August 12th, 2013 • Kotherak
Falient reported to the west side of Kotherak, to the square dark grey building where most of his quarries ended up. All the Demons who worked for Daleroth were required to participate in the breeding projects. Falient had put it off for months, thinking he would have moved on to other work by now, but Daleroth paid well, and Daleroth was growing impatient. He had told Falient to go see Cronvor, or Falient would be locked up like the prisoners he returned with.
Falient trudged out to Cronvor’s building, kicking a loose stone ahead of him with the toe of his black boot. Several Lakvos darted out of his way as he passed, chittering to each other. He approached the door, ignoring the Warmonger guards, and let himself in. It was almost as dark inside as it was outside. Only a few flickering lamps lit the corridor.
Falient made his way down the hall, not looking into the rooms on either side. There were only beaten, chained Light spirits inside, and he’d seen plenty of those. The novelty had worn off a long time ago. A high pitch scream rang down the passage, followed by the sounds of struggle. Falient looked into the room as he passed to check on the source of the noise. A Maculien was bound to a table inside, and two Warmongers were holding her still so a Deceiver could harvest her seed. Falient caught a glimpse of her face– wide, terrified green eyes under a dirtied mess of blonde hair. She looked at him for a moment, desperate eyes cursing him for bringing her to this place.
Falient kept walking. He found Cronvor in the main chamber at the end of the hall. The Demon had grown stooped and bulbous from too many failed experiments, and he waddled around the room among his Lakvo assistants, studying numbers, and peering into jars and beakers. Falient didn’t want to know what was in them.
“Daleroth said to expect you,” Cronvor grunted when he entered. He tossed Falient a small metal pan. “Make your stock.”
Falient caught the pan– no bigger than his hand– and glowered at the Demon. He walked to the corner of the room and faced away. He heard Cronvor give a disdainful grunt behind him. Falient’s jaw tightened as he unfastened his belt and the top few buttons on his pants. Glancing over, he realized one of the Lakvos was crouched nearby. The small spindly creature made an obscene gesture at him, as if to demonstrate the technique. Falient aimed a kick at her, and the Lakva squealed reproachfully, skittering back to where Cronvor was working.
Falient sighed, got a firm grip on himself, and tried not to think about Cronvor behind him. Ignoring the shifting of papers, the clink of glass, and the constant mutterings of the Lakvos behind him, Falient deposited his seed into the pan. It took longer than he would have liked, and he ignored Cronvor’s leer as he returned with the sample. The Demon took the pan and eyed the pale splatter in the bottom.
“It’ll do,” he said. He passed the pan to one of his assistants.
The Lakva who had made the gesture at Falient carried the pan into the next room. Falient watched her from behind the broad pane of glass. She scraped his seed out of the pan and into a black bowl on a table in the center of the room. Falient watched until Cronvor grabbed his wrist. Falient punched the Demon on instinct, knocking his ugly head back with the blow. Cronvor snarled and drew back his own arm to strike, but Falient’s pistol muzzle had leveled with his face.
“Put that away,” Cronvor growled, lowering his hand. “High strung twit. I need your blood. Give me that hand.”
Falient holstered his pistol, glowering at the Demon, and held out his hand.
Cronvor grabbed Falient’s wrist again, and slit the pad of his pinkie finger. He held the mouth of a small glass tube up to the wound, and squeezed Falient’s finger. Falient gave him a venomous look. When the tube was sufficiently full, Cronvor passed it to the waiting Lakva. About that time, one of the Warmongers came into the room, carrying a phial of blood and another of pale fluid.
“Good,” Cronvor said, taking them from the guard. He passed the pale fluid to the Lakva, who took it to the other room and dumped it into the bowl with Falient’s.
“We’re going to cross you with a Maculien,” Cronvor told Falient. “What with you being a half breed and all, Daleroth didn’t think it would be effective to cross you with any more potent Light stock.”
Falient said nothing as Cronvor mixed his blood with the Maculien’s. He snapped for the Lakva to hurry up, then handed her the combined blood. She carried it into the adjoining room, and shut the door behind her. One of the other Lakvos locked it, shutting her in. The Lakva took up a position beside the table and waited for Cronvor’s signal.
Cronvor settled into a chair at the control board and flipped several switches. Inside the room, metal orbs set into the walls hummed and sparked with energy. The Lakva regarded them with a nervous eye. Cronvor rested his hand on another switch, then signaled to her.
The Lakva poured the mixed blood into the bowl with the seed. There was an instant flash of light and a billowing cloud of smoke. The Lakva scrambled away from the table, cowering in the corner. The bowl clattered to the floor. Falient stood behind Cronvor, staring through the glass as the the smoke cleared.
Sitting on the table the table was a girl. She was no more than four, with a brilliant shock of blonde hair falling around her porcelain face. She looked through the window with bright green eyes, straight at Falient. The breath rushed out of him at the sight of her. She was beautiful, soft, and unmistakably Light. Cronvor gave a resigned grunt and flipped the switch.
The orbs in the walls suddenly exploded with electricity. The lightning magic crisscrossed the room in an instant. The Lakva shrieked, trying to cower further into the corner. An expression of terror cascaded over the girl’s face, and the lightning found her. The room rang with her scream as the lightning crackled through her, then all at once, she burst into a flare of light and was gone. Cronvor flipped the switch off, and the room fell back into quiet shadow. The corpse of the Lakva smoked in the corner.
Falient stared at the place the girl had been, her stricken expression mirrored on his face. Something icy enveloped the pit of his stomach and he fell into a terrible feeling of hollowness, as if he had been threaded onto a wire and cored like an apple. He couldn’t take his eyes off the empty table. Atalia, he thought, That would have been her name.
Two Warmongers seized him from behind. Falient didn’t struggle. He couldn’t find the will to struggle, couldn’t take his eyes off the room beyond the glass. Cronvor grabbed something from a table nearby. Falient felt someone yank his pants down, but it wasn’t until Cronvor pressed the brand to his hip that Falient’s stupor broke.
His scream rang in the control room and he flailed, tearing loose from one of the Warmongers, and flooring Cronvor with a punch to the jaw. The brand clattered to the floor but the mark was made. A smoking, bloody X had been placed on his hip, marking him unfit for breeding. Falient wrestled his pants back up and fumbled with his belt for a moment.
“Get out of here,” Cronvor snarled, picking himself up.
Falient smacked the remaining Warmonger’s hands off him, and considered putting a bullet in Cronvor’s face. He was still for a moment, hands shaking, drifting toward his pistol, but he resisted the urge. He’d never make it out of Kotherak alive if he did. He spat at the Demon, then stormed out of the room. He glanced behind him to see if anyone had followed him, then headed for the Maculien’s room. It was nearly midnight. The guards would be changing on the west gate soon. If they hurried, they could make it out.
He stopped short as he came to the doorway. The Maculien was alone on the table inside, her legs still spread in the air, locked in the stirrups. Her breasts were slicked in red, drenched by her slit throat. They had done a poor job of it, for she sputtered and gurgled as the life drained from her. Falient entered the room, approaching her.
“Easy,” he said, stepping through the pool of her blood to stand by her head. He brushed her hair back out of her face, the bright blonde of his daughter’s still blazing in his mind. His hand went to his pistol.
The Maculien choked, unable to manage the spiteful words she would have spat at him.
“They’ve killed our daughter,” he told her. “Tell her I’m sorry.”
He put a bullet through the side of her skull, and she dissolved into light. The light of her soul rushed upward, through the ceiling of the grim room, and up into whatever awaited the Light in death. Falient stared after her, wishing he could follow, knowing his own path out of this place would be far less easy.