Gilda Laurent had a bit of a reputation in her hometown. The young blonde tended to get in trouble, more often than not, out of a mix of tomboyish energy and a fascination with money that bordered on the avaricious. More than once, she had been caught tricking the other children her age, and some older, into giving over their allowances through false promises and sly tricks.
It was a fascination she would carry over into adulthood, where she carried gilded guns and bore the name Goldie with unironic enjoyment. Before then though, she was the daughter of a salesman with a general store.
She still remembered the night the store was burned and the sight of her father being ripped in two by the dual heads of a hellhound.
Domestication had a way of warping things. Boars became hogs, oxen became cattle, and wolves became hounds. For all their instinct to follow those more powerful than them, a varc would not allow itself to be domesticated by human hands. A warlock was a different matter though.
Magic did not come naturally to mankind. Tools could be utilized, weapons could be crafted, but using the art would inevitably alter. To channel flame was to burn, to channel frost was to freeze, to transfigure was to transform, to do anything with power beyond humanity was to become something other than human. Not greater, necessarily, but other, most certainly.
Warlocks always had three eyes, the third forcibly opened. An enlightenment undeserved, leaving the hole in their skull bleeding when they strained. They strained often, seeking things beyond them, and the hole grows until there is more emptiness than skull, an eye in a void. But few live long enough or push deep enough for that to be a factor.
Most warlocks were petty creatures. Seeking power, seeking majesty, incapable of seizing anything for themselves and demanding the aid of devils to do so. There were dark things, patrons, willing to give power for prices, and warlocks were those who were willing to call upon them.
Hellhounds, then, were their guard dogs. Varcolac, bound in deviled chains until their fur blackens, their skin burns away, and a second head pushes out from their collar. Every hellhound has two heads: one to hunger and one to obey. The hungering head was the natural monstrosity, yearning for flesh and blood to fill its maw, and it would not tolerate a master. An alfa, a superior, but not a master.
The obedient head was born for that purpose. It made the monster tame, in as much as it could be tamed. It would follow orders and carry them out with a desperate yearning, eager to please. It would savage anything, murder and mutiliate, clamp its jaws around any throat, no matter how tiny, and rend whatever flesh it could clamp between its teeth. The heads were in agreement there, and most in sync when they mauled a selected victim. Otherwise though, they were erratic at best.
It was not unusual for the heads to tug at one another. To fight, to bite, to rip their own ears off in a conflict of instincts. They could not rip their own throats out, not without killing themselves, so the threat of pain and cold death kept them in line even as the flames beneath their fur burned all the brighter.
Gilda remembered those flames. They always burned when she closed her eyes. The flames of her home, the fires that scarred her mind, but not her skin. She would not join the Burned or the Crowned anytime soon.
Even the campfire made her skin crawl. Lanterns were better. One marked the arrival of her friend in black, who was pulling a face she hadn’t seen before by the back of his torn jacket.
The Hound blinked in the firelight, one of his eyes swollen shut. “So you’re the one looking for me then.”
“…It is you then. I was wondering if it would be.”
“You didn’t know? What, were you just looking for whoever sounded the most like a dog to you?”
She cracked a smile. “Essentially. I was looking for a hound, you went by Hound–”
“I never went by Hound. It was a nickname given to me, one I do not particularly like. I would prefer it if you do not use it.”
“You’d prefer it. I see. You would prefer I don’t call you a mangy, filthy, murderous mongrel, and instead call you…what, exactly?”
“No, you can call me a mangy, filthy, murderous mongrel. Just don’t call me Hound.”
She laughed. It echoed in the dark. The fire glinted off the gold of her shotgun as she pressed it against his forehead.
“What happened to your master?”
It was an answer she expected, but she still scowled. “At your hand?”
“No. Not my teeth either. I don’t know her name. It was some sorceress. She wanted to see what would happen if a hellhound ate his master’s heart.” He smiled. “Apparently it grants freedom. True freedom, from obedience and hunger, by giving them a new head.”
“You have three heads?”
“I do. A slave to hunger, a slave to master, and a free dog.”
“So what? What does that mean to me? You killed my family and friends and burned down everything I knew! Why should you get to live after that?!”
He shrugged. Of all things, he shrugged. “I want to live. I had a feeling a time like this would come though.”
He looked up at the night sky. “It was a strange feeling, becoming aware. No longer being bound by any instinct, having the sense of a man again instead of a beast. My body became all the more monstrous though. My spine grew ridged, my shoulders broadened, my tail became a dragon’s…Yet I could take a human shape again. I could stuff that all down into this suit of meat in front of you. I think it pushed me closer to the devil. To become a devil. And I lived. For the first time in a very long time, I lived and could choose what I became.”
“Have you killed anyone since you became a ‘man’?” Gilda asked, derision plain in her voice.
“Certainly. Not by teeth or by claws, but by setting them up.” He glanced towards Bonnie. “I do apologize for that, by the way. I don’t want to die.”
Bonnie shrugged. In her experience, most things didn’t.
“Why?” Gilda’s voice was pained. She was too disciplined to put her finger on the trigger, but it itched to press it down all the same. “Did your master even give you a reason why we had to die?”
“No. I’m sorry. I don’t think there was any purpose to it besides reveling in his power.”
Bonnie walked away then. She didn’t need to see how it ended.
Ramon couldn’t kill Goldie.
Goldie could kill Ramon.
That meant it was Goldie’s choice, and she wouldn’t involve herself there.
If a gunshot rang out in the night, she didn’t hear it.