Men & Monsters

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Coffin Spawn's Return

Awel and the others had found themselves with their wrists bound together, and a single rope connected them as they had been led through the forest. The deepest of all Green Folks’ fears had become realized. Ever since their forefathers had escaped the Piermont Kingdom over a hundred years prior, each day began with the hope that they could continue their existence. Awel always remembered how on some nights the elders wouldn’t tell ghost stories or of Wildeboar encounters. They’d tell Piermont stories.

The Folk had come to a stop that morning, as the soldiers prepared breakfast for themselves. They offered their second helpings to the prisoners, but only with Tanner’s insistence. The Eagle General, meanwhile, had taken the moment to inspect and study every Folk woman. Conveniently, the men and women had been divided into two single-file lines, much to the dismay of such couples as Awel and Adelae. The young boy Brenin was nowhere to be seen by either of them, as he walked at the very end of the line, along with the other children and the elderly. What’s more, those who had been wounded in the night’s raid had been left for dead upon the others’ capture. Awel could only wish that the other Folk villages would find them.

Having taken his helmet off, the dark-haired general brought about a great air of pride and accomplishment as he set eyes on every woman prisoner he had. He was met mostly by shudders and timid squeals when he brought a glove up under their chin and pushed up. Adelae was among the most shaken, as Tanner studied her every pore. He nearly believed to have found his girl, but shook his head. No, this couldn’t be Eira. Oddly, he had her face seared into his mind like a haunting memory ever since she escaped. Offering a chipper smile, he patted the girl on the shoulder twice before moving onto the next one, an elderly woman who he quickly drove past.

Swallowing the heavy lump in her throat, the trembling Adelae looked over to her husband, who had watched over her like a hawk. A good five feet separated the two, and while they didn’t stand side-by-side in line, they weren’t so far off.

“Awel…” She whispered, just loud enough for him to hear.

“Are you okay?” She simply nodded.

“Do you know where they’re taking us?” Awel only shook his head solemnly, trying his hardest not to appear too concerned, if just for Adelae’s sake. Typically, he’d be just as frightened as the others, but with a prideful gulp, he knew that he’d have to be strong if anyone wanted to be as well. “I love you, Awel.” She whimpered. He looked back up at her, the corner of his mouth curling up just slightly.

“I love you, Adelae. I always will, too.” The two shared a tender loving moment, albeit from a distance, when Tanner marched on past Adelae once again. A soldier on horseback took notice of his prompt stride and rode over.

“What is it, General?”

“The girl’s not here.” Tanner said coldly. With his blood boiling, he turned to the first Folk woman he could, Adelae, and a glove clutched at her cloak and pulled her up toward his face. “Where is she? The one with the beasts last night? And Bernard. You know who I’m talking about.” Adelae could feel her heart pounding in her chest as her lips quivered and her eyes grew wide. She was dumbstruck. Fear had literally frozen her solid, as she tried to speak, but nothing came out. Clenching his jaw, Tanner shook her with his one hand, Awel lunged toward him in anger.

“Don’t you touch her!” He barked. Tanner turned his attention from the cowering girl to the newcomer, when he smirked.

“I take it you two are husband and wife?” His conceited appearance lessened as thoughts began to ruminate around his head. His grip on Adelae’s cloak tightened when he brought her back up toward him, his eyes returning to Awel’s. “You know when I was a young soldier, many of my commanding officers would throw the pretty prisoners like this to the grunts. Let them have their way with her…” Sinister chuckles began to echo in the forest, as soon the archers began to circle around. Awel felt his blood boil until he was sure he’d break through his bindings. Tanner looked back to the horrified Adelae, when he offered a sincere half-grin. “What a barbaric practice. Marriage. Love. It is something to be honored…bestowed upon two lucky individuals.” He finally let Adelae go, almost gently, and turned back to Awel. “I shall not let anyone touch her, or any of you for that matter. Consider yourself lucky that you are all my prisoners, and not another’s.”

Tanner spun on his heels and marched off, leaving the Green Folk and his soldiers alike in a moment of surprise. Many of them couldn’t help but admire the golden knight for his unwavering code of ethics, much to the disappointment of many eager young soldiers pining for the spoils of war. Even Awel was moved, but not for long as he looked back to Adelae, who by now had tears rolling down her cheeks. It tugged at his heartstrings so not to run to her and comfort her. Helpless, he swallowed and endured the agony of watching his wife suffer alone. Still, it could have been much worse, he thought, and for that, he couldn’t help but thank the Eagle General.

Despite the swiftness of a deer, a creature many men with bows from her village oftentimes had difficulty hunting, Eira had been surprised at how quickly Rex and Rust had managed to catch four of them. More like two, after the giant carnivores nearly swallowed theirs whole, bones and all. It only reminded the others of their awesome power and size. So they left Eira to build another fire and cook her and Bernard’s meal. It was time-exhausting sure, but as she told the others, she’d likely grow sick if she hadn’t. Although it seemed alien to them, the dinosaurs decided not to risk her health. Better to endure in the short run rather than the long one, Thorn thought.

Messenger perhaps was the most thankful for the gracious amount of meat available, even after the others had eaten. Feeling himself fit to burst, the small pterosaur’s large eyes grew heavy when everyone returned to their original trek. While walking, Eira felt something tug at her outfit, and when she looked down, it was Messenger crawling up her cloak. Begging her pardon, he curled around the back of her neck and promised he wouldn’t rest for too long. Eira smiled as the small reptile quickly fell asleep as she continued along.

They continued to walk on for quite a ways, with little to discuss amongst themselves as they did so. Eira and Bernard couldn’t be sure if the dinosaurs were following any particular scent, but they trusted in their guidance when the Green Folk felt eyes on her. Dark, menacing eyes. She looked over her shoulder every so often so as to make sure no one was following them. Though it seemed that something was indeed following them, the forest was always still whenever she glanced back. Unnervingly so. Eira was sure to keep a steady eye behind them and a hand ready to grip the dagger on her belt. Even if she was with four dinosaurs and a knight, one couldn’t be too safe.

“The hills sure are climbing high,” Thorn observed.

“Aye. Listen everyone, watch where you’re walking unless you want to tumble down the side of these slopes.” Rust announced to the others. Everyone save for Eira gave an audible response, but as the girl was too focused on what was behind them, she failed to hear him. In fact, the more she studied the woods behind them, the more engrossed she became in it. Almost hypnotic, it began to draw in her attention entirely. She was beginning to wander off from the pack, toward the edge of the worn path they walked on, when her heart raced.

Something was certainly back there, following them, she thought as she barely caught the sight of movement in the brush coming toward them, only to come to an abrupt halt. She gulped and turned, ready to call out to the others when the ground beneath her foot gave way. With a surprised whelp she felt a sharp pain pierce through her twisting ankle before she began rolling end over end down the steep slope. Messenger was tossed up with a surprised cry, as he too joined in on Eira’s descent.

Bernard was the first to call for her when he rushed toward the edge of the path upon hearing her cries, watching helplessly as she rolling in obscurity. One might imagine the lone tree trunks dotting the hillside bringing Eira to an abrupt halt, but instead, they worked to batter and bruise her slender form before throwing her further down her jagged path. Hurt and exhausted, she felt what little breath she had during her descent forced out of her with each trunk she slammed into. As Rex and the others joined Bernard at his side, they watched Eira disappear behind a veil of rogue trees and murky mist.

“What’s the holdup?” Swipe cried. Rust quickly examined the soil which had given way beneath Eira’s feet, when he looked back down the hill.

“The ground here is too loose. We could easily lose our balance.”

“So?” The raptor cackled. “I trip meself all the time.” Rust offered a smug smirk. Now was not time for conversation, he thought.

“Well lad, if Rex or myself fall flat, our weight would undoubtedly put an end to us.” The acrocanthosaurus looked to the others. “Now then, Rex, Thorn, you come with me. We’ll hurry down this path in the hopes that it will wind down to Eira’s whereabouts. Bernard, Swipe, take the slope and find her. Be careful you two.” The group quickly did as they were told, separating into separate parties as the knight and the raptor made their urgent but careful descent.

Rust was certainly right, Bernard thought as the spongy soil and moss were either sucking in his boots in or causing him to slip and fall. Swipe had the courtesy to wait for him, but even the aged man could see a hint of frustration growing in his eyes. To think, just the other day the only beast Bernard could imagine speaking was a parrot with a penchant for dry crackers.

“Ya’lright?” The raptor asked numerous times. Bernard had fallen so many times now he stopped brushing the vegetation from his tunic. It was a wonder that he hadn’t gone rolling end over end the same way Eira had. As they ran down the steep hill once again, the knight felt that should he tell Swipe to go on without him, it might liberate the raptor and let him make full use of his speed. He nearly spoke until he came to a chilling conclusion. It was better to trek slow and stay safe with Swipe than to be left alone in these woods.

For what seemed to be an eternity, Eira continued to tumble down the slope. Her world was but a greenish-brown blur as she tried to make sense of it, just when she struck another tree trunk. Her vision went white with the hard collision, when she felt something crack in her mouth. She couldn’t be bothered to investigate as she instead tried to find something to stop her. The girl brought her arms outward, but whenever she brushed fingertips with a nearby bush or a tree, she was rolling far too fast to latch on.

With one more forceful push, Eira felt the last of her breath expelled from her lungs when she finally landed on solid ground. Winded and defeated, she gasped for air like a fish on dry land, but her body seemed unable to reopen her airways. Her face had grown white as she rolled to her side, with everything from her head to her feet in pain. What’s more, her gaze spun around and around, until she couldn’t contain herself anymore. With what strength she could, the poor girl pushed herself up to her hands and knees, where she expelled the contents of her breakfast onto the ground.

Not long after Eira managed to collect herself did something flop down beside her. Messenger laid out with his wings spread wide, and he too seemed to have trouble catching his breath. Thanks to his size, however, the pterosaur was much quicker to recuperate, as he took a few large breaths of air before slowly rolling onto his stomach. Then, with a defeated sigh, he got up on all fours. He gave the dreary-eyed Eira a disdainful glare.

“Don’t ever do that again.” He cocked his head when he began to catch an inkling that she wasn’t alright. As her airways were just now beginning to open, Eira seemed fit to pass out from a lack of air, and as Messenger watched on, she struggled to get her breathing back to normal for over a minute. Then, with one successful breath of fresh air, she sat up, taking in one deep breath after another when color began to return to her face. She even ran a hand up to her cheek, almost feeling the blood rush back when she stopped. Eira blinked once when she parted her lips and ran a finger along her teeth, only to have her heart sink.

One of her bottom teeth had been chipped during the descent. It wasn’t much, but there went her mother’s great smile, she thought. That’s when she thought of her battered body, and the tender bruises that were bound to show up all over it soon. With another deep breath she looked down at Messenger.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’ll live. Gah, I knew I should’ve slept on the armored fella’s shoulder.” Eira tried to smile at the sarcastic comment when she set her sights up toward the slope.

“How far did we fall?”

“I dunno. Long ways, I know that.” As it went up, the hill before them seemed to be endless. She couldn’t even see where they were before thanks to the overlapping trees and clouds of mist circling around each one, eventually consuming the whole of the bluff after some fifty feet.

Brushing the dust and leaves from her cloak Eira began to look around them, seeing that they had landed in a clearing. The dirt in the area was as matted down as the path from above was. It seemed likely that an offshoot of the path above curved around and led to this one before going further down the side of the steep hill. She figured that they were closer toward the center of a very large valley, with this area being a wide clearing. Images came to her of large duck-billed dinosaurs resting here for the night, and that it was likely a regular stop for such herds.

“Well, let’s get back to the others before they get too worried.” Eira announced as she stood tall and brushed herself off further. Messenger certainly welcomed the idea as he sprang up, but instead of scaling up her robe again, the girl dropped down and offered her arm to him. With that, the small pterosaur hopped up onto her forearm and scurried up until he sat on her shoulder before she stood back up. She looked toward the path that seemed to be at an upward angle, certain that it would bring them to the others when something caught her attention.

“You hear that?” Messenger asked in her ear. Sure enough, Eira also noticed the stillness looming over them. She grabbed her dagger and brought it up.

“No,” She replied softly. “That’s what I’m worried about.”

“I’m really startin’ to question your luck…” Such optimism, Eira thought as her stern gaze studied their surroundings. Then again, he had a point. Feet planted firmly to the ground, she was posed and ready with her knife, carefully looking at both paths leading to the clearing, then to the trees and back again. Something was definitely there, but it was a matter of spotting it before it could gain an upper hand, Eira thought. That’s when she heard a familiar sound. A sound that made the timid Green Folk shake at the knees. She swallowed her fears with a heavy gulp and turned, just as Messenger gasped.

Slowly crawling out from behind a tree like a spider descending from its web, a wicked Coffin Spawn, still in the apparel of the man it once was, made its presence very known. Against her beating heart, Eira stood tall, forcing her breath to be contained and controlled as she met eyes with its soulless gaze. Spit oozed from its lipless mouth as it hissed at her and narrowed its dark eyes. It didn’t stand on its legs for long before dropping to all fours, its elongated arms over half the length of its body.

Eira finally began to feel the blade in her hand shake. This beast of her deepest nightmares had come for her, and this time, she didn’t have Giant or Bernard to protect her. She recognized the Spawn’s clothing, seeing that it had once been one of Tanner’s skilled archers. One could only imagine what sort of hellish transformation had turned that man into a beast, but it was best for Eira not to think about it during their standoff.

“Friend of yours?” Messenger asked. Eira simply shrugged the question off. With the pterosaur’s sarcastic words, the Coffin Spawn screeched and galloped on toward them. No matter how strong she willed herself to be, Eira proved helpless when it tackled her. Messenger took to the air before he could be crushed beneath the two of them, and with a frothy mouth snapping at her, Eira kicked wildly at her attacker. Despite Rosy’s orders, the Coffin Spawn had no intention of returning this girl to her.

The monster brought a clawed hand down and slashed Eira’s cheek, forcing out a pained whelp from the girl before she gripped the handle of her dagger. In a blur of movement, she returned the gesture, as the Coffin Spawn felt the cold blade slice across its cheek and gave a wicked cry. The wound was deep, and as Eira and the Coffin Spawn locked eyes, it looked as if she had given it a deformed smirk.

It parted its mouth in anticipation of sinking its long fangs into Eira’s throat, when a small pterosaur swooped in and began pecking at the back of its head. Leaving deep gashes in its skull, the Coffin Spawn wailed as it turned and clawed at Messenger, who was sure to remain just out of its reach while also taunting it.

Seizing the opportunity presented to her, Eira sat up and plunged the knife deep into the Coffin Spawn’s throat. A surprised and ear-splitting cry echoed throughout the forest before it backhanded the girl and turned its focus to the blade lodged in its neck. With arms too long to dexterously snatch the blade, the beast struggled and gargled as the tips of its claws just barely brushed with the dagger’s handle.

Eira got to her feet quickly, adrenaline and energy coursing through her veins in such a way she had never known. Without much thought, she lunged forward and forcefully thrust a shoulder into her attacker’s gut. Surprised by the tackle, the Coffin Spawn reeled back until they both crashed into the thick trunk of a nearby tree. Knowing she was mad to fight the beast hand-to-hand, Eira grabbed at the knife in its neck in hopes of tearing its throat open. The Spawn, however, smacked her hand free with an enraged snarl and slashed at her cheek again. She staggered back in pain when her hands pushed down on the wound, as it had struck the same place as before, when the beast formed a bony fist.

With an arm that mimicking a pendulum, the Coffin Spawn swung upward and struck Eira with enough force to send her up off her feet and onto the ground. With victory so close, the monster would have to deal with the blade later. Meanwhile Messenger flew in for another attack, crying out as he readied to drive his beak into the beast’s head once more when a swift backhand sent the frail reptile reeling to the ground.

Eira felt dizzy after such a powerful punch, struggling to get back to her feet when she felt something clamp down on the edge of her cloak. Deterred by the blade in its neck, the beast gave an angry hiss when it began to drag her along toward the next slope, where it might take her deep into the dark woods to fulfill its orders from Rosy. With her senses coming to, Eira quickly clawed at the ground in the hopes of putting an end to her entrapment, when she received a better idea.

In a blur of movement Eira clenched a fistful of dirt in her hand and turned. A cloud of dust and dirt exploded in the Coffin Spawn’s eyes, blinding it as it painfully howled and reached for its face. Anger began to boil in the Green Folk, a feeling she had never truly known until this moment. Taking full advantage of this fury while she could, she came up on one knee and pounced on her tormentor.

Caught off guard, the Coffin Spawn cried out again as it found itself pinned on its back by the girl. It brought its hands away from its face, but even with its hazy eyes it knew Eira already had her hand firmly gripped on the dagger in its neck. Shaking with both rage and fear, the Green Folk swallowed and narrowed her eyes, staring deeply into this hellish tormentor of hers.

You do not control me anymore…” She growled. For a split-second, Eira saw fear flash across the Coffin Spawn’s eyes, something she wasn’t expecting. As quickly as the anxiety came, its killing instinct swiftly returned when it gave a hellish howl. Without remorse, the Green Folk slashed the monster’s throat wide open, moments before its long, bony hands could constrict themselves around her neck. Truly a gruesome scene, Eira felt her anger quenched once she saw the life fade from the Coffin Spawn and the beast fall limp.

For some time Eira sat there, hovering over the Coffin Spawn as she breathed heavily, her eyes fit to burst with tears. Blood smeared across her left cheek and now much of the cloak over her shoulder, the girl shakily brought the bloody dagger up and away from the monster’s neck and returned it to her belt. At long last, she thought. The beast from her deepest nightmares was dead. It did not take Bernard to save her, nor did it call upon Giant, Finn, or Rex; only herself and a little help from a small pterosaur.

That’s when she looked up. Messenger! Rushing back to her feet, she hurried over to where the frail pterosaur remained before dropping beside him. With hands still shaking from the monster’s death, Eira gently took Messenger up in them, with the small reptile helping to stabilize them somewhat. He was so small in her arms, and so fragile she feared she might break him if she wasn’t careful. Messenger coughed heavily as he was cradled in the girl’s arms. The Coffin Spawn’s forceful smack had shattered many of his ribs, and with each breath the pain only grew. He blinked lazily as he felt weak.

“How’d I do…?” He whispered.

“Wonderful,” Eira snickered. “Thank you so much Messenger. P-Please hold on.”

“Hold on…for what?” The pterosaur breathed. “I…I ain’t going anywhere.” Eira smiled warmly as she brought a thumb up and gently caressed his cheek. Messenger shivered with her soft touch, finding warmth for the first time in her arms. A sensation he had never known, his chest, though pained, felt at peace. Folding his wings up, the pterosaur hummed and nestled himself up against Eira’s breast. That’s when the forest before him began to stir.

“Eira!” Swipe called out as he darted out ahead of Bernard and to the girl. Even in his clunky armor, the knight raced forward to join them, just as Eira stood tall before them.

“What happened here, lass?” Bernard asked as he surveyed the dead Coffin Spawn before them.

“We were attacked. And…” Eira looked back down at the small pterosaur in her arms, when her heart began to race. The small reptile no longer felt warm, as instead, little Messenger, battered and broken, lay still in her loving cradle. He had faded, but not without leaving this world with hints of a smile on his beak.

Finally, peace had come for him.

Eira felt her lower lip quiver at the sight, when she softly beckoned his name. Nothing. With her chest sinking, she forced a smile, thanking Messenger for his help when more figures appeared from the path to the clearing.

“Eira! There you are. Safe and…” Rust paused just as the others had, taking note of the scene before them. What’s more, they all knew the pterosaur in her arms was dead. A moment of silence hung over the party. Eira smiled warmly, holding him in her arms closely as she kissed the top of his head.

“Goodbye Messenger…”

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