Short Story: Witherfall

Short Story: Witherfall

A Story by Nicholas Hagenschneider
"

Four holy warriors rise from the south bringing the word of a new God.

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UPDATE: Added a new paragraph. First paragraph of Part two.
UPDATE: Added a new sentences to paragraph 3 of part four. Tweaked the ending.

Part one

War

 

The Gods were dead.

            Word had traveled the entirety of Isvell, from the Pale Mountains in the Far East, to the great Sand Sea in the west. The word had traveled, and all ears had heard its whispers. The Gods were dead, and with it the unnatural races and their unholy magic. The Elves died in their forests, rotting beneath the trees, entangled in the roots they worshipped. The Dwarves died in their mountains, buried beneath the rock along with their greed. Those who attempted their hands at magic were torn from their homes and hung in the streets, their heads set on spikes. An example must be made for the new world. The new world and its new God. The practice of Magic would no longer be tolerated.

 

            There were those who still fought for their old Gods, who still held true to their beliefs. The Order of the Old Gods, who called the ruins of a once great city at Lorestone’s heart their home, a former shell of what they once were. The Lightless Faith, who locked themselves away within the Red Tower in the ashlands of Alothrill. An organization that believed the world needed to end to begin anew, to be purged by fire. The two factions were at each other’s throats, spilling each other’s blood while word of their dead Gods cut deep into the realm. They did nothing for their people, who were raped and murdered in their muddy streets. They did nothing for their people, who wept as their homes were burned to the ground. They did nothing while we did what was necessary.

 

            We came from the south wearing our colors, white and blue, and with us we brought word of the one true God. We told all of his love and his promise of salvation. The people must only believe, to have faith and in return the one true God would deliver them to the Heavens. And for those who spoke against us, who claimed our God to be a false God, we showed our swords. They were sinners, heretics who needed to be punished, their souls to forever burn in the pits of hell. There was no room for non-believers in the new world.

 

            Our duty brought us into the Blue Kingdom, Elagost, and a land well known for its schools for magic. The Mithraynore Academy would hear the word of God and they would repent for their sins, or they would burn. We took rest in the town of Essillim, a month’s ride from Mithraynore. It was here that we heard of the Witherfall Witches, an active coven a few days ride north, hardly out of the way. We set up our crosses in the town square that very night and burned several suspected Witches before departing Essillim. A mother, grieving for her dead son, found guilty of practicing black magic. A daughter, jealous of her sister, found guilty of practicing black magic. A w***e, well paid for her services by my brothers and I, found guilty of practicing black magic. All before the eyes of God.

 

 

Part two

Conquest

 

 

            The clouds whipped across the skies like grey dragons, their roar like thunder, breathing fierce winds and harsh rains. The sky flashed with their anger, and I longed for the sun. We trudged through the mud upon the backs of our horses, our cloaks pulled tight over our heads, shields against the stinging downpour. I felt a sense of dread the further north we rode, the weather an omen, and I found myself holding tight to the cross resting around my neck. It had been a gift from my wife before departing the Golden Isles on our crusade, to remember her and the oath’s I swore to God.

 

Witherfall rested deep within the Blue Wood, a small out of the way village on no map, and seemingly abandoned. After investigating we discovered evidence of witchcraft, cauldrons filled with blood and gore, animal bones mixed with the bones of children amongst other vile discoveries. We burned the village down, fell to our knees in the ashes and prayed to our God to forgive us for failing him. We grieved for the unbaptized children who would never know the one true God, who would never know salvation. We rode north east, the rising smoke of Witherfall at our backs and the night that followed was the blackest we had ever seen. No star shone above, but most unsettling was the silence, heavy upon our shoulders.

 

            My ears felt a pressure they had never known, my heart thumping within them. The silence cut into us, its claws brushing against our very souls sending shivers down our spines. Then the silence came to an end in the form of whispers, coming from the trees. We saw faces within them, twisted in agony and pain, the faces of those we butchered in their streets, the faces of those we burned on our crosses. They cried and moaned, growing louder and louder, and just when we could not take any more the silence returned. Our heavy eyes begged us for sleep we could not deliver. Our stomachs yearned for food we could not find. We were in hell.

 

            We waited for a dawn that never arrived, and so we continued onward hoping to find our way out of the Blue Wood. Instead we found Witherfall, smoke still twisting off its charred remains, the smell of rotting flesh assaulting our nostrils. We searched for food but found none, and so we continued onward. We slept some hours later, or what little of it we could manage, but when we woke we found that four had become three. We set off in search of our missing brother but found nothing. We searched and searched and once more we found ourselves at the foot of the smoldering Witherfall. Our missing brother hung from a nearby tree, his face purple and eyes bulging. We prayed for his soul knowing our words to mean nothing. He had taken his own life, an unforgivable sin in the eyes of the one true God.

 

 

Part Three

Pestilence

 

 

            I fingered the cross necklace around my neck, thinking of my wife and whispering prayers for freedom. Silence was all that answered me, its voice louder than anything I had ever heard. This shadowy realm we found ourselves entangled in was alive, the corners of the world pulsating, a black heart beating to the tune of our fears. We saw nothing but a stone’s throw ahead of us, but we felt eyes on us and they felt like daggers in our backs. Again and again we found ourselves gazing upon the smoke and ash of Witherfall. Was this a curse? I wondered as I held my cross between my fingers. I tore it from my neck and fed it to the darkness.

 

            We slaughtered the horses for food and ate like barbarians, our faces wet with blood. Meat clung to our teeth and stuck in our beards, and I wondered if the world had ended. I could no longer imagine how long we had been trapped here, surrounded by trees that mocked us, by a darkness that threatened to swallow us. We heard crying, distant and lonely, so we hunted for it. Half of me believed it to be the trees, but the other half needed it to be more. We never did find it, and eventually the only crying we heard were our own. The tears stung at our tired eyes, and so we slept, the back of our minds pleading to wake from our nightmare.

 

            I woke alone upon a pile of ashes, and I found myself too afraid to move. I cursed God, shouted and screamed into the black sky above me. I begged for death to emerge from the darkness. I ran, as fast as my legs would take me, I ran. My anger was fuel, a face for my terror. No wind brushed against my cheek as I darted through the trees, their branches reaching for me like arms. And then I tripped, my face sliding against the dirt, so I turned to see the obstacle that had ended my run towards death, finding it to be one of my brothers. His ribcage had been ripped through his chest and his body was covered in spiders. I kicked away in terror, I kicked away and I ran.

 

Part four

Death

 

 

            I stared into my blade but found no reflection to remind me I was real, I could not even remember what I looked like, what color my eyes were. I dragged my heavy sword as I walked, my legs burning and begging for rest, but I would not sleep. I found myself beside my brother, leaning against the very tree he had hung himself from, or been hung from. I thought about cutting him down, using the rope to end it myself, but I was a coward. So I sat against the tree, grinding my teeth and staring at the rising smoke of the cursed village I had burned down. I thought of my wife, our son and two daughters. I wondered how they would remember me.

 

            My brother called for me from somewhere I did not know, his voice an echo of an echo. I tried to follow it, to find the source. Finally it grew louder, nearer and so I ran and when I heard him call to me one last time I threw myself at his voice. But he was not here, he was not anywhere. Instead I found my cross, hanging from a broken branch upside down. I felt my heart leap into my throat. I felt my hope slip out of me with an exhale.

 

            The dirt met my knees in a way they never had before. Not with the sense of a higher purpose. Not to speak the words of God. Not to plead for the soul of the damned. I found my sword in my hands and it felt closer to me than any God ever had. This sword had all the power in the entirety of the world. It chose who lived and who died, who to attack and who to protect. I stared into the blade and saw only darkness, and that was enough for me. I would allow myself to suffer here no longer. I took a deep breath, lifted the sword and plunged it into my stomach. As I died, my blood pooling beneath me, I spoke one final prayer and before me I saw the face of my wife, twisted within the bark.

© 2016 Nicholas Hagenschneider


Author's Note

Nicholas Hagenschneider
I would love some feedback on this. Keep in mind this is the first draft.

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Reviews

This is good! very good! this is the kind of writing that gets me going, that really makes me feel something when I read it. Emotionally strong, powerful imagery and a deep sense of otherness; of something being terribly wrong. I love the story of the spiral into madness: that kind of "Heart of Darkness" tale that gets the reader really into the head of the protagonist. Awesome job, I'm eager to read more of your work if it is as gripping as this!


Posted 3 Years Ago


Nicholas Hagenschneider

3 Years Ago

Wow, thank you so much for the review, it is much appreciated.

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Added on June 8, 2016
Last Updated on June 11, 2016
Tags: short story, fantasy, thriller

Author

Nicholas Hagenschneider
Nicholas Hagenschneider

Middletown, OH



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