That Which Stains

Alfredo Flores

Odiam lunges forward, but instead of the wretched beast going back to avoid the blow, it steps forward to the left of the spear, putting him within its kill range.  Not able to lean back fast enough to escape its claws, he tries to do the same maneuver that the foul beast did to avoid the spear, but the cunning creature, knowing he would, slashes at his torso, launching him four meters backwards, stopping only when he hits the supply carriage.

            The river gurgles, churning around the mangled pieces of flesh, fellow soldiers and horses.  The letter flies from the pocket over the chainmail, and the wind guides it past the trees,  under the bare branches to the river.  He wonders if he should try to retrieve it, but there is nothing written in the letter that he does not remember.  His family is gone and turned to ashes.  With a creature capable of launching him back such a great distance right in front of him, he might be with them again soon enough.

            He hears words emanate from the creature, but he does not know what it is saying.  He struggles to regain his breath and eyesight, his eyesight returning before his breath does.  The monstrous thing is standing on its side, with yellow eyes penetrating him far beyond where he sits, as if thinking of the ways to prolong this fight.  That filthy smile appears again on its face, filling his mouth with a bitter bile taste.  He spits towards the smiling demon, it seeming not to notice, or if did, not caring about the insult.

            The monster reaches for the syrinx flute on its belt.  It lifts it up to its cracking lips, Odiam begins to brace himself for a disgusting melody, but what comes out is an almost whimsy echo that fills the dead silence.  The sound carried what he can only think of as greenness, with low notes that instill in him a deep sorrow, but also a sense of urgency.  Fear.  Fear unlike what he is already feeling.  Like the happy notes are there to lower his guard, but still not hiding the hatred underneath.

            The air, when it finally fills his chest, brings neither relief nor any hope since it carries the fetid stench of copper all over it.  Down on his chest, the leather armor is in near tatters with a claw pattern, but the chainmail underneath bear only minor damage.

            The thing stops playing, ending with a high note, and simply stands there, head cocking to the side, with a hand rubbing what he imagines is its chin.  It seems to him that thing is waiting for something.  He is not sure for what, but the dull ringing in his marrow is screeching at him that it is waiting for him.  For him to do what, he cannot begin to wonder, but there it stands, waiting.

            He gets up, keeping one dark brown eye on the unmoving creature, while the other peers on the surrounding area.  At least whatever is still visible in the misty, autumn dusk.  The trees are still losing their leaves.  Hundreds of thousands litter the ground.  Some are brown, yellow, a few even green, but each and every one of those hundreds of thousands of leaves are drenched and splattered in crimson.

            How a cavalry of one thousand soldiers, along with four scores of horses could be slaughtered in such a short amount of time, and by the hands of just one, he cannot understand.  Even the river is turning dark in the moonlight, filling with the crimson flowing into it.  His eyes fog over, and the monster starts to bend its dog-like legs, ready to sprint.  He shakes his head.   The time for reflection will have to wait, and also their burial.

The monster stands still as a twisted monolith, with long, skeletal arms hanging loose at the sides, with the flute still on hand.  The claws slip back inside the fingers, but he can still see the drops of blood falling down, hitting the ground with a soft, but loud bloop.  It is nearly twice his own height, bare chested, ribs protruding from it, with only rags of lower garments that are cut off at the knees.  It is at the knees that makes Odiam sure that it is not a human.  Instead of the legs and feet of a human, it has the legs of a horse, cloven with black molting hair all around it.  The face resembles a man only in the vaguest sense, but once oily hair is sweeps away, revealing features he believes better resemble a goat.

            Spear in one hand, the shield in the other, he ignores the sharp pain on his right abdomen, sure that several of his ribs are broken.  A small wince escapes his lips, so he growls at himself for showing weakness.  A roaring laugh surrounds him, making the made the air around his head feel squeeze.

            “Tired, wincing, soul nearly broken, and yet, there you still stand.  I must say, never have I had such enjoyment,” the beast says in between its laughter.  The voice pierces his ears like blades sharpening on a wet stone.

            It speaks his language.  All his life, he heard tales of powerful forest spirits and monsters with the ability to converse with humans, but he never once believed any of it to be real.  The cold sweat sliding down his back was turning the already cold mail even more so.  The taste of bile returns, promising to heave an empty gut.  He lurches, seeing the scattered pieces of flesh and the pools of crusty blood.  He stands straight once again.

            “You find joy in this?” Odiam says.  “You are worse than a beast, for even beasts only kill to eat.  You are nothing more than a butcher that kills without purpose.”

            Mists of foul breath spills from the laughing maw of the creature.  “Not without purpose.  Killing everything of your kind is all the purpose I need.”

            It does not matter.  It can speak, but it makes no difference.  The only thing that matters is getting home.  His wife and son still need their proper burial.  He raises his spear, two swords on his belt, his helm locks in place, and he marches forward.

            Continuing to laugh, the gaunt creature also takes long steps toward Odiam.  He is careful not to step on any of the destroyed bodies when he can, but the fiend holds no such sympathy.  In fact, every cloven step aims to desecrate every corpse that lies in his path.

            Motioning the hand that holds the flute, the thing utters, “This tongue is new to me.  Last I saw one of you little pests, your speech was quite dissimilar.”

            Fighting it out in the open is not working.  He must make better use of these trees, but how?  The thing is thin, so at the beginning, he believed that he would have a strength advantage, in spite of it being almost twice his own height, but after having three exchanges with it, he taking every bit the damage being dealt out, he must find another tactic beyond the conventional.  After all, he is trained to fight soldiers on a battlefield as part of a battalion.  It is strong, very strong, and the speed of it blurs the vision.  Trained to fight other men, but there he is, alone, with the forest monster that annihilated his entire battalion.  He slams the ground with the bottom of his shield, as he surveys the trees.  He then glances back to note the distance of the creature, and sees a possible opportunity.  Not a good one, but it’s the only one he has.

            “Come, now.  That is the courage I’ve been waiting for,” the sharp voice of the creature calls out while still taking horrid steps.  “Show me what the progress of time has done to improve your lot,” it pauses, looking around at the blood stained heaps, “for it has to be more than what these other things have shown me thus far.”

            Good, let it keep talking.  “Tell me, fiend, what are you?”

            The monster’s smile wrenches away to a scowl of disgust that make his knees lock in place.  “Fiend?  I was once more, much more than what I am,” the monster says as it stretches out its arms to the side.  “Now, I am what you hollow insects have made me.”

            He starts moving at an angle, trying to face it on its square.  Better to have it square than on the side.  Square means a bigger target, and a bigger target means a bigger target.

            “Why are you still alive?” the wretch asks as it turns its head to follow Odiam’s circling.  “The rest fell without a single one of them even landing so much as a scratch, but you are still here.  It is strange.”

            He has been wondering that himself.  There were no screams until more than half of the cavalry had their blood painted on the forest, so why is he not dead?  “It is mere luck and nothing more.”

            Shaking its head, the creature says, “You are lying.  In all these thousands of years, I have never failed to kill what I decide to kill, until now.”

            “Thousands of years?” Odiam says.  “Old age is finally dulling your savagery.”

            The smile on its face returns.  It stretches its shoulder back.  The crack is louder than the sound of the river gliding over the metal of the torn armor on the bodies.  “Perhaps.”

            The vicars always warn against exchanging words with demonic entities.  They say a demon can make a man forget himself and everything they hold dear.  No demon will make him forget those he loved.  Those he left to die.

This damn thing is perhaps a demon, but just as likely as not be something completely different, and more dangerous.  He has done what he needed to do, so he holds his tongue.  Besides, he is close to the tree now.  Just a few more steps.

            The fiend is less than ten meters away.  The long, thin arms spray midway from its elbows, almost like a caricature of an emaciated angel, but with blood dripping talons instead of white wings.  “I took the time to learn your tongue, as it was rude to insult you in an unfamiliar language.  Did you enjoy my melody?”

            It confirms his suspicions.  This entity somehow learned to speak his language with that flute.  Fine.  It is one less mystery to peel away at his focus.  The tree right on his back.  Now, he simply has to wait for it to come just a bit closer.

            “Well, if that melody was not to your liking,” it says while putting away the flute.  It continues to crush the flesh and bones of the corpses littering the ground, the smile growing wider and maniacal with every crunch underfoot, “perhaps the melody I play when I tear out those lovely green eyes of yours will make you forget the agony.”

            It crouches, the hind legs bending the same way a wolf does before going for the throat.  He needs to time it right.  Even the slightest of hesitation will mean certain death.  It seems certain either way, but with only minimal degrees of difference.  But that’s all he needs.

            The creature is crouching, the claws digging into the earth, with the hooves not even visible they are so deep in the dirt.  It is still smiling, but the lips shut tight.  The hair falls in front of its yellow eyes.  He, like Achilles, the hero of old, spear in hand on his left hand, shield to his right, mild tremors on his back, and steel helmet sinking lower into his head, readies for the rush.  The silence weighs heavy in the calm.

            The wind tears a branch off its roots, hitting a blood covered stone.

            Once it falls, the creature leaps claws first, black teeth second to Odiam, but he dips down.  The creature anticipates him using the same maneuver it used to launch him back at the cart, so it stops and swipes at him.  However, instead of plunging down and forward into the incoming sharp talons, he leaps back at a far left angle and rolls enough to have the tree covering him from the vile chimera.

            It is aiming to sever his head, but all it hits is dirt.  The smile fades away to reveal a snarl and even brighter yellow eyes.  It lashes at the tree that separates it from him, letting out a mind splitting howl that makes him stumble, seeing sending his arms in random directions to grab hold and steady himself.  He bashes his shield on his head, and the pain clears away the confusion, though not without the trickle of blood dripping between his eyes down his nose and lips.

            This is his chance.  From over the shield, he thrusts his spear at the creature, connecting on its thigh, spraying golden blood on the tip of the spear.  Smells of rotten fruits hanging on vines nearly send him reeling back, but he prepares for the second blow.  It roars again, but seeing the second thrust coming at its head, it vaults back.

            With a low growl, it lifts a two limbless torso off the wet ground, the returning wind flinging droplets of crimson onto its hooves.  He barely manages to hide behind the tree when the remains crash against the tree, sending bits of bark clinking against the shield.  He runs to a patch of tightly grouped trees, but before he get behind them to relative safety, the left side of his face splits apart, tearing his iron helmet in two.

            He stumbles, not able to keep his eyes open from the molten pain, he touches his way to the trees, and from behind, the creature gives out a victorious yell.  He cannot fall to the pain, though the sound of his pounding heart almost drops him.  Kneeling, he reaches up to his face, a deep vertical gash on the left side of his face going across his eye.  He tries to open it, but he finds there is nothing to unveil.  The socket is empty.  He believes it is because it hurts too much for him to actually feel with his fingers.

            He looks back to locate the creature, and it is standing about fifteen meters away, with a long egg white lash in its left hand.  That must be what it used to take his eye, though, were it not for the helmet, his head would have cracked on the forest floor.  The whip is thicker than what he would expect a whip would be.  Shorter, as well.  How could it reach him if it is that short?

            The pain in his empty eye socket makes him put the wonder of the whip aside, he gets up, spear and shield at the ready.  It takes a few more moments for his right eye to clear off the tears and sweat.  The first view is of the creature, glowering, leering at him.  Claws extend on its right, the odd whip at his – that is it.  The evidence is clear on the monster’s feet.  One of the few bodies not torn to pieces, aside from the bits of rib bones left behind when the profane demon ripped the spine out to use it to whip his left eye out.  The creature starts stomping forward.

            This time, he does retch, one that pierces through the soundless twilight.  His chest heavy, empty, the realization that this might be an enemy that cannot be defeated.  He goes back down to his knees, chin to his chest, but the creature ceases moving, as well.

            Its head leaning to the left, what stand for brows furrowing, mouth twisting in such a way that makes one think of the taste of rotten fish, it murmurs, “What is this?”

            He is not there anymore, not really.  The night shrouding the blood wet soil, making it shimmer.  The memories of his wife and child rush through his mind.  The sad faces they had when he left with the other soldier from his village.  He remembers the locket giving his wife the locket that holds the vows to one another.  He failed to keep them alive, and he’s going to fail them, again.  All there is now is the wait for the sweet release.

            “Kneeling?  This cannot be all you are worth.  Lose a single eye and you fall to your knees, like one of the feeble rabble.”

            It is the way of the world.  The victor decides the fate of the victim.  The spear in his hand begins to become lax and is near to falling.

            “I thought you would provide me real enjoyment,” it mocks as it begins to walk again, spinning the spinal whip in a lethal vortex.  “Proceed to pray.  You managed to wound me, however slight, which is more than your fellow corpses can claim, so as a mercy, you can pray to your ‘Christ.’”

            The moon hides behind the clouds in shame.  The woods are black with death, perhaps always were and will be.  The wind dies, silencing the creaking branches, and even the river seems miles away when he’s only fifty paces from it.  He wonders when was the last time the heavens looked down on what they left abandoned.  Perhaps the same day he abandoned his family.

            My Christ, he thinks.  He had never been his.  Never believed Him real.  If a devil such as this really does exist, and the battering on his face is proof enough, let alone the hulking wisp before him, then there surely is a Christ.

            The spear in his hand almost rings from the sudden intensity.

            The creature stands in front of him, bits of flesh and bone still cling to the hairy legs.  The same with the hooves, adding to the dirt and tree leaves.  “What a good boy.  Never straying, always praying.  How pious of you.”  It lifts him by the neck to meet its eyes.

            Look what piety has wrought.  A mountain of flesh, bone and metal strewing as far as he can see with his eye.  How could Christ allow so much death and darkness?  He without a home.  Nothing, but burnt ruins and regret.  Better for Him to be an illusion to appease the masses than to be real and uncaring.  Look what piety has wrought.

            Looking at the thing from afar is horrible enough, but to have it only a mere breath away makes him wonder how he ever thought it looks human to any degree.  The skin on the face is a dark shade of ruby, cracking along the eyes, perhaps from all the laughter in the wake of death it leaves behind.  The hand on his neck brings to mind a thorn bush coiling around him.  The eyes, a pair of caverns slit down the middle, full of jaundice.  There are hints of broken horns that rise above the black mat hair.  It is the smell, however, that beguiles him.  The scent of sweet bread pervades his entire being.  The scent of his home.  The warmness that lulls you to sleep before the darkness takes hold.  He closes his eyes.  Somewhere inside him, he feels a glimmer of joy.  He remembers wrapping the gold locket around her neck.  The smile shining through her tears.  This will be enough, he thinks.  If I have to die, then home is where I want to be.  I am sorry.

            The creature rips off what is left of the leather armor, revealing the iron mail.  The echo of laughter crashes against the woods, the breath of it wrenching Odiam down from the hearth of his mind.  It reeked of eucalyptus and moldy mutton.  If he is able to draw free breath, he would heave the bile building in his gut.

            It raises the barbed claws to his forehead and pulls back behind its head.  “Farewell, you filthy speck.  Go back to your worthless master.”

            The locket is the only memory he has left of them in this world.  If he dies, then so do their memory.  He will not allow them to die, again.

            He spins the spear so the point faces down.

            He opens his eyes, disgust at the glee in the creature’s misshapen visage, and he whispers, “I. Serve. No one!”  With a yell, and a quick motion, he raises and brings down the spear point on the beast’s shoulder blade muscle.  A golden stream explodes from the wound, showering his arm, staining it the same gold as his spear.  It is more viscous than any blood he has ever felt before, like sap from an elder wood.  The rotten fruit scent envelops him.  It screams and tosses Odiam through the patch of thin trees.  His breath flows out for a moment, with the shield rolling away, but the spear stays in his grip.

            The bellows that emanating from the beast sends the hiding birds flying for safety, the many number of panicking flaps overwhelm the screams from the creature’s desperate and futile attempts to use its left arm.  He had once seen a man survive a blow to the muscle in the shoulder blade, but he could never use that arm ever again.  He gambled that the creature could be hurt there the same as a man, and he took his chance.

            Now with the use of only its right arm, which he is sure is the beast’s non-dominant arm, it is still a perilous fight, but no longer an impossible one.

            He stands, spear in both hands, that same golden ichor streams down the thing’s arm, spilling to the ground.  He isn’t sure of the distance, his eye still not acclimated to make up for the loss of the other, but the gold sure does make it simpler.

            The creature staggers, struggling to find its footing.  This is a creature that has never felt fear, let alone pain before, so now it is more dangerous than ever.  It can either fight, or run.  Either way, he will be ready.  If it does neither, then he will become the hunter from the hunted.

            He starts to take steps toward the creature, focusing on the weakened left side, but his true aim being the lungs on the right side.  It will be crippled and drowning for air.

            The creature looks back at him, remembering that it is no longer safe, with breaths that turn into mist in the night’s coming cold.  Its face contorts into one playing at anger and fear, but more of the latter.  The face contorts to a horrid smile, “I with one arm, and you with a single eye.  You think you have me at your mercy?  I could be one of these lumps of flesh, and I would still rend you piece by piece.”

            Let the coward speak, he thinks.  He grasps the spear with both hands, circling to his right, stepping over remains, his back leg tense, ready to sprint, and his eye never flinching.

            For the first time since they started battling, the creature took steps back.  This was more to his liking.

            “Seems like we are meant be here.  A god of old and a champion of the new,” the lame beast babbles.  “What is your name, champion?”

            Clergy laws be damned, he replies, “My name is Odiam Garrett.”

            Shaking its head, but more out of amusement than disbelief, “The Spear of Hate.  Your family named you well.  The Fates were not so cruel in the end, it seems.”  The monster straightens, but doubles over immediately.  “And as for me, I have names that number in the hundreds.  Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and all others I have forgotten.  When I came to this land, a farmer called me Dullahan.  I quite liked it, even after I tore his throat out in front of his children.  His last gargle was ‘Llahan.’ It suits me, do you not think so?”

            His lifts his spear, gripping the ash wood with singular purpose.

            “Time for speech is over, eh?  I agree, Odiam Garrett,” the fiend confirms in an almost singing voice, something brings to mind a scene of pale beings dancing on a warm summer night.  But instead of attacking him, it turns, fleeing like a rabbit to a fox into the blackness of the forest.

            It would either run or fight, but he did not think it would flee from him, with the damage as it is.  Too much in so short of time has happened to just let that damned thing escape to murder more, so he runs in pursuit.

            As he runs, he tears the sleeve from under his chainmail and wraps the cloth around his empty socket.  It will probably rot on any account, but he still hopes.  The terrain opens up to a small valley of trees that runs along the red river.  He stands still, overlooking the tops of the trees, and one of them shakes, as if something is brushing past them.   It is running, but it is still within reach.  The useless arm must be weighing it down.  All along the dark earth, the bright, golden ichor betrays the creature.  It might as well lay arrows pointing the way.  He makes his way down the slope until he reaches the outskirts of the valley.

            Sliding through, and to the side of any tree that comes, jumping over small creeks, climbing the many small hills that litter this countryside begin to take a toll on him.  The heavy chainmail was a blessing during the battle, but now it is more effort to keep it on than it is worth.  Still, he will not just discard it.  Vulnerable without his iron helm and leather armor, the chainmail and the iron greaves are the only things that give him a chance to kill that monstrosity.

            As he follows the golden trail, he realizes that the fight to live is over.  He stops on a small hill overlooking a small town.  The beast is gone.  It will most assuredly kill many more, but a man like him cannot hope to kill what only a man of faith can.  He has none left.  It burned to ashes along with his family.  Let those zealots of Christ deal with it.  Giving his family a proper burial is more important than some demon.

            The ichor is still there, leading to the town.  He turns away from the ichor, when a garish melody pierces empty night.  He raises his hands to his ears, proving ineffective to block out the song.  He stumbles, turning to find the source, but just as before, it is everywhere.  The world begins to blur, then it cuts to black.

            He awakens back at home.  All a dream.  He reaches for his face, hesitant, at first, wanting to know if his left eye is still gone, but it has returned.  With both eyes, he sees his home.  His home, a small cottage in the outskirts of a small village.  It has only two rooms, one for him and his wife, the other for his son, though he always stays in their bed, afraid of the monsters outside his window.  He was right to be.

He extends his hand to the other side of the bed, a panicking wonder if he is alone, or elation if his wish has truly come true.  He grips the bedding with a trembling hand and drags the covers away.  There they are. His wife and child lying next to him.  He cannot bring himself to believe it true.  Everything from the last three months has been just a nightmare.

The letter he received from his brother informing his of his family’s murder.  The pillaging of the few trinkets they had.  An ancient locket he gave to her that holds the half gold coin from their betrothal.  All just a nightmare.

            It is still almost beyond belief.  Her lovely brown hair, storm gray eyes beneath slumbering lids, and his boy, hair as black as his, but with his mother’s eyes.  He reaches down to touch what he hopes is their warm skin, but he stops.  The cottage is exactly as every scrap of hope he carries wants it to be again, but he knows that the cottage does not look like what it should.  The fact that it is not burned to the ground by a mob of zealots looking for witches, means that this is not his home, and his seemingly still alive wife and son, means that this is not real.

            He sobs, wishing to stay here for the rest of his days, living the lie that the beast is gifting him, but his rage, regret, and hope will not allow him.

“I am so sorry, my dove,” he whispers to the wisp of his wife.  “I was not there for either of you.  Please, forgive me.  I love you both so much.”

They crumble to ashes in his arms.  He clenches his fist, feeling the clumps of ash mix with his tears, extends his thumb, and jabs it into his left eye, the pain bringing back the darkness of the forest road, the ichor and laughter of the creature mocking him.

            He screams, slamming his head to the ground, hating the creature and himself in equal measure.

            The laughter echoes all around him.  Noxious words emerge from within the hollows, “Tell me what you saw in your brief reflection.  What you love most?  What you could and likely would have been?  You should have stayed in the mercy I gave you.”

            His hands shake, head throbbing.  He remembers their faces.  Full of peace, of joy.  For however long he lives, the next minute, the next century, he will always have their peaceful faces.  Darkness shrouds the dirt road, but the golden ichor leads the way.

            In the village, a fire is lit, and spreads like a flood.  He found his prey.  He takes flight, hoping the trembling will leave with the activity.

Once at the village, everything is ablaze.  The demon, laughs from somewhere in the streets, and there it is, within the flames, flowing all around him.  He races to it, but cries ring out from the farthest house.

            “What will you do, champion?  Will you pursue me and sentence them to their death, or will you save them but forsake the chance to ever kill me?  I am absolutely weakened with anticipation!”

            This is why it lit the flames, to force a choice.  Abandon one for the other.  Every bit of his fiber wails for retribution, but the family’s cries for help snap his head back to the burning cottage.  He rushes to the inferno, bashing against the door, but it does not budge, even with his strength.  The chainmail gets caught in a piece of burning plank, so he squeezes out from under it, it catching flame once it sits on the wood.  The undershirt also catches fire, so it, too, is torn off.

            None of the family yelling for help is there.  He pauses.  The roaring of the fire blocks any clear thought.  All this is another trick from the demon, and it is working.  He stares back in the clearing where it stood, but it was gone.  It was another trick, after all.  He begins his stalk again, but then he glimpses a boy within the home.  He’s crying and reaching through the fire for salvation.  It must be what it looked like when his family burned.

            There are real people in danger.  He knows what he must do, and it is save the town, but he also knows that that vile wretch will escape, and it will never pay for using his family to toy with him.  The child’s cries grow even louder, blood curdling as the flames finally reach and envelop him.  It’s too late for them.  He finds a trail of gold leading out the village, and leaves behind the inferno, where many, if not all of the prayers for salvation end without an amen.

            All the armor, gone.  The shield, gone.  Only his spear, iron grieves and one good eye.  And with that good eye, and strong legs, he finds the end of the golden trail left by the wounded Llahan.  It is a wide cavern, darker than night sky, the scent of raw metals is even stronger than in the forest grave.  It also smells of spoiled fruit.  He is there.

            He creeps inside it, but he stops after only two steps.  The loud clang of his iron grieves give away his position.  The last of his protection.  He fears to part with it, but they will lead him to ruin.  He kneels down and peels them off, showing a pair of feet full of bruises and cuts that ache with the relaxation.  Now it was just the spear.  No defense, just attack.

            Nothing from inside can be seen, not the tip of the spear, nor the hand mere hairs away from his face, but he could still smell, though he wishes he cannot.  The copper is heavier, mixed in with the smell of rotted mushrooms layered with putrefied remains.  He figures they are remains, because he feels bones of different size animals under his feet.  Dozens of little pins bore into the bottom of his feet, more an annoyance than pain.

            He places a hand on the wall, but it slices his hand with a stone embedded within it.  He cannot see the wound, but judging from the loud droplets of wet hitting the already slick floor, it is not insignificant.

            The deeper he reaches in, the more his mind clouds over.  All his courage and bravado from before entering the cavern is being leached by the Darkness embracing him, persuading him to stop fighting.  Throw away the spear.  Give in.  It’s not coming from the demon, but from the Darkness itself.  It’s the thing behind the demon.  The thing that has kept him alive when, by all rights, he should be dead a hundred times over.  He’s alive because the Darkness desires it so.

            “So, you came.  I am quite glad, though not for the dozens of families you left to burn back in that town.  Though, I will admit, it does tickle me.”

            The voice is coming from behind him, but he does not trust his senses.  Knowing it was another trick, he keeps taking his careful steps forward, the battle rush taking away the sting from his feet and bleeding hand.

            “Here we are, two parts on the same drachma.  You even feel IT, do you not?”

            So, it is not just him, then.  Not just his fear of the dark running rabid.

            “Oh, IT will never speak, not really.  Does not need to.  I was once beloved by lovers of the wild throughout the world.  I was venerated, praised as a god.  I was kind and just.  But then, warlords from the west came, chopping and burning everything I loved and held dear.”

            Something is just ahead.  A sort of glow.  He cannot see it, yet, but he knows it is there.  Some of the bones are skulls under his bare feet, tiny human ones.  He steps over those when he is able.

            “As you know from recent events, that much wanton destruction drives you to depths you never once fathomed.  And it is in that depth that IT finds you.  The Darkness.”

            There.  The glow.  All around a wet surface.  A pond surrounded by glowing plants.  And in that pond, water up to its knees, the vile, but wounded beast.

            The gangly arm hangs useless.  The ruby face is pale.  It is not long for this world.

            “IT found me.  Gave me what I wanted; to take away from those what they love and hold most dear, and tear it in frenzy in front of them.”  Llahan looks up at him, no fight or will left in its woe begotten yellow eyes.

            Odiam, chest and feet bare, glides into the pond.  The old god and the champion of the new exchange stares of sorrow to spite.  He lifts the spear, aiming for its putrid heart.

            Its eyes turn from forlorn to what Odiam can no longer recognize; hope.  “I wonder, what it is that you really want.  Is it to get back what was taken from you, or revenge against those who took from you and left you barren?”

            He reaches back, but pauses.  He stares at the creature, a shimmer of understanding between the two.  After a long moment to think about a reply, he puts all his might into the thrust and drills his spear to and through Llahan’s chest.  The golden ichor bursts out, splashing and turning him gold all over.  Though covered in golden blood, there is no longer that foul scent.  Some of that ichor even got into his eye, but it did not stop him from pushing the demon through the water, boring the spear into the back wall.

            There it hangs.  Llahan, the monstrous, vile demon, there for none but Odiam to see.

            It grasps at the ash wood, breathing those final breaths, shoots a look of gratitude to Odiam, who responds with the same unfulfilled hatred as before.

            As a small mercy for the fallen prey, he finally replies, “I will return what was taken.  Not my family, for I am unworthy to see them as I am now.  But the treasure that led me to her, that is my goal.”  The now stained golden Odiam turns his back to Llahan, whose hands has fallen to its sides.  “If vengeance is taken, so much the better.”

            The walk back to the entrance is far easier than before.  The golden ichor lights the way.  he pays no mind to the bones strewn all about the cavern.  They fell victim to what he overcame.  They are not worth going out of his way to preserve.  The forgotten will stay the forgotten.  He does not even feel even a single sting from the thousands of tiny sharp bones.

            At the entrance, with his yellow eye, he surveys the land, which is still dark to the common rabble, but he is no longer the common rabble.  The world’s darkness is as clear to him as the blue of the sea in the eye of a storm.

            The world is there.  His for the taking.  The wounded, broken man is no longer.  No spear.  No armor.  Nothing but his golden hands.  The world in his golden hands.

            Spreading and clenching his hands, the new power within them, he smiles.  The night is still young.  The trinket awaits, along with certain zealots that have yet to pay for their unregretted transgressions.

            Melting into shadow, Odiam is gone.


Alfredo Flores is a husband and father living in Southern California. When he’s not busy writing, he’s reading, or spending time with his family. As an avid reader of horror, sci-fi and fantasy stories, his favorite authors in the genres are Neil Gaiman, H.P. Lovecraft, Terry Pratchett, and Dean Koontz.