Day 19, and the second half of Finn’s backstory, as promised.
Warm earth surrounded him as Finn inched his way along the final few yards of the tunnel before it opened into his home. His fur bristled along his back as the snarls hurled along the walls. Finn swallowed against his fear, and clung to the wall, pausing at the doorway to peer around the edge.
Dorna lay in a broken heap before the fireplace, weeping and unable to move. Chairs were overturned around the room, and Angus faced a black figure, the heavy table an obstacle between them. Blood matted the fur in streaks across Angus’s back and biceps, but he held his sword steady in front of him. He did not waver from the creature, the sword-point levelled at the thing’s chest.
Finn pulled his gaze from his mother and looked at the black creature that threatened his father. Tall enough to scrape the dirt ceiling, a wicked-looking sharp black beak dominated the creature’s bird-face. Withered feathers covered its body, bald patches of white flesh showing through. Arms jointed wrong stuck out in awkward angles, in place of wings. They appeared thin and brittle, with bedraggled feathers hanging in clumps along their length. As Finn watched, one clawed hand snapped out, catching Angus across the face and slashing at the fox’s eyes. Angus rocked with the blow, and returned with a cross-slash of his own as he rebalanced himself.
Both Angus and the bird-creature turned to look at the tiny fox fae cowering in the doorway. Even as Angus started to shout for his son to run, the creature used the distraction of a father’s love to lever the table out of the way. It attacked Angus from behind, and brought him to the ground. Finn’s cries echoed around the den, adding to the cries from his mother, and the defiant snarls from his father.
Oh, little one, my thanks. Now, the fun begins.
As the creature’s voice sounded inside his mind, Finn froze. He could not move, he could not look away. His eyes rounded with terror as he watched, helpless, and the creature clacked its beak, and bent towards the back of Angus’s neck.
It pierced the ruff of excess fur and skin there, and Angus howled with rage, and struggled for his freedom. The creature grabbed a runaway wooden bowl from the floor, cast there by their initial fight, and clouted Angus at the base of his skull. The fox drooped senseless and lay still.
The creature stood and flipped the old fox onto his back. Its eyes glinted, madness a fire within. Then it dipped its beak again to Angus’s throat, and pierced the skin. This time, it did not withdraw its beak, but cranked it open, little by little, tearing the fox-skin to make a sickening Y-shape just under Angus’s jaw.
Finn rushed forward to stop it, but a quick flash of pain and he bowled end over end across the floor, catching up against the warmth of his mother. Dorna embraced her son, and rocked him, shushing with nonsense sounds through her own tears. Together, they watched as the creature clacked its beak – its perversion of laughter – and selected a filleting knife from the utensils spilled around the room. It pointed the sharp blade at the whimpering foxes.
Do nothing. Or the pup will be next.
It almost winked at them, and bent again to its work. The knife slid neatly into the wound, and the creature sawed carefully, separating the skin from the flesh. Angus, roused by the intense pain, howled and struggled again. The creature – so much taller, longer reach – sat on the fox’s thighs, its own legs stretched out and forward to pin Angus’s arms to the floor. It snickered, and moved again to flay the skin from his hated enemy, inch by inch, keeping the fox alive for as long as he could.
Though Dorna tried to keep him from seeing, struggling to push his face over her shoulder to face the guttering embers in the fireplace behind, Finn would not allow it. He kept his eyes on the meat-raw body of his father, who still lived – barely – panting on the dirt floor of their home. He would rather look at that than at the creature who pranced about the den, wearing Angus’s blood-soaked skin over his head. The once-proud brush of Angus’s tail drooped down the creature’s back. Its caws were filled with victorious mirth that sickened Finn, but he couldn’t escape the sound.
That was fun. Let’s do it again.
And the clawed hands reached for Finn.
His mother shrieked, howling and battering at the creature, as Finn was flung to the far side of the room. He landed a few paces from Angus’s battered body, and he heard the last gasp of ‘no’, saw the twitch of his father’s hand reach for him. Then Angus was still.
Finn was torn between holding his father one last time, and touching the monstrous meat he had become. But the choice did not matter, as the creature descended upon him. Finn howled and scrambled back. A swooping motion in front of him, and then everything went black.
It smelled bad. And Finn heard his mother’s shrieks, the creature’s clattering laughter, and a sickening thud. Then all was quiet. Finn scrabbled at his face, dragging the darkness from his eyes, and found he was holding his father’s fur. He flung it from him, sobbing, calling to his mother.
Her silence was underscored by the clattering beak-laugh, and Finn knew he could not witness his mother’s torment. Whimpering, he buried his face in the fading fur of his father, trying to find comfort in the familiar smell and the darkness.
But again, he could not stop hearing her cries.
The Guardians arrived in time to save Finn, but it was too late for Dorna. The creature fought insanely; several Guardians were injured. The restricted size of the den worked in their favour, and the creature was overpowered and restrained. They dragged it from the den, its eyes rolling and beak clattering. They almost missed Finn as a survivor; he was curled up still in his father’s skin, eyes wide and empty. The captain lifted Finn from the bloody mess on the floor, and received a new scar across his muzzle for his compassion. Finn hissed and snarled and spat, and the captain had to struggle to calm the young fox almost as much as with the creature. He carried Finn along the tunnel and set him at the mouth, facing outside to the thicket.
Finn staggered into sunlight and freedom, covered in blood and tears. Threven scooped the young fox fae into his arms and turned from the copse of trees, shielding him from the horrors within.