Chapter 2:

Human I

The Aliens They Summoned

There was a fire... it burned his neck, his leg, his body... it was hot, it burned, it devoured him, ate at him, cooked him alive!Bookmark here

"NOOOO!" He jerked up, immediately regretting his decision. There was no fire, but a nasty pain that spread over his whole body. He rubbed his neck, wondering if it had all been a nightmare... "Hm?" Did he always have such a strange protrusion on his neck... or was this a hole? And another? He didn't remember them... He risked a glance. Several tooth-shaped bitemarks enveloped his neck, shoulder, and breast, though they were already covered with fresh skin, like a wound he had gotten months ago. "Eh?"Bookmark here

He hadn't the time for wonder, however.Bookmark here

The first thing his groggy brain realized was that he had fallen asleep on the hard castle ground... Sir Walter would kill him!Bookmark here

Next, he discovered the additional bite marks all over his body, looking like those of a wolf, only larger... a bear?Bookmark here

Did a bear attack the castle? But why were the wounds already healed?Bookmark here

He was fully awake at this point. As he shifted his position to examine a bite mark on his upper leg, he bumped into something.Bookmark here

"Ugh..."Bookmark here

This something groaned.Bookmark here

He looked to investigate...Bookmark here

The last bomb dropped as he saw his fellow guards on the ground with him, donning pained faces as they shifted in their uneasy sleep, rubbing their necks, their torso, their bellies, their arms, their legs...Bookmark here

Some even missed some limbs, that's how bad the situation was.Bookmark here

"What...?" His focus fell on the guard next to him. It was his friend and fellow apprentice, Alexander. Next to him lied Sir Adrian, a master with the spear. His signature weapon rested next to his limp body, broken and missing the spearhead. He missed an arm, and his neck was almost completely ripped off. He was dead... "Alex! Alex! Wake up, something bad happened... Lord Viktor! What should we do... oh, no!"Bookmark here

"Ugh..."Bookmark here

Alex didn't look like he would walk up any time soon.Bookmark here

Alex might have been a mere apprentice, but he was no weak fighter... at least, he was stronger than Felix. Then there was Sir Adrian, who was undoubtedly not to be taken lightly...Bookmark here

What happened here?Bookmark here

Felix stood up, his feet feeling wobbly and unsteady.Bookmark here

The current situation was beyond him.Bookmark here

He stumbled from person to person, hearing pained groans and smelling the stench of rot and death all around him.Bookmark here

They were in the guards' chambers, and the door was ripped out of its frame, along with some parts of the wall of stone... no ordinary bear could've done that.Bookmark here

These doors were designed to keep worse than bears out...Bookmark here

Humans with battering rams, for example.Bookmark here

Lord Viktor's castle was close to the Belarus Kingdom, after all.Bookmark here

Invasions were always a possibility, which was why he had been given so much land. It was a high-risk-high-reward situation, or so Sir Walter had said, proud to serve at such an important outpost of their kingdom.Bookmark here

Felix rubbed his temples.Bookmark here

If memory served correctly, Sir Walter had been on night duty... he was the strongest fighter in this castle, a man in his prime with the skills to prove it.Bookmark here

He would always guard Lord Viktor's chambers... surely, the beast didn't take him down, too, right?Bookmark here

Felix shuddered at the thought.Bookmark here

Sir Walter often told him that there were many more skilled fighters out there, many of them not even knights, and even among those, he wouldn't count to the strongest, but even if he said that... Felix couldn't help but feel that if Sir Walter fell to this beast, too, the kingdom was doomed.Bookmark here

It was a painful way up the stairs.Bookmark here

Felix found his right foot to be missing a piece, which explained his unsteadiness. His left leg complained about every step, too, as it was the one with the bite mark in its thigh.Bookmark here

The brave apprentice just grit his teeth and kept on walking, ignoring the maids and servants, the guards and personnel he knew and vowed to protect.Bookmark here

Many of the guards were dead or missed a limb, but most of the maids and servants had but a simple bite mark somewhere...Bookmark here

That was the only thing everybody in here had in common.Bookmark here

It had to have been some kind of predator who assaulted them in the night... a pack of wolves, maybe... or a whole horde of bears. Maybe they had been attracted by the smell of meat in the kitchen...Bookmark here

He had to talk with the cook about this.Bookmark here

"Why is Lord Viktor's chamber so high up?" Felix cursed when he stumbled on the stairs for the umpteenth time, crashing down knee-first. It hurt like hell. The idea of wolves doing this quickly left Felix's mind as he ascended. The thick castle walls were crushed in many places as if they had been smashed with brute force. It was a terrible sight to behold. He just hoped the thing was gone... Finally, he climbed on top of Lord Viktor's tower, forcing his body to move as he found more people on the floor. So they were up here... the only chance was for Sir Walter... but Sir Walter wasn't in front of Lord Viktor's room. Only a dozen other bodies, skilled knights and commanders, Felix knew. They weren't moving... His pace quickened. "Lord Viktor!"Bookmark here

His manners and proper etiquette when talking to a noble were forgotten.Bookmark here

Felix stormed through the opened doors, barely hanging on to the hinges, and found Lord Viktor not in bed, but on a valuable tapestry next to it.Bookmark here

It seemed he managed to grab the Blade of Victory, a family treasure, before being overwhelmed. The sword was snapped, the handle still in his grip.Bookmark here

"Ugh..."Bookmark here

"My Lord!"Bookmark here

"Felix... What... where... what...?"Bookmark here

His eyes were unfocused. He had been bitten two times, as well as slashed across his chest and face. His fine gowns were torn to shreds, and one of his eyes was milky. A scar reached from his forehead to his cheek, passing straight through it.Bookmark here

Lord Viktor carefully traced the scar, his expression one of shock.Bookmark here

His functioning eye fell on the family treasure, broken like a twig.Bookmark here

"My Lord, the castle was attacked! Everywhere looks the same, and I suspect..." Felix swallowed hard. "I suspect that none were left unscathed."Bookmark here

His Lord scanned his face as if looking for a lie.Bookmark here

At this moment, Felix would have given everything to be a liar, because the truth hurt more than all punishments.Bookmark here

"Sarah... Tom... My children! My wife! We must look for them! Helga... please be safe!"Bookmark here

He couldn't even stand up.Bookmark here

"May I, my Lord?" Felix offered, pulling him to his feet.Bookmark here

"Thank you, Felix..."Bookmark here

"My Lord."Bookmark here

As they walked, Felix studied the feet of his Lord. One of them was fine, but the other... The torn gowns had hidden it before, but he missed a foot. It was just like the rest of the wounds... new skin had covered it already, even if it was a bit constricted.Bookmark here

Felix gulped hard.Bookmark here

His Lord had become a cripple... and the whole castle couldn't stop it from happening.Bookmark here

He felt guilty.Bookmark here

The chambers of Lord Viktor's children were in the same tower as his, a floor above. The only room that was higher was the pigeon room, where he sent his messages to fellow nobles and neighboring kingdoms.Bookmark here

It was hard ascending on his own, but with a one-footed Viktor leaning on his shoulder, it was almost impossible.Bookmark here

They took many minutes to get up, and Felix could tell that his Lord grew impatient as his expression turned more desperate.Bookmark here

The sight that awaited them was the same as below.Bookmark here

The guards were killed, their armor broken and their weapons destroyed.Bookmark here

The doors were ripped out of the hinges, and deep scratching marks were carved into the stone. Felix shuddered once more, allowing the restless Lord Viktor to examine the first room...Bookmark here

It was empty.Bookmark here

Tears began pouring out of his eyes as he entered the second room... where the dam broke.Bookmark here

"Helga! Sarah! Tom!"Bookmark here

His wife and children were on the ground, their innocent bodies tainted with the signs of violence and indulgence.Bookmark here

The boy missed a leg, the girl had been bitten across her belly, and the woman, Lord Viktor's wife, had been bitten no less than a dozen times, or so it seemed to Felix.Bookmark here

There were so many bite marks, he couldn't even tell anymore.Bookmark here

She was a beautiful woman... or she had been, before... this happened.Bookmark here

Felix joined his Lord, grieving over his family. He studied the limp bodies... and their rising chests.Bookmark here

"My Lord. They are alive."Bookmark here

"But scarred for all eternity!" Viktor retorted. So he had seen their breathing. "Could I have saved them, Felix? Could anyone?"Bookmark here

"Sir Walter would have dispelled the intruder," Felix answered confidently. Sir Walter was the strongest man around. "Speaking of Sir Walter, where is he? I remember him being on guard duty tonight."Bookmark here

"... He was," Lord Viktor said after a while, eyes downcast. He caressed the cheek of his wife, one of the only parts that were left unscathed. "But I sent him away... and I allowed my wife to go to our children alone, without me. I should have gone with her..." Tears rolled down his face, falling on his wife's face. They rolled into the holes left by the bite marks, filling them up like little lakes of sadness. Felix grabbed a blanket and covered the girl's body except for her face. It was disgraceful for a delicate being like Sarah to be seen like that. Next, he sat down and examined the boy's, Tom's, leg. Though new skin covered the stump, he recognized the violent way in which the leg must have been separated. This was a true tragedy. "Do you care to listen to my story," Lord Viktor mumbled, still bent over his wife.Bookmark here

"Gladly, my Lord."Bookmark here

"Last night, noises, unlike anything I ever heard, echoed across the castle grounds, reaching my tower, too. I was sound asleep, but my wife felt worried. 'Do you think something's wrong?' Helga had asked, she was so fearful. I tried to calm her but it got worse. Human screams, and... bestial growling, continually growing louder, erupted all over the castle. That was when I knew that something wasn't right. My guards seemingly thought the same thing. Sir Walter knocked, entering before I told him to do so. Usually, he never does that. I forgive him, though, or rather, there's nothing to forgive. His expression told me everything. Unlike him, I never went to war. I don't know how death sounds... but he does. He asked me what I planned on doing, to which I had no answer. My castle had never been assaulted in the dead of night before. I ordered Sir Walter to take my guard and investigate, every single one of these capable men, but they refused. In the end, only Sir Walter and half of them went down... The noises were closer, now. It was terrible... Anxiously, I paced the room, while Helga hugged the sheets. It was as if a beast raged through the castle, directly below our chambers. Helga couldn't bear it anymore, and she said that she'd tell the children that everything was fine... The children... I totally forgot about them at that point. I never suspected anything to harm them, since any intruder had to go through my guards and theirs to reach them... how wrong I was to assume their safety! I was all alone, then. As I heard someone... something, violently crashing up the stairs, I locked the room. The fight broke out outside of my room, and the guards screamed in pain while something screamed in bloodlust. It was a losing battle. 'Don't let it bite you!' I heard Sir Jeremy shout... I remember it vividly. From the other yells, I assume it was some kind of bear-like beast. I don't remember how it looked, as I just grabbed the only sword in my vicinity and confronted whatever it was that burst through the door shortly after..." Lord Viktor held his head, looking pained. "I don't... what was it...? It moved like half-beast, half-man, standing on two legs, but then on four. It had long hair all over, and it was stronger than any man or beast I know of. I tried to stab its throat, but the next thing I knew was the pain on my face and chest, and that it had bitten through my family treasure... I closed my eyes from the pain, then more came in, and I... passed out. It must've gone on without finishing the job, seeking more blood. Tell me, Felix... what happened in the castle? Someone must've noticed something, right? How could it reach my tower so easily?"Bookmark here

Felix saw the desperation in his Lord's eyes, and he noticed the accusing tone in his voice. Lord Viktor tried to find a culprit...Bookmark here

Felix couldn't give him one.Bookmark here

"Apprentices don't have night duty, my Lord, so I don't know what happened elsewhere. I was woken up by the night's watch, telling me to get ready for a fight. 'An intruder has infiltrated the castle,' he said, after making sure everyone was awake. This never happened before, so we apprentices were nervous. Nonetheless, we moved to grab our armor and weapons, but it was too late. 'It is here!' someone screamed, and a growl like a wolf's, just worse, reverberated through the guards' chambers. Hell broke loose as apprentices, guards, and knights circled the beast in, a walking bear, three meters large, with steel-like fur that blocked most of our attacks. The few that went through were quickly ignored, and it rampaged through us like wildfire through a forest. We were unprepared... and didn't stand a chance. When I was struck down, many of our most skilled fighters remained. I was certain that they'd succeed like they always did... but we were all defeated. When I woke up, many were dead, unconscious, crippled. None escaped unscathed. They fought bravely... and we lost. It wasn't just the guards, my Lord. Servants, cooks, maids, I saw many of them, helplessly sprawled across the ground. The same thing happened to them..."Bookmark here

Lord Viktor sunk deep into thought.Bookmark here

He eyed his family, then Felix. A hint of his usual sharpness had returned to his gaze, and Felix knew that his mind rattled with the desire for an explanation.Bookmark here

"Felix, which entrances are close to the guards' quarters? None of you woke up, and they still had time to inform you before... it arrived. We can only presume it took a while to come inside. Let's see, the Wall Gate, then the Festivity Hall..."Bookmark here

"My Lord, there is the path to the dungeon, which also leads outside our castle grounds as an emergency exit. Then, there are the sewers, though it didn't reek of anything but blood, so I doubt it came from there. Lastly... the Escape Room below the Festivity Hall, a second option next to the formal entrance," Felix explained, trying to remember the other entrances.Bookmark here

Lord Viktor nodded along, his gaze widening.Bookmark here

"I will take a look," he said, crawling to the door. He pulled out a suitable piece of wood and used it to support himself. "How far along in your lessons are you, Felix?"Bookmark here

"My Lord, with all due respect, but we can't be sure that it has left... and that it won't come back to finish the job."Bookmark here

"Listen to what I'm telling you, Felix. How far along are you? Can you write a letter?"Bookmark here

"Sir Walter was very thorough during that lesson, yes," Felix said, nodding as he remembered how difficult it had been when Sir Walter first confronted him with it.Bookmark here

Lord Viktor nodded.Bookmark here

"Good. You will write a letter to all the neighboring lords and ladies, to the town chiefs and elders in a 100-mile radius. Make sure that you include the Belarus Kingdom, too... best write the kings of all four kingdoms bordering on our lands. We can use this for later discussions..."Bookmark here

"But, my Lord..."Bookmark here

"What now, Felix?"Bookmark here

"Only a knight may write in the name of a Lord."Bookmark here

"Do you think the rules matter when innocent lives are on the line?" He sighed. "Kneel, apprentice Felix." He did as he was bid. "In the name of King Gordan, third of his name, crusher of Bells and keeper of peace, I name you, Felix, a knight. You kneeled as an apprentice, you may stand up as Sir Felix. Arise, boy." Felix stood up, a bit dizzy from the suddenness of it all. "There are no problems, right? Go and tell them. Tell them all. It could befall any one of them."Bookmark here

"Yes, my Lord!"Bookmark here

He knew better than to argue any further.Bookmark here

Lord Viktor nodded, attempting to heave his family on the bed, at least. Felix smiled as he helped him, then they went up- and downstairs respectively.Bookmark here

Felix had never liked the pigeon room.Bookmark here

The birds loved to shit on him, for some reason. Their loud noises weren't the most pleasant to listen to, either.Bookmark here

Nonetheless, he disappeared in the writing chamber and began writing to the lords and ladies, to the elders and town chiefs in a hundred miles around. There were a lot of settlements, and his hand hurt by the time he reached the other kingdoms.Bookmark here

Belarus Kingdom was a war-loving nation of peasants, uncultured and barbaric. A river separated them from Kingdom Gaundry, which was ruled by King Gordan. To think that a body of water could cause two nations to evolve so differently...Bookmark here

The other two were strange places.Bookmark here

The Nation of Paegan was a self-contained kingdom, apparently.Bookmark here

Though they bordered on Lord Viktor's castle just as closely as the Belarus Kingdom, Felix never heard anything of them, nor had the neighboring Lords ever paid them a visit.Bookmark here

Strange rumors were being spread about the king.Bookmark here

He was pale and hated daylight, apparently.Bookmark here

It was also said that he had founded the kingdom, which was impossible.Bookmark here

The Nation of Paegan had existed for over a millennium, now.Bookmark here

Daghan was a dark nation.Bookmark here

Rumors had it that the sun never shone there, and for how much land they had, the population was surprisingly small.Bookmark here

They didn't have a king, but a Leader, like a tribe.Bookmark here

Felix never went there, but he suspected them to be as uncivilized a folk as the Belarus Kingdom. He wondered why King Gordan never tried to infiltrate their lands...Bookmark here

Since he was writing to kings, he took special care in these four letters.Bookmark here

He doubted the Belarus Kingdom would even open it, seeing from whom it came, but with his own King, at least, he wished to not embarrass Lord Viktor.Bookmark here

He was just about to send the pigeons when his Lord arrived, wearing a grim face.Bookmark here

"Are you finished?" he asked.Bookmark here

Felix bowed before him.Bookmark here

"Yes, my Lord. I just need to send them away, now."Bookmark here

"Good..." Lord Viktor sighed. "It was just like you said. Some of the servants woke up, and they're attempting to rescue those who need saving. The main gate was burst open... the one below my tower."Bookmark here

"So it fought through the knights' chambers below, and then came up to you?" Felix asked, tieing the letter for King Gordan to the pigeon. "Fly, to king Gordan," he said, stubbing it with his finger so that it would take off.Bookmark here

"No, it escaped through there. It was burst open to the outside... Felix, we don't know where it came from, but it gets worse. We found Sir Walter... or what's left of him. For the sake of those they govern, may these high-strung bastards believe us!"Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.