To Hell and Back [chapter II]

c h a p t e r  ii

warning: this chapter contains gore and violent content. disturbing images and themes lay ahead.


I dismounted from my mare, tying her reins to a low branch and peeled my leather riding gloves from my clammy hands one finger at a time before shoving them into my satchel. My steel hues fixed on what would be as good as a titanium wall. I searched for a fracture or fault in the forcefield... There. I spotted a faint blip about ten feet in front of me. Without looking away I reached into my satchel, pushing my gloves out of the way, and pulled out a bound, fur-skinned covered book. It was ancient and looked as if it were opened it'd disintegrate. My eyes pulled away from the fracture to look down at the book and opened it to the marked page. I read what I could. Barely. Serves me right for skipping my tutors. I exhaled through my nose and mist surrounded my face as if I were a bull, trying to decipher the last spell I'd have to say to summon the shield to rise just barely for me to pass underneath it. 


"By thaim tholach thechembaor theagon pentatheschi boti, sauamboch mera cheozaph ossala bymbel pouo toutho oirerei arnoch."
"{I call on you} who have power in the deep, for myself, that there may now be a way open for me, for I say to you"

It wasn't as much of a visual sense that the shield lifted, more of a feeling. The magic tapered and weakened just enough for me to slip in before it noticed its fault and closed me in. My mare looked over in my direction but saw nothing. It was a mirage of sorts. I had entered the mouth of a cave, damp and dim. No doubt something fierce guarded that gem. that final piece. My eyes adjusted to the light difference before I ventured onward. Into the depths of the cave. There was no sign of life besides the dripping of water and trickling streams through run-down rock that remained within the gorge. I balanced myself, trying not to slip on the slick surface, and continued deeper within. 

About twenty minutes into my search, something dark scurried from one end of the cave to another. Something big bunt nimble, taking quick but solid steps from one side to another. My eyes narrowed, waiting for it to pass again, but it never moved. Its large mass slumped on a chiseled-out rock. Some human part of my brain screamed for me to run, but I stood as still as stone. The thought misfiring to my sore legs. The only things that dwelled in these caves were bears, and...-But this thing was too small to be a bear. Too gangly. My eyes grew wide, my breath catching in my throat. No. no one's ever seen one and walked out alive. I might as well slit my own throat. That thing wasn't an animal, or a human, or anything I'd ever encountered before. None of the other trials for the diadem pieces were ever nearly as terrifying. My heart pounded through my chest, head, and fingertips,

"I can smell... Your fear. Hear your heart. And you my dear... will taste divine." Its voices were a blend of many, breaking away into a whispered echo down through the cave. It bounced off the walls, hitting me multiple times as I processed my imminent doom.


"Thuujo" My voice was breathless, barely above a whisper but it still bounced off the rocks. My mouth went dry as my hand slowly raised to my sword sheathed along my back. But the clicking of its tongue had me pause,

"Naughty little thing, you can try, girl. An honorable death if it may." It stood from its crouching position. Long slender arms, large palms with excessively long, nimble fingers. It's head was sucked out of life, skeleton-like. Hunched over and slender like it had been starved for centuries. Grey leathery skin, wrinkled and dry. It wore a fur drape over its shoulders and nothing else. Its eyes pinpoints of glowing red. The Thuujo was a creature of many abilities. One of them was night vision. I watched as its mouth dripped with saliva, and drooling pools around its feet. "Not seeing a scrap of food for 3 millennia, you look just exquisite. I send my thanks to the Gods above. What a treat."

I wrapped my hand around my sword's hilt, unsheathing it, readying my stance. Even though my heart hadn't settled, or my hands refused to stop shaking, I wouldn't die in vain. I swallowed hard, knowing how slim my chances were. I took a breath before gritting my teeth. The Thuujo finally moved. Almost disappearing it was so quick. It lurked in the shadows, watching, waiting, "Didn't anyone ever tell you to not play with your food." I spat out like venom. It laughed its cruel horrible laughs before I looked up, realizing it had crawled onto the ceiling above. It was contorted like a spider, its gangly arms bent outwards and its legs bent the wrong way. Its head snapped back. looking directly below at me with a too-wide smile. I wanted to throw up my dinner right then and there. It was a thing of nightmares. 

The Thuujo's mouth opened wide, jaw unhinging as it broke its grasp from the rock, Arms outstretched, fingers like daggers ready to pierce me like a fucking kabob. My legs moved faster than my brain and I leaped out of the way, landing on my side as I slid up to a solid rock. It landed on all fours, head snapping in my direction before continuing its menacing quick crawl towards me. I staggered to my feet and climbed up the side of the rock I'd pressed into. Its talons caught my lowest foot and I shrieked as it drew blood and yanked me down mid-climb.

I fell ungracefully and my head slammed into the slick rock below. My vision blurred. How I didn't pass out I did not know. But thank the Gods I didn't. That hadn't wavered the absolute throbbing that had overtaken every part of my being. I squinted as blood rushed from my head, finding its way passed my eye. I winced before baring my teeth and kicked furiously. Its grip unwavering. I reached for my bandolier pulling out one of my Lunadian blades and lashed it at the hand that held me. It shrieked like a banshee, yanking its leathery hand away as black goo oozed from its wound. 

Right as it let go I was on my feet, barrelling down deeper into the cave. Every cave has two exits... Every one. Including this one. There has to be. There needs to be. My legs tore through the cave. Jumping over fallen rocks, splashing through small streams, and faltering at the slickness of the ground below me. Thought never dared to end up on the ground. My chest heaved, lungs burned but I didn't look back. I didn't have the time. My feet skitted as I banked right, through a vast canal that looked like it used to be a throne room. Seven High Lord's thrones sat in a semi-circle aiming towards a flat platform that was the center of the room. In the middle of the platform was what looked to be a pool. In the center, there sat a large Nymph tree. It gleamed with life, unknown to how it was surviving under miles of cavernous earth.  I darted past it, my legs trembling with adrenaline. I barely even noticed the burning of my ankle. Blood leaking through my boot. 

I heaved towards an iron door across the room, my hands dropped my sword and wrapped around the handle, yanking... to no avail. A sob left my throat, tightening at the burn throughout my body. I was going to die here. And I knew it. The Thuujo wasn't far behind. It scurried on its four legs and paused just before the empty pool. I wiped my brow with my sleeve, smearing the bright blood along my temple. I leaned over and picked up my sword still panting, sweat gleaming on my clammy forehead and the back of my neck. Its mouth widened wickedly. "Seems as though you're out of ideas there girl. This has been the most excitement I've had in a thousand years." It heaved, "I'm going to kill you slowly. Take my time with you. I'll start with your ears, and work my way down to your fingernails. But I'll save your eyes, those I will savor for a very special occasion. Eyes are the windows to the soul you know- and I believe your soul will be one I will never forget." My nose crinkled in disgust. No, I couldn't die here. Not like this. Not this close to ending an eight-year war.

230ed85772d9f467754aba0fdafa64cb.jpgMy hands tightened on the hilt of my sword once more, determination set within the creases of my brows. The Thuujo shrieked as it pummeled its way toward me and I yelled with everything I had left in me as I ran towards it. As it neared I banked left, readying myself to leap towards the tree and grab a thick vine, swinging around the back side of the Thuujo and kicked its back so hard I heard a thundering crack. It howled and bowed awkwardly. But didn't fall. I vaulted from the vine and my feet hit the ground unforgivingly, my ankle giving out and I yelped as I tumbled into the rock. Unable to move, from exhaustion and... In a bit of defeat, I watched the Thuujo rise from its deathly state. Its bones crackled back into place as it swiveled its skeleton head in my direction menacingly. I let out a weak sob as I watched it crawl slowly over me. Its legs bent awkwardly as it pressed its palms on the ground on either side of my head before its unnaturally long tongue lapped at my temple. It shuttered at the taste of my blood. I winced in pain, fear, disgust, everything that this thing was. A tear slid from the outer corner of my eye as I stared at its beady red irises. My stomach turned and vomit projected from my mouth. I turned my head, spitting as I continued to lose what was my dinner and then some. It growled before moving one of its hands to my ribcage, its talon sank into my skin, slowly slicing into each rib deeply from just under my breast to the top of my hip bone. The scream that erupted from me was feral, desperate, and gut-wrenching. I sobbed at the pain and the knowledge of what was to come. I wouldn't just become a meal. I would be a plaything. My death would be drawn out, torturous. 

It cooed at the sound of my wales before its palm eased its way over my mouth. I screamed again, muffled from its grip. My eyes squinting shut from the nightmare before me. I couldn't watch as it sliced me to pieces. Its face leaned close, too close. My body froze, my mind and heart racing as I lost control of my breathing, "You will be my favorite thing. I will cherrish every part of you." I shuttered and turned my head to the side as its hot breath fanned across my cheek. Its breath fowl and almost made me wretch again. But I swallowed my gag and slowly turned to face it, eyes like steel daggers,

"I hope you rot in the bane of agony you son of a bitch!" and my second and third Lunadian blades pierced deep into the middle of its ribcage. My arms yanked with all I had left in me, shredding outwards like a fan, listening to its ribs crack and fillet out like a butterfly. Its face was frozen in what seemed to be a shocked but devilish grin, its eyes wild with insanity.

"Oh how I've dreampt of this day." The voice gargled and it exhaled a soft, faint breath. It stiffened above me and I grunted as I threw it to the side. I scurried across the rocks in a panic before catching my breath and letting out a sincere sob of relief. I'd done it, I'd killed a Thuujo. I would walk out of here alive. I continued crying, letting the tears fall. I did it I did it I did it.

Once I had calmed enough to look for a way out, I spied in the splay of the Thuujo's ribcage a glinting stone. My brows thinned as I clambered to my aching feet. Wincing at the pain erupting from my ankle. I walked towards it, realizing what the stone was. The Final Piece. I exhaled another sob, wiping my nose on my bloodied sleeve, smearing more and more blood, dirt, sweat, tears, snot... Everything. I didn't care. I had completed my task.

I found every piece of the Halo.

I will bring it back.

And I will win this war.

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