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Total War Heaven » Forums » Bardic Circle - War Stories & AAR forum » Sepia Joust III- The Submissions Scroll
Topic Subject:Sepia Joust III- The Submissions Scroll
Terikel Grayhair
(id: Terikel706)
posted 26 January 2010 02:41 EDT (US)         
Welcome, Lords of the Quill!

The Sepia Joust III begins with the grand opening of this, the Submissions Scroll. Please affix your entrant, and only your entrant upon this scroll.

This scroll serves only as the Submissions Thread. Comments, questions, bashing, moaning, grumbling, and terrified screaming occurs in the Discussion thread, not here. Please respect this rule.

This scroll shall remain open for entrants for a minimum of two weeks, closing tentatively upon the 9th of February, (or six days before the Ides of February for those of you still on the old calendar). Three extra days may be granted if a contestant requires a bit more time to complete their entrant. Such a request should be noted on the Discussion thread.

A summary of Sepia Joust III- The Horror:

Genre: Horror
Target Length: any

Voting Rules:
Each entrant must cast a vote upon the voting thread when it opens.
Entrants may not, however, vote for their own piece. (This helps to inhibit ties).
Voting will end promptly two weeks after the opening of the Voting Thread.
As always, Skalds of the Guild may have their vote counted twice, should they wish. If you do not like this rule, join the Guild. Membership is easy to attain, as explained here.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
posted 26 January 2010 14:56 EDT (US)     1 / 3       

*Not an entry.*


我送你離開 千里之外 你無聲黑白
沈默年代 或許不該 太遙遠的相愛
我送你離開 天涯之外 你是否還在
琴聲何來 生死難猜 用一生 去等待

As Water on Rock

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 02-13-2010 @ 12:28 PM).]

Terikel Grayhair
(id: Terikel706)
posted 02 February 2010 05:19 EDT (US)     2 / 3       
Black Summer

It was blazing hot, but thankfully the work was almost done. Tezra wiped a bucket of sweat from his blue eyes and looked out across the project that had consumed the men of the village of Ygaril this dry summer. The dam. It now- well, almost- blocked the river issuing from the cliffs.

Across the dam, he could see the bowl of the Valley, their home. Once it had been a shallow bowl ringed by mountains, the old ones say, where the King sent his exiles. Tezra did not believe it. If it had ever been a shallow bowl ringed by mountains, the floor had fallen two hundred paces to create a bowl ringed by cliffs. Any exiles dumped here were imprisoned by the cliffs as thoroughly as in any iron-barred prison. That last earthquake, decades ago, had cut the only road exiting the bowl by filling its pass with rubble and dropping the road itself another forty paces. Only the river, born in the collapse of the floor, allowed life in the dryness here to be sustained.

He brushed back his brown hair with one hand, while lifting a skin of precious water to his mouth for a needed sip with the other. The dam. It was almost ready. When it is finished, the water will flow through the new cuts we made and bring life back to our parched fields. He lifted his spade, filled it with dusty grit from the digging of the cuts, and heaved it onto the pile extending into the river.

Frunil had the woodwork ready. He and Renwar were stretched across the gap where water boiled through the two sides, each of the blonde men holding a side of the last piece. This was the final piece. Gurin and Vondel had already emplaced the posts. All that was needed was for Frunil’s woodwork to drop into the gap. The pressure or the water itself would hold it against the posts as it slid down, locking it into position and blocking the flow of rushing water. Then Tezra and his team would start heaving the dirt in earnest, sealing and strengthening the dam. Then the water would build up, run into the cuts, and out onto the field. Our village will live.

Gurin and Vondel helped Renwar and Frunil with the piece as Tezra watched. A splash, a curse, and the piece slid into place across the small river. The water began rising immediately, trapping Vondel who struggled to free his body from the sudden current which gripped him and threw him against the woodwork.

Tezra began frantically heaving dirt to seal the piece. His team joined him, shovelling like mad. The water turned brown, then muddy as the loose grit and large clumps of dried dirt pressed into the woven woodwork which trapped it. The current slowed, as if responding to Vondel’s screams, but the water rose higher- to his chest, then his neck, and then his chin.

Tezra abandoned the filling and ran with his shovel to the cut. The water was almost to it, but it would not reach it before Vondel disappeared. He began digging desperately, hacking at the cut to deepen its mouth. Vondel disappeared in a scream, but Tezra never slowed. He hacked again, and again, and when he hit a solid rock, he used his shovel as a lever. The rock moved, slowly as water seeped into the cut, then with a huge slurp it came free, dragging the water into its home, and the water helped to push the stone away. The water burst through the cut, into the ditches, and then across the fields before pouring off again further down, back into its basin.

The water level sank as the current rushed through its new course. The diggers managed to seal most of the crude woodwork, and Vondel’s head emerged from waters, hanging limply. Gurin and Renwar heaved again, and Vondel came free with a slurp. He coughed, once then again, and then screamed. He was alive!

Gurin helped him to the dam. Vondel caught his breath, then followed the gaze of his fellow villagers. Across the fields, life-giving water flowed through the ditches their ancestors had dug as boundaries, bringing salvation to the arid land and its dessicated crops, and bringing joy to those who struggled daily to scratch up enough food to fill their gruel bowls. Now that would change. Now Ygaril would prosper as it had done in the days of old.

“Tezra was right,” Gurin grumbled as he slapped Vondel on his back to help empty the river from his lungs. “The river. It was meant to flow across the fields.”

Vondel nodded between bouts of coughing. His ancestors had come to this valley long ago, among the third set of settlers escorted in by soldiers. Rebels, his ancestors were, placed in this wide, flat bowl of a valley by the lord they revolted against. Their only source of water was the River- it came from a hole in the mountainous cliffs, flowed through the valley, then disappeared into the mountains to the south. His grandfather was born here, as was his grandfather. It was all he or anyone here ever knew, this valley, and now it shall have life again.

Downriver, the riverbed was baking dry under the hot sun. Deep pools were formed, and along the banks caves had been carved by the currents. Fish were caught in the sudden disappearance of their water, trapped in the pools and wells. Tezra saw it and clapped Vondel on his back and pointed.

“Fish! There are fish trapped in the pools of the dry riverbed!” he exclaimed. “Gather the children, have them use nets and sheets. Tonight we dine on fish, roasted in the bed of our Savior, the River!”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

In the darkness, a red slit opened. It widened to reveal a pupil. Its twin opened beside it. The gurgling. It has stopped. Curious now, the creature opened its red eyes fully and uncurled from the tight ball in which it had slept. Limbs aching from decades of disuse, it stretched and wobbled toward the Great Seal.

It was dry. The creature smiled, revealing rows of sharpened spikes that would have glistened had there been light. It touched the seal gingerly, quickly, as if expecting an electric current. Nothing. It pressed its clawed hands upon the seal and held it there, feeling nothing. Then it pressed the side of its head against the Great Seal and listened.

Nothing. There is nothing more on the other side!

The creature moved back toward the depths. Every so often it would kneel, or strike out with its tail, or kick with its foot. At every movement, a similar ball would unravel.

“There lies nothing beyond the Great Seal,” it hissed. “We may feed again!”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Tezra stuffed a roasted fish into his mouth with a hearty laugh that evening. “I told you,” he laughed between gulp of the seldom delicacy, “I told you that river was in the wrong place. Look at our fields, Bemba. They are soaking up the moisture like sponges. They are coming back to life.”

“You were right,” Bemba admitted. The merriment and music surrounding them at the impromptu fish-fry was proof. “This project will indeed bring life back to our village. But Vondel almost died, Tezra. It was like the river was making us pay for shifting its course. I don’t like it.”

“Bah,” roared Tezra. “Vondel was unlucky is all. None of us knew the suction our actions would create- and he got caught in it. Luckily for him and his wife, nothing serious came of it.”

Bemba shuddered. “Not yet,” he mumbled, “but toying with Nature, Tez- its not to be done lightly.”

“Ygaril was once a proud village of four hundred souls,” Gurin said. The blonde man sat down heartily, almost spilling his cup of wine. Like most drinks in this arid area, it was thick enough to pass for blood. “Now we are less than sixty. With this project, Bem, we shall enjoy prosperity again. Nevermore will we be forced by that dessicated witch Mother Nature to scratch an existence from infertile soil. Now the plants will jump from the ground as soon as they are planted, grow full and fat, and provide us with so much extra that we can once again grow strong and numerous.”

“Urios!” cried a mother. She stumbled over to Tezra and Bemba, placing a hand on Gurin’s shoulder and nodding to Tezra. She bent down to her husband’s ear so her voice would be heard above the ruckus and said, “husband, have you seen our son?”

Gurin belched loudly and giggled. Desert mead was heady stuff. “Relax, Stefini. He is down where the river was with the other boys, looking in the pools for more fish.”

“It is dark, Gurin,” Stefini reminded her drunken husband. “The boy belongs in his bed.”

Gurin snorted. “He is almost a man. In a year or so he will be scratching earth like his father, then searching among the girls for a ripe wife and having babies before she and he both dry up into what we have become. Let the boy enjoy his youth.”

Stefini grunted and spun about. Men! If their son gets lost in the dry fields at night, he would be dead by morning. Did the old fool not realize that? Then she snarled at herself. The fields were no longer dry, and death by dehydration no longer the menace it once was. She relaxed, and turned back to her husband to steal his mead and celebrate this day of triumph.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

“Urios did not come home last night,” Stefini muttered to Gurin. Gods, how her head hurt! It always did that after too much desert mead. “I just checked his bed when I went out to pass water.”

Gurin rolled from the bed, tangling himself in the single sheet as he did so. Like everything else in the broad valley, it was yellowish white. He cursed, and kicked himself free. Then he donned his trousers and shoes and headed out the door.

“I will find him,” he growled. “He shall not sit for a week, but I shall find him.”

But he did not find him, though he searched all day. That evening, he decided to visit the homestead closest to the dam- that of Cliven. Cliven had a daughter of about the right age- maybe the boy was more of a man than he thought? He laughed at the thought, then hurried to the homestead. Cliven was no man one wanted as a brother-in-law!

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

”These things are more tender than I remember,” chittered one of the denizens of the Seal. His speech, had it been heard by human ears, would have sounded like a branch scratching against glass on a windy day. “But smaller. Much smaller.”

“There are others, along with those huge things that walk on four legs,” chittered another. “Enough for our entire clan to feed- to feed and breed.”

“Do not eat too much in one sitting,” warned a third. “Or you will make more mouths for us to feed.”

“Too late,” whispered the first. It shook in the darkness as it felt the black chitinous sheath covering its abdomen peel away. The flesh revealed moved, then parted, then ejected a small black ball into the darkness. The ball quickly unravelled into a new creature, which began gorging upon the carcass at once.

“Great,” moaned the third. “Within a day it will need more food.”

There was scratching at the Seal. It opened, and those that had been hunting in the night returned. They had six more two-legged animals with them, two large, and four small, and three larger, four-legged ones. The two largest of the two-leggers were mostly stripped of flesh on their extremities, but the abdomens were still intact- lots of nutritious organs for the young to grow large upon.

“We have plenty, and there are plenty more in those wooden caves above.”

“Let us eat, brethren. Eat, breed, and grow strong enough to resume our life outside the Seal.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Nobody answered his call, or his knock. Curious, Gurin walked to the door. It was slightly ajar, and the house beyond dark in the morning sun. Gurin became suddenly alert. Something was wrong. The house should be alive with noise and the normal bustle of life. Cliven had a wife and four children. Such a number of people make a hell of a racket. He should know- his own house was a riot in the morning. Yet the house of Cliven was silent as a grave. Gurin touched the door, and when nothing happened, pushed it open.

A sickly, sweet, cloying smell erupted from the house as the door swung silently open and a slight breeze rose from the river, forcing its way through shuttered windows to push the air of the house into his nostrils. Gurin recognized the smell from his own farm- the smell of blood clotting in the dry air. He drew his dagger and entered the room, ready for battle.

The house was still in its night setting- windows shuttered, light curtains drawn before the openings- the valley could get very cold at night. Moving quietly, Gurin made his way to a window and drew the curtain aside. It was sticky, but he ignored it to open the shutter behind it. Light flooded the room and shattered his calm.

The main room was covered in a dark sap, which he knew to be blood hours old. Sprays of it decorated the curtains, while pools of it dotted the floor. But there was no sign of Cliven and his family- or of his missing son. The only thing he did find was a bloody track near a blood pool- in the shape of a chicken track, but one larger than a human foot.

Gurin ran. He did not investigate the rest of the dwelling, nor did he try to follow what few tracks there were outside. Something bad had happened in that house, and a man alone- the only man who knew of it- was of no use dead, too. A living man, gathering others, was of much more use. So he ran, as if the devils of the lower planes were after him.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Fifteen men gathered together to hear his tale. All of the village men and even a few of the outlying farmers, like Bemba, Tezra, Vondel, and Renwar were there. They heard his tale, but doubted. A whole family slaughtered on the outskirts of the village, and nobody heard anything? There was nobody in the entire valley, except for themselves, and had not been since the earthquake closed the pass through the cliff wall ages ago. Giant chickens slaughtering a family? Ridiculous! The only reasonable explanation was that someone had slain the cantankerous Cliven, killed his family to avoid them pointing out the killer, then dragged the bodies away. In short, a murder. And since none in the village were of a murderous bent, the whole tale Gurin spun seemed preposterous.

But the blood on his hand- gained when he opened the curtain, did not lie. Seven of the men went home and came back with pitchforks, shovels, and in one case, an axe. Seven more went home and stayed there, cautioning their families against visitors. And one went up a long, disused path to the mountains.

The brave seven travelled together to the house of Cliven. They approached it warily, unsure of the situation. Was Cliven playing an elaborate game? Or did one of their own really hew down and slaughter an entire family?

They stopped when Gurin pointed out the first track.

“You were right, Gurin,” Vondel said, with a quiver in his voice. “Three toes like a chicken- and as large as my own foot.”

“I have heard legends of giant eagles,” Bemba said, still staring at the track. “Eagles leave the same tracks as chickens, only larger.”

“We would have seen a giant eagle,” Vondel swore softly. “Especially a bloody one.”

“I care not,” Gurin stated bluntly and rudely. “My son Urios is missing, this is the last place he could be, and it stinks of death. Chicken, eagle, or lizard- it makes no difference.”

Renwar grumbled. “The tracks could be faked. I don’t believe in monsters, but men can be the worst of them. Let us go inside, since we are here.”

Bemba opened the door with a violent shove. Nothing moved inside, though the cloying smell of death did seep out. The men wrinkled their noses at the unpleasant odor and began entering the house.

It was dark inside, except where Gurin had opened a single window. He and the others opened more now, while Renwar and Vondel searched the back rooms for life. They found nothing, no sign of Cliven or his brood or the son of Gurin, and returned to the main room.

The central chamber of the house was a shambles. There was thickened blood by the beds of Cliven and his wife- pools of it. Renwar gasped, while Vondel reported he had seen similar pools by the children’s beds. The walls were stained as well, and most of the surfaces covered with dried drops- some in a fine spray.

“Murder,” Bemba declared. “It can be nothing else. The killer came in, stabbed first Cliven, then his wife, then went to the back and murdered all four children. Then he disguised his own tracks by using an implement, or crossed forks, or a kitchen glove to make it appear as if monsters or giant eagles or humungous chickens did this.”

Vondel turned to Gurin. “Your son is missing. Is he capable of such slaughter?”

Gurin stuttered in surprise. Such an accusation! “Vondel! My boy has spent days alone with yours, before this. How could you say such?”

Vondel shrugged, but pointed to the facts. Urios was not here, and Cliven’s family had disappeared in a bloodbath. It was a simple deduction, really. And the boy was a bit odd...

“No murderer did this,” Renwar announced. He held up a half of a foot- the wife’s, by its size. “Look at the edges.”

“Gods of the Sky!” muttered Gurin. “Are those... teeth marks?”

Renwar examined the markings first with his eyes, and then with his fingers. “This deep and this wide- this was no human. I am beginning to think Gurin was right about a giant chicken- one with fangs the size of my pinkie.”

“So what do we do?” asked Gurin. “The Valley is sealed, has been for decades. We cannot flee, and we cannot fight what we do not see.”

“We hunt it,” Renwar said, hefting his axe. “And when we find it, we do as our ancestors did- we fight. And kill it.”

“I say we wait here,” Bemba proposed. “With a lantern lit. If this evil wishes to feed on us, it found us already. At least Cliven. It knows there were people here once, it might come here again.”

“I am not leaving my family alone with a creature running about slaughtering us,” Gurin stated emphatically. “I have one son missing, but another and two daughters with my wife. Look at the spray- blood spewed from its fangs as it devoured Cliven. That will not happen to the rest of my family, not while I can defend them.”

“Mine either,” Vondel said.

“Vondel, Gurin- gather up your families, and mine,” Renwar decided. “Take them to the farmstead of Bemba- it is farthest from here. Bemba and I will stay here and try to lure this thing to its death.”

Gurin nodded. “A good plan.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Tezra had another plan. A better one, he thought. He went to see old Leri, the crazy hermit who lived on a shelf high up in the mountain. Leri had a spring for his own water, and enough room on his shelf for a small house and barn, with easy access for his sheep to another shelf higher up where the grass was always green. The dirt there was thin, though, and never did anything but grass grow there- which was probably why old Leri was left alone all these years.

“Hail, Leri!” Tezra cried. “It is I, Tezra, from Ygaril below. We traded your some linen once.”

There was no answer.

He door stood partly ajar. A cloying smell issued from the house. Tezra had smelled dead meat long enough to recognize its distinctive odor. He feared the worst- the Leri had met the same fate as the family of Cliven.

He was right, but wrong. Leri was inside his house, dead, but he had done it to himself. His arm was gashed open, the offending knife by his side, a dried sheep’s leg with a nasty gash upon it on the table, and a twisted leer upon his crazed face. Tezra looked at the sheep’s leg- it had been hung to dry for at least three years, and knew instinctively what had happened. Leri tried to carve a slice from the wood-hard meat and his knife- always dull- slipped from the flesh to pierce his own. Leri the Hermit was dead from exsanguination- an accident.

“Damn,” Tezra muttered. If there was one person in the entire Valley who would have any idea about murderous giant chickens, it would have been Leri. But no more.

Tezra walked over to him and felt his neck. The old man was cold- so long dead that the flies had stopped sucking moisture from his wounds. Tezra closed the dead man’s eyes solemnly, then peered about. Leri was a bit of a mess- his few belongings lay scattered here and there about the small shack. He had a few scraps of woolly sheepskins, a second leg of mutton drying in the rafters above, his knife, and a mattress of skins he used as a bed.

He buried the man in a shallow grave outside the shack. It was dark by the time he finished- too dark to attempt to scale down the mountain to his own home. He sighed, knowing he would have to spend the night in the dead man’s shack. He found a flask of the old man’s fermented sheep’s milk and settled down upon a rock by the ledge of Leri’s shelf to drink it, as he watched the lights in the valley below dim one by one. Only one remained lit- and Tezra shivered.

That was the home of Cliven.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

There was no wind, but the sound of bushes scratching against a stone wall permeated the House of Cliven.

“Wake up, Renwar,” Bemba whispered, nudging the sleeping man. “Something moves outside.”

Renwar came alert at once. He hefted his axe, and moved to stand by the wall- ready to decapitate any giant chickens that entered the door. Bemba held a spear- a knife really, that he had affixed to the end of a pole, ready to impale any intruders. The scratching grew louder.

The door eased open, silently, almost of its own volition. Renwar raised his axe, and Bemba held his spear shakily before him. Then the door opened. Bemba wished it hadn’t.

He saw nothing at first, only two red discs high up in the doorway, then Renwar’s axe landed smack between them with a solid thunk. The discs disappeared, but Renwar’s axe jumped from his grip and began flapping wildly about. An instant later, the axe came into the room, buried in the head of a creature black as night, with an insectoid body, whose two lower extremities ended in a three-pronged foot- just like a chicken’s. Its tail- a long, armored appendage, still moved weakly, but the red eyes were already glazed.

Renwar gripped his axe and pulled. It broke some of the chitin around the impact zone then pulled free in a slurp. He placed a foot upon the chest of the thing, hefted his axe, then smiled to Bemba.

“We got it,” he said proudly. Then he shuddered as a second black, chitinous spear erupted from his chest, piercing his heart, and covering Bemba with a fine spray, before it exited as fast as it had come.

Renwar slid to his knees, his eyes questioning, his mind confused. A set of fanged jaws closed about his neck from behind and bit down, ending his confusion and covering Bemba with residue as Renwar’s head joined his feet. His body, still spurting blood from his severed neck and weakly from his punctured chest, slowly fell to join the head already laying upon the floor.

Two more creatures came into the light. Their armored exoskeletons were jet black, while their eyes- forward set eyes, hunters’ eyes, almost human- were blood red. They had gaping maws lined with serried fangs, and those maws were opening and hungry.

Bemba threw the lantern at one. It broke, showering the thing with oil, which quickly ignited. A living torch, the black creature stood calmly there and patted out the flames, which returned after every touch. Bemba threw the chair and then the water bucket at the second, gripped his spear, and while screeching out a battle-cry, charged the two monsters that had killed his friend.

He missed. His spear sliced cleanly the air between the two creatures, then his body followed into that opening. He dared not hope to live, but when he found himself outside among two other chittering hellspawn, he kept on running. The creatures chased, and the race was on.

Bemba ran like the wind, before slowing out of breath by the fields. Looking back taught him nothing- it was a moonless night, and the creatures black. He heard nothing, though, and that gave him the courage to cross the irrigation ditches towards the village. He went on, a bit further, with the fear of these things still there, but when the houses of the village appeared before him in the faint starlight, he knew he had shaken the monsters off.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Tezra returned in the morning to find the men of the village gathered in the town square. In their midst was a creature with a broken face, dead upon the square. Next to it was a human leg, with that cruel scar Renwar had from fighting with Gurin over Stefini as a younger man. All were listening to Bemba tell of the battle in the night.

“We must flee!” cried one of the men.

“Flee to where?” replied Gurin. “There was one pass though the cliffs which surround us- and that was closed in the earthquake which killed my grandfather as a young man.”

“Then we must fight,” Bemba decided. “These creatures, they die. Look at this one, slain by Renwar.”

“Look at Renwar, slain by these creatures,” retorted another.

“Renwar died because we thought there was only one,” Bemba reminded him. “There were at least five.”

“At least five?” cried Tomgan, the miller. “How many more?”

“Five were seen, one was slain,” recounted Gurin. “We cannot flee, so Bemba is right. We must fight.”

“Fight how?” cried Tomgan. “These things come in the night, at will.”

“We fort up,” Tezra said, joining the debate. “We arm ourselves. Bemba is right- these things die. They killed Cliven, his family, and Renwar- all men not expecting an attack. We expect one now. Be ready.”

“Where were you, Tezra?” Bemba asked. “Had there been any man going to the home of Cliven, I would have thought it to be you.”

“I went to the home of old Leri,” Tezra said. “He was the oldest of us, and maybe knew something of these creatures. But he was dead, sliced himself with his dull knife while cutting a dried mutton. Probably a month ago.”

“That crazy old fart never knew anything worth a shit anyway,” Tomgan muttered. “He didn’t even know enough to sharpen his own knife.”

“He knew more than any of us about this valley,” Tezra replied. “If anyone would have known about these creatures, it would have been him. But he was dead.”

“It is time to decide,” declared Bemba. “We cannot flee, so we must fight. Nobody goes anywhere alone, or without weapons. If we present a strong enough front, maybe these things will crawl back to where they came from. Tezra is right- we fort up.”

There was some murmuring, but the result was as Tezra declared. They must fort up, travel in packs, and be armed. There was simply no other option.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

“The two-legs hurt,” chittered a young Hellspawn in the Cavern of the Seal. Its shoulder was deformed, as if it had been melted. “My parent- the food killed it. But I avenged it, and brought the meat for our clan.”

“You are too young to remember,” ticked the Old One. “But those two-legs came before, when we lived upon the surface. They came to our valley, and we fought. They were hard, like us, and had claws of iron. Many of us they killed, forcing us to take refuge down here, and build the Great Seal. Dangerous are the two-legs. Let us keep to the four legs, and feed only as needed.”

“Shall we not feed to breed, to become strong again?” asked another. “I miss the feel of the warm summer sun against my exoskeleton.”

“No,” chittered the old one decidedly. “If we are too many, we deplete the food above. Then we must sleep the long sleep again, until they come back. No, my child, this time we do not feed ourselves to oblivion- we take it slow. First we eat what we have, then snatch a four-leg as needed. And above all, avoid the two-legs!”

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A month went by with no further incident. The midsummer was passed with a small celebration, then life gradually returned to normal. The events of the early summer were not forgotten- the carcass of the creature was hung up in the town square as a reminder- but as time passed, so did the horror. Until the middle of September.

“Tezra,” asked Gurin, who came by to visit. With him was Bemba and Vondel. “We were up by the cliff to herd the lams in for slaughter. There were none- not a single lamb. And the sheep herd- Tezra, it was almost depleted.”

Tezra thought for a moment, stroking his beard as the information processed. “Do we have enough to feed our families through the winter?”

Gurin shook his head. “I doubt it, unless we eat only what comes from the fields.”

Bemba clapped Tezra on the back. “Thanks to your idea about the dam, Tez, the fields have produced much more than last year. Triple, I would guess. It looks like that damned dam might be our salvation after all.”

That tickled a nerve in Tezra’s brain. The dam! “I think that dam was the biggest mistake we ever made,” he said bluntly. “Gurin, you tracked the beasts. You said they went to the riverbed before disappearing. And it all started after we completed the dam. I think the river covered the lair of these beasts, and our dam set them free.”

“Then we need to break the dam,” Bemba determined. ”Seal those vermin back in.”

“Let us not be hasty,” Vondel objected. “I almost lost my life building that, and its existence brought life back to our fields.”

Gurin was even more emphatic. “Our crops will die!”

We will die!” Tezra shouted in retort.

“Tez is right,” Bemba grumbled. “There are no wolves in this valley. No natural predators of any kind. There is but one way the sheep herd can be so reduced- those things have been feeding on it, and not us. What happens when there are no more sheep? Those things will not starve- they will rather begin feeding on us. I say we break the dam and kill them all.”

“I say we hunt their lair and kill them all,” Gurin and Vondel said in tandem. “Leave the dam alone.”

“Hunt them during the day,” Frunil advised. “They are night creatures- only attacking at night. Maybe daylight will hurt them.”

“Let us compromise,” Bemba asked. “Tezra and I prepare the dam for destruction, while you two gather some volunteers to go hunting among the caves. We’ll watch from the dam. If you fail, we pull it down. Better poor crops than no life.”

Gurin grumbled, but agreed. As did Vondel.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Gurin assembled a crew of fifteen volunteers- half of the available manpower of Ygaril. All were armed with axes, picks, or home-made spears. The other twelve men of Ygaril were likewise armed, and stood guard over the families at Frunil’s workshop- the strongest building in the village, and the one most easily defended.

Bemba met Tezra near his farmstead. “Are you ready?”

Tezra nodded.

“Where is your family? Already at Frunil’s?”

Tezra shook his head. “Julka insisted on checking the fields. Hard-headed woman. But she has a pickaxe, and can use it. She took Naika and Jadoc with her. And the fields- they have a good field of vision. They should be safe enough.”

Bemba shrugged. “It is your family,” he said, then led off to the dam.

Tezra felt badly for lying to his friend, but there was little telling the truth would do except endanger his family more. The families at Frunil’s workshop were safe- but crowded and without water. His family had water, but little space. Things were best left as they were.

The two men looked over their work, analyzing its structure, and decided the best way to pull it down would be to dig out the posts from behind the water. And so they began, and kept at it until the dam began to spring a leak.

“Stop, Bemba,” Tezra said as he put down his shovel. “Any more and I think it will go.”

“I agree,” Bemba said, and put his shovel down. He turned and rested against the dam. He saw movement in the riverbed further down. “It looks like Gurin and his boys found a promising cave.”

Tezra followed the line of sight and indeed saw fifteen men shouting and pointing. Then they disappeared into the side of the riverbed.

A few minutes later, they emerged again, yammering and panicked. They were being chased. Tezra and Bemba stood still, horrified, as ten or fifteen black creatures emerged, striking down the men with their tails, or leaping upon them and clamping down with those terrifying jaws. Frunil’s theory of these creatures being active only at night or harmed by daylight was instantly dispelled.

Tezra watched in horror as the entire plan went drastically wrong. More creatures emerged from the riverbank, dozens more, leaving the hunting party alone to be overwhelmed by that first group, while these ran toward the town.

“Now, Bemba!” he cried, attacking the dam with all his might. Bemba, petrified beside him, was jolted into action. Both men began tearing at the dam, before more deadly creatures could emerge.

The creatures noticed this. A group of them peeled off from the group heading toward the town and began racing for the dam.

“Put your back into it Bemba,” Tezra shouted. The men redoubled their efforts.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

”Get those two before they drown the Hive!” chittered a Parent. “The rest of you, find the remaining two-legs. ”

“The Old One was wrong,” screamed a child. “These two-legs are easy to slay, and have no metal skin.”

“We will discuss this later,” shouted a Leader. “For now, find the rest of the two-legs before they come to help those by the dirt wall. The Hive must be protected!”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Frunil’s workshop was a carnage. The creatures were fast enough to batter down the door before the crossbar could be lowered, and agile enough to spring into open windows, and strong enough to tear the roof off and drop in from above. The stormed the strongly-built workshop as if its walls were butter, turning their purpose from keeping the Hive out to penning the Food in.

Not all inside went down without a fight. The men fought well. Frunil wielded his hammer like a mallet, crushing a hardened skull here and shattering the exoskeleton of an appendage there. Two creatures seized him, one the mallet, the other his waist, while a third launched itself upon his face and bit hard. Frunil’s head exploded in a shower of bloody brains as the creature tossed its head back to wolf down the nutritious grey matter.

Yukif died upon his own spear. He stabbed one beast, his spear piercing the armored breast to lodge deep within. As he shouted in triumph, the beast pulled the spear from his chest and threw it at the exultant human. It lodged in his throat. His surprised eyes went wide with shock before another creature plucked those delicacies out and swallowed them whole. Zodoff, his brother, met a worse fate trying to prevent the hellspawn from breaking the line of defenders to reach the women beyond. He suffered the most- hearing his woman shriek, his kids terrified wailing, while he himself stood helpless, wrapped in the chitinous black tails of two hellspawn, immobile and powerless.

Several hellspawn were dead now, but so were many men. There were simply far more hellspawn than there were men. As the men died, the women and children were herded by the creatures into a corner from which there would be no escape. Any resistance was futile- those who showed any sign of defiance were stabbed down by spiked tails, their limbs consumed by their killers while their torsos remained intact for later.

The cowed remnants of Ygaril stood quivering and crying in their corner, their lives over. The beasts advanced slowly, sensing the fear, tasting the delicious flow of abject terror in the air, and grinned cruelly. The food was salting itself. How thoughtful. Then they pounced, each remaining hellspawn wrapping its tail around the torso and upper limbs of the food, restraining it, holding it, and making ti ready for transport back to the Hive.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

“Almost through,” Bemba cried.

“Look out!” Tezra shouted, too late for Bemba to react. A black spear-like tail impaled the digger- through the abdomen. But Bemba was a strong man, and had suffered much in his short life. He swung his shovel like a bat and caught his killer across its face- dropping it into the lake on the other side of the dam.

Tezra lurched up upon the dam. He fought a second creature, dodging its thrusting tail and smashing his shovel down- edge-first- upon the creature’s head. It chittered and dropped to quiver and shake beside the dying Bemba.

The third creature, carapace shining in the daylight, lurched to one side, then the other, testing the two-legs reactions to his tail-spear. In doing so, it forgot the first two-leg whose shovel caught it behind its lower knee. The creature shrieked, and fell into the water.

Tezra has a wonderful view of the creature sizzling and shrieking as its carapace absorbed so much water that it melted away to reveal flesh, which in turn disintegrated before his eyes. The creature was gone, as was the first.

He helped Bemba up to the dam, then to the far side. “Water,” he cried. “Water kills them!” He knelt, trying to staunch the flow of blood from Ygaril’s bravest man. But it was too late, and both men knew it.

“The dam,” shouted Bemba. It came out like a whisper. “Break it. Tonight, when the frikking things go to their cursed home. Drown them, Tezra. Drown them all.”

“My family is in the fields, Bemba,” he replied. “I must warn them, get them to safety.”

“There is no safety in this valley as long as those things live,” Bemba replied between bouts of coughing up thick blood. “You... must... kill... them... all. Hide... and tonight... break.. the...”

Bemba’s head rolled lifelessly aside. He was gone, and Tezra was alone, torn between his duty to his family, and his duty to mankind.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

In that single awful afternoon, almost the entire populace of Ygaril disappeared.

Except for a single family- one dam-builder trapped on the far side of the river, and his hard-headed wife who fled with the children to the shack of old Leri.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Night fell. It was a full moon, so Tezra could see the dam, his rickety dam weakened by his efforts. But Bemba was no longer laying upon it. Some creature had come and hauled him away- a midnight snack.

He was tired. He had run upriver and hidden among the boulders until he was sure he was not being watched by the hellspawn, then settled in to await the falling of night.

His heart was now heavy with duty. He had wanted to swim the river, to be with his family, and put the valley below behind him. But he knew such a haven could not last as long as the creatures lived. They would eventually find him, and dine upon his family. The only way to safety as he saw it was to fulfil his promise to Bemba- to destroy the dam.

It was night. The sun was well-hidden behind the western hills, only the faint afterglow of its rays colored the clouds now. He slid into the river’s icy mountain-born waters. Getting to the bridge would be relatively easy- he would allow the water to carry him. And in short order, he was by the dam. His dam. And he began digging again.

A chittering sound alerted him. Something was nearby, but where? He dared not look. The fate of his family depended on him destroying the creatures in their lair. Water would do it- and he had a lot of water on the other side of the dam. He dug like a madman.

The sky clouded over, drowning the rising moon behind a curtain. Tezra smiled for the first time in months. But he did not slacken his pace. He and Bemba had done the work together, now he was almost finished alone. A spear-like tail embedded itself in Frunil’s woodwork- a half a hand’s breadth from his head.

He looked up, shovel at the ready. There was a creature upon the dam, and two more moving to join it. He smashed wickedly at the thing’s leg, but it had learned. It jumped over the moving shovel easily.

But it missed its landing on the slippery dam-ledge. With a shriek, it tumbled into the water beyond as its feet shot under from under it, causing a near eruption of gas as the pure mountain water was absorbed by its desert-bred armored casing. Tezra smiled as two more lurched forward and swung his shovel- against the woodwork weakened by the creature’s tail strike. Thunder erupted from the night sky- and from the dam.

Tezra’s smile was awful in the darkness.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

“The Noise! It comes!” shrieked the Old One. “Quick! Close the Seal!”

“But our clan is outside,” cried a child. “They will be slain!”

“Better those many- than
all,” called the Old One. “Now close the Seal, or we all die.”

Grumbling, the child closed the Seal and spun the massive handle.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The ground shook as the water behind the dam boiled, then the post broke free. Frunil’s woodwork blasted through the opening, dragging more of the dam free. Water burst through in an avalanche of noise and spray, engulfing Tezra and sending him hurtling downstream toward the monsters’ lair. Down and down he went, tumbling and bashing up against rock and dirt, until finally he managed to get his head above the rapid water.

He grabbed an overhanging root and used his momentum to swing his body from the stream. He lay still for a moment, then sat up. The river was reborn along its original path. He sighed, then startled as he noticed three hellspawn staring at him from across the river. They stared at him, then at the river, then up and down the river, before resting their unsettling gaze upon him.

Tezra looked about, but saw nothing he could use as a weapon. His shovel was gone, washed away. There was nothing, of even a knot of wood. He was trapped on the far side of the river with nothing with which to defend himself, while three armored hellspawn gazed at him from across the gushing water. More came to join them, until twenty or so were lined up across the river, chittering and chattering to each other in an effort to discern how to cross the lethal wetness to get at the food on the other side.

Thunder crashed, louder than the river. Then lightning shot across the desert sky. In the flash of light, the hellspawn crouched and froze- then looked up at the sky and then to each other.

Tezra laughed. It was a cruel laugh, but a deep one. Its bellowing echoes rocked throughout the silent valley until drowned out by another crash of thunder rumbling about the mountains. With the thunder came the first drops of rain- pure heavenly water falling from the sky in huge droplets, a few at first, then in torrents. Tezra laughed as the creatures howled in pain, then melted away as their bone-dry exoskeletons drank in more water than the beasts could sustain. The desert-dwelling creatures- extremely adapted to the dry desert- literally dissolved in the overabundance of water, never to bother him again.

After the first deluge passed, he rose. A second was on its way. He wanted to be safe in old Leri’s hut before it hit- safe with his family, and Leri’s herd. The only survivors of this horrid black summer. And maybe, after the rains pass, he would follow the sheep up that mountain to their pastures, and find a way out of this cursed valley. Whatever sins their ancestors had committed to be sentenced into this exile had been washed away in a sea of blood.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

“The Seal, it stings us again. And the gurgling is back.”

The Old One sighed, and closed its eyes as its body curled up. “Then we sleep, child. Until it gurgles no more.”

“For how long, grandparent?”

The Old One sighed. “For as long as it takes, child. For as long as it takes.

Around him, ten other children gnawed on the last of the food before following the Old One in curling up. It would be a long sleep, and none knew how long.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
High King of Britain
posted 06 February 2010 06:52 EDT (US)     3 / 3       
These Eyes

A full moon shone on high that night
The night the queer man came to town
Though the rain came down in a constant torrent
The queer man was not beaten down.

Doggedly making his way along
The street with a lurching gait
He came to a certain door and knocked
Despite the hour late.

The door belonged to a dwelling
And that dwelling belonged to Finn
Who got up from the comfortable warmth of his hearth
To let the stranger in.

The queer man stood upon the threshold
With a cry Finn stumbled back
For the queer man was th’ most hideous thing
Finn had never seen the like.

Tall he stood, with gaunt features
His arms hung stiff at his sides
His hands and ears were large, his mouth
Was fanged, his skin blank-white.

Visualize it there
This creature, child of Death
Standing in your doorway
It draws a rattling breath:

“Can I come in?” the creature said,
For man it was clearly not;
“I seek lodging for a while,
Just how long I know not.”

The creatures voice was like a knife
A cold hiss of rotten breath
It froze Finn’s already fearful heart
This voice was th’ voice of death.

At last Finn mustered the courage to speak
And in a trembling voice he said:
“Leave now, and never come back, you fiend!
I will not shelter th’ Undead!”

The creature snarled its hatred
But take vengeance it could not
It could not enter without consent
To make its host’s spirit rot.

Its eyes flashed red, but it slammed the door
And Finn breathed a sigh of relief
The thing moved on to the next house down
Grinding its freakish teeth.


By morning the storm had blown itself out
The sun showed her face again
The clouds had blown South, the sky was clear
On to new victims had moved the rain.

Finn was nineteen, thus seeking a wife
For some months he had courted Lirent
She was his neighbor, a beautiful creature
That morning to greet her he went.

He knocked on her door, but she answered not
So he knocked on her door again.
After several tries, with still no response
A fear crept into his brain.

Lirent had a compassionate heart
And if she had seen that thing,
If it had not left the town, but tried somewhere else,
What if she’d let it in?

Finn crouched under the window
Peeking over the sill he saw
A sight that would stay with him right till his end
A vision of true horror.

Lirent stared straight back at him
Through sightless eyes full of fear
Her face was contorted in terrible pain
Her body was nowhere near.

He met the gaze of the severed head
And his eyes opened wide in shock
This once-pretty thing, now twisted, destroyed –
For him there was worse in stock.

The dead eyes roved, and rested on him
With a scream Finn threw himself back
He turned and fled, and made for the church
Never did his pace slack.

At first the priest would not believe him
“Satan wouldn’t come here,” he said
“And although what you say is clearly his work
I think you imagined this head.”

Still, he went to inspect the house of Lirent
And when the head looked at him too
The two men returned to the church double-quick
And discussed what they could do.

Retribution had to be swift and sure
By nightfall, some eighty men
With pitchforks, spears and similar tools
Were ready to battle with Hell.

Had but they waited till morning
Their victory would have been sure
Of eighty-three men who set out that night
Only one would ever return.


At first they battered upon the door
“Open up right now!” they roared
But no answer came from within the house
So a fallen tree-trunk was brought.

They used it as a battering-ram
Smashing it at the way in
At length the wood began to give
Promptly the gatehouse was taken.

But next began the fight for the streets
As th’ villagers surged into the breach
It was night and there was no light inside
They could see nothing through th’ darkness pitch.

“Bring us a light!” the frightened men cried
“We can see nothing without!”
Torches were brought and handed along
And then came a terrified shout.

Inside the hut was no hut at all
But a gothic castle well-built
But the terrifying thing was the hideous hounds
Cov’ring th’ floor like a monstrous quilt.

Each hound was as large as a mastiff
And blacker than blackest coal
Their eyes were red like glowing embers
Their numbers could not be told.

The terrified men leveled their weapons
At their hideous hellish foes
A grim courage set in among them all
T’ resist the hounds in their hundreds of rows.

At first came a snarl and a growling of hate
Growing from th’ infernal pack
Then came the barking and the baying
The men cowered, the hounds attacked.

There followed a battle worthy of song
‘Tween man and hell-born beast
Carcasses, corpses were everywhere strewn
From the hellhounds’ attempt at a feast.

Long and hard the villagers fought
And neither side gave ground
At long last only two beasts were left
But only one man who could stand.

Like broken playthings cast aside
Lay the corpses of his friends since childhood
Mutilated, ruined, ragged and torn
O’er th’ floor lay a carpet of blood.

The one man left was Finn of course
The two dogs leapt at him
With a roar of loss and hatred, Finn
Fought back and slaughtered them.

Alone he stood now in the hall
Spear in left hand, axe in right
Silently ‘waiting the monster
He had turned away yesterday night.

As if on cue, from the shadows
Stepped the tall white man deformed
“You killed my dogs, you miserable man
But I too have slaughtered yours!

“I live off human souls, young Finn
I trap them in their heads
I cannot come in without permission
Once got, I kill them in their beds!

“You must understand, pathetic mortal
That you are no match for me
But in exchange for this feast you have given me
I might just let you go free.”

“I do not trust you, child of Dark
Nor can I let you live
You have killed my girl and killed my friends
Now must I justice retrieve!”

Finn raised his axe and began to run forward
But the hideous man raised a hand:
“If thou strik’st me down, this curse I lay on thee:
You will see what I command!”

“You deserve to die!” shouted Finn in torment
“I care not if you’re already dead
The curse you lay on me I must accept
To rid th’ world of your dreadful tread!”

The monster drew a mighty sword
But Finn released his axe
He hurled it straight and true at the thing
The head came out of its back.

The axe had bit where its heart should have been
With a tearing scream it collapsed
Leaving a pile of tattered black robes
And a pool of steaming wax.


From that day forth, Finn began to see
Things that were not there
Bodies ruined and severed heads
Floating eerily in the air.

At long last he could take it no more
One day he went for a walk with the priest
That was when the very worst vision
Set in, that made monsters his trouble least.

The sky seemed to darken, all colors turned red
And everywhere th’ Undead could he see
White eyes, gray faces, tattered old clothes
Wandering lost in the breeze.

For Finn it was the final straw
That broke the camel’s back
This cult of death e was forced to endorse
At long last made his mind crack.

With a scream Finn sank to his knees
Clawing his eyes with his hands
“My God! My God! I can’t take it!
In these eyes Death everywhere stands!”

To the fear and horror of the priest
Finn pulled out a knife
With a howl, put out one eye, and then the other
Before ending his own life.

Twice he stabbed himself in the breast
But when he found Death still coming too slow
He smashed the dagger into his face
The messiest way to go.

Eyes can deceive you, so let it be known
That whatever you see in this world
Need not be true, be it bodies or blood
Or the severed head of your girl.

~ ancient briton ~

/|||| ||||\

(dis ma house)
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