Friday, January 23, 2015

Chosen (a short story)

Another contest entry on fanstory.com! Let's see how this one goes. The prompt for this was simply that I had to begin the story with 'Hell found me'. I hope you enjoy my twist.


CHOSEN

Hell found me.  I released one long shuddering breath. It was the eve before Samhain, and I was face down at the bottom of a ditch on the outskirts of town.
I surrender, dammit. I wasn’t getting up again. He’d made sure of that, son of a bitch. Particulates of oil, dirt and tiny bits of rubber from the soles of my attacker’s boots slowly made their way into my lungs as I struggled to breathe. My cries had long faded to a whimper, but breathing still hurt what I was certain was an endless field of blue black bruises along my torso.
And though I hadn’t said it aloud, Hell wasn’t having any of it. His nose was wet, cold against my cheek. He whined and nudged me.
“Go away, stupid dog,” I muttered into the ground. I’d been beaten, destroyed, and had zero interest in doing anything but staying down and dying where I lay.
Stand, little one. He nudged me again until I turned my head to look at him.
“Dammit, you flea-ridden bag of bones,” I pushed at him. “I told you to go away.”
Hell sat down and let me push, but it was pointless. Half-human against hell hound? Yeah, I didn’t stand a chance. But I’d be damned if I didn’t give it a good go. He cocked his giant head to the side. Great, he’s amused.
“Stop looking at me.” My hand looked so small and dirty against the midnight layers of his fur. How could he be so clean now? After everything? How could his fur be so dry? Had I been down that long?
He stuck his muzzle under the arch I’d created with my arm and lifted up, slow and steady.
Sharp bolts of pain rocketed through me, and I screamed until he laid me down again. Fat tears rolled down my face. I inhaled a few through my nose, inadvertently choking, then coughing, which only hurt more.
It took me a few minutes to get everything under control, and as strange as it sounded, that coughing fit helped me push through the pain enough to sit up. With Hell’s assistance. As if that damn hound would let me do anything on my own.
“Now what?” I pushed my head against his giant one, and he gave me a contented sigh. Slowly but surely, I clambered out of the ditch and onto the battlefield.
Out of the dirt and muck, I could smell the other scents of battle: Gun powder, burning equipment, burning flesh and the beginnings of decomp. My heart caught in my throat. Gods, had anyone else survived?
“Oh, Hell… “
*****
What a dumbass idea, joining a gang, but I’d been tired of being hungry all the time or beaten in one of the dozen foster homes that had agreed to straighten out a hellbrand like me. And while being a half-elf made me faster than my foster parents, it hadn’t stop the abuse or the attempts to use me. Food wasn’t so important, I’d decided, so I’d left the system and joined the Blood Fae when I was twelve.
The initiation had sucked, a hardcore beatdown by every single existing member of the gang--all twenty-five of them--but I’d survived worse. And when it had been all said and done, they’d picked me back up, cleaned my wounds, iced the bruises and fed me a whole pizza and a giant vanilla sundae.
So I’d stayed.
Fast forward four years, and I was one of the leaders now, running things. No one messed with me anymore, and I took care of those too little to protect themselves. We ate more days than we didn’t, and we found a niche in the black market that matched our skillset: graverobbing.
The money was good and steady. We ran between the dirty mortuaries and the backstreets docs, apothecaries and witches. The bits and pieces of supernatural creatures pretending to be humans conjured some life saving salves and cures, and even though we didn’t like to talk about it, the darkest magic and curses. Hard to feel morality when we were tending to kids broken by a system that had no interest in saving them.
Because even though being half-breeds gave many of super abilities, like speed or strength, none of us had magic. Eventually we had to sleep. And in that darkness, we were vulnerable to those who would hurt us.
So I didn’t balk when we brought back orge teeth, harpy feathers, or Beholder blood. The screaming banshee had been a little harder, but she’d run a foster home that was prostituting halflings to humans. Yeah, I didn’t feel bad at all when I watched the dark mage slit her throat. Everything comes with a price. They should’ve paid in something other than the skin on our backs.
Two years of a better life, and we were kings of our turf. Until…
“Thora!” The high-pitched cry broke my concentration on the thick tome in my lap. “Thora, there’s trouble! Nathan’s dying!”
I flew down the stairs in a blink. A young half-medusa named Faith cradled a younger half-dwarf in her lap, bloodied and gasping for air in thick, red bubbles. The hilt of a wicked blade stuck out of his chest, and my scout released his death rattle. She looked up at me behind her protective sunglasses, rivers of tears racing down her cheeks.
“Howlers.”
The one word was enough. I signalled Marigold, and the half-brownie scurried up the side of the wall and sounded the alarm. The warning sirens pulsed, and bodies poured from every crevice and corner of our home, setting into motion our well-laid emergency plans.
The youngest of us were gathered and secreted away in the safe rooms I’d had installed last summer. The rest found their weapons and awaited my command.
We hadn’t had a death from anything other than natural causes in over a year. I’d considered it a point of pride that we added to our numbers instead of detracting, and while, yes, we taught them to do our work, earn their keep, we kept their bellies full and a roof over their heads. But now this?
“What happened?” I asked Faith. “How’d this happen?” I reached for the dagger, and she shook her head and waved me off.
“Don’t,” she whispered. “It’s cold iron and magicked.” And in between stifled breaths, she told me about an ambush and a hunt on the outskirts of our turf. How they’d herded the kids into a dead end. Had Nathan been taller, or Faith in control of her special ability, maybe they could’ve gotten away, but the Howlers hadn’t come searching for worthy adversaries.
No, they had come for prey.
*****
Two weeks of skirmishes, and I lost six more kids. Sure, we’d taken out a dozen of them, but those six kids...I couldn’t get them out of my head. So when Ethan, the leader of the Howlers, had offered a final fight, winner take call, I’d agreed.
Twenty of my half-breeds against twenty of his half-weres, an even fight for turf and soldiers. We stood there, weapons ready, and the earth beneath our collective feet shuddered.
Ethan found me across the empty lot. You?
Was he kidding? I didn’t have anyone who could do anything like this? I shook my head. You?
He gave me a quick shake. His eyes widened, looking behind me.
The tiny hairs on the back of my neck rose, and the fighting stopped all around me. Thirty-nine frightened faces stared past me, at whatever stood behind me.
Blood. Feed. Hearts taste better with fear. The words rode a wave of hunger with the tiniest hint of restraint. Its voice grated like sandpaper against the inside of my brain.
I slammed my eyes shut, as hot air breathed against the nape of my neck, sending my dark hair forward. I swallowed hard and pushed down the fear. Nineteen of the kids around me were mine, but I couldn’t leave the other twenty to whatever this thing was.
Little children playing at warrior. Candy for my pack.
I darted glances around the lot, and my heart dropped as a half-dozen giant black wolves emerging from between the empty buildings. I looked down and cursed beneath my breath. How hadn’t I seen the markings for a hellmouth? “Ethan!”
“I swear by Gaia I didn’t do this!” he yelled back. “I swear it, Thora, these aren’t mine!”
Stand, little one. Save your pack. Run, and we will devour you.
“Don’t run!” I screamed. “Ethan, we’re on a hellmouth!”
The kids began to migrate into the center of the lot, not caring particularly who they stood next to, just knowing that together was a hell of a lot better than alone.
“A what?”
I flexed fingers around my knives. “A gateway, you idiot! These are hellhounds! They guard the hellmouth! And they feed it!” I needed a plan faster than my brain was processing all the information I had.
“Oh, holy fuck.”
I turned around and almost dropped my weapons at the sight of the hellhound. “Oh, Hell, you’re beautiful.”

'Hell', I like that, little one. All that black fur and glowing amber eyes. The breath was atrocious and the maw filled with nasty looking teeth, but the whole beast was beautiful. I saw my hand reaching out before I realized what I was doing.
You stood, little one. You are Chosen. Your people are… His eyes darted, and screaming erupted from behind me.
I turned again to see the Howlers attacking my Fae, turning them towards the hellhounds. “No! Ethan!”
“You’re such a dumb bitch,” he answered from my right. He swung a metal pipe, and I met him with both blades. The crash rang up my arms, and I lost hold of one knife. He swung again, and I caught it, this time with a nauseating crack of my forearm. I dropped to the ground in a fit of pain.
“Did you think I chose this place on accident?” he seethed, as he brought the pipe down again. “Like I didn’t know what would happen if I brought so many sacrifices to a hellmouth? The power I'd receive?”
The blow caught my back, forced me to the ground. “They’re your people, too! How could you do this to them?”
“Because I’m not a damn bleeding heart like you!” he accentuating each word with a kick into my torso.
I slashed at him with my knife, but he laughed and reached down to wrench it from my hand, tossing it aside. And then he kicked me into the ditch.

My head hit the ground, and darkness swallowed me whole.
*****
Bodies lay strewn across the empty lot. I sought out our colors, purple and black, and found none. I didn't even see Howlers.How was that possible?
You stood, little one, Hell whispered in my head. Your people are safe.
The wall of darkness on the far side of the field--the other hellhounds--parted to reveal the kids, eyes wide and uncertain, until they caught sight of me, and they whooped and hollered as they raced across the lot to meet me.
I stepped forward and stopped. “What of Ethan?”
The hellhound sighed. He opened the hellmouth. The only way to close it is with blood. So we took his offering. He motioned to another group of hounds, and as the first of the kids reached me, I saw Ethan, bloody and pale, hanging from a giant maw.
“Dead?”
Hell harumphed. No, but ready to travel. You are Chosen. When you need me, little one, call me. I will come. He nudged me gently, and trotted over to his pack.The ground shuddered again, swallowing them all in darkness.

The kids cheered, but I couldn't shake the feeling that this was just the opening act of a new nightmare. I shook my head.

Tomorrow, I'd figure it out. Today, well...

"Let's go home."

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