The Nightdwellers

Author's Note: Before you start this story, dear readers, let me tell you some things. For one thing, this, and many of the fantasy stories I have posted in here, take place in the same world. I call the world Tellus and it's still a young world, early in the creation stages. Also, I've started to write THE END of these, to make sure people understand that this, and others when it comes around, is merely a one-shot story, in case the summary doesn't send the message across.

That aside, I hope you all enjoy this story, it's one I have a little more pride in some of my stories. Look out for my story next week, it'll be a special story set aside specifically for the Halloween holiday that's fast approaching.

He regretted ever opening his big mouth the second he walked into the large cave outside of his village. He never volunteered for this sort of thing, but someone had to do it and since he was the one who said one word about doing something, the duty was thrust upon him. Because of that, he was now lost in the cave with only a scattergun, a handful of ammunition and a lantern that was almost out of oil to burn. Soon, he would be thrust into complete darkness and hopelessly lost on the cold day of late autumn.

How did he end up in this position, you may ask? Prior to his excursion, the boneyard in his village of Khun was constantly desecrated by unseen raiders. Freshly dug graves would be found empty, the coffins shattered and laying about in piles of splinters. Not only that, but those who were sent out to be on watchman duty would be found in the morning, their throats ripped out and their blood soaked into the soil as their blank eyes stared up at the sky in sheer terror. The villagers of Khun, having lived in Knoss for generations, knew well of the dangers of wild beasts, but it still upset them a great deal.

"We are under siege from scavengers!" the headman of his village had declared. "Judging from the teeth marks on our dead, we now know that the animals who constantly steal our dead are but mere wild dogs or wolves! A pack of them, of at least a half dozen in number, by their tracks."

"Wolves!" a farmer had cried out. "My brother died because of a blasted wolf pack?"

"Let's hunt them down!" yelled another. "Let's blow a hole in their skulls and take their pelts!"

The headman held up his arms, silencing the excited crowd before him. "We've followed their tracks to Bouda Cave."

A wave of fear and worry rushed over the villagers. Bouda Cave was thought of as a local legend. For years, there were stories told by the elders that the cave was once home to monsters that would roam the countryside and slaughter innocent children at night. According to the stories, the people were so troubled by the monsters, the headman at the time established a long-standing law that forbid anyone to go in there.

That is when he, the hero of our tale, rose over the crowd. "We can't let this continue! The boneyard is sacred to our people and our dead are being disturbed by the desecration. We must forget our childhood fears and nightmares and hunt these wolves down to put an end to their scavenging! Not only that, but should they be allowed to continue to live on, their numbers will no doubt grow and then all of our animals and children will be at risk. Least of all, think of our brothers who have died in the night because of them!"

"We understand your concern, Marco, but we do not dare enter the cave. The law strictly says-"

"To hell with the law!" Marco screamed. "Our people are in danger!"

"If you are so adamant, Marco, to go against one of the oldest laws in our village's history, then you can go and find those wolves yourself, but know that you go alone!"

The next day, Marco entered Bouda Cave, with scattergun and lamp in hand. He was no hunter, so he knew nothing of wolves and the like, but he knew how to use the scattergun well enough to defend himself. His ignorance of wolves left him lacking in how they lived and how they hunted, but he had assumed that since they came and did their business at night, then they must have some time in the day to rest and enjoy their meals. If he could just come across the beasts while they were fat and sleepy from stolen flesh, then he may be able to rid them before night fell.

By mid-day (according to his assumption), he had explored only a bit of the great cave and sat down on a flat stone, needing a rest. The lantern he kept on the ground in front of him while his firearm remained in his arms. He had only a meager breakfast that morning, not wanting to be slowed down by a full meal, so his stomach rumbled audibly. How he longed for food now!

Marco had no real sense of time in the cave, but after he felt rested enough, he reached for his lantern, eager to be done with his hunt. As he moved, he heard a sound and froze. It sounded like the sound his dog made when it moved about the kitchen's wooden floor.

Click-clack. Click-clack.

The dog, getting on in his years, stayed home, so it could not have been the mutt that made the sound that echoed around him in the dark. Licking his lips, Marco cocked the hammer of his scattergun and tensed his muscles. He just needed to see a snout, or fur, or the eyes and he would drop it right where it stood.

Click-clack. Click-clack.

Marco looked all around. The echo from the cave walls made it hard to pinpoint where it was coming from. Finally, he caught sight of something just beyond the radius of the lamplight: shadows, at least four of them.

"There you are!" Marco lifted his scattergun, trying to keep track of the shadows. As he watched them, he noticed that something wasn't right. Having spent years with a dog, he believed that wolves would behave and be about the same size as his dog, but these shadows that stalked him didn't act like a dog, nor were they the size of them. As a matter of fact, they seemed to be as big as him! He scowled, finger on the trigger and muttered, "What in God's name are you creatures?"

The light from his lamp dimmed suddenly, startling the hunter. The oil was running out and he would soon be in total darkness, at the mercy of these beasts. Although fear began to encroach on him, Marco was not going to run from this. These things had killed people he knew: friends, fellow workers, even his older brother.

The lamp's glow finally went out and as soon as it did, Marco heard a laughter that made his blood run cold. One of the shadows finally lunged at him and he pulled the trigger. A great thundering blasted throughout the cave, followed by a yelp and a heavy form collided into Marco. The force knocked him off his feet and his head crashed against the same stone he had used as a seat. A shooting pain filled his head accompanied by a gathering of bright spots and lights. The creature on top of him slashed at his shirt and he could feel his hot blood trickle from the wounds, but he could do nothing about it.

The beast took hold of him and began to drag him away.

The laughter came again and he knew nothing more.

His sense of hearing returned to him before he could open his eyes. He could hear the sound of a crackling fire, the chilling laughter and a collection of guttaral voices. He tried to move, but he found himself immobile with something holding his legs and arms together; rope, by the feel of it. How could beasts have done this to him?

"Never before has a human wandered into our home!" a voice, and a very angry one by the sound of it, said scathingly. "Is there more of them?!"

"No, Chieftain," one voice, sounding very timid. "He was alone. Armed, but alone."

Chieftain let out a beastly growl. "Not dead?"

"We thought we'd bring him to you, Chieftain, so you may decide how we deal with the intruder. You hold power over all in our clan, we did not want to act without your consent, lest we invite your wrath."

Marco's eyes fluttered open and he found himself in a horrifying position. He lay among a pile of bones, most of which were picked clean, save a number that still had moist flesh clinging on. He was facing a cave wall and on the wall was a number of shadows, all of which were cast by the fire he had heard. The bones themselves were disturbing enough, but it were the shadows that struck true fear into his heart.

The shadows moved back and forth along the wall and he saw that they walked like men, but they were monstrous! Some of them were hunched over, but they were all quite hairy, as he could see by the shapes of straggling hair sticking outward. Curved claws extended from their digits and snouts sported dozens of jagged triangles that he knew had to be teeth.

"Dear God, where am I?" he croaked.

The biggest shadow suddenly perked it's head up and again, the laughter came to him. "It seems our guest is awake. Bring him to me, my children."

More shadows moved and rough, strong hands grabbed him by bound legs and arms and picked him up with ease. Marco was moved from the bone pile and he was finally granted a vision of terror and truth. The creatures whose mercy he found himself in were indeed humanoid, but they were filthy, furry things with big black eyes, long snouts caked with feces and insects and saliva, and rotting, yellow teeth. The laughter he had heard so often came from their throats, each laugh harmonized by the next.

He was brought to the Chieftain, who sat upon a throne of skulls of varying sizes, belonging to men and animal alike. The figure of the beast was not just similar to that of a human, but mounds jutting outward on its hairy chest told him that this...thing was a female. He was tossed before her feet and he gave a sharp cry, the gash marks on his chest burning.

The she-thing crouched down, her face just inches from his own. "You have invaded our den, human. Did no one ever tell you that to enter a den of gnolls means certain death?"

Gnolls! Never before had Marco heard or seen anything of the sort, but he knew he would never forget it. "Please," he begged, "spare me!"

"Spare you? Spare you!" Chieftain grabbed him by the scalp and hauled him upward, smirking at his crying. "Why should I? What is to stop me from having my pack feast upon your bones like they have done with others of your village?" She held out arm and one of the others placed the scattergun into her free hand. "You have come into our den, with the intent to kill us! By the laws of man, we have more than a right to kill you as a way to defend ourselves."

Marco shut his eyes. He didn't want to look at the thing before him a moment longer.

"LOOK UPON ME, HUMAN!" Chieftain bellowed, shaking the poor wounded man. "LOOK UPON BAAKO, CHIEFTAIN OF CLAN NIGHTDWELLER!"

He opened his eyes. They were brimming with tears. "Y-You...k-killed-"

Chieftain Baako released his scalp, but as he fell, she lurched forward and locked her powerful jaws around his neck. He let out a pitiful scream just before she broke his neck and severed his jugular. She shook her head fiercely, moving the corpse about as a dog would a toy, then let it slump against the floor. Blood dripping from her fangs, she looked to her clan. "Tonight, we go not for the boneyard, but for the entire village! Tonight, we feast upon men, women and children!"

Bouda Cave was soon filled with cries and laughter of tremendous joy. The people of the village could hear the unholy noise easily from their homes. They thought of and prayed for Marco, never knowing what cruel fated awaited them that very evening.

The End