This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Scotland. A land of ancient myths where mountains vie with dark forests while snow and cold winds dominate the rugged landscape. In modern times though, the warriors have faded into the history books and the wilderness has succumb to the advances of civilisation. Where once foreigners had sought to avoid the harsh land, now they flocked there as tourists.
Deep within Abernethy Forest in the Scottish Highlands was an example of this tourist trade. It was a large wooden building known as Aife’s Lodge that had once been a private house but had since been converted into a hotel. It was the kind of place where people went to escape society completely.
The moon was high in a black veiled sky. It was just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and the few guests of Aife’s Lodge had forgone seclusion and gathered together in the main hall to celebrate. A stone fireplace dominated one wall while numerous stuffed animals showcased the Scottish fauna. The guests mingled awkwardly in groups of two or three, the conversations gradually becoming less passive as the alcohol flowed.
“Tell me again why the hell we’re stuck here?” muttered a black clad teen who lounged on the broad staircase resentfully. He had long, black hair and wore a hoody bearing the name of a rock band called Sightless Protectors. He had a silver ring on every finger and had drawn a skull onto the back of his hand. Despite his dour appearance, his eyes were a deep blue and his face was handsome beneath the carefully crafted mess of hair.
“I should be back home, partying it up with friends and hot girls, not sitting here in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of anti-social old people and weirdoes.”
“Stop whining already,” sighed a girl on the opposite side of the steps who was dressed similarly to the male. She was close enough in appearance with the young man to clearly be his twin. Her hair was long and straight, ending at the small of her back. Her jewellery was kept to a minimum and a few splashes of colour from a multitude of wristbands broke the monotony of black jeans, shirt and hair. She had an athletic figure, as did her brother.
“We’re here because Aunt Susan invited us all here. You could try to be grateful for once.”
“Why now though? We’ve not seen her in years and then suddenly she wants us to ‘spend time together’. Right in the party season too,” the male moaned. He sipped glumly from a glass of cheap cider.
“Every season is party season for you,” said the girl cynically. She took a sip of her own drink, which was also cider but with enough blackcurrant cordial to drown out the bitter taste, then continued. “She’s our Aunt anyway. After all the money she’s given us over the years, we owe her a few weeks of our time every now and then.”
“Still doesn’t justify her timing,” grunted her brother. “She is rich though. I mean she owns this place so she must have a pretty good inheritance for us. Maybe we should be kind to her. KT, use your female bond to get in her good books or something.”
“You are a terrible person, Kai,” said the girl. He wasn’t listening to her though. His eyes had become locked on one of the guests below.
It was a young female guest. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, red lips and two very defining features that instantly drew the attention of any onlookers. Her low cut top allowed a fair view of these features while long legs led up to a very short denim skirt. There was a small love heart tattoo that adorned her chest, rising up from the gap of her ample cleavage. Kai stared at her with a dumb grin on his face.
“Scratch my previous comments, this place just got good. Time to work my charm,” he smirked, rising up from his perch as though suddenly pulled by a magnet.
His sister shook her head. “You’re hopeless. Damn hopeless pervert. Women will be the death of you.”
“And a good death it will be,” he joked as he made his way down the stairs. With the accuracy of a guided missile he wove through the hall and stopped beside the girl with confidence radiating from his every feature.
“Hey,” he greeted with a friendly smile and a flirtatious sparkle in his eyes. “I’ve not seen you around here. You just arrive?”
The girl nodded, locking eyes with him. She bit her lip slightly and played with her skirt coyly. From her vantage point on the staircase KT scoffed at the display.
“You in need of some company? I’ve been here a few days now so I can show you the surroundings if you want,” Kai continued, playing up his role as the charming gentleman.
“Ya. I would like that,” answered the girl with a thick accent.
Kai’s grin widened yet further. “Is that a Swedish accent I can hear?” The blonde nodded. “You’re a long way from home. You here alone?”
“Ya. I am exploring the world, you know? See new sights, meet new people, find new experiences…” she nearly purred seductively.
Kai coughed and fought to calm himself. “It’s getting hot in here. You wanna go outside, get some fresh air and quiet?”
She beamed at him and took his hand in hers, leading him to the door herself. Kai couldn’t believe his luck. The fates were smiling down on him tonight.
They quickly eased the door open and slipped outside. The cold hit Kai like a physical blow despite his thick clothes. He suddenly realised how ill equipped the girl was for the Scottish weather. He assumed that she must be used to the cold, having come from Sweden, as she showed no sign of discomfort.
Not that he was paying much attention to these thoughts. His mind was more focussed on the sensory overload as the girl pushed him against a tree, her hands all over him. She was wild.
In the heat of activity she lifted her shirt, baring her chest to him without pausing from her ravaging kisses. Her hands slid under his shirt, the nails raking sharply across his back. Kai felt the skin break and welt, small trails of blood forming in the nails’ wake.
“Wow. You’re a real wildcat,” he gasped in pained pleasure.
He looked down at her face and suddenly tensed up. At first he thought it was a trick of his mind but he wasn’t imagining things. Her sapphire eyes were changing, growing darker. He’d known people’s eyes to dilate through bliss but never anything like this. Her pupils spread out like a drop of ink until her entire eyes were consumed with darkness.
Things were moving faster than his muddled mind could manage. Her hands moved lower down his body. In their transition from his shirt to his belt he noticed that her nails had grown to resemble claws. He knew that this wasn’t right but his body would not obey his commands. In horror he watched as her lips parted and a snake’s forked tongue slid out.
He screamed curses inside his head. He should have been wide awake and roaring with energy, lust and fear flooding his body with adrenaline but instead he could feel his energy seeping from him with every passing second. Every touch that the girl made seemed to suck the life from him.
In an instant she had sliced through his belt with one knife-like claw. She reached inside his trousers.
There was a snap of a branch behind them. “Damn it Kai! You can’t just take a girl you’ve only just met into the forest to have your way with. You could end up in a whole world of trouble.”
KT entered the clearing and froze. The other girl whipped around at the intrusion, hissing like an animal.
“What the hell?” she began but the monstrous woman bounded at her and slammed a fist into her gut. KT considered herself to be pretty tough and should have been winded at most but the force of the blow threw her back into a tree several feet behind her. She slumped to the ground, coughing up a mouthful of blood.
As though nothing had happened, the beast turned her attention back to Kai. He had tried to escape but his strength was dangerously low and he had only made it a short distance. She shoved him to the ground then sat upon him, straddling his waist. The weight was like lead on his soul, contracting it and pulling it down into the abyss. He was struggling to even keep his terror stricken eyes open regardless of the life threatening danger he was in. Everything was growing dark. She was growing more beautiful.
A bang roared through the forest, shattering the quiet like a hammer on ice. The woman screamed a monstrous scream that sounded more like a crazed bat than a human. Vaguely, Kai was aware of being showered in dark blood as his assailant’s right shoulder and breast was blown away in an explosion of gore and bone.
The woman jumped away from Kai with astounding speed. He watched vacantly as the grievous wound knitted itself back together like a spider weaving a web at high speed. Then his eyes closed and his body became still.
“Kai!” screamed his sister as she tried to pull herself to her feet using the tree as support.
The monster screamed again, this time in rage. It charged forward, sprinting on all fours like an animal. Another bang echoed out into the night as a cloud of blood erupted from the woman’s body. A new figure entered KT’s line of sight, its right arm held straight out, a pistol in its hand. More jarring cracks assaulted her ears and yet more tainted blood splattered the dirt and trees.
The ensuing sound was more than KT’s ears could handle. There was a searing pain then silence. In the now noiseless void she watched as leathery black wings ripped through the skin on the woman’s back and spread out around her. With a single massive flap of the wings she shot up into the sky and attempted to make her escape. Gouts of blood marked the passage of another volley of bullets. The winged creature faltered, losing altitude and crashed into a tree. Rather than staying put though she used it as a springboard, launching back into the air and out of sight.
KT tried to move to her brother but pain shot through her again. She fell face first to the ground. As she lay there panting, sound gradually returned to her. There were footsteps then only the wind.
“He’s fine,” came a deep, rough sounding voice. She turned her head slightly to see the gun wielding figure bent over Kai’s prone body. “Just sleeping,” the voice explained.
“Sleeping? But she… but he…Y-you shot her! What the hell is happening?” KT stammered, unable to get a single clear thought into her brain. Everything hurt.
“Would you believe this was all a dream? It would certainly make my job a lot easier,” continued the man, his voice taking on a lighter tone.
The girl stared blankly at the shadowy figure. He shrugged. “Didn’t think that would work. Right, let me think how to put this. This guy is asleep because he had his life-force drained by that creature. You might know it as a succubus. That means he just needs to sleep and he’ll be fine. She didn’t go far enough to do any real damage, if you catch my drift.”
“What? No. Succubi aren’t real!”
“Of course. This was all a figment of your imagination. With such an imaginative mind you should become an author. Problem solved.”
KT coughed up more blood as a sudden spasm wracked her body. She heard the man rush to her side. He rolled her onto her back then she felt his hands on her stomach. She struggled to open her eyes through the pain but managed on her second try, gaining her first clear view of the man.
He was tall and well built from what she could see of his body. He wore a hardened brown leather jacket and dark trousers, both of which were covered in straps and pockets. A dark green cloak draped him from his shoulders to his knees and sturdy leather boots covered his feet. His hands wore black fingerless gloves and long sleeves hid his arms. His face was angular and weatherworn, handsome in a rugged kind of way. His golden blond hair was tied into a ponytail while his eyes were a light blue, almost grey colour that seemed somehow bottomless. Staring into them was like a bird’s eye view of an enchanted labyrinth that bewitched the soul. His hands were coarse and scarred, big but nimble. Over his shoulder she could see what looked like a guitar case hung across his back.
A look of mild surprise crossed his face as he stared down at KT. It almost seemed as though he was frozen in time for a moment until he blinked and visibly shook himself. His face became blank and concentration filled his eyes.
“Lie still,” he commanded. Whether it was his voice or her own pain, she felt impelled to obey. He moved her limbs gently, straightening her body out. “It’s just severe bruising, some internal ruptures. Nothing too bad.” She gave him an incredulous look. Internal rupture was not good in anyone’s book.
He fumbled through one of his many pockets until he pulled out a small blue pill. “Here, swallow this. It will ease the pain.” She knew not to accept pills from strangers but again a deeper sense told her to accept this man’s help. She opened her lips and he slid the pill into her mouth. It only took a few seconds before she noticed the pain begin to recede.
“You’ll start to feel drowsy now,” he informed her. “I’m going to try and sort you out but I need you to stay awake. Always remember, it’s when we don’t feel pain that we’re most vulnerable to death. Do you understand?”
She nodded, the implication of his words caused her to shiver with fear.
“What is your name?” he asked calmly, his tone becoming casual, friendly.
“Catherine Redthorn. Katie for short. Just the two letters, K and T. Why use nine letters when two works just fine,” she babbled. She was becoming delirious.
“That’s good,” he soothed. He pulled her shirt up slightly and placed his palms against her now purple skin. They began to glow faintly with light the same colour as his eyes. She watched blearily as the bruised skin seemed to sooth itself, the dark colours fading, becoming paler. The tension inside her gut grew looser, more natural.
KT’s mind felt clearer by the second. “Who are you?” she asked. “What happened?”
The man hesitated for a moment. “Like I said, your brother was drawn in by a succubus. She gave you a good beating and took all of his energy before fleeing from my bullets. Strange but true.”
“That’s not right. Fiction aside, succubi only prey on sleepers. Kai was wide awake.”
“Try telling her that,” commented the man with a slight grin. The girl didn’t look in a joking mood so he returned to a stern look. “Think of it this way: times have changed. When the prey changes, so must the predator. Society is more…open with sexuality now so there is less need for stealth. Hmm, an example of this change is the way she looked. That appearance a few hundred years ago would have been a no go. Men back then preferred the more petite figure while men now like more…exaggerated features. Hence the succubi alter their appearance to fit with current tastes. Are you following?”
“I-I think so,” KT replied shakily. “What about my first question?” she pressed, her confidence and strength returning to her.
He sighed. “The name’s Déaþscúa.”
“Déaþscúa?” KT repeated, rolling the strange word across her tongue.
“Yeah. It’s a long story.” He offered her his hand and she took it.
With his help KT struggled to her feet. She lifted her shirt to examine the wound but nothing remained other than a large red mark as though she had been slapped. Tentatively she prodded the skin, wincing slightly after realising it still felt tender.
“How did you do that?”
“Questions, questions,” he grunted. “Make yourself useful and help me get your brother back inside.”
Each grabbed one of Kai’s arms and hoisted him up. The man took most of his weight as they made their way back toward the lodge. KT checked her watch. 12:15. Lights were still visible within and sounds seeped dully through the walls.
“You’ll have to take him from here,” Déaþscúa told her. “If anyone sees you just say he drank too much. He’ll wake up sometime late in the day feeling groggy but will otherwise be fine.” He positioned Kai fully onto KT then turned to leave. Without looking back he spoke again. “Some parting advice. Don’t go out again at night time. Don’t go out in the day alone. Stick to that and you’ll be fine.”
Then he was gone, his shadowy form melding into the darkness between the trees. She stared after him but all evidence of his presence had vanished with him. Stood here beside the lodge, bathed in light and surrounded by the sound of merriment, KT could almost believe it had all been just a strange dream.
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