This is a short story I wrote as background for a D&D character I created.
It caused the writing bug to bite, and I've been working on my first novel ever since (though about a different character). I would love any feedback on the story and style. Thanks!
It’s not every day a man wakes up in a coffin. As he awoke, Zert looked around and attempted to get his bearings. He was still armored, and he could feel his trusty battleaxe, Bertha, resting comfortably at his side. Banging the sides of the coffin, he cursed quietly realizing he was already in the ground.
The sword that had originally killed the human had slipped in under his right arm; right through one of the few weak spots in the plate mail armor he wore as a paladin for The Church. He struggled to free his left arm so he could feel around where there should have been a hole in his chest. As far as he could tell, the wound had been fully healed. He wasn’t completely sure, but he couldn’t even feel a scar.
He had been attempting to apprehend a local blasphemer who had taken up with a small time gang. There was a time when ruffians would flee at the first sign of paladins from The Church. Sadly, times were changing, and Zert found himself quickly entangled in a sword fight with six thugs in an alley. Zert was well trained with his axe and shield, and held his own. Three of the felons were wounded or dead before the blasphemer got lucky. He came in from behind as Zert raised his battleaxe to take down another of his adversaries.
Dying was not what Zert expected. Everything immediately went numb. He expected a sharper pain where the small sword had stuck him. He remembered hearing some chanting from the blasphemer before the world left him behind.
The young paladin soon realized just what happened when he found himself in the company of something completely inhuman. Zert smelled rot; the smell of death. It seemed everything around him was dead or dying. The creature, a hulking mass of blackness with five terrible red eyes, spoke to him. He felt as if the demon was speaking through him; Zert could feel the deep voice more than hear it.
“You seem to have lost a bet little thing,” it said as its face contorted into what Zert assumed must have been some unearthly smile. “It has been a while since I have had the company of something so,” it paused, “alive.”
Panic took over as Zert looked for a way out of this gruesome place. As he looked around, he could see no beginning nor end to where he was. There were no walls, no ceiling, and no sky. Everything was dark and dank. Large piles of rotting things were all around him.
He scrambled to his feet as fast as he could and ran. He ran as fast as his frightened body would carry him. As he ran, Zert felt the laughter of the beast reverberating through him, down to his bones. No matter how far he ran, he could not escape the laughter.
“Why is it you things always think running will get you anywhere?” the creature chuckled. Zert looked up skidded to a stop as he realized the demon was right in front of him. Shaken, he noticed he was right back where he started. Had he run in a circle? Had the demon teleported him through some sort of dark magic? Had he even moved at all?
Zert straightened up as best he could; trying to push the fear deep down that he might control himself in this awful moment. He stuttered slightly, “I-I’ve heard what unholy things like you do to your victims. Wi-will you torture me for eternity, or just eat me?”
He wondered what he had done to his God to deserve this. He knew he wasn’t the purest follower of the Highest, but Zert never would have imagined he had earned such a hellish punishment.
“Perhaps I will do both?” the demon grinned. “Perhaps you taste better if you’ve been properly tortured and tenderized first.” The demon’s voice trailed off as it brought its face close in to Zert’s. The creature was at least ten feet tall. The shocked, dead man could feel its breath upon his face, though he could not make out a mouth or nose in the blackness.
As it came in close, Zert felt the fear rise up in him again. It started in the pit of his stomach and rose up through his chest. He could feel his heartbeat quicken as the fear passed through the chest and rose up into Zert’s throat. He could feel a scream rise up, and he bit down hard to keep it from coming out. Zert could taste blood as he bit down on his tongue, keeping the hysteria from overwhelming him.
This could be a test, the paladin thought to himself. He might still have a chance to pass this and earn his way into the heavenly halls he’d dreamed of as a boy. “Do what you will, demon” he spat into the eyes of the thing. “I will not give you the pleasure of enjoying my end.” Zert flexed his hands into fists at his side, pushed his shoulders back and his chest forward, and stood his ground against the beast. Let me death bring glory to the Highest, he thought as he prepared himself for whatever was to come.
For a moment, he noticed the demon’s red eyes flare just slightly brighter. He had angered it. Then the eyes in front of him softened. “No, no, no,” the creature spoke. “Let’s not make this messy. Obviously, you are a man of valor and integrity” it mocked. “Let us continue this little conversation in a more civil manor.”
The dark creature backed away from Zert as a chair rose up under Zert’s backside out of the filth of the ground. It formed quickly and forced Zert into a seated position. In between the paladin and his demon captor a table of bone formed what Zert assumed was the demon’s last meal. There was a snapping sound and Zert was magically presented with a meal fit for a king. The smells of rot and filth faded away and were replaced by steak, spices, and wine. The plate in front of Zert was filled with succulent meats, fresh vegetables, and various delicacies.
Zert eyed the demon skeptically and kept his hands at his side. Feeling as if he had passed the first stage of his trial, he grew more bold and prepared for round two. He would not be tempted into the sin of indulgence. If there was something he was confident of, it was his ability to deny himself. He had taken on a vow of poverty as a paladin. He owned nothing, he ate only what was provided him by The Church. He had no need of such luxury. This part would be easy.
“No thank you,” he said as he slid the pristine white plate, filled with food, forward toward the center of the table. Zert let a grin slip to the corners of his mouth.
“So, now you think you know what is going on, do you?” the beast laughed. “It amazes even me what you foolish humans can feel prideful about. Look at the great paladin everyone!” The red eyes looked around the room at imaginary guests. “See how pious he is! He will gladly show you all how much better he is than you by simply choosing his food wisely! Let no unclean meat be touched by his pure hands!”
Zert’s grin faltered. “What is this place?” he asked, trepidation returning.
“To business then,” the beast grew serious. “I was growing a little tired of the pleasantries.” Zert saw a hint of the mischievous mocking glimmer return to the crimson eyes. Two large grotesque chitinous arms swept out from the creature’s sides. “Welcome to my abode,” it bowed. “And you belong to me, my prideful little human.”
Completely deflated and unsure of himself, Zert had no response for the creature.
Confident it had the attention its guest, the demon continued. “I am sending you back into the great wide world. You have the privilege of performing some simple tasks for me as my own personal death knight. You will leave the ways of the paladin behind. Enjoy your new life; you will know when I have something for you to do.”
Everything began to distort around Zert. As his surroundings faded away, he heard the demon say “oh, by the way, your first task is to find your way out of that nasty casket they buried you in!” The demon’s laughter filled Zert’s very being and faded away with the filth and rot.
Locked in a coffin under the ground and still reeling from what he had witnessed with the dark creature, Zert did not know what to think. Was he simply dreaming or hallucinating? After everything else he had been through today, would it all end anyway?
“Well, if this is the end, I’m not going quietly” he whispered to himself as he grabbed his trusty battleaxe. He concentrated, channeling the divine power of the Highest through him into his battleaxe.
In the past, when Zert swung his axe with the power of his God it would shine brighter as divine power radiated through it. His weapon would not glow or light up, nothing that fancy, but it reflected all that was pure in the light around it. That radiant energy would cut right through the undead and other evil, unnatural beings. Those that saw the weapon of a paladin shine bright knew that the power of the Highest was with His knights.
This time, when Zert channeled the energy given him, his axe dimmed. It was as if the light around it had been sucked into the blade, never to be seen again. Zert felt a cold, terrible power in his hands. As the axe struck the side of his casket, the wood splintered and immediately began to darken and rot away. The faint smell of rotted wood wafted into the coffin.
Zert’s worries were confirmed. The demon was real, and Zert was no longer a paladin blessed by the Highest. He resolved to worry about that another day. He would have his revenge on that damned beast. For now, he had to get out of this literal coffin before his air ran out.
Zert struck the side of the coffin over and over with his now necrotic axe. The wood continued to rot and fall away, but Zert could see nothing but dirt on the other side. The soil began to pour into what little space Zert had in the coffin. He cursed himself for not realizing the ridiculousness of his actions.
Just when Zert had all but given up, he heard a faint scratching above him. It continued for several long moments. Eventually, he heard something hit the top of the coffin. Was someone digging him out?
Zert twisted and squirmed until he could get his hands out in front of him, against the top of the casket. He pushed with all his might as the banging and scratching continued above him. He could feel the lid begin to give way above him, though it was extremely heavy. Was someone standing on top of it?
He continuously banged on the coffin lid, trying to alert whoever was up there that someone was still alive inside. He heard someone mumble above and then felt the lid lighten. With one final push, the lid pushed the remaining dirt away and came free. Zert stared up into the dark night sky above him, still lying on his back.
A small face peered over the edge of the hole Zert lay in. The small halfling’s curly hair hung down over its eyes and it spoke. “Well, hellooo! What do we have here?”