A sharp and eerie noise flew through the dense forest of Fiyhiiuk and found him in the depths of it. The tone was distinguishable and terrifying. He knew the sound, and he knew it well. He swore under his breath. He had hoped that he had more time. Zorvirg looked at the red tome on the table and went to grab it with a slight hesitation. The book felt powerful in his hands. Holding it against his chest, he began flipping through the pages until he found what he was looking for: his last resort. There wasn’t any time left. He had his typical containment procedures; hopefully they would be sufficient. Zorvirg was on a clock that was beyond unpredictable. The sooner he left, the better the chance he would give them both.
Zorvirg tossed a black cloak over himself as he ventured outward, hoping to conceal himself from the cold. The Bleakmoon started in a few weeks, and the bitter winds that the season brought could already be felt throughout the Fiyhiiuk. Zorvirg knew that he would need the warmth, especially with only mere hours of daylight left. Moving out toward the source of the sound, Zorvirg maintained a steady jog; he leapt over roots and avoided the swampy patches. He knew where each one of them were, and he also knew what presided inside of them. He didn’t have the time for that. This section of twisted gnarled woodland looked familiar to Zorvirg. He knew where it led, and it sent spikes of worry through his mind.
Zorvirg’s jog slowed as he hit a legitimate path. The woods were still a dense tangle here, but it was close enough to the Edgeways that people rationalized their presence in this corner of the wilds. The spiders here were not as big, the wolves were far less ferocious, and to see a tangle-wraith or a twismurker here was rare. The prospect of danger was still here, as it was in all corners of the Fiyhiiuk; but it was far less prevalent. The lower density also tended to give typical people comfort; they needed their eyes to see the monsters that lurked in the tangles and the twists of the forest. Zorvirg’s brow furrowed as he looked down at the exposed dirt that had been tread out. A small post held two arrow-shaped signs that pointed in opposite directions. The names of the towns that they pointed towards were etched on their faces. The wood was old and rotting; with how damp the air in Fiyhiiuk was, it wasn’t uncommon for wood to have a short shelf life. Zorvirg remembered just how long it took to find a solution to keep his own laboratory from rotting. An exterior coat of Viiell root sap mixed with the yoke of spider eggs was a strange concoction that took some tinkering to perfect. But now the stuff seemed to keep the rot off of Zorvirg’s place completely.
Stopping at the sign, Zorvirg opened his hand and held it outwards. Within a moment a sphere of clear bluish-white light began to float above his palm. The etchings said that to his right, about four miles down the path was the town Kivvic. The other sign didn’t matter; almost as soon as he read the first, the noise came again from his right. Is he in the town? Zorvirg thought to himself, although he prayed that he wasn’t. With conviction Zorvirg began to sprint down the path as daylight started to fade, turning the world around him from an eerie grey to a pitch black.
The dense thicket lightened as the path became more apparent, feeding outward into a clearing. Out of the woods Zorvirg could see the night sky, and the complex constellations overhead shone clearly. This was the darkest time of night; in its youth, the night’s sky refused to bare the moon. Later it would come and dot the sky with a beacon of crystal blue light, scrubbing all but the brightest of constellations from the canvas of the night. The dark did Zorvirg a favor; the lamps and torches of Kivvic burned with a particular brightness in this hour, shining like a beacon.
Zorvirg approached the town with caution. If it was lurking around here somewhere, it would be for the best if Zorvirg didn’t draw attention to himself. No one could see, no one could know. It would ruin everything he had worked for, everything that they had accomplished. As Zorvirg moved onwards, the ground beneath him shifted from a soft and gentle grass to the hard uneven laid cobble of the town. It was unnatural, hard for him to walk on. He didn’t venture into towns often. He despised them actually. It would actually be more accurate to say that he despised everyone in them. Regardless, this is where the noise had led him.
Zorvirg slipped in between the wooden buildings, moving towards the center of the town. The large wooden buildings looked like homes of some type, lined up side by side. They appeared to open up onto the main thoroughfare of the town. Zorvirg slid the cowl off of his head but remained conscious that the clock stayed on, ensuring that the tome he was carrying was completely covered. He braced himself for human interaction and stepped out of the dark into the well-lit street.
The buildings mirrored each other up and down the street with an imperfect symmetry. Lamplights hung off the sides of some doors, and torches leaned offset on the sides of others. In unison they provided a warm yellow light across the street. With their help, the grey drab cobblestone looked inviting and soft to the touch. Lies, Zorvirg thought to himself. Yellow light always had that issue. Yellow light spurred emotions that were not there; it fuzzied the mind, tampered with your thoughts. This was the reason Zorvirg used exclusively magical lights. The cold whites gave him a clear mind and a logical perspective.
Suddenly something caught his eye. His glance turned to the doors of one of the buildings. It was busted in. Examining it closely sent a shiver down his spine. Claw marks, long and precise, with a hook at the end of them. Zorvirg’s mind raced. Someone had to have seen this, he thought to himself. Hopefully that’s all they saw, he tried to rationalize. Looking around, the marks were more prevalent than he had noticed before. The marks went up and down the sides of buildings, they littered the street. They were faint in most places, but they were definitely there. This was a bad sign.
“No— no— no, damnit,” he muttered, looking at the evidence up through the street.
Zorvirg started to run up the street in a panic. The marks became thicker and more defined as he moved up the main street. He skidded to a halt, seeing a crowd in the center square of the town gathered around their local monument to Aminima. No! Damnit, they all saw it, didn’t they? They were chattering frantically amongst themselves. Zorvirg made his approach.
“Ho! Who are you? Where did you come from?” a taller, heavyset woman asked loudly, stopping him in his tracks. She wore a field hand’s dress, and her dirty black hair was strung up in a bun. She sounded clearly rattled. She had seen something for sure.
“I’m a hunter. I was coming back from mapped Fiyhiiuk when I heard a strange noise,” Zorvirg replied without hesitation. Hunter was his cover story whenever he had to venture into towns for any reason. It was a good excuse; Rihger was clever for telling him to adopt it. It meant that people wouldn’t question the scars on Zorvirg’s face, the way he smelled, or the tattered clothes that he wore. Plus Rihger always told him that he really was a hunter, a hunter of dark knowledge.
The woman scowled at him, but she seemed to accept the answer.
“Are you a hunter of beasts or a hunter of monsters?” she asked.
No! Zorvirg knew this question was important, he knew what it meant. Monster hunters were typically regarded with derision within the populus. Monster hunters killed strange and deadly creatures for the valuable items that were found inside of them. It was a profession driven by greed and a lust for battle. In retrospect, it was no wonder that was the kind of man that Zorvirg had fallen in love with.
Typically people hated monster hunters, until they were needed. Therefore, the only reason she would be asking if he was a monster hunter is if she had seen a monster. Zorvirg scanned the crowd again, noticing new details. The men were armed with staffs and sickles, the women held their children close with one hand, and torches or oil lamps in their other. The people were huddled together, and although they chatted loudly, they kept their ears open and their heads on swivels. Damn, they’ve all seen him; they must have.
“Monster hunter,” Zorvirg finally replied. The woman raised her eyebrows and looked back over her shoulder.
“Aarhim! Here,” she called, signaling to a clean shaven man who stood towards the center of the crowd. He was ornately dressed, long white robes crested with elaborate silver embroidery, the attire of the local Aminima’s appointed. The man scuttled over to where Zorvirg and the woman stood at the edge of the crowd, which ebbed alongside his path as they watched him approach the newcomer.
“What is it, my dear?” the man asked with a smooth and gentle inflection.
“Monster hunter,” the woman stated plainly with a gesture to Zorvirg.
Aarhim glanced over with a scowl. “Monster hunter,” he noted with a crinkle of his nose. The rest of the town had their eyes locked onto him in anticipation. The remainder of the conversations around the central square had faded away. One of Aminima’s Appointed interacting with a monster hunter was indeed an anomaly, and the drama that it would surely produce enticed the onlookers.
“Monster hunter, we are unfourtunately in great need of your help this day.”
The rest of the crowd seemed to drop their jaws. The chattering began again with vigor, settling into a dense white noise and filling the pause in conversation.
“What do you require?” Zorvirg’s statement brought a hush back over the crowd.
“A creature attacked our town and we need you—” Aarhim started before someone in the crowd cut him off.
“We don’t need him! Holy one, don’t make a deal with one of them!” the woman shouted, standing up on a stone near the statue of Aminima in the center of the square and hoisting herself above the crowd so that Zorvirg could see her clearly. She was a younger woman who had short brown hair that had been pinned behind her ears so that it stayed out of her face. The woman was in a bloody tunic and trousers. Zorvirg figured that she was the town doctor; if all the blood on her was her own, she wouldn’t be standing, much less yelling across the square. A few cheers backed up her sentiment.
“Kiyuen, my gentle soul. Look at the timing of it all — Aminima clearly sent him.” Even raising his voice, the man kept his sweet, gentle tone.
“A demonic horror kills nine of us in the middle of the night, and your first response is to call for order. And then your second is to send someone else after it?” Kiyuen didn’t receive cheers after that one. Accusing an appointed of incompetence, even if only implying it, was an act of heresy.
“I’m only trying to help the people of Kivvic,” Aarhim began. “Aminima—”
“Aminima would demand vengeance!” Kiyuen shouted. This one seemed to gather support from the crowd.
Zorvirg was fascinated with how fickle the crowd was. They seemed to gravitate towards being against this fool of Aminima; in fact, it felt as if they wanted to go against him. The contradiction was that none of them were willing to be labeled a heretic for it. Was it that their true feelings simply weren’t worth the label? Likely so, Zorvirg thought. As someone who was labeled a heretic himself, he could see how most of these townsfolk would sooner have death.
“We should be out slaying the beast ourselves! Retribution for its actions. It will not catch us off guard again!” A violent rally cry cheered the woman on. This isn’t good, Zorvirg thought to himself. He hoped that this fancy man next to him was smarter than he looked.
Zorvirg could see the man’s expression shift to one of worry. It wasn’t very comforting. But Aarhim composed himself quickly and offered his rebuttal.
“Aminima has sent this man to take vengeance in our stead. So that none of us are to be harmed further. She has spoken to me! It is her decree!” The town went silent. Her decree. To object to Aarhim now would be to object to the champion angel herself. Kiyuen got down slowly and slipped into the crowd. The hush had returned to the people when a sound was heard through the village. There he is, Zorvirg thought as the ghoulish howl filled the streets, sending all of the townspeople cowering. Zorvirg began to run across the square towards the sound.
“Go brave hunter. Slay the monster and redeem yourself in the eyes of Aminima!” Aarhim called after him as he ran through the streets and out of the town.
“Redemption, what a ridiculous word,” Zorvirg muttered to himself as he ran towards the noise, back into the Fiyhiiuk. With a quick flick of his wrist the cold light appeared above his shoulder, melting away the dark void between the trees. Journeying back into the dese of the thicket, Zorvirg kept his eyes open for the ‘monster.’ Running through the woods, he slowed his pace as he noticed the claw marks on the trees. Slowing to a stop, he looked around. The trees were a tangle in this section of the forest, gnarled trunks twisted and bound together with each other, creating walls of vegetation all about him. For any normal man, finding something in this tangle would be near impossible.
Zorvirg opened his palm to create a second light. The light was less white than the one that he used for general illumination. This light had a more gentle purple hue to it. He released the light, watching it float upward out of his control. In the same way a fire spreads once it is lit, Zorvirg’s creation was no longer bound to him. It danced and sparkled all of its own accord. The light began to drift in a slow unwieldy float, which Zorvirg followed closely.
After a few moments the light came to a small break in the trees, less than twenty feet in length. The once soft purple orb faded away in a span of seconds. The air was cold and damp, thick with humidity. Stepping out into the clearing, Zorvirg’s feet pushed gently into the soft wet ground below. Looking up, he noticed the extensive clouds gathering above. Moon or no moon, it would remain a dark night. Straight ahead a large figure sat against the tree. In the darkness it was ominous in shape and in size. The figure stirred as Zorvirg directed his light over to it with a wave of his hand.
“What did they do to you, my love?”
The monster looked up at Zorvirg. A twisted emptiness crowded the black voids of its eyes. The wolf-like head turned up as he stroked the sides of its muzzle gently. The beast lunged forward, trying to grab him with its left arm, which was a mass of twisted black tentacles woven tightly together to form the shape of a human arm. Jumping back, Zorvirg readied himself, his hands flashing to life with a luminescent green. The creature in front of him was struggling and writhing to return to its feet. The mass of sleek black webbing at the lower part of its body looked as if someone had ripped a human torso in two, its legs missing. But this was not what the monster used as feet. Instead, eight large spider legs sprouting from the creature’s back lifted the monster up above the light mist that had settled on the forest floor. It stood in front of Zorvirg, the weird amalgamation that had been magicly fused into one horrific beast.
“They hurt you, dear!” Zorvirg called as he noticed the cuts on the creature’s body, “I will return you to the lab, your home.” The creature wailed. The sound was clearer up close, a layering of a wolf’s howl and the gravelly scream of a twismurker. It was a truly horrifying sound that would send the skin of every man crawling, every man but one; the one who had created it.
The beast charged at Zorvirg, its insectile legs clicking and clacking as it scuttled towards him. Zorvirg rolled to the side, dodging the charging beast. He raised his hands, and the green grew stronger, more vibrant. Large chains of green magical energy flew from his hands and wrapped around two of the spider’s appendages, wrapping them together. The beast was relentless and charged again, only this time with arms shaped like oversized claws, swinging them as it lunged.
Zorvirg reacted quickly, raising his hands. The colour shifted from green to gold as a dome of energy formed around him, effectively deflecting the claws as the beast charged by him. The thing had a powerful momentum, rushing right past Zorvirg in his protective bubble. The beast overshot, running into trees and vines, which were torn apart instantly by the creature’s strength. Zorvirg’s hands shifted colour again, back to green. He lined up his arms with the monster’s as it charged again. With a swift downwards motion of his hands, two lines of energy sliced down, cutting the monster’s arms clean off. He knew it wouldn’t cause any permanent damage; just like a twismurker, the black tangleweb would eventually regrow.
The monster did feel it though, yelping in pain as it skidded to a halt. As it did, Zorvirg once again summoned green chains from his hands and began wrapping the rest of the spider legs into pairs. After a moment the beast caught on, kicking Zorvirg against a tree with one of its legs. With a slam Zorvirg met the tree and slid down the trunk. His head spun, the world a blur. As he tried to regain his balance, stumbling to his feet, he was once again kicked by the monster to the other side of the clearing. Hitting the soft ground this time with a roll allowed Zorvirg to recover quickly and spot the monster coming for him. He created a dome around himself once again for protection. The unsteady monster tripped over it and went crashing into a cluster of trees.
This allowed Zorvirg to climb to his feet. His head still ached, but he could see straight at this point. He stood up tall and watched the monster recover from its fall against the trees. It wobbled. The beast was used to working with eight legs, not four. This was irrelevant to the monster when it spotted its target. It charged again.
Zorvirg raised his hands to the sky and once again used the gold magic to create a dome around himself. This time, the creature stopped short in its charge. Instead of running past, the monster lifted one of its legs and started to pound on the top of the dome. Zorvirg increased his concentration, preventing the shield from breaking. As the monster continued to pound, Zorvirg used more and more of his energy to keep the shield up.
“Come on, come on, I know you want to,” Zorvirg yelled as he started sweating. The monster pounded again, but then it lifted another one of its legs to pound with both at the same time. It faceplanted in front of Zorvirg, having forgotten that it was on four legs and not eight. Zorvirg leapt up on top of the fallen creature’s head and placed a hand on the back of the monster’s neck. The hand glew a violent purple, and the monster screamed again. It tried to get up, but it only managed a gentle flail before its eyes began to sink close.
“Shh, shh, there you go. Have a good rest, my love,” Zorvirg whispered in the monster’s ear as the purple in his hand faded away. He laid back with a huff and dispelled the green chains that were wrapped around the dormant monstrosity’s legs.
Zorvirg looked over at the resting monster and thought about what he should do. They had found out. Everyone in that town knew, and it would only be a matter of time before knowledge of the monster’s presence was spread throughout the province. Would they come for us? Would I ever be safe with him again? It didn’t matter though. Zorvirg was stubborn. He wasn’t about to put down his magnum opus because of an ignorant public’s opinion. They already thought so little of him, the real him, that he reasoned another count of heresy couldn’t do anymore harm.
Zorvirg’s attention was diverted as he felt an absence. His cloak had flown off, but more importantly, the tome he was carrying was gone. He reasoned that it must have fallen during the course of their little tussle. Looking over to the tree line, he spotted the deep red cover sitting against a tree. He walked over to it and bent down to pick it up. He held it in his hands. The object felt lighter than it did before. With the task completed and his masterpiece secured, it felt weightless in his hands, but it was still far too valuable to leave alone.
Suddenly a voice echoed behind him.
“To the pits of the void with you, foul beast!” Zorvirg turned his head to notice a young woman driving a sword through the back of the creature’s neck.
“No!” Zorvirg screamed as his hands lit up with a green magic. Shapeless masses of green energy shot out and knocked the woman away. He ran over to the the large body of the creature — his creature — holding the tome tightly under his arm as he ran. He threw himself on top of the beast and yanked the sword out its neck, tossing it aside hastily. He ran his hands across the creature’s face.
“No, no, no! Don’t leave me! Damn you!” Zorvirg yelled as his hands were illuminated in a magical purple shadow. He placed them on the large hole that the sword had made in the monster’s neck in an attempt to magically reverse the wound.
“You never fooled me, you demon!”
Zorvirg whipped his head around to see the woman from the village, Kiyuen standing with her hand on her side. He stared at her intently, all the while ensuring that he kept his hands firmly pressed against the wound.
“You were going to let it live?” Kiyuen shouted. Zorvirg did not respond, “After what it did? The lives that it took? You were going to spare one of Vunec’s monsters?”
“Vunec is not the owner of this creature, you ignorant whore!” Zorvirg snapped back furiously. His face was red with anger and his hands were shaking feverishly. But he kept applying pressure, kept the purple glow active. At this point he was too late. The creature was gone.
It took a moment for him to realize it, to realize what he had lost. But he wasn’t allowed the quiet moment of contemplation that he wanted.
“It’s a horror, something purely unholy. All horrors are creations of Vunec,” Kiyuen started with foolish confidence.
“It— He was no horror,” Zorvirg mumbled gently. He could feel his vision blur as he looked down at the beast in front of him.
“What would you call it then,” Kiyuen asked. Her voice was strong, but there was a clear nervous waiver in its undertones.
“A beautiful work of art, a masterpiece of love.” Zorvirg couldn’t hold back the tears, even if he tried. A soft silence enveloped the clearing. Kiyuen was speechless.
The world began to glow, the moon finally pushing its way through the clouds. The fog moved in gently around them, the floor-bound layer of cloud reflecting the moon’s crystal blue glow, allowing Kiyuen to see more clearly. The man in front of her, the ‘monster hunter’ was devoid of his cloak. Now he wore a ragged grey tunic that was coated in strange runes and a pair of blood-soaked trousers, an outfit very much like her own.
“What are you?” she asked.
“I’m an artist.”
“No, artists are of Aminima! You are a spawn of Vunec—” Kiyuen sputtered out before his sharp yell cut her off. She barely sidestepped the green spear of energy that was flung at her face. She lunged forward, reaching for her sword. Grabbing it off the ground, she readied herself for another attack, holding the sword at a sharp 45-degree angle in front of her. Kiyuen looked at the man in front of her. A large book was open in front of him. The book radiated red energy as it floated above the ground. Fear engulfed her face as she turned and started to run, but before she could make it more than ten feet a sharp pain radiated throughout her back. Kiyuen screamed in horror, the pain consuming her entire body as she collapsed to the ground.
“Aminima! Make it stop!” she called out as she looked down and watched as her fingers began to disintegrate in a blazing bout of pain. She writhed and flailed as her entire body slowly turned to a pile of ash.
Zorvirg fell to his knees. There was no remorse over the woman that he had just turned to dust, rather he was still mourning the creature. The fog was thick at this point, covering him in a sea of crystal blue as he cried.
“The young woman called you of Vunec. How appropriate.”
The voice from out of the fog was airy and smooth. Zorvirg turned to see a man standing in leather hunting armour with a trim dark beard that matched the rest of his hair. He was almost translucent, like he was one with the fog. Zorvirg recognized him immediately.
“I’m sure you would think that of me, Rihger,” he said between tears.
“Do you think I’m out of line for thinking that?”
Zorvirg didn’t respond.
“Look at you, you really are a demon aren’t you?” Rihger didn’t sound angry, just disappointed.
“What do you want me to tell you?” Zorvirg snapped back.
“I don’t remember you crying like that when I left.” Rihger’s statement was poignant. It was true, as far as Zorvirg could remember.
“It was a different situation,” Zorvirg barely sputtered out.
“I’m sure it was. Married five years is a very different situation.”
Zorvirg looked down at the ground in front of him, embarrassed. “It was still a different situation, Rihger! Why are you here? What is it you want from me?”
Rihger moved around to look Zorvirg in the eyes. “I want you to admit I was right—”
“You were right. Happy now?” Zorvirg snapped.
“Listen to me. I want you to admit that I was right when I said that you loved that thing more than you loved me!” Rihger had always said that. He had said it over and over again, but it wasn’t just about this particular beast. It was Zorvirg’s work in general.
A long moment of silence followed.
Zorvirg sat in silence and pondered Rihger’s accusation. He had always denied it. This was a question that he was familiar with. He loved his work, but he also loved his husband. He was sure of it. Could it be true that he loved one more than the other? He pondered the possibility. Was this manifestation right? Could it be that he had been wrong all the numerous times that he denied it? Slowly it turned over in his mind. Had he been a fool?
A form of remorse slipped into him. He had thrown away his love for a monster, a monster of his own design. And in the end it was all for nothing; his project was gone. All that he threw away, all that he set aside to achieve this monstrosity was for nothing. The regret pained him.
But then another realization came to him. This spector — it wasn’t real. It was trying to trick him, to trap him. He assumed that it must be a product of the tome’s magical backlash. Zorvirg had used the tome before, and although its magic had never manifested itself like this, it seemed logical. It certainly always knew how to haunt him. Regret and remorse are foolish, Zorvirg thought to himself. He was resolute now. Finally he broke the silence with his answer.
“It isn’t true,” Zorvirg said firmly.
“You must have had an inverse way of showing it then,” Rihger said with a frown before fading gently away into the mists.
“Wait—” Zorvirg started, but Rihger was already gone. A sting of regret and loss flowed through him as the mist faded. He somehow knew that it wasn’t the tome’s magic that had made him feel that. The moon shone clearly onto the body beside him. Zorvirg got to his feet with a sigh and picked up his tome. He ran his hands across the creature’s back, admiring its limp body one last time. A cold wind flew down around him, shaking the trees. At the edge of the clearing he looked back again, letting the frost-bringing wind catch his face
“I love you,” Zorvirg whispered before climbing back into the tangle.