Fantasy Short Story
‘In The Dark’ by Sean Hill
His worst fears were confirmed. Ever since he had become separated from the caravan in the blizzard, he had been forced to keep constant vigil. He had to fight back the creeping darkness with all the knowledge of sympathetic forces at his disposal. He knew that at night, through the harsh shadows his fire cast, it watched him.
Aye, it was a gnostic.
It was one of those hateful madmen who, like him, had at one time become aware of the unspeakable secret of the universe, but had not come out unscathed. Now it sought to bring the gaze of the tyrant godhead upon the world. A burning anger had taken root in Carloman’s heart after that glimpse, and if he was doomed to death in a frozen wasteland, he was almost glad that he had been led here to do one last good deed.
What looked like a meagre hut above ground hid this strange cavity under the earth. He swept his staff before him in a wide arc, his soul stone’s light momentarily staining the ground before being engulfed. It was bare earth, with odd marks like the trails of serpents in places. He noticed that, even though the ceiling could not be more than a few feet over his head, the very space around him felt as if it were a vast gulf in every direction. Lightless places often manifest such an aspect. Even the untouched corner of an urban cellar was in danger of becoming a place where nameless things might worm their way into the world.
There was movement in the shadow-laden air, it was without sound or feeling, just the impression of chaotic motion. Unseen presences seemed to crowd around him. But the wizard veritably clanked with charms and talismans. The great bundles of his crimson robes were stuffed with pouches of occult mixtures, his silver-gold beard was woven with trinkets, and his torso was covered with tattooed wards of woad. He chanted words of power intended to help in the working of sympathetic and attractive forces. A charm of making. The wizard was himself a symbol of a lifetime spent amassing power, and he kept mindful of this as he trod the baleful murk. Now he spoke sounds of flame, feeling a dim heat radiate from an exceedingly precious gem of fire kept close to his chest. The cloying sensation of shades receded, but did not leave altogether.
The wizard continued his search, casting the glow of his staff hither and thither, and wondering just how far this place spread under the hut above. It was not long before his light crept over something. He stopped and bent down to examine it. It grew from out of the ground, a rugose lump of what he guessed was congealed shadow, and stalking forth, he saw now that they grew in profusion. This was it. He followed their growth, dislodging some with his feet, until suddenly his light shone upon something. A vast bank of solid dark rose from the congealed ground, and within it, something stirred. Electric sensations crowded about him as the thing which emerged revealed itself, a desiccated visage with squamous flesh and bared teeth surmounting a shapeless mass of ragged cloth. Invisible things whirled about, pricking at Carloman’s skin and making him shudder, but the magician stood his ground.
All of a sudden, an arm shot from the mass of tattered cloth. An inhuman sound roared from the gnostic’s maw and something like great weight was heaped upon him in a flash. He thrust his staff into the ground to keep composure. Every whispered terror of the Dark rushed into his mind. Spoken charm sparked off muttered curse as the two sorcerers did battle. No summoned elemental could aid him here, and the gnostic had gathered to it many eldritch intelligences in this deep. Carloman clamped his eyes shut in immense concentration and cast away all thoughts of wards and incantations, as the grip of the gnostic’s conjured darkness tightened.
His lungs exploded, his throat crackled and in a desperate call, the Higher Holy Name of the Firstborn Flame of the south sent ripples through the sable fog. Carloman almost fell to his knees. Some portion of his mind prayed thanks to the distant divinity that had dared answer his call. The grip was lessened and Carloman’s fingers curled into smoothed grooves on his staff as the soul stone atop it blazed to life. The air held still then, not in mouldering shadow but in crystal clarity.
Carloman set his eyes upon the gnostic in its foul grotto. It shrank back in the cold, searing radiance, its fingers working some obscene spell. But Carloman intoned his own first, a litany of the sorcerer-god of the skies and future, a litany of the light of the heavens. He struck his staff into the very earth. Without breaking his gaze, the wizard withdrew from around his neck the brilliantly red gem of fire. Once fished from a fissure in the world it stood as a potent symbol he would normally be loathe to chance losing.
He held it before him in his palm, and intoned the litany. The interior of the chunk first turned cloudy, then split, and in seconds the stone sprouted tall tongues as Carloman’s face was bathed in seething fire-lights. The gnostic had produced a short, brutish dagger and thrust it into its arm, the pouring blood not falling to the earth but flowing outwards. Carloman could feel a million formless evils rushing past him towards the black offering. The soul stone poured forth his own life’s force in exultation. The blazing crystal in his palm shot forth in a brilliant streak and with the last word the gnostic was engulfed in a pillar of white-hot fire. Whatever had nearly been conjured roared with inhuman agony, and all fell silent as thin ash settled on the bare earth.
Carloman lay exhausted in the snow. It would seem that some hours ago, the days-long blizzard had subsided into a gentle snowfall. The chill of the frost calmed the body that had suffered a more than human exertion. Before him the warmth of the burning gnostic’s lair provided spiritual comfort. He didn’t think of the future, but savoured the moment of a world now rid of one more slave of darkness. The fire and smoke, he guessed, must reach fairly high. For some hours he dazed in and out of consciousness before rising at the sound of familiar voices and snow crunching under hasty feet.
About This Fantasy Short Story
‘In The Dark’ was written by Irish writer Sean Hill, and was submitted to Lore Publication during the submission window for Lore’s 2020 Fantasy Writing Contest. After a tough round of judging, and set backs due to COVID-19, the fantasy contest was finally over and Sean emerged as the victor. His imaginative, distinct writing style coupled with his creative storytelling resulted in the creation of a wonderful short story!
More About Sean
Sean Hill is a writer based in Dublin, Ireland and is a huge fan of writing all kinds of fantasy fiction. You can find him via his Twitter account, check out his Shadows & Sorcery Substack for some more fantasy writing from him, and check out his blog for updates on all of his work and releases. Show him some love!