Horror / Fantasy
Date Published: 8/18/2015
Morrigan is beyond death, trapped in a hellish nightmare from which only the Artist can save her. The Fiend is behind enemy lines learning to reap what he has sown. The Artist reaches deep into his past to find a reason for the strange woman he now must rescue from the vile Dark Man. The Winged Man is forced to wait while all of the elements he needs to start war with hell itself fall into place. Will he fight alone or will his shattered family unite with him?
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Michelle Barclay is a copywriter and author from Massachusetts. She hikes, draws, does pyrography, cooks and spends time with her family when she isn't writing or reading. She lives on the South Shore in Massachusetts with her husband, ethical hacker Adrian Hayter.
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Wide green eyes sparkle with tears. Filth and blood cover the skin around them. The once beautiful and now sallow face they belong to grinds against thick gore. A sigh escapes past the bleeding cracks of Morrigan's lips and her features relax. Seconds later, she screams and spit slithers out of her mouth to collect with the excretions and slime surrounding her.
As the brutal pain once again subsides for a moment, Morrigan feels as if she is dancing in a ballroom with a small child in her arms. The sensation is very real and for the briefest of moments, Morrigan is away from this awful place with its endless, undulating blackness. The terrible trauma of her death immediately follows this dream, as it always does. She lies there weaving in and out of bliss and horror in a prison of which she is unaware. She has no concept of time. Day and night do not exist here. She has no idea that countless others are trapped in the darkness that surrounds her. They too are reliving the last moments of their lives over and over.
Death snatched Morrigan from life and put her in this place nearly a year earlier. Before death dared to rip her away from life, Morrigan was happy. It was a feeling with which she was relatively unfamiliar. Being pregnant and in love helped her find her place in the world just before her existence became one of unknowing torment.
One night, while the living Morrigan Fuseli slept comfortably in a cozy cottage, an undead man tore her spine from her living body. Evil matched the beauty in Morrigan's life and so it ended. That man, Eric, now exists in a state very similar to Morrigan's. Morrigan knows nothing of this. She does not even know who she was or what is happening to her. She has forgotten her beloved man of nightmares. She forgets their child too, even as it still squirms in her womb in this dank place. All recognition of those thoughts fled long ago. Here and now, she is simply the girl who dances and screams while the orchestrator of her demise sits nearby and watches.
The Fiend, as his brothers and those like them know him, is by all rights the uncle of the child Morrigan carried with her into death. He is also the creature who made sure she came here and thus ensured that the child came with her. Nearly a year ago, he walked away from the tangible barrier between where he lived with his brothers and where the Dark Man lives. Here, in the realm of the Dark Man, he was safe from his more vengeful brother's wrath, but all who dwelled here shunned him. He spends most of his time watching Morrigan and savoring her pain. Such is the creature that the Fiend has become, though it is hardly a stretch from the creature he had been before he had set about to kill his brother's wife.
Today, if one could even gauge time as days down in the pits of despair, the Fiend sits in his usual place, pondering, plotting, scheming and otherwise seeking to cement his position in the dark realm. He means to stay, but not in his current lowly position. He will try to elevate himself, as always. He was never able to ascend with his accursed brother around, but there was both dark and light in that ferocious creature. With the Dark Man, he is in all known territory. He could relate to depravity and hubris and planned to use these qualities in his foe to bring the Dark Man to his demise.
The ground squelches beneath the Fiend as he lowers himself to his belly and slithers over to Morrigan. He waits as her eyes glaze over and she sighs. When her face begins to contort again, he licks her cheek delicately, as a lover would. Smiling sickly, he rises to his full height and disappears into the darkness.
Slowly, the Fiend finds his way to the throne of the Dark Man, who humans know by so many names as to render him unnamable, yet unmistakable. The Dark Man is a creature that manifests itself in every sentient being. He is the reason for instinctual dread of death. He is that dread. He is that death. He is creeping fear. He is the voice telling murderers to "Do it!." Utter disdain for everything and everyone save himself and his beloved fills him.
The Fiend foolishly lacks fear of this being. Having been so long sulking in the dungeons of a realm he never cared for, he was too full of himself to see the Dark Man as a threat. His brothers handled that. It is unclear whether he will live to regret this shortcoming, but the more compassionate of his brothers has an idea of what is to come. That brother is not confident the Fiend will survive.
Choosing to stand erect, rather than keep himself close to the ground, as is his wont, the Fiend steps almost gaily through the dead, the stones of unutterable origin, the pools of sludge and the shifting winds of the Dark Man's land. Frantic thoughts flip in his mind as those of a businessman about to give the presentation he is sure will be the one that gets him the boss's job. Maybe that is exactly what he is doing, and why not? This is the only place for him. Only him.
"Ah, my slimy tenant. What possesses you to abandon your leering and come see me?"
The Dark Man leans forward in his seat to stare down at the Fiend as the latter approaches. His disinterested black eyes bore into the Fiend, as the confident little schemer squirms below the elevated throne of his former accomplice. Clicks echo in the stony chamber as his wiry frame shifts back and forth and his fingers tap awkwardly on the carapace of his torso.
"Stop that racket! If you do not say something that interests me soon, I will send you back to your realm and let your brother torture you for eternity."
The Fiend stops his nervous fidgeting immediately, embarrassed by the reprimand, but more determined than ever to follow through with his plans.
"Ha --" the Fiend begins.
"Shut up, you infernal creature." The Dark Man's long fingernails cut through the air above the Fiend's slender head. "You have no call to address me by name. You are wasting words. Spit it out now or you will have the misfortune of being in the care of the Winged Man before you can draw another breath."
"I have reason to believe that the Artist has found a loophole."
"What sort of loophole?" The Dark Man sighs, his grim temper sated for the time being.
"The kind that would allow Morrigan to return to my brother."
"There is no such loophole. I banished your brother from my realm under the same
terms upon which he banished me from his. No meddling, remember? He intended to engage in affairs that are rightfully mine to mind. For that, I can and have closed off this kingdom from him. You know that there is no going back on that."
"Well . . ." the Fiend stops himself from using the Dark Man's given and loathed name. It wouldn't do to embarrass himself a second time in front of the dark being's court of the dead. It especially would not do to anger him now that the plans were so close to coming to fruition. ". . . you have banished him rightfully from the dark realm, but what of the Artist?"
"The Artist has no call to meddle, either. Unless you have a name for this loophole of which you speak, go now."
The Dark Man rises from his black throne and looks down upon the Fiend, raising one eyebrow, daring him to speak. The Fiend does not oblige and slinks away while the Dark Man grabs the unobtrusive and fiercely beautiful woman who sits quietly to his left and drags her, his reluctant wife, into a shadowy hole in the rocks behind them.
Despite the outward appearance that he was admonished and sent away like a petulant child, the Fiend exults within. No, he did not convince the Dark Man of an impending problem, but he planted the seed. That being is nothing if not calculating and the Fiend knows that he will begin obsessing over the thought. Before long, he will convince himself that there may indeed be a loophole.
The Fiend could have planted a seed of doubt without any real threat hanging over their heads, but there actually is such a thing. He knew since the beginning that his brother the Artist had recourse over the actions taken here so many months ago. The Artist did not know it yet. The Winged Man did not know it and the Dark Man would not find out until it was too late to stop himself from allowing his vanity to drag him down.
The Fiend put all of his hope, if you could call anything emitting from such an arid creature hope, into the Artist's intelligence and love. He would be seeking a solution for the Winged Man's pain. He would be looking for a way to free the Fiend, assuming he was kept against his will. If the latter brother had any sympathy, he would feel terrible that his kinder, gentler brother still cared after all he had done to them, but he did not. A smile crossed his lips at the thought of the Artist toiling away, searching for the one thing that would shock them all. All except the Fiend, of course.
The cold, keen winds of the land of the dead whip at the loose cowl around the Fiend's neck as he clatters atop the rocks surrounding the Dark Man's domain. Thoughts turn over and over in his head, bringing him forward and backward in time as he ponders possibilities. He finds himself coming to the realization that one prize may come at the cost of another. A thrill runs through him as he imagines Morrigan's white skin covered in sweat, her eyes filled with love and then horror. He may have to give her up if he wants to bring them all down.
The Fiend cares for Morrigan in his own sick way and enjoys having his imagined control over her. However, he wants to win much more than he wants her. He fancies himself a genius among fools, superior in every way. To best first the Winged Man and then the hateful Dark Man would be the triumph he longed for centuries before he ever set eyes on the dark-haired girl who was making this possible. Yes, he would continue with his plan. Along the way, he might be able to make plans to keep her, just as now his loving brother was making plans to save both the Fiend and Morrigan from this den of corpses.
He reaches his destination at the edge of a bleak marsh with ill-defined borders after hours of walking. There, a single dead tree rises up out of the earth in the fashion of an accusing many-fingered hand. He claws his way to the top and slides to the edge of a branch that leans away from the marshes toward a deposit of slick blue stone, dotted with perfectly smooth basins filled with waters of every color imaginable.
He waits for what seems like hours, eyes glistening and breath rasping until a slender man walks softly onto the rocks. He is singing to himself, the sunlight setting fire to his auburn hair and making his blue eyes glow like Christmas lights. The sheer serenity of this scene is wasted on the Fiend. He eagerly watches, waiting for evidence that he still has time for the seeds of doubt he planted in the Dark Man's mind to incubate.
The man known as the Artist treads lightly between the pools before extending a smooth white staff with both of his hands and skimming the top of first a golden pool and then a deep red one. As he does this, vapor in gold and blood red swirls around him, seemingly touching his skin, and enters his mouth, nose and even his eyes.
Somehow, this is enough to convince the Fiend that he has time. Satisfied and excited, he alights from the tree with more grace than one would expect from such a disgusting figure and hurries off to watch Morrigan for what may be the last time.
He leaves the Artist lost in memory, for that is what sits in the pools and moves in their vapors.