Well I survived the hurricane... so here's another old story of mine, in fact the very first short story I ever got published. It's written in the first person perspective I used before settling on my usual third person, is just a bit of shallow fun like most of my shorts are (I save the deeper stuff for the novels, for the most part) and might not be the most polished - but I hope you enjoy it!
THE DARKMOUNT TRILOGY
My heavy blade crunched through the evil knight's pauldron and collarbone to split his sternum, and I withdrew it with a sharp jerk of my arm. Then I looked at his companion and said, "Get ready, rot-brain. You're going to hell next."
A big man, the skull-masked warrior charged me with a speed unexpected in such a large frame. We met, and my sword rang against his axe in a few thunderous clashes before I managed to knock him off balance. I raised my sword and stepped in for the kill.
Then, I felt a terrible pain in my back and stomach, and looked down to see a large, blue-bladed sword sticking out of my body. Apparently, I hadn't quite killed the master of the castle yet. His helm had saved him from the last bite of my blade, and now I was paying the price.
Spinning quickly, I wrenched the sword from the Devil Warlord's hand, though the blade twisting inside me almost took my senses away. Staring in surprise, he was unable to react when I sliced through his skull.
His corpse fell away, and I tried to turn back towards his furious guard. I screamed as the axe bit into my shoulder, but my return blow to his breastplate sent him reeling. I brought my blade down, chopping through his skull down to the hollow of his throat, and ended it.
I'm still all right, I told myself as I sat down carefully on the nearby steps. I was losing a lot of blood, and the sword felt heavy inside me. But I'd survived worse. I wrapped my shoulder first, then reached behind myself and gave the hilt an experimental tug. Ouch. Not wanting to wait for my partner to return, I kept pulling anyway.
It was slow going due to the awkward position of the sword, and I was still dragging a length of sharp steel from my guts when I saw Finn approaching. "Did you free the prisoners?"
"Of course. The maidens won't be slaves to this dead guy."
His belt pouches were overflowing with jewels and coin taken from the Devil Warlord's treasury, and his pack as well. I'd have to stock up too, once I felt up to standing. "So how's the loot today?"
"It's alright. Didn't find anything magical, though."
That was to be expected. Magic isn't exactly commonplace nowadays. While Finn had hoped to find some useful artifacts in the Devil Warlord's horde, I was somewhat glad we hadn't. Most of my experiences with the arcane have been of the violent and traumatic type.
Finn walked closer. "Hey, Rose, you want to come to a feast tonight?"
"I probably won't be in much condition to enjoy eating," I replied as I finished fishing the sword out of my back. I wasn't feeling too good. I was in a lot of pain, and even getting a bit dizzy. Only a bit.
He smiled. "You're a tough girl. What's a little gut wound to you?" The redheaded warrior had been my traveling companion for a few months now, and he'd gotten used to my physical quirks.
I looked at him and brushed a lock of long black hair out of my eye. Maybe I needed a haircut, but I liked the way I looked. "What's this feast about? It can't just be food."
"It's a celebration of the coming of the star god Hurais. He's supposed to come down and bless the people of Ahat, or so they say."
"I've never heard of Hurais."
"Local deity. You know mountain folk. Come on, Rose, it's just for fun. Probably a guy in costume, that's all."
Of course, it wasn't likely that a god would come down from the heavens for the sake of us mere mortals. "I know, I know. But my stomach hurts."
He sat beside me as I tried to stitch the hole. "Let me see that."
Letting him lift my shirt, I tried not to worry about what he was thinking. I'd suspected that he was attracted to me for a long time, but realized he didn't want to reveal himself yet and let it be. I wasn't ready to be with him, anyway. The last guy who loved me died horribly because of me, and the nightmares haven't stopped yet.
"Ouch," Finn said. "That's one nasty wound."
I watched the blood gush out of me. "I know. It went right through me. Can you leave me and let me stitch?"
"How about I do it for you?"
My hands were a little less steady than I'd have liked. "All right."
"I love the way you lifted that giant overhead and threw him off the bridge."
I looked over his six foot eight, near four hundred pound frame and grinned, unable to help admiring his strength. Few men were my match, but he was one of them. "Just remember I could do the same to you."
As you've probably guessed, I'm not your average girl. My name's Rose Agen, and I'm rather on the large side. I've also got a constitution that would put a raging berserker to shame. I've taken a lot of punishment in my life, but I just can't seem to die. My constitution's been the subject of many a minstrel's poem by now, though I'm not too keen on hearing about it myself. Reminds me too much of pain.
The closest thing I can offer to an explanation is, well, I'm a freak. There are those rumors that speak of magic or divine providence, but don't put too much stock into them. I'm just a big old freak.
"Come on, Rose, come to the feast. We just killed a dark lord—why not celebrate?"
"Oh, fine. I'd be hard for me to deny my curiosity about this star god."
"It's just a guy in costume."
"Well, whatever. It'll probably be an interesting costume."
We spent the rest of the day walking up the harsh red mountainside towards the village of Ahat, and my stomach was killing me by the time I saw a plume of smoke waft into the evening sky nearby.
Thinking it was safe to complain, I asked Finn, "Why didn't you tell me we'd have to climb a mountain to get here?"
"You never mind climbing."
"But I've got a hole through my stomach."
"I guess I'll get to win the drinking contest tonight."
I sighed and followed him into town. Straw and thatch huts sat in an irregular pattern around the edge of the settlement, the far side of which rested on considerably higher ground than the rest. I saw nobody nearby, but rapid drumbeats and hollering song emanated from deeper inside.
"We're late," Finn groaned. "You slowpoke."
I fingered my stomach. I'd tried. We walked to the center of town and stood at the edge of the circle which the village's eighty-odd inhabitants comprised. A few of them waved and smiled at us—the prisoners we'd saved, and their friends and family. The adults, male and female alike, wore costumes made of leaves arranged to look like feathers, while the children played in simple tunics I assumed to be their normal garb. At the center of the clearing, an especially well-feathered, ancient man performed a slow dance with a naked infant boy.
"Whew," Finn said, "I'm glad we didn't miss anything important." By which I knew he meant the food. "Just relax, Rose. This boring stuff probably won't finish for a while."
I wasn't bored. The elder raised the child again and again towards the sky, and though it was repetitive I couldn't take my eyes off them. I couldn't help wondering what would happen if the ancient dropped dead. He was moving slowly but he just kept going. The rest of the village continued chanting, "Hurais, Hurais," awe plain in their voices. Their god didn't much impress me, but I wondered if there was another purpose to this ceremony besides celebrating their religion.
"Is he blessing him?" I asked Finn.
"I don't know. I just heard from one of the girls we rescued that there was a feast."
A sudden pang of agony exploded through my gut, and I doubled over. "I want to sit down. My stomach hurts so bad."
"Are you going to be okay?"
"I'd be better if I hadn't had to climb the mountain." Giving in to my weakness, I began to sit on the dusty ground.
Suddenly, the cries of "Hurais! Hurais!" grew loud and frenzied, and I straightened to look into the sky where the crowd gazed with wide eyes. What I saw almost made me forget my pain.
"Oh, shit, Finn—is that a flying jellyfish?" He didn't answer, staring even more transfixed than I, and I grabbed his shoulder and shook him until he looked at me. "What the hell is that?!"
His eyes gaped wide and dumbfounded. "It looks like a flying jellyfish."
A huge, blood-red flying jellyfish to be exact, the size of a cow and armed with countless tentacles tipped with tiny barbs. Was this Hurais? As I watched, it took the baby from the elder's upraised hands, drew him close, and ate him.
My shock changed immediately to outrage. Most people would have been afraid, but I'd never met anything I couldn't kill. I drew my broadsword, and pushed through the crowd to charge the beast. This monster had just killed an innocent child! God or not, I was going to have words and more with it.
"Die, monster!" I cried.
The elder ran in front of me and tried to grab my sword away. Without thinking, I ran him through. I heard a collective gasp from the villagers, and the jellyfish-thing screeched as it flew down towards me.
"Kill the blasphemer!" someone said.
I hardly heard, the barbed tentacles already lashing down on my shoulders and back. I wished I had worn my armor; I'd left it with my horse, apparently a very bad idea. The bony blades cut deep into my flesh, and my wounds burned like they were being seared with hot brands. Poison.
I slashed up, cutting away a dozen strands. More struck back. I sliced at the tentacles again and another handful fell, but far too many remained. I was getting cut to pieces. A stinging sensation flared on my cheek, and I hissed. Now I was really mad.
The tentacles swiped again, but this time I caught a bunch in my hand and pulled hard, yanking the jellyfish down towards my blade. It recovered before I could reach it, and flying upwards pulled me into the air. Putting my sword between my teeth, I started to climb up its tentacles.
The jellyfish continued to slice at me, but I ignored the pain. I drew closer to its body, and as I did its attacks lessened in frequency and strength, its tentacles not as formidable up close as further away. Nearly at the base of its bloblike body, I took my sword in hand and drew it back to strike, thinking I was safe. Then a toothy maw opened on its bottom and reached out to clamp painfully on my right shoulder.
Feeling skin and muscle tear under the huge teeth, I finally screamed, "Finn, help me!"
For my trouble, a crossbow bolt sprouted between my spine and shoulder blade. "Sorry!"
"Don't shoot anymore," I shouted back, knowing he was already reloading. I transferred my sword to my left hand—allowing the monster's teeth to be the only thing holding me up for a moment—and hacked at the flesh just behind its mouth. The steel cut deep, and its grip loosened from my shoulder. I fell.
With my weak right hand, I caught onto its tentacles and continued to hack away. Clear blood sprayed over me as I destroyed its body, and it burned like the poison in my wounds. I began to grow faint, and hoped it would just die already. Then, it did.
Whatever force it used to fly without wings left it as it went limp, and we plummeted together to the ground. It was only now that I realized how far up we'd gone, and I landed like a catapult stone in the dirt, my spine numbing with the impact. I heard the crossbow bolt snap against the ground. Blinking my eyes clear, I looked to see the jellyfish on top of me, flat as a folded tent. It was lighter than I would have thought, and I pushed it off as though casting aside a blanket.
Finn knelt beside me. "Rose? You okay?"
"You shot me!"
"Sorry... you better not die on me, girl."
I raised myself on my elbows, nodding wearily. "All in a day's work, right?" Now it wasn't just my stomach torturing me with agony; it was pretty much my whole upper body.
I wasn't about to get time to rest, either. The villagers, who had been silent since the jellyfish's death, began to mutter amongst themselves. "Damn you, you crazy outsider!" one man said. "You've doomed us all!"
"What are you talking about? That thing ate your child! I did you a favor."
"No, no! You'll bring the god's wrath upon us, and doom us all!"
Despite the incredible pain and fatigue, I lurched to my feet and indicated the jellyfish with a wave. "This piece of rubbish? It's no god. Look at it. It's dead!"
"We know it's not a god," a young woman said softly.
I stared. "What? So then..."
"Its mother is the god. You killed its child, and it will come soon. We are all doomed."
The villagers didn't attack us as we left, but it looked like they would have killed us if they didn't think they were all doomed anyway. As it was, they were too busy panicking to really care. I managed to learn the supposed location of their "god" higher in the mountains, and as we made our way up the ever-steeper slopes Finn asked, "Where are we going? Why do we have to fight this stupid god?"
"Well, I am the one who killed its child to bring its wrath upon the villagers. So I can't just leave them to suffer because of what I did."
"Yeah, well, why did you have to do that?"
"Finn, it ate a damn baby! You just don't do that in front of me!" I looked at him. "And why didn't you help me?"
"You seemed to be doing okay."
"I was getting sliced to bits!"
"You killed it."
"No thanks to you. And you're not that good at pulling crossbow bolts out, either!"
He lowered his gaze shamefully. "How are you holding up, with all those bad wounds?"
I didn't feel too good. I've survived a lot of really nasty wounds over the years, but I don't have an unlimited supply of blood. "I just know I'm going to scar, big time."
"More for the collection?"
I shrugged, and we continued up the mountain. Suddenly, the sound of my boots crunching into the gravel was overwhelmed by a familiar shrieking, and I looked up. Three more jellyfish things were flying down the mountain towards us as if we were violating the sanctity of their home with our presence. We were going to do more than that. Finn fired a crossbow bolt which this time actually hit a desirable target, lodging in a jellyfish's lower body. It stalled in the air, but the other two kept coming.
"Think we can handle them?" I asked nervously as I cut through a clump of slashing tentacles.
With no time to reload, Finn dropped his crossbow and drew his mace. "At least we've got our armor," he said as he took a swipe at his opponent's stringy arms.
The mace struck flesh, but only knocked the flexible tentacles aside. I drew my handaxe from my belt and threw it to him. "Here! Slice it up!"
He did me one better, throwing the axe up into the air to bury itself in the middle of his jellyfish. It sagged out of the air, but tried to rise back up. Finn didn't give it the chance, bringing his mace down upon its body. It wasn't quite as resilient as its tentacles, and broke open and died.
My jellyfish was still battering me with its numerous tentacles, but true to what Finn had said their barbs proved inadequate to penetrate my armor. My sword cut through its stringy appendages just fine, and as it grew short on arms it started to fly away.
"Oh no you don't," I said as I took my grappling hook from my pack and threw it over the jellyfish to sink deep into its back. Hauling backwards, I pulled the wounded creature off balance and sent it careening towards me. I stepped aside, slashing as I did, and it fell nearly cloven in two.
"I still think I did it better than you," Finn said.
"You did it more efficiently, sure. But I could've done the same with that axe."
The last jellyfish was still up, weaving in the air as though confused. Without much haste, Finn reloaded his crossbow and shot it again. It kept weaving. I took my bow off my back, notched an arrow, and punctured it through the center. Finally, it went limp and fell to the ground, dead.
The sun was rising by the time we arrived at the triangular cave where Hurais was said to reside, and we hadn't slept for one full day. I hadn't slept since being run through. The pain of the jellyfish's poison had mostly faded away, but the rest of my hurts still bothered me considerably.
"How about you go first," I said, "if you're so worried about my health?"
"Nah, you're the one who incurred its wrath. You go."
I looked up, gauging how large this thing could be. About thirty feet tall, at most. Not exactly small. We walked inside the cave, the red stone walls angular as though cut by some god's blade rather than worn naturally by the elements. My pace slowed as I heard the sound, first faint, then louder as we closed. A low moaning full of sorrow, like that of a grieving mother. Sweat beaded my brow, and I gripped my sword tighter.
Hesitating as I saw the shining blood-red surface come into view, I looked back at Finn. "Back me up this time. This one's a lot bigger."
He nodded, then noted as we walked closer, "You were wrong, Rose. It doesn't eat children—it raises them."
I could only nod dumbly in response. Suspended within the gigantic blood-red blob which filled the chamber were a number of human-shaped figures at various stages of growth. But they didn't look totally human, at least through the red mass. Instead, their flesh appeared to be somewhat transparent, their bones and organs showing through their skin.
"It changed them," I managed to breath. But why?
"Do we attack, or what?" Finn asked impatiently as it began to shriek, having detected us nearby. "Or do we run screaming away?"
Okay, so maybe it didn't exactly kill babies as I'd thought. I swallowed as I realized I had technically slain the child taken by the jellyfish. I'd be having plenty of nightmares about that, I knew. Sure, I hadn't known, but I still felt wretched inside.
But whatever it did do to its sacrifices, it didn't give them any favors in terms of letting them live as human beings. Were they conscious of their condition? I felt a tear roll down my cheek as I thought of what it would be like to live like... that.
Then I said, "Are you kidding, Finn?"
"Yeah, I am. We don't run."
We advanced together on Hurais, me with sword and torch in hand, Finn with mace and shield. All of a sudden the thing opened up, spitting out one of the humanoid figures inside. It moaned, spasmed, and came jerkily to its feet. I wanted to vomit at the sight of the human anatomy visible through its skin. Instead, I acted. Before it could move, I struck its head from its shoulders, and it fell thrashing.
Another followed it out, and another, and another. The wide tunnel before us filled with shambling man-shaped things with translucent blood-red flesh, and I charged, hacking and hewing. I tried to ignore the fact that some of them were the size and shape of children, and couldn't do it. My eyes misted, and I began to cry. But I kept fighting.
With a mace blow like a battering ram, Finn hit one the size of a young teenager back into Hurais' spongy body. Then he charged past the rest of the spawn, rushing the god itself, and slammed his mace into the pulsating mass. It sank deep into the red flesh, but did not seem to hurt the creature. Its retaliatory punch, with a pseudopod as thick as a man's waist, sent him flying back through the crowd of its spawn.
"Careful, Rose," he said as I took the heads of two adult-sized spawn in a single slash. "It hits like a charging bull!"
The pseudopod shot forward like a viper, aiming high as to knock my head off. I ducked and slashed upward, cutting three feet of red goo away. Hurais retracted the appendage, and I watched in horror as its severed portion started to crawl back toward its body.
"How are we supposed to beat this thing?"
"See, I told you we shouldn't have gone after a god!"
"When did you tell me that?!"
"I was thinking it!"
The severed piece of Hurais rejoined its body, and it attacked again, sending forth two pseudopods this time. I divided mine down the middle and it stayed that way, only its halves continued to attack me separately. I heard Finn's pseudopod hammer deafeningly against his steel shield, denting it deeply and knocking him down.
"Try fire!" I cried.
Scrambling away from the reaching arm, Finn reminded me, "You've got the torch!"
Diving forward past my pseudopod, I rushed towards its body and threw my flaming brand. The surface of its flesh sizzled as it hit, but Hurais did not catch fire. "Well, I hurt it!" I managed to say before a pseudopod reached me and caught me in a rubbery grip. "Finn, help!"
I heard him grunt and fall with a crash. "Hold on, hold on!" he coughed.
Hurais started dragging me towards its body, and I shuddered at the thought it might turn me into one of those things which had once been human. I would have cut the pseudopod away, but my sword arm was trapped and try as I did, I couldn't get it free. Nor could I reach my sword with my left hand, impaired as I was by its grip. Desperately, I dropped my sword, and with my foot kicked it into the air and to the left. I caught it in my left hand, and cut myself free to roll away.
"Now is it time to run?" Finn asked as he hit his pseudopod again, hard enough to shatter a bull's skull with ease. Bits of red stuff shot out around the site of impact and spattered the walls and floor, but immediately began to run back toward Hurais' body. At the same time, two more pseudopods burst forth to join the three attacking us.
I might have said yes, if I hadn't seen what I had at close range to its body. Deep inside its mass, there rested a rippling gray organ whose purpose I did not know, but which I gathered to be important.
"Give me your crossbow," I said to Finn.
Without asking why, he threw the bow to me. I ran forward, cutting wildly at the pseudopods before me so as to clear the way to Hurais' body. Stepping past its pieces as they fell to the ground, I fired at the organ inside. My aim was true, and Hurais shuddered.
A moment later, the bolt dislodged itself from the organ to float languidly in the creature's red mass. The gray tissue seemed unaffected by the brief intrusion of the projectile, and I hissed in frustration. Then, things went from bad to worse.
My torch, on the floor a few feet from Hurais' body, went out, and we were plunged into utter darkness. Unfortunately, Hurais' senses seemed to work just as well in the absence of light, and I felt a tremendous blow to my chest which threw me like a rag doll through the air and onto Finn.
"And I thought you knew what you were doing!" he growled.
"Just get us some light! We're sitting ducks here!" I flailed about with my sword, but a heavy blow slammed into my face and stars danced before my eyes. However soft Hurais' flesh seemed, it could hit hard.
Shielded from Hurais' attacks by my delicate female body, Finn managed to light a new brand, and as my ribs creaked under another tremendous blow I gasped, "One more try."
"Huh?" Finn asked as I snatched a crossbow bolt from his quiver and jammed it into his torch, scraping a bit of the pitch off and onto its point.
Hastily, I reloaded the crossbow, ignoring the heat of the flames and continued battering of the pseudopods as best I could. Forcing myself to my feet, I limped towards Hurais' body once more, cutting away a pseudopod. Another caught me from the side, crushing me against the wall. Not sure if I could muster the strength to get free, I threw the bow to Finn. Running into the clearing I'd made for him, he took aim and fired.
The flames died out as expected when the bolt passed through the red flesh, but it was still red-hot when it reached the gray organ inside, and I heard a hissing like that of boiling water as it went in. Once more, the bolt was ejected within moments, but the damage had been done.
I pushed myself free of the weakened pseudopod which pinned me to the wall, and when I hacked it off it did not move to rejoin the body. I staggered up to Hurais' body, and it made no move to attack. Instead, it only groaned as I raised my sword and cut a gash down its front. The flesh did not flow back together, but hung loose like great flaps of red mucus.
"Is it dying?" Finn asked.
"I'm not sure, but I know how to make sure." I took another crossbow bolt and dipped it in pitch.
Five bolts later, we were both sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that Hurais was dead. I laid myself down before the slain god, my body engulfed by pain, and could barely keep breathing as I rested on the hard ground. Finn sat by my side, himself bloody and bruised.
"Should we go back and tell those people their god's not coming to kill them?" he asked with a smile.
"I don't know. I guess it'd relieve some of their worry that they're going to get killed, but would you want to know your religion is dead?"
"Maybe we could go and tell them we bargained with Hurais not to kill them."
"Finn, if these people have any idea of what this thing is, I doubt they'd believe anyone could bargain with it."
"True... but most people wouldn't believe that a pair of human warriors could kill a god, either."
"I guess you're right. Yeah, let's go tell them that." I frowned. "But what if they come and find Hurais dead?"
He fell briefly silent. "Well, we'll be long gone by then. We did the best we could, right?"
"Yeah, no more baby-snatching monsters for Ahat. All this for a feast, huh Finn? And we didn't even get to eat anything, and missed another night of sleep, and got beat up-"
"Yeah, yeah. Shut up and be a man, Rose. You haven't disappointed me in terms of fighting, but you're a regular whiner."
"Bah. Did you climb a mountain to fight a god and its servant right after getting run through?"
"All except the run through part."
I shrugged, and let him help me up. A few steps later, I decided to let him carry me, too. I'm a tough girl, but even I sometimes need a break.
Finn gave our little lie to the villagers as I waited outside, feeling cold and light-headed with my accumulated injuries. When he came back, he said, "Geez, you look gray."
"You're not going to make me carry you down the mountain, are you?"
I shook my head, forcing a smile to my bloody lips. "I wouldn't do that to you. Just give me a second, okay?"
I got up, and we started down. I'm not sure if it was because of my weakness that it happened, but going down an especially steep portion of the climb I put too much weight on a handhold and pulled it loose. Apparently, that whole face had been unstable, because me and Finn found ourselves falling then, knocked free by a rockslide of my creation.
We fell pretty far, and wound up buried under a hefty pile of rocks and boulders. Dragging myself free, I yelled, "Finn! Are you alright?!"
"Stupid Rose, I think I broke my arm!"
He pulled himself out of the pile, cradling his left arm. "I'm not quite so indestructible as you, apparently."
I looked around as he began to splint his injury. "Hey, where are we?"
I indicated the vast circular crevice before us, on the sides of which a multi-tiered underground city rested on great ledges. Jutting up in the middle of the pit was a conical building of unfathomable size, dwarfing every other structure like a man over ants. From the titanic building emanated the purplish glow which lit everything in sight.
"Did we fall into another world, or what?"
Finn looked up at the hole we'd made in the ceiling high above and groaned. "Gods, Rose, I think we just about did. I suppose it isn't so strange. Darkmount already had a dark lord and an evil god, so why not an underground city as well?"
"Hey, you were hoping we'd find magic. Looks like you got want you wanted."
"Shut up, Rose."
"All this for a feast, right?"
He glowered at me. "No, all because you wanted to fight evil."
"But I always fight evil."
"And I always go to feasts. Let's just concentrate on finding a way out of here." He paused. "And remind me next time, never to go anywhere near Darkmount again!"
Leaning on each other, we walked down the purple abyss and into the adventure which would make me heiress to the Inner Kingdom of Yuirioon. Not that I would ever want to go back to take my place on the throne. But right now, I've got to go polish my sword, so that will be a story for another time.
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