29 comments

Fantasy Thriller Horror

cw: mature subject matter, graphic violence

Everything was ready for the ritual, and Aluin found there were more ways to enlightenment than divinity—more ways to power than training or speeches.

A book in the hands of an occultist. Wrapped in chains, locked shut, hieroglyphs written down its spine. Dangerous work from unstable scholars. Practices better left unread. Aluin stood still in a cell as the occultist drew symbols on the wall, eye-stalks and claws, then lit candles.

Bloodied tentacles twitched around him. Offerings to the void.

He would throw off the shackles of fear and embrace that which was forbidden. A ritual with ancient spirits known to ruin the mind. To sever the soul from one’s body. To grant the power of havoc, so he could pursue vengeance, and his people could rest easy in their graves.

It had taken nights, sleepless, to find the ritual book. Boat trips to other cities, and caravans spanning long roads. Days of scholars dismissing him, calling him a madman. He had come across a relic hunter, a woman with dark circles under her eyes and a dagger at her side, who didn’t ask questions—only gave a price.

It’s a terrifying power, she’d said, counting out his coins, but it’s still power. Good luck finding a translator for it. She handed him a key, telling him to keep the book locked or the hieroglyphs would keep him awake. He searched out an occultist afterward, who was all too eager to read it.

The occultist stepped out of the ring and cleared his throat. He unlocked the book. The key clicked into place, chains rattling as they fell to the ground. The man reached into his robes and retrieved a decayed skull. Lined with cracks, centuries old. Gems sat in its eye sockets. He held it high with one hand, the book open in the other, and chanted.

A chill formed in the air, a shiver coursing through Aluin’s body. Candle flames flickered. The skull’s ruby-adorned eyes glowed crimson red. 

The chant became a shout. Nearby books snapped open, pages flipping. Candles melted faster and faster, the occultist picking up speed, speaking in tongues banished by man. Aluin lifted from the ground. His eyes burned. Tentacles spasmed, the blood coating them fading. The offer was accepted.

He hung onto a thread of consciousness—each word from the occultist echoed; every syllable a headache. His hearing cut to a ringing. Creatures flashed in front of him, hooded beings with gaunt limbs, never blinking, always watching. One reached out and touched his chest with a skeletal finger, breathing in.

Aluin exhaled mist as it ended. It clouded before him, cerulean and translucent—the essence of his soul detached from his body. He floated down to the floor with grace. A spectral afterimage followed, a perpetual aftereffect from the ritual. He looked at his hands; the veins running down his wrists a ghastly blue.

“How do you feel?” the occultist asked, stepping forward. “What did you witness?”

“The end of those who wronged me,” Aluin said.

He grabbed the man’s arm and breathed in.

Wisps of the occultist’s spirit, like trails of vapour, drifted out from his mouth and eyes. Aluin inhaled the man’s soul as he struggled and cried out. The occultist collapsed against stone, light drained from his eyes and his skin pale. His body became a lifeless husk. 

The forbidden power surged, and Aluin took off into the night. 


- - -


He'd gazed into the unknown, blessed by what had gazed back.

Smoke puffed into the sky from a damp bonfire. It led Aluin to a bandit camp fenced off with wooden stakes. Murderers relaxed inside, plotting out the next settlement to pillage and burn. He stepped through dew-coated grass, approaching the camp’s entrance. The occultist’s soul thrashed within him, and mist drifted off his eyes.

His afterimage followed behind. The remnant of his own soul seconds in the past.

“Think I eard’ a rabbit,” a bandit called, stepping out from the entrance. “Or a deer, or…” he looked at Aluin and unhooked an axe from his belt. Aluin walked forward, palms open at his side, cerulean smoke escaping his mouth. 

Wind shifted the tall grass surrounding him. Crickets buzzed in the forest.

“What the hell are you?” the bandit asked.

“Death.”

The man laughed, then charged forward. Aluin stood still. He didn’t need to dodge blows he did not fear. The bandit closed the distance, swinging his axe in an overhead arc, looking to split his skull. Wind whistled with the motion.

Aluin called upon the soul of the occultist.

A spectral ghost stepped out from his body. It took the blow of the axe against its will, feeling its pain and absorbing the impact. The axe broke into the occultist’s spectral head. His skull cracked. The ghost dissipated into the air, dead once more.

The bandit stumbled back, and Aluin grabbed his wrist. He pressed his fingers down against veins—feeling the heartbeat quicken. Aluin breathed in and the bandit cried out, his soul ripped from his body, wisps of his spirit forced out from his eyes.

Commotion erupted. He sprinted into the camp. A man rushed at him with a dagger, and Aluin demanded it to be blocked. A ghost stepped out—the dagger punctured its spirit. Aluin grabbed the man’s face, pushing fingers into his eyes, and inhaled. 

He pried the dagger out of the man’s hands.

A bandit wearing a wolf pelt charged at him. Aluin called upon a spirit, summoning it, commanding it forward. It snagged the bandit by the neck and twisted him around. The man struggled as the ghost held him in a chokehold.

Aluin tightened his grip against the dagger’s hilt, approached the bandit, and stabbed. It pierced through the wolf pelt and sunk into flesh. He tore the dagger out and stabbed again, and again, blood spraying in the blade’s wake. Ruptured arteries, not enough.

He pressed a hand against the man’s chest and breathed in. 

Trails of the bandit’s spirit drifted out from the stab wounds.

Another brigand swung an axe at him. A spirit intercepted, taking the hit, then tackled the assailant to the dirt. Aluin—cobalt smoke flowing off his body—took the spirit’s place, pinning the man on all fours. Others gathered around.

“Help!” he called. His eyes darted from side to side. “The void demon’s got me! Don’t stand there-”

“I will wear your soul!” Aluin shouted, pressing a hand against the man's face. “And you will die twice! Against me,” he inhaled, “and for me.

The brigand flailed under Aluin’s grip. A crossbow sounded, a heavy ‘thunk’ with a cable snapping back. A spirit lept from Aluin’s body, taking the bolt to the heart. Other bandits cowered as he stood, weapons drawn, hesitant to strike. The bonfire crackled.

One attacked, and the rest followed.

None could land a hit on Aluin. All he needed was touch to absorb their souls, while their weapons struck at spiritual remnants of their brethren—deserters of the army and outcasts bound to a life of thievery.

The corpses piled. Empty carcasses. A bastion of souls serving Aluin. Some bandits retreated, running off into the night, bound to tell a story few would believe. He approached one last brigand, this one wearing a skull helm of a dead moose. Spirits held the man in place and pushed his head into the dirt.

“You’re the leader here?” Aluin kneeled down. He exhaled the screams of the spirits within him. “You’re the one that ordered the raid on my town? Unlucky for you I was out hunting that night, huh? I buried every one of my people. Did you know that?”

“Look, you can take whatever you want,” the leader said, “gold, food, jewelry. Hell, I’ll give you the positions of the other camps. I’ll go raid them with you. You can take anything, I swear it—just let me live.”

“Then I wouldn’t have everything I want, would I?”

Aluin grinned, grabbing the brigand by the neck. He inhaled through clenched teeth, slowly, drinking the man’s soul like a savoured glass of wine. The sound of the brigand’s cries was melodic to his ears. He laughed the second it ended.

After months of searching for the ritual book, he’d found vengeance.

And it was not enough to sate him.

October 25, 2021 16:02

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29 comments

Tommie Michele
17:06 Oct 27, 2021

Hey, Alex! I'm back with some line-edits for you! Of course, these are all friendly suggestions. Going back through and reading this story again was really enjoyable (and a good distraction from the two-hour bus ride I'm currently on). Everything was ready for the ritual, and Aluin found there were more ways to enlightenment than (just) divinity—more ways to power than training or speeches. <Absolutely love this line—maybe replace the “just” with “simply” or something like it, or cut the “just” all together> Bloodied tentacles twitched ar...

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Tommie Michele
21:04 Oct 27, 2021

Okay, as I just found out with Katharine, my notes and comments disappear when you click "read more." Not exactly sure why--maybe it has something to do with me putting them inside whatever these <> are called. Unfortunately, most of my notes for you were done in form of comment, so only a few brackets are left. Luckily, I learned from the last time this happened and saved the text to a separate doc. I'm going to try reformatting my edits and put them at the bottom of this comment :) so sorry! Here are my edits--I hope they work this time. ...

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Alex Sultan
14:15 Oct 28, 2021

Thank you! I made a stack of changes based on your notes. They were very helpful, and while I'm still not too fond of this story, I'm starting to like it a bit. It's a lot more polished now. I'm looking forward to trading more feedback in the future 😁

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Tommie Michele
15:28 Oct 28, 2021

I just read through it again--definitely a lot more polished. I love your writing style; your cadence of short and long sentences is almost musical (if I can even use that to describe words?). It flows much smoother and I didn't get hung up on any wordings. The extra details you added about the book were nice. Only two pieces of crit, and they're in your new paragraphs. Aluin had spent nights, sleepless, searching for the ritual book. - for some reason, I'm not sure about having that "sleepless" in the middle--maybe it's because my brain go...

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Fabi M
05:19 Nov 04, 2021

This was an exciting story to read and very well written. I particularly like the descriptions of how the main character would drain people of their souls. I found the imagery to be immersive and clear. Anything dealing with the wisps of souls was lovely. The line about bits of soul drifting out of one of the bandits knife wounds, such a cool picture. I would suggest lingering on some details, expand a bit on description so that the story flows a bit better and is not as punchy in some parts. For example, the character lingers on the skull...

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Alex Sultan
11:47 Nov 04, 2021

Thank you for the feedback! I agree with the lingering details thing, I could've done better while writing the skull. I didn't feel too inspired writing this story(outside of the action scenes and the dialogue) and I think it shows. "Aluin called upon a spirit, summoning it, commanding it forward. " - this was more of a style thing to try and keep the pacing fast with short sentences, and I'm thankful you pointed out it didn't work. I appreciate the kind words(I'm glad you like the imagery. despite me not liking this story, I do think it's...

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Fabi M
19:23 Nov 04, 2021

Sure that sounds great!

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Tommie Michele
22:29 Oct 31, 2021

Hi Alex, I know how much you live writing about Korean culture, and I just came across this writing competition I think you might enjoy. The Sejong Cultural Society is hosting two writing competitions for every age group (one is Sijo poetry, and the other is an analysis on a specific Korean short story). There are prizes for first, second, and third place for each, and knowing your interest in Korean culture, I thought you might want to know about this. Good luck in the competition this week, too! I love your final story :) —Tommie Michele

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Alex Sultan
09:27 Nov 01, 2021

I'm going to check it out! Thank you for letting me know, it is very kind of you. Korean culture really is my favourite - I like it enough that I put in the time to learn the language and everything. I hope your story makes the shortlist, too. I thought 'Fifty-Broken voicemails' would, but this one is just as good. Also, if you have the chance this week, I posted my new story for these prompts. Your feedback would be very helpful if you're free

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Tommie Michele
12:12 Nov 01, 2021

Oh, awesome! I’ve been waiting to read something from you this week—I’ll check it out whenever I have the time!

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Molly S
16:19 Oct 31, 2021

I love a good vengeance story and the inevitability that it never stops with just vengeance.

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Alex Sultan
09:24 Nov 01, 2021

Vengeance thrillers might be my favourite kind of thrillers - especially in movies. I'm glad you enjoyed reading :)

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11:28 Oct 31, 2021

What a scary story,but very interesting.

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12:32 Oct 27, 2021

Hi Alex, I'm just checking in on your edited version - comments below: The first line is much improved - sounds much more like you. Overall the read is much smoother. It seems like you fixed the issues with tense. I think you did a good job of reducing the word brigand. I'm not getting that repetitive feel anymore, even though bandit appears a lot, it doesn't feel like overkill. There are some great lines in it. And the ending is really strong. I still want to know where that book came from! This section: A book wrapped in chains, l...

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Alex Sultan
13:48 Oct 28, 2021

Thank you! I made a lot more changes. I added two paragraphs on the ritual book - Did I clear it up? Did I add more questions? I honestly can't tell. I'm already looking forward to the next prompts - this story has been a puzzle from the start. I think the paragraphs I added are good, but a second opinion would be nice if you have the chance - I know you read through this a few times already. Thanks again 😁 Also, in Canada, jewelry/jewellery are both correct for some reason. 'Jewelry' is more popular than the latter. And the change you sug...

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Tommie Michele
04:35 Oct 26, 2021

Your descriptions are really enthralling in this story. A couple lines in particular struck me: “You will die twice…against me and for me” might be one of my favorites I’ve ever read. And, of course, that last line: “And it was not enough to sate him.” Loved that. One small line-edit: “the occultist’s soul trashed within.” I think you might’ve meant “thrashed within” :). As always, you write incredible fight scenes. I’m trying to write a story this week, but school and my upcoming novel-related deadline are currently kicking short st...

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Alex Sultan
04:48 Oct 26, 2021

Thank you, friend. I'm glad you liked it. The 'die twice' line is my absolute favourite too and was the whole inspiration for the story. I wrote it down and worked backwards from it. I'm glad you like the fight scenes, and thanks for catching the error. I still plan to do a lot of work on this story. I hope to read something from you soon - I know firsthand how busy school can be, though :)

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Annalisa D.
02:21 Oct 26, 2021

Great story! Lots of really interesting visuals. I liked the ghosts coming out to take part in the fight and the ritual was interesting to picture. The action scenes are very well done. I like the ending. I noticed a couple very small errors. "Everything was ready for the ritual, and Aluin would give up anything for the pursuit of vengeance—even life itself." I suck at tenses so I could be totally wrong, but I think maybe it's would have given up anything. Makes it sound more past to me. I loved the book description, by the way. It sound...

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Alex Sultan
15:51 Oct 26, 2021

Thank you for your feedback! I like writing fantasy stories a lot, it might be my favourite genre, but I think this one came out kind of rough. I'm thankful you spent the time pointing out the errors. I'm glad you enjoyed reading through it - I like how the action scenes worked out.

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Annalisa D.
16:20 Oct 26, 2021

That's okay. Probably most stories start out a bit rough initially. Some more than others. It's amazing what some editing can do. I'm often surprised by it with my own work. I'm sure with a little work you can make it something you're totally happy with. Sometimes the word count influences that too. I've taken a couple stories from here and started making them longer on my own and really like them so much better with the full, unlimited space to work with. It's always natural to like some better than others too though. That being said, I do ...

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Kevin Marlow
21:34 Oct 25, 2021

Fun read. You have a gift for writing enthralling action scenes.

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18:28 Oct 25, 2021

OK, here goes: cw: mature subject matter, graphic violence - oh goodie :-) Everything was ready for the ritual, and Aluin would give up anything for the pursuit of vengeance(—even life itself). Anything. I'm guessing the "even life itself" might be a spoiler? It's also slightly cliched. Maybe replace with "Anything." for emphasis and to keep it a bit more open to interpretation of the reader until something happens. To be honest, this is not one of your better openings. It's a shame that you are constrained by the prompt, and perhaps th...

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18:29 Oct 25, 2021

Oh I should have said - it's a great title.

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Alex Sultan
13:20 Oct 26, 2021

Thank you. I like the title a lot too. I made a lot of changes based on your suggestions, and I think the story is a bit better. The first line is a headache, but I think it's better now? I'm not too sure with this one. There are still one or two changes I want to make(I do need to add something more on the ritual book), but any feedback on this draft would be appreciated.

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Jon Casper
17:20 Oct 25, 2021

I'm on a break so I can't do line notes yet (but I will). I wanted to give you props on a spectacular thriller. Evocative descriptions, and gripping action. Great story!

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Alex Sultan
18:16 Oct 25, 2021

Thank you, Jon! I'm not too fond of this story(yet) and I'm looking forward to your notes on it. When I get the chance later tonight, I plan to read through your story and leave my thoughts and notes aswell.

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Jon Casper
11:01 Oct 26, 2021

I can already tell you've amped it up since my last read, and it's even better now. You set a very dark tone and carry it well throughout. Vivid imagery. Superb depiction of Aluin's rage. Some notes: Everything was ready for the ritual, and Aluin found there [are] more ways to enlightenment than just divinity. -- I think you need "are" in there? The chant became a shout. Nearby books snapped open, pages flipping. Candles melted faster and faster, the occultist picking up speed, speaking in tongues banished by man. Aluin lifted from the gr...

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Alex Sultan
14:58 Oct 26, 2021

Thank you! I was changing the first line back and forward, going through a ton of them to see what worked, and didn't realize I left a word out. Thanks for bringing that error up. I'm glad you liked the action scenes. They're always my favourite thing to write. I changed up my repetition of cerulean a bit. I didn't catch it myself, and I'm glad you did. I might change it more as the week goes on. Thanks again for the feedback and kind words.

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19:56 Oct 28, 2021

Hi Alex, This is really cool now. Massively improved from the initial draft you posted. Th whole idea of him stealing souls and making them fight for him has really come to life and is awesome. I only have a couple of comments. The occultist stepped out of the ring and cleared his throat. He unlocked the book. The key clicked into place, chains rattling as they fell to the ground. The man reached into his robes and retrieved a decayed skull. Lined with cracks, centuries old. He held it high with one hand, the book open in the other, ...

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