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Shadows of the Mind


Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Tell on

Tell’s hands were slow to release their grip. They quivered with fury and held an iron grip on their collar. They waited many moments in this posture, long enough that black sludge began to roll off of Tell’s form, piece by piece. Two particularly large chunks sloughed to the dirt beneath his bare feet.

There was nothing he could do. It made Tell furious, as if anger would solve the problem before him. As the Parasite stared blankly back with its hollow eyes, Tell’s fingers loosened. Eventually, his hands fell to his side as fists. He took a step back and let his bare foot dig into the raw earth.

His fists raised and extended into open palms, a gesture that might have been mistaken for a shrug were it not for the fact that his shoulders did not move an inch. There was a snapping sound accompanied by a flash of light, and Tell was suddenly clad in a grey outfit, occupying the middle of the monochromatic spectrum shared between the trio of villains.

The outfit lacked a shirt; Tell’s bare chest was exposed to the elements and still coated at various points by the thick substance. His lower legs were now covered by robe, grey and padded by excessively dull pads of leather. It was split down the front and back for ease of movement. He wore gauntlets as well, constructions of leather and silver, but it was the helmet that truly grasped for attention. Simple in shape, rounded and smooth, it nevertheless sported a modest set of antlers which flowed backwards over the head. With a simple t-shaped slit for his eyes, it was easy to see that his eyes now glowed an unearthly shade of green-yellow. The effect was particularly striking against the shadows the helmet cast on the rest of his visible features.

Tell sat upon the earth, his gauntlets and charms making various clinking sounds as he did so. With unhidden hatred, he told the Parasite. “He is certainly a rebellious ‘extension of your will,’ is he not?” Tell snorted with derision before narrowing his gleaming yellow eyes.

He dismissed all but the red crystal ball and looked to Syrathan, whimpering off in the dirt. A horrible twinge of sympathy struck at his heart, though the expression appeared closer to annoyance due to the effect of his glowing eyes. What had these wretched souls done to him? He turned his focus back to one he could despise.

The red crystal ball swirled around him and came to a rest in his lap. “Betray your word and I will see to it that you suffer, abomination.”

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Vanyusha on

"You have already seen to that," he answered evenly, turning his back on the pair and walking several feet forward.

He agreed to release Vanyusha once he served his purpose -- powering the artifact by allowing it to feed on the negative emotions of his victims, all the pain and suffering he caused in his misguided attempt to remember what it meant to be human. What Tell failed to realize was that his plan was still decades away from being realized, so releasing Vanyusha now wasn't an option...

...or was it?

Perhaps Vanyusha was no longer of use to him, after all. His once useful host was damaged beyond repair: first that "no directly harming anyone" curse he convinced that priest to put on him during a lucid moment, and now Matvei and the other interlopers were interfering with his mission. Even if he managed to escape these fools and wipe Vanyusha's mind, he was no longer confident enough in Vanyusha's competence to go dormant again, especially after the fool willingly gave up an arm just to continue a conversation.

Vanyusha was no longer an asset -- he was a liability. It was time he took matters into his own hands. The artifact had enough magic to maintain his consciousness by now -- magic he would rather conserve by leaving Vanyusha in control, but that was too dangerous.

"I have reconsidered," he said after a while, still facing away from Tell and Syrathan. "Vanyusha is no longer necessary; I can ensure my rebirth without him. Do with him what you wish."

Once he finished speaking, a large blob of black ooze shot out from Vanyusha's robe and slammed into a nearby tree. It collapsed to the ground in a vaguely humanoid shape, its golden eyes staring up at Tell and Syrathan. Bone fragments floated to its surface, along with a damaged skull. "Abduct, torture, observe," Vanyusha said monotonously, then started repeating the phrase continuously as though stuck on a loop.

Vanyusha's robes hovered in the air, and the artifact within them glowed bright gold. Suddenly the robes began lengthening and segmenting, transforming into clothy wings and tendrils. The mask's lower half stretched outward like a beak, and its horns grew and branched out like a pair of antlers. Within the robes the artifact stretched out in several directions, morphing into a tall, rail-thin skeleton for the creature. Its golden, wirey arms slid out from the sleeves, their ends curling into razor-sharp claws. Its transformation complete, the bird-like monstrosity turned to face the others, towering over them at around three times their height.

"Your Vanyusha will return to his former self in due time," the creature said, hunching forward and tilting its head like an owl. "I had planned to kill him when we inevitably separated, but his current state is punishment enough for me. But is it enough for you, Matvei? I am not the only one he has betrayed."

Pausing, he straightened again. "My name is Caliavannas. Does that sound familiar, Matvei?"

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Tell on

Tell’s eyebrows shot upwards in surprise before his head spun to trace the black sludge as it was forced out of the robes. Turning on the ball of his foot, his hands were half raised out of a desperate desire to approach Vanyusha.

Before he could even take his first step, he was halted by the sounds behind him. Slowly, he turned back around only to come face to face with a monstrosity unlike any Tell had seen before. Though well versed in the creatures of the astral plane and used to dealing with beings many times his size, there was something in a human’s instincts that could never be repressed. The wizard took a hesitant step backwards as if he meant to bolt, but quickly required his resolve. His face grew from looking uncertain to curious.

It quickly swept back to outright fear when Tell heard the abomination’s name. This time, he did take multiple steps backwards. Never did his eyes stray from Caliavannas. “No, that’s... I killed you!” He shouted, throwing his hands to his sides. “I saw your foul old corpse!”

Tell’s ragged breath made him pause for air, his head drooping downwards. When he looked back up, his face had twisted itself into a mad, white-toothed smile.

“You...” He released a manic giggle, “you have done me a great service. Greater than you know.” The words sounded far more spiteful than thankful. Tell drew himself up out of his hunched posture. His eyes narrowed accusatorially, “You speak words of betrayal, and yet it seems to me this was all by your design. How can a puppet betray its master?”

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Vanyusha on

Caliavannas savored his horrified reaction. He had indeed perished at the hands of Tell and his siblings; even now he remembered waking up in the middle of the night with them standing over him, their knives drawn. Though he had only seen them a moment before his death, the image festered within his mind as he grew within the artifact, fueling his thirst for revenge. But even though Tell's hands were bloody, he was only his father's instrument.

But now that Vanyusha's purpose was served, he was no longer important – and neither was his son.

Before Caliavannas could gloat about his return, Tell's demeanor took a psychotic turn. What was he talking about? He couldn't fathom how corrupting Tell's father for centuries could have been a service. But Tell's anger was not lost on him. Emotions were his specialty, after all. Even though he was now free of Vanyusha's curse, he was not interested in a fight. Tell was a far cry from the child he was several centuries ago, and Caliavannas was in no mood to tangle with his magic.

“A puppet cannot betray his master, but a man can betray a friend,” he answered venomously. “I treated Nikolai as an equal. I gave your father everything he wanted and more, but that wasn't enough for him. He didn't even have the nerve to confront me himself. Only after he murdered me did I decide he was fit for puppet strings.”

He leaned in so his beak was inches from Tell's face. “I was a father myself once. I can't imagine how you would want anything to do with Nikolai after what he did to you, other than to kill him yourself. But I suppose these family squabbles aren't any of my business.”

Turning away from Tell, he started toward the woods, but stopped and glanced back at him. “Regardless of what you plan for your father, I suggest you get to it quickly,” he said, gaze drifting to Vanyusha, who was still babbling against a tree. “The artifact has been destroyed, and with it Vanyusha's immortality. At most he has a year to live. Just remember, it was your decision to release him.”

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Tell on

Matvei’s thoughts bounced between topics erratically. This was too much to take in. Even if all his thoughts had been his own, his memories untouched, he knew he would not be capable of handling this. He shook his head back and forth, the motion triggering the enchantment upon his outfit. The black sludge that yet remained entwined with his hair and skin spilled outwards from beneath his helmet and robes, what little remained stuck to his bare chest. The rise and fall of heavy breaths sent even that tumbling to the earth, creating a black circle about his feet.

“I had intended to kill him...” Matvei mumbled, his voice as weak as his convictions, while Caliavannas turned away. Tell extended his right hand, slowly uncurling his fingers into an open palm. Without so much as a sound, a glass knife appeared at his side. His fingers gripped the pommel like five serpents reaching for prey.

He took a step for his father, the weapon seeming heavy in his hand. An impulse drove the mage to look over his shoulder and the retreating abomination, and the hand which held the knife twitched in mad anticipation. He took a step back.

It was rare in life that one faced a choice so distinct. He wanted more than anything to end the life of his wretched father, but the being he had become was so... pitiful. Matvei blinked at the thought. It was not a word he had ever once applied to his father before. It meant something to him, but Matvei couldn’t put a name to how or why.

He took a step towards the abomination that had done this, thoughts and conclusions forming within him. He understood something now. His father had been stronger, more capable. If his father had fallen into the web of this abomination and emerged as nothing more than a pitiful wreck, then Nikolai was no longer his father. Vanyusha was no longer Nikolai. His father was gone.

Matvei took his second step after the abomination, the knife rising imperceptibly. As his foot pushed against the dirt, Caliavannas turned back. Tell stopped, feeling like a petulant child caught by a parent. Caliavannas’ words brought Tell cause to keep his feet planted.

“The artifact has been... destroyed?” Matvei asked. His fingers coiled tightly about the knife's grip.

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Vanyusha on

“In a manner of speaking. My rebirth destroyed its physical form, but the power it accumulated over the centuries still exists, permanently merged with my mind. It is now part of me.”

But that power alone would not be enough to sustain him forever; creating his new body had already expended much of it, leaving only enough to keep him alive for a few more decades. Fortunately, he now possessed the artifact's talent for transforming negative emotions into magical energy. Soon he would feast on suffering again – without the limitations of working through Vanyusha.

Caliavannas extended the golden wires that were his arms and studied them. This body would be servicable, but its nature prevented him from partaking in any wordly pleasures. He yearned for those heated nights of his old life. Had he amassed more energy through Vanyusha, he could have crafted a more humanoid form for himself. Maybe there was still a way to accomplish that...

Before he could dwell on it any further, he noticed Vanyusha had stopped repeating his mantra. Tilting his head, he looked over at his old vessel. “Rejoining us already, are we? I thought it would take longer for your mind to return.”

Vanyusha forced his head up. “C-Calia... you're... how can you...”

“Still not entirely with us, I see,” Caliavannas said, approaching him. “I suppose I can wait here a while longer. I'd like to say a few words for you before leaving you with your son and psychotic errand boy.”

“Son...?”

“Matvei survived your little scheme. I'm as surprised as you are – or will be when you're coherent, at any rate,” Caliavanas said, turning to Tell. “You mentioned wanting to kill him. Your father will have his mind again in a few moments, so I suggest holding off until he can fully appreciate your revenge."

"But I killed my children..." Vanyusha mumbled sadly.

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Tell on

“Oh no, oh no…” Matvei mumbled, his eyes fixating on the grass. Though inhabiting the body of a puppet, he could feel the magic of his wooden tongue slowly creeping to life in the astral plane, where his true body was hidden. He had a bit more time, but unless he could redeem his failure to acquire the artifact he would be cast into a torture the likes of which mortals could never devise.

Matvei visibly swallowed, but the gesture turned into a snarl as Caliavannas approached Nikolai. The hostility quickly vanished as Matvei’s eyes unfocused, his thoughts desperately seeking some rescue from the fate about to befall him. His knowledge of arcane matters was his greatest asset here. The astral plane had taught him things no mortal ever needed to know about magic.

He could take very good guesses as to how the artifact had operated, and why the creation of Vanyusha had been necessary. It seemed by the time Matvei and his brothers had plunged the knife into Caliavannas’ neck, his schemes had already been in motion. To Matvei, this allowed him the slimmest hope that it had not been Nikolai who had ordered the deaths of his own sons, regardless of whatever filth the abomination’s mouth had spewed.

A burning hatred filled Matvei. He had not felt so strongly in a great while. Acting against Caliavannas was out of the question. From the body of a puppet, he would lose any confrontation. Perhaps that fact could be twisted into an advantage of its own.

What Caliavannas didn’t know could hurt him very, very much.

“I suppose you needed to construct Vanyusha to allow the artifact to grow in strength.” Matvei addressed the parasite, paying close attention to his wording so as not to declare any falsehoods. Playing the lead role in his father’s scams so long ago had left its mark, enabling Matvei to let a sense of awe creep into the edges of his voice even as beneath the surface he boiled in fury. “I forced you to vacate his body early, is that it? What if I could offer you a new one to hide in, one under your complete control?”

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Vanyusha on

Caliavannas slowly approached Tell, stopping when his beak was nearly touching his face. He stared at him in silence, unblinking, for almost a full minute. “How stupid do you think I am?” he asked, finally. “Your intervention did force me to abandon your father earlier than I anticipated, but in a way that was a blessing in disguise: Vanyusha had become too unreliable to carry out his purpose, so taking matters into my own hands remains the best solution, loss of energy aside.”

Stepping back, he started circling Tell like a predatory animal. “But allow me to repeat my question: How stupid do you think I am?

“I have a plan to ensure my revival. It will take longer than I'd like, but the outcome is guaranteed. I will live again. Yet you stand before me, offering to give me a body of my own. You, son of the man to whom I gave everything, yet still betrayed me for more power. You, son of the man who didn't have the balls to kill me himself. You, who killed me in my sleep and necessitated the need for my revival in the first place.

“It is only by the Artifact's grace that I survived my own death. Why would I jeopardize its gift by putting myself at your mercy? I have nothing to gain that I won't through my own work. But I have everything to lose, and you know that damn well, don't you? I have no reason to trust you.

“I will live again, on my own terms. I will be able to enjoy this world's pleasures. I'll eat the finest foods. I'll fuck the finest women. I'll even rebuild my little family. But neither you nor your father will have any part in it.”

He stopped, spreading his wings to their full width. “You should consider yourself lucky that I don't kill you where you stand. Fortunately for you, I have more important things to do. It was wonderful seeing you again, Matvei. Hopefully we won't meet again.”

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Tell on

Matvei’s smile broadened further the closer Caliavannas approached. The skin of his lips was taxed to his limit as the twisted grin expanded. His golden eyes were narrowed by the way his expression lifted. It looked as if a spirit was doing its best impression of a mortal smile. “Such pitiable goals. I sacrificed everything to be free from the sins of my father.”

The wizard leaned forward and kissed the birdlike beak while staring, one set of golden eyes into another. “Caliavannas.” Matvei said, his voice whimsical, “Do tell me. What has you thinking yourself capable of killing me?”

Matvei could feel his true tongue crawling around inside of his throat. He began to choke and gag. Bits of black slime which had taken refuge within his mouth sloughed outwards as if he was drooling midnight venom. His arms wrapped tightly around his chest.

“What has you thinking my role in your tale is yet done?” Matvei’s voice rose steadily until he was screaming. Deep gouges began to appear in his skin, sickening serpents of exposed flesh. Every few seconds, one could make out the feature of one of Vanyusha’s puppets beneath the skin: a toothy maw or a clawed hand, even the occasional gleaming yellow eye.

“What makes you think you have a choice!” He screamed, his crystal balls rising as his skin expanded.

“This is not over, Caliavannas!” The wizard’s arms unwound themselves and extended towards the abomination. “I swore to see you suffer, and I swear it again! I’ll haunt your every nightmare! Strike at you in all you do!”

Tell’s crystal balls lurched forward, but they lacked their usual vigor. They moved as if they were balls of lead being dragged through the sky. Tell howled in frustration at his impotence. “I can fix this!” He pleaded to the open air. “Let me kill him! Kill him!”

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Vanyusha on

So, the child wanted a fight? Amusing. Caliavannas had other business, yes, but there was always time to put a little brat in his place.

Caliavannas watched as Matvei performed his disgusting little show, head cocked to the side. He talked a big game, but whether he had the punch to back it up remained to be seen. His disinterest persisted throughout the display -- until he glimpsed one of Vanyusha’s puppets writhing beneath the wizard’s skin. His eyes widened. How was that possible? He’d designed those creatures as a means to circumvent Vanyusha’s bothersome curse! If Matvei managed to replicate it so easily, this would be more challenging than he thought.

Before Caliavannas could dwell on it further, Matvei’s crystal ball disaster returned him to reality. He started laughing – at Matvei for his failure, and at himself for having considered the brat a threat, even momentarily. “Performance anxiety, eh? I’m sure this has never happened to you before!”

Turning, he walked a few feet away from Matvei, then stopped and looked back at him. “Consider yourself lucky, boy. That anticlimax of yours amused me, so I’m going to overlook your arrogance and let you live – this time. But if you still want to pursue your silly little vendetta against me, by all means look me up.” With that, he left Matvei alone with his father and the cannibal.
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Vanyusha, unsurprisingly, wasn’t faring too well, having been reduced to a black sludge slumped against a tree. Now that he was separated from the artifact, his memories were slowly starting to return, although he wished they weren’t. Everything was coming together, albeit in a blurry picture: his betrayal of Caliavannas and rise within the cult; his possession by Caliavannas; working for Eltana; and the fleeting lucid moments spread in between.

His eyes rested on Matvei. He couldn’t recognize him, but after listening to Caliavannas, there was no doubt: This man was his son.

Yes, he had a child once. Several, in fact. And he had betrayed them all, sentencing them to death to further his own plans.

He looked ahead, pointedly avoiding eye contact with Matvei. A few moments after Caliavannas left, he spoke: “If you’ve come to kill me, here I am. I’m cogent enough to understand why.”

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Tell on

“Damn you,” Matvei whispered at Caliavannas’s back, “This isn’t over. Thrice I swear it: I shall slay you.”

A lance of agony shot through him. Matvei collapsed, falling sideways from his kneeling position to land in the dirt. His large hat tumbled from his head, which now faced away from Nikolai. Tell’s gaze fell upon the crumpled shape of the serial killer. He glowered impotently, with both his two eyes and the eyes under his skin, in displaced rage.

His masters were not pleased with his actions. To many lies, all the wrong truths. Back on the Astral Plane, his real body was being flayed by his own tongue, growing and splitting into grotesque shapes.

Matvei licked his lips with what remained of his puppet’s fleshy tongue. “The-” He choked on a fragment of his own lip, which had decayed off of his face. The racking cough which expelled it did not improve his condition. “Marn. I shall find you in your nightmares. You’ll not die until I will it.”

Matvei’s puppet disintegrated back into the monstrous shapes it had claimed. The two golden-eyed beasts lay still, covered in blood and bile. Back on the Astral Plane, Matvei screamed.

Re: Shadows of the Mind

Post by Vanyusha on

So Matvei planned to torture him. Fair enough. After all he’d done to him, and to so many others, he couldn’t say he didn’t deserve it. A fitting and karmic death, several centuries too late. But without the power of the artifact, he’d be surprised if he lasted long enough for Matvei to get any meaningful revenge.

But perhaps not. If Matvei survived his own execution, or somehow came back from the dead, Vanyusha wouldn’t be surprised if he had the magic to keep him alive, too. And he was obviously powerful if he managed to separate two of Vanyusha’s thralls from his body.

Even so, Vanyusha knew his death was soon and inevitable, and he at least took solace in that. Passing peacefully was a luxury that wouldn’t be afforded to him.

Lurching forward, Vanyusha started sliding across the ground on his “stomach,” his black, sludge-like body burning the grass and leaves he passed over. He only managed a few feet before stopping. It was starting to get dark out, but he didn’t care whether he made it back to his cave. It wasn’t like anyone would find him out here in the wilderness. And he didn’t really care if they did, honestly. He remembered Marn was downright hostile to magic, so any passer-bys would probably kill a grotesque thing like him without a second thought.

Speaking of the grotesque, Vanyusha had a vague recollection of a cannibal accompanying him. He couldn’t remember the man’s name, or why he even recruited him in the first place. No doubt it was to help replenish Caliavannas or further one of his other schemes. Sighing, he closed his eyes and lay still on the ground. “Cannibal, if you’re still here, leave me. Take whatever you desire from my cave, I no longer need anything. Consider it a parting gift.”

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