All Things True – Preview

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Amidst the evening gloom of the Seaforth Flats, they called out for the lost centaur maiden to no avail. Their cries echoed back on themselves or drifted away, lost in the thickening reek.

“We must take care,” Laene said, “there may be Behemoths abroad. They rarely travel alone.”

Willow moved before the other two, using the light cast by the thule’s blade as a makeshift torch against the encroaching dark. Night creatures croaked and brayed from out of sight, confusing their shouts so that Yirae might not know her friends were looking for her. At least, that was how it seemed to Willow. She wondered how paranoid it was to think the nocturnal fauna might be in league to the Lamia. There was no way to know for sure.

Suddenly, a high voice cut through the night’s chorus. Laene and Viril pushed past Willow in reply. It was Yirae. Willow trudged after them through the water-logged ground. This was heavy-going. Catching up with her companions, she held the thule up on high and illuminated a diorama of light and darkness at play with one another.

There was Yirae – with a bundle of sticks in her arms cantering towards them. Emerging out of the gloom on either side were No-men. Behind, dripping with water and weeds, was a Behemoth. Willow felt sure it was the one that passed herself and Laene by earlier that day.

The centaur cried out piteously. Her eyes were wide and weeping. Willow moved to intervene. The thule burning bright in her hands, drawing spiteful hisses from the gathering No-men, driving them back. The Behemoth kept on coming. A hand reached down and snared Yirae between its fingers, lifting the centaur maiden clear of the ground. She bucked, thrashed and whinnied against its tightening grip. Her bundle of sticks scattering as a dry rain.

She was out of reach. There was nothing Willow could do. Laene and Viril were staring numbly at their sister-kin, paralysed by the sight of her approaching fate.

Willow dashed through the broken ground ahead. She could not cut Yirae free but if she could cut the Behemoth’s legs, then there might be a chance.

Mist and shadow surged into her path. The No-men had not retreated. The first children of the Lamia had pulled back and formed themselves into a Great No. The air smouldered and flared as Willow tried to cut her way through. Her breath was catching in her throat. Sobs were escaping. Her eyes were streaming with tears as she fought against black flux and obsidian tide – but it did not good. The Great No was strong, fed the despair and ruin of the land, and she could not turn it aside. Willow fell into a crouch, using the thule to brace herself against their dismal hunger – so eager to consume her, body and soul. There was no more she could do than this.

Looking up, she watched as the Behemoth’s mouth opened and Yirae, kicking and crying, was raised high above the chasm of its open throat. Its fingers began to come away from the centaur maiden one by one until she was held by forefinger and thumb alone.

Stillness. A breath. No-one moved.

The Behemoth’s forefinger and thumb went slack. Yirae was falling.

Her scream was cut off by teeth clashing shut and a wet smacking sound.

Pain vibrated through Willow as she imagined that she heard Yirae’s muffled cries as the Behemoth swallowed her, and she reached its stomach. The vibration intensified as pure fury is wont to do.

White light exploded out of her, scouring a path ahead, clearing away the Great No as the night retreats before dawn – and thundering into the Behemoth, which tottered and stumbled on its feet but remained upright.

Willow stared up at it as the surge she’d unleashed subsided. It looked back down at her with empty, dumb eyes. Where the No-men were malevolent, insidious and clever, the Behemoths were little more than a monstrous hunger. There was nothing behind those eyes, not even the Lamia’s will, and she found herself fearing these Behemoths more than their dark mistress. Without her, they would keep going; destroying all life. She wondered if that was the point – had the Lamia seen her death coming? Could the Behemoths have been created to send a message to Willow?

Even if you kill me, you will not destroy my legacy in this world.

Was evil forever as much as good?

The Behemoth was reaching for her and the other centaurs. There was no time to think on that now. She swept in, passing through the tunnel she’d carved through the Great No, ducking under the giant’s grasping fingers, and struck at its left ankle with all the force she could muster. The flesh separated and recombined, not bleeding a drop of blood. She could hear the whinnies and cries of her companions.

I must be swift and put an end to this.

Desperate, she drove the thule up to its hilt into the monster’s right ankle.

A tremor went through the thing that made the ground shake. The Great No scattered into No-men that fled into the mist. A groan escaped the Behemoth’s lips and she felt it sway, throwing her off-balance. She tried to draw the thule out again, but it was stuck fast, she could feel it grating against bone. Foul ichor was gushing out of the wounded flesh and she knew that she’d hit her mark – but she could not abandon her sword with it. Willow tugged and pulled. Her hands slithering off the hilt as it became slick with the Behemoth’s disgusting lifeblood.

The Behemoth took a step forward, then one back, and it was toppling towards her. Willow flung herself to one side; half-running, half- tumbling, hauling herself across the marshy ground, out of its way. It fell with a crash that sent a thick rain of water and soil surging into the air. Willow was spattered with it as she lay in the murk, catching her breath.

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