Fiction logo

Chapter 3: Better Off Dead

Acheron, the god of death has been worshipped and feared for centuries throughout all of Terramyre. Often depicted as a tall skeletal figure, garbed in black armor, and riding a black horse. Acheron feeds off of the fleeting lifeforce of the dead and dying. The recent growth of Deathsworn cults and other radical religious sects is a growing problem for the King.

By Dylan CricePublished 9 months ago Updated 8 months ago 14 min read
I do not own rights to this image. Picture was picked solely as placeholder closely invoking a thematic concept reflected in chapter. All credit for image should go to artist.

Jarek Blackwell and Einar Greyfellow sit atop a snowy hill, watching the old farmer’s cabin burning in the frozen glade below. Sunlight filters, through the dense trees behind them, flowing down into the clearing. White smoke belches out of the cabin’s open back door. The last songs of the dying drift away eerily into the new day. Listening intently, Jarek knows with iron certainty that none of the screams he hears belong to his father.

Frost fallen leaves stir and tumble along the ground, past the two young men. The air is suddenly colder. Jarek feels it in his chest as he sucks in a deep breath and slowly exhales his breath condensing and misting in front of him. Einar, the burly, red-headed young man huddles behind a crudely constructed embankment of snow and suddenly shivers violently despite his best efforts.

“Are you cold too?” Jarek asked, breaking the oppressive silence surrounding him.

“Just a chill m’lord.” Einar said, trying his best to keep his teeth from chattering, “It’s colder than a scorned lady’s shoulder out here.”

“We should be down there helping them fight,” Jarek said, the statement had been resting on his tongue since the cabin first caught fire a half hour ago, “We aren’t helping anyone up here.”

“Be patient, your dad gave us orders,” Einar said, “Go around behind the cabin and set up a defensive position, he said.” “Use your bows to shoot anyone that tries to escape.” “Don’t worry young warrior.” “You’ll get your chance to prove yourself.”

Suddenly, the sound of shattering glass adds to the bedlam coming from the glade below. Startled, both young men quickly pick up their red oak longbows as a tall, blonde-haired woman crashes out of a shuttered window and coming to rest, motionless, in the snow. Immediately after, a trio of black robed cultists spill out of the back doorway and begin dragging a long-haired man, by his outstretched arms over to the barn.

Einar nocks an arrow into his long bow, pulling smoothly back on the drawstring, he takes careful aim at the trio of robed men plowing arduously through the knee-deep snow. Jarek follows Einar’s lead and takes aim with his own bow. The only sound is the arrow rattling against the wooden arrow rest of Jarek’s bow.

“Don’t be a coward, hesitate, or have second thoughts, young Jarek,” Einar said, “Each one of those bastards would bleed you dry, as soon as look at you, without any mercy at all.” “They are better off dead.”

Both young men take a deep breath and slowly begin to exhale. Iron-tipped arrows streak through the air as both young men loose their deadly projectiles shafts in tandem. Both arrows arch through the air with terrible velocity. Einar’s arrow finds its mark in the neck of one of the robed men. Jarek’s misses harmlessly planting itself in the snow at another cultist's feet. All three men collapse, falling over one another, to the snowy ground. The wounded man is on his knees, clutching at arrow piercing his neck with both hands.

“I just can’t bring myself to kill them,” Jarek said, his shoulders sagging and eyes tearing up with a mix of shame and disappointment in himself, “It’s just not in me and I don’t think that I am made for this.”

“Don’t worry.” “Just stay behind me and watch a real warrior.” Einar said, confidently knocking another arrow, “I can tell you’re not ready today and that’s okay.” “There will come a time when your life or someone you love is threatened and your natural instinct will take over.” Einar fires his bow repeatedly and with expert precision. The arrows fall with deadly accuracy on the trio of cultists, harrying them as they continue to trudge through the unforgiving snow. One of the robed cultists grabs the already wounded cultist and uses him as a human shield. The remaining cultist continues to drag the long-haired man through the snow, while using the other two as a mobile flesh shield.

“Do you see now, boy,” Einar said, spitting into the nearby snow with disdain. “These ruthless swine would use their own comrades' bodies to take arrows for them.” “Don’t feel pity for these monsters.”

The wounded cultist absorbs a majority of the arrows, but many find their mark in the other two. The three men finally disappear around the corner of the barn dragging the dark-haired man behind them.

“Damn it all,” Einar said cursing under his breathe, “We’ve got to take them down before they get on horseback.”

In an instant, Einar leaps over the rim of the hill. Half running, half sliding he quickly descends down the slope, toward the bottom. Jarek hesitates and then reluctantly follows.

“I thought you said my father told us to set up a defensive position,” Jarek said, following close behind Einar, “This is not a good idea.”

“Aye, he also told us to use our bows and shoot anyone that tries to escape,” Einar said, “It’s kind of hard to do that when we don’t have line of sight to the bastards and harder still when they’re moving fast on horseback.” “Ya knows, if you always do what your father says all the time, how are you going to learn to think and make decisions for yourself?”

Einar and Jarek round the corner of the barns entrance with long bows drawn only to find a mortally wounded cultist sitting in the snow propped against the barn’s door. The man’s hood was drawn back, his face a pale white, his body pierced by over a half dozen arrows, including one in his neck. The wounded dark acolyte sits there, face drawn, a faraway look in his eyes, ragged breathes misting the air between fits of coughing and shivering tremors.

Both young men approach the barn door paying cautious attention to the dying man. The smell of death, decay, feces, and urine hangs thick in the air as Jarek and Einar near the door. Jarek’s nose wrinkles in disgust as Einar shields his face from the suffocating stench. Einar cracks the barn door open, staring into the gloom as a look of startled realization washes over his young features. Jarek holds his breath, his heart skipping a beat, as he follows Einar’s gaze. A primal and nightmarish fear slithers its way into Jarek’s heart.

Over a dozen bodies hang from the rafters of the barn’s ceiling; thick ropes knotted around each cadaver’s necks. Arms dangling as if trying to reach the ground. The bodies sway, frozen in the cold winter air blowing through the open doorway. Unfamiliar heretical symbols had been carved into each of their foreheads. The men and women had all been gutted. Piles of innards and bodily wastes are strewn across the floor below them. Dark and empty eyes sockets stare back at Jarek and Einar. Their skin appeared to have been torn and pecked at by crows for well over a week.

The shadows of horses in the barn flare their nostrils, neighing loudly, stamp their hooves, pacing about erratically, and some rear up on their hind legs in their stalls. Someone or something was scaring them. Faint whispering and a loud slurping sound can be heard in one of the furthermost dark corners of the barn.

Einar pushes the barn door open further, causing the mortally wounded cultist leaning on it to fall over face first into the snow. An orange glow of morning slowly filters through the doorway illuminating the inside of the stable. A large shadow peers back at the young men from the corner of the ceiling rafters, eyes reflecting the firelight of the burning cabin in the distance. As the young men’s eyes adjust to the darkness, they can see that something is clutching a robed figure in its powerful pale arms and feeding ravenously on the cultists exposed throat.

Long black hair shrouds most of the creature’s angular face but Jarek notices that the creature's complexion is a pallid, milky white and sickly looking. Dark blue veins spiderweb across the creature face. The external ears and nose appear to have fallen away leaving the creatures skin as smooth and featureless as marble. Long black talons grasp at the robed cultists, shearing through his black cloak, under its powerful embrace. A grievous circular wound, spills black blood, while writhing and pulsating on its forehead. Seconds later, the wound slowly closes leaving only a residual dark stain on its forehead. His mouth opens and closes greedily as long eight-inch fangs repeatedly sink into the neck of murmuring death priest. Black irises, lined with red veins, stare back at the two young men, framed in the doorway, with an expression of restrained rage.

“Looks like we have ourselves a shit sucking vampire.” Einar said, under his breathe, his voice shaking nervously as the words left him.

  “Deliver me unto darkness, dark god of the endless night,” the Deathsworn cultist whispers into the creature’s ear, “Cast me into thine dark abyss.” “Take my life, my flesh, and my blood as offering to thine greatness…oh great keeper of the void.” “Pour thine strength into me so that I might serve you in this life and the life hereafter.”

The vampire turns the dark acolyte’s trembling face to meet his dark gaze. A weak smile spreads across the robed man’s face as he stares into his master’s eyes with complete devotion.

“No.” The vampire whispers, shaking his head before casting the dark apostle away like discarded trash into one of the stalls far below. He wipes the fresh blood from the sides of his mouth with the black sleeve on his forearm and then then clammers down from the wall, on hands and feet, before disappearing into the horse stall below.

Einar and Jarek raise their red oak bows aiming their arrows as the vampire rises again to his full height, His physical features once again returning to a human state. The dark-haired man casually mounts a huge black destrier as another robed man, punctured by several arrows, hobbles out from behind the big horse with his fist clenched around a wooden club.

“Trouble yourself not with these two younglings, Master Armand,” the robed cultist said, “We will make short work of them.”

“The loss of these two young one’s will mark a hollow victory for those who stood against us today,” Armand said coldly, “Take from them everything.”

Without warning, Einar screams in pain. The wounded cultist, on the snowy ground, has driven an iron dagger through the top of his foot. Jarek kicks the cultist in the side, but the wounded cultist doesn’t register the pain. Einar grimaces, now bellowing with pain, as the cultist slowly twists the knife, carving into his foot. Einar shifts the aim of his bow to the wounded cultist on the ground and places an arrow directly through the top of the cultist’s head ending his life. The black destrier gallops out of the barnyard at high speed, trampling Einar to the ground, and slamming Jarek off of his feet into the snow. Suddenly, Jarek’s ears ring and vision blurs as Armand, the black-haired man rides off, disappearing into the dense trees of Frostgrave Forest.

Another blurred figure runs through the snow, towards Jarek, with arms held aloft. The heavy footsteps sloshing through the snow before him, Jarek sluggishly stands to his feet and blinks several times as the image increases in clarity. Jarek leaps back, fear lending him speed as a hatchet hisses by where his neck should have been. Blood pumping and a sudden feeling of desperation cause Jarek to reach for his short sword. Jarek instinctively unsheathes his sword and stabs forward as he had trained to do so many times before. The sword plunges, from tip to hilt, into and through his attacker’s chest.

Jarek stares into his attacker’s face as her eyes went wide and distant. The tall blonde woman’s hands tremor as she weakly grabs at the short swords hilt. Her mouth opens to scream but only a wordless sigh escapes her. From this close distance, Jarek can see that her blonde hair is wet with beads of sweat and melted snow.

For a moment, Jarek did not understand. The stab was obvious and not intended as a killing blow. Any trained person would have avoided the blow easily. Jarek felt warmth flood over his hands. Looking down he saw her blood streaming over his fingers and the blonde woman’s hands as she clutches at the hilt. The blonde woman reaches for him. A feeling of revulsion overflows through Jarek, as he tries to pull the sword free. The scream finally escapes the woman. She falls forward as her bloodied fingers trace down Jarek’s face. Her lifeless body embracing and dragging him down with her onto the snowy ground.

Tears well up in Jarek’s eyes as the dead blonde woman stares blankly back at him. A crippling anxiety begins to overtake him, and he suddenly has difficulty breathing. A deep animalistic growling sound brings Jarek back to his senses. An added weight falls upon the woman as a great black dog’s head appears over the woman’s shoulder. The wolf dogs slavering jaws, tinged with dried blood, hover several inches away from Jarek’s face. Its lips draw back exposing sharp fangs and a few missing teeth. Jarek is suddenly aware that Einar cries out in the distance as the robed cultist clubs him repeatedly into submission.

“Aye, good work Titus,” the robed cultist said, “Finish him off quick and we’ll leave this accursed forest.”

The robed cultists whistles and almost before Jarek can think the black dog lunges forward to tear Jarek to pieces.

“Wait.” Jarek shouts, His will to survive kicking in.

The young boy's eyes instantly become opaque as the dog's jaws pause a hairsbreadth from his face. Jarek can no longer feel the heat of the dog's breath on his face or smell the rotting stench of its jaws. Jarek is looking down at himself from above, through the dog's eyes. The dogs past memories are suddenly his and so are the pain, trauma, neglect, abuse, and vivid memories of the dogs' early years. In an instant, Jarek experiences a lifetime of sadness, pain, suffering, and rage.

Titus, the dog quicky turns his head towards his master. Deep within the dog, Jarek can feel a dormant rage that had been stamped out rekindling at the sight of the kennel master. Titus watches the club rise and fall, striking Einar as he lays bloodied in the snow. The same club that the kennel master had beat Titus with his entire short life. The very same club Titus had grown to fear. The dog hesitates as it’s gaze freezes on the club rising and descending. Einar cries out in pain as an internal conflict settles within the dog. Disregarding Jarek entirely, Titus suddenly leaps off the blonde woman’s corpse and runs through the snow with blinding speed.

A thunderous roar fills the air. The cruel kennel master turns to face Titus as he bounds toward him. A look of confusion, bewilderment, shock, and fear intermingle on the kennel master’s face as the great black dog leaps into the air with its jaws exposed and wide open. The man raises his arm defensively. The dog slams into the man, knocking him to the ground as it mauls through the robed man’s arm. The dog rips flesh from bone as it shakes its head, back and forth, clenching its jaws with vicious brutality.

The kennel master desperately cries out as he brings his wooden club down weakly on Titus’s back, neck, and hind quarters. Seeing through the dog’s eyes, Jarek reaches further into Titus’s consciousness, and guides the great black dog’s intent to the kennel master’s club arm. Titus quickly bites down on the Kennel master’s club hand, shredding his tendons and fingers. The club falls limply out of the kennel master’s hand as he screams in agony. Titus stands over the screaming man for an instant, with red gore hanging from his teeth, before lunging forward into the man’s face, ripping, tearing, and destroying. Darkness surrounds Jarek as he lets go of the great black dog’s mind. In the distance, Jarek could hear his father Kannan, Harald, and Auron shouting. His last thoughts were of the taste of blood as the darkness takes him.

AdventureFantasyHorrorHumorSci FiSeries

About the Creator

Dylan Crice

I'm heavily influenced by film just as much as reading. Here to get some of the ideas I've got floating around in my head on paper. If I can entertain people with my stories, situations, and characters then all the better.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (1)

Sign in to comment
  • Emily Marie Concannon7 months ago

    Wow wow wow!! This story deserves SO MUCH MORE ATTENTION!! LOVED IT!!

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.