Chapter 2: My Lord and Savior
Growing up on the streets was hard for anyone Vanessa reasoned. It would be much more so for herself, being a young, attractive female living in one of the roughest, harshest dregs encompassed by the kingdom.
Looking back, she wondered if those were her own wordsâ€¦ or had been sent to her by the Demonâ€¦
She had been a lowly servant girl for a loathsome master. A gluttonous, crude, sadistic pig, he had made many advances towards her and, acting out of desperation, she had taken a handful of jewels from his chamber and fled after one particular night which the drunken wretch had attempted to have his way with her. She had heard of tales of the ones called â€˜Demon-blessedâ€™ before, the dark raisers of the dead, sinful summoners of demons and other foul spirits. Little did she know at the time that she would soon be walking this dark path. Dressed in her serving vestments as she pressed her body against an alley wall and breathing hard, Vanessaâ€™s hand tightly clenched a thin stiletto dagger she had had the forethought to snatch during her hasty exit. â€œBaâ€™algorâ€¦ please keep me safe!â€ She closed her eyes and whispered a prayer to her savior; the Demon.
Ah yes, did I say something about a Demon? A dark voice had guided her, giving her hope during painful times, promising her justice and telling her to not be afraid, and that the future held much promise for herâ€¦
Plying her skills learned as a youth among the brutal household, she had managed to pilfer enough provisions to sustain herself for a week. She exchanged the trinkets she had managed to pocket before her flight, to a shady street dealer in exchange for a small bag of copper pieces. Next she stopped at a shabby inn, renting herself a dingy, rat-infested flatâ€¦ It was all she could afford for the time being.
Now secure for the moment, she set about to ensure her survival. She rigged a small blade up to a taught cord by the door, anyone entering without disarming it would be struck in the chest and impaled by a spike which she had dusted in a coat of highly toxic rat poison.
As she had often done on nights when she felt afraid before going to sleep, she spoke a small prayer and awaited the familiar voiceâ€™s soothing tone.
â€œAll will be well in the end, my childâ€¦ You are precious to meâ€¦ I may not take a soul as pure as yours to devour, yet you will bring many deliciously less savory ones to me to sate my hungerâ€¦â€
A crash had awakened her in the middle of the night. A bloodcurdling scream sounded and in the flickers of a torch she could see several burly men, one of whom she recognized as being in the employment of her depraved master. They were helping one of their own, he had been struck in the arm by the long rusty nail she had trapped the door with and it had pinned his bicep to his chest.
Instantly she was on her feet, holding her dagger, concealed by a small hand towel. Three of the men circled around her sneering with obvious ill intentions.
â€œAhhh lord told us that if we gets his jewels back, we can do as we please with you!â€
Vanessa opened her eyes wide in feigned shock â€œOh noâ€¦ you donâ€™t meanâ€¦.!!!â€
She pretended to stumble and fall in front of them, exposing a smooth, tanned thigh and opening her long-lashed eyes in feigned fear. As one of the men reached down to grab her shoulders, she thrust the concealed blade deeply into his femoral artery in his thigh and gave it a quick twist. The other two men laughed as the first man staggered and winced, they couldnâ€™t see the blade under the cloth scrap in her hand and the blood wasnâ€™t showing on his pants in the dim light.
â€œSheâ€™s a feisty little wench eh? Gotcha good there, didnâ€™t she Dan?â€
They thought she had merely struck him in the groin, instead of the potentially mortal wound he had in actuality received.
â€œGrab her hands!â€ The third man yelled.
He did so only to have his wrist slashed savagely by the struggling girl. While he grabbed his wrist in shock, wondering how she had cut him, she planted the dagger under his left arm, yanking it back out and falling to the ground just in time to avoid a powerful, yet clumsy haymaker by the thug behind her. She kicked up and backwards as hard as she could, striking him full in the groin with a strong mule kick. When he doubled over, both hands clenching his injured groin, she struck him a piercing blow with the thin dagger blade through the Adamâ€™s apple, ending his surprised life with a choked gasp. The unlucky man who had first kicked the door down was lying against the wall, foaming saliva pouring from his chin as he convulsed helplessly. She mercifully murdered him and quickly searched the bodies. A stout short blade, of superior quality, a scroll and a handful of silver turned up and she rapidly gathered her possessions in a bag and once again fled her home into the night.
Bastian seemed to have made quite a decent recovery and he was able to make a good pace as they travelled through the light brush in the forest. After an hour of walking Elizabeth noticed the sun was going to set soon, and that this season would be considered to be late autumn in her era. She could sense Bastianâ€™s body temperature falling rapid, as the heat dissipated from his skin though the ragged clothes he was wearing. They would need to make camp soon, for even though Bastian was putting on an excellent show of being unaffected, she knew that he was still weakened and was more susceptible to the ravages of disease in this state.
They soon came to a small rise at the top of a hill, with thinner trees allowing a good view of the surrounding area. Elizabeth scanned the distant tree line, looking for any signs ofâ€¦
â€œThere! I see smoke!â€ Elizabeth exclaimed. â€œThat means foodâ€¦ and shelter. Why donâ€™t we take a closer look?â€
The sky was a bleak, grayish-black of darkened clouds and a biting wind cut through the leaves of the trees. Bastian bit his lower lip and shivered uncontrollably, nodding with much enthusiasm to Elizabethâ€™s suggestion.
They moved down the far end of the small hill, Elizabeth in the lead maintaining a decent gap between herself and the much less quiet knight trailing noisily behind her. After about a mile they came to an area where the trees thinned considerable and they could see a clearing through the brush just ahead. A large, 3-story dwelling ringed by a razor-wire fence loomed over them a mere hundred feet away. Awkward tresses and buttresses jutted out at various points and there were an array of small circular barred windows and strategically placed murder-holes. This was apparently some sort of tribal stronghold, and the red and black hues that seemed to be the dominant theme, offered a glimpse into their likely warlike nature.
Bastian gave a low hiss to her and she turned to see him giving her a beckoning gesture. She opened her hands as if to say â€œGo aheadâ€¦ spit it out!â€
His eyes narrowed and he pointed at the house. â€œI can sense tangible evil from within, I think we had better move along on our wayâ€¦ I am unarmed and the inhabitants might not think twice about making a gruesome example out of any unwary passers-by...â€
Elizabeth closed her eyes for a second, annoyed at how casually he had discarded her usefulness, after all she had saved his life, even though he hadnâ€™t witnessed the challenges she had overcome. She twisted her mouth slightly and replied wryly.
â€œYou knowâ€¦ I think we can stop by and say hello, you donâ€™t look so well and I canâ€™t have you getting sick on me now, maybe they will be a _Nice_ tribe for once!â€ She gave a wide smile.
Then her eyes narrowed again, â€œAnd if notâ€¦ I think we can still get what we need to survive from them, one wayâ€¦ or another!â€
The young prince closed his eyes for a second and touched his left hand to his temple while he held his right hand out palm up.
â€œI see only hunger and blood-thirstâ€¦ I fear that these things may not even be human, that is the darkness of the essence they emanateâ€¦â€
Elizabeth smiled, â€œOh, I know a little trick that somehow alwaaaays seems to workâ€¦â€
Bastian began to protest, but she sprinted out of the bushes into the open ground despite his frantic whispers. She crept up to the large gate. It was painted with peeling black tar and adorned with a glaring, red runic text, which she could only assume was some kind of death warning, due to the dire look of the symbols.
She gave a quick knock on the large double doors and a guttural bark sounded from the other side. A slapping of wood as the gate bar was slid off and it creaked open heavily.
Two black hooded men appeared in the opening. They were tall and powerfully built, faces hidden from view and shoulders weighed down by massive paldrons of engraved iron. They moved silently to either side of Elizabeth and she looked up at them with a curious gaze. One of them gestured with a mailed glove towards an iron hatchway across the barren yard. â€œGo!â€ Came the harsh command from the hidden face.
She looked around and cast a raised eyebrow back at Bastian who had concealed himself thoroughly in the dense brush thicket at the edge of the clearing. He leaned back and looked at the sky, both hands over his face in dejected hopelessness.
The menacing guards escorted Elizabeth down a long hallway, adorned by bleak art depicting gratuitously blood scenes of battle. The turned a corner and brought her to a large hall where a few similarly garbed men were gathered around a large table.
A man in the center was giving what appeared to be a rousing speech, or perhaps arguing a point he felt quite passionately about.
â€œWe are the Brotherhood of Nahktâ€¦ Let us not forget that! We are the ones who will crush the weak from this land, they will suffer and die beneath my boot heels!â€ He took a long drink from a skull shaped flagon of mead and cast in to the ground, emphasizing his declaration by, indeed crushing the skull beneath his boot heel.
Elizabeth couldnâ€™t help but laugh, â€œSuch nice sounding people!â€ She thought to herself.
The congregation slowly, deliberately turned and faced her, this strange sound was so absolutely alien and bizarre to them that they stood shocked into silence.
A huge man with flowing long black hair stood up from his chair with a half-sleeping look on his deeply disinterested face. â€œWhatâ€¦ Is this girl doing in my hall?â€ His eyes were barely opened and he was not even looking at her.
The two burly guards briefly glanced at each other. â€œLord Haâ€™at, she came here to usâ€¦ perhaps she is lost from a nearby clanâ€¦ this could mean an act of war!â€
The lazy eyed behemoth slowly addressed Elizabeth, still not looking at her. â€œAre you a scoutâ€¦ here to determine our strength and number? Why have you come armed to our lands, do you not recognize that our rule is supreme?â€
Elizabeth opened her mouth to respond then something caught her attention causing her to stop. Her powerful senses made out a figure creeping around the edge of the entrance to the large hall. Sound was being deflected by this patch of human shaped matter, even though the light passed clearly through it. â€˜Bastianâ€™, she whispered to herself. Surely he had come on some misguided, gallant rescue attemptâ€¦
Elizabeth looked squarely at the lord of the hall and replied, â€œI am not from any tribe that you have ever heard of, and I am not here to start a warâ€¦ You seeâ€¦â€ she paused, was mentioning her companion, now bodily inside the chamber, a poor tactical move?
She didnâ€™t have to wait long until the decision was taken out of her hands. Bastian marterialized into view, standing off to the side near a weapons rack, from which he instantly snatched a pair of fencing blades and lowered his head, letting his hair hang over his eyes in what he surely imagined to be a dangerous and dashing glare and pointing a rapier tip at the mildly perplexed lord and whispering in a low tone.
â€œDo not attempt to harm her, or you shall feel my full vengeance brought down upon you and your men!â€ This was not a very subtle threat and the gathered warriors did not react subtly.
Several of them roared in fury and hefted large smashing and hacking weapons, rabid in their eagerness to mangle and rend this impudent young whelp. Bastian opened his arms in a broad challenge and screamed out something which Elizabeth deciphered as an archaic war-cry in a long-forgotten tongue. A puissant aura radiated from his skin and his eyes glowed with a shimmering golden hue.
Elizabeth sprinted forward with blurred speed, splitting the thick table in two with a sharp blow as she ran through the wreckage to stop immediately before the lord. The edge of her 2-handed blade hovered at the corner of his right eye, shearing off a strand of his hair with a feather-light touch.
His eyes opened fully now and he muttered in a low tone, â€œquite an impressive assassin you are, I was fooled by your innocent lookâ€¦ Kill me if you will, yet know that you will die a breath after your blow lands, and another will take my place as if you had never even existed!â€
Elizabeth glanced around at the armed men surrounding her, like coiled springs ready to lash out. â€œI am not an assassin (Am Iâ€¦? She wondered), I have no wish to kill any of you, we just needed shelter and food for the night, before we travel far from your lands in the morning!â€
The lordâ€™s eyes slumped again as he recited a well-worn phrase from memory. â€œOnly blooded warriors shall feast within these halls! Only the proven are provided for!â€
He gave a slow chuckle. â€œThe dogsâ€¦â€
A door from a small side chamber opened and 2 men entered covered in full plate armor and tightly grasping a fistful of chains in each hand. At the end of each chain struggled and thrashed about a savage and berserk animal, mad with rage and eyes red with well-developed plague. Their ferocious slavering and hoarse cacophony of barking would drive most sane people to beg to their deities to grant them a swift and painless death.
The lord gestured and the men around him formed a semi-circle, blocking any route of escape for the 2 intruders. â€œEither you will dine tonightâ€¦ Or else *they* will!â€ He bellowed a hearty laugh and placed his fists on his belt in a boastful manner.
Elizabeth noticed Bastianâ€™s heart begin to race; this was a sign of fear and adrenaline, although he was much too proud to let it show on his face. She knew she could survive the infected fangs of the dogâ€™s savage onslaught, however she was deeply concerned for her new found friend, what would she do if he now died in his misguided attempt to save her?
A bristling wall of bladed weapons formed the walls of the arena the 2 youths now found themselves standing in. The snarling pack of plague dogs bared their putrid fangs as puffs of yellowish breath came from their tainted lungs, they savored the look of terror on their soon-to-be victimâ€™s faces and their sickly orange eyes lit up with hungry glee.
Bastian maintained his bearing and let out a breath of air, preparing himself mentally for the brutal fight that was about to ensue. A pair of beasts leapt at him with a garbled snarl and trailing thick strings of viscous plague-slime from their hyper-salivating jowls.
The young prince gave a quick prayer, â€œâ€¦and grant me victory in this hour of need!â€ before lunging out with surprising speed, skewering one of the dogs through its eye socket with the thin rapier in his left hand. It died instantly and he rolled to the side, dodge the second one as he lashed out with the razor sharp blade, slitting a deep gash in the second beastâ€™s flank and drawing spurts of thick, black blood from the festering, welted hide. The beast spun about as its claws skidded on the stone floor, seeking traction. Bastian creased his brow and the beast paused in its crouch, dazed by some unseen force. He then mercifully severed its spine with a thrust of his shining blade, painlessly ending its agonizing existence.
Elizabeth had been a split second from intervening, however she held back, somehow knowing that the knight would no doubt try and do something foolish if she leapt first; like throw himself in the maws of the diseased beasts to save her.
The lord of the hall remained silent; however this display of swordsmanship had not gone unnoticed by the battle-obsessed crowd. Elizabeth raised one of her eyebrows slightly and shook her head. â€œOh, whatever would I do without you?!â€ She purposely fed the young knightâ€™s fiery fervor.
Elizabeth leapt high in the air, nimbly and weightlessly as a swallow and rapidly dropped to the floor slamming down onto the stone in a crouching position with a loud thud in the midst of the ravenous pack, while Bastian looked on stricken with shock. A series of gleaming flashes whirled about her in the air like an unraveling ball of fluorescent thread and she placed her 2-hander back against her cloak and stood facing the lord.
He looked on confused for a full second at the pretty young girl standing in the center of the bloodthirsty packâ€¦
Then, with a disgusting squelching sound, the rabid beasts ripped apart into sliced sections, hewn heads rolled from trunks, yellowed organs gushed from severed halves and gouts of the sickly black blood sprayed high in the air, to splash down in pools flooding across the tiled stone floor.
A deeply approving murmur sounded throughout the large hall. Weapons were lowered and the lordâ€™s face held a faintly surprised smile on it. â€œMmmmmmmâ€¦ Now, THATâ€¦ is something you donâ€™t see everydayâ€¦ Am I right men?â€ Generally voiced concurrence was echoed by the gathered warriors.
The lord spoke again bluntly now, â€œI only wish I could find a woman such as you for my son; that children of great strength and blade-skill might be born from the union!â€
Elizabeth didnâ€™t really know how she should react to thisâ€¦compliment? â€œI donâ€™t think that would really work out, I am â€¦mmmâ€¦ a little uh different you seeâ€¦â€
The lord smiled broadly, â€œAh, that I can see, you are a rare one indeed, my worthless son would probably be no match for your skill and speed with the bladeâ€¦â€ He mused to himself for a moment.
â€œThe next in line to lead our brotherhood must be as deadly as he is wiseâ€¦ else his throne shall be TAKEN from him by FORCE!â€ The lord seemed to be thinking deeply as he motioned for several of his men to clean the sopping carnage from his sight. He ordered food and drink for the now-honored guests and bade them sit and refresh themselves.
His brow pursed in a deep frown and he bellowed out suddenly, â€œVileblade, you scum-weasel! Where have you slunk off to this time, come and meet your betters!â€
Bastian brushed his lock of bleach-white hair from out of his face and gave a single-eyed glance at Elizabeth. â€œThat wasâ€¦ umâ€¦ How did youâ€¦?â€
Elizabeth smiled and spoke somewhat smugly, â€œIt seems there is a lot about me you do not know, it would be fair to sayâ€¦no?â€
Bastian replied with a look like someone who had been shocked by a handshake, then offered an open hand again. â€œYou areâ€¦ differentâ€¦â€ He paused and considered what he had heard, â€œand I would hope you donâ€™t plan on listening to this madman, you are far tooâ€¦ umâ€¦ important... for this *Vileblade* character!â€ He spoke with just a slight smidgen of jealousy.
A dashing, dark-haired young man, with a styled goatee and a headband tied around his flowing, jet-black hair entered the hall with an arrogant swagger. His eyes immediately locked onto Elizabethâ€™s feminine form, standing out like a proverbial â€˜sore-thumbâ€™ in the crowd of brutish warriors.
He sauntered up and gave a flourish and bow, before addressing the girl before him and a deep and purring tone. â€œMmmmmy laaaady, I am Vaxâ€¦ though they do not flatter me with my true name hereâ€¦ something about a â€˜Vilebladeâ€™ businessâ€¦ I am *quite*â€¦â€ He paused and Elizabeth could tell he was definitely *quite*whatever feeling it was, â€œOverjoyedâ€¦â€ He settled on, after looking about while he searched for the right word to describe his pleasure and relief at her presence.
Vax turned towards his father who had maintained a perpetual scowl on his face ever since the brash youthâ€™s none-too subtle entrance.
â€œCraven weakling, I cannot believe I spawned such a disgraceful wretch from my loins!â€
Vax gave a bored yawn and murmured an explanatory subtext to Elizabeth, â€œYou see, my father values nothing apart from strength of arm and a cold heart by with which to drive its killing blows.â€ He rolled his eyes back as if acutely exasperated with the retelling of this dull subject. â€œNow, tell me more of yourself, I find great difficulty in recalling the last time a beautiful maiden such as yourself has graced these hallsâ€¦â€
His eyes flashed hers in a piercing and intense stare, and as she stared back he snapped his fingers and she was aware of a slight disturbance in the air. He held his hand out to her and she noticed that a dark red rose had suddenly appeared between his thumb and forefinger.
He winked sideways at Bastian, who did not appear the slightest bit amused by the impressive trick.
The threesome stuck to their corner of the massive oaken table while the crude throng drank and roared with laughter at each otherâ€™s stories.
Bastian had his arms crossed over his chest and did not appear to be enjoying himself very much. Elizabeth seemed to be enthralled with this petty, spoiled trickster, â€œVilebladeâ€ indeedâ€¦ Bastian closed his eyes, he needed to concentrate on his mission, that was what mattered at the moment, not this place, not the arrogant show-off, notâ€¦ He looked again at Elizabeth, how did he know so little about this strange girl and why did she fascinate him this way?
Elizabeth was far from her home, everything she had known had vanished and she was lost and changed irreversibly into someone different. She realized it had been a long time since she had had an open ear to explain these strange new feelings to. Vax had maintained a straight, albeit skeptical face when she had described her high school, her parents and her small Maine hometown. She had always been kind of shy and introverted, spending most of her time in the school library and rarely attending major sporting events or social gatherings. Not many popular activities interested the girl until she had join an outdoors club during the spring of her junior year. She had enjoyed nature greatly and had regularly been participating in hikes and club events with her parents and younger brother and a few dozen other families. She had recalled many days of camping under the stars in a fold up tent, or exploring caves and waterfalls in the countryside.
One day was different though. The group had come out into a large field, brilliant with the color of seas of flowers. She had wandered away for a few minutes and then lay down in the warm sun on a small hill, her thoughts empty except for the bliss that she felt in the still, peaceful, warm grass. At a certain point her body no longer produced enough heat to sustain herself and it began to shake in order to create more warmth. She woke up shivering and realized that it was no longer sunny. The sun had all but disappeared behind the tree line and she became aware that it was close to dusk now. She had looked around worried at first then yelled out a few times, with only her own voice echoing back. The others had long since returned to town, more than an hour drive away. She was by herself, several hours walk from the small dirt road that the hike had began on. The half of the sun still visible above the trees was a deep red in the dark blue sky. She had watched it set, at a loss as to what she should do.
She paused for a moment, the retelling brought some kind of deep primal fear in her, the feeling of being totally alone. The terror of knowing something was out there in the woods, waiting for the dark, the knowing that when it was ready she would find it chasing her, hungryâ€¦
â€œI didnâ€™t know what to do. No one was there and it was getting dark, so I decided that I would stay on the hill through the night, I sure wasnâ€™t going to try and walk through the woods you knowâ€¦â€
She shivered slightly. Vax was looking down, an unreadable expression on his face as he rubbed his chin in thought.
I could see one or two of them out of the corners of my eyes, creeping out through the grass, dark-furred animalsâ€¦ I knew they were wolves, somehow, I knew they could smell me, I saw them looking at me from the trees, then they came slowly creeping outâ€¦ They knew I was aloneâ€¦ I had heard that it was safe and that they never attack people, but one look at them and their bare ribs, they were starvingâ€¦ I was soâ€¦â€
She looked away, reliving the hopelessness and terror was hard to deal with. What if she were still laying in that field now, still dreaming, still waiting to wake up to look at the darkening sky and the tree line a few hundred yards awayâ€¦
Vax coughed and rattled his silverware on his plate. â€œIt was only a dreamâ€¦ You are perfectly healthy and whole now, so that remains the only real explanation!â€
He put his arm around her shoulders to comfort her and whispered something in her ear before saying aloud, â€œNow speaking of dreams, time to retire for the evening I think, come and I will show you to your quarters.â€
Vax led Elizabeth by her hand up a staircase and to a small cozy room, draped with silken sheets and adorned with plush furnishings.
Bastian trailed behind the others his gaze fixed with a murderous glare on the dark-haired youth. He knew jealousy was looked down upon as a petty emotion, but how dare this thief take Elizabethâ€¦ He paused in his thoughts, was there anything between them or had he been imagining it all along?
A quarter mile beneath the grass soil of a small forest, the barely living body of a man lay curled into a fetal ball. His flesh rippled and clung to his bones as the ravenous virus consumed his flesh, propagating itself in a thick reddish cloud in the small sealed stone cavern. He had been consumed to replenish the multitudes of cells vaporized in the intense heat of the trap the young sacrifice had somehow sprung. The host had proven to be quite expendable, a more quick-witted, experienced and wary vehicle would be needed. An armor of flesh that could spread its reach more steadily and further than the winds could possibly carry it. Synapses fired and electrical impulses rapidly flitted though the thick, moist air. It mused to itself, â€˜why could it not latch on to the female, what was she and how had she escaped?â€™ A special host would be prepared from the flesh at hand, one suited to find the answers to these questions.
A sneering-faced, piggish man sat on a raised chair, surveying the rest of the ragged villagers he now lay claim to as subject to his rule. Grang was his name and he had been one of the wealthier elders, owed many favors and a sum of livestock by many in the tribe. By keeping distrust alive in the village he had turned anyone he could consider to be a rival against each other during the sudden power grab which had followed the disappearance of the presiding counsel, deep in the sacrificial caves. A promise of aid here, a forgiving of a long held debt thereâ€¦ Soon his name was loudest on the tongues of the tribe when new leadership now came into question.
Grang was a small man who coveted power above everything else. He was not a man of strength, but rather an enduring survivor, who lived by making promises and manipulating others. Endlessly devious, he enjoyed the carnal pleasures in life, feasting, drinking and taking the possessions of others, through his quick and merciless wit. He would often make prisoners of those who silently opposed him, starving them and making them fight for scraps to feed their empty bellies.
Now as he sat stuffing his grease smeared face with fistfuls of roast meat, a sensation came to him suddenly. A slight whining in his ears and his auditory nerves became connected with a long and intricate sensory pathway. His vision blurred for a second and what he saw before his eyes grew distant and detached from reality, like someone drawing their face back from having it pressed tightly to a TV screen. Then all that flickered and faded away, to be replaced by moving images. A story began unfolding in front of his eyes, no words needed to be spoken as he could *feel* the unspoken narrative.
A fragile, sentient swarm floated through empty space. Small pinkish bulbs affixed to segmented bone tails, spouting hundreds of tiny sensory filaments. They controlled their motion and survived through sheer force of will, seeking a safe home in the darkness. A green ball appeared, warm and inviting as the swarm floated down and affixed themselves to their new found paradise. The travelers were so very delicate and sensitive, the slightest grain of sand whipped up by the winds would cause them pain against their exposed sensors. Naturally they sought shelter from the harsh and painful elements, first in warm lakes and rivers, and deeper sometimes into the salty depths of the shores of large seas. After many years as a reaction to the constant wear of the environment around them, they produced a first gelatinous, then later fleshy outer layer, shielding their sensitive nerve endings from the ever present attack by the various microbes and small parasites that seemed to have sprung up in the lush and fertile sphere.
They were the first seeds, thriving and growing in the nutrient rich soil of this planet. Over time they adapted to walk on the land and move about more freely. They split apart, each group adapting in its own way to best survive in the various environments that could be found. Each individual contained within itself the knowledge of their journey, the distinctive brain and spinal cord remained and stored the history of their species locked away.
Next the view shifted from this strange tadpole-like race, to the ever present hum of the native life that had originally occupied this land. At first the new comers had been welcomed by the vague instinct that governed the tiny organisms. Much the same way that a stray cat welcomes an open trash can smelling of fish. Like a slow drawn out dream, details became clearer, the race grew and spread their kind over all the areas of the land. A new presence became self aware, it only knew that it existed, and it could see everything on this world at once. It travelled on the winds and across the skin of this plentiful new race. Gradually it became aware that the only other force, this vast and plentiful race, was in conflict with it. Somehow, by means it could not fathom, they knew of its existence and sought to study or contain it. Small portions of itself were experimented on and later rejoined the whole again, changed greatly by the raceâ€™s meddling. It learned more and more, and became aware in a new way, aware that its survival was being threatened by these beings it was growing to fear and despise.
Now: A feeling of comfort and satisfaction, an uncaring playfulness that follows years behind an absolute victory. A slight sensation of discomfort, a feeling that something was amiss like a small ant crawling across the back of your hand unnoticed until it brushed a tiny hair. Even though he himself was one of these ants, it didnâ€™t hate him anymore, it actually needed something from himâ€¦
Grang stirred from his daydream and felt a deep sensation of heat and vigor rolling through his blood, a yin-yang like symbol signifying symbiosis flashed though his mind, a yearning to seek out that which the storyteller had shown him. Like some kind of itch his new friend wanted him to scratchâ€¦
It was said that the only difference between day and night that could be found in the crowded city streets was not the quantity of people, this was always immense, but rather their quality.
This had to be taken in context though; a â€˜qualityâ€™ person could still possess a vile and twisted soul, as long as they presented a respectable outer appearance.
However, during the nights, the evil nature of the folk was on plain display, for all to witness.
The filth, the beggars and lepers and crazies and guilds and highway men all gathered at night. Flashing more than a pair of silver at once could guarantee some unwanted attention, maybe a street beggar, maybe someone worse.
Vanessa kept her hood low over her fresh, young face. She knew she would be a tempting target for thieves or muggers and she had prepared for any attempts to waylay her, however it was generally best to blend in as much as possible and avoid trouble. The demon kept his watch over her and his blessing brought with it many benefits, such as events occurring despite greatly improbably odds, and woeful misfortune to those who threatened his chosen children with harm.
Vanessa passed by one of the temples dedicated to the â€˜Hate Saviorâ€™, the one prophet who taught that destruction of all who oppose the faith was their greatest duty. Fanatical religious cults had sprung up in great number recently, most of which she regarded as nonsense and superstitious mumbo-jumbo. She knew what was real and what was a mental snare for the overly naÃ¯ve or pious designed to fill the coffers of one church or another. She reached into the pocket of her grimy robes and counted a few silver coins, it would be enough for maybe a few days bed and food and drink. Despite her lack of a good nightâ€™s sleep, the adrenaline was still pumping strongly through her veins from the events that had transpired earlier in the evening and she felt a restlessness that compelled her to keep moving.
Down the narrow cobbled thoroughfare she spotted a popular watering hole-The Mirthful Minstrel, and set out through the gathered drunkards clustered around the entryway.
The ogre of a doorman, held a hairy, heavily tattooed arm, pudgy fingers outstretched in front of her as she approached, not giving the slightest glance to her covered face. A copper piece assuaged his attentions and the door was thrown wide.
The sour, rotted stench of sweat spilt by the gallon mingled with the arresting aroma of ancient ale which seemed to have been used on the tavernâ€™s floor much as a farmer might water his fields day after day, year after year. Scowling, bushy-faced animals of men clustered in large packs throughout the vast, yet crowded feasting hall. The obvious antidote to the overwhelmingly oppressive odor was to destroy oneâ€™s sense of smell by way of extreme intoxication, in truth this was actually a great remedy for all manners of affliction.
A man roughly slammed past Vanessa, the impact from his flailing arm nearly knocking her off balance. He tumbled back and slurred a drunken oath before drawing a slim dirk and advancing with vengeful intent on his assailant. He was answered bodily with the studded business end of an iron mace, yet withstood the crushing blows long enough to repeatedly stab his attacker in the torso.
Vanessa pushed through the crowd towards an area that seemed to have the lowest density of drunken, sweaty men.
Every table seemed to be filled to the last seat, save one. She came to an alcove pushed far back in a dimly lit corner of the hall. A single hooded man sat there eating a haunch of roast animal, all features completely concealed except his very substantial body mass. She glanced around and confirmed that this was indeed the only available place to sit. She peered dubiously at the massive man, her hand caressing the hilt of her concealed misercorde dagger.
The man at the table gave a bearish grunt, and gestured with the meat-hock that she was welcome to join him. A closer look revealed that his hands were covered in matted, fur-like hair, yet at least he had been enough of a gentleman to trim his ungodly nails down to a civilized length. For some reason this reassured Vanessa and she drew one of them chairs out and sat, whispering a prayer of warding, and feeling the demonâ€™s presence protecting her like a comforting blanket. She searched for a second, wondering how to attract a serverâ€™s attention as she jealously looked over the lavish feast in front of her. She noticed a small bell with a rope hanging down from it, conveniently situated next to a placard stating the various prices of food and drink.
She begrudgingly settled on the frugally priced, yet not-so-temptingly titled â€˜burnt animal and mead platterâ€™, wanting to conserve as much of her limited coin as permissible. She yanked the rope and the clanging bell eventually produced a wretched, bedraggled serving wench who hacked out a greeting like a cat coughing up a fur-ball. Once her order had been taken, the unpleasant matter of breaking the ice with her brutish new acquaintance had to be confronted.
Vanessa couldnâ€™t see the beastly manâ€™s face, yet her own was similarly concealed; desire for privacy was obviously a shared trait between the two. The large man spoke first in a blunt and inelegant statement.
Vanessa tried not to let her distaste become the overwhelming tone of her response.
â€œUh... Yes in fact I am! And I take it you are male?â€
â€œMrrggghhh!â€ The man nodded.
â€œJust curious, but what is wrong with your face? You shouldnâ€™t have anything to fear in a place like thisâ€¦ I on the other hand, you know how it is, I donâ€™t appreciate the attention of smelly drunks all that muchâ€¦â€
The dark opening of the manâ€™s hood scanned from side to side and he replied again in a hushed tone, this time his voice clear.
â€œI understand, yet trust me when I say I would draw much unwelcome attention, perhaps even more than your young self!â€
Vanessa needed to know now. Her hands worked rapidly, forming symbols in an infernal code, whispering words of power to her savior, praying for a minor boon. It was granted almost immediately and her powers of perception were enhanced to an almost impossible apex of attunement. The outer layer of the manâ€™s concealing garments faded and became transparent to her arcane-enhanced eyes. She gasped out loud and almost fell off out of her seat with shock. Merely the mind and mannerisms of the man in front of her bore any resemblance to that of a human being. The body itself was a crude and revolting concoction of animal and machine. A disfigured vaguely feline face-complete with fanged maw, sat atop an ursine trunk, entwined with a mesh of wires and electrodes like a vine covered tree-trunk. The right hand of the monstrosity was vaguely humanoid, well suited for grasping and manipulating, however the left was disproportionately huge and misshapen, each of the four thick digits terminating in a cruel, black claw.
The hooded face held up a single one of these terrifying claws over its lips in a silencing gesture; however Vanessa fell back off of her chair onto the sticky floor, her hood falling from her face.
The midnight-haired beauty with her long flowing tresses and dark eyelashes immediately caught the eye of at least a dozen drunkards; silencing their slovenly, drunken bellowing mid-sentence. The beastly creature opposite her reached forward, offering his hand in a friendly fashion; however she still recoiled, uncertain as of how to react to this. A second later she became aware of the noticeable muffling of the constant yelling and clamoring that had filled the hall.
A mangy, obese warthog of a patron stepped forward with an unpleasant grin on his booze-addled face. â€œAre ye a whore? Iâ€™ll be yer first man oâ€™ the night!!!â€ He licked his slobbering jowls with revolting relish.
Another man stepped forward, then another. Vanessa apparently stood out in great contrast from the haggish female counterparts to the homily men that frequented this tavern. She was now in a very uncomfortable position and hissed out a desperate prayer to the Demon.
The porcine hillock of flesh in front of her studied her finely sculpted features with beady-eyed desire. Then suddenly his snout wrinkled in disgust and he turned away, staggering, to disgorge the semi-digested slop of fermented food and ale from his belly in a foul fountain on the floor.
Likewise the others gathered around her dissipated in disgust, murmuring fragments along the lines of â€œsickeningâ€¦â€, â€œfaceâ€¦â€ and â€œto the bottom of my stomachâ€¦â€
Vanessa glanced down at the faded metal of her plate, allowing herself a clouded view of her own face. The delicate and distinct features had been replaced with a bloated and seeping hive of enormous leprous welts; her cheeks, lips and gums had peeled back revealing decaying yellow bone and blackened teeth crusted in a yellow and orange batter of dried bodily fluids. Her physical charisma had taken a dramatic turn for the worse, and even the rough-faced throngs around her regarded her with nothing less than total loathing. Her face appeared to elicit from them to the same reaction as that of a crushed cockroach discovered on their dinner plate.
Vanessa re-covered her head with her hood and sat again, turning back to face the beast-man across from her. He eyed her skeptically, before speaking in a quiet conversational tone.
â€œImpressive to say the leastâ€¦ However, I would know how an innocent girl as such yourself came to be a consort to demonsâ€¦â€
She felt a slight tingling as the infernal magic dissipated and her features became clear once more. She sighed, this would definitely require a delicate explanation; demon worship was greatly frowned upon, by some more than others. She couldnâ€™t imagine the beastly creature in front of her as harboring some sort of religious zeal, however, sometimes things were not as they seemed and the disfigured or outcast were in actuality the most zealous of all.
â€œLetâ€™s just say thatâ€¦ wellâ€¦ look at what just happened a second ago, now where would I be without that timely bit out aid?â€ She let him think this through. â€œYou know as well as I do that this is a dangerous cityâ€¦ Now some of us arenâ€™t all muscle-bound killing machinesâ€¦â€ She rolled her eyes, â€œWe have to depend on our clear heads to think our way through things, instead of just smashing everyone in sight.â€ She felt that this wording would probably resonate fairly well with the barbaric-looking beast-man, who she felt certain had wreaked his fair share of mayhem.
The outline of his feral facial features turned into a thoughtful scowl. â€œFair enough, I know what it is like to have to survive in a city full of brutal and fearful menâ€¦â€
Out of the corner of her eye Vanessa happened to see a few familiar looking faces glancing in the direction of her table, she pondered for a minute, zoning out of her conversation while she tried to place the men who were watching her.
â€œAhh yesâ€¦â€ She murmured. One of them had been a particularly ruthless enforcer of her former masterâ€™s estate, relishing in harshly disciplining the slaves. Either they had been sent to find her, or were in the process of selecting new â€˜job applicantsâ€™ for the position of forced laborer.
There hadnâ€™t been a brawl in the place in a good five minutes now; this surely was a bad sign, as if a dam had been building pressure without a release in far too long. A sudden, clear shout caught her attention as it rung out authoritatively above the general clamor.
The beast-man growled a warning for her to keep silent as he reached down to the floor and produced an enormous double-headed axe. â€œDamn their eyes!â€ He hissed.
The sense of being trapped rekindled a strong memory. Vanessa recalled a time several years before when she had found herself cornered by a rabid dog in an alley, on her way back from the market. A familiar, deep voice had spoken to her from a place only she could hear.
â€œYou are in danger my child, I could not bear to see you die as of yet, it is far too soon for you to join meâ€¦ I will give you a smallâ€¦toolâ€¦if you will, something that will connect anotherâ€™s body with a taste of the essence of this plane. Speak this word to any who would threaten you if you find yourself in mortal perilâ€¦â€
The voice then uttered a guttural and harsh syllable of pure, utter blasphemy. The word echoed through her skull over and over like some kind of shrieking, laughing, blackened harpy, slowly fading, yet forever seared in her brain by its flagrant, cutting contrast to all that was considered pure and good in her world.
Vanessa sealed the knowledge of this vile curse away in a corner of her mind that housed such unpleasant things as her memories of witnessing gruesome deaths or other horrific thoughts.
There was a strong sense of hesitation for her. She knew that to use these infernal syllables was an act of pure evil that must only be used as an absolute last resort. She felt the presence of the Demon and felt his strength flow through her, warding her against the possibility of harm.
The Demonâ€™s blessing fed her the very vitality of those who would dare harm his child. It slowly sipped on their life-essence, making them weary and lethargic, yet giving her a heady rush of adrenaline and sharpened senses. Being an ancient fallen god himself, the probability of random mishaps befalling those benefitting from his blessing was massively mitigated. Thus, even though she was young and inexperienced in the strategies of swordplay, she could stand on even footing with those who were if the dire need arose.
As she stood and threw her cloak back, the approaching men fell back in fear. She knew of course that this might have something to do with the massive shadow falling over her from the seven-foot creature standing behind her, but it was a good feeling nonetheless.
A large man lunged forward attempting to grab the young woman and throw her to the ground, allowing those behind him to have a clear shot with their compact crossbows at the decidedly more fearsome of the duo.
Vanessa hissed a few words in a deep and plainly inhuman tongue â€œKraagth son rathok khlakhâ€- a curse of darkness
from her infernal repertoire, and the man before her screamed in agony, one hand covering his eyes, now gushing blood from their sockets, and his other widely missing its mark as she swiftly sidestepped his grasp.
His screams increased as though he were being tortured, both hands over his face as smoke now poured from between his bloody, clenched fingers. He flailed wildly, staggering in a frantic dance before ending up accidentally impaled on one of his cohortâ€™s blades.
This act of unmitigated evil aroused the ire of the pious guardsmen to a fanatical fervor. They stood hesitant for a second, as if both sides were waiting for a command to begin their embellishments. Then, with a roar the beast-man flung the table wholly into their midst, â€œYouâ€™ll never take me bastards!!!!â€
Total chaos erupted.
Viktor wielded his axe in his malformed left hand, while his right blasted away with a huge archaic pistol. The dining floor looked like a hurricane of hacking blades, splintered wood and spraying bone fragments. Anyone with any kind of mettle to work out understood that now would be the perfect time to settle their disagreement.
Vanessa staggered back as an elbow of a large man knocked her to the deck. The man in front of her brought hatchet blade down on the wrist of the man across from him at their card table, then tore his right eye from its socket on the blade of his dagger.
She fell next to a bucket of foul fluid beneath a corner lamp. The pungent smell contained within was recognizable as distilled petroleum used for heating or lighting. Her anger made her act instantly out of revenge without a second thought for any kind of consequences. She grabbed the bucket and hurled its contents at the bloody, grappling men as they fought brutishly, nearly trampling her. She followed the drenching up with the lit lantern and its frail glass body shattered, transforming the melee into an impromptu bonfire.
The men kept fighting, their anger actually made more intense by the scorching fuel that covered them. Viktor stood on the face of a struggling guard while he repeatedly shot him in the chest. Then he shook the slippery coating of blood off of his gore stained battle-axe. He paused now, his feral ears perking up as the sound of horse hooves could be heard over the bellows and screams of rage.
Thick, choking black smoke filled the air, stinging the eyes and making the entire crowd hack and gasp for breath; it was time to leave...