The King Is Dead
by Al Burke
Genre: Epic Fantasy
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Peter knew the legends of the barren lands to the north of the forest, but they were only legends. The only people who claimed to still see creatures wandering the Waste were the occasional sots, and the odds of a drunk even capable of walking that far were slim at best. Still, the forest was tricky, and though he knew his way well enough, it was easy to get lost, even for a woodcutter such as himself. With night settling in soon, Peter thought it unwise to venture to the other side at this hour.
Sally liked Peter. Granted, Sally liked all the boys, but she seemed to like Peter more so, maybe drawn to his prospects. He had finished his apprenticeship earlier than his peers and had a mature head on his shoulders. But maybe she was just testing him like she had tested many others before him. His wise self though better of trips through the forest in the dark, but when did a 16-year-old boy in love ever listen to wisdom?
Peter made sure to follow the logging paths, but the night darkened in a hurry the deeper they advanced into the forest. “Perhaps we should stop and spend the night here,” suggested Peter as it became harder to follow the trail. “It’s hard to even see the stars, and we could end up walking in a circle.”
“Scared,” said Sally in that infuriating, mocking tone of hers. Infuriating, yes, but it also drove all the boys crazy, and Peter was hardly immune to her wiles.
“We’ll be able to see the sky again soon, and I heard the wasteland is beautiful at night. I promise you a kiss if you take me all the way.”
How could Peter say no? None of his friends had even gotten to kiss Sally, despite their protestations to the contrary. With a sigh, knowing this was going to be more trouble than it was worth, Peter continued. The forest was a sight to behold at night, but it was eerily quiet, with the usual sounds of nocturnal feeders absent. If Peter were alone, this would have spooked him more, as he could travel silently as the need required. Sally, however, was unused to the forest, having learnt the ropes of being a merchant from her father―knowing your way around woods was not a requirement. While she would no doubt profit from this as they grew older, right now she charged through the forest like a bull in heat and created a din that would likely scare half the forest’s denizens into going hungry this night.
Peter was reassured when he finally heard some rustling in the bushes, but as they walked, it sounded like something bigger than what typically inhabited these woods. “Shhh,” he cautioned. “I think something is tracking us in the bushes.”
“Oh, it’s probably just a badger,” replied Sally.
“Then it’s a big badger,” Peter retorted, “and one that we should be wary of. There isn’t another sound in the woods. Listen! Not an owl, not even cricket.”
“They’re probably just scared of us, which is ironic, as a big, brave woodsman like you seems to be scared of them. Wait until I tell everyone back at the village,” she said as she raced off deeper into the forest.
Peter sighed again. Her jibe had stung, but Peter was becoming concerned with the prospect of whatever may be in the bushes. He had heard of creatures such as wolves and bears that lived in other parts of Etruvia, but none had been heard of in these parts for hundreds of years. Badgers and foxes were as predatory as the local wildlife got, and even they steered clear of the villagers.
The forest suddenly erupted into a cacophony of sounds. The first was a strange clicking sound, which was followed by a chilling scream that could only have come from Sally. Peter threw caution to the wind and raced in the direction of the noises, half expecting to see Sally rolling around on the ground laughing, having played her finest practical joke on Peter. Sadly, it was not to be the case.
Peter burst into a clearing, where a frightening spider-like creature, easily the size of an ox, had speared Sally on a sword-like leg and was in the process of tearing her open from belly to neck. Peter quickly looked for a weapon, but the spider-thing spotted him. It made to attack him too, but a strange drumming noise distracted the creature, and it vanished in a whirr of legs into the brush, leaving Peter to collapse, vomiting up the contents of his stomach and screaming at the loss of Sally.
Al's favourite genres are fantasy, science fiction and horror.
Al is a huge fan of mythology, and his future works will incorporate different legends.
Al has a degree in Philosophy, with particular interest in Morality and Philosophies of Freedom.
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