Through the Door (part 5 — consolidated)

[ Inspired by what the AI suggested, here’s a continuation of the story from part 4. ]

Arianna’s heart beat faster. There were at least two dozen of the creatures lurking in the darkness just outside the cave opening. “What do we do?”

“Fight,” Rhinna said firmly. “They must not get beyond the entrance, or we’re all doomed.”

She motioned to groups of villagers near the entrance. “You, you, and you bring your spears,” she said. “Form a line. Four to the left and three to the right. Two behind. Arianna, Magnus, and I will be in the center. When we strike, do it quickly, and don’t let them get too close.”

Long clawed fingers crept over the stones lining the entrance, behind which the demons’ low forms slipped into the cave’s torchlight. Crooked and hairy, the dog-like bodies glistened. In the harsh light, their pupils contracted. Low growls and hissing echoed off the walls. A chill carried in the air.

The young woman hardly had time to think of how scared she was before a shrill screech pierced the air. The demons charged forward, and without thinking, She lunged forward with her spear. 

With a sickening thunk, the spear plunged into the body of the closest creature. Black ichor oozed from the wound, and the demon grabbed the spear. But when it touched the shaft, a sizzling cut through the air and the acrid scent of brimstone cut through the air. The creature shrieked even louder as it jerked back. 

“Forward,” Rhinna shouted. At her command, the villagers yelled, charging the demons. Rhinna and Arianna ran with them, thrusting spears at the beasts. 

Snapping and snarling, the creatures retreated, slipping and sliding across the stone floor until they leaped back through the opening.

Arianna let out a shuddering breath and lowered her spear. Her heart still raced.

Rhinna turned and smiled at her. “You did great, young one,” she said, then clapped the young woman on the shoulder. “Now, let’s get everyone settled and get some rest. We’ll depart at dawn.”

Arianna nodded and returned to her travel bag, relieved they had survived. The villagers were safe – for the moment. But she’d gotten one step closer to escaping this world and on her way home. As she sat on the floor, Rhinna approached.

“We’re going to take turns standing watch at the entrance. We’ll let you know when it’s your turn.”

“Okay. Can I ask you some questions?”

Rhinna nodded and knelt next to her. “What do you want to know?”

“The demons. Have they always roamed around freely at night?”

“For as long as I can remember and as far back as my parents’ and grandparents’ time as well.”

“Where do they go during the day?”

“They appear to hide in the deepest and darkest areas of Aldewater, such as Shadow Valley and Graymoor Forest. No one knows, and those who have tried to find out often don’t return.”

“How do Dathon and his followers stay safe from them?”

“I presume it’s because of the Aldewater tree magic in his staff.”

Arianna yawned widely.

“Better get some sleep,” Rhinna said, patting her knee. “Your turn on watch is in a couple of hours.”

The young woman nodded as Rhinna stood. Before Rhinna went to rejoin Magnus, she’d fallen asleep.”

Magnus nodded toward Arianna. “You think she’ll take Dathon with her?”

“I just need her to get me close.” The older woman thumbed the hilt of her knife. “We’ll be rid of him, one way or another.”

“And if she tries to stop you?” he asked, pursing his lips.

Rhinna glanced at the young woman. “That would be unfortunate.”

[ Going to try AI suggestions for the journey from Great Falls to Freehold. Stay tuned. ]

Through the Door (part 4 with AI suggestions)

[ I let the AI suggest what happens next ( from part 4) without any direction or suggestion from me. Also note this is raw, unmodified output. ]

ALTERNATE 1:

“What do we do?” Magnus asked.

“Fight,” Rhinna said firmly.

She motioned to the villagers. “You, you and you, take spears,” she said, pointing to the villagers with weapons. “Form a line here. You four go to the left, three to the right. Two behind them, then me and Arianna in the back. We’ll need to stay light on our feet and strike quickly. Don’t let them get too close to us.”

The villagers rushed to do as they were told. Arianna stepped beside Rhinna, gripping her spear tightly. The night demons growled and hissed menacingly.

“On my mark,” Rhinna shouted. “Now!”

At her command, the villagers yelled, charging the demons. Rhinna and Arianna ran behind them, thrusting spears at the beasts. The night demons retreated, snapping their teeth and growling.

The fight seemed to last forever as the villagers and Rhinna and Arianna parried and thrust with their spears, eventually pushing the monsters back. Panting and sweating, the two women watched them retreat into the night.

Rhinna clapped her hands. “Well fought, everyone. The night demons have been driven away.” She turned to Arianna. “Thanks to you, we all made it out of here alive.”

Arianna nodded, relieved they had survived and the villagers were safe. “Let’s get some rest and head out in the morning.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Rhinna said.

The

ALTERNATE 2:

Arianna’s heart beat faster. There were at least two dozen of the creatures lurking in the darkness. “What do we do?”

“We hold them back until the villagers are safely inside,” Magnus said determinedly. He pointed at Arianna, Rhinna and a few other strong men. “You four ready the spears and then, on my command, charge the demons.”

Arianna hardly had time to think of how scared she was before a shrill screech pierced the air. The demons charged forward, and without thinking, Arianna launched her spear forward. The demon ahead of her yelped in pain as the spear penetrated its body with a sickening thud. The others followed suit, and soon enough, the demons retreated back into the night.

Rhinna placed her hands on her hips and then let out a relieved chuckle. “That was too close.”

Arianna nodded, shaking and still unsure of what had just happened.

Rhinna turned to Magnus. “Now that that’s settled, let’s get these people to the King’s refuge.”

“Yes, let’s go.” Magnus said, waving at the villagers. “Gather your belongings, and we’ll begin our journey.”

The villagers quickly complied, gathering their meager possessions and huddling together for protection. As the group began to move, Arianna grabbed her travel bag and followed close behind, still shaken by the encounter.

She had agreed to this journey, but still, she could not believe the risks they were taking. Still, she had to prove her worth

ALTERNATE 3:

Arianna swallowed hard, her heart racing as the creatures edged toward them. Magnus stepped up and began reinforcing their position with an aura of confidence. Amulets and staffs in hand, Rhinna, Magnus and the villagers chanted a ward of protection.

The chanting lit the air around them as the night demons edged closer, then stopped as if meeting an unseen barrier. After what seemed an eternity of chanting, the creatures retreated, fleeing across the clearing and out of sight.

Arianna let out a shuddering breath and lowered her spear. Rhinna turned and smiled at her. “You did great, young one,” she praised.

Arianna blushed and nodded. “Thank you.”

Rhinna clapped her on the shoulder. “Now, let’s get everyone settled and get some rest. We’ll depart at dawn.”

Arianna nodded and returned to her travel bag. She’d gotten one step closer to escaping this world, and soon she’d be on her way home.

[ Analysis/Commentary – A little rough, but I was impressed by some of the specifics suggested. I might actually use a fair amount of it, in the next post. ]

Through the door (part 4) w/o AI

[ Continued from here. Still no AI extension associated with this, though I threw in what AI suggested for a picture at the end. Generally speaking, I find AI art to be rather horrifying mockeries of what passes for art. But that’s just me. I wanted to get the storyline into an action scene to see what the AI will suggest. Stay tuned for that in the next post. ]

The column of villagers snaked out of the ruins of their homes and up the forested trail. As hours passed, the group paused periodically for short breaks. Yet, the pace was relentless as the group moved deeper into the forested landscape. Some villagers struggled to keep up despite the warnings, lingering behind the main body. They were mainly older men and women with few exceptions, and the few villagers burdened with small children.

At one of the stops, Arianna finally spoke to Rhinna. “What are you going to do about the stragglers?”

“They know the consequences. We can’t stop for anyone.”

“That’s not fair. Can’t we have some hunters stay behind to escort them to the falls?”

“No, I will not risk losing our few hunters over those who can’t keep up.”

“But some of them are women and children. They deserve a chance.”

Rhinna set her jaw. “I know it’s not fair, but helping them means risking everyone’s chances to reach safety.”

Biting back her disgust, Arianna chose to not argue the point. No reason anyone had to be sacrificed just to make it to the falls. “Can you tell me anything about the King or Freehold?”

“Freehold is simply where King Anthirian lives. He is a good man, though not as wise as he thinks he is.” She glanced at Magnus. “It’s fair to say that is not an uncommon issue with most men.”

“I certainly agree with that,” Arianna commented. “What can he do to help me return to my world?”

“He can help you capture Dathon and release the Aldewater magic that the man has stolen. That should allow you to use the book to open a portal back to your own world.” Rhinna leaned close to her. “I want you to promise you’ll leave the book before you go and take Dathon with you.”

Leaving behind the book would mean never returning to Aldewater, which was fine with her. Taking Dathon with her sounded ideal if he wanted to come. “What if he doesn’t want to leave?”

“It would be better for everyone if he did, but if he doesn’t willingly, there might be consequences,” Rhinna said, fingering the knife’s handle in her belt.

The meaning couldn’t be more apparent. “Understood.” He’d have to listen to reason, right? Still, why did he leave her and come here? What would she say and do when they met? It was so confusing. She’d finally come to terms with him being gone, only to find him here. Did she mean nothing to him? “Wait, what about this other woman you said looks like me and is with him. What do you make of that?”

“I have no idea. You look identical, but you’re not. This other ‘Arianna’ is vicious and cruel. I don’t know if she’s a corrupted reflection of you in some way or a manifestation of Dathon’s Aldewater magic. The King knows more about Aldewater magic than anyone.”

“Whoever or whatever she is,” Arianna replied, “I don’t know how she’ll react to me or let me near Dathon.”

“We’ll deal with her once we find Dathon,” Rhinna answered.

Magnus tugged on Rhinna’s arm. “We need to get going.” She nodded. “Let’s go,” Magnus shouted. A cascading series of shouts repeated the message up and down the column.

The sun traced a path across the sky until it sank below the treetops. Despite pauses in the march, at least a dozen villagers fell off the pace, drifting so far behind they could no longer be seen. Ahead of them, rushing water could be heard. The outline of ridgelines could be seen through gaps in the trees. The air also grew noticeably colder.

“The falls must be near,” Arianna commented.

“We’re still several miles away,” Rhinna replied. She glanced at the sharply slanting rays of sunlight and increasing shadows. “We should still make it before dark.”

Darkness continued to increase as the rays of sunlight faded. After a sharp turn in the path, rushing water sounds reached thunderous levels. A broad rocky outflow of water crossed the trail from a plunge pool, fed by a waterfall plunging off a rocky projection two hundred feet above them. Long vertical lines of water roared downward in a sinuous and relentless manner. Cool droplets of water filled the air.

Arianna had never seen anything like it before and stood staring. Rhinna and Magnus, on the other hand, began shouting. “Time’s wasting. Quickly, fill your water skins, and line up behind us.” The villagers did as they were told, and soon a long line formed behind the two leaders. Picking their way carefully through the large rocks surrounding the plunge pool, Rhinna and Magnus followed a narrow trail behind the waterfall.

Following the mass of villagers, Arianna wiped moisture out of her eyes. She stepped past the rushing water to discover a wide cave opening into the rock face. Rhinna stood on one side of the entrance and Magnus on the other. Together the two pulled each village into the cave. Darkness surrounded them until a torch flared to light at the feet of a villager who stood over it with a flint and stone. In rapid succession, other torches already mounted along the walls were soon lit, casting the cavern into view. The pinkish-yellow walls of the cave rose high and deep into the rockface and flowed into a large chamber. The villagers entered the open area and found places to sit next to the walls and stalagmites protruding from the floor.

As Arianna looked about at the wonders of the cave, shouts carried from the entrance. She turned to find Magnus pulling a few more villagers inside and yelling at them, “Hurry.” Screams followed villagers running further into the cave.

“Spear carriers come to the entrance,” Magnus bellowed.

Arianna started, remembering suddenly that she had such a weapon. Dropping her travel bag, she slipped the spear out and ran toward the entrance. A deep-throated growling greeted her as she approached. Just beyond the cave opening, reddish orbs floated in the darkness. It wasn’t until she stood next to Rhinna that she could determine what they were: reptilian-like eyes with very dark irises set into faces with hairy snouts.

“Night demons,” Rhinna said, thumbing her amulet.