by C.M. Galdre
It was cold and dark within the depths of the ancient cave Blēstdemnare, the air thick with icy mist, a foul miasma hanging over the frozen corpses of countless daemons. Though dead for thirteen days, they still steamed as the ice worked its way down to their massive cores, cracking and splitting the flesh, revealing the moist organs beneath.
A malevolent laugh split the silence of the dead, a sharp, metallic laugh like the bellow of an anvil as it resists the hammers strike. The dead were not alone for among them stood a figure wrapped in a brown and tattered robe. A cloak covered in sanguine stains whispering of unimaginable violence. The thing began to thrum, emitting a sound like thousands of metallic wings taking to flight -- if it were to be put in human terms, you could say the thing was humming. It liked to hum while it worked, and there was much work to be done.
On the tropical isle of Joridon and Beridion there once resided a philosopher by the name of Yot who famously said “all things in life are struggling towards Art. Art is both the ends and the means. In striving for Art, Art is made.” I mention this because, by this definition, the creature known as the Isenshrike was certainly an artist. Its Art was death, its canvas both creature and cadavre.
The Isenshrike’s gears whirled and sang as blades of every assortment and shape shot out into the darkness from hidden recesses within its grisly robe, chattering in the gloom as they did their grim work. Its eyes glowed deep purple beneath its hood and the humming that sounded like a swarm of iron locusts filled the depths of Blēstdemnare. The Isenshrike was enjoying itself thoroughly.
Flesh, horn, chitin, talon, and scale flew through the air as the creature worked. If it had a concept of luck, it would have counted itself lucky to come upon such materials as it carried out its latest hunt, such a bounty could not be ignored, and on such a good day! The Isenshrike had an infatuation with prime numbers: so clean, indivisible, except by themselves and one. There was a certain thrill in finding a corpse that lay dead for a prime number of days or was created on a prime day of the Isenshrike’s hunt. Sometimes it even waited, it relished these things in its cold metal way, and surely it was kind to let a thing exist for one or two more days to be slain on the seventh or thirteenth day of a hunt. There was even such a time -- such a special time -- that the prey had eluded its hunter until the fifty-third day of the hunt! Well, really, it had eluded the hunter until the forty-eighth day, after which the Isenshrike had waited with calculated patience.
The hours passed and the sky grew dark outside the frozen cave, but at its mouth a single torch light appeared and began to descend into the depths.
The Isenshrike stood back to admire its latest creation. The cave ran north to south along an ancient leyline and now upon its eastern wall the Isenshrike had erected a perfect replica of its many armed self, scaled up to thirty-one feet tall and made entirely of corpse fodder. The creature was especially proud of how it’d taken clusters of the daemons’ eyes and arranged them to match its own cruel apetures, severing the dangling meat and nerves at the back of each so that they let the purple hue of the Eldermark -- its mark -- it’d carved into them, glow through. It would have been a perfect moment had it not been ruined by the sound of a man retching beside the artist.
“The... the hell is that?” the man coughed.
“IT IS NICE, ISN’T IT?” replied the Isenshrike, its voice like a river of iron filings.
“I... I don’t think that I would call that nice.”
The Isenshrike’s cowl turned to the side, owl-like, as it tried to process the statement. It was not often that it encountered a human that was not currently screaming and impaled upon its many bladed arms. The experience was peculiar.
“PERHAPS IT IS MISSING SOMETHING.”
The man wiped the sick from his mouth and held his torch to see the Isenshrike’s face, but it turned to admire the hideous creation on the wall, its cowl blocking the torchlight. This is a peculiar man, the Thorgithen warrior thought. He had remembered then his job to question this outsider. It was strange to get travelers so far north and there was always the chance that the King’s treacherous son had attempted to return.
“What is your name?”
“I HAVE NONE BUT THAT WHICH OTHERS CALL ME.”
“Could you tell me what they call you then?”
“THERE ARE MANY THINGS WHICH I AM CALLED.”
“Just one then...”
“IN SOME LANDS I AM CALLED ‘DER DAUMENSCHNEIDER,’ I AM UNSURE WHY THEY BECAME FIXATED ON THUMBS I HAVE SEVERED A FAR GREATER SELECTION OF APPENDAGES.”
“Ah... I see...”
In some of the villages to the south, where the blood of Thorgithe mixed with lesser tribes there were fairy tales about a man who carried a pair of giant scissors and would cut the thumbs off of children if they sucked them. The warrior found it hard to believe that such a man could exist, especially considering the myth most likely grew out of the ancient practice of cutting the thumbs off of the children who sucked them because it was a sign of weakness. There is no need for myth when an honest explanation exists.
“Where do you hail from?”
“WHAT DO YOU CALL THE SPACE BETWEEN THE BLACK HEAVENS AND THE CLOUDS?”
“I don’t think I...”
“I AM FROM THERE.”
“If you are a Southron man, you are too far north. I will have to cut you down or send you on your way.”
A strange clicking and whirling sound came from within the depths of the cowl and the Isenshrike turned to face the warrior.
“ARE YOU A MAN OF THORGITHE?”
“Yes. I am called Hemmel.”
“DO YOU KNOW OF THE ONE CALLED ‘BEARD?’”
Hemmel spat and thumbed his cheek like he was wiping grime from his face. “I know the blood traitor. I was there when we abandoned his senseless form in the wilds. Why do you serv....”
“YOUR EXISTENCE IS NO LONGER NECESSARY.”
Hemmel was dead long before what was left of his body hit the floor. In the time between seconds, a thousand whirling blades had burst forth from the stranger’s soiled and tattered robes, severing every muscle, artery and nerve within Hemmel’s body in an instant, his blood forming a fine red mist upon the frozen floor.
The Isenshrike lifted Hemmel’s glistening red ribcage and liberated it from his body, splayed it out like a crown roast and placed it within the other splayed rib cages that formed the concentric circled mouth of the giant likeness of the Isenshrike. Its countless rotating mouth-blades spun and clicked with delight as it headed out of the cave.
“IT WAS MISSING SOMETHING.” The Isenshrike chuckled in its metallic wasp-like way as it headed out into the night in pursuit of perfect art.
The Isenshrike by Alexandra Douglass