This story is by Lydia Woodward and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I blink rapidly as the smoke stings my eyes and burns my sensitive nose. The fire has consumed nearly everything within sight, and what it’s left untouched, we have torn down. There’s a strange, muted ache in my chest as I slowly look around the ruin and decay. Convel walks up to my right, and I turn to see the patches of charred fur along his left flank and the multiple lacerations on his exposed skin.
As he turns to look back at me, my heart lurches, and I try to remember something, something important beyond my grasp.
“You have done well, Abaddon.” Lord Fachnan nods his head in my direction as he surveys the rubble with a glint in his eye. He rubs his palms together and breathes the smoke in deeply like it’s the sweetest thing he’s ever smelt. His approval makes me grit my teeth as I bite back a snarl. I can’t remember what, but I can feel it in my gut that something is very wrong.
Off in the distance, the sun is rising, and the brightening sky casts eerie shadows over the once-thriving fishing village. The red-tipped Sea Gulpers swoop down, complaining loudly as they look for the fishing boats that will never sail again.
Lord Fachnan gestures towards the high peaks in front of us, and I quickly scramble up the rocky side. Within moments, I’ve reached the narrow path that leads over the mountain.
I look back to see Convel reach the path with ease, but I’m more concerned with who I don’t see. Lord Fachnan.
I hear a throat clearing behind me, and I whirl around to see him with a slight smirk on his face.
“We’ll reach the caverns faster, traveling through the mountain and under Aalokia. I would prefer to forego the welcoming party on the other side of these peaks, wouldn’t you?”
I tilt my head to the side, confused. My head feels heavier and cloudier the more I try to think, but I don’t believe that there’s ever been a tunnel through the mountain. Surely I would remember if there was?
Lord Fachnan must be in a generous mood, for he chuckles at my confusion. “There’s more than one way through this mountain, and I’ve never been one to take the scenic route.”
Motioning for me to follow, he leads us off the path and through the thick undergrowth. I stumble awkwardly as the bushes I’m pushing through suddenly give way to the mouth of a small, dark cave. The ceiling is so low that I have to crawl through the entrance and for a good many feet afterward until it eventually slopes higher.
Lord Fachnan turns and glances around at us all. His eyes linger just a second longer on Convel than the others, and I can feel my hackles rise because of it. The other beasts simply look on with a dead look in their eyes. There’s something wrong with them, but I can’t remember what has changed. For a moment, I can see a blurry image of man-shaped shadows instead of the beasts before me, but the fog thickens again, and I lose my grip on it. I shake my head as if I can physically shake it free, but it’s no use.
Lord Fachnan walks up to me, and I lower myself on my belly as he climbs onto my back. “This path leads straight to the caverns. We need to get there as fast as possible.”
I nod and lift my head with a howl that echoes through the cave and down the tunnel. The others join in, and we take off running.
We run – faster and faster – the wind whipping through my fur as my paws pound steadily on the smooth ground. It’s monotonous and seems to drag on forever as we never pause, never skip a beat.
Relief ripples down my spine as I detect a spot of light in the distance ahead. Bursting forward into the cavern, I halt before a circle of fire and feel everyone stop behind me as I sniff the area suspiciously. Convel nudges my left shoulder and nods at the flames as Lord Fachnan jumps off to my right. I see the worry and doubt as Convel looks to me for reassurance. It’s a look I’ve seen countless times in those eyes before, but never in the face of the beast beside me.
In my mind’s eye, I see those eyes in the face of a young boy before he starts his training and a young man before he drinks from the chalice while Lord Fachnan watches…
Every memory, every emotion that’s been hidden by fog, comes back to me in a rush. I remember the shock of betrayal as Lord Fachnan finally revealed his true form after we trusted him so completely. My son, Convel, my men, and I all changed into the cursed form of the beast and pulled under the spell of the Dark Lord.
I shake my head and feel the growl rippling through my body as it echos through the cavern. Convel presses against my side as he crouches low and growls. Suddenly, I see the glint of silver to my right and turn to see Lord Fachnan standing there with a Livingstone blade in his right hand and the Crown of the Faye on his head as he glares at me, the flickering flames reflected in his cold, black eyes.
“I knew you would remember eventually, Abaddon. Unfortunately for you and your men, it’s too late. I win.” His hand shakes with the effort of forcing the recently bereft blade to bend to his will, but his movements are fluid and lightning fast as he beheads the beast sitting closest to him. The blade and the crown begin to glow, and the flames surge to new life – filling the cavern as a swirling black portal comes to life in the center of it. It all happens in a moment, and the beasts stand with glazed eyes as the flames reach for them.
“Cursed blood was the last thing I needed to open the portal to my world. Now that the key is complete, I have no further use for you or your men.”
He swings the blade back up into the air, and I lunge for his throat as I feel the bite of the metal in my side. Our bodies collide onto the ground with a heavy thud, and the crown slips off his head in the collision, clanging as it rolls to a stop.
My jaws snap inches from his throat as his hands shove into my neck. I thrash my head to free myself from his grip and his finger jabs into my left eye. As I jerk back, he heaves my body to the side and scrambles upright before slashing at me with the blade. I jump to my feet with a snarl, but Convel latches onto his arm and thrashes it between his jaws, trying to shake the blade free of his grip.
Two beasts bite down on my hind legs and yank me to the floor. I whip around, and there’s a clash of teeth and fur as we scratch and bite at each other’s throats and flanks, anywhere we can reach in the chaos.
I hear Lord Fachnan’s shouts amidst the growling and snarling beasts, and I thrash around madly to throw one off as he launches himself on my back.
There’s a horrible crunch as Lord Fachnan rips Convel off his arm and throws him into the wall next to the portal. His body falls to the ground, and Lord Fachnan grips the blade with both hands as his blood drips from his right arm and down his heaving chest. The portal behind him is finally complete, and the image through it becomes clearer. His eyes glint with pure evil as he smiles at me, and I know that this is the end.
A ferocious growl rings through the cavern, and everyone hesitates for a brief moment as Lord Fachnan’s eyes widen in shock. He whirls around, swinging the blade as Convel lunges for him. The blade thrusts into Convel’s chest as his jaws snap around Lord Fachnan’s throat, and he throws him through the portal to the Dark World as the blade clatters to the cavern floor.
All at once, the portal collapses, and the flames dissipate into a thick cloud of smoke.
I blink rapidly as the smoke stings my eyes and burns my sensitive nose. There’s a sharp ache in my chest as I slowly drag myself over to Convel’s still form. The cursed beast fades away before my eyes and leaves behind the body of my son – both the Livingstone blade and the Crown of the Faye rest near my son’s final sacrifice.
As I howl my song of pain into the silent cavern, I know that my son is finally free.