Before long, a child’s cry emanated from the darkness of the adjacent room. The woman stood, glanced at Mattias as if to assure herself of his captivity, then moved silently towards the girl’s voice. A few hushed words, a soft melody, and silence returned. The woman returned, looking haggard and tired, and went about building up the fire without another glance at him.
Mattias took the opportunity to take stock of his surroundings. Shelves bore row upon row of bottles and vials, tins and jars, plants and books. He had seen books only rarely, glimpses through the entrance of his father’s study. Never had he learnt to read, being much more enamoured with the Martial Circle. Could the ground-dwellers read? It was unthinkable! Perhaps they had been stolen… but surely none could steal from the Vamai? The woman was an intriguing oddity, and still he did not know how she had entrapped him. Him…a noble Vamai.
He had never experienced a ground-dweller’s life at this proximity. There was the occasional Hunt, and a few games, but this…? Their settlements were sparse, misshapen affairs; filthy, squalid, and ugly. Nothing in comparison to the fair cities of Caren’tor and Samar’tor, in which the ivory towers spiraled skywards, and the Vamai danced on sunlight amidst the splendour. The ground-dwellers were so primitive and smelly. They did taste better then anything else that walked the earth, however. And Mattias was very hungry. He sank into uneasy slumber, belly grumbling, yet warm in the fire’s blaze. The woman proceeded to empty the warm water into a bath in the other room, and washed herself. As she methodically scrubbed and rinsed her body, she turned briefly towards Mattias’ sleeping form, and smiled grimly to herself.
A great, bloated spider had snared him in her web. He struggles, writhing, twisting, to no avail. Her hideous bulk draws closer, a mass of bristles and dripping pus. The face…
Her. Laughing insanely, face contorted into a manic parody, she begins to wrap him in silken threads. He tries to scream, but no sound results. His wings and limbs are bound fast, a grotesque mummification, and she bends closer… Lips, generous and ruby red, framing delicate needles, puncturing his neck… Venom, wildfire, quicksilver coursing through his awareness. The world convulses, fragments…
Mattias awoke with a start, flailing about his confinement, setting the cage rocking furiously. The woman leapt back, poker in hand, a cry on her lips. She waited until he came to his senses again. Mattias sank back into reality, the cold iron cage with its sturdy wooden base stubbornly restraining his movements. His eyes focussed on the woman. She stifled a shudder at the malevolent beast before her, a sullen red glare from deeply shadowed sockets, regarding her with hatred. She coughed once, then picked up a leg of pork from the table. It was hastily wrapped in paper and twine, and she pushed it to within reach of the cage as it hung near the floor. He made no move to retrieve it. She said something that sounded like “Phoood”, and prodded the pork again.
No response. He was not some herd beast to be fed such base meat.
She was becoming agitated. She would be wondering how he could be refusing food when he must clearly be starving. The bitch could just keep wondering.
Suddenly, she paused, poker falling to her side as she seemed to consider him. Then she took the poker, hesitated briefly, then dug its point into the flesh of her arm. She grimaced, but endured the task, and a crimson trail ran down her forearm and off her elbow.
Mattias felt the Hunger, could smell the salt and nutrients, the taste, dripping… He licked his lips unconsciously, fingers tightening upon the bars of the cage as he peered intently at her. She allowed herself a wry smile, then rubbed the blood into the pork meat, great streaks of grease and vitae coagulating. When she judged it sufficiently baited, she let it drop just out of reach, and went to bind her arm. He smelt a whiff of some herbal ointment, and the ripping of fabric, but the bloody lump transfixed his vision, stark white paper against the wooden floor. He was drooling openly now. Soon, she had bound her arm, and returned. He looked up at her, hatred mingling with hunger, baring his teeth and breathing heavily. Her foot kicked the parcel once and it slid forwards a few feet. She was wearing old slippers, dirt engrained in the cracks and seams of the leather. He strained to reach the package, the cage swaying, fingers clawing the floorboards. Close…but not quite. One more kick, and he seized it. He dragged it into the cage, juices scraping off on the bars, and tore the wrapping from the lump of gory flesh.
Eleanor watched the thing rip and tear at the pork, her arm throbbing, the spectacle quite nauseating. It slobbered and munched upon the flesh, gobbets splattering the cage and surrounding floor. Juliet was crying again, wakened by the hideous sounds. Eleanor hated what she had done, and what was still required of her. These things were clearly diabolical, and she was sure that its mere presence was foul and corrupting. But still… it was necessary. She put her hand to her brow to wipe away the sweat, wiping blood across he cheek. There was, of course, no other choice. As she stood, hands caked with blood and fat, a gruesome feast reflected in her eyes and the wails of her daughter coming from the bedroom; she felt strangely empty. It gnawed at her, tearing deep into her soul; a deep fatigue that assaulted her with no hope of escape. She absently washed her hands and face in a basin of water from the butt outside. It was a miracle that the thing had responded to the summons. She had no idea whether it would work, and she thanked the triple goddess.
It had almost finished its feast by now. Eleanor moved to comfort Juliet with damp though tender arms, and loving kisses, and hoped that the tome was correct. It had to work. There was nothing left. She looked through the narrow gap at the base of the shutters, and could just make out the ruddy browns of autumn strewn across the grass. It was so pretty at this time of year.
Mattias waited, licking his lips, then fingers and hands, scouring the wrapping paper for every last trace of juice. The meat tasted odd, but most appetising when coated in the life fluids. Eventually she reappeared, again looking tired, but somehow resolute. He watched her, distrustfully, the only sound in the cabin being the faint creaking of the cage mountings. She sat back in the chair again, and began to rock slowly, back and forth. The creaking chair echoed that of the cage. For a few moments, they simply regarded each other. They had both lost much, and were trying to salvage what was left of their lives. By some quirk of fate, they needed each other. Nevertheless, they each looked upon a nemesis, a barrier to their desires that they had to overcome.
She appeared to be dozing, and Mattias decided to unleash the Harmony. The woman was quite far away, but he had to try. His brow furrowed in concentration, muscles rippling as he tensed, hands clasping the bars. Almost…there…
Eleanor was indeed falling asleep. A brief rest was all she needed, then she could get on with her duties. Almost imperceptibly, a strange sensation began to creep across her temples. It was strangely alien music, yet beguilingly attractive. She was sinking into the ebb and flow of the song, drowning in its timeless depths…when she broke away. Her eyes flicked open, and she saw Mattias concentrating hard. She was suddenly frightened, as the sensation was merely strengthening again. With great mental effort, she bent to retrieve the poker, and advanced towards the thing. Each step was increasingly difficult: She was wading through a cloud of fatigue, and unearthly images assailed the edges of her consciousness. She tapped the poker, weakly, against the cage, but there was no response. The assault doubled in strength and the poker dropped from her hand. She staggered, and clutched her temples and … All right you bastard, try this… pointed her ring at it, activating the binding sigil.
The inner pressure vanished, and she was heady with the relief. She let it writhe for a while, allowing the energies to flow through her and into the rune she had traced in wild garlic. The power she felt was an ecstasy, a pure stream of a wondrous intensity that both consumed and defined her being. She always reveled in the youthful energy it seemed to bring, and regretted its passing.
Undoubtedly the creature was in considerable agony, and it possessed enormous strength by the way it beat the cage with its pinions. Yes, the fingers were getting quite bloody with their clawing. Soon it would begin to choke on its own vomit. In a detached way, she imagined it was her former husband, and delighted in its torment. Then she broke from her reverie, and allowed the power to ebb. She ran outside.
Mattias lay wishing he were dead; covered in vomit, sweat and gore. In the distance he could hear the noise of the woman being sick. As his senses calmed, he slowly dragged himself back from delirium. He would make her suffer. If he died in the process, she would spend the rest of her days cursing his image. Obviously she was not like the weak prey he had encountered before, fleeing through the woods at dusk or across the shifting sands in the east, stumbling, shrieking in terror… No. She was stronger. The Harmony had not enthralled her. He had felt her weaken, but it was deceptive. She had a surprising strength of spirit and he could still taste the bitterness that fuelled it.
He admired her, after a fashion, but that would not defer his vengeance. He would have to be more careful in future.
The woman returned, wiping her face, and unsteady on her feet. She picked up the poker, and pointed it at him. Slowly, she shook her head, and raised her left arm threateningly. He flinched visibly, and nodded. She stopped, relaxed, then went to fetch the basin and a sponge. She slid them towards him with her foot, and stepped back. He regarded her, a grudging nod of thanks, and proceeded to wash himself. Water poured between the cracks in the cage floor, and dripped through the cabin floorboards.
Eleanor watched him, and could not help but admire his form. She had not noticed before, but he was quite young, and strangely attractive. His skin was very pale, and his wings, his wonderful wings, had vestiges of their former light. He was deceptively lean muscled, yet she knew how strong he really was. His white hair was plastered to his scalp, slick with the water, an abrupt contrast with his albino pink eyes. Oddly, he had no facial hair, nor hair anywhere else as far as she could see.
Her books were her only source of knowledge of his kind, except, of course, for the rumours. There had been tales told, by desperate travelers, unable to pay in any other form, of such winged beasts. They had the appearance of angels, but were terrible in their bloodlust. The faces of the men had a strange, haunted, look. It was as if they had become trapped in a nightmare that had become reality. The beasts lived much further north, in the mountains, and hunted humans regularly. Little was known of the region because of this, but folklore provided a healthy substitute.
If children were naughty, the devils would come while they slept, to feast on their flesh. Eleanor wrapped her arms about herself, though it was not particularly cold. Some say they had fallen from the skies like shooting stars, others that they had dragged themselves out of the ground, an unholy genesis. Whatever their origins, they were terrible. Entire settlements had been found ransacked, the few bloodless bodies left having been dropped from a great height, to break upon the jagged rocks below. Such was never the way of bandits. Occasionally, in the depths of night, distant cries could be heard; almost human yet undeniably bestial. The shutters would be barred and families would huddle together in the darkness, waiting and listening, murmuring feeble words of comfort.
That was part of the reason why they had moved south from Gronville, to warmer climates. There was also Juliet. The illness had not stopped as the physicians had assured them. Her health had slowly deteriorated, and she often had trouble breathing. Now she was bedridden, and hardly ever went outside to run in the fallen leaves, laughing and singing as she used to…
The woman was crying. Mattias had finished washing, and was captivated by the sight. The tears were crystal clear, and flowed across her cheeks. Mattias was confused. Maybe it was a ploy to make him quiescent. Yes. That would be it. Let her cry. She was just more ground-dweller meat, and would return to dust in but a few decades. He turned over in his cramped cell, wrapped himself in his drying wings, and went to sleep. He would wait. She would eventually make a mistake. She had to.
~End of Part 2