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The Azazel Chronicles [Original Story]

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The Azazel Chronicles [Original Story]

Post  Maxim Jensen on Sat Jul 28, 2012 10:36 am

Prologue

“The measure of a man is what he does with power.” – Plato

To whomever it may concern:

The ground beneath my feet is perhaps a thing you will no longer recognise when your life comes to pass. Perhaps it will have moved. Perhaps it will have changed. Elongated, stretched, riddled with miniature cracks. Perhaps it will be specked with the green of life or the black of war. I stand now upon the last landmass we know to be able to support life. The Lost Continent.

I stand now only upon this land, alive, not dead, because of the things I have seen, and the things I have endured. I have fought with demons, and spoken with angels. The things I’ve done should earn me both a safe passage to Heaven, and a safe passage to Hell, with solace from both and the wrath their respective leaders can bring down upon my mortal head.

I deserve to hold a mantle of gods whilst possessing abilities to dwarf even the foulest of beasts in comparison. Snake and doe alike flee from my might as I stroll through any country path. The presence I carry, from what I have seen, and what I will see, is nothing many will hope to ever fathom, and nothing I hope anyone ever has to. These events have shaped and crafted me into such a fine conduit for things I never wanted, things I didn’t ask for, and things that never needed to be bestowed upon me.

My name is Mathias Azazel.

You may know of me.

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"I'm a runaway train on a broken track, I'm the ticker on the bomb that you can't turn back this time."

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CHAPTER ONE

Post  Maxim Jensen on Sat Jul 28, 2012 10:39 am

One

The Backcountry of Rastenn


Mathias Azazel never considered himself a slaughterer, or a killer, but, today, he was both. The wind whistled through the trees with a hollow, sombre resonation, and the noise echoed around the edges of the vast forest. Twigs and leaves rustled everywhere in the distance from wild animals and prey of his target skittering around. Some were simply here because they’d happened upon the forests today, and playing around with other residents of the woodland. But others... others were making those noises, because they could sense the fear. The primed danger, locked and loaded, ready to explode throughout the woods without a single moment’s notice.

Wind bristled through grimy, unwashed, close-cropped blond hair, swishing shortened fibres from side to side as the gales washed over Mathias’ body, the boy barely a shadow when it came to the main events of the forest, the focus of his attention. He had been pursuing his quarry for hours now, and he had tripped, fallen, bruised, cut, and overall subjected his body to a real beating, but he was far from death’s door.

Calloused, dirt-caked fingers belonging to a slender, toned arm rose barely an inch, shivering and quivering ever-so-slightly in the cold breeze. Reflexes, timing, wind speeds... so many elements in a formula that had such a simple output, a binary answer. Mathias narrowed his eyes, and the deep blue pools that were the boy’s irises flooded, washing over the black of his pupils as he squinted off into the distance.

Between his hands, he firmly cradled a wood-fashioned makeshift crossbow, a single wooden, metal-tipped bolt loaded, the strings pulled taut. The vice-grip fitted the ash of the grip all-too-snugly, because the crossbow had been crafted for he, and he alone. Old Gob, back in the village, had made them, and every detail was his handiwork, speaking volumes of the old, wizened, greying man. The half-inch of loose, coarse fabric wrapping the wood of the bolt tight at the end, the various knots in the unvarnished, sharp, and deliberately unkempt wood, and even the minor chips at the base of the bolt’s head itself... it wasn’t perfect, but Mathias wouldn’t have the weapon any other way. He’d accustomed himself to it, grown up learning to hunt with this bow for the past eight winters, and the past eight summers. And for the sixteen of each before that, he had so desperately wished to be one of the village’s cadre, one of the people he was now: the famed hunters, the village’s prized quarry and favoured tribute to the Overlord of this region. Their handiwork was what kept the village alive: they were the elite, and nothing less.

Gob himself had taught the boy. The man was like a father to him, his own too caught up in numbers and his ledgers to truly acknowledge the boy. And now, he was twenty-four, almost old enough to leave the village – of course, if it weren’t for the scourge of djinni guarding this region’s borders under the request of the Overlord, Moloch. Bah.

The boy wore a linen undershirt beneath a heavy, thick, and coarse burlap-like fabric cloak. It had pockets hastily sewn in for bandages, broken arrowheads, or anything really of note or value... if they were really lucky, turned to foragers, they would occasionally find a gem, but Mathias himself had never encountered that. The Overlord really liked gems.

Below the undershirt and cloak, he wore simple slacks and a pair of wooden-soled thick leather boots, from farmer Olaf’s cows, the older ones that were no good for meat or milk any more. Gob had crafted them, too, his famous hunter’s boots, with his golden hands. He’d never been an exceptional hunter, but his marksmanship and craftsmanship were entirely unparalleled. Mathias didn’t think it fair that Tommaso belittled the man for simply being old. He knew so much, and so many stories of note, from when his time under the rule of the djinni, the Overlords, and the other legions of demons of other regions, and even Skargoth itself, back when pilgrimages weren’t frowned upon and travel was easier, not prohibited by word from the capital.

But even he had never lived in a time where they had been free for all this, and it was all Mathias had come to know. He thought nothing of their captors, their masters, those they had to pay tribute to; some called them demons, others worshipped them as idols. Each cabal or gang was different. Here, in the northern woodlands around Rastenn, they hardly saw naught but djinni and the odd familiar accompanying the Overlord on his visit. Tales of merchants permitted to travel the roads of the Continent, of the foul beasts inhabiting Skargoth and slavedriving those who worked and toiled through chilling blizzards and sweltering heat; all to build, and build, and build, for no change Mathias could ever recognise. Whenever he mentioned it to Gob, the old man simply said he ‘wasn’t considering the possibilities’, but as much as Mathias respected the old coot, sometimes he was just downright wrong.

Mathias slipped his hand from the air onto the base of the crossbow’s body, squinting even more heavily, and lowering his frame, dropping his knees until he was down into a half-crouch. The targets in front of him were moving, but slowly enough that he could trace all of them, and he only wanted one. He could see a few hares darting through and about the bushes, and a sildna, a deer-like creature with single, non-branching, tapered antlers, and a rough, leathery hide, moving about... but Mathias had his eye on the prize.

The hand holding the grip at the back levelled the stock of the bow into his shoulder, and slipped the finger into the trigger-guard, resting it over it with a gentle, slow, exhalation. He checked once more, a wayward glance falling along the nocked arrow, to make sure it was steady and in line. It was.

Running his eyes along once more to allow them to fall upon the sights with another slow, steady breath, the hand that had slipped onto the front, beneath the guard and the bowstring, was now clutching the front-end of the wooden body, to brace the bow when he actually fired it. He had time; all the time in the world. This was how Gob had taught him to take the perfect shot, and make the kill. Check everything. At least twice.

No, Mathias’ target was a hulking beast. A mammal, and it possessed four, small, twiggy legs that looked like they were about to break under the weight of an enormous, oval-shaped body, lined with coarse brown-black hairs and furs. Protruding from the front of its devilish maw were two tusks, curving upwards to gore anything it wished to, and its face was halfway between that of a wild boar’s, and an alligator’s, with a deadly, outstretched set of jaws that could snap you up, the tusks holding on underneath; the weight of the tusks caused the bottom jaw to sag, and all the saliva that collected due to the animal’s consistent hunger for flesh dribbled out in a warm, viscous, constant stream of drool. It was a disgusting animal, but the belly meat was succulent and, if cooked well, close to the best thing you could eat, and it would easily serve a good twenty, thirty people. The dakkan.

They’d been tracking it for four hours, but it was all worth it. A look of confidence slipped onto Mathias’ face, and a pink tongue darted out, coating his lips with a thin film of saliva as he imagined the hunter’s quarry; that beautiful, golden-brown, cooked belly meat. The dakkan reared its head, pointed it to the sky, howled that odd, strange grunting howl that it had, somewhere between a wail and a growl. Everything locked and slid into gear as Mathias surprised even himself at how ready he was, without realising. He slipped back into consciousness, and pulled the trigger on the crossbow.

The recoil made the bow shudder, and jolt back into his shoulder, but a combination of his arm, the stock, the wood, and his crouched frame absorbed it in a matter of seconds. Constant fire was a bad idea, as it would cause both the bow and his collarbone to deteriorate rapidly, but single, fluid, well-placed shots were what the thing was crafted for, much to Tommaso’s displeasure.

The bolt flew through the air, but Mathias had been a half-second too late. The dakkan twisted and turned before he heard the near-silent whistling of the arrowhead turning in the air, and instead of striking the beast’s heart, or its intestines, fifty metres off, the metal pierced the soft meat of the rump. It howled up into the air with a horrid shriek, and spun around crazily for a few moments, before, drool still streaming from its maw, it caught site of Mathias amongst the undergrowth, and snarled, blood dripping from one end and saliva from the other.

“By Skargoth...” Mathias spoke ever-so-slowly as he realised the thing was getting a bead on him, frozen in place, paralysed by fear, for the first couple of minutes. He pulled the leather-crafted sling of the crossbow over his shoulder, trembling as the colour drained from his face, and turned, bolting straight away as soon as he could. Adrenaline tingled at his fingertips as he ran, not daring to look behind him, the solid thunk-thunk of the dakkan’s lumbering steps closing in incentive enough for him to keep running.

One of the dakkan’s more surprising features is, despite its immense body weight, when angered and pained, its ability to charge at a rather incredible speed. And considering those rather sharp ivory tusks sitting at the end of its jaw, it’s a bad idea to enter into a race with one, especially when the consequences could be quite this dire, and you’ve just shot it in the hindquarters, which it definitely doesn’t appreciate.

Aside from his crossbow, Mathias did always carry other makeshift armaments. A long-bladed hunting knife, about a foot and a half long with a wickedly curved edge, but that was more suited towards cutting for meat and skinning than combat, and he was no artisan or bladesman, simply a hunter. He knew where to cut for the best steaks and how to remove the pelt; not how to kill, the logic wasn’t the same. And if he was going to strike, Mathias knew he’d only get one chance before the dakkan gored him. The sprint increased in pace as the constant heavy-set steps of the animal reminded the boy just of his mortality.

The only other weapon he carried was his father’s old kris, back from his hunting days. It was self-fashioned, calloused, and lined with strips of bronze that he’d salvaged. It was small, but deadly sharp, tapered, and it never dulled. It was always strapped to Mathias’ ankle, a constant reminder that even though his father was more suited for sales and the art of the merchant now, he had still been like his good son some time ago.

All the tension and suspense his hours of waiting had produced exploded in a matter of minutes. Brown autumn leaves and stray twigs crunched underfoot as Mathias continued slaloming about trees with round, thick trunks of incredible girth, or more ancient, thinned, trees, with gnarled roots and a misshapen, angled trunk. The forest continued for miles in every direction, and the dakkan and its incredulous lumbering speed were catching up for him. Rastenn proper was five hours’ walk away, and even with a further spring in his step, there was nowhere to go, and nowhere to hide.

The only two conceivable ways of stopping the dakkan were killing it or further tiring it out until it collapsed. Damn that bolt, and damn fate and the circumstantial turning of the huge, swaying rump of the creature. As for their surroundings, they were entirely alone; owls and rabbits and the sildna herd had flew away, shrunk back into their burrows, or pranced off into thicker brush where they could hide. They were both the forest’s focus and that which it ignored; it was simply Mathias, the beast, and the labyrinthine sea of orange leaves beneath their feet, constantly swirling and shifting in the breeze, an ever-changing being of movement. Occasionally, the wind would uncover a single, minute patch of grit, silt, and brown-black dirt beneath them, but all-too-quickly, the leaves would envelop it, once more covering them up.

The dakkan seemed to have no end to its ridiculous amounts of stamina, so killing it was going to be the only way to ensure Mathias wasn’t going to get gored – and this time, he was really only going to get one shot. His eyes flicked back into drive, and he isolated every possible tactical opportunity he could, head snapping from tree to tree, trying to find the perfect place to cut off and swing around. Nothing seemed to be ideal; every juncture would leave him swinging too early, and the dakkan turning around to get him, or too late, and end up being a flailing, twitching human kebab on the end of those gigantic tusks.

The dakkan was closing now, with barely ten metres between him. He could feel the warm spittle spattering against his back with every forward lug, the haggard, reptilian-mammalian hybrid breath of over fifty degrees glancing along the coarse fabric of his cloak, wet and heavy. He could almost feel the air between the tusks and the rather tender, weak flesh of his back.

Finally, out of nowhere, in its gnarled, ancient solace, Mathias caught it in his eye. Salvation, in the most unorthodox of forms. A thick tree, off maybe four or five feet from his left, out of the path. Catching his breath and assuring himself that in a matter of moments, it would all be over, Mathias flung his arm out, and caught the tree with a heavy, blunt impact against his upper arm, head reeling, the sheer force wracking his body as he spun about it.

As predicted, the dakkan continued to lumber forth, stunned into repetition of the footsteps it had made a thousand times previous, continuing for a good few seconds until it ground to a skidding halt, padding the floor. However, Mathias’ one free hand drew a bolt from the quiver swaying still on his back, and pulled it forwards with a whip, releasing his grip on the tree and veering off to the right as he loaded the projectile into the crossbow, pulling the string taut as the grotesque creature reared its head, howled once more, and turned about, saliva still dribbling forth from its gaping maw as it uttered a low, horrid, and most importantly, ravenous growl.

It ground back the dirt underneath with a single boar-like hoof as Mathias took aim once more, spraying the brown particulates back as greed hit the animalistic, furred pallor of the thing. Once more, the blonde hunter inhaled, exhaled, and inhaled once more, squinting down the sights and pulled the trigger.

This time, there was no release of tension, no carving the air in two as the arrowhead sheared through the very winds themselves. No, the bolt, in fact, didn’t fire at all. The string remained taut, and the projectile, very much suspended in place, when the cause of all this trouble danced in a sole ray of sunlight piercing the canopies of the tall trees above. A single piece of flint that he must have kicked up into the air and caught inside the crossbow’s frame, the rock locked in place beneath a tilted, off-angled arrowhead.

Horror now truly upon his face, Mathias realised these consequences as the dakkan came for him, already mid-charge. Moments like this were rare, but you knew about it when they truly came. Your life didn’t flicker before your eyes, and there was no flash of white light as your brain snapped into overdrive. No, your heart simply sank so far, so fast, that if it left your body, it would’ve bored a hole down to the core of the Earth and out the other side, and you felt like simultaneously weeping and soiling your breeches. Things, yes, did move in slow motion for Mathias, as the man was absolutely and entirely sure that this was where he’d meet his end: unknown within the forest, on the end of a tapered, natural, ivory tusk beneath the dakkan’s monstrous, open jaws.

It charged, further, spitting up leaves and grinding plant matter and soil up in a deadly spray behind it, a combination of hunger and satisfaction of the hunt melding together in a sheer look of glee within its eyes. Hooves hit the floor so fast and rose so quickly that in any other instance, the fashion in which it charged might have been even laughable, but now, it was absolutely and entirely fatal: not funny to Mathias in the least.

In the corner of his eye, something flitted, but he was affixed by horror, staring at the oncoming beast in his tracks. Light flashed, and sound resonated within muted eardrums. Had Mathias been listening, he would’ve heard that same whip sound he’d created but moments ago, maybe a touch more faint, but prominent nonetheless.

That was when, finally, the presence entered his view. Except, now, it was no presence, but a man: and a recognisable one, too. Tommaso Petracesi. Infinitely taller than Mathias could ever hope to be. A close-cropped, dirt-caked head of brown-black hair, and lines of grime streaking a ruddy complexion, that of a hunter. The head sat upon muscular shoulders belonging to a well-kept and toned body, with an expression halfway between a growl and a snarl sitting upon his face. One the hunters both knew well. The expression that spoke for itself, and the absolute, polar opposite of that which sat upon Mathias’ very pallor now: true, unbridled anger, coupled with flecks of companionship and loyalty of two men close enough to be brothers piercing that red mist.

He bore the same garments as Mathias, except arguably more dirty. He too carried one of Gob’s self-made crossbows, slung at his waist, and a hunting knife sheathed, but Tommaso carried his own other arm that he favoured. A spiked, old, knotted wooden club, primitive iron nails drummed through, wrapped in a makeshift leather sheath and cover upon the man’s belt. However, here, he clutched in his hand no blade, but one of the bolts, raised high above his head as he bellowed at the beast.

The dakkan didn’t stop charging, oblivious – as was Mathias – to Tommaso’s battle-cry, but it did stop moving when the six-foot-five twenty-six year-old collided with its frame, and knocked it back onto its side. Had he not still been frozen to the floor, his legs turned to roots that didn’t ever want to move, from a combination of residual fear and inability to believe the fact he’d just been saved, Mathias would have arched an eyebrow at just how much weight his hunting partner possessed.

Tommaso piled straight into the dakkan with a force of... well, Tommaso, and he didn’t bother stopping, launching himself upon the beast with no fear of any mortal or animal soul in his eyes. He rose the projectile above its head, and the creature pushed its legs up into the air and flailed them about madly, revealing a pale, unhaired, and rather tender underbelly, streaked with blood from Mathias’ earlier shot.

Finally, as the blonde trembled and came to terms with things, breathing for the first time in what felt like centuries in huge, desperate gasps of air, Tommaso brought the bolt down once, then again, and again, and again, upon the thing’s underbelly, at least another ten times, until, eventually, its movement and twitches stopped, the debate of the hunter and the prey now cleared up as Tommaso flopped backwards onto the ground and exhaled. Both man and beast were coated with floods of warm, animal crimson, still flooding from a number of thin puncture wounds, off-white skin dirtied with rivulets of deep red.

Mathias’ knees all but buckled, and he slid to the floor, half-crouched, making his way over to Tommaso, absolutely speechless as he beheld the sight of his friend and the beast, now slain. For a moment, all was silent in the backcountry of Rastenn, until, finally, it was filled with laughter. Glorious, triumphant, beautiful laughter, resounding and rolling through the hills and about the trees as Mathias rose to his feet and punched a balled-up fist into the air. It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

In a matter of moments, the environment cleared, and Mathias offered a humble and sincere thanks. Or, at least, began to. “Tommy, I...” His voice was cracked and squeaking, miles away from the usually smooth and renowned tones it possessed, so rich in quality. The man was obviously still a touch shaken from events passed.

The other man threw up his hand and shook his head, rising to his feet and stretching his torso from side to side, face still streaked with cracked, drying red stains. “Save it, Mat,” He sighed, raising a balled-up fist to his mouth and shrugging his shoulders. His voice was coarse, and far deeper than that of Mathias. “It’s what us hunters do, right?” With that, he scratched the back of his head, and sighed, the pair of them staring down at the corpse for what seemed like an eternity, before a good old slap on the back sent the slender and shorter Mathias lurching forwards with surprise.

Tommy’s coarse, deep tones filled the woods once more, now quiet, the breathing more regular and less haggard, explosive tension dissipating in the air. “Besides,” He stared off into the humble gap in the canopy, through which the horizon was revealed. They had two, maybe three hours until sunset. They wouldn’t make it home until dusk at the earliest.

The crunch of dried leaves underfoot rang out through the woods once more as Tommy turned and stared over to Mathias, something twinkling in those deep hazel pools of his as a smile revealed a full grin of square, off-white teeth. “Now you get to drag the body back.”

_________________

"I'm a runaway train on a broken track, I'm the ticker on the bomb that you can't turn back this time."

|| English (skyblue) || Spanish (gold) || French (limegreen) || Portuguese (vermilion) ||
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Maxim Jensen
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Posts : 96
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Join date : 2012-07-17

Dossier
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Power: Clairvoyance
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CHAPTER TWO

Post  Maxim Jensen on Sat Jul 28, 2012 10:39 am

Two

The Archdemon’s Daughter


The trek back through the forests was nothing short of exhausting usually, and the rapidly falling temperature, coupled with a hundred-and-fifty pound corpse of a dakkan slung over your shoulder, only accentuated the downfalls of the otherwise ‘pleasant’ hike back through the backcountry of the region. Tommaso seemed to be more or less enjoying himself, moving smugly on ahead, whistling the same tune over and over that Mathias had heard his younger brother play in the inn many a night; however, for all the other man’s ability to just march on unfazed, the shorter, lighter blonde toiled and continued to lug the corpse along, beads of sweat forming on his brow with every further step. The first hour wasn’t so bad, but after that, the body collected so much dung and decay that the stench itself made carrying the thing for longer than a two-hundred-metre stretch without a break nigh-on unbearable.

“Tommy...” Mathias begun his plea like he had the last half-dozen times, and his brown haired companion swung around, biting off the end of a carrot with viciously powerful and almost animalistic jaws. “I’ve dragged it for three hours, now-“

“Yeah, and we’re getting close to home now. Shut up and keep walking.” Messing with Mathias had been fun to a point, but now the younger man’s whining was simply getting irritating, and Tommy was getting grumpy. He’d killed the damn thing; there was no way in hell he was lugging that back after saving Mathias’ life. Again.

Silence struck the pair once more, save for the grunts of effort as Mathias tried to heave the dakkan over hills and ridges in the ground. Dusk was quickly descending, and thick clouds of black-grey smoke rose to the horizon; they were less than half a mile away from Rastenn proper. The forest was thinning out, and as soon as the pair noticed, a smile brushed onto Tommaso’s face. Mathias was still too busy lugging the corpse.

“Look,” The taller man gestured towards the barely-beaten dirt paths riddling the forest in a labyrinthine network in front of them. “We’re at the trade routes. Another hour or so, and we’ll be home.” If Mathias’ hands were free, he would’ve flipped Tommaso a particularly rude gesture using them. The man was good fun, and could hold down his ale, but, by Skargoth, was he a pain to be around sometimes.

Leather-clad feet continued to crunch leaves underfoot as the pair continued through the forest, which was thinning by the moment. They continued to make their way for another few minutes, when, first, Tommaso’s ears pricked as they isolated a sound in the distance; in but another split-second, Mathias became just as aware of it, too. In another moment, the nature and source of the noise became apparent: cart wheels, coming down the trade routes.

An unnatural, powerful chill washed through Mathias’ coursing blood as the noises only became louder and louder. He’d bet Mathias was feeling the same thing, too. His face became drained of all colour, and the pair were frozen in step. Tommaso was the first to break free of the trance, swatting Mathias’ hand from the dakkan as laughter quickly rang through the rolling forests of the north.

The corpse of the animal rolled down the grassy slope of the bank that the two stood upon, and Tommy quickly snapped into action. A firm hand grabbed at Mathias’ shirt, catching him unawares and swiftly bringing him down to his knees; Tommaso mirrored the actions he’d forced his comrade into, hitting the floor and going entirely prone, his body flat and sprawled.

Not long afterwards, Mathias realised the purpose of this silent agreement. Whatever was coming down that road wasn’t right or natural by any law of their own; and that chill breezing through the pair’s very cores meant nothing good for them either. Mathias’ joints and body quickly unfroze from his shock-begotten trance, and he hit the floor behind the stinking, rotten corpse of the dakkan as the carriage wheels drew closer, the crunching of silt and dirt underfoot becoming louder with every waking moment.

Before long, all that accompanied the noise of those relentless metal wheels turning was the clop-clop of horses moving unnaturally first, huffing and whinnying intermittently from what sounded like a rather stressful load hooked to them. A few moments’ critical analysis made Mathias guess there were two; that was the norm for most carriages, though, he noted, this didn’t seem to be anything normal.

Not only was it their blood cooling, the pair noticed, as the very air around them seemed to suffer monumental temperature drops. Hisses of breath came out as white smog, and leaves became still. Mathias blinked, his entire body wracked with horrific chills far worse than the other state he’d been worked into just a moment before; in a rather macabre turn, the blonde hunter, silent as he was, considered whether he’d be frozen solid, or subjected to cold so dire that his limbs would endure the early stages of frostbite.

The air seemed to become paler to his very touch, brushing his cheeks with gentle, minuscule snowflakes, and leaves around the pair curling inwards with a series of light crackles. Frost danced along their spines and veins, quickly turning from autumn orange-brown to a much darker, more deathly sheen. This was no normal, natural cold. Mathias had only heard rumours of days like this, where the temperatures that rifled through man, woman, and child alike came so fleeting along with one single entity’s presence; his proximity could but kill after a single humans was exposed to it for lengths of time ill-befitting mortal beings, though from rumour, Mathias knew that as fast as it would come, it would go.

The carriage continued to trundle further. The wood of his crossbow began to crack, laced now with tiny lines and furrows of thin, spindly frost. The boy hoped nothing would come of it; and that was when the realisation struck him, splitting twin blue eyes wide open as the pupils flushed outwards. This was something he’d heard only of in tall tales and innkeepers’ stories. Something the likes of which he had never been able to congregate with; only the mayor of Rastenn, its humble leader, was told to have been able to meet with such a soulless being. One that he’d cursed so idly but moments later. Moloch. Overlord of the north. Archdemon and favoured lieutenant to Lucifer himself.

Speech faded in. The tone was nothing that you’d presume a demon’s tones to have; collected, calm, and cold, mirroring this heralded non-human’s presence and passive power. He spoke slowly, cleanly, and pronounced every vowel and consonant within the word perfectly. There was no boom, no shout, no damning curse of olde style that you hear of in the books and the lore; but this demon’s voice still held fire of its own sort. The cold he produced was nothing compared to the ice that spiked through your very being through your ears as you bore witness to the voice of Moloch.

“...displeased with you, Jezebel.” A simple pause. Click. “He sends his regards.”

Three crashes, sequential and equidistant in noise, rolled through the woodland. Explosions unlike anything the pair had ever heard before; some form of weapon. The noise forced Mathias and Tommaso both instinctively to slam their heads to the ground and jam their fingers in their ears, from crashing into life so close to them. Mathias had to bite his lip to keep himself from shouting instinctively in response, but, luckily, in the cold, his tongue had stiffened in his mouth, and all that came out was a muffled yelp well hidden beneath the noise’s echoes.

These three crashes themselves stung and whined for minutes still in the pair’s ears. So much so that they didn’t hear the soft sequence of a series of thump noises flushing through the air, and the continual, ever-constant crunch of the carriage wheels turning, the creak of unoiled metal passing through and spinning round, alongside the deathly horses’ pounding the ground with hooves more powerful than either could ever imagine. They had no idea what in the world those crashes were, but they had shook the life from the trees, and every bird or animal had departed for its burrow or nest, cowering as chaos struck the forests silent. Even in Rastenn, villagers turned their heads to the sky and scratched the back of their necks as flocks of panicked, terrified blackbirds departed for anywhere else but the source of those three noises.

The last whines faded from Mathias’ ears, and warmth flushed back into him. Leaves unfurled and turned back to that autumn orange-brown once more, and the only telltale sign of Moloch’s being there would be two carriage wheel ridges in the grit of the uneven, roughly-carved trade routes. Or, at least, that’s what the pair presumed.

Stumbling to get their bearings, thanks to his lighter frame, Mathias scrambled to his feet well before Tommaso, and surveyed his surroundings; and that was when the sight hit him, freezing him solid and rooting him in place. If he wasn’t struck with fear beforehand when he’d heard the carriage coming, he certainly was now. Tommaso, however, in spite of his guile and instinct taking hold earlier, as he too stood to full height, bore witness to the same scene as his friend, and was too locked entirely in space. The pair were frozen, aghast entirely by what they saw in front of them.

“B-by the Devil’s red-hot blood...” Curses spilled out from trembling lips as the last of Mathias’ breath came out in a whisper. He was the first to speak; Tommaso still fastened entirely in place. Neither could raise their arms or move their feet to approach the scene; not just yet. Neither was entirely sure they wished to.

Laying, unconscious and paling upon the ground, was a single, slender figure. She bore ceremonial garb, obviously telltale of her status. She had been someone important – VERY important, if Moloch had taken care of her personally. Maybe a rebel? She was well-toned, and would have been wearing a cloak, had it not been blood-spattered and discarded aside from her.

Her skin was calloused, bruised, and scarred all across her body from what appeared to be day upon day of combat and tribulations she’d endured. She wore simple black pants, with a two identical black scabbards, shorter than Mathias had thought them to be, attached; one to each side. They stretched only half-way down her thigh, revealing more scarred skin to stretch down perfectly-formed legs sprawled out in front of her. Black combat boots and shin-guards dressed her feet; further up her body, above a bare midriff, she bore a light, dark tunic of similar colouring, sleeveless, though she wore thin, black leather gloves, with trembling fists within.

Her face was the only thing unblemished by time and her trials. She was beautiful, by any other word; perfectly-shapen features, the image of lust, a thin, slim nose. Cheekbones and jawbones set at exactly the right juncture and angle. Her two eyes were shut, lids barely fluttering in the breeze as she stirred. Her lips were small and pursed, only a sliver of light escaping through into them, revealing segments of perfectly white and unstained teeth. And, finally, her hair. Flowing behind her in a beautiful sea of vibrant crimson, shimmering locks only marred by the dust she had been so brutally thrown upon. She looked as if she were no younger than twenty, and no older than twenty-five, but she was angelic; she could have been immortal, for all they knew. Jezebel. That’s what he had called her.

Rays of subtle sunlight from above the thinning canopy indicated that they weren’t far now from home; the light illuminated her figure until she was awash in it, but homed in on her upper body in particular. Her midriff was bare, yes, and the subject of the pair’s perturbed, unfettering gazes. It was stained with blood pouring from three wounds, each ripped with skin torn and reddened. Her tunic and pants had been splashed with her own crimson. The woman’s chest rose and fell erratically as blood continued to dribble out from the trio of puncture wounds over her gut, each open and freely bleeding. For that moment, Mathias was affixed solely by her beauty and how Moloch had tainted it; and Tommaso was affixed solely by the problems that she posed, everything adding up to ever further disorder in his mind.

“What do we do!?” Tommy hissed first, turning to Mathias and grabbing his arm, locking with that vice-like grip of his, the muscles of the taller, older man bulging. His face was drained of all colour, his pallor as deadened as hers. After a moment of silence, the older man tightened his clamp on Mathias’ shoulder, and shook him quickly from side-to-side, jarring his trance and waking him back up to the world of the living.

Immediately, Mathias leapt forwards, not bothering to answer Tommaso. The first expression of response came to him, earlier numbed by pain; guilt. She had been left here to die by the man in the carriage, and he couldn’t just ignore her. She was beautiful. His mind couldn’t leave that fact behind. To leave such perfection to wither and die in such an undignified hovel, surrounded by vultures and animals that would prey on her slender corpse and pick at her bones until there was nothing less... it was a crime worthy of death all by itself.

Gob’s old teaching kicked in. He quickly unsheathed the knife at his waist, and brought it to his sleeve, shredding the seams in a matter of moments. Tommaso stood, astounded, and dumbfounded, watching his friend for a split-second, before stepping forwards and grasping the arm holding the knife. “What in the name of Skargoth are you doing?!”

Mathias tugged to try and slip his arm out of that oh-so-familiar grip once more, but to no avail. “She’s dying!” He pleaded, dropping the knife and letting it fall away as he wriggled his arm out. Tommaso fell backwards against a nearby tree-trunk, alongside his crouched companion who tugged at the sleeve until it finally came loose.

The blonde drew a thin line between the sleeve’s centre, turning into a thick, rough, makeshift length of fabric wide enough to cover all three wounds. She was lucky they were all close enough that a single sleeve would cover it; Camille, the village tailor, was going to be arguably angry if he didn’t have a good enough reason for cutting off one of her prized shirts’ sleeves off, let alone two. Rolling the unconscious woman temporarily onto her side, as his training dictated, he wrapped the bandage around and tied it into a tight, thick knot at the back, so it wouldn’t come undone.

Tommaso spluttered incredulously for words, standing back up and forcing his hands out into the air, trying to mime out what he said and snap his comrade back into the world of the living. “You... you don’t even know who she is!” He shouted. “Or what she’s done! Maybe... maybe she’s a criminal, or maybe she’s a rebel! Maybe that’s why...” Tommaso couldn’t bring himself to say it. Maybe that’s why the OVERLORD had killed her? The one who was meant to hold a firm and fair rule over their humble settlements, or so the lawbooks decreed.

The death penalty was commonplace in the land in which the pair lived, but, still, it was always a shock. Both of them had seen people die beforehand, and it was never pleasant; but here, the threat of mortality had come and gone in a matter of seconds, and it was debilitating. It made Mathias giddy and anxious, and Tommaso far too nervous, almost too much so to stand. He backed himself against the tree once more, and bucked his back. “You can’t bring her back to-“

“Like hell I can’t!” Mathias spun around, letting the woman fall back onto her back. “Tommaso, she’s going to die without medical attention. Soon.” He spun around, adamant, and surveyed her once more. Camille’s burlap wrapped her mid-section tightly, now bloody and covered with rags. “And I’m not going to let that happen,” Mathias made himself as clear as he could.

The pair of them had found themselves in a dilemma. Both knew that if she was a fugitive, and they took her back to Rastenn, nursed her back to health, and helped her live, the entire town would burn for what they’d done. But if they left her there to die, they’d be held responsible when the girl’s family or friends came looking. And that, they’d hang for.

Tommy lowered his voice to a far more serious tone, trying to get his message across. He was half-pleading, and half-stating; he tried his best to be as kindly as he could, lowering down to Mathias’ stature as the boy continued to tug at her clothes and makeshift bandages. “Mat, she could be a bandit. You know we don’t stand a chance if she brings her troupe along. She’d take the village for everything, and we’d all die. Not just her.”

Mathias turned around and snapped, finishing his pulling at her would-be poultice. “What sort of bandit wears clothes like this, Tom!?” He stood up, and planted his face into his hands, soaked with blood. Stained fingers brushed through hair and left specks of blood in his dirty, grimy, dark-blonde mess. “It doesn’t matter. Either way, we’re involved, now, and we’re responsible.” A grim silence hung over the pair; and they knew that Mathias was right. Tommaso made a sombre nod, and admitted defeat.

The older man sighed. “So, what do we do now?” He posed the question in grave tones as Mathias gulped and ran over everything we could in his mind. Where would they go? Where would they take her? Where would she be safe?

“Gob’s,” Mathias said defiantly, his face lighting up in an instant. “He’ll know what to do. He can get her fine and healthy again, and in a couple of days, she’ll be on her way.” His head cocked upwards, and he looked to the sky; evening was descending, the sun quickly coming down. “We’ll wait til dusk,” He announced, before continuing once more. “Slip in through Gob’s fields, and hopefully he’ll let us in,”

“Bringing a wounded fugitive to his doorstep is really going to endear us to him,” Tommaso commented with a mutter, slumping down against the tree a third and final time. Mathias followed suit with another sigh. “How do we know he’ll take her in, anyway? He’s a heartless bastard-“ Mathias quickly shot him daggers. Despite knowing that Tommaso and the old man weren’t on the best of terms, he didn’t appreciates comments like that, either. Tommy threw up his hands and quickly apologised. “Sorry, sorry... but if I took a bloodied corpse to you in the middle of the night, would you be happy?”

Tommaso took his silence as approval, his turn to raise his head and make a sullen grin in his own confidence. “I didn’t think so,” He established, rising to his feet and tilting his head, examining the girl’s motionless body. Her twitching had stopped. Her chest seemed to settle. He stepped forwards anxiously, crouched, and prodded her once in the soft flesh of her upper arm with an outstretched finger.

Nothing.

Tommy looked over his shoulder back towards a shocked Mathias. This was not good. If she was dead already... “Is she even alive, Ma-“ The man was promptly cut off by a glove-clad fist slamming into the side of his face, and catching one side of his nose in an all-too-vicious punch. The force of it all sent the boy sprawling, and a fountain of blood quickly erupted from one side of his nose as he shouted in discomfort. His hands snapped immediately to his nose, and Mathias’ reactions kicked in.

He clutched at his crossbow, scrabbling to his feet, taking aim once more. He’d since dislodged the stone from the weapon’s nib, and reaction kicked in, immediately sizing up the woman and taking aim at her torso, behind the black tunic, which appeared not to be made of any protective material. All his thoughts of beauty and perfection snapped away in an instant; remorse had gone, and the cold breeze against his arm made him think sourly that he should’ve kept his sleeve and left her to rot.

Crimson hair flowed behind her in flourishing locks, and her expression screwed into one of grit determination. Her eyes were open, now; her irises seemed to shift, and move, in tiny little red rings to match her hair. They spiked and flushed, flooding and ever-changing, unlike his static azure orbs; the very tissue moved. Eyes that never faltered. Hair of an unnatural hue. Movement so quick... was she even hum-

Her expression eased and her face stopped from wrinkling. A hand fell to her gut as she clutched at the bandages. Her breathing increased rapidly. Her face screwed up and wrinkled, contorted as pain shot through her system with every waking breath. Finally, she looked up to Tommaso, nose still bloody, as he rose to his feet, dabbed it, and asked a question, incredulous. “Who are you?!”

Her voice was faint. Weak. But there was admirable strength behind it; any human would have long-since succumbed to her wounds. Her voice was clear, and held the tone of one well-educated, whilst even having a slight seductive edge, though the pain had quickly flushed that out. “M-my name,” She paused, heaving for breath. “Is Jezebel,” So, as Moloch had said. Jezebel. “Daughter... daughter of Overlord Asmodeus,” She gulped, her throat hoarse and dry. Mathias, for the third time, was frozen stiff. Her vision was spiking, spiralling. She clutched at the floor to no avail, her head filled once more with dizziness, her gut with sheer agony, as if there were a mass of molten iron within, burning at three separate spikes. “Call me... Jez,” She didn’t know why it was important, or why she felt like mentioning it; she just blurted it out.

“H-help...” The last word, she spluttered, falling back onto her side. Darkness descended upon her vision, and she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, spiralling back into oblivion as it took her once more.

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