Story:Hunger for Destruction
The following is based on an interrogation record I discovered from a document archive in Leir. Dating back to Leir’s early history, it describes an eyewitness account of a horrifying entity from a world unlike our own. As a descendant of the Erudite Traveler, I’ve chosen to retell the tale in narrative form, adding it to the great tome that is the Erudite Tales.
Hunger for Destruction
Time seemed to flow erratically for Private Duncan. He couldn’t process how long these vivid, yet absurdly abstract nightmares kept replaying nor how long he was actually asleep. Only that when he awoke, he found his hands cuffed. He sat at a large rectangular table on a wobbly chair in a dark, claustrophobic, featureless room lit only by a single, flickering ceiling lamp. The stench of cigar smoke filled the air as a squad of Leirian soldiers stared him down with rifles pointed at him.
“So he’s finally awake, huh?” one of the soldiers said.
"You know the penalty for desertion, do you not? You left your fellow men out to die at the hands of Heilinthar guerillas," another said.
"Sir..." Duncan said. "There were no Heilinthar soldiers. Just that one woman that..that..."
"So there was an enemy, then,” a soldier interjected. “A powerful one which you did nothing to stop.”
“I didn’t have a choice! We couldn’t win against whatever it was!”
“That wasn’t the point. Do you know the true purpose for outcast scum like you? You’re the cannon fodder. You keep the citizens of Leir safe by using your pathetic excuse of a life to slow down the enemy."
"I guess that goes for you, too," Duncan muttered.
“What was that you little swine?!” the soldier furiously shouted pressing the bayonet of his rifle against Duncan’s head drawing a slight amount of blood. “I ought to kill you right now just for that act of disrespect!”
“Go ahead! I don’t care!” he shouted back. “I’d much rather die here than get eaten by whatever that thing was!”
Before things could escalate, a nearby iron door heavily opened. A well-groomed man bearing a far more decorated uniform than anyone in the room stepped in as the rest of the soldiers snapped to the position of attention. The commander of third brigade of the First South Forest Division.
“At ease,” the brigade commander said as he approached Duncan. "Don’t get too carried away with this one. It’d be a shame if we were to kill him without knowing what exactly happened out there. Lest, the same could happen here, right?" The commander took a seat on the opposite chair, taking a puff of his cigar before setting it down in the ashtray. “Private, tell me what happened at the 3-14th.”
“It all happened so fast, sir,” he replied. “Whatever that thing was, it was unstoppable! It made mincemeat out of everyone!”
“The scouts told me that much. But I need you to start from the beginning. We need to know what sort of enemy we’re dealing with.”
Maybe for just one moment, his life wasn’t threatened. There was a certain gentleness to the commander’s voice, but it wasn’t something he could count on. Either way, when they were done with him, he was probably going to meet his end either on a noose or at a firing squad. But maybe just this once, they might understand. Duncan collected himself, trying to explain everything that happened.
The night’s watch in the southern forests of Leir remained eerily quiet. Not a single peep from a singing frog or cricket as the chilly air signified the end of autumn. Duncan patrolled the perimeter of the fort, bordered by barbed wire held together with metal posts. Every twenty or so meters stood a hastily assembled wooden watchtower. Simple, but still efficient at keeping the unwanted out.
Even with nothing happening, these woods always made Duncan tremble. He heard the stories of the Heilinthar’s genetic monsters cobbled together with profane rituals. One of them could jump out at any moment, especially in an area so close to the border. But still, he had yet to see any himself. He only heard about what these monsters might be like during ration time from the other night. Some older enlisted bragged about how they lopped the heads off of Heilinthar flesh golems that attempted an ambush. Taunting how they’d gauge out their single cyclopian eyes first then then pocket their artificial ekati hearts as either trophies or to sell on the black market. The golems weren’t sapient, they claimed so no war crime was committed. Even if it was, it didn’t matter to them. Just thinking about it made Duncan repulsed.
As the evening hours grew darker, patrolling the forest became less and less scary and more and more boring. He was already eager to give another shot at the academy. Maybe he wouldn’t flunk out this time. Right now though, hunger pangs dulled whatever wandering thoughts he had given how stingy the battalion commander was about rations.
But at least he had one reminder of home. In his satchel, he pulled out a photograph of his girlfriend, smiling in front of her grandmother’s bakery. The only family token he brought with him. And one other piece of contraband: a strawberry pastry baked by his girlfriend in case he got hungry. It was tempting to eat it now, but he couldn’t. Though he was on patrol, the mages at the watchtower might see him and call him out. One of these days, he could enjoy the sweet taste of real food again, not the crude, flavorless hardtack.
Then, the silence broke. Something shifted in the woods. Whatever it was, it trudged through, shaking the low growing brush. He reached for his sword. What could it be? A deer? A mountain lion? Maybe even something exotic like those bird-lizards? He didn’t know what to expect given this was his first time out in the frontlines.
The thing that lurked in the woods turned out to be nothing more than a woman with dark skin, crawling weakly. Her long hair dragged like a blanket over her emaciated, bony body, well beyond her feet. With every movement, she shaked and fidgeted. She could have very easily been an undead from Necronia, but whoever this woman was seemed to be among the living. At least that’s what he thought.
"Garr,” she whispered with a cracked voice, reaching out her hand as if beckoning for something to eat. "Garr."
What could this mean? Duncan didn’t know what a garr was. But the small, crystal orb at his side resonated. An incoming message from the camp. Hastily, he fumbled the comm crystal to bring it to his ear. The voice of one of the mages at the top of the guard posts emanated through.
“Be careful, private. This might be a Heilinthar trick.” he said. Despite that, the mage didn’t sense anything for himself. His special binoculars that would detect signs of magic did not catch anything out of the ordinary. And yet, what was an elf woman doing in the middle of the wilderness?
"Ma’am? I...um..." Private Duncan managed sputter out. All this time, he didn’t expect any sort of incident. In the past few weeks, his unit had not so much as encountered a run in with a band of goblin raiders. Why did something weird have to happen now?
"Garr,” the woman croaked as she firmly grabbed Duncan’s angle. The woman looked up to Duncan’s petrified face. She had all the same beautiful features typical to an elf in spite of clearly being malnourished. But her frail, yet rubbery skin gave off an uncanny, artificial vibe.
“Wha- what are you doing here? How did you find this place?” Duncan said trying to shake her off.
"Garr,” the woman croaked as she firmly grabbed Duncan’s ankle. The woman looked up to Duncan’s petrified face. She had all the same beautiful features typical to an elf in spite of clearly being malnourished. But her frail, yet rubbery skin gave off an uncanny, artificial vibe.
“Wha- what are you doing here? How did you find this place?” Duncan said trying to shake her off.
"So...hunger." Weakly spoken Leirian with a thick accent. Clearly not this woman’s first language.
“I- uh. You want food, right? I got something I can spare.” Hesitantly, Duncan took the hardtack from his satchel, then tossed it at the ground towards the woman as if she were an animal. And promptly, the woman responded in an animalistic nature. She looked at it, her eyes widening as her spider-like fingers wrapped around the biscuit. She sniffed it twice, and like a snake, her jaw unhinged revealing a long, uncoiling tongue. The back of her throat didn’t seem of flesh, but rather a void of total darkness, blacker than the night sky and completely nullifying of light.
The tongue wrapped around the hardtack like a tentacle, and it quickly disappeared into the void behind her jaws that snapped shut like prison bars.
"Thank you,” the woman said with a still weak voice. Though she wasn’t satiated, she could at least appreciate the taste. “But…still hungry...”
Duncan thought about the pastry in his satchel. Could he really give that up? But before he could do anything further, he heard footsteps of somebody else nearby.
“At ease, soldier,” a captain called out approaching Duncan’s position. He received the message from the mage at the watchtower. Hearing the voice of his own kind calmed Duncan’s nerves, but perhaps he felt relieved too soon. "Private, what are you doing? Why haven’t you apprehended this woman yet?"
The sight of an otherworldly creature didn’t surprise the captain in the slightest. Duncan could tell from the captain’s stern look that he had seen these sort of creatures before. But still, the woman didn’t look quite like the Heilinthar’s flesh golems which were, if anything, more grotesque. Was the woman something new? The captain remained numbed to what would have normally been shock and awe. For better or for worse.
The captain stared down the woman, "Civilian, you are trespassing in an active war zone. We have no choice but to take you in."
"War?" the woman curiously asked, her head perking up. Though it was hard to see, the captain caught a small glimpse of disgust on her face.
The woman shaked and fidgeted as she got up to stand on two legs. Her hair now parted revealed loose leather armors with aged straps and a low-reaching tunic under a silvery plate on her stomach and shoulder. Leggings with silvery metal caps on the knees and cuffed boots. No doubt garbed as a soldier, but her armor seemed ancient. It belonged more in a museum than it did in the battlefield.
"...Where do you come from?" the captain wondered to himself.
It just seemed strange. If the mages didn’t catch anything, then it could not be some illusion spell, right? And this woman was clearly no Heilinthar. And definitely no enemy spy either. It would have been too elaborate of a plot. But even so, his gut said something was wrong. "Sir, with all due respect? Is this really a good idea?" Duncan blurted out.
"You hesitated to kill this woman. So am I to trust your judgment that she’s not a monster?"
“It’s just, I- you sure we shouldn’t just let her go?"
"Let her go? Have you forgotten protocol?” the captain barked almost mockingly. “We take her in for questioning. She knows the location of this camp and has the risk of spreading that information to others. How about you come with me so that you can learn something for once? Corporal Ernest will relieve you of your patrols.”
“Sir?” Duncan stood quizzically. Why would the captain be wanting to teach him something at an hour like this? No, of course. The higher-ups were always looking to ‘train and educate’ what would eventually amount to nothing.
“Besides, if she turns out to be dangerous, you can cut her down. Just like all those other mindless Heilinthar golems.”
"Heilinthar..." the woman muttered to herself as slight anger permeated through her voice.
“Now both of you, this way.” The captain lead Duncan and the woman to one of the tents within the encampment walls. Somewhat spacious but much so. The captain settled down on a chair in front of small, round table while Duncan stood behind him alongside another guard. Directly across the table, the woman sat in her own chair.
“Tell me, elf,” the captain began, “If that’s what you really are. How did you find this camp?”
“...more food…please...” the woman muttered.
"Sorry, but we’ve spared you enough. I'm sure you know our soldiers can't march far on an empty stomach. Now tell me. How did you find this place?"
Yeah right, Duncan thought. The crate next to the captain was marked for rations. Not just the lousy hardtack, but the full course meals packaged with venison and vegetables. The stuff mostly reserved for all the officers and other higher-ups. The woman seemed to catch on to the ruse as well. She sniffed the air, smelling the faint scent of dried jerky in the crate, then stared down the captain.
"If you can’t feed them all, then you need less soldiers,” she bluntly stated. “I can help with that.”
"Excuse me?" the captain said raising his eyebrows. Now much more alert, he was on guard in response to the woman’s strange statement. "Choose your next words carefully, fiend.”
The woman licked her lips running her finger down her throat as it visibly moved as she swallowed. She smiled sinisterly baring her canine teeth. Clearly perceiving the threat, the captain stood up up to draw his flintlock pistol, pointing it at her while the other guard drew his swords. Duncan could do nothing but watch, his knees quaking with fear.
"I am the Jaws of the Void,” the woman said as she opened her mouth with hundreds of other ghastly voices joining her in unison. “You cannot scare me with your worthless toys." With very little effort, she leaned forward putting her mouth to the barrel of the pistol. Before the captain could fire it, the metal around it warped and melted in his hands. She slurped the goopy remains of the firearm into her mouth like a warm pudding.
"What in Brunikor..." The captain muttered. Mustering whatever courage wasn’t shaken up by his powerlessness, he shouted, "Guards! Cut her down!" He reached for his own rapier hoping in vain to cut her down. But the woman only smiled, sending shivers down his spine. Like tentacles, her quick fingers snatched the rapier, and she shoved it into her mouth in a manner no different than one of those exotic sword swallowers. Only this time, the rapier wasn’t coming back out.
"I want to know. What does Leirian taste like?" she mocked.
The captain was utterly defenseless, and the guards too shaken up to do anything but watch. The woman’s jaw unhinged again like a snake, this time much wider than before, and she forced the captain into her mouth headfirst. A crunch echoed throughout the camp to the sound of his skull being crushed against the fleshy wall at the back of her throat.
“As I thought. Disgusting. Atrocious. It burns my tongue,” the woman said. “But...I cannot stop.”
Duncan and the other guard watched in horror as their commanding officer was devoured before them. The guard next to him rushed in vain towards her, but he was only scooped up into her mouth as if it were a toothy bug-catching net and swallowed him whole. Despite having devoured two grown men, her body didn’t appear distended or bloated in the slightest. She still remained emaciated and malnourished, unsatiated and still ravenous.
While he still had the chance Duncan made a run for it, dashing out of the tent as fast as he could. And with a quick look behind him, he noticed she began devouring the table, the chairs and even the tent itself. One by one, objects in the camp disappeared, and the other soldiers quickly took notice, scrambling and panicking against a threat they hadn’t prepared for.
Around Duncan, mass hysteria. Gunshots. Swords clanging. Flames raging. Bolts of magic streaking about. Multiple non-commissioned officers barking orders trying to make sense of the gaggle of newbie, poorly trained soldiers. But in the midst of the confusion, several of the mages from the watchtowers managed to teleport in front of her, summoning a dome-shaped barrier made of magical glyphs to contain her.
"You're not going anywhere, demon," one of the mages said.
She merely glanced at the bubble, running her hand against it. Like delicate glass, it cracked in a few moments, then shattered completely.
"Enough of your meaningless insults," No longer did she have a playful, sadistic visage, but rather of pure hatred as her eyes flared. “You Leirians shall be punished for your crimes.” The woman’s form grew larger and larger, her skin tightening against her bones to reveal her skeleton underneath, her shadow cloaking over the camp like a rising tide. She raised her foot, crashing it with a quake against the ground and squashing one of the mages underneath, leaving little more than a puddle of blood, flattened bones and torn up robes.
Even as Duncan managed to get far away from the camp, he still felt the quake of the woman’s stomping foot. It was enough for him to lose his balance and trip over, landing against a bare rock. He checked himself for signs of bleeding. None. He was okay. Just a little bruising, right? He got up and kept going.
But after running for so long, he could no longer resist turning his gaze back at the camp. He could see all the horror from where he was. The giant woman smashed the fort apart, grabbing whole watchtowers and chomping down on them, her teeth crunching and splintering the wood apart like a pretzel stick. To vary the flavor, she swiped down and snatched a group of soldiers and chomped down on them, their bodies crushing and splattering blood like bursting raspberries. As he watched, Duncan tried to move but he couldn’t. He remained frozen, paralyzed in terror as his eyes remained deadlocked on the destruction.
This isn’t what I signed up for, he thought to himself. I just wanted to make my fair lady proud, not to meet a grisly death by whatever the hell that is. He turned to look in the opposite direction, and before he could take a single step, he heard the click of a flintlock pistol behind him.
“Just where the hell do you think you’re going?” A nearby corporal barked. Duncan spotted the name tape of ‘Ernest’ on this corporal’s chest. Was this the guy that replaced him on patrol? Why didn’t he run away when he had the chance?
"No way, it’s a total massacre back there!"
"So you’re going to leave all these men to die, you coward?!"
And it was mere moments later that a large splinter of wood careened towards the corporal, stabbing him clean through from the back into the base of his ribs. He collapsed to the ground falling unconscious. Duncan still tried to process what happened, and immediately assumed the man died right in front of him. Too frightened and too overwhelmed to do anything to help him.
When he focused his vision past the pounding ringing in his ears, what lay before him no longer was a fort, but an open field with blood-stained grass and severed limbs scattered about. However, the giant woman seemingly disappeared as the first light of dawn broke the night sky. The change in lighting disoriented him. When he turned to his side, he spotted the woman, only this time, she had shrunk to the size she was when he first saw her. She respectfully kneeled, but stared him down with a more imposing frame than Duncan.
"So the child still lives. You’ve shown me kindness, so I might spare you."
"Sp...spare me?" Duncan muttered. Whatever this abomination was chose to spare his life? Especially after slaughtering all those people? No, he shouldn’t speak too soon.
“Give me something to wash away the bitter taste of those foul soldiers.”
He had to think quickly. He closed his eyes, thinking and thinking. What could he offer? His thoughts rushed through his head, unfocused. As his body quivered, he dropped the satchel on the ground and the pastry tumbled out, visible for her to see. That same pastry which he had smuggled with him - and if his superiors had discovered it, he would have at least been denied rations for a day or two. But with his superiors now dead, it didn’t even matter.
She looked over to it, smiling as she picked it up. Her eyes widened as the sweet aromas pleasantly surprised her. She took a small bite before looking down at Duncan.
"What is this?" she calmly asked.
"It's a-a-a pastry! My girlfriend made it for me just before I left!"
She slowly took another bite. Faintly, Duncan could hear the screams of men and handprints pressing along the inside of her neck. To think that some of the soldiers that were eaten were still alive - perhaps it was far more merciful to have been killed instantly by her teeth. Just what was that void inside her mouth? His grades in magic at the academy weren’t exactly stellar, but one thing puzzled him. If she wasn’t deriving nourishment from anything she ate, why would she even need to eat at all?
Before he could finish pondering, she took another two bites of the pastry before finishing it. She smiled, but not malevolently. She leaned closer, her hand brushing the side of his face before kissing him gently.
"Thank you for your generosity. For your sake, I suggest you leave at once. I don’t want to see any of your kind here again," She stood up and walked away back towards the blood-stained field. "Goodbye."
Waiting for her to get far enough away, Duncan bolted in the opposite direction as fast as he could leaving his satchel on the ground. True, all his personal belongings were there. Even that photograph of the love of his life. No, he couldn’t go back for it. There was no time.
He did have one last piece of equipment on him. He reached for the comm crystal in his pocket. But no good either. It was cracked, probably smashed when he fell over earlier. At this point, the only way to get help and not draw attention from that woman would be to walk all the way back. From having made so many rounds in the area, he knew it well enough to be able to head in the direction towards the nearest fort. But with zero resources, he knew it was too far to make it there on his own.
But was Corporal Ernest right? Was he just a coward? Maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the military. If only he had studied more, maybe he wouldn’t even be here. Still, there was very little he could do. If one thing mattered, he’d rather die elsewhere than at the hands of whatever that monstrous woman was.
Duncan was too shaken up to sleep in spite of being up the entire night. A full day of travelling went by as he just concentrated on getting as far away from the site as he could. Thankfully, he didn’t run into any more monsters, but that wasn’t the problem. No food or water save from whatever streams he could scoop from. But he couldn’t keep going. Not without any equipment. As the sun lazily dipped below the horizon for the day, he dropped to the ground, desiring to take a nap. The soft, forest soil was comfortable to him as he closed his eyes, ignoring the chilly elements around him.
He didn’t know how long it had been since he dozed off. But sooner or later while his eyes were still shut, he heard the clopping of horses against the mix of rocks and fallen leaves and the jangling of equipment. A patrol of Leirian scouts. His senses were dulled enough that he couldn’t tell how many there were.
“We’ve got a man down,” Duncan heard one of the soldiers say.
“This one’s from that battalion stationed at the southern reach. What’s he doing all the way out here?”
“Hmph, deserter probably. This kid probably didn’t have the guts to go to war.”
“We haven’t heard anything from the 3-14th battalion since last night. We’ve been unable to reach them with our comm crystals.”
Duncan could hear the impact of one of the soldier’s feet against the ground as he climbed down from his horse. He could feel himself getting prodded, presumably being checked for magical traps or other explosives.
“This kid’s completely out of it. Still breathing, but not waking up.”
“Take him back to HQ to get him treated. He’s got a lot of explaining to do.”
He could feel himself getting lifted, then hoisted onto the back of a horse. And from there, his senses dulled further. Finally, the last of his energy succumbed to sleep, and finally, he could relax a little. But only for a short moment. Emerging from the blackness of sleep came replayings of the events of last night. The woman growing to enormous size, devouring the helpless soldiers as they screamed in agony. And yet, he didn’t have the stamina to wake up. His mind forced him to see it all over again and again.
As Duncan finished his story, the brigade commander slightly chuckled. "So it was contraband that saved your life? Are we to add strawberry pastries to the list of standard issue equipment?"
"Are you kidding me?!” Duncan exclaimed. “You don't believe me?!"
The commander pondered Duncan’s words. "Relax, soldier. You’ve done well. Had you not made it back alive, we would not have known the details of this threat. You’ve potentially saved us a ton of lives.”
Duncan breathed a sigh of relief.
The brigade commander continued, “We’ll have to keep you here until the general figures out what to do with you, but for now, we’ll be sending a squad to investigate the camp.”
"But sir! They won’t stand a chance!"
"Oh? You don’t believe so?” He gave a confident, uplifting smile. “Maybe you underestimate them. After all, I dare say they are the best soldiers I’ve ever seen. The ones we’ll be sending. They are the Steel Sisters."