Dina, this will always be for you…
Prologue: Born in Blood
Mu bi feloka haj ghov crimo thenot trih Catakla bri prigonot Childre Estafru vimotdre pribi du finolr. Bo chaur splendet i ghov pyli cly. Du lif pre bo quo pre cleiy oply mu splendet i jiul hyolt.
My beloved son shall be born in blood centuries after the Great Purge when the descendants of the Estafru Patients find themselves faced with their own extinction. He will be conceived in agony and birthed in a shroud of death. Those bold enough to gaze into his eyes will observe the vast spectrum of my cruelty and be forever tainted.
–The Word of Plect’Aratha, as Revealed to Bale.
Taken from The Book of Bale, Estafru Codex Fragment 17 of 74.
The screams were different that night. So much so that the drones found themselves drawn away from whatever business they had in the decrepit dwellings they shared and out into the center of the compound. There, they could gossip in their usual, subtle ways, with voices low so that the master couldn’t hear them.
There was no denying that Kelio was taking a different approach with his molestations of poor Malaede that night. The sun had barely vanished beneath the horizon when her tortured wailing was first heard from the house at the rear of the compound. Anyone brave enough to have taken a closer look, and there were a few who lived to tell the tale, knew that Malaede was no houseguest of the master’s son. No, she had been imprisoned in a saltbox style shed behind the accursed dwelling; a place where he enacted the sadistic and depraved rituals that were too extreme for his basement and bedchamber.
“Gah! Aaaaaaaaaah! Mother! F-Father!” Malaede’s voice carried across the compound, aided by the cool, early summer night breeze. Along with the anguish it conveyed, the breeze also held the scents of pine pitch and a few lingering spring blossoms, and though the keen olfactory senses of the Rollinsford Estafru clan were easily able to pick up on them, they had absolutely no appreciation or use for such things. In most cases, the scents were repulsing. The ruffling of leaves and pine bristles from the trees that dotted the interior of the site and made up its border did little to diminish or obscure the young girl’s words, which reached the ears of the drones and registered with perfect clarity.
Much of the light chatter ceased as the majority of those present at the center of the compound, which was little more than a crossing of centuries-old carriage roads long forgotten (and perhaps intentionally so) by the people of Rollinsford and South Berwick, lifted their heads at the sound of the words mother and father. Their eyes flitted first to the darkened windows of their master’s home to make sure that he wasn’t on the move. When they were satisfied that the master was not concerned with Malaede’s agony, not that he ever really was, their collective attention moved to the dwelling of the nobles, Evada and her husband Elas.
A certain sorrow and pity was shared amongst the drones in general given the relative purposeless lives they lived, carrying out the bidding of the clan master, his son and the small group of nobles. Very rarely did they find themselves with the capacity to share their personal misfortune with nobles like Evada and Elas, but in this particular case it was difficult not to appreciate their situation. Typically the noble class was spared from the impulsive and often violent urges that Kelio was incapable of restraining, but there had obviously been something about Malaede that he found impossible to resist. She was only seventeen when he abducted her nearly 11 months prior. Her 18th birthday was celebrated rather unceremoniously in Kelio’s shed with a noose wound tightly around her neck while he ravaged her from behind. So was the case most nights when her pleas for mercy rose out of her tiny prison and filled the night, and her parents were forced to bear it all in silence for the son of the clan master was rarely questioned or tethered.
Like that of the master, the home of Evada and Elas was dark. The only observable movement in or around it were the lightly wavering branches of the pine trees that grew near its stone foundation. Branches, tossed gently around in the breeze, scraped against the exterior of the two-story home, sending flakes of chipping white paint to the forest floor where they would remain until nature itself saw fit to clean them up. Such aesthetic degradations were of no concern to the Estafru.
All eyes moved back to settle on the home of Kelio at the far end of the compound as another set of screams, interspersed with inaudible words, blasted through the forest. Though the curiosity of the assembled drones was borderline maniacal, not one of them dared to move any closer to the dwelling. Their chatter resumed, obscured beneath Malaede’s screams, and all eyes remained fixed on the dwelling a quarter-mile away. Above, the full moon lit the collection of a dozen colonial homes, each in its own unique state of disrepair, through the various breaks in the trees. Not that the Estafru needed such illumination; their eyes saw perfectly fine in the darkness. In most cases, they were able to visually interpret the darkened world around them better than a wildcat.
Such was the curse of Plect’Aratha’s Kiss. While the long life and unnatural perceptive abilities were a boon to the unhindered and effectively limitless ambitions of the master, his son, and the nobles, for the drones it simply meant an eternity of subjugation. The sum of their lives was equated from three practices: eating, sleeping, and conforming. They were little more than animals and were just as expendable in the eyes of their superiors.
But Malaede was no drone. For one such as she to be put through this kind of torment across such a lengthy timeline was so unfathomable that it plagued the minds of drone and noble alike given how far such acts fell outside of their harsh clan structure. Over time the nightly cries that came from Malaede became rather commonplace, and the clan adapted to this change within their borders (Evada and Elas excluded, naturally), but after nearly a year of growing familiarity with Malaede’s tolerance for pain, on this night something was notably different.
Fearful gasps resonated within the group one by one, and then all at once the attention of the drones was drawn to the back of the group. There, walking purposefully toward the dwelling of his son, was Nage, master of the Rollinsford Estafru clan. Eyes were averted in fear, and the ground trembled lightly as the drones hastily ceased their busy-bodied conversations and fell immediately to their knees. Those who knelt in their master’s pathway scrambled blindly aside, not daring to take their attention off of the grass and soil beneath them for even a second. They pushed against and through one another in their haste, barely acknowledging contact with their fellow drones.
Nage moved swiftly through the parting group, his eyes never once leaving the home of his son in the distance. He shifted his cane into his left hand and reached up to his chest with his right, adjusting the thick, black cloak that covered his body. Moving the cane back into his dominant hand, he took it by its eight-ball grip and swung it back and forth as he walked, its tip never once touching the ground.
Given that he had no business with any of the drone, he moved out and away from their gathering place without word or acknowledgement. This was much to their benefit as the master only ever called upon them for servitude or punishment.
The breeze that blew through the forest seemed to intensify as he grew closer to his target. His nose curled up ever so slightly as he processed the repugnant scents of spring, but as he came within a hundred feet of his son’s dwelling the odor of rotting human flesh from a mass grave in the woods just behind rose above the perfume of flowers waning with the season. This aroma was not only more bearable, it was intoxicating. It conjured ancient instincts and emotions that slept at his very core until the moments when he partook of the Estafru’s most characteristic ritual.
Feeding on human blood.
Pushing his instincts aside, Nage successfully stifled the animal within him and ran his left hand through his short, black hair. The hand came down around his stubbly neck to where it broke contact just before his pinky could run across his pointed chin. From there it fell back down to his side, slipping into one of the two massive pockets in his cloak. His focus unbroken, and interest in the events playing out at the far end of his compound escalating to the point of obsession, he increased his pace until he reached the home.
“Argh! Puh-lease! Mother! Father!” Malaede’s voice carried around Kelio’s house, louder than ever. Though the pleas were much the same as they had been during the past year, it was what lay beneath the pleas, sewn into her vocal patterns, that made them so different tonight. This was not the horrified agony of a rape victim. No, this was the sound of someone very slowly dying.
He moved around the edge of the house, the exterior of which had taken on a graying pallor much different from the others in the compound. It was almost as if the house itself was rotting from the inside like a dead limb slowly contaminating the rest of its body. Perhaps it was the underlying evil that Kelio bred beneath its roof and behind its walls. Though Nage suspected this to be the case, and understood it to be the main deterrent for the drones, he had nothing to fear from his son. The master channeled a harshly repressive fear over all of his subjects.
Though he hardly believed it possible, the screams grew even more powerful as he came around to the tree-strewn backyard and set eyes upon the shed. The dual doors hung open, revealing a darkened interior that seemed to breathe like a light wind escaping the mouth of a cave.
“Kelio!” Nage shouted, once again adjusting his cloak. He raised the tip of his cane toward the shed. “Show yourself!”
No response, though Malaede’s wails ceased immediately. It pleased Nage to know that no amount of pain was too harsh to trump the foundation of terror he had laid with his people. Though she continued to grunt loudly, she remained wordless as he approached, his eyes now gazing about curiously for signs of his demented progeny.
He passed between two pines that stood at the base of the small ramp that ran up to the open shed. As one heavy boot came down upon the well-trodden particleboard, he felt the ramp give slightly beneath his lean body, weighted down by the heavy, black cloak he wore.
He made his way into the shed with the tip of his cane tapping lightly upon the floor, his eyes settling immediately upon her.
Malaede sat with her arms bound behind her against the far right corner of the shed between two adjacent, empty workbenches and their accompanying tool racks. The various instruments that once hung there had been removed long ago and repurposed as torture apparatuses for the various other projects Kelio carried out in his basement. She was completely nude with tears running in a torrent down her face. The filth that covered her body like a second skin fell far beneath even Estafru standards of cleanliness. As the droplets of salty water flowed out of her eyes they caught some of the grime caked upon her cheeks, creating lines down her skin and rendering the droplets themselves a midnight black before they fell off of her face and onto her bare breasts.
Nage’s eyes followed the line of tears down her bruised and bloodied face, past the signs of rope-burn around her neck, and to her pronounced stomach.
She was giving birth to Kelio’s child. One conceived of rape, hatred, and lust.
Malaede’s head snapped back, causing the matted tangle of dark red hair atop her head to shift around a bit. It moved in a clump without a single lock flowing free. Her mouth opened, exposing upper and lower layers of toothless gums. The teeth had almost certainly been removed by Kelio. It took little imagination to determine why.
A low moan was all Malaede would allow herself to emit in the presence of the master. Her eyes stared off at the ceiling with the fires of agony burning behind them. Her body jerked and her head snapped sideways as what Nage assumed to be another contraction hit. It wasn’t until he knelt down for a closer look, devoid of sympathy, that he noticed the very obvious activity occurring beneath the flesh of her stomach. Tiny hands pressed firmly against the inner wall of Malaede’s uterus, causing large bumps that ran fluidly down her stomach in frenetic swipes. Her body jerked more and more violently with every pass. Blood flowed steadily out from between her legs.
It was as if the child was attempting to tear its way out.
“You’re… in m-my w-w-way,” Kelio spoke from behind. He labored to speak as if he was out of breath, and as Nage turned slowly around, unsurprised by his son’s presence there, he discovered exactly why.
Kelio sat in the front left corner of the shed just beside the door. He wore nothing but a white t-shirt, stained yellow with sweat. There was no telling just how long he had been wearing it, but it had obviously not been changed in some time. Kelios legs were crossed so rigidly before him that his toes pointed forward in the direction of his victim. Clutched tightly in his hand was his erect and throbbing penis. He stroked it rhythmically as watched. Not once did Kelio’s eyes lift to meet with those of his father as he stared obsessively at the crimson river that flowed from Malaede’s heavily dilated vagina.
“Stop,” Nage spoke softly.
“Not… yet…,” Kelio responded, each word pushed out in an individual exhale.
Nage’s teeth gritted together. His right hand tightened around his cane just beneath the eight-ball grip, and with a quick rotation of his wrist he unsheathed the blade that it concealed. Without another word or a single warning he brought the blade swiftly down, severing Kelio’s throat in a spray of dark blood that spattered all over his stained shirt and bare legs, immediately throwing off hot steam. Nage watched, amused, as his son’s attention shifted immediately away from Malaede and up to his him as the life disappeared from behind his eyes. Kelio’s hand ceased its furious stroking and the tenseness in his legs diminished.
Without a word, Nage walked slowly over to where Kelio rested lifeless against the wall. “When your master tells you to stop, you had better stop,” Nage growled, tapping the bloody tip of his blade tauntingly against Kelio’s cheek.
Kelio stared up at his father, his eyes dull and lacking any kind of spark.
Turning away from his son with a shake of his head, Nage’s eyes settled once more upon Malaede who remained conscious despite the agony of her labor. As her eyes briefly met with those of her master, a terrified gasp escaped her mouth, and her eyelids closed so tightly that every muscle in her face seemed allocated to the task. Her body continued to writhe, smearing her blood across the splintery floor of the shed. As the flow coming out of her escalated from a trickle to a pour, her knees began to arch back and forth and her breathing became more exaggerated. It was in this moment that a foot kicked its way out of her vagina. The toes wriggled independently in an abnormal showing of strength, even for an Estafru.
This wasn’t right. None of it was. The birthing process for Estafru women was no different than that of mortal women, and their babies were typically just as weak as their human counterparts immediately after emerging into the world. The orientation of its arrival was also abnormal; he should have been seeing the head.
Nage crouched slowly down onto the balls of his feet for a closer look just as the second foot kicked its way out of the birth canal. His eyebrows raised in astonishment as the infant planted its feet upon the floor. The muscles in its thighs and calves tensed up as it seemed to use the floor for leverage as it exited. Its body wriggling like that of a serpent, the infant came out of its mother far enough for Nage to determine that it was a boy, then stopped as if caught upon something internally.
Nage focused obsessively upon the emerging child, completely lost in the spectacle of it all as the woman before him kicked and writhed violently, further smearing her own blood across the splintery floorboards of her prison.
The baby’s body began to twist back and forth, releasing pockets of blood that seemed to have built up behind it, a choked gargle slowly choked out the screams of its mother. Nage’s eyes followed the trail of filth up her stomach, over her navel and past her breasts to where her mouth at first widened, then tensed up in terror and agony. From the corners of her lips, black, syrupy blood began to ooze out and down her cheeks, steaming in the cold air. It ran in a slow moving river down her neck to where it pooled in the dip just above her collarbone. Her eyes were wide, and they glowed with a fire that slowly began to dim as her life force escaped.
Nage’s eyes returned to the infant, now exposed to the point where its dark red umbilical cord could be seen, steam coiling up from it. The baby continued to squirm as it came slowly farther and farther out of its dead mother. Then, with unnatural ease, the rest of its body emerged from the birth canal followed by the shredded guts and entrails of Malaede. Her guts hung out of her for a moment, then gushed out in a slop at the child’s head.
Nage slowly set his cane down upon the floor, his eyes leaving his grandson only long enough to make sure that the cane was placed in a dry spot. He inched his way slowly toward the infant, more curious than frightened. Though the meaning of the birth had been vaguely laid out for him in fragments of The Estafru Codex that the clan held, it wasn’t until this very moment that he truly grasped the importance of the infant that lay before him with its mothers blood still steaming upon its body. Blood that had been spilled by its own hands.
“The son of Plect’Aratha,” he whispered in the stillness and silence of the shed. Moving onto all fours, he placed his hands on either side of the baby and slowly moved himself into a position where he might gaze into its eyes. He needed to be certain.
The baby remained where it was, unmoving and quiet as if it were playing dead. Though Nage was certain that it was incapable of overpowering him, he still approached with a guarded reluctance, just as one might when dealing with a feral animal.
“Plect’Aratha,” Nage whispered once again, this time watching the infant more closely to see if it reacted to the name. He observed only a slight shiver of its body, but it was the first sign of life he had witnessed since its delivery. His eyes moving once more up and down its ashy gray skin and the clots of blood that still clung to it, he very hesitantly lifted the baby’s face off of its side.
The baby’s body shook very briefly in a minor spasm at the contact. It cooed lightly in a dark and foreboding voice that seemed immensely out of place coming from something so small. It didn’t stop until Nage lifted its head all the way and their eyes were finally able to lock together.
Dark pupils sat like black islands in a turbulent red sea as the infant processed what it was seeing. In an instant the red corneas swirled with what looked like black smoke. It flowed out of nowhere like liquid dye, filling the coronas around the baby’s eyes until all that remained was empty blackness.
“The son of Plect’Aratha,” Nage repeated. Once again the infant trembled at the sound of his true mother’s name.
Without hesitation, Nage wrapped his grandson in his cloak, picked up his cane and tucked it beneath his arm, and turned to exit the shed. His eyes settled upon Kelio as he prepared to make his way back out. How such a vaccuous creature could have brought about such events were beyond his comprehension. Perhaps it was meant to humble him now that he found himself directly in the shadow of his god and Her son. Perhaps it was some kind of divine irony.
In any event, the corpses of Kelio and Malaede would burn in the light of the sun that next day. Nage couldn’t have them hindering the development of his grandson.
He walked down the ramp and back onto the grass where the smell of guts and feces was immediately replaced with the more sweetly scented reek of decay from Kelio’s mass grave. The light breeze that carried through the forest no longer brought with it the odors of spring, but rather seemed to have been tainted into to delivering only death and rot to the nose of the Rollinsford master. More signs from Plect’Aratha.
More gifts from their god.
Nage picked up his pace as he stepped off of Kelio’s property and onto the old carriage road. His eyes remained largely fixed upon the child in his arms, mesmerized by all that it symbolized, but as he neared the center of the compound, where the drones had already begun to drop back to the ground in their various stances of worship, he stopped before his people.
“Estafru of Rollinsford!” Nage yelled, his voice lifting above the trees and booming across the compound from border to border. He glanced expectantly around at the various dwellings as shutters were pushed open and doors thrown wide, filled by the attentive faces of his people. Both drone and noble alike devoted their complete, undistracted attention to him. “The birth foretold to us in the fragments of The Estafru Codex has come to pass! Behold!” He lifted the unclothed infant out of his cloak and held him up in the moonlight for all to see.
Not a single sound came from the infant as it looked over its people.
“My grandson, the son of Plect’Aratha and Messiah of the Estafru race! Succumb completely to your terror and resign yourselves to suffer in the presence of Lord Ezeth!”