Years Ago

The governor was already out of bed by the time his personal guard burst into the bedroom: four men carrying lamps and drawn swords.

“We need to move,” the captain said.

The governor was already walking, eager. There was a horrific din coming from somewhere downstairs, a continuous racket that suggested incredible violence. Wood was splintering, men screaming, glass shattering. The noise had summoned him out of a deep sleep and hadn’t abated since. It was growing progressively nearer. Louder. More intense.

The guard formed a square around him as they marched: two in front, two pressed close behind. He had his hands on the inside shoulders of the guards ahead. “Is the city under attack?” It took effort to keep the tremor out of his voice.

“We don’t know,” the captain said, behind and on the right. “We don’t know anything.”

They rounded two corners, ascended a broad staircase. He glanced left, looked all the way down the hall. Rain was battering the window pane there. Lightning flashed, and for a lingering instant he could discern smoke rising from somewhere below. The manor, on fire?

The quintet hustled into the adjudication chamber. It was the highest and most secure room in the manor, and necessitated a winding route through the manor to reach. A petitioner would need to take an impressive and circuitous path through the house to reach the chamber - plenty of time to have the weight and opulence of Radasanth’s highest office impressed upon a man. The guard split away from the governor as they entered, and the two men that had been leading pushed the heavy double doors closed and worked together to bar them. There was already an additional reserve in the chamber, four men with crossbows, two with spears, and a lieutenant with blade drawn. The lieutenant saluted.

The governor stepped up onto the dais and sat down in the impressive seat he ruled from by day. It comforted him. He hoped it impressed his authority upon the guard there - hardened their resolve. “I need information,” he said.

“Yes sir,” the captain said. There was nothing else to say.

The din below continued, muffled behind the doors and yet growing louder until it stopped near, too near.

Silence for a heartbeat, two, three.

Then a thunderous impact. Plaster and dust rained down around the door frame, crackling as it landed on the stone floor. The governor jumped, swallowed. Ten men surged forward in formation, melee forward, bowmen in the back. The captain remained at the governor’s side, his expression invisible inside his full helmet. It gave the impression of stoicism. The governor clenched the arms of his seat and pressed himself back. Nowhere to run.

Another impact. This time the wood groaned, and the governor closed his eyes. He tried to calm himself with logic. Who could organize such an attack? Overwhelm his military guardsmen? How did they carry a battering ram through the entire house?

The doors crumpled inward on the next impact, more insistent than the previous two, but the bar held. Still, the governor could see between the doors now. When he’d been in the hallway moments before, the lamps had been lit. Now it was pitch black beyond the chamber. Was this a nightmare?

Something surged out of the dark from the other side and split the bar in half with disturbing ease, and then retreated back into the darkness. The doors swung wide so fast that they lodged themselves into the walls on either side of the doorway, crooked off their hinges. A gust of humid wind rushed into the chamber, battering out most of the lamp flames. The scent of rain was on it. Somehow, the governor could hear rain pattering from somewhere in the dark. They’d put a hole in the roof? How?

The guard crouched in the semi-dark of the chamber, arrayed and ready, unflinching in their armor. Silence reigned, pregnant with menace. Something hissed angrily in the dark - not an animal, but like steam from some unholy machine. Sure enough, those standing against the dark blinked their eyes, unsure, as the steam began to glow a phosphorescent red as it formed whorls around a hulking silhouette in the doorway.

This had to be a nightmare, but the governor could not wake up.

The silhouette raised one impossibly huge arm, and pointed over the heads of the formation between itself and the governor. “You,” the red-hued shadow said. Its voice was a grinding stone, acid-raw.

“FIRE,” the captain roared.

The crossbowmen took aim synchronously, and fired as a natural part of the motion. The bolts hissed overhead, missing the spear-wielders entirely. The silhouette staggered back, punctured four times over in the chest and shoulders.

And then it stood straight and growled, and twin jets of glowing red steam surged freshly from its forearms. Now, in the burning light, they could see the apish monster before them: imposingly tall and broad, impossibly muscled, armored at the forearms, and faceless behind an Aleraran gas mask. Though all four bolts stood out straight from the man’s chest, he lumbered forward without pause or hitch, raising his hands.

The governor watched in ever-mounting horror as the brute dispatched his guard one by one with cruel efficiency. Every bone broken sent a quiver of malefic bliss across rippling shoulders. The hulking shadow relished in every last breath, greedy for death, reveling in its own invincibility.

It raised one boot and kicked straight, and the impact sent the last standing guard rocketing fifteen feet across the chamber in the blink of an eye. The airborne man collided with the line of crossbowmen before they could finish cranking their weapons for a second shot. Two of the archers were still stirring. One couldn’t get to his feet; the brute simply stepped on his head as it marched forward. The second was beaten to death with his own weapon, which didn’t take as long as it should. Good for the victim, in a way. Bad for the governor.

The nightmare turned its masked face to the captain, a sheen on its skin. It was wearing the thin remains of a shirt the governor first thought black, but it wasn’t. Saturated entirely, clinging to inhuman musculature, it was dark with blood. It had boulders for shoulders, its biceps like tree trunks. There were eyes through the red-tinted lenses of its mask, but they suggested no humanity.

The captain raised his sword and lunged forward, swinging low. The beast didn’t move or react at all. The blade slid across the monster’s thigh, opening a broad wound through its leather pants. If it felt the wound, it didn’t show it. The captain came back up, slashed across the monster’s prodigious chest to draw another wound and add a fresh layer of blood to the remains of its shirt. Then the captain took a step back, brought pommel to shoulder, and then lunged forward and plunged his blade into the brute’s abdomen.

It looked down at what should have been its death, and then raised its head, reached out casually with both hands, and grabbed the captain’s head. The governor watched, face twisted in horror, as the brute slowly deformed the captain’s helmet with his head still inside it, pectorals standing out obscenely, freshets of blood oozing from the crossbow bolts protruding from them. The captain didn’t make a sound, pushing and struggling as the helmet crumpled down smaller and smaller, until the man slowly fell to his knees, and his arms went slack. The governor could see blood and grime under the massive fingernails of those hands, sinews standing out on inhuman fingers.

The masked face came up again. “You,” the monster said. Its voice was bass, a gravely rasp inside the filtered mask.

It dropped the captain’s corpse and stepped forward, flexing its fingers, insensible to the assortment of mortal wounds displayed on its chest.

“You forgot who I am,” it said. “What you took from me. I take from you. Do you remember who I am?”

“I d-don’t,” the governor whispered, breathless, pressing himself tight back against the symbol of his authority. “I don’t know you. Please, I don’t know you.”

“I’m fear.”

The governor’s face went slack when he realized why he only had seconds left to live.

And then he died screaming.