Flash Fiction Challenge: The Dead Body

Posted: June 13, 2015 in Fiction, Flash Fiction Challenge
Tags: ,

The only stipulation in this week’s challenge over at terribleminds was to introduce a dead body in the first paragraph of the story. I’d already had an idea for the continuing story of Gavrin the Mountain and Drayos the thief, so it didn’t take me long to cobble together “For a Glittering Gem”:

In his mind, he could still see the woman’s nude corpse, lying on the floor of the wagon. Her left hand dropped a few feet away from the rest of her body after the thief had slipped the gem and chain from her wrist. It wasn’t the first time that Drayos had had to kill to complete a job, but he was not so used to it that the knowledge of what he done could easily be shrugged off. The only thing that made him feel even slightly better about himself was considering his traveling companion.

They stopped at a well on the road back to Tavilon so that Drayos could wet his mouth and Gavrin could clean some of the blood off of himself. The thief watched the giant swordsman in silent wonder that was tinged with horror as he cleaned himself, a dark shadow under the darkened, cloud-filled sky wiping even darker shadows off of himself.

There had to have been at least a dozen guards, if not more, at the caravan that they had left behind them nearly an hour before. And all of them – all of them – Gavrin the Mountain had dispatched without suffering so much as a scratch from what Drayos could see in the poor light. The swordsman removed his tunic and dunked it into the well’s wooden pail, wringing it out over the bare ground. As he did so, even in the darkness, Drayos could see scrolling tattoos all over Gavrin’s body that he had not noticed in the preceding hours. There was something about them, about the ripple of Gavrin’s muscles in the darkness, about the blood stains slowly washing off of his skin, that unnerved the thief in way that even his own actions that night could not have done.

“I am done,” Gavrin said simply, his voice deep but soft, as he slipped his tunic back on over his head. “Shall we make the delivery?”

Drayos’ hand unconsciously strayed to the pouch that hung from his belt, pressing softly against his thigh. After a moment, the thief nodded and the bigger man grinned, his teeth brilliantly white within the darkness of his beard, and he clapped a hand powerfully on Drayos’ shoulder before moving toward their horses. “Come, friend!” The Mountain said. “There are only so many hours in the night.”

They rode back to Tavilon with little trouble, aside from Gavrin’s soft singing of “The Fisherman of Carnelion” and Drayos’ own vague unease, as if eyes in the night were burning a hole through his cloak and into his back. However many times he glanced over his shoulder, though, Drayos saw nothing in the darkness to justify his vague and amorphous fear. They were ushered through the gates with the same expediency that they’d had when leaving the city a scant few hours before, making their way to the Southern Quarter of the city.

The soft lapping of the river against its banks greeted their ears as they rode slowly through the darkened streets, the thief’s eyes constantly scanning the buildings around them. It was well known among the criminal element of the city that Yellin made his home in the Southern Quarter for the very chaos and danger that was a hallmark of the neighborhood afforded protection to his own business. But getting to and from Yellin’s warren of buildings on the riverfront at this time of night was a dice-roll, one could pass safely or one could cross paths with every two-bit gang that had marked its territory in blood and piss at every cross-road.

But the only danger the duo faced was a drunken urchin who loudly protested their existence within his wine-besotted awareness.

They were met by Yellin’s guards a block away from the complex at the water’s edge, who took the duo’s horses and sized up Gavrin warily.

“Who’s he?” One of them grunted to Drayos while peering at the Mountain.

“A new friend,” the thief replied. “No worries, though: he’s as sweet as a chocolate pastry.”

The guard looked Gavrin one more time and snorted. “I bet,” he said, his eyes alighting on the sword sheathed at giant man’s waist. “They’ll take your weapons at the door,” the guard continued, flicking his eye back toward Drayos. “Make sure ‘Chocolate Pastry’ here don’t cause no trouble.”

Gavrin rumbled softly but resonantly in his chest as they continued on toward the main building. “This sword is the only piece of my father that I have. I do not relish handing it over to anyone.”

Drayos looked up at the taller man. “It will only be for a short time. If it is a matter of safety, you’ve nothing to worry about. You’re probably a head taller than even the tallest brute that Yellin has.”

Gavrin frowned down at Drayos, unconsciously fingering the end of his braided beard. “It is not that. Having not known my divine father, this” — his other hand gripped the handle of the sword — “is all that I have of him.”

“You’ll get it back. I swear,” Drayos said as the door ahead of them opened and they were ushered inside. “Just do what they tell you. Okay?”

They entered a rough and simple vestibule just inside the entrance of the building, where four guards stood waiting. Drayos handed over his daggers and gave the Mountain a significant look, eliciting a sigh from the larger man that was followed with his own sword being given to the guards.

“What’s in the pouch?” The leader of the quartet asked, nodding toward Drayos’ waist.

“That’s for Yellin to know,” Drayos replied, meeting the man’s gaze and holding it for a long silent moment until the guard shrugged and waved them out of the vestibule. The duo was led down several hallways, up three flights of stairs, and finally brought to a large room that overlooked the waters of the Sehn that flowed below. As the door opened, they could hear Yellin’s voice on the other side, and when they entered they saw him talking to a young woman in simple robes, her golden hair unbound, oddly lit by the lamps.

Yellin was an older man, wider in the waist and thinner on the top of his head than he’d been in earlier days, but still powerful. Drayos knew from experience that Yellin was not a man to be trifled with, that not only did he have scores of men under his command, but he himself was canny and sly and ruthless when the situation warranted it.

One reason why a knot of tension in Drayos’ chest unwound itself as they stepped into the room, knowing that he had not failed the Lord of Tavilon’s underworld.

“Drayos?” The older man said, looking across the room from the large, formidable chair he sat in as the pair entered. “Drayos!” He stood, a smile on his face, before looking to the young woman. “My apologies. This will only take a moment.”

He crossed the room and met the duo half-way, clapping both of his powerful hands on the thief’s shoulders and squeezing. “I take it that the job is successful…?” It was asked with a slightly arched eyebrow.

Drayos nodded his honey-haired head, his hands deftly undoing the pouch at his belt and holding it up to Yellin. “It was harder than I thought, but luckily I gained some help,” the thief said.

Yelling looked from the pouch to Drayos to Gavrin. “And who is this?”

“I am Gavrin–”

“A mercenary. He aided me in acquiring what you wanted,” Drayos interjected.

“A mercenary, eh?” Yellin asked, sizing Gavrin up. “And how much is he looking for in repayment?”

The Mountain looked confused. “I helped my friend, Drayos, here because he had my back in a bar fight. He did not have to do it. I was glad to help him, I need no coin.”

That drew both of Yellin’s eyebrows upward and the older man opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by a loud racket and screams of pain from below. All three blinked and Yellin looked past the duo to his guards. “What in Zairishi’s arsehole was that?!”

The guards shrugged and moved toward the door, but the sound of breaking wood and cries of terror rapidly came closer and closer. By the time the guards reached the door, their hands already drawing forth their own weapons, the room was shaking. Yellin and Drayos slowly took steps backward, toward Yellin’s great seat, while Gavrin stood his ground, rolling his neck some as he faced the door. A heartbeat later the door flexed inward, then outward, and finally exploded into the room, sending a hail of splintered wood at the occupants. Wooden shrapnel pierced the guards in a thousand places, embedding itself in the walls and furniture of the room, and as the men gurgled out their final breaths in their descent to the floorboards, only Gavrin stood resolute.

“What in the Nine Hells…?” Drayos whispered, his eyes locked upon the doorway as he, Yellin, and the young woman huddled on either side of the great chair.

In the doorway stood the woman from whom he’d taken the Medallion of Ashes, the woman whose heart and brain he’d pierced with his daggers. From the stump of her left wrist grew long, pinkish tendrils that writhed of their own accord. Similar protuberances pushed their way out of the flesh of her corpse in a hundred spots, writhing and waving as she stood there.

Gavrin simply stared at her, interlocked the fingers of both hands, and cracked his knuckles.

The woman’s mouth opened. And opened. Her maw stretched and stretched until the crack of her jaw violently dislocating itself resounded through the quiet room. Drayos felt his stomach roil as he saw something work its way up her throat and push its way to the fore of her mouth, and he had to fight a wave of nausea as he saw a singular, monstrous eye with a cross-shaped pupil staring out at them from between her teeth.

The gem. GIVE ME THE GEM!

The voice echoed in Drayos’ mind, sending arcs of pain through his skull and down into his neck and shoulders as it reverberated. He cried out in agony and after a moment noticed that Yellin and the young woman had done the same. Through the blinding pain that threatened to split his head in twain, he saw that Gavrin still stood, statuesque and unmoving, before the creature that had once been a sorceress.

“It is not yours to have, demon,” the Mountain rumbled, curling the fingers of his right hand into a fist. “You stole it.”

With a deep, resonating cry, Gavrin slammed his fist down onto the floorboards, some word or syllable that Drayos did not recognize leaping from the bearded man’s lips. The floor bowed and waved under the blow, toppling the creature in the doorway backward a few seconds before something shining and metallic flew up the hall and through the aperture toward Gavrin’s now open and extended right hand.

The Mountain stood, sword in hand, and squared himself as the creature rose back up, lifting itself from the floor upon its writhing tendrils.

A hideous, shrill shriek tore itself through the minds of Drayos, the young woman, and Yellin. And just before the thief squeezed his eyes shut in agony, he saw Gavrin waver on his feet and take a step backward, shaking his head briefly. The sound of impact forced Drayos’ eyes open again and he saw that the creature had launched itself at the Mountain, knocking the giant’s sword aside and forcing him to the ground as its tendrils wrapped around his limbs, trunk and head. Gavrin roared defiantly, wrenching his arms away from the creature and biting into the tendrils closest to his mouth. Another shriek reverberated through their minds, causing Drayos to collapse to the ground in pain that was both mental and physical.

He came to a moment later, seeing vomit on the floorboards beneath his face and tasting bile in his mouth. Drayos looked up and saw Gavrin pull one of his hands free of the tendrils and shove his fist into the monstrous eye. Another shriek erupted, but the thief was prepared this time, gritting his teeth against the pain. He pushed himself to his feet as the Mountain slammed his fist again and again at the face of the corpse that the creature had taken into its possession, making his way around the edge of the room to avoid the whipping tendrils.

Drayos found the sword to be much heavier than he’d anticipated, having to use both hands and strain to pull it from the floor. He stumbled toward the wrestling pair and gasped out, “Gavrin!”

The Mountain turned to look at him, a manic smile spreading across his bearded face for a moment, before the creature turned to stare at Drayos with its monstrous eye ringed by teeth. Drayos had no time to react before the creature’s tendrils whipped out at him with such force that he spun in the air, the sword slipping from his grasp, and slammed into one of the walls.

Distantly, over the ringing in his ears and the numbed dizziness that he felt, he heard the horrific scream of the young woman. Drayos managed to push himself over onto his back, finding himself on the floor, leaning his back against the wall, and turned to look at the woman. Leaning against his great seat, Yellin stared sightlessly at the wrestling pair of Gavrin and the creature, half the length of the Mountain’s blade sticking out of his chest. Drayos shook his head softly, feeling the world spin and barely cognizant of Gavrin reaching out and picking up a shard of wood easily half the length of his own massive forearm. Once more the creature’s mental scream tore through Drayos’ mind and felt himself vomit from the pain once more, the mess spreading down the front of his tunic.

As the haze of agony dissipated, the thief looked up and saw that the creature had retreated from Gavrin, the shard of wound sticking prominently out of its cross-shaped pupil, a horrible smelling ichor bleeding out of the wound. The Mountain rose from the floor swiftly and crossed to the corpse of Yellin, pressing one foot against the dead man’s chest as he removed his blade. He turned back to the creature and approached it with no trepidation in his step or gaze, swatting aside tendrils with his free hand, shearing off others with the sword.

YOU SHALL PAY, SON OF SONS!!

The creature’s mental shriek was less painful now, though it still grated at Drayos’ nerves. Gavrin spat upon the floorboards as he came within a few steps of the necrotic being. “Go back to the Void,” he said simply. “You are not wanted here.”

And with that, his sword arced up in a gleam of lamp-light. A moment later, the head of the woman’s corpse thudded dully against the floorboard, joined within the space of a heartbeat by the rest of her now unmoving body.

Gavrin stood watching the corpse for a few long seconds, before nodding to himself and crossing over to one of the fallen guards. Ripping a length of cloth from the dead man’s tunic, he wiped the blood and ichor from his blade.

“What, in Grandfather’s benevolent judgment, was that fucking thing?” Drayos groaned loudly as he pushed himself to his feet.

The Mountain gazed at him silently for a moment, with a look that made Drayos think he’d just foolishly asked what a “bird” was. “A demon,” Gavrin replied, an incredulous tone to his voice. “A foul being not of our world, which seeks to slip in and corrupt all that we know and hold to be good, true, and beautiful.”

“Oh,” the thief retorted with a substantial amount of sarcasm as he rubbed at his temples. “Of course. How silly of me.”

Gavrin nodded matter-of-factly. “Yes. I will assume that your being tossed about by it knocked something loose in your head.”

The thief was about to issue a sharply worded reply, when the sobbing of the young woman cut him off. Both men turned to look at her, where she was curled up in the corner made by the wall and the back of Yellin’s great chair. Drayos sighed and crossed over to her, slowing his steps when he was within a yard of her.

“Miss?” He asked softly. “Miss? It’s okay now. The creature–”

“Demon,” Gavrin interjected.

Drayos cast a baleful look over his shoulder at the Mountain, before looking back to the golden-haired woman. “The demon is dead now. We’re safe. For the moment, at least.”

She shook her head, her gaze not leaving the headless corpse. “No,” she whispered softly. “We’re not.”

Drayos gave her a confused looked. Her eyes left the corpse, met his gaze, then swung past to meet Gavrin’s.

“Can’t you see? The end has come. We’re all going to die.”

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