In The Shadow Of His Nemesis
Chapter Seventy Four
By AL BRUNO III
Saturday, December 4th 1996
It was still snowing at first light. The dawn’s illumination bled through the clouds, up over the tree line and slowly, feebly pushed the stars back towards the horizon. Galen sat on the steps of the snowy gazebo and wished he could have seen the moon if only for a moment.
The temperature was dropping again and soon everything would begin to ice back over. Galen’s t-shirt and jeans were damp with melted snowflakes but he didn’t shiver, he didn’t feel the slightest bit uncomfortable. His kind didn’t need much to survive in tbe wild- he could leave right now if he wanted to and be miles away before the sun set again.
But was that what he wanted? Was that what he was really out here preparing himself to do? Or was he just watching the skies and waiting for Isobel to return?
Galen had been taught that the High-Born Vlodek had been baptized by the light of the moon- but he never truly believed it. Ever since he had been old enough to talk he had been old enough to doubt the legends and sacraments of his people. He would ask how the Vlodek could have been born of man, beast and moonlight but all that ever earned him was a scolding or worse.
When he wondered aloud how the act of one brother slaying another countless centuries ago could have turned the Vlodek into two separate bloodlines- the High Born and the Common Born- he was told to accept it as a matter of faith. He was told that the Common-Born’s ability to become nothing more than beasts marked them as the descendants of a traitor.
He thought of those beasts pictured on the wall of the great house, those pale and spindly shapes that could slay dozens of lesser beings before being brought down. He thought of seeing his father’s body twist into that third, most blessed form and then move with insect-like grace and speed. It was easy after seeing that to believe his people had a touch of the divine. but Galen never had.
He looked from the sky to his hands, to the delicate fingers and pink flesh that was ultimately nothing more than a disguise. With just a thought he could make it change into something that was not quite a fist and not quite a claw. Even when he looked like a human being he was physically stronger and had far sharper senses but when he became a beast all that doubled. His weaknesses doubled as well but that was what the third form- the sacred Myrmidon shape- was for.
It was a moment of celebration when the great change came a High Born in adolescent when they sloughed off their old skin and became something greater than they had before..
Alone and sitting on the steps of the gazebo Galen clenched and unclenched his hands. The Myrmidon form came easily more easily after that first painful transformation but it came to each High Born in time.
Save for a cursed few.
They were called throwbacks. Their place in the Vlodek society was less than the Common Born, even less that the half breeds.
There were no exceptions to this, even if you were the first born of a royal line.
Years later Galen still felt the ache of being an outcast, of being passed over in favor of a brother half his age.
They all turned their back on him, even his mother. She was shamed by his very existence, because of him her honor had been called into question. Was he the child of another father? Had she lain with a Common Born? Or worse yet a human?
The sky was brightening. There was a scrap of paper in his pocket, one of Isobel’s drawings. Galen drew it out, unfolded it, stared at it. It was a sketch of him but she had given his features a trace of nobility that he had never seen in his own reflection.
After being called bastard and throwback, treason came easily. He had always been clever and he had learned secrets years ahead of when he would have been allowed. Using that knowledge he made a deal with the Monarchs. They would shatter the old order, they would make the Vlodek bend to their will and Galen would take his rightful place as the lord of his people.
The cost didn’t worry him. What were a few Torweigs in the scheme of things? How many holes in the world did the Vlodek need?
Snowflakes settled on the paper darkening it, he smudged a bit of the drawing it with his thumb.
Galen had expected there to be some deaths when he brought the power of the Monarchs to bear against the High Born families. He had expected the old guard to resist but he had been sure the younger generation most would put pragmatism ahead of honor.
But they resisted, they all resisted with such fury that the Monarchs responded with wholesale slaughter and suddenly Galen found himself the ruler of a dying people. Common Born and High Born were slaughtered until only handful were left.
Horror and guilt set him running, he turned his back on the genocide he had created, taking his knowledge of the remaining Torweigs with him.
And the Monarchs in their hunger and greed had pursued him.
Stand or run, those were the only choices he was left with and he had been running so long he wasn’t sure he knew how to do anything else. Galen crumpled the paper and threw it into the forest.