[P] [M] << REW/FFD >> Colossians 3:22
№ 1: the challenge | Eris

WARNING: This thread contains material exceeding the general board rating of PG-13. It may contain very strong language, drug usage, graphic violence, or graphic sexual content. Reader discretion is advised.

Specifically, this thread is marked mature because of: torture.

OOC: Set near the Serpentine Mountains in the early morning.

”Evening.” Egregore grinned with his hunger twisted plainly into his lips.

The early morning fog sat densely amid the wood’s dark leaves and gnarled branches. Morning dew lazily collected in beads that slowly formed into fat drops. The same moisture condensed on Egregore’s fur and the pelt of another. The outsider’s golden mane frizzed up thanks to the morning humidity.

The fear Egregore tasted was likely another contributor to how this outsider’s fur fluffed up.

”Wh - who are you?” Anton demanded.

In spite of the bite in his words, Anton’s arms curled closely into his own chest. He took his long blond braid into his sunbleach fingers. He fiddled with it nervously.

Mind remained patient in his silence. Timing was essential when it came to strategy. Egregore fought much more than physical battles. He softened his sharp smile for Anton.  A beat of quiet eased up the jovian pressure thick on the early morning air. Anton thought Egregore looked familiar. Mind saw the curious intrigue in Anton’s tremoring hesitation and his stuttering lips.

”My name is Svyatoslav,” Egregore told him.

It was an odd alias to evoke, if Egregore could call it one. Naught a soul spoke his birth name these days unless they wanted to lose their tongue. It was a useful tool in his kit for this case, so this was an exception. Sure enough, when Anton heard a name that sounded similar in origin to Lev’s, he relaxed. Anton dropped his braid from his fidgeting fingers and nodded.

”Do you… do you know Lev?” Anton asked.

Anton’s sun yellow eyes widened in questioning and implored for answer. When Egregore nodded, a smile of Anton’s own came to his face.

”I thought you might, you look a lot like Lev,” Anton said.

”I know, I get that a lot. I’m his brother is why. Say, how would you like to come with me to see Lev again?”

Anton gasped, overjoyed. The jackal’s diffidence vanished completely. He willingly approached Egregore with his hands clasped together in gratitude.

”Thank you, Svyatoslav. Can we go now?”

”Of course, silly. You know, Lev told me aaall about you,” Egregore lied.

”Really? Wow, I thought he didn’t like me anymore with how he disappeared.”

”Hah, that’s to be expected. Typical of Lev, really. I wouldn’t take it personally, I bet he was just scared.” Egregore laughed.

”Haha, yeah… I was hoping so, anyway. It sounded like he was just worried he might hurt me, but I trust him.” Anton giggled nervously. ”Lead the way.”

”Naturally. He should be on the other side of this mountain in our cabin still.”

”Svyatoslav, are you sure Lev is in there? That cabin looks pretty empty,” Anton said.

Anton’s nervousness was back full-force. If Egregore did not act fast, his target might bolt. Egregore slowly approached Anton from behind in a creeping stalk. He carefully pulled his club from where it sat strapped to his belt. He wound the weapon back and, with a sudden uptick in speed, slammed it into the back of Anton’s head.

The small jackal dropped like a stone. He knew nothing. With all the striking grace of a proper snake, Egregore snatched Anton by his legs and dragged him through the front door. Anton’s limp hands were the last part of him to disappear into the dark side.

Behind the lids of his closed eyes, Anton dreamed. He remembered the night he met Lev.

Their first conversation and dance was ethereal.

The golden candleflame bathed both of them in light as they danced and whirled together. He enjoyed his company, so Anton did not mind the secrets Lev laid. He refused to ever forget that first time he saw his face or anything that came after. Since then, Anton was never the same. He felt alive, more than he ever had before.

Their connection put Anton on the darkest possible path his life could have taken.

Against better judgment, Anton followed after Lev when he vanished from Portland. He had to satisfy the yearning in his heart. Lev’s silvery fingers, his colorful eyes, voice and art – it all lured Anton into an unseen trap.

Lev made it too easy for Egregore to rip this joy away from him. Mind and Soul would not waste an opportunity for demonstration.

Eris had much to learn from their multifaceted father yet.

”She's going to love this lesson, Soul.”

Mind’s excitement was audible when he spoke to himselves. Soul’s consciousness stirred. The disturbance irritated him until he saw what Mind had found through Egregore’s eyes.

”<Yes, she will. Once you’re finished with binding the subject, you should send the owl for Eris. She will want to come immediately.>”

Egregore cackled to himselves. The laughter broke in half and changed pitch in the middle, something characteristic of the egregore.
They waited in the forest. It was the place where they felt the most at home, with the loam and the blood as they had told Farron Belgrave once. The loam was perpetual, the blood only some of the time. Eris licked some of the carmine liquid from their blade before it would drip onto the ground. Waste, they hated waste. They would not allow any of the blood to be lost from their captured prey.

It had been some time since their father went off to whatever it was he needed to do. They were to await some sort of signal, a call to work. In the meantime, they were moving through forests they did not normally roam and they were practicing. First, they had gathered poisons. Bits of this and that which they could use to test later. Then they had caught something in one of their previously set traps. A hare. It wasn't much, but it was something. It was food, it was pelt, it was organ and bone and eye and brain... they had field dressed it for now. Later they would eat it.

An owl came on quiet wings and they looked at it. It is time, they thought, and carefully cleaned the rest of their blade before sheathing it. The rabbit went into their backpack - the one they had earned at the Lancaster Stockshow, it was quite useful - and they began to walk toward the cabin.

The bird announced them before they had even arrived. They knocked in a sequence that would signal to Egregore that they were the one at the door. Then they entered without waiting for response; the knock had been to verify that they were not some stranger come to attempt a robbery. The bird's hoot should have warned him, too, but they were ever cautious when it came to their father. Depending which iteration he was right now, he could be volatile.

Their two-toned gaze looked around the room and caught on the bound jackal. They dropped their bag by the door and moved toward their father, awaiting his explanation and the beginning of what they assumed would be an interesting study of a living body. Their gaze did not slip back to the Stranger after that initial assessment; he was not important beyond his usefulness as an object of study.
The owl’s announcement fell on Egregore’s ears in a twitch. Once he knew Eris was on her way, he had no further use for the owl for tonight. He sent the bird to fly home. With its return home, his mate would know that he was still out there working. If she had need of him, she would send the owl back.

Eris arrived.

His student was sharp. One day, she would grow sharper than he. That was the goal. Each day she showed him what she learned from him and everyone else in the kingdom of thistle and thorn. She knocked subtly on the door and entered without further sound. Quick, quiet, efficient.

She brushed up to his side. Her fierce, calculating gaze took in what she likely guessed was her newest toy.

”There you are. Just in time. Look, your subject is stirring.”

Egregore nudged Anton’s leg with his foot. The jackal startled awake with a cry. His golden eyes darted about in panic. He noticed the rope that bound him tightly. He struggled and snapped about in his desperation to escape. It was no use. The knots that held him there were too carefully placed. His muzzle was free, but all he could do was scream.

”What’s happening? W-where’s Lev? Who are you really, and who is that?”

Mind pinched Egregore's face into annoyance.

”Shut him up for me please, Eris.”
Eris did not look at the Stranger with cruelty in their sharp two-toned eyes. They looked at him with nothing at all. There was a divot in teir soul where emotion should have formed to curate their experience in this matter: cruelty, excitement, desire, lust, empathy, fear... something should have erupted in their chest and made them feel. And yet it did not. There was only a passive awareness that he was still alive, his pulse throbbing a beat in his neck that was more obvious because he was afraid. They could smell and see that, as he was broadcasting it to everyone with a nose.

A sharp cry came from him as he woke from whatever had been done to him. The rope kept him bound tight. They did not move away from him, as he was outside jaw range of their body parts and his hands were clearly well-managed. Egregore did not make mistakes in these things, Eris could trust that the subject could not get to them and cause them harm. If they were ever to die due to their father's choices, it would be by his own hand they assumed.

They were told to shut up the yapping jackal. Eris assessed the current bindings and then moved around behind the jackal's prone form, taking rope and tying it around the muzzle tightly. The Stranger had a nose to breathe, he did not need his mouth for it. It might hurt that he had been bound so tight, but they could not find it in themselves to care. The comfort of their subject was not Eris Prizmov's concern.
Anton’s eyes ballooned until they were practically the size of twin dinner plates. The look this younger wolf wore told Anton she would not bat a single eyelash if Lev’s brother put him on a real dinner plate. He did his best to squirm away from Eris’ grasp. It was no use.

He called for help.

”Help! Help me Lev, please, somebody, anybody, help me!”

Nobody came.

Eris descended upon him. Egregore untensed his face once his daughter had the rope knotted around his muzzle. He shook his head with a click of his tongue and paced closer to Anton.

”No one can hear you scream out in the wilderness.”

Anton whimpered.

”You want to know who I am? I will tell you.”

Egregore picked up a wooden staff from where it rested along the wall. He tapped it atop the floor rhythmically. A pregnant, wordless pause bloated the room uncomfortably with dark pressure. Only the staff’s rhythmic beat broke the silence.[/url] It stretched on. And on. Until Anton wished he was dead already.

”I am your master. You will be my servant. You owe me a life’s debt for threatening to ruin my brother’s life and stalking him to his new home.”

He continued to tap his staff. Anton’s head swam.

”From this day forward, you answer my every beck and call. You listen to my every command. You follow my will.”

Egregore offered the wooden staff to Eris for her to take. He nodded at her. The taking of this baton symbolized something else between this father and daughter.

”<Keep tapping this on the floor for me, please,>” he asked in Ukrainian.

Anton's eyes switched rapidly between Egregore – his new master – and Eris, someone that resembled him well. He let out another whine when he spoke in a language he did not know. He had no idea what they planned to do with him, no, he had no idea what they had already started to do to him.

His head throbbed from how hard his master hit him. Or was the pressure in his head from whatever they were doing with the staff?

Anton’s struggling motions slowed.

”That’s right, shhh. We’ll take good care of you despite your transgression. You may even earn your freedom back someday, and you’ll get a safe place to stay and eat. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
They had discussed with their father the things that could be done to warp and shape a mind. How pain could enforce a lesson harder than other things. The rhythm of a body and how it could be reshaped. It was all conceptual and they were interested to see it in practice. Keeping someone alive for some secondary purpose could become necessary for them. Eris didn't generally want to tend living things, but it was important to have a balance of skills.

He called for Lev, which they noted with interest. What was this captive jackal to their uncle? How particular their father had been in plucking this specific canine for the purpose of molding. What game was it that their father and uncle played with each other, and who would be dead at the end? For it was becoming clear that death was the likely ending for this whole situation, for one Prizmov or another.

The tap tap tap of the staff had a forceful rhythm that Eris found grating. It was necessary, they were sure, for the actions their father was undertaking and the brainwashing he was doing... didn't make it less annoying to someone who was merely attending the event. Of course it was more than just annoying to the Stranger, but they weren't concerned about his comfort. He had to be uncomfortable to strip away the layers until all that was left was a committed, diligent servant that wanted nothing more than to do as he was commanded. If Eris attended something like this again and they were not the practitioner, they thought they would stuff their ears with something to dull the beat of the stick.

Egregore spoke of what the Stranger had done, and yet they did not think there was truth in what he had said. Perhaps there was. But since Anton had called out for Lev, she doubted it. Obviously he had not been a likely stalker. This was a reshaping of memory, a recreation of events that would suit the Prizmov patriarch better. She took the stick from his hand and continued the rhythm he had started with barely a lull between when he was doing it and when she was.

Now their father had switched to a soft version of himself, a gentle version; she did not think there had been a switch between personas, it was simply a different part of the same brainwashing technique. He had to create himself as the benevolent master. Even though they both knew he never would be that in truth. Egregore would probably eventually discard of this toy as he had others. Then Eris could explore his corpse more fully than she could right now while he was alive.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, the stick's beat continued.
Eris’ silence underscored the true horror of the situation with the depth of heaviest shadow. She learned from the best.

Anton Goldkill’s struggles slowed into trembles, and then…


Egregore’s grin grew.

”See? You don’t need to be afraid. I’ve got you now. I will save you from your own foolishness and sin.”

He drew closer in to his target, his newest plaything, his cattle. He was a real idiot for straying into the shadow where death lurked. This was not the first one that Egregore swept up into his clutches, and he was far from the last.

Egregore loomed over the jackal, their faces bare inches apart. He lifted a hand. He rested his thumb over his middle finger. He snapped it against his index. Over. And over. And over.

The jackal’s expression went blank.

”I am Paladin Egregore Prizmov, but you may only call me Master or Master Prizmov. Your name is Styx Prismshard.”

Snap, snap, snap. Tap, tap, tap. The awful noise ground on until the jackal knew nothing once more.

Egregore dropped his hand and ceased his snapping.

”<Stop tapping the staff, please. Thank you for helping me, Eris.>” In Ukrainian, his instructions rang precise, clear and unswaying.

He deftly untied and freed Styx Prismshard from his bonds. The jackal stared up at his new master, his faraway eyes trapped in a honeyed daze. He made no move for escape.

”See? It’s okay. You have nothing to run from, nothing to fear. All is well. C’mon, stand up, let’s go home,” he cooed.

Styx stood from his chair and obediently found his way to his master’s side. Egregore turned to Eris and took the staff back into his own hands.

”<And that, my child, is how you break a canine like you would an equine. I hope this lesson comes in handy for you later.>”

Egregore Prizmov's B.I.T.E. was far worse than his bark.
The whimpering slowed and then ceased, as if the bits of the jackal's brain had been ground down until he didn't know how to make sound. Or perhaps the Stranger had just taken in everything that Egregore said so heavily that there was no need anymore for noises. It was part of the repetition that removed from the mind its own agency. They were impressed by it, though they wondered if it was something they'd ever need to use. A dead body seemed more useful to them. They did not want to maintain, feed, and manage a servant. Not even a docile one.

Their father snapped, the steady sound of his fingers meeting with and merging with the stick's tapping in a way that they found maddening. Their ears folded back and they once again knew that next time - if there was a next time - they would put something in their ears to block the persistent noise. It grated and they could see why someone already in a vulnerable position would struggle to break free of its monotony.

The Stranger had a new name and they would not bother to remember the old one. Styx Prismshard. The last name was interesting, a splinter of what the Prizmovs were. A creature that was less than and yet connected to the House Prizmov. It was appropriate. The first name meant something about death. The old jackal was dead, the new jackal rose in its place. A jackal that would be obedient to his master because his mind didn't know how to do anything else anymore. Eris wondered how much this had to be repeated to keep it in the mind; surely it was not just one forced session such as this to get one compliant forever? They'd ask later.

Egregore spoke in Ukranian and they ceased as he had said, switching the stick to their off hand so that they could flex the fingers that had gripped it for so long. Stretch, flex, stretch, flex... the silence was so nice after all the repetitive noise. Their father was talking in comforting tones to the new servant. Styx seemed as well-mannered as a well-trained pet. They did not trust this entirely. Could a brain really be rewired that easily?

They released the stick to their father's grip. "<How long do the effects last?>" a horse's training had to be continued, they assumed so did a jackal's.

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