A fantasy story involving spirits, magic, and a catgirl.
I dragged my foot, staggering forward in the dim light. Behind me was darkness, but in front was a light— the exit. Staring at it is what gave me the strength to limp forward, gritting my teeth as my leg throbbed. Black and gnarled tree trunks supported me, The Beast’s deafening howl reminded me to move faster. I nearly tripped on a root, but was lucky enough to grab a wayward branch before I tumbled and continued. There was nothing else I could do but run from The Beast, and follow that light in front of me. It was so close, and if I fell, I was fucked. That was fact, one I had learned by the three long cuts dug into the back of my thigh.
It was so bright now, I must be getting close to it. How far could something possibly be that was this bright? There was a low hum as I approached it, soothing me like the ocean. Throwing out a hand I tried to grasp whatever the light was, but I fell forward into darkness. Just as I was wondering if I was really falling, all my breath left me. I had finally finished my fall, and whatever I’d fallen into was definitely not dirt. It was way too soft and squishy. Pushing myself off of what felt like mashed potatoes, I summoned a small fire with a thought.
Not that I needed it to realize what I had fallen into. The smell hit me right as the flame appeared. I vomited, my eyes forced open. Falling to my knees, I couldn’t stop my retching, even when my stomach was empty. I saw the scene around me, but I couldn’t close my eyes, now that the light I’d been reaching for was gone. Why did I think that I would be any different? The world of The Beast was hundreds— no— thousands of years old. Of course it would toy with its prey, make it feel like it’d almost escaped before plunging in into despair. That was the reason I hadn’t seen any of the victims in the forest. They’d been lead here like lemmings off a cliff.
And I would die like one too.
I wanted to give up, but I wiped my mouth and stood. The beast was watching me, watching me wallow in fear and paranoia. Maybe there was even a psychological effect in this world, one to make its prey suffer more before it dealt the final blow. The fact that it hadn’t killed or approached me meant it wasn’t bored. That meant I had time to do something, time to make a plan and fight it.
Maybe that was the mistake that the others that’d been hunted in this world made. They hadn’t come with the intention of fighting, only running to the light. And there was a chance The Beast had grown careless. If it had attacked while I was limping away, there was no chance I would live. But now, in this subterranean cave of death, I could beat it. I expanded the flame, determined.
I couldn’t speak. Fear froze my heart, mouth, and legs. All I could do was shake as a blood red demon cat smiled at me, a few inches from my face. I heard a howl a long distance away from me, and it opened its jaw, cackling, and chomping down on my flame and gulping. It was pitch black, smelled of corpses, and The Beast’s breath was lathering my body. I nearly fell, pushed by The Beast’s stink into a run, clutching at my bleeding leg as I stepped over Lord knows how many corpses. I couldn’t think of a plan, not with that thing chasing me. The more I thought of a plan, the more futile I realized it would be. Flame didn’t scare it, and it seemed to enjoy eating it. That cut out a large portion of my arsenal. Smell didn’t seem to affect it either; I’d tried to distract it with fish oil and it had failed. The one thing I did have was a dagger, but the chances of me being able to use it were zero. It was fast enough that I hadn’t even heard it come down into whatever this place qualified as. For all I knew it was right in front of me, taunting me, salivating—
I shook my head, trying to erase the thought. There had to be something I could do. My familiar was dead, torn in half within the first few seconds I’d been pulled into this world. He was such a good dog too. But in that, there was a silver lining. I could summon a new familiar, possibly buy time. Nothing I could get now would do me any good combat wise, but it could give me a few seconds to create a trap. But where would I inscribe the runes? There were no walls, and the ground was covered in blood and excrement. I grabbed at my stomach, getting stitches from all the running, and that’s when I had an idea.
My arms and hands didn’t have nearly enough surface area for me to able to inscribe runes, but my stomach did. That came with a dangerous stipulation: I would have to stop running. I didn’t have to full stop, but I already didn’t like the idea of walking while cutting myself. I would have to hope The Beast would find my desperation endearing, and watch instead of eating me while I worked my magic. It was a gamble, but I didn’t have much to lose at this point anyway. I was going all in.
Taking off my shirt, I drew my dagger and lay the cold steel on my skin. Bracing myself, I used one hand to hold the blade like a pen, and the other to make sure the skin was taut as I cut as deeply as I could. Immediately my hands started to shake, but I steeled myself through it, tracing the runes in from memory in the dark. The first set of them done, I could practically feel the life draining from me as blood seeped out of my body to join those resting on the floor. After the second set I wanted to join them, my legs losing strength as I cut the runes in. The third made my eyes grow heavy, weighing me down despite the smell, fear, and determination I had. But when the fourth set was done, I could feel a second wind coming on. Praying that I had done them correctly, I dropped the dagger and pressed my hands to the runes. Now for the hard part. Inscribing the runes was a breeze, but having a good idea of what type of familiar I wanted was going to be hard. I needed to concentrate, and so I closed my eyes and meditated.
Did I want something small? No, it had to be big enough to delay The Beast physically. Something demonic? That would just lead to more problems, even if it did manage to beat The Beast on its own turf. Angelic? They were a pain to work with, and there was no chance I could agree to their terms. In the end, I couldn’t decide on anything, and decided to chant the spell without anything in particular in mind. I would leave it up to fate and luck to see what I got. Another gamble that I would just have to pray worked out. I broke the meditation and stood.
The Beast was near me. There was no wind in this world, yet I felt a draft on my shoulder. Runes on my stomach lit up orange as they worked, draining all my mana in order to complete the process. I could feel the runes burning on my skin, hot enough to cauterize the wounds, and also burn my hand just by brushing it against the inscriptions. I almost cried from how painful it was, measuring my breathing as I juggled the pain on my midriff, leg, and my mind. Blacking out seemed like a nice idea, but I managed to hold on.
It was close enough now that its breath overpowered the stench all around me. Rather than the smell of rotting flesh, it was that of pure death and blood. I swear that I could see a toothy smile in the darkness in front of me, accented by blood and gristle hanging on its teeth. It was there, taunting, waiting for me. The Beast cackled, and this time it was near me, not thrown some distance away. Pushing myself upwards, I limped away from the noise, feeling the runes continue to work. All I could do now was wait for the summoning to be complete.
And run like hell.
I don’t know where I got the energy from, but I ran, guided by the light from my stomach. I could now see the bodies that were strewn about. Some dismembered, others bitten through, but all of them twisted with fear. There was no deviation in that, at least for the faces that I could see. I would not be one of them, I would not die like them. If I was going to die, it was going to be on my feet. And The Beast would definitely oblige my unspoken request, because that was the only reason I was alive right now. I was still entertainment. I was dead once I became boring, but it probably had yet to see someone live this—
I heard a rush of wind, and then felt a slash at my other leg. There was no strength left to cry over it. I had been wrong. I hadn't entertained it enough. I fell yet again, breathing hard as my entire body heated up. It hurt so much I could barely breathe. The slashes at the back of my legs were nothing but pinpricks of pain at this point, compared to my stomach. I just wanted to dig at it, pull out whatever was causing me to twitch compulsively. Trying desperately to think of anything else other than the pain, I clawed my way forward, dragging myself across the bloody ground where dirt was indistinguishable from bone and rotted flesh. Why had I accepted the job? ‘Amateur mage needed for dangerous job’, ‘High pay’, and ‘Must sign digital legal waver’ were all stipulations on the offer. Little did I know I would be doing reconnaissance on The Beast. Why did I have to take that job? It was such a stupid decision.
I wanted to cry, not out of pain, but because of how short my life had been. Eighteen years and nothing to show for it. Just a crappy, nobody exorcist. Disowned, no friends, and living paycheck to paycheck from part time jobs. For once, I wanted to eat something else other than instant ramen. But now I was going to die, because I was stupid and wanted to eat something good for once. Destiny was a cruel mistress, wasn’t she? The Beast bit at my foot, tearing off my shoe before sinking its teeth into it. Gnawing at it.
I screamed, and finally, the summoning was done. I could tell for two reasons: the first was that I could acutely tell just how much The Beast was chewing on my foot. The second was that there was something in front of me, some ‘light’. I reached out to it, straining to see what it was through its brilliance near that of the Sun. I didn’t have to strain for very long as I saw whatever it was throw something at The Beast. I heard The Beast growl behind me, and my new familiar started dragging me— very slowly in fact.
It wasn’t an animal, and it looked humanoid. But that didn’t make sense. Familiars were animals, not people. Humans didn’t have a large enough mana capacity to summon and leash a spirit of the dead. Suddenly, it let my hand fall onto the mush.
“Where am I?” He asked.
“In a way. Where am I?” He asked again.
“Does it matter? I need you to kill The Beast.”
“It is of grave import to me, why am I in this place of death?”
“Could we deal with this later?” I pleaded.
“As you wish.” He sighed, slamming my head into the soupy ground. I heard The Beast howl in pain, but really only cared about why he had stomped my face into the bloody ground. As soon as I tried to ask him why, the foot came down again. “Keep your face down, unless you wish to be blinded.”
All I could do was seethe in rage and hear the battle above as he fought The Beast. I could hear him moving around near me, and listen to the noises he made, but I heard nothing of his opponent. Once or twice there was a far off howl, probably meant to throw him off, but there was next to nothing. That was probably a bonus of being the master of this world. It could change its laws as it pleased. Or maybe it was just that good at hunting, I didn’t know. Whatever the case, it was somewhat anticlimactic to listen to sounds of someone grunting above me.
“The beast has left for now,” he said, sitting down beside me.
I punched him square in the arm. “Fuck you! You didn’t have to do that and you know it!”
“Why are you screaming? Not that the dead nor I care.”
“Because you curb stomped me!”
“Curb stomp? I am not aware of what this phrase means. Enlighten me.”
“It’s where you step on someone’s head in an attempt to kill them. How the hell have you never heard of that?!”
“A better question is why you refused to stay down the first time. Did you think I was trying to ‘curb stomp’ you, after I attempted to drag you? Why would I do such a thing?”
“I don’t know, but it certainly felt like that’s what you were doing.”
“Now, where am I?”
“You’re in the world of The Beast. I summoned you here.” I answered, brushing some of somebody off of my face.
“Summoned me? Just who are you?”
“I could ask you the same.”
“You could, but you will answer my questions for now. Who are you?”
He felt very, very punchable.
“My name is Estelle Vesta Ia. I don’t want to know your name right now.”
“If it suits you. If what you say is true, however, and this is the world of The Beast, we are doomed. This is a world of its creation and absolute control. We shall never defeat it here.”
“But you fought it off like a second ago.” I pointed out.
“It is toying with us. I may be able to hold it off, but you are useless.”
“I’m not useless!”
“You have no weapon, no magic, and are very clearly hysterical. That is the definition of useless.”
“As you wish.”
We sat there, and I thought about how much of a dick he was. The first thing he does in greeting is stomp my face in? What kind of person does that? I mean, he had a decent reason for it— or so he says— but he still could’ve been nicer about it. And I guess the alternative might’ve been that he didn’t tell me, and then blinded me. I decided to forgive him this once.
“Hey, I’m sorry that I yelled at you. I just— long day. Can we call it even?” I didn’t hear anything from him in the darkness. “I said I was sorry, okay? You can talk now.”
“How gracious of you.” He said, slamming my face into the ground once again. This time, I didn’t get up, but did make a promise to myself that he would receive some form of payback. I waited for a few minutes before he tapped my shoulder.
“It has retreated. Coming up with some sort of plan, however unlikely, should be our current course of action.”
“Well, that’s why I summoned you.”
“You summoned me in specific? How?”
“Well,” I said, wincing as I touched the back of my legs that’d been scratched, “I didn’t summon you specifically. I just summoned a familiar.”
He was quiet for long enough that I knew he was about to say something insulting. “It may be dark, but you do know that I am not an animal, correct?”
“Just how stupid do you think I am?”
I punched him.
“Is this how you respond to all life and death situations? Wasting your time and energy? Because I, for one, am running low on both mana and light. I will not survive another four fights at this rate.”
“What do you think we should do, then?”
“If this truly is The Beast, I have a plan. However, you will not like it.”
“Does it involve my face being ground into the dirt again?”
“Do you know how The Beast functions?”
“Tell me how you think it functions.”
“It hunts women by pulling it into a world that it creates. It returns back to ours after it kills them.”
“Surprisingly, you are correct.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It is supposed to mean that we have only one route, one end goal. We must reach the exit.”
“I don’t think it’s possible to reach the exit. It’s the reason we’re down here in the first place, I was tricked into falling down here.”
“Nonsense. If there is an exit it can be reached. That is not our primary problem, however.”
“The Beast itself?”
“No. You are too heavy for me to carry, and you cannot walk with your foot.”
“What kind of shitty familiar can’t even carry its master?!”
“The kind that has a master which is too heavy.”
“What are these phrases which I have never heard before? I traveled far and wide and have never heard such colloquialisms.”
“Guess you’ve never been here then.”
I somehow still didn’t manage to see the face plant coming, but was up almost as quickly as he’d thrown me down. My head was aching as he dragged me, my right foot bumping on the ground lamely and feeling more disconnected than it should be.
“What— what is our option?” I asked, trying to think.
“Quiet for the moment, woman. This makes me more vulnerable than a newly born chick in a den of lions. I need concentration in spades.”
The Beast’s laughs were all around us, and would’ve given me a headache if I wasn’t so focused on my foot. I wasn’t walking, but it still really hurt. What made me worry was that it didn’t hurt more after being nearly torn off.
I could feel its breath on me.
As soon as I said it, a golden sword ‘appeared’ in The Beast’s forehead, giving it the look of a demented unicorn. I almost burst out laughing, but my pain and fear landed me in reality.
“Where are we going?”
“The egress. Be quiet unless you have something to note of The Beast’s position.” He was huffing at this point, but I held my tongue about his strength when I felt a liquid crawling on my arm. It wasn’t sweat nor tears.
Its saliva was dripping onto me.
“Right!” I cried out, and again it was repelled with a sword in its forehead, disappearing into the dark. Whatever he was doing, it was a magic that I’d never heard of before. Weapons don’t appear out of thin air, at least not with the ease he was creating them. Especially not ones that glowed. Creation of temporary weapons, or things that looked like weapons wasn’t rare, but they were more to display a mental image than actual practical use. On the other hand, the swords did look incredibly simple, with only a blade and a handle.
This time he struck without warning, and I realized why he had gone to such measures to cover my eyes. He was emitting pure light, using it to not only see where The Beast was, but also distract it. It definitely took a toll on him, because he was even slower with his pulls now.
“Forgive me. It was almost upon us.”
My vision was still clearing up, but it’s not like it mattered in this dark anyway. “It’s fine, where are we going?”
“How long will it take for you to understand? The exit. The way out of this world. That is our destination.”
“But it’s above us!”
The pain was really getting to me, and I sweating profusely now. My foot banged against a tree root, causing intense pain.
“Incorrect. Our enemy thrives on deceiving and toying with us. You are a poor mage if you have not divined the path of our exit.”
I could see The Beast’s eyes behind us, glowing with fury. They trailed in the dark like sparklers, and it leaped out at me. I had no time to call out. Its mouth opened wider than I thought possible as it soared through the air, and I was amazed at the fact that I could see every intricate detail in its mouth, down to the viscera lodged in its teeth. This is the moment in which it had decided not to treat us as prey, but as an adversary. Why did I ever think I could defeat it?
A volley of swords knocked it back into a tree, cracking the dead and rotted wood in half. I caught my breath, my heart beating faster than it ever had. The Beast sank into the ground, its red eyes disappearing.
“It has intelligence. It knew you were informing me of its movements.” He mused. “The Beast has been incorrectly named. It is not a being which thrives on brutality.”
A second after he said that, I heard the beast scream— not howl— as swords plunged into it. That’s when I realized I could see just how fucked my foot was, and that there was a soft glow in the forest— forest?
“That was your mistake, Beast. Intelligence and brutality are no match.”
I strained my head to see that we were getting close to the light, the exit of this world.
“Don’t fall down the hole!” I warned.
“I have no plans to.” He replied, and I saw him throw his arm and release another volley of blades at The Beast. I couldn’t believe it. We were only a few feet away from leaving this world! I laughed, forgetting about the pain in my foot and legs. I— I mean we— were actually going to survive the world of The Beast! I was giddy.
Until something full of sharp teeth and malice latched onto my foot. I screamed, nearly passing out as he continued to pull me along, before realizing his mistake and dropping me. I tried to kick it off, but it only made the pain worse. I kicked its head with my other foot, and then I saw exactly what was happening.
There was only the head of The Beast sticking through the ground. No legs or torso, its head was sticking out of the ground like a shark fin in water, clamping down on my foot. I felt it pull me, and I tried desperately to grab onto anything. Roots that had tripped me up before fell through my hands like water. I watched as swords sprouted from The Beast’s face, but it didn’t seem to care as I moved farther and farther away from the light.
I could hear it laughing, feel the vibrations through my feet when it stopped suddenly. In the false twilight I could make out its form, crawling out of the ground like it could move freely inside it. All the while it held onto my leg, gnawing at it like a toy. I kept kicking it, but I might as well have been kicking a concrete wall. It did nothing but egg it on, and eventually I stopped, whimpering. I’d been so close, so close to living. And now I was dead. Given false hope by an evil spirit, thinking that I could get out. It could’ve immediately ended me, like it did my dog, but instead it chose to wait, making it seem as if we had the advantage before unleashing what I hoped was its trump card.
I screamed as my foot came off. It wasn’t even painful, really. One of my appendages just... wasn’t there anymore. Screaming in this situation made sense, so I did. It was moving onto my ankle and lower leg, but I lost the will to scream, resorting to crying. Being an exorcist was just something I thought could pay the bills, but nothing had trained me for this. I never should’ve taken that stupid, stupid offer.
I lay there, watching absentmindedly as a monster gnawed on my leg. It would take quite a while for me to die. After all, dying would make it too easy for me. Even if I tried— and had the means— to commit suicide, it would stop me. The hunt was over, and now it had the pleasure to reap the rewards. Like the good little prey I was, I would play dead now, accepting my fate.
The Beast stopped suddenly. It whipped around, my torso between its jaw, holding me gently as if I was its pup. I saw my familiar for the first time, his face lit by an array of swords surrounding him. He wore a bloodied and torn jacket, its gold and black colors still shining brightly in his own personal spotlight. His hair was a strange contrast of blond and black, strands of each peppered around randomly. But what I noticed above all in that strangely calm moment, was just how young he looked. He looked like a middle schooler, or a high schooler at the absolute most.
He walked forward, The Beast frozen like a deer in the headlights. Even with my slipping consciousness, I could feel the absolute bloodlust coming from him.
“Your power is infinite, Beast, but this world is not.”
My lungs felt like they were bursting as something threw us into a tree. Looking over, I saw The Beast’s stomach was nailed to the tree, the swords remaining as even more sunk into its furry underbelly.
“Remember this well, Estelle Vesta Ia. Brutality is no match for intelligence.” He repeated, walking up to us casually with more swords surrounding him. It was The Beast’s turn to whimper as it struggled, straining to touch the ground with the blades impaling it on the tree. It tightened its grip and I gasped, unable to breath. It was crushing my lungs, slowly but surely. My familiar saw this and stopped stepping towards us.
“Know your place, animal. Release her and you shall be allowed to roam free. Else—”
Swords hovered just in front of its face, spinning slowly.
“Or kill her and cement your fate. She seems quite annoying, and the only reason I was able to find you was her unbearable screaming.” The swords dropped with his words. I didn’t think I’d be able to, but I was actually formulating just how I would haunt him, despite my situation. The Beast tightened its grip, and I heard several bones crack as I choked without air.
I fell, gasping for precious, precious, life giving gases. There was a ‘plop’ as the lower half of The Beast’s jaw fell next to me, completely severed by several swords. I reached a shaking hand down to my torso, touching the wound. It was worse than it looked, puncture wounds covering my newly tattooed stomach with a half moon shape. The Beast flailed, nearly scratching me before its paws were nailed to the tree. It was helpless as he walked up to it, throwing a sword here and there for no other reason than to hurt it.
It had no hostage, no way to use its powers, and had pissed off someone capable of really hurting it. I still felt no sympathy when it emptied its bladder.
“They told stories about you.” He commented, tweaking a few swords impaled in it. “‘Never send out a girl alone to the forest, lest she be gobbled up by The Beast’. This is all it takes to bring you to your lowest point, mongrel? I am disappointed. I shall give you one mercy. As a wild animal, I give you the privilege of ending your life quickly. Keep still for a painless death.”
He plunged a sword into the tree, narrowly missing The Beast as it thrashed about, hurting itself in the process and enraging even further. Four swords pinned its head, and all it could do was move its eyes as he shook his head. He reached out a hand, touching its thick red fur. There were numerous expressions he could’ve held on his face at that point. Glee, fear, or respect would’ve made sense to me. But all he had was one of confusion, a frown with his eyes downcast. Laying both hands on the immobile head, he opened his mouth and closed his eyes. A black cloud came from his mouth, looking almost alive as it traveled down The Beast’s throat.
A few moments passed like that, while I tried to forget the fact that I’d just lost a foot, while he did some sort of—
I pushed him away. I didn’t care what he was doing, I would find a way to get rid of him the second I had the chance if he was a user of Dark magic. He fell to the ground, narrowly dodging The Beast as the swords holding it disappeared. Pushing himself up with a sword, I could see his face dimly illuminated.
“If you were not my anchor, I would have ended your life the first time you spoke. You do not realize the extent of what you just did.”
The Beast writhed, thrashing as its form shrunk. I watched as its fur sloughed off, revealing a small girl, sleeping on the ground where the murderous beast had disappeared in agony.
Her form flickered like an old movie, phasing in and out. I could see fur growing one second and shedding the next. If my eyes didn’t lie, that girl was—
“You really are very stupid.” My familiar said angrily. “I cannot even begin to understand why you interrupted the spell.”
“You use Dark magic.”
“Astute observation.” He said, crouching down to examine the girl, waving the swords over her like tiny flashlights. “Explain to me why that matters.”
“I thought <Horror> was a bit lame, but you make her look like a genius. Although... you are at the same time very impressive.”
He waved a hand at my general direction. “Blood loss should have claimed your life, or at least your consciousness. Yet here you bitch and whine like a goat that lost its way.”
My lack of foot throbbed, and I cursed him silently for reminding me.
“Just help me to the exit.” I ordered, reaching out an arm.
“No need. The world is collapsing. Its master lies dormant, and without power, it decays.”
He was right, there was a whiteness eating the trees and darkness, spreading towards us. I lay my head back, closing my eyes. We’d survived. I’d lost a foot, but we’d survived. But, there was just one thing that didn’t make sense.
“How did we get back above ground? And how did you get behind The Beast?” I asked him.
“You are a truly pathetic master, but I shall divulge the secret of these worlds. No land is infinite, and therefore it must repeat. If one wishes to return somewhere, they will reach it by walking in the same direction. That is the secret to all worlds of this nature.”
We sat, silent. The only thing moving was the girl’s form, twitching occasionally as her hand transformed into a paw, her hair to fur. What was she, exactly? Spirits only possessed people in myth, most of the time they were weak enough I could throw a fireball at them and they would instantly dissipate. But if I had to guess, she was just the victim of a spirit that had controlled and changed her.
It still didn’t curb my need to hurt her. I quite liked my feet. That and now I’d never be able to wear a swimsuit without showing off the stupid tattoo and scars I had on my stomach. The latter was petty, but I felt that I’d earned some pettiness towards her after she’d tried to eat me.
The whiteness was closer now, and I could see that it was eating everything like some sort of sickness, leaving nothing but empty space behind. It finally reached us, and I watched as it ate into my familiar, the girl, and finally me.