Here be Daemons
by Klaudaryn in Dark Ages
Jean DeLeone rubbed his bleary eyes again and stared. Something had definitely moved in the treeline just beyond the Mileth Limits. Squinting, he continued to stare across the river into the misty darkness of the autumn night. Too much brandy, he thought, just a tad too much brandy. He shook his head to try to clear it of the drunken haze which had already descended upon him but it only made the world spin more violently. Swearing to lay off brandy for the rest of his life, as he had done countless times in the past, he began to relieve himself in the river that ran through the town.
Making himself decent again, Jean took in a deep breath of the crisp night air in another vain attempt to clear his head when a sudden movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. This time he was certain. There was something moving just across the river from where he stood. He mumbled a prayer to Deoch as sudden visions of marauding Dubhaimid tearing him from limb to limb flitted into his mind. Old Dar and that Alchemist fellow rarely even left their huts and no one else was out at such an ungodly hour, he thought. He was on the verge of panic when suddenly a low monstrous sound broke the silence of the night.
"Mooooooo," came the low, sad call of Beth the cow.
"Its only those stupid cows!" he exclaimed in relief, remembering finally through his drunken stupor that the cow paddocks lay directly across the river. Shaking his head again and breathing slowly to calm his pounding heartbeat, he slowly made his way back to Mileth’s Inn, muttering under his breath. "Riona really should have some facilities installed instead of having us make our way out into the night like this every time we have the need," he grumbled to himself. Through the mist, eight pair of eyes watched him return to the inn with equal relief and proceeded with their dark deeds.
"Oi! You, wake up!" came the loudest and most spine-chilling scream Jean had ever heard in his life. Except that he heard it every time someone woke him up after one of his binges. Pulling the pillow over his head to shield his sensitive ears from the sounds and sights of his hangover, Jean groaned and pretended to ignore his harasser.
When they finally managed to pry the pillow from his vice-like grip, Jean’s companions grabbed him and shoved his face into a large bucket of freezing cold water. With a loud laugh, Loki the huge warrior from Abel thrust a coarse towel into Jean’s hands and patted him on the back.
"Velcome back to de land of de living, Rogue! Vah! A Vonderful morn it is!" roared the warrior, already fitted out in his armour and sword.
Jean muttered a curse under his breath as he towelled himself dry and peered out the window. His bloodshot eyes flared with anger as he realised that it was only dawn. Visions of Loki splayed out on the floor; his entrails coiled around his own neck choking him to death played themselves out in Jean’s imagination. How many hours had he slept? Two? Three?
"Deiu! Are you out of your mind, waking me this early?? What has gotten into you, you brainless oaf??" he croaked hoarsely.
"Ahh, DeLeone, I would offer you a prayer of healing, unfortunately my powers are to heal wounds, not foolishness," said Cymbran the Priest, his other companion. "Remember you not that today we descend into the lower levels of the crypt?"
Groaning yet again, Jean began hitting his forehead against the wall, muttering, " You could have said something last night before I started drinking, you know?? How was I to know today was the day?? You expect me to go into the crypts like this?? I may be foolish, arrogant priest, but I am not suicidal! Now go away you two, and let me sleep."
"I suppose he has a point, don’t you think, Loki? Wouldn’t want him to use the excuse of having a hangover when the traps blow up in his face like they always do, eh?" jabbed the priest as he turned to leave. "Another day wasted. The stay is coming out of your share, DeLeone."
"Hee! Vat am I supposed to do now??" growled the warrior.
"I don’t know, Loki. Go get acquainted with the cows perhaps?" snapped Jean, "But whatever you do, just leave me alone, alright? Ill talk to you all later over dinner or something. Now go."
"Mmmm.. Kows! Yes! I go kill Kows!" cried Loki gleefully.
Cymbran stood in the doorway and yanked the warrior out before the Rogue could imprint any more stupid suggestions into his feeble mind.
It was late in the afternoon when Jean finally managed to drag himself out of bed and out of his room. Staggering wearily downstairs, he found the inn deserted as usual except for Riona who was as usual fixing her hair and staring into her mirror.
"Riona," he croaked, his throat feeling like sackcloth, "Luv, could you get me a drink of water please… A lot of water."
Riona smiled her usual smile and gave her usual greeting, then kindly fetched him a tall jug of cool water, which he promptly began gulping down. As the burning in his throat began to diminish somewhat, Jean started to wonder what his companions had gotten up to in his absence. As if on cue, Cymbran strode through the door and sat down heavily beside Jean. There was a look in his eyes, which told Jean everything was not alright.
"Where’s Loki?" asked Jean, unsure of what else could be wrong.
"Gone. Missing," snarled Cymbran angrily as he glared at Jean. "It’s all your fault, you realise that? We were out hunting for mantis eyes in the forest when suddenly the dolt hollers out that he had spotted some cows and ran off to kill them before I could reach him. Heard him thundering off into the underbrush, spent over two hours looking for him after that but without success. I have no idea where he might have run off to."
"What?? Cows in the forest?? Come on, you have to be joking. Enough of your jokes, Cym, I am sobered up already. Now go and get Loki in here, right?"
"This is no joke, Rogue!" snorted the priest, his apparent disdain a meagre attempt to mask his worry.
"Indeed this is no joke…" a quiet voice broke into their conversation. Jean and Cymbran both turned to face the man who had spoken. Sitting in a shadowy corner sipping his wine, the stranger looked up as they noticed him for the first time. "The cows have him…" he added gravely.
Jean looked over the stranger. He was dressed in the dark robes of a Wizard but his long hair fell over his face covering his eyes completely.
"Ignore him," whispered Cymbran, "he is obviously senile and drunk…"
"I heard that, young priest, and I am neither, I assure you," replied the Wizard as he stood up, beckoning to the two adventurers. "Come with me. What you are to find out, the world is not yet ready to know."
"You expect us to believe that?!?" cried Jean incredulously. "Let me get this straight – What you are saying is that Cows are not really Cows, but are in fact Daemonic entities which have been infiltrating our society for hundreds of years now? That when the time is right, they will all rise up against us to enthrone their Elder God as ruler of our world??"
"That is exactly what I am saying."
"You were right, Cymbran, he is clearly insane! Let’s go, we have to look for Loki!" yelled Jean in frustration.
"Wait! I need you to listen to me. My time is running short. Just think about it. Our history is full of records and legends. The Elder Gods, the Earth Sea Deities, our modern day Deities whom we worship, our heroes, our past. The first Wizard, the first Monk, the first Warrior, the Tuatha, all those. But does anyone know when the Cows first appeared amongst men? No! To most of us, Cows have always been there, like some inexplicable phenomenon. But there is a discrepancy. For in the days before darkness, in the days of Hy-Brasyl, there were no Cows. Not a single mention of them. And when the realm of Chadul opened itself, all of a sudden, we accepted these creatures as part of our life, with naught a question nor second thought. It is as if we were all suddenly told that these insidious creatures had always been there, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with them."
Jean and Cymbran stopped in their tracks, stunned by the ridiculousness of the old Wizard’s story. Slowly it began to sink in. As much as the Wizard could be wrong, he could also be right. Although he did not have any material proof of his claims, there was nothing Jean or Cymbran could think of which would disprove those same claims. They sat down and decided to listen some more.
"You see, it makes sense, in a warped kind of way. The most successful infiltrations are always by agents that the enemy would never suspect. Of course, some Daemonic traits can never be erased, for example, have you ever wondered why the Cows have horns on their heads? For defence? Feh, if they were actually efficient weapons as nature might have intended, beef would never be as popular as it is. Oh, and beef. There are those who believe that the act of ingesting the flesh of a being causes one to inherit the powers and abilities of that creature. Can you imagine the extent of corruption that is spread by merely consuming this daemonic flesh? A truly devious infiltration, I tell you. There are others like me, the Aware. Like you, we have all suffered personal loss at these creatures, and it is only this personal loss which allows us to see through the veil which has shrouded our reasoning, and realise the extent of the conspiracy. Even in our own town of Mileth… I mean… have you not wondered about the cow paddocks across the river? No one claims ownership of them, yet the cows seem always well fed, and the place well kept…."
"Alright," conceded Jean. "That is all well and good, but how does that help us rescue our dear friend? I mean, we might be inclined to believe you, but our main concern is our comrade."
"Hmm… Well, it is a full moon tonight. We may very well have the opportunity to save your friend, as well as prove to you the truth behind my claims."
That night, as soon as the moon began its trek through the skies, the trio made off into the woods, following the old Wizard’s lead.
"Thankfully for your friend, I have for a while known of the location of the Cult’s worshipping glade," whispered the Wizard as they settled down behind some thick bushes just outside a small clearing.
"What happens now, Wizard?" asked Jean in a low voice.
"We stay hidden and wait," he answered.
They did not have to wait long. About half an hour later, seven misshapen figures staggered into the clearing leading a bulky eighth. Even at that distance, the trio could smell their stench and hear their slurred, drool spilling speech.
"A Sgrios Priest and his followers!" cursed Cymbran as he uttered a prayer to Gramail and gripped his staff tightly. "What are these cursed ones doing here?!"
"Hush, young one. These may resemble the followers of Sgrios, but they worship a deity who was ancient before Sgrios came into being. Now.. observe the eighth figure. Your friend is alive," cautioned the Wizard.
Indeed, it was Loki who was being led into the clearing, even though they had stripped him of his armour and weapons and slipped a hood over his head. They had obviously gagged him too, judging from his silence. Jean fingered his surigum eagerly, but was quietly stayed by the firm grip of the old man.
"Stand down, Rogue… and watch. Our best chance is to interrupt their ritual. They will be too stunned to react and we should be able to cut them down with ease."
Jean nodded and licked his lips in anticipation as he saw the Wizard’s eyes take on an eerie glow. This would be a fight to remember, if they survived.
The ceremony began as they expected, with the usual loud chanting and burning of incense. The seven drooling forms danced wildly around the bound and enraged form of Loki as their chanting reached a feverish pitch. A rustling drew the attention of the watchers to the far edge of the clearing and the two young adventurers watched incredulously as Beth the Cow strode into the clearing. Whoops of pleasure escaped the dancing worshippers as the physical embodiment of their dark god arrived. And then, Beth the Cow spoke.
"In this full moooon, Bovinusqexusues the undying one praises your flesh sacrifice!" mooed Beth, "but there are heretics amongst us! You shall spill their blood for our Dark Majesty, or I shall spill yours!".
With that , Beth the Cow gazed in the direction of the trio hidden in the bushes. It was her usual forlorn, saddened gaze. But it was not Beth as usual.
Jean staggered to his feet and felled a grossly misshapen zealot with his surigum, then drew his daggers to prepare for close quarters fighting. Cymbran was already casting a spell of protection over them. Jean looked around to find the old Wizard to see if he was already in position to engage the oncoming foe. Somehow, he was not too surprised when he saw the inane grin on the Wizard’s face as he unleashed a torrent of fire on poor Cymbran. Betrayed. As usual. From the corner of his eye, he watched as Beth the Cow began to feast on the still twitching body of Loki. Fear gripped him and he knew that he had to get away before the Wizard had the chance to kill him too. Grabbing a smoke bomb from his belt, he threw it at the Wizard, effectively blinding him and giving himself enough time to make a speedy escape through the trees. Behind him, he heard the angry moo of Beth the Cow and the pained squeals of the zealots as she took her wrath out on them.
Dawn found him in the only place he felt the least bit safe- Riona’s Inn. His eyes were bloodshot again, not from liquor this time, but from pure fear and inability to sleep. His two closest companions were dead. His reality was shattered. He needed a drink badly.
After making sure that the town was truly awake, he left the inn and made his way to the nearby tavern to think and to numb the pain, not necessarily in that order.
"Barkeep… brandy.. " he managed to order. When his drink arrived, he gulped it down and ordered another.
"Hey, DeLeone, where are your friends? Care to join us for lunch?" came a voice from the corner of the crowded tavern. It was Klaudaryn Armagh, a wizard he had associated with on a few occasions. "The beef stew is really something else today! I hear Mileth received a bumper shipment of fresh beef this morning!" yelled Klaude as he scooped another spoonful of the stew into his mouth.
Jean groaned, gulping down his drink and afforded Klaude the token obscene gesture then ordered another yet another brandy.