Flickering shadows scurried across the dungeon's walls, and gold- and gem-embroidered treasures twinkled as the massive door creaked open, brought to life by the torches of the two women who'd opened the gates to this burrowed treasure chamber.
Both of them were young and dressed in simple servant's dresses. One was tall with long, blonde hair and a narrow, yet attractive, face. The other was dainty, almost tiny, her alluring, freckled face displaying full lips and framed by a short mop of red hair.
"I hate being down here, Aileen." The tall one exclaimed as she put her torch into a support right next to the door. Meanwhile the other dragged a trio of mulish goats into the chamber. "It always gives me the creeps. Reminds me of the nightmares of my childhood."
The other girl laughed, her voice high and melodious. "Yeah, I can relate to that, Nazarena. But at least you don't have to spend entire days down here." She twinkled. "But if you don't want to be down here, let's do this fast. In fact... I don't like it down here either. As a human, that is..."
Nazarena shivered in the cold chill of the underground cavern. She watched how the other servant opened a large trunk and pulling something out. It looked similar to a massive, leathery carpet... at least until more of it was dragged out into the open. Suddenly, rows of inclined teeth gleamed in the light of their fire. The servant felt a numb, yet familiar horror creep into her body and grabbed for the handle of the torch to steady herself as her knees buckled just so slightly.
Aileen stopped distributing the thing on, now clearly visible as some kind of legless, limbless creature's skin, and looked at her coworker in concern. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, it's nothing." the blonde shook her head. "It's just that I remember these teeth-" she pointed at the skin. "-from when I was still a child." She breathed in deeply. "Me and my cousin played right next to the caves, ignoring the warnings our parents gave us." A small smile played around her lips. "But what child has ever heeded her parents warnings? There was this curious looking hole, my cousin went closer to investigate and then... the Skrillik came out. Took his arm into its maw, all of it, right up to the shoulder. I managed to pull him free, but..." Nazarena shuddered while Aileen listened intently. "The beast was still a juvenile, perhaps five or six feet long, but it was big enough. Stripped the arm down to the bones. The healers had no other choice than to cut it off. What was left of it, that is."
The redhead laid her hand on the trembling girl's shoulder. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know. We can... ask for someone else to accompany me, if you'd like. Perhaps Bartra-"
"Oh, that's not necessary." Nazarena produced a brave smile, though it was obviously forced. "I need to face my demons, and this story is not so unique among my folk. Many of my people have been maimed by Skrilliks, there's rarely a week passing without an attack back home. So I can totally understand why Master Merril would want to have a Skrillik guard his treasures when he is sheltering strangers." She paused for a moment, then looked at her diminutive companion. "What I don't get is why he has chosen you for the duty."
"Really?" Aileen giggled. "The skinsuit doesn't care who is inside, strength is not a prerequisite to don it."
"I get that." the blonde said with a snort. "But still, why you, a... cute girl? He could've taken Amson, a former soldier. Or that brute Darnheel. I'm sure both of them pack enough aggression to make a convincing Skrillik."
"That may be true..." Aileen said with a frown. "But maybe that's exactly the reason why he didn't choose them, and instead chose me. Think about it!" she said as Nazarena furrowed her brows. "Darnheel is pretty much a monster in mind. Now give him a body fitting to his mind and you get a disaster waiting to happen."
The other girl nodded. "Well... you may be right there."
"But enough talk!" Aileen grinned, then stripped out of her dress. Nazarena blushed a bit as the light of their torches highlighted her companion's nude, curvy body. "I'm cold and wet, so I better turn into a shape where cold and wet translates into being comfortable instead of miserable. Here, can you help me a bit?" She handed the other girl her dress.
A bit hesitantly, Nazarena stepped closer and helped the freckled redhead pushing her legs into the skin. "How... does it feel?" She asked while the two of them worked on getting Aileen suited up.
"To be the Skrillik?" she asked and the other woman nodded. Aileen contemplated the question a bit. "It's strange... really, really strange. You don't have arms anymore, don't have legs anymore, don't have eyes anymore, don't have ears anymore. You're suddenly just this giant worm."
"No sight? Not even hearing?" Nazarena asked now, her eyes wide. "So, blind and deaf and paralyzed? That sounds horrible!"
"Oh, I'm certainly not paralyzed!" Aileen laughed brightly. "I may not have limbs anymore, but all the power under this flesh..." she stroked the leathery skin of the suit. "It feels awesome. The missing senses are a problem at first, I agree. But then... you know that the Skrilliks have these long tendrils in their maws?"
Nazarena wrinkled her nose. "The ones they use to pull in prey? When the men were fighting against these beasts, they'd always try to cut them off first."
Aileen nodded solemnly. "Yeah, because they are not just tentacles. They are incredibly sensitive feelers, each one almost like a nose. When they are gone, Skrilliks are truly nothing more than blind worms, and they hate not having their tentacles out in the open." The girl grinned. "That's why they always wave them around, so don't be surprised when I'll be doing this as well later on."
"Really?" the other servant's eyes went wide again. "I thought the tentacles are just for grabbing things. So you... smell with them?"
"I can smell rats on the other end of this chamber, that's almost 300 feet! And I'm not totally blind, in fact I can still discern if there's light. But to be fair, Skrilliks love the darkness, and once I wear this skin, it's not any different for me. I will loath any source of light."
Nazarena contemplated this statement. "That sounds... strange." she finally admitted. "You hate what people love, and love what people hate?"
"You almost sound as if you're curious." Aileen teased. "Do you want to try being a Skrillik? Just for an hour!" She started to slip her shoulder out of the skin. "The master will never know...!"
Something like panic flared up in the blonde's eyes. "Becoming this... this... monster?" she spat out. "Never! Although..." she said with a more measured tone of voice, "I kind of admire you for being able to do it. To discard your humanity and become this... nemesis of every human who strolls into the caves. We have songs about it, stories, it's the devil!"
"Yeah, I'm somewhat surprised of that, too, you know..." the other girl replied with a frown. "When Master Merril showed me the skin the first time, when he used it to become the beast, I was horrified. I was simply frozen in fear and disgust, and I couldn't fathom becoming this nightmare, to have a body like it. But my fear of being dismissed from service was bigger, and I forced myself into the suit. I tell you, I hated it, and the first few hours were the worst of my life. This strange body, the strange feelings, nothing to see nor to hear... I was basically drowning myself in self-contempt." She shrugged. "But then... when I learned how to control the body... the disgust disappeared."
Nazarena nodded slowly, then took a deep breath. "I figured that it would be like this... And that is precisely why I will never put this skin on."
"Everybody has to have principles." Aileen said with a condescending smile. "And everyone's are different. So..." she started to tuck her head into the skin. "Here comes the final part. Can you please close the suit?"
Gingerly, Nazarena stepped near and started to close the skin. "The Master's guests will stay three days, right?"
"No, they prolonged their stay. It will be more like six or seven." Aileen's voice came out muffled under the skin.
The blonde servant recoiled for a moment. "Seven days! You will be stuck as the Skrillik for seven days! In total darkness!"
"As I said, as a Skrillik, you love darkness. And it's not that hard. Part of the nature of the Skrillik is to wait... now be careful, there's only one clasp left. When you close it, you should better step a few feet away, because that's when things start to get... interesting."
Nazarena nodded, but despite her displayed courage, her fingers shook as she took hold of the final clasp. She hesitated for a few moments, but then she closed her eyes, murmured a short prayer for heavenly encouragement, and shut it.
Immediately, the lifeless skin started to balloon out and the servant staggered back, stumbling over the hem of her dress and falling onto her rump. But she barely noticed the pain in her posterior. Nazarena stared forward, and an icy hand seemed to have gripped her heart as a monster reared in front of her.
The dead skin and her friend were gone, instead, a massive worm coiled itself on the bare stones of the treasury chamber. Its body was easily as wide as a horse, and as long as five wagons parked in a row. But the most terrifying thing was the front. A massive, eyeless head started to rise, its only discerning feature being a trio of jaws which interlocked like hooks. The jaws parted, revealing row upon row of inclined, vicious teeth glistening evilly in the light. Teeth like that had ripped Nazarena's cousin's arm to shreds, but those teeth had barely been the size of a fingertip. These teeth were the size of small daggers!
Every instinct in Nazarena's body screamed that she was dead. She had seen juvenile Skrillik's, nasty, deadly pythons. She had seen adult Skrilliks, monsters the size of dogs and the length of trees. But she had never seen one as massive as this one, and a massive Skrillik this close, actually any sized Skrillik this close, was normally a death sentence. The girl had thought that she would be ready for this sight, but she had been wrong.
Something moved in the beast's mouth, and Nazarena had to stifle a terrified scream as a number of long tendrils appeared, crawling out of its gaping gullet, and starting to probe their surroundings. She wanted to move, wanted to run, but couldn't, was completely paralyzed by fair. Therefore she only stared on in horror as the things crept closer and closer, and finally one brushed against her dress. The tentacle left a slimy trail as it wandered over her clothing, more tendrils joining it. Nazarena cried out as one crawled right over her face and her lips and the slimy substance dripped onto her tongue, tasting like rotten meat. And finally, she managed to free herself from her paralysis and screamed.
The scream was loud, the scream was deep, was an unbridled exclamation of pure terror, and it accomplished exactly nothing. More tentacles groveled all over her body. The Skrillik itself had crept closer as well, its massive teeth now only an arm's length away. She could smell the foul stench coming out of the creature's maw, could see the terrible gullet where prey would be gobbled down. It wouldn't even need to use its teeth to rip her apart, there was well enough space to swallow her whole, and she could actually see individual teeth, hundreds upon hundreds of them, twitch in anticipation. This was simply too much.
Nazarena started sobbing, her shoulders shaking violently. "Please, Aileen. Please, stop this. I can't take this anymore... please...", she blubbered desperately, but the monster didn't care, didn't stop. One tendril brushed through her long hair, gluing the blonde strands together with nasty slime. Another slipped under her dress, first probing her thighs and then wandering higher to her groin. A third coiled itself around her throat. Somewhere deep in her terrified mind a tiny voice told her that Aileen wouldn't hear her pleading, that a Skrillik had no ears to perceive cries begging for mercy, and big tears started rolling down her cheeks. Right onto one tendril.
For a moment, the monster stopped. Then all its tendrils deserted Nazarenas body and with a swiftness totally at odds with its size, the Skrillik retreated several feet, its leathery skin squeaking on the stone tiles as it crawled back. And then it waited.
The blonde girl sobbed several more times, her dress and hair dosed with the Skrillik's slime, until she managed to get her composure back, and stared at the creature. The way it held its head low, the terrible maw half closed, the tendrils all pointed down, it almost looked like...
"Ai-... Aileen..." Nazarena asked finally towards the monster. "Is that still... you? Are you... apologizing...?"
The creature didn't answer. Of course it couldn't have heard what Nazarena had said, it was deaf after all. The blonde servant swallowed deeply, then stood up and slowly retreated towards the door, but always keeping her eyes focused on the beast. The Skrillik still kept its tendrils down, but she noticed that it tracked each and every movement of hers with its head meticulously. The thought that this... monstrosity was actually cute, little Aileen was simply unfathomable.
Nazarena had not quite reached the door as the Skrillik stopped its weird behavior and instead started moving again. Within moments, the maw was wide open, the tendrils outstretched - almost half the beast's body length, and the giant worm lurched forward. But not towards her.
The servant watched wide-eyed, as the Skrillik crept closer to the goats, the animals they'd brought with them. The Skrillik body suit might be magic, but the body it created still needed food to live. And so they had brought the goats, for Skrilliks preferred their prey live. She started to shudder involuntarily as she realized that she would see a Skrillik feed.
The animals started to bleat in distress as tendrils started to probe them, and Nazarena held her breath as she waited for the strike. But it didn't came. Instead, the monster crept closer and closer, the tendrils feeling for something, until they had found the leash. A trio of tentacles grabbed it and pulled it into the gaping maw, towards the inclined teeth. The best leather humans could create didn't stand a chance against these wicked daggers, and the goats darted away in panic as their leash gave way, reduced to shreds by the sharpest teeth the world had to offer.
Nazarena was still contemplating why the Skrillik would do this as its tendrils shot out and grabbed the nearest goat which hadn't darted away quite as fast as its companions. Lightning-fast, the worm pulled its prey into its maw, and the girl could hear the goat's bones break as the three giant jaws snapped shut. The crunching sounds were followed by splatter as blood and gore leaked out of the bloody maw onto the stones. It was simply too much. The image of her cousin, screaming as the monster had snatched his arm that dreadful day, burned in front of her inner eye. With a horrified scream the blonde girl turned and threw the heavy door shut behind her, to lock her nightmares away in the dark, damp dungeon.
Aileen smirked inwardly as she noticed her coworker leaving the dungeon hastily. She may had no eyes to see it, nor ears to hear it, but her fine-tuned tendrils had picked up the air draft from the closing door, and her triple-jaw twitched for a moment, then she continued tearing the goat to shreds.
Actually she could sympathize with the girl. She had never seen a Skrillik eat its prey, but she didn't think that it would be a nice view. And the fact that she had untied her prey earlier probably hadn't helped either, but her Skrillik self just bristled at the thought of eating something which couldn't run. Maybe that was the cause why so few Skrilliks had been caught in traps... they simply weren't interested in dead or unmoving prey.
The girl pondered this thought for a few more moments while using her tendrils to scrape the goat's remains against her jaws. These were only there to hold her prey in place, not to actually eat it. For that, she used powerful muscles hidden inside her jaws, to curl her teeth, each of the many rows individually movable, inward again and again, to rip the soft, tender flesh from the bones.
She hadn't actually wanted to scare Nazarena, Aileen thought while feasting. Whenever she'd previously donned the Skrillik body suit, her Master or the other servants had never let her get close to them, so when the vertigo of the transformation had faded and she'd noticed that the human girl was still sitting right next to her, she had simply become curious. To get to know how a human smelled, tasted, felt to a Skrillik.
Some of her teeth slipped over bare bones now, and Aileen used a couple of tendrils to tear a meatless hindleg from the carcass, throwing it away without a second thought. Skrillik's only cared for flesh, not for bones, so the remains of a Skrillik attack always was a wildly scattered, neatly scraped off pile of bones.
And so she had opened her maw and sent out her tendrils, to feel up the small being in front of her. The experience had almost overwhelmed her. She knew how animals like rats and goats tasted. But a human...! She'd never tasted something sweeter in her life, and she'd simply lost herself in the moment, touching as much of Nazarena with her tendrils as possible - until she'd stumbled upon a salty tear that she'd realized that the sweetness she'd indulged in had literally been her coworker's primeval fear.
More and more of the goat's flesh disappeared into her gullet now, its bony remains starting to litter the floor below. At this point, the animal was reduced to little more than individual pieces of boney meat in her maw. And yet she continued harvesting every single piece of meat, for Skrilliks were punctilious eaters.
So maybe this was why Skrilliks attacked humans so often, and did it in the most horrifying ways, Aileen speculated while munching - because they loved human fear. For a short moment she even hoped that a guest would try to rob Master Merril, so that she could taste actual human meat, but she quickly stomped the thought as resolutely as possible. She already had trouble putting off the body suit after so many days as a monster; she was pretty sure that she'd lose her humanity entirely if she would eat a man.
Aileen gobbled down the last meaty parts of the unfortunate goat and wriggled her tendrils to free them from the blood and gore which still clung to her limbs. Then she started slithering forwards, not like a worm but like a snake, her tendrils probing the space all around her. Not because she didn't know where she was - she knew every square foot of this dungeon - but because it was second nature to a Skrillik.
The absence of sight and sound didn't bother her at all. It wasn't even darkness or silence, just... nothing where these senses would have provided her with stimuli. But for that loss her tendrils more than compensated her, for they provided her with so much more, so much deeper awareness of her surroundings. There was a salty tear of Nazarena, a sweat drop of her Master, already three years old... the trail of one of the other two goats who'd darted away...
Still, there was something which bothered her, and she shuddered complacently as one of her tendrils touched the pedestal with the torch. As she had told Nazarena, Skrillik's weren't entirely blind. She still had some sort of bright/dark sense, although it was that obfuscated that she hadn't been able to make sense of it. It was more like a sixth sense which made her feel comfortable or awkward.
Carefully, to not hurt her tendril, she overturned the pedestal and then rolled her massive body over the burning torch. Her skin was so thick that she barely felt the heat, and then the fire was out and the awkward feeling was gone. Utter darkness. No sights. No sounds. Only the smells and feelings her tendrils picked up. Pure heaven.
The girl-turned-Skrillik smiled inwardly. She had actually tried it as a human, back in her room. Had closed her eyes and ears, and had waited. After less than 20 minutes, she had to abort the experiment because her anxiety had simply become too great. But now, in this body... it was bliss.
Aileen turned, slithering towards an especially wet corner where she would spend the next seven days patiently. She knew this spot from previous guard shifts, and it pleased her current bestial nature well. Eventually, when she would be hungry again, she would hunt for the remaining goats. She had already memorized where her tendrils had picked up their trail. The treasury was big, but nothing was big enough to let you run away from a Skrillik.
Contented with itself and the world, the giant worm curled itself into a tight bun and waited in the darkness.