Eri awoke when the candle at her window blew out. The light in her bedroom shifted, the warm glow replaced by translucent, silver wisps of moonlight.
Her bed creaked when Eri sat up, the wood groaning from age and use. All the world was silent beyond, and when Eri stood up and gazed out her window, she saw faint flickering lights shining from other homes in her village, offering the same respects.
She always kept her matches close at hand – as she ignited one, she recited a whispered chant to the Goddess: “The light shall burn away all your fears.”
There were terrors in the night, rumors of a monster decimating villages after dark. The Endless Night, they called it, but Eri did not fear, the comforting light of the candle illuminating her bedroom like an embrace from her beloved Goddess. Soft hues of orange cast deep shadows across the furniture. Eri gazed out across the sleepy elven village, the home she loved, but then a shadow blotted out the moon.
It passed, but not before Eri saw the eerie silhouette cast across the celestial light.
The candle, she realized, had been a warning.
She ran to her sister’s room. The girl slept peacefully, despite the first hints of screaming from beyond.
Eri gathered her courage and shook her sister awake. “Lirita, awaken. We have no time.”
Her sister blinked and rubbed her sleepy eyes, her precious pointed years just visible as they poked from the blankets. “Eri-”
“Put on your robe – we must go!”
Lirita obeyed, and thank the Goddess for that. Eri herself ran to throw on her shoes and grab a satchel of food – one set aside for this very purpose. When she looked back to the bedroom, Lirita approached. “Eri, is it-?”
Eri nodded as she stole the girl into her arms, the tiny thing barely half her height. Eri had raised Lirita for six months now, after their parents’ death, and she had vowed to do whatever it took to give her little sister a home – even if it meant abandoning it now.
Outside, the cold air bit her skin. Winter would soon be here, but that precluded they survived until then. Eri saw a great shadow moving in the distance, illuminated by the full moon – elongated limbs, far too thin. Flashing in the backdrop of darkness, Eri saw glowing eyes in the brightest blue, icy enough to freeze her blood
Screaming erupted from beyond. Eri heard shattering stone and wood. She ran away, to the great river beyond.
Lirita clung to Eri’s neck. “Where are we going?”
“As far as we can.” Already, her breath began to burn, the added weight of her sister more than she expected. They would escape, but so many others would fall. “Lirita, I want you to scream as loud as you can. We need to wake everyone up.”
The child obeyed, her shrill voice cutting through the false peace. Though deafened by the noise, Eri continued running, her boots stirring up dust beneath them. Through winding streets – their village was dense and older than most – Eri ran, knowing the path by heart, and watched as curious faces peeked beyond their windows. She realized she wasn’t alone, after a point – other feet echoed behind, the lucky few evacuating before the monster could come.
When the houses grew sparse and the road suddenly ended, they face a great river, wider across than the road. It rushed, dangerously so, but it brought the hope of escape. The Goddess would deliver them, and Eri offered a silent prayer of thanks. She glanced back and saw a small crowd running towards them, some carrying children, some with supplies.
The monster stepped out of the trees beyond, emerging from the shadows cast by the moon.
Eri saw it clearly now – its elongated limbs sickly and pale, impossibly thin, yet it balanced on all fours, great claws at the front. Its jaw hung slack as though broken, revealing rows of fangs and a maw of infinite darkness – as endless as its cursed name. Intelligent eyes, glowing brighter than the moon, surveyed the crowd, and Eri swore it smiled.
Here is stood, The Endless Night. It leapt across the river, and Eri screamed.
Prepared for death, Eri clutched her sister tight, then gasped when great claws flung her aside. The monster raked through the crowd of people, but though it tore through them like paper, Eri and her sister yet lived – thrown instead of gored.
With a pained yelp, they smacked against the wall of a building. Though bruised, Eri lived. She glanced at Lirita; the girl sobbed, but she remained unscathed.
Blood dripped from a gash across Eri’s crown, droplets of blood steadily staining her blouse. She ran back into the village, screams and her sister’s own sobs echoing through her head. From behind, she heard the monster’s booming voice, deep and yet shrill, two dissonant tones coming to speak words that grated against Eri’s ears. It recited a language not meant for this world – the dialect of the demons from beyond.
From the shadows emerged hazy figures, and Eri watched as one grabbed an unfortunate soul and pulled him back. They both disappeared into the darkness, his screams ceasing at once.
All around, more shadowed figures emerged. Eri had heard stories of demons seeking hosts, that to be stolen was to be eaten or possessed or worse, but they could not manifest alone. The monster summoned more of its kin, for what purpose Eri could not say.
Eri heard the monster laugh – a horrid, guttural, gleeful sound – and somehow it frightened her more than the demons or the monster itself.
Stragglers were stolen, those who ran with Eri. She saw fire ahead and wondered if it would save her. Goddess, burn away my fears, she prayed. Let Lirita see the sun again.
Fire blazed in the city square – started by the villagers themselves. A great pyre burned, and armed guards stood around it, some swinging at the shadowed figures. The shadows dissipated when struck, and if the flicking light touched them, they vanished with a whispered scream. “Stand in the light!” she heard a guard cry. Another bonfire erupted, fire quickly eating through the dried tinder. “The Endless Night is weak in the light. We need only survive until dawn!”
Or so they said, Eri knew.
From the great shadows cast by the fire, the monster emerged beyond the town square. It stood taller than the buildings, and when it balanced on two legs and bellowed a roar, Eri tucked Lirita to her chest and covered her fragile ears. Eri’s own pointed ears rang and lingered in pain.
Fire cast grotesque shadows across The Endless Night, highlighting its gaunt, unnatural face. Guards rushed as it approached the square, prepared with their swords and shields. With unnatural speed, the monster swept them aside. It grabbed the last and slowly tore him in half, visibly reveling in the man’s screams. Eri heard that perverse laugh as it dangled the halves before the crowd and threw them into the fire.
Eri ducked, then screamed when fire caught her skirt. Burning wood scattered across the earth as Eri dropped Lirita and rolled on the ground.
Its laughter sickened Eri to her core. On the ground, she beat the fire licking at her skirt while The Endless Night continued its rampage. Lirita joined her, the tiny girl braver than Eri had ever felt.
Eri would not die in flame today. Bells rang through the cursed night, deafening even amidst the cacophony of screams and demonic words. The cathedral stood as a beacon of hope, the great bell warning the village of its eminent demise.
Some drawing in Eri’s soul bid her to rise. Perhaps the Goddess would deliver her yet. Eri grabbed Lirita and a burning slab of wood – fire for protection – and ran for the cathedral doors.
It rose in white stone, the richest of all the buildings in town. She banged on the great wooden doors, appalled to find it was locked. With a prayer of apology, she ran instead to the side, and with her makeshift torch swung and shattered the stained-glass window. Rainbows hues scattered across the cathedral floor, reflecting the fire in opalescent shades.
With as much care as she could muster with one arm, Eri helped Lirita inside. The girl made it in without a scratch on her skin, but Eri was much less fortunate – as she fell inside, glass caught her leg, ripping a deep gash across her thigh.
Eri gasped and landed sprawled on the floor, driving the shattered shards deeper into her flesh. The torch licked at the stone floor as her own blood pooled around her. Within, the tentative peace was as fragile as the glass Eri had ruined. She withheld a scream, her pain steadily rising, and with how the blood spurted, she feared she could not walk for long.
Adrenaline spurred her forward, as well as screams from beyond. She grabbed her torch, illuminating the great church, and limped toward the altar.
A statue of the great Goddess smiled down at them, her eyes filled with the kindness of a mother gazing upon her child. Before her was a stone altar draped in fabric, and a chance breeze from the broken window rustled the fabric, revealing a hollow opening – one small enough for a child. “Lirita-”
She gasped as she stumbled and fell, slipping in her own spraying blood. The stone floor caught her, and the glass embedded in her leg cut fresh wounds within.
Tears welled in her eyes as Lirita tugged on her hand. “Hide underneath,” Eri said. “No matter what you hear, do not come out.”
Lirita shook her head and knelt beside her, uncaring of the blood staining her nightgown. “What about you?”
“The Goddess brought me this far. My life is hers.” Small arms wrapped around her head. With the last of her strength, she brought her own arm up to embrace her sister. “I love you. What you can do for me is live.”
“I love you, Eri.”
The enormous doors shattered, the monster’s claw sweeping clean through. Lirita’s touch disappeared, and Eri saw the fabric shift around the altar as The Endless Night approached.
It gazed around the cathedral with its horrid, glowing eyes, its gaping mouth pulling into a vicious, broken smile. Its stared landed on Eri, and she moved to stand on her feet – but collapsed.
Her head swam from blood loss. Despite the instinct to flee, she scooted herself away from the altar, toward the monster, unable to help the sob that tore from her throat.
She stared into the abyss, at the face of this monster from hell, and it stared back. “Goddess, deliver me,” she whispered, and it must have heard, for its cruel laughter met her ears.
It swiped out an enormous claw and ripped the statue of the Goddess from its pedestal. Eri drew a breath, tearing her gaze away from the monster and to the Goddess’ countenance—
The monster threw the statue down. Eri’s death was swift and clean.
* * *
In the aftermath of hell, the endless night did end. Dawn broke across the horizon, casting light onto the ruins of the once thriving village. Every inch of land lay covered in debris and carnage, and already the scent of death and stagnant blood began to rise.
But with the sun rose survivors, the lucky few who escaped the demons and The Endless Night. They gathered their own and formed a caravan, desperate to leave before nightfall – by nightfall, the dead would rise.
Lirita emerged with the living, the only child among the small throng. She did as she promised – she lived.
READ MORE . . .The Sting of Victory . . .
READ MORE . . .The Sting of Victory . . .