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Threetoe's Stories, and Analysis

A Terror to Behold

By Threetoe

Night birds called in the dark chill of the winter woods, candles burned weak in the narrow windows of the town, and all feared the walking dead. All heard the scratchings and scrapings around their doors and windows after dark, all had seen the earth dug up around the church graveyard, and many a young man had disappeared walking old Duddly Road at night. Some said it was the ghost of an unnamed child, abandoned at birth. Some said it was a werewolf from deep in the wilderness. There were even those that claimed that the town was haunted by a demon of the old world, where violence reigned alone, but all prayed each day that the sun stay in the sky but a few hours more, for there was no hope in the night.

Crows flew from the hanged body to the post to which it was strung as the rider passed. The horseman tilted his wide-brimmed hat to see the sign strung across its neck. "Thief," it read. The rider put his eyes to the road. The town was just ahead, Gofeng, haunted hamlet of the wooded hills. A cold gust of wind blew open the rider's cloak. Inside could be seen a long sword, a book of prayers and all manner of magic totems. The man quickly threw his cloak over the items and looked up to see the hanged man's single eye staring into space. The rider called out and urged his horse on. As he passed onward the crows resumed their grisly work.

"What is your name stranger?" asked the stable master. "We don't get many strangers around here anymore."

"Why is that?" asked the rider, a gold tooth flashing from his sinister smile. The stable master's mouth went slack.

"Forgive me," said the stranger. "I am Albert Zordas, Slayer of Night Creatures."

"Homer Suds," said the stable master and took his hand in the weakest of handshakes. Suds proceeded to show Albert around town, naming buildings without comment. Here is the tavern. There is the church. The townsfolk began to gather around. All marveled at the strangers flashy clothes and strange manner of speech. Of all of them, Albert found his eyes drawn to one, a particular girl. Her hair was the color of country straw, her eyes as blue as the boundless sea.

"Who is that one?" Albert asked out of corner of his mouth.

"That," said Suds, shoving his elbow into Albert's ribs, "is Lady Dandelion, daughter of the mayor, and soon to be married!"

With a defiant smirk, Albert leapt onto the stairs of the church and tore off his hat, releasing a mane of black hair. He looked across the awestruck faces. There was the mayor, there, the high priest, and there, next to sweet Dandelion, was his competition. The young man was fine cut for a townie, maybe the seventh son of a noble, banished to this dirt hole. He looked back to Dandelion and winked.

"I have heard of your troubles," Albert announced, "and have come to deliver you from evil!"

How hard can it be? It was probably just an adolescent vampire, thought Albert. Werewolves don't stray this far from Evil Mountain, but with his luck it would be a demon of the Underworld, or the spirit form of some ancient monster. He put on his happy face and descended into the cheering crowd. Shaking hands, he made his way toward Dandelion. She was even more intoxicating up close. Her smell was that of a hundred wildflowers, her body as radiant as her bright smile.

"My Dandelion," he said.

"You know my name?" she asked, blushing.

"It is my job to know these things," said Albert.

Somewhere in the crowd, Suds rolled his eyes. Albert took the girl's hand in his. Her fiancée was clearly enraged. Sensing trouble, the mayor shouldered his way through the crowd to where the knave stood, holding his daughter. He took Albert and spun him around. Staring into the stranger's snarling face, the mayor saw he had the pupils of a cat.

"Just how do you," stammered the mayor, "plan to hunt this monster?"

"Ghosts and phantoms are not like you and I," said Albert. "They are driven by overpowering passions. Without fail they are drawn to the scene of their crimes, there to act out the ghastly drama again and again."

"You anger the spirits," said the priest. "It is best to keep to our homes and pray."

"It takes more than whispered words to defeat what haunts you," replied Albert.

"We will see how you fare against Short Neck Jack!" said Dandelion's fiancée.

"Who is this... man?" hissed Albert.

"He is Joey Sana, my daughter Dandelion to wed," began the mayor, but he was cut short by the tolling of the church bell. The sun was sinking beneath the trees and shadows fell across the land. Albert broke from the crowd and wandered away into the street. The townsfolk looked confused for a moment then broke off and hurried to their dwellings, none willing to stay out after dark, their doors hung with all variety of wards, and painted with magic symbols.

The Sight was always the same, as long as Albert could remember. At dusk's final light his pupils grew until his eyes were solid black. The Sight penetrated all things, through his eyelids, through his clenched fists, and through the ground he knelt upon, but from the eyes, no tears would come. Albert stood and looked back at the town. He could see the bright auras of the people inside the shadowy outlines of their houses. There was Dandelion, her light as white as new fallen snow.

Albert scanned the rest of the houses for an evil soul. He looked for the black aura of a murderer, someone blaming the killings on a ghost to hide his misdeeds. Someone like me, he reminded himself, staring at his hand framed in a ring of darkness. He dropped his arm to his side and looked to the horizon, and to old Duddly Road.

Stepping onto the old dirt road, Albert could see that it was steeped in magic. The very ground issued glowing vapors only Albert's eyes could see. Like a hound on a scent, Albert trotted on, ever wary of the forces that sought to break through the thin barrier between this world and one of eternal darkness. Then he saw what he was looking for, a flickering aura just ahead. Someone was dying, the body bouncing up and down above the darkened ground. Albert crept as close as he dared, his hand reaching toward the hilt of his sword.

Invisible to the naked eye, but to Albert as clear as if in daylight, a huge creature walked, carrying the body of a young man over its back. The monster was the shape of a naked man, hulking and pale. It carried a long walking stick but wore no head on its shoulders. It could only be Short Neck Jack. For more than an hour, Albert tailed the monster, watching the victim's life slowly wane. The monster turned abruptly and headed off into the wood.

This was clearly not an ordinary troll, perhaps the poor husband of a powerful night hag. A broken wooden door set into the side of the mound marked the entrance to Jack's lair. There the monster rested its staff and went inside. A sting from his old wound brought Albert's fingers to his neck. There was a price for hunting the creatures of the night.

The boy's life slowly ebbed away. Albert could see through the dirt wall as Short Neck Jack lumbered around the cave, searching for a butcher's knife. Albert's fingers sought his own blade. The monster was alone in the cave. He knew now it was a bloodthirsty ghost, probably beheaded for a heinous crime. Pulling his sword a finger's length from its sheath, Albert smiled with gold-toothed satisfaction. It was well known that ghosts shrank from the presence of steel. He stood and stepped before the door.

"Come forth, Jack," shouted Albert, "and harm no more young men."

Angered, the ghost burst through the door, knife in hand. When Albert drew his sword the magic words engraved on it began to glow. The ghost backed away as if doused with scalding water. Turning to the side it snatched up its staff and hurled it at Albert, knocking the sword from his hand. Short Neck Jack was on him in a second. Albert gasped with surprise. The ghost was as strong as an ox, its arms as hard as stone.

The ghost forced Albert to his knees, slowly driving the blade into his chest. Albert's mind began to race. A charm, there must be a charm. Quickly he chanted the Hymn of Rebirth. The knife point drove deeper, drawing a ribbon of blood. He recited the dwarven Song of the Forge Father, but stopped as he was thrown on his back, the ghost rising up for the death stroke.

In a still, clear voice, Albert intoned the Elven Morning Song. The ghost immediately dropped its knife and clamped its fingers around Albert's throat. Albert smiled his toothy smile. It was too late. Somewhere in the distance a cock crowed. The ghost released Albert and hurried back to its den.

"You're too late, Jack," said Albert.

With an expert thrust, Albert pierced the ghost's back with his magic sword. The ghost slumped to the ground and disappeared with the first rays of sunlight. Pain shot through Albert's neck as his vision was restored to reality. Nothing remained of Jack but the pain and suffering he had caused. Fearing the worst, Albert made his way to the door. He would not be disappointed.

The cave smelt of the slaughter house. The walls were carpeted with skins, the origin of which Albert did not care to know. He saw the boy laying across a table drenched with blood. Albert stepped over to him, but could no longer see his aura. He knew the boy was dead. A deep frustration came over him. Then he remembered the girl. The quest was complete, and he would have his prize.

All the way along old Duddly Road, all Albert could think of was sweet Dandelion. The mayor awaited him at the crossroads, his tall hat drooping to the side. Some of the other men gathered around.

"Well?" asked the mayor. "Tell us of your adventures."

"Short Neck Jack is dead," said Albert, straightening his sleeves, "and will trouble you no more."

"Tell us, great hero," beamed the mayor, "what shall be your reward?"

"I must rest for a time," said Albert, overtaken by a great tiredness. He stumbled and the mayor snapped his fingers, calling a couple of men to help him to the mayor's very mansion, where he would lay in respite until he was whole again. Once he was alone, in bed, his fingers found the wound on his neck. It was there he was bitten by a walking corpse, the first demon he had put down, and the one that gave him the curse of Sight. He used his curse as a gift, one to aid him in his endless quest for vengeance against the undead.

"You have been asleep all day," came a sweet voice of loving care.

Before Albert's eyes was a beautiful angel surrounded by a field of white light. He could only be dreaming, but what dream could feel as real as this? Sweet Dandelion, at last you are mine. Her smile, so perfect, he reached out his hand. She pushed his arm away and put a finger on his cheek.

"What is wrong with your eyes?" she laughed.

It was night! He shot up from the bed, and scanned through the walls with the Sight. Auras were running through the street. Panic gripped the town. He was sure he had put the ghost down. This wasn't good. He leaned up against the wall, letting his head rest against it with a thud. Dandelion giggled.

Outside there was a bloodcurdling scream. Dandelion averted her gaze as Albert gathered up his clothes and ran out the door. Joey Sana met him at the front steps. Albert felt the crunch as Joey's knuckles collided against his teeth. The next thing he knew, he was sprawled across the steps, Joey and the mayor staring down at him.

"She will never have you, knave," shouted Joey. "Not while real men live in Gofeng."

"I told you he would bring ruin upon us," said the priest.

"You have failed us Albert," said the mayor, "and because of your lies, Suds is dead. There is a place for treacherous scum such as yourself. I believe you passed it on your way here. The gallows."

The mayor adjusted his collar and continued, "You will rid us of this supernatural problem, or it will be your hide strung out on a pole."

The posse left him to gather his senses. He coughed up blood and spit out his golden tooth. Albert grimaced, making the pain worse. They would pay for that. With effort, he lifted himself off the steps, looking to see the people of Gofeng, locked away in their houses, pretending that the murder they witnessed was just a dream. After shaking the clouds from his head, Albert made his way to the stable.

Blood spatter covered the wooden boards above Suds's dead body. The stable master lay on the scattered hay, spread eagle, his head propped up against a post. Albert turned the dead man's head to the left, then to the right. There at last, were the fang marks, signature of a vampire. Albert's hand went instinctively to his own neck.

A man stepped out from behind one of the stable doors. Startled, Albert remembered himself. No aura. It was one of the angry dead. Albert drew his sword, and the monster backed away. The moonlight shone on a body, badly decomposed. The evil grin of its skull showed through shredded lips. This was no vampire. It was a stomer, an evil spirit that could take many shapes, shifting from body to body as it saw fit, one of them no doubt the troll he slew before.

"Jack, I presume," said Albert.

The creature bowed with a mocking, unnatural movement. Once again the two found themselves engaged in mortal combat. The stomer picked up a shovel and charged forward with unnatural speed. Albert blocked blow after blow, falling back as the creature pressed forward with unstoppable force. Albert concentrated, trying to see through the demon's skin, to find the heart of the stomer, without which, it would die.

The wall shook as the fighters collided with it. Jack closed his claw around Albert's throat. Albert tried to cry out, but the choking grip held his voice back. Through his clenched eyes he saw the cold stone that served as the monster's heart. It lay in the center of its chest, a blatant show of contempt.

We will see about that, thought Albert. The slayer spun between the monster's arms and drove the sword between its ribs. The runes on the blade shone as it pierced the creature's heart.

The heart faded and melted into a thousand pieces, flowing through the corpse's veins, then disappeared. Albert felt his bruised throat and cursed his luck. A stomer was one of the hardest undead monsters to eradicate, but perhaps he could use its power to his advantage.

Albert stumbled from the stable and cried out. A dozen colored lights emerged from their dwellings and rushed to him.

"Build a pyre," shouted Albert. "The monster must be burned."

A few men started toward the stable but balked when they saw the creature. The torn up body lay dead and lifeless, but in place of a head was a bare skull armed with four long fangs. Albert snarled, opening his black eyes, fierce, but empty.

"Now!" he shouted.

The people of Gofeng gathered wood for the fire, creating a pyre as high as a shoulder's height. Albert looked on as they pulled the body onto the wood pile. Dandelion watched, her bright light impossible to ignore. At her side, Joey Sana stood, glowering with hatred. Albert lifted his torch, opened his eyes and spoke.

"This will not be easy," said Albert, "for the demon is powerful. You must take up arms. Whatever comes out of the flame, you must kill it, and toss it back into the fire."

Albert put his torch to the pyre. The slayer folded his arms and closed his eyes as the fire crept higher. He could see the magic substance beginning to boil. He held his concentration. He must have the heart, and with it, the stomer's power. A bird called out and flew from the fire. Joey knocked it out of the sky with a shot from his sling. A maiden ran to the bird, tossed it into the fire, and screamed.

All manner of vermin poured out of the fire. Men and women stomped upon spiders and frogs. Albert watched as the spirit flowed, this way and that, seeking to escape into the night. All the while he fought the urge to turn his eyes to the girl's white light. There she stood, watching him, blushing with excitement. Suddenly, sensing Albert's distraction, the monster's energy congealed into a single point. Albert saw this and snapped into action.

The black salamander squirmed through the underbrush. The fire burned in the distance, the people still yelling and shouting. A hand snatched up the amphibian. Albert dangled the creature before his face, by the tail.

"Did you miss me, Jack?" asked Albert. "I did not miss you."

With a magic word, the salamander froze into crystal, and Albert dropped it in his pocket. He felt his throat and broken tooth, and was suddenly tired. He had to remind himself, he had won. As he stumbled back into the light of the burning pyre, Dandelion ran to him.

"It is done," said Albert, spitting out blood.

"You are done," said Joey, pushing Dandelion aside. "It was you that brought this curse upon us."

"This is true," said the mayor. "You may sleep the day away in the stable, then be off if you value your neck."

Laying in the straw, Albert watched as the thin shafts of sunlight moved slowly by. In his pocket, he fingered the magic totem. They thought they had the final word. When the sun went down, he would be the last to laugh. Dandelion would be his, and to the underworld with this rat-bitten town. As the sun began to fade, a pair of townies burst into the stable and dragged him to his feet.

The mayor met Albert outside the church graveyard. Joey Sana was with him, grinning like a shark. Albert spit blood onto Joey's shoe, and his smile vanished. Albert looked to the mansion window where the mayor's daughter stood. She looked more beautiful in daylight. He could see every detail of her figure.

"You'll not have her," screamed Joey. "I swear over my dead body!"

Cackling with glee, Albert was dragged out of town. The pair of townies dropped him on his rump in the middle of the road, threw down his sword, and quickly retreated back home. Folding his legs, Albert waited in a tranquil pose. The sun sank below the trees and the power of the Sight came rushing back. Albert withdrew the crystal salamander from his pocket. It glowed with malevolent light. The monster was near. Albert looked out at the town and its distant lights.

"I know you are here, Jack," said Albert.

"Indeed," came a hoarse voice.

Albert spun around to see the same pole, the ruined body of the thief hanging from it. The ravaged head turned its eyeless face toward him.

"Will you give me the crystal?" asked the hanged corpse.

"And why would I be so foolish?" laughed Albert.

The body said nothing.

"I have a job for you," said Albert. "You are to go into town and kill the man named Joey Sana. Do it quietly and fast. No one must know he died by magic."

"This is the complete task?" asked the spirit.

"Yes, ghoul," shouted Albert, "that is what I demand of you!" The salamander began to twist and turn in his hand.

"Then I must obey," said the dead man, its empty eye sockets seeming to burn with new light.

His hand clamped tightly around the magic totem, Albert spun and cut through the noose with a stroke of his sword. The monster faltered as it hit the ground, unused to its new legs. Without another moment's hesitation the stomer dashed, full speed, back to Gofeng. Albert put the crystal back into his pocket and smiled. He knew that if he dropped the demon heart now, it would be a disaster.

Albert made his way slowly back to town. He carefully crept around the side of the church. He could see the girl's window. She saw him and waved. He beckoned her to the church graveyard. This was madness and he knew it. The mayor and his lackeys could spot him any second, and he could feel the stomer's eyes on him, lurking behind any tombstone. Here she came at last, careful not to step on the disturbed earth.

"I have come for you, Dandelion," said Albert. "Run away with me!"

"But, what about Joey?" asked the girl.

"He is a fool. Never mind him," said Albert.

The salamander squirmed so it seemed it would burst from his hand at any minute.

"What is that?" asked Dandelion.

Albert grimaced and pulled his shaking hand out of his pocket.

"Is it a present," gasped Dandelion, "for me?"

Unable to keep his fist closed, Albert released his fingers, revealing a golden ring.

Dandelion let out an adolescent shriek. "I do! I do!"

Before he could react, she snatched it out of his hand. Thoughts raced through Albert's head. He couldn't take the ring back. What could he do? What could the girl do? The ghost was under her control now. What was the worst that could happen?

"What's going on down there?" shouted a voice from above.

"I'll meet you later tonight on old Duddly Road," said Dandelion. "Now run, before my father finds you!"

This was clearly ridiculous. Albert reached for his sword. He wouldn't let these jokers make a fool of him a second time. A sudden pain shot through his neck. He let his hand fall from his sword. Maybe it was best to flee. As he ran away, all doubt and fear left his mind. He finally had made it, got the girl in the end. When he reached the edge of town, he squatted by the road and whistled a merry tune.

A knock came at the door. Dandelion was just packing the last of her things. She came to the door and swung it open, opened it wide expecting to see her love.

"Albert," she said, "you're not supposed to be here..."

Before her stood the savaged body of Joey Sana. It was pale and abused, all torn up from head to toe. It opened its mouth to speak, though its voice box was clearly ripped out.

"Will you invite me inside?" asked the ghost.

Dandelion shook her head, her eyes welling up with tears. The ghost looked visibly disappointed. It couldn't be, thought Dandelion. She was to wed Joey in a week. Then she looked down at her hand, and the ring that sat upon her finger. Understanding finally donned upon her mind.

"Who did this to you?" asked Dandelion.

"Joey Sana died at Albert Zordas's command," said the ghost, its eyes steady on the girl. "I am yours to command now."

The coils of this tragedy were finally undone. Dandelion tore the ring from her finger. She stepped forward and looked the ghost in its bloodless eyes.

"Leave this town forever," she said and threw the ring outside. "Do with Albert what you will."


A young messenger made his way down the haunted road, known far and wide for its ghostly murders. Bats flitted back and forth through the thick trees. The boy thought he could see the lights of Gofeng before him. The town was only a short dash away, but all knew that fear drew the undead like a buzzard to rot. At last, he broke from the trees. Something hung from a pole ahead. The boy knew it to be the gallows but dared not stray from the road. The dead man's head hung low, hidden from view behind a tangle of long black hair. Across his chest read a wooden sign, "Witch." Drops of water dripped from the dead man's face. The boy looked up to see no cloud in the sky. No one would ever know that they were tears.


The story concerns itself primarily with night creatures. There are many possibilities. Night creatures can transform creatures into others of their kind or curse their victims with various afflictions. Though there might be benefits to these curses (such as being able to see "auras" and the signs of the passage of magical creatures), prolonged exposure will always lead inevitably to the downfall of the victim. Night creatures could re-enact historical events or be those returned from the dead to take revenge for various perceived wrongs. Certain behaviors could also anger local spirits.

Although some night creatures might be very difficult or even impossible to kill by physical means, even in these cases there will be either ways to hold them at bay or some weakness through which they can be defeated. The story mentioned wards and symbols on the doors/weapons, materials (steel in the story), magical songs, prayers to calm spirits, and weak spots (the heart of the stomer). There might be a ritual required to finally put down the creature, as with the burning of the body and capturing of the vermin. It was an open question in the story as to whether the captured salamander could even be destroyed (perhaps it would have been enough just to throw it back on the fire, as Albert instructed), but certainly either way should be possible.

As to the story's world of eternal darkness, it should be dangerous to walk alone at night. You never know what will happen.