This is the time of year when it starts to get darker early, the air is crisp and cold, and a full moon makes you think twice about being out after midnight.
Halloween is a special time of year, even more so for us fantasy writers. This is when we can let our hair down (for those of us who still have it) and let loose with all the scary stories we’ve been storing up for the past year.
I saw a great special on TV the other day that explain how dressing up in costumes and “trick or treating” was invented by a lady in Kansas to keep kids from vandalizing neighborhoods in their small, rural town. That may be true, but Halloween has always had a darker meaning.
Though it is widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated in the Celtic harvest festivals with pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, how it is practiced and celebrated today is the as the festival was Christianized as Halloween. Most of us carry on the tradition as we did as kids … By decorating our homes with jack o’lanterns, skulls and tombstones, watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and passing out candy to little kids while saving the leftovers for the rest of us.
As a writer, Halloween brings out the best in me. You have a wealth of myths and legends to choose from to scare your readers. In the instance of my third book, The Outlander War, I brought a couple of “Halloween inspired” characters to my story … The half-demon Abdel Ben Faust and the Wraith Legion of Purgatory. Here is an excerpt from my “soon-to-be-released” novel which shows how deadly a wraith can be.
Dotted along the coast of Avalon, sitting atop the raised cliff-face, were outposts manned 24/7 by the Knights of the Round Table, Shield Maidens, the Dragon Guard, and Elves from the Hîldrägo Boquè. Their job was to keep an eye on the fleet off the coast and report any movement toward Avalon, by sea or by air.
At one outpost, located directly across where Emmyr once floated in the sky, sat a small group of men in the third hour of their watch. A small fire kept them warm, but it was of little comfort out here. It was three o’clock in the morning, and the tedious, sometimes boring, nature of the watch was already getting to some of them.
Of all the knights there, Sir Eadric Cuthbert was the oldest. At nearly 100-years-old, and he was still considered by many to be in his prime. He had fought in many battles throughout his career as a Knight of the Round Table, characterized by the many battle scars on his body. He could have had them healed but he preferred leaving the marks as they were, because each one was a story. His shaggy beard of black and gray was the only hair on his body as the rest either fell out or was burned off at one time or another. He leaned up against his halberd, a two-handed polearm with a broad ax blade and a pike, as he tried to shake off the sleep. He knew he had too much to drink before coming on watch, but the young men kept asking for one more story and he couldn’t help himself.
As Eadric dozed, Feredir kept his gaze locked off the coast of Avalon. As one of the youngest members of the elite Hîldrägo Boquè, the Elf warrior was always mindful of his duties while on watch. He memorized all of the ships situated off the coast of Avalon and took careful inventory whenever he assumed watch. His stark green eyes and brown hair highlighted his beautiful features, wearing the traditional copper-colored armor of the Hîldrägo Boquè. Armed with his long bow and long sword, his normally dutiful attention was interrupted by the occasional snoring of Eadric, waking himself up with every loud gasp for air.
“Are you sure you should be standing the watch so tired, Sir Eadric?” Feredir inquired politely.
“Nonsense Feredir, why I once stayed awake for four days straight on twenty minutes of sleep at the siege of Kohlwick Hollow,” Eadric replied as he snapped to attention. “I usually need some action to keep my focus so I don’t drift off.”
“Well, you’re not a young man anymore. You should take it easy on the late night revelry.”
“Speak for yourself lad,” Eadric snapped back. “It’s late night revelry that keeps this old man going.”
“Lad?” Feredir said as he glared at Sir Eadric with a look of bewilderment. “You do realize that I’m more than 1,500 years older than you?”
“Ah, it’s not the age lad, it’s how you carry yourself,” Eadric answered. “You walk like my son, Dabney, use to … Strong, confident and full of life. Me? I’m an old man, past his prime, who tries to be ‘one of the boys’ by drinking the night away while telling one of a hundred stories of my life as a Knight of the Round Table.”
“You speak too harshly about yourself Sir Eadric,” Feredir said to comfort the old knight. “You have lived a long and fruitful life, serving the people of Avalon with honor. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“He’s right Sir Eadric, your presence means a lot to young men like me,” one of the other knights spoke up. The other men nodded their heads in agreement, chiming in to support the aged warrior.
Eadric said nothing in reply. He just leaned against his halberd and sighed. Feredir saw that something was on his mind. “Is something bothering you, Sir Eadric?”
“My son, Dabney,” Eadric said, his voice turned solemn and sad. “I haven’t thought about him for over a year now, not even speaking his name.”
Feredir jerked his head, unsure of where Eadric was going with this. “Dabney died last year at the battle of Idlehorn Mountain,” Eadric continued. “We were defending the right flank when a Drow Strider came right at us. I got under the beastie with my halberd while Dabney sliced it right between its eight eyes. The Drow fell off the spider’s back, so I ran it through with the pike.
“We turned our back on the spider, thinking it was dead, but it had a little bit of life left. It grabbed Dabney and ran him through with its stinger. Some lads carried him to the rear while I continued to fight. When the battle was over, I went to find Dabney but …”
His voice trailed off, not finishing his sentence, but Feredir understood what happened to his son. “They had to burn his body because Drow spiders lay eggs inside their victims when they die. The only recourse was to burn the bodies before the eggs could hatch. I’m very sorry Sir Eadric.”
Eadric wiped the tears from his eyes and took a deep breath to regain his composure. ”That’s alright lad, we all have to go sometime. I’ll see my son again one day, that’s what keeps me going.”
The two remained quiet for almost half an hour until Eadric finally broke the silence. “Do you remember a Storm Giant by the name of Boras?”
“Boras? I remember when he came down from Merlin’s Pinnacle to raid cattle and sheep farms,” Feredir recalled. “His people were starving because they didn’t stock up enough for the winter, so he took it upon himself to get some provisions, as it were. I heard it took more than 100 knights to finally bring him down.”
“101 actually …” Eadric joked as he cracked a smile. “Let me tell you about it, you see …”
“Oh no Eadric, not the Boras story again!” came a voice from behind. The men all turned to see Sir Hunter and Chancellor Beauchamp walking toward them. Hunter was carrying a Lancer, as if he was ready to fight while Henri carried a teapot.
Eadric walked up to Hunter and greeted him like a brother, embracing him enthusiastically. “What are you doing here Sir Hunter?” Eadric asked. “I thought you were in Alfheimer?”
“I finally got a clean bill of health from Doctor Bonapat, so I took the first flight back here. My mother was driving me crazy!” he joked. “Actually, I’m just escorting Chancellor Beauchamp out here. Henri thought you all could use some efion tea.”
“Mais bien sûr,” Henri chimed in as he poured some tea for each of the men. “I wanted to bring you some of Chef Manfred’s world famous Cioppino, but he would not let it out of his sight. De toute façon, the Gil-Gamesh always said that everyone needs a little something to keep them going until morning, n’est ce pas?”
Sir Eadric greedily took the cup from Chancellor Beauchamp. “God bless you, Chancellor, this is just what I needed!” He took a big sip of tea, savoring each swallow with a soft moan. “Ah, a Christmas Hot Toddy! Just the way I like it!”
Efion tea is an Elvish drink that provided nourishment to Elves when they travel away from Alfheimer. To humans, it’s like an energy drink on steroids. A side effect of the brew is that it mimics the flavor of whatever you’re thinking, from sweet to savory.
Henri offers a cup to Feredir, but the Elf politely refuses. “No thank you, Chancellor Beauchamp. I had some before I came on watch. I am perfectly … fine.”
His voice trailed off at the end of his sentence as his eye caught something different off the horizon. Hunter knew how keen the eyesight of an Elf was and tried to see what he’s looking at on the horizon. Though it was a clear night, the moon was waning with a small sliver of a crescent high in the sky.
“What is it?” he asked. “What do you see?”
“There’s a new ship out there, one I’ve never seen before.”
“Are you sure Feredir? Those metal contraptions look all the same to me,” Eadric interjected.
“I have observed all the same ships for the past few weeks, that one is new,” he said pointing out. Try as he might, Hunter could barely make out the ship in the darkness.
“Can you describe it? Do you see any writing on it?”
“It looks like the other large warship, the aircraft carrier I believe your father called it, but the front of the ship is curved upward like a ramp,” Feredir said. “There is some writing on the side of the main structure but I’m not familiar with the language.”
“Show me!” Hunter demanded. Feredir took a dagger and wrote a few letters in the dirt next to the fire. Hunter didn’t recognize the words but he knew the style of the language. “That’s Russian, I think,” he said. “It must be a helicopter carrier of some sort.”
“Is that the machines with the spinning blades on them?” Feredir inquired.
“Because there are four of them headed our way!” Feredir stated as he drew his bow.
Hunter turned to two of the younger knights standing with them. “You two, pass the word down along the coast that invaders are coming toward Avalon,” he commanded as the two men took off in opposite directions to warn the other outposts. “Henri, go tell my father what’s going on! We need him here immediately!” Henri dropped the teapot as he took off running toward the main encampment.
Hunter reloaded his Lancer with two new spellshots as he and Sir Eadric crouched down low behind the protection of some rocks. Feredir kept his head above the rocks, keeping a close eye on the approaching helicopters.
“How far out are they?” Hunter asked.
“Three of them are holding their position about 500 feet of shore,” he said as he scanned the horizon. “I’ve lost the fourth one.”
“What?” Hunter exclaimed as he and Eadric jumped up to see.
“Where did it go?” Eadric bemused. Before Feredir could answer, the three men heard a whirring sound from just off the cliff. From below the cliff edge, a helicopter rose up in the air in front of them, threatening them with 7.62x54mm rotary mini-gun.
The three quickly ducked down as the helicopter opened fire, pelleting the ground around them with rapid-fire spray. Feredir notched an arrow and readied himself. The Elven warrior stood up and fired off an arrow at the helicopter pilot but it ricocheted off the front windshield. He quickly shot off one more, but it had the same result, as he dove down behind the rock before the pilot adjusted his fire toward him.
“My arrows won’t penetrate that infernal machine!” Feredir complained. Hunter weighed all the options until he came up with an idea.
“I think I can help you there,” he said as he pulled up his Lancer, ready to fire. “After I fire, hit him again. Your arrows should penetrate this time.”
Hunter took a deep breath before he popped up and fire his Lancer at the helicopter. His spellshot—a combination of magic and alchemy loaded into a cartridge the size of a shotgun shell—fired a freezing spray at the helicopter, coating the front of the aircraft in a layer of frost. The windshield froze instantaneously, causing the pilot to stop firing momentarily as he attempted to get his bearings.
Feredir knew what he had to do as he quickly popped up and fired another arrow at the windshield. This time, his arrow shattered the glass and pierced the pilot through the chest. The aircraft became erratic as it spun around and around as the co-pilot tried to regain control. Feredir didn’t give him a chance to recover as he fired another arrow, this time killing the co-pilot with an arrow through the throat.
The helicopter spun out of control as it flew over the three warriors and dove down toward the ground. The engines shut down just before it impacted the surface, exploding in a giant ball of fire. Sir Eadric and Hunter roared loudly at their victory while Feredir just stood there silently, with a hint of a satisfying grin on his face.
“Now that was teamwork,” Eadric cheered. “Well done lads; well done to both of you!”
Hunter looked closely and calculated the distance from the cliff to where the helicopter crashed. His face turned sour as he made a grim discovery.
“The barrier has shrunk even more,” Hunter surmised. “It reaches almost 300 feet away from the cliff.”
“We should order the outposts to move in, otherwise, their infernal weapons can reach us,” Eadric replied.
“I agree, we need to warn the others immediately,” Feredir concurred. Before Hunter could say anything, the sound of engines filled the air. The three warriors turned around to see two more helicopters rising above the cliff, moving towards them. The two open up with their mini-guns, tearing up the ground as they strafed toward them.
With uncanny reflexes, Feredir grabbed Hunter and threw him to the ground behind the outcropping of rocks. Unfortunately, Sir Eadric was not as fast. The spray from the mini-guns ripped him apart as he fell to the ground.
Hunter looked over at Eadric’s lifeless body, saddened at the death of his friend. Even Feredir, who only knew Sir Eadric for a short period of time, mourned his loss. The two watched as something strange happened to Eadric. His body glowed briefly as his spirit rose from his body. It hovered over the corpse for a moment as it reformed into a wraith—an armored warrior with a ghostly visage for its head. The energy from his spirit absorbed into the heart stone on its chest as the gem beat to life.
Once fully formed, the wraith screamed an unearthly shriek before it flew into one of the helicopters. As the ghostly spirit passed through the craft, it unnerved the pilots as it swerved right into the other helicopter. The two collided into each other, shredded into pieces as the blades from one cut into the other. The two helicopters fell straight down to the beach below, exploding on impact. The wraith that was Sir Eadric was gone.
The last Russian helicopter was not deterred by the destruction of the first three. It hovered back from the cliff and fired a pair of 9k114 assault missile at the two hiding behind the outcropping. Hunter saw the missiles being launched from the aircraft. He grabbed Feredir by the arm and pulled him away from the rocks as quickly as possible.
The missiles hit the rocks, causing a massive explosion that hurled the two warriors through the air. They crashed into the ground hard, knocking the wind out of them. The helicopter moved in closer as its mini-gun whirred to life and started firing.
“Acheron Draconis!” shouted a voice from behind as the Gil-Gamesh summoned his dragon form, erupting with magical energy as it formed around him. “Defendo!” he chanted as the dragon’s wings folded down in front of Hunter and Feredir, protecting them from the gunfire.
“Infernus!” he commanded. The dragon form reared back and breathed fire, blasting the helicopter with full force. The helicopter exploded almost instantly, dropping down on top of the other two wrecked aircraft.
Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse. The Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt.