MoboReader> Horror > The Woodlands

   Chapter 10

The Woodlands By EJBowman Characters: 45673

Updated: 2017-12-22 12:02

It took Neem a few minutes to realise that he was on blood wolf when he finally woke. In his dream-like state, he had thought that he was running through the Woodlands, but he came to recognise his legs were not even moving.

I was captured and Jaiya was killed! he realised with a gasp.

“Ah, you’re awake” Kroven proclaimed as he looked down, causing the droplets forming on the top of his hood to plop onto the nymph’s head. He was quite surprised the little creature had managed to sleep through most of the storm. “You’ll be happy to know that we’ve nearly reached our destination. Primye Dinastoro is just beyond those mountains.”

I am definitely not happy to hear that, Neem thought bitterly.

He took a few moments to inspect his surroundings and that’s when it truly clicked that he was no longer in the Woodlands. No, they were in large valley and heading for a line of black mountains. Surprisingly, he did not have a panic attack based on his new environment. No, the situation felt too surreal for him to even react.

“There are no trees,” he noted dazedly, causing both vampires to smirk.

“Seeing the kingdom is going to stop his little heart,” Voinil joked.

A narrow path could be seen snaking around the mountains as they got closer. Clearly, travelling around the mountain was a common enough occurrence that a path had to been formed.

Did they make this path just so that they could come and attack the Woodlands? Neem thought. The image of other poor creatures who had been stolen in the past ran through his mind. They must have been just as terrified as me.

The further they ventured up the mountain, the tighter the little nymph grasped the saddle. Yes, he was used to climbing high trees, but trusting this gigantic beast to carry him up the narrow path was unnerving. One slip and they would go tumbling down the rocky surface.

Although he mainly kept his eyes on the path to ensure they were not coming up on loose rock, he could not help but look to the side. Mountains went for miles. Then, off in the distance, a dense forest could just barely be seen.

Is that the Woodlands? was his first thought. It doesn’t look too far. Perhaps if I escape my captors, then I can make it home.

Due to his inexperience with the terrain, he did not understand that travelling over the mountains, through the valleys, and to the forest would be a long, exhausting journey. It was unlikely that a little nymph like him could make it far on his own.

“A sight for sore eyes,” Voinil remarked as they came around the mountain.

Neem had no idea what he was looking at. Plopped in the valley below was a vast amount of little structures. Beyond them were largem stone structures surrounded by four curved walls that backed into another, smaller mountain.

Is this the vampire kingdom? Neem thought in a bewildered manner. Why do they live in stone and not below the trees? In fact, why are there no trees whatsoever? What kind of unnatural place is this?

“Isn’t it wonderful?” Kroven asked in a way that suggested he did not want an answer from the nymph.

Indeed, although the sight of Primye Dinastoro was usually a relieving experience, this time it was not. Now the vampire was reminded of the empty bedroom chamber he had to return to. He had managed to push away thoughts of his lover’s death during the hunt for Neem. In the end, he knew that the moment she screamed bloody murder as a phantom wolf devoured her would scar his mind. Their home had too many reminders of her past presence.

“We have been gone longer than expected and will return two short,” Voinil informed his companion. Glumness had swept over him as well. “I don’t know how we’ll explain that to the highnesses without coming off as incompetent.”

“Not incompetent. Rather, rash and arrogant. Explaining what happened with the faun should be enough. We all know those creatures are powerful beyond belief. We must admit that it would have been wiser to attack him more strategically or that we should have sent one ours back to gather reinforcements, but I doubt that this incident will have a severe impact on our reputations.”

“Yes, and I suppose we did capture them a tasty little blood slave, didn’t we?”

Neem felt a shiver run up his spine when Voinil turned back just to give him a sadistic glare. He still did not fully understand what a blood slave was, but the title had disturbing implications.

The nymph had mixed feelings when they reached the bottom of the mountain. On one level, he was glad that they were no longer on the narrow path, but he also realised that he was that much closer to becoming a said blood slave.

All I want is the most painless death possible from these monsters. Surely that isn’t too much to ask?

His skin began to crawl. Hundreds of red eyes leered at him as they walked along a dirt road up to the large stone walls. Some vampires appeared to be intrigued by his appearance, while others were licking their lips—wishing they could get a taste of his blood.

The heavy doors groaned as the guards opened them. Beyond the archway was a cobblestone path with statues and flowers lining the sides. It was at this point that Voinil and Kroven dismounted their blood wolves. Neem was forced to follow suit when Kroven grabbed his leg and nearly caused him to fall off.

“Go to the cave,” Kroven commanded of his beast. Voinil did the same with a single ‘away’ gesture.

Neither beast looked pleased, even if they did follow orders. The cave was cold and cramped.

“Come along,” Kroven growled as he dragged Neem by his wrist through the courtyard.

“You’re holding my wrist too tight!” the nymph whimpered.

Kroven let out a laugh and tightened his grip. Neem was sure his hand was going to go numb soon due to lack of blood circulation.

The statues were all obviously of vampires, even if they were without skin tones. The fanged, sadistic smile they all wore was a dead giveaway.

“You’re late,” a guard remarked as they neared the steps of the largest building. “Very late.”

Kroven ignored the remark and, instead, made the gesture for the guards to get out of the way. Both guards drew the doors open and allowed the hunters and their prey through.

The interior of the building greatly intrigued the little nymph. A blood-red carpet led them all the way up to two large, wooden chairs where a pair of flamboyantly dressed people sat. The stained-glass window behind them depicted a naked, blue female happily bathing in a red river. Smaller windows to either side depicted similar things: vampires eating creatures, vampires drinking blood from goblets. All this strange imagery reminded him of the pictures in Dacen’s book.

Upon reaching the steps that led up to the thrones, Kroven and Voinil knelt with their heads down. Neem remained standing until Kroven forced him down as well. He let out a little grunt as his knees hit the hard ground.

“Hail King Klav III, successor King Klav II,” both hunters recited. “Hail Queen Svetzada, successor of Lord Svetalor.”

“Stand,” the King commanded. His low, cold tone sent shivers up the nymph’s spine.

“Two of your party are missing,” the Queen noted.

“Killed, Your Highness” Voinil solemnly explained. “There was a faun… we were underprepared.”

“A faun?” Klav asked, intrigued. “Where is the faun now?”

“The Ivy Mountains.”

“Oh,” the King huffed, the disappointment was obvious in his tone.

The Queen pointed her sharp red nail at Neem, making the little nymph cower.

“And what is this you bring to us?” she asked in a displeased manner.

“Although in comparison to the faun he is weak, his rich blood and power should suffice you,” Kroven explained while putting his hand on Neem’s shoulder.

“Does it talk?” the vampiress asked while looking Neem up and down.

Kroven glanced at Neem.

“Do you talk, nymph?”

The nymph nodded, but said nothing. He was afraid his voice would be squeaky and quiver if he tried to talk.

The Queen’s eyes squinted and she shook her head.

“I don’t like meals who talk.”

Neem swallowed nervously. They were discussing his impending death so calmly. He had never been in a situation where he felt more like an object than a living creature. Then again, vampires would have to become desensitised to the feelings of their ‘meals’ since they had to eat them. He could never be like them. In his eyes, only the heartless could kill a sentient creature.

King Klav III gestured for the nymph to come forward. King Klav III gestured for the nymph to step forward, but fear held him in place. He was certain that approaching the stately vampire would mean his death. However, a push from Kroven sent Neem stumbling up the steps He was saved from falling when the King put out his arm and allowed Neem to stable himself with it.

The hair on the back of his neck stood up as the King forced him to bend over slightly so that his blue lips could touch his neck. Neem yelped and instinctively tried to move away when two fangs pierced him, but the King held him still. The King released him after a few moments while continuing to savour the taste of nymph blood and judging whether or not the creature was a worthy meal.

Neem let out a small sob as he brought his hand to the two puncture wounds. Still, what was more horrifying was seeing his silver blood in the corner of the vampire’s mouth.

“He’s no faun, but he shall make a fine blood slave,” the King stated before licking his lips. He then glanced at the scar on the nymph’s side that was no longer covered by gauze. It had been removed by Voinil for better presentation. “I certainly hope that he hasn’t already been tainted by either of your fangs.”

“No, Your Highness,” Voinil quickly assured him. “We would never think to give you a tainted meal.”

“He was pierced by one of my arrows when I was hunting the faun,” Kroven elaborated.

The King looked intently at the scar for a few more seconds before nodding.

“Good, then you are to find my wife a voiceless meal. You may rest tonight, but begin the hunt at dawn.”

Both vampires nodded.

“Of course. Thank you, Your Highnesses,” they chorused before turning to leave.

Neem had mixed feelings about the hunters’ departure. He was glad to see them go, but at the same time, he would rather be with them than with the King. At least they did not eat him. There was no getting out of this situation, however. Guards were lined up all the way to the door and beyond. He was stuck in the vampire kingdom and he would die there—that he knew for sure.

The King and Queen both stood up. There were to be no more visitors today, and they could now continue with their daily routines.

“Take the blood slave to Rekou,” the King commanded of the guard closest to him. “She will prepare him properly for dinner tonight. He shall have the previous blood slave’s bedchambers.”

I’m going to die tonight, was Neem’s first thought as a guard came over and grabbed his wrist. The thought made his stomach feel uneasy due to stress. He would rather die instantly than have to count down the hours to his death.

Despite his fear of death, he couldn’t help but look around the castle as the guard dragged him down a large corridor. The tapestries depicted heroic looking vampires or animalistic creatures he had never seen before. He was also beginning to understand that there was a hierarchy within vampire society. The King and Queen were obviously at the top of the pyramid, as shown by their fancy wear. Just below them were other, fancily dressed people who did not wear crowns. Then the guards, then more plainly dressed people roaming the castle, and finally, the people in the littler homes beyond the castle walls. The only people he could not place were a few vampires who appeared to be doing chores. They wore the most revealing clothing, with a single line of red silk wrapping around their neck, flowing over their chest, and meeting again at their waist—where it was wrapped around again until one end covered both front and back in a loincloth-like manner. Neem was quite shocked to see matching scars on their backs that resembled symbols—branding. By comparison, this group dressed more like Neem than like all the other, fully-dressed vampires in the castle. Given their scars and depressed expressions, the nymph assumed they were somewhere near bottom of the hierarchy.

Neem and the guard eventually came to a small wooden door on the opposite side of the castle. A vampiress opened the door after the guard knocked twice. Neem noted that she wore the revealing, red garment he had seen a few others wearing. The only difference was that red lace was entwined in the braids that were draped over her shoulders and ended at her waist.

Perhaps she is slightly higher in the hierarchy than the other vampires who dress similarly? Neem considered. He knew that he could not make any absolute assumptions about this foreign culture, but his curiosity meant he wanted to learn more about them, even if it was likely that he would be dead by nightfall.

“Greetings,” she said to the guard with a small bow. She then glanced down at Neem with a surprised expression. “Is this creature a throwaway or proper blood slave?”

“This is King Klav’s new blood slave. He wants you to prepare him for dinner tonight. He is to be homed in the previous blood slave’s bedchamber.”

“Of course,” the vampiress said calmly with a small nod.

Closing the door behind her, she put her hand on Neem’s back as the guard released him.

“I suppose it would be wise to have him disciplined if he is resistant,” the guard stated while look

austion and unwillingness to assist her.

“The King has ordered it and so it must be done,” she said, bluntly, once he was fully dressed.

“I don’t like the King,” he murmured.

Rekou’s eyes widened. The nymph was quite shocked when her hand slapped onto his mouth.

“You mustn’t speak like that,” the vampiress hissed. “You will get hurt if you speak foully of the King.”

“I’m already going to be hurt! He bit my neck and I’m about to get a bad scar. What more could possibly be done to me?”

“You don’t want an answer to that question,” the vampiress warned him. “A bite mark and burn scar? That’s nothing. The first time you disobey the King he will break you. Your body, your spirit, all of it. It doesn’t matter to him if you don’t like your situation. You don’t have a right to your own body and opinions any more. They are all his. Fight that and he’ll make sure you pray for death.”

Neem was shaken by the severity of Rekou’s answer. It gave him the strong sense that she knew from personal experience how painful the King’s punishments could be.

Pain or not, I won’t be obedient for a vampire who’s taken me away from my home and sucked my blood.

The nymph had to clasp Rekou’s arm when he stepped away from the table. He felt incredibly light-headed and unable to keep himself steady.

“Do you need me to carry you?” the vampiress suggested.

He had to look her up and down for a few seconds. Due to his exhaustion, he would have preferred to not exert any energy, but Rekou looked quite frail herself.

“I’ll be fine,” he assured her.

It took a minute for Neem to reach the door. He tried to make it on his own, but he had to clasp the vampiress every time he stumbled.

“Surely the branding can wait till tomorrow when I am able to stand on my own two feet?” the nymph huffed as Rekou opened the door while simultaneously keeping a firm grip on his shoulder—she had to ensure he did not faul.

“The King said it has to happen tonight, and it will. I’m sorry, Neem.”

The nymph accepted her apology with a nod but chose to avoid eye contact. The vampiress appeared well-intentioned to him, yet she also had to obey the King—even if that meant taking him to be branded. He wondered whether or not they could have a more positive relationship if she did not have to take orders… or drink the blood of the innocent.

Neem inhaled deeply as Rekou led him into the bowels of the castle. Although he had not been able to look through any windows, the sudden shift to cold, stale air suggested they were below surface level. This became more evident as the ground transitioned from smooth surfaces to uneven stone. They were more or less walking through an underground cave system, only lit by the candles attached to the walls every several metres. Neem, of course, stumbled due to the uneven surface and insufficient lighting, but Rekou did not seem to struggle with the darkness and kept him steady for the most part.

“Have you ever tried to escape?” Neem asked the vampiress. However, he instantly bit lip as his words echoed through the tunnel.

“Hush!” Rekou hissed. “We will discuss anything you want later, but right now, we must get your branding done.”

A wave of heat blew over Neem as the vampiress pulled open a large, metal door at the end of the tunnel. His situation became all too real as numerous blacksmiths stared him down through their pitch black goggles. Although all of them were intimidating, the one that stood out the most was the one holding a long, metal stick in blazing furnace—and that was the one Rekou was leading him towards.

“A new blood slave, I see,” the massive vampire mumbled through the rag around his face. “In need of branding I assume. I was warned you’d be arriving tonight. The branding iron’s just about ready.”

“Yes,” Rekou agreed while firmly squeezing the nymph’s shoulder. “That’s why we’re here.”

Beads of sweat began to form on Neem’s brow. Maybe it was the heat of the room or maybe it was the fear he suddenly felt, but it was probably both.

Why does this have to happen?

“Perhaps we should restrain him,” the blacksmith suggested as he pulled the branding iron out of the fiery pit.

The nymph nearly fainted when he saw the glowing end of metal stick. He had never known heat strong enough to make something as sturdy as metal turn fiery red.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Rekou reassured the vampire before looking down at the little nymph. “Neem, why don’t you put your hands on the wall over there?”

Neem’s arms trembled as he complied and pressed his hands against the warm stone walls. The pain caused by the arrow in his side was going to be nothing in comparison to the agony he was about to feel. To his side, Rekou stood, looking pitifully at him. The memories of her own branding were coming back. It was awful, painful beyond belief, yet it still was not the worst memory she had while in service to King Klav III.

Goddess, if you’re real, I beg of you to help me. I’ll do anythi–

The pain struck him like a bolt of lightning and he was unable to form cognitive thought. The nymph was unable to finish his internal plead as the searing metal was pressed into his back. He let out a shrill scream before crumpling up on the ground. The fiery pain remained even though the branding iron was no longer touching him. After a few moments, he glanced up at both vampires with watery eyes. Rekou looked sympathetic. The blacksmith, however, simply shrugged before tossing the branding iron in a bucket to his side. There was a hissing sound, and steam started to rise out of the tin bucket as soon as the hot metal hit the water.

Save me. Please… please save me, Neem begged internally, over and over again, as he tried to cope with the pain. By this point he had no idea who he was praying to come and save him. Anyone. Goddess, Dacen, anyone.

He resisted when the vampiress crouched down and put her arms around him. She had brought him here knowing full well that he would be hurt—he could not trust her.

“You did well,” she whispered calmly. “So well. Would you like a nice cold bath before you go to bed? It’ll help with the burning pain.”

Rekou did not ask him if he could stand. She just scooped him up in her arms and stood up. Had Neem been of sound mind in that moment, then he would have been surprised by the vampiress’ strength. She did not tremble once as she carried him out of lower levels of the castle and back to the washroom.

The icy water was quite refreshing after what he had been through. The pain had dulled, but still remained present, like the lump left by a bee sting—but this was far more painful than any bee sting.

“I want to see it,” Neem finally said after coming to his senses in the metal tub.

Rekou raised both eyebrows in confusion.

“See what?”

“The scar. I want to see what’s been done to me.”

The vampiress jeered.

“How could you see it? It’s on your back.”

“Take me to a pond. I’ll be able to look back and see it in the reflection.”

Rekou raised her eyebrows.

“You have a reflection?”

“Uh… yes,” he replied in a confused manner. “Do you not?”

The vampiress shook her head.

“No vampire has a reflection. Avsebaug ensured no imitation versions of ourselves could ever be seen. We are the true and the only.”

Neem was not convinced by her answer. However their little discussion did manage to take his mind off the pain of his back briefly. He had figured all creatures of Efenta had reflections. In the Woodlands, a being’s reflection was a way for them to look at themselves and into their own souls. Maybe that was why vampires did not have reflections—maybe they had no souls.

“But I saw the…,” he had to pause to figure out how to explain the vampire images he saw on the stained-glass images. Unable to think of a way to explain them, he instead thought of what he had seen in the courtyard: “… shaped rock figures. The ones that look like you people. Aren’t they an imitation?”

“The statues?” the vampiress asked.

Neem shook his head even though he didn’t know what a ‘statue’ was.

“You’re right. There are paintings, statues, and other forms of art that show vampires, but you must learn the difference between imitation and representation.”

Neem had absolutely no idea what that meant.

“But you didn’t answer my question earlier,” he said in order to change the topic. “Have you ever tried to escape?”

Rekou sighed in a solemn manner.

“We don’t have to talk about it,” Neem quickly added.

“I have tried multiple times, and all it got me was pain,” she told him icily. “I know right now you think attempting to escape is the best thing to do, but it’s not. You will fail and you will be punished.”

Her warning did not faze the nymph. He was going to try and get away as soon as there was an opening.

“Has anyone ever successfully escaped?”

The vampiress shrugged indifferently.

“I have no clue. It doesn’t matter.”

You’re right, Neem thought while nodding along. I will either be one of dozens to escape or the very first. Either way I will get out of here.

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