The Land Called Myself
The ghoul was alone. Lost from its path, it wandered the streets of Collette Town in the dead of night, feeling its way around to its prey, with no memory of how it got there or any idea of where it would go next.
As it took one more step down the gravel road, it felt them. One human. Completely alone. Heavy… but young. A ripe and meaty child meal. With this prize awaiting it, the ghoul rushed forward- of course, it could not see the glint of the axe as the moonlight reflected off it. All it felt was the lightning pain of its broken, brainless skull, and the blood spilling down its body as it fell, never to rise again.
Alviss was either the most beloved or most feared man in all of Collette Town. As a paragon of justice to the townsfolk, he spent his time ridding the streets of hoodlums and burglars since he was a young boy, using his god-given strength and wits to outplay even the most dastardly of local pests. It was not long before he started also hunting monsters lurking into the town, bashing in their skulls until he grew to enjoy it.
He had hated monsters ever since the last night he rested his small head on his mother’s lap as she read him a story. It was a story she had written her very self, bound in thick leather on thin pages. The beginning of the story explored the life of a fisherman named Alvin. He worked hard each and every day to get his fellow townsfolk fed, always returning with heaps of dead salmon. It was strenuous work, but of a very predictable nature. He knew that so long as he applied his strengths he could achieve sufficent catches just about any day.
In the world Alviss’ mother created, there were no monsters roaming the seas. There only existed glorious man and unintelligent beast, with nothing in-between. It was a fantasy of sorts. Even though it was a boring story, one which he would always fall asleep during before it reached its end, Alviss loved this tale. It was like a carved-out diorama, a sculpture of which he knew every indentation. A simple world even he could understand, that would always play out the exact same.
Though on one night, it did not.
Gloria’s son was shivering so much. She tried to hold him, but it changed nothing. On that night, Alviss was unable to close his eyes for even a moment. He explained to her how he had seen a montrous woman in the woods give birth through her back. The newborn child fell to the ground, shivering as its legs parted, resting on the cold, dew-covered grass. It bore no anatomy- like it was already clothed, it showed not the faintest wrinkle or protrusion below its waist. Just a flat space that confused and horrified Alviss. As the troll mother looked up to see him, Alviss looked all around for some escape, but then birds began to clear away from the trees.
Ghouls rushed in from behind him, arms waving in the hopes of scratching something, anything. Trapped between the blatant terror of the ghouls and the inhuman child in front of him he chose to run to the left, curving back around to his village. Seeing his path and closeness, he was the one the ghouls chose to go after. Though, in his eyes, the damned things had singled him out, leaving the malformed baby and its mother alone. That filthy troll had gotten off with no danger at all. With the strong legs of his late father at his side, however, he escaped the bastards- though only physically. Both the sights he experienced weighed heavily on him. In all his short life, he had never come so close to the other kind. They were always just something he heard about from the older villagers. Thus, to combat his fear, he then asked his mother to read him her story again.
Gloria oblidged, hoisting her passion project from the shelf and beginning to read again. Tonight, Alviss was keen on seeing the ending to the story. He could not rest either way. This was the night he would learn how large the fisherman’s fall bounty was. But as the story began to reach its climax, that is not what befell him. For one night, during the endless travels of Alvin the fisherman, he came across a tree growing from the water. Bespeckled by it, he sailed closer, only for it to seemingly slink away into the water. Then, it rose- a giant sea serpent gleaming down on Alvin just as he had each fish he had ever caught. As Gloria spoke the words she had written by hand of how the evil beast coiled around his ship, Alviss screamed out in a mortified tantrum.
This wasn’t how the story was supposed to go. It ruined the constant of Alvin’s unchanging village where all was simple. It destroyed the statue of the world Alviss had created in his mind as his mother read the opening to the story again and again all those nights. He screamed and screamed as his mother begged him to stop, until suddenly, like an answer to his voice, the wooden front door of their house came crashing down, caving in as the darkness of the night penetrated the tiny room.
Having followed his scent until they heard his cries, the very same ghouls he feared had arrived in him and his mother’s home, the one place he believed he would be save. He could never forget the sight of her, the book still open on the ground, turned to the illustration of the ocean monster that struck Alvin’s boat, now covered in real human blood. Yet still lifted the heavy book, and forgoing all his limitations as a human child, beat the monsters heads in through sheer force of his anger at this story he did not choose to partake in, yet was being forced into. He lost his innocence in the scuffle, but felt that what he gained was far greater. It was not long before he became very, very good at killing unholy things.
That said, he wouldn’t do it alone.
“Hahh… hahh… stupid ghoul… that’s what you get! Damn… my leg…” he cursed to himself one day, the monster’s body below him on the grass. He had come out here into the village’s surrounding woods with the express intent to do violence. In his eyes, anything this close ought to be killed before it could reach the walls anyway.
“A-are you okay?” Another child asked from behind him, taking him off guard.
“W-who are you?” He asked them. He never saw this boy in town, and he didn’t look like anyone he knew. Apparently, the child was a boy. He was younger than Alviss, and had never been seen in town before.
This boy, his soon-to-be partner, Varnis- was much shorter in stature than he, so was always looking up to Alviss in one way or another. Envious of his accomplishments, with no parents to speak of, and possessing very few of the qualities the other village boys had, he was a very strange sort of boy, and was keenly aware of that fact. So he couldn’t help but idolize Alviss, the very image of a young man.
The vengeful hunter did not care for him at first. But the boy would prove himself when he appeared right next to him fighting the very same tribe of ghouls that had once found Alviss’ mother.
“Shit!” The young Alviss yelled.
“Don’t worry!” Varnis replied. “You’ve got two fighters now!”
“You stupid son of a- And they’ve got twenty! What’s your point?”
“We can watch each other’s backs. That means… we can both go all out.” Varnis grabbed a stick off the ground.
“Are you an idiot? You can’t just fight a bunch of monsters with some random thing off the ground!”
“Oh? Well. I haven’t fought any before, so I wouldn’t know…”
“If you haven’t fought before, I don’t think you’ll be able to kill any. It takes guts, you know.”
“I don’t see what you mean by that. I’ve got hands, so I can fight. It’s as simple as that.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“I dunno what you mean.”
The child showed no hesitation in combat. As soon as the ghouls grew close, he threw himself at them, and though he made for a messy fighter, took a few of them out. While he lacked the bloodlust of Alviss- he made up for it in a complete lack of self-preservation. It was as if the child had never been told he could die. This impressed Alvis, so much that he would keep him as his brother-in-arms for many years to come.
“Alviss! Alviss!” He just happened to say to him one day.
“What… what is it, Varnis?”
“Look, up in the sky!” He pointed to the many small shapes above them.
“A bird… flying with smaller birds? Huh… are those… its children?”
“If not, then it must be a very kind bird.”
“Have you ever heard of a bird that flew with its offspring?”
“I suppose not. Maybe the bird is just that kind after all. Though… I suppose there are many things we do not yet know about this world.”
“You’re… right, though. It’s nice. Whether those are its children or not.”
“I… wish I could be like that bird.”
The way he saw things, Alviss was an unreachable perfection specially crafted by god to carry out his will. But really, Alviss was as jealous of this boy as he was of him.
“Hey, everyone! Want to go into the woods and look for berries?” Alviss once asked the tiny children of the village, the dwarfed cowards that were supposed to be part of his generation.
“A-Alviss? Uh- we were actually going to go into the market with Varnis… um… please, don’t let us bother you…”
“W-what? Why? Hey, are you holding out on me? Speak up, you!”
“Alviss is angry again! Run!” A girl shrieked.
As they retreated in unison, seemingly sharing a single mind as kids tend to do, Alviss stamped his foot on the ground and swore.
Alviss was never as good at handling people as he was monsters. Varnis was a hero of the earth, while he was confined to the sky above. It was not until the boys were almost adults did they finally speak to one another about this strange web of hierarchy they found themselves in.
It was an especially blue-skyed day.
“You know, I never much liked the birds.” An older Varnis once spoke.
“Why is that?”
“They soar around until they find something to eat, then they pluck it up and steal its energy. Just that same thing everyday, not even having to think about it. At their most intelligent, they’ll migrate, but even that’s just them following the crowd. They’ll run into things and die just cause of how stupid they are.”
“It is funny to think something could be born that way. But the birds help us, no? I’m happy right now just watching them with you.”
“Yes?” He responded.
“Do you hate me?”
“What? He sat up. “What could’ve put such a foolish idea in your head?”
“I was just wondering… because it seems like you never act like yourself around me. You’re always trying to one-up me.”
“….You know, actually, I’ve been trying to impress you.”
“You didn’t need to try to do that.”
“Yes… well, I suppose you would see it that way. It’s so hard to understand people. Even you. But I think maybe I’m getting there.”
“No… I don’t think so.”
“Can you really say such things after these eight years we have spent together?”
“Yes… I don’t think any two men… any two things… can ever understand each other.”
That night, the town was attacked by monsters.
But it was no ogre that invaded their peace- rather, a horde of ghouls. A terrifying raid of mindless fiends. Though with Alviss and Varnis at the helm, it seemed as if the nightmare would end before the sun even rose. The people had no fear.
“Hah!” Varnis pierced a ghoul through the heart with his beloved spear. Alvis followed up with a swift chop to its neck.
“Our weapons bind like our friendship, old ally… let us crush this foolhardy assault!” He rallied.
The two slayed countless beasts, before finding themselves out at the very front of the town.
“What a night…”
“Alviss… I never tire of fighting with you. You alone make me feel like I’m really part of this village.”
“Bah! You are a vital part of this town, and nothing less! Do not believe otherwise.”
“Aye. For Collette Town, then.”
Then, the moon seemed to crack down the middle.
“Up in the sky!”
A winged ghoul, with arms like a bat, rode down from the night clouds.
“Impossible…” Varnis shook.
“Manananggal…” Alviss confirmed it.
Its face was that of a bleeding masochist to the devil’s own torment, contorted into an eternal ecstasy. From its mouth hung a long tongue, tipped by a dripping spearpoint.
“Stand far away from it… the Manananggal can only be wounded by the claws of another monster. Varnis, we’ll lure it away until it’s far away from the village when the sun rises. The daylight will at the very least send it away, if not outright kill it.”
“Alviss, wait! There will… be no need.”
“What are you saying? Have you any more suitable plan?”
Before any more conversation could be had, however, the Manananggal glided from its post to pin Alviss to the ground. Lying on his back, dark talons ripping into his flesh, he cried out for his partner.
“Varnis! Quick, save yourself!”
“There will be no need!”
Dropping his weapon, Varnis dashed towards the monster.
“What the hell are you doing?” Alviss grit his teeth as the abomination lowered its lips to his head and dropped down its tongue.
“Get off him!”
Alviss screamed as the Manananggal’s tongue entered his forehead, stretching down the inside of his body as it released a substance most foul. The pain was too much to bear. Each second felt like an hour as the liquid was joined by what felt like small stones leaking from the tip of the tongue and settling within his own flesh.
“Monster- damned BEAST! Just- KILL ME! Have you no honor? No soul, deep within that terrible body of yours…?”
The creature only breathed heavily, of course offering no response to the lowly human. But one response was given- in the form of its own scream, as Varnis’ hands clawed into its back.
“DIE!” Varnis threw the creature off of his friend, ripping at its stomach as the points of his ears stretched to be far too long for a human’s. “I’LL SHOW YOU HOW IT FEELS… TO BE TORMENTED BY A MONSTER!”
Alviss stood up in shock. The pain in his body faded as his mind stung instead. In front of him was not Varnis, but a troll. A terrible monster just like the one that took the life of his mother. After butchering the Manananggal, the troll looked up at him with the eyes of Varnis.
But it was not Varnis.
It couldn’t be.
He wasn’t prepared when Alviss raised his axe. Not at another enemy, but at him. His own brother.
Alviss already knew he would tell the townsfolk of how the last ghoul killed him. How we wept. For in all reality, he did. Varnis was already dead. And now, this troll would be, too.
The instant he did it was not a moment he experienced. He simply blinked, and the troll’s head was seperate from his shoulders. He felt a pair of eyes on him then. At the time, he believed it to be guilt. He picked up Varnis’ spear, and carried it to the village center.
From that day forth, Alviss was declared an undying hero and promoted to captain of the town guard, arming all his elite men with the same spear Varnis had dropped on that garish night.
It was not until nine months later that he would feel any remorse.