Smoke and Fury
It was the smoke that Rikin saw first. Though the undulating
rolls of the
prairie hid most of the landscape from him, it was the large, black
that told him that something was wrong up ahead. His walk from Tyshin’s
Rift had been quiet for the most part, preferring to avoid anyone—which
included grouping with other travelers. As the lanky man continued
following the path worn by the feet of travelers and monks, the smoke
got closer. Rikin had even stopped at one point to study his map to see
there was a way around the town the path cut through but, in the end,
would have rather dealt with this than getting lost on the prairie that
stretched as far as the eyes could see.
It was the smell that hit him first. The acrid taste in the air of
wood mixed with the sweet scent of death and burned flesh. The carnage
Rikin saw as he crested the hill made him sigh. Running his weathered
through the shock of brown hair, he was of a mind to just circle around
risk the endless sea of grass and the roving dryad tribes. The man
shouldered his canvas bag and hoped that it was just a simple walk
as he really did not want to get in a tussle with the Dryads again.
The town sprung up around the path that cut across the Great Emerald
Plains. The dirt road morphed into cobblestone including a bridge that
crossed one of the few creeks that crisscrossed the plains. On the
side of the bridge stood the town with its slate stone building and
thatched roofs that gave the place the look of civilization. The
was that most of it had been burnt to the ground, the stone foundations
like many skeletons of the consumed.
There were bodies scattered all over of men, women, and children. He
shifted the rucksack on his shoulder and ignored the destruction around
as it wasn’t something he had not seen before. Though the man had some
curiosity about what had attacked, he felt the sooner he left the
off he would be.
Rikin’s frown deepened as he slowed nearing the town square. It was the
white pennant with gold trimming and a stylized hammer in the center
got his attention. The Golden Crusaders were not something he expected
the wilds but there they were. The pennant wasn’t a forgery because it
too clean and perfect, just like the members of the ruthless army.
the Icon of Righteousness, the consummate representative of Shamak, the
Muse of Justice, they claimed to eliminate evil anywhere it could be
Some are foolhardy enough to claim they could beat a Torment and their
The traveler had even heard some brag that they could take down a
the opposite but as powerful as their Icon. Their arrogance knew no
One thing was for certain though, the Golden Crusade did not just
villages when it suited them. Something here had gotten their
He crouched down and examined the body of the male whose robes told him
used to be the mayor, his form used to support the pole the pennant was
He noted the tattoos of the Roaming Clans and pulled back a sleeve to
wince. The man’s arm had been chewed off.
A closer examination of those around him saw that the other bodies were
states of consumption. Rikin stood again, a bit more alert and his
loosened in its sheath.
Of course, the traveler knew he should continue and make his way toward
North Obsidia and turned to head out to the other end of the town. What
happened here was done and there was nothing that could change the fate
Instead of doing what he knew he should have done, he pushed open the
cracked wooden door and walked cautiously. Rikin’s eyes darted back and
forth, and he ignored the stench that wafted around him. The hovel had
torn apart and decimated by a fight. He did not even stop to consider
black stains splashed about. What he was interested in was the
This was the focal point. Instinct and experience told him this with
certainty. Why he needed to confirm this was beyond Rikin now but the
creaking steps to the basement woke him up. The traveler had to bend
bit to keep from smashing his head on the roughhewn wood ceiling. It
the door, lower in a corner, that caught the eye. It was barely glowing
the little idol on a black pedestal of wood was obvious.
The little statue was broken in half but the form of a very gaunt male
robes too loose for his own body was familiar. Someone had an alter to
Throp, the Torment of Excess. Inside was the remains of a plague stone
had to have started the debacle above.
With a sigh of resignation, Rikin stood and made his way back out. He
made a few steps past the front door when the patter of feet against
cobblestone reached his ears. It was more instinct than anything else
Rikin threw himself to the side and the blur of bodies missed him. They
landed in a pile in front of the man, scrambled, and turned on him
They were once a man and woman, but the flesh clung to them, their
so wide that the blackness ate up any color left. They grunted and
feral and hungry for flesh; their minds completely gone, only a husk of
human left. All the hallmarks of those who had fallen to tomb sickness.
They were now only revenants, cannibalistic creatures who would hunt
feed until something killed them. That explained why the Golden Crusade
The woman leaped at him only to be impaled by his dagger and thrown at
man, Rikin using her destroyed body as a shield. They stood again to
but Rikin had enough, he extended his hand and twisted, the air
for a second in a scent of magic, and their heads turned roughly and
snapped, dropping to the ground.
As he knelt to examine the remains for any telltale signs, Rikin caught
movement out of the corner of his eye. There was a small form crouched
behind a pile of rubble. It was then he made eye contact with a pair of
wide blue eyes. A survivor? Rikin saw her step out. She was a young
around eleven years old, her pale blue dress with lace tattered and
clinging to her scrawny body, covered in dried blood and mud. One
had come undone while the other was still perfect with a blue bow of
“Hello,” Rikin said gently as he kept crouching so as not to spook her.
“Are you okay?”
The child crept over slowly to him, her wide eyes watching him, the
expression of a girl who saw more than she should have for her age. Her
black hair was a knotted mess. He raised his hand to gently brush the
clumps of dirt away and she froze like a feral animal. Lowering his
but leaving it extended, he tried to be comforting.
“It’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”
Though the movement was fast, his eyes could follow it. Her pupils grew
wide until the black consumed her eyes, the razor-sharp teeth were
and her jaw unhinged as she lunged and sunk her teeth into the meat of
hand. Rikin grunted and used the other to backhand her causing her to
back stunned. Her eyes returned to normal, and tears burst from her
“I’m sorry,” she said, weeping. “I’m really hungry.”
Hungry? Rikin looked down at his bleeding hand where the wound was
repairing itself. Tomb Sickness wasn’t spread by bite, so he wasn’t
concerned about that. What attracted his attention was that this
could still speak and appeared self-aware. This was new. Standing and
stepping forward, the girl took the same amount back.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
The traveler held up his hand to show that the puncture wounds were
She looked at it curiously and then back at him.
“Have you eaten?”
She hung her head as her shoulders slumped in shame. She nodded slowly.
“I ate mommy.”
Poor thing. Consumed by tomb sickness but not lost. It was the only
grace of being a revenant. Your soul was gone and only the monster
“It’s not your fault,” Rikin said gently.
He approached and laid a hand on her shoulder. He saw the pupils shift
again but they retracted as she somehow controlled the urge. He hefted
up into his arms which made her start for a quick second and then
her head in fear in his shoulder.
“What’s your name?”
“Naeva,” she finally volunteered, her face still pushed against the
of his coat.
“Well, Naeva,” Rikin said, letting her back down. “Are you hungry now?”
“I’m always hungry.”
The eyes told the truth. She was much more aware of her predicament
“You survived,” he said. “Don’t judge yourself. Want something to eat?”
The girl nodded, her eyes showing the conflict. Rikin put his hand out
she took it. He led her over to another body that was pretty much
He brought her to it and a look of nervousness came to her face.
“It's okay. You need your strength. I won’t do anything.”
“Survival,” Rikin said. “Is first.”
The hunger in her belly won out as the blue of her eyes vanished again
she began to rip into her meal. He crouched and watched as her nails
claws and the hunger consumed her. She was three quarters done when she
stopped and stepped back.
“No more,” she said, looking a bit guilty.
“I’m a monster, aren’t I?” Naeva said, wiping her mouth and leaving a
streak on her clothes.
“Yes, but so am I.”
Her eyes looked at him inquisitively but before he could say anything
voices broke his concentration.
A troop of about fifteen soldiers wearing the colors of the Golden
came around the corner and pointed towards Naeva. Naeva’s eyes grew
with terror, and she struggled to climb him. He returned her to his
Pushing through the group of soldiers was a large man wearing a full
way too shiny armor and a billowing cape of a cohort leader pointed at
“You,” he commanded. “Stand fast.”
“I’m just passing through,” Rikin said, raising his canvas bag to show
the other hand.
“If you’re not tainted like this village, then we have no quarrel with
But we have a quarrel with that beast you're holding.”
Naeva tightened her grip on his arm and buried her face deeper.
“The girl?” Rikin asked.
The man in the armor scoffed. Obviously, the drying blood on her dress
not help the lie.
“She’s with me.” Rikin finally said, then sighed. He was irritated with
himself that after months avoiding interactions, he had thrown himself
the middle of it all again.
“By order of the Golden Crusade, you are to give me the beast so we can
my muse’s holy work,” the armored man commanded, pointing the
“She’s a child. She still thinks. The girl is not a revenant like the
“She is a foul monster who must be dispatched before her filth can harm
“You and I know tomb sickness doesn’t spread by bite,” Rikin shot back
trying to think of anything to stop where this was all going.
“Again, traveler. In the name of Shamak, the Muse of Justice. Surrender
A cold swept through Rikin’s spine and his eyes narrowed. His anger
simmered deep inside himself at the name of the muse.
“I don’t recognize your authority,” Rikin responded. His voice became
and even. He had sworn to stay away from the power inside him, but he
chosen to protect the girl.
The large man’s eyes hardened as the other men began to surround him.
“Bold of you, traveler,” the armored leader said. “I shall be gracious
give you one more chance to stand aside.”
Did he hesitate because he sensed something off? Rikin didn’t know. The
hesitation was long enough that one of the soldiers moved first. The
seemed to shift as the dagger in his free hand moved perfectly. Four
soldiers attacked, four swipes of the blade and they lay on the ground
“Who are you?” their leader demanded, having drawn his shield from his
back, seemingly realizing there was more to the traveler who was
the little one in his arm.
There really was no reason to hide it. Rikin could not let any of them
anyhow. From their point of view, it appeared like his clothes were on
as ornate armor and a circlet of burnished iron appeared on his
Within his left hand, a battle hammer appeared emblazoned with a
dagger wreathed in fire.
“I am the Harrow of Rage.”
They came at him, but the soldiers did not stand a chance against one
sold his freedom to the Torment of Wrath. The power of the dark Torment
swirled through him as his battle hammer struck, killing many
The leader was decently trained. He survived three blows before the
hit, but the hammer crushed the soldier’s skull, dropping him in place.
Even Naeva had jumped out of his arms and dragged a fleeing soldier
her and finished him while he screamed.
The armor melted away, back to the illusion of his simple clothing.
crouched as Naeva came over to him, her eyes filled with admiration and
“I wish to come with you,” she said bravely, taking his hand. Rikin
back down at the pair of blue eyes staring back up at him.
All Rikin wanted was quiet and to get to the coast. He thought for a
and then nodded.
“I will teach you how to protect yourself and make sure you are fed,”
started as he gestured towards the road. “But you cannot eat anyone
my express permission. This road is going to be hard. Much harder than
you stay here or I just kill you.”
“I promise,” Naeva said with a solemn nod. “I don’t want to be alone. I
want to stay with another monster.”
That brought a smile to his face. Rikin gave her a little squeeze but
glanced over to the bodies lying around. He nodded towards them as she
gazed at them.
“How about you get a bit more to eat before we go? It’s a long road to
© 2023 Jonathan Snyder
Bio: Mr. Snyder has been writing
stories since his mother handed him a college typewriter at the age of
twelve. With a love for stories and the written word, he has continued
to share his work with anyone willing to hold still long enough to be
caught. His publication credits include Aphelion, JukePop, Gateway
Science Fiction Magazine and the popular Horror subreddit r/nosleep.
http://www.jtworld.net His last Aphelion appearance was Hitchhiker in
the First Contact, 2019 issue.
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