196/366 – The Stranger at the Door

Day 54 of 100 Word Prompts: Surprise


“Zhen,” Meng whispered, waking him up from his dreams of the southern wastes.

“What is it?” Zhen asked, sitting up. “Is Cai here? Did the ice make it in?”

“No,” Meng said, shaking her head, confused. “Who’s Cai?”

“Nevermind,” Zhen replied, noticing the darkness in the window. “What happened? Do you need help?”

“I thought I heard something outside,” Meng replied.

“It’s the middle of the night on Mourning Day, no one could be out there,” Zhen said. “As you said, the ice claims everything.”

“It’s after midnight,” Meng said as the sound of cracking echoed through the door, followed by what sounded like something heavy slamming into the door. “See!”

Zhen was on his feet in an instant and walked over to the front window. He peeked through the curtains, but the darkness outside was still so complete that he could make out little more than a flash of movement before another loud bang at the door.

“Find someplace to hide,” Zhen said, waving Meng away from the door. “I’ll handle whoever is out there.”

“Zhen, no,” Meng started, but she fell silent when Zhen’s stern expression met her fear-filled eyes.

“I’ll be fine. You took me in and helped me survive the night. This is the least I can do,” Zhen said, pulling a dagger from his belt. “I will protect you and your home.”

The bang came again. Only this time, Zhen noticed a crack running along the doorframe. He moved closer to the door, ensuring that if it swung open hard, he wouldn’t be standing behind it. He watched Meng walk behind her bed and stoop down, peeking over the side of it.

“Get down,” he mouthed, motioning with his hand for her to hide completely.

What seemed like an explosion took the door straight off the hinges as it flew across the room, slamming into the wall, breaking the plaster. Zhen waited, his eyes darting between the doorway and the spot where Meng was hiding. With no loud bangs on the door, Zhen could hear the ice cracking outside on the buildings as it released its grip of death on the city. Outside the door, only feet from where he pressed himself against the wall, he could hear the labored breathing of someone, or something, out in the darkness.

“For Mykrul,” a hoarse voice said as a figure in a long, sweeping black robe stepped through the doorway. It stood for a moment, looking straight at the spot in which Meng had hidden. Two pale hands moved slowly toward the hood on the robe, pulling it back to reveal a pale-skinned person with no hair.

Zhen’s heart raced in his chest as he saw the person produce a black-bladed dagger. It looked wicked and almost seemed to bring more cold into the room as it left its sheath.

“Leave this place,” Zhen said, drawing the stranger’s attention to himself. “You do not-”

Zhen’s words fell silent as the figure seemed to turn faster than was possible. Its pupilless eyes stared through him as a wicked, sharp-toothed smile spread on their face.

“Ah, an air genasi,” the person said, their voice sounding like three octaves in a hoarse whisper. “You will make a worthy sacrifice. Mykrul will be pleased.”

The person was suddenly standing right before Zhen, wicked smile and blank eyes burning into Zhen’s memory. At such proximity, the figure reeked of death and rotten flesh, and he had to force himself to control his gag reflex. The putrid stench grew terrible enough that he decided that he would simply not breathe until after this was over. He moved his dagger on instinct and heard the distinct ring of metal on metal as he blocked the would-be killer’s blade, pushing it out to the side.

The stranger’s smile faltered for a moment, flashing a grimace as it struck again, and once more, Zhen’s hand seemed to move on its own. Once again, the ring of the blades sang out into the room as the blades caught one another, this time in a battle of strength. The stranger, twisting his dagger slowly, managed to get the point facing Zhen, but only just so. His eyes narrowed on the stranger’s face as the smile returned.

The blade suddenly shot out, grazing Zhen’s arm. The wound felt like ice pouring beneath his skin as the stranger’s laugh echoed in the room.

“No!” Meng cried as she landed on the man’s back, wrapping her arms around his neck as she pulled hard, making him stumble away from Zhen.

“Meng, don’t,” Zhen yelled, shooting forward to grab the attacker’s arm.

“Two sacrifices! Mykrul will smile upon me this day,” the stranger cackled gleefully, reaching his free arm over his head, grabbing Meng.

Zhen watched in horror as the man tossed her as though she no more than a pillow. She hit the wall next to the door and slid to the floor, unmoving as the stranger turned his attention back to him. He could feel the icy wound on his arm beginning to spread as the man grabbed the black dagger with his other hand and sliced through the air again, this time Zhen’s dagger was not there to block it.

The weapon slashed across Zhen’s stomach, forcing him to open his mouth and cry out in pain as he pushed away from the man, falling to the floor next to Meng. Zhen looked down and saw Meng’s shoulders gently rising and falling, giving him a brief sense of relief as he realized she was still alive.

“Mykrul, take these sacrifices to make you stronger,” the man said, suddenly above Zhen with the dagger held out. “May you escape your prison with their power!”

Zhen saw the dagger fall as though in slow motion. He felt his heart hammering in his chest as he leaned toward Meng to shield her from the attack, but a sudden bright light filled the room, blinding him and filling him with heat.

“You are a scourge of the land!” an authoritative voice cried as the sound of a blade slicing through flesh came from nearby. “Begone, you undead thing!”

When the light gave way to the darkness once more, Zhen felt as though he were blind. He couldn’t make out more than the brief movement of someone in the room with him, and he flinched when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“You’re safe now. The revenant is dead,” the voice said, suddenly sounding soothing and calm. Zhen felt more warmth spread through his body as the icy cold pain in his stomach and arm stopped. The person’s hand released him, and he heard movement toward the door.

“Wait,” Zhen croaked, trying to get his eyes to adjust. “Don’t go yet.”

“You are safe, and that’s all that matters,” the voice replied before the footfalls of their savior vanished outside.

 

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