In front of him was the Morlock.
The body and the legs, massive and heavy, the reddish scales, the long tail with the lethal sting. The only eye on the oblong head seemed to emanate an evil devoid of rancor; it would have killed anyone who stood before it, but it would not have enjoyed doing it: it was just its nature.
The Morlock was heading dangerously toward the nearby village of Arnheim, where it would appease its hunger at the expense of old men, women and children; the only people left in the village because of the useless pride wars between powerful lords, which forced men away from home. And he, Valdemar, demigod by the strength of a bull and the courage of a lion, son of the powerful wind god Usher and the mortal woman Ligeia, was the only one who could stop it. But it would not be an easy task.
The valiant Valdemar, in the course of his life, had known a thousand battles and as many victories: he had defeated the terrible Kempelen of the caves, he had chained Pfaall the murderer, he had led armies and conquered fortresses. But those were other times. Back then, he was a young man whose only desire was to right wrongs and to avenge abuses, always ready to move from one battlefield to another without resting in the middle. Many things had changed now.
Valdemar had met Berenice, the woman he had discovered he loved and at whose side he had decided to spend his life; he had married, he had become the father of a pair of twins, he had made a home and a family. It was different to face a battle now. A possible defeat would have involved not only him or the innocents he tried to defend and who, in any case, would have had nothing to lose. Had he not survived the battle, Berenice would have become a widow and their children orphaned; he would have left a woman without a husband and children without a father: the world out there would certainly not have been gentle to them. And they would lack not only love and affection but also livelihood. Valdemar was the only one working in the family and his compensation was barely enough to keep things going. Nobody gives you anything. Would Berenice have been able to cope with all the tasks, even if she had succeeded, leaving her children in custody of her parents, to find a job?
Valdemar wanted to throw down sword and shield, retrace his steps, and rush home to embrace his wife and children and never abandon them again. Yet, despite this being the thing he wanted most in the world, he couldn’t do it. He was Valdemar, demigod by the strength of a bull and the courage of a lion, son of the powerful wind god Usher and the mortal woman Ligeia. And he was the only hope left for the inhabitants of the village of Arnheim.
The only one.
Behind him, farther and farther, was the Morlock.
[First written as “Semidei quasi umani” in 1995. Re-edited in 2018 with the help of Sonia Lombardo. Translated from the Italian by Sabrina Beretta and edited by Karen Rought in 2019.]