-Strange – 18 Pages –
Chapter 1: The Awakening
My stomach feels twisted tonight. We wait in the darkness, myself and several others scattered amongst the undergrowth. Elsewhere more soldiers wait but to our eyes the night only paints images to play on the mind. Bushes are dark and twisted whilst shadows flicker from the fire that burns beyond. The older trees, dying and leafless, are clawed monsters stalking the prey that we are. Nerves painfully tie knots in my bowels and my fist tightly grips my spear’s shaft. Though familiar with the weapon, I still feel my body’s anxiety. I have never faced such a place, one where evil seeps from both living and non-living, and I pray this will not happen again.
Possibly some would say I am quite handsome but I never see this in myself. Golden hair slips down under my helm, locks that many envy, shoulder length and tied back. My moustache, though not that of a mature man, shows my coming of age with its tips that have started to droop low. In the dark, it is difficult for others to make these features out.
The sight beyond sends chills through me. Of course, we have heard of such things, tales that are fed to children to make them stay in bed. In my opinion they are stories that will take away your sleep or maybe force you into the nightmares of your unconscious. Yet it is different to behold such evil. In front, they dance crazily around a fire, whooping and crying out chants that are garbled nonsense of the insane. These men and women, half naked in the crackling fire light that sends the smell of burning wood twisting into the air, seem to have lost all sense of their surroundings. It is this that scares me. Not numbers, for there are twenty or so and we total at least sixty. Not their weapons, as these are sickles, rusted knives and notched cudgels. It is the insanity that can be caught in their wide opened eyes, a maddened lust that shows no sense of reason or knowledge of the present. It is as though they are out of their minds, maybe they are, and the possessed nature in their minds and body make me shiver.
I look across at Joseph, my closest friend from the same stronghold guard as myself. His freckled face is lit up by the flames and his gaze is fixated on the scene being played out before us. Red-haired and fiery, he finally realises I am looking at him and he grins at me, giving a shrug before turning back. He is a child enraptured by a new phenomenon.
And then the colour drains from him, his expression frozen, mouth open.
It is hard to explain what happens next, the feelings and emotions that rush into me. I remembered afterwards turning back and seeing the figure striding out of the shadows, then my mind was lost. I seemed to zoom in on the armoured monstrosity that lumbered forwards. Its face was a mask of iron carved with curved spirals and twisted tentacles. Oddly it seemed pock marked, dented and charcoal black. Even more so the gap that allows the eyes to see are darker still, a void pulling my gaze forwards with a hypnotic lock that I cannot escape from. A mass of steel, his plate armour looks to be archaic and from days gone by. Yet I am sure the mechanical shield that encapsulates his body could hold back any blow. My body seems lost to me, my surroundings irrelevant, my eyes focusing deeper and deeper on the abyss.
And as I try to fight this embrace, cold terror fills me. It loosens my grasp on the fist that had held my weapon so tight, tremors sent through me, voices telling my body to run. Watching the eight-foot giant stride forwards into the centre of the clearing, the spear almost falls from my grasp. I can do nothing but watch as its head turns from side to side, taking in the sight of the cultists that surround him. It was at this moment that I realise they have fallen silent, kneeling to bow before their superior, their ruler, their god. An air of awe has fallen among them, suffering from the same paralysis that I now feel. He is absorbing the energy these followers create, their essence flowing into him, filling him with power.
Slowly, gradually, my mind creeps back to me bit by bit. It returns like a trickle of water, rebuilding the pool that is my conscious thought. I take in more of the scene. In one hand the nightmare holds a huge double-headed axe, a gigantic weapon that seems to drip blood from handle to blade. The weapon is slick and the redness gleams in the bonfire’s light, sending chills through my mind. How many lives has it taken? How many victims have seen its executioner’s blade as their last image in life, crushing them into death?
“It’s magic.” The voice is whispered from the darkness and I turn to see Gustav, my sergeant, looking at the weapon. “Not killed anyone yet?”
Once again, I shiver, this time at the second sentence that he had hissed to me, reminding me that many will die tonight. I look up into the bald man’s rugged face, scared and twisted from past battles, “Can we defeat it?”
Gustav grins, showing his yellow teeth. “Would we be here otherwise?”
I feel a tug on my arm as Joseph grabs my attention. Back in the clearing a woman is being brought through the darkness by two of the black-robed cultists. She has been stripped naked: delicate features a picture of lost terror and red rimmed eyes showing she has wept. The two cultists on either side grin and cackle with delight but they needn’t have been there as she seems resigned to her fate. She is slender, small of breast and soft skinned. If it were not for the welts that scar her flesh she would have a pure quality to her that warms the loins. Her body is marked with red streaks where she had been whipped and struck, part of the sadistic ritual that these brutal killers are playing out.
Yet I recognise her straight away. She is the king’s daughter and I have seen her many times. She has caught my gaze once or twice and her smile almost seemed to bewitch my heart. They were the sweetest clear blue eyes that I have ever seen. Suddenly, my hand is grasping the spear shaft tight once more.
A roar from the trees signals the charge to begin, soldiers swarming into the clearing. We run forwards in ones or twos at first, with shouts of defiance and screams of ‘no mercy’ driving us on, brushing aside the fear. I see Joseph break from the undergrowth, studded shield raised and spear lifted high. Gustav leaps out, unsheathing his blade with a scrape of steel on steel, and his deformed features bellowing for his men to follow.
Fire fills me, fear leaves me, and I follow.
Pain does not describe it. Agony comes closer. My body, constantly racked with torment and torture, screams at me. But I have long since grown accustomed to it. I have been blessed by the ones who watch over me and it fills me with a power that sweeps through me. I am invincible. And they know it. Through the slit in my helmet, I feel like a king looking out at his serfs from within his keep, the petty misfits collapsed to the floor and kneel for my mercy. They seek the power I control, crave the invulnerability that adorns me, and they are pathetic. Overwhelmed by my presence the rodents whimper and moan.
The heat from the fire warms the metallic skin that cocoons me and I look out into the woods that outline the clearing. Large trees are twisted, corrupted by the dark magic that stains this land, whilst thorny bushes tear the air with their spikes. Darkwood is the birth place of such magic and the people of Mariad keep away as rightly they should. They are not worthy of its gift.
A warning prickles down my spine and I can sense their presence. They have come.
My hand closes tighter around the thick grip of Scourge, a double-bladed axe that drips with blood, constantly weeping the life of its victims past. More will die by its edge tonight. Looking into the shadows I feel one watching me with the terror that all feel upon seeing me and inside I smile. They shall die and quench the thirst of my gods.
With a slight gesture, I draw forwards the two acolytes who guard Emile, Princess Emile. Behind me, they stumble forwards, anxious and excited, like mongrels held by leads and about to bait rats.
The roar breaks the air. Most would find it difficult to fully comprehend its direction in an armoured body-suit such as mine, but instincts have taught me and I turn. A man, some sort of henchman whose sturdy leather jerkin and steel rimmed shield that will be of no use, races towards me. He thrusts out his spear, trying to impale me at my visor, but instead I sway to the left and swing my axe up in a wide ark. The blade strikes his abdomen, features distorting in anguish and pain, tearing leather and ripping through muscle and flesh. Thrown backward by the blow he collapses to the floor, clutching his gut to stop his innards spilling. I step over him and ignore his cries of mercy.
There are many breaking from the woods now, the smell of blood and death beginning to craze my mind. I feel the rage begin to flood into me, energy filling up my veins, and I fight to keep control. To my right a cultist, thin and dark haired, collapses to the group with a spear in his neck and so I swing a wide blow that beheads his attacker. It is some scattered attack but there are more and more, feeding my axe, allowing me to claim their lives and letting me soak the ground in their blood.
The two who were guarding our prisoner have broken to slash at our attackers with curved knives but the woman is too lost to escape. She is lost to her mind, lost to my god. I have plans for her.
Another soldier roars out a challenge to me, spittle flying into the night air, but my axe splinters his spear in two with a single blow. With his sanity lost to the fear, he leaps at me. His speed would surprise most, but I catch him tightly by the throat and lift him off his feet. Slowly his eyes bulge and I twist my grip, a satisfying crack sounding as his neck snaps. Tossing the broken corpse aside I survey the scene once more.
They have begun to organise themselves as the last stragglers catch up with those who stormed ahead. There must be thirty or forty still standing and the fanatical cultists are forming a protective wall around me though they are likely to be cut down. Enraged, I push them aside and rush forwards, finally feeling what I came to create. As the blood feeds the earth, the life energy of the fallen seeps into me and the intensity of the power fills me with rage. It is like a drug that takes me to a higher state of mind and body. In front, they see the madness and hold back with doubt and uncertainty.
In a wide swing the axe cuts through the air, severing the heads of two and burying itself in the shoulder of another. A spear cracks into my armour but the tip is brushed aside. One lifts his shield in some puny act of desperation but the axe blade smashes it in two, caving in the useless armament. A second strike kills him. Despite their numbers, the terror that fills these so-called warriors makes them falter, and my remaining servants leap forwards with a new-found bloodlust.
Another jumps in front of me, shouting something, and the warning prickles down my spine once more. He is different, wide-brimmed hat and dark cloak, but more than this he shows no fear. It is of no matter. My axe carves round in a wide arc and then I feel a roaring pain and blow to my wrist that halts its swing and almost makes me drop the weapon. A smoking wooden and metal tube, ornately carved from dark walnut wood, is aimed at my arm and I know already he has used it to wound me. I have only heard of such a weapon from tales that were told to me long ago but there is no denying what this powerful weapon could be. Expecting me to fall he momentarily raises his brows in surprise as my relentless charge drives me forwards. I career into him and throw him backward.
Landing heavily, the soldiers clear around us as the spearmen are too unnerved to press the attack. Instead they raise their spears creating a wall of spikes that attempts to keep me back. This newcomer will be the one to fight me. My axe rises, my dented armour sending pain searing through my body, but I swing my axe down towards the cloaked stranger who rolls to the side to avoid me. His hat has fallen to one side, revealing tangled dark hair that is bathed in sweat.
Raising my weapon once more I feel the thirst for his blood and smile.
Then, with precision, an arrow plunges between the plates of my armour and tears into me.
The familiar release of rage fills me and takes away the barriers that try to hold us back. I remember my first battle, how it made me tremble inside, and the desire to turn and flee was stronger than ever. Now I am here, my hideous face scarred from many battles, my teeth broken and eye lost. Yet there is an exhilaration and freedom of mind given by the thrill of the battlefield where there is only kill or be killed.
My eye had been impaled by a knife from my wife. We had argued that night, probably myself to blame, and she had grabbed the nearest thing to strike me. We are still together and it makes me chuckle. The marks on my face are from torture at the hands of my enemy in the field, rough skin on one side only made all the worse by the scar from a blade that runs jagged down my cheek. I am told that I am the luckiest and unluckiest sergeant alive, not to mention the ugliest.
With blade drawn I leap forwards, running for Emile who lies whimpering on the ground. Anger fills me at the sight of her body, streaked with red marks from the beating she had taken, and the first cultist who dives in my way is instantly struck down. Out of the corner of my eye I see the hulking brute whose armour seems to be almost living on him. His axe beheads two men, good men, and their decapitated bodies fall to the ground.
Another crazed heretic leaps forwards, a curved knife stabbing downward in some maddened attempt to slash my neck, but it shows his inexperience. It is easy to side step, to bring my sword up and embed his abdomen and for a second, he refuses to give up. Naked and drooling spittle he shrieks in defiance swinging out again, the blade missing me by a hair’s breadth. With an angry snarl I punch and my fist rams into his jaw, throwing him backward off my sword as he stumbles, dazed. A second blow floors him to where he will most likely bleed out.
Relieved, I reach Emile and grab her under her armpit trying to haul her to her feet. There is no time for niceties. I have long since lost the young blond-headed boy I spoke to in the darkness, but the one he talked to runs sprinting in beside us. The woman, a pretty maiden who I would have gladly had my way with as a younger man, is trembling as if the storms of the world are racking her body. Her eyes are glazed, lost from the present, and she fails to rise.
It is not hard for me to lift her and pass her to the red-head who stands apprehensively, chest rising and falling as he pants from the physical exertion of battle. He takes her, unsure, knowing full well who she is and there is obvious uncertainty.
“Get her out of here!” I bark, an order not to be questioned.
“But the warrior? He was the only one left fighting that demon.” The youngster’s eyes haven’t left the woman’s body, small breasts and satin skin on display, and his adolescent immaturity amuses and angers me. At least he shows bravery being in the centre of this maelstrom as those around us keep cultists at bay.
“Not our business.” I stress, “Now…” But my words are halted as a shadow falls over us and the eight-foot giant is there. We both freeze. Death is upon us as the huge weapon of death crashes down, and the youngster somehow manages to raise his shield. I watch as the blade smashes the shield in two, wood splintering, steel rim snapping like a twig. With his forearm locked in the leather straps that hold the shield to him, the boy can only watch and scream as his limb is cut in two.
The freckled lad falls to the ground, thrashing in pain that is ended by a second blow, and I lift my sword in an act of defiance. Pushing the girl behind me, the behemoth turns to face me and this time the magical terror that entwines him fails to penetrate me. He is still awesome to behold, armour and axe both bathed in blood that seems to leak from its joints and swell up from its very metal. Smoke steams from him, his figure seems to twist and swirl. It shifts in my mind becoming difficult to focus on where to strike.
“Go!” The voice breaks the spell that is filling me and I see another has arrived, this one bringing instant relief. It is Wilhelm, the hero who brought us here to guide us in our attack. His dark cloak sways around him, black hair and wide-brimmed hat shadowing his face. A sound like thunder racks my ears, a grey cloud forming in front of Wihelm that spills into my lungs. I realise my demonic executioner has spun around, arm thrown backward by some magic of Wilhelm’s and I take my chance.
Half helping, half dragging, I keep the girl with me as she constantly stumbles and falters. I block the blow from a cudgel with the stained metal of my sword, thrust and impale another as we falter past, and then see the lines of our men. The soldiers are coming together, forming up once more into a wall of steel and grim determination. Twenty or thirty men now push back the few remaining cultists who slow their advance, the insane fanaticism is lost. Pulling the slim lady whose fingertips grip for her sanity, I rush into our lines as spears move aside, waves parting before us.
And then hands take her from me, cover her in cloth, and I am slapped on the shoulders and congratulated. There are shouts of praise, roars of triumph that are much needed, and now we know we can defeat them.
No time to stop I turn back and there I see the strangest sight as though I am hallucinating. Two figures, one Wilhelm, the other a dextrous, slender attacker. The second dances and weaves around a blood-red swirling mass that seeps dark smoke and warps the mind. They strike out, the leather-clad nimble one stabbing before springing away whilst the dark Wilhelm strikes once and twice. But their blades do nothing.
Now I know the way the battle will end.
All around the screams, clashes and moans of battle flood from all directions. A cloaked worshipper collapsing to his knees, holding on to the spear that impales his gut; one of the king’s soldiers clutches his bloody face and crying out in agony from whatever wound he hides; and the blade on blade that marks any battlefield.
My target is not hard to find. Khazar stands a giant amongst ants, swinging his axe in brutal death arcs that behead and disembowel. I have tracked him down to this moment. Slipping my pistol from its belt I dash forwards, drawing my sabre with the other hand, metal sliding over metal as it slips from its sheath. The blade is familiar, comfortable and slashes left and right to cut attackers back.
As I reach the armoured figure my eyes take in his weaknesses, his strengths; the weapon is slow and lumbering that can kill in a single blow; the blood coloured armour seems impenetrable yet has gaps to strike where the plates meet. But he’s surprisingly quick. This shows as attackers try to catch him out with flank and rear attacks, only to find themselves amongst the lifeless mass at his feet. Khazar’s axe has smashed one young man’s shield in two and a second blow he strikes finishes him.
Eyes fixed on Khazar, raising my pistol, I see Emile protected by a sergeant whose face has so many scars it looks like it has been stitched. He seems composed, strong and experienced, yet the nightmarish warrior’s presence has a terrifying effect upon him. The gun cracks in my hand, sulphur filling the air, and I watch the giant’s arm being thrown backwards. Such a weapon as mine is unknown in these lands, but the effect should be the same. Khazar hasn’t even been halted.
“Go!” I snap and the sergeant disappears into the throng. Turning back, I raise my brow in surprise as Khazar ploughs down upon me.
It feels like I have been hit in the chest with a battering ram and the world flies by, the stars exploding into my head, fireworks within my eyes. As I thud into the ground, instinct saves me. Rolling to one side the axe cleaves into the turf, a butcher’s blade narrowly missing its target.
Now my hat has fallen from me, as has my sword, and my tangled long hair falls around my face. The pain is unbearable, throbbing a violent red glow through my shoulder and torso, and I fight to keep control. The sabre’s handle is there, within grasp, but the axe is rising and ready to fall: the guillotine to execute the condemned.
From somewhere an arrow strikes home. Just as the javelin would thud into its target, wedging deeply into turf, so this fletched projectile embeds itself between the plates of his enchanted armour, puncturing his thigh. Whether the blood that flows from the gap is from a wound or from his armour I have no idea, but the distraction is what I need. He turns to face his new attacker and I grab my sabre.
A figure runs forwards, dressed in a green tunic, hosen and soft leather boots. Lithe and agile, her sweeping golden hair is tied back and her sharp high cheek bones are complimented by her captivating pale blue eyes. She is Elven.
Dropping a willow bow she is carrying in one hand, she draws a sword which is etched with swirling runes in the other. Its blade shimmers and glows like a moon’s reflection in the cool spring’s water. Spinning quickly to strike low with the blade, she aims for the legs but Khazar is almost as fast. He steps back, the tip of the Elven blade striking his leg. It glows with enchanted mysticism and in front of my eyes it somehow cuts through the plates like butter. Grabbing my sabre, leaping sharply to my feet, I thrust forwards to strike where his shoulder meets his torso. The blade plunges in and the jarring strike runs up my arm. But it has cut deeply. With firm calmness I tug the blade out.
Now we are working together, her Elven twists and turns striking one side and then the other. The armoured bull, maddened from the toreador’s nicks and thrusts, swings around blindly and then I slash forwards, the sabre blade drawn across the back of his leg.
There is no sense of triumph now, no satisfaction, merely focused on the moment. My eyes are dark, brow dripping with sweat, muscles aching from the effort. It is an endless fight and no matter how hard we push the beast he presses back. The axe swings close and my foot twists as I stumble back. Fire lances up through my leg and I grunt in pain, staggering again as I try to regain my footing. Khazar turns and I can almost feel his glee at my error and, as I realise this could end me, the Elven woman leaps into the air as a cat pounces on its prey.
Looking up I see her sword plunging down towards his neck, tip ready to stab where helm meets shoulder. The cut will severe arteries that would kill the wildest of beasts, an assassin’s one hit killing thrust. The blade enters and even I feel relief and thankfulness as the weapon drives into our foe with all her weight behind it.
It swipes right through. His figure is starting to twirl and twist and the armour shimmers with translucence. I blink, amazed at the sight before me as my eyes try to focus on the distorting would-be killer. Is it me? Does my sight play tricks with some power that Khazar possesses? Is this some satanic force that swallows its minions when they are finally struck down? And then I realise. We came to stop the ceremony that would sacrifice Emile; a ritual that Khazar had planned for so long. This heretic ritual was to feed his psychotic megalomaniac lust and now he has released that magic. She will soon be dead.
No time to think, I jump forwards, sending blow after blow into the figure constantly switching in shape and form; twisting from its juggernaut form into a chaotic mass that swirls in the air before me. A purple mass of storm clouds; then a shadowed figure of his former self; and then whirling spirals and sparkling energy. It is everything and nothing. With each strike my sabre is brought down through the mass only to slice through the shape as if it were nothing. With my arm drawn back to strike again, a sudden movement materialises from the form. A clawed fist, gargantuan in size, rams into my exposed sword arm and with a nauseating crack that tears into me the bones break.
I am on the floor, stunned and unsure of how I got here. My ankle throbs from my wounds; the pain in my arm is scrambling my mind; and the world is a blurred double vision. And in a clawed hand a huge demonic form holds the Elf up into the air, gripped tightly by the neck and eyes bulging as she attempts to free herself.
Father stands next to me, insects chirping in the cool night air as we look out on the forest that surrounds us. The tree tops are still, a living landscape that breathes life into the land. In the night, a wolf howls, long and melancholy, but it is far from where we are, high up above the branches. There is one tree that dominates the land, a colossus taken from a giant’s world, and amongst its branches is where my father and I live. We are Elven.
He is a tall man, my father, broad shouldered and dark long hair. His face is stern but I believe there to be a hint of emotion in those dark eyes, so rare amongst our folk. Elves are not known for feelings, though some say we have them deep within. I cannot say whether this is true for I have never felt sorrow, joy or love. Yet strangely my father has. It is this emotion and his love for my step-mother that makes others shun him but he does not care. I find it difficult to understand, but I accept it.
Clouds flow across the clear, round moon, lighting the night.
“Khazar is trying to raise a force that could bring much death to the world.” I listen silently, having been taught patience long ago, “And we must stop him.”
I nod. I have heard of Khazar and the danger he poses to the land. His power has grown over the last few decades, a whole cult worshipping him and the powers he follows, forces that should not exist in our world. We Elves have hunted them down for centuries, but of late our strength wanes and the evil infection spreads.
“We have little time,” continues my father. “In a few days he plans to spill blood in a place across the Human lands where the magic of his gods is strong. Those deities they will bless him and strengthen him for carrying out their will.”
“A blessing?” I question. Shifting my shoulder, the bow across my back rubs against my leather tunic. It feels comfortable and familiar.
“He seeks immortality.” Looking at me I lock with the dark eyes of my father and it shows how some Elves cannot comprehend him. They are cold, an empty void of inky black, no white, just opaque. “I cannot go with you.”
I tilt my head inquisitively, wanting to know why, but he does not answer. Instead, his hand grips the hilt of my sword, Ethandril, and slides the glowing blade from its sheath. It rings out in the night, singing its magic before settling once more. “Blades will not stop him.”
Nonetheless I reach for the sword and take my weapon back. “Ethandril will.”
Leaping through the woods, I dart between the trees. Ferns and brambles whip against my legs, whilst startled animals dive deeper into the depths. But I am focused. I dodge left down an animal trail, following the secret path of a fox or wolf where they hunt through the night. My sharp Elven hearing picks out the screeches of the rituals up ahead, the roar of the attack, and the clash of the wave striking into the clearing. It cannot be too late.
Up ahead I see the gap in the trees and as I continue dashing forwards I slip the bow from my shoulder. Flicking an arrow from its quiver and breaking into the clearing, I pull the string back.
All around is madness. Soldiers gutted or sliced open with curved, jagged blades that maddened cultists wield crazily; worshippers of this satanic ritual impaled by spears and struck to the ground; the fire leaping up into the night, reddened flames matching the blood that stains the ground; and the young woman naked and lost to the world as she is half-helped, half-dragged away. And Khazar, axe raised, striking a blow at a cloaked figure who tries to fend him off. He rolls with his sweat drenched hair matted and splayed across his face. He cannot survive. I aim.
Without stopping to see if the arrow has struck home I pounce. All around they are occupied in their own battles and only one blood-crazed, half-naked cultist tries to grab at me. I side-step and drop my bow, sliding Ethandril into the night air. It sings and the music fills me with an unbidden strength as if flooded with exaltation. Even as the monster turns to f ace me I am slicing the blade low, catching the leg and watching as the mythical blade cuts through the armour.
A dance begins. The twists and turns, the stabs and thrusts. Stepping to the right, the left, dodging and whirling. Khazar’s axe blade swings madly but is useless to my dexterity and it misses time and time again. Behind its bearer, the stranger has risen and is also striking and attacking with a large curved sabre. Though it is weak to this juggernaut armour that makes Khazar almost impenetrable, he serves as a distraction.
He stumbles, twisting his ankle, and Khazar sees his chance. But in his over-eagerness to finish off the fly that agitates him he ignores my presence and as he turns his back, I leap. I push to the side, spring off the bark of a tree, and it lifts me higher. Almost above him with this nimble manoeuvre, I am stabbing down towards his neck. But as my blade drives home his form shimmers and swirls and the steel passes straight through, sending me crashing to the floor. I roll and land crouched, even when caught off-guard. My shoulder has struck a rock, and pain jars Ethandril out of my grasp.
I am too late.
I realise I have screamed out from the glance that has struck into me, and the blow has hurt more than I realised. A clawed fist, sweeping from the morphing form of Khazar, throws the man backward. I clutch my shoulder, quickly looking to see where my sword had fallen.
The clawed hand, huge and crimson, wraps around my neck and lifts me high. I am spun around, helpless against its strength, and even I feel a shiver as I see the sight before me. It is colossus in size, at least the height of two men, and its bare chest, glistening with sweat, heaves with adrenalin. Living tattoos adorn it, those of screaming warriors crying out in torment and agony. They show torture and sadistic rituals that disgust and revile me. Even more so that they seem alive and real. I know these have actually happened, these are not stains of art but the marks of the half-dead.
Its arms and legs are also adorned in the same patterns, each muscle the size of an ogre’s fist and rippling with strength. A blow from such a clawed fist would crack the skull of a man and I wonder for a second if the Human who fought is still alive. Khazar’s eyes are empty, non-existent or hidden in the alcoves of sunken sockets, whilst its hair is a twisting mass of snakes that snap and swirl and wrap around his broad cheeks and jaw. But it is those living tattoos that make me shiver the most, those poor souls that adorn its body, limbs and face. Am I to become one of those?
I am lifted higher, the grip tightens, and I fight for air that is impossible to gain. It feels as though my entire body, all my strength, is taken just to force the air downwards into my lungs. Gurgling, gasping, saliva fills my mouth. The pain in my chest begins, a pain that seeks the air I am denied.
The creature watches my suffering, expressionless. “Humans are pathetic.”
I manage to squeeze out words but they sound weak and barely audible, “They…did not…understand.” The sentence is broken between the quick gasps of air, whenever I am able. Sparks shine around my eyes and I realise this cannot continue much longer.
He nods and turns to look across the empty glade, the forces of the king retreating into the woods, his daughter disappearing amongst protecting spears. “Ignorant.” Turning he looks down at the floor behind him where the stranger lay but he is gone. “And cowardly.”
In my mind it seems logical. We cannot stop him now and I cannot be saved so the man has fled. I am resigned, “They thought…the blood of…” But the words are now becoming too hard to bring forth. My image of the demon’s face fades slightly and I blink to fight the sleep to which my body wants to succumb.
Another gesture of affirmation and he finishes my word. “They thought the blood of Emile was what I required. They were wrong.” His claw presses tighter.
As the last air is squeezed from me, as my vision finally sinks into blackness, I know why they were wrong. I have always known and I tried to stop them and failed. My last thoughts were that of the blood the soldier’s fed the ground, which they provided to awake the power within the creature that once was Human.
And all around, the dead lie crumbled, mutilated and bloody. Moans are accompanied by cries for mother and pleas for help, falling on the silence of the abandoned glade. The cries of the dying are only answered by the crackling of the fire that burns.
In the night, the moon shines down on the demon that holds my limp body in the air, born from the soldier’s blood.
Originally posted 02/15/2022
There’s more to this tale…The book is available at the link below.