and any accidental Kelpie grazing.

“My, aren’t you a tasty looking morsel,” a watery voice said.  

I brandished my long cleaning pole.

“Unless you want to swim around in your own muck, leave off, and let me do my job,” I growled.  I was in no mood for teasing.  Or to become a snack.

“She’s a feisty one,” another voice joined the first.

“Mm.  I think the feisty ones have a nice spicy flavor,” a third voice whinnied.

Three squelchy horse heads bobbed in the water, transparent, but fully corporeal.  They weren’t quite opaque, and I could see the tiled floor below them at the bottom of the pen.  I poked at them with the bristled end of my long scrubber.

The first one snapped its teeth at the bristles then reached out and clamped its watery teeth on the handle, nearly jerking me into the water with them.  I let go and stumbled back, glaring at them.

“Fine.  But I’m the only one scheduled to clean in here this week.  Your choice.  Algae or fresh water.”

“Leave the poor girl alone,” a new voice said.  

I looked up in surprise at the deep male voice.  A regale horse head rose from the water, taller and larger than the others.  

The three made loud whinnying noises that bordered on shrieking.  

The male lunged up, spraying water everywhere as his front hooves churned the pool into frothy waves.  The noise that echoed from his mouth sent the hairs on the back of my neck racing to attention and sent the other three Kelpies splashing into the dark water at the far side of the pool.  

            I sat cowered and damp against the wall.  The big Kelpie sunk back into the water up to his chest.

            “Sorry about them.  Brood mares.”  He seemed to roll his liquid eyes.  I didn’t move.  I was thoroughly freaked out.  

He gently swished to the abandoned long-handled broom.  He clipped it with his teeth and with a powerful fling of his head, tossed it back to land beside me. 

“I certainly won’t stand in your way.”  With a bob of his majestic head he turned to submerge.

“Wait!”

His ears pricked forward as he turned back to me.

“Thank you.”

The Kelpie inclined his head.

“You’re welcome.”  He swam closer to the edge.  “I’m Kai.”

I swallowed, unsure if he was being nice to lure me to dinner, or because he wasn’t as nasty as his female counterparts.  

“Lara.”  I slowly got to my feet and retrieved the scrubber.

“Lara.  I’ve not seen you here before.  Toss me that short brush and I’ll help.  You can talk.  We don’t get many visitors in here.”

I threw him the brush and set to work with my own pole, still wary and keeping the big Kelpie within sight at all times.

“Tell me how your classes are going,” Kai encouraged.

“Well, I only started three days ago.”

“And you’ve already landed yourself with Kelpie clean up?”  He snorted.  I glared.

“It wasn’t exactly my fault.”

“I’m all ears,” he said as he scrubbed the tiles at the waterline.  

Without meaning to say anything, the story just came tumbling out.  I was lonely.  

“And that’s why I was kicked out of the last school.  I can’t control it.  It just bursts out whenever it feels like it.  These giant fireballs.  At my last school I accidentally lit the library on fire.  That was the last straw.  The headmaster said I had to go.  So, here I am.  At yet another school, hoping they can teach me how to control this energy inside me.”

Kai looked at me.  “I know it doesn’t smell as nice in here to humanoids like you as it does to us, but there’s nothing in here that you can burn up.  If you suddenly start to spark, it’s no trouble for me to send a little wave and put it out.  You’re welcome anytime.”

I glanced up at him.  This giant water beast somehow recognized the pain and loneliness echoing in my chest and homed in on it.

“You’re not just inviting me…to be dinner?”

Kai snorted and slapped the surface of the pool with his soggy hoof.  “If it makes you feel any better, I’m a vegetarian.  The three harridans you met earlier would be happy to have you on a seaweed sandwich, but I won’t.  And I’ll make certain you’re safe while you’re here.”

A spark flared to life in my chest and cinders formed at my fingertips.

“Oh, no!”

A gentle mist appeared over my fingers, quieting the burn and sending the scorching fire back to sleep inside me.

“See?”

Kai’s eyes, though still see-through, held kindness.  Something I never expected from a Kelpie.

“Why would you do this for me?”

“You are not the only one lonely on this campus, Lara.”

I smiled.  Maybe Magik Prep would be a good fit after all.

Please Welcome a Special Guest!

This week Facts, Fantasy, & Fascinations is welcoming author David Michael Williams! :). Enjoy his fresh take on fantasy creatures and some info on his books. 

See you next week, back at the halls of Magik Prep. ;). Next week there will be Kelpies…

Cultivating a New Fantasy Creature: the Fosyth

By David Michael Williams

Jon gave her a confused look as she burst out of the water and sprinted toward him. She hardly noticed. The green thing behind him was a cross between a tall cactus and frilly fern. Mak knew it couldn’t be either because it hadn’t been there a moment ago.

Sure, I’ve written stories about elves, dwarves, and goblins. Fantasy novels are filled to the brim with amazing creatures from many different mythologies. Without mystical animals and larger-than-life monsters, it could hardly be called fantasy.

But what happens when five live-action roleplaying (LARPing) fans find themselves in a magical world that is somewhat familiar but also unlike any fantasy setting they’ve ever read about?

One of the challenges I set for myself while writing The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot was to come up with new, unique creatures. I wanted Othwyr—the sword-and-sorcery setting where the Earth-born adolescents end up—to hold some surprises for my would-be heroes and readers alike.

Throughout the story, Sir Larpsalot and company encounter the almost-elflike Anthar, battle the beetle-shelled Chitine, and hear whispers of the Taarec, a shrewd race of shamans whose minds are as sharp as their many spines. But of all the species I invented for this book, my favorite are the Fosyth.

So many of fantasy’s staple races stem from the Animal Kingdom. Combine a human and a horse, and you get a centaur. Slap some wings on a steed, and a pegasus is born. Yet very few fairytales or myths feature intelligent plant life.

And the Fosyth are intelligent, in spite of their impulsive nature.

Here are a few more facts about Othwyr’s plant people:

· Fosyth are neither male nor female; like the plants of Earth, each encompasses both genders.

· While the Fosyth roughly resemble humans in shape, they lack mouths and must communicate telepathically.

· Fosyth receive sustenance from “the Golden Eye of Nihs”—in other words, the sun. (And when you think about it, photosynthesis is pretty magical.)

· The Fosyth’s greatest enemies are the Taarec, an aggressively herbivorous species.

· Unlike ordinary plants, a Fosyth doesn’t stay rooted for long. You never know where they might wander.

There’s definitely a lot of wandering in The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot. Half the fun of discovering a new world is exploration, after all. As for the other half, well, it wouldn’t be a fatnasy adventure if there weren’t some danger too…

David Michael Williams has suffered from a storytelling addiction for as long as he can remember. His published works include the sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels of The Renegade Chronicles and The Soul Sleep Cycle, a genre-bending series that explores life, death, and the dreamscape. Learn more at david-michael-williams.com.

 

The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot

As the first day of high school creeps closer, five friends agree to one last LARP before splitting the party and ending their geeky game forever.

But the real adventure is just beginning…

Mistaking the teens’ costumed characters for actual warriors, a sorceress summons Sir Larpsalot, Elvish Presley, Brutus the Bullheaded, Master Prospero, and Tom Foolery to her world to complete an impossible quest. To succeed, they must become the heroes they only ever pretended to be.

And if they can’t find a way to win, it’s GAME OVER for real!

Available at Amazon.com as of Oct. 6