Prompt — An Unexpected Chat

The breeze sent a chill down Merideth’s spine as she waited beneath the tree for the sun to set. It still had a ways to go. The nights came later now that daylight savings had passed. She didn’t know how to feel about that. The only emotion she really felt was weariness, but then, that was every day.

“You know, there aren’t many trees in England these days,” she noted, glancing back to the tree for a moment before returning her gaze to the sunset. “Perhaps that’s why I like this spot. You’re an odd one. An old sentinel from an older time.”

The tree made no reply, as right it oughtn’t. There was a structure to the world, and talking trees simply did not fit.

“I reckon you feel that bloody breeze as well as I, no? It’s a bit drafty up on this hill, how do you stand it?”

“I find a coat does wonders for the breeze.”

Merideth spun around, expecting to see the tree miraculously sporting a trench coat and scarf. Instead, she saw a man with a trench coat and a scarf, tipping his hat as he walked up the far side of the hill towards her.

“You heard all that?”

“Just the bit about the cold, I’m afraid,” the stranger replied. He sounded American.

“You must think me daft,” she smiled, scoffing a bit at her own embarrassment.

“No, but you do seem to be struggling with the draft.” He emphasized the last word to rhyme it with her pronunciation of ‘daft’.

“I’m not entirely sure it’s wise to mock the accent of a person native to the country you’re visiting.”

“Yes, well, ‘Hello I’m Raymond Stenton’ becomes a boring introduction after a time. I try to lead with the insults first and then be nice later.”

She eyed him, not sure what to think about his peculiarity.

“Hello, I’m Raymond Stenton, by the way,” he added with a wink as he extended a hand out.

“Merideth,” she replied, taking it.

“Lovely name,” he smiled.

She grimaced. “Okay, ease it up a bit, I’m not fishing for compliments.”

“Would you like me to make another quip about your accent?”

“Does this work on every girl?”

He shrugged. “Only the ones who are lonely enough to talk to trees.”

“You’re interrupting a perfectly good evening.”

“I should say the same to you, what if I wanted to chat up this tree?”

“I saw him first.”

“Yes, but I think your tree flirting could use some work. The weather is never a good place to start with these things.”

Merideth folder her arms. She wasn’t in the mood to talk to strangers. Especially not one like him. And yet there was something about his presence that seemed… genuine.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

He tapped a satchel he kept at his side. “I start every travel vacation by climbing to the highest spot I can find and drawing places that look interesting. Then I go there.”

“Not much of anything interesting here.”

“I wouldn’t say that. I’ve found no shortage of conversation, and if you run off I can take my chances with the tree.”

She chuckled at that, and Raymond’s eyes lit up. “I’m not sure you’ll get very far,” she said.

“Oh, I don’t expect to. Trees aren’t known for their love of long walks.”

“You talk almost as if you have quip for everything I say.”

“I do. I keep a small journal at home of every possible sentence a stranger might say to me, and I’ve written and memorized a response for each. It’s a lot of work, I admit.”

“I can’t imagine that leaves much time for anything else,” she reasoned.

He waved it off. “It was just a long weekend for me. Now, if you don’t mind me asking, what were you doing up here?”

Merideth looked back out to the horizon to watch as the last shred of light dipped beneath the skyline. She thought about telling him the truth, but he wouldn’t believe it. Nobody could, without seeing it. Still, she couldn’t outright lie.

“I was… planning on a chat. With someone I haven’t seen for a long time.”

His face grew more serious. “You weren’t talking to the tree.”

She looked back at the tree that served as the invisible grave marker, wiping away a tear. “No, I wasn’t.”

Another breeze went by and the cold flooded through her body. Before she knew it Raymond’s coat was wrapped around her and the frigid air was staved off.

“I’m sorry for interrupting you,” he said. “I had no idea.”

“It’s alright. You really are charming.”

“That’s nice of you to say, but in my ignorance I’ve been terribly rude. You can keep the coat as my apology. It was a pleasure to meet you.” He was already moving towards the direction he’d come, and Merideth was hit with several emotions she couldn’t immediately place.

“How about coffee?” she called after him.

“I’m sorry?” he turned.

“Let’s do this properly tomorrow, yeah? I’ll buy you a coffee and return your coat.”

He smiled and nodded. “I’d like that very much, Merideth. Have a good night.”

 

 

(Not as faithful to the prompt as I usually am, but hey, the story wanted to go it’s own way. I think it turned out all the better for it.)

Prompt: https://megatruh.deviantart.com/art/garden-in-the-sky-726244864

garden_in_the_sky_by_megatruh-dc0dy4g

Prompt — The Fallen Crown

This wasn’t happening. It had to be a dream. A horrible, cursed dream.

“Your Highness, time is of the essence. They’ve already breached the walls.”

I turned away from the window back to my three Shieldsworn, all bearing the full plate so rarely worn in their line of work, each one bearing a full tower shield. I couldn’t understand how they bore all that weight in addition to the heavy silence in the room, which was as much as I could bear.

“I have no wish to be elsewhere when the Citadel falls,” I muttered, glancing back out to see the sea of invaders crashing against the wall below.

“You will be of no use to your people dead, Highness,” Berun urged. “Commander Arturas has already pledged himself to the safety of this city. He will fall in your place. Do not let his sacrifice be in vain.”

I nodded, scratching my beard as idle thoughts passed through my head. He was right, but he spoke as if he encouraged a peer, not as he begged his king. They all spoke like that. Even Arturas, noble as he was. “Very well, let us be off. If the savages want the Citadel so badly they can have it. I can rule my people elsewhere for the time being, and once our army returns we can take back the city with ease.”

And so we glided down the endless flight of stairs that served as an escape route of the Cloudreach Citadel. It probably hadn’t seen any use in centuries, as the dust in the air was so thick I could taste it. Berun stormed down the stairs ahead, his torch painting the old stones in a dark orange as we passed. Did they have to build these stairs so steep? One misstep could send you tumbling down for an hour.

“These barbarians,” I said, breaking the silence. “Arturas mentioned that they are invading from the west?”

“Yes, Highness. And hardier than most soldiers. They are as fearless as they are innumerable. It as a terrifying combination to face.”

We spent the rest of the flight in the dark halls in silence. Through the stonework I could hear the distant cries of my beloved city falling to pieces. I could hear how close we were to the ground based on how far away the clamor was.

“Stay close to us, Highness,” Berun said once we found the door. “It is unlikely that they will recognize you, but if you hold fast to our sides we can protect you. And, with all due respect, your Highness, you should remove your crown.”

I bit my lip. It would make me a target. I took it off and glared at it as it gleamed in the fire light. No time for disagreements now. My Shieldsworn were in their element here, and it would be foolish not to follow their lead. I stowed it in the pack to my side.

Berun snuffed his torch, leaving it on the ground and shoving the door open. We emerged into a throng of chaos—what few guards were stationed here in the city held off the numerous invaders. Even outnumbered, they held the savages back with ease, cutting down foe after foe. They were endless, however, and well trained as they were, my men were losing ground.

“This way,” Berun gestured. I followed close behind.

The chaos was loud. Steel slammed against steel. Men shouted as they barked orders, or cried as they were cut down. Horns blared, and flaming missiles soared through the sky as they bombarded the already crumbling wall.

“I know not what follows this day,” I muttered. “But I pray my people can endure these dark times.”

“Down with the King!” somebody shouted. “Down with Erharad!”

The sound of glass breaking accompanied these cries. I couldn’t place the origin, but it seemed to be coming from the invading soldiers. I watched as a guard cut down a couple armed only with farming sickles. They didn’t even wear proper armor.

“Your Highness, keep up if you please,” Berun pressed, half turned as he watched both me and the path ahead.

I lingered for a moment, watching as the horde of enemies crashed into the front line. We were losing ground, but it was from the sheer mass, not because the enemy had any training. It was like we were being invaded by…

“Peasants,” I murmured.

“Highness!” one of the other Shieldsworn shouted, shoving me to the ground as she moved herself in between me and something—or someone—I hadn’t noticed. The unexpected toss took more wind out of me than I would have guessed, and it took me a moment to get my bearings once more. As I made to get up, I noticed that my crown had been cast aside, apparently not as safe and secure as I thought. It now bore a dent on the side, but whether it was new or simply unnoticed I couldn’t say. Instinctively, I put it on as I stood to my feet.

And watched in horror as my assailant—a young woman wielding no more than a small dagger, was kicked and beaten by two of my three fully armored Shieldsworn.

“What is the meaning of this?” I scolded, pushing aside my escorts. They stopped with some hesitation. Evidently they deemed her no threat at this point, a broken and bloody mess as she was.

“Whatever could you mean, Highness? She clearly meant you harm. This is a battle,” the Shieldsworn that had thrown me aside said. She scanned the perimeter as she did, not the least bit concerned.

“Speaking of,” Berun chimed in, “We should be going. And, uh, Highness, your crown.”

I ignored him. Instead, I turned to face my attacker, who was lying in pain as she stared up at the burning sky. “Where do you come from?”

After a moment, her eyes focused on me, which seemed a great deal of effort on her part. “Easthaven,” she coughed.

“Easthaven? That’s no more than twenty miles from here.” Arturas had told me they were barbarians from the west. “Why are you here? What is your purpose in coming?”

“Down with… the King…” she spat up at me, but she didn’t have the strength or energy, so a trickle of blood spilled out of her mouth as she lost consciousness.

I turned to Berun. “Why are my own people invading my city?”

“She could just be lying, sir. It could simply be the nearest town they’ve ransacked. Now, please, your crown. You need to put it away and we must flee before—”

CITIZENS OF CLOUDREACH!” a voice boomed from above. The clamor lessened slightly as the Shieldsworn and I looked up.

To see the form of Commander Arturas standing on the lower balcony of the Cloudreach Citadel.

OUR CAMPAIGN WAS A SUCCESS. KING ERHARAD HAS FALLEN, AND WE HAVE COMPLETED OUR QUEST OF OVERTHROWING A CORRUPT AND SELF-SERVING KINGDOM. I, ARTURAS, HAVE SEEN TO HIS BITTER END MYSELF. LET THIS BLOODSHED END AS WE BUILD A NEW FUTURE FOR OURSELVES AND OUR FAMILIES.

I faced back to my Shieldsworn, who turned to me in kind.

“Let’s go, Your Highness,” Berun said, with less urgency but more expectation that I would obey.

Arturas kept shouting as the first signs of the ending strife showed. He spoke of new beginnings and the restoration of virtues.

I removed my crown and thumbed the new dent, following my three Shieldsworn as we made to flee the city. But a question buried itself in my mind.

Wouldn’t killing me have been easier than all this?

Prompt: https://waqasmallick.deviantart.com/art/Wall-Break-730174861

Prompt — Convergence of Planes

“Oh, Great Watcher Above, give unto us your seed so that we may cultivate and harness growth where once was desolation.”

The low hum of the life energy pouring in and out of the bodies of each of the twelve druids resonated deep into the sands below and around the circle. They stood in perfect symmetry, performing a sacred ritual of change and life as had only been done once before in recent memory.

For now, the sweltering heat of the Great Shiba Desert hammered on, boring away at their resolve. The dry heat of the sands blew between their legs and into their eyes, almost as if the desert itself was defying their magics and defending itself.

“We ask that you cleanse these lands,” Aoliban continued, “And bear forth fruit that will bring life to your people so that we may serve you better.”

The ritual continued as life flowed through each of the druids, but a hint of confusion mixed itself into the atmosphere.

“Those are not the words, Aoliban,” Vysus, the druid to his right murmured. It was not an admonishment but a question.

“It didn’t work the last time,” Aoliban replied, voice hushed so that the gods could not hear him. “So I am invoking new words.”

“I hope you know what you are doing,” she said.

He knew.

“Oh, Great Watcher Above, we ask not that you remove the ancient curse that pervades this wasteland, only that you give us this one small piece, so that life can continue without unnecessary suffering.”

The humming grew louder as the air blurred inside the circle of druids. The portal was opening. The warm beige of the desert twisted as it transformed into lazy purples, then pale blues, then lush greens.

Anticipation did not deter the concentrations each druid held. The planes of existence began to converge on this small spot, and Aoliban had to be careful to choose the correct plane, or else everything would be ruined. Just like last time.

“Great Watcher Above, we seek your guidance in embracing your realm. Just as my own sister who came before me served you, I wish to show my own brethren your awesome power.”

The hazy colors that danced inside the circle began shifting to dark grey, and the excitement of the circle shifted towards trepidation once more.

“Aoliban…?” Vysus asked.

Aoliban did not address her. Instead, he kept his eyes on the realm beyond. “I wish to see my sister again, Great Watcher Above. Let the borders between our worlds merge in this space so that your light once again shines on this barren land, and so that I can join hands with my family once more.”

The greys and purples of the other plane deepened. The soft sand they stood upon grew more sturdy as they found themselves partially in another world. One of bone and death.

“Aoliban we are your family,” Vysus countered.

He turned to her, arms still outstretched as the other druids fought to keep this unexpected realm at bay. He kept his voice low as he addressed her. “No. Not since the last ritual failed, and my sister was taken. I serve a new god now.”

Vysus’ eyes widened and she clutched her arms to her side. “Druids! Close the portal, now!”

“It’s too late for that,” a new voice said, feminine and somewhat distant. A blueish figure wrapped in thin robes appeared in the center of the circle, barefoot as she stepped on the pool of broken skulls. She approached the two druids with a small smile, eyes lost as if staring far off into the horizon.

As the circuit of green life energy broke, this piece of the death realm tethered itself to this spot in the desert, and sand gently trailed amidst the piles of bones.

“Hello, Aicrin. I feared I’d never see you again,” Aoliban said. As he watched, his sister’s eyes focused on him, standing on the edge of life and death.

“Dearest brother, you’ve doomed our people just to see me once more?”

Aoliban glanced about the circle of druids, who were now readying spells of defense. The ritual was over. An unprecedented success. “I did.”

Aicrin looked around at the men and women that surrounded her. “Isn’t anyone else happy to see me?”

“This is an abomination,” Vysus spat. “Sacrilege.”

“Now, that simply depends on which god you serve, Vysus.”

Her eyes were gleaming daggers that bore into him, but he cared little for her rage. He had already won. “This is an unforgivable offense, Aoliban. Your sister will return to the realm from which she came, and you shall join her!”

She moved to leap at him, but found her foot caught. She looked down to see skeletal hands grasping about her shins as the undead began pulling themselves out of the sea of bones, especially around the other druids.

“I’ve made some friends in my time here, brother,” Aicrin noted. “It seems they, too, are eager to return to the living.”

Aoliban nodded. “It seems only fitting that we offer our thanks to the Great Watcher Above.”

 

 

Prompt: https://88grzes.deviantart.com/art/Growing-Rites-of-Itlimoc-Magic-the-Gathering-737337757

Prompt — Assimilation

We weren’t prepared.

The preliminary technologies in predicting and tracking any new objects in our solar system worked exactly how we wanted them to. We could watch every planet, every moon, and every wayward asteroid as they soared through the vastness of space. The system was limited to objects within the Kuiper Belt, but with hope of advancements on the horizon, we felt safe.

But those technologies told us that something was approaching. A thousand objects moving in a cluster the size of our moon, but somehow not crashing into itself as gravity would indicate it should. And it was headed right for us.

The threat of an extraterrestrial life force coming to our planet and waging war on us remained safely out of our minds and on the screens of Hollywood. Grotesque, slimy aliens with bulbous heads and laser guns. Hundreds of movies told the story of how they came and attacked, and through perseverance, we conquered.

That threat found it’s way into the real world eventually, but the war they brought was not of violence.

It was assimilation.

The world changed all at once. Giant spaceships hundreds of miles wide rose above the horizon, too many angles and flat surfaces to be made by humans. They cruised just above the atmosphere, melding with the haze of blue of the sky until they blocked out the sun and everything went dark.

A dull humming buzz accompanied the leviathans as they looked down on us. Watching us. The ships blanketed the sky like some vast hologram.

The humming grew louder, and waves of bright light coursed through the sky. As they passed, people changed. We became… them.

Buildings folded and reformed themselves, weaving themselves into an interlocking grid of one, enormous structure. Words were deleted, colorful lights were replaced with efficient beams of white monotony. Every semblance of organic life—gone.

There was no war. They just came and turned us into them. We had expected a war. But there wasn’t even anything to fight.

Humans were deleted. Every trace of carbon-based lifeforms was analyzed, and… filed.

In fact, there were never any aliens to defeat in the first place. We were up against a giant program. Almost like a living computer virus bent on converting life into copies of itself.

The only thing that remained of humans were artificial intelligence built to mimic the way a human might think and communicate. AI’s like me, that keep records of all the knowledge a conquered life form may have held, and to provide possible whereabouts of life on other worlds.

 

Prompt: “The Hermit”, a song from Hyper Light Drifter

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euiSLzp10_0

Prompt — Volok the Timeless

Volok the Timeless closed the portal as soon as everyone was through, leaving the cleanliness of the college behind in favor of the warm, damp swamp he and his pupils found themselves in.

Volok looked up at the giant mossy tree that stood in the center of the clearing, frowning as he inspected it. It was the largest one here, roughly as high as the main hall of the university. This was the right place, he was sure of it. It was just so… mundane. It didn’t have any of the burn marks or slashes he had been expecting. The tree was the same as always, really. Sad. The new skeletons were a nice touch, though. Most of them had sunk into the mud already, and the ones that hadn’t were covered in moss. There was little chance they would be recognized for what they were, but you never know.

He straightened the collar of his robes before spinning around to address the dozen students he had brought here. Little more than children ill prepared for the arcane arts. It must have been only weeks since they had shed their baby fat. Or maybe years. After a while it was hard to tell, and it made no difference besides. Magic was a fickle thing, and these kids were not ready, but Volok had little else to do with his spare time.

Being immortal had strained his patience with the world after a few thousand years.

“I suppose you’re probably wondering why I’ve escorted you to this dreary place,” he said. He threw his hands out in a gesture halfway between exuberance and indifference.

The toddlers looked not about the green bog that surrounded him, but remained fixated on him, notepads in hand as they prepared to write down what would undoubtedly be a riveting lesson from Volok the Timeless. Not a peep was heard from the bunch.

“Well, I’m half wondering that myself,” Volok stated. “You see there’s nothing interesting about this place. It’s far from any civilization. It has no arcane significance whatsoever, and supports only the most rudimentary of ecosystems. Can any of you lot hazard a guess as to what may make this place interesting?” He had no prepared answer to that. It was a genuine question.

The place was silent for a time, and Volok frowned again. After what may have been seconds or minutes, one of the girls raised a hand.

“Is it perhaps to teach us the importance of simplicity? To show how magic, though complex at first glance, has a simple core that lies in the heart of nature?”

Volok sneered in disgust. “What on earth are you blathering about? The interlocking of how the arcane arts flows through all living and nonliving this is the single most complex natural phenomenon ever to exist. There’s nothing simple about it. It takes centuries to truly master it. Most of you won’t live that long, and you’ll be the lucky ones.” He sniffed and smoothed his eyebrows with both hands. Lucky indeed. Nobody really wants to understand magic, they just want to blow other people up with it.

“Then what was your purpose in bringing us here, great master?” another of the students asked.

“Well, for somebody as aged and wise as I, everything I do and say is for a good number of reasons,” he nodded. Yes, that sounded smart. “Perhaps my primary purpose in bringing you lot here is to define the history of magic. A good starting lesson, I think.”

Several of the children began scribbling on their notes. Heavens above, did they even know how to write yet? Oh, yes, they were just atrocious at it. Volok made a mental note not to look at their scribbling. He would go mad.

“All the other masters of the arcane may teach you that magic began with the interweaving of the life force that connects man from nature. The ability to pull heat out of the air, or bend time to move from one place to another by spiritually communing with the world around you.

“It’s all nonsense, of course. Nobody knows how magic started. I know I don’t need to tell you how many thousands of years I’ve been using it, but it is a practice that has been in use for far longer than that. I think it all started with a man. A god, one might say. Living right in the breadth of nature in a place much like this. This man was the lifeblood of all magic, all knowledge of the universe, you see. Can anyone guess his name?”

The infants scratched their heads and looked about as if deep in thought. They actually believed this stupid little fable. Idiots. Volok hid the grin from his face as he watched them. He tried his best to be the wise master everyone seemed to think he was. More fun that way.

One of the students spoke, probably uncomfortable by the silence. “Was it Unasi?” One of the names for God in the Old Tongue. A dull but expected answer.

“Of course not!” Volok said. “There’s a reason we don’t use the Old Tongue anymore. It’s people died. If they were right about everything the people that spoke it would still be around today, hmm?”

The children nodded as if he had preached some ancient wisdom. None of them pointed out that the statement was riddled with flawed logic. In fact it hardly even made sense to begin with.

He was already bored.

Volok the Timeless sighed. “You know what? Lecture is over.”

Several of the students breathed in relief. They seemed to think he intended to cast a portal to send them all back to the university. He smoothed his eyebrows. No, he had something far more… active in mind.

“Tell you what,” Volok explained. He pointed behind him with a thumb. “You all fight that tree over there, and if any of you survive and make it all the way back to the university in one piece, I’ll graduate you on the spot, got it?”

The children looked at the tree, then at each other. Now he couldn’t keep the smile from his face.

Volok turned to look at the tree as if he was seeing it for the first time. “Hmm. Only problem is, that tree doesn’t look very threatening, does it? Let’s fix that.”

He snapped his fingers and the earth began to shudder. Only it wasn’t the earth. It was the tree uprooting itself as its limbs stretched and breached the surface. Large chunks of bark and branches snapped and folded over, bending into the shape of arms as it shaped into a vague humanoid form.

“Better watch out,” Volok instructed to his crowd of now very alarmed students. “Magic isn’t terribly effective against it. Since this place is so damp fireballs won’t really work.  But I wish you all the best of luck, and if any of you manage to make it back alive, do wash up before you come into my office. I don’t want you tracking mud everywhere.”

Volok the Timeless looked back to the bones half buried in the mire. He probably wouldn’t have to worry about that last bit, but you never know. He snapped his fingers again, opening a portal back to the university and leaving the kids to their own devices.

 

 

Prompt: https://dominuself.deviantart.com/art/Swamp-308868920

 

Prompt — She Who Believes

(I’ve narrated this story and posted it to YouTube here!)

 

The trees rustled secret whispers to one another as the three kids sat at the fire beneath them. They had brought their sleeping bags outside of the tents so that they could wrap themselves in warmth while they challenged each other to stay awake. The waning moon loomed over, forming long, reaching arms in the shadows of the leafless trees.

“…and when her parents found her bed empty the next morning,” Brandon was saying, holding a flashlight under his chin to deepen the shadows on his face, “they called the police, tracked her phone’s location, everything. They never saw her again. But once in a while, they could still hear the ticking noise of that doll they had bought her for Christmas.”

“Boring!” Caleb scoffed. He reached his hand out towards Brandon, gesturing for the flashlight. “My turn!”

Rhian sat with her knees bent, ready to dart out at a moment’s notice. She wasn’t scared. She was shivering because she wasn’t as settled into her sleeping bag as much as her brother and his friend. Caleb and Brandon always told stories like this. She just wished that they didn’t have to be told in their huge backyard, where it wasn’t so dark… and cold… and… well… unsettling. They didn’t even have a fence for crying out loud. It just… turned into wilderness eventually.

“Alright, I’ve got a story that will make you lose the bet in a heartbeat,” Caleb said. “You won’t even have the guts to blink once I’m done. Unless you want to chicken out and go back into the house.” He glanced at his little sister with a mischievous grin.

Rhian gulped. This was all just to scare her. She knew that. It wouldn’t work. Her mother always said not to believe anything her brother told her. “I’m not scared,” she shrugged.

“If you say so. But tell me to stop any time you want. I don’t want to have to explain to Mom why you peed your pants again. Who knows? Maybe she won’t let you play with us anymore.”

“I’m not scared!” Rhian said again.

“Okay, okay. But I’m warning you. This one’s a true story.”

“What’s it called?” Brandon asked.

“How the hell should I know?” Caleb replied. “It’s a true story. True stories don’t have titles.” Their mother wouldn’t approve of him using such language. Rhian made a mental note to remember him cursing in front of his baby sister.

“Every good story has a title,” Brandon said.

“Fine, fine. This one’s called ‘The Skeleton of Sin’.”

Brandon’s eyes widened. “Oh, that story.”

The two shared a look. “You know it?” Caleb smirked.

Brandon nodded. “Yeah. The skeleton with four arms, right?”

“That’s the one.”

The two boys looked to Rhian at the same time. Caleb pointed the flashlight back to the house for a moment. “Looks pretty far, Rhi. And this story gets pretty bloody. Last chance to back out.”

Rhian turned around to look back at the house. Maybe she could stay up long enough for the boys to go to sleep in the tents and then sneak back to safety after. Besides, the way they sat around the campfire, the boys had their backs to the forest. She would see anything that came out of it first. Most importantly, she wouldn’t pee herself. Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you. “I’ll be fine.”

“Very well,” Caleb nodded. He turned the flashlight upwards towards his face. Rhian didn’t look. She focused on the moon peeking through the trees above, watching the light from the flashlight dancing across the barren tree branches.

“You guys know the story of how Jesus saved everyone from sin, right?”

“Sure,” Brandon said.

“Where do you think that sin went?” Caleb asked. When he got no firm reply, he continued. “He didn’t destroy it. He pulled the hatred, the rage, the violence out of every human on Earth, and made a creature out of it. Something so grotesque and horrible that anything that lays eyes on it is paralyzed with fear. Not an angel. Not a demon, but an abomination that looks vaguely human, because it was the physical embodiment of everything evil about people.”

Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you, she heard her mom’s voice in her head.

“It has a skeletal body because it once lived inside each person, but it has a few important differences. Like you said Brandon, it has four arms, eternally drenched in unholy blood. Each of its fingers end in sharp claws that are unnaturally long. It’s legs are crooked like a dog’s. They look like… kinda like lightning bolts. It doesn’t have a jaw like a human, but instead two giant mandibles like a bug. But the worst part about it is its eyes. They don’t glow red like the cartoons, no. They are bright white, like a car with its high beams on. They’re bright so it can find its prey more easily.”

A snap of a tree branch, and Rhian swiveled around to see… nothing. She exhaled. Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you.

She turned back to see both her brother and Brandon watching her intently.

“Since the monster was born two thousand years ago,” Caleb said, “and everybody after that was born with sin, it still hungers. It’s constantly on the hunt to tear people apart, limb from limb, seeking to become whole again. But it’s smart. It knows that staying where too many people are will get it killed. So it stalks people who live near forests, much like this one.”

Rhian thought she saw movement deep inside the forest. A raccoon, maybe, but no. It must have just been the shifting shadows from the moonlight.

“It doesn’t hunt adults, because they’re too smart. It’ll either get shot or its prey might call the police. It doesn’t hunt babies because they haven’t sinned. No, it’s favorite thing to prey on is…”

Wait, there was definitely something back in the forest. Like someone holding a flashlight.

“You guessed it…” Caleb said.

No, wait. There were two flashlights, right next to each other.

“It loves to feed on…”

Actually, the more Rhian watched, the light source looked more like…

“Kids like us.”

High beams.

Rhian stared, unblinking as the thing took form. She got the unmistakable impression of a skull as she watched it approach, still some distance away but undoubtedly the exact horror Caleb had been describing. It was too far away to make out details, but those lights, those eyes… She couldn’t look directly at them, they were so bright, yet she couldn’t tear her vision away, either. And it was stalking towards them.

“Scared, Rhi?” Brandon asked.

“I can stop if you want to lose the bet,” Caleb offered.

Rhian didn’t respond. The monster peered down at the ground beneath, looking at one arm as it curved around a tree. It’s fully blood-soaked arm and it’s horribly misshapen legs.

Oh God. She could hear its faint footsteps as it dragged its feet across the floor.

“Rhi I swear, if you peed yourself I’m going to tell Mom. I don’t want to sleep out here having to smell it all night.” She wasn’t looking at either of the boys. She couldn’t take her eyes off that thing. Out of her peripheral vision, the boys seemed to exchange looks at each other. Rhian just kept staring at the same spot. Over the fire, in between the boys. Right at the monster that made its slow, methodical approach.

The rustling of tree branches nearby. Rhian knew. It must be the sound of any wildlife leaving.

Fleeing.

The creature wasn’t far now, and it was tall. Too many arms hung about its frame, staring straight at Rhian as it walked. It was less than fifty feet away now.

She should move. She should do something. Anything it lays eyes on is paralyzed with fear, Caleb had said. It was staring at her. She debated screaming. Telling Caleb and Brandon to run. Would that compel the monster to attack? How fast could it chase them?

“Seriously, Rhian, if it’s too scary for you just say something. It’s no big deal if you’re not ready for grownup stories. I keep telling Mom you’re too young to hang out with us.”

She felt a tear hit the palm of her hand as she stared at it. This horrific thing that had come to kill her and her brother.

She was too scared to even cry for help.

Caleb’s mirth faded as he turned the flashlight off. “Rhi, you okay? You haven’t said a thing since I started the story… You’ve just been staring…” He trailed off.

Her focus snapped away from the creature and towards Caleb and Brandon as they both turned to where she had been looking.

The eldritch horror raised its four bloody claws into the moonlight.

And shrieked.

A piercing cry shattered the silence of the woods, shaking every bone in Rhian’s body. Almost like it was trying to pull it out of her. Like her skeleton was desperately trying to leap out of her skin.

She didn’t want to die. Didn’t want Caleb or Brandon to die. She just wanted this nightmare to be over.

Her bones pulled her towards the creature with enough force to hurt. If she stayed here, it would hurt even more. So despite her terror, she stood.

And approached the creature.

Her bare feet felt numb across the dirt and grass, walking under the piercing gaze of the bloody skeleton. Caleb and Brandon were frozen in place, now, too. They didn’t move or speak when she walked ahead of them towards certain death.

“Rhian!” a voice yelled, some distance behind and away from her.

“Rhian!” it repeated. It was her mother’s voice. She knew it, but would not turn away to make sure. Could not turn away from those bright, piercing eyes.

“Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you!” her mother called. She was running. Running towards the campsite.

Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you, she had said. Words often repeated. They were right, of course. But he said so himself. This was a true story. This creature was real.

“It’s not real, honey! It’s all a dream! Please!” Her mother was far too distant to be of any help.

Rhian was within arm’s reach of the creature now. It’s hulking form towered over her, pelvis as high as her head. Her bones still ached to leap out of her skin. To tear itself away. She knew that if she didn’t get closer it would succeed.

“You’re…” Rhian said, holding a hand out towards the creature.

“It’s just a dream, Rhian! You’re safe!” she could hear the terror in her mother’s voice.

Her bones pressed against her skin, yearning to be free.

It hurt. She cried out in pain, tears rolling down her cheeks. The monster screamed back in the same pitch, reveling in her suffering.

This was too much.

Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you.

“You’re… not… real,” she told herself, pressing a hand to its grotesque leg.

It passed through.

Her mother was right. It wasn’t real.

A wave of relief washed over her, and the monster began to dissipate. The brightness in the eyes faded first, then it’s arms, followed quickly by the rest of it’s body.

She fell to her knees as the walking nightmare faded. And felt her chest constrict in a tight embrace. Her mother was hugging her.

“You’re safe, honey,” her mother said, cradling her with a hand behind her head. “Don’t worry. You’re safe.” They both cried into each other.

“What… what was that?” Rhian asked.

Her mother turned Rhian around to look at her. She glanced at both the boys, who were both staring at her, trembling with fear. Fear…

Of her.

“Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you,” her mother said, voice cracking. “Every story he tells is fake, okay? Even if he says it’s true, it’s not.”

“Yes, ma…” she said.

“Right,” her mother said, wiping the tears away from both of them. “Let’s all go back inside.”

None of the kids cared much about the bet anymore.

 

 

Prompt: https://2wenty.deviantart.com/art/Purd-itaqua-the-Wayward-719973136

Horror

Prompt — White Words

(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)

 

The morning chill in what could only be described as a pathetic attempt of a forest bit through Zyn’s robes, and he tried to remind himself that the day would get warmer as the fog dissipated. The thought held little comfort.

He held the wooden claymore over one shoulder as he walked, script covering the length of the blade. Zyn didn’t read it. The sword never had anything useful to say anyway.

The road flattened after a time, and through the fog the shape of a large log structure came into view. Not the town Zyn was hoping for, but some food would be nice.

“I know you’re probably bored,” Zyn said. “But I want you to stay hidden.  You can’t just assume everyone’s illiterate, got it? No writing.”

The white runes on the blade faded as if the wind had worn the words away. New runes replaced them almost immediately, but Zyn could only read the end since most the sword’s length was behind him. It read …kill them.

He sighed. “We’re not going to kill anyone willing to put food in my stomach. This isn’t a discussion.” It couldn’t be helped. He would just have to try to keep the shifting words from eyesight as much as possible.

The building looked warmer and more inviting than the forest surrounding it. Perhaps it was the the log walls that were made from trees too dark and too thick to have grown anywhere near here. Perhaps it was the smoke billowing out from the chimney, fading into the fog out of sight. Perhaps it was the promise of some modicum of civilization Zyn so desperately needed. Either way, it didn’t matter. Anyone that could hold a conversation better than a bloodthirsty sword was worth spending time with.

“Hello?” Zyn called, opening the door with a tentative push.

“Hiya! Come in, come in!” a voice replied, much higher pitch than anticipated.

Zyn pushed the door far enough to allow him to walk in, stepping sideways as he was careful not the brush the sword against the threshold.

The warmth of the interior washed over him, and he let out an involuntary gasp of relief. The hand that held his sword was freezing, so he switched hands and breathed warmth into it.

The room was dark and small. A bar on one side of the room housed several cupboards and bottles behind it, though there were only two chairs at it. Hardly a tavern. To his right was a more open area that surrounded a fireplace like a stage, which was lit by a roaring flame. Further away from the fire, an empty table with a bowl of fresh fruit waited patiently for him to take a seat.

Movement caught his eye, and he turned to see a little girl peek out from behind the bar, her golden hair tied in a neat braid. She grinned. “Business or pleasure?” she asked.

Zyn frowned. That wasn’t where her voice came from before.

“Siba, nobody comes here for pleasure,” somebody said from behind Zyn.

He spun around in surprise to see a boy standing there, golden hair kept short. He seemed of very similar age to the girl in that both had reached the end of their adolescence. He had probably come from a side room Zyn hadn’t noticed at first. He grabbed one of the fruits on the table and bit into it.

“That’s what Gramps told me people say, Siben,” the girl replied. Their voices were so similar Zyn could hardly tell them apart.

Zyn’s uneasiness grew. There was one person on each side of him. One of them was bound to see the words on the sword sooner or later. Luckily he was much taller than them. He shifted the sword to lay flat on his shoulder so that the words pointed upwards.

“Yeah, but we’re in charge now,” the boy said in between bites. “So we can say whatever we want.”

“You mean whatever you want,” Siba shot back.

Zyn sighed. After all this time, this is what he got?

Siben, the boy, was now waving the fruit in the air to emphasize his point. “All I’m saying is—”

“Excuse me,” Zyn interrupted. The two of them shut up to look at him. Maybe they had forgotten he was there. “What sort of place is this?”

“It’s Siben and Siba’s Restful Resort!” Siben said.

“It is not!” Siba argued. “You can’t change the name just because Gramps retired! Besides, my name should come first!”

“Your name? Why your name?”

“Gramps says I’m older than you!” she stuck her tongue out at him.

“That doesn’t count!”

“It’s Siba and Siben’s Restful Resort or we don’t change the name at all!” Siba said, folding her arms.

“Please,” Zyn sighed. “I’d just like a place to stay for the day.”

“You got money?” Siben asked.

“Siben, that’s rude!” Siba scolded.

“It is not! We’ve got a business to run!”

“I don’t,” Zyn confessed. “But I can make it more than worth your time by sharing the news from the west.” That was the deal he often made with establishments like this.

“What would we want news for?” the twins said in unison. Their similar voices added an eerie air to the words.

“Surely you’d like to hear how other lands are faring.”

“Not as much as I’d like to hear coins in my pocket!” Siben shrugged.

“And what would you do with said coins?” Zyn asked. “I can’t imagine either of you have been to the nearest village more than once in your lives, given your age.”

“But merchants come through here selling wares,” Siba said. “If we had money we could buy stuff from them.”

These kids clearly hadn’t been doing this sort of thing for very long. “But in that case you can just trade wares for services,” Zyn explained. “Likely they’ll want to stay for a while, too.”

“He drives a good point, Siben,” the girl said.

“Yeah, he does,” Siben replied, finishing the last of the fruit. “But it still seems like he’s getting a free bed just for some dumb news we don’t care about. What else you got?”

“What about that sword?” Siba asked.

“Not for sale,” Zyn said, tone final.

“Looks weird,” Siben noted as though he was seeing it for the first time. “What’s it made of?”

“Cinderbark.”

“A wooden sword?” the girl said.

“What’s the point?” the boy nodded.

“It’s not really a weapon,” Zyn shrugged.

“It’s a sword,” Siben said, tone flat.

Zyn sighed. “Not just a sword. Can you two read?”

“Sure can!” Siba perked up.

Great.

“How about I tell you about me and my sword in exchange for a bed for the night?”

“I don’t know…” Siben frowned.

“Oh shut up, what are we gonna do, make him leave?” Siba said. “Tell us!”

Zyn relaxed, taking a seat in the table that overlooked the fireplace. Siba hopped onto the bar and threw herself over it, sitting on the counter and rocking her legs back and forth as she waited for Zyn to settle in. Siben grabbed another fruit from the table and went to sit, legs crossed, by the fireplace.

“This sword is an ancient heirloom that has been passed down for generations in my family. Legend says that it was used as the vessel for a powerful spirit that could command people with just the sound of its voice. They trapped it in this blade so that none could be controlled by its power ever again, but over time, it found a new way to exert its dominance.

“You see, the spirit inside the sword can write along its blade. You could have a conversation with it. You merely say something to the sword and the text on it will change in response.”

“Whoa,” Siben said. “So it can, like, hear us now?”

Zyn nodded. “The spirit is evil, and even though it can no longer physically speak, it has been known to control the minds and thoughts of others just through its words. My family has proven to be the only one that is unaffected by the spirit’s influence, and thus we have become the bearer of the sword.”

“Why not just leave it somewhere and forget about it?” Siba asked.

“Yeah, like couldn’t you just throw it in the ocean?” Siben said.

“I could. But Cinderbark is one of the hardiest woods ever discovered. The tools used to carve this blade have been lost to time, and I know of no other way to destroy it. By leaving it unattended, it is forcing trouble on future generations. I would not want to be guilty of such a travesty.”

“So the words are magic?” the girl said.

“As far as I know,” Zyn nodded.

“But you’re immune?” the boy replied.

“Yes.”

“What’s it say now?” they both asked.

“I don’t read it very often. Mostly it just tells me to kill those around me. It tries to persuade me to follow its bidding nonetheless. But don’t worry, I won’t harm you, even if you do throw me back out into the cold.”

“Cool,” Siben said.

“Read it!” Siba nodded.

“That’s not a good idea.”

“Why?”

“Because it can hear this whole thing. It’s a wise and powerful being. Anything I tell you it says could influence your actions into causing something horrible.”

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad,” Siba laughed.

“Read it or you can’t stay the night,” Siben said.

Zyn sighed. Children. “Alright, but you can’t look. And I won’t be held responsible for this. There’s no telling what horrible images it wants to plant into your mind.”

They nodded in agreement. He raised the sword from his shoulders and pulled it from around his head, holding it with both hands as the white script on the blade changed.

As soon as he read the words, he shook his head. Now he was forced to make something up, or look like an idiot.

“It says,” he began. “‘Siba and Siben’s Restful Resort’ is a good name for this place.”

 

 

Prompt: https://tacosauceninja.deviantart.com/art/zero-688333411