Second Place

Crispy Offerings

by Kari Holloway

 

The light flickered on the walls as the sisters danced, while Aillen played a beautiful tune on his harp. Each pluck of the harp strings filled the cave, enchanting all within earshot.

The youngest with blonde hair and the bluest of eyes turned to him in joy. “Please, play again.” She hopped from one foot to the next. “It’s been a whole year since you visited, and we miss your melodies.”

With fiery hair and dressed in an emerald gown, the oldest sister—whose stern demeanor kept the daughters of Airitech in check most days—smiled and danced, linking arms with the middle sister. “Please, just until the sun sets and the stars above dot the sky.”

The middle sister untangled herself from her well-meaning sister and leaned against the wall of the cave gazing out into a world forbidden most days. Longingly she gazed at the rising moon. The sweet smell of dried grasses travelled on the breeze from the valley below, ruffling the ends of her hair before spilling to fill the room.

Aillen’s chuckle filled the cave as he stood. “I can’t she-wolves. Any other night of the year, and I would fight the veil itself to be in such lovely company.” His hand hovered near the blonde’s hair, causing it to look like spun rubies in the light from his maw. “But tonight, you hunt, and I have a feast to attend at Tara.”

She pursed her lips in a pout yet conceded his point.

The middle sister pushed herself off the wall. “Come my sisters. The autumn moon hangs in the sky, and the chill breeze begs for company.” She crossed her arms and held her head high, waiting for them to join her.

Under the rising harvest moon, the sisters stepped from their prison and into the realm of men. The winds whipped their hair about their faces and tugged at their dresses. Their faces elongated, and their skin rippled before splitting to reveal the darkest of furs. As one, a chorus of howls filled the air announcing their arrival and the beginning of the night’s hunt.

Aillen reached over and picked up his harp. Settling it against his shoulder, he plucked a few strings and set out behind the trio frolicking across open fields, vacant of summer hays. Within a few minutes, his stride easily outpaced the she-wolves, and unhurried by such things, they played under his feet as if it were a game and enjoyed the melodies he strummed.

Across the fields, livestock bodies moved through fallow fields, munching on the leftover dregs of summer harvest. Near the towering inferno of the bonfires, the hiss of flames consuming offerings of plant and beast crackled and mixed with the cries of prayers as people gathered near the town’s center. Large antlered deermen danced, and druids told of future fortunes and legacies lost while mead flowed free and spirits crossed the great divide.

Pushing the trivialities of man from his thoughts, he let the gentle music spread across the field, foretelling of his coming.

The sisters snarled and snapped, and in fluid mobility, they vaulted over a fence, going after wee lambs and suckling calves—the tenderest of meats—to whet their appetite. The herd shifted, bleating their woes into the night, knowing some would be lost come morning’s caress.

Wishing the sisters well on their night’s ventures, Aillen turned along the trail following the glowing fires on the horizon. The notes of the harp grew softer yet more ridged in demand; no longer was he content in letting mortals stumble about and seek their beds. All those who heard it dropped where they stood, held fast by slumbering sands.

The first of Tara’s ramparts greeted him. Ignoring the earthen walls barring his path, he walked along the road and through the front gates as if he had been an invited guest.

The bonfires continued to dance with the stars, expelling a shower of sparks up into the air with a belch of crackling woods. Druids sagged against tables and laid along the floors, predictions forgotten for the night. Hounds and cats feasted on dropped trays yet scurried from his approach. At the heart of Tara, guards slumped against wall and floor, unable to care about their job, their duty, or their loyalty to the High King.

He opened his mouth and bellowing flames shot from the never-ending inferno in the pit of his stomach. Fire consumed the outlaying buildings, eating up the massive timbers and the thatched roofs fell in.

Beasts of burden pulled at their restrains, trying to flee the roaring fire. The lovely kiss of death widened their eyes, and in their soulless depths, fear made them no different than the human occupants that would soon join them in a true sacrifice to the gods.

Shadows danced against the stone sides of the King’s Keep. Passed the crowning stone, he walked toward the towering spectacle and smiled. May this year sate even the greediest of gods.

He chuckled at the awkward lad unfortunate enough to be wedged in an open doorway. Stepping over the boy, he smiled at the disarray that filled the great room. A banquet fit for a king laid before all invited, ravaged but not completely devoured. He paused at a table, swiping the sweet mead tankard from the loose grasp of a man. Downing the drink, he stared at the cup for a second before igniting it with a hellish ember, reducing it to blackened ash.

Wiping the soot from his hand on the back of a slumped patron, he surveyed the room. Not much had changed in a year or in twenty years.

This had become child’s play. With his harp as company, no one could harm him. No one could get close enough for even the most rudimentary acts. The fun had become lacking but still he was thrilled with the prospects of maybe.

He made his way toward the dais, he nudged a soon-to-be corpse, fascinated by the way it wiggled. Changing the notes of music, the great room’s tapestries ignited, burning their way to the rafters. The flames danced like serpents on the hunt. The heavy sent of pitch began to override the sweet and succulent smells of boar just to be replaced by charred human flesh unfit even for the vultures.

Wreathed by flames and the room engulfed with no escape for mortal man, Aillen stood before the all-powerful High King, the man who reigned over all the sun touched. “Powerful?” he scoffed. “I think not.” He opened his maw unleashing a hellish inferno, ending the reign of yet another.

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Kari Holloway is an American author with over a twenty published works to her name. Between the twisting tales of southern romances filled with iconic components of sexy cowboys (Laughing P) and first loves (Strings Attached), exploring the unexplained in her paranormal series (Devil’s Playground), finding her way to the battlefields of the Civil War, and to love’s first kiss under the weeping willow through various anthologies, there is something for just about everyone to enjoy. She’s currently working on book 5 in her Devil’s Playground series—slated for release in 2019—while waiting to meet up with friends to play the icon game Fluxx.

To learn more about Kari Holloway, visit her website at www.kariholloway.com

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