//tw: blood, death
The early morning fog swirled around the lone figure, standing in the middle of an elaborately decorated courtyard. Tall arches of marble with inlaid gold-like décor. Long hallways of shadowed grandeur and creeping vines of the finest metal. But they had all since rusted and turned even darker. Green splotches of decay blossomed on the abandoned walls.
The vegetation in that small enclosed area seemed more dead than alive. Close inspection upon the browning leaves of bushes that boasted of former luster, one would have found them crawling with maggots. Little fat white bodies squirming and withering to survive.
But the figure did not bother to look through the brown greenery surrounding him. Nor did he pay heed to the dark blue oozing liquids scattered across the stone beneath his feet.
His shirt was dyed with the same disgusting substances and he made a swift note in his mind that he would have to wash his shirt. He cursed under his breath, a ragged puff cutting through the spiraling fog. He had forgotten that he did not have another shirt. Not enough pebbles, again.
Then a dull, thick moan reached his ears. “Damn, still alive, huh?” A coarse cutting of words. No wonder. He hadn’t felt that sensation of his skin crawling across the frame of his body and repositioning itself upon his lean form. Or so he described that sensation. Others would say differently.
Reaching behind his back, his tattered gloved hand grasped the handle of his sword. It needed sharpening after this job was done. A lackluster greatsword. It sparked a glare as the tip left the sheath with a shlink. The groaning turned to a baby-like babble. The man, weapon in hand, advanced upon the source of the wailing.
As he brought the cutting edge of his blade to the neck of the creature, lying defenceless upon the ground in fetal position, blue liquid oozing from its body, the creature had turned its blood shot eyes and opened its gasping mouth for one more plea for life, when the man’s blade sprouted from the other side of its neck. Its eyes rolled back and its body fell limp.
The man drew back his weapon from the body, then suddenly, doubled over.
He had never felt so much pain before. None like this in his previous assignments.
His weapon’s point dug in to the cracks in the stone pavement as its master staggered to one knee, gasping for breath. He clawed at his shoulder, gripping a fistful of ragged cloth, and gritted his teeth.
Sweat beaded his forehead. It dripped down his cheeks, a waterfall of salt and exhaustion. And fear, though the man did not want to feel such an emotion. Through his narrowed eyes, the man could see the dark ink slither across his upper arm. A window to a view of the unnatural pain, cut by a hole in his shirt. The bottomless black liquid stopped moving, settling into creepy handwritten cursive letters.
Sharp, pointed lettering. The name of the creature whose life he just ended. In darker than black ink. Encircling his arm.
As the pain ebbed away, like the ocean tide from the shore, the man pulled himself up and drew his blade tip out of the cracks in the rocks. Drawing up to full height and with regained confidence, the man sheathed his sword and turned to leave the disturbing, foul-smelling courtyard.
Just as his feet, wrapped in heavy boots, clopped their way to the entry staircase, the sound of the tolling of bells assailed his ears. The dull rumbling, like thunder after lightning. It could mean only one thing. Turning his hooded head to the air above him, the man muttered, half to himself and half to the already dead ones behind him.
“Another one’s fallen in, huh.”
A patch of light, earthly light, pierced through a hole in the sky. A hole in the fabric of the unearthly world. Then, as quick as the blink of an eye, it closed up. The hooded man returned his gaze to the air before him, making his way down the stairs and slipping into the shadows of a dank, dark alleyway.
The bells continued ringing, their sound echoing like loud clanks of
metal in a metal shop, their peals intermingling until they disappeared into the