Stag's Shadow

a story
2015-01-27 13:53:11,
2015-01-28 17:31:08
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            Aksel Jarle tightened his coat against the harsh cold of the night. He straitened the collar to better protect from the openness of the evening. He was making his way down a forest road toward his homestead in West Maa Hamara. He hated the cold, for he was not used to hit. His wool coat and wool long johns did nothing to fight back Maa Hamara’s winters.


            At least he was heading home to a hearth warmer than the lantern in his hand and a wife warmer than his hearth. He tipped his tricorn hat lower against the small breeze and walked on down the trail. A fresh coat of snow had powdered the trail, and he was the only one who had disturbed it. He had been away on business in Titania for some time. Being a merchant of cucumbers and carrots, he often visited other nations to strike deals and establish trade with the collection of farms with whom he represented. Now, however, it was time to head home.


            A snow Carriage wrung a bell behind him, and he stepped aside. Mister Varshn was on his way home. Atop a coach which was on skies instead of wheels, it was dragged on by two large woolly forest steer. Mr. Varshn waved from atop the coach. Varshn was Aksel's neighbor, who lived over a mile up the road from him. Aksel enjoyed the solitude, but Mr. Varshn had been a good friend to him for years.


            “On yer way hoe, Ah’sel?” Mr. Varshn called out.


            “To the misses, eye, sir,” cried Aksel, smiling at the awful accent, “You have a safe trip home yourself, sir!”


            “I’m fi’e. Built strong, I am,” said Mr. Varshn, “Is you I worrin’ bout!”


            The carriage wasted no time in passing Aksel and continuing down the road. Aksel found himself unwillingly walking in the trail of the carriage until he had reached the path towards his homestead. Turning off the road, he begun down the path towards his home.


            In a few short strides, it became obvious that something was off. No smoke came out of his home’s chimney. No light could be seen from indoors. Aksel frowned. On a cold winter’s night such as this, there is no way they couldn’t have a fire going. The snow around the house was undisturbed. The door was shut. Rushing through the snow, Aksel called out for his wife.


            “Esther?” he cried, “Esther? Are you there? Esther!”


            Reaching his door, he found it locked. Struggling with his coin purse, he found the key he kept for his home. Turning it in the lock, he rushed inside.


            The house was dark. Aksel’s breath fogged in front of him as if he was outside. There appeared to be nothing out of place. A coat rack was beside the door, and Esther’s cloak and bonnet were still there. On the walls, photographs of places and friends still hung. In the center of the room a large oak table sat. Four chairs sat around it.


            As Aksel’s eyes adjusted to the dim of the house, he noticed that beyond the table, by the hearth, was a setup he didn’t recognize. A figure leaned against the fire place. Around them, candles smoldered in place. Bowls with unknown contents littered the floor by their feet.


            “Esther?” asked Aksel, “Is that you?”


            Stepping closer into his house, Aksel placed the lantern on the table, turnings its light to the figure. He gasped out in horror, bringing his hand to his mouth.


            Through the tears welling inside his eyes, Aksel gazed upon the corpse of his wife, Esther. She had been tied and lashed against the fireplace. Her stomach and chest had been opened. Her head was wrapped in her blouse, and her arms and legs were spread out and restrained.


            In the bowls by her feet were what Aksel could only describe as her organs. Strange chalk sketching was only around the floor and on the fireplace behind her. Aksel let out a gag. He tried to blink away some tears.


            Turning around, he barely had time to notice the second figure in the room. As quickly as Aksel laid eyes upon him, the figure rushed forward. A blade glinted in the darkness. Thinking fast, Aksel leapt backwards. The blade cut into his coat, through his shirt and opening up his chest.


            Reaching for his dagger, Aksel barely had time to kick one of the chairs in defense as his assailant continued his assault. A knife flew past his head, cutting his ear and slicing off a part of his hat. The assailant was not kept back by the chair. The blade forced itself forward again, digging into Aksel’s shoulder. Before Aksel could react, the figure had pulled out the dagger and rolled on the floor.


            In the time it took Aksel to draw his own dagger and lash out, the assailant had dropped to the floor and rolled. Smaller blades cut at Aksel’s shins, causing his knees to buckles. The figure rose and lashed out, tearing at Aksel’s calfs. As Aksel fell forward, the assailants blade cut into his upper arm. His hand went numb and his own dagger crashed to the floor. The assailants boot was in his throat in another minute.


            Aksel gurgled to himself, kneeling on his own floor. The assailant rose above him. Sharp eyes bore down on Aksel. The man had antlers artificially planted in his head, the edges of which were sharpened and dripping blood. He wore strange robes, but had furs haphazardly draped over them.


            “Aksel Jarle,” said the figure, “I have searched for you for some time. You have been hunted by me. Did you think your deeds in Golah had gone unnoticed?”


            “I… Golah,” sputtered Aksel, “How… who are you?”


            “My client states you stole a great deal from him,” said the figure, “So he sent for the Stag’s Shadow. Now you must deal with me.”


            “Esther… lords… Esther…”


            “She screamed and fought valiantly,” said the figure, “Her life force has given me much enjoyment. I pray yours will do the same.”

             "I... I haven't been to Golah in a year," coughed Aksel, "Who... I'm going to kill you... for my Esther."

            Clasping his hands together, dagger in hand, the Stag’s Shadow began to mumble a prayer. Reaching into a pouch on his belt, the Stag’s Shadow presented a bloody organ and began wiping it on Aksel’s forehead.


            “You killed my wife,” said Aksel, “What did I do in Golah to deserve this?”


            “Silence,” said the Stag’s Shadow, “I am anointing your spirit.”


            The man continued to mumble and pray, his eyes rolling upward and his mouth beginning to spit with the words. Aksel was beginning to get a headache from the fiery tears he was weeping. Looking around, he could see his sword hung up outside their bedroom door. Looking over by the stove, he could see his bolt-action rifle hanging on the gun stand.


            Falling to the ground, Aksel tried to crawl towards the rifle. His legs were barely working, and he was losing blood in his toes. His arm which held the dagger was completely useless. Whatever the man had done to his arm had thrown it out of commission. Aksel was left to half-drag himself across the floor with one hand. He could still hear the Stag’s Shadow’s mumbled prayers behind him as he slowly made his way across the homestead.


            “With your soul, my powers will grow,” said the man, “And the ancient ones will be appeased.”


            “You’re insane, you bastard,” said Aksel, “I will send you straight to Vanaer!”


            “Accept your fate,” said the Stag, “You were not a challenge.”


            Aksel reached the kitchen and grabbed the broom. As delicately as he could, he attempted to knock the rifle down from the rack.


            “Everyone acts differently when they see Death approaching,” said the Stag’s Shadow, “You fight, despite overwhelming loss.”


            “I’ll kill you,” sputtered Aksel, “You bastard!”


            Just as the rifle cleared the wrung, it toppled to the ground. As it fell, the Stag’s Shadow’s dagger rose and fell onto Aksel. The assassin shoved the dagger right through the back of Aksel’s neck and pushed him to the ground. The dagger dug into the wood of the floor. The riffle clattered to the ground.



            Olvir Ragnar looked down at his victim. The man loed still. Placing his foot on his back, Ragnar pulled the dagger from Jarle’s neck. Breathing in, Ragnar prayed to the dark ones that his kill was pleasing.


            “Everyone dies differently,” he mumbled to himself, looking down at the corpse, “Many have faced my blade and very few have escaped. Some beg, some barter, some just cry. A few pray. I have even had one duel me.”


            Flipping over the body, Ragnar took off his damaged hat and tossed it aside. After cutting off the victim’s buttons, Ragnar went about removing his organs to procure his heart.


            “You have fought on. Your soul is strong and noble,” continued Ragnar, “You shall increase my powers ten-fold. I am glad I was hired to kill you. Despite the travel to this frozen excuse of a country. I hate Adelon.”


            He turned on the stove, glad that he could now start to heat the house. Ragnar began to boil water for a stew, placing the hearts of the two victims into the pot along with some herbs and animal parts. He then poured some blood into the mixture and began to cook. While it boiled, Ragnar went to begin distributing straw about the house. Pulling the body of Jarle to his wife, he covered them both in hay. Breaking up the chairs, he distributed the wood around their body. He brought the lamp over to the stove, grateful for the light now.


            Looking down at the man’s hat, Ragnar noticed that there was a letter stitched inside of it. Curiosity got the better of him and he knelt down to look inside the hat. Inside the letter read: “Dear Mister Ragnar, now that-”


            Tossing away the hat, Ragnar stood straight up and breathed in. His eyes widened and he glared at the hat now on the floor. He was so confused. He was carrying a hat with HIS name in it.


            Ragnar decided to once again pick up the hat. Tearing out the letter, he opened it. A small card drifted from the envelope and fluttered to the ground. He left it.  Ragnar opened the letter again.


            “Dear Mister Ragnar, Now that you have your target, I implore you to join me for a real challenge.”


            Ragnar’s eyes looked pass the letter, looking at the card.


            The white business card on the floor seemed to be shine out to him. He picked it up. “221 Seadeer St” was clearly printed on the card.  On the back, scratched in fading ink, was the words “See you in Antiford”.  Ragnar clutched the card.  He couldn’t allow this letter to go unheeded.


            After consuming his ghastly concoction, he prayed once more.  Taking the lantern, he hurled it at the bodies, shattering it and causing the hay to catch alight.


            Using Jarle’s footprints to mask his exit, he hurried away from the Adelonian house as black smoke began to billow from it. He turned up his fur hood and headed out into the storm. The snow would mask the burnt remains for months.


            The Stag’s Shadow disappeared into the world. One destination on his mind.