Friday, 12 August 2016

Artel - Fighter

The pitch dark figure moved slowly towards the frozen forms of Artel and Millon, each step seeming to take an eternity. Time itself seemed to slow so that each moment was a year passing, and Artel could feel the cold sweat dribbling down his back, drip by drip by drip. He shivered as he watched the creature made from the very darkness that surrounded it move closer. He longed to look at Millon again, he longed to unsheathe the sword that lay innocently on the floor next to him and use it to bite into the entity before him. He longed to move but every muscle in his body was pulled tight, rigid and unmovable, as if he had been turned to stone.

Artel had never been so scared, and with his fear came shame. He had always been a fighter; the Lord Commanders son could be nothing less. He had held a sword since he first learned to walk, shipped off to one combat school after the other until his prowess with a blade became known throughout the land. He had improved with growth, until the other students were barely a match for him. It was then that he had begun to travel, going from school to school, castle to castle, competing in dual's, melee's and jousts. He rarely lost. As he had moved into manhood, swiftly leaving the turmoil of adolescence behind him, he had quickly found his place in the legion, as captain. Already a fierce fighter, deadly with a blade and fearless in battle, he was was both feared and respected, commanding an authority over his men that it had taken other men years to build.
But frozen with fear in front of the strange creature advancing upon him Artel felt far away from the man he had known, the man he had been. Inside his chest his heart beat like that of a hummingbird, faster and faster. His hands shook and he could feel the cold beads of sweat gathering on his forehead. He longed to blink his dry eyes but found that he could not, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and his throat itched painfully. Terror filled his belly, forming a small tight ball that sunk like an anchor thrown from a ship. He felt sick.
He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye but couldn't concentrate on it, couldn't register it in his fear locked brain. He tried to swallow but his dry throat only closed and opened again with a soft smack. The creature was almost upon him now, it's fiery eyes holding his, mesmerising him. He held it's gaze and felt as if it were sucking all the light, all the life, from his body, slowly blotting out the world around him until there was nothing left but darkness. Shades of black upon black upon black.

Suddenly the creature reared it's head, stepping backwards and away from Artel with a terrible shriek that echoed through the woods, startling nearby birds who took to the skies in droves. The spell was broken and Artel shook his head, the weight lifted from his chest and the ball in the pit of his stomach lightened. The world came slowly back into focus. He reached for his sword but found the space it had occupied empty. He looked back at the rearing creature, blinking in disbelief. The great form shook itself, turning and bucking like an unbroken horse desperate to fling it's rider. It shrieked again and whipped around, leaving trails of dark mist in it's wake and revealing the small figure clinging to the sword that had been embedded up to hilt in it's back.

Millon hung on desperately, his feet no longer touched the ground and as the creature bucked and twisted he was swung wildly from side to side. He knew he could not hold on much longer. He could feel his grip loosening as a layer of sweat built up between his hands and the hilt. He knew when he let go he would fall and the ground would hurt, sending jolts of pain through his unfit body. But that would be nothing compared to the pain the creature would inflict upon him when it realised he was the bug that had stung him. His fingers slipped further down the hilt as the creature shook itself, shrieking again in it's terrible unearthly voice that seemed to ricochet through Millon's body, shaking the particles that held him together.
He did not know why he had stabbed the creature, he had certainly not planned to, he was not that kind of man. He didn't know what had come over him. Some sense of duty perhaps, duty to protect Artel, to serve him, to be useful somehow. Or maybe it had been some sense of self preservation, desperate in the knowledge that without Artel he would not last more than a few days in the forest. He had moved as if in a dream, leaping, almost elegantly, across the green space between him and his master. Gripping the sword hilt and pulling it, almost regally, from it's heavy scabbard. He had dropped the scabbard but that had been the least of his worries. How the creature had not noticed him he did not know, but he had been grateful for it. And before he had plunged the heavy steel weapon into the creatures back he had whispered a silent thank you to the Gods, an unusual practise for him but a sincere one none the less.
There had been a tension between the creature and Artel, a strange tension that had leaked into the wilderness around them. But it had broken the instant that the blade pierced the creatures... what... it did not have skin, only darkness that seemed to curl around itself like so many shadows.

Millon felt his fingers slipping again and one hand left the hilt completely, dropping uselessly to his side. He knew he could not hold on for much longer now, he did not posses the strength to hold himself up with one arm for long. He was hardly a warrior after all.

Gathering himself, Artel faced the creature and ran, his injured pride giving him a burst of adrenaline that made him faster and stronger than usual. He ran and then leapt at the creature, his feet clearing the fire by a good inch and his outstretched hand clasping the hilt of the sword in a firm grip, just above the hand of Millon, who finally let go at almost the same instant. Using his momentum to ricochet off the strange substance of the creature, Artel leapt backwards, sliding the sword out of the creature and bringing it with him so that he landed in fighting stance, knees bent and sword held in front of him.
Behind him Millon pulled himself into a sitting position, staring in disbelief as the creature turned and faced them, it's fire eyes glowing and strange body shaking. It shrieked at them again, the sound seeming to pierce their bodies as if it were somehow inside of them. Then it turned and melted into the darkness leaving the two men alone in the small circle of firelight.