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Archive for May, 2011

Idle hands

Marlbane Brightmoore quickly shut the heavy wooden door, jaw clenched tightly at the screech of faintly rusted hinges. Her cheek burned where his hand had touched it, and her hand felt strange beneath the strip of crimson cloth that bound the wound on her palm. Her heart began to race inside her chest as she imagined the sound of his footsteps trailing away. Fear lanced through her, and for a moment, her fingers rested on the cold metal of the handle. It wasn’t too late- if she just stayed close, they’d leave her alone- they didn’t dare, not while she was here, of all places–

Her jaw clenched down tightly as her mind’s eye caught a vision of her fleeing, trailing after Nessun like a shadow at his heel, simpering and begging the favor of his company- of the protection it offered. Revulsion roiled in her hollow belly, and her lips twisted in a silent snarl. Maybe a year ago, she might have sunk so low; but not any longer. You are no pawn, his words mocked her, the memory of his kindness like a bitter fog. She shook herself free of it, and moved away from the door, resigned to her fate. She could not deny who she was and what she’d bound, however foolishly; at least, not when she was alone.

She quickly crossed the large room, passing into the threshold of her own smaller chamber. Twisting motes of dust stirred at the touch of her skirt against stone, and she moved to set herself on the edge of the bed, fingertips digging into the moldy blanket tensely as she tried to make herself nonchalant. Her heart skittered beneath her breast; it wasn’t long, before she felt him.

The imp’s presence was like oil spreading quickly over water. The bile taste of fel magic rose in the back of her throat, and her lips uttered the words with scarcely a thought, eyes half closed as her will ebbed from her like the tide rolling off the shoreline. Gelham’s wide leer mocked her, as he scampered through the room, clouds of dust rising at his heels. In the back of her mind, Jhorthea and Klathmon briefly struggled; the succubus was dying to interrogate her memories, but Klathmon had been biding his time, and pushed her aside.

What are you doing, girl. His words were cool, untouched by fervor or passion; not so much as irritated. Gelham looked over from his newly claimed place on top of the bookshelf, and exhaled a cackling laugh, pulling out one of the many old and opulent tomes therein. The agonizing sound of pages tearing caused Marlbane’s eye to twitch and her jaw to tighten. Still, she ignored him. Trying to stop the wanton destruction of priceless artifacts would only make the punishments worse.

“He needs me, here. I am- I am useful. I can help-”

You aren’t this stupid. He doesn’t care one whit for you. You are a tool, and a useful one- so far. If you think there’s anything more to it, if you think he’s your friend or your ally- you are wrong. You don’t have any friends, and the instant he tires of you, he will cast you aside like his other- there’s a dry pause- worthless cunts.

In an instant, she felt her shame as sharply as a blade in her belly. It twisted and burned, and her bandaged hand rose to her cheek. Her features remained expressionless, but her dusty skin crawled. In that moment, she could scarcely stand to be there, in her own skin. Humiliated, her cheeks burned. How had he known so easily…?

You’re being played, fool. His kindness is as much a lie as your priesthood. If you stay here, he will continue to use you, and you will be useful- until you are not. And when he finds out what you are and how little control you bear, do you really think he’ll suffer your presence any longer? The only kindness you might expect from him then is to be allowed your life; if you’re truly lucky, you might retain your freedom. But he will not save you.

No one can.

She felt the ragged edges of her nails biting into her palm, though her expression didn’t change. Her eyes closed as Klathmon stripped her bare of the many lies she told herself, of the secret dreams she dreamed.

Gelham, having tired of destroying books, had moved on to scorching the hem of her ragged silk dress, bored with the conversation which he was party to. She scarcely noticed the smell of burning silk, didn’t feel the heat of it blistering her ankles. Her jaw felt tight as a vice.

You do not amuse me. Your stubborn silence does not betray you; I am not stupid. I think that perhaps you have forgotten where your loyalties ought lie. I think you’ve forgotten that it is not some handsome knight in golden armor that saved you. It is I who have kept them quiet, who have kept you intact when you would have faltered. You owe me your life, and in turn, you would betray me.

She drew in a sharp breath, and, numbly, let her bandaged palm drift to shoo Gelham away. Her skirts had risen to midcalf. They would be unusable, now.

If you would be free of demons, girl, then I will leave you to it. Don’t expect my intervention, though.

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Spring had finally drifted down the barren mountaintops, leaving the world warmer, gilded by sunlight; tall, golden grasses bent and swayed in the mild breeze that rifled over the fields as clouds drifted lethargically above. The cruelty of winter rains and ice seemed only a memory, as the skeletal young woman stared out around her in incredulity…

Marlbane Brightmoore shook herself free of the stillness that seemed to have crept over her determination, and lifted her stubborn chin. She bore a willow-staff, light and long, as she moved to trudge on, a rucksack on her back and her cowl pulled down to let the breeze brush past her unattractively prominent cheekbones. Winter had marked her, eaten away what small fat stores her body mass had previously sustained; her hair, short and savaged as it was, was straw-like and thinning. Her ribs jutted outward unpleasantly, and her chest had grown miserably depleted. Still. Still.

She couldn’t help the small smile that played over her lips as she cautiously looped a gaunt fingertip to tug down her dark hood, breathing in deeply of the rich, dark earth smell that rose from the sun-warmed plains. Despite everything, she felt hope’s tremulous finger tugging at her heartstrings; an indelible feeling that it truly was going to be okay. Her throat tightened, and she lowered her gaze, studying the grasses a moment.

There was a faint scurrying sound behind, a slithering in the grass- then the squeal of a dying rat and an unpleasant crunch as it cut off into silence. Gelham darted forward, his prize gripped firmly in his clawed fingertips as he deliberately crushed it, relishing the awful grinding sound it elicited. The woman’s lips thinned, and she began to stride forward, making her way through the tall grasses without comment on her demon’s behavior.

Gelham, however, had other ideas. There was an abrupt -crack- and the sudden reek of sulfur; then another, and suddenly his clammy, clawed feet were scrambling up the back of her robes, the sulfurous, dead-animal stink of burnt skin filling her nostrils. Quick as an arrow from a crossbow, he jerked the neck-hole of her dress back, briefly choking her, and deposited the crushed rat to slither moistly down her spine before vanishing as rapidly as he’d appeared.

The woman stumbled to a jerky halt as he clambered over her, dropping her staff in her haste to snatch at the small and spiteful demon, but it was over in an instant. Even as the corpse’s bristling, blood-moistened fur dragged down her knobbly spine, her hazel eyes narrowed to thin slits and her heart shuddered in her chest. She felt it building- tried desperately to hold it back. Must not scream I’ll be heard they’ll find me and hurt me but the dead thing at the small of her spine seemed to have other intentions in mind; the tiny body jerked as some part of its spine twisted, some last bit of nervous system shuddering into death’s unrelenting clutches…

Her scream was a howl of horror and misery, echoing across the grassy highlands and silencing the reedy harping of crickets, the shrill piping of birds. It was followed by sobs punctuated with more screams as she clawed at the dress, frantic to rid herself of the dead thing. Gelham watched from several feet away, his cracked lips draw wide in a leering grin; the fel flame of his gaze seemed to intensify. His twitching clawtips rolled the rat’s detached tail between them as he stared intently at the shrieking, flailing woman. In the space of an instant, he vanished from view with a sharp -crack-.

The silk of the dress shredded beneath her frantic tearing fingertips;  she exhaled a deep breath of relief as the rat corpse toppled to the grass, then hastily clutched the ripped dress to cover herself once more, skittering back a few steps to stare warily at the dead rat. Her jaw clenched, and her head jerked as she looked up sharply. No sign of anyone- not yet anyway.

The dress was ruined, until she might find a moment to mend it. It isn’t as if it covers anything to be desired, she considered bitterly; she had long been accustomed to being the object of men’s lustful glances, of women’s envy. To have turned so suddenly to a walking horror was difficult, but at least she was still alive. At least she had no looking glass with which to witness her decline; the words etched into her skin were bad enough. She had no real desire to see her own wasted form any longer.

She crouched in the grass, sliding her rucksack from her bared shoulders to pull a threadbare shirt free of her scant collection of remaining silks and velvets. Too-thin arms shouldered it over herself, tugging loose sleeves straight and stuffing the hem of the ill-fitting garment into her belt. The dress was allowed to fall to just a skirt.

Hazarding one more wary glance about, she rose from her crouch to move along her way, and quickly. Were there any bandits near, surely her screaming would have been noted. She had no desire to kill, today.

After a moment’s pause, she doubled back and snatched the dead rat from the ground, lips thin. Fruit was not so bountiful that she ought to waste meat.

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