Hark on Earthinplane Ep.02 – The Hanged Men

Hark on Earthinplane Ep 02 - The Hanged Men Cover3

Hark on Earthinplane

Earthinplane is aware of its trans-dimensional existence nestled between the planes of Heavensrim and the Voidhell. The Church on Earthinplane knows of the God and angels who guide and protect from above. They also know of the demons who lurk in shadows and seek to destroy from below. In the eternal battle between Heavensrim and Voidhell, the world of Earthinplane becomes the battleground and must try to survive as God disappears.
The Church’s greatest weapon in their fight against Voidhell is the Saints. A sect of demon hunters who live in the dark, hunting that which spawns from darkness.
Hark on Earthinplane follows a band of three Saints, Charles, Alexander and Johanna, as they attempt to restore God to Heavensrim, and repel Voidhell back to its own dimension.

 

Ep. 02 – The Hanged Men

“So you confess?” came the deep and dangerous voice from the other side of the wooden panel perforated with miniscule holes. The voice was dangerous in tone, like a lion rumbling before it pounces.

“You know I must” replied Charles. His looked ahead without wavering, focusing on the carved interior of the confession box.
The sound of incredulous throat clearing pushed its way through the holes in the panel separating the Cardinal from the Saint. “To the sins of Darkness, to staining your own purity with the blood of demons and wicked men?” Cardinal Ricshlear spat from his side of the partition.
“I do. I confess to such sins” Charles confirmed, the muscles in his neck tightened when he spoke. He had been in the confession box for some time now. The heat from the burning coals of incense in the cramped space made him sweat. He always sweated in the confession box, the incense was only more incentive.
Cardinal Ricshlear gave a few prominent tuts of this tongue “You walk a dark path my son. One that I fear will guide you and make you a home within such dark. The Darkness is all around in these difficult times, the Darkness hides behind men’s eyes and the fluttering of women’s skirts.”
“I agree Cardinal, these are difficult times.”
Ricshlear pushed his red and bloated face against the partition, “And so you should my son, and so you should. The Saints would know better than most of the demons that inflict grave wounds and inflame man’s own inner monstrosities. Earthinplane is under siege.”
Charles could make out the eyes of the Cardinal through the holes. He leaned closer “Is it all that bad?” he asked, “demons have spawned from Voidhell for an eternity, the Church has always defeated the ones that are foolish enough to break into our existence.” He heard the reciting of a penance prayer and the opening of a confession box nearby. The clod of hardened leather boots told him that Johanna had finished her confession. Luck shines on her, he thought.
The Cardinal let out a harsh whisper “No. It is different now. Great works are afoot, of beings higher than our own lowly forms.”
“Tell that to the Pithius demon” Charles replied briskly.
“I am very glad that you can be so reinforced in your own abilities, Saint Charles. However, if you truly believe any mortal can compare to the beings of Heavensrim and Voidhell then you are truly a foolish man,” said the Cardinal “Voidhell is on the rise, with the turning of the moon the Church receives more and more signals that our stasis fabricato is being torn to shreds. The angels of Heavensrim give guidance through prayer but alas they cannot manifest on Earthinplane. They fear that doing so would further destroy the stasis fabricato.”
Charles furrowed his brow in confusion. He had known Cardinal Ricshlear as a member of the congregation for near all his life. The Cardinal was a pious man, filled with the confidence awarded to his station. This new man who spoke with haste and fear wrapped around every word disturbed Charles deeply. For the Cardinal to be rattled so meant difficult times were indeed ahead.
“Is this truth you speak? The stasis fabricato cannot be destroyed, can it? The very walls of reality?” Charles questioned.
The Cardinal smacked his palm against the panel, “Fool Saint, it can and already is as we speak. May you ask forgiveness from the Pope and God himself for your stupidity. The papacy has declared it to be true, therefore I tell you so.”
Grim faced, Charles rubbed his moustache. If this was true, it would explain the rise in demonic activity and the calamities that had been effecting the holy city of Jervatica and the surrounding lands. For months now Saint Charles had received stacks of letters and scrolls detailing monstrous storms, volcanic eruptions and other cataclysmic events from sea to mountains and even from the distant continents of the heathens and other civilizations.
“Saint Charles?” asked Cardinal Ricshlear.
Charles was ripped from his musings back to the confession box and its sickly hot incense burning with the smells of wildflower and rich spices, “Apologies, continue.”
Ricshlear pulled back the wooden panel and moved his round face to look at Charles. “These matters are above your concern or control. Your task is to travel to Conenham and quell a heretical uprising beginning to get out of hand. Yes, machinations are dire on Earthinplane at this moment, however, we cannot allow heresy within our own lands. It is God and the angels of Heavensrim that give us the strength to stand against Voidhell and our faith in them and the Pope gives strength to the stone of the Church and to the arm of its followers.”
Surprisingly simple commandment, what but a few heretic townsfolk thought Charles. “Cardinal Ricshlear?” he asked.
“Yes my son?”
Charles hesitated, he felt anxious to ask, but the fear of the answer compelled him to stop. Swallowing, he continued “Cardinal Ricshlear, the Priest I endeavoured to bring back to faith, he said that God has abandoned us. I do not understand completely but what you say about the stasis fabricato. Is it true, is the Darkness coming?”
Cardinal Ricshlear stopped moving, it seemed like he had stopped breathing. His eyes flashed a look of terror, of such complete fear and despair known only to the oblivion in the pits of a man’s soul. Then his beady eyes hardened and anger crept into his features. “For treading in Darkness recite the Baptist prayer forty times and scourge yourself with a lash until your blood falls to stone” he hissed before slamming the separation partition back into place. Charles rested back into the cushioned chair inside the confession box, listening to the Cardinal’s swing open his door with tense force and his slipper footsteps fading away in a rush.

The three Saints on horseback travelled down the dirt road leading to Conenham. Johanna and Alexander rode ahead of Charles, who was in a brooding mood. The lead Saints brought their horses to a halt at the edge of a hillock overlooking the small stone town of Conenham. It was larger than last time Alexander had come this way, almost half the size again. The town of Conenham sat next to the meandering Flox river and as the sun was rising the light sparkled off the wakes left by small fishing boats and the stone of the town’s building. “Look, the steeple” Alexander said and pointed to the church in the middle of town.
Johanna followed his arm and pushed the red curls of hair from her face to get a better view, “what about it?”
The sound of Charles and his horse moved up next to the pair. “The symbol of Sabriel, protector angel of this parish is upside down. Not a good sign” he said when his horse settled. The trio of Saints urged their horses forward toward the town, passing under oaken trees and then across the flat grassland that led to a small wooden barricade which encircled Conenham.
At the opening to the town stood two men with spears dressed in tunics of guardsmen. They brandished their spears at the three white cloaked riders. “Halt, who be ye then?” demanded the bolder of the two men, he wore a helmet of thick leather capped with steel unlike his fellow, who stood with the sun gleaming on his bald head. Taking a few steps forward and pointing his spear up at Charles he repeated “Who be ye?”
“I am Saint Charles Bertrem, this is Saint Alexander and Saint Johanna. We are here on commandment of the papacy Church.”
The helmeted man turned and gave his friend a meaningful look. At this the bald guard ran hurriedly away.
The remaining guard turned back to the Saints and gave a curt nod. “If that be the case you best come with me” he said and led them into the town. As they moved through the twisting and turning streets of Conenham the Saints searched with their eyes for anything that would spark alarm. The town itself looked normal enough. Children ran here and there, folk were about their work and the streets were relatively clean. Alexander could not place what was bothering him. He had the spiders crawling around his ribcage feeling he had learned to associate with danger. The horse underneath him could sense it too. It was not until the three had crossed the marketplace and were making their way down the narrow alleyways leading to the church that he realised what was wrong. “Charles,” he whispered urgently, “Charles listen.”
Charles stiffened slightly in his saddle but did not turn round, he slightly inclined his head to the left to speak to Alexander who was behind him, “What is it.”
Alexander leaned forward and now Johanna was also listening, “There is something wrong here” he said.
“I know I can feel it too, just keep riding. Everything has been fine so far” Charles replied.
“I realise what it is now. Not a single man, woman or child has looked at us for more than a glimpse nor have they come within ten feet.”
Charles considered this. “Perhaps the folk are afraid of our horses?”
Johanna leaned in to join the two, bringing her horse closer in the tight alley so that the three animals were all but rubbing flanks together. She said “No I do not believe that, I came through these parts not more than a year ago riding a charger larger than this beast and the beggars, children and merchants were more than happy to clamour around. Alexander is right, not even the children stared as we rode past.”
Charles gave a tug on the reins and moved up next to the guard who was escorting them. “Where are you taking us?”
The guard continued to walk ahead without twisting his neck back but replied “To the church Saint Charles. I assume you’re here for the heretic.” The guard now picked up his pace. He was leading them onto a bridge nestled over a dug out extension of the Flox that provided access of ships to the town’s mill. On either side of the bridge the roadside was crammed with houses of varying style and strength. The guard with his steel capped helmet lead them out to the middle of the bridge. Suddenly he turned to face Charles and with eyes of pure black he struck out at the Saint. Charles horse reared in anger and fear, causing the spear to dig into its chest and making Charles fall heavy from the saddle. The guard had scored a hoof strike to the head and was now missing an ear and a portion of scalp. Alexander and Johanna’s horses, smelling the blood also reared as the wounded beast clamoured into them in its haste to escape.
Johanna jumped from her saddle and landed on the bridge, already pulling a short bolt from the holder around her waist and notching it to the hand crossbow now levelled at the guard. She shot the bolt which buried into the guards forehead and dropped him to his knees, deep red life’s blood spurted from around the bolt. Alexander was helping Charles to his feet when he looked up to see a mass of black eyed men, women and children coming out from their hovels and houses, making their way to either side of the bridge.
The three Saints closed into each other, Charles sent the horses at a run back from the direction they had come with a slap of his axe blade which he had now untethered along with his cloak. Shining brightly in his polished plate armour he readied himself in position. The horses charged into the townsfolk and were overrun. The three horses progressed twenty feet into the throng before being taken down in a mess of pitchforks, short swords, hammers, fingernails and teeth.
Johanna locked another bolt to her crossbow and drew her wicked sickle blade from her cloak. Alexander was on his knees in prayer, his gnarled staff laid on the bridge in front of him. He poured some oil, blessed by the angels of Heavensrim, onto his palm. The townsfolk and their eyes full of the Darkness were now pressing in. Charles was doing his best to keep the lead folk at bay, striking out with his axe and severing limbs of those who got too close, but he was running out of time.
Johanna, who was defending the other side of the bridge, had now resorted to a blade in each hand, her crossbow tied to her belt. “Alexander, do something” she screamed as the crowd swarmed around her.
Alexander finished his chrism of the staff and stood up, holding it upright, “Sabriel on high, anointer of the defender, give us the strength that can only be possessed through the gift of God on Heavensplane” he recited and slammed the staff down onto the bridge.

Johanna woke up choking and spluttering. She rolled onto her stomach and vomited water for some time. Her red hair was brown from the mud covering her and she was bleeding in some places. She thought her left arm was fractured. It was dusk. When she had enough breath in her lungs Johanna got to her feet. She was on the bank of the river Flox. Looking out across the water she could make out the small flickering lights of Conenham up the river. Johanna sank to her knees. She searched her mind for a prayer of strength to lean on, one of thankfulness of being alive, but her thoughts were filled with worry and fear for Charles and Alexander. How long will we be fighting their battles, she thought looking up into the stars of the night sky. Will God ever bring salvation for Earthinplane and its people?
Checking her weapons, she took stock. All that was left to Johanna was her small dagger which she kept strapped to her leg, and a bolt along with her hand crossbow she found floating in the reeds near where she had awoken. Testing her arm, she grimaced in pain and cried out quietly. It was most definitely fractured, maybe broken. Cutting up what remained of her cloak she wrapped her wounds and placed a piece of branch as a splint with the material on her arm. She did not sling the arm as she would need to swim. Walking out into the freezing water Johanna slipped under and started swimming as silent as she could manage.

Johanna had swum to the bridge, which now lay in pieces broken by some great force. She followed the deserted streets before climbing onto a rooftop and making her way to the town square where the church was the centrepiece. She saw all the townsfolk gathered together in the square, huddled before the steps leading up to the old church. The church itself was in poor condition, the stained glass windows had been smashed and blood and animal corpses along with the heads of men adorned the walls, driven in with nails or hanging from the roof. At the front of the doors was constructed gallows with two men standing and waiting, tied by nooses on the platform. They both looked as though they had suffered beatings. Before them stood a tall woman with hair the colour of Darkness. She was taller than Charles, who was considered by most to be one of the biggest men in Jervatica. The woman had a slender build and tattered red dress that drew the eye even of Johanna, and emitted a sense of power and lust. Johanna, to her shock, felt a quiver of longing course through her body. She ran her hand harshly along her face and focused. The Saints were not the military core of the Church against the fiends of Voidhell and the Darkness within men for their physical skill alone. They also underwent years of solitude, study and prayer to refine their mind as sharp as their blade. Johanna started to move from her position, around the square and onto the church roof.
The voice of the woman from the gallows filled the entirety of Conenham like the clap of thunder, “Subjects of Earthinplane heed my words,” she said in a screech, “before you stand the symbol of your old oppressors, the symbol of the crumbling Church and the greatest weapon against what you call Voidhell, Saints.” Her voice was a cat crying and a tiger roaring both at once.
Johanna was looking directly down onto the gallows and the woman from the church’s roof. She could see a serpentine tail coming from under the woman black dress. She had suspected the woman was a demon, she now had confirmation. The dark lady continued to proclaim to her subjects who all stood by with eyes filled with black as Johanna carefully picked her way down.
The demon picked up a hefty chunk of stone from the floor, “Upon Earthinplane we shall rise, from the burning depths of our lands and from the dark shadows of your souls we shall seize what we may. Like a stone we Daemanulk will crush you under clawed foot” ceasing her rage the demon looked threw the stone with impossible strength into the crowd causing the woman’s stomach who it hit to resort in a red mess, whilst knocking down those around her. The crowd stood still and did not react, they all appeared to be under the demon’s spell.
“Daemanulk” Johanna said to herself. What was this word that the demon had used. Was this what the demons of Voidhell name themselves? Johanna climbed over a carved gargoyle and slid down the side of the church. Moving quickly and low to the ground she scampered her way to the gallows, hiding behind from the demon who was still toying with the lifeless crowd. It was clear to Johanna that this demon’s pleasure came from holding power over human consciousness. She moved as close to the Saints as she dared. They had been standing waiting to be strung up throughout the ordeal. “Charles, Alexander I am here” she whispered.
Alexander went to move his head to look at Johanna but Charles stopped him with a grunt. Staring forward he said “Johanna, it is good to hear your voice.”
“Sabriel must be looking over you, praise God” Alexander added.
Johanna pulled her knife out and wiped her brow, “We aren’t done yet. Once I cut your bonds this scum will be on us. Do you have weapons?” she asked.
Charles shook his head slightly and replied “No, they took all we own.”
“This will be a hard won fight then.”
“Indeed it will. Have faith Saint Johanna.”
Alexander held his arms out behind himself. Johanna made short work of the rope binding his hands.  Charles followed his lead and both were free from their restraints except for the nooses that hung around their necks. “Now” Alexander hissed.
Johanna leapt up to the platform and let the knifes sharp blade sink into the rope threatening Charles. She was almost through when a shriek filled the stale dusk sky. The shriek caused her knees to go weak. Her head filled with ringing of steel and screams of the dying. Looking up from her feet Johanna saw the demonic woman stalk toward the gallows. The woman’s red dress whipped around her as she morphed into her true state. The dress clung to her form, shifting and tearing. As the demon, the Daemanulk as it referred to itself as, came forth the dress formed a pair of blood red wings that sprouted from its back. Its jaw cracked and jutted out, bleeding blackish blue blood as the teeth grew to sharp points. Its slender arms grew to thin spider like limbs tipped with long claws. The once beautiful woman was now ashen grey. Naked with a beautiful bust paired with demonic red wings and monstrous limbs and face.
“Succubus” Alexander called out tense as the rope still holding his throat hostage.
The succubus ran toward the Saints with an awkward gait. The demon pushed itself into the air, wings beating. It stopped there for a moment. The demon looked down onto its prey. She dived.
Johanna felt the rope break free at the same moment the succubus crushed into the gallows. Wood debris, Saints and the succubus collided in a sickening crunch. She felt the harsh scrape of cobbles across her bruised body. Shaking her head, she pushed herself to her feet and took in the scene around her. The succubus and Charles had gone through the crumbling doors of the church which were now broken in. She looked back to the gallows. She took in a sharp breath of fear. Half of the gallows still stood, hardly, with a wicked lean. The rope that ended in a noose around Alexander’s throat was rigid with tension and still whole. Alexander choked under the ropes strangling pressure. The tips of his boots slipped and moved over the splinted wooden pylons below. He broke nails and made his fingers bleed. Desperately Alexander tried to breath.
Saint Johanna rushed for the gallows. She made the distance seem like a step. Jumping into the mess of timber she pushed herself up to Alexander and struck through the rope with a strike brimmed with anger and fear. Alexander fell to the ground with a heavy thud. He did not get up. Johanna forced herself to block the screams and sounds of violence echoing from the church. Charles would have to rely on himself for a while longer. She went to Alexander on the cobblestone ground. She said a prayer of healing over him and called on God to give her strength to heal Alexander. She was met with silence. Her hands remained cold. Bewildered and terrified, feeling the Darkness of Voidhell encroaching she stared at the gathering of black eyed townsfolk now shuffling toward her and Alexander.
“Johanna,” Alexander forced with hoarse words, “my necklace.” He pulled a small crystal vial with liquid inside from his shirt. It shined brilliantly as the sun set on Conenham. The hoard of Conenham slowed at the sight, covering their eyes. “Holy water, must kill the succubus. You must save the townsfolk. Free their souls. The Darkness corrupts, the Darkness comes from her, the demon.”
Johanna put her hands on Alexander’s chest and gently pushed him to the ground, “Rest, I will do what I can.” Her words sounded strong in her mouth but her soul shivered. She had felt empty when she had called on God. She had felt the Darkness take his place.
A bursting of tiles overhead ripped her attention skyward. The succubus demon forced itself through the tiles and beams. Flexing its wings the succubus soared outward, clutching Saint Charles. The Saint had hold of an iron candle holder, nearly as tall as himself, which he had stabbed through the demons midriff. Black blood fell like rain onto the crowd and the Saints below. The demon landed at the front of the church. Like the stone, the demon hurled Charles across the cobblestones to slide against the crumbled gallows. Pulling the metal from its belly the succubus laughed wickedly. A deathly cackle. The Daemanulk forced itself above the ground again, debris and dirt stirring under each beat of red wings.
Clenching her teeth Johanna flicked back her red curls and fumbled for the bolt in her belt. She cried out in agony as she pulled the crossbow out and used her broken arm to fix the bolt in place. Pulling on the crossbow’s cord near on caused her to pass out from the pain. The succubus cried out in hatred for the mortals of Earthinplane. Johanna tore the stopper on the vial with her teeth and poured the holy water, blessed by the Church and the angels of Heavensrim, over the bolt.
The succubus dived. Johanna shot her bolt.

Charles, Alexander and Johanna sat on the steps leading up to the destroyed church with its upturned symbol of Sabriel. They were bruised, more than bruised. The three sat with only their martial discipline keeping them conscious. Townsfolk approached as they came back to their senses. The Darkness filling their eyes leaving in black tears that flowed from all eyes. “This must be explained to the Church. A new weapon is being used against us in our war with Voidhell” Charles muttered, more to himself than his companions.
Alexander rubbed at his neck as he considered the stars overhead before facing Johanna, “With God’s guidance we shall prevail.”
Johanna sharply avoided his gaze. What had she felt when she called on God. Or more so, what hadn’t she felt?

The End.

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