This is a piece I wrote to introduce a villain for my Worldmender project. I aimed for a present tense “in the bad guy’s head” style that is different from my usual efforts, and of course this is about a villain so it’s a bit dark. I’d love to know what you think!
“Don’t care ’bout the letter from Hagron,” Dagger Bandit mutters and draws twin blades.
He probably thinks I can’t hear him. He turns toward me, all thin and hunched over, ready to pounce on smaller prey. He’s breathing hard. I see it in the chill air. I hear his heart pounding.
“Letter from a noble or not,” Dagger Bandit continues, “Shuuka’s getting on my nerves.”
That’s what these robbers call me. They don’t know my name. They only know their boss sent me. I don’t know their names either. I don’t need to. Tools should be called by their function.
Maybe they think I’m not listening. Maybe they know I am. I keep playing my bonerattle to the Rhythm as I watch the firelight dance across the sands and the boulders.
shhuuu-Ka shhuuu-Ka shhuu-Ka shh…
It’s cold tonight. I see wisps in the wind when the bandits breathe. I can’t feel the cold, and the fire doesn’t warm me. I can’t feel anything.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
I feel the Hunger. My body needs fuel, so I take a bite of dried meat. It tastes like sand in my mouth. I can see the spices, but I can’t taste them. I can’t taste anything anymore.
The Rhythm is the only thing that keeps me calm until I can satisfy the Hunger.
Dagger Bandit hesitates in his approach and glares at me. The stocky bearded man next to him speaks up. “You saw what he did to Namir yesterday. Fought him one-handed, one blade against Namir’s two.”
I call this big one Meat-shield. He seems to be the smartest of the bunch.
He looks up at Dagger Bandit now. “You think you can take him, have a go. I won’t miss the noise.”
“Never seen Namir lose a duel,” Dagger Bandit admits and sits down.
“Lost his bleedin’ hand is what he lost.”
Meat-shield has a point. Plus he’s in charge.
I would have liked very much to take more from Sword-dancer, the one they call Namir. He sits in the shadows, nursing his bandaged stump. The Hunger clamors within me always, and Namir might have satisfied it. For a time. But I don’t want them to know about me yet. I kept my glove on during the fight, kept the Darkness hidden.
I chose to be patient then. To listen to the Rhythm a while longer. But I think today’s the day.
shhuu-Ka shhuu-Ka shh…
Footsteps rush toward us. My fingers rest on the pommel of my blade. Our scout bursts into the hidden campsite. “They’re coming,” he pants. His chest thuds in my ears like a horserace. My right hand twitches. I want to consume him. The Hunger roils within, and I suppress it with a shudder.
I focus on the rattle again.
“His letter,” Farsight blurts between gasps, pointing at me. “It’s true. The caravan, nearby, three guards, four others.”
Meat-shield hands Farsight a waterskin. Only a few drops in it. Enough for another day here in the Waste. Then Meat-shield hisses “Get ready,” as he kicks out the fire.
I stop the rattle and head for the dunes around the camp. It’s time. Away from the firelight, I remove my right glove. Shadows swirl and flow like oil in the shape of a hand. I’m not sure I really have an arm under there anymore. Only the Darkness remains.
I don’t mind the loss. The power is worth it.
Meat-shield is smart. Good position. The rocks and dunes hide the camp in darkness. Anyone would have to be on top of the nearest hill to see the firelight. But the robbers take no chances. Prey in the Waste is skittish and dangerous. Predators must be crafty.
Meat-shield sends archers to the tops of the stones where they can get a clear view of the merchant route. His best bowman has a monocle that Meat-shield got from Lord Hagron. It makes night like day in the wearer’s eye. I can think of many uses for such a device.
Trueshot looses a flaming arrow to mark the caravan. I hear it sink into the wood of a wagon with a thok. Now everyone can see it. The travelers cry out. The four robbers on foot rush the prey while Trueshot and the others take aim at the guards.
I take aim at Trueshot. I creep forward, unnoticed, black hand extended.
His monocle slips into my open palm as he dies. I lay his body down atop the stone and turn to the next archer. The night makes it easy. The rush of adrenaline, the thrill of the kill–that makes my victims delicious. The Hunger feeds on life, but strong emotions and passions are the sweetest. I can taste those. I can feel them as they are consumed.
Meat-shield and his allies are busy fighting guards or chasing the unarmed. They don’t notice that the arrows stop flying. Three of the guards are wounded. One fights on. It’s easy to sneak up on the bandits.
Sword-dancer dies first. I catch him rifling through the goods in a wagon, out of the view of the others. Greed–lust for the prize–it’s not delicious, but it will do.
He expires with a quiet sigh, the noise lost in the din of the fray.
The lone guard shouts as he cuts down Mace. I’m not surprised. Mace isn’t a fighter. He’s Meat-shield’s cousin, or brother-in-law, or some other relationship with obligation. Doesn’t matter. With that steaming wound in his belly, he’ll be dead soon.
One of the other bandits is down. Arrow in the back. Maybe Trueshot or another archer had some score to settle. I don’t care. And now Meat-shield is fighting the guard that killed Mace.
I sense two more heartbeats, one pursuing the other. Dagger Bandit finished off a couple of the passengers and is chasing the last one. A woman’s scream pierces the night. I can feel Dagger Bandit’s lust building. The Hunger longs for him, and I shiver. He’ll be tasty.
But first, Meat-shield is fresh, and this final guard is weary. Not a fair fight.
I stretch my right hand toward Meat-shield. No one can see it in the dark, but I know tendrils of black are forming around him, slowing him, hindering him. I hear him rage against invisible bonds, swinging wild punches as he tries to break free.
The guard sees his opportunity and thrusts a sword into Meat-shield’s ribs. Meat-shield roars and draws a knife as he grabs the guard by the throat. I turn away, releasing the bonds. I hear choking and gurgling behind me, weak cries, labored breathing in the dark. They’ll both be dead soon.
Dagger Bandit’s heart is thudding in my mind. It’s all I can think of. Maybe it’s all the Darkness can think of. I’m not really sure how this all works.
All I know is I want him.
He has the woman cornered. I sense her fear. It’s a powerful emotion too, but it’s the only one the Darkness doesn’t like. She doesn’t interest me, not with Dagger Bandit near.
I hear his voice telling lies, his tone meant to soothe. I can’t make out the words. The pounding of his heart is so loud in my head. My shadow hand can barely retain its form. It yearns to stretch out and take him. I resist.
The woman cowers. Dagger Bandit steps forward, knife shaking with delight. He slowly reaches for her, and giggles as he grabs her shoulder. She writhes and screams, but she can’t get away. He raises the knife.
Shadows wrap around him, wracking his body into awkward positions. I think bones snap but I don’t care. His eyes are wide, reflecting firelight. His mouth is filled with darkness. His intense emotions are captured and consumed in an instant.
The lifeless body crumples to the ground. A wave of pleasure washes over me, the reward from the Darkness for such a perfect feast.
The woman sees me, knows that somehow I’ve saved her. She doesn’t question how, just bows and babbles profuse thanks. I am not interested.
…until the Darkness senses her overwhelming relief. Her fear is gone. I step into the light.
“I swear to you,” she continues, “I will tell my father of how you saved me and he will reward you with greater riches than what we carry here. I cannot thank you enough.”
“No, dear,” I frown. “You can’t.”
I stretch my hand once more and close my eyes, awash in satisfaction as she dies.
A minute later, the night is quiet. I start collecting provisions. I’m not sure where I’ll go. Before I came here, Hagron spoke of war in the city of Sulkath, and invading armies from Kandurien.
War always brings out strong passions. It sounds like the right place to be.
Meat-shield mumbles something behind me, dying on the ground, tangled with the body of the guard. “Hagron… that letter was fake… he didn’t send you…”
“No, the letter was real. But Hagron didn’t send me. I took it after I fed on him.”
He looks confused, so I explain. “You worked for Hagron. I killed him. So you serve me now.”
Meat-shield coughs up blood.
“Rest now,” I say as I turn. I can’t help a grin. “I have been well served.”
I take out my bonerattle as I walk away from the ruined caravan. The Darkness is sated.
shhhuuu-KA shhhuuu-KA shhh…
I can hear the Rhythm clearer than before. For now.