Read on, dear viewer, but take heed not to do so incautiously. The tale that is about to unfold before you is one of horror and insanity, of man's pursuit of knowledge going too far. It is a macabre tale of the desperate struggle to be decidedly human in the face of those who would force you into the role of monster.
Our dark tale begins in an unnamed town amongst the hills and mountains of Eastern Europe, just a few years into the 19th Century. The people who live in these parts are hardy and tough, surviving on their own by living off the land and working together to make the best of what they have. They are honest, God-fearing people, who in the past few years have come to live in fear of the castle in the mountain above their town.
Inhabiting that castle is an individual who's name the townsfolk are afraid to utter. Tales are told of them as a warning to the local children and at night, when the lights, the flashes and, worst of all, the screams are seen and heard coming from the castle, the townsfolk lock their doors and seal their windows before praying for morning to come faster.
Little is known of this isolated and terrifying figure, nor is there much information on the dark and twisted creations who also call the castle home. Some refer to them as demons, summoned by the master of the castle for terrible and insidious purposes. Some say they are monsters of the old world who the lord of Castle Sorenov has learned to command.
One thing all agree on, however, is this.
They are not human.
[size=+4]CHAPTER ONE – A MACABRE INTRODUCTION[/size] "Hateful day when I received life!" I exclaimed in agony. "Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred."
The Monster, 'Frankenstein'
Castle Sorenov. A dark shadow that hangs over the valley our story is told within.
It's history is a dark one; it has been the home of madmen, murderers and monsters for centuries. In it's gloomy and twisting corridors blood has been spilled, in it's prison cells and torture chambers lives have been cut short. Few people would want to even go near to this place, nevermind call it home.
Master is not like others of his kind.
He is a scientist, a pioneer into knowledges unknown. Single-handedly he has pushed forward the limits of human knowledge, finding new discoveries and new facts of life humanity would never have known had it not been for him. He is a great man.
Yet Master has done terrible things in the name of discovering the secrets of the world. His breakthroughs are stained with the blood of the innocents he sacrificed to learn of them. His castle is a prison to the ghosts of those whose lives he has destroyed in the name of science. He is a terrible man.
If nothing else, that is what you can say of your Master.
He is a great and terrible man.
And you are his minion.
From dust and scraps of flesh did he craft you. With eldritch and alchemical sciences he gave you a semblance of life. The humans you watch are disconnected from their creator, their God; they will never have the chance to know him. Your God, however, you serve faithfully every day. You bring him his meals and make his bed. You guard his walls for intruders and those who would harm him.
And all the while, you are aware of what you are.
A great man he may be, but Master has not perfected the arts he used to create you. He could only grant you a semblance of life; he could not make you human, no matter how much you wish he had. You are something different, something less; a wolf in ill-fitting sheep's clothing, forever lurking on the outskirts of humanity as you long to come in truly.
Where will this tale bring you? Will your hopes and dreams lead to fullfilment, the chance to become something more than you are? Will you finally achieve that which you desire most of all, the chance at real humanity?
Your will your monstrous nature and failings drive you down the dark and unhappy path of self-loathing, leading you to embrace your monstrous nature or burn on the pyre of self-destruction?
Wolf paced around the outer edges of the castle, not noticing the branches snatching at his leathery skin as he passed through the brush. He moved with low, long strides, his wide eyes always in motion. He stopped as he entered a small clearing and lowered his nose to the ground, nostrils flaring as he took a deep breath. No, nothing here.
He sat down, glancing back to check if the castle was visible through the foliage. It was, but only barely. Master hadn't had many visitors recently, official or otherwise. There was no need to have to scare or drive off curious villagers. It wasn't difficult, he'd learned that many would turn and run if he simply hid in a bush and clicked, but still...
It was only when he got up to leave the clearing that something caught Wolf's eye. With a sudden attentiveness and care he lowered himself to the ground, letting his profile blend into the undergrowth as he crept towards what he saw. His gaze locked firmly onto this object of interest as lowered his face almost to the ground, his breath faint and restrained as if to disturb what he saw.
With extraordinary care his second pair of arms unfurled from their folded position against his back, thumb and forefinger delicately closing around the point of a vibrant, striped feather, lifting it up into better light as Wolf examined it from all sides, already trying to imagine how to capture all the details of it onto paper. He suddenly stiffened, looking around nervously, wondering just how much time he had spent looking at the feather. Master didn't know about his artistic ambitions, and neither did any of the other servants, with the exception of Beatrix. And even with her, he always felt nervous and hesitant in showing what he'd drawn, wondering if his creations were as fine as those drawn by the true humans who illustrated Master's many books.
He closed his hand around the feather in a loose grip, not wanting to crush it as he turned back towards the castle, moving at a fast trot so that he could deposit this treasure back in his den where it would be safe as he continued to patrol.
Gergana walked swiftly down the hall, her arms full of freshly cleaned sheets and blankets for the Masters chambers. She knew Master would not be in there, he was working during the day and most of the evening, always sitting at his desk or picking apart a new specimen. She opened the door slowly and set the new sheets on one of the chairs in Master's room, pulling off the old ones with haste. Master hated when he did not get his clean sheets every week, it always made him more sharp and fierce in a way. With the sheets stripped and replaced she wandered out of his room, it in prime condition as if had not been used at all the evening before.
She hurried on her way back to the kitchen, dropping the sheets off at the wash bin to be cleaned for tomorrow. She stopped only for a moment in the hall, taking note that one of Master's paintings was off center. She spent a moment or two putting it stright before trotting back on her way to begin making Master's dinner. She moved briskly, not wanting to keep Master waiting for his food once supper time came around, it messed with the amount of time he had to work in his laboratory.
She walked into the kitchen, it full of steaming pots and burning fires, shelves full of food and dishes. She went about her business, cooking and stirring as she did her job that was given to her, doing it all for her Master...
A cold night this was. Every night was cold, though. To solve this problem, Beatrix didn't sit still for too long. She hoped that Master would have time to design some sort of sweater for her to wear. One that all six of her arms could fit in and maybe even a hood attachment for her head. Even hooded cape would do... At least then, she would have some warmth.
For now, she did her usual patrolling with her eyes open for trespassers. From a distance, she was a terrifying, spider-like shadow hopping from platform to platform and walking on the roofs with ease. The nights were usually uneventful. Only the gutsiest, or the stupidest, of people approached her Master's castle. There would never be any argument with Master, though. He felt better knowing she was out keeping his beloved home safe.
Beatrix something, then. Something beautiful. A butterfly that was very much out of place. She only ever saw the ugliest of insects pass by her. Ones that were predators or foul smelling; ones that were beastly or colorless. This precious butterfly had magnificent wings. Her vision was considerably colour blind, but she could tell by the designs on the wings that this bug was pretty.
The spider-woman smiled at the critter as it rushed towards her, the fangs of her overbite rising with her lips. The mandibles on her face clicked excitedly, and a single hand reached out to touch the beautiful butterfly. A sweet aroma emitted from Bea, which was how she attracted her food. She couldn't build webs like spiders could.
Tiredly, the insect landed on her flattened palm. Beatrix would have squealed with joy if she was the type to do so. A happiness made her soul flutter, though. It was a good feeling. One she didn't feel for a very long time.
"Go," she whispered to it, shaking her hand so the butterfly would flee. Beatrix was hungry and thirsty, but she restrained herself from consuming the lost monarch. She didn't want to stomach something so lovely. The moment it left her hand, she went back to her work atop the castle.
Surely, a different winged victim would show up. One less... Perfect.
"But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."
Gargoyles watched the courtyard of Castle Sorenov and the statue at its centre, which held the wind-weathered face of Yuri Lazar, great grandfather to the Master. Nothing moved here but dead leaves and the cloak of Vasile, trembling as he sat upon the steps of the north entrance. The servant had spoken aloud the words Beatrix had found him, a soft voice echoing from the courtyard walls.
With moonlight on his mask, his head lifted at the sound of horse hooves. Through the far arch a single wagon struggled up the hill, a frail silhouette against the mountain scape. Vasile stuffed the scrap of paper into his robe then brought both hands to his ears, shielding them from the screech of the horses. As soon as they entered the courtyard the animals reeled and panicked, their eyes stark as they beheld the Master's spokesman. The wagon's passengers - three in total - fought to control the beasts, whipping and wrenching on the reins as they steered their cargo to a halt beside the statue.
No one spoke. There was only the snorting and twitching of the horses, their breaths billowing in the night air. Slowly and painfully, Vasile pulled himself up on the balustrade of the stairway and descended with slow and lurching steps. The three men watched him, not daring to move from their seat. They were grey individuals, haggard and ill-fed, two no older than twenty and a third who had seen too many winters. Vasile returned their gaze as he limped around the wagon, giving wide berth to the startled horses.
He glanced once at the crates the wagon was loaded with, then once at the humans. Then, with a lift of his gloved hand, he gave the order.
The two younger men jumped down, as if for a moment they might scatter from the wagon, then ran to the vehicle's rear and began unloading the crates. Their terror lent then strength and haste. They lifted the boxes down onto the cobbles, one by one, then just as quickly grabbed their crowbars and levered open the lids of each item. Vasile stood back, watching the sweat upon their faces, the sidelong glances they threw towards the Master's abode.
No doubt they had felt the wolf watching them. No doubt they had seen the spider's silhouette on the rooftop. No doubt they knew themselves to be in the company of monsters.
As the old man struggled to keep the horses steady, the other two finished opening the crates and backed away, near-hiding behind the wagon as Vasile came forward. The servant leant over the boxes, breath wheezing behind his mask, and examined the contents. Bundles of clothing, wrapped vials of formaldehyde, bronze ingots, steel chain, ethanol and nitric acid. Everything was here as ordered.
Slowly, Vasile reached into his robe, past the scrap of poetry, and took hold of something. One of the humans edged forward, with his skin drained as white as moonlight and glanced between Vasile's mask and his slow, extending hand.
The pouch of coins was snatched, and all at once the men exploded into action. The two youths jumped onto the wagon and the old driver yelled, slamming at the reins and spurring the horses into life. With raucous terror the wagon spun around the statue and raced for the east gate, where it clattered out onto the mountain road. Vasile was left knelt by the crates, clutching his ears and watching the silhouettes of the humans, striking at the horses as if their lives depended on it. And in time they were lost within the trees, marked only by the frightened squeals of the animals.
With the master not requiring him there has little for Radomir to do. The lab was organized and awaiting the master's return and now he wondered the halls casting a longing eye as Master's piano. Around his patched together body he had drawn what cloths he had claimed as his own from the scraps that came in with the bodies. He found if fitting that he was made from scraps as well.
It was through the hall he was meandering though that Gergana passed and lacking company he followed. They rarely met during their routines and they barely knew eachother by sight but maybe today after two years under the same roof they would change that.
"Good evening." he said entering the kitchen, her territory, shortly after she did. "I'm not here to beg scraps I.. I just find myself with nothing to do."
She was doing her job and he suddenly felt like he was intruding, he had no reason to believe he would be welcomed here. Maybe he would go and sit in front of the piano like he did only when he was sure all others were asleep or outside. His fumbling melodies a private joy.
Gergana gave Radomir a sparing glance, they rarely ever delt with each other. He was the master's lab assistant after all and she was just a simple cook and maid. She gave one of hte pots a stir as she listened to the man speak softly. She turned to him for a moment, her expression plain but curious as she looked at him.
"So, you need something to do?" She questioned as she walked away from the stove as started to pull out vegetables from the cupboard.
She grabbed a knife and cutting board and set them on the working table so she could get to work. She glanced up at him quietly sa she chopped away, showing that she was listening to him while she went about her duties, just because she was speaking with someone wouldn't stop her from staying on task.
[size=+1]The cells hold the potent smell of damp, rot, human faeces and accumulated misery.
I am warden and jailer to only a few unfortunates just now; Master has little need of live subjects, but keeps a few on hand just in case he should have need of them. As I stride past their cells they scamper away from me to the corners of their cells like frightened rabbits. I know the looks upon their faces all too well, their body language and their pleading voices.
I am intimately familiar with the many expressions of despair.
Ensuring that each of the prisoners has food and water, and that their cells are secure, I finish my duties for just now and stare out into the night sky. The delivery will be here soon, but more importantly, she will be moving past the walls soon as well. If I am to assist Vasile and be on the wall in time to observe her passing, I must make haste.
One of the newer inmates to Master's prison, a young traveller my fellow Minions managed to drag from the lonely roads that surround our Master's castle, pulls himself up to the bars of his cell and reaches out to me desperately. He pleads, he begs, he implores me to set him free. He will hold no grudge, seek no vengeance; this he swears on the life of his mother. I stare down at him for a moment, taking care not to look too long into his eyes, before shaking my head and turning away.
I cannot communicate over much with these... subjects of my Master. To do so would mean that I would have to acknowledge that they are human.
I stride up the steps and away from my inmates, shutting out their cries and moaning. With a heavy wooden door between them, their calls are lessened and after passing down a few of the winding corridors of Castle Sorenov I can no longer hear them. I sigh with relief and move for the courtyard of the castle, where Vasile will be waiting for my assistance.
The wagon is pulling away hurriedly as I move out into the courtyard; the locals never tarry here if they can help it. No doubt they are too afraid of us. The cloaked figure of Vasile stands in the centre of the open space, next to the delivery the humans had left. There is no way he can miss my heavy footsteps as I stomp towards him and grunt by way of greeting. “Where does the Master wish these to be put?” I ask, my voice like two rocks grating against one another. I am all too aware of the unnatural tone my voice holds; it is why I try not to speak when I can.
Carefully, I lift up two of the crates with each arm. A normal man would buckle under the combined weight. But I am not a man. I glance towards the sky and watch the moon's progress across it, and though I try and hide it I am all too aware that Vasile is probably aware of my wish to hurry this along.
She will be here soon.
And often I think that she is the only thing worthwhile in my life.[/size]
At times, patrol could be boring. Beatrix always did her best to find sport and enjoyment in what she did. While a beast, she was a playful soul in search of fun-filled ways to spend her time. For some mysterious reason, she had the idea that her life needed to have more meaning than service.
The spider-like woman hung upside-down from an enormous tree branch that loomed over a castle roof. Every limb, except for one, was in use. With one of her more human hands, she swiped a finger across her lips, ignoring the prick her overbite caused. There were traces of innards on her mouth from her meal of insects. A small amount of blood pooled over the digit, but that happened too often. Master said it repaired easily on its own, so Beatrix couldn't be bothered by such small injuries anymore.
Beatrix's several eyes blinked continuously now, eying the grounds and roofs in her view. At least now, she could observe whilst swinging back and forth. It was mild amusement; she appreciated it. Though, not quite enough movement to keep her warm. The chills were making her pale skin show unpleasant bumps and her chin trembled. She hated those feelings.
While hanging there, she pondered on what tune to serenade her Master with tonight. Before bed, she'd sing a beautiful song to assure sweet dreams. So strange, she thought. Something so unappealing with a lovely voice. She had her Master to thank for it.
Beatrix carefully let herself down from the branch to continue her walk along the rooftops and slowly make her way to the tower, her second domain to the library. Along the way, she hummed to herself.
[size=+4]CHAPTER TWO – MASTER'S FIRST TASKS[/size] “Oh, mother, I have no heart, and I live outside the world and have no share or part in it; its joys and sorrows alike pass me by and are never mine;” and she started on her way.
“No heart!” the woman said sadly. “Ah, poor lassie! Then the world must indeed be a riddle of which you have forever missed the answer.”
- Lucy Lane Clifford, 'Outside the World'
The Minions continue their work in and around the castle, awaiting the summons of their Master.
On occasion each of them stops to look up at the tower in which he lives. The tallest part of the structure, reaching up into the gloom of the sky. Indeed, it is appropriate that it defies the laws of the world so in it's high altitude, for it is here that Master performs his greatest work.
It is here that each of the Minions were 'born', if such a word can be used to describe the process by which they were brought into the world.
Several hours pass without any signs of life from the tower. What Master could be doing up there is a much-debated mystery by his servants. But finally, through the silence of Castle Sorenov a bell begins to ring. The huge bell that rests at the top of the highest tower in the castle. Which can mean only one thing.
Master requires the services of his Minions once more.
They ascend to the Master's tower, up the winding staircases and gloomy corridors of stone. In contrast to the rest of Castle Sorenov, however, the tower's interior is far more warmly lit, with more signs of human habitation. It is clear that someone lives here, someone truly alive. The first room of the tower is vast and open, a foyer lit by an ornate chandelier. A small staircase leads up to a landing that connects the rest of the tower's rooms to the main foyer.
And at the top of the stairs, he waits for them.
“My beloved children,” he begins, his rasping voice from underneath his hood still somehow reaching all ears in the room, “Once more I require your talents. It would please me to see you all in my study in pairs.”
Master summons you both first. You have been in his study before, but each time you find yourselves overwhelmed by the knowledge contained within. Books line the walls in shelves, dusty and ancient tombs of alchemy and science. Charts of the human anatomy are pinned up in numerous places, and at the centre of it all sits Master's writing desk, which he sits behind now.
He motions you both further forward and regards you from under his hood. The only lights come from the lamp upon his desk, casting ominous shadows across the room. “Dearest children, the task I require of you both shall take you from the safety of this castle and down into the domain of the peasants and rabble.
“Recently, the locals managed to capture a bandit who has been plaguing these lands for many a year. Yesterday he was hung for his crimes. I would have you fetch his body from the grave he was buried in and return him to me. His body parts would be most useful in aiding my Great Work. Vasile, you have had experience in dealing with the peasants before; thus you would best serve me in this task. The priest knows you are coming and should not stop you...
“...should he try to, however, Tammuz shall be accompanying you. Your presence should deter the locals from attempting anything... foolish, and you will be invaluable in digging up the grave and returning the body.” From under the hood, a smile creeps across Master's face. “Time is of the essence, my children. Please complete this task as soon as you can.”
Both of you are familiar with Master's study, perhaps more so than any of your fellow Minions, for both of you spend much time here performing numerous tasks for Master, be it delivering meals or assisting in the laboratory. He sits behind his writing desk, watching you both with a smile on his face. “Step forward, my beautiful creations. I will require your services in my laboratory this day. We have much work to complete before evening settles.
“I shall require two prisoners from Tammuz's cells; a male and a female would be ideal. We shall be experimenting with spinal fluids this day, to see what uses such a substance could have for my Great Work. It shall be harvested from the subjects and tested in my laboratory. My sweet Gergana, I know this is not the service I commonly ask of you but much has to be done today; I require as much help as I can get. Radomir, you have served me many a time in my laboratory; I require your skills greatly this day.
“Collect the subjects, and we shall begin as soon as possible.”
The study of Master is not a place you often see the inside of, though you have climbed the outside of it on many occasions. The smells are unfamiliar yet both compelling and terrifying simultaneously. From behind his writing desk, Master regards you both calmly. “Far too little do I have the pleasure of your company in my tower, children, for you both are diligent in your guarding of this castle from unwanted visitors and those who would attempt to stop my Great Work if they could. Know that I am grateful for your efforts, and always will be.
“I must ask of you a task that shall take you from the grounds and walls of this castle and out into the vast expanse of land around our home, however. None but yourselves are capable of such a task.
“Our prison cells are growing emptier once more. Soon they will be empty, yet my need for live subjects only grows larger as I continue my Great Work. I desire you both to venture out into the countryside and fetch back more subjects to aid in my research. There are always unwary travellers moving through this part of the world. They will not be missed, and their lives shall be given to a higher cause.
“Now go forth, my children. Find me as many new subjects as you can manage.”
Radomir kept his eyes lowered before the man who had brought him life. The Master was the center of his existence and had been since he had first opened the eyes the Master had giving him. Still Radomir hated ever summons to the tower, the bell invading his dreams. It meant the Master had something special, dirty work to be done.
The people the master spoke up as if they here nothing more than a collection of parts were still alive, and Radomir hated that it was his job now to mark them for experimentation and death. "Bu... I..." he cut himself off. For a moment he had lifted his gaze and seem the face of his creator.
He closed his eyes and bowed his head. "Of course Master..." he said his voice low. "It will be done." he remained still for several moments before he looked to Gergana a look of resigned obedience on his face. "We should get the leg irons.."
Gergana kept her head low as she listened to her Master's orders, waiting patiently for him to give her her duties. At first she was rather surprised that she was being asked to take part in Master's experiments but she accepted the request humbly, honored that the man that had brought her life wanted her to take part in his important work.
However, she couldn't help but wonder why Master was always after these people. Master said that these people were being given a high honor by being used in his studies but they all seemed quite frightened and upset whenever they were brought in. She never questioned it all that much, Master knows best after all.
"Of course Master..." She said softly with a small bow before looking to Radomir "I shall gather the keys to the Dungeon then..."
Wolf was excited as he walked onto the castle grounds beside Beatrix. Not because Master wanted him to hunt, although the thought appealed the part of him that had led to his name, but more because he was going to hunt with Beatrix. He liked Beatrix, because Beatrix was like him. Of all of Master's servants she was the one closest to him in appearance, and even if it wasn't exact he felt something like kinship with her. So despite everything, he still had an energy as he walked, had he possessed the tail of his namesake it might have wagged.
But then a thoughtful look flashed across his face, and he glanced over to Beatrix. She was older than he was, but... had she spent much time away from the castle? Would she know what to do away from home? And, perhaps more importantly, how would they carry out their mission?
It was times like this Wolf hated himself. He could barely speak. His mouth, lips, throat... they were wrong. He could make his echolocating clicks, but he couldn't even properly pronounce any of the servants names. He had to stop in order to speak, the simple action requiring so much concentration from him. Maybe that was why he liked to listen to her sing so much, she sounded right.
His steps slowed down considerably as his lips started to move, voice rough and unsure that he was communicating himself as he said, "How... do we do... task... Beetrik? Have uh... i-iduh?" His lips curled into a frown as he looked away, kicking himself mentally for his clumsy speech.
Beatrix, too, was excited to get to work. Working with Wolf was always a highlight during these miserable days. They had a lot in common, interest-wise and appearance-wise. The idea that they were friends was a big deal for her. As long as she looked the way she did, she'd probably never have a 'normal' friend. Therefore, she cherished what bonds she had with the other monsters.
Aside from working with Wolf, she was just anxious to 'play'. Beatrix found good fun in toying with victims before capturing them for Master, or just killing them. For some cases, she'd feel bad about slaying. Trespassers deserved to be killed because they were stepping foot onto her Master's property, but the oblivious, innocent humans just going about their lives... That was entirely different.
She was surprised to hear her companion speak. He did not talk much because his vocals were imperfect, yet here he was, inquiring about their mission. When he said her name, she smiled at him, the fangs of her overbite rising with her lips. Him saying it differently didn't matter at all. Beatrix liked her name to be spoken. It made he feel less like a minion and more like a human being. She relished any bit of humanity she could embrace.
"We must hide so we can surprise the humans. We'll hide in plants or shadows. You run real fast and you're real strong. When we find subjects for Master, you chase and catch them. I'll chase too, but I don't run very fast at all. But I can bite them. Heehee! When I bite them, they go to sleep for a little while," Beatrix suggested. Something else came to mind, though. Where would they find the prisoners-to-be?
"Master said we'd find travelers in the countryside. I've... Never left castle before..." Beatrix frowned shamefully after her confession, but her enthusiastic gait continued. "Do you know where to look, Wolf?"
Beatrix knew they'd find a good spot to wait for some unfortunate travelers, eventually. Still, she hoped they could have some sort of direction.
"But what of the man, Master?
What more for him whose grave we plunder - what inkblot else at the finish of his epitaph?
A murderer hanged an outcast - what family for him, what kin awaiting?
Did he feel as we monsters feel, or so much more allowed to humans?
Did his heart, now rotten, ebb and flow on the o'erbearing tides of a life both beautiful and harsh?
What right have we, who stand as desecrant mutes upon his exit, to punctuate him such, to end his grand and terrifying story with this... act... though an act on which the curtain is half fallen and renders no applause, nay not even a teary eye?
No, my dearest Master, I will not... I cannot grant the stage to such abomination, nor admit such ends might carry to the moment of my own demise.
For this small hope... for this rest beyond all restlessness... I defy you."
The carriage struck a fallen log and the bump shook the whole ramshackle vehicle and roused Vasile from his slumber. His masked face was leant against the window and his mind adrift in what we would have said... what he might have said... had he the courage back then, in his father's study, to speak his thoughts.
With an unseen wince, the servant straightened up on the padded, moth-eaten seats of the carriage cabin and listened to the chatter of road and horse hoof. Tammuz was sat up top, controlling the brace of black horses that pulled them along with whips and clumsy wrenching on the reins. The big man could handle the cold and the rigours of the open road. Not like Vasile. He held his robes around him as he was shaken and battered by the violent descent down the mountain.
In time the road became smoother and he extended one hand to pinch the curtain. Pulling it back, he let the moonlight in and cast an eye over the nearing village.
They would know the carriage... see in its silhouette the gothic embellishments of the footboard and roof... and on its side the emblem of the Lazar Family. They would hear the unnatural snort of the horses - more demon than beast - and see the hulking form of the driver who led them. Even now, mothers would be snatching their children from their play and ushering them indoors, whilst grandmothers twitched behind the curtains and young men turned the edges of their farming tools. Word would pass in muted whispers...
... they were coming. The monsters were coming.
But perhaps... by chance both beautiful and fleeting... there would be some out there who paid no heed... ones with monsters farthest from their mind. Perhaps in one of those haysheds... one of those fire-warmed bedrooms... or in the deepest woods... there would be lovers. And all the gloom of this town would be shed in the peeling of garments, the unlacing of bodices falling from ripe and soft-hued flesh.
He let the curtain fall back and hunched over, the thought too painful for him, the feelings too strong. Beneath Vasile's feet rested the coffin that Tammuz had slid between the seats. Before the night was out it would be filled with bones and putrefaction, and his hands would be thicker than themselves in death.
This was the rank and file of life. Lovers were candles in an ice breeze. They would never last. Only death and abomination.
Wolf nodded as he listened to hear speak, he always enjoyed the sound of her voice. Her plan was a good one, but that made sense because she spent so much time indoors and in Master's library. Of course she would be the smart one.
As she asked if he knew where to look, Wolf looked to the gates hey were walking towards. Most humans avoided the castle, so they would have to go a good distance in order to find prey. He knew what the countryside was like, so he had to lead the way. And as for where... well, there was a small broke not too far away that travelers sometimes wandered to for a drink. That seemed like a good place to begin looking. And it was nearby to the forest, they could hide there easily.
He started to walk faster, almost into a trot as he approached the gates of the castle, looking back over his shoulder at Beatrix. He wanted to smile, but more than that he wanted to be able to explain what he knew, and the two emotions balanced each other out, his lips stayed flat. He managed to say, "Fullow," But only barely.
He wanted to explain about the forest, about the brook, about what the world was like outside the castle. But he couldn't. He would mangle the words so badly that he was better off not trying. Beatrix was smart, she could figure things out.
Beatrix nodded when he asked for her to follow him. After that, everything was silent, as usual. This left her to figure out what to do without any guidance. She was able to confidently follow him, though. Venturing this far from home made her nervous, but with Wolf around, she had no fear. Together, they were a force to be reckoned with.
A brook came into view as they wandered deeper into the forest. This seemed like a decent hunting grounds. Her many eyes looked to the soil beneath them, eying footprints that matched both animals and men. She looked at enough nature books to be able to tell the difference, and even be able to differentiate one kind to another. There were shapes of bird feet, shapes of fox paws, outlines of human shoes...
She looked to Wolf with a smile and nodded once more, quietly agreeing that this was a good spot to start with. Now, they just needed to hide themselves. Beatrix looked above her, spotting some branches within her reach. Her four, long arms reached up, all digits wrapping around the sturdy branch. In one swift motion, she pulled herself up and disappeared into the trees. Such exercise was taxing at times, but with her extra limbs, her strength doubled and allowed her to support the weight of her body, albeit it was light already.
"I'll be watching from up here," she said to Wolf from above, then the rustling of leaves could be heard. Beatrix was preparing herself for a jump down whenever a poor soul would wander into her venomous trap. Ever so patiently, she sat there, watchful of the ground below her. Her arms were spread out, flexing every so often to help the muscles stay loose, as well as help her stay warm. She also had her fangs bared, ready to bite.
He left the Master's presence heading down the tower and back into the dimmer confines of the main castle. He kept heading down, down further and further until he came to the dungeon. His first task was to retrieve the restraints, and the various sharp incentives they could use to keep thier charges in line.
Then he would wait for Gergana, idly playing with the chains on the restraints. When she did come he greeted her with a smile and stood pulling the keys from the recess in the wall and heading over to the heavy timber door and pulling a torch from the wall the chained draped over his shoulders and hanging down his body. The lock thudded open and the began to push the door open, frightened eyes greeting them from the cells. SO much fewer in number as time wore on. Perhaps one of them had known one if the people who now made up Radomir.
Gergana went and gathered the keys to the restraints that had been hidden among Master's thing so that subject could not try to escape from their chain when in his laboratory. She joined Radomir near the dungeon door and smiled a little to him in return, tucking the keys to the restraints in her apron pocket for her to use once they arrived in the lab and had the subjects where Master wished for them to be. She looked into the black room to see white frightened eyes, all seeming to know their soon to be fate. The number was smaller than she last remembered, rarely having worked in the dungeon save for one time when she had to clean it out, a subject having killed himself in desperation.
She stood in the doorway, leaving Radomir to prob at the subjects and choose the one's Master would like. She did not know much about what Master was looking for but certainly Radomir did, he worked with Master most of all. Her eyes lingered over each subject equally, wondering why there were so frightened, they were going to be helping out Master for the greater good after all...Or so Master had told her once when she had been serving him dinner in his study. She noticed one of them was eying the entrance as if they were going to dart out of it an escape. She stepped back a bit into the door way to crush there idea, showing that there only form of escape was the chains in Radomir's hands...
Wolf craned his neck to watch Beatrix deftly climb upwards into the tree, his eyes wide and catching every moonlight illuminated movement. It never stopped fascinating him to watch her climb, how her fingers could close around anything or find any hold and pull her body further up into the air. And she always seemed so fearless while she did, Wolf was nearly certain that he wouldn't be confident in her situation.
When he saw that she had reached a hiding place, he began to sniff up and down the bank of the brook, occasionally letting out a series of clicks to better understand his surroundings, the sound piercing into the darkness where the light couldn't.
After a few minutes of searching he found a hollow space between two roots of a large tree, and backed his body into the tight space, rear arms folded flat against his back. The tip of his nose was just hidden by the shadows as he eyes began to scan the bank, knowing that he would have to catch the humans before Beatrix could bite them.
He was nervous though, and grateful that he was hidden from his companion here, so that she could not see him squirm. What if no humans came near? How long would they wait by this riverbank? What if one got away? Wolf was certain he could catch any human, but.. but what if he couldn't? At best they would fail, at worst they could bring a mob down on Master's head.