(Sorry Illy. I got carried away)
Dalsh counted the seconds he fell, watched the little box of light become smaller and smaller, closing his world in darkness. He'd expected to fall into a pool of sewage, or at least water. He hit neither, what connected with his back was something considerably harsher. Dalsh felt his spine snap and shatter as he slammed into something, he wasn't even sure what it was. Perhaps it was a pillar, or another pipe, it may have even been a wooden beam built and used by those who lived in these detestable surroundings. To anyone listening, it would sound like another corpse being dumped from the eyes of guards. Some poor fool who fell on the wrong end of a better blade.
His body tumbled, still falling. He finally found the ground just a few seconds later, with his right shoulder. More bones gave way to pressure and strain, snapping like dry twigs as the nythren finally ended his decent in a ragged heap on a wet, stone floor. Dalsh wasn't quite sure how badly he was hurt. That was the whole point of pain for any normal creature. Pain let one know what was wrong, where it was hurt. To force an injured body part could very well compound the damage. Splintered bone would cut into muscle, blood could pool in the wrong places, it was a perfect natural evolution. Dalsh didn't have it.
On many occasions that was good, he supposed. Being run through the heart with a sword was hardly an issue, except now his heart didn't work and his blood would stagnate. That would certainly be a very big issue. At least he wasn't moaning in agony, that was something. Dalsh didn't move for some time, lying where he was as he let his mind think and his senses spread around him. It was very dark, but even here the mysterial currents flowed. In similar ways a bat used sound, Dalsh closed his eyes, letting the mysterial waves wash over everything around him, sending pulses back that gave him a rough idea of where he lay. There were sounds of water, dripping, sloshing, but nothing alive.
Reaching out his left arm, Dalsh gauged its usefulness. It wasn't broken, from what he could tell. If there were fractures, weaknesses in the bones, the pesky dead pain sensors wouldn't give a damn enough to tell him. He flexed each finger, testing his wrist and shoulder joints, extending his elbow. His left arm and hand seemed in perfect working order. Which, he feared, would not reflect on the rest of him.
He tried to move his right arm, and could feel weaknesses in it from the second he curled his fingers into a fist. His wrist worked fine, but when he moved his shoulder, Dalsh could feel bone crunch and grind against each other. Until he could better see, Dalsh opted to tuck the arm close to his body, he would rather not end up losing any of his parts here. While he could continue to move with seriously injured limbs, if the muscle structure was severed, he would be unable to use it.
"Death," he whispered to himself, his voice sounding as if it boomed in the quiet tunnels. "How it has ruined, and improved me."
Using his left arm, Dalsh pushed his body into a sitting position, feeling crushed vertebrae in his back. Damage to his skeletal structure would slow him down, create weaknesses in balance and fluid movement, but it would take much more to stop him. His legs would still respond. As long as everything was still attached or with his body, he was fine.
However, to heal these injuries, Dalsh needed to find a souled creature, something to feast upon. And for that, he staggered to his feet, limping from some weakness in one of his legs, and began a weary walk through the tunnels. Keeping his eyes closed, he let the mysterial guide him.
"Hurry everyone, we need to split up! Take what you don't want to lose and scatter! There's guards coming!" The voice woke the few sleeping, who snapped to with surprise. Like ants, the camp broke apart, taking the few glowing wands they shared. Out of habit, they split in pairs or small groups, scurrying like rats through the tunnels.
"Eric, what's going on?" a small voice whispered by the eldest, the leader's side.
"Hush, Yana, we have to move now. Get Korivk."
He held a wand aloft, the tip glowing bright enough to light their little ramshackle home. A tiny dvergr girl ran for a nest of straw and rags, grabbing a ragged trill doll and clutching it to her chest.
Eric, a teenage sireel, grabbed her hand and pulled her down one tunnel none of their group had taken. This was something their gang had drilled for. Guards would patrol once in a while when a body was discovered at a sewer runoff. Never did they venture here unless with some reason.
"Erriiiic," the girl whispered, looking up at him as they ran. "Where are we going?"
"They are saying a ghoul attacked some guards up top," he replied quickly, remembering the bits of conversation he'd heard from the irritable group of men. "It escaped down here, no one knows where it is. They want to catch it and find out who made it."
Yana sucked in air through her teeth. "Oohh, that's so bad, isn't it? Eric, why is it bad?"
He pulled them through several tunnels, taking turns almost in random. "It's bad because ghouls are illegal, and they brought Inquisitors with them. If the Inquisitors find us, they will want to know where we got the wands. If that happens, we go to jail. You don't want to do that, Yana. Jail's bad."
Their small gang had managed to get their hands on several enchanted wands. In a wright's hands, the wands were rather cheap, but useful foci. In the hands of children, the wands were simple torches that didn't burn up when the wood was all gone, or make smoke. Toys really, but it was all they had, and could land them in some considerable trouble if the Inquisitors found out.
Thankfully, Yana took his answers and didn’t ask anymore questions, her hand tightening in the older boy’s hand as he wove a path through the tunnels. It wasn’t until he finally began to slow to a less rushed walking pace when she spoke up again.
“Eric, what if we run into the ghoul? It’s down here right? What if it tries to eat us?”
He paused, crouching down to smile at her as he held the wand with it’s lit tip between them. “If that corpse tries to hurt us, I’ll just cut him up. They said he’s really injured, injured ghouls dry out of mysterial fast, Yana. He’s probably just like every other corpse down here. I won’t let a silly ghoul hurt you, promise.”
She smiled, squeezing her stuffed toy tightly. “I trust you,” she whispered.
“Aww, Eric, she trusts you! Isn’t that cute?” the voice snubbed.
The sireel boy jumped to his feet, turning to put the young girl behind him as he bared his teeth into the darkness. Two hulking rish’dar boys stepped into the wand’s light, having douced their own meathods of vision, glowing glass. A mysterial infusion into hollow glass containers which glowed like lanturns. Very valuable.
“How many times do we have to tell you, cripple. You come into our territory, we are going to bust you up again. Maybe this time I’ll make you even on both sides and twist up your other wing, huh?”
Eric slid his wrist blades free, backing up a step as the other two advanced. His left wing had been twisted and shrivled from birth, and was the reason he believed he was abandoned to the streets. A sireel who couldn’t fly.
“There’s guards and Inquisitors sniffing about,” Eric growled. “We are not here to bother you.”
“It’s not my problem you got yourselves noticed by the Happening zelots. And what a pussy for leading them to us.”
There were voices, like a torchlight through this hell. He followed them, keeping his eyes closed and his left hand brushing against the tunnel walls. Hunger drove him, a strange instinct surfacing. He’d not quite been this injured before, this broken. He could feel a hobble in his back, like a used up spring swaying around on gravel. There wasn’t enough mysterial in the air to eat, he couldn’t feed enough to help his decayed, worn body back to its not so broken rotted state.
There were shouts now, sounds of fighting. Dalsh snapped his eyes open, observing a light bouncing from the walls around the bend. New sounds followed his steps now, the sounds of slithering intestines, slick snakes sliding over each other, wet cheese slithering over a table. His tendrils curled and wrenched around each other, twisting in some unnatural hunger pain. The nythren stopped, gritting his teeth as his mouth began to water. He could smell
their mysterial souls on his black, forked tongue. The taste would drive him mad.
Dalsh didn’t even take in the details of the scene, only threw himself into the fight with a furious snarl. There were surprised cries, the screaming of a little girl, and so much fear. Wrapping his arms around the first one he could get to, the nythren pressed his body close, second mouth opening wide and biting into the unarmored meat. Tendrils shot forth, burrowing into the body, feeding like straws of the pulsing mysterial within. Teeth sank into the soft tissue of the boy’s throat, cutting the scream of surprised agony short as the windpipe shattered like brittle wood in the nythren’s jaws.
The rish’dar boy was dead in moments, shock inducing physical injuries compounded the the sudden, debilitating loss of mysterial.
The world was more full now, he could feel his body healing the many injuries covering his body. It went for his heart first, restoring the supernatural hum, the vibration that moved his thick, syrup blood. He began to bleed from many points. His arm was the worst, dripping the brackish slime in thick gobs to the floor. Scrapes, cuts, it all began to bleed. However, his body’s own unnatural evolution took hold in his spine. His blood coated the bones where they were shattered, coagulating quickly and hardening to reinforce the injury.
Dalsh returned, for the most part, to his right mind, looking down to the young man whose soul he had just devoured in a starved rage.
“Holy fucking mysteria, it’s the the gods be damned ghoul!”
The nythren turned as the voice, frantic, gasped the words out. A second rishdar had backed himself into a corner, looking on in abject horror.
“Ghoul?” Dalsh hissed, sliding his form around to face the second boy. If everything wasn’t already wet, Dalsh would have sworn the reptile had pissed himself. “What is a ghoul?” he snarled.
Dalsh had been crouched beside the corpse, knees resting on the wet floor. A constant stream of water, or what he hoped was water. After all, this was a sewer. One could honestly hope there was real water here and pretend to not think otherwise. Luckily, Dalsh had a piss poor scent of smell. His second mouth had closed, tendrils now slithering about each other once again.
He didn’t even register these were just boys, intent on a second helping.
“Go on,” Dalsh sneered, moving closer to the rish’dar as the other fell onto his ass, tail curled almost in half around his body. “Give me an answer. What is a ghoul?”
“An animated corpse,” the boy stuttered out as Dalsh reached out, touching his chest with the tips of fingers. He’d kept the illusion up through all of this, though his appearance was still affected by his state.
Barking a laugh, the nythren curled his fingers around the other’s throat. “You’ve described every undead there is with a single sentence. They are all animated corpses. What makes ghouls special, do you know?”
He was a predator playing with his food, enjoying the look of horrific fear on the boy’s face. His nythren nature overpowered his logical mind. Dalsh strove to enhance that terror in any way he could, leering into the other’s face.
“I don’t know!” There were tears in the rish’dar’s eyes, he began blubbering in his response, squeezing his eyes shut as Dalsh’s cold, rancid breath washed over his face with the nythren’s laugh.
“Ghouls are ghosts bound to a zombie. Souls trapped in an animated body. Don’t you get it? Ghouls, you see, have a soul.” His illusion shattered, what mysterial Dalsh had been using to keep it going now refocused as the nythren’s second mouth yawned again, tendrils slithering out.
“I don’t have a soul at all.”
The ghoul had come right out of the darkness, attacking the rival gang member like a savage dog. Eric managed to roll away from the fight, his nose bloodied and grabbed Yana. “Get back, quickly now,” he whispered into her ear, pushing her around a corner and behind him as he watched the thing maul his gang’s enemies like they were wet parchment.
As the scene played out before him, Eric could only watch in disbelief, jaw hanging open when it ate the second rish’dar. But the thing didn’t really eat them. It changed right before his eyes, and he recognized it as an illusion. The ghoul went from being a beat up looking working class klavden, to something vastly different, a corpse with...things lashing around out of its midsection.
The second rish’dar slid to its side, dead eyes staring upward. The ghoul thing’s tail slithered across the sewer walkway behind it. Sounds rumbled, like a rabid korlx growling. There were strange, high pitched squelches and whimpers, meat sliding on meat, stone grinding against bone. It was filthy, unnatural. And it had not noticed them yet.
“What the fuck,” Eric whispered, at which time the monster’s large ears flicked and the creature turned deftly around, twisting its upper body to lock a brightly glowing, dark hued purple gaze upon him.
“Another?” the deep, gravel growl addressed him. “And here I thought the sewers would be void of life.”
It started to stand, wavering a little. Eric had dropped the wand when the rish’dar jumped him, and it now lay between him and the monster, casting an eerie glow on the thing. It was like a skeleton, ripped and torn. One of its arms looked about to fall over, and the shambling walk reminded Eric of every zombie story he’d told the other orphans at meal time.
Eric raised his arms, wrist blades glimmering. “Get back, ghoul, zombie, whatever the fuck you are.”
Yana’s voice sounded from at his side. Eric looked down in horror that she had moved into danger.
“Thank you, Mr Ghoul! You saved us!”
Dalsh froze, eyes locked on the tiny dvergar child. His eyes narrowed, tendrils freezing from their mid air lashing. Eyes opened along their lengths, all focusing upon her. The enormity of what he’d done crashed home, fear crushing his freshly healed heart.
“I’m not a ghoul,” he whispered, closing his eyes as he desired nothing more than to vanish and appear home in his underwater haven.
Mysterial burned hot inside him, working to put his twisted body to its twisted ‘right’. It would still take time to heal, but now it wouldn’t be so long. The taste of their souls was on his tongue, pulsing with the desire to tear the souls from the flesh sacks of the two remaining. He ate children, sucked the souls of young boys like any monster from story.
“Oh, well, what are you then? Are you an orphan too?”
Dalsh’s eyes opened, glaring at the child as she clutched some stuffed toy. “I’m your hero, apparently.”
Wrapping his good arm around his middle, Dalsh closed his second mouth, tendrils slithering back into the maw like so many tongues. He sank to his knees with a grunt, shifting his scathing gaze to the older child.
They stared at each other for several minutes, until the young girl took a step forward. Like a wounded, rabid korlx, Dalsh leaned back and snarled, baring savage yellowed teeth at her. Squeaking, she jumped behind the sireel, peeking from under his wings with wide eyes.
“What are you then?” the elder boy asked, still standing ready for a fight.
Dalsh sneered at him, tilting his head to the side, red hair hanging in his face. “Very hungry.”
The nythren hung his head forward, feeling disgusted with himself for falling back into the darkness of the monster he was. Worst of all, he was pissed with himself for eating them, not for their deaths. Likely he’d have killed them anyway, thought a second though, without remorse, if they even stood in the smallest likelihood of interfering with him. He would have done it bloody. He would have enjoyed every second. But he would not have eaten them. It was that failure he fought, that last step. The monster nythren ate children without remorse, he would at least chastised himself for it. It was how he proved to himself he was always in control of his monster, of the monster he was. He would deny it that at least.
“I have some peppermint sticks,” the little girl offered in a quiet voice.
Dalsh grinned from behind the curtain of matted mane. “I’m thinking something a little more alive. Or at least has been recently.”
He looked up then, to the elder child, the sireel. He saw the twisted wing, and how the boy tried to push the younger one behind him and back away. Yes, back slowly away from the monster, as if it would ever help you when it loosed again. When Dalsh lost himself into the last step of insanity, lost himself to the thing he was. Backing away wouldn’t save them.
“Know anyplace I can find that?”
“Yeah,” the boy said, lowering his arms just a fraction. “We are in the FrayVics territory. They have patrols like them out here everywhere. Go eat them.”
Dalsh chuckled, staggering to his feet, tail low and swaying. “I’m not going to eat you,” he offered. “I might kill you, but I’m not going to eat you. Show me older prey, and I’ll let you live.”
Eric shivered as those cold eyes followed his every movement. He had to get Yana out of here. “Why don’t you just finish eating them?” he gestured with his wrist blades to the two mauled and bloody bodies lying on the floor.
The thing didn’t turn, never even shifted to look, but instead to one limping step forward. “I don’t eat the bodies, boy. I eat the soul.”
Eric felt his breath catch in his throat, the fear he’d felt great a thousand fold. “Shit. A nythren? You have to be fucking me. No such thing.”
It laughed at him, those large ears perking high as it shambled another step, keeping the distance between them the same as he tried to back away.
“You are not the first to wish me a myth, I assure you. Believe what you wish, I’m hungry and there’s either you two or something else you can offer. Your choice.”
Eric hated turning his back to the monster, but carried Yana in his arms as he led the way. His mind worked wildly to figure a way out of this situation, or to even make sense of it really. Nythren didn’t exist, he didn’t even tell the gang any nythren stories. If they knew about nythren, it was from whatever family life they had before they were put out on the streets.
Yet, there was one here, walking its shuffling walk behind him, making those freakish unnatural sounds. It hadn’t spoken a word since he agreed to lead it to one of the FrayVics’ outposts. When they reached it, Eric shielded Yana’s face against his chest, turning his back to the sounds of screams, fighting, and the nythren’s own roars and hisses. Eric wanted to run, hide, go back to the group’s home. Hell, he’d even go for running into some of the Inquisitors. Wouldn’t they love to hear this one!
Dalsh found only two more at this outpost. Guards likely. These sewer clans were nothing but thieves and thugs. There were probably hundreds of them here. Entire villages living well beneath the city’s feet. He killed the younger one, still a child, and left the body to rot while feeding from the adult. Barely an adult, but well, good enough for his stomach, or whatever organ he had that did the dirty deed of digestion.
The nythren stood over his fresh kills for some minutes, tendrils dripping blood as they hung chest height from the air. Several eyes flicking about, their tips split into three unnatural fingers. He had enough to heal. Now there was nothing left to do but wait and let his body do the work.
Dalsh turned from the scene, surprised to find his sireel companion still on the scene, clutching the near babe to his chest. It was almost picturesque. Dalsh had killed families in this same position, frozen them in time with his flame, burning their image upon walls.
He frowned deeply, tendrils slithering back into their home, mouth closing. “You have my thanks,” Dalsh growled. “Now I need something else from you.”