The Maiden and the Lost Villagers

December 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM

The young maiden knelt amongst the rubble and smoldering wreckage that was once her simple home. Smoke plumed into the sky and ash hung thick in the air. It stung her eyes, but that was not the cause for the tears streaming down her cheeks. She was in mourning. The day before last, she had departed the group of refugees and returned to her village, determined to find the bodies of her father and three brothers. It was her duty to anoint their brows with consecrated oil and bid them farewell into the afterlife. Her father and brothers were among the few who bravely stayed behind to hold off the enemy, providing precious time for her people on the East end of town to escape the massacre that fell upon the village. Her distraught heart was filled with confusion for, upon her arrival, not a single corpse was there to find.

The sacked village lay deserted and barren, smoldering from fire and flame. Although the smoke billowed over the ground, not a single body could her eyes see. The enemy had attacked from the North under the cover of night. They slaughtered everything in sight. Neither man, woman, or child was spared. Yet, no bodies laid on the ground. No crows feasted on the corpses that should be plenty. The words of the old widow Me’heethlo came to mind. She was fond of spinning tales about the enemy. Tales the maiden believed were meant to frighten young children into obedience once it was time to remain in bed.

She surveyed the ruins. It was dark and hazy with no hint of life. “Once a joyful habitat, this was,” She thought with sorrow. Curiously, she took notice of the grimy layer of soot that covered everything within the burnt-out village. She ran a single finger through the begrimed sludge and saw that it did not give the appearance of ordinary ash, but of mold that grew in the dark and damp places of old. “This is not of nature’s making,” she thought. “This is rot and decay I walk upon!”

The edges of the mold were of the deepest black with hints of green, but on top of its center grew white and gray fuzzy hair that vibrated ever so lightly. If it were not for the irritation from the smoke, she would have sworn the mold and mildew were growing and stretching out before her very eyes.

The crackling of burning wood filled the air, then without warning it vanished. All the surrounding flames immediately were extinguished as if inhaled by an unseen giant. The mold congealed upon itself forming vines and tendrils. They writhed on the ground before her feet, encapsulating and covering all within its reach. A soft hiss emerged from the ruins. A dense gas swirled and rose into the air from oval and lipped mouths that pimpled the surface of the thicker limbs. It flowed like a liquid upon the soil and clawed up the scorched beams like an animal searching for prey.

The maiden brandished her broadsword with speed and skill, for having been the daughter of a great blacksmith and the youngest sibling to three boys, she knew the ways of steel better than most. The hiss grew louder as it permeated the terrain. She backed out of the remains of her home, defenses at the ready and eyes keen to any movement in her field of vision.

Cracking and snapping broke the silence as the mist billowed and rolled. It reminded the maiden of the breaking of tree branches from the ice storms that raged during past winter seasons. However, this was different. These cracks and snaps were from something wet and moist. The snaps and splits grew more severe and frequent with every moment. It arose from all directions. It abruptly reached climax and then all was quiet.

The maiden gripped the hilt of her sword tightly. She held the mighty blade over her head in a defensive position, ready to take the head off any foe or adversary who would stand against her. She kept this stance in silence and stillness. The girl did not grow weary from the heaviness of the blade for it was the perfect weight for her. It had been a present from her father and created just for her and no one else.

Broken was the silence from harsh, raspy breaths of lungs filled with fluid and phlegm. The ground heaved upward and separated from wet hands that stretched up to the sky. The lost villagers had returned! Worms and maggot still feasted on the dead and rotting flesh. Scabs tore free from wounds that would never heal and spilled pus onto the ground. The poor creatures dragged themselves out from their resurrection holes. Disorientated, they tottered and stumbled, but the scent of the young girl quickly filled their nostrils and filled them with desire and rage.

Concealed within to burned wood, a lost villager fell upon the startled girl and bit down on her neck with a ravenous ferocity. To her surprise, its teeth did not tear her skin. The bite hurt terribly, but its teeth felt soft and mushy within its clenched jaw. Several more of the lost villagers slashed at her with thin, pointed fingers, and again they felt flimsy and lacking any rigidity in their blows. The answer to this riddle quickly flashed in her mind, “Newly risen are these foul beasts! Their hides had not the time to harden!” she thought.

In a high overhead arc, she cleaved the lost villager that stood before her in two with her sword. With the blade’s hilt, she struck the one that held her from behind in the throat and smashed its face into a stone wall. Another lunged at her and held her by the throat in an iron grip. She brought her sword up, twisted and separated its hands from its wrists. In one graceful motion, she twirled and took off the top portion of the creature’s skull. An unseen villager, a child, scurried on the ground and locked its arms around her leg. It bit down hard, and she shrieked in pain as she saw blood trickle from the decayed child’s mouth. She brought her blade down hard and drove its tip completely through the child’s head and buried it deep into the wooden floor.

Crinkling and cracking from drying skin and hardening hides filled her ears; she knew time was running out. The girl scanned the area for a means to escape. In the distance, she saw her only hope. An old windmill stood a short distance away. In the absence of any clear path to escape upon, its sturdy walls and a thick door would provide shelter for her immediate safety. She sprinted with all her might towards the haven. She would have made it too were it not for the ground opening up below her feet.

She fell hard, sword clanging out of her grip. Wet and cold hands clutched and pulled her deeper into the maw of the dark hole. Further and further she slid. She clawed at the edges of the hole, but the soggy soil slipped through her fingers. She turned, and four faces stared back at her from the shadow of the muddy pit. For the briefest of moments, she saw a familiar shade of green in each of its eyes, a shade of green, much like her own. There was such great sadness in those faces and a glistening of tears in each one’s eyes. As quickly as it had come, blackness and mildewed film consumed all hint of color and humanity. The grasps of those gnarled hands tightened, and the fair maiden screamed in terror.

High in the night sky, a strange, high-pitched whirring emerged from the night. The sound was melodic and beautiful. The struggling maiden turned from the dead faces and snapping jaws she held at bay and saw a twirling diamond of light approach from the corner of her eye. It streaked across the night, ricocheted off a heap of stones and shot towards the girl in a downward trajectory. It spiraled missing the girl’s neck by a hair and slashed through each creature without resistance, separating their heads from shoulder. The maiden followed the mysterious spinning diamond of light with her eyes. It flew high into the sky and began to descend towards the ground in a large arc until it came to rest in the hands of a boy.

The boy couldn’t have been more than fifteen to sixteen years of age. He stood gallantly, wearing thin and light silver armor. The object he held in his gloved hand was a diamond-shaped disk with three blades that retracted into itself. He secured the disk to his gauntlet and drew his sword. In that instant, it appeared the mist quivered at the sight of this mighty sword. She watched him run head-first into the approaching lost villagers. Her keen eye saw that the boy was well-trained, but lacked experience on the battlefield. Still, the lost villagers were no match for his blade and amazing diamond disk.

In the distance, she saw another young boy wearing the garb of a squire enter the town square. Accompanied was he by six fearsome warriors, four men, and two women. They raised their spears and blades high above their heads and charged forward with a loud and magnificent battle cry.

The young maiden recalled the stories from the widow and the songs from the minstrels and bards. “Could the tales be true?” she thought. All the whispers and songs retold and sung. Was there more to those words she pondered? Could it be true? The prophecy of the Day of the Worm.

From within the mist, hordes of decayed creatures descended upon the small band of knights. Hissing and spitting filled the air. The sharp clang of steel against hardened exoskeleton echoed across the barren village. The monsters fell upon the warriors from rooftops. They leaped into the air and crawled on the walls. The beasts flanked their victims with lethal precisions. The green mist swirled and surged, blinding all caught within its wake.

The young warrior approached the maiden. With a smile, he offered her his hand and said, “My lady, how did one so beautiful such as yourself come to find herself in such a dire predicament?”

She was dumbfounded and in shock at the massacre she just witnessed. She stood aghast at the nonchalant demeanor the boy displayed for the loss of his comrades in arms. She had never seen such disregard for life or such dismissal of loyalty those brave souls must have shown for this child. Puzzled, rage built within her soul. She shouted, “But..but your friends just perished before our very eyes, and you did nothing. Do you not have any…?”

His smile grew wider than before, and the boy said, “My dear, you lay before the Warriors of the Six Realms. The other was a squire to my father and champion to my mother. If any one of them were incapable fending off a pitiful pack of flaccid Deadlings, they would have no place at my side.” With a slash, the squire’s dagger slashed through the air releasing a burst of golden light. The malignant mist evaporated into nothingness underneath its rays. In the clearing, the squire stood brandishing a brilliant blade. By his side stood two young women of no more than twenty years of age. Each held a short sword in reverse grip and wore gauntlets of silver and blue steel. The four men guarded the rear—an elderly man, a slightly aged man, and two young twins. At their feet laid the slashed and cut corpses of the villagers.

A second wave of the Deadlings came at the Warriors like a black wave of water. Their hard skin was glistening in the moonlight. Each of the women warriors took on two foes, blocking slashes from lethal fingers with their gauntlets and stabbing decayed flesh with their blades.

The old man held a menacing dory spear, capped at the rear with a heavy spike. His hair was long, white and braided. Interwoven into the braided hair’s end was a silver marble. Swings of the spear and snaps of his neck severed heads and crushed skulls.

The twins each carried a sword. One brother bore a kopis—a thick, curved saber. The other carried a xiphos—a straight double edged sword. They guarded each other’s flank and worked as one, anticipating each other’s actions. The middle-aged man was blind and held a curved dagger in each hand. He slashed throats and severed limbs with the precision of any sighted soldier.

The young warrior spoke with a boyish playfulness and offered his hand to her once more, “Forgive me, my lady. I am normally quite shy about things such as this and find rejection quite devastating. However, in this case, I will risk the embarrassment and shame.”

With a sly grin upon his face, he held up her sword and said, “Would you care to dance with me?” The maiden saw the dark figures moving in the shadows; she looked into the eyes of this mysterious young warrior and felt a stirring she could not deny. She smiled and took hold of her sword and said, “Yes good sir. Nothing more would please me.”

The End

Author’s note: The Maiden and the Lost Villager is meant to be a companion to the story “Day of the Worm.” Although the plot of TMATLV is adequately contained in itself with hints thrown in at a larger world, it reads well as a stand-alone fairy tale. However, its true intent is to build upon the beautiful and rich world that was created in “Day of the Worm.”

Credit: Killahawke1

The Squire and the Black Scroll

December 14, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Kneeling before the Knight, Edwin accepted the scroll with great honor. It was such an odd thing he held; one of the likes he had never experienced before. The parchment was cold to the touch and made from leather of the deepest black. It was absent of moisture. Still, it felt slick and slimy in his hand as if it had been pulled from the river, rotting and decayed. He shivered at the thought of the animal whose hide hailed its origin. The parchment was rolled tight with a clay seal upon its surface. The emblem embedded in the clay consisted of sharp lines and gashes. The boy knew little of matters of magic and wizarding, but he had enough sense to see that dark curses and wicked hexes did this crest bind.

“Arise boy! Make haste and do not delay your departure. Word will soon reach the Enemy of the Scroll’s discovery. The time of reckoning fast approaches! The sacrifices made to deliver that evil thing into our grasp cannot be wasted with indecision!” said Sir Leonidi, Knight of the Fourth Realm.

With great effort, the young boy tried to remove any hint of apprehension and fear from his voice. “Yes my Lord,” he answered.

“Heed my words and do not deviate from my instructions. Head South and ride hard across the plains and through the Scorched Hills until you reach the Sunken Mountains. Avoid the main paths and stay hidden until you reach the gates of the White Keep.”

The Knight put a large hand on the boy’s shoulder and said with a lowered voice, “The item you carry is dangerous and will betray you if given the opportunity. Never must darkness fall upon it. An hour before nightfall, build yourself a fire and with green salt must you encircle the Scroll to ward off any dark spirits and shadows that call to it. If you must draw your sword, you strike to kill! Trust no one! Do you understand me?”

The boy swallowed and gave small nods of affirmation to the Knight.

Satisfied with his response, the Knight continued, “I ride East in the morning with every sword and shield that would answer the call to follow my banner.”

Sir Leonidi paused and looked affectionately down at the boy, “My dear Edwin, I fear this may be the last time we speak, but if fortune favors us, we will attract the attention of the Enemy’s eyes and draw their numbers toward us. You will pass through the lands undetected.”

The boy took leave of the Knight. He swiftly made his way to the supply hut within the encampment to gather all he would need for the journey. He was lost in thought as he saddled his young steed. He thought of the war that tore through the land from an enemy that came from the stars. He wondered about the object openly displayed in the daylight upon his saddle bags. He pondered what would come to pass if the rays of the sun no longer fell upon the Scroll. So focused on the dark Scroll was he, he took no notice of the hooded figure that approached from behind.

“Such a mighty quest for such a tiny boy. Are the times so dire that it comes to this? Well, one cannot deny that the Fates do not have a sense of humor in matters such as these. Wouldn’t you agree, little one?” he bellowed a jolly laugh.

The boy turned and clenched his jaw at the insult but held his tongue when he saw the robes of a nobleman. He bowed his head and said with as much respect as he could muster, “I do what is commanded of me, Sire.”

The man laughed again, “Do not take offense, young one. I merely saw an opportunity to jest with you. Although, it might be wise to avoid such things until a more appropriate time, wouldn’t you say?”

The man’s eyes suddenly narrowed as if truly seeing the Squire for the first time. To the discomfort of the boy, the man approached. He circled Edwin several times, inspecting him up and down. Once satisfied, he knelt before the young man, meeting his gaze as equals and said, “Yes! Yes, I have chosen well. I have chosen well, indeed.” At this, he removed his hood and revealed his identity.

The Squire immediately bowed, recognizing the face of the Wizard and gasped, “The Old One!”

The old man smirked, but still held humor in his eyes, “Hmph, If I were able to conjure the name of the bastard who thought up that title, I would curse his children and his children’s children. The whole lot of them would sprout tails of a pig from out of their bottoms!”

Jokti, Wizard, and advisor to the king returned his attention to the Squire and gently lifted the boy back to his feet and spoke, “Nay! Brave, brave child, arise. You bow to no one after this day comes to pass.”

For a moment, the old man’s attention seemed to drift to other matters. He lifted his head as if listening to voices only he could hear. After a time, his eyes cleared, and they fell upon the boy. He hurriedly began helping to load the Squire’s equipment and supplies on the horse. He said, “Time is precious. So little of it remains and you have so far to go. However, do not despair, my lad. You do not go into the wilderness without defense and unprepared.”

The Wizard reached into his robe, removed several objects and presented them to the boy. He held a torch, a dagger, and a leather pouch.

He said, “I give to you the eternal Torch of El Anan-dor’ah. Darkness will flee from the light of the flames it shines. Bathe that wretched thing you carry in its glow, and you will be safe.”

Next, the Wizard held up a sheathed dagger of silver and blue steel. He spoke, “This is the blade A’Noelaa Teh Ra. It fell from the hand of our Goddess the day she succumbed to the Enemy and was stolen from us. May it give you sight in your darkest hour. Respect this blade and it will serve and protect you well.” He placed it in the boy’s hand.

He lifted up the final item and gently laid it in Edwin’s hand, “Long ago, a mortal and an angel formed a friendship during the War of Daemoni. So deep was their bond that it surpassed death and immortality. At the end of the mortal’s life, the angel wept silver light and offered up his wings to exchange places with his dear friend. Moved by this act, the Goddess called back his friend from the afterlife and made each into a star. She put them in the night sky where they would stand next to each other for all eternity; never to be separated. As they ascended, each shed joyful tears of silver that fell to the ground.”

“My dear boy, I now give to you this pouch. It holds the very last of our most treasured possession, silver salt from the tears of those two old friends. It is but a pinch, but it is all that remains, and no more will there ever be after this is gone. Use it wisely and as a last resort.”

The Wizard led the horse to the encampment’s edge and helped the Squire mount his steed. He spoke, “Accompany the Scroll and personally place it in the hands of my sister, Aliadria. Tell her you carry the Scroll of Ne’Kra Toratum. She will know what to do.”

Trying to feign as much courage as possible, he asked the old man, “My Lord, why does this Scroll carry such importance? Why do you entrust its charge to me? I am a mere squire who has barely seen the edge of battle.”

The Wizard gazed sadly at the child and said, “My boy, I am afraid your questions must be put aside for another day. The less that is known to you the better. If it were up to me, a garrison of our mightiest men would accompany you, but this quest is for you and you alone. I have foreseen it. As I said, the Fates do have a strange sense of humor.”

With that, he slapped the rear of the horse and sent the two racing off towards the smoky, black Southern horizon. The Wizard turned and softly said to himself, “Yes, I have chosen very well.”

As the Squire was an obedient servant as there ever was, Edwin followed his master’s instruction to the letter. He rode hard and swift through the Scorched Hills and faithful to the Knight’s word, not a sign or hint of the opposition’s forces did Edwin encounter. Each day, the boy was ever so mindful of the position of the sun. He always gave himself sufficient time needed to prepare the Scroll before nightfall came. He carefully sprinkled the emerald salt around the Scroll and set ablaze the sacred torch. There he would sit until morning, with his dagger clutched tightly in his hands.

It was not until he reached the passageway to the Sunken Mountains did misfortune eventually find him. A company of troops occupied the mouth of the slender pathway. Never before had he laid eyes upon soldiers of the Enemy. Even from a distance, they filled his heart with terror and dread. Long and slender, they stood motionless along the rocky path. Stalks of pointed nobs protruded from their brown and black rotting flesh and grew like that of moss upon the trees of the swamp. No hint of eyes did they possess except for pinprick glints of silver like that of a coin. Their mouths slowly opened and closed, reminding him of a fish plucked from the waters with gills gasping for breath.

Consulting his map, the boy confirmed what he already knew. Only one other path could he take. Determined to complete his quest, he continued South and followed the river. When night approached, Edwin repeated his ritual of protective spells and brought his beloved horse into the safety of the torch’s comforting glow.

Edwin shuddered at the thought of his new destination- The Devil’s Maw. It is said, in the Age of G’oah Teh, a great Hellmouth had formed in those lands. The Goddess sprung forth a forest and commanded the trees to bind this new evil. The good trees performed their duty but eventually came to feel betrayed and abandoned. They turned away from their mandate and betrothed themselves to the Hellmouth. The caverns consumed the trees and merged to become a forest of wood and petrified stone. Now, all men are warned to steer clear of its boundaries for dark spirits look down upon them with unimaginable hate and ill intent.

In two days time, the boy stood before a treeline of bark and gnarled trunks at the mouth of a gaping cave opening. Massive twisted branches of black and green stretched as far as the eyes could see. Stalagtites and stalagmites jetted up and down the stone floors and roof, giving it the appearance of jagged fangs. No sound could be heard. No bird sang, or animal stirred within the dark wood and cold stone. The silence and absence of movement were oppressive upon the young boy’s spirit.

He took what supplies he could carry, unsaddled his beloved horse and removed its reigns. He took a handful of hay from deep within his satchel and held it up to the horse’s snout. It caught the scent of the feed and ate gratefully from the boy’s hand. Edwin spoke, “This hay comes from the stables to the Nobleman’s steeds of the Keep. Follow its scent and continue South along the edge of the forest and caverns until you stand before the walls of the White Keep. My fate lies on a path you cannot follow, my friend. If the grace of the Goddess is upon us, we will meet again.”

Terrible loneliness laid heavy upon the boy’s brow as he wished his companion good fortune and set his loyal horse free. With the Torch of El Anan-dor’ah in one hand and a sword in the other, Edwin entered the Devil’s Maw; alone as the Wizard foretold.

By the Squire’s calculation, three day’s time would it take to transgress the narrowest part of the forest. He would emerge on the morning of the fourth day with only a quarter of a league to travel. The silence was maddening the first full day in the belly of the beast. True to its word, the Torch of El Anan-dor’ah burned brilliantly. Never did its wood burn down nor was its oil consumed by flame. The trees looked down with such hatred and rage. Root and twine writhed on the ground, unable to penetrate the glow of the torch. Thorn and thistle scraped along bark and rock waiting for a chance to pierce and puncture skin and flesh.

On the second day, broken was the silence. Stirred was the stillness. Whispers emerged and called out from the darkness behind the deep groans and moans of tree trunks swaying in the windless night. The vast branches beaconed for a champion to come hence to handle this transgressor and acquire this hidden thing that tingled the ground it passed over. At last, a guardian emerged from the dark caverns of the Hellmouth that lay below. The call of the giant masters had been accepted.

Upon the evening of the third day, weariness and despair weighed heavy on Edwin. He poured the last of his precious emerald salt around the wicked Scroll and sat before it, with his dagger in hand. Fatigue overcame him swiftly, and the Forest saw an opportunity to strike. Masses of twisted and gnarled vines approached from above, carrying droplet of mildewed water within its crevices. Drip by drip, water fell upon the Torch. The flame singed and hissed against the moisture, but slowly its light grew less. With the last droplet of water, Edwin opened his eyes wide, and the last of the light was extinguished. All was plunged into darkness.

In the darkness, the Scroll gave a heavy sigh then silence fell. A scream pierced the night from the cursed object. It shrieked with the voice of a hundred women and infants merged into one. It hurt the boy’s ears and filled him with terror. The wail slowly faded, and in the distance, something answered the Scroll’s cries.

The Edwin unsheathed his dagger, and it cut through the air with a slash. A yellow wave of light shot forth in every direction illuminating the area. In the distance, he heard branches breaking, rubble fall and leaves trampled from the one who answered the Scroll’s call. Not knowing what else to do, he placed the Dark Scroll into his satchel and buried it under what green salt he could scoop off of the ground. He hung the pouch of silver salt around his neck and nervously gathered his essential belongings. Beyond the amber glow, he heard the sound of ripping and tearing coming from the ground. A large black root had emerged from the wet, stone ground. Blackthorn covered its body and glistened in the yellow light as it reached for the boy. More thorned roots emerged from the grotesque plant and rattled in the cold air.

The boy fell to the ground as similar ripping sounds began to emerge from his left and right. The sound of galloping feet grew closer from the woods. The black root curled itself into the shape of a scorpion’s tail, preparing to strike. The Edwin pushed himself off the ground with only moments to spare as the black root shot towards him. In a burst of speed, the boy ran toward the direction that would lead him out of the forest and caves.

He ran without letting up, occasionally slashing at vine or thistle that moved towards him with the bloodlust of an enraged animal. The footsteps of his stalker were relentless in its pursuit. It stomped on the ground and then leapt to the trees and back to the ground. The boy scrambled to the top of a ridge and saw a cluster of vines not yet afflicted with the forest’s curse. He grabbed the vines and swung across the open gully to the other side. He quickly cut the vines to prevent anyone from following. He turned to leave when the sound cut through the air.

The scraping of two metal blades rung out from the darkness. It kept its distance just beyond the mystical golden light that surrounded the blessed dagger. It continuously scraped its knives together, over and over again. The sounds grew louder and faster. Panic filled the boy. Just as he was about to turn and flee, the scraping stopped, and the beast emerged from behind the flickering shadows of the trees. It stood at the edge of the ridge, and its stare fell upon the boy.

It was a dwarf; not the dwarves recited to children in tales of fantasy and delight. These were ancient, evil creatures who despised the very existence of man. They infested the outskirts of each of the twelve known Hellmouths and greedily excavated the caverns for jewels, diamonds, and other precious metals.

The creature stood hunched on all fours. It was half the size of a man, naked and emaciated. Its flesh was white and stretched tight over its bone. Every manner of metal rings hung from its flesh and nails pierced its skin. Filled was its mouth with two rows on top and bottom of needle-thin teeth. Upon its head sat the only clothing it wore, a pointed hat, stained brown and red and made from the skin of human flesh.

With a smug confidence, it turned and walked away from the ridge’s edge. Turning, it bellowed a loud howl and ran at full speed towards the ravine. The boy turned to flee as the beast jumped high into the air landing a short distance behind him. Edwin suddenly stopped and swung his weapons in an attempt to surprise his foe. The white creature easily batted away each strike with its two short and twisted blades. The boy swung and jabbed, but the pale beast evaded each slash and every attack. It hopped from the ground to the branches of the trees then back to the ground with speed and grace. Cackling, it was now just playing with the boy.

From behind, it jumped onto the boy’s back and buried its needled teeth into the boy’s shoulder. He howled in pain and stumbled backward until he slammed the creature into the trunk of a tree. Its teeth shattered and broke off in the boy’s flesh. The wounded Edwin was losing this duel, and he knew it. He then looked past the dwarf and saw the ground sloped downward and heard the sound of running water. A glimmer of hope crossed his eyes. He broke the bindings of the pouch around his neck and poured its contents into his hand. With all his might, Edwin charged at the dazed creature. He slammed hard into the dwarf sending the both of them spiraling out of control down the wet hillside and towards the running stream’s edge.

They rolled and tumbled for what seemed like forever until crashing hard at the hill’s bottom. The beaten and battered Edwin slowly crawled towards the water’s edge to make his escape, but the dwarf was unfazed and pounced on the boy. He landed hard on the boy’s body, submerging his head under water. It grabbed a handful of hair and yanked Edwin’s head back roughly to expose the child’s throat. It laughed in his ear and spoke insults to the boy in its strange tongue. The Edwin could feel its hard member dig sharply into the small of his back. He felt the cold steel pressed up against his neck; blood already beginning to trickle from the cut of the blade’s sharp edge. The dwarf lifted its head and howled a cry of victory.

Before the breath from dwarf’s yell of triumph had entirely left its mouth, Edwin turned his head around and spat a mouthful of water directly into its face. Silver beads of light erupted upon contact with the dwarf’s face. It clutched its face! Flesh fell away in mushy clumps and seeped between its bony fingers. Oily black and green blood bubbled over its cupped hands and oozed down its arms. Its eyes were expelled from its skull with such force, the dwarf’s head snapped back sharply, breaking its neck.

Paralyzed, it wailed in agony from the silver salt eating into its face. Unnoticed, the boy had put the salt into his mouth before his head was plunged underneath the cold water. Triumphantly, the young boy picked himself up and stood over the broken body of the fallen dwarf. In the distance, light from a new dawn broke through the forest’s edge and the boy smiled. Sir Edwin tightly grasped the hilt of his sacred dagger and with two mighty swipes, he took the head and manhood of the conquered dwarf.

On the Fourth day, Edwin emerged from the cavern’s treeline and fell into the arms of the beautiful Sorceress. She had foreseen his arrival and anxiously stood with the boy’s faithful steed, awaiting his approach. With his final breath and the last of his strength, he reached into his bag and gave the Scroll of Ne’Kra Toratum to Aliadria as the Old One had commanded.

Aliadria fell to her knees from grief for this had not been foretold. The Fates had once again made a mockery of the pain and struggles of a mortal to satisfy their need for entertainment. She looked down at the child and mourned the loss of one so young and brave. It surprised her when the boy’s loyal steed came forth and nestled its nose against the dead boy’s face. Never had she witnessed such bonds of affections from a beast towards a human soul. If she were to render a guess, she would swear it too was grieving the loss of its companion. She could not help but feel pity for the animal. Her thoughts were interrupted when a glint of silver sparkled and caught her eyes from within the child’s mouth. Hope ignited within Aliadria as realization ascended upon her. The reunion between two friends had created a moment powerful enough to find the tiny granule of silver salt.

Aliadria smiled as she saw the depth of friendship these two dubious characters shared. The Sorceress quickly took out her wand and waved it in circular motions over the boy’s body. She said, “Not yet, child. We beg you not to leave us! You have so much left to do in this world. Come back. Come back.”

Edwin’s body began to shudder, and the lids of his eyes fluttered. They snapped opened with awareness and life and Edwin took in a deep breath of air. Tears of joy filled his eyes and flowed down his cheeks in streams. Trails of moisture glistened with magnificent light from the silver salt they held. He clasped the beautiful Sorceress by her hands and said, “She is real! She led me through the darkness towards your voice! She spoke of the Scroll and revealed its secrets to me! I know how to use it!”

“Be still. Of whom do you speak, child?” asked Aliadria.

“The goddess, my Lady!” said the boy. “I know where she is imprisoned! I can find her and break the bonds that restrain her!”

Edwin stood shakily to his feet, his face now ablaze with light from the silver salt of his dried tears. He spoke with such joy, “She gave me a message to deliver to the Old One!”

“Speak child. What was the message?” Aliadria asked.

Edwin looked at the Black Scroll in Aliadria’s hands and with the sight of a seer and the strength of a knight he spoke, “She said, ‘Prepare. The day of the prophecy will soon be upon us. The return of our champion grows near. The time has come to rid the land of the Worm!'”

The End

Author’s note: The Squire and the Black Scroll is meant to be a companion to the story “Day of the Worm.” Although the plot of TSATBS is adequately contained in itself and reads well as a stand-alone fairy tale, its true intent is to build upon the beautiful and rich world that was created in “Day of the Worm.”

Credit: Killahawke1

Day of the Worm

November 6, 2015 at 12:00 PM

What are dreams?
What are they really? Are they bits and pieces of memories thrown together without design or purpose? Do they whisper secrets of future days to come or hide secrets from days long passed? Perhaps our soul is expelled from our bodies each night, thrust out into the void, traveling to wondrous lands and beyond the limits of our physical form? Consider this; is it possible that our dreams are more than mere nonsense, but premonitions of adventures, not yet had? Honestly, I don’t have any answers for you. However, if I may, I would like to share with you what I do know.

Tell me; have you ever had a dream you felt was so real, your waking life felt distant and dull? Have you ever dreamt a dream that reveals glimpses of your full potential? Do you know of any dream that fills you with such sorrow upon awakening, each morning, to desire with all your might that your eyes will open to a brand new life, yet never does it come? With every rising sun, that is the burden I bare. However, such sadness does not consume me, for I know my dreams are so much more than simple desires and wishful thinking. They are much more than you could possibly imagine. For you see, my dreams are preparing me for great things to come, I know that to be the truth!

No, rolling your eyes does not offend me; you are not the first I’ve tried to tell. You are not first to have mocked my words. Most simply laugh out of amusement and others feign looks of pity towards me. Truly, in their view, only a disadvantaged child would entertain such nonsense in their heads. They are the ones to pity, for they are only capable of seeing a land of make believe, a fairy tale fabricated from the mind of a child! So sure of themselves, that a child orphaned as an infant, who never knew the embrace of a mother’s love or guidance of a father could hold his head high. Nor would they consider such a waif would earn his success with only the determination of his heart and by the strength in his hands. Yet, I hold no malice, for their conclusions are not without logic, albeit sadly shortsighted. That is all about to change for tomorrow is the day when all will be revealed! For tomorrow is my birthday and when I am gone, they will have no other choice but to admit they were wrong!

Tomorrow is the day my dreams foretold:
“Before the sun sets on your five and tenth year of life, you shall return with hope and salvation on your back and light in your hands. By your blade, you will rid the land of the Worm.”

That is what I see every night when I surrender to sleep. Close your eyes and take my hand and let me tell you about my dreams.

In my dreams, there’s a realm so close to our own that only the width of a hair separates the two. Existing side by side, together, and unaware of one another. Yet they are so far apart that traveling the distance would take a thousand years. It is a medieval realm where science and magic live next to each other as beloved friends. Machines and technology, sorcery and magic, they co-exist side by side as as one. No difference comes to mind in matters of wizarding and engineering, sorcerers and teachers, or even the healer and a doctor. This realm is ruled by six great nations, each under a king and queen of virtuous heart and noble blood. Castles and villages, farms and towns pepper the land. All live simplistic lives with a hint of technologies both natural and mystical.

In my dreams, I see a beautiful domed temple made from ivory white stone. The temple is the home to six sacred weapons made of enchanted steel, one given to each nation by a goddess. She offered these weapons in preparation for the day foretold, the day of the Worm. The weapons are wielded by a warrior from each nation; each personally chosen by the goddess herself. But in the center of the temple, in the most revered spot, sits the seventh altar. Upon this altar rests the armor and weapons of the seventh son of a seventh son. Under the darkness of an eclipse of three moons, a child’s bloodline emerged from the joining of a mortal and a god. This child’s spirit will unite the realms in their darkest hour.

The weapons are enchanted steel of silver and blue and my armor is impossibly light. My gauntlet is for my right hand and serves as my shield. It houses a disk that three blades emerge from with a snap. When flung, it obeys my will and lays waste to all of my foes. It then faithfully returns to my hand without fail every time. My sword was forged from the last remnants from Creation and cooled with the very essence of life. It is the mortal enemy of rot and decay. It can never be broken, nothing can shatter its blade, and it is impervious to impact; never will its edge be dulled. The jewel in the hilt is my symbol and banner. It is the eye that shines a light that can ignite the passion of an oppressed people when hope had seemed to be lost.

In my dreams, I see a day in which black rain falls from the sky. Viscous, ropy strands of greenish-black tar pour from the clouds. Anything it touches immediately begins to decay and corrode. The arrival of the Worm is heralded by a clap of thunder as his fortress bursts through the clouds. It pierces the land like a dagger stabbed into flesh upon impact with the land. The castle of the Worm is a jagged and pointed crystalline citadel with bulbous blister-like domes upon it. This is the throne from where the Worm will conquer and reign. The decay spreads from the dark fortress in the form of black mold and writhing masses of tentacles and tendrils, rotting everything it touches; except for one thing: the dead. Every warlord needs its pawns.

The dead are absorbed and used as vessels for the Worm’s decay to take form. They are the eyes, the foot, and the iron fist of the Worm. The Worm fills its ranks with the deceased and slain flesh of the surrounding villages with a gluttonous appetite. The blisters from the walls of its fortress are then released and its army of decayed and mindless drones carry the smelly, rotting mass into the heart of all six nations. It will plant itself into the ground and become extensions of the mind and will of the Worm. From here it will wage war against every man, woman, and child. It will fight with the decomposing faces of their neighbors, friends, brothers, and sisters

In my dreams, I see the goddess blessing the six kings from each of the nations before spiriting away the seventh set of armor and weapons from the walls of the vulnerable temple. She hides the items in a place far from the Worm’s reach where they will wait until claimed by the child foretold to come. In a final act of sacrifice, I see the goddess exhausting the last of her immortality in order to open a door of light. She places a tiny infant within the entrance and before closing the door she says with tears in her eyes, “Goodbye, my beloved. Goodbye, my son.”

It is twenty minutes to midnight, the day of my fifteenth birthday. I sit on the wooden floor and I am trembling next to a heated stove. I tremble not from the cold but from a heart-gripping fear. However, make no mistake, do not think for a moment I’m trembling out of fear of the unknown or of things to come! I am not afraid of marching against a grotesque army of a thousand rotting corpses. I don’t fear the violence I will encounter or the many battles I will fight. I am not afraid! No, none of that scares me! I want the life so much! Do you want to know what really scares me, what has me filled with such terror and dread? What scares me the most is this:

“I am so afraid that when tomorrow finally arrives, it will come and go like any other ordinary day.”

Credit: Killahawke1

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