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16+ Violence

The Lost Dragon Chapter 12.1 (LMS VI)

by soundofmind


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.

Chapter 12: Nothing Sadder than Spilled Beans

It was quiet. There was light.

The sun had just begun to reach over the horizon, and as it painted the land with rays of gold, the fullness poured through the shattered windows of the dilapidated ruins. Sweat dripped down the back of James's neck and stuck his clothes to his skin. The summer heat swam in the air with the sour smell of lumshade, and the metallic smell of iron and copper.

James stared down at his blood-soaked hands, and the bloodied sword in them.

Sweat and blood dripped into his mouth, down from his forehead. His vision blurred. The sound of his own panting breaths filled the room, and his heartbeat reverberated in his chest.

At his feet was a woman he didn't know, with a face he didn't recognize.

Descriptions of her spun in his head. Hostile. Dangerous. Tall. Strong. Vicious. Armed with fire. Her name was Verna. She was a mage. She was the leader of the resistance, the resurgence of mages fighting to take control. She was an enemy to the Kingdom, an enemy to human civilization. She was the opposition. She was the villain.

But as James stared at her lifeless face, lying on the floor, prone, in a pool of her own blood, all James saw was a human.

A person.

Something unsettling seeped into his conscience. Something he'd been fearing all along.

He could hear the shouts of Verna and her men in his ears again.

Intruder!

Lumshade!

Hold your breath!

James stood in the middle of the bloodbath, the bodies of mages strewn around him. He met Verna's lifeless eyes, for the first time letting all of the doubt sink in with a wave of horror.

In moments, a single smoke bomb of airborne lumshade disarmed 20 mages of their magic and dosed many of them to the point where they were stripped of basic functions. People who had been framed as dangerous, evil, and overpowered were, in seconds, so compromised and vulnerable. The lumshade hadn't just brought them down to the same level as people without. It had dragged them lower. It had made them weak.

It hadn't been fair.

They were no more powerful than James. But James was the only one left standing. Because he'd released the smoke.

James released his grip on his sword, letting it clatter to the ground.

What fight was he fighting? Whose war had he won?

He stared down at his hands, getting lost in the pool of red that stained his skin.

An armored hand rested on his shoulder.

"Lieutenant Hemming," a familiar voice said firmly.

James blinked, turning his head.

Carter Haddon stood beside him. Splatters of blood streaked his brown skin, some still dripping down the angles of his face. Messy streaks of his dark hair fell out of his bun, fraying around his face, and he offered James a small smile behind his deep brown eyes.

"It's over," Carter said. "It's done."

James straightened his back, nodding stiffly before he lifted his eyes to see his troop on their feet.

There was a sober silence as Carter stood at James's side, looking down at Verna's body, and the bodies of all her allies around her. The floor was stained with red, and as the sun came up a little higher, a shadow fell over Verna's face.

For a moment, neither of them said anything. And then James knelt down, feeling the hollow numbness of shock carve out a hole in his chest as he reached out and closed Verna's eyes.

When James stood back up again, the sunrise shone off his silver-plated armor, the shimmer hued with red from the blood spattered across it.

"Well," Carter said with a small clap against the back of James's shoulder. "Looks like you're a hero. After this, the war will soon be over."

Never before had congratulatory words stung so deeply. They were bitter. They were wrong. James swallowed hard. The numbness was heavy, and he couldn't help the dread that settled over him.

He couldn't lie to himself anymore.

He was on the wrong side of this war.

James stared into the dark expanse in front of him. Somewhere ahead of him was a field black with the ash of wild grass. Somewhere out in that field was another dead body, bloodied and buried by Clandestine's own hands.

He was tired of death. He was tired of the cost of war. The cost of everything.

But he knew that was not the world they lived in, and for everything, there was a price.

He could feel the attention of Clandestine pinned on him, waiting patiently as he tried to gather his thoughts in an answer.

"It started seven years ago," he finally said.

"Wow," Clandestine blurted before he could say anything more.

James pinched his brows together in confusion and turned to look at her, and she stared at him, covering her mouth like she was embarrassed.

"Sorry," she said through what sounded like a mouthful of food. "I didn't realize you were that old."

James blinked.

"I'm 27," he said, not sure why he felt compelled to defend himself.

"Oh," Clandestine hummed. "I'm 25. Nevermind. You're younger than I thought. Sorry. Sorry," she started waving her hands dismissively, as if at herself and by way of apology. "I interrupted you. It started seven years ago."

She twirled her hand insistently like she was urging him to move on not just for the story but to push past the awkward moment she'd unintentionally created.

Under different circumstances, James might've laughed, but he had to recollect his thoughts again. He let out a deep sigh.

"Seven years ago," he continued. "I was fighting in the Resurgence. We had been tasked to take down the leader of the mage's resistance; a woman by the name of Verna. We were following a lead that led us far north to the ruins of the former Burninghead Guild; one of the mage's guilds from before the Great War on Magic when they were destroyed. Our informant proved to be correct in that it led us to Verna, but it was ill-intended. They led us into a trap, and out of my whole troop I was the only one who managed to narrowly escape. The rest of the 9 men were held captive amidst the ruins. For a few hours... I was alone as I put together a plan to rescue them."

It was difficult to separate himself from the memory in order to retell it. He knew there were many things he didn't have to say - he didn't have to describe in great detail how things were done or what it looked like after, but he could still feel the haunting memory seeping in like smoke. Purple, sickly, only bringing death with it.

It stung, even more, to be retelling this to a mage of all people. A mage who had helped him - saving him from a fate she didn't even fully understand all because she thought he was decent enough of a person to save.

But she didn't know him.

To the kingdom, he'd been framed as a hero, but he knew he was anything but.

The shame of his active ignorance and the complicit part he'd played in the system that killed mages every day never ceased to sicken him, even being years removed from it. He could only imagine how this story had already begun to paint him - and rightfully so - as the soldier who had just as much blood on his hands as any mage hunter and any other soldier who served in the kingdom's army.

He hated who he was. He hated who he'd been. He hated that there was nothing he could--

"You went in alone?" Clandestine asked softly.

James blinked again, his jaw clenching as he once again had to rip himself out of his head, bringing himself back to the conversation.

"Yes," he said quietly.

"There wasn't anyone else out there to help?" Clandestine asked.

"No," James said. And there was a part of this conversation that felt familiar, even rehearsed.

After it all happened, he'd had to have this conversation dozens and dozens of times. Over and over and over...

"We were too far from reinforcements," he said. "There was no one to reach out to. Not within any reasonable amount of time before something inevitably happened."

He steadied himself.

"It was just me," he said.


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Tue Jul 04, 2023 3:39 pm
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IcyFlame wrote a review...



Ok so I read 11.3, but in my mission to review Green Room works I've skipped ahead to review this one instead (hey, that rhymed!)

I definitely agree with Lim that this chapter seems like it's going to be darker in general, even from the description at the beginning. We're focusing more on intense, darker imagery - I'm actually getting some kind of Hunger Games vibes.

I love that instead of having James simply tell Clandestine what had happened, we can see it through his eyes in a flashback and that definitely pairs well with his more factual, broad narration of what happened as he tells it to her later in the part.

I'm kind of surprised by how closely his backstory is intertwined with persecution of the mages, because it wasn't really hinted at in his discovery about Clandestine being one. I know we saw that part from her perspective, but even when James wakes up slightly delirious from his wound (a common theme, apparently xD) he doesn't really dwell on her secret much beyond it being a more important secret than her not telling anyone he can't see!

I also feel like I'm expecting more reaction from Clandestine at this point. She may have decided to follow/save James but I bet she wasn't imagining this to be the reason he's a wanted man. I'll reserve those feelings for now though, because we're both only part way through this chapter and James' story, and also hearing things from his perspective right now, so there's time!

Catch you in the next part :)

Icy




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Sat Jun 17, 2023 11:49 pm
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Liminality wrote a review...



Hi sound! Lim here with a review.

General Impressions

This chapter definitely takes a dark turn compared to how the story has gone so far. The second paragraph pulled me in because of how visceral the descriptions were, and the flashback definitely has a distinct atmosphere from the scene unfolding in present time. The third paragraph was the jaw-drop moment - like oh, this is how it was.
Additionally, my interpretation of the chapter title is that 1. The metaphorical beans James is spilling are sad and 2. Someone (I suspect Clandestine) is going to spill their literal beans.

Characters: James

Something I like about James’ part in the scene is:

Messy streaks of his dark hair fell out of his bun, fraying around his face, and he offered James a small smile behind his deep brown eyes.
"It's over," Carter said. "It's done."
James straightened his back, nodding stiffly before he lifted his eyes to see his troop on their feet.

The imagery gives a lot of detail of the characters’ expressions. Carter is portrayed in a complex light because he’s being sympathetic to James but at the same time also more callous, at least outwardly, about the deaths of the mages, focusing on his side of the story, which is that the fight is over for him and James. The depiction of Carter in James’ memory also gets it across that they used to be friends, because of the emotion Carter displays in this bit. James himself comes across as becoming detached from the whole thing as he privately realises he’s done something terrible.

The more expository analysis of the situation that James sometimes slips into suggests he’s trying to distance himself from it. For instance:
They were no more powerful than James. But James was the only one left standing. Because he'd released the smoke.

Besides this, the italicised memory of the actual battle (the flashback within the flashback) also gives a more non-chronological feel to this part of the chapter, if that makes sense. Which makes it seem more like spontaneous recollection of something James doesn’t really want to remember.

I was kind of surprised that this turned out to be James’ backstory. In the earlier chapters, I didn’t get the sense that James felt a personal guilt towards the persecution of mages that he is describing here. It seemed like it was something that he disagreed with and just wasn’t involved in, for example when he told Clandestine he wasn’t going to turn her in. Maybe I just didn’t notice it at the time.

Characters: Clandestine

Something I like about Clandestine’s part in this scene is this:
"It started seven years ago," he finally said.
"Wow," Clandestine blurted before he could say anything more.

Her outburst in a tense situation is pretty in-character, so it works at this point in the story.

Clandestine only says a few lines indicating how she feels about James confession in this part and these show that she is sympathetic towards him. I think I would find that more believable if her dialogue showed more mixed feelings. We know she has experienced persecution for being a mage herself in the past and it’s very much still a current thing, not just something from the war. I kind of expected her to express that here, maybe a bit more shock, but maybe that will appear in the next part of the chapter.

Overall

I think the main strengths of this chapter are that the concrete descriptions, where they are used, are visceral and immersive, and that James’ former life and relationship with Carter adds context to the overall story about the Moonlight Kingdom and mage persecution. I’m guessing Clandestine might have something to add in a later chapter about the Resurgence from the mages’ perspective. I’m left with some questions about how each character feels about the events discussed here and also how those feelings match with what we know about them so far, like James’ initial interactions with Clandestine and also Clandestine’s feelings about the persecution of people like her, so I’m keen on reading on to see how that develops.

Hope this helps – keep writing!
-Lim

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Wed May 31, 2023 11:36 pm
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Carina says...



james rn:
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soundofmind says...


LMAOOOOOOOOO




Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl: it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling.
— Henry David Thoreau