Once upon a time, before the age of monsters, one species rose above all others to rule the Earth:
Deities, who are now known by names beyond count, turned their eyes upon this species. Their intelligence was remarkable for a species with such an underdeveloped soul; a soul on par with that of the tiniest rodent and the biggest bear, no more sentient than any other creature that roamed the land. Survival had been harsh for that species, but despite this, they rose to the top of the food chain, becoming hunter-gatherers and ruling where they tread.
Impressed with the species' endurance and determination, the deities decided to reward them for their feat.
Their gift was that of a complex soul, one with definite shape and color, unlike the blurry colors and shapes other animal's souls take the form of. It took the shape commonly known as a heart, and the color varied vastly between humans. The composition became definite, made almost entirely of determination, their species' most treasured trait for survival. Magic brewed just underneath the thin, delicate surface; the determination was a breeding ground for such a force, and the humans found a way to channel it through them and into the solid world, where they could use it as they pleased.
Civilizations grew rapidly from then on, fueled by their new souls that drove them forwards to their goals.
Humans who became incredibly skilled at channeling their magic became known as mages. Fine-tuned souls caused them to be masters of intelligence and power, using those skills to become widely-respected humans among their kind. They were always female, whose soul's outer skin was thinnest and allowed for their magic to escape at a more fluid pace than through the tougher skins of male's souls.
Those who had trouble mastering the art were jealous of the mage's status and abilities; life was harder for them, without magic to help them. They searched for new ways to help their lives become easier, to almost the same degree as magic would help a mage or higher-classed human with thinner soul skin.
The solution had been under their noses all of that time.
Intelligence, though useful, was a mistake to give to them.
The animals from which they walked among could be used for gain. Farming that had been done by hand could be done easier with oxen; hunting that once was hard was easier with the assistance of a wolf. Years of abuse and terror, and an animal could be taught to follow human command. The animals they had once lived alongside, hunted only when needed, were now regarded as worthless as the dirt they crawled along on their bellies. Fear shining in their eyes meant nothing more than that their tactics of breaking their simpler, duller souls was working, and soon they would have a servant that would come to their every beck and call.
The deities were silent from then on, as though afraid any more changes to the balance would result in chaos and mayhem.
This practice continued for many years, being passed down generations. Already broken animals were bred with one another, so the trouble of breaking down a new animal could be almost forgotten and they could be born ready to work. A few still broke down new animals for the sake of avoiding inbreeding, one of the few luxuries the animals were given. An animal who couldn't work was useless, and inbred animals were more likely to be unable to work.
One of the animals trying to be broke down was a wolf.
Crickets chirped in the night, singing a lullaby to the stars and gibbous moon that shone in the black skies. Flames licked at the edge of the stone-rimmed pit, reaching upwards to the sky as though trying to swallow the stars that the crickets preformed a serenade for. They danced on the burning sticks, though shadows loomed around the campsite, the light blocked by the bodies of the humans that shifted around to get a better view of the screaming newborn who had been born moments earlier.
Kept apart from the group, a wolf laid down amid the dirt. Thick coils of rope had been tied tightly around its neck and muzzle, keeping it tethered to the ground. Its once-luxurious fur was matted with mud and soil, gravel and grit; the ribs poked from its underside and sides, showing off to the world its delirious hunger. The flames flickered in its wide, black pupils as it looked over to the warmth amid the mid-autumn chill. A longing filled its very being, and a sudden urge overtook the creature.
The wolf broke free from captivity.
The frayed ends of the rope had been chewed until the wolf could slip from its bonds. It shook out its hide, wary of the human eyes that could glance over at any second and realize the wolf had escaped. It padded forward, the source of light the only thing it could think of. Warmth meant life.
Warmth could mean food.
The wolf took revenge.
Blood came from everywhere, hot and thick, metallic and bold-tasting.
It oozed from the bite wounds over the infant's corpse. It trickled down the beast's chin, to its chest and forelegs. It bled from the wounds of the humans that had tried to stop the assault.
The wolf got a taste of a human soul.
The infant perished not a moment earlier, and a small, weak soul floated from its chest as it took its last breath. The soul was prepared to shatter in the air, showing the soul departing from that plane.
The wolf felt the power surge through its soul.
Newfound magic coursed through veins the wolf never knew had existed. A small trickling of thought came through the buzz of sentience. More.
The wolf devoured the rest of the hunter-gatherer tribe.
Running over the hills, streaking through the grasses that snagged at its pelt, bounding over the little obstacles that meant nothing to such a beast but everything to its prey. Faster after them, quicker in its movements, swifter pawsteps, longer strides. Blood, blood, blood. The sweet magic that flowed through the wolf after every delicious bite.
Wolf became the first monster, the bringer of the monster age.
Carnage surrounded Wolf, a broad expanse of death that it had brought upon the inhabitants. Dawn had come, and sunlight warmed Wolf's pelt.
The magic that had flowed earlier had shifted Wolf's body, until what remained was not a regular wolf any longer. The hind legs had bended to unnatural angles, allowing the Wolf to walk upon two legs like its previous captors. The paws had grown slimmer and longer, almost like the fingers that the humans possessed. The eyes had grown sharper and filled with more intelligence, flooded with emotion and complex thought. The teeth and claws had grown longer, to tear through the tough skins of the males' souls.
Meat no longer had taste. It was though Wolf had taken dirt into its maw.
I need more.
A strangled noise left its new vocal cords, raw from the change.
Wolf rampaged through all of the civilizations, turning other creatures into the monster it had become. One monster turned into five, five turned into twenty five, twenty five turned into fifty, fifty turned into two hundred and fifty, and so forth. They swarmed over civilization, feasting themselves on the feast of humankind; redemption for their abused brethren that were too weak to fight themselves. Their bodies turned into creatures of whole other species, shifting and breaking into new bodies that the world had never seen before. No longer were they only animals, they were a diverse race filled with sub-species and a whole new way of life.
Humans had been dethroned from their place above all others.
They were now the scurrying, weak, helpless prey.
The mages, taking notice, feared their own thin-skinned souls being devoured. They banded together as one, forming big groups so they could defend themselves. They built towering buildings with maze-like floors only a mage could find their way through, walls that soared to the skies, and filled moats with infested waters that would deter land-loping monsters. Humans were allowed in such buildings for shelter in return for working, and soon the monsters were running out of the prey that had been so abundant in the first years. They turned their eyes to the castles, and found ways through, feasting again on the humans that had been herded together in such a small space.
Determination, the human's defining trait, was what saved most of their species in the end.
Instead of hiding, they fought back against their predators.
Found weaknesses for the different sub-species, placed traps, used magic, and made weapons. They did everything in their power to rebel against them, using their intelligence to find ways around being killed. They openly declared war on the new species, for the safety of their innocent, the pedestrians the monsters killed.
The war lasted fifty years.
Both the human and monster populations decreased at a rapid rate throughout the course of the war, soldiers and pedestrians, warriors and women, the sick and children. The line of fire was a broad one, and the aftermath was one that left the world in near complete ruin. The monsters and humans were relentless and savage to one another, aiming only to kill the other species off before their own was wiped from history. It took many years for them to finally agree to end the war, when both sides realized that the war would only end in defeat on both sides. If it had continued much longer, both humans and monsters would be too low of a population to continue.
The Cattle Compromise.
Humans agreed to give half of their current population over to the monsters, for the monsters to use them as a food source, treating them how they pleased. Monsters agreed to stop hunting from the free mass of humans, since they had no need to any longer.
From then on, they lived in peace.
Humans' souls thickened their skin over the generations, stopping most of the magic flow. This was likely a way to deter monsters from trying to illegally hunt, given to them by natural selection during the earliest days after the compromise was made. Monsters, meanwhile, made sure the humans they were given kept thinner-skinned souls, but weren't able to use their magic, thanks to good breeding. Even though they didn't have a need to hunt any longer, they still kept the same deadly weapons as they had when they first came around - teeth to tear through the rubbery skin, claws to tear through the soft inner flesh of the soul, keen eyes, and other little details that helped them become humanity's top predator.
That was how everything came to be how it is in present-day.
... Or so the story goes.
Scientists still disagree over how humans first got their souls so complex, with some springing for the deities theory the story offers, and others trying to explain it through the species' evolution. Few other theories have really been considered to be brought into the hot-topic, since nobody's really willing to listen to the wack-jobs that say humans got their complex souls because of aliens that came down from the stars. No matter the cause, humans did get the complex souls they have today.
The rest of the story holds up to truth. The handful of mages that had lived through those times, as isolated as they be, can vouch for the authenticity of the tale. While no monsters that had roamed during those times is alive today, the ones living now hold it in such reverie that them tampering with the story would be some lunatic spewing some other bullshit conspiracy theory. It already paints the humans in a horrible light, so the monsters changing it won't be happening. If anything, it'll be some human trying to make a case about some kindness in human's nature, and how they weren't all animal-abusing psychopaths that wanted some cheap servants. Everybody already knows the story, though, and the way it is in the schools won't let them change a thing about how they tell the past.
If the tale is trying to get across a message or some kind of theme, it wouldn't be a very positive one to teach the children. 'Humans will find a way to mess things up' isn't a very good one. 'Monsters won't take your bullshit' would be interesting, but sadly, wouldn't be very useful to teach the youngest generation unless they plan on abusing animals. Many see it as a way of simply recounting our past in a way that encourages people to not repeat past mistakes, and to make sure humanity never forgets why they can't treat animals however they wish nowadays. In any case, it is how it is, and it's ingrained into society so deeply that it would be hard to reverse, if anybody wanted to.
Not as if dwelling on what's been done could do any good for anybody. The concept of ethics has been twisted by the humans' debt to monsters, taking on a darker version of 'do unto others what they have done unto you'. It's become a pressed issue in the eyes of man and monster alike, looking upon the world that has been brought about in today's society. It comes to everyone's attention that what's been done is irreversible, unless they favor the solution being a mass genocide of one species or the other. Deep-thinkers and philosophers dread what the world has come to, for it's a nightmare for any who can't forcefully break a train of thought.
Many admit we are living a dystopia, a world without a favorable outcome. Other outcomes have been imagined, cherished, and longed for, but they weren't meant to be. The utopia everyone yearns for is out of reach, dangling high above, in the unreachable branches. Society is nothing more than the fox trying to find a way to the grapes; no matter how hard they try, they will never reach what they assume is a sweet reward. They grow bitter, and all begin to assume that the reward must be the same. Utopia has been a demonized subject, cast away from the most heated debates and hot topics - if you hate that such a world might have existed, why would you wish for that over your own?
Alas, it is believed that they have already found the grapes. The closest thing to a utopia that they could have asked for, and it's just as bitter as they assumed it would be. Alternatives with much darker paths were almost walked on, yet they take what they had been given with such little respect. Sweeter grapes could have been, but they will never be.
It all started a month ago.
She'd never really felt comfortable in large crowds of people, and the tingling sensation of eyes all over her was practically constant every time she ventured into the view of the public. From experience, she knew that most crimes wouldn't be committed in such crowded conditions, where witnesses would be plentiful - but the feeling that something extremely bad could happen was enough to keep her on her toes. This resulted in paranoia that stuck with her all through her life, ever since she was a preteen.
Anybody could tell you, however, that going outside of your home is essential. Work wasn't going to do itself; the groceries wouldn't magically appear in her fridge. She wasn't exactly the most social person, but she still had social needs that needed to be fulfilled, one way or another. So she gathered her courage and made the trip outside of her apartment every day, to do what needed to be done.
The long day at work had been a little more stressful than usual. A major development had sprung up and she'd had to clock an extra few hours to handle it, ending in her feeling emotionally drained and in dire need of a drink. As soon as everything was under control, she'd driven home and taken off her work clothes, dressing in more casual wear that was still considered appropriate for a night outing. She'd taken a five-minute walk to her favorite bar after she'd gotten ready.
The gentle lighting, the welcoming patrons, warm colors, and good atmosphere was exactly what the doctor had ordered. The tension that had been working its way into her muscles began to slacken, and she let out a heavy sigh as she took a seat at the counter. She propped her chin on her palm, surveying the drink options on the menu posted on the wall, just past the racks of bottles and glasses. The familiar tingling sensation surged over the skin of her back, though she pushed the feeling down, keeping her composure through the feeling of bugs swarming her back through her dress.
Another person took a seat right beside her, leaning onto the counter a little less than she. A glance and a quick survey, and she guessed that this was another so-called gentleman who wanted to accompany a lonely lady for the night. She straightened her back to seem more lady like, and finally tilted her head to look him in the eye. She'd admit he was a little more handsome than other suitors who'd tried to grab her attention, a solid seven or eight out of ten. Definitely the type of guy expected to be trying to pick up chicks in the bar, though she was surprised he wasn't going after a model.
"What're you doing here all alone?" He quipped, giving her legs a lingering look.
"The usual, probably the same as the other dames you've probably approached," she replied, bluntly. "Buy me the drink I'm sure you'll offer, and we'll see how the night goes, shall we?"
He hummed in agreement. "You don't mess around. Straight to the point; how I like it," he practically purred.
Occasionally she would have a little fun, sure. A guy had to pass through an entire checklist for her to start considering, however. The paranoia of strangers that might have malicious intent didn't die as soon as she was a tad intoxicated. It was a tedious process she went through, observing him closely and sometimes having him answer questions in a quick-fire manner, as though he was being interrogated. The challenger of that evening passed her test flawlessly, and didn't seem offended by her paranoia; instead, he seemed rather amused. That set off a red flag, but she supposed she was being kind of ridiculous, so him finding humor in the situation was perfectly understandable. Not that she was happy about that, but she let it slide.
He agreed they would end up at her place instead of his, since it was both closer and she would feel less anxious. She'd stopped at three drinks, and they took the short walk to her apartment. He waited in the living room as she got herself prepared, and they spent the night together in her bed.
In the morning, he stuck around, and even made her breakfast before leaving his number and heading out. She promised she'd contact him another time, and retreated into her apartment to nurse the small hangover she'd earned from the night before. The current plans for her weekend looked rather bleak; there were only so few episodes of TV to watch, a few pages left in her books to read, and she was out of her crucial binge-watching snacks. She resolved that she would head out in the afternoon, when the hangover was more manageable and less of a nuisance.
The lack of anything to do until then left her time to mull over something that had been bothering her as soon as the man had sat down beside her at the bar. It wasn't necessarily the man himself; hell, she planned to see him again, since he was a genuine good guy and she needed more people in her life. It had been the increasing, more potent feeling of somebody's gaze boring deep into her. The feeling was nothing like the usual mild tingling. This felt more like somebody was creeping right behind her, about to strike as swiftly as a rattlesnake.
They say you wake up when somebody watches you while you're sleeping. She found that such a saying was true, and it had even saved her life once. She also found that it was selective. If you wake up next to somebody who'd fallen asleep near you, and you stare at them, they generally don't actually get up from their slumber. Instead they stay in a deep sleep, unaware. She found that thought disturbing, filing it away into her growing paranoia of other people. Somebody could potentially use that time to kill somebody as they rest, abusing the trust that they had given when they fell asleep near that person. She knew that it happened, a lot more than she would like to think about.
This is why she felt all the more worse when she'd woken at two in the morning, and was unable to fall asleep correctly until three, the burning feeling returning. The very same from the bar.
It continued over the course of the next week. Waking up insanely early in the morning hours did a number on her working efficiency during the weekdays. Coffee seemed like the only thing that could give her motivation to actually get anything done in the first place, but usually she wouldn't even think of touching the bitter drink. This wasn't even mentioning her growing paranoia, stacking onto a pile of sudden problems ever since that trip to the bar. The feeling of being stalked never really went away, as if somebody was trained her during every moment of each day. It burrowed deep into the muscles of her back, piercing into her chest. She looked over her shoulder everywhere she went, even in her own home, more times than she deemed healthy.
She'd planned to contact him again. Life became distracting, and it was forgotten in the hassle.
Over the next two weeks, it only got progressively worse. It became unbearable to think about going outside, where the sensation only grew exponentially and she felt as though she was in more danger for every second she wasn't in the safety of her home. She stayed later hours in an attempt to stay off the streets, where it seemed the worse. It was an excuse to make up for the work she wasn't properly doing in her normal hours, when she was too exhausted from sleep deprivation to work out what the simplest things were. She snapped a bit more often, bitter and disgruntled, though tried to mostly keep to herself to avoid suspicion by her coworkers. The questions they would have would be too complicated to explain, and she didn't want to even think about her situation when she could be doing something different and much more involving.
The last week of the month, she was told to take a break from work. Despite her best efforts, her coworkers had taken more notice in her behavior than she would have liked them to. She tried to explain herself without opening up too much, but she was told to take a week-long vacation to relax and unwind from the tension that had grown solid as a rock between her shoulders. Reluctantly, she followed her boss' orders after a quick discussion, and returned home to mull over what she could do to fix the state of mind she found herself in.
She resorted to booking an appointment with her doctor so she could get a few of her prescriptions refilled. The anxiety and sleep medication she took as a younger adult had helped her through a similar episode, so she figured she could do the same treatment as last time and she would return to work the week after as though nothing had occurred at all. Or so she'd hoped. This time, her problems seemed a little different than last time, more genuine. Saying that out loud to anybody would get her labeled as having mental problems however, and she would be in a mental hospital instead of leaving the office with an order for more medication.
She'd gone, gotten her prescription, and headed home. Her pills arrived at her usual pharmacy the next day, and she'd gone to bed that night not expecting to be disturbed and waking well-rested and less paranoid.
That brought her to the present.
Sunlight managed to peek through her window, trying to welcome her into the glorious day she would be spending tucked inside her apartment. It slanted right onto her pillow, assaulting her pupils as soon as she dared to open her eyes the slightest amount. She let out a low groan and rolled over onto her side to stop the attack, sighing heavily as she shifted to help herself sit up.
She felt groggy still, but less fatigued than the previous weeks. She hadn't woken up for an hour that morning and fought to go back to sleep; she had her usual undisturbed resting hours, and she felt all the better for it. The rest of the week would hopefully be a similar case, and she could go back to her regularly scheduled workweek after that, back to her regular productive self. All it took was some medication.
Kicking the blankets to the foot of her bed, she hoisted herself off of the mattress and took a few shuffling steps away from the bed. She stretched, feeling the tension loosening once more. Her clothes for the day would be casual; just a baggy t-shirt, sweatpants, and some slippers to keep her feet warm. She grabbed one of her fluffy blankets and wrapped it around herself like a cape for extra measure, and left her bedroom looking like a low-budget rip-off of Batman or some other DC comic superhero.
Too lazy for a proper breakfast, she settled on eating whatever snack she could scrounge from the kitchen and watching some television. A nature documentary was on, showing majestic shots of a pod of orcas navigating through an ocean full of ice floes and icebergs. She wondered how great it would be to be an orca. For one, she would be practically the ruler of the ocean. They were smart as well, so that was another pro. Seals and penguins wouldn't have anything on her. A stalker would think twice before following her, since she'd be having fresh-caught criminal for brunch.
A shudder found its way along her spine, and shock rippled through her muscles as the feeling of being followed returned full-force through her groggy haze. She looked behind her, her gaze darting around and probing the shadows, looking for the culprit.
Nobody was there but her favorite vase, shattered all over the gray tiles of the kitchen. Water had spilled across the floor, in the little dips of the tiles, running towards the soft carpeting of the living room. Broken glass glittered in the light streaming in from the window above the sink. The flowers that had been kept in the vase were scattered along the tiles, white and yellow petals shining with moisture from the pool of water on the floor.
Nobody was there.
That didn't calm her racing heart, thudding in her chest as adrenaline flowed through her veins. Her breath had hitched in surprise, but she forced herself to take deep breaths and calm down. Though she hadn't heard a thud, she assumed that had probably been somebody downstairs doing something or other that caused the vase to topple to its untimely demise. The rowdy kids downstairs had managed to cause a ruckus to nearly do the same to her television a couple months prior, so them breaking a vase - her favorite too, damn it - wasn't far from possible.
She melted into the couch and turned her head back towards the television. She pulled the blanket closer around her as the killer whales on the screen out-smarted a penguin trying to find shelter on an ice floe, sending it into the water and to its death. They played with its corpse, tossing it around, until they finally ate their hard-earned and played with meal. She cringed at the unfortunate timing of the carnage, scrambling to get the remote so she could change the channel.
Nothing good was on any of the channels. Splatters of blood and detailed gore on one channel, another horror film of a nature documentary on a different one. She went to her saved episodes and decided on one of her favorite comedy shows, in an attempt to cheer herself up and soothe her nerves that appeared to be on end. She tried to get lost into the show, where the real world really didn't matter.
A hand suddenly locked around her mouth. She was pulled backwards, heaving the couch backwards with her; she struggled a bit, clawing at the weird textured hand to get it off her. Instincts kicked in and she tried to make noise, but another hand came and grabbed at her windpipe, a gesture that practically screamed that if she made a noise it would be crushed. The couch was kicked back so it was still, and she only got a flash of a glimpse of white before something hit her temple with a shooting pain and she was unconscious.