The world is a host to an array of peculiar things. Most can be attributed to humanity’s overactive imagination. Others, are not so easily explained. As hard as I try, there is not enough bitter in the world that can grant me the bliss of ignorance. —-
“Tell me you are seeing this as well Arthur?”
I told my partner as we stood on the porch of our rustic two story home.
At a loss for words, he simply nodded in silence.
From deep in the swampy forests surrounding us, a deep purple light began emanating upwards towards the sky.
It seemed as if it were clawing at the air, dragging itself towards the heavens. At first it was barely discernable through the thick blanket of fog that perforated the forest.
“I would wager that is the vile works of a sorcerer Gabriel.”
He replied before going to grab his coat.I followed suit.
We walked down the stairs and around the side of the house. We were heading towards the cellar doors where we kept our horses when we both stopped dead in our tracks.
Arthur gasped. At the edge of the tree line was unmistakably the outline of a figure standing on the edge of the forest. I leaned over and whispered to Arthur:
“Open the door, get the horses ready, quickly.”
I could see trickles of sweat on his forehead as he slowly nodded to me, not taking his eyes of whomever it was out there. My arms were beginning to tremble. Competent hunters we may be, but this was no ordinary wilderness beast.
The figure then shifted, and started slowly walking towards us.
Keeping both eyes firmly locked on the impending figure.
“I can barely see through the fog.”
Arthur said back fumbling with the key.
Suddenly the doors shot inward cracking and almost breaking off their hinges.
Arthur immediately jumped back out of the way. Moments later both of our horses raced out as fast as their hooves could carry them.
All their skin was shorn clean from their bodies. Even through the fog we could see their pink and red flesh glisten in the moonlight as they dashed into the night, making not a single sound save their hoof beats. They got about forty or fifty yards out before toppling over in a sickening wet thud. The figure meanwhile was little more than a stones throw away from where we stood transfixed by what had just transpired.
Arthur yelled at me, bringing me back to my senses.
We ran up the stairs and back inside, bolting the door shut.
We heard the foot steps on the wooden stairs as they gently climbed up to our doorstep.
The figure stopped in front of the door and just stood there silently for a moment. The person then slammed into the thick wooden door, causing it shake and reverberate throughout the house.
Arthur and I put our shoulders up against the door as the figure repeatedly slammed into the door. We could feel the iron hinges start to bend from the stress.
It was about this time that we could smell a rancid odor seeping into our nostrils. The figure reeked of musty swamp water and black mold. It began to make me nauseous. I could see Arthur becoming increasingly fatigued at this figure’s unrelenting attempt to break in.
My throat was becoming dry and itchy from the profane air surrounding this person.
We both started to gag as the noxious fumes rolled into the house.
“I cant hold for much longer Gabriel.”
Arthur groaned as one particularly violent thud had caused the door to crack.
I replied through gritted teeth.
“Where are the crossbows?”
“In the basement with the th rest of our gear.”
He responded before momentarily losing his footing.
Without warning the figure stopped.
Arthur and I stood there ready for an attack, eye’s fixated on where the figure stood.
I started harshly coughing, causing my throat to burn. The air was saturated with that vile stench.
Arthur said slowly.
I looked over at him to see that his face had gone ghostly white. It was nearly as light as his grey hair and beard.
He raised his hand and pointed towards the window.
The figure was standing there solemnly looking in at us.
He stood a good head and shoulders above us with an unblinking stare on his gaunt sallow face.
I could not understand how such a lanky form could so aggressively pound on our door.
No… not lanky, decomposing.
He lifted a hand and placed it on the window. It was sickly and thin, like he was afflicted with the tumorous illness. There was mud and dirt caked to his hands and under his fingernails. He casually formed a smile at us with his pale, cracked lips. His corse black hair was matted to his head in neglect. He then said to us in a voice that shook us to the very seat of our souls. It was dull, low, and hollow. It sounded more akin to wind blowing through a cave than any human we ever heard.
“I’ll be waiting in the shadows.”
It stuck to the inside of my ears and refused to let go. I heard it over again and again.
He then pulled back from the window, turned and started walking. I heard his every footfall on the stairs as he went, except the last. There was only silence.
Arthur slowly walked over to a rocking chair, sat down and started to silently weep.
I followed and tried to comfort him to no avail.
“Our horses… We are trapped. What vile machinations has befallen us Gabriel?”
He said after a couple of minutes.
“We have to find this…thing, and kill it. We can not run, we can not hide.”
I told him, mustering my resolve against the grim truth of our situation.
“…Your right. We were soldiers in our King’s army. If we can not destroy this fetid spirit then we shall die with heads held high.”
Arthur said while looking towards the field where our horses had fallen.
“We will set out in the morning. Follow the purple light, it would be safe to assume that is where he came from.”
I said to Arthur before we both meekly retired to bed. Sleep was hard fought. Comfort, there was none. Only fear and apprehension came to us as night slowly turned to dawn.
The light of the rising sun trickled in through the windows in our bedroom, alerting us that morning had come. We rose quickly, grabbed a quick meal of bread, cheese and dried meat from the kitchen and prepared ourselves for what may be our last hunt together.
We went to the basement to grab our cross bows and hunting gear. Upon entering we were greeted by the lingering stench of scorched hair and flesh. IN the horses stall we saw the the the burnt black hide of our two horses laying in chunks. I felt my stomach lurch and before I could stop it, I vomited right in the doorway.
Arthur patted my back as I was doubled over dry heaving to try and comfort me. I looked up to see he was noticeably shaking and his eyes kept darting from the horses skin to the floor.
We put on our hunting garb, dagger and cross bows in silence. The air was thick with tension. We knew not what would come of us deep in the swampy forest, but we both knew it would only be worse sitting here waiting for death.
The fog was thicker than it had ever been as we head out into the field towards the forest.
The purple light was just as prevalent, and almost seemed to be reaching the stars. We walked out to where our horses had fallen to pay respects to our trusty steeds. Already insects had begun picking at their corpses. Their eye’s were frozen in an expression of agony and surprise.
Was all Arthur said before turning towards the tree line.
The fog saturated the thicket, rendering our footsteps slow and deliberate. We made a straight line towards the purple light, which was still clearly visible through it all.
“Not a single sign of life out here anymore.” Arthur commented.
He was right. The silence pressed in on us from all sides almost as severely as the fog.
We continued our way inward for what felt like hours till we stumbled upon something unsettling.
Arthur said pointing with a jittery outstretched arm to something a few feet ahead of us. It was the corpse of a fox. Skinless and festering just like our horses.
We cautiously walked forward, knowing he must be nearby. As we did, we started to notice not only scores of animals who had suffered the same fate, but that the ground was becoming soft and wet.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not keep my cross bow steady. My arms trembled and breathe was becoming sharper and rapid.
“This can’t be the arcane Arthur, we have never witnessed such profane sorcery.”
I said to him as the wet ground gradually turned to murky water.
He replied in a somber tone.
Eventually the trees gave away to a great swamp. At it’s center about 100 feet from us a great architecture of some sort had partially risen from the mud. The stone looked more ancient than anything known to humanity, yet was smoother than the finest glass.
Arthur said to me.
The purple emanated from an entrance deep down inside the structure. I shuddered at the thought of what could possibly be contained within it’s bowls.
Curiosity overtaking our better judgment, we decided to cross the shallow swamp to this imposing building.
Arthur snapped as he hit his foot off something hard on the swamp floor.
He reached into the murky water and pulled up a shovel and a pick ax that was covered in mud.
“Are you trying to tell me somebody willingly came here? What could they have possibly hoped to find in this quagmire?”
I said to Arthur as we both looked at the tools in disbelief.
He then tossed them aside and we finished making our way towards the structure. We stepped out of the knee high murk onto a mossy platform. We looked around a bit. Huge columns and steeples were jutting out of the swamp around us.
“How far down is this building?”
Arthur said in awe.
“I would rather not find out. “
I told him.
I walked towards the cavernous entrance in front of us.
That is when I noticed a book lying open near the entrance.
I picked it up and began thumbing through it.
“Arthur look at this. It says here long ago a great temple existed in this very spot. Apparently it was a conflux point for tapping into forbidden knowledge.”
I told him as he peered over my shoulder at the pages.
“Poor fool spurned on by a mad man’s knowledge. Well I hope he found what he was looking for.”
Arthur replied wryly.
He then walked up and studied the entrance further.
“It appears this forbidden knowledge found him Gabriel.”
He said pointing to the entrance.
There were visible marks of some one clawing desperately to get out.
Suddenly a gust of wind blew through the swamp, dissipating the fog.
We turned around to see the dread figure standing in the middle of the swamp.
“…how long has he been here? Was he watching us the whole time?”
He was motionless with an expression of grimace on his face.
I could feel my heartbeat in my chest. I had kept hoping our relative peace before seeing him would last forever but now it may be our curtain call.
Arthur raised his cross bow and fired at him, catching him in the right lung and knocking him back into the water.
There was no movement, no sound only death like stillness.
“…Almost seems anticlimactic.”
Arthur jested. Despite his somewhat confident veneer, his watery eye’s and jittery composure betrayed the fear in his chest.
The figure then slowly stood back up out of the water arched up straight as possible, then looked down at the impaled bolt in bemusement. An inky black ichor was slowly seeping out around the wound. I mustered the resolve to steady my own crossbow aim, for whatever good it would do. He then took off running towards Arthur. Despite his frail frame, he moved faster than we could react and was upon Arthur in moments, grabbing him and throwing him into the swamp.
Taking advantage of the small window afforded me by Arthur’s being attacked I shot the “man” point blank right in the chest knocking him onto his back.
The stench of his waterlogged body was almost nauseating, still I fought through it.
I pulled out my mace and walked over to him, hoping to land a finishing blow.
“Gabriel, get away from him!”
Arthur bellowed as he stood up in the swamp.
It was to late. The figure was already back on his feet. I tried to swing any way but he caught the mace with his hand. The blunt weapon made a sickening wet thud against his hand.
I attempted to punch him with my free hand but he grabbed my arm and twisted it back away, almost breaking the bones.
I screamed out in pain, it felt like my arm was going to explode. The figure let go when Arthur connected a blow with his mace against the side of the figures head.
“C’mon, quickly now Gabriel.”
Arthur said as he pulled me to my feet.
We both looked at the figure, who just laid there, the side of his head caved in, black vapor leaking out the wound.
“We need to make sure he is no more.”
We then slowly walked over to the body maces ready to flatten his waterlogged corpse.
“This is but a vessel, I exist beyond the scope of time.”
Said the figure as he rose. Wasting no time I swung down hard at him, only to have him twist around and catch it by the shaft. I gasped when I saw his face. the whole side was caved in, with the eye socket crushed and the jaw fragmented. Arthur tried to attack him again but by this point the figure was already back on his feet, grabbed Arthur with his free hand, and slammed him flat onto the ground. Arthur immediately spit up blood.
I screamed at his injured form.
Before I could react, the figure ripped the mace out of my hand, and threw it far off into the swamp, smiling at my impotence. He then grabbed my shirt with both hands, lifted me high into the air, and threw me into the swamp.
I clawed my way to the surface as fast as I could, coughing up muck the moment I broke the surface.
Wiping the water from I eye’s I looked back to the building. The figure had Arthur by the mouth, prying it open. Arthur was limp. He looked over at me, eye’s empty of all hope. The figure began shaking as his own mouth opened, with tentacles of black ichor crawling out. I quickly made my way towards them.
When I reached them, Arthur attempted to grab me by the shirt with his arm, and looked at me. He now had a pleading look in his eye’s.
I will be forever tormented by I did in that moment. Something clicked inside, the very real expression of a ‘what if’ worst case scenario. I ran and slammed into both of them, knocking them down into the sunken temple. I could hear Arthur scream my name all the way down before being silenced with a dull slam from deep within it’s dilapidated interior.
“…I never ran so hard in my life. Adrenaline coursed through me like I had never felt before, not even in the heat of battle. My vision burned as the tears freely flowed down my face. I betrayed him. I betrayed Arthur. Men speak of valor, and dying as brothers on the battlefield, yet deep down most of us know the truth. Living even a single day longer is worth the cost of honor…
Monk you must believe my story, there is a darkness in that swamp that will only spread if we remain complacent!”
I told the hooded monk after finally pouring out my story to him.
I had run non stop till I reached the monastery in town to relate this to him.
He patiently listened to it all in silence. After I finished, he came over and sat on the bench beside me. He kept his head hooded and bowed as a sign of humility. The monk had a dazzling collection of ceremonial spices and herbs hanging off his body. It gave off quite a peculiar smell. It was a strange juxtaposition to his rather plain worn brown robes.
“You belive me don’t you?”
I asked in a timid and exhausted voice.
“Your words do not go unheard sir.”
He replied in a raspy voice.
“Thank you monk, I was afraid anyone would just take my story as the ramblings of a mad man.
I told him feeling relieved for the first since all this happened.
“So long have I waited in the shadows of existence Gabriel.
I flinched at these words. My blood ran cold and my heart stopped right in my chest. The monk then looked up at me for the first time to reveal, the dessicated face of Arthur. I tried to scream but my mouth was stifled by his hand. My vision became consumed by a radiant purple sky before slowly fading to nothingness.