DISINCLINED TO BITE THE DUST
El'Ubris in Overdrive
One long, mournful toll sent a waking tremor through the small, scaled body of the whelpling, its pitifully tiny wings stretching their orange membranes as it raised its delicate head and peered about through green eyes dopey with sleep. Its batlike ears quivering as it took in the surrounding sounds of Redridge at night, the miniature dragonkin raised itself on its stubby legs and crawled to the edge of its niche in an outcropping of dun rock, gazing down at the waterline where black wavelets lapped lazily up the sloping beach.
A second peal rang out and the tiny creature hunkered down until only its snub nose, bright eyes and large ears were visible. Its rounded belly pressed against the rock almost uncomfortably; it was not used to hiding. Its tiny brain usually urged it to attack, attack regardless of the enemy, but this time something about the scene below pricked insistently at what little survival instinct it possessed and it lay low, curious, as the third toll boomed.
Down there stood a robed woman, her shoulders swathed in a dark cape. Although she was small, even fragile in frame, her head was raised, luminescent gaze aimed straight ahead, and her left hand hung easily at her side: casually, confidently. She looked like one of the humans that came out and hunted sometimes. She smelled like them too, when their throats had been torn and the blood had ceased to run. The whelpling wasn’t used to those ones moving.
The clock struck again and drowned out the first words of the man, the definitely human man who stood with fire in his hand and a dozen others at his back, even though he shouted.
“-away from our town, or we’ll kill you, wretch!”
Though the rest of the words reached the hidden observer they meant nothing to it. The expressions on the faces of the gaggle of humans were much like those of hunters though, of hunters who had accidentally cornered one of the bigger dragonkin and were now suffering those pangs of fear. Yes, the whelpling could smell that emotion too, in sweat and adrenaline, even over the rotten stench of the woman down below that only intensified when she replied in guttural notes, “A fine threat, master sentry, though I regret to inform you of my extreme doubt regarding your capacity to carry it out.”
As the fifth strike reverberated through the night the very darkness began to change, to thicken. It swirled around the woman, undulating and writhing like smoke in the air. It hurt to look at – no, it hurt to be near, pressure building up agonisingly around the whelpling’s miniscule brain. Pain lanced through its fragile temples, searing the backs of its eyes even as convulsions tore though its body, jerking it mercilessly like the callous hands of a bored puppeteer. It was too much, the pain was too much, and with a shriek the creature launched itself from its hiding place, soaring for a split second even as its scaly skin undulated from the muscle spasms beneath.
The woman looked up, eyes narrowed, and as the sixth chime echoed across the beach the tiny wyrm’s head exploded.
The mutilated body hit the lake with a splash and sank beneath the black water. Only a few bubbles rising to the surface marked its passing, yet the five humans who had come out here in defence of their town seemed unable to pull their gazes from the spot. Miriah Felicity Trias, mind mage of the Forsaken, allowed a malicious smirk to contort her thin, pale face. She had known all along that they were terrified of her, of course, but such damning evidence pleased her all the more. Now no frantic denial could veil the fact from their own weak little minds.
“Are you quite finished gawping?” she drawled as the last reverberations of the seventh clock strike faded, her white bone fingertips toying idly with the hilt of her dagger, “I haven’t all night to spare.”
Slowly five sets of eyes forced themselves back to her, the less resilient dropping to the ground as soon as they registered the tendrils of shadow wreathing their foe. Maintaining that idly wicked smile, Miriah brought the pinpoint of silver fire that marked the remains of her left eye to bear on them all while the right shifted to the silhouette of the clock tower, stark against the silvery moonlight. It struck again.
“W-we give you one last chance to run!” declared the foremost of the sentries, his face pale and sweat-streaked beneath his iron helm. She could see the perspiration glittering in the flickering light from his torch, which wavered unimpressively in his shaky grasp.
“Otherwise we’ll… we’ll have no choice but to kill you!” called another man, who winced as his voice broke and squeaked over the last two syllables.
Another booming toll made the more nervous humans start.
“I believe,” Miriah replied, the shadows darkening and intensifying over her body until her very flesh melted to translucent black, “I have already voiced my scepticism regarding your ability to murder me. As for retreat… it fails to meet the requirements of an acceptable course of action. For any of us, actually.”
A tenth ring.
“You agree with that, surely?”
“I’ll never agree with a monster!”
The hoarse cry came from the youngest of the group and heralded his lurch forwards from the ranks, a rusty spear clutched in his grip. Miriah leapt back as the dull grey blade swiped at her flank, so close she felt the breeze against her penumbral cheek. Undeterred, the youth bellowed senselessly, the spear slicing at his foe again and again only to be ducked and dodged and scoffed at. He was inexperienced, more used to raking the fields, Miriah perceived from the clumsy, awkward manoeuvring of his weapon. Each attack was easy to anticipate without even tapping into his thoughts.
There: the eleventh mournful cry.
Of course, he was not alone. This wasn’t quite going to plan. She’d wanted the leader to attack first, not some stupid little boy whose rash actions of course triggered the harried support of the others. His wild, sweeping strikes were all that kept the others from attacking her in force; as it was, only a blacksmith’s hammer and someone’s sword presented an immediate threat, lashing out at her whenever a gap in the boy’s stupid spear path presented itself. Darting back out of the way of the sword, she yelped despite herself as the heel of her boot caught on something hard protruding from the sand and flailed for balance, righting herself only to find the spear already on a path to her defenceless flank. With an angry snarl she lashed out with one bandage-bound hand and instantly a shell of protective magic surrounded her, deflecting the blade with a crash and a curse from its wielder.
“Fools!” she cried wildly, shaking from the near miss, and raised her right arm, fingers outstretched and wisps of shadow writhing around it.
The spearman momentarily halted, his fellows struck in vain at her shield. The clock struck twelve.
“Fools, the lot of you, for attempting to stop me on the witching hour!”
They didn’t even have time to cringe at the surge of horror the mention of their superstitions caused. With a cry, their leader tore into their backs with his blade, striking low at the bellies of those who flanked him. Shrieks of pain, horror and confusion did nothing to slow his assault as, shadow spewing from his eye sockets, the combat veteran reduced his motley little unit to moaning, gurgling casualties strewn out on the beach, bloodied and crippled and, in a few cases, dead.
“Glorious,” murmured Miriah huskily, releasing her grip over the man’s mind.
He jerked, eyes clearing, and looked about, first in confusion, then disbelief, then horror.
“Monster!” he cried, raising his sword and stabbing it accusingly in the Forsaken’s direction, “Depraved, disgusting, despicable-“
The allegations withered and died on his tongue as he saw the gore coating his blade, gleaming wetly in the moonlight. Miriah grinned widely as the colour drained from his face.
“Sir,” she hissed silkily, her shadow aura darkening as she reached out with her power and sank ethereal claws into his brain, “Your insults are directed in entirely the wrong direction…”
She dipped into his memories and he jerked, stiffening fleetingly as her essence dealt its corrupting blow.
“...After all,” she continued, smirking as the shadow withdrew, leaving self loathing in its wake, “Was it not your blade that struck your allies down? Was it not you who, in fear of the repercussions should they strike me, took violent measures to stop their silly, suicidal assault?”
The man stumbled back, his face even paler than that of his undead adversary. With a dull clang his sword dropped from his trembling fingers. Words failed him, catching in his throat and issuing as stuttering clicks finally muffled by the bile building in his throat at the building stench of gore and split bowels.
Eyes twinkling, Miriah raised a hand and waved a lazy dismissal in his direction, her tone mocking as she said, “Hurry off now, master human. I dare say you’ll need all the time you can get to clean yourself up for the gallows…”
That was all it took: tears of horror and desperate disbelief coursing over his cheeks, the man turned and ran, stumbling over his allies, so caught up in the nightmare she had spun that he was entirely oblivious to their grunts and groans. Crossing her arms, the Forsaken watched his fleeing form until he reached the bridge and the last remaining sentry, then murmured a single word under her breath, the desire to bring about one fate filling her mind, amplified by the shadow. Death.
She saw the distinctive arch of his spine, the throwing back of his head and the surprised gape of his mouth before he crumpled satisfactorily. As the other man leapt back she closed her eyes, reaching out until his thoughts rippled across her, so easy to read. Shock. Dread. Confusion. Most importantly, superstition. Perfect.
Drawing her dagger and slitting the throats of the fallen men, Miriah kept her consciousness pressed closely to that of the sentry, watching through his eyes as he raced home, terrified of midnight, and hid. She maintained that second sight in her mind’s eye as she proceeded boldly down the beach toward the bridge spanning the narrow neck of the lake, strong white stone set against the wooden slats of a cowering little man’s bed, until, certain that he was suitably immobilised with fear, she let herself make the step away from the relative safety of dirt and onto the manmade structure, a black phantom against that uncompromising white. With a slight sigh, she slipped out of the sentry’s consciousness, safe in the knowledge that he was out of commission. The town posed no threat now, and though the neutralising had taken a fair while to plan…
She thought back to the prejudiced, superstitious humans all piled in the mud.
…the act had been bloody well worth it.
- Archive: DtBtD