SHUTT

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Chapter 12: Firstborn

Within the eight years of his rule, King Greedy was vile and ruthless; showing no remorse or pity. Spread throughout all the lands were small platoons of King Greedy’s army of the dead. They were in place to enforce his rule and ready to extinguish any attempts of rebellion against him.

During his first year in power, daring men managed to create a sizable army to challenge King Greedy. They consisted of mighty warriors, men willing to risk their very lives if it meant saving the ones they loved.

They were careful and concise with their plans. Any other, natural, army of men would have fallen to their attack. However, their enemies were not ordinary, so it was all in vain. Their plans were man-made using only their worldly wisdom as if they were fighting other men. The dead army, created with dark magic by the witch, was capable of performing supernatural feats.

One soldier from the dead army could easily put to the sword thirty men in little time. Although the Dead, as they were simply called, started out only as one hundred, their strength was in their immortality and resurrection. They could not die a second time. Even if maimed by the loss of a limb, this would merely slow them down. In time, they would reattach their severed parts to their rotted corpses.

Another sign of being a product of darkness was the ability to give birth to death. Any man killed by one of them was reborn into their ranks. They quickly grew in number.

All the while, King Greedy enjoyed the slaughter of battle from the top of his castle. Always with one dead soldier standing guard at his side, he would call out orders to it and it was as if he were speaking to all of them.

“Spare one hundred,” he commanded, “and gather them. I wish to send a message.”

After the fight, King Greedy approached the defeated soldiers.

“I’ve been your king but for a few months. My wish was only to rule and enjoy the spoils of being king, and already you have forced my hand. Well I promise you this; I will not spare the rod. I, your king, must punish you, my pathetic peasants. Most of you may be allowed to live simply so you may retreat like a wounded dog back to your homes to tell anyone with ears…that all of your firstborns will be put to death. This is a promise to you and your children, and all those far off. I want you to remember this day!”

Upon hearing this, the men fell face down, crying out to the King. They begged for forgiveness, pleaded for mercy, and even offered their own lives in place of the children. King Greedy relished hearing their voices as they trembled with fear.

Immediately, without further warning, thirty of the one hundred men were struck down by the Dead for they themselves were firstborns. The king made good on his promise.

From then on, the army of the dead dispersed throughout the lands proclaiming the king’s promise in their slaughter, killing firstborns, young and old alike. There was no value in trying to escape or hide from this fate. By obeying the word of their king, they had instinctive knowledge as to who were firstborns and where to find them.

To commemorate the day, every year one firstborn child in each divided land was to be sacrificed for the king’s honor. Events such as this were only the beginning of the pains the land would suffer during his dark reign.

By the end of eight years, good land for farming had become scarce. The Kingdom was a wasteland. Markets were overrun by beggars and the sick. Men, women, and children were desperate enough to openly attempt to steal, even kill, if it meant providing for their families. There were no laws to be upheld only to live by their natural instincts for survival. They were left to fend for themselves; some through mercy and compassion, others through selfish and calloused desperation. Without a leader to guide them, it was difficult to find a way to live together.

Often times, King Greedy would survey the land to see the people throw themselves at his feet to beg. If he was amused enough by their suffering he would give small portions of food.

The land was restless, yet, King Greedy was at peace. His personal livestock numbered well above tens of thousands, while his private lands produced the best fruits and vegetables. His servants were numerous so as to keep up with the day to day chores around his castle as well as to tend to the livestock and farming.

Being a servant to the king was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because they were able to survive and were given just enough to care for their immediate families. However, not only did they need to be mindful of King Greedy’s wrath, but they were not protected from outside threats. If they strayed too far from the castle’s doors or even outside the lines of his private lands, they were attacked, beaten, and killed, leaving an opening for the King’s service. The murderers would then take the place of their victims and none would be the wiser, except for their families.

Path

Since the beginning of King Greedy’s rule, the maid servant had been stricken with guilt. She was unable to fulfill the promise she made to her Queen; to look after the Princess and to raise her as her own.

Many sleepless nights she would force herself to relive the moments before Princess Elise was taken from her care. There was a void in her memory. She could only remember trying to hide the baby from the battle and then waking up alone on the floor. Since then, she assumed the child to be dead.

During the chaos of the takeover, her sister managed to escape. She was hesitant to leave but the maid servant was too hysterical to reason with. She was running all over the castle looking for the Princess. Men were slain in front of her, but she could not bother her mind with anything other than finding the baby.

For the past eight years, she had served King Greedy. He was familiar with many of the servants and wished to keep those he knew to serve exceptionally well. She had no choice in the matter, either serve the king or face death.

One night, while she stared off at the moon and stars, she thought about the Princess and what she might look like after eight years.

“She would be beautiful, just like her mother,” said a voice coming from behind her.

The maid servant gasped and jumped forward out of fear. She expected to see an intruder in her home, someone desperate to take her place as a servant. There was no one to be found.

“Who is there?” She alarmingly muttered, “Who said that?”

“Be not afraid ma’am,” the voice said.

Looking down, she noticed a small mouse on the floor staring directly at her.

“There is no need to worry,” the mouse spoke again.

“You are a messenger of Hope?” She asked without fear in her voice, but frustration.

“It is as you say.”

“Then give him a message for me. Tell him to leave me alone and do what would be best for the Kingdom and go away. You are no better than a bedtime story giving children false promises. You may know how to conjure talking creatures, but you are just as useless as my imagination!”

“Are you finished?” The mouse asked.

“No! Where were you? Why did you not rescue the Princess? Now she is lost forever. The Kingdom is lost too. It’s been eight years and you are now showing up?”

“Perhaps I should leave because my timetable does not suit you. Do not mistake absence for lack of compassion. Instead of asking where I have been, ask yourself where you have been.”

“I have been here, waiting for you.”

“Yes, you have been here, but if you had really sought me, you would have found me. Instead, you stand there in your self-pity blaming me when you have done nothing to seek out the truth.”

“And what is the truth?”

“The Princess is alive.”

The maid servant was taken aback by the news.

“And yet, you still doubt?” the mouse continued, “Stop doubting and believe!” He pleaded with her.

“What must I do to help her? Where is she? Where has she been?”

“The witch of the forest has been holding her captive. If you wish to save her, you mustn’t stay here any longer. You need to go into the forest. There will be further instructions when you are there, but you must go now!”

The maid servant, along with the mouse, snuck out of the living quarters and made their way to the familiar entrance of the safe path through the forest. Before she could step forward, she hesitated when she realized she did not have any of the necessary counter measures against the magic of the forest.

“Must I push you in?” asked the mouse.

“You don’t understand, these remedies have been passed down many generations. Without them…”

“Without them, your faith is stronger. Someone long ago decided their faith wasn’t enough and so they took it upon themselves to add superstitions, contrary to what was already long established.”

“And what was that?”

“This path through darkness was and has always been the creation of Hope. You do not have to make up your own rules. Do not be misled, not even by your own experience. It is a safe path to take.”

“Very well,” she replied.

Still, she felt uneasy stepping into the forest alone. After taking a few steps passed the tree line, she turned to thank the mouse, but he was gone.

Once again, she turned to the way leading into the forest. There was no going back for her. She needed to throw off her fear and replace it with every bit of courage she had. Having found her purpose, she was ready to walk the path.

Inside the Monster

The Abaddon wandered the forest aimlessly, without human guidance or reason. It walked about only to satisfy its appetite. When the creature had more than its fill, it would find its way to the top of a tree for a deep sleep. It was in these moments the mind of the Butcher feared the most. The more exhausted the creature was, the deeper the sleep would be, and the more vivid his dreams were.

Countless times, he was forced to relive the horror of what he had become. In those dreams, he would wake up as the Butcher in his bed along with his wife. Their two children would soon run into his bedroom to greet him with laughter and love, celebrating the life they lived.

His day would be a typical day in the life of the Butcher. He would go to work, even settle matters and disputes throughout the day for the townspeople.

At night, they would all celebrate the town’s prosperity with a festival; music, dancing, and other festivities to carry the night away.

Every one of these dreams would take a turn for the worse. Always, it would begin with the Butcher becoming catatonic, unable to move. He would then be forced to watch what unfolded. Out of the darkness, his other half, the Abaddon, would charge forward, striking with every ounce of ferocity it had.

The Butcher would scream out to his family to run. He would beg for the Abaddon to leave them alone. It would always kill them. He could never change the outcome. Although he never gets to hold them as they lay dying, their blood would always appear on his hands.

After its slumber, the Butcher would always awaken to the Abaddon tearing through the flesh of some poor creature. Eating…always eating.

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