The Journey of a Thousand Miles [Flash Fiction]
Themes: Horror, Demons, Suspense
It came in the night. A rage-filled howl shattered the peaceful air of the valley, screaming its promise of pain and death. Zihao’s eyes flew open. He pushed himself up from his futon and grasped the hilt of his sword. Fear clawed at his stomach; he fought against it, and won.
He slid down the ladder from his treetop hut. The demon’s taint was in the air, oily, charred, a bitter stench of fire and blood. It was faster than Zihao had imagined; piercing screams told him it had already reached the village.
Zihao ran, bare feet pelting the ground, lungs aflame, head filled with that same oily char and bitter stench. He opened himself to it, letting it fill him, drinking in as much as he dared until it threatened to scour away everything that he was.
He found the demon in the outskirts of the village, amongst the splintered ruins of wooden huts. Men and women ran screaming from the formless black tendrils which oozed from the destructive mass. Zihao did not see Guanyin running with them. He drank more of the darkness.
“DEMON!” he screamed as he skidded to a halt just out of its reach.
The thing turned. It slid forward like liquid. The words carved into his bone sword began to glow, and as the demon enveloped him, Zihao stepped into its heart.
It was a small demon, hare-sized. Its gaping maw opened and closed as it tasted the air, its eyeless head swivelling back and forth. When it tasted the magic from the protective charms on the sword, it screeched, and leapt. Zihao brought the sword up, and the demon realised its error too late. Impaled, it screamed its death throes as black ink poured down the length of the sword and washed over Zihao. It took every ounce of control he possessed to hold onto himself and not let the demon’s taint claim his soul as its own.
The black cloud faded, dispersed by the wind. Zihao stood panting, until he heard his name screamed by Dai-Tai. Forgetting about the demon taint still covering him, he ran towards the ruins of the home shared by the sisters.
Dai-Tai cradled Guanyin’s head in her lap, and when he saw his beloved, Zihao dropped to his knees with a cry, the sword slipping from his hand. Guanyin’s eyes were closed, and though there was not a scratch upon her, her veins stood out, black beneath the warm olive of her skin.
“No, Guanyin!” He reached out to brush a lock of hair from her face, ignoring the tears which burned in his eyes. “Guanyin, my love, you are safe now. I’ve saved you. I slew the demon. Please wake up.”
He looked up as footsteps approached. Though his eyes were tear-blurred, there was no mistaking the Elder. Hope flared in Zihao’s breast.
“Elder, what is wrong with Guanyin?” he asked. The Elder would know what to do.
“You already know what is wrong with her, Zihao.” Her eyes, clouded with age, were full of pity as she looked at him. “Walk with me.”
His heart wanted to stay with Guanyin, but his head told him to go with the Elder. He listened to his head, and walked with her through the undamaged section of the village. She was careful not to touch the black liquid on his body, and the rest of the villagers gave them a wide berth.
“Recite to me the story of the Ancient Creed.”
She wanted to hear that, now? But… it was a story every child knew.
“Humour me,” she said.
“Long ago, our ancestors were no different to any other people,” he began. “Bloodthirsty, murderous, given to jealousy and anger. Men fought each other, and treated women like the cattle they owned.
“The great Weizhe, our first Elder, found a way to separate the evil from a person’s soul, leaving only the good behind. But the evil had to go somewhere, and so the first demons were formed out of mankind’s anger and jealousy; out of our sins.”
The Elder nodded. “Once in every generation, a baby is chosen to bear the taint of the demons so that he, or she, has the strength to battle them when they come to hunt and kill us. You have trained long and hard to live with the darkness inside your soul, Zihao, but the rest of us do not have your strength. Guanyin has been touched by pure evil. With every day that passes, she will become more and more like a demon, until eventually, her soul is lost.”
The tears returned, burning his cheeks. His fingers, bereft of the sword’s hilt, curled inwards, nails biting his palms. He welcomed the pain as a companion to the breaking of his heart.
“I bear the taint because Guanyin’s love gives me strength.” His voice cracked. He didn’t care. “If I lose her… I will lose myself, Elder. I cannot live without her. There must be some way to help her.”
“There is.” The Elder stopped and turned to face him. “Far from here, on the highest slope of Mount Emei, grows the Tree of Life. Weizhe first used its root to banish the evil from the souls of our people, and I believe it can be used to save Guanyin. You must go there, and fetch back a portion of its root.”
“But… Mount Emei is so very far away! How am I supposed to make such a journey?”
“One step at a time. But you must hurry, and take care. Here, in the valley, your soul is strengthened by the goodness in the rest of us. Out there… it is not a good world, Zihao.”
Zihao nodded in understanding. For Guanyin, he would walk a thousand miles. Ten thousand. If he had to slay every demon between here and Mount Emei, he would save the woman who had promised to be his wife.
Today’s story hits two prompts. The main one is the #BlogBattle theme prompt of Rebel, with a genre of Horror. The second is an Absolute Write 90-minute flash fiction prompt of “so very far“. I had a lot of fun writing this, and couldn’t help but blend a little fantasy into the horror. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and please check out the other stories which will be appearing on this week’s Blog Battle within the next 24 hours!