Prologue - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2

I'd developed a routine for my life, it was a small comfort, but some how any amount of regularity does much to improve one's state of mind. I was very strict with myself, and didn't allow deviation for the schedule, and I suppose that makes sense, being that my schedule was one of the few things I had left to keep me sane. It is easy, I believe, for one not in a situation such as mine, to develop a loathing for a schedule, and a contempt for the routine. However, I think irregularity is more of a spectrum than a score, and that to be trapped on either side is an unfortunate circumstance. Perhaps my opinion would be different if the irregularities in my life weren't so imposing.

But I digress, I was going to tell you about my routine. I awoke at eight, in the morning. I had an alarm that I had left set for perhaps the last year. It occurred to me that perhaps the clock is not set accurately, after all, I'd never adjusted for daylight savings time, and perhaps the clock was not accurately set to begin with, however I found myself unwilling to tamper with it, as it was the anchor that held my schedule in place, and, after all, given that I was the sole person who existed in my world, time was relative only to me.

I showered before I ate, completing both tasks at eight ten and eight thirty respectively. I then read for an hour. Initially, when I first learned to read, a skill I'm still not entirely sure how I developed, I read through the classics. The works of Dickens, Melville, Homer, and Dante. These books rapidly became uninteresting to me, for though I was able to grasp the immediate, surface meaning of the words, their depths were lost on me. However, my appetite for books never diminished, and I now tend to tear through novels in a matter of days, if not hours.

After I finished reading, I would walk to the Ashland Public Library. I found the walk to be healthy for a variety of reasons. Firstly there were the typical benefits daily walks bring, the library was roughly a half hour away, so to walk there and back was roughly an hour, and considering how sedentary I was otherwise, this did a lot to benefit my own physical health, which in turn benefited my mental health. Secondly, it allowed me to see the city everyday, and become accustom to it. Ashland terrifies me. There is an aura of menace in the town that is as thick as fog. When I am outside I find myself holding my breath for fear the noxious malice in the air will poison my lungs. There are things in Ashland you see from the corner of your eye, vague hints of shapes and beings and when you turn they are gone, but as soon as you ignore them those hints creep up on you again. By walking to the library, I could build a tolerance for this fear, and I could ease my paranoia. I had walked to the sanctuary of the library for years, and not once had a shade spirited me away into the darkness.

The third benefit of the library was the public computer terminal. There is a single public computer at the library, and for a long time, I did not know what it was. I managed to fathom its name rather quickly, of course, the word "computer" surrounded it, however it was not until I began reading more modern fiction that I discovered its full potential, and once I did the possibilities seemed endless. Perhaps I could use this newfound discovery to finally communicate with another human? Perhaps I could escape my interminable isolation? But no, I found that, though I could use the internet to observe current happenings, even in real time, I could not ever contribute to it. Posts and accounts I made on websites would display an error that I'm confident was a result of my unique situation and not the product of any programming: "User is a nonperson." Regardless, it was an invaluable tool. I could draw from any of the innumerable wells of knowledge that the internet had to offer, and in a way, I could participate in the world, even if my participation is limited to that of a viewer.

After spending some time on the computers, if I needed to, I returned or checked out another book. I'd learned how to use the library's computer system, and so I made sure to properly record when I checked out and returned a book, because even though I apparently existed within a void that no other humans occupy, my actions did affect the humans in the "real world." Once I noticed numerous poster hung around the library asking patrons to return books on time, I decided that I should make sure I properly checked out each of my rentals, so as not to incite panic. I even registered my own library card. So all told, my time at the library often took several hours, and I left around noon. Again, it was a half-hour, nerve-wracking walk back to my apartment from the library, so I would arrive home in time for lunch, and often I stopped by the "Quik'n'Cheep" convenience store to purchase something to eat, if that morning the contents of the pantry struck me as unappetizing or sparse.

The next two hours of the day I dedicated to reading and music. I wish that I had some form of sound system in my apartment, but the closest I had was a small television with an incredibly poor image. So to listen to music I was forced to use an CD player and a pair of headphones. The headphones utterly isolated me from my environment, which was nice in a way, it allowed the book to completely take me in, but at the same time it left me on edge because I felt that I was vulnerable. After all, if something were to attack me while I was wearing the headphones, I would have been defenseless wouldn't I? I'd have no way to hear whatever beast was creeping up on me, and I wouldn't know I was doomed until I felt the creature's icy breath on the nape of my neck and it's talons ripping into my abdomen.

I should actually take a moment to explain here that I have no reason to believe that beast such as the one I just vaguely described prowl the streets of Ashland or indeed even exist anywhere in the world. No logical or rational reason, that is. However, I can say with absolute certainty that there is a deadly, lethal evil somewhere in Ashland. At least one, but likely multiple. This isn't necessarily a small town, but it's certainly not a bustling city. Ashland is a in a nether-area between the two. It's large enough to have a few apartment buildings, a hospital, a small shopping district, and even a hotel, but aside from those things, a modest downtown filled with office buildings, and a residential area, there is nothing. Ashland is isolated too, nestled geographically between mountains in three directions, and a river in one. There is a single bridge out of the city, and in the winter the bridge gets icy. I suppose in the real world, that's a significant problem, but I find it doesn't really affect me all that much.

Also, regarding the geography, I assume Ashland is built upon the mouth of Hell, or Erebus, or a dimensional rift that leads to a land of eldritch horrors, because this town is evil in just the most absolute and sinister way. The premature mortality rate in this town, that is the rate of people who die due to unnatural causes, is 36 percent. In a room of 100 citizens of Ashland, 36 of them will die in freak accidents, or murder-suicides, or from previously undiscovered diseases, or just plain disappear into the maw of this town. That is not a statistic I found somewhere, that is one that I had to come up with on my own, because even with that ludicrous percentage, no one seems to take notice. There are no news articles or web articles about this bizarre phenomenon. For context, the national average of premature deaths is less than six percent. Ashland is six times that number. That's just outright insane. That's nuts. That alone would, in my eyes, merit an evacuation and carpet bombing of Ashland and the surrounding region, but people don't even pay it any attention. It's not as though they downplay it, Ashland doesn't have a reputation of "that crazy place where ridiculous numbers of people just die in droves," it's just outright ignored.

That's one reason why Ashland is evil and I fear that there are insane demonbeasts lurking in the shadows, the other is that those 36 of the 100 that die? They die in absolutely goddamn horrifying ways. One article I read described a man found dead in his apartment. I'm sorry, half a man found dead in his apartment. His lower body, his legs, were found shoved into the toilet. The entire bathroom was covered in blood, literally, every square inch was painted red, the tub was filled with two inches of blood, exactly, and as some sort of hellish centerpiece, the lower half of a man was wedged in the toilet. As though he had tripped, fell face first into the toilet, and then his upper half just, tore itself off and wandered off, but not before making sure the bottom half was firmly lodged in the toilet, I guess? This baffled the police, but what really spooked them was when the upper half of the guy just showed up in some woman's freezer eight days later. She was preparing her dinner in her kitchen, alone, when she heard a large thump come from her fridge. She opened the freezer and found the upper-half of a man just resting in it, still warm. Then, presumably, she soiled her pants, screamed for a solid hour, and called the police. The police said it was a murder, but the case was never solved. So the police would have you believe that a killer cut a guy in half, made a sick shrine in the man's bathroom, then held on to the upper-half for just over a week, preserving it perfectly, snuck into a woman's apartment, and hid the torso in her freezer, while she was in the room, leaving absolutely no traces of dragging the torso in, and finally disappeared into the night, forever. Also, I guess somewhere in there he would've had to microwave to torso for a few seconds, to emulate that "recently slaughtered" fleshy warmth.

I don't really have a better explanation though, so who am I to criticize?

Another man, a college student, tore his own head off a few years ago. Just, in the middle of a lecture, decided he really wasn't into the whole "pre-law" thing, grabbed his head, and ripped it off. Some accounts say he then proceeded to throw the head at his professor and cave in the skull of the student next to him by mercilessly pounding the kid's head against the desk until it gave. There was a rather recent article about a pregnant, seventeen-year-old girl who was found dead on the side of the one major road out of town. Except she apparently wasn't pregnant with a human, because when she was on the autopsy table, before the coroner even made his first incision, a live tabby clawed its way out of her stomach. It goes on like this. People slaughtering their families and neighbors for no reason, people dying in horrible, unexplainable accidents that leave their bodies mangled beyond recognition, people disappearing for years only to be found out in the woods. Sometimes they hadn't aged a day and died for apparently no reason at all, sometimes they were inside out. As in, skin flipped around, and organs hanging out for the world to see, like a buffet on the medical blackmarket.

These things make the news, they're the talk of the town for about a week, plenty of follow-up articles, and outrage online, and scared mothers writing letters to the editor, and crazed conspiracy theorists blaming aliens (which is dumb, because this is clearly the work of demonic hellspawn). Then everyone just forgets for a few days or weeks, then someone else dies and the process repeats. But no one ever just outright says "Jesus Christ, this is horrifying, why the hell is this place not a smoldering, radioactive crater, because it is clearly the most evil place anywhere, ever."

So perhaps now you have a better understanding of why, though I've no solid or definitive evidence of the exact nature of the evil that lurks within Ashland, I am so paranoid while I walk the streets and while I lay alone in my bed. You have no idea how crushingly lonely nights are. The wind leaks through my apartment's windows, gently rattling the frames and whistling eerily. The streetlights and moon cast sinister shadows on my floor and wall. Each little noise leaves me paralyzed with fear. What I wouldn't give for a companion, a pet. A cat. In the end though, I am alone, without even an enemy to hate. Perhaps that's why I personify this town so much, I wish for at least one other sentient entity with whom I can interact, even if it is a monstrous, abstract sentience that is hellbent on my demise.

Once I fall asleep, however, all the evil of Ashland is left behind. Obliterated from my mind for a few blessed hours while I dream. I have become quite adept at exploring my dreams. Sleep is not the same for me as it is for others. I dream the entire time I am asleep. This, I believe, is a recent development, and perhaps is a result of the other anomaly regarding my sleep, which is that I am conscious within my dreams. That is to say, I am lucid. I see the world around me, and though it looks and feels real, I know it is a dream, a creation of my own mind. From this knowledge, comes power. After all, if the dream is in my mind, then I can control that dream, can I not? It was years ago that I discovered this wonderful ability, and with time I have honed it. A dream, to an untrained mind, is like a flowing river. Constantly in turmoil, constantly in flux. Only that which has the immediate attention of the dreamer exists, as soon as the dreamer looks away or stops paying attention to something, it ceases to exist. When I first started my lucid dreaming, this was how my dreams were. Now my dreams are more akin to a still lake. Everything exists at once, everything is consistent. I've create another world in my dreams, one that, despite being a figment of my imagination, is a living breathing place. Another Ashland, but in this Ashland I have friends, and a family, and I go to school. It never rains, there is no fear. In my Ashland, no one dies. And though, when I awake, I leave my Ashland behind, I know that once I go back to sleep, my safe haven awaits me. I think this is the only thing that has kept me sane.

Except, now, I fear this sanctuary has been taken from me.

The day before, I was heading to the Quik'n'Cheep for my evening snack as the sun was setting. Though I loathe the night, the twilight in Ashland is beautiful. There is a park near Ashland Heights that I go to in the evening while I eat my snack. The sun bleeds red through the leaves and cast a mottled light on the slides and swings of the playgrounds, and the sight is breathtaking. For a moment I can imagine I'm in a world where I am not alone, but everyone else has merely gone home for the day. These thoughts guided my feet without my noticing, and soon I found myself in Ripley Park rather than at the Quik'N'Cheep. This sometimes happened, my routine was so automatic that often I'd get caught up in my thoughts and not pay attention to where I was actually going. For a moment, I considered skipping my snack, but a faint nibbling in my stomach told me that I should head back to the convenience store, after all I wasn't going to want to go after the sun was down, and for whatever reason the pantry hadn't restocked for a while. So I turned my back on Ripley Park and set off. Within minutes I found myself back in Ripley Park. I wasn't about to be fooled twice, the world felt wrong, and I vaguely suspected why that might be the case. I dashed out of the park, and sprinted down the the street, taking the first left that came. As I rounded the corner, I found myself back at the entrance to the park.

I was in a dream.

I closed my eyes, pictured the Quik'n'Cheep, and willed myself to exist there and not here. When I opened them, the arch above me still read "Ripley Memorial Park."

I was in a dream and I couldn't control it.

Suddenly the twilit park was no longer an refuge, and the looming buildings looked like the walls of Ashland slowly closing in on me. Fear crept up on me, his cold fingers running down my spine making me hairs stand on end and pumping any icy chill into my blood. My heart pounded in my chest, beating frantically like a war drum. I panicked. I ran. It made no difference. I was lost within seconds. I didn't reappear in the park again, instead I found myself running through a wooded path. It looked vaguely familiar, and I realized it was the nature trail that started in Ripley Park and led into the woods that surrounded Ashland. I took a moment to get my bearings, then began running along the path that should've taken me back to the park. It was futile. No matter which way I ran, I ended up running deeper into the forest. I tried to turn around a few times, and I'd either find the path I had just taken was now blocked by a fallen tree, or simply didn't exist. Whenever it wasn't blocked, it would just lead me back to where I started. I ran for what must've been an hour. The sun was long gone, and now the forest was only illuminated by the vague hint of moonlight. Eventually the trail disappeared as well, and with it, my sense of direction, and soon I was wandering aimlessly through the woods, utterly lost. Not that it really mattered, after all, direction didn't exist in this dream, and I really had no choice but follow the flow of the dream to wherever it wanted to take me. As soon as I resigned myself to this fact, I found myself at the front door of a wooden cabin that had apparently materialized out of nowhere.

Within seconds I determined that entering the cabin was likely the worst possible course of action, and turned around to try to leave, only to find that the path I had apparently taken was now blocked by several large, fallen trees. In fact, after circling the perimeter of the cabin, I determined that there was no feasible means of escaping the clearing it was seated in. The woods around it were thick with thorny brambles. It wasn't that it would be hard or painful to try and push my way through them, the fact of the matter was that if I did attempt to make it through, there would be nothing left of me but mincemeat by the time I reached the other side. Despite the fact that this was a dream, I decided that no good could come of actively causing myself bodily harm, whether I was asleep or not. Trying to walk back into the forest was likely impossible, and entering the cabin seemed like an absolutely awful idea, however it didn't seem like I had much choice in the matter. Half-heartedly, I tried pinching my cheek to force myself awake. Unsurprisingly, it had no effect. Thus, with much reluctance, I groaned and eased open the door to the cabin.

It's strange how the first thing you tend to notice about a room is the smell. Smell is such an odd sense, one we often ignore, but now other sense seems to be as effective at conveying immediate danger as smell. When you catch a whiff of something foul, you know to get away from it. The stench of the cabin was an overwhelming mix of pine and death. It was somewhere between the smell of potpourri and a corpse, as though someone thought they could cover up the scent of a rotting corpse with a few lily petals. The air was almost suffocating, I felt that breathing it would somehow flood my body with toxins. I had to gasp air through my mouth in great heaving bursts, to breath through my nose was more than I could do without vomiting.

Once the intensity of the smell waned, it didn't take long to find the source. The room I opened into seemed to be a small foyer, with a long hallway leading into darkness on the wall opposite the door. There was a bureau sitting in the corner, a lit candle on top of it was causing shadows to dance around the room. The hallway extended very far into the distance, far enough that it was clearly too long to be contained by the house. However, that was not the most notable feature of the cabin. No, the most striking thing was the fact that, jutting out from almost every available inch of space on the walls, were hundreds of stuffed animal heads. The preservation job on them seem to be rather shoddy, as many of them were rotting, and the ones that weren't had ragged fur that appeared to still be matted with the blood from their deaths.

My resolve didn't so much falter as it did shatter. I about-faced and attempted to exit through the door I had just come from only to find it was locked. I sighed dramatically but to be honest I hadn't expected any different. I glanced down the long, dark hall lined with animal heads and knew that eventually, I would have to go down it. However, I made a conscious effort to try and delay that moment. The bureau caught my attention and I tried to open it, only to find it locked; I proceeded to attempt to force it open for a good minute or two before ultimately deciding it was futile and giving it up. The foyer was depressingly barren of distractions, and so with nothing left to do, I turned to the beckoning, dark hallway and set off down it.

As I walked down the hallway, it seemed to grow. Not in any obvious or direct way though, rather it lengthened sneakily, and subtly, while I wasn't looking. Every few steps, I would glance behind me, only to find that the entrance to the hallway seemed a bit further away than I thought it ought to be. The hallway was dark, incredibly so, and as I proceeded down it, it only grew darker, to the point where eventually the only light seemed to be coming from the glistening eyes of mounted animal heads. It was an eerie, pearlescent sheen that their eyes gave off, as though they were reflecting a moon that I could not see. To me, it seemed as if their ephemeral eyes were glaring at me, and soon I wondered if I was even still in the hallway at all, or if, somehow, I had wandered back out into the forest and now the eyes I saw were not the last glimmer of life linger in beheaded beasts, but rather the glint of hunger ghouls that lurked in the night of the woods. I pulled my hood further over my head, attempt to hide my face. Vaguely, as I moved deeper into the darkness, I began to faintly, so very faintly, hear snickering and laughter. At first, the sounds we so dim that I could scarcely be sure I even heard anything at all, but the further I went, the more distinct the sounds became. I turned, one last time, to look for the exit, only to find that it too had faded into the darkness. I was now utterly alone, and consumed by the darkness, with only the shimmering pairs of light to keep my company in the void.

"Why are you here?" a voice, rang out.

The sound was like a cold wave that washed over my body. I felt ice cool my bones, and a chill rush through my blood. I had been so immersed in my thoughts that I had not realized that I had reached the end of the hall. Or at least, that was the only thing I could assume, for now, among the pairs of eyes that lurked in rows on either side of me, one final pair rested in front of me. Only these eyes gleamed more brightly than any of the others, so brightly in fact, that I could even catch a glimpse of their own in the light that they gave off. It was the head of a goat, just a rotted and bloodied as the others I had seen at the entrance, but with unique, brilliant eyes. They gave off only enough light to allow me to see the face of the creature, so I could not determine if it was in fact merely the mounted head of a goat, or in fact some form of monstrosity that hid its body in the shadows just in front of me, however I could only assume it was some form of beheaded animal, for if it was not, that it would be quite the monstrosity indeed given how far above me the head was, it would at least have to be the size of a horse.

"Why are you here?" the head asked again, its mouth opening and closing ever so slightly out of sync with its voice.

I paused for a moment, unsure of what to say, but fearing that silence would anger the creature, I answered, "I believe that I'm trapped here." As soon as the words left my lips, an unseen chorus raised up a cacophony of laughter in response. Something that remotely resembled a sneer flickered across the goat's visage. As the laughter died out, the goat responded to me.

"I will tell you why you are here, if you can win a game of riddles with me," it said, and I nodded in agreement. "You may go first."

For a moment, I did not know what to do, but after taking a few seconds to think, I remembered a riddle that I had read recently in an old book on one of my more recent trips to the library. I recited it to the head:

"There was a murder one night in an old tower. A magician had been hosting a party for the royalty of the land. Among the guests was a fool who, after his performance, wandered off deeper into the tower and discovered the corpse of a hanged man. The fool, in a panic, ran to the magician and brought him to the corpse. The magician, after bringing in the high priestess to bless the body, sought the guidance of the empress and emperor. They tell the magician to lock the tower and bring the guests to them so that they may interrogate each guest and determine the murderer. The first brought to them is the hierophant, then two lovers. All three are found innocent. After that a charioteer and a lawman are brought in, and again they are innocent. A hermit and a strong man are questioned, and again found innocent. The hanged man was the twelfth guest, and though there were only twelve guests as the party, all the guests remember seeing a thirteenth guest. They reason that this man was the killer, who took the hanged man's soul, but who was the thirteenth guest?"

"Death," the goat replies as soon as I finished the riddle, "And what an exceptionally poor riddle that was. It was too long-winded, and it can't be solved with logic, it requires prior knowledge."

"Don't all riddles require prior knowledge?" I asked. The head's milky eyes pensively gazed into mine for a moment.

"Yours required prior knowledge of an obscure topic. In any event, it is my turn. Since you seem rather unskilled in the field of riddles, I'll start with a simple one: 'Why is a raven like a writing desk?'"

"There isn't an answer to that one,"

"Ooho?" the head seemed amused, "Is that so? Are you sure that it isn't the fact that 'Poe wrote on both?'"

"Carroll wrote before Poe did. The riddle has no answer."

"Well, if you aren't particularly clever you're at least well read."

"A clever person who is not knowledgeable is merely a savant." To this the head laughed. It made a raspy, echoing sound, like wind blowing between sand swept rocks. Becoming impatient with the head's taunting, I asked my next riddle: "What else but man wears a jacket into battle?" There was a silence after this one, and then the goat-beast snickered.

"Ah, well, I commend you for attempting to come up with something original. Nonetheless, I'm afraid that was too simple. 'A bullet' would be the answer." I clicked my tongue in annoyance. Retrospectively, it was too obvious of a pun, but at that time I had thought it clever.

"What book is meant to be burned?" the head asked, a coy amusement hidden under his breath.

"A matchbook. Was that a lowball?" I asked, almost insulted.

"Oh well, I don't see much sport in crushing someone who is playing beyond their skill level," the head replied, his voice thickly layered in conceitedness. This sorely annoyed me, so much that my pride caused me to demand he ask another riddle.

"Aaah! I like you! A challenger! Well, then so be it! This beast is not nocturnal, but sleeps in many places during the day: under trees, in caves and alleys, just to name a few. It has an affinity for following humans, but rarely does its quarry notice it. Like many creatures, it cannot live without light, but as so many creatures do, it flees from fire. It leaves no tracks, but when it rests in one place long enough it will cool the ground beneath it. What manner of beast is this?"

A glimmer shone from the twin pearls lurking in front of me. The decapitated beast was rather pleased with itself, it seemed. As frustrating as that was, even more frustrating was the fact that I couldn't seem to find an answer. Clearly, he spoke of no beast that existed, but the "thing" he christened a beast I could not determine. Death was an initial theory, but I quickly discarded the idea, this "beast" was something more tangible than death. Then I thought perhaps that it was a "rumor," spread under playground trees and in back alleys alike. An invisible predator that stalks its unknowing prey. For a moment this seemed likely, but again, it didn't fee. Rumors don't flee from fire. Just as I was about to concede, the painfully obvious answer came to me, and I scolded myself for not coming to the conclusion sooner.

"It's one's shadow," I answered.

"Oh, good! Good! You took so long that I was worried our little game might've been finished! What a tragedy that would've been, I fear that if I don't tell you why you're here, lost lamb, that the wolves might be upon you soon!" the head laughed as he said this, and snickers and giggles from the surrounding darkness chimed in. The sinister comment had me worried. While this forest was clearly odd, and vaguely threatening, I had immediately assumed it to be a dream and as such didn't consider it to be dangerous in any way. The head though, seemed to have reached a different conclusion. I wondered if perhaps this was an idle threat made to scare me, or if there was a genuine danger lurking in the woods. Either way, I decided I didn't care to lose the goat's game, and so I decide to cheat.

"It's my turn right? Then here's my riddle: 'Why am I here?'" I asked curtly.

"Ahahaha!" the goat gave a raucous chuckle in response, "Oh bitter girl! That's no riddle!"

"It is to me I responded."

"Ah, so I suppose it is! Still, I will not answer it, girl. What prize have I to give if I do?"

"So you can't answer?"

"Ah, not so! I can answer your 'riddle,' but I chose not to do so."

"Still you cannot provide me with an answer," I responded calmly, "I believe that constitutes a loss." I looked dead into the pale white eyes, and they stared back at me, calculating.

"Hmmm, perhaps you are more clever than I gave you credit for girl. You've forced my hand," as the head spoke, its voice seemed to echo, as though another, softer voice was speaking under his. "And so, here's your answer. Why are you here? That's simple girl, you're here because you wish to suffer." As he finished the beast began to chuckle, and his herd of compatriots hidden in the darkness joined him in his laughter. His eyes shifted from milk-white to a pale blue, and seemed to shimmer and morph into teardrop shapes, and as I looked closer I saw they were no longer eyes at all, but rather small flames that, with this revelation, grew rapidly in size. Soon they were not just pale blue flames resting in the goat's eyesockets, but large, orange fires blazing across the goat's face, and as they illuminated the creature's body, I could see it was no goat at all.

The beast's head was certainly that of a goat's or perhaps a ram's, but the body that hid in dancing shadows under the head, it was unlike anything I had ever seen. The creature's torso was massive, like that of an ape's but, far more emaciated. The skin was so dry and rough it looked like a crag, and it clung so tightly to the beast's bones that it almost looked skeletal. The beast sat, crouching, upon two bird-like legs that ended in vicious talons, each one somehow blacker than the darkness around it, and both of its arms, long and thin, ended in two pairs of hooves.

As I took in this monstrous form, the flame spread across the being's face and almost entirely consumed its head. Its flesh bubbled and burst, revealing the skull underneath. Yet the creature did nothing to indicate any sort of pain, and in fact, it did nothing at all, except laugh. That is, if the noise it was making could even be considered a laugh. It was cacophonous shriek, and harsh cackle that existed somewhere between the sound pigs make while being slaughtered and metal grinding against stone.

I stood paralyzed, unable to look away as the flame consumed all of the beast's skin, and flesh, and tissue, and muscle, and sinew, and what little fat there was. The flame coursed down it's neck, and slithered across its arms and legs, and soon, there was nothing left in front of me but the skeletal remains of the figure that had been in front of me a mere moments ago, illuminated only be the few bits of flame that still fed on chunks of flesh that had fallen off as the beast had melted. Still, the creature laughed until the last lingering flames died away, and then there was nothing but silence and darkness.

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Ilmora by Vak Beacon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.