Last week I asked for writing prompts to help me get my writing back on track. I received three. This one is thanks to subspace5000. Not really my genre, but here it is. I will post the other two soon, along with what I’ve learned from the whole exercise.
As usual, comments are appreciated.
Ernak marched through the candle-lit corridor, his wings folded tight behind him, his pet human following obediently by his side. He began to feel searing pain from the wound in his stomach—thick, pitch black blood dripped onto the floor with each stride.
He stopped abruptly by a tall window; drops of blood on his obsidian black feathers glistened in the moonlight. He stole a glance at the night sky; billows of white smoke arose from one of the rooftops and vanished in the dark. He recognized it immediately—even after a century of servitude, the sight still made him cringe.
So, they have chosen a new puppet. Whose is it this time? Dagobar’s? Argath’s?
He shook his head. No time.
As he made his way towards the wooden door at the end of the corridor, the sound of wings fluttering pierced through the cold air. He almost choked.
“Sixtus,” he said to the human, “let’s hurry.”
Sixtus only nodded. He saw in Sixtus’s eyes the same fear he had seen days before, when he had told him about his plan.
“They will come after you.”
Sixtus said nothing.
“You may not come out of this alive.”
Still Sixtus said nothing. He thought he saw Sixtus quiver.
“I know you have no choice but to obey my ord— my request,” he continued, “but still, words are inadequate to express my gratitude.”
After he told Sixtus where to go when the time came, Sixtus remained silent for a long time. A few times he opened his mouth as if to say something, but nothing came out.
The chime of church bells broke the silence. Finally Sixtus shook his head, closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and said,
“Just promise— promise me they will be safe.”
Ernak hesitated for a while, although not long enough for Sixtus to notice.
He had seen— no, felt, his servant’s fear. But there had been something else in those blue, glimmering eyes.
What was it?
As they continued towards the door, his pace became heavier and heavier. He looked at Sixtus, who, even in his long black robe, marched with confidence, with determination. Ernak almost envied him, all of him—his grey hair, his wrinkles, even his liver spots.
My serv— my friend, when did you become so old?
They arrived at the door.
“This is it,” he said, “Now it’s all up to you.”
Sixtus took out a key and inserted it into the lock. He grabbed the doorknob with his trembling hand and turned it. The door creaked open. A single candle flickered in one corner, casting wavering shadows upon the wall. The room was small and without windows, only square holes through which the wind howled.
Then they saw them.
Sixtus gasped and covered his mouth with his hand. For a moment, no fog escaped his nostrils. Behind bars they lay: men, women—some noticeably pregnant—and children. None of them had anything on but a piece of dirty cloth, which barely concealed the scars and bruises on their skin. Most of the children were young—much too young. Their eyes were all fixed on Sixtus, as they crept closer towards one another.
The room was filled with pungent odor—sweat, blood, urine, fecal matter, and something rotten. Sixtus looked as if he was about to faint. Ernak glided swiftly towards one of the walls and muttered incantations. When he finished, the bricks shifted and revealed a passage. Sixtus hurried towards the cells and opened the doors one by one.
None of them moved.
Ernak looked into their eyes, uncertain as to what he sought, but all he could find was fear. Disgust. Contempt. Vengeful hatred burned through his chest, suffocating him, until tears rolled down his face and dropped onto stone floors as cold as death.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he said, even though none of them could hear him.
He could tell that Sixtus was far more disturbed by the sight than he was. Servants to their own kind, Sixtus. Your kind. The heavy sound of wings slicing through the air grew louder and louder, until— it stopped.
None of them moved.
Sixtus wiped his cheeks with his sleeves and said,
“Please don’t be afraid. I’m getting you out of here. But there’s not much time. You have to trust me.”
The prisoners exchanged glances and slowly began to stand.
“Sixtus,” Ernak said, “do you still remember what I’ve told you?”
Sixtus looked at him and nodded. When an eerie screech approached from the corridor, of metal scraping against the floor, Ernak was the only one who could hear it. It was accompanied by a chilling voice.
“Ernak.. Come out and play..”
Whoever it was laughed maniacally; the sound made him think of a pack of hungry hyenas. Ernak looked at Sixtus one last time, plagued by the sudden realization that this would be the last portrait of his friend he would have in his mind.
“What about you?” Sixtus asked.
“I have to buy you some time. Don’t worry, I’m not as weak as I look.”
He made an effort to smile, but Sixtus did not smile back. He thought he saw pity in his eyes, and again, that something else. What was it? Compassion?
“Ernak, where are you?”
Ernak went out to the corridor and closed the door behind him.
“Ah, there you are.”
Two winged figures—similar to himself and yet, so different— stood not far from him, each holding a spear in their hands. He recognized one of them as Xilaf, who was taller and more muscular than him. Even with his long, thin beard and his purple tabard he looked as imposing as always.
“Shall we play?”
Xilaf licked the tip of his spear, still wet with Ernak’s blood. He glanced at the door behind Ernak and his grin quickly turned into a scowl. He gave a nod at the other figure, who took it as a sign to leave.
“Ernak, Ernak. Why do you bother with the likes of them?”
“Xilaf, have you forgotten how to love?”
Xilaf let out an expansive laugh that resounded through the corridor like a spray of broken glass.1
“Love is a joke. It’s always been fear, Ernak, caro mio. Fear is the way we— or actually, our beloved, wretched pets have ruled this godforsaken planet. You, too, surely have witnessed what happens when humans overcome fear; when they no longer fear the eternal inferno; when they show not even a hint of shivers at the mention of il nostro tesoro Lucy!
“Love is a mistake. Our powers wane; we are becoming weaker, and weaker, every fucking day. ’Give them a chance’, ‘let them progress’, ‘oh, look at their adorable inventions!’ Blah. Well look at what they have been doing to each other. Love? Pah! There’s nothing about them left worth loving.”
“There is always something left to love2,”said Ernak.
Ernak plucked two of his own feathers. Within an instant, he faced Xilaf with a sword in his right hand and a shield in his left. Xilaf sneered as he tightened his grip around his spear.
Silently, Ernak began to recite a prayer for Sixtus and his people, for their deliverance from evil; and he hoped—secretly—that someone would listen.
1 2 Adapted from “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez.
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