- Part I -

Jillian gracefully ran a hand down his chest and abdomen trailing five massive scars with his fingers before ending the swooping motion by gesturing to the warden that he should go fuck himself.

A massive door creaked and slammed shut, the sound echoed down a set of stairs and shook the plaster on the walls. Sand and pebbles clicked down the steps followed by heavy footfalls. A wobbling, slow gait that paused occasionally.

Jillian Issayë opened his eyes and stared at the grey, cracked ceiling high above his iron cell. Brywar was late this morning, that meant he was most likely hungover and in a bad mood. The way he dragged his feet meant the pain must have been excruciating. Jillian bemoaned the state of his own throat, had he not been so parched he would have wished the warden a loud good morning.

He heard Merca, a senior guard stationed five prison cells away, mumble something under his breath followed by a short thud. Myros, let out a snore. 

Jillian closed his eyes again and pretended to sleep but still listened intently. He knew all of the faces and voices of the guards currently stationed at the Eldachari prison. It amused him that he was the prisoner, but he’d likely outlive many of them. The humans at least.

The shuffling steps quickened as soon as they reached the bottom of the stairs, nobody liked to remain too long in this accursed place, even if the pay was good. A violent history and some more recent occurrences made everyone feel like there was more to the place than what could be seen, and they were right. Hoarding misery in one place tended to attract monsters one way or another.

To Jillian, the dungeon was quite nice. He lay naked on a cold stone floor coated with gravel. It was not the most comfortable bed but he'd gotten used to it, either that, or his skin had gone numb. Besides that, the dungeon was peaceful, mostly quiet, and relatively safe. It was more than one could say about the town above that was little more than a dirt pit filled to the brim with twitchy pirates and bandits.

“Hey, shithead, wake-up!” Brywar's bear like voice nearly had Jillian blow his act. He'd known the warden was near but he could never really be prepared for that jolting sound.

He opened his eyes again and immediately let out a snort. Brywar looked like the definition of what he'd just said. The man was days late with a much needed shower, his thick beard reeked of cywor which reminded Jillian of how bad the drink itself tasted. Bleary, red eyes glowered down on Jillian's naked form searching for something. The deepening frown on the warden's forehead told Jillian that he didn't like what he saw.

"Still alive are you," he muttered and humphed. "Still got some elf magic in you to ruin my day?"

Jillian gracefully ran a hand down his chest and abdomen trailing five massive scars with his fingers before ending the swooping motion by gesturing to the warden that he should go fuck himself.

Brywar spat and kicked the door.

Jillian licked his lips provocatively and laughed quietly which really set the warden off. Brywar's face reddened even more than it already was, yet somehow, he managed to hold back the outpour of curses that so often followed that expression. He collected himself and jabbed a finger between the iron bars. "I'll have you fed to the wolves come nightfall. You've been wasting space in my prison too long."

Jillian faked a yawn and stretched his arms up in the air, his elbows popped in their sockets. Empty promises, he thought.

"I'll enjoy seeing that smug smile of yours ripped from your face," Brywar warned and chuckled to himself. He spat again then started down the hall back the way he'd come, throwing short glances over his shoulder with a hungry grin plastered on his face.

Jillian got up from the floor and leaned his forehead against the bars where the warden had stood and followed the man with his own gaze. Maybe he hadn't lied this time. Some fresh night air was something Jillian did not dare to hope for. The wolves, although a fierce threat, would not be terribly eager to put their teeth in him, at least not in his current state. He was dirty meat. Problem was, he didn't remember what it was like being free.

He stood there hugging the bars for a moment and studied his surroundings in case he'd soon find himself elsewhere one way or another. 

The dungeon walls, even in their ruined state were much too beautiful for the people kept within. Their pale grey stones illuminated only by the harsh firelight of man-made torches. Moonlight suited them better, at last what little of it could find its way through the barricaded half windows sitting just above street level. 

The Eldachari prison had once been an anhari wine cellar long before elves or humans even existed. A large, almost entirely faded fresco covered the wall in front of Jillian's cell showing large berry and fruit fields. It was nothing like the current landscape of dense, dark forests with little life in it. The wine must have been exceptional. The only thing fermenting here now, were the bodies of criminals left in their cells to intimidate the living. Or perhaps nobody remembered or even noticed in good time because the decay was hidden by the stench of feces and vomit. Jillian almost took pride in his almost clean cell. He even had a bucket for his needs even though there was little need for it. He didn’t drink or eat--mostly out of spite--even dogs would not eat what he was given. The pain of hunger and thirst he felt was soothed by the guards mounting unease.

Jillian had not tracked the days since he'd been thrown in his cell though he suspected it had been many fortnights by how many guards and prisoners came and went. That he was still alive was impossible, unnatural. He had lost weight, but not nearly as much as he should have.

His voice sounded like he had been smoking continuously for just as long and his throat hurt just as bad as it sounded. He rarely spoke because of it and it suited him well. The silent, undying elf image had some of his keepers nearly trembling with fear whenever they approached him.

As a nice addition to his presence, Jillian's cell neighbors, two large men at the height of their health, lay dead in their sleep. The guards had not noticed yet. A lot of prisoners had been dying lately. An invisible disease spread shortly after Jillian had been thrown into his cell. No one had made a connection yet, after all, he was locked up, what could he possibly do to harm anyone?

Jillian smiled content and pressed the back of his head against the stone wall behind him as if it was a comfortable pillow and waited for the sound of food about to be served. His mouth watered at the thought, not because of the food but because there was a slight chance Merca and Myros would finally notice the corpses.

An old woman made her way down the spiralling stairs. She was lighter on her feet than the men, and had purpose in her steps. Jillian had never heard her say a word but he had seen her face. Udelca--grandmother--they called her. She had a deeply wrinkled face battered by the elements and the large strong hands of someone that worked hard in the fields. Even in the low light Jillian could see her content smile like a thin line carved in stone. She carried a large wooden bucket with the sludge they called food. A thin gruel made out of cereals and grass from her own land. This donation was her way of taking care of the less fortunate in life, a good deed that would earn her blessings from the gods and keep her field fertile.

Charity and crime in Eldachari coexisted as a weird poverty symbiosis that mirrored the equally strange mingling between morgëthri and humans. Savages and idealists.

Jillian's stomach convulsed as he heard a ladle plunge into the gruel and the wet slap of portions landing in wooden bowls. Despite having no intention of eating it he still hoped the guard would trip and spill it all on the floor before reaching the cells. At least then he would not have to smell it so close up.

"Wakey-wakey, you rotten mutts! Feedin' time!" Merca hollered to the prisoners as he stomped down the corridor balancing piles of tightly stacked bowls. He slid them under the cell doors like they were letters.

The prisoners in the first rows threw themselves over the food and wolfed it down in fear it would be taken away from them. To them, it was a much better alternative than sand and stones to fill their bellies.

 "Oi, wake up! You deaf?"

A loud rattle of iron bars made Jillian grit his teeth as Merca kicked the door to the cell on Jillian's right side.

He's dead, not deaf you cretin, Jillian thought. The man in there had been sleeping for days.

A bowl skidded to a halt against Jillian's ankle sloshing hot gruel onto his skin. He expertly drew a deep breath to hide the yelp that escaped his lips. He wanted to grab the bowl and throw it back at the guard but he had to be patient and not spoil the suspense.

"Dooy, you also gonna be a lazy cunt today?"

Merca did not rattle the door on Jillian's left. Him and the drug dealer inside had been cultivating a promising friendship over the last few days. It would have been a profitable one for both of them if Jillian had not come between them quite literally.

"Dooy. Dooy!"

Bowls clattered and tipped over as they were roughly placed on the floor. A heavy keychain jingled as it bounced against a rusty old lock. Jillian was again tempted to escalate the situation but only allowed himself a short peek at Merca's face. He looked worried.

Even with the guard's back turned towards him, Jillian could imagine the blood draining from that plump face. Merca stood still, very still. He did not reach down to touch Dooy's body, nor did he prod him with his boot to try and wake him. Jillian knew what he saw.

Pale white skin streaked with black lines like ash in the man's veins. Blood that had boiled and burned as Dooy had been trapped in his dreams. The horrors he experienced before his mind and body gave out were things even Jillian did not want to imagine.

Merca whispered a short prayer punctuated with curses and covered his face with trembling hands.

Jillian grinned wide as a wave of arousal shot through his body filling him with warmth. The taste of such fear, sweeter than any wine. His body finally felt alive again. It was the sign he had been waiting for.

A cold stirred in his chest and slithered around his spine like a wet snake.

Hungry? The voice in his head whispered so sensual it nearly spoiled Jillian's appetite. But there was no denying it. He was famished and Merca looked more and more like a bloody steak dangling just beyond his reach. There were few things he wanted more in that moment than to rip that filthy human skin off and bite into warm flesh.

Wait for it...

"Myros!" Get over here! I'm not fucking staying here another day unless we put an end to that fucking curse over there," a large callused hand pointed towards Jillian.

Myros came running and hopping, eager to pass his shift with something more exciting than staring at walls. When he saw who the target was his excitement faltered slightly.

"Ain't that the one Brywar wants to feed to the wolves?"

"Fuck Brywar and his plans, you think wolves would eat it?"

It? Jillian scrunched his nose in mock offence. He was a citizen of Alberdon, A loving husband. Fated to do great things. They on the other hand were nothing but obstacles that he would soon crush.

The two guards stared at him now, disgust painted on their faces. He couldn't blame them, he probably looked rather mental sitting there naked and grinning with a slight erection. His messy black hair that he usually kept cut with a knife above the shoulders had grown out in wild directions. Any elven charm was long hidden under layers of dirt and bruises.

"We'll be doing the warden a favor by killing him. Who's gonna complain?"

Jillian imagined himself nodding and agreeing. It could have been a good plan if only it had not been him they were dealing with.

"Fine but let's be quick about it! If Brywar sees I'm not at my post again he's gonna beat me silly."

"Hah, damn prick thinks he's so important. Some fine lord of trash!" Merca ranted as he fumbled the cell key from his belt and pushed it into the lock.

Jillian's heart beat faster. His fingers felt stiff and the need to flex and bend them was almost overwhelming but he had to wait. One move, and he might spook them before they got close enough.

"Is he dead already?"

"Nah, I heard Brywar speak with him when he made his rounds," Merca grumbled.

"Speak, with words? This one?"

"This one needn't words to throw insults. He's got a way of pissing you off with just a glare of those puke green eyes of his."

Jillian snorted but it came out more like a fit of dry cough. Compliments from prison guards were rare.

"Wait. What if he's really the one spreading disease here?"

They hesitated at the cell door. 

"Even more reason to get rid of him fast or we're doomed to catch it eventually."

The first pair of boots stepped onto the gravel floor.

Jillian tensed.

The first kick hit him in the stomach followed by a fist to the side of his head. Jillian's brain felt like jelly in his skull but it hurt much less than he had anticipated. He sagged to the side and curled up in a ball while Myros stomped and kicked.

"You can't beat him to death you idiot!" The second pair of boots stepped into the cell and Jillian could hear a blade scrape in its scabbard.

The kicks stopped and Jillian felt a fist dig deep into his scalp to grip him tight before he was yanked up into a half sitting position. He opened his eyes just in time to see a broad arm pull back to plunge a rusty sword into his chest. Before the blade could go anywhere Jillian punched Merca in the balls. Myros stood dumbstruck so Jillian rewarded him for his incompetence with a kick in the knee sending the guard tumbling to the ground.

He wrenched the sword from Merca's hand and rushed to close the cell door. The key was still in the lock, he could easily have locked the guards in and left but there was a risk he'd just end up back in the cell when more guards came. He needed leverage.

Are you bribing me, Jillian? How considerate.

Jillian ignored the voice. It wasn't a bribe, he needed to stretch a little more before the real fight began. He turned back to the guards, sword in hand pointed at the ground. They had scrambled to their feet and contemplated their next moves.

Jillian licked his dry lips and winked at them.

"Demon!" Myros snarled as he charged, his own sword drawn and slashing for Jillian's sword arm. Jillian deflected it and spun under Myros' arm, his bare feet scraped on the gravel cutting into his soles. It was worth the pain as he drove his own sword up diagonally into the man's chest. He'd missed the heart but he'd like to see how Myros would try to fight him with that wound. Jillian's green eyes met Myros' brown. Fear, agony, regret, it was all written there in that sweaty face and Jillian felt another surge of energy through his body. The power was equally sickening as addicting. Warm blood trickled down his hand like wine spilling from a cracked crate. He let out a moan and looked to the ceiling to stop himself from throwing Myros to the ground to drink that blood like it was water.

Jillian's joy was short-lived as a fist crunched into the back of his neck. His vision went black for a moment and in that sudden void he heard the words: you idiot, there's two of them...

Two large fists squeezed his neck from behind cutting off both blood and airflow.

"Fucking animal!" Merca spat into Jillian's pointed ear. "A quick death is too good for you. I should shit in your mouth and make you choke on it!"

Jillian clawed at those thick hands but couldn't pull free. He tried to kick and push, anything to throw the large guard off him but it was like trying to wrestle a bull. He felt his consciousness waver. This was not going as planned. He felt his subconscious cry out for help. Fearing the darkness about to swallow him would be the end despite his better judgement. It would never be that easy. Jillian let himself relax and go limp in Merca's hands. He wasn't quite sure if he pretended to die or if his body actually had given out on him. He liked to think he was still in control. He felt a disappointment wash over him that was not his own and in his mind he could see Issayë's spirit shake his head. 

Merca finally let go and Jillian crashed to the floor and let out an involuntary oof. He was still alive. Merca looked down on him with a look of alarm and reached for Myros' sword still clutched in the dying man's hand.

Jillian chuckled. He tried to get up but the room spun too fast. The blood rushing back into his head was deafeningly loud. It felt like a flood pouring into his mind, threatening to fill his head until it would explode. He felt a wet trickle from his nose, it ran down over his lips and chin before dripping on the ground. Black blood.

"Fuck..." Jillian cursed. He startled as a clang of metal struck the floor. Merca stood above him, wide eyed and white in the face. He held his arms high above his head but the sword lay useless on the floor.

Jillian looked up at him, his own eyes also wide with fear. He felt tears run down his cheeks but he was sure that those too were trickles of black blood. His consciousness hung on by a thread. If it snapped he'd wake up to an even worse nightmare than he was already in. He forced his will back and launched himself at Merca with a ferocious growl. He tackled the horrified guard into the iron bars of the cell door. It swung wide open sending them both in a heap onto the hard stone floor of the prison corridor. Jillian straddled Mercas' chest and punched down hard into his face to give himself some time to think. He looked down on his hands expecting to see black veins bulging under his skin but it was just his own pale and scarred skin. Good, he thought and swallowed the thick saliva gathered in his mouth. "Still me," he whispered and relaxed a little.

Merca gurgled something incomprehensible and spat a blob of hot blood onto Jillian's face. He then screamed for backup.

Jillian snarled and ran to pick up the sword. Before Myros could scrape himself from the floor Jillian slashed his throat open with the rusty blade.

Boots echoed down the stairs, voices shouting questions.

Need some help? Jillian could hear Issayë's voice so clear in his head it could have been his own thoughts.

"A little late for that. You could have warned me before I got hit in the neck," Jillian growled and rubbed the back of his head.

Where's the fun in that? It was only two humans against you. Easy, yes?

Jillian bristled at the spirit's words. It would have been easy if he had not been wasting away in this dungeon for so long. Issayë had kept him alive and he would have to thank him for that...later.

Four guards scrambled into the dungeon corridor blocking Jillian's path to freedom. Weapons ready and clothed in thick leather armor.

Jillian felt a jab of self doubt. He could not attempt to sneak past those.

What are four when we can kill hundreds together?

"You've gotten too fat here already," Jillian snapped and spat blood on the floor. "These are all mine."

To be continued