By Kiona Styles
They'd laughed, when they had brought in the latest prisoner. The little Vaconic had snarled and cursed at them, and they had jeered right back at him. The individual they had hauled in after he had shown up at the Vepar gates was tanned and clearly used to living outdoors, under the light of the sun. They had stripped him of his armour, light and made of worn, flexible leather and tossed rags into the holding cell. They relieved him of his weapons, and they were mildly impressed at their sheer number and diversity. An elegantly crafted bow and sharp, deadly looking arrows were taken first and clearly the weapon of choice. They removed a long, cruel looking dagger, a slender, quick sword and no less than three small hunting knives from his person alone. They had searched his small pack and found, to their interest, provisions one might expect from a traveller, a set of lockpicks and any number of random tidbits that one particularly informed guard said were for mixing potions.
The Vaconic had awoken inside the holding cell, before they had time to move him to the mine. One of them had gone to check the cell idly, and found the prisoner sitting, slouched against the stone wall, staring a hole in the visitors helmet.
"You're going to regret putting me in here." The Vaconic had said frankly, folding his arms.
The guard assigned to watch the cell had scoffed.
"Unlikely. You're in for life. What are you going to do from inside the maul?" He replied, giving his attention to the bright eyed detainee.
The Vaconic's expression soured. The guard chuckled.
"After what you've done? No-one's going to come and try to break you out. Not that they could." He said and shrugged. It was a well-known fact, after all. No one escaped from the maul.
"My shield siblings will come."
"Your what?" The guard shook his head. "No, no-one will come for you. You'll rot down there. You'll have only those madmen for company, each one so hooked on magic they'll stick you in an instant if they think you got some on you." He leered, not that the prisoner could see it behind his helmet. "You'll never see the sunlight again, never smell the fresh air or feel the grass. How do you like that, Vaconic? You should have stayed in your precious forests. Now you'll never see them again."
The Vaconic snarled and threw himself against the bars. The metal protested, and the guard threw himself back with a cry.
Several others were drawn by the noise and came running, only the calm when they saw that all was mostly in order.
One of them laughed.
"What an animal." She chuckled. "He'll fit right in there with those barbarians."
Another chipped in.
"I heard that they only eat meat. I heard that they eat each-other, like cannibals."
The Vaconic had retreated from the bars, and was sitting again, hunched and tense on the flagstones.
"Disgusting." The previous speaker spat. "Hear that, Vaconic? You're a gods damned animal! Divines curse you!"
The Vaconic looked up and pinned them with a sharp gaze.
"It's you who the Divines have forsaken." He muttered. "They will not keep me here."
The guards began to disperse. The original who had goaded him earlier returned to his post with a disgusted look at the prisoner.
"You're right," he remarked. "They won't keep you here. It'll the Mine for you, first thing in the morning."
The Vaconic didn't reply.
"What are you in for?"
The Vaconic looked dispassionately at the ragged man by the fire, asking him questions.
"Murder." He answered succinctly, casting his eyes to the flames.
"A violent one! Don't let that get around, some will take it as a challenge."
"It would be a welcome distraction."
The old, scruffy man aughed.
"Quite a mouth on you, little Vaconic. There are some here that would take pleasure in sewing it shut."
The Vaconic allowed his lips to curl in a small smile.
"What was your first kill like?"
The Vaconic regarded the hulking man that regarded him with interesting, unblinking bright yellow eyes.
"My first murder, you mean?" He shrugged. "I don't really remember. I vaguely remember ripping them limb from limb and enjoying it. I came to standing over their corpses -if you could call them that- covered in blood and the last live one in my hand. He called me a demon and begged for the Divines to save him. I snapped his neck."
The hulking Vaconic grinned.
"I like you. I think we're going to get on just fine."
The small Vaconic shrugged again.
The small Vaconic kept to himself. When the guards came down once a week to give them food and clear out the bodies, he stayed quiet. They laughed and jeered at him like they did all the rest, but he said barely a word.
One week, a corpse had been found with the flesh striped off one arm and half of the chest by what looked like teeth marks. The guards had immediately found the Vaconic and strung him up. The other prisoners watched in silence and disgust (they didn't know what they were more disgusted at) as they took turns in landing blows on the slender Vaconic, who bore the treatment with barely a sound and only a burning in his too clear, not human eyes.
They had found the monster nest a few days later.
One of the prisoners, the snitch, caught the Vaconic when he was unaware. He watched as the small Vaconicworked in silence. Just as he was about to leave and watch someone more interesting, a small chunk of silver ore came loose and glanced the Vaconic a blow on the arm. It was not enough to cause serious injury, but the Vaconic hissed and dropped his pickaxe with a curse.
The snitch saw that where the ore had hit, there was an angry welt that coloured the tan skin an irritated, sore red.
The snitch did not know what it meant, but from then on, he noticed that the Vaconic never handled the ore with his bare hands.
One of the prisoners who was only in for a few months cornered the Vaconic in a corner of the main communal cave.
He hemmed the smaller male in with his larger frame, and the others in the cave stopped to watch. One made to aid one of them, but the hulking Vaconic grasped his by the arm and shook his head with a grin. His yellow eyes were fixed on the two men.
The man leaned in to speak directly in the small Vaconic's pointed ear, and there was a startled cry. The small, fierce Vaconic had driven his head into the others with such force, the man was holding his bruised face and moaning in pain.
"Don't touch me." The Vaconic spat, fists clenched and baring his teeth.
The man raised his head and fixed unfocused, pain hazed eyes on his quarry.
"Blasted Vaconic, I'll kill you!"
He took a wild, heavy swing but the Vaconic wasn't there. Then, there was a hand holding his arm behind his back at a painful angle, and a stone blade at his throat.
"Touch me again, and I'll cut your throat. If I'm in a bad mood, I'll do it with my bare hands." The Vaconic muttered in the mans ear. "I'll enjoy it, you won't."
He released the man. who stumbled backwards from the bloodthirsty Vaconic.
The hulking Vaconic laughed a great booming laugh.
"Run back to your hole, boy. You don't mess with us lifers, you should know that."
The larger Vaconic clapped the smaller Vaconic on the shoulder as he watched the man hurriedly leave the cave.
The smaller Vaconic watched him go.
They all noticed the Vaconic changing. His skin was covered in welts and wounds that spoke of no doing by men. They cleared up remarkably quickly, but more always followed.
He had paled from his lack of exposure to the sun, and he seemed restless. It had been a scant three weeks since he had been left to rot, but he had made a name for himself, despite no one knowing what his real name was.
"Vaconic. Eat something." The hulking Vaconic, Jenna was standing over his as he stared into the fire, holding out a plate of grey looking leeks and potato.
The Vaconic turned baleful eyes on him. Jenna scowled. The little thing had only been there for three weeks, and already he was showing the strain?
"You'll never be able to escape if you're dead."
The Vaconic wrinkled his nose.
"I don't eat vegetables, remember? Vaconics are carnivores."
Jenna blinked and laughed. This food didn't seem like real food anyway, so he supposed he had stopped noticing what he was eating.
"I heard they eat people." The snitch spoke up, looking at the Vaconic with something akin to revulsion.
The Vaconic grinned, and it was all teeth.
The snitch didn't say anything more.
The Vaconic was looking worse. There were bags under his eyes and the welts were getting worse. Jenna had tried to find out what was causing the without actually asking, but had been stonewalled.
He didn't care, not really, but such a mystery provided a reprieve from the boredom of the mine.
He was sitting, idly sharpening a shiv by the fire when the Vaconic sat down next to him.
He grunted in greeting, and got nothing in reply. He had not expected anything.
"They call you a Beast, do they not?"
Jenna looked up and stopped his whittling.
The orc shrugged and decided not to ponder the Vaconic's newfound sense of whimsy.
"They say I fight like one. They say I have the strength of a bear, the speed of a sabrecat and the battle-lust of a troll."
The Vaconic hummed and ran and through dirty, tangled blonde hair.
"If you could leave, would you?"
Jenna's reply was instant. His yellow eyes were fixed on the Vaconic's face, thin and hollowing after weeks of hard work and little to no food. The Vaconic was looking into the fire.
"I can't imagine there's anything or anyone you want to take with you, but if there is, have it ready by the next time the guards come down. That's two days from now, I think."
Jenna was silent.
"Why are you telling me?"
The Vaconic turned to him and smiled and the orc could see the anticipation in that face.
"It's a friendly warning, from one beast to another."
The next time the guards came down, Jenna was tense.
He wanted his freedom.
He had the barest promise of it and he was going to hold onto it.
The guards always came down at night, so the city would not see them carting half rotten bodies out of the mine.
They came down like they always did, brash and smug.
The Vaconic that stood beside him was tiny compared to Jenna. He barely reached one, heavily muscled shoulder.
They were told to line up like usual, and wait for the guards to do what they came down for. The Vaconic was practically twitching with anticipation and Jenna thought that if this was a trick, he would have killed the little creature himself.
"What are you smiling at, Vaconic?"
One guard came over to their line by himself.
Jenma wanted to sneer. They would never have come over if he and the rest of the prisoners were not bound in iron shackles until the guards were gone.
"I asked you a question, you filthy animal."
The Vaconic grinned wider.
"I told you that you would regret keeping me here." He said, and his voice was eager.
Jenna briefly entertained the thought that sanity had taken leave of his comrade.
The guard made an angry sound in the back of her throat and reached for the mace at her hip. She drew it and held it threateningly.
"They won't miss you." She muttered with certainty. She swung the mace, and the orc braces for the explosion of bone and brain matter that would have surely showered him when that mace hit.
There was the sound of screeching metal and he watched with interest as the little Vaconic snapped the shoddy restaurants around his wrists with nary a thought. Jenna could have easily done the same, but hadn't because even he wouldn't have made it out alive.
The Vaconic caught the mace as it descended and held it fast, the guard spluttered and tried to recoil.
The Vaconic was grinning like rabid animal, and Jenna was very interested in the explanation he was sure was coming.
The guard called out in shock and worry, and her comrades rushed to her aid.
"I told you the Divines had forsaken you when you tried to lock me up." The Vaconic said with glee, and his voice took on an odd quality. It was deepening and becoming rough, as though his throat was having difficulty with speech.
There was a horrendous cracking of bone and tearing of flesh. Jenna could only look on as the small, fierce Vaconic had had known for only a few scant weeks was broken down and rebuilt from the bones outward.
Muscles swelled under stretching skin, and bones elongated and splintered, making way for a new skeleton. His face was a mess of cartilage and fur as nose and mouth fused onto one and morphed into a muzzle.
It didn't take long, and soon enough, the creature that stood beside the Jenna, holding the mace or a terrified guard let out a savage, bellowing roar that sent several men stumbling back in fright.
Jenna grinned like a savage himself, and snapped his chains deftly as his Vaconic power surrounded him.
He looked up at the hulking beast, its eyes shining fierce gold that matched the irises of the Vaconic he had come to know, and its timber coat covered dips and swells of hard muscle magic bursting at the scenes.
Its ears were pressed close to its skull and it was baring fangs that were longer than then Jennas little fingers.
With one deft movement, it tore the mace from the grasp of the petrified guard and threw it aside like a child's toy. It took one menacing step forward and flexed long fingers tipped with scythe like claws.
There was a moment of almost comical stillness before the cry went up.
Jenna began to laugh as the chaos began. He soon found his hands full with a weapon, and he kept laughing as he cut down man after man.
He could hear feral, savage roars bouncing off the cave walls.
He let the corpse of a woman fall to the ground, her belly open.
From one beast to another indeed.
It is many hours later, when the slaughter was done, Lilycove was a ruined city of corpses and they are well away from the city that they stopped. Their group was small, some having been killed, other having simply decided to go different ways.
Once they were gone, the wolf turned to Jenna. It cocked its head to the side and Jenna grinned.
"I'm coming with you."
The wolf seemed to study him for a moment before turning and scenting the air, apparently not caring either way.
"You will bring blood Vaconic, and I like that. From one beast to another, I'll follow you because of that."
The Vaconic, if he could have, would have shrugged.