It was night. The clouds were heavy and thick with rain. The old castle creaked creepily in the wind. They said it was haunted. Waves crashed upon the shore in a frightening display as a warning to stragglers of the impending storm. This was just how Darren liked it.
Lightning flashed before him, but Darren didn't do so much as pause at the blast. He'd been struck before and survived. The thunder that roared a second latter seemed like a divinity's howl of rage at the impudence of the man who would dare brave his storm with only a knife against the gale.
The thought made Darren grin devilishly.
Darren knew how he looked. He took pride in how his dark trenchcoat whipped in the wind like a cloak. It's leather soaked through from the rain. The gusts of wind would've blown any man tumbling down the dirt path he was walking, but Darren walked calmly as if the winds had no effect on him. In truth, they bolstered him. It made him feel like he could fly.
Slowly the sun dipped lower on the horizon. As it fell the shadows grew. Darren could sense the shadows, they embraced him like a lover; making him feel stronger with each passing second.
If any man dared to be out in the storm, he would've seen what appeared to be a most ordinary man walking calmly into the one place that most folks stayed clear of. He then would've watched as Darren seemed to absorb the night. And he would've felt the chill Darren emanated. An awful ominous aura. That man would've run home, believing that the devil had come to roost at the castle. But no man saw Darren as he climbed the final stone steps to the door. No one saw the imposing figure as he casually opened the ancient wood doors with a single shove. Nor did anyone notice those same doors slam shut behind him without any apparent cause.
That too was exactly how Darren liked it.
From the moment he crossed the threshold, Darren could feel the malevolence gushing from the hallowed halls. it flooded his body with strength and heightened his senses. Grotesque paintings hung ominously against the cold stone walls. Their caretakers had long since given up on recovering the valuable treasures.
"Help me. Oh, hero." A voice rang out across the foyer.
Darren gripped the knife at his waist carefully. The voice was feminine. It sounded distorted like it was coming from underwater, but there was no physicality to it. In front of him was a massive portrait of a blood-filled lake. It was bordered by two stairs leading further into the castle. As Darren watched, the painting shimmered and a woman rose up from the lake.
No, not a woman. Her ears were shaped in such a way that even Spock would've been jealous of. Her skin was so flawless it looked almost porcelain. Her hair was white; it seemed to shine in the darkness of the room. She was covered in a simple dress that hugged her skin tightly. Darren could see that her frail body was curved unnaturally, like a Barbie doll. With that level of obvious seduction, Darren knew she could only be a fairy.
"Long have I awaited a hero like you to hear my voice and free me from this accursed place," she plyed, her hands folded over her ample chest. "Free me, noble hero, that I might restore the light unto this castle once more!"
Darren burst out laughing. "Oh honey, have you got the wrong guy!"
At the fairy's expression, Darren stifled am amused snort. "I do not understand," she said. "Only thee of noble pursuits can hear the voice of our light, or see the blessings of mine kind."
"Or a monster," Darren growled pointedly. He embraced the hunger in his gut and willed his head to change. The pain would've been unbearable... if he'd been normal. Darren felt the bones in his face shift and change, his skin stretched tight and split. From the top of his head, two wicked horns rose and spiraled impressively.
"Vile scum!" the Fairy exclaimed, disgust twisting her perfect face. "Wicked Devil-child, begone from this place! I smite thee!" She gestured impressively with her arms, but nothing happened. "Curse this imprisonment!" She shrieked. "And a curse unto all your kind for bringing me such misfortune!"
"My kind is cursed enough, thank you very much." Darren snorted indignantly.
"Why have you come here? Half-demon pig!" she spat. "I thought your kind was too busy eating each other to partake in the vulgar sports of your fathers."
Darren breathed slowly, he focused on restraining himself and his monstrous head returned to normal. He had what he needed. "I was just passing through." He answered jovially. "Heard stories about the 'old museum in the castle on the hill.' Heard it was haunted. I thought I'd stop in for a spell."
"So you come to mock me of mine fate." the fairy sighed.
"Actually, I rather thought I'd put a stop to it."
"Whoah, whoah. Hold your horse's lady. I didn't know anyone was trapped up here. I came to put an end to whatever beast is channeling this much evil. It's turning squalls into hurricanes, directing lightning at townsfolk. If left unchecked the corruption in this place could even be enough to start raising monsters. I'll end the darkness, but I doubt that will make any difference to your prison. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you."
"I do not need to breathe." the fairy answered haughtily. "Surely on thine mission thou wilt find a way to free me from mine prison. The source of the malevolence you seek is the Demon Harken. It is he who hath trapped me in this portrait. He stole my pendant and twisted the power within to keep me and my kin ensnared within the paintings of this castle. If you free them-"
"If I free them, the power in the pendant disappears. Yeah, I get it. But I doubt Harken's stupid enough to let an oversight like that go unchecked. Look, girl. I'll take care of the demon but if you want someone to pull you out of those paintings; go get a Mario Bro."
"I would be... extremely grateful," she said, seductively shifting and showing off her bewitching proportions.
"My very touch would be toxic to you," said Darren.
The fairy glanced at him cautiously, then grudgingly nodded. "It's true, your kind is hazardous unto mine. Tis a shame though, I would like to try you."
"Yeah, I'll bet," Darren muttered as he turned away.
"Where art thou going?" The fairy asked, pressing her face as far forward as she was able. "Harken resides at the apex of this place."
Darren sighed. "I doubt he's there anymore. By now he would've felt my presence and decided to investigate... or send hellhounds; either way, my knife and I are going to go introduce ourselves."
Darren drew his knife and mimed stabbing something. The effect on the Fairy was apparent.
"Stop!" She shrieked. "You must not use such a weapon here."
The certainty in her voice brought Darren pause. He glanced at the fairy as if a small child, weighing her words to decide if it was worth listening to.
"Alright, I'll bite. Why not?" He asked as sarcastically possible.
"The blade you carry is as steeped in malevolence as the air you breathe. Its spirit is filled with a darkness that, if left unchecked, will create yet another monstrous foe."
"I... I hadn't thought of that, actually," Darren admitted pensively. "I had always assumed that my presence would just corrode it until it broke." Holding the knife out for the fairy to see better, he stepped closer to her.
"It hath bathed in the blood of demons and monsters," the fairy admonished. "The Arte in magic is unpredictable; it may very well break as you suggest, however, the spirit of the thing is so deeply drenched with dark magics that I fear a more horrific reality will emerge. Only a trifling of my powers can reach through this imprisonment, but I should be able to avert this dilemma. Please, let me bless your blade. My magic shall cleanse that which is unpure and instill a holy righteousness unto its spirit."
"Wait a minute," Darren said, recoiling from the portrait once more. "That kind of blessing is at odds with my own power. The only reason I'm able to cut demons with this thing in the first place is that I'm half-demon. If you try to cleanse it of my influence our powers will cancel out and it will be just like any ordinary knife."
"I... I had not considered that possibility," the fairy said, clearly choosing her words carefully.
"Well, thanks for the offer lady, but unless you have Excalibur hidden up your skirt--which I doubt--I think I'll do without your help."
"Excalibur would destroy your essence if you so much as touched its hilt," the Fairy shot back haughtily.
"SO, the brat thinks he can play with the big boys eh?" A grave voice rang out from the shadows. With it came a wave of malevolence that made the whole place seem darker. The fairy faded in her frame, leaving Darren alone.
"Well, Brat. Speak up! You've clearly mastered your hunger enough to interfere. So who sent you? If Baccas thinks he can send a Bratling to fight his fights for him, He's got another thing coming!" The voice laughed.
"No one sends me anywhere I don't already want to go," Darren growled back.
"Oh don't tell me... Son! Have you come to usurp dear old dad? Or maybe you just want to go fishing like a proper family!" The demon laughed again.
Darren snarled at the darkness. Without his horns, he had no way to sense where Harken was manifesting himself. But he knew it had to be close.
Too late, Darren noticed the hand reaching out at his throat. Gasping, Darren clutched the hand desperately while Harken became fully visible.
Whereas Darren looked human, Harken had assumed his true demonic form. The wings on his back splayed as impressively as his horns. Larger than one would assume, Harken easily surpassed the hight of any normal human with a whole head to spare. His black skin was rough and edgeless as if Darkness itself had come together to create his body, which it had. The only things that Darren could make out clearly were Harken's horrible eyes, razor teeth, and an amulet on his bull-like chest inlaid with sapphire. This creature was a force of nature, something so old and so primal that it existed long before humanity had ever risen from the earth. And Darren would have to kill it.
Not that he could do much while he was pulled off the ground. Swinging like a ragdoll in a toddler's arms, Darren could only grit his teeth in frustration as he struggled to stay alive. Luckily, Harken seemed more interested in taunting him than killing him. Harken was clearly talking to him, but to Darren, it looked like he was just opening and closing his mouth. whatever words he was saying was lost, and just as well, Harken's expression showed that he did not care one bit that Darren could still move. Darren vowed to make him regret that.
"-come waltzing into my home unannounced!" Harken finished. Sensing that the end was near, Darren reached out his hand and attempted to pull the Fairy's necklace away from Harken, but it was stuck to his skin like glue.
"Your impudence never ends, brat. You're right. This pendant does belong to the bitch in the painting, but you don't even have the power to pull it away. A brat like you can only manage one five minute transformation a day. And since you already used it to show off to the whore, well I'd say your- why are laughing?"
"My transformations can last ten minutes," Darren told him, wincing as the demon tightened his grip again. He focused on the pain, letting loose the hunger within himself. "Since I ended my first transformation within a minute, I can go again anytime I want."
Too late, Harken realized the danger he was in. Darren plunged his fully transformed hand deep into harken's chest and ripped out a hole. When the demon threw him in surprise, Darren let himself fall against the wall. In his hand was the fairy's pendant.
"He's all yours, my lady," Darren said mockingly. He tossed the pendant at the portrait behind him and took cover from the blast of light that followed.
To Darren's sensitive eyes, the castle burned. What would have seemed warm to any ordinary human, seemed instead toxic. The air filled with an earthy fragrance as the foyer regained it's former grandeur briefly. As Darren lay there he felt weekend as if he'd run a million miles. He could feel the strength of the fairy's domain crush the malevolence which had empowered him. At its center, the fairy stood bathed in light. Her feet brushing gently on the fluffy green carpet. She did not appear to fly so much as hover, her hair undulated behind her with a supernatural wind.
Harken cried out in pain. The light entrapped him, just as he had entrapped the light only moments before. His essence leaked from his wound like black blood. it spilled upon the floor and dissolved against the light.
Darren got shakily to his feet. Scooping the knife in his left hand Darren deftly snaked his way to Harken's side and stabbed him through the eye.
"You bastard," Harken swore as his form degraded entirely to an ugly black sludge.
"Release him," Darren commanded the fairy. "Let him return to the depths of Hell he came from. His essence has been so thoroughly destroyed it will take him a millennia to rise again."
The fairy considered Harken for a moment. "No," she said at last. Reaching out, she bathed Harken's essence in a pure white light that Darren could not bear to look at. Harken's blackened essence shimmered as the hairs on Darren's arms burned away. Within seconds Harken's remaining essence turned white and coagulated together into a ball where it disappeared within the depths of the light.
"What did you do to him?" Darren whispered horrified.
"I removed the corruption from his soul and sent him on to Heaven."
"That wasn't some ghost gone wild. Harken's a demon, pure malice personified. What you're saying isn't possible!"
"Demon, ghost; that doesn't matter. It's the spirit of the thing that is important. Harken's soul was once as innocent as anyone. Whatever corrupted path lead him to such disparity is no longer important. In death, he deserves forgiveness the same as you or I."
"Forgiveness!" Darren scoffed, dumbfounded. "Demons don't deserve our forgiveness."
The fairy glanced angrily at him. "Maybe not," she said pointedly, "but they have mine regardless."
"A demon would not be so quick to take pity on you," Darren returned, putting his knife away angrily.
"My power weakens," the fairy responded, changing the subject.
The building started to re-appear as it had when Darren first set foot within it, though there were subtle changes. The paintings were no longer grotesque depictions of torture, shelves and displays now littered the corridors showing signs that the place had once been a museum before the demon had moved in. Darren even recognized some of the paintings from an art book he had read once. The place had an air of loneliness about it; something Darren knew well.
"By restoring my pendant unto me, I have been restored to my corporeal form, but this place no longer holds any spiritual power. Without someone to care for it my power will soon dry up and I will be forced to sleep as I did before Harken awakened me."
"Let me worry about that," said Darren, an idea already forming in the back of his mind. "You just stay here. In your condition, you can't leave this room."
"But I must!" She insisted covering her chest with her hands once more. "Surely the world needs the assistance of one such as I. Stopping the spread of malevolence is my sacred duty."
"I thought Fairies were bound to the realms of their people?" Countered Darren.
"I have felt the others of my kind dwindle and die over the years. Some destroyed by human foolishness, while others were simply forgotten for so long they too forgot themselves. I must leave this place. I have to bring back the light and restore my race. My spirit is bound to the Pendant of Niniane, but you could easily carry it from this place."
"I'm not taking you anywhere," Darren asserted. "You just said that your power's reaching its limit. Better you stay here and guard what little memories of your kind are left than go running off on a half-cocked plan to save the world. You may have magic, but you're no Merlin. And I'm sure as Hell no King Arthur."
"Arthur!" The fairy exclaimed.
"I'm sure even the legendary hero himself would tell you off for such a reckless plan," said Darren. He stepped towards the door to leave, but the fairy's next words stopped him cold.
"No, Arthur. He is the solution to our problems! if you awaken him, our dark days will be at an end."
Darren had a lot to think about. The fairy's plan was foolishness by any reckoning... but even he had to admit he'd done more for less. Darren prided himself on his pessimism. It kept him alive.
The sun would be rising soon. Darren could feel it rising every second. It was a subtle anxiety, like a constant prickle in his skin, or a splinter under a fingernail. He hadn't counted on being out so late. But the night's adventure gave him hope.
Darren never much cared for hope.
The sky was clear as Darren walked down the slope. As much as the malevolence empowered him, the calm before the dawn made Darren happy. The town so quiet and still was asleep. The evil that radiated from the museum was gone. Birds would fly blissfully. Families could safely go down to the beach. And all the stress that whole town seemed to feel would be gone. Like it never happened. No one would know Darren was responsible for their rescue.
And that too was just how Darren liked it.
The curator of the museum lived nearby. She and her aids had a rough night of it. As Darren approached the house he noticed the lights were still on. They'd stayed up waiting for him. Even though he'd told them not to. Darren grinned sadly. They didn't even know him, but their concern was heartwarming.
A quick knock on the door revealed a flustered blond woman who's hair poked out of its bun. "I knew you'd done it!" She said breathlessly. "Don't know how I knew, but I did. The others were worried when you didn't show," she said pointedly.
"I'm sorry," Darren said. He faked a yawn and brushed past her into the room itself. "I wanted to give the wolves a proper burial."
"You found them then?" A voice asked from off the side.
Darren paused before answering. The room wasn't big. Two lounge chairs faced a television. And one long sofa ran the length of the wall. There were two doors that lead to guest bedrooms and a small kitchen was tucked away in the far corner.
The curator lay on the sofa, her whole body bound tightly in bandages.
"Yes," Darren said, meeting her eyes at last. "The wolves were put down."
"Drat," she sighed halfheartedly. "I'm not one for animal cruelty, but the least they could've done was suffer a tiny bit." She winced as a spasm of pain ran through her body. "It's only polite," she commented dryly.
Her aid, Jane, made her way around Darren and adjusted her bandages. "Where did you bury them?" Jane asked while she worked.
"Oh, uh." Darren chose a spot at random. "Behind the museum. It was a small patch, you can't even tell where."
Jane nodded glumly.
The curator scoffed at her aid. Turning her eyes back on Darren she said, "You're a fool to have gone after them during that storm. You should've at least waited until daybreak."
"Well there was only two of them, and they were frightened from the storm."
"It felt like more."
Darren said nothing. In truth, the curator had run across Harken's Hellhounds. Monsterous beasts summoned by the demon to cause pain and suffering. They would've disappeared along with Harken. But the curator couldn't know this. The knowledge of it would terrify her for life.
Darren's stomach growled loudly. "Can I go to bed now?" he asked. "It's been a long night."
"Oh! Of course!" The curator exclaimed. "I'm sorry if I sound ungrateful. I truly am thankful you were here. It's hard not to be bitter while I'm laid up like this, but you've helped us far more than I can say."
Far more than you know, Darren thought. Out loud he said, "I'm just glad no one else is going to be hurt." He walked towards his room for a bit and then turned back towards the curator. "Actually, I might know a way to help you get back on your feet soon."
"Another one of your folk remedies?" the curator laughed and winced as another spasm of pain occurred.
"Something like that... In the museum, there's a silver amulet under a painting of a lake. It's the pendant of Niniane. It's said to have healing properties."
"Of course it is," she rolled her eyes. "I suppose I have to wear it for a week, or something?"
Darren laughed with her. "It can't hurt to give it a polish. After all, it has a history deeply rooted in magic."
The curator nodded approvingly. "Things like that fascinate me. It's why I took up the post in the first place."
Darren grinned devilishly as he made his way to his room for the night.
"Darren," Jane called. "I saved some soup for you... if you'd like something to eat before turning in."
Darren's stomach growled again. His mouth watered at the thought of something to eat. A sudden burst of hunger made the room spin. "N-no," he told her with some effort. His back was to his hosts so they could not see his struggle. "Th-thank you for the offer, but food before bed makes me toss all night."
Darren didn't have to look back to see the look of disappointment cross Jane's face. She couldn't understand his refusal. No one could. They all said their goodnights and Jane added that she hoped he slept well. It pained Darren. But none of them could know he planned to slip out the window the second the two of them went to sleep.
Darren had just been issued a quest.