A Demon-Spawn's Tale
Robin had told his friend Helena that he wanted to talk to her about something personal and she had grinned and insisted on talking about it in her treehouse. He followed her through the copse at the back of her garden, barely keeping up. Her feet barely seemed to touch the leafy ground. She reached a beech tree with a tree house nestled in the branches and shinnied up the trunk.
"Wait!" called Robin.
A rope ladder came clattering down. Robin supposed he should haul himself up it, although he didn't much like climbing these things. At last he pulled himself into her treehouse. Helena grinned at him. The sunlight shining through the trees cast dappled lights over her shiny face. He was struck anew by how weird she was. He whole face was a vivid green, more intense than any of the leaves in the copse. Her eyes were different – sort of yellow, but almost chartreux. Her frizzy hair which tumbled down her shoulders in disarray was yellowish green. That was its natural shade. At least, he assumed she hadn't dyed it. She turned to dig under a pile of sacks in the corner of her little treehouse. From side-on, he could see that her nose was slightly upturned.
"I carved you this."
She thrust a small carving roughly the shape of a rose at him.
She frowned, her thin eyebrows coming together. "You don't like it? It's because I've no talent, is that it?"
"Oh no, it's great Hel. Listen, there's something I have to tell you..."
Her yellowish eyes widened and she leaned forward.
"Er… I wanted to ask about your family."
"You what? You know them. You know Mum and Dad. Lexi and Terry. Remember?" She wrinkled her shiny green nose at him.
"Nu-no. You know you're a cambion, right?"
She glared at him. "You want to talk about that? Really? I actually thought…" she sighed and didn't finish the sentence. What had she assumed he wanted to talk to her about in private? Any why was she disappointed? A guy couldn't guess that, or at least, Robin couldn't.
"Well, it's interesting…"
She gazed at him, her expression hard to read. "Interesting, hmm? My demonic blood? My bad blood?"
"Um … well …" Robin didn't know how he was supposed to answer.
Helena opened her satchel and handed him a flask of strawberry cordial and a wrapped package. "Here. You should eat the meat pie while it's still warm. Since you're morbidly curious, I'm going to tell you about the rancid demon that spawned me. I'll tell you everything I know. Mum told me most of it and there are details I found out for myself. Now sit tight and listen up."
So, what do you need to know? I'll start at the beginning.
My mother is a human woman. She's a beauty known for miles around. When she was a girl, she was cool and popular with the boys. I daresay it didn't hurt that she has lustrous hair like white gold and a perfectly sculpted face. She and dad were just friends back then. But everything was going to change.
Mum shared lodgings with her best friend, Becky. One night Mum had a terrible nightmare. A nightmare of a nightmare. I'm not even sure what it was about. Something crazy that she wouldn't even tell me. Another night, Becky had a nightmare of a nightmare, too. There was a pattern to this. And then Mum and Becky found themselves pregnant. Becky was in denial, but Mum was more practically minded and pointed out that all the signs were there. They were pale, sickly, throwing up in the mornings. They had missed their periods. And it coincided with the nightmares they had at the time when they would have conceived. Mum was sharp, spotting the connection without anyone to point it out to her, and without the benefit of hindsight.
"I can't be pregnant too," Becky whined at Mum, even though her face was just as pale and her breath also stank of vomit. "I have plans. I've just got a new boyfriend."
Becky had plans. She wanted to be a singer. I suppose she didn't want to give it up for a baby she'd no idea she was going to get. I understand she had a cool and popular new boyfriend as well, and she had been really proud. Now she was mysteriously pregnant, he would assume she had been unfaithful. Really, if he would not believe her, that meant he did not trust her, so how much of a catch was he? Tell me that. Yeah, yeah, her story would have sounded crazy, but still…
Mum knew they were going to need help from someone who knew about the supernatural. About ghosts, demons and things that go bump in the night. She went straight to the parlor of such a mystic. It was a low building and the smell of incense wafted out into the street. Mum entered, but the place was dark.
Then suddenly a woman's voice: "Greetings Alexia. I can tell you are an honourable soul. You are welcome."
You see, the mystic already knew mum's name. I suppose she wouldn't be much of a mystic if she couldn't guess these things.
"Say a word," urged the mystic.
Mum patiently went along with this game. "Help."
The mystic replied. "I see a dark stone room. I see danger in your path. I see..." she gave a gasp and the lamps around her flared up. She was a young woman, with a scar running from her left ear to the corner of her mouth. "I understand your plight, Alexia. I too am with child against my will. We are not the only ones. Go to the noble. The scholar. Over the bridge. Only he can help us."
Mum got what she was trying to say. They needed a scholar's help. That meant a trip across the bridge to the rich part of the cityport. She knew that about a leading citizen then – Dreksler the scholar. He was one of those who lived in a grand mansion which he had all to himself. The mystic would not go with them, so Mum and Becky had to go and look for themselves. Maybe such a mansion should have been easy to find, but Mum and Becky got lost.
Becky wasn't happy and started to whine. "We've been wondering around in circles all day, probably. I'm tired and not well. My baby's taking away all my energy and I didn't even want it…" She wanted pity. But I'm not going to lie. When I'm telling this story, the one I feel sorry for is her baby. A creature like me, but one whose mother never wanted it, and wasn't shy about saying so.
Mum decided to ask for directions and knocked on a door. A lady with a blond wig answered.
"Are you from the council?" Clearly she thought they were messengers from the council, not councillors of the kind we had back then. A self-appointing oligarchy of twelve men.
"No Ma'am," said Mum. "We're sorry to disturb you, but we're looking for Dreksler, the scholar."
She gave them the directions. They were only a very short distance from the mansion. Then the lady held out her hand. "Tip?"
You know that meant she wanted someone to give her a copper piece. Mum did so and she replied, "tell him Micha sent you."
All in all that was a lucky encounter. Mum and Becky soon found Dreksler's mansion. It had a flag with the letter D on it and everything. Ever modest, that old guy. When Mum knocked on the door he answered himself. A beardy old man with gold trimmed robes. He had a pet bristle-beast. A spiny lizard-like creature. It was hissing, spines raised. "Yes?" he demanded. "What do you girls want?"
"Micha sent us," said Mum quickly.
Dreksler patted his pet and it slunk back into the hallway. "Did she now?" he said aloud. "I wonder why?" But he relaxed visibly. "Sorry to be rude. Come on in."
He went into the dark hallway with a sweep of his robes and let them to his cluttered study.
"How does a man of learning survive?" said Becky, wrinkling her nose as she glanced around the study. A fine time to be snobbish about him being a scholar. Why didn't she just outright call him a nerd while she was at it?
"It all looks really interesting and I've heard of what a great scholar you are," said Mum, hastily salvaging the situation as best she could. "We need your help. We're in trouble."
The old man chewed his beard, peering at her sickly face and presumably taking in that she hadn't got an engagement ring. "I think you probably are."
Mum told him the facts as far as she understood them. He listened and nodded occasionally, and when she had wrapped up her story, he nodded again. "Very well."
"You do believe me?" said Mum desperately.
"I do. I might be able to help, but you don't get something for nothing. I need your help."
"Help!" exclaimed Becky.
"Shut up, Becky," said Mum. "What do I have to do?"
"I'm having trouble with this rune translation and could do with an extra pair of eyes."
Becky had to keep trying to be crass. "Oh, is that all?"
Mum's always been good at runes and Dreksler was satisfied with her interpretation of it.
"Now as to your problem, young ladies, I believe you have been visited by an incubus. A demon that rapes sleeping women by magic."
Now that part is pretty shocking and I don't blame Becky for getting hysterical at that point. But lets skip the hysterics and get on with the story.
Dreksler knew how to deal with such a demon, but he was reluctant to take a very active role in it. He preferred to send two pregnant victims of the dream demon on a mini-quest.
"There was a rune of great power in the possession of a foremost city noble, Lord Kritias of the Council. Unfortunately he is dead."
"Then what use is it?" snapped Becky. "What was the point in bringing it up."
"I didn't say he was so dead that he couldn't help," said Dreksler coolly. "Now, Lexi, you are a bright young woman." He was making a point of ignoring Becky. He handed mum a gemstone, a perfectly round, yellow orb. That at least was gracious of him. He didn't tell her exactly what it was for though, she was going to have to work that out. He was a rather strange old guy.
The Necropolis, the site of the mausoleums for the rich, is beyond the gambling halls in the upper cityport. There's a wasteland that cuts it off from the rest of the city. Mum had to keep a cool head and lead Becky across the rubble. There wasn't actually a gate there, but the railings were widely spaced and they could both slip through the gap. Lucky they hadn't been pregnant long.
They stumbled across the oldest grave first. The oldest grave of all kind of stood out, I think. It had a carving of Immor, the Cityport's founder. In the failing light, it looked as though the carving was watching them.
"The creepy thing's staring at us," grumbled Becky.
Mum wisely shushed her. She made a rubbing of the inscription of the gravestone with charcoal and parchment. What luck that she'd thought to bring some along! She has an interest in history. The parts of the inscription which have not been eroded say this:
Cometh he in fire and smoke…
Stopped he the river so our encampment would not flood…
Fashioned he jewelled weapons to fight the ghouls
Caught he the rage and fire in gates of bone
Spirit of the Cityport. Must never leave.
I'd bear this in mind. It may be important. There's a lot about our cityport founder that we just don't know.
Of course, Kritias was in a new mausoleum, coated in limestone. It would be blindingly white in broad daylight. As white as snow. Mum and Becky crept over the threshold into the darkness.
"This is too dangerous. I don't wanna do this," complained Becky, and I'd agree that this is the kind of thing you shouldn't do without great need.
How did they know what they'd find down there in the dank dark? How could they have known that the old scholar was trustworthy? He had acted pretty weird, all in all. I suppose Mum just has a knack for knowing people and knowing what to do in a scrape.
They crossed the threshold into the dark. Skulls leered at them from the walls. Then the heavy stone doors of the mausoleum swung shut with a thud and Becky screamed. A white corpse light flared up around them from a stairwell leading down to the lower depths of the crypt.
Mum kept her head, and taking Becky's hand, led her down the old stone steps.
The air was even ranker down there. In the middle of the stone chamber there was a long stone coffin. The coffin of Kritias, the dead noble! But something else awaited them down there too. From different corners of the chamber, glowing white bones flew towards each other and knitted themselves together into a glowing skeleton, with glass eyes. This apparition was bedecked in a cloak of stitched together human skin, complete with a top hat of the same stuff. Disgusting, I know. This guy was definitely not Kritias. He was in fact the ghost of a great evil-doer who had infested the crypt. That happens sometimes. If really evil men don't want to die, their spirit will break into someone else's mausoleum
He loomed over them. "Feeble wenches, I'll tear off your skinsssss…."
His skeletal fingers reached out for them…