Land of Ash.

As the light shined the world turned to ash, the silver moon rose over the land proclaiming its rule. The sounds of the damned echoed through the land that once was a bounty of life and beauty. The silver ones hunted, but to no avail, food was more than scarce in the land of Ash.

The only answer to the moon was to hunt each other. Every night the children would make their pacts and hunt their own kind. At first the weak were the only ones to be slaughtered, but as days turned the selection process became more random. Soon the strongest were left and the hunts took on a more deadly feel. Often both would lose there lives, but the bodies were not left lonely for long.

So the land of Ash fell into despair and the King of Beasts saw the end creeping up to claim his land of death. He used the last ounce of his power to seal the few remaining. His children would not die at their own hands, but wait, wait for the land to revive itself, wait for the food. He and his children would wait for a time when the bounty of Ash would return. They slept, deep in the bowels of his den. They slept and waited. This is how Legends are born.

“Are you sure Mom said it was okay?” Nathan yelled at his sister.

She was far ahead of him, wandering through the trees of the wood. She pretended not to hear her brother. He was not adventurous and was not a rule breaker. She was; and she did everything in her power to include Nathan in her plots. Sarah found it amusing that he still believed her when she lied to him. He never learned.

“Of course she did silly,” Sarah yelled to her brother.

“It’s just that it doesn’t sound like something Mom would be OK with!” He yelled back.

“Do you think, after the last beating, I would do something she didn’t want us to do?”

Nathan thought about that. He was still sore over the last lesson taught to them by Father. Father was a kind man, but he believed in teaching children to be good. Surely his sister was as sore as he was. He stepped into the wood and followed his twin, as he always did.

He was out of breath when he finally caught up to her. She never slowed down, even when she knew how far back he was. He flopped on the ground in front of her.

“I…I…can’t go any further,” he gasped for breathe.

Sarah looked down at her pathetic brother, “come on Nat,” she placed her hand on his temple and he felt the warming touch run through him. He stood up and smiled.

“Thanks for that!” Nathan said as he ran passed her.

“What about me?” She yelled as she ran after him.

The day wore on as most do. The sun bows to the horizon and the horizon allows the sun entry for the night. The moon, late as always, tries to catch up, but is too tired to run. The light of the moon was sometimes as bright as the sun. It’s silver light changed the lands to a mysterious landscape. Nathan hated to be out at night.

“Hurry up!” He was almost hysterical.

“Yeah, yeah,” Susan panted as she ran.

“Father’s going to be so mad,”

Susan looked at her brother, “yep, more lessons tonight.”

Nathan grimaced as he ran. He really did not want to be taught another lesson right after the previous night. He was about to mention this to Susan when he heard her scream. He turned and Susan was gone.

“Susan! Come on Susan, don’t do this!”

He wandered around in circles calling her name. She didn’t answer. He was alone in the land of Ash.

——–

Father heard something on the wind. It wasn’t the normal sounds of night, it made him uncomfortable. He got out of his old oak chair and went to the door. Mother saw the look on his face.

“Is it them, Father?” She said quietly.

“Dunno, Mother…” his voice trailed off as he gripped the handle of the cottage door.

Father wasn’t sure why he waited so long to turn the handle and face the night. When he finally did he was greeted by Nathan. The boy collapsed through the door, he was white as the moon, his eyes fluttered back into his head. Father held his son, caressing his forehead, lightly patting his cheeks. He turned to Mother with a look of despair.

“You go,” Mother said rushing to take Nathan, “you go and find my other baby.”

Father stood, taking a deep breath he reached for his axe, it always hung by the door. He turned and looked at his wife and boy. Part of him wanted to stay, part of him was frightened of the night, but his daughter was out there and this was no time for fear.

“I will find Sarah,” he said with steel in his voice.

He walked out into the wind. He moved with deliberation, slow movements to ensure nothing could surprise him. His first stop would be Tomas’ house. Father was not a stupid man, he knew he needed help. He reached the cottage of his friend and banged on the door with the butt of his axe.

“Tomas! Tomas Mead! I need your help Tomas!”

Tomas opened the door and peered at his friend.

“Ya know what time it is?”

Father only stared at Tomas and his friend knew something was wrong. He reached to the side of his doorway and brought his axe.

“I am going with James. He needs me,” he called back into his cottage.

“Thanks Tomas,” Father said in a low voice.

“There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for you James, which one is it?”

“Sarah, Nathan arrived in a state, she was not with him. James I think they was in the woods.”

James stare widened slightly, “James, you don’t think…”

“I don’t know what to think. Nathan was white as…”

“We need to see the Mayor,” Tomas interrupted his lost friend.

The two of them made their way to the village. It was a short distance from the Mead cottage. All around them the moonlight taunted them. Tomas held his friends hand; James needed comfort at a time like this. As they entered the quiet village a man came running up to the pair.

“Hold,” he said pointing a large stick at them.

“No time Harry,” Tomas said, not stopping, “Sarah is lost in Ash”

Harry dropped his stick and ran to the church. Within a few moments the bell in its tower was ringing. All the men of the village left their homes and congregated in front of the mayor’s house. The Mayor was already on the steps of his home.

“Who rang the bell?” He yelled to the growing crowd of men.

Harry came running up to the Mayor, “I did, for them.” Harry pointed at James and Tomas.

“James,” the mayor said with as much kindness he could muster. He had watched this lad grow from a babe and never, in the many years of hardship and hard work, had he seen such a look of sadness.

“Old Man,” James was almost whispering, “Sarah’s missing. I think…I think…I can’t think.”

James dropped to one knee as the thought of losing his Sarah washed over him. The Mayor dropped to his own knees and held James face in his hands. He stared into his son’s eyes and shared the grief with him. He stood up and addressed the crowd of men.

“I want every man with axe in hand! I want every woman to begin cookin’ and brewin’. Tonight we have a mission! No sleep till my granddaughter is found. Alive or dead.”

He looked down at his son, “come James, you’re no good to me sulkin’.”

James looked up at his father and wasn’t afraid to admit he loved the man. He stood and held his axe tight. He turned to the men.

“Tonight Legends may well be true! So let’s wake up the Land of Ash and ask for our daughter!”

The men cheered and scrambled back to their homes. In a few short minutes the men returned with axes in hand. The Mayor walked to the church and disappeared inside. He returned with a large silver box. He set it down and took the key he had around his neck.

“This is the Key!” He bellowed.

“THE KEY!” the men shouted the reply.

He placed the key into the lock, “the Key unlocks!”

“THE KEY!”

The mayor unlocked the box and lifted the lid.

“See the tools of magic!” he bellowed again.

“MAGIC!” the crowd replied.

“It is said that the night holds a secret, a secret that shall never be revealed. We stay out of the night, lest we reveal the secret!”

“The night is not for us!” the crowd replied.

“The last to go missing was 175 years ago. Luckily the man was found dead, drowned in the river. We can and will hope that we find Susan, alive or dead.”

“Alive or Dead!” the crowd replied.

The silver chest held silver objects, slim sharp pieces of metal. Each one made for an axe. The mayor was careful with each piece as he handed one to each of the men. Each man placed them on the cutting edge of their tools. Slowly the bright glint of silver spotted the crowd like starlight in a dark sky. Silver was the holy metal, it was pure and held a magic as strong as any healing touch.

James took his sheath and placed it on his axe. He stared at its beauty and shuddered at the thought of needing it. He looked at his father and saw he was looking back at him. There was an unspoken understanding between them. Sarah must be found.

The men spread out across the border of the Wood. They formed a line that would quicken the search. The Wood was large, but could be walked one side to the other in 3 hours. They would begin and crisscross until the entire forest was searched. They waited for the call.

The Mayor bellowed, “HO!” and the search began.

——-

Sarah awoke in darkness. Not the dull dark of night, but the complete and utter blackness of a place with no light. She lay there, not moving, she tried to strain her eyes to see anything. Slowly a distant spot appeared above her. If that was the hole she fell in, she should be thankful to be alive.

Her muscles were tense with shock, but otherwise okay. She stood and began to feel the walls of her hole. She felt the damp earth, but then it changed to stone. She ran her hands along the stone until she felt a grove. This was not a stone; it was a wall of stones. She kept her hands busy until she found a gap in the wall. This was an entrance, an entrance to something buried beneath the Wood. Sarah dropped onto the floor and cursed. As she cursed tears flowed from her cheeks.

“Hello!” She yelled up the hole. “Nathan!”

It was no good. This place was far below the Wood and her voice would not carry to the surface. She stared into the pitch darkness  in front of her. She stood and put her arms straight out.

“Legends be damned,” she said defiantly and began to creep forward through the dark.

It took an eternity to reach another wall. She had been cautious with every footstep. It was as quiet as it was dark. It was as if she had blinked out of existence all together. The far wall felt like the other wall. She followed it with a bit more speed. Quickly she arrived at another gap. She hoped, as she followed it, that she was not going in circles.

She wandered what seemed like hours. Each time she reached a gap she took it. She realized that she could see. Not well but there were shadows now. She could see the dark outline of the stones meeting to form the walls. The deeper she went, the lighter it became. Soon she could make out the new world she had become part of.

The floor was dirt, but the walls were finely crafted. Each stone lovingly sculpted and placed perfectly. The stones arched above her to meet the other side, it was beautiful in its own way. The walkway was intersected by many gaps, she realized now that she was in some sort of maze. It was only by luck that she had reached a place with light. There were no torches, but the light softly came from a fuzzy moss growing sporadically along the floor of the maze.

She decided to rest, needing to go over a few things in her mind. The teachings of her grandfather swirl around her head. The Legend of the Land of Ash, it always sounded like such drivel. The creatures and the King, faced the end of his children, cast a spell. The spell made them sleep, sleep to let the Land renew. Until the day…

“A child of man would awaken them…” she said aloud.

She had always laughed at the Legend. It had become their law; their religion and her grandfather lead the silliness. Now faced with a world below her own, she started to feel that parts of the Legend may well be true. There really may have been a Kingdom before, but those who lived in that Kingdom would be long dead. She shook her head and continued deeper into the Kingdom.

Each path lead to another, which led to another. Sarah decided to alternate between turning right and turning left. She hoped that this simple plan would ensure she never walked in a circle. The light from the moss increased the further she went. Some of the paths she took were overgrown with the glowing fauna. She turned a corner and was shocked by the sight before her.

It was a room, a grand circular chamber. The ceiling seemed to go on into darkness itself. The walls were lined with worn statues. They all seemed to point to a large door on the opposite side of the chamber. Sarah moved slowly into the chamber.

Instead of moving directly to the door, she inspected the first statue to her left. It stood at least eight feet tall. The figure was that of a creature, though details were lost, the form itself had an odd shape. The legs were larger than that of her Father, The torso longer, shoulders broader and the head seemed odd. She touched the statues leg and felt a weird sensation. The stone was warmer than the stone used for the walls.

She moved to the next. The head of this statue was in better shape. The head was proportionally matched to the hulking body, but the face seemed wrong. It pushed out from the head, almost snout like. The mouth seemed to cut the snout in half and there were hints of teeth coming out from each side. Sarah wanted to touch those teeth, but couldn’t reach. She moved to the door, feeling like the statues were watching her.

The door was at least 15 feet high and 10 feet across. It was made of wood, which confused Sarah when looking at the worn statues. Wood would surely wear away before stone, she thought. There were ornate carvings on the door, each one a nightmarish scene.

The first was that of a creature ripping a small animal to shreds, the next that of the same animal attacking what looked like a large bear. The scenes continued until the last image was that of a creature devouring the same creature. At the top of the door was a carving of a monster with its arms out. Under each arm were the heads of other monsters. None of this made sense to Sarah.

She slowly placed her hands on the door. It felt like wood, no different than that used to build a cottage. She placed her ear on the door. There was nothing, just a piece of wood. She sighed loudly.

“Child of man?” the voice came from the other side of the door.

Sarah screamed, and it echoed through the chamber as if screaming back at Sarah. She fell to the floor and covered her ears. Legends are not always true, but sometimes legends are born from truth.

“Child of Man?” the voice came from the door.

Sarah listened to the voice and realized it was not a voice that held anger. The voice was warm and questioning. It sounded almost like her grandfather. She stood and moved close to the door.

“Yes,” she answered.

“A child of man at my door…how…promising.”

“Who are you?” Sarah asked.

“I am, simple, I am. Years have passed since I made the decision to save my children from themselves. I barely remember myself, but I remember that decision. My children are dead. I sense that much. How many years have we slept? Too many years…too many.”

Sarah looked at the statues, “are these statues your children?”

“Those statues were my children, sleeping soundly waiting for you.”

“For me?”

“Spells are funny things. They have a start, but also a price. The one who casts must put a chance in its ending. My chance was a child of man,”

Sarah’s brow wrinkled, “to cast your spell you needed a chance encounter to end it.”

“Ah child, you are a bright one. I thought the stupidity and curiosity of man would release us much sooner than now. Seems I underestimated the power of legend, and the stupidity of man perhaps worked against me.”

Sarah giggled, “Men are stupid. Your legend became a way of life for us and your kingdom is buried under a lot of dirt and wood.”

“Ah, so much against me, still it is nice to talk to one as bright as you.”

Sarah smiled to herself, “at least you see me.”

The voice became kinder, “those around you do not see your intelligence?”

“ I’m a 13 year old girl who is destined to cook, clean and birth.”

The voice laughed, it filled the room.

“Man still sits on this foolish rule…my children were all equals. The strongest of them was my eldest daughter. Sheadra was mighty in battle and hunt, no one was her equal.”

Sarah whispered, “That sounds nice.”

“You could be my child.”

Sarah turned to the door, “I remind you of her?”

“No, you could be my child.”

“I have a father and mother,” Sarah replied.

“It does not matter, you could be my child. You could be powerful. You could lead all others.”

Sarah heard the words. They swam in her head. She could lead? She could be powerful? What did this voice mean?

“How?” she asked the door.

“All you need to do is open this door.”

Sarah faced the door, “How do I open the door?”

“Everything has a way and every way requires the blood of those who lead.”

Susan raised her hand, “and I will be powerful?”

The voice whispered, “Yes.”

Sarah moved her hand closer to her face, “and lead?”

“Definitely,” the voice responded.

Sarah bit down hard on her hand until she tasted blood. She held her hand up.

“Come out, Father.” She pressed her bloody hand against the door.

The men in the woods heard the howl and then the scream, all around them. James looked at is father.

“Everyone! Out of the Wood…NOW!” the Mayor screamed.

At first there was pain, and then she blacked out. As she regained consciousness she realized things were different. She opened her eyes to a new world. She could see as if daylight shined into the chamber. She could smell the dirt, the stone. She looked at her new father and saw the beauty in his form and knew that she too had changed. Her line of sight was 2 feet higher. She looked at her hands and saw the power they possessed. She smiled.

Her new father still sat on his throne. Withered with age, but still intimidating. His fur had thinned and was sparse in places. His frame was solid, but thin from his long sleep. He motioned to her and she obeyed. She kneeled in front of him and he placed his hand on her head.

“You are now Bestia, my daughter and my new General.”

She looked into his black eyes, “yes Father.”

“Prove to me your loyalty!” He proclaimed to the worn statues around them. “Bring me one you loved. Bring me a meal fit for your King!”

“It will be done,” She snarled.

The speed was intoxicating. She turned corners and ran down halls with ease and earnest. She arrived at the hole in a matter of minutes and began her quick ascent. She burst through the ground in a cloud of dirt and roots. She landed and lifted her head to the wind. She smelled them all, the sweat and the fear. She felt the saliva drip from her mouth. Bestia was hungry too.

She darted back and forth through the trees, reaching the edge of the wood in seconds. There they were running back to the village. She could see them clearly in the night. Her old life was gone, a mere shadow, a dream.

There was a man she could take amongst the crowd of men. But her King deserved better. Her king deserved a fresh piece of meat. Tender to the taste, young, like veal or new lamb.

“Nathan,” she growled as she looked up the valley to a distant speck that housed a boy who was her brother in another life.

She jogged toward the cottage, and then burst into a full run. The wind whipped around her fur, the intoxicating feel of power and speed took her once more to the heights of pleasure. This new form delighted in senses, she could only imagine what ecstasy the kill would bring. She slowed as she reached the quiet cottage. Smoke curled from the chimney, a picture of peace. She reached the door and knocked quietly.

“James? Is that you?” the voice was a woman, Bestia had some memory of her, but it was distant and fading.

“Mother,” she said to the voice.

“Sarah!” she heard as the door opened.

The woman looked into the face of Bestia and tears fell as she felt the kiss of her daughter, a kiss full of teeth and blood. The faceless form made a loud thump as it hit the floor. Bestia dropped to her knees and gorged herself on the meat, her powerful jaws ripping at bloody muscle and stringy sinews. She bit through the bone to get at the marrow hidden within. She spent time enjoying the meal, feeling her body accept the gift of meat and blood. She felt the rhythmic spasms in her groin as warm blood trickled down her throat. Why would she ever stop feeding? She thought as she devoured the last scraps.

Nathan was sitting at the large table, holding his spoon midway between bowl and mouth. He couldn’t move even as he watched the thing devour his mother. He sat there silent and motionless as the beast finished and moved closer to him. He watched as it moved, black eyes on him constantly.

“Brother,” it whispered, almost growled, “things have changed, haven’t they? Did your Father teach you a lesson for being out in the dark or did you cry that you lost me?”

It was so close Nathan could smell his mother on its breath. He tightened his grip on the spoon and wished it was a knife; even a fork would supply some sharp edge. Of all the nights to have soup, it had to be the night he went mad. He screamed slamming the spoon against the beast’s cheek. It laughed at him.

“Nice way to treat a lost sister Nat,” it grabbed his hand and squeezed. Nathan could hear his bones getting ready to snap.

“You can’t be Sarah!” He yelled into the face of it.

“Why? Because I am strong, because I am unstoppable, because I am the hunter, because…”

“NO!” Nathan screamed into its face, “because I loved her and she loved me!”

“Oh brother, I do love you,” she moved her head closer to Nathan’s. “That is why I am not going to kill you.”

Nathan sighed.

“I am going to give you to my new Father and he will let you be his first meal in over 500 years.”

She struck him before he could protest. He was always the whiny one, always too cautious and annoying. He had it wrong, she never loved him, deep inside she hated his weakness, hated that he turned out to be the boy. She knew Father hit her harder than his “boy.” She was happy to remove these things from the world; she would sit and watch her King gorge on the pathetic creature that once was her brother.

She picked up the limp boy and headed back to the Wood.

——-

The courtyard of the village hummed with the voices of so many crowded into it. The mayor and his son stood on the steps of the church. They both looked at the men before them. James had been brought up by the Mayor and everyday the Legend and Law was part of his life. He knew that the time was upon them. The disbelievers were about to get a shock, they were all in for the fight of their lives.

The mayor raised his hands and the crowd slowly went silent.

“The years have passed! We kept to the Law and Legend. For 500 years we have flourish in Ashland, now we will need to have resolve or leave.”

The crowd buzzed with talk, the Mayor continued.

“As the legend states, this was the land of death and misery. Once a proud nation, left to ruin by a King and his children. The King abused his power and the land! His children hunted all life, devouring nature itself. This place became The Land of Ash. We are the brave ones! We came after the passing of that dark kingdom. Our forefathers buried the Kingdom of Ash and planted on it a vast Wood.

Legends were born of those first days. The birds returned and man brought back the wildlife destroyed by greed. Our elders read of the exploits of the King in runes carved into the stone of his castle. They took those images and created the Tome of Legend and its laws. We have followed these laws for 500 years and prospered.

I am ashamed that my kin may have broken the law. My Sarah, who you all gathered to help find, has been beguiled by the Old King. We all heard the howl and the scream. If she has awakened the King we must fight or leave this land.”

Tomas was the first to speak from the crowd, “Mayor, we know the Legend, or at least the parts we all studied as children, but what is this King? That howl was not a man.”

The Mayor looked at James with a look of fear. James moved forward to address his friend and the crowd.

“My Father is tired, please forgive him. I will speak on his behalf as I am in line. What I speak of now is the part of the legend known only by those in line. I learned this on my sixteenth birthday and my son will learn of it on his. Time is not on our side friends, so listen close, I will not repeat this again.

Our forefathers came to these land years after the reign of the King. This land had only begun to repair itself from the scourge of that King. They buried the Castle in a hope that this day would never come. The runes and sculpture on the walls of his home were gruesome and foretelling. The King and his subjects were once men and women, but something happened to the King and slowly it changed him into something else. As he changed he took the lives of many of his subjects, the runes held an image of the King eating his people.”

The crowd burst into yelling and cursing in disbelief. James raised his arms.

“Please, listen. Soon the King made his children in his image; those children were more vicious than the King. His daughter was the leader and general of the children and they ripped the land apart. Soon those who lived were not human, but animal. Intelligent and powerful beings that lived for blood and meat, they raped the land until it was dry. On that day, his daughter turned on the other children. They hunted and ate until only 6 remained. The King summoned his children to him and in hope of saving himself; he sealed with magic the last of his kind. The spell was to be broken by a child of man.”

Tomas spoke again, “child of man?”

“Yes, according to the old writings the spell was to be broken by a child of man. It was to happen after the land repaired itself and we returned to the kingdom. The King did not realize that Man had grown in his intelligence. So we have lived our lives with law and with safety. The King is more than beast, more than human. He is not alive, nor dead. He is werewolf.”

The crowds burst into questions and angry yells. James turned to his father who nodded at him approvingly. James held his axe above his head and the crown hushed.

“I do not care how you feel right now. You have lived with our laws; you have shunned the night as I have. Our teachings and our laws were made to stop this night, but the King of Ash has proved to be patient and my daughter has proved to be foolish. I will say to you all, Sarah is dead.”

It was hard for the men to look into the face of James. He was a hard man, well respected in the Village. Yet here he stood in front of them tears flowing down his rough cheeks. Tears for the loss of his child, tears for the end of the life they had all lived. He was quiet now, holding his axe, the silver blade catching the moonlight.

Tomas broke the silence, “so it is war then!”

——-

She walked through the underground Kingdom of Ash. Over her shoulder was her twin. In her past life, he was her playmate, her confident and best friend, but in her new life she knew him for what he truly was, an obstacle. She was not destined to be Mayor. That was for her false father and then the boy. In the life that was, she was destined to cook, clean and support the man. Now she was powerful and she was the Mayor.

She heard groaning from the boy. Excellent, she thought, I want you to see my King. She entered the chamber and was greeted so warmly by her father.

“Bestia, what have you brought me,” he said with a smile of teeth.

“Father, I bring you a brother,” she growled, throwing the boy on the ground before him.

The king rose from his throne, bones cracked and popped with the movement. He grunted as he used muscles and bone left still for hundreds of years. He moved close to the boy and took a deep breath.

“This boy has your scent Bestia.”

“We were close before the truth was known to me,” Bestia replied.

The King stood tall, “Bestia, I give you a choice.”

Bestia knelt and bowed her head, “Your Highness?”

“What is a general without her soldiers? This one is too close to you not to be used in my service.”

“I don’t care about this mound of meat. I brought him here for you.”

“Yes, I accept your gift, but I also sense you will need him. The men above are aware of my return; no doubt we will be sought out. You are strong Bestia, but even a General of Ash cannot see behind them.”

The King raised his right hand, “The sharp tooth kills, the right hand turns…so let my child awake.”

He howled and plunged his right hand into the abdomen of the boy. Nathan screamed in agony. The King left his hand inside for a moment then pulled it out. He stared at his hand, covered in blood. Bestia watch as he licked it with fervour  She turned and looked at Nathan.

He rolled around the floor in pain. Bestia could hear his bones breaking; she could see the gashes open wide as his body changed. His flesh bubbled with change, until he lay still in his true form. He stood and looked at his sister. Confused thoughts raced in his head. He turned to the King.

“Come, my child,” the beast called to his new son.

The boy that was now a monster knelt before his master. The king placed his hand on the head of the beast.

“You are Belile, brother of Bestia, Son of Ash.”

What was once Nathan raised its head and howled.

“Now go,” the Father said, “go and strike a blow for Ash!”

The twins raced back along the corridors. They would visit the town and make their existence known. Tonight man would be put on notice, the Wolves of Ash were back and war truly was inevitable.

——-

“WAR! WAR! WAR!”

The men chanted. Their axes rose in hands above them as they chanted. James looked at each of their faces; there was a rage in them he had not seen before. He turned to his father and for the first time noticed his tears. James understood, felt it himself. War was not something to chant about, it was something to dread. He was snapped out of his thoughts by the howls coming from the Wood.

“Ready yourself!” James yelled as he rushed toward the gates.

Tomas was at his side, smiling, “this should be interesting.”

“Interesting is not a word I would use Tomas. These creatures are not like the wolves we see on the land. These creatures are monsters. They live to eat and they eat a lot.”

“Maybe I will feast on them tonight!”

“Maybe…” James voice trailed off as the large shadow flew over head. “My GOD!”

Bestia stood tall in the courtyard. The men of the village were unsure of the creature in their midst. She looked at each of them, looking for someone. There on the steps of the church was the Mayor. What better way to send a message. She moved fast and in a few seconds held the mayor in her arms. She was surprised he did not fight. He only whispered, “My poor Sarah.”

“Brother,” she growled as the other shadow landed in the courtyard. “Feed and bring one home. Father will be starved and this one morsel will not be enough.” She leapt the high wall with ease and headed back to her Father

Belile was grinning. He lunged to the nearest man. His jaws caught the arm of the man and the snap echoed through the village. He chewed on the piece as the stump sprayed blood in the air. Belile moved quickly snapped the head of his prey, it rolled toward the group of men by the gate. Belile kept eating the warm, moist flesh. The blood was like warm milk, comforting and delicious. The meat was fatty and filling. The bone was like candy with a soft centre that was as delicious as the hard coating. He moaned with satisfaction as he ate.

James was first to react. He raced with his axe toward Belile. Tomas beside him they closed the gap quickly. As James was about to land his axe he recognized the remnants of a tunic stretch tight across the back of the monster. He changed direction and hit Tomas hard. Both of them fell onto the blood soaked ground.

“Are you mad?” Tomas yelled at his friend.

“It’s Nathan! My God its Nathan!”

Tomas looked in disbelief. If this was Nathan it didn’t matter. He grabbed the face of his friend.

“That was Nathan!”

James realized he had no time for this. He needed to save the village. He would have to deal with the loss of his family after the beast was done. He stood.

“NATHAN!”

The beast raised its head to James. It was covered in the gore of its feed. It stopped and moved toward James.

“You dare interrupt,” the beast growled with anger. “My name is Belile; you best remember that, meat.”

“I think your name is Nathan. I think you are my son.” James stood defiant.

“Nathan was killed; I am what was born from that kill. I am a Son of Ash, destroyer, devourer, you best stand down.”

Tomas moved in front of James. He yelled to the men at the gate.

“Take James, we can not lose him this night. He is the last to know the true legend. I will take this beast.”

James started to protest, but was overwhelmed but the other men. He stood their watching his best friend face a beast that stood almost 7 feet tall. Its face was like a wolf but a bit stunted in the snout. The eyes were black, completely black like its soul. It moved with a speed that a man could never reach and the long sharp teeth were matched with the long razor claws on its hands. It stood in front of Tomas who looked like a child standing in front of the beast.

“This is your answer to a Son of Ash!” The beast called to the village.

“Come on Nathan, I am still the best hunter in this land,” Tomas held his axe tight.

The beast narrowed his eyes and his voice; he spoke with venom, “don’t dare call yourself hunter, Meat. We are the only hunters.”

Belile lunged at Tomas his teeth snapping at the head of the man. Tomas side stepped the lunged and brought down the axe with all of his might. Belile screamed as the axe hit its arm. The silver blade sliced through the bone easily. The beast fell to the ground squealing like an injured pig. Tomas turned to the men and raised his axe in above his head.

“Now who’s the hunter!” he yelled in triumph to his friends.

There was no response. The men watched as the beast stood behind Tomas. The arm that was skilfully removed was back and the beast seemed amused by Tomas. Tomas turned to his opponent just in time to see the teeth bite down on his skull. Half of the hunter’s head disappeared into the mouth of Belile as the rest of him slumped to the ground. The monster stood in front of the men finishing the morsel.

“I am the hunter!” it yelled at the men, bits of Tomas’ skull flying out of its jaws.

It jumped smashing through the window of the closest home. The men rushed to the door of the cottage, only to see the shadow fall back into the courtyard. In its arms was a child, no older than 9. She screamed in fright. Belile shook her violently and she went quiet. The men rushed the beast axes in hand. Belile dodged their attacks, weaving around the courtyard back to the remains of Tomas. He picked the body up easily and leapt over the gate.

He turned back to the village, seeing the gates open.

“You best retreat for now, Meat! You have not shown me anything I could not destroy.”

Belile ran back to the wood. In one arm a child, in the other a feast. The men stood motionless. James dropped to his knees and wept. He had lost everything this night. His daughter, his son, his father and now he realized that his wife would not be alive. His blood turned to ice in his veins. His tears stopped flowing. He stood hands white on his axe. James turned from the men and walked to church. He needed to get something and then he needed to kill.

James was not sure what would become of him. He knew the key, he knew the words. As he lowered himself down into the Sanctuary he felt the cold and dusty air fill his lungs. This place was not needed in hundreds of years. James steeled his mind to what was to happen, what he was to become. Sacrifice was needed.

In the chamber of the King the mayor waited for the beast to speak. It was more frightening than any writing could describe. This was an ancient evil, dead, but living, a creature that knew only how to devour in a cycle of destruction that could end all life. The eyes burned into the mayor, but he stood defiant to his captor.

“You do not fear me?” It growled.

“No, I do not fear dogs,” the mayor replied.

The laughter boomed through the room, The King held a hand up to stop Bestia from killing this man where he stood.

“Meat has changed over the years, perhaps your teachings did not do me justice.”

“The teachings are sound beast. It is man that has changed, we do not cower as we did. We learned of things to hurt you, we learned of silver…we learned secrets from your own hand.”

The king leaned close to the Mayor’s face, “What secrets did you learn meat?”

The mayor smiled, “You will find out soon enough. My son is mayor now and my son is was the father of the children you killed.”

Movement from outside the room drew the King’s attention. In came Belile, with meat and child. Belile threw the meat in front of the King, the child it dropped where it stood. The King kept an eye on the strange man who spoke in riddles as he ate. He felt himself growing, more strength returning. In minutes the meat was gone and the King stood.

The mayor was now terrified. The King was not as frail as he had appeared. The man he devoured gave him back his girth. He was massive standing there, easily eight feet or more. Fur changing from the grey to a dark black frosted at the tips. He stretched and lowered his head to his captive.

“You see how easy it is to be alive again. You will help me soon enough. I want you to tell me what your son will bring? Why should I, an immortal, be wary of a Son of Man?”

The mayor managed a smile, “because we learned a secret when we buried you alive.”

“You stole my book?”

“Your book was found, and studied. The black arts you so desperately used thousands of years ago have been in our hands for hundreds of years. We learned and we adapted. My son will come, but he will not be my son any more and you will be the meat!”

The king snarled as he bit down on the head of the mayor. It snapped quickly and was eaten in a few short bites. The King continued until the mayor was no more. He felt satiated and whole again. His attention turned to the other in the room.

“Bring her to me,” he order Belile.

The King did not wait for the child to awaken. He thrust his right hand into her as he had done twice before. Belile dropped her to the ground and watched her change. Soon a new daughter was born. The king held his hand out as the creature came to him. He placed it on her head and called out, “Dematia!”

——-

Deep in the earth James found the torches. As he lit each one, small plumes of fire sparked from the lighting of so many old dusty webs. Soon the chamber glowed with the flickering light of flame. The circle was there as father had taught. He walk to the centre and knelt in front of the small stone bowl sitting on a raised stone platform. He looked around him, everything was as father said. All that was needed was the words.

“All I am I give!” the words echoed around the room.

Soon James heard the reply, “Do you give it willingly?”

The voice was raspy and old. It was filled with venom and poison.

“Yes,” James replied.

“And what do you bring as proof?”

“I bring myself,” James replied.

“Then give yourself to me.”

James reached under his tunic and pulled out his knife. He raised one arm over the bowl and quickly slashed at his left wrist. He then held the blade in his mouth and brought his right wrist to meet the sharp blade. He spat out the knife and held his wrist above the bowl, slowly filling it with his blood.

“Rich and red, life’s blood is always welcomed.” The voice was shrill with delight.

James felt his blood leave his body, the dizziness of death increasing with every drop filling the bowl. His head swam as his life slipped away.

“So what is your wish?” The voice whispered in James’ ear.

“Strength and hope,” James muttered.

“I can give you strength, but hope is lost to any who come to me.”

“Then give me the strength to make my on hope!”

The voice was quiet, as if thinking.

“Drink that which you gave, James. Drink and you shall receive your strength, but be warned that I am an evil that yearns for more than you want to give.”

“I know, but it is the only answer.”

James drank; he drank the blood he gave willingly. He felt the warmth of it fill his throat. He felt the warmth fill his belly and then he felt the pain. What light he made in the chamber blinked out and James dreamed of his family alive and laughing around the dinner table. That was the last time James would ever dream again.

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