short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: Letters to No One

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The old black teapot was fuming, signaling it’s had enough of that heat and wants to get off the stove right now. Mr. Blinchley on the other hand was in no rush, he lived alone and rarely had company so he enjoyed any sound that broke off the monotone silence, even if it came from a teapot. Plus he felt cold, despite the fireplace going, and a cup of hot tea would help with that more than a barely warm one. It was April, the week of Easter, but it appeared that the weather missed the memo. The temperature was dropping with each passing day instead of rising as it should, so Mr. Blinchley penned it a winter in disguise in his letters.

Maybe it wasn’t just the weather though, Arthur Blinchley was about to enter his ninetieth year of life and age certainly makes some adjustments to the weather forecast. It makes the winds feel heavier, the rain louder, and the sun weaker. Mostly it makes the cold feel colder, and puts a man a season or so behind in attire. For everything beyond that, he decided it’s all a matter of personal choice. We ourselves choose when we give up, when not to get out of bed, and when we stop doing the things we love. The answer Mr. Blinchley was aiming to leave as an example for everyone else was never. That’s why on his work desk where his favorite chair was situated, lied a pile of letters.

Letters were like a piece of magic for him. And since magic strayed from the ordinary and mundane, he never sent any letters around Christmas anymore. He preferred waiting till the Easter holidays. The few months between the two holidays gave him just about the right time he needed to read several times the letters he received, and then to come up with just the right responses they deserved. The longer he was with them the more special they felt. He had set on a mission to live his days alone, and for better or worse he found he excelled at the task. Yet every now and then he felt the loneliness creep in behind his mind and give him distant memories, enchant his dreams with company, force him to wake up with a craving for friendship. The letters helped him with that. They reassured him he still has all that even though nowadays he rarely sees anyone but the milkman, the newspaper boy, and the employees in the shop across the street.

With the cup of tea in his hands to warm the old bones, Mr. Blinchley sat down at his desk, admiring the handwriting he’s mastered over the years. If those letters did not include personal details and told the dreary tale of his life, they might have been considered a piece of art. At least he wanted to think so. Just as he often thought of the excitement these letters might give to his carefully selected recipients. Yet he knew the truth, especially with this new age and technology, is that most of them were likely uncomfortable or ashamed to be receiving and sending written letters.

Arthur Blinchley also pondered why the letters have not been sent yet. You see, they were already written, signed, placed in lovely light yellow envelopes, unpleasantly licked and carefully closed. Now they were simply sitting as a pile, gathering dust and reminding him that one of these cold days he need to put on an extra sweater and head down to drop them off in the closest main box. But for a reason he could not quite perceive, he did everything but that. He even managed to do some household chores he was so diligently putting off as if he had hoped one day when he wakes up they’d all be done in some mysterious way. And while Arthur still found the thought of magic endearing, he didn’t quite fancy mysteries, he just really wished the housekeeping would get done on its own for once.

Not today, he told himself. In his ninety years of life, that was one of the easiest phrases he could tell himself. It appeared simple and short, clean and sweet, even though deep inside it was the root of all things evil and lazy. Might be that’s the plans of villains never go as planned, they always tell themselves not today whenever it comes to executing them. Heroes don’t do that, heroes act. But Arthur had no trouble chewing on that thought, he hadn’t been a hero his whole life so why would he seek that now? Plus heroes were never old either, if they could not save the world at the age of ninety, how could anyone expect Mr. Blinchley to do the things he did in his prime?

Between spinning thoughts during his time at the desk and watching an episode of whatever that was on the TV that he couldn’t recognize, Arthur forgot to have a look at the clock. “Funny thing, time. We stop doing things on its account, but it never stops for us”, Mr. Blinchley thought to himself as he moved to get to his bed. He had what might have been one of the best nights of sleep, even though he might have said that the night before, and the night before that. It was a common occurrence for him to enjoy his sleep.

Yet, as he moved across his apartment, Arthur fell a heavy weight fall on top of him. He extended his arms and leaned toward his favorite chair for support, but failed and made things worse. By pushing the chair down he hurt his left arm when he fell with it on top of the chair. The whole event rumbled the place and the pile of letters fell on top of him. Lying there on the ground, next to his favorite chair and among some of his prized possessions, the letters he wrote to his friends, Mr. Blinchley pondered once again why he didn’t send the letter sooner. Was he too old for such a task? Or did the procrastination delay the thoughts that yet another year of his life had passed? Was it fear kept him back?

In his final moments, Arthur felt maybe it is better that the letters didn’t reach anyone. Maybe it will be a better form of goodbye than any note or words he may have sent them. Sure, his handwriting looked beautiful even though his hand shook when he wrote, but maybe the letters he wrote weren’t worthy of being his last words to his friends. Funny, he thought to himself, we rarely look at it what way and hardly ever accept it, but time does stop on our account.

Short Story Sunday: Tranquility (Equiroth)

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[I’m late again! This is part three of “Equiroth“, a story set in a fantasy world. Part one of the story can be found at SSS: Betrayal and part two can be found at SSS: Journey. Keep in mind that while the stories are related, they’re not necessarily continuous.]

The journey felt long and exhausting, their supplies dwindling each day and leaving them with barely anything to fill their stomachs with by the sixth day. If we’re lucky enough we will reach our destination today, thought Bryoth the horn-blower. He was riding alongside Kolsyn, the captain of the army, and three mounted soldiers followed behind them. Despite the lack of food and the exhaustion, Bryoth thought things went well, they didn’t have any unpleasant encounters and the weather served them well for the most part. There was a day or so of rain, but it was a very light rain.

“Look up ahead!” shouted one of the soldiers. Just beyond the trees, up high in the air one could see the top of the high stone doors that marked the entrance to the central elven cities. The group urged their horses forward to complete their mission sooner and hoping their journey will end with a hot bowl of broth and a soft bed.

They reached the gate soon enough, but crossing it wasn’t going to be that easy. The area outside the gates was completely swamped with elves from all cities close and far. There were lines and lines of them waiting to enter, and quite a number of traders had set caravans or tents up as an attempt to profit from the situation. It almost looked as if a whole elven city has been moved to the location. Bryoth and Kolsyn left their horses with the soldiers, it was clear that moving with a mount would be next to impossible, and they slowly started making their way through the crowd.

“You two, not a step further!” They had almost reached the gate when someone got in their way. The man was wearing clothes identical to all those serving in the elven army, but for a weapon he had a glaive, a long polearm from dark wood inscribed with decorations on top of which a sharp sword was located. The glaive signified that he was part of the royal guard whose purpose defending the king and keeping watch on the famous elven doors. This poor fella had obviously gotten the shorter end of that stick so Bryoth could understand why he was in a foul mood. “Do you not see the formed lines around you? Get in there and wait your turn.”

Bryoth thought of telling the guard of their mission. “We need to see someone from the royal family.”

The guy gave him a good look, as if he trying to remember if he had seen Bryoth before. “Well I haven’t been notified that they need to see you so it appears the feeling isn’t mutual. Now get in line!”

“I’m afraid you don’t understand,” Kolsyn tried to explain the situation, “We’re here on an important mission under Lord Marioth’s orders, we have news we need to deliver in the capitol.”

“It seems to me you don’t understand you have to get in line and wait.”

“It’s okay,” another elf stepped toward them, “I’ll handle this.” He was wearing fully brown attire, trousers and a woolen tunic with a shirt underneath, while behind him flapped a silk cloak of the same brown color. He was a servant, but one who works for the royal family as given away by the cloak. The guard made some grunting sound and walked away.

“I heard you mention Lord Marioth. Would that be Marioth from the city of Briswift?”

Feeling slightly irritated by the whole situation, Kolsyn replied with a simple “Yes.”

“I apologize I haven’t presented myself, my name is Faoth and I’m one of his grace’s personal servants.”

“I’m Kolsyn, captain of the Briswift army, and this is Bryoth..” he pondered on the title for a bit, “who does quite a bit. Look, we need –“ Marioth’s waving hand interrupted his talk.

“I’m well aware of your mission. Some of your men arrived from the east a few days ago.”

Bryoth cheered up at the thought. “So Marioth has already met with his grace?”

The servant opened his mouth, but no words came out. He looked to the ground for a moment as if searching for his lost words. “I’m afraid not everything has gone according to your plans. I do not have all the details as I’m going on based on a letter, but come, follow me to our encampment, I’ll explain everything on the way there and we’ll use one of our caravans to go meet the rest of your party.”

Bryoth would later realize that Faoth should have probably stared at the ground some more as apparently he hadn’t found quite the right words. The rest of the party meant four remaining elves from the group of forty-seven which departed toward the gate on the east. Two of them uninjured, the third was hit with an arrow in his left arm, and the fourth was barely alive. Faoth told them that it was their leader Marioth who was battling for his life. His whole body had been burnt badly, every inch of skin turned a shade of black and red.

“How is he still alive?” A puzzled Bryoth had asked in a rush, which earned him a clout on the head from Kolsyn. Faoth answered that it’s had to say but based on what was said by the healer who was taking care of Marioth, it’s likely there was an enchantment which forced the fire to burn only the outer layers of their skin. He told them while they’re hopeful that he will survive this, it will be many moons before he can move any part of his body and he would never truly recover from the injuries.

They reached the encampment and got on a very large caravan lead by six Elphorses, large but slim horse-like creatures with long tusks and a very thick mane. Due to its size, the caravan provided a lot of comfort and space for movement, but with the news they had gotten Bryoth and Kolsyn felt they would have preferred a different type of comfort. The worrying news didn’t end there; they learned that Rhissa was the one who attacked their leader’s group, and they learned that most of the elven doors that lead to the capitol have been closed off because there have been repeated attacks over the last few weeks. But worst of all, they learned that the royal family is not here and neither Marioth’s group neither they can deliver the warning message to his grace.

It was a specific time of the year, a festival which lasts almost as long as a whole moon cycle and during that period the whole royal family along with their guards and most of the capitol’s army visit the moon pillars. They are in fact stones which looked like pillars, all of them having specific sizes and arranged in a specific manner in such a way that when one looks through them he or she can see they perfectly match the moon’s progress on the sky during the course of a whole year. No one truly knows how the stones were constructed but there is no record of their construct while they’ve existed as long as any elf can remember. With all that had happened they had forgotten about their race’s culture traditions.

Bryoth concluded that this was the reason why most of the heavy stone doors had been shut off — there were not enough guards and soldiers to arm and defend all of the locations. The elven capitol has never been weak and no type of petty attacks would force them to close those doors, but this was different. The capitol was hosting feasts every day till the royal family returns, and at a time like this it was important for them to regulate who goes out and who goes in. It wasn’t just about protecting the entrances; it was about ensuring no one finds their way inside unnoticed.

Yet Bryoth found the whole thing to be quite disturbing. Rhissa’s betrayal, her attack on Marioth, the royal family being away, and some random attacks on the capitol gates all happening at once. He thought either it was all a scary coincidence or a frightening ploy where all of these things are part of someone’s plan. But what could they hope to achieve? It doesn’t make sense to have the doors closed, it only strengthens the capitol’s defenses till his grace returns. Is this part of Rhissa’s plan and a way to prevent us from warning the royal family? His mind went on and on, running every thought in all possible directions. While he was racking his brain trying to connect all the things and figure everything out, they had arrived at their destination.

Faoth pointed to the house in front of them. “You will find your friends inside. I’ll be a bit behind as I need to take some things from the caravan.” They didn’t need to be told twice, they run off inside. The house had no rooms with the exception of a bathroom, the rest of it was all put together with no walls or doors to separate any parts of the house. Thus, as soon as they were inside they could see their four fellows, three of them sitting on chairs around a fireplace, while Marioth was laid in a very low pool of water at the other side of the room. In the middle of the room was a table where an elf was mixing some herbs.

“We’ve been expecting you.” She gave them a small smile, and the three soldiers stood up but could not bring themselves to say anything. They didn’t have to, you could read all the horror on their grim faces.

Bryoth and Kolsyn went next to the pool to see what had become of their leader. His flesh looked like something from a nightmare, weirdly painted black and red, uneven with apparent burned dead tissue on the surface. It wasn’t a sight one wants to see, and Bryoth figured maybe that’s why the soldiers are sitting over there and not here.

“I’ve managed to clean most of the burned clothing which had melted into his skin,” the healer went on, “he can even open his eyelids pretty quickly now and we managed to feed him today. However, he still has trouble with moving the rest of his body but hopefully the healing water with help him recover more quickly.”

Just about then Bryoth noticed that Marioth, who was wide awake at the moment, appeared to be trying to move his lips. It was a poor attempt which produced an undistinguishable whispering sound, but he was persistently trying to do it even though it clearly pained him as his eyes were red and watery. “Can you understand what he’s trying to say?” He looked at Kolsyn, hoping he was better at that task.

“I can’t be sure, but I think he’s trying to say Stupid.” As Marioth’s lips movement stopped right about then the two men smiled to each other. His body may be scorched but his spirit’s as strong as ever.

Short Story Sunday: The Top Hat

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[It’s not Sunday, but I was sick yesterday so here’s a creepy story for a crappy Monday. Or would that be a crappy story for a creepy Monday? Only one way to find out — keep reading.]

Every person’s home is where they feel most comfortable at. Over time I came to realize this is not solely because of shelter and warmth, but because of privacy and safety. Outside in the world the flow never stops, there are living beings all around us, you’re never truly alone or solely with someone you trust. Even if you are alone, the possibility that someone could be right around the corner, hiding in the bushes, or watching you from a window of the nearby building never fades away. But when you’re at home you’re behind walls, you’ve hidden inside your castle and you feel beyond harm’s reach.

My family’s castle walls were shaken about 10 years ago on a fine Sunday night. The events started during the day, but no one quite noticed. Or more precisely, me and my sister noticed but we weren’t truly paying attention. We were kids, I was 9 and she was 7. As every night we set on to have dinner, and while my parents finished their food, me and my sister were always late because we didn’t feel like eating our vegetables. While we were still eating and our parents were cleaning around the kitchen, my mother called my father to see something. Through our kitchen window they were seeing someone standing outside our house. They were trying to whisper but we could still hear them and among the whispers I heard the man looked to be wearing a top hat.

This is when the realization came to me that earlier while we were playing in the yard there was a tall man in a long black coat walking across the street. He was wearing a top hat and it appeared as if he’s checking out the houses on the street. I immediately told my parents we had seen someone like that today while we were playing, and I got told to eat what’s in front of me and not pry on conversations. But I could see the worry on their faces and I know dad went out with his baseball bat to look for the man. I finished my food quickly and went to the living room where I could look outside through the windows — my dad was circling around the house. He didn’t found anyone though so he returned inside. My parents said that someone was likely just walking by, but I heard them double check the house doors are locked before going to bed.

The next day went about as any regular Monday. We were lazying around yet our parents hurried us so we’re not late for school. It was a silly routine, head to the bathroom to clean up yourself, head to your room to change and get your school bag ready, head to the dining room for breakfast, and finally get in the car to be taken to school. And as with any routine, it didn’t include anything out of the ordinary. This means there was no mention nor talk, and likely no thoughts either, about the man from last night.

That only lasted till my history class. I couldn’t pay attention, I was bored, so I resorted to looking at the other kids and looking outside the windows. This is when I saw him again, the slender elegant man with the top hat looking at me from outside. I was scared and I panicked, yelling out in fear. The teacher was worried so she came rushing toward me, trying to make sure something hadn’t happened to me as I had apparently fallen from my chair. After a short period of class chaos, I was sent to the principal’s office, my parents were called and I was quickly taken home. To this day I’m not fully sure why I reacted that way, but whenever I look back at things I feel this was when I first sensed the danger. Something’s eating away at your privacy and safety and it seems to be stuck to you, there is no other feeling but terror in that realization.

I spent the day at home, mostly watching television and cuddling myself on the sofa. But the bad feelings never went away, now I felt confined to these walls and even there I did not feel safe. Things got worse during dinner when my mother once again looking outside the kitchen window noticed the same man with the top hat standing outside. She didn’t tell us that, but she didn’t have to. The plate from her hands quickly fell on the floor, she yelled out my father’s name, and with a shaky voice told him that he’s standing outside again. This time my father didn’t go outside, instead he called the police. I’m not sure how much my sister understood, if any, but the shattered plate and the shouting seemed to have scared her quite enough on their own.

The police arrived soon, but left just as quickly. They searched around and found nothing so it was decided the neighborhood is safe enough and they’ll just have a patrol car drive around every now and then. I felt better knowing the police will be keeping an eye, but it didn’t seem to help my parents. They stayed up after we went to bed and it was clear they were worried. When we woke up in the morning you could see the worry on their face — a pale white shade with big dark circles below their eyes, and it looked like the coffee pot hadn’t slept at all that night.

With the exception of that, the day seemed to go on fine. I kept looking outside the window during classes but there was nothing out of the ordinary there. The out of the ordinary came midway through my classes when I was told I’m to leave early and my father was there to pick me up. They didn’t want to let me know what had happened, but we got home quite fast and me and my sister were ordered to go in our room. Once there, my sister told me she had seen the man with the top class while she was at school and that’s why my parents were called there and why we’re at home now.

While we were in our room my thoughts were revolving around the man with the top hat. I could never make out his face, his head always seemed to be leaned down and the top hat covered the rest of it. A slim dark feature in a long dark coat and a top hat, if it wasn’t for his posture one could almost thing he wasn’t human. My parents looking out of the windows the rest of the day. They even opted out of making dinner so we had pizza instead. Me and my sister were eating in the living room while watching television, when my mom called my dad. He went to the window to check for himself, then rushed to grab his baseball bat and went outside. My mother went to lock the door behind him.

Me and my sister were watching through the windows as the figure in the top hat made its way north toward the nearby woods, and my father run off after him. It’s been 10 years since that night, but my father never came back. Even the police couldn’t find him and they did a heavy search for him for a number of days. There was no trace of him nor the man in the top hat.

I did saw the man in the top hat a week ago though. We were at a friend’s house for a party, I went out on the balcony for a smoke and that’s when I noticed the dark figure down in the shadows. He was wearing different clothes, but the hat was the same and that gave him away. I froze, all the fear and terror from back then returning to my mind and wrapping my body in invisible chains. But as he walked away he crossed a place where the street lamps reached him with their light and that’s when I saw the face below the top hat. That’s when I saw my father wearing the top hat.

Short Story Sunday: Journey (Equiroth)

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[Yes, yes, it’s not Sunday. But I need to catch up. Also, Tarma needs something to keep her busy. This is part two of “Equiroth“, a story set in a fantasy world. Part one can be found at SSS: Betrayal, while part three can be found at SSS: Tranquility. Keep in mind that while the stories are related, they’re not necessarily continuous.]

The horn blow echoed all around them, traveling in all directions and ignoring all obstacles.

Marioth wished he could do that, ignore any limitations set by terrain and constructions made by the land’s inhabitants. Both of those were preventing their path now. Huge mountain ranges lied on either side, while a massive stone door almost thirty feet high blocked the way between. It was one of seven gates constructed a long time ago by their elven brethren with the use of lots of might and magic. Each one was built at a specific location to protect all possible entrances inside the area encircled by the mountain ranges, where their nation’s capitol shined with all its glory. The gates certainly lacked in beauty, but they clearly served their purpose.

The horn-blower was next to Marioth, on top of his horse just like himself and the fifty warriors behind them. They were almost copies of each other, all wearing the same things. Simple wool and brown leather for armor, a wooden bow with arrows on their back and a silver sword on their side for weapons. The elves did not like differences among their outfits. They valued recognition and respect and it was expected for everyone to know the face of those at higher positions. Marioth’s position as their leader, however, was given out by his purple cloak. At least it used to be purple, now it had a whole range of colors — brown and black from mud and dirt because of the journey, red from blood because of unexpected encounters on the road, and it even had some green but one wasn’t quite sure where that came from. The horn kept blowing.

“I think we’ve had enough of that,” said Marioth, “you can stop now.”

Another horn blow came, and he  stretched his arm to hit the horn-blower on the head. “I said no more.”

“I apologize, I got carried away.”

“One of these days you’ll drive me mad.” His eyes were still focused on the heavy gate, as if trying to figure out how exactly it was created. “There’s a large fort with a village behind this gate hosting at least a few thousand elves. If no one answered that horn blowing by now, it means there’s no one close enough to hear it.”

The horn-blower shifted in his saddle. “And what does that tell us?”

“It tells us you ask stupid questions. We can’t go through here. These gates are closed only during feasts in the capitol and during times of war. I’m most displeased I didn’t get my invitation regardless of which of the two forced them to lock the place. But it means everyone has departed for the capitol.”

One of the elves in the group rode ahead to them. “If you don’t mind me asking,” said the captain of the army, “if our mission is that important, why don’t we consider bringing this gate down?” He had a thing for smashing things into pieces. The bigger they are, the harder they hit the ground seemed to be his motto.

“I do mind you asking.” Marioth turned to face him. “But not as much as I mind your ignorance. Have you seen this thing? It’s survived wars, rebellions, even burning stars fallen from the sky. This lot can’t even make a scratch on it, and we don’t have any particular firepower with us either.” He turned toward the horn-blower, who was also the horse carer and note-taker. “How quickly can these mounts take us to the next gate?”

“If we head west, in about two days we’ll make it to one of the caravan roads and from there we should be able to reach the next gate in about four days.”

“So six days at earliest. Too long. Other options?”

“Well…” The horn-blower pondered. “There is no official road on the east side, at least nowhere near. But if we head northeast through the forest we might be able to reach the next gate in three days. If we’re lucky.”

“Sounds better. We’ll take our chances there.”

“If I may say, roads as that one are dangerous and there’s no guarantee they aren’t blocked or closed off by rockfalls or fallen trees. There’s no saying how many of us will make it through, if anyone at all survives.”

Marioth gave him a good long look. “That may be so, but not all of us have to make it through.”

“Sir?” the horn-blower’s said with a worried voice.

“Grab the parchment and make sure everyone has a piece of paper with the following message, ‘Rayhnar worked against us, and so did Rhissa. Beware of the Sorcerers Guild.‘ Our task is to the deliver that message to the royal family, and someone has to do that at all costs. Even if that is the lives of everyone else here.”

The horn-blower nodded, as did the captain of the army.

“You two take three man and head toward the gate on the west side. The rest will go with me to the gate on the east. We ride out in a bit, tell everyone to be ready.”

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

After two long days Marioth and his group of men were making their way out of the forest, which would put them about a day away from their target. Or so they hoped, there was no road there nor any signs, a man could not say where precisely he was or how much longer he had to walk to reach some signs of life. They had to do a bit of walking in between the riding, the forest was too thick and dense at places and elsewhere the terrain was too rocky and covered with rubble. But that was no longer the case and they could even see a valley ahead of them now.

“We press hard from here, we may even reach the gate before the next day.” Marioth tried to boost their morale. They had lost a couple of good men and their count was closer to thirty. They ran into a group of trolls on their first day, though they managed to get away with injuries and no casualties. But then that same night a den of wildcats took them by surprise. They were large felines, almost as large as their horses, with claws sharper than any steel and teeth strong enough to break some weaker steel. He thought they were fortunate enough with the number of lost men.

Yet the worst things usually happen when you least expect them, and this was no different case. Just as Marioth made it beyond the last trees, a huge ball of fire landed ahead of him, giving his horse a big enough scare that almost threw him off his saddle. An arrow made its way to his left arm as well, and by that time it seemed all hell broke loose — there was fire everywhere, more fiery balls landing left and right, and a rain of arrows was falling everywhere around him. He managed to yell out a simple “Run!” before charging ahead himself.

Once he felt he was in more steady control of his mount, Marioth managed a look back to see what’s happening. Along the trees at the edge of the forest there were people, both elven sorcerers and humans armed with bows and arrows. This plotting and scheming runs deeper than I assumed, he thought to himself. Below, chaos had taken over. There was fire everywhere and the land was covered with arrows. If he didn’t have other things on his mind he’d be pondering how the enemy planned on surviving the fire that was quickly climbing along the trees. His worry was about his men who he could not account for. A few were following him, several lied dead or were burning in flames, but there was no sign of the rest. He decided the fire likely sent them in different directions. Might be for the best, maybe that will give some of us the chance to get away.

He did not have that chance, as he was soon blasted with a fireball himself. His horse fell head-first, throwing Marioth forward and sending him to roll over several feet ahead. His body was broken, he knew that. He was putting all his strength to get up and keep moving, but the pain was too big and he felt too weak, he only managed to slightly raise himself to get a better look of the battlefield. There was no battlefield though, only the remains of one. If any of his men were still alive, he could not say as he could only see bodies and fire. And her. He could see Rhissa standing a few feet to his right.

“You… But how?”

“Your nephews were kind enough to come to my rescue.” She smiled and twirled her dark teal robe as if to imitate a damsel in distress.

Marioth’s eyes were filled with fire, half from rage and half from reflecting the surroundings. “What have you done with them?”

“Oh, nothing. Don’t worry, they’re alive. I only did to them what you did to me, locked them up in that ugly troll residence. They saved me so I figured I owed them something.”

“And you’re working with the humans now, you filthy little witch.”

Rhissa was cackling with laughter. “Me? Work with humankind? No, no. You’ve got this all wrong. They’re working for me and the merry band of witches and wizards you so despise.”

“I do not despise anyone for their abilities, only for how they put them to use.”

She rolled her eyes. “That pile of rubbish wisdom never did you any good.” With a wave of her hand she set him on fire.

As the fire burned and he screamed, only one thing soothed Marioth’s pain — the hope that his horn-blower and captain had a more successful journey that his.

Short Story Sunday: Betrayal (Equiroth)

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[This is part one of “Equiroth“, a story set in a fantasy world. Part two can be found at SSS: Journey and part three can be found at SSS: Tranquility. Keep in mind that while the stories are related, they’re not necessarily continuous.]

She scurried back to the large rocks, making sure not to make any noise. In situations like this she was glad their armor made of wool and leather stayed quiet regardless of their movement pace.

“I count two of them, this one and there is one on the other side of the bridge.” Dalyne told her partner.

Thenael glanced from the side of the rock to get a better view of the surroundings. The first troll was standing a couple of feet away from them, likely guarding the bridge behind it. It was more of a massive chunk of stone that conveniently connected this side of the mountain to the otherwise inaccessible hill on the other side. There were wooden barricades on the other side that prevented him from viewing the second troll.

But the first troll was fully exposed. It was probably twice as tall as Thenael, and twice as big as well. A dark brown monster of extraordinary size and strength, it could easily crush anyone with a single blow. Yet, with large size came a large head and Thenael found those make for an easy target.

“You have a clear shot?” He asked Dalyne.

“I’m good to go whenever you are.”

“Set.” He whispered as he swiftly moved to the side of the rock.

“Ready.” He put up his longbow and positioned an arrow aimed at the troll.

“Go!” He fired the arrow and didn’t waste even a single second but rushed ahead, knowing well enough that they both did their job. As Thenael was running toward the bridge the troll was about to hit the ground, it being dead from the two arrows in its head. Instead of heading toward the bridge he went for the troll, quickly switching his bow for his sword. He used it to impale the troll on his way down, slowing its fall and preventing a hard hit to the ground.

It did the trick as their position wasn’t given out. Dalyne had managed to cross the bridge and jump at the second troll, slashing the back of its head with her sword. Thenael was making his way there when a third troll came out, waving a heavy wooden club in an attempt to hit Dalyne. She was escaping his swings, but had no space for an attack. Thenael grabbed his bow and fired a single shot at the troll. The troll being in movement, the arrow barely hit its left shoulder, yet it proved to be enough of a distraction to let Dalyne cut its stomach wide open.

Whether the roar or the battle sounds gave them away, one couldn’t know, but two more trolls were charging their way. Thenael managed to hit one in the left with an arrow before switching to his melee weapon, but Dalyne wasn’t that lucky. Caught by surprise, the troll managed to hit her with a club, throwing her back near the edge of the hill. Thenael moved forward to distract the troll, yet unable to manage a blow to it, the whole thing looked like dancing where the elf moved away just before the club hit him.

Dalyne managed to get up in time to avoid an attack from the limping troll, and him not being armed with anything she found it easy enough to manage a small slash in their own dancing routine. Soon enough the limping troll was tired and hurt enough to allow her a final slash. She grabbed her bow and shot an arrow at the back of the other troll, giving Thenael the chance to slide his sword inside the troll.

“Is that all of them?” He asked as he pulled his sword out of the troll’s chest.

Dalyne simply nodded. “We better get moving though,” she said and made her way inside the cave on the hill. It was a dark place, its only source of light being whatever came from the outside and it was clear trolls have no sense for organizing. Everything was throwing around, and that everything seemed to be whatever the trolls managed to get their hands on. There were weapons, but also furniture and pieces of furniture; there were barrels and boxes filled with food, rocks, coal, but also branches and other pieces of wood.

“I’m over here!” A voice yelled from the back of the cave. It was Rhissa, the sorceress tasked with providing counsel to their leader and magical aid to all within their city. She was wearing iron shackles and the chain was tied to the wall of the cave.

“Step back.” Dalyne told her, raising her sword to hit the shackles.

“No, don’t do that!” The sorceress stopped her. “These have been enchanted with a spell and cannot be broken with simple weapons. Only magic which does not belong to the wearer can break them.”

“Here, try with this,” said Thenael as he passed her a small crystal bottle with blue liquid, “it’s a healing potion but it might do the trick.”

As Dalyne poured the potion over the shackles, their silvery color turned darker and darker until they became fully black. At that point the sorceress easily broke them free with her magic. “Thank you, I am finally free.”

“Let’s go, we don’t have a lot of time to waste.” Thenael made his way out of the cave first, but the others were following right behind. But just as they made their way out, the rock acting as a bridge cracked and broke into many pieces which all fell down and left them with no way out of there.

Standing there shocked, Thenael and Dalyne both turned to the sorceress for an answer, only to find she’s no longer there. “What did just happen here?” Dalyne asked him, but received no answer from Thenael.

Instead, the answer came from the other side of where the bridge was. “In short, you’ve been played.” The sorceress could not be found behind them because she was in front of them. “Which is not to say I didn’t need your help, I am still grateful for that. It was your uncle who got me locked up here though.”

“No.” Dalyne responded, “My uncle would have no reason to lock you here and he left for the capitol this morning.”

“He did.” The sorceress nodded. “Except, I tried to stop him and in the process I revealed my true position and intensions. Unfortunately I underestimated the power of our troops, or well, the power of his troops. I was never one of you.”

“It’s a good thing you got away with betrayal then, my uncle does not take betrayal lightly.” Said Thenael.

“I didn’t get away with anything. He only locked me here temporarily; it was his intention to judge me only after he returns from his mission at the capitol. You see, with my plan revealed, there were far more pressing matters for him than my fate.”

“And what would that be?” asked Dalyne.

Rhissa looked at her for a moment, as if pondering what to tell her. “Nothing that concerns you, and it’s a story I have no time for. You fancy elves enjoy your time together, I’ll be back to have fun with you once I’ve handled your uncle.” And with a grin on her face, the sorceress disappeared into thin air. There was no puff of smoke to announce her disappearance; she simply faded away, becoming more and more transparent until there was no sign of her.

“That bitch!” yelled Thenael, while Dalyne just fired an arrow where the sorceress was standing, but the arrow hit a tree several feet further away.

“So what now?” she asked him.

He glanced at her with a worried look, “I guess now we pray someone finds us here.”

Short Story Sunday: Murder and a Smile

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You’re a student even after you finish your education, living isn’t cheap and you aim to get by with as little expenses as possible. So I found myself two new roommates, Joshua and Chris, and we rented an old apartment in a poorer part of the city. It was on the third floor of the building, it had a room for each of us, plus a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. A nice addition was that it had a small balcony, though there wasn’t much of a view from it as a very tall and broad oak tree was situated in front of it.

Thing went well for the first few weeks, the living conditions were good, the job wasn’t horrid and the payment was decent. There was even a non-working holiday which gave us a prolonged weekend and I decided to head back home and spend those days with my family. Or at least I thought I will. On Sunday I got a call from Chris, who wanted to make sure I heard the news from him — Joshua was dead. There is no right way for delivering news as those, especially if you’re going to say it was a suicide, as this appeared to the case.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Who could, in a similar situation? I may not have known him that long, but he had never shown any signs of being unhappy or that he had trouble. As earliest as I could in the morning I went back to the apartment. Chris was there, but he looked even worse than me, his face was as pale as marble and he had a troubled look. That could not be solely from lack of sleep. Unfortunately, I was correct in my assumption. He thought the police are passing it off as a suicide but to him it looked like a murder.

He was the one who found the crime scene. He went to get food, and upon his return he found Joshua in the yard, body broken in a thousand pieces and blood splattered everywhere. After calling the police, even though panicking he spent a few moments examining the place. There was blood where the body was lying, that would have been expected, but there it also everywhere nearby on the ground and even some on the building. He thought it didn’t look like the body was dragged around either, it looked like it was thrown around. Chris wasn’t pale because of lack of sleep; he was pale because of what he had witnessed.

At first I thought the shock had done its job and he was exaggerating the details unintentionally. But I went outside and there was blood on the side of the building. The ground looked clear, whatever the cops did overnight they must have cleared that somehow, but the side of the building still showed evidence from the crime. That’s not the worst part, after turning around I noticed blood on another place — the huge old oak tree. Someone clearly attempted to clean it off, but between the barks the red color was still running. It was a horrid sight that forces your mind to imagine what happened here. I was failing at that but it didn’t help with feeling bad.

As I was getting back to the apartment I noticed someone leaving. Chris explained it was a neighbor from the top floor; we had never seen him before because he avoided walking around and preferred staying closed in. Apparently he offered Chris his condolences and told him that he too had experienced something similar, his wife died two years back and the case was also closed as a suicide. Not only that, but over the last two years the man had learned that several tenants had died in the same manner since the building was constructed, and there were other killings near the buildings — in all of those the cases were closed off as suicides or were never truly resolved.

We were enraged, but that rage was engulfed with fear. We didn’t know what exactly had happened or why for that matter, but we did know it was no suicide and it seemed clear the authorities are ignoring it or avoiding it. It may need digging deeper, it may need a lot of effort and courage if we ever feel capable of following up on what happened. One thing was clear to both of us, we could not be spending a day more in this place where each look outside the window would remind us of what had happened to Joshua. We packed our bags that same day and went out to look for a new place.

As I was walking away from the building I threw one last glance at it. The huge oak tree stood out among all things, now all red and creepy. At that moment, in that specific light, it seemed like the blood had formed a face on it. A face with a grotesque and maniacal red smile on it.

Short Story Sunday: Cinema Night

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Being part of winter the months of January and February are usually filled with cold, rainy, and windy days. Thus one usually finds it enjoyable to spend those days at home with a cup of warm coffee. Or, since it is also the awards season for motion pictures, one might also enjoy going to the cinema to catch up with award nominees. My roommate and I are avid movie fans so that’s what we used to. It all stopped one night four years ago.

The night I have in mind we were going to see a thriller romance, which we would usually avoid but it featured Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp so we thought to ourselves how bad can it really be? Awfully bad, apparently. I guess it didn’t help that I had pulled two shifts at a fast food restaurant before going to the midnight screening of the movie. Somewhere along the way I must have fallen asleep. Which is quite normal with me being tired and the movie not entertaining enough to keep me awake. What isn’t normal is waking up all sweaty and frightened as if I’ve had a nightmare but not remembering any details. The first thing I realized is that I was at the cinema. The next thing I did was look left to where my roommate was sitting but he wasn’t there, his seat was empty. In fact, after looking around the room I noticed all seats were empty. The cinema was empty, there was no one there but myself.

I was more confused than frightened at this point but I could sense a fear setting in. I saw the movie was over, though a black screen was clearly still projecting, as if the credits were to run but there was no change. If the movie ended, why wouldn’t my friend wake up? Why wouldn’t I wake up from noise of everyone else leaving? Aren’t there staff members who check the rooms after each screening ends? Too many questions and no answers. As I moved toward the exit of the cinema I pulled out my cell phone with the idea to call my roommate, but it had likely ran out of battery because I couldn’t turn it on. No biggie, I told myself, until I reached the cinema’s front door and realized it’s locked. I tried pushing, pulling, even kicking it but it wouldn’t budge. While with each push and pull and kick I could fear my heart racing faster and faster. How did this happen? Am I spending the night at this place?

I was set on finding a phone, they had to have one somewhere. Making my way through the halls though, I started pondering if just sleeping off the night isn’t a smarter move. I could hear noise. The noise quickly turns into more clear sounds. And the sounds soon turn into voices. What if I’m not alone here? Is that a good or a bad thing? My brain was tired, my body was exhausted, I needed sleep and not creepy thoughts, so I took a deep breath and moved toward the source of the voices. Getting closer to them, I realized they’re not actual human voices. It sounded like they were coming from a TV – and rightfully so, there was a movie playing. From fear to disappointment, I could not catch a break. I had almost decided to give up and find a comfortable place for spending the night, when I noticed a black shadow in the front rows. It looked like a small dark figure moving quickly between the seats, making its way toward the back exit of the room. In the dark I could not see who or what it was, I just stood there observing its movement. As the light of the movie changed, from dark to light, I caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared through the exit. An extremely thin, crooked figure. It wasn’t small as I thought, it looked tiny because most of its body was slithering on the floor.

I was seeing everything from a different point of view now – there was no sign of my friend, my cell phone wasn’t working, I was in an empty, locked up cinema, and there was something else with me there. Something I couldn’t even define and the bare thought of it send shivers down my spine. I was frozen, blocked, unable to move or maybe I just didn’t know where to go but I knew I was just standing there. I tried to shake off the negativity from my mind and left the room. I decided I’ll lock myself up in the owner’s office so I made my way down the hall. I didn’t make it even ten feet when I saw the thing again. It was coming from the restricted areas, it had likely visited the offices – but how did it get there so quickly? Or were there more than one? I noticed that I can hear the thing making a snake-like hissing, but stronger, sharper, and it sounded a bit deeper. It’s probable that in the previous room the sound from the movie was preventing me from hearing any of this, but now the hall was mostly quiet and I could hear it. I could hear it clearer and clearer. It was coming this way.

At this point I was completely worn out. My body and my mind kept reminding me about the lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of water, and pointing to the excess stress, dismay, and fear. I did not have the energy or the will to pretend that I’m strong or that I’m smart or to make strategic moves. I decided to make a run for it. The bathroom was close, I could lock myself up in there and hope I make it to the morning. Due to being exhausted my running wasn’t very fast, and even though I’m sure my feet were stumping on the ground and my heart was thumping, all I could hear was the noise the slithering was making. I was so focused on reaching the bathroom that I didn’t think about other possibilities – just as I was about to enter the bathroom I noticed there’s a short corridor on the right that has stairs which lead to the roof. I pushed the bathroom door as hard as I can, hoping it distracts the thing, and made a run for the roof.

The idea of getting away from that thing and that place gave me hope and strength, I could feel myself rushing at a faster pace than before. In fact I was moving so fast that I completely forgot to lock the door behind me. I thought to myself if there are stairs to the roof then there must be fire-escape stairs that lead down from the building. And there were, I could see them as soon as I came out on the roof and without even stopping to take a breath I kept running. I’m not sure if due to my state or my rush, as I was going down the last stairs I slipped and couldn’t hold onto them. Within a second I found myself on the ground, lying on the back and my whole body aching while all I could do is let out a scream of pain.

I keep going back to this moment, I’m not sure if it was a response to my scream or a victorious roar of its own, but at that exact moment the thing peeked from the room and let out a vicious hissing sound that resonated across the whole street. Despite all the pain and exhaustion, I pushed myself up on my feet and started running. I never glanced back, not even once. I just kept running. I do not remember how but apparently I almost made it to the hospital, I had collapsed nearby and someone picked me up and took me inside. I awoke the next day, but the joy of surviving last night’s happenings quickly faded away. While I made it out alive, I  was informed my roommate didn’t, or at least they couldn’t find him. In fact, they couldn’t find any of the people who were in that cinema last night, I was the only person who made it.

It’s been 4 years and the police never really got any leads on the case. But then again, I never told them what truly happened to me that night.