Vyzor

Someone was in his building.

Vyzor could sense the intruder, not with his eyes, nor even with his nose, but with an inexplicable sense inherent to his demonic heritage. It was as though his skin and his devil both screamed out at him at once, INTRUDER! but it was a silent scream, a feeling.

His devil resided within. He had named it Vex, because it often only spoke when something was wrong, and the advice it gave was terrible but often correct. If Vex told him to kill someone, he would know events would pan out badly for him if he did not.

Vex was telling him to run, this time. Vyzor frowned, and stood to his full height in the gloomy darkness of the abandoned room he had chosen as his sleeping chamber. He focused all his demonic senses on the intruder, but could tell very little about them. They were all the way down at the bottom of the building, too far for him to discern much. He scanned all around, sensing the whole building, section by section, but all he felt was the usual presence of rats, cockroaches, and spiders, and a host of even smaller pests, the usual inhabitants of a large abandoned building.

There’s just one of them, Vyzor stated. It wasn’t so much a challenge to Vex’s authority in these matters so much as it was an observation that contained an implicit question. Why would Vex tell him to run from one? One was prey, or a negligible threat, but never cause for flight. Even the larger groups of demon hunters rarely came out this far into the Dark Sector, the part of the city abandoned by the fleeing and decimated humans during the Great Cull. That had been a long time ago. The Cull had failed, the humans prevailed, or so the saga went. They owned the city now—or their superiors did—and the demons and other dark creatures had largely been disposed of or driven away, but there were still places they knew not to go, places where the darkness reigned supreme, and trespassers would not be appreciated.

A rumble shook the building, and Vyzor’s heart jumped into action as the sensory shadow of the intruder moved impossibly fast for a split second. He focused again on them, and realized they were now one level above ground, one level higher than they had been one second ago. Had they broken through the floor? He felt his breathing quicken, his muscles tense as he waited and watched. Then it happened again. The intruder moved, the building rumbled with a shockwave, and now the intruder was one—no, two—levels higher than before. They were approaching his position, and making a lot of noise doing so. Clearly they were not afraid of alerting him to their presence, if in fact they knew he was in the building at all.

She knows, Vex said. She! Vyzor focused again and saw that Vex was, as usual, right. The shadow was closer now, and he could just make out the outline of her poise, her defiant grace and feminine curves, and now his nostrils were beginning to catch the faintest hint of—no, it was gone now. Not close enough yet.

A single female, he argued, still not willing to run. She comes alone, and she enters my building, and she breaks through the ceilings. But why? Is she a hunter? Hunters only came in packs. Alone they were scouts, terrified. This one prowled slowly, confidently, and was steadily getting nearer.

She is a hunter. She knows you’re here. She is trying to scare you into making a mistake.

Another rumble shook the building, and some plaster fell from the ceiling onto Vyzor’s shoulder. He spread his wings momentarily to shake it off, and then froze. He could not be certain, but it seemed as though the hunter had turned to look directly at him when he spread his wings. He thought he had done so silently, but evidently she could still detect him somehow. He folded his wings, very slowly. The sensory shadow moved quickly, until it was directly beneath him, and stopped. For the first time in his life Vyzor felt a sensation he had heard humans describe to one another: a chill ran up his spine.

You should run now, Vex quietly informed him.

Shut up! he told his devil, and listened, and watched.

The sensory shadow of the hunter seemed to be watching him right back, and he wondered what was going on in her mind. He had never seen anything like this one before. She seemed to be able to sense his every move, and she broke through the structure of the dilapidated building as though she were punching through wet cardboard, with the speed of a gazelle at that. Some kind of android? He snorted—a mistake, borne of thousands of hours spent in his eccentric isolation—and he could feel her tension rise, her focus increase. She knew almost exactly where he was, somehow, from the barely audible sound of his wings opening and closing, and a single snort as he mused to himself. Those sounds could have come from any of the vermin that infested the place, but she knew, somehow. She was still ten stories below him, but she knew. He had been hunted many times, by packs of murderers, but he had never before felt anything but the demonic rage of the brawler. Now, for the first time in his life, he was prey.

His heart was beating fast, and he told Vex to make it slow down. She could probably hear that too, somehow. He breathed slowly, evenly, in an attempt to impose calm on his body, which had worked itself up to an animal fright. Not prey, he told himself, and his devil. A worthy opponent. He smiled. This was what it felt like to be up against your nemesis. That was the moment he knew that only one of them would leave that building alive. He would fight her, and kill her, or he would die trying.

Immediately he began to form a strategy.

Run, Vex feebly tried again.

Shut up, Vyzor responded, almost absentmindedly, as he scanned the structure above him. He didn’t care if she could sense him now, but he had to make her believe he was still scared. He remembered a place at the top of the stairs where the human structure was confusing to him, and he wondered if it was confusing to humans too. He had found their designs to be often lacking in artistry and efficiency, concerned more with containing the lives and pursuits of their bloated billions for as little cost as possible. Perhaps he could use a design flaw in the building to give himself a momentary tactical advantage.

Before he was done formulating his plan, he felt her move beneath him. Her sensory shadow seemed to fade, and he had difficulty pinpointing her location as she moved like a gust of wind. Then he spotted her, momentarily, and his heart started pounding. She was only three levels below him, climbing the stairs stealthily but with incredible speed. It would likely only be seconds before she was on top of him.

He didn’t wait for Vex to tell him. He ran.

His size gave him difficulty as he struggled to stay ahead of his pursuer, and Vyzor thanked the hells that spawned him that he was a relatively small demon. Still, he was much larger than most humans, and he had to alternate between using flaps of his wings to increase his speed through the more spacious areas of the building, and folding them close to allow him to traverse the more cramped passages. All the while he growled with frustration, his senses telling him his hunter was too close, too close. He might not have the time to trap her; he might simply get to the roof and die.

He didn’t bother using the stairs, but travelled used a series of holes he had previously broken between levels in the months he had resided in this building. The top four storeys of the building were like swiss cheese, now, from all his comings and goings. He hoped his modifications increased her confusion, but his senses told him she was still gaining on him. He paused before the final hole, half his body illuminated by a patch of moonlight that shone through, and looked back into the darkness of the corridor behind him. He could hear her, smell her, feel her, and she was running right towards him. Still he lingered, until, for a moment, he could see her with his own deep purple eyes.

It was a snapshot, of a dark feminine form sprinting forward, the top half of her face covered in a cybermask, the bottom obscured by shadow. Her bodysuit was black and minimal, but he could see weapons strapped to her hips and legs and a small utility pack on her back, and something else that looked like a pair of thick antennae protruding from her shoulders. A gun was in her right hand, and she aimed it at him so quickly he almost did not have time to leap through the hole onto the roof before a fiery blaze crossed the passage below and impacted somewhere on the other side of the building with the sound of a mortar shell hitting home. The hunters carried some of the most powerful handguns ever created by humans. Vyzor did not doubt that the shot had put a hole the size of a small demon in every part of the building that had obstructed it, and he wondered where, if ever, its path would end.

Get that gun out of her hand, instructed his devil, to which Vyzor growled with irritation. He knew he had to get the damn gun out of her hand. Sometimes Vex had an annoying habit of stating the very obvious.

 

Three more shots blasted through the roof in a triangular succession as his assailant attempted to determine his location. Her guesses were very good, and Vyzor barely managed to dodge the last shot as the heat seared his left wing. It was a preamble, he knew. She would be right behind those shots, hoping that she had either wounded him, or else that he had been staggered enough that she had time to attack and kill. The latter situation was upon him, so he did not wait to recover his footing. He rolled off and behind a small trellis, part of a maze of such structures that once teemed with vegetable life and now held only the petrified and withered remains of a green-thumb legacy.

He dared not take flight. She would almost certainly shoot him out of the sky like a clay pigeon. His only hope lay in disarming her. She could have set the whole top of the building ablaze, laid waste to the Dark Sector until her quarry was nothing but a smoking crater, but something stopped her. He wondered how many shots she had, and for the first time found himself considering the cost of hi-tech ammunition as a factor in this conflict. He scrambled deeper into the trellises, crouching low and hoping she could not pinpoint his exact location on sound alone. Another shot tore through the derelict garden maze just behind him, putting a hole in the low brick wall that signified the edge of the roof, and causing dozens of flaming pieces of wood to explode outward like matchsticks from a central beam that could have shot a hole through a battleship. He felt the burning debris rain down on him as he moved quickly, darting this way and that, attempting to use the added noise as cover as he looked for an alternative strategy.

He stopped behind a brick structure that appeared to be an air conditioning unit. It had long since ceased to serve any function and now stood moldering in decay. Vyzor reached into the mechanism through a hole and found the fan inside. With a careful wrench of his hands, he managed to get the metal blades free of their shaft. He now had a circular, chakram-esque weapon, the first tool he had ever been forced to use.

Vex told him to dodge and he dodged, the air conditioning unit exploding behind him, throwing fiery bricks in all directions. He cursed and peered across the roof, through the dust and smoke, and saw her lithe figure lining up another shot. He stepped back and off to the side to avoid the shot, which blazed only inches from his face, and in the same motion, spun his body like a discus thrower and sent the blades of the fan hurtling towards her. He heard a clank, and possibly a female grunt, and saw her silhouette drop to one knee. With a quick spread and pump of his wings he was upon her, a shallow arc ending in a pounce, their bodies entangled in a vicious struggle as they rolled towards the opposite edge of the building.

She was strong, very strong, and again he felt certain she was something not quite human. Not an android, unless they had improved those remarkably in appearance since the last one he had encountered. He had her beneath him now, and he was winding up to deal a deathblow when suddenly her right arm was free somehow. Probably a cyborg, he concluded, as her right hook clocked his jaw and sent his head reeling into a starry darkness for an indeterminate span of time. When he came to she was on top, punching his head over and over. A human would have stayed unconscious, and his fate would have been sealed by the hammer of those blows, but demons were made of stronger stuff, and Vyzor’s rage had a way of steeling him against damage. With each painful blow to his face, he felt more of the fires of the hells burning up within him, as his purple-black demon blood spurted in his mouth and nose, the taste of a defeat he could not accept.

Wings! Vex screamed at him, and he obeyed. With a desperate effort, he flexed his wings as though he were attempting to spread them open for a glide. They were bunched beneath him, so this had the effect of straining his ligaments as he pushed upwards against his assailant. Her cyborg face glared featureless down at him, and he could see the reflection of his own bloodied face in its visor. Visor, he thought as he pushed and pushed with his wings. Like my name. Then suddenly the wings burst free from under him and he was free, with the little hunter in his enraged demon grasp, her powerful fists beating into his body as he stood up, spitting blood and roaring.

The edge of the building was close, with its low brick wall, designed to provide some perfunctory deterrent to death by falling. He raised her small body high and brought her down hard, her head smashing through the bricks. No human could have survived it, but he never for a moment made the mistake of thinking she was human. He picked her up again, still struggling, but weaker now, in a daze. He brought her down on the bricks again, smashing a second bite-like semicircle in the little wall. Somehow, her head was still intact, and she was still alive, but nearly unconscious now. He looked over the edge of the roof at the roof of another building, lower down. Raising her again above his head, he threw her down with all his might into that building, and then expanded his wings and flew up a few meters before diving down like a bird of prey after her falling body.

She broke through the roof, and almost through the floor of the apartment below. He found her in a person-shaped dent in the tile floor of the once-lavish bathroom, now derelict like everything else in Dark Sector. Her cybermask had shattered, her helmet split in two, one of the halves missing. He flapped to a landing, his rage starting to sputter out as he looked down at the unconscious woman, his night vision giving him greater detail with each passing moment. He picked her up with both hands, grabbing the straps of her utility pack, miraculously still attached to her after that fall. She must have broken through head-first, he thought, and felt amazement growing within him. No human, no android, no cyborg could have survived.

Yet he felt the life still within her, and even as the demonic rage tempted him to continue his violence, to keep smashing this being that had hunted him until it was beyond recognition or salvage, what he saw as his eyes adjusted to the darkness gave him pause. Her skin was a deep ashen grey. Her eyes, as they started to open in a daze, were a deep red, like blood. Parts of her bodysuit had torn off in the fall, and the protrusions which he had taken to be some sort of antennae were now revealed to be parts of her body, hacked off to stumps and healed over, contained in some sort of casing to prevent them ever growing back. In disbelief, he ran his fingers through her jet-black hair, and there beneath the oily waves he touched two hard, raised plateaus, the vestiges of horns.

Rain fell now, and he could not remember when it started. It poured through the hole he had made in the roof with her body, the body he now held with tenderness as he recognized one of his own kind. As he caressed her dark grey face, watching the water collect there in droplets that grew and fell with mesmerizing emphasis of her striking contours, she regained consciousness. The softness of his touch, so alien to her experience, seemed to revive something inside her that she had forgotten, and she moved her head to rub her cheek against his hand. She looked up at him with eyes that were conflicted between hate, fear, and desire.

“You,” he said. “You’re a demon.”

The fear in her eyes diminished, and the hate was replaced by a sadness that rose from within. She said nothing.

“What have they done to you?” Vyzor touched the stump of a wing, the remnant of a horn, with gentle sorrow. Her eyes grew even sadder, and he suspected the rain falling in her face was concealing a flow of tears. Then she tilted her head upwards a little, and he found himself tilting downwards, and they kissed. The rain flowed down their faces and around their lips, washing away the blood and mingling with their saliva. He tasted her passion, her love now as deep as her hate had been.

He lifted her like a child and brought her into the living room, setting her down on the dusty leather couch. He sat beside her, and she climbed on top of him, straddling him as they continued to kiss. There they fucked, as demons fucked in the hells of old, before the war with humans, before the Invasion, the Inquisition, the Cull, and the Dark. He saw her body transform as it drank of his essence, which he freely gave her in the throes of a violent climax. Her eyes blazed brightly, her wings, horns, and tail grew back as she screamed with pain and passion. Vyzor felt that, even as he restored her to herself, she was restoring him as well. He had become half a demon, a vagabond, a nonentity, in the decades following the Cull. Now he felt the fullness of his being come alive in this woman, this vibrant demoness.

Afterwards, they slept on the floor of the once-human dwelling, her wrapped in his wings, their tails coiled around each other, and loved each other again and again in their dreams as outside, the night reigned.

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Nema and the Moon

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Nema, the white wolf, ran as she had never run before. Death was on her heels. The air whizzed with death’s fiery fingers, the trees and shrubs split and burst into splinters around her, the night roared with the terrible thunder of the angry gods who pursued. Her thick white fur helped to conceal her against the snow, but its whiteness was also the reason she was so covetously hunted. They wanted the rare prize, these hunting gods, the rare white wolf to adorn their ladies’ shoulders, a prize upon a prize.

Not gods, Nema understood. Hunters, like me, but with lightning and thunder, not tooth and claw. The ironic realization made her snort and quicken her pace.

She had never before seen these creatures. Her home was the deep north, and even the other wolves feared her. She was the mighty champion of her domain, twice as large as any other wolf, pure white from head to toe, with deep, coal-black eyes. She had no mate, no litter, and she hunted alone. Now her tail singed with fire as another shot grazed the fur, causing her to growl in anger as her body sprang forward with fear.

Hunters or gods, I should like to rip out their throats, Nema thought, but for all her fury, they were gaining on her, and she was getting tired. I need a plan, she thought, remembering the many times in her youth that a clever rabbit would escape her by devising some trick. I need to be a clever rabbit.

The trickling sound of water up ahead gave her hope. A stream could conceal her tracks, but she would have to be even more clever than that. She jumped the little stream and made a sprint of tracks into a thicket of bushes, then turned and jumped back, landing in the water with a splash. She looked back at the trail that led into the bush, hoping it would be enough to throw the hunters off for a time. Downstream she ran, as fast as she could, knowing she would have to think of another plan soon. She kept her body low, hoping the banks of the stream would hide her, and trying not to splash too much in the water by careening from side to side in the shallows.

Eventually she came to a small drop, about twelve feet high, and she jumped down with little hesitation, continuing down the stream’s winding path. No shots had split the air around her for a minute or so, and she felt her little plan had worked. She slowed to catch her breath, and as she did, she found herself at the edge of a moonlit pool, invisible in the thick trees that surrounded it. A black, almost ominous stillness caressed the water, broken only by the trickling gurgle of the stream that fed it, and illuminated by a single, wide shaft of moonlight that fell through a wreath of dark treetops. The Moon was full, and her reflection peered back up at her from the softly rippling water.

Nema sensed she was in a sacred place, and she sat by the water, hoping the hunters could not find her for the time being. Her wolf eyes gazed at the pool, mesmerized by the haunting beauty of the place, and especially of the Moon and the dark water.

The silver light seemed to brighten and focus on the black depths, and a pair of feet touched the water, sending ripples out to the banks. Nema blinked. The feet belonged to a pair of moon-white legs, which belonged in turn to a graceful feminine form, naked and glowing with the haunting white of the celestial orb. A woman was floating there, in the light beam, her toes just touching the black water, her eyes and hair as dark as midnight. She hovered there and gazed back at the wolf whose colours resembled her own.

A light snow had been falling, and now the flakes seemed to slow in the air, almost standing still. Nema looked upon the glowing woman and understood that she was in the presence of the Moon Herself.

“You are the Moon,” she said.

“Please, just call me Moon,” the woman smiled back at her.

“Moon,” Nema echoed, transfixed. Then she remembered herself, and said: “I am Nema.”

“I have heard the stories of your deeds howled at me from packs across the whole of the North,” said Moon, “the White Wolf who needs no mate, who hunts alone, and from whom entire packs of grey wolves flee. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“I am honoured,” Nema bowed her head.

“Yet you never howl in worship, as the other wolves do,” Moon observed.

Nema had no response to this. She had never felt the need to howl at the Moon, despite a kind of quiet respect she held for the celestial body. Now she wondered if she had been in error. “I did not mean to offend you,” she offered.

“I’m not offended, merely intrigued. What brings you to my pool tonight?”

“I, the great hunter, am now hunted. The men chase me with thunder and death, and I know I cannot escape them forever.”

Moon looked sympathetically at Nema and nodded slowly. “It is the way of things. Your place it has been to rule unchallenged in the woods and tundra, but against this kind of death, the natural law is powerless.”

Nema observed: “You look like them, but more beautiful by far. Surely if they saw your beauty, those men would not hunt you as they do me. They would fall in worship, or run in terror.”

Moon smiled. “It is true, I have not been hunted by men, but worshipped and adored by all of nature and men alike. The great weakness of the man is the form of the woman. Do not underestimate their bloodlust, though. They would hunt me if they could, and enslave me too. A living trophy they would make of me, if I had not the power to prevent it.”

“Could you grant me this power, to prevent the hunt, to cause those men to worship me as they do you? To respect me as the other wolves in the world know and respect me?”

Moon smiled, and because Nema was so beautiful herself, and looked already quite Moon-like with her snow-white fur and midnight-black eyes, she was overwhelmed with an indulgent favour for the noble beast. “Nema, white wolf of the North, you shall have what you ask. A form like mine, and a power like mine too, to be a kind of Moon, walking among men.”

Nema felt all the hairs on her body stand on end as these words were spoken, and a change began in her body, a very strange feeling of displacement. Her paws seemed to pull apart and unfurl into small, frail, twig-like shapes, her mouth became short and small, her head grew round, and the hair on her head grew very long and black. She felt her wolf-fur shrink to a useless fuzz, except in certain places where it became short and black. Her tail shrank and disappeared, and her hind paws unfurled into much smaller twigs. She had not realized how strange was the form of Moon until it became her own, the form of human women, the mate of the man who hunted her. A sound escaped her mouth, the sound of surprise, a kind of bleating primate sound.

“I have almost no fur. I should be freezing,” Nema said.

“You are not as other humans,” Moon informed her. “You are the form and reflection of Moon. You have the power of Moon. Yet you are still Nema, and you have the heart of a white wolf.”

Nema looked at her reflection in the dark pool. “I look like you,” she said, “but also different.”

Moon nodded and smiled. “No reflection is ever perfect.” And at that moment the light from the Moon moved along and ceased to shine on the dark pool, and the form of Moon faded fast and vanished. On the dark bank, still pondering her reflection, crouched a magnificently beautiful human woman, naked and impossibly pale, with black hair and eyes, unaffected by the freezing cold as her toes splayed in the snow.