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Archive for March, 2011

She trembled violently as she struggled to scrub the blood from her palms, breath coming out in short little gasps. Her shoulders hunched as she plied herself to the task, barely even aware of the coldness of the water, of the dirt in it. Her too-bright eyes darted upward, scanning the clouds for signs of company. The wind whispered through the grasses, moaning a soft eulogy for the slowly cooling corpse behind her.

Jhorthea’s long, shapely thighs parted in a wide step, her slender fingertips curving to brush across a hip. She exhaled a sigh of pure exultation, lips curling into a wicked grin. Her long tongue dashed across her smile, lingering obscenely. Her voice was a meaningless purr, the words blossoming from a tension in the back of Marlbane’s neck.

He got what was coming to him, pet. We only had a bit of fun first.

She simpered and exhaled a girlish little giggle, a fingertip tracing her shapely bosom. Blood smeared the succubus’ skin, and she seemed strangely content, staring out up at the skies and panting a little. Slowly, deliberately, she turned to eye Marlbane, her gaze savage and her smile too sweet- like spoiled fruit, slowly fermenting.

Marlbane shook her head. “That is not what we agreed on.” Her voice was higher than it should have been; she felt like a fool, a thrice damned fool. Her tongue still burned, her lips ached… her very teeth were sore from the taint of fel magics exiting her lips. She didn’t bother looking at the dead man. She knew what he looked like, knew what her magics and Jhorthea’s toying had done. It made her feel sick all over again.

A bright, burbling laugh seemed to sputter up from the base of her neck, causing the woman to stiffen. Her lips pulled down in a tight frown, eyes half lidding. Jhorthea was immensely pleased with herself. You had to learn the womanly arts someday, didn’t you? Come now, it wasn’t… scintillating?

The whisper was entirely too self-satisfied, accompanied by vivid flashes of recollection. Skin slowly being peeled from the man’s naked, quivering body. The rippling movement of skin against skin, and the animal musk of their dalliance…

She was going to be sick again. She couldn’t bring herself to look over her shoulder, couldn’t look the man in his lifeless eyes.

He hadn’t deserved what had happened to him.

Grunts and drawn out groans of pleasure had rapidly been replaced with shrills of pain. At first it had excited him; but that hadn’t lasted long.

When  he’d died- no. When she’d killed him. It had been mercy, to crush his neck between her fingers and squeeze until his heart had stopped. It hadn’t taken long. He was weeping as the light in his eyes grew dim. Like a child, he’d wept while Jhorthea watched, herself sated.

She scrubbed her palms and forced herself to her feet after a moment, smoothing her skirts with a twitch of her hand. She felt- soiled, for having born witness to it. Debased. There were some things that she couldn’t rid herself of, stains that lingered to her very soul…

Clenching her teeth, she turned to regard Jhorthea with a cold stare, ignoring the demon’s state of voluptuous undress.

“Go. Now.” Her voice was still higher than it should have been, but there was a hint of control, of mastery there; this seemed to give the demon pause. Jhorthea lofted one finally plucked brow, staring dubiously at the woman. A smirk spread over her lips, and she undulated forward, drawing the barbed leather of her cruel lash over a bared breast. You aren’t in any position to give orders, now are you pet?

She felt heat rising in her cheeks. She couldn’t watch this- couldn’t watch the demon shiver and writhe under her own touch. Quailing backward, she averted her gaze, feeling her heart beginning to pound in her chest. “Please stop. Please. Please. I don’t want to– just go away… please…”

When she looked up again, she was alone. Nothing but the corpse of the hapless man, and the crushed grasses where she’d been sleeping.

To my Paladin friend,

I would that I had your distraction, the emptiness of something with a purpose to fill it. Like a clay pot in a fire, I’ve no water to hold, no purpose to fulfill of myself; I must surely shatter for lack of it. I fear that someday you will pace the highlands only to discover your long missing priestess, bones caved in between the fine silks I will have once worn… how dreary a thought, to think on how easy it might be for my head to cave beneath your heel. How morbid, indeed. I fear I am not myself these days.

The days seem to blend together like the grass that seems to have become a fact of my new, crude life. You speak of vengeance, of Crusading and heroism and glory. Restored honor. Hope. These are things I can scarce comprehend, now; all I see is rock and grass. All I hear is the interminable wind bearing down on my back, the sound of my own ragged heartbeat and the cries of wolves and savages.

I have ranged far to the south. There lies a village of trolls there, and I do think they might pose a problem for you. I would recommend eliminating them, the feckless cannibals; or perhaps some subterfuge to set them against the Forsaken. I would leave such scheming to a more devious mind than my own.

I am- genuinely sorry to hear of the loss of your child, Sir Alito. I may be a cold and heartless sort of woman, but even I must sympathize with this. It is wise, that you recognize your own inability to bring this child back. People have done more dangerous, more fool-hardy things that what you have planned for such an atrocity. Do not think that this is something that can be fixed, because you are right; it cannot. But you can prevent it from happening again. Perhaps those who will inevitably fall in stride alongside you will be right to do so.

A woman who walks behind,

Priestess

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Marlbane sat quietly perched on a large outcropping of stone, watching the wind buffet the tall grasses of the Arathi Highlands with an impassive eye.

Her slender frame was too small, too easily enveloped by the vastness of her surroundings; it was a simple thing, to disappear out here. Too simple. In time, she would be forgotten by those who had known her. House Brightmoore will be succeeded by her cousins- probably already was, for she’d made no claim to it yet, even a week after her grandmother’s tragic demise would surely have been discovered.

It would have been nearly thoughtless- to leave the broken grasses beside the small pond behind, to forget that any Nessun Alito had ever paused there and offered her a hand of kindness.

However brief that hand may have between their heated exchange of barbed words- mostly barbed on her end, heated on his- she felt a distinct measure of debt was owed, and it gave her pause. He’d seen the crude words emblazoned in her flesh. He’d stayed there, keeping watch over the temporarily shared camp… and though she wasn’t foolish enough to believe she was his only concern in lingering there, it was still a gallant gesture.

His presence had kept them away for the evening, as well. Kept them from invoking themselves without her leave, temporarily gifted her with the upper hand- if only for the evening. Those lingering hours had been bittersweet; she was all too aware of her own weakness, of how small she really was, inside her own head. And she hadn’t been able to stop herself from picking at the man- like any fine huntress, she searched out his weaknesses and prodded and prodded. He’d been furious, and then- he’d been jovial. It made little sense.

They weren’t happy about this strange… was it even a friendship? Possibly. She didn’t know. Had she ever truly had a friend?

She could have had many friends, had they not been there. Haydin, the Confessor- hell, even the wretched ugly draenei had been kind to her, once.

But not so, anymore. She was well and truly alone out here, with no one but them to keep her company- and this one slender tie remaining. A foolish desire, perhaps. But what better things had she to do? She couldn’t return to Stormwind. She couldn’t go home.

They allowed it, if she agreed not to seek his presence. He was only a danger to them when he was there.

She shook herself free of the thoughts, and turned to her page, lips thinning.

To my promiscuous Light-wielding friend,

I have done as you’ve asked me.

Stromgarde is occupied by two opposed forces, one of which bears the colors of the Old Guard there, the other of which appears to be Syndicate, from habit and dress. I feel you ought to be warned that many of the Syndicate remaining there are the kind that immerse themselves in perversion. I have seen their demons and their vile rites, the scent of fel magic is near overwhelming. I would urge caution against these, as such creatures are among the lowest there are. There are also many among them who seem to flit from shadow to shadow, preferring to strike at the exposed back of an enemy rather than face him head on. I would concern myself with this, were I you; a force of direct opposition might be flanked and destroyed by treachery.

I do not believe the ill-favored pirates that occupy the nearby cove would work with this Syndicate. Their desire appears to be to return to sea as rapidly as possible, where they might continue their profiteering off the misery of others. Still, for the creation of a Fist to strike north, one might consider such stingy, crude mannered methods to invoke terror and chaos- or as a distraction.

Should you have the means to help them recover their ship, and the cold cash to employ their interest, you might possibly buy their temporary loyalty and dispatch them to move like shadows over the sea, destroying sea-port settlements of the Forsaken while launching a secondary attack elsewhere when their blind, rotted gaze turns to defense.

I have learned little of this Syndicate, as I am reluctant to approach them. Give me time, and I will see what I may learn without being discovered. I have my methods, of course.

I do hope your lewdness has gone well for you. May the many bastards you seek to father prosper in these hard times. Pass your whore my regards- or rather, do not, as I’ve no wish to be hunted down and gutted of an evening. I will forever treasure that look on her face when I discovered her lecherous little act.

Keep to your silence, and I will continue to learn what I may about local habits and policies. The pirates were an unpleasant experience. I do not think I shall return to their wretched little cove.
May the Light guide you,

A priestess

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Her vision wavered, a sea of colors swimming before her eyes. Her eyelids burned as they fell over her eyes, fever-bright pain lancing through her head like ragged lightning.

At the base of her neck she felt a familiar pressure building; brief panic stole over her. Like something small and startled, she scrambled, jolting clumsily over the pathway. She could hear them laughing, always laughing, but it was strange- her lips were parted and her voice was audible, the laughter was her own this time. Her knees buckled, hands striking the pathway. Her torn palm felt hot and heavy against the dirt as she wretched, the strange, unnatural giggling cut short.

She could feel them bickering, indecision that she might take advantage of- if only she could think, if she could just stop for half a minute… she struggled to recall the books, half remembered sigils etched in blood dancing before her eyelids like will-o-wisps…

A moment later and she felt her lips moving, scorched tongue slithering obscenely, speaking words of power and drawing them forth… no- drawing him forth. Klathmon.

Thank the Light, it was only Klathmon.

Of the three, he was, at least, not half so cruel as Gelham, nor half so wicked at Jhorthea.

Shadows blossomed from her lips, a dark form materializing and solidifying as she unwillingly summoned. Weak hissed a voice in her head, a childish tittering following the statement. Dance, little puppet. Who will hold the strings?

She was so tired. Her guts felt like rocks grinding against each other, her throat as tight as a-

Virgin’s sphincter? – A voice purred like honey dribbled over frigid steel.

A hysterical peal of sorts and chortles followed the suggestion, as loud as if it were right in her ears. Her hands lifted from the ground to clutch at her head, a whimper escaping her.

Awww… poor little Marlbane doesn’t wish to play with us… simpered a voice in her head.

Little bitch should learn her place. A sudden recollection of pain shot through her, and it was as if she was aflame again. Laughter burbled in her head like a cup running over; she doubled over again, clutching at herself helplessly, willing it to go dark as it had before, willing the dreams to come- the ones where she wasn’t this anymore, where her mind was her own-

Enough.

The voice was strong, and suddenly,  she could breathe again. She lay on the ground, half stunned. A tiny whimper escaped her throat; she peered up, dazed and bewildered. There was no sign of recognition from the demons in her mind; all had fallen quiet. She was blessedly alone… struggling, she unfurled herself, unsteadily dragging to her feet. Her stomach still roiled, ready to revolt. It was only a matter of time, before they started in again. She stood, poised to flee- but knew it would do her no good, even as her feverish gaze suddenly recognized where she was.

Somehow, she’d come here- after a year away, there it was. The familiar manor house, an imposing, crumbling behemoth lying trapped in the mountains, too far away from anything to be considered a threat- the home she’d known all her long, lonely life. A part of her ached for it, and she began to stumble forward. If she could just find her old quarters, she’d be safe. Nothing could hurt her when she was locked in her room, curtains shut tightly, darkness like a blanket. No demons would find her there. Surely the voices would stay silent.

A thin, mocking laugh began to ring in her ears, and she clutched her head again. But another voice silenced it.

No, imp.

There was a promise and a threat; the laughter was abruptly cut off. Gratitude nearly drove her to her knees again; her eyes brimmed with tears. He was keeping them from hurting her, she realized. In that moment, she would have done anything, anything at all, for the safety the voidwalker’s quiet voice commanded.

As if in answer to her gratitude, she heard him again-

You will find Matron Brightmoore. You will bring us her head.

Her heart quailed, but only for a moment. He would help her, if she faltered. He wouldn’t let her fail. If she did this, he would keep her safe.

The old bat has it coming–

Silence.

But shouldn’t she enjoy this?

I said be silent.

And they were. All of them. She exhaled shakily, and looked down to her filthy hands. Her left palm was still bandaged, the linen stiff with grime from her many tumbles. The ominous silver blade she used for her rituals was long lost; she’d lost the right to use it when they’d taken over. Her neck, at any rate, had healed from the gruesome gouging- a kindly priest had seen to that, before she’d fled the city. There would always be scars there, but she couldn’t bring herself to show him her palm.

She could do this.

After all, it was Matron Brightmoore’s doing in the first place. Why shouldn’t she suffer the repercussions of her actions? Why shouldn’t she share in the punishment she’d so callously inflicted on her granddaughter?

Moving unsteadily, she lurched toward the manor house, her pulse beginning to sing.

Evening found the old manor house silent and utterly still.

Some miles away, a small campfire crackled and hissed as Marlbane Brightmoore, heir to House Brightmoore, stared into the flames. Inside her head it was blissfully silent, only her own thoughts and memories for company. She watched the fire consumed the last bloodied shreds of her silk gown and tried desperately hard not to hear the sick, wet tearing sound emanating from behind her.

She didn’t think about what had happened, didn’t think about the white curtains laced with blood. She refused to consider what Gelham was doing to the severed head behind her.

Quietly, unobtrusively, she felt a presence unfurl from the base of her neck.

You did well. The voice was stone, the thought slipping in amongst her own like a pebble in a still lake.

Her eyes closed, and she bit her tongue. The sensation was comforting; a reminder of her own solidity in the face of something that seemed so much stronger than herself. A faint tremor overtook her, and she crowded closer to the fire.

“I- I don’t want to do this anymore.” Her voice was quiet, small- pleading.

The presence in her mind didn’t answer; after a moment, she couldn’t tell if he was even there any more.

The wind moaned through the broken parapets of nearby Stromgarde and the wet tearing noises fell silent behind her. She hunched her shoulders, cradling her arms to her torso and hugging fiercely.

A tell-tale pop, and Gelham was gone; she could smell the faint reek of sulfur. Hazarding a glance over her shoulder, she stared at the empty space where her grandmother’s head had once been.

“Thank you…” She mumbled, voice low with misery.

After a moment- there was a quiet, collected response.

You’re welcome.

She laid down to sleep beside the fire, the specter of her grisly evening lingering on in her mind.

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She sat in silence, watching the smoke rise from the small firepit before her. A soft hand idly reached out, stroking the rich dark silk of her robes, savoring the touch of it against her skin. The faint crackle of the flames punctuated the heavy night sounds. Crickets chirped. Wind rippled through tall grasses, whispering through leafless trees. She didn’t feel the chill of the evening, though it was late and the air had grown crisp and frigid around her- the fire kept her warm. There was something absent, too- a freedom that sent a shudder of gratitude through her spine.

She closed her eyes. For the first time in a year- was it more, now?- her thoughts were free and unconstrained. It was wonderful. Her throat tightened in gratitude, and her fingertips dug into the fine brocade beneath her palms. She listened to the fire pop and crackle; she listened to the sound of her own heartbeat. It was mesmerizing. She could feel everything, each minute detail of her body was envigorating- she felt new.

And for the first time in a long time, she felt a lightness that took her breath away. A small laugh startled her, and she realized belatedly that it was her own. When was the last time she’d laughed…? A real laugh. A soft laugh.

The sound of her own breath took her away. She was happy. She was truly, really happy.

Maybe it wasn’t too late, after all. Maybe she could go back… learn in earnest. Start over.

The wind shifted slightly, and a frown overtook the smile on her lips. A faint, leaden reek emanated outward, seeming to suddenly permeate from everywhere. Her heartbeat quickened at the familiar, noxious odor. Panic gripped her; lost memories. There was a sudden, lancing agony from her chest, from her hands- she shook her head quickly. No. She was done, now. They were gone. She’d made them be gone…

Her eyes snapped open, and her stomach clenched and roiled, revolting as she heaved herself up.

The night was dark as they came, and no fire lit her way. There was only the high shrieking of the wind bending the tall grasses, buffeting them into submission. She felt it, chill as ice, through the light silks adorning her buxom form; she was cold into her very bones, felt so cold she was like to freeze to death. Where was she? Her eyes closed as she delved into her thoughts; they were as confused as skein of tangled yarn. She shook her head, trying to think, but it was so bloody cold, thought was near impossible. Where was she. What was she doing.

A low murmuring permeated the back of her mind. Foolish girl. She’ll freeze to death if we don’t do something.

Always bitching about something or other, petulant child. Let her freeze then. Let her rot.

No. That is not an option.

She felt her gorge rise and her tongue sear. Noxious gasses spilled from her lips, the reek of sulfur encompassing her. She choked on her own bile and felt her lips crack and split. Words moved them soundlessly, but it was enough; in an instant there was Klathmon, a distortion of shadow in dull, lusterless armor. His form whispered across the cold grasses, insubstantial arms gathering her. The armor was cold against her silks and skin, but she barely felt it. His grip was relentless; it felt as if everything good in the world was gone, when he was near her. He had no face; only a featureless void of shadows and twisting darkness where a face should be.

Contained without question in the Voidwalker’s arms, she let herself sag, every ounce of will leaving her all at once. She barely had the energy to force her heart to beat, her breath to take; she couldn’t fight them. They were in her head and in her soul. She was tainted by them, the corruption lingering deep inside of her- she had never been strong enough to fight them. She hadn’t been prepared for this. Could never have been prepared for what she’d faced and summoned.

Her lips moved, voice a ragged whisper of a breeze emanating from her cracked tongue. “Why do you want me. Just… just go away. Leave me alone. Please…”

The last words was murmured with a fervency she didn’t know she still had left in her, almost a sob- pleading, begging… but it was met only with laughter in the back of her mind. She couldn’t tell whose it was. Maybe it was her own. It was becoming more difficult to tell, as the days passed- as the hours passed.

This is what happens, when children seek power. This is what happens when little fools try to bind things beyond their will and capacity. One voice hissed with glee, another laughed– it was an imperious sort of sound, and she felt as if she were going to be sick all over. You are bound to us as we are bound to you. You will live, yes- you have to. But do not forget your place. So many of our brethren serve your kind- so many slaves, trapped to the wills of those who would use them like tools.

You will help us, yes. You don’t have a choice.

Stupid girl.

Foolish child.

But we will help you. The Matriarch of your clan has betrayed you. She would sell your soul to profit your house; a more suitable cousin is fit to lead it. Not you. Anyone who isn’t blind could see she’s trapped you all along, led you like a lamb to the butcher’s axe. She intended to betray your inglorious secret, the very one she led you to keep.

She didn’t plan on us. We’re your only friends now.

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Fighting back

Marlbane Brightmoore, heir to her household and now a proper Initiate Priestess by anyone’s standard, had had enough of demons.

She didn’t care anymore, what her grandmother had ordered. She didn’t care what her long vanished instructor of the arts had told her. Even if it meant she was disowned, anything was better than this; she would fight it. She would face her grandmother and challenge her right to rule the household, for this insult and besmirching of her character. She would blackmail the old bat- that’d teach her!

Such thoughts trickled through her mind like an incessant stream, flowing rapidly over toppled stones of discontent. Her stomach twisted, and her hands toyed with her sleeves, as she kept her head low and quickly made her way through the busy streets of Stormwind’s trade district. The concealed dagger in her sleeve pressed cold against her skin, and she felt a tremor shudder through her. She was going to do it.

She had other options, though it hadn’t felt that way at first. Duty above all else; don’t tarnish the family name. Do as you’re told, Marlbane. Do not associate with the common element. Do not sully your ears with the filth of the lowborn. Sent by way of Northshire on to Stormwind, she’d been given explicit directions, with little to no explanation. You are to seek tutelage with this man. You are to do exactly as he says, for the benefit of our household. She was going to save them all the humiliation of their many debts, somehow, by following the directives given to her.

But sparse as explanations had been, they grew entirely nonexistent later. Her allowance had ceased. Her letters of appeal were returned unopened. The man in the dark robes only laughed away her concerns, and drove her to work harder, to do better; but it was never enough. Her control was tenuous, at best; the demons knew this. They mocked her, and she could do nothing. The Maester had tried his hardest. His laughter turned leaden. His scrutiny more close. She wasn’t doing well enough, they both knew it.

After his untimely demise, the situation escalated. It had been some months, since she’d summoned a demon at her leisure. Now they worked through her, as if she were but a convenient portal for them. Her practice at conjuring shadow and flame had fallen by the wayside, her days now occupied in appeasing the every want and need of the creatures formerly under her control.

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t tried, before, to wrest the power back into her own incapable hands; those others time had only ever ended poorly. She’d discovered certain things, however. Gelham had a weakness for coins. Klathmon was weak of will, and easily ordered by the others. And Jhorthea…

Jhorthea liked games. She enjoyed whispering things into Marlbane’s ear, invisible but for a supine presence and a tightness in the pit of her belly. The Succubus had little interest in blood and violence; it was all about the subtle pleasures of the mortal realms, and the not so subtle suggestions of what Marlbane ought to do with a man. Or a woman. Occasionally an object or an animal, depending on her mood. She was unpleasantly detailed, and worse- made such things excitingly compelling, so that days later Marlbane might feel the strange heat rise in her cheeks as she stared out over a table to watch a candlestick.

Fear thrilled like a piccolo in the pit of her belly, but it was tempered by determination- and hope. In the end, there was only herself, and she could face these things. After all, hadn’t she gone to the Plaguelands with Haydin? Hadn’t she faced down the undead and things far more terrifying than an imp, a voidwalker, and a succubus? There had been possessed corn, for fuck’s sake. She had helped beat down possessed corn. Her teeth gritted as she passed through the tall grass just outside the city gates. Anticipation drove her just a little faster, pride straightened her spine.

Part of the key here was summoning them herself. Already, though, she could feel them, pressing at the bridge of her mind, curious to her newfound drive. They were weaker, before they were made physical; if she could just delay long enough to force one to appear… but which one?

Gelham, of course. He’d been the first, and though she hated them all, a specific hatred burned for him. He’d burnt off her hair for a jest, and reduced her finest robe to tatters. He’d eaten her kitten, fur and all, right in front of her- the one thing that had made her life bearable, for a time. Klathmon may have been her prison guard to this hell she lived in, and Jhorthea might have been a filthy, disgusting whore- but Gelham was a spiteful little asshole with no ability to even pretend to feel empathy. He had once licked tears off her face and -cackled-.

She paused beneath a large tree, staring out quickly to see that she was quite alone. Her hands moved nervously, now, smoothing the grey silk of her robes. The dagger in her sleeve slid down with practiced motion, and the weight of it, the solidness- it felt good in her hand. She reached into a pocket to retrieve a small wax taper, and, quietly, pressed a palm to it. Her eyes half lidded, and she felt bile rise in the back of her throat as she searched her many memories for the proper words of ignition and heat. This piqued the demons’ interest; it had been some time, since she’d bothered herself to practice the Arts. She could feel them pressing closer, almost hear the wordless bickering over who would appear first.

The spell twisted and scorched her tongue to use, but sure enough, a small green flame jolted from her fingertips. The candle lit and burned. A small, private smirk of satisfaction crossed her lips. She still had it.

Carefully, she moved to set the candle in the mud, and with an alarming lack of concern, abruptly drew the edge of the dagger against her palm in a clean, decisive slicing motion. The pain was nothing to her; the cold steel against her flesh a familiar ache. Familiarity heartened her, as the moment passed before the severed skin seemed to recognize its hurt. Blood welled outward a scarce few seconds later, but already, her lips were moving again, the strange demonic ritual seeming to blister her tongue. She knelt before the candle and dragged her torn palm into the mud, smearing her life’s substance on the ground in a carefully illustrated pattern of binding, of summoning- of control.

She was done being a mule to her demons wishes. She was done losing control. All the past insults and hurts she’d felt for her demons’ strange appetites would be corrected, and then.

And then she would find herself on the path of the Light. Just like Ludovick had promised.

Finally, it was finished. Cold, wet earth smeared with blood, a candle dripping wax; she stood alone before her summoning circle, speaking the sharp, hissing words, and he was called by name, bound by name- bound by the blood of her heart to do exactly as she required of him. Every book she’d ever read had outlined the process. Her Maester had reviewed it many times, had demonstrated…

There was a shrill screech of outrage and a violent snap. The cool muddy air was sudden alight with the reek of sulfur. There, in the middle of her summoning circle, stood the imp. His lean, wasted grey form was obscured by the wisping green flame that danced along his sunken flesh. His eyes were bright green, and they fixed on Marlbane in an expression she recognized as mirth. Her pulse quickened. She drew back a step, turning her head to the side at poignant taste of fel that now scorched her lips, that permeated the area like a cheap cologne.

Gelham stepped out of the circle with a nervous, jerking motion. He seemed to thrum with a sort of wild, maddened energy; everything he did seemed to spite the idea of stillness and quiet. His pitted grey skin seemed constantly to twitch, like a horse ridding itself of flies; his clawed fingers were constantly touching, exploring, shredding bits of paper and grass. But for now, he was watching Marlbane, beginning to skitter a circle about her. His shrill squeal of laughter held a mocking tone. The mud hardened wherever he moved, darkening and hissing and turning solid beneath his strange, cloven feet.

The warlock stared at him, strictly clamping down on the mixture of emotions that rose on seeing him. The steel dagger in her hand suddenly felt much too small, in the face of her nightmares monsters made incarnate. Moving slowly, she slid her freely bleeding palm into her pocket, and retrieved a silver coin. Deliberately, she tilted her head to regard it with interest, the pale metal marked by the faint heat and dark liquid of her body. Her pulse quickened, heart seeming hammer against her rib cage. This was it. She had him.

Gelham abruptly froze in place, his simmering gaze snapping to the coin. Greedy, clawed fingers twitched in yearning. His small mouth gnashed in anticipation. An imperious squeal of wordless demand split the air, and a second later, he was upon her like a rat climbing free of a sewer. With no more regard than if she had been a pipe, he squirmed his way up the soft fabric of her dress, clinging to her arm and skittering to the end of it. Clawed fingertips snatched at the coin, his mouth opening to reveal a row of cracked, dagger-like teeth as he placed the silver in his mouth and delightedly sucked the blood from the metal.

Marlbane resisted the very strong urge to shriek as his clammy little limbs clung to and climbed her. That she couldn’t feel the heat of his fel fire concerned her, but there was no time to think of it. As he snatched the coin from her fingertips and greedily drank in her blood, she swung her arm down in a rigid motion, flinging Gelham with force he clearly didn’t expect- straight down into the bloody mud beneath him. A tiny grunt of effort as she dislodged the creature- and then, her foot lifted to -stomp- on him, the dagger abruptly rising, flashing in the air.

Gelham’s fel eyes widened as he found himself facedown in the mud, several of his teeth snapping about the silver coin. He tried to move to dart back, but her slippered foot slammed down with unexpected force on his tail. He lunged, only to jerk back like a pit bull on a leash. His shrill voice screeched in pain, indignity, and outrage; who was this woman, to do such a thing?

She had the advantage, and was quickly to press it. Her other foot drew back to kick at his head, but he threw himself the other way in the knick of time. His scrubby, rat-like tail slid in the mud, slithering free of her grip. She shrieked and flew at him, throwing herself down after the imp and stabbing for where his head was…

And in that moment, she lost her advantage. With a heavy crack, the imp vanished, only to reappear several feet away, murder in his eyes. With a well placed sling, he lobbed the now bloodless silver coin straight at her head as she floundered in the mud, trying to recapture her adversary. It struck her right in the temple, eliciting a vehement oath as her blood hand lifted to rub at the spot and she looked around furiously for her foe. Gelham’s clawed fingers bunched in a fist as her gaze found him. She lofted an eyebrow, snorting in derision- she wasn’t afraid of his ineffectual punching–

And then his fist pulled back into a flat palm, revealing an unpleasantly large fireball. His razor-like teeth flashed in a grin, and almost casually, he launched it at her.

Marlbane froze as numb -fear- clutched at her belly. Then she rolled, but it was too late; she felt the fine silk of her grey robes catch alight, felt the dark cloth of her hood evaporate– what short, savaged hair she possessed going up in flames–

The woman rolled, trying to free herself of the flame. Like faerie fire, it persisted, even as it went out. It was almost comical, if weren’t for the pain; each patch smothered by mud seemed to reappear elsewhere, as Gelham danced from foot to foot, chattering his teeth in sheer glee. Still, the fire subsided, leaving the woman hissing in pain and frustration, a dagger still clutched in her hand. Desperately, she wormed her way forward toward the imp, who made no motion to escape. His lips were tugged in a cruel, sick, gleeful sort of grin.

“I hate you!” She sobbed for breath as she bellied forward. “I hate you! Leave me alone!”

Half blinded by tears and searing, wretched pain, she stabbed at where she thought he was, already knowing she had a snowflake’s chance in hell of striking true. Her face dropped to bury itself in the muck, the knife driving into dirt and dirt only.

Gelham, however, was unamused. The mirth instantly faded from his features. She just tried to kill him.

With a crack he vanished and reappeared, perched on her back. His slender hands seized for her neck, claws digging in as he struggled to yank her head free of the mud. Her tawny skin yielded before his claws all too easily, soft and pliable. His gaze was caught by the sight of torn flesh, of welling blood. His grin widened again, as he dug his claws in and squeezed the dripping meat between them- then abruptly, his smile vanished, gaze turning impassive. There was a sizzle, and a smell of burnt flesh; the wound was cauterized. She would not bleed out.

His tiny grey figure hopped off of her back, and moved to -shove- her face out of the mud and to the side. With interest, he leaned forward, inches away from her unconscious features. Then slowly, deliberately, he smiled.

Marlbane Brightmoore would have a lasting lesson to be learned from her mistakes today.

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