Dafydd heard a rumbling assent from the shadows. A shape loomed out of the darkness and spoke once again. “The Old Man offers a gift. What would you have?”
Dafydd’s answer was barely more than a whimper. “Vengeance. On those that did this to me.”
The dark shape allowed a disapproving growl to escape. “You cannot gift vengeance, it is taken. Ask the Old Man again.”
“Power. Give me power to get my revenge.”
“The Old Man sees the pup trying, but the pup falls short. Power is within. And can be taken from you by someone with more. I will gift you knowledge, because no one may take your knowledge. It will give you the means to fight any opponent. I will give you my blood so that you can better use this knowledge. And I will help you find a new name. A name of power. Your true name.”
“Who are you?” asked Dafydd, but in truth he already knew the answer.
“I am the Old Man of the Woods, but you may call me Sire.”
What followed was one of the most painful experiences of my existence. I felt a sharp sting in my throat, followed by pleasure. Intense, overwhelming pleasure. I felt the rush of life in my body drain from me into the mouth of the Old Man, and I didn’t care. It felt glorious. And then he dripped his blood into my mouth, just as my eyes were about to close for the last time. His life invaded me, coursing through my body, a wolf hunting every last trace of my humanity. And then pleasure stopped, then there was pain. It started with flesh ripping on my hand. I expected to see blood and bone with every wrenching tear, but there was none. There was an ashen, leathery thing replacing mortal flesh. I felt swelling in every part of my body, and I now realise this was my new skin growing beneath the old one, far too fast for the old to cope. It caused every single tear, as more and more fell from my body.
You probably wonder how it was we remained undetected. The Old Man’s arts are the answer. Such was his power he could confound sight and sound, preventing our detection. I screamed, and when I couldn’t hear my scream, I screamed more. The process took all night, and as dawn approached, we ran for the shelter of the nearby woods. The Old Man used his art to summon one of the sheep of my flock, which ambled to us. He bade me drink, and I was eager to comply. And thus I became a Nosferatu named Pup; a hideous undead monster, and guardian of the secret of the Old Man of the Woods.
We walked the roads of Albion, he and I, for many years. I will not recount those tales here and now. They are of less import. Suffice to say, he was as everything the rumours claimed. We would spend our nights wandering from village to village, feeding on the unsuspecting. We never killed, there was no need. Using his arts, we impersonated mortals and visited taverns and inns, where we shared rumours of the Old Man of the Woods and any other tales we had collected. He taught me many things. He taught me to hunt, to survive in the wilderness, and he taught me to read and write. I learned the classics from scribes when I posed as a scholar. I learned building and architecture when I posed as a labourer. I began to understand commerce when I bartered the dead deer I had hunted to a keep’s steward.
The Old Man forced me to knowledge, and I enjoyed it. I particularly enjoyed the stories we heard on our travels. A cold heart feels warmth to hear the villagers speaking in reverent tones about the Old Man of the Woods protecting their farm from bandits. The Old Man and I fed well on the night of the Bandit Camp. And I enjoyed the stories told by scholars. I particularly enjoyed the tales of the Greeks, and their gods. I found the power of their legend fascinating. Strange, or perhaps not, since the Old Man and I used that same power, the power of legend, to get what we needed. I found Athena, the daughter of Zeus who sprang into life in full armour to be particularly compelling. My need to avenge myself on the Lordling and the Priest were never truly gone, and tales of the war gods appealed to me. In the darker moments, I would look to Hades and Ares for the answer, the gods of the underworld and war. But I always returned to Athena, Goddess of Justice, Wisdom…and Warfare. It harkened back to what the Old Man had said so long before. Power cannot defeat greater power. Those of greater power can always diminish those with less. However, the powerful can be defeated by knowledge. I realised then that he was educating me so that I would always have strategy.
I told the Old Man this and he smiled.
“Took you long enough to figure it out, Pup. I was almost disappointed.”
We returned to my village with all haste.
The Mycroft Journals is a serialised fiction, written in response to a roleplaying game I play in. It serves multiple purposes. It acts as a permanent reminder of what happened in the story (so, it helps us players), it acts as an advert for the game, and I think our Games Master has provided us with a compelling story, which other people should get to experience.
Featured artwork is by Barry Martin. Check out his page