Disclaimer:All characters and places within are property of Fantasoft et al.
A Demon's Lot
Chapter One: Cindred's Spirit
"Will you cut it out with the noise? If the guards haven't heard us yet, they soon will if you keep that up."
"I can't help it, Sliver. I've not eaten in a good day and a half. Why couldn't we have stopped at the tavern before setting out?"
"Because, you oaf, human food isn't for either of us."
"It still would have been something in my stomach."
"Just keep quiet, Cindred. Our prey's arriving."
The two shadows ceased their whispered argument as a merchant approached the alleyway they were concealed in. He was dressed in bright finery of red and yellow velvet and sported a heavy medallion about his neck that was tied to a ribbon of royal blue. He looked like the only thing he cherished more than coin was food.
Sliver smirked as he approached, the girl pulling deeper into the shadows as she made ready to pounce on her victim. She wasn't in the mood to play with her food this night. Turning to the massive form of Cindred beside her, she jerked her thumb backward, motioning for him to keep far out of sight. He obeyed her with a nod and a slight snort through his ox-like nose. Sliver winced a little when the merchant paused at the noise. It didn't matter, though. He was right where she wanted him.
Leaping out from her hiding place, she latched her hands about his pasty neck, her talon-like fingernails digging into his flesh in just such a way that he was unable to cry out as she dragged him with her into the gloom of her alley. She could feel his warm blood begin to dribble along her slender, pale fingers and hands, but she wouldn't feed until she knew they were well out of sight. Cindred helped her after a few moments, picking up the merchant's kicking feet and giving them a good shove around to the side so that the man was entirely concealed from any random eye.
Sliver didn't waste an instant. She hungrily lowered her mouth to the wounds she'd created and sucked the merchant's life clean away from him, daintily wiping her ruby lips with a fold of his short cloak when she was finished. Heaving a contented sigh, she gracefully stood and ran a hand through her long, lustrous golden-red hair, and brushed off the royal violet of her clinging velvet gown, smirking down at the form of the merchant.
"That was fulfilling," she said lowly, smiling up at Cindred. "Now, to find something for you."
"Well…" Cindred's deep voice began, "if you'd left a little juice behind, that wouldn't be a problem."
Sliver looked down at the dead man thoughtfully. "There should still be some, if that's what you want," she said with a shrug. "Just hurry it up. I don't want to be anywhere near when the town watch comes by. An audience with King Stevens is the very last thing I need."
As the minotaur-like beast set about feeding, the vampire crept back to the alley mouth, crouching low behind a rank, rotting barrel to keep watch. As much as she relied on Cindred for survival, and he her, she still had to teach him to eat a bit more quietly. They'd been companions for a good few weeks, now, the demon having been chased through a portal from the Abyss by ever-present rivals. He was a young thing, barely old enough to be considered more than a child, but, then, so was Sliver when it all came down to it. In vampire society, seventy-seven years of unlife was nothing to boast of. Especially where she was concerned. She was a rogue in more ways than just the thieving sense, and more than a handful of her kind would like to see her officially dead. She held a bit of pride in that. At least she was known outside of her former clan, which wasn't a common thing lest you were a powerful elder.
There was a sharp cracking sound behind her as Cindred began to suck the marrow from the bones. It wouldn't be much longer before those bones were little more than dust. That was another handy thing about the demon. He didn't leave any traces of victims behind. So long as Sliver helped to keep him fed, he'd be more than willing to dispose of any and all evidence.
"Are you finished yet?" she whispered harshly back to him after a few minutes. She was beginning to get antsy. The watch would be coming any time now…she could just feel it.
Cindred grunted and looked up at her with his glowing green eyes, knelt over a rumpled pile of bloodstained velvet, his one muscular forearm wiping at his snout.
"Nearly," he mumbled as if around a mouthful.
"Then grab what's left and come on," Sliver hissed. "We've been here too long already."
The demon snorted in acquiescence and nodded, grabbing up what was left of the merchant's material possessions—his clothing, the medallion, a hefty pouch of coins and an ornamental dagger—and came up behind Sliver as she stood, her eyes peering about the abandoned street. He looked over her shoulder, the items all clutched to his massive chest. Easily eight feet tall, he towered over Sliver's slender and shapely five and a half. She flicked a hand back and playfully smacked his snout.
"It's clear," she said lowly as he grunted out a short chuckling retort at her mock violence. "We'd best move quickly, though. The eastern sky hints of dawning, and I don't want to be anywhere about when the sun crests the hills."
Cindred blinked at her as they scurried through the empty streets, ducking into the shadows now and again as they headed for the old cemetery in Bywater, Sliver's haven during the day.
"You forgot your cloak again," he said sternly, though only truly realizing it himself.
"I wasn't planning on being out this long," she replied in kind, her sweet, mellow voice holding a bite in it as she rushed along. "Too many days, now, I've been awake into the sun's reign. I need to catch up on my sleep."
They were close now, Cindred could tell. The stench of the cemetery carried on the crisp winter wind thanks to the mad cleric that had worked adamantly at building an army of undead to quash the Spider Cult just a few days past. He and Sliver had to be extra cautious in hiding from him along with a band of six unseemly rogues that hardly seemed to get on. The mausoleum that Sliver 'lived' in had been used as a secret laboratory in building the army, the vampire and demon both afraid of even going there—night or day. Since the beginning of the week, they'd had to stay awake much longer than they would have liked, seeking shelter in some of the dug-up graves.
The woman halted abruptly at the cemetery's gates, glancing inside just to make sure it was as empty and mournful as always. Nodding at nothing in particular, she pulled the gate open with a grinding creak of iron against iron and strode inside, walking purposefully to her mausoleum. Cindred maintained a safe, close distance behind. Once in the safety of the crypt, Sliver seemed to relax substantially, and the demon rushed ahead of her to pull open the secret door to her tomb. She nodded her thanks to him.
"Where do you want these?" he asked, holding up the prize the merchant had left them.
Sliver shrugged tiredly. "In the storeroom, I suppose. And never mind his clothes. Throw them on the brazier in the old temple. They're useless in the state they're in."
Cindred nodded and set about the task as the vampire closed the portion of wall between them.
For being what he was, Cindred was entirely too good-natured. That, he remembered, was why he'd been chased from the Abyss. Certainly, he could kill without a second thought, regardless of what it was he was fighting, but he'd always found it somewhere within him to try to get along with whomever was even remotely kind to him. Like Sliver. She'd found him in the forest just to the southeast of the city not all that long past, and, after several misunderstandings on both sides—the demon confusing Sliver for an elf she had once been and trying to kill her outright—they finally found out they had more in common than what would be expected.
They were both outcasts for starters. Cindred had been chased from his home just as Sliver had been too independent to function properly within her clan of vampires. They were also the sorts that most other races abhorred more than anything else in the waking world. Folk of all kinds tended to stay away from them, which was just fine in Cindred's mind. He wouldn't have it any other way.
Walking down the long abandoned corridors in his slow, lumbering pace that he usually took when not in a hurry, his diamond-hard hooves clomping on the flagstones, Cindred deposited most of the goods in the storeroom Sliver had mentioned before moving on to the desecrated temple on the other side of the crypt entire. He passed a cluster of giant rats that stayed well clear of him out of fear just before entering the great columned doorway into the temple. He grunted in disgust at them but otherwise ignored their presence. They were vermin that he never truly could get rid of. Shaking his horned head, he strode right over to a lit brazier of smoldering coals and tossed the ruined clothing into it, watching the velvet smoke as it was consumed by flames.
He stood there and stared for a while, the fire before him reminding him all too much of his former home…but he couldn't look away. The pain held him fast more strongly than the panic urged him to leave. He could hear the angry shouts and whoops of his peers as they chased him though cavern after tunnel, up and out of his home. His only chance of escape had been a portal that he, in all honesty, mistakenly happened upon. It had simply appeared out of nowhere as if being summoned, but when he reached the other side, there was naught but a frightened vampire whelp who most certainly hadn't been in charge of bringing him to the material plane.
A disturbance right then, however, jolted him back to the present. The rats outside were chittering away and he could swear that he heard a young boy's voice shout over the din. He couldn't make out the words, though. With a gruff snort, he walked back over to the doorway and peered out. There, longsword swinging without a cause, was a lad no older than fifteen by the looks of him, clad in simple chainmail and an iron helm and steel-shod boots. He was fighting the rats, it seemed, almost as if he had nothing else to do with his time. To Cindred, however, he was just another annoyance—a child wanting nothing more than to be an adventurer.
He watched the battle for some minutes, rather amused at the boy's incapability of being able to strike any lasting damage to his opponents. With a guttural chuckle, the demon moved forward, pulling his battle axe free from the belt of his leather loincloth and hammered it sequentially into the heads of all the rats, killing them outright. When the last creature fell, he turned to the boy, what brows he had furrowing into a scowl.
"Who are you?" he asked in surprisingly articulate Common. "Why have you come here? Surely, these vermin were of no threat to you surface-dwellers."
The boy simply blinked back, his brown eyes large with fear beneath the mopping of chestnut hair that sprouted out from beneath his helm. He didn't reply.
"Well? Are you dumb and deaf as well as a nuisance?"
The lad vigorously shook his head.
"Then, answer, boy." Cindred's voice wasn't harsh, but he was sure that any human, dwarf or otherwise running into his sort when not expected would be frightened clear out of their wits.
"T…T-Tristan," the boy stammered out, his voice only just going through the shift into the deeper tones of a grown man. "I'm a crusader." The last was said with a bit more confidence.
Cindred let out a cold laugh, the hallways echoing with a sound reminiscent of the lowing of an angered bull.
"You somewhat resemble the role, boy, but you've a long way yet to go before you're in fact worthy of such a title."
"What would you know of such things, fiend?" Tristan snapped back, raising his sword and shield defensively.
"Enough, boy. I know enough. I've slain men greater than you. I'd be gone before I have at it again."
"Tristan, me boy, whomever are you talking to?"
Both the boy and demon snapped their attentions to the entrance to the crypt, Cindred craning his neck in attempts to see up the flight of stone steps to glimpse the speaker.
"Get down here quick, Solestri!" Tristan shouted back, bracing himself even further for battle. "'Tis a fiend straight out of the hells!"
Clanking was then heard as a dwarf clad in banded mail toddled his way down the steps obviously carved too deep for the likes of him. His face was barely visible through his helmet and black, bushy beard, but Cindred could see the man's hazel eyes glaring daggers at him. The demon rolled his own, his head joining in the action as his arms dropped limply to his sides.
"Back, fiend!" the dwarf shouted, holding up a holy symbol of some sort that usually dangled from a golden chain at his throat. "Go back whence ye came!"
Cindred merely blinked.
"Back, I say!" Solestri held the symbol out with greater fervor.
Cindred snorted in disgust and shoved his axe back through his belt. "Pardon me, but there are more important things I should be doing right now than dawdling about with pious fools." With that, he brushed past them and clomped down the corridor toward Sliver's tomb.
"He resisted!" he heard Tristan shout in disbelief. "What kind of foul creature is he, Solestri?"
"Not foul enough, apparently," the dwarf replied. "Beast!"
Cindred turned and paused. The term had been used to get his attention rather than as an insult. "Yes?" he asked slowly, his one browridge rising in curiosity.
"You are not spawn of the damned?"
"A creature of the Abyss."
"That I am."
"Then…how could you…." The dwarf looked down at his holy amulet almost dejectedly, trying to figure out exactly what was going on. "How could you resist the Turning?"
The demon snorted again. "Easily enough. One, you're not all that strong, priest, and, two, the Abyss no longer wants me. Why should a spell or prayer that effects things still at home within that accursed place affect something in exile?"
Neither of the unexpected guests could put an answer to that, though both their mouths were agape with the effort. Cindred hadn't expected anything less of them, and, with a grunt, he continued on down the passage.
"Wait!" he heard Tristan suddenly cry out.
He sighed heavily out his nose and turned around once more, his green eyes flashing with annoyance.
"If you're not of evil…perhaps you could help us, then."
Cindred blinked in disbelief. "And how could I possibly be of any assistance to you?"
"Well…you see," Solestri began, "Haikur of the town guard has pleaded for our assistance with a goblin threat to the south. The homesteads in that direction have been plagued for some time, now."
"Just the two of you?"
"No," Tristan said, shaking his head. "There are two others in our company. Currently, they're seeing to returning a blacksmith's son's belongings that we managed to pry back from a group of krise. Midnight and Wyrmwood, their names are."
"And would they try to spit prayers at me as well?"
"I shouldn't think so. Midnight's a Shadow Elf sorceress, powerful enough in her art to already be feared by many of the marauding parties about Bywater. Wyrmwood is a goblin archer of some skill. We found him exiled as well."
"With you joining us," Tristan continued, his excitement obviously growing, "we'll be practically unstoppable! I saw how you dealt with those giant rats."
The demon shrugged heavily and looked back to the pile of bodies back the corridor with disinterest. "I deal with them all the time. There's no reason why I shouldn't be half-decent at dispatching them."
"At least consider!" the lad pleaded, his head barely higher than the dwarf's next to him, making the pair look quite comical. A begging knight-in-the-making barely old enough to leave his mother's arms traveling about with a dwarf in his prime, a Shadow Elf wench and a goblin. And to add a demon to the mix was almost laughable!
"Very well," Cindred said at last, suppressing a chuckle. "I shall consider." He turned once more down the corridor. "And where shall I meet you once I've reached a conclusion?"
"The south gate tomorrow afternoon if yer coming," Solestri replied. "That's when Haikur plans on setting out."
Cindred nodded, turning to face them at the secret panel. "If I decide to join you, I'll meet you there." He began to pry open the door. "And, just as a warning, I might have a friend with me." With that, he stepped through the opening and let the panel fall closed behind him, relishing in the silence that followed the boom of the door falling back into place, separating him from the dreamers.
To go and fight goblins…for what? What was there in it, really, for him? The opportunity to kill something—perhaps a number of somethings, even—probably. Food, most assuredly. Goblin actually tasted quite lovely despite the odor about the creatures. Yes, he would definitely think about it. Now, however, he was tired. Nothing in the Realmz would appease him more in that moment than a good morning's rest.