The Birds

Posted: April 19, 2017 in Cloaked Revenge
Tags: , , , , ,

It did not take long for Acheron to prepare himself for the journey. He had but a few belongings and, as he did not foresee the task taking more than a day, he chose to keep his packing light. Just a few loaves of bread and water made up the contents of his bag and a small dagger with a bone handle was thrust inside his belt, away from prying eyes. He did not expect to use it but his years as a thief and rogue had taught him to prepare for danger. Maybe if he had had it with him on the day he died the scorned husband would not have thwarted him so easily.

They journeyed in silence, the men moving quickly across the barren landscape and dust billowed around them as their leather-clad feet disturbed the sandy ground. The sun was hot and Acheron could feel the perspiration forming a glistening shine on his tiring body. He longed to rest but his companions, used to the exhausting heat, obliviously marched forwards on the unrelenting flat landscape.

Acheron trudged behind them, each mile becoming increasing difficult. Lykos, the taller of the two men with long, boney limbs that dangled freely as he loped across the sand, occasionally turned to check that the man was still following him but Dareious, who was much more thickset, trudged forward oblivious of their entourage. His balding head was developing a red hue as the sun beat down on to his exposed skin, creating white lines as he grimaced through this unwanted task.

“We’re here.” Lykos uttered suddenly, stopping swiftly making Acheron stumble behind him.  Picking up a jagged rock he etched a circle into the dusty sand with an embellished horizontal line at the centre that was curved at either end forming the capital letter Theta. In a hushed voice he whispered “Domos Haidou”. Beneath Acheron’s feet the ground began to vibrate, increasing in intensity until he lost his footing and hurtled to the floor. A deafening sound filled his ears; a high pitched squeal piercing through the low rumble echoing across the land. Acheron’s head ached from the sound and, although he struggled to stand, his legs could no longer bear his weight and he crumpled back to the ground.

Acheron screamed with the pain and clutched his ears in a futile to attempt to block out the sickening noise. His mouth tried to formulate the word ‘help’ but no matter how much he tried he couldn’t summon the breath to speak. High above black shadows began to form, moving with stealth across the otherwise clear skies. Drawing closer they began to reveal the terrifying silhouettes of huge winged creatures twisting above him, weaving between each other getting closer towards Acheron. Stymphalian birds swarmed overhead, the sunlight glinting off their metallic bodies making Acheron squint as he struggled to watch them gracefully glide through the air. Their bodies entwined into a perpetual ball of twisting metal, ever moving but never colliding as if their paths had been preordained. With a powerful beat they simultaneously pointed their huge wings downwards and launched a rain of metallic feathers that fell to the ground like a shower of daggers towards the paralysed Acheron. He tried to move but the high-pitched squeal had taken away his energy and all he could do was watch as the razor sharp spikes cascaded all around him.

A bright glint passed across Acheron’s eyes as one narrowly missed his face, but others sliced into his arm and thigh and he felt a burning pain course through his body as the red hot metal seared into his skin. The smell of smoldering flesh filled his senses as his skin blackened around the wound and tiny white blisters began to form. The world began to cloud into an agonizing darkness and, as his eyes began to close in defeat, he felt a hand clasp his arm firmly and the sound disappeared into the distance leaving behind it the loud hum of his reeling eardrums.

“I apologise for that, a little deterrent for disobedient souls.” Dareious laughed with an evil callousness. “We are immune as gatekeepers but you were not so lucky.”

Acheron looked down to examine his wounds but there was nothing there; his tanned thigh appeared to be undamaged except for a graze from a rock when he fell. “But…my leg…the birds…” He stuttered.

“Ah, it appears you were subjected to the most horrifying of illusions, the Stymphalian birds; horrid creatures with beaks of bronze and metallic feathers that they launch at their frightened victims. Quite the worst of Hades’ visions but you are safe, they reside in the marshes and one hasn’t been seen near here for thousands of years.”

“Visions?” Acheron asked.

“Visions…hallucinations you might say. Hades plays tricks with your mind to make you believe you are in peril. Men have been known to go insane as the fear consumes them and they are forever haunted with paranoia of its return. Many have endeavoured to leave the Underworld once but none twice.”

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