Excerpt from Enigma: Awakening, Desert Flames
Blitzkrieg came wandering into the outskirts of Lucreris unquestioned. He was invisible, it seemed. Several Lucrein soldiers had to have spotted him by now. He was sure of it. But he was cloaked, armored, and strapped with weapons. Amused, he whispered, “What sound man would dare approach me?” And neither would he, had he been one of the mortals. The pathetic desert slum was hot and revolting, but not as hot as it would be soon. The Nasracans had arrived across the dreaded dry land. He felt them like the wind at his back, just beyond the outland, waiting for his command, not that he needed them at all for this.
He looked north to the tallest building: the Lucreris castle, an amber tower leaning against the foothills of the mountains. For the king and the inner city, Blitzkrieg, held a surprise, one that drew a twisted smile on his hidden face.
“The Nasracans can have the outskirts, but for you…” he said to the inner city—“I have another plan in mind.” He waited in the center of the market, unmoving. No one or nothing bothered him, and he remained still until the sun met the crown of a dune. Dusk. It was time.
He turned about, finding the perfect specimen to commence his plan. Through his infrared eye, everyone and everything alive was green and everything else gray or black. Those with stronger souls than others glowed with different tones of green. The young were bright, and the weak, dark. There was one he took particular interest in—a woman. She burned with the lightest and darkest of greens. Something made her more than every person who passed him—something feeding her spirit—something beyond the mortal world. “Faith?” Blitzkrieg questioned. The irony. Blitzkrieg laughed inside. The very thing that sustained her would bring about her untimely death.
Through his other eye, she was a woman of flesh and dark hair. Her scarce clothing made his head tilt. She was attractive and young. A fair sacrifice. As he raised an arm, someone hit him in the back. A nobleman. A long fur-trimmed robe dressed his fat frame, and he walked with a cane. Gold rings gleamed upon his meaty digits and a circlet crowned him. An entourage of noblemen and commoners were behind him—likely slaves. “How dare you touch me, you hooded mongrel! Go to a corner if you wish to stand still.”
The nobleman was dark green, worthless, but a sacrifice by default nonetheless. It was to this man, instead of the woman, that Blitzkrieg lifted his gauntlet.
“Did you not hear me, swordsman? Park your steely posterior elsewhere before I summon the Guard.”
“Call them,” dared Blitzkrieg. But he wasn’t going to give him the chance. Before the nobleman could bark again, Blitzkrieg gripped him with magic. The man’s body tightened, his swollen face vibrating in exertion. Many around him gasped and retreated. If unnoticed before, it was no longer the case for Blitzkrieg now. All eyes fell unto him. The noble’s eyes, ears, and gaping mouth expelled green light that found Blitzkrieg’s hand. Then the man hovered the air, black lines like veins etching his face, skin hardening like stone. Then his entire form blackened and evaporated to dust that came seconds into the Whole Abyssian’s grasp. Black Salt.
Alarm ascended upon the market. Blitzkrieg tossed the Salt into the air, and as it drifted in palls, it transformed to animals large as lions with deadly manes meant for stabbing. Sifters. Five formed, quickly rousing horrid violence that ruined the musical marketplace and summoned screams from the guts of many. Blitzkrieg remained in his position, using the Black Salt from his body to create more Sifters. They would be his eyes and ears.
The death of the nobleman had been purely for entertainment. When more than a hundred Sifters crawled from the market into a scatter, he walked forward. “Come,” he commanded airily to the Nasracans beyond the outskirts that yearned to hear his voice. He felt their eagerness to feed, and the thumps of their foot claws pounding across the sand.
“MARKUS, WHAT’S THAT?” said Nova in slight distress.
With a hand cupping over his brow, he looked. Scratching his chin, he said, “Hrm… I don’t know. Seems like some sort of animal. That’s a tail moving behind it. But what’s on its head?”
Nova’s stomach convulsed. Horns. Long and twisting ones. The hair on her arms rose. Darwin’s stories had suddenly come true, bringing a dreadful epiphany that she hoped wasn’t real. “Is that a—”
There was a scream that came from the marketplace, one loud enough to reach those a mile away. When Nova and Markus turned behind them, they spotted creatures on top of a building—catlike and fleshy with living manes—crawling with increasing speed and leaping to the ground.
Like them, many commoners on the same road froze, their attention captured. “We’re being attacked,” someone screamed. The creatures came from behind places no one could see, pouncing upon their feasts like game.
A hapless woman took flight, fumbling her vase. One of the quadruped monsters leaped out of an alley in front of her and chomped her to the ground, her blood gushing as she screamed. The creature’s beaded eyes flashed green, and the woman was lifeless; her skin grayed and shrunk to her bones as if she’d aged beyond recognition, her eyes empty and white. Within the minute, everyone around Nova and Markus perished. Several men, a husband and wife, and their four children—were all butchered the same.
Markus’ horses sprang up from their forelegs in terror. Nova’s horse bucked so vigorously she was nearly thrown off. She rolled into a flip from the momentum and hid behind it. Markus, who was desperately trying to maintain control of his steeds, kept yanking the first horse toward him. “Nova, this way!” he said. “Back on the horse you go!” He swung himself up onto the second steed beside it. Nova was petrified, her adrenaline and anxiety peaking. “Come on!” Markus barked.
Then the farmer was tackled across the air by a monster that soared like an arrow. Several yards they flew then rolled on the ground. Nova heard the farmer growling and squealing as they struggled. By the time they stopped, the creature was atop him, and he was pinned and bleeding from the neck down. His arm lay under the monster's forelegs. On her palms and knees, Nova watched.
The monster turned its head toward her, pausing. When its undershot fangs spread, a piercing shriek speared from its mouth, stabbing her ears. Tears streamed his cheeks. Its head jabbed downward, teeth sinking into the only consistent man in her life. With a gasp, Markus was no more. It crept toward her, and she froze. But it wasn’t long before she found courage somewhere inside. Nova bolted into any direction but didn’t make it several seconds before the creature took her down in tumbles as it had the farmer. She spun quickly, and a second later she was beneath it, lying with red pigtails over her face.
The monster drooled. Its mane spread and curled toward her. It shrieked and she cringed, looking away. There was a long pause. When she opened her eyes, the monster’s liquid silver eyes peered. A hum resonated from it, one almost like the purr of a cat. Suddenly, as if it heard something, it looked up and bound away.
Nova stayed on the ground for several minutes, listening to screams and shrieks. They were far more frightening than any she’d ever heard during the night. When finally she stood up, she bolted for a tower of scaffolding, climbing three stories, nearly falling from the adrenaline coursing through her. On a flattop building, she looked toward the market. Like ants scattering from the anthill, these creatures crawled in all directions, and on every piece of architecture, there was at least one.
She heard something beating in the distance and found its source on the rock formation in the desert. Charging from that direction were black humanesque figures of flashing arrow tails, almost a hundred of them. Nova sank to her knees. “Nasracans,” she whispered. And then she winced with striking suddenness, freeing a gasp.
IT WAS ALMOST dark when Blitzkrieg found the gates of the city proper. More than twenty guards stood before them, brandishing their sabers high. “Stand fast, men.” Blitzkrieg stopped and drew a sword, though not to battle with these feeble mortals but to call upon the thing that would. From the tip of his longest blade dripped a remnant of darkness that pooled the ground. Within it, no larger than a throwing stone were a thousand hardy souls. Their number and strength were vital to his plan—perfect for the entity he needed to construct.
From the darkness crept a flame that etched a circular symbol in the ground several yards in diameter. He knew not what the symbol meant or rendered, comparable to the amount of knowledge he held for his own purpose.
Its completion birthed a roar beneath the ground, and then a red fist, large as a boulder, burst through the mantle. A towering demon with black horns curved forward from its ears burgeoned from the earth. It was a beast with unfurling leather wings one story in length from tip to tip. A stripe of fire ran down its spine from head to tail, a fauld of rigid black armor concealing its haunches.
Another roar shook the gates. Blitzkrieg marveled at the Necrein he’d created. “What is your name, Abyssian?”
The beast looked at its master. “We are Roth,” announced the souls within it.
“What is your command, oh great Abyssian?”
“This city, burn it to the ground. Spare no one. The king is yours to kill, but he is my prize. His remains belong to me.”
“As you wish.”
The Necrein wasted no time. It ran for the gates, shaking the earth with every stride. The guards had no chance, though they were brave. Roth crashed through them, leaving not a single man alive. The gate was ripped from its hinges and the parapet collapsed, killing the archers atop it in the fall. Blitzkrieg marveled until something hit his body, and the souls within him leaped in alarm. He focused on the thing that triggered him. The sight in front of him disappeared, and his eyes became the eyes of a Sifter.
He saw a girl’s face, her head red as wine and olive eyes filled with fear. The thing his maker had been looking for. “A girl?” It confused him. Yet he was sure of it. Something within him calmed at the sight of her face. It made him gasp in surprise. It was a feeling as if being reunited with a long and lost loved one. “But how?” How could he have been a demon with such tranquility in him? Before that moment, he once thought that there was no other feeling better than being Whole. But this sensitivity was riveting. Exhilaration screamed within him.
Blitzkrieg ordered the Sifter onward, commanding every soul-reaping Abyssian not to lay so much as an eye on her. She belonged to him. Thunderously, he retraced the direction he came from and halted momentarily when an abrupt obscure emotion overwhelmed him. Warm reveries flooded his mind. He knew her. “Nova.” He resumed his hike.
MANY SOLDIERS DIED. Nova vomited twice and almost a third time when a Nasracan ripped a man’s head off with brute strength. Piles upon piles of the slain were everywhere in the dark streets. It was nighttime now. Somehow, someway she was still alive and running down the few empty streets there were beyond the dead bodies. She reached the end of an alley where there was nothing to obscure her view across the vast meadow. But she could go no further without being spotted, but there was no other way home.
She leaped out, and instantly there was a Nasracan in front of her. This one wasn’t hunching like the rest. It stood tall and poised, almost with the confidence of a leader. Neat horns like hair curved from its head behind it, nearly to the ground, and then curved upward. Its bare chest was terribly muscled like a man’s, and the bottom half was like a man’s also, except smooth like polished black marble with clawed feet. A thick tail was stiff behind it.
Nova crouched low, a plan quickly forming in her mind. She could have gone left or right, though, either way, she didn’t think she would make it very far. Adrenaline was still pumping through her. When the Abyssian advanced, suddenly it jerked and arched its back. Something sharp sprouted from its chest, and it fell, writhing and dissolving.
On a building, ten yards ahead was a woman of unnaturally long hair and blue eyes that glowed even in the night. She stared at Nova oddly and then killed a Nasracan that came from behind her with a strange weapon. Nova looked down, finding that the Nasracan before her had dissolved—a weapon on the ground resembling the very same with which the woman fought. Nova found the woman’s leer again. And then, as if it had been a question, the woman’s accented voice called. “Nova?” Nova gulped and bolted home, sprinting through reed grass, never stopping until she reached her destination.
She leaned and careened with fatigue when finally, she could stop. Her mother and their neighbors were rallied outside when they spotted her. Lucia, who was still sickly pale, yet vibrant with energy, gasped with relief and rushed into Nova’s arms. “Momma!”
“I’m here, darling! I’m so glad you’re safe. I didn’t know what had happened to you.” She squeezed her beloved daughter’s face and kissed it. Annette came beside them, her copper hair swaying in the brisk wind. “We’re all still safe at the moment, but what will we do?”
“We run before they get here!” a man shouted.
Nova panted. “He’s right. So many have died, Momma. Markus, he…”
“Shhh… It’s all right, my darling. Where will we go, Gresham?” She asked the mid-aged, stubble-haired fellow of oiled, ebony skin.
“Into the city, as close to the castle as we can manage. There will be many more soldiers there.” He commanded his sons off to get their horses. “It’s our only chance.”
“He’s right,” said Annette. “Nova, did you see Russen and Alexander?” Nova shook her head no. Annette’s posture stiffened with angst, warring with tears that came gleaming in her eyes. They were her husband and son. “Wait here, I’ll get us horses,” she said before darting off, clenching her shoe-length dress. Everyone scattered as they prepared to leave. But they returned just as quickly when the fray found them—Nasracans and Sifters blasting across the meadow.
“Go!” Gresham and his sons bolted first and then Annette, Lucia and Nova, and then all the rest. There were almost thirty people and not all of them with horses. Inevitably, the ones on foot died, Nasracans pouncing upon them half way across field. Nova looked back and then shut her eyes, forcing her gaze forward. “Don't turn around, my love,” said Lucia from behind, snapping the reins, spurring the horse into fierce speed. The horseless kept Abyssians at bay, occupying them with quenching feasts. The horror.
Only twelve of the near thirty remained, all of them riders. Annette yelled at Gresham to press on. The bawling man had lost a son along the way. The path before them was destroyed and burning and strewn with bodies and discomforting silence. There were more soldiers dead here than in the center of the outskirts. Wherever the responsible Abyssians had gone, Nova didn’t know. There was only fire and destruction. The twelve kept going, not finding anyone or anything alive for almost a mile. All hope was beginning to bleed from their souls. “There it is! The gate!” Gresham belted. An impossibly large hole had ruined it, evidence of a deadly invasion. Screams and beating land resounded. From the burning inner city proper came a multitude of soldiers and noblemen, all sprinting for their lives. Like a spilling stream, they spread from the opening.
Nova looked with terror, as did the rest of them. The last drop of hope to survive was gone.
Continue the adventure in
by Damien T. Taylor