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The Demon Beneath the Dome - Fantasy, Short Story, 4k words (1 Viewer)

Tyrannohotep

Senior Member
This would be a short story I wrote last year. I'm not necessarily looking for in-depth critique at the moment, but I would appreciate some thoughts on the story nonetheless.


The Demon Beneath the Dome

A woman climbed onto the bough of a kapok tree, which twisted up from the treetop canopy. Her lissome dark umber figure, clad with a barkcloth skirt and halter-top, sparkled with droplets of perspiration beneath the hot glow of the sun piercing through the overcast sky. She raised her hand over her eyes, surveying the green ocean of jungle as it rolled in choppy waves all around her high vantage.

To the east rose a jagged range of overgrown crags, which ran in a ring like a caldera. Covering the basin within was a vast, terraced dome glimmering of corroded gold, with a circular hole in its summit. Under the shadow cast by the crater walls, the green-stained spires and roofs of ruined masonry poked through the jungle, but there appeared no evidence of a living settlement in the proximity of these ruins.

The woman shuddered slightly as she tightened her grip on her perch. She had heard the legends, but never considered them anything more than village storytellers’ way of frightening children into good behavior. Neither had she imagined that she would ever venture within sight of a place like they had described.

Dinanga, huntress of the village of Mungu, had spent the better half of the past moon-cycle searching for her younger sister Kazadi. The memory of the girl’s abduction, with men in blood-red loincloths lunging out of the undergrowth to seize and drag her away, had haunted Dinanga’s every dream with a vivid clarity that never faded. She would have taken those men for common marauders had she not tracked them all the way to such mysterious ruins. If the old myths had spoken the truth all that time, an even more terrible fate would await Kazadi.

Within the jungle to the southwest, someone screamed.

It was not the shrieking cry of a woman, but the deeper holler of a man. Dinanga did not know whether she should investigate. If she did, it might take time away from her sister. Whatever lay in store for Kazadi, she did not want it to happen over the course of a distraction.

Again, the cry of terror burst through the leafy canopy.

Dinanga dove back into the tangled depths of the forest understory, leaping between the branches and lianas with flashing swiftness and agility. She landed on a bough overhanging a narrow game trail through the undergrowth, a cluster of foliage beside it shaking with movement.

A slim male figure tripped over a tree’s buttress root with a hoarse yelp as he emerged. Stomping behind him on muscular hind legs was a tyrannosaur. As the man struggled to get up, the reptilian brute parted its salivating, spike-fanged jaws over his back.

Dinanga took her hunting bow from her python-skin sash and sent an arrow into the tyrannosaur’s scaly green neck.

The hot gust of breath from the beast’s roar blew her off the branch. Rolling over the soft earth upon landing, she hopped to the man and pulled him away from the snapping jaws by the wrist. His eyes widened with shock as he shrank from her.

Dinanga shouted over the tyrannosaur’s growling. “Don’t worry, I’m here to save you!”

The world above her turned dark. The monster’s black open gullet, dripping scalding drool, filled her field of sight while the rancid stink of its breath flooded her nostrils. Sheer terror petrified every muscle within Dinanga’s cowering body.

Yet, the bone-crunching bite did not come. The tyrannosaur threw its head up with another roar, even more shrill, a bloody streak running across the side of its lower jaw. The strange man taunted it with foreign curses while brandishing a bloody-edged horn dagger.

Yanking him away from the predator’s next attack, Dinanga led him running to a tree coiled with the woody vines of a strangler fig. They climbed halfway up its height before the tyrannosaur rammed its snout into the trunk. The man slipped off and plummeted towards the beast’s gaping mouth. Dinanga seized his forearm, wrenched him up from the giant flesh-eater’s jaws, and tossed him onto one of the overhead branches. She jumped onto this same branch and clung to it with a tight embrace as the tree shook from the weight of the tyrannosaur smacking against it. Neither she nor the man fell off again. With a resigned snort, the dinosaur gave them one last glance with its fiery yellow eyes before lumbering off.

Dinanga, panting with exhaustion, muttered a prayer that it would find worthier prey elsewhere. The man that huddled next to her brushed leaves off his short, braided hair. Though his skin was the same shade of brown as Dinanga’s, his tall, elongated stature and narrower facial features attested to an origin on the dry, open savannas that stretched beyond these jungles. The tattered loincloth wrapped around his narrow hips was cut from pebbled reptilian leather instead of the forest-dwellers’ barkcloth.

“Who are you?” she asked. “You don’t look like you’re from here.”

The man shook his head. “Call me Heri, of the clan of Deshen out on the savanna. I was barely of age when our enemies, the clan of Mendi, carried me off in a raid. I’ve been traded and dragged far across the land ever since.”

He pointed to the crisscrossing mess of welts that marred his back like a hideous, dark reddish-purple tumor. A foul taste swelled into Dinanga’s mouth. She had heard of people being captured and forced to work for others in some of the larger chiefdoms, but never had she considered the brutality forced upon many of them.

“By the spirits, you’ve been through so much,” she said. “Tell me you don’t have someone hunting you down!”

“I ran away from them many moons ago. In truth, I don’t even know where I am in this land. All I know is that I’m nowhere near my people. They must have forgotten me by now.”Heri wiped off the moisture that had welled up in his eyes.

Dinanga hugged him and smiled. “If only I knew how to bring you back to them. I have family of my own missing. Half a moon ago, a group of men in red carried my sister off. I’ve been hunting them down ever since.”

“Have you caught up with them yet?”

“Almost. My tracking has led me to this strange place with old buildings and a big dome of gold inside a crater. You heard of such a place?”

“No, but I think I know what those men want of your sister. Beg the spirits that they haven’t done it already.”

“Then I must go. You want to come along? I would like someone to fight beside me if they can.”

With a nod, Heri slipped his dagger out of its sheath and ran his finger along its bloodied edge. “You saved me from that monster. I owe you my life for it.”

##

A colossus of black stone leaned over a path of mossy flagstone as it loomed up through the mist and undergrowth. Though eroded by generations of rainfall and cloaked with overgrowth, Dinanga could make out the contour of a hunched, squatting creature with wings akin to those of a bat or pterosaur folded behind its corpulent gorilla-armed body. Six gemstones glinted as orange as fire within its long flat head, its wrinkled trunk-like snout curled between giant spider-like fangs.

It took a single glance at this megalithic monstrosity for Dinanga to step back, a cold shiver overtaking her body. The old stories had become even truer before she set foot within the ancient village this sculpture guarded.

Heri clenched harder on his dagger’s hilt. “What, by all the spirits, would that be?”

“Whatever it is, it isn’t of this earth,” Dinanga said.

They did not dare look back at the horrible statue as they tiptoed down the broad flagstone trail. On both sides of the avenue lay the crumbled, foliage-bedecked walls of stone huts amid piles of rubble, toppled columns, and potsherds. Interspersed between the buildings stood the pedestaled statues of men, women, and assorted creatures of the jungle—with none of these idols rivaling that of the alien giant in height or girth.

Every time her eyes met their unblinking gaze, Dinanga’s heartbeat paused. She murmured a prayer to her distant ancestors that they forgive her for trespassing through their former home.

As the road sloped up closer to the crater’s outer cliffs, the structures beside it reared higher than in the districts before, the columns inscribed with the faces of people and beasts supporting their upper stories. Mazes of cracked steps and raised pathways connected these former palaces and manors to one another like bridges, and to the main thoroughfare.

“Who built all this?” Heri asked. “It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Dinanga nodded. “They say that, many generations in the past, all the villages in the jungle answered to chieftains who lived here. That monster we saw back there was their god, a spirit they respected more than any other. Nobody knows for sure what happened to the people who lived here…or that ‘spirit’ of theirs.”

The avenue ended before a towering portal hewn into the rock of the crater’s side. Chiseled into both jambs along its entryway were reliefs that each depicted a sitting creature with six orange orbs for eyes, the same species as the colossus before. The perspiration on Dinanga’s brow turned cold. Her heart pulsed in a panicked frenzy.

Drums thumped from somewhere within. The ritual was already underway! Dinanga unslung her bow and ran through the portal, with Heri close behind.

It was not pitch dark inside the passageway, like she had expected. Rather, dim green light filled the passageway from the painted grooves of reliefs on the corridor walls, as did an unpleasant whiff of urine. The first of these images on both sides portrayed a storm of flaming balls showering down from the starry heavens upon the primordial earth. The next showed human figures prostrating before these spheres, in which were rendered some of the most frightful creatures Dinanga had ever seen represented in art of any form. Some beings had dozens or even hundreds of eyes, limbs, or maws lined with fangs or tentacles; others were pocked with warts, thorns, or bone-shaped protuberances. Among them was the same six-eyed, winged entity she and Heri had seen before.

Some of the later reliefs even showed people throwing young men and women to the horrors to be devoured like poultry. Were the beasts so terrible that they intimidated early humankind into placating their carnivorous appetites? Or did these otherworldly deities offer something in return for the sacrifices? If so, what on earth would it have been?

The echoing beat of the drums escalated, joined by a droning chant. Dinanga could not waste any more time gawking at the pictures on the walls. She and Heri had to get to her sister before the girl suffered the same fate as the victims of those ancient rites.

The passage did not run straight, but twisted in zigzags that sloped up and down through the rock. Only the faint green glow of the painted reliefs, and the increasing volume of the reverberant music, guided Dinanga and Heri through the subterranean labyrinth. Once brighter daylight beamed from the hallway’s end, they slowed their running down to a skulk and crouched behind the jambs on opposite sides of the exit.

A flat, narrow promontory of rock projected from the opening, fifty feet from the crater’s inner floor. From the central hole in the vaulted ceiling of gold, a shaft of sunlight ran straight down to a broader, circular space at the walkway’s end. Ringed by megalithic pillars at its edges, this balcony supported a disk-faced platform in its center, around which men and women in red-dyed clothing chanted in an unintelligible language while clapping and beating wooden drums. Behind the altar stood a woman mantled in a more brilliant shade of red than the rest, scarlet macaw feathers woven into her dreadlocks and blood-red paint zigzagging down her face and limbs. She beat the stone of the promontory with her crooked priestess’s staff, human skulls jangling from the top of it.

On the altar lay a motionless Kazadi.

The drums and chanting built into a frenetic storm of noise that resonated to a deafening extreme underneath the crater’s domed covering. Rising alongside was a putrid odor emanating from far below the promontory. The voices of the female worshipers heightened to yipping screeches while those of their male counterparts lowered into guttural croaking.

With one final, cracking bang of the drums, the music stopped. The priestess waved her staff of skulls and shouted coarse, unfamiliar words to the ceiling.

A vast, odoriferous mess of slimy dark gray mud, strewn with bones and streaks of luminous green fluid, churned and bubbled at the bottom of the crater basin. With a flatulent gurgle, the muck rose in a mound and cracked open to reveal six orange-red eyes on a flattened black head. Behind it emerged and unfolded a pair of leathery, yellow-veined wings tipped with claws like a bat’s. Droning like an overgrown mosquito underlain with a rumbling growl, the thing flapped itself out of the slime to the promontory’s terminus.

Dinanga wrapped her trembling arms tight around her bow. She could not deny the old stories any longer. The star-demons of yore were real.

The cultists in red retreated and knelt in unison as the hulking creature landed between the megaliths on four columnar limbs that glistened with wet black bristles. Advancing on its knuckles in an apelike manner to the altar, it unfurled a wrinkled proboscis between its mandibles and extended it to Kazadi. Tentacles at its end rubbed wet trails of saliva over her skin. The girl’s arms twitched, her eyes opened wide, and she screamed.

Dinanga shot an arrow at the star-demon, piercing the wing’s thick skin. The creature’s eyes blazed brighter than embers as an echoing metallic shriek escaped its trunk. The people in red turned to face Dinanga, their teeth bared in anger.

The priestess thrust the tip of her staff in the huntress’s direction. “How dare you attack our god!”

Dinanga drew another arrow, now pointed toward the priestess. “I’ve come for my sister, witch!”

“Then get her at your risk!”

Dinanga released the arrow. The priestess dodged it with a sidestep, then vaulted over her followers in a single jump and swung her staff at the huntress. The bundle of skulls slapped Dinanga aside, throwing her to the edge of the promontory. She grabbed the lip of the walkway before she could slip off, her feet dangling in the muggy air of the basin.

Her fingernails scratched over the stony surface. The priestess stood above her with a cruel smirk as she raised her staff again.

An arm shot out from behind the priestess and wrung her away by the neck. It was Heri. Shoving the red-mantled woman to the side, he snatched Dinanga’s wrist and pulled her back onto the promontory.

One of the male worshipers punched him on the cheek and off his footing. Dinanga whacked the assailant’s brow with her bow, grabbed him by the throat, and pushed him into a group of his allies. With slashing swipes of her bow and sweeps of her legs, she fended off the remaining cultists’ attacks.

The priestess grappled her from behind and slammed her onto the rock. One kick rolled Dinanga back to the edge.

Over the clamor of the fight, Kazadi screamed again from the clutches of the star-demon’s talons. Its tentacled trunk engulfed her head, muffling her voice.

Stabbing the rock with the tip of her bow to still herself, Dinanga sprang to her feet and unleashed an arrow into one of the star-demon’s eyes. It spat Kazadi out with a screeching wail and staggered onto one of the megaliths at the terminus edge, toppling it over with a crash of its wings. The rock of the promontory quaked under the being’s confused stomping until it stumbled off the promontory and fell.

Dinanga started to run towards her sister, but the priestess leaped into her way with another swing of her staff. The huntress parried it with her bow, but the blow splintered her weapon apart.

The priestess cackled. “You’re outmatched. How will you save your sister now?”

“With my help,” Heri said.

He slashed his dagger across the priestess’s breast. She dropped her staff of skulls, which Dinanga seized and used to bat the woman off the promontory. The screams of the leader of the worshipers trailed away as she fell, finally ending with her faint splash into the muck below.

Dinanga hurried to Kazadi and embraced her. “Are you all right?”

Kazadi groaned and blinked as she wrung fetid drool out of her braids. “Where are we?”

“Wherever it is, we’re getting out as soon as we can.”

The star-demon’s surviving worshipers yelled a vengeful war cry and charged in a wall down the promontory’s remaining length. Dinanga, Kazadi, and Heri hopped onto the altar and launched themselves over the raging army. With a flurry of kicks, punches, and the slashing of Heri’s dagger, they sent the remainder of the cultists hurtling off to join their deity and priestess in the mud at the bottom of the crater.

##​

Dinanga inhaled deeply and sighed with relief after they had run out of the portal on the outer side. Even the musty scent of the wild jungle was a relaxing fragrance compared to the infernal stench that had swamped the crater under the dome.

Kazadi blinked with a shake of her head. “How long has it been?”

“Why, it’s been over half a moon, sister,” Dinanga said. “Remember those old tales about the demons from beyond the stars? Those men and women in red meant to sacrifice you to one of them, like our ancient ancestors did.”

“By the spirits, you mean those stories were true all along? I can’t believe it. But at least that creature has plenty of dead to gorge upon now—if it even survived its fall.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure,” Heri said. “Its landing would have been soft down there, and who knows how hungry those things get?”

“Even so, it’s trapped under that big dome behind us,” Dinanga said. “Let it feast and then starve to death.”

A banging, crumbling crash followed, as blocks of weathered gold flew off the summit of the dome. Up soared the star-demon with a terrible droning screech, dripping wet with the dark slime of its lair. Its five good eyes scintillated with fury as it swooped down.

The three raced down the avenue through the ruins. The creature accelerated its pursuit until it emerged in front of them. As it veered to face its prey, its beating wings stirred up a gust of wind that knocked down a chunk of stone overpass to block their way. It then grabbed Kazadi with a clawed hand and raised her towards its proboscis.

Dinanga chucked one of her last arrows like a javelin into its crotch. The star-demon did not even flinch. Heri flung his dagger at it, but the star-demon evaded it with a flap that lifted it overhead. It plucked him off the ground with its other hand while half-swallowing Kazadi.

Dinanga ran to one of the piles of rubble, hauled up a hunk of masonry, and hurtled it into the star-demon’s thigh. Fluttering in the air with anguished squeals, it released Heri and reflexively vomited out Kazadi. Dinanga caught her sister in her arms and fled from underneath the reeling monster, along with Heri. They reached the colossus at the ruins’ edge, but again, the star-demon caught up with them. It landed atop its own stone likeness and jumped onto the road before them. The earth under their feet shook them onto the flagstones under the otherworldly horror’s shadow.

A deep, explosive roar resounded. It was not the star-demon. The rage in the thing’s eyes dimmed as its bristles suddenly stood on end. Breaking out from the jungle and storming towards it was the tyrannosaur.

The two beasts faced each other with an exchange of threatening roars and screeches, the tyrannosaur thrashing its head about and snapping the air while the star-demon waved its arms with wings outspread.

“We should leave now,” Heri whispered from the corner of his mouth.

Dinanga shook her head. “We can’t let the star-demon win. It must die once and for all. No one should worship it anymore.”

The tyrannosaur chomped onto the star-demon’s arm with a crunch of chitinous skin beneath the bristles. The six-eyed monster freed itself by punching its attacker in the jaws, then hooked its other arm around the tyrannosaur’s neck while clawing at it with the first. It swatted its wings in a struggling effort to lift itself off the ground with the dinosaur in its hold. The tyrannosaur, slashing across its alien adversary’s breast with a short two-clawed arm, wriggled itself loose and beat the star-demon aside with its snout. The being from beyond the heavens collided into its own statue, turning it over and smashing it to pieces with a terrific tremor.

The tyrannosaur pressed a foot onto the fallen star-demon’s belly, cracking the skin underneath and spurting out viscous yellow-green blood. The demon slapped it away with flailing forelimbs that clawed gashes into its hide . With a push and a sweep of its wings, the wounded monstrosity pounced onto the jungle tyrant and shoved it into an obelisk on the other side of the old road. The star-demon then turned to face the three humans, the glow of its eyes flashing with a laughing growl as it reached forth and captured Dinanga in its grip.

Kazadi pried out one of the orange gemstones from the statue’s fallen face and threw it at the creature’s hand. The gem’s sharp edge buried itself into the monster’s knuckle, enabling Dinanga to slip down from its loosened grip while its massive body lurched back in howling recoil. The demon withdrew its other forelimb for another slashing swipe until the tyrannosaur rose back up and bit onto its biceps from behind.

Between those saurian jaws and teeth, the demon’s upper arm crumpled into a pulp of alien blood and bristled chitin. A final wrenching motion of the dinosaur’s head ripped the star-demon’s arm out of its socket, and then the tyrannosaur delivered a crushing bite to its extraterrestrial enemy’s throat. The star-demon’s high-pitched whine broke up into a buzzing rattle as it fell onto the shattered remains of its own idol.

The tyrannosaur threw its head upward, with droplets of yellowish blood cascading from its mouth, and let out its loudest roar of triumph to the heavens.

Dinanga, Kazadi, and Heri rushed into the jungle, out of the predator’s sight. Between the buttress roots of a kapok tree, they stopped to catch their breath, all racked with strain and sweating in rivulets.

Dinanga hugged her sister with all the exhausted strength she could muster. “Thank our ancestors that I found you before it was too late.”

“Thank you both for coming to my rescue,” Kazadi said. “Who may this strange man be, may I ask?”

“Call me Heri, of the clan of Deshen over on the open plains,” he said. “I’ll tell you all about my life over the night. All I can say now is that I’m happy that’s all over with. And I get to have two pretty young women walking by my side.”

Kazadi giggled while Dinanga groaned. “You men are all the same,” Dinanga said.

Heri winked at her. “And you women are not? Maybe you’ll change your mind after a few days.”

“If that’s what you want, maybe you could start changing my mind by fetching me some wood, flint, and twine. I need a new bow and more arrows.”

Together they laughed as they walked toward the distant village of Mungu, their backs turned to the great ruined village and the domed den of its slain god.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
For the most part, I could picture the setting and events of the story. I would like it more if you didn't try to interpret the story for me, (such as "there were obviously no signs of life nearby") and meshed the dialogue with the action a lot more. In such an action story you can't have everyone calm down for a static conversation.

You have several interesting creatures but you choose take a while before you bring them on stage, and I'm not sure why.

Oh, and the adjectives. (That's pretty easy to fix though.)
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
The story line is not particularly original, there is no real twist in the tale and mixing humans and dinosaurs is pretty ludicrous even before you bring in aliens, but you manage to make it all, if not believable, exciting and readable, well done. The only bit that really didn't work for me was the stone block to the thigh, I couldn't believe she had that much strength, now, if she had slammed it down on its foot ... You could have got an almost comical picture of the demon hopping around on one foot :) You could edit out a few words in places, but mostly the style works with the subject.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
My initial thoughts: consider an adjective cull. Your adjectives are good, but even in the first paragraph there are a lot of them. Some, like "lissome", I'm not even sure what they mean, though I have an idea having seen it rather a lot. So that is a candidate, for me, for "saving for later."

This, however, "forest understory" is very cool and original. I like that. Same with "flashing swiftness". You clearly have a knack for unique phrasings.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
My initial thoughts: consider an adjective cull. Your adjectives are good, but even in the first paragraph there are a lot of them. Some, like "lissome", I'm not even sure what they mean, though I have an idea having seen it rather a lot. So that is a candidate, for me, for "saving for later."

This, however, "forest understory" is very cool and original. I like that. Same with "flashing swiftness". You clearly have a knack for unique phrasings.

It was more the little words for me,

A woman climbed onto the bough of a kapok tree, which twisted up from the treetop canopy. Her lissome dark umber figure, clad with a barkcloth skirt and halter-top, sparkled with droplets of perspiration beneath the hot glow of the sun piercing through the overcast sky. She raised her hand over her eyes, surveying the green ocean of jungle as it rolled in choppy waves all around her high vantage.

A lot of them repeat something, it wouldn't twist down, piercing is always 'through', vantages are 'high', and it would up the pace that little bit.

Lissome, slim and supple, bd. Do like those lissome women :)
 
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