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|Story #1 of the second set of Nazgrim stories, set a few thousand years in the future. As the title suggests, it is about someone who awakens. I suppose that not much happens here, especially compared to the first set of stories. These are a bit slower, fewer people are born with the kind of ridiculous powers Nazgrim and company were throwing around. New Setting: the tri-tiered city of Babel||
A single ray of light shone in the silent cavern through a crack between a pair of stalactites, and illuminated a sarcophagus made of obsidian. The light glowed on the glazed rock in a wavy pattern as specks floated lazily across the beam. In one corner of the room sat a shrouded figure in moth-eaten black robes and hood. A hole in the hood revealed one eye, half-open yet unseeing. He neither moved nor breathed but his skin, though extremely pale, was not discolored with death or rot. Sprawled out as if asleep, with the roots of a tree grown down over him, he waited in the darkness.
Then he felt a tingle run up his arm, and his fingers twitched. Half-closed eyes blinked slowly and repeatedly, attempted to moisten eyes gone dry as a desert. At length he just closed them, and his right hand rose shakily and pressed against the eye lids. He leaned forward and curled his legs in, but could not rise due to the cage of tree roots that held him against the wall. Once he could see the problem, he reached out with his left hand, which was not flesh but seemed to be made of shadow. The hand passed through the roots and what entered the hand was consumed; only root stumps that oozed sap remained. Freed, the man rose and pushed back his hood. He stood beside the sarcophagus and ran one hand along the surface, remembered all the trouble he had gone through to create the stone. None of that had mattered to him at the time; indeed, he had tried to choose the most difficult methods in building her tomb.
“Elle…” he croaked, then brought one hand to his raspy throat. The woman for whom he had lived, and after whose death he had come as close to dying as he possibly could. Not once for however long he had laid in the corner--and he could not begin to guess at how long he had been there--had the desire to get up ever entered his mind. But something had changed, something felt different now. A desire stirred in his empty heart, and he knew that the time had come for him to rise. “You’ll always be in my heart… as you were. Don’t think less of me for this.”
“Don’t look at me.”
“Elle…” he sighed as he brushed her grey hair out of her face, but she simply covered up with her hands.
“I don’t want you to remember me like this.” She backed away from him, her legs nearly buckled so he had to hold her up. “I want to be beautiful forever in your mind.”
“A beautiful woman is a beautiful woman for life,” he soothed and kissed her wrinkled forehead. “You are still beautiful to me.”
“You’re just saying that!” she sobbed. “I know you, how can you be happy? You still look the very same as you did the day I met you, when I was but child. I’m a withered old hag, it’s so unfair!” She collapsed in his arms, felt so very frail to him. “Why could I not be beautiful for you forever? You must hate me.”
“I just said that you’re still beautiful, weren’t you listening? You are my precious Elle, no other woman has ever been or will ever be as beautiful as you.”
“Not even Alkaela?”
“Not nearly. Not all the women I have ever known combined. You are everything to me, the only woman to have ever deserved the love of a true immortal.”
“Grim… once I’m gone…”
“Don’t talk like that.”
“Once I’m gone…
“There’s no point denying, it won’t be much longer.”
“You’ve gotten too worked up again, let’s get you back into bed.”
“When I’m gone… don’t hold back for me. Find what happiness you can, wherever you can.” She revealed her face, glistening with tears. “You know I’ll feel worse if you’re miserable than I would if you were with another woman. And I’ll have no reason to feel bad, unlike before, since being with me won’t be an option anymore. If you can live like you never knew me--”
“Elle, I was miserable before I met you.”
“You know what I mean. Do whatever you must to feel happy, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine, so worry about yourself.”
Nazgrim shambled into the light and immediately covered his eyes. He’d forgotten the way the light made his pale skin tingle, though even the sun’s light lacked the power to warm him. When he could see, the world around him looked very different. In the distance he saw a great city, layered like sedimentary rock. Three layers, two in the shadows of the top where buildings of glass and stone stretched out toward the sky like arms that beseeched the heavens. In that layer he sensed great mystical powers; the timbre of the mystical echo reminded him of clerical magic. The bottom layer, soaked with shadow, held the resonance of death and chaos that he knew so well.
Rather than fly to this strange city Nazgrim chose to walk. He considered that such a grandiose entry might be foolish in such an alien city, that he would be best served with a silent entrance so that he could learn of the changes to this world, and most importantly that, with the capes he used as wings in such tattered condition, he might not get very far if he took to the air. The fall wouldn’t harm him save in pride, but that was what concerned him most. Certainly, he wouldn’t want to be seen in such ragged shape.
The walk wasn’t too terribly far, and as he walked he began to feel the gathered power in the area. He could feel that the city was built on an intersection of multiple ley lines, which explained why the city buzzed with magical energy. Truly, this was the place he was meant to be; the point where the ley lines converged, where his destiny would begin. A twinge of bitterness passed over him. He, who would come to be the instrument of fate, was reduced to entering the city that would become his throne, from which he would forge the fate of the world, as if he were some meager beggar. But there was no need to declare himself openly yet, certainly those who resided in the top tier would oppose him with all their might should he reveal himself now. And then all the fun would be over; once he killed them all he would have to perform the rest of his duty without incident or excitement. No, let the foolish light-born hear rumors of him, test him, plan against him, and then face their fate. That would be more fun.
As he walked into the bottom tier, he felt the darkness wash over him and he reveled in the powers gathered. Truly this was a focal point of magic power, shaped by those who dwelt in it day by day. If the light-born ruled the top tier where Nazgrim had felt their magic at work, then logic suggested that the dark-born dwelt here in the shadows. Even during the day most of the under-city experienced no direct light, the perfect place for the dark-born to spread. He could feel their aura everywhere, the very stone was saturated. Metal rails ran between the buildings but Nazgrim could tell from their corroded state that, whatever their use had once been, they served no purpose now. He was vaguely reminded of some of the slums of cities he had seen before the long sleep, though much of those images seemed to have almost been from another life.
“Hey, man!” The first person Nazgrim had seen since he entered this town walked over to him, waved energetically. “Hey man, you got a light?” He held out a cylindrical paper tube packed with some sort of dried leaves.
“What is this?” Nazgrim asked.
“Cigarette,” the man replied with a grin. “You don’t smoke then? Gods, I’d offer you one if I could get a light. Not a lot of people running around during the day, you know?”
“A lighter, man. You know, fire?”
“Fire?” Nazgrim asked, slightly amused. “Why didn’t you just say fire?” He touched the end of the cigarette and willed the leaves to burn, which took no more effort for a necromancer of his power than opening his eyes. “Like that?”
“Now that’s magic with a practical use!” the man laughed as he stuck the cigarette in his mouth. “You wanna try one?”
“Why not?” He took the proffered cigarette and lit it, tried to hold it the way the stranger did, and took a small puff. “Curious.”
“Just don’t get hooked on’em like I did, even lycans get cancer sometimes.”
“You’re a lycanthrope?”
“Were-rat, yeah. Nothing too exciting around here, but at least I’m not cowering in the trash like my kin are right now. A man has got to have some dignity, even if he is a rat. But I’m civil as can be during the day, so don’t you be afraid none.”
“Afraid?” Nazgrim scoffed. “Of a pathetic were-rat?”
“I’m also a member of the Wild Hunt,” he bragged. “Not many were-rats can boast that. So what brings you to the towering city of Babel anyway?”
“I am a sleeper who has just awakened in a world that is not the one I remember.”
“Never mind.” He shook his head. “I am here because I saw a city like none I had ever seen. I’m here because it is my destiny. And most importantly… I’m here because I’m hungry and thirsty.”
“Hah! Well I hope you brought some money then, friend, because those conveniences are rare in Lower Babel. Place is overrun with vampires and lycans, so much so that finding a good meal is hard even for those of us who eat people, and there are plenty of them in all their various forms. Had myself a stray elf last week, quite tasty.”
“Then I shall have to ascend into the middle grounds or the top tier, I suppose.”
“You think it’s that easy, do you?”
“For me? Yes, it will be that easy.”
“Hah! You’re killing me, pal!”
“Only if you don’t give me that coat,” Nazgrim answered with a grin. “That’s leather, right?”
“I mean it.” Nazgrim pulled out one of his iron daggers. “And the cigarettes, too.”
“Mugging someone on your first day?” the were-rat laughed. “You might survive in this town after all. But there’s no way I’m parting with my stuff.”
“Don’t get all excited because this isn’t silver, it’s enchanted and will kill a lycanthrope just the same,” Nazgrim explained. “And the only reason I don’t particularly want to kill you is that you’re an amusing fellow. Don’t think I won’t.”
“My trench coat and my smokes?” the were-rat asked. “Sure, I’ve got more of both, but I’m not so sure I want to part with what I have so easily. You have to fight to get anything in this hellhole, so I’m not too keen on the idea of giving handouts.”
“I’m not really a fan of debate. Decide now, I’m getting impatient.”
“I say… you want them, you kill for them. That’s how it works in Lower Babel, second to last stop on the railway to hell.”
“I’m glad I never bothered to ask your name, then.”
The were-rat slapped aside Nazgrim’s arm and struck out but the necromancer sidestepped and slammed the dagger into his chest. The were-rat’s grin faded as his eyes went wide. The lycan stepped back and looked down at the dagger in his chest.
“Damn, boy, you were telling the truth! But it’ll take more than that to kill--” The were-rat’s word ended as Nazgrim’s shadow hand flashed out and swung through his neck, severed the head cleanly as if the hand had passed through only air.
“I know how to kill lycans, thank you,” Nazgrim answered as he took hold of the body’s ankle and dragged it into an ally. Moments later he emerged wearing the trench coat, pants, and boots. Sadly, the damage to the shirt had proved to be too extreme so he would have to find another elsewhere. His ten enchanted daggers hung from the belt around his waist; after a moment of thought he decided to tie the coat closed with the sash from his robes to hide them. Sooner or later he would have to prepare a specially made coat to replace the two cloaks he had abandoned earlier, but he rather liked the feel of this new outfit.
“You kill to get what you want here, huh?” Nazgrim asked himself aloud. “Then I am already a god in this place. Now then, how to get to the middle ground?” At length he decided to try and follow the rails. The were-rat had spoken of railways as if they were a method of transportation, and if that were the case then perhaps they would lead to a ramp or some such path upward.
“I rather like these things.” He flicked the butt of the cigarette aside casually as he walked. The lycanthrope had said something about getting ‘cancer,’ though whatever that could be Nazgrim had no idea. He had spoken of it like some kind of disease, but why would someone inhale something that could cause a disease? Absently he pulled out another cigarette. “Isn’t as if I can catch a disease anyway.”
As he walked, the rundown slums became less like rubble, fewer mounds of trash and marks painted upon the walls. The stench of death grew thicker than it had been in the were-rats’ domain, though. Down an alleyway, Nazgrim spied a body in mid-decomposition where it laid atop a trash heap, casually discarded. He knew he was no longer in the territory of any type of lycanthrope; there wouldn’t be so much of a body left to decompose. But that was all he could tell, so far away from the corpse, and necromancer or not he had no wish to investigate it any closer.
He continued to follow the rail, still with no sign of an incline. Flight became more and more tempting an option every moment. Truly this place the were-rat had called Lower Babel was a lair of dark-born, with hardly any light-born left for them to feed on. That would be important later, but for now he wanted only food and drink. There was so much he had to discover still, he almost wished he had never slept.
So very much had changed while he slumbered. The dark-born had multiplied vastly since the time when he had last walked the lands; now that he walked within the ley lines he could sense so much more than he had from outside. The ley lines themselves had become polarized, many to the light and many more to the darkness, and from that alone he could assume the dark-born had thrived in the new world, that this city was not unique. And above him he sensed ancient powers, beings that had come into existence long before he had. Beings that were comparable to him in power but not longevity, for no being of light could ever be truly immortal, that was simply not possible. All things, living or dead, returned to darkness in time, so only a being who was one with the darkness could ever be truly immortal. Only one being could ever be one with the darkness.
Nazgrim was slammed up against the wall, his feet dangled just off the ground. The thoughts that raced through his mind had distracted him, made him easy prey for the hunters of this new region of the city. The woman grinned at him, bared fangs, and was quite surprised when her prey smiled back at her and winked.
“A vampire,” Nazgrim said. “And a cute one. I had not thought to find one such as you in this place.”
“This is vampire turf, filthy rat!”
“Oh, I’m not a lycan, I just killed one and took his clothes. And I’ll be swapping wardrobes again the next time I stumble across someone in more suitable attire.”
“Not a lycan? Good, I hate the taste of lycan.”
“I wouldn’t recommend the throat, might be too much for you.”
“You don’t know who I am.”
“Then I’ll ask, who are you?”
“I am a sleeper, recently awoken to a world that is not as I remember.”
“I always find the lunatics.”
Her fangs pierced his throat, and with the first swallow of blood she screamed out in pain and collapsed. Nazgrim landed lightly and pulled out another cigarette, leaned casually against the wall as he waited for her pain to pass. She trembled as she looked up at him when at last the fit ended, and he grinned back at her.
“I warned you about that.” He tilted his neck to the side as the blood on his neck evaporated into shadowy mist, disappeared along with the punctures. “You shouldn’t drink just anybody’s blood.”
“W-what are you?”
“I am the Shadow Hand, did you not notice?” He held up his left hand.
“The Hand of Vanus?!” She clutched at his feet, groveled before him. “Forgive me, I did not know! Lord Nazgrim! Mercy, I beg you!”
“One who knows of me? Here, in this place, in a time so far removed?”
“I was a child when I first heard the legends of Nazgrim, the man who became the Hand of Vanus. Over two thousand years ago, I first heard the stories.”
“I slept for a very long time indeed. What is your name?”
“I am Vesulia, mighty lord.”
“Get off your knees, this is neither the time nor place for such theatrics.” He took her by the hand and helped her up. “So you are a vampire of standing? You must be quite old.”
“I am… something of an… outcast, lord.” Her shoulders slumped and she looked away. “There is a group of vampire hunters that have been nipping at my heels for a very long time, every collective I’ve ever joined has been wiped out by them. Now, I’m not welcome anywhere.”
“It is the way of all living things to try and continue living.” He shrugged and stuck his hands in his coat pockets. “None of it really matters. Try as hard as you want, everything dies eventually. Everything returns to the darkness in due time.” She nods mutely. “Life is such a miserable thing, yet so many clutch to this miserable existence with all their might. Why is it that they fear the darkness? I do not understand.” Her eyes widened at his words. “Tell me, do I not speak the truth?”
“You are right. So very right.”
“I like you, Vesulia.”
“You’ve shown me the courtesy I deserve and you have answered my questions completely. Tell me, do you know the true nature of darkness?”
“I would like to know.”
“I will tell you, but only you may know. Remember, this is a reward.” He leaned forward and whispered into her ear the answer. Again she crumbled to her hands and knees, stared up at him as if he were a messiah from the darkness. “There is something that I want from you.”
“Anything, my dark lord. I live to serve.”
“And that is what I want from you. This world is foreign to me, but you know it well. You will be my guide and servant, if you choose.”
“I am unworthy, lord.”
“I know this,” he answered with a grin. “But I have chosen you, regardless.”
“Then I accept.”
“Taste of my blood.” He held out his right hand. “The throat was too much, but the hand should be endurable. My blood will make you more than just a vampire.”
“Thank you, my lord.” She took hold of his hand and sank her teeth in; he neither flinched nor pulled away. As his blood flowed through her veins she panted and moaned, felt the fire as it raced through her body. When she couldn’t handle any more she opened her mouth reluctantly and let him pull his hand away.
“So you decided to leave some for me after all,” Nazgrim chuckled as he flicked the ash from his cigarette. “Thoughtful of you.”
“I’m sorry… I couldn’t help myself.” She sat back against the wall of the alley and tilted her head back, sighed deeply. “Gods, I need a cigarette.”
“Help yourself.” He pulled one from the pack, slid it into her mouth, and tapped the end to light it. “I am wondering, though, if I will have to keep murdering people to get more or if they’re sold somewhere.”
“They’re sold,” Vesulia giggled, “if you don’t mind dealing with imps anyway.”
“Imps,” he scoffed. “I should have known they’d be in a place like this.”
“They’re everywhere these days.” She paused to puff. “But on the bright side, they can get you whatever you need if you can afford their prices.”
“They’re a pain, but at least they can be useful. Unlike sprites.”
“I hate sprites!”
“Don’t get me started on them.”
“So… exactly what are we doing, anyway, lord?”
“Smoking. That’s what it’s called, isn’t it?”
“I mean, what are you planning? Why did you come to Babel?”
“I told you, I just woke from a long slumber.” He flicked the cigarette butt away, watched it spark as it bounced off a wall. “And I don’t need a plan just yet, maybe not ever. Every step brings me closer to my destiny, no matter the direction I choose.”
“So what direction do you choose?”
“Right now? I’m hungry, bored, and short on cigarettes.” He stretched casually, his back cracked audibly. “After all that is taken care of, we need to ‘persuade’ someone in the middle layer to hand over their home, somewhere nice. Out on the rim or something so I can get some sun.”
“I hate the light, how it burns everything.”
“ ‘Omnia sol temperat, purus et subtilis.’ ”
“ ‘The sun warms everything, pure and gentle.’ ”
“Sunlight doesn’t really work for me.”
“It does now. You have tasted the blood of the Hand of Vanus. Mere sunlight can no longer pierce the darkness that sustains you, that’s why I had you drink my blood. What good is a servant who can only serve me at night?” Nazgrim looked down the main road out of the city, to where the sun still shone down in the distance. “Light is a temporary thing, struggling vainly against the true darkness. Candles flicker out, bonfires burn down, even stars die. The ultimate end, when all lights sputter out, is the return to darkness. I am the Hand of Vanus, the darkness incarnate. I will bring the darkness down upon this world, as fate has decreed.”
“I will do whatever you ask of me,” she added as she stared up at him in reverence. “I believe in the darkness.”
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