The Valley of the Centipede
by Tom Zjaba

Chapter 1-The Chosen One
For as long as we can remember, there was the sacrifices. It was a part of our heritage, a way of life. No one questioned why we never fought against the great Centipede. It was a God and like all pagan Gods, we gave sacrifice to it. In exchange it gave us the life sustaining mushrooms that we so desired. Mushrooms which were a staple of our lives. We used them in our cooking. They were used in medicine and their roots were used as fuel.

For generations, we lived above the valley of the Centipede. We stared down into the dark valley and watched as the creatures would scurry through the immense mushroom fields. The great mushrooms that littered the field, grew to enormous sizes. Some would be two men high (approximately 10 feet). Shielded under their gargantuan caps were the smaller, more succulent stems that our people would gather. Every few months, we would descend into the valley of the Centipede to stock up on the mushrooms. We would fill our sacks and carts to capacity and head out as fast as we could. Every time the great Centipede would awaken and head down to claim his tribute. Like the great thunder above, we would hear those hundred feet pounding as the Centipede would weave its way through the patch. As it came down, we would send four chosen ones to greet the Centipede and the other inhabitants of the field and give their lives so the Centipede may feast.

Our fathers and their fathers always told us that the Centipede protected the field from the other insects. It kept the field alive and provided us with the mushrooms we became so reliant on. In exchange, we would help feed it. It was a great honor to give one's life to the Centipede. Once you were chosen from the drum to be one of the chosen ones, your name was inscribed in the book of saints and your place in the afterworld was secured. You would then go to live among the ones who came before you and feast at the table of the Gods. These lofty dreams were enough to make believers out of everyone. Everyone except me. My name is Galaan and I was just chosen. Unlike my people, I do not believe the Centipede is a God. Rather it is a monster, one which has enslaved my people and forces them to satisfy its ravenous hunger.

I have just entered my sixteenth season and by law, my name was added to the drum. Many have come to me and told me how lucky I was to have my name chosen so soon. They tell me how they wish the laws would allow us to trade places. Everyone treats you like a king for the week leading up to the gathering. Your every need is filled, be it food or other desires. The women of the tribe offer themselves to you. It is great honor to carry the child of a chosen one. But only one girl is the one I wish to be with. The fair Jolette, who was to be my mate, is the only one I ever longed for. But I don't want our time together to be so fleeting. I dreamed of a long life away from the village. I dreamed of a place where you could live to a ripe old age and no one had to give their life to some hell-spawn creature. But fate has changed all that.

As the day grows nearer, I must make plans on how to survive. I cannot just leave the village or I risk losing my beloved Jolette. To refuse such an honor as being sacrificed to the Centipede would bring unspeakable shame to myself and my family. If I didn't escape, I would be stoned to death and my immediate family would suffer the same grisly fate. I could not bring such pain and suffering to my family, even if they are under the same trance that engulfs the entire village. Everyone except me and the local lunatic, Pangeon the wielder of the black arts. Pangeon has long fought against the sacrifices, but he only succeeded in having himself expelled to the outskirts of the village. He is the only one who agrees with me, so I must seek his advice and see if there is any alternative.

As the nightfall's and the sounds from the valley grow in volume, the people of the village head into their homes and lock all the doors. While the daylight provides protection from the creatures of the valley, the nightfall offers none. The lesser creatures rise up from the valley and roam through the village. The great spiders and the other beasts look for the house that is not securely locked or any animals not properly penned up. You can hear their clacking noises as they make their way down the streets. They come searching for the handouts that are routinely given to them. The sick and the aged are left out as their days of usefulness come to an end. To ease their pain, they are usually given strong medicines that knock them out. But tonight there are no such meals left for the beasts. Tonight I must venture out by myself and try to get past the hungry beasts who roam the streets.

As Jolette falls into a deep slumber, I quietly rise from my bed and make my way out into the streets. As I leave the safe confines of the house, I make sure to securely lock the door back up. While I have no reservations about placing myself in mortal danger, I will not allow such harm to come to my beloved. It is for her that I make this journey, even though she neither knows nor would approve of my intentions. Upon entering the darkness, I pull my knife from its sheath and quietly make my way to the cave of Pangeon. While the journey is only a few miles, the risks are great. But for my dear Jolette and for the future generations, I must make it. I must find the means to end the menace of the Centipede or die trying.

Chapter Two - The Journey
As I enter the darkness of night, I notice an unusual stillness. No sounds can be heard. Even the wind is still, which is not a good sign. But instead of trying to figure out the cause of the stillness, I take advantage of it and run through the streets. I know it will not last and I must make haste if I am to reach my destination. As I run up one street and onto another, the quiet comes to an end. As I turn the corner, I see a giant spider feasting on a poor horse. The horse was tied up outside the local tavern and the owner must be a stranger in this town. I know this as it is still tied up to the post. No regular would ever leave a good horse out. I would help the poor beast, but I am too late. The spider's fangs have already pierced the beast and judging by the amount of flesh removed from the carcass, it has been dead for some time. Around the spider are the smaller fleas, which bounce around as they wait for the enormous creature to have its fill. Once the spider abandons the kill, they will go in and try to suck out any remaining blood. Knowing that my knife is not much good against a giant spider, I move back into the shadows. With the creature easily the size of ten grown men, an attack would prove suicidal. I know that I must get past the spider to get to the cave, but this will not be easy.

After a few moments, I move as close to the walls of the buildings as I can. They line the streets and are covered in darkness. I must stay as close to them as possible to avoid detection. If there is one thing I learned about the great beasts, it is that they don't have great vision. They are attracted to bright lights and movement. Knowing this, I was prepared and dressed myself in black clothing. I even put my golden hair under a dark hat to better conceal myself. If I move very slowly, I may be able to get past the beasts without being detected. So I inch my way slowly, but surely along the way. I take two steps and then pause. After a few seconds, I move another two steps. It is a slow and tedious action, but one that far better than a face to face confrontation with death. As I near the great spider, I try to conceal my disgust. While I know it is only nature, I cannot help but be disgusted by the spectacle that unfolds before me. The spiders are not the neatest eaters and they just tear through a victim, sending blood and entrails flying. As an organ flies off, a flea is quick to pounce on it and try to get the blood, before it oozes onto the dirt street.

As I near the great beasts and am but a dozen steps away from getting past them, I take extra precaution to conceal myself. But fate is not with me as I notice that one of the fleas is staring at me. Actually it is hard to tell if the pig sized creature is looking at me because their eyes are unlike a human's eyes. There is no pupil to show which direction they are looking. Only a cold stare through a hundred eyes. But when it makes a low shrill and leaps towards me, I know that I have been found. Before I can escape, the accursed thing grabs a hold of my leg and sticks its accursed needle like appendage into my leg to suck out my blood. As the pain from the attack reaches my brain, I let out a loud scream. Not a normal scream but an almost primal scream. One that originates in the very soul. The primal side of me, the part that fights to survive, no matter what the odds has taken over. Instinctively, I pull out my dagger and stick it deep into the creatures head, right between those soulless eyes. It lets out a much higher pitched shriek than its previous one as it loosens its grip on my leg and falls to its death. Its legs shake uncontrollably as the last ounces of life drain from it. But I do not have time to savor this minor victory as a much greater danger is nearing.

Before I can tend to my wound or retrieve my weapon, the massive spider turns around and faces me, as do the other fleas. Sensing fresh meat, it charges after me. Fighting off the pain of my wound, I run past the creature and push myself with every ounce of strength. Knowing how perilous the journey will be, I long to head home to my beloved. But I know that I must go forward, I must continue. The spider who is on my heels also convinces me that forward is the right choice. Luckily for me, the streets turn sharply and I can make some headway. While spiders are very fast when heading straight, they are not among the best when it comes to turning. My only problem is that the trail of blood I am leaving will make it easy for them to follow me and fatigue will soon overtake me. The loss of blood is also a concern as I am beginning to feel a bit lightheaded.

As I reach the outskirts of town, I head towards the river. While traveling the river will add time to my journey, I hope the cool waters will slow the bleeding and conceal my trail. Once I get out of town, I look back to see the spider still on my trail. He is about twenty paces behind. Lucky for me the fleas decided to stay behind and feast on the dead horse and their fallen mate.

Once I am out of town, I run up the hill and into the woods. I know that once I get into the thick of the woods, I will be safe from the spider. The dense forest is too hard for the creature to maneuver in and its size puts it at a serious disadvantage. Sensing safety, I slow up and walk towards the riverbank. As I plunge my hands into the cool water, I pull up a handful and pour it over my wound. The chilled water feels good on my wound. I tear some material from my shirt and dip it into the rushing water. Then I pull it out and wrap it tightly around the wound, stopping the bleeding. While the spider is no longer a threat, I know the fleas will come looking for me. The trail of blood will be their guide and their sheer numbers will overcome me, especially since my weapon is still lodged into the head of the flea who assaulted me. Knowing that I must stop the trail, I jump into the river and run upstream. I stay this path for about ten minutes before jumping onto riverbanks and heading into the woods. This should hopefully conceal my path and give me a safe journey. I then run through the woods.

After what seems like hours, I limp up to a hill. My leg is burning in pain and I can see that the wound is still bleeding, though the flow has been slowed considerably. I hope the walk up the hill will be easier than it looks. I have found the pathway I was looking for and partway up the hill, I see a trail of smoke, billowing out of the cave. I have found my destination and now I just need the strength to make it up there.

Chapter Three - An Unlikely Ally
Exhausted and weakened from the blood lost, I limp into the cave of Pangeon. I have come a long way to seek his aid and only hope he will make time for me. As I limp into the entrance of the cave, I see Pangeon sitting in front of the fire, roasting the leg of some beast. As he looks at me, he says in an almost laughter "Galaan, you have made it. I have been expecting you for some time." "H-how did you know I was coming?" I ask in bewilderment. He hasn't been in town in eons, so how could he know that I was one of the chosen. Until this day, I have never laid eyes upon his frail form. While I knew of him and the general whereabouts of his abode, I never ventured there. At an early age we were warned of the dangers of Pangeon and to avoid any contact with him. "Don't fear me, the stories told of me are but exaggerations to keep people from the truth" he says as he points to a log next to the fire. "Sit down, sit down, there is much you do not know, Galaan." he tells me as I take a seat on the log. It feels good to rest my ailing leg. "I see you had some trouble along the way. Let me get some herbs to heal your wound." he says as he pulls his aged body up from the log and leans heavily on a wooden stick he uses for support. "Right in here I have some ointment already made." he says as he disappears into the darkness of the cave. After a few minutes, he emerges with a wooden bowl. He slowly walks over to me and sits besides me. "Let us get these rags off, they will only get in the way." he says as he unravels the makeshift bandage. After it is off, he dips his hand into the bowl and pulls out a handful of a green paste. He takes the paste and rubs it over my wound. At first it stings, but soon it begins to sooth. As I stare upon my wound, I have to check my eyes. Before me, the wound is closing up! What should take a week, is taking mere moments. The magic he uses is strong and I now know that I have come to the right place.

After a delicious meal of meat and wine, Pangeon looks over to me and says "You come to seek my aid in the destruction of the Centipede." Almost choking on my wine, I look at him in amazement. Was my mind open like a book for him to so easily read? How did things not said, become so known to him? "Yes, that is right. Can you help me?" I ask. "The Centipede is a great demon, a great demon indeed. But like you and I, he is but flesh and blood." he says as he struggles to his feet once again. "Long have I awaited one such as you. Long have I prepared for someone to come and rid the valley of the accursed beast." he says as he grabs my hand and leads me into the cave. As we make our way through the darkness, he continues "Long have I been too old to fight the creature myself. Long have I held the means to his end. But no one would question the elders, no one would stand up to the beast. That is until now" he says as he grabs a glowing wand and hands it to me. "Behold Galaan the Wand of the Stars" he says as he holds it up. The wand begins to glow even greater as he hands it to me. As I hold it aloft, I can feel its power. Like a raging river, I feel the power overwhelm me. It sweeps over me and engulfs me. Suddenly, the weariness of the day is gone. I feel like a new man, ready to defeat the creature who terrorizes my village. For once and all, the Centipede will die and our people will be free of its tyranny! Suddenly I am snapped out of my dreams and back into reality by Pangeon's words "While the staff has great powers, the powers are limited. Only can the light of the stars recharge them. So tomorrow when you go to battle, waste not any power, for it may be the difference between salvation and damnation." With that, I head back to the village, with a renewed sense of security. I now know that I will not have to die in vain, sacrificed like a sheep. I can and I will fight back. For tomorrow, the Centipede's reign of terror is over!

Chapter 4 - The Final Battle
Dawn breaks and the sun rises over the hilltops. As the rays of light flood over the town, the sound of footsteps can be heard. The day of sacrifice has arrived and the villagers prepare. The costumes are brought out and the high priest gathers all the chosen ones to the center of town for his blessings. "As I look out at this most blessed group, I cannot feel envy, for you are going to a greater place. You will be taking your place among the saints." It is the same speech every time and it still doesn't move me. Soon after he is done spewing his lies, the friends and family members embrace the chosen ones and give them little mementos for good luck and safe passage to the next life. These items are usually a few coins to pay passage, some dried fruit and usually a piece of jewelry. My mother and father come up to me and look at me and my father says "Son, I am proud of you. Take these coins and give them to the gatekeeper so he may let us all in." As I take them, he hugs me and walks away. My mother comes up and puts a necklace around my neck. "I always dreamed of one of my children being a chosen one and now you can make that dream come true" she says as she hugs me. As she walks away, I can hear her sobbing. Then Jolette comes up and whispers in my ear "I meant to give your present to you last night, but you were gone from your bed. I hope you don't entertain any more crazy thoughts?" I just smile at her and give her a kiss. It is best if she doesn't know my plans as she may tell the elders.

As the sun reaches the highest point in the sky, we dress in the ceremonial white gowns. The long, flowing gowns are decorated with symbols that your friends and family have designed. They are signs of luck and love. I look down at mine and notice that my robe is less ornate than many of the other chosen ones. Guess one who speaks bad of the great Centipede, doesn't have many friends. We are then led towards the mushroom field by armed guards. They say it is to protect the chosen ones from any dangers, but I know it is to stop any desertion. But I will not desert as I came here to do war, but not with the guards. I came to fight the Centipede and ends its tyranny, once and for all.

Down the hill we march, one by one. As we near the valley, the guards pull back and let us walk in. The chosen ones break into song. They are singing some nonsensical chant about giving their life so others may live. I always hated this song and try to drown out their pitiful singing. Soon we are among the giant mushrooms. I look up and realize that I am dwarfed by them. I make my way into the maze of stems and make my way away from the rest of the chosen ones. They go running forward singing songs of praise for the Centipede. As their voices are soon drowned out by the distance, I head away towards the left. I must not stay too far behind as the gatherers are coming and if I am found to be straying behind, they will report me to the guards and I will be killed. As I get out of their sight, I pull this infernal robe off and pull out the wand. I hold it straight up to absorb the power of the sun as I wait for my foe to awaken from his slumber.

Suddenly, in the distance, I hear a sound like thunder. A hundred giant feet stomping to the ground and making an earth-shattering noise. The Centipede has awakened and it is hungry. I grab onto a mushroom and climb up the stem to get a better view. As I reach the top of the mushroom, I look in the distance and see dust flying up and mushrooms pieces flying as the Centipede makes its way through the field. As it gets closer, I can see how impressive a beast it is. It stands above the mushrooms and must be the length of twenty men on their backs. It is now coming onto the first chosen one, who stands there with his arms outstretched as the great demon tears him in half. The screams echo across the valley and soon the spiders and fleas are moving in to look for scraps. As the Centipede devours half of the first victim, it spies me on top of the mushroom. Our eyes meet as moves towards me.

The other chosen ones soon rush into the path of the Centipede. It quickly rips through another one of them as it continues its path towards me. Trying to control my fear, I carefully aim the wand at it and begin to pray. With my eyes half closed, I shoot a powerful beam that strikes the beast in the last segment of its body. The segment falls off and burns up as the fleas fly over and wait for the fire to extinguish. The monster doesn't even flinch from the wound. Instead of weaving through the mushrooms, it just tears a straight path right at me. Instinctively, I jump from the top of the mushroom as he plows right into it and pulls it up from the ground. Diving onto another mushroom I land hard as the great beast turns its massive body around and heads back towards me. Once again, I aim the wand at the beast's head, only to have it move at the very last second. My shot fires out and instead of killing the beast, it ends up cutting him in two. Half of the beast breaks off and continues to run. Without a head to guide it, it runs into a few mushrooms, bouncing off before finally falling over and dying.

This time my attack has caused serious pain to the beast as it lets out a most horrible scream. The scream echoes throughout the valley, stirring up the fleas and spiders. As it screams out in pain, the pain stricken beast turns and tries to escape back into the mushroom field. But I came to kill it and that is what I intend to do. So I blast at the beast and hit the mushroom directly in front of it. As the mushroom breaks out in flames, the Centipede turns and in that instant, I have a direct shot at its head. I pray to every God I have ever heard of and aim. With one final shot, I hit it square in the head and the beast falls in a blaze of glory. The body parts continue to wriggle as the head is quickly consumed in flames. I stand triumphant and raise my wand in a sign of victory. But this is my mistake, for while I am celebrating, a spider jumps behind me and knocks me down. As I fall to the ground, it follows me. The long fall knocks the wind out of me and I cannot stop it from digging its fearsome fangs deep into my leg. The pain sears through my body like the fire that consumed the Centipede. In a last act of desperation, I hastily aim the wand, which I by some miracle, was able to hold onto to, and shoot the accursed beast, square in its cluster of eyes. The power of the wand knocks the spider back and soon it is consumed in the unnatural flames. Lying on its back, its legs strike out, but find nothing to hit. It soon stops moving and I fall back to rest. As I lay back, I feel the effects of the poison on me and I am soon falling into a comatose state. Before I sleep the eternal sleep, I see someone come up and begin to pull me away. Through my glazed eyes, I see that it is my lovely Jolette. That is my last sight before the darkness overwhelms me.

Later, I awaken from my near death state. As I look up, I see Jolette standing over me. "Dearest Galaan, you finally awaken. Too bad you could not stay asleep" she says to me in her soft and delicate voice. "How long have I been asleep?" I ask her as time is irrelevant to me. "It has been a twenty sunrises since I pulled you from the field" she says in a saddened voice. As I struggle to get up, I realize that I have no control over my body. I try desperately to move my hands, only to find no response. My legs also ignore my commands. The poison of the spider must have left me paralyzed. As I continue to struggle, a knock comes on the door. As Jolette opens it, there is the town elders with some guards. "We come to take him" they say as Jolette walks over and kisses me on the cheek. "What is happening? Where am I going?" I ask them as they pick up my limp body and carry it away. As I am carried down the streets, I see that the townspeople are busy packing their wagons. Everywhere, there is people preparing for a journey. "What happened?" I ask as they continue to carry me off. One of the elders turns to me and says "As the prophesy said, once the Centipede is gone, so is the mushroom field. Without the great Centipede to stave off the other insects, the mushroom field was wiped away." "So everyone is leaving to find a new mushroom field right?" I ask as we reach the center of town. "Well, almost everyone" they say as they tie my hands with a rope and tie me to a great rock in the middle of the town. "We are going to find a new home. You, on the other hand will stay behind." he says in a sinister voice. As they have finished tying me up, they walk away. "You cannot do this to me" I scream as they walk away. They just ignore me as I lay there and watch them fill up their wagons and horses.

As I lay here in the middle of town, with my feet limply touching the ground, I see all the townspeople make their way out of town. Wagon by wagon, they proceed off to a new life. Even my dear Jolette waves at me as her families cart heads off into the sunset. I see tears streaming down her face as she slowly disappears. I know that I will never see her face again. Soon the day gives way to the night and I hear a most horrible sound. Through the darkness, I see the spiders and fleas coming. They are coming for me and there is nowhere I can go. As I get closer, I scream and scream, but there is no one to hear me, no one except the spiders. HHHHHHEEEEEELLLLLLPPPPPP MMMMMEEEEE!!!!!

The End.

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