A Feast for the Fallen - Part Two

A Feast for the Fallen - Part Two

A Chapter by Kieran Shuttleworth
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Part Two of Three. The plot thickens...

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Charon awoke to the cracking of embers and the bloody light  of the dying fire. In an instant he was alert, he knew something was wrong. Mahar was there, sprawled across a bench and murmuring to himself in his sleep. Charon looked about the shadow-choked hall, and found that he and his friend were alone. 

He grabbed Mahar’s shoulder and shook it roughly, yet the sleeping giant was reluctant to wake and clumsily tried to ward off his friend with his powerful arm. “Unhand me slave…” slurred the warrior. “The princess is calling to me…”

“Wake up already you drunken boar! We’ve got trouble. I knew they were up to something…”

Slowly, Mahar rose to his feet, his eyes red and darkly rimmed. He lifted a meaty hand to his skull and fought to stay balanced. “My head…” he groaned. “Must you talk so loudly?”

“Don’t you dare complain,” said Charon. “I told you to go easy on the drink, didn’t I? Look! We are alone, our hosts have abandoned the hall and left us here. Don’t you find that odd? Some of them were already asleep before we dozed off, but they must have been roused while we were left here…”

“Yes, yes, very odd indeed…” Mahar stumbled forward, almost knocking over the entire bench and sending many empty cups and dishes clattering to the floor. A drunken warrior of Gath with little control of his great frame is just as dangerous as when he is armed, if only incidentally. “I’m in no mood for mysteries right now. Leave it till morning, or tomorrow afternoon perhaps, and we can question our quaint hosts all we like. For now, I need some fresh air…”

He lurched over the great doors at the far end of the hall and lend his weight against it, but to no avail. Again he pushed against it, but still the door stood firm. Mahar sobered up fast. “What the devil is this? The damn thing is barred on the outside. Those bloody country pigs have locked us in!” 

Charon looked around, wary as a caged beast. There was a lesser door at the rearward corner of the hall which no doubt led to kitchens and living quarters, but that too would not give when Charon tried it. He looked back to Mahar, and the gleam of steal caught his eye suddenly.

“Look here,” Charon said, pointing at the bench where the two had slept. “Our swords… Someone must have taken them from the storeroom and brought them here. But why? What is the meaning of all this?” 

Mahar stomped over to the bench and took up his sword, drawing it from its scabbard. A fire was in his eyes, the battle-rage was upon him. “An ambush then? Or do they intend to burn this place down around us, giving us our weapons to pretend at a fair fight? Those mangy dogs, calling themselves honest hosts! Next I see that grinning fool of a king, I’ll paint the walls with his guts! Come, if the door won’t open itself, I’ll smash it open, and then we’ll get some answers.” With that, the warrior barrelled towards the door and hurled his weight against it, but still it would not give. Again and again he tried to forced his way through, hacking at the door with his blade and sending shards of wood flying about.

Charon paid no attention to him, pressing his ears against the walls. There was no sound of movement coming from the outside, no sign that any were lying in ambush or setting fire to the hall. He frowned in confusion, for why should two guests be feasted like long lost friends and then trapped like animals? Did King Amhor fear that the two of them might steal out of the hall in the dead of night and get up to mischief? That seemed most likely, for out in the lands closest to the unknowable wilderness, who could say that any man was as he said? He picked up his sword and approached Mahar, the giant warrior panting heavily as he studied the great gashes that he had left in the doors. 

“Enough, old friend, put your sword away and calm yourself. We do not seem to be in any danger for now. Most likely, our hosts are just worried that we might be brigands or some such. Save your strength for the morning and then we’ll…”

Charon’s gaze drifted back over to the king’s bench, and his words died in his throat. He saw a dark figure slumped over the bench as though sleeping, where no one had been moments before. Mahar saw it too, and both men stood in silence as they beheld the sight, cold fear gripping them. They could not clearly see the figure in the dim light, seeing only that it was wreathed in shadow, or was a shadow, sat there like a dark stain in their vision.

Slowly, the shadow rose to a sitting position. The light in the hearth grew pale, the red glow giving way to an icy blue luminescence. The air grew suddenly cold, and the breath of the two swordsmen misted in the air. No light threw back the shadow that shrouded the thing as it stood tall, save that two terrible eyes began to glimmer bright and pale from its dark face. It moved forward, heedless of the bench that should have hindered its approach, gliding silently towards Mahar and Charon. Its form seemed to grow larger with each step. 

“S**t…” breathed Mahar. 

The thing glided towards, pale tongues of mist like cold flame trailing after it, eyes glaring hatefully at the two living men. Charon leapt forth to meet the creature, his sword thrust forward. The blade met its mark, passing through the thing without resistance. Yet instead of blood, the steel was suddenly covered in a layer of frost, and Charon’s sword-hand was gripped with a pain as though it were pierced by a thousand icy needles. He recoiled in shock, his sword falling from nerveless fingers to clatter to the floor, where the frozen blade shattered to pieces. The thing did not react, seemingly unhurt as it loomed over the stricken Charon, reaching out with its long, almost shadowy arms that seemed to end in fingers of dark flame. 

Mahar rushed forward with his own sword drawn, grabbing Charon’s shoulder and hurling his friend away from the oncoming demon. The giant warrior tried to fight it, slashing desperately at the outstretched arms, yet his blade passed through them as though they were fog, and the cold fingers chilled his flesh as they raked him. Still Mahar fought on, while the demon seemed to raise itself to even taller heights until it towered over the giant swordsman. The light from its eyes was almost blinding as they glowered down at Mahar, its shape growing ever more grotesque and horrifying. Mahar’s efforts lessened and he backed away from the waking nightmare. His back hit the locked door, his sword falling from his shaking hands. 

Charon fought against the numbing pain in his arm, struggling to pick up the hilt of his broken sword. “Mahar!” he cried. “Don’t give in to the fear! Fight it!” But Mahar had been broken, and before he could once more regain his courage it was too late. He did not scream when the demon fell upon him, ripping and tearing at the warrior with its spectral talons. It was all over in a moment. The demon gave a shrill, maddened cry as it raised its victim’s body from the ground and flung it across the hall. Mahar crashed heavily into the king’s own table and smashed it to pieces, his lifeless body lying broken and bloodied amongst the wreckage, where but hours before the warrior had enjoyed his last meal.

The sight of Mahar’s body gave new strength to Charon, gritting his teeth against the pain and rising to his feet, gripping the broken sword-hilt. The shadow-thing turned its dreadful gaze upon him. Charon forced himself to remain rooted to the ground, suppressing his fear. Courage, he knew, was the only defence against such unearthly horrors. The shrill cry faded away, and the thing turned its terrible gaze upon the last living thing in the hall.

“Demon! Come no closer!” Charon commanded. “This is not your place!” It did not heed the words. The thing only lurched forward, eager for its next victim. Charon backed way, trying to keep the hearth between himself and the shadow, but it only passed through the ensorcelled flames which turned to tongues of icy mist that wreathed about the demon. 

“Damn you, hell-thing!” said the lone warrior, it took all his willpower to keep his limbs from shaking, to keep the fear from dragging his mind into total oblivion. “You have slaughtered a guest. Why dare you break the most sacred law of the gods?”

And then, the thing spoke. “Amhor…” it was like the sound of wind passing over a glacier, yet the voice sounded distinct. Again it spoke, “Amhoooooor…” And again, and again. The word reverberating as though spoken by many distant voices. 

And Charon understood the terrible truth of it. 

Yet, at present, Charon's understanding of the shadow-thing would avail him not. It crept closer, eager to kill the last of the hall’s inhabitants. Charon was forced to back away until he hit a wooden pillar. That spectre of death loomed tall over the swordsman, his mind reeling on the edge of the abyss. He could not fight that thing. He could not run. He could only close his eyes against the nightmarish reality and let the shadow take him. He could not fight. There was no hope. He must let it end. No hope… Let it end… No…

No!” 

The demon recoiled. Charon suddenly raised his left hand in a fist, little finger extended. With one swift, unfaltering motion, he took up the broken remnant of his sword and slashed that finger from his hand. Blood spewed forth from that clenched fist. The chill hand of fear on his heart was swallowed up in a flood of pain, hate, and defiance.

“You have no power over me.” He said through gritted teeth. His words seemed to fill the hall. The shadow wailed with its many voices, but they were faint and feeble. “You want blood, monster? Well here it is! But my life is not yours to claim.”

On he went, the words echoing boldly, suppressing the demon and its hideous cries. Heat returned to the fire in the hearth, its ghost-light giving way to true flame. Charon stepped forward, his broken sword alive with light, his own shadow writ large upon the wall behind him. His bloodied fist was thrust forward, and the demon cowered before it, writhing amongst the thick smoke of the hearth. 

“I am not afraid.” Charon stood tall and straight, his eyes aglow in the firelight like some terrible god of vengeance. “So leave me be. I am not your prey…” 

The hearth blazed to fearsome life for a brief moment in one last gasp of defiance, its roar masking the whisper of faint voices and throwing a myriad of shadows against the walls. In that instant, Charon saw the shadows as figures great and small, sat before the benches as though in feast. The embers in the hearth sputtered and spat until they finally died, and the shadows were gone.

Then, all of Charon’s strength left him. He slumped to the floor, his back against a pillar. Wearily, he fumbled in the dark until he had torn a strip of wool from his tunic and bandaged the stump of his severed finger. Sleep would not come easily to him, though he knew he must rest. There was work to do come morning, and questions to ask, though he felt that he knew all the terrible answers anyway. 



© 2018 Kieran Shuttleworth


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Added on January 16, 2018
Last Updated on January 18, 2018
Tags: fantasy, horror, supernatural, swords, sorcery, short story, betrayal


Author

Kieran Shuttleworth
Kieran Shuttleworth

Bonnells Bay, NSW, Australia



About
Hi there. Like most everyone here, I am an aspiring writer, looking to practice my technique amongst like-minded people. I like to keep my reading varied, but my passion truly lies with gritty adve.. more..

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