You are a Hellhound. You are a demon thing of the Hellions, forged with a heart of fire and eyes like rubies set in obsidian. You have claws that no armor is proof against, and your howl is the scream of the damned. You are strong, heinously so. You are fast; your body is lithe with corded muscle and tufts of thick shielding fur. Your nose can smell lies, and your ears hear the lamentations of dead menfolk.
You are old, and you are wise. Your life is long, longer than that of menfolk, but your kind are cursed with arrogance and shortsightedness. Yet, you are not like your sister Hounds, you do not throw your body into bloody raids, savaging knights and absconding with children from guarded villages. You are careful, you are quiet, you are old because you can think, you can adapt, and you can kill with efficiency, but of your wisdom, you also know that you can choose not to kill- you can resist the siren song of spilt blood that so many of your kind are lost to.
You are a Silvered one. You are a Hellhound that has lived long enough to see her tail come to be striped with streaks of shining silver. You have become one with the old legends. It means nothing to you. It does not matter; it does not change your daily struggle in the wilting forests along the coastal region of this world. You are far from your rightful territory, you have wandered far beyond the natural range of your species and because of it you are unfamiliar and unaccustomed to this region.
It is not without great hesitation that you claim to have a purpose in your wandering. The dark, dismal and wicked groves you called home were abundant with meek and cowardly menfolk, poorly guarded farms and weakling kings and feudal lords. You walked with power and authority on the paved roads of man; none would dare to question you and all those who came before your shadow payed tribute.
You have your reasons for leaving, reasons that are best not ruminated upon.
Your wanderings have taken you far from home, from deep in the northern lands, down to the southern coasts that stretch past the ever-growing crag mountains and lethal snowfields that surround them. You have wandered through the abyssal forests of ancient pines and followed the storm-river through the verdant plains of the Fay, the enchantments of the little winged beings posing no threat to you. Your journeys have led you here- upon a hill, overlooking a lush field sparsely populated with fruit bearing groves that encircle a pleasant roadside village of the Menfolk. It boarders the ocean, and upon its green-blue waves fisher boats crest subtle waves with lines dragging in the water and sails bellowing at full mast.
There is a commotion on the docks, as a long mast ship tightens its moorings and the seas bounty begins to be offloaded. The humans are happy and cheerful; they are content with their lives. They would surely buckle and break, if an old monster like you were to skulk among them. You’ve done it plenty enough times before.
You skip down the rocky slope and vanish into the underbrush of the groves, small streams of crystal water running down from the snow tipped mountains glisten in the twilight spell of the gold kissed autumn leaves. You can hear birds and insects, the gossamer webs of spiders strung along branches and the turpentine musk smell of rabbits and squirrels. Off in the distance among the trunks of venerable blossoming apple trees, you can see a heard of razorhorn deer.
This is no place for the likes of you, coal black fur and darkened skin; you are a Hellion creature born of unfulfilled grudges and aberrant menace. You exist to hunt the unpunished and be slain by champions. You do not belong here in the land of the fruitful where all the women are maidens and then men are proud lords.
Your ears perk and shift, you stop in your meandering when you can cleanly hear the shouting raucous of the village. This is far enough, as far as you will go. Still hidden under the shade of the apple groves and masked by the burbling brooks, you search around you, plenty of underbrush, tall grasses and bushes. You are most at home in caves and other dark places about the mountain regions, but this shaded grove will do nicely as well, it will suit your needs well enough until you can find a place to die.
You wake next morning at daybreak; a stick sharply jabbed into your side twice over. Your eyes open with the prodding pain, and you sit upright with a start, growl boiling in your chest as you inhale the scent of Menfolk and your ears make out the clumsy snap-crackle of human footfalls. Your eyes show you the boy; the picture comes together at once.
A boy in a weather stained brown tunic that is fraying at the seams and has clearly been re-sewn many times over. He is barefoot, and dirty, his skin is tanned from many days under the suns glare- likely from working in fields as his hands are callused and fingernails worn. He has a stick in one hand, its tip you are now familiar with. His face, young and boyish, his hair, brown and unkempt, his eyes, bright and blue with youthful innocence. Yet more importantly, he is free of any fear.
As you study him, senses assuring you of no other company- he pokes you again, stick pressing into your side with sudden energy. You grunt, and with a sudden motion you grab it from him, and swiftly break it, putting an end to that game.
You are awake now, rubbing your eyes of sleep, you blink again and stand. You tower over this boy before you, looming over him like a malignant destiny with him barely coming up to your waist. He must be no older than eight; maybe ten if you are being generous. He stares up at you with doe eyed ignorance. He just stares, curious and mute. It is a moment before you know how to respond, you are alone in a grove, and the village is some ways away. Did he wander off? Run away? Your thoughts are interrupted when the child reaches out and grabs a handful of your fur, an action that gives you reason to pause simply out of the sheer audacity required.
You take the boys hand with your own, strong enough to crush bones, and you gingerly remove his grasp, your mouth curling into an uncertain frown. You did not expect your first interaction with the people of this land to begin in such a manner; in fact, you had hoped to have no interaction at all. So it is so that you chance your luck and try to talk to this strange, fearless child.
“Hey, kid,” You begin, your voice is like stone over gravel, low and menacing, casually superior with its threat of promised violence should your ire be raised. “You know you’re supposed to be scared of me, right?” You say, leaning over this prepubescent boy, your shadow casting an ominous gloom. “If you don’t leave, I’m going to eat your up. See? Rawr.” You show your claws and bare your fangs; iron hard implements glinting in the morning light like rusted cleavers.
The boy continues to say nothing, staring up at you with those big, innocent eyes so full of hope and wanderlust. It is in danger of making your heart melt. You don’t understand why a human child is capable of making you feel like this. In the old land you’ve had your share of children offered up by fearful villages who lived in the shadow of your blood-stained hunger. You’ve done terrible things, horrible things, and haven’t batted an eye. So why now?
Your sigh, “C’mon kid, leave, I’ll let you off the hook this one time, so scram, go, get outa here.” You try pushing him away, flicking at him with your tail. He instead delights at the action, and grabs ahold of one of your legs, pulling himself close and snuggling deep into the fur there. “H-hey! Get off!” You snap. “Settle down, will y-” You pull at his head, uncharacteristically worried about your claws nicking his scalp, you stumble back as he latches on further, and you trip over. You hit the ground, landing on your rear with a heavy thump as leaves swirl up around you.
You growl, low and haunting, the boy still clings to you, even going so far as to crawl up your leg and look up at you again, smiling toothily, as if pleased at his minor victory. You hesitate, warily acquiescing, and smile back, hesitance pulling at your lips.
He doesn’t leave, staying close to your side the whole day until dusk begins and church bells can be heard from the village.
He came again tomorrow, watching you with that familiar, innocent, wide-eyed stare from behind a tree. He acted like he was hidden even when you looked at him directly, going about your business. You are old, old enough that such things like this do not annoy you as they would others of your kind. The young bloods especially, they would ravage the boy without thought for consequences. You are far more stable, far more versed in the goings of the world. While your species- the hellhound- is brutal and rightly feared, yours are few in number and almost entirely solitary.
Fights for territory were always to the death; even young pups were subject to this. Instincts driving them wild, only the strong and vicious were able to breed, seeking out the strongest of men and pinning them down and dominating them. You are from the distant and rocky north, your territory overlooking a destitute village that lived in constant fear of your kind. Your kind were able to steal away the men from cowed villagers and townsfolk, their population now mostly of women, children, and elders. There was nothing here to challenge you. As such, you have no offspring. The men of the old lands were weak and submissive, so was their essence, their seed. They did not fight they merely whined and pleaded, so it is like this that you never used your ‘Forge’.
You are making a nest- a bed of sorts. You have made your home in a shaded grove; a large maple makes up the center. You wander around; searching through tall grasses for sticks and branches. You carry bundles of them back to the foot of the tree; a natural area encircled by roots is now lined with interwoven branches and moss so as to make a padded mat for you to lie upon. You fill the center with fibrous fern leaves and long grasses. It is as comfortable as you can make it, this is what you will call home, you will sleep here until you no longer can, and then you will move on to the next place that will take you.
The boy, lurking behind a tree at the edge of the grove, watches you through this. It is when you trample flat the fern leaves and grasses in your bed, when you lay down and exhale, then does he enter the clearing fully. Cheerful and bold, he walks up to your nest. You open one eye to glare up at him, wishing him away, to no effect. His hands paw at your ears much to your annoyance. Feeling them and rubbing. You turn over in your new bed, facing away from this incessant boy. This proves to be an error, seconds later you stiffen as you feel young hands comb through the fur of your tail.
A low whine chokes in your throat as the boy pets your tail from base to tip, slow and evenly, you feel a shiver run up your spin, and your back arches, as if presenting him with more of you to touch. You fight back into control and quickly turn over again, this time facing the boy, and at once his hands go for your ears, a no less intense target but more manageable. You shut your eyes, and try to doze off in the warm autumn weather, after some time, a warm body snuggles up close to you.
He came again tomorrow, staring at you from behind an oaken tree, acting as if you couldn’t see him once again, like before. You try to ignore him. Instead focusing on your own tasks at hand. Grooming and rest- busy over nothing. It doesn’t work out so well. The moment you shut your eyes, soaking up the early morning sun as it sprinkles down through the canopy, you feel small hands kneading your belly, palming your toned core incessantly.
It is enough to earn a grunt from you, opening your eyes and staring down at the boy, trying to menace him away. He only returns your stare with one of those innocent and unreadable looks, bright eyes wide, mouth pursed shut in demanding curiosity. You huff, looking away from the innocence. Again, you are old, you are unlike the young-bloods; they would savage this child’s body in an instant. You make room, scooting over, and the boy plops down next to you under the shade of the birch.
The air is fragrant with a new harvest, and the smell of the ocean is hinted on the wind coming in from the distant coastline. There are bird songs and beetle chirrups, the grass rustles and clouds float placidly upon a blue canvas. You’ve become adept at ignoring the boy, able to focus on your own tasks and let him reside by you, his curious gaze unobtrusive towards your concentration.
Later that day, you are at a river, and the boy is watching you fish. You are knee deep in the flowing current; your tail is raised, trying to keep clear of the water, as your hands remained poised just above the surface, razor claws glistening with fresh wetness. You are poised and focused, look for the slivers just under the surface, the betrayal of flashing scales. You’ve had several failed attempts so far, this is a technique that is not natural to you, but you’ve seen it done, and right now you’ll try whatever you can get. Your belly is running on empty. The boy is watching you from the rivers edge, he stifles his laughter whenever you miss and end up only splashing yourself, it stokes your ire but you cannot remain mad for long.
You are cursing after your sixth failure, wondering how you managed to get the first one at all. You manage to grab some- your reflexes are by far and away fast enough; it’s just that you are not able to sink your claws in quickly enough that is causing you failure. It is around the sixth or seventh failure that the boy stands up and jogs off, you pay it no heed, though you do watch him leave, making sure he manages to clear the rock ledge that led down to this stream- it was a steep embankment and difficult at the best of times.
He returns just under an hour later, he’s carrying twine and a knife. He takes the knife and finds a twig, out of its shape he carves a rudimentary hook with a barb, it is this that he ties off to the end of the twine and before long he has a grub wrapped around the makeshift hook and he is casting upstream, letting his twine hook drift downriver.
Within three casts of his twine the bait is taken and a fish strikes, hooking itself and with careful pulls the boy lands an exquisite fish. He holds it up, still on the hook, beaming, and you cannot help to but feel discouraged yet proud. He is clearly pleased with himself and you manage to smile despite the groaning in your stomach. That damned human ingenuity- you haven’t even thought of trying something like that. It never even crossed your mind. When he hands you the fish he caught, you don’t know what to say, all you can do is awkwardly hug the boy.
When your belly has had its fill, the boy giving you his makeshift line. He leaves to wherever he lives, and later, before the sun begins to set, he brings friends time, other boys and girls, a small group of them; five in number, they gasp and squeal at the sight of you, you’re half tempted to scare them off, these ones clearly not as fearless as the Boy. You don’t do that however, you try to look as non-menacing as possible, it’s a good chance that these children would run and tell their families, and in turn, these families may actually believe their children, and send a hunter into the woods as to confirm your presence.
You don’t know how, you don’t know why you acquiesce, but they goad you into a game of theirs, they make you play tag with them, they make you play hide and seek. It is of no effort to you but you go with the charade, you feel warm, happy even, doing so.
You find yourself smiling, a beginning of happiness forming inside of you. You dash and you sprint among the bushes and trees, delighting in whatever childish games this children drag you into. You play by the river and swim in a pond, you shake yourself dry and splash the boy and his friends, they squeal and laugh in the way only children can.
As they tire themselves out, the sun begins to drop and they wander back to their homes, out of the forest. All that is left is yet again, you and the boy. He yawns and stretches, yearning for sleep. You don’t know why you do so, but you pull him closer and rub his head before sending him away.
The moon is starting its early ascent in the sky by now. You wander back to your nest of fern leaves and moss. For an odd reason you cannot describe, you look forwards to tomorrow.
The boy comes alone this day, he is not like he usually is, his eyes seem dull, unfocused, there is a scent about him and his hair is unkempt, more than usual. He seems sullen, broken, terrified. Your heart lurches in your chest, pulling you forwards over to him. He manages his way over to you. You don’t know what to do, so you go with instinct.
You reach out and pull him into your embrace, his head resting against your chest. He melts into your grasp, he is shaking, and he goes limp almost immediately. Now that he is this close you can smell it clearly now, on him, the odor of a man, an adult, a mature human. You can smell the sweat the breath the hair and soap- more importantly you can smell the-
He starts to cry, you can imagine what happened, but you don’t want to. The true beasts like you, those who eschew the trappings of civilization; you can understand why they do it. They savage for food and children to spawn, but when it came to humans, when it came to things like this. You just don’t understand. You don’t understand about how it could happen in the first place, how it can be allowed to happen.
It sparks a fire in your heart; igniting that undying ember in the pit of your stomach that is called rage. It is anger that you almost act on but instead you just hug this boy closer, trying to tell him that he’ll be alright. He spends the night like this, huddled against your chest, gripping your fur like it was the last safety net afforded to him, and he doesn’t leave your side the next day, nor do you let him leave. He has to go back eventually, and you are reluctant to see him leave. You almost wish that you had the courage to keep him with you, and in the coming day you wish you had.
The village burns in the distance, demon birthed flame scouring through the streets and setting market stands and cottages ablaze. That doesn’t matter to you right now, because the Boy had come again.
You cradle him in your arms, your heavy paws, so used to rending through armor and meat, familiar only to fighting and bloodshed, feel inadequate for the task of holding this one, singular, human child. You’re on your knees and the air feels hot.
You keep remembering those times that he would wander into your territory, oblivious and simple, but always unafraid. Always looking for you, hugging your legs, distracting you from whatever you were doing, crying for your attention like some lost pup.
He would always go back to the orphanage by his own will, never yours, and you recall being worried that he might get lost on the way back or some monster might find him. You recall the days when he didn’t show up and you grew anxious, and the days he would show up after and you would try to act aloof as always, despite being relived. You recall the anger that threatened to take you when he showed up with bruises all over his body and crying in your arms.
You rock gently, you can feel the blood that pours hot from the stump of his arm and the ruined side of his face; it drips down your body like a wound of your own. With the blood, so goes the heat from him, and from the heat, his life. He shudders, one last time, and is finally silent.
You never knew his name.
For the first time in your life you are scared of your own strength as you set the body of the boy down. Trying to not disrupt a single remaining feature of him as you gingerly tuck him under the midnight shade of a fern. Your eyes are stinging as you stand again, and you don’t know why. The fire flares red hot from the corners of you glaring gaze and bright they spark and burn. You turn and you face the village. You don’t know why your chest heaves and your heart beats heavy. You don’t know why your eyes sting and tears fall freely. All that you know is that something is going to die.
It is within time that you are finally returned to your senses. You are standing amidst a sea of corpses. Gremlins, goblins, orcs and trolls, they lay about in heaps of broken meat and tattered limbs. Your body is a ruined sack cut with holes and filled with broken bones and pulverized flesh.
One of your ears is torn off, leaving a jagged mess of bloody cartilage. Several fingers are gone, and most of your claws are smashed. You can feel several broken ribs grind in your chest and something in your pelvis is cracked. The worst of it all is that your right leg is impossible to move without the feeling of bone splinters tearing through muscle, it is also twisted the wrong way around below the knee, and your tail is severed near the middle. Blood freely streaks over your body, its origin both of your own and foreign.
Your tongue runs along the inside of your mouth, fangs are chipped and missing, you cant see out of your right eye, and your nose is broken. It hurts to move at all; even breathing is painful in the extreme. Your heart still beats, although weakly, it stings and seizes erratically. You only half manage to drag yourself out of the ruined village. You manage to drag your way to the forests edge before you collapse.
Your memory is stained in the viscera of a blood-red-rage, things only come back as a blended mess, bits and pieces come together to form a blur that yields only frightful displays of carnage and bloodshed. It takes a moment to correlate last night’s events into something feasible. Then you remember the Boy, and his body. It is right where you left it, as peaceful and dead as you last saw him.
You don’t know what to do next.
So you dig a grave that you then fill.
You gather stones to make a cairn.
You think of words to say but none come to mind
And then it is time to move on again.