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.”
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.”