Part two or chapter six: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work/MaybeAnd...
The Fallen King
Lownire is under siege, and Liam is up on the city walls. The monsters approach from all sides, and Liam's blue fire of Astrum is the only thing that can stop them.
Liam swallowed dryly, moving the torch from his right to his left hand. The air was bitterly cold, biting at his fingers and nose. A slight breeze had started up, and every dance of its cold tongue across his skin was like ice.
Every eye was trained onto the wall of shadow, but that didn’t matter. No glare could pierce it.
The torch he held and those on the wall pushed against the sea of darkness, but the shadow was heavy, and it pressed back as well. They were an island of light in an inky sea of eternal blackness. As far as Liam knew, they were the only island. Well, one of the two, he looked gladly to the cliff. The lighthouse flashed like a little blue star. The clouds were still too thick to let in the moon or starlight, but the tower’s light still shone in the heavens.
Maybe the darkness did extend out over the world forever, but they kept it off. All it took was one torch to hold back its infinite tide and weight.
The attack in the morning had only been one of many. Liam had spent the entire misty day rushing from horn call to horn call, with barely any time to speak to torches, but no creature had made it over the wall.
Yet, Liam reminded himself.
The sun had set, and the real siege began. With more than half of the desired torches put out and the light of the moon and stars blocked by clouds, it was going to be a long night.
They had heard something out there just now, and now they couldn’t help but stare at the darkness as if it might split and reveal whatever it was hiding.
The darkness didn’t obstruct sound, though, so they were all listening more than watching.
They listened to the distant trees creaking in the wind, to the calm, steady breathing of Sitric, and to the calls of the crows high above.
They were circling - watching.
But what had caught the watch’s attention was the sound of a distant thumping. It was so deep it was more felt in the feet than heard. It sounded like a drum, or a rock being dropped onto sand,… or like the footsteps of some impossibly large creature.
“Oh, her hair was so…” Charles Fisk began to sing nervously in a low voice. Everyone turned to look at him. He cleared his throat. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“THERE!” One of the Watch shouted, pointing down.
A shadowy shape moved on the edge of the darkness. It seemed impossibly huge like one of the hills themselves had pulled up their deep feet and walked. Only part of its massive body was visible in the light, lumbering on at least five legs. There was no analog for it in the natural world that Liam knew of. The only thing he could think to compare it to was a spider with its many legs. But even that was deeply insufficient. Each of this thing’s legs were as thick as tree trunks. These terrible limbs met at a roundish segment, which barely moved into the light and was merely the silhouette of a tall and strange mass of woven bands or branches
As it moved, it sounded more like a mighty ship than a beast, creaking and cracking as it shifted. Each time a powerful foot met the ground, it shook the wall with a deep thud like a hull meeting the waves.
Liam’s terror was lost in his awe. He’d never seen something so gigantic move. The Darkness could do more than Corrupt the small beasts of the ground.
Three arrows were loosed in its direction. All met home, but the creature didn’t flinch. It merely took a few more lumbering steps and disappeared back into the Darkness. They all scanned the edges of the light, but it didn’t enter their vision again.
One younger member of the watch looked back and forth frantically. “What is it doing?” He muttered, his voice shaking. “Where is it?”
Sitric placed his good hand on the man’s back, “Steady boy,” He urged. “It’s looking for an unguarded entrance, one without the light. The torches and their Keeper,” He glanced back at Liam, “Hold it at bay for now, but if it can find the right area, it will climb over the wall.” Sitric squeezed the young man’s shoulder. “But we won’t let that happen.”
“What is it?” Liam asked, once again filled with a strange sense of awe.
“The Corruption takes many forms,” Hough said in his rough voice. “It awakens what it corrupts, giving it strange, new, and terrible power. It can corrupt beasts, men, or sometimes even the very earth and trees themselves. That looked like a twisted and warped tree, walking on its roots and branches like legs. It was awakened to serve Darkness, and its own strength and wisdom corrupted to be our enemy.” Hough glanced at the young man, who seemed to be shaking all the more now. “But it carries its weakness forward as well. It is still slow and still very susceptible to burning. That’s why it didn’t approach the wall. The fire of Astrum holds it at bay.”
Liam thought back on Grandpa in the lighthouse. He claimed that sometime soon, a shadow would come, and all of Astrum would go out. Then, there’d be no light to hold these things at bay.
The night wore on. With every passing hour, Liam would feel his strength ebb. They would bring him torches, and he would place his hands in the fire and speak the words. Every time the fire filled with blue, it seemed to be taking something out of him. Then, Liam would think that he had run out of energy and that his heavy eyes would fall, but then they’d hear the high-pitched cry of the night, see a passing creature, or be summoned to another part of the wall by horn, and his blood would be filled with fear. Fear that could keep him awake.
Mercifully, Sitric seemed to know Liam was drained with each torch he spoke to, so he commanded his soldiers to only bring one every few minutes. More, and Liam would have collapsed.
Liam leaned against the wall, trying to rest his aching feet and sore back. They had given him a breastplate, but it weighed down on him, the leather straps digging into his shoulders. He closed his eyes and rested his head on top of a battlement. He had just spoken to a torch. Another wouldn’t be brought for a few minutes.
Suddenly, he heard a whisper in his ear and nearly felt the breath on his neck. His head shot up, the sound pulling him out of his stupor. Liam looked around but saw no one who could have done it. Fisk and Hugh were talking in lowered voices, James was standing next to the ladder behind them, ready to deliver a message, and Sitirc was staring out into the darkness.
Liam felt his eyes drawn out to that same darkness like a rock is drawn down a hill. For a moment, he didn’t see it, but then his gaze fell upon a shadow.
A figure stood just on the border between the thick, inky night and the torchlight. It was so close to the darkness he thought for a moment it could be something his mind had made out of the shadow, but no, it was truly there.
It was made of the purest black like a part of the night had detached itself and formed a man.
It couldn’t be anyone from inside the village. The gates had been closed since he had entered the morning before. No, this was another one of the Shadows of The Beast. Another one of its dark servants. This was man Corrupted.
The talking of Hugh and Fisk began to be drowned out as intense silence filled his ears. Thick like the shadow, it was the same silence that had surrounded the stallion. It was filled with whispers of Darkness.
The figure stepped out of the darkness and farther into the light. Liam still watched it. It wanted to tell him something. It had already tried to whisper to him.
Liam felt a hand on his shoulder, and the human contact pulled him back to the wall. He ripped his eyes away from the figure to see large Fisk gripping his arm and looking at him with concern and Hugh behind him.
“What do you see?” Fisk asked.
Liam, unable to speak, merely pointed at the figure.
The two turned, narrowing their eyes. It took them a moment, but then they gasped. Liam was almost more horrified to discover they saw it too.
“Bear’s fangs,” Fisk cursed in the King’s speech.
“Sitric,” Hugh hissed. Sitric stepped forward and followed their gaze. His face darkened, and his good hand went to the hilt of his Lownire blade.
Fisk picked up a bow leaning against the wall and knocked an arrow.
“No use,” Sitric said, placing his hand on the bow. “It doesn’t have a body of flesh to injure.”
They watched helplessly as it stepped towards the wall. The light of the torches did not illuminate any of its features as it stepped closer. It absorbed every particle of light and returned none to the eyes of the viewer. It was still made of pure shadow. Liam watched as it arrived beneath them. Beneath him. Had he been wrong? Why was it looking at him? Why was it coming to him? There were darker sections of the wall. Why did it come here?
It placed its shadowy hand on the wall. Liam’s breathing became shaky. He’d never even seen a crack in the wall, but if he had ever seen a force he thought could break the stone, it was now.
As if the figure was made of a thick dark liquid, its body shifted and pulled into the wall, flowing through its arm. The shadow fitting between the stone bricks like an ooze. It made its way up the bricks, the liquid sliding between the stones like water down the cobblestone street. It stopped as they got close to the torches and pulled away. Flowing away from the torches, the shadow found a dark patch where one of the torches had been put out.
It flowed over the top of the wall and stopped on the platform where they stood. The shadowy puddle reformed itself from the legs up. It was facing them, not the city. Looking at them, not the countless unprotected innocents lying in their beds.
It was looking at him.
It wanted to tell him something.
Another messenger, but this one even more powerful than the last. Liam felt like his thoughts had been frozen in his mind. It was the same as when he had looked into the eyes of the stallion. He was trapped.
Sitric moved himself between the group and the creature. His Lownire blade glistened as he took it from his belt, turning the small flickerings of firelight into a dazzling silver brightness.
“Return from whence thou came, or thou will know the sting of light,” Sitric recited in a growl. It was a challenge to duel by old tradition. The creature must either fight him or return to the dark wood.
It was the city’s only defense against the men of Shadow. Without the torches, there was nothing stopping the figure of Darkness from continuing to the other side of the wall and wreaking havoc - nothing but a challenge. It could not deny a challenge to a duel. A knight of Darkness was still bound by the old codes.
It turned its head from Liam to Sitric. Slowly and carefully, one hand reached to its waist. Silently, it drew a sword made of pure shadow.
Liam realized Sitric stood no chance, not in his current state, not against that. But Sitric was no idiot. He knew that. Sitric knew that by uttering those words, he was throwing away his chance at seeing his child be born, at coming home to a bed that day.
Sitric stepped forward and into a crouching position, ready to spring.
“Stars bless us, light defends us, and purity encircles us,” Hough muttered, drawing his own Lownire blade and stepping back. If Sitric fell, he would challenge this thing to a duel, and if he fell, Liam would have to take up Hugh’s blade and do the same. That was the responsibility the Old One had given them. He had given the Keepers his power, making them the only mortals who could face The Beast’s greatest servants.
Liam felt utterly paralyzed at the thought of Sitric dying for him. The dark figure had come to see Liam. Now he could do nothing about it. With the stallion, Sitric had a chance of winning, and Liam had been able to aid in that battle; Neither were possibilities now. The rules of the duel forbid him from intervening, and even Sitric could not defeat a knight with one arm.
The shadow stepped forward, raising its long dark blade. Sitric held the dagger in front of himself. It alone could deflect the shard of Shadow. It was the only thing that could pierce the knight’s Dark defense.
Suddenly, a ray of rosy dawn struck the figure. Shining between the chimneys, the tops of the buildings, and over the broad back of the sea, from the little point of the sun which had just kissed over the horizon, came the blessed beams of light.
There was one other thing that could harm that being of Shadow - the King of Light himself. The greatest star of them all, the blessed Solis who rode the sky and, with his host, had spoken the world into existence.
The figure screeched in a sound like metal rubbing against metal. As fast as a nightmare flees the mind after waking to a bright morning, the shadow shifted into the stone and fled back over the side of the wall. The flowing darkness darted along the shadows collected in every pocket and crack of the valley. The four watched as the shadowy figure reformed on the edge of the forest. It looked back at them all - looked back at Liam - and then stepped back into the western forest.
He had surrendered in the duel. He had fled the sting of the light.
Sitric collapsed back against the wall and took a deep breath, his Lownire blade slipping from his hands, and he shakily rubbed his face. He had survived.
With sunrise, it meant it was all over.
Liam felt relief wash over him like the warm sunlight. Liam heard a muted sob escape from Fisk’s large chest. They were alive.
Liam closed his eyes and slid to a sitting position, resting his head against the wall behind him.
All he wanted was a bed and to never hear the horn’s call again.
Liam heard the creaking of the ladder and the click of a boot as someone stepped onto the wall. Could it be someone bringing him breakfast or here to guide him back to a bed?
Liam opened his eyes and was surprised to see Cormac standing in his nightclothes, wearing a quickly thrown-on set of boots.
“Dad,” Cormac said, voice full of nervousness. Another monster? Liam wondered… no, it couldn’t be. The sun was rising.
Sitric looked up. “Cormac, what are you doing here?” Sitric asked, confused. Apprentices weren’t allowed on the wall.
“Dad, it’s mom… she sent me as soon as she felt it,” Cormac began.
Sitric paused, his eyes filling with terror, “What?” He asked breathlessly
Cormac paused and gestured vaguely. “The baby has started to come.”
The calm Sitric had maintained through every battle, through every encounter, shattered in one instant. Maria’s baby was coming.
1. Once again, does this feel repetitive or pointless?
2. Do you think by showing the Corruption in all its forms, (plant, beast, and man) establishes its power and terror?
3. Do you think the events in this chapter would get Liam closer to possibly accepting the duty his grandfather offers?