Anecdote XXIII. Kotora Eler Grymor

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September 28th, 1610

Malstefin’s growl sounded more like a wheeze as he tugged fruitlessly at the chains. He glowered at the manacles, and the bloody chafed skin under them. It was the one hundred and twenty-first day of his captivity in Jessair’s dungeon, assuming he’d been keeping a correct count. The Luminor seemed to return once a day, torture him for a few hours, then leave him alone. At first Malstefin laughed at him, for his naturally bulletproof hide had proven impossible for Jessair to break. Weeks of starvation and thirst had since robbed the Demon of his natural resilience, and he had been reduced to no more than a common man.

He was going to die here, chained to this table; Malstefin was almost certain of that. Jessair was a ruthless and volatile captor, and though Malstefin had caved and given him some information over the course of the preceding weeks, more often than not, he only answered Jessair’s questions with a spit in the face. Eventually, he would stop being useful to the Luminor, and that would mean the end of his wretched existence.

He gave another half-hearted tug at the chains, wincing as the rough metal dug into his bleeding flesh. He had shifted into his human form, both to conserve a bit of energy, and so Jessair had fewer body parts damage. The first week of his captivity, the Luminor had threatened to cut off the Demon’s tail, and after a failed attempt to put the spike through Jessair’s heart, Malstefin decided it would be safer to keep it hidden away beneath his human form.

He glowered at his hands through narrowed eyes, at the blisters– still healing from where he had tried to use his magic to escape the chains. He’d never had much use for magic, and was in bad need of practice. His attempts to melt the metal manacles had only succeeded in burning his wrists, and he decided he didn’t need to help Jessair with inflicting damage.

The door grated open, and the Luminor entered. He was dressed in his usual black clothes, with ruff collar and lace trimmed sleeves, every bit the Spanish gentleman. He lit the two torches in the room, and began holding an iron poker in one of them. Malstefin snarled at him, but Jessair ignored him. When the poker was glowing orange, he approached the table where the Demon was chained.

“Have you contemplated your sins?” the Luminor inquired. It was his opening question every day.

“I have plotted many more,” Malstefin growled back, his orange and gold eyes blazing at his captor.

Jessair pressed the poker to the bottom of the Demon’s right foot. Malstefin clenched his teeth until the inside of his lip bled, determined not to give Jessair the pleasure of a sound so soon. Jessair removed the poker after a few seconds and continued,

“I wish to know of your employer, Aztalon–”

“Don’t you always?”

“–and his strongholds in the New World. The Spanish Conquest was never meant for the Dark–”

“Please. It was our idea,” Malstefin shot back. “Mine, if you want to be specific. Aztalon just had the means to do it.”

“Yes, I am aware. However, even the darkest conquests can be used for Light. We will transform Aztalon’s empire into an empire of Light. The Church will have dominion of the New World–”

“Like you have dominion of Ispania?” inquired the Demon. “Or did you forget we are in so many of your churches these days?” Malstefin rolled his eyes a bit. “Catholics.”

“Do not insult my vessel’s work, Demon.” Jessair pressed the still-hot poker to the bottom of Malstefin’s other foot.

The Demon snarled, spitting back. “Do not pretend your religion is so holy. Your vessel helped banish hundreds of thousands of Moriscos. There is no Light in that–”

“They are heretics and traitors–”

“And I thought yours was a religion of love and tolerance.” Malstefin spat.

Jessair glowered back at him. He wiped the Demon’s spit off his collar and paced to the counter on the side of the room, reaching into the cabinet for the last bottle of wine there. Malstefin noticed the cabinet had not been refilling itself as was typical of Light dwellings.

“Have I driven you to drink this early, padre?” the Demon mocked as the Luminor threaded in the corkscrew. “Usually it takes at least a half hour.”

Jessair gave the cork a tug, then promptly took a deep draught.

“You didn’t even let it breathe,” Malstefin protested. “If you’re going to tease me with drink, at least do it right.”

“You may think I’m going to kill you when I get tired of your insults,” Jessair replied, then took another long drink. “But I won’t. Everything has a breaking point. I will find yours, and you will give me the numbers, defenses, weaknesses, everything about Aztalon’s empire.”

“Can’t your Library tell you that?” asked the Demon.

Jessair glared at him over the wine bottle as he drained more of it.

“Or won’t it let you in?” teased Malstefin.

“You know nothing of the Light.”

“I don’t see your kind lining up to teach me.” Malstefin watched his captor with defiant eyes. “I think you are closer to me than you know. That is why your spoiled magic house gives you no more wine.”

“You should watch that tongue, Demon. You don’t need all of it to tell me your secrets.”

The Luminor downed another quarter of the bottle, then approached the table again, reaching down to turn one of the cranks. Malstefin felt the fetters and manacles draw tight again as the table moved, stretching his limbs just to the point of uncomfortable resistance. Even that was enough to make pain flare through the Demon, as he had not recovered from the previous days of torture.

“Let’s start with Tetlana,” said Jessair. “I know of this stronghold in Mexico. Where does the kordat path begin?”

“If you bend over and squint, you can see it up your ass,” Malstefin retorted.

Jessair turned the crank on the table again, and blood flowed fresh from the wounds under the chains. There was a pop as Malstefin’s shoulders began to give.

“Where is the entrance to the path?” Jessair asked again.

Malstefin just smirked at him, then started reciting, “Our Father, who art in heaven–”

“Silence, fiend! You are not worthy of those words.”

“–hallowed be thy name.” Malstefin remembered the last time he had goaded Jessair by prodding his prized religion, but decided the Luminor’s vexation was worth the pain. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done–”

“How do you know this? You should not be able to speak these words!” Jessair turned the crank further, and Malstefin’s voice broke for a moment into a scream as his shoulders and knees popped and cracked under the strain.

“I will tell you nothing,” the Demon snarled. “Break my body if you wish, take my life if you wish, but I will be dead before I will ever bow to you.” He spat at the Luminor again, and continued, “On Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread–”

Jessair cranked the table further, drawing another scream from his prisoner, but Malstefin gasped on, “And forgive us our trespasses…”

Jessair stormed away from the table and back to the counter.

“…as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The Luminor seized the discarded cork and gripped the handle of the screw til his knuckles turned white.

“Lead us not into temptation…”

Jessair wrenched the corkscrew free and rounded on the Demon, bellowing, “I SAID BE SILENT!”

Malstefin looked up at his captor, at Jessair’s flushed, fury-twisted face, at his shaking hand clutching the rusted corkscrew.

“And deliver us from evil!” cried the Demon.

The corkscrew plunged downward and pierced into the right side of Malstefin’s face. Jessair missed the first time as his prisoner struggled, carving up part of the Demon’s brow, but he hacked downward again and this time sank the corkscrew into Malstefin’s fiery eye. The Demon flailed against the chains, grating up skin and flesh on the iron. Malstefin thought his throat would split open from the animalistic shrieks that were wrenched from it. The sound of his own screams were foreign to him, and frightened him more than the wrathful face of the Luminor above him. Malstefin hadn’t thought himself capable of such sounds. Jessair wrenched the corkscrew free, ripping out part of the Demon’s eye.

“YOU SEE?” roared Jessair, brandishing the piece of the eye at him. “You see what your impudence costs you?” He shook the piece off and plunged the corkscrew down again after more of the eye.

Another scream roiled out of Malstefin, and sheer panic welled inside him. He could feel the corkscrew twisting in, shredding the lid and socket. His body twisted and strained. He didn’t hear the sound of his shoulder dislocating from the table’s tension above the harsh echo of his own voice. In his terror, the dormant magic inside him surfaced and surged outward. A burst of fire exploded from the blood of his mangled face, blasting Jessair backward. Malstefin gave a hoarse cry as the corkscrew wrenched loose, and lay gasping on the table, trembling hard enough he made the chains rattle.

The Demon squinted through his remaining eye, his own blood obscuring his vision, and saw Jessair picking himself up from the floor. The Luminor was scorched, part of his clothes burned away, revealing red and black burns across his hands, arms and chest. Part of his hair was burned off and still smoking. Jessair quaked too, and he flung the corkscrew against the opposite wall. With no further words, the Luminor fled the prison.

Malstefin lay in agony on the table, gasping, weeping freely, blood pooling in the hollow of what was once an eye and spilling down his face like black tears. The right side of his face was charred and blistered, seared by his own wild fire. He could not stop shaking, though the motion made his twisted shoulder burn and his raw wrists and ankles throb as they bled. Everything was blurry; his remaining eye was clouded with blood and tears. The right side of his vision was black; he knew he would never see on that side again. A hollow cry rolled out of him, like the lonesome roar of the ocean, and he finished in a mournful whisper,

“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

He lay in torment until the torches burned out, sinking the room back into his native darkness.  He could hear only his own ragged breath, and the faint drip of water– or perhaps it was his blood. He grieved for his eye, for himself in his pain, until his despair gave way to something else. In the darkness, the Demon’s remaining eye glowered up at the ceiling through the crust of blood across his face.

“I will not die here,” he snarled into the shadows, and in his voice was the fury of a hungry inferno, “Ke ilipoyo farero will not be the death of me.”

He turned his head, spilling the pool of blood across his shoulder and onto the table.  He glared at the manacle embedded in his wrist. There was strong magic in him; it was time he learned to use it.

*******

It took six weeks for Malstefin to reliably harness his magic. It was difficult, for he was weaker than he’d ever been in his life. Just summoning the will to call his magic to the surface was exhausting. Forming sparks on his fingers was like trying to climb a cliff face. He didn’t see Jessair for a week after losing his eye, and when the Luminor returned, Malstefin could tell a seed of fear had taken root in him.

Good, thought the Demon. He is right to fear. He holds his death prisoner in this room.

Jessair continued to starve and torture him, but it became almost routine. The Luminor never again did something rash enough to risk the Demon’s magic breaking loose. For a while Malstefin wondered why Jessair did not kill him, but he decided it must be pride. Luminari were nothing if not prideful, and Jessair carried the zealous pride of self-important righteousness that only Spanish Catholicism could inspire.

It was the one hundred and sixty-eighth day of his capture when Malstefin wore through the chains. Each day, he had been calling his magic, gradually wearing through a single link of chain on each of his limbs until it was near breaking. He was so weak, he could only manage a fraction of wear each day. At last, though, he could feel the iron give when he pulled against it. A vengeful smile crept over his face as he realized one good tug would set him free, and he settled down on the table to conserve what strength he had left. He would need it when his captor returned.

It was several hours more before Jessair entered the room. The Demon heard the telling click of the lock as the Luminor turned his key. Malstefin tensed, waiting, clenching his jaw in a determined snarl. Jessair stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. Malstefin watched him, his single eye blazing out of his ruined face. Jessair approached the table, lip curling a bit at the sight of his prisoner.

“Have you contemplated your sins?” he asked.

“Have you?” snarled the Demon.

Without warning, Malstefin shifted back into his hulking red form, breaking free of the chains with a roar. He flung himself at Jessair, tackling the Luminor. Jessair gave a startled cry and flailed, trying to get a hand up to use his magic, but Malstefin slammed his head against the stone floor, knocking him unconscious.

Wasting no time, the Demon hauled the Luminor onto the table, fetching fresh chains and manacles from the far wall. Jessair gave a faint groan, his head lolling as Malstefin locked him onto the table. With his adversary secure, Malstefin leaned over him, smacking his face until the Luminor’s eyes fluttered open.

“Buevo dian, farero,” the Demon purred with a smirk.

“No…” groaned Jessair, giving a weak tug against the chains.

“Ah, si.” Malstefin turned the crank of the table, stretching his enemy tight. Jessair yelped as his limbs pulled taut. Malstefin cranked it further, until the Luminor’s joints began to crack.

“Just kill me, you devil,” snarled Jessair.

“Why? You did not show that favor to me.” Malstefin stepped back from the table. “You just lie there a while. Contemplate your sins. I will be back soon.”

Making sure the Luminor could not escape, Malstefin went to the door, finding it locked. Summoning what strength he had left, he strained against it with a roar, wrenching it clean off its hinges. He cast it aside, the iron straps clanging against the stone. Malstefin went out into the hallway beyond, looking both directions. He spotted a staircase and went toward it. Once he was out of sight of Jessair, he gave into the pain and exhaustion, releasing his swagger to go hobbling down the corridor. He could see sunlight filtering in at the top of the stairs, and knew he could not go aboveground yet. He would have to make due with what he could find down here.

The Demon stalked back the way he had come, puffing himself up again as he passed the torture chamber where Jessair still reeled from the blow to his head. Malstefin came to another door and kicked it open, revealing an empty cell. He kicked open the next door, found the same, and cursed under his breath. He limped to the door at the end, every muscle and joint in his body screaming, and mustered his strength one more time.

“You owe me for these past months,” he snarled, as if to the castle itself. “Give me what I am due.”

His huge clawed foot slammed into the door, driving it inward. In a stroke of luck (or perhaps fate), he found himself looking into one of Jessair’s store rooms. The Demon staggered inside, opening the first barrel to find it full of clear water. He plunged his whole head in, gulping the water down until his lungs burned. He drew back, gasping in air, then bent down again, draining at least half the barrel. He stood up, tearing into the crates farther back in the room. He gorged himself on salted meat, fruit, hard bread, cheese, everything he could find. He could feel the life surging back into him as he ate. Jessair had given him only enough to keep him from starving to death. His bones strained against his scarlet skin, as if threatening to pierce through.

Malstefin emptied the entire larder in the span of a few hours. He drank a barrel and a half of water, and a full cask of wine. Every scrap of food was tossed into his ravenous mouth, swallowed whole or shredded by pointed teeth. When there was no more to feast upon, the Demon sat down on one of the crates, stretching his aching legs out in front of him. He sat in the stillness for a moment, feeling his strength return. He looked down at himself, at his ribs poking from his sides, but as he sat there, they seemed to fade as his body began to absorb everything he had consumed. It was not enough to return him to his full strength, but he could feel himself growing stronger, bolstering to a force he’d not felt in himself for months. He smiled through the ruined door, back down the hallway, in wicked anticipation of the revenge he would exact.

*******

For three days, Malstefin tortured Jessair. After gorging himself in the larder, the Demon didn’t leave the torture chamber. He relished the Luminor’s screams as he broke his tender body on the table, pulling his joints apart with painstaking slowness, savoring each pop and snap. He ripped off Jessiar’s fine black clothes, burned the bottoms of his feet until they were black, skinned his legs and arms, castrated him inch by inch, made him scream until his voice was nothing but a ragged whisper. Jessair wept like a child until Malstefin gouged out each of his eyes with the same corkscrew, then only blood flowed where tears had been. The Demon worked carefully, having fashioned gloves for himself out of scraps of leather to avoid too much contact with all the Light blood in the room.

“Please…” sobbed the Luminor. “Please…”

“You had no mercy for me,” Malstefin replied, as he made a slow incision down Jessair’s belly. “Why should I show you any?”

“I’m sorry!” cried his prisoner. “I shouldn’t have done that. I failed in the ways of the Light. You have shown me that. Please, I’ll let you go. I’ll do anything–” His pleas broke into a quavering sound, all that was left in him of a scream, as Malstefin thrust his hand into the Luminor’s abdomen, seizing a handful of intestines.

“Please… just end it, I beg you.”

Malstefin extracted the Luminor’s guts inch by inch, laying them out on the table so he could feel them alongside him, crowning his head with them, stuffing a few coils into his sniveling mouth. Jessair gagged, but was too hungry to have anything to vomit.

“Please,” he whispered, “Please… end it.”

Malstefin stood by the table and looked at his ruined captor. The Luminor was wholly destroyed– skinned and cut in every place the Demon could manage, swollen and broken in every limb, two ragged holes where his eyes should have been, lying in a pool of his own blood and guts. Malstefin did not pity him, but conceded as how there was little left to do to him.

“Please…” Jessair moaned. “When will your vengeance be sated? When will I have paid the price? What more must I pay for you to stop?”

Malstefin leaned over his enemy, rumbling like the growling grate of continents,

“Kotora eler grymor.” The price is death.

Faster than a viper, the Demon’s tail struck, arcing up beside the table, plunging its spike straight through Jessair’s heart, filling him with venom. The Luminor sputtered, coughing blood, then his lungs emptied with a hollow rattle. He lingered a moment, then his tattered body dissolved into a fine glowing mist, which seemed to dissipate in the air. Malstefin stared at the empty blood-slicked table where he had been, puzzled. Usually Light spirits died with a bright flash that rushed upwards, but the Demon didn’t care. It was done.

He turned from the table and left the horrible room,  then trudged down the hallway to sit on the stairs, where he leaned back against the wall. He could see sunlight at the top, and settled in to wait for it to fade. He rested in the silence, content in having had his revenge on Jessair. He raised a clawed hand to his face, feeling the scabby,  tattered remnants of his eye, and decided his vengeance was not yet complete. Aztalon never came for him, had abandoned him to this fate despite over a century of loyal service.

“I built his empire,” Malstefin growled in the shadows. “It is rightfully mine.” He lowered his hand from his face, and hissed again, “Kotora eler grymor.”

As the sun descended outside, the Demon schemed. He knew this was a turning point, and he intended to seize it. When night fell, he went upstairs to explore Jessair’s home. It was a large, austere castillo, full of fine furniture and stocked with weapons. Malstefin found his way to the upper floor, to what was once Jessair’s chamber. A huge canopy bed occupied one corner, next to a ceiling-high wardrobe. The ashes of a fire lay crumbled on the hearth. Three sets of glass double doors lined the far wall, and Malstefin approached them, letting himself out onto a wide balcony. He strode to the rail and rested his hands on it, surveying the courtyard, the ramparts, and the mountainous land beyond. He knew these mountains; he had formed in them just outside the human city of Seville, which he knew lay only a few miles south. He tightened his hands on the rail, digging his claws into the stone with a smile. The castillo was his.

“Kotora eler grymor,” he murmured, then paused. He stroked a hand on the stone, almost fondly, and said, “Kotelgrym.” He gave an approving nod and grinned a bit wider, baring his fearsome teeth. “Senierro Malstefin of Kotelgrym needs an army, and then–” He turned his gaze out into the night. “–the world.”

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