Seven Hounds of Darkness
I gasp as soon as my lungs form, my eyes opening to a searing light. Pain is all I feel, wracking my body as I swiftly grow double, triple the size I’d been moments before. Bones slide along sinew, stretching it taut to the point of snapping as new bones emerge from the fleshier bits of my flabby body. Looking around, I try and make sense of what was happening.
I’m surrounded by bodies, all sliced from groin to throat, hanging upside down by chains from a dark ceiling. The stench of death is thick in the air, like a roiling fog on a windless night. I revel in it, savoring the fluids pooling around me, seeping into my fledgling frame, aiding my growth. Bony ridges form along my shoulders, connecting to a ridged spine running down my back. Legs, feeble at first but quickly gaining muscle, push my through the pooling blood into another creature like me.
We slash at each other with newfound claws, tearing long strips of muscle away from the newly formed flesh. Our arms are short but end in three fingers and a thumb, with long sticky talons. My skull aches as it splits through my face, stretching as bone overlaps bone, building upon itself until my features are more reptilian in nature. The ridges on my spine have thick plates sliding out from the vertebrae. My back splits in an agonizing rupture of flesh as my spine lengthens, whipping out like a serpent's tail as it fills in, ending in a new appendage that opens and closes… a pincer.
Looking up with my new eyes, I see five or six others like me in this pit, the blood drizzling down around us, soaking into our bodies while we balloon and fill out. Looking up, I see a woman standing at the edge of the pit, staring on in amazement. Staggering forward on new legs, I scratch at the walls, leaving long deep gouges in the stone.
“Seven… I was only able to create seven mature ones.” She said, sounding almost disappointed. “I suppose you’ll have to do.”
We look at each other, eyes pulsing in our skulls as the skin continue to knit over our growing forms, the hellish red hue to our bodies coming either naturally or from the raining blood, I couldn’t tell which.
Closing my eyes as the agony of growth begins to reduce itself to a dull ache, I growl an inhuman grumble as teeth begin drilling themselves from my gums out into the open air, pearly white with a sheen that glistens in the darkness. I stare over at another, this one standing tall as a man though hunched over with bulking muscle, long spines rising from bony plates on his back. His head is armored with thick, cracked bone, with openings for the eyes to peer out of, a hook at the end of the maw leading to an opening of long needle–point fangs. His tail swishes back and forth, the pincer opening wide and clacking ominously as another… things walk close to him, sniffing him.
“They grow restless…” A voice, this one sibilant… old even speaks out. I look up at to the edge of our pit, spying a man in dark, tattered robes. His skin hangs from his bones, his joints swollen with age. The man looks down upon us, upon me with disdain. I bare my teeth at him, earning a wry smile from his wrinkled features.
“They need only wait until nightfall. Then I’ll unleash them on the village and have my revenge.” The woman says, her stately attire making her appear more… noble than her position in this cavern would suggest.
“I advised against summoning these things in the first place. What will you do once you’ve released them? Will you hide, like a small child? They will return you know, seeking your blood.” The old man rants, and in my bones, I feel a quiver of excitement.
A loud clang catches my attention. Turning my head on a serpentine neck, I stare as one of my fellow… beings? My fellow beings swipe and scratches at an iron portcullis that’s been lowered, fighting desperately to be freed. Peering through it, I can see a long hall leading out into a snowy field, and can feel the gnawing hunger grow inside me.
The tiny voice in the back of my head is high pitched and brutal, its words scraping across my heart with a knife waiting to be plunged in. Needles prick up and down my brain as the voice echoes within my skull, bringing on the desire to feast on warm flesh. My claws twitch my tail flails; I can feel the viscous saliva beginning to pool at my lipless mouth.
“I have a carriage awaiting me that will spirit me away,” she flippantly replies. “The longer I remain this close to the village the longer I run exposure of being a witch, like my dear sister.”
“Your sister died for a noble cause,” the old man says, his tone firm. “What you’ve done here is just petty vengeance; you’ve sold your soul for the deaths of a few hundred innocents before they ultimately come for you.”
“I’ll have traveled beyond the mountains by the time they have finished with the villagers. The local soldiers of the fief lord will deal with these… abominations as soon as a villager warns them.”
“You don’t seem to understand what I’m referring to when I say you’ve made a grave error. These creatures will stop at nothing to kill you once they’ve done as you commanded. You took innocent souls and fueled them with corruption, bloating them on the very essence of life before preparing to unleash them upon ones you would call enemies. Turn back now before it is too late!”
The woman looked down; staring at the bloody pit we were sloshing about in, you could see her pondering the old man’s words.
Suddenly she lashed out, grabbing the old man by the front of his robes and yanking, pulling him over the precipice and down into the pit with us. Suddenly that small voice in the back of my mind took over.
I rushed over, my powerful legs allowing me to splash through the clotting mess on the ground with ease before pouncing on the man, claws fully extended on my feet and hands. His skin peels like an onion, breaking beneath my heavy strikes to reveal a new scent of blood, a different flavor. My maw crushes his skull, pulling back with his head sliding down my throat. By now several of my brethren have caught the new blood scent and are on him as well. One is ripping an arm free while another is devouring a leg. A fourth has plunged his beak into the man’s chest, eating solely from that torn open spot.
He’s dead before he even realizes what happened I think, the look of confusion never leaving his face as I gobbled it down. The woman stands high above, watching us as we eat. I can feel her eyes roaming over our sleek frames. Looking up an squawking at her, her eyes widen slightly.
“Slave!” She calls out, eyes never leaving mine, even as a man walks up beside her. “You are free as of three days from now. I want you to inherit my home and have written a letter declaring your freedom. All you must do is raise the portcullis here,” she gestures, “in three days.”
“If I may be so bold as to ask the mistress, what brings about your generosity?” The man asks his pale skin and blonde hair almost luminescent in the darkness of the cavern.
“I will be leaving the Carpathian mountains for the New World. My kind is no longer tolerated here, and it is only a matter of time before I am accused of witchcraft.”
“An accusation, milady, which is wholly accurate.” The slave says with a silky smile. She caresses his face, which he leans into.
“True, but I have no desire to see my fruit come to bear. Just raise the portcullis in three days, as the sun sets. Then bar the gates for a week.”
“Why a week?” The slave asks, finally looking down into the darkened pit where we lurk, ignoring the hanging bodies above him.
“Because my pets hunger will drive them from these lands after a week, and you will be safe,” She answers with a sinister grin. “They’ll be fully grown within the hour, almost big enough to scramble free of the pit I trapped them in.”
“What are they?” The slave asks, staring at us in wonder.
“Each one is the darkness and savagery of one person, their vices given form. With a little tempting from the Prince of Darkness, they grew into fine, respectable demons.”
“And you intend to allow them free access to the lands of your forefathers?” The slave asked, astonished.
“I intend to have those who slew my sister understand what it is like to lose loved ones. Each person they slay, each body they devour, the souls remains trapped within their bony forms, unable to reach the Lord Almighty or the Pit Lord himself.”
“And you milady, you are leaving?”
“Yes Jacques, and if you are wise, you will release them in three days lest they work their way out through the walls of the pit and into the manor proper.”