DarkFall

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

1348 AD

Florence, Italy

 

 

It is the time of the Black Death, rumored to have been spread by the common black rat that infests the holds of so many cargo ships.  Many have already been afflicted, suffering the painful boils and blotches under their skin that herald the final stages of the plague.  None may survive this horrid spectacle, nor will any ever forget the heavy toll it takes upon much of Eastern Europe during its recurring visitations.  It is a horror that afflicts more than several households, taking whom it will and leaving the others to remember the pain and agony that their loved ones must deal with.  Among the afflicted are those who share a destiny greater than any, those who are chosen for something so much greater.  Yet it lies upon the shoulders of only three as to what fate will have in store for them, the final rest, or a greatness they will perhaps never fully understand.  Into this morass of human suffering and filth come the three who will shape the destiny of many, those who will decide who lives and who dies.  They alone will decide who is saved, and who is damned. 

 

The stench was nearly overwhelming, and she was standing outside the ruined home that held the one she was looking for.  Taegan wore a large scrap of cloth tied over her nose and mouth to cut out the worst of the smell, but still she felt the bile rising within her throat.  She could only pray that she got lucky and this would be the place where she found the unfortunate soul she’d come here to find.  Of course, she wasn’t going to hold her breath that this would happen.

She knew hardly anything about the individual, only that something had called her to this place in this time.  Her mentor had told her more than once that as a half-breed she would be far more sensitive to the world’s flowing currents than she’d been before.  Taegan didn’t know if she particularly liked such a sensitivity, though now that she felt it was almost impossible to turn it off.  She wondered how Aliyana did it, but couldn’t find the trigger that might allow her to do the same.  Taegan couldn’t help but wish that her mentor were here now, if only for companionship.

Such thoughts were not helpful however as she stared up at the sweeping archways and grand marble pillars that stood in front of the home, supporting the decorative roof that spanned for several yards in either direction.  Taegan had never really understood the desire to have such elaborate paintings being affixed to stone and plaster, it seemed rather ludicrous to her really.  Who would want the painted eyes of so many looking down upon them each time they entered their homes?

As she looked up into the dark, brush-stroked gazes of the benevolent angels and other beings that looked down upon the ground she walked upon Taegan felt a mild chill run down her spine.  The eyes of each painted figure seemed to follow her as she made her way to the ornately crafted front door, perhaps identifying her as an intruder, a defiler of the dead, for surely the stench coming from the partially opened door could mean that only carrion awaited her.  It was far too gruesome to think that anyone living could sit among such filth for longer than a few moments.

Screwing up her nerve Taegan approached the front of the opulent brick and wood home, feeling the weight of the large weapon that was strapped to her back. The curved sword, a shamshir she’d been told it was, had been a gift from a friend along her travels.  Its size, weight and curving blade might have intimidated or likewise warned away many others from its use, but she had managed to master its unwieldy nature well enough that she was more than a little dangerous whether at a distance or in close.  Thanks to her mentor Taegan knew how to use each part of the sword to maximum effect, utilizing the strength of her body along with the weapon to keep herself safe from harm.  Thus far none had managed to use the size of the weapon against her, nor did she see such a thing happening in the days to come.

As she approached the door she stopped halfway up the wide, stained steps.  She’d already seen the dark stains marring the stone beneath her feet, though she wasn’t sure how much was blood and how much was something else.  The dried liquids were a panoply of color, ranging from a sickly yellow to the dried, crusted over red that signified a massive loss of blood.  The smell from the disgusting miasma of fluids was potent enough to cause Taegan to crinkle her nose, but it wasn’t what had made her stop.

She’d heard something from within, some slight noise behind the partially opened door she now glared at suspiciously.  Her breathing was low and controlled beneath her mask, warming her face as her dark eyes peered from beneath the floppy b rim of her hat.  There was little light here, though there was a soft glow from the doorway, almost inviting in a way.  The night around her was quite dark save for a few lanterns that swung idly on high poles up and down the lane.  Taegan had made her way to this place with as much stoicism as she could, trying to ignore the piles of dead bodies that had been lain out here and there.  It was dire time within the country, a time of such horrors that many might never have thought possible.

She knew the cause, she even knew what the humans thought it was.  It was odd to think of them as another race, especially considering that she half-belonged to their race as well.  But as her mentor had told her, she was of two worlds, belonging to neither and yet both at the same time.  Taegan had more often than not felt herself something else, something beyond either human or what Aliyana had revealed herself as, another species entirely, all alone in the world.  It was a lonely thought, but it was also strangely comforting at times.

The sound came again as she tensed, squinting her eyes as she was sure that she could see a hint of movement through the partially opened door.  Someone was moving.  That realization alone heartened her somewhat, though the confusion of how anyone could remain in such a place with such smells abounding reached deep into the darkest recesses of her mind, claiming that nothing good could come of this.  Taegan couldn’t help but agree, but her instincts had taken her in this direction, the strange feeling that she’d had insisting that this was where she was to find the one she was being drawn to.  Why she was being drawn or just how she could feel this was still largely unknown, but Taegan was doing as her mentor had directed her so long ago, just feeling her way along.

Many years ago she would not have done such a thing, preferring to know what she was running towards instead of simply taking action.  Her time with Aliyana had taught her to trust the instincts that thrust her forward however, insisting that she do something instead of pondering whether she should take that next step or not.  As she continued to listen and watch the doorway Taegan still heard it, a soft muttering, almost like a gasp, though she saw no more hint of movement.  Fully confused now she made her way forward again, taking short, tentative steps that carried her slowly and inexorably to the front entrance.

She knew of the darkness that had been visited to this part of the world and she knew just who had caused it.  Humans had been allowed to believe that the common black rat, a carrier of so many diseases, had infected them on such a widespread scale.  While Taegan would not, could not in fact, disabuse humans of this notion she also knew better.  Her mentor had told her much of the dark being that had at one time brought such ruination to the world.  She had told Taegan of her former love, the dark lord Sivis, and Taegan had listened with rapt attention.

She’d learned of the dark lord escaped every so often, and of how Aliyana was pledged to hunt him down before he grew too powerful.  Taegan had thought this rather redundant, not to mention foolish, but had kept her mouth clamped shut over such words.  Her mentor had done much for her in the past, opening her eyes to a world that Taegan had never known.  She had listened patiently and with mounting fear as Aliyana had told her of the Chosen, the individuals who were meant to combat Sivis at her side, further dampening the chances of the dark lord’s full return to the world.  She’d also listened to Aliyana as the woman had told her simply, something truly horrible was coming.

It had been many years since she’d spoken to her mentor, though Taegan still remembered her words, thinking that perhaps whatever the woman had spoken of was in the process of happening.  The population of Florence alone had been decimated by the seemingly simple disease that had afflicted so much of its people.  Taegan knew within her heart that Sivis was responsible for this, a feeling that would not desist as she had watched more than one cart filled with human detritus, once healthy, living people, had been carted away to be buried or burned.

Taegan had been within Florence for only a few months, but she’d witnessed horrors that she’d never known, not even back in her own home when the plague had hit.  The Black Death, as it had already been dubbed, caused excruciating pain among its victims, creating massive, infected boils and eventually blotches under the skin that signaled the end.  She’d watched more than one afflicted with such plague wither away and die not long after contracting the horrid disease.  It was not pleasant, nor was it any way for anyone to die.

She knew only what she’d heard of Sivis, though in her heart Taegan had known that this disease could not possibly have been born of anything occurring in nature.  Or rather, it had been nature-born, but infused with something that was somehow not supposed to be here.  It was too confusing to figure upon, but in her heart and mind Taegan knew that the dark lord she’d heard so much was behind this in some way.  The pall of darkness, or the DarkFall as she’d heard one delusional woman mutter before choking on her own blood, could not be natural.

Finally reaching the doorway Taegan peered inside through the gap between door and jamb, doing her best to keep out of sight as she saw within.  What she saw was little more than she’d expected, a rather posh home bedecked with fine rugs, comfortable-looking chairs and a fireplace that, strangely enough, still had a moderate blaze burning within its depths.  Taegan frowned as she saw this, wondering again who could possibly stand to remain within the stench that still wafted out of the home.  She saw no sign of anything other than perhaps a fine layer of dust upon some of the items that were kept nearest the door, a few lamps, unlit, and busts of folk she did not know or recognize.  She did not push the door open just yet, remaining outside on the stoop as she thought over what to do.  Should she just barge in, sword unsheathed and swinging, or should she open the door gently, hoping against hope that nothing was waiting for her on the other side?

Aliyana had told her of Sivis’s dark abilities, of how he could bend the flesh and mind of humans to his own whim, making them in effect mindless servants, little better than animated corpses.  If the dark lord had beaten her here, which her instincts were screaming that yes, he had, Taegan knew she would undoubtedly be in for a fight.  She had nothing more to go on concerning the dark lord than her own memories of what Aliyana had told her, but that would have to be enough.

Taegan had yet to see any of the wonders or horrors that Aliyana had spoken of, though she was beginning to wonder if she would ever desire to truly encounter any such things.  Tightening her lips she squared her shoulders, deciding that only a coward would come this far and not keep going.  Reaching out with her left hand she kept her right loose, ready to reach back for her weapon at a moment’s notice, or perhaps one of those that still rode upon her hips, the last pieces of her old friend Marcus that she still carried.  Whatever decided to come at her, Taegan felt she was ready.

Stepping across the threshold she placed her left hand firmly against the door, stepping into the home as she held her breath.  Taegan stayed close to the door, following it inward as she panned her gaze around the massive front room.  There were no less than three hallways that led from the front area, which must have doubled as a sitting room as well as foyer.  It was not an entirely common method of construction, though she’d seen far stranger during her search for the one she felt to be within this place.  The decorations were rather elaborate, the hardwood floor was festooned with rugs of all sizes and colors, offering a veritable rainbow of dark hues and intricate designs that must have fetched a hefty price at whatever market they’d come from.  The ornamentation that bedecked the walls, hung from the ceiling and stood upon end tables all around the room spoke to her of a rather eccentric mind, perhaps someone who was more concerned with the oddities of the world than function or grace.

It was a hodgepodge of knickknacks, fine pieces mixed in with what might be considered gaudy or outright ludicrous.  Taegan’s eyes were drawn to more than one piece at a time as she entered the room, though she did her best to focus, not wishing to lose her attention lest she be caught unawares.  As she came fully into the home Taegan left the door hanging wide open, it was without doubt that the residents would mind any longer.  Standing just within the entry however she panned her gaze to the left, her eyes widening as she saw the source of the soft noises she’d heard.

A  woman stood there, a rather shapely woman wearing a very lovely, if somewhat soiled, evening dress.  The rich folds of fabric hung loose around her curved form, the hem dragging along the floor just barely inches from her bare feet, which looked rather haggard as Taegan took in the woman’s appearance from behind.  She could not see the woman’s face, but her bared shoulders and the small part of her back that Taegan could see indicated that this woman was not in good health, nor should she even be standing.

Taegan had seen the effect of the terrible boils she’d seen upon those afflicted with the plague, and from what she could see of this woman she knew that the lesions and boils that showed through on the female’s skin should have placed her either on the floor or in one of the many piles of rotting flesh outside.  She could see a sort of blackness that rimed each boil, an oozing, pus-like substance that seemed to exude from the woman’s otherwise healthy-looking skin.  To Taegan it looked as though the woman had been in good health only a short time ago, as though the plague had hit her far quicker and with obviously less debilitating effects than anyone else.

The woman tottered slightly as another small, hitching gasp came from her, causing her body to shake as the folds of her dress were caught up in the slight motion.  Her hair, black in color and unbound from what must have been a long braid, hung loose around her shoulders, wisps catching in an unseen breeze that Taegan could feel coming from behind her, from the doorway.  She cursed herself mentally just before the woman began to turn, no doubt alerted to the presence of another by the slight breeze.  Taegan readied herself to draw her blade, already calculating just how far she could swing before her blade caught upon one thing or another.  The room was quite large, offering more than enough room for the massive weapon, but she knew that the hanging chandelier that she could see only a foot or two above them could easily check her swing if she was unlucky enough to strike it.  The last thing she needed was to tangle her weapon up on the intricate loops and whorls of metal while in the process of defending herself.

As the unknown mistress of the house, Taegan assumed as much, turned fully around the half-breed gaped at what she saw.  The female must have once been beautiful, though Taegan now could imagine that none would have bothered to see such fleeting beauty had they seen what had been left.  A face that was nearly skeletal in appearance glared at Taegan with such hunger that the half-breed was nearly frozen in place, her hand still reaching for her blade as though in slow motion.

Her face was stretched tightly over her skull, revealing the hollows of her eyes as the wasted orbs gazed with menace at Taegan from their shadowy pools of sunken flesh.  Teeth that were bared in a grinning rictus of hatred and anger gnashed several times as the woman hunched her shoulders, flexing the diseased skin of her body as several small popping sounds came from beneath the woman’s dress.  Taegan cold only believe that the boils extended to the front of her body as well and was reward in that next moment as the woman’s dress was suddenly riddled with blossoming spots of darkness as it was pressed against the oozing sores.

Despite all she’d seen to this point, Taegan’s stomach lurched as she caught the foul scent of the woman’s decaying body from where she stood, still trying to gather the nerve to reach for her weapon.  The woman rolled her shoulders back in the moment, spreading her fingers into crooked claws as she lowered herself slightly, an unearthly shriek coming from her mouth as she suddenly rushed forward, her feet slapping hard against the floor when she passed over a bare section.  That single scream galvanized Taegan as she drew her large, curved blade in a single, practiced movement, shrugging it over her right shoulder as she almost flung the sheath away before shrugging her right shoulder again, returning it to her back.

The woman came at her fast, not slowing down despite the dangerously trailing hem of her gown as she extended her claws to tear at Taegan’s face, coming closer with each pulse-pounding second as the half-breed waited.  Her unwanted opponent came within striking range before Taegan moved, her filthy claws swiping hard at Taegan as the half-breed moved aside easily, ducking the wild swings as she responded in kind.  Her blade cleaved hard through the air between them as she raised it up high and then chopped down, cleaving the woman’s chest wide open and continuing down to her abdomen where the tip sliced through dress and flesh easily, disgorging the entrails that lay just beyond the woman’s stomach wall.  The ghoulish thing screeched in what sounded more like amazement than pain, but as the momentum of Taegan’s blow forced her to the right she paused for several moments, shuddering madly as though attempting to stay upright.

Taegan almost gagged on the putrid odor that now exuded from the woman, looking at her blade as she tried not to vomit.  The blood and fluid upon her weapon was not red, but instead black mixed with a disgusting shade of yellow, oozing along the edge before she flicked it expertly, dislodging much of the clinging material.  She did not know what to think at that moment, it was as though the woman had been rotted from the inside out, or perhaps had stood there long enough for the disease to have soured every last part of her body.  Did the woman know pain any longer?  Taegan reasoned that she must since she’d not yet risen to attack again.  But then she could not believe that anyone, no matter how tough they might be, could simply shrug off such heavy damage.

She’d seen battle more than once, witnessing the horrors of such conflict as limbs had been lost, bodies had been torn apart and even separated piece by piece until little was left to identify that the resulting hunk of meat had even been human.  Taegan knew that some could still fight no matter how grave their injuries were, it was the desire to keep fighting, to die with some semblance of pride, that would keep one going even after incurring such ghastly wounds.  But as she watched the woman begin to rise once more she had to wonder.  What did this woman have left to fight for?

The question was moot as the woman rose, her face still locked in a mask of absolute hatred as she glared at Taegan, her gasps and snarls of pain turning more into those of hunger.  The half-breed could scarcely believe that the woman, her entrails hanging out like some macabre sort of fashion accessory, could be standing let alone look as though she were ready to surge forward once more.  Taegan’s mind reeled with the possibilities of what Sivis could do, for now she knew that nothing human had created this woman in such a horrid image.

She had no more chance to debate with herself as the woman attacked, her hands crooked into claws as she swiped at Taegan with her filthy, ragged fingernails.  The half-breed could see the same black, oozing substance as it flew from the woman’s wildly swinging hands in streamers of dark gore, splattering wetly upon the many curios among the room. Thankfully none hit her, the stench of it was too great to even believe.  The woman continued to swing at her, the ragged nails coming nowhere near to hitting Taegan as she evaded each one, looking for the perfect moment to strike.  She managed to find it in the next moment as the woman slipped, almost tripping over her own entrails as she slid to a stop, balancing herself quickly, but not quick enough.

Taegan’s blade arced high before descending in a blur, its sharpened edge biting hard into the left side of the woman’s neck as it continued.  The weapon severed the she-beast’s spine just above her shoulder blades and then kept on, separating bone with a harsh crack as she swept the weapon through the woman’s left shoulder blade, demolishing the bone as she then yanked hard, furthering the damage as the blade emerged from the woman’s right side, where it then bit into her arm, taking it off just above the elbow as Taegan finally completed her swing.  The entire motion had seemed to come slowly, though she knew it had been only a heartbeat since she’d swung, her heightened senses allowing her to feel every last bit of the impact and the resulting damage.

Black and yellow blood spurted in a geyser-like fountain as the woman fell away with nary a shriek of protest, separated into three separate pieces that landed heavily upon the floor.  The main part of the woman’s body was now missing its head, neck and right shoulder, not to mention a significant part of its right arm.  Each piece lay still as it hit the floor with wet thuds, splattering blood and viscera as Taegan watched.

The head still functioned slightly, the eyes fluttering as the jaw worked spastically, the teeth still gnashing as though seeking something to chew upon.  Taegan grimaced in disgust as she stood over the head, the cloth over her nose and mouth doing little to mask the wafting odors that had already arisen from the fallen woman.  She could see past the flesh and bone now, could even see the thumping heart as it beat out its last few frantic beats.  The organ had become a darkened, diseased lump of flesh, shriveled and wasted away within its cavity as she could see.  How it had even functioned was terrible to think of, though as she cast her gaze back down to the woman’s head she narrowed her eyes, feeling not a single measure of pity for the creature.  Whoever this woman had once been, she had been dead long before Taegan had come upon her.

*                      *                      *

 

He tensed, hearing the shriek from downstairs followed by the dull thud of metal cleaving open flesh.  Sivis smiled despite the pain that still wracked his body, he was not ready.  For some time now he’d known of another who sought him out, a presence that seemed to burn only slightly less than his former lover.  While he could feel Aliyana like a bright torch within his senses most times this woman that now sought those he’d already found was a far more muted sensation.  She was a filthy half-breed he knew, an amalgam of Shaper and human blood that should not have been possible.

Sivis wanted little more than to tear the still-beating heart from the woman’s chest, watching it beat its last as she tried to grasp her own defeat.  But he was still far too weak, having just escaped not long ago from his dreaded prison.  Each time was growing harder, each time Aliyana had shored up her defenses, making it far more difficult for him to escape.  It was confounding that each time he escaped she tracked him down once more, continuing the deadly, never-ending farce that had began so long ago.  Sivis snarled as he looked down at the ruined form beneath him, disgust and triumph mixing upon his withered features as he gently stroked the porcelain-like flesh of the woman who lay upon the bed in front of him.

She was the last piece of this particular quest, the only one within many miles that had been possessed of the qualities he’d known would make her useful to Aliyana.  He’d enacted yet another version of the dreaded DarkFall, the same wasting attack that had at one time almost dominated the world, though this time he’d been far too drained to cause it to spread much further than this miserable continent.  He knew the humans would grasp hold of any explanation that they could find to justify their growing numbers of dead, and already many of them had clung to their dreaded superstitions that the plague had been something not of this world.

He’d laughed to think that they had so readily accepted that this was the work of their fabled devil, a plague allowed to run rampant by a god they could not understand or even realize was but a fable.  Humans were so gullible, so easily fooled, and so easily misdirected.  And they were so weak, enough to the point that even in his debilitated state Sivis had found little to no trouble decimating those who had dwelled within the household.  He wondered what the filthy half-breed would think if she’d known that the woman she had most likely met within the parlor had been one of those she had come to save.  The smile upon his face grew even more as Sivis fully enjoyed the irony of the situation, finding humor among the festering remains of the creation that now lay sprawled in front of him.

The Lady had not managed to reach this particular specimen as of yet, though the potential within her slight frame had remained.  No longer would she serve to become an agent of the Light however, not after Sivis had corrupted her so fully.  The black and yellow cast to her veins attested to the taint he had invited into her body, changing the human against her will so thoroughly that upon waking she would know nothing more than the need to destroy, to rend and tear anything or anyone in front of her.  He would have thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of seeing the half-breed as she was torn down, her screams would have echoed within his ears for years to come, but no, he could not.

There were others, more souls that the Lady could use he sensed.  He knew by now that the Chosen were not limited to just a scant few, but could be adapted from others readily enough if needed.  The Lady needed only to find capable warriors, souls who were willing to accept her gifts, and the Chosen would unfortunately rise again.  Three decades before he had thought her power trapped within the souls he’d so successfully defeated, though the balance had not allowed for this to happen.

The power of the Chosen had been stripped from them, flowing back to its source as the Lady had willed it.  She could find others, she would no doubt find others.  Sivis knew this with a certainty that he could not deny but would strive to with every last breath.  He would see the Chosen of any era driven into the ground, stomped to dust and forgotten as surely as an errant breeze is forgotten by those who have felt its fleeting touch.  He would not be denied his freedom again so long as he could help it.

Sivis looked down as he heard the creature beneath him stir. She was still human in appearance, not forced to bear the blemishes and boils that her sister had suffered, but the black and yellow cast of her veins as they pulsed beneath her skin belied the truth of what she was.  The dark, arcane forces he had plowed into her body had transformed the girl into something so much more, so much deadlier, than she could have ever been.

“This is one that shall never be yours my love, mine own creation and none others.”  Sivis grinned even wider as the girl rolled over onto her front, the gauzy dress she’d been wearing when he’d come upon her crinkling as she rolled her neck, shrugging her shoulders as she did.  Her filthy nails, oozing the black residue that came with the conversion of a living being into a creature of darkness, stained the covers of her four-post bed as she opened her eyes.  Orbs of absolute ebon hatred looked upon Sivis as he backed away, watching as the creature he’d birthed from his dark arts opened her mouth wide, digging her ragged nails into the covers as she ripped backward suddenly, spitting and hissing at him as she did.

The creature threw her arms behind her, nails trailing bits and scraps of fine velvety blankets as she did.  Oh yes, she was perfect, a fitting use for one of those who might have stood against him.  A fitting tool for the demise of one who might have sought to stop his continuing machinations.  Sivis’s smile widened even more as his gleaming white teeth reflected the dim light of the room, his yellow eyes piercing the gloom as he looked upon his thrall.

A thick tangle of dark black locks fell across the woman’s bared shoulders and hung in front of her face in lank strands, seeming like wisps of living shadow against her delicate white skin.  She continued to hiss at him for several moments, her rotted teeth bared in a feral grimace as though she were damning him for what he’d done. Sivis just kept smiling, enjoying the mental hold he gripped the creature with.  She would not dare to attack him, nor would she move again until he willed it.  Humans were such amusing playthings, easily corrupted and just as easily held against their pitiful wills.  It was almost too easy.

He noted as the woman tensed within his unseen grasp, her eyes tracking to the doorway through which the silent, furtive sounds of footsteps could just barely be heard.  Sivis highly doubted that her human senses would have been able to hear the slight noise, but he had made her better.  He had given her heightened senses, toughened flesh, a need to kill and to feed, the strength of a juggernaut and the desire to destroy.  Had he been given more time she would have eventually become the perfect servant, one bent on nothing less than the utter annihilation of whatever target he pointed her at.  She could be destroyed, but he highly doubted that the half-breed coming up the winding stairs at that moment would find it an easy task.  In fact, he doubted that the vile woman could even manage to defeat this creature.

Unfortunately he would not be present to witness such an event.  The Lady could be felt not too far from where he was now, her presence a damning beacon within the darkness of his senses.  He would not be caught again, nor would she be allowed to seek out those he could feel even now, further away.  There were others that would serve as the Lady’s willing Chosen, though not if he could find them first.  As he slipped deftly into the shadows Sivis smiled once more at the creature upon the bed, releasing his hold even as the darkness swallowed him.

*                      *                      *

 

Taegan heard a voice from one of the rooms above, deducing quickly that it had come from the only room that showed a dim light glowing from its open doorway.  She’d already made her way to the stairs, ascending halfway before stopping.  The voice was rather raspy, as though the speaker were in great pain, but she could not hear each word.  Something about “none other’s”, or something like that.  Taegan didn’t understand and didn’t try to as she attempted to make her way stealthily up the stairs, keeping her blade in her right hand as she went along.

Her boots were hard-soled, hardly the footgear needed for such a task, but she had to make do with what she had.  The hard stairs would echo every last footstep if she were to rush forward, though as she took one step at a time she almost winced at every last shuffling sound she made.  If she were wise she would have ditched her heavy coat and other accoutrements that would give her away, but she had not.  There was something up there, or someone, that might need her and the time it took to divest herself of any extraneous gear might have made the situation worse.

Of course if her heart was correct in telling her that the rasping voice could only be Sivis, and she was not sure it wasn’t, Taegan realized she might already be too late.  She wouldn’t accept this though, moving steadily upward.  As she came upon the halfway point however she stopped, hearing a series of hissing and spitting sounds that did not sound friendly or conducive to the health of whoever might be within the room.  Was she in fact too late?

She didn’t get the answer to this question in quite the way she wanted as a form suddenly came bounding from the room, running in a shambling manner just as the woman below in the parlor had.  Taegan was suitably surprised as she saw this new female, enough so that she did not have time to finish her flight up the staircase as the she-beast attacked, her rotted teeth bared as she reached out with cracked and torn fingernails, leaping at the half-breed with a fervor that was nothing less than maniacal.

Taegan just barely managed to move to the side, striking the wall near the staircase hard as she allowed the she-thing to go flying past, the look of absolute rage upon her face giving way only partially to surprise as she struck the stairs just beyond Taegan hard, rolling face-first upon the staircase as she thumped and thudded her way to the bottom, the wet snap of something breaking reaching Taegan’s ears as she watched in shock.

That emotion faded rapidly as she descended the stairs, watching as the woman rose, her left arm hanging limply as bone gleamed wetly from the torn flesh of her where her shoulder met her arm.  If she was in pain it didn’t show as she snarled up at Taegan, teeth bared once more as she twisted her entire body, flinging the dislocated arm as a result.  The popping noised that accompanied this action was loud within the parlor, almost startling Taegan to inaction as she saw the woman suddenly flex the limb, which was almost whole once more.  Dark threads of what looked like sinew and fibrous flesh had breached the gap, flowing easily over the bone as Taegan watched.

She swung in that moment as she reached the bottom of the stairs, her blade hacking into the monster’s chest as the feral woman screeched, perhaps in pain or rage, Taegan could not tell.  Her blade carved hard into flesh as the woman backed away, her chest torn apart enough to show the dull gleam of bone.  As with the woman’s arm however Taegan watched as strands of dark flesh shot from across the ragged edges of the wound, sewing the breach shut even as the woman attacked.

Blood flew and flesh quivered along the wound as the woman raked at Taegan’s eyes, each one not coming even close as Taegan backed away, still looking upon the heavy wound she’d inflicted.  It was not possible, but there it was.  Until this day she’d not seen anyone that could walk away from such a damaging blow, but the woman was still on her feet, advancing with each step as the half-breed stared in absolute horror.  Looking upon the corpse of the woman she’d already slain Taegan realized quickly that she might well have to dismember this woman as well, though it was a guess at best.

As the woman came forward again Taegan ducked low, avoiding the ragged claws as she sliced down at the woman’s legs, seeking to hobble the she-beast if possible.  The woman might have sensed this however as she spun, allowing Taegan only a glancing blow that was healing even as the half-breed rose, the dark tendrils closing the flesh once more without any apparent effort.  Taegan didn’t know what to do as she rose, holding her blade in front of her defensively as the woman attacked once more, the claws of her left hand finally finding purchase along the right side of Taegan’s face as the half-breed cried out in pain.  The bloody furrows that were dug into her cheek burned with an ache that was not natural, but as she straightened Taegan grimaced at the beast, striking out again with her blade as she caught the woman heavily upon the midsection, folding her over nicely as she pulled back on her blade, carving far deeper into the woman’s body as she placed one boot upon the creature’s side, thrusting her away as she drew her blade towards her.

Taegan’s wounds still burned, but she could feel the fires within her body burning brightly as her own regenerative qualities kicked in, seeking to seal the wounds before she bled too much.  She grinned madly at the beast as the woman rose, snarling still as the healing properties of her body sought to piece her back together.

“Yer not the only one with healin’ bitch.” she snorted, beckoning the woman forward with one hand as she then adopted a defensive stance.  The woman snarled and spit at her, lowering herself before charging, slashing wildly with both hands as her ragged nails sought Taegan’s flesh once more.

The half-breed was ready this time as she sidestepped, her blade swinging out heavily as she connected with the monster’s left arm, sending it flying free as the creature howled in genuine pain this time, watching as its trailing limb flew far to the left.  Its fury was not completely spent however as it swung a backhanded, raking blow at Taegan with her right, the blood streaming from the woman’s left stump leaving a grisly trail of blood spatter over the floor as Taegan dodged away.  She was not surprised to see several wavering tendrils of dark, fibrous material twisting and churning from the stump of the woman’s arm as she positioned her blade, seeing quickly that the woman was attempting to move towards her arm.  Could she reattach it?  Taegan didn’t care as she swung, seeking to take another piece of the woman as she attacked.

Her zeal proved to be too much this time however as the woman showed amazing dexterity, ducking low to avoid the head-hunting blow as Taegan was forced to follow her own momentum, stepping to her left in order to keep her weapon in hand.  As she came back around she saw the woman reach her missing limb, which was still twitching, grasping it quickly to hold the torn flesh to the writhing mass of dark, slippery-looking tissue protruding from the stump.  Taegan grimaced in distaste as she watched this, moving forward to prevent the healing from occurring.

She could already feel her energy spiking, it was time to finish this while she was still energized enough to take down this monstrosity.  Something deep within told her that this was the woman she’d come for, that this was the soul she’d been meant to protect, but she would not listen.  She could only hope that whoever she’d come for was still alive, that there was still hope.  If not then she’d just wasted a trip, and it had all been for nothing.

Her next chopping blow came nowhere near hitting the already-moving form, thunking hard into one of the richly colored rugs as she saw the limb beginning to reattach to the monster’s body.  The wounded limb came together with a horrid squelching sound, though Taegan immediately noticed that it did not heal fully, ragged strips of flesh hanging from where the severed limb had been reattached.  She hoped in that moment that this meant the creature was weakening somehow, that she’d done enough damage to overtax its strange healing qualities.  It was a slim hope, but at this moment it was all she had.

The beast was far from done with her as the woman chopped down at Taegan with both claws, the reattached one clubbing her hard without managing to gouge into her body.  Taegan rolled with the hit, coming back to center as she struck out, again missing the beast horribly as the woman shrieked at her, the hateful black eyes glaring intently as she responded in kind.  Taegan narrowly avoided having her face clawed away as the she-beast came close to striking her twice in rapid succession, closing the short distance between them as Taegan was forced to improvise.

She’d been taught long ago that a real warrior was never without means, no matter the situation.  Even the most hopeless case would provide a solution somehow, one just had to find it.  This close in, her weapon would no doubt be seen as useless, but Taegan knew better. As she raised the heavy blade to guard she drew it in closer to her body, stepping towards the beast with one solid stride as she thrust the weapon straight out, keeping it vertical to the ground as she tried to rake it down the woman’s body.  Seeing this however the beast moved aside, off to Taegan’s left, obviously not fooled by such a tactic or proving just too fast to be caught by such a forward attack.  Taegan tried to roll with her, evading the next two attacks the woman threw at her as the trailing hem of her coat defeated the woman’s second clawing strike.

Her next attack was made in desperation as Taegan reached out with the weapon, pulling it back as she felt it lay upon the woman’s form.  She was not disappointed as the wound closed almost directly behind her strike, but she was growing increasingly frustrated.  Back and forth they went, each one trading blows that did not land as the two women, one undead and one striving to stay alive, sought to gain dominance.  As they danced around one another Taegan could see that the beast was indeed weakening, though not nearly fast enough for her liking.  As she swung her sword again the woman was not nearly fast enough this time as the blow took her hard in the abdomen, carving deeply into her body as the flesh parted and gray, diseased looking intestines began to spill out.

Despite this however her body still sought to repair itself, closing haphazardly over the gray loops that had already emerged, leaving a decided gap within the woman’s stomach as the flaps of dress that had surrendered to Taegan’s blade fell down around her legs.  The woman howled as she attacked, claws raking again at Taegan’s face as the half-breed just barely managed to fend her away.  The woman was weakening, she could tell this from the way her swings were beginning to slow, but it was still not happening quickly enough.  Unfortunately for the beast Taegan’s blood was now up, lending her sword arm a bit more strength as she snarled at the she-beast, swinging once again, seeking the creature’s head as she swung hard from left to right.

This time her blade bit hard into the creature’s neck, sending blood flying in all directions as Taegan narrowed her eyes in anger and against the sudden spurt.  She pulled her blade away once more, carving the wound even deeper as the woman’s head suddenly flopped grotesquely to the left, hanging askew even as she sought to scream in agony once more.  Taegan watched in horror as the woman flailed about, trying to claw her open, trying to move in a straight line, just trying to survive.  As she evaded the woman’s clumsy attacks though the worst suddenly happened, though she had no idea how.

“S-sheeee ca-ca-mmme!” the woman uttered in a half-moan, half-shriek.  “Sh-sheeee cammmme!”  The dark light within the woman’s eyes faded slightly as Taegan watched, giving way to a haunted look that she could not bear to meet.  Taegan swallowed hard as the woman fixed her with that gaze, the eyes of the creature almost pleading as she shambled forward.

“L-l-laaddddyyy!” the beast moaned, reaching for Taegan, “La-ladddyyyy!”  Taegan struck out again, not worrying this time as she struck more out of horror than anger, seeking to put the beast down, or at least to get those eyes to where they were not looking at her.  There was an unholy truth in those eyes, a pain that she could not bear to look upon, and a revelation that her heart had already told her was real.  Her blade hit home, finding the gap between the thing’s head and shoulder where she’d already struck, where the dark, questing tendrils were sluggishly attempting to seal the gap in their non-ending quest to heal the creature.  Taegan had no trouble believing that the monster would recover fully if given time, but she did not intend to let that happen.

It took two devastating chops to sever the woman’s head fully, but as the creature was felled it continued to wail, that high keening sound piercing Taegan’s ears and heart as she felt a sob welling up from deep within her chest.  As the woman’s head tumbled away the body toppled heavily to the floor, not far away from where the first one had landed.  It didn’t matter to her though, Taegan knew in her heart that she’d failed, that the woman she’d just slain had been the one she’d come for.  It had all been for nothing.

*                      *                      *

 

Three months later…

 

Vienna, Austria

 

 

 

Sivis crept upon the unsuspecting male, his hands already twining within the intricate patterns he would require to call forth the darkness that would transform yet another of the Lady’s precious selections to a creature of absolute darkness.  The fool was leaning from his bedroom window, a heavy traveling coat and a ridiculously large hat hiding his features as he stared idly out of doors.  The dark lord knew this would be too easy, though he could not help but feel how strong this one must have been, to resist the dark plague he had wrought throughout the lands.  It was no matter, as he stretched his hands forward Sivis knew that this would be yet another one that would not serve his former love, just as would continue to happen.  He would not be denied.

In the next moment however he was indeed surprised as the figure went from unsuspecting male to the fierce woman that now stood in front of him, the floppy brim of the hat flipping upward to reveal her dark beauty as she frowned at him over the gleaming blade that was now held poised just in front of his throat.

“Now, ye didn’t think I’d be forgettin’ the last time, did ye?”  Sivis’s eyes widened noticeably as Taegan struck, his hands reaching up to ward off the blow.  Taegan would not fail this time however as she struck with all her might.  She would not fail again.

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