There are those of you who would look upon my deeds and call me evil.
You, with the warmth of the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. You, who has never known the depths of the netheren. You do not know true evil.
My world is one where daughters would would gladly plant daggers in their own mothers for a glimmer of power. I have witnessed genocide on scales I could never hope to replicate, not even with the full force of the Council of Elemental Ruin at my call. Yet, I am fortunate compared to my brethren who were bred as food for the netheren hosts.
Do not misconstrue my stories as boasts. I only mention my origins so that you might afford me a fair comparison. For if I am evil, it is because that I was born into darkness where only evil survived.
The world I am from is ruled by the Darkling whose massive underground cities are built on the abject terror and broken corpses of the lower castes. Though it has been long since I left the wilds of their realms; I remember those days clearly and keenly. The Darkling's lessons of beauty and power have brought me success on the Surface. There are those who would question my preference in hosts, going as far to call it an obsession of mine to find beautiful, young women to inhabit. But if they had been amongst the Darkling, they would not trivialize the power of beauty; it has a magnetism to it, inspiring admiration and loyalty. Beauty was always something that my natural form lacked. That, along with grace, mobility and ability to inspire anything other than fear... and uncontrolled vomiting.
I have never encountered anything like me on the Surface, so I assume I am the only one up here. My first days here were not easy for the eyes of the Darkling priestess I inhabited did not handle daylight well. After her inevitable death, I worked my way through your Surface creatures; first a fawn, then the lion that thought me easy prey. There was one time when I was forced to inhabit an itinerant gnome. Oh, the shame of it!
Then, during one of my feeding rampages in a far northern town of the Knightly Kingdoms, one terrified villager was brave enough to ask whether I heralded the coming of the Council of Elemental Ruin.
"No," I replied before devouring her brain – partly for any information about this 'Council' but mostly because I loved the texture and taste of human giblets.
It did not take long for me to become acquainted with this so-called 'Council' that was scouring the Surface kingdoms. After 'reviewing my credentials', they provided me with a small army and a section of land to occupy so that I could spread their influence. Instead, I elected to employ that force to kill a council member whose name I promptly forgot, replacing him within the Council's hierarchy. You would have thought someone else would have already tried this, the Council being a collection of evil overlords, but I was surprised to find that I was the first. Perhaps it should be renamed the Council of Elementary Ruin?
I proceeded to march my forces across the land, doing as I pleased, and I would have gotten away with it if I wasn't so insistent that my next host be the feisty young daughter of a Duke whose lands I had torn apart. Who could have imagined that she was protected by the Arvalis Emerald? Who would have predicted that I would be unable to devour her? That I would be trapped in her mind for trying?
I knew I should have taken her cousin instead! I knew I should have devoured the blonde one!
...or so I thought at the time.
Would it be odd to say that being trapped within a stubborn, naive child with suicidal tendencies was the best thing that ever happened to me? At first I regarded my condition as a mere set back. Even with the Arvalis Emerald's hold over me, I still had a minuscule amount of manoeuvring room - more than enough to unravel a young mind in due time. She was embarrassingly easy to manipulate! She had rage, but no reins to guide it, and it created such beautiful chaos when it clashed against her pure intentions.
We had been wandering the wilds for a good few months before, as fate would have it, we happened across a fabulous looking gnome being harassed by bandits. He was attired provocatively in a garish pink jacket and leather pants with hair and beard also a bright shade of pink.
This gnome is just asking to be tossed, I thought to myself.
We watched as the group jostled the gnome around. My girl was unsure if she should help the poor creature so upon spying a wand at the gnome's side, I decided to nudge her in the right direction.
Listen to me, dear girl, I called to her through the link between our minds. You cannot possibly hope to prevail against these brutes. Let's go and find a nice little town to stay in tonight.
In response, she narrowed our eyes and strung her bow. My girl was dependable like that. In the fighting that ensued, the gnome revealed himself to be less helpless than he appeared, setting off a string of simple but effective spells to incapacitate the bandits whilst she picked them off with arrows.
That night, we shared a campfire for the first time in our travels. The gnome introduced himself as Zulkir but the girl, fearing that perhaps my forces were still chasing her, was afraid to give her real name.
"Everyone calls me Red," she said.
Zulkir and Red travelled together for a time. It made mutually beneficial sense – they worked well as a team; the human girl provided access to services and facilities that were not readily available to gnomes, and the gnome used his intelligence to get them both in and out of trouble. But I don't think this odd pairing was forged for convenience. I think it was a genuine bond of friendship. Personally, I have never experienced such a thing, but the girl had made friends before, so I went with her interpretation. At that time, though I did not dare admit this to myself, it felt good to have a 'friend'.
We learnt Gnomish from Zulkir. Gnomish! What a useless thing to learn! In no foreseeable future was there a use for gnomish culture or language. But as I began to understand, friendships were not always purposeful things. In fact, the lack of ulterior motive disturbed me. It filled me with an inexplicable ache. Instead of carefully positioning Red to gain more control over her mind and body, I squandered my time watching the little intricacies of this 'friendship' unfold.
Though I had manipulated others using their loved ones or their values, I could never understand why they they chose to shackle themselves to weakness. Who could have predicted that being inconvenienced with others had more emotional value than being companionless with all conveniences? Who could have known the pleasure of enduring discomfort so that another may be comforted? Selflessness goes against all the principles of self preservation I learned during my centuries Below. Even upon the Surface, it is foolish! And yet, there is an undeniable allure to it. Once you have experienced friendship, I fear there is no going back.
Had she not been killed in an encounter with a fundamental, I am sure Red and Zulkir would have had many more adventures together, and I, Lofae, would have gladly lived out the remainder of my days that way.
My anguish was beyond words as the hail storm tore apart Red's body while I was still trapped within it. The horror of such helplessness was senseless! Even as I watched Zulkir lunge for us, I knew it would be too late for Red and I.
Terror followed me beyond death. Through it all, I was only aware of Red's presence close by. Unlike me, she was at peace! Of course she would be! She had rid her country of me forever! She could sleep soundly into eternity!
With the blasted fundamental out of the reach of my wrath, my fury leapt at Red instead. I prepared to pour my deepest, blackest and most rancid recollections into her mind through the remnants of the connection we still shared. I would destroy everything.
To my dismay, all I managed was regret and remorse. My mind betrayed the joy I had felt in the time we travelled and fought beside Zulkir. Red felt my despair in not being able to protect the one that mattered to us.
For a moment, I saw that it was the same despair she had felt as my army scoured her lands.
You have no idea how blessed you were! I screamed. You were born in your own body! You never had to hide your form. You were accepted and admired by everyone around you. And I? I was born a monster, born to devour the minds of others. The only life allowed me was what life I could take for myself! How dare the world force me to live this way, and then judge me?
I felt Red react to my self-loathing. She was quiet for a moment before replying softly.
I'm sorry. If it was up to me, I'd give you a beautiful and compassionate shape and perhaps you would have done much good in your lifetime, she said.
Red's generosity shocked me, though it should not have. Even beyond death I was astounded by the power of goodwill. I felt it bring warmth to my soul. How wondrous would it be to have that effect on others?
You can wager your pretty red locks on that! I said. If I was born with that bow-arm and I travelled with that wizard friend of yours, it would take me a mere few months to liberate your homeland and bring ruin to the Council.
Would you really do that if you had another chance? Would you go back and help my king retake his kingdom?
I would. I was sure of this. But it's too late now, I sighed regretfully.
Maybe not, she said.
I felt Red smile.
Then, I opened my eyes.
A note from Augie
This was my entry for the September Contest on FyloeFox's Labyrinth forum. The prompt for the month was: "Write a story about two enemies trying to tolerate each other." So of course my mind leapt to a psionic mind eater trapped inside the mind of a girl-child with the backdrop of a stereotypical fantasy setting.
21/9/13 - made minor change. Thanks Unxious Custard!
18/1/14 - I went through it to try and make it snappier. Nothing was too precious.