Calamity’s Keep: Part Two – “The Crossbow”

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 into 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.

Ha. I like this one. So here is part one of Calamity’s Keep if you need it. I know it is a rerun, but since I’m finishing the story I thought I would actually start publishing from the beginning. More to come. Thank you for reading.

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