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 3 — extended, w/o AI)

[ Continuation from Part 3 — AI extended edition. I did not use much of what the AI suggested, as it was largely summary, and ignored/bypassed details that will be important when conflict arises. So, instead, I concentrated on getting the villagers ready for the journey and will (in the next post) focus on the journey (as suggested by the AI) and have our hidden antagonists show their hairy (possibly fanged) faces. Enjoy. ]

Arianna hoisted a traveling bag over her shoulder and nodded at Rhinna. The older woman had been kind enough to supply traveling clothes and accouterments necessary to make the two-day trek to Freehold. All the other villagers hastened to grab their essentials as the sun was drifting low in the sky.

“How are we going to make it safely to Freehold without the protection of the Aldewater tree?”

Rhinna pointed toward a medallion hanging around her neck. “We each have one of these.” Opening it, inside was a golden seed. “These are seeds of the Aldewater tree. They provide some protection from the night demons.” Despite her saying this, her demeanor did not convey much confidence. The older woman dug into a bag and produced a medallion. She handed it to Arianna. “Take this and wear it. I hope it will do you more for you than it did my sister.”

Arianna took the medallion and hung it around her neck. “If you don’t mind, can you tell me what happened?”

“She wandered off two nights ago when her dog ran into the woods. We found her yesterday.”

“Did the night demons get her?”

Rhinna sniffed back a tear. “I don’t think so, but she was hanging from a tree.”

“Oh, how awful. But how do you know it wasn’t the demons.”

“Because she was hanging from the tree by her medallion. No demon could have come that close to her to have done it. She either killed herself, or someone else did it.”

Arianna ran her fingers over the medallion. “Did Dathon and his followers have medallions?”

“No,” Rhinna replied after a pause. “At least I didn’t see any.” She shouldered her travel bag. “We must get going to reach the Great Falls, the halfway point to Freehold.”

Magnus reappeared. “We’re ready to go, Rhinna.” The older woman nodded and then followed him into the village square. Arianna followed along as well. The huddled mass of villagers stood with bags over their shoulders and, in some cases holding children’s hands. All of whom looked terrified. The adults did not look much better, with long faces and nervous eyes.

“We must make it to Great Falls before dark. Do not wander off, and don’t fall behind. We can’t stop for stragglers. Fill your water skins. Magnus will hand out what weapons we have, so don’t lose them. There are not enough of them to go around, so only one per family. Line up by the tree.”

The villagers did as they were told, shuffling over to where Magnus stood. A pile of bows, arrows, staves, spears and short swords lay behind him. He began handing out a weapon to each group that approached. Slowly the line began to shorten, and Arianna moved to join it.

Rhinna pulled Arianna aside, “Have you ever handled a blade?”

“Only to cook with. I am pretty good with a bow, however. I placed second at regionals in college.”

“I don’t really understand. Does that mean you bow hunted before?”

“Uh, no, it was paper targets at a distance.”

Rhinna frowned. “We’re limiting the bows to experienced hunters.” She turned to Magnus, “Hand me a spear.” The man did so, and she handed it to Arianna.

Despite her best efforts, Arianna couldn’t suppress her disappointment. “I supposed I can handle a stick.”

“Don’t be like that. Spears are very important. All of these are made from Aldewater wood. A few of the arrows are as well.” She produced an arrow from a nearby quiver. “See the red fletching on this?” Arianna nodded. “This is an Aldewater arrow. If you find one of these, grab it. The heads are sharpened Aldewater wood. Useless for hunting but good against demons. But we only have a few, so they are precious.” Replacing the arrow, she pulled her blade. The six-inch blade gleamed in the sunlight. “See this symbol?” she said, pointing at the tree symbol on the pommel.

“Yes. I take it that has something to do with the Aldewater tree?”

“When the blades were forged, they are quenched in Aldewater oil, which makes them dangerous to demons.”

The last of the weapons were handed out. “Gather on the north trail,” Magnus shouted out. The mass of villagers moved through the village toward the northern outskirts. Magnus and Rhinna sorted them out. Experienced hunters, both men and women, stood on the group’s periphery. Caretakers for the children formed in the center.

Rhinna directed Arianna into the center of the column. “You stay here.”

Arianna leaned close to Rhinna.” What are our chances of making Great Falls before dark?”

The older woman noted the sun’s position, hovering just above the treetops. “We’ll be very blessed if we do, but the fact remains, we have no other option than to try.”

Magnus stood at the head of the column as Rhinna joined him. “March,” he called out. Together the crowd of humanity trudged up the trail as rays of sunlight lanced through the surrounding trees. Shadows cast by the trees crept slowly but relentlessly out of the underbrush.

[ Next post continues story here. ]