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The Lost Dragon Chapter 11.1 (LMS VI)

by soundofmind


Chapter 11: Beans and Bruises

Consciousness returned to him with the kindness of a wave crashing over him and tossing him onto the shore.

It took him a moment to register that anything was real. For what felt like ages, his mind took him through a maze of ever-worsening nightmares, each one more real than the last, ultimately melting into the next.

But with every dream, he could never remember how it started or how he got there.

When reality truly came, it came slowly.

A headache pierced through his skull, and for a moment, he wondered if it was the pain that woke him up, or if he merely woke up to the pain.

Then there was his shoulder. It felt bruised to the bone, and there was an ache that became more and more prevalent as the lumshade seemed to finally be flushed out of his system. The memory of the needle piercing his skin and muscle made a shiver run down his spine, and he blearily opened his eyes.

He was staring up at the night sky.

It was then that he registered the sensation of a breeze brushing up against his bare skin. He was covered in sweat, and he could feel his skin clinging to the blanket beneath him and the bandages wrapping around his chest and shoulder.

It didn't feel quite real as he took in the deep expanse of sky. It took a while for his eyes to pull the glow of the stars into focus, and eventually, he found himself staring at the distant crescent moon.

Somehow, he was alive.

It came back to him in waves. Moments before he'd lost consciousness, he'd almost been swallowed up by flames. Now, it was quiet, and the eerie glow of the growing fire was gone, replaced by the steady heartbeat of a torch stuck into the ground beside him.

He turned his head, first seeing the large circle of dirt that had been carved around him, and then, a few feet away, a small fire pit dug deep into the ground. Behind the crackling flame and the small pot bubbling over it was Clandestine.

The hearty smell of beans cooking over the fire drifted toward him.

Several missing pieces started falling into place.

Somehow, Clandestine must've woken up before the fire swallowed them both. He didn't know how the fire was put out. He didn't know what happened to Alexander, or Elliot. He didn't know just how much damage the fire had done. He didn't know how he ended up lying on the ground, face-up, not dead. But Clandestine...

She was the only reason he was alive. That he knew without a doubt.

James's mind felt like it was a bog, and he was walking through the thick of it.

What day was it? How long had he been out?

He shifted, drawing his hand over his stomach, finally registering that it was truly bare. He froze as it sunk in that Clandestine had to have stopped the bleeding while he was unconscious, meaning she would've seen all of his scars.

She was going to have questions. Gods, she was going to have questions either way, but the likelihood of them digging up unwanted memories got even higher. He tried to push down the panic that started to build in his chest just thinking about how to explain everything she's unknowingly gotten herself into. There wasn't an easy answer.

The summer heat managed to feel just as suffocating at night as it did during the day. Combined with the heat of the nearby fire and the burst of anxiety eating away at his nerves, he felt like he was burning up.

It hurt to move, but he tried to anyway. With his better arm, he started to push himself up, wincing and hissing through his teeth.

In the corner of his eyes, he watched Clandestine's head shoot up, watching him.

James looked over at her, and for a moment they simply stared at each other, faces blank as the fire crackled in the quiet of the night.

Now that James was upright, he could see the horses in his periphery. He glanced over at them, feeling a measure of relief at seeing Elliot, but it was countered by the sight of a different horse. If James remembered correctly, it belonged to Alexander.

"You're awake," Clandestine commented, sounding surprised. It took James a moment to actually process her words and what they meant.

James still felt like his head was a muddled mess. He didn't think the lumshade was fully out of his system.

"Yeah," he said, far too delayed.

A silence fell between them as he kept himself propped up with his right arm. The pain continued to shoot up and down his left arm and shoulder even though he'd stopped moving, and he didn't think moving it more would help. He clenched his jaw, trying not to wear all of the pain on his face and in his eyes. He knew that when he did, it usually made him look angry.

He stared ahead of him. It was too dark to make out much in the dim light of the silver moon, and he couldn't really see far beyond the circle of light the fire provided for them, but he could hear the trickling of water nearby.

They were still by the stream.

But there was a nagging question James couldn't shake, especially as he glanced back at the bounty hunter's horse beside them.

He swallowed thickly.

"Where's Alexander?" James asked.

It almost felt wrong using the man's name when, in his gut, he knew that he couldn't have survived the bullet wound James gave him. That truth was buried in his gut like a shared pain, melding with all of the guilt he always carried with him. Always present, never forgotten.

He didn't look back at Clandestine until he realized her hesitation. When he looked up, she was staring down into the pot of beans, her brows furrowed, and her eyes hidden in shadow.

"I buried him," she said quietly.

James felt his heart sink into his stomach.

So he was dead. And Clandestine was left to deal with the body left behind.

"I'm so sorry," James whispered. But sorry didn't feel like enough.

Clandestine seemed lost in thought, her eyes still fixed on the contents of the pot. He could see the hidden horror in her eyes, and he found himself wishing he could've warned her, back at the ranch.

Maybe if he'd told her he was a wanted criminal, she'd have never followed him. Maybe if she'd heard it from him, she would've left him alone and never felt obligated to follow and help him, subjecting herself to this.

Another long silence followed, and James looked down, feeling his headache begin to throb in his skull.

"He was going to kill me, wasn't he?" Clandestine asked.

James looked back over to her, and she met his eyes. The look in her eyes made his heart hurt more. She didn't have to speak the obvious, because they both knew: she was a mage. And though that might not have been the only reason for Alexander trying to kill her, they both knew it was the a primary one. If not only to get her out of the way, killing her was - in the eyes of the kingdom Alexander served - doing his duty, and doing the rest of humankind a favor.

He wondered if this was the first time she'd ever had her life threatened because of her magic. It seemed that, prior to the accidental spilling of her secret to James, that no one else knew.

In only two days, two people discovered her secret. And one of them tried to kill her for it.

"Yes," James said lowly, remembering how Alexander had very nearly stabbed her through the heart before James had intervened.

Clandestine nodded, her movements small, and slow.

"Well," she said softly. "...Thank you. For not letting him."

James looked away.

"Yeah," he said distantly.

James felt like his head grew even more foggy, wondering how Clandestine would've buried Alexander in the first place. It was right that he was respectfully buried, but it had to have taken a while, especially since, to his knowledge, none of them had shovels. Which begged the question once more:

"How long was I out?" he asked.


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Mon Jul 03, 2023 8:20 am
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IcyFlame wrote a review...



Hi, I'm back!

Consciousness returned to him with the kindness of a wave crashing over him and tossing him onto the shore.

I love this as a first line, super descriptive and poetic.

I also liked how this part of the chapter is almost circular, with James wondering how long he's been out at both the beginning and end. I don't know how well this will translate when reading the full chapter, but it works very well for the way you've posted the sections.

Specifics
It felt bruised to the bone, and there was an ache that became more and more prevalent as the lumshade seemed to finally be flushed out of his system.

The lumshade is certainly an interesting phenomena, and one I'm sure we'll come back to. Can James feel if it's no longer in his system, or is it a bit like other things, where you assume it's out of your system because of how you feel?

A little later though, he thinks this:
James still felt like his head was a muddled mess. He didn't think the lumshade was fully out of his system.

I think the contradiction so close together in the chapter is a little confusing, even if there's no way of telling if it's still in his system or not.

I'm interested to see inside Clandestine's head now that she's had some time to process all of this. Last chapter was taken up with so much survival instinct and tiredness that it understandably overwhelmed her feelings.

I also know that the two of them are going to have to have a Talk (capitalisation required), but I also get the feeling neither of them are used to sharing, so I'm interested to see how that's going to be navigated!

See you for part 2 :)

Icy




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Sat Jun 10, 2023 6:10 am
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Liminality wrote a review...



Hi there sound! I’m finally back to continue reviewing this story.

General Impressions

I thought the heavy stuff about the death and Alexander trying to kill Clandestine was handled well here. The atmosphere felt appropriately serious and reflective. The friendship between James and Clandestine is interesting. It’s clear from the story so far that they trust each other, and yet they’re each still keeping some secrets from each other. I don’t think whatever James has to say will turn Clandestine away at this point though – she’s stuck with him through a lot, even at this stage, which to me still feels like the ‘beginning’ to a longer story.

Characters and Atmosphere

In general, I like what happens with the characterisation and the atmosphere of this chapter. I like the word choices in the dialogue. I think they reveal quite a lot about each character and the kind of story this is.

He didn't look back at Clandestine until he realized her hesitation. When he looked up, she was staring down into the pot of beans, her brows furrowed, and her eyes hidden in shadow.
"I buried him," she said quietly.

She doesn’t give a location, even though the question was “where”, which implies it doesn’t really ‘matter’ where Alexander’s been buried. That shows her emphasising the fact that he’s dead in an indirect way. It shows that she’s not someone to take death lightly, even though Alexander was trying to kill her. And the fact that she buried him rather than leaving his body out in the open also shows that. In terms of the story, even though the plot deals with some dark events, moments like these show our protagonists aren’t as cynical as the average person in their setting, I think.

Although this chapter is from James’ perspective, I wonder what Clandestine is thinking with regards to Alexander now. I think in their first encounter she had mixed feelings about him, but now she knows he tried to kill her for being a mage, I imagine those feelings are even more turbulent.

Gods, she was going to have questions either way, but the likelihood of them digging up unwanted memories got even higher. He tried to push down the panic that started to build in his chest just thinking about how to explain everything she's unknowingly gotten herself into. There wasn't an easy answer.
The summer heat managed to feel just as suffocating at night as it did during the day. Combined with the heat of the nearby fire and the burst of anxiety eating away at his nerves, he felt like he was burning up.

I like the idea of using the “summer heat” to convey James’ feelings. That image alone kind of got the message across that he feels trapped. I thought this whole bit would be good foreshadowing if he’s going to have to answer some of Clandestine’s questions in the next part of this chapter.

I also found it interesting that James now regrets not telling Clandestine he was wanted by the Moonlight Kingdom, when previously that was one of his secrets he wanted to guard. I wonder if this secret-keeping thing is going to be something he changes about himself, or if it will recur again?

Opening

I thought the opening could’ve been shorter. I got the idea that James was having trouble ‘waking up’ because of the lumshade quite early on, and some lines felt more important than others. The theme of ‘reality coming back slowly’ was repeated quite a number of times, and I didn’t feel like this was super necessary to establish James’ state of mind, if that makes sense. I felt like the essential elements were: 1. James has nightmares 2. James wakes up to the night sky 3. James turns and sees Clandestine and remembers what happens. Parts like the following seem comparatively unimportant:
he wondered if it was the pain that woke him up, or if he merely woke up to the pain.


Overall

The characterisation was strong in this chapter and I’m keen to see how the conversation between these two plays out, and specifically, if James is going to tell her what he actually did to be become a wanted man, because that’s been built up for quite a while now.

Let me know if you’d like more feedback on something specific!
-Lim

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By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach.
— Winston Churchill