Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Share your art, cosplay, and everything else you are working on that is inspired by Darkest Dungeon.
WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:03 pm

For this story, I used the Inhuman Bondage content update as a prompt (hence the title). I’ve actually had most of this written for quite a while now, and I’ve been waiting for a few more of the Darkest Dungeon Presents comics to be released for specific hero classes that are included in this story. But since they don’t seem to be releasing with much frequency, I decided to just go ahead and finish this in time before The Crimson Court releases.

I initially considered referring to the characters only by their titles, but decided pretty early on that this restriction would be too cumbersome. The majority of hero names were taken directly from the “starting roster” default names tucked away in the game files (although these have occasionally been changed).

I’m open to civil feedback, and while I’m certainly willing to make edits, I don’t plan on making any significant changes to the story.

(This was originally posted on the old forums on 6 June 2017 at 11:47 PM.)

(Apparently, I am unable to attach any sort of document to this post, so I have to copy/paste the text into the body. This removes most of the indentations, which I'll try to correct using spaces, but if you notice any formatting issues, that's probably why. I'll be posting this story in sections, or 'scene chunks.')

This story is dedicated to the good folks of Red Hook and their collaborators. Thank you for all your talent, skill, and hard work. You've created something to be proud of.

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:51 pm

Inhuman Bondage
-
- a Darkest Dungeon fan-fiction -

The Caretaker sorted through his ring of keys as he ambled down the hallway of what had once been the mayor’s house. Having narrowed his search to only a few of the rusting skeleton keys, Renfield approached the door to the study. He had nearly a hundred of them, different lengths and shapes, one for every keyhole in the Estate, and then some. He knocked thrice on the door’s center. You looked up from the parchment on your desk, a little annoyed at the interruption, despite being accustomed to it.
“What is it?” you called, not bothering to get up from your seat.
“Trouble in the Hamlet, my liege,” came his wavering voice.
“Is it urgent?”
“Some would say.”
You returned your quill to its inkwell. “Enter.”
There was a metallic cli-clock as he unlocked the door, and a cantankerous creaking as it opened. “There’s been a breakout at the sanitarium, late last night,” he said, returning his keys into his coat.
You raised a brow. “A mental patient?”
“Six of them, actually.”
“How did this happen?”
The Caretaker clasped his hands. “They wish they knew.”
Your surprise and irritation stood hand-in-hand. “Well where are the escapees now?”
“We cannot say for certain. Out of the Hamlet, it would seem, and into the wood.”
This was unexpected. But did it have to be a problem? How important were mental patients, really? They were more of a liability than anything else. Of course, someone had to disagree, and that someone, as usual, was the voice in the back of your skull, the one that had been haunting you ever since you ignorantly opened that accursed letter.
‘Normally, I would agree with your sentiments. But the lunatics have, as of late, proven queerly useful. Do not forget that with the aid of the occultist, we have been able to make some sense of their increasingly incessant ramblings, lending us further insight on the otherwise unknowable enemy. They are, presently, an asset, and one we should not be so quick to dismiss, or let slip from our hold.’
You knew better than to argue with him at this point over such a small matter. The Caretaker was waiting patiently, watching you from behind his dingy spectacles, face stretched taught in that unwavering smile of his. You removed a blank piece of parchment from a drawer and began to scrawl out your instructions.
“I want them found. As many as possible. I’ll have Captain Monroe join the search, along with some of his men. They can be spared now that the brigands are less of a threat.” You paused in your writing. “Who all knows about this?”
“Besides the immaculate trinity? Very few.”
“I want an official announcement made immediately concerning the events, and my intentions to correct them. Don’t forget that last part. I don’t even care if it causes a small panic. It’s better than keeping the Hamlet in ignorance. They already think I’m conspiring against them.”
“Well you can thank the old master for that. He was-,” the Caretaker bit his tongue, “… unpopular, in the end. But even with him dead and desiccating, the townsfolk still want someone to blame.”
“Yes, I’m well aware.” You dripped some hot wax onto the folded parchment, and impressed into it your burdensome seal. “Tell the selected they can expect their usual pay. Double if they can finish the job before tomorrow morn’.” You handed him the document, and he began to back away. “And lock the door on your way out.” He did, and only then did he utter that sound only he could, his own maddening breed of laughter. You waited for it to fade away before continuing your letter. Briefly, you looked out through the ash-tainted glass of the nearby window, and onto the troubled town outside. What did they even expect of you?

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Thu Nov 16, 2017 5:15 pm

“Hear Ye, Hear Ye!” repeated the town crier, a particularly greasy, portly man with sagging jowls named Luther, his bell sounding out above the din of worried murmurs from the gathering townsfolk. He stood atop a crate at the center of town, beside the statue of the Estate’s unbeloved former lord. “Listen here! Listen all!” Seeing that a sufficient amount of townsfolk had gathered, he looked back at the script in his hand. “There has been a breakout at the sanitarium! Six insane inmates have escaped and are at large this very moment! Please keep all children close at hand, lest they become pray to these deranged fellows! Rest assured, the head of the Estate is exerting all necessary efforts in apprehending these wildly unpredictable, frothing madmen! If you happen to spy one or more of these particular psychotics, please do not approach or feed them! Instead, notify the closest watchman! That is all!”
Luther descended the platform as the bounty hunter, Tardif, drew near. Standing beside the crate were four others. Monroe, the captain of the watch, loosely gripped his blunderbuss as he looked over the grief-worn faces of the gathered townsfolk. The ex-gendarme Norville kneeled beside his hound, petting and speaking to her gently. Audrey, the shady woman of disputable origin, was leaned against the base of the stone statue, her obscured eyes reading over the parchment handed to her by the Caretaker, who was waving Tardif over.
“Just the man!” cried Renfield. “You’re one of the lucky ducklings the head of the Estate has chosen to aid us in this unfortunate - ,” a snicker escaped him, “emergency.
“Well, my profession is man-hunting,” replied Tardif. “I’d have been insulted otherwise.” Audrey finished reading the parchment with the task’s particulars, then handed it over to Tardif, who carefully absorbed every scratched word. “Any notion on their current whereabouts?”
“There were sightings of some of them running off into the Weald,” said Monroe, gaze still trained on the surrounding populace. “But only a few.”
“We get double the pay if we catch them all before sunrise,” mentioned Audrey in her German accent, crossing her arms.
“An unlikely accomplishment if they’ve fled the town. They could be spread across the entire Estate by now,” muttered Tardif as he reread the parchment. “We would have to separate ourselves for better chances.”
“I think you all know better than that at this point,” said Monroe. “That is, if you value your lives over your riches.”
Audrey looked as though she was contemplating this.
“I suggest we visit the sanitarium before leaving the Hamlet,” voiced Norville. “The sisters there might provide useful insight on these madfolk, and where in particular they may have run off to. Besides, Artemis needs a scent to follow.”
“I’ve chosen three of my men to spare for this this venture,” said Monroe. “They’re currently bidding farewell to their families, as they still have some. We’ve planned to congregate at the southern point near Bricket’s within the hour.”
Tardif and Audrey exchanged a glance. They weren’t used to working with townsmen, or what amounted to law enforcement in the Hamlet. Then again, neither of them were particularly used to working with anyone at all, though they had soon learned the necessity of interdependency on that first trip into the Weald, so many months ago.
“Have your men ventured into the Weald recently,” Audrey asked the captain, “or even out of town?”
“Not too far. Not too recently. …Why?”
“You think they are prepared?”
“For what? The bandits?”
“There are other things out there.” She glanced at his wooden leg. “You should know.”
The edges of Monroe’s mouth grew tight. “My men have been the eyes of this town since the Unearthing. They’ve seen all manner of nameless things threaten the borders of our dear Hamlet. Don’t underestimate their fortitude.”
“Well,” she frowned, “tell them to bring their own tonics. Because I won’t be sharing mine.”
Tardif rolled up the parchment and slipped it into his belt. “To the sick-house then.”

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Fri Nov 17, 2017 6:21 pm

Before they had a chance to knock, the door was opened from within, and a squat nun stood peeking out at them, half hidden behind it.
“Afternoon, Sister,” greeted Monroe. She curtly nodded and admitted them.
For most in the Hamlet, the sanitarium was a place only to be visited out of complete necessity. ‘Necessity’ meaning ‘desperation.’ Even then, you wouldn’t tell your neighbors you were going there, lest you wanted to be branded as either mad or diseased. No, the sanitarium was the least popular place in the Hamlet. But to some, it was home, whether they liked it or not.
Within, sickness of the body overlapped with sickness of the mind, and, apparently, the soul. It was all under the care of the nuns, of whom there were only a trio left, those that had not yet succumbed to the illnesses they were meant to cure. Their regimen and treatments were ruthless, but often effective. Still, they had been desperate enough to recently take on additional help, allowing Paracelsus, the plague doctor, to set up a workstation in the medical ward. She gave the company a nod as they were led past her station and on to the patient cells, where the nuns showed them about. The head nun, Sister Agnes, was a straight-backed and stern woman with a disposition both displeased and detached.
“This is where they sleep,” she said with a wave at the cells. “Curfew is when the sun touches the horizon, every day.”
“Curfew?” Audrey wondered aloud.
“Yes,” replied Agnes. “There’s always been a curfew. It’s part of their treatment. Chaos is madness. They need order in their lives.” Two of the cells were still shut, and whimpering could be heard from within. “One of them remained. Another returned. They’re afraid of and confused by the world outside these walls. The other six fled in full.” The squat nun beside her was murmuring the patients’ names beneath her breath, and shook her head. A drawn-out, metallic, tinkling sound that was growing progressively slower could be heard emanating from a wooden box resting in a cavity of the wall. Some of the company began peering into the empty cells.
“I’m not sure what you could find here that would be of any help in your search,” said Agnes.
“We’d like to know how they escaped,” explained Norville, “so that it might be prevented once they’re returned.”
If they’re returned,” whispered the third nun, an elderly woman whose face seemed half-comprised of wrinkles, with eyes partly hidden beneath sagging brows.
“Actually, that’s not a concern,” insisted Tardif. “We’ve only been hired to track them down. That’s all.”
“Prevention is a concern,” argued Monroe. “But the bounty hunter is right. Our main priority is finding the patients. After that, we’ll address security.”
The tinny noise produced by the box finally came to a complete halt, and one of the two remaining inmates suddenly began yelling incoherently in her cell, followed by the other.
Agnes had to raise her voice to be heard. “They’ve been acting like this ever since Grigori’s demise. Every one of them.” She reached for the music box.
“Odd coincidence,” commented Monroe.
The squat nun made a cruciform gesture over her bosom.
“Maybe,” answered Agnes. She finished winding the box’s handle before setting it back in its nook. Its contents generated a queer and melodic strain, which rose anew from the contraption to hover about the cells. The patients became hushed again, their attention arrested, their nerves subdued.
“I’d like to ask a few questions,” Norville said.
“To whom?” asked Agnes. “You won’t get anything useful out of either of them. We’ve thoroughly interrogated them ourselves. If we couldn’t learn anything, you certainly won’t.”
“Who locks these cells at curfew?” Norville asked.
The squat nun raised her hand. “That’s my job. I did so last night. Made sure every door was secure, like I always do.”
“Did you notice anything strange?”
“Last night? Nothing out of the ordinary. They were being especially raucous, which has been getting worse over the last week, but that was all.”
He scratched his beard. “Hm.”
“It’s time to leave,” said Tardif. “The longer we tarry, the less likely we’ll find them. Alive, at any rate.”
“Go on,” said Norville. “I’ll catch up with you.” Tardif, Audrey, and Monroe all left, escorted by the elderly nun, while Norville remained with the other two. “Who all has access to the keys?” he continued.
“Myself and my fellow sisters,” answered Agnes. “Also, the doctor and-”
“And I.” Norville turned to see the vestal Junia standing in the doorway.
“Sister Junia here has been a great help to us,” said Agnes. “She sooths souls and mends wounds, all out of the goodness of her heart and loyalty to the Light.”
“I assume, Norville,” said Junia, “you’re investigating the circumstances surrounding the mass escape.”
“That I am.”
She turned to the nuns. “Norville and I are well acquainted. I can take his questions from here.” The nuns left, the squat one whispering in Agnes’s ear on the way out. Junia noticed Norville’s hound sniffing the empty cells. “What else would you like to know?”
“Just about anything you can tell me. Tardif doesn’t seem to care a smidgen, but this whole matter troubles me. As I understand it, a breakout on this scale should not have happened. It almost seems…”
“Intentional?” she asked. “That’s exactly what it seems.”
“So, no one else has access to the keys?”
“Not to my knowledge. They would either have had to have stolen or, most likely, barrowed them, since they all seem to be accounted for.”
“Do you suspect any of the sisters?”
“No,” said Junia, without doubt. “They all take their duties very seriously. And I’ve grown to know Paracelsus well enough to not suspect her, either. She may love her strange experiments, but losing so many of her test subjects wouldn’t be one of them.”
“Are there any who might easily be able to obtain a key?”
“Easily? No. But able? Yes. The madmen themselves are unlikely, as they’re almost always contained in straightjackets, which we’ve had to start using on them all ever since the Prophet, Grigori, was silenced.”
Norville peeked through the peep slot of one of the shut cell doors. He could just discern a straightjacketed figure curled up in the shadows, apparently intent on the mechanized music. “And what of your more physically diseased patients? I’m aware that Baldwin occasionally visits, but I do not suspect him, myself.”
“Yes, Baldwin is an honest man, and even then, he’s hardly subtle where ‘ere he treads. But are you aware that Alhazred has also been frequenting us recently?”
“As a patient?” asked Norville.
“If only.”
“And I suppose you do suspect him?”
“I place suspect on every breath that man takes. But in this case, there is another person of distrust.”
“Alright then. Let’s hear it.”
Junia sighed. “Let me start at the beginning. Alhazred overheard me speaking to Reynauld during a recent venture. I was confiding in the good knight some of the bizarre words that the inmates were voicing. Alhazred offered to look into it himself. I politely denied him, but later on, he appeared here nonetheless, practically letting himself in, attempting to decipher the mad babbling going on. But over the course of his subsequent visits, he developed a keen interest in one of the sick-patients, an interest shared by Paracelsus. With the both of them so intent, I myself lent my attention to this new patient. He was a strange one, self-submitted for some unknown ailment, yet he acted nearly as perturbed as one of the mad themselves. When I attempted to diagnose his mental and spiritual state, he was keen enough to catch on, and subsequently fled, two nights ago. He was, and I stress, entirely suspicious.”
“How so?”
“He had a bed in the infirmary. At night, he would say things in his slumber. Distressing things.”
“What things?” asked Norville.
“I … shall not repeat them. I cannot. But know that this man is unsafe. And more than that, there is something … unnatural to him. Like Alhazred, but deep within, at the core of his being.”
“Was there anyone familiar with him?”
“That’s another thing. He’s a stranger in this place. No one here has heard of or seen him before, and he wouldn’t even give me his name. He had a secret. Of that I am sure. One dearly guarded. I believe that he loosed the mental patients in order to distract us from his own departure. He’s probably far gone by now.”
Norvilled furrowed his brow. “You said he slept in the infirmary?”
“For several nights.”
“Can you show me where exactly?” Junia led him to the infirmary, then directed him to a cot in the room’s corner. Norville pointed to the bed. “What do you smell, girl?” Artemis left his side to sniff every surface of the bed her nose could reach. “Have these sheets been washed since he last used them?”
“No,” came the muffled voice of Paracelsus, who was administering an experimental salve to the wound of an unconscious, recent amputee several cots over.
“There’s a blanket missing from this bed,” noted Norville.
“He took it with him,” replied Paracelsus. “The man came to us half-naked.”
“Are there any more personal articles of his that Artemis could smell?”
“I have some blood and urine samples,” offered the plague doctor. “But don’t let her lap them. They’re dear to me. That man’s condition was incredibly unique, and one I’m still trying to understand. Those fluids are all I have left of him.”
“Don’t worry,” assured Norville. “Artemis knows better than that.”
Paracelsus hesitated before retrieving a piss pot and vial.
“Describe him for me,” said Norville, his eyes drifting over the room and its pitiful contents. “Physically, that is.”
“Besides his ragged trousers, he wore only chains,” said Junia.
Why?”
“He wouldn’t say. But he refused to have them removed.”
“No shoes?”
“None.”
“He was nearly emaciated when he first arrived,” added Paracelsus. “Ate every scape we laid before him. His haircut was peculiar, too. Perhaps the scars on his head prevent its full growth.”
“And on his scalp, he had the letter ‘A’ clearly branded, for all to see,” Junia told him.
“And I assume he didn’t say why,” Norville hazarded.
“He said it was the result of a childish prank from his boyhood.”
But,” continued Paracelsus, “the wound was evidently fresher than that.” She uncorked the vial for Artemis to smell, but the wolfhound immediately shied away from it.
“What is that?” asked Norville, noticing his hound’s unusual reaction. “Anti-venom?”
“Not only that,” said the doctor, with a tinge of glee. “It’s his blood.”
The houndmaster stared. “But it’s green!”
“As I said,” she re-corked the vial, “his condition was entirely unique. This blood, and I can assure you it came from his veins, has highly corrosive properties. I’ve seen nothing like it before. Not in human subjects.”
“And as I said,” Junia kneeled beside a patient shaking with cold sweats, and dabbed their forehead with a soaked rag, “un-natural.”
Norville watched as Artemis intently sniffed the floor near the door. He recognized the distinct way her tail was rising up. He grinned. “Artemis has found a trail.”
“If you can find this man,” said Paracelsus, her voice rising, “I’ll pay you for his return! I have so many tests I never got the chance to run on him.”
“I’m not Tardif, Paracelsus. You can’t hire me to hunt you this man. I’m only going to search for him because he’s a suspect. I intend to meet with him and question him personally. Only then will I decide if he needs to be apprehended.”
“Or destroyed.”
He looked at Junia, trying to judge whether he had heard her correctly.
“I shall accompany you,” she told him.
“I’d rather … you not.”
“Don’t let pride cloud your better judgment. Despite his slight frame, the man could be a danger. To both you and your hound.”
It’s not him I’m worried about, he thought. “Artemis and I have tracked down many dangerous criminals in the past. This will be no different.” Junia looked hard at him, brow knotted, jaw sliding slightly forward. He wondered how many other poor souls she had given the look to.
“Then I will pray for you,” she finally concluded.
“Thank you, Sister.” He tried not to sound relieved. “I shan’t be long. He cannot have gotten terribly far unless he took a coach, in which case he’d be even easier to follow.” At his signal, Artemis began to follow the scent.
“At the very least bring me back some of his skin!” called Paracelsus as he swiftly followed his hound through the exit. She turned to speak to Junia, but the vestal was already gone.

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Sat Nov 18, 2017 8:21 pm

The moment they stepped into the Weald, a silence took hold of the party. Their ears and eyes were attentive to every suggestive perception, while their minds concocted visions of what things might be lying in wait, just behind every tree. Audrey and Tardif, though just as alert, didn’t have to do quite as much imagining as the watchmen.
The Weald was the name given to the Estate’s vast forest, a sizable portion of which, directly abutting the Hamlet, had succumbed to the mysterious fungus that had taken hold in recent years. Ever since the Hag’s unwholesome toils, her lichen’s presence had warped the once proud groves into a sickly mockery of nature. The trees, formerly tall and strong, were now twisted into unnatural contortions, studded and peppered by that creeping, parasitic fungus. Even the beasts that had once inhabited it had fled, died, or were similarly transformed. Nothing escaped the lichen’s influence here. Even the sunlight had been choked out; the tops of the trees, though mostly bare, had become so densely intertwined that the sky was often hidden from view, creating the illusion of dusk.
The search party was headed at the forefront by Captain Monroe, followed by Tardif, the captain’s three watchmen, and Audrey. Haggar, the last of the watchmen, was tasked with continuously unwinding a thick but dwindling roll of twine that led back to town. The two other watchmen, a pair of brothers named Samuel and Timothy, each held torches, the light of which became increasingly relevant as the day’s hours passed and the little-permitted sunlight waned further still.
Monroe, having become decidedly unsettled by the silence of his usually talkative men, loudly cleared his throat, but before he could say a word, there came a hollow, croaking sound from above. Everyone jumped and grabbed for their weapons. Monroe quickly aimed his blunderbuss toward the source of the noise, but relaxed his shoulders upon seeing that it was only a lone corvid, perched on a sagging limb. Its head hung low as it looked upon the company, beak open in something of a scream. But instead of any further sound, a concoction of bile and blood dripped from its mouth. A few seconds after, it dropped from the branch, and hit the ground dead. Everyone looked on with shock or disgust, until Audrey approached its body. Closer inspection showed her that a good third of its feathers had molted away, and the visible parts of its skin were rife with the lichen.
“Bad omen,” said Monroe, shifting his weight to his real leg. “Crows are a symbol of renewal here. They devour death. Carry it away. To see one dead has always foretold bad tidings. But to see one die directly before us…” He shook his head. “We should not have come here. This place, this Weald, is lost to the world.”
“Where are we?” demanded Tardif.
“In its grip.”
“Meaning?”
Monroe sighed as he pulled out his map, handing it to the bounty hunter. “This was charted before the corruption was born. Things aren’t the same anymore. The trees have shifted, almost as though they’ve been crawling about on their roots.” Tardif studied the map, but could make nothing of it. He held it back to the captain, who raised his hand dismissively. “Keep it. I can do nothing with it.”
“This seems aimless,” complained Audrey, who had finished examining the deceased carrion fowl.
“Well,” began Monroe, “we were supposed to have had a hound leading the hunt, but someone was insistent we make haste instead of waiting for the beast and its master.” He looked at Tardif.
“The longer we waited,” countered Tardif, “the farther the escapees would have gotten.”
“Really? It wouldn’t have anything to do with that double pay you were promised?”
Tardif narrowed his eyes.
“Your overconfidence isn’t subtle, Bounty Hunter. And we have a saying about overconfidence here.” Then the captain shifted his gaze to the watchman at the rear. “Haggar, how much twine left?”
“We’re about three quarters through, Sir.”
“We keep moving, then.”
“Sir, what of when we’ve all run out?”
“We backtrack and start again.”
“Until?”
“We ought to find at least one of these crazed buggers before midnight. Ask me then.” He turned and continued walking. “I do hope that houndmaster comes upon us soon. We could be making great use of his shaggy ward.” The rest of the group followed him once more, though with less confidence now, knowing that he didn’t have much of it himself.
Tardif caught something flash at the edge of his vision. He moved closer to Audrey.
“What was that?” he asked her discreetly.
“What?”
“You threw something.”
“A dagger.”
“Why?”
“Do you trust the string to lead us back?”
“You don’t like the string?”
“I always prefer to have something I can fall back on. So, I’ve left a trail of my own.”
“Hm.” She was thinking ahead, considering contingencies. He admired that.
“You never actually thought we’d find all six before the morrow, did you?” Audrey asked.
Tardif gave no response.
“I’d be surprised if we found even half.”
“Norville should have caught up with us by this time. I suspect he’s abandoned the task.”
“We should not have left so soon without him. Monroe is right on that account. Despite your name, you’ve been rather hasty.”
Tardif grumbled something.
“Don’t think I place little value on the prospect of fortune,” she assured him. “We’ve come to this dismal place for a similar reason, you and I. We’re kindred spirits, if only in that. The only other soul who seems to be here for profit alone is Dismas. Everyone else has some personal agenda.”
“I’ve noticed,” said Tardif.
“Have you, now?”
“It pays to profile every man you meet.”
“In case you’re tasked to hunt them down someday?”
“It is my profession.”
“What if you were sent to apprehend me?” asked Audrey.
“And why would someone want you?”
“Oh, just amuse me, would you?”
“Well, I wouldn’t be looking for a Wilma Hare, as that’s certainly not your real name.” She pinched her lips, very briefly. Tardif would have missed it, had he not been watching for it.
“And why not?” she asked.
“I read your face when you first gave it to me, or what I could see of it. I’ve gambled at countless tables, in every major country, and plenty of the minor ones, too. I know a bluff when I see one. Besides, you don’t seem the type to provide a real name. At least not in this form.”
“Form?”
“Your outfit suggests a covert nature. It may be tailored to you, but it is more befitting of a man’s fashion. No respectable woman would wear it in her public persona. And as it is appropriately tailored, you must be familiar with some wealth, suggesting you do have a social persona. That, or you’re a seamstress. You wear your hat low, in lieu of a mask. I’d wager you wear your hair up when not garbed thusly. Your German accent is well practiced, much used, but imperfect. You’ve never actually been to Germany. If Wilma was your real first name, not that you respond to it consistently or earnestly enough, you’d have no reason to provide your last, which you did. You’re smarter than that; cunning and witty. Sharp as a blade, I’ve noticed. Beyond that, you’re guarded. Whenever anyone asks you something personal, you either give no answer or a well-rehearsed one.”
Audrey was silent.
“Have I now amused you then?”
“So you wouldn’t look for a ‘Wilma Hare.’ Who then?”
He grinned. “You’re truly perturbed by my perceptions, aren’t you?”
“Am I?”
“Well, know that your guise is not in vain. I may know who you aren’t, but I still don’t know who you are. Find satisfaction in that. Out of every potential bounty I’ve ever met, I would charge the most for your apprehension, considering the challenge.”
“More than Dismas’s?”
“Certainly. Though, to his credit, he does come second.”
She smirked.
“So you are amused.”
She pulled another small throwing dagger from her satchel and tossed it expertly. It sunk into the trunk of a nearby tree, inconspicuous to all but those with eyes for it.
“Wait,” Tardif said, bringing the group to a halt. He kneeled down to examine a patch of earth. There could be seen the impression of a human footprint.
“One of the madmen?” asked Monroe.
“Possibly,” said the bounty hunter. “Those two that remained at the sanitarium were not barefooted, though. This could be … something else.”

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Sun Nov 19, 2017 9:21 pm

He kneeled at the center of the room, naked and shackled to the cold stone floor of the dungeon. The monks stood in a tight circle around him, wraithlike in their hoods and robes.
“Please,” he begged.
“Silence, monster!” spat one of them. “Brothers, scripture!”
There was a brief pause before another one of them spoke.
“Verse two-hundred ninety-seven: And so it was that the Light cast the fiends into the black pit, for they were abominable in nature!” The speaker lashed a whip. Bigby winced as it licked his flesh.
Another monk spoke; “Verse nine-hundred forty-two: For when the Light witnessed the corruption of their flesh, the skies wept, and tears fell upon the world like acid rain so that they might share in the Light’s pain!” Another whip cracked, and Bigby cried out, for it smote a part of his body that had not yet calloused over with scar tissue.
“Verse five-hundred forty-three,” recited another, “And so it was that men gave into their sin, and were aptly transformed to reflect their vile nature!”
Crack! Bigby doubled over.
“Verse four-hundred ninety-three: Their wild hearts were their greatest transgression!”
Crack!
“Verse three-hundred six: And because they did not repent, they were blind to their own sin!”
Crack!
“Verse two-hundred thirty-two: The Light does not suffer daemons!”
Crack!
“Verse two-hundred seventy-four: And so their faces twisted into those of the beasts, in accordance with their thoughts and actions!”
Crack!
“Verse six-hundred ninety-six: It was then that their sins became known to the world so that all could see them for what they were!”
Crack!
They were speaking all at once now, their damnations flowing together as their whips struck Bigby like a pit of furious vipers. It was just as his flesh was becoming numb that they ceased, suddenly and all at once. He did not raise his head to watch them wordlessly exit the room in single file, but waited until he knew they were gone before he wept. His tears fell to the floor, mingling with his viridescent blood.
***
Bigby woke. He leaned forward from the crook of roots in which he had slept, looking around at the forest for a few moments to reassure himself that he was indeed free. Or at least, -he shifted his chains-, as free as he might ever be. Reaching around to touch his back, he felt the scars that covered him like a prisoner’s tally marks. After a few more minutes of quiet reflection, he rose to his feet, draping the infirmary blanket around his shoulders. Once again, he studied the surrounding wood, trying to recall from which direction he had come before having made his bed. This was like no forest he had ever been in; it betrayed the senses, and had a strangely hostile atmosphere. When he had fled the town, he assumed he would be able to live off of the woodland’s wildlife, but he had not yet seen any, and the emptiness in his gut was growing evermore demanding. He eyed a patch of the weird fungus that grew more prodigiously the deeper into the forest he had tread. Initially, he had viewed it with subtle revulsion, but now the sensation of hunger had become so great as to overshadow his other misgivings. The gruel in the sanitarium had not been hearty, and he was craving something, anything, to satiate his ever-growing hunger.
He slowly reached a hand out to touch a mushroom’s bulbous bulb, but when he did, it began to quiver of its own accord, and he quickly drew back. Perhaps he should look harder. He glanced up to see that the sun was sinking slowly beyond the edge of existence, and took a deep breath before renewing his journey. At least, though the forest was sinister, the trees did not seek to harm nor condemn him.

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Mon Nov 20, 2017 10:20 pm

Norville gave a small yank on his dog’s leash.
“Don’t sniff that,” he said, in reference to a patch of lichen she had taken an interest in. She refocused on the task of following the trail left by her master’s quarry. Temporarily, she had lost it, but he had discovered footprints, and set her back on track. Presently, she sniffed a root that the quarry had most definitely marked, and her tail shot up in the air.
“Good,” complimented her master. He tossed her a treat, which she expectantly snatched midair. Licking his fingers, Norville glanced over his shoulder. “Would you like us to slow our pace so that you could better keep up?!”
A few seconds passed before Junia stepped out from behind a tree. “How long have you known?”
“That you were following me? Nearly from the start.”
Her mouth pinched tight. “And you didn’t say anything?”
“Well, you didn’t either.”
She expelled something between a huff and a sigh, and approached him.
“You really have a strong interest in this man,” said Norville.
“It is … my duty to see to him.”
“Whatever that means.”
“How did you know I was behind you?” asked Junia.
“You mean besides your heavy breathing? Your plated armor is none too silent.”
“I suppose I’m not surprised.”
“But it took me a little while longer to notice Alhazred.”
Junia’s eyes widened. “What?!”
“Confound it!” came a voice from a little ways back.
She jerked her head. “Show yourself!”
“I am not ashamed!” Alhazred then appeared, stepping over a log. “How did you deduce my presence, houndmaster?”
“You are the only man in the Hamlet who smells so strongly of incense,” said Norville. “It’s why I prefer your company when in the Warrens. And it’s even stronger when you sweat.” The occultist stopped before them, skull in hand.
“Hello, Alhazred,” offered Junia with a slight leer.
“Your holiness,” he returned.
“Is there anyone else about?” the vestal demanded of Norville.
Oui. Our quarry. He cannot be far. The trail becomes fresher yet. Also, the Heir’s search party may be close by. I suppose I went back on my word when I said I would make haste to meet them, but we may encounter them yet.”
“Why are you here?” Junia asked of Alhazred.
“Paracelsus told me of Norville’s quest, so I made haste. I must meet this mysterious man again. He still holds secrets I wish to unlock.”
“Then let us continue,” said the houndmaster. “The quarry is still on the move. But we are catching up, so, I think, for your sakes, we can afford to slow our pace somewhat.”
They began again their journey through the weird groves of the Weald, though this time with less haste. As they did, the woodland shadows snaked across the forest floor, growing more menacing with the waning of the sun. With the increasing darkness, the Weald slowly adopted a more active nature. Strange birds began to call from within the knotted treetops, and the bushes about the travellers’ path would rustle and quiver at times. Even the mushrooms seemed to slowly pulse when approached.
“I don’t suppose,” said Norville, “either of you brought a torch.”
In response, Alhazred whispered softly to the skull in his hands, and the burning candle affixed to its scalp flourished. Junia cast him and his flame a sideward glance.
“A quaint summoning,” said she. “But insufficient for our needs.” Flipping open her tome, she raised her mace and recited, “Verse eighty-three: For only through the Light’s magnificence shall the world’s bleakness be dispelled.” The mace‘s head began to emit a warm glow. “You see? We need only ask of the Light’s grace for it to be bestowed. Norville, are you familiar with the holy scripture?”
“I have … heard of it.”
“Perhaps I shall recite some for you.”
“Oh, ah, well, I wouldn’t want to be distracted from the hunt.”
“True. It does preoccupy the mind. I would offer the holy word to you, Alhazred, but I know you are completely uninterested.”
“Only because I am already familiar with it.”
She scoffed. “You jest.”
“I have studied many religions and cults from across the known and unknown worlds, your coven not least among them.”
“I am part of no coven,” Junia clarified. “I am part of an order. A coven would suggest witchcraft.”
“Indeed.”
“If you are so learned of the Light, how can you bare to not embrace it?”
“I am impartial to worship. Knowledge is all I seek.”
“Then know that you are a fool.”
“We’re all fools, actually. Insignificant specks of existence, clinging to a dying rock hurtling through the vast and terrible abyss, striving for meaning where none exists.”
Junia made no response to this.

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Tue Nov 21, 2017 3:55 pm

Having strolled a good thirty feet from camp, the brigand finally selected a tree and opened his trap. He whistled leisurely as he urinated, ignorant to the eyes on his back. Feeling a sharp sting, he ceased his whistling and felt at his neck, where he found a small dart. He stared at it, befuddled, then looked around. Not too far away, he saw a trousered woman in a frock and capotain. She gave him a little wave, a smirk upon her lips. His vision became blurred. He tried to yell out as he fumbled for his gun, but his words came out slurred. After stumbling forward a few feet, he fell to the ground, unconscious.
***
When he slowly awoke, it took him a few moments to realize his predicament. He was strung upside down, his ankles hanging from the branch of a tree, wrists bound behind his back. Standing before him were a bounty hunter, and a watch captain and his men.
“Well then,” grumbled Monroe.
“Told you he was still alive,” came an invisible voice. The bound man strained to look up above his feet, where Audrey was sitting on the branch from which he hung.
“Oi!” screamed the brigand.
“Don’t bother,” assured Monroe. “We’ve taken you well away from your band of brothers. Scream your innards out, if you wish. They won’t hear.”
“Ae! You blokes didn’t even have the decency to tuck me willy in!”
“‘Decency,’” scoffed Monroe. “As if you know the meaning. You know, I respected the old lord of the estate. I viewed him as a man with quality character, despite all the many rumors. Even when the town turned against him, I still vouched for him, held faith in him. But then he brought in your lot. That’s when my opinion of him changed. That’s when I began to loath him too. He allowed your folk to rape our town. Practically paid you to do just that. We were powerless against you, and you all knew it. Took full advantage of it. So don’t you dare utter that word ‘decency’ to me again.”
They watched the man squirm, but he soon gave up. “All right then! Gut me, will ya?! Ye’ve tied me up like an animal, so kill me like one. Go on! I’m waitin’!”
“Don’t be dull,” said Tardif. “We obviously wouldn’t have gone to this trouble if we didn’t want more than your life.”
“Well what do ya want?”
The bounty hunter stepped squarely before him. “We’re looking for some men. Conspicuous men. Mad men.”
The brigand narrowed his gaze at Tardif. “You mean like the lunatic from last night?”
“Describe.”
“Well I only know about the one.”
“And?”
“Well we was all sittin’ ‘round the camp last night when some merry-go-whoosel wearin’ an insanity jacket shows up out of nowhere and starts helpin’ himself to our food. We was all too shocked to do a thing about it at first. But then he starts yammering about who-knows-what, and soon enough it started to drive us all wonky. We couldn’t take it no more. So we shot him in his bloody yapper, and that was the end of that. We figured he was from town, but was sent off on account of no one could stand him no longer. You telling me there are more of his type out there, prancin’ about these woods?”
There was silence as Tardif glared at the man from behind his visor. Then he promptly took the brigand’s head in his hands and butted his forehead with the scalp of his helmet, sending him back into unconsciousness.
“Ought I cut him down?” Audrey asked from above.
“No,” replied Tardif. “He’d just end up shooting at us some day.”
She nimbly dropped to the ground, and began searching the man’s pockets.
“Well,” said the watchmen Haggar, “at least we’re only looking for five now.”
Tardif scowled behind the fabric of his hood.
There was a scream, and the whole company stood to alertness, heads pointing in the same direction.
“Dear god,” said Monroe. “What could that have been?”
“Shall we investigate?” asked Audrey, but Tardif was already moving. The others followed him. Over log and root they passed, until they came to a stop before the source of the cry. A man in a straight jacket lay on the forest floor, the upper portion of his body hidden within a bush, his right leg twitching.
“Finally,” said Monroe.
Tardif immediately stepped forward, grabbed the escapee by his ankle, and pulled him fully out of the brush. There was collective gasp.
“Where is the poor devil’s head?!” exclaimed Monroe.
Audrey inspected the foliage. “Not in here.”
Tardif’s eyes were still fixated on the body. “How?” is all he could say, quietly and to himself.
“Where’s Haggar?” asked Samuel, holding his torch up high.
Monroe whipped his head around. “Haggar!” he called. “Haggar!”
“He was present when we questioned the bandit,” said Timothy. “Perhaps he remained behind?” They hurried back to the hanging brigand, but Haggar could not be found. Tardif bent over to pick up the end of the lengthy twine lying on the ground.
“This cannot be good,” he said.
“Do you suppose the brigands took him?” wondered Timothy.
“Doubtful,” said Monroe, staring into the blackness of the surrounding wood. “Why would they have left one of their own bound and hanging?”
“Something else, more likely,” concluded Tardif.
“Haggar!” screamed Timothy.
“Shush!” scolded Audrey. “You cannot imagine what might hear you.”
Tardif clenched his fists. “We should go now. The light is gone. This quest is for naught.”
“What about Haggar?” asked Timothy.
“We’ll let the coroner know when we get back.”
Monroe stomped his flesh foot into the ground. “Unacceptable! We shall search for him!”
“Do you wish to share whatever fate he has met?”
“Mind you, Bounty Hunter,” he spat, leaning in close to Tardif’s cloaked face, “there’s more than just the coroner to tell. There are his friends and family, the whole bloody Hamlet. We are brothers-in-arms, he and us. We shall not abandon him so freely. But I cannot say I’m surprised by your cowardice. I know precisely where your loyalties lie. You and every one of you outlanders, you’re all self-serving opportunists. No better than those filthy outlaws. You have not come to our hell to save anyone, that’s fully apparent. So if you wish to abandon us, don’t bother trying to justify yourself, and just be gone with you.”
“In that case,” said Audrey, “we’re going to need one of the torches.”
He turned to leer at her. “I don’t believe either of them belong to you.” Then he joined the two brothers in their search for the missing watchman as Tardif and Audrey looked to each other in wordless consternation.

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Wed Nov 22, 2017 5:30 pm

It was among the dead that Bigby found his much-desired sustenance. He had stumbled upon a series of graves along the perimeter of a sprawling burial ground within the Weald. They had been recently unearthed, though why and through what means he could not discern. Upon perceiving a curious gibbling sound, he had gazed down into one of them and spied the largest larva he had ever seen. It took him near on a full minute just to realize what it was he saw. Bigger than a rooster, it sat on the chest of some long-dead man or woman, nibbling ravenously at the face, though there was little flesh left.
Following a few more moments of intense observation, Bigby reached down and picked it up with both hands. It jerked about as wildly as a fish, its multitude of legs flailing in every direction. Alarmed by the creature’s vehement objections to being handled, he could think of nothing better to do in the moment than to simply toss it. Once the thing had landed and righted itself, it came scrambling back towards him, its mandibles twitching in hungry anticipation. Surprised by its advance, he backed away, tripped over a rock, and fell. With the giant maggot nearly upon him, he grabbed the rock, raised it high, and brought it down at precisely the right moment. There was a sickening squishing sound as the grub was crushed, and warm vapors emanated from its newly-exposed innards.
After regaining himself, Bigby scooped up a portion of it, mush-like in substance, but paused before shoveling it into his mouth. Many times he had feasted on maggots and other insects in his captivity, but now he considered the diet of this particular creature. After sitting in pained consideration, it was with no small shame that he finally feasted, and while he felt as though he might retch throughout the entire meal, he never did. He left what he could not bear to finish, wandering deeper into the Hamlet’s abandoned cemetery. The meat, if that was what it could be called, left him extraordinarily unsatisfied.
Strolling among the tombstones, Bigby could not help but notice the many holy symbols that were used to mark a man’s final resting spot, and wondered what marker, if any, might be given to him if he was ever to be interred. He almost laughed at the idea of anyone bothering to bury his remnants, but he couldn’t force the sound out of his throat. He sighed at these musings and became deeply lost in thought, as he was apt to do, contemplating his existence and place in the world.
As he considered how precisely life had changed since escaping the monastery several months prior, he nearly treaded over a body sprawled upon the dirt. Though there were plenty of other cadavers to be found in the cemetery, there was something about this corpse’s apparent haphazard placement and positioning that enticed further inspection. Beneath the pale moonlight, Bigby kneeled over the body, and immediately noticed the complete absence of its head. Furthermore, the open wound at the neck was fresh enough to still be leaking blood. The man before him had certainly died within the hour! Shocked by this revelation, Bigby stood aright and studied the corpse’s garb, recognizing it as a uniform worn by the watchmen of the Hamlet. What the dead man could be doing this deep into the forest, he could not imagine.
As he stood wondering, Bigby was suddenly made aware of a faint murmuring not too far away, accompanied by an occasional metallic knocking. Though somewhat anxious of the sound, curiosity possessed him, overpowering his better judgment. Silencing his chains as best he could, Bigby crept over toward a timeworn mausoleum, beyond which he judged was the noise’s origin. Peaking around the tomb’s corner, he instantly released the grip on his bindings so that he could place a hand over his gaping mouth, lest he cry out at the terrible thing that swayed before him.

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Thu Nov 23, 2017 2:41 pm

Norville, Junia, and Alhazred all stood staring at the brigand. He was hung by his ankles from the branch of a tree, wrists tied behind his back, and entirely decapitated. Blood still poured from where his head should have been.
“I know they are ruthless,” said Norville, “but would they have done this to one of their own? Even if he was a traitor, this seems horribly barbaric. Perhaps it was someone or something else?”
“Are the inhuman demons of these woods even capable of tying rope?” asked Junia.
“Perhaps he is a sacrifice to nigh-forgotten titans of nether realms,” theorized Alhazred, “made by the cult immigrating to this estate.”
Junia narrowed her eyes at the bleeding body. “Or…”
Norville leaned closer, examining the rope. The knots seemed professional. He scratched his beard in thought, then noticed Artemis’s tail rising as she sniffed the air.
“He is here.”
Her ears perked.
“Get down,” he said urgently. Artemis laid her belly flat against the earth, while Norville grabbed the others’ shoulders and pulled them to the ground. “Douse it,” he ordered. Junia’s mace dimmed to darkness, and Alhazred cupped a hand over his candle.
Footsteps could be heard nearby, bare and pattering across the sickened earth, accompanied by the distinct rattling of chains. Norville grabbed for his cudgel. Bigby’s thin frame soon stepped into view, silhouetted against the moon.
Upon recognizing him, Junia instantly rose. There was a blinding flash of light, and Bibgy was knocked from his flight and onto the ground. Regaining his vision, he saw the vestal standing tall before him, her mace aglow, gaze hard and set upon him.
“S-Sister Junia?” he stammered, regaining his breath.
“What are you?” she demanded.
“Please,” he said, shielding his eyes, spots still dancing before them. “We must flee. There is something out there.”
“You’ve done enough fleeing,” she asserted. “Now you face the Light!”
Norville was about to interject, but then he noticed the wolfhound’s hackles rising as she peered into the darkness of the Weald, from whence Bigby had just appeared. Her lip curled as a low growl crept from her throat, and Norville tightened the grip on his cudgel.
“I believe,” he said, still peering into the wild murk, “we’d best follow the stranger’s suggestion.”
Bigby began to scurry backwards, but Junia pinned him down to the rough earth with her foot. Alhazred’s attention was torn between the rediscovered stranger and the approaching presence, the latter of which caused the flame of his candle to flick and jitter. Within the thick shadows of the harrowed forest, a cool glow became apparent, and the whole company grew stock-still. They saw what looked like a blue mass of flaming etheria enveloping a floating head, a skull, peering out from within a pronged cage.
“Oh god,” moaned Bigby, covering half his face.
Norville and his hound began to back away as the form moved ever closer.
“What is this thing?” asked the vestal of Bigby.
What, indeed?” pondered the occultist.
I shall not tarry to find out,” said Norville, “and I beg of you fools to take your leave with me.”
Bigby, taking advantage of the vestal’s distractedness, shoved her foot away and scrambled to his feet. He and the houndmaster began to flee, with the vestal close behind. Alhazred dared to wait a moment longer, his eyes widening as the specter drew ever nearer.
“What exquisite new horror is this?”
A hoarse, reverberating groan leaked from between the buoyant skull’s gumless teeth, and Alhazred finally became motivated to take flight from the ghastly apparition, and not a moment too soon.

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Fri Nov 24, 2017 7:13 pm

After some hushed debate, Audrey and Tardif had decided to remain among the watchmen, not yet willing to abandon the light of the torches and fearing to cross something hostile in the dark as a mere party of two. So they joined the search for the missing Haggar, though they kept their senses attuned for far more than the absent watchman. For as they scanned the warped and darkened woodland, every element adopted a hostility that seemed to bristle all around them. Even the mushrooms appeared to breath with malicious intent.
“We could take a torch by force,” quietly suggested Audrey as she eyed one of the unwitting brothers from behind.
“We don’t want to make enemies of the watchmen,” Tardif replied, “just in case we all survive this night. The townsfolk are just starting to warm up to us.”
“Judging from Monroe’s attitude, we may already be considered enemies.”
Tardif grumbled something from behind his hood.
Audrey was not generally one to inquire into personal matters, but she had taken some interest in the bounty hunter as of late. In actuality, she felt compelled to avoid him at times; the way he seemed to scrutinize absolutely everyone unnerved her guardedness, and his recently disclosed observations of her only confirmed and reinforced her wariness of him.
She had observed Tardif to be an individual of great reserve and few words. He was normally one of the most collected of the heir’s contractors, and perhaps the most professional. She had begrudgingly found herself beginning to respect him, at least, more so than she did the others. He was efficient, of that there was no doubt. But a change had come over him as of late, perhaps as recently as that day. He had become markedly agitated, quicker and less calculated, and this only seemed to be increasing as the hours passed by. At this point, he had begun to repeatedly ball and unball his fists, and as he turned his head in his vigilance, he did so in jerky, almost sudden movements. He was also beginning to periodically mutter to himself, something he was not normally apt to do.
It was starting to disquiet Audrey. Finally, she decided to pry.
“You seem bothered,” she mentioned in an offhanded tone.
“Is this not a bothersome situation?”
“Your conduct has been faltering since we left town.” She could hear him sigh. Then he started to mutter again. She didn’t want to press the issue, so instead she refocused on the topic of the torches. “Perhaps if we found a thick branch, and tore off a strip of cloth to wrap-”
“The bounty is lost,” interrupted Tardif.
The grave robber shrugged, though she failed to see what that had to do with their need for light. “What more could we do of it?”
Tardif shook his head. “You don’t understand. I needed this bounty.”
“Haven’t you been making something of a pretty coin on recent errands?”
“It’s not the money. To hell with the money for once!”
This surprised her. “What then?”
“It was a bounty. It was a job. Something I’m proficient at. I track men down, Wilma. I capture them. Sometimes dispatch them. Then I bring them back. It’s what I do. But ever since I came to this death-ridden place, I’ve been preforming tasks of a different nature. Here, I’ve just become a man with an axe, hewing down all manner of thing, a bloody butcher and nothing more. I feel like a mere soldier these days. But I’m not Reynauld, or Barristan, or Missandei. This is not what I set out for. This is not my job.
“But now, finally, I was given a task perfect for a man of my profession. A true bounty. Six bounties! Placed on the heads of mere madmen. And what am I met with? Failure.”
Audrey considered his words.
“But there’s more than just that,” Tardif went on. “Don’t you feel as though you’ve been conscripted into a war? I do. It’s a war I believed I had no part in, but I took part nonetheless. The opportunity for reward seemed too great. But the longer I spend here, the more horrors I hack through, the more I’ve come to understand – this is our war. It concerns all of us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Tell me, Wilma, in all honesty – the things we’ve encountered here, do you think them haphazard? Do you think they are inconsequential? Do you think that militia of bone, or the stinking swine, or those gilled creatures mean nothing? There is something colossal afoot. The old lord of this estate, he stirred something unthinkable. Below that manor, I wager. And all these monstrosities we’ve seen thus far, they are but ripples.”
Audrey said nothing for a time, then, “Do you think the head of the Estate knows far more than has been divulged to us?”
“I’ve become almost certain of it.”
They each fell back into silence. The watchmen, too, were growing quiet. They had frequently been calling out Haggar’s name, but as the darkness became increasingly thicker, so too was the volume of their voices ever more subdued by caution and paranoia. As they moved along, their torchlight cast shadows that shifted, creating the illusion of movement on the periphery of their visions. Branches looked like reaching arms, and roots like slithering coils. Every now and then, the firelight would catch the glint of eyes staring at them from within the dark.
“Sam,” said Timothy to his elder brother.
“Aye?”
“You know those stories that Gran used to tell us, back when we were but boys?”
“Aye.”
“I can’t stop thinkin’ about one of them. Do you remember when she told us the tale of… -”
“The Collector?”
“You been thinkin’ about it too?”
“It was just a story,” insisted Samuel.
“I know. But … what if-”
“No. Just a story. It was only made to frighten us.”
“That it did. It’s still frightenin’ me now.”
Audrey had, as usual, been eavesdropping. Normally she said nothing. But her interest was piqued.
“Collector? What’s all that about?”
The brothers looked at her, then at each other.
“It’s an old boogey tale of the Hamlet,” piped Monroe.
“Care to share it?” Audrey asked, in part hoping to mend some of the rapport between her and the watchmen. The captain cast her a sidelong glance, then breathed a sigh through his white-whiskered nostrils.
“Well there are a few variations of it, so I’ll tell you the one that I know best. Long ago, in days of yore, before the Estate was an estate, it had a king. And as all kings did, he had enemies – conspirators both within and without the borders of his land. Whenever he caught or conquered these enemies, he would have them beheaded, then kept their heads as trophies. He would have these heads preserved, and then show them off to friends and visitors. Of course, this sort of thing was not entirely unheard of. People assumed it was a method to frighten them into loyalty, and so thought nothing more of it. But as it turned out, it was more than that. The king began to fixate on his ever-growing collection. He would spend time with the heads, carry them around with him, even talk to them. This behavior disturbed his subjects, but they said nothing of it to him. It was simply considered a … quirk of his.
“Eventually, though, people began disappearing, and not just his enemies. Friends, allies, and loved ones of the king would sometimes be found dead and headless. The queen had terrible suspicions, and when she discovered what had become of their heads, she had the king exposed, and he was locked away in a dungeon cold and dark.
“The queen then took his stead and governed for many years after. But she was not without remorse. So on the same day every year, she would gift him one of the heads from his collection, and allowed him to keep it with him in the dungeon. This was the only thing that brought him joy in his captivity. All year long, he would look forward to the day that one of his heads were returned to him. After many years, he was once again in possession of his entire collection. This pleased him, but almost immediately afterwards, he passed away. Perhaps the sense of finality prompted him to finally shed his mortal coil.
“But, whatever malady of the mind he had suffered from must have touched the queen as well, for not long after his death, she began to hear his voice in her slumber. Every night, it haunted her dreams. She began to lose sleep, and her sanity. Driven to desperation, she had the king exhumed, and had his caged head brought to her so she could keep watch over it, certain that he was up to no good. She would spend time with it, carry it around with her, even talk to it.
“It was on the first anniversary of the king’s death, of that day that the final head had been returned to him, that of his infant daughter’s, that the queen was discovered sitting upright against the head of her bed. The bed sheets were covered in blood. Resting on her shoulders, instead of her own head, was the cage containing the king’s skull.
“The queen’s chambermaid swore that the skull had laughed when she first discovered the atrocity, but she was deemed young and excitable. It was decided that this was the grisly work of one of the queen’s rivals, though their identity was never discovered. Neither was the queen’s head.”
“Your Hamlet’s storytellers have some twisted imaginations,” said Audrey.
Well,” said Monroe, “the story is based on truth. Something similar did happen. But it’s difficult to say what of it is fact, and what has been added or altered over the many long years of creative embellishment. The indisputably fabricated portion of the tale is usually told at the very beginning or end of it, that the king’s skull, which was somehow misplaced following the queen’s murder, still haunts the Estate, searching for hapless victims with which to bolster its collection.”
“And he still wears his yellow robe,” added Timothy.
“How does a mere head wear a robe?” Audrey asked.
“It doesn’t,” said Samuel, rather forcefully. “Because it’s just a story.”
“Right,” concurred his brother. “Just a story. But that’s how it goes.”
“No one tells such stories anymore,” said Monroe. “Because in these grim days, horror is all too real.”
Audrey thought back to the lunatic’s body. A moment later, she stopped walking, and held up her hand. “Do you hear that?” she asked. The four men turned to look at her, then listened intently.
“Are those,” asked Samuel, “chains rattling?”
“Chains indeed,” moaned Timothy, holding his firearm close. “They must surely belong to a specter of the dead come back to take its toll.”
“Nonsense,” Monroe countered. “It must be–“
Everyone brought their weapons up as Bigby burst into sight, then kept on running.
“One of the lunatics!” finished Monroe. “Capture him!” They were about to attempt just that when Junia, Norville, Artemis, and Alhazred also appeared, running in Bigby’s wake.
“Courir! Courir!” shouted the houndmaster as he flew by.
“You heard him!” said Tardif, leading the others in pursuit.
Bigby grew hopeful when he noticed the trees thinning out, but instead of the forest opening up onto the Hamlet, he was dismayed to find that he had only reached another arm of the cemetery. Had he run in a complete circle? He began to slow his pace as he frantically calculated how to best proceed. Junia, trailing not too far behind, saw this opportunity, and jolted her mace into the air. A bolt of lightning flashed from the heavens and struck a tree, snapping a large branch off, which fell before Bigby, barring his immediate way. He spun around to face the vestal’s approach.
“Do not flee!” she commanded.
“You don’t know what I am,” he warned her.
“I know indeed. You are an abomination! So says the symbol upon your head.”
“And I know what you are,” he shot back. “You are a messenger of the Light’s divine wrath, with which I am well familiar. But I have no interest in you or your message. That is why I have taken to these woods. Leave me be!”
“You are foolish to think you can escape the Light’s reach.”
“Please, do not rile me,” he begged. “The Thing inside me … I cannot fully control It.”
“I had spoken to the Hamlet’s abbot on the night you fled,” the vestal informed him. “He told of a monastery where holy men have been tasked with the confinement of a beast in the skin of a man. I know it to be true, for I have heard tell of it myself. But never did I expect to meet this wolf in wool. It is evident that the holy brethren have failed in their charge of you. I now take it upon myself to sunder you, so that you will no more plague this world with your wretched existence.”
“I have done things that I am in no way proud of. Things I will forever regret. But I was not in control when committing those atrocities. I have tried desperately to repent, to wright my wrongs, but I have not yet been given the chance!”
“There is no repentance for such sin, only punishment. And for you, damnation.” She opened her tome. “Listen to the Word and know that it is your condemnation.”
Bigby clutched his chains as his veins began to emit the green glow of his blood. “You are aggravating It,” he said in a pained voice.
Norville came to a halt when he saw the obstructing tree limb. Alhazred, who had dared a glance over his shoulder, ran straight into him, sending them both to the ground. Atemis barked at her master to rise. Tardif, Audrey, Timothy, Samuel, and Monroe soon joined the scene.
Junia flipped her tome to a memorized page. “Witness, all ye present, the Light’s divine will.”
“Have any of you seen one of my men?” asked Monroe, leaning on his blunderbuss for support. “He’s a scruffy fellow with a broad face. Name’s Haggar, and he has a ticklish sense of humor.”
“Please do not interrupt,” said Junia. “This is a dire matter.”
“And so is my missing man,” the captain said with barely-contained irritation. “Now could any of you please be of some bloody use and tell me if you’ve seen him?”
“I … I have.”
Everyone looked at Bigby.
“Only, I assume it was him. I couldn’t tell you what his face looked like, because –”
“It must have been him,” interrupted Monroe. “Where is it that you saw him?”
Bigby was about to speak, but paused, and looked at Junia. “Free me of this woman’s wrath, and I will tell you.”
“No harm will come to you,” the captain assured him. “You are a man of the Hamlet, and I have taken an oath to protect you.”
“He is not of your Hamlet,” Junia informed him.
“Sister Vestal,” said the captain, “with all due respect, please take a moment to contemplate some profound line of scripture while I finish questioning this man. Now,” he looked back to Bigby, “where was it exactly that you had seen my watchman?”
Bigby’s eyes grew wide, and he pointed a trembling finger past the gathered company.
The captain frowned. “That is a little vague.”
Artemis growled in the direction that Bigby had indicated as her master and the occultist got to their feet.
En garde, you all!” cried Norville. “There is a monster in our midst!”
The entire company looked to see what was approaching, and their blood became frigid at the sight. The cage that it wore around its head appeared to be some sort of torture device, and every so often the skull inside would throw itself forward against its prison, producing a most unsettling noise of bone against iron. As it neared the torchlight, it could be seen that beneath the skull’s cage was a looming body robed in yellow, which appeared to glide across the forest floor with uncanny ease. Its arms hung at its sides, swaying like those of a rag doll’s. Though the robe was slightly parted in front, the form beneath it was shadowed from view, besides the occasional glimmer of eyes.
“Good gods above,” breathed Monroe. “The ghost stories are true. It’s the Collector.”
A low and whispery groan sounded from the specter’s skull as its hands rose to part the yellow robe. Something shifted from the horrid mass of its body and slithered forth. Floating in the air, with its spine curling and uncurling beneath it, a disembodied head stared upon the lost company before it. Its face was broad, its beard was scruffy, and its eyes glowed blue with an unhallowed possession. The watchmen gasped when they recognized its features. It was to their added astonishment when the spectral image of Haggar’s body appeared momentarily beneath the head, brandishing the memory of his musket and firing it. The phantasmal bullet entered into Samuel’s shoulder before dematerializing, and he fell back with a cry, dropping his torch before its flame was smothered beneath the weight of his body. Norville, Artemis, and Alhazred jumped behind a thick log as Junia and Timothy rushed to tend to Samuel. Haggar’s head then took aim at Timothy, but a thrown dagger from Audrey sunk into its forehead, rocking it backwards and causing its second shot to miss.
Monroe cocked the hammer of his blunderbuss, took aim at the Collector, and fired. There was a loud bang, a profusion of smoke, and a hollow grunt from the Collector as it was struck. “Be gone, you bloody devil!” cried Monroe. “Haunt our Hamlet no more!” He then set to the lengthy process of reloading his gun.
In response, the Collector birthed forth another head from its body, that of the captured brigand’s.
Samuel cried out in pain as his brother tried to drag him to a safer location. With Samuel’s back propped against the backside of a headstone, Junia leaned over him and held her mace near his bleeding wound. “Be still, brave defender of the people,” she told him, and then began to recite prayer. The mace glowed softly, easing the watchman’s pain and blood flow.
“Timothy!” yelled Monroe. “Bring that torch hither! I cannot see what I’m doing in this blasted black.”
The translucent outline of the brigand’s body flashed into view as it shot its phantom fusil, which struck Tardif’s head, ricocheting of the scalp of his helmet, and causing him to drop the flashbang grenade he had been preparing. It hit the ground and went off at his feet, a disorienting explosion of light and sound and smoke. For a time, he struggled to regain his senses and bearing.
Crouched behind the log, Norville noticed Alhazred murmuring strange words to the skull in his hands, and knew from past experience that he was beginning an incantation. He also knew that the occultist would require as much concentration as possible, so he decided a distraction was needed to shift the monster’s focus from its attack. The houndmaster slipped behind some trees and began to circle around the yellow-clad specter. Once in position, he gave the signal, and Artemis attacked. The Collector released an exclamation of surprise as the wolfhound tore into it then rushed away. It turned around, reached into its body, and pulled out yet another head, throwing it into the air. It became buoyant, then immediately began twitching and muttering with the perturbed madness of its former life.
Haggar’s head fired after Audrey, who had slipped into the smoke caused by Tardif’s accidental flashbang, but the shot missed her by a wide margin. Meanwhile, the brigand’s head fired at the kneeling Monroe, and clipped the shin of his wooden leg. But when Monroe raised his readied blunderbuss, he kept his focus on the Collector, and emptied another charge into the wretched entity, who once again turned to face its attacker.
The Collector examined the captain. My what a nice beard he had. And an interesting hat as well, which seemed to sit so neatly on his head. And such a level head at that. Yes, it was certainly a head to be proud of, and one to envy, too.
It was then that the madman’s head began to scream, unleashing a demented strain of garbled lamentation onto the company’s ears, and into their minds. All of them placed their hands over their ears to shut out the maddening words, aside from Alhazred, who already knew or had suspected the things it spoke of. Norville sacrificed the use of one hand to point at the source of the nerve-wracking noise, and Artemis lunged forward, grabbing its spine between her teeth and tugging at it, which momentarily interrupted its yelling.
When the mad head had begun to shout out its malady, though, Monroe had dropped his effects to shield his ears. Timothy, too, had dropped his torch, which fell onto and lit the captain’s scattered gunpowder. Another haphazard explosion rang out, and sent Monroe reeling. He stumbled back into a mass of coiling roots, and when he looked up, he saw the Collector’s robed form drifting towards him. As it grew near, it reached up and splayed fully open its garb, revealing its full form to the horrified man. Faces, faces, faces looked back at him, drawn and pleading, bound together with ropey, web-like sinew, their eyes burning in the dark with the agony of their ensnared souls. Monroe made to turn and run, but felt a tug at his hip instead. His wooden foot had become lodged in the roots. He let out a harsh scream as the faces wrapped around him, and the Collector closed its robe about the captain’s body.
With no torchlight, the company’s eyes were blinded by the sudden dark, but they could all perfectly hear the captain, even as his voice was muffled by the enveloping robe, even as his nerve-piercing scream turned into a gurgle, followed by the sickening sound of bones disjointing and flesh wrenching from flesh. Then, there was only the heavy thud of his headless corpse.
“Oh gods, the hell, the hell,” Timothy began to cry. “We have died already, for we are surely in Hell! Light has forsaken us! There is nothing but infernal darkness now! There is no Hamlet, no bastion, nothing left but oblivion!” He wrapped his arm underneath his brother, who had entered into shock, and hauled him up. “Come Sam! We must flee from here. Flee forever!” Junia reached out to them, but they had already stumbled away into the twisting thicket of the Weald.
Before anyone could say anything else, the madman’s head directed its focus to the wavering Tardif, and began to yell directly at him, its garbled words swirling around him, full of ominous portents and chilling secrets. The bounty hunter fell to his knees and hands, overcome with the knowledge of doom. The crazed words only ceased when Audrey hurled a dagger at the madman’s glowing features, which flew into the head’s open mouth, slicing off its tongue. But it was too late.
“This land is hungry. There are teeth all around us. We are nothing but food,” bemoaned Tardif.
When the Collector had finished appraising its new acquisition, it looked up to survey the remaining candidates. Such a variance of choices there were, like looking in the window of a toymaker’s shop. But one in particular caught its attention. The odd hair, the intriguing scars, and features molded by years of harrowing torment. So profoundly unique. It had to belong to him.
Bigby had been cowering in a huddle for most of the battle, covering himself with his blanket in a desperate attempt to hide, but now he was taking the occasion of the lightlessness as an opportunity to slip away. He had crawled underneath the obtrusive limb, but in doing so, one of his chains became caught on a segment of the branch. As he toiled to free himself, he looked up to see the Collector focusing its greedy sockets on him. Bigby’s arms bulged to unnatural proportions as he desperately yanked the chain, snapping the branch it had become snagged on. The Collector drifted in pursuit.
Junia ducked behind the bloodied headstone as the brigand’s head fired a round at her, sending fragments of granite flying. Haggar’s head raised its barrel at Tardif, but Norville was quick to firmly smack it upside with his cudgel.
With great dismay, Bigby found that he had come to yet another dead end – a giant stump with tentacle-like roots that wrapped all around a jutting family of headstones, situated between a pair of matching mausoleums. He turned to see the Collector drawing near, and pressed his back against the stump’s wide base.
“No. No. No! You cannot do this to me! I have not fled across plains, through valleys, over mountains, and amidst such hardships so as to be enslaved again!” He hunched over as his shoulders became broad and his voice grew low, veins pulsing with eldritch fluids. “I will tear myself apart before suffering another set of shackles! Even if I have to free It, I will be free!” His spine cracked, his muscles thickened, and long ebon horns sprouted from his head. “I am no prisoner! Not ever again! NeverrrrrrrAaahh!!!” His last spoken word turned into a bestial roar as chains broke and the shift became complete. The Abomination had been loosed.
The Collector had paused, analyzing the transformation. It now saw before it a very different head, and yet somehow the same. This puzzled it for a few moments. A transforming head. How remarkable. The spirit became possessed by a consuming avarice that burned with the need to own this wondrous treasure before it.
‘Give it to meeee,’ it demanded, reaching outwards to claim the horned head.
Instead, the Abomination lashed out at the Collector, raking its claws across its collected body. The ghost let out a moan of displeasure, moving backwards several feet. When it regained its composure, though, its focus became all the more intense. It looked the Abomination in the eyes, and pointed a finger at it. With this gesture, the blue aura of the Collector’s soul flared, and the Abomination felt as though the specter’s gaze had pierced into its very flesh, marrow, and being. With a cry of pain, it sunk to its knees, acidic blood dripping from its snout.
The levitating heads of Haggar, the brigand, and the madman all shifted their attention to a single target. They floated away from the adventurers and towards the weakened Abomination.
Norville joined Junia’s side as they witnessed the scene unfolding, lit by the Collector’s blazing soul.
“I am confused,” said the houndmaster. “What has become of the stranger?”
“Look closely,” said the vestal, pointing, “and see for yourself. Do you not spy the brand upon the beast’s head?”
Norville gawked. “Sacrebleu. So it is true. The man is a monster. Or, perhaps, is the monster a man?” They watched as the heads closed in around their quarry. “What should we do, then? Shall we intervene, or do we let the things battle it out?”
“Do what you will, friend,” said Junia. “It is not you, but I who have taken sacred vows to uphold the will of the flame.” And with that, she hugged her tome tight, and strode forward to meet the creatures.
Norville scratched his beard in amazement. Whether it was the Light or madness that possessed her, he could not tell.
It was with a clap of thunder that a bolt of pure light smote the ground between the Collector and Abomination. “Hear me, ye unhallowed revenant!” Junia bellowed. “This abomination will indeed be done with accordingly, but it will not be by your doing! It is not your place! Your place is the grave! Return to it, or face the Light’s wrath!”
The Collector acknowledged her momentarily, before bearing forth its newest prize, then turning its attention back to the Abomination. The eyes of Monroe’s head glared bright with the Collector’s will, before the phantom outline of his form manifested and leveled its blunderbuss point-blank at Junia. Her reaction time was not quick enough to defend herself, but Artemis powered into the back of her legs, buckling her knees and sending her to the dirt as the shot flew overtop of her.
“Good girl!” called Norville.
Sensing something amiss with the area they occupied, the wolfhound began dragging Junia across the ground by the hem of her robe. But the vestal forced herself to her feet, strode over to Monroe’s head, and smashed its face in with her mace. She felt something shift beneath her, and looked down to see a large circle of burning sigils appearing on the ground. More and more strange symbols began to manifest in the dirt, glowing ever brighter. Junia knew she had to move, and hastily quitted the spot.
Alhazred finally rose from his seat, and stepped up onto the log that had been sheltering him. The incantation he had been reciting was an intensely difficult one to master, something he had been practicing for years. It was very long, and required exact pronunciations of a language that had not been created for human tongues. But while its initiation was painstaking, its culmination was relatively simplistic, needing only the continued recital of basic chants in order to maintain its momentum so as to keep the portal open. His voice rose as his mentor’s skull levitated between his open palms, and the candle’s flame flared with the atmospheric charge of magikal energies.
Within the glowing circle of weird symbols, the fabric of reality began to shift and ripple until it vanished altogether, and instead opened onto another plane of being barely compatible with this one. An unearthly red glow emitted from the opening, while twigs and dirt and pebbles began moving towards it. Junia noticed that even from the distance she stood, she felt a physical pull towards the circle, and the edges of her robe began lifting in its direction.
“The gravitational forces of the other realm are stronger than our own!” shouted Alhazred between chants. “Stay clear of the circle and be sure not to fall through. For if you do, there will be no returning!”
Moments later, the adventurers could feel some sort of disturbance, and they somehow knew that there was something moving on the other side of the portal.
“N’ir flatul h’gotn - Stand back!” cried the occultist. “- Yigg smgrrothop yt’tchana - It will take whatever it can grasp onto. - Thul n’ortheppa.”
It?” questioned Junia.
A deep and resonating sound unlike anything on Earth reverberated in their ears, and eyes grew wide as a towering tentacle reached through the portal’s opening and up into the air. It was followed by several smaller ones, stuffing themselves through the circle until it became plugged, and the gravitational forces restabilized.
“Alhazred, you mad Arab!” cried Junia. “What impossible eldritch entity have you brought to us?”
“Ha ha ha! Ye of little faith! It cannot pass through an opening so small! As long as I maintain the correct size of passage, it can only reach through!” Just as he said this, though, the writhing limbs pushed against the summoned ring, which began to widen at the force.
The occultist forcefully spewed forth an altered bout of chants, his muscles straining as he contorted his hands and fingers into a specific series of shapes and movements, and the ring shortly stabilized. One of the tentacles blindly lashed out, slamming into the ground. Another one found a tree, wrapped around it, and pulled it from its roots.
Audrey had been watching from a safe distance, not knowing what to make of or do with the unfolding situation, but at this point she realized that though the occultist was indeed mad, he was also methodic. The tentacles were quite long, but the Collector, still fully absorbed with its target, hovered just outside their reach. That needed to change. Of all the people she knew, there was one who was best at moving a body’s location, be it dead or alive. She looked down at the pitiful sight of Tardif, still wallowing in the dirt.
“Tardif, get up,” she told him. “Your skills are needed.”
But he simply shook his head. “There would be no point to it. We are all doomed anyhow.” He didn’t even look up at her. “Darkness looms like a colossus. Can’t you feel its shadow? How I wish oblivion would just come already and be over with it.” He let out a low groan. “We have failed. I have failed. There is nothing for it anymore.”
Audrey deliberated the optimal course of action, looking between the bounty hunter and the monstrous, flailing tentacles. She tightened her fists and clenched her jaw before dropping to a knee before Tardif, taking him by the shoulders and forcefully straightening his posture.
“You listen to me,” she said, casting aside her false accent for an English one. “You’ve been doubting yourself this entire expedition, and you’ve allowed your doubt to undermine you. But this is not you. I have seen what you are capable of. You are competent, you are experienced, and you are skilled. Wanted men all across the map fear you, Tardif. And for good reason. Look at me, will you?” She pulled off his helmet and tipped back the brim of her hat to better meet eyes, futile as it was in the dark. “You were dead right about me. My name’s not Wilma Hare. You knew that because you excel at what you do. You are a hunter of men. You wanted an opportunity to prove yourself? Here it is.” She pointed over towards the Collector. “That king in yellow may no longer be a mortal man, but it is still a man. You will certainly be a failure if you accept failure. But now’s your chance to strive for something else.” She held the face of his helmet before his eyes. “You are who you make of yourself. So tell me – who are you?” Audrey placed the helmet in his hands and sped off to assist the others.
The Abomination was fighting with vicious abandon, but it was not enough. It was still cornered and under constant assault by the Collector and its enslaved heads. The heads were difficult to hit, and stung like hornets. For every one that was crushed, the Collector summoned another to take its place, and the Abomination was beginning to bleed out under their concentrated aggression. Monroe’s head fired its phantom blunderbuss square into the monster’s chest, sending the beast stumbling back against the great stump as it let out an anguished cry.
Norville scowled when he saw this. “Beast or man, that individual is still a suspect, innocent until proven guilty, and I will not let him be slaughtered like this. Come, Artemis!” Junia watched him and his hound brave the periphery of the wild tentacles as they advanced towards the stump.
The brigand’s head aimed its fusil at the Abomination’s wounded abdomen, but before it could fire, it was tackled to the ground by the great and shaggy Artemis. Her muzzle grew slick with blood as she tore its face off, then bit down on its spine and shook it until it came apart and fell lifelessly to the ground.
A cultist’s head rushed at Norville, with phantom blades poised for rending, but a flash of Junia’s holy light disoriented it long enough for the houndmaster to retaliate with his cudgel, smacking it backwards and into the reach of the eldritch leviathan. The great monster wrapped a suctioned limb around the cultist’s head, and immediately pulled it into the void. The Abomination, even in its pain and rage, recognized the momentary ease of focus from the Collector’s minions. It reached a long arm out, grasped Haggar’s head in a large hand, and squeezed, crushing it as fragments of bone and brain oozed between the beast’s fingers. Monroe’s head bobbed to avoid a lashing tentacle, but as soon as it did, two flying daggers from Audrey embedded themselves into the dead captain’s eyes.
“Ba’azz mul kei. Yeth mon du’va’al.” Sweat began to run down Alhazred’s forehead as he struggled to maintain the diameter of the portal. “Move the wraith into the leviathan’s reach!” he yelled.
“The wraith is too large to move!” argued Norville.
The Collector had grabbed the weakened Abomination by the neck and was beginning to strangle it. Audrey dug her pickaxe into the Collector’s form, Artemis tugged at its robe, and Junia attempted to debilitate it with prayer, but the wicked spirit, driven by the very obsession that had brought it back from death, withstood. It did not even notice when a roped hook was tossed over one shoulder, under its arm, and fastened behind its back by a bounty hunter. Tardif handed the coiled end to Audrey, the most agile of them all, and pointed past the looming tentacles to a sturdy tree.
“Get this to the other side,” he told her. The grave robber grinned as she took it, and set off on the task. She did not know if the giant entity could sense her, but decided to assume that it could. She raced across the danger zone, pushing her body as hard as it would go. One of the thick red limbs came swiping in her direction. She hurled over it, the uncoiling rope still in hand, and hit the ground running. Monroe’s blind head, hearing Tardif’s voice, fired in the bounty hunter’s direction. It missed the man, but struck the monster. The tentacles reached for the source of the assault, and Tardif threw himself to the ground in order to avoid them. Norville helped him to his feet, and they circled around with Junia to meet Audrey on the other side, who had already wrung the rope’s end about the trunk of the tree.
“Grab hold,” Tardif told them as he finished tying the most secure knot he knew. He, Junia, Norville, and Audrey tightly grasped the rope, while Artemis grabbed on with her teeth. They pulled.
The Collector was surprised when it felt a strong tugging sensation around its body. It rotated its skull to see the source of the force, unhanding the bleeding and battered Abomination upon realizing the plot against it. It dared not release any more heads to attack the mortals, for it was from its collection that it drew its joint physical strength. Every illuminated eye in its bodily collection flared as the Collector pulled back against the adventurers. Veins bulged as they dug their heels into the dirt, but they were at an even standstill with the ghost.
Alhazred was drenched in sweat, and his voice was growing sore and horse from the continued chanting. “I cannot maintain this eternally!”
Junia looked from the weakening occultist, and past the Collector to the Abomination, its bestial frame sagging from pain and exertion. Her brow knit tightly as she frowned. Then, inhaling a great breath, she let go of the rope, put her palms together, and kneeled, head bowed to the heavens.
“Divine and infallible Light,” she prayed. “I am but a lowly servant, a mere glimmer in the presence of your blinding fire. But I beseech thee. Heal this wretch that has wandered so far beyond your illumination. Caress it with your benevolent rays, dry its bleeding, and mend its flesh. Do not let it fall. Bless it with your grace.”
The Abomination felt a strange tingling sensation as its wounds closed and its vision cleared. Pain subsided as it drew itself back up onto its padded feet. Disoriented bewilderment was replaced by a surge of fury when it looked up to see the entity that had tried to rid it of its freedom. It snorted, and with a great roar, charged. It slammed its broad head into the Collector, and the impact threw the ghost away. With the rope gone suddenly slack, the tugging adventurers fell back in a heap. The giant, tentacled monstrosity, sensing a surge of eldritch force, reached in the Abomination’s direction, and found the Collector instead. The many limbs wrapped themselves around their newfound squeeze, and, at the wicked spirit’s dismay, dragged its amassed form screaming into their otherworldly home.
Alhazred dropped to the earth in fatigue, uttering one last vital word before he and his old mentor’s skull hit the ground. The circle of runes vanished, and with them so too did the portal, just as the body of the Collector’s collection was brought through. When the adventurers regained their verticality, they looked up to see its floating skull, still wreathed in burning blue etheria, trapped within its grounded iron cage, and past it, Bigby, shivering in the cold, dark night.
It was shortly after the adventurers stood acknowledging each other in silent exhaustion that a thick and tapering branch was snapped from a tree. One end was wrapped in a shred of cloth torn from Bigby’s infirmary blanket, and then wetted by a tonic from Audrey’s satchel. With the aid of Alhazred’s candle, it was lit aflame. Audrey held the torch high, and smirked when she noticed the familiar glint of a thrown dagger, purposefully imbedded in the base of a tree. Norville placed a firm hand on Bigby’s shoulder, and the wanted man was led with the rest of the company back through the Weald and into the sleepy Hamlet, the gleam of dawn just appearing over the horizon upon their arrival.

WretchedWight
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:11 pm

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby WretchedWight » Sat Nov 25, 2017 11:51 pm

“So you didn’t bring back any madmen?” you asked, curiously eyeing the item in Tardif’s hands.
“Just this one,” he said, placing the caged skull on your desk with a heavy thud, its pointed prongs digging into the expensive wood.
You could not help but stare at it. “Is that…?”
“Yes,” replied the bounty hunter. “It is.”
“I didn’t actually think he was real.” You realized that your bewilderment was showing. “No yellow robe after all.”
“There was one,” said Audrey, in her feigned German accent. “But it was stolen by a kraken.”
“Ah.” Your skin began to crawl as the floating skull’s sockets continued staring at you. At your head. “Renfield, I don’t care for the way this thing is looking at me,” you said to the Caretaker, who stood beside your desk. “Please cover it.”
Yes,” he replied, ripping a window curtain off the wall and throwing it over the cage.
You sighed. “Well I can’t pay you all for a task you didn’t accomplish. But this is admittedly impressive. I suppose that earns you something.” You reached into a drawer and produced three pouches full of coin, one for each. As soon as the gold had been distributed, Audrey left, but Tardif paused in the doorway.
“You never established an expiration for the bounties. Until you do, I will still find you whatever madmen have yet survived.” He was gone before you could respond.
Norville leaned in towards you from across the desk, and said in a hushed voice, “The stranger has been thoroughly questioned.” His breath smelled like dog treats. “I have yet to identify the culprit, but it was certainly not him.”
“Thank you,” you said. The former gendarme saw himself out, and you motioned for Bigby to approach, who had been seated silently in the corner, staring out the window. He timidly came forward.
“I don’t know who you are, but I’ve heard some odd things about you. You’re a wanted man, as I understand it. Some religious brotherhood is out looking for you, and that’s why you’ve come here. To hide. Is that correct?”
“…Yes” he said softly, after a long hesitation.
“Your presence in the Hamlet has caused contention among some of my contractors. This is problematic, as I highly value their services. But…” You intertwined your fingers. “I am rather short on men recently. I just lost four of my ten remaining watchmen, one of whom was their captain. I assume, merely judging by your appearance, that you are an individual familiar with some measure of desperation, so I hope you can appreciate the type of situation I’m in. Normally, a man of your, erm … bearing, shall we put it, would not exactly spur my interest as a potential investment. However, I’m told you can fight like a beast when provoked, and though I’m sure that’s an exaggerated account, it paints an impressive portrait nonetheless.”
He said nothing.
“Here’s my offer — I’ll allow you to stay in my Hamlet, but only if you agree to join the ranks of my contractors. You will periodically be sent out to accompany them while performing various tasks throughout the Estate. I will pay you for these services. And, if you prove yourself useful, I’ll grant you asylum from the brotherhood, should they come looking for you here.”
His somber face grew markedly brighter. You felt a tinge of gilt. It was such an earnest expression of gratitude that he wore, something that had become all too scarce in your life. It would be a far greater mercy to send him on his way than to subject him to the inevitable trauma he would face in your home.
“I do not know how to thank you for this kindness,” he said, his voice almost breaking.
“You’ll have plenty of opportunities,” you replied, attempting to return his smile. “In the meantime, though, I suggest you head down to our local tavern. That one, right there.” You pointed through the window. “Treat yourself. Some drink, some game, a lovely lady, or gentleman, or both. I’ll cover the expenses. Just relax and enjoy yourself.” You considered offering him the use of the abbey, but recalled your recent discussion with the vestal, and thought better of it, for the time being.
“I won’t let you regret this decision,” Bigby told you. “I’ll prove myself worthy of your generosity.”
You simply gave him a nod, and watched him leave.
‘Tortured and reclusive,’ said the voice in your mind. ‘This man is more dangerous than he seems.’
You wondered whether that was to your benefit, or–
Your thoughts were interrupted as the covered cage on your desk shifted with a sudden klang, and you felt your heart momentarily stop as you jumped in your chair.
“Renfield, please remove this thing from the study,” you said, putting a hand to your chest. “I don’t like it one bit.”
“Where shall I put it?” he asked, wrapping his arms around it and lifting it up. It looked almost like a paper lantern as it was, its eerie blue glow seeping through the curtain’s fabric.
“Oh, I don’t know,” you told him, masking your discomfort as irritation. “Somewhere secure. Somewhere I won’t notice it.” As he left, you removed a piece of parchment from the desk and began writing out instructions to the coroner. You would issue a public funerary ceremony to honor the fallen watchmen. You wouldn’t specify which or how many watchmen, as you didn’t want to dash the people’s hopes of recovering the missing brothers, although you knew the odds of their return. You sighed a deep and heavy sigh. Of course, you would be blamed for all their deaths. Perhaps rightly so.
‘You will be harshly judged regardless of your intentions. These are trying times, after all. Sacrifices are a natural prerequisite for accomplishment. The loss of the watchmen was simply unfortunate. And while Monroe was a valuable soldier, his time had run its course. Consider this — those that falter in the face of such adversity are of limited use in our efforts anyhow. The Collector was still defeated by those who could stand against it. Both they and you remain. There is one less obstacle in our way now, and your perseverance is all the more ensured because of it.’
You could do nothing but listen. Afterwards, you realized with horror, staring at the inky parchment, that you had been writing out his words rather than your own. You replaced the quivering quill to its inkwell, and set your face into your hands. Your hands, or … his?





















***
Renfield made his way down the hall outside the study, tightly hugging the cylindrical cage to his body as he went. “You mustn’t be upset with the heir,” he said to the caged being. “The poor dear’s been under considerable stress lately. And as a loyal servant to the head of the Estate, there are duties that I, too, must uphold. Not everyone likes them, but that is the way of things.” Carefully leaning back so as to maintain balance, he descended the house’s groaning steps. “You see, I must do what I am told. And while there are many things that I am told to do, there are not quite so many things that I am told not to do. It’s how I keep my sanity, you know.” Down, down, down he descended, past the ground floor and below, into the cellars, away from the light. He lowered his head and whispered into the cage, “I have something of yours down here that I think will make you very happy.” Shifting the cage’s weight to one arm, the Caretaker reached into his pocket, and lifted out his ring of many keys.

User avatar
Mears225
Seeker
Seeker
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Feb 26, 2018 12:42 am

Re: Inhuman Bondage: A Darkest Dungeon Fan-Fiction

Postby Mears225 » Mon Feb 26, 2018 12:57 am

The story here is good so far thought could use less characters. Simply put most come here seeking fame and fortune, Redemption, Knowledge, and even some might say companionship or a new life. The second thing that I personally like is how you make these traits visible and yet ruins some of curiosity as you seem to stick to the game a little and some free fan lore opportunities, (Like the highwayman killed his brothers' wife or the Abomination first treatment and acceptance by a group like the leper, plaque doctor and grave robber.)
Thought this is a great story regardless and just one opinion. The choice is yours' how you see the characters and don't let me make you change anything about your story that will make it harder on you.
Hope you have a good time. Thus I saved all this at the end so that it doesn't ruin the flow.
~Mears225


Return to “Fan Creations”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest