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Short Story Entry - Hope

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*Disclaimer: I never do stuff like this, but I thought, why the hell not.*

 

 

 

I came upon a mother and her Guinean cub in the woods. She died protecting him from a pack of hellhounds that had descended upon them from the shadows. Under the snow, I buried her.

 

“It is time to leave, little one”, I said, and tried scooping him up into my arms. Unable to get a grasp on his bones beneath furry skin, he coiled around my hand, up my arm and jumped down. It was impossible to get to sit still.

 

“When mother wakes up, we are gonna visit our family”, he squeaked, as he avoided my grasp. “We can’t leave her alone. The forest gets scary at night”.

 

Night was creeping closer and with it, the armies of the hunger would follow. I sighed, and planted the branch besides the burial ground. Faint orange light filled the area and made shadows dance around them. It seemed to sooth him down somewhat, as he watched with interest.

 

I sat down before the branch and touched it, its coarseness reassuring. The others had turned brittle before they died. It would not be long, however. The light that used to light up entire halls with beautiful light was but a shadow of its former self. It barely illuminated my body anymore.

 

“Your mother won’t wake up”.

 

He crawled up and turned into a ball of fur against my shoulder. “Why not?”.

 

“Because she’s dead”.

 

“What does that mean?”.

 

I sat there for some time thinking, the light of the branch pulsing with hypnotic beats. I had never thought about that. When my brethren die, we pay it little mind. A quiet acknowledgement and then back to work. The Great Work had to continue and the Hunger waits for no funeral.

 

“Means she won’t wake up”. Until the earth surrendered to the cold and she would become risen. After we leave, perhaps I can come back and burn her corpse. We don’t want a fighter who could kill two hellhounds turning against us, after all.

 

“She’s just resting in the ground. We do that, you know. Hoard for the winter and then rest in the ground until the winter disappears. You won’t believe how much food my family gathered. She tells me about it every night”. So hopeful.

 

We sat there in silence until the last remains of light disappeared from above the tree tops. Night had finally come. Snow drifted and created a crater at the ends of the faint orange light.

 

“You should get some rest”.

 

“Where are you going? I don’t want to be alone”. Perhaps he knew after all.

 

“As long as you stay inside the light, nobody is going to harm you”, I said, while trying to pierce the darkness. “I need to find the way forward”. Besides, the light will soon fade and we don’t want to be surrounded by hellhounds when it happens.

 

“I am not leaving you alone”, I said. “You see; my mother also died. Never even got to know her before it happened”. I stared intensely into the light that seemed to pulse even stronger now. Frowning, “She also fought the hunger and it killed her too. Her blood spilled onto the ground and her sisters drunk it up”. I caressed the branch. “It created the trees of life. They were so beautiful. The trees wanted it all for themselves, but they missed a single drop of blood that seeped into the ground. Out came my brethren and I, born of her molten blood, to continue her work. The great work. We bring with us the branches of the trees of life to make sure her life essence is shared with the world and to protect against the encroaching hunger. Even in death, she watches over us all”.

 

It took some time for me to realise his breath had slowed down. He had fallen asleep. I nodded to myself and placed him gently on the ground, lightly planted my hammer and covered his body in a coat of earth. It would keep him somewhat warm and secure if the light gives out.

 

I gave one last look at the branch. So few of them were left and the rest were dying. So many had perished fuelling the great forges, crafting the weapons and armours to fight back the hunger. Perhaps it had all been a mistake.

 

With my cape firmly clasped around my body, I ventured into the darkness of the forest. Hours of patrolling around the camp passed before the sounds of the hellhounds appeared. At least two of the damn beasts. And they were coming closer.

 

Hiding behind a big oak tree, I waited, praying to Gaea. She never responded, but such was the ritual. Saying she had abandoned us was heresy among the Forgemasters. But what is the difference between not being there and never helping? I focused on my breath and cleared my thoughts of sour thoughts.

 

I could see them now, sniffing their way towards the camp. Even if they didn’t dare enter the light, their presence was still alarming. They usually travel in pack and more could be nearby.

 

With all my weight, I jumped and crashed my battle hammer down into the closest one crushing its bones. The second one shrieked and bit its icy fangs into my right arm. Unable to use my hammer, I continued to repeatedly smash my left fist into its face. His body shambled together, but it only pushed his fangs further inside my arm. Coldness finally pierced my skin.

 

Several more shrieks pierced the darkness. I sighed. So much for praying.

 

The first one took me by surprise. I was still composing myself as it crashed into me. Tumbling through the snow, I landed on my back with it on top. I tried smashing it with my hammer, only realising than that I had lost grab of it. Hitting wind, my guard was down and the hellhound struck quickly. It slashed its tail around my neck and tightened. All breath was lost and my vision blurred. With a last effort, I rolled on top of it and crushed it beneath my weight. Icy cold scales ripped open my back. At least I could breathe again.

 

I stumbled up on two legs, my cape ripped to shreds and hammer held in weakened hand. Through blurry eyes, I saw the next one in time. It stormed right towards me. I took a step backwards, slamming my hammer down into the earth. A ripple of earth shook out from it and towards the hellhound. Before it could muster another shriek, pillars of rock appeared from the ground and pierced its body.

 

With the last hellhound dead, I fell to the ground, heaving for breath. Orange light was still visible in the distance. It hadn’t died yet. I prayed one last prayer. That the light would last and the cub survive. Good luck, my brothers, may you finally finish the great work. I have failed. Layer after layer of snow covered my eyes until I could not see anymore. Who would have thought that something so beautiful could bring with it such darkness?

 

 


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