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Prosperity and Fear [Training]

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Prosperity and Fear [Training] Empty on Wed Mar 25, 2020 7:00 pm


Every child in Asmodeus' village had laughed at the forest-lore passed down by the woodcutters all those years ago. Now the villagers themselves were gone, swept away as if by some invisible hand, and he knew the saying to be true. Looking at the godless scene unfolding in front of him, the Daemon believed he would die here today. He was duty-bound to help, but there were too many of the heathens to fight. Their spice-blue eyes and waxy skin pallor marked them out as flesh-eaters. He watched, spellbound and revolted in equal measure, as they danced a ghastly ritual around a huge fire, ululating to the beat of a rumbling drum. Their limbs were akimbo and their expressions frenzied as they dragged the first victim towards the pig-spit. Mounds of old, gnawed bone, a midden heap of gleaming ribs and grinning skulls, caught the fires blaze but weirdly, did not disgust him. That did not include fear, however. His flesh crept and the hair on his neck rose like the hackles of a dog. Fear, a feeling the Valenti was unused to, felt like melting tallow under the surface of his skin, feverish and hot. The sanguine-red moon flooded the holt, giving off an unearthly glow of flame and fire.

The vast, contorted tree he leaned against leaked its sticky sap like the poisoned back of a toad, burning his hand. He snatched it away. He was at the outermost edge of the fires glow, concealed in the murky shadow of the tree’s massive vines. They twisted up insanely, like the despairing limbs of the damned begging for forgiveness. Above him, ghostly horsetails of moss were hanging from barrel-thick boughs like a poltergeist’s entrails. A large pearl of rain gathered at the bottom of one of these spectre-strings. It alone had made its way through the labyrinthine canopy of hoary limbs and leafy bowers. It teetered there for an age. Then with a slimy pop it released itself. A solitary moonbeam speared through the trees at that moment. The globule glowed red, like the vile drop of a blood oath, before splashing onto the rotten humus. The wraithy horsetails shivered once with a swished whisper of hatred and settled back into their silent spite. The hoary tree knots glared at him like baleful eyes. He felt like the forest was infecting him with its alien pox.

Never had he encountered these emotions on his many hunts. He had quarried after dread vampires in the fathomless bowels and dripping basins of the deepest caves. He had ascended sky-kissing mountains to seek out blood-besmeared werewolves. He had even crossed a tyranny of distance to bring to bay the demon who changed him himself, within his lair. But this dark forest was different to anywhere he had been before. Hunting after base beasts into dens and burrows, down begrimed pits and through gloomy hollows, could not begin to compare to this gullet of madness. Just being here felt like partaking in an unholy parody of life. He tried to think of a word for the renders of human flesh he was gazing upon, but it eluded him. They had maggoted their way to this glade, burrowing like wood-weevils into the corrupted heart of the forest. He noted with contempt their filed-down fangs and brutish weapons; clunky clubs, brutal bull-axes and wicked sickles. It seemed fitting to him that they would inhabit this sacrilegious wood.

Two weeks of plunging through stunted coppices and hacking at misshapen thickets had gotten him here. It was a grotesque haunt, offensive to eye, ear and nostril. The air was hot and stale, burning his lungs like the fumes from brimstone. The floor of the forest belched up constant waves of foul and rancid odours that smelt like sickly excrement. All the freewheeling flotsam of the trees gathered there in blasted mounds of steaming mulch. The scorch of the sun didn’t cause this. Only an occasional, listless ligament of light would pin-prick through the dense foliage. It was like a constipated beam of hopelessness, limply flickering. It had all the cheerless comfort of a dying candle flame. Heat was provided by the thickness of the forests canopy. It compressed down upon the lucifugous heads of those below, creating a sunless curtain of chaos-black. Toxic-yellow fungi tossed their pestilent spores into this goulash of decay. Deformed trees pressed in from the sides, adding to the mood of stuffy claustrophobia.
Only one trickling streamlet gasped its way through the stomach-souring compost. Like the river of hell, it was Acheron-black and gleamed with a deadly lustre. At its swirling edges, bladder-brown leaves got sucked into the inky morass and added to the treacly pollution. On the trees, wet clumps of glistening hinged themselves slickly to the bark like clotted pus. Their glossy texture resembled the skin of slugs. Over the bitter water, great screens of milky mist were heaving with their own steaming malice. Stealthy scarves of the mist detached themselves, slowly glided in silence and coiled serpent-like around helpless limbs. Between the trees, wispy cobwebs threaded out like fibrous star-streak. They would be the sinewy tentacles of destruction for all those who would dare their tensile strength. Exhaling miasmas of rotting vapour rose up to meet the webs, while above, fevered eyes, glazed with hunger, waited among the endless damp. Cruel as those eyes were, they lacked the ferocity of the hunter’s eyes.

Those eyes were scanning the shroud of shadow at the other side of the fire. There appeared to be a crude, stone building made of poorly built, bulging, well, stone. It was lichen-encrusted and a rotting roof lay upon it. From its interior came the most piteous moans and stomach-souring thumps. A caterwauling sound, somewhere between a tortured whine and a despairing screech, echoed in the night air. The tormented screams of the victims seared his soul. He was kinless and kith-less, with neither family nor friend, yet he had been smelted in the fiery forge of violence since he was a child. He was no longer afraid. The blood-lust was upon him, a familiar feeling. He kissed his crucifix and left it to hang in the tree. Wrapped around each forearm were cords of thin rope, edged with serrated, razor-steel. He unfolded these, letting them hang from each hand. He had his two daggers by his side, but he left them in their sheaths. The moves were then made and his daggers decided to show their true colours. It would be gory work tonight, silent and bloody. He eased away from the tree, a foe far more deadly than the hemlock and wolfs bane his moccasins stepped over.

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