GFD: Veronto’s Tale

 (Halloween Story!)

Hi everyone! This is just a little story I came up on a whim for Halloween! This is a stand-alone tale and it’s very short, and it’s meant to be read as if the main character is recalling his memories! But I hope you guys enjoy it! Thanks for reading, and please add a comment! Thanks! Happy Halloween! Mweheehhehahahahaahahhacoughcough!!

It was very cold. I had come fearing the spears of the enemy, yet it was not a day into the campaign that I soon learned my worst enemy was to be the breath of the mountains. The men talked about the war coming to an end soon, and I hoped it so. For already we had traveled a long journey; from Roma through the Hadriaticum and into Northern Macedonia where we were stationed at the ready for Dacia. I was not drafted into a war so much as a struggling hike between the mountains and the icy winds. A needless journey across the woods, some of the men said. For we started with seventy men strong in our company, and now the dark forested mountain pass had claimed thirty. But we had no choice in all this. For any of us. There never was. Yet I, like the others. . . remained steadfast. Our ideals still prevailed. I was ready to fight. For my people. For Roma. . . for my Aelius.

I had only seen sixteen winters. And I feared this would be my last.

My need was our emperor. But my motivation was Aelius. Having been but two years younger than I, Aelius stayed behind in the safety of Roma. Every day of our journey I reminded myself of him. The brightness of his eyes. The beauty of his smile. The gold of his hair. The soft touch of his hands. I reminded myself of our carefree days in my father’s field. Where the sky shone as blue as his eyes. And only the tall wheat matched the gold of his hair. How my skin prickled when I heard his laughter fill the warm air. I remembered when I first saw him. . . how awestruck I had been by his beauty. I stared at him from afar. He was of the better sort, and took academic lessons in the academy where I went but to train for war. I remember the flutter my heart gave when he began to watch me from afar as I parried with wooden swords in the academy halls. I shall never forget the dreamy haze of his eyes, as he stood by a pillar and watched me train. His memories brought me warmth – but none as much as our last day together. When we vowed we would see each other soon again, and sealed our promise with a tender kiss between the tall wheat, as it swayed in the warm breeze.

“Veronto. Gather your things. We move out again,” I was abruptly transported from those warm fields to the chilling blizzard that enveloped my body. Our cloaks did little to hinder the cold wind between these mountain passes, yet I wrapped it tighter around myself as I rose to my feet. We had been resting for only twenty minutes before we were ordered to set out again. As I understood, we should have reached an outpost two days ago. Yet this sudden blizzard brought us ill fortune; for we have lost our way and are now running low in rations. We no longer sent out scouts up ahead to survey for the outpost, for each time we had sent one out. . . none had returned. The last two scouts we had sent out were now gone more than three days. So it had been of much surprise to us all when we found a body lying in our path. It was one of the scouts. He was still alive.

I suppose, being one of the younger soldiers, I was given the duty along with another to nurse him into speaking health. It took another three days before he uttered a single word. Many times I feared he would fall into a dark sleep never to return. To the curiosity of all, he would begin to tremble and shake and mumble only during the darkest part of the nights. In daylight he slept as peacefully as the emperor in his warm bed. I wondered much at this, but on the third day, he finally spoke.

“Do not. . . no. . . not. . . the. . .!”

Many of us glanced at each other with apprehension. But the more veteran of the men thought little of this, or they thought much – but remained silent.

The news he brought with him after an absence of five days was more chilling than this blizzard; tales and rumors of some creatures from the underworld that captured lost travelers as they journeyed through these forests and mountain passes. He claimed that the other scout had become victim to these. . . these night spirits, on their second night. They had been resting after a fast march through the night, when they heard soft whispering in the shadows between the trees. He told us that the whispers sent a chilling bolt through his spine and it had nothing to do with the cold. Most told him that he was delusional, others thought the little wine we had given him was speaking for him. But the rest of the news he brought was more heartening; for a few leagues from where we stood was an open pass that led down to a valley and a small town loyal to the emperor. He said it wouldn’t be more than a weeks’ march from where we stood. We would be safe soon. . . if only we survived the mountain pass.

It may be that my mind began to play tricks on me however, after the scout gave us his news. Or perhaps the whispers were always there, in the shadows – and it required only a slight change in one’s perspective to find what was missing but always there. But I began to hear the rustling of snow late at night as we rested, just outside our camps. These noises became more insistent as we journeyed forward. And I knew better than to think it was a wolf, for they never made any noise near their prey. Yet these rustlings sounded more. . . intelligent, than that of an animal. There was a specific pattern that I gathered after two nights and hours listening into the night. I got little rest. I felt a fear that had nothing to do with war or the cold. It was during those two nights that I yearned for Aelius the most.

But it wasn’t until the third night, when I saw two crimson lights like small orbs shine in the shadow of the trees that I decided to speak to the captain.

“Veronto. . . you are young, yes. But take it from one with more experience that the mind begins to play tricks on you when you are thrown into a pinch, like we now are,” he smiled gravely at me and then leaned down to whisper, “But a prudent mind is always an asset,” he then told me if I would like to keep first watch tonight. I readily agreed.

It was the first time in days that the cold wasn’t the single constant thought in my mind. Something else had taken over my mind. I could almost feel a presence surrounding us in these dark woods. Strangely. . . I only felt it at night. It made me uneasy. But I had taken to holding the small wooden pendant necklace Aelius had made for me before we parted. Somehow I felt that where our sharp blades would fail; this necklace would be my grace. For it brought me comfort in an otherwise dark world.

I began to hear whispers in the shadows. At first I thought they came from the men as they spoke in the corners of the camp. But when I stood and took count, I noted that all were resting. I strained my ears, and made certain that the whispering I heard came indeed from the woods themselves at the edges of the camp. The whispers sent chills through my skin. Though I understood not why. Nor could I discern what these whispers said. All I could see and feel was the cold, and the dark, and the reddish tint our feeble fire made in the center of the camp. The shadows these flames cast had now begun to play tricks on my mind. Many times I attempted to take my captain’s advice; and see to it that I did not let my imagination take control. I was a soldier. . . a soldier of Roma, and I should not let something like a fear of the dark take over my heart.

But this. . . this was no natural darkness.

I will never understand why, but I began to perspire ever so lightly. . . my heartbeat was loud and strong. The whispers. . . they became more insistent. . . haunting me. . . taunting me. And then I heard the first discernable words. . .

“. . . dierom romanumae. . .”

“egredio! . . . diero destim carem silvae!”

As our language it sounded. . . yet. . . different. But it sent a jolt to my heart.

“. . . ire, e videre si derent pregosereae. . .”

“. . .soliover sagroderevorem!”

I shall never forget those words so long as I live. It was as if the very words themselves were cursed; forever destined to be echoed in my mind.

“. . . liero videreo. . .”

Another whisper. I understood nothing save that they were speaking of seeing something. Whatever they spoke, it was as if they had taken our language and perverted it with this very darkness. I tightened my grip on the necklace and reached for my blade. But the moment my fingers touched the handle, the whispers ceased, and all was silent once more. I felt as if my heart had stopped.

I could not rest that entire night, even after I had been relieved of my watch for the night. The whispers were etched in my mind. In the frigid cold they sounded calm and collected. Whoever they were. . . they did not attack us, and it only made my fears worsen – for it meant they were still near.

I did not know when it happened, but I must have fallen asleep some time during the morning. But I was awoken with a start; there was much commotion in the camp. My fears had been confirmed. . . three men had disappeared during the night.

We did not understand how it happened, even with our watches. But there were three men gone, and not a single trace of them remained. There had been no noise to rouse any of us, no tracks had been left, not even the twigs or bare grass blades left us any clue as to where they might have gone. It was as if they had vanished. It was the first time I truly feared I may never see Aelius. I would break our promise.

In the relative brightness of the day, and as the others searched for the men in the area as we prepared to move out once more, I decided to scout the area of trees where I knew the whispers had come from during the night. I worked fast, for already my companions were drawing nearer and ruining the area with their own tracks. But what I found chilled my heart once more.

I found nothing.

It was not possible. Not a single twig or leaf or grass blade, or snow track had been touched or moved. I was confident enough in my ranger skills to know human tracks when I saw them. . . and I saw nothing here. Yet. . . I knew I had heard voices coming from here. . . and I felt their presence coming from these very spots.

After some of my fellow companions passed through, whatever tracks I might have found were now ruined by the clumsiness of our feet.

I did not understand it. Something else was at work here. I wanted nothing more to inform our captain of all I thought – but I feared that already he was keeping an eye on me after my comments the day before. If he thought my state was not right, I could be put down. A dysfunctional soldier was useless in the battlefield.

We never found any clue as to those three lost men. We had already wasted more time than was wise, so we set out again.

I pondered as we journeyed. I wondered what those whispers meant. I wondered why I felt no presence as we walked throughout the day. It bothered me much. I kept Aelius’s necklace in my hand.

That night, I offered to keep first watch. But I was denied this request. Yet I did not fall asleep right away. As the talk of the men around me died down, I again felt that presence begin to surround us. It was ominous this time. I kept my eyes wide open, but saw little in the darkness. So I strained my ears for any noise. It was later in the night that I heard more whisperings. There must have been many of these. . . creatures. We were surrounded.

I quickly sat up from where I rested. I looked around our camp in a circle. A dread spread across my heart. There were lights, crimson lights. . . orbs floating in the air all around us, between the trees. Many of them. They were eyes.

I quickly roused the camp. Immediately the soldiers stood and unsheathed their blades. Suddenly the crimson lights flickered around us and went out, as if they were candle lights. The others now knew that we were surrounded, for we all stood in a circling stance facing the woods around us. Then we heard the shifting of snow as many of these creatures moved around us. Before we even realized it, before our captain could formulate a plan – we were being attacked head on. . . in a huge circle, as if we were being herded like cattle. In all the commotion of the yelling, the darkness, the bumping of bodies back and forth. . . I had no chance to make a strike. Indeed, I feared to strike one of my companions in the dark. But now we could clearly discern other figures in the dark around us; and we began to hear the yells and cries of men. . . cries of sheer pain. I saw some men drop their weapons and run into the forest. . . only to be surrounded by these dark figures. I heard hissings. . . and I saw flashes of crimson here and there all around me. It was maddening. But I had not seen the worst of it all.

For the moon made her appearance for the first time in nights. . . and her yellow glow cast an image of utter fear into my heart as the events unfolded in front of me. These creatures. . . they were other men and women! But their skins were as pale as the moonlight, and their eyes glowed crimson. . . and. . . and they had fangs, like wolves! They ran at the soldiers and they jumped on their backs and bit into their necks! Blood poured out from their bites. It was then that I saw pools of blood saturating into the white snow all around me. Athena be with them all. . . we were being slaughtered!

I stood, frozen. I looked back and forth as I saw the last of my comrades be killed by these demons of the night. I was utterly alone, and utterly surrounded. My heart beat so hard that I thought it would burst. I thought no longer of the cold. Visions of my sweet Aelius swam through my mind. . . I would never see him again. . .

The figures slowly circled in front of me. This was it. . . even if I could take down a few of them, the rest would surround me and kill me where I stood. They were dressed in light robes, even in the winter cold. They were now all looking upon me, their eyes glowed with that crimson light. I had never seen such thing – never heard such a thing. . . as to what had just happened tonight. My mind swam with thoughts. . . my life. . . Aelius. . . my companions spread out dead about me.

I took a few steps back and I stumbled and fell to the snowy ground. Just then a shrill hissing noise ensued next to me. I turned my head in fear. . . and saw with a shock that it came from a young boy. . . not much younger than Aelius. But he had dark hair. . . and his eyes glowed with that eerie crimson light as he stood above me. There was blood all over his mouth and neck and robes. The young boy looked as if he was ready to strike at me.

“egredio,” a deep voice commanded. The boy was stopped.

I looked behind him at one of the men. I could see his fangs clearly shrink back into his mouth. It was almost sickening to watch as he licked his lips of the blood that remained there. But he looked down at me. . . down at the necklace I held, and then into my eyes. He stared at me for a long moment. Then he looked around him at the others. He reached out a hand. I flinched.

When nothing happened, I opened my eyes once more. He gestured for me to stand. I quickly scrambled to my feet. I quickly looked back and forth around me. I felt like a small animal surrounded by predators.

As the man watched me stand, his eyes began to glow once more. . . but this time it was a slightly golden color. I awed at the glow. I had never seen such a thing. It somehow reminded me of Aelius once more. Then, he spoke.

“ire. . . ire vissi teum nostereae. non vanreun teus evere. . .”*

I did not understand a word he said. Save the first words. . . which I knew must mean that I was allowed to go. I glanced at all the figures standing about me one last time, and with my heart still pumping. . . I took one step back, and when they did not move. . . I turned and ran.

I ran and ran, and I never looked back at those mountains. The whispers I heard those nights would echo in my mind for the rest of my life. I would never find out what they had said, I would never know what evil that man had said to me that caused all the others around him to stop and let me go. Indeed the words were cursed, and I promised myself if I reached my home safely I would never utter those words I heard, so long as I lived. But, it was a few weeks later – and through much struggle and hardship when, as I climbed a brown hill filled with wheat, that I finally saw his head turn. . . and his smile was like the rising of the golden sun.

The end

*“Go. . . go to the one you love.

Do not break your promise. . .”

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