Monica Cosgrove

The Chaotic Ramblings of my Neurodivergent Life

The Strength of Queens

Excerpt: Tales From the Lost Archives book one:

Black smoke filled the air choking the forest, flames licked the trees and animals crashed through the undergrowth, fleeing the wall of fire.  Desperately trying to escape the inferno swallowing their home they leapt and scrambled over fallen trees and branches. In the lead was a creature that looked almost like a stag, he was leading them deeper into the trees towards the heart of the forest. The stag was pure white, its eyes were the colour of lilac and, unlike the other deer behind him, they were not rolling in terror but seemed focused, it had three pairs of legs striking the ground as it fled, two sets of front legs and one set of hinds, perhaps the most unusual things about the creature was that its huge antlers appeared wreathed in flame. Not the kind that were currently chocking the forest, these flames were bright blue and when they met branches of trees, instead of burning them, it seemed to give it a new flourish of life. Leaves, moss and flowers blossomed wherever it brushed the trees but where almost immediately charred by the orange flames pursuing him and his herd. The deer that followed him also had purple eyes and three pairs of legs but their pelts where the colour of mossy tree bark, there were hues of green mixed in with the brown, and none of their antlers were wreathed in flame.

Suddenly blue light burst through the trees from ahead of the animals, a wall of it raced towards them, none of them faltered but continued to run directly towards it as it swelled passing through the trees. The light rushed through them and when it hit the flames it formed a forcefield that held the flames in place. Still thundering through the undergrowth finally the creatures reached a clearing and slowed. In the centre of the clearing stood a withered looking man holding his hands aloft whilst chanting in some ancient language. His entire body was wreathed in the blue light and through the gap in the tree canopy, it was clear that the wall of light had expanded to create an enormous dome with the clearing dead in the centre.

The man had tanned skin that looked as though he had spent many years working outside in the sun, he had short white hair with a scar running from just above his right ear down his cheekbone stopping under his eye. He had a long white beard that was twisted into multiple braids and decorated with beads. He wore a leather breast plate, bracers and greaves over dark linen shirt and trousers. His eyes where blazing with the blue light and his face was uplifted. The man chanted with a deep powerful voice into the night sky, the words he spoke felt ancient and made the air vibrate with power.

The animals that had followed the stag clearly had sensed that they had reached safety because they had wondered towards a pool behind the man and begun to drink and graze the grass on its banks. While his herd settled, the stag walked slowly and purposefully up to the man and stopped with its nose just inches from his face. A cloud of blue mist trickled slowly from its nostrils and encircling the man’s face as he continued to speak, the blue glow spread from him and encircled the stag too. It was clear that the creature was lending its power to the man.

From the between the trees people began to slowly trickle into the clearing. They were all covered in ash, some had burns and rips in their smouldering clothes, many were huddled in groups supporting people who were sporting serious injuries or clutching children to them. Fear was etched on every face. Those that were alone were stumbling blindly forward, blank eyes suggesting they had just witnessed some unspeakable horror. They began to settle on the grass surrounding the pool either side of the stream that fed it. A few began tending to the wounded, but many sank to the ground staring up at the top of the dome blocking out the nights sky.

After some time, the man stopped chanting and the glow began to fade from both him and the stag, his eyes darkened, and the light disappeared revealing his brown eyes. For a few moments longer, the dome glowed before fading into nothing. There was an orange glow from the flames surrounding where the dome had been, but while they continued to burn, they no longer advanced. Above them the stars were blotted out by great plumes of acrid smoke and the people watched it rise terrified that it might claim their sanctuary at any moment. The stag stepped away from the man and went to join his herd, soot and ash marred his white coat and the stench of smoke clung to it, so he waded into the pool.

The man slumped; the spell he had used had taken an enormous effort, but he still had one more thing he must do. Slowly he turned and began to walk toward the pool. He waded into it and began to swim across towards a waterfall that concealed a cave in the face of the cliff. Clambering up onto a ledge he carefully edged into the opening. Once inside he lent heavily against the wall and closed his eyes. Exhaustion weighed on him, but he needed do this their lives depended on it. With a great effort he pushed off the wall and walked to the centre of the cave. Closing his eyes and spreading his hands he began to chant once again, this time his voice was softer than before and while the language was still ancient, the words were different. Light began to glow softly around him, and a tendril shot out and began to carve runes into the stone of the walls surrounding him until the entire cavern was filled with the bright blue light. A stone alter began to rise slowly out of the ground in the centre, directly below a small opening in the ceiling, and a large leather-bound book appeared on the alter. It opened, and the pages turned as if blown by a strong wind. As they turned more runes were etched on the pages and pictures appeared, many of the pictures depicted a girl with flaming red hair. As the book was filled small cracks began to appear across the man’s skin and clothes, more light escaped through the cracks, blazing out of him as if his skin was only just holding back his molten core. Finally, the book reached the last page and then slammed shut, as it shut the man exploded into a great ball of blue light that burned brighter until it was unbearable to look at before it vanished into thin air. The runes on the wall still glowed faintly blue but were slowly fading into nothing. Finally, the only light in the cave came from a shaft of moonlight filtering through the hole in the ceiling, it fell upon the book as it lay silently on the alter. The only sounds that could be heard were the rushing of the waterfall, the moans and sobs of the people huddled outside, and the far-off crackling of flames.