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. They were such 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, voices low so the master couldn’t hear them.
There was no denying that Kelio was taking a different approach with Malaede’s torment. The sun had barely vanished beneath the horizon when her painful wailing was first heard from the house at the edge of the woods. 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 was a prisoner in a saltbox style shed behind the accursed dwelling; a place where Kelio enacted the sadistic and depraved rituals that were too extreme for his basement and bedchamber.
“Gah! Aaaaaaaaaah! Mother! F-Father!” Malaede’s voice pierced the stillness of the night and carried across the compound on the cool, early summer 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 senses of the Rollinsford estafru easily picked up and processed them, they were unmoved by the perfume on the air. To some, mostly the vapid drones who made up the clan majority, the scents were repulsing.
Much of the chatter ceased as those gathered at the convergence of colonial carriage roads at the center of the compound lifted their heads. Malaede's pleading for her mother and father directed the gazes of the clustered drones to the dwelling of the nobles, Evada and her husband Elas.
Typically the noble class was safe from the impulsive and often violent urges that Kelio was incapable of restraining in himself, but there had obviously been something about Malaede that he found impossible to resist. She was only seventeen when he snatched her up nearly 11 months prior. Her 18th birthday was celebrated rather unceremoniously in Kelio’s shed with a noose wound tightly around her neck, drawing her head back so he could look her in the eyes while he ravaged her from behind.
All eyes moved back to the home of Kelio as another series of screams, punctuated by barely inaudible words, blasted through the forest. Though the curiosity of the assembled drones was borderline manic, not one of them dared to move closer. Their chatter resumed, nestled quietly beneath Malaede’s screams. Above, the full moon lit the collection of a dozen colonial homes through the various breaks in the trees, each in its own unique state of disrepair. Not that the estafru needed such illumination; their eyes saw perfectly fine in the darkness. Better, in fact, than most nocturnal animals.
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 calculated through three practices: eating, sleeping, and conforming. They were little more than animals, most of them devoid of inner monologue, all of them 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 unprecedented that it plagued the minds of drone and noble alike. Such acts fell far outside typical clan life. Over time the nightly cries that came from Malaede became like the wind rustling the leaves or the shriek of a fox in the woods. Just background noise. The clan adapted to this change within their borders (Evada and Elas excluded), but after nearly a year of growing familiarity with Malaede’s tolerance for pain, on this night something was, as the clan master himself now noted, different.
Fearful gasps rose within the gathering of drones as Nage, master of the Rollinsford estafru clan, stepped out his door and stole across the compound, walking with unambiguous purpose toward the dwelling of his son. Eyes were averted in fear. The ground trembled lightly as the drones dropped hastily to their knees. Those who knelt in their master’s pathway scrambled blindly aside, not daring to take their attention off of the forest floor for a second. They pushed against and through one another in their hurry, barely acknowledging the contact with their peers.
Nage moved swiftly through the parting group like Moses leading the Hebrews across the bed of the Red Sea, his eyes never once leaving the home of his son in the distance. He shifted his cane into his left hand and reached up with his right, adjusting the heavy black cloak that shrouded 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 if on nothing more than a casual evening stroll.
The breeze that blew through the forest seemed to intensify as he drew closer to his target. His nose curled at the repugnant odors of spring, but as he came within a hundred feet of his son’s home the stench of carrion from the mass grave just off the grounds rose above the perfume of flowers withering with the season. This aroma was not simply more bearable, it was intoxicating. It conjured ancient impulses and emotions that slept at his very core until the moments when he partook of the estafru’s most distinguishing ritual: feeding on human blood.
Pushing his impulses aside, Nage stifled the Feral dragging its knuckles across the borders of his mind and ran a hand through his close-cropped black hair. The hand ran down his stubbly neck to where he thoughtfully stroked his pointed chin until he reached the edge of Kelio’s territory.
“Argh! Please! Mother! Father!” Malaede’s voice carried over Kelio’s house, louder than ever. Though the pleas were much the same as they’d been the past year, it was what lay beneath them, sewn into her voice, that made them so different tonight. This was not the agony of violation, of a rape victim forced to endure her captor. This was the sound of someone very slowly dying.
He moved around the edge of the house. Its exterior had taken on a graying pallor that no other dwelling in the compound shared. It was as if the house 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. The depths of such power for their kind had no limit. Nage understood this to be the main deterrent for the drones during the odd intervals when they strayed obliviously close the dwelling only to beat a hasty retreat once they realized where they’d wandered.
Though he hardly believed it possible, the screams grew even more intense as he rounded the house and stepped into to the tree-peppered backyard. His gaze fell upon the shed. The dual doors hung open, revealing a darkened interior that seemed to breathe like the exhale from a cave mouth. From where he stood he saw no movement, but the incessant screams confirmed that they were inside.
“Kelio!” Nage shouted, tugging at his cloak. “Show yourself!”
No response, though Malaede’s wails ceased immediately at the sound of her master’s voice. No degree of pain was unbearable enough to erode the foundation of terror Nage had built beneath his people. Though she continued to grunt loudly between labored breaths, she remained mostly silent as he approached, his eyes searching for signs of his demented and habitually reclusive progeny.
He passed between a pair of sister pines that stood at the base of the ramp running up to the open shed. As one heavy boot came down upon the well-trodden particleboard, he felt the ramp buckle under the weight of the cloak over his lean body. Nage entered the shed with the tip of his cane tapping lightly upon the floor.
His gaze fell immediately upon her.
Malaede leaned against the far right corner of the shed between an empty pair of workbenches. Her arms were bound behind her. The various instruments that once occupied the benches had been removed long ago and repurposed for the myriad other flesh projects Kelio carried out in his basement. She was completely nude, tears spilling down her cheeks. Filth clung to her body like a second skin, far beneath even estafru standards of cleanliness. As the droplets were blinked from her eyes they caught some of the grime, inking lines down her skin. Her tears were a midnight black by the time they dribbled onto her bare breasts.
Nage’s gaze followed the line of tears down her bruised and bloodied face, past the signs of rope burn around her neck, and to her swollen breasts, which rested atop a bulging stomach.
It was as he had suspected. She was giving birth to Kelio’s spawn.
Malaede’s head snapped back, causing her matted tangle of dark red hair to thump against the flanking workbenches. Her mouth opened, exposing ashen ridges where teeth had once sprouted, almost certainly removed by Kelio. It took little imagination to determine why. A low moan was all that she would allow herself to emit in the presence of the master. She affixed her gaze on the ceiling as 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, his interest purely clinical and devoid of sympathy, that he noticed the activity behind the ashen flesh of her stomach. Tiny hands pressed firmly against the inner wall of Malaede’s uterus and ran erratically across her belly in frenetic swipes. Her body jerked more and more violently with every pass. Blood trickled from the swollen cut between her legs, gathering on the floor.
It was as if the child was attempting to tear its way out.
“You’re… in m-my w-w-way,” Kelio’s voice rose behind him. He labored to speak as if out of breath, and as Nage turned slowly around to face his son he discovered exactly why.
Kelio occupied the shadows at front left corner of the shed just beside the door. He sat wearing a white undershirt, stained yellow with sweat. He was nude from the waist down with his legs crossed so rigidly that his toes pointed toward his victim. In his grip was a reliably erect penis. He stroked it frantically, as if trying to tear it from his body. His gaze seemed to pass through his father as he watched Malaede writhe on the floor.
“Stop,” Nage spoke softly.
“Hold on,” Kelio said, each word pushed out to the rhythm of his stroking.
Nage’s teeth gritted and his hand tightened around his cane above its eight-ball embellishment. With a quick snap of his wrist he unsheathed the blade that it concealed. Kelio couldn’t be bothered to glance away from Malaede as his father brought the blade whistling down, severing his throat in a spray of boiling hot blood that spattered all over his stained shirt and thighs. Nage watched, grinning as his son’s attention lifted away from Malaede and up to his father as the life was sapped from his eyes. Kelio’s hand ceased its furious stroking and the muscles in his legs went slack.
“When you wake I hope you remember this moment,” Nage hissed, stepping closer. Squatting down as steaming blood, black as the night sky continued to spill down Kelio’s chest, Nage continued. “When your master tells you to stop, you had better stop.” He tapped the blood-kissed tip of his blade tauntingly against Kelio’s cheek. “Your leash is generously long… perhaps too long. Don’t you ever forget that you will always answer to me.”
Kelio stopped breathing and went still, his face frozen with an expression of euphoric pleasure. He would awaken the next evening without so much as a scratch, renewed by the lasting effects of Plect’Aratha’s Kiss, which granted the estafru everlasting life. This rendered the murder no less enjoyable for Nage.
Turning away from his son with a dismissive shake of his head, Nage’s gaze returned to Malaede, still conscious despite the abnormal activity from her fetus. As her gaze met briefly with that of her master, a terrified gasp escaped her, and her eyes closed so tightly that every muscle in her face seemed allocated to the task. She continued to writhe, smearing her blood across the splintery floor. As the blood trickling out of her birth canal grew to a steady flow, her entire body seemed to flex defensively against the creature inside. It was in this moment that a blood-slimed foot slipped out of her vagina. The toes wriggled in a showing of strength abnormal even for an estafru.
This wasn’t right. None of it was. Nage had witnessed the birthing process for estafru females dozens of times over the centuries. It was no different than that of mortal women, and their babies were typically just as helpless as their human counterparts. The orientation of this arrival was also abnormal. The baby was in breech presentation.
Nage descended to the balls of his feet, sharpening his view as a second foot slopped out. His eyebrows lifted in astonishment as the infant planted its feet on the floor, toes still wriggling excitedly. Ropes of developed muscle in its thighs tensed as it leveraged its feet against the floor. Its body wriggling like a pinned serpent, the babe slid far enough out of its mother for Nage to determine that it was a boy. Then the baby’s emergence stalled as if snagged on something internally.
All at once the world dulled out around him. Even the wailing Malaede could no longer repress was muted in the void that settled. Nage focused obsessively upon the emerging child, lost in the spectacle of it as the woman kicked and writhed, further smearing her blood across the splintery floorboards as if making a blood angel.
The baby’s body twisted back and forth, releasing pockets of blood that burst like popped zits around it. A choked gargle replaced the screams of its mother. Nage traced the trail of filth up her stomach, over her navel and past her breasts to where her mouth first widened, then froze in agonized anticipation of the end. From the corners of her lips black, syrupy blood oozed down her neck and pooled in the hollows around her collar bone. The fire behind her eyes dimmed rapidly as her life force fled. The spectrum of horror represented on her face warmed to relief, then swelled with elation as she seemed to sense an end to it all.
Nage’s gaze returned to the infant, now exposed enough to show its throbbing umbilical cord. The babe continued to squirm as it slid farther out of its dying mother. Malaede’s writhing ceased as her eyes fogged with death. With a final sigh that popped bubbles of blood on her lips, her extremities calmed and she was gone.
The infant went still, leaving Nage crouched there, enamored as he realized the babe understood that it had killed its mother. It’s muscles slackened and the rest of its body was burped from the birth canal. Behind it came a stew of shredded guts and entrails which slopped around its head.
Nage slowly lowered his cane to the floor. He inched his way toward the infant, awestruck and curiously reluctant to pick it up. Though the meaning of the birth was obvious given his years studying the recovered fragments of The Estafru Codex, the word of their god, Plect’Aratha, it wasn’t until this moment that he acknowledged the prophecy playing out before him.
“The son of Plect’Aratha,” he whispered in the sudden stillness. Moving onto all fours, he placed his hands on either side of the baby and slowly moved into a position where he might gaze into its eyes. He needed to be certain.
The baby remained motionless and silent as if playing dead.
“Plect’Aratha,” Nage whispered 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 enough to convince him it wasn’t random. His gaze moving once more up and down its ashen skin, dotted with clots of blood, he hesitantly reached down and lifted its head.
The baby’s body spasmed at the contact, though it didn’t feel like a violent reaction. It cooed lightly in a dark and foreboding voice that seemed immensely out of place from something so small. Nearly drawing a gasp from the clan master, who’d seen unfathomable things in the centuries he’d walked the earth, the babe met his gaze.
Its pupils sat like black islands in a fuming red sea as the infant processed what it was seeing with palpable cognition. Though Nage felt certain it wasn’t sure precisely who he was, there was a cold and cunning comprehension behind those eyes. In an instant its red irises swelled black as if liquid dye had been poured around its pupils.
“The son of Plect’Aratha,” Nage said. The infant trembled in his arms. Nage’s excitement shot like a drug racing through his veins. He scooped his grandson into his arms, brimming with delight as the babe’s irises once again teemed with color, this time flushing dark yellow.
Tucking his grandson in his cloak, Nage snatched up his cane and clutched it beneath his arm. He turned to exit the shed, gaze falling immediately upon Kelio. How such a wretched stain on his bloodline could have played such an active role in prophecy was beyond him. Perhaps it was meant to humble him in the shadow of his god and Her son. Perhaps it was 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 babe’s development.
He walked down the ramp and onto the grass where the smell of guts and feces was chased away by the more sweetly scented aroma of decay from the mass grave where Kelio disposed of his mortal and drone victims.
Nage quickened his pace as he rounded Kelio’s dwelling and stepped onto the carriage road. His gaze remained on the babe, tucked into the thick folds of his cloak. He hurried toward the center of the compound. There the drones had already begun to drop back to the ground in their various stances of worship.
“Estafru of Rollinsford!” Nage yelled, his voice lifting above the trees and booming across the compound from border to border. He glanced around expectantly at the surrounding dwellings as shutters were thrown open and doors heaved wide, filled by the always curious and rigidly obedient faces of his people. “The birth foretold in the fragments of The Estafru Codex has come to pass! Behold!” He removed the unclothed infant from his cloak and held it up against the pale, watchful face of the moon.
“My grandson, the son of Plect’Aratha and Messiah of the Estafru race! Wither in the presence of Lord Ezeth!”