The Beast and the Darkness
The cave was dark, pitch black. Alastar stumbled on a rock, he swore out loud, as he fell cracking his knee on the hard cold floor. He sat there for a moment feeling nothing but the throbbing around his knee cap. He’d come here at the behest of his mother, his father had been missing for several hours, usually not one to stay at the tavern after his shift, so she had sent Alastar out to look for him. He had found his father's cloak outside this cave entrance, and entered without thinking about the need for a source of light. Alastar had only come to the realisation of his predicament when he was already fifty meters into the gaping maw, the darkness enveloped his body, he could no longer see his hands as he held them out to fumble for the route through the cave. He proceeded forward, he needed to see if his father was here, ‘Father, Father are you there?’ As the cave echoed his question he tripped again, this time whatever it was that caught his foot also moved slightly, he bent down groping in the darkness for the branch, and he touched flesh, cold damp flesh. His heart jumped as he felt upwards towards what he realised was a neck and a face, and a pendant of specific design about the neck. A tear emerged from the corner of Alastars eye as he ran his fingers over the familiar design, a design he had ran his fingers over many times before, a design he had looked upon as he was held in the arms of his father.
Alastar was so concerned with his father's corpse he didn’t see the two small lights emerge around a nearby corner, they swayed clumsily back and forth as they grew bigger and began to take the shape of almonds. The small radius of light began to spill towards Alastar, illuminating the section of the cave in an eerie low light, Alastar looked up from his father, and met the gaze of the creature but before he had chance to do anything he felt a sucking from inside his body, he sagged to the knee he had hurt earlier. It didn’t hurt now, this wasn’t true though, everything hurt, Alastar choked and spluttered as he turned pale and cold, the lights blinked and turned away, but the damage was done, Alastar collapsed onto his father, the force of his body moved the older mans arms to his sides, and there they lay.
Taliesin listened with horror writ clearly across his features. ‘It’s already killed several people Sir, more than ten perhaps. The local villages in the area are being evacuated as we speak,’
‘does anybody have a reliable report of what this thing is?’ He asked.
‘No sir, not what it is, but we have reports of what it does…’ The answering Knight went silent, ‘well Cullin speak up, we need to know what this threat does before we go riding straight into its jaws!’ Taliesin rounded on the subordinate expecting an explanation of what he meant, ‘well?’
‘Well sir, erm,’ the knight cleared his throat, ‘I’m not sure how to say it. The villagers have reported that the bodies are just left there, lifeless, eyes and mouth wide open.’ Taliesin did not show the fear that rose within him like a newly lit fire, this was far from normal in their part of the world, Boletaria was a small nation not really of the concern of the larger more powerful ones and as such it enjoyed a relative amount of inactivity, had one of the other nations decided that they needed to be attacked? He turned top the collected squad of Knights, although none of them showed it, he knew they all had the same nerves as him, this was out of the ordinary but it needed to be stopped here before more bloodshed happened. ‘Ok men, gather your kit, let us show this creature what we are made of here in Boletaria.’ With that his knights dispersed around the barracks to collect their equipment, Taliesin couldn’t help but feel strange about this new threat that had emerged.
‘Onward for Boletaria, onward for Luiseach!’ Taliesin kicked his jetbike into action and sped off at the head of the Knights. He pushed the machine to its limits, too much time had already been wasted he thought to himself as dipped and dodged the rock formations that floated around Caerbannog.
The village was quiet when they arrived, rain fell heavy as it always did and a mist drifted low across the cobbled streets. Taliesin swung his leg off his jetbike and strode towards the village tavern, the lights inside were still on, and although the village was deserted, it seemed to appear as a beacon for those left behind by the evacuation. He opened the door with an authority that came easily to him now, and scanned the room.
The bartender stood with two patrons behind the bar, one of them had his head on the bar half asleep, while the other gulped his whiskey as he eyed Taliesin suspiciously. ‘Come in out the rain Gentlemen,’ the bartender greeted them with a toothy grin, ‘for Knights of the royal house, any drink is on the house!’
‘We have not come to drink barkeep. Do you not wonder why the village is so quiet this evening?’ The bartender shook his head, ‘not really my business m’lord,’ he replied,
‘Well, there is a creature on the loose in these parts, it would be sensible for you to get these two men out of here,’ at this the bartenders eyes grew wide, either he was willfully ignorant, or had not left the safety of his bar in a while. Taliesin motioned to two of his Knights, they moved towards the bar to help the passed out man up and out of the building, ‘take them to the evacuation camps whilst we clear the area,’ the bartender opened his mouth to complain, ‘don’t worry barkeep we will make sure your tavern is left attended incase any other brave men decide to raid your stores.’ The other patron now spoke to Taliesin, ‘it’s no use ya know, there’s no escape once it lays eyes on ya, I seen it I did, seen it suck the life out of four people in seconds, even ya fancy lances won’t save ya ‘ere,’ he moved towards the commander, a move that was echoed by several of Taliesin’s knights, ‘no,’ he raised his hand, ‘let him speak, we need the intelligence. Where did you see the creature?’
‘Out by the caves on the edge of the village, people have been going in but not coming out, not since the star fell two nights ago. Word spread quickly, I went to help out…’ the man went quiet, ‘it didn’t go to plan, so I kept meself away from that point on, just drank ‘ere in tha hope it’d blow over.’ The man bowed his head in shame, Taliesin stepped towards him and placed his hand on the man's shoulder, ‘sit, please, I need to know everything so there is no more death, we can stop this now, but I need to know what you saw. Bring this man a drink, Knights establish a perimeter, I want you moving in two’s, reporting in every ten minutes, there will be no further bloodshed while I am here.’ He sat down opposite the man as the bartender bought over a bottle of amasec with two glasses, Taliesin would not be drinking till the creature was caught or killed, so one glass remained upturned and empty, the other man however gladly poured himself a measure and threw it down his throat, grimacing at the burn. ‘You say a star fell here two nights ago?’ he began, ‘what do you mean by that? Was it a comet? Or just debris from the islands higher up?’
‘Not a comet m’lord, it was too solid, comets burn up and scatter like ash in the wind, this..this still had form when it hit the cliffs. It smashed into the rock face and seemed to burrow deeper after the impact, but my did it light up the sky when it flew past, like a saviour from above, cutting the rain and cloud in two like a fiery sword,’ the man refilled his glass and once again drained it, ‘some of the farmers from the edge of the village were worried about rock slides from the impact, so they set off to make sure everything was still sturdy up there, ya know, can’t afford to lose any cattle in these times Sir,’ he moved again to fill his glass, this time Taliesin placed his hand softly over the container, ‘no more till you finish now, I need you thinking clearly,’ the man nodded took a deep breath and continued. ‘The first lot of farmers, they didn’t return, and when their families realised how long they’d been gone they asked more of us to help. I went with that second lot, there were eight of us, maybe ten, we armed ourselves as best we could, and headed into the cave, I got lucky and was asked to guard the entrance in case the creature tried to escape that way. They all went in, and not a single one came back out,’ the man began to sob, ‘none of them m’lord, ten men, and all I heard was the shouts as they dropped like flies.’ Taliesin had heard enough, ‘get these men to safety, he knows nothing more, he needs rest and a warm meal,’ he stood up and once again placed his hand on the man's shoulder, ‘we will see to it this creature is destroyed, thank you for your information, my men owe you a great debt.’
The cave mouth gaped like a giant maw. Taliesin raised his fist, his men stopped at the signal, ‘two fo you at the front of the cave, make sure this thing doesn’t get out,’ as he issued the order he realised it may not even be in the cave, it had been almost twelve hours since the man at the bar had ran from the entrance to the comfort of the bottle. ‘I want lumen globes everywhere, light this whole place up like a carnival.’ His men rolled the lumen globes into the cave mouth and the massive hollow began to seem slightly less threatening, ‘motion scanners on, if any of you see anything at all I want to know about it, I don’t intend to lose any men today.’ The group moved forward as one, sweeping every angle of the cave before stepping tentatively towards the rear of the entrance.
‘Movement at three hundred,’ they all snapped towards the angle, aiming their rifles, ‘keep moving forward this cave has to end somewhere,’ Taliesin lead the way, sweeping with his rifle, with a mind to grab his shock lance at the first sign of trouble. As they rounded the first corner in the cave one of the lumen globes spluttered and went out, then another, Taliesin thought he saw a small shadow sprinting between the two before they died, his mopation tracker picked up nothing and he ignored it as a trick of the light. Within a second another two lumen globes faded to black, his men said nothing but he knew what they were thinking, lumen globes were supposed to last for hundreds of years on one charge, there was no chance that these were going out naturally. As the globes were snubbed out Taliesin began to feel his skin crawl, one of the soldiers called out, ‘does anyone else feel that?,’
‘The cold, my skin feels like it’s allergic to something,’ he replied,
‘Like when you’re caught in a breeze right?’
‘Yes, or like you’ve just woken from a bad dream.’
‘Form up on me, defensive positions. Remember your training, focus your minds, cleanse your soul, be one with your hand, be one with your weapon,’ Taliesin barked into his vox bead, his men repeated the mantra. In the short time it took his men to form up the rest of the lumen globes dwindled and the cave was plunged into darkness once again, it was then that the motion trackers began to pick up movement.
‘Movement at two seventy,’
‘Movement, one eighty,’
‘Sir, it’s everywhere,’
‘I can’t follow it,’
‘It’s moving too fast, I can’t get a bead on it,’
‘Steady men, rifles up, fire at will,’ the cave lit up like a strobe. Rifles discharged in all directions from the defensive perimeter his men had set up, behind him Taliesin heard one of his mens rifles clatter on the cave floor, the icon representing him on his heads up display blinked from green to red, then grey, he turned and aimed in the direction clipping off two shots, but hit nothing as his motion sensor went haywire registering blistering movement away from his shots, as though the creature had dodged it. He tried in vain to follow with the barrel of his gun, but it had already moved behind him, two more men down, he rounded once again this time he saw it properly, it looked like a child, with eyes as bright as a star. Taliesin felt himself weakening as he looked towards the two lights. One of his men saw him stagger, and pushed Taliesin to the side away from the lights, he looked back towards his soldier as the man dropped to his knees and keeled over forwards onto his face, eyes agpe. ‘Don’t look at the lights, that’s it’s power, cover your eyes men, use the motion trackers in your helmets, but don’t look directly at it,’ two more icons bled out to grey on his heads up, ‘we need to stun it so we can cover the head,’ he thumbed the activation switch of his shock lance, the energy field erupting around it, his men followed suite, the cave now bathed in a rich electric blue as they formed up once more to avoid the oncoming attacker.
It came fast from his left, he swung hard and low but didn’t make any contact, out of the corner of his eye he saw the beast flip over his shock lance and spin to avoid another in mid air, it was an infant, but no adult he knew could move like that let alone a child. It grabbed the man next to him, Cullin let out a scream of terror and he fell on his back with the beast upon him. The scream ended a second later, Taliesin spun again with his shock lance, but the creature had already moved, leaving behind the soldier with nothing but a rictus grin across his face. ‘Cullin, he kicked the soldiers arm, Cullin get up,’ there was no movement at all and he noticed Cullins icon fade to grey, he was down to fifteen men of the twenty five that had entered, and the creature showed no signs of slowing down. Taliesin’s mind whirled, he could not think how he might subdue this beast, it was too fast for him and his men, ‘form up, drop your shock lances outwards, we’re going to trap this thing, Erwin, Forbes, grab your cuffs, Keene take off you cloak, when it comes everyone else bring up your shock lances and we will make a cage, once its trapped, Keene wrap its head with your cloak, keep your eyes closed at all times and hang on to it, once we have it hogtie it.’ His men complied immediately the blue glow that had swamped the cave dimmed, ‘everyone keep your eyes down, on my command we lure it in.’ He saw the two beads of light stop about fifty meters away, they blinked twice and began rushing towards the defensive circle, as it came close the men spread and let it break their ranks, it was greeted by the heavy cloak of Keene who launched himself on top of it, pinning it to the ground, however the beast was strong and threw him off with ease, still wrapped in the cloak two more of the knight threw themselves at it as Erwin and Forbes moved to hogtie it, the four men struggled as Taliesin jabbed at it with the shock lance, the sound it emitted was that of a child in distress, the screams cut through him. Finally the beast was tied and covered, Taliesin ordered his men to drag it outside towards their waiting jet bikes, ‘we will come back for the dead later, for now we need to imprison this thing,’ his words dripped with disdain, ‘but sir the orders are to kill the beast,’
‘I know what the orders are Knight, I gave them and I’m changing them, this is but an infant, are we to become child killers this evening? No, good, then we’re changing the mission, let's get this beast back home, I think Queen Luiseach will want to see it first.’