Suspense grows as we embark now on the fourth of the five parts of a tale of Pawft, unwilling servitor to Koul, The Cowled One, Lord of Death. Part I introduced Pawft, a man destined at his birth-naming to forever deliver fresh souls to Koul, Lord of Death, who's never had a more consistent, more thorough, more productive reaper in all eternity . . . or one who despised him more. Part II brought quite the surprise to us all, especially Pawft, as he literally fell into the Realm of Death. Part III delivered Pawft--and us--before a Creature of the Dark Inferno, who only wishes for playmates . . . it does get rather lonely surrounded by only the dead through eternity after all!
That's right: grab that drink and stool, and listen to his tale as only he can tell it. Oh, and flip a coin to the tender, Pawft's voice goes dry.
The Breath of Death
by Jason M Waltz
Part the Fourth
I straightened my shoulders and looked at each of those stalwart companions. “Nay, I do not. But do any of you?” I raised my voice and glanced around at all the dead. “Did any of you know what lay here, behind Death’s Veil?” The shaking heads were what I expected.
“All that lives in this place is fear! Fear and more fear from beasts such as this.” My blood burned with a confidence my body did not share. “I know fear to be the tool of gods and it will hold no more sway over me than it already has! We stand before no god here.”
“Oh, but I do serve a god, Pawft.” The raspy voice no longer held a lover’s promises.
I turned toward it and discovered the creature was shrinking. I blinked, and it became a small dog with a horse’s head. Only the writhing hair remained the same. It looked like a black spider feasting upon a small rodent at the center of a vast web.
The dead gathered behind Aultic’s men moaned. At the sound, the beast cringed as if in pain. Its hair whipped about in frenzy, striking random figures in the crowd. An eerie sigh erupted at every touch and loss of another of their number. The sighs vied with the growing moan and I grit my teeth at the pain in my ears.
Tears poured from my eyes at the intense pressure that built in my skull. Other men dropped their swords and clamped hands over their ears. I released my grip on the still sheathed knife in order to do the same and the sudden increase in sound almost dropped me to my knees. I staggered backward and screamed to escape the pressure, clawing at my waist until my hand clamped again upon the knife. The immediate lessening in the power of the attack was a paradise, and my tears turned from those of pain to relief. All about me, men fell to the ground in agonized convulsions. I struggled to keep my head up and my sword in my hand. With immense effort, I took a step.
My limbs began to shiver as I took another step and I was almost too weak to lift my leg for the third. Yet I was not close enough to strike. The fiendish thing’s body by now had grown smaller than a rat, and it continued to shrink the nearer I drew, while each thrashing hair remained as thick as my sword arm.
Without the hair it was small enough then for me to crush beneath my boot, but I could not raise my foot. The tears that still flowed were now those of frustration, their taste in my mouth the bitterness of defeat. My last strength fled and I fell, my sword clattering to the stone beside me, my body pinning my right arm beneath me. I heard nothing but the warring moan and sigh, and I no longer knew if Aultic or anyone else remained. I stared into the black speck that united the squirming hairs but a sword’s length away. I saw it laugh at my weakness.
I know no reason those deadly strands missed me other than by the power of whatever swelled through me, not to protect, but to defeat. I felt the pure burning power rise within me, coming to awareness like an awakening intelligence opening its eyes and recognizing an old enemy. Something whispered a name deep inside my mind and for a moment I saw a vision of two mighty beings racing in imminent collision. There was a terrible flash and, though I felt the concussion of that awesome blow, I knew it had occurred long ago and that I but felt an imitation of its truth. I knew without doubt I would not have survived the reality.
All the hate and anger I could muster surged through me, and I pulled my limp left arm closer, shrugged my shoulder until I had brought it to my side. I had to rise. I would not die like that. I realized my right hand remained beneath me and that it still held the unusual knife in its sheath. My understanding seemed to be all it waited for, and a prickle pulsed through me as a voice commanded.
“Release me; kin of ill-intent draws nigh.”
I rolled onto my left side and tugged the weapon free. Foreign light glinted along its perfect edge.
My legs would not respond to me, liquid pooled in my ears, and my sight dimmed. I focused on the silver blade and concentrated every ounce of energy remaining me into my arm. It was just enough to fling my arm above my head, just enough to get it close to the center of the laughing dot. Yet not close enough. The blade sunk into the earth and I sobbed at the effort.
The knife jerked my arm forward and plunged straight into the black hole.
What? How can we pause the tale here?! Well, Pawft,
who may be destined at his birth-naming to forever dance with the
Lord of Death, grow ever thirsty, seemingly more with each telling (and retelling) of this tale.
So if you wish to learn the end of Pawft's tale, toss those coins atop the bar and keep his mug full
. . . else he'll find another town and another bar and another mug.