The Hollow Gods
Kai found himself standing barefoot in the woods. The faint smell of smoke wafted from somewhere nearby, voices shouting, closing in. Crimson blood soaked the mud and snow around him. Gradually, Kai realized he was surrounded by death. Animal limbs and entrails were strewn across the tainted earth. Alongside them lay mangled wolves, maimed and disfigured, the hinges of their jaws ripped open in grotesque snarls of agony. As he walked amidst the carnage, the smoke grew stronger, cinders rising to the sky as the smog thickened in his lungs.
The bloody trail led into a village. It smelled of Black Hollow, but there were no roads or cars, no buildings made of brick, and no alleyways to hide in. Houses were aflame, roofs collapsing as wood turned to ash. At the mouth of the tiny settlement was a pyre, ropes encircling a black, charred mass. It was shaped like a human, the outline of the skull still visible amidst the blaze, her mouth agape—frozen in a silent, eternal cry of terror.
A shrill call drew him back towards the red-soaked earth. A raven crawled, his wing broken and his leg writhing, towards the body of a dead child. The boy was pristine—midnight hair stark against his waxy skin, parted grey lips and glassy, lifeless eyes giving him the appearance of a porcelain doll. The raven bobbed his head as he curled his talon around the boy’s swollen fingers—that one, pearl black eye gleaming before he plunged his beak into the corpse’s abdomen, tunneling his way inside. A satisfied rattle echoed from the scavenger’s bubbling throat as he devoured all he found, his slick form gradually disappearing as he burrowed into the hollowed cadaver.
The boy’s chest wall swelled, bulges pulsating under the flesh. His head lulled to the side, his jaw slackening with each undulating distention. The convulsions faded out, an eerie stillness following the possession before an arm jerked, a leg twitched—and finally, an aberrant gasp for air ripped through the boy. As if pulled by puppet strings, he flowed upright in one smooth motion, his hand twisting as the puppeteer grappled for control. Grasping the boy by his chin, the hand snapped the jaw back into place, teeth clamping together with a click...click...click. His neck jerked this way and that, snapping in and out of place before it grew accustomed to the new range of motion. Slowly, the head turned towards Kai, tilting to a near right angle—wide, pitch-black eyes boring into his soul.