This story is by Daniel Weaver and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Humans,” Aragos pondered as he lumbered through the primordial Darkwood. “They all look like ants.” As he walked, his enormous stony feet rumbled the earth beneath him. He hated that; never subtle.
If they look like ants, he thought to himself, then why is killing them such a predicament?
He gazed down to see a family of deer darting past him, only to freeze in place before running away. Curious, Aragos looked out to an open field to witness a pack of ravenous direwolves feasting on the mutilated remains of soldiers. The beasts stopped, their amber eyes fixated on a sound coming from an old oak tree. The pack leader motioned them silently, and they began to surround the sullen oak.
Aragos heard sniffling coming through the dark green leaves. It was only when the wolves started up the tree that he heard it; the panicked screeching of a child filled his ears.
“Help! Help me!” she screamed. “Somebody!” Her cries sent the direwolves into a frenzy. The giant, however, stood there, pondering his next move.
Don’t even think about it, he thought. If you touch that girl, they will hunt you down. The screaming intensified, getting louder as the hulking wolves drew nearer. What if they don’t? This is your only chance to make peace with their kind.
The towering rock giant emerged from the dense woodland and roared a thunderous roar, which sent the pack fleeing into the woods in terror.
“Well, that seemed to work,” he muttered, crouching down before the ancient oak. “It’s safe to come out now. I don’t think they’ll be coming back for a while.”
“Wha– Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m Aragos, the so-called ‘Demon of the Darkwood.’ Perhaps you’ve heard of me? It seems I’m, uh… popular in these lands.”
The frail-looking girl dropped down from her hiding spot, watching him with wary eyes. She had on a vibrant ceremonial gown adorned with the sigil of a great phoenix, her face smudged where the tears ran down her gaudy makeup. “If that’s true, why aren’t I swimming inside your stomach right now?”
His head cocked to the side. “I don’t eat little girls. I much prefer mutton.”
She giggled, trying her best to act solemn. “You’re a strange beast, no doubt,” she said. “I’m Vex. Perhaps… perhaps you could help me out. They ambushed us, but I need to get back home to my father, King Joreth. His kingdom’s west of here, on Haron Hill.”
He looked around at the corpses littering the field, then back to her. “That depends, your Highness.”
“What were you doing out here? These don’t look like run-of-the-mill bandits to me.”
“They’re not. They belong to King Sigmund, I think. My father’s rival.”
“Why’d he want to kill his rival’s daughter? Besides… obvious reasons.”
“Well, I thought I was just a pawn in my father’s plan to make peace with King Sigmund. But then…”
“He changed his mind,” Aragos finished. He sighed. “I knew I should’ve left you for the wolves.”
“You mean that?”
“No,” he said. “What are you doing?”
Vex scurried around the battlefield, trying not to look at the lifeless bodies. The giant noticed a longbow and quiver in her arms.
“That seems awful… big for you. You sure you know how to use it?”
“Father said there are creatures and nasty things beyond the walls. I don’t wanna get snatched up, do I?”
Aragos sighed. “Well, I suppose I can’t just throw rocks at everything we come across. Let’s go now before it gets dark. We’ll let your father know what happened here once we reach Haron. That is if we survive the journey first.”
Vex sat atop Aragos’s broad shoulder as he walked, watching attentively for any signs of danger, telling the occasional joke along the way.
“Tell me, giant. Why did save me back there, when you could’ve left me for those ghastly wolves?”
“Good question,” he said. “I want to change your people’s perspective of me. I suppose in a world of monsters, I wanted them to see the difference.”
Vex gave him a puzzled look. “Why should the Demon of the Darkwood care about the opinions of men?”
“When those same opinions directly correlate with the constant threats on your life, ask me that question again.”
“I’m the princess of Haron, heiress to my father’s throne. I already knew the answer to that question.”
“Fair enough.” He paused, looking around.
“What is it?”
“Heavy breathing. The rustling of leaves. Sounds of… steel? We should keep moving.”
“Maybe it’s a rescue party?”
“You don’t believe that.”
A burly man wearing ornate leather armor emerged from the trees on horseback, followed by a group of four others. He looked up, his face twisting into a scowl.
“Unhand the girl, abomination! You have no idea how important she is!”
“That’s a shame,” said Aragos. “We were beginning to have such a blooming relationship.”
Vex studied the man’s armor and gasped. “I recognize the symbol on his armor. These are not father’s men.”
“Hm.” Aragos looked at the men, then beyond to the deadly Blood Marsh. “Look, we appreciate the kind gesture. But I’ll take it from here.”
The man drew his long curved blade, as did the others. “You’re not going anywhere with the girl, monster!”
“Have you looked in a mirror?” Aragos retorted.
An arrow pierced through the man’s chest. He let out a scream, and Vex shouted, “Let’s go! To the marshes!”
Aragos barreled through the terrified and confused men like they were nothing. The burly man shouted, “You cannot escape what’s coming, girl! The king will have his corpse!”
There was a vile stench in the air; the sound of chaos and an aura of death pervaded Vex’s senses like some sort of malicious entity she couldn’t describe.
“This is the Blood Marsh,” Vex said, coughing. “The only way to my father’s kingdom. No wonder no one’s been able to invade it.”
“You should be safe if you stay next to me. Monsters don’t attack other monsters,” said Aragos. “Unless…” He shook his head. “No. They wouldn’t.”
“If we stick to this path, we’ll be there in no time.” Vex pointed to a trail of brightly colored markers. After stepping through twisting vines and piles of human skeletons, the two came across a makeshift wooden bridge surrounded on both sides by a sinister lagoon that burned a deep crimson.
“Something doesn’t feel right about this,” said Aragos. The giant took the first step. Carefully, he took another.
“Who’s they?” inquired Vex. “Did you mean other monsters?”
“What? Oh yes. A monster’s code is… fickle. It’s not wise for you to trust your own kind wholeheartedly, it would seem. We tend to avoid humans. But some of us… we simply cannot control the urge to consume. It’s tempting, like a drug.”
“You’re not one of those monsters, are you?”
Aragos looked conflicted. “I… I don’t think…
Before he could finish, something from beneath grabbed him, pulling him down instantly. He barely managed to throw the screaming Vex across the bridge before she could join him.
The adrenaline blocked the stabbing pain, and she watched as the giant sank further and further into the depths.
“Don’t leave me!” she screamed. “I can’t do this without you!”
“Yes… you can,” he said. “Just… remember. Remember… me.” Without a word, without a sound, he vanished; submerged within the boiling red abyss.
“I thought… we were safe.”
She looked out to where the sun’s light shone through mangled branches. And she walked and walked until her legs could go no farther, her back aching with every step she took. She gazed up, in relief, to see her father’s castle in all its glory.
When Joreth’s scouts found her, she had passed out along the muddy trail. They carried her to the safety Haron’s massive steel walls and to the throne room. It was there Joreth sat, his eyes big as boulders.
“Dear God, what happened to you?” The king ran to her. Vex’s eyes fluttered open, and she smiled faintly.
“Yes, I’m here. Are you hurt? What happened to the convoy?”
“Ambushed… in the woods. All dead.”
“Must’ve been Sigmund’s men.” He scowled. “Damn him! It’s a miracle you’re still alive at all.”
“I wasn’t alone, father. In the woods, a monster spared me.”
He shook his head. “What on earth–”
Her eyes began to water. “It was a giant. His name was Aragos. He saved me, brought me through the Blood Marsh.”
“Fascinating. Can I see this… Aragos for myself?”
“You can’t. He’s gone.”
Joreth kissed her softly on the forehead, smiling. “You’re alive, that’s all that matters.”
“The giant, he told me something before he died.”
“What was that, sweetheart?”
“He told me… to remember him.”
Meanwhile, in the horrid bubbling pit, a hand of red-hot stone rose from the depths, reaching out, grabbing nothing.
“This… is not… my… end…”