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Fantasy Horror Fiction

Prince Alhan sat alone at a huge dining table, made to look small only by the immense size of the Great Hall that surrounded him. Herculean columns of stone, intricately carved with lavish designs, rose from the floors to support the goliath arches of the domed ceiling. A vast display of beautifully crafted stained glass windows, designed to depict various moments of historical glory for the Kingdom of Xanabar Ashar, filled the space between the giant, stone supports that buttressed the walls of the hall from the outside. A rainbow of multi-colored beams of light engulfed him and he looked as if he were living in a dream.


It did not feel like a dream to him. His chin rested in the palm of one hand with his elbow resting on the beautifully finished oak table top. With his other hand, he rolled a ball of string off the edge, challenging himself to catch it before it fell to the marble tiled floor. He had all the wealth he could imagine. He was the envy of the kingdom. He was fifteen, handsome and smart. He would be king himself one day. But, he had nothing to do. He was trapped in a world of adolescent boredom. His life was more akin to a nightmare as far as he was concerned.


The prince’s father was always busy with a royal this or a kingly that and never had time to spend with him. He felt that his father saw him as being too young to be included in anything important. The king, at best, only assigned stupid and useless tasks for the prince like meeting princesses and being tutored by scholars. Schooling bored him and for whatever reason, he could care less about princesses. Girls were nasty. To make matters worse, his father never let him leave the kingdom and even rarely the palace. The prince was a prisoner of his own life.


A tall figure, shrouded in navy blue robes, quietly shuffled into the Great Hall. His boots seemed to slide across the floor, making a faint hissing sound when he walked. He stopped, standing slightly behind the prince’s right shoulder. “What troubles you today, my lord prince?”


“Is it obvious?” He knew it was and he barely hesitated before continuing, “Hellthrim, I’m sooo bored. I’ve nothing to do. Yet, most would say I have the world in the palm of my hand. Being a prince is dull. So many things happen every day and my father lets me in on none of it. I may as well not even be here.”


“Don’t be silly, my lord prince. You are very important and you will be king yourself one day. This is only a temporary moment in your life. It merely seems as if you have no significance. You’ll grow into your worth soon, I’m sure.” The robed figure set a goblet on the table beside the prince. “I brought refreshments, lord prince.”


“Thanks, Hellthrim. You’ve forever been kind to me.” He quaffed the sweet juice and then licked his lips. “I love gazana juice.”


“I’m aware it’s your favorite, my lord prince,” the man paused briefly and then continued hesitantly, “may… may I be so bold, my lord prince, and suggest a holiday perhaps?”


The prince laughed aloud at the suggestion and the slender old man quickly mumbled something apologetically. “No need to apologize, my friend, ‘tis not your fault that I dare not leave the kingdom or the palace. It would quickly be reported to my father. I’m a prisoner here!”


“Forgive me, my lord prince, I thought I might have a way around such circumstances, but you are right and it would be deceiving to the king… I was a fool to think that you would hear me out, and I’m grateful that you didn’t allow me to share my foolish scheme.”


“Well?”, the prince turned to look the gaunt, bald-headed man in the face. His height was intimidating, but his face showed a look of concern. He’d always been a trusted advisor and teacher in the past. “Now that you’ve let the cat out of the bag, I must admit a certain level of curiosity has grabbed me and I wonder what the plan might have been.” He smiled with a childish grin, “Please, do tell. I won’t hold it against you if it turns out to be absurd… or treasonous.”


Hellthrim adjusted his stance nervously and took a deep breath. “My lord prince, my ideas are never treasonous. They’re only meant to help and serve you. My loyalties always lie with you.”


“Continue,” the prince demanded.


“Well, my plan would allow you to have a temporary holiday, my lord prince, away from all this princely boredom.”


“Where could I go on this holiday?” he asked inquisitively.


“Anywhere you like, lord prince.”


“And, how would we keep this from my father and all the watchful eyes of the palace and the kingdom and the island and… and… and.”


“Leave that up to me, lord prince.” A sinister smirk wrinkled the man’s face. “It’ll take a week, but I’ve the means to find you a... substitute, shall we say. Someone to fill in for you when you are gone on whatever adventure you wish to take.”


“Let me guess, a look-a-like?” he shook his head and laughed. “Nobody would risk being part of such a ruse and the chance of angering my father. There’s no one in the world that I’m aware of that could be trusted not to crack and spill the pot of beans. Hope is lost, I’m afraid, before my journey even begins.”


“I’ll… create one, my lord prince.” Hellthrim had a look of diabolical seriousness on his face. “It will, however, cost you something valuable.”


The prince stared at the man. He could feel a twitch of sickness in the pit of his stomach. Perhaps it was excitement or maybe fear. He had to let it become real for a moment. “I’m a person of great wealth. Cost is of no concern. I can get what you require as payment, if this is truly real?”


“It is, lord prince,” replied the man with wicked confidence.


“Then do what you will. Make it happen. I’ll expect it done in a week and I’ll prepare for my holiday. I can go anywhere? How long do I have?”


“The time you take will be up to you, lord prince, as will be the destination or destinations,” the man answered with a snicker. “The world awaits!”


“I’ll owe you a great deal. I won’t forget what you’ve done.”


“The honor is mine, my lord prince. Your happiness is my only concern.”


“Well then, to the business end of our agreement. If I’m to come up with the funds required, I’ll need to know how much I’m to pay?”


“Payment will be determined when I’m sure my plan has worked, lord prince. Not before.” There was an awkwardness to his tone. 


“Is there something you are not telling me, Hellthrim?”


“Of course not, lord prince. I only wish to be assured of success before we discuss terms.”


“Do you think it will fail?”


“I am confident it will not, lord prince,” he replied, noticeably irritated by the boy’s doubt. Hellthrim turned and slithered quietly from the room.

 ***********************************************************


A week had come and gone. Prince Alhan’s bags were packed and hidden carefully. His mind had thought out plans for every place he wanted to visit. He was worried that he would not have the time to see them all. He would have to board a ship to leave the island. Sea travel would be slow. Pirates would be an issue, especially if he were discovered. He hated pirates. He was so anxious to go. He wanted to scream. He felt he would burst if he had to wait much longer.


There was a knock at his chamber door.


The prince crossed the large bed chamber and opened the door. A small man stood in the doorway, his spine curved and twisted. Patches of mangy hair were all that remained on his head, oily and dirty. His clothes were filthy and tattered. The pungent smell hit the prince’s nostrils hard and most offensively.


“My lord,” grumbled the man with a bow.


“By the gods, Oleg, take a bath!”, the prince demanded as he swung the door open to invite the man in. The guard in the hall coughed and gasped for fresh air, moving away from the source of the odor. “Do you have no friends to tell you these things?!”


“No, my lord,” he replied honestly, showing no sign of being bothered by the comment. “Master Hellthrim requests your presence in his tower, my lord. I’ve been told to take your bags to the docks when your guard leaves with you.”


“They are under there,” he pointed at the bed, “and keep your voice down. This is a sensitive matter.”


“Of course, my lord.” Oleg maintained his bow until the prince had departed.


Leaving his room behind, the prince navigated the halls of the palace until he reached the base of Hellthrim’s tower. He posted his guard at the door, slipped inside, and started to ascend the seemingly never ending flight of stairs. He was winded and his legs ached when he finally reached the landing at the top and stood before a large, iron-bound, oaken door.


The prince, still angry and exhausted from the climb, thumped on the door with his fist. The door unlatched and slowly began to swing open with an eerie creak. He did not hesitate to enter the room. He had been here a couple times before, but it had been a while. He had forgotten how creepy it was. Cobwebs were everywhere floor to ceiling. Jars of murky water and pieces of who knows what shared shelves all around the room with old books, candles and nasty trinkets like bat skulls and insects tacked to cork boards. The place gave him the chills.


In the center of the room, something lay upon a table, covered with a white blanket. He approached cautiously. He jumped at the sound of Hellthrim’s voice as the man sprang from behind a bookshelf to stand next to the table.


“My lord prince,” he said excitedly, “welcome...welcome.”


“You scared me half to death!”


“Oh, my apologies, lord prince,” he said with a grin. “Forgive me.”


“How in the hells do you manage those stairs? Up and down it seems forever. How have they not killed you?”


“Well, my lord, I do not take the stairs. I have other means.”


“Perhaps, before I visit again, you can share with me?”


“I’d love to, but it’s quite complicated...and dangerous, my lord prince.” The old man waved his hand toward the table and the white blanket. “I’ve something for you. It’s ready.” Grabbing the blanket, he whipped it back for the great reveal.


The prince stared at what could only be described as disgusting. It resembled a person of his size, with a torso and a disfigured head. Lumpy arms and legs were somehow connected to the mass. It lay in blood and fluids that remained on the slightly concave table top.


“What is it? It looks like it’s made out of... meat?” The prince poked at it with his finger and recoiled in disgust. “It’s mushy and wet. It looks nothing like me! It appears to be an utter failure!”


Hellthrim was visibly offended by the prince’s comments. “It’s a homunculus, lord prince. I grew it in a jar,” he boasted with a proud smile. “I’ll need something from you now. Something very valuable to you. That will complete the process.”


“Fine,” replied the prince with much skepticism in his voice, “name your price then.”


“I’ll need your ring, lord prince,” the man demanded with a hiss.


“No! My ring stays with me, always.” The prince looked nervous. “Gold will surely do! How much will it take?”


“The item I need must be of great personal value to complete the transition. Besides, your substitute must wear the ring to be believable. It’s only temporary, lord prince.” The man held out his hand with an open palm and waited patiently.


With great hesitation, the prince removed the Royal Family Sigil and placed the ring in Hellthrim’s hand. “I’d better get this back. My father will flog us both if it’s lost.”


“Of course, lord prince,” the man mumbled as he placed the ring on what loosely served as a finger on the hand of the grotesque mound of flesh and then he stepped back.


Slowly, a transformation began. A boy’s body began to form itself. Hair grew where it should and muscle and skin took shape. A skull shaped head developed and facial features became clearer. Fingernails began to grow on newly shaped fingers, then toenails on toes. After a time, an exact duplicate of the prince lay before them. Before either of the onlookers could respond, the thing sat up and its eyes opened. Its face had no expression and its eyes were empty.


“Is it me?”, the prince asked.


“Not entirely,” answered the man. “In a short time, it’ll begin to mimic your mannerisms and it’ll start to replay memories and learn all there is to know about you. It’ll share your past experiences. It’ll recognize your father and know all there is to know about your family and life.” Hellthrim looked at the prince and smiled. “You can be adventuring as long as you want. The homunculus is the answer to your wishes and dreams. Go and be free of all this boredom. I shall hold down the fort when you are gone, lord prince.”


“Well, I still look like me. How will I avoid being recognized?”


Hellthrim turned and grabbed a vial of liquid from the counter behind him. “That’s what this is for, lord prince.” He handed the boy the vial. “This is the essence of the changeling and it’ll hide your true appearance.”


“Is it permanent?”, the prince asked nervously. “How do I get back to being me?”


“Well, lord prince, when you drink that, I’ll know what you look like. When you get back from your holiday, come find me and I’ll give you the potion to restore your identity and we’ll do away with your imposter here,” he assured the boy, pointing to the homunculus.


“What if something happens to you?”


“It seems you have thought of everything, lord prince, but if something were to befall me and I were unable to administer the restoration potion…”, he fumbled through some bottles on a shelf, grabbed a piece of chalk and marked the bottle. “You can find it here.” He returned the bottle to the shelf.


“Okay. I’ve no reason to doubt you.” The prince took a deep breath and popped the top of the vial, tipped back his head and swallowed the potion. “Let me get on with my adventures!”


“Indeed, boy! Indeed!” Hellthrim was visibly excited. He could not hide his glee. “I’m sure your adventure will be grand!”


The prince did not notice his advisor failed to address him formally for the first time. He was too busy feeling dizzy and clutching at the pains in his chest and gut. “Is it supposed to hurt?”


“Oh yes! It’ll definitely hurt!” He snickered and clapped his hands. “I’ve waited so long for this!”


The prince collapsed on the floor and his body was convulsing and twitching violently. He cried out for help and then he just cried. His body began to change its shape. He was shrinking in size and a transformation began from human to something quite different.


Hellthrim waited patiently for the process to end, almost dancing with joy. When it was done, he scooped up what remained of the prince from the pile of clothing on the floor and walked over to the nearest window. On a table sat a tall, round, wire cage with a domed top. Inside, he placed the prince, shut and locked the cage door and waited.


Blazing red and orange feathers ruffled wildly as a beautiful parrot stood up inside the cage. It fluttered from side to side and finally perched on a small swing in the cage when it realized it could not escape.


Hellthrim laughed and clapped his hands maniacally. “How goes the adventure so far, boy! Oh, how I’ve grown tired of listening to you whine about your boredom.”


The bird just screeched at the man.


“Not to rub it in boy, but if you’d ever bothered to pay attention to your studies, you may have seen this coming. The homunculus and I are linked, you know. I can see and hear all it experiences. It knows all that you know and I control it. When your father succumbs to some unfortunate fate later, guess who will be king, boy! I hope you guessed it’ll be me. If you were better educated, you would also know that if you die, it dies. So, I can’t have you wandering the world risking your life and spoiling my plans to rule,” he laughed again at the boy's stupidity. "If you would have listened to any of your courtly tutors, they would have taught you never to trust anyone! Not. Even. Me!”


The bird just screeched again, but there was a hint of hatred in the sound. 


“Well, enjoy the first day of your adventure! I’ll take your double and your bodyguard for a walk about the palace perhaps.” The old man helped the homunculus to its feet, got it dressed in the prince’s discarded clothing and headed out the door. He looked back and called out to the prince, “Bet you wish you weren't such a fool! You should have had someone to watch your back!” The laughter echoed through the room as the door slammed shut.


“Watch your back,” screeched the parrot. “Watch your back.”


April 09, 2021 00:39

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2 comments

Claire Lindsey
22:44 Apr 09, 2021

Hi Ryan! I almost feel bad for the prince but honestly, trusting a guy like Hellthrim is just asking for trouble. I wasn’t expecting the parrot, but I knew nothing good was coming. Overall, I’m really impressed by your strength at imagery and setting that propels the story forward (like the initial description of the tower). A couple minor edit suggestions: “I can get what you require as payment if this is truly real?” (Consider adding a comma after payment) “If you would have listened to any of your courtly tutors, they would have tau...

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Ryan Dupont
03:49 Apr 10, 2021

Claire, Thanks for reading my story, the kind words, and for catching those errors. I fixed them right away. This story is actually the origin story for the parrot, which appears in another of my tales. And, you were right, the boy was far too trusting of Hellthrim. Someday, I may try to write a story with nice characters and happy people, but that sounds a little boring. :)

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