By Setzer

Blood Debts: circa 1946
Ragged breaths ripped through lungs. Feet pounding on muddy fields. Icy rain sinking through clothing. And they’re coming…
Small legs pumping as fast as they can. Stumbling on slick mud and coughing for breath. Small child hands pushing up on the ground to run again. And they’re coming..!
Bloody claw marks mixed with muddy sludge on his back. Precious family treasures safe in his knapsack. Fear howling from ever pore that they can smell. They don’t stop!

A bolt of lighting seemingly thicker around than any tree slammed into one of the mighty trees of the gloomy forest, instantly shivered to splinters. Large branches and splinters pepper into the ranks of the Warg riders, bringing them to a halt. The child quickly thanked God for the intervention and kept on running through the icy rain. His soul quivered to the marrow when the lead Warg rider screamed in the night, “You cannot hide from us all, human flesh! The Wargs shall tear your arms from your sockets and crack your bones to slurp out the marrow…all while you still live!” The human-like scream of the Warg was enough to pull hidden reserves of energy and push the child further.

He kept on running, his sodden arms wrapped tightly around his knapsack. The woven sky of tree branches shut out any light. Not that it would have made a difference. The real sky was as black as the eternal darkness of Hell. More howling issued behind him, but was still some distance away. ‘I have to run. I have to keep running. They’ll kill me too if I stop running.’

If he was someplace safe, he would have cried until he vomited blood. They were all dead. His entire family, his mother, his father, his brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins all dead. They were celebrating his sister Christine’s 16th birthday with loud song and cheer. And why not? The world war had ended. The horror of the bombs and the fighting were gone. His older brothers had survived their time in the army. The Allies had won peace for the world. Why not celebrate and invite everyone?

Everyone was there and it had been so fun! His cousins Richard and Sylvia had made an actual cake, the first anyone had seen in years. He wanted to have a big piece, because he couldn’t remember having cake before. He forgot what peacetime was like and wanted to dive right in. But before he could do that, his father told him to go to the backyard out in the forest and dig up the family treasures. It was really important, said his father, to get the treasures. Christine was going to be the next hunter. That’s what father said. He never knew what being a hunter was and what exactly they hunted, but his father and mother always ruffled his head and told him when he started to change and be a bigger boy like his brothers, he’d get to learn all about hunting. They said it wouldn’t be awhile, so he didn’t worry. One day he would be like Christine and learn the secrets of the family treasures. He wanted everyone to be there when he got to learn the knowledge, but knew it was Christine’s time now. He was so proud of his sister. He knew she would be an excellent hunter. He’d seen her practicing out by the trees with father’s old whip, so he knew his sister would be a good hunter.

Happily, he trotted out to the backyard and went to find the treasures. They were always in the same place - in a little hole in the ground covered by a stone. The stone had always fascinated him. A large man in a cape stood in the center and around him were people with weapons, usually whips. Below the circle of people and the caped man, two other figures were carved. One was a woman with long pretty robes and the other looked like a pirate in one of the stories Christine always told him. The strangest thing about the picture was a small figure carved near the top. He had a cape too, but he didn’t look as mean as the other man in the circle. He looked kind of sad. Drawn next to him was a “=” sign and next to that was a rocky hill with little trees at the base.

He always wondered what the pictures meant. He knew it had to do with the stories his parents always talked about, the stories about his ancestors. He always loved those stories, even if he couldn’t do all the fancy things his sister was learning to do in the backyard. She could do the fancy things like the heroes and heroines in the stories. He was so proud of her. She was going to be a real grown up now. Carefully, he picked up the treasures (a really old whip, some things written down on paper, some kinds of weapons and a really old pendant) and put them on the ground. He pushed the stone over the hole and brushed the dirt off his hands. There was no way he was going to carry all those treasures in his small little arms. He was glad he brought his knapsack with him. Carefully he put them all inside and drew the drawstring shut. He slipped the straps on his shoulders and started to walk off to the house.

Someone started to scream. He froze. It wasn’t like a surprised scream when he scared his sister and then she stopped, trying to chase him around. This scream kept going. It sounded like a fight! Whimpering, he walked up as close to the house as he dared and hid behind a tree so he could see everything. Big men on horses surrounded the house. They were wearing the uniforms of the Nazi, like his brothers told him. He whimpered again. The war was over. They all said so. Why were they all here? But something wasn’t quite right. The people on the horses seemed to waver, like how the street wavered if it was really hot outside. Those weren’t Nazis. They were something else. He tried to concentrate on looking beyond the obvious, like his brothers had taught him. Suddenly, the air stopping wavering and he could really see who they were. Big armored men stood on big wolves…no, Wargs, like the stories said.

One of the armored men waved a big lance around his uncle Lars. The old man reached for the whip at his belt and flailed the armored man across the face. The child whimpered, because he saw blood spray out from the visor of the helmet. The Warg leaped for his uncle and before Lars could crack the whip again, the beast ripped across his stomach with a massive paw. Strings of blood and strings of intestines spilled noisily to the ground. The Warg clamped his mouth on a string of guts and pulled it from the corpse. The child’s frantic mind could only think it looked just like his neighbor’s puppy with a string of sausage in his mouth. Another armored man pitched his sister to the ground and was trying to do something he always was told was naughty. The armored man was trying to touch his sister in her private parts. Screaming, she ran her dagger into the man’s visor. One of his older brothers reached for a gun and blew off the man’s head, looking like a sprinkler was just turned on.

His aunt Lily screamed at the Warg eating her husband. An armored man whipped his curved sword and sliced off her head. Laughing, another armored man kicked the head into the legs of the still standing body, causing it to fall. His father quickly dug in a pocket and pulled out a crucifix and screamed with all his soul. Blinding light flooded the sky and the child had to turn away. When he could look again, all the armored men and the Wargs were gone. He could hear more howling in the distance.

His father turned and saw him. He screamed out a warning and before the child could move, someone’s claws raked down his back and made howl with pain. The child rolled to the side, looking at the near dead Warg still trying to kill him. A blast of fire from his brother’s gun zipped right through the monster’s head. Whimpering over his hurts, he turned to his family. They screamed at him to run away, to not look back, to keep the treasures safe. Christine said that everything would be all right if he ran away. The monsters wouldn’t get him if he ran now. All of them told him he was a good boy and they all loved him no matter what happened to them. He just had to run away with the treasures and not ever worry or come back, because the monsters were coming. They all loved him so much and would never forget him. He had to run to the forest and the stony hill, because it would be safe in there. He took one last look at his family, to try and burn it in his mind and did the hardest thing he ever had to do: run away. It started to rain as soon as he took his first step away from his family. He couldn’t spare any time for tears, even when he heard his family shriek like his father said people in Hell sounded like. The rain started to pour and it covered his tracks so he could run to the safe place.

He had yet to stop running, even with the Wargs getting closer. He was so tired, but he couldn’t stop running. He had to find the safe place, the stony hill. He hoped he could make it, but knew that even if he couldn’t, his family would still love him. And God loved him, just like his parents always said. Tightening his grip on his knapsack, his little feet splashed in muddy puddles. Startled at the sudden contact with the puddles, he looked up. He could see the black sky again. A bolt of lightning flickered out and spread like a bird’s foot. In the brief second of the strike, he could see a stony hill probably not more than a half a mile from the forest. ‘I have to make it there,’ he thought to himself. Ripping reserves from his already depleted strength, the child shot forward and beelined for the hill.

With no trees for cover, he felt the full fury of the storm. Wind lashed at his already rain numbed body. He almost stumbled over a branch hidden in the grass, but his feet shot out to hit the ground shakily for several steps before becoming balanced and running steady again. Rain stung him in the eyes even as his objective grew larger and larger in his vision. He nearly had to skid to a stop before running into the base of the stony hill. His legs trembled and shook and he found he could barely move them. A Warg’s scream cut through his exhaustion and he gripped a handle of the knapsack in his mouth so he could use his hands to climb the slick, slippery rock. His teeth clamped tighter on the strap several times whenever he lost his grip and barked a shin or cut himself on the rock. The howls of his own death spurred him on more than the last promises of his own family. A bird’s foot of lightning bathed everything with light for a moment, enough for the child to see a natural cave opening in the rock. Without hesitation, he dived in.

For several heartbeats, he was lulled by the feeling of not being pelted with rain. Angrily, he shook off his daze and ran to look for the safe place in the stony hill. He whimpered deep from his chest hearing the sound of claw scraping on stone. Stumbling in the dark, crawling over boulders and around corners, he tried to find the safe place. From around another corner, a faint light cut a swath in the darkness. He was drawn to the faint light with the hope of it being the safe place. Creatures of darkness could not stand the light . . . or so he thought. Gingerly, he peeked his head into a room where the light issued forth.

Eight torches lay in their sconces, their flames crackling and warding off the darkness. A small chest lay opposite the doorway of the room. An actual sword and a shield decorated in a family crest coldly reflected the torch light. What made the child gasp was the large red coffin resting on the ground. ‘This is the special safe place? A tomb?’ The child certainly did not want to hide in a tomb. By the looks of things, someone was already resting inside. So he climbed over the tomb, making a sign of the cross, and hid in the shadows of the tomb, making sure he couldn’t be seen from the door. He bit his lips trying not to scream with fear. ‘Maybe…maybe this is a sacred tomb. A tomb for a . . . saint! Yeah, monsters of the darkness won’t be able to touch the holy remains of a saint. That’s what Uncle Lars said and then he . . .’ Painfully, he sucked back the sob trying to make its way out of his mouth.

Armor crunched on stone floor. He held his body rigid and compact against the side of the tomb, his bag of family treasures clutched tightly in his arms. Slowly, several pairs of armored feet clomped into the safe place. A Warg growled beyond the room and snapping teeth were heard. He could hear the sound of their armor creaking as they turned their visors and scanned the whole room. The feeling of a cold metal hand on his shoulder made him howl with fear. Slowly, he was lifted up and thrown across the room. Painfully, he slid to the ground, his arms still wrapped around the treasures.

“You were damn hard to find, brat. But now you are the last. You will be killed and thrown to the Wargs for feed, just like your whole family.” Raucous laughter followed the leader’s statement. He raised his mighty sword above his head. “Good-bye, little Belmont.”

The child moved, just like his brothers had taught. He jumped and rolled to the side, the big sword slamming on rock instead of flesh. With his back to the coffin, and his treasures still in his hands, he knew he had no weapon to fight these men. Remembering his whole family, he managed to glare at the monster as he lifted the big sword that would send him screaming from this earth. “I love you,” he murmured to the memory of his entire family and shut his eyes.

The sword never touched his head. It smacked against something hard and wooden. Startled, he looked around and leaned back on the coffin . . . which was minus a lid. Eyes wide as full moons, he trailed his gaze up. The sword was embedded in the lid of the coffin. The coffin lid was held by the person *in* the coffin! His teeth chattered. This was no saint. No saint had the coloring of ice and dressed like a person from ages old. Oh God, it was another monster, an angry spirit! The spirit leaped over his head and reached for the sword on wall, screaming something. He curled his body around the treasures and clenched his jaw so hard he thought he’d snap it. The shrieks of spirit and monster echoed wildly off the stone walls. He screwed his eyes shut, trying to make himself invisible against the side of the coffin.

What seemed like an eternity later, all the screaming died. Trembling, he lifted his head up. All the Wargs and their riders lay dead on the floor. The spirit idly wiped the blade on the fur of the dead Warg. The spirit turned his gaze on him and almost made his heart fail. Taking another look at the spirit, he realized he had seen that face before. ‘Ah, God, it’s the face on the stone! It was next to the stony hill . . . the one I’m in right now! That’s why they wanted me to go here. It really is a safe place.’

The spirit . . . no, man, no . . . something more walked quietly into the room and knelt down next to him. “Who are you?” the distant voice asked. “Are you a Belmont?”
He nodded. “L-Louis Belmont, sir. My parents told me to run here. They said it would be safe.” “Why have you come here? Do you Belmonts need me again?”
Louis didn’t register the slight annoyance in the other’s voice. He tried to stop the sobs escaping his body, but was beginning to fail. “There’s . . . there’s . . . no more Belmonts s-sir.”
The other’s face changed to a look of dread. “What?”
“They . . . k-killed them. My u-uncle, my s-sister, m-my parents, m-my brothers, a-all my family is gone. I h-had to leave them,” his voice almost broke with shame, “take the family treasures away. Th- they s-said they’d always l-love me no matter what. Th-they told me to come to this place because it was safe. Th-they’re all gone!” His sobs erupted from deep inside and he flung himself on his savior. He sobbed into the aristocratic clothing and didn’t care. Hesitantly, his savior’s arms wrapped themselves around Louis as he mourned for the loss of everything he ever knew.