Flames of Bedlam

Ch1.1 .. Fateful Meeting

I didn’t know people like these existed in our world. All I’d known was the downtrodden captives that my people had become, the Invaders (who turned out to be people in machines), and the Adversary (who were also people, but killing curs).

These people were new to me. They smelt nothing like the clans or the Invaders. They smelt of wood smoke, forests and freedom.

And while they walked with apprehension, watching the treeline for danger, they were unmarred by the scars and wounds of war. I could sense their spirit, still within them, pure and unbroken.

It made me hungry.

I forced my mind on the bigger thing at hand. These people, though they weren’t captives of the Invaders, were like me. They were like our clan. They had creature-spirits waiting for them in the Glade.

They could become my servants.

I pondered what it would be like to have servants who weren’t broken by the rages of battle and servitude. What were people like when they only knew freedom and forests and wood fires?

Would they make better, more spirited beasts? Or would they be harder to control?

No matter. I knew the Chaos controlled everything in the end. Perhaps it was even controlling me right then. Just as long as the enemy knew my misery, I was content to allow it to chew away at my body and sanity.

It probably wouldn’t be much longer.

My booted foot came down heavily on an extra loud twig. Yeah, you know that snapped branch cliche? It happened to me. Right here, right now. As I was stalking these people and wondering how their spirits would taste. What did I ever do to deserve that?

The group of people stopped, instantly on alert. They circled, the tougher ones standing on the outside, the younger ones protected within. The one at the head of the group pulled a light blade from his side.

I’d never seen such a weapon before. It was marvelous.

I decided that I simply must have it.

And them.

“Greetings travellers,” I welcomed them as I stepped out of the treeline. I made sure that my cloak well-hid my strange fin-ears, and forced my eager stride into a more casual walk. “I apologize if I startled you.”

They looked at me as if I’d grown a second head.

Hmmm. A two-headed beast. Now that’s actually a good idea.

The man with the shiny weapon lowered it a bit, his face awash with puzzlement. His armor was in piecemeal parts, though he didn’t fully look like a warrior to my trained eyes. He wore a thick blue band around his forehead, half hidden by his strangely-colored hair. I knew enough about things to recognize a leader’s mark.

Whatever this clan was, he was the head of it.

“Greetings, friend,” he cast my salutations back at me, his voice overly friendly from the get-go. If he was being sarcastic, I couldn’t tell. “We are just passing through and mean no harm.”

“Passing through?” I gave a soft snort, motioning with both hands. “This territory? This is not a place to pass through, friend.”

I stressed the last word to let him know the ball was in his court.

“Really?” the man mused, tilting his head in a way that indicated this was a common habit of his. “That’s disappointing. And we’ve heard such good things about the freedom effort happening here, too.”

“Freedom effort?”

“Haven’t you heard? Someone… or rather… something has been clearing out the Invaders in this area,” he told me.

A smile of self-satisfaction lit my face. “Oh, yes. I’ve heard all about it.”

“I’m sure you have,” he gripped the blade just a little tighter as he added, “Bahamut.”

I tried not to look surprised. After all, was it so unusual that my name should spread far and wide, even to people outside of my battles?

“Well, aren’t you a clever one?” My smile must have turned predatory, betraying me.

He remained unruffled. “I’d like to think so, yes.”

A woman at the man’s elbow whispered sharply to him as she realized their situation, “Levi, be careful.”

Levi… So he had a name.

“Yes, Levi,” I murmured mockingly, casually advancing with a widening grin, “Do be careful.”

“Or what?” the man asked, continuing to look calm.

“Would you like to know?”

“Yeah, actually,” Levi responded, tone remaining good-natured. “We’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

It was my turn to be taken aback. “For me?”

Who would be crazy enough to actually seek me out?

“Come now. Let’s cut straight to it.” He motioned with his blade as he said it. It was almost a pun. Almost. Then he crept closer and lowered his voice. His eyes peered into mine. I noticed they were abnormally blue. “I know what you are. You know what we are. Is it really so difficult to figure out why we are here?”

“You are seeking the Glade,” I heard myself murmur without thinking.

“The Glade?” Levi repeated with much interest. “So it does exist. It even has a name.”

Names were important to him, like they were to me.

“Yes, it does exist.” I tried to cover my wicked delight. Of these people, almost all of them bore the mark of the creature-spirits. My army would grow quite a bit should they follow me to the Glade. “Would you like to see it?”

I was terrible at covering up my true intentions. The woman behind Levi spoke his name again, in a tone of warning. Her eyes never left my face. She was no fool.

Levi didn’t respond to her. Instead he dipped his head politely to me. “Yes, I would love to see it.”

“Then, I shall take you there,” I told him, wasting no time.

He paused, pulling the rug out from under my momentum. “After…”

I lowered my brows, reigning in my frustration. “After what?”

“It’s been a long day on the road, friend,” Levi responded, leaning back in a way that imitated my own fake-casual stance. “I assume the Glade’s not going anywhere. And we have many hungry mouths to feed.”

I glowered at that, my gaze falling on the children who still hid behind the armed adults.

“It’ll be night soon. It’s best for us to set up camp,” he reasoned. Then, with one arched eyebrow, he added, “Why don’t you join us?”

“What?” I did a poor job of hiding my surprise.

“Warm fire. Fresh meat to cook. Some of the best cooks this side of the forest, I promise,” Levi flashed an impish grin.

I didn’t know how to answer.

I was being invited to supper. I’d never been invited to supper before. What should I say?

“I don’t…”

He cut me off, “It’s no trouble, really.”

Then he did something I responded to very poorly. He reached out and took me by the arm. Touched me.

I recoiled from him with a vicious hiss. I must have looked and sounded terrifying, because the children made frightened sounds as they stared at me in horror.

I felt the beast rising up in me. Felt the desire to loom over them all, show them what I really was, and make my demands known.

Then, Levi said my name. “Bahamut.”

I don’t know why. Something about that stopped me cold.

His gaze met mine, unflinching, despite the fact he was almost a head shorter than I. There was nothing forceful or intimidating about him. Just a presence… an undeniable presence that I still can’t find words to describe. That’s when I realized why he was their leader.

“Come share our fire,” he invited again, unruffled by my poor behavior.

“Levi,” the woman behind him warned again.

This time, he turned to her with a frown. “I’ve got this.”

She pursed her lips, but didn’t protest further.

He turned back to me. “So, what do you say?”

I still didn’t know the proper answer. I just said, “Alright.”