~ a short story
Crimson dripped off the end of the blade and into the dirt. Jok let a primordial scream rip out from his lips. The image of the swordsman before him on the road was bypassed by the carnage in his wake. Eviscerated bodies. Burning houses. Utter silence.
They were all dead.
Yv. Sam. Vera. Anan. Hon.
Mother. Father. Sisters. Brother. Everyone…
Out of a shroud of bloodmist still rippling with the latent kinetics of murderous vitality, wielding a presence of unnameable terminus, the Slayer emerged. There was no sheath, only the blade in his hand. His voice crackled with a deep doom. The words, barely registered, grated against the last vestiges of Jok’s fading consciousness.
“You were not chosen,” the thing with the sword said.
It, the daemon, grinned. Long flowing hair the color of void curled around a collection of wayward horns sprouting from within its scalp and fell down over its barren body. All its muscles twinged with the vigor of a titan. The blood of all his love, now dead and gone, bore itself upon its body. A tattered cloth covered its midsection and dragged along the ground in fraying wisps as it approached. The thing’s only discernible possession was its sword, drenched with the work of this night cusping dawn. Another look revealed a string of four skulls tied and dangling around its waist with a banner as white as those bleached bones. They clacked and jangled against its motion.
As the thing graced its careful steps into striking range, Jok sunk down to his knees, out of energy. Out of any will to live, let alone keep his scream, he embraced his dark fate.
“This is just the will of fate,” the daemon whispered in a language that Jok could not place but could nevertheless understand. “This place was only along the path… Simply another node within the bounds of causality…”
It spoke as if its words were a litany. Not to him, but to the world. To whatever dark God it no doubt revered and wielded its sword solely for the sake of.
Jok began to weep. Unselfconscious and fast being crushed through the bottomost layers of an abyss he could not fathom, the young man clutched his left to his chest, to his arresting heart buried somewhere underneath his traveling cloak.
I am only alive… Because I was… Running away. I left them all here to die like dogs in the street. Cut down. All of them. By a single swordsman. There were only a few screams I could hear as I drew back along my shameful trail. The smoke forced me to revert my flight, not the expectation of total death. Not the end of…
Behind him, his rucksack of five days’ provision fell in a heap, the dried meats and wheatsticks sunk into the bloody mud, as spoiled and useless as his life up to now.
The shadow of the daemon’s bulk rose over the boy. The sword dripped as it rose.
Beside him, Jok’s hand dug into the dirt. Conscious with sudden rage and rising regret, he burrowed his fingers into the earth. His lamentation became distilled with a drop of hope.
At least… they all died together.
At last, Jok’s gaze rose to meet his maker, the red-eyed, toothy-mawed visage of the Slayer. Only its strong arm carried the blade into its position to strike him down. The off-hand crossed over the center of its chest as if in prayer.
“Can’t say the same for me,” Jok breathed out.
“Farewell, mortal,” the daemon said to him. The sword lunged down at an angle destined to meet Jok perfectly, where his head joined with his body. Its velocity promised a swift and unknowable end.
In the same motion, Jok found himself ducking down and away from the strike, his resigned kneel turning to an instinctive leap. In his right hand, his throwing hand, he clutched a small but sturdy pebble he’d gathered into his palm at some point in the last few moments. Through the burst of the dirt, his hand shoved out. The pebble flew up at the Slayer with unmarred precision, outracing the sword’s descent.
The blade completed its strike, only its tip connecting with the edge of Jok’s temple, drawing a minor wound. Laying on his side now, Jok stared into the only eye the daemon had left in disbelief. The light faded there. The other eye, now a gored out and blackened mess, dripping with eerie viscera, was gone. It was replaced by light. Jok watched as a tiny pinprick of sunlight fell through that void. Dawn had finally come. Shot through the head of the swordsman were the first rays of the new day.
The daemon spoke no more in its deep and banal tone. Jok finally felt the burn of the cut along his face.
And another burn along with it, somewhere deep within him.
The body fell to the side as Jok rose. Smoke wafted off the dead thing. Jok breathed a deep breath. Blood spilled out from his head and streamed down his face. He bent down to recover the blade which had fallen from its hand. The hilt of the grand and beautiful weapon was well-worn. Still warm from the hand of its previous owner.
Now turning cold, Jok thought as he looked him over. The knuckles of his right whitened in their grip upon the weapon.
Just a boy. Jok could tell, despite his ruined profile. He wore the armor of Sarovek. Vassal to the Empire. A rival village, forever a wartime enemy, but through conflicts long past and long forgotten. Or so he thought…
Why had he come? Why had he done this? Why did this happen? Why…
Jok let the necessary questions burn away as he began to step back the other way through town, through the massacre. His home. And beyond it.
The questions, the protestations, the despair. The uncertainties. It all fell away. With the blade in hand, stepping over the bodies, Jok began to bear his teeth in a revitalizing chatter.
All he saw, and all he anticipated now, was crimson. ~