Conversations Between Outsiders - Ch.1: Easy Talk in a Dead-End Town

By billtremendous

 From the bosom of a forest valley rose a hamlet, well placed along a trade route between kingdoms. The dusty, well-worn path pockmarked with hoof and footprints marked the town as a hub of respite and commerce amidst long, interconnected trade routes. At least, it seemed, it was a town of commerce. Now it was a ghost town, with nary a soul haunting its pathways, save one of its most recent visitors.

 A strange man, with equally unusual features, walked cautiously towards the interior of the hamlet. He bore with him an odd cloak with sleeves and a hood along with trousers of a strange, stitched, blue pattern, topped off with a head of raven black hair and sharp, refined looking features. The town, to him, seemed to be of medieval make in terms of construction. But that would be impossible, there was no kind of historical settlement like this where he was from; not in driving distance let alone walking distance. Then again, he also didn’t recognize any of the hills or mountain ranges in view. But that was also impossible, it had been a mere trail walk, how could everything look so different?!

Surely, he thought, he just had to be lost somewhere, having taken a wrong turn at a fork or maybe dozed off with his attention somewhere and wandered off trail. The circumstances of the matter, however, begged to differ. The streets were not afield with busy families and workers moving to secure livelihoods for the future, as would be expected of such a recreational settlement. More accurately, the village was lifeless, a fact made more evident by the bodies sprawled haphazardly across the place.

 Person or animal, all the bodies bore the same horrific fate. They were devoid of any fluid and withered to blackened skin and bone. Their last moments were agonizing ones if the contorted expressions were any indication. On each of them was a vicious bitemark on the neck created from pointed, inhuman teeth, though there were no blood splatters visible in any location, unnatural deaths to be sure.

 Careful not to touch any bodies more than he had to, the man, Lawrence, took to scavenging them for anything useful. The most obvious (and most useful in the moment) prize he managed to scrounge was a sword off an armor wearing body, one that was still within its sheath. A genuine sword too, not a mere replica meant only for reenactment. It was what had to be genuine, high-quality steel. From being drawn at the wrong angle to getting stuck in a plank of wood when swung, it was sturdy piece.

 Deciding the weapon would suit him better than its less-than-fortunate owner, Lawrence undid the belt clasp around the body’s waist, clinching his nose against the fetid stench of death as he wretched his prize away. Despite the distraction of rustling metal plate and the crack of taut muscle and bone, Lawrence’s spine twitched in instinctual worry. He could practically feel that a set of eyes were watching him.

 Attaching the belt to his waist, preferring survival to respecting the dead, Lawrence looked about his surroundings, hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever, if anything, might be watching him. No such luck. Not spotting anything, he stood up with the looted weapon at his side, ready to leave this graveyard to rot in his absence. As he began to leave, however, he heard something over the gusts of wind and creaky, ajar wooden doors. It was a voice, young sounding and desperate for an answer as it called out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” The source, it seemed, wafted on the breeze from a larger, two-story building at the end of the road, which seemed to lead directly to its front door.

 It was totally a trap. He just KNEW it was going to be a trap. That, or whoever was still hiding there was going to accidently gut him and leave him for whatever killed everyone else in this dead-end town. But it could still be some poor girl who just had a streak of luck to avoid whatever breezed through town.

 Then again, by whatever grace or misfortune allowed him to get here, he might be better off playing along in the game of fate. At least until he figured out where he was.

 With clinched teeth, and a less than enthused demeanor, the stranger slowly made his way towards the voice. With silent, rolling footsteps and a constant vigil, he kept a hand on the sheath at his side, wary that he was still being watched. At the front of the building, he peeked through the windows silently, attempting to get a better view of the darkened insides to no avail. Wooden shutters barred his vision and would not budge, even with force. The voice called out again, “Is someone there?” from within the building. Lacking any other options, Lawrence gritted his teeth as he was forced to use the front door practically blind to the layout inside. With a forceful shove, the door opened, though not without resistance the clatter of furniture belied a hurriedly constructed barricade.

 Cracking open the door, Lawrence leaned into the cover of the door from the outside and called out, “Hello? Fellow human here. Please don’t go about stabbing me because you think I’m someone else! And if you think that that’s exactly what some sort of monster would say to gain trust, I don’t know what to tell you to defeat that! And if you’re a monster yourself I am armed and able to defend myself!” Confident that his warning would have the intended effect, at least, for a genuine call for help, he pushed against the door further, finally making his way inside.

 The inside was dark, nearly pitch black if not for the light now streaming in through the door. The building, it seemed, was some sort of bar or canteen. Tables and chairs that weren’t dedicated to barricading the windows were in disarray, tipped over in an utter panic or strewn about the room. Several bodies littered the room, all drained in a similar manner to the rest. In the center, cradling another drained husk, was a healthy human woman. She was decidedly average, about Lawrence’s age as well, with wavey, brown hair and tattered cloth garments with a splatter of blood about her clothes. She looked up from the body she was cradling, tears in her eyes.

 Lawrence had to suppress the tugging pity in his chest with an astute eye, tirelessly searching for any discrepancies.

 “Are…are you here to help us?” The girl asked.

 “That, doesn’t really have an easy answer.” Lawrence answered after a brief pause. He took a step forward before catching himself from fully stepping into the room. Taking a moment to place a chair in the door’s closing arc, he then allowed himself to venture somewhat into the dreary looking townhouse. “I…only just got here, what’s going on?”

 “Oh, it’s terrible!” The girl sobbed, “A horrific demon came into town and murdered everyone! I only just barely managed to escape with my life…unlike…mother…” The girl cuddled the corpse more closely, burying her face in its brown, stringy hair before breaking down into tears.

 “Well, hey, I think things are safe now. I mean I managed to get here without getting torn to shreds-”

 “Please, you should come inside and hide with me.” The girl spouted, interrupting Lawrence’s reassurances, “There’s no telling if the demon is still nearby.”

 There it was. There was the hook. “No, no I feel more comfortable talking in the light. Why don’t you come outside and talk with me? We’ll see it coming out in the open.”

 “Please, that thing could come back at any moment, you should take refuge in here with me, it can’t get in here without us noticing with the barricades at the windows.”

 “No, I don’t think I will actually.” Lawrence responded flatly. He knew his next move, but God if the risk that came with it didn’t scare him. He turned on his heel, popping the sword out of its sheath with his thumb. “In that case I’m just gonna turn my back around and go outside to leave- ” The pattering of quick footsteps on wood was a nice sign to tell him he was right.

 Leaning down to potentially dodge whatever swipe could be coming for his head, Lawrence drew the sword with a flash, forcing the charging girl back with a snarl as his newfound blade created space. The girl retreated to the darkness and, within it, audibly began to change. He could hear the snapping of bone and the tearing of sinew as he barely made out the woman contorting inhumanly in the darkness, its features, clothes, and all changing by the second. Not bothering to bear witness to what was probably a horrifying transformation, Lawrence quickly dashed back to the door and took cover behind it, his sword pointing at whatever was inside.

 What emerged from the darkness was a radically different entity from the woman that was just before him. A feminine form, the creature bore horns that jutted upwards from its skull and a tail with a spearhead like tip that gleamed in the darkness. The rags had changed to a more refined wardrobe, with cloth and fur draped off the shoulders towards the chest as a risqué display of regality. The only thing separating the thing from nudity and any sense of decency was a set of undergarments that covered the demoness’s bosom and womanhood. The thing’s skin was porcelain white, accented with various runic tattoos that was topped by a head of short, straight, black hair that covered a fair face. The mouth and eyes further belayed the thing’s inhumanity, with razor sharp teeth and sharp, slitted, red eyes. These various features, alongside the thing’s expression, betrayed a playful though predatory nature. Easy on the eyes, no doubt about it, but every aspect of the thing screamed of an otherworldly danger.

 “I fuckin’ knew it.” Lawrence spat out, his paranoia justified.

 Despite the…woman’s failure to surprise Lawrence, she spoke with a mature, almost noble tone with underlying notes of haughtiness and amusement. “Well,” she started, a hand cushioning her chin, “a clever one, for once. Not a knight or a hunter, but not some lowborn either. How ever did you manage to see past my disguise?”

 “Are you looking for specific answers or are you just trying to eat up time to close the distance to me?” Lawrence replied, never taking his eyes off the creature.

 “It depends, whichever one promises to be more…fun, I suppose.” The predatory, almost psychopathic tone in which she spoke sent a chill up Lawrence’s spine. It was as if he was face to face with the likes of John Gacy.

 “Okay, well that’s perfect then, because I’ve a game for you!” The demoness raised a brow and cocked her head in obvious interest.

 “Oh? Do you now?”

 “Yup, it’s called ‘Step into the sunshine!’ You win prizes if you manage to go outside and do something! Like touching grass!” Without further ceremony, Lawrence slammed the door shut. Distancing himself from the building, he half expected the door to fly off the hinges from the demoness’s fury at being scorned. When no such thing happened, he warily relaxed hoping that sunlight was, in fact, anathema to whatever the woman was. Yet, he could not shake the tingle in his spine. It felt that despite the literal barrier that existed between him and the woman, he was still just within reach…

 In response, he flailed his sword behind him, striking air and not much else. He was alone in the ruined street, a quick glance around the rooftops and the alleys between houses confirmed as much. The complete silence complimenting the complete loneliness, Lawrence let his tension go with a huff through his nose. Either she was deathly allergic to sunlight, or she was toying with him without his knowledge, in which case he was screwed. Though he had to wonder if said toying would be due to some manner of magic, which had to be a given with how utterly medieval everything was, or if it was due to some other physical quality of hers. The answer, of course, came face to face with him as he turned his body about and nearly ran into the demoness.

 With a shocked yelp, he quickly jumped back as the woman stood unfazed by his flailing. “I believe I’ve won this game,” She cooed, “stepping into the light and scaring you as such. Since you mentioned prizes, I can only assume that I’ve won at least one of them. So what is that I’ve won, stranger?” The last words were tipped with expectation and toxic annoyance.

 “Oh, uh,” Lawrence stumbled, “You…win, the…” With each passing moment, he could practically feel a noose tightening around his neck, almost imperceptible contortions on the demoness’s face acting as an hourglass. “You win, the answer to how I managed to spot you out!”

 “Oh joy~” The demoness mockingly cooed, “do go on.” Befitting her nature, the demoness began to circle around Lawrence, tail bouncing in the air like a cat circling prey. Primal instinct warned Lawrence not to turn his back to the thing, less he invite his own death.

 “Well,” Lawrence started, shoring up his own confidence to boldly critique the woman, if only for his final, defiant moments. “For starters, the entire set up is, frankly, scuffed. Every living thing in this village is dead, for,” he gave a shrug, “however long, and there just so happens to be a single survivor, in the biggest building, just sitting in the darkness. Who, mind you, is worried that whatever killed everyone might be coming back, and just so happens to cry at the right time to attract whatever schmuck comes across this place?”

 “Which it did.” The demoness retorted.

 “True, but I hardly count but I’ll get to that. Next, what gave you away was the form you decided to take.” The demoness narrowed her eyes at the claim.

 “Really now? How so?”

 “For starters, you had it so that the neck had a blood splatter on it, when all of these other poor bastards got sucked dry. You expect me to believe you got nicked on something and managed to escape? Then again with the tail who’s to say what’s what, I guess.” Lawrence admitted, acknowledging the sharpened point. “The bigger thing that gave you away, however, was the hair.” He motioned towards the woman’s head of hair, who mirrored his attention. “Your act was implying that you were cradling your dead mother, or something like that. And while you got the color right, your hair was wavey with a slight curve to it while the hair on the body was straight. Granted it could have been a thing from a father or something, but I decided the more paranoid answer would work. Overall, a scuffed performance, though I imagine you were looking to try and fool any brave lawman types who showed up.”

At this point, the demoness stopped in her tracks and turned to face Lawrence, the annoyance giving way to mere curiosity. “A…fair assessment. I’ll freely admit I didn’t have long to think of something when you showed up. And I suppose you have a fair point about the blood I decided to dab on, knowing things that the person wouldn’t know. But you still have to admit it did work on attracting someone foolish enough to stick around.”

“That’s just an error on my part, don’t think that I had any good intentions looking through the place. Besides, I only just got here! I hardly know which way is up at this point!”

“That much is obvious. I’ve never seen a man with hair or clothes like yours in any of these lands. From where do you hail, stranger in this land?”

Lawrence scoffed at the question. “I mean I’d say where, but something tells me it’ll hardly matter considering how I sort of just wound up here.” The demoness locked her eyes to Lawrence’s, a half-lidded look showing contempt at his reply.

“Playing coy now, are we? Fine. I’ll figure it out myself.” Despite turning his head slightly away, Lawrence felt an odd sense of pressure to keep his focus locked on the woman’s steely, unblinking gaze. “What family do you claim?”

“I’m not really on talking terms with my family.”

“What lord do you swear allegiance to?”

“I don’t have a lord.”

“What occupation did you fulfill in your village?”

“I don’t…uh, live in a village.” The demoness was getting visibly upset at his answers, with fingers tensing and the corner of her lip turning upwards in frustration.

“Enough of this tripe. WHERE do you come from?” Her gaze was even more intense now, and Lawrence simply could not bring himself to bare against it.

“I’m, sorry.” Lawrence turned away, breaking eye contact with the woman. “Could you quit staring at me like that? It’s really distracting. Also, I already told you it probably doesn’t-” He stopped himself when he looked back to the demoness, who stood seemingly taken aback at him. “I’m sorry is there some weird thing I’m missing right now?”

“…Were you not under my spell this whole time?” The demoness asked.

“Ah fuck, magic’s a thing here?!” Lawrence replied. The demoness stood stupefied before him, shocked and incredulous at the revelation Lawrence had apparently bestowed upon her.

“‘Is a thing here-’” The demoness stopped herself, regaining her composure as she idly chuckled at the question. Lawrence couldn’t help but chuckle himself at the ridiculousness of the exchange.

“I’m serious!” He blurted out. “I don’t know word one of where I am, and to make matters worse I’m finding out magic exists wherever it is I am!”

“‘Does magic exist.’” The demoness mockingly repeated. She let out a haughty guffaw, seemingly satisfied with whatever conclusion she’s reached. “I see now. You’re just playing the fool to have fun at my expense. Well, not for long, anyways.” Before Lawrence could ask what she meant, her tail whipped into the ground, a silver gleam sending a cloud of dust and dirt into Lawrence’s face, blinding him.

“Ah! Fuck, man!” Lawrence cried out, dirt in his eye. As he worked to rub the distracting particles of earth away, the demoness took advantage of her diversion to grapple his arms; one in a preternatural death grip and the other wrapped up by her tail like a boa constrictor. The bladed tip of the tail glinted in the corner of his eye as the demoness traced a claw-like nail down his jaw line, the path like a thin singe mark upon his skin. With a firm grip, the demoness forced his gaze to meet hers as her fingers cupped his chin.

Her gaze was sharp and menacing, with fires of excitement burning behind unnatural irises. And yet, despite the steely gaze of a predator, there lurked something else that slowly grew in volume, dampening the woman’s blazing confidence.

“I don’t know who you are, ‘stranger,’ but you chose the wrong demoness to slight with your poor attempt at feigned ignorance. When I release you from whatever sad life led you to this moment, you may rest knowing that I shall be having the last laugh from your petty…little jest…” The demoness paused in what was meant to be her final send off to Lawrence before she killed him. Her gaze shifted rapidly from minor confusion, to sheer terror within seconds, a concerning detail to say the least.

“What?” Lawrence asked, dumbstruck for anything else to ask. The demoness roughly pushed him away, releasing her grip on his arms. The demoness took a low, bent stance, as she distanced herself from Lawrence, fully alert and ready to strike with snake-like speed.

“You…what the hell are you?” The demoness asked.

Once again without any other recourse, Lawrence repeated his question. “What? Excuse me?”

“You can’t be human, not anymore anyways. Your mana’s practically gone, but you can’t be undead. You’ve still color to you skin and you’re still warm. There’s no way you’re a demon either, so I’ll ask you again. What the hell are you?”

It certainly didn’t sound good, whatever the problem was. Either way, it seemed that things were escalating and needed to be brought back down to some level of civility. “I’m…Lawrence.” He answered, still not knowing what else to say to calm down the situation. “Look, I think we’ve both gotten off on the completely wrong foot. How about we talk about things over a bi-” Lawrence caught himself from making any unintended double entendres that would potentially make him sound like a platter. “… a drink of-… over some food or water like regular people?”

“Gh, you’ve got some nerve, equating yourself to a person.” The demoness retorted. “You’ve hardly more mana than any of the poor fools I’ve sucked dry around here. You’re practically a walking corpse.”

“Well, I’m still walking and breathing and sweating, so I can’t be dead. And, like you said I can’t be a demon so I must be a human, though, granted!” Lawrence exclaimed, pointing a finger upwards to make his point, “I don’t have any loyalties to whoever these people were! In regard to that…mana thing, maybe where I come from might provide some explanation for that. Would you at least be willing to chat with me about where I am in exchange for telling you where I come from?” The demoness relaxed somewhat, and the look of terror softened into mere apprehension and suspicion with a raised brow. “Please?” Lawrence pleaded.

“…Fine.” The demoness relented. Lawrence couldn’t help himself but to smile at the answer.

It’s always the please that works.

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 While the townhouse’s atmosphere was more than slightly dreary, mostly due to the assortment of bodies and the general mess within, it still served well enough as an eatery. Though it took some cleaning up, namely fixing up a table and chair to sit at and clearing away barricades for proper mood lighting, the place still made for an excellent forum of easy conversation. Sitting down to talk, drink, and eat stale bread (though Lawrence’s appetite was more or less absent in such an abattoir) Lawrence told the demoness all he could about where he came from. From the wonderous nature of his home to his on-the-spot moment of hiking which lead him to this strange new land, he told her everything he could think of that might interest her.

 The demoness, though apprehensive and tense during the beginning of the conversation, eventually warmed up as the conversation continued. From leaning back in her chair to make any distance she could, to leaning in and even resting her head seductively against her hand, she eventually divulged an interest that was growing by the minute. For every bit of information Lawrence shared, the demoness traded her own information about the strange new world he found himself in. Between the existence of elves, undead, dwarves (mountain ones, not the genetic anomaly ones) and of the general fantastical layout of the land, Lawrence felt himself similarly enthralled in this world as she was his. She even traded supposedly vaunted details of her own “home.” She spoke of a plane of darkness and fire, clad in stone towers whose shadows towered above all as pits of fire and brimstone burned eternally, sustaining a chorus of the screams of the damned.

 A bit like Los Angeles, as far as Lawrence was concerned.

 “What a utopia it sounds like,” The demoness declared. “While magic doesn’t exist, the mere fact that ‘technology’ allows even peasantry to benefit from warming in their homes, and that the royalty can reside in magnificent pillars of glass, practically a fairy tale! The uses of this technology you speak of sounds like a tale that a peasant revolt would spread, but if only they had their way of things.”

 “Oh you got that right. Though maybe not specifically peasants.” Lawrence concurred, thinking of his time back in the university. “Sadly, despite all those luxuries, it ain’t all cracked up as you think it is. We’ve got the same corrupt assholes in charge at home as the nobles you described that reside in this world.”

 “Certainly, but at least you can overthrow them, as you so claim with everyone being armed.”

 “Eh,” Lawrence dismissed, “Most people didn’t want to anyways, no matter how ludicrous things got with crazies being in charge.”

 “It can’t be all that bad, whatever kind of crazy do you refer to?”

 “The kind of crazy that would lob off their own genitals and claim they were women, and if you didn’t agree with them they’d ruin your life, take your livelihood and your children to brainwash, and a bunch of other horrid things.”

 “Oh!” The demoness exclaimed, the negative side quickly coming to light. “Oh…I assume that even with this ‘technology’ of yours, it wasn’t a…perfect process, shall we say?”

 “If you mean like something you could pull off, hell no.”

 “Why that sounds like an utter headache to have to deal with.”

 “Oh yeah, it’s a migraine.” Lawrence agreed, a new topic popping into his mind. “Hey, on the topic, I’m curious about something actually. Mind if I ask you a more personal question?”

 “Go ahead~.” The demoness playfully agreed.

 “I get you’re like a shapeshifter and all that but, are you actually like this or are you just catfishing me?” The demoness stared blankly in response.

 “What?”

 “Ach, sorry, slang.” Lawrence corrected. “I mean, is this like,” he motioned towards the demoness, “your true form? You’re not actually a man and this is a disguise or anything like that?”

 “Oh? Why do ask?” The demoness, with a preternatural speed, shook its head from side to side as its face took on a more masculine look, emulating one of the nearby bodies. “You wouldn’t happen to be more comfortable or, god help you, attracted to your own, would you?”

“No!” Lawrence loudly denied, having not expected the response. The demoness let out a hearty chuckle at her own accusation.

“It’d be a crime you know, fornicating with one of your own.”

“No. God no. I’m just asking since it’d be awkward to get along with the wrong impression. Beer with a pal versus wine with a lady and all that.”

 The demoness gave a playful little chuckle, before altering her face back to its usual, feminine charm. “How very refined of you. Yes, it is. As you can surmise, I am quite adept with shapeshifting and transmutation. A bit of my own specialty, compared to many, many others.”

 “Ah. And that includes clothes?”

 “Yes.”

 “So, you’re like a succubus or something like that?” The horrifically sour glare he received in response told him what he needed to know. He backed down in his seat, turning away at his social faux pas. “Alright, sorry. I didn’t mean anything insulting if it was a slur or something like that. I hardly know where I am beyond some other plane of existence, this stuff’s still fresh and unknown to me.” The demoness let out a sigh from the apology, small twitches in her body dissipating any annoyance that might have sparked from the comment.

 “It’s fine.” The demoness reassured him. “You don’t know anything about this plane, let alone the kind of harlots they are, and you’re far more accommodating than anyone else I’ve met. Though take heed of my advice, you’d do well to pick your words more carefully in the future. Just as it was traversing this ‘minefield’ as you described it in your plane, so it is here with nobility, as they are not likely to be as forgiving as I. Take it from one who has mingled with them time and time again.”

 “I’ll…keep it in mind.” Lawrence answered.

 “Good~.” The demoness quipped, regaining whatever traces of her smug visage had slipped. “Now, I am curious about those horseless carriages you talked about, and those little, metal things that attract to the opposite and not their own-” The demoness stopped, her sultry demeanor dropping for an alerted scowl. She shifted her focus elsewhere, to some unknown thing or object that might have been nearby.

 “Is something wrong?” Lawrence asked. The demoness glanced back to him, before pushing away from the table they had been sitting at. She shifted back to sultry demeanor with a small smile forming as she took her leave.

 “I’d love to stay and continue our little chatter here, but there are other matters that demand my attention. I’d recommend taking whatever you wish from this place and leaving. Quickly. You wouldn’t want to be caught flat-footed less you find irons about your wrists.” Lawrence shifted in his seat, unsure what to make of the development. She obviously sensed something, but how close was it? How much time did he have?

 “And Lawrence?” The demoness called from the door. “For what it’s worth, I thoroughly enjoyed our little conversation of where you came from. It made for a nice change in pace to the usual manipulation that I’m so used to. If we ever run into one another again I’d love to pick up where we left off~.” With a final blown kiss, and a wink, the demoness stepped outside, the flapping of wings signaling her departure.

 “Didn’t even wait for me say goodbye.” Lawrence mumbled. “Wait she didn’t even give me a name!” Standing up from the table, Lawrence stumbled over rubble and bodies towards the door, hoping to catch her in time. “Hey, I didn’t get your name!” He called out, but it was no use. The demoness was already gone. It was a shame, he thought. He had hoped for a name to the face, especially one as alluring as hers.

 Such as it was, such people come and go in life, as Lawrence well knew. At the very least, at least he figured out that he wasn’t back home, and it was doubtful he’d be able to get back.

 Taking the demon’s advice to heart, Lawrence eventually left the dead husk of the town behind; every nook and cranny investigated for valuables, and a sack of goods and sundries over his shoulder in a burlap sack.

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 “Halt there!” A gruff voice called out. Lawrence paused in his tracks, holding his hands in the air, nearly reaching the thick forest canopy. “You! Drop the sack and turn around!” Complying, Lawrence released his bag of loot and turned about, not knowing what to expect in the suffocatingly thick forest.

 Behind him on the path, hidden in the thicket, emerged a squad of several armored men, their leader being an older man with short, grey hair and an eye patch. All bore the heraldry of some unknown lord, kingdom, or organization, the oldest of them being the regalest with various decorations and marks upon his armor of gold and silver that glittered in the dying light of the day. Before Lawrence could begin to speak, he was immediately assaulted by the oldest marching towards him and barking question after question in his face that he barely had time to answer.

 “Who are you?”

“Lawren-”

 “Where do you come from?”

“I don’t think it’ll really-”

 “What is your strange looking clothes and your hair?”

 “Could you please let me speak-”

 “You just came from Grenwald, I know what remains of the place! What’s happened, what did you do?!”

 Such was the barrage that he couldn’t get a word in edge wise. For every accusation that was hurled at him, he could scarcely explain his position. Hoping to escape the incessant barrage of blame and judgement, Lawrence tried his damndest to break eye contact to look anywhere else beyond the old man interrogating him, his mind blocking out the screaming. The man’s coterie were all similarly gruff looking men, though much younger than the elder blasting Lawrence. All were either blonde or brunette, no black hair at all. And, sadly, any hope of support from any of them was a forlorn hope, as all wore stern looks as they looked in his direction, bordering on contempt.

 As forlorn as hope was amongst his “fellow” man, however, hope still lie in other, unforeseen places.

 Quietly and decisively, a familiar, spear-like tail whipped from the canopy, impaling one of the men in the neck and hauling him upwards and out of sight, despite his brief struggle. Then, an elongated arm bearing wicked black claws reached downwards towards another, digging nails into flesh and dragging another gurgling upwards. All that remained was one last alerted soldier, desperately looking upwards in panic for where his comrades might have gone. The older man, still focused on Lawrence, continued his onslaught, and forced Lawrence’s vision back to him with a mailed hand.

 Still ignoring the elder’s condemnations, something about the mark of witchery and demon magic, Lawrence could only catch a glimpse of the last soldier being dragged upwards into the canopy like his compatriots. Shortly thereafter, the forest echoed with a sickening crack as some poor fate befell the unlucky soldier. The elder’s attention, like the bone seconds before, finally snapped elsewhere, leaving Lawrence to his own thoughts.

 The elder looked up to the canopy, a great mace drawn as his hand carried some strange symbol attached to what was some sort of rosary. Slowly he turned, keeping ever vigilant as to the threat that awaited him. He did not need to wait overly long.

 From the canopy came the tail again, slick with blood and whipping directly towards the elder soldier. With a swing of his mace, he deflected the whipping appendage and, with his free hand, grabbed hold of the wicked thing. With a great huff and heave, the tail’s owner came crashing through the thicket, through branches and leaves, to the ground and laid out in a sprawl.

 The demoness, taloned hands clad in blood, quickly recovered her stance with a grunt, bracing her tail above her as she did with Lawrence earlier. Replacing her haughty attitude with animalistic fury, she quickly lunged back at the elder, her tail spearheading the advance as she bore her claws. Her tail quickly deflected by the mace, she took to trying to claw at the elder’s face like a tiger. While splashes of blood flew, the elder seemed undeterred as he brought his fist back up to roughly push the clawing woman away from him. Laid out again, the demoness tried to recover, only to freeze in her tracks as the old soldier shouted at the top of his lungs.

 “MIRIEL, WRETCHED SHIFTER AND SEDUCER OF MAN, HALT! TAKE NOT ONE FURTHER STEP YE SPEAKER OF LIES!”

 The demoness, Miriel, stood in place as the elder bellowed his command. Though struggle contoured her face, she seemed unable to move as the soldier advanced towards her, mace in hand. Snapping out of his shock, Lawrence moved before thinking, drawing his sword to…what exactly? Could he even take this guy on in a fight? His question was answered quickly as the soldier snapped his bloodied face back towards him and held up rosary laden hand towards Lawrence. With a quick motion of the fingers and a chant of some unheard sentence, Lawrence stopped with a flinch, freezing in place as the soldier glared daggers at him. “I’ll deal with you after I deal with the whore once and for all.” The soldier growled. The soldier turned his back to Lawrence, and began to approach Miriel, who bore sharpened teeth like a cornered animal. Lawrence, awkwardly recovering from his shock, slowly lowered his arms from their guarded position and looked back towards the man who had simply left him alone.

 “You think you’ve won then?!” Miriel exclaimed. “I’m not the only one you know. There are so many others who’ll be more than happy to move in once I’m gone!”

 “But the world will be rid of one less monster terrorizing good people.” The soldier replied.

 “Thinking you’ll be better off?! You need me more than you know captain. Once I’m gone, you’ll have to contend with much more of those vampiric harlots who’ll want to claim my stake!”

 “I’ll deal with it as I have to. At least here I can correct one mistake.” The soldier raised his mace to his head, holding it in front of him in reverence. “In the name of blessed Hyra, for the good of Threnfollow, I condemn thee to-” The prayer was interrupted with a THUNK as Lawrence’s blade found itself embedded into the soldier’s head, splitting his skull open. With nary a sound but a raspy breath, the soldier faltered, his legs giving out as he dropped the mace to the ground. Miriel, seemingly free of whatever restrained her, quickly pounced upon the now dying man. Claws digging into and crushing steel, her mouth contorted and distended into a savage, worm-like maw full of razor-sharp teeth that quickly clamped down on the soldier’s exposed neck.

 The solder’s healthy, flushed skin began to blacken as he started to shrivel up like a sundried raisin. Within seconds, he was another dead husk left out in the forest, devoid of life. Miriel detached from him with a satisfied sigh before staring down on the broken body in front of her. “Oh captain~” she cooed, “thank you for bestowing me with one last meal for old time’s sake. Even if it meant providing it yourself.” Tossing the body to the side, she raised up her arms to the air with her eyes closed in victory, a throaty chuckle rising into a cacophonous roar of laughter as she experienced the euphoria of what was likely a major personal victory. Lawrence could only stare at the scene before him, mortified at the events that had taken place and of its aftermath.

What had he just done?! He could feel his heart beating in his throat, his stomach floating like a balloon. Actually, scratch that, it wasn’t his heart in his throat, it was something else.

Miriel calmed down from her excitement and looked back at the scene before her, seemingly noticing Lawrence in the moment. “Ah! I almost forgot you were there Lawrence.” Lawrence could only keep staring, mouth a gape as Miriel continued in her self-indulgence. “I hadn’t thought that we’d be seeing each other again so soon. So, immune to more magics than just charms huh? To think that even magical force doesn’t affect you. You’ve quite the boon y’know, wizards would kill for that sort of protection…” She left behind the body and sauntered up to Lawrence, frozen in shock. “Is there something you mean to say? A question or a topic you’d wish to discuss?” Lawrence could only stare back in response. That ireful look came to her face again, obviously indignant at the lack of a response.

“Well?” She questioned. “Spit it out!” Lawrence’s body could only oblige. With a sudden gag, Lawrence ran away from the scene to the side of the road before falling to his knees. With a tremendous heave, he hurled a ball of his previous meal to the ground, followed by a small, steady stream of bile as he struggled to process that he had just murdered someone in cold blood. Certainly, watching someone get drained to a raisin was a horrid thing to bear witness to, but it was something else to feel the impact of a sword hitting a man’s skull, or to see blood spatters on his arms, or the smell of soiled undergarments…

Reminded again of the sensation, Lawrence redoubled in his vomiting as, Miriel, stood idly by, disgusted at the display before her. When, finally, Lawrence finished evacuating his guts, several spits required to clear the remnants from his mouth, he turned his head to Miriel with ragged breath. “Gah, sorry,” he muttered, wiping his mouth, “I’ve never uh. Hmph humph. Did something like that to, to anyone. It’s…it’s not great.” Picking himself back up, he turned back fully to the demoness. “Liveleak helps but…ugh.”

“Well,” the demoness started, awkwardly trying to keep the ice broken. “It’s something that happens to humans the first time around. It’s the ones that start early, or feel nothing from it, that you have to look for, I’ve noticed.”

“I figured. Anyway…” Lawrence spit out another bit of vomit from his mouth, prepared to move on from the subject. “that was kind of you.”

“Oh? Draining the very life from a man is something you consider kind?”

Lawrence shook his head. “No, no. The fact you helped out. I think it’s kind of needed with folk like us, honestly.” Miriel raised a brow in response. “Well, strangers, I mean. Strangers to lands like us need to stick together, help each other out!”

“What, you think I…” The demon tilted her head upwards and let out a haughty laugh, her amusement echoing through the forest. “How ludicrous! You might be the most unique man I’ve met in this land Lawrence, but you’re still just another human I couldn’t care less about living or dying.”

A bit rude, Lawrence thought. “Then why’d you bother intervening if I wasn’t so important?” He countered.

“Because!” She shot back. “Your situation just so happened to play into my advantage. These men just so happened to be a problem I was dealing with, and now, I have!” She motioned around to the scene she had created, and more specifically to the body she had discarded.

“So what, you’re just going to leave now that your problem is dealt with?”

“Why yes, I am.” Miriel responded matter of factly.

“Not even to shoot the shit a little bit?”

“Is there a problem with me keeping to my own schedule?” The demoness accused. Clearly a shit test.

“No,” Lawrence answered, wary of his words, “no problem at all. By all means you can leave to wherever, whenever. I’m not gonna stop you.” A toothy smile.

“That’s what I thought.” The demoness turned about to leave, only for Lawrence to spring his trap.

“Just remember that you owe me a favor!” Hiding a smirk, Lawrence watched with satisfaction as Miriel stopped in her tracks. She turned her head about, her smug looked tainted with the faintest glare as she stared back towards him.

“…Whatever do you mean to imply by that?” She asked, her tone low and almost murderous.

“I mean, if you didn’t mean to save me then clearly you killed these men for yourself, right?”

“Go on.”

“Then, since you got caught out and all by that old guy, whom I imagine you’ve had quite a history with-”

“Get to your point.” Miriel snapped.

“Because I saved you from getting your head smashed in, you owe me one.” Lawrence quickly finished. “Granted I don’t have any problems at the moment, I…uh, just kind of want to bust your balls a little bit. Tease you a little bit y’know? Have a little fun, take the piss out of it, that sort of thing.” Miriel remained silent for a moment, before turning her head away, in what was most definitely a tactic to hide any displeasure she had at the claim.

“…So it would seem.” She flatly answered. “You have me there Lawrence, and I will keep it in mind in the future.” With the crunching of cartilage, a pair of batlike wings sprouted from the demoness’ back. She was about to leave again and was obviously dead set on it.

“Alright, well. That’s fine.” Lawrence conceded. “I hope, at least, to be able to see you again Miriel.” A brief pause.

The response was swift, immediate, and terrifying.

Before he could blink, Lawrence found Miriel’s hand wrapped about his throat and forcing him to the ground and on his knees. Her grip tightened, cutting off his ability to breath. Left with no option, Lawrence clutched at his attacker’s arm as he struggled to not lose consciousness. Her gaze drilled into his very being as she stared into his eyes with murderous intent.

“Don’t you DARE repeat that name.” She snarled, her outlook having changed to utter savagery. “I have labored long to ensure that my name was forgotten by mortal kind. I have burnt thousands of your years in knowledge to ash, utterly destroyed the lives of countless men and women, and instigated entire social upheavals to see the orders that knew about it annihilated. Do not think that I will hesitate for a second to flay you alive should you happen to merely utter that name to the thin air.” She tightened her grip, practically cutting off the flow of Lawrence’s blood to his brain. “Am I understood?” On the verge of blacking out, Lawrence nodded, at least understanding the gravity of the situation.

“Good.” Miriel promptly released him from her grasp, leaving him to gasp for the air that was denied to him. “I will not be having this conversation with you again.”

“Fine,” Lawrence coughed out, “fine. That’s fair. Didn’t know it meant that much to you.” Miriel, seemingly satisfied with her little demonstration, prepared herself to leave once again. “Hey,” Lawrence rasped out, trying to get Miriel’s attention, “for what it’s worth, I apologize Miri. I didn’t realize that the true name clause was a thing with your kind.” Miri quickly turned about, Lawrence’s new nick name for her having gotten her attention once again. “Nicknames are still fair game, aren’t they?”

“You are pushing the limits of my tolerance, fellow stranger. You would do well to remember that advice I gave you.” Without a further word, Miri took off with a flap of her wings. The snapping of branches and twigs (and the splatter of the bodies that were previously hidden up in the canopy impacting with the ground) postmarked her departure. Left once again to his own devices, Lawrence saw no other course than to scavenge the bodies for whatever valuables they had before setting off.

In this strange new world, he had been given a most colorful welcome, and a nagging question that ate at him as he walked along the road, to the nearest town he could find. A question he sadly would not be able to answer on his own.


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