Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fog of War

The fog was thick there. Denser than anywhere else. After about two meters everything was white. I smelled the girl from a mile away. Blood, sweat, tears and infection. She was hurt pretty badly. I found her lying in a hollowed out tree. It was a great beast of a thing. Hollow to the top and covered with jagged branches. It had long since died. The floor was covered in a soft green moss.
She stirred slightly when I approached even though my footsteps were silenced by the moss and many years of careful stepping. She wore a silver mail shirt. The mail was undamaged but the leather jerkin that covered it was torn to ribbons. Her left forearm had a wicked gash in it. The blood had stopped but the skin was red, a sign of infection. Or poison.
She had a shallow scrape on her forehead and she was terribly disheveled. Her long brown hair fell down over her shoulders. Even in her ghastly state I knew that she was beautiful. A long scabbard attached to her belt was empty. She clutched a dagger in her right hand. Beside her lay a leather bound journal and a pencil.
I touched her forehead. She was feverish. The moss was cool and moist so I tore off a chunk and pressed it to her head. Her eyes opened briefly but then rolled back. Her lips were parched so I gave her a sip from my canteen.
I watched her for hours. Darkness descended in the forest quickly. I lit a fire. It was a little smoky but the tall hollow tree acted as a chimney. I grew curious about the journal. Finally I picked it up and read by the fire light.

The Journal of Melafair

Day 1

The Elders have sent me alone into the fog. My mission is simple; find a way to stop the irrepressible fog from enveloping our village. What is not so simple is why they sent me. I am Fellville’s first female hunter. In 300 years there has not been a female hunter. I was not the first to want it, but I was the first whose father gave permission. He was of course reluctant because of the inherent danger. Finally he relented. He’s a sucker for puppy dog eyes.
I was trained by Yerdast, Fellville’s greatest hunter. He was a wonderful mentor. He sheltered me from the Elders. They were against my appointment. Mainly it was Dordivoc who opposed me. Misogynist. The other Elders all follow him like he’s some sort of god. His family is the richest and most influential.
The fog has surrounded our village for longer than I’ve lived. I’m told many hundreds of years ago there was no fog at all. People moved from village to village unhindered. Felville was part of a great nation called Draord. Then the fog came. It was small in the beginning but it grew, very slowly. At first it was simply a strange phenomenon. Soon people began to disappear in the fog. As the fog grew villages became cut off. No one wanted to risk the fog.
Felville becomes smaller every year but before today the Elders never sent anyone into the fog. So here I am gathering the last of my things. They told me they consulted the stars, that the stars chose me to free them. Part of me wants to fail just to prove them wrong.

Day 2

What a send off. I almost thought the Elders were going to kick me out for all the warmth they showed me. I shouldn’t be surprised. At least my family came. Dad was somber. Mom cried and begged me not to go. Dael gave me a nice green stone for luck. I love my little brother.
I can’t see five meters in front of me but that doesn’t bother me as much as not being able to see the sky. It gets darker at night and it stays that way for longer. At least I have my fire. The fire and the fog fight each other. The darkness is oppressive. I feel as though someone is always watching me here.
Today I came across Suther’s farm. It’s been lost to the fog for ten years. Suther refused to leave it. Nobody ever knew what happened to him. Somebody robbed the place; that much is clear. There was no sign of Suther.

Day 3

Just as the forest has gone on unmindful of the fog, so have the animals it would seem. I encountered two wolves today. They had no interest in me and ran off when they spotted me. Yerdast trained me well. It’s a wonder I got close enough for them to see me. Maybe the fog affects their sense of smell.
I came upon a cross roads at noon. The Elders said to keep north so I did. I noticed human tracks here. Bandits? It makes me wonder if all along the disappearances were related to brigands and cut throats. Still, I feel eyes on my back.

Day 4

I’ve grown bolder. Perhaps it is because I feel as though I’m constantly in danger. I noticed an over grown footpath to the side of the road and decided to investigate. As I went along I thought I heard humming. I came across a small castle. At least I think that is what it was. There are not castles in Felville.
It was run down, over grown by vines, but still standing. The door was heavy wood. The hinges creaked as I pushed it open. It was dark inside but there was enough light to see by. The fog stayed outside. The place was empty except for a few scattered pieces of broken furniture. I looked around for a few minutes and decided to leave.
That is when I found the trap door, the hard way. The rotted wood gave way beneath me. A splinter cut me across the forehead but I managed to catch the ledge before I plunged to my death. Luckily there was a functional ladder which I used to push myself up.
I made a torch from a chair leg and stuck it through the opening. It was magnificent. Sitting in the dank dusty cellar was a silver chain shirt. I descended the ladder slowly, testing each rung carefully. To my surprise the vest was made for a woman. I put it on. It was a perfect fit. The metal was light. Lighter than my dagger. That is when I saw the sword in its scabbard. Yerdast taught me to use a dagger, spear and bow. The short sword isn’t so different from a dagger. I took the sword too.

Day 5

Someone or something is following me. I heard them. I left the road to see if they were just following the path but that didn’t shake them. It’s like they can see through the fog. When I stop they stop. I’m constantly on edge. They could attack at any moment.
I hid in a tree for hours. When I got down I could still hear them following me.

Day 6

I don’t know if I will live through the night. He finally came at me. I had lain down to sleep, with one eye open. He took the bait and I was ready for him. I was not ready for what I saw though.
It wasn’t human. It wasn’t natural. It stood seven feet tall though it was hunched. Its skin was hard like an insect and black like coal. Its eyes were large and insect like but red like the flames of my fire. In place of a face he had a beak. His limbs were insect like as well with sharp hooks where there should have been hands and feet. I froze with fear but instinct and training forced me to action.
Luckily I surprised him. He thought I was sleeping. I hurled my spear with all my force. It stuck him in the shoulder and pierced his armored skin. He cried out in pain. Part human, part bird cry. Then he rushed me. I pulled the sword and managed to deflect one of his claws with it but his strength was incredible and the blow sent the sword flying into the fog.
With the other hook he gashed my arm. I cried out in pain and fell back as he collided with me. He rained down blows on me with those terrible claws. My new vest saved me. It was impenetrable. Though he hit with such force that the wind was knocked from my lungs.
I gathered my remaining strength and grabbed hold of the haft of my spear which was still embedded in his shoulder. I wrenched it violently and twisted. The creature lurched back, crying out in pain again. The spear came free and I rolled clear of him, still clutching my spear.
He was more wary of me now and he advanced on me slowly. I could feel the wound in my arm throbbing but I pushed the pain to the back of my mind. I knew I might become woozy from the blood loss and that would be my undoing. Instead of backing away I advanced on him. He was hurt too. I moved around to his left, the wounded shoulder, and lunged with the spear. He tried in vain to block my attack but his shoulder was too badly injured.
My blow rang true. It cut him deep under the arm. He howled and came around with his other arm. I ducked it narrowly and plunged the spear again, this time into his abdomen. By now black blood was everywhere and finally the creature fell to its knees.
Exhausted, I write this final chapter, in hopes that some one will take up my quest. My one solace is that the stars were wrong.

In the morning the girl awoke.
“Who are you?” she said.
“My name is Rodan,” I told her.
“You read my journal,” it wasn’t a question.
“My apologies Melafair, my curiosity overcame me.”
“No harm done,” she smiled, “how did you find me?”
“Your scent,” I answered.
“The wolves smell nothing in the fog and you can?”
“I can tell you are a smart girl.”
“The fog moves away from you,” she was demanding an explanation.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my fog stone.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
“It’s my prized possession.”
“What is it?” she asked.
“I call it a fog stone. I don’t know how it works. I took it from a bandit who tried to slit my throat.”
“Well, you know my story, tell me yours.”
“Mine is not much different from yours. I hail from Dunville. It is east of here. It’s been three months. I was chosen by the stars, like you, to find a way to stop the fog.”
“It sounds like you are leaving a lot out. But since you probably saved my life I trust you.”

Day 7

I am still apprehensive of Rodan but I suppose I should trust him. My arm still hurts but the swelling has gone down and my fever has passed.
We left the forest this afternoon and are headed north along the road again. Rodan hasn’t been this way either and I have begun to suspect that the Elders had no idea which way I should go. They just wanted me to head in one direction to get me as far away as possible.
Something strange has happened. I noticed Rodan’s pocket was glowing. It was his fog stone. He says it’s never done this before. For hours it seemed to grow slowly brighter. Then it started to dim. I suggested we move to the west and the brightness began to increase once again. It must be a beacon. Tomorrow we go west.

Day 8

Elation and fear. We found something; a tall chimney spewing fog into the air. There were well lain traps all around it. Thankfully they had been sprung by several other hapless adventurers. Their bones lay strewn about the area. Some crushed, some charred by fire, but none of them touched by the sun.
After a great deal of searching we found a stone wall embedded in the back of a nearby hill. It was shaped like a door but there was no handle or lock apparent. After inspecting the door for a moment I noticed a small notch in the center. Its shape was familiar. I took the fog stone and held it up to the notch. It was a perfect fit. I pushed the stone into the small hole and immediately the stone began to glow brighter than ever. Slowly the slab of stone began to move to the left to reveal a dark tunnel leading into the hill.
Beyond the door we found a small underground complex. We lit torches and descended into the hillside. It had long since been abandoned. The first room appeared to be a guard post where soldiers could watch against intruders. Beyond that room were several halls that lead to sleeping quarters for soldiers and a separate room for an officer. There was a simple bed and a dresser in one corner and a large wooden desk in the other. We searched the desk thoroughly and discovered papers in the top drawer. They were orders. Military orders. From a man named General Veeren, from a nation called Adilan.
They mention reports of strange creatures in the night but encourage the recipients to continue guarding the fog stack. It also reports that the siege of Andilos, capital of Draord goes well. This last haunts me. Have my people lived in desolation and isolation for a millennium because of a failed war? Or did the war succeed? But then why did they leave the fog going? Why didn’t they come to Felville? If there are more like the creature I fought perhaps they are the cause.
Finally, we found a control room. Strange magics are at work here. We simply had to twist a knob to cut the flow of fog. The fog began to dissipate immediately but it still covers the sky, impairs our vision. There are surely more of these fog stacks.
Rodan has proven to be a capable hunter. He is no Yerdast but I trust him now. Besides, he’s cute.

We return to Dunville. From what Mela has told me her village is small. They have no scholars, no books of old. Dunville houses a small library as well as a number of wise people. Perhaps they will have more answers.

Day 12

Dunville is ten times the size of Felville. It is beautiful. They have a stone fountain. I played in the water. I haven’t felt joy like that since I left my home. I miss my family.
Rodan talked to his Elders. They are called the town council. They forbid us access to the library. They wouldn’t say why and they took the documents we found and ordered him to return to the fog to find more fog stacks. They were glad to hear we had found one, but they grew angry when he mentioned the orders.
I am somewhat of a puzzle to the council. I am the first stranger here in 500 years. Some of them fear me. They fear the unknown. I think that they think I know something. They certainly were surprised to learn of the mail shirt I found. They came just shy of demanding I hand it over. Until I told them that I killed the creature. The fact that they know about those things worries me. The townspeople are in awe of me. They call me a beast slayer. They were as ignorant of the creature as I was.

Day 14

Rodan and I broke into the library. It was rash but we both agreed that it was necessary. I’m starting to like the man. He’s got guts.
We found something that deeply saddens me; more military orders. General Veeren ordered his men to abandon their posts and go to the towns to blend in and take over. He sites the creatures as the reason. They only travel in the fog.
It also says they should bury fog stones along the outskirts of each town. Could my town Elders be descendents of these men, still carrying out these orders? I am furious.

Mela is furious. She’s beautiful when she paces. We had to flee Dunville. The council would know it was we who broke into the library. I can’t go back. I don’t care. I never felt a part of it. I’m a lonewolf. At least I was before I met Mela. She has tamed me. I am hers to command. I won’t tell her that though. Not yet.
We are headed towards Felville. Mela is leading the way. It’s a refreshing change. I’m not used to it. It is hard to follow when you’ve been working alone your whole life.
Mela is brooding. Despite her anger towards her village elders I can tell she loves Felville’s people. She fears what she will find there, and who will be on her side when the dust settles. She is conflicted. She won’t talk about her plans.
“What’s on your mind, Rodan?” she asks me.
“You are, dear,” I say, smiling sardonically.
“You look worried.”
“I feel as though I’m walking into a bear den with a steak tied around my neck.”
“So do I,” she sighed, “luckily, I am a bear as well.”
We walked on in silence for several minutes, her stress plain on her face. Finally she said, “We will go in at night. If we have to confront them without more proof they will have the advantage and time to hide evidence.”
I nod and wait for more.
“The Elders hold meetings in the city hall. Unfortunately it is dead center of town. There is a night watchman who roams the streets, always a hunter. We will have to be quick and silent to avoid him.”
“How will we get inside?” I ask, fearing the answer.
“The roof, we can scale the drain pipe. There is a trap door up there.”


Home at last. It has been too long. I’ve never been away before. No one has. We waited until night to go in. We were lucky Yerdast wasn’t the watchman. It was his new apprentice, Garl. The boy isn’t as bright as a hunter should be.
Scaling the pipe wasn’t as easy as I’d expected. The fittings were loose. I wasn’t sure it would hold. It was too risky but Rodan is smart. He put his knee out and interlaced his fingers. I took the hint and put my foot on his hands. He pushed me up and I grabbed the ledge and pulled myself up onto the roof. Good thing for all those pull ups. I watch as Rodan fades into the dark.
The darkness was suffocating. The lantern light doesn’t reach up there. I moved with confidence though, feeling around for the latch. After a minute I found it. I gave it a tentative pull to test it for sound. Nothing. The drop to the floor is a short one. I landed nearly soundlessly. Next came the hard part; finding evidence in the dark. The lantern light shone through the windows, giving me enough light to make out shapes. I spotted a candle, the wick soaked with natural gas. Next to it was a flint. I placed the candle on the floor and lit it. I rifled through the papers in the desk but nothing looked like the ancient papers that I found in Dunville. At last, in the bottom drawer I found a false bottom.
It was what I was looking for, orders for Alder Merintok. Dordivoc’s ancient relative. My world came crashing in on me. I hated him but never in my wildest dreams did I think he was my enemy. My conqueror. What if he had never known of this false bottom? Even if he did he could lie about it. Claim ignorance. I needed more proof. I rolled up the ancient parchment and closed the drawer. The parchment I placed in my bag. I blew out the candle, leaped to the ledge and pulled myself back onto the roof.
Back on the ground I scanned the area for Rodan but he was as invisible as my proof. Then I saw Garl and I began to lay the framework for the final confrontation.

Mela’s plan was risky but brilliant. Isn’t that always the way? She decided to do it now, rather than wait for morning. First we went to her home. Her reunion with her family was warming. For the first time I regretted being a lonewolf. She told them every part of her journey. It was painful for them to hear, especially her father. He was next in line to become an Elder. He was close to people who were Elders.
They welcomed me with open arms. I’m unaccustomed to such treatment.
Jaspar, her father, is a strong willed man. Raylene, her mother, is his voice of reason. In the end it was she who convinced him to allow Mela to confront Dordivoc. Not that she needed his permission, but she did need his support.
We marched to Dordivoc’s home, torches in hand. Garl was nowhere to be seen. Jaspar pounded authoritatively on the metal knocker. After a minute we heard the grumblings of an old man recently woken from a peaceful slumber.
The door opened wide. Dordivoc was there holding a lantern. His eyes took in the scene. He looked me up and down and quirked an eyebrow at me.
“What was so important that…”
“Mela has returned,” Jaspar interrupted him as if Dordivoc couldn’t see her standing there.
“I know what is causing the fog,” Mela said confidently, stepping forward, “and I know who and why it’s here.”
“You do, do you?” His expression was unreadable but he was scanning our eyes for signs of accusation. We gave him nothing to go on.
Lights began to come on all over the village. People were coming out of their homes. Mela began to tell her tale and they listened intently. Every ear was on her but their eyes were on me. A stranger is unheard of.
As she got to the end of her story there was a shout. The crowd parted, allowing Garl into the center. He was holding a blade to the back of a middle aged man. Garl had a look of triumph on his face. Mela nodded to him knowingly. Her trap was sprung.
“I caught him going through the bottom drawer of the desk,” Garl says, “just like you said he would Mela.”
“What have you done?” Dordivoc yells at the man. Looking at the two I quickly realized the prisoner was his son, Mradic.
“He was carrying this,” Garl said, tossing a stone to Mela.
She caught it gingerly and held it in the light.
“A fog stone,” she said, “it protects you from the fog.”
There was a moment of shocked awe that rippled through the crowd.
“I’m sure there is a simple explanation for this,” Dordivoc protested.
“I was only…” Mradic began but he was quickly interrupted by Mela.
“You were only trying to make preparations to dispose of this,” she said, holding up the orders. “You’ve known all along the reason for the fog. Your people made it.”
I could see that the fight had been drained from Dordivoc.
“It’s true,” he said resignedly.

Final Entry

There is peace in Felville. Dordivoc and Mradic resigned as Elders. They were the only ones left living who knew about the fog. Even Mradic’s son was oblivious. They surrendered many of their family holdings as reconciliation. They had hundreds of Fog stones in reserves. It’s only a matter of time before we can take down the Fog.
After a thousand years I am doubtful the armies of our neighbor are planning an invasion. We have only the problem of informing the people of our nation of the reason for our enslavement and isolation. We must be weary of the creatures but now that we have the fog stones I think we will be safe.
Rodan has joined the hunter’s guild in Felville to my extreme satisfaction. He is mine now. We have a long journey ahead of us but at least we will take it together.

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