It’s always busy in terrible places like these. Peter had never lived in a labor camp that wasn’t buzzing during the day time. There were always guards shouting for one reason or another like they were the ones being punished for merely existing. They were always so angry and Peter could never quite figure out why they thought they had any right to be but it wasn’t as though figuring it out would change it.
Gliding between the buildings he tried to find Aunt May. She had said she would be doing laundry today but after spending a less than fruitful 20 minutes trying to find her in the chaos of the washroom he realized she was no longer there. The next logical place was back at the hut they call home. It was pushed far in the back of the camp near what he had been told was a poor excuse for a hospital. It wasn’t really like he would know.
Peter began to come up to a high traffic area of the camp. Hundreds of demons and a few dozen guards moved quickly up and down the tight spaces between buildings. Everything from muscular behemoths to tiny imps darts or stomped their way through. Just as Peter was about to step into the rush he heard a shout down the road. A massive feline creature, this one resembling a lioness, lumbered through with a cart hitched to her back. She was 6 feet at her shoulder and had to be a few tons of pure muscle. That, and her snarling and snapping behind the iron muzzle caused everyone, including Peter, to quickly fall back into the alleys and gaps leading to the path to avoid being trampled. As she lumbered on past she almost appeared to pause for a moment, turning her head towards Peter. Her brief pause was rewarded with the snapping of a whip from the guard atop her cart and angry shouts. She drew her attention away from the tiefling in order to snarl at her driver. A snap on the muzzle though quickly shut her up and she carried on her way as though nothing had happened. Momentarily startled by the Corpial and her behavior he almost missed his chance to jump into the flow before it flew back into overwhelming. With quick feet Peter leapt into the fray and allowed himself to be carried North. There was a bit of pushing and shoving but Peter remained relatively unharmed. A large demon with amber skin and spikes growing from nearly every inch of available skin noticed him off to his left and tipped his head, and massive set of stick straight horns, in greeting.
Peter smiled kindly but gently rebuffed the demon. “Thank you but I’m not a doctor, sir.”
The large man laughed. “You’d of fooled me. Ain’t meant to be out of disrespect to the other docs out there but you’ve got magic hands kid. Seems wrong not to give you some sorta tip of the hat for it.”
Trying to imagine a hat that could fit around the massive horns atop the other’s head made Peter smile. “Well, I appreciate the compliment. I do think a doctor would be able to do a bit better than me though. I still can’t get poor Amber’s cold to go away.”
The demon looked confused for a second. “Amber..? Who is- Oh! You be meanin’ ole Linara! I don’t know why you bother with them silly Starkonian names. They ain’t nothin but those bastards tryin’ to get any inkling of control over us they can. You ever thought of goin’ by your Deminon name, doc? I’m sure it would be a lot nicer than Peter. I know you ain’t ole enough to know the ole tongue but your Starkonian name sure sound an ole lot like Plieture. I’ll spare ya youngin’ ears the translation but it ain’t the nicest of things.”
Peter tried to keep his smile going, it was not the first time he’d had this conversation.
“My mom told me to be careful who I gave my Deminon name too. She said people can use them for bad things if you aren’t careful with it. It also isn’t really any prettier than Peter.” That and it just simply didn’t feel right for everyone to call him something as intimate as his true name.
“Ah, I see. Ya ma was one of them ole world folk. She was a tieflin’ like you I reckon? It seems like we’re gettin’ less and less of your kind around here. I would say it be a good thin’ but… Well, I don’t think it’s out of the goodness of thems hearts we ain’t seein’ em in the labor camps.”
It felt like with that suggestion there were suddenly bugs running across his skin. The labor camp may not be anywhere near humane, but it beat the ‘pleasure’ slavery that the most human looking of the Deminons were often forced into.
He must have given away that he was uncomfortable because the other man gently laid a hand on his shoulder. Blessedly, the other’s hands were one of the few places spikes didn’t grow.
“Ay now, don’t be gettin’ into them dark places. You’re here and not there. Good ole Mrs. May won’t let anythin’ happen to ya. She’s a feisty one and if she didn’t let them then nab ya from her then, she won’t now.”
“I- thank you. I, um, don’t think I caught your name?” Peter gave the demon a sheepish smile.
With a hearty laugh he replied, “Hornet, the Starkonians call me Billy or somethin’ like that but I say its a name uglier than a tar pit so I don’t listen to em’ when they use it.”
“I wouldn’t be a fan of that name either. It was nice to talk to you, Hornet. I have to go find Aunt May now but if you need me I’m sure you know where to find me.”
“Of course I do, Peter. If you be needin’ anythin’ from me just look for me by the smiths.”
“Will do!” Peter shouted behind him as he broke off from the flow of bodies.
Up on a small mound ahead of Peter he could see the shack that he and May lived in. It was falling apart in some places and smelled musty even on the best of says but they were lucky to have their own home. Being the only two who understood anything about medicine had its perks and meant they were less likely to be moved around like some of the others in the camp. It was a sliver of stability that they cherished here. Four camps and this was the best one they had encountered so far. It was still a grisly place but there was hope here if nothing else. Being only a four days journey from the border the mountains were a sight that most in the camp clung too.
Stopping at the doorstep Peter couldn’t help but stare at those mountains. Unlike the mountains to the west, the mountains that formed the border between the Kingdom of Deminons and The Stark Republic were black. They were a holy place. One of the last stories his mother had told him was of the temples carved into their rocky faces. It was said that the first demon was a Corpial. She was a woman who had towered over everything and it was from her all the other demons came. His mother said that her primary form, the bestial one, was of a massive bird. She was so big it was said she could carry an entire village in her claws and never lose a speck of dirt during the journey.
Apparently the tieflings were her last children, her youngest and therefore the ones she protected most zealously. Being weak and fragile compared to her other children she made the Corpial, her strongest and most untamable children, their guardians. He vividly remembered his mother gently tracing the dips along his spine that almost seemed to form a handle to carry his body by. She had told him that they were the Corpious Dips, the last sign of the days in which the Corpials had so closely guarded their charge. The Dips were there to allow a tiefling to be quickly stowed away from danger as the fastest way to carry a tiefling was to run on all fours and carry the fragile creature gently in their mouth. Peter had found it funny as a child. He couldn’t remember quite why. Maybe it was a joke his mother had told? It was hard to remember. The last bits he remembered from the story was of why the mountains had become such a holy place.
The Mother had been gone one day, for what reason was lost to time. She had left her favorite son on the mountain to protect her tieflings. Apparently back then there had been millions. When she returned she found their bodies staining the mountainside. While she had been gone human men had come seeking the horns of her tieflings. They believed that their horns controlled the Corpials, who prevented them from extending their lands east. The foolish and vain men believed the beauty of tieflings was used to seduce Corpials and bend them to their will. Wives tales decreed their horns the one thing Corpials could not resist above all else. They did not realize that the Corpials protected the tieflings and their siblings out of love and devotion, not something as trivial as appearance. This did not stop them though and thus her children were slaughtered. Left to rot in the cold, blue woods. Their horn crowns stripped from them, some left shattered beside them after careless men had been too aggressive and given up after ruining their prize. Her children’s spirits wailed and begged for their mother. Their anguish echoed through the mountains, trapping their last moments of pain within its valley. In her grief, The Mother burned the mountainside and turned the bodies of her children to stone. Their blood had seeped so far into the rock that the once blue mountains became blackened to their core. The only tieflings left were hidden in the caves of the mountain. There were only a few hundred thousand left. She found her favorite son dead at the entrance to the cave system surrounded by fallen enemies. She built a tomb for him right there out of the black stone. His mother had said that after that temples were built in the shape of The Son’s tomb. They were places of worship as well as defensible fortresses. In memory of the bloodshed the monks of the temple keep at bay those who will hurt their brothers.
The war now had been going on for nearly 15 years and not once had the humans made it past those mountains.
Memories of his mother brought a sharp pain to his chest. Images of flailing hands and screaming forced their way to the forefront of his mind. Panting breaths, running. Hitting the ground. His own voice, the high pitch of an eight-year-old, to scared to understand that silence is the best way to survive. It was like a waterfall and pushing through it was like walking through wet cement. It wasn’t until the creaking of a door reached him that he was able to surface and return from his dark thoughts. There in front of him was Aunt May.
While May bore no blood or real physical traits with Peter, she may as well have been his mother with the stubbornness they often shared. Her horns formed a halo around her head and her leathery wings rustled as she moved into the doorway. Her volcanic eyes watched him closely and a red hand reached out to draw him into a hug. He returned it before she released him and practically dragged him into the hut. She sat him on his cot before rushing to close the door and put a kettle over the ancient wood-burning stove. She piled wood into the empty iron heart of the old beast before breathing out a thin stream of flames to start the stove. Once she was satisfied with the rate it was catching she came and sat herself next to Peter on the cot. The old spring creaked in protest but held.
“What had you all out of sorts out there?”
“Mom told me about The Mother and why the mountains are black.”
“Ah, I see. Such a strange thing to be thinking about. The color of the mountains. I would have loved to learn more about the strange thoughts your mother got on.”
Peter couldn’t help but smile at that. May always talked about his mother almost as though they had known each other. Maybe in some ways they had through Peter’s stories.
“I think she would love to see the man you’ve grown into, don’t you think?”
“You talk like you’re 80 and not 35.”
“You’ve aged me. I was only 18 when that woman handed me that scraggly eight-year-old. Now its turned into a scraggly 25 year old who's stuck around to make sure all my hair is white before I’m 40.”
“You’d finally look like a volcano at least. Red lava, white smoke.”
“Peter! I thought I raised you better than to stoop so low as to insult a lady’s appearance.” May tried to remain stern but laughed her way through her words.
Smiling Peter teased a bit further, sensing he could get away with it. “I had to learn it from somewhere. I think I vividly remember a few choice words about a particular succubus when I was 12…”
If May could blush she certainly would as she swatted at Peter’s long pointed ears as punishment.
“That’s Aunt May to you, mister!”
Peter pouted as Aunt May went to pour the now whistling water into a mug. He watched as she sprinkled in a smooth gray powder, stirred it, then gladly accepted the cup she passed to him.
Sipping his drink he decided he could get away with opening his mouth one last time since she still liked him enough to offer him treats. “I can’t believe the guards try and throw this stuff away saying it tastes burnt when they drink burned beans and call it coffee.”
She shook her head. “Mother only knows. Questioning them is like questioning why dogs drag their asses over grass.”
“Don’t they do that because of parasites?”
“I don’t know and with how many other things there are to worry about that is very low on my list of priorities when it comes to figuring it out.”
“Well that was a fun sentence.”
She cuffed his ear. “Hush.”
Peter finished the rest of his drink over small chit chat as Aunt May began folding laundry. After cleaning his mug he joined her. While there wasn’t much they had in the way of clothing they made up for it by keeping it immaculate. The most important parts of their wardrobes being the Republic Commissioned Scrubs. While they were probably the ugliest things on the whole base with their snot green appearance they were critical to their duties.
Just as Peter had finished putting away the last pair of socks a rapid knock came on the door. Peter’s stomach dropped and he began pulling back out his scrubs from the box under his cot. May rushed towards the door. A knock on the door usually only meant one thing.
“Peter! May! There is a guy coming in! Houston says its bad. P.O.W. guy that just got shipped out from the capital.”
“How far out is he?”
“Shit.” May grabbed their passes off of the nail by the door and tossed them next to Peter’s scrubs as she began to retrieve her own. “Give us three. Houston wants him at the clinic?”
“He said to meet him at the gate.”
May stopped and looked at the round, frog-like demon who stood in their doorway. “What are you not telling me?”
The frog hesitated.
“Borgot.” May said his Deminon name as a warning.
Borgot swallowed. “He’s feral. It’s a Corpial, feline. He’s barely holding on and Houston got a report in that he tried to bite the last medic.”
“And you were just going to send us in there blind?” May’s nearly silver hair began to rise off her shoulder, Peter recognized it for what it was. Anger.
Scared that there was about to be a cooked frog on their doorstep, Peter stepped between the two of them as he pulled his shirt over his head and began pushing out the doorway, pass in hand. “It doesn’t matter at this point. We’ve got someone who might be dying coming in and we don’t have time for bickering about details.”
He could feel May still fuming behind him. He heard her shuffling in the hut and only had to wait about a minute before she was in the doorway ready to go. She followed behind him as he broke into a run. Though the “meep!” from Borgot lead him to believe he didn’t escape without a ‘we’ll finish this later’ look from May.
As they got closer to the clinic May pulled up beside Peter, matching pace.
“Take the emergency bag and I’ll get a stall set up. I would rather he get a room but…”
“If he is as bad as Borgot says then he probably won’t make it safely into a room?”
“Bingo.” They reached the door to the clinic and hurried inside after the guard let them through. Peter unlocked the cabinet with the kit and left the keys and open doors for May to deal with. Walking through the clinic but sprinting out the door, Peter rushed towards the gate. He was cutting it close. So close that he already heard snarling as he approached the gate.
Possibly the biggest Corpial --scratch that, living thing-- Peter had ever seen was being dragged through the gateway. Sixteen guards dragged the stubborn creature through the threshold of the camp as it thrashed wildly. It- no Borgot had said he- was covered in dozens of open wounds and burns. There were blisters bubbling across its hind legs that burst from the erratic movements of the Corpial. Old and new burns made the bare, furless patches look gruesome and irritated. It seemed as though there wasn’t anything more than a few inches of clear, unmarked skin on the whole being. Whatever the Capital had decided was this man’s crime, it must have been something even they thought the labor camps weren’t brutal enough for.
There were ruts being left in the ground as the unwilling demon was dragged further and further into the camp. The creature kept releasing a cross between a snarl and a wail that made Peter’s heart hurt in a way that he wasn’t familiar with. Peter began moving towards the mass of guards in order to get a better look and maybe get the exam going as the Corpial was forced towards its confinement. At least that was what he told himself as the sadness of the creature drew him closer and pulled at his need to fix. The guards, already riled up by the unruly situation, snapped at Peter.
“Get your fucking beast undercontrol!”
“Don’t go trying and offer your ass now. He ain’t gonna help you at this rate.”
“Wrong move and I’ll make sure you and your beasty lover ain’t got each other’s dicks to suck.”
Peter kept his head high and refused to shy away from their words. The Starkonians may believe him to be a degenerate. A being from a race of demons they believed rolled over to Corpials. He kept his sharp words to himself. Kept close to his chest the story of Lyana and Flora because if they didn’t understand that demons could love they would never come to accept the hundreds of years of sacred practice they tarnished by slandering the union of a Corpial and a tiefling. Or maybe they did. That wasn’t the issue now. For now, he had to get his patient calmed down and somewhere safe. Somewhere less stressful.
Peter pointed in the direction of the stalls that were kept near the hospital for occasions such as this. “Take him to the quarantine rooms, please. He needs to be looked over before any further decisions are made.”
The guards gnashed their teeth and snarled at him but began the journey to the requested location. Peter walked behind them, trying to maintain a safe distance but still close enough to assess the damage. He was studying a particularly nasty looking brand on the poor demon’s rump closely and taking notes on a pad of paper from the bag now slung over his shoulder. There was such a commotion already roaring around him and his focus was so pinpoint, he didn’t realize something was wrong until the Corpial stopped thrashing and his wails were cut short. Looking up from his notes his blood ran cold as he watched the guards scatter as the remains of their ropes lay on the ground. The cowardly men did not care what happened to the workers of the camp as long as their own hides were safe. They left Peter to the whims of the beast and the rest of the demons began to scatter as they realized their lives were in danger. The beast was free.
Frozen, Peter watched in what felt like slow motion as the Corpial began to turn to face him. He hadn’t gotten a clear look at the Corpial’s face until now. The muzzle was just as torn up as the rest of his body and while both eyes were intact they were glazed over with a clearly feral light. His rounded, cat-like ears were practically shredded and the wounds there were so different from the burns it lead him to believe that those wounds had not come from his time in the Capital.
As the beige furred Corpial whipped towards him Peter felt real, undiluted fear. He had seen feral Corpials before, but not like this. Not so clearly and brutally scared and obviously traumatized. In that moment his instincts kicked in. His palms felt as though they had suddenly been drenched in sweat and his heart tried to fly out his throat. Without even thinking he went from glued to the spot to sprinting the opposite direction.
It seemed as though with speed came sound. The noise of the world came suddenly back to him as he pounded over packed dirt. There were shouts of surprise and screams of fear followed by retreating footsteps. What Peter heard over all of it though was the thumping of his own heart, the clatter of his bag as it met the ground, and the thundering of clawed hands meeting the ground behind him.
Terror was a good motivator and Peter pushed himself beyond what he thought possible and practically flew as he ate up ground. He didn’t know where he was going, there wasn’t anywhere to go. Ahead of him was the gate and it had been locked as soon as the Corpial had been brought in. He could veer right but that was an open stretch that lead to the mines and would get him cornered. The left was tight-knit houses but one wrong move and he would be just as stuck as the other direction.
Before he could make up his mind he felt the sting of teeth sinking into his back. Had he not been immediately lifted from the ground in the jaws of the massive beast he would have eaten shit but at the moment this felt far from better. The Corpial didn’t stop running as it grasped him in its mouth. The loping pace made the pain from the teeth worse but while it hurt there was a particular numbness that came with it. He didn’t have time to think much about it as suddenly they were upon the gate. As in the Corpial was now on top of it. He heard the cracking of stone as the brick beneath the paws of the demon were dented from the weight and strength of the claws. It was in that moment Peter was sure he was dead.
The next second they were on the other side and taking off into the woods beyond. More shouting followed behind them and the sound of gunshots made Peter cover his ears and try to make himself smaller. The Corpial was unphased though and trudged on. Even as they entered the woods their pace never slowed. It felt like hours of pain, vomit-inducing stress, and jostling had gone by before they began to slow.
The Corpial continued to walk, loosening its grip on Peter while still keeping him in place. Unsure of his fate at this point Peter tried to remain silent. That didn’t really work for long though.
“I know, um, that you probably aren’t in a state of mind to understand me but I would really appreciate if you could maybe put me down? You haven’t mauled me,” God he hoped he didn’t just plant that idea there. “So I’m hoping you can just set me down and we can peacefully part ways?” Peter really didn’t know what he would even if the man did put him down. This whole situation was all new territory, and that was without the fact he was outside a camp for the first time since he was 8. He wasn’t even a little bit prepared to deal with that element on top of everything else.
The Corpial let out a huff through his nose and continued walking. Peter wilted a bit but he knew he shouldn’t have expected much. They lapsed back into silence for what Peter actually knew this time to be hours. He just attempted to space out the best he could, letting the swaying of the Corpial’s steps lull him into a false sense of security.
When the steps finally halted he couldn’t help but be startled a bit after the long, monotonous journey. With a mighty flop, the Corpial laid on the ground. It gently placed Peter between its front legs, which were a strange blend of human and animal. Peter tried to crawl a way but a growl and a chin being placed firmly in the center of his chest left him a bit out of breath and completely immobile. Slowly resigning to his fate Peter just laid there. Sometime passed with just the two of them breathing quietly together in each other's space. It was quiet in the forest other than a few chirping bugs and the last remaining birds of the day chirping their good bye tunes. It was beautiful along with slightly terrifying. The soft swaying of the trees and the soft murmur of the breeze began to lull him into a state of calm. It was the quietest place he had ever been. The Corpial was also soothing in some ways as well. It’s steady breathing and the strong beats of its hearted added a nice touch to the sounds of the night. Had it not been a kidnapping/jail break it would have been quite romantic.
As Peter began to drift in his own thoughts, a dream-like state cast itself over his mind. As he was swept away in the river of the night a voice reached out to him from the dark.
“Sleep now my prince. Sleep and all will make sense soon.”
With such a tempting offer, how could he resist?