Pain. Misery. Both were the summation of his existence as Laius struggled and urged his herculean frame on through the sheets of gelid rain and the lashing winds savaging him; overhead, an infinity of swarthy storm-clouds glowered down at him with visible ill-intent from the lofty heights of a bleak and frightfully animate skyline.
Though exhaustion burned every grouping of musculature within his battered and frozen body, he somehow still retained the strength to continue wending his way to the splendid sanctuary his bloodshot eyes had only scarcely espied within the gloomy landscape; though he’d initially disregarded it as either a delusion of his sleep-deprived mind, or as a trick of poor visibility within the dreary and heavily mountainous environs surrounding him, when he found himself recurringly spotting the same unmistakable image of a cave perched neatly at the base of a veritable fortress of broken and jagged stone, he honed his rigorously trained vision onto it. . .and swiftly determined its basis in reality.
Positioned domineeringly at the top of a series of coalesced hills, the fortress of rock was roughly bedecked with punctures, crannies, and gashes that were so deeply set into its surface that they readily mimicked the image of a darkly yawning grotto or cavelet.
Though it was profoundly difficult to not allow himself to go daft with elation at the prospect of having shelter from the storm, the scout managed to suppress his giddiness until he reached the foot of the fortress’s hills and began a furtive yet visibly impatient approach up the gradient. With the full cruelty of the weather pouring down on him, the man managed to maintain the caution of his approach until he was approximately halfway up the hill; then, his composure broke away, and in a burst of impatient speed he rushed headlong to the side of the cave’s mouth.
Peering inside yielded little more than the sight of the entrance’s rocky pathway as it continued levelly for a short distance, dipped, then began to gently slope down before quickly trailing off into darkness. Tuning out the droning sound of the rainfall around him, Laius listened for any hints of hidden activity within the cave before he then drew his knife from the small of his back, prepared himself for the possibility of a confrontation, and quickly slinked inside.
His approach was slow, methodical, and largely automatic as Laius lowered his stance to a creep, distributed his weight evenly, and carefully stepped further down the throat of the cave.
Streams of daylight pouring in from the entrance of the den quietly followed and guided the man’s descent for as long as they could, then, they inevitably diminished and faded entirely into the thickening darkness. As the tenebrous environs around him sequentially transitioned into a world of deeper shadow, the man’s heartbeat began to hasten in response: given his position as an invader, he was all too frightfully aware that he was at a constant and potentially fatal disadvantage.
At any moment, he knew his foot could fall onto a spike, that something weighty could be triggered to collapse onto him, or that some wretch of a man hidden away within the darkness could come spinning out from a blind corner and bury an axe in his face. . .there were numerous potential dangers lurking within the dark, and there was no choice available to him but to face them: if he was to have his long-overdue rest, the cave would need to be cleared of potential threats – it was unfortunate, but that was the price to be paid to assure his safety.
Awash in a sea of shadow and malign potentiality, the man was compelled to move onward with an ever greater degree of caution as his nerves began to unravel and his feet began to dig deeply into the ground in one staunch refusal to proceed after another. Fortunately, progress was more readily garnered once Laius ambled to the side of the passageway and ran a hand along it; the feeling of the stone’s certainty and permanence beneath his fingers was. . .reassuring.
From the small sampling his nostrils could gather, the scent was immediately unlike anything he had ever experienced before.Curiously, he noted irregularities within the shaping of the stone walls that seemed to tentatively indicate a curvature of the passageway; testing his theory against the wall exactly opposite of him, he confirmed the hypothesis with mild interest as he began to continue along his way – then something caught his attention. Something was in the air, something light, smoky, sweet. . . stupefying.
From the small sampling his nostrils could gather, the scent was immediately unlike anything he had ever experienced before. It wasn’t quite like the smell of smoked and spiced meat, nor was it entirely akin to the scent of exotic flowers, but it was something of a peculiar combination of the two; there were a myriad of other notes within the fragrance, each vibrantly distinct from the others, and each was just as tantalizingly unfamiliar as the last.
Gods above, what is that? he puzzled, neglecting to notice how the confounding odor began to make his mouth water, his thoughts to cloud, and his heart to begin to ache strangely.
Following the scent along as it wafted throughout the dark, the man’s mind pulsed with distress as its control of his body began to bleed away with horrific speed and damnable subtlety. Flailing ineffectually in its confusion and panic, his mind struggled to halt his legs from continuing their asinine pursuit of the enigmatic scent, but to no avail. Through glazed eyes, Laius watched as he marched deeper and deeper still into an ever thickening blackness.
Filling his nose and throat with the steadily concentrating fragrance, a numbness began to ripple along the man’s brain: it slowed thought, muddied focus, and strangled his cognition with a delectable intoxication that he steadily found himself craving.
Only faintly recognizing that the solidity of rock had disappeared out from beneath his hand, he felt pangs of harsh anxiety stab at his heart as he continued to mindlessly amble into darkness; ostensibly, it seemed as though the walls of the winding passageway had terminated into a kind of cavern or widened chamber that was suffused with utterly opaque blackness.
Unable to see within such damning lightlessness, and without anything to guide his navigation, Laius was made to steadily feel his way through the yawning abyss. Sheathing his knife, he slowly and quietly groped along the cold, stony ground of the vacuous dark – and as he peered into the blackness, it almost felt as though something within it was watching him. . .waiting for him.
With a hushed yawn, the man rubbed at his eyes and promptly scrubbed at them doubly as hard when he thought he observed a flash of amber light somewhere in the dark.
Though his throat grew dry at the thought of not being the sole occupant of the cave, something in the scout compelled him to keep moving forward, to continue pressing on into the waiting dark, and to continue to chase down the marvelous scent that was filling his nose and electrifying his body with each and every breath he took; his mind buzzed, unable to think or function properly as the smoky aroma reached a supreme level of concentration all around him – it seemed as though he had reached the source of the scent, yet. . .
“Perfect!” announced a pugnacious, abundantly self-satisfied, and markedly delicate feminine voice. Laius scarcely had time to widen his eyes in shock before they were then painfully blinded by the explosion of fire and sparks that suddenly burst into life less than a dozen paces away from him.
Stabbing into his eyes with the brutal force of a hammer-blow, the light forced them to shut and water uncontrollably; instinctively, the scout’s weathered hands rushed up to cover his face and attempt to shield his eyes from any further harm whilst his stomach compressed like a bellows and emitted a throaty, pained scream – he didn’t scream for long.
In a sudden, irresistibly violent impact, all the air was siphoned out from the man’s body in a singular horrid wheeze as he was thrown from his feet and sent crashing heavily to the ground; a rush of shock and confusion rolled through the man’s mind as his lungs autonomously worked to draw in deep and painful gasps of air, desperately attempting to regain the breath that had been stolen from him.
No sooner had that breath been regained than it was nearly stolen away from him once more as something landed heavily on top of the man.
Unwilling to allow his opponent the opportunity to strike down with the death-blow they were doubtlessly already preparing, the man swept his arms up in a paroxysm of retaliatory fury: battering, grasping, and shoving at whomever had placed themselves atop him with his left hand, he worked the other in conjunction with a sudden raise of his hips to reach behind his back and draw his blade.
Continuing to harass and batter at them until the assailant atop him was forced to shift, the scout gasped a quick lungful of air and released it as a bestial war-cry before he tore his knife from its sheathe and began to frantically slash at whatever he could.
Hearing a sudden, markedly peculiar yelping gasp peal out into the chill cavern air at the instant his knife’s edge bit into flesh, the man knew he’d made solid contact with the enemy and moved to press his attack. Bucking and wriggling beneath his attacker with as much ferocity as he could muster, Laius eventually slipped out from below his opponent and burst off into a blind, frantic sprint through the dark – the sounds that followed were nothing less than nightmarish.
Terror flooded his being as everything within the man’s body burned and screamed for him to gain more speed, to flee with more haste, to escape the bloody death that was trailing so closely behind him – and steadily growing closer.
Recurringly, perhaps obsessively, he imagined what it would be like to be taken: to be ripped into, to be torn apart, to be eviscerated and destroyed with interminable violence until all that remained of him was a demolished mass of gnawed limbs and splattered offal – he wondered what it was going to be like to be prey. . .then he realized that he already knew.
With a backward glance, he felt his heart nearly stop at the sight behind him; shooting through the darkness, glowing like hot coals, were a set of two blood-red eyes. . .eyes from which spewed two hellish, wildly billowing geysers of flame – and they were hurriedly coming nearer.
Tearing his vision back, the man pushed himself to a full sprint. Despite his effort, Laius could tell that the distance between himself and the creature was falling away rapidly; hearing the maniacal rhythm of the creature’s panting breaths and the scratching of its claws loudening in his ears was enough to tell him that the chase was nearly over – he’d lost, likely from the very beginning.
He screamed aloud as his mind began to strain under the pressure of being faced not only with his death, but also with the loss of everything he had once hoped to gain: he would never return to his homeland, he would never earn the admiration of his people, he would never be wed, and he would never be a father – he was going to die, and not a soul would know or care.
Realizing escape was an impossible prospect, the tiring scout tried to savor the last few moments of his life; reminiscing over his fondest memories, he would occasionally glance back to the approaching creature in a crude attempt to gauge how much longer he would have to live.
Exhausted and delirious with fear, he thought he saw hints of a face between the flowing streaks of the creature’s fire; the idea of such a thing wasn’t entirely odd – most things had faces, but it was what kind of face he thought he had seen that truly confounded him.
As the darkness around him seemed to thin from an absolute black to that of a degree where he could barely see his hands in front of his face, Laius was inclined to assume that he had somehow managed to make it back to the passageway he had come in from.
The faintest glimmer of a foolish hope flickered in his mind at the thought of somehow having lost his pursuer, but that small hope was quickly dashed once he felt something slam itself into his back and sent him hurtling through the air – for the briefest of moments the man emptied his lungs in a scream of sublime terror, then was quickly silenced.
Searing pain flew through the unfortunate man as his face and body collided into, and scraped across, cold rock; warm blood began to freely flow from the numerous, severe, abrasions he had sustained as the sound of a triumphant cry filled his ears. “It’s over!” bellowed a familiarly human voice from somewhere above his prostrated form. “I win!” came the voice again, issuing the words in a snarl of aggravation and supremacy as something impossibly solid then slammed into the prone man’s left flank, instantly converting him into a curled, groaning wreckage.
“You lose!” the voice continued in another vicious snarl, as it was also subsequently accompanied by another swift and brutal kick to the scout’s side. “Understand?” the inhumanly snarling, yet still distinctly comprehensible, voice questioned.
Groaning and growling as he tried to open his eyes to the sight of the attacker, Laius was forced to slam them shut once more as he suffered an equally devastating blow to his stomach. “Understand?!” the voice interrogated again, its heavy and expectant tone clearly portending the possibility of further violence if some measure of a reply was not quickly given.
Beaten and breathlessly writhing on the ground as he clutched his gut, Laius struggled to conjure a thought of what to do – then he remembered the knife he still clutched in his right hand.
Apparently, his adversary’s thoughts drifted toward that of the blade at the same moment his own had, as it was then that Laius found his wrist being seized by what felt to be a massive, prehensile, five-digited, paw-like appendage that bore down and crushed his own with an unmerciful strength; then with a steady ease, the ungodly strength lifted the entirety of his body from the ground merely by the grip it retained on his wrist.
Laius fought the pain for as long as he could, but his grip on the dagger eventually failed and saw it clatter uselessly to the ground. In a fervent bid to free his right arm, the pained man mustered all the strength he could and swung blindly with his left, his tightly curled fist making solid contact with the flesh of what felt to be a surprisingly-human face; the throaty growl that subsequently erupted out was quickly silenced once Laius followed up his previous strike with a short, yet surprisingly powerful, kick into what he estimated to be the creature’s stomach. Though he knew his gut-strike hadn’t been nearly as powerful as the beast’s, it was sufficient enough to grant him his freedom from the bone-crushing grip of the creature.
The moment he felt himself reconnect with the ground, Laius blinked his eyes clear and began to frantically survey the ground for his blade: in the process, forgetting the preponderancy of never turning his back on the enemy. Realization of his error dawned on Laius only moments before he was forced to turn to the sound of metal being scraped up from the ground behind him.
Where it once had seemed reasonably commodious, the passageway suddenly came to feel shrunken and mercilessly constricting as the scout’s body involuntarily locked up into a taught column of muscle at the very instant his gaze met that of the creature he had been fighting against.
Peering back at him from beneath a set of giant, busily swiveling, lupine ears and a copious mane of messy black hair, were a pair of nightmarishly stygian eyes; centered within those inky, fire-wreathed, orbs were two fiercely effulgent irises that burned a deep and fiery crimson around the two vertical slits of black that were the creature’s pupils.
Involuntarily taking a quivering step backward, Laius struggled to pull his vision out from the magmatic pits of the beast’s eyes: though unearthly and horrific, he found their peculiar lambency was also strangely. . .entrancing.
Stale air built within the man’s lungs as he unconsciously held his breath, eventually reaching a point where it could no longer be contained it was then fleetly released in the raspy ghost of an unwilling cry.
Perforced by an inexplicable draw, Laius felt his gaze shift and resettle upon the warmly illuminated image of the creature’s sharply-defined, distressingly gorgeous, and abundantly human face. Looking upon it, the thought of mingling such beauty and such terror together seemed like an impossible violation of nature, yet it was all too ludicrously real.
When scrutinized, the angelic perfection of the beast’s youthful countenance immediately contrasted with the broadly canined, malicious, grin that her mouth was shaped into; strikingly, that cruel smile was made to seem all the more perfectly bright by the charcoal-grey shading of her impeccably smooth skin.
Beneath her sharply-sculpted jawline, an inconspicuous, yet still tantalizingly smooth and feminine neck was accentuated by the sudden savage imagery of a large and gruesomely spiked collar; the item itself was also fastidiously complimented by an elaborately shaped, yet frightfully dismal, metallic caricature of a human skull.
Another, quivering, backward step was achieved by the panicky man – eliciting a widening of the girl’s feral smile, before she began to close the distance between them.
“Stay back from me beast!” the man cried aloud, his words coming out more as a flimsy, supplicant mewl than that of the forceful command he had intended for them to be.
Halting her movements, the girl cocked her head to the side and briefly reshaped her cruelly grinning face into a mock expression of consideration for the man’s words – then her malevolent smile returned.
“No,” came the girl’s curt response as she resumed stalking toward the man.
Though the monsters in the tales of his youth had typically been capable of speech, Laius found himself utterly incredulous at the notion of those tales actually having had a basis in truth.
“Y-you actually speak?!” he yawped, feeling as his mind began to swim with a renewed vigor at the insane notion of communing with such an otherworldly being; taking another backward step, Laius felt as every shred of his being’s animal instinct screamed for him to once again turn and flee from the creature.
“I can tell you’re thinking about running. . .” the beast said with an impish smirk, ignoring the man’s question entirely as her infernal eyes traversed the man’s body. “I would strongly advise against that,” the creature began, “I’ve already caught you once, and to force me to do so again would only make things. . .painful,” the girl uttered in a light growl.
As the beast sauntered toward him, she wore a preternaturally smug expression on her face as she lackadaisically waved something through the air – his dagger.
Despite his best efforts, the scout failed in keeping the sudden demoralization he suffered from showing on his face; immediately picking up on the man’s dismay, the girl’s smug expression subtly morphed into one of catty self-satisfaction.
“Furthermore, if you were to flee, how could I give this back to you?” the girl sneered with openly spurious adjuvancy. Feeling his heart sunken so low within him that it nearly threatened to fall out, Laius pressed his lips tightly together to hide their trembling.
“This. . .is yours right?” the girl goaded after a fleeting silence, gradually letting her lips curl back into a flippant grin. Briefly, the man’s jaw flexed in preparation to speak, but he quickly refused to give the beast the satisfaction of his admittance. “No?” the she-beast raised her brows in mock surprise.
“Well, I suppose I should dispose of it then. These things are dangerous. . . especially for humans,” the monster-girl declared slyly before she gripped the blade in both of her massive paws and began to bend the knife. For a moment their eyes met: hers gleaming with delight, and his darkened with despair.
Cocking her head at the man’s stubborn silence, the beast flashed a wry grin at him and promptly snapped the scout’s knife into two clean pieces without so much as a trace of effort. Tossing the fragments of the ruined weapon into the darkness behind her, the beast sighed contentedly; stretching a thickly-furred arm out to her side, the creature began to menacingly rake her bear-shredding claws along the rocky wall of the tunnel as she sashayed her way along the dwindling distance between them.
Reaching a full four heads higher than himself, it was difficult for Laius to keep his eyes from wandering along the approaching creature’s imposing figure.
Emerging from beneath the macabre ornamentation of the girl’s skull-collar, a voluminous tuft of deep-maroon fur gracefully yet briefly bloomed before stopping at the apex of a considerable bust; notedly, two grapnel-esque metal coverings, from which two fractured chains hung, were the only items preserving the modesty of the creature’s otherwise gloriously unrestricted breasts.
Circumnavigating along the undersides of the creature’s bounteous bosom, the maroon fur continually darkened, thinned, and eventually disappeared in such a way that the eye naturally flowed down to the creature’s midriff.
Continuing from that point, a flat and faultlessly-chiseled stomach diffused into the flared hips that completed the creature’s deific hourglass-figure; oddly, encircling those heartbreaking hips was a strand of material from which a small and markedly plain loincloth draped, seemingly in an effort to preserve the negligible modesty the beast’s svelte and impossibly beauteous form maintained.
“W-what is it you seek of me beast?” Laius asked uneasily, unsure of why the brutish entity hadn’t yet killed him. “What could I hope to offer you? The food in my ruck? My money?” he added, feeling as more tension leaked into his body when the girl began to smile again.
“I do want something of yours. . . however, I think you’ll find yourself rather unwilling to relinquish it.” the she-beast snickered, delighting in the look of confusion that spread across the man’s face upon hearing her reply.
A harsh lump formed in the man’s throat as the aberration’s words set his mind scrambling to procure every malign potentiality it could conceive of. Though he was visibly shaking within his drenched, algid clothing, a bead of sweat ran down the man’s face.
“Are you. . .going to kill me?” the words leaped impulsively and stupidly from his mouth, drawing a look of mortification to the surface of the man’s face as the beast subsequently erupted into a storm of howling laughter. Perturbation expeditiously changed to indignation as the hellion’s roiling laughter continued for far longer than the man was willing to endure, to him, her ebullient sniggering was, in a sense, far worse a subjection than all the brutalization the hoyden had visited upon him – at least in being assailed he felt he could maintain some sense of dignity.
Turning to leave the distracted creature in the throes of her cackling conniption, the man yelped when a wounded portion of his arm was quickly seized with an absurd strength and used to hold him in place.
With the raw, violently abraded, flesh of his arm being compressed, the man’s legs nearly buckled beneath him as he was roughly turned back to face the girl. Wincing as he vented the growing pain out of him in strained huffs of air, Laius noted with silent and fearful wonderment at how swiftly the girl’s mien had changed from nigh unendurable mirth to that of blood-chilling severity.
“Initially, I had no intent on killing you. . .” the girl lowered her voice to a growl, “but should you try something like that again, I might become inclined to pull your head off.”
The danger that lingered in her tone was enough to send a chill rushing down the man’s spine, breathless and contorting his face in pain, he nodded beseechingly. With a leery sneer, the brutish beauty released her grip; immediately, the man gasped with relief as he tottered and tenderly touched at his arm.
“So, if I’ve offered you all I have. . .and you’ve no intent to take my life, what do you want from me?” Laius inquired, imparting as much neutrality into his voice as could be mustered without seeming openly acquiescent. Cruelly snickering at his question, the girl folded her arms over one another and gave her answer.
“I want you to disrobe. Posthaste. Right here, right now,” the hound-girl articulated with such heavy insistence and sincerity in her voice that it immediately forced a flustered blush to the man’s face. Stammering and nervously tittering, Laius absentmindedly began to back away from the girl and was immediately grasped by the shoulder.
Looking confusedly into the bête noire’s unrelenting eyes, Laius felt his chest tighten as the aberration’s overwhelming seriousness struck him. Drawing in a shaky breath of the beast’s stupefying musk, something in the farthest depths of the man’s being rallied for him to obey – but his body refused.
Seeing the man’s reluctance, the beast tightened her grip on his shoulder, making him wince and hiss in pain. Fixing a stern glare into the man’s eyes, the beast growled, “I’ll say it again, but I expect obedience this time. . .or else.”
“Or else. . . what?” Laius whimpered in fragile defiance of the continued, crushing, pain that was being inflicted upon his shoulder.
“Or else I’ll take them off for you,” the fiend responded with a smooth trace of vile anticipation in her voice.
“Now. Divest yourself,” the hound repeated her commandment to the man once more, pouring severity into each word, before she then loosened her grip on the scout’s shoulder.
Deeply confused at her request, Laius battled with his unwilling body as he sluggishly reached for his cloak’s clasp and undid it. Soaked through with rainwater, the garment came off of him readily and splashed onto the ground.
“Good boy,” the hound-girl gently and sweetly praised the shivering man, then brusquely bade him to continue.
Shaking from cold and an ebbing flow of adrenaline, Laius cursed his fumbling hands as they recurringly failed to undo the fastenings of his tunic whilst the beast continued glaring impatiently down at him.
“I. . .can’t,” he admitted with a sniffle.
“Truly? Well, worry not. Allow me to assist you,” the she-beast propounded in a startlingly calm tone, one that flagrantly belied her harsh intent. Quickly seizing hold of the man by the fabric of his attire, the she-beast tripped him up and pushed him down into the ground with a single fluid motion.