The Salt Plains

“I used to collect these little robot action figures when I was a child. They were only a couple inches tall, and usually came in packs of three. All of them were brightly colored and were aligned with one side or another of an eternal conflict. I would play for hours with them, waging war across the floor of the living room and beneath the dining room table. Then one day, I stopped. I took my basket of robot toys downstairs and stared at them. There was no desire to play, no affinity for the little figures that I had collected and brought to life on so many occasions. I felt only a hole where the joy once was. I don’t remember the exact day it happened, but I remember the feeling. I’ll never forget that feeling. I bet you’ve felt like that before.”

The man in the metal and glass container proffered no response. None was expected. He was sleeping, had been sleeping for several years now. Soul transference took a long time, and the length varied depending on the person. The important thing was to let the process work and to never wake them up. Data corruption was worse than death. John’s job was to keep the machines running. That was his only job.

John finished his check of all the sleepers and decided to head back to his living quarters on the other side of the compound. The noon-day sun stung his eyes when he left the main server building. He pulled down his shaded goggles and walked over to the fence that secured the small group of buildings. Solar panels stretched to the horizon, each reflecting the star above them. It was like a sea of blinding light. Even with his goggles on he could only look for a few moments. John turned back from the fence and walked to the small square building that was his home.

It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the comparative darkness of the interior. Eventually he could make out the wall of screens, the few pieces of furniture, and the small stove and refrigerator that were the only things decorating his living space. He turned on two of the monitors. One displayed the vital signs of those in his ward, the other an episode from a criminal show made long before. In this particular episode the protagonist tells a lie to his girlfriend in order to go to a sporting event. She ends up at the sporting event too, unbeknownst to him, resulting in hi-jinks. It was all very amusing. The show ended and John sat in silence with his eyes closed listening to the desert wind blowing sand against the walls. Then, he slept.  

***

John wasn’t sure why they had left him a car, but he was glad they did. It ran on solar power like everything else, and it gave him something to do. There was no place worth driving to except for the great salt plains not far from his compound. He drove fast along the dusty road: 180 mph, 200 mph, 220 mph. The stars in the night sky blurred past as he sped along, frost collecting on his windshield. The nights were cold and the days were hot.

He was the only one awake in a world asleep. He had read records of deviants that lived far away out beyond civilization. They had rejected the future and had even opposed (sometimes violently) the great migration. Fences were built around the compound for a reason. That was long ago, though. John had never seen a deviant, doubted they even existed. Fences were a relic of the past, just like his car. The great salt plains appeared on the horizon, an endless expanse of white glowing in the moonlight.  He brought his car to a stop and stepped out into the night.

The frosty ground crunched beneath his feet as he walked to where the dusty ground bordered the salt plains. Long before he was born, this had been a great body of water filled with life. Now it was salt and dust, merely reflecting the life of the stars that danced above it. John looked up at the sky. He could see the blinking lights of the ships that orbited the Earth, each one carrying countless souls and the servers that housed them. He picked up a rock and threw it out into what was an ocean. It skidded to a stop a few hundred feet away, one more rock in a sea of rocks. He got up to leave when a light flashed on the horizon.

The light was brief and very far away, but he had seen it. He was sure. Then the light flashed again. John felt his chest tighten as fear gripped him. He ran back to the car, stumbling over his panicked clumsy feet, and took off in the direction opposite from the dead ocean. The salt plains were a speck in the rear view mirror before he regained his senses. He brought the car to a stop and sat there in the dark listening to the gentle electric hum of the engine and the pounding of his heart.

 

Salt Plains 2

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I wrote this because why not

The girl in the next room was laughing loudly about something that probably wasn’t very funny. The loud thud that followed her shrill laughter was most likely her falling or knocking something over. I don’t know her name. She might have told it to me, but doesn’t look like it was worth remembering anyway. The kitchen in the apartment smells like old water and cheap cucumber melon body spray. I’m not really sure what expensive cucumber melon smells like. The world is a mysterious place. When the awkward overweight guy in the corner who wouldn’t stop talking about Halo passed out and started snoring and I realized the party was over.

“Hey I’m going to head out now, thanks for letting me come over”

“Yeah no problem! You sure you’re gonna be OK? Lot of snow out there…”

“Pretty sure drunk walking isn’t illegal, even in the snow. I’ll be fine”

Also this place is going to smell like stale beer and vomit soon. Worst case I freeze to death, still preferable to staying here.

“Alright man, later”

The hallway was empty but for half a bag of Doritos strewn about the hallway that no one bothered to clean up. Nacho cheese flavored, it’s always nacho cheese. No one wants to hookup with someone that smells like cool ranch. I watched the snow fall outside the glass walls of the stairwell, orange and gray sky glowing. Going to be a long walk. Boat shoes were a mistake.

Streets were empty, sidewalks were empty, hands were empty and shoved into the pockets of a jacket too thin for the heavy snow. It felt cold despite the alcohol in my system. Maybe I should have slept on the couch next to Halo boy.

Keep walking. Follow the road that leads away from campus and you’ll be back to your bed surrounded by empty boxes and cans of soup, or you’ll be somewhere else. No one is waiting for you.

I passed by rows of beautiful large houses, roofs covered in white. No signs of life, just darkened windows reflecting the snow and the idiot wandering the frigid wasteland alone. I came to a large wooden sign illuminated by spotlights in the ground. “Welcome to [generic neighborhood name]” it said. I’m sure the name referenced some kind of tree or rock or tree/rock hybrid. Hope whoever named it got paid big for their creativity. I walked up to the spotlights and tried to tear them out of the ground. My hands were too numb to be of any use so I stomped on the lights until the sign was as dark as everything else on the street. I stood there in the snow and waited for something, anything. No sound greeted me but my ragged breathing and the wind shaking empty branches in the trees above.

 

Trying to Write Part VII

I, II, III, IV, V, VI

[This segment is shorter, but I wanted to avoid having too long of a gap between writing sections. Hopefully this will help me be more consistent]

22.

Orren could see the deadly dance between man and demon from the corner of his eye as he knelt on the rocky shore. It was like viewing a memory within one’s mind. Orren was present in body, but his spirit was no longer confined to the cave. The runes he had carved into the ground around him would prevent the beast from assaulting his physical form…for a time. He could see the Mountain with his mind’s eye, could feel the power that lived eternal at its peak.The fight was not his to win or lose, he could but call for aid and hope that his petition be answered. He closed his eyes and began:

“Descend oh Sorra;
Scatter your enemies
and those who hate you and flee before your name.
As smoke is driven away,
so are they driven;
as wax melts before the fire,
so the wicked perish in your presence.”

I see you mortal…I feel your weakness, your pathetic summons. Why must you call for help? Why should he not come down off the mountain of his own accord? Because there is nothing on the summit. You are alone. I am all there is.

“We drive you from us,
whoever you may be,
unclean spirits,
evil powers,
infernal invaders,
wicked legions,
assemblies and sects.”

We need not be enemies, my son. I know your deepest desires! I have peered into your heart and the hearts of all men, I have seen the faces of those you long for…the ones you lost…the ones you failed. They are here with me in endless night, tormented by the flames that give no light. Say the word…serve me, serve my master and they will be free. Ride through the gates with us! We shall burn the city to the ground. We can rebuild it in our image, you will be Lord over all those that cast you out.

He began to feel again the cavity deep within his soul, the wound born from cruel twists of fate and the inscrutable will of the divine. A faithful shieldbearer and defender of the holy were all he had ever been. His devotion was rewarded with ashes and misery. Was he nothing more than a tool, something to be discarded once its usefulness has run its course? Were they? He felt his connection to the Sorra begin to fade. He looked over and saw Berek crouched behind Orren’s shield, pinned between the blows of diabolical tendrils and the wall of the cave. He would not be able to withstand the blows much longer.

He is nothing to you! Let him die. It is a just punishment for his crimes. He will not be mourned, he has no one…he is nothing. He is dust to be shaken from your shield when I am done.

His shield, his life, his purpose. He remembered now. He remembered her song. He remembered their faces. He remembered the spark of the creator that lived within their eyes. Nothing was ever truly gone once willed into existence. He would see them again, be it this day or another. It was time to finish the rite.

“Cursed dragon! Weaver of lies!
We adjure you by the living One, by the true Sorra,
by the One seated on the Holy Mountain,
cease your deception and withdraw the poison offering not but eternal damnation.
Return to the abyss from whence you came!”

As Orren finished the words a blinding light shot forth from the pike. The weapon was a rod of pure flame and light. Orren felt the palms of his gloves begin to burn away and his skin began to char. He stood and hurled the pike at the great beast. The tip of the weapon struck the behemoth and a great explosion of light filled the entire cavern. In that subterranean hell Orren’s eyes filled with the white light of the throne made manifest before a blast of power knocked him from his feet and he saw no more.

Part VI

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

19.

Orren had crossed half the distance to the tent before Berek noticed his companion had left. He saw him throw back the drape covering the entrance and disappear inside. A moment later a naked, hairless man with sunken grey-white skin came hurtling head first from out of the tent. He grunted as he hit the floor. He rolled onto his back and Berek could see blood dripping from his mouth. He raised his hands to shield his face in anticipation of further attack from the assailant.

Orren’s eyes blazed with fury. His pike was still slung at his side, but his shield was covered with spotted blood from where it had been driven against the face of the cave-dweller.

“Orren! This is the demon? Surely this shriveled man is not the one we have feared all this time, the one that has consumed my people’s innocence.” Berek shouted, trying to calm the rage burning inside the shieldbearer. It was a moment before Orren gained his composure and looked up at Berek.

“This is not the demon, but neither is it a man.” Orren replied. He then looked down at the man lying before him. “You know not what I saw in the tent, things no man should see.”

The being on the ground began to laugh, deep choking cackles that gargled blood.

“If you did not wish to see then why did you come you fools? What did you think happened to the ones left as gifts for my master? I am simply the servant. I deliver the parts that he requires, the rest…”

Before he could finish Orren slammed the base of his shield against the man’s chest, knocking the wind from him. The grotesque man spit out a mouthful of blood and looked up again, laughing.

“What can I say? A man must eat.”

Orren drew his pike and in one swift movement drove the blade through the neck of the monster that lay before him. Berek stood staring at the bloody scene, then fell to his knees. He looked around at the cave. This was a tomb. The sins of his people laid bare before him like some hellish monument, his sins.

Orren turned and faced the frozen lake and spoke. “There will be time for mourning later. We must finish the task at hand.I need your help with this body.”

Berek stood. “What are we to do with it?”

“We’re going to fish.”

20.

The two men picked up the naked corpse, one holding the head and the other the feet, and carried it over to the shore of the subterranean lake. The body had already begun to decompose. Foul powers had kept it alive, had prevented its aging during its unnatural existence. They were needed no more. They swung the body like a sack of grain and launched into onto the icy surface of the water. It landed with a sickening thud, but did not break the ice.

“Now what?” Berek said, dipping his hands into the icy water to wash the stink of the corpse away.

“Now we prepare.” Orren removed his shield from his back and held it out. “Take this. When it arrives you must protect me until the rite is completed.”

Berek hesitated, “Why don’t we just stab it to death? That usually works.”

“It will not work…not for this. You must trust me. Please, take the shield.”

Berek reached out and took the shield. He was startled at the lightness of it. It became like a natural extension of his arm. There was no struggle in his grip, swinging it around in different defensive positions was effortless. Berek was not one to use shields but this…this was different. There was power here.

“Ready yourself. It is time” Orren said, pointing his pike out across the frozen lake. A great shadow began to grow beneath the ice. It was larger than any beast Berek had ever seen, larger even than the great horned beasts from the scorching plains of the southlands. Orren walked down a few steps from the edge of the water and drove the end of his extended pike into the rocks until it stood on its own. Then he knelt behind it. Berek looked at him for a moment and then turned to the coming shadow. He drew his blade and held up the shield. Then he laughed.

“We’re gonna die.”

21.

The ice cracked beneath the rotting corpse and two black tendrils the size of tree trunks broke through. Each tendril was covered in a sheen of glowing mucus. The black appendages arced and bobbed around the corpse like a snake about to strike,  then they shot down and coiled around the body pulling it beneath the surface.

All was silent for a moment, then a great roar rang out from below the ice shaking the walls of the cave. The tendrils shot back to the surface still holding the now dismembered corpse. They arced back before hurtling the pieces in Berek’s direction. He was able to dodge the flying torso at the last moment but was not prepared for the second volley. A pair of legs struck him in the side and sent him bowling over.  He landed on his back not far from where Orren still knelt.

“I guess it doesn’t like the taste of old rotting man.” He called over to Orren. It hurt when he spoke, probably due to a broken rib, or two, or three. Orren gave no response. Berek winced and got back on his feet. He looked down at his companion, lips moving and eyes closed, hands clasping his pike driven into the ground.

Another roar erupted from the lake and the whole surface heaved upward. The ice broke into massive chunks and splashed down around the gigantic shape rising from the waters. It was matter without form, an ever shifting mass of congealed night. On the surface of the shapeless behemoth were thousands of small human eyes. They were different colors and shapes, each one blinking independently.

Berek gaped in horror at the madness before him, the existence of which was more than his mind could comprehend. It bore no resemblance to anything in this dimension for it was an affront to creation, a demoniacal mockery of all that is good and true. His grasp on reality begin to slip; then he looked down and saw the shield. He felt the cold steel of his blade in his hand, remembered the one waiting for him.

There are worse fates than death. It was the cowardice of my forefathers that allowed this curse…this plague. If my life is the price for defiance of that horror…then so be it.

Berek ran to the shore slamming his sword against his shield. He stood with his arms outstretched at the water’s edge and let forth a primal howl of fury. All of the beast’s thousand eyes focused on the challenger, and then it lurched toward the shore.

 

-Kaiju

Part V

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

16.

Two riders raced through the night on horses commandeered from a nearby plantation, hoof-beats and the laborious breathing of their horses the only sounds. Stars illumined their path, infinite points of light breaking through the pitch that enveloped the world. One of the riders broke the silence, his voice tinged with apprehension:

“What are we to do when we get there Orren? You said you have dealt with the like before, you have a plan?”

“I have dealt with a child of the serpent before, yes.”

“Only once?”

“Yes, once.”

“On your own?”

“No. I was but one shield in my contubernium. We were tasked with cleansing a sacrificial chamber used by the red priests of Xarzhin. Not all survived the horror that waited for us below the ziggurat of bone.”

“…We’re going to die, aren’t we?”

“It’s a possibility, yes. That is not part of my plan, however.”

“That’s encouraging.”

A break in the mountain range they had been following came into view. A dense and unnatural fog poured from the valley. Silence returned as the two men rode to their fates.

17.

They reached their destination as the first rays of the morning light began to glow on the horizon. The horses would go no nearer than several yards from the mouth of the cave. Fearful cries and bulging eyes full of terror signaled to their riders that their service had come to an end.

“We walk from here.” Orren said as he dismounted, armaments in hand.

“My posterior has grown tired of riding anyway.” Berek said with a grin, a grin that gave only the slightest hint of trepidation.

The cave was black like tar, as though all light from the outside was swallowed in it’s inky void. Orren pulled the rune stones from his pouch at the mouth of the cave, they were already glowing much brighter than they had during their encounter with the flayer. He looked at Berek and nodded, then stepped into the darkness. Berek watched for a moment as the light of the stones slowly bobbed and fluttered like a firefly at dusk in Orren’s hands.

“You coming?” the voice of Orren called from the cave.

Berek spit, then unsheathed his sword. He looked back once more in the direction they had come and saw the arc of the sun rise above the land. He nodded and raised his sword at the bringer of the new morning.

“May we meet again.” He said aloud, then turned to begin his descent.

18.

Their way down was winding and steep, their movements slow out of necessity. There was but a single path in the cave, as though burrowed out by some kind of enormous worm. The air was damp…and cold. The deeper they went into the bowels of the earth the colder it became. Vapor could be seen mixing with the omnipresent fog in the glow of the stones when they breathed.

“I’d heard that it was warmer in the belly of the earth, not colder.” Berek whispered, his voice echoing in the dark.

Orren stopped. Then he turned and spoke: “The serpent takes pleasure in the perversion of creation and its laws. Some things that I have past seen, things we will assuredly see this day…they are not meant for our comprehension. There are things ancient in our world; ancient and horrible, conceived before our ancestors first walked. To ponder them is to invite madness. My mind and being is anchored to the Sorra. I trust that alone. Do you have something or someone that might serve to call you back from the precipice of insanity should you find yourself there?”

Berek stood silent for a moment, then grinned in the blue light,“I have the steel in my hand. That is all the aid I require.”

“May it be enough.” replied Orren. He turned, and the two men resumed their descent.

They walked for what seemed like hours, though they had no way of tracking time. Hunger and thirst appeared. Berek began to wonder at their situation, perhaps it would be best to turn around, flee this land. There were kingdoms far to the east that he could sell his martial services to. There are worse fates, like starving to death while shivering in a dark hell like this. 

“Ahead…light.” Orren whispered without looking back.

A faint green glow could be seen ahead, almost imperceptible. Orren put the glowing stones back in their pouch, replacing them in his hand with pike and shield. They moved silently in the dark, the light growing brighter with each step. It was not long until they reached the source of the light and the end of their tunnel.

At the mouth of the tunnel was a kind of torch lashed to a pole with crimson and purple strips of fabric. The torch did not burn, but was covered in a substance that gave off it’s own unnatural light. The torch marked the entrance to an enormous cavern that stretched farther than the eye could see. Below a roof of teeth like stalactites lay an enormous body of water. The water was completely covered with a thin sheet of ice that ended a few yards out from the shore where gentle waves gently lapped. Orren and Berek stood struck with awe as they gazed upon the subterranean sea.

This must stretch the entire length of my homeland.” Berek whispered. Orren offered no reply. His attention had been drawn to that which stood a ways down the shore: a tent made of crimson and purple cloth flanked by two more torches and surrounded by bones. Tiny bones. Human bones.   

 

-Kaiju

The Emperor of Sand is Here

A new Mastodon album came out today. It is about sand, and emperors, and emperors of sand. It is also excellent. Apparently if you pre-ordered the vinyl version you also got a free coloring book. Hopefully they make it available to those of us without vinyl proclivities.

 

I have been sparse on this blog lately because everyone in my family decided to take turns getting sick over the last few weeks. PC Bushi got married, and there were many monsters to slay in…urr… Monster Hunter. I am tired. Orren and Berek will return soon. I just haven’t had the energy to devote the time needed to finish their current quest. They will face the beast soon.

-Kaiju

 

Trying to Write Part 4

Part I, Part II, Part III

11.

Nothing but mud and bones grew in the garden. It was an open air courtyard in the center of the keep surrounded by sheer stone walls, un-interrupted by windows or design of any kind. Single door was the only way in or out.  Crows swollen from feasting on corpses left to rot peered down from the their perches at the tops of the walls at their next meal chained to the lone wooden pillar in the garden. He yet breathed with head hung low dripping from the cold rain that beat against his body, mouth speaking words that only he could hear:

Weave and Spin

Hammer and Forge

My life your work

Crafted and shaped

Instrument of your hand

To live is to serve

Until upon your Mountain

I am born again

He finished his prayer and hung silently listening to the rhythm of the rain dancing on stone in the dark. The door to his prison opened and man stepped through, lantern in hand. He wore the armor of the guards, dual short swords hung at his sides. Orren raised his head to greet his new visitor.

“You must be the flayer. I’d tell you not to waste your time, that I have no knowledge that could aid you, but I doubt you’d listen. I imagine with a name like the flayer you probably enjoy your work too much to be dissuaded.”

“Keep quiet” he replied. “I am no flayer. That degenerate fetishizes his knives too much to be caught dead with them in the rain. I have come simply to ask you a question.”

“And what might that be?”

“Was it truth you spoke in the great hall? Have you power to vanquish the one that dwells beneath the mountains?” the man said.

“The power is not my own, but I am it’s conduit. Darkness flees at the name of my master. With who am I speaking?” Orren replied, confusion in his voice. Then he recognized the man as one of that stood guard upon dais of the master’s throne

“Does it matter who comes to free you?” The man said as he pulled a set of keys from his cloak. A moment later Orren was loose.

Orren rubbed his wrists and stood. “I suppose it does not, but should we die this night I’d like to know the name of the man for whom I will advocate at the gates of my Lord’s feasting hall.”

The man handed Orren one of the swords that hung at his side and spoke:

“Much blood will be shed this night, may it not be our own. My name is Berek. Follow me”

12.

Berek extinguished his lantern as soon as they entered the corridor that led to the garden and they raced along the damp stone, extinguishing every torch they passed that lit their way.

“I sent the guard on duty away on an important task, an important task that does not exist. He will realize my deception soon and alarms will be raised. We have little time.”

Berek navigated the labyrinth that made up the halls of keep without hesitation. Even had Orren freed himself of his bonds he would have been hopelessly trapped here in the winding hallways, a structure designed to confuse and disorient. They came to an abrupt halt by the a large wooden door flanked on either side by torches. Berek extinguished both of them, then he knocked.

“‘Berek, captain of Lord Zathen’s guard requires entrance. Official orders.” He shouted.

There was a rustling from within, the sliding of a deadbolt, and the door swung open. Orren stood in the shadows to the side of the doorway, sword in hand.

“Who is in charge here?” Berek barked, surveying the room before him. Swords and battle axes hung on walls next to shields and mail, they were nothing if not well armed. Three men sat at a round table playing cards, faces full of shock at seeing their captain unexpectedly.

“I…I am” said one of the men as he jumped up from his seat, spilling ale on the cards laid out on the table. “Forgive me, I did not know that you were coming.”

Berek frowned. “We will discuss playing cards on duty at another time. I’ve come to retrieve the armor and weapons confiscated from the prisoner. Our Lord wishes to study them.”

The guard squinted. “I was commanded not to release these arms to anyone, not unless the Master himself comes down here to retrieve them.”

“I catch you neglectful of your duty and now you are also calling me a liar? Perhaps you would like to see the flayer when he is done with our visitor?” Berek said moving his hand to the hilt of his sword.

“I mean no offense captain, but he will have my head without his direct order. My head is much more useful attached to my body.”

“That’s not what your wife told me” one of the men from the table interjected, causing the other guards to roar with drunken laughter. The head of the guard made an obscene gesture and threw his mug of ale at the offender, then turned back to Berek.

“I will go myself up to the throne and verify the orders. You can wait here with the other guards.” he smiled and started for the door. Before he could take two steps Berek drew his sword and removed head from shoulders in one swift movement. There was a moment of calm as the headless body crumpled to the floor. The blood streaked faces of the remaining two card players stared at their captain in disbelief, the head of the third player rolled with an almost comical wobble to their feet.

“Should have just given me what I came for.” Berek sighed.

Shock turned to rage on the faces of the living guards and swords were drawn. Berek was surrounded for a brief moment before Orren appeared in the doorway and ran his sword straight through the chest of the unfortunate fellow at the door. He kicked the now limp body off of his blade. It was now an even fight but not a fair one for drink had slowed the movements of the remaining guards. A few clashes of steel, screams of agony, and the fight was finished.

Berek walked over to the headless body and searched through the pockets. A moment later he produced a ring of keys and tossed them to Orren. He pointed to a chest in the back corner of the room.

“Put on your armor. More will be here soon and they aren’t likely to be drunk, just angry.”

13.

With armor donned and weapons in hand, Orren and Berek stepped out once more into the dark corridor. Berek had traded his short sword for a large double bladed axe. “We might have to hack our way out of here, this will help” he had said with a grin. Orren’s travelling bag was also recovered. His runic stones were all accounted for, but the flask was emptied of its contents. He would have to find a fresh water source when they escaped this wretched place.

They raced through the endless inky black, extinguishing all light as they passed. Darkness swallowed their path, there was no going back. Noises that no human could, or should, make could be heard behind some of the barred doors as they passed, they pressed on. Neither man spoke a word. Then Berek stopped suddenly. He remained silent for a moment then turned and spoke:

“Ahead is an entranceway to the keep. I thought it known only to myself and the master. Someone else has opened the door. I thought we had more time.”

Orren grinned. “The time for skulking in the shadows has ended it seems. Let us go to meet our fates beneath the light of the stars, the eyes of our ancestors.” Orren walked past Berek and out into the night. Berek hesitated for a moment in the black hall. He muttered to himself as he drew his sword and followed the foreigner out into the night, “At least it stopped raining.”

14.

They came out to a stretch of flat ground flanked by tall trees.  Across the clearing directly in the path of Orren and Berek stood was tall tussock grass swaying in the night breeze. Beyond that were the mountains. They were free.   

“Let’s go before we are seen” Berek said. The began their way across the clearing when Orren stopped. He reached down to the pouch that hung at his side a flipped open the flap. The four stones were aglow, pulsating slowly, blue light emanating from the bag.

“We are not alone.” Orren said with grim look upon his face.

“Indeed we are not. There in the grass.” Berek pointed the tip of his sword at the swaying tallgrass. A lone figure stood where the blade pointed, dressed in a long shredded shawl like that of a beggar. It stepped into the moonlight that illuminated the clearing and threw off the shawl. Orren’s grip tightening around his pike and he felt his jaw clench.

“Rather we’d have run into the entire barracks than him.” Berek said, spitting. Orren believed him.

Before them stood a man grinning madly wearing naught but a small cloth to cover his loins. He was lean and pale, almost sickly looking if not for the tight muscles that rippled beneath his skin, or at least what once was skin. His body was covered from head to toe in ancient script from the infernal language; words from the deepest of frozen hells, spoken only by the many tongued abominations that dwell there. Dark prophecies, blasphemies, horrific tales from the abyss had been carved into his flesh. His skin was but a monstrous scar, a walking testament of primeval malice.

In his hand was a dagger, a black blade attached to a gnarled wood handle. Orren could see it clearly in the moonlight, but no light reflected off of it. The blade was alive. He could feel its presence, and it could sense him.

“She was promised blood, she was.” The scarred man hissed. “I get to keep the skin but she takes the blood, your blood” He pointed at Orren. “Don’t put up too much of a fight and maybe we’ll kill you quick. Maybe. She always gets what she wants. It’s been too long since I’ve had to hunt my own prey.” He grinned, mouth full of teeth filed into razor-like points.

15.

“The blade…” Orren said. “I have seen its like before. It is not of man.”

“I’ve seen it before too, and I’d prefer to not be skinned by it. We have the advantage. Hurry before he calls for aid!” Berek shouted as he advanced quickly towards the scarred man.

Berek moved like a charging bull, an avalanche of steel and fury. He swung his blade at his foe but cut only the air. His opponent was quick, quicker than any human should be. His movements were almost arachnid in nature; limbs outstretched and dashing angularly from one point to the next. Before Berek could turn the abomination was behind him, a moment later and the stygian blade was brought across the armored shoulder before it. Metal and flesh split open like the seam of grainsack had been cut. Blood appeared for a moment…and then stopped. The wound was immediately blackened, as though a searing heat had cauterized it.

The ghoul jumped back a few steps before his now kneeling victim and held out the dagger. Not a trace of blood or flesh could be seen on it.

“Ohhhhh she likes you. Lots of fight. We will enjoy draining the life from you one cut at a time.”

He began to step forward with blade outstretched when the hook of Orren’s pike caught him from behind, hooking his right side. Orren pulled with all his strength, spinning the antagonist around to face him. A sound like metal scraping stone could be heard. The flayer glared at Orren, then reached down and unhooked the pike from his side. No mark from the blow could be seen. Any other man would have lost his innards from the force with which Orren had struck.

“She has remade me in her image. I am darkness incarnate. You can no more strike me down than you can the shadows that haunt your dreams. And you do dream don’t you? I’ve seen them. We’ve seen them.” He said ,curling his lips into a sneer. Then he charged, swinging his dagger. Orren was able to lift his shield in time and the black blade bounced off the woven strands, staggering its wielder. The flayer regained his footing and stared at the armored man across from him. His eyes narrowed and the grin he wore until now was no more. Uncertainty was now in his eyes, uncertainty and rage.

Orren slowly advanced. With shield raised he absorbed blow after blow from the demon blade, pushing that tattooed man back further and further. Orren left no opening for him, corralling him with pike and shield, always at his front. The flayer cursed and spit like a feral cat, blows harmlessly bouncing off the holy shield, ever retreating. They were now almost to where Berek kneeled. He was conscious, but his face was covered in sweat and pain. His eyes met Orren’s for a moment, and then he smiled. Berek grabbed his sword and lunged towards the legs of the assailant. At first glance it appeared to Orren that Berek had missed, the blade entering the space between the torturer’s legs. Then he jutted the handle of the blade forward, disrupting the cursed man’s balance.

Orren saw his opening and lept forward, bowling the flayer over onto his back. He landed atop the foe and pinned the evil weapon beneath the shield. The demon’s free hand raked across Orren’s face. Blood poured down and stung his eyes, yet he remained firm in his positioning. With his pike Orren slashed at the flailing limb, but he could only fend off strikes. No lasting damage could be done to anywhere the text of damnation was written. Berek saw the struggle and crawled over to aid. He managed to pin the other hand of the ghoul and for a moment all was quiet. Then the flayer began to laugh, a cackle straight from the bowels of the demon serpent itself.

“You going to hold me here forever? Why don’t you tell me a story while we wait? HMMM? Tell me of your family foreigner. How are they doing? Would you like me to tell you?” The flayer howled with evil glee, teeth glinting in the moonlight.

Teeth….teeth. There is no writing on the teeth.

Orren lifted his pike and with the butt of the handle began to slam it on the open jaw of  his captive. Teeth splintered and broke beneath the onslaught, howls of laughter turned to howls of pain and the sound of gargled blood. Then Orren reached down into the pouch at his side and pulled out one of the stones, still pulsating with light, and shoved it into the bloody maw of the flayer. The flayer began to choke and tried to spit, but orren held his mouth shut with his knee and his nostrils closed with his mailed fist. He swallowed and the stone was gone.

The flayer’s eyes opened wide and his face became twisted with agony. He opened his mouth and coughed up smoke and black tar like substance.

“We should probably get clear” Orren said to Berek. He stood up quickly and dragged his companion away . As soon as they released the hands of their captive he sprang to his feet, both hands raised to his throat, dagger lying in the grass beside him.

“WHAT DID YOU PUT IN ME?!? WHAT DID YOU DO!?” he screamed through coughs of smoke. “GET IT OUT!”

He shrieked in pain and began to claw at his stomach to no avail. Then he saw the dagger in the grass. He picked it up and plunged it into his abdomen up to the hilt, then dragged it clean across the width of his body. Black liquid poured out as he shoved a hand inside the gaping wound. He dug through his bowels as Orren and Berek looked on in horror, and then produced the small stone, still glowing.

“I’ve got it…I’ve…got it.” He said in a voice barely above a whisper. He looked at the two men before him and smiled, then crumpled to the ground.

Berek and Orren sat in silence for a moment staring at the carnage before them. The words carved into the flesh of the now dead man began fade before their eyes, and then disappeared. The black knife was gone.

“Did you know that making him eat that rock would do…that?” Berek asked, still staring at the corpse in front of him.

Orren shook his head “No…but…I knew he wouldn’t like it very much.” He walked over to the dead man and pried the stone from his crooked fingers. He wiped some black gunk off of it in the grass and placed it back in his pouch. They were no longer glowing.

“We should go. Can you walk?” Orren looked at Berek.

Berek stood slowly, wincing in pain. Then he smiled, “I’ve had worse.”