Well, I ran out of time, and space, and energy, and consciousness, and frogs, and magic potions, and Swiss Cake Rolls, to get this new story done for Calamity’s Keep. So I thought I’d take all three stories already completed and compile them into one big post to get you all caught up with it. Enjoy. New story on 3/12. I already have it written, just needs a week of revision. Anyways, without further ado:
The Lutchkins: Part One
“I can’t believe you forgot. I sent you to the butchers. I pointed at it. I spoke about it. I did everything I could to remind you to go there and pick-up a sack of scraps. Now, we’re on the edge of Clare de Rune and we can’t go through the forest with the Lutchkins.” Samuel said. He was short, stocky, with a small face, brown hair, freckled skin, and two blue eyes that always burned with cynicism when speaking to his younger brother, Elliot.
“I’m sorry. I just got distracted.” Elliot replied. He was tall, blond-haired, and had a clear complexion, like his face had always been hidden away from toil. Both brothers were dressed in brown tunics and cloaks, with the embroidered letters “BGC” on their fronts and backs. This acronym stood for Brothers Garden Care, which was their business, passion, and only means to make a life in the Empty Plains. They were travelling to Clare de Rune to sell seeds. The isolation of the city made crop rotation somewhat difficult, and they expected to sell out of product when they got there.
“Besides, those are old stories from old people from old times, I’m not sure anyone even follows that rule.” Elliot said.
“Everyone, and I mean everyone, follows that rule. We can’t set foot in Grim’s Wall if we don’t have an offering to the Lutchkins.
“The what? What’s the Grim Wall?” Elliot asked.
“The forest, the name of the forest, man, you really don’t listen to me do you?” Samuel replied.
He pointed at the arch of trees above their head. They were curled outwards into a living tunnel you could pass through with the road. It was like entering a verdant cave. The forest itself made it easier for travelers to reach Clare de Rune. If you wandered off the path, you were as good as dead. “Have you noticed this thing here? Have you noticed how silent the world is outside this forest?”
Elliot, who was sitting at the head of the wagon steering next to Samuel, took this moment to savagely shove his brother backwards into the cargo. He snapped the cord violently on the two brown horses with white spots, which slowly entered the woods under the angry swings of Elliot’s wrists. Samuel jumped out of the boxes and tried to knock his brother aside.
“I told you. I told you. We can’t come in here unless we have an offering to them.” He hissed. The trees were quiet. The wind was gone. The moment they’d entered the Grim Wall time seemed to take on a different flavor, like they were entering a cemetery with no discernible headstones.
“Get off me! Everyone is always bending over backwards for Calamity’s Keep. Why on earth is there is a city here if they living next to him, plus a woods full of demons,” Elliot yelled, pushing back on Samuel.
“What is wrong with you? Where is this coming from? Do you want us to die? You know these things exist. The city uses them as protection from him,” Samuel said. They both wrenched on the reins like they were pieces of taffy.
“Stop it. Stop treating me like a child. I’m not an idiot.” Elliot howled.
Somewhere in the woods, something heavy moved. A tree’s roots cracked and broke under the unholy footprint of a timeless monster. The horses went to their knees and started to shake. Drool formed wildly on their lips. Samuel could feel the urine form between his legs. They were here. He fell backwards into the cargo to hide.
“What? What’s wrong with you now?”Elliot said, standing up.
Somewhere in the eves there was a laughing sound, followed by a rattling, like a jar of rice was being shaken around. There was a piercing rush of air. Suddenly, Elliot’s throat looked strange. His eyes rolled back in his head, revealing the whites, which gleamed like dead pearls. That chalky void matched the tip of the bone spear protruding through Elliot’s jugular, like a piece of his back had inverted through his neck. The Lutchkins had harpooned him through the trees. There would be no saving him.
“No, no, no,” Samuel said, trying to stand. The cargo shifted and the horses screamed. Samuel stared at the point of the javelin they’d hit him with from the trees. It had an ivory-like, with strange etchings of lines and circles carved into it. The spear wasn’t just a tool for killing, but an artistic instrument. In the one grizzly moment Samuel noticed it, Elliot’s body lurched backwards. The weapon was attached to an invisible wire from the trees. They reeled in Elliot like a fish, wrenching his body away in a bloody splash. Samuel didn’t even get to say goodbye. There were only gurgles and gasps from his impaled brother.
The last thing Samuel could see was a shape in the woods. His eyes could barely make sense of it. It was tall, cloaked with foliage, and wearing a white mask with two slits for eyes and three vertical lines at its mouth, which sat over its chest. It looked curled over, like it was old, and gravity had aged it the quickest. Despite its bent form, it was still eight feet tall. There were no arms, legs, or other appendages. The wire dragging Elliot’s body away didn’t appear attached to it. Before anything else could move in the forest, the shape faded backwards into the trees, like a leviathan sinking into the deep. The only sound Samuel could hear from the silent woods around him was the words: “Thank you.”
They seemed to echo from everywhere.
The Crossbow: Part Two
It didn’t know if the boy was aware of how close to death he really was right now. They were atop a high watchtower facing the Grimwall. It was built of logs, rope, and red streaks of paint. The markings were signs of neutrality for the Lutchkins to see. Sadly, the harpies who lived in the mountains just north of the forest and Clare de Rune were unfazed by this decoration and were currently dive-bombing the structure in feathery swoops of claws and laughs. This time of year, in midsummer, the Harpies were getting ready to settle down to roost before the frost arrived. This meant they needed some fond memories to muse over atop their giant nests of dirt and twig.
Torturing the local watchmen was the perfect source.
Though they were always hungry, roosting was just another excuse to attack humans on the edge of their city of Clare de Rune. Not even the trees laden with Lutchkins could prevent this ravenous ambition.
The crossbow was close to snapping. It had been firing black arrows into the cloudless sky for the entire morning. The boy wielding it was named Laocorn. He was young, ambitious, and full of rage for the surrounding monsters the city neighbored. The Lutchkins, Harpies, Calamity and all his bodyguards, were constantly on Laocorn’s mind. The agreement with the Lutchkins was perhaps the most tedious of all; trading butchered meat for protection from a vampire nobody in the city had witnessed for decades.
“God, they’re horrible this time of year. I can’t get over it,” Laocorn said. He was standing in the center of the wooden tower. A bear skin was crumpled up at his feet. The structure trembled as he turned in every direction. The air smelled like sweat. The silence of the forest was being pierced by the cackles of the Harpies, which echoed bits of humanity mixed with that of a bird. Previous watchmen had managed to pierce the harpies with their arrows. The blood of the airborne monsters was acidic and would eat little honeycombs along the logs. Laocorn hadn’t earned those battle scars to smile about when his watch was over.
Harpies hunted all across the Grimwall. Laucorn hated that name for the forest. It was a piece of dialect from the Lutchkins, a linguistic relic from when the humans in Clair De Rune had shared their language and knowledge, before all the troubles. There was open war between humans and Lutchkins until Calamity arrived ages ago and built his Keep north of the Grimwall next to the mountains. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Laocorn would whisper to himself while thinking about history and the dynamics of the city. He didn’t know where he heard that quote from.
“Hold still, damn you!” Laocorn said. He was short, dark-skinned, with long braids with red beads between each section. His eyes were stormy gray, the type that signals sky fire. His face was narrow, youthful, and absent any shadows of violence. His family wanted him to study at the college in the center of the city and not join the City Guard, but once he learned the dreadful history of where he lived, he knew he couldn’t just sit beneath a dusty lamplight in the library.
Laocorn was too scared to approach the railings when the harpies were attacking. The creatures were massive and intimidating. They were twice as tall as any human. They were as wide as a river, with white and red plumage. Between the feathers were points of golden bone poking up like thorns on a weed. That sharp color reflected the talons, which were like living sickles. They’d crush your skull in an instant, or carve out your chest, whatever the harpies preferred at that present moment.
Strangely, these menacing features of the abomination were nothing compared to the one human characteristic it shared with the trembling Laocorn. Their face is what really made his skin want to jump off his body. They looked like woman, like ones he’d see in the city, but with yellow eyes centered by black suns. The nose, mouth, lips, hair, and ears were that of a lovely brunette with porcelain skin, only the body was that of a killer bird.
Some harpies knew how to speak. Others just cackled, laughed, squawked, and screamed. This particular harpy was a friend to Laocorn, if you could call there relationship something so kindly. She was the queen of them all, Esmeralda, and she ruled the very air above their heads. Esmeralda loved to giggle, dodge the arrows, and then settle on the railing like a feathered gargoyle.
“Laocorn, Laocorn, Laocorn, when are you going to stop using your daddy’s crossbow?” She asked in a shriveled, female voice. “It never hits us, the poor things breaking under each shot.”
Laocorn went to one knee and fixed an arrow onto the crossbow’s narrow neck. He pulled it from a quiver strapped to his back. He kept them there in case a harpy actually pinned him down, so he could pull an arrow out to stab its talons. If he weren’t already dead that is. The crossbow was black, rusted, and had bits of chipped red paint peeking out from the decay. Laocorn was dressed in some silver-plated armor the city guard had fitted him with. Much of it hung off his body in empty pockets of air. Esmeralda was squeezing the railing between her talons. She was casually crushing the wood into bends of splinters. The sound made an aching sound, like bones breaking. Laocorn could smell sawdust in the air.
He pulled the trigger.
The crossbow broke apart like a stressed violin. The explosion knocked him off his feet.
“Oh Laocorn, oh Laocorn, what have you done? You lost your little sky stabber didn’t you? Not like you could hit us magnificent creatures anyways.” She said, leaning into the tower.
The harpy jumped onto the floor and slowly ambled towards the trembling soldier. She was so tall and wide she blocked out the daylight. Laocorn soiled himself and crawled backwards where there was a ladder to the ground.
“Oh Laocorn, oh Laocorn, how could you be so scared?” The Harpy said. She beat her wings out in a flourish, throwing dust and dirt in Laocorn’s eyes. He swallowed air in panicked breaths; a sour and bitter taste filled his mouth. The howl of air pressure travelling off her wings was deafening. Then, the monster stopped and turned to fly away from the watchtower. She watched the other harpies circling the sky.
“We’d never kill you Laocorn, you’re too stupid of a guard, and we wouldn’t want someone competent around.”
She was gone in a hissing tornado of feathers and talons. The watchtower shook under her weight, like the foundation was frightened too.
Laocorn’s confidence was as shattered as his crossbow.
Lucious and Scylla: Part Three
“Last time I went, well, the Lutchkins tried to harpoon me. Then, a deer ran by the river and I chased it. By the time I got back to fishing, the racket of all my exploits had driven the fish deep, too far for the nets. So, I had to capture them my own way, which is why they’re all ripped and chewed up.” Lucious said. He was on his back, atop a half-toppled brick wall, which was glowing with bits of moss and ivy. It was just a few feet from the moat surrounding Calamity’s Keep. Back when Calamity actually cared about the cosmetics of his home, before the Lutchkin’s time, he’d host vampires from across the Island of Chronos. That was a mere century ago. Lucious would’ve been a pup the last time guests were entertained beneath the singing halos of candelabras and violins.
“You know, if you could control your appetite just a little bit, Scylla, we’d have a whole population of pike and sunfish to devour at your leisure. You wouldn’t be stuck eating my leftovers all the time,” Lucious said. He stretched his sable fur across the rubble. His hair was sharp and spiked, like a hedgehog. He had muscles corded to his frame between the patches of iron-hard hide. His color was almost a blue in the sun, but at night it mixed with shadow perfectly.
They were made for each other.
His head was that of a wolf, with a gray muzzle and yellow canine teeth poking out like icicles. His eyes were red with an obsidian orb in their center. His voice was so deep and hollow, it could cause the leaves to fall from a tree whether it was autumn or not. Lucious was about six feet tall hunched over, but if his primal spine extended completely, he’d be closer to ten. The only thing human about Lucious were his trousers, which were a bygone relic from before he was turned. He could pull new pants off a trespasser, after he’d carved out their chest like a melon, but there was something sentimental about holding onto this one antique before his mutation. They had human memories attached to them. After all these years of protecting Calamity’s Keep, they were all he had left of what he was before the claws and howls.
“It wouldn’t matter if I could control myself, you’d still have to transport them in water so they live. That is quite a hike between the keep and river.” Scylla said. Her voice was low, hollow, but still melodic. It was soothing and omnipresent, like it was a thought behind your eyes and not an ordinary sound. She didn’t even have to poke her mermaid head above the water to use it.
“You should just convince the machine to go with me. He could balance a tub or river water better than me,” Lucious said. He sat up and cracked his neck. It was morning. The summer sun was baking the green forest like a verdant cake. Heat was rising off all the surfaces in ghostly trails. He’d have to take a dust bath soon to cool off.
“You can talk to the machine all you want. I’m not saying a word to him,” Scylla said.
“Afraid he might scorch you with his beam?” Lucious retorted.
“Aren’t you? You don’t wander into the interior too often. When’s the last time you walked openly in those courtyards?” She said.
Lucious crawled towards the moat.
“I don’t need to, I’m an outside the walls sort of werewolf,” he said.
Lucious stopped at the edge of the moat. The water was a clear blue, with lily pads, flowers, and dragonflies darting between the jade ornaments like fallen stars. The sounds of fountains playing splashes inside the keep’s black walls echoed everywhere.
“Don’t you dare drink the waters from my moat, I don’t want you sick with anything, nor do I want to get sick,” Scylla said.
“I’m thirsty,” he said.
“Don’t be a brat; go find a rain barrel or something. You’ve got them all over the inside and outside of the keep.”
“I’ve got them? You make it sound like I own and manage them, but really they’re just another piece of Calamity’s property.” He said.
“Do you not take care of them? Empty them, or give them to the machine to water its gardens?”
“Yeah, yeah, I do.”
“Well then, you exert more control over the rain barrels than anyone else, which might say they’re yours,” Scylla’s hidden voice said.
Lucious straightened his back out one last time. The vertebrae snapped in clicks of calcium and marrow.
“I’m supposed to be a werewolf, not a groundskeeper. Calamity didn’t hire me for that.” He said.
Scylla didn’t say anything.
“We’ll figure out the fish soon, I promise,” Lucious said. He jumped over the moat in one clawed leap and landed on the wall. He scampered up it like a snarling bug.
“Thank you, my love,” Scylla said, with a hidden smile.
There. All caught up with everything. Thank you again for reading and part four will be out a week from today. Sorry for the inconvenience. Have a great day!