Ukit Took, my grandfather, was a spry man of seventeen when his death began. I’ve spent much of my life thus far studying the bizarre circumstances surrounding his peculiar death. From the time he was a boy, he planned to join the militia with grandiose ideas of becoming a general. After all, there were many peoples who wished for Tulum’sayil to fall, such as the fair-skinned brutes to the north who wielded axes of immense size and scope. These Barbanos warriors howled in intense blood-rage on the battlefield, but the Tulum’sayilian soldiers held strong. And to the East were the rich armies of Achaemia, whose soldiers strode into battle atop golden-armored beasts.
Ukit’s village was a two-week long journey from Tikalaco, the capital, where he would join the military. The first leg of his trip was to be through the Ebon Forest, where the trees bore bark black as onyx, with leaves like coal. Rumors of creatures and unknown plagues swirled about the forest, but that was Ukit’s only way to go. With a burlap sack filled with simple supplies slung over his shoulder, he set off on his way.
Ukit would later tell tales of his time spent in those woods. At night he heard strange cries coming from the shadows of the trees, and stranger howls from off in the darkness. During the day, the forest kept out so much light that he was hardly able to tell the time, and sadly his journey was much slower than he had hoped. After eight days of trudging through slimy mud and moss-encrusted sticks, he came across a large circular clearing. In the center stood a flat-roofed building that seemed to rise eerily from the ground. Once he stepped foot within the clearing, he found that the noise of the wilds dissipated, as if he had left the woods miles behind him. He approached the house with caution, slightly fearful of the type of man who would choose to spend his days holed up in a forest with miles of trees around each side. He went inside, calling out to see if anyone was there, but he heard no reply. As he entered, he saw rows of jars that lined the many shelves jutting off the walls. A few housed odd colored liquids and others strange objects, only some of which he could identify. I’ve learned from my father that Ukit nearly never wrote, and yet he would scribble about that strange house in the woods until the day he died. I was left some of his notes, including a rather detailed map regarding the clearing and the surrounding forest.
Toward the back of the house was hidden a shadowed stairway. Entranced by the mystery of the strange house in the woods, Ukit decided to venture down them. As he descended the rickety wooden stairs, he began to hear whispers. They were in a strange foreign language that he could not recognize, one that he later would claim that he had never heard. With each step the whispers grew louder, until he was at the bottom of the stairs, at which point they grew to be tormented screams. Looking around, he saw that the room was entirely barren; that there were no people screaming. Instead, there stood only one object in sight—a grotesque stone sculpture of some creature unbeknownst to him. The thing was small, about the size of a man’s foot. He assumed that it must be a deity, worshipped by whomsoever lived in that house. He picked up the mysterious figure, and as soon as his skin touched the cold stone, the screams stopped. Somehow he knew by simply holding the idol that it would grant him protection and luck in his travels. Scrawled among his papers I find many mentions of the moment he held the idol for the first time. In each of his accounts, he alludes to some sort of agreement he made at that moment, though he never says what that entailed.
Eight years passed since the day that the young Ukit found the strange idol while lost in the Ebon Forest. In that time he had gone on to fly through the ranks of the military, becoming the youngest, and one of the greatest generals, that Tulum’Sayil had ever seen. One night, after the decisive battle of Napites, deep within Achaemian territory, Ukit went missing. Soldiers reported seeing him captured by a group of enemy spearmen, before being taken away. For three weeks Ukit was presumed dead. However, after those three weeks he was found standing outside the gates of Tikalaco, malnourished and wounded, but alive. When his comrades asked how he had survived, he refused to speak. He instead gazed only at the stone figure which he always kept at his side.
From that day forward Ukit wrote even less than he had prior. A number of accounts say that he spoke less often from then on as well. He supposedly only opened his mouth to say quick mutterings, most of which were too faint for those around him to hear. His comrades noticed that in the time after his disappearance he had for some reason acquired a nervous tick of checking over his shoulder with a fearful look in his eyes.
A full year after the incident, he was a changed man. His eyes had grown weary and frightful, constantly darting about, and his face seemed to belong to a frail elder instead of a mighty general. Despite that, he was still one of the strongest soldiers and generals in the army, and he still marched into each battle with the strength of ten men.
His death came in a decisive battle against his old enemies the Achaemians. It had been raining for five days, so water drenched the battlefield. Their fighting had been nonstop for over a week. They fought for control of the banks of the Kuriseumak River. Each side had suffered tremendous casualties, yet neither would claim defeat. The river’s waters had turned red from the streams of blood flowing into it, so much so that it threatened to overflow its banks. Ukit stood just west of the battlefield on a small hill.
The rest of the story I have only been able to gather from the accounts of Ukit’s soldiers. (The few who are still alive that remembered him have grown to be old and feeble after all this time.) He held the stone idol in his hands, staring into it, when he suddenly collapsed to his knees. He covered his ears and closed his eyes, as if he could hear shouting and screaming more disturbing than the cries of soldiers. Some others even claim to have heard the agonizing shrieks that came from the figure, some saying it drove them to the brink of madness.
Ukit stayed there, motionless on his knees as an arrow shot from an Achaemian bow ended the inexplicable luck of the famous general. When the Achaemians claimed victory, and the Tulum’Sayilians retreated, the first body to be buried was that of Ukit. The man who first grabbed his body said that they could not see the idol, which he had been so fond of, anywhere on his person. Instead they found a note, scribbled on a tattered piece of paper, folded a hundred ways. It read,
A pact so made in shadows,
sealed through blood and stone.
All things come at a price,
even kings must worship the throne.
I leave this letter here in the hopes that it is found, and its warning heeded; for I have researched the subject since I was a young boy, being told stories of my grandfather. I’ve grown to understand what that detestable thing may be, and I pray that no other soul learns of the idol’s true identity. I know that it will be there, and as I write, it should take me just under two weeks to get to the house in the clearing, and find the damned thing. My hope is that I destroy it. However, if I am not seen in one month’s time, it means that I have failed, and the figure still sits in the house in the forest. I pray that I am the last to see the twisted visage of such a god.
Jacques Denault is a student at Merrimack College. He has previously been published at RedFez Magazine, and works as the head editor for the Merrimack Review.