The Long March of Ares, Part 3

Written by Azmodi, Edited by E.A. Morrissey
Published by the Beyond Reality Fiction Group in

Characters are the properties of Azmodi

The Long March of Ares
Part 3 of 3
The story continues from Part 1 and Part 2

Frederick spent the majority of the day in the corner of the field, trying his best to turn up the soil evenly without scattering bits of dirt everywhere. His movements were strong and harsh, bursts of energy that destroyed as often as they created. Even after hours of work, Derych found his efforts coming to naught - he found it impossible to change the movements he had practiced over the years.

Keenly aware of the dirt on his face, under his fingernails, Frederick broke from his work for lunch - a small meal of bread and ale in the center of the square. The sergeant watched in silence as the villagers traded jokes and tales - the private joined in and laughed alongside them; it was as if he had been born there. Derych was fascinated by this ability to speak so easily when nothing was truly being said - had he ever possessed such a skill?

The work resumed and Frederick was put to work scattering seeds instead, failing to til the soil correctly. His hand shook the first time he reached into the bag and brought forth a handful of seeds - from an angle they looked almost liked bullets. Hurriedly the sergeant dropped them in the soil, covered them over and carried on. For the rest of the day he did not look at the seeds he planted.

Thoughts drifted to Frederick as he worked, and he followed them aimlessly, little more than meandering through the corridors of his mind. Before he was fully aware of it, the sun was setting and the day of work was done. Again he followed the farmers to dinner, and along with Erlen, ate at Irwinís house at his request.

During the meal, the private spoke easily with the chief and his wife, while Frederick struggled not to bark an order at his hosts. Each word and sentence he measured, so he would not reveal too much - it was not for the villagers to know him.

It was deep night by the time supper had ended, and the two soldiers retreated to the house, both weary from the work. There was no mention of the return to Berlin - only sleep interested them.

Erlen was fast off to rest, but despite his fatigue, Frederickís brain raced with thoughts and he could not bring himself to close his eyes. For hours he lay on the bed, the reassuring sensation of dirt still under his fingernails. The dog began to bark again, early in the morning, a chill rising to meet the animalís calls, entering through the boards of the house.

Frederick stared into the blackness, drawing the single sheet over himself as protection from the sudden wind. His eyes flicked over to the dark shape that was Erlen and then up to the window.

The sergeant froze, fear tightening his body as he looked out at the ebony outline, darker than the night, pale moonlight just tracing a rough outline of the faceless form. Frederick stared at it, time losing focus, his breaths coming out in haggard pants, thunderclaps to his ears.

He recognized the dim shape, for it was his own and he recognized it was easily as his own shadow. It seemed to look back into him, drawing something from him as it stood in the night, the moonlight barely touching it.

It was gone as suddenly as it came, though the wind remained to lick at Frederickís soles like frozen serpentís tongues, threatening him with the death of sensation. Exhausted, Frederick sank into sleep, despite the maelstrom of thoughts within his head, ghosts released from their tombs at last.

The morning broke with commotion, as the entirety of Nachtholm gathered Ďround the stable, to see the remains of one of the oxen. Its innards were spilled across the hay floor in bright red robes, the red nearly entirely torn off, the throat ripped out. The stench was hideous, the sight grotesque - Frederick could only look for a moment before turning away. He returned to the field, attempting to take his mind away from the slaughtered animal and the shape in the night. More than once he looked over his shoulder, thinking the specter staring at him.

Frederick wound through the fields, spreading seeds where they were needed, plowing by hand what the dead ox had failed to do. His performance had much improved and it seemed as though he was a new man, more farmer than soldier.

The afternoon meal brought him into a conversation or two, and he spoke more easily. Though he was still careful not to speak of the dark shape that had visited him in the night, nor reveal what terror it had brought to him.

To Frederickís surprise, there was little talk of the dead ox, the surprise of its murder pased the moment it was discovered. Few put forth any explanations as to its death - most attributed it to a feral wolf.

"Iíd never heard of a single wolf being able to do that..." Erlen said skeptically, but he was soon drawn into another discussion and his concern for the issue faded. However, it weighed heavily upon Frederickís shoulders for the rest of the day, and into the evening. He feared for the health of himself and Erlen, and for the villagers who had helped them both.

The days of farming passed easily by, and Frederick grew more well rested with each day. He looked at the sun with bright blue eyes each day and set to work. The cacophony of thoughts in his head quieted, as they settled from their early excitement at freedom. He conversed more easily each day, his fear of lashing out with tongue or fist diminishing. One day he found one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen, and simply looked down for what seemed an eternity: a bud of green emerging from the ground. He called his comrades over to gaze with similar astonishment, but they were lacking, unappreciative of what he found so miraculous. He disliked the silence this brought, and soon joined them in a round of ale at one of their homes.

Frederick only permitted silence when the subject of Berlin arose, and rarely did it, for both he and Erlen seldom spoke of it. The memory of the great city was hazy now, a mirage. Frederick knew he would return there in time - it was his duty - but the goal seemed to slip further away, as new tasks presented themselves in Nachtholm. The planting finished, he had set about fixing some of the older homes.

The day came when Petra Wenzel at last gave birth, a labor they lasted from the early morning long into the night. There was no work done that day, only anxious waiting outside the Wenzelsí door.

When the stars were bright in the sky, the townspeople heard the cries of a newborn, and not long after proud Irwin appeared, holding his baby daughter in his arms, his face aglow. The crowd applauded, and each took a turn looking at the child, remarking how beautiful she was. With each compliment, Irwin seemed to grow more joyous and it seemed he could light up the night all on his own.

One of the last men to step forward was older, long white hair from scalp and beard reaching to the small of his back. He looked at the child without the enthusiasm that most did, but rather a more skeptical eye. Faintly, Erlen and Frederick heard him say, "Have you checked her mouth?"

Irwin shook his head.

"You must." and the old man took two thick fingers and opened the childís mouth, searching.

Irwinís face fell as he saw the small rows of teeth, dull white knobs only barely visible within the pinkish-red flesh; to him they were like fangs.

A stir went through the crowd, an audible ripple that silenced the joy and reduced excitement to subdued shock. The only expression audible was a repetition of the whisper, "How can there be two?"

Clearly shaken, his face drained of color, Irwin thanked everyone for coming and then quickly retreated into the house, the door closing behind him. Instantly the crowd dispersed, retreating to their homes, doors shutting as if synchronized. The soldiers went back to their room in silence, both confused and disturbed by the strange event they had just witnessed.

The sun was muted that next dawn, imperceptible behind dark clouds - the first day since arriving that Frederick remembered the great eye not gleaming down upon the village. The two soldiers awakened to find the village in commotion, a man considering the loss of another of his livestock, Irwin Wenzel pale-faced before the crowd that had gathered outside his home, their own visages reflections of his. The group was quiet with needless anticipation, wishing for the end of the ceremony. Frederick and Erlen joined the mass, waiting.

Irwin spoke rapidly, as if trying to get the words out without tripping over them. The child had cried long into the night - he and his wife had done their best to comfort it, but the force of nature had been too great, the disease not capable of being overcome. The baby had weakened in the early morning hours before the opening of the great eye. Irwin had taken the child out into the wild and bid it goodbye.

The crowd listened intently to its leaderís words, though they made no ripples within the cool pond of its composure. Irwin ended his monologue with a swift pronouncement that nature can either break or bend a man, and that he did not intend to break - there would be another opportunity for a child.

The villagers moved as one when Irwinís speech had ceased, slowly diverging to assail their tasks, wearing down their work until it was no more. Conversations sprang up again, even as the sun began to free itself from its grey shackles; the words did not change as they passed by the stables.

Frederick was greatly disturbed by the childís sudden death, and spent most of the day in uncomfortable silence, unable to compose his thoughts or talk fluidly with the villagers. Erlen began the day much the same, yet by its end he shared in the conversation of Nachtholm, unable to resist the influence of so many. That evening, Frederick nearly wished for the presence of the black shape outside his window, a terrifying face that he at least recognized.

Frederick spent little time with the villagers in the days following the death of Irwinís child. He ate with them at lunch and occasionally at dinner, yet could not come to be near them for long - each word spoken seemed a falsehood to him, every smile or expression a mask that hid the unfeeling faces beneath. Every word, every joke he analyzed, searching for a sign of the truth.

From a distance, he watched Erlen laugh with them and they spoke less and less in the evening in their single room. The young soldierís words echoed with an empty clang to Frederick, hollow inside, without life. When he caught a glimpse of Erlenís blue eyes, he felt as though he never before gazed upon them in his life.

Moreover, the cattle continued to die, horribly mutilated in ever more monstrous a fashion, at times their bones shorn of meat. The owners of the slaughtered beasts shrugged their shoulders and scarcely bothered to clean up the mess, and often Frederick thought he smelled blood in the air, felt its stickiness beading on his skin as he worked.

He could no longer work in peace, the sensations of his life clouding his mind with constant input - the sounds, the smells, the dour faces he knew that lurked behind the bright eyes of each man and women he saw. At times, he stared off into the forest, yearning for the cold silence that it possessed, yet tainted by flowers. He thought he could smell them still, faintly, rotting in the ground - he would smell them in all the life that sprang up from their deadened shapes.

There came a morning, still, like none of the others he had experienced before, and when Frederick awoke that day, he felt the difference in things. He dressed and washed his hands swiftly - out into the village, to the site of more talk and stares, as the people crowded around a small house near the very center, its wooden door shattered, torn from its hinges.

Frederick pushed his way through the dull farmers, unable to discern what had occurred from their own reactions. The crowd parted at last, and he gazed upon a form strewn across the floor, its innards splayed across the boards like stunted crimson serpents. The throat was a yawning hole, the jawbone gone, the empty sockets staring out from an expressionless pale face. A leg was bent at an impossible angle, an arm now a stump - and the heavy copper smell of blood everywhere, the red paint covering the room.

His mouth dropped at the site and he shuddered, a memory flowing back to him, and pain washing over him. The dead sockets beckoned to him and Frederick turned away from their empty promises as he stumbled out of the crowd, furiously rubbing his hands, trying to get the blood off; Erlen watched impassively.

Frederick found his way around the house, free from prying eyes and sockets, and vomited the filth from his system, throwing up things he had never eaten. Tears welled in his eyes and mingled with the bile until finally he was empty and the disgust could draw up no more from him.

He stumbled back to his room and slept the rest of the day, as the farmers resumed their work.

The sun was low in the sky as Frederick was awakened by Irwin closing the door. From his bed, Frederick looked up suspiciously at the chief, unsure of what he would say or do. The older man looked at his guestís wracked form for a moment, and then sat on the bed across from him. He asked if Frederick was feeling better.

"I am, now. What are you going to do?"

"About what?" Wenzel replied with puzzlement.

"The dead cattle, the murder - Nachtholm is endangered and it is time you did something to protect the people."

"I cannot change the way of nature - the wolf will lose interest and run off eventually."

Frederick sat up, invigorated by the angry he felt towards the older man, fearful. "A wolf canít do things like that - no wolf can nearly rip a man in half and run off so swiftly that no one would be able to catch it."

"No, perhaps not - but we donít interfere with nature taking its course; her time had been chosen."

"You heard? You knew?"

"The sounds are hard to ignore at first, but eventually you learn to do so - Erlen has. Isnít it much easier for him, than it is for you?"

"How can you let a man die, no more than a handful of feet away from you?"

"I cannot do anything, and none of these deaths are a waste - the cattle, the woman, they will be buried in the fields, not on the hill. The world provides sustenance even in death."

"Itís wrong to allow these things to happen."

"I canít stop them - neither can you."

Frederick reached for the gun and knife in the drawer he had placed them in upon arriving so long ago - he scarcely remembered doing it. He stood, looking down at Irwin, who seemed so much smaller now, the lines in his face more apparent, the grey in his hair more prominent. The chief did not shy away from Frederickís steely gaze, and finally the sergeant stalked away, opening the door, slamming it behind him, even as Irwin shook his head with sadness.

He made his way swiftly to the sloping hill, began the ascent. The dark mouth beckoned him, his fearful thoughts sliding across the surface of his mind - Frederick entered, the jaws of the forest closing behind him.

The sun continued to set as he made his way through the trees, the branches seeming to grab at him as he passed. Frederick remembered little of the way through, and stumbled, even fell at times. Once or twice he was lost, yet finally the sergeant came upon the two mounds of earth, one fresher than the other. They were little more than silhouettes now, the sun nearly in hiding once more.

Warily Frederick approached, each step of his growing stronger and more assured, his muscles tightening as he held out the knife and gun, ready.

The last ray of sunlight faded, and at once a dim shape exploded from the earth, knocking Frederick backward with inhuman force. The sergeant toppled, dropping the knife yet keeping a firm hold on the pistol. He shook his head and wiped the dirt from his eyes and looked upon the beast with long grey hair and tattered clothes, sickly yellow flesh that hung off the bones in strips. The stench of rotting meat emanated from the creature and it was nearly overpowering.

Frederickís hand trembled as he aimed the pistol at the beast, unable to fire despite its vile nature and its threat to his life. The specter began to advance, stalking its prey, and a thousand thoughts exploded in Frederickís mind, memories of the best days of his life as he began to think its end neared.

The sergeantís eyes rose and met the beastís - cold, dead grey eyes - and Frederick recognized the face as his own that the creature wore. His hand steadied and he fired, twice into the gruesome visage. The beast screamed and fell, thrashing upon the ground as Frederick stood and with practiced movements found his knife and leapt upon the creature.

Again, he fired, emptying the clip into the monsterís neck until the sergeantís own face was covered in putrid black blood and his fingers upon the hilt of the dagger were slippery. Throwing aside the useless pistol, he plunged the knife repeatedly into the creatureís heart until its struggles had ceased and its features were slack. Breathing heavily, Frederick brought the blade high and decapitated the creature, ending any chance that it would renew its terror.

Frederick threw the head into the woods and stood, looking down at the slaughtered shape in the rising moonlight. The silence grew around him and penetrated him and he shook, dropping the knife as he doubled over to vomit once more at the sight of his own work.

Cold and pale, Frederick lay curled on the ground, simply breathing, thinking in slow rhythms, of what he would do. As he thought a smile finally came to his face - not a smile of wickedness or maliciousness, but a warm smile of final happiness.

To Be Continued . . .

We hope you enjoyed this new original fiction series by Azmodi, writer of the Cosmic Powers Fan Fiction Group's Twilight War, Foundations Forged Before Nightfall, War Waged At The Stroke Of Midnight, and Tales of the Timeless fan fiction stories.  Please send Azmodi your feedback at and if you have an original story, e-mail about having it published in our new Beyond Reality imprint at Cosmic Powers Unlimited.





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