Author's note: The following story was inspired by the song "Run to the Hills" by "Iron Maiden" and is an entry to Helel's metal contest.

They came at the break of dawn.

Mere blurs in the distance, so far away down on the valley, they soon became ominous silhouettes under the revealing yet faint sunlight. Their numbers were large, their aggrupation erratic and graceless, improper for a hunting party or a military division. The difference in sizes unleashed a torrent of uneasiness that washed over us like a nocturnal downpour. However, what imprinted the first marks of fear on our bodies was the long and foreboding column of smoke that casted its ominous shadow over the slow yet steadily advancing figures. We were certain we hadn’t been spotted yet; the advantage we held over them was assuring, only disturbed by our complete bewilderment at such strange presences so close to the coast that demarcated the end of what we considered our domain and sacred ground.

The small group I was a part of quickly came to a resolution for there was little time upon which to act, and thus, imbued with the fortitude and courage that our weapons and brothers provided, we descended the hills with haste and keenness.

It did not take us long to obtain a complete image of the creatures stumbling with weakness and urgency, barely standing on their feet as they forced themselves to drag them over the impiously stone littered dirt. The only ones spared from this fate where the children carried by languid arms who held them tightly against their chests. These… were people. People unlike anything we had ever seen. Our weapons ready, we soon put them down as we realized how alien these strangers were. Their noses were small, their manes ranged from dark brown colors to yellows unlike any we had ever seen upon any other human beings, and the paleness of their skin turned our stomachs in pity and disgust at such sickly looking creatures. Their clothing was dark as the starless sky, torn at places and distributed unevenly among them. It was clear that they were all based on a similar pattern, yet the dissonance between them made it clear their tattered and worn-out aspect was a sign of decrepitude.

But, even among all the differences we were able to spot at such distance, we could tell such humane characteristics that only the cruelest of demons would not be able to distinguish or mimic. These people were in terrible pain. Each step torn away from the tapestry that was their lifespan. Their faces were contorted by fear, more pronounced on some than on others; misery having left its claw marks on what might have once been beautiful visages. The signs of famine made themselves present on the children and the less corpulent members of the party, which filled us with sorrow and confusion, for it was the best time of the year for hunters and gatherers; food was in abundance everywhere we could look and the idea that such a vast group had been able to grow such numbers yet being so close to inanition was all but rational. These strangers were truly alien, much more so than anything we had ever encountered before. Such was their state that, confident in our safety, we rushed towards them hoping not to appear hostile. Had they been less demarcated they would have noticed us far sooner than they did, but whatever adversities had carried them to this sorry state made them unable to until we were standing right before them.

The first ones of the line stopped dead on their tracks, staring at us so perturbed we feared they might fall prey to death’s clutches at that very instant. Their quietude extended over several seconds as row after row of them followed suit, probably confused at their sudden pause.

The few before us shuddered violently and fell to their knees. There had been two women and three men leading the march, whom we assumed to be the leaders. I approached carefully, tomahawk at ease but alert until I was at arm’s reach of the man. The women, much to my surprise broke into tears, while the men smiled and screamed in a language that escaped my comprehension, as did to the rest of my brothers.

I sensed no threat or warning on his voice, but the sort of hurt-joy that followed a tempestuous time of sorrow that had finally come to an end.

I reached my hand to him and pulled him up with as much kindness as I could filter through the wariness and discomfort of the situation. He threw himself at my arms and bawled like a child, a behavior I would only tolerate from a man under extremely dire circumstances like the ones at hand.

After regaining his composure he spoke that strange language again, to which I tried to respond as best as I could to make him know I couldn’t understand him. After an awkward exchange of words neither of us could make sense of, we gave up. However, astute as men must be in these situations, we quickly arranged the next course of actions through motions. I guided his party to the rest of our clan after I gave orders to two members of my own party so that they would identify the cause of the smoke.

The trip home was long and onerous, since the people in need of assistance were in much higher numbers than the ones capable of providing it. While children and some women relied on my brothers to walk plenty of them found strength in the hopes they had found on their saviors. This would be the last day of prosperity our people would ever face; the beginning of the decay of our pride and culture. In the past I have wondered, as much as I do know, if this act of compassion towards the weak and helpless was, by some twisted and wretched evil machination what set into motion the trails of blood that would soon blacken the land, pollute our rivers and poison our creed. Yet, as much as these pernicious thoughts assault me I fight them off every time, for I know that whether I had chosen the blade over the caring hand the end would have come regardless. I refuse to tarnish such a pure ideal over rancor for a cataclysm that has long claimed our lives.

The strangers were received with awe and mistrust by my kin. After lying them down on soft and welcoming pastures a meeting was held to decide what the best next move could be. Arduous discussions were held, and this deliberation foresaw the atrocities that would much later occur. We settled on feeding them back to health, for our reserves of food were abundant and generous, a sign some of us took as of divine intervention that had been provided to us simply so we could share it. After that, we would attempt communication once more since they appeared to be intelligent enough to do so.

Shortly after our advisement, the men I had searched returned bearing with them the news of what they had seen at the coast. A colossal vessel, unlike anything they had ever laid eyes upon. They had been able to tell it only from the form, for the entire ship had been consumed by flames, leaving nothing but a blackened skeleton cradled by the tides.

We immediately associated this event with the arrival of the pale strangers, yet we were completely disconcerted as to what might have transpired. A mystery was solved, and replaced with a new one immediately after. We finally had an idea of where these people had come from, yet the implications were so daunting we could barely comprehend them at that moment. Another land, probably full of men, women and children such as the ones resting at our tents and fields… Fear overtook us for a moment, and while some of us were able to rid ourselves of it rather quickly, others used it like wood to feed the scolds of disdain, distrust and hatred that would later grow into an all-consuming fire. For while some of us deemed the prospect of an invasion under these conditions as absurd others were not so easily dissuaded.

After that fateful day, months of learning, investigation and bonding succeeded one after the other. When the time for displacement came our visitors accompanied us, now healthier and stronger than we had ever expected of them. That is, the ones who survived; many of them didn’t make it through the first weeks, their perilous journey having taking too much out of them. We mourned them as our own, despite the insistence of their kinsmen to bury their dead on individual tombs on which they placed crosses, never to be unearthed again, their bones deprived of cleansing.

We respected their wishes as they did when our own began to perish soon after. A clear understanding of our languages was never reached, and I still shed tears over the loss of such a vast yet unexplored alien knowledge, a sentiment I like to think they would have corresponded.

Over the course of our shared time, which only strengthened the bond of our peoples, we inquired over the circumstances of their arrival and what had driven them to our land, yet they were never resolved. They would cease the conversation immediately and run away; distracting themselves with whatever task they could occupy themselves with, no matter how petty. The fear I saw reflected on their gazes will never leave my memory, for soon enough I would be seeing it everywhere I looked.

With time we came to respect their wishes, although at the price of losing the trust of the ever increasing number of dissidents among our own against maintaining our coexistence. Sadly, these pernicious sentiments were not exclusive to either group, and the union we had woven from the threads of compassion would soon be torn were any measures not immediately taken.

To this day I cannot fathom to imagine what would have happened had we been granted by some merciful whim of divine provenance enough time to repair our damaged trust, and I still wonder if perhaps mutual annihilation wouldn’t have been better than the fate that awaited us. But such thoughts are nothing but a soon to be dead man’s cry, and carry just as much meaning before the certainty of death that now awaits us.

They came at the break of dawn.

My hunting party was accompanied by one of the foreign men I had come to call one of my own. For the last few expeditions for provisions in the wild he had joined us, prepared to learn whatever we were willing to teach him so that he might have one day a sustainable lifestyle with which to feed his family. Not much younger than me, yet I could admire his sense of duty towards his kin. For as different as we might be, what was truly important remained the same. We looked over the horizon, standing as we were on top of the same hill I had once caught a glimpse of his limping figure, accompanied by many others whose souls had been freed on a land they would have never considered as their last resting place. The waves licked the shores as if they were honey; such sweet sight was embellished by the timid tune of the retreating waters as the moon’s nocturnal guidance came to an end, giving way for the invigorating sunlight which made its way through vast and dense cumulous of clouds.

I still cherish that sun, and I will do so until my final day, for I fear that the same way everything I ever loved was taken from me; they too will find a way to extinguish its light. Had they such power, I would not doubt for a second they would.

The sweet quietude suddenly and without warning changed into an acrid and putrid stench that infected with its vileness the calmness that had cradled our hearts and souls, if only for a moment.

My palest brother’s visage was deformed by the most abject terror I had ever seen in a man. His eyes welled up with tears, his teeth sank into his lips staining them in crimson and his skin turned into a revolving amalgam of white and blue that made me fear for his life.

His mouth opened wide and liberated the most atrocious and abhorrent sound any human being has ever had the tragedy of hearing.

I thought I knew death, that I understood what it entailed. That I could comprehend, even if remotely comprehend the unspoken horror that befell men when they feared for their lives. I had been prey as much as I had been hunter, I had been raised as a warrior, I had taken lives before. But this…

This was the terror I believe one could only experience when confronted with the very concept of death. The audible manifestation of how someone whose spirit could confront their own shell yet had we not been granted the peace that alleviates our own passing would feel like.

The primal fear that someone would sense if, oh gods forgive me, they could contemplate the end… and see nothing.

That is what we heard that day.

And worst of all, that is what we ourselves saw and sense in our own skin as soon as our gazes turned the same direction than his.

There were silhouettes on the beach. But unlike what they had been last time.

None of them was in anyway similar to another. They were entirely different in sizes and forms, but deep down we could tell they all shared the same putrid unholy dark as the starless sky substance I could only mockingly call blood.

Their bodies twisted and contorted upon the sand as they struggled out of the water, akin to a creature deserving of the mercy of a quick death if only to put an end to its suffering. But these creatures were not living, for if I intend to retain my sanity I must repeat to myself, over and over, that Mother Nature would never grant the gift of life to such wretched monstrosities, regurgitated from the darkest abyss so that they may extend their ignominious influence on this world, where I now fear beauty was so abundant merely so that these abominations could cleanse it from it.

Yet dead were they not, for they moved, and sensed, and saw… They saw us down where they were, down at the bubbling cauldron of loathing for all that was living, down where we know the first dozens would give way to hundreds, to thousands, to millions more.

White Men. True White Men. I repeated that to myself. So pale they were both translucent yet emanated their own light. The ocean had spat out another drove of men of pale skin just as demarcated as the last one, but so far deserving of compassion. Not even hatred filled me, not even disgust, but fear. An unprecedented fear unlike anything I had ever heard before. My jaw was clenched shut, my eyes bulging out. I dared not look at my brothers, much less at the source of those shrieks.

We ran as one, we ran home. They were not in pursuit, but they did not need to. This was the only place to go; they would come for us eventually.

Bedlam soon followed as we made our early return known through our unbridled cries of terror. Soon, two vastly different languages battled for needless supremacy because, as different as they were, they had reached the most common significance they could ever hope to achieve. Opposition was raised against our dire need to escape, to ride the winds into the unknown wastelands our people had dreaded and respected for so many generations, now well aware that no human fear could ever surpass what we had experienced.

We heeded not their voices; gone was our creed, gone was our sacred unions, gone was loyalty to family and kin. Survival devoured every other cognition; rationale became a slave to our most primitive urges.

We parted old and young, new and old, men and women, leaving the overly cautious, the overly proud and the overly sane behind.

The very same day we abandoned our sacred ground the resonating screams of those we left behind shattered the silence that accompanied our mounts; we thought not much of them.

For the next few years, we kept on moving, joined arms for one sole quest.

Run for our lives.

Once enough distance had been set, we became victims of all the evils that plagued mankind since its conception.

We were strangers in our own land, completely ignorant of the world around us, reduced to mere children.

Our pride was tarnished. We had disgraced our ancestors and we were being punished for it. We accepted the scourge humbly and we persevered with this new burden on our shoulders. We became familiar with the newest prey. We memorized the course of rivers and hunting spots. We carved new weapons. We thanked the spirits every day.

To this day, I know that we were merely deceiving ourselves in a pathetic act of delusion under the pretense of redemption and survival. I understood then why our newest kin shunned us away whenever we inquired about their past land, why they became such formidable laborers after the excruciating hardships they suffered under on their journey to us. Why they were so driven to keep it a secret not to us, but to themselves as if they would be able to forget. And I feared then and fear now that they might have known all along, that they were aware of the oncoming tempest yet chose to ignore it. That they lied to us, those who granted them a home, those who fed their children and tended their elders, those who taught their young and protected their seed.

It grew day by day, every time my muscles ached from the back-breaking work, every time we hungered for we were too many and had too little, every time I heard their disgusting language. I hated them, I hated them with heart and soul; I wished them death, I wished them torment and I wished the arrival of the White Men if only to see their faces contort in absolute horror. The day my brothers raised their arms against them I joined them. The feelings I experienced were not mine alone; they resonated among us like a war chant. One night, it happened.

The massacre took place on that night left no witnesses other than ourselves and the moon, whose piercing gaze kept cautious watch of our crime as blood poured on the dry earth, screams echoed into the distant mountains and as what had once been beauty turned into one more monstrosity on a world that had faced far too many.

What we did has no absolution. No redemption, and even if it did I do know wish it upon me nor my brothers.

We are at the world’s end now. I do not know what lies beyond these hills that have me cornered, other than the ocean. I know it won’t stop them. It might buy us time, but in the end, that’s on their side. Fighting is not an option either. I’ve had the misfortune of seeing them a few more times over the years. I have no words to describe how many there are. Like a colony of ants on a fresh carcass, they grow and feed and grow until they’re all that’s left, after which they will disperse in search for another cadaver.

I… I fear there’s nothing left alive on the world after a certain line, but them.

I can’t face them. Spirits above, I cannot.

And yet, I will. Tomahawk in hand I’ll ride until I can go no further, and I shall wait for them there. Not for redemption, not out of pride, not out of hope. Not because I want to. But because it’s the only choice I have left; I have become a slave to fear.

I will run to the hills.

Written by Unimpressive Chaoslord
Content is available under CC BY-SA

Written on the 19th of February of 2018

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