Settle in this weekend and enjoy the third chapter of the current Creatures storyline! If you’re just stumbling across the story, make sure to read the previous installments: The prologue, chapter one, and chapter two. Make sure to stop by Discover Albia every Friday for a new chapter! What will be in store for the characters? Read on, and please enjoy!
There was an instant of confusion as she imagined the darkness playing tricks on her already blurry vision. But no: There was the unmistakable tinge of terror in the air. Without needing to watch the shadow materialize, she knew it was the creature of nightmares. Her voice caught in her throat, and she felt paralyzed with fear. One tentative step only caused her toe to catch on a twisted root. There was no escape as the Grendel inched closer and closer.
Just as she expected it to bare its teeth and mark the end of her existence, it stopped short in front of her. She found a shred of courage to let her look upon the beast. Its green scales had faded to a dull gray, and she thought she saw wrinkles around its eyes. Those eyes… Ruby red, with the killing instinct. She had heard tales of Norns whose last moments were captured in those red eyes. This was her end.
Instead, the Grendel stood before her, as if waiting for something. She waited for it to strike. Her body was still numb with terror. Unable to move; unable to speak. It seemed like days that Norn and Grendel stood before one another.
Its mouth opened at last… “Hux,” it grumbled as it pointed a blunt claw at itself.
She frowned in disbelief, allowing a small bit of fear to escape. “Hux,” she whispered at the Grendel, hoping against all hope that it would allow her to survive.
The Grendel pointed at her with that same blunt claw. All she could think of was how it looked much less dangerous than the normal sharp claws that Grendels sported. It seemed highly unusual for a Grendel to communicate with a Norn. She was not even aware that they spoke the same language. Perhaps…
>“Ravella,” her voice came out a little more boldly this time.
The Grendel seemed angered by that. It shook its head and ushered forth a low growl. Whether it was a warning before the final blow or simply a byproduct of digestion, she had no idea. She was simply waiting for the vicious side of this beast to show itself.
It was evident that the sun was falling in the sky. The gloominess of the forest had turned to something more akin to actual nighttime, and she found herself struggling to distinguish the Grendel from the other shadows. Nighttime in the settlement could be dangerous, and she imagined it was no different here in the wide-open forest. Seizing on her growing courage, she took a few tentative steps away.
“No,” rasped the voice in the darkness. Just as she was about to run, it managed to hold her captive with a single word: “Please.”
There was little she could do. Without knowing which direction was home and which direction housed other Grendels, she was as rooted to the spot as the trees that creaked around her. With a deep breath, she resigned herself to trust this Grendel.
Before she could utter a word, it reached its clawed hand into the darkness to touch hers. There was no way to describe its touch: Something like a living nightmare reaching into her soul. This was the only way, or so she kept thinking. The Grendel gave a light tug, and she reluctantly followed. For all she knew, it was simply leading her into a den of its fellow brethren. Deep down, some part of her knew that there was something more to this Grendel.
Through the maze of darkness she let it lead her. There was no telling where she was, or even what was around her. The most she could make out were very faint shapes against a black night in the forest undergrowth. It was quite possibly the most frightening experience of her life. Ironically, it was the Grendel’s hand that made her feel remotely safe.
It abruptly stopped their journey through the gloom and dropped her hand. She was frightened for a moment, until a brilliant light nearly blinded her. The Grendel had pushed aside a boulder, revealing a cave within. Candles created a soft glow that raced forth into the dark like a beacon. She peered inside tentatively, wondering what sort of Norn lived here. Then it dawned on her: This was the Grendel’s cave. A shiver went up her spine as she wondered how it had come into possession of such a dwelling. She decided it was a question better left unanswered.
“Inside,” the Grendel beckoned her. There were trinkets of all types, and not a hint of death. It was barely the prudent thing to do, but again, she had no choice. As she crossed the threshold, it pushed the boulder back into place so that the cave was no more than another part of the darkness.
The light shone on her companion in a new way, allowing her to see what it actually was. Hux, if that was what its name was, appeared to be an ancient Grendel. All of his claws were either blunt, chipped, or otherwise destroyed. They were mere decorations now, rather than the killing instruments they once had been. He had a slight wheeze that made him seem vulnerable. And his eyes: Though as red as ever, she saw the unmistakable cloudiness. This Grendel likely had impaired vision, or perhaps even complete blindness.
“Who are you? Why have you taken me here?” the questions came out as demands as her courage took hold.
The Grendel peered at her for a second. “Hux,” it said. “Look.”
She followed his gaze to one side of the cave that had been decorated with elaborate pictures. All manner of animals were depicted, but there was one image that perplexed her. It was a Norn, with very distinct green eyes. Surrounding it was a wash of orange and red, apparently a fire. She sat upon a smooth rock, trying to understand it all. It looked like Hux was an artist, and perhaps had simply gone senile. Perhaps she resembled something he had drawn.
When her eyelids began to droop, he suddenly smashed his hand down and pointed to the Norn she had seen. She was wide-awake in an instant, but she still did not see what he saw. He pointed to her, and back to the drawing of the Norn.
“Me?” she tentatively guessed. The Grendel gave her the strangest smile she had ever seen, along with a very clear nod. Then he pointed to a nearby drawing of a hand. She looked at her hand, but saw nothing special. He tapped it again, forcing her to become even more frustrated. Part of her almost wished he had gobbled her up the first chance he got, rather than putting her through this mindboggling exercise.
Finally, she had enough. “What? What do you want me to see?” she nearly yelled at him. “Hux, what is it?”
The Grendel seemed to realize that she had no notion of what he was trying to indicate. She saw a shadow pass over him, as if he had gone deep into thought. As she had thought, communication between Grendels and Norns was not what it could have been. He stirred, as if an idea had come to him.
Shuffling across the room, he placed himself just a hair’s breath from her face. He stared deep into her eyes, capturing her in a neverending sea of redness. As she began to grow suspicious of the Grendel and back away, he uttered a strange word: “Midari.”