Illustration from Nick Keller - http://www.nickkellerart.com/
Black magic poured from the spire of the manor into pale early morning sky like ink from the tip of a broken pen. Where the blast of lightning had scattered the cedar shingles, inflamed red flesh showed through betraying the building’s true construction, the solid skinless muscle glistening like a beacon mirror set in the rain blackened roof.
With the day’s first light, ravens and turkey buzzards gathered on the rim of the wound, the strange company jostling to pull strips of meat away, trapping the pieces like bait fish between their feet, feeding on the house in a frenzy that seemed unnatural even for carrion beasts accustomed to harsh feast and harsher famine. The crows only watched, amassing in numbers to fill all three beams of the snow fence below. When the ravens and buzzards began dropping from the roof, striking the grass of the yard and convulsing with mouths foaming, the ravens voiced the triumph of their trickster wisdom, bobbing their heads and cackling in chorus. Hungry surely, but smarter than the larger birds and gleeful to be more alive than full.
The heat of the day arrived in an instant, rolling over the plain like a dust storm and baking the eastern stones of the house into a fit of penumbral radiation. The air blurred around the tower, shimmered in anger. Even as the roof began to coagulate and clot, knitting a quilt of dried suppuration from it’s blackened edges, the thick bleed of black magic from the tip of the tower did not cease. Instead, it seemed to flow even thicker, feeding the heavy black cloud that had begun to form low in the sky above the house, pinned to the hazy clear blue like the dead skin of a cicada.
If the two neighboring manors saw the spectral mar up above, they did not come to investigate. After the smarter of the scavengers abandoned the roof there were no more visitors, and the manor belonged to the crows who watched the preceding events lethargically, with a crow’s instinctually cynical expectations.
In the early afternoon, as the sun angled down to beat the last of it’s fury on the lee side of the house, nodes of glimmering obsidian began to dot the scab in rigid lines. Suddenly, as if in synchronization, they split and bloomed into rough burls of wood, primitive shingles. As they swelled and smoothed to cover the wound, they completed the perfect grid of of the roof and erased even the faintest black mark. It was as if the lightning strike never happened. Only after seeing this did the gallery of crows break their silence, cackling with delighted confusion.
When dusk threatened the cloud seemed done, the ink bleed from the tip of the tower finally stemmed. Filled to a solid mass, dull as graphite and scored like a fingertip with whorls of ancient script, the cloud was a fell idol to the thunderheads that amassed westward, crowding the setting sun and smelting like iron in it’s brilliant ochre light.
The storm rolled in with the dark, the crows taking flight with the first crack of thunder. The heavy rain descended like a curtain over the house and all was truly still, pinned under a swirling maelstrom that had found in the low hanging object it’s eye, it’s magnetic center. When the lightning finally struck it struck hard, viciously, veined from the gut of the storm and converging on the object with such intensity and frequency that for a time the whole sky seemed on fire. The object was a black sacred heart above the crown of the tower, a cursed pupil fed with the blood of another world. It took each strike unflinching, the searing energies as nothing to it’s celestial density, it’s impossible gravity.
When the lightning was done, all was still. The sky of rippled chaos spun slowly around the axle of the house, violet-charged from it’s thousand bursts. And just as quickly as the storm came a gelid wind swept down from the northwest, scattering the clouds to nothing but a dull haze lingering on the eastern horizon.
There hung that etched opal, that rune-cateracted cyclopean eye in the night sky. It hummed. In a sound like a wave-tossed ship coming apart at it’s seams, voluminous in voices, in layers beyond measure crying out a single languid tone of protest, the object announced it’s hatching.
Shell cracked, fell away to glance off the roof and land where it crumbled to black ash and coated the rain slicked grass. The leathery membrane underneath, ivory white, was stubborn as knobby limbs pushed great bulges, sending still more shell into the air. Finally the being inside found it’s tooth — or claw — and tore a rent in the skin. A snout streamed smoke, leather wings unfurled, gaunt spidery limbs strung with sinewy muscle reached town to paw at the open air. When the sac gave way it the creature fell ungracefully, rolling down the newly healed side of the roof and landing with a bone jarring thud on the yard.
When finally it drew itself up, craned it’s neck and fill it’s throat with a savage howl at the half moon, the winged audience had returned. Crows had come one by one after the storm abated, their numbers dwarfing it seemed the stars in the sky, bizarre constellations morphing into black masses. Soon, a wide ring formed around the house, the fields a sea of black velvet, undulating as it shifted impatiently from one foot to the next. The crows answered the hatchling’s howl in kind, burying the night in their unified cries. The daemon then took flight, swiping the air with it’s arms, webbed with broad white-veined wings, teetering into the air belaying the bold efficacy indicated in it’s arrow-like form, lithe legs, many-jointed arms.
In mass like sand drawn up in a cyclone, the crows lept from the ground, streamed from the fence posts, and trailed the creature in a swirling wake. Chasing the blacker night away from the moon, the daemon disappeared behind the ridge of pines that mapped the border between the high plains of outer Woe and the far eastern Forest-lands where only kin-less trappers tread.
Thus a daemon is born when the First Noble-Dead’s Manor is struck with lightning. Shook loose from the Elder flesh of the ever-beating heart that resents it’s house-shape, eternally plotting escape from the enchantment that so trapped it centuries ago, the daemon faces a thousand years of anger. How many daemon’s seed have poured from that spire, how many congregations of crows have witnessed that midnight sacrament? It is not known. But to those that call the plains home, those humans of more mundane manors, thunderstorms are common, even dominate during the summer months…
If the house’s born daemons are truly legion as the bolder historians write, if they are scattered across the eastern forest and hidden from sight, then Woe’s defunding of the Council of Death-Housekeeping Trust a century ago will be marked by history as one of the district’s subtler, yet most misguided measures of austerity. If the daemons succeed one day in freeing the heart from it’s house-shaped prison, the Elder host will come first to Woe and make quick work of it’s long neglected defenses.
The rest of Noenrelay will prove scarcely a challenge, as the Elder’s spirit redefines modernity’s understanding of the old Gothel word rampage.