“Hope was always meant to be abandoned.” The voice speaking did not seem to care.
A spiral staircase reached to the heavens. Doors marked the way. Before each a soulless monster stood knowing that it would either kill or be killed by what sat on the other side. Behind the door, dozens of voices spoke in unison. Almost a chant; methodical and expressionless.
“Give thanks to the One that created humans. Our masters and controllers. The ones that see best His vision and give us purpose we would not otherwise have.”
The meadow was a flash. A fleeting image of what used to be. A child with silver-kissed teal hair danced among the flowers that bloomed especially for her. The bugs and the birds danced about to the music of the forest that had been given voice by the child. It was the sun that made the dew sparkle. And it was the child that brought magic to life.
All about her the dew rose. Slowly at first, but quickly gaining strength. The tiny droplets held their shape as they took on the dance. Floating about the child, they created a moving shawl. Her voice rose, melodic and strong. With a flourish, she raised her arms. Her hand waved across the clear blue sky before her in an arc. The droplets followed the movement creating a rainbow in the meadow that was reflected in her bright, grey eyes.
Delight and enchantment danced within those eyes. Love for the world about her sparkled brighter than the droplets catching the sun. Behind her, a young woman looked upon her with love. It was a perfect day…
The darkened interior of a well hid her from the sun she missed. The child that danced in the meadow was gone. Replaced by a young woman in rags, who was covered by dirt and bugs. She held her torso lightly. Her grey eyes once held the hope of the young and innocent. Today, they looked down, darkened by the shadows that touched her heart. Pulled down by the same weight that burdened her young shoulders. Beneath her, her legs were folded lightly leaving her bare feet exposed to the damp and cold. She’d lost count of the days she’d been here.
Slowly she reached out with her hand. The cool touch of stone that had never seen the sun met her fingers. Her eyes slipped closed as she uttered these words in a voice lost amid sadness, “it was the perfect day. The kind where nothing was supposed to go wrong.”
Far above she heard only the echo of voices colder than the walls surrounding her.
“What’s the point of having an Elemental that isn’t being used? Why not just kill her? Waste of food, if you ask me.”
“They’re all a waste of food. Elementals and Primals.” There was the crack of a whip! “Move it, beast!”
She had cringed at the sound for it was a pain she was all too familiar with. Her hand, still touching the stone, lightly scored it now. Her eyes squeezed out a tear.
“I heard they’re keeping this one for breeding.”
Food and a clay plate clattered down the stone walls of her prison. Things hit her head, bouncing off and falling to the ground.
“Wouldn’t mind breeding a little myself with that one.”
“Have some dignity! You’re a human, not one of these things.”
“Just means I’m smart enough to pull out before my seed shoots in. You ever taken one?”
“An Elemental? You crazy? Course not! Just a sure way to get yourself executed.”
“Nah, not wastin’ my money on a beast, no matter how big its tits are. Know enough that do though. They say there’s nothin’ like the moment of a Primal Surge.”
“Pfft, that’s gotta be bullshit. Myth told at whorehouses.”
“All I know is humans should keep to humans. The way God intended.”
“But why keep this one? Not like it’s special. And there’s enough Elementals around to breed.”
“Not if war’s coming like they say.” The voice turned secretive, “heard we were able to start up testing again! Maybe the minds want this one for experiments.”
“The whole lab was incinerated! No way they rebuilt that quickly, right?”
“Place is completely levelled. Took out half the town with it. No way we ever rebuild there. But I’d be willing to bet there’s more than one lab. And plenty of scientists to replace what died in the explosion.”
“Wonder how far back it set the minds.”
“All I know is they had us double the guards on the Elementals, and had us throw this one down here. No damned explanation as to why, and I doubt we’ll ever get one.”
“Yah, guess it don’t matter. Come on, we got more rounds to make.”
Their steps moved off. Zene looked far off into matters she could do nothing about. War was coming and the humans were preparing for it. But she knew nothing of war. She knew far too little of these humans. Pain and suffering. That was what she knew of them. Her gaze fell sadly to the side. They hated her, though she did not know why. That hatred spanned to all things not human. The threats to humanity, God’s chosen creatures.
Elementals; she’d heard that term used against her often, though she didn’t know what it meant. She was just a girl. One that used to have a simple life.
Far above her, a pack of creatures roamed. They weren’t the only beast waiting up there, prepared for any attempt made by her to escape. Were all like her? Imprisoned in this way? Kept away from the sun and the warmth until they broke? Until all that was left was an empty shell, capable only of following the will of the humans?
A thread-like tendril wound about her finger. The earth called to her. Life whispered her name. Even down in this well, life would find a way. Slowly she stood. Her legs were filthy with dirt that covered the scars which may never heal. With her heart she reached past her fingers to touch the earth. It had come to her call. Her eyes faintly glowed with a silver light.
“It is only by the will of humans that we exist at all. Our greatest fulfillment, to be used by their will.” This was just one of several chants taught to her.
Her grey eyes moved up to look upon the dim circle of light high above. The light in her eyes began to take shape. The tendrils moved over her wrist.
Nevetes moved silently about the room. His bloodred tinted, black eyes were bored and annoyed. Canis Fehold, a lesser species of werewolf, moved about. They were his comrades in this dungeon. Though it wasn’t meant, at all, to be like this. He would blame the humans, but it would be a narrow-minded stand.
“A war, huh?” he spoke softly to himself.
The human’s talk had his mind racing. Werewolves, vampires, witches and demons had a long and bloody history. Wars that had put any human one to shame. He had heard that from the humans. A lesson to remind his kind that it was only by the holy grace of humans that the Primal Wars hadn’t brought an end to the world.
Though the lore lived on, the true history was long since dead along with those that had fought in the wars. Humans weren’t telling the tales anymore. Maybe that was why they once again faced another war. He looked down at the thigh-high beasts milling about. Bastard remnants of what used to be.
His breath was slow. Was he any different? Human-like appearance, pointed ears, claws, cold eyes, and a soulless expression. What remained today of his lineage was far removed from what it once was. Or at least, what he imagined his lineage to be.
He had an image in his head of dignified, cool detachment. A tall being with fangs to murder with, and a sexual magnetism to lure prey in. Things he knew he didn’t have. Because the humans would not allow it.
The creatures at his bare feet shifted. Like them, a glorified inmate was all he was. Watching over the living graves of those he despised. His soulless eyes watched. This cell was the only one here. To secure their hand, humans housed prisoners far apart. Though, typically Elementals were kept in cells high above the ground. Prison towers that spiraled up to the sky. No sunlight, limited exposure, and each one held a creature like him keeping watch at the door. A Primal that could not be destroyed by the power that Elemental held. Which begged the question of what lay at the bottom of this well.
What this particular Elemental had done to be kept down here was a mystery. This was the deepest of prisons, reserved for the most heinous of punishments. She had been quiet, not even crying out when they beat her. Though, whenever the fehold fell silent, he could hear her crying softly. She spoke to no one, other than herself. He heard the broken conversations. She spoke often of a meadow and a perfect day that always ended in her tears. She was a fool to hang onto dreams. No matter how pretty they may have been. Their reality and their future were bleak. That was simple fact. Either he would kill her, or she would kill him. Elemental versus Primal. It was a feud as old as vampires now.
His head turned slightly to the right, his eyes locked onto the spot that her hand appeared at half a human breath later. Her elbow supported her weight as she struggled to rise out of the well. That well would have given him trouble. How had an Elemental managed it? Was it this surprise that held him still?
Misty grey eyes dwarfed the pert nose and pale lips. Silver hair holding a tint of blue lay in matted strands about her shoulders. A shapeless dress hid small shoulders. The wardrobe of an Elemental was minimalistic at best. But then, his was too. As a guard, weapons and armour were not required and therefore not permitted. He suspected that this was to keep him vulnerable to the fehold that eyed up the Elemental now. Their teeth were not to be discounted simply because they were mindless beasts.
Her breath was shallow despite what it must have taken to climb out. In favour of the beasts before her, she had not seen him. Her heartbeat was strong, not rapid. She was no longer so fearful of them. Was it only that she had come to accept their presence? Or, was the fear of what the men talked about greater? There was little he understood of experimenting or breeding, and less he understood about either being done on an Elemental. But, since the humans were behind it, there was little doubt that it would be humiliating and painful. He watched as she slid her legs onto the well’s edge. She was fragile. She was outnumbered. She was prey.
The weak were always the target. The beasts reacted. Their muscles bunched in preparation for the attack. He felt his fingers flex. The goal ahead was unclear. Her heart began to race. Control was gone. The fehold launched at her.
“No!” her dulcet voice was a whisper.
Her power was strong. Vine-like roots from the ground shot up to capture the fehold. He glared, knowing the outcome was going to be dire. Even if she killed the beasts, she still had him, countless other creatures, and the humans to face. With the utterance of the single word, her chin tucked in towards her left shoulder and her right hand ineffectually protected her throat. Her left hand was held palm down just half an inch above the stone well. The light of her closed eyes touched her right cheek; proof she’d used the power. The roots held beasts in midflight. They growled, they foamed at the mouth, and they struggled. But pain was not in their features. And it was this that held his hand.
She was not killing them. She wasn’t even trying to. Slowly, her eyes rose. It was in this moment that she saw him. Her gaze pled for understanding of a world she was trapped in. Was he friend or was he foe? In this world, there were only masters and slaves. In all this time, had she not come to understand that?
Light were her footsteps off the edge of the well. So light that he barely heard them. She was a bedraggled vision in a forest of werewolves.
Their eyes were locked, and she felt the breath trapped within her lungs. Why was he just standing there looking at her? Would he not come to force her back in the well? He looked much like the creature that had first been set upon her. Sharp fangs slightly protruding from behind soft lips. Black eyes holding no life and no warmth. Claws that could be set to ripping out her throat. Just as the first had tried to do. He watched her with a predatory gaze. The pale color of his clothing did nothing to detract from the dark edge his black hair and eyes gave him.
The time had come, and the earth had answered her call. It now held the creatures in the roots of great trees. They bowed to allow her room to leave. But the path led to him. Did the earth know what she could not? This was madness and yet she moved among the trapped creatures with her gaze upon him. Was this man before her not what she thought him to be? She stood before him silent and still. Neither moved. She wanted to ask for his help because she didn’t understand. This world she was now a part of made no sense! There was anger and fear and pain. All the things she loved about life were gone. They had been taken from her.
He stood before her, looking slightly down upon her without any emotion. The gaze was unkind. A black countenance only added to the air of oppression. And yet, there was a hint of softness in his features, even if it didn’t reach those dark eyes. Perhaps it was the way the hair fell softly around those eyes to dull their edge.
A voice from behind held anger, “what the hell?!”
It was one of the men that tortured her. The one that touched her body in ways that made her feel bad inside. The trembling that came upon her was not something she could control. She moved closer to him; the one that would not speak.
The grip that was upon her wrist was fearfully strong. It didn’t crush her slender bones, but it was clear that she could not escape it. She looked at the hatred in his eyes. Or was that only the trick of the firelight that drew closer?
“Release them,” his voice was gruff and cold. Was it anger that gave it that edge?
“What?” she didn’t understand.
“The fehold. Let them go. It’s the only hope you have.”
She looked at the creatures caught in the thick roots. She now had a name for them. She closed her eyes, lowered her heart rate, and asked the earth if it would heed her plea. A gentle wave of her hand over the earth with her palm facing down gave her power focus. She wasn’t sure if the movements held any actual power, but she felt more connected with the earth when she moved with it. The roots let go of their prey. The creatures were quick to assimilate to their changing surroundings. With four feet on the ground, they looked for a target.
“What the fuck?” the guard was frightened.
“He’s scared?” she looked on in question.
“They are predators, hunting down the weak and timid. It’s not actually you they are after,” he told of their secret. When she turned her question to him, he said, “keep your heart rate down. And run when I tell you.”
“Hey, I am the human. You listen to me! You get that thing back in the well or you’ll join it.”
She was looking at him, her unknown captor at the moment. What would he do? His head was tilted down, eyes narrowed with ferocity. It was the smallest smile that brought fear to the room. The guard’s eyes went round with terror. He stepped back fearfully. The fehold hunched down, their mark chosen.
“Now,” his tone was quiet. His speed was lethal!
With her wrist in his grip, they raced through the cavern. Behind them were screams of terror as her evil guard met a horrible end. Though they could not be seen, the fehold were all about. Their scent was everywhere, even to her. The dark walls echoed their growls. She wanted to move closer but could not reach him. His silent steps were always ahead of her.
Something heavy hit her head, throwing her off balance. The hand on her wrist didn’t release. It pulled her back to her feet as they ran forward together. She heard him growl and the back of his hand found an unseen mark. A heavy body hit the wall next to her.
“What is it?” she could barely breathe.
“Anyil; a lesser vampire, essentially. No human component but some of the same heightened abilities.”
She narrowly escaped the hissing little creature that flew at her. Her arm did what it could to protect her face. It was a struggle to keep up with him. Fear began to slip in.
He stopped suddenly and they were pressed to a damp wall. She tried to catch her breath. Tried to slow her heartrate. She gripped the earth as she shut her eyes. He leaned in close.
His grip remained firm around her wrist, “you have to slow your heart.”
“It’s not only the fehold that will hear you. There are other species down here. Hunters, trackers, killers. Assuming we can get past this bunch, we’ll be facing down far worse.”
“If you’re trying to slow my heart, stop scaring me!” she pled.
He considered her as though the concept were foreign to him.
“Track them down! They do not escape.”
She knew that voice! A man of utmost evil. A man that had destroyed a perfect day.
“Shit,” the one next to her muttered under his breath.
They were running once more. But she had not eaten in days, with feet numb from the cold and eyes fooled by darkness. So, it was not surprising when she stumbled. Time slowed as her heart jumped to her throat. Before the cold ground found her, she was swept into lean arms possessing great strength.
“Keep your head down.”
He moved forward at speeds she could never hope to match. Her heart pounded! She leaned her head to his chest and breathed in a scent she had missed for so long. With great concentration she kept her hold on his neck light. Squeezing the life out of him wouldn’t really help either of them.
The fehold caught up. The anyil closed in. Fearfully she looked sidelong. They were hungry for someone’s death. Saliva slung down from fehold jaws that were held open. Teeth glistened in the flittering firelight of intermittent torches. Red reflective eyes caught that firelight. They wanted her dead. She looked up at the one holding her. They wanted him dead.
His grip didn’t falter, his legs didn’t tire, his gaze was not wavering. Dark eyes shot over her head at the beast that was closing in. His right arm slashed out. Claws clashed with bone and a fehold was sent crashing hard to the walls. More beasts came in. He dodged down allowing one of the little vampires to fly uselessly overhead. Foam covered teeth of a fehold snapped dangerously close to her ear. His shoulder rammed without hesitation into the beast. A squeal and a scuffle told of its fate.
“I thought they weren’t after me,” she cried softly into his chest.
“They’re after the chase,” his explanation sounded bored as he took out another creature with his claws. This one was slammed to the ground under the pressure of one of the arms that held her. “These are just beasts, and they’ll act like it. Prey that runs will always entice them.”
“Prey…” she trailed off, her fingers running over the collected moisture on her arm.
“I definitely prefer being the predator,” he commented without affect. Another creature went down by his hands.
“We need to give them new prey,” she thought out loud.
His response was to look down upon her with a questioning look. She folded her hands behind his neck and closed her eyes. He had the beasts, she needed to let him do his part so that she could do hers.
Another dead fehold. She felt the breeze of his hand as it moved past her face. She called upon her powers once more. Around them the moisture began to lift.
“Is this you?” it was his question. It was the first note of emotion she’d really detected in him and it had stopped him dead in their tracks.
Around them the water rose. Her hands trembled as she prayed for her power to respond. Never before had she used her power to attack another creature. It wasn’t who she was. And it hurt that it was a choice she was making.
Small, angry squeals sounded out around them. One by one, a dull thud was heard. Fehold that had been hit by the falling beasts lost their focus. The felled anyil reacted as any cornered creature would, with teeth and ferocity.
“They can’t fly,” he noted with a mix of anger, curiosity and wonder.
“Ice,” she explained. “They aren’t injured but are a distraction. Should buy us some time. Right?”
The sneer curled his lip. Was he upset with her? They turned about just in time to see a fist headed right for him. She screamed negation and slammed her eyes shut as though the fist were aimed for her. A shield of ice formed just in time to stop the fist. The ice shield was just large enough to protect his face. It was just thick enough to stop the fist, though that fist gave the ice a good pounding. It cracked all throughout, but it held long enough to do the job.
She stared at the creature on the other side of the ice shield. Same height as the one holding her and the same build. Same pointed teeth behind similar soft lips. Then the similarities seemed to stop. The lighter eyes were not flat. They sparked with interest at the situation presented to him. Brown hair atop his head was pulled into two messy buns that sat high. The face structure was more narrow and longer. But the ears held the same point.
“Nevetes,” the owner of the fist growled. “I am surprised.”
She looked to the face of the one that held her. Was that his name?
“Keep your head out of my way. I only need one hand for this.”
“So rude, as always, Nevetes. And helping an Elemental? You? Has your anger for them vanished so quickly?”
“Kihivas,” he responded with flat anger. “Stand down.”
“Or what? You’ll have to hurt me?”
They began circling each other.
“I wasn’t giving you an ultimatum.”
Sensing that the battle was about to start, she leaned closer to Nevetes’ chest. She didn’t wish to be in his way. The power emanating off the two of them stole the breath right from her lungs.
“An order then?” Kihivas scoffed. “From you?”
There was no more talk as Nevetes launched into action. The speed left her heart in her throat! The impact of the clash reverberated through Nevetes to her. But that first strike was followed quickly by a second and a third. Kihivas used both hands to his advantage. He didn’t let up or hold back. Strike after strike he came for them both. Malicious glee lit the red-hued eyes. He enjoyed this encounter. The intensity spoke to his nature. Failure was not an option, but it wasn’t fear that drove him. Kihivas enjoyed the fight.
Nevetes countered. The use of only one hand did not hinder him. He could have dropped her to free up his other arm. It would have evened the odds. Yet, he didn’t release his hold. He used his body to keep her protected from the blows that were intended for her. Nevetes didn’t show emotion. The gaze he held was uncaring, giving nothing of himself away.
Claws clashed with a sound of metal colliding. Sparks were visible as they pulled away and engaged once more. A deadly slice of Kihivas’ claws ran a hair away from Nevetes’ face leaving the former open to the strike Nevetes levelled. A solid punch, forgoing the claws. It knocked Kihivas back several feet. He used the wall that had forcibly stopped him to launch at the two of them. It gave him speed beyond what he already had. The impact would have knocked Zene right out of Nevetes’ arms. The move must have been anticipated. The movement pulling them out of harm’s way was elegant. The swipe of his left hand was fluid. No emotion registered on his face. And then, his claws found their mark.
Kihivas was thrown through the air. He spiralled multiple times. Blood flowed around him from the wound inflicted. A cry of anger echoed about the walls. The impact of his body caused a fall of several rocks from the ceiling. She felt the arm holding her pull her closer. She held onto him. And together they ran.
“The experiment isn’t to be compromised. It does not escape. Send everything we have!” the voice was one of great authority.
She looked over his shoulder to see the outline of her worst nightmare. That fear locked her breath and forced a trembling of her limbs. Nevetes was unhindered. They shot up off the floor to great heights and a dark opening she could barely have seen. A rocky outcrop gave him purchase to land and push up towards that opening.
They landed on one bent knee. Over his shoulder, Nevetes looked down upon the figures shrouded in firelight and surrounded by darkness. Orders for their capture were being screamed. But the fehold could not reach them, the anyil were uncoordinated, and Kihivas was only just getting to his feet.
“You used earth and water,” he dropped her down upon her feet. It seemed he was accusing her.
“I don’t,” she wasn’t able to articulate further. The furious voices below had her looking on with fear.
“Your power;” he grabbed her shoulder to force eye contact. “You used two elements. Each Elemental is to use only one.”
“It’s all they can use. Why are you able to use two?” his tone was sharp.
She looked down to see Kihivas racing towards them.
“I don’t know,” she needed him to understand that she simply didn’t.
His eyes narrowed in anger. But she didn’t understand. She really didn’t! Just as Kihivas appeared in the opening there was a wash of anger accompanied by a sudden surge of wind. The darkness around them kept the truth hidden from her eyes. Kihivas was sent flying back. A scream echoed his anger and frustration.
There was a physical struggle within him as Nevetes stared at the point Kihivas vanished. He exhaled slowly.
“Let’s go,” Nevetes spoke softly to her. His anger not quite at bay.
She could only look into his unwavering gaze in wonder. Once again, she was lifted into his strong arms. Her bare feet dangled lightly.
They moved into the darkness of the cave. More would come. Given the slightest permission, Kihivas would follow them again. She looked ahead as Nevetes walked them deeper into the darkness. Behind them, the ground trembled. As she let her head fall to Nevetes’ chest, the road behind them became blocked.
He stared down at the world below. Far, far below. For what felt like the pits of Hell, it was surprising to find out that they were actually deep inside a tall mountain.
“It was the perfect day,” her voice was soft and distant.
He looked over his shoulder at her. It was the morning sunlight that caught the silver in her hair. Out here, the blue shone brighter even to his eyes. Those grey eyes were both sad and filled with longing. She moved up next to him. Unlike him, she did not waste time looking down. That haunting gaze looked out at the horizon. It took in the picture of the world as it stood now before her. He wondered what it was that she saw.
Looking out now, he knew what he saw. A vast wasteland of danger. Those they left behind them would come for them again. As would many others. Others that were far more dangerous than anything in that dungeon. And at the moment, the two of them had no sanctuary they could seek.
“We’ll be running blind,” he let her know. “With dogs nipping at our heals the entire way.”
“I’m not sure what that means.” She tried to put on a brave smile, “Not really, but I knew this wasn’t over. What will..?”
“Get back!” he shoved her behind him, arm stretched out to protect her. She was only an Elemental, but whether she knew it or not, she had answers that he wanted.
The deafening shriek of a szarnyteg brought his hands to his ears. The pain this bastard creature brought with its voice would cause ears to bleed! Literally, for that was what it had been designed to do. Unlike him, this beast had no issues with daylight. And so long as they were here, it would be too. Death was the only thing that would end its hunt.
He too had known that this wouldn’t be the end of their troubles. But would it have been too much to ask for a few minutes reprieve? Baring his fangs did nothing to deter the beast, though it made him feel a little better.
She had her hands over her ears. The words to question what the beast was moved her lips, though he couldn’t hear a word of it. They just weren’t going to get a break. At the risk of his eardrums, he removed his hands. The beast was past them and would need to swing back around. He had a few short moments.
A sentry’s uniform held vey little to it. Brownish grey in color with a jacket held together by a cloth belt. The mark of the humans on his arm also acted as an identifier to station as much as it did to declare him nothing more than property. The pants were straight cut and loose, with no boots permitted. He’d always hated it. But the jacket could hold some use. The cloth belt went around his head. The jacket fell open exposing his chest to the air. The damp and cold didn’t mean a thing to him.
“What are you doing?” her voice reached his ears.
“Taking out the next obstacle,” he remarked flatly. “Keep your hands over your ears.”
Blinded by more than the material over his eyes, Nevetes stepped to the cave’s edge. A szarnyteg had eyesight that was little better than humans. To protect against its own voice, it lacked any ears at all. Flight and a deadly voice were the only two real assets it had, other than its talons. The beast was coming back in from above. The sound of wingbeats gave it away. As the first breath of a wingbeat touched his face, Nevetes launched outward.
Claws against talon, fang against serrated jaws, they clashed! The impact sent him spiralling to the side. He lacked wings, but the beast lacked intelligence. Quickly it came for him, giving him purchase. His foot touched an outstretched talon. Behind the blindfold, his gaze was uncaring. He aimed for the throat. He got a fistful of feathers and air. A fisted talon caught him on the right side. To correct the sudden change in momentum, his claws went in deep. This time he got flesh and bone as he used the meaty shoulder to stop his imminent fall to the earth far below. The screech of the beast forced him to use his hands to cover his ears. He bounced along the creature’s back, getting hit by a wing and then slapped hard in the face with a tail. It was his left hand that grabbed a hold of the tail.
Air in the lungs of the creature helped keep it light. Bone and muscle were heavy, after all. And so, the screech had a time limit. Now, behind the blindfold, his gaze reflected the malicious grin exposing more of his fangs. The tail became an effective rope. As the beast swung around, hoping to bite off the creature on his tail, Nevetes used the momentum of the flight and the tail in tandem to slingshot himself upwards. There was a warning screech. The stench of rotted meat emanated from its mouth. Without hesitation, Nevetes slammed his fist down onto the beast’s head, right between the eyes! His right foot used the body to launch once again into the air.
It was done! The beast’s heartrate had stopped. Nevetes had severed the head from the spine. The impact was so great that communication between its brain and its body was instantly lost. He sailed through the air, the ties of the blindfold and his open jacket fluttering quietly. The beast plummeted. He landed back on the cave’s edge on bent knee, right arm out for balance, and left claws digging into stone. His head was very slightly turned down. A szarnyteg was simply a beast, not an enemy. It had only been doing what it had been programmed to do. Respect was to be given.
“Nevetes,” her voice was soft.
He looked over at her, though he couldn’t see her through the blindfold. “Szarnyteg. They are very territorial. We won’t see another anytime soon. And we’ll have time before others are sent.”
“Why did you cover your eyes?”
He turned his head out towards the sunrise, “we keep moving.”
She called out for him, but he wasn’t interested in explaining. Putting distance between them and the humans was the only thing that mattered.
The useless beast was pounding ineffectually at the blockade. There was little doubt that their Elemental had caused that. It would buy the two of them a little time.
“It won’t be enough,” it was said with a snarl.
“General Vania, sir?”
He ignored the question and the one asking it. The tails of his jacket flapped heavily against the back of his thighs as he moved further into the caverns. Damp collected on his uniform causing the metals adorning his chest to sparkle as the torchlight caught them. Around them a forest of tree roots had sprung up. The miserable beasts once held in them were removed. Their fate was to be determined. He looked upon what little remained of the corpse they were responsible for. A lowly guard, but a human. “It will be added to their list of crimes.”
He looked down into the well. The light of his torch brought clarity. A weaving of the roots had been used as a staircase to ascend the well. “Use of power without authorization.”
The scribe was jotting the charges down.
They moved from the well, following the line the two fugitives had taken. Dead bodies of the Primals littered the floor. He waved his torch next to a collection of anyil that had fallen. It was the struggling movement of one that had captured his interest. Ice had created a stupor for the beast to be in.
“Could she have known this was a weakness of the anyil?” he mused to himself. To the scribe, “a second charge of unauthorized use of power.”
“Second?” the surprise was easy to hear.
He would not comment. They looked up to see the beast, Kihivas was its name, pounding still at the wall of rock. “Call it down.”
The scribe placed a whistle to his lips. Vampires were notoriously good of hearing. The dog whistle was a slap to the face of one such creature, as well as an assault to their ears. The beast, with one hand holding to rock, turned its head. Even from here, the anger was easy to read. But the call was not to be ignored. The pause was very short lived before it jumped back to the earth they stood upon.
The slap he delivered to the beast was enough to send grown men back on their heels. The creature barely turned its head. To be expected. And there was no lashing out of anger from it. Also, expected. It merely took its punishment because that was what it had been trained to do.
“You will be used to hunt them down. A chance to make up for your failure.”
It merely stood there. It would accept this too, as it did all its commands and its fate.
“But first, you must pay the price for your mistakes.”
It moved off with head level and eyes hard. There would be no crying or protesting, nor any begging. Failure from a Primal must always be punished. It was a fundamental rule among all governing humans to keep the beasts in line.
It disappeared through a door. “Until today, they were the same beast. What is it we overlooked in Nevetes?”
A growl came from her stomach. A blush colored her cheeks as she held her stomach and sheepishly spoke, “I’m hungry.”
They had descended the mountain and were now upon the ground amid the woods. He gave her predicament consideration. It had been about a week since he’d last eaten. Considering their circumstances, it probably would be a good idea to eat something. His dark gaze cast into the woods. No point in letting it go to waste.
She called out in question. He ignored. This wouldn’t take long. The beast had fallen somewhere in this general area. Shouldn’t be too hard to find. The stench of the beast was unmistakable. All he needed to do was distinguish it from the other scents he was unfamiliar with.
There was a musk that sat heavy in the air. Different from the szarnyteg but mingled with that scent. They were close together. Something strangely familiar picked at his brain. Almost as though he’d smelt this before. Since the only scents he recalled at the moment were humans, fehold, anyil, and her, it didn’t seem likely that he’d come across these in his lifetime.
Creatures milled about the corpse of the szarnyteg. They snapped and snarled in a primitive manner to establish dominance and the right to eat the best portions. They were like and unlike the canis fehold. Must be why they were somewhat familiar to his nose. Four legs, fur, and teeth. And then the similarities stopped. These were shorter and less evolved indicating that their prey was weak. Unafraid, he strode into their wake. The moment he was noticed, the beasts turned on him. They had no intention of relinquishing their find. But it was his kill. His head tilted down only marginally, his sightless gaze focused on the beasts, his lip curled as he gave a growl of his own. The power behind that muted growl was heard. Those weaker fell back, looking to their dominant pack members to take the lead. And though they outnumbered him, they did not stand a chance. Intelligent enough to recognize this truth, the largest shifted. It was the moment he won. The smallest ran back to the safety of the woods. He took his right and claimed the felled beast.
But all of it was more than he needed. Brute force freed the hind leg from the body. It was bigger than he and it rested heavily upon his shoulder. He waded out of the beasts. They could claim what remained. It didn’t matter to him.
She was where he’d left her, gathering wood for a fire. It was the heavy weight of the leg hitting the ground that alerted her to his presence. She jumped fearfully, and then gave a relieved sigh. It was a foolish reaction for they weren’t comrades or equals. Even with her strange powers, he was confident that he could kill her if and when needed.
“No fire, it’ll be spotted,” he gave fair warning.
She demurred, “but…”
“No,” there was no give here. “There’s food.”
Disgust was heavy in her tone, “is that?”
“I can’t eat that!”
“Why?” it was decent food. Or so he assumed.
“It’s raw, to begin with.”
He sliced an open hand across the fleshy thigh. A hunk of meat came off. This he tossed at her, “you said you were hungry.”
She stepped lightly to the side causing the meat to fall to the ground. His stance was an angry question.
“I can’t eat raw meat. I’m human,” she pointed out.
He disagreed with flat anger, “you’re an Elemental.”
Her eyes rolled, “raw meat will kill me.”
“That’s all it’ll take to kill an Elemental? Would have been good to know before.”
Her hand slapped her face, “raw meat will make me sick. I need a fire. I’m cold.”
“Eating something will help with the cold,” he took his own hunk of meat off the leg and took a bite. She grimaced.
“I’m going to find my own food,” she remarked. Seemed she was annoyed with the conversation. Fine with him. If she didn’t want to take of the food he’d found, then she could wander about the woods all day by herself. He claimed a seat on the ground.
Would raw meat really be enough to kill an Elemental? He’d seen the humans cooking their meat all the time. What they’d fed to the Elemental was barely edible; scraps of what they hadn’t touched. But, was that all it would take? Forcing food down a throat was no hard task. Hold the neck, cover the mouth and nose until they swallowed. But, would it be a slow, inefficient death? Or quick, like ramming silver through the spine of a werewolf?
His ears tracked her movements. She was muttering…no, she was praying! Was it to this God the humans followed? Or was there perhaps an Elemental god? Would it mean there was one for every species? If there were, he imagined them all to be fighting petty battles that others would always pay the price for.
He swallowed another hunk of bloodied meat. It was the blood that he liked best. His vampiric nature, he assumed. The meat was of little consequence. In fact, it always took so long to move through his body that he wondered if he truly needed it at all. Was it only the humans that forced their narrow assumptions on his kind? Or was it a form of torture they were notorious for? With narrowed eyes hidden behind a blindfold, he considered this possibility. With the strength of his hand, he squeezed the hunk of meat. Blood was slow to flow from the wounded flesh. His tongue caught what fell. Warm still, though cooling quickly. It felt refreshing and seemed to sate his hunger. No, not hunger. Thirst.
He grinned, “humans are inefficient.”
She gasped. Inefficient as any human.
It was easy to find her. Her heartrate was increasing. Something had frightened her. The smell of the beasts from earlier caught his nose. Was it only these that scared her? When he appeared, there was a skip in her heartbeat. Was she ill? Had the meat affected her without touching it?
“What are they?” fear had her voice.
“Like in the prison?”
“No, just a regular beast it seems.”
“So, they’re not here for me?”
Zene alone would not have been enough to deter the beasts. Predator to predator, he made his claim. “This is my prey.”
Her offense to the statement mattered not to him. Speed was his advantage. A zig-zag maneuver brought him in close. A beast was sent flying into the trees. Its squeal was as much pain as it was surprise. The other beasts waivered. But the battle was on and since they’d threatened his find, he would not back down. He crushed one beast’s head into the ground as his left hand slapped another away.
“Stop!” her scream cut through the melee.
Over his shoulder he cast her a sightless gaze. The beast’s head under his hand squirmed. She ran over to him. The beast remained pinned. He could hear her tears falling as she knelt next to him.
“Please, if they’re just animals, let them be.”
“Why?” it was irritating that she was interrupting. He was meant for this very purpose. Why interfere?
“Because…they’re not attacking now, they’re defending.”
“They were going to kill you,” he pointed out mildly.
“I stumbled upon them. They may only be looking for food,” she clarified stupidly. “To feed their family.”
“Dead is dead,” his fingers curled tighter to the beast’s head.
She held his arm, “we can’t kill them. It’s my fault we’re here, not theirs.”
“Your responsibility?” he questioned her.
She whispered, “yes.”
He let the creature up. Immediately it ran off to rejoin the others of its pack that had run off while he and Zene talked. Musing over the turn he spoke softly, “interesting.”
The day was growing longer and even with the canopy above, the sun was brighter than he could stand. He sat down amid sparse grass. Her heartrate was slowing down.
“Thank you,” she seemed grateful.
His breath was derisive and dismissive. If she wanted to let those beasts live, that was her problem. “They don’t pose a threat to me.”
“Are we safe here?” she claimed a spot.
“No,” he remarked.
She looked about and her heartrate increased.
“There’s no one there yet. Rest.”
“I’m not sure how…You’re hurt!” she’d finally noticed.
His deadly blow to the szarnyteg’s head had caused a fracture and a deep laceration on his hand. But it was hardly worth noting. Worse had been sustained by the humans over the years.
Sight was not important for understanding. She was closing in on him. Reaching out to touch him. Without thought he slapped away her hand. The slap echoed through the woods. He heard her barely audible intake of breath.
If it were about threat his counter would have been fierce. No point in expending more effort than what was required. “Get rest. We’ll be leaving before long.”
Was she hesitating? For she said nothing. A bent leg offered purchase for his elbow as he reclaimed a seat. The other was folded loosely before him. Straight back, relaxed shoulders, and ears tuned to the sounds around them.
She backed down gently when she claimed a seat, “why do you cover your eyes?”
He sighed, “my species weakness, or one of them. Even in dungeon caverns without light I can see. Daylight tends to be overwhelming. Now will you rest?”
“You can see in the dark? What do I look like to your eyes?”
He shrugged, “mostly grey.”
“You don’t see color?” she seemed weirdly sad by that.
“Muted, like you should be right now.”
She fell silent, leading him to believe that peace had finally come.
“Who are they? The humans. What do they want?”
He dropped his head, “we’ll be leaving soon.”
Though soft, there was strength in her voice. “Please tell me. What is…what is an Elemental?”
“I know,” she sighed sadly, “it’s what you and they called me. But, what is an Elemental?”
“Huh,” he mused. “I don’t actually know.”
Odd that he didn’t, and that it had never occurred to him to question this.
He did his best to explain, “you’re a tool to control what the humans call Primals. Beasts the humans fear because we have greater power than they.”
“You’re a Primal?” she was trying to piece it together.
“Of a certain kind, yah.”
“What kind?” she scooted closer.
“Vampire,” he shrugged. “That’s what the humans call me.”
“What is a vampire?”
Again, he shrugged, “blood sucker.”
“Do you know…”
“A tool,” he cut her off with sharp anger.
“I don’t understand,” she sounded wounded. “A tool?”
He turned back to indifference, “if what the humans tell is true, long ago Primals were in an all-out war for dominance. It was called the Primal Wars. Humans brought the wars to an end using your kind to put a leash on my kind.”
He shrugged, “the humans aren’t exactly generous with the details. And I don’t care. What used to be isn’t what is now. Back at the cell, those humans spoke of a new war. They have plans for our kinds. That is what I care about.”
“But, weren’t you watching my cell? Don’t you work for them?”
“I’m as much a tool as you are.” A ghost of a laugh escaped his lips, “my kind are disposable soldiers. Nothing more.”
“And mine?” she seemed afraid to ask. With good reason.
“The prod which will force Primals to the front lines and our deaths.”
“I just don’t understand,” her voice was soft.
“Neither do I,” he admitted easily. “If the humans aren’t preparing to fight the Primals, who are they preparing to fight?”
“How do I…keep you in line?” she hesitated to ask.
The smart answer was silence. “Elementals have one power, and Primals have one weakness; more or less. Find the right Elemental and you’ll subdue the Primal. Place a Primal that holds no weakness to the Elemental at the threshold of their cell door, and the Elemental becomes the weakened one. It’s nothing more than manipulation by the humans. Use the tools against each other.”
“Is that why you helped me? Because you see the trick?”
“It’s a proven tactic, not a trick.” He considered her coldly, “an Elemental is a leash for the monster that I am. A tool to keep the humans safe from having me go rogue. They placed an Elemental in my presence. Strange, for you have your own cells. And they doubled the guard at your door, which is even more strange. Those cells are reserved for fallen Primals. That makes you an anomaly to the humans and to me.”
“But, I still don’t understand what the…nomaly is. What am I? What did I do? How can I hurt someone like you?”
He sighed and didn’t waste time correcting her, “each Elemental has one power; fire, earth, air, or water. My kind fears the holy fires only your kind can summon. Werewolves, the purified silver from the depths of the earth. After being strung up and slaughtered by your power, it’s understandable. Demons were drowned in your Holy Waters. Witches were held to your earth trials. Who knows what else you’ve done.”
“I didn’t do any of that!”
“What you’re saying, it wasn’t me! I didn’t kill anyone!”
“Your kind did because the humans control you. You’re different, not because you may not have killed but because unlike your brethren, you can control at least two elements. That is why I stepped in. I want to know what they’re hiding from us, and what they’re preparing for.”
“Get some rest. We will leave shortly.”
There was more she wanted to say. But at least for the moment she fell quiet. Somewhat; “thank you, Nevetes.” She curled up on the ground beside him. Behind the blindfold he glared. He was no protector. A beast for killing. A fearful tool. The enemy of all around him. Hated. Despised. Discarded. Had she not heard a word he’d just said? His breath was slow and shallow.