A Little Help

“Elves?” the dwarf sneers.
“Yes, elves, you have a problem with elves?’ Sheridan interlinks his fingers and cracks his knuckles in a threatening cacophony. ‘You racist against elves?”
The dwarf cocks his head, mouth turning into a tight frown, “nah, guess I love ’em.”
“Good.”

The Injured Rest in Death

Smoke and clamor of battle surround. With a trembling hand, Talia wipes sooty sweat from her brow. This small moment earns her a slicing blow across the shoulders from the Underguard’s whip, “Move, you beast!”
She does.
With a groan, she lifts another pitch impregnated iron ball onto the trebuchet.
No sooner does she release the ammo into the bucket it’s lit on fire and launched with a twang of released energy.
The machine nearly takes her arm. The grey-haired slave working the torch leans close, “careful,”  she whispers through a mouth half sealed from a wicked burn. “There’s no rest for the injured. Work or die.”

vilius-petrauskas-vilius-petrauskas-medininkai
Medininkai Castle Siege

Bait

The air smells like rotting fish and dead men saturated with too much grog. The clamor is squealing seagulls and wood banging on wood, the scrap of rusting metal and sailors. So many salty blokes singing and yelling and fighting and walking with their bow-legged strut like the earth was heaving underneath them.

Christian is happy for the dark shadows between the buildings that lean on crap foundations into the street. He puts his shoulder to the wind-roughened wood and smokes a paper of tobacco and watches the crowds moving off the docks. He is not a sailor. He is afraid of drowning. He doesn’t like men either and their stink. He prefers softer company at night and not occasionally either, between months at sea, but every night.

He draws the cherry bright hot and inhales the smoke leaving it a moment in his lungs then lets it loose through his nose.

Through a haze of nicotine, he watches and waits.

He waits for the seaman who is beyond drunk and alone and wearing the brine striped clothing of one that’s not in a navy.  Ethnicity does not matter, but size does, the smaller the better.

Then he sees the perfect target. A boy in the midst of his teen years. Tall and skinny, barefoot with clothes that are a tad bit snug as if he has grown since purchasing them. His sandy hair floats in the bay breeze. He sways. Christian can imagine the stink of rum on him.

He signals the girl. She is a young and plump in the all the right places. Rosy cheeks and big blue puppy dog eyes. She dresses the part of an innocent, showing just enough skin to be fashionable, but not overtly sexual. How she gets them is the way she moves her body. It sways and jiggles in all the right ways.

She does her skit. She smiles and the youth falls in love.

It’s so perfect that when the girl takes his hand and guides him toward the dark alley he follows as if his pants were already around his ankles.

Christian grips the iron knuckles in his pocket and pulls them free. The metal is warm and his fingers slide perfectly into its rings.

The girl walks by and the youth follows and he lifts his arm to crack the youth in the back of the head, but before he can swing he feels the back of his own head explode with pain and the ground come up fast to meet his face.

As his vision fuzzes and fades he hears his girl scream. The scream echoes in his head as blackness surrounds.

***

When he wakes his head throbs and his stomach churns with the waves as the ocean lifts the huge galleon up and drops it down again. A man with a face filled with a red braided beard and tiny little seafoam colored eyes reaches for him. He wears the colors of a British sailor.

Each of his fingers are tattooed with a different naked woman.

He lifts Christian easily to his feet and beyond. As he dangles with just his toes touching the deck the bearded brut shakes him and demands, “work or sink. Choose!” then drops Christian and tosses a mop toward him.

Christian picks it up hoping he can escape at the next port.

 

 

Powerful Lad

“As an elemental, you bend nature to your will,” the old-man lectures, pacing and tugging on his long grey beard.

“Like this Papi?” the child asks holding up his hand.

The old man turns and gawks at the twisting vortex of wind and lightning raging there.

“Yes, Gregory,” he stammers, that’s exactly right.

 

 

Caught

The dream feels wet and cold. He has to pee and does. It’s uncomfortable lying there, soaked in urine and looking into her eyes. Big brown eyes, rimmed with tears and shadowed with terror.

“Why so sad, Marie?” a voice like melting ice asks and he realizes it’s his own mouth that uttered the words.

She doesn’t answer.

He feels so tired, so weak, ready to close his eyes and sleep.

The air is pungent with mold. The floor, slick with slime. His ears are filled with the haunting sound of a humming moan, creaking wood, and scratching nails on slick boards.

Then the crack of bones and the sloppy drip of a messy meal.

His eyes drift closed and it feels so good.

Dark.  Falling.

His eyes open and the green, glowing light returns. It’s misty. Surrounding. A foggy night before a horrible storm.

The moaning song stops.

The floor shakes as, from out of the glow, a creature, with eight tentacles that move and touch and graze, emerges. Two yellow eye land on him and his skin shivers yet he lays there, fighting sleep. The creature steps forward on four massive legs.  Cold water dances in the air with each concussive step.

The monster’s tentacles spread open revealing a tooth-lined maw and suddenly Marie and he aren’t alone anymore.

She has white skin and hair slicked back on her scalp. Her eyes are hollow black sores and her mouth gapes open, allowing her swollen pink tongue to flop against her chin.

Marie lifts herself onto her left arm, her head bobs loose on her neck. Her eyes search his, they plead with him. The fingers on her right-hand wiggle as if she wants to touch him, hold his hand, grab onto him, but she falls back to the briny planking as if the subtle movements are too much for her.

The girl with the face of a corpse and knee-high wool dress, black socks, shiny black shoes floats closer. She floats on the air, weaving slowly toward Marie. The girl touches the wood floor and brushes up against Marie’s right leg and sticks like a frog’s tongue to a fly.

The girl was bait and drags Maire back to the wide-open mouth.

Marie opens her own mouth as if to scream, but merely drools a long string of saliva.

The girl folds in half over Marie and drags one of her legs into the gaping mouth. The mouth closes with sickening results. With the crack of bone, Marie falls, sans a leg, to the ground. Blood spurts from the wicked wound, but Marie is done. Her eyes flutter closed and her face relaxes, as she sleeps.

The corpse floats again for Marie. It grabs the thigh of the half-devoured leg and pulls her into the monstrosity’s mouth. The girl folds again in half and Marie’s bottom half up to her waist disappears.

Another sickening chomp and she is halved and falls to the ground with her insides unraveling from her body.

One bite at a time, he watches Marie be eaten and the horror of it stays buried underneath a horrible exhaustion.

Then she is gone and with four booming footsteps, it’s his turn.


 

horror_by_kredepops

Art by: kredepops

“Horror”

Prison

Her prison is a palace on a lush island paradise. Her every desire is granted, but still, it’s a prison.

Her crime? Family lineage.

Through the inky blackness of night, she watches a boat approach. With it comes freedom and by the Gods her people will now know the nightmare of her name.

They

Twilight falls. She prepares a fire, as she has for countless nights since they left.

They, the idea of it breaks her heart.

It was only her now wasn’t it?

Alone in the abandoned capital, near the end of a journey that leads her home.

She refuses to cry, again. There’s no point. Gio’s gone.

The air is thick with honeysuckle and the song of nightingales. A sudden howl makes her body clench. The wolf calls to the approaching night to hurry so he can finish his hunt.

The beast still stalking her, means Gio neglected to stop it, making his sacrifice absurd.

She sighs.

Tomorrow they’ll, God willing,  be at the sea.

Her fire cracks and pops and it dawns on her she did it again.

They.

No only her.

The sun slinks away from the night, and surrounded by gloom, she cries, helpless to fear and sorrow.

The Witch

In the early weeks of April, Mary Trembles walks a muddy path. Each step punctuated with her cane placed gingerly on the wet ground. A cane as crooked as her back. Her steps are dainty on leather-wrapped, wooden-soled shoes.
She wears a black wool dress and a shawl over her wispy white hair. She sniffs the air smiles a near-toothless grin.
“After a rain is the best time to forage, Suzy.”  The hand not resting on the cane grips her young companion’s shoulder. “Sniff deep. Do you smell that sweet pepperiness?”
“Yes, Mary,” Suzy says because that’s what Suzy always says, because Suzy is a bit simple. Her eyes are dull. She walks with heavy feet. Her mouth is a serene smirk, never exposing the rotten teeth beneath.
Mary reaches out with her cane and taps at an ancient oak tree. “Chanterelles, around this tree. Gather the ones with yellow funnels.
***
“An old woman deserves to make a living, don’t she?” the constable says to the shopkeep,
Thomas Eastchurch, a skinny man in the custom of wearing long purple robes and avoiding his wife’s mouth.
They watch Mary Trembles, her white eyes staring off into the ether of wherever the blind stare off to. Her companion sets up their blanket. Mary corrects her every mistake.
“Gave my wife the fits, is typhlotic as a bat and yet still knows the basil isn’t where she wants it, hows all that work?.
The constable eyes the wooden bowl filled with yellow chanterelles. Coupled with some of those bright green herbs, his mouth begins watering for a stew.
“Perhaps God?”
“God provides, constable, but look, she plies black magic also,” Eastchurch says pointing to the Arabian-style astrology cards Mary pulls out of her pocket and hands to Suzy.
The cards would have been enough, but coupled with the other rumors and her obvious magick over the simple Suzy, he has no choice.
***
Arresting Mary Tremble is like arresting a brittle twig. Every hand the constable places on her flesh seems to do damage. He can hear tendons creaking and bones feebly protesting as he strips her.
Naked she is a pitiful thing.
With a satchel filled with mushrooms and herbs, the constable feels little remorse as he shoves her in front of a magistrate the same day.
“Your honor, Mary Trembles uses black magic!” The tarot cards are placed in front of the judge as proof.
“She’s also in control of the girl!” The constable orders Suzy removed from Mary’s side.
Suzy screams and thrashes to return.
To cap it all off, three women watching the trial collapse in epileptic fits.
“Burn her,” the judge declares.
***
Water drips. The cell smells of mold and a shallow privy hole. Mary sits on the freezing, cold, slimy stone floor, Suzy sits close. Her warmth is comforting.
Mary sees only black fuzz until death, then gets to see whatever she wants and finds herself young, walking midsommer in a field of wheat.

 


witch_by_suzumeyu-d97tq9l
Art by Suzume Yu
“Witch”

Odyn’s Folly

The season is on the cusp of the Dark Days when night takes over and the sun fights to reach the horizon. A horrible time to make a maiden voyage, but Gofraid Meránach is king. He is fat in the belly and wears suspenders over black and white stripped drafting pants and rubber boots that bounce around the indentations that mark the location his knees should be.

Many consider him a fool.

The product of incest.

And the sole person to blame for this ship he is calling an Odyn class vessel. He paid the gold for her to be built. He hired the ginger-haired half-men Dvergar to hammer the nails and saw the wood. He watches misty-eyed as twenty tinker-mechanized oars pull at the harbor’s frigid waters.

“No other kingdom will even come close to an Odyn class ship with its 800 guns and forty decks,” he tells the crowd gathered around him watching as the ship makes an ugly passage out to sea.

An ancient sailor’s song can be heard bouncing back along the waves as giant sails cascade down from the ship’s seven masts, the thickest of which is thicker than five men standing abreast and taller than even the steeple of Odyn’s temple in Northdom and seems to gather its own weather.

Gulls scream on the grey sky above the massive ship. They can smell the tonnage of food brought on board to feed the crew and almost 6000 passengers who paid for passage on this voyage.

“It’s heading East,’ One man says. ‘To the land of Folly,” and the crowd erupts in laughter.

“Nothing can sink her nothing.” the king says rocking back and forth on his heels like a proud father watching a son go off to war, nervous but sure of his stock.

“Did you design her, sir,” ask a  short dumpy woman in a dress checked in colors of the family Ola, blue with yellow stripes.

“Nay,’ he answers, his hazel eyes following the ship as the wind tries to catches the heavy sails, his voice wistful, ‘that was Oluf van Steenwinckel. Died a decade ago. Left detailed papers on her though. Called her Odyn’s unsinkable. I worked on the duct work for the furnace though. Mighty work. My best.”

As if on cue a billowing cloud of black smoke erupts out of the bow followed by a huge explosion that echoes across the water.

On the dock, a woman screams.

As if just waiting for the right time a deep voice yells for rescue boats to be launched.

“Oh, highness Is that supposed to do that?” a sarcastic voice intones.

The king stands transfixed staring at the ship as it glides out to sea obviously wounded. Flickering orange flames erupting in the stern and along both port and starboard sides. Small dark shapes jumping off the side falling the nine stories to the white-capped water below disappearing into the chop.

The center mast begins to topple the main sheet engulfed in flames.

“What did you say the name was again sire? Odyn’s Folly?”

 


d1343811969f19f87dda37b725849719

Art by: Wang Ling

Daybreak

Lichen

The Sun crests with a blazing blast of yellow light just as one of the grey ramshackle dwellings sitting on the lip of the rocky cliff gives up in its fight with gravity and shifts with a crack of dry alpine wood. The unexpected screams of terror of those inside, echo against the wet granite and the splash 300 meters down, as the home disappears into cold deep waters of Lichen Bay.

The ferry captain rides the resulting wave.

He eyes the white-capped wake for survivors but the blue-green water smooths quickly swallowing all tell that a house even entered the water.

His two passengers stir in their berths. Soon they will come out on deck and ask what has happened. Only the dead could sleep through that kind of noise and he will tell them the slums of Lichen happened.

People called to the flames of Lichen with no better place to live call the cliff slums home.

Bits of gravel pling off the rocky slope.

Then silence.

Until the house next to the now sunk home collapses and its dry wood catches fire.

Probably embers burning in the hearth, the captain thinks.

He shifts his eyes to the ledge above and watches as buckets are thrown into the bay to be pulled up and used to douse the fire that spreads quickly. A black smoke already smears across the morning sky. At least the slums have that. A sense of camaraderie. They all know it could be them tomorrow.

The sun rises fast in the East, yellow and glittering off the crystal buildings in Lichen. It does nothing to warm up the early Fall crispness, but that is expected.

The smoke from the fire above stays off the water and in the shadows between the two famous cliffs the captain smells the mold covered rocks that reminds him where he is.

Witnessing death livens his senses.

It has been so long since he has been back here. Honestly, he never thought he would return. He doesn’t quite know why he did.

He dips his oar mechanically. Watching the horizon above and seeing the approaching city center glitter with every conceivable color.

It was warmer down south and maybe a bit safer but it was dull there. Maybe he came North again because there is only so much sun and relaxation a man can get before he hungers for adventure or something to do.

“Captain, are we there?”

“Aye, lass. Nary a dozen more miles and I will have ye and your father on the dock.”

He does not look at her. She is different. When he looks at her he wants to protect her and do things for her like undock his ferry boat and cruise up the Southland coast and deliver her and father to Lichen.

With every row the water laps against the cliffs and echoes back and it suddenly dawns on him once he gets her safe on land he will have to worry about how to get home again. He is as broke now as he was when she asked for his help. Not many passengers look for passage South. “umm Ms. about payment, the dockmaster is going to want money for use of a slip…”

“Don’t worry Captain. Our adventure has just started. You’ll get money. And more. Much much more.”

And he believes her. He stops worrying. In fact, he digs his oar even harder in Lichen Bay. He has passengers to deliver. He has more to look forward to. Much much more.

 

 

grove_of_the_pilgrim_hollow_by_darkki1-dad08g4
grove  of the pilgrim hollow

BY darkk1