Short Fiction: Salvation by Nightmare

They had been pursuing her for days, toying with their prey.  She knew they were close, but the echoes of the night made it difficult to know how far.  Hope still burned inside of her. Would he remember the promise? The map was detailed, leading her past one landmark after another.  If the family stories were true, it might be her salvation.

Again, the taunting voices sounded through the night.  Still, she ran.

Her horse had died from the exertion of the chase.  It was a miracle that it had lasted so long.

The closer she had come to the end of the directions was a barren place, dotted with stands of decaying trees.  The marshes were where the horse had succumbed, sinking into the black sludge. She had seen little sign of life for many miles.  Had she not been under such duress this place would have repulsed her. It might, though, provide her with the means to survive. This made the thought of being a sacrifice worthwhile if this quest could save her family.

The young woman nearly screamed in delight when the ruined tower came into view.  Squat, misshapen, and with walls thick enough to repel an army, the structure must have been impregnable when first built.  Now it was open to one side and thick beds of moss coated the stone. She raced to the opening, leaping inside as though it would seal the gaping hole and protect her.  

The interior was strewn with rotten furnishings, the solid construction still maintaining the original shapes of tables, chairs, and beams.  A grim and malicious cheer swept through her. All the stories must be true. The creature must exist, she thought.

She stood quietly for some time, exulting in her discovery.  Time had passed before she realized that she was not alone. Against the opposite wall was a massive chair.  Not quite a throne, but only just. The moss concealed it and the occupant well. She could not see anything beyond a vague shape, but prayed it was the one she sought.

“My name is Lissette,” she said in breathless excitement.  “I am descended of Markel Gruman, a man I believe who made a pact with you.  I am here to honor that arrangement. Do you accept?”

There was a faint sense of movement before two indistinct hands suddenly began to clap.  The sound was not congratulatory, nor was it mocking. It seemed to simply be a dull acknowledgement.  Slowly, the figure stood, rising to a height that required Lissette to crane her head. It stepped forward, into the meager light offered by the moon.

Lissette briefly felt fear, but that melted away with the certainty that she would prevail over her enemies.  The form was sturdy, exhibiting thick, corded muscles. She understood why it was so hard to see; the skin was a deep grey, still acting as a measure of camouflage in the dim light.  There was a glint from the creature’s face which she realized was the moonlight striking teeth like iron. A dull red cap hung from it’s head. Then it spoke.

“Lissette, I am Hab.  The bargain will be kept.  What danger follows you here?”

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