Those Who Feed Upon Flesh

June 9, 2017

Drestin rotated the lock on his pipe with one deft hand, setting bowl sideways on the small table near his chair, and pulled a small leather pouch off of his belt. “Do you mind if I imbibe, zev?”

Hashim chuckled, “Yes, and there’s no reason to call me teacher anymore. Though it does warm my heart to know that you remember the Words of the Law still.” Hashim sat himself in another chair, opposite Drestin, and poured a small amount of a glassy, amber liquid for himself.

Passa, mouth still agape, stared at the two in turn. “You still haven’t explained what’s going on here. How is this man with mecka older than I am supposed to help with the Duke?”

Drestin looked up from his task of moving the black, tar-like substance from his pouch to the pipe. “Yes, Hashim. Now would be a good time to tell both of us about my task.” Looking at the mass for a second to appraise it, Drestin decided it was fine, used his hand to seal the pipe back up, and pushed a small artfully hidden button to light the greaseweed. A small, delicate sigh escaped him as he settled into the chair and a dark cloud already forming above them.

Hashim took a long, slow sip of his drink, leaned over his knees and held the glass in both hands. “Yes, Drestin, I suppose now is a good time to tell you about the zesh’desor, the blood-eater, that I asked you to come for.”

“It was long ago he came to these woods, long before this Vent was discovered, long before there were hunters or sages here even. Long ago when this was a vale covered in the Miasma and darkness. There were two men sent from the cities, from the safe places, to map the forest. While the vale is clearly dominated by it, tendrils of trees seep over the mountains that bear a distinct similarity to it. As if the forest itself is a thing alive in its own right, not just those that live within it.”

Hashim took another slow sip and leaned back into the chair, letting his eyes close as he sought to remember the story.

“Neither man was a good man, nor a just man, but neither were they Lawbreakers. It may have been because of their movements through the Miasma that tainted them, or it may have been something born within them, but they were men of power and greed. They explored much of the edges of the Safe Lands and had found many Vents that could be secured easily. This brought them wealth and status in the cities, but they always hungered for more. So they came here, seeking another Vent, knowing of how the Miasma pooled here and how the forest itself crept out from it like a growing hunger…”

They came as warriors and spies, with weapons to kill the dangerous and disarm the powerful. Servard and Urtan were friends, compatriots, who had won a host of accolades on their adventures and here they were delving into what may be their most dangerous. A living forest said to move on its own, to protect itself, and the monsters within.

It had not taken them long to find the Vent itself, though it was overgrown and defended by creatures from the trees. Short and covered in whorls and knots, made of dark wood with gleaming white cores that were sharpened to points. They both fought valliantly and with ferocity, needing little in the way of recovery afterward. Now they camped at the Vent and made maps, using their skills to seal the information they had found into a report that the Magistrates could use to clear the area for another settlement. While they did not agree with The Law, it still fed their families and their egos.

They were running low on food, though, and so far had seen no game.

They had rationed their meals carefully, tested the roots of the trees and shrubs they found, and had even found fresh water in a spring within the overhangs from the mountains they had crossed to get here. The nights were also seeming to get longer, and colder, and darker.

On one of the long excursions into the hills and forest to find food they instead stumbled on a shelter, carved from the rock by either the luck of erosion or the machinations of another monster seeking some kind of pride of place. It was a set of rooms branching away from one large stone arch, which they called the Gate, and seemed to stretch toward the sky.

They camped here, in the stone castle in the mountain, and kept searching for game.

The nights seemed to stretch for days at a time, while the day only warmed them for an hour, maybe half, and vanished behind the mountains again. They scoured the forest, even damaging the trees and shouting at them. Calling down the living wrath of the forest to send its beasts for their hearts. They bled on the forest to stoke its hunger. They lit fires and turned onto their stores of alcohols, drowning themselves in anger, frustration, and hunger.

The forest stood, passive, and waited as they still found no game.

They were gaunt men, now, driven by rage and hunger. Still, though, they bound themselves to the Law. They sought food, ate wood, and cursed the forest. There were no birds, even when they could be heard. There was no game, despite trails winding through the trees. There were no insects, despite the feeling of things crawling in the dark. They fed on what the forest offered, which was little – water from deep within the earth, warm and tasting of iron, and the dark shards of bark the men could shuck from the trees. Servard and Urtan slept apart from each other, both fearing the growing, gnawing hungers within them. They drank the water ravenously, exulting in the warmth, the clean flow down their throats, and the call of the iron within it.

One day, Servard found game.

On the day that Servard broke from the Law, subsumed himself to the Miasma, and took the name Duke Salfurn, he hunted for the first time. He awoke and could smell the game, could feel its blood pumping in its heart. He drank deep of the mountain’s water and sought out to hunt the meat he could smell. It did not take long to find the frail man, the gaunt man, who still clung to the light of day and slept in the depth of night. Servard tore open Urtan’s throat and drank deeply of his blood.

The warmth, the clean flow down his throat, the call of the iron within it.

He drank deeply from the spring that was his old friend’s lifeblood. He consumed with fervor and focus. He consumed every drop he could wring from the body, before casting the body before the Gate and declaring himself the lord of this castle.

The spring bloomed red and the forest whispered the Duke’s name through the valley.

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