This is a tentative pilot to a story I have been thinking about for a while. I am not sure what to do about it, because I like the setting and in fact I might just shift it to the Patina universe in the future, if I write more. Hope you like it!
Hansel woke up in a puddle of his own blood. He blinked and the sharp talons of pain came back to slash at his body.
“Damn…” he hissed, pulling himself up. That thing got him. Beyond pain, worry and shame washed over his heart in a freezing tide. “Can’t die here,” he mumbled, gritting his teeth. He stumbled forward, each step like pushing his chest against a bucket of glass shards, his lungs burning so bad each breath was like drinking molten iron. But he had to go back. Gretel would be left alone, the rest of the settlement would be left alone.
And the monster would-
He grasped the Bonesaw, its teeth deeply set inside the bark of the nearest tree where he had missed his strike, and pulled it out. The weapon slithered back into its compact form, a crown of blades atop a long shaft. Helping himself to walk with the aid of his weapon, Hansel staggered through the woods. He had faced the monster not that far from the village and it was still alive… the curse seal on his chest pulsed like an ill heart, faster and stronger the closer he came.
As the trees parted the concrete walls of the settlement unfurled: one wall showed deep carvings where that thing had jumped over it, caring little for the electrified fence and the barbed wire. Stuff like that could protect you from pigeons, maybe the smallest of the Eerie, but this thing…
He tossed one look at the gate. No sign of guards – from inside the village came the muffled sound of people screaming. With a flash and a roar, a plume of flames rose to touch the night sky, painting the treetops red.
They would not hear him. And even if they did, they would not open the gates in time.
A flash of Gretel’s smiling face went over his eyes. She had been so happy just that morning. They had finally found their peace…
And there was only one way to make sure they kept it.
Trembling, he set his weapon in its sheath against his back and started to climb, using the claw marks of the creature as footholds. The old concrete had been reinforced with steel back when it had been poured, but decades of wind and rain had a long wearing talk with it and his hands struggled to find purchase as he slowly pulled himself over the wall.
If that disgusting thing did it, then he could do the same.
With each breath, with each pull, he felt like he was getting torn in two.
“Gre… tel…” he moaned when his fingers finally found the tip of the wall. Not even his reinforced gloves could completely protect him from the barbed wire and his coat sizzled and sparked as he pulled himself away from the barbed wire.
Where is that thing?
He looked down – couldn’t miss it. The group of people coming down onto the streets, armed with pikes, mallets, ploughs and other completely ineffective weapons surrounded a long dark shape, made of what looked like entwined roots, grinding upon each other like mating snakes. It seemed not to mind the throng at all as it pushed itself past the destroyed door, upwards and towards its prey, the other bearer of the same cursed seal that Hansel felt burning inside his chest.
No other way around it, he thought. The closest ramparts was dozens of paces away. He had to.
He jumped off the wall – hit the metal rooftop of a shackle, sled against its side and fell against the dirty grass.
“Uuhhh…” he groaned, pressing shivering hands on his stomach. That hurt. Hurt worse than that time with the Linnorm. But he did survive that, did he not? And now… if he did not stand up, he did not stand up and ran to the house, Gretel would…
He pulled himself on an elbow. Panting and sweating he used his weapon to stand upright.
“Master Johannes?” Reached him a worried voice, though he could not really understand where it was coming from. “A-are you wounded?”
Keen sight, he replied in his head, but only in his head.
A hand touched hiss shoulder. Under the dim light of the night torches he saw Elvira, the young girl of that morning in the smithy. She looked up at him in apprehension, fear widening her beautiful brown eyes. She withdrew her hand when she saw how much blood stained his clothes. And his coat. And his weapon.
“Just a few scratches,” he groaned with a smile that felt like pulling his teeth. He stumbled towards the house. Their home. The refuge Gretel and he had built together. Thinking they’d be safe.
That he could keep them safe. What a fool.
Each step reverberated through his chest and towards his spine. It was as if walking was the last shred of a miracle, or maybe a jest, that had allowed him to entertain the notion of peace for three years. Stupid.
The throng parted as they watched him stride towards his home. From inside came rustling and scratching noises as that thing pushed itself further up and towards the second floor, where Gretel’s room was. He would never reach it in time. But he had to try.
He pushed away a few villagers when they tried to restrain him. Couldn’t they leave him alone? He had only moments to save his sister and he would much appreciate if they stopped hindering him.
“Master Johannes! Please don’t go inside!” Elvira shrieked, trying to hold him back. He ignored her.
The thing of roots and teeth slithered almost completely in. He rushed forward, but had to slow down when the first faster step threatened to split him in two.
“I’ll serve you right…” he mumbled, flipping the safety off. The Bonesaw unsheathed itself, each sharp segment of its blade running free upon the chain that kept it together, like a rail of teeth eager to bite into the creature’s hide. “Get back here!” He sputtered, slashing with the Bonesaw at the creature’s tail, carving deep gashes in its wood-like skin.
From inside the house rumbled out a pained roar. He smelled blood and that sweet scent of sap-like fluid these kind off monsters gave out.
He pulled back his arm and readied another strike with the Bonesaw.
From the second floor came a flash and a bang. Flames burst out of the windows, shattering the glass, and something else yowled again, a sound like branches twisted to the breaking point, if wood could scream.
This one could.
No answer came from the house. He let go of all pain, of the Bonesaw’s rough handle and pushed himself further…
Something jumped out from the second floor.
A woman dressed in all white, holding two burning knives. She landed on both feet and turned to look at him.
Gretel was unscathed – save for the flames singing the lining of her night clothes, she was safe. Her green eyes widened as she saw him.
“Brother!” She yelled, running at him – she pulled him in a hug. The knives sizzled against his coat but he did not even notice the flames. Only that she smelled of sweat and that spicy tinge of cordite. And that she was safe.
She was safe.
“You are going to need oblique stitching…” she grimaced looking down at his chest. She pulled back from the hug and brushed her fingers against his stomach, tinging them red.
Her face darkened. Under the glow of the flames her eyes focused on his chest, where the curse brand pulsed.
“You lied to me.”
A deep groan rose to interrupt them. The creature inside the burning house was getting tired of sitting between his weapon and Gretel’s fire. It turned and twisted inside the house – the old wood and rusted nails that had allowed them to build their refuge had the advantage of being cheap, but they were also quite fragile.
“Away!” He pushed her a few paces down, stumbled and it was her turn once more to hold him. Their house collapsed upon itself, burning planks, what little furniture they had, a glimpse of Gretel’s sheets catching fire in the air and then from the rubble something stood up. A long shape like a snout, two glowing circles as eyes and a mouth full of sharp teeth, dripping venomous sap.
The creature roared – from atop its head the thin branches that comprised it were still burning.
All around them, the throng pulled back. They were not ready for such a foe.
To be frank, neither was he.
Gretel spat on the ground. She took a defensive stance, widening her arms like a fan. The fire in her eyes burned fiercer than that running over her knives.
On her neck, her own brand of the curse stained black against her sweating skin, ink-like and screaming with its power, now that the creature was so close to its marks.
“How about you tell me the truth this time,” she hissed tossing him a piercing gaze.
“I suppose I will have to,” he replied, pulling back the Bonesaw for another strike.
The creature roared and pulled back on its hinds legs, getting ready for a lunge.
“After we take care of our guest,” Gretel huffed.
Author’s Notes: again, this is a pilot. Think of it more as a proof of concept than anything else. I hope you liked it and thanks for reading!