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Short Story Entry - Ascension


ilantir
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“Dinner’s ready!”

I heard my wife’s voice calling me from our home and I stopped peering into the darkness at the edge of the forest. Thick snow crackled under my boots as I make my way home. I beckoned my daughter Astrid who’s still playing with the snow just in front of our house.

“Come, haven’t you heard your mother?”

She smiled and darted towards the door with carefree laughter. Her blonde braids gleamed in the evening light. It was as if her hair was the only thing that gleamed these days. Winter had come and this year it came with a vengeance. I had never seen such a bitterly cold and dark winter. It was still my belief that this all had to do with what happened this summer.

 

That one summer night there was a terrible earthquake. So terrible that even heaven itself shook. Immediately afterwards it began to rain for three days. A warm and sticky rain that felt horrible on the skin. Even the air had been almost too heavy to breathe. The first few weeks afterwards everything seemed normal. We repaired the damage the earthquake had caused and summer transitioned into autumn. It was then we noticed that the rain had poisoned all of nature. Our flowers died, our crops were inedible and the forest around us became quiet and withdrawn.

In my life as a ranger I have always dealt with the creatures of the forest; the wolves, the bears and even an abomination or two weren’t uncommon, but as the nights became longer and colder, the predators in the forest became fiercer. More and more I came across carcasses of game that was killed just for sake of killing instead of for survival. Wild animal attacks became more frequent and more than one man from the nearby village was taken. When I saw a wolf last month it no longer looked like a wolf. Its skin was severely matted and its claws and head were covered in ice. I am no longer sure that these creatures are still alive.

With our harvests failed and all game killed our food supplies have quickly dwindled. For now we hold on, but each night I guard the edge of the forest expecting the darkness to swallow us all.

 

As I stepped into my home I noticed the warmth of our hearth. It was a pleasant distraction from the cold outside. The only good thing this winter had brought was loads of dead wood to feed the flames, but I longed so much more for the sun. It had not risen for over a month now. Instead the sky just turned light grey before it turned black again. The sun was hidden behind a thick layer of ever-present clouds. I could not help but think that Arkon had abandoned this world. Each night, before I went to sleep, I prayed to the flames, but to this day no answer was given.

It was hard for my family not to notice my brooding during dinner.

“Folke, what’s the matter?” asked my wife. “Why won’t you touch your broth?”

“I’m afraid me and the other men must go out tonight again,” I answered.

“But why?” she complained. “You know how cold our bed gets during these nights. I need you here.”

“It is still the darkness that I dread my fair Erika. I can feel that something is going to happen. We need to be alert when it happens.”

“You have been away for the entire week now. I demand that you take one night’s respite.”

“What if something happens tonight?” I gestured to ward off unknown evil.

“You’re not alone,” Erika said while she grabbed my hands. “As you said there are others that can take this watch. Brant took a night off when his family needed him.”

Her touch made me realise that I missed more than the warmth from my hearth these nights.

“All right,” I relented. “I will let them know that I will take a night off. It’s good to have some people alert during the day as well I guess.”

Erika smiled and my dinner tasted so much better now. I really needed that rest. Winter would pass again. It always did.

 

A deep rumbling awoke me from my dreams that night. It sounded like thunder, but it closed in much faster and the rumbling never lessened after each clap. I lifted my wife’s arm off me and walked up to the windows. Through the cracks of the window pane I saw something terrible roiling across the sky. It looked like an entity made of the deepest black I ever saw. Although the nights were black, this cloud creature was even darker. Furthermore it beamed a black light down on the ground, but I could not see.

I swiftly grabbed pants and shirt from the chair at the dinner table and rushed outside.

There I watched the black light scouring across the forest and for the first time in months the forest was alive again. But the sounds I heard were not from nature coming to life again. No, it was more as if the earth itself exhaled its final breath. Creatures howled, the trees moaned and even the night shrieked where the light touched. The air breathed heavy, just like those summer nights.

I tried to see beyond the wall of light if it was something of a holy storm that finally came to cleanse the earth mother of the darkness, but nothing could be seen. No, Arkon would come with bright light and rebuking fire to smite the wicked. This was something else entirely. Every bone in my body told me to get my wife and child and run as fast as we could.

“Erika, Astrid!” I shouted as I burst through the doorway. “Get out of bed. Darkness is upon us!”

“What is it daddy?” my daughter mumbled while she rubbed her eyes, but my wife was wide awake.

“Is this what you were talking about?” she asked. Her voice trembled and I could see the terror in her eyes. She was only clad in her chemise, but there was no time. The cold was only a secondary danger now.

I took my daughter in one arm, grabbed my wife with the other and bolted for the door. For a moment I was afraid I would break Erika’s arm, but I had to save them.

We were only at the doorstep when the beams of black light hit the edge of the forest in front of our house. Suddenly the black light fractured into the brightest white. The white was so bright that I staggered back. The ground in front of us exploded and was absorbed into the light at the same time. It was over. I turned to my wife and hugged her. I think she cried, but I couldn’t hear her anymore over the deafening sound of destruction. When the light hit me it felt like my whole body froze. The next second it was like I was burned alive. After that, there was only silence.

 

And in that silence I heard a woman laugh. A joyous, raucous laugh. I was confused. Was that Erika? Suddenly a woman’s face filled my vision. She had a young face with no imperfection to behold. Marigolds and goldilocks danced in her auburn hair. Her smile, her eyes… even her smell reminded me of something wonderful; the first time I saw my Erika. A sudden urge to touch the woman overcame me, but as I reached out she danced out of my grasp.

“I’m sorry Folke, but I can’t let you do that. No mortal would survive me,” she beamed.

How did she know my name?

“Something terrible has happened to my mother,” she pouted. “I know that you prayed every night to my father, but he’s very, very busy right now.”

She squinted with her eyes as if she was inspecting me while I could do all but stare at her and the emptiness around us.

Who was she?

“I can your every thought,” she crooned, “but don’t burden yourself with such questions. The real question is: Where do you go from here? You look like a clever man, so let me tell you that I’m having this same conversation with thousands of my very favourite worshippers right this instant.”

The woman swirled around and suddenly hushed me.

“Now don’t start your thinking again. Your world was just eaten by the Hunger. You deserve some peace and you shall have it. I congratulate you as one of the new inhabitants of the Eternal Kingdoms!”

Cybele! The daughter of Arkon, right in front of me!

Her mouth curled upwards and her eyes gained a mischievous gleam. With a leap she was in my face again.

“Very good, I knew you were a smart man. Too bad you won’t remember it.”

With those last words she blew softly in my face. It smelled like strawberries, my favourite fruit. The space around me contorted and when I could see again I was in a large village. A warm summer sun shone upon me.

“Daddy, daddy,” I heard a familiar voice before me. From the crowd emerged a young girl with gleaming hair, almost as bright as the sun, followed by the most beautiful woman I knew. Astrid grabbed my hand and started pulling me towards the crowd again.

“I heard there’s a bard at the town’s square. He’s telling stories!”

“Well then, don’t let me keep you,” I laughed. “Let’s go see him!”

As the girl flitted through the crowd I followed my wife to town’s square. A real bard in our small town! Maybe when I am an old ranger, I too will have a good story or two to tell my grandchildren.  

 

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