He only saw a glimpse of it. Cause the damn thing turned invisible only seconds after the light from his sword washed over it. He watched as it faded to transparent before his eyes and Faust took in all he could as quickly as he could.
The peacock girl was tugging on his arm as if she could somehow drag him back through the fence. The spaces were wide enough for a man to slip through but not one of the creatures. Faust wanted to think of them as feral dragons. They were scaled, and about the size of a large draft horse, but they seemed rather beastly than intelligent. So rather than think of them as dragons it was better to see them just as giant lizards.
They were black scaled, Faust had seen that much, and spiked along the spine, shoulders and hips. Small heads on whip like necks, and the front feet looked more like hands than feet. In the presence of the light from the sword it squealed, even backed away a little as it turned invisible, and Faust noticed little wisps of steam slither upwards from its skin.
“The light hurts them until they disappear,” Faust heard the voice of the peacock girl in his ear. He allowed her to finally pull him back between the timbers that made up the fence.
There was a whoosh as a bonfire was brought to light with some sort of accelerant near the fountain, rather than guarding the fence, the natives had withdrawn from them, taking up positions close to the fire.
“So that was why you asked for my assistance,” Faust stated as the flames diminished from the sword and he rehooked it to his back. He could hear the monsters out in the darkness moving. There were more than one, he could hear some snap at each other, a scuffle break out and some squealing as one of them lost. However the fence did seem effective or was it the light from the single orb and the bonfire that was keeping them at bay? “What sort do you take me for? I do not bother myself with saving everyone that suddenly has a problem they can’t deal with.”
The peacock girl looked taken aback, almost as if he’d reached out and slapped her. Though he had done no such thing he almost expected her to raise a hand to cheek. The prideful look was gone, replaced by hurt and betrayal.
“We are the last of our people; do you feel no loss for our civilization?” She asked.
“No. I don’t. You want to save your people, move your village the hell out of this cave and collapse the entrance behind you,” Faust told her.
“This is our ancestral home, we will not abandon it, even though you are abandoning us,” she said with all the conviction she seemed to be able to muster in her small form.
“What will you give me if I help you?” He asked. Faust wasn’t thinking about the riches the city possessed but it did occur to him that he could make some indebted allies among these people. He would save them… and the cost would be their undying loyalty.
The peacock girl studied him a moment and he let her think about it. Her eyes left his face to wander around the encampment and she seemed to sag somewhat.
“We have nothing to give you that you would value,” she said in a beaten voice that Faust like to hear. That explained how they had not noticed the tourmaline inlaid in the buildings or the diamonds in the temple, to the Bachtoohai they were probably just pretty stones. Oh Faust planned to plunder the City eventually, but first. He’d rather have the Bachtoohai beholden to him.
“You have things of value that are not objects,” Faust began coyly and wished he hadn’t. Peacock girl was suddenly getting the wrong impression. She went from beaten to alluring in the blink of an eye. Faust did not want to have sex with the peacock girl, he didn’t even want to drink her blood.
She reached out to stroke his hair, and he caught her by the wrist before she could touch a single white strand. “That is not what I had in mind.” He pushed her back from him. “Don’t ever touch me.” He warned her and once again she had the beaten look but was confused.
“Who are you in this tribe? Priestess?” Faust asked her. She nodded. “Do you lead it?” She nodded again. “Offer me the loyalty of your tribe and I’ll rid your home of it pest problem.”
“I will need to seek the advice of Mother and Bachtoo before I can agree to such steep terms,” she finally said and Faust shrugged.
“You have one hour,” Faust gave her the ultimatum. “Then I’ll be gone. Forever.”
“You cannot leave, the monsters will kill you.”
“How do you expect me to end them if you keep telling me that if I leave the protection of your fire they will kill me?”
“We think they sleep during the day. You will hunt them then.” She walked away from him, ending their conversation. He watched her go back to the biggest teepee and enter it. Faust put his back to the bonfire and with his hunter vision looked past the timbers that made up the fence and could see the creatures moving around. They were only slightly warmer than the air around them.
The other warriors regarded him as if he wasn’t there and Faust didn’t mind. They seemed to get a little apprehensive when he left the bonfire’s glow to near the fence. He was curious about the creatures. He’d never seen or heard anything like them. At this moment he couldn’t see a use for them. Vampires were sensitive to sunlight, but these seemed to be sensitive to any light. Faust was curious what the sun would do to them but he wasn’t keen on dragging one out to the surface to find out.
Then there were the people that had built the city. Who were they? Where had they gone? Had the creatures killed them?
Faust watched one of the creatures as it paced back and forth along the fence of timbers. He could barely see it in the darkness, just an outline of black on darker black. They really didn’t seem that smart, more like a bloodthirsty cow with sharp teeth and claws. It should’ve easily climbed over the timbers and entered the encampment for a feast of Bachtoohai. Instead it just paced, watching him with one eye then the other as it moved back and forth.
He approached the fence and should’ve expected it, but it surprised him anyway. The creature, like a cat putting a paw between the bars of a cage, tried to reach for him. He deftly stepped aside, and in one smooth motion brought the sword off his back and down, slicing the creature’s hand off cleanly at the wrist. The hand plopped to the ground, blood spurted, it smelled tainted and rather like cat urine than blood.
The creature withdrew its arm and squealed loud enough that Faust wanted to place his hands over his ears to shut out the noise. He could hear other creatures suddenly leap in from the darkness and they tore into the wounded one, flesh tearing as they attacked it. It screamed loudly but in seconds it was dead and the carcass being fought over by two others while a third was trying to drag it away.
Faust wondered what they had been eating other than each other to sustain the population. Maybe there were rats or bats or some other food source in the city. He turned to walk back to the bonfire, none of the warriors had moved to help him. Faust hadn’t been in any danger anyway, but he noticed the flap of large teepee move. Had peacock girl peeked out at him to check he was well?
He smelled blood, not the cat urine reek of the animal. He smelled human blood, tainted slightly, but it was there. Faust turned his head, trying to find the source. He glanced down and there on the ground was a human hand. A woman’s, partially curled up. The wrist was severed cleanly, and though smeared he recognized the peacock eye painted on the back of it.
Faust lifted it from the ground. It didn’t take a genius, though Faust considered himself one, to figure out that the disappearance of the creature’s hand and the appearance of a human hand in its place, with the paint of the priestess upon it, the creature he’d cut the hand off had been human once and had been Bachtoohai. Now peacock girl had some explaining to do.
How does one knock on a teepee? Faust mused slightly as he approached the largest one that housed the old priestess and peacock girl. He was slightly amused that he hadn’t bothered to ask her name, nor had she given one. Peacock girl worked just fine for him.
Faust didn’t knock, he wasn’t about to lower himself to social standards that the Bachtoohai had probably never heard of. He pulled back the flap to the teepee and looked within. Part of him wished he’d knocked, and part of him was glad that he had not.
Peacock girl sat next to the fire, completely naked save for some feathers about her wrists and ankles. She had the peacock eyes painted on the backs of her hands, and now Faust understood why. She had brought her hands over her own eyes, giving the impression she had the peacock eyes as her own.
Faust had been a man before he was a vampire and though sexual pleasures were not for him as they had been before he became a vampire, one did have to admire a beautiful woman. So he had no remorse about letting his eyes drop to regions lower than her face.
She lowered her hands and lacked the modesty of other women. She did not shriek or try to cover herself immediately. She rose calmly to her feet and draped a robe of some sort over her shoulders.
“We need to talk,” Faust began and held the severed hand out to her. “I cut that off one of the creatures. They were originally Bachtoohai, so explain to me how you go from being human to being that?” He backed away from the door, wanting her to follow him out of the teepee.
“Were you bitten?” She asked with concern in her voice as she accepted the hand from him and wrapped it in a small pelt.
“No.” Faust was not one for monosyllabic replies but he wanted her to talk and wasn’t going to fill the void with his own words when she was the one he wanted to hear.
“If you are bitten, you become sick, and you die, only to turn into them,” she explained so forthcoming that Faust was mildly surprised. He had practically had to beat the reason he was brought here out of her and suddenly the words were dribbling from her mouth like water from a pitcher.
Faust looked her down then up. Arching a brow. He wondered what would happen if one bit the likes of him? Faust was a vampire after all. He really wasn’t afraid to die, he’d already done it once.
“Only the priestesses have that painted on them. Who was she?” Faust asked indicating the hand that peacock girl had wrapped in the leathers. For a moment he didn’t think peacock girl was going to answer him and he really didn’t care if she did or not. This was as close to being sympathetic to her plight as he was going to get. If the creatures finally got smart enough to climb the fence and start eating them, Faust would fight then off only because he wasn’t intending on finding out if they had a taste for vampire flesh.
“My sister,” peacock girl answered him finally. She was cradling the hand to her chest, which for even Faust was slightly morbid. “She was bitten trying to protect us.”
Faust wondered how they could get bitten if the creatures were not just afraid of the light but were harmed by it. The fence wasn’t even necessary if they could get the orbs that hung from the ceiling to not turn off. Still, when the lights came back on, he’d go kill a few of them, for the hell of it. Regardless if peacock girl was going to give him what he wanted to not.
“Have you spoken with Bachtoo about my payment?” Faust asked her, wanting her attention away from the hand. Faust knew a little about Bachtoo, the god that the Bachtoohai worship. He was more of a Spirit than a god, hardly enough believers to make that one a god. Faust didn’t exactly know what he was the god of, and had never formally had an audience with him.
“He has been silent. I do not think he hears our prayers,” she answered him. Faust, who was a tool, a puppet, and not just some marionette of the gods, he often felt like one of those that gets the hand jammed up the ass to operate at times. He enjoyed his powers, but he didn’t like being indebted to others for them. Gods were a finicky bunch; they were lords over slaves in Faust’s opinion. He didn’t much care for the ‘worship me or be smited’ attitude that some of them had. Maybe Bachtoo was one of the good ones, but he was in danger of losing all his followers if he continued to allow them to be eaten by the creatures outside the fence. So in Faust’s informed opinion, either Bachtoo didn’t care, didn’t exist, or was unable to help his people.
“Does he normally answer them?” Faust asked casually. Faust knew there were gods, he’d seen them, been abused and seduced by them. Most of Noristrad just worked on belief and faith and other virtues that Faust didn’t care to possess. So it was possible that peacock girl could assume Bachtoo was answering if they were getting what they were praying for, or it could’ve just been chance. Not all the gods dabbled so personally in the lives of their followers, but Bachtoo was in trouble cause Faust had only counted about thirty tribesmen. Thirty worshipers would make him pretty damn weak.
“Maybe we don’t have enough faith,” she said to him, not answering his question.
Maybe you don’t have enough god. Faust thought to himself. “My offer still stands whether you have the blessing of your god or not. If you want me to save your people, swear loyalty to me.”
He watched her fight with herself. Fealty was a hefty price, and he honestly wasn’t expecting her to pay it. If she did, then Faust might have sex with her, if she didn’t, he’d leave this place, and leave them to their fate. He might come back someday and pry the diamonds out of the temple, but not for some years. He’d make sure they were all dead before he came back.
Faust wanted to snort. He could just put them all out of their misery now. They were a tiny tribe of primitives who were camped in the center of a grand city. They did not really deserve this place.
“Tell me about the Bachtoohai, how did you come to call this your ancestral home?” Faust asked. His first theory was that the Bachtoohai had found the city, but there could be a chance, a very small one that they were actually the descendants of the people who lived in the city. Still, again, Faust wondered why did they wait until now, and not as soon as they noticed the beasts. In other words, Why me and why now?
“We have always lived here,” she said and that wasn’t exactly the answer Faust had been expecting.
“When did the attacks begin?” He asked, “Have these creatures always been here?” She shook her head, so they were more recent.
“They began only a few weeks ago,” peacock girl stated. Faust was surprised, didn’t allow it show, but still surprised.
“Why did you contact me? Out of all the people in Noristrad to seek help from, why me?” Faust finally asked the question that was burning within him.
“You were chosen by Bachtoo. We prayed for help, and he sent us a sign that you would help us,” she was back to sounding hopeful and Faust didn’t like hope. He liked it when it broke or died, but rising hope was like nails on a slate to him.
“I would’ve liked to have been notified when I get whored out to another god,” Faust muttered under his breath.
The rest of the night Faust wandered about the encampment, watching the creatures outside the fence. He counted at least half a dozen and wondered why hadn’t the Bachtoohai just hunted them down during the days. Even if they just killed one a day it would’ve taken them only about a week.
Peacock girl avoided him and he didn’t care. She hadn’t yay’d or nay’d his offer and though Faust didn’t have patience, well he tried not to have them, he enjoyed playing her game. Did she think that he was going to stay anyway and help them? Come daylight he was going to explore the city, and then leave.