Disclaimer: I do not own Legacy of Kain. I would die a happy woman to have ever come up with a character as cool as Kain. An OC is present.
Rating: M, contains violence and situations of a disturbing and threatening nature.
Author's note: This is set some time after the fall of the pillars at the end of Defiance. Kain is still looking for a permanent solution to Nosgoth's problems. It's set up in the mountains, however, I kept the area location very generic. Picking an exact spot from the rather detail lacking maps of Nosgoth is quite a feat, I can tell you. It's based around a rather simple idea. If you're in a position such as the parasite in Nosgoth, eventually you'll come across people who get in your way. Not stand against you, just people who through maybe stubbornness or random chance, get in the way of your immediate plans. It's easy to arrange for deaths but suppose you see a future purpose. You're left with the task of taking them out of the way. Not killing them...just trapping them.
PLEASE NOTE: This is an OC, first person, one shot.
All thanks go out to Arathe, who was my beta for this. She spotted things that made me laugh...and cringe. I try not to make mistakes but when I do they tend to be crackers.
Reviews are appreciated and reviewers loved.
If by any chance you spot anything that is incorrect or blatantly against canon let me know. It's been a while since I played the series.
In times like this, the term 'deathly cold' was so much more than a simple caution, overused by the old crones and scolding mothers. It was the loneliest of deaths; the ravenous, clawed hand of a savage, cropless winter that stole the lives of children as they lay sleeping in their cots and drove the local wildlife into the waiting maws of feral beasts. It was merciless and cruel. No one was spared the icy bite of heartless winter. But it was those who'd taken to the hills, sheltering in the solitude of the perilous mountains that felt the truly terrible extent of its nature; praying together for salvation from the oncoming, inescapable darkness.
But this winter was different to the many past. As the world below had begun its steady descent into chaos and hardship, so too had the mountain folk reached the precipice of disaster. The snows and ice had come early this year, the livestock had fled and with them so too had the hope of surviving just one more winter. Many of the lowly inhabitants of the quiet village had taken flight further down the mountain seeking a relief from the bitter cold, but it had been too close to the valley and the creatures, breeding like a pestilence in the dense forests, had slaughtered all but one. When the only survivor stumbled, half starved and covered head to toe in gore, out of the forest, the scattered remnants of the old village knew then that they were trapped. Their refuge from the dark ones below was to become their cold, icy tomb.
The village had done the only thing it could do. They'd clung to the last thread of hope that the winter would pass and with it, they could perhaps find a safe path off the mountain. The scant families remaining huddled together in the town hall for protection, night after night. Firm in their belief that they would make it.
But few truly knew the truth of these delusions.
There would be no escape from death in this time. Whether by the clean hand of ice or the ruddy, bloodied claw of creatures of nightmare, there would be no eluding the shadow of mortality that had fallen over the land since the fall of the pillars.
In the past, on occasion, they would nervously witness a traveller stumble into the village. Usually a trader turned around on his ill-fated quest only to be driven up the mountain by the monsters in the valley. The more fearful of the villagers would question him, praying that none of the beasts thought to follow him.
None ever did.
The travellers would try to set off again. Always. Some would leave and not return. Whether to freedom or death, is uncertain. A scarce few times though, the merchant would return, simply unable and often unwilling to once more test the safety of the road into the valley.
My father was one of those travellers.
I still clearly remember his face to this day. Every line around his light eyes, the grey in his beard; I even recall the single scar that peeked out from behind the coarse hair on his chin. He'd always appeared a little haggard, weary perhaps. Even after I'd cut his hair and trimmed his beard, he still retained what the old women in the village had dubbed 'the look of a traveller'. It was just the effect of stubble against the weathered, tanned skin. When time finally caught up with him, for he was certainly no young man when I was born, his deeper skin and light eyes had aged him dreadfully. Even when compared to the village crones, who, in all respect, looked as though they were crudely carved from the ugliest of roots.
I never heard him talk of his past life. Nothing personal. I didn't know who my grandparents were, where he was born…not even what he traded before fate dropped him on this mountain. He did speak of Nosgoth, though. He'd tell me such fanciful tales while we sat in front of the fire. Of mystery, and danger. Of old legends and ancient stories. Of a world that was so much bigger than anything I thought was possible. Enormous cities of stone and wonder, stretched across ones vision like the sky itself. It would enthral me for hours, simply listening to him speak. He described so many places in such detail it cowed me. It were as though he'd locked the images of these places away in his mind and could draw upon a direct liking to it at any time. Had I thought to ask him, I'm positive he could have told me exactly how many steps there were in Avernus Cathedral. How he knew, why he could recall in such detail, why he was even at such a grand place, I simply never knew.
I remember staring into the forest and dreaming of visiting such places.
But that was before I was old enough to truly understand my unfortunate predicament. I remember once hearing him tell his tales and feeling awed. Inspired to travel. That was before I discovered that such a longing would forever be denied.
"You were born on this mountain, my child." He'd said with a heavy heart and tear laden eyes. "And my child, you will die on this mountain."
My world had tumbled then. For a part of me had known the vicious truth of those words. I felt claustrophobic, trapped on all sides by sheer cliffs, dense forests and descriptions of animals that were so horrifying that not even my father thought to face them, given the small chance of escape. Much to my displeasure, my father told no more stories after that, save one. He must have seen my painful longings, my fragile, broken dreams and felt it less cruel to be silent. The only other story he told me after then, had been the story of how my mother, the widowed woman that had offered him shelter all those years ago, had died during my birth.
I'd always been told that she'd fallen prey to the snow. That she'd gone out to hunt and was taken by the white. I'd no understanding as to why my father had chosen to tell me differently then. I perhaps, in a way, mistook the truth as some blame for the ending of her life. It wasn't till the end of the summer and my father's death that I knew it for what it was. My father would not take a single secret with him in death. He'd told me the truth in that matter, not wishing me to perhaps overhear it in another's private conversation, as I was accustomed to do in my older years. Ironically, for a man hell-bent on being open, he'd managed to hide his own decaying health so well that not even the apothecary knew of his illness. Guilt plagued me for some time afterwards. Tormented by what ifs and my own failed powers of observation. But even that hadn't lasted long. Soon after my fathers death the scant few men around the village had begun calling to me. It became apparent that my father had been quite literally keeping them at bay. With him gone, they saw me as a lonely girl that they could wed and take care of. And in their old age, would take care of them. Unfortunately for them, even at fifteen, I'd no interest in marriage, or children. I'd no intention of dooming any children of mine to the pathetic, damned existence that my father had brought me into. That was if I could even get over the revulsion I felt at the thought of lying with any of the bucktooth fools that had seen fit to pester me for nearly three years after my father's passing. It wasn't even because I was pretty. I was simply one of the few girls left. The entire village had seemed to consist of the old, the ancient and the dead.
The whole 'suitor' situation had unfortunately climaxed when I 'accidentally' put an arrow in the arse cheek of one of my most persistent male annoyances. I'd awoken one morning to his leering face, hovering above mine. His face was not of the quality that one would wish to see immediately upon waking, and I'd screamed. Thankfully, in my sleepy, dazed state, I'd missed in my rather genuine attempt to kill the idiot. More than likely, the fools' brothers would have come to my cabin to exact vengeance had I done so. As it stood, it simply gave them something to laugh at. Though, I can happily state that no men came to my cabin after that. I'd stated, rather clearly, when his ancient father had come to see me about it, that it was accidental. His father found it amusing to a degree and laughed…but I'd seen this man beat his youngest son to within an inch of his life for stealing. He was much colder than any winter. I'd been wise then in keeping my mouth shut, as rare an occasion as that was
I'd taken up my father's role in the small, diminishing community after his death. Having travelled alone for so long, the man had acquired surprisingly few skills with which to trade. However, he was a modest huntsman and had lived his final days trading the skins and the meats for whatever else we'd needed. I'd learned from him, and in some ways perhaps, surpassed him. My slim hands and deft fingers could set a trap in a fraction of the time his could. Not good for catching much more than wild hare and small animals, in retrospect. However, he'd always shown pride in my skills, however mundane. Although, I've never been able to outdo his archers aim. Where he'd learned such skill, he blatantly refused to tell me. And I did ask. Repeatedly, I must admit.
I still traded in meats and skins after his death, but when the frost came early this year, a terrible foreboding rattled in my gut. The village herds had vanished, seemingly overnight and the stupid people had all taken up old bows and rusted blades and had gone out and butchered every thing that moved. They left nothing, and whether due to weather or fear of mobs of idiots, the animals had simply left the area. Often, I found myself travelling further downhill in search of my kills.
Truly, a stupid and desperate act if ever there was one.
That rather foolish habit was deftly cut, however, as one fateful morning, the day still dark, I found myself pursued back the way I'd come by a manner of beast I'd only heard my father describe in tales. I'd not escaped my disastrous hunt unscathed, either. I'd limped and hobbled back to my cabin, nursing the open claw marks and single bite mark that rather embarrassingly scored my backside and thigh. It was the only time I'd ever felt regret for having shot that fool in the arse. It was unfathomably painful.
As I'd tended myself as best I could, I knew that the feeling in my gut was now undeniably warranted. There was a doom encroaching on my little home.
It was a good two weeks later before most of the healing stiffness left my body and I felt myself up to hunting once more; completely ignoring the voice in my head that told me to be patient. The previous days I'd been unusually restless and often found myself waking on the floor beside my bed or in front of the hearth. So I set out, lined in my furs and carrying my father's bow and hunting knife. As was usual lately, the forest was all but dead. There were no birds, no sounds bar the wind. It was as silent and as cold as the most morose tomb. The snow was deep and I'd found myself waiting most of the day for a break in the blizzard during which I could travel safely.
I'm not a lucky individual. No stroke of good luck has ever marked me without consequences. So, when I found myself barely an hour outside the village and standing before the body of a stag, freshly killed, half frozen and almost completely buried in snow, I grew nervous. In freezing winters it was not uncommon to find dead animals littering the slopes. Having fallen or simply died from exposure.
But not this one.
The things' throat had been torn out. Cleanly, and in one swift and brutal motion.
I allowed myself the curious imagining of a lone wolf having done the deed but considering not one bite had been taken from the animal, I was forced to reach a more disturbing conclusion. I hated luck. For in spite of what gamblers may say, luck and debt are one in the same. At least with a debt, you know when, where and how much you will repay.
My own miserable thoughts were too much to bear at times. I would sometimes overhear snippets of conversations in the village and speculate, often incorrectly about something gleaned in haste from an old gossiper. My father had warned me about minding my own business and putting a leash on runaway ideas.
I stood next to the stag, brow crinkled in worry as I scanned the area. There were no tracks. Not that I'd expected many with the heavy snowfall…but still. My stomach growled and I forced myself to ignore my shaking nerves.
Cornering myself into the shabby delusion that whatever had done this must have been long gone and sheltering from the weather, I prepared as much of the stag as I could carry and stored the rest in a mound of snow till I could return. If I could return at all. I'd been left no choice but to crudely hack at the partially frozen carcase and my knife had left the meat unevenly cut and in ugly strips but it would feed me for a time. My hands shook under the repetitive strain of the motions and my wrists ached something terrible by the time I was done.
All the way back to the cabin I felt the strangest sense of unease. Not since my childhood days, when I would hide and my father would track me into the woods, had I felt this much like prey to some powerful entity. There were invisible eyes that bore through me and followed me on my path as I waded, knee deep in snow and weighed down by my load.
There was a crunch of dead wood and I stopped. I was truthfully terrified. Rightly so, all things considered.
I spun in search of the source of my unease but my cold, flushed face met nothing but sharp wind and the beginning flakes of yet another snowstorm.
Calm yourself, the snow comes and night is upon you. I chided myself.
I had to get back to my cabin before the snow began once more. If it was too heavy it could very well bury me in the dark. Frostbite was another source of worry, having seen enough of black fingers and toes in the village to ever want a personal performance. For a second I almost didn't remember that something had killed that stag and had more than likely taken refuge nearby. With the coming snow, I almost forgot the creeping feeling making its way up my spine and shaking my hands.
As much as it worried me, I did not make it back before the dark. As had been happening lately, the nights came swifter than usual, even for a winter's day. The clouds on the horizon darkened as though filled with noxious fumes and not snow. In my mind I could have sworn it was dark over an hour before it was supposed to be. I fumbled in the snow for a good twenty minutes, guided by starlight and familiar trees before I wandered in the door to my cabin and collapsed, heavy with melting flakes, frozen stag and my uncomfortably frozen furs.
As horrid as the furs felt against my raw skin, I dared not shed them yet. It was only when the cabin was warm and the fire had taken the worst of the chill from my bones that I took them off to dry properly.
I sat near the hearth, basking in the heat with the last of the spicy ale and I allowed myself to contemplate the evening's events.
What manner of creature tears the throat of a stag but leaves the meat to rot?
Once more I found my mind caught up in an array of images, some ludicrous and some too terrible and horrible to sanely entertain. I put the cup down by my feet and rubbed vigorously at my face. Attempting, feebly, to scrub the visions from my minds' eye.
The wind had picked up, howling like some hungry fiend outside, waiting to demolish the house and devour the little girl huddled within and crying for her daddy.
I laughed. It felt like the first light-hearted moment since winter had begun. The memory of myself, tangled in the blankets and seeking comfort against the monster outside, it seemed so dreadfully funny after all these years. I was no longer that scared little girl and I was now, very well acquainted with the howling beast that once gave me nightmares.
I'd since found real monsters to haunt my dreams.
I sat there for a while, listening to my beast rage outside, relentlessly battering the wood, when something caught my ear and jarred me from my stupor.
A creak in a wooden house was common, especially in a storm, but having lived in the cabin all my life, I knew the difference between the straining sounds of assaulted wood and footsteps on my porch.
I rose. That feeling in my gut returned and chased the ale around my otherwise empty stomach. The creak had not sounded again. But I did not presume to delude myself into proclaiming it a figment of my imagination. I'd heard it. As sure as I could feel the heat of the dwindling fire on the side of my face and the spice of the ale on my tongue, I'd heard it.
I stood stiffly, glaring daggers at the door. Afraid of what might come bursting in any second and partially outraged that the fell beast had presumably followed me in the first place, all the way back to my cabin and without me catching a single glimpse of it despite being somewhat aware of it's presence nearby.
I pulled a hunting knife from its crude leather sheath and took a stance on the other side of the wooden table, facing the door.
My hands gripped the blade so tight my shoulders ached.
And waited for what seemed like an eternity but nothing came bursting in and there were no more noises upon my porch. Even the howling outside had died down to nothing more than a disappointed whimper.
At times like these, up here in a cabin alone, one doubts one's sanity sometimes.
I cautiously crept around the table, avoiding those noisy floorboards and approached the door. Part of my mind, then and there, decided to secure it and run, but my hands had reached for the latch and were pulling it open before I could stop myself. It was a strange, out of place feeling, as though one were watching it happen to someone else.
The door creaked loudly as I opened it and took my first look out into the snow. I hugged myself, blade in hand, as my body was hit with a blast of unforgiving cold air mingled with large flakes of snow. I glanced around. There was nothing but a blizzard of moving white. Steeling myself, I advanced two more steps outside. I shook. I was altogether uncertain if it was due to the cold or the outright fear. Still, nothing moved. The dark hadn't frightened me since I was old enough to understand that it could be used to hide in, in times of trouble. Now, it loomed around my home as though it were ready to swallow me. I stood for perhaps a minute more in the cold, dangerous dark before my panicking nerves got the better of me and convinced me to retreat. I never turned my back on the blizzard as I stepped back in through the doorway and slammed the damp wood against the night with frantic, shaking hands. I rested my head against the cold door as my body absorbed the heat once more.
I took one breath, two and three, before my hammering heart finally began to slow its assault against my ribs. I laughed at myself.
The voice pierced and shocked me to my very core. I almost dropped the knife as I spun. There, seated at my table was an ominously cloaked figure. There, in my cabin, at my father's table, was my monster; dressed as though it were death itself come to claim me.
I just stood there. I don't know what I looked like but I imagine it was akin to a startled doe; wide-eyed and ready to bolt, though, to where, was the question. The figure laughed. It was a hearty sound; the sound of someone without cares or someone who had simply learned not to care at all.
I was conflicted. There was always the option to run straight out the door and into the blizzard. But as stupid as I could be at times, I well knew the dangers of going back out in the storm. It was as certain a death as there could be up on the mountain. Creatures you can outrun, there's no escaping cold and starvation. The storm would kill me mercilessly in minutes without my furs. It was a hard truth.
I felt the weight of the blade in my hand and it crossed my mind that I could attack him but it was my petty knife against the figure's enormous sword: that large hilted monstrosity that rested easily across his back. For a second, I contemplated my fate should I attack. In my mind I saw him sweep my attack aside and cut me down without effort. I found my chest tight as I despaired.
He brought a three fingered, gloved hand towards an opposite chair in a motion for me to take a seat.
When I didn't move, he spoke again.
"Take a seat, child, before you faint."
Something in me doubted that it was concern for my well being that spurred the gesture. It seemed too polite to be sincere. Almost mocking in its way. He called me child as though I was one and not nearing my twenty sixth birthday, to which I grudgingly accepted, I looked every day as old and more.
The figure stared at me expectantly from under his hood. Steam had begun rising from the surface of the thick, oiled woollen cloak that concealed him.
I evaluated my situation again and found myself moving slowly towards the chair. Without thinking I once more avoided the creaky floorboards even though the need to do so was completely moot. Old habits I suppose.
Sitting down was difficult on the cold wooden chair. I could feel the still healing wounds on my backside strain and tear a little as I sat without the cushioning I'd placed on my seat in front of the fire. I didn't wince although I could have sworn I saw a glimmer of yellow, flash from the darkness of his hooded face as I brought myself into an uncomfortable seated position. I placed the hunting knife across my lap as though it would be of any use but I loathed the idea of putting it out of reach.
When he spoke again I couldn't deny that I startled a little. My hands jerked and fumbled a little with the knife on my lap.
"This weather is truly appalling."
My mouth opened a little. This creature, for I was certain it was no man, had crept into my home, seated himself at my table and then proceeded to speak on the harsh weather as though he'd simply been caught in a shower of rain.
I felt my agitation rising. Somehow, I forced the dry lump from my throat and answered him. Keeping strictly to the trivial topic he'd chosen to start this uncomfortable conversation with. I truly don't know where I summoned the nerve to even form words. But I did, nonetheless.
"The snow came early this year but…it comes every year just the same." I managed to shakily choke out, my eyes quickly and nervously darted around my cabin, looking frantically for something that could aid me. Despite knowing where every single item in my home was, I found myself at a loss to even remember where I'd stored my bow.
What I'd told him was half the truth but I couldn't manage to force myself to explain the complexity of the situation. Something about the way he held himself and spoke to me, told me that he wouldn't care in the slightest about the village's troubles.
He harrumphed thoughtfully. His gaze then turning to the dwindling fire.
"It needs tending, girl."
A hysterical voice in my head cried out 'Girl? Do it yourself, you bastard.' I bit my tongue so as not to laugh at the absurdity of my own thoughts.
I stood arduously and to my horror a warm trickle ran down the back of my legs. For a moment of utter terror I feared that I'd wet myself in fright but the sharp pain in my backside as I tensed muscles, told me I'd simply reopened the wounds. Obviously, hunting this day had been true folly. Had I taken my own counsel and stayed in the cabin, I might have avoided this monster and had I not strained myself, I'd have not undone my two weeks of healing. I really was a foolish girl.
He tilted his head up slightly, no doubt regarding me once more from the sanctuary of his cloak and again I caught that feral yellow gleam in the darkness. It could have been the gleam of the fire catching in his eyes but instinct told me otherwise.
I gathered myself and strode awkwardly to the pile of dry wood beside the hearth. The wounds stung anew but it wasn't until I bent down to retrieve the logs that the pain sharply stabbed at my hide. I held my breath and tossed the logs in as quickly as I could. Trying my best to ignore the uneasy feel of inhuman eyes on my back.
I tried my best to hide the distinguishable limp as I stiffly made my way back to the table and once more took a very slow, cautious seat.
He took a moment to adjust the angle of sword on his back so as to make his seating more pleasant and then he spoke again.
I'm unsure if he could, or if he even tried to conceal the barely contained humour in his voice.
"I take it you ran." He stated merrily. As if I'd any clue as to what he was talking about and seemingly amused at his own private joke.
"Pardon?" I asked, genuinely confused.
For the first time in this awkwardly polite conversation his voice rose in agitation.
"Your wounds, woman! Did that Shade damage your hearing or are you just simple, like so many of your inbred kin?"
No doubt, like most males, he thought his jokes deserving of recognition. Unfortunately, he was dealing with an addle-minded, terrified woman, desperately trying to hold herself in a very unwilling conversation.
I spent so long trying to comprehend his little joke that I completely lost sight of myself. I grew angry when my icy wits failed to grasp the humour and as I was prone to do with my father, I went ahead and responded without considering my situation or my place. For a brief fleeting second, I was arguing with my father again.
"My wounds are none of your concern…"
My anger, like my words, died rather suddenly and I felt a cool chill creep up my spine. I'd no idea why I'd just done that. Was there any end to my list of follies?
He leaned forward and put his deformed hands together on the table.
"Is that so?" He softly questioned.
Had I been frightened before, what I felt now had no single word to describe it. It was a terror that clawed in me like a wild animal. Some beast thrashing in my stomach and trying to burn its way up my throat. I tasted bile on my tongue.
I dared not open my mouth, lest I be sick. So I stared dumbly.
To my relief he withdrew his hands from the table and leaned back. His voice dropped back into that polite drawl once more.
"I must confess, I've passed through the valley below many times, but I'd no idea that humans had taken to the mountain above like goats. Had I not been forced to, I'd have preferred to avoid this snow. Makes for difficult journeys. Thankfully, it spares everywhere but the highest peaks."
Hearing that he'd so casually passed through the damned valley could do nothing more than convince me of this creature's danger. Only the bravest, the most foolish or the most deadly would trek through the woods below. This creature seemed neither foolish nor brave.
Sheer will power made my stomach calm, a skill I'd learned as a child whilst cleaning the animals with my father. I swallowed a lump that had congealed in my throat.
"It has been this way for many years. Since before I was born." My voice seemed steadier than I'd imagined it would be. But so incredibly distant. It sounded like the voice of someone else.
He nodded, though what he was agreeing upon, I couldn't be certain.
"Tell me child, do you live here alone?"
I was alarmed, already my mind raced at the destination and implications of the statement. My insides churned coldly but I took a deep breath and answered him.
"Yes. My father's been dead, ten years now."
I don't know why I'd not simply lied. It's a wonder how a mind works in these situations. My father had once told me that I was a terrible liar. Lack of practice he'd said laughing, though there'd not been any need for that particular skill in the village. The simple truth of my deadly solitude brought with it a strange sort of calm. I was here, alone in my cabin and at the complete mercy of a monster that seemed interested in polite conversation. It was ludicrous, really. I felt myself being drawn down the road to hysterics but stopped when I noticed his left hand move. My eyes followed it, utterly transfixed. Terrified.
He pointed to the walls of my cabin, to the antlers and skulls displayed.
"Those two, there, were taken only five years ago. Do not lie to me, woman. A man lives here." He seemed almost playful in his accusation.
Once more I felt a number of thoroughly conflicting emotions. Terror, confusion, and now anger were all battling within me. I steeled myself at the insult but could not hold my tongue. Truly, pride was a sin.
"I've not lied. There are only a handful of men left in this village, none of them could fire an arrow straight." I blurted hastily.
I bit my tongue in realization that I could very well have doomed my neighbours. Though, a part of me found the idea of a quick death more merciful than slow starvation.
The figure laughed. The sound was boisterous and he even went so far as to tip his chair backwards as he bellowed.
He steadied himself although his posture seemed a little more relaxed.
"Truly." He said in his mirth, his eyes once more catching the light of the fire.
My eyes widened ever so slightly as I postulated the fates of my only neighbours. Had they fallen to this creature already?
He caught my eyes and stiffened a little.
"Quite sharp tongued for such a young thing. Child, do you know what I am?"
He was either humouring me, or humouring himself. It took a moment or two to shake the thought from my head long enough to ponder his actual question. He had deformed hands, yellow eyes and was noble of speech. Had I been able to see him clearly, I might have known for certain but in the tales my father would tell me, only one creature still roamed Nosgoth looking like a human, but undoubtedly not.
"You're a vampire." I deadpanned.
He quietly chuckled.
"I am that. You keep this little cabin away from the main village. May I ask why?"
Thinking was one thing, but being confronted with absolute truth was as overwhelming as a punch to the gut. Defeat gnawed at my fleeting hopes. Despair drained me; knowing how I would likely meet my fate. I'd have preferred to keep myself guessing. It had succeeded in distracting me from the indifference of inevitability.
"I'm not certain. It was my mother's cabin, and her father's before that." My voice seemed to have deflated. It sounded so small now.
The vampire leaned back, his sword chipping a little at the old wooden chair as he did so.
"Had I not passed you on my way down, I would never have even known you were up here. It's very strategically positioned for a peasant hut."
I was uncomprehending of the slightly appreciative tone he'd used. My mind was elsewhere. Uncaring of my own crassness, I voiced the one and only concern I had at the moment.
"Are you going to kill me?" The words spilled out of me in nothing more than a hushed whisper.
He straightened in the chair again, once more folding his gloved hands on the table.
"Yes. Does that frighten you, child?" He seemed genuinely curious now. As though fear itself were a foreign afterthought.
Truthfully, knowing had taken a lot of the fear from the situation, instead leaving a kind of numbness in its place. Weariness even. But I was still terrified.
"It does." My now small and childlike voice had taken on a resolute edge, despite my despair.
The figure seemed surprised.
"Well, my girl, you are holding yourself rather well for a creature facing death. I am curious though, would you beg me for your life?" He questioned. The way he said it made me sure that a smile was pulling at his lips.
I hadn't even considered it, to be completely honest. A cracked and distant part of my battered mind, pulled at the corners of my own mouth now. I was far more vocal than a woman should be, had any right to be. Truly, I was a danger to myself.
"Would you spare me if I did?" I unwisely mocked his question with one of my own.
It occurred to me that if he'd already slain the others in the village, the likelihood that he would hear my pleas was not altogether encouraging. No doubt, many others had been in my position before now.
He laughed again but it was brief and sounded a little humourless.
It was as I'd surmised. I found myself wondering how many in my village had begged him for their lives, if he had in fact murdered them at all.
It's hard to tell if it was stupidity or bravery that guided my words. I would like to believe that I was a brave person. Had I not met this creature, I may have perhaps still believed that. As it stood now, it was more than likely stupidity that was loosening my tongue.
"I'd prefer to leave this life with as much dignity as I can. I won't beg." I held up my chin. Regardless of my rather low position in the world and rough appearance, I felt determined not to give him the satisfaction of hearing my pleas. I wasn't so naïve as to believe that if he wanted to hear me beg, he couldn't squeeze the words out of me somehow.
He stood suddenly and I will wholeheartedly admit that I really did feel faint with the swift and unexpected action.
As much courage as I'd summoned since I'd discovered him in my home, vanished the instant he rose from his seat. My legs seemed to shakily follow suit, feeling wholly uncomfortable sitting whilst he towered over me and he certainly stood taller than any man I'd seen. To be frankly honest, I was glad at the opportunity to stand once more as my backside had gone slightly numb on its awkward perch.
My knees ached a little as I rose but their protests were ignored. My heart exploded in my chest as I heard a clatter and realised that in my haste, the knife had fallen from my lap. It was now beyond reach and I felt utterly defenceless as well as unequivocally idiotic. I pulled at the sides of my trousers, freeing the material that had become stuck to my skin with the trickle of dried blood and tried with all my might to stop myself from shaking.
There was a loud thumping in my ears and it took several moments for me to realise that it was just my heartbeat, pounding away. If he'd noticed the knife fall, he didn't show it. Instead he turned away from me and set about examining the cabin and its meagre contents.
He traced his hand absently over the antlers above the fireplace, hung in decoration since before I was born.
"I imagine you've lived a harsh life." He solemnly stated.
The question struck me as odd. Exactly what was there to imagine? I lived on my own, hunted alone, and was almost an exile in the village because I refused to move into the centre of town with the others or marry one of the old balding, toothless men that had come calling round. The urge to blurt and argue struck me once more but I retained enough sense this time to think before I spoke.
"All life is testing." Something my father used to say sprung to mind, then. "Life is meant to be hard" I muttered.
He nodded in certain, silent agreement.
"It most certainly does seem that way." He stalled as though struck by some invisible blade before he sighed and let his hands drop. He turned to me and gave a small bow. "Forgive my manners, child. I'd not even asked your name."
I'd only been half listening to him as a dozen or more images of my father had begun speeding through my minds' eye. I saw him out in the howling wind and rain, chopping wood, the way his face would crinkle as he fired his bow and the comforting vision of him just sitting in quiet thought before the fire, as he so often did whilst he thought I was asleep.
I'd almost missed what the vampire had said in my reminiscing but somehow managed to snap out of my memories, enough to grasp what he was asking.
"My father named me Dani." I said. Honestly, I hated that name.
Truly, proper introductions had not been made. But I sincerely doubted that this vampire had just simply forgotten to ask. I was a meal, nothing more. That he thought to ask it now brought with it the faintest hope that he might think to spare me. Though it was fleeting and unlikely.
"A typical peasant name." I swore he smiled underneath his cloak. "But not a local peasant name. I take it your father wasn't born on this mountain like the other inbred sheep." He asked already knowing the answer. I humoured him, however.
"No, he was a merchant that wandered into the valley and was driven up here by the beasts." I stated plainly. He digested this for a moment before he turned his back to me and put his hands in front of the fire. He let a satisfied sigh escape him as he revelled in the luminous warmth.
"I've not known winters as harsh as this in an age, thankfully, it will be the last winter if things continue on their present path." He tilted his head a little in my direction as though attempting to keep me in the corner of his eye. "For such weak creatures, humans survive against insurmountable odds. It does surprise me though, that the village didn't tear itself apart, neighbour against neighbour, looking for supplies. Humans are such savage creatures when desperate."
I stiffened with the word 'savage'. The word rang in my ears. I couldn't believe it. A vampire, that drinks the blood of animals and men, could dare to call the harmless people in my village, savage. I felt the animal in my stomach begin to claw again. This time though, it was temper. Something finally snapped beneath
the pressure of my ordeal.
"You dare call us savage? This land is savage, this weather, the wars that tear Nosgoth to its very seams… the creatures that slaughter helpless farmers, they are the savage ones!" I roared accusingly.
The anger was brief and drained quickly leaving me all but shaking where I stood. My legs wobbled slightly and I backed up into my chair, where I fell hard into the seat.
I stifled a cry as pain flared up my sorely abused backside for what seemed like the tenth time that day.
The vampire stood stock-still. Looking at me as though seeing something else entirely.
He moved faster than I could follow. It was as though time had ceased to mean anything to him and in one instant he was in front of the fire and the next he was not. I heard the chair I'd been sitting on crash to the floor and I found myself suspended mid-air, by a clawed hand that seemed hell bent on choking the life from me.
Tears came to the corners of my eyes as my panicking lungs gasped desperately for air only to find it out of reach. My hands slapped and thrashed at the wrist and arm suspending me.
His hood fell back.
I'd never before seen a vampire so I could not judge how he compared to the others of his kind, but in my mind, he was hideous. White hair, decrepit skin, yellow, unearthly eyes and fangs of a beast, and he cut me with a look of such hatred. Had he not been choking the breath from me, I'd have assuredly screamed.
I was very grateful now that he'd kept his cloak in such a way as to conceal his face while we spoke, I fear I would have done nothing but stare in abject horror and no doubt he'd have quickly found that rather tiring.
Haze swam at the corners of my vision and my chest burned for air. I kicked out and was positive my foot collided with something solid, but to no avail. Soon even struggle became difficult, as my limbs grew heavy.
Funnily, in all the imaginings of my death, I hadn't thought of this.
Darkness began swimming at the corners of my vision but before it could fully overtake me the world shifted and I felt my feet colliding with the floor. Once more I found myself on my rear, although my mind was too engrossed in the otherwise unappreciated task of breathing to notice much pain beyond the burning of my lungs and the coughing fit I found myself in.
He'd stepped back from me but hadn't pulled his hood back up.
I would have shrieked now but I lacked the ability to make anything more than a gurgle. I hadn't even the ability to speak without coughing.
He stood considering me. His jaw clenched tightly, his eyes weighing me. When he spoke, the words sounded more like growls.
"The Sarafan slaughtered every one of my kind. Hunted them down like wild beasts. Took their heads and decorated the roadsides with them. Know this and tell me that humans aren't insanely savage creatures. At least an animal kills merely to survive. You are no better than the shades and nightmares of this world. Delude yourself if you will, I care not for the false notions of a filthy, savage peasant."
I sat there, my head hung, as much to hide my tears, as to hide his face from my sight. Truly, I knew nothing of these Sarafan, or of the supposed genocide of the vampire race. I'd lived my life up on this mountain, sheltered away from the politics of Nosgoth. A part of me did want to deny it. Deny all that he'd said. But one could not be faced with the hard anger in those eyes and dare to call him a liar. I may have been foolish, but I was certain the act of calling this vampire a liar was a level of stupidity I'd not yet descended to. My mind rushed back to a day in my youth, when the villagers had slain a wolf. Not content with simply killing the wolf, they'd dragged its body into the centre of town and hung it, leaving it to rot. Was he right? Had this land truly dissolved so far into the bowels of chaos and death that even simple folk had turned unknowingly to savagery? It pained me to think of it.
"I reckon then, that this land has nothing left but savages." I coughed the words out in a mixture of dry sobs and painful hiccups.
His face softened just a little then. As though he'd been expecting denial and accusation; my supposed proof that the humans of this world were nothing of the sort. He looked as though he'd been expecting an argument. My father had always told me I was too argumentative for a woman but had this vampire really been expecting me to fight with him, after all this?
I rubbed my throat. It was sore and swallowing was painful enough to make me forget about my other aches.
Summoning my strength and my nerve, I crawled to my knees and stood.
I'd barely made it to a shaky upright position when once more I found time itself being bent and twisted against me. Its passing slowed and before my eyes could follow, there was once more a hand around my throat. There was pain, honestly I couldn't describe it, as it wasn't a pain I was altogether familiar with. It was a distant and numb pain. It reminded me of the time I'd been out in the cold too long and fallen in the snow. All I could see was an image of the ceiling and the antlers above the fireplace. But even those images seemed strained, blurry. As though my eyes lacked the strength to focus on them. Something long and white strayed across my vision and I somehow managed to focus long enough to recognize it.
It was hair. Fine threads of white hair.
Realization hit me like a cold wind after a summer, but it was too late to struggle. My eyes seemed to be the only things still functioning at all. I felt my beating heart slow and my mind reside itself to the grim fact that my death, it would seem, had finally come at the hands of this monster.
But it was not so.
I felt myself fall and thinking it was the fall into oblivion, I was stunned into full alertness when my elbow collided with the wooden table and a sharp stab of agony overtook me. Then my head made its harsh collision with the floor. I heard it more than actually felt it. Though, if I lived through this no doubt it would be paining me for some time to come. I weakly clutched my arm as I lay staring at the form that staggered back a little. His face came into focus and I found him with his mouth wet with blood, my blood it would seem. He had the strangest look of disgust on his face. As though a child taking their first sip of ale and choking on it. After all my evenings' frights and stresses, I laughed again. It was a despairingly harsh and broken sound, even to my own ears.
He looked at me. One eyebrow had risen in daring. I quenched my laughter to speak. "Bitter?" I hysterically questioned with my croaking voice.
The eyebrow fell as he took in the sight of me, sprawled on the floor, bleeding and clutching an injured arm. He must have thought I was insane. He spoke.
"Not quite, tainted and bland springs to mind. Not exactly the quality I'm accustomed to. " He answered nonchalantly. He examined a few drops of blood between his gloved fingers. He looked at me once more. "It does answer something that has troubled me since I wandered into this accursed village." He said absently. He gave me what could only be described as a mischievous grin. "You are luckier than you know, woman."
I stopped laughing immediately.
"What do you mean 'accursed' village?" I rasped. Why I'd chosen to process that part while missing out on statements about being lucky, I honestly can't say.
He wandered back over to the fire and tossed another log into its once more dying flames but made no attempt to answer my question.
I lay there for a few more moments, slowly recovering. My heart had started to pick up its pace and I became slowly aware of all the pains I'd forgotten in my frightened state. Watching him from the floor was making my stomach sick and with strength I could have been positive I didn't possess, I twisted and dragged my weary body up, holding the table for support with my one uninjured arm. The world was spinning rapidly as I fought to retain focus and it seemed my energy was fading. Oddly enough I found my upright position did nothing to calm my stomach and I felt a sliver of something warm and wet run down the back of my head. That ale I'd drunk was quickly working its way onto the list of things I should have done differently.
Exhaustion pulled at my limbs but I stayed standing.
"Why?" I asked.
He turned abruptly to face me and rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. There were no traces of the blood previously present but still he seemed intent on making sure. I found tears once more springing in the corners of my eyes. I wanted to know why it was that I be spared, not simply once by chance, but again and again. He'd said he was going to kill me. Was that still his intention? Was all of this to torment me? I needed to know.
He looked at me, understanding despite my vague, single word question. A smirk graced his hideous features as he spoke.
"The wheel still turns." He answered vaguely. I could have sworn I saw the eyes on his sword glow a brilliant blue but I couldn't be certain. He continued. "There was a time when I believed in such a thing as chance...and luck. I know now that nothing happens by chance. So many pieces moved and fell to create the situation on this mountain. Having seen all that I have, I've come to recognize the wheels' design." He pierced me with a stare. "This corner of hell you find yourself trapped in… was not a situation designed by mere chance. What I do not see is why that parasite would want this."
My mind boggled. So many things I just didn't understand and I found myself lacking the knowledge and energy to work them out on my own.
"What parasite? What do you mean 'designed'?" The questions came out harsher than I'd anticipated and I winced. He probably took that wince as one of pain.
Honestly, I'd not a single clue as to what he was talking about.
"Everything that has happened has been orchestrated, woman. The murder of William the Just, the massacre of the Vampires and my present self's unfortunate situation. I must admit, had I another chance, my choices this time around might be a tad different, but I doubt anything substantial would be changed by them." He reasoned.
I stifled an almost overwhelming urge to ask 'William the who?' The name sounded familiar. Perhaps a story I'd been told or something I'd overheard spoken but I couldn't place it. The words were swallowed back down. Possibly the first smart thing I'd done all evening. However, there was the word parasite rolling around my head. Again, I couldn't even fathom as to what he was talking about. But there it was, nestled in his words like a fragile egg. Something even I could understand.
And to think, a few moments ago I thought he might be the sane one.
"What do you mean by 'present self'?"
He smiled. A top and bottom row of sharp fangs chilled me. I was fairly certain my heart skipped some kind of beat and without notice the fingers of my aching arm prodded the area around my oozing bite mark.
"This creature exists beyond time. In following its influence, I too, found myself traversing time." He casually explained as though he'd taken a leisurely ride through the woods.
My head was spinning and my stomach was drawing ever closer to the expulsion of all contents, however, I truly must have been going mad because a fraction of what he was saying was making the most horrendous kind of sense.
"So…you are from another time?" I spoke slowly, my mind churning and the room spinning madly. All of Nosgoth knew of Moebius, even me. But that didn't stop the idea from being just that ludicrous. The vampire smiled again and I started speaking aloud as the thoughts came to my overtaxed mind. "But which time are you from?" I asked, leaning heavily on a shaking arm.
He quirked an eyebrow at me. At times it seemed to be the only non-threatening, expressive part of his face
"A very interesting question, indeed. I am from a future time. Having seen all of this happen before, I journeyed back to correct it as best I could. Perhaps find a different path and free Nosgoth from the creature's wheel."
I found myself becoming a little too engrossed in his story and inwardly wondering if that was the only reason he was trying to stop this creature. He didn't seem the noble, self-sacrificing type. Usually in the stories my father would tell me, there'd be at least one of those.
"This creature…what is it? And what is this wheel you continually speak of?" I rapidly questioned. My position wavered and my vision went momentarily black. When it finally came back the world was tilted slightly, only it was me that was truly at an angle. How my body even managed to remain standing is something I couldn't answer.
He walked slowly around the table and picked up the chair he'd knocked to the floor when he'd grabbed me. He righted it and I all but collapsed into it, once again forgetting about my backside and now openly wincing. I was however more than a little grateful for the seat.
He once more took a seat opposite me.
"I do not know what manner of creature it is. I do know that the Ancient vampires worshipped it and it has gone by the title of 'prophet' and 'elder God' though it is clearly neither. It is nothing more than a manipulator."
I moved my uninjured arm and placed the palm of my hand against the stinging wound on my neck in an effort to ease the discomfort it caused me. Something struck me as odd about his story.
"I thought you said that it orchestrated the deaths of the vampires. Why would it do such a thing to those that worshipped it?"
He tipped his chair back casually.
"That is a long story, woman." He smiled and waved his hand absently to the side. "To cut it veryshort, it is because the Hylden cursed the Vampires with immortality, thus freeing them from the creature's wheel." He seemed to be humouring me. A great step up from being eaten, undoubtedly.
I laughed loudly.
"You…were cursed with immortality." I spat, utterly stunned that something such as immortality could be considered a curse.
"Indeed. However, the vampire's ancestors worshipped this false God and his wheel of death. The notion that they would not die was blasphemous to them. Many willingly sought to end their own pathetic existence rather than face immortality and separation from their 'God'."
I pondered the new information for a moment. So there was this almost all-powerful creature shaping Nosgoth to some dastardly ends? Of all the stories and old legends my father had recited to me, he'd told me nothing of this.
"You blamed the creature for this. Tell me why." I all but demanded. Anger was brewing within me, now. Not the quick flash of temper that had managed to get me half strangled, no, this was anger bred from a life of solitude and hardship. If he spoke the truth, not altogether likely but possible, then some living, thinking beast was the cause of all my life's heartbreaks.
My eyes glared almost accusingly across the table. I was no longer afraid of him. If this was to be my death, then so be it. I'd at least know what I died for…what my father died for.
It was his turn to laugh coarsely at me.
"I see you've found yourself a sliver of courage."
My stare didn't falter.
He leaned forward. Despite my anger I straightened my back nervously.
"Are you really certain you want to know, peasant?"