Gather your courage
do what you must
or the beast only waiting
will be the one in control
Why? It is a question with which my mind has been tormented for a long time. I don’t know if there is any answers to my question, or if I even want to know them. I have waited for so long now, waited for salvation, for a glimpse of hope. I have slowly started to realize that hope has abandoned me, that this is all I can expect from my life. Life, what a word, this is no life, just an existence. Hell would be to prefer, truly it would. I already know all there is to know about pain and terror, and if what they say is true; my soul is already damned.
This darkness has been my home now for who knows how long, I can no longer count the days, weeks and months. All I know is that it’s out there, waiting for me. I long for it, that’s what scares me the most, the yearning for that moment when I am completely free. Free from everything human, free from thoughts and moral, free from the chains of sin and guilt.
There is nothing left then, only the urge to feed is left; the hunger that burns within me even now. Oh, the thrill of the hunt, of taking lives. The feeling of life itself, fleeing from their torn bodies. I have felt that ecstasy and I will never be the same again, no matter what happens to me. It has taken a hold of me; it will never leave me as long as I live. Therefore I long for death, beg for it to come every day, every hour. I cannot live knowing I am what I am, what I already have done. I would do anything to escape this living damnation, everything...
I know it’s going to happen again, soon. I can feel it within my very bones and I cry in despair. The full moon is rising again and for me there is no salvation, no peace, no future, only death and sorrow. Gods, why have you cast this curse upon me? Why can’t you let me end this life, this pain? What sins have I made, that makes me deserve this imprisonment? I am a prisoner within my own body and mind, what could truly be more terrible?
I have no company, no friends. My family thinks I am lost, and maybe I am. I am forgotten by everyone except the one person I love and hate the most, my keeper, my tormentor. I can feel him approaching my keep right now, it is strange but I can sense almost everything that is going on outside of this prison of mine. I can hear his footsteps in the snow, his breath. I can smell his sweat, his fear and his guilt, his love for me, his despair. If he only could grant me that one wish, the one wish that would give us both freedom, give us both peace. O Gods of light, let him hear me this time, I can’t stand this half-life any longer.
He slowly walked up the hills, followed paths hidden by the first snow of the winter. His face was pale and his eyes filled with a deep sorrow, in his arms he held a small bag, it contained a few items. Some warm clothes, some food, and a blanket. It was all he could get without being noticed, there could be no questions for he could not answer them. The small cabin was well hidden within a deep canyon, you would have to know its exact location to find it for he had covered it with rocks and dirt and bushes had been planted on top of it. It looked like a natural Heap of earth and only if you lifted one of the rocks could you find the entrance.
He stopped for a moment, knew that the one inside knew he was there. His senses grew ever sharper and it frightened the old man. He knew that this cabin, no matter how solid it was, could hold its prisoner no longer. A full moon or two more and his strength would be too great, he would break free.
The old man looked tired as he lifted the rock, the whole village knew that his only son was missing, he had told them all that the boy probably had been killed by a bear or been kidnapped by slave traders. They believed him and they mourned the young man they had lost. He had told nobody of the truth, not even the boy’s mother and siblings knew that their brother was still alive, if you could call this a life.
He entered the cabin, it was pitch black within it and he lit a torch with his flint before he turned towards the prisoner. The young man sat on the floor, the cabin was very small and he could not stand up or even stretch out on the floor without touching the walls. The old man sighed; the chains were still intact, still attached to the huge boulders buried underneath the cabin. The cabin walls were made from solid logs of tough oak, they could stand much and they already had but he could see the deep gashes within them.
The signs of the struggle for freedom. Some of them had almost been ripped in two by its claws; it would not last long now, before it would be free, again. His mind would not even handle that thought; it would be his responsibility, his fault. The young man looked up, there was no life within his eyes and the old man felt how his heart shivered with pity and love, it was his only son, his very life and he did not know what to do.
The young man raised his hand, sheltered his eyes from the light, they were so sensible now that even the smallest flame would hurt. He had changed, a lot. The old man remembered him as a handsome tall man, a man the girls would look at twice and try to impress. He had been very proud of his strong son, he had worked hard and he had a marvelous personality, he was such a good person so why had this happened? His eyes reflected the light in a scary way, as if the monster within was fighting its way out of him even now, days before the moon would be full.
He had grown skinny, most of his muscles had disappeared and his skin was gray and dirty. His hair had not been cut and it was tangled and dirty too, the same thing had happened with his beard. He looked terrible, a parody of the man he had been. The cabin had a foul smell and no light at all. It was safer that way; the old man had hoped that the darkness perhaps would cure him. It was a foolish hope, he knew that deep within his soul but he had to feel some hope.
He threw the clothes and the blanket to his son, placed the food within his reach. “Here, get dressed, it is getting colder. This was all the food we could spare, times are hard.”
The young man looked down; his eyes were desperate and filled with a strange kind of emptiness. “And still you feed me, what a waste!”
He did not move, did not react at all. The old man sighed; he sat down on a rock and watched the young man with tears in his eyes. “You have to eat my son, you have to live!”
The young man raised his hands; the chains were so heavy he had problems with that simple move. “Why? I am not alive father, I am dead. This is not me, it never will be! Can’t you see that? I am a hazard to all of you, a danger! Why can’t you do as I beg of you and kill me?”
The father shook his head in pain and despair. “No my son, no, I can’t.”
The younger man bared his teeth, pulled at his chains. “Then leave a knife, any kind of weapon and I will do it myself! I can’t stand this any longer, there is no hope left father, can’t you see the truth? I am better off dead!”
The old man backed away from him and the young man made a kind of smile. “See? Even you fear me!”
The old man looked down. “There is hope still, there has to be a cure and I will find it!”
The young man closed his eyes in sorrow. “When father? Next month? Next year? When I have escaped from this cursed place and killed everybody? There is only one rescue for me now, and you know that deep in your heart just as well as I do. I have to die for this to stop. I beg you again, take my life, release me from this curse. The pain is unbearable, I can feel it already and it is getting worse every time. Show me mercy father, let me go.”
The old man got up, turned his head away from his son, denied to see the truth within his eyes. “No my son, I will find a cure, I will not let you die.”
The young man threw himself towards him, roaring with anger and despair, screaming like the animal he slowly was becoming. The chains stopped him and the old man left without saying another word. He closed the entrance and threw the heavy rock at it, sealed it tight. He felt his son’s pain and heard the despair within the inhuman sounds he made, but he could do nothing about it.
He was too weak to grant his own flesh and blood what he begged for, too weak to kill someone, even to save him from the curse. When he returned to the village he would go to the temple and pray as so many times before. Perhaps the Gods would send him a sign, a cure, or even someone with the heart to kill his suffering child and give him peace.
The old man returned to the village, he often went walking into the woods, people knew of his habits and they had stopped asking him where he was going and why for they knew there would be no answers. He told his wife he was hunting and she had accepted that lie, she thought he was searching for their lost son and so she did not protest against him leaving like this, even in the middle of winter. Deep within her heart she also carried a small hope of him finding something that would tell her what had truly happened to her son.
This evening she thought he looked even more tired and old than ever before and she hurried serving him some warm stew and finding some dry shoes. They were among the more wealthy people of this village, they owned a small inn and now and then they had guests who rented a room for a night or two. They survived on that, but just barely and they had nothing extra, no savings. The old man said nothing of this trip and his wife did not ask, as so many times before. She knew him now after over thirty years of marriage.
The days went as they always had, the old man hid his fear deep within his heart and told nobody of the worries he was carrying. The moon would be full again in just two days and he knew that the cabin no longer could hold the monster. His wife could see how troubled he was, he did not listen to her and he just sat there buried deep within his own mind. She dared not ask him, would not make him more worried than he already seemed to be. It had to be their situation he was thinking about, their economic problems. Their daughters were all married except the youngest one and she knew that they no longer had to worry about them, they would be taken good care of and the youngest daughter was a fair and strong girl, there would be no problems finding a good husband for her. She did not understand his dark mind and so she refused to think more about it, she pretended that everything was as normal.
I feel it; something is approaching, something powerful, touched by the Gods themselves. I feel a small glimpse of hope. Maybe this power will set me free, give me peace. I pray, desperately. He has to grasp this chance, he has to. Soon it will be too late, soon the beast will be to powerful, it will overwhelm me and devour my soul and only the demon will be left. There will be nothing able to stop it, the thing that has possessed my body.
The winter had truly tightened its grip around the land and everybody stayed indoors unless they absolutely had to leave the warmth of their homes. The old man got quite surprised when he suddenly heard the sound of hooves outside the house. He got up from his chair and his wife ran to the window, she looked surprised. “Three riders? Perhaps we’ll get guests?”
The old man suddenly got a strange feeling, like he had expected this, like he knew something important was about to happen.
He grabbed his coat and went outdoors, the wind was icy cold and he shivered from it, it had to be tough people who traveled at this time of the year. He stopped when he saw the riders, this was no usual travelers, his very instincts told him that and he had a strong urge to return to the safety of his house. The riders all wore thick cloaks and good winter clothes and they were armed. He could also see that two of them were huge, and probably very dangerous.
They rode the most amazing horses he had ever seen and he wondered for a short moment if their stable was big enough for such tall animals. The third rider was smaller than the others, more slender, but he could sense a strange power from the hooded person. It was no longer only the wind that sent cold shivers down his spine.
The first rider dismounted his horse, a big brown and black stallion with powerful muscles and a fierce temper. The man had to be almost two meters tall and the old man suddenly felt very small. He wished he had a weapon of some kind but he did not even own a good sword. The rider turned against him. “Excuse me my good man; are you the keeper of this inn? We are a little lost and a farmer we met along the road told us there was an open inn here.”
The old man swallowed, the voice of the stranger was deep and raw, almost growling and he could see nothing of his face. “I... I am the innkeeper, yes, we are open. Welcome to the Red rabbit.”
He knew not why he had said that, he wanted to send these people away, sensed that they posed some kind of threat. The other riders dismounted their steeds, a huge dun mare with strange zebra like stripes across its legs and a beautiful black stallion with white mane and tail. The old man had never seen a nobler animal anywhere.
The first rider spoke again. “We’ll take care of our horses first, we can’t let anyone else handle them, they are trained to attack.”
The old man nodded his head, warhorses, these were warriors. He walked in front of them towards the stable, it was almost too small but he had no horses of his own and the animals seemed to be pleased with the hay and the oats he had stored. Their ears touched the roof but he hoped that their owners would leave again soon.
He went indoors, his wife was already busy preparing their rooms and their daughter was in the kitchen, making some food. He remained standing in front of the fireplace, warming his hands while his mind was shivering from the possibilities and the terrors he could imagine as a result of this visit. His wife looked at him from the doorway. “Who are they?”
He tried to smile. “Warriors, I think. Ask the girl to stay away from them.”
His wife looked at him with big eyes for a second or two, and then she disappeared, obviously upset.
The door was opened and the strangers entered the small living room, the old man made some kind of smile and returned to a corner, he felt safer with his back against the wall. The shorter rider went towards the fire; the movements were soft and reminded the old man of a big cat. The person sighed in relief and turned the back against the flames, pulled the hood away from the face and the old man had to look away in disbelief.
The person was a woman, a very beautiful young woman with long blond hair in a complicated braid. She had lovely blue eyes but he could sense that she was tough as rocks; something within her face told him that. She smiled at him and pulled her gloves of her hands, removed the heavy fur coat. He saw that she carried a lovely sword and some unusual long daggers. She probably had more weapons too, hidden within her clothes. “Aah, I have been dreaming about a warm place for several days. I’ll fling the son of a bitch who sold us that map, it was useless!”
The old man smiled nervously. “You have been lost for days?”
The first rider answered. “For three days, we turned north when we should have turned east; I agree with Rhylja here, that scoundrel should have been whipped.”
The old man turned his head toward the lovely girl and she smiled friendly at him and sat down, removed her boots and laughed. “Don’t take a deep breath now guys, you’ll all faint.”
The first rider removed his cloak and hood and the old man stared in disbelief. The rider was not a human being, he was an elf! And not even the usual kind of elf, he was a dark creature. His skin was like dark copper and his eyes and hair black. There was an aura of something terrible around him, something dark and dangerous and yet the old man sensed no evil from him.
The old man had to turn his face away again, this man was more beautiful than any human male and he did not doubt for a second that this elf was a terrible opponent for any enemy of his. The elf walked toward the fireplace too and smiled at the girl. “You always find the best spots right away, Rhylja.”
She grinned. “Off course, I want luxury; I’d like to be spoiled.”
The last person laughed out loud. “And you lie too my lovely one, I have never met a woman less addicted to such than you.”
He removed his outwear too and this time the old man forgot all his manners and kept staring with his mouth open.
He did not know what this man was; he had never seen anything like him. He too had dark skin and he was almost as tall as the elf, but there all similarities ended. His hair was white as snow and the eyes reminded the old man of the eyes of an eagle. They were golden and wild and he too was unbelievably beautiful. The old man wondered for a moment if the Gods themselves had decided to visit earth and had chosen to pass this way.
The elf smiled and sat down too, the man with the white hair looked at the old man, he smiled and the old man could see that he had very sharp and long fangs. “We are very grateful for your hospitality old man, let me introduce us.”
He pointed at the girl. “This is Rhylja, a Kher-el priestess. She is one of the best warriors of her kind in the known world.”
Rhylja blushed and raised her hands. “Oh Rheynek, you are always blowing the facts up, I am not that good.”
He smiled again and turned his head against the elf. “Hawk, weapons master and one of the goddess favorites, at the moment he is my apprentice, so is Rhylja too.”
He sat down with a gentle smile. “I am Rheynek, some know me as the Goddess own blade. I am a hunter”
The old man felt cold sweat running down his back, what if...?
“What do you hunt honored one?” Rheynek crossed his long legs and waved his toes in front of the fire with an expression of relief on his face.
“The creatures the Goddess don’t want as a part of her creation, things created by darkness and evil, dangerous beings.”
He shut his eyes for a second. “Most of the time I hunt vampires, but I have handled a few other nasty critters too. We have visited a city in the center of this kingdom; they had a bad problem there, vampires everywhere. There are no one left now, praise the Goddess.”
The old man felt his heart pounding within his chest, this were the Goddess own warriors, her chosen ones. If anybody knew of a cure, it had to be them and if there was no cure then they could do what he could not. He only had to find the courage to ask them.
His wife showed her face in the door, she stared at the strangers with mixed curiosity and disbelief. “Uh... dinner is ready.”
Rheynek smiled gratefully. “Thank you very much ma’am, we have been longing for a decent meal for many days now.”
Rhylja was on her feet within the blink of an eye and she looked very hungry in deed. The old man knew that his wife and daughter were true masters when it came to turning more humble ingredients into something superb and the stew smelled very tempting. They all sat down to eat and the old man had to give his daughter some strict glances, she stared at the two men in a way that was far from polite.
His wife tried to keep a conversation going during the meal; they all behaved like they had very good manners and revealed that they had some education and class.
The old man was not surprised, a weapon master! Not even a king could refuse to bow for such a man if he demanded it. “Where are you from?”
The old man could hear the shivering in his wife’s voice; there had never been guests like these in this Inn.
“Shabuch, a city near the coast. We belong to a circus, or more correctly a training facility for warriors.”
His wife nodded her head. “I think I have heard of it, the city that was burned yes? And rebuilt by the Goddess own incarnation on earth?”
Rhylja laughed, she almost dropped her spoon “I would not call Akisha that, but yes, she cleansed the city of the evil that had infected it and she is first among the chosen ones, warrior priestess and overlord of the weapon masters.”
The old man had to swallow. “She sounds like a remarkable woman.”
Hawk answered. “She is, like her two companions.”
Rheynek smiled, it was something within his eyes that reminded the old man of humor. “Hawk is eager to return to the city, you see, one of the other two woman are his mate, he has not seen her for almost a month so he is longing for her, badly!”
Hawk almost blushed and his eyes got narrow. “Ha, you have been talking about how much you miss Enez for the last week so don’t be too cocky!”
The old man sensed the friendship within this small group, the bonds created by common experiences and danger. Rhylja smiled and emptied her cup of ale; she sighed and closed her eyes. “I am in heaven I think; this was a meal worthy of a king.”
The old man’s wife blushed and his daughter giggled and hid her face in her apron. “We have two rooms available, we have prepared them both.”
Rhylja smiled from ear to ear. “Thank goodness for that, Rheynek snores and Hawk is always talking in his sleep.”
Both the men blushed and Rhylja giggled, she seemed to be a quite lively young girl but the old man knew what a Kher-el was, nothing but an assassin, following the orders of the Gods. No one could feel safe if a Kher-el was sent for you, and no place could you hide for they always found their prey. Rhylja was not a weapons master but the next best thing; these three were among the most deadly creatures on earth.
The old man tried to gather the courage he needed to ask the question that was burning within his soul. Outside the dusk was fading into darkness and silence had fallen over the land. There were no clouds this night; the moon would be bright as ever before. He did not have much time.
Please, let my prayers be heard tonight, I can feel it struggle within me, forcing its way out into this world. It knows it’s time is to come, that the hour is close. This cabin will be too weak to restrain it, I know it. I cannot control it any longer Father, please think of me tonight, and listen to your heart. Save me, save us all. Don’t let me become a monster; let me die while I am still a man. Be merciful!
Rhylja was heading for the stairs while the two men went to the stable to check on the horses before the night. The old man stopped her in the hallway, his heart was shivering and he knew not if he had the courage to do this. It would end the sufferings, end the fear but also all hope. Rhylja looked at him with a friendly light within her eyes. “Yes?”
The old man stuttered. “Er... Most honored one, I... I have a question for you?”
He felt sweat running down his forehead and had to sweep it away with a sleeve. Rhylja nodded. “Yes? Spit it out?”
He looked down; this moment was a moment of fate. He tried so hard to gather enough strength but it failed him. “Do... do you want a bath, I can arrange that, you see, we can heat water here, it’s not much work, really not.”
He was babbling and knew it. Rhylja smiled. “That’s not needed tonight, thank you. I’ll see tomorrow, now I only need a good night’s sleep.”
The old man nodded his head, dared not meet her eyes, afraid that she might see the truth within his glance. He left without saying another word, deeply ashamed of his own lack of courage.
Rhylja changed to some clean clothes and tried to comb her hair, it had been braided too long and had turned into a real challenge. She was swearing and cursing when Hawk knocked and entered the room without even waiting for her to answer. She looked at him with an expression of light irritation and threw her brush at him. He ducked elegantly and caught the brush in the air. “I need to talk with you, Rhylja.”
She sat down, and he looked down and had that strange expression in his eyes that told her he expected trouble. “OK, talk.”
Hawk caught her eyes. “The innkeeper is hiding something, he looks so nervous and I can almost smell his fear. Something is terribly wrong within this house.”
Rhylja nodded her head; she had a serious look in her eyes. “I know, he tried to tell me something a little while ago but I think he didn’t found the courage.”
Hawk bit his lip, looked like he was trying to concentrate “The wife and the daughter seemed to be quite normal; I sensed nothing unusual from them.”
Rhylja pulled her legs up under her. “Have Rheynek sensed something?”
Hawk smiled, it was a stiff smile. “Yes, he told me his senses went haywire the moment we entered the village, something here is dangerous. I don’t think it was a coincidence that we ended up here. The goddess has been leading our steps.”
Rhylja felt that there was truth within his words. “Does the old man need our help with something?”
Hawk raised his shoulders. “He is the key, the source, but if he doesn’t want to talk we can’t force him to. All I know is that I sense danger here.”
Rhylja shivered for a second. “Close?”
The dark elf nodded his head. “Very close and very strong.”
Rhylja looked down. “I am going to sleep with my sword in my bed tonight.”
Hawk stood up, smiled sharply. “Good, so are we.”
The dark elf went down stairs, he wanted to know what was troubling the innkeepers mind and he found the man in the living room, he was cleaning some ale barrels and he almost fainted when the tall elf suddenly appeared by his side. Hawk smiled and the old man tried to smile back, he felt his lips shiver and he had to lean against a chair. This strange dark creature knew, he could feel it. Hawk picked up a nice cup from the table, admired it for a while. “It must be hard making a living in such an isolated place.”
The old man smiled desperately, the elf could see the flame of agony within his eyes. ”We manage.”
Hawk placed the cup on its place and caught the old man’s eyes with his own deep black glance. ”You fear old man, what do you fear? I can sense so much terror within your soul, and sorrow. Rheynek sensed danger when we entered the village, believe me, we have senses ordinary humans don’t know anything about and we all know something is wrong here.”
The old man backed away from the elf, turned his eyes toward the floor. “There... there is nothing wrong here, I swear.”
He dared not speak of the terrible pressure building up inside of him. The urge to tell someone, to be relieved of the responsibility of knowing. The need to let someone else solve this problem of his.
He turned his back on the elf and tried to continue working. Hawk looked at the man for a short while, and then he returned to the room. He would get no answers from this poor tormented soul even if the man longed to tell someone. He could sense that very clearly. Rheynek was polishing his sword and looked at it with a satisfied expression. The blade had a strange almost green glow and Hawk knew that Nadharn was no ordinary weapon, just like Akisha’s Elthear. This weapon had a soul of its own, yearning to devour the souls and essences of evil creatures.
“Did he speak?” Rheynek placed the sword next to the bed and Hawk shook his head. “No, he wanted to talk but I think he has an even bigger problem than he knows.”
Rheynek got a surprised look on his handsome face. “What makes you think that?”
Hawk sat down on the bed and grabbed his own weapon, checked that the blade wasn’t stuck within the sheet. “This is a house in mourning; I saw several black ribbons within the house. They have lost a close family member recently, and the old man is not mourning. I don’t like the feel of it.”
Rheynek quickly braided his long white hair. “Not mourning?”
Hawk made a strange grin “No, it’s like he knows something the rest of the family doesn’t. I could feel a strange smell around him, something that reminded me of a caged animal.”
Rheynek straightened himself up, a dark flame ignited within his eyes. “I don’t like the sound of that either my friend, do you think that..?”
The dark elf shrugged “I don’t know, but I will sleep with one eye open tonight and keep my sword close. Tomorrow we will have to find the answer; I can feel that the Goddess wants that from us.”
Rheynek nodded and grabbed his pillow, gave it a few good hits to make it softer before he lay down. “The Goddess has been leading me many times, without me even knowing it. I am not surprised, not at all.”
Too late, it is happening, I can feel it burning within my blood, changing me. The agony is unbearable, why did you not help me father? Why have you abandoned me? Why do you let me suffer like this? Soon it will be free, soon it will kill. Don’t you see the price you will have to pay for your hesitation? Mighty Gods, please save me, don’t let me hate the ones I love, don’t lead the monster to them! I beg this of you!
Hawk rubbed his eyes, he was very tired but he had a feeling that would make it very hard to get any good sleep. It was as if his nerves had got stuck on the outside of his skin. He knew that Rheynek felt the same way and if he knew Rhylja half as well as he thought he did she was probably preparing her weapons right now. They all went to bed; outside the darkness was almost like something solid, something trying to find its way in through the small windows. Rhylja left her candle burning and so did all others in the house. The old man’s wife tried to understand what was happening, why her husband acted so strange and why he seemed to be filled with sheer terror. The old man himself was trying to decide what to do, whether he should get out of bed again and confront his fear, tell the strangers of his son, or just try to act as nothing was wrong, pretend like everything was normal. It was of course the most comfortable course of action but then again, one that sooner or later would lead to disaster.
The moon rose above the hills, not entirely full but almost, close enough. The cold bright light seemed to caress the landscape, turning it into a black and white painting. The shadows got deeper and the silence of the forest seemed to be undisturbed, like it had for hundreds of years.
The peace was about to be broken, a few deer raised their heads, their eyes suddenly filled with panic. The sounds they heard was nothing they had heard before, it sounded like the roaring of a wounded bear, just louder and fiercer. The animals fled the scene and left the canyon empty, except from the creature that was slowly fighting its way out of its prison. The transformation would not be complete before the night after but the young man had already turned into something terrible. His strength was ten times that of a normal human being and nobody who saw him would have recognized him. The creature had ripped its chains of, the ends were still attached to its arms but it did not seem to care.
It had managed to break the entrance open and now it was free. All the creature felt was rage and hunger, it had no thoughts of why it felt such anger, and all it knew was that it had to gather strength for the next night. Then its transformation would be complete and it would truly be free. There was very little left of the man inside of it, and when the moon had been full there would be nothing left at all. The creature stopped outside of the canyon for a few seconds, smelling the air. It could see lights in the distance and it growled. It would feed soon, and then nothing would be able to stop it from attaining all its goals.
The morning slowly emerged, the suns first light kissed the roofs and people got out of bed, prepared for a new days with work and hopefully some happiness too. At the inn almost everybody was sleeping, except from Rhylja. She had not dared sleeping after a most terrible nightmare. She had been walking through an unfamiliar village and it was filled with dead people. All torn to shreds, killed in the most terrible ways.
She had ended that night’s sleep with a scream and now she was only sitting in her bed, wrapped in her sheets and waiting for the morning. She was contemplating getting up when she heard the sounds of a horse galloping hard through the village. She jumped out of bed, rushed toward the window with the sword in her hand. A rider on a small stocky horse was riding hard through the streets, screaming out loud every now and then. “They are dead, they are all dead.”
It has happened, it is too late now, my soul screams in agony, in guilt. I can still see them, hear the screams, and smell the blood. There was nothing I could do; I was trapped within this terrible creature I am becoming. I can feel the presence still, it comes from my home village and I know that it can bring me salvation. It is my fault, and his fault, I won’t go before I have avenged them. I love him and I will die with him, he has to pay for this. He should have killed me the day he found me in the forest. I know my death awaits me, one way or another, I will welcome it. It has waited too long for me already I just have to see his face once more, make him see what he has done. Is this rage my own, or is the demon controlling even my thoughts? I don’t know. All I know is that I have to return, that I have to see his face once more, one last time.
Rhylja got a sinking feeling in her chest; she had to fight it for a second before she rushed toward the men’s room. She ran in without even knocking and blushed. Rheynek was as usual sleeping in the nude and he had kicked his blankets of. She did not stop to admire the view; she grabbed Hawk by the shoulder and shook him violently. He had his blankets right up under his chin and she turned her back on Rheynek. Hawk made a strange noise and opened his eyes, he was wide awake within the blink of an eye and Rhylja backed away from him. His eyes were concentrated and told her he was ready to fight if he needed.
“Where’s the fire?” Rheynek was suddenly awake too and he blushed when he noticed his own lack of cover and the fact that there was a woman in the room. Rhylja swallowed hard. “Something terrible has happened, I just saw a man riding hell bent for leather through the street screaming something about everybody being killed”
Hawk was on his feet the same second and Rhylja had to turn around again, this time Rheynek had pulled a sheet around himself. “By the dark side, I knew it.”
Rhylja just nodded and left the room. “I’ll get dressed too; I’ll wait for you in the hallway.”
The rider seemed to have awakened the entire neighborhood, people were crowding in the narrow street and the three warriors made them all back away and stare with big eyes. The men had got dressed in a hurry and so had Rhylja and since they had got into the same clothes as they had been wearing the day before there were no doubt about their profession. The people of the inn had also got out of bed and entered the street behind the three. The old man got pale all of a sudden and Hawk could swear that he heard him whisper a low “no!”
The rider was still sitting on his horse, he was very pale too and sweat was dripping from his face. The horse was gasping for air; he had almost ridden it to death. “Something has killed the villagers; there is a monster on the run!”
People shook their heads in disbelief and many looked scared and confused. The three warriors approached the rider and the man stared at them with big frightened eyes. Hawk could have scared just about anyone, his black eyes seemed to glow and he had his sword ready in his hands. Rheynek looked almost like a negative image of him there and then. “What has happened human, tell us quick!”
The man gasped a few times, tears was running down his cheeks. “Something has killed them all, ripped them into shreds.”
Rhylja tried to smile at the man, calm him down. “Where?”
The man caught his breath again. ”The next village down the road. It must have happened tonight.”
Rhylja caught Hawks eyes. “I had a terrible nightmare tonight, about a village full of dead people; I guess it was no nightmare but a vision.”
He nodded his head and checked his bow and equipment. “You are right, Rhylja, it was a warning.”
Rhylja did not like the voice in which he spoke. Rheynek waved his hands at the crowd. “There is nothing more to see here people, get back into your houses and barricade the doors.”
People stared at him for a second or two, and then they obeyed with fear in their eyes. Hawk looked at the innkeeper with a dark flame in his eyes. “You should not happen to know anything about this? Cause if you do, this is the moment to speak!”
The old man shook his head but everybody could see the sweat on his forehead. “No, I don’t know... anything.”
His wife looked at him with wonder in her eyes, what was all this about?
Rheynek shrugged and looked at his companions. “I guess we should go and check it out for ourselves, meet me in the stable in five minutes, I want to get the rest of my weapons too.”
Rhylja made a stiff smile. “Good idea, I think we should bring everything we got, I don’t like the sound of that.”
Hawk just nodded and started running toward the stable, he always needed a few minutes extra to get the saddle on his horse, Trollcrusher was no docile animal. After a short while the two others also arrived and saddled their animals and they rode out of the village with a feeling of worry buried deep within their hearts.
It was not far and their horses were all very fast. It only took them half an hour and then they arrived at a place that had been a peaceful and buxom village. Now it looked like a scene from a slaughterhouse. Something had in deed ripped people apart and it had done the same thing with a couple of dogs and a horse. There were debris everywhere, pieces of furniture, windows, doors, walls and cloth. A twister could perhaps have managed to do some of the same damage but this seemed to have a purpose, it was almost as if the creature responsible for this had been searching for something.
Rhylja had to look up at the sky for a while, just to control her sudden need to throw up. Rheynek was pale and Hawk sat on his horse like he had frozen completely. Rheynek cleaned his throat. “Whatever did this, I don’t think I want to meet it face to face.”
Rhylja stared at the damages. “Look at the houses, the logs is broken like twigs, what could have done this, a dragon?”
Hawk shook his head. “Nothing is burned, a dragon would have torched everything, besides, we don’t know of any such in this area.”
Rhylja made a short smile. “Right, Elywen would have sensed that, and warned you”
Rheynek sighed. “No dragon then, but what? By the Gods, I have never seen anything like it.”
Rhylja gathered her courage and dismounted Moonsinger; the black stallion neighed and didn’t seem to like the place at all. She took a short stroll around the square, debris and bodies everywhere and she saw that something had been gnawing at a few of the bodies. “Something has been feeding here.”
Hawk jumped down and took a look around. “I can see that thank you; we just have to figure out what!”
He started walking around and stopped by the body of a tall man in his best age. He looked down at the body with a strange expression on his face and then he knelt down and jerked something out of the corpse’s stiff hand. “Take a look at this friends, what do you make out of it?”
The others came to see and Rheynek scratched his head. “Fur?”
Rhylja grasped Hawks hand and sniffed the hairs. “Doesn’t smell like anything I have seen; it gives me the creeps though.”
Rheynek sniffed it too. “Whoa, what is that? It stinks like... like a rotten sewer, mixed with the Gods alone knows what.”
Hawk had a terrible expression in his pitch black eyes. “I have felt that smell once before, on the innkeeper.”
Rhylja turned her head against him. “Uh-oh, what’s going on?”
Hawk whistled for Trollcrusher. “I think the innkeeper knows, and now there’ll be no pardon, he has to tell us. I don’t think this creature will stop with just one night’s action.”
Rheynek looked at the dead with an expression of sorrow in his golden glance. “So much death, the Goddess is mourning this, I can feel it.”
Hawk looked at him; his face was cool as always. “We’ll send people to bury the dead once we’ve solved this mystery.”
Rhylja mounted her horse and tried not to look too worried. “And killed whatever did this!”
She did not express her fear, what if this something could not be killed? What if they needed a magician or alchemist? What if this was a job for Akisha, Elywen and Frostbird? She was by far as powerful as the three warrior priestesses. She hid her doubt as they rode back to the village, Hawk had a feeling of hurry, he let his horse gallop at full speed and the other two did the same.
They returned to the village and saw that the street had been abandoned, there were nobody too see and Hawk jumped off his horse and ran into the inn. He only saw the innkeeper’s wife and she looked at him with terrified eyes. Hawk was a frightening sight; he looked like he was ready to slay anything that got in his way. “Where is your husband woman, speak fast!”
She gasped and had to cling to the wall to remain standing. “He... he looked very tired, and scared. Said he loved us all, and left. I think he was heading for the stable.”
Hawk cursed loudly in elvish and disappeared out the door again like his clothes were on fire or something. Rhylja and Rheynek only saw him running and tried to follow.
Hawk entered the stable the same second as the old man jumped from a chair with a rope around his neck. The elf pulled his sword and cut the rope, the man dropped to the ground with a low groan. Hawk pulled him to his feet and the old man looked down, shame and guilt was clearly expressed on his face and he rubbed his neck for a moment.
Hawk almost growled. “Now old man, tell me everything. If you don’t speak I will make you!”
The old man sat down, tears were flowing down his cheeks, and he looked like someone who truly has lost all hope. Rhylja and Rheynek stared at him with disbelief and curiosity. “Oh, may the Gods forgive me, all this is my fault, I have been weak, a coward. I should have told you yesterday, and then all this would have been avoided.”
Rhylja knelt down beside him. “Tell us old man, then we’ll decide whether it is your fault or not! The old man sighed, he looked down, and then he started telling them everything. He told them how he had found his son in the woods, wounded after being attacked by a strange wolf. He told them about his despair when he discovered that his son had started to change into something inhuman, he told them of the young man’s fear and pain and the solution he found. He described the cabin and the chains and the lies he had told everybody, he described his own fear and guilt and the truth he had feared to accept. He was crying all the time, shivering with emotion and Rhylja gently touched his shoulder. “You did the only thing you could do in your situation. I do not know of anyone able to kill their own child as long as they still feel some kind of hope.”
The old man sobbed. “It was no hope, it was a lie and I convinced myself into believing that it was the truth!”
Hawk interrupted. “We can discuss that later, now we have to find him before the night. There is only one solution now old man, and I hope you’ll understand. We will have to kill him.”
The old man nodded his head without saying a word.
Rheynek looked at Hawk with worry in his eyes. “What is he? A werewolf?”
Hawk bared his teeth and there was something very dangerous in his eyes. “He was a werewolf my friend, now he has gone beyond that. If his father had not kept him locked up like that he would have been much weaker now. He would perhaps have killed a few deer every now and then and the demon within him would have been content with that. Now it has accumulated so much power and rage that it is feeding itself.”
Rheynek nodded his head. “Like an avalanche, it continues to grow until it hits something rock solid!”
Hawk smiled, but the smile did not ease anyone. “Yes, this time we will have to be as tough as the bedrock itself.”
Rhylja helped the old man back on his feet. “Tell all the people of this village to gather in the town hall arm every man and strong lad and have torches burning all the time. You might have to defend yourself.”
The old man shivered. “Still this is my fault, I should have told you. You could have killed him before this massacre.”
Hawk turned his head toward him. “Maybe it is your fault, but it is not our job to decide who’s guilty or not. Now we have to stop this before more people have to die.”
The old man nodded his head and went to tell his wife and daughter to seek shelter in the hall.
The three warriors looked at each other; Rheynek touched the hilt of Nadharn with an almost loving gesture. “I have never killed something like that before; I wonder if it will be tougher than a vampire?”
Hawk nodded, he looked as if he looked forward to test his skills again. “These creatures are much more dangerous than any vampire my friend. They are stronger, faster and they have no conscious thoughts, just instincts and feelings. That makes them extremely unpredictable.”
Rhylja felt the hairs stand on the back of her neck. “Cozy, can’t wait to meet him.”
Rheynek touched his sword again. “Nadharn is made from the Gods own metal, it will destroy any evil creature it comes into contact with.”
Hawk smiled again. “Yes, and I am very happy we have it here. We might need something blessed to stop the beast.”
They returned to their horses and started riding back to the village where the monster had struck. They had to find its tracks and follow them back to its daytime lair. Hawk knew very little about such creatures but he knew that it was weak during the daytime; almost it’s human self again. They had to find the innkeepers son while he still had some of the man he had been within. The innkeeper had told them he wanted to die, that he knew he had killed before and that the guilt tormented him. Maybe he would surrender to them, it would be the best solution but they dared not put their fate on that. If the demon was in control it would fight, and fight hard.
They reached the village again and rode around it, searching for tracks. It went a while before they saw any tracks at all and Rhylja gasped when she measured them. “The leaps are so huge, it must be moving terribly fast.”
Hawk nodded and tried to figure out the course in which the creature had been moving. “He is heading into the woods.”
Rheynek smiled and touched his horse’s neck gently. “Do we follow?”
Hawk nodded his head. “Yes, we do follow.”
I am being followed, now I will have to test my skills. I know them now, now what they are. The Gods have heard my prayers after all. If I only could escape this rage I would lay down, surrender to them. Let them bring me salvation, but I can’t. I can’t let them kill me before I have seen him again, before I have made him pay for all this. He should have killed me, he should. Now the blood of them all is on his hands. The ones I have killed tonight, the ones I killed before he built the cabin. He should have seen the truth back then, but he shut his eyes and his mind, refused to listen. I will in deed make him pay, then they can kill me and I will bless them for doing that.
Hours passed by, they soon realized that the creature knew it was being followed, it used every trick in the book to hide its tracks and they knew the days were short. It would soon be dark again. They did not like the possibilities that opened. In the village the people had done as they had been told too. Everybody was inside the town hall and everybody who could wield a weapon was armed. The fear and confusion made the hall an uninviting place to stay, but it was safe.
The old man sat in a corner, his mind was trembling with the consequences of what he had done. He knew something the three did not know, there was something he had not told them. His son loved him, but he hated him too, and that hatred would have grown by now. He probably knew what he had done by now, and he would also know of the three warriors.
The old man knew his son was coming for him and he alone and he knew what he had to do. He had failed to protect the inhabitants of the other village but he would not fail to protect this place, his home and the remains of his family. He knew of a secret exit and when nobody noticed he left the hall. He knew that the villagers would take good care of his wife and daughter, if he had to die to pay for his sins then he gladly would. He only wanted forgiveness from the one soul he had failed the most.
The three warriors continued to follow the creature’s tracks and as the sun departed Hawk made a disturbing discovery. They had been riding in a circle; the beast had turned back and was heading toward the village with the inn. Rhylja stared at the two men with a growing understanding in her eyes. “He wants revenge.”
Hawk nodded his head and spurred Trollcrusher “He knows what he has done and now he will use the monster against the one who is responsible for his misery. Ride as fast as you can my friends and stop for nobody.”
They all screamed to their horses and the animals stretched their necks and ran like the wind. Hawk just prayed that they would get back in time, he could see the moon slowly rising above the trees and tonight it was full.
The old man returned to the inn, watched the familiar place with a feeling of sadness and content. He had failed but he would make things right again. He went to the cellar and found a small coffin underneath the big wine barrels. Only he had the keys to it and he opened it with a strange grin. He had never known why he had kept these things but now he knew that they were meant to come into his possession. He lifted them with awe; it was a small bottle with a red liquid and a long dagger with a strange green color. The blade almost seemed to glow.
He gathered the things and returned to the living room. There he mixed the liquid with some wine and poured it into two glasses. He hid the dagger within his clothes and then he sat down to wait. He hoped he could delay the creature long enough that the three would return in time. To stop this was his responsibility, he had caused it and so he had to pay the price, it was nothing more than fair.
The old man did not have to wait for a long time, he suddenly heard the sound of something being broken from the kitchen and he swallowed hard and gathered all his strength love and courage. The door flew open and he had to choke a scream when he saw what his son had turned into. The transformation was far from complete and it was still early in the evening, he was more man than monster and that made the sight even more terrifying. He was grotesque, beyond description and yet the old man could recognize his son within the glowing red eyes. He could see the sadness within them, the grief and pain and despair and his love for his child burst within his chest. He knew he was crying and the creature stopped, stared at him. It was crying too. “My son, I am so sorry, I should have done what you wished for.”
The creature got closer, it looked down. “Faaatherrrr...” The voice, if one could call the growling sounds a voice, was trembling.
“Yes my child, relax here with me. I know it wasn’t your fault, the fault is all mine. I am to blame for all of this, and believe me; I will do all I can to right things out.”
The creature turned its head toward him. “Hooow? Soooon too late...”
The old man felt the stench from the fur, saw the terrible claws and jaws but he did not notice any of that. “Oh my poor suffering child, I swear too you, soon your sufferings will be over.”
The creature growled. “Look... What I am becoming... Sooon... too strong.”
The old man nodded his head. “I want to say goodbye in a decent way, I know you want to kill me and I do not blame you at all. All I want is your forgiveness before I die. All I did I did from love, and hope.”
He turned toward the table, grabbed the glass of wine and emptied it, held the other toward the creature. “Here my son, drink with me.”
The creature just hit the glass right out of his hand and it broke against the floor. He had not anticipated anything else; it was all in his plan.
The creature growled in pain, he could see it changing there and then. It grew bigger and the shape turned into something less human. He should have been afraid but strangely enough he wasn’t. He could feel the poison burning within his veins and he smiled toward the terrible beast. “Now my son, do what you have come for, kill me. Avenge your fate, and the deaths you have caused.”
The creature snarled again, for every second it grew stronger, for every second less of his son remained within it. It lowered its head. “I forgive... you... father... I... love... you...”
It attacked and the old man screamed as the terrible fangs sank into his flesh, tore his body open.
He suddenly felt no more pain and he embraced the creature with a fathers loving touch before he pulled the dagger from his clothes with his free arm. His strength was fading but he planted the weapon deep within the creature’s chest, knew it was a mortal blow for any human being. The creature dropped him, lurched back toward the wall while it made strange whining noises. The red flame within its eyes grew stronger and the old man knew that his son was free. All that was left was the demon and the poison would soon do its work.
At that moment the door flew open and the three stormed into the room, they stopped and stared in disbelief. The old man was dying and so was the beast. It was trembling and blood was flowing from a deep wound in its chest. Rhylja could hardly believe her eyes; she had never even imagined something so terrifying and grotesque. It was so hideous she felt sick only by looking at it and the stench was awful. The creature growled and seemed to be unable to keep its balance.
The old man moaned, he caught Rheynek’s eyes. “Now, give it peace at last.”
Rheynek pulled Nadharn free and the blade started singing, a deep humming song filled with the blades fierce and untamed spirit, with its thirst for blood and death. The sound was terrifying and the beast bared its teeth, tried to escape. There was nothing left of the man it once had been, the demon was in control now and the demon knew what Nadharn was.
Rheynek attacked, his moves were swift and gliding and he avoided the claws with ease. The creature was getting slow now, from blood loss and poisoning and he placed the blade right into its heart. The creature screamed and jerked, Rheynek pulled the blade free and the beast fell to the floor. It was shivering from head to feet and Rheynek backed away from it, the sight was terrible. Blood was splashing everywhere and the sounds were awful too. The old man watched the creature with dying eyes, he felt at ease. He had done what he had wanted to do and some of his guilt had been conciliated.
Rhylja gasped, the creature had drawn its last breath and a flabbergasting change was happening. The body quickly turned back into the human form which was its original shape and they all saw that the old man’s son had been a handsome young man. All the signs of the curse were gone now and the old man crept toward the body and pulled it into his embrace. He held his son’s body in his arms as his own spirit left this world and the three remained standing there, just seeing and trying to understand, for a long while.
Hawk pulled himself together, he covered the bodies with a blanket and he had to discretely wipe his eyes. Rheynek placed Nadharn back in the sheet, he felt strange. Rhylja was crying and she did not feel ashamed at all. She knew why the Goddess had wanted them there, someone had to tell about this, someone had to remember what had happened here. Rheynek cleansed his voice. “I never would have guessed that he had the guts to do that.”
Rhylja blew her nose. “There is nothing a parent won’t do for its child, Rheynek. He knew his son and he knew himself, this was the only solution. If the beast had hurt any of us it would have been his fault too. We just triggered the reactions.”
Hawk nodded his head. “This would have happened anyway but I guess that we gave him the right amount of desperation. It turned to courage after all.”
Rhylja looked at the two bodies. “What do we tell the people, and his wife?”
Rheynek had to think for a short while. “We tell them that the boy returned from captivity just as the beast was attacking his father. We tell them he tried to save him and wounded the beast mortally. We tell them that the monster is dead, they will believe us, I know they will. The boy died as a hero, just like his father.”
Rhylja had a bittersweet feeling within, she would tell everybody back home of this experience and she hoped that they would learn something from it. She touched the old man’s head with a tender move. “He saved his son after all; he saved many lives with his courage.”
Hawk nodded his head. “Yes, and he paid for his mistakes, a terrible price.”
Rhylja almost sobbed. “He loved him Hawk; he acted just as everyone would in a similar situation. He had to believe that there was hope left, he was brave in his own way.”
Hawk just looked down and Rheynek smiled gently. “I am glad I could do something, his death could have been much worse. Nadharn kills quickly.”
Rhylja dried her eyes again. “You are right but his father was his true redeemer, once he found the courage to set his spirit free.”
Hawk smiled gently; there was something soft within his black glance. “Someone told me a true hero is someone who does what he has to do in spite of fear and doubt.”
Rhylja walked up to him and hugged him, and then she hugged Rheynek. “I know now why the Goddess was leading us to this place.”
Hawk looked at her, curiously “Why?”
She smiled and Rheynek caught her eyes. “I know it too; it was to be her observers, her eyes in this world, and her memory”
Rhylja nodded and smiled. “I wonder what Akisha and the others will say about this.”
Hawk smiled and for a second his dark aura disappeared “She will treasure this story and demand that we write it down.”
Rheynek made a terrified face. “Oh please, save me, I am no writer.”
Two days later the three warriors left the village, the inhabitants had believed the story, and the innkeeper’s widow and daughter were both proud of their father and brother. Now they knew about the son’s fate and that was a relief in itself. Hawk had convinced everybody that the beast had died somewhere deep down in the canyons, he was gone for a while and he claimed that he had found the carcass but that the place in which it lay was too dangerous to approach for any human being. He had brought back a couple of teeth that looked terrifying and since wild boars was very rare within this region nobody saw that the fangs came from such an animal.
The dead had been buried and mourned; life would go on as it always had. Death was no uncommon visitor there and soon this event would disappear into the mist of memories and fairy tales. Rhylja and the two men knew that they had experienced something very unusual and by the graves of the two they had all sworn to keep their memory alive. The story of the cursed one and his redeemer would not be allowed to be forgotten, the Goddess own warriors would see to that.
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