STRONG AS DEATH
By D. M. Evans
Disclaimer – Steven and Holtz are of course part of the Angelverse and hence the property of Joss Whedon not me. But we all knew that right. Any of the characters and beings you don't recognize, those are mine.
Rating – R
Feedback – yes please (especially interested in people's reaction to something this odd) firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary – Holtz and Steven run into a very determined demoness who has plans for taking over Quor-Toth with the help of the Destroyer.
Steven pulled his head wrap tighter against the wind, which left the exposed bits of his skin cracked and oozing in the cold. The wrap stank, the leather half-rotted. Father hadn't had the time to properly tan it before Tsgu demons forced them out of the shack that had been their home for three months.
They had found a decent shelter in a cave system. They were warmer than the surface wracked by Quor-tothian winter winds and it offered protection as well. But food was a problem. Still, Steven usually had little difficulty remedying that.
Steven pointed to a shelf of rock and Spot leapt up onto it. Father had let Steven name the creature when he was a child though he had come to regret his childish simplicity. Father called Spot a dog but she had little resemblance to the dogs of Father's stories. She was knee-high with fangs curving as long as Steven's forearm and nearly as thick from either corner of her mouth. Orange splotches decorated her blue-grey fur where she wasn't covered with thick leather armor-like plates on her back and over her vitals.
Steven knew Spot was some creature Father had gotten as a pup and managed to tame. She was good as a guardian and a hunter. A low rumbling from her gave him warning. He saw what she was looking at, a pile of steaming scat. From the size, he expected it was from a Daemer, an unintelligent creature Father likened to deer. It would feed them for days if he could kill it. The grey matted fur could be cleaned and made into a coat. Steven had outgrown his last one and currently had strips of leather wrapped over his forearms where the sleeves no longer covered.
Steven clambered up the rock face and gazed over the scree. The lumbering Daemer was in sight. Of all the things he and Father used for food, the Daemer was his favorite, the meat usually juicy and tender, probably because it was such a slow moving thing unlike many of Quor-toth's denizens.
Steven whistled softly at Spot and she burst over the rocks at their potential dinner. The Daemer lowered his head trying to impale the 'dog' with its antlers. Spot kept it distracted while Steven got close enough to ram his spear into its chest. Bellowing, the Daemer whirled, dragging the spear out of Steven's hands then turned back the other direction as Spot harried its throat. The spear butt rammed into Steven's stomach, knocking the breath out of him. He stumbled, his boots slipping on the icy rocks. Steven made a wild grab for anything to keep his balance but ended up tumbling down the rocky embankment. He somehow managed to miss any snowy pockets that would have slowed his descent or cushioned him, slamming from one rough boulder to another before finally coming to rest.
He hurt. The scent of blood was in the air and that was never a good thing. He could see splotches of it dotting the snow. His vision filled with bright spatters of light. His head wrap was gone and his ear was filled with blood. Tentatively he hitched himself up. Nothing seemed broken but that was hardly a surprise. He had taken far worse beatings with nothing getting broken. Father was always amazed at his sturdiness. Still, his scalp was split open, pouring blood like an artesian well. He unwrapped one of his forearm covers and used the fabric to try and staunch the flow of blood as he climbed back up the cliff. The wind chilled his bared skin, numbing it almost instantly. The last thing he'd need would be for something to get his blood scent and come for him. As he climbed, Steven could have sworn something large had flown overhead circling him but when he looked nothing was there.
Finally he made it to the top to see Spot contently gnawing on the throat of the Daemer, which had collapsed at last from the true to the heart stabbing. He shooed his pet away and tied a rope to his kill. The Daemer outweighed him eight or nine times over but he dragged it slowly back home to Father. Nothing picked up their trail, which amazed him since between him and the dead animal they cut a bloody swath in the snow. He glanced around making sure no one was watching then disappeared inside. He missed seeing the pair of golden eyes that watched from overhead.
* * *
"Eat, son," Holtz said, putting more Daemer meat on the smooth rock Steven was using as a plate.
"I'm full, Father." Steven cracked the bone he had been gnawing the meat off of and sucked out the rich marrow.
Holtz scowled down at him. "You most certainly are not. You look like death nibbling a crust of bread. Eat more."
Steven rolled his eyes but dug into the meat obediently.
Holtz sat back and watched his son. He worried. Not about the long cut and bruises decorating the boy's hips, shoulders and back or the rent in Steven's scalp he had to attend to before butchering and cooking the Daemer. No, Steven healed too fast to worry about that. He was concerned that the boy didn't pick up weight, no matter how much he ate. While it was good that he was lean and quick, he was so thin Holtz could count his ribs and see the bones of his spine. The Adam's apple he had developed in the last year or so poked out against his skin so badly that it looked like it didn't belong there on a neck otherwise slender and womanly. Holtz wondered about that, how two demons could produce a child so pretty, almost effeminate but tried hard not to think hard on it. It was wrong to do so.
The best he could do was make sure Steven ate. The boy was wont to hold back, making sure Holtz had the first pick and the most if food was scarce. Holtz was equally determined to give his son the best he could in a place such as this. They had been here fifteen, perhaps sixteen years now and as stunned as he was at the fact they still lived, he was even more shocked at the son he was raising. His parents had been tall, strapping creatures, at least his father had been, but Steven's growth seemed to have ended with that last spurt which outsized him for his winter wardrobe. He was too small. Had they been on Earth, Holtz would have thought him sickly but Steven didn't get ill. He was strong, stronger than any human but Holtz couldn't help but worry over his size.
While Steven stuffed down more dinner to please him, Holtz set about scraping the Daemer's hide. He kept at it until his hands ached. When he looked up, Steven had out the battered Bible Holtz had carried with him in a deep pocket of his jacket. The thing was ridiculously heavy but it was small enough to be carted along. It had been the one given to him at his wedding. He had carried it with him when he fought the demons back in his day, taken it with him into his slumber and had it now. It was the only thing that he had to teach his son to read with. Steven didn't do very well with words but the time they had to dedicate to things such as reading and math were minimal. Time was better spent honing Steven's fighting skills for the day he returned to earth and killed the monster that fathered him.
Holtz set the hide where Spot couldn't get it and went to read over his son's shoulder. He scowled at what he saw. 'Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat encircled with lilies.' Holtz eased the book from Steven's hands. Steven looked up at him in surprise, the light from the tallow candle highlighting the fresh bruises and swellings on his son's gaunt face.
"That is not a proper thing for a boy to be reading. Try this." Holtz randomly opened the Bible to something other than the Song of Songs and handed it back. "Read it out loud for me."
Steven peered at it and read, "'Not heeding her plea, he overpowered her: he shamed her and had relations with her. Then Amnon conceived an intense hatred for her, which far surpassed the love he had had for her. 'Get up and leave,' he said to her. She replied, 'No, brother, because to drive me out would be far worse than the first injury you have done me.' He would not listen to her." Steven paused, looking over at Father. "I do not like this one."
Holtz raised an eyebrow. "The book is not there for you to like, Steven. It's a guide on how to live."
Steven looked at the Bible reading more to himself. "But Amnon forces his sister Tamar to have relations with him then throws her out and no one does anything to punish him. Isn't that wrong?"
"Yes." Holtz pursed his lips and took the Bible away, setting it back in the pocket it rode in. "I think it's too late for questions. You need your rest as I do mine."
Steven didn't argue. He went to the shelf of rock he had covered with thick blankets of Daemer hides and curled up. Spot collapsed along the curve of his hip. Holtz got into bed himself, cursing as he always did the ill luck that landed him in this place. What he wouldn't trade for a nice feather tic mattress instead of furs over rock. He blew out the candle, sending them into complete darkness. That was the one drawback of living in a cave, the speed with which they ran through candles. Soon, he'd have to send Steven back into a demonic village to steal more.
"Father, tell me about the ranch in Utah," Steven pled.
Holtz smiled. Every night, Steven asked to hear about the home Holtz had so wanted to give him. Just to keep the story interesting, he often made up new twists and plans. Maybe instead of just he and Justine raising Steven as their son, he would tell his adopted child about the horse farm they had planned or how they would turn the ranch into a home for wayward children. He told a long twist on the story now, hoping as always to hear his son's soft breathing as he slept but it didn't come. He knew Steven was awake in the dark. The older the boy got, the less he slept. Holtz wondered what that meant as he drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Vyollca waited at the mouth of the cave for the Destroyer to come back out but as the silver eyes of the triple moons began to rise she knew he was settled for the night. Vyollca launched herself from the top of the tree, her body transforming, losing its humanoid shape, elongating, growing heavier through the shoulders and chest as her wings sprout. Her hands and feet went to claws as her jaw jutted out, full of teeth.
She flapped into the strong winter winds, knowing she could never tell anyone she had seen the Destroyer and not tried to kill him. The Destroyer's head would be a prize to any of the tribes but few even thought to try and collect it. Vyollca thought she could have killed him when he lay dazed after his fall but something stayed her hand. She remembered seeing him for the first time, this summer past. The day had been blistering and she and two of her warriors had planned a raid on a Visi village only to find the Destroyer there with his two companions, a lowly Iler and another creature like the Destroyer himself, only aged.
The Destroyer had been magnificent. Vyollca couldn't believe the tiny, oddly colored creature could be the one all of Quor-Toth feared but Polinza, her strongest man, assured her she was in fact watching the Destroyer. No fangs, no claw, no armor, no weapons that couldn't be stripped away from him and yet the way he moved was as beautiful as it was deadly. The village ran blue with blood. He slaughtered them all down to the smallest child. She had never seen such cruelty. She had thought her own people, the Alugevy, the unquestioned leading race, were vicious but they couldn't compare to the Destroyer. He was worthy of his name. He hadn't seen her and her men from their roost in the mountain ledge above the village but the Alugevy possessed amazing sight. She could see fish many feet under water even if she was skimming the clouds and she could target them with unerring accuracy. Vyollca could count all of his small ineffectual teeth from her vantage point, estimate his weight, caught the pungent smell of him so unlike anything she had ever scented before. His scent was unpleasant and easy to track.
She hadn't killed him then but only because she was the leader of her tribe and her warriors had been unwilling to risk her. She killed them for their cowardice but by the time that was done the Destroyer and his companions had gone. Vyollca had found him several times since then but never once had she thought to raise a hand to him. She simply watched him, watched him work, watched him kill, watched him play. He seemed to truly enjoy toying with the slukhs. And now, more than ever she knew one thing. She would make the Destroyer hers. She would be queen of the strongest Alugevy tribe in recorded history and the Destroyer would make it so.
Author's Note – the First Bible quote was Song of Songs 7:6-9 and the second was
2 Samuel 14-16