The Fall of Kings - Chapter 1
DescriptionFirst chapter of my first attempt at a fantasy story. Grateful for any feedback. A young prince investigates reports of animal attacks in a small village
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If it had been any ordinary night, the young Prince would have revelled in the sight of the stars bejewelling the sky. The crisp air would normally have made Macralor’s walk a pleasant one. He would have taken the opportunity to walk the gardens of the palace of Arad Duriz in peace, instead of marching through the vast reaches of Vectis to the outskirts of his glorious country, flanked by Royal security. The road leading into the small village was quite unlike any that Macralor had seen in the big cities. He would have barely called it a road. It was mostly just a clearing in the grass, created by the many carts rolling in and out of the village. In fact, if he had come to it on his own, he would have sworn that this place wasn’t even in Vectis. It was a world away from the comforts of home. The road led Macralor and his six armed guards into the heart of the village, blanketed in darkness, save for the torches carried by its new visitors. By the light of the torches, Macralor made his way through what looked like the village’s main square, though it was smaller than any market square he had ever seen. Beyond the square, a bridge carried the men over a narrow river and towards multiple rows of houses. Macralor could barely call them houses. 'They each look smaller than my bedroom,' he thought. They were no more than small huts and couldn’t have had more than two rooms in each of them. ‘Makes you think how good we’ve got it, doesn’t it?’ one of the men whispered. ‘It does,’ replied Macralor. Making their way along one of the rows of small huts, they noticed a light outside one of them; a torch in the doorway of one of the smaller huts. As they approached, the thin middle-aged man holding the torch came into view. At the sight of the lights, the man called out, ‘who goes there?’ As the torches came closer to his home, one of them revealed the young face, long dark hair and brown eyes of the Prince. ‘My Lord, many apologies, can’t be too careful round here, is all,’ he said with a bow to the Prince. Macralor couldn’t help but notice his sunken cheeks and thin frame. His shirt was tattered and his trousers had holes and tears in them. ‘Are you the man who contacted the palace?’ Macralor asked. ‘Yes, I am, sir. Wilf is the name, sir.’ ‘I hear you’ve had a slight pest problem?’ Macralor enquired. ‘Yes sir, and it’s only got worse since I wrote you, sir,’ Wilf replied. ‘Show us, let’s see if we can take care of it for you.’ With an obliging nod, Wilf led the seven men around the side of his house and towards the trees just behind it. The woods had been stripped bare by autumn and the only sound that filled the night was the crunch of dead leaves as the men walked on. Macralor and his guards each had a hand on their sheathed swords as they walked, quickly glancing in every direction. They followed Wilf, raising their torches as they went, but only saw more naked trees. Their torches barely kept away the sting of the cold against their cheeks. ‘Even the owls are staying away now, sir,’ Wilf said quietly, ‘you normally start to hear them this time of night.’ ‘How much further?’ asked Macralor. ‘Not far now, sir. I must warn you, it’s not a pretty sight, sir.’ The deeper they walked into the woods, the dimmer the moonlight seemed to become, its guiding light blocked by clouds that Macralor swore were not there just a moment earlier. It was then that Macralor realised how grateful he was to have Wilf as a guide; they turned in so many different directions, he wondered how Wilf had remembered the way. Let’s just hope he’s still around for the way back, thought Macralor. ‘This was where my dog started getting a little nervous this morning, sir,’ Wilf said, pointing his finger towards the ground in front of him. ‘He knew something weren’t right, that’s for sure. But I just thought he was being silly, sir. Messing around, you know. Until he started whining. Not sure I’ll bring him this way from now on, sir.’ As he stepped forward, Macralor realised why the dog had gotten nervous; a rancid smell hit him as soon as he reached the spot Wilf had pointed to. It caused each of the men to gag and stop in their tracks. ‘What is that?’ Macralor exclaimed, not daring to inhale. ‘You’ll see soon enough, sir. I should have warned you about the smell. Sorry, sir,’ Wilf replied, also temporarily taking his hand away from his nose. As they walked further, Wilf led them into a clearing in the woods. The moonlight was now almost gone, but the smell remained, and seemed to be getting stronger. ‘Over there, sir,’ Wilf said to Macralor. He pointed his torch out in front of him, and in the faint moonlight, the Prince saw what looked to be a long mound in the grass. He looked back at Wilf, who shook his head. ‘Please don’t make me go further, sir.’ With the aid of the torchlight, he could see Wilf was shaking and tears were starting to form in his eyes. Macralor turned to his guards, all with their spare hands grasping the hilts of their swords. ‘Two of you stay with Wilf,’ Macralor ordered. ‘Th-thank you, sir,’ Wilf replied. Macralor gestured the other four to move with him, slowly creeping forwards. It was then, as they got closer, Macralor realised that it was no mound in the grass. His torch revealed a body, lying on its back in the grass. As they got closer, every step revealed a new horror. The man’s eyes were no longer in their sockets, and the sockets were surrounded by scratches. Just feet away from the corpse, Macralor pointed his torch along it, only to see that the man’s chest had been opened. Torn. His ribcage had been broken open, like an assortment of small twigs, and every one of his organs were missing. Macralor had seen these wounds before, but never on a human. ‘Good Gods!’ one the guards exclaimed, before Macralor shushed him. The Prince turned towards Wilf, who was flanked by his two guards. ‘Escort him home and wait for us there. Nobody enters the forest,’ Macralor commanded quietly. ‘Yes, my lord,’ a guard nodded, before turning Wilf around and following him into the trees. Macralor slowly freed his sword from its scabbard. Seeing this, the four remaining guards did the same. ‘What could have done this?’ one guard asked with a whisper as they returned to the body. ‘A secaral,’ Macalor replied, seeing the nervous glances the guards exchanged. ‘It seems the stories are true, after all. The beasts of Gryst have escaped.’ The very thought of those beasts escaping from that hell brought a look of shock to the faces of Macralor’s guards. ‘How? Gryst is so heavily guarded.’ ‘I know,’ Macralor replied, ‘I cannot say how it escaped, but we must find it, and soon.’ ‘Why hasn’t it gone into the village? Surely it should have attacked by now?’ asked one of the guards. ‘It may not be fully grown yet. It will need to keep eating livestock if it’s to gain enough strength to attack the village outright. It’s already killed a human so it may not be far off. Like I said, we need to be quick.’ It was at that moment that a scream pierced the silence in the air. Not just any scream. A desperate scream. The kind a man lets out when he knows the end is coming. The kind of scream that Macralor was all too familiar with. Macralor swore that the scream was accompanied by a low growl amongst the trees. Without hesitation, the five men rushed into the woods. The guards’ grips on their swords had never been tighter. Their breath quickened. Despite the cold, beads of sweat trickled down to their brows. Despite their fear, they flanked Macralor as he advanced. The further they ran into the trees, the faster they seemed to get. Adrenaline pushed them forward until Macralor suddenly stopped in his tracks. There in front of him, among the dead leaves, lay the two guards that had been escorting Wilf home. They lay on their fronts, deep claw-marks had somehow pierced their armour and etched themselves into their backs. Macralor turned one guard onto his back, and instructed another guard to do the same for his fallen comrade. Their silver armour had been soaked with blood pouring from stab wounds in their necks. Despite his guards trying to keep stern, brave faces, Macralor noticed the colour had been completely drained from them. One tried to stop his hands from shaking, hoping Macralor wouldn’t notice. Another guard tapped Macralor on the arm and, after getting his attention, pointed a finger towards another body lying further along the path. Wilf lay on his back, his eyes removed and his chest torn. Macralor also noticed scratches and bite marks along his forearms. He had tried to shield his face. ‘None of their organs have been removed,’ remarked one guard. ‘It didn’t have time. I’m guessing it got the guards from behind, they never heard it coming. Wilf must have heard it and turned around. Once he saw the beast, he tried to run, and it chased,’ Macralor replied quietly. ‘But why leave the bodies like this, instead of finishing the job like it did with the other poor bastard?’ ‘It must have heard us coming. Or it saw the light from our torches.’ ‘So, it’s still nearby.’ Macralor nodded. ‘It’s waiting,’ he replied, ‘waiting for us to leave.’ ‘Leave?’ questioned a bewildered guard. ‘It won’t attack?’ ‘Not if it isn’t fully grown; it won’t have the strength to take on all of us.’ ‘What do we do?’ another guard asked. ‘If it won’t come out, we’ll have to lure it out,’ Macralor answered. ‘Leave the bodies. Let it think we’ve left.’ The Prince and his soldiers took up positions deep into the forest, behind wide trees, bows and arrows at the ready. Peeking from behind his tree, Macralor could just make out the dead bodies of the two guards. Nothing new to him, of course, he had seen guards fall before, but always in the desert hellscape that was Gryst. He had seen guards, soldiers, even friends fall to the monsters that infested that place. Now, however, it seemed strange to him that they should die in a usually quiet, remote part of Vectis that most of its citizens couldn’t point to on a map. 'How did the beast escape Gryst unnoticed?' Macralor wondered. It took minutes that felt like hours for them to hear the crunch of leaves and rustling in the tree branches ahead of them. Macralor instinctively tightened his grip on his arrow, and pulled back ever so slightly against the bowstring, watching as the secaral poked its wolf-like head from behind a tree in the distance. It came out into the open on all fours, revealing itself to be a thin, gangly creature. Macralor didn’t dare make a sound as its ears perked up, listening for the quietest disturbance. Its long nose twitched in the air as it moved forward, foot-long razor-sharp claws sprouting from its large paws. Its thin coat of grey fur was already stained with blood. The secaral stopped momentarily to cautiously stand on its long hind legs and turn its head in all directions, listening and sniffing intently. As it stood, Macralor realised he had been right; the creature stood at around six feet tall – not yet fully grown. It still had some weight to gain yet, though even at its current height and weight, this would be no easy task. The beast, on all fours once again, slowly and quietly crept over to the stricken Vectis guards. It ran its wide nose over the bodies; they had been disturbed. After taking another quick look around, it squatted on its hind legs and began to press one of its claws into the edge of the wound in the guard’s neck and stretch it open even wider. Macralor had seen enough. He raised his bow and released the arrow, watching it fly through the air and pierce the secaral’s back, between the shoulder blades. The beast let out a high-pitched scream of pain, then turned its head and let out a roar that shook the whole village awake. The creature wasted no time in attacking. Despite the thinness of its legs, they still had enough power in them to spring the secaral forward at an incredible speed. It was almost upon Macralor when its skin was pierced again by an arrow, this one cutting into its right front leg. The secaral screamed again, and as Macralor and one of his guards emerged from the trees and approached, it quickly turned to flee. If it had the element of surprise, it wouldn’t have hesitated to kill and eat, but even this mindless monster knew a hopeless endeavour when it saw one. As quickly as it set off, it was stopped again by the sight of three more guards walking forward into the moonlight, all with bows and arrows aimed at the secaral. It stopped and spun around to see all five of its enemies closing in around it. Macralor dropped his bow to the ground and approached with his sword pointed at the secaral. ‘Keep closing in,’ he commanded. ‘It’s going to make a move. The skin on its torso will still be weak.’ He eyed the beast and it glared back at him with large yellow eyes, glowing in the darkness. The secaral stood on all fours, baring its teeth and letting out a long, vicious growl, with its jaws open as if ready to sink its massive blood-stained teeth into Macralor’s skin. Macralor stood with his sword raised at eye level, ready for an attack. With its growl getting even louder, the secaral leaned back on its hind legs and pounced. It bounded forward quicker than a blink and jumped at Macralor. The Prince anticipated its jump and as soon as the secaral’s feet left the ground, he dropped his body to the floor and swung his sword upwards at the monster’s stomach as it rose above him. The secaral dropped back to the ground with a squeal of pain. The moment it landed, Macralor’s guards were on it in a flash. With the beast on its back, a guard fired another arrow straight into its chest. It let out a noise that sounded more like a wheeze than a roar as its body turned on its side. Back on his feet, Macralor approached the fallen secaral as it gasped for breath. He came closer to it, with his sword in hand and plunged it into the secaral’s neck. The stab took effort; he had to keep pushing through thick layers of skin before the secaral finally stopped moving. They noticed their arrows too, had barely penetrated the skin on its back. Once it had stopped moving, Macralor pressed the edge of his blade into the secaral’s neck and began hacking into it. Blood spattered the Prince’s armour as he continued cutting. ‘I think it’s dead, Your Majesty,’ one of his guards joked. ‘I’m taking the head back. My father won’t believe this if I just tell him,’ Macralor replied.