Oh look its Wednesday again, so that mean’s short story time! This is a fantasy piece around 4300 words in length and involves two mortals and a witch. That’s about all I’m going to say. So let’s go!
“Shit! This is such a bad idea.” Peter says as he follows his friend Vance down the length of the seemingly never-ending tunnel, the stones of which glow an ominous red, like blood.
“Relax.” Vance fires back causally as Peter’s heart thumps loudly in his chest.
“Relax! Are you joking! We’re in the Blood Halls!” Peter fires back almost hysterical, as his eyes dart left and right over and over. He is sure something is going to jump from a shadowy corner and grab him. Even though there are no shadowy corners, except for where the walls meet the ceiling and nothing could hide in those tiny black voids.
“I know. Now just calm down and follow me.” Vance says trying to reassure and distract his friend as they continue to edge forward, deeper and deeper into the tunnel system.
“Following you is what got us into this place.” Peter fires back accusingly in the moments before he whips his head round at a sound he thinks he hears; only to find there is nothing there. However, the lack of discovery does nothing to ease his panic as his head now turns on a swivel, while his eyes dart this way and that. He has no idea if it’s effective, but it makes him feel a tad better.
“Quiet. We don’t want anyone to here.” Vance says calmly and without breaking his slow continuous edging forward, or his gaze ahead for that matter.
“No shit!” Peter manages sarcastically trying to sound confident even though he can hear his heart thundering so loudly and at such a pace that he is sure Vance and anything else, the any thing else being key in Peter’s eyes instead of the possible anyone, can hear it too.
“Stop your moaning.” Vance scolds, his patience now having grown thin.
“Oh I’ll stop when we’re out of here.” Peter fires back angrily, his fear forgotten for a few seconds, until he thinks he says a shadow move again. His eyes and head whip round in response, only to find that again nothing is there, as his teeth chatter.
“Jesus really, you’re going to keep going for that long?” Vance remarks, rolling his eyes exhausted by his friends continual whining, which isn’t helping either of them.
“Of course I fucking am! We’re in the Blood Halls!” Peter spits reminding Vance who it seems, at least as far as Peter can tell, has failed to grasp the scale of the danger they are in being in this place.
“You’ve said that already. Now zip it before you get us caught.” Vance responds bluntly now, his patience for his friends all but gone now that he seems adamant on doing little other than keep retreading old ground. Vance doesn’t need a reminder of where they are, he knows full well.
“I don’t like this.” Peter says after a short silence during which his heart rate hasn’t slowed a single beat, much like the mass of fear he feels weighing heavily upon him hasn’t.
“I can tell, seeing as you won’t shut up about it. Now come on.” Vance replies now completely out of patience for his friend’s ramblings as he continues to push forward slowly, carefully, but only for a few paces until he stops suddenly and waits.
But as Vance waits he hears nothing, not a single footstep, and more worrisome no queries or questions from Peter. A lance of dread rips up Vance’s spine as he breathes deeply in and then out several times before finally he feels able to turn back and look the way he’s come. It should mean that he can look Peter right in the eyes. Only Peter isn’t there, in fact nothing is there, except for empty space. Vance’s eyes roll shut as he prays that he’s mistaken, but when he opens them again he is faced with the same thing, nothing. Peter is gone and Vance is now alone.
It is at this point that Vance no longer feels any form of calm. Instead he feels only worry for his absent friend Peter, a man that had refused to shut up while wandering about the Blood Halls. It was Vance’s fault; he knows it and Peter had made sure to remind him of it as well, until his disappearance that is.
“What now?” Vance says to himself as his eyes dart this way and that searching for something, anything that might give him an idea of where Peter could have gone.
As his eyes search the space the tales of this place sneak into his mind, reminding him of the claims of demons and undead who wander the halls taking anyone bold, or stupid, enough to attempt to traverse their routes. No one has ever walked the Blood Halls and returned to tell the tales, so the stories go. Vance hadn’t believed it until now. He’d always questioned the notion that if no one survived, then how could anyone tell tales of what lay within? Or, for that matter, be so sure of the outcome they would face if they did venture within these red walls? Now however, Vance doesn’t care about any of the tales or rumours. He doesn’t even care of how possible it can be that everyone who has ever entered this place has never been seen again. He just simply wants to find his friend.
“Aaaaaaaaaah!” A voice screams, the volume of the terrified voice ringing through the halls, echoing.
Vance knows the voice is Peter’s as he breaks into a sprint in the direction he is sure it has originated from. He knows he is throwing caution to the wind as he dives down a new passage, identical to the last with its towering pillars and carvings. Everything is soaked in the same red glow, but at least it helps to illuminate his path, he thinks as he presses onward.
“Aaaaah!” A second scream echoes forth. This scream is shorter than the first but somehow it sounds both no closer than the last and no further away. Vance doesn’t understand, but he takes solace in the fact that he is neither better nor worse off, as he rounds a corner. Before him is yet another stretch of hallway, he had hoped for a doorway or stairs or something, anything other than another corridor really. His shoulders slump for the briefest of moments in response to the disappointment before he goes barrelling down this new stretch of the halls. He gets maybe a third of the way down the length of red bathed stone before he hears a third scream.
This one, Vance realises, is closer but also not in the direction he is facing as he comes to a grinding halt. He scans his surroundings, but sees only solid red glowing stone walls. The carved statues and faces pitched and angry beneath the red glow they emit. They’re visages that do nothing to help quiet his thumping heart as he inhales and exhales deeply as he rapidly tries to catch his breath.
“Come on. Come on.” Vance says to himself, annoyed and frustrated by his own failings as his eyes scan the walls desperately as he turns on the spot.
Suddenly something catches the corner of his eye. When he turns to face it however he realises there is nothing there, so he returns to scanning the space around him until again he catches something out of the corner of his eye. Again Vance turns to look at the speck he is sure he saw at the periphery of his vision. And again he comes to find that there is nothing, at least until he turns his head very slightly to his right, at which point he catches another glimpse of something at the edge of his vision.
Vance’s brow furrows with a mixture of frustration and confusion as he tries to use his peripheral vision to analyse what lurks at the corner of his eyes. Then suddenly it clicks and he realises that he can’t see whatever it is by looking at it directly because it’s an illusion. He tests the theory by again looking at the space head on and finds that all he can see from his position in the centre of the corridor is the red walls, but as he turns his head his vision catches sight of it. There it is! It’s a lever, Vance realises now and it’s the same colour and stone as the walls around it. The lever is perfectly camouflaged as it blends in with its surroundings, until it is viewed from a particular angel. Not that the cleverness of such a thing matters now, Vance reminds himself, as he hurries to throw the lever.
He pushes against the protruding stone arm, putting all his weight behind the object, but it barely moves a millimetre. Even when he redoubles his efforts and puts enough force behind it that he is straining and roaring with effort, it seems to do little more than flex. Then when he is sure that he has no chance of anything happening on his third attempt the mechanism suddenly activates. The lever springs upward and clean out of Vance’s hands making an audible snapping sound as it moves. Vance meanwhile topples over backward onto the red stone floor, blinking in surprise as a section of the glowing wall springs into motion. The section of wall, taller than him, starts to shift left, making a grinding sound as it does, until it comes to a stop with a dull boom, revealing a new pathway. The new corridor is dimly lit by small walled mounted torches set at regular intervals.
With the spectacle now over and having not been set upon by any horrors as yet, Vance clambers back to his feet, dusts himself off quickly and then leaps forward into the dimly lit pathway. Within seconds he can feel the air in this passage is cooler as well as being damp. It’s a tighter moodier space than the uncomfortably warm red corridors. Nevertheless he continues to push forward, the space barely wide enough for him to get through, he notes, as his eyes probe at the flickering dim lights that he has to weave back and forth to avoid slamming into.
“Aaaargh!” A scream roars again from somewhere ahead of him.
The scream is louder now, Vance is sure of it as he turns a narrow slight corner in the pathway just beyond he spies a doorway, devoid of a door but brightly illuminated.
Vance takes several deep breathes as he tries to calm himself, but in truth his attempts are mute. His deep purposeful breathing having done little to calm him, as he wonders if anyone would be able to manage to stay calm here, in this narrow dimly lit space. Thankfully it isn’t long before he reaches the threshold of the door less doorway. But he doesn’t enter; instead he stands there, on the cusp of whatever room lies beyond, motionless. He listens for a sounds, any sound, from the space beyond the empty doorway.
He doesn’t know how long he stands in silence listening to only his own muffled breathing, but decides he can’t wait any longer as he carefully peaks beyond the threshold and into the room.
It feels like he’s playing a game of dare with the devil as he inches his head far enough round the doorway to get a view of the room. It’s cavernous and filled with candles, all of which are lit, their flames blazing brightly, as they sit in circles in the centre of the space. But that is not all he sees as he takes note of a great green fire roaring from within the circles of wax and fire. A hooded figure stands with their back to Vance as the green fire spits violently. Vance then spots the cage, suspended above the green flames within which Peter is locked, clearly trapped and unable to escape. Vance’s eyes go wide with terror as his eyes drill into the sight of his imprisoned friend, until he realises he’s been staring too long and ducks back round the doorway. He presses his back, hard, into the stone wall feeling its cool damp surface leech into his skin. The coolness chills him as he scrunches his eyes shut and wishes he and Peter were anywhere but here. He knows this was all his idea and that because of his actions Peter is now trapped in a cage above a fire, a green fire. Vance notes that he has never seen a green fire before. Red, orange, yellow, yes, but never green. How do you even get green fire? Vance wonders to himself before cursing his stupidity.
“Oora arar entoo fesar…” Vance then hears a voice chanting quietly. He assumes it has to be coming from the hooded figure seeing as that is the only person, other than Peter, that he can see and seeing is definitely a stretch.
What he doesn’t know is whether the figure has been chanting the entire time or whether the chanting has just begun. Does it matter? A voice in his head asks. It doesn’t, he replies mentally, but for what reason he doesn’t know as he concludes he has only one path of action and that’s to get closer. So having made such a decision Vance breaks from his hiding place as he dives through the doorway into the fire-y room. He makes sure to keep low as he takes cover behind a pile of fallen chiselled stones. The stones had once formed a section of the ceiling that resides somewhere high above his head, masked by the inky black shadows that swirl and dance above him. It’s like they’re taunting him, he thinks, as he glances upward several times before ultimately deciding that he must consciously resist the urge to glance their way. All they’re doing is to help add to your already substantial trough of fear; he hears a voice in his head declare.
“…arkoo bevat polel dingat…” Vance then hears the voice chant as he peers round the pile of shattered stone, but he finds his new position does little to help him see anymore than he could already see from the doorway. He curses his luck as it dawns on him that Peter has, as yet, not made any further sounds. The realisation sends waves of fear and dread washing over him as he manages, with some difficulty, to silently gulp down a lump stuck in his throat.
Vance had been sure, prior to this moment, that such a gulp would have been audible, but somehow, he doesn’t know how, he’s managed to keep it silent. The achievement gives him a small sense of relief as he dares to peer out from behind his cover in search of a new position even closer to the hooded figure.
He scans the room from side to side, but ultimately settles, without much delay, on a low wall that is just outside of the rings of candles at the centre of the room. He is sure this position will also give him a better angle, but then he’d thought that about his current position and been wrong. So he wonders, what does he really know? But he quickly forces such thoughts aside as he prepares himself with a few deep breathes in the moments before he makes a break for his new position. He hopes beyond hope that the figure doesn’t turn as he keeps his eyes on the hooded robe for nearly the entire time. Only breaking his gaze on them for a split second here and there to make sure he is headed on the right track, as he makes sure to keep low.
Vance crosses the mainly empty space without issue, making sure to have made no sound that wouldn’t have been lost in the figures continuous chanting. He huddles behind the wall of his new position as he takes note of how heavy his breathing is. He is sure that it’s a result of the fear he can feel gripping him tightly as he doesn’t want to find out what would happen to him if he was caught. Would it be a cage like Peter? Or would it be worse? He doesn’t know and doesn’t want to, he decides, as he slowly and even more cautiously peaks out above the edge of the low wall. Thankfully, the figure hasn’t moved and is still chanting. Though, he does feel a shot of disappointment at the fact that somehow, even from this angle, the figure is still partially obscured.
“…efferen telahen waraven iolo…” Vance hears the hooded figure chant now, as his listens to the words. If they are words he doesn’t understand them as he stares, eyes locked, on the cage, below which the green flames roil and flare.
Peter, his knuckles as white as snow, continues to clench tightly to the vertical bars of his cage. His face, Vance can see now, is vague and his eyes blank and cloudy, almost as though he is stuck in some form of trance.
“…bendoo inganuroo.” The chanting voice concludes with satisfaction moments before they turn toward Vance, who shrinks behind cover immediately. He is sure that he was fast enough to withdraw before the figure would have been able to catch sight of him.
“Come forth, I know you’re out there.” The voice of the hooded figure, female and haunting, says confidently and without any hint of an accent.
Vance recoils in shock at the voices declaration. He doesn’t know whether his shock is because they have spotted him or whether it’s because the hooded figure can speak his tongue with an ease that he has never heard from anyone. He’d assumed that whoever the figure is would be unable, or unwilling, to speak as he does. He curses himself for having been spotted nonetheless. His heart thunders loudly in his chest as he contemplates what he should do. Should he run? Should he stay hidden? He knows he shouldn’t comply, that would be the stupidest thing he could possibly do, but much to his surprise that is exactly what he does do. He rises to his feet, revealing himself, his subconscious having decided that it is the only actual option. He’d have never made it back across the room and even if he had where would he go? The Blood Halls are a maze. He’d never find his way out, not before this figure got to him at least.
The low wall before Vance stops just below his waist as he raises his hands in surrender. He doesn’t know why he does it. He just feels like he should. But as he holds his hands aloft the hooded figure throws back their hood to reveal their face. It’s the face of a woman, with eyes as green as the flames before her, beautiful and lively. However, that is where the beauty of the face ends, for her skin is shrivelled and even decomposing in places. She looks almost as though she has risen from the grave after having been buried for months. Single strands of wispy grey hair hang from what is an otherwise scabbed and bald scalp, her forehead creased with deep angry lines.
“What…what are you?” Vance mutters in fear.
“Come forth simple man.” The woman orders, her voice cracking as she speaks.
Vance’s legs oblige without pause, even as he tries to fight and beg for them to stop they ignore him. Instead he is simply a passenger within his body, which having navigated the low wall, steps over the lit candle circles. He feels the heat from the flames as he steps over them. The rotting face smiles cruelly with a mouth too wide, exposing the teeth within her mouth that are as black as rot can make them. Vance feels sick at the sight of her, especially when his legs finally bring him to a stop, not of his own doing, a couple metres from the woman, who is giving off a putrid stench.
He isn’t sure if it’s a real smell or just a fabrication of his mind in direct response to the sight of her. Nevertheless he feels sick, he can’t deny it. The rotting woman however, knows nothing of and cares little about how Vance feels as she cocks her head one way and then soon after the other, surveying him with her burning eyes.
“You’ll do.” The woman says in the moments before she turns her attention back to Peter, who is still staring blankly. Though, Vance realises now that Peter’s eyes are focused on the rotting woman and not simply just dead ahead as he had previously thought.
“I’ll do for what? Who are you? Why are you holding my friend captive?” Vance launches into his tirade of questions without a care or thought.
But the rotting faced woman answers none of his questions as her left hand falls to her side, hidden from Vance’s view. Her hand reappears seconds later, her arm outstretched after having moved as quick as a flash, holding something he can’t quite comprehend.
Vance stares at the termination of her arm, where her long skeletal fingers reach from her wrist grasping an ornate bronze hilt. He blinks confused as his eyes adjust and his brain notes that he hasn’t reached the end of the trail. So again, his eyes continue their route past the hilt, down the blade, that gleams and shines, toward its point. As moves down its length it dawns on him too late what he will find at the end of the daggers blade, but even when it dawns on him he can’t stop his eyes from looking at the sight.
Vance wants to screw his eyes shut, to tell himself this is all a dream, but he can’t. His eyes won’t obey, so instead he is forced to gaze upon the dagger, the point of which is punctured through Peter’s throat, his friends’ eyes wide as a gurgling sound manages to escape from his agape mouth.
Vance pleads again for his eyes to close, but they continue to refuse to obey him as thick, almost black drops of blood, drip from the wound in the caged man’s throat. The blood drips toward with the green flames, the fire almost seeming to lance upward to meet the approaching blood drops as though it is thirsty and desperate for a taste.
“No. No. NO! WHY?!” Vance bellows in anger, which mixes with surprise as he realises that he still has control of his voice. He didn’t expect that. He can’t control any other part of his body so why would his voice be any different. He doesn’t know, but he realises his voice sounds too loud to his ears.
Suddenly, the lancing green flames leave the confines of the burnt pile of embers that must have created it, as it instead floats in the air. The green fire having now morphed into a ball of flame, dances in the air for a short time before twin tendrils erupt from opposite side of the sphere. The tendrils quickly pierce the eyes of the rotting woman, but she makes no sound as the ferocity of the green flame tendrils and then ultimately the sphere of fire are absorbed by her eyes.
With the ball of fire, and its tendrils, now gone, the woman turns to look at Vance, who is at first blinded by her still glowing green eyes, the brightness of which is searing to him. Before long the glow subsides allowing him to gaze upon the face behind them, the one that had been shrivelled and decomposing, with a too wide mouth, black and rotten teeth, grey wispy strands of hair across a scab covered bald head. They were all items which had made him feel sick to his stomach, but they are not the sights that he is seeing now. The once rotting face is now flawless, with porcelain white skin, full red lips beneath which sit straight pearl white teeth, while from her head thick black locks of hair reach down to the small of her back.
“What…are you?” Vance stammers consumed with equal measures of fear and confusion.
“Your mistress.” The woman says with a smile.
Vance can’t tell if the smile is evil or sweet. Somehow it seems as though the smile is both at once, but he doesn’t understand how that can even be possible.
“I am Elenor, Witch Queen of the Hundred Covens. And you, my dear, will serve me ‘til your end.” Elenor says as he flicks the end of her pink tongue across her vibrant red lips, her long eyelashes batting as she speaks.
“I will never…serve you. You killed…my friend…for that I cannot…” Vance begins, but is cut off by Elenor who is unmoved by the loss of, at least to her, such a trivial being. To her Peter served as little more than a way for her to regain her life and looks. Peter, in her eyes, had served his purpose, the only purpose he was ever meant to serve.
“Silence pawn.” Elenor says cutting Vance off from his ramblings as her eyes glow brighter as she imposes her will upon Vance. Her powers replacing his free thought and free thinking with nothing but subservience to her.
“As you command, Mistress.” Vance replies. His voice is hollow and monotone now that he is under the complete control of Elenor.
“We have much to do.” Elenor then offers, her smile turning sickening and wide as she plots for her return. It’s a return that will signal the dawning of a new period in history, the Age of the Witch.