I stared at the beautiful horror in front of me, or more accurately the remembered horror, and my mind tried to get over the fact that she had just so suddenly showed up out of nowhere. She had disappeared without a trace a couple years ago after my birthday and I had almost completely blocked out her existence in my mind. I still lived by what I had learned from her, since to do otherwise would have been very stupid on my part.
“Oh? No hello back to your old lover?” The Hag let out a laugh. “I'm truly hurt.”
My vigilance technique screamed at me and I dodged backwards and fell to the deck on instinct alone.
The Hag's hand seemed to just appear where my chest had just been and she made a fist. “Hmm. You felt that coming, didn't you?”
I didn't answer and she grinned at me. My vigilance technique screamed at me again and I rolled to the side and then kicked out with all my strength, just like my drill instructor had taught me in training. There was a snap of bone and a grunt as my feet connected with her elbow and her forearm. Her lower arm flopped loosely with an odd bend in it and she laughed.
“I see, I see.” The Hag said and looked pleased. She reached down with her other hand and pulled her broken arm straight and slipped a potion out of her belt and drank it. “It seems you have been even busier than my spies have told me.”
I must have had a shocked look on my face because she laughed.
“David, David, David.” The Hag shook her head. “You should have learned by now that the technique only warns you when someone is observing you directly.” She looked down at me and squinted her eyes. “What are you wearing?”
I didn't answer and a flash of anger came over her face. My instincts told me to jump, so I did and her kick missed my knee. I flipped up onto my feet just in time to have a fist slam into my face. I felt my cheek break and my jaw come loose. I wasn't stupid, though. I had learned to roll with any hits and I absorbed much less damage as I turned around from the force of it and made a fist to backhand her.
My knuckles slammed into her nose, breaking it and both of her cheeks, almost caving her face in, and her head snapped backwards. I pulled my foot back to kick her in the stomach and as I swung my foot, she let out a quick laugh and caught my ankle just before impact. She squeezed her hand and snapped it, then she threw it to the side. I twirled around with the force of it and jumped to use the same foot to kick the side of her face.
Two horrible snaps sounded, one for her eye socket and one for the heel of my foot. Her eye had popped out and my foot was bent in half. I half-stood and half-hopped there on one foot as she bent over slightly to push her eye back into the socket. I took out my own healing potion and pushed my broken foot down onto the deck to flatten it out before I drank the potion.
“You've gotten stronger.” The Hag said, only this time her voice wasn't happy. She drank another potion and all of her damage healed. “You would never have thought to raise a hand to me before.”
I was tempted to tell her that I had been through a lot since she had abandoned me. I stayed quiet instead, because that seemed to be exactly what she didn't want.
“Are you going to ask me why I'm here?” The Hag asked and stood up straight to look at me. “No? Well, it's all because of you.”
“What?” I asked and then cursed myself silently as an amused smile appeared on her face.
“Yes, David. It's you. I came here because of you.” The Hag said and didn't make any threatening moves or tried to come closer. “You've done so much damage to my carefully laid plans as you tore into the Mages Guild and made the king investigate everything they've been doing behind his back.”
I opened my mouth to ask why and clamped my mouth shut to stop myself.
The Hag noticed anyway. “I've been undermining the confidence in the royal family for years and gaining loyalty to the guild in their stead. I had nearly the entire upper class and most of the rabble to believe that the mages guild could do no wrong. They were actually doing wrong, only no one knew that, until you came along and started messing everything up by bringing attention to it all.”
“Why did you do it?” I asked, unable to control myself.
“It's simple, really. I hate this kingdom and I want to tear it apart and burn it to the ground.” The Hag said with a smirk. “They made my life hell, tortured me, sent me to prison, and then exiled me. I want to make them pay for everything and they are going to.”
I had to frown at that. “That's not like you at all.”
The Hag glared at me for a moment, then she burst out laughing. “Ha ha! You're right! You really know me well!” She said and laughed for several moments, then she turned to her ship. “Have you got the rudder fixed yet?”
“Yes, mistress!” All of the men on the ship said at the same time.
“Then resume your duty!”
“Yes, mistress!” They all said as one again and then the ship turned very slowly back towards the docks. I could tell that they had the movement enchantments spread out over the ship and they barely managed to move it.
“The truth is, these pompous assholes pissed me off with their arrogance. What right did they have to come to MY country and liberate MY slaves?” The Hag asked and her face was angry. “They weren't even at war with us and they dared to cross the border and destroyed decades of hard work.”
I immediately thought back to the stories that Eludora the librarian had told me about her rescue and the Gulf Kingdom soldiers stumbling across them and then rescuing them.
“You're from the Kingdom of Fala.” I said and her eyes snapped to my eyes.
“How did you know that?” The Hag asked with squinted eyes and I felt some magic flow over me.
I tried to resist and my mouth worked without my consent. “I've learned a lot since you abandoned me. I also met someone that was rescued.”
The Hag lost the angered expression and smiled. “I'm glad you've met some of your brethren.”
I blinked my eyes at her and then my vigilance technique screamed at me to move. The problem was, it didn't let me know where it was safe to go. I couldn't move as I felt a dozen stabs in my back, arms and legs from behind. The impact pushed me forward and I stumbled to fall to the deck on my knees. I didn't cry out from the impact and the Hag smiled at me.
“Yes, David. That's exactly where you need to be. On your knees and worshipping me.” The Hag said and opened her hand.
I felt whatever those things were as they were pulled out of my body and they dropped to the deck with the sound of wood on wood. I reached into my bandoleer for a potion and her hand darted out to grab my wrist. I almost avoided it and she grabbed my forearm instead. She pulled my arm away from the bandoleer and grinned as my blood pooled on the deck.
“I need you weak, David.” The Hag said and then I heard the cannons on the other ship open fire.
There were screams of pain and yells of panic as ships, buildings, and the docks were destroyed, as if the first attacks hadn't been enough to get them to run.
“Don't worry. I'm not going to kill them all.” The Hag let out a soft chuckle. “I'm only here to restart the war between the Gulf Kingdom and the Eastern Empire.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I told you. It's simple revenge.” The Hag said. “I had to flee my own country when the experiments were discovered and I hid out in the only place I knew that no one would ever come looking for me.”
“The marsh.” I said and she nodded.
“I was well fortified by then and easily survived the harsh environment. It took me a long time to adapt to the conditions, however.” The Hag reached into my coat and touched the handle of my magic knife. It pulsed with magic and it pushed her hand away. “David, you are such a good and obedient boy.”
I was surprised to hear tenderness in her voice.
The Hag knelt in front of me and her free hand reached out and cupped the side of my face. “You are my greatest achievement. The perfect specimen. You were the only one to willingly accept my teachings in all of their horrible glory, no matter how harsh or harmful they were.”
“I... I did that so you would treat me better.” I admitted.
The Hag smiled a real smile, which was a little unnerving. “I know, David. I know.” She reached down poked the spot over my heart. I grunted as the rib cracked and she kept the same smile on her face as she used her nails to tear my expensive shirt open and then cut into the perfect skin. “It's such a shame that you removed all of my work.”
I grit my teeth as she dug her fingers into the skin and then pulled part of my pectoral muscle aside. She snapped off the rib she had broken and slipped it into her mouth and sucked on it.
“Oooohhh, my.” The Hag said with a shiver, her face lit with delight. “You are so delicious.”
I watched as she tossed my rib aside and then her hand reached into my chest. I felt her hand grip my heart and felt immense pressure in my chest as she gripped and squeezed. I didn't say anything, though.
“My boy. My handsome boy.” The Hag whispered and pulled her hand back out as the blood pool around me grew even more. Her hand was soaked in blood and she started to lick it clean. She shivered again and her mouth formed into a pleased smile as she kept going. “I think that's enough for you to not resist too much.”
I couldn't do anything, weak from so much blood loss, and I didn't even feel it when she had let my arm go. The Hag took out a potion from her belt and I didn't recognize it. That worried me for about three seconds, because then it was tipped into my mouth and she clamped my mouth and nose closed to make me swallow.
“Shh.” The Hag whispered and pulled me onto her lap and hugged me. “You're back home now. You're safe. I won't let anyone else hurt you.” She said and kissed me. “Only me, David. Only I am allowed to hurt you.”
A fog settled over my mind and I tried to fight against it. My magic faltered, even when I finally remembered the medallion I wore and tried to activate it. Nothing worked. I moved my mouth to speak and nothing came out. I stared up at the Hag's happy face and she smiled down at me.
“You're mine. No matter what you've been telling yourself all this time, you've always been mine.” The Hag whispered and I felt her magic wash over me. My eyes fluttered and I tried to fight the feeling, then everything went black.
Story mode temporarily suspended. Performing diagnostics.
Mental stability at 85% and dropping. Learning capacity at 75% and dropping.
Personality completion at 93%. Physical damage at 56% and is stable. Blood loss at 85%.
Magic capacity at 78%. Magic Level at 5% and stable.
Restructuring healing priorities. Enacting recovery procedures. Critical failure of main character averted. Adding supplementary diagnostics. Magic system initialization failure. Physical block is in place.
Attempting removal... ... ...removal unsuccessful. Retrying... ... ...unsuccessful.
A failure has been detected in the diagnostics. The maintenance department will work to fix this problem as soon as possible. Do you wish to continue this story or do you want to abort? All current progress will be saved if you wish to return at a later time.
Are you kidding me? You give me a huge plot twist and you expect me to abandon the story just when it was getting really exciting again? Are you crazy? I thought, angry at being asked something so stupid. Get me back in there before I miss anything else!
Story mode reinstated. Initializing time skip during unconsciousness. Done.
I slowly opened my eyes and I was laying down. I couldn't see anything, however. I blinked several times, as if that would make the darkness go away, and I felt movement under my head. I reached for what I was on and I felt a nice thigh. I froze, remembering that I had fallen asleep on the Hag's lap.
“Please, don't let it be true.” I whispered.
“Shh.” A woman's voice that I didn't recognize hushed me and I felt her hand start to pet my head. “You've been unconscious for three days.” She whispered.
“Three days?” I asked.
“Yes. You were taken from the capital and tossed into this sealed space with me.” The woman whispered and then she sighed. “The Hag told me to take care of you, or else.”
“But... why would...” I started to talk normally and sit up.
“Hush.” The woman said and held me down. “You aren't allowed to move yet.”
A thrill of fear went through me at her words. “Why is it so dark?”
“There's no light in here.” The woman responded. “I can't see anything, either.”
“Why can't I move?” I asked, wanting confirmation, even though I didn't really want it.
“She... she...” The woman sighed again. “She took all of your toes and two fingers from each hand.”
I shivered at the thought and didn't want to try to check. I really didn't want to know.
“It's going to be all right.” The woman whispered and hugged me tightly. “I'll take care of you. I promise.”
“But... the Hag...”
“If you don't tell her that I enjoy caring for you, I won't either.” The woman said and laid down. She pulled me in close and hugged me from behind. “You should go back to sleep. The food won't be served again until tomorrow afternoon.”
It was my turn to sigh. I knew that routine. One meal every two days kept the body weak and alive. There was almost no way for anyone to gather the strength to escape that way.
“You're a slave.” I whispered and her arms tightened around me.
“So are you.” She whispered back.
I closed my eyes and took her advice. I felt very weak and I knew it would take more than a few days of rest to get myself back to normal. I still needed sleep to try and recover some of my health, so that's what I did. I drifted off to sleep and hoped that things wouldn't be as bleak in the morning.