Red Blood, Cold Winds and Green Knights

Submitted into Contest #122 in response to: Start your story in the middle of a traffic jam.... view prompt

65 comments

Adventure Lesbian LGBTQ+

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

There were hundreds of refugees. Lines of shivering survivors stretched off into the swirling white snow. At the south gate of Leonor, they were crammed together while soldiers of Crann Kingdom tried to make sense of the influx.


“They’ve burnt it to the ground,” said a desperate woman’s voice.

            Danielle Longbow did her best to avoid being crushed by the caravan of men, women and children pushing to be closer to the gate.


“The empire killed everyone. We’re all that’s left. You must let us in. We’ll die out here. They’re coming,” said a knight of the fallen kingdom from atop his horse. Three knights of Afon Kingdom remained on horseback, their blue tabards were stained with blood and covered in icicles.


“ONE AT A TIME! You WILL be searched for WEAPONS.” Sir Lennox sat atop his own horse. Its grunting breath was visible in jets of vapour from the giant nostrils.

            Getting the desperate people into a line was worse than herding cats.

            “She pushed; I should be first.”

            “Do you know who I am? I’m not waiting behind them.”

            “Please, I’m half dead here. Let me through.”

            Danielle barely listened. She had her brown eyes on the crowds, looking for any sign of weapons. Shivers shook her body. Her hands were stinging inside her gloves. The snow was falling thicker by the moment.

            By the time the last of the refugees had been searched and let through the south gate it was dark. A skeletal man had collapsed at the back of the line. Danielle lifted his frozen corpse with the help of another soldier.

Glad to hear the gate creaking shut behind her, Danielle rolled her broad shoulders, trying not to think about the dead man whose legs she was carrying.



The following night, on the wall, she threw another log into the brazier to keep the fire up.         

           Watch duty was almost meaningless. Through the blizzard she couldn’t see the bottom of the wall she stood on. Standing any closer to the flames would have set her alight, but further away she was sure she’d freeze.

            A distant dull thumping noise fought its way through the snow to her ears. The wind changed course, heading away from the city, west. Then the wind and the drumming returned. Danielle recognised the sound of soldiers drumming on their shields.

            Thousands of soldiers.

            “RIGHTEOUS CANE. RIGHTEOUS CANE. PROPHET OF GODS AND HOLY PAIN.”

            “Again? They need a new chant.”

            For hours the chant went on, growing louder and louder. Tens of thousands of voices. Orange flickers in the swirling mass told of the camp to the west.

            Danielle was comforted to feel her sword in its hilt on her hip. Brushing icicles from her green tabard lightened her burden considerably. Once an hour she gratefully took a tankard of hot broth from a child feeding everyone on watch. Though it was welcome, she was bursting for a piss by the end of her watch.

            The empire did not strike that night.



When the bells rang, everyone knew what it meant. Beneath the furs, Lupita’s embrace was everything she needed. Duty called them both away. Her lover helped Danielle strap on her armour over bulging muscles. After a single kiss, the soldier left the brown skinned girl to jump into her green and gold Royal Coven uniform. They both had work to do.


            “I love you,” miss Longbow yelled as she ran from the door, back into the blizzard.

            “I love you more,” said Lupita, the sound almost lost in the wind.

            Danielle jogged to her station on the southern wall not far from the gate.


            Everyone knew where to go. Queen Malin had prepared them well. Most had new armour, forged by the relentless smiths. Those smiths were led by Lupita’s father, who had more apprentices than he knew what to do with.

            Anyone who didn’t have new armour had imperial armour, scavenged after the last siege, over their own clothes. Bright new green tabards with the Crann Oak collected hundreds of icicles with every step. Who the fuck invaded in the middle of winter?


            “Longbow, get yourself some cursed arrows and run to the gate.” From the age and the rasping quality of the voice Danielle guessed it was Sir Lennox, but the voice was distorted by an indecisive wind.

            A boy too young to fight gave her a red quiver. He had no fear on his ruddy face. He had a job to do like the rest of them. She didn’t want to condescend, so just took the arrows, and nodded to him in thanks. He nodded back and grabbed the next quiver.

            The arrows weren’t exactly cursed. They were made with slivers of wood from the curaduile trees. Those trees, living, thinking and magical, grew monstrously on contact with human blood.


            Screaming.

           Clashing metal.

           The pained cry of soldiers falling to their death off the wall.

           Strangled cries to her right pulled her eyes to the sight of the curaduile trees devouring scores of imperial soldiers.

           All down the western wall as far as the trees went, there were screams. The first wave of the attack tried to climb those trees to get up the wall. Danielle suppressed a smile.

           The wall curved back east towards the southern gate. Invaders had made use of the low visibility to rush their ladders to the base of the wall. Defenders with spears were making it impossible for anyone in imperial red to climb the siege ladders.


           “Righteous Cane.” A man was pumping his fist by the base of a ladder, trying to pump up the troops while avoiding suicide at the top of the ladder.

She aimed for his leg. It was hard to draw her bow wearing the armour. She elbowed someone behind her as she drew the string back. The fletching of the red stained arrow flapped against her face. “Righteous Cane.” Exhaling, she let go. “Prophet ahhh.” He fell with the arrow in his shin.


           A beer barrel rolled down one of the ladders, knocking off every climber on the way down before it burst into splinters at the bottom. The stench of old piss and shit made her gag. Invaders sprayed with the stuff were vomiting involuntarily.


           The man who tried to start a chant was morphing into a hungry curaduile tree. Between the rancid stench and the soldiers transforming into branched monsters, the invaders weren’t as keen as they had been.

           A horn sounded. Cheering erupted from the soldiers of Crann.

           “That’s right. Run away.”

           “You came a long way to die in the snow.”

           “That’s for Afon!” Danielle winced at the knight in blue with a sash of green tied around his upper arm. He spat the call with a fire of hatred the chill air could not calm. Despite that his voice was lyrical. Dancing up and down in tone smoothly. Going faster over some syllables than others.

           “How many of them are there?” Danielle asked. She nodded out beyond the wall.

           “There were a million of the bastards when they crossed into Afon.” His glazed blue eyes stared past her head into fresh traumas. “We cut that in half at Afon Fos.” she knew the name of their capital but had never heard it said with such musical affection. “Weren’t enough. They just kept comin’.” He sniffed. “We had to run. Took what people we could and fled. Broke our oaths and gathered anyone with the sense to go.”

           “You deserted?” Danielle asked, unable to keep the shock from her voice.

           “We had to.” His eyes, on the verge of tears, went wide. As he let out a sigh a huge plume of vapour hung in the air between them for a moment. “We heard the city scream for two weeks. They took the Grey Castle. They set up camp in the city. They weren’t freezing outside the walls anymore. They were camped out in our homes, in our beds. Thousands of them. We had less than a hundred men.” He turned his back to her. “Fucking idiots.”


           “What happened?”

           “We were told to prepare for our last stand. Why? There were boats. Why should we die for a castle that was already lost?” He sniffed again. “We used a rope to get down the wall in the night. We found people being held as prisoners in a granary. We freed them and headed to the boats. We fought. Most of us died. Rest of us got away on the boats.”

           Danielle turned the man around by the shoulders. He had his hand over his mouth, trying to keep a primal scream down.



The attack began again hours later. Danielle met the first wave up the ladders. They came with more ladders than the defenders had spears. They brought loaded crossbows, ready to shoot soldiers on the wall.

            There had to be a thousand soldiers waiting impatiently at the bottom of the ladders. Up they came, too quickly to be pushed back. Sheer volume was on their side.

           Armour wasn’t. Since the last siege Queen Malin had the blacksmiths working around the clock. Armour and weapons had been pouring out of the forges at an ever-increasing rate.

            Short imperial swords scraped against Danielle’s armour. She broke a man’s arm, taking his gladius from him. Lifting his mangled limb, she thrust his own knife into his heart through the gap at his armpit. His dying body was held up by the dense crowd around them.

            Whenever she saw a gap in the cheap imperial armour, the stolen sword leapt in. Fallen soldiers piled up under her feet. The momentum was still with the empire. She was pushed back by the sheer mass of red clothed men. She was stepping on a crimson carpet that cried for help.

            A hand grabbed her helmet, trying to hold it still to stab her through the eye slit. The stolen blade punched a hole through the hand. As the man in front of her screamed, one behind her screamed and screamed.

            Someone had fallen to their death behind her. She was being pushed off the edge of the wall. The thirty-foot drop was enough to kill almost anyone. She lowered herself and spread her feet. Others were falling, imperials pushed to their deaths by the tight packed crowds.

            Pushing others with the strength of a bull, she made space for herself. Catching a defender by the arm she pulled her back from the edge. The soldier in green nodded thanks and went back to stabbing the unarmoured shins of the invaders.


            Night fell. Soldiers fell. Danielle was falling asleep on her feet. She was stabbing blindly, hoping they were the enemy. Songs told of the glory of battle. They neglected to mention the insanity of it.

           Only the masculine death cries were vaguely reassuring. Crann didn’t have many men left to fight.

           Only the endless exertion kept her from freezing to death. The stench of death grew as the battle wore on.

           Snow stopped falling. Moonlight crept out from the clouds. It reflected in the whites of imperial eyes. How were there any left? The imperial soldiers danced in the haze of her exhaustion. Blood dripped from her blade, her hands, her face.

           A horn sounded beyond the walls in the dark.

           “Retreat.” The foreign voice in the darkness was excited, probably because it wasn’t anywhere near the action.

           Danielle didn’t get a break even though the crowd was thinning. They backed off towards the battlements. She let them go. Soon-to-be-corpses writhed around her ankles.

           “Help me.” An imperial grabbed her leg.

           “Sure.” She put him out of his misery.

           Blue glints on armour were all she could see.

           “Hello. Anyone from Crann up here?”

           “Yes,” said a girl’s high-pitched voice with a Leonor accent.

           “Yes,” said a deeper, raspy woman who had to be well older than Danielle.

           “Barely.”

           “Still here,” one said, then coughed loudly and didn’t stop.

           

           Torchlight crept along the wall top towards them. Seeing the orange glow on bloody hands reaching up in hope of mercy was gut wrenching.

           “Fuck the songs.”

           “What?”

           “Nothing.” Danielle shook her head.

           Defenders holding torches cleared the wall top by kicking the invaders off the edge. None of the dying men had enough breath to scream on the way down.

           “Anyone else going to be having nightmares about this for the rest of their life?”

           “If I have nightmares, it means I’m sleeping.” The woman with the gravelly voice laughed bitterly.

           “Why isn’t it morning yet? We must’ve fought all damned night.”


           Using the dead as steppingstones weary warriors made it to hard stone beneath their feet. Finally, the world stopped moving.

           “Rest,” said a woman in a fresh green tabard, “we’ll watch the gate now.”

           “Thank you,” said the bloody defenders.


           She’d never been as drunk as she was tired. Feet slick with gore slipped on the granite steps down into the city. She followed soldiers with sagging shoulders. All held a sword. They couldn’t put them down.

           Her arm shook as she aimed the key at the lock. Each time the key hit the metal around the keyhole and bounced away.

           “Just fucking open, will you?” She heard a constant ringing from a night of metal smashing against metal, screaming and pleading. “Fuck the songs.”

           Her armoured fist smacked the door, barely making a noise. She leaned her head against it and wondered if she could sleep there, like that. She would freeze. Fuck it. If she could sleep, she didn’t have the energy to care whether she woke or not.

           The door opened.

She fell into the cottage face first, taking Lupita down with her.

           “Oh, my gods! Danielle. Are you alright?”

           “Tired,” she said, yawning. Lying down. She didn’t want to ever get up again.

           “Move. You’re in the doorway.”

           “Don’t care. Can’t move.”

           A sharp kick hit her leg.

           Moaning, she rolled onto her back and lifted her legs enough for her lover to close the door.


           Flickering orange light caught the brown form of a curaduile avatar sitting at the kitchen table. Upside down to her eyes, as was the rest of the world. She had to be hallucinating. Trees that could take human form was mad enough. Them sitting at the table was too much.

           “Are you injured?” Lupita asked. Danielle winced at the volume.

           “I don’t know.”

           “Help me get her on the table.”


           Gravity puked her into the air. Arms and legs fell limp. The hard embrace of the wooden tabletop brought her the sight of herbs and vegetables hanging from the ceiling.

           Blackness.

           Sleep.



Pain.

           Everywhere.

           Muscle ache.

           Blinding light.

           “Fuck.”

           “Danielle?”

           “Am I?” She wasn’t sure.

           A beautiful face appeared over her. Lupita’s warm smile. The silhouette of her lover’s long, tight curls. A warm hand cupped her face. Only her face seemed spared from the agony of muscle ache.

           “Did we win?” She tried to sit up. Her muscles gave her a definitive no.

           “Almost. While you were defending the gate a raiding party poisoned all the food in their camp and set fire to their tents. They didn’t sound the retreat. We did. They marched back to no shelter and food they can’t eat.”

           “Help me up.”

           Danielle’s heart almost jumped out of her chest as the face of a tree monster loomed towards her. The curaduile helped Lupita lift the exhausted soldier.

           It was her mimic. She would never get used to seeing a version of herself made of wood. The reflection was perfect physically, but besides the jade green eyes and the pine green hair, the rest was the colour of wood.

           “Your strategy was most ingenious,” said the humanoid tree. The voice was the deep sound of a call echoing up from the bottom of a well. Beneath that was the sound of creaking branches.

           “Why are you here?” She looked at the creature which had taken the look of her face. She was the first person it ever saw. Either it couldn’t change again, or it liked the form.



Though she had been cleaned and changed, blood still soaked Miss Longbow’s skin. Her ears were still ringing.

           “I need my armour on.”

           “No. Are you mad?” Lupita shook her head.

           “Help me. I have to see.”

           They helped her into her armour. The feeling of nakedness left her. She had the gladius, caked with dry blood. Her own sword hung in its scabbard. The armour was a thousand times heavier than usual. Her legs were led.

           Out she went.

           Snow in the air.

           Slush on the cobbles.

           Pink slush.

           Blood everywhere.

           The raw sight of martial industry sickened her. Bodies stacked high. Armour in a pile. Weapons in another pile. Clothes in another pile. Nothing wasted.

           “Fuck the songs. There’s no glory in this.”

           Children threw the weapons and armour wheelbarrows and took them away.

White fell upon the frozen dead. As if they weren’t real anymore.

           Up the steps.

           She heard the groaning.

The snowflakes to the east were moaning in agony.

           “The poison.” Her breath was a plume of vapour. Her throat stung.

           A warm hand took hers.

           Beautiful brown eyes, alight with concern, stared at her. Deep in a fur lined hood, her mouth was a beacon of comfort. Her lips were safety. Her breath on Danielle’s face was a reason to live in that cruel world.


           There had been a time when both had worried about people seeing them together. It was too late for that. They needed to kiss more than they needed to breathe.

           “I love you.”

           “I love you more.”



November 30, 2021 13:31

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65 comments

Gip Roberts
21:49 Dec 03, 2021

I like your version of the "traffic jam". It took my mind off of modern-day traffic to an elaborate and ancient world full of its own problems. I could definitely feel Danielle's exhaustion after the battle the way you described it.

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Graham Kinross
23:22 Dec 03, 2021

Thank you Gip. I want to show that it’s not some glorious struggle, that it’s traumatising. Hopefully that came through. I’ve been working on that character for a while during the series of stories starting with Daughter of Disgrace.

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Graham Kinross
06:02 Jan 10, 2022

Here's the latest one if you're interested. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/xf4m4w/

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James Grasham
21:19 Jan 21, 2022

Hi Graham, just letting you know I haven't forgotten this series! I've been stacked out with work recently so I haven't had as much time to read. I loved this story, Danielle's mental aspects are developing nicely and catching up to her physical changes. I like that she's not just a mighty warrior who rides in on a white horse to save the day. She struggles, fails (like in the tournament) and tries again. I feel you've created a fantastic protagonist.

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Graham Kinross
23:47 Jan 21, 2022

Thank you. I don’t like the characters who always win. Fabian is closer to that but has a chip on his shoulder.

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James Grasham
10:30 Jan 22, 2022

I think the days of perfect protagonists are over. Mostly now they have some kind of history or demons that affect their actions. I like Fabian's character and I hope to learn more about him as you progress the story.

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Graham Kinross
14:06 Jan 22, 2022

Perfect protagonists are a very DC golden age thing, superman particularly. If you have to invent a substance for them to have an allergy to then that’s ridiculous.

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James Grasham
10:24 Jan 23, 2022

I agree, he's pretty overpowered - especially in the recent films where he can single-handedly take on the rest of the Justice League without breaking a sweat. I really enjoyed Ben Affleck's portrayal of Batman though - borderline alcoholic with more than a few demons on his shoulder. I'm not a comic book reader so most of my knowledge on this subject comes from the films.

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Graham Kinross
13:02 Jan 23, 2022

I’m the same, just knowing them from the films and cartoons on tv but my friend supplements my knowledge with his obsessive compulsive consumption of all media. I get all possible versions they could have used from the comics before they said, Henry Cavil, who really doesn’t suit being the nice guy you need for superman like the guy who plays Captain America. His best role other than Geralt was in Man from Uncle which will never get a sequel thanks to an idiot who thought the desire to eat people was something you tell people about.

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Fatima Jawaid
03:22 Dec 09, 2021

There was a vividness to this story I appreciated - nice work!

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Graham Kinross
23:00 Dec 09, 2021

Thank you Fatima.

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Graham Kinross
06:02 Jan 10, 2022

Here's the latest one if you're interested. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/xf4m4w/

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06:19 Dec 06, 2021

Definitely out of the box thinking. Not the traffic jam anyone would expect. It takes some skill to tie any prompt into an existing world. You did brilliantly.

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Graham Kinross
06:41 Dec 06, 2021

Thank you Jaden. I’m glad you liked it.

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Boutat Driss
10:46 Dec 05, 2021

well done! i like your way writing

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Graham Kinross
10:53 Dec 05, 2021

Thank you.

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Zelda C. Thorne
09:46 Dec 03, 2021

Battle / war scenes are difficult to do I think, but this was really good. Well done! I'll have to check out some of your other stories, I see there are quite a few!

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Graham Kinross
10:02 Dec 03, 2021

Thank you, a lot of my stories use the same character as this, starting with Daughter of Disgrace. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/qah9ob/

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Zelda C. Thorne
10:31 Dec 03, 2021

Cool, I'll start at the beginning 👍

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Graham Kinross
11:03 Dec 03, 2021

Thank you Rachel.

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15:13 Dec 02, 2021

Oooo I like this. I'll have to start from the beginning, but your pacing in on point. It moves along at a steady clip :) Nicely done! Would love to see Netflix pick this up!

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15:15 Dec 02, 2021

That said, would you like to be on a podcast? https://www.readlotswritelots.com/wp/ Russell Norman (from Sydney, Australia) and I are interviewing burgeoning writers from around the world, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, etc. We'd love to have a chat about your (reading and) writing journey. Contact me if you're interested? lovegren.deidra@gmail.com

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Graham Kinross
22:21 Dec 02, 2021

Thanks, I think if it was on Netflix people would say it was a Witcher rip off. I’m a big Witcher fan, I played the third game obsessively, read all the books and rewatched the show so it’s been a big influence. An interview would be cool. What time zone are you in? I’m in Tokyo which sometimes makes it difficult to sync up with other zones.

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22:30 Dec 02, 2021

Actually, not that hard. Russell is two hours ahead of you. We normally record on Sunday mornings for him (and Saturday nights for me). Give a listen to K Antonio or Jonathan Blaauw a bit and see if you feel like discussing your love of books, writing, and apparently international travel :)

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Graham Kinross
23:09 Dec 02, 2021

I’ve not travelled in a while. I’m a preschool teacher. I’ve been here for years now. Still struggling with the language but my wife is bilingual and a big help. I’ll check out the podcast.

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Graham Kinross
06:03 Jan 10, 2022

Here's the latest one if you're interested. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/xf4m4w/

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Mariah Heller
15:10 Dec 02, 2021

My wait for a new Graham Kinross story is over. So much well-described gore and violence. I couldn't stop reading. That ending gave a slight smile at the end after the intense battle before. Thanks, Graham!

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Graham Kinross
22:25 Dec 02, 2021

Thank you Mariah. I’m glad the description didn’t put you off. I like to be quite brutal because I agree with G. R. R. Martin that although violence is exciting in a narrative I don’t want to make it seem like a good thing. It’s traumatic and hopefully that comes across. I want to write more about Danielle and the way what she’s been through reverberates in her mental health. Hopefully she doesn’t seem like a mindless killer.

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Mariah Heller
22:44 Dec 02, 2021

You did a great job. This totally has the potential to be much longer. Word limits are hard at times, as I'm sure you've encountered. Danielle's killing seems justified. The edits and revisions you undoubtedly completed were amazing :D

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Graham Kinross
23:05 Dec 02, 2021

Thank you. I like to use the dictation tool in word so I hear it read out to me, it picks out when I’ve used the wrong word or I’ve made a mistake typing that’s been autocorrected to something else. I’m looking forward to writing about the consequences of this story. I want to show the education Danielle is getting so that she’s eligible to become a knight. Hopefully the next lot of prompts are less specific.

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Mariah Heller
00:48 Dec 03, 2021

That would be a nice follow-up! Let's hope for good prompts that lead to amazing stories tomorrow.

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Graham Kinross
01:42 Dec 03, 2021

I like when they’re very vague, end your story in the rain was nice and flexible.

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Mariah Heller
01:44 Dec 03, 2021

Thanks! Until we post again, friend!

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Graham Kinross
14:11 May 06, 2022

Keep at it. Whenever you can.

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Mariah Heller
17:47 May 07, 2022

Tryin'...sorta. I started stories the last two weeks but focused on other things I'll aim for one this coming week...Fashion Week. Yikes! Almost dad time for you!!! Exciting!

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L M
09:15 Nov 23, 2022

I can see why this was popular. Not my favourite in the series but it waas good anyway. Danielle and Lupita are a cute couple. More focus on that would be nice. Im not into the battles as much.

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Graham Kinross
11:37 Nov 23, 2022

I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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L M
11:35 Nov 25, 2022

Youre welcome again!

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L M
08:22 Nov 29, 2022

By the way, i just saw that you said sword in its hilt. I googled, and its scabard isnt it?

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Graham Kinross
14:17 Dec 27, 2022

Yes. I missed that completely.

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L M
07:42 Jan 10, 2023

Ok

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Graham Kinross
12:27 Apr 15, 2022

Thank you for reading my story. If you want to know what happens next you can use this link. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/24jpa0/

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Unknown User
21:53 Dec 02, 2021

<removed by user>

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Graham Kinross
22:13 Dec 02, 2021

Thank you very much Dustin. I’ve been enjoying your stories a lot as well. Shame that December is such a busy month or I would have read more of them by now. I’ve got some time just now for another though.

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Aoi Yamato
09:31 Jun 02, 2023

excellent battle. very good

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Graham Kinross
10:19 Jun 02, 2023

Thanks, Aoi.

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Aoi Yamato
01:46 Jun 05, 2023

welcome

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Drizzt Donovan
13:38 Jul 25, 2023

Just like Drizzt battling the orcs from the caves and defending Mithral Hall. Are there elves and orcs in this world of yours? Are there dark elves? You have some recognisable fantasy elements and then clearly you’re inventing your own.

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Graham Kinross
22:17 Jul 25, 2023

You’ll have to keep reading to see…

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Drizzt Donovan
13:00 Jul 27, 2023

Tease!

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