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Badlands III: Boat on the River
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

This contribution is part of a series:-
1. Badlands (5-Jun-2014)
A knight and a demon, on a mission to save a town from an unknown danger.
2. Badlands II: God of Wrath (16-Jul-2014)
Revisiting an old love, the knight finds her missing. Only the demon can help find her - and, if possible, to rescue her from where she is.
3. Badlands III: Boat on the River (3-Dec-2014)
Something strange is happening to the world and the knight and the demon must solve the problem if they are to survive.
4. Badlands IV: The Beginning (3-Jan-2015)
Where it all began - The demon, the knight and the beast meet each other for the first time.
5. Badlands V: The Hatching (8-Feb-2015)
About a mountain slope on a winter night, a lost girl, a meeting with an entity, and how something was created, immortal and dangerous.
6. Badlands VI, VII & VIII (7-Sep-2015)
Three new parts to the series.
7. Badlands IX: The Mountain God (31-Jul-2016)
An erupting volcano, a cult which lives on its slopes, and the knight, the beast and the demon must attempt a rescue mission.

Page 1

How long he had spent on the river, he had no way of guessing, because there was no day or night and no way to mark the time.

Under the lowering red sky, the blood of the river looked almost black, and when the bone of the paddle threw up drops which spattered on the hull of skin and sinew, they dried in streaks and blotches which reminded him of writing in some arcane language he didn't understand.

For longer than he cared to remember, the river's banks hadn't changed. The trees still bent their bare branches over the flowing blood. Things chattered and ran through the branches and along the riverbank, half-seen; things which looked like rats, but which he was sure weren't.

He was not good at paddling, and the boat was small and crude, so that it was unsteady in the sluggish current, and he was glad that the flow was not strong enough to tip him over. If he fell into the blood, in his armour he would sink like a stone. And, perhaps even more importantly, the book beside him would be lost.

He glanced down at the book frequently, as he paddled. It was the whole purpose of the journey, the key to everything. Or so the demon had told him.

Once or twice he looked over his shoulder, but he had long since lost sight of the old tower where he'd started on his journey and where he'd left the beast. Whenever he thought of it he felt a wrenching of regret that he'd had to leave it behind. He missed it much more than he could have believed possible.

The beast hadn't reacted, of course, when he'd said goodbye. It had stared out over the river with supreme indifference, and he was certain that it didn't care if it never saw him again.

The sky had been turning red for days as they had worked their way down from the mountains. Each morning, it would be a little redder, and each night the glow from the horizon would blot out the stars.

Even the demon had been uneasy, though she had done her best to mask it. "I've never seen this kind of thing before," she said, when he'd asked her. "At least not in...this world. Don't worry about it, it's probably nothing."

"Have you been this way before?" he asked, unsure if he was seeking reassurance or just out of curiosity.

"No," she answered shortly. "But, as I said, don't worry. It's likely nothing."

But as the days went by, the red glow overshadowed everything, until the night and day were one and there was neither sun, nor moon, nor stars. They could ask nobody about it, because the few villages they passed were abandoned, and clearly had been for some time. But sometimes the knight thought he could hear a crying far away, beyond the sullen red glow in the sky, as if the world was screaming in mortal agony, just over the horizon.

Then, possibly one morning, they had come down from the mountains and reached a high and desolate plateau. Once it must have been a battlefield. The evidence was all around, broken weapons and scattered bones. He'd stooped to examine some of the weapons, and found the lance.

It had been a very old lance, of wood so ancient that it had darkened to the colour of iron. And instead of being tipped with metal, it had a point of bone, which had been discoloured almost to the point where it was indistinguishable from the rest of the weapon.

He'd been about to touch the tip when the demon had stopped him. "Don't."

He'd looked at her, surprised. "Why not?"

"This isn't a good place," she'd said. "Even I can't protect you here, Man. We should get down from here at once, and down on the plain." She'd looked at the lance. "That thing is from a time so old that I have no knowledge about it, no idea of how to handle it. Everything here is like that. Have you looked at these bones?"

He'd felt a shiver play along his spine. "What about them?"

"They aren't human bones, or the bones of any creature I know. This place isold,Man, old and evil. We can't stay here." She'd taken the lance out of his hand effortlessly, and thrown it away. The tip had struck a rock, which hissed and bubbled. "See."

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:General Horror
Type:Short story
Rating:7.55 / 10
Rated By:11 users
Comments: 1 user
Total Hits:20688

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