Bridge to Death
Dark Fantasy Short Story – Episodic Fiction
Synopsis – The Commander and his chosen elite begin their harrowing journey toward The Dragon Fang Mountains. To get there, they will use The Veiled Roads. An efficient mode of travel that requires they pass through the world of the dead. A realm of eldritch horrors and mutated souls starved for the taste of human flesh. Will they emerge from this perilous path to begin their even more dangerous mission? Or will they fall prey to the monsters as so many have before?
Genre – Dark Fantasy Adventure
Tropes – Redemption Arc, Pantheon of Gods, Elemental Magic, Evil is Sexy
Wordcount – Roughly 1700
The musty odor of aging death assaulted The Commander’s senses with unrelenting pungency. His battalion’s armor clanged together with each synchronous step, reverberating through the sinister, death-laden catacombs. A clamor sure to alert any lurking monstrosities to their presence.The musty odor of aging death assaulted The Commander’s senses with unrelenting pungency. His battalion’s armor clanged together with each synchronous step, reverberating through the sinister, death-laden catacombs. A clamor sure to alert any lurking monstrosities to their presence.
Bound corpses in varying states of decay lined the walls below, intricate engravings that danced in flickering torchlight. Even in death, these honored men served Erithia, thinning the veil between worlds with each step toward the gate.
The Commander followed behind their guide; A grizzled warrior clad in steel armor ablaze with icy blue flames. The ghostly flame’s eerie glow cast no illumination on the surrounding walls. His armored hands brandished two vile curved swords, each etched with ancient runes that dripped dark mist, like congealing blood, onto the cold stone floor.
The navigator halted at the precipice of another corner with a hand held high. An order to stop. A tantalizing aroma of fresh honeyed ham and seasoned vegetables hung in the air. Its presence elicited pangs of hunger and promised a rare meal that awaited just beyond. The decadent scent of sweet spices and fatty meat smoked over old hickory tempted even the most well-tempered warriors with what was surely culinary bliss.
The Navigator cautiously extended the tip of his polished blade around the corner. With a trained eye and a steady hand, he studied the reflections in the gyrating torchlight.
“Follow,” The Navigator ordered. “But touch nothing.”
Beyond the corner lay a ghastly creature. Its form a webbed mass of tentacles, each coated in slimy, brackish skin that undulated in the intermittent light. Several limp limbs trailed in different directions, marred with burns and slashed flesh. Iridescent green sludge leaked from every injury, the source of the succulent aroma. A single eye floated atop the aberration, lifeless gaze transfixed upon the ceiling.
“Be weary, whatever killed it is likely still nearby.” As if to confirm The Navigator’s warning, a moan-like roar rushed over them from deep beyond an adjacent passage. “Faster,” The Navigator picked up his pace, calling for The Commander’s men to do the same.
He led the group further down, through complex winding corridors. Soon, they reached a set of imposing stone doors, each adorned with intricate carvings of bony skeletons and twisted, grotesque creatures. Some were not dissimilar to the dead, mutated soul they’d passed. Together, the doors forewarned all who dared enter of the dangers in waiting beyond the veil.
The Navigator retrieved a complex stone key from a pouch at his side. He deftly inserted it into a keyhole disguised by the pupil of a monster’s eye. Three full rotations set the ensemble of gears and tumblers in motion. The doors lulled open, unleashing a gust of frigid air that tore through even The Commander’s thick furs.
Before them was an impossible structure. A gargantuan spherical room. The unsupported apex of the domed ceiling was concealed in soaring darkness. Standing erect in the center of the room was a tall, slender archway. Mystical symbols adorned its sides, and the entire structure was draped in a blanket of ghostly blue fire. Long-decayed carcasses of unrecognizable creatures littered the floor. Some more humanoid than others. One caught The Commander’s attention. It was a corpse bloated with decomposition. The mutated soul was somewhat humanoid, with a large, recognizable head fixed atop an elongated, two-legged, serpentine body. It had the nose and eyes of a human but it’s jaw was stretched into a muzzle like structure with rows of needle-like teeth.
The Commander stilled himself, standing steadfast before the fiery breach in the veil. He scanned the void for any hint of lurking peril. A familiar structure, it was one of many sprawling The Empire. Yet, despite its commonality, the very nature of this mode of travel infused those who passed with a sense of dread and despair. The meager protection Erithia offered did little to quail the knowledge of the mutated souls and eldritch horrors that reined in the world of the dead. Still, with practiced ease, he cleared his mind and led his comrades through the flames. Sensation lost as darkness enveloped them.
His armor, once cumbersome, was now weightless and unseen against his numb form. He floated like a shadowy wraith upon translucent legs. A slender, foggy, glass-like pathway stretched to the horizon before them. Several stories below rested a layer of ominous, ethereal clouds. Jagged peaks of imposing mountains pierced the dark void, surrounded by violent storms of vermillion lightning churning. Their turbulent forces lending to the near constant deafening roar. The lunar siblings ruled stationary in the sky, full moons nearly aligned.
He examined his legion, now crossing the threshold as specters akin to himself. Their dark forms were illuminated by their brilliant white eyes; beacons of their living souls, sure to attract the predators of the realm, the only flaw in their disguise. Still, they offered at least one layer of defense against the innate dangers of this place. All accounted for, they began their march into the endless veiled road ahead.
As they marched, the road expanded into a complex junction of intersecting paths, some soaring high above their own. Smaller paths weaved between them like a tangled spider’s web, connecting each to the country-wide network that was the veiled roads. Once such a path, near the cloud cover, was filled with a traversing ghostly army crossing from end to end.
The blood-curdling screech of a monster pierced the silence of the underworld, sending involuntary flutters through The Commander’s limbs. His ears rang with endless disembodied echoes of the unnerving sound.
He closed his eyes, taking a breath before moving forward with his men. Each measured step was a cautious defiance to his every instinct, ensuring he didn’t stray from their steady march. He knew better than to look. They all did. Eyes clamped shut, else they attract the attention of whatever soul-starved behemoths stalked their scent. They moved with grace born of experience, senses keenly tuned to the slightest hint of danger.
The Commander’s nerves jolted; he froze. A cacophony of decayed joints cracking signaled the presence of a soul starved monster by his side. He clamped his eyes tighter, combating the urge to face what was sure an immanent attack. Aery clicking joined the discordance, followed by the rapping of calloused bone against the crystalline road.
His eyes jolted open at a shriek further down the line. A flurry of white bone constituted into a vaguely humanoid skeletal monstrosity. It pounced on one of his men. A squelch of flesh put a stop to the soldier’s cries, replaced by the garble of the soldier fighting for breath. A long, spine-like tail impaled the soldier. Whisps of white energy snaked between the creature and the man, bringing new life to its rare blotches of pealing skin. The bone stalker, now appeased, floated from the bridge. Its meal dangling below, helpless to escape whatever fate awaited below the clouds.
“Damn idiot.” The Commander shook his head before signaling his men to continue. His eyes tracked the clouds for hints of further ambushes.
Hours passed uncounted, interrupted only occasionally by the near encounter of some other monstrosity. Their collective pace quickened on approach to their destination, an archway, like unto the one they’d left. The Commander leaped through ahead of the soldiers. He stumbled forward under the returned weight of his armor. With feet planted on polished stone and sword drawn; he scanned the room.
The Commander exhaled a constrained breath. His sword limply grazed the stone floor. Tension, steadily built in his muscles, eased at the sight of the vacant, spacious atrium. It was identical in structure to the gate they’d left, with the long dead carcasses of man and monster sprawled over the floor. Another navigator, armor ablaze, awaited their arrival. Single file, they followed The Navigator out of the labyrinth. Their muscles burned, without complaint, under the strain of the steady climb to the surface.
Sultry air assailed the army as they neared the entrance, a meager staircase leading to a featureless, long dried lake-bed. The noon sun reined supreme, high in the sky, threatening to bake the battalion in their furs and armor. South of them, atop a rocky cliff, rose the city of Rabanath. It was a walled fortress, several miles across, armed with various engines of war that were scantly visible above the battlements.
After taking a moment to account for his men, they traversed the dead lake and up the wide path to Rabanath.
The air quivered with the full, even thrum of the announcer’s horn. It’s rich base, a symphonic accompaniment to their synchronous march. The gate, intimidating in size and construction, was sculpted from aging stone. Unbalanced hinges ground abrasively, pulled open by two teams of men.
A foreboding figure loomed in the threshold, clad head to toe in ebony armor, studded with sadistic spikes. Inky tendrils of smoke billowed over his chest, melding with the unnatural shadows surrounding him.
The city beyond the Warrior lay draped in a cloak of somber gray and utilitarian design. As the soldiers entered, a procession of women emerged from the nondescript buildings. Though their ages differed, all bore warm expressions of welcome to the traveling army. Some held gifts of baked goods and fruits, while others stood by, awaiting the chance to comfort The Commander’s men. Their unified garb was one of modest muted dresses. Their soft fabric flowed as shrouds, pressed against their forms by the welcome breeze.
The Commander’s rigid frame bent in submissive reverence, as he met the piercing gaze of the Shadow Warrior
“It is a great honor Nathay-Kotheer. What is the will of our god?” The Commander’s voice rang clear with respect. Each syllable measured with care to ward off the slightest offense.
“Rise, esteemed Commander.” Nathay-Kotheer’s baritone voice carried as a velvet whisper. It’s subtle, stinging tones weaving a spell of false civility. “It is my delight to offer you company through the treacherous mountains.” The Commander’s shoulders relaxed at the news.
“You needn’t concern yourself with preparations, Commander. I’ve seen to the journey’s needs and procured the requisite artillery. Tend to your duties and affairs. We march at first light.” Smoke seeped from cracks in the shadow warrior’s armor as he left the square.
“Men!” The Commander called to his troop. “You have leave to relax and rest tonight. Visit the breeders as is your duty, then sleep and assemble outside of the gates before sunrise tomorrow.”
The soldiers mingled with their newfound entourage in the city square for some time, regaling stories of battles fought. As evening approached, many of his men paired off with their chosen women, merrily retiring to private dwellings. Still, others trailed to one of several dining halls spread through the city.
Uninterested in the merriment, The Commander left for the armory. He was intent on inspecting the supplies prepared for their journey. Despite enticing glances of sirens yet unclaimed, The Commander kept his purposeful march.
The armory stood apart from the drab structures of the city. Its features, like all military buildings, were ornately ordained with carvings. Each depicted a storied battle from some distant time. Deep red columns rose like pillars of ruby, supporting the structure’s triangular ceiling. The doors to the armory were crafted from a dignified dark cherry wood. Steel reinforcements supported the doors, etched with runes that glowed with unknown enchantment.
As he entered, enchanted air embraced The Commander, eroding the oppression of the tyrannous summer sun. He paused, savoring the sweet smell of distant burning coal and freshly oiled blades that dominated the large room. Along the walls were racks filled with all manner of killing instruments.
A stocky man sauntered in behind The Commander. “Well, look who it is!” The man lay a heavy, calloused hand over The Commander’s shoulder. “You must be the whelp Nathay wanted the F-classes for.”
“You!” The commander spun, temper sparked by the man’s flippant tone. He halted, admiring the bare-chested man before him. He was a wall of burly physic that bespoke a dedication to the forge. His pale skin glistened as moonlight through splotches of soot. A luminous visage framed by his oily black hair and ink-black eyes. He was a moonborn necromancer. “Apologies my lord.” The Commander shook himself, bowing as he spoke, eying the belt of smith’s tools lining his waste.
“Relax!” Ripples of laughter rolled from the smith. He patted The Commander’s shoulder before moving past, trailing the musk of strenuous work before a sweltering forge.
His square jaw bore the stubble of an afternoon beard. Yet, cutting through his gruff appearance, a wide, half-toothed grin illuminated his aloof disposition.
“These babies’ll have those mountain lizards running tails between their legs.” The smith gestured to two sizable carts veiled beneath thick canvas tarps.
“My name is Rooak,” He shook The Commander’s hand with overzealous vigor. “That’s dark speech for spirit. What’s your ID Commander?”
The Commander boomed the reply before fully registering the question. “AK22-NK2-10-5-6-1” His chest swelled with sumptuous pride at the conditioned reply.
“Woah, lineage from the Akka and Nathay-kotheer bloodlines? Royalty, really? And from such young parentage at that. Here, I thought you were just some barbarian pup with a fancy stolen title.”
The Commander set his jaw with a stuttering cough; suppressed rage seethed beneath the surface.
“Oh lighten up, it’s only a jest.” Rooak sauntered back toward the door. “You needn’t worry about the supplies. It’s all taken care of. Trained crews for the artillery will accompany you and Nathay. Before you go, your sacrifice tomorrow warrants the gift of a name. You will be known as Shamar from now on.”
“Thank you, my lord.” Shamar stuttered and bowed, stunned by the moonborn’s generosity. “Might I inquire as to its meaning?”
“No. Now shoo. As pleasurable as your company would be, I am already behind and you have duties elsewhere.”
“Yes, my lord.” Shamar stammered, taking his leave. He stopped outside the armory. Even the smith saw what he’d suspected was Erithia’s intent.
“No,” Shamar muttered. Pressing toward the breeder’s housing, jaw set. “I won’t be sacrificed.” Even for him.
What is Dark Fantasy
Dark Fantasy is a subgenre in fantasy described as works that incorporate disturbing and frightening themes of fantasy. This story is classified as Dark Fantasy due to the gore depicted here and in future chapters. As well as the concepts of mind control and other themes that I cannot disclose for fear of spoilers.
Why I write Dark Fantasy
I write in the genre of Adult Dark Fantasy because that is what I most enjoy reading. I enjoy gritty, down-to-earth fantasy that may not always end with a fairy tail ending. I prefer the more realistic expressions of these fantasy worlds. I hope that my writing reflects my love for the genre.
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Blight of Divinity Book 1
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Betrayal and tragedy have stolen everything from Ayela. Desperate and alone, she must decide between accepting a deal from the notorious God of Death and Desire, or forging her own path for survival. Yet, with each choice she makes, the future grows more uncertain.
As she navigates a world of magic and intrigue, Ayela finds herself drawn to someone she never expected to love. But with her own heart at stake, can she afford to follow her feelings?
Will she emerge from the ashes of her past, or be consumed by the shadows that haunt her?