The Last Assignment

Posted: April 22, 2014 in Fantasy, Fiction, horror

This week’s Wendig flash challenge. I went with the opening line “The prisoner could pass for human.” It went dark quick at the end, more so than I originally planned, I think. If you do read this, please feel free to leave a comment at the end, especially if you are visiting from terribleminds.com. I’ve noticed replies get misplaced at times.

The Last Assignment

The prisoner could pass for human. Etched runes glowed around the outside of the cell, surer protection than the steel bars and stone walls. They were bright enough to make the lamp on the table redundant, but it was necessary for navigating the stairs. The prisoner wore the shape of a woman, naked and ripe with curves.

“Atilius!” my master snapped. I jumped forward, feeling guilty for staring. “Did you hear what I said?”

I racked my memory. “Something about my studies, Master Varinius?” I asked.

Shaking his head, my master tapped a thin rod against his hand. We were with the prisoner, deep in the bowels of the fortress. This was my first time down this far, deeper even than the catacombs reserved for the normal prisoners where we sometimes culled “volunteers” for our experiments. I shuddered against the cold and damp, pulled my robe closer.

“I said, ‘What do you think of the prisoner?’” he barked, voice echoing off the stones.

“I’m not sure? She seems-”

“She? No, Atilius, this is no female, no woman. Refer to the prisoner as it,” he thwacked the rod onto the table, emphasizing his point. “It takes this form because it thinks we would be loath to hurt a female.  It is an abomination, a vile creation of our enemies. It is designed to infiltrate, to spy, and perhaps to kill?” He turned to the prisoner as he addressed his question.

I peered at the prisoner. She- no. It paused in its pacing. It thrust its breasts forward, ran a long tongue, longer than any I had seen, over ruby lips.  It rotated its hips, ran long fingered hands down its body. I needed to remind myself that it was no woman, wasn’t even human.

Varinius spat. “It seeks to deceive by betraying our senses, by playing on our expectations. Were it not for certain mystic precautions, if the guards at the gates had not been cautioned…” He shuddered.

I shared his apprehension.  Since the war started it had grown worse, steadily, inexorably, like an advancing glacier. Atrocities weren’t limited to one side or the other, much as the propagandists would like to pretend otherwise. Spells long categorized as forbidden were now openly taught, monsters relegated to myth and legend were actively recruited. This though was something else.

“Well?” Varinius asked. “What do you think of it?”

“An incredible simulacra, Master,” I said, peering closer at the prisoner. “To all outward appearances human, except for some minor traits.”

“Such as? Elaborate, Atilius, elaborate!”

“The feet, for one.  It seems incapable of resting its feet flat on the ground. The eyes for another. It doesn’t blink, like a person would. And the color isn’t natural. Whoever heard of purple eyes? The tongue is too long and too thin. The breasts-”

“Yes, yes, what about the breasts?”

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with the breasts.”

Varinius snorted. “That itself is unnatural. No blemishes, no marks, both perfect and alike. You are focused on the superficial, however, what you can observe only with your visible eye. What if you were to look deeper?”

I ran a tongue over dry lips, glanced between Varinius and the prisoner. “Is that a good idea?”

I didn’t see him swing the rod, but I did feel it swat me in the back of the head. “Who are you to question me?”

“Yes, Master Varinius,” I mumbled.  I placed my hands flat on the table, let my eyes focus on a point on the far end of the cell. Mystic words spilled from my mouth, my tongue and lips twisting I poured them into the air. Motes of light gathered around my hands and my mouth, glowing brighter and brighter until they were nearly blinding. Looking towards the cell, I was nearly blinded by the radiance of the runes. What was worse, what terrified me, was the eminent black inside the cell. Glancing aside at Master Varinius, I saw him suffused with a soft pink light, healthy and alive. I peered closer, started discerning small differences. Where the prisoner was supposed to be was a deeper black than the rest of the cell, wisps of oblivion curling off its body.

“Master?”

“What is it?”

“I think it’s trying to get out.” The tendrils snaked out, striking on the sides of the cell, sending up sparks of light as they collided with the runes keeping it in.

Varinius laughed. “Let it try. Now tell me what you see.”

“It’s like staring down into a well, Master. It isn’t light, but it’s total absence. I… I don’t think whatever is in there is alive.” I felt nauseous starting at it, trying to follow the twisting tendrils of its form.

“What? Not alive? Quit speaking nonsense, boy.”

“It’s all black. Nothing there. Nothing at all.”

“Nothing? Stop looking boy! I was wrong, gods I was wrong! This isn’t of the enemy at all.”

I felt my master’s hand on my shoulder, felt him pull me up and push me to the door.

“Run lad, and don’t look back.”

As I stumbled up the stairs, shaking the after effects of the vision from my eyes, I heard the cracking of masonry and an inhuman shriek of mixed malice and ecstasy. I remembered tales, notes written in the margins of the oldest tomes, warning of the coming Darkness and the creatures that would herald it. Creatures that would take the form of men. Creatures of oblivion.

What we faced was not a common foe, but the end of all things. As the darkness swarmed up the stairs, wrapped around my legs, slipped its strands around my neck, I was glad I wouldn’t live to see the end of the world.

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Comments
  1. ‘wisps of oblivion curling off its body.’ Love that phrase. I liked the story although it seems like it should be part of something bigger.

    • Matthew X. Gomez says:

      I don’t disagree, but the challenge was for 1k words or less. Not an easy task in fantasy to be sure, but I still like how this came out.

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