Wraiths in the Rain
Trees weren’t supposed to be this terrifying. Adelphos hugged his thin cloak tighter as another gust of wind tore at it, and the branches around him. He couldn’t make out much in the dark, but he kept moving. It was move or let fear freeze him in place. He could end up dead that way. So he kept moving, even though the trees looked like beasts with shifting faces.
He had no idea how far he’d gone. The caravan was traveling west, towards the mountains. That was the only hope he had, one vague direction. To make matters worse, he felt rain coming. The air was cold and damp, and he could smell it.
A twig snapped. Adelphos nearly screamed at how close the sound was. His mind conjured up images of the trees reaching for him. Spinning around he did see a branch, but on the ground, with a boot print cracking it in half. It was his own damn print, he had broken it himself.
Adelphos sucked in a breath to calm down and cursed himself. He went to keep walking, trying not to panic and run, but he froze again.
Off to his right, deep in the foliage, was a small, strong light. It was probably a lamp of some kind. It wasn’t flickering like a campfire.
Against his better judgment, which was terrified as it was, Adelphos bolted into the forest. Someone had to be by that light, someone who could help him.
As he reached the clearing and burst through the tree line, more branches clawed out to catch his arm. It was as if the trees wanted him to stay.
Nearly bending double to catch his breath Adelphos reveled in the sight before him. A little cabin sat in the clearing, with a steady lamp glow coming from inside. For a moment a figure blocked out the light, but moved on. Someone was inside.
“Hello?” he called towards the cabin. “I need help!”
Adelphos rushed towards the cabins only door, and knocked harder then he needed to for the tiny place.
“Please, I’m lost!”
The door opened a span, but only enough to show the face of the inhabitant. He was a very confused and grizzled man.
“Oh thank Phaos,” Adelphos said. “I got separated from my caravan.”
“And you just happened to find this place?” the man asked skeptically.
“Yes,” Adelphos pleaded. “I just kept walking the trail I thought they took, but I couldn’t catch up. Then I saw your light through the trees.”
“So you ran right up to the first strange house and person you see. How do you know I’m not some lunatic?”
“Well, I … I—”
His heard was pounding again. He honestly hadn’t thought that risk through.
The grizzled man smiled, and then laughed.
“Relax boy,” he said. “Come in and warm up. You look awful.”
“My thanks,” Adelphos said trying to breathe again.
The man opened the door wider and Adelphos stepped inside. The cabin was actually a gardening shed with a small bed stuffed in the corner. Tools and broken pots were littered about, and the man’s pack and bow were on the bed.
“Do you live here?” Adelphos asked confused. “There’s no stove to cook at.”
“I’m traveling, same as you, well hunting mainly. And you don’t need a stove to cook. Where you from, boy? What’s your name?”
“Adelphos, from Chalcis. And you?”
The man nodded. “I’m Kokes, from … nowhere now, I suppose.”
“Everyone’s from somewhere,” Adelphos protested.
“Village north of here, other side of the mountains,” Kokes said crossing his arms. “It was slaughtered two months ago.”
“Oh, gods, I’m sorry.”
Kokes just grunted in acknowledgement, then said, “Hungry?”
“Yes,” Adelphos said grateful for the change in topic, but still curious about it.
Kokes rummaged through another large pack on the work bench. He pulled out what looked like a few strips of leather and a small block of cheese. There was a spot of mold on the cheese the size of his fingernail.
Kokes chewed off the end of one jerky strip while holding the others to Adelphos.
“Mold?” he couldn’t help but point out, trying hard to not be disgusted.
Kokes shrugged. “Tear it off.”
Adelphos took the food and carefully tore the moldy piece off. Once he was past that, and the toughness of the jerky, his stomach was thoroughly growling again.
“So what are you hunting?’ Adelphos asked as he sat on an overturned pot, “Anything in particular?”
Kokes paused in his chewing. He had taken a seat beside Adelphos on the bed.
“I understand you’re just trying to make pleasant conversation,” Kokes said not looking at him, “but it’s not a pleasant story.”
“Oh,” Adelphos fell silent for a moment. “You know, if you want to talk about anything, I won’t judge. Something is clearly bothering you.”
“How old are you boy?” Kokes asked.
“Most lads your age aren’t particular about shows of emotion or tales from old men.”
“I was never good at ‘acting tough’ and I like stories,” Adelphos admitted.
Kokes’s eye brows knit together as he watched him confused.
“Sorry,” Adelphos muttered. “My Da always says I’m too pushy sometimes.”
“It’s alright. Some people need that push,” Kokes said. “I’m not going to give all the details, but I’m here for revenge.”
“A few weeks ago I came home to my village and family dead. The well was even plugged with dozens of bodies.”
Kokes’s tone was hard and stoic, though it was anything but calm. The fury Adelphos saw was almost contagious.
“I later found out that a boy had escaped the slaughter. I had thought it was my son, but it was a thin hope. I tracked him down to a neighboring village. Poor kid was terrified, but I managed to get some information out of him.
“He said two people had destroyed our home. Beasts that looked human anyway. I had heard of such things, but never believed the stories. Ghosts ho stalk the night causing nothing but chaos and pain for their own enjoyment. Then a crone, who was taking care of the boy, said she knew that he was talking about. She said she had seen these beasts.
“Apparently, while she was out foraging for nightly flowers and mushrooms she came across this destroyed mansion and garden shed. It started to rain, which made traveling for her more difficult. So she took shelter here, but through the rain she started to see movement in the mansion. I don’t know what compelled her, but she went to investigate.
“That’s when she saw them. Two beings were dancing in the rain and ruins. So I’m here for them. I’ve been waiting for three weeks for it to rain again, just hoping those things will show up.”
“And you’re going to kill them?” Adelphos asked astonished.
“But if they’re ghosts or monsters, they can’t die.”
“Anything can die,” Kokes insisted.
Adelphos swallowed his last chunk of cheese. “It did feel like it was going to rain.”
“I know,” Kokes said stoic again.
They sat in silence for a time. Kokes didn’t seem bothered by it, but Adelphos couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable now. Every time he thought about another topic he held his tongue.
A light rain started to fall. Adelphos could barely see it in the darkness outside, but he heard it on the roof.
Kokes heard it too. He stood and just started out the window with his arms crossed.
“Do you see anything?” Adelphos asked tentatively.
The rain picked up to a steady pour.
“Not yet,” Kokes huffed. “I need to get closer.”
Kokes took the bow and quiver from the bed.
“Now?” Adelphos said standing.
“Yes, now,” Kokes insisted touching the long dagger at his hip. “Stay here.”
Kokes opened the shed door and rushed out into the rain, heedless of Adelphos’s protests.
Adelphos sat on his pot again, hugging his knees. He usually found the sound of rain calming. At least he did back home. Out in the forest, with supposed beats on the loose, it did nothing to calm his shaking nerves.
He stood and paced around a bit. His heard pounded with every step, and his hands trembled. Stopping at the only window he saw what was left of the mansions Kokes had talked about. He could only make out smudges that were piles of rubble.
He couldn’t see anything else. No lights or movement. Adelphos forced a breath, trying and failing to calm down.
He hoped Kokes would be back soon, though it already felt like an eternity had passed.
He left the window and went to sit but turned around again. He couldn’t sit now, he could barely sit still.
A scream ripped through the night air.
Adelphos froze, listening to the rain again over his thudding heart.
He didn’t imagine that, it had been too drawn out, filled with pain.
He was outright gasping now, trying to gain enough air.
Creeping to the window again Adelphos still couldn’t see anything.
That had been Kokes, he was sure of it. The hunter was probably hurt and bleeding, or worse. He could still be alive though. He could need help.
Swallowing his nerves Adelphos touched the door. He didn’t want to go out there, everything was telling his to stay, but Kokes could be hurt. The stranger had been kind enough to share food and shelter. Adelphos wanted to know if he was okay, and he couldn’t handle waiting around.
Taking the hooded lamp from the table Adelphos hurried outside before he could stop himself.
He faltered once the cold rain touched his skin. He could hardly make out more than smudges of rubble that was the ruined mansion.
As he grew closer the piles of rubbles gained more definition of stone, burned wood, and broken bits of everything. He even passed half of a torn bed.
The place was dead and cold. No movement, no noise. Adelphos wanted to call out to Kokes but couldn’t. It may have been silent, except for the soft rain, but his mind kept conjuring horrible creatures hiding just out of the lights reach.
He almost did turn back when he turned a corner around a half destroyed wall and saw them.
Kokes was on his knees struggling to get up. Adelphos saw him clutching at his chest, and the dark blood pouring through his fingers.
What prevented Adelphos from running to the downed hunter were the two dancing around him.
A tall man with long black hair and a woman with even longer red hair held each other as they waltzed around the dying man.
Their movements were skilled and fluid, graceful. Neither was bothered by the rain, and the woman was even barefoot.
Adelphos stumbled back, every nerve telling his to run, and he was about to, when he kicked a rock which caused a tiny avalanche on the rubble beside him.
The two froze mid-step and immediately turned to the noise. The man smiled and the woman outright beamed when they saw him.
“Hello there,” the woman said stepping out of the man’s embrace.
The silver of a tiny scythe, which hung at her hip, caught his lamp light.
The man reached into his cloak but Adelphos didn’t see what he withdrew.
He turned and tried to bolt behind the wall again, but a sharp pain pierced into his left leg.
He screamed as he fell clutching at the pain. He saw the hilt of a dagger sticking out of his calf.
As he watched the man lowered his raised arm, relaxing after throwing the knife perfectly.
The woman untied the small scythe as she stepped closer.
Adelphos scrambled back, begging, but she swung.
The scythe grew in length around him. The handle had only been a foot or so long before, not it was seven feet in length, and the equally large blade kissed the back of his neck as he looked up to them.
The woman’s red eyes burned with excitement, but the man held a cool reserve as he joined them.
The man came up behind the woman, placing his hands on her waist as he asked, “What are you planning?”
“Poor boy tried to run. Want to take his feet first?” she replied leaning back into him.
“We could break his ankles,” the man suggested. “Wait, I’m curious about something.”
“What?” she asked.
“How were they about to see us so easily?”
“The shadow trick isn’t that strong if they’re already looking for us,” she explained.
“They knew we’d be here. There could be more,” he concluded. “Maybe we should make this quick.”
“Why?” she asked disappointed.
“We can still use him as bait,” he said.
“You want to lay a trap?” She was growing excited again.
The blade behind Adelphos vanished as she pulled the scythe away from him. She swung again immediately aiming it towards his throat.
Adelphos felt the cold pain again slice through his throat. All he could taste was coppery blood. He clutched at his neck, but it did nothing to stop the blood pouring out of him. He slumped over, trying to scream, trying to breathe, but failing.
The last thing he saw was the woman playfully darting away from the man, and he went to chase her.