Chronicles of Draezoln

Tales of the world of Draezoln

Monthly Archives: December 2011

Chapter 16-1

Chapter 16: Madness

Almonihah camped just short of the Line that night, and then crossed it in the morning. It was quiet on the other side of the line, but he could feel the wrongness in the air. Ignoring the feeling, he pressed forward, moving quickly. Falloen’s writings had made clear that making the journey quickly was essential, in order to complete it before running out of supplies.


The first two days of travel were uneventful. The half-dragon traveled warily, ate sparingly, and made sure to use water that was flowing in from the other side of the line. This close to the Line, it was still safe to drink water if it was coming from outside the Madlands. Later that wouldn’t be the case, so he needed to conserve his supplies as well as he could.


It was partway through the third day when Almonihah finally became aware that something was stalking him. He’d been expecting this, so much so that he was somewhat surprised it had taken this long. Regardless, he had to figure out what he’d do with the thing now.


Almonihah had turned hunter into prey many times before when facing Javni’Tolkhrah, so he easily fell into his usual tactics. Doubling back to get throw off pursuit and try to get a glimpse at the beast, going around a large tree and then climbing the other side of it and keeping watch for a while, and so forth. This Javni’Tolkhrah seemed pretty clever, as it took him a while to finally catch sight of it, but he eventually did.


It was a rather bizarre monstrosity, even for a Javni’Tolkhrah. It had probably been a deer, once—a big buck, though certainly not as big as it was now. It was covered from head to tail in antlers, that stuck out in every direction and seemed tangled with one another. And most disturbingly, sharp teeth jutted out from its oversized jaw. Overall, it looked like the kind of thing Almonihah wouldn’t want close to him.


Instead, he looked for a good spot to hide in ambush for it. It didn’t take long to find a little rock outcropping that was just high enough that it wouldn’t be able to reach him. Quickly, he climbed up, then lay flat to wait for its approach.


It wasn’t long before the Javni’Tolkhrah came into view. Carefully, Almonihah rose to a crouch, nocked and drew and arrow, and then loosed. The arrow sizzled through the air, straight to its mark, but when it struck, it somehow became tangled in the antlers around the beast’s body, though it did shear bits of them off.


The half-dragon grunted as he drew another arrow, but just then the ground underneath him gave way. Quickly, he rolled with it and jumped off, landing on his feet, but now in a vulnerable position. Sensing this, the Javni’Tolkhrah charged at him, making some strange, gargling noise as it did. Almonihah recognized an opportunity and fired at its open mouth, but the monster swerved aside. The arrow did manage to penetrate its tangle of antlers to graze its flank, but the beast just seemed to be angered by the injury.


Drawing another arrow, the Ranger waited for his quarry. At the last possible moment, he dove aside, then rose and fired another arrow. This one found its mark, driving into the Javni’Tolkhrah’s rear thigh. It screamed in pain, stumbled a bit, but then turned to renew its attack. The stumble had given Almonihah time to draw another arrow, and this time the monster didn’t turn aside as the arrow plunged into the roof of its mouth.


Still it refused to fall, but rather stood there and shook its head, foul smoke trickling from its mouth as the magic on the arrow burned its flesh. Calmly, Almonihah drew and fired again. This time, it dropped, an arrow in its eye. Almonihah considered his kill for a moment, but decided to just travel on. If it got to its feet and chased after him again, he’d just kill it more thoroughly next time, and if it went the other way, well, the Ranger on the Line would kill it more thoroughly. And if it really was dead, he was saving himself some time by not making more certain it wasn’t going to get back up.

*********

So, I realized I mislabeled the last post. I’ve now fixed it. THIS is the start of chapter 16. So I’ve now gone back and fixed that.

In other news, I’m hoping to get back to the Saturday update schedule. Hopefully I’ll keep up with it this time.

Chapter 15-7


Almonihah had a vague idea of what he wanted to do, but he needed to do some research first. He started by asking around the fire at night for more stories about Falloen Surebow. As the half-dragon had expected, he didn’t get a whole lot of information he could trust, but it did further awaken his curiosity.


What he really wanted was something that Falloen had written. He asked Imlloen about it, and was rather surprised to find that he’d actually written a journal which was still in existence. He was a bit less surprised when he learned that some magic had been involved in its preservation. Imlloen seemed a bit reluctant when Almonihah asked to look at it, but he allowed the half-dragon to read it after some strong warnings about what not to do with it.


Almonihah spent as much time over the next week with the journal as he could. He had to get some paper and writing materials for himself for taking notes. If the other Rangers guessed what he was up to, they said nothing, though they did give some odd looks at times.


It was only when he started trying to requisition supplies that Imlloen called him in.


“Almonihah,” Imlloen said when the half-dragon entered his office, “Just what do you think you’re doing?”


“Planning t’ cross th’ Madlands,” Almonihah responded, meeting the Commander’s stern gaze unflinchingly.


The elf sighed. “You know I can’t support that, and that means the Rangers won’t supply you.”


Almonihah just shrugged.


Imlloen stood up explosively and spat out an Elvish oath. “Almonihah, I lose enough Rangers just holding the Line. I can’t afford to lose another one to crossing it.” He wasn’t quite shouting, but his sudden anger was startling.


“’m done with the Line for a while, ‘nd I’m not going t’ get myself killed,” Almonihah growled back.


Imlloen slammed his palm on his desk. “That’s right, you’re not, because you’re not going to cross the Madlands. You’re not even going to cross the Line! If you’re so tired of the Line, you can go north, but I am not going to let a Ranger go kill himself just because he thinks he’s Falloen.”


Almonihah’s response was as much a growl as speech. “’m not Falloen. I know what t’ watch for, thanks t’ him, so I’ll have a better chance at ‘t.”


“Do you have any idea how long it’s been since Falloen crossed the Madlands? Centuries! Thinking that Falloen’s journal gives you some kind of edge is exactly the sort of thing that will get you killed!”


“’nd that’s another reason I need t’ go. We don’t have a clue what’s going on. ‘nd something is.”


“And you’re the one to do the job, huh?”


Almonihah shrugged. “Got any other volunteers?”


The office was silent for a long moment. Finally, the elf slid back into his chair with a sigh.


“I’ll have to think about it, Almonihah,” he said. “I still think you’ve got a good chance of getting yourself killed, but from what I’ve seen of you, you’d go off and do this without Ranger support. And Naishia knows, we need to know what’s going on in the Madlands that’s making so many Madness-Touched come across the Line.” Imlloen sighed, then waved a hand dismissively. “I’ll give you a decision next morning. Just… let me think about this.”


Imlloen called Almonihah in again the next morning. The Ranger Commander looked like he’d hardly slept.


“Your first priority will be coming back alive,” he said without preamble as the half-dragon walked in.


Almonihah snorted in amused agreement.


“Your other priority will be seeing what’s changed since Falloen’s time, especially anything that might hint at why the Madness-Touched are coming across the Line in such numbers.” Imlloen paused for Almonihah to nod in acknowledgement, then continued, “But I don’t care what you think, if you get the slightest hint that you won’t be able to complete the crossing, you come back here as fast as you can. You do this, and you can have whatever supplies you need.”


Almonihah nodded again. Imlloen looked the half-dragon in the eye and said, “Do I have your word?”


“You have my word,” Almonihah responded, evenly.


The elf held his gaze for a long moment, then sighed and said, “I still have deep reservations about this, but… you’re right about one thing. We’ve gotten too complacent about just holding the Line. We need to know more about what we’re up against, see if there isn’t something more we can do. I still feel like you’re going to get yourself killed, but someone needs to take a look on the other side of the line, and you’ve got about as good a chance as coming back as anyone else I can think of.” He was silent for another moment, then said, “Go talk the the quartermaster and get what you need. See me again before you leave, though.”


The half-dragon nodded one last time, then turned and walked out the door. Just before he closed the door behind him, Imlloen said, “Just… come back alive, Almonihah.”


It took Almonihah the rest of the day to prepare. He would need a lot of food and water—Falloen’s writings suggested that even the water in the Madlands was tainted, and was to be drunk only when heavily diluted, and even then only at the edges of the Madlands. Eating anything from the Madlands was out of the question.


The next day dawned bright and clear, a beautiful spring morning. By now, the everyone at the Headquarters knew exactly what he was doing, and while some of them still tried to dissuade him, most responded to his farewells with their own well-wishes. Imlloen settled for a few last admonitions, and he even walked outside to watch the half-dragon walk from camp.


Almonihah glanced back, a bit surprised at the response to his departure, then focused his gaze on the south. A good day’s travel would put him at the Line, and after that… the Madlands.

*******

Christmas Eve post! Though… it’s not a particularly Christmas-y post. Oh, well.

So who thinks what Almonihah is doing is a good idea?

Chapter 15-6

Almonihah wasn’t sure how many days it was before the first Ranger courier came by. It must have been weeks, though. He’d fallen so quickly into a routine that he’d lost track of time. You wouldn’t think that living in constant fear for your life, waking and sleeping, could become routine, but it had. It was still simultaneously terrifying and exciting at times, but somehow that was part of the routine, too.

Almonihah reported Lonan’s death, as well as the number of Javni’Tolkhrah he’d killed, to the courier. He said no when the courier asked if he needed a relief, and his only request when the courier asked what supplies he needed was for more arrows. The Ranger courier pulled a bundle of arrows out of his pack and handed them to Almonihah, and then was on his way.

The time passed swiftly. Seasons came and went, but they seemed not to matter so much this far south. Sometimes snow would be further down the mountainsides, and sometimes it was further up or just gone, but Almonihah paid it little mind. Hunting the Javni’Tolkhrah took almost all his concentration.

One thing the half-dragon found interesting was just how literal the Line was. He could tell the instant he stepped into the Madlands—there was a palpable difference in the air, in the light, in… everything. It was hard to put a claw on exactly what was so different, but it was a difference that he couldn’t miss.

At first, he stayed well away from the Madlands, even letting Javni’Tolkhrah who he’d been pursuing go if they crossed the Line. Then there was one who’d injured him that he just couldn’t let go. Once he brought it down, he realized he’d been in the Madlands for several minutes. Almonihah quickly returned to the other side of the Line, but not before he started thinking.

The Rangers had few tales of what went on in the Madlands—just what Falloen Surebow had learned in his time crossing them so many years ago, combined with a few observations from Rangers on the edges. They knew that normal animals that wandered south eventually came back north as twisted monstrosities. They knew that there was something… wrong about the very air and ground in the Madlands. Beyond that, there were just the stories from Falloen, about how, deep in the Madlands, even the land under your feet changed from stone to dirt to water.

So Almonihah started straying over the line sometimes. He never went far, and certainly never ate or slept on the other side of the Line, but he explored around a little. He still couldn’t figure out just what was different in the Madlands, just that something was subtly… wrong.

It had been winter once when Almonihah started to feel the fatigue setting in. Being constantly on edge like this took its toll, even for someone used to being watchful. The next time the courier came by, Almonihah asked for a relief. This was exactly why there were always a few Rangers around the Headquarters—no one could stay on the Line forever. It just wore you down.

It was about a month before another Ranger came to relieve Almonihah. The half-dragon was glad enough for the break by then. He’d had a couple of close calls that shouldn’t have been as close as they had been.

Traveling back to the Headquarters was uneventful. He reported to Imlloen when he got back. After the report, Imlloen asked him what he planned to do now.

“Not sure,” the half-dragon replied. “Guess I’ll stay here for a while ‘nd figure out.”

*****

Gasp! Another post! Amazing, isn’t it?

Anyway, this is a bit shorter of a post, but it sets things up for the next chapter, which is an important one. And then the chapter after that, Almonihah finally meets Zakhin’Dakh, and that will be a lot of fun.

Chapter 15-5

The quartermaster gave Almonihah’s new armor on odd look, but other than that just gave him the equipment he asked for. More arrows, a leather shirt to go over his armor, a new pack, waterskin, a few other little necessities. He also picked up a new sword, a plain, serviceable blade, to replace the one he’d left with the Griffon Tribe. Then, once he felt ready, he set off to his post.

It took three days to reach the general area he was supposed to watch. It was a pass in the mountains that edged this part of the Madlands, high enough to be only warm instead of hot, even this far south. An important post, where many of the Javni’Tolkhrah who were wandering north would go. That was probably how Lonan had died… if the Javni’Tolkhrah were more active than usual this year, this area would have been hit hard. Of course, it was quiet right now…

Almonihah narrowed his eyes. It was too quiet. There weren’t even the normal animal noises he’d expect in a wooded area like this.

Slowly, he pulled out his bow and knocked an arrow. Then the half-dragon cautiously advanced, his senses alert for the slightest hint of trouble. His first hint was the softest hint of a sound, so quiet it was barely there. Almonihah gave no sign he heard it save for a slow rotation of his head.

There it was. A flash of movement seen out of the corner of his eye. The thing was stalking him. Almonihah held still, and so did it. He slowly pulled back on his bow. Then suddenly he snapped erect and fired off an arrow at the same moment the creature jumped at him.

He didn’t quite get out of its way in time, and grunted a bit as he felt the impact on his shoulder. He was able to twist away instead of getting knocked over, however, and drew Zithrandrak as he turned to face the beast. He soon saw there was no need. The Javni’Tolkhrah, which he now saw was some sort of giant wolf-thing with a scorpion tail and huge claws on its feet, was twitching on the ground, an arrow buried in its eye. Faint wisps of steam rose from the socket, a testament to the powerful magic the bow had bestowed on the arrow. Just to be sure, Almonihah stabbed Zithrandrak through the thing’s head. It stopped twitching.

That done, Almonihah slowly searched around the area in case there were other Javni’Tolkhrah around. He doubted it, but it was better to be cautious than dead. He didn’t see any signs of other monsters, but he did stumble across an old campsite. Following some tracks from the camp led him to Lonan… or what was left of him.

One glance was enough to tell him it wasn’t the wolf-thing that had gotten to him. The kill was old, but no scavengers had dared touch him with the taint of Jivenesh about. Even decay seemed slow to set in. The tracks gave away the time, however—more than a week, if Zrathanzon had taught him anything about reading such things. What was clear, however, was that it was a much larger beast that had killed the other Ranger. From the tracks, Almonihah could tell it had gone north… of course.

The half-dragon frowned. He was faced with a dilemma here. There was an obviously powerful Javni’Tolkhrah headed north. It had at least a week’s head start on him. He had little doubt he could catch up in time, but it would take him away from the Line…

Almonihah sighed. He had to stay here. Whatever that creature did, it would be worse if this pass was open for another three weeks or however long it would take him to hunt it down and then get back. All kinds of Javni’Tolkhrah could slip through in that time. He’d just have to hope another Ranger got to it before it managed to find its way into populated lands. At least it was loose in the Lost Sea area instead of Khinet.

The half-dragon growled a bit in frustration as he turned back south. He couldn’t worry about that now. His job was to make sure nothing else got through.

******

Well, I finally posted again! Sorry it’s been so long. I plan on posting a fair amount over Christmas break, here. Maybe not enough to make up for lost time, but at least enough to finish up this (long) chapter.