003 WoeNyl Attacked by Mob

The cacophony of emotions around me overwhelmed and disoriented me, making navigation even more difficult. I travelled about ten throses before I collided with someone in the crowd. Instantly, a hand clenched around my throat.

“You think you can just barge into me without consequences?” his fingers thrummed into my neck, communicating his message without an instrument so clumsy as the mouth.

“I blind,” I gasped. “Not mean to.”

“You are bold to speak to me with your mouth!”

“Pleasthe sthir, I can not thrum. I not rude.” Each word stung my throat, which was not made to speak in their thunderous language.

“Dumb and blind?”

“Aye, pray let go.”

“Very well.”

He threw me to the ground and stomped away in rage. As I rose, another man tripped over my legs and crashed into a stone pillar. Within seconds, the fallen man lashed out against me with his claws, tearing away the disguise my mistress created. I kicked at the man's stomach, but missed. Dozens of others joined in the 'fight' and beat me while I tried to defend myself. They cursed me because I had defeated so many of their champions in the arena, but now I could not resist them.

The contagion of the violence spread and soon what seemed like the entire hall gathered round me shouting their curses. My false skin disintegrated into ribbons which clung to my enemies' claws. I dared not cry out lest I anger them further, but shielded my face with my arms, longing to be free from my tormentors and their auras of malice.

A scream escaped the feet of one of the brawlers and the fighting redirected toward the scream. I heard bodies thud to the ground next to me as an unseen foe smashed through the mob with his fists. Swords flew out of my attacker's scabbards. Many men cocked their air guns to shoot at the newcomer. The fighting ceased as the King's guard rushed through the hall to subdue the brawl.

Someone crouched next to me and draped a cloak over me to hide my tattered body from the crowd's snooping ears. He dripped water into my mouth from a flask as he supported my head.

“Thank,” I mumbled.

“Why did they beat you so?” a boy’s claws thrummed gently into my shoulder.

Fear overran me because I knew his kindness to be feigned.

“You not know me? I beat men in duel. Pleasthe sthir, I reach my rent..., friend,” I corrected myself. “I not mean harm to them.”

Despite my protests, he carried me into a private room at the side of the hall. The touch of his clawed fingers terrified me. He ordered a servant girl to fetch a healer and new garments for me. I clutched my broken, left wrist to my chest.

“Why help me? You should hate me. I beat your man in duel,” I asked as I held the cloak against my chest.

“I rescued you because I protect what’s mine. I'm your new master and the one who’ll oppose you tomorrow,” the boy thrummed without any evidence of emotion.

“Let me die. Then you win.”

“And where would be the challenge in that? I’m a man of honour. I'd gladly lose to you tomorrow, knowing I fought fairly and well.”

“Why call me yours?” I shuddered, at the possible meaning of his words. I longed to escape his presence.

“Your mistress did not tell you? I have purchased you permanently.”

'Permanently?' Nyl and Woe thought in unison.

“Why buy me? Price be great!” I lisped.

“Only one hundred thousand pieces of silver. ‘Tis the money I’ve gained from my victories. By law, I receive ten percent of every bet placed on me and now that I own you, I'll get your ten percent if you win tomorrow.”

“What done to me if I fail?”

“I’ll free you, but I hope you’ll stay with me as a companion. I didn't buy you for the money I’ll get from your bets. I'll give you three-quarters of all I earn if I win. If you win, may I keep two-thirds of our earnings?”

“I your sthlave, you may do what you want with your mo-ney.”

“I don't intend to buy your friendship; I only want to be fair to you. If you agree, then it will not matter which of us wins, we will both be better off for our victory.”

“I a-gree,” I did not believe he would uphold his deal, so consenting presented no risks. He would take my earnings like Gemma did.

“Excellent, I hope the healer can attend to you soon.”

“Why care for me? I not done good for you,” scepticism poured out in my words.

“But you have. You’ve always eased my pain. Whenever I needed you, you visited me in my dreams to comfort me with your kind words. I bought you because you have called into the fog of your terror-dreams so many times, begging for someone to free you... free you from your slavery.”

'Can this be the man who protected us from the horrors of our dreams?' Nyl asked Woe in our own minds.

'I am that man. I will gladly protect you waking or dreaming,' he thought to me.

'You know my thoughts?' Nyl thought, mortified.

'Yes, some of them, you may shield your mind from me whenever you wish' he thought.

'Then you know what I have done. You know who I am.'

'I know what you were. You were forced to steal the woes of many. I also know the noose of slavery. I know what it is like to be forced to do shameful things,' he thought.

'There is nothing you have done that can be worse than the guilt I carry. I am vile. I am shame!'

He said no more, but embraced me despite my emaciated flesh and the blood that drenched me. As he cradled my head in his claws and held me against his bosom, Gemma made her presence known in my minds. Her will forced me to remain enfolded in his wings.

Woethief probed his soul. There I found much pain mingled with love for me and a peace which Nyl and Woe had never encountered in anyone else. We gritted my teeth and drew as much of his pain into ourself as possible. It didn’t hurt as much to steal pain out of love rather than under coercion.

“Thank you, WoeNyl.” He kissed my brow as if I were his sister or cousin.

“That is why I love you so, because you’re selfless. You’re in such torment, yet you steal my woes. I only wish someone would steal yours.”

I too longed for relief from my shame. Only the death of the one who gave me their shame freed me, but there were so many thousands who had used me. I longed for vengeance, but at the same time I pitied them. Who would take their guilt in the after-death?

Tatters of my disguise dangled from me, revealing my humanness. The servant girl returned with a healer, who refused to bind my wounds when he heard I was an unanimal. My lack of bat or spider blood rendered me the most despicable creature, second only to a lacerator.

My new master condescended to bind my wounds himself, since no one else would. He tried to be tender, but the salve burned so and I shrieked whenever he tightened a bandage. To my great dread and embarrassment, he treated wounds on every section of my body, for my enemies’ claws left few parts of me undamaged.

My master peeled away what remained of the false bat-skin. My marred form matched the state of my ruined souls. While he rendered aid, his mind and actions showed respect and purity even though I was at his mercy.

After treating me, he helped me to dress in garments the slave girl brought. The dress was woven from the purest silk but I scarcely kept it from sliding off my shoulders.

Slits in the sides to allowed for wings, which I did not possess, to pass through uninhibited. The immodesty of the dress mattered little, since most of my form was covered in gauze.

My master also returned my rusted dagger, my only possession.

“You’re quite lovely, Nyla,” he thrummed through his hand, which rested on my shoulder.

'Surely you jest. No one has ever accused me of possessing beauty unless I was in disguise,' Woe thought to him.

'I lack even the basic prettiness of a child,' Nyl added.

“I never jest. I perceive you now as you appeared in my dreams. I wish you could hear yourself as I do.”

He spoke truthfully; I knew because Woe peered into his soul. But I feared he could mask his soul from me. I tried to send the images he heard with his ears to my minds, but failed.

'Would you please describe my appearance, since I cannot hear it on my own?' Nyl asked. I did not know if I believed his words.

“You have scarred skin, like the walls in a mine that yields the purest silver. Your lips drip the nectar of encouraging words. Your eyes are gorgeous. They exude compassion and tenderness.”

'You mock me. My eyes are the mark of the cursed.'

“No, WoeNyl, your eyes are lovelier than even the Queen’s gems.”

'You didn’t say everything that you noticed. I know you withheld something.' I thought.

'Well, You’re rather peculiar. You appear as if you possess no animal blood.'

“Thank you.” I said dejectedly. Even in my ideal form, I was only beautiful in the way a semirare stone is beautiful, as a curiosity. None of my loveliness stemmed from my physical form but rather from my supposed good character. If he knew my crimes, he would not think me lovely.

'I know this may seem petty,' I started. “But may I feel your face? I wish to know what you are like.'

'Of course.'

I placed my good hand on his face. My bandaged fingertips brushed across ears which streaked from above his head all the way across his face to his wet nose. Fangs protruded slightly from his mouth. Overall, he was very attractive to me, despite our difference in race.

'Come, sister, a feast awaits us.'