Short Fiction

Shadows of Deception

Joe had prepared for most of his life to become a warrior in order to protect his home, the Divine Kingdom of Eternity, led by its Ruler: the Invincible. Stories of great battles hundreds of thousands of years ago became tales passed down for generations—the Invincible, against all types of demons and creatures, erected this Kingdom from scratch and helped protect it from swarms of monsters. 

The Invincible requested all minors to dedicate their lives towards protecting the Kingdom. Every year, approximately one-third of all the eighteen year olds would become the Chosen Ones, or the ones who would protect the city from abominable monsters. Only these chosen warriors were allowed to leave the city, as it was deemed too dangerous by the Invincible for anyone else to leave. These Chosen Ones were then led towards battle, and only through their sacrifice in protecting the Kingdom against outside monsters could they reach the gates of heaven. This Kingdom was sprawled within a desert that stretched as far as the eye could see. The sand appeared a deep beige color, while in the distance there were mountains that seemed to reach the sun. The sky was a bright blue all year round, yet during and after the choosing of the warriors, the sky transformed to dark grey as clouds hovered over the Kingdom, yet no rain ever fell. The Invincible controlled all of the food and water, so if one was not obedient towards the Invincible, they would be dead within a few days. 

Now, Joe prepared to leave the city. The thought of leaving his family behind troubled him, and he sensed tears descending down his visage, for nobody had ever returned to the Kingdom after being granted the label of a master warrior. Joe knew his family had been there for him and taken care of him during his hardships; it therefore troubled Joe that he could not be there for them when his family needed support. Nevertheless, Joe understood that everyone must make sacrifices for the greater good—Joe must sacrifice seeing his family, and his family must sacrifice seeing him. Tears were now streaming down Joe’s cheeks like water plummeting down a waterfall; his memories inundated through his mind. Albeit submerged with sorrow, Joe suddenly felt a rush of endorphins, causing his heart to race and his body to quiver with excitement from pride and satisfaction. He packed all his goods, comprised of a vast amount of weapons as well as some food and water. With the rest of the Chosen Ones, he neared the gate, opening into the mysterious outside world. Suddenly, a powerful force struck the sand in front of them, a force so thunderous it left all the chosen warriors stretched across the sand. One of the few still standing, Joe looked at the man before him, his mouth agape. He assumed that the Invincible was there to encourage the Chosen Ones for their coming journey. 

Instead, the Invincible pushed a filthy, famished man in front of them. This man looked a year older than Joe at most. He was scrawny and his clothes were torn apart. From what Joe could see, he bore countless scars. What troubled Joe the most were his eyes—dark grey, sunken eyes––filled with both dread and hatred, yet laced with deep fear.

“This man is a despicable traitor. Do not befriend him. Do not converse with him. Do not listen to him. He is untrustworthy, and he will only bring trouble. He is an enemy of me, and therefore he is an enemy of everyone in this Kingdom. This man will be your slave. Kill him if he disobeys,” ordered the Invincible. “Now, congratulations on all your achievements. Be on your way now, my trustee here will lead the way. Remember, everything you do is for the greater good of the Divine Kingdom of Eternity. We thank you for your service.”

Everyone cheered on the group. Joe gave his parents one last hug. As everyone headed for the gate, the traitor did not budge. He was shivering as if the Kingdom was in the arctic rather than a desert, and his eyes seemed to widen larger than a saucer. Time froze and the world appeared to be silent as this man collapsed before them, consumed by terror.

“NOOOO! YOU CANNOT DO THIS! HE’S L—” shrieked the traitor. The Invincible did not allow the traitor to finish, and with one punch the traitor flew twenty-five yards. Joe watched as blood spurt out of the traitor’s mouth, but still the traitor got up and followed the Chosen Ones. What a strong will to live, Joe thought, he must have an important reason. Now that Joe was behind the traitor, something caught his eye. On the traitor’s neck, a mark that stretched from side to side, creating a sort of upside down ‘w,’ like a seagull in flight. This looks awfully familiar, Joe thought. I recall seeing this symbol in my childhood… once when I was getting bullied by some kids a year older because I was learning axe throwing and accidentally hit… right, this was the same symbol on one of them who actually helped me… could it be my friend Bob?

Joe could not believe his eyes. Bob was only a year older, but was extremely strong and gifted, the strongest in his class. Bob had helped Joe through countless situations, and without Bob’s support, Joe knew he would not be in the position he currently was in. Although the Invincible specifically instructed the Chosen Ones not to converse with Bob, Joe knew he had to at least try and understand Bob’s story, and maybe help return the favor.

It had been a full two days of walking and camping, following the trustee miles and miles across the barren desert land. Dark clouds overhead covered most parts of the sun, leaving a sliver of light which created ominous shadows and cast a dark red color upon the sand. The Kingdom which they left was nowhere in sight, while in front of them a dark jungle appeared. Trees as tall as the clouds crowded this jungle in front of them, creating a canopy which allowed very little light to pass through. The constant rustling of leaves and the calls of distant animals echoed through the jungle. The trustee left them there to go deeper into the jungle, stating that he must return back to the Kingdom. 

Joe finally worked up the courage to approach and talk to Bob. “Hey Bob? Is that you?” Joe whispered as he approached.

“Yeah… They made me pretty ugly didn’t they?” Bob let out a weak smile. “I was hoping you would recognize me.”

“What happened to you? Why did you betray our Kingdom? I trusted you… everyone trusted you!” 

“You don’t understand!” Bob exclaimed. “You don’t recognize what your current situation is. You follow the Invincible’s orders blindly, brainwashed to believe his lies, and never think about the circumstances. Ever wonder how, in all these years, no warrior ever comes back to the Kingdom? Everyone here has been training from the moment we were born, yet it seems as if everyone sent out has always been killed? Have you never thought that the Invincible is simply sending you to your deaths?”

“This is absolutely outrageous! The Invincible is right, you are a blatant liar and traitor!” exclaimed Joe, in disbelief. 

“You must trust me. At this point I gain nothing from lying. The trustee has led us here, but do you not wonder why you hear no battle occuring? I will tell you why! This is a complete trap! Inside this jungle, there are monsters far beyond our strength! These are the true guardians of the Kingdom, not us! Though, in order to maintain friendly relations, the Invincible has to feed them, and we are the meal.” 

Suddenly, fear engulfed Bob’s eyes, and he turned and sprinted towards the darkness of the jungle, away from the group. Bob does not seem to be lying. What he told me must have provoked a memory, causing such a strong sense of fear, Joe thought.

“Hey you traitor! Stop right there!” shouted one of the Chosen Ones. He pulled out his bow and arrow and was about to shoot. Joe thought of the countless times Bob had helped him, and decided, although Bob might be wrong, Joe must help him. Joe tackled the Chosen One and punched him across the face, knocking him unconscious. Knowing that he would not be forgiven for this act of betrayal, Joe took off running after Bob.

It was after around 30 minutes of sprinting that Bob finally stopped sprinting and Joe caught up to him.

“Bob! Where are you going?”

“Joe? I—I guess I got lost in my thoughts and my terror, my apologies. These beasts ate all my friends, and only because of all their sacrifices was I able to escape. I recall my best friend’s wish as clearly as if it were yesterday. He pleaded with me to go back and save everyone, but before he could finish talking, the beasts ate him…” Bob sighed.  

“If what you say is true, we must capture one of these beasts and present it to the Kingdom! Only then will people believe us!” Joe exclaimed.

“Yes, yes I agree, but I am afraid that, because I let my fear engulf me earlier, I have brought us extremely close to these beasts, I can—”

Abruptly, a flash of black seemed to move from the side of Joe’s eyes, and a terrible noise erupted through the forest. 

“It—It’s here” Bob whimpered. Joe had never seen his friend—the person he often looked up to when he was younger—this frightened. Joe handed Bob a spear while Joe readied his bow and arrow. At this point, Joe’s heart was beating faster than a war drum right before battle, as loud as a hurricane on a tempered sea. To Joe, it seemed like the Jungle was a moving torture machine, as within every corner and every cavity lay a danger capable of murder. In a flash, a dark creature, almost like a shadow, leaped from the undergrowth nearby and attacked Bob.

“Go for the eyes! Go—AHH!” Bob screamed. Before Bob could do any damage he was instantly killed by the monster, his torso and up already within the monster’s mouth, cleanly removed from legs. Joe knew that Bob was gone, and although Joe was taught to fight to death, Joe turned and ran. 

Dread and fright consumed Joe, causing him to run faster than he could imagine, giving him a sensation that he was running on air. It seemed like an eternity of running to Joe, but he could still hear the stomps of the beast behind him, getting louder and louder every time. Joe felt an incredible force knock into him, causing Joe to fall face first into the dirt and drop his bow. He turned quickly, only to come face to face with the beast. Bright red eyes hidden amongst a sea of furry darkness, with evil intent surrounding the blood red pupils, and blood dripping across his long dagger-like teeth. Joe remembered what Bob had said right before his demise, and quickly grabbed his dagger on the side of his belt. Right when the monster had opened his mouth, Joe plunged the dagger into the beast’s left eye as blood gushed out, causing the beast to roar in agony. The beast missed its bite, but Joe still felt soaring pain across his body. Joe knew he had mortally wounded the beast, but looking down Joe saw nothing but a sea of red covering the ground, like the canopy above covering the sunlight from reaching the forest floor. His left side, going from his abdomen to his leg, was gone. Joe felt blood rushing out of his body like a river pouring out his soul downwards towards hell. Gaining a surge of adrenaline, Joe crawled backwards into a ditch shielded by rocks and tree trunks on its side. At this point the monster’s roars had become distant.

Joe realized during this encounter he had lost all of his supplies, leaving only his body and his dagger. Dehydration, exhaustion, fear, and pain surrounded him, clouding Joe’s thoughts and judgement. The next few moments felt like a timeless dream, almost unreal. He saw his group in the distance, around seventy-five yards away, walk into an open clearing without trees. Joe wanted to warn them, to prepare them for what was coming, but it was too late. The beasts, dozens of them, leaped out from behind the shadows, and before one even had the time to blink, most of the group was already dead. None of the Chosen Ones were left alive, all slaughtered in a terrible massacre that left the ground and plants soaked in blood.

Joe knew he was no match for these beasts, but he could not bear the thought of all his acquaintances, all those he grew up with or looked up to, being slaughtered right in front of his eyes. Could Bob be right? Or are these the monsters that the Invincible sent us here to defeat? Are they going to attack the Kingdom next? Joe thought. Have I failed my Kingdom, my family, my honor? Or have I been deceived, as everyone else has been deceived? Nevertheless, Joe crawled out of his hiding spot, looking for the monster he had fatally wounded to hopefully bring back to the Kingdom before it was too late.

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