003 Nyl Attacked by Mob

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

“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.

“Please sir,” I gasped. “I blind. Not mean to.”

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

“Please sir, I can not thrum. I not rude.” Each word stung my throat, for it was not created to communicate in their thunderous language.

“Dumb and blind?”

“Yes, please 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 that my mistress gave me. 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.

The contagion of the violence spread and soon 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 merely shielded my face with my arms, longing to be free from my tormentors and the auras of malice that surrounded them.

A scream escaped the feet of a dying man and the fighting redirected toward the scream. I heard bodies thud to the ground next to me as an unseen foe slashed through the mob with his blade. Swords clashed and I heard many men cock 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 dripped water into my mouth 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 duels. Please sir, I reach my rent..., friend,” I corrected myself. “I not mean harm to them.”

The boy laid his cloak over me to hide my tattered body from their prying ears and carried me into a private room at the side of the hall despite my protests. The touch of his spider-like fingers terrified me. He ordered a servant girl to fetch a healer and new garments for me.

“Why save me? You should hate me. I beat your man in duel.”

“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.

“You let me die. Then you win.”

“And where would be the challenge in that? I’m a man of honor. 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?

“Why buy me? Cost great sum!”

“Only one hundred thousand pieces of silver. ‘Tis nothing compared to 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 lose?”

“I’ll free you, but I hope you’ll stay with me as a companion. I didn't just buy you for the money I’ll get from your bets. I'll give you half of all I earn. I don't intend to buy your friendship; I only want to be fair to you.”

“Why care for me? I not done good for you.” Skepticism 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 darkness of your nightmares so many times, begging for someone to free you... free you from your slavery.”

Can this be the man who protected me from the terrors of my dreams? I asked in my own mind.

“I am that man. I will gladly protect you waking or dreaming.”

You know my thoughts? I asked, mortified.

“Yes, some of them.”

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.”

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 rotting flesh and the blood that drenched me. As he cradled my head in his spidery hand and held me against his bosom, Gemma made her presence known in my mind. Her will forced me to remain enfolded in his wings.

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

“Thank you, Nyla.” He kissed my lips lightly as if I were his kin.

“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 guilt could free 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?

The servant girl returned with a healer, who refused to bind my wounds when he heard that 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 do the job. He tried to be tender, but the salve burned so and I nearly screamed whenever he tightened a bandage. Fear filled me as I thought of how he would be forced to treat the wounds on every section of my body, for my enemies’ claws had left no part of me unmarred. Instead, he retrieved my dagger, handed it to me, and left the room. The knife morphed into a roll of bandages which wrapped themselves about me of their own accord. Awe filled me. I dressed myself in the garments that the slave girl had brought. The dress was woven from the purest silk and fit my form so poorly that I could scarcely keep it from sliding off my shoulders. Slits were cut in the sides to allow for wings, which I did not possess, to pass through uninhibited. The immodesty of the dress mattered little, since my entire form was covered in gauze.

When he returned to the room, my master also provided me with a short-sword and hand-dagger, which fit over my left hand with a blade that stretched just past my fingertips.

“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. I lack even the basic prettiness of a child.

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

He spoke truthfully; I knew because I could peer into his soul. But I feared that perhaps he was able to mask his soul from me. I tried to send the images he saw with his ears to my mind, but failed.

Would you please describe my appearance, since I cannot hear on my own? I asked to make it seem as 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, Nyla, your eyes are lovelier than even the Queen’s gems.”

You didn’t say everything that you saw. I know you withheld something.

“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 that a rare 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 what I had done, 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 hands on his face being careful not to harm him with my hand-dagger. 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 becoming to others of his race; to me he was terror incarnate. Bats and spiders comprised the material which formed the agony of my nightmares.

“Come, sister, a feast awaits us.”