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LMS VI: The Lost Dragon



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Tue Nov 08, 2022 10:44 am
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soundofmind says...



Spoiler! :
Gregor had pulled out his whip, and so had the other men as they began to whistle and shout at the cows to move faster. It looked like the cows were spilling down the hill as they began to moo and push closer together.

She hung back, riding Billy slowly down the hill from the top. Billy's ears were flicking around, alert and ready. Clandestine's eyes drifted across the hills before they found Matt at the back of the herd. Giving Billy a push forward, she hurried to catch up with him.

"Is everything alright?" Matt asked as she rode up beside him.

Clandestine sat tall on her horse, scanning the area around them as if her head was on a constant rotation.

"I'm not sure," she said, trying to be honest and realistic. "I'm just trying to be careful."

Matt was quiet for a beat.

"Did you see anything?" he asked.

"Sand worm tunnels," Clandestine. "Or that's what it looks like."

Another beat, and the sound of panicked hoof-beats and disgruntled cows filled the brief silence.

"Sand worms," Matt said slowly. "All the way out here?"

"They're called sand worms," Clandestine said. "But they don't just live in sand."

That was the thing about monsters. You drove them out of one place, they just went to another. That was why the world needed monster hunters. Ideally, they'd take the monsters out so they would never return, so long as it was possible.

Matt only hummed in reply, and then he went quiet. One quick glance his way revealed that he too was on high alert and seemed to be trying to push the cows to go even faster.

Maybe a minute passed.

The hill was long, and it felt even longer while she watched the cows clamber down it at a painfully slow pace. Even with the ranchers pushing them on all sides with every sense of hurry they could muster, the cows didn't seem to understand the severity of the situation.

Then again, how were you supposed to explain something like that to a cow?

Clandestine looked behind them again for the dozenth time, and she stared when she saw a small flock of flying boar flutter into the air with the same nervous, skittish energy of a flock of birds that had been spooked.

Thing was, flying boars weren't that skittish. It something scared them, it was something big.

That was not good news.

The boars started heading northwest, up and away from the area Gregor had led them around. Faintly, she could hear their high-pitched squeals as they fled.

"Can't we get these cows moving any faster?" Clandestine asked, shooting a tense look to Matt.

He glanced back, pressing his lips into a line.

"We can try," he said. "But cows aren't that fast."

Clandestine knew that, but she was hoping for a different answer. Cows couldn't keep up with horses at full speed, and in passing, she wondered if that was where the word cowpoke came from. Because cows were slowpokes.

She sighed to herself, noting that the herd was getting more antsy. Some of the cows were starting to speed up this time, but seemingly on their own, and without prompt. But their increase in speed was accompanied by others slowing down, both looking nervous and seconds away from trying to scatter.

It reminded her of how they looked that morning, actually.

Uneasy.

"We really should--" she began to urge.

There were tremors in the ground beneath them. At first, they felt distant, and deep. But they were getting closer.

"Go!" Clandestine shouted. "Gregor! Blaze on ahead!"

Unquestioning, Gregor let out a loud yell and cracked his whip.

Now very alarmed, the cows really started to make a run for it. If it weren't for the cowboys on each side of the herd, it would easily have turned into a stampede.

Clandestine rode behind them, trying to find the source of the tremors. When the wormlets came closer to the surface, she'd see the earth begin to crack and warp, either sinking in or jutting out. But it seemed they were still too deep for it to show up above.

The cows were spilling into the valley between the hills. In the crook where the two hills met, there was a small, spindly little tree, likely having grown there because the water flowed down to it. Before the cows could reach it to trample it over, she watched as it started to shift.

First, it shook. Then, it fell over, completely uprooted. Dust came up as the earth moved around it like a low wave, rippling out and coming forward to meet the herd. The rumbling, once low, and deep in the earth, was now loud and unnerving.

The horses began to neigh in alarm, and Percy's horse looked like it was about rear up and kick him off.

Elliot, however, seemed to keep his calm. Aside from anxious flicking of his ears, he didn't flinch.

Odd. She'd only ever seen Billy be that calm when there were literal giant worms about to attack.

With no time to waste wondering what kind of horrors Elliot might've seen, she reached into her oversized jacket with one hand and pulled out the shotgun she had hidden on her back. She held Billy's reins steadily in her other hand as she hurried ahead, riding past the herd as Gregor pulled it once again to the side in a too-late attempt to avoid confrontation with the sand worms.

Holding onto the saddle firmly with her thighs, she freed her hands and cocked the gun, tracing the dusty trail with the tip of its barrel.

"Leave this to me!" she shouted.

She came around the front of the herd, running just ahead of the worm's plume of dust.

It seemed that the worm was following the herd, but its path wasn't direct.

"And let the cows panic! We can use the noise!"

[..need to put more here lol..]

Not sure if Matt was just stupid, reckless, or more competent at monster hunting than he appeared, Clandestine didn't feel like wasting time having to explain to him why that was a bad idea.


wc: 1027
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

  





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Thu Nov 17, 2022 7:39 am
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soundofmind says...



Spoiler! :
"Focus on the cows!" she shouted. "Cow boy!"

She might've congratulated herself on the little quip when Matt listened and veered to the side, but the plume of dust also changed course. Towards him.

Of course. He was the furthest thing from the herd now. The easiest thing to see.

Cursing under her breath, she wheeled Billy around, heart pounding.

Just as she aimed her gun, the earth behind Matt began to cave in and push out. Finally, the worm showed itself.

It was juvenile, but regardless, it was still the width of at least five or six men standing side-by-side. Its skin was a pinkish-brown, and there was a muddy slime that coated it, coagulating in its folds.

It unearthed with its mouth flayed open like four petals of a flower, peeling away to reveal rows and rows of dirt-brown, needle-like teeth. Spit or slime (she didn't know which) sputtered from its mouth onto the ground. Without hesitation, she fired right into its open maw. 

Bam! Shk. Bam!

The worm let out an eerie, airy hiss as it rapidly withdrew back undergroud, gone as quickly as it came. As it retreated, the rumbling returned, and the tremors felt deep, and it was impossible to tell how far underground the worm had gone, or how long it was. Still, the rumbling persisted.

Either it was very, very long, or there was more than one worm.


Finally, the cows had started making some distance, but the rumbling was still following in their direction. Ahead, she could see Matt had caught up to the back of the herd.

She rode to follow, gun trained on the earth the moment she saw it begin to crack and give way. A portion of the worm broke the surface, arching up like a snake, weaving in and out of the earth. 

Bam!

It connected.

Bam!

The worm wriggled underground again, and the shot merely hit the dust. The prairie grass was torn apart, and piles and sink-holes of dirt followed in the worm's wake. Clandestine rode parallel to its path.

It surfaced once more, this time poking out its head again.

The second it was fully visible, she shot it again, this time in the back of the head (though where its head started and ended was indeterminable). She only got one shot at it before it slid back down into the earth with a screech and the rumbling began to recede.

It was going deeper this time.

If it wasn't travelling parallely to the surface, she wouldn't be able to predict where it'd surface again based on its path.

Smart, for a worm. She hated smart worms.

Scanning the area around them constantly, she followed just a little behind the herd, ready to shoot. Billy kept the pace behind the herd, just a few horse-lengths behind Matt and Elliot, who stayed at the back of the herd of noisy, nervous cows.

It was contained chaos. The only thing keeping the cows from scattering were the cowboys riding on either end whipping, yipping, and keeping them in line. 

They'd run sideways up the next hill. The path of broken earth the worm left behind made it obvious, along with the well-trampled prairie grass from the herd. She had a feeling the worm wasn't going to stick to its pre-formed tunnels and would happily follow them further, from one hill to the next.

That was the annoying thing about sandworms. There was nowhere to hide from them. Even when you were still, they could sense through the earth where things were.

Part of Clandestine was convinced that sandworms must have had some kind of earth magic to accomplish that.

Then, the rumbling came suddenly.

It was ahead of her, and it felt like it was centered again towards the herd this time.

"Hyah!" she shouted, urging Billy forward.

But she couldn't move fast enough. The worm erupted from the earth like the world's largest groundhog near the back of the herd. The ground around the cows gave way and caused some of them to stumble until the earth was pushed out with the worm's head, and they fell and rolled to the sides, scrambling to their feet in terror.

Elliot and Matt nearly ran into it, and Matt pulled on the reins last second, causing Elliot to rear back with a sharp neigh.

She watched as Matt tried to hang onto the saddle but slipped when the worm whipped its head in their direction. As Elliot jolted away, Matt flew to the ground, rolling into the dirt.

Billy was running on course, straight for them. Clandestine's gun was aimed dead center.

She waited a split second as the worm flayed its mouth open.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

Three shots in succession, right into its throat. She knew that this was the same worm she'd been shooting before, because this time, she saw blood sputter out of its mouth, dripping and sputtering over its needle teeth with an oozing red.

Matt, on the ground, was on his feet, running.

Instead of screaming and retreating again, the worm screamed and turned its attention to the nearest moving thing.

Matt.

Billy and Clandestine closed the distance. Clandestine whipped her gun back onto her back and unsheathed her sword at her side.

With a fire in her eyes, she lifted it over her head, speeding towards it.

It reached out after Matt, but simultaneously came within reach of her blade.

She connected, catching on its "neck." She pushed it as deep as she could, thrusting it past its thick layers of fleshy skin, and with Billy's momentum, carried the blade up and through to its head.

Blood sputtered out in big, gushing splashes, getting on her, her sword, and Billy in turn. But when she ripped the sword out, it was through the side of its mouth.

This time, the worm finally seemed weakened. And angry.

It slumped its head to the ground and faltered, and she took the opportunity of hesitation to ride Billy around the other side.

She noticed Matt wasn't far, on the ground somewhere, but she knew she wouldn't be able to help him until this worm was finished.

Just as the worm began to slowly sink backward with a sputtering noise, she caught her sword on the corner of its mouth, where two of its flappy mouth parts connected, and she dug in again. Billy's momentum once again helped her drag the blade through its side, but she had to fight to hold onto the blade and keep it steady. 

The skin was thick, and even though she always kept her blade razor sharp, it resisted. She grit her teeth, growling as she fought to hold onto the hilt and keep the sword ripping through as long as she could.

Her heart was pounding in her chest. She could feel her sweat melding her shirt with her skin, and her muscles straining against the pull.

Then, she noticed the worm stopped moving.

Where the worm met the earth, there was no more worm to stab, so she ripped the sword out, flinging blood onto the ground. 

Breathing heavily, she rode Billy back around to the head, staring at the worm's still, prone body lying heavily against the torn-up, grassy plains.

It laid just at the top of the hill.

How poetic.

wc: 1,232
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

  





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Tue Nov 22, 2022 7:52 am
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soundofmind says...



Spoiler! :
Billy slowed to a canter, then to a trot as she rode him back and forth around the worm, admiring her work. She'd managed to slice through its skin on both sides, and though it wasn't perfectly cut in half, it was, essentially, leaking blood and guts out both sides, and that was enough to tell her that it was, effectively, dead.

When Billy finally slowed to a walk, she hopped off by the worm's head, inspecting it just to be doubly sure.

There wasn't exactly a pulse to check for with a sandworm, but she could feel for breath. With its mouth partially collapsed, all that was leaving the worm's mouth was a trickle of blood, dripping down onto the tousled grass.

Well, this was going to smell like the world's biggest dung pile in a few days. She hoped all of the scavenging beasts would take care of it, though. At least there were plenty of those out in the plains. This would be like a holiday for them - endless worm to consume.

At least, that's what she hoped. The alternative was a giant, rotting worm corpse decomposing in the plains for a long, long time.

Then again, there wasn't much she could do about that. She was hired to kill the beasts, not dispose of them - and it was unrealistic to expect her to know what to do with this one alone.

"Bah," she huffed, turning away from the dead worm.

Billy stood behind her and his ears turned to her attentively at the noise. She smiled softly and reached up to pet the side of his face, brushing away some of the splattered blood around his eye.

"Sorry about that, buddy," she said. "I bet we both look horrifying right now. But not as bad as worm dude."

Wait.

She looked past Billy, frantically searching for Matt. Fortunately, he hadn't gotten that far. He was sitting on the ground a few yards off, and Elliot had circled back around to him (after formerly fleeing). It seemed Elliot was indeed, braver than he looked to even think of returning. Kind of like... a dog.

She'd ask him about his odd horse later. It looked like blood was pouring down Matt's back.

"Come on," she said to Billy, grabbing his reins and leading him on foot with hurried footsteps.

Looking down the hill, she could see the herd of cattle had pooled together at the bottom of the hill. Some of them were still trying to run away, but others looked like they were hobbling along. Gregor, Percy, and Kenneth were circling around them, but it looked like they had their hands full until the cows calmed down a bit.

Gregor's hat turned upward in her direction, and though he was too far to see his expression, she knew he was staring up at the worm. He faltered a little in his hold on his reins.

There was a beat of silence before he shouted.

"Is it dead?"

Ah, yes. The most important question.

"Yeah!" she shouted back. "Super dead!"

She waved her sword as a small show of victory and then sheathed it at her side, turning her attention to the potentially dying man just a few feet from her.

"Is Matt okay?" Gregor shouted uphill.

Clandestine couldn't quite answer that without doubt yet, but she reached.

"He's hurt but I think he's alright!" she yelled in return.

It wasn't confident, but it seemed like it was enough to put Gregor to peace so he could focus on the herd, which was fine. She'd take care of the mess at the top of the hill while he took care of the mess at the bottom.

She let go of Billy's reins to let him hover closeby and walked up to Matt, finally getting a better look at him. He didn't look to be fully aware of her presence. Slightly turned away, he sat stiffly with one hand on his shoulder, tightly gripping a piece of fabric, holding it against the wound - but it looke like it was just outside of his reach. At least, to put pressure on it.

All the fabric was doing was soaking up blood and obscuring her view of the wound.

Kneeling beside Matt, she gently put her hand over his, knowing he was probably in shock. She didn't expect him to jolt so tensely, but he ripped his hand from hers and leaned away rather violently. His expression, formerly a bit blank and wide-eyed, twisted in pain.

"Sorry," she said, looking at his shoulder as the fabric fell away.

It looked like the worm had nicked him with its teeth.

Of course, a nick from a giant sandworm on a human-sized creature was still a lot. There were dozens of tiny gashes streaking from the top of his shoulder through to the back of his shoulder blade, and knowing the festering cespool sandworms mouths could be, she knew sterilizing it would hurt terribly.

But that would have to come later. At the moment, he was still bleeding uncontrollably.

She got to her feet and quickly ran up to Billy, ripping one of her own shirts out of her saddle bag to sacrifice for the job. Considering this was technically her fault for not killing the worm soon enough, she couldn't help but feel a little guilty he'd gotten hurt in the first place. Of course, she couldn't linger on that.

She hurried back to Matt's side, and he stared at her.

At some point in the chaos, he'd lost his hat. Now, without his face half-covered in shadow, she could see his messy, slightly-greasy hat hair. He had a sort of... mullet-ish thing going on.

She shook her head and kneeled beside him.

"You're covered in blood," Matt said distantly.

"Yeah," Clandestine said. "But it's not mine."

"...Alright."

Matt had taken off his jacket already - bunched up on the ground beside him. His shirt had been shredded to pieces around the bite, and she took the liberty of tearing it a little more to get the fraying pieces of fabric out of the way. Matt didn't object, at least.

"You're bleeding pretty bad," Clandestine said.

"Yeah," Matt said, clearly responding emptily to the obvious. "I'll be fine."

Clandestine huffed through her nose.

"I'm sure you will, tough guy," she teased lightly. "I've got to put pressure on this first, though, to make sure of that. Alright?"

There was a second of hesitation before Matt merely nodded. That was good enough.

Clandestine bunched up her old shirt, knowing it was at least clean, and pressed it down against the oozing wound. Matt's mouth pressed into a line, but he otherwise remained quiet.

And then it was just the two of them. Sitting on the top of the hill while she held his shoulder.

wc: 1,140
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

  





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soundofmind says...



Spoiler! :
She found her eyes lingering on the scars on his neck, though. They were smeared with his own blood, but she could still make them out because of the slightly raised texture, and they weren't thin. Once, they had to have been pretty deep to leave a scar like that.

Pursing her lips together, she wondered if this was a habit of his, or just back luck. It was a leap to just assume, but she couldn't help but wonder. He might not've ended up in this mess if he hadn't tried to join her in fighting the worm in the first place. In doing so, he separated himself enough from the herd for the worm to place him as easy bait, since he wasn't the one the bullets were coming from.

It wouldn't be very nice to tell the wounded man it was his fault he was wounded, but she figured she could bring it up later. Now wasn't the time to berate him.

It was, however, the only time she'd had alone with him without the others within earshot.

Joining Matt in staring down at the cows, she considered it.

Currently, she had the upper hand, in a sense. She was fine, Matt was wounded, and if she brought up the question that had been hanging in the air since she encountered him she was in a good position to get away if needed. The others would be too far and too preoccupied to follow, and if Matt tried to convince them she was a danger, they'd probably just think he was delusional. He'd lost a lot of blood. And even if they believed him, she'd saved their lives, and Greogr seemed too noble a sort to rat out someone who slayed a giant sandworm to save his cows.

Yeah, it was a business agreement, but heroic still. Not that she'd ever say that out loud. She just knew how people talked.

Glancing between the herd and Matt a few times, Clandestine tried to think of a good way to start the conversation.

Hey, so, I'm a mage. You know that, right?

No, that felt too casual for something so life-or-death.

So about magic...

No, too cryptic. Or obvious, depending on what he knew.

Clandestine sighed softly. There was no good way to do this. Maybe she could start with that, though - figuring out what he knew, so she didn't have to keep guessing.

"So," she said, finally breaking the silence. "Yesterday."

It was only yesterday right? Stress made the day feel so long.

"When you ran into me and the windwolves," she continued, looking over to him for a reaction.

He didn't say anything. He just looked at her blankly, waiting for her to finish.

"What exactly did you see?" she asked, trying to not sound as desperate as she felt for an answer.

Matt's response was delayed. For three agonizingly long seconds he stared out past her with eyes unfocused, and she had to clamp her mouth shut to keep herself quiet while she let him think, trying to remember that he had, already, lost quite a bit of blood, and she couldn't blame him for being a bit slow at the moment.

He squinted slightly, almost looking confused. Or just... deep in thought.

"Not much," he said. "Just you leading them with light and seeing them off."

A beat.

"Why?"

That was a valid question, but Clandstine found herself the one lagging behind this time.

So he did see her use magic. He didn't stumble in after. He saw her manipulating the flame. She couldn't pretend he didn't know anymore.

She was right. She was right to be suspicious from the start, and she almost felt relieved that all of that overthinking wasn't done in vain.

Her brows knit together tightly as she looked down at the ground.

"... is everything alright?" Matt asked quietly.

Clandestine blinked.

Wow. She'd forgotten to reply.

Clandestine cleared her throat.

"Oh. Yeah," she said quickly.

Awkwardly, they just stared at each other blankly for a second before Clandestine broke eye contact first. No need to be dramatic about this.

"So," she said again, a little too abrupt. "What are your thoughts on magic, then?"

Matt's confusion, once again delayed, only seemed to increase. His eyebrows drew together and his mouth opened slightly, like he was searching for words. Was he just playing dumb to appease her?

"Magic?" he asked slowly.

Seriously?

"Because I'm a fire mage," Clandestine said with annoyance, because clearly it was obvious.

She didn't know whether to feel bad for him or more annoyed when he stared off to the side, looking deeply confused at first before his eyes widened, like pieces of a puzzle were finally fitting together.

Except, that kind of reaction didn't really match up with what she knew. He said he saw.

"You were--" he started.

"Come on," she interjected. "Don't act like you didn't see--"

Unless...

"You did see me use fire magic, right?" Clandestine said, fiercely meeting his eyes. "Right?"

She didn't just expose herself for no reason?

Matt seemed take off guard.

"I-- well, I saw the fire, but--"

"So you did see?" Clandestine pressed.

"I--"

"You saw me use magic and never thought to mention it? You were just going to leave me in suspense? Do you have any idea how much stress I've been under? How--"

This time, Matt cut in.

"My eyes aren't that great!" he said hastily. "I couldn't tell... that it was magic. All I could make out was a light. I assumed it was just a torch."

Clandestine stared at him.

"You're serious?" she asked flatly.

"Well--"

Clandestine waved her hand in front of his face, trying to gauge a reaction from his eyes. He leaned his face away, scrunching up his face.

"Stop that," he snapped. "It's not that bad. I just need glasses to see far away."

"How do you even manage?" Clandestine asked. "Your whole job is looking at things from a distance."

"I said it's not that bad," Matt emphasized. "Listen, that's not-- about your magic. You were worried about your magic."

"Oh. Right. You're not going to..."

"No," Matt said, letting out a long sigh as he looked away, back down the hill. "I'm not going to turn you in. If you'd have let me finish my sentence, you would know that I have no problem with mages, or magic. Go on and live your life. I won't tell anyone your secret."

Clandestine wasn't really familiar with people's responses to discovering she had magic. She'd heard stories from other people, sure, but only from the surviving side, and that was never the mages.

The only person who knew she had magic was the man who found her all those years ago who helped her get back on her feet, but gods knew where he was now.

He'd been surprised by her magic, but never brought it up besides telling her not to use it anytime they were around others. That told her what she needed to know at the time: it wasn't safe to be seen as a mage, and you had to keep it secret.

Ever since, she hadn't told a soul. Not even Lynette knew.

At least, until now.

Was she lucky? Or was this too good to be true?

She pressed a little harder down on the wound, realizing she'd let up the pressure a bit. Matt tensed.

"How am I supposed to know that you're not some kind of mage hunter in disguise and this is some elaborate trick? Or that you're not just lying so you can gain my trust but you'll rat me out later?" she asked cooly.

"You really think mage hunters would take on the guise of a cowboy hoping they'd just run into a mage out in the middle of nowhere one day while surrounded by cows?" Matt asked.

Clandestine narrowed her eyes.

"When you say it that way, it sounds silly," she admitted. "But you could still be a rat the moment we get to Bone."

Matt sat up a little straighter as he turned to meet her eyes, his expression serious and focused.

"Your worry is warranted," he said, much more gently than before. "And I don't mean to minimize the threats you always have to account for. But you won't have to worry about me."

He took in a deep breath.

"I promise," he said, and he sounded like he meant it. "I won't tell a soul."

Clandestine opened her mouth to object one last time, but he beat her to it.

"I have nothing to gain from turning you in," he said. "And it would be dishonorable to turn in someone who just saved my life."

Well. That... made sense, at least.

Clandestine took a moment to let his words sink in. To decide if she really believed him and was willing to trust him like that.

She surmised, in a way, he'd already trusted her with his life. Granted, he still got hurt, but she took out the worm before it was too late. This was his way of returning the favor, then? Unless if he really meant it when he said he had no problems with mages. 

Maybe she really did get lucky.

"Wow..." she said, not quite sure what to say. "Thanks, Matt."

"Sure," he said. "It's nothing."

"Well, it's not really nothing when some people literally turn on their family members if they find out they have magic. And that's family. You don't even know me," she said.

"And what, needlessly make an enemy?" James asked. "It's what decent people should do. They just don't."

Turns out a lot of people weren't too decent, then. It did, however, cause Clandestine to wonder...

"So... do you have magic, then?" she asked.

wc: 1,649
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

  








"Now I realize that there is no righteous path, it’s just people trying to do their best in a world where it is far too easy to do your worst."
— Castiel