This story is by Jordan Washington and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The two men walked through the sandy village underneath the blazing sun. The older man Hafez, dressed in dark red and black robes guided the young traveler, Aasim, a brown skinned man in light grey robes, to where the villagers believe the illness could have started. When they reached the cave, Hafez noticed Aasim stared in front of the entrance. “Come boy, we need to investigate”.
Aasim looked at the cave’s entrance, his eyes wide and staring into the darkness. A large wooden gate with a latch was all that kept the people free from the diseases within it. Peering into the entrance Aasim could barely see anything, but got the feeling something within the cave was watching the two men; curious about who would dare enter its territory, calculating how to deal with them, and hungry for their flesh. A cold sickening feeling crept over the young man until Hafez slapped on his shoulder.
“Hey, don’t lose your nerve now, boy”, said Hafez. “Remember, there are other people relying on us to find this beast”.
Aasim placed his hand on his sword hilt and exhaled. “You right, Hafez, let’s go”.
Hafez nodded and opened the entrance, he walked in while Aasim followed close behind him. Hafez led Aasim down the dark cave, each step taking them farther down into the cold murky depth of the cave. Hafez lit a torch to keep guide them through the corridors. Deeper into the cave they smelled a sharp putrid odor that nearly knocked the two men off their feet.
After walking in silence for an unknown amount of time, Hafez said, “What made you want to become a protector, Aasim?”
“Oh, come now” said Hafez. “Let’s be honest, no protector goes out on a quest without some skills with a blade”. He continued, “I’ll admit you have the potential to be a great healer, by the way you handled our sick, but why put yourself through this kind of work if you lack the skills to fight?”
“Because no one else is willing to do so” said Aasim. “Where I am from most people are unwilling to help others, or stand up to those who abuse their power”. Aasim’s hand went to his sword and unsheathed it, revealing a curved, shinning silver blade. “This blade belonged to my father, he was a protector, he passed away saving a village from a horde of monsters”. Aasim paused before continuing, “he taught me how important it is to be willing to stand up for what I believe in, and the importance of helping others”.
Hafez nodded, “Sometimes that can be more important than the use of a blade”. He took in a deep breath before continuing. “I was once a protector” admitted Hafez. He smiled at the shocked look on Aasim face before continuing. “When I was younger I did not fully understand what it meant to be a protector, and it costed me and my loved ones dearly”. His grip on the torch tightened, “It made who I am today”.
“Who are you now, Hafez?” said Aasim. The two men stopped walking and looked each other in the eye. Hafez peered into the light brown eyes of the young man while Aasim did the same to old light house keeper’s dark brown eyes.
“I am someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to keep my village safe” said Hafez.
Aasim smiled “Sounds like we are cut from the same cloth, Hafez”
“Indeed, wait”, halted Hafez. “Did you hear that?”
“Sounds too big to be a rat” said Aasim. “S-Stay behind me”. The two slowly walked down the cave, Aasim’s heart raced as grip on his sword tightened. As the noise got louder, Aasim began to break out into a sweat. He looked to check on Hafez who held his cane in front of him as a sword. The old man’s chest tightened and he began to breathe hard. The two men found a gigantic wooden door in front of them from where they heard loud chanting.
“This is it” Hafez groaned. “This is how it ends, I wish there was another way”.
“N-no one else c-c-could do it Hafez” stammered Aasim as they crept closer to the corner. He gulped “Only us”.
“Yes, only us” said Hafez. The two men talked through the door, and into a large arena. Many torches lit the walls, revealing hooded figures who stood along the walls of the arena.
One of the hooded figures spoke “Hafez, you have brought our potential sacrifice! Fantastic”
“Hafez, what is he talking about?” Aasim said before being hit from behind, and picked by two hood figures. They threw Aasim into a cage, next to a young woman in bright orange and red robes. “Hafez, what is the meaning of this?”
“I’m sorry Aasim” said Hafez.
The hooded figure whipped off his hood, revealing a smiling middle-aged man with greying black hair. “I’m Sobek, leader of this village, and you are part of today’s event”. He smiled, “Now, the monster is real. Nothing can kill it, and it oozes poison, but if fed around the start of the season, the monster’s poison resides, and the village is safe for the season!” The people cheered and Sobek raised his hands into the air.
Hafez growled “Sobek, get to the point”.
“Oh, so serious, Hafez” said Sobek. “We pick one of the villagers among us to find an outsider, and then choose whether to sacrifice that person” Sobek pause.
“Or a family member” Hafez said. He pointed to the woman, “They took my granddaughter, Nuralain, from our home when I was chosen to find a sacrifice”.
Aasim looked at Hafez. “Hafez, it’s not too late. I’m here now, we can take Nuralain, and get out of this place together”.
Hafez looked at Aasim A chance to leave this accursed village, but the villagers will be left to die, thought Hafez. I could let the creature have Aasim, but that will only prolong the inevitable. Hafez gritted his teeth.
“You fool, Hafez would never leave us, he grew up in this village!” Sobek laughed. “Are you going to let an outsider get into your head, Hafez? Do you actual want to sacrifice Nuralain? Your own granddaughter?” said Sobek. “Remember raising her after your own daughter-in-law and son were murdered by this creature?” A deep growl was heard accompanied by footsteps. “The creature draws near, Hafez. Make your choice. Save our village like you did in the past!”
My past, thought Hafez. The creature’s footsteps rang in the background. When I was a protector, and fought to help others along with likeminded individuals who tired of seeing people abuse their power. Before my own village became so closedminded and selfish. He saw Nuralain awaken. She called out to Hafez and he almost broke down and cried.
The creature emerged from the shadows, it was the size of a house, and twice as long. It walked on all fours, and was covered in red and black scales. Sharp black talons adorned its feet, while long spikes went down its back. Its eyes were brown, and took in its’ surroundings. It stood before the cage and looked at Aasim who drew his sword out, and then to Nuralain who stood fearful at the creature.
The creature faced Hafez, and saw that the creature was waiting for something. A command to action, to make a choice between who to eat.
“I’ve made my decision; my sacrifice will be”. Hafez paused, still looking at the creature. “Is Sobek”.
The creature launched towards Sobek, who ran towards his fellow villagers. The creature, unable to find Sobek in the crowd of identical hood figures, began to devour the villagers. Their screams filled the air as Hafez ran towards Aasim and Nuralain.
Hafez broke the cage lock “Come we must hurry”.
“Hafez, what about the villagers?” said Aasim.
“But Grandfather, our people” said Nuralain.
“They will be fine, but we won’t be if we get out of here” said Hafez. As they ran through the cave, the screams of Hafez’s people echoed off the walls. The trio made it to the entrance and were greeted by the light of the sun.
“Grandfather, look”, said Nuralain. She covered her mouth and collapsed to her knees, Aasim stood paralyzed with shock.
The village was burning. Above the screams of Hafez’s and Nuralain’s people, the creature’s roar was heard as it laid waste to the village. In the fires the creature saw them, blinked, and then ran off.
“No” said Hafez. “This isn’t what I wanted”. He took a deep breath, “Aasim, Nuralain, we must go. We are no longer safe here”.
“But more lives will be lost if we leave” said Aasim.
“Aasim, there is nothing we can do for the village. Come now” He helped Nuralain up, who continued to cry. “We must leave”