View Full Version : The Naara

2007-11-27, 06:57 PM
Please enjoy and critique at your leisure,

Carl. :smallsmile:

The Naara

A man broke from the black tree line and fled across a snow-covered field. The moon hung low and ominous in the sky and shone silver across glittering dunes. The man ploughed through them, panting, struggling against the weight of the drifts and scrabbling with his hands to wade through the deepest areas.
Another howl emanated from the depths of the forest and echoed between the trees on either side of the field. The man gasped in fear and turned to look over one shoulder as he ran. An unknown, buried obstacle caught his foot and he sank face-first into the snow.
He pushed himself to his feet and tossed his long hair back over his skull to create a slick mat across his shoulders. The movement of a darker shadow against the silhouettes of the trees made his heart pound harder, but running through the deep drifts was like running in a dream: agonizingly futile.
The man uttered a low whine as he slammed into a gate, almost completely obscured by snow. Too afraid to look around, and too panicked to do anything but operate on instinct, the man wasted precious seconds trying to pull the gate open.
Large shadows broke from the tree line, one by one, and bounded towards him with a zealotry achieved only by predator about to catch prey. Each threw up white waves in its wake.
With a great shove, the man pushed the gate open, mistake realised, and in the distance saw a low building, with torch lit windows. Sanctuary.
Louder growls and barks from behind galvanised him forward, and he bolted across a wide, flat field. His boots kicked up dusty clumps that sparkled and his heart thundered against his ribs. He could feel his pulse beat madly inside his ears.
The building rushed closer as the world streamed by, a point of light in a sea of darkness, but the growls and barks increased into roars. He glanced back to see a dozen thick black shapes pass through the gate and begin to close and screamed “Eroth, save me!”
Suddenly, he smacked into something solid.
He fell back into the snow, head reeling. Through hazy eyes, he looked up and saw a figure holding a sword, outlined against the moon. A circular, wide-brimmed hat surrounded its head and a long coat or cloak draped down from either shoulder. The rest was darkness, except for the left eye.
The left eye of this sentinel was a fiery crimson maelstrom that outlined the crags and hard lines of his face with a deep orange glow. It swirled frantically around a single, near-white point that moved as if the sentinel was watching through it, as if it could see.
Terror struck the man as he lay prone, heaving for breath. He tried desperately to pull himself upright on trembling limbs as deep growls came from immediately behind. The world spun; the white moon, the violet sky, the silhouetted tree line and the blazing red eye, and it was all too much for him.
The fleeing man lost consciousness.


Sigard Herl woke to the snap and pop of an open fire. The bitter cold of the snow was gone, replaced by waves of heat across his right side.
His eyes opened wide as he sat bolt upright and nearly shrieked in alarm. Hands were on him and faces loomed in his vision, pushing him back down, coupled with a myriad of voices, all telling him to relax, to calm down, that he was safe, that he was all right.
The world cleared and Herl saw he was in a low roofed room, littered with tables and chairs, lit subtly by a warm glow from a large hearth. A long bar opposite indicated it was the front room of an inn or tavern.
“Where am I?” he asked, and pushed himself up from the table.
A chubby, older woman with friendly eyes and her grey hair pulled back into a tight bun answered him.
“You’re safe now, dear.”
Herl looked at her indistinctly.
“Are you okay, friend?” a tentative voice asked from his left. Bewildered, Herl turned his head to see a man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties, dressed in a dark, thick fur jacket and waterproof leather trousers. A deep flush coloured his cheeks and nose, and his bloodshot eyes roved across Herl’s face. The drunken man put his hand reassuringly on Herl’s shoulder, causing him to recoil. Reeking, alcoholic breath flowed over him, and claustrophobia pressed about like layers of heavy tarpaulin.
“Give ‘im some room, Odelia,” a reedy voice said, “give ‘im some room.”
The older woman smiled reassuringly and stepped back, hands clasped together in front of her dress in a demure pose. The drunk gave Herl a friendly squeeze on the shoulder and joined Odelia.
“What’s yer name, stranger?” the reedy voice asked, and Herl saw a hoary old man, perched on a stool with his bandy legs apart, at the end of the bar.
Herl rubbed the side of his head with a hand as he swung his legs over the edge of the table.
“Sigard Herl. Most people call me Sig.”
The old man held a pipe in one hand, and puffed on it thoughtfully. Herl found his gaze discomforting, and watched the jaundiced old eyes as they watched him. Firelight danced and flickered on the swollen bulbs, and Herl noticed he could see the entire dark iris of each eye. Under curls of greasy white beard, the old man’s tobacco-stained lips split in a leer to reveal teeth so yellowed they were almost green, with black streaks in the grain and covering the gums.
Herl felt his eyes narrow and his face crease in automatic revulsion when the old man spoke.
“That’s a noble name, Sigard,” he laughed in a low wheeze. The old man puffed out clouds of smoke that drifted around his head like a polluted halo, and he began to cough deep in his chest.
“What’s yours?” Herl asked after the old man had recovered.
“Grenier. Pat Grenier. Tha’s my wife, Odelia,” he pointed a gnarled finger at the kindly looking older woman, who gave a small curtsy. “An’ this ‘ere is the Grenier Family Inn and Tack.”
“Family Inn and Tack?” Herl murmured to himself, and rubbed the back of his neck as he tried to work through his memories.
“M’ son, Jeromy, does the cooking,” Pat Grenier said, then turned on his stool and yelled “Jeromy!” at the door behind the bar. After a moment, the door swung open, and a tall man with a huge, unshaven double chin and a stained apron leant in. He gave Herl a smile that showed large, orderly teeth and raised his thick eyebrows in greeting, then turned his head towards the old man.
“Yes, Da?”
“Is there any o’ that stew left o’er, fer our new guest here?” Pat replied, nodding toward Herl.
Jeromy shook his head with dramatic slowness, setting off a series of languid ripples through the fat under his chin.
“No, but I cud make up some o’ the fish. We still got some bread left o’er.”
Pat Grenier nodded sagely, and drew on his pipe again. The embers glowed and he blew smoke rings out over the bar.
“Yar, that’s a good lad, go on now.”
Jeromy leant back into the kitchen and the door shut. Herl rubbed his aching face. He felt like he had run into a wall. The gash on his cheek burned, and when he took his hand away, he noticed it still bled.
“M’ daughter should be down soon, she’s jus’ doin’ ya up a bed for the night.” Pat Grenier said, and his eyes swivelled back to look at Herl, “She’s a good girl, Yvence is ‘er name. She always likes meetin’ the guests.”
Herl just nodded and went to push himself up off the table. The drunken man leant forward to help, and reached out with unthinking invasiveness. He grasped Herl’s upper arm and shoulder and pulled him up into a standing position.
“Hello, Torel’s the name, Detin Torel. I’m a trapper,” Torel said eagerly. He grasped a loose hand and shook it. “Would you like a drink? It’s on me, things have been pretty hectic around here tonight, and you look like you could use one.”
Herl’s brow knotted slightly, but he nodded, and Odelia scurried off around the tables and behind the bar.
“Brandy okay?” Torel asked, with an almost hollow laugh, “I hope so, because it’s the only decent drink they got.”
Herl nodded again, and then noticed the heavy form sat at a table in the far corner of the room. He took a step back, covering his mouth unconsciously in fear. Torel’s smiling face slowly took on a look of concern.
“What’s wrong, Sig?”
“You!” Herl hissed, and pointed at the man in the corner. He looked around frantically. Detin Torel swayed just a little too close, Odelia had frozen as she was about to pour his drink from a misty bottle, and Pat Grenier just leant his head back and his disgusting, mouldering teeth leered out from inside his beard. Smoke rose in fine tendrils from each nostril and from between the tombstones in his mouth.
“Do you not see him?” Herl gasped, as if the man in the corner was a demon, visible only to him, “Him of the red eye!”
Herl looked back to the hulking man. A rough-weaved shirt strained across his massive shoulders and his dark hair was greying and thinning on the crown. He did not turn to look at Herl, despite the commotion. Herl could not understand how a man with a ferocious, sorcerous demon eye could not be a point of interest, and then he saw a brown leather strap encircling his head, and realised the man was wearing a leather eye-patch.
Pat Grenier began to laugh his deep, wheezing laugh that developed into a hacking cough.
“His name is Dygan Kaerdric,” Odelia said in a quiet voice, “he saved you.”
A large sword lay next to a wide-brimmed hat on the table in front of Kaerdric. Over the back of his chair lay a large, shapeless coat. Dygan Kaerdric hunched over the sword, cleaning it carefully with a cloth. Black ichor coated the blade, and he took pains to remove it properly.
Herl swallowed and straightened up. Odelia came over with his glass of brandy, but he waved her politely away and walked steadily over to Dygan Kaerdric’s table.
He stood for a moment without acknowledgement.
“I want to thank you, for saving me--”
Dygan Kaerdric turned his head to look at Herl, and Herl found himself under Kaerdric’s intense regard. His single eye, the colour too dark for Herl to distinguish, narrowed dangerously, but he said nothing. Scars and breakages marked his face so deeply as to make it look as if beaten from stone by the bare hands of a destroyer god. Herl stepped back and raised his arms reflexively as his memory returned in an avalanche.
“Melia! Erin!” he cried as the dark, looming wolves dominated his mind’s eye.
“Who are they?” Torel asked as he took Herl’s arm and turned him around.
“My wife and daughter!” Herl snapped, and shook off Torel’s grasp.
“What’s wrong dear? Where are they?” Odelia asked. She looked worried, the fine lines across her plump cheeks deepened and darkened by the firelight.
“I--,” Herl began, but then swayed. Torel grasped Herl’s arm and lead him to a large leather chair sat opposite the fire. Herl sunk into it.
“What was it?” Odelia asked in a motherly voice.
Herl stared into the fire for a moment.
“I left them.”
The room was quiet again, except for the hiss and pop of the fire, which was starting to burn low.
“I let the wolves take them,” Herl began, “I saw them, I saw them carry them off, I have to go and find the wolves, to help--”
“They were not wolves,” Dygan Kaerdric said, in a voice as low and rumbling as a rockslide.
All eyes turned towards Kaerdric, who continued patiently to clean the blade of his sword.
“Er…what makes you say that?” Torel prompted after a moment’s silence.
“I injured two of them,” Kaerdric replied. The firelight from the hearth was down to a soft glow that barely lit four heavy, parallel scars on his left cheek.
Herl assessed Dygan Kaerdric, and the sword. The sword was almost two meters long, and clearly razor-sharp on each edge. He opened his mouth to speak, but Torel pre-empted him.
“Injured them?”
“If this is blood,” Kaerdric intoned, motioning to the black stains across the sword, “then it is not the blood of wolves.”
A thick dollop broke from the edge of the sword and landed with a splat on the hard wooden floor. It was mostly black, but speckled with patches of rugged crimson.
Torel took a slug of his brandy and set it on a near-by table. He stood for a moment, as if gathering his courage, and then went over to Dygan Kaerdric’s table. He knelt down, and inspected the droplet. Herl could see it cling to the man’s finger as he probed it, thick and viscous.
“I think…this is old blood,” he concluded. He wiped the dark-stained fingers on his furry tunic as he stood, and his bleary eyes scanned first Herl, Odelia and then Pat.
Pat Grenier grinned. His tongue slipped from his mouth like a separate organism and licked his lips slowly.
“The two I struck,” Dygan Kaerdric rumbled, “could not have lived. I would not have believed they could flee, except for seeing it with my own eyes.”
“Seems to me,” Pat Grenier said, chuckling as he put the pipe to one corner of his mouth, “is that ye were chased by min-yons of th’ Naara.”
Odelia gave a whimper, and put a hand to her mouth. Torel’s bloodshot eyes swivelled around toward the old man and the flush in his cheeks grew deeper. Dygan Kaerdric’s chair and leather coat creaked as he turned.
“Now Pat,” Odelia began, “You don’t mention that in polite company…”
Pat Grenier ignored his wife and took a long draw on his pipe. He gave them all a winning smile as smoke slowly escaped from his mouth and nose. His eyes never left Herl’s own.
“I don’t believe in such things,” Herl said.
“Don’t matter if ya do, do it now?” Pat Grenier grinned. He leant over the bar and upended his pipe, and knocked out the ashes with a wooden clunk.
They all watched him take a leather tobacco pouch from the bar and refill the bowl of his pipe.
Detin Torel cleared his throat.
“So, Sig…do you want that brandy now?”
“No!” Herl shouted at Torel, suddenly angry at his apparent lack of focus. “I have to find my wife and child!”
Herl stomped over to the table that had served as a makeshift berth and realised he had no other possessions. They must be in the snow, lying where they fell after he fled. He patted his right trouser pocket, and felt a lump.
“Sigard,” Torel said, catching Herl’s gaze for a moment, then looking away, “I’m sorry, but they’ll be…be…there won’t be any point, you’ll just…”
“They’re already dead, and if you go out there, you’ll be next,” Dygan Kaerdric finished, coldly.
Odelia took a few steps closer to Herl, and put a hand lightly on his forearm.
“I’m sorry, dear. This’ll be on the house, as well as the fish.” She smiled at him, and offered his glass. Herl took it with numb fingers, and then slouched back into one of the leather chairs opposite the fire.
“Were they big?” Pat Grenier asked, “Fer wolves, I mean.”
Herl did not respond for a long spell. He sat and drank slowly. The brandy burned pleasantly inside his throat and chest. Warmth flooded into his fingers and toes and made them tingle.
“Huge,” Herl said, distracted. He stared into the fire.
“Yar, tha’s what I thought. Them weren’t wolves; them were the barghests o’ th’ Naara. But at least yer inside now, eh?”
Herl grunted a response and silence dominated the room.
Dygan Kaerdric finished cleaning his sword and sheathed it in a scabbard strapped to his back. Odelia returned to the bar, and poured Pat another brandy as he refilled his pipe, and lit it with a acrid-smelling match. Detin Torel sat at a table and nursed his drink. His eyes were half-closed.
“What did ye take?” Pat Grenier asked, slowly spacing out each word so everyone in the bar could hear clearly.
Herl turned his head to look at the old man. Pat Grenier watched knowingly with wide, jaundiced eyes, pipe clenched between his disgusting teeth, wreathed in smoke. Herl realised the old bastard must be playing with him.
“I took nothing,” Herl replied in the same measured tone of voice, “I told you that I do not believe in the Naara.”
The old man’s big, bulging eyes were hypnotising. The firelight reflected of their wet surface, transfixing Herl. He thought the brandy must have been making the old man get to him.
A light thunk and snore signalled to Herl that Detin Torel was asleep at his table next to the bar. He still clutched his drink in his hand.
Jeromy came in holding a steaming plate of fish and two chunks of bread. He put them on a table next to Herl, who nodded his thanks, and Jeromy returned to the kitchen. Herl did not touch the food, despite its delicious aroma.
“Y’know, Sigard, the Naara don’t always kill,” Pat Grenier said, pronouncing each word carefully and somewhat losing his hick accent, “sometimes…sometimes it likes to take things in exchange for that which has been taken.”
Another wheezing laugh accompanied this, and Herl had to resist the urge to leap out of his chair and throttle Pat Grenier’s scrawny old chicken neck. He ground his teeth. How could that rotting old bastard tease him at a time like this?
“Ye may see them again,” Pat’s reedy, discomforting voice solemnly informed him.
“Shut up!” Herl screamed, and he was on his feet in an instant, pointing at the grinning Pat Grenier.
“Hey now, what have I just walked into?” an alluring female voice asked.
All eyes turned to see an attractive, but not beautiful, young woman enter the bar from the entrance to the second floor stairway. She wore a dress that did little to hide her curves, making her both voluptuous and alluring, and she knew it.
Yvence favoured Herl with a charming, disarming smile.
“I’ve made you a room up, I hope it will do,” she said and in one hand she held a needle and in the other, a spool of thread. “I got these ‘cause I heard you were hurt.”
“Yes,” Herl replied after a moment of surprise, “yes, my cheek.”
He stared at her dumbly for a moment, and then moved a hand up to touch the wound. His face growled in pain, despite the alcohol, and he winced. She winced in sympathy as his face began to bleed again.
“What happened?”
“Wolves,” Pat Grenier interjected, “big ones, ain’t that right, Sig?”
“Yes…yes,” he said, lamely.
“Sit down,” Yvence said in a stern, yet caring, tone, “and let me see what I can do about that cut. My name is Yvence, by the way.”
“Sigard,” Herl said and sat down obediently, in the same chair opposite the fire.
“Pass me your glass,” Yvence said, and Herl passed her the half-full glass of brandy. “Ready? Lean your head back.”
Her wide brown eyes roved across his face as she took in the extent of his injuries. She leaned in close. Herl could smell her perfume, and it made him think of his wife, the kind of perfume she used to wear when they were courting, in the strange, magical days of his youth.
Barely inches away, Yvence’s deep brown eyes suddenly focused on his own.
“Okay, you are a bit bruised, and I’m gonna have to stitch the cut. I can’t promise it won’t hurt,” she added with a wry smile.
“That’s okay. Thank you.”
“Okay, lean your head back; I’m going to pour some brandy into the wound to clean it. This might sting a little.”
Auburn liquid ran in thin rivulets down Herl’s cheek and neck to soak into his hair. He winced again.
“Sorry,” Yvence said, and she smiled pleasantly at him, “you might want to close your eyes now.” She raised the needle and thread.
Herl felt the needle nip the skin of his cheek, accompanied by a sharp pain that came from very far away. He felt the thread drawing unnaturally through his skin and realised this was the first time in his life he had ever had stitches. With his eyes still closed, he brought the brandy to his lips and drew deeply.
Yvence's fingertips, warm and soft, pressed against his face as she worked. The sharp pain of the needle dulled to become a distant ache as the alcohol took over. After a few moments, Herl could not even feel the thread sliding through his skin. He relaxed completely; the aches in his muscles soothed and the deep pain in his chest dulled until he found he could block out the faces of his family without even concentrating.
"Wake up, Sigard Herl!" Dygan Kaerdric suddenly roared, "Wake up!"
Herl blinked rapidly. A thickness clenched his stomach and made him weak. His cheek no longer hurt but the side of his neck burned. Confused, Herl looked around slowly, and wondered how long he had been unconscious. A warm weight pressed against his chest.
Pat Grenier was on his feet, a skinny shadow on one side of the bar, and shrieked in a high pitched, nasal tone "No, girl! No! It’s too soon! Ye blasted stupid girl!"
Herl looked down and realised Yvence lay intimately across his body, kneeling between his legs. He pushed her away in alarm, and felt a shearing tear and a sharp pinch on the side of his throat.
She fell back on her haunches, smiling with her big, brown, disarming eyes, and blood coated her mouth and chin like a beard. Between her lips, Herl saw a sliver of flesh disappear as she sucked it in and began to chew.
Horror overcame Herl’s disbelief as he put a hand to his neck. Raw pain shot out from the wet spots he touched, and he saw blood coating his fingers. He screamed and automatically jerked back in the chair.
Dygan Kaerdric was on his feet, and Herl had just enough time to glimpse him heading toward the old man as Yvence launched herself forward, smiling with her eyes and gnashing with her mouth, her hands hooked into talons.
Goggle-eyed, Herl lunged out with the only weapon he had: his brandy glass. He held it in his left hand as he drove it into the pretty girl's face, and it shattered. Glass sliced into his fingers as she tumbled back with a surprised yelp. Her hair flew around her head.
"Jeromy!" Pat Grenier screamed, and the kitchen door burst open. Jeromy stood forth with his great, idiot's grin plastered across his face, and a huge, thick meat cleaver in the other hand. The cleaver looked brand new, and the dimming, drowsy firelight reflected brightly off it.
"Coming, Da!" he bellowed and Herl saw him lumber forward and hack over-arm at Dygan Kaerdric. However, Kaerdric had the lightning-fast reflexes of a professional fighter, and caught the big man's hand in his own with a resounding slap. Kaerdric’s face was a stone mask as he sharply twisted Jeromy's wrist. A crack snapped around the room, but Jeromy's sick, killers grin did not waver, and he punched Kaerdric in the face with his unbroken hand.
Herl pressed his own hand to his neck, and tried to stem the blood he could feel flowing down his chest, paralysed with shock. Yvence looked up through a cascade of dark hair, coyly batting her eyes at him with vulgar glass shards protruding from her cheeks, lips, chin and forehead.
Blood poured from her face as she smiled and lunged again, leaping forward with both clawed hands at his face. She knocked his chair over backwards, which sent the adjacent table and the plate of fish flying, and sent both of them tumbling in a sprawl onto the bare wooden floor. Herl somehow managed to find himself on top, and pinned her arms with both hands.
"Kaerdric!" Herl shouted in panic over the commotion, "What's happening? Oh gods, what is bloody happening?"
"Kill her! They have already killed the drunk!"
Herl looked over to see Odelia raise a bloodstained iron tankard in both hands, above Detin Torel's head. Torel still lay on his table next to the bar, but now his arms splayed and red streaks covered the surface. Odelia's aged face creased into a grin of delight as she brought the tankard down with another heavy, wet thud. Detin Torel's body shuddered, but that was it.
“I didn’t even get your last name,” Yvence crooned, and he turned to look down at her, “are you sure this is an appropriate way to treat a lady?”
Her eyes were large, and sparkled through her crimson mask. The shards of glass moved and pulsed in and out of the open wounds on her face with each word. And she smiled.
Yvence uttered a loud, disparaging laugh, and swung her head up as if to smash Herl in the face with her own. Her hair lashed at him and blood whipped across Herl’s cheek. He could taste it on his lips. He pulled back and kept a tight grip on her arms, and in frustration, Yvence began to buck and kick under his body. She favoured Herl with a beautiful smile through a coat of blood, despite the tendons straining out of her neck, and the unhealthy flush in her skin.
“By all the unholy gods!” Herl screamed. The girl was strong, and he was weakening from the open wound on his neck.
“Come on, honey,” she purred, and viciously thrust her hips up towards his, “this is what you want, isn’t it? I saw the way you looked at me.”
Herl’s stomach heaved and he thought he might vomit. His long hair whipped from side to side as he looked around desperately for a weapon.
Yvence heaved with more vigour as she felt less resistance from him; sweat stood out on Herl’s forehead and glittered in the firelight.
Suddenly, he spotted a wooden doorstop, lying under a table within arm’s reach.
Yvence rolled her pelvis against his, constantly cooing and purring promises of lurid delights. Herl saw the jagged shards of the glass bob as she spoke and fluttered her eyelids at him, and he could feel the murderous tension in her muscles as he gripped her arms. His left hand screamed at him.
As they struggled, Herl could hear the sounds of fighting from behind. Dygan Kaerdric must be fighting with Jeromy, he thought. Pat Grenier cawed in mirth, over Odelia's frantic laughter and Jeromy's low drones.
Herl lunged for the doorstop, but it was just out of reach. With a hand now free, Yvence gave a triumphant shriek of laughter and bucked ferociously. She reached up and savagely dug her fingers into the masticated flesh at the side of his neck.
Herl screamed.
"Yeah, you like that!" Yvence cackled, and threw her head back.
Pain roared through Herl’s mind, clouding his vision and reducing all thought to one-word mantra: kill. His mouth hung open as he lunged forward, grasped the solid wood brick in his hand, and reared back.
Yvence just grinned and gouged deeper, eliciting another hoarse cry, and Herl smacked the heavy block squarely into her face.
Glass crunched.
"Ohhh!" Yvence exclaimed in a muffled moan, and at the same time thrust her hips up perversely towards Herl, "Again! Again!"
Revulsion gripped Herl and he reared back for a more powerful blow. Blood splattered and broken glass ground into her face with each sharp crack, but Yvence gave a hysterical, full-throated laugh, each time thrusting up, until she eventually lay still.
Herl tumbled to the side, and vomited.
He rolled onto his back, with his injured hand curled into a ball on his stomach. The doorstop dropped from his fingers. Herl lay against a table leg and recovered his breath in huge gulps. A fire consumed his left hand, his throat and nose burned from vomit, and deep shoots of pain grew from his neck down into his chest.
Herl watched, dazed, as Dygan Kaerdric belted Jeromy across the face with the back of his hand. The leather eye patch was askew on his forehead, and the blazing red eye roared with light. Jeromy staggered back comically from the blow and Kaerdric spun as he drew his sword. The red-eyed man sliced through Jeromy's neck, severing his head from his body.
Jeromy's obese face grinned at Herl as it fell, and blood shot up in waves. It poured in a crimson deluge down over his apron, and Jeromy's huge body fell with a short baritone thud.
Pat and Odelia Grenier both lay out of sight from Herl, obscured by tables. A swift down-stroke abruptly cut off Odelia's laugh and the red eye glowed so bright it looked as if it would explode.
"Ye demon, ye bloody-eyed demon!" Pat Grenier cursed. His gnarled hand grasped the top of a table with a slap.
Dygan Kaerdric turned slowly to face the old man, and then hacked down sharply. Blood sprayed up in droplets.
Unable to cope with the unbearable stench of his own regurgitation mixed with the girl’s blood, Herl pushed himself up. Yvence’s lifeless hand brushed his knee as he stood, and revulsion shook his limbs so suddenly and terribly he thought he might fall.
He staggered to his feet. Herl turned his head and looked directly away from the girl’s corpse. He could see dots of blood creating a trail back towards Yvence’s head. Tiny shards of glass twinkled yellow in the light of the dying fire.
“Sigard Herl,” Dygan Kaerdric said.
Herl looked at him. Kaerdric had re-adjusted the eye patch, much to Herl’s relief, to cover his fiery eye.
“Are you all right?”
Herl blinked. He stared at Kaerdric’s cliff-like face; his one normal dark eye, the network of heavy scars and crags, his crooked nose, short dark hair and the four claw-like grooves on his left cheek.
“No. I’m a murderer.”
“Killing in self defence is not murder,” Kaerdric promptly replied. “How badly are you injured?”
Herl held up his trembling left hand. Blood dripped freely from it. His neck ached and burned each time he moved his right arm. Herl had never felt so much pain in his life. His heart still raced.
“I think I’m going to die a coward.”
With a minor flourish, Kaerdric produced a dark rag from a pocket, and wiped the blade of his sword clean.
“What makes you think that?” Kaerdric asked at length.
Herl slumped onto a wooden chair knocked askew in the struggle, and tried not to look at Yvence’s body.
“I’m bleeding…I feel faint.”
“Then get some bandages,” Kaerdric replied, and motioned to the kitchen. Kaerdric examined Detin Torel’s body, still slumped over his table where Odelia had killed him. Herl could see the dented and deformed iron mug, covered in his blood, lying on its side near the fire.
Herl said nothing as he got up and walked toward the bar. He slipped on Jeromy’s blood, but did not fall, and brought a hand to his mouth to repress the urge to vomit again.
“Ignore it,” Kaerdric said without rancour, “just treat it like a dead animal, and walk around.”
“Is Detin dead?” Herl asked.
“God…” Herl moaned. He carefully stepped over Jeromy’s headless corpse and checked behind the bar. A tub of clean rags occupied one end of the darkness under the bar, next to a tub of dirty rags. Shelves, laden with glasses, filled the remaining space. Herl pulled out two long, ragged swathes of cloth. He wrapped his bleeding left hand with teeth clenched, and tied the other around his neck and down across his body, under his left arm.
“What do we do now?” Herl asked.
“Are you a religious man?” Kaerdric said.
Herl stared at him for a moment.
“Follower of Eroth all my life. You?”
“No. I passed a chapel on my way in.”
“Then why do you want to go there?”
“Because preachers are often healers. We need to find some torches. I’ll collect any in here and upstairs, you check the kitchen and pantry.”
Herl opened the kitchen door, and stopped.
Painted in old gore across the wall on his left, in giant, jagged lettering above the worktop was:


Herl stared at the message for some time.
"What's wrong?" Kaerdric asked.
"I think," Herl said, and pointed, "that this has something to do with the Naara. Does it mean anything to you?"
“I think everything that is wrong here has something to do with the Naara,” Kaerdric stated and walked carefully around the bodies to follow Herl into the kitchen. It was dirty; dry, brown streaks in the form of handprints covered the walls, grime infested every nook and open crates of food were an obvious invitation for rats. Stuffy cloaks and coats hung on a selection of pegs between two small torches set against the far stone wall to their right, next to a rickety door, opposite the graven message.
Kaerdric's eye narrowed and Herl saw it flicker back and forth across the words, sweeping rapidly from left to right, and back again.
"No, that means nothing to me," he said at last, and pushed past Herl to check the kitchen.
"Wait a minute," Herl said, and grasped Kaerdric's arm through his shirt to stop him. Fear darted down his spine as a realisation hit him. This man with the magical demon eye and scarred face was obviously a killer. In Herl’s opinion, this man looked like he had killed many people. However, he had saved Herl at least once, probably twice, and if the red-eyed man wanted him dead, it would be little trouble for Kaerdric to strike him down now. Somehow, this reasoning reassured Herl.
"You can't read it, can you?" He asked.
Dygan Kaerdric pulled back and straightened up. He looked at Herl through his single visible, narrowed eye. The muscles on either side of his mangled cheeks clenched. Worried that he may have gone too far, Herl released his grip.
Kaerdric turned away and stalked to the barrels and crates below the torches opposite, and began to rummage.
"It says 'in Geleddoth's garden darkness wakes'," Herl said.
Kaerdric grunted.
"Does it mean anything to you?" Herl prompted.
"I do not care for the meaning of messages made in blood by the insane."
A short glance at Herl's pale face caused Kaerdric to stop rummaging.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I think my wife and child are still alive," Herl stated. He stared into the middle distance.
"What makes you think that?"
"Something about that old man, something he said," Herl replied, "'You may see them again'. I keep hearing it in my head."
"Is it a quiet whisper?"
Herl's eyes flared.
"Yes! Yes, I can hear it as if it were on the edge of my vision!"
"You can hear it, but not quite hear it," Kaerdric stated.
"Exactly!" Herl enthused, excited by the prospect of not having gone mad, “You hear it too!”
Kaerdric nodded and pointed at the coats hanging on the wall.
“Take a few of those, its cold outside and we will have to move fast. If you collapse, then you are done.”
“Dygan,” Herl said as he sorted through the coats, “there are coats that probably wouldn’t fit anyone here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, we aren’t the first.”
Kaerdric nodded, and took his small bundle of torches back into the common room.
As repulsive as he found it, Herl layered himself properly with a coat and a cloak. The faint whisper on the edge of hearing, like a faraway breeze, became more insistent. It begged and pleaded without words, cajoled and threatened, it wanted what Herl had taken and offered to return to him that which he most desired: his family.
A shiver momentarily wracked him, and when he turned to flee the kitchen, Jeromy’s severed head, with its wide-open eyes and manic grin, greeted him from just inside the door. Herl shrieked in surprise and barged through into the bar, without thinking how the head might have ended up there.


They went out into the night. Large clouds hung motionlessly in the sky and the moon shone down between them like an eye through a knothole.
The village was silent. Sigard Herl and Dygan Kaerdric walked swiftly through the empty streets. They passed looming wooden houses that seemed to stare with empty eye sockets instead of darkened windows. Snow crunched underfoot and the cold bit into Herl’s injuries like a carnivore. In his head, Herl could hear Pat Grenier’s last words in a whispered loop in his mind: “Ye may see them again.”
A church of Eroth formed ahead, a shade among shadows, its bell-tower striking black against the sooty sky like an ominous beacon. Kaerdric strode to the small double doors and rapped hard. The deep knocks sounded loud in the silence of the night, and Herl scanned the motley collection of buildings with fearful eyes.
No answer.
Kaerdric knocked again, harder.
No answer.
He hammered the door repeatedly with the base of his fist, and Herl began to tremble, certain that at any time he would see the first monstrous shadow break from the darkness of a building and race along the moonlit street towards him.
“Who is it?” a muffled voice called from beyond the church doors.
“Travellers, seeking aid,” Kaerdric replied in a raised voice.
“Go to Pat’s inn and come back in th--”
“We cannot! Please, one of us has been attacked and is injured, we need help now!” Kaerdric boomed.
“They can help at--”
“Please, father! The Naara searches for us!”
A bolt on the other side of the door slid back, and the door opened a crack.
“What did you say?”
A small man, with wiry white hair extending from his head like a corona, stood before Kaerdric. His face showed the weight of years in long deep lines from his nose down to the corners of his mouth. He wore a long brown nightshirt, and held a half-melted candle in one hand.
Kaerdric looked down on him, and his craggy face formed into what must have been a smile. He indicated behind to Herl.
“Please father,” Kaerdric repeated, “we need aid.”
He slowly, but forcefully, pushed the door open. The old priest staggered back a couple of steps, and mumbled a subdued welcome.
Herl lurched in.
The old priest walked around the circumference of the room, lighting other candles with his own. Herl realised he was standing in the main hall of the chapel. It was so small it did not have an antechamber, only a door leading to the priest’s quarters and a door at the far end to reach the belfry.
Six wooden pews arranged in two rows lined the room and faced a small podium at the front. Herl staggered to the first pew and collapsed into it. His head swam.
The old priest returned with a leather bag. Herl stripped off the coats and lay back with a wince.
“I’m Father Torel,” he said.
Herl froze. Father Torel looked up from the bag and pulled out a wad of gauze and a small wooden box. Herl tried to speak, but his voice caught in his throat. He coughed.
“Sigard Herl,” he said, “and that’s Dygan Kaerdric.” He nodded towards Kaerdric, who stood by impassively.
“What’s wrong?” Father Torel asked.
Herl swallowed.
“What happened to you?” Father Torel continued after a moment, “Are these bite marks on your neck?”
The candlelight danced across Herl’s sweating brow. Father Torel looked at him with a mix of bewilderment and concern. Over his shoulder Herl saw Dygan Kaerdric staring, arms crossed.
Father Torel shrugged and began to dress Herl’s injuries. Herl growled in pain and his knuckles whitened on the pew as the priest applied a toxic-smelling balm to his neck. He raised his left hand and Father Torel did the same to his fingers.
“Tell me what happened. It will keep your mind off the pain.”
“It happened at the inn,” Herl began, and winced, “but it started before that. I was travelling from New Alderton to Vilanoth Anor, on business--”
“What do you do?” Kaerdric interrupted.
“I’m a scribe. I was delivering three copies of a book to a scholar there, and since I was going on such a long trip, I decided to bring my wife and daughter. It-it was going to be a holiday,” Herl finished. His voice wavered before his self-control broke. Tears flooded down each cheek.
Father Torel and Dygan Kaerdric said nothing. Both watched Herl with respectful silence while he composed himself. Father Torel took a bandage from his bag and drew out a long strip.
“T-the day before we left, a letter was delivered to my home. It was quite odd, because I normally had them delivered to the library, where I work. It was a letter from my Uncle John, asking me to come and see him as soon as possible at his manor in Lororn. It wasn’t too far out of the way, so we did.
“The place was bleak, and when we reached the mansion the only people there were us, my uncle, and a manservant of his. It was so strange, but he said he wanted to speak to me about writing a will, and that I would be generously included.”
Herl paused for breath. Father Torel took this moment to wrap the bandage around his neck, pinning the gauss over the disgusting yellow paste.
“Our coach driver, James, remarked how he didn’t like the old manor or the look of the town in general. The people we passed driving in looked dour, and stared at us like they had never seen strangers before.
“I wrote up the will, and my uncle bade us to stay for the night. Melia wanted to rest, and Erin was already fast asleep in her arms, but there was something that made me desperately want to leave.
“So we made arrangements to depart, and my uncle retired. His manservant was a strange man whose name I can’t quite remember, but he smiled frequently, and seemed to always be where you wanted him to be before you summoned him. He had a strange grin, and before I left, after James had attached the horses, he came to me and pressed something into my palm, and told me that it was a personal gift for my services, and that it would protect me on my journey.”
Dygan Kaerdric started.
“He smiled at me so…strangely,” Herl continued, “and I didn’t want to take it…but I had to. I didn’t want to take it.”
Kaerdric’s one dark eye flared at Herl and he growled “Malachai.”
“I think that was his name, actually,” Herl said. “Do you know him?”
His neck ached and after a moment’s silence, Father Torel tied off the bandage and packed components back into his bag.
“What did he give you?” the old priest asked, probably to break the silence.
“I don’t know,” Herl said, and reached into the pocket of his trousers, “this.”
Father Torel lurched backward and fell against a pew to his rear. He scrabbled around it, and drew deep, ragged breaths.
"A Belocolus stone!” he managed, “Get that cursed thing out of this house!"
Herl and Kaerdric stared at the preacher as he clutched at his chest. A deathly pallor drained Father Torel's face and his mouth hung limp. Herl looked down at the white, spherical stone in his hand. In the centre was a small, black, painted dot. Unusual as it was, Herl did not feel threatened by it.
"W-what is it, father?" Herl asked.
"Get out!" Father Torel hissed and his eyes bulged so wildly Herl thought they might burst from their sockets, "Just get out!"
Herl rose and pulled on the salvaged coats.
"Father," Kaerdric said, "you must tell us what you know. What is the Naara?"
The old priest hustled them towards the small double doors of the church.
"Just go, go, they can help you at the inn," he said.
"They are all dead at the inn, Father," Dygan Kaerdric replied slowly. Father Torel stopped.
Kaerdric and Herl turned to face him, and Herl saw the old man trembling furiously.
"They are all dead," Kaerdric repeated.
"Was there a man there," Father Torel asked quickly, and stumbled over his words, "a-a man, dressed in furs, a good man, he has dark hair and--"
"Detin has passed on, father," Kaerdric said in monotone.
Father Torel inhaled sharply. "My son..."
"I'm sorry, father, but he was killed by the family that ran the inn, and we killed them."
The old priest no longer blinked, and his eyes shone in the candlelight with unshed tears. He gazed up into the middle distance between the pair and his lips worked slowly, as if he were struggling with the concept.
"I'm sorry," Herl said, echoing Kaerdric, "but we need to know about the Naara. We think it made the Greniers attack us."
"Yes...maybe it did. The Naara is an evil so old it makes the land look young. The hand of man shall not harm it."
"I have heard," Kaerdric began, "of monsters so terrible and unholy that they can be vanquished only by a sanctified weapon or one pure of faith."
Father Torel said nothing.
Herl's eyes flicked to Kaerdric, who returned his glance.
"Do you have anything like that around here, father?" Herl asked.
The old priest stared up above the door of his church as if experiencing an epiphany. They followed the gaze of the old priest's red-rimmed eyes.
Above the door hung a large cruciform sword.
The blade was long and straight, double-edged and tapered into a fine point. The sword's crosspiece extended from a reverse-hourglass shaped handle. The blade sucked in the dull candlelight and held it, so the entire silver sword seemed to simmer with golden light.
"Where did you get that?" Dygan Kaerdric asked in a low, reverential voice.
Herl simply stared at the sword.
"A prophet," Father Torel murmured, "he built this church and died here. He was the reason I became a priest."
Kaerdric favoured Herl with a grizzled smile that bunched his cheeks into pitted rocks.

2007-11-27, 06:58 PM

They arrived at the place where the wolves attacked Herl's coach. Snow crunched underfoot and branches snapped as they made their way out onto the path. The canopy of trees on either side of the road split in the middle so the great eye of the night shone down, illuminating the scene.
The carriage lay on its side in dark bushes, its wheels broken and twisted. The mangled carcasses of the two horses were frost-covered mounds and gore hung from the surrounding trees, staining the ethereal blue snow with horrific black trails. They found both horses disembowelled, their intestines draped wildly across branches and over bushes, and the air stank of death.
"Oh gods--" Herl said, and raised a hand to his mouth to prevent from retching.
Kaerdric surveyed the scene slowly, eye-patch gone, and his evil prosthetic eye smouldered within its socket. He seemed unmoved by what he saw.
"The trail leads this way," he said, and pointed to obvious black patches of blood that lead back along the road.
"Oh gods, they’re dead, they're dead..." Herl moaned, "They have to be dead, look at all the blood! They--"
"Compose yourself."
Herl swallowed slowly, and raised his head. He lifted the sanctified sword with both hands, as it was too heavy for him to lift with one. His left hand was now only a dull ache, thanks to the yellow paste from Father Torel.
“Should we light a torch?” Herl asked.
“No, it will ruin your night vision. Save them for when there is no light at all. Now come, I think we must hurry," Kaerdric stated and stalked down along the path. The sound of his footsteps scraped and crunched loudly in the silence of the night.
"You should take the sword, please," Herl pleaded, "I can't use it."
"If I take your sword you will have nothing."
"I could use yours--"
"No. You are the one the Naara has chosen, you are the one with a stolen talisman and you are the one who fled like a coward and left your family to die. The burden is yours," Kaerdric intoned, and the red eye glared from underneath Kaerdric’s wide-brimmed hat. Herl balked at his words, and his gaze, and they carried on.
"Why are you coming with me, Dygan?"
“I thought you didn’t follow Eroth?” Herl persisted.
“I don’t.”
They followed the trail of blood along the road, where it disappeared into a wall of bushes. Beyond this, an old footpath wound into the forest. They went in single file, Kaerdric first.
Time ceased to have meaning to Herl. His mind whirled and he ground his teeth to focus. His life had always been so plain. Images of the dusty tomes lining the walls of his study rushed back to him, of countless late nights, lit only by candlelight, and the familiar smells of fresh and ancient paper.
Reality hit him like a hammer and stripped away everything comfortable and reliable from his life. Branches whipped his face, his wounds ached, his feet were sodden and cold, he found his breath stolen by exertion and the dark hand of fear tightened its grip around his guts. The pervasive night seeped in and made him feel vulnerable and weak, almost unable to lift the sword they had taken from Father Torel's church. They had left the old priest in tears.
Sigard Herl and Dygan Kaerdric emerged down from a hill in the forest to find themselves on the threshold of a huge, forgotten graveyard.
A crumbling wall decorated with rusted wrought-iron railings surrounded a collection of tombstones and monuments. Thin, elaborate metal spires shot up towards the moon and tombs the size of small buildings loomed black in the half-light. Gargoyles watched down from on high as the pair gazed at the labyrinth laid out before them. A thin coat of lavender snow blanketed every raised surface, and clumps of dead grass broke the unblemished layer on the ground.
“Where are we?” Herl asked, in awe.
“I don’t know,” Kaerdric replied, “look at the sky.”
Herl looked up.
“What am I looking for? Clouds, a gap through which the moon is shining--”
“Look at the clouds.”
Herl did.
“I don’t see--”
“They are not moving.”
The clouds hung motionless. The more he studied them, the more Herl came to realise there was absolutely no movement at all, as if the sky was a painted canvass, a scene frozen in time. It sent a shiver racing down his back.
“Let’s go,” Kaerdric said, and walked down towards the gates. The gates were also made of black iron, rendered in twists, and they stood open.
Herl hurried down after him, and caught up as they walked into the silent cemetery. The noise of their passage carried loudly through the wide, empty walkways, and Herl brandished the holy sword in his hands with vigour. Skeletal trees intermittently punctuated each side of the path and clawed up at the moon to create a network of fine lines across it. The graveyard seemed beyond time, the gravestones so old almost all vestiges of engravings were completely gone.
“Why is it not overgrown?” Herl asked.
Kaerdric looked at the tombs and graves briefly.
“I don’t know. I don’t know much about the plants you have here,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
Herl watched Dygan Kaerdric. The red eye smouldered and dimmed so it hardly glowed at all.
“I come from a city where all is darkness,” Kaerdric eventually answered. “We did not have plants like these. We did not even have daylight.”
For a moment, Herl just stared. He wondered what kind of city was eternally dark, and what kind of man it might breed. Fear tore at his strength, turning his stomach to jelly, and he wondered for the first time what he was doing in the middle of the night, lost in the wilderness with a man like this.
“You’ve killed people, haven’t you?”
The red eye glowed brighter, but Kaerdric’s face betrayed no emotion.
“A lot of people,” Herl guessed, and saw his own hands tremble as they held his sword low.
“Maybe,” Kaerdric conceded.
“Did they deserve it?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Herl wished he could take them back. The demonic eye set in a face of rock did not blaze into a ferocious furnace at his provocation, as he expected, but instead swirled faster and maintained a deep crimson lustre.
“Most of them,” Kaerdric said, “let’s go.”
He stalked off, accompanied by thin crunches and cracks from the snow. Herl shivered and looked back towards the gates, and the darkness of the forest beyond. He could run, he could turn and sprint now, back to the town. He could drop the stone and run at full flight through the forest. Father Torel would let him in again, surely, and he could stay in the house of a god for the night, until morning, and get the first coach out—
Two shining points of reflected moonlight watched Herl from the shadows. He drew in a breath that was little more than a ragged gasp, and sprinted deeper into the maze of graves.
He caught up with Kaerdric as he rounded a tall tomb, topped with a statue of a weeping angel. A gnarled guardrail entrapped her and Herl felt a ridiculous stab of pity as he passed.
“What’s wrong?” Kaerdric said, as he approached.
“I think--”
He stopped. He could hear something faint, something far-off. Something familiar. Herl froze. He wanted to tell Kaerdric about the shadow in the darkness he had just seen, but a faint noise on the edge of his hearing held him.
"What’s wrong?" Kaerdric asked again.
"Erin!" Herl suddenly screamed. He whirled on his heel and sprinted down between rows of grey tombs, roughly the height of a man. They raced passed as he accelerated. He carried the sword taken from the holy man in one hand, and the tip bounced and scraped carelessly. The agonized weeping of a child drew him faster. The closer and louder it became the more certain he was that it belonged to Erin, his daughter. Kaerdric's voice faded as he ran. Herl knew he should mention the wolves, but he did not.
The row of tombs gave way to a small, open quadrant, roughly thirty foot square. Crumbling monuments lined pathways that lead away towards each point of the compass.
If Herl entered from the west, the crying came directly from the east. Spellbound, he stared along the short, darkened path, and saw the moonlight vaguely illuminate a large, baroque mausoleum. An archway, framed by pillars and guarded by gargoyles, lead into darkness.
The moon watched on impassively and the fragmented, uneven shapes of the walls betrayed Herl's eyes. Except, Herl realised, they did not.
"Sigard Herl," Kaerdric said, from behind him.
Herl turned to see the red eye emerge from the darkness covering the west path. Kaerdric held his sword drawn.
"I know where to go now, I think," Herl said steadily.
Kaerdric nodded towards the mausoleum, and stepped forward. Herl tightened his grip on his sword. The pain in his neck, hand and cheek had gone.
"Good luck, Sigard," Kaerdric said.
Herl stood still for a few moments more. Kaerdric cocked his head to one side.
"I'm afraid," Herl admitted, and looked over his shoulder at the mausoleum.
"That is only normal."
"Are you?" Herl said, and looked back at Kaerdric.
His breath crystallized in front of his face as the first of the shadows within shadows stirred. Eyes watched them in silence.
Kaerdric raised his sword slowly, and moonlight slid along the blade as if it were a mirror made from silk.
"Hurry along."
"I can't," Herl said, and his voice quavered, "I'll die. The Naara waits for me."
"At least you won't die a coward," Kaerdric growled.
Herl answered with silence. In his pocket, he could feel the stone given to him by his uncle’s manservant. It warmed his leg against the cold, and he knew it was because he was close.
“I know why you’re here, you know,” Herl said, “your atonement is to yourself, isn’t it?”
“Maybe,” Kaerdric conceded.
“For all the people you killed, right?”
Kaerdric stopped, and turned to face Herl. He gave a slight smile.
“Most of them,” Kaerdric said, "You need to go, Sigard."
Kaerdric stepped purposefully into the centre of the quadrant. The barghests of the Naara formed in the shadows like nightmares and slunk low in the darkness.
Herl glanced at Kaerdric, and the red eye blazed back at him.
"Dygan..." he said.
"Flee now, Sigard, it's time for you to go. Save your wife and child."
Child-like cries and whimpers rung loud in Herl’s ears but sounded as if from memory, and rose to become a deafening incantation, begging him please, please Daddy, come and save me, please!
Herl glanced back at Dygan Kaerdric before heading toward the mausoleum. When he reached the mausoleum’s threshold, he paused and looked back.
The big man held his sword in one hand. His hat shadowed the side of his face that Herl could see, but the dull glow of his devil's eye shone out clearly.
The barghests lurked around him, growling softly, ominously. They crawled along the darkened tombs and gravestones, and waited between dead trees, ready to strike.
"Go, Sigard," Kaerdric said, "I will hold them here."
Herl fled into darkness as the growls turned to roars.


The torch flared, spurred by a sulphurous, alchemical powder.
Light pierced Herl's eyes and he nearly dropped the torch in surprise at the unexpected initial flash and fizz.
It sank to an undulating flicker and illuminated the ancient, crumbling walls of the mausoleum. He closed his eyes and counted backward from ten, until the taught string that was vibrating deep in his stomach subsided.
Herl had ran until the barks and crashes of combat faded under the sound of his own pounding feet. In the darkness, he had slammed into walls, tripped over detritus and skidded on wet, coppery-smelling patches in his primal need to be away from the battle. The terrifying, snarling noises from the wolves pushed him on until he was alone and drowning in an ocean of darkness.
Herl put the tinderbox back into his trouser pocket, transferred the torch to his left hand, and picked up the sword in his right. It was far too heavy for him to wield with one hand. Pragmatically, he looked around for a way to carry the torch and avail himself the use of both hands on the weapon.
Herl stood in a ten-foot wide corridor. It stretched off into pitch-blackness, both forward and behind. A look over his shoulder confirmed the wolves were not upon him and, under his breath, he prayed to Eroth to keep Dygan Kaerdric safe in his journey through the Void, as that surely was what would happen to the man after the wolves devoured him. The torch gave off a weak sigh as it burned, and Herl realised all else was silence.
He glanced furtively around, but the corridor was bare, save for the dust of centuries. There was nothing else for it; he would have to throw the torch down to use the sword, when the time came. Herl nearly laughed at himself.
The walls fell away and he felt a sudden sense of space. He held the torch up, but its dim light faded a dozen paces ahead, and revealed only cracked and dusty floor tiles.
A sudden chill rippled along Herl’s spine and it was there, a ghoulish nightmare from beyond death, appearing to have just clawed its way out of the netherworld. It smashed his hand before he could react, and the sword of a prophet skittered off into darkness. Herl fell back onto the floor and cried out at the stinging pain in his wrist. The torch threw wild shadows as it tumbled from his other hand, and Herl cowered back as a dark form took shape and materialized from the blackness.
The Naara loomed over Herl and drew the shadows forth with it. A terrible and ancient face topped a body wracked by bones, clothed only in dark rags. Skeletal charms and talismans hung from long arms, wrapped around wrists that terminated in talons.
Worst of all to Herl was its eyes. The face and body were dead, so cracked and desiccated as to appear sterile, but its eyes were alive. The monster’s eyes were so wildly slick and vital that, in the half-light, they almost seemed to pulse. Blackened veins coalesced across jaundiced balls into tiny pupils, as to give the horror a penetratingly inhuman gaze. And worst of all, it gazed upon him.
Words left him, and suddenly Sigard Herl realised he was alone, and this was the end.
Strange warmth pressed against his thigh. It increased in intensity until it was hot enough to pierce through Herl’s gut-wrenching terror. The Belocolus stone!
He lunged into his pocket with the numb hand the Naara had slapped, and felt a sudden jolt of power run up his arm as his fingers closed around the stone. Herl jerked, pulled his hand free, and held the stone aloft. It shed its own pale light, and the Naara's bulging eyes locked onto it with a sudden ferocity. It took a step forward and raised its arms, and the monster's claw-like fingers clutched at the air in vain. But it did not close the few precious remaining feet between them.
Emboldened, Herl rose unsteadily to his feet.
"W-where is my family?" Herl stuttered.
A long hiss emanated from the creature's toothless mouth, and the cracked skin at either corner twitched slightly. Herl realised with horror that it was trying to smile.
“Is this what you want?" Herl asked, and brandished the Belocolus stone. Hysteria raised his voice an uncomfortable octave. "What's so special about this?"
The Naara said nothing. It weaved back and forth, as if swaying to the rhythm of a beat beyond Herl's hearing.
"Where is my family!" Herl screeched. He took a step forward, and the Naara took a step back. Herl took another step. Once more, the Naara retreated.
Without warning, jets of flame shot up from brass braziers, far back in the darkness. The rear wall of this cavernous room glowed and illuminated a stone altar.
A woman lay motionless upon it.
“Melia! Oh Melia, Melia!” Herl jabbered, and instinctively surged forward. The Naara hissed sharply, but gave ground as Herl sprinted across the massive chamber, towards the altar.
It was his wife. She lay in a peaceful repose, with arms at her sides. Her face, still as beautiful as he would always remember it, appeared calm.
Herl could not bring himself to look down along her body. The white gown darkened at the waist; on the edge of his vision, he could see it torn and shredded. Strange lumps and bulges trailed out and hung down toward the floor. Herl knew, in a remote way, of sorcerous practises like this, such as the diabolical divination of the past, present or future from entrails. In his time, he had transcribed many kinds of books for very obscure clients. These jobs paid the most handsomely.
“Oh Melia, my melodic Melia…sing for me, please, sing for me my love, like on the lake, my precious, melodic Melia…”
Tears flowed freely, and he clutched the Belocolus stone with fervour. He wept openly over his wife’s corpse, only peripherally aware of the cold presence of the Naara, drifting just outside of the stone’s protective aura.
Slowly, Herl came to realise he did not cry alone. Tiny, restrained sobs came from the other side of the altar. He lifted his head and wiped his face with the back of his hand, and then sniffed. The sobs became whimpers, and he slowly rounded the altar to see a small, thin child in a dirt-stained dress, sat with her back to the altar. She stared straight ahead with wide brown eyes and thin trails of blonde hair hung down against her cheek.
“Erin!” Herl whispered.
The little girl’s head twitched slightly towards him, but her eyes stared vacantly into the distance.
“Yes, sweetheart, I’m here!” Herl gushed. He rushed forward, and pulled her up in his arms. He held her against his body protectively and brandished the Belocolus stone. Erin’s restrained sobs released in a torrent, and she bawled against her father’s shoulder as he stared into the tormenting eyes of the Naara. Herl realised that he had purpose.
He gave the monster a wide berth as he carried Erin away from the altar. The torch burned low near the exit, and the urge to drop the stone and flee was all but overpowering, but Herl feared turning his back to the Naara, and so he walked slowly back toward the corridor.
The Naara hissed and wailed silently at him. It floated just above the floor, and kept to the edge of the dim light from the Belocolus stone. Erin trembled in fear against him. She was quiet now, and he clutched her tightly with one arm.
They reached the exit, and Herl set Erin down. She grasped at his shirt and stared away from the Naara as Herl bent down to pick up the torch. The flame sputtered and flapped back into life as new air circled around it.
“I know you want this,” Herl said, his voice steady as he raised the Belocolus stone.
The Naara stared in ominous silence and Herl nearly lost his nerve. He threw the stone over-arm at the monster, scooped Erin up, and ran.

Surfing HalfOrc
2007-11-27, 07:49 PM
I'll give you the same advice I gave another writer...

White Space is your friend! Your writing is fine, but reading it is a bear! Break up the wall of text a bit more. A gap between each paragraph makes things flow so much better.

There are some structuring problems in the beginning, but the conversation sections are very good. Try breaking each section into page length posts. The ones you have are three to four pages at a go.

Keep it up. Writing, like drawing, takes lots of practice to get smooth.

2007-11-28, 12:51 AM
Four words for you : Good work, spoiler it!

2007-11-28, 10:59 AM
Four words for you : Good work, spoiler it!

I'm not familiar with the term "spoiler it", but I'd guess you mean put a description in the title or a prefacing paragraph...if so, I wouldn't know what to say that is appealing enough!

White space is my friend...but lazyness lends me money and lets me crash on his couch.

Thanks for reading, and the constructive criticism!


Surfing HalfOrc
2007-11-28, 11:35 AM
I'm not familiar with the term "spoiler it", but I'd guess you mean put a description in the title or a prefacing paragraph...if so, I wouldn't know what to say that is appealing enough!

White space is my friend...but lazyness lends me money and lets me crash on his couch.

Thanks for reading, and the constructive criticism!


Spoiler means to put spoiler tags around your text, so it doesn't eat up such a large section of the post block when your writing is inside of the spoiler tags.

You do it by typing [spoiler ] Then type your text, followed by [/spoiler ]

Remove the space between the "r" and the "]" bracket to make it work. You can "spoiler" individual pages, so your reader can read a section, close the tag, and open the next section.

2007-11-29, 06:09 PM
Duly noted! Thanks for the advice.

Carl :smallsmile: