Chapter 10

Myc tossed the bones on the fire and belched. The rabbits had been small and gamey tasting, but they were still better than the hard tack the men usually ate. Jespar had not returned to camp all day, so Myc and Lar had left the Brute to watch over the slaves while the two men hunted. The day had been pleasant enough at first. The men needed the rest, their gear needed mending, and their bellies needed filling. Now that these things were done, Myc began to feel uneasy about Jespar's long absence.

"I don't like it, Lar," said Myc wiping his greasy fingers on his grey tunic. The short man pushed his lank brown hair out of his eyes. "Jespar shoulda been back 'fore now. You think summin mighta happened to 'im?"

"Ta Jespar?" laughed Lar, his black eyebrows raised, his blue eyes sporting a wicked twinkle. "No way. He's probably been sittin' in tha woods spyin' on us all day. Makin' sure we're doin' like we oughtta do. I'll tell you one thing, tho, where ever he is, he gets back and finds the Brute eyein' that lil girl, there's gonna be some trouble."

"Ugh! That makes me sick," Myc agreed, looking at the half orc they called 'the Brute'. "I don' know why he takes such a shinin' to the lil uns. It's not like we ain't got plenty of real women ta have. I got my eye on that blondie there for ta night. Now, I bet she knows a thing er two 'bout makin a man happy."

"Aye, she's a good un. Sampled somma that meself last night," Lar nodded. "She's not quite as feisty as I like, tho. I think I'm gonna try that elven broad. She's probly a grandma at her age, but she's still a looker. 'Sides, she's got that haughty look, like she's too good fer me. I'll show her who's boss. We'll see a diffrunt look on her face come mornin'."

Both men sat eyeing the slaves huddled on the far side of the camp, away from the threat of the men and the warmth of the fire. Nine women sat chained together, dirty, disheveled, their clothing torn, their bodies bruised, their spirits crushed. They were of all races, shapes, and sizes. The eldest was an elf woman of indeterminate age, though she was still quite striking and carried herself nobly. The youngest was a human child of about seven years old who sat huddled in her mother's lap.

The Brute watched the child as he ate. The Brute was a giant, ugly man. His mother had been human, his father an orc. Neither parents' genes conspired to make the Brute anything but hideous. A tiny, bald head perched atop a massive body. His eyes were small and beady, his nose upturned like a pig snout, his lips too full, even flabby. His teeth were brown and crumbling. The partially opened, slack mouth emphasized his mean, unintelligent look. The Brute was not employed with Jespar for his charm nor his intelligence. His one job was to live up to his name. He was the Brute - all muscle and malice, a killing machine, an unstoppable force. The Brute was good at his job. Children were his only weakness.

How he loved children! Jespar had already warned the Brute that if he broke another child, Jespar would take the price of the child out of the Brute's hide. The children always fetched the highest price from the Ferguhl. The Brute did not want to anger Jespar, so he tried to stay away from the little ones. But this one, this tiny blonde doll with giant blue eyes, she was too pretty. The Brute could not look away, he could not stop dreaming about her, the feel of her soft skin, her silky hair, her delicate little neck, her tiny heart beating like a caged bird's heart. He had to have her. He had to taste her or he'd just die. He could be gentle, he could take her without hurting her too much. Myc and Lar got to have their women. It wasn't fair the Brute couldn't have his. Yes, yes, he'd have the tiny one tonight. He'd take her into the woods so no one would hear. He'd cover her mouth so she couldn't scream. He'd be very, very careful this time. Not at all like the last time. The Brute smiled and winked at the girl. He nodded. Oh, yes, she'd keep his secret. She wouldn't tell. They'd be the best of friends.

The blonde child, her bright blue eyes round with fear, shrank back against her mother. The woman held tight to her daughter. She knew what the ugly one was thinking. It was written all over his face, in all his body language. But, he'd never have her child. She would kill him if he touched one hair on the girl's head. She would rip his ugly head off. She could picture it clearly in her mind. She knew just how to do it.

A bloody head landed with a splat in Myc's lap.

"Waiting for someone?" a voice taunted from the darkening shadows of the forest.

Myc stared uncomprehendingly at the head for a moment.

"Jespar?" he asked. Suddenly realizing he was holding the decapitated head of his employer, Myc let out a shout and jumped to his feet. The head landed with a damp thud on the ground beside the fire.

Chloe sprang from the shadows, her staff whirling and striking faster than the eye could follow. She swept Myc's feet out from under him. He fell sprawling in the dirt. Lar was knocked unconscious with one blow to the head. Chloe was on him in a flash, catching him before he could fall, pressing her mouth to his and sucking the soul from him. The Brute sat at the fire, his slow mind puzzling through what was happening. By the time he realized Chloe was actually killing Lar, not just kissing him, Lar was already dead. Chloe let the corpse fall to the ground. The rush of power coursing through her veins made her dizzy for a moment giving Myc just enough time to get to his feet and draw his sword. Then, Chloe was on him. He fought fiercely, with all the strength and skill he possessed. It was not enough. Chloe parried and dodged every blow. She was laughing at him, a wicked, mocking laugh that enraged the doomed Myc and made him careless. Chloe cracked open his skull, blinding the man with his own blood. She smashed his kneecaps, his nose, and his elbows. As he fell to the ground, one well placed kick snapped his neck and killed him. A slave woman, the little blonde girl's mother, scrambled over to Myc's corpse and began rummaging through his pockets.

Chloe whirled around to face the Brute. The half orc wielded a massive morning star. It's spiked ball was larger than Chloe's head. Chloe knew that if it hit her, even once, she would die instantly.

"So, just don't get hit," said her little voice.

Chloe chuckled. Infused with the power of Lar's soul, Chloe was unstoppable. She moved like the wind, she struck like lightning, she was a thunderstorm of pain raining down on the Brute from all sides at once. The force of her blows knocked him about like a leaf on the wind. One arm was broken and one eye knocked out before he could even swing his weapon once. Finally, he got the ball and chain moving. He swung around blindly, flailing at every glimpse and shadow he saw of the quick silver demon girl. He was always too late; she was too tiny, too fast. The Brute, however, was a huge, slow target. Chloe made contact with every swing she made. The dozens of blows she landed took their toll on the giant. He began to sway and stagger. Both of his legs were broken, yet, somehow, he remained upright. Chloe was beginning to tire. She had to put an end to this before the soul power wore off.

One shrug sent her pack to the ground. A quick flick, and she had drawn her dagger. She dropped her staff and dived for the orc's legs. She hit the ground rolling, sliced through the tendons in both of his heels, and somersaulted to her feet. The entire attack happened in the blink of an eye.

"Holy crap! Where'd that move come from?" Chloe thought, grinning to herself.

The Brute hit the ground yelling in pain. Though he tried, he could not rise.

Chloe watched his suffering as she slowly wiped her dagger on her cloak and tucked it back into her belt. She picked up her pack and her staff and stepped toward the dying creature. She could see his soul flickering around his body. It was greenish-black. It smelled like sulfur. Chloe's mouth began to water. She would drink this soul slowly, savoring it, recharging her energy.

There was a bright flash in the air, and the Brute's severed head rolled away from his body. Chloe stared dumbstruck at the freed slave woman holding Myc's sword. The woman spat on the corpse and kicked dirt at it.

"I told you you'd never lay a hand on my daughter," she growled and spit at him again. Then, she looked up at Chloe and smiled.

"Well met, Chloe Moonmist. I am Lynnette, daughter of Lucretia Alisol, ex-council member to the city of Fire Thorn. My mother will be relieved to know you are still alive. I know I am. We all owe you our lives. I place my family at your service."

The woman dropped the sword and fell to her knees. She covered her face and began to cry. The slave child shook herself free from her chains, passed Myc's key to another woman and crawled over to her mother. She flung her arms around the woman and cried with her. One by one, the slaves unlocked the chains and freed themselves. Some began to cry, some sat in silence, and some stared in fear at the demon girl wondering what Chloe was going to do with them. Were they still in danger, or were they finally safe?

Chloe was beginning to shake.

"We need feed," said the voice in Chloe's mind.

She looked at the Brute, but his soul was already gone. It had fled once the head was lopped off, the life snuffed out. Chloe looked at the slave women. Their souls burned brightly - clear yellow, shining, smelling of flowers and spring breezes. But, there was one soul that burned the brightest. The child's soul was a rich, thick gold. It smelled like honey. Chloe started to shake uncontrollably.

"You want that soul. You need it. Surely they will let you have just that one. After all, they owe you their lives, that woman said it herself. You have earned it, you are entitled. It is yours by right," whispered the voice.

Chloe took a step forward. The child turned her beautiful, tear stained face up to Chloe.

"Thank you," she whispered, "thank you for saving us."

Chloe froze in her tracks. What had she been thinking? What had she been about to do? Chloe turned and fled into the forest, putting as much distance between herself and that beautiful child as possible. She ran throughout the night until the tears and darkness became too thick to see through. She tripped over yet another tree root, but this time, she did not get up. She let exhaustion overcome her and she slept. She dreamed of that honeyed soul, how delightful it would have tasted. The voice in her head cursed her, it railed against the deprivation, it begged her to go back and take the soul. Chloe could not shut out the voice and the nightmares.

In the morning, Chloe awoke still exhausted, but afraid to go back to sleep. She could not get warm, she could not stop shaking. Her head ached, her mind raced and she could not focus on anything. She was incredibly thirsty, but too nauseous to drink. She knew that if she could just have another taste of a soul, she would feel fine. Just one more tiny taste.

"Urthu in heaven, what is wrong with me?" Chloe whispered. "What have I become?"