Hi! This week’s story isn’t Sci-Fi (I know shocking!). I guess you would call it fantasy. A lot isn’t explained (rather some things are inferred) but seeing as the most advanced thing in the entire story is a sewer, I know for a fact it isn’t Sci-Fi. Anyway, there isn’t much else to say about it for fear I might spoil something other than it’s about 9,600 words and I hope you enjoy!
“Uru!” Is the deafening roar that shatters the previously peaceful late summer evening air over that hangs over the town of Yillingham.
Elle, a native of the town, goes into a panic. This can’t be right. The Uru are a myth, a legend, they are not a reality. They are a story told to children to frighten them into obedience to their parents’ orders.
Stood in the middle of the compacted wide dirt street at a crossroads within the town, Elle begins to spin about on the spot as screams and cries erupt from all around assaulting her ears. Alongside the sounds are the respective owners of them darting back and forth between buildings. Most wear panicked, fearful looks upon their faces that suggest they know far more about what is going on than she does, which would make sense for those around her are much older than her seventeen years of age. Yet, not one of them pays mind to her presence as men from the town rush toward the blacksmiths and arms depots clearly in hopes of laying claim to weapons, apparently in hopes of fighting the Uru. Others, both younger and older, shuttle the towns youngest into the perceived safety of the stone and thatched roofed cottages that make up the bulk of Yillinham’s dwellings.
Suddenly, Elle feeling a hand upon the upper section of her arm, instinctively she recoils shocked, comes whirling round only to find her brother, Farrell, stood before her.
“You need to get to safety Elle, the Uru are here. They have returned.” Are the words that leak from between his barely parted lips. His eyes are darting, drawn to each of those who pass them by while they are stood out in the middle of the wide dirt street. He’s dressed in his usual attire of dark grey slacks, vest and fur skin pumps. His hair, straggly and loosely curled, hangs down to roughly his shoulders helping to hide much of the dirt smeared across his face that is the result of the soot which billows off the fires of the kilns. Yet, that same muck does little to hide his week’s worth of stubble or his hazel coloured eyes which are unblinking and have returned to being locked on his sister.
“The Uru are a story. They aren’t real. What’s really going on?” Elle protests without making any sort of effort to conform to her brother’s demand.
Farrell shakes his head but is clearly growing both weary and concerned with this delay, as he sees it, that his sister, who has brown hair down to her ribs and a pair of green eyes, is the cause of.
“The Uru are real. They are… ancient.” Farrell has to search for the appropriate word. He still isn’t sure that his choice is correct but it will have to do for the moment, he thinks. Now is not the time for this discussion. If the Uru are coming then everyone, who will not be facing them, needs to shelter. The Uru, as the stories go, are like a tidal plague. Everything they wash over is consumed. It might be more than a century since they last raged across these lands but anyone caught unarmed and out in the open will suffer their wrath. However, this time Yillingham thinks they can prevail. After all, a hundred years is a long time and in it the town has not only grown but made sure to prepare. It was inevitable that, at least according to the elders, the Uru would return and unlike other instances of civilization, who submitted to hubris believing them a myth, Yillingham has not. They paid heed to their elders’ warnings, the writings passed down through the generations. The same writings that date all the way back to the first age of man, when people crawled out of the muddy cave systems and stepped into the light of the surface world. Since then the Uru have plagued humanity and yet those same plaguing’s have lessened in frequency for reasons unknown and unknowing.
“Now you must go hide. It isn’t safe out. Go!”
“What about you?” Elle demands as her brother begins to leave her alone once more in the middle of this street.
“I go to fight them. We can and must save the town.” Is the reply offered to her by her brother, a severe expression upon his face that doesn’t convey as much confidence as perhaps he might wish it to.
“But if the Uru are real then the stories…”
“Elle, we don’t have time. We can beat the Uru. This won’t be like Stetcham.”
“But Stetcham burned to the ground because of a kiln fire. That’s what you, father and mother told me.”
“We lied, to protect you. The Uru destroyed Stetcham.” Farrell explains quickly, and in as few words as he finds himself able to. The look of horror on his sister’s face is crushing and yet he can do nothing about for now. There are bigger things at stake than the betrayal of a lie meant to protect.
“You lied! Why? I don’t understand! I’m your sister!” Elle is more than hurt she is wounded, it feels mortally, but will not cost her her life. The pain will fade, will be forgotten. In this moment however it does not feel as though that will ever be true. Her face twisted into a horrified expression of pained shock that leaves her brow heavily and deeply furrowed, while her eyes begin to fill to bursting with tears. This is why Farrell and their parents did not share these revelations with her, for she remains very much a child. Seventeen or not she does not know the realities of the world. It is the families fault for they swore to shelter Elle from the harsh truths of life. Farrell had not agreed when he had come of age at fifteen and believes this very moment is proof that he was right. At any other time he might wish to scream, I told you so, but not now. The town faces a threat which it has never prevailed against. No town has. The Uru are undefeated, perhaps eternally so. Farrell does not know and yet it does not change his determination to try. He is afraid, soul crushingly so. To not be would be foolishness of the highest order and Farrell does not think he has ever been a fool. He’s twenty two years old and the right hand of the kilns chief. To have achieved such a feat at such an age is unheard of and yet there is no doubting the young man’s prowess at working the kilns. Some in Yillingham have suggested he is a third born. A descendant of a descendant who has been born with the knowledge of previous lives lived. Farrell, if he was asked and told this to his face, would refute such claims. He is a first life, not a real term but in the context of the conversation would find it fitting to use, and has got to where he is through countless long days and nights of hard studious work under the tutelage of the kiln chief.
“We don’t have time Elle!” Farrell blurts angrily, instantly regretting his actions. The wounding that his sisters face shows in response pains him greatly but does not change the reality that there really is not the time for all the secrets withheld from his sister to be shared.
The seventeen year old with brown hair down to her ribs wants to scream, shout, cry but doesn’t. Instead, she keeps the pain bottled deep inside. The towns’ emergency bells are ringing now. That draws Farrell’s attention. He is well aware that if the bells are ringing continually then the Uru are in the town. Time might have been short before but it is gone now. The battle has begun and he needs to get into position. Every able bodied man has to fight if there is to be any hope of saving Yillingham.
“I have to go. The town needs me.” Is the assurance Farrell gives, his eyes darting as he nervously shifts from one foot to the other no longer able to keep still because of the way nerves are gnawing at him. If he were in position, weapon in hand, things might be different for he would be focused on the fight, but he is not. Instead, he is stood in the middle of the bustling street as more of the towns’ citizens’ dash back and forth between buildings like headless chickens. Part of him thinks he should direct and order everyone inside. Alas, he has not the time nor background in ways would be best to achieve such a task.
“I need you! You’re my brother. And if the Uru raised Stetcham then Yillingham is already lost.” Elle is lost in an endless sea of tears, her voice rambling. It’s why she has resorted to pleading; her hands pressed tightly together, palms flat, shaking feverishly.
“We are bigger than Stetcham was. We can win Elle. This is our chance. So get home, hide. Stay with mother and father. When this is over I will find you, I promise.” Farrell’s voice is softer now, far softer than Elle can ever remember it having been previously when he’s spoken. That terrifies her. He does not believe in victory, Elle concludes. It’s the only explanation in her mind for his tone. After all, if he wished to force her to obey with words he would yell demands, but he has not. His voice went entirely in the opposite direction. It became introspective; she might go so far to say. Sadly, before she gets chance to beg outright there is a cry.
“Uru in the streets!” This call is much closer than the first that assaulted Elle’s ears. She can’t place from where exactly it has come with the watchtowers that dot the town. She realises now why they are present and damns herself for her foolish naivety.
“Elle, you have to get…” Is the statement Farrell begins only to see the look on his sister’s face twist from wounded to paralysed terror. The change in expression gives him cause for pause, right after he feels something bristle the cool late summer evening air strangely. In a moment he performs an about and is greeted with a mass of black darker than any night rushing down the wide street toward them. Screams, that have been present for a while but unheard, reach his ears, flooding them. He can see the bodies of townspeople being tossed about like leaves in the wind. If it were not for the sickening crunches and tearing sounds Farrell would not know that his fellow townspeople were being rended limb from limb with bloodthirsty brutality.
“Form a line!” Someone screeches from out of the blue. And with that a string of armed townsmen boil from side streets and alleys to form a wall between the approaching Uru mass and the streets beyond.
“We need you.” Someone demands of Farrell shortly after appearing at the long haired man’s side. He nods aware of his duty only for a mace to be thrust into his open waiting hand. He takes it, looking the man in the eye. He is one of the towns’ hunters; burly, face scarred, tattooed, brutish. The hunter snarls his approval at Farrell’s agreement to join what will be a tough street fight. Others have not been so willing. They have instead taken to fleeing like fearful dogs thinking they will be capable of outrunning the Uru menace.
With the weapon handed off, the hunter glances to Elle. He assumes, incorrectly, she is the young man’s love. He begrudges the young kilnman nothing for his wish to say his farewells. Instead, only wishing he too had been granted such an opportunity when a family of boars swarmed and slaughtered his pregnant partner, Ven.
The hunter hurries off, lumbering toward the defensive line of bodies the Uru horde is fast closing upon.
“Elle, I have to go.” Farrell swears.
“No, you don’t. We can run. We can leave. Get mother and father, flee. You don’t have to do this. You’ll die. You know that. I can see it in your eyes. Brother, listen, this doesn’t have to be…”
Elle’s brother shakes his head leaving Elle’s voice to trail off in the moments prior to him assuring, “If I don’t do this. No one will survive sister. The Uru… You don’t know the full stories like I do. We will never outrun them. They will tear across the lands killing all in their path unless we stop them. I have to fight.” Farrell is resigned to his decision but his sister is right about one thing, he doesn’t want to fight. However, this is not about what he wants. This is about what is best for Yillingham, for its people, those that still live. It has not escaped his notice how cottages are burning in the wake of the Uru. He doesn’t know why that is for they carry no torches and to his knowledge are not beasts which are aflame. Part of him hopes he shall never find out, yet the reality is he likely soon will because he will be face-to-face with the ancient enemy of mankind, engaged in battle.
“If that were true then how are any of us here today?” Elle thunders. Her voice barely audible above the cacophony of sound that is the mixed battle cries of preparation, the Uru and the innocent as they are slaughtered by means Elle never wishes to learn of.
“That is not a question I can answer, but the stories, the writings, they are countless. They speak of the Uru. Of their devastation, their relentless drive. One question does not undo all that is written about them.” Farrell wants to say more, so much more. He cannot bring himself to. His voice is hollow. He doesn’t even feel as though the words being spoken are his own, yet they are. He turns to leave, to join the fight. His sister grabs his hand and arm, the one not gripping tight around the shaft of the mace the hunter thrust into it. He looks back, briefly, swallows and rips his arm free. He does not look back again. He cannot. Yet, he hears Elle, crying, screaming his name as he jogs toward the assembled townsmen blocking the Uru’s path. They are moments away but Elle does not care. She is barely on her feet, legs bent at the knees, tears streaming down her face when a woman, face wrinkled with age, grabs a hold of her around the waist. Elle kicks and screams, demanding to be released. The woman admits defeat but spits that, “Hiding is all you can do now. The streets are for the dead.”
The words send Elle’s blood cold; she collapses to her knees, pain from small stones digging into her flesh is lost to her mind as she screams. It’s as if a blade has been thrust through her chest. No such thing has happened and the woman who attempted to help has fled leaving Elle alone. The street around her is almost dead now but the young brunette cannot bring herself to flee, to seek cover, to head for home while her brother is…
The Uru clash with the defensive wall formed across the street by the townsmen. The clash sends bodies cart wheeling up into the air. Death screams reach Elle’s ears. All of them sound like her brother. She screams back, but hers are lost to the violence. Her body begins to shake, uncontrollably. This feels like a nightmare. She hopes that it is one and that she will soon wake.
Battle cries are roared back in hopes of drowning out the cries of terror. It doesn’t work. The Uru pause, no longer able to advance, but are not defeated. They rip, tear and sling severed limbs, whole bodies, weapons and other objects such as carts all about the battlefield. The townsmen’s numbers are depleting rapidly. Elle catches sight of her brother, Farrell, he is alive. Her heart skips a beat, joyous at his survival, and then a dark mass of Uru fall upon him as he tries to hold them back so other fighters might fallback and reorganise. A shriek, high pitched and shrill, pours from the back of the young brunettes throat as Farrell is consumed within the mass. She steps forward, unaware that she scrambled back to her feet in the moments following catching sight of her brother. She does not see him again. He is gone. Her outstretched arm is locked in place, reaching across a distance she cannot cover. She takes no more steps forward. Her legs are paralysed, locked.
The Uru’s advance resumes. They crash down the street, heading toward her. Try as Elle might she can make out only a mass. It is as if they are not an army of beings but a singular organism of murder and death. Elle does not know what to do and so her body takes over. She turns, on her heels, and begins to run. Her dress, stained by muck where it became pressed against the dirt road, ruffles and bounces as the young woman sprints away from the beasts that are chasing her. They are closing, Elle’s heart is thundering. It strikes her that death may soon claim her too. She isn’t as fearful of that as she believed she would be. Questions as to why that might be float around in her head. She is unable to grasp a single one of them. They are present and yet beyond her comprehension. To be honest it feels as though this is not happening to her, but another and that she is only a witness. If only that were true, she thinks slipping down a narrow back alley overgrown with sprouting tufts of grasses that are up to her shins. The brunette dares to take a look over her shoulder and finds the Uru are close; in the street she has just fled from, but are not surging down the alley. Rather, they have turned along the line of the main avenue. Elle slows, her legs throbbing angrily, she trips, catches herself but cannot avoid grinding to a halt. She half collapses against one of the walls that form the twin sides of the narrow alley. The stone is wet due to sunlight being incapable of reaching and drying them. Elle does not care about the dampness; in fact she finds it soothing, cooling. Her breathing is heaving, her chest sharply rising and falling as she desperately sucks down all the air her lungs are capable of. If not for the pounding of her heart in her ears the young brunette might hear the continued screaming, tearing and crunching, but she cannot. Instead, her mind turns toward questions in her head. Chief amongst them is: why are the Uru not flooding her position? The obvious answer is they cannot fit, but something about that does not sit well with her, she cannot say as to why. Still, this respite is welcome. During it Elle realises that her legs would not have been capable of continuing had they been forced too for they feel like jelly, weak and painful.
“I need to move. I can’t stay here. But…but Farrell…” Elle begins to weep, her hands shake. If her back were not braced against a stone wall she would undoubtedly fall. Her face falls into her hands. They are dirty but she doesn’t notice and so her sobbing continues. It only ends when a sound above draws her attention. It’s a chittering rustle that sends panicked shivers down the length of her spine. In response to the shivers Elle freezes, her sobbing concluded, her face still in her hands. Her subconscious tells her she needs to look; she shakes her head unwilling to do so. Again she is urged to look and again she shakes her head. Alas, her body does not listen and soon the young brunette finds her head rising and her hands falling away from her face. Still, she does not see; her eyes screwed shut even as she lifts her head. Suddenly there is a roar; screeching, painful and inwardly taken. Beyond a shadow of a doubt it is not from a human, a member of the townsfolk. It has to belong to an Uru. It sounds close. Too close and that realisation is enough to give Elle the impetus to finally look.
At first all the young woman sees are the shadows of the alley. The sun is very low in the sky now. Yet, it might be hours before it is finally lost below the limits of the horizon. If not for the low late summer sun this alley would be too dark for Elle to see an inch in front of her face.
Her head moves around; left, right, up and down. It does so in a vaguely circular pattern as she seeks the source of the sound, begrudgingly. Finally, her eyes look straight up above her. It’s the last place for her to check. Something moves. Elle catches the most fleeting of sights of it. Then it returns. A shadow, it’s large, and along with the shape comes that same chittering rustle that is without a doubt made by a mouth not human.
This time the young woman feels sick, a disgusting stench having crawled to the back of her throat. She almost gags but manages to resist. A gut wrenching inward screech tears into her ears and then the shape is gone. Elle breathes a sigh of relief until thick smoke begins to assail her nostrils. She covers her mouth with her hand hoping it’ll be enough. She quickly learns that it is not and is forced to vacate the alley for fear of choking on the smoke.
Once free of the alley, her jaw drops. If not for her hand continuing to cover her mouth the sight would be evident and the cause for such a reaction is because Yillingham is on fire. Not a part of it, but all. Every district it seems from the numerous fires, the flames of which Elle can see reaching high into the sky only bested by columns of thick dark smoke that extend their reaching.
The smoke soon becomes too much for Elle who can feel a sting in her eyes as she begins to choke. Her coughs are wet, spittle flying from her mouth and into her open hand. They are enough to force her legs back into motion. Yet, she can see so little with all the smoke.
Blindly, the young woman saunters down the street. She hasn’t a clue where she is headed but does not believe she is in immediate danger, bar the suffocating grey all around her. Flames meanwhile ripple and pop as buildings burn.
Her hand, sliding carefully along a stone wall is beginning to feel the heat radiate intensely. Before much longer she is forced to withdraw the appendage for fear it might get burned.
She stumbles over something but daren’t look at what it might be. She is holding together, barely. Her only wish is that she could see without the stinging in her eyes. It forces her to squint and blink repeatedly. Though, her eyes are at least slick with moisture. If they were not this situation would be far more worrying to the brunette woman.
“Please. Please help. No. No. NOOOOOOOOOO!” Are the first words Elle hears that break from what has started to feel like the tradition of popping and rippling sound as the town burns.
Prior to the screams of no, when there had been only pleading, the young woman had considered calling out. Now she is pleased she did not for it seems that something found whoever was begging for aid. They clearly did not help and the beggar is not begging anymore.
And if the refusals were not enough proof of barbarous actions the resulting crunch and gurgles made clear what must have found and befallen the victim.
They had sounded young, a prepubescent male or young woman perhaps. Elle couldn’t tell, but stopped nonetheless and though struggling to breathe without erupting into spluttering remains still until she is sure the Uru is gone. It could only have been one of those monsters which ended the poor soul’s life. But once more on the move again and continuing to be offered little help from her sight, Elle attempts to ignore all the thoughts going through her head.
When finally she breaks from the now thick mass of smoke she gulps. Before her is a mass, unmoving but formidable in size. She can’t be certain but feels it has to be Uru. Carefully, she approaches on tiptoes. The slightest sound might alert the mass to her presence and if that happens… She puts the thoughts out of her head. She is well aware what will happen. There is no need to revisit such things. The sights and sounds are etched in her mind. Most vividly is that of her brother. She feels tears well up in her eyes at the thought of her lost sibling when suddenly she recognises the street she’s on. This is home; her neck of the woods, so to speak. A funny turn of phrase which makes little sense in a town like Yillingham where there are no woods or trees. She wonders, briefly, where it might have come from. That is until she sees a cottage she knows very well. It is her home. It is aflame and outside of it are bodies, burnt black. They aren’t whole. They are… partial remains. That is the best way Elle can describe them without going into more detail than she feels capable of coping with.
It might not be… Of course it is; is the chastising retort she delivers to her subconscious. Beyond a shadow of a doubt those bodies will be of her parents. They clearly tried to flee from the cottage, her childhood home. And for their efforts were butchered and then licked by flames. Elle’s stomach turns at the thought while her mind creates an image of what must have happened. She damns it for doing so and angrily casts the images from view just as the mass stirs. The young woman takes a half step back in response, her hands having shot up to cover her mouth in hopes of keeping her breathing masked. Yet, the mass makes no further movement past that stir. Instead, distant screams, human, can be heard and are mirrored by the screeches Elle has come to assume belong to the Uru. Just the name makes her skin crawl. As a child she had feared them but not like this. This feeling is something different. She cannot describe it. And to think they were real all this time, with the truth having been hidden from her by her family, and the other townsfolk. Can she blame them? Does she have the right? She doesn’t know, but feels they must have been complicit in this treachery, the townsfolk this is. Yet, punishment for such deception should never have been this. A short rant, screaming and angry, at her parents yes but not slaughter at the hands of monsters.
You need to get away. You cannot stay here. I know; she assures she is aware prior to realising the voice sounded like Farrell’s. It cannot be; Elle thinks only to turn and look over her shoulder. It was a mistake for in doing so her foot collides with some debris. In turn this debris is knocked loose emitting a dull thud. Elle gasps, holds her breath and waits. She isn’t left waiting long for the mass again stirs. Chittering rustles, grunts, inward snorts and other such noises fill the air. Elle begins to back away without thought as to where she can go. Yillingham is on fire. Any building is likely unsafe, and if not touched by fire yet it certainly will be before too much longer, she thinks.
It is then that her heel collides with something metal. She almost trips backward as a result. Sadly, what happens isn’t much better for there is a clang. The stirring of the mass intensifies. Elle hopes the Uru cannot see through the smoke that she has edged her way back into. If they can she is done for. Yet, what is it that caused the clang. The young brunette looks down but finds she can see little. When did the smoke become this dense here? There is no answer for it is unknown to her. Still, it doesn’t stop her from doing what she does next, which is to stoop low. In doing so she discovers a grate. It is lose and can lead to only a single place, the sewers. An idea flashes into her head. Sounds draw her attention back to the mass. It is moving now. Without doubt it is Uru. Again, she finds it impossible to make out a single entity in the mass. For the second time it strikes her that it seems as though the Uru are a single being not many. Yet, they cannot be for one was on the roof above her when she’d been in that alley. This mass must be numerous, she tells herself. What does it matter? Is the declaration bellowed in her head. Her subconscious is right, it does not and with that Elle begins to work at the grate.
When finally it moves, what feels like an eternity later, it does so with the most devastatingly loud scraping noise the brunette thinks she has ever heard. In an instant the Uru hone in on her position. Elle feels eyes, which she cannot see, upon her. She holds her breath, checks the gap but finds herself still unable to see because the smoke has become thicker still. Then comes as an inward screech, the young woman takes it to be the cue for a charging attack, she throws herself through the opening with reckless abandon. The brunette falls, feet first, her elbows banging off the edges of the vertical tube until ground welcomes her painfully. Legs braced or not she topples off of them and onto her backside. A flash of pain flares from her tailbone making her wince. The pain is forgotten when the sounds of the Uru return to her ears. The scratching, tearing, angry, evil sounds of the creatures will her into flight. Her one ankle does not agree but she pushes past the pain and hobbles off down the sewer pipe bent forward as a result of the tunnels reduced height.