NASTRAGULL: Dawn Sets In Hell (volume 3) will be available December 3rd, 2015 on kindle and paperback.
DAWN SETS IN HELL
ERIK MARTIN WILLÉN
“Intelligent people discover, while fools try to conquer”
Erik Martin Willén
Thick black clouds streamed fast across the sky, fighting each other for dominance. Red-tinted lightning repeatedly transformed the sky into an infernal scene, painting the desolate landscape below with blood, followed by thunderous roars vibrating and echoing through the mountains. Occasional spikes of lightning reached down to blast shrapnel from the cliffs, leaving clouds of short-lived dust that was churned into mud by the torrential rain. Between strikes, the rocky ground lay like a thick rug rendered in shades of black, with sharp, stony projections jutting from the valley floor. The surrounding hills were jagged and sharp, like a monster's teeth.
Despite the cacophony of the storm, angrier sounds rent the night. The one most repeated began as a high-pitched wail before scaling down into a deep bellow. It sounded natural -- and yet, somehow, it did not. In fact, it was a sound not heard for thousands of years by any living being, a peculiar noise that seemed almost to issue from some type of bizarre musical instrument -– a malformed horn, perhaps. The sound intensified as it echoed through the tortured, twisted lava flows inside the dormant volcano's caldera.
On the rocky floor of the crater, an Oman stood breathless, hands on his hips, gulping down what passed for air here while listening to that strange, hellish sound. The air stank of sulfur and scorched stone, and it was as hot as a furnace. He wore nothing but a loincloth, and his muscular, sweaty body gleamed in the erratic light, covered with scars from many fights. His shoulder-length brown hair was long and unkempt, shedding the water as well as a duck's back. His clear blue eyes, which normally reflected warmth and good humor, now did anything but; he surveyed the landscape as a natural born hunter, in his element and moments from victory. A week's stubble shadowed his cheeks.
The rain was annoying, but at least it washed away the mud and blood from his wounds -- countless lacerations and bite marks covering his exposed body. Frowning, he tried to control his heavy breathing while checking his ears. He reached down to paw at the soil, then pushed more mud into them in a desperate attempt to keep that bloody, bone-chilling sound from penetrating his brain. It was one of the creature's primary hunting strategies, because it reached into the frequencies that caused most to freeze in terror.
A cold wind blew in from nowhere, feeling almost welcome as it raised goosebumps on his skin. His breath finally caught, he tilted his head towards the dark sky in an attempt to quench his thirst, grateful there were only natural pollutants in this atmosphere. No sentient creatures, with their tendency to foul their own nests, had lived here for half a galactic revolution. Nonetheless, the water tasted bitter. Or was he just letting his thoughts cloud his senses?
Without thinking, he closed his eyes while letting the rain fill his mouth... but intuition quickly reminded him of his mistake. He hadn't heard the monster for at least a minute, and it was smart enough to hunt quietly if it cared to. His eyes snapped open and his head to the right -- just in time to see the monster plummeting toward him from a rocky cliff, knifelike claws spread to eviscerate and behead.
He flung himself aside in a desperate attempt to avoid the danger from above -- too late. The monster landed on his legs, sending him sprawling to the muddy ground. But it had misjudged the Oman's quickness, and lost its balance as it struck, rolling to the side, claws scrambling and eyes blazing. The monster twisted to its feet and stood on all fours, retracting its claws to reveal strange hoofs complete with what appeared to be delicate fingers. It glared about in the strobing light from above, not seeing its prey; but it didn't take long to relocate the Oman, because there came an unnatural pain from its tail. The Oman had grabbed the three-meter-long appendage, careful to avoid the natural bone razor at the tip, and jerked hard. The creature felt as though the Oman had all but pulled its tail out by the roots.
For a second, the enormous pain blurred its vision; and when the vision came to, the Oman was crawling away with a meter-long souvenir. Inspecting its tail, it saw that it had only two-thirds of it left; aquamarine blood was pouring from the torn end, painting the landscape in stripes as it whipped its tail around furiously. It spun around and gathered itself for a final blow with the deadly meter-long horn protruding from its high forehead.
Not counting the tail, the beast was about the size of a horse, and among other things, it could alter the joints on both its front and hind legs. Its body was covered with sleek scales that could change color to match its surroundings. A thin fur like silky grass -- now soaked and filthy -- accentuated the scales. The orange-red eyes emitted a faint glow that it used to detect nearby objects in the infrared, using shallow pits that lay between its nose and mouth. Said mouth hosted an array of fangs suited to the life of the obligate carnivore; at the moment, they dripped saliva as it scented the blood on the air, its own and the Oman's. Its long, almost Oman-like tongue darted out regularly to taste the air, but the pouring rain seemed to defeat that particular sense.
The infuriating Oman snapped the beast's own tail in the air like a whip, emitting a slashing sound, hoping the beast would go ballistic at both the sound and the loss of its tail and, hopefully, lose its concentration. He was exhausted; hopefully the monster was too. This fight had lasted since dusk and had already gone on far too long. Dawn was near, and he had to finish this fight, or he would surely meet his own demise. The last thing he wanted was to be killed and eaten by this ridiculous monster.
They circled each other, locking eyes and observing each other cautiously before charging like two mad bulls. Just as the horn was about to impale him, the Oman slashed his "whip" to his left, distracting the monster as it flicked its eyes in that direction -- and that was all he needed. The man dashed to the side and flung himself at the beast's head, avoiding those devilish fangs -- they'd already tasted his blood too often -- and latched onto the horn with both hands.
The beast was furious as it lurched to a halt, shaking its head wildly. But the damnable Oman wouldn't let go; as a matter of fact, the bastard ended up swinging around and, outrageously, landed on the beast's sinuous neck. The Oman hooked his legs together at the ankles in order to maintain his hold, still hanging onto the horn for dear life. It was like he'd grown there, he clutched so tightly; and as he twisted the thing's horn, he eventually forced the monster to the ground.
With his last ergs of strength, the Oman let go with his legs and vaulted himself forward over the beast's head. A loud, painful-sounding crack echoed through the valley, followed by an even louder, anguished roar from the monster. The horn was off. The Oman rolled away from the monster, fetching up against a boulder, where he took deep, jagged breaths.
The outraged monster leaped aside as the joints on its forelegs altered, and when it landed on its rear legs, it was a bipedal creature with two arms ending in sharp-fingered hands. Snarling, it straightened to its full height and clapped its strange looking hands over the injury, stanching the flow of blood.
There was a brief moment of silence from the storm, and the two fighters waited. The monster's eyes were no longer orange-red, but pure black; it moved almost like the Oman it faced, and there was an eerie crackling sound as its joints altered yet again to improve its footing. It lowered its head and charged with a single minded purpose; to kill the predator in front of it.
The Oman lay near against the boulder, holding himself up with his left arm, his legs immobile. He watched his oncoming death with calm eyes. He lifted the horn and smashed off the tip on the rock, then took a deep breath, raised the jagged opening to his lips, and blew. Nothing emerged but a guttural rasp, combined with a fine spray of tissue and blood. As the beast reached for him, he blew through the horn again with what he knew might be his last breath -- and there it was. Not much, but enough: a low, faint howl.
The beast scrambled to a halt, nearly falling in the treacherous mud. It stepped back and shook its head, not knowing what to do; then it backed away and let out a roar of anguish, trying to cover its ears and eyes simultaneous: an impossibility for its stubby hand/paws. The Oman blew through the horn again: another blast sounded, higher-pitched and fuller this time. The beast fell on its back and began convulsing, yowling in pain. It tossed and turned violently in the mud, in a futile attempt to escape the throbbing sound boiling in its brain, taking charge of its mind.
Using his last strength, the Oman stood, trembling. For a long moment, he looked at the monster thrashing in agony on the ground, still fighting like mad against its fate. The man tilted his head, closed his eyes, and took a heavy breath as he raised the horn to his mouth; then he lifted his head, and with the horn pointing towards heaven, he blew strongly into the horn, producing the purest, most beautiful sound in creation. The peal echoed through the valley and took wing on the wind, venturing far, far away from its origin, echoing over the landscape and beyond. Mountains trembled, while cliffs crumbled and fell.
The third time the horn sounded, the monster snorted in tears as it made one last, futile attempt to escape -- then suddenly gave up. It lay on the ground quivering, breathing hard, head bowed to its master. Its eyes changed color again, this time from black to a dark midnight blue; not a great change, but a significant one. The Oman, exhausted, knelt and crawled up to the defeated animal's mouth, extending his left arm before him.
The monster folded back its primary tongue and another, forked like a reptile's, shot out and speared into the vein at the crook of the Oman's left arm. Crimson blood pulsed through thin, hollow fangs, passing from Oman to creature, and continued for a short time. As the flow ceased and the tongue withdrew, the monster's wounds began to heal rapidly. When the beast had finished feeding, it began to lick the Oman like a dog -- and his wounds started to heal as well. Soon the Oman was able to stand again. He walked over to the spot where the fragment of the animal's tail lay, and picked it up.
The K'Drak observed him calmly.
Oman and beast looked at each other. This time there was no animosity, but instead a warm respect, bordering perhaps on love. The Oman scratched the beast behind one of its bat-like ears, and in return, it purred like a cat. The K'Drak had been tamed; it was a beast no more. The damage from the torn horn had already begun healing, slower than the rest of its wounds, for it was greater. The Oman gently touched the fracture, knowing that another horn would soon replace the old one.
The K'Drak lowered its head to the ground, allowing the Oman to straddle its back behind the shoulder blades. The Oman nudged his heels carefully into the great carnivore's ribs, and the K'Drak flexed its joints and stood up like a horse. It snorted, vapor emerging from its nostrils. It started to kick its hoofs on the ground eagerly, folding in the fingers and claws for the long ride to come.
The Oman gently kicked his heels, and the K'Drak took off like a bolt of lightning. It moved through the valley faster than the eye could easily follow, the wind of its passage all but tearing the Oman from its back; and when it reached the high rock wall that formed the rim of the volcano, its claws and hands emerged from under the hoofs, joints altered with an osseous crunch, and it climbed the cliff smoothly and easily. It further altered the forepart of its body to make sure the Oman remained seated.
At the top of the rim, it stopped as if waiting. The Oman raised the horn to his mouth, and this time, the sound from it was eerily different: low, dramatic, and compelling. K'Drak stood up on its hind legs, and from the hole where the horn had once been embedded in its skull came an accompanying roar so horrible, so filled with pain, threat, and longing, that it sent chills down the rider's spine.
The storm answered, lashing the ground around them with dozens, hundreds of lightning strikes, setting up a continuous deafening rumble that spread in all directions...and abruptly stopped.
As the Oman and K'Drak caught their breath at the volcano's edge, the clouds peeled back, and from behind them emerged a new dawn as the swollen red sun came into view; a second later a second sun emerged from behind the red giant, a buttery yellow young sun that dispersed the carmine shadows and painted the world in the colors of life. But its reign was all too brief, as a dark shadow passed before its face, the intruder blocking the yellow sun from above and descending over its red companion until all that remained were two red, burning celestial horns. The Oman and K'Drak stood silhouetted heroically at the crescent's center, as if the universe had planned the dramatic image; and given who they were, perhaps it had.
At the base of the volcano waited millions of people, their presence previously hidden by the raging storm. The masses raised their arms towards the sky and cheered in unison, greeting the Oman and K'Drak they worshipped, and from the interior of the volcano came the sound of thundering drums.
Thus the legendary monster was tamed again, as per prophecy, a beast no more... Only to be replaced and subjugated by another, even more terrifying beast, of the species that was perhaps already the most terrifying in Creation: that species known as Oman and in time Human.
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