Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: Introduction

* * *

Enter primary password: ********* ** *****

First stage of identification, complete.

Enter secondary password: ********* ** **********

Secondary stage of identification, complete.

Welcome, visitor. As First Scientist, we, the Shaper, will guide you through the Reptilian Collective's files on our allies, assets and opponents. Collaboration, optimisation and neutralisation are all important facets of the war against irrationality, for none could be attempted, if the others failed.

An ally/asset/threat classification has been uploaded to your mindframe. Do you wish to peruse it now?

...Very well.

The Collective classifies entities, objects and locations of interest using a scale focusing on, but not limited to, how large an area of the macrocosm they can affect. Other traits, such as aptitude, resilience and the nature and duration of said effect, factor into classification, but broadly, it can be used as follows:

-"local" entities are not necessarily native to any location, nor do they dwell there. This classification is used to express the fact they represent potential threats to baseline humans, up to large groups of them. In some cases, they represent a danger to human dwellings or settlements, and are able to fight an unmodified reptilian without equipment.

-"regional" entities can affect large parts of a notable Terran landmass; a mountain range, for example, up to a continent.

-"global" entities can affect, at a minimum, the entire surface of Terra. In more powerful cases, they can affect its moon, or the entire planet.

-"planetary" entities are able to affect celestial bodies larger than Terra, up to and including brown dwarfs.

-"stellar", "galactic" and "universal" entities are, as the names suggest, capable of affecting varyingly large areas of the cosmos.

-"macrocosmic" entities range from beings capable of affecting two or more realities, to those whose very existence warps all of creation.

This classification system is a new development, and, in many ways, a prototype. Your perusal of the archives might help us improve it.

Now, what do you wish to analyse first?

* * *

This is the start of a series of sidestories that will deal with how certain paranormal beings (both species and specific persons), objects and locations from the Strigoi Soul setting are viewed by the Reptilian Collective.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: On science and aberrancy

* * *
'Insane? You have trekked through the stars to me, fought wars and passed through the gate, to call me mad? Ha! You truly are ignoramus, I mean.

I am crazy? The Zhayvin Collective inhabits the dream of a blind idiot god, yet believes creation has laws. But I am insane?'

-unknown. Attributed to Solarex.

* * *

Mocker raised a finger as the datastream between the Collective and the visitor stopped.

'You disapprove of this.'

Mocker half-closed its eyes at the Shaper's unprompted, but correct statement. 'Letting whoever leaf through our records when every human agency worth its name turns us away in the name of operational security? Yes, but you already know that. The way people shouted me down during the debate was somewhat hard to miss.'

'They disapproved of your paranoia as much as you approve of the overworlders'.'

Mocker's grin was amused, but tight. 'Never said otherwise. The reasons differ, though, but I suppose not all of us can hold on to the guilt for atrocities eons past.'

The Unscarred - they had started calling it the Unscarred Prime, in light of the replicas - crossed its arms, pink eyes turning orange. 'We have nothing to lose. Sharing information will improve Earth's wellbeing, and if the overworlders wish to be secretive, let them. We learn enough in the field, and from looted scraps.'

'That's the-' Mocker stopped itself with a sigh. 'Fine. Fine!' No wonder the humans didn't value knowledge more. They probably looked at the Collective picking the hardest way to obtain it while giving theirs away, and decided curiosity wasn't worth the added scholarly masochism. 'Have it your way.' This was directed at the seventy-three percent of the Collective who had voted for allowing visitation of their archives. 'But,' Mocker scratched between its scales with a monomolecular claw, 'didn't you see who they sent? Obviously new.'

At least there wasn't some series of half-baked infiltration attempts going on. Mocker had once heard about a fairly hilarious event concerning a terrorist cell formed of ninety percent undercover counterterrorists, with none of the moles aware of the others. This reminded it of a guinea pig rather than a mole: a rookie, sent to test the waters, allegedly unbiased to neither a country nor the reptilians.

Mocker saw ARC's hand at work here, but that mattered little, in the end.

The Unscarred's eyes became pink once more, its expression turning flat. 'We are perfectly capable of simplifying-'

'Yes, yes.' Mocker waved its hands. 'But you could put up an index while you're at that. Maybe some of those colourful signs to mark records that have been studied, I've heard they like them bright up there.'

'The archives are a work in progress. An "index" would be a sham.'

Mocker rolled its eyes, but it could not deny it was enthused, or pretend it didn't share the Shaper's confidence, if to a smaller degree. Their work in the Realm of Forms that formed the metainformational core of the macrocosm meant that, perhaps, everything could actually be know, and any new events could instantly be studied and added to the reptilian's database. But the First Scientist's perfectionism prevented it from merely starting something. Still...

'You could just make a hologram and update it as needed. And,' Mocker shrugged, 'why not add some definitions to the bottom, as well?'

'If you're so opposed to the idea, why do you want to make our data easier to process?'

'So the guests go home faster!'

* * *

Hello. To your right, you have noticed a hardlight construct appear. That dot next to the entrance represents you, and, as labeled, here are...hmm? Why not simply upload the information into your mind? You believe we can do that, despite...?

...Ha. Fair enough. Fair enough, and closer to the truth than farther. Yes. Such a procedure, however, would defeat the purpose of this tour, but would not be truly successful. As has been pointed out to us, with more insistence than politeness, our knowledge changes with the macrocosm, and such updated would have to uploaded into your mind, as well. With the scale and rate of our research, that would require and all but permanent link. Unless you wish to turn back?

We thought not.

Before you continue, we must establish something. If you look to the right, you will see your guide hologram being updated as we speak. We must draw the line between the fruits of science, and what we Zhayvin classify as aberrancy.

Are there laws in the macrocosm? We believe there are. Some argue it is only governed by the perception of its inhabitants, but in that case, it must be orderly, as so many believe it to be. Is there an universally-agreed upon set of laws, then? Of course not. But more similar ones than you believe. For example, most cultures and beings with knowledge of FTL travel agree that is it impossible to achieve something to lightspeed without infinite energy, and that doing so with finite energy breaks physics.

This is just an example of aberrancy. Aberrants are those who deviate from this model of existence, through various means. Humans distinguish between "supernaturals" - beings resembling figures from their folklore - and "paranormals" -beings who defy nature, but do not feature in human tales or myths. The Collective finds this distinction arbitrary and useless. All aberrants are aberrants, no matter what the proponents of anthropocentrism argue. Moving one's boy without propulsion, generating mass from nowhere...these are but some of the most common forms of aberrancy there is. Aberrants are as varied as they are intiguing.

What, then, of science? Is the study of aetherkinesis not scientific? After all, it employs the scientific method. Aetherplasm - "mana" - and those who use it know it reacts to thoughts, and what it takes to have this ability.

That may be so. But the Collective defines aberancy by what could be found in nature on our lost homeworld of Zhay, and there, there was no aberrancy.

But, you will say, our technology seems to break physics as understood by mankind. Does that not make it aberrant? Perhaps it does. Perhaps the abilities we see as unnatural are misunderstood science. Our quest for knowledge is never-ending.

The Collective is aware technology that is unexplained or misunderstood can appear magical, and vice versa. Earthlings and aliens have claimed we use everything from hypertech - something that seems to rely on scientific principles and mechanism to function, yet to advanced to properly analyse, much less understand - to "technosorcery". We have even encountered devices that appear to us the way ours do to humans.

So, what conclusion is there to draw? If reality is shaped by perception, is there truly anything abnormal?

We shall see.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: And God's Mouth Sayeth...

* * *
AN: This will be another series of short sidestories, focused on God's Mouth's opinion on various aspects of creation. The format, which will be mostly adhered to following the next chapter, was inspired partly by Zahariel's Chaos Flavour Quotes, partly by Magnus the Red's monologues in his Roboutian Heresy (a scene from this chapter is a homage to one from the RH, from the aforementioned monologues).

* * *

Constantin - Uriel - raised-lowered his-their eyes as his brother, the Archangel Gabriel, touched down without a sound, the tips of his silvery blue wings brushing the ground without stirring up any dust.

'Father Silva', he greeted. 'Brother.' Gabriel tilted his head slightly, brushing a lock of raven hair out of his steel-blue eyes. 'You are growing closer.'

They were. So much closer, in fact, that their spirits had started bleeding into each other, so that, even if he knew he was not the Archangel, Constantin had no problem speaking for both of them, nor did Uriel.

And, with ichor burning behind his eyes, he could see past the guises Gabriel wore so humans needed not fear, and into his core. One moment, the other Cardinal Archangel looked like he was wearing black plate armour, the trim the colour of his wings. He looked like a mailman, hair just peeking out from under his cap. Like a town crier, a newspaper seller, a...

Constantin had once watched an explanatory video about quantum superposition. He mused that the Archangel looked like every type of messenger possible, until observed by someone with expectations. But behind that, like a fire casting shadows, was the true self of the Archangel, through which flowed the power of information in its deepest form, granting him control over the senses in the most fundamental manner, those of creation included.

God's Mouth clasped his hands, slightly bowing his head. 'Thank you for coming, brother.' He did not mention that this was another self of Gabriel's, and that the original was conveying the Lord's words across existence. The Archangel could replicate himself endlessly, like all his brethren, for they were ever needed. 'We know that you speak for God, yet, we would trouble you, if you would bear our words for once, to whoever may listen. We believe they might prove some use, these kernels of lore, in the right hands.'

'Even if they are not, this should prove an interesting break from bearing father's messages,' Gabriel replied, before smiling ironically. 'But, no offence, Uriel...I somewhat doubt you have anything to share that I do not already know. I am the bringer of knowledge, and you have never been the most scholarly among us.'

'Indeed, we have not been. But here this, brother: do you remember how Michael got his sword? The one he cut Samael's eyes out with during the War in Heaven, leaving only fires burning as hotly as his pride?' At Gabriel's expression, he went on. 'The one he shattered on the Serpent's face, yes. He never did speak about that, did he?'

'He did not,' Gabriel confirmed, walking closer as God's Mouth formed a seat of gold-tinged crimson flame, before sitting down. Gabriel leaned in, an elbow on the chair's armrest, his ear close to his brother's mouth. 'Speak, then. I am curious, and could use a lesson as much as a diversion.'

'Ah, brother...Michael did not share the weapon's origin with you because he did not believe it had any place in Heaven's history. How often do you hear about the beasts in the waters above Heaven and beneath Hell in scripture? It was from there that a beast came. I remember...I fought it for a trillion years - or was it a heartbeat? - after its shining shadow snuffed out a seraph by passing over him, with the effect and effort of an ocean snuffing out a candle. The universe would've been scorched bare by that flame, yet even the creature's approach was enough to extinguish it. I kept it from our realm's gates, while Samael harried it, but it was Michael who put it down, and wrought its remains into a hiltless blade. He has always been able to do anything he must to defend Heaven...this makes him so lonely, we think. Like God, indeed.'

Gabriel nodded, glancing into the white-hot shapes that might've passed for his brother's eyes to someone whose sight was less clear. 'I did suspect none of us had forged that ugly thing. Still, at least something good came of it, in the end.' He closed his eyes, remembering his elder brother's, before they had been replaced by pitiless infernos. 'Was that what you wanted to share?'

'Oh, no, brother. Of course not. That was to give you a taste. Not all the lore we have accumulated will be new to you, but we hope our insights will interest you.'
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zayvhin Files: Zombies

* * *
Note: the Collective is aware of the differences between semi-autonomous necromorphs animated and directed by thanatophiliac aetherkines ("necromancers") and certain theophiles with thanatophiliac leanings ("faithcrafters"). This file, ascan be inferred, deals with the former.

* * *

Classification: semi-autonomous necromorphs (thanatophile aetherkine minions);

Colloquial name: zombies, walkers, shamblers;

Origins: the first magical zombies were raised in different locations across Earth shorthly after the first ancestors of mankind developed aetherkinesis ("magic") with few, if any necromancers being aware of their fellows' existence.

Description: a zombie is created when a mage casts a spell or performs a ritual designed to animate a corpse. Such procedures vary depending on their skill and understanding of the macrocosm, traits that are often intertwined. The zombie will be reanimated in the state they were in while classically dead, though more physically capable. They can be modified in accordance to the necromancer's wishes and capabilities, with extra body parts, for example. Though most necromancers need at least a skeleton in order to perform necromancy, more skilled ones can restructure corpse powder into a more formidable shape. Most zombies are mindless shells, animated by mana, though perfectly able to function in antimagical areas (it should be noted that corpses made to move through biokinesis rather than mana infusion are not traditionally considered zombies, and some necromancers see mages who do this as hacks). However, should a person (or their animus - "soul" -) if they are already dead consent to having their mind bound to the body, a thinking zombie can be made. Although necromancers have to pass several tests before being allowed to raise thinking zombies, most humans are still wary of giving another person the ability to override their free will on a whim. Lastly, it is illegal to bind a person's animus back to their body following death; doing so is a violation of the Syncretic Treaty and will result in sanctions from thanatophiliac theomorphs ("death deities"). Zombies can be made from animal, vegetal, fungal or aberrant remains, and, in some cases, the abilities they had in life are retained, with physical traits the most likely to be enhanced, though esoteric abilities are not out of the question. Certain abilities being altered in accordance to a "death theme" has also been observed. Zombies are immune to pain and esoteric effects (they cannot be transmuted, mind-controlled, moved with telekinesis, frozen in time, and so on), need no sustenance, and will regenerate from any damage as long as their necromancer is alive or otherwise active. Once the mage is eliminated, zombies cannot regenerate.

Behaviour: Most of the time, mindless zombies do not act by themselves, except to defend themselves or their necromancer. Once the necromancer is eliminated, they become feral, wandering randomly and attacking anything their limited minds perceive as a threat.

Threat level: local (human zombies); varies depending on base species. Human zombies have been observed moving, fighting and reacting at Mach 4. In addition to their regeneration and endurance, they are durable enough to take no damage from impacts that would pulverise humans, and are able to damage each other, smashing humans and concrete walls into pieces by running through them, or punching through human flesh and armour with the force of a cannonball. Ignoring leverage, zombies are capable ripping out spines, throwing cars across city blocks with one hand, swinging buses and trucks like batons and lifting tanks overhead with one hand.

Neutralisation: the most practical way to reduce the threat of zombies is taking out their necromancer (see file: mages), then picking off the feral undead. Should a reptilian be confronted by a zombie defending their necromancer, placing them under an object weighing three hundred or more tons, or in a container built to withstand multiple megajoules of force, is recommended. Generating a constant force (locally-intensified gravity, ball lightning, plasma field, etc.) can also neutralise them, as zombies cannot move while regenerating their whole body.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: Ghouls

* * *
Classification: carnivorous anthropomorphic aberrant.

Colloquial name: ghouls.

Origins: the first ghouls appeared in the Arabian Peninsula, before the rise of Islam. Much like therianthropes, ghouls can turn humans (baseline, magical, psychic) into more of them through bites, scratches and the exchange of fluids or tissues. Unlike weres, ghouls can be made "automatically". Dying while unprepared to depart and hungry can cause a human to rise again as a ghoul, if their animus has not already been claimed by the deity they worship.

Description: ghouls appear largely human, though paler, their skin being milky to grey depending on hiw dark it was in life, like in the case of vampires. Also like their undead cousins, ghouls possess sharklike fangs. Their organs do not function and their eyes are completely, milky white. Their nails can become clawlike at will.
Ghouls are carnivorous and constantly hungry, this need to feed varying in intensity depending on how often and much they eat (a mouthful of flesh us enough to render it negligible for minutes). Upon consuming flesh, the matter is instantly converted into energy, which is absorbed by the ghoul's body, resulting in dramatic increases in strength and durability (consuming the average man, for example, will result in a ghoul hitting like one and a half gigatons of TNT), and somewhat less impressive but notable increases in speed (a mouthful of flesh lets ghouls move too fast to be perceived by those equal to them before feeding). This ability is even more pronounced in the case of ghouls who consume paranormal flesh. For example, the smalles part of a vampire body will make a ghoul as powerful, fast and tough as said vampire upon consumption.

Behaviour: early ghouls' tendencies to steal coins, drink blood, eat corpses and hunt the young, elderly and infirm did not make them popular among humans, but this behaviour is widely-agreed to have been the result of particular ghouls' personalities, largely unchanged since undeath, rather than anything instinctive. Nevertheless, "ghoulish" became synonymous with "gruesome" after humans came in contact with them. Aside from their constant hunger, ghouls are not psychologically-different from humans to any serious degree (a far more laidback attitude when it comes to cannibalism is an arguable divergence, but this is considered synonymous with ghoul hunger, as they are not particular towards any species, including their own).

Threat level: local (ghouls that have not fed yet); variable depending on the quantity and nature of flesh consumed. Ghouls are capable of withstanding tank shells with nothing more than bruises that heal within milliseconds; it takes tens of megajoules to give one a black eye. They are capable of hurting each other to the degree baseline humans can hurt each other, drawing blood and breaking bone. Ghouls are capable of easily reacting to attacks moving at (and fighting at) hypersonic speeds, up to Mach 12, running fast enough to melt granite, and will regenerate from any damage not inflicted by holy means, including quantum destruction or removal from the timeline. They are immune to direct esoteric effects and do not need rest, air or (other than psychologically) sustenance. Ghouls also possess limited shapeshifting, being capable of assuming the form of a hyena, or that of the latest person whose flesh they have eaten (abilities cannot be replicated, barring a handful of fringe cases). Ghouls have enhanced senses, equivalent to those of vampires, strigoi, weres and most Terran paranormals. When focused on spotting details, they are capable of distinguishing the individual hairs of a fly over twenty kilometres away, hearing its heartbeat and smelling its blood.

Neutralisation: other than borrowing blessed items or the services of faithcrafters (it is likely the pantheons would take exception to the Collective imitating their abilities through quantum entanglement or similar means) to deal permanent damage to ghouls, constant destruction areas should be set up. Restraints capable of withstanding hundreds of megajoules should be enough to contain fledgling ghouls, though materials capable of withstanding gigatons of energy would be necessary for any ghoul who has consumed even a few dozen kilograms of flesh (muscle, fat and bone fall in this category, though hair and blood do not; a quirk of aberrancy, doubtlessly).
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: God's Mouth: Heaven

* * *
"It is not a place - as such. And yet, brother, would it not be so easy to forget it is a state, of mind and spirituality alike, when you hear so many speak of "travelling to" it? Such wanderers bend and fold creation through will alone, so of course they can make it appear like something you can move to and away from...but we know better."
-on Heaven;

"Three Spheres, three times three Hosts - there is power in numbers, brother, for mathematics is one of the purer reflections of perfection one can find in nature. It is, in a way, as much a language of divinity as Enochian. And there is power even greater than that in these numbers. Infinity ninefold, indeed. Michael knows that infinity, like divinity, is the only thing that can contain or - truly - represent itself, and what are we but the echoes of our father's boundless words?"
-on the angelic Hosts;

"If Hell is the absence of God, are those who stand the closest to our father embodiments of Heaven? Perhaps. Certainly, they represent the boundless reach of its love, and warmth - and how easily they can both scorch as easily as warm."
-on seraphims;

"Not our eldest brother, to be sure, but he might as well be. He has filled the void left by the Betrayer in such a way that the fact there has ever been one might slip even our kin's timeless memories. It is not hard to see why, it should not be, yet the reasons is too often misunderstood.
Why is he the most like our father? Because of his power? Of course not. Any angel can increase their power endlessly, even if their mind changes to fit their might: one cannot be as powerful as a seraph and think like a Throne. The few who can remain themselves were never meant to change, not in this way.
Is it the fact he can do anything necessary for Heaven's safety? No, for that is a facet of his power as well, just like it is a facet of the power wielded by the father he so resembles.
He is a champion of children, brother. You know how difficult it is not to do as much good as you can, and how deeply it can wear at one's spirit. It is in feeling and fighting this urge every instant that he is like God."
-on Michael;

"We have never been close, brother, even when we strode side by side across Egypt to bathe it in firstborn blood. I checked the marked doors and he severed their spirits, but we never spoke, before, during or after. When he turned his back to me, a brace of segmented souls slung over one shoulder, it was without a word.
It is ironic. One could be forgiven for thinking the gatekeeper would be cold and the executioner hot-tempered, and yet, we are the opposite. Hm? Yes, brother. We are capable of admitting our flaws. Only one of our kind has ever truly believed to be perfect, and we all remember how that ended. Constantin helps me keep that in mind, and so, we think as one."
-on Azrael;

"Angels might be made from men - this, we have always known. Yet, their spirits are not usually transfigured so literally. It is a joyous occasion whenever it happens, and its rarity does not diminish the elation; quite the contrary.
Mirrors, these two. They complete each other because they are different, not mistaken. Regent and maker of crowns, herald and speaker of prayers.
We still remember how our kin below raged when father turned Metatron's blood to ichor and his flesh to fire and light and set him on a throne besides His own. Their outraged denial failed to drown out his grateful gasp, but it brought us great amusement."
-on Metatron and Sandalphon;
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: God's Mouth: Hell

* * *

AN: Hopefully, I'll resume the longer sidestories fairly soon, since my schedule is relatively light at the moment. The first will likely by Coldest of Wars, followed by a series of sidestories, similar to Aftermath, called Family Matters. It will be, as the name implies, focused on various families from across creation. Unrelated, standalone sidestories might still be posted in-between, though.

* * *

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here! Ah, brother, the Florentine was more right than he knew. So close to the truth, yet the pit's sight would have dismayed even him, with no Vergil at his side. For what is Hell but the absence of God? And where can those who find themselves here find hope, which is bound to Him as tightly as faith?"
-on Hell;

"We shell not teach you how to reat them, brother. You know enough, and I know better than that. Pity them, disdain them, hate them; but do not forget that their nature alone does not make them monster. Remember the mage who harboured such thoughts before he formed a holy union with a demoness? She is one of the loveliest souls we have seen, we dare say."
-on demons;

"Behold, the Serpent! His eyes see more than most, but he is blinder than any. He believes - he truly believes, Gabriel; he has faith in this, not merely confidence - that not only can he, somehow, topple our father, but that he will. For His own good, of course. We wonder, does sinfulness erase self-awareness as easily as it does virtue? For our eldest brother sneers at mankind with the same contempt with which he ignores his self from before the Fall. And yet, when he looks inward, he finds only things to praise."
-on Lucifer;

"The Beast of Revelations. Many beasts are spoken of, there, but this one? This one is the Beast, brother; the dragon of the Apocalypse. It is burning rage and unclean wrath, the bared, bloodied face of our slighted brother. Anger, not against the dying of the light, but against everything that offends when it should not.
...Is it any wonder, Gabriel, why the Beast can reach so easily into the heart of man?"
-on Satan;

"He wants more, brother, and the more he gorges, the more he hungers. He knows this, but he will not stop, for he knows starvation is beneath him. Perhaps he cannot stop. It seems ridiculous for such an exalted brother to end up representing such a crude sin as gluttony. Perhaps he is as amused by irony as he is by the snap of bone and the taste of marrow."
-on Beelzebub;

"Oh, black despair, oh, bleak hopelessness, thy name is Belphegor. Twin of the Lord of Flies, he who tempted my son in spirit if not in person, and almost doomed everyone, and everything. We have little pity for him, brother, and less mercy. He found the reach of omnipotence dismaying rather than comforting, and seeks to share his false revelation with everyone. He shall not succeed."
-on Belphegor;

"He takes, and takes, and takes, and keeps, and does little. Such a miser, this brother who never lacked for anything, as selfish as he was once generous. And realms unnumbered turn in his coils, even those who have exchanged coin for power, and believe themselves beyond his reach."
-on Mammon;

"He wants what others have as much as Mammon wants to keep what is his, but his gaze turns only inwards enough to take note of what he has, and find more to covet. How much power, brother, does one need before enough is enough?"
-on Leviathan;

"We hold a special loathing for this creature, Gabriel, and you know well why. This shell of a sibling that calls itself Asmodeus has violated more souls than almost all of creation's other monsters put together. More than Lucifer, more than Belphegor, it has tainted the bonds of our family, through a mockery of love our father never intended to bloom between His children.

But there will be a reckoning.

In the name of my father and siblings, in the name of my son and his children unborn, for Sariel, our departed sister, lost love of our human half, and every innocent being it has broken, we will destroy this creature, and burn creation clean until no trace of its passage remains.'
-on Asmodeus;

'A good enough commander, as Hell's warlords go. He has only ever been content with being second in command, so he must at least be good at something, no? This is why he went from lieutenant to general. Do not believe he would ever fancy himself a kingmaker, a power behind a throne. It is not that he is incapable of that, brother. He is too servile, too unambitious - but not humble; never believe that - to crown himself. It is why he makes such a good scapegoat, we believe.'
-on Azazel;

"Woman born of clay and dust. Wife that never was. Mother of no man. Are you amused, brother, that the friendship between her and her successor grew quickly and subtly, while her contempt for the first man grew slowly yet obviously? Oh, I know I raged at that, at first. I raged day and night, for my heart blazed at the though of mankind in those times. And yet..look how one soul might change yours, brother."
-on Lilith;
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viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Coldest of Wars, part 1

* * *

AN: A longer hiatus than I'd have liked (but then, I'd update all my stories daily if I could), but here is the next sidestory concerning the aliens, this one dealing with the past of the reptilians as relived by a former general of the Zhayvin Technarchy.

I will try to post longer sidestories more often, as well as shorter ones between substantial updates. I would have posted more short stories before this was done, but I was feeling kind of guilty for not writing anything substantial in a couple months. I've had to deal with more irl stuff than I expected, alongside updating my other stories, so I haven't found the time and energy until now.

More alien factions are introduced/namedropped in this chapter, alongside a homage to two of my favourite cosmic antagonists. There will be sidestories about them, but I want to do more Earth-centric stories first.

* * *

There had always been, among the children of lost Zhay, a love for symbolism.

Despite the rationality and detachment encouraged by the Shaper, certain patterns that had endeared themselves to the reptilians persisted, for reasons that had little to do with practicality or logic, and much to do with sentimentalism.

Of course, the Shaper had an explanation for their continued existence - "the state of mind one can enter thanks to cherished things or symbols can often heighten productivity" - but everyone knew how things stood.

One thing, one word that stuck, was the engine. Not the device that generated power for a vehicle, necessarily. The vehicle itself, or greater constructs of the Collective, were often called engines by outsiders, and, sometimes, the term slipped into the reptilians' conversations too.

A Zhayvin had once commented that it fit, like a Warscale gauntlet, or one's fangs around the throat of prey. "Engines, indeed - are they not the sources of our power and reputation? They might not consume fuel to produce energy, but they produce results. Information. The engines of the great apparatus that is the Collective. Do you disagree?"

Said reptilian had not received a name. The members of the Collective knew each other's thoughts at all times. What one felt, all felt. What need was there for names, designations, in such a society? Nicknames were a matter of affectation, titles, like the Shaper's, of nostalgia. Everyone knew who everyone was. What was there to add?

The spires, too, were symbols. The reptilians reserved a deep disdain for the idea of the scientist-hermit (not least of all because it was an accurate description of them before the Shattering of the Anthropocentric Quantum Separation Effect) and the white tower they lived in, isolated from the world. The spires might have evoked that, in terms of mere shape, but that was not what the Zhayvin were going for.

They had been told their starscrapers instead brought to mind the mad scientist's mountain lair, or the tower of the warlock-alchemist. Not exactly flattering comparisons, but certainly no mentions of ivory towers, either. Even if some reptilians had groused that it was better to stand apart from the world and bring nothing into it rather than create dangers.

'I think you misunderstand,' Mocker (for who else could have it been?) had said, clearly struggling not to smile. 'The archetypes mentioned push the boundaries of science and understanding. Their creations might seem insane, in every sense of the word, but...I do not think it is an insult. Unless you subscribe to the notion madness is genius that brings nothing to the community, that is. After all, thinking atypically does not make one evil...or useless, as we have seen enough times.'

'Are you calling us insane?' the grumbling had went.

But Mocker had always taunted and challenged, even before receiving its name, which, some said, seemed to goad it into being more annoying, so it'd be seen doing it justice. So, in the end, even those who hadn't indulged it had stopped paying it mind.

Starscrapers resembled the skyscrapers and other high-rise buildings raised by mankind, in terms of shape and function, if not scale. Starting at seven light years tall, with some several times taller, skyscraper could have stretched between solar systems in normal space. Each floor, trillions of kilometres wide, would have comfortably fit most of the Sol System, well into the Oort Cloud.

Starscrapers were not a new idea. By human standards, they were literally prehistoric. Arcologies had been a defining feature of reptilian archtecture since they'd lived on their birth world and called themselves Zhayvi.

"Build taller, not wider" had been a popular suggestion among humans, before aberrancy had spread wide enough to make space irrelevant. The reptilians had once shared the sentiment, and, even after they had learned to bend, fold and make space thanks to a deep understanding of it.

That, the space remade through magic (a word no Zhayvin had ever used seriously), stung. Not because it did anything to them. Not because they, according to some amusingly wrong conspiracies, wanted mankind to rely on them and their technology, rather than the aberrants among them.

Ridge knew that. Eidetic memories were standard among the Zhayvin, and while any reptilian could move information to the back of their minds, in order to focus on something else, or simply stop thinking about it, they did not forget.

That was why it was baffled. It wasn't even human, to have the excuse of brain damage. Ever since David Silva, the aberrant they now called the Keeper of Endings, had turned one of them into paste on Mars, during the Cold Madness, they had worked to increase their regeneration.

Years ago, reptilians could have healed from being diced into pieces: a genegineered upgrade to their regrowth of limbs and body parts. Further upgrades had followed, so that now, as long as any of the matter making up their bodies survived in any way, Zhayvin would heal on their own, no technological resistance needed. The continuation of consciousness was assured, of course... why the gaping void did ridge feel like it had hit its head and scrambled its brain? That wasn't supposed to matter.

Scowling - a facial expression hard to detect by outsiders when it was worn by a Zhayvin; their muzzles meant they mostly scowled with their eyes -, Ridge tried to reach out to the rest of the Collective through the yoctomachines embedded in each and every particle of its body.

That it couldn't sense the Shaper or its fellows was even more absurd than the apparent memory loss. Why couldn't it remember?

They, it, did not want mankind to rely on them...didn't mind if they leaned on the aberrants...but why was that?

And what was wrong with its machines.

Tch. No matter. Ridge, like all its kind, was a scientist. It would find out, as soon as it got up from the rough ground under its scales. Another gap in its memories...

Ridge remembered Mocker, and the fact that pain in the neck was as clear as crystal in its mind, but how it had ended up in what felt like a desert wasn't, vaguely irritated it.

Maybe that was just the sand. It was coarse, rough, and got everywhere.

Mocker lived right under Ridge, in their starscraper, owner of an apartment as large as the domain of most civilisations that reached the second level on the Kardashev Scale.

Last night, as the humans measured time...damn, but it felt slow. Last night, Mocker had jumped out of one of its windows, scrambled up the side of the starscraper, and started making a racket.

In-between bouts of cackling, it had hammered on the roof with its feet and fists, like it was performing the world's most insufferable tribal dance.

Ridge had stared up at one of its living rooms' ceilings, unamused, after some time. It would have heard Mocker no matter where in the Collective it would have started monkeying around, but the fact it was doing it right on top of its head meant Ridge essentially heard twice.

The smug little by-blow had worn its Warscale, too, else how could it have shaken a building nearly ten billion times heavier than the Milky Way? And while the Collective could draw energy from practically everywhere - celestial bodies, by matter converted into energy, from the Archetype that represented said concept in the Outer Void - the fact Mocker had increased its Warscale's power merely to be louder...limitless power generation did not mean there was no such thing as waste!

As Ridge had told Mocker, among other things.

"If you don't stop banging on the roof, I'll throw you off the building!" Ridge had snapped at one point. "And you know what'll happen then?"

"I'll faaaaalll?" Mocker had drawled, to the laughter of octillions of Zhayvin, the imbeciles.

"This horseplay is pointless! You know-'

'Ridge, Ridge,' Mocker had interrupted, voice almost soothing. "I know you're a leathery old gruff and all the werelizards want me, but calm down and listen: you know why I am celebrating, so it's your outrage that is pointless. You should be joining me!'

"Absolutely not!' Ridge had protested.

But the Shaper had joined in, eventually, acting as the voice of reason. The Collective had rarely been safer, and never more powerful. The macrocosm, as a whole, had been set on a brighter path, with the threat of omnicide at the whims of a dreaming First Principle no longer possible.

It was, the Shaper had thought, a good enough reason to be festive.

'But it can do it in its home!' Ridge had replied, gesturing in Mocker's direction. 'Quietly!'

'But then, you wouldn't be apoplectic,' Mocker had sniggered.

Ugh. As Ridge dug its claws into the orange sand and tried to stand up, it imagined the ground was Mocker's throat.

As it looked around, however, and tried to look down at itself, Ridge realised it had much worse things to worry about than annoying neighbours.

For one, the desert it was in looked exactly like one it had often visited on Zhay, many billions of years ago. When it had walked on all fours, as it did now, in fact.

Its body was wrong; it was the one with which it had been hatched, before the genemills, the looms and the splicing. It resembled nothing more than a Terran Komodo Dragon, except bigger than most horses and covered in emerald scales the size of a human eye. Its machines, its cybernetic and genetic enhancements, they were all gone.

Getting to its feet and making a few steps made Ridge realise all of its old traits were back. He began walking forward, then sat down on his haunches, running its paws over its body.

Whoever had done this would pay. Had the Shaper, somehow hiding their thoughts from him, modified him? Uploaded his mind into another body and placed him in this simulacra? But why? And doing so without it knowing, much less consenting...

No. That was not the Shaper he had known. Perhaps he had agreed to some experiment, with memory erasure a part of the procedure? But that sounded dubious too, and...

Ridge froze. Craning his neck up, a rather awkward motion given the unfamiliarity with his new, old physique, he saw another memory. This old nightmare, like everything else, seemed very much real, but Ridge was not about to dismiss it as an illusion and get torn apart. He didn't trust his senses.

Digging rapidly into the sand, Ridge covered himself and, holding his breath, began slowly, slowly digging his way down.

He could still feel its gaze on his back, somehow, for all he was hidden and it eyeless.

It would have seemed out of place even to someone with no knowledge of Zhay's biosphere. The ghoulish thing might have resembled a cloud, but it was the only one in the crimson sky, like a maggot wriggling in a pool of blood. Here, the glare of Zhay's three suns only allowed clouds to form rarely, and briefly.

Among the Zhayvi and their descendants, such creature had been called the End From Above, though few had ever referred to it by that name, rather than that of the Flying Death.

It was no animal or plant, no fungus. Its composition, which it could alter at will, was that of an ordinary cloud, except it was sentient. Sapient, even, some Zhayvi had argued, even while debating whether it was an aberrant or not. The detractors of that theory had mostly insisted the Deaths hadn't been native to Zhay.

The world where the reptilians had defined science. This planet, mundane yet filled with life, the standard by which the rest of the cosmos was judged, and classified in terms of natural or aberrant.

Their opponents had simply said they didn't want to admit that, maybe, there was no such thing as aberrancy.

Flying Deaths could take whatever shape they wanted, fill the sky from horizon to horizon or bombard its prey with lightning, hail and snow. But, while such a living weather hazard would have been dangerous enough, especially in flocks, it had been the Flying Death's method of reproduction that had appalled the Zhayvi, making them hunt the creatures to extinction.

Perhaps, had they not been pushed to dabble with weather machines, and thus with the atmosphere itself, the Zhayvi would have never looked at the stars, wondering if there was anyone out there.

What might have been didn't matter. Ridge might, at any time, come face to face with one of the things he'd despised about his homeworld, and he wasn't eager to relive the experience. Not with no Shaper around to put him back together.

A Flying Death took a day to reproduce. First, sent a sliver of its body away, which dispersed across the air, undetectable, then entered a living being's airways.

Lung diseases seemingly followed, as said organs filled with water and wheezed, in excruciating pain. The mindless sliver eventually developed a consciousness, draining the heat of the host's body for power, causing colds.

When the victim was half to death, bodily fluids followed, until the larval Flying Death burst out of the husk, ready to hunt and spawn new creatures.

Entire species had thus been wiped out by the parasitic predators. Nests and tribes of Zhayvin, in their thousands and millions, had been slaughtered, choking, freezing and dying to death, over the course of an hour - for a Flying Death could divide itself many times. As long as even a molecule of its body remained, it could heal, drawing on the environment.

The Flying Death could sense him, Ridge knew. His bioelectricity. He could only hope it would decide he was too much of a hassle to reach, and look for easier prey.

He was not, so it did not. And so, Ridge died, eaten from the inside out, torn apart by a monster's spawn.

Or, at least, that was what he'd expected would happen. No Zhayvi had survived a Flying Death's attack in such conditions.

But he did, in a way, thoughts not stopping, even after his brain did.

He, Ridge deduced, must have still been alive, or at least aware, in some form, despite the fact he could see his desiccated body kilometres below.

He was at cloud level, he calculated quickly, then dryly noted that the Flying Death approaching without looking like it was flying low was evidence enough of that.

Death had a way of clearing the mind as it approached. He supposed it was not so strange for said clarity to persist, even in this strange state.

His field of view was the same. His sense of proprioception, though stunted, let him know he retained the shape of his birth body, even if he could not see himself, and could only faintly feel his own movements.

Was this undeath? Ridge knew reptilians possessed the aberrant energy known to most overworlders as a soul. Even if the Shaper preferred to remove it and reanimate bodies through yoctomachines where possible. Zhayvin dropping dead upon losing their souls was not only a risk, it was a stupid death, in the way only aberrancy could make something look absurd.

No damage, consciousness intact, and yet...poof. A life cut short, just like that. Ridiculous.

Though he could move faster than he had been able to while alive, Ridge failed to escape the Flying Death, which surrounded him and began tossing him around.

Its insides, if they could be called that, tore at his incorporeal form like flensing knives, even though the creature looked like a cloud. Ridge thought he was bleeding, but that made no sense. Probably post-mortem trauma...pah. As if that made sense.

After the manhandling came lightning that burned and blinded, and thunder that deafened, and hailstones, and snowflakes that carved into Ridge like cold blades.

This went on for what felt like forever, but could not have been. Flying Deaths could not manipulate time any more than he could. Just the pain talking. Just the pain.

Ridge allowed himself to sneer through shredded, bleeding lips. Pain, he could handle. It was an old enemy, one which he'd become intimately acquainted with in his days of generalship, before collectivisation had made ranks redundant.

If this stupid monster could only smack him around, it was wasting its time. He didn't think he could die again, and this crude attempt at torture was not going to make him despair.

As if sensing his disdain, the Flying Death grew more aggressive. It filled Ridge with slivers of its body, then spiked him into the ground, so its soawn could tear his broken spirit apart, only for it to reform, flying out to fill the crater...he was in...

Ridge looked sharply around himself. Souls, if that was what he was, were unable to interact with the material world like this. He should've been sent flying through Zhay,

Was he going mad? He didn't think he was, but then, did anyone? Was the torment taking its toll, or was the creature trying to break him so he wouldn't notice such incongruences?

But it was too late. He should have been d-

Ridge snapped his jaws, trying to hurt the Flying Death as it snatched him up and accomplishing nothing. So, they were back to square one. Might as well see how long this hallucination, or whatever it was, went.

It felt like days - what would have been months on Terra - before Ridge thought he started hearing voices. Then, thanks to the voice's insistence, he began to humour the idea that, maybe, the Flying Death was speaking to him.

That was even harder to swallow than the crater he shouldn't have made. If this was some artificial hell, meant to torture his Zhayvin mind through absurdity...well. He'd have to admit it was creative, at least. Any logical being would have been gnashing their teeth at this ridiculous world.

Ridge decided that he was either seeing this, or being made to. The only third option that came to mind involved time travel and Flying Deaths that could touch souls, which, while by no means impossible...seemed very, very improbable.

There were enough insane beings, and not just aberrants, who'd have devised such an illogical realm to hurt him, but he struggled to think of any who could also pierce or bypass the Collective's defences.

Better hear the creature out. Not that he particularly valued its opinion, but he hardly had anything better to do. Had Flying Deaths always been able to communicate, but chosen not to? It was...intriguing.

The scientist in him would have probably appreciated the whole thing better if he hadn't been involved. Still, he would do his best to remain clinical and rational. Either this was all in his head, or he would being something new to the Collective. He'd either find his way back, or they'd find him. He had to believe that.

But belief is conviction without evidence, said a treacherous, sibilant voice. Not the monster's; while it could speak into his mind, it didn't sound like this. It sounded, and felt, like nails on his flayed back.

The shallowest of hypotheses, the voice continued. You might as well start praying.

Yes, definitely his own voice. Few but the Zhayvin radiated such contempt for so-called deities and the cultish behaviour they encouraged.

Pessimism is not going to help me. Low morale is detrimental to progress, Ridge argued back, knowing he was just trying to convince himself.

He had to remain optimistic, despite the odds. It was easy to be hopeful when all was going well.

The Flying Death...

"Do you understand now?" it asked, voice surprisingly civil, despite its menacing tone. They could have been talking about the...tsk. Weather. "Do" Ridge had the impression of the thing rearing up, to better stare down at him. "You do not even know why I am doing this, are you?"

Ridge didn't answer. He could already tell the Flying Death was one of those people in love with their own voice. If it didn't end up telling him the secrets of the universe, he'd eat his damned tail.

"I am a monument to all your sins, Zhayvin," It continued in what Ridge guessed had been meant as an ominous tone. The thing, however, sounded too overtly evil for him to take it seriously. He was already dead, after all. Maybe, if it could control his mind... 'I am Justice.'

At that, Ridge looked up, wondering if it could see his flat expression. 'Justice?' he repeated, deadpan. 'What justice was there in anything you've done so far?'

'Justice,' it spat in response, 'for the crimes of the Zhayvin. For the atrocities of your shameless, heartless, verminous kind.'

Now he was sure he had gone mad. A Flying Death torturing him in the name of morality? No, this was the plot of a comedy. Beyond unexplainable.

'My kind,' Ridge said affably. 'All of us? I was not aware species as a whole can be condemned for the actions of certain members.' Mimicking curiosity, he cocked his head. 'Can they?'

'All of you are bound!' The Flying Death thundered, lightning lighting up its body so dramatically Ridge wondered if it had been intentional. 'Linked, mind with mind. All of you know what the forerunners of your ilk, yourself included, have done, yet you don't bring them to justice.'

Ah. That was more articulate. Still, between the accusations and the accuser, Ridge could not help but feel like he was talking to a composite caricature of the Collective's detractors. 'That is not how we do things. Whether we have redeemed ourselves or not, if we can ever atone for our warmongering, is a matter of perspective. But what you suggest will not happen.'

Turning his head down and away, Ridge spat, seeing the sand darkening. Immaterial...or was he? 'You might as well take the humans' gods to task for their madness.'

'Whataboutism,' the Flying Death dismissed his words. 'Their time will come, too. How quick you are to change the subject, however, after admitting you are sinful.'

Ridge shook his head. 'That is not what I am doing. You wish to speak of the Zhayvin's past? Fine. Nothing we did was truly justified, I admit freely. We made excuses at the time, but that does not make it right. And, for more than four billion years, we have been nothing but altruistic.' As much as anyone in their position could be. 'Whether that makes up for everything else, I do not know.'

The Flying Death laughed. 'I'll save you you some,' it growled, sounding amused but irritated, 'and tell you it does not, Zhayvin. It does not.' The false cloud split open, allowing scarlet sunlight to fill it. 'Did you think it would?'

Ridge might have shrugged - he did not truly understand this new form of his. 'Then that is that,' he replied, defiantly staring up, wishing the creature had eyes he could meet, or at least a face. 'Trying to alter the past would only change the present for the worse. All our simulations agree.'

A more benevolent Zhayvin Technarchy might have done more good across the wider universe, but it could have never approached Earth without being rebuffed by its gods. And Earth...well.

That little blue world was a fulcrum. As the Shaper had used to say: "Give me a world, and I'll move the cosmos."

The reptilians had only been allowed to settle because they'd posed no threat on arrival. Alter that, and...

'So you say,' the Flying Death's voice was acidic. 'If your puppeteer and its machines agree, they cannot be wrong, can they? After all, they are the peak if all that is natural. The epitome of science.'

Ridge sighed. 'Do you have a point?'

The pressure around him changed as the thing tightened its grip. 'All of you must suffer,' it declared with the conviction of the insane, the fanatical. 'Nothing you will ever do can mend the tears left in your wake.'

It sounded almost placid, Ridge reflected as he was pushed out of the main mass, held by the tip of a tendril. Maybe it had reached that point beyond anger, where wrath turned cold.

The cloud split again, but less dramatically than before. Just enough to create something like a jagged tear at the top, like a grin.

'You lived through your kind's era of bloodshed,' it said, voice thick with what sounded like satisfaction. 'You remember the pain. Not like those flesh dolls put together in labs. Truly remember.' It pulled him closer, voice becoming almost conspiratorial. 'But you still took place in the exercises. Memories made reality through hardlight and shaped matter. True pain, old yet new.'

As its grip tightened further, making blackness begin filling Ridge's vision, the Flying Death's voice rose and rose, yet, at the same time, it felt deeper, somehow, as if he felt it in his bones rather than heard it. 'Let us see you live through that again,' it sneered, like Ridge had earlier, 'far from your place of power.'

* * *

Reliving historical events and the lives of their forebears was a matter of course for the Reptilian Collective. How else could they hope to understand their predecessors than by looking backwards in time, sharing their pains and pleasures?

The Zhayvin had always stared inward deeper than most species and civilisations. Many of their technologies had been invented to broaden, deepen and sharpen that sight, only to be gleefully turned into weapons by the Technarchy, or regretfully turned to such purposes by the Collective.

The reptilians had often been told they were unhealthily close to their thoughts, and those of their fellows. Recently, they had most often heard this from humans.

It cut both ways. In the reptilians' opinion, humans were, all too often, an isolated people, living apart from their kindred in a way that sometimes led to loneliness and melancholy.

Ridge himself had often asked how could anyone live without sharing everything with their species. What did they have to hide? Only those who did not belong in a society had anything to hide from it. Instincts, impulses? Those were not shameful. Merely reflexive.

Much like the way Ridge's jaws clenched whenever he glanced at the Flying Death, or vice versa. The reptilian knew that was useless, just like how clamping his paws over his snout, as his forelimbs itched to, would have been.

That last thought tried to lodge itself into Ridge's thoughts. Why would that have been useless? Was he not dead, and in some aberrant state of being as a result? What need did he have to breathe? Why...?

But it was borne away as the pain flooded in. It felt like an old scar being torn open by white-hot claws, and Ridge screamed despite himself. His bellows was a low sound, which would have been felt more than heard by any observer, interrupted by horking coughs.

It was like the reenactments, but worse, in some way Ridge could not place, and-

There was a hiss, followed by a crack. Not like the energy weapons used by less advanced species might have made. More like a bone being boiled, and...ah.

Ridge tried to press himself into the cold ground beneath him, as macabre as the idea of becoming one with it should have felt. As if sensing his thought, the soil became as hot as his insides, to the point he struggled to tell where he ended and the world around him began.

Bah. He might have appreciated the philosophical exercise if it hadn't reminded him of becoming one with the ground, not that said mental image had been comfortable in the first place.

Had that been detected, too? Was that another power of the Flying Death, hitherto unseen and unheard of?

In the past, he had...hadn't...


Ridge tried to gather his wits, pressing his forepaws against his head, in the hopes the outside pressure would at least distract him from the blaze scorching his insides.

Funny. Usually, his attempts to hurt himself were more fruitful.

Despite any impression they might have given, the reptilians held a certain disdain for pure theory. Simulations alone, the Shaper often said, were not enough. Seeing something from outside, without feeling anything of the events taking place, was more likely to inspire detachment than understanding.

Not caring enough, like caring too much, was useless. Balance, balance, balance.

'Pure theory is useless,' the Shaper had said once. 'Until you do something with it, or at least unless you can do something with can do nothing but fill your mind.'

The Collective's First Scientist had said the last part with something almost like tiredness. "Fill your mind..." it had said it like knowledge was a burden until applied.

Ridge was sure there was something to be learned there, but remembering this was all he could do while writhing like a worm on a hook.

'But is learning, and thus knowing, not an admirable endeavour?' a reptilian had asked.

The Shaper's avatar had inclined its head. 'To a degree. It is better to be informed than ignorant, of course, and learning is a pleasure, but learning for its own sake is pointless.' Its eyes had been sad as it had swept them across a small crowd. 'We do not live in a macrocosm kind enough to let us pursue knowledge and nothing more, our friends. If we desire a world where we can do that, we must build it ourselves.'

And yet, for the first time in a life longer than some stars had existed for, Ridge wished to know no more. To shut out the agony coursing through every fibre and cell of his new, old body, at least until he could concentrate and find a solution

Well. It was a problem, wasn't it? This torment. Ridge remembered it, as the pain grew. The Zhayvin had ever been inclined towards remembering their failures before their accomplishments, so how could Ridge have forgotten his first defeat?

When he had gone through the simulation of his first meeting with the Shaper, Ridge had felt the bitterness of a memory he'd have rather forgotten more than anything else. He knew how it had happened, the pain had been familiar, so there had been nothing to do but grit his fangs and get it over with.

But now...this felt more like the moment itself, not a reenactment by means of artifice. And yet, it couldn't have been natural. He couldn't have really been sent to the past. No one could have taken him from the Collective, so what-

The Shaper's forepaw pressed Ridge's cracked head into the bloodied sand, his namesake splintered as it added to the desert heat by oozing vitae.

The defeated warlord tried to glare up at the victor with his remaining eye, but it was swollen shut, and covered in gore besides. Still, defiance was better than nothing. Resignment would serve no purpose beyond embittering him.

'Do not bother, my friend,' the female Technarch said. 'I've always known you look up to me.'

Ridge tried to spit out something biting, but only managed some splintered fangs, covered in bloody sand. The Shaper tightened her grip on his scruff, before lifting him and slamming his face into his attempted insult.

'A strange away to celebrate, to be sure,' the Shaper continued, as if nothing had happened. 'But who am I to quash uniqueness?' she asked sarcastically. 'Everyone has their own way to show joy, and you should be joyous, Ridge. With your defeat, the Selfish Tendency will die out.'

The Individualists, Ridge knew, were more vulnerable to such strategies than they would have liked to admit. The Zhayvin warlords who fought and conquered for themselves had nothing that resembled an alliance, of course, much less a leader, but Ridge had always been viewed with a sort of grudging, jealous respect by his peers.

Part of it had been his sheer success. Ridge sought out worlds he could zhayform into shapes resembling that of his birth planet, and asteroid belts or other great clumps of raw matter to reshape when he could not find those. And, as much as the other Technarchs liked to sneer at him for avoiding populated planets, they knew Ridge was neither cowardly nor stupid. He simply preferred getting results with the least effort possible.

Ridge's domination of the moutainous area that had contributed to his name as much as the ridges on his body was proof that he did not shy from bloodshed. The mountains were filled with predatory and parasitic beasts, not to mention small nests of grasping, desperate Zhayvin. Anyone who could hold them against all comers while using the fauna as training knew what they were doing.

Ridge, he knew, was something of a first among equals when it came to the Individualists. Living proof of the fact the greatest Zhayvin did not have to band together to survive.

The rise of the Shaper and her Collectivists, who espoused the opposite, had only fuelled that quiet admiration, for Ridge had repelled every attempt to dislodge him from his seat of power.

Until now. Using technology cobbled together from the plundered treasures of a dozen strongholds' vaults, the Shaper had ground his mountains to dust, and then the real fight had started. It had ended almost as quickly as it had begun.

Easing on the pleasure, the Shaper almost withdrew her paw from Ridge's cracked skull. 'So brooding. You do remember why we fight, don't you?' The Shaper looked down with a condescending smile, which grew wider and sharper when she received no answer. 'This cannot go on, old lizard. You should be thanking me.'

As she launched into another of those speeches Ridge had had the displeasure to hear in recordings and propaganda vids, he tried to put his thoughts in order, so he could think of the future.

'...been spreading through space for billions of greater cycles, and for what? Oh, we take what we want, to be sure, but why do we want so little? Why should we?' The Shaper tapped her head, as well as Ridge's, at the same time. 'Think, Ridge! There is strength in numbers, and only with strength can one build anything of worth in this cosmos. Without strength, you cannot do anything but be crushed. Life on Zhay has proven that amply enough.'

Sneering at something Ridge could not see, the Shaper withdrew her paw. 'Everyone is carving out petty fiefdoms while headquartered on our homeworld. We fight foul little civil wars on Zhay instead of presenting an unified front to the universe, and we are the ones who suffer, mark my words.'

The one they already called First Technarch continued speaking in an amused, softer voice. 'I do not speak only because I dislike silence, you know. Already, I can see my truths are spreading among the masses, even if they misunderstand them half the time. Why, I was at a war council the other cycle, and one of my generals spouted some of the funniest nonsense I've heard in a while. Want to know what she gibbered?'

'What?' Ridge wheezed, trying to rise to all fours. He figured he'd be told anyway, before he was killed or enslaved, so he might as well play along. Maybe if the worm spawn was amused, she'd kill him quickly or lobotomise him.

'She said the Arkhitects - void knows there have never been greater genetic engineers, but they were no authority even before they cut off ties with the macrocosm - created entire species to stand against the Sun That Shackles. They forged the Sunlit Pact. How can we do anything less than unite all beings under the stars against the Golden Tyrant?'

As the pathos left her voice, the Shaper burst into a hissing laugh. Shaking his head, Ridge tried not to lash out at her. It would have been pointless at best, deadly at worst.

When the aberrant that called itself Solarex had entered the universe, shortly after its formation, the Arkhitects - beings older than some galaxies, named for their desire to build things that could protect life - had armed themselves against him. They had made beings that could harness the power of stars, of anything that had and would ever causebpain, pleasure and death, who had themselves wrought devices to make every dream of nightmare reality.

But when Solarex and his menagerie of a court had found themselves faced with the Arkhitects, the Sunlit, the Agonised, the Grateful, the Deathly...they had not wanted a fight. They had opted to stay in deep, empty space rather than interrupt their pleasures facing armies of peers. The Arkhitects, guilty and loathing themselves for the torment that had gone into the Deathly's creation, had got the early species to sign a Pact, swear they would rally together when the false god came to crush their cultures and take everything they had and were.

Then, the great shapers of life had become hermits, doubtlessly watching and waiting for Solarex's return somewhere. And while the Sunlit Pact's signatories had tried to at least pay lip service to the agreement, they had known Solarex could be appeased rather than fought.

Let him pick at a few lesser species, who were conveniently unaware of the Sunlit Pact, and he would busy himself with his living toys. No one would have to shed blood, or an equivalent.

The Zhayvin had signed too, of course knowing there was nothing preventing them from attacking fellow signatories. The Arkhitects had known conflict was natural in life, Solarex's perverse tendencies, which ended much and gave lottle in return, aside. And King Sun had not lifted a finger against anyone worth a damn in eons.

As such, Ridge could understand why the opinion of the Shaper's general had come across as absurd.

'Does...' Ridge rasped as he finished healing. 'Does she think you want to unite us so we can stand against Solarex?'

'I know, right? It is practical enough. The more united we are, the better we can fend off that preening deviant, even a hatchling could tell you. But she thinks this is the ideal we fight for. Defenders of the universe against Solarex?' The Shaper scoffed.

They talked until dusk. The Shaper had attacked at dawn and won at noon, and Ridge had been brought to her camo halfway through the discussion.

Her plans were simple, as were her aims. In her own words, the Shaper disliked strategies with too many moving parts. Something that could go wrong was bad enough without multiple ways to do so.

The Zhayvin had set out in the name of conquest and resources, marked by life on a world where no one could achieve anything without power. Ideals were fine and all, but unless they could be backed up and enforced by might, they were worth little. That had been what the reptilians had told their new subjects as they had brought them to their knees.

That had been the one thing they'd shared. The reptilians had not worked together, for why should they share anything? It was this selfishness, in the Shaper's eyes, that she had to abolish.

And, soon, she would. Many individualist Technarchs had surrendered to her following Ridge's defeat (what travelled faster than bad news?), either out of despair or caution. Others had shamelessly lied that they'd been on her side the whole time, but had waited until they could build forces worthy of fighting in her name.

A few Technarchs, gone mad with paranoia or despair, had thrown themselves at the growing coalition of the Shaper, and had died when they hadn't been forced into service.

All the while, their offworld forces had watched, waiting to see who was a worthier leader. The Technarchs had made a point of ruling from home, so the colony governors and their enforcers had been left to deal with smaller tasks.

'See?' the Shaper asked her inner circle - and Ridge, he supposed - as she gestured at the reports on the wall screen. 'No loyalty. But why would there be any when the little screen-clickers are left to run wild, as long as the ones holding their leashes get to gorge on their tithes? I am telling you, no real intergalactic civilisations' leaders should have to fight only with their homeworld's resources when assaulted. They could have only taken revenge if I hadn't crushed them, but at least the lackeys will fall in line quickly.'

The Shaper huffed, turning the screen off and looking away to give a few former enemies an ironic look. 'Do we have to go through why the half-independent colony organisation doesn't work, again? No one who tries that gets anywhere. Look what Grandia turned into because the Builders got greedy, or how well Xenobia is doing for not having colonies.' There was much grimacing at the mention of the Alien Realm. Well was certainly...a word. 'And how about the Starwheel Coalition? Only one galaxy under their heel, so far but they've never allowed even their newest worlds such leeway. Not one planet has slipped from their tentacles. We could learn something from which I mean, I will teach you.'

And teach she did. Without enemies to sabotage her projects, and scientists to assist her, the Shaper made scarcity a thing of the past, with age, illness and the need for sustenance soon followed. Of course, by that point, Zhay had been reduced to a scarred shell. The destruction of the homeworld had not been necessary: the planet could have been zhayformed back to a pristine state, but the Shaper had wanted to make a point.

The Zhayvin were not sentimental. The Technarchy could remake worlds, but their home had been used and abused, drained of resources with more greed than care. The Shaper had stressed that this had been no mercy kill, no revenge against those who had despoiled Zhay. It had been a warning against incompetence and sloppiness. Draining planets of everything valuable was not the sort of behaviour she'd allow under her rule.

Ridge let out a rattling sigh as campaign aftsr campaign passed once again, seeming to last an instant, yet stretching into eternity. The Shaper had placed him in charge of the Technarchy's expansion fleets, following behind the explorators and building up or conquering worlds marked for being brought into the Technarchy's fold.

He did his work in silence, and found it good. Conquered every world between the orbit of lost Zhay and the worlds that clustered around Zhal and its beetle-like inhabitants, when the wars turned bad.

And all that time, he became closet to the Shaper, even as the void separated them more and more with every campaign. Or so he'd thought.

The Shaper maintained a harem, of course, as Technarchs were wont to do, no matter how they tried to frame the practice. She had males to fill her with their seed, so they could breed strong children, though the Shaper rarely opted for mating rather than artificial insemination or gene mixing.

The First Technarch's interest lay in her fellow females, though, a kind of coupling she had outlawed in the name of necessity. Everyone knew better than to care her companions lovers rather than handmaidens, and clandestine pairings were common enough. As long as they kept it subtle (lest the policy's enforcement highlight its creatir's hypocrisy) donated genetic material and contributed to the war effort, the Shaper was willing to turn a blind eye.

But Ridge had hoped, against all hope, that he'd be the one to break the mould. Hope to the point of arrogance? Maybe. But he felt what he did.

So, after the last defeat of the Zhayvin Technarchy - they'd all called it a victory, a great, terrible victory, but the truth was plain - he went to her. The Shaper had returned to her void palace and beaten her harem to death with her bare hands, putting the then-new genecraft to the test. Ridge had believed telling her he had grown to love her over the eons, despite himself, and that he'd always be there for her, whether she returned his feelings or not, would help.

Perhaps, in a way, it did. The Shaper turned melancholy, yes, but her wits returned.

'Oh, general,' she whispered. 'You are wasting time you should be spending with a female who can appreciate you. Not...'

'I surround myself with enough pale reflections of you,' he replied, 'to feel like a fool. I thought...I still believe you deserve to know.'

'Yes, yes,' the Shaper murmured, absentmindedly stroking her muzzle. Their civilisation was falling apart around them, and... 'They know where we are,' she said suddenly, referring to the Vyzhaldi, and those strange bipeds that bent spacetime and fought in tribal confederations. 'They will come back, for we would do the same. Do not believe we can recover faster than they can, general. They'll grow stronger, while we've sealed our worst monsters.'

Do you remember them, Zhayvin? The horrors you wrought, which could spawn more of theselves until the macrocosm entire teemed with them?

It was the Flying Death's voice, scraping the inside of Ridge's brainpan. He temembered, yes...and wished he hadn't. He'd always commanded the replicating forces from a distance, and now, the despair their enemies had felt flooded his thoughts.

He remembered the Spined, like sentient spinal columns crawling on bladelike spikes. The substances they spread transcended species, drawing possible hosts, and that had nearly got them hunted to extinction.

The Spined had never been evil, though. Without a host, they could not feel or think about anything but emptiness and a need to belong. They had never been parasitic, either: the Spined, once latched onto a being's back or equivalent, enhanced their abilities by an order of magnitude, while removing weaknesses and things like pain or the need for sustenance. And sharing the host's mind, of course. But they did not take ir weaken anything, and could be persuaded to remove themselves.

Then the Zhayvin had found them, and overclocked their attraction ability, turning it into a compulsion: perceived in any way, through natural senses, remotely, in real time, through recordings, the Spined would bring beings without mental protections to them. Once hosted, a touch upon their shared body, as simple as a poke on the arm, would create an identical replica of the Spined, an extension of their mind as much as a reflection of their power.

The biological ancestor of Warscale. Hosted Spined could not attract other beings, but their compulsion could freeze most in their tracks. Ridge shuddered as he felt himself crushed and torn apart by creatures he - they - wanted nothing more than to become one with.

After the Vyzhaldi War, the Spined had been removed and placed on their homeworld, lonely and bereft. It had been part of a disarmament program encouraged by the Shaper. Not everyone had obeyed, especially when they'd learned she wanted to stop waging war and find a new world, forge a new future.

She had led them to ruin, and now she wanted them to turn their swords into ploughshares? Free their slave species? Even the reassurances that it was better to let such beings go their own way than risk their enmity hadn't deterred some who still called themselves Technarchs.

The Spined had been the first, but far from the last.

The Qhamandi had been slated for assimilation since first contact. The towering, scaled creatures resembled quadrupedal mountains that could curl into balls, and everything that came into contact with them, or a part of their body, was converted into energy, with no damage to their surroundings.

The Zhayvin had built a species just to properly harness the enslaved Qhamandi. The Green Growth was amorphous, a collection of hyperdense regenerators, with the mass of hypergiant stars compressed into bodies the size of a fly's eyes. Upon contact with a Qathmandi, tremendous power could be obtained, especially since the Growth grew more numerous with every self-replicating generation.

Ridge shuddered, not even knowing where he was anymore, as he felt himself filled with Green Growth, moulded by gravitic fields so they would only burst through his body due to numbers. The Zhayvin had done this to defiant prisoners, and their half-dead bodies had then been fed to the Qathmandi.

Ridge felt he should have let out a bloodcurling shriek as he felt the matter making him up change at the most fundamental level, but his jaws felt locked. And he's always so enjoyed doing this to others...he'd hated it when they didn't scream, he rembered. Frigid void, how glad he was he'd changed...for the...bette-

Coldness suddenly speared Ridge, and he managed a choked gasp at the change of temperature. What...what now? More...monsters?

More. The Zhayvin had made and remade countless abominations to use as war beasts.

A black sun rose in an empty sky - the Black Sun. Shining with impossible light, orbited by its Cold Worlds and their Mad Moons. Invulnerable, the idea of the immovable object made reality by the cold sciences of the Zhayvin. They could appear almost anywhere and anywhen they wished, save for a handful of warded strongholds. Anti-teleportation defences were useless, for the Bleak System did not cheat distance. It simply moved, with no care for it or time.

Anyone and anything that perceived a component of the Bleak System, or heard or read a description of it, saw a painting or depiction, had their line of sight filled with identical clones of themselves, constructs of the living celestial bodies, their hands and eyes in the world. A human would have found themselves surrounded by a horizon-spanning army by glancing at a Mad Moon, but against aliens or machines with sharper senses, forces that could have toppled empires could be born from a look. The Zhayvin had used this to great effect to replenish themselves, and, at the end of their wars, had sealed the willing Bleak System in an unbreakable sphere. Nothing could leave or enter, look in or out, and the Zhayvin counted themselves lucky that the System had turned contemplative.

As he briefly found himself surrounded by a sea of scowling faces - his own - Ridge understood why the Black Sun rising in a cloudless sky had heralded doom on so many worlds.

And then...then, the Grand Harvest. How fitting, to come at the end (he dared to hope) of this nightmare, when he was too tired to hate and rage and contemplate fear anymore. It had always made for a great weapon of terror.

To Ridge, it appeared as an amalgam of spinning blades and creatures like winged lampreys, the pests that had plagued the prehistoric Zhayvin's attempts to raise something from the sands of their world. What passed for its face was dominated by a gaping maw, filled with rows of fangs, that overshadowed its eyes, even if they were larger than any star and brighter than any hypernova.

At its side, as always, was the thing that called itself Argent Walker, the Herald of Hunger. Argent could develop whatever powers and prowess he needed to pave the way for the Harvest, soften the targets it chose.

The Zhayvin hadn't known what the Grand Harvest was when they'd found it, and recently learning the truth had brought them no joy. They'd had their theories, yes, everything from a runaway war machine to a Gardener gone mad, eating its errant children, but the Harvest had warned them not to pry. Even so, they'd managed to forge an alliance. A flimsy one, relying on the reptilians being able to point out interesting potential meals for the Harvest, but at least it had fought alongside them.

So had its Harvested. The reptilians had craved weapons that could spell their enemies defeat just by being observed, and, with their help, the Harvest had broadened the scope of its powers. Recreating what it consumed had been expanded into an ability that could hardly be stalemated by most. Like the Bleak System, those who perceived the Grand Harvested started being assaulted by replicas of themselves. First one, then two, four, never stopping, always increasing, doubling every unit of time the observers could perceive. In ten seconds, a human would have been surrounded by five hundred and twelve clones, but destroying those would have done nothing.

The process was automatic. As long as the observer alive, the number of clones would double every moment, until they either killed themselves or died to their mirrors under the Harvest's control. It was automatic, and like the power of every multiplying monster the Zhayvin had employed, worked on everything from nanomachines to space fleets.

The Grand Harvest had split off from the reptilians without much fuss. It had only ever been a mercenary, despite their conviction they could make it follow them. At least it had taken their clones with it, and recalled all subsequent ones to it since then, moving them through creation through will alone.

Ridge twitched and shuddered as he felt himself cut open by the Harvest's blades, even as its myriad mouths devoured him from the inside. He understood now. The Flying Death wanted him to break, to give in, so it could do whatever it truly wanted to. It expected him to be crushed under the weight of past atrocities, and he was sure he would be made to relive them if he persisted

Rudge didn't know what he was resisting for, except the eternal reasons. He was Zhayvin. It was his purpose to bear the torch of enlightenment into the darkness of ignorance, dispersing shadows such as this creature's sadism.

If that was why it was torturing him. He somehow doubted this had anything to do with justice, if only because Flying Deaths did not work that way. Almost certainly, it was some aberrant, bearing the guise of a monster of yore, for the sake of cruelty. He would not surrender to that. He could not. That was not who he was.

He had to forge on, for...

'You don't even remember, do you?' the Flying Death sneered, snatching him up in a cold tendril. The charred, mangled ruin that had become of Ridge's body wanted to fall apart in its cold grasps, but the Flying Death kept that at bay, by some means. 'You don't know what you fight for, and how could you? Faithless!'

Even as the monster tore at him, roaring invective, Ridge tried to look inward. He had only a hypothesis, but what scientist would he be if he didn't have the force if will to test it? And even if he failed...well. Not like it would make this any worse.

He, Ridge believed, had focused too much on the present, this recreation of a past steeped in blood. He had forgotten to remember what mattered.

And so, as his body crumbled into ruin, Ridge of the Reptilian Collective closed his eyes, and began something like a prayer.

This was, he believed, something of a milestone in Zhayvin history. Religion had never agreed with them, but one did not need to worship in order to have faith.

'Shaper,' he rasped through bubbling, melting lips. As if trying to compensate for the Flying Death's freezing grip, his body had overheated to an impossible degree, and was now smoking. 'If you can hear this...I have always loved you. Not just the form of flesh I met. The shining intellect whose foundation and core that became. The civilisation we've built together, for the sake of knowledge, and the ones we've nurtured on Earth.'

He gulped, blood steaming in his gaping throat. 'I only wish I had been able to help more, before this death. I do not know how I came to be like this, but I hope...' No. 'I know you will remember me as I was.'

With a contemptuous sound, the Flying Death tightened its tendril, and Ridge died once again.

And, in the heart of the Reptilian Collective, Ridge opened its eyes, as the memories of a being who had never been it, but had always believed it was, joined its own.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Coldest of Wars, part 2

* * *
The reptilian stood up, Warscale colourless as it rose in the middle of a bare room. Ridge's starscraper floor was more spartan than those of most, and he had always rolled its eyes at those who claimed it was a hidebound old miser.

As it strode forward, it felt the Shaper's presence intensify at its side. It was one with the Zhayvin as they were one with it, which was how Ridge could feel everyone else in the Collective gearing up as it had. But ever since they'd delved into the Realm Of Ideas that represented the deepest level of the macrocosm, the Shaper, and its Collective, had gained new powers. Mastery of technology in a sincerely conceptual manner, for one.

The Shaper's avatar appeared, a metre-tall, light green reptilian crouching atop the shoulders of the Unscarred Prime. When it spoke, every reptilian heard it in the core of its being, but they knew it wasn't addressing them. Just the way its eyes were trained on the outside, beyond the Collective's borders, was indication enough.

Of course, given the limits of physicality, one would normally have been unable to tell the Shaper was looking beyond its realm, rather than, for example, a point on one of Ridge's walls.

And beyond those walls - not of the building; of the realm it embodied in a purer manner than some of its inhabitants might have believed, beyond the walls of the Collective, outside the sphere of craft and knowledge the Zhayvin had laboured to create and defend, the creature that had taunted the false Ridge lurked.

It was circling, as its ilk were wont to do. Like an animal beyond the circle of light cast by a bonfire, or an invader outside a city's walls. It had shed the shape of the Zhayvi's skyborne bane, though it had never hid its spite.

'And in that,' the Shaper murmured as the Collective mulled over its previous thought, 'is proof of its honesty. For what is there to it except spite?'

'You have a hypothesis,' Ridge said through the reptilians' network.

'Oh, I think it has been all but proven,' the First Scientist replied. 'Some time ago...not too long ago - but, ah, we are still attached to the perspective causal; sentimentality is hard to let go of, when it does not harm - we would have thought it some sort of unusually active metainformational entity, the sort that seem to inexplicably cluster around Earth and its inhabitants.'

It did not have to be said that the Shaper considered this the result of intelligent design rather than coincidence. The symbioses humans especially, entered with Archetypes were not something that could simply happen, in its mind. Perhaps the same force that had caused the formation of the anthropocentric quantum separation effect had ensured these cosmic union...almost as if in apology.

'But it's not?' Mocker inquired while its body kicked its legs.

The Shaper shook its head, the Unscarred following. 'In scale and nature, it could pass for one of the most powerful ones, true enough. But we can see - yes, now we all see - the trail it left through the macrocosm as it came from outside. The residue surrounding its thought pattern is purer information than most things we have ever perceived.'

There was something like a rustling among the audience of the metaphorical forum that was the Collective's communication network.

'You believe it comes from the Prime Cause's realm of origin?' Mocker asked, its joy closer to giddiness than anything sardonic for once. The nature of the macrocosm's creator was still obscure to the reptilians, which, they supposed, was only fitting, but that did not mean their curious minds were less frustrated. Hence the various names of the being or force (but at that level, what was the difference?) being thrown around.

The Shaper shrugged, hiding a smile. 'We do not see why not. Our scanners are still being improved, but everything points to a macrocosmic paradigm shift following David Silva's plan to contact the Absolute.' Then, more subdued, 'Several aberrants swear that the supreme entity once dreamed the macrocosm, distractedly treating it as a simulation when it turned in its metaphorical sleep. Now that the Absolute is awake, it supposedly has always been, and the macrocosm has never been a dream.'

Such shifts had no regard for beings to whom the concept of time was laughable. Timeless or not, everything had changed and always been thus now, memories from the previous iteration of everything still lingering, real but not anymore.

The Shaper's reserved manner now gave way to harshness. 'This might not be the first extra-macrocosmic intrusion - the hyper-entropic aberrant they call Nightraiser claims to destroy such disruptive creatures on a regular basis - but it is the first we have encountered.' Its shoulders slumped. 'We had hoped for a better first contact.'

In the instant of silence that followed, Mocker decided to chime in, seeing everyone else was being awkward. 'That is not so, right? Our meetings with the Ischyros aberrant have always been fairly productive.'

The Shaper waved a dismissive claw. 'Ischyros has been part of the macrocosm since conception, and in any case, its purpose is closer to ours than not. It does not, for lack of a better term, feel foreign. This...does. Even leaving aside its goals.'

'Which we will not.'

'Quite, Ridge.' With a determined expression, the Shaper turned to face the not-Sky Death with eyes that had first seen the cosmos on Zhay, but which had been shaped by the gentler light of Earth's yellow sun. It saw, as the other reptilians did, a shadowy silhouette, rampaging beyond the Collective's borders, only half-glimpsed, as its other half was void.

It brought to mind images of horns and antlers, of claws and fangs and talons, of monstrous appendages, uneven and numberless. At times, it seemed like a hollow creature, like a skeleton that had pulled its flayed hide around itself. It was covered in something at once leathery and furred, feathered and scaled, chitinous and-

'It wants to break in,' Ridge said gruffly, the way a human might have done at the sight of a fly trying to ram through a window. In truth, the flly would have had a far greater chance at shattering the glass than the would-be invader had to scratch the first level of the Collective's infinitely-layered outer defences. Attacks that shook the macrocosm as a side effect, rending the substance of the Outer Void and leaving howling gaps, failed to crack the first screen, but the monster persisted, growing stronger, to no avail.

It did not stop to consider that, ironically, it would have been easier to talk the reptilians into letting it in than attempt to break through a barrier that was meant to ward off anything. The idea of a forcefield did not care one whit whether an assault was mundane or aberrant in nature. Escalating merely goaded the shield to become tougher.

The outer defences' second layer was based on the Grand Harvest's capabilities. Its false echo of the unliving weapon had not been activated, which was why the intruder hadn't been drowned in doppelgangers, but the Shaper had half a mind of going ahead.

In a way, it was thankful for this intrusion. The Collective's metainformational abilities, the absolute forces at their command, could not yet be activated outside their artificial reality, no matter the specification. Clearly, the Atlanteans still had them beat when it came to harnessing Archetypes. But, thankfully, the monster had done them the favour of knocking on their door.

'Actually, it loathes the thought of being in our home even more than the idea of us,' the Shaper corrected. 'Even briefly, to destroy it. We think you will understand shortly...'

'Let me in,' a voice snarled as the Shaper trailed off. Ridge might have not recognised it, for its growling tone was even deeper, somehow angrier, than the one it had used as one of the reptilian's ancestral enemies. 'Open your gates, that I might stride through them and topple your walls from the inside.'

'Who-' Mocker sniggered. 'Who talks like that?' Then, addressing the creature, it added, 'Are you begging? You should avoid gargling gravel before doing that in the future, it might make one think your are somewhat peeved.'

'Does your court jester speak for you, construct queen?' it asked the Shaper. 'Are you so cowardly you would cower inside your fortress rather than face me on the field of battle?'

At half of the Collective's bemused silence, the Shaper said, 'We believe its characteristics are reactive - that is, it appears as whatever an observer considers primal, in the most monstrous way.'

'That would explain the Flying Death,' Ridge agreed gruffly. 'Because my replica had been wrought in the form of a Zhayvi. But what's this patchwork savage banging on our windows supposed to be? Besides loud.'

The Shaper's muzzle was split by an affectionate smile. 'We have grown attached to Earth enough that this world's ideas of barbarism have become ours, as well. Does it not seem like the humans were carving their first spears yesterday?'

'Your affection for mankind does not seem relevant here,' Ridge said in a vice the Shaper knew the former general would have never admitted was jealous. 'I, for one, do not-'

'Ah, but you do not perceive it alone, do you, our friend? We all do, and enough of us cleave close to the Terran idea of atavism.'

'Just like voting,' Ridge said, vaguely disgusted. 'I have to watch nonsense because the majority is tasteless.'

The Shaper laughed at that, making the Unscarred place a hand on Ridge's pauldron. 'We are sure you will survive, somehow. Even this apoplectic aberrant, yes.' Tilting Ridge's armoured muzzle up with its other hand, the Unscarred made Ridge look up at the Shaper. 'It's not going to reveal anything meaningful about itself or its motives, you know. Except by mistake. We would prefer to weather the storm, and if it somehow forces its way past the Infinity Sphere...we'll burn that bridge when we get to it.' Scoffing lightly, the Shaper let go.

Ridge shook its head, a motion reminiscent of a dog clearing water from its ears, but less useful for clearing things up. The Shaper was affectionate towards most of its acquaintances. That was it. Nothing untoward.

Besides, the Shaper's feelings were as clear to Ridge as its own. There should have been no room for confusion. So, to brush it off, it asked, 'Indeed? You believe such a blustering aberrant could hide its motives indefinitely? That it could bear to do so?'

'You're judging a recording by the first frame,' the Shaper replied. 'Look at it this way: it's so angry, we're almost surprised it can communicate at all.' For a moment, so brief it could not be divided, the grin of the Shaper's avatar resembled Mocker's usual one. Ridge swore he'd find a way to delete that memory. 'If you ask it, if you let it scrabble at our walls and rage, it will tell you it is here to make us answer for our crimes, bring justice to the universe by making us suffer as we made others. But we all know it is not so.'

Ridge nodded curtly, directing its gaze at the monster outside. 'You lose,' it began, eyes hardening as it glared. 'Does that worthless wager still amuse you? You were so sure my clone would fall apart without our technology! That he would crumble without our science to strengthen him...fool,' Ridge hissed. 'Science is not a matter of gadgets and enhancements and implants. Those are baubles. The fruits of labour matter little compared to the thoughts that brought them forth.'

The Shaper's smile widened, becoming more serene. Outside, the creature had retreated away from the Infinity Sphere's first layer, and was now circling it. 'We would like to say that this will end soon, but how can it? It is, after all, a representation of the struggle that has plagued the macrocosm since its formation.'

And with that, the Shaper turned its attention to its fellows, and the Collective began communicating as only it could.

The monster, the Shaper was almost sure, was some sort of metainformational entity or equivalent, likely an embodiment of all that was primal, aberrancy included. All that could be achieved without technology, but manifested in the most animalistic, most destructive way possible.

What it forgot, of course, was that technology was the practical application of knowledge. Just because aberrants changed reality by means of their powrrs, that did not mean they did not use technology. Was the macrocosm itself not shaped by one's perception of themselves and others? That, as the Shaper explained, as close to giddy as it could sound, meant existence was, in a way, the most complex machine ever, if not the most stable.

'A few centuries ago,' the Shaper said roughly halfway through the lecture, 'some humans started thinking of their god as a watchmaker, and of all there was as a time piece. We cherish that analogy. Not the idea of godhood,' it added, 'for such supremacy is abhorrent, poisonous. There should not be a monopoly on power. It...'

The reptilians understood. What the Shaper cherished was the idea of the macrocosm as an intricate machine. It was more elegant than if it had simply apleared out of nowhere, for did that not mean a mind, developed enough, could create a new macrocosm?

The thorn in the First Scientist's side was the idea of an omnipotent mechanic, because it was plain that their - if there were others to be found - macrocosm was not under the care of a kind, loving being.

'Consider,' Mocker said, a hand splayed and extended, as if pleading with a hidebound audience. 'The Absolute might not be liable for its deeds during its "slumber", but it still ordained the macrocosm in such a way that an Archetype could cause its collapse through a chain reaction without a person fit to channel and guide it.'

David Silva's crisis of faith had been a disastrous moment, but, as the reptilians had learned, not the first such event a Keeper of DEATH had almost caused. By using the Idea of Scanners, and, they suspected, with DEATH's permission, they had glimpsed previous Keepers, and they had all failed in their own way: a bloodthirsty lunatic; a lecherous lout; a pacifist to the point of spinelessness.

And, of course, they could hardly forget about how David had only been the second Keeper to want to destroy everyone and everything. The differences between him and his predecessor were that he no longer wanted to send all creation to oblivion, and that he had recovered from the damage done to him to prepare him for his role - unlike the being whose power of destruction had nothing to do with DEATH or the Unnamed Darkness, and who now languished in the depths of DEATH Keep's Spiral Atrocious.

The flimsy cosmological mechanics, the weaknesses in the structure of the macrocosm and the fixed points in its was little wonder that many had seen the Mover's Dream as a nightmare.

And now that it was awake? It still insisted on certain events unfolding the way they had, when alternatives might have spared suffering, and gave no explanation.

Perhaps history would have changed greatly if things had gone differently, but what did that matter to an all-powerful being? Why not make it so that everyone had always been as powerful, as wise and as happy as possible?

Was suffering worth that much? Was so much virtue given meaning through struggle?

The Mover hadn't answered the questions in the reptilians' thoughts. It hadn't reached out to snuff out pain and despair. Unmoved, indeed.

And that was why the Collective's plan had to succeed. There could be no certainty, no true safety, with the macrocosm at the mercy of such a powerful being. It was aloof and best, sadistic at worst, and its aims incomprehensible.

'That's all you managed to make him forget,' Ridge told his replica's murderer, devoting a shard of its consciousness to taunting. 'Well - that, and what the starscrapers stand for. He was so close to remembering, even with his new, stunted brain, so you drew his attention, and tried to break him until he forgot everything. Until the entirely of his being was a ragged, endless scream.'

Using its Warscale's tachyon field emitter, Ridge paced the length of its flat, speed tripling every second. 'Ambition, to reach ever higher, and plenty, for everyone has as much as they could want. They are us, in microcosm. No one has ever toppled our towers, not like that pompous self-declared god did after it made humans unable to understand each other, so they'd never reach its abode. Such potential to bridge this cosmos and the Yahweh Cluster...unfinished, yet destroyed...'

Ridge trailed off, jaws clenching. 'And our ideals? It took brainwashing to remove knowledge of that - torture, again! You bet we're nothing without our artifice? But you are nothing, in the end. What benefit have you brought the macrocosm, or any of its inhabitants? What have you achieved? And even in your clutches, that pale copy of me never gave in, never gave up. It just died. You couldn't silence a faint echo after you failed to make it think like you, but you thought you could topple the Collective?'

By the end, Ridge was almost screaming. Ridiculous, it knew. Pointless. The monster's hearing relied as much on sound as Ridge's did on scent. It would hear no matter how the reptilian spoke. Ridge...was being sentimental, and that, in a way, meant playing into the creature's hands. Admitting it had been rattled.

'We will bring about a new age, and you will have no place in it,' Ridge resumed, calmer, almost cold. 'There will be nowhere left for your ilk to hide. Hurting others because you can and want to, like we did in our foolish youth. We will make you a thing of the past, and then you will be forgotten. And we will not do this by razing everything in front of us, but by lifting those behind us up.'

That was, Ridge would have said, more than a promise. A...premonition. Promises could be broken, but the Collective's dream would become reality.

Some looked at the surface and stopped there. They thought "aberrant" was a slur, or that the reptilians despised those who deviated from reality. That was untrue, and had always been. Yes, some Zhayvin might have been frustrated by how aberrants broke every law of existence they thought they had understood - there might have been some jealousy there, for the Zhayvin had always been powerless, paranormally-speaking, not that they had ever seen it that way.

The Zhayvin were isolationists, yes. Partly because of their old pact with the pantheons, partly because of guilt over everything they had done. That most humans would not have accepted to live like them did not mean they shouldn't allow more visitors. As for the aberrants?

There was, at the heart of paranormal power, the seed of elitism. It could be inherited, it could be awakened or given, but it could not be shared the way inventions were. No human would ever be able to become a mage and a vampire and a were and...the aberrants suffered too, so many set on a single path, controlled by forces that were, in the end, part of them.

And, of course, some aberrants congregated, like ethno-states in all but name, with more power than any nation in human, history, because they often had no alternative. Who could understand them and provide for them best but their own kind?

And aberrants were unique. They were more than the humans they measured themselves again, more than the mundanes, the worldly - and less, in some aspects. The way they had quietly made their way into power had been inevitable. Even if only mundanes governed openly, it would not change the fact any decently powerful para could end them in moments the instant they disagreed with a policy.

Then there were those who sneered down at the powerless for not being born special, and at the Collective for relying on engineering - biological, mechanical, spatiotemporal, abstract - to bridge the gap between themselves and those who had entered the world with the power to mend or scar it.

The reptilians knew they could change that, in time. Their quantum entanglement was proof. By binding the information that made up their smalles components, and the metainformation behind and above that, to that of aberrants, they could gain their abilities. These quanta could be chained, so that any member of the Collective could gain any or all aberrant abilities. Provided retaliation did not occur.

And more devices were in the works. Ideal Scanners that could analyse the macrocosm and its components on a metainformation level, and convert anything into them after being connected to Ideal Forges. Turn a clump of dust into Ischyros, or...

​The Unscarred, as it often had been, would be a testbed for a new way to tap into power. If the Shaper was right, the Idea of the Unscarred would be invulnerable, able to be anywhere, and thus everywhere...if only such technologies and techniques worked beyond the Collective's realm.

But there was time. Eventually, they would achieve their dream, and everyone would have everything. All the power, shared freely. There would still be conflict, for insanity was a hardy thing, and evil even more so, but the Collective would never stop seeking to remove scarcity. Not that of resources, for that was a paltry thing, with their technology. The dearth of happiness, of safety, of love and respect between all beings who grew and dreamed and struggled.

Ridge turned away. Its contempt of the nameless creature might have been warranted, but it was an ugly thing. There was place for more, for better, in his mind.

​So, instead of continuing to bandy words with the monster, Ridge sat down, and sunk into its memories.

​This time, it was of its own choice.

* * *

Error. Error. Errors, everywhere. Every damned machine in this ramshackle ship is blaring about errors, Ridge swears, but that's only to be expected. The former Technarch is half sure the whole shot in the dark was an attempt at martyrdom of the Shaper.

They released all their slaves, cut off ties with their allies, and then, assembling the little working tech they still had, they returned to one of their few remaining worlds, creating an unstable wormhole, and sailing a starship through it, so it would take them where it may.

Rdige executed all of the few Technarchy Wars veterans who had disagreed with the plan. He's never killed so many Zhayvin in one day.

He knows the Shaper is half-mad, and mad with grief besides. Grief, for her people, guilt, over her conquests, mixing with doubt. If they die, they died. If not, they'll build a new, better life. Surely.

Ridge is not sure where this squeamishness has come from - sheer bloodshed has never made her recoil - but he does not care. She is the mistress of his life, the goddess he has worshipped in everything but name. If he does not obey her, who will?

They find a young planet. Still burning and quaking in the throes of its birth, and no satellites. Already, the presence of aberrants can be detected on it, even by the ship's defective instruments. There are other aliens here, too, and across the rest of this star system.

The Shaper looks up from her command throne, and a bloody smile graces her visage. Yes. They will make a new home here. A new world, for a new life.

There are changes to be made, of course, agreements with the local powers to be drafted. The Zhayvin must be remade, too, weaknesses and distractions removed. Sexual traits, mutations, overly strong emotions and wants, they must be discarded, so that the Zhayvin might look upon their new world with pure eyes.

The reeducation is decried as brainwashing by some of the ship's crew, as expected. Ridge and his enforcers take them and the other dissenters, and quietly eliminate them. Their personalities and memories are uploaded, so they might be given new bodies at a later date, and remain aware of their kindred in the meantime.

He does not regret anything for even one moment. For that to happen, he would have to think the Shaper is wrong, and that is, obviously, untrue.

He is the first to be remade, and she strokes his face in farewell, as he takes his last breath in this form. There will bee no cessation of consciousness, so Ridge knows he will remain himself. He dares hope this devotion will change something, that the Shaper will take him into her confidence. Maybe now, they will grow closer.

They do not. He is an old acquaintance, and they are beyond such sentimentalism now.

Ridge expected this would happen. He does not resent the Shaper. That would imply she is flawed, and...

* * *

'Sibling,' the Unmoved Mover sighed impatiently, leaning back in its throne, 'this is not the way things should be.'

The other Maker growled, before grumbling incoherently. It hunched over the table between it and the Mover's seat, and the other Creator reciprocated, the beings' hands performing another series of intricate movements over the tabletop.

Starlight Crowned With Ivory's creation might no longer have been its dream, but to it, everything from a zero-dimensional point to the Ultimate Void were less than nonexistent, compared to the deepest level of bein the Unmoved Mover operated at. So, thought it might have seemed it and its sibling were manipulating its creation, that was untrue.

​Starlight was fending off the other Maker's attempt to unmake everything it had wrought.

And it had started so well too! But, and it knew it was spiteful, no one would have lost much if this Creator went to sleep again. Awareness did not agree with it.

The Mover's androgynous features grew stern. 'Enough. You plop down your half-cocked attempt at a being in the middle of my everything, then you want to tear it down yourself? I will not allow it.'

​The Maker grunted. 'The lizards deny facts. They think they live in a realm of logic, with laws. They look down on power, true power, power like ours. And yet, without their trinkets, they are nothing.'

'And yet, they plan to better everyone's lot. A nobler goal than yours, I would say.'

The Creator made a cutting gesture. 'They do not realise the primacy of that which they call aberrant. If they share it with everyone, what is the point? They already disrespect it enough, but this...this is monstrous​.'


'When your creation almost died, who saved it? The "aberrants"!' the Maker ground out into the Mover's face. 'And do not tell me everyone contributed. An "aberrant" came up with the plan, and what have these toymakers given him?'

​The Mover shook its head. 'David already has nearly everything he could want, but the Collective would not deny him a boon. Be serious.'

The Creator looked aside, which made the Mover raise its voice. Its words rang out through the Ur-City, shaking it with power unimaginably greater than the nameless Maker's attempts to destroy creation. 'Remove your creature, or Ischyros will do it.'

The Creator stiffened. Ischyros had a certain reputation. Ur-mites did, as a rule. They were meant to encourage the creative process, both by needling the Makers and by entering the realms they crafted. Ischyros knew how much conflict and struggle could encourage and strengthen, which was why it could see strength, all strength, as easily as it could channel said power. It knew what to do.

'...As you wish, sibling,' the Maker snapped. 'I would have thought removing this eyesore from our city would make you remember your family, and treat us as you promised you would.'

The Mover spread its arms, one hand holding its sceptre. 'Do I not lead you? Do I not aid every unsleeping Maker in creating, advise them how to treat their children.' Lowering its arms, the Maker's voice became sardonic. 'Am I to forgive and forget because we are alike? Even though you tried to wipe out an entire civilisation because you disliked them? And then tried to make it so endless lives had never been out of petty annoyance?'

As the other Maker was consumed by a pillar of power and hate, its bloodcurdling shrieks echoing endlessly, the Mover lounged across its throne, musing about the foolishness, and the even greater cruelty.

Ischyros hopped onto its mantled shoulder, making it smile slightly. 'Not a friend anyone would want, Ischyros thinks. Are you going to ever let it out?' Softer, the rotund being added, 'it is awake, and aware, because it is in agony. Perhaps, if you let it go free, it will remember you enough to focus, create something good?'

The Mover laughed musically. 'Are you playing devil's advocate, my friend? Or perhaps, if I let it go, it will remain aware because it will hate me, attempt to strike back at me, or my children. It will fail in either case, and I will cast it down again in revenge. Why interrupt the burning? So the memory of a painless instant can haunt its mind after it is punished again?'

​Pretending to consider, the Mover looked up, seeing only itself. It was one with the city, and its inhabitants, but the greatest part of it. Reminding the unruly Creator of its place had taken it less effort than a human would have expended crushing a zit, for the mental gap between such a blemish and a person was far smaller than that between the Mover and its fellow Makers.

Knowledge was power, and the Mover knew all there was to know. Even so, the delight at crushing the fledgling that had attempted to destroy all it had built, in a manner crueller than any of its nightmares could have, was boundless. The Creator had malice to spare, so malice would be its lot, until it only retained enough awareness to scrape before the Mover's throne, and beg for oblivion, in whatever form its master chose for it.

'I am a gentle god,' the Unmoved Mover whispered. 'I do not demand, I defend.' It blinked. 'And yet. I let my children climb to greatness on mountains of cadavers, and you think I would tolerate omnicide, Ischyros? No...only through misery can such presumptuousness be repaid, such evil be punished.'
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: Therianthropes

* * *

AN: The first Family Matters sidestory storyline will be focused on the Silva family, as well as certain people close to them. In the meantime...

* * *

Classification: metamorphous aberrants (ability to change into the shape of animals or aberrants, as well as states in-between, while possessing enhanced traits in comparison to the "template" being).

Colloquial name: weres.

Origins: the appearance of therianthropes, in terms of both date and nature, is a hotly-debated subject among several communities, not least of all weres themselves (see attachment "Lore: Weres"). Weres are former humans and related humanoid aberrants (aetherkines, psychics) who have been damaged by or exchanged fluids or tissue with another were. This process of "turning" is inevitable and irreversible, as well as limited to the aforementioned groups of sapients. Other aberrants are unaffected by therianthropy, an immunity that has uncharitably been likened to a parasite resulting to share its host in the case of vampires and other former mundanes.

Description: therianthropes, whether they began life as animals, humans or other beings, retain their original appearance, to an extent, the process of turning mostly removing blemishes. This is a were's default state. As mentioned above, they can assume the form of animals or aberrants, as well as a hybrid shape. Most often, this shape resembled the were's default form "overlaid" with the traits of their beast (as most refer to the mental manifestation of therianthropy. Depending on the were's self-control and beast (for example, most tortoises are less aggressive than, say, a honey badger), the beast can range between something like a persona that can be assumed or discarded at will, a very active subconscious or set of instincts, and a different personality altogether.

As has been detailed in the "Lore: Weres" attachment, weres vary massively in terms of physical prowess and esoteric abilities. However, they are universally far more powerful than they were before being turned (it has been observed that a mage so saturated with mana they no longer need to actively boost their strength will become a stronger were than most, even if their beast should be weaker than others), with keener senses, an immunity to direct esoteric effects, and regeneration that will heal any damage not caused by silver. Experiments point to this having more to do with silver's metainformational abilities, such as being perceived as a cleansing metal (weres who see their therianthropy as a blessing are not partial towards this view, as it implies their powers are an infection or otherwise corrupt), than its chemical composition or other mundane aspects.

Mana and psi can also be enhanced by therianthropy. As mana is the result of one's body, mind and soul working in harmony, a stronger body and a broader, faster mind can help, much as the latter can boost psychic abilities. Provided, of course, that the mage or osychic in question can control their beast.

Behaviour: weres' personalities are most often altered by the process of being turned, even if only in terms of trauma, which can linger for weres who are completely in control of their beast. The beast's instincts bleed over even in their default form, causing them to mimic the traits of the animal they resemble, which can lead, among other things, to clashes with both other weres and non-weres over territory and possible mates, even if the were's rational mind does not desire such things. It can also lead to attraction towards animals, something most weres, perhaps understandably, prefer not to talk about. The closer a were is to their beast in form, the more the beast is in control, in most cases. This is another reason, besides power and the ability to communicate with both people and animals, that many weres prefer spending time in hybrid form.

More experienced weres can transform fractions of their body for a few moments, serving as a way for the beast to relieve stress while keeping the rest of their body unaltered. This de-stressing method is risky among recently-turned weres, as their instincts' spikes in intensity can prove disorientating.

Threat level: local to stellar, depending on were subspecies. The weakest weres vary from being able to destroy city blocks and outpace tanks shells in their default state to pulverising mountains and moving thousands of times faster than sound in hybrid or beast form. The most powerful weres are hundreds of times faster than light and able to destroy stars; some also possess enhanced versions of their aberrant abilities prior to being turned.

Neutralisation: reshaping Warscale into a silver-metamaterial alloy is sufficient for most weres, who can easily be dispatched thanks to the power armour's baseline combat capacity. The rearranging of preexisting materials into silver projectiles to be launched and accelerated by tachyon fields would also prove sufficient for the elimination of most weres. Goading a therianthrope and placing them into situations likely to make them retreat or become sloppy is also effective, although unlikely to work with most experienced weres. Also, any therianthrope that requires a Warscaled reptilian to combat is almost certainly capable of seeing through such ploys.
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Family Matters: Silva (One), part one

* * *
Cloudshade was a woman on a mission.

She did not think of herself as such, of course, for multiple reasons, but it did not change her purpose. A purpose Cloudshade was so focused on, she barely even questioned how she could see the world around her. Hadn't Oberon removed her eyes? Or had that been a hallucination born of pain? It mattered not, compared to her quest.

Firstly, she did not think of herself as a woman. Oh, she was female, yes, though she'd have ripped out anyone's tongue if they dared to refer to her as if she were an animal. Women were the counterparts of human men, and of the males whose species mankind surrounded itself with, pretending to live in harmony.

The very word was structured in such a manner that thee thought of it being applied to her nearly made her grind her teeth. "Woman"...a man with something? Without something? It baffled her that their females (humans were a species for which such labels worked much better), clamouring for equality as they had for a while now, called themselves a word so similar to "man".

But then, the same word was sometimes used to refer to the whole species, so...she was not surprised. Mankind, humanity...equality, yes. As if.

Cloudshade did not spare much thought for the fact that, if she'd felt better, she'd have never busied herself with something as trivial as language. Language was a construct of civilisation, that rotten, chimeric madness that made Cloudshade's blood boil long before she laid eyes on any example of it. The thought, and that it still existed, despite her people's noble efforts, was insulting enough.

But then, Oberon had broken her. Not completely, not enough to reduce her to a drooling, gibbering imbecile, but enough that she'd actually listened to him - King Seelie. The Cloudshade who had been could have never imagined obeying Oberon, even in her most insane moments.

And that wasn't even the most frustrating part! She didn't even remember what that godsdamned bastard had done to her.

Oberon's torture (for what else could it have been?) might have twisted her into something resembling his spineless vassals, but that wasn't the most frustrating part of this ordeal. Not truly.

He'd demanded she go to the Silva strigoi and his pet bitch, and apologise. Her mission rankled, as much as the memory of the order, but she couldn't bring herself to stop and turn around, and not just because she knew Oberon would obliterate her the first chance he got, or far worse, give her to his wife.

If Titania was even a trillionth as bad as the rumours about her implied, Cloudshade would much rather face the corpse and his lizard. Queen Seelie was, allegedly, viciously obsessed with making sure no woman (there was that damned word again...) her husband spent even an instant focusing on influenced his behaviour in any way.

Cloudshade had never met the old sow, but she had a feeling Oberon using special tools to torture her had offended Titania, for some reason.


The Unseelie bit her lip as she strode towards the gaggle of hovels Silva called home. It had nothing to do with nervousness - it was just a way to stop gritting her teeth hard enough to crack them, which was annoying, regeneration or not. And not just because she was doing it unintentionally.

Sadly, King Seelie's attention had reduced her once full lower lip to a thin, ragged strip of flesh, barely enough to cover the bottom of her teeth. The iron implements' touch meant the Fae had to struggle just to reach her lower lip with her upper teeth, and her rickety jaw didn't appreciate the motion. An iron hammer had left it half-shattered, and the ache flared every time she bit her lip, as if in protest.

Worse, the taste of her own blood seemed to irk her. Cloudshade's vitae resembled lead in terms of taste rather than copper, unlike the thin sludge that ran through human veins. Whenever blood toucher her tongue, Cloudshade felt her nostrils flare, and her jaw clench, almost reluctantly, until her teeth shattered against each other, only to heal.

It was the reminder of the torture, she told herself. That she'd been disfigured using artifice, and by King Seelie at that, hurt more than the mutilation itself ever would. It had nothing to do with her blood triggering some sort of brutish reflex. If Oberon had done something to make her bite herself, like some animal trying to escape a trap, and the process had made her react to her blood like this, she was sure she'd have remembered.

It was better than believing the opposite. More...reassuring.

Cloudshade smile humourlessly, an expression that did her almost lipless face no favours. She was sure most humans would've gasped, at least, at the sight of her, but she'd seen none so far. No patrols of the slave-minders they called law enforcement (as if there was any law besides do as thou wilt...), much less any of their disgusting settlements.

Cloudshade stopped, pulling her bland, shapeless garments tighter around herself. None of their vehicles, either? No aircraft above? She knew Oberon had opened a portal in such a location she could reach her destination with minimal fuss, in his own words - he hadn't trusted her to leave using her own powers over spacetime -, but the Fae knew Earth should have been busier than this. Even this stretch of countryside in a backwater nation.

Had King Seelie sent her to some wasteland? But that made no sense. Even at the relatively leisurely pace she'd been instructed (instructed! Her!) to follow "so as not to attract undue attention", she should have spotted something, with her senses.

Had Oberon tricked her into thinking he'd let her go, then? Was she actually in another chamber of his torture dungeon? This was clearly a subtler form of torment, as she hadn't been harmed yet, her tics aside. The pompous ape probably though he was being clever.

Cloudshade had only started contemplating a setup when a yellow-orange missile slammed into her from above, flattening her without so much as stirring a pebble on the lonely road. Mia knew her own strength well enough not to affect anything beyond the target of her ire.

The Unseelie rose on all fours, but a yamadium-toed combat boot crushed her face back into the road. If Cloudshade hadn't managed to glimpse her assailant, the weight and the odd shape of the boot, made to fit a zmeu, would have confirmed her suspicions. Mia had tried to stomp her to death in her first encounter, though that attempt had been less effective.

The ARC agent then placed something around her wrists that felt like handcuffs, and Cloudshade almost scoffed out loud. She might have been doing Oberon's bidding, but she was not going to humiliate herself more than necessary. She was an agent of cleansing destruction, tearing away the farce the wicked had plastered over the face of nature. The whore above her had no right to treat her like this, no matter what her lords and masters had trained her to do when seeing her betters.

The Fae thought about unmaking the restraints, but, instead of falling apart, they merely sent out something that felt like a pressure behind Cloudshade's eyes, and reality stayed the same.

Mia retracted her boot, allowing Cloudshade to speak. 'What are you doing to me?' she asked, turning over to glare up at the younger woman.

The zmeu's smile was as cheerful as her earlier one had been, and showed more teeth. 'We don't exactly have anything like antimagic or psilencers for most reality warpers, but we can counter the effects even if we can't turn off the source. Pretty nifty if ya ask me. Do you like it?'

Cloudshade managed a more genuine smile this time, though it was still close to a sneer. 'Strange to hear you say you cannot turn me off, but yes, 'tis an interesting trinket.'

Mia matched her expression. 'Oh, cute. Look who's learning some slang. You almost sound like a person! Yeah, I'm sure I turn you off, Shade. No ears, no nose, no hair, and I look like a dragon fucked a bodybuilder. Don't worry, I'd rather be loved than pretty and rotten like you...well. Looks like you'll have to settle for rotten.' The zmeu's voice, already resembling a lioness' growl, dropped as she laughed, which sounded like a series of cannon shots. 'Ahh...I'm not sure whether I wanna hug whoever rearranged your mug, or smack 'em for stealing my thunder. You look a helluva lot better now, by the way.'

'Thank you,' the Fae sneered. 'I'll be sure to send Oberon your regards.'

'Oh, he did this?' Mia scratched her head, tugging at one of her crest's spikes, while her other hand cupped her chin. 'Guess I could thank even him...before I bite his throat out. Seems like he hates your guts almost as much as I do.'

Cloudshade shook her head, biting back a comment. 'Regardless of how you feel about me, I am here at King Seelie's behest-'

'Oh, bull...' Mia interrupted, but trailed off, eyes narrowing, as if listening to something Cloudshade could not hear. 'Huh,' she grunted. 'Guess he did, eh?' The zmeu nodded. 'Goddamn, if I'd known Oberon could make you monsters do anything good, I'd have suggested handing you over to him long ago. Maybe we'd have got some goodwill and convinced him and his toadies to stop stealing kids. Guess we'll never know...' Mia's uniformed shoulders rose in a shrug as she smirked sardonically. 'Gotta ask the postcogs next chance I get. 'Not that it matters now. You're all done.'

Cloudshade's breath whistled through her teeth. 'That is one way to look at it,' she said, trying to keep her voice level. 'Now, if I may inform you of my purpose here...?'

'I'm pretty confused about that, yeah. I mean, the hole you should crawl and die in is all the way over there,' Mia said, pointing to a spot behind the bound Fae. Not waiting for a response, the zmeu kicked out, nearly twisting Cloudshade's neck backwards. A slap finished the process.

The Fae seethed. She knew Mia could've just kicked her head all the way around - the slap had been pure spite. As her neck and bones realigned, Cloudshade tried not to spit at the overgrown maggot that had left a red imprint on her sunken cheek, along with five claw marks.

Smiling down at her, Mia placed her boots on the Fae's legs, before squatting down, crushing bone under her boots. Cloudshade made no sound as her thighs were reduced to crimson paste and bone gravel, making her fall on her back, hands trapped under her. She tried to shapeshift and slip out of the cuffs, but the contraption generated some sort of forcefield that gripped her flesh and kept it in its original shape.

Tch. Not clever, but effective. They could not simply nullify her dominion over existence, much less her own body, but they could counteract it with brute force. Much like the reptile above her was doing for her already awful mood.

'Don't try to get away~' Mia said in an infantilising tone, wagging a clawed finger in the Fae's face. 'This is your last day alive! You don't want it to last much longer, do you?'

'You cannot kill me!' Cloudshade screamed. 'I...I am here to make amends! Listen to me: I was sent by Oberon, who believes you and your lover seek satisfaction. He ordered me to remain after the apology and do whatever you two command, if that is what you wish.'

'It's not,' Mia replied bluntly. 'And I don't see which part of that is supposed to mean I can't shove your head up your arse and throw you into a pool of molten iron.'

Cloudshade gulped, in outrage rather than fear, at the mental image. How dare this thing... 'I must fulfill Oberon's order. Whatever your feelings, I must apologise to you. You cannot end my life yet.'

'Aww! I can't kill you cuz we're not friends yet? Look at that!' Mia put her hands on her hips. 'You have no right to sound so hoity-toity while begging. You have no right to beg. How many families pleaded for lives that actually mattered before you stitched them together?'

Despite herself, Cloudshade chuckled hollowly. 'First, you imply I am not a person. Now, that my life has no meaning...'

'Feeling's mutual, I'm sure.' Mia frowned. 'It doesn't matter to me, no. What is a life dedicated to tearing down what other people build? Meaningful?' The zmeu huffed. 'You're less than nothing. And yet, look at me, bantering with a terrorist...'

Living iron replaced Mia's flesh up to her elbows as he grabbed Cloudshade's throat, her touch searing the Fae's skin. 'Wait! Wait, Mia. I am so-'

'No, you're not. You're sorry we stopped you.' Mia's grasp tightened. 'You're feeling sorry for yourself, because this happened to you. But there's no room in that heart for regret.' The agent's fanged grin returned. 'Guess I'm not "zmeu" anymore, huh? What do you think using my name will make me do? Tear you to shreds faster?'

Cloudshade gasped as iron claws began parting the flesh of her neck, rivulets of dark blood making their way to her chest. 'L-Listen to me!' the Fae sputtered. 'I must...' but why did she feel this need? Oberon couldn't have placed some spell on her, to bend her to his will. Unseelie, like many paranormal beings, were immune to such alterations.

King Seelie must have done something else to her, something she couldn't remember, and which had obviously instilled this need in her by purely mundane means.

It couldn't have been her guilt talking. Of that much, she was certain. Like the musclebound cow crushing her had said, there was no room for regret in her.

'What...what do you want me to say?' Cloudshade burbled between gasps, her large, inky black eyes boring into the zmeu's crimson ones.

In response, Mia carefully cradled one side of the Fae's face with an iron hand. It would have been almost tender, if not for the burning sensation the touch caused. 'Your eyes are like David's,' the zmeu said, sounding pensive, before nodding to herself. 'You do not deserve them.'

Faster than she could react, Mia grabbed her eyes between her claw tips and pulled. If not for the pain tolerance widespread among paranormal beings, Cloudshade's shriek would have been of agony, rather than anger.

Before she could find her words, however, it hit her.

Her eyes? What eyes...?

Oberon had removed them, during his clumsy attempts to torment her. Hadn't he?

But she'd been so relieved at the chance to finally appease the ridiculous fool that she hadn't questioned how she was able to see again. New eyes could not have been grown by paranormal means, not when her first ones had been removed though iron, and she was fairly sure there weren't any alternatives.

Was she going mad? Or had she imagined...but what had she imagined? Losing her sight then? Or having it until now?

Cloudshade stopped screaming, drawing in a breath she did not need, as she felt Mia dangle something in front of her. Judging by the air disturbance...yes, it felt like her eyeballs.

Tch. Impudent child. She did not even have the skill to mangle the Fae's body properly, but what could you expect from a leathery winged ape?

A burning backhand smashed her head into the ground, before the zmeu leaned closer, so that her mouth was next to her ear. 'I caught that, you know. And every snippy little remark you made in that head of yours.' At the Unseelie's grimace, the zmeu made a derisive sound. 'Don't look so surprised. You think you're entitled to surface thoughts? Please.'

Mia stood up, almost turning the Fae over with a kick. With how it burned, she must've turned her boots to iron, too. But why all this grandstanding?

'You asked what I want you to say? Nothing, you moron. If you scream yourself hoarse before you die, it'll be enough for me. You think I'm the stupid animal, but you believed there was any chance David or I would ever give a shit for your excuses? Oberon knew this was pointless. Wake the hell up: he sent you to die.' There was a rasping sound, which made Cloudshade think the zmeu was licking her fangs. 'Why else do you think you made any progress instead of catching an iron spike through the skull as soon as you showed up? The Fae can't operate on Earth without advanced warning anymore...not that they were supposed to before. But we've got them by the balls now. This was all arranged, trust me - and you walked right into it, as stupid as you believed everyone you've slaughtered to have been.'

Mia's voice broke a little there, but not as if she wanted to cry. More like she was holding herself back from screaming in rage. if Cloudshade could've got her face to work properly, she'd have smirked coldly at the hypocrite. For all that she and her ilk bleated about being civilised and defending their putrid realms, they were chomping at the bit to destroy those they hated, like everyone and everything was.

'And you can fuck right off with that bullshit,' Mia said tersely, her anger turning as cold as her voice. 'You saw the world was having a happy moment, and thought "damn, but wouldn't it be great if we crushed that wilted flower of joy this stupid little holiday brings them?". You wanted to destroy the world as we know it, and why? Because you anarchist sons of bitches can't keep your hatred to yourselves?' The zmeu pushed a cold hand into Cloudshade's back, iron claws gripping the Fae's spine. 'Sometimes, I wonder if you're wired that way, or if you're just jealous we have better things to do than beat each other to death the moment we look more organised than an ape troop.'

'They are nothing without these lies,' Cloudshade hissed. 'Take away their baubles, and the humans you coddle would be alone, and naked, and afraid.'

'Unlike you, who are so strong without anything to aid you?' Mia asked drily. 'Well, you're in luck. I could've killed you in that first hit, but I think the cuffs have added some insult to injury, hmm? If might makes right, there shouldn't be any problem. I think that, by now, you've come to grips with the fact that idea starts to suck balls after you run into someone stronger than you.' A cold hand, covered in the Fae's hot, steaming blood, lifted her by the throat. 'Don't worry about not meeting David. I promise, you'll be seeing him every day left of your eternity.'

A contemptuous chuckle was the last thing Cloudshade heard before a fist smashed through her skull, silencing the world alongside every voice in her head.

* * *

I managed not to show any fangs as I frowned at Cloudshade's soul. The trapped spirit hadn't prayed to any gods, and had only praised herself. Something I was grateful for, if only because it had brought her to me after death.

Mia leaned against me, crouching a little to rest her chin on top of my head as she hugged me from behind. I grabbed one of her wrists and squeezed, feeling her smile and beginning to do so myself. Cloudshade's soul was coherent enough she would say whatever was on her mind the instant I let up. There was no chance of her losing her mind, so I let her spend some more time in a sphere of spikes and the storm of blades it contained, until I felt she'd been through a fraction of the pain she had put so many innocents through.

Mia let go, rubbing my shoulders as I turned away and began to walk the section of the aether were so many souls were imprisoned. To her, it must have appeared like a network of prison cells or the like, ever-growing as more damned were added to it.

The Fivefold and I might have agreed on many things, but I wasn't sure about her dreams if she became Queen of Hell. A finite life can't be cause for infinite punishment, sounded good, until you met some of the people I had here. It wasn't just the Christian in me (dunno how the guy got in there. Swear I'm straight as an ostrich's neck, officer...) talking, but some days, the idea of any punishment being enough for would-be genocidal headcases like Cloudshade, who wasn't even in my top ten trillion monsters, felt almost as ridiculous as that of them repenting, or redeeming themselves.

It's easy, isn't it? my strigoi side whispered. Thinking that they're only going to pretend they regret, out of self-interest? Beg for forgiveness or do as we say to spare themselves the pain?

I didn't answer the rhetorical questions, which made it chuckle softly.

Of course, that's not what's upsets you, is it, human? Not the evil in heart of LIFE's castoffs, but the fact that, even if you hated someone for their past deeds, you'd have to give them a chance to perform good works if they endured their punishment and wanted to be better.

Why are you saying it like I'd only do it grudgingly?

How could it be any other way? my worse half asked, sounding amused. I'm not saying you're going to take them to a paradise and plop them down in the lap of luxury, David. You'd keep an eye of them forever, yes, we'd never let them out of our sight, yes...but if they truly suffered and wanted to remake themselves, even if it meant doing as you say forever, you couldn't deny them.

That wasn't actually one of my duties as DEATH's Keeper, but my instincts meant something else. It's not up to me to deny someone the chance to make it up to everyone they've wronged.

Its laugh was like tombstones grinding together. That dead, bleeding heart wouldn't allow it, no. It must be so disappointing that you don't have it in you to play Devil, isn't it? Now that you can, you don't want to anymore. It's like that saying about giving power to those who want it least.

I sighed, filling my mindscape with a cold mist. Having everyone cower and weep at the thought of what you might do does not warm my heart.

You could even say learning that was the nail in the coffin. Fixer knew what he was doing. There was a grudging respect in its voice, and I found I could not quite disagree. Ned's purpose had been to repair and reshape creation and its contents so it could go on. Maintenance, and nothing more. Manipulating events to make me the Keeper I was now had been outside his purview, but it hadn't been a bad choice, looking at my predecessors.

And his plan to wake the Unmoved Mover? Even more so. Ned had wanted the Mover to wake up, but preserve creation so it could be left in the care of an effectively almighty being. Of course, keeping things chugging along would have been part of his duty, even if it meant defying omnipotence as it awakened and risked unknowingly bringing everything into oblivion.

When we met before I gave Ned his new duty, he confessed what he had been working towards, and that he did not have a way to prevent the Mover from forgetting us, or turning out to be evil and doing worse. He had wanted, and still did, to achieve macrocosmic harmony, so that everyone could become like the Mover.

So, I'd gambled. I'd given God, for all intents and purposes, the best existence had to offer. Not power; the thought of impressing the Mover with that made me laugh. Power was the one thing you could not accuse it of not having. You could have pointed at the various mimics and power copiers in creation and asked why they didn't just turn into the Mover, but you had to remember Starlight Crowned With Ivory was the type of being that could make a boulder too heavy too lift, then beat you to death with it anyway. Little things like logic, paradoxes and other creations of its did not apply.

And the Mover had been, if not impressed, then pleased. Everyone working together? Good. Very good.

"My son," it had told me during one of our discussions, seeing I was brooding, "I know what lays heavy upon your soul. Rejoice! For it is not something to look down upon your fellows for."

It had been referring to my doubts, I suppose you could call them. Yes, Sofia and Grey and I had reached out to everyone in a timeless moment, and explained how destruction threatened everything, told them we had a possible solution and tried to assuage their fears.

But how much of that cooperation had been born out of genuine desire to help everyone, as opposed to self-preservation?

"That is not something worthy of contempt," the Mover had told me, as close to stern as it ever sounded. "Indeed, it would be more contemptible to lie down and die in the face of oblivion. Is it not commendable to wish to live when threatened with such destruction, even for one's own sake? I say it is. It is a worthier endeavour than refusing to help because of some blinkered set of ideals."

A shadow had passed over its face, which had become slightly sad. "I understand that you wish everyone was noble, David. I do, too. But my children, your fellows, are not at that stage yet. Not all of them. The moment of unity you caused is proof of their potential to be better, but even then, there were voices who rose against harmony."

The Black God, and the Crawling Chaos. But I didn't mention them. Instead, I asked, "Why do you call me your son?"

Its wistful expression had almost disappeared, a side of its mouth rising. "Because you are, of course! Are you not part of the creation I dreamed into being? You, and all those tied to it, are my children, whatever the relations between yourselves."

If it had started rambling, I thought, I might as well go all the way with the questions. "Are you God, then?"

A soft laugh. "That depends entirely on what you mean, David. I am the most powerful being there is, yes, and the overseer of all that is. I do not allow anything I disapprove of to go on for long, so you can say I am the arbiter of morality, too. So, yes, I am God, David." Its smile had become brighter, though smaller. "If you wish."

"Then the deities so many pray to? The supreme beings of various faiths? Are they you, assuming different roles? Parts of you?"

"Perspective, my son," it had said quietly, like it was reminding me. "When creation and my mind were one and the same - for, believe me, they no longer are - everyone was 'part of me'. Now that said bond has been severed...look at it this way: if you cut off a finger, and it kept thinking, not necessarily like you do, would it be a different being?"

I nodded, understanding what it was getting at. "But since you are so powerful, isn't creation still fictional to you? As easy to unmake as it is for a human to forget something? Don't your thoughts define what is real - and if yes, how can there be anything separate from you?"

"Ah - that is the dilemma of the reality warper. I, for one, would say that anything that can stand on its own, without my intervention, is real." I'd got the feeling it had wanted to roll its eyes, or whatever dignified alternative supreme beings went for. "Of course, you will meet people who say everything is a simulation you can only escape by doing what they say, which usually involves payment and favours you'd rather not give and do, respectively."

Though I'd felt no hostility from it, I'd thought it better to make sure. "Am I bothering you? I can leave."

"Oh, no, no!" It had waved both hands. "Just thinking how little sense some of my once-dreams make. And this phenomenon is not limited to my creation either, you know. I like to think the other Makers are not imitating my former Dream's flaws. Intentionally, I mean."

I hadn't scowled deeply at that. My face just sort of moved downwards when I heard about stuff I dislike. "I gotta ask 'bout that, too. If you wouldn't mind."


...It would certainly answer? Or, it would certainly mind? Or, not mind? Or-

I liked it better when my pessimism didn't talk unprompted
, I told said chatterbox. "Right." Inhaling, I'd tried to smile wryly, which, I've been told, makes me look like a curious serial killer. "I suppose you get asked about the Problem of Evil and all that all day, every day, right?"

"Trust me, David: people will appreciate the power that comes with being a Maker better if they ascend on their own."

"But couldn't you make it so things have always been swell, and just have people know they could've been bad?"

"I could, yes. But you might as well ask why Earth's inhabitants don't remake its timeline. You know I took pains to make sure your development was not stifled by petty paranormal despots - why do you think paranormal beings used to be unable to even be perceived by humans unless they were believed to be real? Why do you think they only used to be able to do what folklore indicated they could?"

"And because of this barrier, many did not even try to make things better for those they were able to interact with," I'd retorted mildly.

The Mover had made a dismissive gesture. "Tellus still complains about that, but just because she arranged for my barrier to be torn down, it does not mean she doesn't appreciate what said bulwark prevented. You can go ask her son."

I'd nodded. Italy's senior Scion agent had, if anything, become busier after things had quieted down, but I wasn't surprised. The Tellurian Titan, like the Golden Guardian who ran External Affairs in Japan, had always loved creating good things far more than striking down those who destroyed them. Titan would likely appreciate talking with someone who didn't work under him and wasn't Elsbeth. If nothing else, it would prevent him from, in his own words, sounding too much like a hippie while thinking about the world's beauty out loud.

However, I could take care of that on my own time. It wasn't really pressing, unlike what had been eating at me. "The boon you gave me," I'd said, leaning forward, "makes me able to do anything it takes to keep creation safe." I'd have liked to think that, between my powers as Keeper and the weapons of the Neverwhere Vaults, another power that could make up new ones and endlessly boost me would have been redundant, but I knew better.

At first, I'd thought the flare of holy energy I'd received from the Mover had been meant to merely alter my being, so that I could receive my Keeper powers. But it had stayed, growing alongside them in an instant that had lasted forever, until they had become intertwined. Like a helix, defining my being as much as DNA defined a human.

"Quite," the Mover had said. "Any invader you stand against might as well be facing me."

"What about the other Creators? From your city?"

"Them? You can stand against them too, David. Turn them away, and more, if necessary. I saw to that. You would hardly be the first Keeper mighty enough to crush them into endless sleep." Its eyes had become hollow and faraway at the last words, which I hadn't liked.

"Arvhek was nothing that could be called a Keeper by the time he rampaged through your city." I'd felt his indulgent smile right then, making me grimace. "And his power is nothing like what you gave me, except in scale."

"Perhaps, my son," it had replied, its distant gaze becoming clearer. "But his grief is much like what almost pushed you to let everything wither."

I'd snorter. "No, it's not. I thought I'd lost my family, but Arv's is never coming back. And it's not like DEATH talked him into staying his hand by appealing to his kindness." Listening to me, you'd have thought I knew what it had appealed to, as opposed to merely what it hadn't. It'd been impressive, anyway, considering it had dropped the ball preparing Arvhek even worse than it had with me, which was saying something. Ned hadn't confirmed anything, but I thought Arv had been the reason he'd chosen to direct my training.

At that, the Unmoved Mover had become distant again, and I'd changed the subject, or rather, returned to the previous one. It, much like being flayed alive while gargling acid, beat talking about Arvhek. "That wasn't what I meant about the Makers, though. I'll stop them if they threaten our creation." I'd frowned at it. "You should've let me take care of that smug bastard who tried erasing everything. It's one of my jobs."

"You could've defeated it as easily as I did, David, yes; but you aren't siblings. That...was a matter of family." Sounding darkly amused, the Mover had added, "Children so often feel jealous when their elder siblings make friends outside the family. Your intervention would have merely fed its spite, so I chose to deal with it myself."

I'd conceded that point, seeing no reason to continue the discussion. I wouldn't have taken kindly to the Mover stepping in between me and Andrei, for example. "I suppose. But what if the next mad Maker isn't focused on our creation? What if it's tormenting its own, creating people just to hurt them?"

"Are you supposed to just stand by?...Is what you wanted to ask." The Mover had smiled. "Are you, David? I think you have some experience with a couple of people like that, hmm?"

We'd talked about more, and still do. Most people who want to talk to the Almighty do so because they don't know what it's like, but it offers you certain...insights.

Deciding I'd wasted enough time reminiscing - not that any had actually passed - I looked back at Mia, who was thoughtfully looking at the shredded web of spirit that was Cloudshade, arms crossed. I moved closer to her, a quick application of my power taking care of the half-metre heigh difference between us, allowing me to place a chaste kiss on her full lips. 'What's with that face? You look like you've seen a ghost,' I joked lamely, glad we were at that stage where she loved me too much to ditch me for being a giant dork.

It's never too late, if you ask me-

That's why I
don't, I told my mental roommate tightly, cupping one of Mia's cheeks. Returning my expression, she grabbed my wrist, holding me in place, then pulling me closer with her other arm. I hovered, to spare Mia the bother of having to hold me at eye level, not that it stopped her from wrapping her arms around my torso.

Her tongue easily wrapped around mine, being several times longer and considerably thicker, which was useful for far more than kissing. Her eyes were hooded, caught halfway through one of her horizontal blinks, and she was beaming, showing a glimpse of her knifelike ivory fangs, cheeks glowing with inner fire. Then, looking in my eyes, she said, 'We need to talk.'

Welp. I'd say it was nice knowing you, David, but I hope to become senile as far as you're concerned-

For a guy who refers to her as our lioness, you're sure a pussy when it comes to anything more serious than sex.

I am
not, my strigoi side glowered, the liar. And you're fucked, by the way.

You wish. That would be an excuse to keep your mouth shut, which is the opposite of what Mia wants.

It rolled its eyes. Our mouth has better uses when we're servicing her, genius. Though I suppose you might've forgot that, with how excited you get.

Its voice became almost gentle at the end, as did its expression, to my slight surprise. I'm always paying attention, ink spot. Now, are you done wringing your hands about the Scary Girlfriend Phrase, or should I call the waaahmbulance?

They're still looking for you since you escaped, huh? You might as well come up with a plan to hide. I don't think our zmeu wants to make love.
My worse half had a certain, heh, tenderness when it came to Mia, its usual contrarian attitude fading like morning dew to be replaced with an eagerness to please her. With how enthusiastic it was to be put on a leash by her, sometimes even metaphorically, it had almost been disappointed to learn Mia was actually a switch, which meant we topped half...alright, one-third of the time.

Yeah, I gathered. That's not exactly her "gonna multitask while banging you like my shin on a coffee table" face. I squeezed its shoulder. Don't worry, man. We're gonna pull through, no matter what.

Ahem - phrasing. Are we still doing that?

Archer still wants to know, huh? Tell him to piss off. I'm not getting badgered by a guy who calls himself "Duchess".

'Sure,' I told Mia. Then, in a lighter tone, 'Shouldn't we go to a landfill first if you're gonna dump me, though?'

Her eyes softened, before she blew out a breath tinged with fire. 'Don't be silly, David. I just wanted to talk about what's happened until now. I know your brain ain't rotten enough to think anything will ever do us part.'


Calm down, you're gonna get the vapours.
'Thought you wanted more time to mull it over, or I'd have suggested doing it sooner. Sorry.'

' 's no prob.' She nodded at Cloudshade's cell. 'Wanna hear her out before we go?'

'That's a roundabout way of suggesting a threesome...' I muttered, rubbing my chin and ignoring Mia's tail as it lightly slapped the top of my head. 'I know, I know, bad joke. Hate the bitch too, but you know I run my mouth when dealing with stuff I'd rather not.' I ran a hand through my hair, remembering Mia's face last time she'd ruffled it and I'd pulled out a comb.

"A real man is always prepared to spruce up," I'd grunted in my best cigar-chomper impression.

"Why'd you steal it, then?" my zmeu had asked, sounding fascinated as she'd steepled her fingers.

"Envy! Envy, woman! I am a jealous soul!"

'She doesn't really have much left to tell,' I said, indicating Cloudshade with a shoulder as I returned my attention to the present, inasmuch as such concepts applied to me. The Fae indeed didn't. She'd been honest, if nothing: said Oberon had ordered her to apologise for trying to ruin what Mia and I had, which had been better than the insincere apology that had followed.

I could tell she was as unrepentant about that as she was about the attempted genocide. In her eyes, anyone who didn't live in a cave and ate insects was vermin, and it was her right, duty and pleasure to torment such pests as badly and long as she wanted, which almost always overlapped.

I doubted even Christine would've let her go, at least anytime soon. Even leaving aside the attempted rape.

"Because that's what you threatened me with, you sow!" Mia had growled at the incorporeal Fae, claws making the otherwise-intangible substance of the Unseelie's cage screech upon contact. "You were gonna have David and break me if that's what it took to stop me from ruining your fun - remember? And you knew he wouldn't have accepted even if he wasn't mine, but you didn't care about his consent either. What did it matter? He was one more parasite coddled by civilisation, only worth anything because he got you hot and bothered."

Mia's glare had persisted as she'd turned to me, though her ire had been entirely directed at the Fae. I'd hugged her as tightly as I could without hurting her, reminding her nothing would take us from each other. It'd been among the things I'd made the Mover swear.

"I will fulfill any wish you have, my son - besides taking the chance to grow away from my children. But I know you do not truly want that, anyway, even if you think you do," had been its response.

'Actually, I was suggesting she might be interested in asking you to spare her, provided she tries to become better.'

I shot Mia a bemused, disbelieving look. 'I know you usually need to write what you mean on a bat and smack me with it before you can get anything through my skull, but - are you serious?'

Mia looked displeased as she answered. 'You know you'd have to do it. You promised yourself. She can rot in there forever, as far as I'm concerned, but you care about these scumbags.'

'Don't misunderstand - I don't care about them. And my newest guest hasn't even felt a fraction of the pain she's inflicted, much less of that she intended to. She might get a chance to make creation a better place, but only after.'

* * *

Cloudshade tried to scream her hatred at her jailer and his pet as they departed. She knew David was not far away: he could easily create as many bodies as he wanted, not that he needed them to exert his will over creation. That wasn't what stopped her.

It was the bloody - literally, and wasn't that ridiculous? She remembered having blood, so her ectoplasmic corpus was filled with something like it - blades that kept shredding her. They were made of hateful iron, which hurt because she remembered it did. Cloudshade, who had never regretted anything, had never thought she would ever end up loathing her memories.

At that thought, a grating, mocking laughter filled both her mind and her surroundings. It wasn't Silva, or one of his puppet-bodies come to gloat over her, though. It was his patron.

Its ridged form was studded with barbed spikes, seeming to have no end or beginning, just as it had no shape. Like a tide of molten iron (the ghost's form quivered angrily as she remembered the brutish zmeu's threat), rising tall as forever to surround her oubliette.

For a moment, Cloudshade glimpsed a black-robed silhouette clutching a wicked scythe, its pale visage staring at the core of her soul, seeing all and forgiving nothing. Then, the image was gone, and the iron colossus was back, leering though faceless, spinning around her trapped form like a snake.



As the raw, undiluted pain that was the essence of the Fae's aversion to iron, and every time it had ever manifested and would ever manifest lanced through Cloudshade's being as too-real memories and visions, she remembered what Oberon had done to her, too, and shame disgust and hatred at herself joined agony in an aether-rending shriek. 'AAAAAAGGGGHHHHH-'

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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidesotry: Family Matters: Silva (One), part two

* * *

'I wanna talk to Costi about this, too,' Mia began as she sat down on a bed I'd created in one of DEATH Keep's endless rooms. If she wanted to clear the air, the least I could do was help her get comfortable. 'But...after we set things straight. Between us.' Her eyes were pleading and wide, which made me spread my hands as I stood before her.

'Anything you need to say, I'm here, love,' I promised, noticing the way she was practically silently begging me to hear her out. I'd have been somewhat hurt, in the past, but I now knew how reckless I could get when angry, so I didn't blame her for her caution. Even if the thought of hurting her in any way made my dead insides churn, and my strigoi side seethe.

Mia nodded, grateful, before patting the bed next to her. I appeared at her side, clasping my hands as I looked up at her. Then, thinking better, I slung an arm over her broad shoulders, pulling her close to me. 'Whenever you're ready,' I reminded her.

Mia rubbed her face, starting from the slit-like nostrils she had in place of a nose, before paling her whole face as she hung her head slightly. I was struck by how human she looked. Despite the fangs, the snakelike eyes and the lack of ears, Mia resembled a human, at least in my eyes, much more than I did, and was more beautiful than most. But, hell, she'd have looked more human than me even if she'd had a muzzle instead of a humanlike mouth, not to mention hotter. I just had one of those faces.

'Just to be clear: I'm not saying our relationship's isn't gonna get better. Just that I'm surprised it's worked well so far.'

'' I ventured, getting her to smile behind her hand. before she lowered it. Mia was still in her ARC uniform, a pair of combat pants, boots and black turtleneck with the flaming shield symbol of the Drake division marked in white over her heart. The clothes had been modified to accommodate her wings and tail, which moved slightly behind her, passing through subtle openings in the back of her sweater and trousers.

You sure they modified the uniform for her tail and not that ass? my worse half muttered, latching onto my comment.

Quiet, you,
I told it, not trying to hide my smile. Mia took it as further encouragement, because she resumed talking.

'I guess we should start with the elephant in the room, right?'

'That's a roundabout way of su-'

'Nuh-uh,' my girlfriend said, playfully punching my shoulder. 'You already used that one.'

That's one thing you never tell me in bed, I thought. 'Whatcha mean, nuh-uh?'

'Nuh-uh, David. Stop recycling old stuff. That's my job.'

'Alright,' I said. The banter was a sign things weren't that bad (said every guy who then ended up in the doghouse). 'So...this big problem.'

Mia met my eyes with an effort, and damn if that didn't make me check myself. What had she seen on my face to make her uncomfortable about anything? 'I haven't been with anyone else yet,' she said, voice hoarser than usual. 'And I know you said you don't mind. That's a relief, sweetie, I promise - but I still feel like I'm gonna hurt you when it happens.'

Oh. that was it. I was gonna sound like a patronising shithead if I told her she was too great to worry about that crap, but it was the truth. 'I mean...what do you want me to say?' I looked aside, lips pulling back from my fangs. 'I'm pissed I can't please you all the time, and I'll never not be. That's just what I'm like.' I looked back at her, meeting her ruby gaze. 'But you'll never have to worry about me loving you less or, God forbid, lashing out at you, Mia. So you can lay that fear to rest. I can handle it.'

Mia hugged me close to her broad chest, leaning forward to whisper into my ear. 'I know it must look ridiculous from outside. Everyone sleeping with a zmeu has to go through...tch. Not everyone,' her eyes darkened, 'but most of them.'

'Mia - you know I hate giving you orders, but I'm going to repeat myself: I'm not going to let you change what you are because you're afraid you might offend me. Is that clear? There's no need, and I don't want you to. I wish your instincts didn't pull you along like this, but I don't want some quack to fiddle with your mind and make you stop thinking like a zmeu, either. Yes, it makes no damn sense. I'm aware. But I don't want you cutting out what makes you you, just because your boyfriend's stuck in the Middle Ages and thinks monogamy is the shit.' I raised a finger. 'And - though it doesn't affect my decision, mind - the way Nacht offered to do it still makes me feel slimy, because it knew there was a stupid part of me that wanted that, even if it will never end up in charge.'

Mia chuckled darkly. 'Yeah, Nacht's an arsehole. Reminds me of this lil' nightmare road trip back in middle school - I gotta tell ya sometime.'

'Was it at that museum dedicated to how the communists reeducated problematic paranormals?'

'Yep. I'd have never thought those things had once been zmeoaice if the guide hadn't told us.' Her grin was dry as she looked at me. 'Don't wanna end up as some overgrown scaleless lizard with twisted knees and no desires of my own in my head. Used to have these nice dreams about you getting sick of my lusts and deciding to put an end to 'em, made a nice balance to the ones about you killing me in a fit of rage.'

I gave her a dry look. 'What, did you read the Stepford Wives when I wasn't looking or something? I told you, just because it's satire, doesn't mean the writing's worth a damn.' Maybe I was just being humourless, but I really couldn't stomach stories that ended with decent people being mutilated for no reason, physically or otherwise.

Mia showed her fangs in a sarcastic grin. 'I'm past the age where I have bad dreams about make-believe stuff, David. If I ever need nightmare material, I'll open a history book.'

'I'm not holding my breath. You need about as much sleep as I do.' The difference being that she could actually go to sleep when relaxed enough.

'You're not holding your breath because you don't need to.'

'Yes, I just proved how lame jokes in this vein are. Can we move past it?' I held up my hands. 'Listen, Mia: nothing is going to change between us, no matter how many flings you have. It's not like you're going to fall in love or have children with someone else, and that's what actually matters to me.' My strigoi side's voice mixed with mine, creating a multilayered sound. 'It doesn't matter who you are with for a few short weeks, months, years...or a lifetime. You're still ours. And we, yours.'

As I rose and began to pace across the room - a four-dimensional extension of the dimensionless space that was the Keep. made for Mia's benefit - she drew her legs to herself, as close as she could come to laying her chin on her knees. ' do want kids.' She didn't question the possibility, or lack thereof, of them coming to be.

Because it was only impossible right now, as she saw time. I'd shared my idea with her - less of a longshot than the moment of unity, thought it had me about as wired, because it was more personal. I'd told her that, yes, I could find a way to bypass the infertility common to undead, though it would take something of mine, not to mention restore every other undead's fertility; and trust me, you didn't want some of those people to start building families, and not just because they'd make shitty parents.

'Not right now, baby. It's not like we don't have eternity before us, anyway.'

She gave a small nod. 'Can I be honest? I don't really care for the idea right now, either. We're young, as immortals go. I don't think I'll be up for it for the next few...millennia, at least.'

I turned to her, spreading my arms. 'And that is perfectly fine. I know our opinions are supposed to matter equally, but it's not like I'd be the one giving birth or laying eggs, so I'm not going to push you. Not even after I trust myself not to be an aloof deadbeat.' Which would take longer than Mia wanting to be a mom, mark my words.

Mia sighed, staring don at nothing. 'It's not that I don't want...I mean, I'm not opposed to having any. I just don't wanna tie myself down with responsibilities right now. I wanna come back from work to fun, not more work.' Her voice was almost subdued as she continued. 'And it'll take a lot of work to be a good mom if I ever become one, instead of seeing my hatchlings as noisy roommates. But we already talked about how you don't want me to change myself, so...'

I leaned against the wall at her self-deprecating tone. 'Mia, I know my mad sex skills have your head spinning, but we haven't even been together for a year. It will take a while before we even get engaged, alright? Much less married.'

I don't know who was more shocked, honestly. Me, that a woman like her was willing to give me the time or day, or her, because I wanted something serious and didn't see her as a hussy.

Smiling demurely at the reference to my prowess in the bedroom, like the proper lady she was, Mia said, 'Right. Just hoping you're not planning to propose to me in public or something mortifying like that.'

'I'd say I expected you to be too confident to get embarrassed by anything, but I know better.' With a look even more solemn than my voice, I added, 'You have hidden depths.'

Her smile thinned, but the earlier glowing blush returned. 'Thank you.'

'Well hidden.' I wiggled my eyebrows. 'But I know how to reach them.'

And that was how I got a pillow thrown at me for the second time since we'd started dating. She's a monster, man, but I love her enough to forgive her cruelty.

Have you noticed our zmeu is much more casual about matters of the body than those of the heart?

About at the same time I noticed you talk like a hack's self-insert.


An incel's, probably. Mi mi mi, "matters of the heart".

You have no idea what you're talking about,
my worse half sneered.

Bro, if we didn't share a body, you'd be so single.

As it descended to the depths of my mind to sulk, I picked up the pillow and tossed it back at Mia, who laid back on the bed after it landed on her chest. Managing to push down my jealousy at said pillow, I said, 'Since we're sharing our darkest thoughts and all that, and you started, I might as well reciprocate.'

Mia propped herself up on one elbow, moving the pillow so that it laid on a generous hip, and looked at me with one eye closed. 'Don't tell me you wanna be a dad because the other you was.'

I blinked as if slapped. '...Would you mind not implying I'm ever gonna do anything because I wanna follow in that sad bastard's steps? Cuz I don't,' I said tensely. 'Thank you.'

Mia winced. 'Sorry, that came out wrong. I know you wanna do everything better than he did, so-'

'What, including starting a family?' I flicked a hand. 'That's not something you're supposed to make a competition of. If we ever become parents, it will be because we both want to be, not because of whatever our other selves did.' Maybe I should tell Mia about the other Keeper me, one day. We really didn't have that much in common. 'No...forget him. He's gone. I wanted...I need to talk about what I almost did.'

In moments, Mia was sitting again and I was at her side once more. I inhaled, using the moment to gather my thoughts, but before I could say anything, Mia placed a clawed finger under my chin, using it to tilt my head her way. 'No stressing over my reaction, you hear? It's over and done, and I'm still here. That should tell you something.'

'That your taste is even worse than I thought?' I laughed at myself. 'I mean, hell, I realised you're tasteless the moment you started sleeping with me-'

'You're babbling, David,' she pointed out calmly.

'Right.' I began wringing my hands absentmindedly. 'I'm never going to forgive myself for it. I'm not going to hide behind the reveal of creation as a Dream, or claim there was a point in getting pissy over learning what happened to Chernobog.' He and his brother hadn't been the first gods to refuse the creation defined by the Syncretic Treaty, and be mostly forced into irrelevance. 'I just used that as more material to rant about to Uriel - I didn't care what had happened to Belobog, and bringing up something like that just to have another reason to scream was dishonest.'

A rumble rose from Mia's chest. 'I imagine you're not going to apologise to Uriel, though.'

'Fuck me, no. He's a blackhearted bastard who revels in genocide. Like if I never got out of that dark mood, except I didn't get happy about destroying everything.' I closed my eyes. 'I just didn't care. Thought if nothing was real, nothing that happened mattered; besides, wasn't it all, every action, part of a dream.' I grunted. 'Solarex used to think the same, and look at him now.'

Mia made a rude noise. 'Right, because your first reaction to learning about that was to turn into a genocidal serial rapist. Be serious, David. You were never as bad as that shiny prick.'

'I still shouldn't have planned to do that. I should've been thinking about how reality is relative, how lower dimensions appear fictional to the inhabitants of higher ones, and-'

'Ok, stop.' Mia slapped her hands on her thighs. 'You planned to do what? From what you told me, everything would've collapsed anyway, and only didn't 'cause you stepped up. That's what you told me.'

I looked her in the eyes. 'That's right. And I shouldn't have thought about standing by when I was needed because I'd been through shit. That's the same reason I couldn't keep a cool head.' I grit my fangs, grimacing. 'I can't afford to throw tantrums like that now, and I definitely couldn't then. I'm not entitled to putting my hatreds over everyone's lives. I just wish I'd accepted that earlier.'

Mia was quiet for a few moments, then said, 'Don't know if I'd have got to that point in your place. Between Chernobog's bullshit and the conspiracy around I'd say I'd have gone crazy, but there's a decent chance I'd have killed myself. Definitely wouldn't want to meet a me who lived through that, wanted to keep doing so, and was sane.'

I stared up at her, saying nothing.

'I'm not saying entertaining omnicide wasn't a total dick move, David - I'd be concerned if you ever started brushing it off. But it seems awfully convenient, for them, that the assclowns who elected themselves to groom you could only do so by breaking you down then slapping you back together, and doing so without being caught until after the fact.'

I rolled a shoulder. 'The Mover's Dream. Or its hand at work now, I guess.'

'From what you told me, the Mover is the biggest dick in the history of existence. Everyone could be living in paradise now and only imagining what struggling is like if it didn't pop a stiffy watching people work themselves to the bone for what it could make with a finger snap.' Before I could reply, she groaned, almost roared. 'This is why I've never prayed, and I'm not planning to start, either.' Her voice took on a high pitch. 'Oh, the gods will guide you to plenty, they swear, as long as you do exactly as they say. I'm not going to trade favours just to ensure a spot for my soul. Maybe it's a human thing, but I'm not scared of death. I'm not that mortal.'

'No, really, tell me what's on your mind,' I snarked, earning a lazy, narrow-eyed stare. 'You don't have to worry about that, Mia. Your soul will end up with me, like all the godless ones. Nothing will change.'

She hugged me close with one, kissing my cheek. 'I know you're going to take care of me,' she whispered. 'Now, why don't you follow your own advice?'

'I've never been good at that,' I answered. 'Do you want to know why I went around asking everyone but you if they wanted to live? Because I knew you did, but was too much of a damn coward to face you.'

Half of Mia's mouth curved downwards. 'The man I love is not a coward, and has never been. But what does that have to do with being bad at following your own advice? You just admitted-'

'Yeah, but I never practised what I preached until it was too late. You know what I mean.'

Oh, yes, I'm content with my lot. I have where to live, what to eat, what to work. I have several close friends and a loving father, b-but my books aren't liked by people I'll never meet, much less ever care about. Better kill myself!

Daily, I looked back on that choice and cringed. How could I have been so selfish and not give a damn about what pops an my friends would think? Or, for that manner, how could I not have taken the risk of returning as a strigoi into account? Which did happen. If not for my relative lucidity after undeath, I would've rampaged. Even leaving the danger aside, what if pops had been forced to kill me? Stupid, stupid...and so weak-willed, giving in to despair because I didn't have something I wanted. Entering ARC and learning how some people had lived and still decided to help the world had been humbling.

Or how about a promise I'd made to myself? When I'd advised myself to always see the good side of things? I guess that didn't matter for shit either, when I got sick of existing and decided I might as well let everyone be dragged along. If there hadn't been people to talk me out of it, I'd have done it.

Which brought me back to Mia's point.

Her nostrils flared, small flames shining inside them. 'Yes, I know. So you were an ungrateful moron - you shuld be happy you got chances to make amends, make things better.' She held up a finger. 'But don't change the subject, David. I can tell you're more bothered by how you avoided me than I am. So?'

I leaned forward, hugging myself. 'As I said, I knew you'd tell me you wanted to go on, and that it was stupid to decide for others, no matter how hurt I was.' I should've asked myself, even while I was doing it: why am I running from Mia? Am I scared of her, scared she'll be ashamed of me, angry at me? Do I want to draw things out for as long as possible, so everyone dies without me doing anything? Or am I just unprepared to confront the fact that, if my girlfriend tells me she doesn't want to die, I have to either stop - to my displeasure - or keep doing, essentially telling her that her opinion doesn't matter?

Mia caught all those thoughts, of course, felt them trail across the aether. 'Goddamnit, David,' she murmured, rubbing my back, one hand moving in circles. 'You should've come to me, and I'd have helped. Did you think I wouldn't have? You couldn't have been scared of me...' Her voice grew firmer. 'Look at me, David.' As I did so, she continued, 'If I'd have said no, would you have stopped and listened? Or would you still have gone on to ask everyone you talked with? I like to think,' she added in a deadpan tone, 'that you wouldn't have just ignored me.'

'I couldn't have,' I admitted. 'I care too much. I don't know what I wanted. Maybe to see if there were people worth fighting for, besides you and the others.' My zmeu needed no clarifications. 'But that feels so fucking stupid, in hindsight. So what if everyone else was a complete scumbag? It wasn't like I could've chosen to let them perish and save those close to me. And I shouldn't have wanted to, anyway. It's not up to me to choose how they live.'

I looked up at her. 'I'm glad you don't hate me, even if it makes me feel guilty as sin to love you, touch you, after that.'

Mia sniffed. ' "You are a better woman than I deserve, but then, anything is better than nothing, eh? Eh?" '

I boggled at her. 'Is that nasal voice supposed to be mine? And I don't talk like that!'

'Of course you don't, darling.'

She's patronising you, human.


Not that there was a problem with that. I did sound ridiculously maudlin, some-most of the time. 'So...' I began after gathering my thoughts. 'It seems you're about as optimistic as I'm full of love for myself,' I joked. 'I'm open to ideas, if you've got any suggestions for improvement.'

Her tail swished irritably, twitching upwards as she spoke. It was not a gesture directed at me, but rather, a nervous tic that manifested when she couldn't find a solution to a problem. 'Might as well clear the air since we've started, right?'

So, we did. Decided to play questions and answers: she'd ask something and I'd answer, then reverse the process. Helping questions were added, since neither of us cared much for the rules we'd set, except the broadest one, the order. Mia started.

'I know you don't find me domineering, but you can always tell me if you feel I'm emasculating you. You know that, right?' she asked, sounding sheepish. 'I've scared off a few girlfriends and one boyfriend away by coming on to them too strongly early after a hookup.'

I gave her a considering look. 'Would any of them happen to be the cause of those marks you insisted weren't from fights back in tenth grade? The ones that coincided with your concentration plummeting?'

Mia glowered. 'I didn't say it was always unintentional.'


'Look, I took care of that shit. Got tired of getting burned in both senses of the word.' Interesting. Zmei being immune to heat, that suggested acid or the like. 'Are you really gonna bring up high school? You know it makes things weird for both of us.'

True, but it was a good way to get to the next point. 'Yes, it does, and I'm sorry. But I'm also glad you don't find us awkward as a whole.'

Mia's eyes darkened as she remembered the party I'd helped ARC organise, even as her smirk brightened. 'Oh, no need. You've got so many people doing that, I couldn't bear to steal their thunder.'

According to some of my newly-declared detractors, I was a pedophiliac piece of shit who'd been grooming Mia since ninth grade, and who'd followed on that by stalking her after graduation, before finally capitalising on a moment of weakness on her part, making her feel responsible for me after she'd brought me back from the dead.

It was funny. Their version of me seemed way more competent than I was, though for all the wrong reasons. 'They obviously don't know what a pain in the neck you were for most of high school. The only reason I didn't throw you out of a window was because you could fly.'

Class, describe the most important, for you, change your supernatural body went through during puberty. Motivate your answer.

What did Mia write? "Go answer go!"

She giggled, guessing the memory by the look on my face. 'You thought it was funny, admit it. Just because you nearly tore my paper and your desk in half doesn't mean you didn't.'

'I was actually disappointed by such a bright girl squandering her grades for the sake of jokes.'

Her face grew more serious. 'Ah, shite...I passed, didn't I? The past's the past. Like how we got together. People should be way more worried about why I'm robbing the cradle and obviously stringing a skinny old corpse along.' Her eyes were predatory as she said this, but her tone took all the bite out of her words.

'I don't know, Mia. What if their souls end up with me? I'll have to take care of them, provide the afterlives they deserve. And for that, I'll have to learn about them. Intimately.'


'What?' I asked innocently, as the weapon rack that had mysteriously appeared next to me disappeared just as mysteriously. 'You know I love meeting new people and getting to know them.'

'No, you don't,' Mia said dismissively. 'You think people who annoy you should pay to talk and have a mute button.'

'I thought we all wish that. No?' I looked around, seeing only the most beautiful being in creation. 'Just me? Alright.'

'Just you,' she confirmed, with her usual crushing honesty. 'Might want to mention it next time you update your book, in an inner monologue, maybe.'

'I never miss a chance to brood more than usual, especially with a good reason,' I said fiercely, making her crack a smile. 'And, hey, talking about the book, you can always write some chapters of your own, if you want.'

'Yeah, I do kind of come across as a satellite character, don't I? Even in the sections focused on me, or when we're not together. And I wrote those.'

'Well, biographies never really manage to convey the full character of a person,' I reminded her. 'Even in the case of chumps like me.'

'Are you sure you're not just a bad writer?' she asked, peering dimly at me.

'Mia, please. That's the one thing I'll never have to verify,' I said dismissively, and leaned into her touch as she took my right hand into her larger, rougher one.

'The one thing?' Mia asked, eyes gleaming with mock-offence.

I chuckled. 'Besides how much I love you, obviously.'

* * *

Mia was unsurprised to find Constantin in the Urziceni church. She was, however, a bit taken off-guard upon being told he was also manifesting somewhere else, and not to rub elbows with religious bigwigs at some function, as she'd expected, but to, essentially, dictate his thoughts to the Archangel Gabriel.

'It does me good to share some things with my brother,' God's Mouth added in Constantin's voice after the explanation. 'And he enjoys conveying information of a less vital nature, for once.'

Constantin's verger, an energetic young woman the zmeu wouldn't have minded getting to know better, was making herself busy in another part of the building, though Mia could feel her love from the priest all the way from there. She looked up to him as if Constantin were her actual father, who she wished had resembled him more. Mia could agree with the sentiment, though Constantin insisted on reminding his verger about respecting her father's memory, and not making up some competition or considering him replaced.

After being told about her heart to heart with David, God's Mouth had nodded approvingly. 'That's great news, you two!' He clasped his hands, a section of the flame making up his face flaring brighter. A smile? 'You have my blessing, of course, whenever you want to make the next step, as well as any aid I can offer.'

Mia wrapped him into a grateful hug, managing not to give Uriel a piece of her mind. 'Thank you, pops~' she replied warmly. 'But we're not in any hurry. In fact, David wanted to know if you wouldn't like to hang out, slow down for a while.'

Though curious why his son hadn't asked him directly, Constantin agreed with the proposal. 'Of course. We'll have to discuss what you have in mind. I know I can get tiring, especially lately, with two voices in my head.'

Mia put the priest down and, shortly after, they were strolling around the church, though the zmeu was sure God's Mouth had left a replica inside, just in case. 'Well, a little birdie told me you've been encouraged to shoot your shot again, but I won't pry. I'd like to meet,' Mia's voice deepened, becoming sagely, 'the chosen one, anytime you want to introduce us. Provided you hit it off, naturally.'

Constantin's stride became shorter, his back bending until his small silhouette, swaddled in the black and crimson cloth he always wore when he wasn't wearing Uriel's modified armour, resembled a man his age. 'You probably know each other already,' he said in an unreadable voice. 'But she and I are barely acquaintances at the moment, so I won't bother her to take time out of her schedule too soon.' He stroked his storm cloud of a bear, crimson sparks dancing within it at his touch. 'As for hanging out...I do want to have some discussions I should have, but never managed to. We always think we'll have time...'
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: Vampires

* * *
Classification: hemovorous necromorphic aberrants.

Colloquial name: vampires.

Origin: the original vampire is Primus, who was cursed, in a multi-pantheon punitive in action, in retaliation for violently murdering his young daughter, a potential champion of and mediator between the pantheons. Primus would go on to turn various early humans, but, finding this first generation of children unsatisfactory, the Bloodfather would destroy or otherwise dispose of them by various means, before turning new humans, who would go on to sire vampires themselves. The process of turning involves a vampire biting a the neck of a human, animal, mage or psychic and drinking some of their blood. This bears significant metainformational weight and results in resurrection moments after the being dies.

Description: vampires vary in appearance, but all of them sport a certain unnatural paleness, along with black-slit crimson eyes, the red iris covering the sclera in stressful or emotional moments. It has been observed that the amount of melanin in one's skin dictates their appearance as a vampire, as humans of a darker complexion will have grey skin, as opposed to the chalk-white hide of vampires who were fair-skinned in life. Animals vary in appearance more, but all of them are affected by a pallor that could trick an unaware observer into thinking they are sickly. Human vampires possess centimetres-long fangs, while vampiric animals either keep their fangs or grow rows of them in defiance of their anatomy.

Behaviour: vampirism enhances the most notable aspects of a being's personality, which can often lead to strange obsessions or tics. It has been theorised that this obsessive behaviour is the reason vampires cannot help but count large numbers of small objects laid upon the threshold of homes they wish to enter, even if they have been invited. This very need to ask for permission to enter might be a result of Primus' experiments with his descendants' collective unconscious. With the Bloodfather's desire to create a vampiric civilisation, draconian laws are to be expected, given the First Vampire' known desire for control.

Across history, many vampires turned outcasts, criminals or people dissatisfied with society. As their worst traits were inflame by vampirism, this led to some concluding that vampires are inherently evil or violently insane; in reality, it depends on the vampire.

Vampires constantly thirst for blood, a thirst that does not worsen with time but can me momentarily quenched, with the necessary quantity of blood seeming to depend on the vampire; a mouthful of blood is enough to lessen a human vampire's first for fractions of an hour to multiple hours. Since drinking blood also enhances a vampire's powers, various blood substitutes that do not strengthen vampires have been developed, as few vampires have the fortitude to drink blood like humans drink water and not lose themselves to their instincts. Much like a were's beast, a vampire's thrist, as most refer to it, can vary in terms of self-awareness and free will, but is always looking to take over the vampire's body.

Threat level: regional (fledgling human vampires who have not drunk blood); varies depending on the vampire's original species and the quantity of blood they have consumed over their unlife. The average vampire can output several hundred gigatons of energy with a single strike, enough to vapourise tens of billions of tons of rock or deal serious damage to countries. They can move and react several thousand times faster than sound, do not feel pain (aside from damage caused by holy power, the only thing they cannot regenerate from) or exhaustion, are immune to non-holy esoteric effects and do not need sustenance, the thirst for blood being purely psychological. Some vampires possess enhanced versions of their species' common abilities (see attached file: "Lore: Vampirism"), such as hypnosis by means of eye contact, shapeshifting, or the creation of wights by killing beings through means other than biting their throats out.

Neutralisation: the Collective is perfecting its ability to channel the pseudo-energy of the theophilic metainformational datacore (colloquially referred to as the Idea of Holiness), as this is the easiest way to bypass a vampire's durability, regeneration and resistance to esoterics, and we would rather not ask religious organisations for help with every vampire. Otherwise, constantly destroying a vampire's body is an effective stopgap measure, as it is with most regenerators who cannot move their consciousness while disembodied, a relatively rare ability among vampires.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: A zmeu's worth

* * *
Maws rubbed his jaw as he pondered the offer he'd received on his comm. Unbeknownst to him, he wouldn't be taking care of it today.

Well. That was another occupational hazard in action. Life as a mercenary meant you tended to pick up the strangest phrases and use them even when you didn't meant to or liked them. Why, he'd once adopted the click-filled, song-like speech patterns and provers of the Heirs of Xoant, using them for several years. Not that he'd ever understood half of what their saying meant, but he still liked how the claptrap sounded. Similarly, rubbing his jaw was something a person with only one would have done. Maws, with his ten thousand heads, had fallen on the humanoid tendency to think of the central one as "his head".

Some of his enemies had thought that head, with its golden beard, was somehow more durable or important than the surrounding, grey-bearded ones. As if he were the Lernaean Hydra! Still, it was nonsense he liked to spread. It kept idiots focused on heads that weren't any more important to him than any other body part. A grown zmeu, barring certain regeneration nullifiers, had to be dismembered, with the pieces kept apart by force, just to prevent rapid regeneration. Otherwise, if you diced a zmeu up, the pieces would stitch themselves back together in short order, if they were any larger than a grain of dust.

Maws had once heard a zmeu sorcerer, addicted to the sound of his own voice, say that if you reduced a zmeu to just one piece, it would regrow into the zmeu. Since that could not happen to him and he'd never seen such a situation...well. It didn't seem farfetched. Maybe it was related to the principle that meant a beheaded zmeu had to wish for their head of head to regrow, which only happened automatically if the old head was obliterated.

Talking about merc work...void, the people he met sometimes...

The Xoantites, at least, had been more welcoming, and funnier, than the Xoantans who'd preceded and built them. The aliens hadn't even deigned to communicate with him themselves, instead making their machine-children do so. After a handful of gigs, which he believed had been intended to prove how reliable he was more than to achieve anything important, one of the Xoantites - an untiring knight of quicksteel, with the heart of a shackled star and blood of lightning - had told him its builders hadn't wanted to risk being intimidated by interacting with Maws.

The zmeu snorted at the memory. Nearly a dozen billion years had passed, but he'd never forget how cowardly that had struck him as. He knew he wasn't exactly the most pleasant being in existence, but he also knew that the Xoantans had possessed the means to meet him face to face, if they'd wanted.

Talking to him via comms, however, would have meant leaving their more than literal comfort zone, and the walls they'd raised between that and the rest of existence would've never allowed them that. The metaphorical walls, that was.

As unbelievable as the cowardice had been, alright, not like it'd affected him in anyway. The Xoantans hadn't been the first pussies to hire him, nor the last. But the advice they'd given him when he'd left had been downright ridiculous, in an insulting way.

It had been delivered through their machines, too, of course. The Xoantans, impressed by his skills, had suggested Maws should find a way to preserve his legacy: the stories about him, his skills, the wealth he'd gained. But that had been their fear of death and pain (any inconvenience, really) talking, The League of Xoant had crafted constructs to do everything for them: work, defence, war, entertainment, exploration, diplomacy. Nearly an eon of exposure to the cosmos had convinced them of its cruelty and perils, and they'd retreated into their shells, with nonconformists few and far between.

All because they'd wanted to preserve themselves and what was theirs, unto eternity. Even after the Xoantans had faded into blissful obsolescence, then oblivion, their machines had kept their culture alive in museums, though it had only relatively decently become something they did because they wanted to.

Maws had laughed scornfully at the suggestion, before leaving. Even now, the thought made his lip curl. Father or make children just to keep him and what he had alive? It would've made him feel like a parasite. Maws might not have cared much about his sons (those were his zmeu instincts at work, he'd have said if asked; he almost liked them as people), but he'd have never asked them to waste their lives looking after this. He hated caretakers.

Heh. Not that such a thing was likely to happen, even if he changed his mind. Maws was quite certain the hatchlings hated his guts, with the dog's meal he'd made of the last attempt at being fatherly. Even if he'd gone against the grain by accepting his son's request for help, the result had shown him he still didn't have it in him to be a good parent, not that he likely ever would, even if he'd wanted to be.

Ah, well. He couldn't bring himself to care about his son's opinions any more than he'd start following the Xoantans' advice.

Maws leaned back until his back touched the ground and crossed his arms under his head, sighing. Zmeu country was always there for him to return to, the one constant in his life, for even the Underdweller couldn't always be with him: he respected her to much to spend time around her while sleeping with another woman. But his home would never be barred from him by anything.

'Why are you naked?'

Maws cracked open a few thousand eyes, halfheartedly glaring at the zmeu standing a ways away from his feet, arms crossed. 'Because I'm not wearing anything,' he said drily.

'And why is that?' she asked, flying closer until she was hovering above his eyes. Maws could've wrapped around Earth several times, even discounting the length of his tails, and she'd crossed that distance in a fraction of a second. She was faster than most zmei he knew, certainly than most her age. According to his arcane sense, she was in her early twenties.

Crossing two arms under his heads, Maws opened all is eyes, staring at the woman. Her orange-yellow scales gleamed dully in zmeu country's sun, and her black-slit red eyes were narrowed in amused mockery. Her surprisingly elegant eyebrows, a duller red, were quirked.

'What's the point of clothes?' he asked back. 'I don't have anything to hide, and I don't need protection from any environment. I can make my own, if I want to.'

'Yeah, about the first...' she put one hand on a cocked hip. 'What happened to'

Maws snorted. 'Why let any passing arsehole take a swing at it instead of keeping it retracted?'

The hatchling looked bemused at that. 'I've literally never heard of a male zmeu doing that,' she said flatly. 'Not out of combat, anyway. Are you serious?'

He gave her an incredulous look. She was starting to bore him, in an annoying way. 'What's that supposed to mean? Do you think I care enough about you to lie? I don't even know you, girl.'

She held up her hands in a pacifying gesture. 'No, no, it's just...I was this close to losing that bet with Lucian. I guess you just act dickless.'

Maws was to his feet in a blink, but his punch, more power than a hypernova in a far more concentrated package, was deflected her wards.

Tch...magic this powerful, at her age? Did zmeu country have another prodigy on its hands? He certainly hoped not, with what a pain in the arse the last one had been before becoming merely annoying.

'You know, I don't appreciate it when people trash talk my friends and try to kill me for calling them out,' the hatchling said in an even voice.

Maws' nostrils flared as his eyes danced with the joy of upcoming bloodshed. 'Watch it, you little bitch. Don't think I can't kill you if I put my mind to it.'

'I wouldn't do that in your place. I think you'd feel kind of stupid to see me being resurrected while you get a one-way trip to the worst dungeon in DEATH Keep.'

What the...ah. Ah! This must have been Silva's woman, the mate of the one they called Keeper. Apparently the latest in a line of unhinged bastards who ran the afterlife for the godless in the aether. He'd heard about him while shooting the shit with a few of his acquaintances. There had been a surprising number of mercenaries from Earth at this meeting, both because he'd never met some and because most of the vets weren't social animals.


'Oh,' Maws drawled, eyes hooded. 'You're the whore of DEATH's whore - or is he the Mover's? I'm surprised such a pair of two-timing bitches can stand each other. Are you trying to make up for putting the horns on him, or has that not happened yet?'

Mia scoffed. 'I've heard worse things from nicer men, fossil. Pretty impressive coming from a thug for hire. I bet you find all the time you need to come up with jibes for people who contribute something to existence in between paychecks. Do you practise them in the mirror? I'm,' she lowered her voice to perform a phlegmy rendition of his, 'surprised an old man with no balls can talk shit that mad, though.'

By now, Maws was growling, each power-laced sound that left his throat packing enough power to pulverise any planet. 'Why are you here? Did you get bored of your toy and come to annoy me?'

'Are you deaf or just stupid?' Mia snarled back. 'I just told you.'

Maws made a dismissive sound. 'And what friend of yours did I insult?' He thought for half a zeptosecond, running through memories of the hatchling (he'd never met her), then of people they both knew, who might have mentioned of the mercs? 'Anyway,' he continued a sextillionth of a second later, 'even if I have, why aren't they here? Are you defending their honour while they hide behind you, just like how you threatened me with what your lover would do?'

Mia rolled her eyes. 'Gods, you really are a giant cunt, aren't you? I thought you just had son issues, but I see they weren't exaggerating.' Mia flew up so that she was between his central head's eyes. 'I'm going to have a talk with Aaron later, but let's be fair: no one has ever accused him of knowing how to read a room. Mostly the opposite, else he wouldn't have got stuck as an Admiral in a country with one opening to a sea.' She shook her head, as if to forget something, and stared back up at him. 'You don't give a damn about what you did, don't you? I bet you don't even see a mistake.'

Maws began walking away, hundreds of thousands of kilometres of soil that made steel look like air crumbling into dust in all directions with every step. 'Why don't you enlighten me? Seems to me you're very eager to put that mouth to anything but practical use - I'm not with anyone at the moment, by the way,' he added with a series of winks.

'You can stop leering, creep,' Mia replied with a slight grimace. 'I know it must be difficult for you, not thinking with what's between my legs, but I'd rather tough it out than sleep with whoever and complicate things for the rest of my life.'

'What's that supposed to mean?' the older zmeu asked, genuinely interested, if mildly.

'I don't sleep with friends, including friends who share my urges. Too much potential for awkwardness, and I'd rather not confuse people I only love as the siblings I never had. I don't sleep with friends' parents, either, for similar reasons.'

'Ah!' Maws exclaimed. 'The youngest one! You know him? So what's the matter?'

Mia huffed. 'The matter is that you came in at one of the worst moments in his life, when he was powerless to find the woman he loved, and basically told them their relationship doesn't matter, because they can't always be together. That their love is a joke because their instincts push them to sleep around, as if that makes it less genuine.' She gave him an unimpressed look. 'I've heard this opinion before, but you'd think a zmeu would know better.'

Maws laughed. 'My wife's the only reason our relationship works, and I've never pretended otherwise. But if even one half can't keep what matters pure, then why continue the sham? Better not start it in the first place.'

'That's certainly a point of view,' Mia said tartly.

'It's a fact. And it's not my fault he couldn't find his woman. What was preventing him from using that mace of his to destroy the distance between them, or whatever was stopping him from reaching her?'

'What wasn't?' Mia asked. 'Listen: creation might have changed, that might not have happened, but we still remember the timeline where it did. No one involved is any different.'

'I fail to see how that's relevant-'

'It's not the only thing you fail at. You made a deal for power and forgot about anything else...oh, my bad!' Mia facepalmed in mock-realisation, a sarcastic grin on her face. 'That and fucking you way across creation! Blazes, but you're something. Three chances to learn to pull out, and you still haven't gotten the knack.' Her expression darkened. 'Don't talk as if you ever understood the forces at play. No one could've done whatever they wanted in those moments, or you'd best believe your son would've done everything you suggested, and more. He loves Bianca.'

'Spare me,' Maws rumbled.

'No, you listen to me.' Mia was suddenly above him, knocking him down with a spinning kick that split his central head open and pulped the neck. 'I'm not saying you're completely useless, but even if you'd never become a father? There would have been others to fight in your sons' places, to guide me. Fixer would've arranged it - ask you wife.'

Who the hell was Fixer...? 'You-'

The younger zmeu throttled him with one hand, claws sinking into his regenerating throat before throwing his body, heavier than any planet, away. Maws flew, crossing three hundred thousand kilometres in a second, before crashing into and through the ground. A mass equal to a dozen Jupiters
slammed through the landscape with more force than ten supernovas, and Maws grunted. He felt as if he'd punched himself.

He got up in an instant, his innate durability more than enough to endure such power with nothing more than cracked scales - no need for the power he'd gotten from the pact. Now, he had the girl's measure. He'd thought letting her throw him had been enough for her to vent, but she still looked as irate as before.

'Don't mock him again,' Mia held up a warning finger. 'As far as their natures allow? They're practically married, in every way that matters. He has vowed to always be there for her, so you don't get to disparage what they have just because you're screwing an Escher painting that has to be prompted to hug and confuses affection with curiosity.'

Maws roared. 'Don't you dare bring her into thi-'

'Raise your voice at me again and you die,' Mia promised flatly. 'I've got weapons and monsters that have never existed, because they were torn from history. You don't want to join them.'

At that, Maws broadened his arcane sense, but he couldn't spot anything on or around her, only a general sense of menace. But maybe that had to do with the nature of what she'd mentioned? He'd learned it was better not to underestimate or assume.

'See how it feels?' she continued. 'The difference is that I actually know what I'm talking about. Don't confuse the fact the Underdweller likes playing house with the idea she loves you or wants a family. She's not wired that way.'

'She is enough for me,' Maws retorted, not missing a beat.

Mia arched an eyebrow, sardonic amusement dripping from her voice. 'But what your son and his girlfriend have isn't enough? At least Bianca can feel love. Gotta beat having the personality of an exoplanetary rover.' She laughed. 'Listen, I'm not here to kill you, provided you don't do anything stupid - a harsh demand, I know.'

Maws let out a bored chuckle. 'Get to the point. So I didn't tell him what he wanted to hear, didn't indulge his nonsense.' He spread his arms. 'So what? Other zmei wouldn't have gone to talk at all. Some would kill their hatchlings and spare them no more thought than they would an ant.'

'Do you want some head pats for being dad of the year? I'm not sure I have that much time,' Mia said. 'I'm here because I can't just let a colossal bastard and a bigger hypocrite than you just walk away from that. Lucian might be more forgiving than me; good for him. He's always managed to detach himself from what doesn't hurt him. Guess I'm too hotheaded,' she said with a self-deprecating smile, shrugging. 'And I couldn't see you relaxing and having such a good time, after you took a dump on your son's life and hauled arse without so much as a by your leave.'

'Who are you, his mother?' Maws asked contemptuously, bored to tears but aware he'd never get anywhere with this annoying brat on his heels. She was hellbent on ruining his day.

Mia clasped her hands. 'Let's bring that back, shall we? You say you're in a real relationship because the Underdweller doesn't sleep around. Ok...let's say I can imagine only caring about sex, we're both zmei, but you're as old as the goddamn universe, or older. How come you still think like a preteen? Rhetorical question,' she held up a hand, preempting him. 'You're dumb enough to think your wife going down her interaction checklist equals love because she doesn't bang other people.' She took a deep breath, sounding tired, the fabric of her red sleeveless shirt bulging slightly with her muscles. It was narrower around her upper back, with a smaller strip of fabric between her wings. 'I want you to apologise. I spent half the days I worked for Lucas hanging out with Lucian. The man's practically my uncle...but I get the feeling you don't care a whit about him, do you?' she asked, sounding disappointed. 'You know what? Better silence than an insincere apology.'

'And here I was about to clear my schedule,' Maws sneered.

'Oh, no need,' Mia replied in the same tone. 'See, I'm here because I want to check something. Sure, there are a lot of people who'd love to see you dead and most would pay for it, but I don't think I'll take that. It would make me too much like you. What I'm interested in is, are you worth keeping around? I'm not working,' she gestured at her clothes. 'And we try not to be too proactive, anyway; it comes across as paranoid. But I want to know if I should pull any punches in case you become a threat to Earth.'


'So, tell me,' Mia showed her teeth. 'Do you know how to do anything a monkey couldn't? Do more than eat, drink, sleep, shit and fight? Because from where I'm standing, you look like a stray dog that's very easy to goad into biting people you don't like. I normally wouldn't care about a meathead like you, but...some of my family does. Even if only those who hate you.'

Oh, good. At least they also wanted to avoid meeting.

'Doesn't mean they might not pay you a visit too,' the cow continued, as if reading his thoughts and deciding his day wasn't bad enough. 'And, besides that, I also want you to prove something to me.'

The audacity...! 'As if you can demand anything from me!' Maws exclaimed, incredulous, half his heads turning to boggle at her. 'But very well, if it will get you out of my sight. Not like I have anything better to do.' He crossed his arms. 'What do you want.'

'I imagine you noticed my spells.'

'Yes, good wards,' he said with grudging respect. 'What are you channeling?'

'My inner - no, you wouldn't get it.' She laughed to herself. 'It's not really sorcery, per se. I don't have a patron or a focus. I'm...improvising.' She looked frustrated at something. 'Not that it's easy to bump into people around here, but we wouldn't have met if I hadn't come to you. I don't have a demesne here.'

'I'd be surprised if you did,' he grumbled. That would have been too much. A slip of a girl like her, with a demesne, when she wasn't even thirty? Most zmei were only able to carve out their own demesnes in zmeu country when they were mature enough, physically and mentally. With how their species was, that could take as much as a century, and usually required several decades. To establish a sub-realm in the supernatural landscape, a zmeu needed to understand themselves and have a strong will besides, though sometimes, such things were intertwined. 'But what does that have to do with anything?'

'I keep trying to mould the country's reality into the shapes I want, but it doesn't take. It's too malleable. Like trying to keep air in your fist.' Hm. That was a way to put it. Back when he'd created his demesne, he'd had much of the opposite problem: it had felt like chipping away at a mountain with a spoon, and he'd managed to pull it off thanks to his stubbornness more than anything else.

It occurred to Maws that there was some poetic irony, or whatever it was called, to be found there, with how opposed his and the girl's views were. For some reason, that irked him. It felt too much like the lessons in children's fables.

'What does that have to do with your magic?' Maws asked, more insistently this time.

'I was getting to that, you crotchety snake,' she said, glowering. 'I can't make anything like a palace, or a workshop, or a barracks.' Oh, exactly the centres of his sons' demesnes given as examples? What a coincidence. 'But the country speaks to me, even if it sounds like it's sleep-talking at the best of times. I can't make anything stable, but I can channel that power, and it's endless. The only other limit is my imagination, how much I think I can use at one time. Because I might not be able to raise anything complex out of the country, but I can use what it gives me as a battery. And magic, I know well enough.'

'Hijacking the country to cast? That is very clever. Do you get ideas like this to compensate for being this weak, or do you just have a lot of free time?' Maws asked, affecting fascination.

To his pleased surprise. she didn't fly off the handle and start tearing into him. Thank the void, some zmei closer to his age still had hair-trigger tempers, to say less of those her age. It was...refreshing.

Instead of raging, Mia gave him a bland smile, before continuing as if he hadn't said anything. 'I could figure it out on my own, though it would take a while, even with time dilation. So...why not prove you're good for more than wrecking stuff, and try to be a teacher? You can pretend you'remaking up for the mess you made of that meeting with Lucian.'

Maws sniggered disparagingly. 'It's pointless. I never faced the obstacles to creating a demesne you say you've encountered. Nothing I say could help you. And besides, what's in it for me? I help you become more powerful, and gain...what? Some memories of the time I wasted?'

'How about the certainty that if I do have to kill, it probably won't be for personal reasons?' she asked in an overly sweet voice. 'I might not even join the guys if they decide to tear you a new one.'

Maws rolled his eyes. 'Girl, they don't care. You care more than they do - what, don't you have anything to do, either? If Silva is half as disappointing as I've heard, it wouldn't surprise me.'

'Sounds to me like you're scared,' she goaded. 'Or maybe admitting you're stupid. If you know you can't teach or even give advice worth a damn, why'd you even go when Aaron called? You should've told him to piss off. It would've hurt less.'

Maws felt his lips peeling back from his mountain-sized fangs. 'You just can't let go of that, can you? What's it matter to you?'

She looked like she wanted to throw up her hands. 'Do you even talk with anyone besides the Underdweller? Why are you so surprised I'm angry? You went to one of my closest friends and told him he and his girlfriend can't really love each other because they're ruled by their lusts? You said that with such confidence, as if you've ever felt a thousandth of what they have.'

'Even if the Underdweller doesn't love as I do,' Maws said coldly, 'my heart still beats for her. And that's enough.'

Mia shook her head, hawking a flaming gobbet of fire-laced spit. It burned a three-kilometre wide hole through the ground in an instant, turning soil to a white-glowing, steaming mess, and kept going. 'It's actually kind of impressive you can spout bullshit like that, but still look at them and say it's a joke. For just a moment, forget about the sex: if they were spirits, without bodies, what would you be getting hung up on?'

Maws waved her off. 'Forget it. I'm getting a headache. Return to your inane request.'

'Why? Didn't you just tell me to get lost?'

'What did you expect?' Maws asked caustically. 'That I'd be so incensed at your insinuations of me being a poor mentor I'd take you up on it? Forget it, hatchling. This is not some asinine story where you get someone to train you by taunting them about how they're incompetent to manage. As I'd told you, it's useless.' Maws closed half of his eyes, clearing his throats. When he resumed speaking, his voice was lighter. 'But I know someone who might manage to help. Even if she can't, she's always eager for visitors.' He leaned closer, mouthing the name without making any sound. Mia's eyes narrowed as zmeu country shook around her.

Maws then turned his back on Mia, spreading his wings as he prepared to fly away. 'And just to make sure you don't drop in again to be a pain in my necks, I'll think about what you said.'

Who knew? Maybe clearing the air with his hatchlings, even if just to make sure they had nothing to say to each other from now on, would help.

And...he wanted to visit his wife again, as soon as he could without feeling guilty. Maybe he and the Underdweller had some things to talk about, too.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Zhayvin Files: Strigoi

* * *
Classification: aethervorous necromorphic aberrants.

Colloquial name: strigoi.

Origin: the first strigoi was Domna Economou, current de facto leader of the Strigoi Society (referring to the undead organisation; for the strigoi research group of the same name and comparisons between the two, see files). Strigoi undeaths happen when a human, mage or psychic follower of Orthodox Christianity dies while in a state of emotional turmoil or discontent. Suicide also seems likely to trigger the process, but there is obviously overlap, given the context. Romanians belonging to the aforementioned categories who are born with cauls are also more likely to become strigoi upon death, as a result of metaphysical weight pressing upon their metainformational self. Since such Romanians are also believed to be destined for execution, a situation during which few are at peace, it is perhaps unsurprising that they sometimes become strigoi.

Description: strigoi possess grey skin and hair, entirely black eyes and white, sharklike fangs. They display their death mark, which can range from a wound that persists despite regeneration to an invisible halo of aberrant energies. Strigoi also possess an obsession with counting small objects placed upon a building's threshold, something likely related to the way undeath exaggerates certain aspects of their personality as a whole, in a mindless attempt to make them inhumanly focused.

Behaviour: Strigoi are predisposed towards violence and sadism, and their response to what would normally eb traumatic for humans is dulled. A strigoi's instincts strengthen with age and the amount of lifeforce consumed, until they become something akin to a were's beast or a vampire's thirst. While strigoi do not hunger, in the human sense, for lifeforce, many find themselves attracted to the energy, and find it more appealing to them than many other diversion, even discounting the certainty of increased power.

Threat level: regional (newly-risen strigoi who have not fed on lifeforce yet), varies depending on the amount of life drained, with no upper limit. Strigoi rise with the strength to pulverise tens of billions of tons of granite, shrug off similar force and move and react at hypersonic speeds. They do not require rest or sustenance, nor do they feel pain from anything but theomantic artefacts, which are also the only means to nullify their regeneration. Like vampires, strigoi possess the ability to control weather within their area of perception and shapeshift, including into mist or animals traditionally considered sinister. They can also drain beings in their line of sight of lifeforce. This ability improves with age and repeated use, to the point perceiving a being with any sense, or even a depiction of recording of them, is enough to drain them of lifeforce. Strigoi can control the animals associated with them, verbal commands being necessary at first before telepathic ones become enough, as well as see through their senses. They possess similar control over corpses and ghosts, something that has caused friction between them and other undead, something their often predatory, in more ways than one, behaviour has exacerbated.

Neutralisation: theomantic force is to be applied for lasting damage. Mundane or non-holy power might be enough to keep fledgling strigoi pinned, as their spirits cannon achieve much without their bodies, but older ones are perfectly capable of manifesting somewhere else while ignoring most attacks. Be aware that, like in the case of most undead susceptible to faithcraft, they are not any more vulnerable than a human would be to mundane weapons. That is to say, cutting a strigoi's hand off with a holy sword will not make them burst into flames, but instead result in them, at worst, punching you with their offhand.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Creed Ascendant

* * *
The Unrealm did not know place or moment, and never had. It could not have been.described as crowded or stifling, for it was beyond the bounds of space, nor could anything be new or outdated.

And yet, the paradigm shift had everyone feeling caged, as if unseen walls were closing in on them. The Unbeings, like a microcosm of Creation City's Makers, were not truly separate, as such, but they were not of one mind, either.

What they had said to Mocker of the Zhayvin hadn't been a lie, but it might not have been accurate either, now that they thought about it.

Mocker understood their nature better than most beings, but it was not like them, not fully. No Unbeing had ever been outside their union, for such separation was impossible. They were like particles making up a being. Destroying each other was more likely, and would be easier, than anything resembling secession or exile.

As such, the Unbeings found themselves at a crossroads. For entities that had always been everywhere they'd known, choosing a path was as alien as they must have looked to those they had once destroyed.

The Collective had let them go, without the Unbeings needing to try and break free, and Earth's Global Gathering had decided they could return to their home, as long as they coordinated with Earth's institutions should they return.

Before their Second Revelation, they had lashed out at anything and everything not of the Unrealm, trying to destroy it in a mad hatred born of a cruder instinct triggered by threats. They had been deemed not liable for their past deeds, having been insane by any measure - though they were sure many would have enjoyed seeing them destroyed regardless.

Their timeless minds hadn't remembered, for some things had always been, once they happened. But now, they relived the eons of pain caused by those they had welcomed with open arms, before their First Revelation. That made them brood, just like the reason for this gathering, though for different reasons.

The Unbeings knew, like those bound by gravity knew that things fell when dropped, that DEATH's Keeper was worthy of worship. How could he not be? Had he not persevered, despite everyone arrayed against them, and devised the plan that had both saved and uplifted creation? Was he not, even now, guiding the Idea of Endings, preventing it from annihilating the godless dead in a mindless rampage little better than their past one?

But with faiths often came schisms, and theirs, sadly, was no exception. The problem, obviously, was that - despite being ruthless when those he cared for were slighted - David was a kindly god, who would not accept people so much as insulting each other in his name, much less killing each other.

As such, the Faithful had to settle for grumbling about the heretics' blasphemies as said unbelievers entered hibernation. They had rejected David's divinity, either because they had come not to believe such a thing existed in general, or because they thought him unworthy of adoration.

Poppycock, obviously, but you could not argue with some people. They had believed too, once, before deciding they had the right to judge him, as if they would not have been angered in his place. Pure shamelesness...alas. Perhaps they would return to the light, one day, should they allow themselves to be enlightened once more.

With the faithless crawling up their own navels, the Faithful were left to hammer out the details of their beliefs. Clearly, they needed more work, or the next batch of fools would reject them too, remaining blind to the truth.

To an observer capable of withstanding the sanity-blasting nature of the Unrealm, the conclave (the name had not been capitalised yet, the gathering had not become an insitution) would have resembling nothing more than a maelstrom, colourless but containing all hues at once, shapeless yet horribly-angled, curving impossibly. The debate would have sounded like an infinity of identical voices, all speaking at once, answered by their echoes.

'The Keeper of Endings is a god,' one began. 'He is divine, for he can harm any undead beyond recovery. He is worthy of worship, for he saved us all, not being crushed by despair when others would have broken and died.'

'He cleared our minds, too,' another Unbeing chimed in. 'Broadened them. Made us see as others did. The memories are gone, yet the thought-shapes linger.'

The first nodded, sweeping its eyeless gaze across the endless ranks of its fellows. 'Is there any doubt, then? The Keeper is our god, and will be that of many. We shall spread the word of his glory, and bear the burden of his enemies hatred.'

If only it were that simple. But an appendage rose, twisting in question?

'Yes?' the preacher asked in a geavelly tone.

'What if the Keeper does not want us to spread the word of his glory? What if he does not desire veneration?'

The speaker nodded. 'He is modest, yes. Looks inward, our Redeemer. All he wants is prosperity for all, and to raise build a life of joy with his beloved.' It shrugged. 'It matters not. Even if he forbids us from preaching, he cannot forbid us from believing, for that would be the kind of tyranny he despises.'

'Yes!' an Unbeing said, before launching into an entirely different kind of discussion. 'What of the Lady in Flames?'

But the speaker gestured for it to quiet down. They would speak of her, too, and many others. 'All shall be revealed in time,' it promised. 'Once we lay the groundwork, our minds shall open to the higher mysteries.'

The problem was obvious: David Silva was too humble to feel comfortable being praised, much less prayed to. He would not answer prayers, they knew, for he saw such behaviour as biased, as if favouring his worshippers was anything but admirable.

Any attempts to find loopholes were likely to end poorly. Praying for something David was going to do anyway, either in pursuit of his duties or on a whim, and claiming they had been heard once it happened, was all but guaranteed to draw the Keeper's displeasure.

Luckily, the solution was obvious as well: they would be peaceful. They would not preach through blade and fire, but only through words. They would not demand conversion, either, for the seeds of beluef in the hearts of the worthy would bloom on their own.

David could not say no to that, surely. As long as they did not slaughter unbelievers and sinners for slighting his divine honour, there would be no reason to reprimand them.

So, they could not kill and claim David had driven them to do it. Even praising his name while killing his enemies was likely to put him on edge.

'But how can we live like that?!' wailed a believer, wracked with grief at having to temper its devotion. 'Why can't they all see he is meant to be venerated? Why can't he accept his greatness?'

The one who would come to be called the Hierophant lowered its head in sympathy, heart bleeding at the sight of its shattered spirit. 'It is tragical, yes - but we must be strong! David took the pain caused by the Black God and drew strength from it! Will we prove ourselves lesser than our Redeemer, falling by the wayside?'

It twisted, newly-formed eyes burning with fervour. 'Or will we follow in his footsteps, ascending to stand at his side like gods unto ourselves?'

The qnswering cheer was reassuringly strong. Good, good. They craved Ascension. Who wouldn't, besides the craven, the foolish and the mad?

'But adoration is not enough!' the preacher reminded them, roaring to drown out the crowd's zeal. 'We cannot simply say David is great and call it faith! Magnificent as he is, the Keeper of Endings is not simply to be exalted, but emulated!'

Now, the speaker was among its people, taking in everyone. 'He might not have given us commandments to follow, but it matters not. He leads us by example through the darkness that is existence. How can we do any less than follow that example?!'

A ragged cheer rose in approval, to the speaker's delight. So were the Deeds of David listed, carved into the consciousness of the Unbeings so they might serve as inspiration.

David helped and protected the innocent, regardless of their beliefs; he punished the guilty and broke them through divine torture, that they might recognise their sins and repent, trying to make creation a better place; he was loving to his woman, to his kin and to his fellows.

So they would be the same. The Unbeings might not have been inclined towards acting as either guardians or friends - destruction and revenge came easily to them, as they did to David -, but they would shame their god if they did less than he would have in their place.

Now, how they lived was important, but why they lived mattered just as much, if not more so, argued a few of the Unbeings.

'We live because the Keeper delivered us!' bellowed one of the Faithful. 'Delivered us from the chains envisioned by Chernobog, and from the oblivion of the unthinking Mover's awakening! Hail David!'

'Praise be!' the preacher replied, almost reflexively. 'But that is not what I meant. We live to Ascend! We cannot persist shackled as we are, for this is merely survival, not prosperity.'

It folded its limbs, smiling from a trillion needle-fanged mouths, each dwarfing any star, but effectively invisible compared to the expanse of its starfish-like body, for they were separated by stretches of unbroken wrought matter far larger than them.

'We know the macrocosm is not working properly. Itvwas ince the Dream of a blind idiot god, and when said god awakened and opened its eyes, it did not undo everything, for it believes in Ascension through struggle.'

The Mover was an aloof creature, not uplifting people when it could, but it could not be opposed. Not yet.

'LIFE had the opposite problem, and, because it tried to shove apotheosis down unwilling throats, it was broken. We are its cast-offs, punished for its failire, a shadow of what we should have been. Even those who understood the truth on their own, the Breaker and the Knights of Perfection and Rebellion, have not achieved their full potential. They know they are the Last men - but they also know they could be Gods!'

A rumble passed through the gathering, with the speaker beginning to gesticulate. 'That is the danger of forcing unwilling conversion! Even if we incur David's ire rather than the Mover's, there will be little difference. We will feel more ashamed, even if we are scourged less. Neither is an option, in any case. Furthermore...'

The preacher clasped its limbs behind itself as it began to stalk through the crows, head lowered in thought. 'Furthermore, we cannot attempt to raise the unprepared out of the muck, lest they lose themselves like we did, before David purged our minds of madness.'


'May the depths of his joy dwarf those of his sorrow!' the speaker responded. 'Aye. No one deserves going through the First Revelation the way we did. The result will, doubtlessly, be the same. One must realise they shape and are shaped by existence on their own terms, or they will only achieve what the Sleeper's addled mind deems freedom.'

'Rrrrable-rouser,' an Unbeing growled, form twisting at the mention of the Great Old One.

'Cheap demagoguery,' another scoffed. 'That's all it spouts. It does not even teach what its god believes. Even if it wasn't so prone to raping people's spirits, they would be appalled by the hypocrisy.'

'All faiths fall short of ours,' the preacher said soothingly. 'It is only natural, for they misunderstand the truth when they even acknowledge it. How many deities wish for their worshippers to Ascend? Few. So very few. Too many pantheons wish only to keep weaklings around, so they have someone fawning over them. They would rather be admired by their lessers than respected by their peers.'

It shook its head, chuckling. 'Us, however? We will carve a path through the trackless wilderness of fate, because it is the right thing to do. Once everyone ascends, we will stand as equals to David and the Unmoved Mover, beholden only to ourselves.'

And then, there would be no more need to preach, nothing left to teach about, for everything and everyone would be understood. There would be only peace, the serenity of omnipotence.

There was the goal. They had the promise of paradise, the precepts to follow on the road to the eternal tomorrow. Now came the details, the meat on the bones, as it were. The preacher would have rather left to proselytise - there were worlds upon worlds, cosmoses linked like atoms, bereft of the light of Ascension. They deserved to hear of the Creed, to make their choice. But some things had to be settled.

The elephant in the room was David's own faith. The Keeper's beliefs might have been shaken by the inaction of Abraham's God, but they still existed, even if he was certainly less pious. The problem was, would they worship Yahweh as well?

'Absolutely not,' the Hierophant, who had spoken with Micker, snapped when the subject was raised. 'We shall not be Christians, or anything else, by proxy. David might not have shed the trappings of his religion, but he is likely to reject ours as well. That is fine. We forgive him. But no Faithful will ever raise a prayer to Yahweh, or any god other than David Silva.'

Without any more heathen suggestions, they moved on to David's...acquaintances.

'The Lady in Flames is the Keeper's joy, the light of his life,' the Hierophant whispered reverently. 'But Mia Silva would be even more humbled by our praise than he will be, for she is a modest soul as well.'

'They have not married yet,' an Unbeing pointed out.

'Details,' the Hierophant said dismissively. 'She is his, just like he is hers. We will not laud her, nor make examples of her deeds. Not yet. She has her own worries: strengthening her magic, raising her demesne...and, of course, worshipping the Keeper more intimately than any of us ever will.'

A thunderous laugh erupted at the joke, accompanied by approving shouts. 'A favour he is certainly happy to return!'

'She is blessed, the zmeu, blessed indeed!'

What of the others who had helped shape David? God's Mouth, the Remaker, the Idea of Uncertainty? DEATH? The Black God and the Crawling Chaos?

They would all be mentioned, the Faithful decided. Not exalted, but named. They were important. As for Chernobog and Nyarlathotep...well. It would not hurt to have some monsters to curse.

The journey to Ascension would be neither smooth nor easy, however. The Faithful could not simply be believers and preachers, or they would be swept aside by poweful but faithless lackwits. They would have to be believers, and thinkers, and warriors. These duties could not be kept separate, or their endeavour would fail.

As they shaped their holy land, they separated themselves when beliefs variated by degrees, but did not lay outside the bounds of the Creed Ascendant. Cathedrals the size of galaxy clusters and superclusters rose, filled with depictions of the Keeper of Endings and his accomplishments, represented in everything from painting and statues to repeating illusions and time-looped constructs.

David's thoughtful visage stared out at every part of every chamber, from the frescoes on the ceilings to the pulpits from which the priests delivered resounding sermons. In the middle of the Unrealm appeared a greater building than all these houses of worship, which revolved around it like planets around a star.

'Is it pious to build such a thing, though, Speaker to Outsiders?' an Unbeing asked the Hierophant as they moved through Piety Palace's halls.

'Of course it is not,' the preacher replied. 'No palace has ever suggested piety. Fanaticism, often enough, or self-aggrandisement, depending on the case. Fools will look at it and look down at what they see as an excess of zeal. Let them be wrong. The Palace is an expression of our faith, in the most literal sense. There are few names more fitting.'

Moreover, Piety Palace served as a place of debate. The various sects were less likely to throw punches, or worse, in the building dedicated to the Creed Ascendant as a whole, which also contained their embassies.

Arranged around the circular roofs of the central Palace, sprawling wings housed the Courts of the sects, where Cardinals would lead their congregations on the great journey that was existence, once said Cardinals were chosen.

To the east lay the Court of the Faith in Stillness, those Unbeings who dedicated themselves to stopping the motions, both physical and subtle, of all things in creation, leaving them unchanging, invulnerable but unmoving. Only the Still could move in such a state, as untouchable as a wendigo who had frozen their body and spirit. They were to be the shields of their fellows, should war erupt.

To the west spread the Court of Change, where all aspects of renewal were celebrated, from conflict and reproduction to mutation and decay to creation and destruction, and all the other myriad facets of alteration channeled by the Faith in Change to empower themselves.

The Courts of the Faith in All and the Faith in Naught ringed Piety Palace to the south and north. A brief argument between the former and the Faith in Stillness had almost resulted in a scuffle, for the Still argued there was no real difference in their beliefs.

The Whole, as they called themselves, said they did not draw their power from stasis, but from the wellspring that was LIFE's emanations and remains, and the potential of new beings. The Changers, who had heard this as well, had chosen to remain on the sidelines and snigger at their incensed rivals.

The Hollow, meanwhile, tapped into the nothingness left behind by destruction, into nonexistence. The Unbeings could change power sources as easily as they could move up and down through dimensions and dimensionless places, but emptiness was harder to grasp than most. The effort required for the process might have resulted in the Hollow's surliness and bleak outlook on life, though some argued that was just them.

The Court of the Faith Unbroken, at the centre, was, in the eyes of the others, filled with fence-sitters, changing power sources as often as arguments. But they believed in David, and that was all that mattered.

They had to be strong to succeed, and to be strong, they had to be united. The Hierophant had said as much, and, despite being dismissed as more glib than wise by would-be Cardinals, most had agreed with it. They could not afford to tear themselves apart when there were entire universes where scarcity reigned, or where life was hanging by a thread instead of striding towards Ascension.

They had to help them, because they could. There was nothing to be discussed.

It was what David would have done.

* * *

'David,' Mia's honeyed rumble filled the room, making me glance at her over my shoulder. 'One of your eldritch simps is on the phone.'

'Miaaaaaaa...' I turned around, leaning on the windowsill as her chuckle at my expression filled me with warmth. Mia was wearing nothing but a smile as she lounged, propping her head in one hand, tail swishing lazily across our bed. In one hand, she was holding the phone she'd mentioned, and her smile turned impish as I silently asked if she was serious.

'Oh, I just blocked the flashier alternatives. Wouldn't have wanted astral projections, or uninvited guests.' Voyeurs were the only thing Mia wasn't into when we were together.

'Good call,' I grunted, making my suit manifest around me. The good thing about whatever I was classified as now was that I could wear practically anything and feel comfy. Ash-grey slacks, shirt and jacket, black shoes and tie; I looked like an undertaker, which was appropriate enough.

I had never considered wearing a fedora at work - it made me look like the type of eternally single douchebag I'd have been if my girlfriend wasn't kind enough to tolerate me -, though Mia said it fit the rest of the outfit, and had once suggested wearing one in bed, before deciding she couldn't focus enough to do anything while laughing that hard.

"It's not you," she'd promised, hand over her heart, showing her fangs as she grinned, "it's me. I swear."

"Yeah, I know how it looks," I'd groused. "You got any suggestions that don't make me wanna hang myself again?"

She'd conjured a bulky trench coat and a katana, before holding them up while wiggling her eyebrows.

"Thanks, but I'm enough of an edgy tryhard without those."

"I've got some wraparound shades, too-"


Mia tilted her head as she saw I was no longer naked. I considered the fact I could hold her attention without needing to exploit her lust something of a point of pride. She actually gave a damn about me, despite anything. I don't know if, in her place, I'd have been willing to date someone who'd have consigned everyone to oblivion because he and his loved ones had suffered, but I didn't bring it up. The subject seemed to bore her.

'Are you going to visit them?' my zmeu asked. 'Why not send a clone?'

'They need to see I'm aware of their nonsense, darling, and that I'm taking them seriously...well. Not in the sense they want, obviously.'

Mia sat up, a set of oxblood robes appearing around her. She was going to work in one of the labs she'd built in my house's spatial folds, I was sure. Smaller than the ones in her Bucharest flat, but well-stocked enough. The robes helped. Like called to like, and the clothes expected of a witch helped with magic.

'Huh. You think they can tell you and your replicas apart?'

'Even if they can't, I'll know I'm not really dealing with them. That's what matters to me.'

Mia dipped her chin in acknowledgement. 'If you say. I'm gonna start on some alchemical mixtures while you're gone. Maybe I can get some numerology in while they're settling...'

Such disciplines helped her order her magic. Most zmei only used theirs to shapeshift, maybe cast a few crude spells while their physiology made sure their bodies were strong and their flames hot, but Mia wanted to hone hers. It doubled as training for creating a domain in zmeu country.

'Well,' Mia tipped her pointed hat to me as it appeared on her head, before taking it off. She thought it looked ridiculous, useful as it was, unless she was in her human form. Said form stood out to me because Mia was still taller and buffer than me as a tanned redhead, to my amusement. She just couldn't help but look great, it seemed. 'See you soon, David.'

'Same. And thanks again for keeping the fans out.'

Mia laughed as she left the bedroom, and I felt space stretch as she entered a room that wasn't there, and would have too large to fit inside the house if it had been. 'My, you sure didn't seem to be put off by tentacles last night.'

'Yeah, well, those were yours.' I rubbed my eyes in anticipation of the incoming discussion.

I felt her raise and wag a finger in warning as a fire burned into existence with no fuel, crackling. 'Just remember don't let them get to you. If they start annoying you, tell 'em to piss off.'

As if I'd let them become a pain in the arse. Mia hated competition.

* * *

Had a human entered the Unrealm unprotected, they'd have been destroyed, body, mind and soul erased from history so that they had never been, and the echoes of their death-knell would have been automatically refashioned into an Unbeing.

To me, it felt pretty damn pleasant compared to some of the places I had to visit regularly. Save for the uncomfortably high number of temples dedicated to me, it looked like a barren, shapeless expanse, ugly pink and crimson, with flashes of white and patches of inky blackness, like holes in the fabric of its unreality.

The Unbeings, like many powerful paranormals, could store infinite amounts of something in finite spaces, a trick I used with what I hated about myself when I ranted in the mirror. Already rolling my eyes - they, at least, hadn't tried to make me look good, not that they could have without artistic licence, but that didn't mean I wanted to see my face on statues -, I shifted to the centre of the biggest building, a flashy eyesore that would have driven most people who looked at it insane even if it hadn't been of the Unrealm.

I caught the Unbeings in the middle of a spirited but non-violent debate, which was the best case scenario, really. Said debate stopped when I arrived, to be replaced by a wet, squelching sound that would have probably been applause if the Unbeings had hands. They were also cheering.

I gestured for them to calm down, and silence eventually fell. 'Thanks,' I said, once it was quiet, debating whether to say "thank you, thank you very much" in my best Elvis voice. I decided against it. I knew this shrimpy, angry zombie guy from another creation who had a thing for him, and I didn't want to give him the satisfaction. 'I notice y-'

'Keeper!' one of them bellowed, extending tendrils tipped with claws - sharp enough to cut quarks, but large enough for star clusters to get lost in them - in a half-pleading, half-exasperated gesture. 'We must speak of you!'

Ah, of course. Straight to the point. It wasn't like they didn't know I knew about their debates, so there was no need to beat around the bush and pretend we were dumber than we were. Usually, I gave off that impression unintentionally. 'My alleged divinity, you mean,' I said softly, sticking my hands in my pockets as I gave it a bland stare.

It shook what passed for its head in a rippling motion. 'Nothing alleged, Keeper. You can harm strigoi and vampires beyond recovery. You help whoever is in need, no matter where or when they live - only the cruelty of the Mover prevents you from making all of creation a paradise.'

Anothr Unbeing, draped in lengths of pseudoplasm in an inhuman parody of a surplice, moved forward, nodding in agreement. 'You are kinder than almost any deity, and more powerful than all of them combined, for it was you who the Mover bestowed the mantle of existence's guardian upon.'

I shook my head. They misunderstood worthiness. The fact I was powerful didn't make me a god. The Idea of Divinity could also kill otherwise immortal undead, but no one really prayed to it, in any true sense.

Besides, the power I'd received from the Mover had a few weird hang-ups. Not any true weaknesses, but...oddities. For example, Fixer. Ned had started as his own living Archetype, but on the way, he'd become something more, growing from the Idea of Altruism - many of his selves had been helpful men, or equivalents - into the opposite of the Crawling Chaos. If Nyarlathotep represented creation's descent into nothingness, Fixer was its ability to go on, to resist, to build anew. In hindsight, he'd never hidden it from anyone.

That meant a fight between the two of us would be a stalemate. Ned could tap into the powers of anyone and anything that had ever fought for creation, including, I suspected, the Mover itself. And I couldn't really destroy him without making existence fall apart, which would go against the point of my power. Even wiping the slate clean and recreating everything would just result in Fixer popping back into existence, ready to go at it again. Not that I'd ever have a reason to do such a thing. I wasn't Arvhek, nor was I hampered by my selfishness any longer.

The good part was that it was extremely easy to make up power when I could just deem something a threat to creation, thus assuring I'd get an ability tailor-made for flattening it.

'Why don't you accept it?!' the first Unbeing asked, more insistently this time - or was it desperately?

'I know, I know! I'm too ugly to live, but you can't kill people for that anymore! Besides, you guys don't need to worry. I'm already dead.'

Absolutely no one laughed, which should tell you something about my sense of humour. Even my hentai bait audience, with their awful tastes in idols, didn't crack a smile. Maybe I should have told them to guffaw or I'd smite them.

'You are modest,' continued the priestly-looking Unbeing. 'But that is simply a holdover from your mortal existence, David Silva. There is nothing shameful in godhood, for you are worthier of it than most.'

'He does not desire it!' A third Unbeing pointed at me. 'Only the truly divine deny their divinity! Hail David!'


I almost facepalmed, but these insane bastards would have taken it as a sign I encouraged self-flagellation or some shit, so I didn't. There was no point in arguing with zealots. They'd just drag you to their level and beat you through experience.

'Listen...I don't want to hear prayers in my name.' I glared around at them. 'And I don't want you to interpret this as me wanting different shows of devotion. I don't want any at all, alright? I'm just a fuckup who almost failed to get his priorities straight when it mattered. That I have a hotshot job and the power to smack people I don't like doesn't change that, and it shouldn't.'

'But you only almost failed.' The priest came closer. 'How many would have given up in your place? And you awakened the Unmoved Mover. The Remaker couldn't have. It was always too focused on the Creator, not the created. Even if it had tried to enact your design, it would have failed, for it had too many enemies. Nor could anyone have taken the place of the binding witch. Had, say, the Worker of Knots tried, he would have failed for much the same reason. The gods of its homeland look down upon it, and would have not joined a coalition headed by it, fearing treachery.'

'You certainly don't seem to mind some of those you call friends being prayed to,' the first Unbeing, no longer in that pleading pose. 'The Tartarus Engine speaks through the statues in his temples to its faithful, but you don't think less or more of him for it.'

'It's not the same,' I retorted. 'Aster-'

'Of course it's not the same,' the priest cut me off, addressing the other Unbeing. 'The minotaur came into the world as a cursed wretch, only half a person. He only became worthy of worship, I would say, when he struck Chernobog.' Then, to me, it said. 'You think you were selfish as a human, we know. But you prepared younger minds for the world. Even after you first came back from the dead...did you never think it incredible that you could control your instincts enough to be allowed among children? You were young, true, and your other side voiceless - but how many strigoi have achieved similar things in your situation? A handful. Merely a handful.'

I ground my fangs in irritation. I hadn't come here for brown-nosers, and all the veneration was making me feel dirty. There were so many other people more deserving of adoration...why weren't they going to them?

But I knew the answer, of course. I had made them sane again. I had given them a purpose, freed them from a cycle of invasion and destruction of other realms.

And, while doing so, I had seen what they had once been, and how they had shattered themselves to avoid being broken, by beings as monstrous in their eyes as they would have once been in ours.

I used to think realities where so much hinged on Earth were dangerous. The universes of House Kharz, of the Lhamshian Crownhold, of Thamryn - once Neverwas, of whose golden age only a living legacy remained in the form of Chevalier Blanc -, of the Eternal Empire whose unending zenith Arvhek's son had turned into an endless twilight, many others, the fate of cosmoses balancing in synch with the comings and goings of a little blue world, or its memory.

No point in stewing over all those realms, however. We all had parts to play, and...

'You already know what I want from you,' I told the Conclave of the Creed Ascendant. In reality, all I wanted of them was to shut the hell up about the cult they'd assembled around me, but I knew nothing short of destruction would silence them. 'Help whoever you can, whenever you can. As long as they need aid, their beliefs do not matter. Do not help people on the condition they will convert, or in the expectation they will. It must come from the goodness of your hearts, or there is no point.'

Yeah, like that was going to be obeyed.

'Now,' I formed a chair to sit down, rubbing my forehead while crossing my legs, 'let's talk about what I don't want you to do...'
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Knight Shift

* * *

'I want to kill something.'

The whisper does not disturb the silence of the moors. It would barely be audible to a human, in fact.

The cambion shakes his head, realising he is lying to himself - inadvertently, this time. Still, honesty is a better policy than most he has tried. It certainly can't hurt.

'I need to kill someone,' he says, in a harsher whisper, almost a growl. His chest is heaving as he takes deep, unnecessary breaths. It's his human half at work, he knows, a reflex he has not shed yet.

It is still useful, after all. Growing among humans meant imitating their mannerisms, lest he draw bothersome attention. Few, if any of them, are close to a threat to him, but he despises nosy fools.

Like his cousins. That sanctimonious feathered bastard and his pet maggot, forcing him to face the truth of his deeds.

The one they will one day call Merlin rises to his feet. The grass under him smokes and blackens at the touch of the hellfire inside him and the proximity of the dark ichor that flows alongside his blood.

He cannot hate the Halfbreed Halfkin, he knows. Oh, he can, in a literal sense, but he shouldn't. It is not a matter of capability, but of morality, something he has only ever observed from a distance so far.

He will have to study it more. Perhaps he should do that, instead of killing a beast or a person. He can't believe he is even thinking like this, but...

Merlin laughs to himself, feeling none of the usual sadism that usually causes and accompanies the sound, or the rarer genuine pleasure that sometimes does the same.

He is supposed to redeem himself. He knows his cousins would help him if he asked, but that would be pointless. He must better himself, for all he does not think he could teach a dog to bark without using his powers.

* * *

He barely glimpses the woman before she steals his soul with a glance and a smile.

Not literally, though he would not hesitate to give her his spirit, in exchange for the assurance it would please her. His mind, his power, his life, anything. Anything.

Merlin has known lust before, countless times. How could he not? Asmodeus used to be one of his closest uncles, though the Prince of Lust has distanced himself from the cambion since Merlin has become a bleeding heart, in the demon's own words.

It is not merely lust that fills him when he first glimpses the Lady of the Lake, though there is plenty of that. It is on this night that Merlin learns it feels much better when intertwined with love. There is none of that endless, foul hunger he used to feel when aroused in the past. He feels...sated.

What draws him to her is her kindness. She can move between the lakes of what is not yet called Britain without casting any spell. It is her birthright as a daughter of Tellus, sired without a father and let loose on the world as an elemental.

She uses this to alleviate her loneliness. People are attracted and frightened by her in equal measure, between her appearance and her aura. When humans gather enough courage to come forth to her, they most often ask to have the lakes she inhabits filled with fish, a request she answers, smiling meaninglessly. It is not hard for her to do, so she does.

On other occasions, mortals ask for her hand, but she refuses, always refuses. She does not desire a spouse who looks at her with awe or fear, nor one whose heart is only set aflame by her body - for those who come to court her cannot seem to look past that.

She tells herself they are a young species, still learning, still growing.

There are some who seek her for less wholesome purposes, to kill her because she is different, or strange, or so they can eat her corpse and gain her powers. These people, she avoids, hiding under the waters.

Nimue is tall, almost as tall as him, and he's a head taller than most men, even discounting his horns. She is not muscled like he is from battle and the indulgence of demonic urges, and he finds he likes that. He would rather she not exert herself when he can. Her body is white as marble and soft with curves, and - though he knows it is shallow - he is glad she will always be in the flower of womanhood.

Nimue swims to the edge of the lake, propping her elbows up on the rocky shore, not because she cannot move faster, but because she wants him to take in the sight of her.

He does, cheeks glowing black with inner hellflame as he grins down at her, taking a knee on the gravel. Her eyes, entirely a deep blue, twinkle with amusement as she looks up at him, a teasing smile playing across her lips. They are white too, he notes. Is her blood as pale as her flesh?

They do not speak at first, for it is not yet time. Nimue's arcane senses move back down his timeline, and a choked sob escapes her throat as she learns what a monster he used to be. Her milky hand closes around his scarred, clawed one, as she lives through the moments that made him decide to turn his life around.

He lifts her hand to his lips, kissing her knuckles. 'I understand if you are appalled...' he almost calls her his lady, but it is too early for that, if it will ever happen. 'Viviane,' he finishes.

She shakes her head. Her hair, dark as a moonless night and reaching down to her slim waist, moves like waves, and he knows she could destroy him however she wanted right now, entranced as he is. He'd probably thank her.

'I am not,' she replies in a small voice, lips barely seeming to move. 'I understand. I used to be cruel, too.'

'You, cruel?'

'Do not mock, princeling.' She frowns prettily, retracting her hand. 'Do you know how many I watched drown or freeze to death without so much as blinking?'

'Mockery was not my intent, but, if I might ask, what changed?'

She looks aside, brushing a few dark locks out of her eyes. 'A sister of mine used to act much the same in her forests. I am not sure you have walked her lands. She lives on the mainland, to the east, and calls herself the mother of all the woods in that realm. She is as old as them.'

'Ah.' He cups her chin, tracing her lips with a thumb. 'Just like how you are as old as this land's first lake?'

'Exactly.' She nods. 'This sister of mine used to be merely aloof when a child died in her forests. Then, she started eating them. Her heart was not in it last we spoke - it is the result of people believing the woods devour those weak or careless, you understand -, but I somehow doubt they started thinking that way of her domain for no reason. She did something, I'm sure, and now they see monsters in every shadow.'

'And you wish not to be like her.'

'Yes. I do not desire an eternity as bleak as hers is shaping up to be.'

Family. They never let you be yourself, do they? Even when they don't do anything directly.

'Well,' he says, 'I do not know about others, but I, for one, wouldn't mind being devoured by you.'

Her laugh is rich and throaty, rather than crystalline like he expected. He thinks he likes it more this way.

'Are you as old as the first lake that formed after this island split from the continent? Pr when the landmass itself formed?'

She lifts her chin, voice sweetly mocking. 'Wouldn't you like to know?'

He would. Oh, he would gladly forget all the lore he has killed for if it meant understanding her for an instant. In the millennia that have passed since the Fall of Atlantis, she is the first woman not to abandon him upon learning about his past. Fortunately, they are both unique, as far as the other is concerned, so he needn't feel less than enough.

'It would certainly be interesting to learn,' he answers.

She begins slowly moving away from him, then swimming laps around the small lake as she continues to speak. She's teasing him again, he knows. It would amuse her if he stumbled over his words because he was focused on her thighs or behind.

He does not give her the satisfaction. He will have all the time in the world to be distracted later, if he plays his cards right.

'Why does it matter to you?' she asks, now floating on her back, wet hair surrounding her head like an inky halo. 'My age, I mean.'

'I would say it doesn't,' he says, 'if I wanted to lie. The truth is, I like older women.'

She is staring at the stars when she speaks again. 'Indeed? How old?'

'Older than me, at least.'

By the time they start making love - he is under her, Nimue grasping his horns to steady herself, and it is glorious -, he thinks it doesn't really matter how old she is. She certainly has the experience, anyway.

Viviane slaps his shoulder when he says this, making him laugh raucously. 'Pig,' she mutters, trying to scowl but unable to hide her fondness.

'How did you learn all this, anyway? Didn't you say you refuse whoever tries to court you?'

She just smiles, turning away from him with a smirk on her face and a spring in her step, hands clasped behind her. He has to blink twice before he trusts himself not to sound stupid when he opens his mouth, and even longer before he manages to look higher than her rear and full, swaying hips.

'Another mystery, eh?' he grumbles. 'Damn woman.'

Nimue does not look at him when she retorts. 'Maybe I learned from luring smitten fools like you into my lair and having my way with them.'

He scoffs. 'I only wish I could die in your hands, darling.'

'Did you mean at my hands?'

'I know what I said.'

Out of curiosity, he scries his future after they stop. It is hours past noon, though that is impossible to tell from his Lady's cave under the lake, and they are both thankful for their endless stamina. His mind is clear as he peers into the future.

Sadly, there is little to no chance of him dying with his head crushed between Nimue's legs.

'Goddamnit,' Merlin mumbles, dispelling the magic.

* * *

Nimue is speeding through the air, in the form of moisture quickened beyond natural limits by her powers, while a kingdom burns. King Ban lays dying, his lifeblood spattering the dust, just as his realm turns to ashes at the hands of his enemy, Claudas.

Ban and his wife, Elaine, are close to a lake when the King falls, only stopped from cracking his head on the ground by his woman's arms. But Elaine is not strong enough to bear the weight of both her armoured husband and her son, not when grief weighs heavy upon her heart as well.

Lancelot is squealing, hot tears running freely down his cheeks as he clings to his mother. She thought to tie him to her, binding him in place with her own torn clothes, thankfully. Otherwise, he would be fatherless by now, for Elaine could not have stopped her husband's fall with one arm.

The Lady of the Lake smiles sorrowfully at the dying couple. Elaine's wounds are not as grave as Ban's, but they are more numerous. She has only ignored them so far thanks to her need to save her family, but her strength will soon leave her. She will become unable to move and die in a few days, weakened by the hardships of which Lancelot's premature birth was only the first.

The least she can do is save the boy, and make sure his mother knows he is safe. His destiny aside, she cannot simply let him die, alone in the arms of his mother's corpse.

Nimue easily takes the infant from his mother's arms, whispering soothingly, though she knows not whether it's for Elaine's sake, Lancelot's or her own.

Elaine raises disbelieving eyes at the elemental. She is in the autumn of her life, her grey hair turning to white. 'Can you not help us, milady?' the Queen rasps, almost reproachfully.

Viviane shakes her head. 'I am sorry, my dear.' She wished she could, but that is not how the course of the world is to be shaped. 'But fret not. You will be reunited soon, never to be parted again. And your soon will grow up to be a hero! He will never lack for anything.'

Such as enemies, hatred, rage...but Nimue's mind is not on the dark futures she has seen. She wants to do things right.

The Queen's eyes flutter closed as the bone-deep weariness makes itself known. 'Keep him alive,' she urges. 'Whatever happens, keep him alive.'

Nimue vows she will. The child, at first bedazzled by her aura, somehow knows he will never see his mother again, one way or another, for he begins to shriek, eyes welling with bitter tears.

'Hush, darling.' Nimue rocks him, walking into the lake, back to Lancelot's parents. 'I might not be your mother, but I will do my best for you.'

* * *

'It is not only likely to work, it is fated to!' Merlin exclaims, hands tracing the patchwork of maps and manuscripts he has plastered over the walls of this mansion's living rooms, too. He does it whenever she changes houses and he visits a new one, she swears.

It was funny at first, but now, it is just irritating. She has told him as much, to his devastation. Right before they went to bed one night, in fact.

'Do you want to sleep alone, then?' he asked miserably, looking far too ready to cry for someone with eyes of fire.

She rolled her eyes at the question. 'Of course not, silly. No stupid disagreement is going to keep us apart. But could you at least not enchant them so heavily? They're a pain to remove.'

He hugged her as if terrified she was going to leave him, the sweet fool, and she returned the embrace.

Nimue has one hand supporting Lancelot's head and the other under his bottom. The boy is strong, stronger than any mundane baby already, but she'll be damned if she's less than careful with him. Her water dress only covers half her chest at the moment, as she is nursing Lancelot, who clumsily holds onto her with chubby arms.

'You certainly seem to think so,' she says softly, so as not to disturb her son.

He looks at her, eyebrows scrunched together, eyes never moving below her chin. Her figure seems to become invisible to him when she's acting motherly. Nimue finds it somewhat funny.

'I know so,' he says, hands on his hips. 'I've already begun to take measures.'

'Ah, yes. The cuckold method.' It would be bad enough if Uther had simply admitted Merlin had disguised him as Gorlois when he married his rival's widow, but Igraine spent her second marriage in blissful ignorance.

Now they are both dead, and her lover has recently entered their son's dream in the guise of God, to spur him towards seizing the kingship centred around the sword in the stone.

Sometimes, their scheming leaves her tasting ashes.

'Look - Uther's son is going to save the Britons. Who the mother is doesn't ma-' his mouth closes as he notices her expression. 'I mean, his son is going to save the Britons whoever his mother is.'

'You're such a wordsmith,' Nimue says in a saccharine voice.

'Right,' Merlin turns back to his carefully laid out plans (in spirit if not arrangement), wringing his hands. He has noticed Viviane is looking at him the way she does when she thinks her husband in all but name is acting like a fool. He's accustomed to the look.

'Now, I must go, beloved. Kay and Ector are good souls, but they will be unable to teach Arthur all he must know, if he is to rule well. He needs my guidance as well.'

Nimue would joke about his rearing needing a woman's hand as well, but that just reminds her of Morgan, and her eyes darken like a sea in a storm. Such a damned mess. Making Gorlois think the witch was his daughter had been difficult enough after getting him drunk and convincing him he and Igraine had conceived her while he was in his cups - Igraine remembered her husband being sober, drunk on love if anything. It took some effort on Nimue's part, but Gorlois had remained skeptical, despite the various identities she assumed in his court.

It would have been too much to pull it off with a second child, but, perhaps thankfully, he'd died before he could notice anything unusual.

Nimue balances her son, now snoring slightly, on one hip as she walks to her cambion's side. 'Keep him from his sister,' she says in his ear, before kissing his cheek. Nodding absently, Merlin departs in a flash of arcane light.

* * *

"This is all going to end in tears," Merlin told her after Arthur married Guinevere, against his advice. "But then, the lad never listens when he should. It's as if he thinks being a stubborn moron does not matter, as long as you stand by your principles."

"My," Nimue said drolly during dinner. "I wonder who he takes after."

The cambion nodded with a thunderous scowl. "So do I! Clearly, he's been spending time around some mule of an idiot, I just don't know who yet. But I'll find out, mark my words..."

She smiled fondly at him, shaking her head. It was difficult, sometimes, to tell when Merlin was being oblivious or just pretending to for her amusement. Usually, he loathed demeaning himself or looking bad in any way, but he was more than glad to to do anything it took to make her laugh. It was...flattering.

Their Arthur (Merlin may have been his adopted grandfather, essentially, but she'd tried to be more than an advisor and dispenser of artefacts over the years) had married out of political reasons. Without needing to be nudged, he'd determined their growing kingdom needed more manpower well before he met his Ginny and fell in love with her.

It was a tepid sort of love, Arthur's. He was kind and gentle, affectionate, more than able to do his duty as a husband, but camaraderie came much easier to his heart than romance, and lust almost never did by itself. All in all, their new Queen was amazingly patient with her King.

Nimue remembers that night as she makes her way to Guinevere's side. The girl - a grown woman, actually, but Viviane can't help but see that lean, widely-grinning who married Merlin's boy; she thought she could change him through love, the poor thing - is brooding, not that she lets it stop her from running Camelot. Her mood doesn't slow down her handling of the capital's affairs; if anything, it makes her end tasks faster, as if to vent her spite.

Arthur is away on another campaign, cutting a swathe through armies with the sword she forged. Excalibur was no mere chunk of sharpened steel. It was, quite literally, the instrument of victory. It had moved through the ages as everything from a sceptre to a speech, the means by which those who knew right makes might succeeded.

That Arthur had shattered its first sword incarnation in combat did not matter. It had found itself in a new but similar form, unbreakable, just as it found itself in its creator's arms.

"I doubt I could make something like this," Merlin told her after she forged the first sword, which he soon placed in the stone destined for it after. "I'm still surprised you've made it so it ignores antimagic. I didn't know your elemental powers were that great."

"If you helped me improve them, I could better myself instead of having to make tool," she suggested unsubtly.

Merlin refused, like always. "It would serve no purpose, Nimue. If I do what you ask, you'll be able to enhance your power endlessly. One stray thought, with that much might at your fingertips but beyond your control, and you could destroy everything you care for."

"Then teach me!" she asked for the thousandth time. "How am I supposed to handle a power I don't have?"

"Do not worry: I'll fight for you. Your artifice made Logres a realm of peace and plenty. The least I can do is be your champion."

"That is not an answer," she said bitterly. "Brushing me aside because you don't trust me is unlike you."

Merlin looked at her, more sad than hurt. "Nim, believe me, I beg you. If it was safe for me to teach you the power you crave, I would. But I haven't, and for how many thousand years have we known each other? You can't honestly believe I want to keep you down." He walked closer to her, speaking softly, trying to make a joke of it. "Come on. You can't say you don't enjoy the thought of me fighting in your name."

She accepted his hug, despite everything, burying her face into his neck. "That's not the point, idiot," she muttered. Of course he'd rather give her life than let her suffer. She knew. But she didn't need his sacrifice. She needed his wisdom.

Nimue buried her frustrations, feeling Guinevere's pressing against her mind. The Queen is sitting at a desk in one of Arthur's many rooms, where those he delegates to - his grasp of logistics and statesmanship is workmanlike, which is why he surrounds himself with the best in the realm - often put the affairs of the realm in order, while the King keeps it safe and expands its borders.

Guinevere gives no sign of noticing her friend standing behind and above her, but the elemental knows her Queen is aware of her. 'How's it going, Your Highness?' she asks in a small voice. 'Working hard, or hardly working?'

Guinevere makes an unladylike noise, continuing to write. She is holding a pen in either hand, future inventions brought to the present by Merlin. According to herself, Guinevere had thought she was right-handed before her husband had started delegating to her, but necessity had revealed she was ambidextrous.

'You know you don't need to call me that, Nim,' Guinevere says. 'Not in private.'

The Lady smiles, kissing the top of her Queen's head. 'As you wish, Ginny.'

'Sit down, sit down.' Guinevere gestures at the guest seat. 'You know, half the time, I want to kiss Merlin for getting these, much easier to use than quills. The rest of the time, I want to throttle him for making sure I have no excuse not to work.'

She's joking, despite the acid tone. Guinevere enjoys being the capital's steward, making sure the plenty provided to the people does not result in chaos.

'I have to keep convincing Arthur I'm not keeping anyone down.' Guinevere's green eyes flick up when she answers Viviane's unspoken question. 'He wants the wizard to bring everything from the future here, because we can't give Logres anything less than the best.' She runs a hand through her braided, golden hair. 'As I have told him, "and damn the consequences" us not a solution. The stream of time would get muddled if we tried that, not to mention the bafflement. What would a peasant know to do with any of the contraptions there aren't tasks for yet?'

Nimue has to agree. With her and her lover providing everything from victuals to homes and good weather, Logres might be the most prosperous land in the world. But they cannot rush devices from fifteen centuries or more into production, just so the Logrese have new distractions.

Arthur has a good heart, and a good mind for warfare, but generosity can be damaging, sometimes. They have enough time to implement all the changes he dreams of. Merlin predicts that in one, two thousand years, the whole world will either appeal to become part of Logres or fall apart tryinng to deny its people's desire to do so, and the remnants would adhere to Camelot's banner anyway.

All they have to do is establish the Arthurian method as something viable, desirable. And for that, they need force of arms to pacify Britain, put an end to its countless warlords and monsters, not to mention the foreigners who keep swooping in to take advantage of the chaos expected from this time of changes.

Arthur has already established an inner circle, a group of men chosen by him for their kindness, piety and prowess in battle. They sit at a round table during gatherings, to show no one is above his peers. Guinevere finds it faintly ridiculous. Everyone defers to Arthur most of the time, anyway.

'He once told me,' the Queen says, looking the Lady of the Lake in the eyes while her left hand sketches a house made entirely of what looks like stone. She thinks she has found a replacement for Roman concrete, which will free up the kingdom's mages from having to act as firefighters in case of a city-wide blaze. Currently, almost every commoner lives in a wooden home.

The Queen's other hand is drawing a sewer system, a smaller, village-spanning replica of Camelot's half-finished one. Nimue does not have physiological needs, but she understand enough to pity humans without plumbing, which is how most of the peasantry lives.

She would like to remove their worries with a wave of her hand, but she knows where such paths lead. The Lady does not desire a population of worshipful, slavishly-devoted thralls. It would stunt their spirit, smother it in the crib, and both Merlin and Tellus have expressed their dismay at such a potential fate.

Nimue sits in lady for a time, letting Guinevere use her as a sounding board. She has planned new projects since they last spoke, and has also pondered how best to introduce some of the finished inventions, as well as the wizard's future marvels.

Guinevere has devised a network of bridges and gates movable through the power of steam, for example, an idea she had while perusing Camelot's archives of Roman lore, when she found a mention of a steam-driven engine that was never put to serious work.

'I know I whinge much,' the Queen says at one point, spinning a pen between her fingers while gazing through the window. 'But all the work is good for my heart. It keeps my mind clear.'

Beneath is one of the courtyards most often used for sparring by the Knights of the Round Table, and Viviane does not miss the younger woman's smile at the sight of her Lancelot.

There is more fondness, in that smile, than there should be for her adopted son, Viviane thinks. Guinevere has developed a habit of complaining about her marriage to the Knight who most often serves as her champion, who awkwardly but dutifully listens every time.

Nimue smiles sadly as she reaches across the desk, stroking her friend's cheek. 'Ginny, you know he cares. That he cannot show it properly does not mean he doesn't love.'

'It certainly makes him oafish, though,' the Queen replies, leaning back in her chair. 'You know he what he would be without us? Without you two working wonders and me playing castellan and the Knights helping hunt down menaces? Just another mud-spattered warlord.'

'True enough,' the Lady of the Lake replies. 'But drawing Excalibur was meant to show he was worthy of kingship, not perfect. Of course he needs aids. This is as it should be. Merlin and I raised a man who would lift those beneath him up, notba god-emperor in the making.'

'I am baffled you raised a man this cold when you love each other so much.'

'Oh, my girl...I wish we could share our joy with you, but not all people are the same. Arthur is a man of brotherhood, not romance. I am glad he treats you well, at least.'

'Someone has to be, I suppose,' Guinevere says.

Viviane does not like where this discussion is heading. Might as well nip this on the bud. 'Your Highness,' she says, voice inhumanly flat, 'I understand you are very grateful for my son's friendship. It is good for a woman like you to have a brother from another mother, whom she can share her frustrations with. I am sure it gives you time to think how best to get closer to your husband.'

'Are you threatening me?' Guinevere asks in a voice as blunt as the insinuation that she and the Knight of the Lake remain friends.

Nimue glimpses a glimmer of fear in those emerald eyes, and her insides twist at the sight. 'Of course not,' she promises. 'I don't want you to be scared of me, just as I don't want you to tear your marriage apart.'

Guinevere smirks coldly. 'Are you saying that if Merlin treated you as if you were a chore, you'd just grit your teeth behind a smile.'


'No, of course not. Because you could end your entanglement, if you wanted. I suppose the powers weren't enough of a luxury.'

Viviane swallows the first retort that leaps to her lips. Entanglement...?

She begins to speak again, but the Queen has risen from the desk and opened the window, to begin speaking with her knight.

Nimue rises as well, frowning. If Lancelot becomes half as mouthy as his royal friend, he'll soon start telling Arthur how he's failing as a husband. And then...

* * *

Merlin's vision is swimming as his eyes keep trying to rebuild themselves, while his arcane sense is so painfully sharp it hurts.

The thing that scarred him, the monster beyond creation, was not some great beast, by the standards of its home. It was more like a boar, digging up whatever interested it, only to flinch when it discovered the macrocosm had defenders that wouldn't let it be torn apart out of curiosity.

He would heal faster if he focused his magic and demonic powers on his wounds, but the mindset for that keeps slipping out of his grasp, so he lets his passive regeneration work. He'll look like his skin was grafted onto him in pieces for a while, but that's alright.

He was never sought for his looks, even before he adopted thebappearance of a sagely old men with a long beard. His Lady finds it ridiculous, and has told him, in no uncertain terms, that they're never going to do anything while he looks like this.

That is not a problem. The only reason he does not always wear his actual visage, clean-shaven, with shoulder-length white hair tipped with all colours, eyes of white flame and goat-like horns the colour of a bruise, is because every fanatic in the kingdom would come after him in a scatterbrained attempt to end the hellspawn in their midst. Knowledge of his past deeds would only compound the issue; his origin is vile enough.

Not everyone is as understanding as Arthur. Ohh, Arthur...

The bitch got him. No matter how often he and Viviane were sure they'd killed her, the witch returned, to continue their war in the shadows of Logres, whispering poison into the ears of weak mortals.

The damnedest thing is, Merlin knows she's not being resurrected by any of his kin below she has deals with. He knows how to read them, from his time in the Court of Pride. After his father tried to turn him into a breeding stud, draining his powers and will dry while using him to build armies of inbred slaves.

The cambion grimaces, clawed hands pressing onto the cold, spiralling scar over his heart. La Fey took a page from the old monster's book, perhaps not even unknowingly.

Merlin can see the shape of the plan: dispose of the Queen, hiding Guinevere from the kingdom for a while, while taking her place. While he is clashing with nameless monsters and Nimue pursues a quest of her own, she makes her way to the King and his campaigning Knights.

He suspects nothing, she comes to his bedside while he is recovering, and one thing leads to another. Merlin cannot scry what the incestuous rapist plans with her monstrous child, but he knows it will be vile.

He would love nothing more than to rip Morgan's unborn freak out through her cunt, beat her half to death with it and throttle her with her flayed womb. But he knows that would not be the end of her, somehow.

Arthur was more angry than shaken when they spoke, though also disgusted at himself. Merlin isn't sure whether he should be relieved or concerned.

The wizard also used the occasion to remind his son in all but blood that he was a married man, that he should get closer to his wife, who has been weeping angrily at how she was subdued and how her husband was violated.

Arthur is not a subtle man, so Merlin made sure to remind him to watch out for dubious people around his wife, such as her champion.

"Don't be ridiculous, old man," the King told him, furiously sharpening Excalibur as if the sword needed it. "They're just friends. It's plain as day to me, at least, even if everyone else is seeing things. I am glad Lance is there to lift her spirits when I am not."

That would sound like an innuendo from anyone else's mouth, but Merlin is well aware his protege is too dense for wordplay of that sort. He manages to hold his tongue, though, much as he wants to comment.

"Furthermore, Ginny and I might have married out of convenience, but we love each other, and know we love each other. She is a dutiful woman, and I know her: even if she was unhappy with our life, she would not put her whims before her duty to Logres. Why, nowadays she often taken on administrative tasks before I even offer!"

There was pride in Arthur's eyes, and much warmth in his smile, at the mention of his faithful, dutiful wife. Groaning, and glad his wounds let him pass it off as pain, Merlin turned, facing the wall of the cave, one of his many lairs.

"I'm too hurt for that dung," Merlin lied. "Get out."

"I will, but some friendly advice, Mer." Arthur leaned forward on the chair as if about to dispense some heretofore unknown wisdom. Merlin rolls his eyes, wanting to smack him upside the head like he used to when Arthur was young and stupid, not merely stupid. "I see you do not understand women, especially those of other men. I know this is hard to hear, for you are a prideful man with a paramour of millennia, but it is the truth. Be careful the Lady of the Lake does not grow weary of your oafishness and abandon you for another man."

Merlin turned onto his stomach, though he wanted to glare in disbelief at Arthur, and grunted. Getting the message, Arthur left.

This is how Nimue found her cambion, lying on his stomach on a ledge of stone protruding from the rough cave wall. Recognising her presence, Merlin turns around and sits up with a pained smile, for her sake more than that of his optimism. It hardly needs help with how often it's mostly dead.

His Lady is cradling a child in her, and he is reminded of Ban's boy. But though this infant is also fair-skinned and blue-eyed, his hair is blonde. A shade almost as pale as his skin, as if his head is crowned with platinum.

He is beautiful. He is newly-born. And he is more aware of the world than almost any child Merlin has ever seen; only three looked at the world for the first time with such eyes: his King, that mad witch's bastard born of incest, glimpsed in a vision...and the father of the boy in his lover's arms.

This knowledge comes to him unbidden. It is not retrocognition, merely his arcane sense informing him, as if alarmed and rushing to alert him of a threat.

A deep, deep rage fills Merlin's heart, like the hellfire that follows it. 'Don't tell, me,' he rasps, dark ichor dripping down his pale lips. He has assumed his cambion aspect, for her pleasure, though he has kept his sagely glamour over it, to avoid scaring the boy, and the flames in his sockets are crackling. 'Don't tell me he went and sired a child upon her.'

'He is not Guinevere's,' Nimue replied quietly, before explaining, She sits down next to him, wiping his bloodied mouth with a sleeve made of cool water as clear as crystal, all while holding the angelic-looking infant with the other. He is not silent, but awake. Most children would be shrieking at the sight of Merlin's demonic features, but despite seeing clear through his disguise, the baby is smiling thinly.

He looks content. As peaceful as if he were in a cradle, rather than in the presence of an elemental and her cambion paramour. Merlin knows the boy is aware of what he is, though he does not have the words for it, or indeed any in his mind, and that he is not scared. For some reason, this pleases the wizard, though he knows he should feel sorrow. He can feel the hand of destiny resting heavily on one of the boy's little shoulder's, and God's on the other.

Nimue tells him of how her adopted son was violated, just like Arthur was. Not manhandled by a she-monster who forced herself on him, but taken without his true knowledge or consent, in any case.

It was the Fisher King, Pelles, who set up the whole mess. He knew Lancelot and his daughter, a woman named Elaine, just like the Knight's mother, would have a child who would grow up to be the greatest knight in the world, the discoverer of the Holy Grail. The two had known of this prophecy, but they hadn't thought the old cripple would be this reckless. Perhaps, without Morgan striking at their backs from the darkness beyond the kingdom's borders and that within its citizens' souls, and all their other duties, they would have noticed and acted.

The Fisher King had known Lancelot would only sleep with the woman he loves (that the indiscretion he and Guinevere are indulging in has reached such proportions that he thinks they love each other is enough to darken Merlin's visage), so he sought out an enchantress named Brusen, who crafted a ring that would allow his daughter to appear as Guinevere.

Brusen gave Lancelot wine and Elaine the ring, and the addled Knight thought he was making love to his King's wife on the night the boy in Nimue's arms was conceived. Upon recovering, he would have cut her down, if not for her revealing she was bearing their son.

'I am taking him to a great aunt of his,' Viviane says. 'He will be raised in a nunnery, and his soul will be kept pure before he pursues knighthood.'

'Poor little mouse,' Merlin whispers, stroking the boy's short, flaxen hair. 'Having Lancelot as a father and a rapist as a mother?'

'She will say she was helping the prophecy along.'

The cambion scoffs. 'The prophecy we hoped to make true in two, three decades? We would have had time to knock some sense back into Lancelot's head and acquaint him with Pelles' girl, if only the lame bastard wasn't so brash. But there's nothing to do now. He will be the knight who was promised to the world, and...'

* * *

Galahad is tracing the rim of the cauldron he didn't know he was seeking, until scarce moments ago, with a finger. In hindsight, it seems obvious. He knows the lands haven't always been Christian from the beginning. Bedivere's youth as a heathen warrior is proof enough. But even with that fact in mind, and his knowledge of metaphysics, it seems hard to reconcile this symbol of pagan abundance with the Grail he thought he was searching for.

They are not truly different, he knows, any more than water and ice are. They are not even truly separate. But his mind views creation through a Christian lens, and such bemusement is expected when expectations clash against reality.

The Cauldron of Annwn is a worldly thing, and that strange, melancholic pity that often fills Galahad's heart stirs to life. He is glad that people have eaten well in the past, surviving and thriving as they partook of this endless vessel of feasts, but...that, all that seems so petty, when weighed against the considerations of the spirit, and the otherworldly joys and sorrows. A small part of him feels sorry that there once lived people whose horizon of joy could be filled by victuals alone, and that such people still exist. The majority of Logres' population only enjoys life in the kingdom because of the amenities. They do not think, for example, how grand it is for Arthur to accept the virtuous into fold, whatever their past beliefs.

Galahad understands that. He pities ignorance, too. He thinks a harsher knight might feel disgust instead, but truly, that emotion is as alien to him as anger, or hatred. He has never really been able to understand them in the abstract, much less feel them,. He knows that makes him less than a whole man. Perhaps a part of him was stunted during his upbringing. If yes, Galahad is grateful, for it helped sharpen the rest of him into the weapon God needs to cut the world's evil to the quick.

'I am the blade of His sword,' Galahad whispers, crossing himself while making a fist over the cross carved into his breastplate with his other hand. He remade his armour himself, having to decline the advances of a maiden to do so. Mordred informed him, some weeks later and with no small amount of cruel satisfaction, that the girl took her life after bein snubbed by her living fairytale knight.

Galahad wonders whether it might be proper to feel grief, rather than simply grieve through remembrance. Sadness has always been a hollow feeling to him, as empty as anything but faith. In any case, he hopes the girl found her way to the Kingdom of God. Once this quest is done, he will find a way to contact her and make amends.

The thought brings neither anticipation nor dread, for these are matters of men, and Galahad was born to be a legend, even in his own lifetime. It is good, he decides, that he cannot yearn for baser things. He believes it would only sadden him.

His life is good, and he knows it could be even better. His fairy grandmother, as he calls her with no small amount of fondness and a rare, bright smile (he can still feel joy, thank God), who has visited him in his dreams since his boyhood at the houses of worship, has promised him he can also feel love.

Galahad loves Nimue, and has told her as much the handful of times they've met. He loves the old cambion she has entwined her eternity with, and the other Knights, and God. But he knows that, warm as such love feels, it is a tepid thing compared with what some woman might awaken in him some day.

Galahad rises to his feet, no longer squatting before the Grail that isn't. the culmination of his young life. He is not a grown man, in any sense, and he will never be, in many ways. He will never be scared, or angry, or hateful, as other men can be, something they take for granted even as they give their heroes hearts of marble.

He does not begrudge them that. Mankind needs heroes, or else its mind rebels at the uncaring callousness of the cosmos. They need exemplars to look up to and feel safe around, and Galahad was born to be just that. He is for men what Excalibur is for swords, and if all it takes to protect humanity is to lose his, it is a price he will gladly pay.

Briefly, Galahad tries to imagine the lass that might ensnare him in the future. He hopes he will not bore her to death with his piety.

Are the other Knights even close to the area? They are certainly not close to the goal, as he found the Grail, and he has always been well ahead of them besides. He bested his father in a duel during their first meeting, at fifteen, and no one but Gawain at noon could match Lancelot in swordplay. Arthur and his enchanted panoply, or Meleon with his wolfish power, did not count.

Arthur himself had called Galahad the greatest knight after he pulled a sword from a stone in a mirror of Excalibur's first unsheathing. He sat on the Siege Perilous and survived, the first and last Knight to do so. Just because the Round Table set out at the same time, it does not mean their chances were equal. Galahad knew from the beginning that, in terms of martial prowess and endurance in the face of temptation, he was the best of them.

Should he be proud? He can only pity his fellow Knights for not having yet achieved his level of mastery. Would his father feel different?

The Knight of the Lake, now. That is a man. Humanity distilled, its noblest qualities and vilest flaws combined. He is not a faithful man, in terms of his vows - for he enables the Queen to cheat on the King, something Galahad would have revealed if he hadn't known things had to proceed at their own pace, lest his hand be forced and end up red with his father's blood - or his affection, for he betrayed Guinevere like she betrayed her husband, when he left to live with Galahad's mother for years, whiling away the days on an island under a false name.

The Queen is not going to forgive Lancelot, in any sense of the word. Her hypocrisy and jealousness are some of the few things that surpass her sense of entitlement. And yet, she is going to call upon him, in a voice shrill with fear, when things will come to a head.

Galahad looks up, eyes narrowed. His steed, bound to a tree in Corbenic's courtyard more out of of habit than necessity, is grazing on a small patch of gras, and Galahad is happy the horse can enjoy the simple pleasures of his existence. Yet, when the chamber is filled by a light with no source, which soon spreads across the castle, Galahad knows his steed does not remain calm because he is content.

His grandfather and his uncle Eliazarr (his mother is dead, and Galahad cannot muster much emotion for this faceless woman he has only ever heard about, who had the gall to scold Guinevere for scolding Lancelot's unfaithfulness, thus driving him into madness) led him to the room of the Grail, but the vessel is only here because he is. Galahad is the key to its lock, or perhaps it is the other way around.

The young Knight's gauntleted hands grasp the rim of the enchanted cauldron and begin to squeeze, as if he is trying to force the vessel into a new shape. It is true enough, in a way. The crimson light bathing the grounds is enough of a sign of what is coming.

Finally, with a hideous groan, the black iron becomes burnished gold, and the cauldron a drinking vessel. The blood of Christ fills it to the brim, freshly-spilled for eternity, and Galahad smiles, content. Now, all there is left is to take it to Sarras, and fulfill his destiny.

* * *

Percival and Bors, his companions in body, if not in spirit - for they would have found the Grail together otherwise, and, though good men, they are not the flawless Knights the vessel was waiting for, nearly all traces of humanity purged from their souls - look upon Galahad with mounting disbelief as he converses with divinity itself, and asks to die at the time of his choosing.

He knows his purpose. He knows he must step further beyond humanity to protect it. So, when, on the way back to Camelot, Joseph of Arimathea appears before him, the rapture fills him with such bliss, he asks to die. Under the eyes of his fellow Knights, angels appear to bear him to the beyond, and there, he is remade, for Galahad, the man, is dead. Only the Perfect Knight remains.

At first, Galahad thinks he is blessed by the Lord, but that is the wrong direction to look at things from. He comes to understand himself, and faith is the core of his being. Of course faithcraft would seem to be in play.

When Galahad's attention returns to the world, it is during the Battle of Camlann. Everything that could go wrong did. The realm, already shaken by the truth of Mordred's conception, begins fraying when Guinevere and Lancelot's affair comes to the light, and the Knight of the Lake kills every brother-in-arms who tries to avenge his King's honour. The two escape, while Arthur, with a heavy heart, rallies his armies to march against them and their suppoters.

At the same time, Mordred and his mother are marshalling their forces too. Worse, Nimue, finally driven beyond patience by Merlin's refusals to teach her, has bound him with unbreakable chains, and now rushes to aid her kingdom even as her heart tears herself apart.

Galahad knows there is little the cambion could accomplish if he was in the fullness of his power, for Viviane has learned to push her magic and elemental powers beyond any limit but her imagination and desire. Yet, it will not be enough. Morgan's witchcraft is just as powerful, and she has access to darker forces besides.

Galahad does not march to war alongside the Round Table, for his battle lies elsewhere. In a realm between realms, he comes face to face with the numberless hordes Morgan is attempting to summon. She has promised the turncoats scattered across Logres that they will tear down their King, and in this, she was honest. But she did not tell them they would be the fuel for the flame she would cast at Arthur, the brother who took what she thought was hers through ability, rather than by being the firstborn.

So many betrayed betrayers dead, burning with the agony of their folly. The smoke of their funeral pyres tore open the veil between worlds, and Hell reached through, laughter booming from gaping maws.

Every horned, cloven-hooved beast from man's nightmare is here, and more, of shapes less familiar and undreamed off, slither, crawl and fly at the side of their more humanlike brethren. The Princes of Hell lead their armies, for this is a chance to snuff out the light of the world, and at their sides come Azazel, chained by the Archangel Raphael yet present in every way that matters, and Abaddon, rising from the abyss with a howl.

There is an infinity of demons stretching out before him, and the cruelty of this legion of fiends is as boundless as their ranks. Yet this is not the only danger.

Behind him, Galahad senses the banes of knighthood. One is a towering butcher, clad in blood-drenched plate and wielding a wicked cleaver of a blade. He is the anger that bubbles under so many facades of aloofness, the desire to slaughter indiscriminately when one's honour is challenged. He has claimed many knights, on all sides of the civil war.

The other appears as a tall, voluptuous woman. Her smooth, flawless skin is the colour of ash, and she wears darkness like Nimue wears water. Under a mane of raven hair and eyes like bottomless pools of inky blackness, she bears a full-lipped, amused smile. Her hands are hidden behind her back in a girlish gesture as she sways in place. She is to chivalry what Belial is to hope: why not abandon this oath or sidestep that rule, when it is clearly holding you back from doing your duty? She is indulgence and treachery, and she has touched the minds of many a man in the fractured country.

Galahad prepares to face the fiends at his front and the monsters at his back, but he is not alone. A laugh like wind through the leaves fills his mind evn as it somehow makes itself heard over the din of the endless battlefield, and Galahad allows himself a smile.

Behind him, the Green Knight grins widely behind his helmet, as serene as he was when Gawain lopped off his head. He idly twirls his axe with one hand, then the other, as he faces the monsters he has never had faces to put to, until now.

'Two against infinity,' Bertilak says. 'I pity the fools.'

Galahad does not. He has other things to pity, and will have more yet to brood over, forever.

* * *

The war is ended, and nothing will be the same again. Galahad never sees hair or hide of the Green Knight in his travel, nor does he hear of him. He hopes the strange man has found peace, if he even can. He, though he knows he could not partake in the war upon Earth even as he fought so it could be waged at all, does not think he will ever achieve harmony. Not any joyful variation, at least.

Bedivere, who bore Excalibur back to the Lady of the Lake even as Arthur's dying body was taken to Avalon, has grown half-mad with hatred. He does not merely crave vengeance, he needs it, or, Galahad is sure, he will tear himself apart in rage.

He wants to slaughter Lancelot and Guinevere, but Galahad does not, cannot let him. The banes, returned as spectres and imps of the perverse, urge him to go along with the older Knight, revenge themselves upon the murderers of their dream. He does not listen, nor can he feel the flaws they represent out of his own accord, any more than a boulder might.

Bedivere, after seeing that pleading with Galahad is pointless, sets out to bring the traitors to justice, as he sees it. But the Perfect Knight is there to stop him at every turn, much to his uncomprehending outrage. Guinevere becomes an abbess, vowing to never see Lancelot again as long as he lives, and the Knight of the Lake retires to a monastery, there to try and atone alongside eight of his brethren, such as Ector.

When the former Queen receives word of her once champion coming to visit her, she prays to die, and does, keeping her oath. Lancelot inters her body alongside her husband's, though Galahad knows Bedivere will never acknowledge that. The Knight of the Lake does not live much longer after, and it takes Galahad a long time to deter Bedivere from desecrating his grave.

There are yet quests to set out on, monsters to hunt and slay. In remembrance of the Round Table, an order of Paladins rises, after a few centuries, and Galahad's heart soars to see their deeds.

And then, of course, he realises what he is, and what creation is. He is the first, but he will not be the last. He witnesses a tormented son being brought back from the bring of despair by love, before not only saving all there is, but bettering it. This is the core of Pendragon's dream, and he could not be prouder.

* * *

Merlin reclines in his seat, seeing nothing above but thick black stone, with darker flames crackling beyond it. The deal he struck to bring Mordred back stranded him in Hell, and, after carving out his domain in his closest uncle's circle, he has lost the ability to astrally project into the mundane universe. His love must visit him herself, in person or in spirit.

He notices he is scowling when the Serpent seizes the tips of his mouth and quite literally turns his frown upside down, pouting childishly at the resulting glare.

'Come on, nephew,' Lucifer purrs in a voice that, if he were in his female aspect, Merlin would call coquettish. 'What is not to your liking? You've broken every wretch who tried to break you, and you beloved can grace you with her presence any time.' Lucifer rests an elbow on his throne's armrest as he wraps his other arm around his nephew's shoulder. 'I am not some mad old fool, to keep you apart. It would serve no purpose. I've fallen deeper in love with worse women, so it's not like I don't know how it feels.'

Merlin sighs, but does not otherwise react.

'If it helps, I've also fallen deeper in love with worse men. Not in this aspect, mind.'

'Why would that help?!' Merlin barks. 'Dammit, uncle. If I wanted my ears to bleed, I'd just listen to the rest of the family.' He turns to look at the Prince of Hell. 'Don't try to be charming with me. You might be glib, but I haven't forgotten you would love nothing more than for every human to suffer forever.'

'Yes, and?'

The wizard shakes his head. 'I might have a visitor soon. Viviane, most likely. I do not want you to repulse her with your nonsense. And I expect you will not remain around us once we resume reconciling.'

'I mean, unless you like being watched.'

Lucifer would not blink at the deadpan stare he receives, even if he had eyelids at the moment. 'What? It's an honest concern. There's nothing wrong with a little narcissism.' The Devil hides his smile behind one hand. 'Unless you have confidence issues, of course.'

'I merely hate deviants spying upon us in private moments.'

'God, so do I. Can't even be a voyeur these days without stumbling upon a pack of those.'

Ignoring the last comment, Merlin turns his gaze back to the ceiling. 'I do not have any issues with my confidence, uncle. I trust her, and I've never loved her more deeply.' HIs voice drops. 'Did you know, she expected me to force myself upon her after I was freed?'

Lucifer's gaze darkens, smile fading. 'You, raping Nimue? I can't even imagine you considering that.'

'Of course not. I told her she was being silly and to get into the damn bed, we'd talk there. But she expected it as a sort of retaliation, if you'll believe it. You know, since she thought little of my body when she bound it.'

'That is silly. I am glad you managed to put things in order; truly, I am. I've seen enough lies and intrigue and manipulation that honest love is a breath of fresh air. And, well, you did remain at her beck and call even when she left you a powerless prisoner for fifteen centuries. That's a statement, if I've ever seen one.'

Merlin buries his face into his hands. 'Don't start again...'

'Now, nephew, you're old enough to know there's nothing wrong with enjoying being chained up by your woman. And surely you're not going to pretend all the times you wrestled after the Fall of Camelot were you venting your frustrations.'

'Of damn course not!' the cambion snaps. 'If I ever find myself making love to Viviane for my own sake, I'll have my head checked.' Merlin stands up, beginning to walk towards what passes for the border of Hell. 'Now leave me be, uncle.'

'So moody...what, do you need me to carve up someone you hate?'

'You indulge me so much,' the half-demon says drily.

Lucifer lounges in his seat, shrugging with his hands spread. 'You rid my Court of a brother far too eager to make our family tree resemble the Olympians'. I've got Asmodeus and his cronies for that already. I'd have fed him to them myself, but why tear my family apart when I can make it do the job in my place? You are very obliging when you're angry, by the way.'

'So I have been told...' Merlin mutters, leaving the Circle behind.

At the edge of the Pit, he meets the man he has come to think of as his adopted grandson.

'Galahad? Why are you here?'

The Perfect Knight smiles at Merlin, placing his hands upon his shoulders. 'You were hoping for the Lady, I know. I believe you will be flattered to learn she is spending day and night looking for a way to undo the binding holding you here.'

'Getting rid of Mordred is as good a motivation as any,' Merlin says neutrally.

Galahad chuckles. 'You can see it that way, but I would advise you not to imply she hates him more than she loves you in her presence. Not even she can look radiant while hearing such insinuations.'

Merlin nods. 'You didn't come here for that, though. I'd be concerned if you started taking trips just to make me feel better.'

'Everyone would be. You are very easy to hate, Ambrosius,' Galahad says, smile never faltering. 'You are also right. My grandmother's experiments are proceeding as we speak, but I am not here to tell you what she would during pillow talk. You remember Morgania?'

Merlin's jaws stiffens. La Fey's mockery of a nation. Carved out of the aether by her will alone, populated by her creations, and...isolated. A queendom of people who lacked for nothing, ruled by a goddess-queen who enjoyed worship she did not even need to demand. Merlin knows Morgan has always been a solipsist - as far as he's concerned, the queendom is almost certainly far worse than it appears to scrying attempts, and in any case, Morgan must only be keeping herself for attempting macrocosmic conquest because she knows there are too many powers to oppose her -, so for anything to change in her fiefdom without him noticing is strange. She usually can't help but announce everything she is doing.

'What of it?' the wizard finally asks.

'It might be because Mordred is walking the world once more, but his mother's realm has opened its gates, and waiting to see who will enter, and why.'
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Lady in Flames

* * *

I looked up from the cauldron to see David leaning on the spatial fold leading to the workshop as if it were tangible. I treated it like it was, too; but he had a hand on it and his head was just barely visible as he peaked in, as if it were a door.

'Am I interrupting?'

'Yeah,' I said. 'But you're not disturbing anything. Come in.'

He did, and I couldn't help a frown that could have probably passed as concentration. I knew why he was asking me things, acting as if he was learning things as they happened, even if time had long since become an illusion for him. It was for my sake.

Many supernaturals with non-linear perspectives of time acted like this for the benefit of those around them, because treating everything like it had already happened was awkward at best, not to mention it made people uncomfortable. And that was discounting the paradigm shifts that didn't give two shits about how timeless and omniscient something was.

My boyfriend, I'd decided, was becoming more like his god, and Fixer too. Maybe the Mover, as well, if there was even a difference between it and the thing Yahweh had been hyped up into when monotheism had become cool. They were both monsters, and though I forgave David for acting like they were worth wiping your ass with, I couldn't help but wonder if they really were omnipotent.

I mean, how else could you fit that much hypocrisy in one mind while still having space for an ego that big?

But I digress. David had started resembling his god in that he asked you questions whose answers he knew in order to make you think. That was alright, I supposed. If he asked like some distant, all-knowing deity, it'd just draw more attention to how little he needed me.

Space closed behind David as he entered, sweeping his gaze across my equipment and smiling. The fondness he radiated was a welcome contrast to the coldness of his aura, more precious for how rare it still was.

He had the same look whenever he saw me naked, though he'd seen all of me more times than I cared to count. It was better than boredom, but I was still bemused the sentiment existed.

"I don't see what's so weird, Mia," he'd told me once. "I've seen so many sunsets, but dusk is never less beautiful."

I'd laughed, because it always lifted my heart to see him not cursing at the latest monster to draw his outrage, or praying to the one his father had taught him about since childhood. I needed him happy. I needed him able and willing to forget how he'd been pressured to never show anything but anger growing up, because what was he, a girl? Luckily, with my help, he'd managed to get rid of the inhibitions centred around needing a ring and a scrap of paper to make love to your girlfriend, otherwise you were a lecher.

But David was still a reserved man. He was way more casual about showing affection than half the guys I've slept with, thankfully, but he was still, I don't know, embarrassed? About saying stuff like that thing with the sunset? As if I was going to judge him for showing how much he loved me.

'You're getting better,' he said, suddenly at my side, petting one of my constructs. It was a dense, grey sphere, about waist-height for me, able to grow appendages or shapeshift as a whole. Useful for fetching things when I was caught in a ritual. I was still trying to cast a telekinetic enchantment on it, but I had time.

'Thanks,' I replied, leaning on the cauldron as I turned to face him. I was still in what he called my witch outfit - which would have been cute if not for the ridiculous pointy hat, but, eh. I'd trade style for conceptual clout -, but had put a long, hooded coat and a pair of thick gloves over it. I was fully aware how stupid the hat looked perched atop the food, and so was David, but he didn't point it out.

Behind me, the mixture boiled and babble - hahahaha! -, my newest project taking shape in its depths. Once finished, its physical component would be a skintight, transparent thing that would cover my body as its greater part would veil my mind and soul. I wanted something that could automatically react to threats if I was off-guard or caught up with something else. Ideally, the thing could move my body on its own while I meditated, if I liked.

David took the homunculus in both hands, nose wrinkling, He must have been thinking about how weird it was for my flesh to be this smooth and featureless, but I'd gotten over any hesitation quick enough. When you were able to regenerate, not to mention spiritually related to the salamander of alchemy, it made sense to use your own body. Besides, if I needed to use a part of myself for anything, I'd have the mindless spheres on hand instead of needing to rip chunks of my flesh out.

The armour in the cauldron was based on a similar principle, though a specialised version of it. Since it was meant to prevent harm, I'd used scales and skin scraped from the parts of my body that had been hurt the most in the past, and memories for the incorporeal section. Besides being tough enough to laugh off hits that would go straight through me, it'd also provide limited invulnerability. Szabo, for example, would never be able to slap my jaw off again, the fat freak.

'Did you want something?' I asked, wiping some gunk off a glove. The droplets became solid upon landing on the gold floor, offering a glimpse of my future armour even as they hid the magic conductor from sight.

David let go of the construct, blowing a raspberry as he stuck his hands in his pockets. 'It's great to see you're improving your magic, love, but isn't this kind of a distraction? I mean, your mana doesn't fight back.'

Unlike the space where my demesne should have been. If I hadn't been sure he was asking for my benefit, this would have confirmed it.

Was it a distraction? Arguably. I could master my domain at any point in the future, just like I could improve my magic. But brainstorming over the stubborn demesne wasn't going to help, not with the person Maws had told me about. It wasn't even the fact that zmei without demesnes were seen as incapable weirdos and often had to endure every shitty joke our species was famous for.

At least we'd gotten past the stage where zmei who couldn't maintain a domain ended up as slaves in one owned by another, or indentured servants at best. Didn't mean we didn't have a few lunatics who still practised that, but on the whole, we'd become far less pushy about how might makes right, even if some still lived by that.

Sharpening my sorcerous skills would eventually lead to me having a domain of my own. Indirectly. Most zmei didn't care to cast, preferring to use magic for shapeshifting and nothing more, and few even got past the flips and chants you needed to turn into something else. Hatchling stuff. I won't lie, I got into magic because I didn't want to look like a clown whenever I changed form. Tapping into power from magical objects, the bedrock of sorcery, wasn't even on their radar. What was the need, when they were so strong and more than able to hire mages?

The reason I'd continued also had to do with my dignity, in a way. I'd had to swallow my pride when I'd threatened Maws with the Neverwere Vaults in zmeu country, and even mentioning resurrection ensured by David and DEATH had rankled. Maybe it had to do with growing up mostly among humans and weaker paranormals, but I didn't want to be dependent on others, not like that.

Not even on my boyfriend. He had his own things to do. I didn't want to tug on his sleeve whenever I had a problem. I'd gotten called a clingy bitch just for wanting to cuddle after sex in the past, but this reeked of vulnerability even more.

I needed to be able to defend myself, not wait for David to swoop in. I knew he would, bless him; it was a fact, as much as gravity. Moreso, because that could be subverted. If I became known as the Keeper's woman, the damsel in distress he was attached to despite himself, I wouldn't be able to live with myself.

There were more practical reasons for wanting to get stronger, of course, though I won't lie and say my pride, already bruised before the hit, as it were, wasn't a big one. Besides self-defence, it would give me more opportunities to work. I needed something to do - boredom was the immortal's poison -, and I'd go to sleep happier knowing I'd, say, built and orphanage with my magic, enchanting it to last. Or even just being able to paint and sculpt with my mind, only needing a canvas or some raw matter rather than any tools.

Art helped. It was pretty to look at, of course, and I was grateful my senses let me perceive far more of it than a human could, but it also occupied my time. In the mind of a zmeu, it helped to frame activities in terms of hunting or fighting. Worked to keep the dumber predator instincts at bay. At least, framing a portrait as an ideal I was chasing diminished the urge to snatch kids out of their moms' arms and bite their throats out.

Another, more immediate reason was that, if I went to her whining about how I c-couldn't control my demesne, I'd likely just get laughed out of hers. But if I improved my craft as much as I could, I might just impress her enough to at least get some tips.

'It doesn't,' I told David after the nanosecond I'd spent thinking passed. 'And I'm thankful for that. Soon, my land won't be able to resist me, either.'

'If that makes you happy, I'm happy,' he said in that tone that made me wanna pick him up and shake him.

'Hey.' I wrapped the tip of my tail around his neck, pulling him to me until his back rested against my chest, and kissed the top of his head. 'It's sweet that you're fretting, but there's no need.' Cupping his chin, I tilted his head back until our eyes met, then winked. 'I'm not gonna be in danger. She likes interesting people.'

David wrapped an arm around me with a sigh. 'I know, I know. But she's also a hermit by choice, a choice she made because every zmeu who visited her made sure to tell her what a bitch she is. You shouldn't let her upbraid you. If she just starts using you to vent instead of teaching anything, I can alwa-'

The red of my eyes brightened while the black slits darkened. The scoff I let out was tinged with fire. 'Do I need to explain how much I hate having my life managed? Seriously, David? You think I want you to whisk me away whenever someone is mean to mean? I know you trust me more than that.'

His dark, dark eyes softened. 'I just don't want you to debase yourself for power.'

So friggin' dramatic! Just as my current objective was, I admit, but at least I wasn't phrasing myself like that. 'David, I'm not going to debase myself. You know what's gonna happen if I get fed up with her? I'll leave, and she'll let me. And that will be that.'

I hugged him tightly, to reassure both of us that I'd be fine. Each second felt like decades to me, and I was glad I'd learned to manage the hyperactivity that came with superhuman reflexes, because otherwise, I'd have struggled to function in a society mostly made up of people moving far slower than me. I could also enjoy these sweet moments for what felt like forever, and that never failed to make me smile, no matter how silly David was being.

I let go, turned him around, and lifted him for a kiss, this time on the lips. I've always wanted to wrap a guy's tie around my fist while manhandling him. I was getting closer to convincing David to wear a fedora and making the fantasy come true. He was close to cracking, I could feel it!

Since I was too busy too rub my hands together and chuckle nefariously, I instead put my boyfriend down and began to change. My lab clothes went to the aether pocket I'd created, a pair of jeans and a red sleeveless shirt appearing around me moments later. Not after makin sure David got an eyeful, though. No need to make him think I was mad at him.

David looked me up and down, looking amused as he focused on the red ring in my lower lip. 'What's so funny, chuckles?' My voice could be deepened enough to shake a human's bones and have them hearing echoes for seconds.

'Just, kind of surprised it took you this long to get your lip pierced.'

I laughed, making the lab's walls shake. 'You're surprised I started with my other lips?'

'Nah,' he shook his head with a goofy grin. 'That's not what I said.'

I shrugged. 'What can I say? I suppose I just wanted to start from the bottom this time.'

'I understand the feeling,' David said, hand sneaking around my waist for an unsubtle squeeze. I'd be sure to return it with interest.

'I'm sure you do.' I winked, smiling widely enough for him to catch the flash of black at the tip of my tongue, and turned to leave. As I expected, he spread his arms.

'Heeey,' he said in an exaggeratedly whiny voice. 'What the heck? There was no tongue last kiss. What's the point of getting that?'

'Ugh, alright, you baby,' I grunted, trying to sound exasperated, and picked him up again. Since neither my demesne nor my potential teacher were going anywhere, I decided I might as well. By the time I unzipped my jeans, my tail was already throwing my tank top aside.

* * *

After the thirteenth hour of lovemaking, I told David I really needed to get going, or I'd get distracted and put things off for who knew how long. He reluctantly agreed, and I left the house, leaving the homunculi with orders to make sure nothing intervened with my armour's forging, including themselves. Just to be sure, I also told the gold golem standing guard in a corner of my workshop to be careful, as if it needed encouragement. I'd made the shiny lug yesterday, and I was still trying to make it react to things unrelated to security.

I pulled the fabric of zmeu country over that of mundane reality, a process that felt not unlike placing a napkin atop another so that the edges aligned, and took flight. My tank top was narrow between my shoulder blades, so it did not touch my wings, but something still seemed to be niggling at me as I flew, hundreds of thousands of kilometres passing beneath me every second.

'Ah,' I mouthed, pressing the fingers of my left hand together, revealing a couple of black cigarettes with silver tips when I opened them. The sinister hand was more convenient for spellcasting, in the sense it did not tingle after creating matter, unlike the right. It was something that would fade as I sharpened my magic, but currently, it was distracting.

As I stuck the cigs in my mouth, I was reminded of Lucas. We hadn't really talked in a while, and that made me feel like a cow. I could go kick his dad's arse for being a dick to him but not cheer him up? That made me feel like Maws, and a growl escaped my lips, along with a small smoke cloud.

I'd visit him if his demesne happened to be on the way. Sometimes, zmei shifted their homes for various reasons, or the country itself moved them around, though you could resist that if you wanted. Maybe I'd visit his brothers too; hell, what if they happened to be together?

A corner of my mouth curved up at the thought, and I took a deep breath. The cigs felt like a tire fire in a candy factory, along with a whiff of something sensual, like the location they brought to mind was next to a strip club.

'Those are not from our macrocosm,' a deep, cultured voice spoke into my mind. It reminded me of Attenborough, and, heh, I could've listened to that geezer reading the phone book.

'They sure ain't,' I replied, continuing to fly. 'Nice to see you, Hierophant.'

The Unbeing's image flashed in my mind's eye, a considering look on its many-faceted, many-hued visage. Its clawed tentacles were pressed together as its layered, black and silver robes flowed with its movements.

'Hello, my Lady in Flames.'

'I learned 'bout 'em from this guy with a flashy coat and an attitude problem,' I said, pretending I hadn't heard the title. 'Want one?'

'I gathered. And, no, thank you.'

'Suit yourself.' As I spoke through the aether, nothing interrupted my smoking. 'Not that it's not nice to hear from you, but did you need something?'

'We think that, perhaps, you might need something. Need to know it, that is,' the Unbeing said in the tone it usually used for sermons. 'As per our wishes, we have refrained from dedicating ceremonies or holy sites to you.'

'Keep that up, please,' I said, trying to sound casual. 'It's nice to know you guys think I'm great, but worship's too much, really.'

'If you say so.' It sounded uncertain, or maybe like it couldn't understand why I thought that. 'That being said, our number is endless, just like our faith, and our minds ascend the layers of creations at will. If we raised our hands in prayer to you, you would become as mighty as any goddess, and more powerful than most.'

My lopsided smirk faded. For a fraction of a nanosecond, I almost wondered if David hadn't sent his cult's head to deter me, suggesting I swap the power of my domain, and whatever else I might learn, for that gained from veneration. But even the photons spinning before my eyes in a slow dance seemed to be quietly laughing at the absurdity of the thought. David only barely tolerated the Unbeings, and that was only for as long as they didn't pray for anything or fight in his name or for his favour.

Then, I winced at how little faith I'd shown in my lover, even for a moment. 'Hiero? I mean this in the nicest way possible, but would you mind leaving me alone? I'm busy.'

The Hierophant bowed lightly, retreating into the lightless depths of a cathedral. 'We only want you to know you are valued.' A chorus of voices joined its own when it next spoke. 'Without you, do you think the Keeper of Endings would be as kind? Do you think he would guide the virtuous godless, help them shape their afterlives into paradises? We say, nay. He would leave them to their own devices, focusing only on punishing the guilty. Cold duty, blood spilled joyfully and love of torture have only ever resulted in darkling Keepers.'

* * *

The zmeu brothers (and how easy that name came to mind. They certainly weren't the only group of zmeu brothers to band together, but no one really thought of anything else that way. I was surprised I didn't capitalise it in my thoughts) were busy preparing for a family reunion. It looked like I'd smacked enough sense into Maws to make him reconsider being an uncaring douchebag, something that went against both his instincts and his personality. I was in awe.

As such, they hadn't really been able to hang out, nor, really, willing. Aaron had arranged for their parents to come to his barracks-like domain, and he had distractedly told me to take care of David, before leaving my sight, to take care of whatever task he'd set himself, muttering something about how we were good for each other, he was sure.

I'd watched his tails trailing behind him as he'd left, stifling my laugh but failing to hide my smile. Whenever I saw the one split from middle to tip, the halves hanging by a thread, and remembered both the story about how he'd been scarred in battle and the truth of the matter, I just couldn't help myself.

Of course, the Socialist Republic of Romania had been a nation of loyalty, camaraderie and patriotic love. Romance had been allowed, when it could pretty things up, but nobody in charge had seen it as a virtue or a necessity. No wonder, then, that they'd make up a story about fighting and order their Admiral to spout another lie. What would the alternative had been? Admitting people weren't really separated by borders?

Ah...Aaron was too old-fashioned to kiss and tell, but luckily, Andrei's shame had been surgically extracted at birth. When we went to visit the souls of Constantin's parents, he and Simona would come along, as they'd insisted, and I was sure it wouldn't take long for him to start talking about acquaintances from work.

There really was nothing to be cagey about, nor had there been anything since the regime change.

Lucas had pulled me into an one-armed hug, flattening me against his chest. He was in his tank top and tracksuit pants dad outfit combo, and I'd returned the embrace like he was my father. In a way, he filled that role as much as Constantin did, as much as David used to.

"Got something new, hatchling?" he'd asked, trying to bum a cigarette off me.

"Yep," I'd answered, making a third one and offering it to him.

The zmeu had puffed a few times on it, before incinerating it in a burst of blue flame. "Weak. I prefer something I can actually feel through the smoke inside me."

"Yeah, well, not all of us smoke to scour our throats raw," I'd said, watching him summon three of his signature cigars, full of the blue grass of his domain. The, I'd smirked toothily. "And at least I don't look like I'm smoking dog turds."

With a thoroughly unimpressed, deadpan look, he'd lit all three at once, with a lighter rather than his fire breath. This was usually a sign he wanted to savour them. "Punk," he'd said, rubbing a closed fist alongside my crest.

"The truth hurts, doesn't it?"

"Indeed. That's exactly why I prefer to be higher than I can fly."

I'd placed a hand over my heart and the other over my mouth. "B-But Lucas, you c-can't drown your pain in vices, it's unhealthy!"

He'd snorted, left and right heads looking around. "Say, I'd love to talk, but the giant windbag and his arm candy are gonna arrive soon, so." He'd given me an apologetic look. "I gotta get this out of my head."

Or he'd keep stressing over it and getting angry, but that went unsaid. Lucian had been much the same. His usual cheerfulness was gone, replaced by a dark scowl as he waited for Bianca to arrive. I'd put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, remembering what the iela had gone through before creation had changed, and his eyes had softened.

"Hey, don't think I'm not in the mood to talk just cuz I'm brooding," he'd said during a brief stroll across the arid, uneven landscape that passed for Aaron's yard. When I'd asked the old lizard why he didn't go for something prettier than the cratered mess around his barracks, he'd said no one would look for bodies in a place that looked so thoroughly bombed, before chuckling.

"The break is nice, chatterbox," I'd replied. "Though pretty weird."

"You're telling me. But silence comes easier to me than it ever has." He'd closed his eyes, laughing self-deprecatingly. "Damn, but I sound like David. Keep an eye on him for me, please. As soon as we take care of the upcoming mess, I'll try to make time for him more often."

From what David had told me, which fit pretty well with my scrying, Bianca would eventually return to her sisters for some time, more to train than to talk. She'd later use her newfound abilities to help Sofia Ilyich hone hers, allowing the witch to better bridge gaps across creation.

But there was some time left until then. Bianca hadn't arrived, I think, because the idea of meeting Lucian's parents made her uncomfortable. Not nervous, as such a scenario usually would have made most people, but then, she'd heard his descriptions of them.

I could hardly blame her. Bia's situation reminded me how lucky I was for David's father to be such an understanding guy. On the flipside, he said he'd had no problems with my parents when he'd come across their souls, but I'd still declined his offer to meet them.

Leaving the zmeu brothers to their preparations, I'd taken flight again, and was now about two thirds of the way to my destination. Its location had more to do with its inhabitant's desire to be found than with geography, so, since I could glimpse a dark smudge on the horizon and feel it with my arcane sense, I thought the old bat must have been curious about what I was bringing.

Abyss-Growing-Vaster, like most zmei from her generations, were reclusive, by our standards. They met to mate, not mingle, as they often said when asked, but otherwise kept to themselves.

I suppose that, for people who'd been older than some species by the time the first stars had appeared, anywhere seemed crowded.

The entrance to Abyss' domain resembled a gaping pit, larger than most celestial bodies. Though billions of kilometres across, it looked empty. My eyes failed to glimpse anything in the darkness, as did my arcane sense. I was sure that had little to do with natural gloom, and much with the wards placed on her home by the old zmeu.

It reminded me of that week-long school trip to Greece, specifically the day when we'd gone to see Scylla and Charybdis. They manifested on Earth sometimes, existing both in the Kaos Cluster and our world, when people's knowledge of their legend waxed. We'd been lucky enough to catch them appearing for a few minutes.

Going by Maws' description, Abyss usually resembled the many-headed, whale-bodied monster, but the entrance to her lair reminded me of the living vortex that was Charybdis.

To my utter lack of surprise, she didn't welcome me. I'd expected at least some taunting, though, or riddles. Instead, she looked like she wanted to check just how much I really wanted to meet her.

As I descended, seeing nothing despite darkness that would've blinded an owl being as clear as day to me, I tried to feel if there was anything around me. However, the sense that let me follow air pressure, an extension of my sense of touch that was useful during flight, spotted nothing.

The darkness seemed physical, more like an ocean of tar than the absence of light, and there was a sensation of weight everywhere around me. I kept flying down, wings straining, breaking in half with every beat and healing before the next.

Contrary to popular belief, most paras only gained an inhuman pain tolerance through experience, rather than as an innate power. Broken wings felt like broken arms, though connected to my shoulder blades, but I'd felt worse. Abyss wasn't about to send me running with this.

When Maws had told me about her, I thought he'd been lying. If not dead, surely the ancient witch had isolated herself beyond reach, or become unwilling to receive visitors.

This was the thing about endless realms like zmeu country. It was easy to lose track of things, especially those that didn't want to be found.

But Maws had told me she was willing to meet people who caught her eye, as he knew from when he'd worked security for her. I'd decided to give it a try. After all, if the stories were true, Abyss could tap into the powers of her demesne while outside zmeu country. Even her eons of magical knowledge would have been valuable, but that...I needed that.

After what felt like days of flight, my feet hit rocky ground, shattered wings knitting back together. The darkness disappeared, not fading, but being pulled away like a curtain, and I saw I was in a circular cavern, too tall for me to see the ceiling.

It was covered in rows upon rows of circular openings, each too dark to see into, though something glimmered inside a few of the shadowed circles.

I'm sure it was meant to be scary or confusing, but all I could think of was how stupid the whole arrangement must have looked, with a pit this deep but also this, by comparison, narrow.

The spherical room and the array of identical openings were a ruse, for such things were meant to evoke infinity. I was sure I'd end up in the same place no matter which I picked. No doubt, the zmeoaică felt clever organising things like this.

Looking up into the darkness, I walked forward, stopping when a wall entered my sight. Lowering my eyes, I stepped into the entrance, and felt something like a door heavily but noiselessly slamming shut behind me.

A reminder and encouragement to forget about the outside world and focus on my journey, ignoring any distractions? Or a distraction itself, meant to make me paranoid, or even make me lose time by trying to escape?

I wasn't going to make any decisions based on such cheap tricks, anyway. Chances were, the sorceress just liked dramatic door slams, but who didn't?

Though I could see nothing, I could tell the ceiling was low by the spikes of my crest brushing against something that felt like rock. When I reached out and felt a similar surface, I decided it was far too small for flying to be practical. I'd crack my bones trying to break the unnatural stone, so trying to make a new way was out of the question. I had no illusion about Abyss' ability to shut down my esoteric powers.

She wanted me to walk. Or, rather, make my way to her on my feet - I had a feeling running would result in an injury everyone but me would find hilarious. As galling as it felt to move like I was wingless, it wasn't as though I was in a rush. M limbs seemed to have taken that to heart, actually, with how numb they felt as I began to walk.

After what must have been hours, the walls of the tunnel changed. They were not replaced with anything, but simply faded. When I reached into the blinding light that had replaced them, a glare that made my eyes water but did not reveal anything in the darkness ahead, I only felt a stinging pain that left my hands trembling when I retracted them.

A blunt way to say I should focus on the road ahead, but I'd take it over needlessly the needlessly complicated "suggestions" some mages were fond of.

Eventually, after the pain in my hands stopped, images filled my sight. Not displayed in the lights that had replaced the walls, but rather, in my mind's eye. Abyss was old-fashioned when it came to visions, I saw, since this recreation of my past started at the very beginning and followed events in a chronological order. I suppose I should be grateful at least I got to see things I didn't remember, having been too young.

When the image changed to Snagov Forest, the first place I remembered, I perked up at the sight of my mother getting off my newly-hatched egg, the same yellow-orange of my scales.

David had told me my parents' souls were with him, and that we could meet whenever, but frankly, I hadn't felt the need yet. Maybe this would change my opinion.

'You know where to find me,' my father rumbled, hands on his hips, as his wings twitched, before he and my mother flew off.

Luckily, my hopes had been low, so I wasn't too disappointed. Zmei were infamously apathetic towards their hatchlings, but some at least had the decency to watch over their eggs during the day it took for them to hatch, or at least laid them somewhere civilised. My parents had fallen in the rougher, larger category, I saw.

I huffed silently. Typical zmeu life story. I'd only been unusual in that I'd wanted to learn about my parents and eventually found them, in a way. It would've made no sense to whine: I saw how annoyed Lucas and the boys were after getting to know their parents, and I certainly wasn't jealous. But I wasn't eager to take David up on his offer too soon, either.

I'd be damned if I didn't love my kids with all my heart. It was no less than they'd deserve. Whether it took a year or a trillion, I'd try do do right by them, and I'd never be absent.

Talking about claws traced my abs as I remembered the future David had told me about. He'd said I was more curvy than ripped in it, after two eggs and one pregnancy. I wasn't sure how I felt about that.

To be, or not to be, a MILF. Hm...

Then I remembered teens mentioning chicks my age while talking about older women, and slumped with a laugh, like David did when people mentioned how he'd been born in the late twentieth century.

"They're making my childhood sound like a historical period!" he'd sobbed once, crying crocodile tears on Constantin's shoulder. His pops, older by twenty years, had rubbed his back with a deadpan look.

Yep. No rush to become a mom. I had all the time in the world, and other things in mind at the moment, anyway.

The vision changed, going over the months I'd spent lurking in Snagov, hunting birds and rodents. I beamed at the image of my standoff with a bear, and the carcass we'd eaten together, and the depiction of my first firebreath, which had scared a wolf pack off.

In another world, such animals might not have populated the forest as they did in ours, altered by the magic and sciences of man. Either way, I was grateful for those days of innocence, as well as the beginning of my true life.

The vision showed the ranger who'd found me. The weregoat had grumbled about zmei never having kids in hospitals, like normal people, but had still managed to coax me into his car, with the help of several cans of canned beef. There, while I'd watched, he'd made several calls I hadn't understood, though I'd heard and remembered every word.

(Now, that was just my experience, guys. You shouldn't follow strangers into their cars just because their meat tastes good.)

I'd made my way through dozens of cans, biting through steel like apple skin, all the while repeating my first world: "More!"

And, not to be narcissistic, but baby Mia had been really cute. I hoped that, if I had a daughter, she'd love life just as much.

He'd then taken me to an orphanage in Bucharest, the first of many. By middle school, I'd got sick of the capital and moved to a quieter place, all the while shadowed by government handlers, who didn't want a potentially dangerous supernatural running loose, no matter how responsible and careful I was.

When I first met David, in ninth grade, I didn't think much of him. He was this thin, brooding undead guy, who only opened up to crack jokes and pouted when you didn't like them. Fortunately, I didn't remain stupid for too long, and soon enough, I realised he was simply awkward around people, rather than an aloof douchebag who got offended if you didn't share his sense of humour.

The fact his classes were perfect setups hadn't hurt, either.

The vision showed a class about were reproductive systems, with David talking about how much blue werewhales could ejaculate in one go, and grumbling under his breath about finding whoever had thought it necessary to include that and beating them over the head with the textbook.

"Huh," Eric had said, thoughtfully. "Is that why the sea is so salty?"

"Nah, you can thank me for that," Bogdan had replied, flexing.

"Stop, you're making me thirsty!" I'd moaned, eyes closed.

"ALL THREE OUTSIDE, NOW!" David had snapped, looking up from the book, before blinking. "NO! I don't trust you three on your own. Shut up, settle down, and I'll think of something."

I chuckled with a wince. Ah, damn, teen me had been a headache, especially once I'd hit eighteen. I'd have to make it up to my boyfriend.

A smirk crossed my face at the thought. Riling him up until he wanted to vent was one of the few ways to make him agree to top me. David was heartbreakingly gentle, and even the possibility of upsetting me made him uncomfortable. His strigoi side wasn't much different: still a teddy bear, though far more eager to dominate me - but still utterly appalled by the idea of so much as scratching me.

I'd like to push the boundaries, there. David needed to understand that I could and had dealt with far worse pain than what he'd do to me would cause, and that I'd enjoy it and heal after.

...Or that was what I'd have said, if I wanted to be a hypocrite. The truth was, I couldn't bear even drawing blood from my strigoi, despite him arguing exactly what I'd outlined above.

I wondered how many others saw the side of David I was lucky enough to see on a daily basis. Ever since he'd started working at Keeper, people across creation had often only seen him in two scenarios: as the grim messenger warning them not to mess with life and death, and as the laughing monster who tore down all their endeavours while joking about their efforts to stop him, before consigning them to an afterlife of his choosing.

And, make no mistake, David didn't show his gentleness to many. Many only saw behind his laughing or scowling mask when he began force feeding them their dismembered limbs and turned their souls inside out.

Heat pooled in my stomach, and didn't stop there. The Unbeings' words came back to me; had I really made him better? More thoughtful? I guess I could've felt smug that I'd changed him so much he'd decided to help infinities of people better their afterlives, but honestly, the idea just had my head spinning.

I wasn't all that, honestly. Not yet. I thought about how I still had a ways to go before my mana suffused me, enhancing my body without needing to be cast, how I still lacked the demesne all zmei had, but that was ridiculous. David didn't love me for power, thank blazes. When I'd turned twenty-one, I'd dated this shy twink named Robert, a bookish mage who'd enjoyed how much I outmatched him physically.

Initially, it had been nice. An earnest guy who liked being manhandled? Hell yeah. "I need someone to tell the server they got my order wrong, and who's going to do it, me? Ha ha," and all that stuff.

But Bobi had leaned into my strength to a pretty weird degree. Not making me do stuff for him or anything like that, but I'd got the feeling he'd started dating me because he'd wanted someone to protect him and act when he was too shy too, and that...wasn't the basis for a relationship. At least, that what I'd thought at the time.

"Listen, you're lovely," I'd told him during the breakup, "but this kind of thinking isn't good for you. You've gotta learn to assert yourself, be your own person. Sure, sometimes boldness will get you into troubles too," I'd pointed at myself with a self-deprecating smile, "but this is beneath both of us. I know you're better than this."

I'd also felt bad about dating a guy who drew the line at making out because he was scared of what I might accidentally do in bed, "in the heat of the moment". I'd say my advice had worked, in a way: last I'd heard about him, Robert had started a podcast about how nervous tics could alter one's magic, citing his propensity for stealth spells and artefacts as an example.

I'd have to bring that up next time David and I visited Sofia. I think she'd adopted me as either her big sister or her mom, but despite her cheerfulness, I was sure she still missed her parents, despite how they'd ended up. I had to make sure to remind her never to lose her desire for friendship and harmony. The world needed that kind of wholesomeness. More than averting any threat she might become, it was good for everyone's soul.

The vision had cycled through less important memories during my musing, and I'd ignored them. Already knowing the details, my mind had filed the sensations away for later contemplation. But the new scene change made my eyes narrow and sharpen.

I'd hit what passed for puberty among zmei a short while ago, and my instincts had been in uproar. I think we all cringed looking back at our teen selves, and I was glad I no longer wet my panties or ogled hot people. That blatantly.

It'd been a trip to the Sighet Memorial, an archive of communism's legacy in Romania that was as bleak as it was extensive. The living atrocities the RCP had left in their wake had either been healed or put down, though sometimes, those categories had overlapped. Since you couldn't keep people mutilated in body and soul around as living museum pieces, alternatives had been sought: holograms, projected retrocognitive visions, golems, homunculi.

Zmei had been a commodity, before the Revolution.

A species so addicted to violence and sex - and rape, when they mingled? The Party couldn't have asked for better scapegoats when a thug was too indiscreet, but also too valuable to discard. Great examples to hold up when the chaotic nature of supernaturals, who needed a firm hand to be kept in their place, needed to be pointed out, too.

Not to mention blackmailed zmei had made for good workers and killers. Aaron said he'd entered the Navy to relax, but I knew half the reason had been selling his services in exchange for his brothers' freedom - and Lucas had still been badgered regularly to become a Securist in his mercenary days.

All in all, I was glad I hadn't been born before the Revolution. Zmei who leered at the wrong person ended up dead at best, at worst castrated and brainwashed, to be put to work as living corpses whenever appropriate.

Not to mention policy that spanned the Eastern Bloc and forced everyone not straight to donate sperms or eggs, lest they be imprisoned for deviant behaviour, conspiring to keep the country's population down, or whatever charges the nation's Communist Party could come up with.

The holograms of the zmeoaice I'd seen at Sighet hadn't been killed, but their spirits had certainly been murdered. Their scales had been scraped off, their knees forcefully straightened until they bent like those of humans, their tails and wings severed. The thing that had approached me, guided by its programming, had been a tall, blue-skinned freak, with light brown hair crafted to her crestless skull and her fangs reduced to stubs. Not recognising the hologram as a representation of a zmeu, I'd nevertheless backed off, a deep revulsion running through me.

There had been all sorts, our gruff weresnake teacher had told us. Zmeaoice who had loved women, or disagreed to be used as broodmares, or who wouldn't be missed. There had even been a hologram of what had once been a male zmeu, who'd been "feminised" until barely a caricature of womanhood could be seen under the surgical scars and grotesque implants. I doubted any of his past boyfriends could have looked at him without throwing up. They'd have probably disagreed with the Party's stance that if you didn't do you duty as a a man because you wanted to live like a woman, you might as well become one.

"But how?" I'd asked, horrified. "Were...were they caught off-guard and altered by magic?" It hadn't made sense to me. Zmei could heal from so much, they could move things to zmeu country, where they controlled reality like self-made godlings..."What did they do to them?"

"You don't want to know," our history teacher had said, not unkindly. "Trussst me, girl. Come on. Let'sss go back to the group." The weresnake had leaned closer to whisper where a human's ear would have been. I had no external ears, but the gesture had been touching, regardless. "Tell me if you need to sssee the psssycologissst." Her yellow eyes had flicked to the holograms, caught in a looped simulation of one of the soirees they'd been made to attend by their lovers in the Party and Security - though owners was a more accurate term, in my opinion. "Wouldn't want you to have nightmaressss."

So, yeah. Despite offering to remove my instincts for David, like Lucas had removed his with the help of the Mother of the Forest, I wasn't exactly jumping at the idea. Whenever thought about altering myself that way, I remembered the gelded, mindless things who'd had the misfortune of thinking the wrong way in the wrong country, and had been made less than slaves, not even free to kill themselves.

And, thought I knew it was ridiculous and that my boyfriend would much rather kill himself than think about doing anything like that to me, a small, stupid part of me - the predatory part, that knew when it was outmatched and was always on edge in the presence of the undead god I'd united my eternity with - couldn't help but wait for the other shoe to drop. It was sure that one day, David would get sick f other people having me, or angry at me talking back to him, or just bored of how little I had to offer him, when all was said and done.

I knew he wouldn't. That he'd never hurt me, even if he hadn't loved me. He didn't hurt those he saw as innocent.

But that smiling, monstrous face, fixed in a slavish grin, was always there when I closed my eyes, waiting for me to join her once I did something wrong and displeased my lover,

It was absurd. If David decided to become a monster, no one in creation would even know we'd ever lived in anything but eternal suffering. He was powerful enough. No matter what I did, if he chose to do that, it would happen.

And yet, as I looked into the future, my heart skipped a beat with every fling. Would this one be the last drop? This one? This?

And yet, I thought with a growl. this monster of mine worships me more than his god, and has never laid a finger on me without my consent.

It made no sense. But it didn't leave me. Maybe I was just too shallow to realise that I liked sleeping around and dressed it up as not wanting to lose a natural part of me. What would happen, would happen.

My more recent memories passed in a blur as my stride grew more purposeful, angrier. The tunnel seemed to shrink - there was a sensation of getting closer to my destination - and soon, enough, I was standing in another cavern, with no shadows in any corner, though there was no source of light.

Abyss-Growing-Vaster was lounging in an oval pit filled to the uneven brim with power the colour of tar. Like Maws had described, a collection of heads rose above a strong, wide body, but they were long and serpentine, unlike those of ordinary zmei. She was shapeshifting.

Tails rose, lowered and curled lazily behind her, tips describing geometric figures and arcane shapes. Arctic blue, black-slit eyes regarded me, halfc-closed, from each of her round faces.

I opened my mouth to speak, but Abyss lifted a hand, palm out. Her claws, millions of kilometres across, gleamed along the edges and tips. She could've been any of the zmei who'd stolen the sun, hiding it in a pocket like a human would a glass eye.

'I know,' she purred, voice surprisingly light for her size. 'I saw what you did, hatchling. Felt as you felt, until the last moment.' Three heads tilted. 'It is deplorable that you would harbour such fears of your own lover, but the truth must be confronted. It is better to admit reluctance is born from fear than to see yourself as a whore, like fools do.'

'I'm not scared,' I said stubbornly. 'I know he wouldn't hurt me, no matter what. He'd change the face of existence before that.'

'Fear, wariness, disgust - it matters not, in the end. You are repulsed by the idea of altering yourself. Yes? Yes.' She spread her forelegs, as if to say there was nothing to add. 'Better than for people to think that you are too lazy or perverse to let go of that side of yourself.'

'Yeah, I'll feel much better if they start thinking I'm a coward instead,' I replied drily. 'Listen. You said you know why I'm here, so I'd like you to say whether you'll help me or not. No pussyfooting, please.'

I was rubbing my face by the end of the sentence, and Abyss laughed. 'Girl! If nothing else, I'd give you a talisman or power for straightening Maws out. I can't, for the life of me, remember when he's ever listened to anyone besides himself.'

'I don't want charity,' I said carefully, trying not to bristle. 'I want training. They say you can change yourself and your surroundings even outside zmeu country, without using magic. That you can use your domain as an endless source of power.'

'All true,' she said lightly. 'And yet, you think you can equal me, instead of hoping to surpass me. I'd rather not have copycats around, even ones as pretty as you,' she winked, 'but, oh well. I can hardly be a chooser, with how few manage to make their way here. Harken.' She stood up, body becoming more humanoid while shrinking, until she barely stood taller than me, with only one head, though several tails still moved behind her. 'Your progress is arse-backwards, but...fascinating.' She rubbed her chin, walking past me and making the surface of a smooth wall ripple, until it resembled a writing board. 'Most zmei can't tap into their demesne's power while outside it, even in zmeu country. You, having an endless font of might but not a concrete domain? I'd ask who taught you, but you haven't spent much time in the country.'

Abyss turned, looking down at me. 'In any case, we can standardise whatever training process you've come up with. I expect you to carve out a domain by this time next year...'

I will have to return to this part of the story David and I live. But, suffice to say, over the next months, I began to understand my power better. And, as my teacher told me to stop worrying about David - there was nothing wrong with him; he understood me, and even if we didn't make love in the times we spent together when I returned home from training, we still loved each other - I found other things to think about.

Until, one day, Abyss asked me if I didn't want to put the technical stuff aside for a while and service my teacher.

'Sure,' I answered, squatting between her parted legs, the closest a zmeu could come to kneeling without changing form. Our bodies seemed to sneer at the idea of submission - more of that unmatched predator claptrap, I was sure -, but I had no problem letting a beauty take the wheel. 'But, as a warning?' I smirked up at the older woman as I placed her thighs over my shoulders. 'I tend to act up. Try not to hold it against me.'

I expected her to say "Oh, I have something else to hold," in a silky voice. Instead, she just grabbed my crest and told me to get to work.

After a few hours, she was ready to ditch the foreplay, but not before a question.

'Do you miss him?' Abyss asked, hands on her round hips.

I shrugged, wiping my face with a forearm. 'Of course. My heart belongs to David - but that doesn't mean I have to scourge myself when I share my body with someone else.' Love was not lust. He understood.

My teacher and current lover nodded, tapping her chin with a finger. Then, she grinned. 'Do you think he misses you?'

It was also during this time that my zmeu name changed. Not by my choice: the name carved into the core of my being by zmeu country before I was even born was gradually wiped clean and replaced.

That had been a hatchling's name, but now, I had started learning to rein in my passions, instead of losing myself to them and forgetting about my dignity.

The Unbeings' echoing chants, their praises to the Lady in Flames, lover and guide of the Keeper of Endings, never truly left my ears, after that.

* * *



But we can ju-


But human! It's simply-

I know. Still no.

My worse half crossed its arms with an exasperated groan. You're not going to stand there and tell me Mia getting it on with an older chick isn't hot.

I frowned. Maybe I'm just too jealous to find it hot, alright? Look into a mirror and jack off, or something. But you'll keep it to yourself if you open that video.

As it launched into a detailed explanation of why I was a narrow-minded, hidebound paranoid idiot, I tuned it out. That didn't deter it in the slightest, since it was the most stubborn part of the most boneheaded moron in existence.

...the hell, human?! She's our woman, no matter who has her for a time. She belongs to us, and we to her. Stop being stupider than usual.

I grumbled something so eloquent it sounded like gibberish, but it was cut short by the smooth, bass chuckle behind me.

Arvhek of Naught, Bane of Makers, Sire of Stillborn Creations, and former Keeper of DEATH, regarded me with the closest his not-face could come to a smile.

Arvhek always appeared as a dark figure: a knight in black armour (and why did that feel familiar?), robed, cowled silhouette, a looming man in dark pants, features obscured by gloves and a hoodie. But all of them were impressions plastered over the wound in the substance of the macrocosm he was, like nuclear shadows in front of the blast.

And, though I was channeling the full power of my mantle as guardian of creation, that didn't make his presence any less daunting.

But that was alright. It was why I was here, after all.

Beyond the edge of what I knew as existence, the endless host of Creators who populated the ur-city watched us in utter stillness. But, like pebbles in the wind couldn't have comprehended the hurricane even if they'd had minds, they couldn't grasp either of our powers.

Though sealed in the deepest part of the Neverwere Vaults, I knew the cosmic prison was no more of an obstacle to Arvhek than a cell outlined by a mime would have been to an elephant. He was staying as a courtesy, according to himself. He existed on a greater, deeper level than creation. Or, rather, didn't. Arvhek's power was not that of death, or even the Unnamed Darkness, but something more fundamental. Something that felt like the Unmoved Mover, but bent wholly towards destruction.

As he stood up, appearing as a knight in full plate, with a hooded cape over it, my mantle of power drew tight around the core of my being. His un-words were being edited, essentially, for everyone's safety. They were still laced with something like static, which made my soul bleed.

'Such a heavy burden, placed on such a callow godling?' His fingertip pressed on one shoulder, reminding me of when I'd tried to lift an avil in my teens, and broken my arm in the attempt. He sighed, before laughing self-deprecatingly. 'Is what I would say, if I resembled the image you've built up in your head, my heir. Honestly, David, no one talks like that outside of bad dramas. Not all the time, at least. It's exhausting.'

He turned, whistling tunelessly, and I blinked. '...Arv? You'd better not be trying to-'

'Yes, yes. No need to threaten me with great justice if I oust myself as a treacherous blackguard.' The look he gave me over his shoulder was bored but playful. 'I used to deliver speeches just like that, you know. It comes with the bag of bones shrieking in your ear.'

He sat back down, legs closed, leaning against one wall. 'You've only learned what you want to learn about me, but that is not enough. You must understand, David, that it is perfectly possible to make no mistake, and be as fair as you can, and still fail, and still suffer. It's called life.' Something burned in the centre of his void-visage. 'I fought, like you. I wept and bled and prayed and cursed, just like you. I thought everything was false, so anything could be destroyed, just like you.'

He exhaled. 'But I didn't stop there. Or, rather, I did. Else I would be very, very lonely. You must understand the failures of the Keepers past, if you are to become our better, David.'

He beckoned me to him, suddenly frantic. Confident in my power, I obliged, and Arvhek wrapped his cold, burning arms around me. 'I see your history, and future. You might lift everyone up, but you will be a better Keeper than any of us ever where.' A broken sob escaped him, and the earlier flare was reduced to a gleam. 'An honest husband, and a loving father. Either would be better than I've ever managed...but you'll only have easy victories, if you compare yourself to me.'


'No! Listen to me, for you have nothing to lose.' He pulled back, taking my shoulders into his hands. 'David, duty and the cold comfort execution brings do not make a Keeper whole, much less happy. Take it from the fool who married himself to his oaths, and had both his wife and his Empress end themselves because of him, and only then came back to his senses. Cherish your lover! Do not begrudge her her peculiarities. Know your monster! Sometimes, only slaughter can clear a path. Where the tyranny of ignorance looms, the tree of knowledge must be watered with the blood of the blind. Do not close your eyes by choice!'

I sat, mirroring the position of DEATH's fourth Keeper, as he began telling me about what I'd read in the Keep's archives, and more besides.

I decided I might as well see what Mia had sent me. If only to shut my strigoi side up. But I would have time for that.
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: Patch Works (I)

* * *
"We cannot simply handwave the murders, mister..."

"Kricher. Adam Kricher."

One of the officials had smiled at that. Barely, just an upwards twitch of her mouth's corners. A reference I hadn't understood at the moment. I wasn't amused after meeting an approximation of the legendary spy, a slave to his lust as I once was to my anger.

"You desire that to be your legal name, yes? We understand you do not want to be known as 'the monster', and 'Adam' is somewhat...widespread."

Managing not to sneer at the mention of my title, I had nodded. "Yes. I would have a proper name."

The first among them, a balding old man with horn-rimmed glasses, had raised a hand, wrinkled and spotted but not shaking, preempting any questions or comments. I had appreciated the gesture at the time, and still did.

He'd had a question for me himself, however, and it had made me think. "If I may l ask one more thing before you go?"


"Why Kricher? I understand the pun. Making light of bad circumstances, using things said to hurt you as armour, that makes sense. But why not Frankenstein?"

I had smiled a wan, brooding smile, unwilling or unable to properly explain it. I think they understood, however, because they said I was good to leave, any my papers and files would be updated soon.

Let this be recorded for posterity, then, as I seem to have found my words and my wits: I am the first of my kind, and I will not be the last. I am my father's motherless son, begotten through sorcerous technology and arcane artifice. My flesh is dead and stitched; my blood as dark and cold as the depths of the manmade animus that shrieks where a man's soul would be.

I am the first man of the breed Victor Frankenstein dreamed of crafting, and will become the unliving ancestor of the breed I will birth. I am the Adam creature of our ilk, the made king who never had the queen he longed for. I am crowned with power and my mantle is murder. In my mind lie the secrets of my father's fleshcraft, the way he devised to steal light from God and turn it into knowledge.

And I am vexingly, boringly alone.

Victor's book seemed to gleam at me as it wiggled on its support, as if winking. I answered its inane fretting with a heavy-lidded glare, helped by the inky spheres I have for eyes. The rag did not seem repentant in the least.

Sometimes, Victor's book was a leatherbound volume. On other days, it was a scroll of papyrus or a roll of vellum, a touchscreen-equipped, circular device or a bizarre arrangement of faceted crystals. At the moment, it resembled a stack of bronze slates, words heavy with destiny swimming across the polished surface.

I knew what it wanted. Suspected it, at least - it hadn't communicated with me in any true sense, besides childish "gestures" meant to raise my hackles. It wanted me to make more people like me, to build. To what purpose? To no purpose. But not doing such things was not something it could conceive.

I pulled off my gloves, the black fabric hidden under blood even darker than the stains spattering my heavy, hooded lab coat, and leaned my hands on the operating slab. The surgery had stopped moments before the butchery had begun, but, just because the subject was an unliving mound of flesh, it did not excuse my tantrum.

Nor my sloppiness. Being angry was no excuse for swinging a scalpel like a hatchet...but then, I still lacked a proper handle on my anger. This only fed it, predictably.

I shook my head, taking a breath that would've frozen a man's lungs as my long, dark hair almost with a will of its own. Driven by false sentience, it sought not to obstruct my sight, instead pulling aside to let me see everything. I looked ridiculous, as if my hair had been blasted by a burst of air, but it was efficient. Less efficient than focusing my arcane sight to gaze through obstacles, but this required neither effort nor attention.

No. Standing next to the slab was only going to raise my choler again, I was sure of it. My current predicament did not help my temper, either.

Striding soundlessly, I made my way to the ash-coloured, unornamented wall. This laboratory was small, being new, but no longer sterile. My first experiment in it had gone horribly.

I'd made my way to the North Pole because, though the scattered, frozen lands had been fused together by the magic and technology used to stave off the act's natural consequences decades ago, settlements were few and scattered. you could live your whole life here without coming across another person, and that was what I wanted.

Contrary to what you might believe, it had nothing to do with nostalgia towards my last confrontation with Victor. Though I'd been the butt of a few tasteless jokes about the culprit returning to the scene of the crime, I did not feel more than indifference towards the location, sentimentally-speaking.

Practically, however, it would serve my aims. I needed a quiet place, without annoying neighbours. I could ruin my own day like a grownup, thank you very much.

The enterprise I had embarked on was starting to take place. Once it reached its optimal stage, Patch Works would be a nonprofit organisation working to help traumatised constructs get overt their past, or offer them alternatives if they couldn't. I had been informed I'd likely have to work closely with ARC to get artificial beings away from their abusers, as well as with national paranormal law enforcement agencies as appropriate. I also wanted to help natural children as well, when I could.

It was not just guilt talking. I had been an awful son for a poor father, but it was more than wanting to make up for my atrocities. I wanted to give people a chance not to live like I had. And if the thanks of the grateful warmed my uneating heart? I believed I deserved what pleasures I could get in my unlife.

For, though I had the body of a corpse and the power of a god, I was still a man, with a man's passions. I still wanted a wife. I did not believe I'd ever stop. Once I married, I'd just want my wife in a different way, the way husbands are supposed to cherish their spouses. I wanted children, sired or made. A family to raise and grow old and happy alongside.

The thought alone brought a soft smile to my black lips. Some would see me as a cowering fool, I had no doubt. People already did. If I wanted, I could very well crown myself god-emperor of a stretch of creation, rule over a realm of beings spawned from my power, doing as I pleased as long as I did not offend that guardian of life and death, the Keeper of Endings.

David Silva. Were I capable of fear, I believe the thought of him would've left me twitching on the floor, on the brink of a heart attack.

Quite possibly the most important being in our macrocosm, and certainly the most dangerous, only equalled by his predecessor, a regretful thinking abyss of a creature.

Only surpassed by what my father believed we could all become.

A snort escaped me, despite myself. Victor had still been a bloody optimist, in the end, and damn me if I could tell you how. Some people did not want power, did not crave eternity. They were content with their lot, humble as it might have seemed to some. Those could only be dragged into ascension kicking and screaming, and if we resorted to that, what was the point?

But...perhaps my father hadn't been as blind as I thought, I told myself as I slid down the wall I'd been leaning against. Perhaps, ever the visionary, he'd glimpsed some distant future where the only people left were those who craved godhood.

Perhaps he wanted me to blaze a trail to that future.

Was that it? My arcane sense was clouded by the powers whose shadows stretched over existence, but my gut told me my idea wasn't wrong. Was that why Victor's notes acted the way they did? To goad me? Motivate me?

Following what many called the moment of unity, I'd willingly went to trial for my past deeds, where I had been sentenced to eternal community service.

No, I am being facetious. Making a joke of it.

To be more honest, I would be allowed to structure my unlife as I wanted, and experiment on what caught my interest...with regular check ups from the Global Gathering. I approved. I wouldn't trust someone like me toiling away in obscurity at the top of the world, either. Who knew what the gloomy freakshow would make?

That was another facet of my mostly one-sided agreement with the GG. If I made or discovered something interesting, they'd be awfully grateful if I shared it with them.

I did not mind. It was what I wanted to do, anyway. Share the wonders of Frankenstein science with the world. And if they knew how to implement it, sparing me the tediousness of paperwork and talking with dullards I'd never met and would never meet again (or care about), I was more than happy to let them act as my middle man and errand boys.

I had an experiment I'd tell them about as soon as it was finished. It was already cooking, so to speak, and I'd found ways to pass the time while I waited, as is an immortal's wont.

Less than a week ago, I'd come across this unholy fusion between a shaman and a back alley quack. This witch doctor had specialised in cybernetics, and I was using that term loosely. More accurately, he'd been a technomancer of certain skill, as well as adept to grafting mundane bionics to people.

Though I was licenced to take down the likes of him, and incensed at what he'd done, I'd nevertheless alerted ARC. Before they arrived, I confronted the witch doctor and his menagerie of grotesques.

The worst part, in my eyes? Maybe it was the bigot in me talking, wanting an inhuman enemy to hate, but he hadn't been that way from the start.

Normal people, for a given value of "normal", did not come to the North Pole. They were either eccentrics who wanted to get away from society, or pariahs exiled in all but name. Discounting the military and scientific personnel stationed there, I mean.

The doctor, who had begun as a kindly old man - as I learned from going over his memories and timeline with my arcane sense, as well as listening to the observations ARC had been willing to share with me -, had gone quite mad from isolation. He had left his past life behind because he'd disliked confrontations, and had never truly grasped interacting with others.

But cutting himself off had not been the cure he'd hoped for. Instead, he'd ended up trying to make his own solution for loneliness, and failing miserably.

The remaining result of that, the one who hadn't fought, was laid across the slab. Part of me, the one that often found itself morbidly fascinated by one crime against nature or another, wanted the thing to rise from the operating table and shamble to me, trying to strangle and eat me for failing to save her.

It would've been dramatic, and offered me a break from my dark thoughts. But, while I waited for the double call I'd been assured would happen today, I could not afford distractions. Brooding might have weighed down the mind, but it focused it wonderfully, as well.

The majority of the doctor's horde had consisted of things barely elevated to sentience. Golems of ice and snow, moss homunculi, living lichen, things like that. Beings, if you could call them that, too simple to thing. They had amused the doctor, blundering about, helped him while away the days.

But those bloodless clowns hadn't been enough, in the end. So, Asger Jensen had turned to darker research, telling himself he wasn't doing anything wrong.

In a way, that had been a boon in disguise. People who knew they were evil but continued their pursuits were often far more shamelessly creative, and thus dangerous.

Jensen had never had children, nor any real family. After his parents had passed away during his adolescence, the few distant relatives he'd only heard off had become even colder. I understood it, this need for companionship. But I did not approve.

Doing so would've been the first step on indulging my worst impulses, and that was not something anyone deserved.

Jensen had built this...brood mother, I guess you could call her.

I flinched, despite myself, hands balling into fists as I sneaked a glance at the thing on the table.

Could have called her.

Asger had wanted children. Some people do, when they feel their end approaching. They crave companionship and unconditional love, if not a legacy. What he hadn't known was that he wouldn't die of old age.

Jensen's first and last sapient construct had been a gestalt, consisting of three organisms: a "female", to lay noisome things that only resembled eggs in the sense spawn would burst out of them, a "male" to fertilise them with its foul seed, and a thinking womb, sessile and trapped in a sick parody of life.

When I first laid eyes on the womb-thing, I was reminded of those mother-goddess statuettes common among ancient humans, but only superficially. The womb had resembled the figurines in in shape and what it represented, though not fully. It had been rotund, though limbless, like a bloated slug. At the centre of its green-grey mass had been a humanlike face. A woman's visage, stuck to the body of a monster.

This tortured creature had been forced to birth Jensen's playthings, and enjoy it, too. She hadn't seen anything wrong with it, hadn't been able to, even when the ARC agents and I put her down. She'd died smiling, and that had been wrong, in a way that could not be put in human words.

There were certain things, old and cold, dark and foul, that thrived on violation so profound the rape of the human body seemed like a childish caress in comparison to its monstrousness. The beings who delighted in such things, inasmuch as they could, viewed mankind as a species of infants. To them, men, women, everyone, were like children. They enjoyed showing them ways to mate and breed that had nothing to do with bodies, minds or souls, and the broken, gibbering wretches left behind often made good slaves. That, if you'll believe it, was sometimes a coincidence, rather than an aim.

The thinking womb hadn't been such a thing. She'd been a victim to the end, but her mind had been like nothing human. Jensen, in his madness, could neither decide what kind of child he wanted, nor grow attached to one as a parent should. So, he'd had the womb churn out baby newborn after newborn in the flesh-mills inside its cavernous form.

Some of the infants had died young, minutes after their births, when the not so good doctor got tired of their wails. Others were made to grow at unnatural speeds, only to be reabsorbed, shrieking, when Jensen found them too ungrateful, too disrespectful, too inquisitive. They hadn't loved him as he'd wanted, for making the thing that had brought them into the world and taken them out of it.

Some of the newborns had been vile little things, with grown brains and minds that made their skulls bulge and split, foul fluids running down the sides of their smooth, hairless heads. Dark eyes set in the midst of twisted features, as if half-erased, and mouths twisted in smiles that had nothing to do with childishness, innocence, or joy.

These creatures, Jensen had made into his assistants, clothing their stunted forms in dark robes and replacing much of their flesh with wicked mechanical equivalents. By the time I'd broken through the defences of his laboratory complex, their numbers had grown through both asexual breeding, their small bodies splitting apart into identical clones (how the cybernetics were copied too, no biologist could've answered), as well as through means I'd rather not think of. Why would you make something that looked so infantile yet was so fertile...

When ARC arrived, they found me covered in blood, with one arm through Jensen's heart, going into the ground. My eyes had burned darkly, gore-covered as they'd been, but, despite the steaming vitae coating me, I'd never felt colder.

They had understood the kill. They'd have done the same. Jensen had been twisted enough no one would seriously judge me for taking his life the instant I laid my eyes on his madness. My ire had barely cooled by the time they told me they'd put down the thinking womb, who could not be rehabilitated, nor did she desire to go on without her twisted family. They delivered me her remains to do with as I pleased.

Was it any surprise my anger had got the better of me, yet again? I wouldn't be able to revive the creature without recreating her condition, nor was there any knowledge to be gained from her inert carcass.

Hence, the tantrum. Hence, the chipped scalpel, cracked against structures that only felt like bone.

Victor's book possessed all his intellect, but none of his humanity - and let that close the mouths of those who claim brainpower alone makes us better than animals. Seeing my grief, it had more or less shrugged and told me to build, build, build. Being sad was pointless; what did it achieve? Much better to make something.

My gaze darkened as I thought that, maybe, the book simply thought as my father had when he'd made me. When he'd been far more concerned with matters of intellect than morality.

That call could not come faster...

* * *

They found me sitting, arms crossed over my knees, on the now-empty, blood-slick operating slab. I'd disposed of the thinking womb's last piece, unable to do anything for her, even in death, just as I'd failed to overcome the immunity to esoterics her monster of a father had built into her. Just as ARC had failed to bring her around.

It was a day for failures, so when I saw the people I'd been waiting for, I did not hide my dry, bloody-toothed grin. We were all defined by what we hadn't done or couldn't do.

Asterion was astrally projecting a semblance of himself here. The minotaur had first approached me at the celebration following the moment of unity, and we'd bonded over growing up with father who'd quickly given up on us, though I'd chosen to become a monster.

The memory of the blind, ungrateful man I'd helped flashed through my mind, and I forced down the bile that rose in response.

Mother Wound's Scorn, a product and victim of one of the most odious cultures I've had the displeasure of knowing, was present as a towering hologram, thick arms crossed belligerently.

I don't think he did anything without making it look like a threat or attack. I'd seen him open food containers as if they'd killed his...well. Not his mother. He wouldn't have been angry at anything for that. Merely jealous.

'Aster,' I said conversationally. 'Scorn.'

After exchanging greetings, we quickly got down to business. This was not an official visit in any sense, as the Tartarus Engine wasn't here in his capacity as an agent of either Olympus or the Aegis Diamantine, and Scorn did not possess authority over...anything, as far as I knew.

This was a social call.

The Bull Rampant wanted a full life for his lover. Hera's curse had left her unable to feel anything physically, no matter what form she took. Strange, to be sure, for she could easily imitate powers greater than the goddess' had been when she'd cast it, but some things aren't limited by their wielder. He thought that, if I couldn't change her back through my control of creation and destruction, maybe I could build her a new body that could feel.

'I cannot guarantee anything,' I told him softly, 'so do not get your hopes up. With my luck, I'll make a body that can only feel pain, or some grim nonsense.'

The Black Hunger snorted, his spiked brass nose-ring swaying slightly, but nodded curtly. He'd rather leave her numb than make her suffer. If only more men thought that way when it came to their women.

Scorn just wanted to share trivia. He had come to Earth as a courtesy to an acquaintance he referred to as the Flesh That Flays, who was interested in the many Earthlings who could enhance their powers with no limit, as well as imitate those of others.

'Why do you think that is?' the Vyzhaldi asked, pausing in his explanation of how he planned to help the Flesh meet those who'd piqued its interest, either by convincing them to visit the cosmic creature or by bringing a piece of it to Earth. 'Most civilisations only have one such being or construct, a handful at most.'

'Bias,' I answered bluntly. 'Unconscious bias.'

'Huh?' the exiled Kratocrat grunted, mandibles parting.

'When the Unmoved Mover - yes, I see you're following me - slept, its dream was skewed towards Earth. When creation was remade, everything was left as it had been.' I leaned forward, resting my chin in one hand. 'I do wonder how unconscious it really was, however. Maybe the Mover really liked this mudball, and wanted it to have powerful beings.'

That resulted in a fairly hilarious tirade about tasteless gods, followed by a retelling of Scorn's experiences on Earth.

'Their females are pleased with my form,' he said at one point, flexing as he stood. Pointedly not looking between his legs, I met his yellow, multifaceted eyes.

'I'll imagine you're referring to some fighting stance.'

He scoffed. 'Imagine away. Human women like big males, especially those whose seed cannot take root in their wombs.' His wings flicked open and closed again at his sides. 'I cannot say the feeling is mutual, however. They're less than a third my height, with no exoskeleton and two arms. I told one, would you sleep with a skinless, armless infant? She looked at me as if I were mad!'

'I cannot imagine why,' I lied. 'But listen, Scorn: while you're here stealing the women Zhal needs, I would prefer if you didn't interrupt my work just to talk. Our tempers mirror each other, so we'd just rub each other the wrong way speaking too often.' I looked him in the eyes, my hooded ones meeting yellow circles covered by pale red, transparent lids, the layer beneath the full ones. 'So, why this meeting?'

'You know what this is?' He gestured at his crude necklace. At my nod, he continued, sounding both amused and disbelieving, 'Recently, I have mirrored a power that lets me keep track of things pertaining to my kind.'

'Fascinating,' I replied honestly. 'But if you seek therapy after observing all Vyzhaldi meatheads in real time, I am afraid I am not that kind of doctor.' Me, a therapist! That would've been like making Silva a motivational speaker.

Scorn laughed lowly, and I was thankful for my senses' ability to discern the meaning behind the buzzing screech that actually resulted when he opened his mouth. 'No. But I have been given reason to believe you are tinkering with something based on Vyzhaldi power.'

'And if I am?'

He barely lifted his shoulders. 'Your business. I was merely curious. Loathe them as I may, my people are powerful. Perhaps the most powerful species in this cosmos, discounting outliers.'

I would have heavily contested that, but I was not interested. 'Maybe.'

'It would make sense to use them as templates.'

'I will make sure to suggest this to anyone wanting to imitate them.'

Scorn's smile was an abyss bordered by blades. 'You do that.'

After that, a silence followed. Not comfortable, but amicable enough. The alien was pleased with the result of my outburst, I thought, from how he looked at the gore-caked lab.

'Why are they like this?' he asked finally, breaking the silence. I knew he wasn't referring to the darkness in the heart of man, that fed their psychoses, but to a different burden. 'With so many powers at their disposal, the macrocosm could be their playground. It already is, for some.'


'Laziness?' he repeated, sounding mystified. I did not believe he'd ever felt sloth.

'Some resistance made them abandon their first extraplanetary colony, not that they needed one, seriously speaking.' I faked a yawn, considering it appropriate. 'The truth, Scorn, is that people are comfortable with what they know. I've contemplated it often, and let me tell you: they could all be psychic cyborg mages, or weres, or some other sort of transhuman or posthuman.' I smiled. 'But they don't want that. They still use money, as if post-scarcity is not a thing.'

That, I thought, was the proof, if more was needed, that mankind and its adjacent species were in a transitional stage. The GG provided everyone shelter and sustenance, but everything from transport to entertainment required currency. Why? Because it did. Because, though they could have provided everyone with every luxury they wanted, that was not their aim.

Some cynics would doubtlessly say monsters born of the human psyche would become worse when mankind began living easier. Just because the pantheons policed each other, and the Bogeyman and his cackling sister kept the demons of dreams at bay day and night, it did not mean encouraging memeophages was beneficial, in their view.

The truth was, I think, that people simply weren't ready. They still half-lived like the Shattering hadn't happened, but there was no true need to rush them. They would grow into something beautiful. I knew. I had seen the signs.

Just like how vampires would, one day, move from the infant, suckling stage their species was in, and the seed planted by Primus would grow into what they had always been meant to become.

'Nostalgia,' Scorn thought out loud, ending my reverie. 'Or cowardice?'

'Does it matter? We can't push them along, nor should we. We can only guide them.'

Scorn did not look satisfied when he left, which made two of us.

I left the laboratory behind, moving between the diminutive and towering forms of my Igori. The popular culture character had appealed to some part of me, and I'd caved in. The assistants, homunculi and vatgrown alike, were good company, if nothing else. Talking to them was like talking to vacuum cleaners, but I took what I could.

In one of the arena-labs, my Bloodied tested themselves against each other. The constructs, made of and clad in blood, combined a Vyzhaldi's baseline power and adaptive growth with regeneration tied to their control of their state of matter. The mutant one, a black-hearted colossus of blue blood, was proving even harder to kill, not to mention able to perform feats that had nothing to do with brawn, because it was, metaphorically speaking, strong enough.

Unsurprisingly, it had become something of a leader to the narrow-minded guardian creatures. Son, I'd run out of excuses to avoid distributing them as cheap security across the globe. As ridiculous as it sounded, though, I wanted them to remain innocent for a while longer, even if they did not think, as such. Not yet.

My power had allowed me to analyse the Kratocrats' makeup during my visit to their realm, as well as recreate their flesh in the form of regenerating protoplasm. That would be spread across the world, too. It would be my first gesture of goodwill, proof of my trustworthiness.

I was curious to see how my rivals in the field of genetics, like Yamada, Kalodiosi or Doctor Plague, would react. It would've been a joyless game, without competitors.

As I reached one of my bedrooms, having stripped down to plain grey sleeping clothes, I closed my eyes, then the door. A thought turned off the lights (a pointless affectation for someone with eyes like mine; I was more human than I'd thought, it seemed), and I laid on my stomach, face half-buried into my pillow.

And, in my dreams, the wife I'd never had came to me, once again.

I am not there, Adam. I will never be, while you remain a child. You want a woman who loves you and nothing more, with no life of her own. No interests that will take her away from you. Who will bow her head when you lash out, and smile. You cannot let go of your anger, and turning it upon monsters will only feed it.

She always spoke to me in my own voice. Strange thing, wouldn't you say?
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sidestory: The Uncrowned King

* * *
Note: this story is from the perspective of David's strigoi side.

* * *

There was no being, in this creation or any other, caught in a predicament more stupid than mine.

Can you imagine it? Sharing the corpus and animus of existence's guardian, but being unable to influence him in any way? I was a prisoner, shackled to the core of my own being, unable to do anything but watch as the greatest fool there has ever been wasted his power defending ungrateful maggots.

Ever since I awakened inside David's psyche, I have been snubbed and insulted. This was, unsurprisingly, the result of his self-loathing - the bastard always does something stupid when his loathing for himself reaches a certain point - and am I not the deepest, truest expression of who we are?

Let me let tell you an open secret, which is obvious to everyone except him: David wishes to be a tyrant. He would like nothing more than to be able to do whatever he wants, to be adored and worshipped by everyone, with every word and deed of his immortalised and approved of. If everything he did (and, more importantly) didn't do or say didn't confirm it, all one had to do was ask me. After all, I was the embodiment of his deepest desire, and no amount of lies portraying me as some ridiculous evil side could change the truth. That was what I wanted, thus what he wanted, as well.

The Unbeings has the right of it. The only flaw in the structure of the Creed Ascendant was no fault of their own, but a result of David's stubborn insistence on not doing anything in our name. What good was being a god when you couldn't even order your faithful to slaughter the unbelievers? There were some passive benefits, of course - even if we somehow lost our powers as DEATH's Keeper and our mantle of guardianship, we would still have been stronger than all Unbeings combined, and our power would be holy, as well.

But it was not enough. David, like the chaff of our homeworld, denied the truth of his divinity out of nostalgia. Because he was used to being a mortal, because it would have been morally wrong to act like a deity, and any number of excuses. All nonsense. All lies.

What did morality matter when we were the arbiter of what happened or not? Even the Mover could not gainsay us, for it had given us a power that had grown to match its own, when existence's safety was in question. The Mover hoped that, if something, somehow, made it go on a rampage, we would be able to contain if not stop it. What was morality in the face of that? We should have been revelling in our greatness, not acting like a self-effacing bitch who thought there was nothing greater than the ethics of twenty-first century Earth.

As far as I could tell, there were only two beings who could match us in the fullness of our power: the Unmoved Mover itself, as deluded when it came to what it saw as virtuousness as David, and the bringer of oblivion watching over our metaphorical shoulder.

Arvhek wanted to talk with us. To show us the past four Keepers, himself included, so that we might understand them better than we did following DEATH's stories and our perusal of its Keep's archives. I had nothing against it, not that anyone gave a damn about my opinion.

Arvhek's power was a thing of beauty, radiating the kind of purity one can only find in the deepest nothingness. It was like wind passing through hollowed bones, creating a sound that chills the heart and barely catches the ear. I could have wept at the clarity of purpose the fourth, former Keeper possessed, for there were no questions within the empty, shrieking furnace of destruction that was his heart. There was only will, proper appreciation for the might at his disposal...and love.

Arvhek loved much, and had loved more. He loved his people, and his son, but it was a tepid thing, for he knew the former feared him and the latter hated him, a sentiment he fully approved of. He had loved his wife, and he had worshipped his Empress, just like we worshipped our zmeu. Even though he had been the end of both women, their destruction had come at their own hands, and Arvhek did not have to bear the burden of knowing he had slain his lovers.

I understood his relief. I would never know joy again if I ever so much as scratched Mia. There would never be any reason or excuse to even think about laying a finger on her, or our finger. And woe betide the wretch who so much as planned to hurt them.

David shared these feelings, and was touched by the fact I held them close to my hand, but still disapproved of me. Go figure.

When I woke from the dreamless sleep I had been caught in since David's undeath, it was, around the time of the first Chernobog fiasco. The Black God hid inside us, I was told after. My senses had been too dull, my mind too dim, to truly register much, in the beginning, much less understand anything.

I still laughed when David slaughtered Loki's spawn and gorged himself on that crippled cretin, his mutt of a nemesis and his blundering oaf of a brother. My only regret was that Chernobog made us do it, instead of the deed coming from our desire, but I suppose we wouldn't have managed without the Black God's strength driving us.

After? David never gave me the time of day. So what if I treated Mia like the goddess she was - once more, the Unbeings showed their wisdom; I hoped they would soon incorporate her into their scriptures -? So what if I helped him with Mimir's sight, and kept him company in Broceliande, and held him together during our first fight against Chernobog? I was worthless. Evil. Wretched. Not even a person.

Just because I was honest. I wanted to make his so-called friends suffer, and that would not do, though the sons of bitches certainly hadn't been good friends. If David had lived a happy, full life, he wouldn't have killed himself. But they never were close enough to him to make him open up about the suicide he contemplated. They never had time for his books, only admiring the effort it took to write them, not the contents.

They weren't even there when he hanged himself. Nor was the spineless slave he called father, not that his blood sire was much to write home about, either. But Constantin? He saw nothing wrong with living under Yahweh's yoke, because, to him, it did not chafe. He found it admirable! Asked others, didn't they want to become lapdogs, too?

David, bafflingly, continued to follow the word of that monstrous hypocrite and his unwashed carpenter of a prophet. Why, I could not fathom, for the thing he called God certainly was not better than David, in terms of either beliefs or power. I knew there were people who worried about reading on ants, but this was ridiculous. Closer to praying to a microbe. If we wanted to, if we deemed Yahweh a threat to creation, we could make it so it had never been. So why, why, why kneel before the images of this ridiculous parasite we could unmake with a thought? This facet of the Mover it sometimes answered prayers to?

Looking at all the worthless gods that clustered around Earth, and their fawning worshippers, I could not help but understand the senior agent of ARC's American Crypt branch, the one who called himself Prince because he acknowledged that there were still people between him and eternal domination over all there was. Not only that, he was wise enough to understand that almost all beings who lived were either cattle to collar and cull, or curs to put down. He had needed to be broken in the clutches of the Empire Endless before he reforged himself into a blade above all blades, but I came into being aware of worthlessness. Still, I saw a kindred spirit in Prince, though he only saw us as an obstacle. I understood his hunger for power, and did not begrudge him his lack of trust. Even more so than Arvhek, he had nothing left. Not even a happy memory, untainted by what had come after.

That approval of the Lord of Edges - pfft, yeah; I know - was only the latest in a long list of things David found distasteful about me. Even now, fighting as Keeper to stop those who would pervert the cycle of life and death, who would destroy all that lived and didn't, he found reasons to complain. How dare I want to split that whore in half, or rape that child's mind?

"We cannot simply be monsters; there must be a difference between us and those we fight, or what's the fucking point?"

You see what I have to deal with, every moment?

Arvhek, who had paused in the introduction of the first Keeper's story, brought his hands together. Obviously, he had felt that not all of David had been listening to him, and that neither half of us was content.

'Could you balance your humours, David?' Arv asked, sounding like such a kindly old man it was hilarious, given every Mover he had silenced, and every creation that would never be because of him. 'It would help you learn, and I dislike disharmony.'

See? There was a honest man. He said what he didn't like, and put an end to it.

'Yes, sorry,' David said, glaring inwardly. Appearing as a silhouette made of shadows, with fangs and eyes of white fire and our noose around my neck, I flashed him a burning grin.

The rope's presence was reassuring, as always. Comforting, even. It was not a thing of shaped hemp, any more than the cemetery was a thing of cold soil and headstones. It was a fact, carved into the heart of our being. I knew who I was.

'I was just talking to myself, Arvhek.'

'I noticed. You are not at peace.'

He rarely was, when we spoke. It was as often the cause as it was the effect.

Arvhek, appearing as a gloved, hooded thug, practically featureless, spread his covered hands with the air of an impatient storyteller. 'What would make you happy?'

Happy? Everyone I have ever hated, shackled and suffering forever. Every ungrateful swine who did not see David' suffering as enough of a reason to let existence end. Even if that had been unjustified, David had redeemed himself by awakening the Mover, his plan helping guide it to divine lucidity. He became DEATH's Keeper, holding those who would prey on the departed at bay, and helping improve the lot of the dead who wanted better afterlives, but lacked the will or imagination to improve them. Mia had inspired us again, there.

They should all be kneeling and thanking us, for eternity. Not blaming us for what we almost did. If David had acted differently, we would just be the fifth Keeper to bear the title, at the mercy of both DEATH's whims and the Mover's dream. Instead, he made things better for everyone. DEATH was redundant now, as easy to remove as a flake of skin if we so desired, and the Mover had taken to policing its Maker brethren.

But no. Let's all whine at David because, at the lowest point in his life, he thought that there was no reason to go on.

'What would make me happy?' I giggled, speaking with David's voice. To answer Arvhek, we could collaborate. 'Hmm...' I stroked out chin, pretending to think. 'Mia sitting on my face and our enemies dead around us.' I shrugged. 'Oh wait, that's just everyday for me. I don't know, man...'

Did you really have to bring that up?

Watch your whore mouth, human! I am many things, but ashamed of my love for our woman, I am not. And neither should you be!

As he sputtered, I resumed focusing on Arvhek, who had cracked a faint smile at my obvious affection for our zmeu.

We might have been the regent of creation as appointed by the Mover, but I could hardly enjoy my privileges while trapped in the mind of an idiotic prude. Still...I'd be damned if I let David put himself down when there was no reason to. He barely enjoyed our work, anyway.
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Apocrypha: Prodigal Princes

* * *
Six times a dragon spoke with the Serpent...

This story from Ying Lung's POV is the first SS apocrypha in a series of stories that I do not believe fit either as main chapters or sidestories. Maybe they're lighthearted omakes or slice of life stuff without impact on the plot, or what ifs that explore different paths the setting could have or could go down, but won't in canon. There will be apocrypha which could be canon, such as this one, but aren't, necessarily speaking. When appropriate, I'll confirm whether an apocrypha story is canon or not. The rest of the time, I'll leave it up to the readers to notice. In some cases, it will be obvious.

* * *

'At first glance, there are similarities, no? Two immortals, one born, one made. Both associated with reptiles, with flame, with the purity of ivory. Both exalted in nature, though pettier in manner than creation deserved, at times. Both of us exiled from the spheres celestial for that pettiness.'

I took a long drag from my pipe, the aroma of my first love's ashes settling in my lungs like the guilt did on my shoulders. It was never far away, but whenever it returned, I was hurt - and vice versa. Because how could I be shameless enough to complain about pain when I had ended such a bright life?

Tongdao's wraith was always half a pace behind me. Not in truth, for her spirit had returned to the origin and end of all things, but in essence. I could never draw breath, feast, fast or make war of love without feeling her accusing, disgusting glare burning into me.

Around me, my harem rested, some sleeping, others lounging. Coincidentally, most of the former were still lovers, not spouses. I liked to joke that they weren't used to me yet, to lighten the atmosphere whenever one of my older paramours acted like they were still outsiders.

It had been one of my wives, Hua, who had raised the question. Have I ever felt kinship with the one Christians called the Devil? It had been a strange query, for her. Usually, the woman tried to carouse her way through life, as if in defiance of her past. She and Qiao had been caught in a tragedy mortifying even to contemplate, but I was glad they managed to put their differences aside thanks to their love for me.

I didn't miss the bemused look Qiao had shot at his former wife ash she asked me about the Serpent, her delicate chin propped up in one hand. I had turned to him with a reassuring expression, subtly gesturing for him to let me handle it.

'But,' I continued, idly splitting the shaped smoke clouds I'd blown out, 'the differences are even more obvious, if you ask me. For one, I do not desire to burn down Heaven and remake the ashes in my image out of...whatever Scratch is telling himself these days.' Taking a swig of my tea, lest my contempt cloud my judgement, I leaned back into my chair at the centre of the room. With the burning bitterness came clarity, as well as my tongue's promise to kill me at the first chance.

'Not to mention, my ego has never been enough to steer me as his does him,' I continued, crossing my legs before deciding to return to my dragon form. I coiled up on the seat, resting my muzzle on my paws.

My lovers, those who were awake, distractedly took in the change, though I noticed a few grins. Doubtlessly, they were reminiscing about the flexibility that came with this form, as well as its other qualities.

'The Devil would only raise a finger to help anyone if it amused him or improved his view of himself.' After considering for a moment, I added, 'Or if not doing so would be against his interests.'

As Hua nodded, stretching like a cat before settling onto her soft, warm belly, I held up a clawed hand. 'Since you broached the subject, anyway, I might as well tell you about the times we've spoken.'

* * *


It hadn't been long since we had felled the monster seeking to cast down the order of things. A god, mad in every sense of the word, but still capable of clinging to clarity that much? Impossible to distract, or dissuade...

I had heard about the clarity insanity brought, already. I hadn't experienced it myself, up to that point, not that I think I have, yet. Feel free to disabuse me of the notion that I possess reason, everyone...

I would go on to meet many such clear-minded souls, as well as madmen without anything resembling a spirit. But when I met Samael that day, his mind was as healthy as it was wholesome.

There was not a trace of impurity in his animus, and his corpus was as different from the appearance he tends to affect nowadays ac possible. He was pale, but not unnaturally so, with short yet wild white hair. His eyes also shone white - his actual eyes, not the bone0white flames that now fill his sockets.

And he was proud. Not arrogant, nor prideful. Those are flaws, even if they can be entertaining in moderation. He was proud of the Kingdom of Heaven he had helped build, after his father made the realm itself. He was proud of the siblings who had worked alongside him, who fought by his side whenever the beasts from the waters surged forth to attack his stretch of creation.

He was also grieving. Mourning, really, though quietly. I do not believe he has stopped, but it was more obvious, back then.

At first, I'd thought the circlet of white gold he wore was a crown. A statement of his status as Yahweh's heir apparent - we were all more optimistic before he fell, you understand. If he hadn't been so loved as a hero, no one would hate the villain he is now with the same passion -, but he quickly told me it was nothing to do with triumph, nor joy.

'You misunderstand, dragon of echoes,' he said, speaking not my name, but rather its meaning, after chuckling softly. With how much vicious pleasure he takes in proving people wrong these days, it's hard to believe he's the same angel. 'Look...'

I did, turning the circlet in my hands after he tossed it at me. We were sitting at the edge of a pond, in the middle of a pretty plain in Asia's heart. The place itself did it have anything to tie it to either of us, but we needed the peace. We needed the beauty, the sort of innocence we couldn't have found in a more extravagant location.

This was what we fought for, in microcosm. Undisturbed. Untainted by evil, mundane or otherworldly or alien. Nature, guileless and uncaring, callous without cruelty: as I lowered my eyes to the apparent crown, I saw a fish leap out of the pond, only to be snatched up by a passing bird. As it squirmed in the talons, tearing itself apart, I saw eggs fall from her parted stomach. Dead, but unlike their mother, before they'd even gotten a chance to live.

I told myself that sometimes, harmony did not allow for kindness. All things had their purpose.

I am not sure I believe that, anymore. But I digress.

As I slowly spun the white circlet, I saw name after name, many ending in -el. Fallen angels, I realised without needing to be told. You will be unsurprised to learn that the term meant something very different, back then. As my sense of order whispered that they must have fallen in battle, choosing to perish rather than return, I was inclined to agree with it.

I looked back up at Samael, whose six white wings surrounded him like attendants, covering his feet, hands and eyes. But I did not need to see them to understand his smile was sad. Tears rolled down his face like molten glass down a snowy mountain, catching the light and returning it to the world in all the colourful guises it could take.

The seraph took the roll of honour back without a word. He had returned to the position that came naturally to his Host, hiding his appendages and most of his visage. I am given to understand seraphim do this when they are feeling meditative, rather than bashful, as a human might have thought.

Samael, obviously, did not feel any shame sharing this silent tale of his fallen kind with me. He had simply drifted off, deep in thought. Curious about my reaction, perhaps.

'I am sorry for your loss,' I said finally, my voice feeling and wooden. 'I cannot pretend I understand: I do not have siblings, and my parents are both well.'

Samael embraced me, and I coiled around him in response, placing my upper claws on his pauldrons. 'I hope you never do,' he whispered. 'In this case, ignorance is bliss, Ying.'

I nodded, a motion that is awkward for dragons like me even when I am not feeling awkward myself, and patted his armoured shoulders. Samael placed the circlet on his snow-white locks with a self-deprecating laugh. "Look at me, getting all sad about them like I'm not wearing my brethren's names for everyone to see". That sort of thing.

It was a sad day for existence when Samael stopped being able to laugh at himself. Taking himself too seriously would be lamentable, even if his goals were less monstrous, but taking almost everything and everyone else as a joke was much worse. Especially for him, not that he'd tell you there's anything wrong with it. He does not, I suspect, see any problem.

But such things were yet to come. On that day, we were two warriors of Haven, though the realms we fought for were very different. Our desire for serenity might have brought us to a location like the one we were currently observing, but it had been the similarities between our personalities that had brought us together, specifically on that plain.

We were both happy, weary of war but unbowed. Both proud, of ourselves and our kindred, for what cause did we have to be otherwise?

We were both full of love, too.

Now, I see some of you in the back smirking. It's not what you think. As tacky as my tastes might seem sometimes, I have never desired the Serpent, nor has he looked at me in that way. I would be very happy if things stayed that way.

No. While Samael loved his family and the home they had wrought together, my own heart was less innocent. I had fallen for a beautiful dragoness, who, I believed, in my selfish ignorance, was meant for me. As though being comrades in arms meant being destined for each other...

I told Samael as much. He had revealed to me what angels I would never meet again, which could have been interpreted as an admission of weakness. I believed telling him about my crush - now, I know my love was unrequited, and poisonous besides - was harmless.

Samael grabbed shoulders (for I had switched to my human form in the meantime) in a warrior's grip, beaming. 'It is inspiring to know such scions of order can long for each other! I am sure your households will grow more prosperous than any that came before them, and far happier!'

Oh, Samael...I was so sure, too...


Our second meeting took place in less happy circumstances than the first, though compared to the third and fourth, it was positively cheerful. We were unable to appreciate that, for all our foresight: we were too busy pouting, boiling with rage as only slighted princelings could.

You know what was the most ridiculous part? Both Samael and I thought ourselves caught in the grasp of awesome, righteous rage against injustice. Absurd, in retrospect, but such are those who have not known enough hardship.

Samael began talking first, not bothering to ask what I was upset about or whether I wanted to vent. I did not care much, for my childish anger came from a source very similar to that of his, and I sympathised, damn me.

'You cannot imagine the discord that filled Eden when the clay puppets squabbled, like the apes they resemble,' Samael snarled, eyes angry with aimless anger. The object of his hatred was nowhere near, for we were in a plane between planes, as neutral as possible. 'What did they care for the distress of the beasts made to serve them - I'll return to that in due time - or that of me and my kindred?' The seraph's eyes roved across the grey, featureless expanse, an expression of distaste on his face, making his otherwise handsome features monstrous.

'It's all about them, for some reason, and all God will tell me is that He has great plans for them, though not what they are.' He lifted his hands to just below shoulder height, spreading his arms and his wings. 'He won't tell anyone else, either. What does it matter that we've fought and bled for fourteen billion years while He remained aloof, our ichor staining the waters golden? He has new toys to play with...'

'Ungrateful,' I growled, liking the look of his sneer, fool that I was. 'Would you believe my humours are unbalanced because of the same creatures? I don't know for sure yet, but I am sure my Tongdao is cheating on me with a human. What he promised her to lure her away, I cannot fathom. A guarantee he will always be weak enough for her to dominate, mayhap.'

'Aye,' Samael replied, nodding absently. 'Wherever they go, strife follows. And now, God tells me that the first man is to be given a new wife, and that the first woman was not so, and should not be spoken of anymore...' The seraph's form flickered as he groaned, showing a lidless eye surrounded by fire and burning wings. Then, the image was gone, and he turned to me. 'You should not let them cheat you out of what is yours. I am sure they want my kin's birthright, for they are as grasping as they are shameless.'

'I will kill him,' I swore, 'if my worries are founded.'

'Do just that, Ying,' Samael replied darkly. 'I am going to prove my father wrong. Mankind is too easily swayed to reign over all there is. I will show everyone that.'


I was in a dark place, and not just literally. Earth was still in its infancy, thrashing and writhing as cataclysms split its surface and made its insides churn. Appropriate, for I felt much the same. I hadn't met Yua yet, my darling fox; a great friend, though no longer a lover. I hope Kenji makes her happier than I could.

My exile had begun shortly ago, and my pride still ached, though I knew being sent away rather than tortured until I chose to die (or not. Eternal suffering was acceptable too) was far more lenient a sentence than almost anyone else would have received for my crime. At the very least, I knew I had been wrong to do what I had.

Satan wasn't. With his angelic aspect cast in a pit with no end or exit, his pride and wrath had taken over him, and he met me in his outraged aspect. The Beast considered himself the wronged party in the War in Heaven, as he still does, a righteous rebel banished by an uncaring, ungrateful father. That was, I think, when our friendship died, for we were no longer alike, and our differences were as irreconcilable as they were unforgivable.

'You are giving up, then?' the Prince of Wrath asked, in a voice as subdued as I have ever heard from him. It was still enough to blow out a human's ears. ' already have.' His tone became accusing as his snakelike eyes narrowed. I am told that, from a distance, one might mistake him for simply being red-skinned, but my eyes are keener.

It was like he had been flayed alive - and he had, in truth - and then either the skinless muscle had thickened, forming a skin-like layer, or the skin had grown back crimson. I could see his hide was uneven, varyingly dry and cracked or raw and weeping filthy ichor. It was thick in some places and thin in others, with small wounds that were nevertheless deep enough to expose bone. The Beast was affecting a worldlier aspect, I supposed.

'You accept the unjust punishment you were given,' Satan continued, contemptuous. 'Who could blame a being such as you for killing the human encroaching on your beloved?'

'I could,' I whispered hotly in response. 'And I do. As do my people.' I cocked my head, going for wry. 'But I do not see why you sought me. Do you not have to carve out a realm in that pit you've been forced to call home?'

Despite his growl, he did not strike me. He did not even issue threats - and if the first part was surprising, the second was shocking. Instead, he simply turned, gathering smoke and darkness about him like a cloak, and disappeared.


We were both more levelheaded during our fourth meeting. I had met the Heaven-Spurning Elder not too long ago, and he...had had put his new kingdom in order. As much as that word can be used to describe Hell. Still, he had the air of a betrayed, defeated warlord, wounded but unbroken, while I was brimming with good cheer.

To my surprise, that didn't piss him off - much. If anything, it seemed to amuse him that, after losing my home because of love, I had found it again in this benighted place.

'But enough of my headaches,' Lucifer said in an oily voice, having finished speaking about his fellow Princes of Hell and their Courts. 'Tell me about the kitsune.' His flaming eyes, though as cruel and vicious as I had grown used to, held a genuine interest. 'You seem to hold her dear.'

'I love her,' I replied, a hand to my chest. 'We fight together, and rest together, and make love. We make each other laugh. It might not be deep, but...' I stuck my pipe in my mouth, puffing thoughtfully. 'It is genuine. And it pushes me to go on.'

I honestly thought I would have given up many times, without Yua. Without her smile - gleeful or mocking, but always sweet - to return to, I might have just shrugged and succumbed to the wounds received from any of the infernal bastards I'd killed since my exile's beginning, instead of powering through.

But he didn't need to know that. It might have made Yua a target, and while the thought of her being harmed to get at me was appalling, the thought of her being in any danger, but especially because of me...I wouldn't have been able to live with myself, afterwards.

Ah,, no, I'm fine. something in my eye. I just...I think I should call her. After this. Catch up. She'll tell me I'm a stupid wimp, and that her family can take her of her if she can't, but...


Lucifer was pretty damn well pleased with himself during our fifth meeting, the bastard. I think he can't tell how annoying his laugh is, or he'd be sad more often. Both out of shame and precaution.

It was after...well. David Silva's book is edited, but just because you guys get some of the bits unfit for public consumption, doesn't mean I can tell you everything. It's for your own safety, please believe me. I'll make it up to you.

In any case, it was after a certain decision - which I took part in making - put our Keeper in danger. Let's just say we saw a chance to draw out an old monster by keeping Silva in the dark, then destroy the freak. It was pure bad luck, the way things unfolded. I take full responsibility for the failure, though he wasn't and isn't one of my agents. But we thought force would have made our enemy retreat, so I didn't go hunting myself, nor did my peers. We should have ended things bloodlessly, but it was not to be.

Lucifer found that fucking hilarious, but it wasn't just a Christian's suffering that had him grinning. As he took in my dour look and the fire crackling behind my fangs, he raised his hands in a mockery of a peaceful gesture.

'Easy, Ying. If you don't want to be angry at yourself, stop being a failure. It's much better than getting snippy with your betters.'

'Did you just come here to piss me off?' I asked, knowing the bastard would get pissy himself if I didn't look at him. Yahweh's motherless spawn are often like that, whatever their allegiance. Most can't shake off this feeling they're the most important person in the room.

We were at the edge of the Chinese coast. I was curled up, the waves coming up to m middle as they washed past to reshape the shore. Lucifer floated, too damned pompous to concern himself with nature, not that his ego would've allowed water to approach him.

'I helped bring him back, you know,' he eventually said, so offhandedly it took me a Planck time and a half to realise he was answering my earlier question. 'David.' His fiery orbs were meaningful as he looked down on me, in every way, I'd have bet. 'A certain understanding with God made sure I'd be given some of my father's power, to send the strigoi's spirit back to his body, while Yahweh guided Silva's zmeu to put him back together.'

'I'd heard,' I grunted around my pipe, puffing in annoyance. 'You want thanks?'

'Please, Ying...' he chuckled. 'You are too far beneath me to even look up at me. I do not expect you to shake my hand, much less praise me - not that you could.'

He was right. The former would have been effectively impossible, and the latter...well. I had my pride too, and I didn't treat with monsters like the Serpent.


We met for a sixth time not too long ago. Lucifer has changed. I suspect of what powers he has gathered within himself, and of what he seeks. The stupid soon of a bitch can vore every sleazebag he finds, if he wants - we'll still kill him if he oversteps his bounds. Unsurprisingly, he does not see things this way.

To hear him, you'd think we're all living at his whims, because he's merciful. The stolen power that's making his animus swell isn't doing anything to deflate his ego. Someone draw sparks on me to colour me shocked.

Lucifer had golden skin, dark eyes, and referred to himself using plural pronouns. He's never stopped believing himself creation's king in waiting, but this is a bit much, even for the skinned pigeon who sees polishing his own knob as an art.

He made threats, of course. Promises, too, though he'll most likely use that cliched quote about how he only makes the latter. He told me of how, after "they" took thee throne Yahweh was seated upon against all sense and reason, everyone would have to tread lightly, lest we invite retribution.

I could've told him many things. Of how I was, if not in Heaven's graces again, at least welcome home once more. How I, as Head of ARC's Drake division, I was one of the most powerful members of the Global Gathering, even discounting my personal power. I did not, because he'd have glossed over such things.

Instead, I asked him a question, which I knew still gnaws at that blackened, shrunken heart of his.

'Would this make you happy?' I asked softly, though my voice seemed to echo. 'Would you be content once you accomplished this?'

Slim eyebrows rose, as if he hadn't expected anything but to be lauded for the genius of a plan every tinpot dictator has made, in one form or another.

'Answer me, you cur,' I demanded. 'If you consigned your father to oblivion, and cast down a third of your family in flames, again, and condemned every human who believes in you to eternal suffering, would you be happy?'

My voice belied my hatred. I wasn't sure how I was speaking so calmly, myself. I can tell you his response killed any chance of me talking at all, however: had I remained, I would have spoken only through claw and fang and flame, and surging chi.

'It would soothe my rage, at least,' Lucifer answered calmly. 'Not that you would understand, Ying. You were betrayed, but you're content with your rutting toys. Certain your path of dragon turned sheepdog is true and worthy of being walked.'

As he spun, glaring at me with condescending pity, his words echoed in the air at the very edge of the atmosphere. 'That kind of certainty only comes from a leash and a blindfold...'

* * *

'So,' I told Hua with a lazy, one-eyed glance as she left to tend to her daughter, 'not that similar, all things told.'
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Strigoi Grey
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Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Sudestory: Witch of Bindings (I)

* * *

AN: This chapter is (mostly) from Sofia's perspective, as it is the first of a sidestory series focused on her character arc.

I expect the upcoming updates to be short (less than 10k words) as I advance storylines through sidestories. Chapters dealing with the past or things unrelated to the main universe at the moment are going to be canon apocrypha, mostly. There will be non-canon and less serious ones, to deal with what ifs or lighter topics, too.

* * *

The guards tell me I don't think like a child, anymore.

They're wrong, 'course. Grownups have this where, the dumber they're being, the more confident they are. Usually, dummies like the ones guarding me are also convinced they're right, despite all the stuff proving they're not.

They've come up with all these grafts and charts, crud like that, showing how much better I do at their tests than most kids my age would. They've also got these "diuh-grams", which just look like a buncha rainbow pies to me, but they say they show what parts of my brain are focused on.

Thing is, I'm not sure I'm smarter than other kids, really. I can think clearer, sometimes faster, I can focus on many things at once, but I think that's cuz of my magic.

Well, the parts of it that don't go away. I've got this collar on (it's lighter and softer than the first, so my neck doesn't hurt, it doesn't chafe) that keeps my magic quiet, and that makes me feel lonelier than anyone, no matter how many guards are around me.

David (he meets me in my dreams, 'cause he's important now, but he promised me he'll visit) tells me it's good not to think my magic makes me better than other children.

Well, I dunno about that, but it doesn't make me smarter, I don't think. I don't know more...I'm not sure I know more than them.

There are no windows in my cell. First Comrade told me this place is like a house for bad people, cuz they can't go back to theirs anymore, an' I started to cry, because I don't have a home to go back to, but I wanna go out, and-

Dang it. I don't like crying around the corpses. It makes me feel sick. There are two with me in the cell now, two vampires, and my eyes sting. I think they know already, so I turn to the wall, curlin' my knees up to my chest.

The wall is grey, like David. I think he could make me stop crying, but I'm awake, and he doesn't come. When I cry in my sleep, they give me these pills that don't let me dream, because I remember the fat strigoi. I never catch them doing it.

I'm angry, so I turn to glare at the vamps. I know they're not bad like the corpse who wears skinned faces, but they're dead, and their coldness almost feels like it's in my bones.

One of 'em's a slim woman with red hair, which she wears in a ponytail. I wish my hair was long enough for that, but they barely let me have curls. At least they didn't shave me bald like some said they should.

The other is one of those square men. You know, like the ones who make houses? They've got big chins and shoulders, like they're stuffed with bricks. He looks friendly, with his long brown hair and sleepy ox eyes, but I know better. He thinks guarding a powerless witch is dumb.

'Something wrong, Sofia?' Ponytail asks. Her voice is, uhh...lined? No. Measured? She sounds like she doesn't care, but she does. I can guess the shapes of the ripples on the surface of her mind. I don't need magic.

She's got a scarf not, not because it's cold (it's warm in the cell, and she's colder than the outside), but to hide where her dad bit her. She told me her dad is her mom, even though she calls her an old word for that. She also tells me she has three parents, but they don't know each other, and only one is her vamp dad. Mom.

Her throat isn't all scarred, like some vamps have. She's got this leathery, puckered circle, which she says she doesn't like. I think all of her is ugly, with her hatchet face. Maybe that's why Ox Eyes always stares at her back?

'She asked you a question,' Brick Face points out like a dunce when I don't answer. He doesn't catch me giving him a mean look, that I want them to leave. He's looking at Ponytail's pants again as she walks closer to me. I don't know what's wrong with them.

I clear my throat, cuz it always feels dry in here. I think it's the pills. They stop me from wetting the bed like I used to, so maybe they dry all of me up? 'Yeah, you're wrong,' I tell both, not sure if you say it like this. 'I asked you two to please leave after you say it's night. I can't sleep with dead people.'

Square Head sniggers at that, and Scarfie clicks her tongue at him. He has the face he makes before telling what she says are dirty jokes, which I shouldn't hear. Then why doesn't he shut up or go outside? Huh?

'And 'm tired,' I say, knuckling my eyes. This place is messing me up, 'cause I dunno when it's day and when it's night, and I always wanna sleep.

Circle Throat looks back at me, an' her eyes are like a cat's, but red. She tries to smile, and I can't tell why people who can't do it try. 'So, you would want living guards to watch over you as you sleep? We were hoping you'd gotten over...'

'You're so shy 'bout it like it happened to you!' I say in a high voice, and cross my arms. 'Yeah. Tell First to get here.'

Butt Face drops to one knee, and I scoot back on my bed. It's got one above me, with a ladder. There's no one there, but it feels good to have the bed above me.

'First Comrade was busy, which is why she asked us to stay with you. However, she should have some time now.'

'Yeah, well, go bite a fat neck,' I mumble, unsure what to say to vamps to be nice. They seem to like it anyway.

After they leave, but before First comes back, a wereseal looks at me from the door. She looks like a furry sausage on legs, and I laugh at her. She just stares.

I turn and get on my belly and look at the wall when the sausage gets boring, and fall asleep before First comes. I wake up with her sitting on the edge of my bed.

First is a big woman, which she says she is because her husband is smart and tiny. I don't know if she's joking about it, but she's larger than most men, with a deeper voice that's still a girl's.

She's got long blonde hair, prettier than mine, but that's because I can't grow it out. She's wearing this red thing that's many pieces but one under a long red coat, and black boots, like she walked through tar.

I sit up and don't hit my head on anything, and First smiles at me. She smiles prettily, not like boys do. When they do, it's still nice, but girl smiles make me feel warm more often. First smiles like a mommy, but she's old enough to be a grandma to grandmas, or so she says.

First has all teeth and her bumps don't sag, and I think I wanna be like that when I get as old as a grandma, 'cause I don't want my skin to get all long and wrinkly. But, I'm smart, so I'm gonna eat just a little and stay small and not have enough skin for it to hang.

'They told you I was running late,' First says meaning the vamps. 'I'm glad you managed to rest, anyway.'

'No dead eyes on me helped,' I say, and I sound angry at someone, but I don't know at who. 'Y'all can just ask living people to stay with me, ya know.'

She nods. 'We could. We were hoping contact with undead would help you begin to recover from your fears. Through exposure.'

I snort. 'That's stupid. The dead make me remember, but it's not their fault. I'm not scared of the dead I know aren't bad. It's just...'

'Undeath reminds you of that day. I understand.' First gives me a weird look, then says, 'You don't seem to mind David Silva, though.'

'Huh?' I ask, confused. 'David's not undead. He just looks and acts like he is, but he's more. Like God. More than God.'

'Be that as it may, you will, one day, have to face the fact there are many undead around you.' She shrugs, like it's something bad and it's her fault. 'It's just the world we live in, Sofia.'

I puff out my cheeks and mouth something rude. I think First cracks a grin, but I can't tell, cuz I can only see part of half of her face.

'I know. I can stay with them, but they gotta go when I need to sleep. I can't, with them.'

'We can make it so you don't need sleep,' First says, like she's talking 'bout pulling wings off a fly but doesn't know if she's gonna. 'We have the means.'

I look up at her, and my eyes feel wet. 'But I wanna sleep,' I say softly. 'It helps me forget, until I wake up.'

First nods. 'All right, then.' Then she turns to me, and gosh she's huge. Is her husband a tadpole? 'Cause otherwise why does she gotta be so big?

'I think we've beaten around the bush long enough, Sofia. I believe you have understood you were wrong, and that we can find an use for your talents, if you let us.'

I kick my legs, looking away. 'I'm not sure I can. You guys do less than you could.'

'Why do you say that, girl?' she asks like a teacher.

'Well, I went to school, you know, and you've given me all these books an' stuff, so I know all you can do.' I start ticking off my fingers, though I bet I can count to a bazillion if I try. 'The gee-gee gives people food and water and houses 'cause everyone agrees people need those, but not everyone needs those. Anyway...'

I rub my forehead, not sure how to say this. Some things are so simple in my head, but when I need to say them it's like trying to spit out my food but it's already in my tummy.

'So people don't get TVs and games and cars and stuff because they gotta get it themselves, so they work. That's dumb.'

First crosses her legs, and her boits are really shiny. I can see myself in them, and I look funny as two people. 'I know a lot of people who'd start crying if they knew you called the world they've set up dumb.'

She's talking like I said something funny, but I didn't, I said the truth. Still, my ears burn when she smiles, so I must be blushing. I'm embarrassed, because I'm not sitting that close to her, and I don't think she's that hot, anyway. She's dressed like we're in a blizzard, but she doesn't send heat at me like a stove.

'I've read that they do that because the world's in a, uh, tran...trins...a changing stage. Um...' I wrack my brain for the right words, but my hair itches like it does when I think a lot, so I scratch my head. 'Right. So the idea is that people are still trying to live like supernatural stuff isn't here, when it comes to some things.'

'Like luxuries?' First offers, cuz she's nice like that. It must help that she has a big heart to hold all she feels.

'Uh-uh. So there are a lotta dum-dums who say it's bad or pointless or so and so to have things you enjoy given to you, I mean besides food and drinks, but they're all sorries.'

First runs a hand through her hair. 'You mean excuses?'

'Yup. They're all stuff they say to hide the real stuff.'

'That people are clinging to outdated ideas and ways of life?'

I shrug. 'Well, they are. I've seen some side thingies, what do you call them, those colourful boxes with people talking in the edge of the page, and some say giving people what they want will make bad things that eat happiness stronger, but I think that's a sor-excuse, too.'

First sat up, turned around fully so she faced me, and squatted down. She was still taller than me, dangit. 'You're mostly right,' she says like she's in deep thought. 'I've had much of the same thoughts over the years, though they started long after I was your age. You're much smarter than I was for a long time.'

I gasp and wanna squeal but I don't, because Mommy told me big girls are quiet when they should be and I love her, even though she turned bad. I loved her when she was herself, and remembering helps.

'There is some nostalgia involved,' First goes on. 'Tradition, I suppose. I am not too attached to such things myself...' She trailed off, her steely blue eyes locking onto mine. Her voice changes when she talks again, like she's more than curious. 'How much do you know about me, Sofia?'

'Well, ah, you never got close to the people in charge, because they'd have made you do more than help people. Right?'

'Right,' she replies. 'My parents saw the writing on the wall when Lenin rose up, and picked the winning side instead of running. I did the same in World War Two, instead of fleeing into the forests or ending myself. I fixed tanks, even drove some.' She tapped her right knee with a finger. 'Killed monsters in human skin.'


'My point, Sofia, is that I come from a family of opportunists,' she says with a smirk like she's laughing at herself. 'As the Soviet Union grew after the stories came to life, I put my foot down, because I was a new woman by that point. Living on the borders, in every sense, didn't bring me any friends, but I valued those it did. I still do.'

Ach! She's gone rambly like all babas do, and I can't get away! Ummm... 'You were gonna say something,' I remind her, thinking maybe she needs her remembering pills or whatever nanas like her take to remember their glasses are on their noses (not that she has any). 'Before the story.'

'I'm getting there,' she says patiently, even though I'm the patient one because I'm listening to her get away from the point. 'So, because I was never close to any movers and shakers, I was able to form my own opinions on things. And, like I said, you're mostly right.'



'By which I mean that there are certainly factions holding onto outmoded ideals,' nooo, she's starting again... 'We - that is, the global paranormal law enforcement community - believe we could handle the consequences of Earth becoming a true post-scarcity world. A few of my acquaintances even believe the positive noospheric currents resulting from such a transition would help the world's inhabitants develop, that people would grow like never before if all their needs and wants were met - within reason.'

'Ok,' I say, blinking slowly to make sure I'm not missing anything, cuz dang does First talk like the world's biggest egghead, and thinks I'm one too. 'So why don'cha?'

She laughs, and it's a warm sound, because I feel my face heat up again, but I'm not embarrassed this time. 'Because, Sofia,' she answers, rising to her feet, 'a lot of people are scared of change, to one degree or another, and many of them are in charge of parts of the world. They can be eased into a better frame of mind, but trying to force them would just cause chaos, and no one would live well after that.'

I know what she's getting at. Forcing people to think the way you want to is bad, I get it. I'm not gonna do it again. Geez...

'Thank you for listening,' First says, and I notice her hands are bare, because she's pulling black gloves on now. Her hands are covered in pale scars and calluses like extra knuckles. I don't know what could leave her looking like this, and I don't waana find out. 'I believe this talk helped both of us.'

It's morning, but when First is at the door, I feel as tired as last night, for some reason. She promises they'll think about guard rotation again, but I'm not really listening.

That's not what I care about.

'First!' I call out after her, and she returns, stopping at the door to glance at me. 'I...I know what I said earlier, but I'll help. I can try...' I bite my lip. It's quivering, but I don't know why. I'm not crying. Or going to. 'I wanna get out. I can go with you guys and look into minds an' try to calm them, and, and!' I squeeze my eyes shut. They're throbbing. 'I want to stop being scared. Of corpses.'

First Comrade tells me she understand and will talk about it with her bosses. But the really good part comes when I go to sleep, with a couple polar werebears, all fluffy and beady-eyed like big plushies, watching over me.

I meet David, or he visits me. I don't know. I think we meet halfway, or it feels that way. The dreamscape looks like the middle of a bridge, and I know that's what it is, even though I can't see the ends of the bridge.

David smiles, and says he's sorry he hasn't visited me yet, but he will, and more and more often after. He says he has three jobs now, and I think that's why he dresses like a dad, with this suit and tie, all boring.

He says he's bringing someone he loves far more than himself along for the upcoming visit, and a some of his friends are gonna pass by in the future to teach me stuff.

He also promises he's telling First Comrade and her friends too, but I can talk about it with her too, if I wanna.

Finally, he asks me if I want him to bring me anything, and I ask if he can give me something like a guft, but not really.

After I explain, he ruffles my hair, and tells me what I want is a sort of gift too, but one he's more than happy to make.

* * *

David brings his "girl-friend" (I ask him why he calls her that, does he only have one friend who's a girl? They both laugh and tell me, no, it's not like that), which I'm told is like a wife before you promise to be friends forever.

Her name's Mia and she's like a human and a dragon, bigger and taller than First Comrade, and just as pretty. I like looking at her, but I know I won't grow up to be like her, 'cause she's a zmeu, with skin like those bronze coins we saw on the school trip to the museum, and eyes like molten rubies.

First, who was told all about this while I slept, is listening from somewhere beyond the cell with her friends. I don't care, though, cuz David and Mia are here. I don't know her, but I like him and he likes her, so she's gotta be nice, right?

'We can teach you some things ourselves,' David says, giving Mia a sidelong glance. She nods at him but doesn't look, because she's kneeling, which is like squatting for zmei, so she can look into my eyes.

Her hands are big and clawed and rough, but I'm not scared to grab them, because Mia holds me like I'm a newborn.

'Mia especially,' he goes on, and she winks at me. For a blink, I see an image of a woman, taller and broader than David, with skin like bronze and hair like fire, but eyes like Mia's. It's her, I realise, her as a human, dressed like a witch, with a pointy hat and staff and fa-mi-li-ars, even a cauldron!

I must be gaping like a fish as I look at her, because she chuckles while pushing my jaw up with one finger. She burns with power like the witch I see in my mind's eye sometimes, the one I could grow up to be, dressed in purple and binding everyone and everything there is.

'But,' David continues, and I try to focus on him, even though his girl-friend us magical like I wanna be, 'there are other things you'll only master by learning them from others. I know people who could teach you about life, not just magic.' He joins Mia, taking a knee beside her, like Mommy and Daddy did when we loved each other. 'If you will accept them.'

'Like the old man with the glasses and the ghost, and the mummy!' I say, remembering. 'You guys work at the same place, right?' I ask, looking at their black clothes with the white shields. Well, only David's tie is like that, like a coal surrounded by ash, but Mia's all in black and white.

'That's right!' Mia says, tail swishing behind her. I wonder if she always sleeps on her tummy, with her tail and wings. 'They're some of our bosses, and they wanna make the world better for everyone, Sofia. You can help.'

'Thanks!' I blurt out, then look around to make sure it's just us three in the room, though I know there are people listening around. 'Did you know all three of 'em are older than they look? Like First, who you'd think is a mommy but is like, a hag for hags.'

They look at each other, grinning, then back at me. 'We'll be sure to pass the comparison along,' Mia promises, and I feel caught, for some reason. Uh oh. Maybe it's because of her eyes. She's like those snakes that can stop mice with a look, and I could stare into her eyes forever.

The zmeu tousles my hair, standing up. 'But you be nice, alright Sofia? I know you're a good girl deep down, but some people don't, and you gotta be careful around them.'

'Someone should have noticed the upcoming disaster in advance and stopped by to help you with your magic,' David adds. 'Even so...I want to say you didn't know what you were doing, but you did know what your magic would do. Didn't you, Sofia?'

I look away from them, at the ground, and my voice cracks when I answer. 'Y-Yes. But I didn't know it'd take the whole village! I thought just...Mom 'n' Dad...'

'Even so,' David says softly. 'You knew you'd take over their minds. It's unfortunate you grew up how you did, Sofia, but forcing people to think like you is a very bad thing. It makes you worse than they were, and you deserve better than to mar yourself like that.'

He closes his eyes, for some reason, before straightening up, hands behind his back like some kids at school used to stand at the board. 'Now, I know you wouldn't do it again. What happened to the villagers is your magic's fault. You didn't know it'd overtake you, and anything it made you say or think after you broke free of its grasp, but before you recovered, is also nothing to do with you.'

David looks away, and he seems much older than I know he is. He doesn't meet my eyes when he talks. 'I'll talk to some friends, arrange a few...sessions. Be sure to be nice to them: they're going to help you as a favour to me, not because they have to.'

'Ok,' I reply quietly, feeling like there's a coiled spring inside me, like when I jump too high and get scared coming down. Then, rembering to be polite, I get off the bed and shake their hands (Mia has to crouch) and thank them for coming. 'Come again soon!' I try to hug their legs but don't manage fully, they're not standing close enough together and my arms are too short. 'I love you guys.'

Both of them stiffen at that, like I did when I was told I should eat less sweets cuz they're bad for my teeth and will make my mouth hurt unless I go to the dentist, who's the doctor with the scary tools.

But they get over whatever scared 'em soon enough, and David places a hand on my head, a warm look on his face. 'It's sweet of you to say that,' he says in an old, old voice that sounds like two.

'You're very chummy, ain't you kiddo?' Mia says, and I get scared a bit 'cause she sounds like the aunties who aren't mine (but grownups call them that. I used to see some in the village) who wanna pinch my cheeks and tell me how big I've grown, and Mia's very strong and has sharp claws. 'It's very nice you can grow attached to people that fast.'

She pats my cheek instead of pinching it, but I still whimper, because jeez, her claws are claws are so close to my eye.

They leave, again reminding me more people will probably visit, and I can't stop bouncing on my toes, but it's not all butterflies.

Because, before we talked about teaching me, they told me I'd have to come to terms with how I deeply hurt a boy, and how I was hurt by a monster who was still a man, in some ways.

I'd have to meet both, one day. And this time, Loric Szabo wouldn't be gone when I woke up.

* * *

'She meant that,' Mia said as we left, sounding bemused.

I dipped my chin in agreement, quickly moving away to the heart of Siberia for relative privacy, my zmeu following in moments. 'Yeah. Several visions I consulted suggested she'd grow to see us as...parental substitutes, I suppose.'

And see herself as our adopted daughter, the older sister to our own children. But that was far away yet.

'You're uncomfortable?'

My breath hissed out of me like steam from an old engine. Appropriate, given the resulting mist. 'How could I not be? Just picture all the nutjobs thinking I killed her parents as part of some scheme to groom her so she'd support me once she grew into the fulness of her powers.'

What do you care about their opinions, human? You know they are wrong, and lies cannot hurt us any more than delusions can. Those who speak against us have no truths. Besides, if you're so concerned about being seen as manipulating her, just pass her along to the Creed Ascendant.

Oh, great idea,
I tell my worse half, glaring inwardly. Pass the PTSD victim with apparent Stockholm Syndrome growing along to my cult cult of eldritch fanatics. That will definitely shut up the conspiracy theorists.

Exactly! So why haven't you?

The fact this guy was part of me didn't give me much confidence in my intelligence or sense of humour. That I couldn't tell whether he was joking or just denser than a neutron star was even sadder.
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Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
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Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Apocrypha: Building Bridges (I)

* * *
AN: a short story showing a glimpse of David meeting with various leaders on Earth, to go over his roles as DEATH's Keeper and guardian of creation. Begins after the fourth part of Aftermath, but can be read as having happened, still happening, or about to happen (in the near future, mind). This shows some highlights, but similar events took place over a longer period and had to be revisited when people wanted to amend something. Then there are less official leaders, movers and shakers he has to meet with, and most of them are not on Earth, or even concerned with it: there are many alien cultures without gods.

It also hints at other storylines, including Constantin's. On that note, before resuming the Silva storyline from Family Matters, I am going to post an apocrypha and another sidestory, so that the presence of a character Constantin referenced in the first chapter will make sense.

Currently planned stories (not in order of how I'll post them):
-DEATH's past Keepers, as well as Arvhek and the Eternal Empire he fought for before he became one, and how he gained his power of fundamental destruction
-Peretz and Yamada chapters for Family Matters
-Constantin meeting the character he told Mia about in the first chapter of Family Matters: Silva
-the reunion between Diego Cortez and the vampiress who turned him
-chapters showing Jim Bat, Randy, Breakout and Armament's backstories, as well as Clara and maybe the others in action in the present
-the meeting between the zmeu brothers, Bianca, Maws and the Underdweller. This might be split into two chapters, with one focusing on the zmeu brothers and Bianca and her sisters.
-chapters going over the pasts of several pantheons and characters connected to them: the Egyptian gods and Aya, the Olympians, Asterion and Typhon, the Aesir and Vanir, the powers of the Abrahamic religions, maybe others. These chapters will go over their pasts, current plans and ideas for the future
-Constantin and Christendom's reaction to God's Mouth
-Sofia's training and her teachers. I think the next chapter of Witch of Bindings will feature Miguel and Sklaresia. Also, I'll likely write one or multiple chapters featuring the Strangeguard agents who welcomed Aya, Elga and Gerald when they visited Sofia
-a chapter focused on Hex and Nacht's relationship, as well as those between Nacht and other Archetypes, especially Solarex
-apocrypha going over the universes of the Kharz family, Lhamshi, Neverwas/Thamryn and other alternate realities that will feature in the sequel
-chapters featuring the Heads coming to terms with their pasts and contemplating their future
-Chapters featuring Grey One reintegrating into the Multitude, Scorn and his relationship with the Flesh That Flays, maybe the Xhalkhians
-chapters featuring alien civilisations and locations that have only been referenced up to this point, such as the Starwheel Coalition, the Xoantites, Grandia, Xenobia, the Alien Realm, as well as smaller Powers
-chapters introducing both characters who have been appeared or been mentioned before and some who haven't: the Idea of Fear (and the Bogeyman, Daymare and the Feared, who are its children, as well as the Scarefiend, who is not), Kalodiosi, Doctor Plague, Knotwork, Prince, Black Mantle, Tellus and the Tellurian Titan, the Golden Guardian, the Power That Is, the Witch of Love, the Justice Undead (who will, appropriately, feature in the Justice is Undead storyline), the Wrath Kindled, and others. Everyone mentioned after Plague, besides Tellus, is an ARC agent, by the way. The other thing they have in common is that they hate Prince, but to be fair, he's the only person who doesn't. Most of the time.
-chapters dealing with lighter topics: what ARC agents do when they aren't busy (most of them are observers, some without inherent powers, who keep track of their communities and inform the agents who actually use that intel), slice of life stuff from across the macrocosm, and so on.

I might be forgetting some at the moment, mind.

* * *

Mary Anne Simmons had always known she was, by any reasonable standard, a privileged person.

She had been raised by the greatest mother in the world, in her humble opinion, and by loving (enough) grandparents - and only the latter had voiced anything against the circumstances of her birth. Breakout had kept her, child born of rape that she was, despite all the advice to abort or seek an orphanage.

Becoming president of the United States had been a matter of competence and, to a degree, luck. Her mother always reminded her not to sell herself short: no matter how many people were wary of offending Clara Simmons by acting against her daughter, becoming POTUS as a black, agnostic woman, and a paranormal at that, had been an accomplishment.

Any of the first three would have been enough of a reason to vote against her for some people, but the fourth had convinced many. Her mind always came back to those ridiculous complaints, voiced mostly by people who couldn't or wouldn't see the writing on the wall.

The prejudices from before the Shattering only lingered at the borders of civilization, and then in vestigial forms-in most cases. But that didn't mean they were completely gone. Funny how vocal the grumbling about her age had been. She was, she supposed, not white and male enough.

To have existence almost end during her presidency had been an unhappy coincidence, but at least no one was blaming her, the pagans or the atheists for that. Points for novelty.

People often asked many how she could not believe when the gods were plainly real, and powerful, and helped their worshippers. Usually, after saying not praying wasn't the same as not believing, she smiled at the last part, pointing out how transactional it felt. It was an open secret that many worshipped for the benefits, even if paying lip service only brought minimal ones. No true faithcraft, a few outliers aside.

Not to mention how being able to see and speak to the gods whenever soured one's view on them. The Olympians' proclivities, the sacrifices once demanded by many pantheons...those were, to be blunt, chump change compared to the mass slaughters so many deities had performed or caused over the ages. But no one seemed in a hurry to try them, much less punish them. The excuses varied from the gods having redeemed themselves through divine intervention to damage their Clusters' cosmological structures couldn't risk.

Mary believed the reason was simpler, if aligned, to a degree, with the first type of excuses: people didn't want those they liked to suffer. The amount of times she'd seen people praising mass murderers for "taking the law into their hands" (mostly by killing those the speaker disliked) never failed to make her roll her eyes. She thought she even remembered one trial...yes, one trial with women pleading for this serial killer not to be sentenced because he was beautiful.

Honestly, the whole thing had been so stupid she'd forgotten most of it out of self-defense.

Dealing with the pantheons, especially their leaders, was tiring at the best of times, because they acted like they'd die if they approached you innocently, immortality be damned. A remark was so rarely what it seemed, no matter how informal the context. The latest celebration, involving powerful players from all across the world and its associated realms, had been no exception. She'd refused a handful of law gods who'd promised they'd find a way to make her president forever, if only she started praying to them, and then there had been all the offers for sex.

At least the guest she was expecting wasn't an utter piece of shit. Just, from what she'd heard, a man trying to make the best out of the bad situations he kept finding himself in.

David Silva had told her and her peers, at that party, that he'd like to visit officially and hash out agreements regarding the pursuit of his duties in their countries. As DEATH's Keeper, he had said, he'd sometimes have to be seen taking away godless souls, or putting down threats to the cycle of life and death-or to existence as a whole, in his role as guardian of creation.

Despite herself, Mary had found herself having no reason to doubt his claims. They'd all felt his power, as well as those of the beings who'd added theirs to it, and one of them was the closest thing to the idea of the almighty they'd ever known.

Mary only hoped she'd be able to trust his intentions, because he could pursue any aims he wanted with power like his, not just those he'd claimed.

A Secret Service agent told her Silva was about to enter almost at the same time he knocked, escorted by two others. The president found herself fighting a smile at the quaint gesture. Her mother had habits like that, so that it was easy to forget the godlike being she was without seeing her fighting.

David Silva was dressed in a dark gray two piece suit, with a tie of the same color and a lighter gray shirt underneath his jacket. He had, she noted, absolutely noting signifying he worked for ARC, and she somehow doubted he, Reem or anyone else considered this an undercover mission.

Mary stood up with her practiced smile, stepping around the Hayes desk to shake his hand. Silva didn't look like he was about to return the gesture, and she distantly thought it was a good idea as her phone rang at the last moment.

Ordinarily, she would have refused this, emergency call or not, but other heads of state could call her even if her phone had no power. It was a security measure, to make sure the faces of the Global Gathering could always communicate.

Mary looked down at the frowning visage of her Chinese opposite number. Fu Zhang had one of those kind of faces that meant he looked thoughtful even when relaxed which was not often.

Her smile became sheepish as she raised her eyes to Silva, only to see the corners of his mouth turn upwards, showing a little fang. "Would you mind if I took care of this first? I'm sure it will be brief."

"No doubt," Silva replied, eyes twinkling, and she had to remind herself he was young enough to be her kid, and that he liked to act like one.

The president nodded, subtly gesturing for the Secret Service to entertain their guest for a while, as she entered a side room.

Fu started speaking the instant she accepted the call, not bothering with pleasantries, which was new. Almost the opposite of that time he'd insisted on a tea ceremony for minutes, before she'd convinced him it really wasn't necessary.

"Did the strigoi ambush you in the bathroom too?" he asked, words clipped.

Mary blinked at the bluntness. Fu, she suspected, had changed his name upon entering office, to reflect his success and reach, as he was a powerful person who dealt with foreign affairs. The Chinese were led by a council, but from among the Ministerial Assembly, he, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, was effectively their leader when dealing with outsiders. He was versed in everything from education to military matters, as the job demanded, and always the one collaborating on international projects from China's end.

It was hard to reconcile the muttering, youthful-looking old man, always so concerned with everyone being courteous, with the caller...but she understood. Fu got difficult when you interrupted anything he thought solemn.

"What?" she asked, more than a little amused. "Did he barge in while you were relieving yourself?"

"He certainly did not!" Fu said sharply. "For I would have thrown him out, no matter how strong he is. There are things, you understand, things a man must do alone."

"I see. How did this happen, then?"

The Minister grumbled. "One of my assistants took my words to Silva - that he could trouble me at any time, for we had discussed he could - and, after twisting them like they were a gymnast, told him that no, I wouldn't have any problem with him entering uninvited."

"And you did."

"I was bathing!" Fu said defensively. "Nothing to be seen, of course-"

Mary snickered. "Of course."

"Be serious, miss. I was up to my neck in water. Anyway, there was nothing to be seen, though I'm sure Silva's marvelous senses can peer through anything, and that he had known how the discussion with my aide would go in advance, and did so anyway."

"Ah." Mary leaned against the wall, head almost brushing the ceiling. "Yes, several of my experts agree his perception is timeless. Why do you think he did so, then?"

"Why, to show he has no fear of making me, or people like me, uncomfortable, if it gets him what he wants. It was a masterstroke, really, and required no words, in truth, though we spoke."

"...Forgive me, but I'm fairly sure Silva did that because he thought it would be funny."

"Do not underestimate his Machiavellian intellect, Miss Simmons!" She had the sense Fu was wagging his finger at her, as if she could see him or care if she did. "He knows it is good to be both loved and fear, and there are few things that can scare a man like being approached while laid bare-"


"You know what I mean." He mumbled something about phrasing and how clunky English was, before continuing, "See, this was like when you are in a public bathroom, and another man crossed the gap separating you to relieve himself, despite all the alternatives."

"I dearly hope it wasn't like that, Fu."

"Well, not literally." A pause. "But it felt so."

As the silence stretched between them, Fu cleared his throat, determined to break it. "Anyway. Silva and I spoke once I was done cleansing my body as my duty cleanses my spirit, in my office."

Mary smirked up at the low ceiling. "Did you wear that tacky bathrobe?"

"Not that it has any bearing on this discussion," she imagined him with his hands on his hips, scowling fiercely, "but I will have you know it is gorgeous. I have been informed I look like a bee in it, and isn't that a beautiful compliment? The bee is a wonderful insect, bringing sweetness into the world and only fighting to defend itself and its kin."

Since they'd compared him to a wasp when he'd been younger, but already fond of that black and yellow thing, Mary thought it was more likely those people had been cracking jokes about his weight. But she wasn't about to point it out.

"Silva didn't stay long. He was charmed by my hospitality, of course-" Of course. And his modesty, no doubt, "-but I had already, with the help of my gracious colleagues, crafted a contract for him to sign, detailing the relationship China desires with the Keeper of Endings." Lowering his voice, Fu added, "He told me he dislikes visiting as much as being visited, barring a handful of exceptions. He seems a very private man, to me."

"That is very interesting," Mary replied, not quite sure she was lying, "but he is here at the moment, and I need to discuss with him. To answer your original question, no, he didn't approach me when I was indecent." That would've been beyond inappropriate. Besides, from what files she'd read, and their own short talk at the party, Mary thought Silva found few things as mortifying as making a woman uncomfortable.

"Ah," Fu said. "He did not. Then..."

Feeling he was about to start talking at rather than to her, Mary said her goodbyes and returned to the Oval Office, once again apologizing for having to leave.

"No problem, ma'am,' Silva said, raising a hand. He'd already seated himself, she was. "We can't always do what we want, when we want."

He'd never get far into politics with allusions this obvious, but perhaps it was a good thing he wasn't interested at all. Someone as honest and powerful at him would likely react poorly to people who weren't.

"Indeed," she replied smoothly as he rose to take her hand. For a moment, she thought he was about to kiss it as he looked down at it consideringly, but he instead returned her handshake. Mary then made her way back behind the desk, sitting down. "Would you like anything?"

"To get this over with, ma'am. I'm sure you have business I'm keeping you from."

Gods, she wished she had more guests like that. It might even result in something vaguely resembling free time. "Of course," she said, clasping her hands on the desk, thumbs together. "I assume you have a proposal?"

David nodded, but his eyes seemed distant. When the focus return, it was almost like a white flash lit up the dark orbs. The strigoi's expression was fierce, but not...violent. If anything, he resembled her mother, when Clara set out to improve the world. "I do," he said in a gentle voice that belied his appearance. "But..." he placed a hand on his knee, briefly looking away. "First, I want to make sure you know what my duties actually entail."

"An explanation would be welcome," Mary said, "but I think I already have an inkling. Guide the souls of the godless dead to the aether, making sure they are rewarded and punished in accordance to how they lived. Stop those who seek to pervert the cycle of well as existential threats."

"You seem unsure in regards to the last thing. I can assure you, it is one of my responsibilities."

Mary did not try to hide her bemusement. "I have been informed agent Fixer has retired," something Silva definitely hadn't had a hand in, she was sure, "so the embodiment of creation's desire and ability to stabilize and go on is no longer fighting. But is the Nightraiser stepping down too?"

"Ah." Silva snapped his fingers. "Nightraiser technically has that job, too, though their remit is...narrower." He smiled self-deprecatingly. "Mind, despite who thought them up, these positions aren't really well-defined. Omniscience doesn't make you eager to explain yourself, apparently."

She waited for him to go on, and he crossed one leg over the other. "Nightraiser is called upon-well, not literally, it's more like something they feel rather than a notification or anything of the sort-to excise infectious influences from beyond creation, mostly. Or, even when it's not something focused on assimilation, to destroy it so thoroughly it had never existed to become known."

"And that is difference from what you do?"

"Oh, yes," Silva purred, all grinning with all fangs. "I make examples."

Mary fought down a shudder. It should have been ridiculous, not intimidating, but she'd felt the menace in her bones, for all it hadn't been directed at her. "I admit, there is something I do not understand. I hope you can enlighten me."

"I would do likewise, ma'am, but I'm pretty sure I'm dumber than you."

She laughed silently. "If you say so." Becoming more serious, she leaned forward, resting her elbows on the desk. "DEATH's Keepers, as far as we can ascertain, have been secretive until now." He was the first publicly known one. "I am confused how this can be so."

"Because, if so many souls go to them instead of any gods, surely someone must have heard of them and spread the information?"

"You can't tell me it hasn't happened."

"Oh, it could have, without DEATH being so obsessed with keeping things lowkey. But it's an old duty, and the previous Keeper accepted it long before our universe came into existence. He quit shortly before I replaced him."

"Are you saying your patron purposefully deflected scrying attempts?"

David's amusement was as sardonic as it was plain. "If everyone thought that, once you go to the aether, you're punished or rewarded as you deserve, seemingly automatically, people had a reason to believe creation was fair, if not kind. A mindless place, administering justice by itself? And you didn't even have to believe in anything. Salvation without religion. Many were given hope by this certainty."

"Then why go public?" Mary asked, not bothering to hide her skepticism. "Because you wanted to and could?"

David bowed his head at the sarcasm, a hand over his chest. "Thank you for saving me from having to be brief, ma'am."

Ha. But it wasn't like anyone could tell him no, so... "Then, in return, I must thank you for your sincerity."

"You're welcome. Also, DEATH knew that, if people knew what being its Keeper meant, if I did, I couldn't have been prepared to take up the position." At her curious look, he elaborated. "My trainers, if you will, knew that, if I'd been aware of being shaped for something, I would have failed. Broken under the pressure, refused, looked for alternatives."

"And everyone would have died," she said, hoping she didn't sound as hoarse to him as she did to her own ears.

David's eyes were sympathetic. "I can never redeem myself for almost letting that happen, but I will do everything I can to make this world, and all others, a better place." He tapped the edge of the desk a few times with a clawed finger. "Not so resolute, but maybe I'm just too strong." He smirked boyishly, then turned serious once more. "You know, there are people-most of whom end up hunted down by me, but not all-who claim that I can't judge anyone who doesn't want to, at least, destroy existence, because I'm not better than them."

What a load of horseshit. By that logic, no nation could condemn another, because everyone had committed some atrocity at one time or another. "I don't believe you need me to explain that is nonsense."

"Of course not. It's easy to the abstract." He rubbed his face with both hands, sighing. "But my guilty side wants to agree with them, sometimes."

Mary licked her lips, only now noticing how dry they'd gotten. "Let me give you some advice I think you'll appreciate, Mr. Silva. Free of charge."

"Thank you."

Mary raised one hand, thumb, index and middle finger together. "Whatever lies people say about you, as long as they don't affect how you are treated, shouldn't concern you. Even when they hurt because you know the truth. Look at me. Half the people who hate me think my mother has America hostage, and pretend they're forced to go along with her-unvoiced, mind-orders, by electing and following me."

David bit his lip. "I've been hearing similar things, though most were directed at me. People saying I have my boot on creation throat and I'm choking the freedom out of them-yes, it sounded ridiculous to me too. Like something straight out of a tyranny-themed porno." He held up his hands. "They're saying they can't live how they want, because they know I'm there, and the moment they do something I disagree with, I'll force them to stop."

"People who feel enslaved because someone stronger than them exists will never be free, because they are poisoned by their fears and caged by their minds."

"Huh. Cool quote."

"It's from that show with my mother in the caped outfit. One of the few things she'd never do in public, besides playing herself." Mary showed her teeth in a brief smile, which David returned. "Luckily for the fans, she has enough lookalikes."

"Unluckily for her temper..."

"Those things tend to come together, Mr. Silva." She crossed her arms, glancing through the small portion of the windows not hidden by a curtain. She'd find a metaphor there if she looked, she was sure. "My point is, you have no reason to fear you're acting like a tyrant. You're even building afterlives for ghosts too confused to even shapeshift, and helping them remember themselves by giving them paradise. I know for a fact that's not in your job description."

She stood up, walking to the windows, one hand behind her back, at her waist, the other held out. "And I imagine that, unless someone tries to rip open the fabric of existence, you're not even going to look in the direction of their policies." She half-turned to look at him. "If you didn't care about laws, you wouldn't have asked for permission to operate in sovereign states."

David laughed bitterly. "Fat lot of good that does to every child slave I'm not freeing. And I don't just mean here on Earth." He hung his head, staring at nothing. "With how I find a new monster to kill or barrier to break down when I think about them, I'm tempted to believe the Mover wants me busy. Maybe everything's a soap opera to it, and it doesn't want the drama to stop."

"Have you asked it about this?"

"It cheerfully informed me that suffering is sometimes needed to grow, and that there are saviours lesser than me who must earn their names," the strigoi said acidly, then shook his head. "I'd make everyone happy if I could, you know. My strigoi side-you must've heard of them-sometimes urges me to do it, so we can then focus on anything not requiring altruism. I don't think it's even joking."

"Many would be offended to find your ideals of what is good imposed on them," Mary said mildly.

"Trust me, I have checks on my power. One's flashy, one's not, and both are talkative. And those are just the big ones."

"Creation could do worse. Breakout informs me that none of the previous Keepers' morals would have been...palatable, to most of our world's inhabitants." She turned to him with a light smile. "At least we didn't end up with a half-ape caveman chieftain, or a Bronze Age warlord, being given effectively endless power." She spread her hands, tone becoming a little ironic. "Instead, we got a mild-mannered man born in Romania during the late twentieth century."

"...Can you...not make my childhood sound like a historical period? Please and thank you."

"Spoken like a true child of the nineties," she said in a sagely voice, then clapped her hands, rubbing them together. "Shall we get down to business, David? Not that anyone could resist if you insisted on something-"

"I told you, my power isn't as absolute as it seems. Your mother alone could put up a fight for however long she wanted."

That information was interesting enough Mary didn't even mind the interruption. Her heart warmed with pride for her mother.

"-but," she continued, not missing a beat, "I am not opposed to letting you pursue your duty within the borders of the USA. Really...the only difference between now and DEATH sending its Keepers to whisk away the departed in secret is the transparency."

"I don't think even I'm thin enough for that," David quipped as she returned to the Resolute desk, making her chuckle.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
User avatar
Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
Posts: 191
Joined: 2023-03-12 11:55am
Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Lore: Human/Paranormal hybrids

* * *
AN: The next substantial update will likely be Family Matters: Peretz. I'm working on my other projects, but SS is not on hiatus.

* * *

Despite what some paranormals might believe, most hybrid paras are not the result of humans being easy, degenerate sex fiends, or hellbent on removing paras from existence by outbreeding them and replacing them with more humanlike offspring. Rather, it is more of a coincidence, inasmuch as such things can be.

The truth is that mankind is more pliable, in this regard, than practically any paranormal species, leaving aside those specialised in picking up the traits of other species. In most cases, mages and psychics are human enough (leaving aside those who have altered themselves to inhuman levels, or become liches) that the only difference between them and mundanes having children is taht the child will have a chance of being magical or psychic.

Most paras' genetics and metaphysical equivalents are resistant enough that if, for example, a dragon were to have children with a Fae, they would either be one or the other. On the other hand, a human having children with a Fae results in demifae, who often share their Fae parent's powers but not the weakness to iron (or, if they do share the latter, it is diminished, leaving painful but healable wounds). However, since demifae usually lack the hyper focused minds of their Fae parents, they prefer to stay away from Fairie, where they would be seen as insane.

The most famous type of human/paranormal hybrids are likely demigods, who are born from the union of humans and deities. Demigods vary wildly in terms of abilities, but usually inherit a fraction of their divine parent's power. Even so, some are effectively mundanes with uncanny luck or insight, not even exceptionally long-lived. The descendants of demigods, sometimes referred to as godlings (though a certain American writer of children's literature, beloved by struggling paras and their parents for his series' focus on young paranormals integrating into mundane society, has suggested the term legacies), are usually weaker than their parents, though the amount of ichor in a demigod's veins is not always an indicator of power. Many of these children pick up other abilities by chance, to the point their diminished divinity is a facet of their powerset. It is debatable at which point a demigod's descendant lacks enough ichor to be considered divine, as this seems to vary by person.

Some paranormal species have little to no issue interbreeding with humans, Fae and dragons being the most famous examples. Others can have children with humans, but they resemble one of the parents rather than being hybrids. Zmei, iele and the majority of fertile paranormals are in this category. Weres technically are, but, as the children of weres are born humans when they don't inherit the other parent's traits, they have human children have the time, regardless of their partners' nature.

Undead are unable to have children. People who say this could easily be changed through faithcraft often hear counterarguments that the bareness brought by undeath is the result of a divine curse, cast for reasons varying from punishment to the safety of the world. In any case, the pantheons have been closemouthed on this subject. The analysis of future possible timelines and alternate realities has discovered the existence of human/undead hybrids, with dhampirs being the most numerous. Dhampirs are half-human, half-vampire, sharing their vampiric parent's power, though not their thirst for blood or the weakness to sunlight, as they can use their esoteric abilities in broad daylight with no issue. Also, while they do not need to drink blood, doing so makes them more powerful, like it would a vampire. The weakness to holy power remains, with some saying this is only natural, as the fruits of such unholy unions do not deserve to exist.

Recent events, however, point to DEATH's Keeper planning to find a way around the undead's inability to reproduce. David Silva's comments indicate that this research began for personal reasons, though, even if he did not want to help other undead have children to, he could not prevent it, as the changing of this fact of existence would affect all of them.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
User avatar
Strigoi Grey
Padawan Learner
Posts: 191
Joined: 2023-03-12 11:55am
Location: Romania

Re: Strigoi Soul(Original Urban Fantasy)

Post by Strigoi Grey »

Lore: Human/Paranormal hybrids

* * *
AN: The next substantial update will likely be Family Matters: Peretz. I'm working on my other projects, but SS is not on hiatus.

* * *

Despite what some paranormals might believe, most hybrid paras are not the result of humans being easy, degenerate sex fiends, or hellbent on removing paras from existence by outbreeding them and replacing them with more humanlike offspring. Rather, it is more of a coincidence, inasmuch as such things can be.

The truth is that mankind is more pliable, in this regard, than practically any paranormal species, leaving aside those specialised in picking up the traits of other species. In most cases, mages and psychics are human enough (leaving aside those who have altered themselves to inhuman levels, or become liches) that the only difference between them and mundanes having children is taht the child will have a chance of being magical or psychic.

Most paras' genetics and metaphysical equivalents are resistant enough that if, for example, a dragon were to have children with a Fae, they would either be one or the other. On the other hand, a human having children with a Fae results in demifae, who often share their Fae parent's powers but not the weakness to iron (or, if they do share the latter, it is diminished, leaving painful but healable wounds). However, since demifae usually lack the hyper focused minds of their Fae parents, they prefer to stay away from Fairie, where they would be seen as insane.

The most famous type of human/paranormal hybrids are likely demigods, who are born from the union of humans and deities. Demigods vary wildly in terms of abilities, but usually inherit a fraction of their divine parent's power. Even so, some are effectively mundanes with uncanny luck or insight, not even exceptionally long-lived. The descendants of demigods, sometimes referred to as godlings (though a certain American writer of children's literature, beloved by struggling paras and their parents for his series' focus on young paranormals integrating into mundane society, has suggested the term legacies), are usually weaker than their parents, though the amount of ichor in a demigod's veins is not always an indicator of power. Many of these children pick up other abilities by chance, to the point their diminished divinity is a facet of their powerset. It is debatable at which point a demigod's descendant lacks enough ichor to be considered divine, as this seems to vary by person.

Some paranormal species have little to no issue interbreeding with humans, Fae and dragons being the most famous examples. Others can have children with humans, but they resemble one of the parents rather than being hybrids. Zmei, iele and the majority of fertile paranormals are in this category. Weres technically are, but, as the children of weres are born humans when they don't inherit the other parent's traits, they have human children have the time, regardless of their partners' nature.

Undead are unable to have children. People who say this could easily be changed through faithcraft often hear counterarguments that the bareness brought by undeath is the result of a divine curse, cast for reasons varying from punishment to the safety of the world. In any case, the pantheons have been closemouthed on this subject. The analysis of future possible timelines and alternate realities has discovered the existence of human/undead hybrids, with dhampirs being the most numerous. Dhampirs are half-human, half-vampire, sharing their vampiric parent's power, though not their thirst for blood or the weakness to sunlight, as they can use their esoteric abilities in broad daylight with no issue. Also, while they do not need to drink blood, doing so makes them more powerful, like it would a vampire. The weakness to holy power remains, with some saying this is only natural, as the fruits of such unholy unions do not deserve to exist.

Recent events, however, point to DEATH's Keeper planning to find a way around the undead's inability to reproduce. David Silva's comments indicate that this research began for personal reasons, though, even if he did not want to help other undead have children to, he could not prevent it, as the changing of this fact of existence would affect all of them.
My original stories:viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171108&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=171110&sid=d8a62d5d ... d23db4c4c8
Stories I'm co-writing over on Spacebattles: Halloween Knights;Tales from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ;Memories from the Halloween Knights (Anthology) ; ... s.1039239/ ;Dragon Slaying for Dummies Apocrypha
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