The most terrifying part of having the creature’s clawed hand piercing through his abdomen was the silence.
Will had always associated the violence of death with intense sound. He’d been resigned that he would most likely die at the hand of a Faebeast rather than in the quiet comfort of a deathbed. He’d witnessed so many deaths, and they had all been accompanied by the howls, hisses and inhuman victory shrieks of blood-spattered Faebeasts.
There was a… catharsis to the sounds. A sort of appropriate release of energy to match the release of Life.
As if the World required symmetry in the action of silencing one Soul, and the raucous roars of the Faebeasts was the answer provided.
But here, the only sounds to usher Will’s Life out of existence were his own choked wheezes. The Wendigo crouched over him, watching as his life trickled out with each gushing pulse of blood, was eerily silent.
Will tracked every deep crimson eye flicker, every blink of the Faebeast, as time was counted off by only his weakening heartbeat.
Will let his eyes trace over the abnormal features of the monster, searching, but unable to find any gleam of emotion. There was nothing. No hint at all for Will to latch his perceptive mind onto.
It may as well have been an inanimate weapon, a thoughtless tool of death, ending his life. He could’ve jumped the ramparts of the castle walls at home, and fixed his fading eyes on the cool stones of the pathway that his broken body lay bleeding out on, for all the difference it would’ve made.
At least there would have been screams of shocked villagers, in that case. Gasps and tears and wails and even anger.
Proper sounds for an untimely death.
A fair send-off.
A silent exit, witnessed by a creature that appeared as concerned about ending one more human’s life as it would be if it had crushed a unsightly insect, was…
Will sucked in a stuttered gasp, and tipped his head to search the flickering shadows of the destroyed emcampment for Captain Crawford.
Will’s old friend, and leader of their suicidal battalion, had been close when the sudden ambush occured. Maybe there was a chance that he was still clinging to life. Maybe Will would be able to read rage and sorrow and guilt on his face. Maybe the Captain’s pain-filled eyes would be watching Will’s death, as his own end crept closer. No doubt, if Jack wasn’t killed by the initial slash of the Beast’s elongated claws, the monster would be making a move to end him shortly after Will breathed his last breath.
A witness. A reaction.
Will realized he was desperate for some acknowledgement of the end of him. This slow, quiet, obscure death wasn’t RIGHT.
His gaze picked out Jack’s form in the nighttime shadows by his bulk and the pattern of his armor gleaming in the faint firelight. It was moving, sharp motions of the arms and a slight roll.
The man’s hands had gone straight to his throat immediately after the Faebeast had slashed it. Will had seen the depth, in that brief moment of shock when time had paused and the attackers had revealed themselves. Captain Crawford might’ve stood of chance of surviving that first gruesome blow. May still survive, at least a little longer. Will’s lifetime, maybe. As short as that would be.
But his back was to Will.
Jack was too busy desperately trying to sustain his own life to give Will’s death any notice.
And here, outside of Jack’s tent, in the cool chill of night and the erratic glow of nearly extinguished flames from the camp fire, there was no one else. The rest of their battalions tents were spread a respectful distance from the Captain’s own. Far enough away to be blocked by the scattering of trees and brushes, but close enough still to hear the sounds of screams and snapping bones.
A world away, as far as Will was concerned. So there was no one. Not a soul to see him go.
Exhausted, cold and numb, Will allowed his chin to drop back down, determined to at least be present himself, for his own death.
A sharp gurgle of shock rocked it’s way out of his throat when he realized that the Wendigo had turned it’s eyes to stare into Will’s own. The faint light at that angle really lit up the red of the iris’s. Against the deep darkness of the creature’s skin, they seemed to float. It looked as if a creature made entirely of sharp-profiled shadows was extending out of Will’s gut, and had turned back to it’s former prison to stare at the shell.
Hadn’t they always said Will was a monster on the inside…? Hadn’t he heard the whispers…? What had they liked to say…?
Wasn’t it Lord Chilton’s sharp words that had accused him…?
WIll felt the focus leave him, and blinked to force it back.
Was this the monster that had been pacing restlessly under his skin his whole life.
Forcing himself to stare into the red of the eyes, Will sought out some sort of familiarity.
Are you me…? Finally free…?
The Wendigo’s head tilted, meeting Will’s gaze.
Will’s sucked in a sharp inhale through his nose. It expanded his chest, shifted the gaping wound where the creature’s talons were embedded. It hurt. Not as much as it should, but Will winced at the sensation. Another gurgle choked up his throat and out his slack mouth. It tasted sharp and bitter. Bood or bile or both.
Without breaking it’s eye contact, the Wendigo shifted it’s head and upper body. It leaned closer to Will’s face, and inhaled-
It was…smelling him. Savoring.
Joy- genuine joy, spread from the Beast’s eyes and lifted it’s stony features into an eerily human smile.
Will felt the mirroring bloom of happiness spread in his own chest.
The curse of unwanted empathy that had haunted Will’s existence throughout his life had inevetibly linked him to his own killer. And as those first few jolts of foreign emotions leaked out, the rest were pulled forth with them. Will could see it ALL.
And there was SO MUCH.
A battering wave of dark thrill, cold hate, and HUNGER surged through Will.
And Will let it. Absorbed as much as he could. Soaked in the excitement of the moment. Felt, as the creature felt, the patience of watching the signs of life draining slowly out of Will’s face. He could see the faint movement as the red eyes tracked from Will’s own eyes down to his mouth as Will wheezed. His cheeks as they twitched while his teeth clenched. His nostrils as they flared to take in the cold night air.
And it was perfect. And beautiful. And…
A comedy of human death.
And this creature- this Wendigo King would patiently watch this entertainment play out.
And then, he would eat him. Will realized.
Dinner and a show.
Watching Will suffer was whetting the monster’s appetite. Seasoning the meat.
Will felt the shudders lifting his chest before he even realized he was laughing. Pain radiated from the epicenter of his gaping wound. Muscles, flesh and probably organs flexed and rubbed against the Beast’s hand as Will was powerless to stop the violent shaking laughter.
The pain and hilarity and pure insanity of the moment was a high that had Will’s dazed mind reeling. The stars were perfect- they should be memorized. Imprinted on his soul. The stars, the night sky, the dark form of the Wendigo only distinguishable because of the break in the stars and the infrequent flicker of faint firelight.
What a way to go…
A perfectly unique and beautiful death. Incomparable to any other piece of art in existence. And hidden in the priceless moment between life and death, was a private joke. A shared laugh between Will and this special Faebeast:
There was never a chance of not dying. From birth to this glorious moment, every single decision, every word spoken, every meal eaten, every dream and nightmare Will had ever experienced, it all added up to one purpose: Flavor.
Will bet he would be delicious.
He opened his wet eyes, rumbles of laughter slowly fading as he met the red eyes that were now only inches from his own face.
It was grinning, Will realized, as he stared at the sharp, even rows of teeth. What a difference. What a contrast to the blank, emotionless stranger that had thrust his hand violently into Will’s stomach an eternity ago.
This was a friend now. More than a friend. More even than the witness Will had thought he wanted.
He knew this creature so intimately, shared such a important bond. Shared one mind. One heart. Would soon be consumed by it, and share one body.
Will’s teary eyes lifted back to the creature’s as he works desperately to swallow, and clear his throat. The Wendigo watched it all with a loving amount of patience.
Will found and flexed his stiff fingers, felt the weight of his heavy arms and demanded them to move. It felt like ages since his body had been under his command. An eternity since he’d last moved a muscle.
But, this was important. Essential.
The moment had to be perfect- anything less would be ugly, and that was unacceptable!
Will’s breathing was fast and shallow, desperate. But, he finally lifted his body high enough to lock his arms around the Wendigo. His heavy body and the creature’s own eager compliance, pulled them together. Will’s entire body delighted at the contact, his weak heart stuttering from the joy. He felt a firm pressure against his back- the Faebeast’s other clawed hand against the leather of his armor, helping to hold them close. Will buried his face against the cool skin of the creature’s throat, practically vibrating with elation.
“It’s…beautiful…”, Will whispered hoarsely into the Beast’s ear.
The Creature shuddered, it’s hand inside Will shifting and pulling out with a faintly wet sound as the Beast reached out to tighten it’s hold around Will’s body like a vice, constricting Will to it as it trying to merge the two of them together.
And the world was perfect. And the screams in the distance had faded to the symphony of the Night. And the stars had never sparkled so majestically on any scene on Earth as they did over this one.
And Will wanted nothing else in his whole miserable life, then to keep this perfect moment, and this Creature, with him forever.
Why should death be allowed to interfere- to come between them?
Why can’t Will keep all of this beauty?
The Wendigo inhaled, lovingly rubbing it’s own smooth jawline against the soft curls of Will’s head.
It was too much. Too unfair to be separated by death-
Opening his jaw wide, Will sunk his teeth in cool flesh and locked down. He felt the Wendigo arms stiffen around him before clasping, and violently wrenching Will away.
Will felt the abrupt jerking motion and bit, as hard and as deeply as he could. Clawed his nails and fingers into the Wendigo’s neck and back, terrified of being separated. If he could just hold on longer, if he bit deeper, he could keep this moment-
A clawed hand wrapped and dug into Will’s neck, closing off his air and forcing him away. Will felt the whole bite of flesh caught in his teeth come away with him. His head ached and he realized it was because of the sound his Wendigo was making- a horrible, shattering roar of pain and fury.
Will winced involuntarily and the sound seemed to threaten to bring the night sky crumbling down on everything. It shook his bones and brain like a heavy bell toll reverberating.
It abruptly cut off, replaced by the faint shrieks of an animal in distress.
Will blinked open his eyes to find his face buried in the dirt. Drawn by the furious sounds of pain and movement, Will flopped his pain-wracked body to try and face the noise. The forecful movement winded him, and sent horrific pain shooting from his stomach throughout every inch of his body. Forcing his eyes to open through the pain, Will stared toward the sounds. Dark shadows flitted everywhere, almost dancing it seemed to Will. Poor dancing -they weren’t in tune with the sounds…. Will felt himself fade out, only to be brought back by a sudden roar and whimper.
The shadow of the creature, his Wendigo, was being… lifted… by the shadow dancers- no, his fellow Faebeasts. The creatures were grabbing him, trying to carry him away.
Even as Will watched, the deep shadows of forest were quickly oscuring them all. They were carrying the angry shape away. Will had just enough consciousness of mind to be furious- his own rage at the separation seeming to be a weak echo of the Wendigo’s pained snarls and dulled roars.
How dare they-!?
HOW DARE THEY-!?
This was supposed to be the end. This was the perfect ending-
This perfect moment, their union, the Feast-
It would never happen again-!
As a darkness completely unrelated to the night closed in around Will, his tongue rolled around the flesh of the Beast in his mouth.
Will wept as the sound of the Wendigo’s fury fading away, and the cold darkness enveloped him…
APPROXIMATELY THREE YEARS LATER….
“…what…?” Will only knew the question came from his own mouth because it was only himself and Captain Crawford in the stable house at the moment. It was odd, because the man had spoken very clearly. Will had HEARD him. He just couldn’t-
“There’s no doubt. It’s the Wendigo King leading them. He’s not dead, Will. The survivors that escaped Hampton in the East are starting to reach us. I…wanted to be the first to tell you….”
Will found himself nodding, even as he felt the familiar numbness creeping through his body. He was familiar with the odd sensation. He’d woken in cold sweats constantly over the last few years to the exact same feeling.
Overwhelming, suffocating dread.
A death deferred, but inevitable.
The scar tissue in his abdomen seems to twitch.
“…Okay. Thanks.” Was all Will could say to the news. He felt a buzzing in his head. Memories he’d tried desperately to forget, or convince himself he’d imagined. They were just under the surface, ready and waiting to drag him back to the surreal nightmare of that ambush. Will breathed deeply, hand stroking carefully over the nose of the old mare eagerly nodding for his attention.
The Captain hadn’t made a move to leave.
“So, if there’s anything you feel the need to tell me, now would certainly be the time.” The Captain’s voice had taken a more stern tone.
Will paused for several seconds, staring at his own hand against the soft fur of the horse. When he spoke, it felt like a weak lie, even to his own ears. “I…can’t remember, Jack.”
He heard a frustrated huff from where Captain Crawford stood behind him. When the older man’s voice spoke again, it was laced with impatience. Three years of it.
“They killed EVERYONE but us, Will. Killed and ATE EVERYONE but US. The goddamn-“, and here Jack’s voice cut off angrily. When it returned, it was almost pleading. “The King, himself, had us both at his mercy, bleeding out. Neither of us should have survived that night. WHY DID WE?”
WIll cringed at the sharp tone of the question.
He let the silence stretch. He always did.
When they had first been rescued, and after they had been given several long and painful days to heal, Will had considered the truth. He’d thought about saying the words out loud.
‘I bit him. Used my teeth. Ripped a nice big chunk out of the King of Faebeast.’
Will knew a lot about the Truth. Knew a lot about People, too.
People wanted their Truths a certain way. A nice, clean narrative that they could get behind.
The Kingdom’s Well-Liked and Brave Warrior Prince, secretly sneaking away with the battle-bound battalion and using his amazing insights to act as advisor to the Captain of the King’s Guard. Several successful- if inevitably bloody- victories. The barest hint of Hope. The first real glimmer that Faebeasts may actually be forced back into the Wildes, and away from the cowering human populations.
But then, a sudden devestating attack. The top Bastard himself, the Wendigo King of the Faebeasts, moments away from wiping out the final two wounded survivors of the Battalion. A last desperate attack by the Brave Hero…
‘With just his teeth-! Ain’t that something!? Bet that Demon King never saw it comin’!’
Hell of a story. That one would reach across every Kingdom, and come back with thirty tavern ballads and the whole battalion resurrected in the telling.
That was NOT Will’s story.
Will was not well-liked, very brave, any kind of warrior, and he was only a Prince because his embarrassed father had managed to beget three older (significantly more successful) sons, and was reasonably content with Will’s low-profile, and THANKFULLY self-corrected oddities.
As far as public opinion went, Will had pretty much burned every possible bridge as a stupid kid. From the moment he could speak and think for himself, he’d been the source of fear and disgust from everyone he met. He stared too much. SAW too much.
And the worst- he TOLD people what he saw.
How could he know that Cook was lying about the missing food stores? How could he tell that the potter’s apprentice was one of the bandits robbing travelers on the Loch Road? And easily point out the rest of the gang? Why did he glare every time he saw the jewler?
How is he able to KNOW? And what else does he know? Does he know about what ‘I’ have done, too!?
He’s just not NATURAL. Evil at his Core. Sent by the Wildes as a Changeling to bring Grief and spread vicious lies about good folk!
Him? Rip-out the Wendigo King’s throat with his bare teeth?! Hah- and I’ll bet there’s no witnesses, too! Bet he’ll open the Gates to them Beasts as soon as we’ve let our guard down to celebrate-!
When it seemed like the Captain really WOULD wait him out indefinitly for an answer, Will straightened his back, and turned to face him.
“You’re dismissed, Captain.”
Will watched Jack’s jaw clench at the order. It was rare for Will to use his royal authority. Especially rare for it to come up between the two of them. WIll had too few friends to risk distancing himself from any one of them. There’d only been two occasions when he had pulled rank on Captain Crawford: 1) The day he snuck out with the Battalion and insisted that he and his unique empathy would be their best shot of success in the War. And 2) On the several occasions afterwards, when his friend tried to demand answers about what had really happened that nights, years ago.
It was a bastard move, but effective.
The Captain rendered a sarcastically sharp salute, before marching himself stiffly across and out of the stable.
Will felt the bitterness and betrayal dripping off the man as he left. It seemed to seep through air, soak into the dirt and straw of the ground. He felt it wafting across himself, sucked in with his breath.
Such a… distasteful… thing, other people’s feelings. So much louder and more overwhelming than his own.
Why couldn’t he just be left alone with his own emotions?
It was all so unfair…
And now this. More important than Jack’s lingering anger-
For a sudden and disconcerting moment, Will could taste it. The flesh gushed with blood in his mouth.
And Jack’s emotions, and even Will’s own, were replaced by an onslaught of foreign and terrifying urges: Hunger. Anger. Curiosity.
Every damn sensation from that cursed night was assaulting him again, but THAT-
The Bastard had been so goddamn giddy to play with his food…
Had loved seeing the pain…
Felt such unbridled JOY at the breathtaking beauty of Will’s death…
And Will had felt it, too.
He’d shared those horrible, hungry feelings with the Faebeast…
And loved it.
Will realized he’d been motionless for several moments- lost in the memories, hand still resting lightly across the impatient mare’s nose as she snorted her irritation and paced with increasing fitfullness.
“I’ve neglected you, haven’t I?” Will forced himself to make eye contact with the horse, but couldn’t manage a smile for her. “Promise not to be angry, huh? My friends list is too short as it is….” He stroked her softly as she huffed happily at him.
In a few minutes, Will would have to leave the aft stables and prepare for dinner in the Main Hall. He’d already seen the large migration of refugees coming on foot from the East, and heard the servant’s hushed whispers about fallen towns and impending bloodshed slowly creeping closer to their own Castle Walls. The King would be on a power trip and especially unbearable. Will’s brothers would be at each other’s throats trying to outshout each other with dumb ideas, while his sister shrieked and fainted. The nobles would be picking their sides and sabotaging each other. The People would be in hysterics. Panic and fear and all those other disgusting emotions running wild and clogging up the air and making their own problems worse for it….
“Tasteless….” Will murmured bitterly.
“Do you have a problem with taste?”
Will’s head snapped around so fast, he almost lost his balance on the straw and dirt beneath him.
There was a man seated less than ten feet from him. And that was actually FURTHER from the door out to the courtyard than Will was. Will had the sudden, paranoid feeling that the man had SNUCK past him intentionally. How else could he have crossed… there was no where to step that wasn’t covered by dry and crunchy dirt and straw… He must have purposefully-
Will felt himself glaring, the lingering thoughts of annoyance and disgust keeping his mouth clenched.
“I-,” Will felt himself coiled, ready to lash out at this man as an undeserving outlet for his frustration. That’s what young, dumb Will would have done. The unlikeable brat who saw too much, and had an increasingly short friends list….
Will forced himself to relax. Shake off the barrage of ugly emotions he’d been enveloped in since his conversation with Captain Crawford.
He started again, this time leaving his voice blank and genuine. “Sorry- long day. Didn’t realize you had come in. I…I don’t recognize you…?” He left it as an open question as he took in the man’s appearance.
Nice clothes. Worn from travel, but nice. Fitted to him exceptionally well, like a nobleman almost. It was actually…very odd.
Odd because this man was not one of the town noblemen- Will was sure he’d recognize if he were. Noticeably tall, even when sitting. Shoulders broad- too sturdy. Hungry farmers and even the local villagers don’t really achieve that build. And the way he sat- his bearing….
The man had his hands folded with a casual elegance on his knees. Geez, even Lord Chilton didn’t manage to capture such an air of natural Grace.
Will had to catch himself from blurting out ‘what family are you from?’
The man spoke again, voice soft and face relaxed, “I apologize for intruding upon your private thoughts. We waited outside, as directed by your Captain Jack Crawford. When he departed, we weren’t quite sure if we needed to continue waiting.”
“We…?” Was Will’s confused response.
“My fellow travelers and I. The King has very graciously allowed us to make use of these stables until we manage to find more suitable accomodations,” he stated simply.
Will’s mind was lagging, but the clues all snapped together at once. “You’re from the East. The refugees.”
The man gave a patient nod with the hint of a smile. “My name is Lord Hannibal. And you, I am to understand, are Prince Will…?”
Sensing the need for formal decorum, Will felt himself straighten to his full height to answer, “Yes. Yes, sorry. I am- well, one of the princes. The youngest, but- I, I think maybe you are looking for one of my brothers? Or my father? I’m sure you aren’t meant to actually stay in this stable, uh-“
Will winced at the discomfort of stuttering at this foreign Lord, feeling at the stranger’s emotions to sense the inevitable sting of disdain.
There was nothing.
No emotions coming from the man at all.
Will felt suddenly even more off-balance than before. Lost in unknown waters. Never had he come across someone who emitted… nothing for him to pick up on with his empathy.
Just a soft, patient gaze and a blank slate.
“I’ll- I’ll go get someone from the royal family to meet with you. Uh, right now.” Will stammered, desperate to be alone to think about the shock of feeling no emotions from the stranger. What it could possibly mean.
“Are you not a part of the Royal Family, then?” The man asked with a gentle glimmer of humor.
At least Will had to assume it was humor, because he’d always just relied on his empathy to sense for emotions. A grin meant humor, right? Damn it, was he being laughed at?
“I’m- well, that’s-“ Will made for the wide stable door, cringing to find the words, “I’m really not…like them. Um, in matters of diplomacy I mean! They usually handle guests and that kind of thing, so I’ll- I’ll just get someone who can help you.” He finishes quickly and speeds out of the man’s sight.
Really, for someone who had taken a chunk out of a Wendigo King’s throat, Will really could be a damn coward when it came to social niceties….