Perchance to Dream

Reads: 371  | Likes: 7  | Shelves: 5  | Comments: 8

More Details
Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy Realm


How Karn came into possession of the crystal glaive.



READER REVIEW: It's stories like this that fuel my love for fantasy, and I have to agree with everyone else in the comments that your style of writing is captivating.



~ Allen Scott

Submitted: December 07, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 07, 2017

A A A

A A A


 

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.

–William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

 


 

Smoke commingled with the smell of death.

“They will come again, tonight,” Karn said, turning his back on the mortuary blaze. Corpses were piled upon the mass pyre, flames licking away the graying and rigid flesh, transmuting the dead into dark clouds that stung his eyes.

Orrim sidled up next to him. “I know,” he said. “But you mustn’t go alone.”

Karn peered out over the Othic Ocean, dark plumes of smoke billowing out over the crashing breakers beneath streamers of pink cirrus that basked in the fading glow of evening.

“I must and I will.”

“It’s suicide…”

“Indeed.”

“I should go with you.”

“No. This is my doing.”

“It is the sorcerer’s doing,” Orrim contended.

“And had I not slain him?”

“Then we would still be victim to his insufferable cruelty.”

"It is I—and I alone—whom Vellek damned.”

“Yet you do not stand alone; we stand together.”

“Not this time, my friend. Not this time. Our only hope is that the curse dies with me.”

“There is another way…”

Karn turned to face Orrim, seeing the patterns of worry etched in the lines about his eyes. “And what way is that?”

“We fight. We fight Karn, to the end, like we always have.”

Karn motioned to the pyre. “That, my friend…that is what fighting has gotten us: Ashes and Soot. That is what fighting won Lilly! This tragedy must cease, and it must cease tonight.”

“That’s it then, Karn? You are giving up?”

“No. It is precisely because I am not willing to give up that I do this.”

“Are you insane?”

“I would not dismiss it outright,” Karn allowed. “Men are so easily driven to madness when confronted with the inevitable. It is surely daft to attempt to alter the inalterable. It is an impossibility. And yet only time can prove whether our destiny can be changed. Only afterwards will we know whether this gambit is sane, but, for the time being, I know it is our only choice.”

“You can’t—”

“Honor demands it,” Karn said with finality, transfixing his friend with a gaze that would invite no quarrel. As he did so, he felt the contours of his face harden into a mask of grim determination and something changed of Orrim’s aspect as well. The latter’s visage eased into a lank expression of solemn acceptance, and Karn knew that he had earned his friend’s approval. “Do you recall the fate of my mother?”

Orrim hesitated before issuing his response. When he spoke he did so softly, in a dire tone: “You speak of her so rarely…”

“Do you recall, Orrim?”

“Childbirth.”

“Yes. I choose to leave this world the same way I entered it: bloody and alone.”

Orrim’s eyes grew dim and moist following the utterance. With his back to the fire, he appeared but a shade silhouetted against the burning dead. “We shall meet again in the halls of eternity.”

“Yes, that we shall.” Karn nodded curtly, clasping his friend’s wrist. “Take the women and children to the mead hall. Should my plan fail, it’ll fall to you to protect them with your life.”

“And should your plan succeed, the women will pay tribute to your sacrifice for generations, and the skalds shall sing tales of your bravery to the men of Oth forevermore. None will forget your valor.”

Karn sighed. “'Tis a welcome thought, my friend. Let us only pray for such an auspicious outcome. But it's nearly time. I wish to make my peace with the world before I leave it.”

“Die well my friend.” Orrim embraced him, patting him firmly on the shoulder. “Warn the gods I am coming, eh?”

Karn chuckled morbidly. “Do not doubt that I will.”

“Life is struggle.”

“Death is peace,” Karn intoned, completing the Othic Mantra.

As Orrim released him he turned away, walking alone into the knitting darkness.

The pit was not far away. Striding up the sandy beach to the yawning abyss that Vellek had opened with his final breath, Karn removed the shield from his back and drew his sword. He would perish with cold steel in his hand. But he would not resist his end. He accepted it.

There was no other hope for his people; there was no other hope for him. He would join his wife in the hereafter.

Driving the blade into the sand he sat, shutting his eyes as he offered up an earnest prayer to the gods of Oth: to Aelbaear, Lord of Wrath.

When he opened his eyes once more he was taken aback. The vision before him was of a beautiful maiden with hair like strands of woven moonlight and vast, flowing moth wings. A perceptible radiance enveloped her, a nimbus of light encircling her head like a diadem of stars plucked from the heavens.

He could not speak. The breath stilled in his throat.

“Hello, Karn,” said the vision.

At length he regained his voice and said, “what is this?”

“Providence,” she said.

“Has Aelbaear sent you?”

“I have come of my own volition.”

“But why?”

“Because you are my champion.”

“How can that be? I know not who you are.”

The vision smiled kindly, and, as she did so, a subtle luminosity bathed Karn, filling him with a profound serenity that he had never before felt. His mind became a mirror, a still pond reflecting the sublime foundations of reality. And the light solidified around him, replacing his humble armor of hides and bone with a resplendent panoply of glowing plates. “Aelbaear is not your patron, Karn. It is I, Allura, goddess of love.”

“Love?” He scoffed.

“Yes,” she said merrily. “Love. It is a love of your people that compels you to sacrifice your own life; for that I smile upon you.”

Having spoken thus, she vanished in an eldritch flurry of refracted illumination that seemed to linger, ghost-like, beneath the darkling sky. Baffled, Karn stumbled away from the abyss, clutching at the strange armor that encased him. A scabbard hung from his side, and, unsheathing the weapon it contained he discovered that it was fashioned not of steel, nor of any metal. It was a long shard of glowing blue crystal.

A dissonant, bestial sound called his attention back to the abyss from which he had strayed. Turning to face the source of this ghastly call he was filled with loathing at the sight that greeted him.

Colossal, towering above him, the monstrosity was limned in the mysterious haze that now seemed to emanate from the threshold of existence, the haze that radiated from the blade of the crystal sword and escaped from his miraculous carapace. Snarling and bloated, the thing from the abyss descended upon him. It was a writhing mass of tentacles and slavering jaws, bulbous eyes protruding from a nebulous form that suffused the air with a vile, gangrenous odor.

Karn raged as the tentacles lashed out at him. They battered his torso and crashed into his helmet. He was cast to the surf but rising, dazed, he roared his defiance. The crystal sword resounded with a chorus of notes, pure and melodious, as it clove the creature’s tendrils. With a bone-rattling screech the abyssal horror recoiled and thrashed in a frenzy of oozing appendages. Foul gore in neon hues of green, yellow, and purple spilled from the severed extremities. Putrid ichor splattered the shore, emitting a fetid miasma even more hideous than the fiend itself.

Karn did not relent even as the abomination drew back. Deranged with animosity, he viciously assaulted the repugnant horror. Gelatinous orbs hemorrhaged in showers of revolting vitreous; lacerated tentacles sprayed him with gouts of putrescent ooze; gnashing maws lunged at him, expelled from the body like the most repulsive of excrements. Yet the battle fury had taken hold of Karn’s mind, dimming his consciousness to but a flickering candle of awareness against the light of reason.

He hacked and he hewed until the blood surged in his ears and his sight dulled to gray indistinctness. At last the infernal aberration slumped into a quivering jelly at his feet and he dropped to his knees, breath coming in ravenous gulps, yearning for air that was not tainted by the insalubrious stench of the abomination and its noisome humours.

Leaning upon his sword, Karn choked, gagging, stomach churning, protesting against the noxious stench that wafted up from the accursed remains. Gradually his visual acuity returned to him, revealing a clambering convocation of fiends rising up out of the earth.

All the denizens of Hell must have been coming for him. Each was more hideous than the last: a menagerie of nightmares assembled in the most odious of arrangements. Some writhed and some slithered. Some grinned, others sneered. All were a blasphemy upon the earth.

As the horde descended upon him, he forced himself once more to his feet. He resisted the urge to vomit behind the visor of his helm, forced himself to confront the horror that enclosed upon him. Mortality did not frighten him. It never had. But the prospect of being dragged down into that unholy asshole of the world terrified him; the thought chilled his bones, boiled his blood, and sent wretched shivers along his nerves. That was a fate he could not endure, a doom he could not countenance. He would make them suffer, make them bleed, compel them to deliver him unto the boatman, to repeal the fell sorcerer’s imprecation and banish themselves once more to their chthonic abode.

Exhaustion threatened to smother him. His muscles ached; his stomach roiled. Terror swelled within his chest, corroding his strength, tarnishing his soul. Nonetheless he forced himself to take his feet, brandishing the crystal blade of Allura against the advancing swarm.

The first aberration to reach him scuttled upon many spindly, chitinous legs that sprouted from a bloated, bulbous abdomen that leaked puss and drooled rot from a gaping maw. And from this distended mound sprouted a humanoid torso, equipped with arms long as horses, which terminated in groping, taloned hands. Mouths punctured its hideousness, howling and screaming like boiling rats. Atop its shoulders snarled a draconic head, armed with serrate teeth and crowned with a slimy brood of spitting snakes.

Karn rushed forward, slashing through the slender legs so that the thing fell, clawing, upon its belly. He then moved on to the next nightmare.

With every stroke of his sword, with every dismemberment, with every evisceration, the blade’s inner glory intensified until its magnificence stripped away the night. The beach was laid bare and even shadows were dispelled under its brilliant cast. And as the light escalated so too did the demons’ trepidation. They waxed hesitant, cautious. They environed him, gibbering and sibilating as if gathering about a camp fire. And none were fain to reach into the blaze.

“Come on!” Karn shouted. He taunted and lunged, swinging and yelling, yet the fiends kept their distance from the shining crystal glaive until their ranks commenced to part, ushering in the greatest and most abhorrent of them all. The thing was gargantuan. Gliding forward on the body of a slug, exuding curds of malignant mucous, it slid toward him. Its mouth was vertical and replete with teeth like lances of diseased ivory. Growths and postules bubbled upon its flesh, which was punctuated by an array of throbbing sphincters spewing rivers of filth fit only for the latrines of Hell. A row of skeletal heads lined its back, moaning and muttering in a profane tongue to the rhythm of mighty feelers that rent the air like so many cracking whips. Its very existence was an atrocity.

Charging at the thing he attacked its feelers. But they were too many. They snared and battered him until his ribs shattered. Within moments a cascade of blood was pouring from his mouth. He could resist no longer.

The entangling cords dragged him into the thing’s gaping jaws. Spit like acid showered him, digesting his flesh even before the teeth had closed upon him. Chewing, chewing, the thing gnawed upon his sacred armor, which finally cracked. The decaying teeth broke through the cuirass and Karn screamed the scream of a thousand phobias.

The suit fractured into myriad brilliant shards, like stars plucked from the heavens. The thing that was devouring him erupted in an effluence of viscera and clotted bile, buoying him on an outflowing torrent of cadaverous slime that carried him to the lapping surf. As the cleansing waves washed over him he listened to the preternatural howls of the demon spawn. They flailed upon the beach, melting in the divine brume, clawing towards the abyss that sealed before them.

Lying at the edge of the ocean, he was drowning not in brine but in his own blood.

The world sank away, overcome by a gloom that leeched the vitality out of him. But he smiled. He smiled a moribund rictus, teeth smeared with the vestiges of his own life. That smile that is only achieved by one who has finally found repose.

 


 

A faint, twinkling gleam smoldered above him. It swelled in size and vibrancy until it flooded his awareness. At length he perceived the materialization of form, like impressions taking shape as an afterimage fades.

Karn,” Allura’s voice came to him as if across a vast gulf.

He was standing in a bright field. Golden crops stretched an impossible distance, interrupted only by a single, mighty tree. Its boughs stretched up into the heavens as though the tremendous branches held aloft the firmament, a latticework of twigs lacing through the cosmos. Although far away, he could discern the texture of its bark with uncanny clarity. And a woman strode beneath its crown, attired in a flowing dress the color of lofty mountain peaks.

It couldn’t be. It’s an hallucination, just a feaver dream, he told himself. But then he remembered. He remembered lying in the surf. He remembered the tide rising against his broken body, the taste of iron and gorge clinging to his throat. Even the salt water would not wash the taste of his own fluids out of his mouth.

What is this? he asked himself.

“This, Karn, is Elysium.”

Allura stood beside him, shimmering with a spectral light.

Am I dead?

“Yes,” said the goddess.

“So, this is the end…”

“An end comes to all men, no matter how daring, no matter how stubborn.”

They stood in silence for moments or aeons. Then Karn thought, it must be easy to lose oneself in this place.

“You’re right, Karn. This is a release, a mercy. This is peace.”

I don’t know that I can appreciate it.

“It must be learned. Why don’t you go to her?”

An intense exultation overcame him and he stepped forward, anticipation spurring him. Leagues passed with every stride. Pausing once he neared Lilly, he studied her a moment longer. She was so graceful, so content. Her face broke into an effulgent smile when she saw him standing there and she rushed over to him. He embraced her, holding her tightly against him as he had done in life.

“Is any of this real?”

“Is anything real?” she retorted, kissing him on the cheek.

“It feels so like a dream. So…ethereal, like it is all in my mind.”

She giggled. “It is, Husband.”

He looked at her askance. “Then you are but a phantom? A figment?”

Her ruby lips curled at the corners of her mouth and she kissed him on the cheek again, sending a small electric ripple tingling over his skin. “Are you so sure that Earth is any different?”

Uncertain as to what to say, he remained silent, merely cleaving her to him. Longing and bereavement conspired to dismantle his composure. He felt weaker now, more exposed, in the arms of his late wife, than he had in the Labyrinth of Dread, or against the Ogre of Shoggoth Isle. Or upon the beach, he reflected. How curious was life. Afterlife? He was finding it difficult to delineate between the two already. “There are many things I should have done differently.”

“I know.”

“Some things I regret. Others I wish I had done—wish we had—that never came to pass.”

“I know, husband. It’s all right. You need not make amends to me; I love you for who you are.”

“And I you.”

“But you cannot stay.”

A jolt of foreboding shot through his core and storm clouds marred the sky. A dour, brooding paranoia welled in him. It was a trick. He would be dragged down into that fell orifice after all, into the depths of the underworld. Even in death he could not escape it, and this…this was a punishment more poignant, more diabolical, than any he could have imagined: To give him a taste of happiness.

Clutching Lilly he began to weep. “I will not leave you.”

“You don’t have a choice,” she whispered. They held each other tightly, sinking down to the moist, rich soil beneath the great tree. “Do not be sad, my darling,” said Lilly. “I know you’re afraid to live. It daunts you more than does the end itself. But it must not be so. You have to leave.”

“I can’t,” he mumbled.

“You can.” She cupped his face in her hands, tender eyes seeming to encompass his being as she peered so deeply within his pupils he felt her gaze would pierce his soul. “You have to go back. You must return to life. We will be reunited again, eventually; but, for now, you have to go back, you have to go back, you have to go back…” Her words reverberated through the ages as the pure radiance of Allura’s blessing seared away the fields of Elysium.

 


 

The goddess was kissing him passionately. He felt the weight of his erstwhile corpse pressing down upon him, squeezing out the faint flicker of life that she was breathing back into him. It was like being trapped in a dank cellar; he couldn’t move. He only felt the consuming pain of his pulse surging through sleeping limbs, of nerves reawakening to the torment of being. But Allura’s kiss filled him with such intense hope that he could no longer remain dead, no matter how hard he tried.

He spewed chunks of coagulated blood over himself, coughing and retching on the ocean’s saline bosom. Here again, he thought. Here again. His bones knit, his organs rebuilt themselves. The pain was excruciating.

Absence overcame him.

When next he woke he got to his feet. Dawn was breaking over the heaving swells, glimmering like gemstones upon the tips of crashing waves that frothed over his resurrected form. Allura had remade him.

Or had she? He began to doubt his own experiences. Perhaps Orrim was right. Perhaps I am insane.

Is this but one curse exchanged for another?

Head held low he waded out of the shoals onto the morning strand. His sword was still driven into the ground, standing like a rugged cross to greet the day. His shield was there as well, tarnished and dull in the shining dawn. He left them there as a testament to a battle he was no longer certain had transpired. There was no trace of the demons, no trace of the hole out of which they had climbed. There was nothing else, nothing but his accoutrements, to suggest that this location held any significance beyond that of any other.

Perchance it was just a dream? he pondered. A dismal dream.

THE END

Word Count: 3400

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2019 C.A. Exline. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

More Fantasy Short Stories