Descent Into Darkness: His Beast
EarlyWinter, 1306 AF
The Northern Wilderness of Orthanor
It was a small cabin, the family crowded into the largest room for warmth. A hearth stood at one end of room, embers smoldering in the ash. On the opposite side, two braziers were eating through their portion of firewood. They, along with the thick bedding cocooning each person, provided heat to stave off the bitter cold outside.
Amongst the mounds of blankets and people was a dog. In the night time gloom, it was hard to make out the breed. The size, however, indicated that it could be one of those used for hunting or protection.
A silent order was sent out. Something began to slither in the dark.
The canine woke first. It roused with a snuffle, its bi-colored eyes darting around the room for whatever it was that had disturbed it. It clambered to its feet, shook itself, then began to inspect the murk-filled room. Working its way around, it paused by the window, stared at a semi-transparent shape bathed in moonlight. It resembled an over-large salamander, with broad flat head and no legs. It opened eyes of leprous white, bunched in on itself. The dog growled low.
It leapt. The canine lunged, jaws agape, a harsh sound reverberating in its chest. Behind it, the floor of bedding began to move.
The creature dove into the dog’s maw, stretching thin. The animal choked, hit the sill, coughed, yelped. The hind end of the creature, a vague shape of blackness, thrashed as it hung out of its opponent’s throat. The canine flung its head about, still coughing, choking. The noises, the motions, became more frantic.
Blood ran in rivulets down the shadow’s length to pool on floor.
Awakened by their pet’s distress, the family scrambled out of their bedding. Three adults and five children gave cries of dismay as the dog collapsed in a puddle of moonlit crimson. The creature wiggled out of the carcass, looking more substantial that the ether it had resembled before. As the adults went for whatever weapon they could find, as the children screamed, it opened its flat, lizard-like jaws. With a sickening crunch of bone, it bit through the dog’s head.
In the gloom around them, the rest of its ilk moved in for the kill.
Ba’tvian Delthanurk stared into the eyes of the man as his knife cut symbols into his chest. He saw the grief, pain, mindless fear in the glassy depths. In a few short hours, this northern trapper had been stripped of reason, of hate, and filled with loss, with suffering.
He was, he reflected, getting better at it.
Around him, his Shadowed Ones slithered in an accompaniment dance. Light from the lanterns, fireplace, and brazier gilded their outlines, illuminating the corpses that littered the room. They lay waiting for his creatures who had not yet begun to feed. They would stave off their own hunger until he finished.
With the last rune drawn in living flesh, he drew back to check his handiwork. The placement was precise, the lines clearly defined. He was ready for the next step.
Up to this point, he had taken his time with his victim. Now he quickened the pace. Chanting the words to capture the life force as it was released, he cut into the body just below the ribcage. He thrust a hand inside, shoving his arm up into the chest cavity as the man screamed, and closed his fingers around the sacrifice’s beating heart. A deft twist, a hard yank tore it free of its moorings.
He felt it, the beginning of death, the ending of life. It filled him, coursing through him like a drug, euphoric, erotic, exciting.
He brought the heart out, the body twitching, the vital organ still pounding in his palm. Life force, blood-born magic – power – was gathered in as he raised it above his head, chanting. Crimson liquid dripped down his arm.
He ended the chant with a triumphant phrase in a long forbidden tongue. The heart flared with a red glow before turning black. The ritual ended, he deposited the heart in a leather bag for later, motioning his shadows to take their reward. While they swarmed over the dead, he looked for a wash basin, found one in the corner of the room. He did what he could to clean himself up.
Ba’tvian didn’t bother with gore lying around. He stepped around it, searched the larder, then the simple chests against the wall. He took food and clothing; what the trapper family had possessed was warmer than what he wore. With that in mind, he took the time to change out of his bloodied garb for the cleaner, heavier garments.
One of the chests had clothing of better quality than the rest. Fur-lining, more ornamentation, a finer weaver in the fabric. Trade goods, probably. He had no desire to trade, but knew the value of having such items in the region they were in. They could be a key into a settlement, if need be.
Coming upon a woman’s embroidered cloak, he glowered at it. It was a beautiful article, colorful embroidery on brown velveteen with rabbit fur for lining and trim. Nerisse would want it. She wouldn’t ask for it, wouldn’t expect him to give it. Yet she would want, would hope. Then she would be disappointed when he didn’t give it her.
It was one of her more obnoxious traits.
The elven chit had her uses, however. She had been his first taste of sex, served to slake that thirst when the need arose. She was pretty, a little shy, an outward innocent. People trusted her. As bait, a lure, she did well. Her Empathy, her ties to the earth found them game and shelter in the wilderness. Her herb lore meant that their food was flavorful, their wounds or ailments treated.
In the two years since his old master’s death, Nerisse had proven her devotion, her convenience. As his tool, it wasn’t enough. He wanted more from her.
She was trying, however. He could not say that she wasn’t. Still, she failed frequently. It galled him to find that flaw, that weakness, in a tool of his choosing. He didn’t bother to hide that from her. It spurred her on, made her try harder to succeed, to please him.
He had to admit that her growing desperation to be what he wanted was something he enjoyed.
Perhaps…perhaps it was time to give her more incentive, however illusory it might be. He had been very careful not to make a commitment, though he demanded one from her. He slept with her, used his attentions as reward or punishment. There had been no gifts. Calculating, he considered the cloak. It might serve the purpose. He stuffed it into a satchel along with the other trade items he’d selected. Another bag held more ordinary, practical clothing as well as the food. Having pilfered what he wanted, he deposited his loot in the snow a ways outside the cabin, then went back inside.
The shadows had finished their meal. They turned their pale white eyes to him as he scanned the interior. There was only one thing left to do.
“It will burn.”
The sibilant voices sounded sated, pleased. Those nearest the lanterns turned them over. Glass shattered, oil spread. Ba’tvian scattered the clothing he hadn’t taken about the floor, soaked blankets with oil stored in one of the chests if they weren’t already drenched in blood. Once done, he led the way out into the cold.
He paused by the satchels, looked back. A bare moment’s concentration, a wisp of freshly harvested magic, and the interior lit up like the sun. When the glare faded, flames were consuming everything left inside.
Should a Mancer find his way here, there wouldn’t be much left to tell him what had transpired or who had done it. One day, he thought, he wouldn’t need to be so careful. He had plans.
He hefted his loot and left.