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November 19, 2018, 12:27:26 AM
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Author Topic: New Short Stories.  (Read 1030 times)
Dark Alex
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« on: August 12, 2018, 07:57:44 AM »

Been working on this on and off for the past year (mostly off it has to be said). Anyway, here is the first chapter.

      I have taken some mild liberties with history, but a lot of the stuff here is historically accurate. Louis XII did indeed take Milan on the 5th of January and the Duke of Milan was handed over to him by the Dukes own men. It was a cold winter that year as Europe was undergoing what has been referred to as a mini ice age, although the cause of the cooling temperatures at this time are still unknown.

The crew.

MÁrten. A condottieri employed by the city state of Milan.
Solvig. A rival for the leadership of the group. A skilled axe man who likes to complain and argue.
Anders. A crossbowman.
Mira. A female member of the group who often goes disguised as a man.
Gunther. A long-time companion of MÁrten. Injured in the flight from Milan.
Pieter. A Germanic Landsknecht.
The Forsaken.
By Alex Corbett.

The rewards of loyalty.

An eagle soared high of the valley. Even the lower lying parts were shrouded in snow, and the far off peaks of the Alps were certainly no less so. The north western end of this valley marked the furthest end of the conquests by the Kingdom of France, taken from the Duchy of Milan. Not that the bird knew anything of this, nor would it have cared if it did. It was simply hunting, looking for the tiniest movement that would betray the position of its prey. In the distance other birds were feasting on the carrion left over from a battle but the eagle sought fresher fare. Perhaps even one of the birds now feeding on the dead soldiers would be its next meal. The land was deep in winters grip Its sharp eyes caught movement on a hillside, the glint of weak sunlight on metal, both worn and carried by figures making their way through the snow touched hills. It ignored them as too large to be an easy kill and flew on in search of warm bloody, flesh to eat.

Something else the bird would not have cared about was that as the figures below measured such things, it was the year of our Lord 1500, although the year was not yet a week old. The army of Duke Ludovico Sforza (mainly made up of Swiss mercenaries) had taken Milan, only for King Louis XII to march in with an army also containing such men. The mercenaries had mostly refused to fight their countrymen and had handed the Duke over to his enemy. A few had made a stand and had been thoroughly routed by the French and men who the day before had been their own comrades-in-arms, it was the last that stung so bitterly, there fellow condottieri turning on them. Of course such things in Italian warfare were commonplace, but this made it no easier to swallow.

These figures were some of the only survivors of those who had stayed loyal. When things had become totally hopeless, they had at first sought to cross the Alps and return home, but the mountain passes are not welcoming to travellers in winter, especially those unprepared for such conditions and they had been forced to turn back. Harried by French cavalry their course had been bent to the west until they ended up heading back towards the French lines. Under cover of night they had slipped past enemy sentries and patrols and were now deep in enemy territory, now hoping to head further south into Italy and pick up a new employer, although what they really wanted right now was to get warmed up.

“Hey MÁrten, you sure this is the way to Florence?” asked one man, a large, heavily bearded man carrying an axe in one hand. His trousers were soaking wet from wading through the hip deep snow. On his broad chest he wore an iron breastplate, dented and streaked through with rust and holes, a hodgepodge of other pieces of armour covering his shoulders and arms. Underneath all of that he wore a servicable mail shirt.

“Solvig, the only way I know this isn’t the way to hell is because it would be warmer. Beyond that what I do know is that it is away from those damnable Franks.”
 
The man called MÁrten spat into the snow, and continued making his way through the snow drift. He was of average height, but handsome with the build of a professional warrior. A sword was carried by his side through an iron ring on his belt. His precious mail shirt was stashed in his backpack while his expensive silk shirt, with its puffed and slashed sleeves that were the latest fashion was torn, ripped and smudged with the stains of battle. While it had been useful for attracting the wenches of Milan (of which there were many), he was now wishing he had worn something warmer.
   
“Hey MÁrten, why did we fight to defend the duke again when everyone else abandoned him?”

“I don’t know Solvig. Why don’t you tell me? Or better yet hold your breath inside. You are letting out so much hot air you’ll freeze to death before the rest of us!”
   
Solvig could be overheard by several others muttering “Because we are fools and idiots, that’s why.”

The half dozen figures trudged on through the snow in silence for a while. Five men and one woman, none of them prepared for the long trek. Once as finally equipped as any other condottieri with splendid weapons and armour they had been forced to leave most of that behind, taking only what they could carry as they fled into the night, the French and Swiss dogs at their heels every step of the way. MÁrten feared no man in a fair fight, but he did not like the odds of them facing men on horseback while trapped on foot. No one had eaten since the previous morning, or slept and they’d been struggling through the cold and wet. The dark and heavy clouds hanging overhead said it was going to get worse soon. It would soon be getting dark. He raised his fist to call a halt and ordered the others to make camp. Although he wasn’t the captain of the company, he had always been an unofficial leader amongst his closest friends, although Solvig clearly thought the position should be his, always looking for any way to undermine his authority. This would not be their first night spent under such conditions he grimly reflected. The life of a mercenary was not as glamourous as many (himself included) made it out to be.

The men dug a pit in the snow, building three walls of a square to keep the worst of the wind off and reinforcing the rear wall with their shields. It would do nothing to stop any falling snow however. Yves had searched for some wood for a fire, but hadn’t found enough for even a meagre one. MÁrten sighed and shrugged. A fire would only have alerted any roving patrols to their position. Doubtless it was for the best. Inside he thought though “Dearest lord, I have always remained true to your teachings, why have you abandoned me so?” and unconsciously grabbed at the crucifix that hung around his neck. The six of them sat huddled together sharing body heat as much as possible and slept fitfully at best.

MÁrten awoke and was covered in a blanket of gentle snow much as were the others. He did not feel at all rested from what sleep he had snatched through the night. His body felt stiff and sore, protesting at its ill-treatment. Standing up, he shook the snow from his body nudging the others awake, but kicking Solvig hard enough to be painful. Solvig swore and cursed at him in return. When he nudged the last of his group awake a man he had campaigned with for the last five years called Gunther, he fell over stiffly, unmoving in the snow. His eyes were frozen open and it was obvious Gunther’s travels were now over. The others quickly stripped him of his clothes, revealing he’d taken a wound to the gut at some point and had simply bled to death, the blood clustered in frozen crystals around the wound. It was not a particularly big one, perhaps from a dagger or the tip of a sword and normally would have been survivable… Such a waste. His clothes shared amongst the group they headed off in silence once more leaving his naked body for the elements and animals to do with as they wished. He had been a good man, but they had no time to dig through the frozen earth for a proper funeral and neither could they carry his body with them.

Mira, the only woman in the group half screamed and half yelled a warning, and everyone turned around. In the distance a lone figure on horseback stood on the horizon watching them. It was too far away to make out any details, but none of them could think of any good reason for a horseman out alone like this unless it was a French scout.
   
Swearing an unholy oath MÁrten, yelled at everyone to gather their gear and move. If that was a scout then depending on how was his troop was, they could be on them in hours. They were tired, hungry and exhausted, but would have to push even harder if they were to have any chance.
   
“Let’s move out!” The small group started pushing again through the snow, expecting at any time to hear the hoof beats of pursuit. MÁrten was missing a warm bed, the company of a woman or two, his horses, his fine clothes, his carefully saved money. All he had now was four frie… make that three friends and Solvig plus the clothes he was wearing. Oh and the uncomfortable hunk of armour he was lugging around on his back that represented his best chance of surviving any fights.

The snow that had been falling all night seemed to be getting heavier and they could soon only see a few feet in front of themselves. It might as well have been the middle of the night for all they could see. At least it would cover their tracks from anyone following, if anyone was foolish enough to be travelling through this storm. The wind whipped them cruelly, cutting straight through their meagre clothing.
   
Anders, struggling to be heard over the howling wind tried to attract the attention of MÁrten. Finally he had to grasp his shoulder. Turning around , but still couldn’t make out what Anders was saying. In frustration he waved over to the distant hills. Between flurries of snow, he could just about make out a cleft in the hillside. If it kept snowing, then their tracks would be covered and the French would surely miss this narrow passage in the storm. Finally the Lord above was showing them his favour.
   
The cleft was little more than a crack between the hills barely wide enough for a man to walk single file. The broader shouldered members of the party would struggle a little. Fortunately the crack was too narrow and deep for the snow to fall down and they were sheltered from the wind, although should the direction change they would feel its fury with a vengeance. Solveig cursed and swore as his shoulders battered off the rocky walls of their shelter making Martyn smile. He was a good man with a sword or axe, but his constant complaining was tiresome. A priest had once told Martyn than a bit of suffering was good for the soul. Well Solvig’s suffering certainly made his soul feel lighter.

In spite of the situation MÁrten chuckled. The noise of the howling wind still prevented anyone hearing anything quieter than a shout so he had no worries about starting a fight with Solvig. It was not unusual for the pair of them to end up at blows, and even in such dire circumstances as they were in now, Martyn did not trust his companion to keep his temper. He knew he could take Solvig in a fight despite the man’s bigger size, but he didn’t fancy the bruises that would come along with such a struggle. Plus, he needed all his energy to keep on going. They all did.

Unable to see much of the sky, MÁrten had no idea how long they had been walking through this rocky passage. It felt like days. His legs ached and he felt cold all over. Would have it been better to surrender and trust to the mercy of the French than this? He shuddered at that thought. He had no wealthy family to pay a ransom for him and poor prisoners could expect only a quick death if they were lucky. Some generals liked to get creative with how they killed prisoners though. Every so often now and again they could hear strange echo’s which may have been the shouts of men distorted by the rocky walls, or the noises of animals.

Straining to see ahead, he could see something strange. The narrow passage appeared to be filled with a mist, bluish in colour which seemed to glow slightly. He couldn’t understand how a mist could form in such a narrow passage, but none the less it was welcome. Should the French still be pursuing them it would provide extra cover, perhaps even persuade them to give up the chase. The echoing noises still came now and again but it seemed less often to MÁrten’s ears. It was still impossible to tell what they came from. The group reached the strange mist and plunged into its clammy embrace.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2018, 12:50:59 PM by Dark Alex » Logged

There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
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« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2018, 09:37:40 AM »

I enjoy your stories, Alex, please keep writing!  Cheers Thumbup
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« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2018, 03:09:27 PM »

Oooh, ending on a cliffhanger!  I like it . . . keep going!
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« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2018, 03:54:20 PM »

very good so far!  Cheers
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« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2018, 12:13:27 PM »

Into The Mist.

Quickly once inside the bluish mist visibility dropped to only a few feet. Barely able to see the man (or woman) in front of them they all stopped long enough to make a crude rope from their belts which they held in a line to prevent anyone getting lost. If someone was to wander off, they could only be found by yelling and that was a sure way of bringing any nearby enemy troops down on their heads.

With a start MÁrten realised they were no longer in the rocky passage. He had been so busy concentrating on other things and exhausted by their flight he hadn’t noticed the passage widening. The snow hadn’t been as heavy on this side of the passage although the air was cold. Dead leaves crunched underfoot, leading him to assume they were in, or near some forest. A sound somewhere between a bark or a cough came floating on the mist. If it was a dog, then hopefully it meant there was a village nearby where they could rest up. If it was a lone wolf… well perhaps they would have meat to eat tonight if they could find the beast. At this point he’d even be willing to risk a fire rather than eat raw dog meat, a meal he had been forced to eat on more than one occasion and none of them pleasant.

He wondered how far they were from the coast? Hopefully they’d come across some fishing village where they could beg, borrow, barter or steal passage to warmer climes and better employment prospects. Maybe he could find some rich widow and give up this soldiering game once and for all.

For hours they roamed through a sparse forest, a thick carpet of leaves crunching beneath their tired feet. It felt more like autumn here than winter and the air while still chilled was nowhere near as cold as it had been much to MÁrten’s relief. He looked around to check his companions were still with him, their figures mere dark outlines in the thick mist. Even then he could still tell one from the other. There was the massive form of Solvig no doubt complaining to himself, wearing the cobbled together remnants of a dozen different suits of armour, all taken from dead men, his axe slung over his back. Anders who out of all of them had the presence of mind to carry most of his gear with him including his crossbow. He had his leather jack on, lighter armour than the rest preferred to wear, but he rarely saw the kind of close combat the others were habitually involved in. If they saw any game he was their best chance at bringing it down, but he had precious little ammunition left for it. Mira, dressed as usual in the clothes of a man and her hair cut short. She had as many scars as any of the rest of them and had spent her fair share of time on the front row of a battle line. Pieter was from one of the Germanic states, MÁrten could never remember which one. He was a Landsknecht, but had been forced to leave his pike behind. It was simply too heavy to take with them in a rout. Between them they had a sorry collection of hand weapons and a single crossbow with four bolts.

The day dragged on, never seeming to get lighter or darker… just dragging on. With no idea of the time and without a word they stopped for a meal, sharing the sorry remains of their provisions. If they didn’t find something soon tomorrow would be a very hungry day. As they ate, he watched their faces. More one looked to be in any great condition to continue on. Once they had fed no one stood up to move on. They slept there. MÁrten never saw if it got dark or not and despite the howling of animals in the vicinity no one stood guard over them while they slept. It was a fitful sleep at best, the familiar sounds of a forest somehow strange in this place dragged him back to a state of semi wakefullness everytime he was close to entering a deep sleep. Despite this it seemed he dreamed. He was a creature of the forest being hunted, or was he one of the hunters? At times he was a man with a sword. But then dreams are oft confusing.

He awoke to more of the same grey bluish mist blocking any view of the sky. His hand asHe woke the others with the toe of his boot, making sure of course to kick Solvig a little harder than was strictly required. It would give the man something to complain about and he was never happy otherwise. While the others finished waking up, MÁrten gathered up some broken branches and prepared a small fire. Wordlessly they ate the very last of their food, then stood up and prepared to continue their long trudge. MÁrten said nothing to the others but with no sun in the sky, he could not tell what direction they should be heading in. Perhaps the others guessed this already, but he decided against mentioning it. Picking what he thought was the right way to go he started off walking followed one by one by his companions.

As they walked through this endless wood, he tightened his belt to keep the hunger pangs at bay. He couldn’t even melt some snow for a drink. Who would have thought he’d be missing snow? Just this damnable endless forest, thick fog and its howling animals. He cursed his fate at accepting a job in the north instead of sticking to his usual haunts along the southern coast.

There! For a second MÁrten thought he caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head to follow it, but whatever had attracted his attention had gone, or his tired eyes were playing tricks on him. Something else was out there though. He could see a large squat shape looming there. For a second he stared trying to figure out what he was seeing, then with a laugh that startled the others he realised it was the bulk of some building. Other shapes outlined in the mist promised more houses. They were saved!
« Last Edit: August 19, 2018, 12:54:41 PM by Dark Alex » Logged

There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
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« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2018, 05:32:26 PM »

 Thumbup Cheers
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« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2018, 06:35:53 PM »

Nice!!!  Can't wait for the next installment.
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« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2018, 02:36:00 PM »

The Village.

With renewed vigour MÁrten headed over to the village. Solvig with his longer legs strode ahead. A low fence gradually became visible. Solvig stopped suddenly and MÁrten almost walked into him. Knowing the big man wouldn’t have stopped without reason he stepped around him. Solvig had one finger pointing and what looked like a fence post, a couple of feet taller than the rest with some sort of carving on it. On a second look, he realised it was someone sitting in an improbable position on top of the post. It looked like a naked woman, her feet on the post and chest pressed against her legs.  The woman’s arms hung listlessly down at her sides and her long dirty dark hair covered her face.

Solvig called out to her “Ho lass! You need help?”

The strange woman did not move or respond. Only her lank hair moving in the faint breeze told MÁrten that his initial impression of her being a wooden carving was wrong. Solvig pulled his cloak off his shoulders and moved towards her as if to cover her, repeating his question as he walked to her. When he got within around five feet of her she moved so quickly MÁrten could barely follow it. She raised her head, her hair flying backwards. MÁrten got only a quick impression of a feral expression of hate as she opened her mouth and leapt at the approaching man, wrapping her legs around his waist while her long nailed fingers tore at his patchwork armour, tearing pieces off. Her mouth tore at him in a frenzy seeking bare flesh. MÁrten could see the big man straining to push the woman back and keep her from tearing open his throat. With a grunt and his face turning red he manage to heave her away from him sending her sprawling on the ground. Instantly she spun around, stretched out on all fours and snarling like a feral animal at Solvig, then pounced leaping for him again. His ham sized fist lashed out, catching the woman on the side of the head. Knocked again to the floor, this time she did not move. MÁrten ran over to her prone body. A large purple bruise was already evident on the side of her head, but she was still breathing. Solvig had merely knocked her out, but that wasn’t what got MÁrten’s attention. He was looking at her face. From the nose up, she looked as if she was a pretty enough girl, although in dire need of a wash, but the lower half of her face seemed slightly deformed, almost like a dogs jaws.

Solvig joined him, swearing and oath and his axe in hand. “Damn lunatic girl. She breathing? Pah, I see I can rely on you when I’m in danger MÁrten as always.” He spat on the ground.
MÁrten ignored him, in truth he barely heard him as he pulled the woman’s lips open. Her teeth were jagged, either filled into points or perhaps they’d grown that way naturally in line with the rest of her deformity. Solvig spat on the ground “She’s no madwoman. It’s a spawn of the devil! We should kill it now before it awakes and calls others of its kind.” He hefted his axe meaningfully in one hand, checking his armour for damage. Gunter whistled in surprise when he saw the rents in Solvig’s mail shirt. In his thickly accented voice he pointed out that Solvig was bleeding on the side of his neck. He put his hand to his neck and felt around. His hand came away soaked in blood. “In the name of Jesu… what the hell. I can feel the wound but there is no pain. She is a hell spawned b***h I tell you!”

With that he raised his axe and brought it down heavily on the deformed woman’s skull, splitting it from jaw to crown then yanked it loose from the corpse, spraying everyone else with blood.
“GOD DAMMIT” yelled Pieter, but anything else he was about to say was suddenly cut off as the from the mist enshrouded woods all around them came a cacophonic chorus of wolf howls. “See! The b***h was birthed by wolves and they know one of theirs is dead. I told you see was hell spawn!”

Solvig rubbed the head of his axe on the ground, trying his best to clean the blood off it.”

Everyone else looked around nervously. The sounds seemed to come from all around and from a hundred different throats. “We should get inside”, said MÁrten. “Before they catch us in the open.”
He pointed to the largest looking building. “I think that is an inn, everyone head for it.”

The howls sounded like they were getting closer. Without another command being given everyone forgot their tiredness and ran for the inn. Mira kicked the door open and they all piled in. It did indeed seem to be an inn, unlit and covered in cobwebs. MÁrten thought the place long abandoned, but once again was proved wrong when in the shadowy recesses of the room he saw movement. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see they were peasants dressed in rags, many with their faces covered in dirty bandages, some missing limbs. Truly if MÁrten had ever seen a place forsaken by god then this was it. A one-eyed man stood behind a bar, rubbing a dirty towel around a wooden mug as he watched the newcomers, a wolfish smile MÁrten found deeply unpleasant given very recent events. No one seemed to take any notice of the blood-stained clothing. The howling from outside had stopped as soon as they entered this strange inn. MÁrten motioned the others to sit down. Anders looked at Solvig’s wound, dabbing at it with a strip of torn cloth. Walking over to the bar, MÁrten put a few copper coins on the bar “Five ales and food it you have it.”

The barman said nothing, but reached beneath the bar and brought up some mugs which he filled from a dusty looking barrel behind him. Still wordlessly he shoved the filled mugs over the table towards MÁrten. “Have the food brought to our table” he said with a confidence in his voice that for some reason he did not feel inside. The coins lay on the bar top untouched. The one-eyed man never moved from his spot behind the bar or said anything, but a few minutes later five bowls of a thin stew were unceremoniously dumped on the table. Everyone jumped a little, they hadn’t heard the small old woman who served them coming over. They spoke in a huddled whisper, even Solvig for once keeping his voice low, but still complaining “I do not be liking this place. The ale is like horse p**s and I don’t know what the stew tastes like. The people in here look more dead than alive. I think they have something in common with that hell b***h I killed outside. I think I’d rather take my chances with the wolves in the forest than remain here.”

As he spoke he rubbed his neck where he’d been bitten in a distracted fashion. MÁrten noticed he was also speaking much slower than normal.

The rest of the group nodded in agreement including MÁrten as much as it pained him. “Let’s finish our food and leave. God only knows when we’ll eat again. As Solvig had said the meat had an unfamiliar taste to it, and the ale was thin with a sour taste. Still, it was better than raw dog.

Even cooked rats were better than raw dog. The mercenaries ate quickly, but without enthusiasm and drained the last of their mugs and stood up to leave.

“Sweet Jesu!” cursed MÁrten. He’d heard no one moving, but the inn was now filled with people, all standing far too close to them for comfort. His heart hammered in his chest from the surprise. He found himself, literally eye to eye with the barman. “Leaving so soon? Be dark soon and there be nowhere else nearby to stay.”

His breath smelled like rotten meat. MÁrten, a veteran of uncounted battlegrounds and no stranger to charnel smells still found himself gagging on the stink.

“You killed poor Eliza. Least you can do is wait around and meet her parents to make amends. They are on their way. We heard them coming and it won’t be long.”

The men continued to press in closer. With an oath MÁrten shoved them back and drew his sword in the space he’d made. The others except for Solvig followed suit. The big man was on his feet, but looked unsteady and confused. “Back dogs if you don’t want a taste of my steel!”

Seemingly unafraid of the naked blades they crowd pressed forward again. Pieter grabbed Solvig, who stood there swaying and blinking and the backed towards the door and out into the street. The village which had been so empty before was now filled. Hundreds it seemed stood outside. With a gasp of horror MÁrten saw they had much more in common with the woman they’d killed earlier than even the foul specimens of humanity they had seen inside the inn. Their jaws were elongated. Open mouths showed teeth made for ripping and tearing. What the hell had they stumbled into? Hostile eyes gleamed in the half light and MÁrten shuddered at the thought of just what throats those animal cries earlier had issued forth from. Without thinking the group circled themselves, weapons pointing outwards, except Solvig who stumbled and barely seemed able to stand upright. “Back up carefully”, said MÁrten. The crowd parted to let them move through but closed in from the front. He couldn’t help but feel like they were being herded, but should the mob attack they all knew they would have no chance. They might take a few with them but they’d quickly be overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers. If the rest of them had the same unholy strength as the girl they wouldn’t need weapons. They’d simply rip them into shreds. None of the buildings around looked particularly defensible unless… “The church! Head for there. If there are creatures of Satan they surely can’t enter holy ground!”

Seeing a break in the crowd, they all ran for it, Anders dragging the much larger Solvig. The much larger man fell. Anders paused to try and lift him, but Solvig and his armour were too much for him. Seeing the crowd getting close Anders turned to run, but one of them leapt at his back and brought him down, its claw like nails tearing into his lightly armoured back and ripping gouts of flesh from his body with ease. He screamed, his voice increasing in pitch. None of the others dared turn around to see what was happening. The screams turned to a liquid gurgle and died. His death was not wasted though. The horde had stopped to shred Anders and presumably Solvig’s bodies. This gave the others enough time to reach the old church and slam the doors behind them. Without pausing MÁrten, Mira and Pieter started piling pews up against the door in a makeshift barricade.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2018, 01:56:33 PM by Dark Alex » Logged

There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
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« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2018, 08:56:32 AM »

 Thumbup
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Dark Alex
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« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2018, 01:55:13 PM »

The Siege.

None of the threesome even paused to look at their surroundings until they had secured the church door as much as was possible. The church windows were small and high up behind the altar. None of them would be able to climb out of one, but it should mean no one could get in by them either. Most of the church lay in darkness, the little light the windows did let in merely left the area around the pulpit in a twilight like state. They had a fortress, but it was also a prison. "Can you see anything out the window?" asked MÁrten.

Pieter was the tallest of them, but even still had to stand on tip toes peered out. "I think they are surrounding us. Perhaps they mean to wait us out?"

Inside the church looked even more desolate than the inn. Once they had barricaded the doorway, and looked out the broken windows at the crowd spreading out to surround them. They could see no sign of Anders or Solvig. The inside of the church had been whitewashed, long ago. Now it was covered in dust, dirt and cobwebs. At the pulpit Mira found part of a skeleton dressed in the robe of a priest. Many of the bones were broken.

“So, what now?” asked Pieter.

“Monsieur,” replied a voice with a French accent “We are in purgatory and you must await judgement. Sooner or later the demons will take you and you will either find yourself in heaven at our Makers right hand or joining those outside.” As the voice stopped talking it collapsed into a coughing fit. Everyone grabbed their weapons and carefully walked to the dark rear of the church where the voice had come from. A man lay there. He was dressed in the colours of Louis XIV, although the clothes were torn and dirty. “You would be the survivors of those who defended the Duke of Milan yes? Hah, then I have completed my mission even now. My lord sends his greetings to those who remained loyal. He appreciates such sentiments and wishes to offer you a role in his personal guard if you can show him the same loyalty. Those who turned against their employer have, you will no doubt be glad to hear have been put to the sword for their perfidy. And now my mission is complete, although I do not think you are going to be able to accept his offer.”

“How did you end up here?” MÁrten asked as he knelt beside the man.

“My lord sent me and a troop of light cavalry to seek you out and make his offer. We followed you into the hills, even found by sheerest chance the gap you had sought shelter in. Indeed it was the Devil's luck that we spotted it. My men dismounted to follow you through it while myself and two aide de camp rode over the hills. We came across this village and were attacked by the same devils you are encountered. We were taken by surprise. My companions were taken immediently, but I thought to fight my way clear. I’d almost done it too when my horse reared up and I fell off. I managed to crawl in here while they ate our horses. They left my men injured. I heard their cries for many hours as I lay here. Oh, but how rude. I am the Vice-Comites du aint Palais sur Mer. You will have to excuse me not bowing, but I don't feel like it right now."

With that he sat up, his figure still indistinct in the shadowy darkness.

“In God’s name, what are they?”

“I know not for sure, although when I was a boy my governess would tell me that if I misbehaved there were creatures who were once men but had become much less below the streets of Paris living in the catacombs. They would eat the bodies of the dead but if a child was naughty they would come and take them either to eat or to turn into one of them. I thought it was a bogeyman tale to scare a child into behaving, but perhaps there was a kernel of truth to the story.”

“We are a long way from Paris for any child eating monster to wander.” Pieter said in a flat voice.

“I too, monsieur have lived in Paris and yet have I not travelled to this place. Perhaps over the centuries they dug their tunnels far and wide, or wandered to new places through the night. Or maybe these are different creatures. It matters not so much where they came from, only that we too are here with them.”

MÁrten who disliked Frenchmen on principal, was not finding any reason to change him mind on this one. He talked too much. The man still lay in the darkness at the back of the church, making no attempt to join the others in the more lit area. “And how, do these… creatures turn a man into one of them?”

“Their bite my friend. Once they have bitten you, one way or another you are damned. Either it seems it causes your body to rot and you become food for them, or you slowly change and become one of them. Perhaps if a man is good and true in the sight of the Lord he dies, but his soul is at least allowed into heaven. If he is found wanting and is evil at heart, then he becomes one of Satan’s minions instead and a plague on mankind.”

“Why don't you come out of the darkness?” inquired MÁrten, feeling faintly suspicious of this man and looking for a reason to justify his dislike of him.

“Oh, but I am quite comfortable where I am thank you. I think I shall stay here.”

The anger rising in his voice MÁrten replied “You could help us barricade this place, it will help keep you alive.”

“And what would the point of that be? You are trapped here until you die of thirst. Unless of course you have reserves of water hidden on you so well that no one can see them, the creatures don't need to come in here to kill you. They but need wait. You can only grow weaker. Of course, you could always go down fighting. Let God's judgment fall on you and decide if you are food for the beasts or one of them.”

“What about your men? Surely they will be looking for you.”

Monsieur, I have been lying here three days. I have given up on any chance of them finding me. I believe I am beyond rescuing. Besides perhaps these fiends have already found them…” He let his words trail off into nothingness.

Mira scoffed at this however. “How could you have been lying here three days? It was only three days ago we had to flee Milan.”

“Sir, you are mistaken. I assure you, I have had nothing to do but lie here and count the days.”

It was Pieter’s turn to scoff, “If you think that is a sir, then you are definitely mistaken. Although she is dressed as a man I can assure you she is a woman.”

The three mercenaries had a good laugh at the man mistaking Mira for a man, but the merriment was broken suddenly by a growl from the dark. In an angry voice that got louder as he spoke “It is your fault I am here and in this wretched condition. But not for you I’d be enjoying a bottle of fine wine, a pretty woman and a fine meal. You repay me by mocking me. I may never have the first two again, but you can damn well provide the third!”

With that the figure jumped to his feet and leaped at the others. His face was twisted in hatred and with hunger, streaked with blood. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the woman Solvig had killed earlier, his lower face looking a dog’s muzzle. It was lucky for the trio that they had their weapons to hand. Pieter was standing closest to the creature. He wasn’t quick enough to spear it on his sword point, but he at least managed to use his sword to block the creature and keep its teeth from his vulnerable neck and head. He instinctively rolled to one side causing his attacker to slide past and sprawl on the floor.

Outside, the others seemed to sense what was happening inside and started beating on the door to the church. Others tried climbing in the narrow windows. MÁrten, recovering from his surprise deftly lashed out at the thing that had once been a French nobleman, but it rolled to one side and his sword instead bounced off the hard stone floor. Clawed fingers lashed out, raking down MÁrten’s calf and gripping tightly around it. Yelping in surprise, he tried to step back, but the grip was too tight. MÁrten felt the pressure of its teeth sinking into his leg a moment later, but curiously there was no pain. Mira’s plunged her needle like sword deep into the man-beast’s shoulder and it let go of MÁrten with a howl. One taloned hand grasped the protruding blade while the other hand punched the flat edge of the blade snapping it off. Mira blinked in shock and surprise at her sword being broken in such a manner. The Vice-Comites took advantage of this momentary confusion to get to his feet, clawed hands spread wide ready to swipe at anyone within range. Part of Mira’s sword still hung out of his back, but it didn’t seem to impede him in anyway.

Glancing at MÁrten, Pieter moved to slash the man-beast chest open. Again, he moved out of the way, catching Pieter’s arm with one hand while the other claw lashed out, opening three deep rents down the Landsknecht’s face and chest. Pieter’s momentum spun him round and MÁrten saw from his injuries the man was already dead. He just didn’t realise it yet. He collapsed on his knees as one eye fell from its ruined socket. He tried to speak, but could only gurgle incoherantly. Mira jumped in, gripping the hilt of her broken sword and pulled it out, then plunged it back in stabbing the jagged remnant of the blade into the man-beasts back again and again. Still the creature moved as if uninjured although blood ran freely from the wounds and it howled in pain. Its compatriots increased their frenzied attacks on the door, causing the wood to crack and break, while others still tried to force themselves through windows far too small for them.

In the whirling melee inside the church, MÁrten took advantage of Mira distracting the monster. Since it seemed unaffected by the stab wounds inflicted, he raised his blade overhead and brought it down with all his strength. Iron met flesh and the flesh lost as he cleaved clean through one of the Vice-Comites arms, severing it. The creature howled in agony once again. Mira took the opening and plunged her sword into the wide-open mouth as far as she could until the shattered blade protruded from the back of its head. As if in slow motion MÁrten could see what was going to happen next and tried to shout a warning, but all too slowly. The light of life had finally faded from the man-beast’s eyes, and it slumped to the ground, its teeth raking the flesh of Mira’s unarmoured hand and drawing blood.

Exhausted by even this brief fight the pair of them slumped to the floor, unable to do anything else as the door increasingly gave way under pressure.
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There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
Dark Alex
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« Reply #10 on: August 23, 2018, 05:43:45 AM »

Rescue.

The gaps in the door were now large enough for the villagers to reach in and tear handfuls of the thick wood off the door, and pushing some of the pews off the top of the barricade. MÁrten examined the shredded flesh and muscle of his leg. He might be able to stand on it again for a short time, but he wouldn’t be able to get very far on it even if he could get away. Mira was in a better condition, but there was no way to escape the church?

A series of loud bangs rang out confusing MÁrten for a second. A thunderstorm? Then he could hear shouts and cries, and realised he had heard gun fire. The villagers clawing their way into the church also seemed confused and relented in their assault. Whatever was happening out there had drawn their attention away from those still in the church. Both he and Mira climbed to their feet, and leaning heavily on the female mercenary, he hobbled over to the ruined door to look outside.

Men in the tabards of Louis were fighting the villagers. Some carried matchlock rifles, others fought with swords in a desperate struggle. The creatures had no weapons but what their sinister nature provided them with. Teeth, claws and an inhuman strength. Many were falling from both sides and neither group seemed inclined to offer or accept surrender.

Turning around, he sat heavily on one of the pews, Mira beside him. He could feel the toxins from the Frenchman’s bite running through him, no doubt speeded on their progress by his racing heart, and looking at Mira he could see she felt the same. Was there already the hungry wolfish look in her eyes that he could feel himself? A dull pain throbbed in his jaw as it started to grow and change.

They would hide here in the church until the fight was over. If the villagers won, then there would be plenty of dead Frenchmen to feast on. And if the French won, well they could wait until the soldiers had left and then consume the villagers instead.

After all, it would not be the first time he had ate dog.
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There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
Dark Alex
Frightening Fanatic of Horrible Cinema
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« Reply #11 on: August 23, 2018, 05:56:05 AM »

Edit, here is the whole story in the one post. I've been over it, corrected some errors and changed a couple of little things.

      I have taken some mild liberties with history, but a lot of the stuff here is historically accurate. Louis XII did indeed take Milan on the 5th of January and the Duke of Milan was handed over to him by the Dukes own men. It was a cold winter that year as Europe was undergoing what has been referred to as a mini ice age, although the cause of the cooling temperatures at this time are still unknown.

The Forsaken.
By Alex Corbett.


The Mercenaries.

MÁrten. A condottiere employed by the city state of Milan.
Solvig. A rival for the leadership of the group. A skilled axe man who likes to complain and argue.
Anders. A crossbowman.
Mira. A female member of the group who often goes disguised as a man.
Gunther. A long-time companion of MÁrten. Injured in the flight from Milan.
Pieter. A Germanic Landsknecht.


Chapter One: The rewards of loyalty.

An eagle soared high of the valley. Even the lower lying parts were shrouded in snow, and the far-off peaks of the Alps were certainly no less so. The north-western end of this valley marked the furthest end of the conquests by the Kingdom of France, taken from the Duchy of Milan. Not that the bird knew anything of this, nor would it have cared if it did. It was simply hunting, looking for the tiniest movement that would betray the position of its prey. In the distance other birds were feasting on the carrion left over from a battle but the eagle sought fresher fare. Perhaps even one of the birds now feeding on the dead soldiers would be its next meal. The land was deep in winters grip Its sharp eyes caught movement on a hillside, the glint of weak sunlight on metal, both worn and carried by figures making their way through the snow touched hills. It ignored them as too large to be an easy kill and flew on in search of warm bloody, flesh to eat.

Something else the bird would not have cared about was that as the figures below measured such things, it was the year of our Lord 1500, although the year was not yet a week old. The army of Duke Ludovico Sforza (mainly made up of Swiss mercenaries) had taken Milan, only for King Louis XII to march in with an army also containing such men. The mercenaries had mostly refused to fight their countrymen and had handed the Duke over to his enemy. A few had made a stand and had been thoroughly routed by the French and men who the day before had been their own comrades-in-arms, it was the last that stung so bitterly, there fellow condottieri turning on them. Of course, such things in Italian warfare were commonplace, but this made it no easier to swallow.

These figures were some of the only survivors of those who had stayed loyal. When things had become totally hopeless, they had at first sought to cross the Alps and return home, but the mountain passes are not welcoming to travellers in winter, especially those unprepared for such conditions and they had been forced to turn back. Harried by French cavalry their course had been bent to the west until they ended up heading back towards the French lines. Under cover of night they had slipped past enemy sentries and patrols and were now deep in enemy territory, now hoping to head further south into Italy and pick up a new employer, although what they really wanted right now was to get warmed up.

“Hey MÁrten, you sure this is the way to Florence?” asked one man, a large, heavily bearded man carrying an axe in one hand. His trousers were soaking wet from wading through the hip deep snow. On his broad chest he wore an iron breastplate, dented and streaked through with rust and holes, a hodgepodge of other pieces of armour covering his shoulders and arms. Underneath all of that he wore a serviceable mail shirt.

“Solvig, the only way I know this isn’t the way to hell is because it would be warmer. Beyond that what I do know is that it is away from those damnable Franks.”
 
The man called MÁrten spat into the snow, and continued making his way through the snow drift. He was of average height, but handsome with the build of a professional warrior. A sword was carried by his side through an iron ring on his belt. His precious mail shirt was stashed in his backpack while his expensive silk shirt, with its puffed and slashed sleeves that were the latest fashion was torn, ripped and smudged with the stains of battle. While it had been useful for attracting the wenches of Milan (of which there were many), he was now wishing he had worn something warmer.
  
“Hey MÁrten, why did we fight to defend the duke again when everyone else abandoned him?”

“I don’t know Solvig. Why don’t you tell me? Or better yet hold your breath inside. You are letting out so much hot air you’ll freeze to death before the rest of us!”
  
Solvig could be overheard by several others muttering “Because we are fools and idiots, that’s why.”

The half dozen figures trudged on through the snow in silence for a while. Five men and one woman, none of them prepared for the long trek. Once as finally equipped as any other condottieri with splendid weapons and armour they had been forced to leave most of that behind, taking only what they could carry as they fled into the night, the French and Swiss dogs at their heels every step of the way. MÁrten feared no man in a fair fight, but he did not like the odds of them facing men on horseback while trapped on foot. No one had eaten since the previous morning, or slept and they’d been struggling through the cold and wet. The dark and heavy clouds hanging overhead said it was going to get worse soon. It would soon be getting dark. He raised his fist to call a halt and ordered the others to make camp. Although he wasn’t the captain of the company, he had always been an unofficial leader amongst his closest friends, although Solvig clearly thought the position should be his, always looking for any way to undermine his authority. This would not be their first night spent under such conditions he grimly reflected. The life of a mercenary was not as glamourous as many (himself included) made it out to be.

The men dug a pit in the snow, building three walls of a square to keep the worst of the wind off and reinforcing the rear wall with their shields. It would do nothing to stop any falling snow however. Yves had searched for some wood for a fire, but hadn’t found enough for even a meagre one. MÁrten sighed and shrugged. A fire would only have alerted any roving patrols to their position. Doubtless it was for the best. Inside he thought though “Dearest lord, I have always remained true to your teachings, why have you abandoned me so?” and unconsciously grabbed at the crucifix that hung around his neck. The six of them sat huddled together sharing body heat as much as possible and slept fitfully at best.

MÁrten awoke and was covered in a blanket of gentle snow much as were the others. He did not feel at all rested from what sleep he had snatched through the night. His body felt stiff and sore, protesting at its ill-treatment. Standing up, he shook the snow from his body nudging the others awake, but kicking Solvig hard enough to be painful. Solvig swore and cursed at him in return. When he nudged the last of his group awake a man he had campaigned with for the last five years called Gunther, he fell over stiffly, unmoving in the snow. His eyes were frozen open and it was obvious Gunther’s travels were now over. The others quickly stripped him of his clothes, revealing he’d taken a wound to the gut at some point and had simply bled to death, the blood clustered in frozen crystals around the wound. It was not a particularly big one, perhaps from a dagger or the tip of a sword and normally would have been survivable… Such a waste. His clothes shared amongst the group they headed off in silence once more leaving his naked body for the elements and animals to do with as they wished. He had been a good man, but they had no time to dig through the frozen earth for a proper funeral and neither could they carry his body with them.

Mira, the only woman in the group half screamed and half yelled a warning, and everyone turned around. In the distance a lone figure on horseback stood on the horizon watching them. It was too far away to make out any details, but none of them could think of any good reason for a horseman out alone like this unless it was a French scout.
  
Swearing an unholy oath MÁrten, yelled at everyone to gather their gear and move. If that was a scout then depending on how close his troops were, they could be on them in hours. They were tired, hungry and exhausted, but would have to push even harder if they were to have any chance.
  
“Let’s move out!” The small group started pushing again through the snow, expecting at any time to hear the hoof beats of pursuit. MÁrten was missing a warm bed, the company of a woman or two, his horses, his fine clothes, his carefully saved money. All he had now was four frie… make that three friends and Solvig plus the clothes he was wearing. Oh, and the uncomfortable hunk of armour he was lugging around on his back that represented his best chance of surviving any fights.

The snow that had been falling all night seemed to be getting heavier and they could soon only see a few feet in front of themselves. It might as well have been the middle of the night for all they could see. At least it would cover their tracks from anyone following, if anyone was foolish enough to be travelling through this storm. The wind whipped them cruelly, cutting straight through their meagre clothing.
  
Anders, struggling to be heard over the howling wind tried to attract the attention of MÁrten. Finally, he had to grasp his shoulder. Turning around, but still couldn’t make out what Anders was saying. In frustration he waved over to the distant hills. Between flurries of snow, he could just about make out a cleft in the hillside. If it kept snowing, then their tracks would be covered and the French would surely miss this narrow passage in the storm. Finally, the Lord above was showing them his favour.
  
The cleft was little more than a crack between the hills barely wide enough for a man to walk single file. The broader shouldered members of the party would struggle a little. Fortunately, the crack was too narrow and deep for the snow to fall down and they were sheltered from the wind, although should the direction change they would feel its fury with a vengeance. Solveig cursed and swore as his shoulders battered off the rocky walls of their shelter making Martyn smile. He was a good man with a sword or axe, but his constant complaining was tiresome. A priest had once told Martyn than a bit of suffering was good for the soul. Well Solvig’s suffering certainly made his soul feel lighter.

In spite of the situation MÁrten chuckled. The noise of the howling wind still prevented anyone hearing anything quieter than a shout so he had no worries about starting a fight with Solvig. It was not unusual for the pair of them to end up at blows, and even in such dire circumstances as they were in now, Martyn did not trust his companion to keep his temper. He knew he could take Solvig in a fight despite the man’s bigger size, but he didn’t fancy the bruises that would come along with such a struggle. Plus, he needed all his energy to keep on going. They all did.

Unable to see much of the sky, MÁrten had no idea how long they had been walking through this rocky passage. It felt like days. His legs ached and he felt cold all over. Would have it been better to surrender and trust to the mercy of the French than this? He shuddered at that thought. He had no wealthy family to pay a ransom for him and poor prisoners could expect only a quick death if they were lucky. Some generals liked to get creative with how they killed prisoners though. Every so often now and again they could hear strange echo’s which may have been the shouts of men distorted by the rocky walls, or the noises of animals.

Straining to see ahead, he could see something strange. The narrow passage appeared to be filled with a mist, bluish in colour which seemed to glow slightly. He couldn’t understand how a mist could form in such a narrow passage, but none the less it was welcome. Should the French still be pursuing them it would provide extra cover, perhaps even persuade them to give up the chase. The echoing noises still came now and again but it seemed less often to MÁrten’s ears. It was still impossible to tell what they came from. The group reached the strange mist and plunged into its clammy embrace.

Chapter 2: Into The Mist.


Quickly once inside the bluish mist visibility dropped to only a few feet. Barely able to see the man (or woman) in front of them they all stopped long enough to make a crude rope from their belts which they held in a line to prevent anyone getting lost. If someone was to wander off, they could only be found by yelling and that was a sure way of bringing any nearby enemy troops down on their heads.

With a start MÁrten realised they were no longer in the rocky passage. He had been so busy concentrating on other things and exhausted by their flight he hadn’t noticed the passage widening. The snow hadn’t been as heavy on this side of the passage although the air was cold. Dead leaves crunched underfoot, leading him to assume they were in, or near some forest. A sound somewhere between a bark or a cough came floating on the mist. If it was a dog, then hopefully it meant there was a village nearby where they could rest up. If it was a lone wolf… well perhaps they would have meat to eat tonight if they could find the beast. At this point he’d even be willing to risk a fire rather than eat raw dog meat, a meal he had been forced to eat on more than one occasion and none of them pleasant.

He wondered how far they were from the coast? Hopefully they’d come across some fishing village where they could beg, borrow, barter or steal passage to warmer climes and better employment prospects. Maybe he could find some rich widow and give up this soldiering game once and for all.

For hours they roamed through a sparse forest, a thick carpet of leaves crunching beneath their tired feet. It felt more like autumn here than winter and the air while still chilled was nowhere near as cold as it had been much to MÁrten’s relief. He looked around to check his companions were still with him, their figures mere dark outlines in the thick mist. Even then he could still tell one from the other. There was the massive form of Solvig no doubt complaining to himself, wearing the cobbled together remnants of a dozen different suits of armour, all taken from dead men, his axe slung over his back. Anders who out of all of them had the presence of mind to carry most of his gear with him including his crossbow. He had his leather jack on, lighter armour than the rest preferred to wear, but he rarely saw the kind of close combat the others were habitually involved in. If they saw any game he was their best chance at bringing it down, but he had precious little ammunition left for it. Mira, dressed as usual in the clothes of a man and her hair cut short. She had as many scars as any of the rest of them and had spent her fair share of time on the front row of a battle line. Pieter was from one of the Germanic states, MÁrten could never remember which one. He was a Landsknecht, but had been forced to leave his pike behind. It was simply too heavy to take with them in a rout. Between them they had a sorry collection of hand weapons and a single crossbow with four bolts.

The day dragged on, never seeming to get lighter or darker… just dragging on. With no idea of the time and without a word they stopped for a meal, sharing the sorry remains of their provisions. If they didn’t find something soon tomorrow would be a very hungry day. As they ate, he watched their faces. No one looked to be in any great condition to continue on. Once they had fed no one stood up to move on. They slept there. MÁrten never saw if it got dark or not and despite the howling of animals in the vicinity no one stood guard over them while they slept. It was a fitful sleep at best, the familiar sounds of a forest somehow strange in this place dragged him back to a state of semi wakefulness every time he was close to entering a deep sleep. Despite this it seemed he dreamed. He was a creature of the forest being hunted, or was he one of the hunters? At times he was a man with a sword. But then dreams are oft confusing.

He awoke to more of the same grey bluish mist blocking any view of the sky. He woke the others with the toe of his boot, making sure of course to kick Solvig a little harder than was strictly required. It would give the man something to complain about and he was never happy otherwise. While the others finished waking up, MÁrten gathered up some broken branches and prepared a small fire. Wordlessly they ate the very last of their food, then stood up and prepared to continue their long trudge. MÁrten said nothing to the others but with no sun in the sky, he could not tell what direction they should be heading in. Perhaps the others guessed this already, but he decided against mentioning it. Picking what he thought was the right way to go he started off walking followed one by one by his companions.

As they walked through this endless wood, he tightened his belt to keep the hunger pangs at bay. He couldn’t even melt some snow for a drink. Who would have thought he’d be missing snow? Just this damnable endless forest, thick fog and its howling animals. He cursed his fate at accepting a job in the north instead of sticking to his usual haunts along the southern coast.

There! For a second MÁrten thought he caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head to follow it, but whatever had attracted his attention had gone, or his tired eyes were playing tricks on him. Something else was out there though. He could see a large squat shape looming there. For a second he stared trying to figure out what he was seeing, then with a laugh that startled the others he realised it was the bulk of some building. Other shapes outlined in the mist promised more houses. They were saved!

Chapter Three: The Village.

With renewed vigour MÁrten headed over to the village. Solvig with his longer legs strode ahead. A low fence gradually became visible. Solvig stopped suddenly and MÁrten almost walked into him. Knowing the big man wouldn’t have stopped without reason he stepped around him. Solvig had one finger pointing and what looked like a fence post, a couple of feet taller than the rest with some sort of carving on it. On a second look, he realised it was someone sitting in an improbable position on top of the post. It looked like a naked woman, her feet on the post and chest pressed against her legs.  The woman’s arms hung listlessly down at her sides and her long dirty dark hair covered her face.

Solvig called out to her “Ho lass! You need help?”

The strange woman did not move or respond. Only her lank hair moving in the faint breeze told MÁrten that his initial impression of her being a wooden carving was wrong. Solvig pulled his cloak off his shoulders and moved towards her as if to cover her, repeating his question as he walked to her. When he got within around five feet of her she moved so quickly MÁrten could barely follow it. She raised her head, her hair flying backwards. MÁrten got only a quick impression of a feral expression of hate as she opened her mouth and leapt at the approaching man, wrapping her legs around his waist while her long nailed fingers tore at his patchwork armour, tearing pieces off. Her mouth tore at him in a frenzy seeking bare flesh. MÁrten could see the big man straining to push the woman back and keep her from tearing open his throat. With a grunt and his face turning red he manage to heave her away from him sending her sprawling on the ground. Instantly she spun around, stretched out on all fours and snarling like a feral animal at Solvig, then pounced leaping for him again. His ham sized fist lashed out, catching the woman on the side of the head. Knocked again to the floor, this time she did not move. MÁrten ran over to her prone body. A large purple bruise was already evident on the side of her head, but she was still breathing. Solvig had merely knocked her out, but that wasn’t what got MÁrten’s attention. He was looking at her face. From the nose up, she looked as if she was a pretty enough girl, although in dire need of a wash, but the lower half of her face seemed slightly deformed, almost like a dog’s jaws.

Solvig joined him, swearing and oath and his axe in hand. “Damn lunatic girl. She breathing? Pah, I see I can rely on you when I’m in danger MÁrten as always.” He spat on the ground.
MÁrten ignored him, in truth he barely heard him as he pulled the woman’s lips open. Her teeth were jagged, either filled into points or perhaps they’d grown that way naturally in line with the rest of her deformity. Solvig spat on the ground “She’s no madwoman. It’s a spawn of the devil! We should kill it now before it awakes and calls others of its kind.” He hefted his axe meaningfully in one hand, checking his armour for damage. Gunter whistled in surprise when he saw the rents in Solvig’s mail shirt. In his thickly accented voice he pointed out that Solvig was bleeding on the side of his neck. He put his hand to his neck and felt around. His hand came away soaked in blood. “In the name of Jesu… what the hell. I can feel the wound but there is no pain. She is a hell spawned b***h I tell you!”

With that he raised his axe and brought it down heavily on the deformed woman’s skull, splitting it from jaw to crown then yanked it loose from the corpse, spraying everyone else with blood.
“GOD DAMMIT” yelled Pieter, but anything else he was about to say was suddenly cut off as the from the mist enshrouded woods all around them came a cacophonic chorus of wolf howls. “See! The b***h was birthed by wolves and they know one of theirs is dead. I told you see was hell spawn!”

Solvig rubbed the head of his axe on the ground, trying his best to clean the blood off it.”

Everyone else looked around nervously. The sounds seemed to come from all around and from a hundred different throats. “We should get inside”, said MÁrten. “Before they catch us in the open.”
He pointed to the largest looking building. “I think that is an inn, everyone head for it.”

The howls sounded like they were getting closer. Without another command being given everyone forgot their tiredness and ran for the inn. Mira kicked the door open and they all piled in. It did indeed seem to be an inn, unlit and covered in cobwebs. MÁrten thought the place long abandoned, but once again was proved wrong when in the shadowy recesses of the room he saw movement. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see they were peasants dressed in rags, many with their faces covered in dirty bandages, some missing limbs. Truly if MÁrten had ever seen a place forsaken by god then this was it. A one-eyed man stood behind a bar, rubbing a dirty towel around a wooden mug as he watched the newcomers, a wolfish smile MÁrten found deeply unpleasant given very recent events. No one seemed to take any notice of the blood-stained clothing. The howling from outside had stopped as soon as they entered this strange inn. MÁrten motioned the others to sit down. Anders looked at Solvig’s wound, dabbing at it with a strip of torn cloth. Walking over to the bar, MÁrten put a few copper coins on the bar “Five ales and food it you have it.”

The barman said nothing, but reached beneath the bar and brought up some mugs which he filled from a dusty looking barrel behind him. Still wordlessly he shoved the filled mugs over the table towards MÁrten. “Have the food brought to our table” he said with a confidence in his voice that for some reason he did not feel inside. The coins lay on the bar top untouched. The one-eyed man never moved from his spot behind the bar or said anything, but a few minutes later five bowls of a thin stew were unceremoniously dumped on the table. Everyone jumped a little, they hadn’t heard the small old woman who served them coming over. They spoke in a huddled whisper, even Solvig for once keeping his voice low, but still complaining “I do not be liking this place. The ale is like horse p**s and I don’t know what the stew tastes like. The people in here look more dead than alive. I think they have something in common with that hell b***h I killed outside. I think I’d rather take my chances with the wolves in the forest than remain here.”

As he spoke he rubbed his neck where he’d been bitten in a distracted fashion. MÁrten noticed he was also speaking much slower than normal.

The rest of the group nodded in agreement including MÁrten as much as it pained him. “Let’s finish our food and leave. God only knows when we’ll eat again. As Solvig had said the meat had an unfamiliar taste to it, and the ale was thin with a sour taste. Still, it was better than raw dog.

Even cooked rats were better than raw dog. The mercenaries ate quickly, but without enthusiasm and drained the last of their mugs and stood up to leave.

“Sweet Jesu!” cursed MÁrten. He’d heard no one moving, but the inn was now filled with people, all standing far too close to them for comfort. His heart hammered in his chest from the surprise. He found himself, literally eye to eye with the barman. “Leaving so soon? Be dark soon and there be nowhere else nearby to stay.”

His breath smelled like rotten meat. MÁrten, a veteran of uncounted battlegrounds and no stranger to charnel smells still found himself gagging on the stink.

“You killed poor Eliza. Least you can do is wait around and meet her parents to make amends. They are on their way. We heard them coming and it won’t be long.”

The men continued to press in closer. With an oath MÁrten shoved them back and drew his sword in the space he’d made. The others except for Solvig followed suit. The big man was on his feet, but looked unsteady and confused. “Back dogs if you don’t want a taste of my steel!”

Seemingly unafraid of the naked blades they crowd pressed forward again. Pieter grabbed Solvig, who stood there swaying and blinking and the backed towards the door and out into the street. The village which had been so empty before was now filled. Hundreds it seemed stood outside. With a gasp of horror MÁrten saw they had much more in common with the woman they’d killed earlier than even the foul specimens of humanity they had seen inside the inn. Their jaws were elongated. Open mouths showed teeth made for ripping and tearing. What the hell had they stumbled into? Hostile eyes gleamed in the half light and MÁrten shuddered at the thought of just what throats those animal cries earlier had issued forth from. Without thinking the group circled themselves, weapons pointing outwards, except Solvig who stumbled and barely seemed able to stand upright. “Back up carefully”, said MÁrten. The crowd parted to let them move through but closed in from the front. He couldn’t help but feel like they were being herded, but should the mob attack they all knew they would have no chance. They might take a few with them but they’d quickly be overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers. If the rest of them had the same unholy strength as the girl they wouldn’t need weapons. They’d simply rip them into shreds. None of the buildings around looked particularly defensible unless… “The church! Head for there. If there are creatures of Satan they surely can’t enter holy ground!”

Seeing a break in the crowd, they all ran for it, Anders dragging the much larger Solvig. The much larger man fell. Anders paused to try and lift him, but Solvig and his armour were too much for him. Seeing the crowd getting close Anders turned to run, but one of them leapt at his back and brought him down, its claw like nails tearing into his lightly armoured back and ripping gouts of flesh from his body with ease. He screamed, his voice increasing in pitch. None of the others dared turn around to see what was happening. The screams turned to a liquid gurgle and died. His death was not wasted though. The horde had stopped to shred Anders and presumably Solvig’s bodies. This gave the others enough time to reach the old church and slam the doors behind them. Without pausing MÁrten, Mira and Pieter started piling pews up against the door in a makeshift barricade.

Chapter Four: The Siege.

None of the threesome even paused to look at their surroundings until they had secured the church door as much as was possible. The church windows were small and high up behind the altar. None of them would be able to climb out of one, but it should mean no one could get in by them either. Most of the church lay in darkness, the little light the windows did let in merely left the area around the pulpit in a twilight like state. They had a fortress, but it was also a prison. "Can you see anything out the window?" asked MÁrten.

Pieter was the tallest of them, but even still had to stand on tip toes peered out. "I think they are surrounding us. Perhaps they mean to wait us out?"

Inside the church looked even more desolate than the inn. Once they had barricaded the doorway, and looked out the broken windows at the crowd spreading out to surround them. They could see no sign of Anders or Solvig. The inside of the church had been whitewashed, long ago. Now it was covered in dust, dirt and cobwebs. At the pulpit Mira found part of a skeleton dressed in the robe of a priest. Many of the bones were broken.

“So, what now?” asked Pieter.

“Monsieur,” replied a voice with a French accent “We are in purgatory and you must await judgement. Sooner or later the demons will take you and you will either find yourself in heaven at our Makers right hand or joining those outside.” As the voice stopped talking it collapsed into a coughing fit. Everyone grabbed their weapons and carefully walked to the dark rear of the church where the voice had come from. A man lay there. He was dressed in the colours of Louis XIV, although the clothes were torn and dirty. “You would be the survivors of those who defended the Duke of Milan yes? Hah, then I have completed my mission even now. My lord sends his greetings to those who remained loyal. He appreciates such sentiments and wishes to offer you a role in his personal guard if you can show him the same loyalty. Those who turned against their employer have, you will no doubt be glad to hear have been put to the sword for their perfidy. And now my mission is complete, although I do not think you are going to be able to accept his offer.”

“How did you end up here?” MÁrten asked as he knelt beside the man.

“My lord sent me and a troop of light cavalry to seek you out and make his offer. We followed you into the hills, even found by sheerest chance the gap you had sought shelter in. Indeed, it was the Devil's luck that we spotted it. My men dismounted to follow you through it while myself and two aide de camp rode over the hills. We came across this village and were attacked by the same devils you are encountered. We were taken by surprise. My companions were taken immediately, but I thought to fight my way clear. I’d almost done it too when my horse reared up and I fell off. I managed to crawl in here while they ate our horses. They left my men injured. I heard their cries for many hours as I lay here. Oh, but how rude. I am the Vice-Comites du aint Palais sur Mer. You will have to excuse me not bowing, but I don't feel like it right now."

With that he sat up, his figure still indistinct in the shadowy darkness.

“In God’s name, what are they?”

“I know not for sure, although when I was a boy my governess would tell me that if I misbehaved there were creatures who were once men but had become much less below the streets of Paris living in the catacombs. They would eat the bodies of the dead but if a child was naughty they would come and take them either to eat or to turn into one of them. I thought it was a bogeyman tale to scare a child into behaving, but perhaps there was a kernel of truth to the story.”

“We are a long way from Paris for any child eating monster to wander.” Pieter said in a flat voice.

“I too, monsieur have lived in Paris and yet have I not travelled to this place. Perhaps over the centuries they dug their tunnels far and wide, or wandered to new places through the night. Or maybe these are different creatures. It matters not so much where they came from, only that we too are here with them.”

MÁrten who disliked Frenchmen on principal, was not finding any reason to change him mind on this one. He talked too much. The man still lay in the darkness at the back of the church, making no attempt to join the others in the more lit area. “And how, do these… creatures turn a man into one of them?”

“Their bite my friend. Once they have bitten you, one way or another you are damned. Either it seems it causes your body to rot and you become food for them, or you slowly change and become one of them. Perhaps if a man is good and true in the sight of the Lord he dies, but his soul is at least allowed into heaven. If he is found wanting and is evil at heart, then he becomes one of Satan’s minions instead and a plague on mankind.”

“Why don't you come out of the darkness?” inquired MÁrten, feeling faintly suspicious of this man and looking for a reason to justify his dislike of him.

“Oh, but I am quite comfortable where I am thank you. I think I shall stay here.”

The anger rising in his voice MÁrten replied “You could help us barricade this place, it will help keep you alive.”

“And what would the point of that be? You are trapped here until you die of thirst. Unless of course you have reserves of water hidden on you so well that no one can see them, the creatures don't need to come in here to kill you. They but need wait. You can only grow weaker. Of course, you could always go down fighting. Let God's judgment fall on you and decide if you are food for the beasts or one of them.”

“What about your men? Surely, they will be looking for you.”

Monsieur, I have been lying here three days. I have given up on any chance of them finding me. I believe I am beyond rescuing. Besides perhaps these fiends have already found them…” He let his words trail off into nothingness.

Mira scoffed at this however. “How could you have been lying here three days? It was only three days ago we had to flee Milan.”

“Sir, you are mistaken. I assure you, I have had nothing to do but lie here and count the days.”

It was Pieter’s turn to scoff, “If you think that is a sir, then you are definitely mistaken. Although she is dressed as a man I can assure you she is a woman.”

The three mercenaries had a good laugh at the man mistaking Mira for a man, but the merriment was broken suddenly by a growl from the dark. In an angry voice that got louder as he spoke “It is your fault I am here and in this wretched condition. But not for you I’d be enjoying a bottle of fine wine, a pretty woman and a fine meal. You repay me by mocking me. I may never have the first two again, but you can damn well provide the third!”

With that the figure jumped to his feet and leaped at the others. His face was twisted in hatred and with hunger, streaked with blood. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the woman Solvig had killed earlier, his lower face looking a dog’s muzzle. It was lucky for the trio that they had their weapons to hand. Pieter was standing closest to the creature. He wasn’t quick enough to spear it on his sword point, but he at least managed to use his sword to block the creature and keep its teeth from his vulnerable neck and head. He instinctively rolled to one side causing his attacker to slide past and sprawl on the floor.

Outside, the others seemed to sense what was happening inside and started beating on the door to the church. Others tried climbing in the narrow windows. MÁrten, recovering from his surprise deftly lashed out at the thing that had once been a French nobleman, but it rolled to one side and his sword instead bounced off the hard stone floor. Clawed fingers lashed out, raking down MÁrten’s calf and gripping tightly around it. Yelping in surprise, he tried to step back, but the grip was too tight. MÁrten felt the pressure of its teeth sinking into his leg a moment later, but curiously there was no pain. Mira’s plunged her needle like sword deep into the man-beast’s shoulder and it let go of MÁrten with a howl. One taloned hand grasped the protruding blade while the other hand punched the flat edge of the blade snapping it off. Mira blinked in shock and surprise at her sword being broken in such a manner. The Vice-Comites took advantage of this momentary confusion to get to his feet, clawed hands spread wide ready to swipe at anyone within range. Part of Mira’s sword still hung out of his back, but it didn’t seem to impede him in anyway.

Glancing at MÁrten, Pieter moved to slash the man-beast chest open. Again, he moved out of the way, catching Pieter’s arm with one hand while the other claw lashed out, opening three deep rents down the Landsknecht’s face and chest. Pieter’s momentum spun him round and MÁrten saw from his injuries the man was already dead. He just didn’t realise it yet. He collapsed on his knees as one eye fell from its ruined socket. He tried to speak, but could only gurgle incoherently. Mira jumped in, gripping the hilt of her broken sword and pulled it out, then plunged it back in stabbing the jagged remnant of the blade into the man-beasts back again and again. Still the creature moved as if uninjured although blood ran freely from the wounds and it howled in pain. Its compatriots increased their frenzied attacks on the door, causing the wood to crack and break, while others still tried to force themselves through windows far too small for them.

In the whirling melee inside the church, MÁrten took advantage of Mira distracting the monster. Since it seemed unaffected by the stab wounds inflicted, he raised his blade overhead and brought it down with all his strength. Iron met flesh and the flesh lost as he cleaved clean through one of the Vice-Comites arms, severing it. The creature howled in agony once again. Mira took the opening and plunged her sword into the wide-open mouth as far as she could until the shattered blade protruded from the back of its head. As if in slow motion MÁrten could see what was going to happen next and tried to shout a warning, but all too slowly. The light of life had finally faded from the man-beast’s eyes, and it slumped to the ground, its teeth raking the flesh of Mira’s unarmoured hand and drawing blood.

Exhausted by even this brief fight the pair of them slumped to the floor, unable to do anything else as the door increasingly gave way under pressure.

Chapter Five: Salvation.

The gaps in the door were now large enough for the villagers to reach in and tear handfuls of the thick wood off the door, and pushing some of the pews off the top of the barricade. MÁrten examined the shredded flesh and muscle of his leg. He might be able to stand on it again for a short time, but he wouldn’t be able to get very far on it even if he could get away. Mira was in a better condition, but there was no way to escape the church? Mira hissed "We are not going out like this, come on!"

She started dragging MÁrten over to the barricade, leaving him lying on the floor at the base of it and terrifyingly close to the monsters pushing their way through the now wrecked door. Then she quickly grabbed MÁrten's sword and returned it to him, and collected Pieter's blade for herself. "If we die here, I say we make them work for their dinner!"

Helping MÁrten up onto one of the pews the pair of them plunged their swords into the neck of the first villager to start crawling through the space. "Come on then" yelled MÁrten, "come on and die. We'll block the door with your dead and you can choke eating them for all I care."

Mira had a vicious smile on her face as she cut and thrust at each of the men-beasts as they awkwardly tried climbing over the broken pews and dead bodies of their fellows. In the heart of this fight she seemed more alive than MÁrten had ever seen her before. Indeed he could feel the blood lust rising in himself. He'd teach these lap dogs of Satan a thing or two. The joyful lust of slaughter overtook the pair of them and they fought as they never had before. The pain in MÁrten's leg disappeared from his conscious mind as he slew again and again. The creatures were inhumanly hardy and died slowly, but they died. Mira and MÁrten could not stand against them forever, but they'd have a battle first the flesh eating ghouls would long remember. Before long the dead bodies were being ripped apart by their comrades to try and get at the defiant mortals making their last stand inside. Some fell back, hands or arms chopped off. They quickly became food for their impatient fellow creatures, the scent of blood on the air too much for them to resist. Without ceremony or pretense they used their cruel teeth to rip gouts of flesh and muscle right off the bone and swallowed the chunks whole.

Meanwhile inside MÁrten almost lost his sword when he plunged in deep into the chest of his latest foe. The sword caught on bone and for a few seconds his hand slipped off the gore soaked hilt before he managed to grab both sides of the pommel and rip it clear. Once more he and Mira were splashed in gouts of blood, but they now exalted in the spray of another’s life force, laughing with the power they felt inside at it. Never had they felt so alive! Mira plunged her sword into the head of the next ghoul, then grabbing the back on its head with her free hand proceeded to smash the creatures face off her armoured knee, pummeling it until it was just a bloody ruin. She then pulled the entire corpse inside, letting it fall on the stone floor with a sickening wet splat so she could attack a fresh opponent.

A series of loud bangs rang out confusing MÁrten for a second. A thunderstorm? Then he could hear shouts and cries, and realised he had heard gun fire. The villagers clawing their way into the church also seemed confused and relented in their assault. Whatever was happening out there had drawn their attention away from those still in the church. Both he and Mira climbed up the barricade for a better look.

Men in the tabards of the French king were fighting the villagers. Some carried matchlock rifles, others fought with swords and spears in a desperate struggle. The creatures had no weapons but what their sinister nature provided them with. Teeth, claws and an inhuman strength. Many were falling from both sides and neither group seemed inclined to offer or accept surrender. As they watched a soldier lunged with a sword swipe that would have cut a normal man from his shoulder to his hip. Instead the dog faced villager caught his sword arm in one hand and with the other raked its claws across the man’s stomach, ripping open his mail armour and spilling his guts on the ground. As he fell the man-beast tore the man's arm off at the shoulder and immediately bit into the raw, bloody meat seemingly forgetting, or losing interest in the swirling melee still going on around it. Nearby a ghoul leapt through the air at another soldier who by sheerest luck impaled it through its chest on his long spear. Another ghoul, one eye lost to a shot from a rifle and multiple holes through its body staggered towards the line of shooters even as the gunners wavered between reloading and shooting it again, or taking to their heels and fleeing this unholy place.

Turning around, he sat heavily on one of the pews, Mira beside him. He could feel the toxins from the Frenchman’s bite running through him, no doubt speeded on their progress by his racing heart, and looking at Mira he could see she felt the same. Was there already the hungry wolfish look in her eyes that he could feel himself? A dull pain throbbed in his jaw as it started to grow and change. How long had it been since they had been wounded and how long did it take to become one of these unhumans?

They watched as man clashed with ghoul, the living and the neither dead nor alive. Both sides looked evenly matched, and neither MÁrten or Mira wanted any survivors from either side. The villagers had dared attack them and kill their friends, for that they would pay. The Franks had invaded Italy, forced them to this place and they would pay too. Then this village would have new masters. They wouldn't act like scavengers merely taking whatever scraps came their way. They would find a way to bring more people to this place, recruit some and eat the others until their numbers grew. By the time the world learned of their existence it would be too late. In time he would travel to Paris and find out if more of these creatures hid in the catacombs beneath that city. He was thinking of what fine sport it would be to hunt creatures like him in such a place, how it would make the feeding afterwards a richer experience. As his body changed he somehow knew that barring a violent death he would live a very long time indeed, perhaps he was even immortal now as was the woman by his side. In the end, there would only be him, Mira and their 'offspring'. These others were clearly too base to be allowed to survive.

Hand in hand, Mira and MÁrten climbed over the barricade and went to join the slaughter. He was thinking about the aftermath when he would feed well on the corpses. He wanted to try one of those who had planned on eating him first.

After all, it would not be the first time he had ate dog, but this time he was looking forward to it.
« Last Edit: August 24, 2018, 04:27:23 PM by Dark Alex » Logged

There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
Dark Alex
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« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2018, 02:05:26 PM »

Not sure if I'll turn this into a full story or not, but here we go.

"Has a black priest been summoned?"

"Yes my direst lord. As soon as we saw what had happened we called for one."

"You called for a priest before informing ME?"

"Noo, my lord Aamon. I came straight to tell you, while one of the lesser demons was sent to fetch the priest."

It was not considered wise to upset a Grand Marquis of Hell with forty infernal legions at his command. Especially when his favourite daughter had been possessed.
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There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
indianasmith
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« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2018, 09:37:41 PM »

Great story, Alex!  You really ought to try and publish that one somewhere.
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"Carpe diem!" - Seize the day!  "Carpe per diem!" - Seize the daily living allowance! "Carpe carp!" - Seize the fish!
"Carpe Ngo Diem!" - Seize the South Vietnamese Dictator!
Dark Alex
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« Reply #14 on: August 24, 2018, 10:30:31 AM »

I think I need to expand the last chapter a little.
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There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
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