|01-28-2010, 03:37 PM||#1|
Maiden Desmodus - Short Story "Brother Pebbles"
When asked why people on the street called him "Pebbles", he would always tell them that it was because he was such a puny little fellow and that the name had just kind of stuck when he was a child. It wasn't a total lie, the name was rooted in his childhood.
"Eggs the size of pebbles", the children teased. "He's a coward, and he always will be!"
That much was true.
Bravery had never been one of his virtues. He was a coward. He knew that.
But it had not always been so. Once, when he was ten years old, he had been brave.
His father was late coming home from the fields where he toiled, and he had gone out to look for him even though the sun was painting a bruise-black canvas on the horizon as it settled behind the Highwater Mountains.
On the fringe of the Kneyan Kingdom, the little village of Tomiaston was truly not more than a hodge-podge of farmsteads nestled upon the shore of Lake Bhur. His own home was the smallest of these, made even more meek by its nearness to Bastian House, the venerable manor that was the oldest structure in the region, if not the entire western province.
There were no lamps to light the street, and at that time in his life, the Kneyan-Thirian war had not yet brought danger to the lives of the peaceful frontiersmen. But as anyone who knew anything about The Isle would tell you, "The night is never without danger."
He threw open the thin pinewood door of his father's cottage and looked between the houses at the muddy path that passed for a road in these parts. Twilight was fast becoming night and the neighbours across the way had already bolted their shutters and set lights burning inside.
He moved out into the middle of the street and stood there looking northward until darkness had settled over the little village. He was a puny figure, lit only by the shaft of light escaping through the frame of his own front door.
And that was when he had been brave.
Putting aside the stories he'd been told of child-eating wolves and manifesting shadows, he boldly walked down that road in search of his father. He passed the edge of his neighbour's estate. He passed Bastian House, all aglow atop its squat little hill. And he continued on until the only lights within a stone's throw were those of old Widow McGowen's place out beyond the apple trees to the east.
"Father!", he yelled into the night. There was no answer.
He waited there, heart pounding so hard in his chest that he could feel its thunder, listening to the wind blow through the orchard. Twice more he called for his father, cupping his hands over his mouth to channel the cry toward the bleak black plain of rustling grasses ahead. There was no answer, only the subtle darkening of the shadows around him.
On the verge of tears, the boy raised his hands to his mouth and drew in a breath that failed him. It sputtered out as a whimper when he felt eyes watching him.
The shadowling was almost invisible against the darkness around it. It was solid, but not. Shadow, but not. Rather some sort of voluminous black mist that swirled around the boy.
He jumped backward out of fright, not wit, as the churning mass of shadow took on a rounded head-like protrusion that was all rows of white, bony teeth. The shadowling snapped that terrible maw closed on empty air, glowing red eyes appearing from within its cloudy depths to track the boy.
But he was already gone, his bravery spent, his skin damp with the things blood from where he had fallen through its insubstantial form. His legs burned, yet he ran, all the way back to the safety of the lamp burning inside his little cottage.
Brother Pebbles closed his eyes for a moment, remembering that night when he had been brave. It had been followed by his father's funeral, and his uncle taking him away to the City of Johannasburg where "civilized people live". And by the stirring of something dark inside of him.
His uncle's status as a goldsmith in the crown city provided a life much different than he had known in Tomiaston. Privileged, one could say. But all his uncle's wealth and clout with the Temple of the Maiden Desmodus could not protect the boy from the trials of life.
"Eggs the size of pebbles", the children teased. "He's a coward, and he always will be!" The taunt twisted into a malicious song with him as the focal point of each ridiculing verse.
He stared at the boys gathered around him. At the girl grinning behind them as they strove to impress her through his torment.
"I am not!", he yelled at last. His voice was shaking and his words cracked into a pre-pubescent screech.
The largest of the boys, Baelly Colton, marched up on him, knocking him backward a step as his Baelly's chest puffed out in a challenging tensing of his young, toned body.
"Alright, Pebbles", Baelly jibed. "If you're so brave, then prove it. Prove I'm wrong."
Voices whispered around him. Laughter followed. He looked at the leering faces and felt the utter hatred boiling in his veins. He could feel his skin flushing from it. They noticed it too, he was sure. Took it for embarrassment.
"Alright", he said at last, with a calm that brought the taunting to an early end. "If you are brave enough to come with me, then I'll show you something I overheard my uncle talking about." He smiled. "Unless you are all too scared?"
Even in the daylight, the city cemetery was a scary place.
Headstones rich with ethereal carvings seemed to watch the boys, and the girl who they courted, through the maze of stones a few steps behind the boy the called Pebbles.
"This had better be better than a bunch of gravestones, Pebbles." I'm not afraid of dead people.
"Where is he taking us?" The girl whispered.
There was nothing, but silence from the boys, so he answered for them. "Into the mausoleum."
Stunned faces looked at each other. The boy bringing up the tail of the group turned and ran away yelling something about being late for supper in his wake.
"What's so scary about the mausoleum?" Baelly put in. "I have two aunts in there, and they're not scary, just rot and bones." He laughed. The others silent and awkward.
"We're not really going into the mausoleum", the boy said calmly.
"See! He's a fecking coward!" Baelly shouted triumphantly.
"We're going through it. There's a crack in one of the walls there that leads into the caverns beneath the temple bloodwell." He looked back over his shoulder. "We're going to see... Her." He smiled at the bullies. "Unless you are too scared, Baelly Colton, and have eggs the size of pebbles yourself?"
"I'm not going", the girl said.
"No, not me either", the fattest one of them added.
"I'm going home," one other put in. "This isn't fun anymore."
As one, drawing strength from each others cowardice, they turned and walked away.
"That leaves just us," he said to Baelly Colton. "I'm not afraid to go see her. Are you?"
"****e no!" Baelly snapped, but he seemed unsure of himself.
Smiling, he turned and continued on.
"I can't see a damn thing!" Baelly whispered into the gloom.
"It's not far", he said.
"How the feck can you tell? How can you see anything down here?"
"I just can." He stopped moving and crawled through a keyhole in the cavernous stone before him. His voice carried out from the darkness. "This is the place."
Shadow and pitch painted the cavern in a shroud so black it seemed as if they had found a place to stand within a void. There, in the centre of it, giving off an almost imperceptible glow that made its jagged black shape stand out against the gathered darkness was a huge chunk of solid obsidian with a knife-like ridge running up its full length. It was the only thing there.
"What is it?"
"The Desmoduist Priests call it the Bloodstone." He walked up to it, leaving Baelly Colton standing at the edge of the gloom. He slowly traced a finger down the side of the sharp ridge. "She left it here for us."
"It begins with the offering of blood." He sliced his outstretched finger to the bone, yet the pain instantly became an icy numbness. It was a sign, he knew, that she wanted him.
Behind him, Baelly Colton looked terrified as the blood shimmered against the chunk of shiny obsidian. It dripped to the floor with an audible splatter, for the cavern was otherwise absolutely silent.
"And then it is the soul that is given."
The shadows began to darken around them as the ambiance of the bloodstone ebbed away.
"Finally, all that remains to be given is one's own life, in pursuit of the Path of Sacrifice, which leads to immortality."
He turned to see Baelly's expression, but the bully's form was all but swallowed by the darkness. And then he saw that silhouette yanked away. There was a thud, and then the snapping of bones.
He heard footsteps in the darkness as she drew near, and so he turned to face the Maiden Desmodus. For the second time in his life, he was not afraid.
Last edited by Wade_Gustafson : 01-28-2010 at 03:40 PM. Reason: (formatting)