“Ma? Hey, Ma?”
Marybeth huffed and stamped her foot down upon the soft earth of the forest floor. She crossed her arms and waited as Na continued to walk through the trees, her pale form illuminated by brief clips of moonlight shining down through the canopy. Marybeth waited a moment longer to see if she’d garner any attention, but of course, she did not.
She sighed, rolled her eyes, and put her hands to her mouth, amplifying her voice as she cried, “NAAAAAAAA!”
Na turned about, red eyes shining in the darkness. “Yes yes?”
Marybeth sighed in exasperation as she stalked toward her new mother. As soon as she reached Na, she poked her with her claw-like finger, right in the abdomen, causing the older Ghoul to blink in confusion.
“Yes yes? Is something wrong?”
“I’ll have you know that something is quite wrong!” Marybeth huffed again, crossing her arms as she looked up at Na. She was still mildly disconcerted by the way Na’s feral appearance, covered in dirt and dried blood as she was, made her inhuman eyes seem far more monstrous than they would had Na been bathed. Of course, thought Marybeth, This is how I look now, isn’t it?
The younger ghoul looked down at her shoulder where Na had fed upon her just hours before. The bite mark there was already starting to fade, the only signs she was ever hurt being the torn dress and dried blood. What a cruel fate to inflict upon someone such as her, but perhaps it wasn’t so bad. Compared to that nebulous darkness from before, this was positively heaven, even if she really didn’t feel all that different from when she was alive.
Except for the hunger. She felt the pangs of a deep hunger inside her belly, or rather, everywhere about her. It was just that her belly was where she could rationalize it being, perhaps as a holdover from life. Though she could still walk, talk, and function well, the more she traveled with Na, the hungrier she grew, and she began to hear certain “voices.” She didn’t really know a better way to put it other than something whispering within her mind, telling her to feed, to satiate the hunger.
She wanted to, she really did, but when she recalled what Na had done to poor Mr. Landon, she roiled in disgust. She could never do something like that, something so… well, perverted was the only word she could think of. She was never really told about such things, but she’d seen her Mother and Father in such an act once, before she got sick. It was unsettling to see, to say the least.
She blinked, as memories began to flood into her. Memories of laying in her bed, feeling so tired every day, unable to keep down food or regulate her bowels. She remembered the way her mother would cry every day whenever she had little accidents, and how she wailed when the town physician told her his findings. It wasn’t that Marybeth thought she was going to have survived, but the feeling of regret associated with never being able to walk, or play again was one of the strongest feelings she could remember having. And now here she was, never to see her real mother, father, or her friend Ja-
Ja…Ja… Jackson? No, that wasn’t right… what was his name again? She felt she should remember someone so important, but…
Marybeth’s thoughts were interrupted as Na shook her, jolting the young Ghoul back into reality.
“Wha, wha, whaaaat arrrrreeee yyouuuu ddoooiiinggg!” She cried, voice distorted as her head rocked back and forth from the rather violent shaking.
“You stopped speaking, were quiet, so quiet, yes yes. Worried, very worried, I was.”
Marybeth sighed and gently removed Na’s arms. “I just got lost in thought.”
“Ah, I know this, yes yes. Thinking, always thinking, but never remembering.” Na nodded her head in a rather sage-like manner, the effect only mildly spoiled by her nudity. “This is normal.”
“Normal to… forget things?”
Marybeth looked down and rubbed at her arm. “Oh… I see.”
“What did you forget?”
Marybeth sighed and whispered, “The name of a friend.”
Na placed a hand on the head of the younger ghoul, her coarse fingers feeling somewhat comforting on Marybeth’s head. “It hurts, yes yes, I remember it hurts, for a time, only a time. But you remember new things, such new feelings.” Her eyes seemed to look off at something far away, “It is a new life, yes yes…”
Marybeth considered her words before mumbling, “I guess.”
“Yes yes, well if that’s that, we continue, must continue.” Na nodded her head, then turned to move away.
“W..wait!” Marybeth cried out, waving her ghoulish arms in the air. “That’s not what I wanted to talk about!”
Na turned about again, blinking. “No no?”
“No no… ugh, I mean, no!” Marybeth pointed at Na, her red eyes shimmering, “You said I could call you Ma!”
“Well… you didn’t respond when I called you that!”
Na scratched her chin, thinking. “Yes yes… you did say that.”
“Well, you should respond next time!”
Na nodded her head slowly. “Forgiveness, I was rude, very rude.”
Marybeth sniffed, “I forgive you.” She smiled then, looking down. “Ma.”
Marybeth rolled her eyes, smile still on her lips. “I didn’t mean now…”
“Oh. Well well, then this is finished, yes yes? We must continue, keep moving.” Na began to walk again and Marybeth followed, doing her best to keep pace with the long strides of the older ghoul.
Na’s shapely legs moved over the ground with an odd, predatory grace that was nonetheless distinctly feminine. Marybeth blushed, or well, felt embarrassed as she wasn’t certain she could blush, and wondered if she’d look like that when she got older.
Wait, did Ghouls GET older?
“Where are we going anyway?” Marybeth asked, vaulting over a fallen log with surprising ease. She was actually kind of amazed she could even see it in the dim light here, but to her it was as bright as day. Perks of being a spooky scary undead monster she guessed.
“To find food, yes yes, new places, far away, too dangerous here.” Na replied, not even looking back.
“When you say food, do you mean… people?”
“Yes yes, men, corpses, their energy, sweet energy, bitter energy, it is all energy.”
“Ma I… I don’t think I can do that.”
Na paused then, a strange expression upon her face. “You do not feel the hunger?”
“No, no I still feel the hunger.” Marybeth said, putting her hands on her stomach. It was starting to be a quite painful actually. “But doing what you did… I can’t…I won’t do that.”
“Then corpses, yes yes, you can feed on corpses, much more delicious anyway.”
“I gue-!” Marybeth suddenly cut off as a wave of pain roiled through her stomach, sending her to her knees as she doubled over, gasping in shock.
Na flipped about, eyes flaring as her stance suddenly shifted into a feral crouch, her arms held forward upon the ground, head whipping back and forth, mouth open in a snarl.
“What? Attack? Humans with metal? Speak child, speak speak!”
“M….my belly it…” Marybeth put a hand to her mouth as another wave of powerful hunger roiled through her. She felt herself begin to salivate profusely and her teeth seemed to ache, as if demanding to rip into something. “It hurts!”
Na quickly stalked over to her daughter, putting a hand upon the girl. “There is no food here, no food, none! You must fight it though it is hard, so very hard.”
Marybeth looked up at Na, and the older Ghoul frowned at the sight. Her new daughter’s face had changed, girlish features stretched and gaunt, mouth extending down slightly, her teeth seeming wickedly sharp. Oddest of all, her eyes shone with an almost blood colored hue, obscured somehow as what looked like clouds seemed to drift behind them. All together, the effect seemed to drown out the spark of life and individuality that Marybeth had always shown, replacing it with something fierce and primal.
“Hungerlust, yes yes…” Na muttered as the girl searched about, trying to pull herself out of her mother’s arms. Na knew the condition well, very well. It struck all Ghouls who had been without food for too long, or had expended too much energy without refueling. Younger Ghouls, those recently blessed and without the knowledge to fight their inner hunger, succumbed to it far more readily than those like Na who had been blessed for quite some time.
Marybeth tried to tear free from Na’s grasp suddenly, but the older Ghoul held her firmly with arms that felt as if they were made of steel. No, this wouldn’t do, wouldn’t do at all. Marybeth would attack any human nearby for food, and although she was now stronger than most, her mind wasn’t fully there, and the chances of her being hurt were higher, much higher. If she went too long without though…
Na frowned, considering what to do. She could leave the girl, as she had considered before, and take the easy path, so easy, but she knew she couldn’t do that anymore. Whatever instinct at the back of her mind that tugged her into adopting this child wouldn’t allow that. But there was no food around, and even if there was, she’d have to kill them for the child to feed. Even in this state, she felt that Marybeth wouldn’t feed like a true Ghoul. So strange children were.
Her gaze drifted to the torn shoulder of Marybeth’s tunic and an odd though appeared in her head. Odd, yes yes, it was a very odd thought, but could it work? She considered, the younger Ghoul continuing to thrash fruitlessly in her arms, uttering unintelligible wails of protest, some of which began to sound like the rending cry, the paralyzing sound a Ghoul would emit to freeze prey in fear before they struck. Na was almost proud of this fact, yes yes, quite proud, but she had other concerns.
She gently took her right arm from restraining the girl, and before Marybeth could so much as protest, she jammed her forearm into the girl’s mouth.
Marybeth’s teeth immediately clamped down on Na’s flesh, and the older Ghoul let out a sharp gasp in sudden pain. While a Ghoul was more resistant to pain than most living monsters, they were not like zombies or skeletons, who had lost the ability to do so. Her daughter’s sharp teeth bit deep into her flesh, and tiny rivulets of faintly glowing blood dribbled from the wound. She was about to pull back, to admonish herself for something so foolish, when she felt it.
Na couldn’t describe the sensation fully. If she had to try, it would be somewhat akin to the feeling she got when she fed for energy, just in… reverse? It didn’t hurt, not really, but it made her begin to feel tired as the energy she had so recently gained from the grave keeper was siphoned from her, into her daughter.
When she began to feel the last of the man’s energy leave her, she gently, or well, gently for a Ghoul, pushed Marybeth off her.
The younger Ghoul fell to the ground before quickly scrabbling onto all fours, in a position quite similar to that of Na’s from before. She stared at Na, faint trails of blood dribbling from her shining teeth onto her tunic, her frenzied eyes shimmering softly.
Na merely crouched there, staring back into the eyes of the girl. Marybeth looked hungrily at Na, before slowly starting to back away, shaking her head as if realizing it wouldn’t be in her best interests of self preservation. Na growled as Marybeth leaned to bolt away, “Child, you will stop.”
Marybeth froze, crimson eyes going wide. Na prowled forward, eyes never leaving her daughter. “You have fed, yes yes, you have taken your energy from me, so precious, so sweet. You will stop, you will sit.”
Marybeth stopped and sat. Her eyes began to lose the haze that was clouding them, allowing Na to creep closer. “You look for more, yes yes? Your hunger drives you forward?”
Marybeth nodded, as if in a stupor. “G…good. It tastes… good. But it’s not… not enough.”
“You must fight it, the hunger, or it will consume, yes yes, that which hungers will even eat you.”
“I don’t… want that.”
“No no, you do not.” Na closed in on her daughter, and held her arm up to the girl, the bite marks showing starkly against her pale flesh.
Marybeth stared at the wound, and a mix of light blood and saliva dribbled from her mouth. She slowly reached a clawed hand to Na, but stopped short, hand shaking.
“N…No…” She whispered, eyes coming into focus, face subtly growing less gaunt. “No I… I won’t let it control me.”
“Good good, you fight it, you hold onto yourself.” Na stalked a circle around Marybeth, speaking low as she did so, her eyes never leaving her daughter. “It was hard for me, so very hard, to fight my hunger. I lost full control once, terrible, so very terrible.”
“Y…you did?” Marybeth muttered, putting a hand to a head. “What… what did you do?”
“The one who blessed me, Kat, sweet Kat, she beat me violently.”
“It worked, the pain, such pain, brought me to my senses, gave me a fear. Losing control of the hunger, such bad things happen, always such bad things.” Na’s gaze lingered over Marybeth for a moment and she felt a sting of pain as she realized what she’d said.
“Like creating me?” The girl whispered.
Na pulled in close then, wrapping her arms around Marybeth in an embrace. “No no! I did not mean that, not at all, no no. I would never mean such a thing, forgiveness, I forget, always forget.”
“I’m sorry…” her daughter said, pressing herself against her mother’s strong arms, all traces of her former feral nature gone. “I’m causing you more trouble.”
Na closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against Marybeth’s, feeling her cold skin. “Trouble, yes yes, you cause trouble, much trouble, more than you can know. But I am not angry, no no. Look at yourself, see what you have done without beatings, terrible beatings.”
Marybeth blinked and then gasped. “The hunger it… it’s gone away.” She frowned a moment later, “Well, not gone away, but… but it’s not fighting me anymore.”
Na smiled and nodded her head, feeling proud again. “Good girl, strong girl. You have much control, yes yes, though you might have drank me dry if I didn’t push you away, yes yes.”
The younger Ghoul wiped at her chin, frowning at the blood there before shrugging and licking it up. She made a slightly pleased gesture and looked up to Na. “Is this how all Ghoul children eat?”
Na paused, and looked at her child askance. A difficult question, yes yes, very difficult, but one which she had likely known she’d have to address some day. Yes, she had mentioned offhanded before that there were no Ghoul children, but in the heat of the moment a few hours back, Marybeth must have forgotten. A lucky break for Na, but for her to ask so soon though, Na wasn’t quite prepared to tell the full truth, such a terrible truth. She concentrated on a way out of this situation when a voice cut out from the night.
“There are no Ghoul children, no no, none save you, little one.”
Na immediately crouched back down, dragging Marybeth close to her side as she scanned the dark tree line, searching for… there. A set of glowing red eyes materialized out of the night, a wicked smile following just below. Na growled softly as the other Ghoul made her way closer, until she was fully in view.
The newcomer was a short woman, with the same pale, nearly ashen skin as Na and Marybeth, her fingers similarly gaunt and claw like. Her black hair hung short on her head, portions of it torn out, giving her a rather ragged appearance, which was furthered by the remnants of a robe that hung loosely around her neck, coated liberally with mud and stuck through with twigs and leaves. She stopped about twenty feet from the two Ghouls and looked between them.
A tense silence filled the air and Na felt a cold fear start to permeate her. No, no, no! Another Ghoul, here? So soon? She was found out, the others would know, would have the right to hunt her, to hurt her, to hurt Marybeth, and send them both back to the dark abyss.
She felt her primal instincts start to well up at that thought, the feeling that determined whether she fought or ran, both ideas feeling rather tempting to her at the moment. She shifted her weight to her right arm and it suddenly flared in pain. She winced, realizing that the damage her daughter had done was more than she had anticipated. Coupled with the fact that her energy reserves were now lower, a fight might not be in her best interests, no no.
She merely sat there then, watching the other Ghoul, who still had that smile on her face. A gust blew through the trees, showering the area in a thin coat of leaves as a low whistling blew past. And yet, no one moved, the tension continuing to rise.
It was Marybeth who broke the silence, speaking up loudly. As she did, Na noticed her posture was crouched, read to spring forward or backward upon her new legs. Good, very good, her instincts were well formed. Once more Na felt proud, so proud.
“Is it not customary to give your name?”
The other Ghoul blinked a few times, as if the question had confused her. She smiled broadly before tittering, “Ehhehehe, yes yes, that is so young one, that is so. I am Fi.”
“I am Marybeth, and this is Na”
“Yes yes, I know this.”
Na narrowed her eyes, “How do you know this?”
Fi tapped her ears, “I listen, always listening, and watch. See and hear many things, many interesting things.” She pointed a long finger at Marybeth. “Such as the child, interesting, very interesting. They should not exist, and yet here one stands, against the rules of our people, so naughty.”
Marybeth frowned, “Against the… rules?” She looked at Na, “What does she mean by that?”
Na’s eye twitched. Damn this woman, damn her, damn her thrice. But there was no way out of this, no no, the truth must be told, lying was to be frowned upon of course. She eyed Marybeth from the side, keeping her main focus on Fi. “Child, I have said we are… not to feed upon children, it is wrong, so wrong, however…”
“You lost control again.”
Na nodded her head solemnly, “Yes yes, to my shame. Hungry, so very hungry I was. I accidently let loose the blessing, as I said before, though I do not regret it, no.”
Marybeth gave Na a soft smile before another cackle sounded from Fi. “Ehehehehe, but you haven’t told her the whole truth, no no, not lying, but not truthful either.”
Na sighed and narrowed her eyes. “Yes yes, she is correct… Ghoul children, and those who create them, have broken the rules, yes yes. It is the most sacred of our rules, the one punished most fiercely should they be found.”
“W…what is the punishment?”
“Return to the abyss by starvation.”
Marybeth’s eyes grew wide and she clutched at her stomach, “No…”
“Yes yes!” Fi said, shifting back and forth ecstatically. “And those who carry out the duty are rewarded, such great rewards, from the Pale Ladies, yes yes, such rewards, though they have not been given in so long.”
Na’s eyes flattened into full slits. “Is that a threat?”
Fi tittered again, and her mouth slowly extended out, her body crouching lower to the ground. “Ehehehe, no no, it is a promise!” She pulled back and suddenly leapt toward Na, the rending cry wailing from her mouth.
To a Ghoul, or another creature of the undead, this cry was meaningless, but Na cried out in response, leaping forward to intercept the other Ghoul. They met mid-air, crashing into a heap of pale limbs and began to roll back and forth, thrashing at each other.
Though Fi was smaller than Na, her arms carried a similar strength, and she was quick, her fingers tearing at Na’s exposed flesh, drawing out bits of pale blood as she scrabbled. Na, for her part, had more reach, but in the confines of their roll, was forced to use her legs, slamming her knees into the abdomen of the smaller Ghoul, drawing out feral wails in time with her own.
Na had little experience fighting other Ghouls, as most Ghouls rarely had cause to do so, but she felt that her situation wasn’t so bad. Though Fi had good openings with her arms, her wounds were superficial, merely scratching her breasts and shoulder, while Na could swear that she had heard one of Fi’s ribs crack from a savage blow she had delivered. Fi cried out and sank her teeth into Na’s shoulder, causing Na to roar in fury, preparing to rip her own teeth into her enemy’s neck.
Fi pushed off Na then, leaping backward onto all fours, her eyes filled with fury. She began to stalk into a slow circle, Na following her as she did so, the two trailing around the perimeter of an imaginary arena. It wasn’t until after the first few steps that Na realized Fi’s loop was bringing the other Ghoul right toward Marybeth.
Na’s head whipped over to the girl, and her eyes grew wide as Fi used to the chance to leap forward toward her daughter, unleashing another rending cry.
Marybeth was thankfully not cowed by the cry, but her reaction was slow, her mind still too human to understand the nature of such a predatory combat, and Fi managed to grab hold of her arm as the girl tried to dodge out of the way. The two rolled back and forth, throwing up a cloud of leaves and dirt. Even as Na leaped toward them, her powerful legs carrying her to soar through the air, she knew she was too late to help.
Fi held Marybeth firmly, cackling as one of her arms wrapped around the girl’s chest, the other pulling on her long blond hair. “Ehehehe, I will take the girl, yes yes, it will be sufficient, very sufficient.”
Na made to leap forward, but Fi snarled and pulled back further on Marybeth’s hair “Do not come! I will destroy her! Undead, returned to the abyss, it matters not, no no, matters not, I will still get my reward.”
She smiled wickedly, “But you wish her as she is now, yes yes? You feel for the girl, call her your ‘daughter,’ yes yes? Ehehe, funny, very funny, that you call her something she cannot be.” Fi looked at Marybeth, who had a mix of pain and anger on her Ghoulish features, “Say goodbye to ‘Ma’, yes yes, goodbye!”
“G… go to hell!” Marybeth screamed before ramming an elbow into Fi’s chest, right where her rib was broken. Fi’s grip on Marybeth’s hair slipped slightly as she gasped in pain. Marybeth’s eyes flashed crimson, and she bit down onto Fi’s arm.
Instead of crying out, flinching, or showing any much reaction, Fi merely looked down at Marybeth and cocked her head.”What are you doing? This is….!”
Fi trailed off suddenly, taking a sharp breath and shuddering. Na knew what was happening, she could see the look of one feeding in Marybeth’s expression, could feel as Fi’s presence began to diminish while the little Ghoul drained her of her energy.
“G…get off, off off I say!” Fi screamed, grabbing Marybeth by her hair again and tearing the gitl off her arm, throwing the poor little Ghoul a good fifteen feet to collide into a tree with an audible “thud.” She snarled in pain and looked up just in time to see Na leap toward her, teeth bared. The two collided once again, this time Na straddling atop the other Ghoul, right hand grasping the sullied robe remnants, her left poised to strike a finishing blow.
“You will re-die! Return to the dark abyss!” Na screamed, her rage at seeing Marybeth hurt mixing with her own anger at being attacked by such a pitiful creature. The hunger began to fill her, giving her strength and drive, making her rational thought begin to leave. Fi must die, for her safety, and Marybeth’s. This was how it must be.
Fi snarled, her own rage consuming her then, “No… no no, you will re-die!” With motions quicker than she had shown earlier, she struck in a blur, the strike connecting with Na’s right arm.
A furious pain welled up Na’s arm from where Marybeth had bit her, and by reflex, she let go of the cloth, allowing Fi to push her off, forcing Na to stagger backward, holding her arm in pain and allowing the other Ghoul to rise.
“Curse you!” Spat Na, starring daggers at the other Ghoul who had retreated backward, carrying her own wounded arm rather tenderly. She slipped, but quickly stood back up, her own energy reserves probably running low from what Marybeth had stolen.
“Phah! Not worth it, not yet, no no, not yet. I’ll wait, watch and listen, wait until the time is right. You will be my gift to the Pale Lady, rule breaker, criminal. You win today, but for how long? I will catch you, yes yes, or another, many others. No safety, none! Ehehehe!” Fi cackled again, moving slowly backward, eyes never leaving Na’s. When she reached a dense brush of foliage, she turned and quickly slipped into the trees and out of sight.
Na watched where she went for a long time before sighing and slowly sinking to her knees, feeling very tired. Her energy was low, so low, but she had enough to stave off the hunger, which was screaming at her to chase down Fi, for now. Still, to be attacked like this, and so soon… She looked down at her body, seeing the new and fresh wounds upon her. She’d need energy to repair these, more than she had now, but at least they were mostly superficial, although her bite wounds did throb something fierce.
“Uhn…” Marybeth moaned from behind.
Na whipped around and stalked over to the girl, slowly helping her sit up. Despite hitting hard enough to crack the bark, Marybeth didn’t seem terribly much worse for wear. Still, Na helped her up gently, putting a hand behind the girl’s head as her daughter’s eyes flitted open.
Na smiled, “Yes yes, very painful, much ‘ouch.'”
Marybeth shook her head and winced. “Is she gone?”
The younger Ghoul nodded her head before clinching her jaw into place. “That was very rude of her to attack us.”
“Yes yes, it was.” Na looked off to where Fi had run before smiling back at Marybeth. “You fought well, yes yes, very well. Feeding from her was unexpected, but it worked, worked very well.”
Marybeth smiled back. “Well, I did win a few fights with the boys back in my day.” Her smile faltered some as she looked to the ground, “She… she said that me being here broke the rules, that I would be…”
Na rubbed Marybeth’s head again, feeling a measure of her own weariness leave her as she did so. She didn’t know why it would comfort the girl, but she knew that it was the right thing to do. When Marybeth’s giggled, she felt her… heart? Yes, heart, flutter. So odd these children were, very odd, making her feel such strange yet familiar feelings. “Do not worry, I will not let them harm you.”
“Yes yes, I am guilty, very guilty, but I will not submit. If I do, they will take you, they will hurt you, they will return you to the dark abyss. I will not allow it, no no.”
“Why though? You could just leave me behind, save yourself the trouble.”
Na considered her words before shrugging as something came to her lips unbidden, “Is it not the duty of a daughter to make trouble for her mother?”
Marybeth blinked a few times, her expression stunned. “M…ma? Are… are you alright?”
Na cocked her head, “Some discomfort, yes yes, but mostly fine. Why do you ask?”
Marybeth furrowed her brow before shaking her head. “Never mind.” She took her mother’s hand in her own and nodded, red eyes sparkling with a determined fire. “If you say you’ll protect me, then I believe it.”
Na ruffled Marybeth’s blond hair again, smiling as she did so before looking off once more to where Fi had fled. Trouble, she would be much trouble for the two of them, especially if her talk of finding a Pale Lady wasn’t just bluster. For now though, Na needed to find food, and somewhere safe for Marybeth before she could think of anything else. She knew there was another, larger human settlement through the forest, and though she hadn’t visited it much, she figured many other Ghouls would have left just as they had here. There were new dangers in a larger settlement, yes, but at the same time, it offered more safety in the shadows of its buildings, and more food in its larger population of dead.
“Come come…” Na began, but Marybeth to squeezed her hand and cut her off,
“We go, yes yes.”
Na cocked her head in confusion as her daughter beamed up at her, eyes shining with mischief in the dark. She merely shook her head and continued to walk through the forest, the first fingers of dawn beginning to slide into view over the horizon.
“S…so you see milord, the monsters, they’ve-“
“I heard you the first time grave keeper, you do not have to repeat your tale.”
Mr. Landon sat back, hands followed in his lap as the lean man across the table from him tapped the table with a black leather gloved finger. Though he was a larger man, Mr. Landon shook visibly as he waited on the whims of the man across from him. Eventually the man sighed and rose, his dark coat falling down to his knees. He turned to the grave keeper and the poor man began to visibly sweat as he spoke in a high and nasally voice.
“Your survival against such abominations is admirable, but I fear they may have left their taint upon you. Had I the time, I would administer my cleansing upon you here and now, but I am afraid I must leave to catch the trail of the beasts.”
“O…of course milord, I-“
“You will, however, report to your clergyman for his cleansing.” The man turned to Mr. Landon, eyes the color of steel staring down the grave keeper. “And when I return with the creatures slain, I will judge you myself.”
“Ye…yes milord!” Mr. Landon bowed down forcefully and the man sneered before adjusting his wide brimmed hat and walking outside into the midday sun. He had come at the summons as soon as he had received it, his blood boiling at the story he had been told. He’d ridden the through the night from the larger town of Tuhon when a rider from this village had arrived looking for help. Turning a child into one of those abominations… disgusting.
“Milord?” A stout man carrying a large pack filled with various items said as he stood from where he sat outside the domicile of the grave keeper. “Are we off on a hunt?”
The Lord nodded his head, resting his hand upon the rapier at his side. “Yes, I believe that we do. There is a sickness which has infested these lands for too long, and it has begun to fester and rot. Tell me Pulkin, what does one do with sickness?”
“Purge it, milord.”
“Well said.” The man adjusted his hat again and looked off to the tree line, judging where to start based on the tracks they’d found while looking around the graveyard. They’d head for where they could find men to feed upon, and if they had fled from here, then that meant they’d be moving to Groldburg, a river-side trading town. “We will purge this sickness, or my name isn’t…?”
“Ulrich Hemmingler, Lord Hunter of the Order of the Sacred Rose.”
“Again, well said. Now, all we have to do is wait for… ah, there he is.”
A man dressed in the light armor of a soldier, an eagle upon his breast, walked purposefully up to Lord Hemmingler and Pulkin, sword at his hip and spear in hand. His face was stern, and he had a long, black mustache that, along with the worry lines along his face, made him look older than he really was. He stared the Lord Hunter critically in the eye before bowing his head in deference. “Milord.”
Hemmingler nodded his head in respect. He appreciated men who had the courage to look in the face of justice and not flinch. “Sergeant Holsenheim, are you certain that you wish to join us on this hunt? It may be troubling, even for one of your experience.”
Sergeant Holsenheim’s knuckles turned white as he gripped his spear harder. “Yes, milord. I returned home from the frontlines to find my daughter dead, and not even a day goes by after she is buried, does…this, happen.” He grit his teeth and stared coldly at the Lord Hunter. “I’m going to destroy the creature that did this to her, no matter what I have to pay you to do it.”
Ulrich Hemmingler smiled and lowered his wide-brimmed hat before waving a hand to the other two men to saddle up and set off down the road to Groldberg.