Sunday, 01 August 2010
Azura only knew when they were in Aridact because the trees thinned and the animals were scarce. She and Razul had fed several times on the trip through Sirian to be ready for the fight and the lack of fresh meat.
"I've never actually been in Aridact." Razul comments as the three of them walk through the woods.
"You're lucky. If you had you might not have ever gotten out." Azura responds darkly.
"You managed it." Razul taunts.
"Only with help," Azura replies nodding to Telio who drapes an arm over her shoulders.
"It was the least I could do. You can stop thanking me any time."
"Yeah, if you don't his ego will get so big he'll have to carry his head separate from his body just to keep it up."
Telio sticks his tongue out at Razul who playfully hits him in the arm from behind Azura's back. Azura smiles weakly; the gravity of coming events has slowly begun settling upon her shoulders like boulders. With each step she gets closer to Erid and her brothers. She knows it will take a miracle to stop them long enough to talk them out of killing her and her friends if they happen to cross paths. Telio's arm tightens around Azura's shoulders.
"Don't worry, everything's going to be okay. We can handle this."
Azura looks at him and smiles weakly. "I hope you're right."
"Have you thought of what you're going to tell them?"
"Short of telling them it's time to make our own rules, no. I can't think of much that would make them fight back. Most of them are contented with their lives as is. It's safe for them to live together. Every vampire that tries to get away on their own gets brought back and publicly executed."
"Well, then you've got one more thing on your side." Razul replies, "You've got Telio and I as proof that you made it out once, alive, and that they can do the same."
The three of them stop walking as they come upon the river cutting a crooked path serenly through the trees. Telio slides his pack off his shoulder and begins unassembling. "Let's set up camp here. It's not too far from town but not too close either." He and Azura exchange glances. "I'd rather be safe than sorry." Azura nods in agreement. She and Razul begin to help him reassemble the tent that was the decoy in Sirian. After they've set up camp and started a fire the three of them sit down for a drink. Telio takes a sip and passes it on, removing his sword from it's sheath and setting it across his lap. From his pack he pulls out a small vial with a clear liquid inside. Azura takes her sip and passes it on to Razul, gesturing at the vial.
Telio grins as he dabs some on a rag and begins to wipe the sword's blade with it. "Vampire venom. It'll make the inital attack more powerful. Inject your enemy with venom to keep them bleeding and they'll go down easier."
Azura looks at him in awe. "You're a genius." Razul laughs and passes the bottle back to Azura.
"He has his moments."
"It's like being a vampire even when you aren't one." Azura says thoughtfully.
Telio nods. "You have your venemous fangs and now I have a venemous sword. We'll make quite the team."
Azura peers around the corner of a wooden hut to the gravel road leading into Erid where two Fallen's stand guard at either side of the gravel entrance, leaning their backs against the nearest tree. The gravel path stops abruptly at the trees and turns into dirt throughout the town. Telio and Razul lean around the corner behind her. Azura pushes them back but not before they get a good look at everything.
"What the hell was that?" Razul asks puzzled, referring to the raised platform in the middle of the town bathed in a swatch of moonlight that illuminated three silver crosses. Telio and Azura exchange grim looks.
"That's how they keep you from leaving Aridact. Anyone caught leaving is chained to a silver cross and left to burn in the morning light." Azura replies darkly. Razul's jaw drops in horror.
Azura peers around the corner again to find out what the guards are doing. "We have to find a way around them."
"Why aren't there more guards patrolling the street?" Razul asks.
Telio smirks. "With the punishment so clearly visible in the middle of town do you really think it's necessary?"
"Well, no, it just seems odd." Razul replies honestly. "If he's so gung-ho on keeping everyone here it would make sense."
Azura turns back to them, resolute. "Fear is enough of a weapon to keep the vampires in line. Too many have died on those crosses to warrant any more reckless behavior."
"So how are we going to convince them to fight back?" Razul asks.
"I'm still working on that." Azura says meekly.
"What we need to do is show them how powerful they really are." Telio says.
"How would we do that?" Razul asks.
Telio and Azura exchange knowing glances. "We kill an angel."
"Even a Fallen will do," Telio responds with a shrug.
The three of them peer around the corner again at the angels standing guard. "Someone has to distract them." Azura says as Razul volunteers by stepping out around the hut and into the last of the night's moonlight. Her alabaster skin radiates like the irridescent moon in contrast to her drab deer skin attire. She smiles at the guards with her fangs extended and gives a seductive little wave. Telio and Azura disappear into the trees and make their way around behind the guards. The guards jump to attention as Razul appears and slowly approach her, swords drawn.
"Who are you?" The left guard bellows as they slowly close the distance between themselves and Razul.
"Wouldn't you like to know," Razul replies with a growl. The local vampires slowly start to drift out of the tavern, the larget building in Erid, to watch what happens. Most of them are drawn to the daring beauty of Razul's flesh, a few watch the Fallen's with any interest at all.
"Answer the question!" The other guard orders.
Razul laughs as she begins dancing without any music. The moonlight reflects off her skin like diamonds, enchanting the other vampires. As the guards continue to approach Razul, Telio and Azura move around behind them, Telio with his sword drawn and Azura with fangs fully extended. Azura runs over the dirt silently behind the guard on the right, Telio moves equally as quietly behind the guard on the left.
"Answer the question or d-" The guard on the right says as Azura's fangs sink into his neck. His companion looks over at him in time to see him die as Telio's sword enters his back and exits through his ribs. He screams as he looks down at the sword sticking out of his chest. Razul launches herself at the left-side guard and sinks her fangs into his throat as Telio rips his sword back. The smell of fresh blood awakens every vampire in Erid and brings them out onto the street. A group from the tavern has moved to enclose Azura, Razul and Telio, salivating over the Fallens' blood. Azura pulls back and offers the guard's body to the nearest vampire, a blond haired youth who looks to be about the age of sixteen. His father grabs his shoulder to stop him before he can do anything more.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? You drink from him you condemn us all!" He says to his son, glaring at Azura.
"How will they know? He's dead and there are no others here to stop you." Azura replies.
"They will send more when they don't receive word from these two! Have you not seen the crosses?" He yells as he gestures to the moonlit platform. Despite his stance on the matter Azura can see the thirst gnawing at him. Razul throws the man a reproachful look.
"You want to live the rest of your life in fear?" She challenges.
A brunette with an extremely large bust replies, "You're a vampire, you know the laws!"
"I'm a vampire and I make my own laws," Razul retorts.
"No one wants to fight your battle for you, Azura." A familiar voice says through the throng of vampires surrounding the guards. Azura looks around for the source of the voice as a man pushes through to the front of the crowd. His white blond hair appears almost translucent in contrast to his pale skin and bare chest. He wears tight pants and heavy combat boots with a sword sheathed at his hip. He grins as recognition dawns on Azura.
"Hello Kohl." Azura replies clipping the words off between her teeth. Telio and Razul both look at her but she ignores them.
"What are you doing here?" He asks as whispers break out among the other vampires.
"I knew I recognized you!" The busty brunette shouts pointing at Azura. Soon others join in with accusatory tones. Kohl quiets them with the wave of his hand.
"You still haven't answered my question," He says, his eyes never moving from her face.
"I came back to do what's right."
"So you're turning yourself in?" He asks raising an eyebrow.
"Then you're haven't come to do what's right."
"How do you know this guy?" Razul interjects.
Kohl chuckles. "She hasn't told you?"
"What is he talking about, Azura?" Telio asks still holding his sword, now pointed at Kohl. The Fallen's blood drips from the blade onto the dirt.
"He's a friend of my brothers'." Azura says still staring at Kohl.
"Have you told them about your betrayal?" Kohl asks and Azura growls in response.
"She did what she could. Which is more than I can say for any of you," Razul replies defensively. Kohl turns his attention to her and smirks.
"You know very little, outsider. Don't pretend you understand what anyone here has been through."
Razul starts to protest but Telio puts a hand on her shoulder. "Smart man," Kohl comments sarcastically and Telio's face hardens in response. Azura catches his eye from her peripheral vision, he reads the look on her face plainly: this was a bad idea. By now the're surrounded by a circle of angry vampires and the way out looks grim. Kohl steps forward, drawing his own sword, pointing it at Telio.
"I don't know what you are but you shouldn't have come here with blood running through your veins."
"I know what you are and I'm regretting having ever felt any sympathy for your kind at all." The circle of vampires growls in response but Kohl smirks.
"You sympathy is unneccessary, half-blood."
"You aren't as pure as you'd like to believe." Telio retorts. Kohl's face hardens as his lips pull back to expose his fangs.
"I'm going to enjoy draining you, half-blood, then we're going to tie these two to the crosses and wait for the morning to wreak it's vengeance."
Telio takes a step back and sheaths his sword, raising his hands as if he doesn't want to fight. His eyes never leave Kohl's face but Azura and Razul read his expression anyway. They both step back towards him, watching Kohl's reaction carefully. The circle of vampires start to close in with their fangs extended and dripping venom and saliva.
"We can solve this peacefully." Telio responds as Kohl growls and launches himself forward. Telio's prepared for this; he pulls Azura and Razul back into him as his wings unfold instantly from his back. His six foot wing-span knocks several vampires on their backs and stuns several others into hesitation. With Azura and Razul clutching him tightly Telio takes to the air and Kohl catches nothing but dirt where they were only moments before. The take off is rough plowing through the trees but Telio manages it and clears into the velvet sky that's all ready beginning to turn pink along the horizon. Both Razul and Azura notice this as the faintest rays of sunlight touch their skin, making it curl and smoke.
"Hold on," Telio says as the wind whips around them and he dives back down into the trees. His precision is perfect as he lands at their make-shift campsite and his wings refold upon his back.
"I was afraid the two of you would consider fighting it out but I'm glad you chose not to."
"When you sheathed your sword I knew you had another plan," Razul replies, "Now what?" She asks looking at Azura.
"We can't go anywhere now since it's almost sun up. As soon as they realize this they'll go into hiding, which the two of you should do likewise. I'll stand guard." Telio replies as he kneels down and searches through his pack. He pulls out a vial of vampire venom and a couple arrows. He removes the attached bow from the outside of his pack as well.
"You have everything don't you?" Azura comments in awe.
"Almost, now get in the tent." He says as he moves towards the nearest tree with the bow over his neck, the arrows between his teeth, and the vial in his pocket. Razul and Azura take cover as Telio climbs the tree. He sets up perch on a thick branch fairly high up. It gives him a decent view of the three crosses and the campsite below. He coats the vampire venom to the arrow tips liberally and waits for a fight.
The sun rises without incident and Telio falls into complacency as the day wears on without activity. He dozes periodically but always wakes himself with a start which at one point almost unseats him from his perch completely. After that he remains alert if a little hazy. By evening he's tired, bored, and hungry but all of that fades instantly as a group of horse-back soldiers rides into Erid and surround the executioner's platform. Telio sits up alertly and watches with bated breath as the soldiers, unmistakably angels, discover the two dead Fallens. He can't make out faces as he notches an arrow into the bow and takes aim, waiting.
Shugo is among the angels that ride into Erid that evening. Having never been in the town the platform first draws his eye and holds it as anger boils just below the surface of his skin. Daraku rides up along side his son decked out in Royal Soldier's attire, however his face still retains the look of a very scared child.
"Remember your mother," he whispers to his son.
"I haven't forgotten her like you," Shugo replies savagely and spurs his horse forward toward Philippe who's giving out orders as unlit torches are being passed around. As Shugo rides over another soldier hands him a dead torch. Philippe smiles wickedly at him and points to the largest wooden building in Erid, the tavern.
"Burn it," Philippe tells him as the same solider who handed Shugo the torch lights it for him. Shugo sits upon his horse's back staring at Philippe for a long moment as waves of anger roll through him like a volcano barely contained.
"You'll burn in hell for this." Shugo says as he turns to the tavern where an unknown amount of sleeping vampires lie. Against his better judgement he tosses the torch up onto the roof of the building. It flies through the air, end over end, and lands exactly where he wants it to. The roof ignites in a blaze and a woosh of heat as the other soldiers do likewise to the other buildings. Shugo watches Erid turn into a blazing inferno all around him. Inside the inferno the crosses blaze like haloes shimmering in the heat. That's when the screams start; screams of horror, repulsion, fear, and pain as the fire reaches the intended victims. A vampire engulfed in flames breaks through the front door of the tavern, arms pinwheeling, screeching like a banshee. What the fire doesn't burn the last of the dying sun does. The vampire falls to the ground writhing in agony as his flesh burns until absolutely nothing remains. Philippe watches the entire spectacle with glee while Shugo stares expressionless at everything around him. He forces himself to remember what brought him here.
When the entire town is blazing like a bon fire the angels ride out of Erid down the gravel path. Telio watches from his perch in horror at the smoke that rises through the trees. He can barely make out the three crosses through the plumes of smoke and flames but he knows they're there and still will be when the fire is done. Every tree in the surrounding vicinity goes up in blaze and the ones outside that, however spaced apart, slowly catch. It dawns on Telio then that they'll burn the entire forest which in turn could make it's way to Sirian.
"Oh my god," he whispers under his breath as he watches the fire rage a moment longer before quickly and expertly climbing down to warn Azura and Razul. As he enters the tent he finds both of them sitting up alertly. Azura takes in the grim expression carved into Telio's face, the screams that woke her, and the fire she smells in the air and darts out of the tent before either Telio or Razul can stop her. She doesn't head for Erid though, knowing it's a lost cause, she runs for the Raiki manor instead.
Philippe's army gathers in the clearing surrounding the Raiki manor with more torches. Philippe hands Shugo another torch but he refuses it. Daraku balks at his son.
"You must!" He insists hysterically.
"I won't." Shugo replies through a clenched jaw. Philippe laughs.
"You have no choice. Burn it or they'll kill her."
Reluctantly Shugo takes the torch and looks at the Raiki manor. Just weeks ago he visited this same house to be told to leave Aridact for good. In the moment he wishs desperately now that he'd done just that; left and never looked back. So many lives would've been spared. He closes his eyes and recites a silent prayer inside his head. As he archs his arm back and launches the torch through the air he whispers to himself, "Forgive me, Azura." The torch lands upon the roof and catches just as several more join it, thoroughly igniting the Raiki manor. Shugo watches in shock as more torches are thrown through the windows. Philippe turns and leads his army away from the scene but Shugo remains a moment longer watching the manor burn to the ground; boards splinter and crack, windows that weren't all ready broken shatter in the heat. With a kick in the sides Shugo's horse turns away from the burning building and moves into the shadows of the trees.
Azura cuts through the trees like a bolt of lighting. She leaps over the width of the river with ease, landing on her feet like a feline. She hears the flames before she sees them and unconsciously lets out a partial scream that sounds almost like a bat. She enters the clearing as full-night takes the sky, but in the clearing it could almost be day again. Azura collapses upon her knees in awe before the flaming remnant of her childhood home; all the years, all the memories, the last vesteges of her humanity all burn up in smoke as she watches with wide, round eyes and lets out a blood-curdling screech of agony. Every shrill octave of it rips from her throat like shattered glass. Any living creature still in the vicinity scatters at the sound of Azura's scream. In the forest Shugo glances over his shoulder at the heart-wrenching sound, knowing only absolute misery could create such a sound. In his heart he knows it's Azura and for a wild moment he starts to turn back. But he stops himself halfway there; what could he say, what could he do? Instead he turns back and continues following Philippe's army back to Gwithyn, away from the hell he just created.
Telio and Razul enter the clearing to find the blazing manor and Azura kneeling before it wailing lamentations. Tears of blood stain Azura's pale cheeks as she continues to scream grief. Razul quickly moves to her side and attempts to wrap her arms about Azura's torso but she fights her. In the fray Razul's cheek is raked open by Azura's claws. She watches Azura crawl through the dirt towards her burning home. Telio does't notice the fight as his eyes are locked on the burning manor. The second story collapses upon the first floor causing an outrush of heat and flame. He ducks and covers his face as the flames erupt outward, licking at the oxygen filled air hungrily.
"Azura stop!" Razul yells over the roaring flames. Telio barely hears her but it's enough to take his attention from the fire. He scans the ground for Azura and finds her army crawling towards the house. He rushes forward feeling the sweltering heat bake his skin and grabs Azura by the shoulders. He yanks her back but she fights him too, baring tooth and claw. Razul joins the fray and together she and Telio manage to get a decent grip on Azura's thrashing body enough to drag her away from the flames. The three of them sit in the dirt cradling Azura and holding her back from her suicide mission. After a while Azura gives up fighting and leans back against Telio's chest in defeat as blood courses down her face and her screams taper off into sobs. Just as the fire reaches its highest tempo a crack of thunder sounds overhead, deafening over the roar of the flames. Like a miracle rain pours from the sky in sheets, dousing the fire almost instantly. The rain pounds hard against the earth and washes away the blood on Azura's face. All three of them sit through the rain and watch as the fire smolders, leaving behind it only charred wreckage.
Shugo walks up the golden path to his childhood home and stops suddenly, taking it in; the shaded front porch, the two story ranch, his mother's garden out front, the neat order of it all. He felt like burning it too, it was only fair. Just then the front door opens slowly and a woman steps out into the shade of the porch. The door swings shut behind her with an audible click. Shugo stares at her in wonder as silent tears roll down his face. There's a swollen bruise on her right cheek, a week old cut on her forehead, but she smiles as she always has throughout his childhood. Her arms open to him and Shugo rushes forward, mounts the three steps easily, and pulls his mother into a bear hug. He buries his face in her hair to hide his tears, never realizing until her warm arms wraps around his torso how much he'd all ready accepted her death.
He steps back from her and she wipes the tears from his face. He has a single moment to register the strained expression upon her face before she collapses in his arms. He staggers as her body leans into him but it finally gives him a good view of her back. The hilt of a blade protrudes from Akemi's back, between the folds of her wings, and blood oozes a trail down the back of her white robes. Shugo's world swims before his very eyes as reality comes crashing down around him. Naturally he lays Akemi down on the porch, cradling her in his arms as she did to him years ago. He stares down into the dull diamond blue eyes of his mother's for the last time. She coughs and blood bubbles over her chin. She raises an arm to stroke his cheek and inhales one last time.
"I love you, my son." Akemi whispers with her last breath as the life leaves her eyes permanently. He hand falls limp at her side and her head falls slack as she can no longer hold it up. Shugo leans over his mother's dead body staring into her vacant face unbelievingly. The door opens again and Philippe appears on the porch, sneering. Shugo's gaze travel's up from his feet to his face and the volcano erupts as Shugo's eyes settle on Philippe's. He lets his mother's body down and rises, as he does so he pulls a blade concealed in his royal robes. Philippe starts to say something but Shugo silences him permanently with a blade to his throat. Philippe's eyes widen in pain and shock. His lips move wordlessly as blood pours from around the blade and his mouth. Shugo steps back, leaving the blade in, and Philippe's body collapses in a heap against the door. He stares vacantly up at Shugo still mouthing wordlessly as his life slips away. Shugo kicks him aside and walks into the house.
He walks down to the parlor and stops, he has to go no further to find what he was looking for. Daraku sits in the same chair Akemi sat in the night Shugo came home from his fight with Philippe. Daraku looks at his son with blood pouring down his face from a gash in his forehead. The front of his elegent robes are soaked in crimson as he reaches for his son with feeble hands. Shugo barely takes notice of the dead angel on the floor. He steps over it and looks down at his father stony faced.
"I'm...sorry..." Daraku says through mouthfuls of blood. Shugo stands in silence over him for a moment as Daraku looks up at him still with that look of a lost child. The Tenshi family sword lies on the floor underneath Daraku's hand. Shugo bends and picks it up. He straigtens with the sword in both hands pointed at his father's chest. He thrusts the sword forward into his father's chest. Daraku grunts as the blade tears through his flesh and ribs. His head sags forward after a moment and he stirs no more. Shugo releases the hilt of the sword and steps back, staring at his father with the Tenshi crest protruding from his chest. He turns and walks from the room, back out to the porch, and picks up Akemi's body. He pulls the blade from her back and throws it over the railing. He carries her out to her garden and sets her down on a soft patch of earth. He takes the shovel from the dirt and begins to dig.
Alone the work takes a couple hours but he finishes as the sun sets. He plants the bowl of the shovel in the dirt at the head of his mother's grave and steps back. He jumps down in the hole and pulls Akemi's body over the edge to him. Cradling her corpse like a sleeping child he lays her down in the dirt. He folds her arms over her chest, closes her eyes, and wipes the blood from her chin. Shugo leans over the body of his dead mother and kisses her forhead tenderly one last time. A tear escapes his eye and drops upon her face. He pulls back but doesn't wipe it away. He climbs from the grave and picks up the shovel again. Holding the shovel in one hand he looks over the edge into Akemi's grave; she could almost be sleeping.
"I love you." Shugo whispers as he begins shoveling the dirt in over her head.
Hudin sits on his porch drinking a bottle of ale when Shugo walks up through the dark. Shugo's face looms through the dark like a ghost. His jaw is set and his eyes half-dead. The blood on his robes doesn't phase him. Hudin takes it all in instantly and rises to his feet, setting the bottle down on the end table. He opens his arms and pulls Shugo into a hug which he returns half-heartedly.
"Do you have it?" Shugo asks mechanically as he pulls back from the hug.
"Yes." Hudin replies without hesitation. He disappears into his house as Shugo waits outside for him. Hudin returns after a moment to find Shugo hasn't moved at all. He's carrying a silver staff about 5 foot in length. He holds it out to Shugo who takes it carefully. He rolls it between his hands for a moment, gathering a feel of it. It hums inside his hands like a life wire. He closes his eyes and feels the engergy surging between himself and his new weapon. When he opens his eyes Hudin notices a new vitality in them that wasn't there when he first walked up.
"Thank you," Shugo replies handing Hudin a deerskin purse full of coins. He turns and walks away into the darkness, never once looking back.
"You're welcome," Hudin replies to the silence.
The night following the burning of the Raiki manor Azura stands among the ashes of her childhood home. There's nothing left to salvage but she feels something calling out to her anyway. She closes her eyes as she gets on her knees and roots through the wreckage. She turns over pieces of burned boards and crawls through pieces of broken glass that cut open her palms but she doesn't care, she's searching for something though she doesn't know what. Her hand trails through the ash and happens upon a stone surface. An electric currant jumps through her arm as her fingers make contact. Azura's eyes open as she digs it out with care. She brushes away the ash and dirt to reveal a tawny circular stone. Carved into the surface are elaborate symbols that look almost like gashes. Azura lifts the stone with one hand and runs the other one over the symolic surface once more. There's a leather strap looped through a perfectly round hole cut into the top of it; a necklace. She can feel it's energy like a tiny heartbeat pulsing through her veins.