Frail

Blackblade stumbled out of the tavern into the cool night air. The mercenary’s mind was hazy with the heady brews that the barkeep had been serving, and as he sagged against the doorpost, he knew he had too much to drink. Supporting himself, he shoved his broad frame upright and looked around; vision blurred by both his intoxication and his weariness.

His companion was nowhere to be found. For a large and garish drunk, Bovar managed to slip out very silently from all the merriment. It was but a moment ago that the sellsword had seen his companion sporting a maiden on his lap after winning a drinking match. In that time, Blackblade had been left to entertain their young and lanky new recruit who, after helping himself to the wine, gave himself over to maudlin poetry and teary-eyed odes to the great entertainment of tipsy onlookers. As the absence of deep and mirthful laughter had become noticable, he looked over to the far table to find his companion missing.

Normally, the mercenary would not have cared much for the movements of the whoreson, but they were paid handsomely in advance to lend their steel for the skirmish the following day. At the very least, he needed to make sure they could be all accounted for. They would deal with the bottle-ache they were doubtlessly to experience in other ways…

Scrambling through his foggy mind, he muttered a spell under his breath. Though less effective in his state of stupor, his vision managed to pierce the thick veil of the night to find the former banditlord stumbling about a block down on the street that passed the tavern. Was he… following someone? A couple of tens of paces in front of the laggard, a small figure was running – a child? Could it be? At this hour? It was not until the small shape turned, and his focused eyes caught the glimpse of a youthful face, that he was certain. But a girl, a mere bantling, being chased by a lumbering drunk… She seemed completely oblivious to being pursued, as she skipped along with her wild disheveled hair, humming a tune with a broken melody. That was odd. And just faintly, he could make out the front of her dress–

The spell wore off then. Blast. He cursed silently, but then set off after the toper. Taken by the drink himself, he was far less effective at wielding his magic. Perhaps a timely reminder of how far he was astray… He kept his sorcery hidden from his company. Mercenaries weren’t known to use magic. Besides, any mage who was found wreaking havoc on the frontlines of a battle whilst not forming part of militant arcane guilds were likely to be put down. But as to his own fate… Other powers would stand judge to his transgressions. Powers far older than the councils of mortal wizards were watching where he would surface next. He was perhaps grateful that his own inebriated state did not upset the delicate matrix of the enchantment that kept his mortal guise intact.

Bovar sickened him. For all that the former banditlord was worth as a fighter, he more than defiled with his distasteful pasttimes. Blackblade had heard much about his companion as he was inducted into the company all those months back. Among the whispers, was the rumour long sustained that the man had indulged in foul perversions. Blackblade never found this to be true. Which was a boon for Bovar. Blackblade kept to himself for the most part, playing the part of the complacent soldier for the sake of his solitude. But he would not allow the wretch to entertain such deranged desires tonight…

Up ahead, as he was trailing Bovar, the girl seemed to run ahead at a swifter pace. In fact, she was dashing now, toward what seemed to be the mouth of a dark alleyway, only to abruptly stop and turn around. This time, she was looking directly at Bovar. The lurching old warrior, pausing for but a moment, gave an amused chuckle, before he followed with a brisker, albeit clumsy, step. Shrouded by the shadow of the alleymouth, there was something disturbing about the way the girl just stood there with a blank expression. Patiently watching…

“Bovar!” His voice was too gruff and cracked by the copious amounts of ale. The low pitch of his shout hardly seemed to capture the attention of the warrior as he blundered onward to the alleymouth. And as the former banditlord was about to reach it, the eerie youth darted into the shadow… with Bovar following in tow.

Damn it! The fog of his mind dissipated to the slightest degree to allow a surge of force to be placed in his step. He had a strong inkling that his reading of the scenario was not nearly as accurate as he had anticipated. Bovar was indeed engaged in the atrocities of his sick perversity, but Blackblade was starting to believe that his perceptions of who was assuming the role of the victim was grossly misinterpreted. He cursed himself for his own nearsightedness in drinking as much as he did. His keen senses felt blunt tonight, but it was sharp enough to just barely cut through the illusionary spellwork that was woven around the girl. He had not sensed the sorcery at first, but the way she had stared without a flicker of emotion had prodded his instinct to inspect what he sensed to be a trap.

And then there was the dress: a pale, grey garment that seemed simple by all accounts, save for the dark stain that blotted the front of it…

“Bovar!” His shout, now louder, felt hollow as it echoed in the street. It sounded wrong, muffled; as if it was being smothered to a breathless sigh that broke against the dank cold stones of the nearby dwellings. Unease gripped him as he charged forward; unease at the thick layers of dark magic that saturated itself in the very air. How did he not feel this sooner?!

He crumpled to the cobblestones as a suffocating pressure weighed down on him, halting his advances. Had he been more in control, he would have countered its effects. But the dark energies seeped into his muscles, dragging him down, leaving him numb, and preventing him from going any further…

A bloodcurdling scream split the deafening silence…

It was a sound of primal terror, agonisingly stretched out into a stifled suffering that hauntingly lingered… until a nothingness filled the void that had been carved into the night by pure terror.

He hardly noticed the receding pressure of the dark force as it lifted and made him stumble to regain his balance. His back was slick with the cold sweat that had formed during the ordeal, and his head was still heavy with the laden energies that hovered about him. But he regained enough of himself to sense he was not alone… Something was watching him. As he turned, he saw the dim crepuscular glow of small eyes casting poisonous looks at him from the darkness. The eyes of a child, or the abomination taking the guise of it. It was a deliberate mockery of its power, a feigned ploy – to take the form of so frail and innocent a thing…

But as he stared into the abysmal cast of that small face, with feral hair falling over a bloodstained blouse… he wondered if frailty was not better defined by the scream of not so innocent men…

Inktober #8

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