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The Lost Dragon Chapter 8.1 (LMS VI)

by soundofmind


Chapter 8: Into the Fire

He was right.

It was a bounty hunter. No one else would've been so quick to follow.

Adrenaline fuelled the focus that propelled James forward. With one glance over his shoulder, he saw the man in pursuit. His dark horse was a deep black dart racing across the pale plains.

Elliot's hooves raced against the earth with a rhythmic pounding. James leaned forward in the saddle, loosely holding the reins between his fingers as he gripped the saddle firmly between his legs. His feet were planted in the stirrups, and every muscle in his body felt like the band of a slingshot pulled taut, ready for release.

The sun overhead was white and blinding. The hills disappeared before and behind him in a blurred, midday haze of humid heat, and every time he looked back the black dot following him grew smaller. After a few minutes, he couldn't even see it anymore. He didn't know how much of that was because of the haze, his eyesight, or if he'd actually managed to lose the bounty hunter, even for a moment.

He turned around again and blinked the sweat from his eyes. Clandestine was right that he needed glasses. He just couldn't afford the risk of going into town, never mind a store. He'd be recognized before he could leave.

But that was the consequence of being wanted.

James kept riding on, keeping the pace for some time. When he sensed Elliot's stamina waning, he slowed but kept moving.

He kept checking over his shoulder. Still no sign of the bounty hunter.

James finally came to a stop at the top of a hill. Just ahead of him, a mile down, he could make out what looked like the continuation of the creek he'd crossed earlier, winding back around. All he saw was the irregularity of color, and blurred shapes that resembled trees, but when he took out his binoculars, he was able to draw the features into sharper focus, confirming what he saw.

There really was water, and gods knew he and Elliot needed it.

James looked back around them, scanning the horizon line through his binoculars waiting to see something or someone come up over the hill behind him. Yet no one came.

What kept the bounty hunter back? Staring out at the haze that swallowed up the horizon, he couldn't help but wonder how he'd lost his tail. Either the bounty hunter's horse couldn't keep up, or something - someone - interfered.

In his gut, he knew Clandestine was the only one he'd left behind daring and impulsive enough to run after a bounty hunter, but he hoped he was wrong. Anything he came up with to explain the hunter's delay was mere speculation, anyway. He had no way of knowing for sure.

And if he kept waiting, it would all be a waste. He didn't know how large a window he had to recoup, but he had to seize it.

In the hard ride out from the ranch, James had aggravated his shoulder. The sling helped prevent movement, but the stress and the strain of prolonged focus and tension pulled on the wound. Sweat had seeped through his bandages and his shirt, and it was like the sting of salt thrown into hundreds of papercuts, except the papercuts were a half-inch deep.

All things considered, the discomfort was bearable, but he knew this might be his only opportunity to change his bandages for a while.

As he hastily rode down to the creek, an uphill breeze carried the faint smell of freshwater towards him. The wind carried the smell of Elliot's coat as well. Looking down at Elliot, he was damp with sweat as well after having run for so long.

They were both relieved when they made it to the creek.

Elliot practically melted into the stream as he dunked his head into it to cool off. James hopped off of Elliot's saddle with grit teeth and carefully pulled off his sling, stiffly moving his arm. He could feel the pull of his shirt, stuck against the bandages with blood and sweat.

Glancing back at Elliot, James told himself not to take too long. Elliot needed rest, but if the bounty hunter caught up to him now, all of the distance he made would be for nothing.

The bounty hunter was clearly determined, but the following days would be a test of stamina. James wasn't willing to run Elliot - his longest enduring companion - into the ground just to get away. He didn't know what the bounty hunter was willing to give up in his pursuit or how skilled he was at tracking. If he was from the kingdom like James suspected, then it was likely going to be a very long game of cat and mouse or a very, very short one.

What he needed was a place to hide.

The only problem was, there was nowhere to go. Where was he supposed to hide? If he went to Bone, he'd just be putting himself on the map. People would see him, recognize him, and if the bounty hunter caught up to him there, it would get messy. It always got messy when other people were around.

James hissed as he peeled away his shirt. He pulled out a fresh roll of bandages and sat by the water, legs crossed over one another.

He could hide behind a hill, but it wasn't going to give him lasting cover. He could hide under a tree, but Elliot was going to stick out, especially in daylight. And even if he hid under a tree, it was guaranteed that the bounty hunter would check the only shelter for miles.

The only thing James would have working in his favor was darkness, and that wasn't for a few hours. He still had half a day ahead of him before night came.

James winced as he peeled off the bandage around his shoulder.

He was going to have to face the bounty hunter eventually. He knew that.

It couldn't be avoided. It was just a matter of time.

He hurried to clean his wound. It had started bleeding again, which was a problem he didn't have time for. His only time-saving solution was to wrap it up tightly, hoping that the pressure would get the wound to clot again.

With a sigh, he accepted the inevitable.

He was going to have to face the bounty hunter again by himself. It was possible this would be his last time facing down a hunter. If it was, he'd have to accept that. His fate had been chasing him for years. Maybe it was time.

Hastily, he threw his shirt back on and walked back over to Elliot. Elliot's breath had finally slowed, and James felt for him.

This was going to be a long day.

He led Elliot across the water on foot, getting his shoes and pants wet up to his knees. It was a relief in the heat, and he knew it'd dry before long. When they made it across the stream he hopped back in the saddle and began riding Elliot up the next hill at a trot. And the next. And the next.

Every few minutes he'd look around again, checking the horizon at each hilltop for any signs of movement. For an hour or so, there was nothing. All he could see for miles was tall grass swaying in the breeze and the thick haze that swallowed up everything beyond it.

Finally, he did see something on the horizon ahead of him.

Some kind of ... mass, disrupting the horizon line.

At the bottom of the hill, looking up, it seemed that the mass was moving. It was too large to be a single person and too large to be flying boar. Too small and irregular to be another sandworm. As he drew nearer, eventually the image came into focus.

It was a herd of wild horses.


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Tue Mar 07, 2023 10:30 am
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Liminality wrote a review...



Hi sound! Lim again with a review!

General Impressions

This was a pretty tense scene overall. I felt especially concerned for James when he stopped for the water! I get that Elliot needed to drink and he needed to wash out his wound, but I kept expecting Alexander to just pop up somewhere. And the ending of this chapter surprised me – I def hadn’t expected there to be wild horses running his way. I can’t remember if there were any hints to something like that going on in previous chapters, or if it’s just another complication that arises for James by the ‘virtue’ of being out in this somewhat wild region.

It always got messy when other people were around.

Hmm is this a hint at backstory? <.<

Glows – What I liked

I thought the characterization here was believable and consistent with what we know about James. He is clearly very focused on survival, so things that would ordinarily worry him like whether Elliot is getting enough rest or whatever happened to Clandestine kind of fade a little bit, though they’re still there. He has this more calculative state of mind, justifying it by saying it would “all be a waste” or “be for nothing” if he let his emotions overwhelm him and he got caught.

I also like the use of setting in the beginning of the chapter.
The sun overhead was white and blinding. The hills disappeared before and behind him in a blurred, midday haze of humid heat, and every time he looked back the black dot following him grew smaller.

The ‘blurriness’ these descriptions evoke kind of make my attention focus on just James and the bounty hunter, and then eventually just James. They also just create this desolate atmosphere, emphasizing how James is alone but for Elliot, when just a chapter ago he had Clandestine and the other cowherds.

Another thing I liked was how you developed the story arc. James manages to put some distance between himself and Alexander here, so it seems that his chances of getting away are increasing, but then just as things are getting better there’s another obstacle thrown in his way. That brings back the tension of the story and makes me eager to read on.

Grows – ideas to consider

Something that could be improved could be the descriptions. I feel like you could add more concrete description here without taking away from the pacing. For example, I liked:
Elliot practically melted into the stream as he dunked his head into it to cool off.

While the sentence runs on for a bit with those additional phrases (“as he dunked his head [into it [to cool off]]”) the specific verb “melted” does evoke a strong image of Elliot’s relief, which adds a layer of drama to this brief reprieve.

Particularly, I kind of wish there was more of that towards the end of the chapter, since it has this kind of dramatic cliffhanger ending with the appearance of wild horses.
Some kind of ... mass, disrupting the horizon line.

For example, perhaps you could add to this line what the mass sounds like? Maybe an indistinct rumbling and thundering that slowly he makes out to be hooves as they draw closer? Sensory stuff like that would help set the scene in my opinion.

I also thought that some of the figurative/ not-so-concrete language was a bit distracting. For instance, “deep black dart” as a metaphor for the bounty hunter’s horse was a bit odd, given that I usually wouldn’t compare a horse to a dart, and also James is looking at the bounty hunter who is directly behind him – would that still appear streak-like, like I imagine a dart would look while flying? Just a nitpick, but thought I would mention it. The image of “hundreds of papercuts . . . half-inch deep” I also found a bit hard to picture. This could just be a bias of mine towards literal + concrete descriptions – in the same paragraph the “sting” seemed to resonate more.

Overall

My favourite part of this is your consistent characterization and also the continuing rise and fall in the plot. My main suggestions for revision would be to consider your descriptions.

Hope this helps!
-Lim




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Sun Feb 26, 2023 8:14 am
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Benji wrote a review...



I realize that I'm reviewing these chapters in out of order... having read each chapter as they came out I have remembered the bulk of it all but please bear with me haha, I'll hopefully follow through with my attempt to review everything I can and give my opinions, introspections, and appreciations some time to simmer.

The beginning setup of this chapter is very beautifully illustrated in such a visual feast of words and elements, as you describe the landscape I can envision every detail to it with your writing, and James' observations always interest me in particular, seeing what he's thinking in each moment gives substance to the setting around him and it never overstays it's welcome, and perfectly sets the backdrop for his exposition, and the short pause where he tends to his wounds felt vulnurable but yet normal business for him, like doing taxes, only painfully annoying in the literal sense haha, all the while he's anticipating a climactic mess just across the horizon, bound to happen. I also like how this chapter ends into a big question mark, gearing you up for whatever may happen next. I very much enjoyed this chapter! :)





Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.
— George Orwell, 1984