Demons by Matt Cawood

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SUMMARY: This is my first short story that I am sharing with the outside world. It is also the first completed work in an original fantasy setting which I am currently developing.

The woodland was as silent and chill as the grave in the early morning light. The trees were a twisted black maze almost impenetrable; emerging out of the morning mist came a lone rider. The dark walls closed in around him; he urged his horse onward. The man's tattered brown cloak fluttered behind him, instead of pulling it back; his arm hung limply at his side. Suddenly one wall dropped away, revealing an overgrown path.
The man brought his winded horse to a canter; it would do him no good for it to break a leg now. He raised his one shaky hand to wipe the sweat off his brow. Above him, iron-grey clouds marched forward, driving the light beyond the horizon. The night would last forever.
For a time, he rode in complete silence. Soon the sound of crashing waves could be heard somewhere off to the east, he should have felt glad, but he didn't. For an instant he heard the sound of a girl's laughter, he dismissed it in irritation. He had emerged from one nightmare only to enter an even worse nightmare. One he did not believe he could survive.
A white light appeared somewhere in the distance, followed by a low rumble. The man tightened his grip on the reins. Then the whispers began, a thousand at a time. Soon the rain had turned the path into boggy mire. Shivering, the man urged his weary horse onward. The rain struck his iron helmet mercilessly; it slid into his eyes, blinding them. He dared not remove his hand from the reins, if he fell he did not know if he could rise again.
Another blinding flash appeared before him, followed by an earth-shattering boom. The horse screamed and bolted. The man found himself floating through the air, and then his back met the ground with a crunch. Tears in his eyes, the man rolled over and attempted to rise. He sank deeper into the mud, he stopped struggling. They had taken everything from him and now his horse. He knew it was the end. The thunder sounded again, the man screamed at it.
***
It had all started out so perfectly in the beginning. The sun shone as golden as any altar, beneath it rode the sacred number, five mail clad riders, with great white cloaks billowing behind them. All of the village's inhabitants had turned out to see them off. It was not every day that they could see their liege lord ride off to a holy war.
The sun still shone when they joined the king's host. Over thirty thousand men in total, over half of all the assembled might of the realm. The great silver snake stretched for miles, a hundred proud banners lead by the massive altar of the Five Suns. The great host was made greater when it was joined by the might of the barony of Brynsford, a, a knight and three stout men at arms. Caught up in the madness of the holy war, their comrades welcomed them like they were five thousand. Five or five thousand, their victory was assured.
The night before the battle the host was camped out in the hills overlooking the field of Aubronar. He remembered it as if it were yesterday. Beneath the altar of the Five Suns, over a hundred men of the peerage in all their glittering splendour, knelt and received the blessings of the Archbishop.

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