Detour to the Past (Episode 4)

Warning: this story contains violence, strong language, mature themes. fantastic elements, savage beasts, dark magic, questionable humor and much more. Procede at your own risk!
Enjoy the story of Lissa, the Monster Slayer.

“We’re heading to Nightfire Ridge.” Ox protested in surprise. “Nightfire Ridge? The path through Pine Valley way faster and safer. Why take the risk?” But Lissa didn’t explain her decision. Sternly she looked into the distance where the mountain loomed shrouded in clouds. “Stay together. Don’t leave the road.”, commanded the slayer and added as if she deemed the question necessary, “Got it, Milton?”

Milton nodded hastily. Lissa led the way, followed by the Embereye Brothers. As was his habit by now, Milton walked behind the wagon. But he was flanked by Ox and Cam this time. Lil Bit, her new companion, walked close to her. Milton had questioned her naming decision on multiple occasions. Not only reached the creature’s shoulder up to his hip, but it was also quite an uninspired name. But Cam had insisted on it because she thought it to be quite funny.

“I don’t like this.”, said the young woman just loud enough for Milton and Ox to hear. Even Lil Bit managed to look concerned.

“Me neither.”, answered Ox.

“What is she thinking?”

“I don’t know. Must have a good reason to go near that damn thing though.”

“Would someone care to explain to me what’s going on?”, asked Milton who was the only one out of the loop. Crossing the Northern Heights had been more comfortable than Milton had expected. The landscape was mostly a gentle hillside, and the road was paved well. Their surroundings hadn’t changed at all. It still was a beautiful, sunny day.

“You see the big mountain over there?” Ox pointed ahead to the landmark looming ominously in the distance. “There was a mining camp way back when. They searched the mountain for the rare Abrum Ore but dug too deep and woke something up that better should have stayed forgotten in the past. Now the whole place is cursed. Nothing good has ever happened there since.”

“Everyone in their right mind stays as far away from its shadow as they can.”, added Cam.

Milton kind of wished he had never asked, as their uneasiness had now spread to him. He couldn’t rest one hand on a weapon’s hilt to give him the illusion of relative safety like they did because Lissa had advised him not to carry extra weight during the journey. So he scrambled to keep close to them and never let the surroundings out of his sight.

They kept walking the whole day, but nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Though the terrain had become increasingly difficult to cross and had slowed them down significantly. Milton had to help push a fallen boulder and other obstacles out of their way. The path was obviously less frequented and led them higher up into the mountains.

The sun was already setting, when Lissa stopped. “We’re almost there. Down that path must be the old mineshaft.”

The mountain walls flanking the path on each side were steep and razor-sharp. Dead and dry plants didn’t make the scenery more inviting. No sound cut through the eerie silence. Their horse refused to move, but Ox managed to calm it down and coax it into cooperating. Everyone knew better than to question Lissa’s decision, even Milton.

When they reached the abandoned camp, which was basically a bunch of rotten sheds and broken tools lying around, Lissa disappeared. Clay, the older Embereye brother, insisted that she went into the shaft, but nobody really understood what their leader was up to.

So they prepared for the night. With the firewood they kept in their wagon they lit a small fire. In silence, they ate a simple meal. Milton couldn’t really eat in a place like that and poked around in his bowl for a while.

No one liked the thought of staying in one of those old cabins, so they decided to clump up in the wagon for the night. Before everyone went to sleep, just after nightfall, Lissa returned. She was covered in dust and had thin scratches all over her face and arms. Alone she stayed at the fire and took over the watch.

*

It had been dead silent outside when Milton woke up. Nothing, in particular, had happened, but he suddenly felt startled and restless. It didn’t exactly help that the air inside the wagon was stuffy. Also, someone kept snoring violently. After a fruitless attempt to fall asleep again, he decided that fresh air might help.

The night was unusually dark up here even though a sea of stars were shining in the clear sky. Milton took a deep breath of cold air. Lissa was still sitting at the fire. She kept it low so that it was just enough to bath her in soft light.

“Can I join you?” The slayer didn’t look up and kept throwing some kind of seed into the flame. A silky smoke rose and spread a sweet smell. “Can’t sleep?”

“No. Something doesn’t feel… right.”

She pointed to the place next to her. “Sit. And whatever happens, do not talk.”

Milton sat down, feeling offended. It didn’t take long until his dizziness went away in the clear night. The silence stretched uncomfortably and right when he thought it might be the occasion to clear things up between them, Lissa looked up. Something stirred in the night. And it moved towards them. Milton didn’t quite understand it, but he had never seen the slayer that tense before.

A stranger stepped silently into the dim light. Even though he wore a long black cloak, it was clear that his body was unnaturally twisted and wretched. A hood hid his face, but a thin grey beard fell down to his chest.

“May I sit with you?” His voice was strained and hoarse like a rusted hinge trying after centuries to get into motion again.

“Be my guest.”, answered Lissa.

The old man sat down cross-legged. An uneasy feeling crept under Milton’s skin and made him shiver inexplicably. Even if Lissa hadn’t warned him before, Milton wouldn’t dare to speak up. Unmoving, he was forced to watch the situation play out.

“Care to help a lost traveler?” he asked.

“Spare me your games. I know who- or better what- you are.”, Lissa said.

The ancient’s voice showed his bewildered amusement. “And yet, you came here by your own choice and summoned me from the depths.”

“I figured, better me than someone else.”

He laughed. It was an unpleasant sound like the screeching of fingernails on a chalkboard. It made Milton’s soul recoil in disgust. “Confident. Or just foolish?”

“We will see.”, she answered unimpressed. “I came to propose a deal.”

The elder sounded surprised, if not intrigued by the unexpected turn. “What are you suggesting?”

“I will tell you a story. In the end, I will ask you one question. Guess it wrong, and you will go back where you came from and never bother anyone again.”

“And if I win?”

“I will free you from the binding that chains you to this mountain.”

“The seal cannot be broken.”, replied the stranger.

“But transferred onto something… more mobile.” Lissa held up an acorn between finger and thumb, underlining what she was suggesting.

He took a moment to think about it. Then he declined. “No. How could I be sure that you’re not tricking me?”

“I was told that your kind is a pain to deal with.” Lissa sighed. “If I’m dishonest, I will enter your service. Forever.”

He pulled back his hood and finally showing his face. A million wrinkles furrowed his dry and spotted skin. The crooked smile revealed sickly yellow teeth. To Milton’s shock, the elder had no eyes, but in their place was an endless seeming abyss. “We have a deal.”

Everything around them vanished in the growing darkness. Milton couldn’t shake the feeling that something was lurking out there, watching them through a million eyes. Their destructive, chaotic nature made him shift uncomfortably. The fading light of their campfire was the only anchor that kept them in their own world. None of this seemed to irritate Lissa as she told her story.

“I was born the single child to simple people of the tribes. As fisherfolk, we didn’t have much. Every day was a fight for survival, but I grew up a happy child. Every night my parents sang to me and told me the stories of our people. They insisted that life was just testing us and that I was destined for greatness.”

“One day, it was in late spring, I was already old enough to start learning our trade, my parents took me with them. The sea was calm and gentle. All went well until a storm came out of nowhere. To this day, I haven’t seen waves that high. They would make the majestic walls of Colis seem small. Our little boat wasn’t built to withstand such forces, and it capsized.”

“Somehow I managed to hold on to a piece of driftwood. Merciless, the sea threw me around, but I stayed above the water like my father had taught me. I don’t know who long the storm lasted, but the sea eventually calmed down. Days and nights passed. I kept drifting for I can’t remember how long. I was sure my parents would come to save me. But I’ve never seen them again.”


“Eventually, I washed ashore. A woman found me and took me in. Only later, I found out that I was on Stormhold, the infamous prison island. We tried to explain my situation to the wardens, but they didn’t care. So I had to stay.”

Lissa paused a moment to catch her breath. Milton hung on her every word. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Did all of that really happen to her? The stranger though seemed unmoved in any way, his empty eye sockets fixed on her.

“In a place like that, you had to learn to fight for yourself if you wanted to survive. I had already grown up to be a young woman when a regiment of slayers arrived on the island. It was lead by the famous Ljord Dragonbane. Something had happened on the continent that made them desperate to come to a place like that to look for new recruits. Of course, everybody wanted to join them. It was the only way off that damned island.”


“Well prepared by life in hardship, I was ready to prove myself to them, but a group of men intercepted me on my way. They feared for their chances to join if I’d show up, so they beat me. I managed to take out two or three of them before one hit me from behind. When I regained consciousness, the sun was setting, and I was convinced the slayers had already left.”

“Broken and disillusioned, I went home. From outside our shed, I heard a man’s voice. Knowing what that would mean in a place like that I burst through the door, ready to fight off the assailant.”

“But it was Ljord who was talking to my foster mother. He looked me up and down, saw the bruises and the swollen black eye, and asked me where I had been. I told him some lie I can’t remember, ashamed to stand up for what had happened to me. He just laughed and told me to get my stuff. I didn’t know why he was there and how he had known me, but I did as I was told.”

“Before dawn, we left the island on their ship. As we watched Stormhold grow smaller in the distance, he told me something I’ll never forget.” She paused and finally looked up to face the stranger.”

“So, Old One. Tell me, what did he say.”

The old man looked off into the darkness. The minutes passed cruelly slow. When he finally smiled triumphantly, Milton held his breath. “Never look back.”

Lissa smiled. “Wrong.”

Surprisingly fast, the ancient jumped to his feet, agitated and angry. The darkness around them coiled and a low growl vibrated in the air. “That can’t be! The void knows everything!” – “You’re wrong. Old One. And now,” Lissa stood up keeping her cool while she faced down the old man. “I will banish you from this realm.”

Suddenly the skin of the old man started to crawl like a million insects moving beneath its surface. He lost all his resemblance to a human and formed into something that Milton’s mind just couldn’t comprehend.

An ear-deafening scream escaped his throat. Milton had to press his hands on his ears to withstand the sound. Troubled to keep himself upright, he grasped at his chest. Still, he felt his consciousness slowly slipping away. The darkness, threatening to devour everything, was clawing closer and reduced the fire to smoldering embers.

Lissa barely managed to withstand the insanity exploding around them. She chanted strange words in a language Milton had never heard before. Faint blue symbols lit up around the fireside like a beacon in the night. The silky smoke rose again from the fireplace and twined around the horrible creature. When the slayer threw something into the fire, it came back to life with a burst and fought the darkness off.

The Old One was twisting and screaming in terror. He tried to escape, but he was bound firmly in place. Right before Milton lost his consciousness, he saw the seething creature engulfed in flames.

When he woke up again, the night had passed. The sun was shining bright in the sky. Birds sang their cheerful songs in the distance. Lissa was still sitting at the fireplace. Just a heap of ash was left of it. She looked tired.

The others had already begun to break off camp. No one dared to talk or let alone ask what had happened. They just wanted to leave this place.

When they were back on the road, and the dark mountain and the strange visitor were just a faint memory in Milton’s mind, he walked up to Lissa. “What did he say to you?”

At first, she looked at him, surprised, not knowing what he was referring to. Then she snarled. “Ljord wasn’t a man of many words. He didn’t say a damn thing.”

“And the story? I mean, is it true?” Her look snapped back ahead as if he was crossing a line with the question.

Just when Milton had given up on an answer, she said: “Not entirely. Always remember, Milton, the world owes you nothing. Ain’t nobody coming to rescue you from your misery. You got to do it on your own or drown in it.”


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