's 2019 Horror Write-off:

The tale of the Heroic Beast-Slayer

Submitted by Gozuforce

« Hey ! ya, over here ! Yeah, the fancy ruff-wearer at the counter. I’m the guy you're lookin' for. » « Well, Aren’t ya lookin' for the slayer of the flyin' beast ?… I figured so. And there he is. Ain’t that great ? » « No one comin' to the dump can afford the stuff ya wear, unless you're lookin' for me. Plus, the innkeeper only does ‘‘The Face’’ when ya nobles ask for me. Oh, I don’t blame him mind ya. I’m kinda nuisance some nights and he can’t go hard on me ‘cause of some high ranking' in the town likin' the visits from all sorts of important people. » « Oooh no, stop. Don’t throw the ‘‘great honor of meetin' you’’ stuff. Just get to why you're here. ya want a mercenary with some glory to his name to scare the outlaws in yur domain? ya lookin' to beef up yur troop’s morale with a livin' example of God’s favor? I might not look it right now, but sober I can do a mean ‘‘virtuous veteran hero’’ routine –  » « … ya went all the way from wherever, into that dump of a tavern, to ask me how I killed the beast? But, ya have to know the tale already. ya couldn’t have tracked me for very long without hearin' it! »

« Yeah, I guess stories change when enough people tell them, but whatever ya heard was probably better than my own words, so... » « Hell no! Whatever yur historic records are, I don’t really care. Short of it is, ya won’t hear my ‘’true’’ version of the events. I barely stand the legends without botherin' with the truth. Turns out legends exist for a reason: The truth is messy. And I left that mess behind me. » « Right. Now ya say ya want the messy, but I know you’ll just go back to the normal story even if I agree to tell the thing. So if ya don’t have anything to do here, go away. » « If I want money, I just fight for it, or I show up to a group of dullards holdin' swords and That’ll pay for my week’s booze and bed! I don’t need yur yaps about histo-who-cares-how-it’s-called!  Get Out Before I shove a dagger through yur heart and push it out yur throat!! » «  … you're pretty stubborn, aren’t you? Gotta say, it’s not every day someone annoys me after I actually threaten them. You’ve got more nerve than ya look…. ya know what, since I won’t get ya off my back, let’s make a deal. I order a stein, and ya drink the whole thing. If ya manage to do that and ya don’t pass out or die, I’ll tell ya.  » « ... ya okay? That was a pretty big swig there. And no passin' out either. Stubborn AND resilient, eh? I’d better do my part of the deal then. ya better come back tomorrow, though. Neither of us are in shape to have this chat, and you’ll need all day to sober up. HAHAHA! » --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- «  Well, it’s best I start when I first heard of the beast, right? »

 «  Right. First time I heard about the monster was in the early parts of the spring trade boost. At first it was simply stories told by merchants and travelers from the east, scared out of their wits. They talked about seein' sacked caravans torn to pieces and their owners layin' dead, often their head missin'. Some said they saw a giant silver dragon flyin' away in the distance. The ones who wanted to speak, that is. A lot of them flat out refused to say a word, still in shock. After a few weeks, stories grew to mention slaughtered villages, even a town almost completely emptied, and the rare survivors refusin' to explain what happened by fear of conjurin' it. Honestly, I don’t think anyone believed it at all. I mean, after the whole fairies fiasco, most of us were gettin' suspicious of any tale about creatures that don’t seem to be part of God’s plan, ya know? »

«  Me? Well, it was somewhere around the time of my twelfth year, I just remember thinkin' I wanted to see the dragon. In any case, people only started wonderin’ when the duke’s army showed up one day to occupy the village for a week or two. I mean, there wasn’t any official word or anything, but when an army appears at an isolated village, and the only important event mentioned by travelers is a mysterious series of unnatural attacks and a dragon, it’s easy to make connection. That kind of grounded conviction in the village. After all, the Duke had to know what was goin' on better than us, right? Sendin' an army like that meant something was indeed pillagin' the region. »

«  Yeah ya would think that, but no. People weren’t scared of the monster. ya see, it was the duke’s army! They were tough, and God had to be on their side, so we just praised their heroism and prayed after they left. The only family that got scared enough to go away was the butcher’s. They fled with all their belongings to a coastal town (can’t recall where it was) to take a boat for some distant land. I remember him sayin' he had always known when to run away from danger, and that it kept him alive. Poor geezer! I’m pretty sure they went east, so he probably died, or he got stuck in a ghost town I guess. Haven’t heard from him at least. We never heard what happened to the army either. That should have alarmed us, but since we didn’t get stories of massacres from travelers, we figured they had simply taken down the monster and went back home another route. After all, if things are over, why bother with us insignificant farmers? Yeah, I learned years later that the “beast” had moved to the north part of the region, I think ‘cause there wasn’t enough people left to kill. Heard the East region is still a mess, ya know if this is true? » «  Aww, that’s too bad! I liked the stories people told about that region, and I hoped to get to those places one day. » «  Right, I’m gettin' to the real story. It’s just, ya wanted the truth, and it was like that for the most part: a lot of rumors we didn’t have time or means to check. So, things kept goin' their natural way at the village for a few weeks after the army left. We started forgettin' this was an issue. … One thing I should warn ya, before I carry on. This is the part where I have to break the myth if I’ve got to tell the truth. ya can still opt out and believe whatever, but if ya stay and it’s not what ya wanted, you’d better not complain » «  No dice, huh? Too bad, it’s not as good as the myth. Simply put, I only survived cause I was an impish little guy. I had been punish that day, I think ‘twas that time I scribbled some dresses on the painting of a saint…. What? It was hilarious to my child-self, okay? Aaanyway, I had to scrap clean the tiles of the church’s roof with that tall man. I think his name was Silas or something. I remember his face very well, though, and his very long hair. I liked the guy, ya know. He was very serious, but he had a lot of patience with, and for every time he scolded me, he would as often admit I did something right. But that was still a chore let me tell you! So after three hours of takin' moss away, my arms were givin' out, so I kindly decided to take a break, takin' advantage of Silas havin' his back to me. I was enjoyin' the view, the village at my feet lowerin' with our small hill, the taller mounds around us, the fields then the plains facin' me all the way to the horizon, when I get blinded by some ray of light for a second. At first I’m just confused. I don’t see anything that could do that, so I guess I just imagined it. But I feel it again. And then, the third time, the light lasted longer, like two or three seconds. That’s only then that I finally see it. It’s just a silver line curvin' around some hills on my left, north-east of the town. But it’s growin' fast as it floats closer. »

«  Yeah, it floats. As in, it’s in the air, but it doesn’t push with wings to fly. It feels more like swimmin' or something. It takes some time to see what it looks like -with the sun still risin' and all-, but I know It’s big. And long, kinda serpent-like. Actually, it kind of moves like a snake, front part make big curves left and right and the rest follows. Man, in insight, it’s so obvious what was goin' on, and that I should have moved, or do anything. But at the time, I don’t know, it just was so weird, I was stuck lookin' at the thing. It doesn’t take long before it’s close enough that I can discern things. First off, the lights I was seein'? The Thing was entirely metallic. It was not ‘‘wearin' an armor’’ like I heard people say. It wasn’t a dragon either. In fact, I don’t think it was a beast, not in the sense we think of those. Twas more like a siege engine. Most of it was a series of metallic flat bars put in crosses that connect to one another at the ends with bolts. It looked like a line of squares sharin' corners, stretchin' and squashin' to move in the air. A line long enough to cover the village in just one of its curvin' movements. And the very front of that line was embellished by a pair of scissors, which were at least as long as yur body top to bottom. Can ya imagine that? Can ya imagine seein' something this big, this unnatural, this non-livin' thing, just silently swayin' over yur head? And then noticin' that along what I’d call its spine, other similar lines are restin', each ending with a pair of scissor? » «  Not even that came close. Wars and fightings are drainin', but this? This overcomes everything man was ever meant to see. I don’t think even facin' a Spawn of Hell can compare to this Impossible. I don’t move, I don’t think, I don’t even know if I breathe by that point. It’s not terror I feel, but something worse. it’s an emptiness, more like my soul has fainted, or the feelin' is so massive it doesn’t fit inside my minuscule body. That, ya should understand, is what saved me.

Of course, at some point, someone had to see the thing, and scream in terror. The Engine opened its head-scissor thing, and launched one of its arms down, before retractin' it. I didn’t look down to see what it did, nor did I when multiple other voices were heard and the Engine acted the same every time. Suddenly, I heard steps and I was violently grabbed by someone. Apparently, Silas had noticed what was goin' on, and he took the initiative to run away, with me in his hands. We had pushed some tiles aside to get up the roof, and that’s where he was headed. As he made his last steps, he seemed to slip and let go of me, but I reacted fast enough to land fine enough that I didn’t get too hurt. I make a last dash to the hole, and once inside, I turn around to see my benefactor with a look of horror on his face. I don’t see immediately that his head is not attached to his body, but is hoverin' over him. For a few seconds, he doesn’t budge, but then he falls, and his head flies off right into my hands. I grabbed it, by reflex. Now, I’m goin' to guess you’ve never seen the face of a man who’s just been killed, right? »

« Well, I can tell ya it’s never a pleasant thing to witness. There is always something in the expression of a person clingin' to life, that’s just ugly. Silas was the first man that I saw die violently, and, after years of battles, he is still the worst. He had a grotesque wrinkled wide-eyed grimace, like someone had tried to push his skin away from the middle of his face. Some kind of mask that got brutalized for years and which someone’s attempts to bend it back to shape couldn’t iron out the strange creases it got used to. This expression stayed in my head and for years I could see it pop back in my thoughts unwanted. Now, I’m past bein' freaked by his expression. But the part that still really bothers me, I didn’t notice it on the spot. Or I should say, I didn’t pay attention at it during the attack. I took the time to understand it only days after things calmed down. Remember, my hands were holdin' the head, which had to fly over a bit of wood-board to get to me, and that I was standin' pretty close to Silas when it happened. Well, that day the only blood I saw was me scrappin' my hands when I landed. By some trick of unreal logic, the Thing had cut a human neck and his blood didn’t spill out. I think I also saw that his neck didn’t have a wound. I wasn’t in the clearest mindset, but I feel like his body had somehow covered it with skin, as if it had healed in seconds. »

« What happened then? Well, I guess I got a death wish or something, cause my next idea was not to run, or to stay hidden, but to go climb back out. » « I don’t know!! Maybe I was just too fascinated by this Engine to think about the danger. Or maybe I wanted to get Silas’s body, and I was in stupid panic. Hell, maybe I thought I had to avenge his death? In any case, I was on the roof again. And this time I look down. The Thing had lowered, ya see. attacked everyone it could reach, cuttin' left and right, sendin' arms inside houses, sometimes cuttin' walls like it was piles of snow. As I got closer, I clumsily pushed one of the tiles that were dislodged to climb up the rooftop. It slowly slid down the roof, makin' a long creak with a short thump at each other tile. Then it stopped. Barely an instant later, the Engine’s Head shot up through the church’s roof, cuttin' the tile in two. The shock – I mean the surprise plus the tremor – had me fall on my butt. The Engine turned Its scissor-head to me. ya see, I still had something in my hands, and in the fear of seein' the Engine, I sort of threw that projectile at it. Silas’s head made a perfect arc over the scissor and landed out my sight without any impact. It didn’t even have to dodge the projectile. The scissor-head jumped at me, and I could almost feel a roar in silent its descent. I knew I was done for. I couldn’t force myself to move, and even if I did, I was sittin', too slow and too far from the hole. I so closed my eyes, and waited for death.

 After some wait I wasn’t expectin', I heard a sort of creak. Openin' my eyes gave me a strange scene. The Engine had stopped its attack not even midway toward my neck, stirrin' and strugglin' to end the gesture. It then labored to turn itself around, with more difficulty than usual, tryin' to have the head face the back of the spine. As it finally finds a way to turn its head, I can see what is botherin' the Engine’s movements. One of the squares that form the Engine’s spine is filled. To be precise, Silas’s head somehow fell smack in one of them, and got stuck there. Apparently, this is enough to keep the whole spine from extendin' and contractin', and also limit its turnin'. Soon, an arm darts to the rescue, but while one blade hit right into the top of his scalp, the other blade was on the outside of the square, and when the scissors closed they hit the bar. That wouldn’t have been much of an issue, but the other arms charged into the operation, and one somehow got stuck through the first arm, causin' both to be locked. And I guess aimin' at itself was not the Engine’s best skill, since all other arms that try to dislodge the head only add to the mess. Not helpin' is the fact that Silas’s hair was entanglin' itself around the bolts and between the bars, meanin' even as it gets plummeted with cuts that disfigure it, his head still holds on for a while. And by the time it falls, the arms and the spine itself are stuck in a complicated ball of metallic frustration. The Engine got angry. The silent flyin' thing that moved so swiftly had become a cacophony of metal creakin' and scratchin', visibly unable to take off, Its movements erratic and violent. One of the arms broke like a twig, sendin' a bolt into the sky. Then another one. And in one final grindin' sound, the spine broke its bolts and dismembered itself. The Engine fell flat on the ground, makin' a ruckus like an army in full armor jumpin' in place. And that’s how I tracked and “slayed” the “Beast”. I hope you're glad to have heard that story. »

« ...Well, anyone still alive wasn’t goin' to watch the Engine when it was squirmin' and screechin', so all they saw was the dead pile of scissors, and me atop the church. They quickly jumped to the conclusion of my heroic deed, and I was too stunned to deny it. A few days after the massive funeral (in case ya wanted to know: yes, all the dead were bloodless), a group of mercenaries came to the village and learned about my victory. I had no family left, so their general took me as an apprentice, and in time I just kinda joined their ranks. » « Yeah, actually. I’m impressed ya heard of them. ... ya know, it’s weird. I haven’t told the story in years. I only did it once, really. One night I was keepin' watch with my chief, and for some reason I ended up tellin' the whole thing. ... Look, I don’t know what I can add really. I told ya all I know about the Engine, and that’s not much. The rest of my life is just learnin' the sword and sellin' my fightin' skills or my fame as a beast-killer. Runnin' from battlefield to battlefield was a strange life, but I figure it’s more profit than growin' turnips. Now, I’m gettin' older, so I mostly do the inspirational stuff, not really the fightin' anymore. Anyhow, I think we’re done, so I wish ya good day, and don’t hesitate to find me if ya ever need someone. »