I write this by dying candle light. The things I have seen must be recorded even while the beast makes phlegm dripping sniffs at the stone door. Whether it breaks in or my air runs out I can only prey that my curse has drawn it away from my sisters, allowing them to break into the hell outside with a chance of survival. If this is found by some strong arm tomb robber of a future age I hope whatever scholar takes possession will excuse my unsteady hand given the horror I have seen.
War broke and the men where called to spear and sling. Off they marched with our ranch bosses at their head, leaving the protection of our villages to the old men.
It did not take long for the Outlanders to notice the weaknesses of herds, and after some cautious rustling to proceed to the outlaying farm houses. There their prey was wives and younglings whether for pleasure or slavery. Our unsteady guardians were cautious to always arrive too late and find a staked out rape victim bled to death or the household carried into bondage. Even wielding a trade axe or a flint arrow an Outlander would have bested our ancient guards despite their iron and bronze.
Those of us women with presence of mind formed council and pressed upon the men to gather in the outlaying farm and herds before a rash became an epidemic. Even old ears can hear sense sometimes. As a Miller’s wife I had some say and we hoped that either our men or those of the invaders would arrive to protect us from the savages.
The invaders came but protection did not come. Word came of battles at the River and our men folk slain or scattered. Then came the refugee bands, with tales of savage treatment at more savage hands than those of the Wild Folk. Our pious occupiers had turned governance of the hill farms over to the mercenaries of the Veterans Chapters. From the mouths of the escapees came word of a wave of pox and theft, rapine and rampage that made the Outlanders sound like the child-like innocents’ city safe scholars paint them in pamphlet and piazza point scoring.
Faced with this our Council met again. As I addressed the gathered wives and daughters of the noteworthy I noted the rheumy eyed militiamen’s terror and saw no protection in their weedy age worn arms.
“Sisters, we have to look to our protection, not only from the Wildlings that venture from woods and hillock but from this new threat of ravenous riders in the pay of the invaders. Too few of our number have any skill of arms – the village is defenceless.”
I killed a gurgle of protest from our ‘defenders’ with a look.
“As a young girl when a exploring in the summer with the herds and their guardians up in the high hills and the Outlanders beyond them I would held up Tyala creek and there is a Tawny tomb from an age long gone.”
I saw nods of recognition from around the room.
“It has but one entrance though there are holes enough for air and we could shelter there for a few days in the hopes the Mercenaries pass, become sated or the City comes to the hill-lands aid.”
Protests abounded but it was refugees’ testimony and the absence of other options which resolved us.
There was no where else to run too.
Some three score of us set off at dusk – best to escape being seen by enemies. Making our way as skirts caught brambles and caught on rocks, little ones clinging to mothers and siblings we wended our way up the hills. The few men folk clucked and fussed as if they could do anything over the predicament.
It may have been the strain of the climb that decided my fate.
As the sun began to kiss the forested hills we made it to the tomb. At some point the worn ridges and edges must have been columns and sculptures like of the great tombs I have read of in Pharaoh’s lands. The eons have rendered it little more than a sandstone mound. The men pushed aside the capping stone and we entered to our safety.
Inside discarded bones and ruptured wrappings showed by grave-robbers, no doubt patriots all, had been here before us.
Supplies here husbanded and rations made. Our ancient warriors posted as sentries on the slopes around so they felt useful. In the close clammy confines of the catacombs the schooling of the children gave us a focus.
The Mound as such was merely the cap on a much larger chamber. The dead in their dread numbers were easily moved and stacked by the stronger souls amongst us and a community could function in the dark with light through cracks and a few candles. A few cask seals had to be broken to ensure the movement of the bodies. But given the great age of the dust laden bones it was not too squeamish a task.
Outside my chamber I can hear the dripping beast is charging the door – each impact seems to provoke no movement in the solid stone but the noise of the collision is testament to the strength of my jailor. I must continue quickly, both the candle and the creature’s fury bone no delay.
We inspected the interior by day and found stairs leading down to still older catacombs capped by stones it took great effort to move. Erweta the Surgeons wife reckoned the structure must date to the very early days of the first Tawny occupation, perhaps 2ooo years past.
We had cause to be initially grateful of our explorations. The sentries ceased to report to us and soon enough the sharp eyed girls we got to stand by cracks and spy noted Veteran Chapter riders approaching.
We retreated into the depths. That was our second mistake. We pulled the caps back over as we went. That was perhaps our third.
Nestled in the depths surrounded by the smells of stale rot and those with younglings clung them close. Above we heard gruff voices and clutter of searching. We sought out between the narrow racks of the rotten and found further steps down, and down we went.
It was not long before the beast claimed its first victim.
Clera was a girl in the first flush of womanhood and her end was swift. A phlegm-rich roar, a swift gust of movement and then she was gone in spray of blood eclipsing candles.
We panicked and ran. With no plan and no reason we fled to all points of the compass. I myself found myself clustered with a half dozen of us in some far lost corner.
I say beast – of course with candles extinguished I can only draw my conclusions from that fleeting glimpse of an albino snout, three pair of pink squinting eyes and rows of chitinous spiked forearms.
Slowly we picked out way around the edges of the catacomb hearing the cries of prey from neighbours and friends as we made out way. Great coughing gorging gulps of raw meat down a gullet followed these at regular intervals.
Slowly survivors converged round the edges of the slaughter chamber, those not rendered catatonic or whimpering that simply curled up for the final visitation.
It was then a commonality between them struck me. They were past the blessings of womanhood, not yet to reach them or young boys. The only exception was me and my ripeness though hidden from view suggested why the creature had not yet preyed on me.
It would also explain why male grave robbers had not fallen victim to this creature. In a small community like ours it was not uncommon for the women to in step with each other as well as the cycle of the moon. I fathomed that it had somehow scented or sensed the monthly bleed on its female prey.
What in the creator’s vision would design such a beast I could not be sure though perhaps some Tawny sorcerers experiment explained the creation of something so unnatural?
Then with the breather afforded I felt pain and carefully felt for my wetness. Whether the climb or the panicked running or perhaps the shifting of the stone – my baby was not to be.
That was it then. 3 months of whispered hopes and fears between me and my husband. 3 motnhs of half hoped plans and ambitions. No first born son to prosper or no first born daughter to advise on her wedding eve. They were dead,gone and never to be. If my husband lived would I ever get word to him? No down here with the beast. Not with the mark of ladies blood upon me. Yet could the loss of my child not serve some greater purpose ? Could I not in this moment of barren loss not save my sisters,
Following my hunch I outlined to my survivors the path to follow upwards but I would be going into opposite direction. The cries of further prey halted discussion and wishing them sped and headed towards away from potential exit hoping my failure would draw the beast to me and away from my charges.
At least the Veterans might let some live. The beast did not sound like it could be gorged. Already I slipped on the catacomb floor wet with blood which I would only hope would mask it’s sensitivity to the female cycle.
At the narrow end of the catacomb I felt and entranced to an antechamber with a discarded capping stone leant against the adjoining wall. Wet roars and furtive screams suggested the fiend was feeding again – if something without an end to appetitive can be said to feed.
I climbed into the antechamber over the half eaten body of a village sister earlier fallen prey. Clambering around her my hand found a knapsack. Which I slung around me as I heard the driven clattering charge of the beast and it’s roar closing in.
Uncaring of the strain now, uncaring of anything and perhaps only motivated by some inherent survival instinct I wheeled the capping stone over the bloody mess. Somehow the creator with a sense of humour decided to allow me enough time for it fall fast blocking the entrance as the beast crashed against it with a whelp.
Dragging myself up the racks of bones I emptied the knapsack finding the candle, flint, paper, ink and quill with which I have recorded this account so future explorers may know the risk and more importantly so that my husband might perhaps know I did not sacrifice our child in foolish heroics but rather decided to turn that death into future life for our community. I hope he might forgive me for the misplaced strength that led me here, as I forgive his sense of duty that led him to war. I could perhaps strive to search this crowded cave for some escape though the air is dead and running out and only candlelight exists suggesting no unfound aperture. With the strain of the climb the bleeding lies heavy on me now, and I feel weak.
The beast still sniffles outside and occasionally cracks against the capping stone. I try and avoid looking at the half eaten woman in caught half in their chamber. Yunert I think, a herdsman’s wife – wait I can see something in her opened innards. Oh Creator, what are those small gelatinous orbs that teem and appear to wriggle – no – to hatch.
The beast was not feeding. She was laying eggs. The mother’s brood are beginning to worm towards me. May the creator have mercy upon my Soul.