"Wap! Wap! Wap!"
A young kookaburra slammed a lizard into the gum-bark, snapping its spine and tenderising its flesh before swallowing.
A slight breeze followed, forming dappled shadows that swayed rhythmically to the thrill of cicadas chirping and kookaburras laughing. The occasional bird of paradise hopped from wattle to wattle, stripping the brushes of their sweet nectar, finding untold bounties within the walled sanctuary of the native garden.
The industrious moment was interjected by the sound of wheels crunching loose gravel. The kookaburra looked up from its search for skinks to see a young man in a wheelchair, pushed by an uncommonly pretty maid and accompanied by another.
“Kooo-kuku-ku-ku-kua-aaaah!” it announced to the vicinity and took flight into the blue yonder.
The chair-bound young man shot the bird a look of annoyance. A tendril of near-invisible dust lashed out from the vicinity and snared the poor kook. Its feathers instantly moulted and fell, leaving behind a skeletal frame that fell hopping, obscene and naked, to the ground. The young man chuckled to himself.
The pretty maid who pushed the wheelchair sighed with an expression of annoyance and placed a hand upon the young’s shoulder. A surge of positive energy flowed between them.
“You should control yourself, Young Master.”
“Why?” The Young Master coughed to clear this throat. “That’s why you’re here ain'tcha?”
“Indeed, but as a favour to the Mistress, and only to the mistress.”
“Bah!” the Young Master scoffed. “You're such a prude, take me in, it’s almost time for our conference.”
A few turns throughout the native garden and the landscape changed to that of blue lawns overshadowed by a colonial manor that soared, white and resplendent over the greater Sydney tablelands.
“Sir.” A guard, grey-haired and severe in his black suit even in the Australian summer, bowed his head smartly as the wheelchair approached. His eyes lingered upon the Young Master, feeling such indignation and anger at the young man’s suffering!
Almost nine months ago, the young master teleported into the Manor, mortally wounded, missing both his right limbs and a portion of his face. Even the best healers the Master called up was unable to restore the lost flesh, coax the stump to regrow its appendage. It was as though the essence of the Young Master’s limbs had ceased to exist - that they had never existed in the first place.
The young master himself, likewise, had become a recluse and became twisted and depressed; no longer the sunny, wonderful boy that the old guard had raised - a young man who joked and laughed and punched him in the gut with such intimate familiarity.
Now he seemed a husk of the man he used to be. They had begged the young master for knowledge of what had occurred, but both the Young Master, the Master, and even the Lady herself refused to pursue the matter. It was all so strange.
“Going to the chamber, Sir?”
“Yes, Burham, get me fitted before we go in. I need to appear my very best before the Mistress.”
“Sir.’ Burham reached in gently and picked up the young man from the wheelchair as though he were a babe, cradling the young man in his arms. He felt such emotions in that moment that his eyes moistened. The Young Master, a Dust Mage, a rare bloodline, the scion of a peerless lineage - now reduced to this. Who could have done such a thing? Who could dare? He wanted more than anything to find out, to give his Young Master satisfaction.
“No need to be so sentimental, Burham,” the Young Master comforted him. He was such an angel! The Master himself never showed such deference and humanity to Burham, and he’d been the family's manservant since they were both children!
“Of course not, Young Master.” Burham straightened his back and took the young man toward the armoury. There was a long oaken table there, atop which was a set of prosthetic arm and leg, both right-handed and footed.
Burham placed the young man upon the table and buckled on the arm and leg, wrapping the soft leather straps around his waist and shoulders. He then pulled open a hidden draw set within the table, retrieving mana stones the size of duck-eggs, each worth at minimum ten-thousand LDM crystals. The cores clinked into place, and the limbs whirled into life.
The Young Master sat on the table and moved his new mithril-limbs. They had no feeling, of course, they were not his own, but he could overcome the strange phantom limb scenario eventually with repeated use. He felt the mana from the stones slowly mingle with that of his own body, the limbs becoming more responsive as the lag between command and movement synchronised.
“Dress me,” he commanded. Burham materialised a Mage’s robe stitched in the archaic style and pulled it carefully over the Young Master. A belt and a few adjustments later, the young man was transformed into a handsomely representative of the arcane brotherhood in its glorious yesteryears. How like his great-grandfather he seemed, like the very painting come to life.
“Well, let’s go.”
They exited the chamber and were joined by the two maids, making for the basement level. Upon reaching the heavily warded bronze door, they paused.
The Young Master placed his hand upon the surface and incanted some indistinct commands, simultaneously drawing secrete glyphs upon its surface. The door yawned open ponderously, revealing the soft glow of arcane lights within.
The group moved forward, but one of the maids stopped at the entrance. It was the youngest one, the one who'd stayed silent the whole while.
“Young Master,” she begged, her voice choking. “Please, I can’t. I am not allowed.”
“Nonsense!” the Young Master said kindly. “Head on in, you’re as much a part of this as any of us.”
“Please,” the girl begged, her eyes wild with panic. “I don’t want to. I just… Pl… Please let me serve you in other ways.”
The older maid, the one who had spoken earlier with such disdain for the Young Master, impatiently pushed her into the room. The doors boomed close behind them.
The young maid shivered and could say nothing. She followed silently.
“Thank you, Nephres.”
“The Mistress is a busy woman,” Nephres replied with a voice short on patience.
She ventured into the room and activated the conjuration portal.
The silver conjuration glyphs of the chamber glowed with a fierce light. A dark hole formed within the centre of the magical formation, spewing out a thrashing volume of strange, eel-like vermin. Half serpentine, half insect, wholly faceless and utterly alien, the strange creatures piled upon one another until they formed into the shapely form of a cowled, female Mage.
From underneath the low hanging cowl, all they could see were a pair of shallow red lips on pale white skin, so pale it gave the impression of fresh snow painted with a dash of sanguine blood. There was a sensuality about it all that made all in the room held their breath. Burham felt his old blood pumping and Edgar felt his young body engorge and broil with a strange desire that he himself could hardly explain.
“I commend you on the recovery of the Shielding Core, Edgar.”
Her voice was distant and echoing, giving the impression that she was speaking from somewhere otherworldly.
“As you wish, Mistress, I live to serve.”
“How fare you with my gifts? Have the artificers performed their duty to satisfaction?”
“They have, my Lady, I feel as good as a new man with his limbs wholly intact.”
The female figure seemed satisfied with that response.
“You have grown, Edgar. I was looking forward to chiding you for exacting zealous revenge and endangering our designs, but it appears you have unexpectedly heeded my advice.”
She turned to the older, more comely maid.
“Nephres, how is his condition?”
“Doing well, my Lady. His affinity has improved, in fact,” Nephres admitted sulkily. The mistress was showing too much deference for the boy.
“I am pleased with both of you then.”
Both Nephres and Edgar felt overwhelmed with motherly affection.
“We live to serve.” They both bowed.
“How is our other wayward child, the one without a face of his own?”
Edgar tensed. He could feel cold sweat beginning to drench his back. The Lady had asked for information on Faceless as well three months ago, but Edgar had achieved nothing of note. It was as though his partner had evaporated into thin air.
“I fear we have no news,” Edgar confessed, awaiting the inevitable admonishment.
“No matter, he... is alive,” the Lady answered nonchalantly. “Faceless will return to the fold, in time. They always do.”
“Nephres,” the Lady was unexpectedly kind. “How proceeds our negotiation with the Mermen?”
“As if they had a choice in the first place, your Grace." Nephres smirked arrogantly, chuckling to herself. “Did you know they use your Grace's name to silence their misbehaving children? One mention of your exploits and even the rowdiest school of fingerlings would hide in their coral caves.”
“True enough, but I want assurances,” The woman in black intoned seriously. “No more unforeseen circumstances like last time. Right, Edgar?”
Edgar fell to his knees and knocked his forehead against the pavement. He performed the kowtowing supplication three times until he was dizzy and bleeding.
“Nephres, heal him.”
Nephres grumbled and shot Edgar a beam of green, nourishing energy.
“Use both the carrot and the stick, don’t be sparing in any of your efforts. No need to conserve resources,” The Lady commanded. “I am looking forward to your success, both of your successes.”
Edgar watched the sigils fade, feeling his wounds heal. He felt so pent up, so unfulfilled, so filled to the brim with emotions that tore at his rational mind and stroked something dark and malignant within.
“You, come here,” He commanded the younger maid, who shook her head, her small face white with fear and dripping with despairing tears. She had heard the rumours. She had not believed them. She should have.
“Please, young master Edgar. Please. I just wanted to work here. I am not from anywhere great. I’ll be useful to you. I’ll do anything, just spare me, please…”
Despite the presence of Burham and Nephres, the girl tore at her maid’s uniform, revealing her still developing breasts, two gentle swells that glowed palely in the dim light of the spent conjuration ritual.
Burham looked away.
Nephres’ eyes glowered with sick pleasure.
“Come here. Now.”
The maid dropped to her knees and supplicated, as Edgar had done, smashing her head against the pavement. The skin on her forehead split, splattering blood all over and ruining her good looks. It was a gamble, she knew, maybe the Young Master would lose his interest if she was ugly, no longer the comely girl hand picked by Mr Burham, then surely there would be no sport in it.
“You think I am interested in your body?” Edgar almost choked on his own fit of passion. Instead, he began a riotous explosion of laughter. He felt the tightness in his pants, constrained by the prosthetic limb’s leather bands and understood the misunderstanding. It was pretty funny, he had to admit. It would make a moment of hilarity at dinner later. “Nothing of the sort, my little bird.”
“Dusty!” he commanded. A whirling Dust elemental materialised, its comical name betrayed by the horrific vision of a malignant dark shape looming over the girl.
“Please… no… anything… I'll do anything!”
Her cry went unheeded. Dusty was upon her in an instant. The bleating maid's flesh was rendered and her blood flowed freely. She was compressed by the pressure of Dusty's powerful grasp, her bodily fluids draining and mingling with the swirling Devil until it became a whirl of crimson.
Edgar felt his mana pool grow just ever so slightly.
“That was an excellent choice, Burham,” he commended his manservant. “Where did you dig her out from?”
“Zone Eight, Young Master. Near the Hills District.”
“I would like a few more of the same quality, if you are able, I feel stronger already.”
“Of course.’ Burham bowed. If the lives of these worthless NoM-turned Mages meant that the Young Master could regain his health, then so be it.
Edgar meanwhile, continued to drain the poor maid until all of her essences ceased to be, leaving behind a corpse of dusty death where a lively young woman had once existed. His mind, however, could barely register the final, whimpering moments of the victim whose life force nourished him. For Edgar’s consciousness was elsewhere, dreaming of another time, another place.
For Edgar was dreaming of a pair of lithe, long legs trembling in the dim firelight of a cave.
He was envisioning eyes speckled with emerald-on-amber, dilated with fear and trembling with unspeakable loathing.
He was tasting her with his mind, her astral soul, split in twain, light and dark, separate and yet whole, like the yellow yolk and the egg white of the one shell.
He had been so close as well. Edgar recalls it as if it were happening still, himself towering over the staggering girl, her mind caught in his dark web, strands upon strands of Enchantment woven into illusions within her mind. Her nape was caught in his rough-hewn palm, his hands caressing the shy, white skin of her shoulders, brushing away the dust and sweat to reveal the pallid flesh below. She had pushed him away, but how could her terrified, vague fingers resist? He was almost through, his own soul had touched her, entered her in a way that no one else ever would. He could almost feel her tightly wound resistance relax, the unclenching of her loosening thighs suggesting his penultimate victory.
Then she awoke, and his world was aflame with unspeakable agony; as though something had rendered his soul incomplete.
Edgar felt a sudden shudder engender in the loins.
Nephres, who’d been watching the whole ordeal distastefully, suddenly choked on her own spit, coughing uncontrollably.
Even Burham was embarrassed by the unexpected passion. He instantly materialised a new robe.
“Would the Young Master perhaps consider drawing a bath and changing?” he noted without altering his tone, suppressing a dash of dire redness flashing across his old face.
“Please.” Edgar smoothed out his robe, his face likewise glowering with renewed vitality. “Do clean up here as well.”
Wait for me.
Edgar promised himself with untold vehemence, inexpertly fighting his impulses with trembling limbs that jangled.
I am coming for you.