Areus awakes with a growl in his throat. The tender spot on his skull thumps to the rhythm of the ceiling in his dank cell. Hot and confining, his fingertips brush the walls of the small space. A roar bursts through his lips and mingles with that of the maddening crowd somewhere beyond the stone encasing him. Heavy chains clank at his feet and the festering smell of his body cannot overpower the need to break free of his prison. The clash of steel on steel, and the screams of a dying man speeds the blood pumping through his veins.
Here, away from his people and the ones he loves, he is nothing but a caged beast. Areus knows nothing exists in the plains he called his home. The men in crimson and polished steel laid waste to the grain and human life. His head whips to the left. Through the walls, the wailing of a man unnerves his senses. Areus will not shed a tear for what has been done to him. Only the warm splash of blood from his enemies shall coat his flesh. He does not fear those who beat him into unconsciousness and locked him in this place. Anger caresses his soul and vengeance screams out his name.
He squints his eyes, the fire from a torch like a hot poker, and the creak of the door ushers in his enemy. He springs forward but the weight around his ankles sends him to the ground. They are many and he is but one. No matter what struggling he manages, they succeed in throwing him into another larger cage.
The sand claws his skin, and he reaches a hand out to grasp at the fading enemy but they are gone. The men in the cage, grim faced and void of emotion, keep their distance from Areus.
He braces against the iron bars as the place shakes from thunderous applause. The steady beat of footsteps against stone ring out and the portcullis starts its ascent. Harsh sunlight filters through, and Areus shields his eyes from the rays he has not seen in several days. Blood and death assault his nose and the carnage of those who went before him comes into view. A spear pricks his backside and he moves away. Like sheep to the slaughter, the guards push them out into the sands. Areus walks out without prompting along with the other soon-to-be-corpses. He glances back to see a reluctant fool get impaled by a spear. His agony is prolonged with twist as the tip breaks free in his soft innards.
His blood pumps steady through his heart, awaking the warrior within. Along the other side of a darkened sand circle, another group of men stand. Unlike Areus and his ragged group, they have weapons of all sizes and waste no time in beginning the slaughter. In the heat of the day, the charge looks like the gates of Hell have opened. Heat rises from the sand and burns the bottom of his feet but Areus does not hesitate.
He ducks the swing of the first man and sweeps his leg to take the warrior to his back. A quick chop to the throat and his first victim chokes from a crushed windpipe. As Areus goes to snatch the man’s axe another reaches it before him. The glee is short-lived as a sword takes the thief in two. Areus rolls away from the arc of the blade, the breeze of death chilling his bones. His hands gather the blackened earth and it flies into the face of his stalker. Again, hesitation does not claim him and Areus springs off the ground into his second kill. He rolls with the man and brings his knees to rest on his backside just as another sword dives to send him on to the next life. A fine sheen of blood glistens from the jutting blade and stains his chest.
The sword of his human shield drops and he pushes the weighted cadaver off. Areus grips the hilt, and the fire ignites within. His body spins with god-like speed and he severs the head of his third kill. Before the man hits the dark ground, Areus has his sword in his hand. Death now walks the sands.
Three is not enough to pay back the butchering of his people. He wants to see a river born from their deaths so all know what happens to men who creep in the midnight sky like cowards. A net flies in to snare Areus but his feet never slow as his ducks the attempt. One sword chops up to take the man’s arm, the other sinks into his soft belly.
His blood-soaked steel clashes with another blade wielder. While his eyes show the hunger of a seasoned veteran in battle, Areus feels the thrum of the man’s fear and trepidation. All of his brethren lie as crow’s feast and the pecking of the carrion bird gnaws at his neck. The sharp edge nicks Areus’ side but he is past the point of pain. Beyond the thought of bereavement, he presses in. He matches the powerful blows of his opponent, his weapons seeking blood to sate his desire. He jerks to the side from a violent thrust and jams his sword into the man’s underarm before kicking him to the red sands.
The portcullis rises as he turns to the creaking of its exhausted hinges. The soldiers that march out are not for his amusement.
Their words are lost to him, the tongue too foreign for his ears but he understands the cold feel of metal against his throat. The swords drop from his hands and are replaced with chains around his wrists. His imprisonment for their blood lust is of no consequence. He does not notice the heavy burden of servitude to another, only the chance for retribution.
Areus scans the assembled group, and Death chuckles beside him.
Death Comes was originally published by Golden Visions Magazine. After the death of Andy Whitefield, I was inspired to write this. Present tense is something I rarely weave a story in but the story wouldn’t let me write it anyway. It works for this flash piece.