A war was raging inside Mishonrayel’s mind and body, one of which he had all the stake in but hardly any control over. Second by second, he could feel that burning sensation in his very blood as the devil’s taint moved further inward. He could feel it closing in on his heart, an agony not unlike a needle being plunged through its center. Despite all his strength and all he had already endured in life, this pain was near enough to put him down or force him to cry out in anguish. Had he not been sprinting, fleeing that awful scene he had created, one he had not willed into being, Mishonrayel would have howled in misery. It was happening once more, whether he liked it or not, and there was no way to defend against such awfulness.
Those memories came flooding back into his mind, and in only a few heartbeats, Mishonrayel was filled full with that melancholy. He would have to watch his life continue, sequestered to the furthest corner of his own awareness, only able to view what another did with his body. It was true he could feel it all, know the pain and sensations the body would experience, but he would have no say over the actions. Still, as the cursed blood pumped closer and closer to total control, he would attempt to fight it off. There was little in the way of a struggle he could rightly do but to go quietly was not something he could accept. To at least know he was forcefully usurped would be solace enough for his weary and worn down mind.
He halted mid-stride just as he cleared another copse, leaving his trail almost impossible to track. Forcing through the haze forming on his mind from the agony beneath his flesh, Mishonrayel summoned up all his might. Though he had become exceptionally adept at working his Erkinan, on the level of Sirian even, he wasn’t sure how he could apply it. The bulk of his time using that power had been in Mishon trying to repay the path of destruction he had left in several villages. Forging weapons, helping to meld metals together, and rebuilding ruined structures was one means of reparations, but he knew very well it would not replace those lives he had taken. With his paw pads growing from a sunset yellow to an ashy white-hot color, he pressed down on his chest.
Smoke rose as fur burnt away, and the skin beneath was seared open only to cauterize shut before any blood could spew forth. He did the same to his throat using his other paw, unsure if he could keep focused on his Erkinan through the pain. There was no guarantee he would ever get his body back this time, and if nothing else, Mishonrayel wanted to handicap the devil who would soon own him if not destroy the vessel it wanted so desperately to inhabit. Had he known in his youth what would become of him once the demons had flowed in and taken control, Mishonrayel conceded he would have taken his life then. Were there a quicker and more convenient means of ending himself now, Mishon would have taken it. But for where he was and what he had on paw, this would be the best way to finish the struggle before it could really begin.
A deep, smooth voice echoed from within his blood, drawing Mishonrayel’s attention away for a second, “Oh, those great forging hands are not for destruction, old boy, they are for creation. Give them over to me, and with them, we shall build a new world. One that we can be proud of, unlike the path you attempt to take.”
“No! No, you will not have me again, Pai’gen! I was freed of you once, and I will remain so even if it means deaths,” Mishon hissed back, his voice growing raspy even as his paw was forcefully removed from his throat. The blood demon had taken control of one limb, but the other was still beneath Mishonrayel’s control. With only the right, he clamped down on the other paw, which had desperately fought him off and almost succeeded. The smoldering fingers caressed dark fur, singing away flesh and fur, but before it could cauterize the blood inside, the other arm came back into power. As it forced away Mishon’s dominant paw, it allowed blood to pour out. With the source of its true power released, the demon went to work, twisting and turning the red tide into something more.
Blood leaked down his arm and formed into a hard shell like some form of organic armor to protect the body from anymore protesting attacks. Once there was a solid layer constructed, the gash excreted several appendages that looked like the thin, long legs of a spider. As they twisted about, it became evident that they were far more than that. The edge of a razor looked as sharp as a rock when setting eyes on those blood blades. They fanned out like the spikes of a horned lizard, making Mishonrayel nearly unapproachable from the one side. Even as they solidified, they wriggled slightly, showing that they were not only deadly but capable of changing still now when the demon willed it.
Amid Mishonrayel’s struggling among the tree roots in the dirt, a shade had appeared at the edge of his peripheral. Had he his mind about him at that time, Mishonrayel would have thought to either crawl away or attempt to attack. As the misshapen shadow lurched closer, the coyote knew for certain who had found him and what was coming next. Towering over him, a leering smile the only prominent feature on the dark figure’s face beyond those blood stricken eyes, Pai’gen greeted his new servant, “You see, my dear smith, you can not, will not, could not ever even begin to be able, to shirk my grasp for even a moment. My hold over you, keeping you drown in the ocean of knowledge you would otherwise deny yourself, was only temporarily broken. And soon enough, we will clutch and sink your sweet little fox girl. But before we can do that, we need to meet with our new friend.”
“I won’t! I’d rather die then…,” Mishonrayel struggled for words against the constant stabbing pain running through his veins. It was almost too much. He could feel his awareness fading to the back of his mind, and all that came before ran back to him at full speed.
There were those few fleeting moments for Mishonrayel, not unlike the last conscious thoughts before sleep on a day that has gone overly long. They were, very simply, the memories of his existence beneath the tyrannical blood demon. He had been infected with the dark blood once before, he had known that cruel touch of the devil within his veins even if he could not name the culprit itself, and Mishonrayel knew that this time Pai’gen would not let go. It had been a struggle for him to establish full control, goading him into the acts that would twist his mind and soul until malleable enough for the demon’s will, Pai’gen was not going to go through it all again just to give up. As he convulsed on the earth, Mishon could already taste that metallic ting of blood and feel the warmth of it dripping down his paws. The nightmare was beginning anew, and all Mishonrayel wanted was the easy way out. Death would be better than to live in the devil’s chains.
The last fit of control petered out for Mishonrayel, and his final protestation died on his lips as Pai’gen came into power. There was not so much smugness in his rich tone as there was a matter-of-fact nature to it, “Welcome back, old friend! I have been waiting so long for this opportunity. You have been missed, my great smith of the mortal fires. Now we should be off, there is another we have to meet with yet, and I know he would not want to be kept waiting.”
“I… I don’t… I don’t want this, not again,” Mishonrayel muttered weakly, just barely able to penetrate the influence placed over him.
As though dealing with a cub just old enough to talk back, Pai’gen laughed off the coyote, “Oh, but Mishonrayel, do you think you have a choice now? You thought that little slash on your wrist would be so null that I would leave you to wander? Really, you don’t need to fret much longer, my boy, you’ll forget your every urge to strike against progress soon. This is the proper course for you, now and always.”
Mishonrayel felt as a passenger in his own flesh, watching as his body lifted itself off the soil and began northwards. He glimpsed that cut that had nearly nicked his vein earlier that day and proceeded to curse himself. The mistake had been so slight, such a momentary slip-up that the fact it had occurred at all was beyond the man. Ever since reaching the proper age, Mishonrayel had been a rather proficient hunter, if not a safe one. This had marked one of only a pawful of times Mishonrayel had gotten scrapped in dragging one of the larger shren that stalked the plains. And, of course, perfectly fitting for his luck, the time he just barely snagged his wrist with that bony fin on the creature’s back, the demon’s eye was on him. Now it was all over, no more worrying about scratching himself on his prey’s talons or fins, no more fretting over if Pai’gen would strike at the merest scent of his blood, he had, and it was over now.
The coyote’s body moved on, acting as though it were on a track without any need of guidance or interruption by the rightful owner. Pai’gen, or one of the demons below him Mishonrayel couldn’t be sure, directed the flesh and blood north with haste that the coyote could not rightly say he had known he was capable of. The typical obstacles that would slow or deter an ordinary mortal were nothing in the eyes of this new spirit control Mishonrayel. Yet, this entity could heal any wounds be they slashes from running up against jagged crags, skewerings from splintered trees, the enumerable puncture wounds brambles would net him, not to mention the poison, or fractures brought on by falls. No matter the hurt, those injuries Mishonrayel could only pray would end his life did nothing. Endlessly the coyote body was mended and kept on its way all the way to the place the devil intended him to be.
The ruins of an old fortification sat, desolate, and opened up to the elements, in the sapphire light of the moon. Mishonrayel found it an odd choice of a destination; the demons seemingly only dealt in the eternal structures usually. Those great castles and cathedrals, monoliths and towers that had lasted age in and age out, mostly unphased by time or the cataclysms that brought about the changing of worlds. Still, the coyote couldn’t wonder of the machinations of the mania stricken demon that time would have been better off forgetting. He wanted only to be done with it all. As suddenly as the movement began, Mishonrayel found his body coming to a stop at the entrance into this broken down stone structure. The eyes, something Mishonrayel felt a minor bit of control over, searched the building looking for some rhyme or reason as to why he would have brought to such a specific location. Suddenly, a shadow shifted, and a creature seemingly made of the dark itself slipped forward from the ruins. Blazing eyes cut through the blackness until the moonlit gave shape to this stranger, a cougar based on his outline. With a twangy voice, he regarded Mishonrayel, “And you be da one dat I’m to meet? Good, good, I’ll need the brute and power, that’s for sure. Come on now, I been waitin’ up all the night for ya and still got all this ground between us and that cathedral. Well, go on then, get a move on it while we still got the moon in the sky!”
Without another word, Mishonrayel’s body followed; all the while, he screamed in silence within. This cougar, this man with fur like the night sky, was not merely a servant of Pai’gen, not a vassal made by force and possession, but one willing to do precisely as the demon bid. He couldn’t quite say he had been better in his youth, to have been promised vengeance, and the blood of those who had scorned him so was motivator enough to send Mishonrayel into a fever pitch for Pai’gen. Yet, it was so evident in hindsight, so apparent he was being used that he couldn’t justify it with that excuse anymore, nor could he see it playing out for such basic desires with another. Despite all he knew of the demon lord and his ability to control and manipulate, Mishonrayel resolved to break free. Though he may die in the process, Mishonrayel would chose to die as a man and not a monster.