The One Who’s Damned; a Tale of Gluttony

Here’s the second installment of the seven deadly sins character series. Up next is Endryn, whom I’ve only ever written about once before. This story takes place significantly earlier in his timeline.
. . .

The voices whispered in his head every day from dawn till dusk. Then they screamed.

He spent his nights huddled beneath the blankets of his too-large bed, in the middle of his empty house, shivering despite his best attempts to stay warm, desperately clinging to his last shred of sanity. By dawn, he was exhausted enough to sleep, but the voices whispered even in his dreams. There they had faces, teeth and hands, which they used to harry his incorporeal travels.

By the end of the third day his bravado had vanished. By the end of the first week, he was certain he would lose his mind. And with each passing day he wondered, increasingly, why he did not. It might have been a comfort if he had descended into frothing madness. The locals would have had an excuse to put an arrow through his heart and he would never have had to explain what he did.

The second week, haunted by the ghosts his heart had summoned into the house, and praying that natural voices would drown out the whispers, Endryn went into the village. Try though he did to ignore the rumors murmured behind his back, it was impossible not hear them. It was as if his ears gobbled every nearby word, snatching them hungrily from the air.

He pulled up the hood of his cloak to mask his face until he reached the local tavern, one of only a few businesses left. It was surprising that more families hadn’t fled in the late days of the plague. Then again, the war didn’t leave much recourse for simple folks. Sometimes it was easier to face the terrors you knew. Perhaps he should have thought of that sooner.

The trouble with this particular tavern was that it had no shady corners, no out of the way tables for private conversations or brooding. It had been designed to be bright and open, drawing the visitors into the warm atmosphere and encouraging them to interact. And it had been a popular place before the ravages of illness and tax had driven most of the mirth from the village.

Endryn positioned himself near the hearth, appreciating the steady heat generated by the murmuring flames. He’d been there less than five minutes when a woman set a pint of ale in front of him.

“Stars and stones, Endryn!” she hissed, “you look like a walking corpse!”

Endryn wanted to narrow his eyes, to look fierce and reproachful, but he imagined he only managed to look more miserable. Instead he lifted the pint to his lips, but he couldn’t keep his hand from shaking.

The tavern owner shifted, momentarily blocking him from the view of the rest of her patrons. Not that there were many, but he could understand wanting to keep their conversation private.

“You haven’t caught that cursed plague, have you?”

“For gods’ sake, Astrid, you think I’d expose the rest of you if I had?” He spat the words, not bothering to hide his venom that she, of all people, should think so little of him.

Astrid frowned but nodded, clearly willing to take him at his word. “I’m sorry, Endryn, but I didn’t think it would still be this bad. I thought you would… Well, I’d have been by to check on you if I had realized it was still affecting you this much.”

He tried to sip from the ale, but he barely tasted it. He set the mug aside and closed his eyes. Now was no time for a lecture, not to the one person who still halfway regarded him as a friend. He was hardly the only one who had lost someone they loved. But knowing that hadn’t made much difference, especially since he had long felt he was the only one with the power to do something about it.

“What did you do?” Asrid’s voice so close to his ears startled him back to the moment. His eyes shot open and he almost launched himself out of his chair. He gripped the edge of the table to hold himself in place, the black leather gloves he wore squeaking softly.

“What kind of question is that?” he hissed through clenched teeth, hoping he was already as pale as he could possibly get.

“The kind a person who knows you would ask,” Astrid retorted as she straightened. “You don’t have to do this alone, you know. I don’t think that’s what she would have wanted.”

“Does it matter anymore?” his voice cracked. Were the desires of the dead allowed to affect the living?

Astrid gave him a hard look, the kind she usually reserved for men making a scene in her tavern. “It matters,” was all she said before she walked away.

Endryn glanced across the main room of the tavern. It was wide in one direction but narrow in the other so that the single large fireplace was enough to keep it warm even in the dead of winter. It put him some distance from the bar, but perhaps that was for the best; Astrid wouldn’t be able to watch him like a hawk. There were only a dozen other patrons, scattered across half a dozen tables and it was impossible to miss the way many of them glanced at him out of the corners of their eyes, trying to pretend they weren’t interested.

He turned back to the pint and forced himself to drink, no matter how tasteless the liquid. He should probably try to eat while he was here as well, even if everything had begun to taste like ash.

“Bet it was him…”

Endryn bit his tongue.

“Started this whole mess…”

The greater his efforts to block them out, the louder the voices swirled around him.

What’s the point? One of the whispers demanded, louder than usual. Why let them talk about you as if you’re a criminal? What’s the point of having such power if you never intend to use it.

He bit the inside of his lip until it bled. Usually the sting kept the voices at bay, but this time all he noticed was the sharp taste of iron on his tongue, one of the few things he could still taste.

It couldn’t hurt to give it a try. It might make things better.

“Who knows what he gets up to locked in that house with all those strange books…”

“Never did like him. Don’t know what she saw in him either…”

They aren’t going to stop until you make them. Neither are we.

“Bet he did it to her himself-“

Endryn slammed one gloved fist onto the table. The pint clattered off the edge and shattered against the floor, spilling golden liquid everywhere. All eyes turned openly to him now.

“There a problem?” the man who had just insinuated that he had killed his own wife sneered, a cocksure grin on his face.

“You don’t know?” Endryn growled back through clenched teeth. “Shouldn’t you keep your damned mouth closed if you don’t know what you’re talking about?” The people of this village were fools; always had been. He hadn’t ever wanted to stay here in the first place, that wasn’t just the voices whispering eagerly in the back of his head to encourage his anger. He would have had an easier time at his work in one of the cities, but she had loved this place, had begged him to stay.

“Oh, I’m the one who’s damned now?”

It was the laughter that set him over the edge, the laughter that the men in the rest of the tables joined, a mocking chorus of heartless bastards. They had no concept of his work, no understanding of what it might mean, and not just for him.

He ripped the black glove off of his right hand with his teeth before he even realized what he was doing. As he stalked across the room, he dropped it into his left hand and, from there, into a pocket. The sneering patron was stunned when his hand cracked hard across his face, leaving more than the usual red mark.

In fact the Endryn’s victim stumbled backward, grasping at the lower half of his jaw. When his hands came away, they were covered in blood. Even Endryn stared for a moment; in a few seconds of contact he had somehow managed to remove a significant amount of flesh from the man’s face.

But it was more than that. He could taste the remains of the ale on his tongue now, rich with the spices that had been used in its fermentation. It seemed to him if he took another sip, he would taste it more keenly than he ever had before.

The moment passed, and the rest of the bar patrons found their courage. In a matter of moments they could surround him, and probably beat him to death if they wanted to. Not that Astrid would allow it. But he wasn’t about to let them get away with all their petty nonsense.

He slammed his bare palm onto the nearest table and, this time, he left it there.

The effect was immediate, though it took several seconds to become noticeable. The spread was slower against the polished wood than it had been against flesh. Slowly and steadily, the gleam went out of the hard wood and it began to crack and splinter. Then it began to rot, the smell of mildew filling the air.

With gasps of horror, the men so intent on wringing his neck jumped backward, and Endryn realized the effect had spread far beyond the single table. Cracks had begun to form along the floor, the wood turned dull and grey in advance of their spread. And if he focused just so, Endryn realized he could control their direction.

He was tempted to widen one of those cracks, to open the floor enough to swallow the smug bastard whole, but a wooden tray came down hard on his head and he stumbled backward, loosing contact with the table.

Power rushed over him, a heady sensation quite similar to drinking too much of Astrid’s fine ale. For a moment his head swam, and he could think of nothing but resuming his previous position.

A yawning hunger and a clamping of his stomach chased the haze away, grounding him firmly in the moment. He knew at once that it was only half physical hunger from his lack of appetite lately, and half the desire of the thing inside him to drain more of the vitality from his surroundings.

He shoved his hand into his pocket, found the glove and fumbled to shove it back into place even as Astrid admonished him out the door and around the side of the building. She was almost like an angry swarm of bees, saying nothing he could make sense of, but making her displeasure well-known.

Eventually she drew a deep breath and fell silent. Waiting for him to speak. But what was he supposed to say?

“Gods damn you, Endryn,” she snarled at last, “if you do something that makes me lose this tavern.”

“That’s what you’re concerned about?” he demanded, face burning with the heat of his sudden anger. So much for old friendships.

Asrid’s eyes bored through his. “You’ve clearly made your decision. Grief I could have helped you with. But this?” She shook her head.

He closed his eyes again for a moment. The voices were strangely silent. He barely knew what to do with that blessing. “It isn’t what you think. I lost my temper. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Astrid murmured. “So am I.” A moment passed and she almost seemed to soften. “You need food? I’ll bring some by the house this evening. Maybe it’s better for all of us if you keep your studies confined there.”

She stalked away before he had a chance to answer. He was torn between gratitude and frustration, between anger and wonder. He hadn’t known what he was getting into, that was certain. But it wasn’t at all what he expected. It could be terrible, true, but perhaps it could also be tamed. And perhaps, if he could learn its secrets, he would be able to reach his goal. The world was bound to be less miserable if he could nourish and refresh himself again. Perhaps, he might even get a decent night’s sleep.

But as he pulled the hood of the cloak back over his head and trudged back to the house, he was torn between caution and curiosity. If the being that lived inside his hand could rot a table in within seconds, what could it do if he unleashed it and allowed it to feed as it pleased?

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Don’t forget to check out what my writing partner‘s second installment in this series: greed.

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