(The handwriting for this entry is somewhat shaky, with more blots and smudges than normal. There are also rather a lot of stains that could be blood…)
The awakening has begun, but there is a long way to go yet. There is a lot of healing yet to be achieved, and not just for Lord Maric. It took the combined efforts of myself and the brothers Lazarević to get things started, and we did not escape unscathed. I suspect we were lucky to escape with our lives.
I had prepared as best I could. I consulted with Kustav, who reluctantly admitted to having been present at a previous occasion when Maric had been in torpor. That time, they had waited for him to stir on his own, which had taken a year or more. He admitted that we did not have the luxury to wait that long, and could only advise extreme caution. His thinking accorded well with mine, including the suggestion that he and his brothers he present.
I had raided Maric’s laboratory for flasks and retorts, tubes and valves and assembled an apparatus for feeding blood and healing potions down a tube, and for keeping the contents fresh. It looked like something a mad scientist would put together and I wondered what Dai Jones, my old science teacher at school would have made of it. I prepared myself as best I could as well, donning a mail shirt with long sleeves, a gorget, vambraces etc. I was not entirely sure that it would withstand Maric’s strength, but it had to be better than nothing.
Thus prepared, I headed down to the vaults, gathering the brothers as I went. Other guards, I positioned at the various exits from the vaults, from the cellar, from the castle. The rest, I sent with the castle staff out of the castle, and had them prepared to evacuate the villagers and others into the tavern cellars for safety if necessary. Gwyn was waiting for me in the main hall as I came down. I explained what I was planning and asked her to assist with evacuations if necessary. We kissed, after I had wrapped my cloak around the mail shirt, and then I went on my way.
The coffin room behind Maric’s bedchamber was spotless. Aoibheann had been true to her word, and cleaned it meticulously. I could only hope it would remain so, but somehow I doubted that. I set up my feeding apparatus as close as I could to the sarcophagus, needing only the tubes to be routed to the best position. Vuk and Davor stood by with the nets and chains ready, just in case Maric tried to make a run for it, and Kustav stood by ready to open the lid. One last thing remained, and that was the brothers shifting into their were forms – half man, half wolf – which they presumably felt was the most suitable. Certainly it was the most fearsome. I should have thought of that myself, but I was awfully glad they did. I nodded to Kustav and he began to haul at the lid. It resisted far more than I would have expected from the sheer weight of the stone lid against Kustav’s werewolf strength, but then, suddenly, some mechanism reacted and the lid flew open, knocking Kustav flying.
I was very, very glad that I had forbidden Aoibheann from this part. What was inside the coffin would have turned the stomach of the strongest of constitutions. In among the charred remains of what might have been a luxurious silk lining lay the remains of Maric. Not quite skeletal remains, but not much more than that. Little remained of his clothes or skin, and such flesh as there was, charred to ash and cinders, gaunt and shrunken against the bones. His eye sockets gazed lifelessly at the ceiling, and his fangs were a shocking white against the blackness. Even though I had not eaten, I almost heaved at the sight, and once again, I was glad that Aoibheann was not here to see this. The brothers were equally aghast, once they had recovered their feet. I gestured to them to stand by as I positioned the tube, fastening it in position and placing a few small slivers of stone to protect the tube once the lid was replaced. Now all that remained was to check that it all worked.
I turned the tap, and allowed just a few drops of the blood to drip gently into what remained of Maric’s mouth. The droplets fell into the ruins of his mouth, kicking up little clouds of ash and dust, until enough had fallen to wet the surface, soaking into the charred remains, beading up like mud, but the colour of tar. It was most disquieting as the drops of blood seemed to flow, almost as though they were themselves alive, soaking into the cinders, filling them out, reshaping them. As they started to flow, I could feel the stirrings of Maric’s mind, base and animalistic, naked, uncontrolled hunger, reaching out to consume us all. I urged the brothers to stop staring at their master and to get the lid down, all the while, projecting calm back at Maric.
The power of his mind was a dizzying vortex, sucking us all in, pure instinct, pure mindless hunger, caring not that we were friend or foe, only that we were food. The brothers howled as they fought their own battles against that pull, as they too were drawn in, towards the coffin. It took every iota of my will to resist, to maintain my own control, so much so, that I was totally unprepared for the attack. His body looked like a tar figure now, and without warning, he struck, faster than a snake, faster than even I could see, grabbing me by the neck and dragging me back into the coffin. My mental commands, my presence were powerless against the rising tide of Maric’s will, and it was all I could do to brace my feet against the side of the coffin and try to force myself away. All that saved me was the sudden intervention of a powerful, hairy arm, as Kustav thrust himself between us, getting his forearm between Maric’s mouth and my neck. I had barely time to register this before I managed to get enough purchase to rip myself from his grip, leaving behind bits of my skin and clothes. I heard a sickening snap as Maric bit hard into Kustav’s arm, breaking the bone. The brothers were all howling in pain and I didn’t dare think what else was happening around the castle. The servants were safely away, but who knew how far Maric’s influence could be felt? So far, there seemed to be no sign of the other guards coming, but I had no idea how long that will last.
Vuk and Davor were clawing at their own flesh, spilling their own blood, reacting to their lord’s hunger, torn between that and their brother’s pain. They barely had enough will to reach out to try to rescue their brother before he was drained, but between them, they managed to pull him away, losing a good chunk of his flesh in the process as they landed in a painful and bloody heap on the floor. Unfortunately, in dragging their brother away, they had dragged Maric’s body partly out of the coffin. There was blood everywhere, and I could see his body rebuilding itself, flesh and sinew, skin. He was clawing blindly at the coffin, around him, unseeing, but sensing food, screaming silently into the night.
I fought against the flood of his mindless hunger, and struggled to my feet, hoping I could pull the lid down, but with Maric’s body in the way, I did not have that option. I grabbed one of the flasks of blood and approached. This time I had the foresight to harden my skin as he had taught me before I attempted to pour the blood into him, hoping that I could get him to move, so I could get the lid down again. His face turned towards the offered vitae, allowing me to pour it into him. His flesh was reforming around the bones as he grabbed for me, but this time I was able to evade him, giving me a chance to grab a second flask. I called for help from the brothers and it was Vuk this time, who left Kustav in his brother’s care. I do not know if it was my call he heeded or the power that Maric was broadcasting. I suspect the latter as he approached on all fours, as submissive as any non-alpha could be. He offered his neck and Maric struck, again with lightning speed, sucking greedily on that powerful vitae. This seemed to pull his mental focus away from me and I was able to step back. I could see that Kustav was out of action, but I called to Davor to get the chains, to try to restrain his lord while he was distracted. Perhaps my blood would help, I thought, so I grabbed one of the empty flasks and bit into my own arm, letting my own vitae flow into the flask.
Davor reached the coffin, but then dropped the chains, seeing the state of Vuk, helpless in Maric’s arms, and possibly being drained dry. I could feel nothing through the link of Maric’s rational mind, only the hunger. Davor reached for his brother, trying to pull him away, but then he too fell victim to his lord’s will, falling to his knees and offering his own throat. I took the flask of my own blood and held it ready, reaching into my own will, calling up the power of my own presence, feeding it with the blood magic and the power of the Wyld in me, projecting calm, projecting sanity as best I could.
This time, I succeeded. Maric turned towards me and there was a flicker of awareness on the ravaged remains of his face, the eyes that were slowly reforming seemed to register some recognition. I could feel his suffering, his confusion and over it all, the hunger and thirst, but for the first time, I got a sense of the rational, his soundless voice asking what he had done, and insisting he must feed.
I concentrated on my own sense of calm, however little of it I felt on the surface. I concentrated on everything that made me what I am, my rock-solid centre, my own sanity, my sense of duty, forcing this to the surface. “You have survived, you live, and that is all. We will recover,” I told him. I could feel him focussing on me, on our bond, grasping towards sanity. “Now feed, and be well again,” I told him, offering the flask of my own blood.
This was a mistake. I had forgotten his thirst for fae blood, and more so, I had forgotten that my most recent experiences with Faermorn had likely left me with the power of the Wyld in my own blood. The sense of sanity vanished into a greater and more insatiable hunger, a wild, exhilarated hunger that I recognised; the same hunger I had felt in him when he was near Isabella or Gwyn, only this time unfettered by his iron will. He lunged once again for my throat, to drink from that source he craved so much. The air turned blue with my cursing as I realised what I had done, and I barely had enough time to strengthen the blood magic to harden my skin further as I once again tried to command him to sanity. His fangs skittered across my neck, sliding harmlessly across the stone-like skin, and he fell, gasping with pain at my side, and once again, I felt the rational in him take control, barely.
“Forgive me, Nathaniel,” he said, clearly struggling with the need for control and the fear of what he might have done in his madness. Other memories came through the link, of other awakenings, that had perhaps not gone very well. He asked if he had killed anybody before telling me to chain him, because he was not yet in full control. He was slipping in and out of rationality, the hunger overwhelming him time and again as he fought for that control.
I gritted my teeth, calling on every reserve I had, the resolute and solid nature of my family and my friends, dragging myself slowly back to my feet, doggedly winding the chains around Maric’s arms and torso. I called out through the link to the rational part of him, assuring that he had not killed anybody. The sardonic part of me could not help but add a silent “so far” to that assurance. I told him there was nothing to forgive; all we had done was our duty. Rest, I told him as I wrapped the last of the chains around him and started to lift him back into the coffin. He looked at me as I laid him back into the coffin, speaking aloud for the first time, as sufficient of his body had reformed for this.
“Good,” he said as he lay back, telling me I had his eternal gratitude. He tested himself against the chains and seemed satisfied. He told me that I should not release him, whatever else he might say, until his eyes were no longer red. He would need lots of blood, he said, to recover, before slipping away into the darkness that consumed him. Davor had recovered himself, and leaving his unconscious brothers on the floor for now, came to me and helped me with getting Maric comfortable. I told Maric, whether or not he could hear me now, that gratitude was not necessary, we were just doing what needed to be done. Rest now, I told him, before finally getting the feeding tube in place and the lid back down again. Davor and I were wearied and bloodied and not without our own injuries, yet we persevered, getting a few heavy crates onto the coffin lid to weigh it down. With my last reserves of strength, I reset the feeding apparatus with such full flasks of blood were left, and left it providing a steady trickle.
Davor and I managed, between us, to get Kustav and Vuk back to their own quarters, where I left them in his care. They were werewolves, and I knew they would heal quickly. The castle was in some disarray, as some of the other guards had also succumbed to Maric’s call and injured themselves trying to get to him. Fortunately, enough retained their sanity that too much damage was avoided. Once I deemed it safe, I sent one of them to retrieve the staff from the tavern to clear up. What passed after that, I do not know, as I barely made it to my own bed before collapsing. With my duty done, I too was dead to the world.
(Take My Hunger lyrics belong to Inkubus Sukkubus – go check them out)