My dark fantasy story. Heavily inspired by the works of Kentaro Miura.
| Agrias and his men reached the forested path when it was twilight, having rode on horseback from the nearby town of Treya. It had been a convoy consisting of himself, his fellow appointed knights of the church, and a carriage consisting of the local townsmen, but they would have to move on foot from there, through the dense forested path, and across the bog.
They had tracked down a dark pagan cult, having troubled the town of Treya for months, or so it was speculated, based on when the abductions began. What started as mere whispers, turned to widespread panic, as men, women and even children gradually disappeared without a trace. The few that had turned up were discovered butchered in what appeared to be ritualistic-like killings. Obvious as it was afterwards, it was only recently when words of a cult came to light, and with one of their priestesses among the abducted, the church had finally commissioned a hunt to righteously punish and purge the discovered cultist threat.
Agrias lead the men, having been a former mercenary during the crusades years ago until he became an anointed knight. He was very experienced in battle, having earned a reputation for his discipline and prowess, which gave him natural authority over the rest of the knights, who were noblemen sons who took the position solely for prestige. To him, they were a smug and pampered lot. Not soldiers, merely glorified militia adorned in armor.
At least there had been one other man he had faith in if things ever became perilous; Cyruss was his name, a close companion he had befriended during the crusades.
Agrias was an average height, broad shouldered man, made broader by the steel plated pauldrons of his armor. He had black, somewhat curly hair, which would have draped past his neck if he hadn't been wearing a helmet. The helmet was also made of steel, visorless with a Y-shaped opening, exposing the rigid features of his near middle-aged face. His eyes were a steel blue, with flat thick brows, a long bulbed nose, and a large flat chin, which usually displayed a serious gloomy expression, as it did at the time when he lead the men into the forest.
Cyruss followed closely by his side, a tall imposing mass of a man, clad in steel armor like Agrias, but instead of wielding a traditional one-handed sword, wielded a halberd in both of his large hands. The thick, roundish features of his face were set in an indifferent expression, as he usually looked when he was focused and alert.
“We move on foot from here. Stay in a tight formation,” he commanded to both the knights and small mob of townsmen before they moved into the forested path.
The ground was raised along both sides of the narrow path, like a trench. Many trees loomed over them from elevated ground, their many leafless branches appearing like spidery appendages in the heavily shadowed environment, created betwixt the setting sun and their burning torches.
The men were uneasily quiet, staying in a tight group, as if fearing something would have emerged and snatched one of them out from the surrounding darkness. The wind was strangely calm, as trees, shrubs, and grass gently swayed. The air however, was cool and damp, which was typical during the mid-autumn season.
The terrain leveled out as they reached the edge of the bog, as the path curved and twisted around the many ponds that laid scattered ahead. Thick moss and shrubs covered the majority of area where there wasn't water; large crooked and deformed trees also lightly populated the bog, a few of them decorated with human bodies, which hung limply from their thickest branch.
The men gasped as they made out the silhouetted shapes, Agrais said nothing, his face stiff with a scowl-like look, unable to show any sign of discomfort to his men.
“We keep moving,” he turned and ordered them, then quickly marched ahead before anyone was able to protest.
They continued along the path. Agrias believed he was able to faintly see a source of light ahead, emitting from what appeared to be a lodge – their destination. Much as he desired not to, it was unavoidable to pass closely by the hanging bodies.
The townsmen whimpered among themselves, identifying the bodies they passed, unable to ever unsee familiar faces twisted into a gruesome visage of bulged eyes and gaping mouths.
One of them had been a child, no more than ten years of age. He had short brown hair, soft features, and was wearing tattered clothes without shoes. His feet were severely calloused and black with dirt.
“It's the Marcus boy,” one of the townsmen spoke up. “I gave him spare bread last week. Poor boy had been living on his own since he lost his mother,” he continued in a shaken tone. “What kind of people would hang a poor innocent boy?” He asked rhetorically, unable to pry his eyes off the boy's face, who's youth and innocence was prematurely taken.
“Those who betray and mock the way of god!” Agrias answered firmly.
His attention was drawn to Derekk, one of his fellow knights, a younger and usually boastful man, who too looked disturbed at the sight of the hanging boy.
“Be ready to use that sword,” Agrias warned him.
“Of course Sir!” He answered after he swallowed hard. “The wicked will face our retribution!” He attempted to say confidently as he clutched his sword.
They continued further down until they were held up yet again, by one of the townsmen who moaned and wept by one of the hanging bodies.
“It's Gregor sir,” the townsman named Talbot told him. “His missing sister Agatha...”
Agrais approached the burly middle aged man who was on his knees with his head held low, attempting to hide his tears. He stood over him and placed his hand on his thick shoulder to comfort him.
“We will punish those that did this,” he assured him.
The man named Gregor nodded his wide head in agreement. He sniffed, then let out a deep breath before he stood back up.
“You're right sir,” he complied, having remarkably regained his composure.
They reached the other side of the bog where the lodge came into plain sight, at the top of a large hill, appearing like a windowless chapel, with bright yellowish light illuminating from the structure's crevices and beneath its angled roof. Nighttime had peaked, which left just their torches to light their way. When they began their ascent uphill, they heard dogs barking nearby.
Agrias pulled out his sword. “Prepare your-selves!” He shouted to them.
The large hounds leapt from the darkness, the first one having charged at Agrias, but was flung to the side in mid-air by a preemptive counter-attack with his sword. The second had went for Cyruss, but was barely off the ground before it had been impaled by the spiked end of his weapon. The third had attacked Derekk, who was unprepared, knocking him onto his back as it chewed on his left arm, which fortunately had been protected by the steel of his gauntlet. One of the townsfolk that was behind him came to his aide, impaling the creature's beast-like face with a pitch fork. It howled in pain but still attempted to chomp through the steel before it finally expired.
The fourth had, again, gone for Agrias, who was still in mid-recovery of his previous sword swing. He didn't have the opportunity to reposition himself to make a second, so instead he swatted the side of its muzzle with his fist as it leapt for him, effectively knocking it to the ground. By the time it got back up, he was in his proper sword stance, ready for it to pounce again, but unexpectedly, before it was able to launch itself, its head was detached by a powerful swing from Cyruss's weapon.
The first had still been alive, having only been wounded by Agrias's attack, apparently unfazed by the gaping wound across its muzzle, which oozed with blood. It relentlessly attacked once again, although much clumsier than before, missing one of the townsmen as it leapt, only to end up with a wood cutters axe dug deep within its neck.
After the dogs were slain, a man had then emerged and charged towards Agrias, wielding a torch and a club-like weapon, which he attempted to swing as he ferociously growled. Even wearing thick armor, Agrias was able to easily out maneuver the attack, and thrusted his sword into the cloaked man's gut. The man gasped as the steel penetrated his body, his heavily shadowed face frozen with shock.
“Curse you,” he managed to say as he fell to his knees, blood quickly seeping from his wound after Agrias pulled out his sword.
Agrias watched coldly as the man fell stiffly to the ground, he felt the shocked stares of the others, having likely first seen anybody kill another human in cold blood. He crouched down and cleaned his blade with the expired man's clothes, then casually stood up and sheathed it.
“The rest of them are just up ahead,” he spoke to them in a composed voice. “Those that are not injured, keep moving.”
The men obediently followed him as they reached the large double doors of the building. They were able to hear the sound of muffled harmonious voices coming from inside. Agrias and a few others charged against the doors to breach through, but to little effect, obviously having been barred on the other side.
“Let's just set this cursed place ablaze and be done with it!” One of the Townsmen shouted.
“No!” Agrias interjected. “It's our duty to find the priestess first.”
Cyruss gave him a concerned look.
He ordered a few of the townsmen to chop down a nearby tree, using it as an improvised battering ram as they then charged the door under his command. Within a few attempts they smashed through the doors with a resounded bang, followed by a crunch, as splinters of wood flew in every direction. They poured inside, unprepared at the sight they were about to see.
Inside was one large round altar, dimly lit by numerous evenly placed braziers; the wooded floor and walls painted in both fresh and dried blood. Many robed cultists laid propped on their knees, still chanting in unison despite the sudden intrusion, their faces concealed under their hoods.
At the the farthest end was one cultist who stood over the rest, leading the chant with his soft melodic voice, and his arms spread in a theatrical display. His hood had been down, revealing his angular face and receding blonde hair, and his eyes, which eerily glowed a bright red, complimenting his baleful expression.
In the middle of the altar was a small dug-in pool or reservoir, where one large muscular man stood, naked with his back facing them, his neck collared and tethered by separate chains, which were held by three individual cultists. The pool was filled with blood, and he too had been bathed in it. He wielded a perverse looking two-handed weapon, a cross between a cleaver and an axe, which had been dripping with blood.
Hanging just above the naked man, were three bodies including the priestess, hung up by their arms, stripped naked, with their throats cut like cattle. Fresh blood dripped from their wounds, as their faces were ever still with dulled eyes. Agrias and the others were too late.
“Priestess Opheillia!” The youngest knight Oberrn had gasped.
There had been a sweet aroma that drifted in the air, likely some form of incense, but it wasn't strong enough to mask the putrid odor beneath, which had been the lingered stench of blood and rotting flesh. Agrias ironically preferred the ladder, finding the sweeter aroma to be more unnatural and intrusive; it made him almost sick to the stomach, which fueled his rage ever more.
The naked man happily giggled, turning his head to glance at them, although he seemed either unaware or unconcerned who they were. He appeared as if he was in a trance; his eyes were wide, his lips formed a twisted grin, and his head lazily tilted to the side as he blankly stared.
“I can feel it,” he said in a satisfied tone; his voice immediately silenced everyone else.
He let out a deep, relaxed breath.
“Such warmth embraces me!” He exclaimed excitedly.
“Slay them all!” Agrias snarled viciously between his teeth, tightening his grip on his sword.
They were about to advance forward when the naked man began to unexpectedly scream in agony. His body convulsed as he dropped his weapon and fell into the pool of blood, his face contorted into one of anguish, as his screams turned to a higher distorted pitch, sounding nearly inhuman.
Dumbfounded in that brief moment, some of the cultists took the opportunity to make their attack, lunging at Agrias and the others, armed with small weapons such as daggers and sickles.
Agrias quickly regained his focus as one older woman charged at him, shrieking with her dagger held over her head, about to stab. He countered with a downward strike with his sword, cutting through her robes and into the flesh of her torso from one side to the other, which made her twist and spin as she fell to the ground.
Cyruss maneuvered away from Agrias, to give himself some room to wield his weapon. He impaled one that charged at him head-on, then punched another to the floor, who he executed before he was able to get back up. Three more charged towards him at the same time, which he cleaved, after swiftly repositioning himself. The middle one of the group fell to his knees, clutching his innards, which seeped out from his sliced open belly, while the other two clumsily staggered to the floor.
Agrias glanced back, and saw Oberrn, being held from behind as he was stabbed repeatedly in the throat by the townsman, Gregor. He didn't have time to see the rest of the struggle, which ended with Oberrn choking on his own blood as he died, and Gregor being fataly stabbed in the back from his fellow townsman as he shouted: “Praise Makura!”
Despite being outnumbered, Agrias, Cyruss and the others were initially successful in the fight, having eliminated the majority of cultists, while having suffered only a few casualties. Eventually, everyone became scattered around the altar, with Agrias and Cyruss on opposite sides. Agrias spotted the head cultist near the end of the room, and headed towards him.
He stopped dead in his tracks however, as something emerged from the pool of blood and transformed before his eyes. It was uncertain if it had still been the naked man because it barely resembled him, or even a human being; its form was a twisted bloated mockery of it. Its flesh had turned a red tinge, appearing as if it had been flayed; its body horribly swelled and malformed in a hunchback-like position, with different proportioned limbs, including one massive trunk of a right arm, which was able to grip the two-handed weapon like it was one. The face was the only vestige that it had been the man, as it was permanently set in the agonizing expression when he was screaming; the chains that collared him became nearly embedded in the newly formed creature's throat.
“Praise Makura! For he will ascend us from humanity!” The head cultist shouted.
The creature let out a long drawn-out guttural moan as it thrashed its newly formed body. The remaining cultist who held onto its chains, attempted to control the creature, but only agitated it, as it groaned then fiercely growled. It yanked the chain with its thinner, stubbier arm, which unexpectedly carried inhuman strength, and pulled the cultist beneath its feet. The cultist had only a brief moment to look up after he got onto his knees, as the creature swung the weapon down on him, almost cleanly splitting his head and the top of his chest in two. Blood and insides webbed the blade as the creature pried it from the freshly made corpse.
“What dark magic is this?” The townsman named Talbot said in a panicked tone, unable to comprehend at what he was seeing.
Even Agrias was in shock and disbelief at what he witnessed. Everyone backed away slowly, except one townsman who turned and attempted to run, which caught the attention of the creature. It leaned forward and swiped its weapon with its long massive arm – Agrias noticed how the force of the swing nearly threw the disproportionate creature off balance – and effectively cleaved the man's torso off his legs. The top of the body flew and nearly struck Agrias, momentarily disorienting him. When he looked back up he saw the creature had pivoted to face him.
He continued to back up with his sword raised in front of him, as dread finally began to seep into his mind. When he briefly glanced over, he saw the remaining townsmen and his fellow knight, Derekk flee in panic, as they left him behind to die.
“Cowards!” He cursed them.
The creature hobbled towards him, and slowly raised its weapon. At that moment he cursed himself for wearing cumbersome armor, but having analyzed its clumsy attack pattern earlier gave him a chance to survive – at least the initial strike. Fortunately the creature had recklessly swung like before, and Agrias managed to strafe out of the way, but the force of the impact caused him to lose balance and tumble to the floor.
He struggled to get back up as the creature growled in anger, as it pulled its weapon from the newly made crater in the floor. There wasn't enough time or room for Agrias to outmaneuver the second attack, as the creature was about to follow up with a cleave. But just before it was able to swing, it stumbled back and choked; it had been Cyruss, who had yanked on one of its leashes.
The creature roared, and predictably turned its attention to Cyruss, as it moved towards him to get within striking range. Luckily it moved slowly, which gave Agrias the opportunity to unfasten parts of his armor. When he was free to move, Agrias charged and made a swift slash across one of its stumpy legs, which caused the creature to flinch and lean on its side.
The creature retaliated, but Agrais had already been expecting it, as he quickly tumbled low to the ground as the creature made another cleave with its weapon. For a time he kept it occupied, much more agile after having stripped himself of the armor, and gracefully dodged its slow and predictable attacks, but always just barely.
The creature thrashed more and more frantically, as it failed to kill either Agrias or Cyruss as they gradually wore it down, wounding it, bit by bit. During its rage, it inadvertently flung the burning braziers surrounding the altar, as one smashed against a nearby tapestry hanging on a wall, which set it ablaze.
“Even a monster forged by dark magic is not strong enough to withstand against the righteous!” Agrias said with regained confidence.
The lead cultist rushed towards the quickly spreading fire, just as the creature unexpectedly whipped one of its chains at Agrias as he attempted to attack, which sent him flying right into him.
Agrias briefly blacked out, only to regain consciousness to stinging pain, as he struggled to breath, having gotten the wind knocked out of him. The cultist had lucky broken his fall, but the damage from the initial attack had been bad; he was sure he had at least a few broken or cracked ribs.
He looked up to see the creature slide over to him, raising its weapon one final time, its grotesque face having managed to form a grin, as if it felt triumphant at that moment. Agrias had expected to be dead a moment later, but as the weapon came down, the creature had abruptly turned in the opposite direction. There were two sounds of impact, and the creature screamed in a cacophonous tone, as a halberd was embedded firmly into its face.
The creature flailed for a few moments, then teetered towards Agrias, who rolled out of the way with considerable effort, as the body fell to the ground and made a spectacular quake, while crushing the lower half of the cultist beneath it.
The cultist released a wheezed gasp, shocked back into consciousness, as his legs and abdomen were subjected to the force of the massive weight that slammed down on him.
Agrias pulled himself back up, flinching with pain with every movement he made.
“Cyruss...” He called out as he stumbled around the lifeless body of the creature.
He had found Cyruss lying opposite to it, face down in his own pool of blood; there was a large gash in the right side of his thorax, wide and deep enough to have separated him into two pieces. He slumped to his knees at the sight of it, and reared his head back in despair. His eyes wandered to the hanging priestess, Opheillia; her roundish features, blue eyes and gold locked hair no longer resembling a face he had recognized. At that moment he had felt like shouting in his frustration, but the tremendous pain in his chest prevented him so. In the end, emptiness was all that remained.
“Praise Makura...” The cultist weakly spoke.
He repeated it.
Agrias slowly turned his head. The entire wall was by then engulfed in flames, and was spreading onto the structure's ceiling. He stiffly got up and made his way out of the burning building.
“Priase Makura!” The cultist tried to shout, as he was left to be helplessly consumed by the flames.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He had crossed the other side of the bog and was heading into the forest when he saw a human figure with a torch approach him; flames sprouted from the lodge behind him as the fire intensified, brightly illuminating the surrounding area.
“Agrias, sir?” It had been the townsman Talbot. “Thank goodness you're alive,” he said in a relieved tone – although Agrias suspected his relief wasn't exactly seeing him particularly, but that he hadn't been an enemy.
“Your fellow knight, Derekk, is wounded,” he explained in short breaths. “We were ambushed in the forest... only we made it out.”
Agrias stared with indifference, then kept moving forward without saying a word.
“Is it only you that made it out, sir?” He asked him as he jumped ahead to lead the way with his torch.
Agrias did not bother to answer. Talbot stared for sometime, then they traveled the rest of the way in silence. It had been near the end of the forested path when they came across the bodies of what had been left of both their party and the cultists.
“It happened here...” Talbot pointed out, unease in his voice. “We're the only ones left...”
Agrias stepped over the bodies without even shooting a glance, as if they had just been part of the terrain. A few more paces ahead had been Derekk, propped against a tree, holding a torch in one hand, and holding his shoulder with the other, the look of his face had been both of relief and vexation at the sight of him.
“Help me,” he said in a shaken tone. It had been more of a command than a request.
Agrias, still appearing impassive, obliged, as he uncomfortably lowered to his knees to inspect him. Blood had drenched the armor around the wound, and continued to spread. Derekk sweated and grunted in his discomfort.
“Take off your breast plate,” Agrias advised.
He helped Derekk unfasten his armor. Despite its appearance and his behavior, it hadn't been too serious, merely a minor wound. Agrias however, was unconcerned with it, as to Derekk's shock, he unexpectedly stole his sword and plunged it deep into his heart. He unflinchingly stared into his face as it permanently seized up into a gaping expression of confusion and anguish.
He pulled out the blade and stood up just as Talbot attempted to run. He gripped the sword and raised both of his arms, then whipped it at him. Talbot shrieked as it hit its mark, plunging into his back, sending him to fall face first. Agrias leisurely walked over; he was unaware at the time, but his body had been shaking with furious rage.
“Please...” Talbot gargled as he helplessly laid on his side, rapidly losing blood.
“Useless cowards,” Agrias mumbled to himself.
When everything became quiet and still, Agrias took a deep breath, while his eyes lazily rolled up towards his head. He wouldn't have admitted it, but deep within he had felt a tinge of satisfaction.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It had been a long journey on foot, but Agrias had managed to travel the entire way back to Treya without stopping that same night. He had been exhausted and in pain the entire time, but all that was quickly forgotten when he saw the thick flames engulf the entire town, as well as hearing the many blood curdling screams, which echoed over the landscape.
Despite how perturbed he had felt, he was compelled to venture forward, completely stupefied with what else to do. But he had stopped in his tracks when he saw cultists emerge in the streets, screeching in delight, carrying scythes, sickles and crudely crafted blades as they chased the townspeople like predators from their burning homes, and mercilessly killed them where they fell. Men, women, and even children, were all butchered before his very eyes, but not before being tortured, to the cultist's sadistic enjoyment.
Further down the street came a large filed group of more cultists, who bizarrely traveled along in a marched dance, twirling and swaying as if entranced; others pranced with pitchforks or pikes, with pieces of human limbs or heads displayed on them. Despite Agrias unable to hear any rhythmic music, they moved in unison. To his further shock, large inhuman creatures – like the one he had slain earlier – emerged, and tramped through the streets.
One orge-like creature had plucked a young girl up with its thick fingers, grunting in anger, as human cultists below had tried to swipe and stab at her like they were mindless ravenous beasts. One had managed to lodge a small blade into her side, just before the creature had managed to lift her safely out of their reach, and in its rage crushed him with its other, boulder like fist. After it peeled the bottom of its hand away, it lifted it to its wide stumpy face, and licked off the blood with its thick, slithery tongue.
The girl screamed in hysterical terror – she probably would have been better off having been subjected to the cultists, who cheered below, unfazed by one of their fellow members having been recently killed. The creature pulled out the blade, tore off her clothes, then hovered her above its face. It opened its wide mouth, and extended its jaws, as its face peeled like foreskin, revealing multiple rows of sharp razor-like teeth. She flailed and sobbed as the creature caressed her naked body with its tongue before it gently lowered her into its mouth, and then she screamed piercingly, which ended abruptly with a loud crunch. The creature gorged into its succulent meal, making noises comparable to someone eating a crunchy apple, as blood and chunks of flesh spewed from its mouth.
Agrias fell to his hands and knees; his body trembled, almost to the point of spasm; he felt like he was about to throw up. He was unable to think clearly; he was unable to think at all. He couldn't comprehend any of it; he didn't want to. Tears streamed down his face as he let out a weak whimper.
When he glanced back up, he saw something that headed straight towards him, a human figure in a black tattered cloak. The cultists and creatures moved aside as the figure passed by, some of them bowed, while others completely stopped and stood in silence. There was something grandiose and mythical about the figure that Agrias was unable to understand, but he felt it, like some strange warmth that swelled within.
When the figure finally stood over him, it leaned in and caressed his face with the tip of its fingers, and marked him with blood. Agrias saw a male humanoid face under his hood; he saw the outline of a wide chiseled jaw, and thick crevices that ran evenly across his cheeks, along his pointed nose and into the slits of his eyes. It was uncertain whether they had been scars, or possibly an abnormality of his complexion.
The cloaked man smiled mischievously, as he ran his fingers under Agrias's chin, then leaned ever closer as he softly spoke to him.
Agrias was left unharmed, as he remained on his knees, unable to process a word or a thought. However, a few moments later he began to scream in agony, as his tears turned blood red and was unable to see. He fell to the ground, where he writhed in his own contempt, and the last thing his human mind was able to recall was the overwhelming terror he had felt at that moment.