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Accursed Be the Pestilence (Contest Entry)[]

14 November, 1371

Three days ago, I picked up the spoor of a Pulsing One. The plants died in its wake, and a Taken squirrel tried to infect me with its sickness. I put the poor devil out of its misery, and hung its corpse, filled with herbs, from a tree. Perhaps in Heaven, at least, it will find rest.

I do not know why it still troubles me so to see the small things of the forest Taken. Humans I can rarely find the sympathy to care for any longer. Just two years past, Father Marakov and I set fire to the village of Arnstead, killing seven hundred and fifty-four things that had once been men and women and children. I remember the number well, for he stood there before the gravestones he erected, reciting the Canticum Defunctorum for each and every one of those poor souls, asking the Lord to take them to safety in His arms. But I did naught but stand and watch, or forage for uninfected food to eat. Even now, I do not know how he found it in his heart to weep for all those he saw Taken – thousands, at very least. Perhaps the Lord granted him the strength he required.

But among men, it is one thing. After all, it is on us that it was unleashed. This is a punishment for our sin, that much is clear to all but the most blasphemous. And we pray and pray, dutifully begging the Lord to forgive us for what we have done. But the innocent beasts of His forest, the stoat and the deer and the squirrel, they do not deserve punishment. They do not sin, unless it be a sin to survive.

There is a city, a week’s walk east of here. I have seen the lights flickering on the horizon as I approached. Most likely it is Prague, though I cannot be certain – it is difficult to tell direction out here in the wilds. I pray it is not Taken yet – a city that large is certain to have wards and protections – though it is not far off the Pulsing One’s path, and in its corruption, it will likely seek it out. There is a part of me which thinks to outrace it, to run on ahead and warn the cityfolk of what shambles toward them with the hiss of poison on its breath. But to do so would be foolish – senseless, to save perhaps a hundred lives and lose a thousand if it veers course.

No. I shall do what I must do. I shall follow its trail. If it reaches the city, so be it. It will give me the time to corner it and kill it, before it moves on to other prey. And thus, the tiniest cyst of this disease will be destroyed, and leave time and space for a dozen more. Such is the grinding, endless task bestowed upon me by the Lord.

Accursed be the Pestilence.

18 November, 1371

Corpse-scent and plague-scent, drifting on the wind. It seems that the Lord has not answered my prayers – or perhaps this is His answer. That the city still stands in some fashion I do not doubt – its lights still shine in the nighttime, and boats still move along the river. But Prague – I am sure of its identity now, His Majesty’s spires and cathedrals loom over the skyline like the Alps themselves – has suffered greatly at the decaying hands of the Plague.

A part of my mind wonders what exactly brings the Pulsing One to this place. Is there so little thought in its rotted brain that it does not realize the city is doomed, and simply seeks to spread its infection? No Pulsing One which I have ever hunted has acted with such mindless hunger. They are the Plague’s fever – a sick, pulsing heat, impossible to capture as it cooks its victim’s mind. Brutal they are, crafty and opportunistic, but never stupid.

There is a nagging fear in my spine that it seeks this place for another reason – that the Plague in its entirety has some sickening master plan, and that it seeks to transform Prague in its entirety into some vile cesspit of breeding and death. Another Plagueheart.

But I must put such thoughts from my mind. Fear not the imagined, as Father Marakov used to say. I shall focus on that which I know to be real: a Pulsing One marches on Prague, and only I can stop it.

Accursed be the Pestilence.

20 November, 1371

Prague has fallen.

Not, perhaps, as far as I had feared. Those who walk along its streets are not yet Taken, though the Plague riddles and rots their bodies. But only one in a hundred are in the first stage of corruption, and in the alleyways and the harbors lurk its vile harbingers. Carrion-birds dot the skies, and foul things move in the shadows. And everywhere, there is the stench. The stench of death, and the sour, stomach-twisting stink of the Plague.

I thank the Lord for granting me His sanctuary from this sickness. I walk down the fetid streets without fear, as pale clouds gather in a haze above the cobbles and things that are no longer dogs fight over scraps whose origin I dare not investigate. But as it has always been, this blessing is a curse. I have seen no other Plaguiers moving among the streets. Which means that the cleansing of this town falls upon me and me alone.

There is a café, here. I sit now at one of the tables, watching as the citizens pantomime normalcy in the street. Mold crawls like a hungry waterway down the menu-board, and one of the great glass windows has been shattered, but in many ways, it feels like home. Like Monsieur Garrou’s petite boulangerie, in the Time Before. It is a shame that the owners are gone, now, and the Plague has reduced anything edible to toxic slime. I would have liked to have a croissant again.

Something moved in there, when I came. A Sabordeur. I do not know whether it was the remains of the owners, or their murderer. But it does not matter now. It is dead, and this café can rest in something akin to peace. I wish that the same could be said for this God-forsaken city.

Accursed be the Pestilence.

21 November, 1371

Something is wrong.

I saw another Plaguier today, up on the hilltop near the castle. I attempted to catch up to them, to berate them for leaving the city in this condition. But they eluded me. Nor was it an innocent mistake – they saw me, I know that for certain. Their beaked mask turned towards me, their goggled eyes met mine. And they turned and fled. Why?

The city itself is equally strange. The people are diseased, yes, but there is more than that. They make no precautions against it. The churches have fallen into disrepair. They do not burn their clothes, or filter their water, or make any attempt not to touch each other. There is not even incense burned, to drive off the foul odors. It is…as though they welcome the Plague. And that thought frightens me more than I can describe.

There is one ray of light, though, among this dreadful blackness. I have found traces of the Pulsing One. There are handprints and footprints, burned in splashes of acid along the cobbles, and I saw one poor woman who had been half-melted by its toxin. The thing resides in this city, and what is more, it knows I hunt it. It would never be so foolish as to leave such an obvious trail by mistake. It is toying with me.

Once again, I question why it has come here – especially knowing that I am on its trail, and a city like this is my territory and not its. I fear it desires to occupy me. To keep my focus on it, and not on whatever else is transpiring in the shadows of Prague.

Accursed be the Pestilence.

25 November, 1371

I killed hundreds today.

Not Taken. Not foul Plague-things. Not twisted horrors that have no right to walk. Not even the deathly sick, suffering in their beds and begging to be put from their misery. Men, and women, and children, screaming and fleeing and begging for their lives. They offered me money and gifts, they pleaded desperately, they scattered like helpless rats down the streets. And I hunted them down and slaughtered them, as though they were no more than cattle.

Three days ago, I was taken into custody by His Majesty. Even he showed signs of infection – dark, diseased veins wound up from his beard, and his hands shook as he leaned forward on his scepter. Around him stood courtiers, staring and murmuring to each other, but for all of the splendor of the palace, my eyes focused only on one thing – the three figures that stood at the base of the throne.

One was tall and haughty, dressed like myself in the bird-mask and cape of the Plaguier. Despite the similarity, however, I do not believe him to be the same as the one I saw venturing up the high street upon the 21st. One was small and round, his head capped with the leaf-shaped miter of an archbishop and his face displaying a frightening self-assured confidence. The third was slender and paper-white, and when I saw her, I half-wondered why she was present at all.

The archbishop spoke first, his voice as soft and dangerous as his face. “Good day, Plaguier,” he said, staring with a confidence few share into my eyes. “What is thy name?”

I bowed low, as I had done already to His Majesty. “Jaqueline D’Anton, Archbishop.”

“A Frenchwoman?” the Plaguier spoke up, his eyes meeting mine.


His nod was all that was needed to show that he understood. “Je suis désolé pour ta perte,” he murmured, giving me a slight bow. “I am sorry for your loss.

I bowed in return. “It was a long time ago,” I said, in what I guessed was his native Italian. “I thank you for your aid.”

The archbishop spoke up again, his words as soft and smooth as honey. “Thou hast my thanks for thy deeds as well. However, there is a…certain matter, for which thou hast been called before His Majesty Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, Appointed-by-God. Thy services will be needed no longer.”

I stared at him, and I could sense my companion doing the same. “I do not understand. Your city is sick. Your people are dying. The Lord has selected us to cure them.”

“His Holiness Pope Gregory XI hast been in communion with the Divine Host. There has been a deliberation. A new doctrine has been enacted.”

My comrade began, ever so slowly, to understand. “What does it say?”

“It states the Divine Truth before God: that what we have called a Plague is, in fact, a Rapture. The End of Times hast come unto us. To fight against it is sinful before Him, to attempt to ward it off is to march to the arms of Satan. Thou art to do as all others must – accept His divine blessing, and be redeemed before Him.”

I feel great shame for my next act. I hope that the Lord can find it in Him to forgive me for it. But I know, with all my heart, that the archbishop in that moment made himself a blasphemer. The truth he spoke cannot be truth before God. For if this Plague be a judgement, it cannot Take innocent babes bare out of the crib, and leave men like him untouched.

I drew my blade, and ran him through.

It…went wrong…then. The courtiers screamed, thank God. My compatriot jumped, though he made no attempt to stop or chastise me. But behind me, His Majesty began to laugh, harder and harder, his eyes staring blankly into space. And the woman remained frozen, watching me with unshakeable intent, and I realized in horror that she had not moved at all.

I remember very little of what happened next, and what I do recall pains me to put to paper. I ran, as fast as I could, for those marble doors, and cut down the guards pulling them shut. Behind me my companion screamed, and I turned to see the woman’s arm locked elbow-deep in his stomach, her eyes still staring with that blank not-expression. Blood poured down His Majesty’s beard as he laughed, blood that was dark and thick and lumpy, and left stains that were not quite red where it spattered on his clothes. And when she pulled out her arm…

It was then that I saw the truth. The people of Prague are as good as Taken. A death by my blade is a kindness, to them and to the Empire which their King would have them infect.

I have killed many, but not all. Not even most. Tomorrow I shall set the city alight, and pray to God that searing flame does what cold steel cannot.

Accursed be the Pestilence.

26 November, 1371

Today, at last, I have caught the Pulsing One.

I prepared this morning to do what I knew I must: cleanse the Plague that has Taken this city. My Plaguier’s blade hung sharp and ready in my left hand, and in the other I held a torch to destroy that pestilence that could not be killed so easily. Through the gates I stalked, and slew the guards that tried to stop me. And then…I set to work.

There is a special ring of Hell, I think, reserved for those who commit genocide. I know that I am condemned to it, and I would have it no other way. The screaming faces etched inside my eyelids certainly think so, pleading and flinging curses as their loved ones die and their houses burn…

I do not know exactly how many I killed. My blade is dull and notched, and stains of blood drip from my robes. I can still feel the searing heat of walking through streets afire, uncaring as innocents whose only crime was sickness burned and died in agony. Half of Prague is a smoldering ruin, and flames lick even at the cathedrals and castles at its center.

And in the midst of that hell was the Pulsing One, waiting for me.

It stood in some town square as I entered, the flames of the city flickering behind me. Its bloated form loomed taller than a cart-horse, an unspeakable thing like a fruit gone bad, like a nameless shape fished from a lake dripping with toxic algae. It did not move, did not so much as breathe, unless the vile, throbbing motion that permeated its body should count as breathing. It merely looked at me, with that face I knew so well, and smiled.

The face of Father Marakov.

I walked up to him, ever so slowly. My blade was raised, but I had not fought a Pulsing One before, and I feared what he could do. But he seemed, in his twisted way, to understand my fear, and he stretched out a hand, bloated and green, dripping with burning slime.

I was a fool, then. I made a decision. I had to. I raised my weapon, and slashed it off.

From that wound splashed Plague-bile in unbelievable volumes, vomiting onto the street and onto my garb. I leaped back, snarling in rage and betrayal, and he lunged forward to meet me, the vile thing that had been his other hand grasping for me with the force of an elephant.

It gripped my arm, and in one smooth motion, pulled it from its socket.

Pain shot through me like the wrath of Satan. My mind was clouded, my blood joined that of the cityfolk on my clothes. Somewhere in me was the strength to run him through, to pierce his foul body and let it explode like a crushed tomato. Shriveled and wilted, he crumpled to the ground, and I wanted more than anything to join him.

Would that I had.

I made it, somehow, to the old café. The fire will not reach me here, not yet. But I do not think that matters. I have no way to treat my wound, and that pulsing agony pounds through me still. I know that it will take me before I rest again. My God, I am sorry. I have failed you.

Accursed be the Pestilence.

27 November, 1371

I have been a fool.

I misjudged the Archbishop. He spoke the truth, and I was too blind to see it. I hope that God can forgive my transgressions. But despite all I have done, all the horrors I have committed, something in me believes He will. For I have, at long last, seen the light.

My arm aches still, though the pain is of a different caliber. I have the energy now to walk and fight, but I have left my weapons behind. What madness gripped me, that I could think I needed them?

I look up, now, at the bloated thing, rising from the Royal Palace. A Cyste, I would once have called it, though it is far bigger than any I have seen except in Plagueheart. Around me are the townsfolk, staring up in awe beside me. They know what they see as well as I. The Resurrection.

Blessed be the Pestilence.

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Cornco- *splutters and dies* (talk) 01:44, 22 April 2022 (UTC)[]

Wow. To briefly summarise, I think you have something really special here. The prose is excellent and the worldbuilding is very engaging. You give off just the right amount of detail without slipping into needless exposition. The contest parameters are absolutely fulfilled, too, particularly the former. This living pestilence isn't a cryptid, demon, ghost, or god. The closest thing it could be is a monster, but if I had come across it on the site, I wouldn't categorise it so.

My main criticism of this is that I think it concludes too quickly. The final entry ought to be elongated and split into two. It would be interesting to see what an attempt to fight off this plague would look like from the perspective of the protagonist, rather than just giving in within a few paragraphs.

I have some more specific feedback in the way of syntax/formatting changes, which I'm going to demonstrate by editing this post. I feel it would be less time-consuming to just make the changes myself so you can see them in the revision history rather than painstakingly pointing each one out here in the comments (also, I assume you have your own copy of this anyway on Word or whatever). You can always revert the edits if you want to return it to its original form afterwards.

But yeah, overall, I think this has a lot of potential to be a high-scorer. Very well done with what you've got so far.