Finally, when night came, Hamelin could shake off his lazy charade and perk up. He sat up in his bed and looked out the window, where two pale moons looked down at him from above. This sight had been the first warning that he was no longer in his own world.
Later, as he had stolen into the study and night to read the books on history, his suspicion had only been confirmed. He was no longer in the world where his people had ruled the underworld — rather, he was in a land which knew nothing about vexen.
For a time, this had saddened Hamelin. Not that he missed his people, but he missed the schemes and trickery they were experts in. However, realizing that this land knew nothing about the devious nature of vexen, meant he had an entire world in which to sow chaos. That idea made him quite excited.
For now, he needed to grow up, fast. He flung his feet over the edge of the bed and opened the shutters, leaping out into the night. The air was cold and clammy, as fresh spring rains were currently inundating the land with water.
Nonetheless, the night was his realm, and Hamelin reveled in the freedom. There were no one about, everyone was turned in for the night. The manor was so small and peaceful it did not even require a guard at night, leaving Hamelin free to pursue his wants as he pleased.
With powerful leaps, Hamelin scampered down the roof and onto the ground, then rushed through the garden to reach the manor gate. He crawled over the low, stone wall, separating the manor grounds from the road.
Once down on the road, he was across to the forest, quick as lightning. The darkness no longer bothered him, after two years of ingesting disease to break down his body, then using the gift and his skills as a withermancer to reforge his body. Now that the gift was a part of him, he had been able to use it to reinforce his body’s constitution, allowing his immune system to take on more powerful diseases, break them down and store their information.
In his human body, this process — which should have been second-nature to a true vexen — had been unnecessarily painful, leaving him sick and wasting in bed for long periods of time.
This was how withermancers grew powerful, although he had to borrow the power of the gift, now that he could not rely on his vexen constitution. His weak body had been a setback, but Hamelin was also starting to see the benefits of being human.
Vexen were short-lived creatures, who grew fast and died young — mostly due to blades in the back, rather than old age. A vexen could at most look forward to twelve or fifteen years, unless they were gifted enough to become withermancers or be blessed by the Lord of Pestilence.
As a five-year-old human, Hamelin would have been weaker than his vexen peers, but compared to humans, Hamelin was monstrous.
Darting in between the trees, using his darkvision and sense of smell, Hamelin sought his destination with anticipation growing within. He came upon the clearing within, so deep in the woods that the local hunters rarely dared venture here.
Here, Hamelin perfected his mutagenic improvements and withermancy away from prying eyes, experimenting with his new body and its potential. His bare feet touched the soft ground in the middle of the clearing, and he looked around, assessing the surroundings.
A small shelter stood at the edge, where he would sit and excite his diseases, breaking down and reinforcing his body. The ground was strewn with bark and splintered wood, making it impossible to tread here barefoot and not receive injuries — for normal humans.
The trees surrounding the clearing were all marked with terrible marks, long scratches from the claws of some immense animal. Hamelin grinned, his teeth flashing silver. Stretching out his hands, he used the bodily control he had cultivated over two years to break every bone in his hands, then used the gift to mend and reforge them.
It was an excruciatingly painful process, but there was meaning to the madness. Human hands were weak and useless, and he refused to live without the most prized possession of a true vexen. Between the destructive power of his withermancy, and the mending power of the gift, his fingers elongated and his nails turned into sharp points.
Finally, he had his claws back.
Exalting in his return to form, Hamelin began his first routine: sharpening his skills. The first weapon of a ratling was its claws, and the first skill it learned was how to use them. Even if he had mastered the vexen martial arts in his former life, Hamelin was currently a child, and he needed to train his body from scratch.
Using the sturdy trees, Hamelin was conditioning his body by continuously striking the hard surface and using the gift to regrow the broken skin and bones that resulted. This training was much harsher than any of the sword-training the Whitter brothers engaged in, which would be pointless to Hamelin.
Before his body was fully conditioned, he would only slow his growth down by wielding a weapon. As such he simply struck the surrounding trees in a dizzying display of pirouettes, kicks, leaps, and slashes. Using every inch of his body, from his fingertips to shoulders, feet to knees, head to lower back, he was broken and bleeding within the first hour.
Finally having exhausted all of his strength, Hamelin sat down beneath the shelter and focused his haggard breath. The foundation of withermancy was control of the immune system. Over these past two years, Hamelin had sought out every dirty nook of the Whitter estate, rounding up all the disease he could gather, ingesting it until his body almost broke apart and used the process of healing to make subtle changes.
Hamelin felt he was close to a breakthrough in power. This night, as the moonlight dimly lit up the clearing, the efforts he had gone through over the past two years were finally bearing fruit. The diseases he had stored up were accumulating, aggregating, and combining into a collective, and more potent strain; into his first, very own mutagen.
All over his body, bloodied and broken as it was, his veins turned blue with the infection, bulging out as if on the verge of bursting. Hamelin focused all of his power, funneling it through the gift to increase the potency, as he fought to regain control of his body.
He felt himself being overpowered by the new strain of disease, felt it take over his body and mind, exhausting his strength. Gritting his teeth, Hamelin rejected the notion that he might be overcome.
Roaring to the sky, he forced the growing mutagen within him through the gift. It was a risk, since he knew little about the true ability of the gift, however, without a pre-existing mutagen to build on, he had to improvise before he was overtaken. He felt the gift burn as it came into contact with the potential mutagen, and in their meeting felt them both transform.
Shockwaves of electricity ran through his body, and Hamelin fell down on his back, shaking uncontrollably. It took a few minutes before he stopped moving. Only when he finally exhaled a thick smoke of green decay was he certain of his success.
Withermancy’s first stage, Acolyte! He thought, raising a bloody fist to the sky in triumph.