Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Tomb of Ashes
By Pathos

Wendeval crept silently through the thick overgrowth toward Farlane’s cottage. Dressed in a black cloak, he felt very much like an Angel of Death visiting misfortune upon an unsuspecting victim. He couldn’t see Victor, nor the two accompanying Ash Hounds, but before concerning himself over their whereabouts, he had to permanently silence Farlane and anyone else who could bear witness to his presence.
The white walls of the cottage were hidden beneath a thick coat of ivy, as if the building had intentionally camouflaged itself to evade Wendeval’s wrath. Emerging from the surrounding foliage, Wendeval glided towards the door like a shadow shifting beneath a moving light. There was no lock on the cabin’s door to impede entry; apparently the old recluse had never thought his home would be the target of burglary.
The interior of the cottage was fairly small with only a couple of rooms, making Wendeval immediately confident that Farlane would be his only quarry for the evening. With his sword drawn and ready to taste the old man’s blood, Wendeval burst into the bedroom, sending the startled Farlane scrambling from his bed and cornering himself against a wall. He was a small raisin of a human being, clearly in no position to offer resistance.
“Who are you?” Farlane demanded.
Without a word Wendeval removed the hood of his cloak. Farlane’s eyes expanded with terror. Though there was no mirror, Wendeval knew what caused the old man to tremble speechlessly at the sight. He was no longer human, his face was a crude mockery of its previous flesh form: grey and hairless, with gaping hollows for eyes, and a texture resembling an ancient statue laced with cracks. He was incapable of expression, wearing a permanent mask of apathy and callousness.
“Y-You’re trying to resurrect the Ash King,” Farlane managed after a series of horrified gasps.
Wendeval offered no verbal response, but rather thrust his blade into the chest of the old man unceremoniously. Farlane died with a single, hushed sigh, collapsing to the floor instantly. Wendeval walked back to the entrance.
“Victor!” he called.
Soon he saw another cloaked figure led by a pair of wolf-sized, undead hounds, specially altered to pick up the scent of the Ash King’s remains.
Fifty years prior the Ash King had fallen. He was nearly impossible to kill in his demonic form, his heart the only part of him that could be completely destroyed. That feat was accomplished by his slayers, but with dark sorcery the heart could be reconstructed. So to prevent his revival, they cut his body into 150 pieces, charging different individuals with guardianship of the remains. But the Ash King’s chief sorcerer, Nilith, had created the hounds to find his body parts, and had forged the hearts of fifty unwilling participants, including Wendeval and Victor, into a powerful replacement for his lord’s. He had recaptured 148 of the Ash King’s missing members, Farlane’s piece to be the 149th. But much to Nilith’s disgust, the final piece remained elusive. Whereas the previous parts had been detected almost immediately by the sorcerer’s altered canines, that single, damnable part had yet to be located.
Led by the Ash Hounds, Wendeval and Victor found a trick panel in the floor of Farlane’s cottage, underneath which a box was buried. After prying it open the duo found a fossilized ribcage.
“Alright, that’s it,” Victor said with great satisfaction, “so that leaves.. Which part as the elusive one?”
“The liver,” Wendeval responded.
“The Ash King’s liver,” Victor repeated reverently, “okay, sheriff, let’s get this back to Nilith, I’m sure he’ll be pleased.”
Wendeval hated when his fellow Ash Knights called him “sheriff”, though as they always did he had grown tired of protesting. It was unclear to him whether the reference to his former occupation was meant as a sign of respect or mockery. After grunting in agreement he pulled his hood back over his head and the two turned to leave. The hounds did not follow.
“What the? Stupid mutts are still sniffing around that loose panel,” Victor said.
Wendeval didn’t waste time with words, he returned to the spot and reexamined the hole. Brushing more dirt aside with his hands, he soon removed another wooden box, similar to the one in which they’d discovered the ribcage. Concealed within they found the Ash King’s liver, the 150th piece.
“Well I’ll be damned!” Victor said triumphantly.
“We all will most likely,” Wendeval responded, “so Farlane was guarding two pieces. Nobody guessed that the reason we had only found 149 locations was because two of them were in the same place.”
It was almost funny. Such a plausible possibility and yet neither Nilith nor one of the fifty Ash Knights had theorized it. Thus the moment of fate appeared to be nigh for the resurrection of the Ash King, and the receipt of the promised “power” that Nilith’s captives had been guaranteed if they aided with the revival. They had little choice, their hearts at the disposal of the dark sorcerer: either they agreed to be one of his knights, or their heart was cast into a pit of fire and their soul tormented eternally. Some had become excited about the reassembly of the Ash King, even zealous, others were dejected and only followed Nilith’s orders with great reluctance. Wendeval belonged to neither camp, remaining somewhat enigmatic to his peers.
“It’s hard to believe,” Victor mused, “we can have him reborn this very night. What do you think will happen?”
Wendeval cradled the liver in his hands, staring down at it. He was silent, paying no attention to his comrade. Nilith didn’t know that the liver could be obtained that night. He was a hard man to fool, but his ignorance in this circumstance created possibilities. Beautiful possibilities.
“Return the ribcage to Nilith,” he ordered, “it would be a shame to return this final piece in such an anticlimactic fashion.”
“What? You don’t want to return the liver?” Victor said disapprovingly.
“In due time,” Wendeval said, “the hounds will rediscover it in a day or so. And don’t tell anyone about this.”
“What the hell are you going to do with it, sheriff?” Victor asked.
“This will be my final opportunity to settle an old score,” Wendeval told him as he turned to walk away.


The Tomb of Ashes had a dark and grisly history. It had been the Ash King’s underground ceremonial chamber before his demise, located on the grounds where his palace, now a smoldering ruin, once stood. Wendeval was greeted by the familiar smell of roasting flesh and earthy decay that smothered the decrepit halls of the dark labyrinth as he entered. Effigies and engravings of men silently crying out in anguish lined the walls, carved out of charred, volcanic rock. Only a true sadist could appreciate such “art”, and look upon it for an extended period of time without getting sick to his stomach.
Wendeval approached the assembly room, a spacious, spherical stadium in which a never-ending waltz of shadows fluttered beneath the dim torchlight. He had taken longer than he had expected to complete his secret errand, and as he had feared, Nilith himself awaited him suspiciously.
Most of Nilith’s leathery face was hidden beneath his long, grey dreadlocks. He wore a robe which he had decorated with strings of beads and severed human fingers, which he displayed like medals of valor. He stood tall, erect, and had an aura of madness about him that kept his associates uneasy, serving as a reminder that he was an individual capable of anything.
“Welcome back, sheriff,” Nilith’s voice sounded like a sandstorm pounding against a pane of glass, “great work recovering our lord’s ribcage. I trust the acquisition went smoothly?”
“Yes,” Wendeval responded, “there were no problems.”
“Well, then I wonder why your companion returned several hours ago and yet you are just now sneaking back in here like a rat missing its curfew.”
A rat missing its curfew? As far as Wendeval knew rats didn’t have curfews. Nilith was every bit as insane as he was dangerous.
“I got lost,” he said dryly.
“I seriously doubt that,” the sorcerer cackled, “I heard you were a good hunter during your human life, sheriff. Good hunters know how to pick up trails, and the trails left by the filthy Ash Hounds are less than subtle.”
“Farlane’s house was within a mile of my former residence,” Wendeval looked down in shame, “I-I just wanted to check on my wife and kids. Make sure they’re doing okay without me..”
“Truly touching,” Nilith snarled, “but I gave you no permission to wander about on sentimental whims when our work is so near completion! I’m warning you sheriff, stay inside the tomb until I command you otherwise. This is not the time to fall out of my favor.”
Wendeval sadly shook his head and walked away. After returning to his chamber he chuckled slightly. The old sorcerer had bought his excuse. Now all he had to do was wait. It was only a matter of time.


Three days later, the news blew through the Tomb of Ashes like a victory trumpet. Wendeval, Victor, and two other Ash Knights stood in a chamber forming an informal semicircle around a burning pyre, their only source of light and warmth. The bustle could be heard throughout the catacombs as an unordinary air of jubilance filled its dark halls. Just as the three of them excluding Wendeval had their curiosity piqued and were about to leave to find the source of the commotion, another Ash Knight burst into their room, his breathless excitement starkly betraying his cold and lifeless facial features.
“We have found it!” he announced, “the final piece of the Ash King has been located!”
“Where is it?”
“Who is guarding it?”
“Why did it take so long to-”
“It is in the clutches of Aivik, the famous arctic warrior.”
Wendeval stared at the flames swirling around the pyre. But he could feel the eyes of his companions being cast upon him as they heard the name of the final guardian. Victor stared in intense silence while the others spoke.
“Aivik.. Isn’t that the man that you hated, sheriff? The ‘hero’?”
“My sworn enemy,” Wendeval told them.
“Why was he your enemy?”
“He was a vigilante,” Wendeval explained bitterly, “I was trying to maintain order under the banner of the law. He was becoming more popular than me, people hailing him as a ‘hero’ and ‘savior’ while he went behind our backs to dish out his own brand of justice. He should have stayed in the north, there is no place for him here.”
“You’re the one who stole his mask, aren’t you?”
“His mask, I never heard about that. What happened, sheriff?”
Wendeval should have refrained from enlightening them, but he was seething with renewed rage at the thought of Aivik. He couldn’t control himself.
“He had this enchanted mask of some sort,” he said, “it was the source of his power. Some artifact forged in the Arctic. When he wore it he became nearly invincible. Unbeatable in combat. And yes. I had it stolen. But it wasn’t enough. The mask didn’t work when I wore it, it only worked for those of northern blood. That’s my theory anyways. I wanted to crush Aivik, to humiliate him. But I was never able to.”
“Stripping him of his power seems like a victory to me.”
“It wasn’t enough!” Wendeval protested, “I wanted to see him thrown into prison to rot with the rest of the criminal bile. I even got a trial arranged, but the damned magistrates suddenly grew a conscience. They just didn’t have the hearts to throw into prison someone so noble and brave. It was a joke.”
Wendeval glanced at Victor. His partner had yet to speak, but his gaze pierced Wendeval with the utmost scrutiny.
“So are you going to volunteer to go after him?” one final question from his audience, “he has the final part of the Ash King. You could be the one to relieve him of it.”
“No, absolutely not,” Wendeval said, “I will have no part in this. Nilith will send a group after the part tonight. It will be settled soon enough.”
When the others had left, Victor finally spoke, “I don’t get it sheriff. You planted the Ash King’s liver in the home of Aivik, just to let others go and find it? You could have killed him right there, really, and been done with it. Why even involve the final remain in this?”
“You don’t understand,” Wendeval replied, “it’s better this way. You’ll see.”
Nilith sent five Ash Knights and five hounds to apprehend Aivik and recover the final piece that night. Even bereft of his mask and its power, Nilith knew the arctic warrior would make a formidable opponent, and wisely sent a larger number of assassins to make sure nothing would go wrong. The other forty-five knights gathered in the assembly hall and awaited their comrades return. Each individual was engulfed in their own thoughts, fears, and anticipations, but created a mutual silence and palpable sense of impatience as they stood in introspection.
After an eternity of being left in suspense, the five Ash Hounds returned unaccompanied. Confused whispers filled the room. This could not happen.. Unless the five Ash Knights had somehow been defeated, but that simply couldn’t be. Nilith responded with a monologue of angry curses, hurling a stone at the returning canines.
“So what do we do now?” one of the Ash Knights had the boldness to ask.
“We send more of you!” Nilith snapped, “but your dying weakens the heart of our lord. I don’t want to have to delay the ceremony one second to gather more hearts! I won’t have it!”
It was then that a noticeable chill bit through the room. The Ash Knights uniformly shuddered, and Nilith looked like he had just received a haymaker to the head, his eyes stunned yet intensely angry. Through every crease and crevice in the room emerged an icy mist, which slithered along the floor and ensnared it in frost. Wendeval backed up against the far wall of the room. Showtime.
A blue flash and a clap of thunder shook the room, and into their midst appeared a white, glowing warrior. His armor shimmered like crystallized ice, his braided beard and locks of hair entangled to form a single, savage mane, and on his face he wore a decorative mask, which flowed with energy like an enchanted, frozen dynamo. Aivik had arrived.
All of the Ash Knights, save Wendeval, drew their swords and charged the intruder. The arctic warrior cut down everyone in his wake, his mighty blade dashing them to pieces, leaving them crumbling to the ground like exploding lumps of coal and reducing them to piles of dust.
“Traitor!” Nilith shouted at Wendeval, irate at his inactivity whilst the rest of the knights fell.
But it was too late for the old sorcerer. While a wily and evasive foe when fighting on his terms, Nilith was not skilled at hand to hand combat. Without a proper method of defense, he died the death of a cowering fool, caught off guard and hapless. After Nilith had fallen, Aivik approached Wendeval, who was casually leaning against a stone column, his sword untouched within his scabbard.
“And you must be my secret benefactor,” Aivik’s voice had the power of an avalanche, “Sheriff Wendeval.”
“Brilliant work, detective,” Wendeval sneered.
“Did you really think you could save yourself by returning my mask, despite setting me up as a target for your little friends?”
“On the contrary, Aivik, my time has come,” Wendeval drew his sword and half heartedly chucked it at the ground. He folded his arms submissively.
“Very noble of you, sheriff,” Aivik said, “sacrificing yourself to prevent the resurrection of the Ash King.”
“You were the only one who could stop this from happening,” Wendeval admitted, “my jealousy has gotten in the way of true justice for long enough. I had to fall this far to realize that.”
“The ironic thing about this is that if you hadn’t taken my mask to begin with, I probably would have been able to hunt down the Ash King’s court jester,” Aivik motioned to the body of Nilith, “and you would have been unharmed by this dark sorcery.”
“I certainly won’t miss your self-righteous egotism,” Wendeval sighed.
“I’m sure you won’t.”
“Just remember one thing after you slay me,” Wendeval said, “none of us will be completely free of this curse unless you destroy the Ash King’s heart. And do something with the rest of his remains so that none of this can reoccur, for heaven’s sake!”
“Don’t worry sheriff, your jurisdiction is in good hands now,” Aivik said, “consider yourself vindicated.”
“Tell my family I still love them,” Wendeval said, “and tell Magistrate Vargas he’s a jack-ass.”
With that Wendeval bowed his head and waited for the final blow. Justice had finally been served, balance reasserted. And for a man who had lived a life of corruption and envy, he couldn’t imagine dying under better circumstances.

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Pathos is an aspiring fiction author who has a bizarre and romantic fascination with tragedy and despair. Pathos has previously been published once before in "Dark Gothic Resurrected" magazine.


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