Strangers on the Plain

Posted: May 10, 2016 in Fantasy, Fiction, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

This week’s Chuck Wending Challenge was to use a random image and use that as the basis of a story. Here’s what I came up with.

Image is by Mircea Marinescu.

(As always, comments are welcome and appreciated).

The wind whips over the plain as crows caw to each other. The air smells of dust as Kargen rides across the scrub. A solitary twisted tree claws up from the hard packed earth.

His stomach growls as he kicks his heels against his horse’s flanks. He thinks about the rations he’s got left in his pack, realizes he’s going to have to be careful with them. He reckons he’s got another week or so hard riding before he sees anything resembling a town.

Staring out toward the horizon, he sees a dust cloud. He blinks, rubs his eyes, stares harder. He wonders what fools are out here in the badlands, a smile stretching his fanged mouth open as he figures he can count himself one of those fools. Still, they might have supplies to trade, and traveling in a group is safer than not most of the time.

Distances on the lain are deceiving, and its past nightfall before Kargen makes the camp. His eyes, sharper at night than a human’s, picks out the covered wagon and the oxen. His nose fills with the stench of people cramped together for too long. He rides up easy, hands held up, well away from the axe slung on his saddle.

A young man, face scarred by acne, holds a crossbow, its quarrel knocked. He has the good sense to keep it pointed away from Kargen.

“Who goes there?” the youth’s voice is higher pitched than Kargen would have expected. A female. Not that it makes much difference.

“Name’s Kargen.” He works his mouth around the human language, unfamiliar to him after long weeks alone.

“You alone?” the girl asks, peering past him as if the hard packed dirt might be concealing a war party.

Kargen nods. “Other than my horse.”

The girl snorts. “Hey Ma!” she calls over her shoulder. “We got company!”

A woman emerges from behind the wagon, two small children hanging back behind her skirts. She holds a spear in her hand, the fire light gleaming off the metal head. “Garrul.” She hawks and spits on the ground.

Kargen smiles, careful to keep his lips closed. “Just the one,” he says. “Was wondering if I might sit by your fire for a time?”

The woman stares at him, hard blue eyes calculating. The girl with the crossbow shifts, nervous, but the young children watch him with open interest.  “You’ve got coin?”

Kargen’s smile fades. “A bit.”

“You can pay then. We’ve got some food, but not enough we can give it away.”

Kargen nods. With deliberate movements, he opens his pouch, fishes out a few small silver coins. More than enough for a comfortable room in an inn. “This okay?”

The woman’s mouth twitches up in what might be a long out of practice smile. “It’ll do. You can hobble your horse there. We’ve got some oats as well. Don’t have anything strong than water to drink though.”

“That’s fine,” Kargen replies. He slips off his horse, stretches his back out. After so long in the saddle, it feels strange to be on his feet.

“Where’s your menfolk?”

The woman gives Kargen a hard look. “Left him. Not that it’s any of your business.”

Kargen holds his hands up, palms out. “Didn’t mean anything by it,” he says. “Don’t see many women out here on the plain is all.”

The woman nods. “Don’t I know it. Seemed a good place to get a new start.” She stares hard at Kargen. “What’s a beast man doing out here away from his band? Scouting out a settlement to raid?”

Kargen winces as he takes his waterskin off his saddle. “I’m not with any band. And definitely not looking to raid anything. Headed toward Zenith.” He points toward the south, the direction the woman and her family are traveling.

The woman’s eyes narrow. “Didn’t know they’d let one of your kind into the settlement.”

Kargen swallows some of the water. “If we’ve got coin to spend. Or goods to trade. Or they’re looking for some extra muscle.”

The woman sniffs. “Guess there’s always a need for someone who can swing an axe.”

Kargen nods. “Sad state of the world.”

They settleddown around the fire. The quality of their rations aren’t much better than what Kargen had, but there’s more than enough for everyone. The children eat mechanically, slowly opening and closing their mouths around the food.

With the meal over and the children moved into the wagon, the woman pulls Kargen over. “I expect you take a turn on watch.”

Kargen works spit into his mouth. He thinks about pointing out the coins he’s already paid her, but thinks better of it. “All right.”

“And I expect you to keep your dirty paws to yourself.”

Kargen raises one bushy eyebrow but decides it’s better not to mention that the woman is as dirty as he is. “I’ll take first watch then.”

The hours pass by uneventful but for the howling of the wind. He wakes the girl when it is her turn. She startles awake, hand going for her knife before she remembers who he is. He expects there could be worse reactions. He settles down in his blankets, clutching them tight against the constant wind.

He opens his eyes, startled awake. He’s standing, ax already in his hand before he realizes why. The woman is screaming. There’s the terrible sound of beating wings. Looking up, he sees the stars blacked out, a huge form interposing itself between. He hears the click of the crossbow and the bolt strikes the creature. Kargen charges, a wordless scream ripping from his throat. He swings the ax hard where he thinks the creature is, feels the shock as it cleaves through scales, muscle and bone. The winged demon screeches, buffets KArgen with its wings. He feels its teeth on his shoulder, biting deep, and he howls in pain.

Then nothing, as it pulls off of him, writhing and twisting back on itself. Kargen stumbles to his feet, blinks as he sees that it has a spear run through it, the woman holding on to the other end. The bolt from the crossbow sticks out of its neck. Kargen steps forward, times his blow, and the creature is still. It is a beast the like of which Kargen has never seen. Scaled and winged, with long jaws full of needle-like teeth. Its appendages end in long hooked claws. KArgen wonders what old sorcery belched forth such a monster.

“You all right?” the woman asks.

Kargen touches his shoulder winces when his hand comes away wet and sticky. “It took a bite out of me.”

The woman guides him toward the wagon. “Best we take a look at it.

“My name is Kyra.”

“Kargen.”

“Petra, watch the camp. We’ll be moving on come daylight.”

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Comments
  1. Love to see more to this story. It’s got a different feel from your other work but a lot of potential for depth.

  2. moteridgerider says:

    I liked the western feel to this, then the winged beast thing happened at the end – and I liked it even more. The odd bit of punctuation cleanup needed, but the dialogue made this story. Dark humour and terse phrases, I’m always a sucker for those ingredients. Nice interpretation of the photograph.

  3. I’ll admit I rewatched “The Magnificent Seven” this weekend and was using that as a small bit of inspiration, especially the way information is conveyed with minimal dialogue and it works! (That and Westerns are a guilty pleasure of mine).

  4. This is a great start, I want more.

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