Ghosts & Goblins: an interview with Fen Walker

Best experienced in the Ghosts & Goblins PDF zine

Please introduce and tell us about yourself

Greetings! My stage name is Wayfarer and I am the musician behind the Dungeon synth/Fantasy Ambient project Fen Walker. I am based in Portland, Oregon, but my heart and mind belong in the wild and majestic realm of the funeral isle of Ur. After a long and unsatisfying decade of trying to make myself a place in the robust Portland metal scene, I found myself with a month of paternity leave for the birth of my third child. Having freshly discovered Dungeon synth for the second time, I decided to use the period during my infant son’s constant napping to write the first Fen Walker album “Hail! O’ Barrow Lands.”

In addition to Fen Walker, I record albums for a variety of other projects including Frost Clad, Spectral Manse and Curse Breaker among others.

Tell us about the story / world building / themes behind your project

When I recorded the first album, I did not intend to create any kind of lore. I wanted it to make an album that was a linear story. Listeners followed a character travelling to different locations, meeting characters and encountering threats. I wanted to leave it up to interpretation as to what was going on within the music. Developed characters and an ongoing plot hadn’t occurred to me yet. It wasn’t until the second Fen Walker album, “The Totem Wilds Call Thy Name” that I started to form the story and it wasn’t until the third album “Sojourns in the Realm of the Undermoon,” that I wrote anything down and included the stories on my Bandcamp page. Most of it is still floating around in my mind and hasn’t seen the page yet, but I’d love to write a book someday, but until then, here is the short version:

The first three Fen Walker albums, known as Saga I, follow a woman who is a shepherd of the dead. She travels over the island continent of Ur and guides lost and lonely spirits to burial sites, mounds or tombs where they can live out the next life in peace and comfort. Proper burial and funerary practices are central to the life of the Urish people, who dedicate their lives to building labyrinthine tomb structures and regularly visiting deceased relatives. All of this is important, because without proper burial, spirits live in a hell of loneliness, never able to pass onto the second death and never able to interact with the people they can see and hear all around them.

Eventually, The Wanderess, as she is known, fails in her duty and grave robbers desecrate the sacred Barrow Lands and steal the treasures from the mounds. Though she is able to get the treasure back, in shame, she exiles herself to the mysterious lands of the north.

Saga II follows the woman’s twin daughters Soja and Woja, who are born in a different continent and travel to Ur to bury their mother who has died. They inadvertently lead the imperious forces of the north to the shore of Ur, where they begin to invade the peaceful continent. The sisters then have to decide to defend the ancestral home of their mother and betray their own king, or help invade it and betray their mother.

A large theme in the Fen Walker story has been tradition and conservation versus technology and change, which is something I think a lot about. I don’t believe either are inherently bad, but there must be a balance between the two. In a way its my own bastardization of Michael Moorcock’s Chaos and Law ideas. Aside from this central theme, there is the classic hero’s journey, the evils of colonialism, redemption, and some cosmic horror element throughout. Most importantly I want the fantasy to shine through, because what Fen Walker is really all about is escapism.

Tell us about the art & design associated with your project

I work very closely with the artist Brendan Elliott for the visuals of Fen Walker. He is really the second member of the band and it’s almost like we have a psychic link. At this point, I don’t even need to communicate my needs that much, he knows where the story is going and is able to create exactly the image I want. I think a large part of Fen Walker’s success lies in the art; it’s a portal into the world I have created. Even folks, who don’t like the music, can still appreciate the paintings and still get a glimpse of Ur and the wonders it holds.

Generally, I’ll have two pieces created for each album. A cover piece that illustrates a major scene from the story, and a landscape or map that can illustrate the interior of the physical media, usually a cassette tape. The art itself is acrylic and painted on a variety of canvases and art boards. Brendan has painted for quite a few Dungeon synth acts, including Guild of Lore, Sombre Arcane, Shrouded Gate, Moss Troll among others.

What are some of your influences (musical and otherwise)?

Oh I have many, many influences. Outside of the Dungeon synth sphere of influence I am inspired by legendary German synthesists Tangerine Dream, their album “Phaedra” is a particular favourite of mine as well as many of their soundtracks. The Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis is one of the great synth albums of all time and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to it. “Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings” by Bo Hannson is probably my greatest inspiration for Fen Walker; it is a tragically overlooked gem of 70’s progressive rock and I hear something new every time I listen to it. Hermit like synthesist Jim Kirkwood has also had a huge impact on me and is another recognized musician who has great power. His music helped introduce the Berlin School style into my own music. Master of Dragon and Castles of Sand are two standouts from his massive back catalogue. 

The Dungeon synth sphere of influence is larger. The feeling of being a part of a community that is constantly creating and sharing music is very exhilarating to me and makes me want to continue writing music even more. Projects and albums I discovered early on that inspired Fen Walker: Torchlight (The Long Quest), Vandalorum (Flagellum Dei), Zandar Zan (Thug Life in Tsargol), Old Sorcery (Strange and Eternal), Utred (Forest), The Path Eternal (Search of True Ascendance). These projects and albums were guides and teachers during my first few albums and are all worth checking out.

Projects and albums I listen to for a regular bump of creative inspiration are: Guild of Lore (Stormhaven), Cernunnos Woods (Awaken the Dark Empire), Sombre Arcane (Realmsong), Scrying Glass (Wyrmhole), Voormithadreth (The Quest for Iranon), Arcanist (Poseidonis), Thangorodrim (Taur Nu Fuin)…and on and on the list goes. Non-musical influences: Beowulf (the Seamus Heaney translation), The Lord of the Rings, H.P Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, the Richard Sharpe novels (by Bernard Cornwell) and so on and so forth.

Tell us about your creative space and process

My recoding space is a giant mess! I like it that way. I have books on every surface, things perched precariously, various functional and non-functional lamps, cables and equipment coiled and piled upon the ground. There is a lot of dust. It’s a mess, but its an organized one, and I’m comfortable in the space. My process is to record very detailed segments of a song, fully layered and mixed, and then get writer’s block. What comes before this beautiful arrangement? What comes after? I don’t know. I forget all about the segment until I rediscover it some weeks later and work on it some more. This usually results in the completion of the song. I have about fifteen partially completed tracks waiting for me to rediscover them and complete them. This used to be unintentional and irritating, until I realized that my ears needed this break. Now I’ll record something and put it away purposely for later exhumation. On occasion. I’ll go to my synthesisers and an entire song will pour out in one session. However, I count this as a happy surprise versus an expectation. I recently release an album for a new project called Frost Clad. The album was recorded in this way and I finished the whole process in about a week. Very rare, but nice.

Songwriting wise, listeners will notice that my music is very dense and complex, whereas most Dungeon synth tends to lean toward a more simple approach. There are a few reasons for this: traditional Dungeon synth came out of the Black Metal scene in the early 90’s and tends to follow in a lo-fi production and stripped down songwriting that leans toward atmosphere. Though I enjoy Black Metal, I come at Dungeon synth with a background in traditional heavy metal and bands like Omen, Manilla Road, Iron Maiden and the like. While I try to capture the atmosphere of Dungeon synth, I want to tell an exciting fantasy story too, and for me, that means robust and detailed songs with harmonies you might find in a heavy metal song!

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

Fog shrouded hills, trees, moss, mushrooms and waterfalls, all these things help me get into the mindset for recording a song. Luckily, I don’t have to go very far to find these things. Oregon is covered in forests. There are countless parks and hiking trails a short drive from my residence. North is the Columbia river gorge which look rights out of a fantasy novel, the cascade range to the east with its towering mountains and the ocean to the west. All these places I can reach in less than two hours. Being amid old growth trees or by the ocean really sparks my creativity. Often, I’ll search for a sound on my synthesiser to capture something I have seen in nature. ‘The Mist Wreathed Shores of Ur Rising,” for example, was me trying to sonically create the rising cliffs and pine forests on a foggy day at the Oregon coast.

What does Dungeon synth (and/or related genres) mean to you?

Initially, I wasn’t ready for Dungeon synth. At the time I was discovering all that metal had to offer and I didn’t want to hear long-form synth songs. I wanted faster and heavier metal. A few years ago, I was fatigued with metal, and music in general. I was tired of playing drums and guitar. I was tired of heavy music and the effort that went into multi-tracking drums and layering guitars and vocals. And then, after all that, releasing the fruits of my labour to zero interest from anyone. Bandcamp published an article on Dungeon synth and after exploring some of the projects, I felt my love of music totally renew. It had a fantasy atmosphere I loved, a black metal aesthetic, foreboding, mystery and a DIY punk attitude. Later, when I started producing Fen Walker songs, I found it was something that I could create with ease and focus on developing emotional and evocative weight rather than fretting about microphone positions on a drum kit.

How would you describe the Dungeon synth community?

The community is one of the great parts of being involved in Dungeon synth. We admire each other’s work, we cheer each other on during live streams, we discuss nerdy stuff, we support each other’s ventures. Sometimes it gets dysfunctional, there are arguments and dramas that occur, but what music scene doesn’t have that?

The scene is largely social media based. There are several Facebook groups where we post music and talk about Dungeon synth. Scrolling through the pages you might see ads from the various labels (Out of Season, Dungeons Deep, Ancient Meadow, Lamp & Dagger, to name a few), people presenting their new music for the first time, occasional debates, and all variety of Dungeony content.

Another large part of the community is the live streams, which are presented on Twitch. Northeast Dungeon Siege (or NEDS) has been organizing these shows and has put in a huge amount of effort in getting everything together. Shane and Josh from Sombre Arcane are the two responsible for starting NEDS, with Tirith recently becoming the third member of the team. NEDS happens once a year with the most recent being a massive three-night streaming event that I was privileged to be a part of. Next year, with Covid on its way out, I’m hoping NEDS will be a live event.

Lastly, you can’t talk about the community and not mention The Dungeon synth Archives on YouTube. The person, or people, behind the DSA are mysterious, I don’t know if anyone know who they are, but they have been posting an album or so a week for years now. When someone is new to the scene and looking for good releases the DSA is usually immediately mentioned. Each album posted gets a large number of views and exposure, this helps lots of people get their projects off the ground. I personally owe a lot to the DSA for regularly supporting Fen Walker over the years.

Tell us about your gaming habits: video games, RPG, tabletop, other? Past & present.

I am an on and off again gamer. I do love them, but with three kids, it’s hard to use up what little free time I have on games rather than music. I was HUGE into games as a kid. I will always have a soft spot of early 90’s shooters, Heretic and Hexen being my favourites, those games had incredible atmosphere, and music that I still listen to today. Heroes of Might and Magic 3 took up an insane amount of my childhood and has one of the greatest soundtracks ever made. Same goes for Diablo II, once I start a game of it, I play it obsessively until it’s completed. I still play these games. I suppose you could call me a retro gamer.

I have a regular Tuesday night Call of Cthulhu session that I run. In addition to the myriad, other tabletop games I play with my wife and friends. The jewel of my game collection is the original edition of Hero Quest that I found recently. I found this classic board game once before as a child in a second hand store for $4. Slowly the pieces were lost and the board damaged. It would probably be accurate to say that Hero Quest was my introduction to the world of fantasy, and I am forever grateful for it and it’s been very nostalgic playing through it again.

If you could step through a portal to any realm of fantasy, where would it be?

I always find this question difficult, because I have a habit of weighing the dangers of whatever fantasy world I would wish to inhabit. They are all full of monsters and my weak modern-day self wouldn’t last long I imagine. I will have to pick Morrowind though. I spent many an hour as a teenager exploring the island of Vvardenfell, it would be pretty cool to explore it in real life. Could I bring a rifle to take care of all those damn Cliff Racers?

Fenwalker Bandcamp

Brendan Elliott Instagram

Northeast Dungeon Siege Facebook

The Dungeon synth Archive YouTube

Ghosts & Goblins: an interview with Erang

Best experienced in the Ghosts & Goblins PDF zine

Please introduce and tell us about yourself

I’m Erang, a french musician of Dungeon synth and Nostalgic Fantasy Music. I’ve been very active and involved in the revival of Dungeon synth with my first album ‘TOME I’ in 2012.

Tell us about the story/world building/themes behind your project

All my music takes place in my world, The Land of the Five Seasons. It’s an old continent eternally floating on an ocean far older, that takes place over several different timelines. Five Seasons are endlessly flowing at the same time in different parts of this ancient Land. All the recurrent characters and places are inspired by events from my real life and people from my past that are forever gone… So it is not fully fantasy, it is always linked to real life so to speak, and that’s an important part of what I try to do. To create bridges between coloured fantasy worlds and our grey, but only ‘real’ life.

Tell us about the art & design associated with your project

I’ve always been a very creative child and drew a lot as a kid. I’m an amateur and not the most talented, but it comes from my heart: I really love to make all of my artworks myself. They really are a part of my world, a very important part. Same goes with the videos I make to go with my music. For instance, you can check what I’ve done for a recorded live performance for the Northeast Dungeon Siege festival: 

What are some of your influences (musical and otherwise)?

That’s always an impossible question. My strongest influences come from my own past and small personal history. Places I have been, forever lost and where I’ll never come back… people, memories from my childhood, from school… Musically it is really too broad to name… I listen to a lot of music in many different styles and have been influenced by music from Brian Eno to Summoning, from Ulver to Aphex Twin, Coil, David Bowie, Bathory, Robert Wyatt, Daft Punk, Dead Can Dance… Really the list is endless and I’ve hidden many, many easter eggs here and there in my music… But I’d like to add that cartoons and movies are a really big part of my inspiration. Being the soundtrack or their overall atmosphere. I’m a really huge fan of David Lynch, for instance, but of course, old fantasy movies from the 80’s are at the core of my world : Willow, The Neverending Story, Conan, Dark Crystal… the John Carpenters movies (I’m a big fan of his work, movies and music) the TV adaptation of Stephen King, etc.

Tell us about your creative space and process

I let things grow and come organically. The only rule, as talked by Stephen King and many others : do it everyday, like a craftsman. I consider myself as craftsman, no more no less. Everyday I work on my « wooden chair » you know. I put my old rudimentary tools on the table and do something with them, even a little bit of sculpting here and there. I accumulate pieces of music, ideas, notes… and at the same time if I’m listening to outside music or watching something that tickles me, a movie, a documentary, reading an interview of a book, I put it on a folder named « Inspirational Map »… and after some time, everything should click together like a happy coincidence. I start to realise that some of these things are linked together and that an album is taking shape, hopefully.

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

I guess like everybody I’m a product of different cultures. However, my direct environment has no influence on me: everything is in my mind and comes from my inner world. The place I live or what I see outside the window plays no significant role. My “environment” is in my head, windows are turned on the inside: landscapes, feelings, atmosphere, memories… I just close my eyes…

What does Dungeon synth (and/or related genres) mean to you?

Well, I guess it means everything. To me, there is a before and after Dungeon synth. Stumbling into the DS blog in 2011 changed me and my life forever. And to have been a part of the revival is something I’m deeply proud about and honored to have contributed to at my small scale. Of course, as my creative freedom is the thing I cherish the most, I would never consider myself as a « True Old School Dungeon synth » musician… I let my imagination go where it needs to, even if it’s far from Dungeon synth territories sometimes… but it’s not that far and the DS vibe is always there if you look closely…

How would you describe the Dungeon synth community?

I’d like to thank them because they have always been very receptive toward my work and music. I’m not really a « community » person myself because I’m very solitary, but I follow what’s going on and they are often very supportive toward small projects or beginners which is really cool. Of course, like every online community, it’s made of humans, therefore you’ll find all the usual good or bad online behaviours… but along those 10 years I’ve met some really wonderful people and I’m glad to have some chat from time to time with some of them.

Tell us about your gaming habits: video games, RPG, tabletop, other? Past & present

I played some « choose your own adventure books » when I was a child and keep fond memories of it. I also played a bit of tabletop RPG when I was a young teen, mainly with my older brother: Stormbringer, Hawkmoon, MERPG… not often but it really struck me. I also played a lot to HERO QUEST and the DUNE tabletop game with my cousins. What I loved the most was to create my own games though. Drawing and cutting the cards on cardboard, drawing the map, writing the rules, etc. I usually spend days creating the game and we might have played it once or even never haha. But the pleasure was to create and imagine them… Concerning gaming, I played a lot on computers in the end of the 80’s and very early 90’s : Amstrad CPC and then an ATARI STE 1040. Then I had a SNES for Christmas and that’s where I had my best gaming memories : Zelda III, Secret of Mana… those were really great games! I really keep vivid memories of me playing Zelda III on the TV living room: fun fact, I ended up with a German only version of the game. So I played all the game with every character speaking German which added a strange touch to it for me… then I played a bit of Nintendo 64, only Mario 64, Mario Kart and Goldeneyes and after that I completely stopped gaming. Only recently, after 20 years, I’ve played Braid, FEZ and, for a few weeks, Skyrim for the first time ever. I enjoy the atmosphere and the freedom to wander all around in the open world…

If you could step through a portal to any realm of fantasy, where would it be?

Nowhere: as soon as you step in, it will stop being magical and fantasy, to become another reality… The best places to be are those where you’ll never go!

Erang website

Bandcamp      Instagram      Spotify

A Journey Into the Land of the Five Seasons

Ghosts & Goblins

6/6/2022 is the 10 year anniversary of the day The Ephemeral Man first discovered Earth-6

To mark the occasion he has produced the first of a new zine and audio mix called Ghosts & Goblins, celebrating games, Dungeon synth and Fantasy. Among other things, the zine contains interviews with Dungeon synth legends Erang, Fen Walker and Evergreen.

Ghosts & Goblins PDF zine

1 Mark Cooksey – Ghosts ‘n Goblins (C64)
2 Erang – Thirteen Priestess Of Kolm Standing Guard
3 Fen Walker – Fare Thee Well Battle Winds
4 Koji Kondo – Super Mario 64: Dire, Dire Docks
5 Hideous Gomphidius – A Destroying Angel’s Horrid Curse
6 Inon Zur, Aubrey Ashburn – Dragon Age: Origins – Lelianna’s Song
7 Elyvilon – Just Stones Beneath the Bridge
8 Waywarden – Of Eons and Oblivions
9 Howard Shore – The Fellowship of the Ring: Bag End
10 Cursebitten – A Great Journey of Great Hardship
11 Koji Kondo – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Lost Woods
12 Hallas – Earl’s Theme
13 Diplodocus – Tanystropheus’ Reign
14 Kelly Bailey – Half-Life: Jungle Drums
15 Gray Friar – Jagged Peaks, the Celestial Citadel
16 Bartizan Chill – Vacuum Visage
17 Russell Shaw – Fable: Oakvale
18 Rainbow – The Temple Of The King
19 Almesbury Abbey – And I Shall Never Make Thee Smile Again
20 Basil Poledouris – Conan the Barbarian: Theology/Civilization (Alternate Version)
21 Warrior Path – Avenger
22 Matt Uelmen – Diablo 11: Tristram (Story Edit)
23 Grim Father – Before the Endless Door
24 Woods Of Sith Cala – Orogene
25 Ithildin – Bilberry
26 Uriah Heep – The Wizard
27 Unsheathed Glory – The Court of the Necromancer

Wyrd Daze Seven Star Fiction: Einhar on the Ways by Leigh Wright

Best experienced in the PDF zine

Einhar strode the worn path of the Ways, seeking news of his father. Every step carried the same determination now as when he had first ventured southward from the savannah city of Fruca, almost six weeks ago. He knew the landscape well enough, having been born and raised out here in the wild. Knew the dangers too: indeed, he had not set foot inside the boundaries of civilisation until he was nineteen and determined that he would forge his own path rather than re-treading the grand looping trail that his ancestors had followed for generations, carrying goods between the three Hu cities.

Hundreds of caravans traversed the Ways with their girotah-pulled wagons, the giant beetles most suited as beasts of burden out in the wild where Hu were far from being the apex predator. Any of the great reptiles, felines, canines, or other savage beasts could attack a caravan without warning, and often did. The chitinous girotah did not attract predators and wouldn’t bolt when scared, instead usually hunkering down and relying on their incredibly tough exoskeleton to protect them.

Each caravan is Family, by name if not by blood, every one of them hardened against the perils of their lifestyle and trained to fight to survive. Mercenaries hired to bolster the numbers of a group were considered part of the Family once they had completed a full circuit of the Ways, which took over a year. Einhar had passed several Families on their way to Fruca, though none with news of his father fresher than this season or the last. Some remembered Einhar as a boisterous lad and had kind words and tales to tell of his well-respected father.

Families rarely numbered much over thirty, having long learned not to invite the wrath of dragons, masters of this world. Long ago the dragons’ supremacy was challenged by their erstwhile bipedal cousins the Rakhnath, full of pride in the grand civilisation they had built. Now, the Rakhnath were limited to a single decrepit city on this large continent and are no longer associated with their kin where once they were favoured. The Hu had not yet sinned against their masters and were blessed with three cities.

Einhar had last seen a dragon just a few days ago, close to the Dea Way-station. He had paused his relentless stride to squint up into the sun-hazed sky at the monstrosity. The dragon was too high for Einhar to make out any detail; might not even have noticed if it weren’t for the majestic cry sending a chill down the spine of every living thing that heard it, but he thought he caught a glimpse of light reflecting off dark-blue scales.

Way-stations are little more than watering holes with a couple of crude shacks for shelter. Any other Hu structures outside of the cities would be destroyed on sight by the dragons, so too any large gatherings of people. Three Families gathered at a Way-station was a risk to be avoided. Einhar had arrived at Dea to wary looks despite him being known, and not just because a dragon had recently been heard. Though no one that knew him could doubt Einhar’s skill as a warrior (he was still considered by most to be Family, albeit a black sheep), seeing someone travel by themselves was uncanny to the superstitious Families. Einhar and a dragon within an hour was one omen too many. With still no word of his father, Einhar filled his waterskin and left quickly. He should have had learnt something by now. Had an attack crippled or destroyed some of their wagons, delaying them while they made repairs? Were they injured… or dead? He could think of few other possibilities.

He had walked through the night and into the day, the flat heat of the savannah slowly giving way to verdant meadow and a cooling breeze. That afternoon, a pack of prairie-wolves made an attempt for his antelope kill. The beasts were over-confident, two of their number being felled by arrows not a deterrent, but when Einhar drew forth the steel from his back and cleaved about him savagely, the prairie-wolves soon gave up, yapping indignantly as they fled.     

Now, three days after leaving the Way-station behind and almost six weeks since leaving Fruca, the path of the Ways began to undulate over otherwise green hills and vales. A few more days and he would reach a divergence: one path bearing West towards Glacindal, the other continuing on all the way to Caromklack, from whence his father should be leading his caravan laden with goods.

A sudden guttural roar snapped him from his gloomy reverie with an adrenaline rush and Einhar actually grinned: here was something he could respond to. The sound was unmistakably that of one of the larger reptiles, probably one of the two-legged variety. Nothing higher on the food chain except dragons. Einhar was already running, cresting the hill towards danger, contrary to what most Hu would do when hearing such an instinctively terrifying sound. Heart pounding and mind racing, Einher almost expected to find the monster attacking his Family’s caravan and for a fleeting moment imagined himself reunited with his father as his Family’s saviour.

The draurak was indeed attacking a caravan, but a quick scan of the wagons was enough for Einhar to tell that this was not his Family. However, it was one that he knew: the old Marshts, long friends of his father, their children Einhar’s occasional playmates when they would cross paths along the Ways or in the outskirts of a city, what seemed like long ago. Fajha, Tinath, Henel… were they alive or dead? The giant reptile was bipedal, standing almost three times Einhar’s height and with a massive jaw filled with long, serrated teeth. Each bite, destruction. The beast’s comparatively small forearms were no less deadly, vicious talons slashing awful gashes into any flesh they found, crushing anyone they managed to grab. There was much screaming from the desperate Hu amidst the triumphant deep rumbling of the draurak as it chomped on flesh and bone.

The Hu of the Ways do not flee from danger, such an instinct is of no use in the savage wilds. Better to stick together and face whatever danger there might be as a unified force. Separation from Family inevitably leads to death. Every member of the Family begins learning to wield a weapon from a young age and keeps learning as long as they live. None of this made much of a difference when confronted with a draurak, their dark blue-green hide resisting most weapons. Only iron or steel stood a chance of drawing blood from the beast, and steel was a rarity.

Einhar could see that the Family were not faring well, many of them already crushed and eviscerated, pools of blood soaking into the low grass. That the draurak had not finished off the small huddled group of survivors immediately was intriguing to Einhar as he cautiously jogged downhill toward the scene. The monster now seemed to have a particular interest in one of the wagons somewhere near the middle of the nine-strong caravan, four incense burners hanging from each corner of the wagon bed evidently doing little to hide the scent of whatever lay inside. The draurak ripped the canvas away, snapping the bows that held it in place with ease. The wagon was still harnessed to a girotah which had dug four of its spikey legs into the ground for purchase and retracted the rest, along with any other soft body parts, into its jagged exoskeleton. This tactic had served the girotah so well against the predators of this world that most now hardly gave them a second glance – one of the reasons that they made much better beasts of burden than cattle along the Ways.

The draurak was eating something from the back of the wagon and hadn’t noticed Einhar approaching from behind. He jogged toward the shocked survivors of the attack. There were wounded and a lot of blood. His heart leap as he recognised the unmistakable copper hue of Marsht hair: there was Fajha and Henel, bedraggled and ashen-faced, but alive. Recognition dawned in Fajha’s eyes as Einhar approached and she stared as if at a vision. Henel soon caught on and quietly chanted Einhar’s name in shocked welcome. There were only four others alive, none of them with copper hair, and two of those were swiftly losing their life’s blood into the grass. The draurak continued snuffling into the wagon, but surely only for a few moments more.

Einhar placed a hand each on Fajha and Henel’s shoulder in solidarity. Henel was younger but taller than his sister, though not so tall as Einher. They wore leather armour and clutched iron-tipped spears. A look into their eyes told him all he needed to know about the fate of their parents and brother. Einhar acknowledged the other four survivors, the two wounded barely coherent and likely not long for life. Instinct told him that every moment counted, but still his curiosity piqued him.

“What’s in the wagon?” he asked.

Henel looked darkly toward the beast, his confidence renewing with Einhar’s presence. “Golden truffles from a forest not far from Glacindal, a new delicacy. We used the usual incense to mask the scent, but it made no difference to the draurak.  

Einhar shook his head in wonder. “Golden truffles… We need to move, now, before it’s had enough of such treats and longs for Hu flesh again!”

One of the wounded was now unconscious, if not dead. The other began to screech in panic when he saw the Marshts about to leave. Einhar, who had drawn the steel sword from his back, abruptly knocked out the screecher with the pommel and growled at the others that it was time to go. Too late, though, as the draurak turned towards them, unsteady on its legs, and gave an uncharacteristically strangled roar. It shook its head with a snarl and stepped forward almost gingerly, as if struggling to balance.

Einhar saw a chance of survival. The monster was acting as if intoxicated – perhaps those golden truffles had such an effect. Still, the chance was slim, as the enraging draurak seemed intent on its prey even if it was taking more effort than usual to get to it. Einhar had no confidence that they could flee: even inhibited the monster would catch up to them with ease. Hiding amongst the wagons was unlikely to keep them alive much longer. Fighting a draurak was usually suicide, but perhaps…

Fajha was beside him, her pale slim hand cool on his. She was beautiful to Einhar in that moment: not for the first time, but never coupled with such poignancy. He longed to lose himself in her eyes. In them, he saw determination and belief in his abilities. “I’ll distract it,” she said. “Kill the monster, Einhar.”

There was no time for thought. The draurak was stumbling towards them out of its mind, slather flying from its minacious mouth. Fajha began to sing shrilly, a song of hard days along the Ways with the companionship of family and loved ones to stave away the terrors of the night. She slipped off her colourful skirts and waved them in the air, backing away as she did so. Henel remained by her side. The other two mercenaries made a run for it, and Einhar cursed them as he slowly moved away from the last surviving Marsht’s to position himself behind the draurak.

The draurak paused in its delirium and for a long moment seemed entranced by Fajha’s sound and movement. It took tentative giant steps towards her, shaking its head as if to rid itself of the effect of the truffles. Einhar had never seen anything like it – all the draurak encounters he had seen or heard of were nothing but rage incarnate. It was only a matter of time before the monster snapped out of its incoherence and attacked.

Einhar ran, a burst of speed hopefully with enough momentum for him to propel himself from the lizard’s tail to its head. His sword was too unwieldy here, but it was not the only steel he owned, the precious metal also encapsulated into a dagger with a blade the length of his hand. He knew he would get only one chance; if he failed in his attempt the draurak would throw him off with ease and eviscerate him in moments.

He could not help but to release an immense cry of effort as he leaped, and this actually helped his cause as the draurak began to turn its head towards him, presenting its right eye as prime target. Einhar’s thrust was true and the dagger’s blade pushed deep into the eye socket. The monster raged instantly, throwing Einhar off to land roughly in the grass. It spasmed erratically, its scream awful, green-tinged blood and ruined vitreous oozing from the wound. It stumbled away: irrational, enraged and perhaps even fearful, its steps floundering as it went.

Einhar did not know if the monster was bound to die, and he did not think it wise to wait to find out. A combination of luck and teamwork had kept them alive this day. He felt a rush of exhilaration at surviving the encounter and beckoned the Marshts to run with him to safety.

They kept to the Ways, of course. To get lost beyond them was to invite death. After an hour with no sight nor sound of the draurak they were reasonably sure that they had escaped, but kept going anyway, saying little. The Marshts were clearly in shock, struggling to process the grief of the loss of their Family. They made camp as the sun began to dip low in the sky, Einhar sharing what little water and scraps of meat he carried. There was a Way-station close to where the path diverged; they should reach it before the end of the next day.

Henel asked how Einhar had found them, so he told the Marshts that he was searching for his Family. A dark look of remembrance crossed the siblings’ faces then, and Fajha explained that they had seen his father’s wagons broken, ransacked and abandoned along the Ways halfway to Glacindal. They had been stripped almost bare, but she had recognised a distinctive marking carved into one of the broken wagon-beds: Fajha’s own initials, carved there by Einhar years before when they were children. This meant that whatever had befallen his Family had happened no more than a few months after Einhar had seen them off from the outskirts of Fruca. They were likely dead, Einhar knew: his father would not abandon the wagons. The trail would be cold, but someone must know what had happened. Einhar vowed to find out.


Leigh is the curator of Wyrd Daze. You can sometimes find him on Twitter.