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ItF: Chapter 1

Murloc Feb 27th, 2017 (edited) 972 Never
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  1. The badlands wasn’t a particularly hospitable place. The weather was mild, yet little grew in the poor soil.  The lakes and rivers were thick with toxic sediment and the wildlife was hazardous to human health. Even the flora was known to be dangerous, and nearby forests were no place for unwary men and women. More than a few had entered and were never seen again.
  2.    
  3. Of the handful of human settlements, only one could be called a city, although that was stretching the word. It was neither large nor prosperous, but the soil was marginally more suited to agriculture and the river was deep and wide enough for the largest barges and commerce vessels to trade. It was said that once humanity tamed the environment, the area’s incredibly rich precious metal deposits would make it a land of wealth nearly unparalleled.
  4.  
  5. Such a future was decades away, perhaps only a dream. At this corner of civilization, humanity was a small speck against a sea of wilderness. The land itself would fight branch, tooth, and claw against any attempt to bring order to its domain.
  6.  
  7. Yet humanity was restless to exert its dominance over new lands. While the common man trickled in following whispers of potential wealth, this had never been the Church’s true purpose for settling the area. The usual propaganda was spread of course, and talk of wealth and human influence served to draw the frontiersman that they so desperately needed to keep the settlements alive and functioning. However, the real and unspoken resource was the proximity to the demon lands.
  8.  
  9. Nathaniel Liebis had long ago come to the unpleasant realization that he would never leave the city of Blackwater. After a miserable early childhood one step away from living in the mud, his family had finally saved enough money to earn him a spot in the Church-sponsored school. He had spent the remainder of his childhood toiling in work and study. This far out from the more civilized lands, there was little tolerance for the frivolous scholars commonly found closer to the capital. If you wanted to make it with the Church along the borderlands, working the community field was as important as learning mathematics or the sciences.
  10.  
  11. He had a knack for the sciences. Understanding the human mind was a particular interest of his, and he excelled in his studies. More importantly to the Inquisition, he had maintained an impressive loyalty to the Church. His aptitude had quickly singled him out for more advanced studies, and several of the Order’s various factions saw him as a potential recruit. Now in his early twenties, he found himself under the tutelage of the city’s resident High Inquisitor.
  12.  
  13. He struggled to keep up with the man’s long strides as they descended to the Church’s lower levels. The High Inquisitor was a fairly average man, though he seemed to have lost his hair earlier than most. He was strict, intelligent, and seemed to wear a perpetual sneer. Nathaniel didn’t particularly care for the way he seemed to always speak down to him.
  14.  
  15. “Keep up, boy” the man drawled without turning around. “And remember- you’re to speak of this to no one.”
  16.  
  17. Such secrecy wasn’t unheard of to Nathaniel. Many of his more advanced lessons had dealt with topics considered too sensitive for the common folk. What concerned him was that they had passed the usual administration rooms and were descending towards the levels that he was normally forbidden from entering.
  18.  
  19. “Yes, High Inquisitor” he replied. He paused for a moment to consider how wise it would be to ask the question on his lips.
  20.  
  21. “I can practically smell your curiosity. If you wish to ask me something, out with it” the man snapped.
  22.  
  23. He rolled his eyes at the inquisitors back before speaking. “If I may ask, where exactly are we having today’s lesson?”
  24.  
  25. “I’ll be instructing you in the dungeon today. I’ve decided that you shouldn’t be coddled with your textbooks any longer.”
  26.  
  27. Now Nathaniel began to feel unease. This had not been something he had expected. He had begun his studies with a focus on administrative activities and management of the Church’s interests in the area. Neither of these things had anything to do with dungeons. It wasn’t that he was a fearful man, he just had enough good sense to know when something was amiss.
  28.  
  29. There was silence as they went down a final set of stairs and began navigating a maze of tunnel-like corridors. This far down there were no windows to let in the sun, and only sources of light were torches and mage-fire. While they provided adequate light, they did little against the stale, humid air. The guards they encountered stood aside and snapped to attention as they passed. The Inquisitor must have been a regular visitor.
  30.  
  31. After several minutes of walking, the corridor ended with a large, plain-looking door. Confused, Nathaniel followed the inquisitor through to another short tunnel. He was fairly certain they had passed the dungeon a ways back.
  32.  
  33. “If anyone other than me or my associates had opened that door they would be little more than ash right now.”
  34.  
  35. The Inquisitor’s abrupt words almost made Nathaniel jump. He looked back and studied the door. Above it were the faint etchings of runes. While he no inherent magical ability, it was obvious that the door had been protected with some form of warding. If intruders were able to navigate the maze of tunnels and passed through the deceptively unimpressive door, they would meet a quick end to its magic.
  36.  
  37. Now Nathaniel to sweat. This clearly wasn’t the dungeon used to holy petty criminals. Whatever was kept here was not something to be trifled with.
  38.  
  39. At the other end of the tunnel, four attentive yet obviously bored guardsman stood or sat inside of a large room with a pair of massive doors. Unlike the last door, this one was obviously built to be as strong as possible. Runes fortified thick constructs of wood and metal built into a frame of stone. Three of the guardsman wore well-crafted armor and weapons, and were each equipped with a crossbow, short-sword, and several knives. The last wore only a sword, yet carried an aura of power and confidence, along with a belt of pouches and vials. Supplies of all kinds were kept in a neat fashion on shelves.
  40.  
  41. Those seated stood at attention as he and the Inquisitor arrived. Their gazes passed over the Inquisitor to settle upon him. They weren’t exactly threatening, but he could sense their bodies shift in preparation to subdue potential threat. They obviously were not the lazy and inept guardsman Nathaniel usually encountered.
  42.  
  43. “High Inquisitor” one spoke. This one wore some kind of decoration of rank. “Does the young man accompany you?”
  44.  
  45. “The boy will be joining me today for instruction. As usual, I want two you accompanying me while we meet with our… guest.”
  46.  
  47. The guard gestured at two of the others before resuming his seat at the small table. One of the swordsmen and the mage walked them to the new door. Nathaniel was surprised at just how impressive it was. Up close, he could make out the elaborate system of metal locks and inner gears, yet he couldn’t find any sign of a handle or keyhole.
  48.  
  49. The Inquisitor apparently noticed his interest.
  50.  
  51. “One of several crafted by the dwarves, although this is one of the few that combines magic with what they call ‘mechanical engineering’.”
  52.  
  53. He then turned to the mage. “Open it. I have little time to waste.”
  54.  
  55. The mage was apparently unoffended for he glanced over to Nathaniel and gave him a quick wink and a grin. “This part is actually kind of impressive.” Turning back to the door he placed his hand on the largest gear and silently mouthed some sort of incantation.
  56.  
  57. The door responded instantaneously. With a great groan, the various gears began to turn as the face of the door began to shift. The great metal bars began to pull back from their locks and the runes above flashed briefly. Nathaniel felt a tingling on his skin that he was sure wasn’t from the vibrations of the opening door.
  58.  
  59. Almost as quickly as it had begun, the door finished whatever it had been doing. It now stood still and silent, with a small part of the face now opened to reveal a small handle. The guards took their place on each side of the door.
  60.  
  61. “Remember, you are not to speak of this to anyone” the Inquisitor warned.
  62.  
  63. Grasping the handle, the mage opened the door without a squeak from what must have been enormous hinges. With a gesture from the mage, the torches inside the new room flared to life to reveal a woman chained to the floor of a large windowless cell. Not a woman, a succubus. Though he was startled, he had never before laid eyes on a living demon of any type. The clinical part of his mind quickly took over and he began to study her. He was vaguely aware of the cell door closing behind them.
  64.  
  65. She had an exceptionally beautiful body with its form disfigured by demonic additions. Horns adorned her head while a spade-tail stretched out behind her. On her back was a set of large bat-like wings. Her naked body left nothing to the imagination, including the bruises and other signs of injury. Her wings looked frail and torn, half-healed cuts and scrapes marred her fair skin, and her hair was disheveled and dull. He tried to get a look at her face, but most of it was obscured by a large blindfold.
  66.  
  67. “You’re not terrified. That’s good” the inquisitor spoke. “It’s important to keep your wits about you around these creatures.”
  68. The man grabbed his arm and steered him closer to the demon. “She can’t hurt you. The blindfold prevents her from infiltrating your mind.
  69. No matter what she says, do not take it off.”
  70.  
  71. Nathaniel still felt uneasy. He had heard the stories and legends, just as everyone else had. Stories of men and women being visited in the night and left as soulless husks. Tales of children being carried away.
  72.  
  73. The Inquisitor raised his voice. “Speak demon, I’ve brought a young man with me this time. Perhaps you’ll have better luck with him.”
  74.  
  75. The Succubus didn’t turn to face him as he spoke, though lifted herself off the floor. In fact, Nathaniel noted that she seemed to avoid the Inquisitor. When she finally replied it was in a barely audible whisper.
  76.  
  77. “P-please, I’m not here to hurt any of you.” She sounded terrified, and in more than a little pain. “Just let me go, I beg of you.”
  78.  
  79. The inquisitor flashed him a bored look. “She lies of course” he sneered. “Her kind isn’t capable of anything else. If they can’t destroy something, they corrupt it.”
  80.  
  81. “N-no! I just want-“
  82.  
  83. The sharp slap of flesh against flesh made Nathaniel jump. The inquisitor’s casual backhand knocked the succubus onto her side. The short length of chain holding each limb forced her body to contort as she fell, and she hit the stone floor hard.
  84.  
  85. The Inquisitor merely rubbed his now red hand as he looked down upon the fallen demon. “Enough with your lies. I have no desire to listen to your mockery of truth twice.”
  86.  
  87. The woman merely whimpered on the floor. Nathaniel could just make out fresh blood on her face from where she had been struck. Several of her older injuries also seemed to have been opened and had begun to ooze. It was no longer a mystery where she had received them.  Also, while he had not gone far into the healing arts, he could definitely make out the signs of early infection in several areas. Nathaniel was surprised to feel genuine sympathy for her.  
  88.  
  89. “You see” the man drawled, as he began to pace around the woman. “When we first captured her in the badlands she spoke of change and peace. It’s all lies of course, but there were some interesting bits of useful information. Some new lord has apparently dispatched of the last one and they’ve begun their attempt at conquest once again.”
  90.  
  91. He paused for a moment to deliver a savage kick to the demon’s stomach. Nathaniel flinched as she let out a cry of pain. Droplets of blood glistened on the stone next to her. Even the guards seemed taken aback. He noticed that the mage seemed to be gripping the pommel of his sword rather hard.
  92.  
  93. Nathaniel was conflicted. Horror with what she was battled against the shock and disgust at the High Inquisitor’s unashamed cruelty. He was never fond of violence and even less so with sadism. It took several deep breaths before he trusted himself to speak.
  94.  
  95. “Is there a reason I’m here? I’m not sure I could get any more truth from her than you have.”
  96.  
  97. It took a lot of restraint to keep his voice neutral. Nathaniel decided that he wanted to be any place than here. A day full of the most difficult mathematics looked like a pleasant afternoon compared to what he was witnessing down in this hole. Anything to get away from the monster and the High Inquisitor. If this is what the Inquisition had to offer, he was prepared to beg for a spot among the Administrators and away from all of this.
  98.  
  99. “Touch her.”
  100.  
  101. He blinked in disbelief at the inquisitor. “Excuse me?”
  102.  
  103. “Touch the demon” the man ordered impatiently. “I want you to see, hear, and feel what we’re up against. This is what we’ve had to fight for millennia. It’s time you learned from personal experience and not out of a book.”
  104.  
  105. Nathaniel looked at the man for a moment before kneeling down next to the monster. He reached out his hand and hesitated before gently laying it upon her back. Her whole body flinched away from the contact as she let out a whimper. Without thinking he quietly made calming noises as his hand trailed from her back to one of the large wings. It was warm and velvety, and twitched slightly under his touch.
  106.  
  107. “Her whole body is meant to seduce men. Everything from her voice to her smell lures men into a state of mindless lust. We all know what happens when they’re through with the men they’ve lured.”
  108.  
  109. Nathaniel drew his hand back. The monster seemed to be shivering less. Perhaps his gentler touch had calmed her. Or maybe the Inquisitor was right and it was all a ploy to lure him into complacency. He couldn’t be sure and the thought made him uneasy. He just wanted to be away.
  110.  
  111. The Inquisitor seemed satisfied. His face twisted into an unpleasant smile as he looked down upon the monster. “It seems your usefulness to me is over.” He looked over to the guards. “You there,” he gestured to the mage, “bring me your sword.”
  112.  
  113. A sick feeling crept over Nathaniel. It was obvious what was about to happen. There couldn’t be an alternative. It’s wasn’t like they could just let the monster go.
  114.  
  115. The demon was also quick to understand what was about to occur. She began to thrash against her chains in a desperate attempt to free herself. Tears began to soak through her blindfold as she cried and stammered in utter fear. She turned her body to face where he had last kneeled, her sightless face searching out for his.
  116.  
  117. “D-don’t let him kill me!” she cried. “I swear, I’m not going to hurt any of you!”
  118.  
  119. Her plea was cut off with another savage slap from the Inquisitor. She once again laid on the stone, broken and crying. Her words had become incoherent with pain and fear and she sobbed futilely for mercy. Perhaps in desperation she struggled to rise once again. The inquisitor merely readied his arm for another blow as Nathaniel fought the urge to vomit.
  120.  
  121. The blow never came. As the Inquisitors hand came down, it was intercepted by the gauntleted hand of the Mage and now locked in the man’s white-knuckled grip. In the mage’s other hand was the grip of his weapon, the blade halfway out of its scabbard. The room was silent with shock. Even the mage seem surprised. Barely a heartbeat later, and the sound of the swordsman drawing his own weapon cut through the silence. The man readied his weapon against the mage and looked at the Inquisitor questioningly.
  122.  
  123. The sobbing had stopped. The demon had apparently fainted from weakness or fear.
  124.  
  125. Nathaniel watched as the Inquisitor’s face turned from shock to a barely contained fury. The man’s gaze turned from his captured hand, to the face of the mage.
  126.  
  127. “Release me.”
  128.  
  129. It was still for a moment as everyone waited for the mage to make a move. Nathaniel was aware of the swordsman shifting slightly as he prepared himself to run the other man through. Thankfully, it proved unnecessary. The mage’s faced paled to a very deathly shade of white before recoiling back from the Inquisitor.  Sweat glistened from his brow as he fearfully met the Inquisitor’s eyes.
  130.  
  131. The Inquisitor’s eyes cooled even as Nathaniel watched. He held his gaze for a moment before looking down to adjust his robes. When he spoke it was with a voice as cold as death.
  132.  
  133. “For your loyal service over the years, I am willing to believe that you have suffered a moment of weakness and lost your reason to her magic.  If you do not wish to be interrogated, hung as a traitor, and have your family questioned, you are to quietly leave this city before dawn. If I ever see your face here or anywhere else, I will not show you this mercy again. Am I understood?
  134.  
  135. The mage seemed to regain a bit of his composure before giving a shaky salute with a barely audible “Yes sir.”
  136.  
  137. The Inquisitor than turned to the other guard. “Escort this man out and make sure he relinquishes his weapons and armor. And leave your sword with me.”
  138.  
  139. The somewhat bewildered looking man gave a much more presentable salute before sheathing his weapon and handing it over. After taking his place behind the mage he escorted the man out.
  140.  
  141. Once the door closed behind them, Nathaniel found himself alone with the Inquisitor and an unconscious monster. He wasn’t sure which one terrified him more, though the woman seemed to be barely clinging to life. If her body was anything like a human’s he was certain that she had only another day or two. Killing her now would probably be mercy.
  142.  
  143. He looked back to the other man to find himself being studied. He couldn’t read the man’s expression but at this point he hardly cared. Seemingly satisfied with whatever conclusion he came to, the Inquisitor turned to the body of the woman.
  144.  
  145. “Now you know why you must be vigilant. Even the best of men can be unknowing swayed by their powerful charms. I suppose I also share some of the blame. As a mage he was more susceptible her magic and he has not had the training or experience that I have. Her fear and desperation more than likely amplified her powers. I should not have allowed him into the room.”
  146.  
  147. Nathaniel was taken aback by the unexpected admittance. His tutor hardly seemed the type to admit any sort of wrong-doing.
  148.  
  149. “Will he recover?” he asked. While he had not known the man, he seemed like a decent person. Although he would certainly not say it out loud, a small part of him was grateful that he had interfered with his tutor’s attack.
  150.  
  151. The man shrugged. “With time the charm should wear off. While he probably doesn’t realize it, ordering him to leave the city was merciful. If he remains this close to their realm he could very likely succumb to another of their kind. Leaving these lands will probably save his life.”
  152.  
  153. “It’s not important. However…”
  154.  
  155. The man paused to study the sword before looking to the unconscious demon, and then to Nathaniel, who suddenly felt very nervous. “Perhaps this presents an opportunity. Come here boy.”
  156.  
  157. Please, not this. Anything but this…
  158.  
  159. “Now is the not the time for fear, Nathaniel. Take the sword and finish her.”
  160.  
  161. Finish her. The words crashed through Nathaniel’s mind. Images of the Inquisitor striking the monster, the sound of her cries, the Mage’s near treason, and now… this. It was too much- he couldn’t think. Nausea threatened to overcome him as weakness swept through his body. He felt stone against his back. He must have been retreating from the sword, though he didn’t remember walking.
  162.  
  163. “I- I can’t. I can’t do it. I don’t want this.” Nathaniel felt his face burn with shame. He looked towards his instructor, desperately hoping the man would understand the horror and fear that gripped him.
  164. Instead of understanding, fury had returned to the Inquisitor’s face.
  165.  
  166. “Weak!” the man choked through clenched teeth. “After all you’ve seen today, you can’t bring yourself to end this monster, this abomination?”
  167.  
  168. “You’ve read the histories! You’ve listened to the scholars! Their kind exists only to murder and destroy. Never-mind the countless lives that have been lost in millennia of war with these demons, you just watched a good man almost succumb to dark magic, and you can’t find the strength to merely execute a dying prisoner? Perhaps the Inquisition was wrong to finance your education.”
  169.  
  170. The struck Nathaniel like blows. It was all true. His weakness was inexcusable. What was an execution- a merciful execution- to the suffering that had been inflicted on his people? It wasn’t like he was being asked to torment the monster as his instructor had so cruelly done. One clean thrust of the sword and it would all be over.
  171.  
  172. I just can’t
  173.  
  174. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
  175.  
  176. “Fine,” the man snapped. “If you can’t handle it, then I’ll finish her for you. We will discuss your failure later.”
  177. The Inquisitor wasted no more time and lined up the blade with the unconscious woman’s neck. As he raised the weapon, Nathaniel looked away to spare himself the sight.
  178.  
  179. Then the world shook with the sound of a tremendous explosion that nearly knocked Nathaniel off of his feet. A rattled Inquisitor regained his feet nearby. The sword laid on the stone next to him, the blade still clean. The man’s eyes were wide.
  180.  
  181. “What in Oblivion was-“
  182.  
  183. Another deafening concussion knocked them both off their feet. Ears ringing, Nathaniel looked towards the entrance with horror as he realized that the impact had come from the massive doors they had entered through.
  184.  
  185. Then the strikes resumed in earnest. Blow after blow hammered against the great doors as whatever horror that stood on the other side relentlessly attacked with incredible force. Cracks began to appear in the stone surrounding the door as metal began to warp and wood splintered. The near deafening concussions reverberated within the cell and forced Nathaniel to his knees clutching his head in agony. There was too much pain to be aware of his mentor doing the same beside him.
  186.  
  187. The cracks began to grow and spread as Nathaniel watched in agony-filled terror. He desperately prayed to every god he could think of for the chamber to hold.
  188.  
  189. As suddenly as it started, the impacts stopped. Nathaniel felt relief as he looked to the closed entrance. It was nearly impossible to see through the dust, but the walls and Dwarven metal seemed to have held. He almost wept with relief as a small sliver of hope grew.
  190. Maybe it gave up. Surely someone heard. Soldiers must be on their way.
  191.  
  192. He nearly jumped out of his skin as his mentor let out a hacking cough besides him. The Inquisitor pushed himself off the floor and lifted a piece of cloth over his face as he warily approached the door. He quickly glanced over it before returning to Nathaniel’s side
  193.  
  194. “Get up.”
  195.  
  196. He was roughly pulled to his feet and spun around to face the man. Though the Inquisitor ordered him in the same imperious manner, the whiteness of the man’s face betrayed the man’s barely maintained façade of calmness.
  197.  
  198. “Listen to me boy, we’re not safe. Whatever happens-“
  199.  
  200. He fell silent as a deep, unnatural yet familiar groan echoed through the chamber. Both men turned to see the mechanical door shudder as it once again came to life. The painful screeching of bent metal against stone filled the chamber as the tortured beams slowly ground their way out of the locks.  With a final, jarring effort the locks slid into place and the doors hidden mechanisms finally fell silent.
  201. The feeling of a hand gripping his shoulder cut through Nathaniel’s rising panic.
  202.  
  203. “Get behind me.”
  204.  
  205. It was silent as the two men tried to glimpse their doom through the choking dust. Then finally, a feminine voice spoke.
  206.  
  207. “I really should have tried that sooner.”
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