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Flash Fiction: Flight through the Forest
Flight through the Forest
By Philip Wardlow
Marek ran hard through the thick underbrush, wary of outlying limbs or wet patches of dew covered grass. No need to go down in a tumble, then he would should surely be dead. Almost there, he thought wildly. Almost there, was still not near enough. Do these things ever tire? The gods know I am, he thought.
He could hear their caterwauling screeches all around him as they communicated to each other in some inane language he couldn't began to understand, cooperating, trying to box him, trying to trap him. Intelligent little bastards, he wouldn't have thought as much. Out the corner of his eye he saw a flit of shadowed forms appear and then disappear suddenly out of the darkened mists which collected in clumps on the forest floor like a rolling wispy snake crawling across the ground.
They were gaining on him. If they surrounded him he would be hard pressed to fight through them. One creature no problem, two no problem, hell not to boast but ten would probably be no problem for his strong sword arm, but to his estimation there were hundreds. So he ran like the dog he was.
It didn't help that as he ran he was hindered, with one hand having to hold the large package that he was hired to steal back from a temple of zealots buried deep in this god forsaken forest he now ran in. Half his job was done, now he was entrusted to return the package to its rightful owner, King Erris; whose contract he had foolishly taken on. The second half of the deal was looking to be harder than the first had been.
Knowing of his reputation as a cunning fighter and fearless warrior they had offered him a payment of twenty thousand in gold, literally a King’s ransom indeed! How could he refuse! The few meager coppers he had in his pouch along with the pitcher of ale in his hand when the King's men approached him in the bar had been his only possessions besides the sword and the clothes on his back. The meager coin and ale looked more inviting at this moment, not to mention the big hipped serving wench who had been giving him the eye all through the night while he drank his weight in spirits.
Let this be a lesson learned if he survived. Some jobs were just too big for any amount of gold to be had.
The King said the treasure stolen by the religious fanatics was more priceless than anything, worth more than a thousand kingdoms he had told him. If this treasure was not returned, kingdoms would fall, men would die, and destinies would be denied. What was this treasure that the King had stolen from, Marek had asked. The King would not say even when Marek had pressed him. Only that he would know it when he came upon it. Four other contracts such as him had already failed; some individuals like him, others who had went in teams of three or four. Only one man had returned of them all, empty-handed and had died three days later from his inflicted wounds but not before giving them the valuable information of where the treasure was being held inside the temple.
Know it Marek soon did , as he had crept into the inner sanctum of the black veined marbled temple after scaling up the almost vertical walls to the uppermost parapets where he was told it would be housed in a circular chamber guarded by the blackest of demon dogs you never would wish to encounter. The three dogs surrounded its circumference, all clad in steel mail over their entire body with the color of the darkest pitch stealing the light as it hit its surface. Sharp canines dripped spittle from their massive muzzles to burn like acid upon the stones they walked.
Marek had quickly rushed one catching it by surprise sending it over the edge to tumble and bounce against the hard stone far below. The other two well, they had been a little tougher to deal with not being caught by surprise.
Luckily they had never been trained to work together against a common foe. As they advanced on him they actually more than once snarled and bit at each other to see who could get to kill Marek first. He had used their dislike for each other to his advantage by keeping one always in front him with the other behind its companion causing the rear dog to lash out at the other dog's heels in frustration.
He had taken the front demon dog in the eye with the point of his sword when it was distracted sending it into a wild spasm as his sword entered into its brain and scrambled it like eggs in a frying pan.
The other dog had advanced on Marek slowly; weary now that its two companions had been so quickly dealt with by this new adversary. Marek knew he had to dispatch this thing soon before any others came along, but he didn't dare go in for a strike to the thing's mailed body and risk the creatures bite or even drippings of its spittle on him which could cause him to lose the use of his arm in an instant. So he did what he was good at, he ran.
The creature thought him scared and running for his life so it had become emboldened and ran after him. Marek ran faster and gained some distance on him and then he suddenly stopped. The creature's momentum carried it forward and with blade held at eye level, Marek had jumped high into the air toward the creature as it came in its headlong rush at him. He came down in a stabbing arc to the top of the creature's head to bury his blade in deep dead center between the dog’s ears punching through the black mail covering its skull. It quivered and died.
With the last of the beasts dispatched he had entered through the bronze doors to the inner chamber. There inside on a raised dais made of white marble inside a crystal bowl of the palest blue was a baby wrapped in a red silk blanket. Nothing else had been in the room chamber save that. So he knew what the treasure was as the King said he would.
These creatures that chased him now were different than the foul dogs he had faced. These things seemed almost human in nature but twisted with thin whip like bodies and elongated distorted limbs propelled them through the forest after him. He only caught glimpses of them as he ran but that had been enough to spur him to a faster pace.
Through it all the baby had been as quiet as a mouse not saying a word. It just looked up at him as he had run with its deep blue eyes with all the confidence in the world it seemed, that Marek would carry him from out of this place, safe and sound back to his home. For very personal reasons one being his own neck, Marek didn't want to let the little imp down.
The day was coming up fast as the sun was just breaking the horizon ahead through the trees. Soon he would be able to see clearly what was chasing him. The trees were becoming more spread out and the vegetation less dominate in places. He was nearing the edge; he may yet have a chance. These creatures, he was told, feared the desert, that was why the other man had made it out and back to tell the tale. He just had to get there first.
Then his fortune turned on him suddenly when his right foot caught the edge of a wet moss-covered rock throwing him off-balance. He instinctively rolled into the fall across the ground smothering the baby in a loose but tight protective cocoon with his arms and hands as he did so. Marek ended up on his back looking up at the nighttime sky through the forest trees, it was a dim blue with a wisp of white creeping in.
He heard the chattering of many voices draw near. Marek tried to stand but was met with pain in his left ankle. It felt like he had twisted it. Gods that ale would taste good right about now, he thought idly. They drew in closer, from behind, to the left, right and now they closed the circle, in the front. His exit to the east was closed.
He forced himself to stand, fighting through the pain and drew his sword, leaning against a nearby tree for support. He saw an army of them crawling over the ground to him. Their eyes started to glow gold in the burgeoning light of day as they neared.
He looked down at the baby he held still with its eyes blue and confident in him. The treasure to topple Kingdoms the King had said, for destinies to be lost or made. What will they say of me little one?
Marek reached out a finger to touch the little one's cheek. The babe held up its little hand to grab it. Marek noticed a tattoo, better yet a birthmark it seemed on its small forearm in the shape of a Crescent moon with a pale mist of cloud passing in front of it. Marek made a sharp intake of breath. Could it be, the Redeemer? He had heard the prophecies but he had never thought to see it come in his lifetime.
He gripped his sword tighter in his hand and looked out at the horde. They were all but twenty feet away in tight circle about him. They had stopped. They were waiting for Marek to turn the baby over to them.
They stood motionless shoulder to shoulder. A hair could not fit through between the space they allowed. Arms ending with three sharp talons rested on the ground twitched occasionally, perhaps in anticipation of his imminent death at their hands and the fulfillment of their task the creatures had been sent for.
They did not chatter at each other or at him. They just looked at him with cold dead stares. Their thin slit likes mouths were all closed tight in a devilish grin as if to say game over my friend. He did the only thing he could. He tightened his grip on his sword and the little one and grinned right back.
"Come on." He said. The babes tattoo began to burn bright against its flesh, the moon glowing on its skin as if set high in a nighttime sky. The pain in his ankle was gone, his strength had returned tenfold.
He laid waste to them.
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