Screaming Shadows

I've found this old cracked parchment, buried deeply under piles and piles of others. It is a Story told by a dying man at his deaths bed. It contains what were probably the last words and confessions of a consciousness that could not keep this terrible secret any longer, to someone he either trusted with them, or who simply did not care. A tale of suffering and regret. The Name of the confessing Man is not know, for the document was torn and smudged in many places and barely decipherable at all. Also the name of the one taking the confession and writing it down for others to read is not known anymore. I will give them to you to read, so that you may come to your own conclusions and judge by yourself the deeds of a desperate man. Dictating his sins at with his dying breath. The document reads as follows:

"I remember… yes, I remember. It isn't even hard for me to recall those hours and moments, for they're burned into my mind forever and the sights of this night have been etched into my brain with the sharp blade of a master craftsman.

I was a young member of the city watch. Just a few short weeks ago I had joined up and I was hoping to be promoted into the palace guard someday and from there eventually into the royal guard. Little did I know that my promotion was only to come at a great cost and in the twilight of the prime roots, for I was one of the few guardsmen left, that could be promoted at all. But I still don't know if I'm even worth it, because of my deeds that night. Thinking of what came of them later, but that's not our point here, isn't it? And there's not much time left for me, so let me tell you my Story and then let me die in peace. You want to know about the last night of the old empire, the "Night of Claws", or "Night of screaming shadows" as some like to call it oh so poetically. Well, a night of claws it definitely was, and also many screaming shadows… I surely was one of them.

The previous day our army had left for Trykoth to officially "reclaim" some territories that would guaranty our kingom a steady water supply in the years to come. As the last of our soldiers vanished between the forests trees I longed to be with them. To reach glory and claim heroic deeds that would ensure my name a place in the records of our people. Little did I know that this night would bring more "heroic" deeds for me to last more than one lifetime.

Me and a few comrades were on our way to the watch house to begin our shift from dusk until dawn. It was warm and the streets were filled with the normal hustle and bustle of the hours just before the closing of the shops. We all were speculating on how long it would take the army to return and what might be keeping the Fyros from their duty of protecting the Tryker borders. "Maybe the water rats have let them dry up lately?" One of my friends exclaimed. Another replied: "No, they're sending water alright, but the Fyros are fed up with constantly "guarding" their their own latrines." We all laughed at that, except for Girio an older member of the watch, our squad leader. He looked on with a thoughtful expression. "I heard they're fighting. Some speak of a new great fire, others of an unknown army that is attacking the empire from its southern border. Still others speak of monsters…", his voice trailed of. "Monsters?!" I replied laughing. "Surely these monsters will run from the Fyros upon first sight, for no self respecting monster will hurt something more ugly than itself." Even Girio laughed at this and I momentarily felt proud. Silly, I know… We walked on to the watch house unaware of the change that went through the city at first. Then one of our comrades fell behind, walking slower, his head slightly tilted to the right, as if listening to something. We stopped our banter and waited for him to catch up. "What is it?" I asked. "Don't you hear that?" he replied.

Now we all stopped and listened. A strange buzzing sound was beginning to fill the night air and from far off the crackle of branches was becoming audible, as if something huge was moving through the undergrowth. Before we could puzzle much a scream pierced the warm night air. Coming from above, we all looked up and at first I wasn't sure of what I was seeing. Atop one of the walkways spanning between two hometrees people were running from the middle of the gentle arch. A dark shadow moved there with unnatural speed, strangely flickering in the half-light of the canopy. Then something dropped over the railing of the walkway and fell down right on top of us. At first I thought it was a branch or part of the ornamentation of the bridges arch, but as something wet splashed against my cheek and the thing landed right before my feet with an audible thumb I realized what it was. Dumbstruck we all stared at the severed arm that lay before us. Horrified I saw that its fingers were still moving in a spasmic clutch. When my own raised hand came away from my face it was red with blood. And again we heard screams. All around the city now voices were raised in alarm and pure terror. As I looked up again what I saw almost made my own blood curdle in my veins. The strange shadow we'd seen moved away from the archway. Flying through the air with predatory ease, its huge wings buzzing and trailing blood behind it, flowing in crimson streams from the struggling form of a man speared on its front extremities. Then the giant locust like insect shook itself violently and the man was dropped from its sting. Limply falling to the ground and crashing into a shrub beside the street. The crash startled us from our shocked stupor. As one we began running to the guard house, around us panic and confusion began to take their toll on the late night pedestrians. Everyone was running somewhere and or looking for someone. Panicked screams echoed through the streets and all around the city the forest seemed to move with unseen presences. The bells of the guard house began tolling their shrill notes to summon every available man to arms and as we arrived many of our comrades were already armed and ready to move out against whatever was attacking us. But still many didn't have a clue to what we were up against. And Jena, I wish we'd never known. Over the confused din our Captain shouted orders for us to calm down and do our duty.

We grabbed our Kara Krop pikes and ran out into the streets again. My squad tried to make its way to the outskirts of the city, but before we were even halfway through town center, people came running towards us. I never saw so many terrified eyes again. Many were shouting and screaming something about the forest coming for them and snatching away friends, loved ones and strangers alike. Some spoke of Monsters that suddenly appeared from the undergrowth and attacked whatever was in their way, others told of flying beasts that tried to enter the upper floors of hometrees. We ran on and with lungs hurting from the effort our squad finally reached the outskirts of our appointed district. Strangely all was quite except for the buzzing that became louder by the minute. No Homins were about, the smaller buildings abandoned and all hometrees locked against intruders. Cautiously we moved towards the forests edge. Never before had these woods seemed so dark, so malignant to me. I thought I saw movement there, between the tall trees and the lush underbrush, something incredibly fast scuttled there and as we neared the dark bushes, a deep hissing sound emerged. We took a halting step closer and suddenly something leapt at us. It was fast as a falling star, its dark green carapace glistening in the glow of the streetlights behind us. It rushed at us with a sudden ferocity that took us all by surprise, its 4 legs tapping a staccato on the hard ground, front legs raised to sharp points, flat, wide head lowered like a shield to protect its torso. It was about half as tall as a grown man and hacked at us with its front pair of legs. Together we nine quickly killed it with our pikes, keeping our distance, trying to avoid its mad slashing. As it lie twitching before us we gathered around it. "What in Jenas Name is that!?" "Dragon fetch me, if I know." "It's a spider, see its legs?!" "A spider's got eight legs, this's got only six. It's some kind of bug." "T'is a really big bug." "Keep it together folks, we don't know if there are some more out there." "Right, we better keep our eyes open. At last they're easy to kill…"

Right at this moment the buzzing we'd heard the whole time increased even more in volume and a blood freezing shriek came from the darkness beyond the city limits. Answered by another and another a little further to our left and right, other shrieks and deep growling, chattering sounds emitted from the forest all around the city now and from above we heard the sound of breaking branches. Big things were crushing though the canopy and behind us, we heard homin screams and the frantic ringing of the guardhouse bells. Then the darkness beyond our sparse light came alive. I still only remember impressions of giant, slender legs and bodies dislodging themselves from trees where they had crouched camouflaged against the deep brown bark and green bushes. My mind having mercifully spread the shroud of shock over these initial glimpses of the horror that was to come. All around us the forest began moving toward us. Horrified we turned and ran. I freely admit it and I'm deeply ashamed of it. But all of us ran that night. Nobody didn't run that night. We didn't stand a chance. Many poor souls stayed behind to fight and were torn to pieces. But just as many of us simply ran and never looked back, or ran right into the waiting claws of other Kitin.

Of course back than they didn't go by that name. Nobody had yet bothered to attach names to the different monsters. How would they? Oh, don't look so surprised. Do you really think someone would see a 7 foot insect come charging right at him and thnik in his head: "Oh, I'll call that think a Kipuka from now on." and life to write that down?! Ha, silly youth. You think everything is and everything's all been as it is now, eh? Tcha! They had no names. They simply were there, nameless horros, killing everyone the got their claws on. Man, woman or child. They moved through the city like reapers through a field of wheat, harvesting terror and blood. Streaming in thousands from the forest. Dropping onto archways from the low canopy. Climbing up and down hometrees. Simply ripping away the bark of their higher, younger parts, like it was so much paper and crawling into them to get at the soft life hiding there. They were flying through the air, picking up people in full flight, with pincers and stings sharp as swords, ripping and tearing them apart letting the parts drop onto the terrified homins below.

I remember all too clearly my fist glimpse of what came to be known as a Kipesta. It swooped down from the sky unto a group of homins huddling beneath the great root of an old hometree, at first trying to reach them with its sting, but realizing that it didn't fit into the opening and the homins proved to defensive, it simply deflated its strange secretion sack into the hollow. The small space beneath the root immediately filled with searing flames. I was too far away to do anything and too surprised and appalled by this perversity against nature I was witnessing to do anything about it, but the screams of those trapped and burning alive in that confined space still haunt my dreams after all these years. I hope my release from this torment is soon to come. I saw the heavily armored forms of Kipuka drop down from the canopy like giant pine cones, crushing lucky homins beneath their weight. Unlucky homins were torn limp from limpf seconds later, when the Bub emerged from the gore stained craters with clicking pincers to wreak more havoc. I'm not certain I'm lucky that I survived, - Jena knows its more of a punishment. I simply ran, dropped my pike and ran. Dodging other homins and giant insects alike, fleeing headlong into the forest, running until my legs wouldn't support me anymore and I dropped to the floor unconscious from shock and exhaustion. Later I found another group of refugees and we made our way to a Karavan camp they had heard of. Now I'm here, at the end of my life. This is my shameful tale and I will tell no more. Now, let me rest.

in « Witnesses » from Ridio Sillia, itinerant bard.
(Thanking Acridiel for this chronicle)

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