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Angel of the Silences


									Commanded Obedience
“Whether one likes it or not, one must always answer to another—even if that other is oneself.”
--“I have to do what?!” The Oracle remained straight-faced, as she always did whenever possessed by the God of Night. “It is your final step, Guardian. You have defended this city for over a century, and have done so well. But there is a fear still lingering in your heart. Fear of what you should have mastery over.” Adrienne De L'obscurité scoffed. “Fear. I don‟t fear anything.” “Do not lie before your God!” the Oracle cried, sharply raising an arm to point an accusing finger at the young woman standing before her. “I can see into your heart. You fear what lies hidden in Kodama Forest. The spirits that can aid you—you are wary of them and the power they can give you. “You are a Guardian of the Night. A sovereign over the spirits themselves, if even late to the call summoning you. You will do as commanded and guard the forest this night, after the bell marking sunset has tolled. And you will not leave until the sun

has risen—no matter what occurs!”
With that final booming command, Jarun—God of Night—departed from the mind and body of his Oracle. The young girl—a girl not more than twelve who sat dressed in night-hued robes—looked around in confusion, as she always did. It seemed that the Oracle‟s consciousness was elsewhere whenever the Gods took control of their disciples. She set her eyes upon the fair face of her Guardian, Adrienne, who looked frustrated. “Well? What happened?” she asked the older girl. “Anything important?” “Yes,” Adrienne replied, “but directed at me. Go ahead and rest; I have to go prepare for tonight.” “Tonight?” “I‟ve been commanded to be out of the city tonight. Don‟t worry about it. The monks will ensure your safety until I return.” The Guardian made her way towards the door

leading into the dormitory hallway. There were things she had to get out of her room before sunset. “When will you be back, Adrienne?” Adrienne turned. The girl was nervous—another normal part of this particular Oracle‟s habit after Jarun “visited.” It would pass with time, Adrienne assumed. The girl was still young by an Oracle‟s standards. But she figured it was better not to give the young girl any more reason to be worried or upset. “I‟ll be back after sunrise,” Adrienne said calmly. “Like I said, don‟t worry about it, and get some rest.” ---

I don‟t believe this; ordering me to spend a night guarding Kodama Forest, Adrienne
thought as her boots crushed the newest layer of snow as she beat her own path through the tall evergreens and old oaks. Some of the oaks were trying stubbornly to hold on to the last of their leaves; most had already surrendered to the inevitable, their snow-covered branches standing as silent testaments to this unbreakable cycle.

Of all times…just when the snow is coming in…
The Guardian drew her black cloak closer around her black robes and white pants, before immediately letting the cloak open again, sighing heavily. The cold didn‟t bother her; she was just looking for an excuse to complain.

At least the night is clear…
She pushed the bangs of her waist-length black hair out of her eyes; too short to use them in making the two braids running down her back, but too long that they were a nuisance. Vision free, the young woman turned her onyx eyes up to the full moon. Its silver light gave everything a surreal slant. Legend said that the spirits of the dead came here to wait to hear where they would spend their afterlife. Some, she knew, never left; they were unable to realize they were dead. These who were unable to cross over were victims of a long ago war which hardly anyone remembered. Adrienne sighed heavily again. “A night out in an old forest.” She kicked at the snow. “I probably won‟t even run into anything; no one has encountered any of the spirits in days. Not that anyone would be sane enough to be coming through here during this time, but…” She kicked at the snow again. “Probably the reason no one‟s seen them is because they‟ve all

decided to migrate for the win—“

The Guardian‟s head snapped up automatically, jolted out of her frustrated self-pity. Someone was here. It couldn‟t be a spirit; being spirits, they didn‟t disturb the ground with enough force required to break a twig when they walked. Adrienne drew the talwar from its sheath at her side. She stood still, holding her breath and straining her ears for any sound. Sure enough, she could hear the rhythmic crunching of snow underfoot heading in her direction. There was no sound of a cart or of any animals; it wasn‟t a merchant, and they weren‟t riding a horse. Whoever was coming was using their own two feet. Adrienne moved behind the wide trunk of an old oak so as not to be seen, keeping her ears strained. She checked her fingerless forearm gauntlets, making them secure. The mail she wore under her robes felt strangely cold all of a sudden… Returning her attention to the stranger coming, Adrienne‟s Guardian abilities allowed her to sense something else. Power. This wasn‟t a Guardian‟s power; she would have recognized it right away. It was ambiguous, too far away still to decide whether it was malevolent or benign. But there power was, all the same, and coming from the direction of the footsteps coming ever closer. It wouldn‟t be long before the stranger passed the tree she hid behind; if the person was headed towards Nerezza, he had to. Adrienne kept silent, and waited.

Angel of the Silences
“All my innocence is wasted on the dead and dreaming”

„Adrienne De L‟obscurité.‟
It seemed like a good choice, but he would have to strike fast. He‟d be caught by daybreak. --A loud bell tolling signified nightfall, and Adrienne stepped into the forest, unaware that she was being watched from a distance. As soon as she had left the range of

vision, her pursuer entered in after her, keeping just out of sight. Some time passed, and the moon shone bleakly down from a starless sky. They were nearing a clearing; it was time to make his move. He quickened his pace, and felt her presence before seeing her. Just a few more steps…

A twig snapped under his feet, causing his quarry to snap to attention. He took notice of her unease, and indulged himself in a subtle grin, never altering his pace. He could sense how she held her breath, straining her ears to pick up any clue to who was approaching, but getting nothing more than the cadence of the crunching snow under his boots. Before he came within visual contact of her, however, he heard her take a few hurried steps, then silence.

„Hiding, mm?‟
Steadily approaching, Israfel began to hum a low tune to match his steps... something sad, slow, and melodic. Adrienne probably would have thought him mad or drunk, had she not been aware of his suppressed power already. She decided to stay where she was and hope he was just passing by; not yet daring to take a glance to see who it could be. When he was the closest he could get without leaving the path, he stopped abruptly, and the humming ceased as well. The sudden hush compared to the crunching and its melody was almost maddeningly silent. He waited a short while longer, playing with her mind, seeing if she‟d come out on her own. Adrienne was having a difficult time deciding what to do, and her mind was filled with many questions… surely he must know she was there, why else would he stop? Why was he searching for her? Who could have sen“Come out, come out, little child of the Night…” The silence shattered and her thoughts were interrupted by a voice with about as much warmth and spirit as the frozen oak she was hiding behind. He knew she was there, and there was no choice other than to face him now; so giving one quick assessment of her gear and tightening her grip on her talwar, she turned to face him. As she rounded the tree, she opened her mouth to speak. The words never found their way out, however, because she was too surprised by what she saw.

Standing before her in a patch of pale moonlight was a tall, average-built man, wearing a dark colored cloak (under naught but pale moonbeams, the color was uncertain) over leather warrior‟s armor. Two blades, both sappara, hung at his waist. A particular medal with an unknown seal on it would have caught her eyes, but something else had seized them first: his shoulder length black hair matched perfectly with his mantle… and the 12 foot wingspan behind him. Spread widely across his back were two large raven colored wings, feathered by the moonlight. Though once beautiful, they now looked as if they‟d been slowly deteriorating, as the feathers were more sparse and disheveled. Keeping her distance, as she still was unsure of his intentions, she decided to attempt speech again. With regained confidence in her voice, Adrienne spoke: “…An Angel?” Israfel chuckled to himself, and responded with the same cold voice: “Well, you can‟t really call me that anymore, I suppose.” “Then you‟ve fallen.” Another grin crossed his face. “Not just yet.” Though he knew she could have figured it out by now, he decided to explain anyway. “There are angels, and there are fallen angels. Good angels who do „bad‟ things are banished from the glory of Heaven and sent to the pits of Hell, for an eternity of tortured servitude.” Nothing new to her there. “Well, you could say that… I‟ve done something „bad,‟ and I knew I would be banished for it. It was either face Hell, or flee. And that‟s just what I did.” “…A renegade.” Adrienne understood most of it now, but was still unsure of his motive. “You know they‟ll find you,” she said, an edge of contempt in her voice. “You can‟t escape the hosts of Heaven.” “Can‟t I?” The grin became a smile. “This is where you come in. If they find me, an angel, they‟ll send me to Hell. Certainly. But if I‟m not completely angelic, they can‟t take me until death.” Her eyes widened; it all made sense. “With the blood of a normal human, I could become semi-mortal. I would escape temporarily, but death would come eventually, and my divine punishment would be carried out. But the life essence of, say, a guardian, mingled with the angelic blood in me…I‟d have no mortality to fear.” The smile twisted to a sneer; his hands found their way to the sapparae. “And alone in a dark, vacant forest… you seemed like a fairly good choice.”

Blood‟s Worth
- What is it about blood that makes it so special? Is it so powerful that men should kill and die for it? So magical that it is more precious than even gold? - Only a fool would answer no. --Had it been anyone else, the Guardian probably would have laughed at such a comment. Anyone who made such a bold claim on the power within her blood was either stupid or egotistical, if they believed themselves to be powerful enough to take what was rightfully hers. But this was different. An Angel, regardless of his current situation, deserved respect rather than ridicule. Holding it out at arm‟s length she raised the talwar until it was about level with her chest. In her right hand she held the sword horizontally; with her left she placed her open palm behind the duller inner curve. The sharp outer curve faced Israfel, as though challenging him. The Angel smiled a little. “An old-fashioned Guardian, I see. Impressive.” Adrienne gave but a small nod. “I know well how I seem, but we both know that appearances can be deceiving. And I am far from what you would expect. So instead of being in surprise at my hold on the old ways, why not get what you came for?” A small smirk pulled at the corner of her lips. “The night wanes, after all. And you, I‟m afraid, are running on borrowed time!” He didn‟t need to be told twice. In a flash he was charging at her, and she at him. Their blades met in a loud clang! which gave way to a steady staccato of metal against metal. If one had assumptions that two blades against one proved an unfair challenge, one‟s opinion would surely change, had they been witness to this fight. Adrienne‟s talwar moved deftly against the sapparae, challenging each attempt to strike at her with precision. Having no other shield to block with her gauntleted arms deflected blows her sword had no time to. Israfel was proving a seasoned warrior, however; any vulnerable areas that would gain her any ground as he attacked with one blade were quickly made perilous by the protection of the other. Undaunted, she kept her assailment up, and when the opportunity presented itself, Adrienne acted. Deflecting a blow from the sappara in Israfel‟s left hand, her talwar

disarmed him of the one in his right. Her intrusion did not end there, however; as quickly as the weapon was sent to rest in the snow the Guardian drove her fist hard into the renegade‟s face. The talwar‟s ebony gave her blow extra weight. She could feel cheekbone bone give slightly as her fist made the connection. Israfel reeled backward, startled at the explosion of pain spreading beneath his right eye. The smirk reappeared on Adrienne‟s face as she stepped back, watching him retrieve his blade. Her stance became one of defense; it was a challenge to charge at her. “I was always told that Angels had an excellent resilience against such blows,” she mused. “Could you be losing that resilience along with your grace?” Israfel took the challenge, his blades crossed together in an “x” as he ran forward. His intent with such an attack, average onlookers would assume, would be to behead her, but such an aim would truly be foolish of one seeking the power in a Guardian‟s blood. The power (and the position that came with it) could only be exchanged to someone new while the Guardian had some ounce of life within her. In effect, he had to give her a slow death. Death from beheading was too instant; he would lose his gamble, and he knew it. Instead, he would probably aim to—

Creating sparks, Adrienne brought the talwar straight vertical to block against those blades which threatened her life. Her feet had been prepared for his charge, but his strength she underestimated; when he crashed into her, his force caused her to slide slightly backward towards the brought trunk of a tree—one near the oak she‟d been hidden behind. This new detail Adrienne regarded with some surprise but not much. It was something to keep in mind, certainly, but nothing to be alarmed over. She pushed back but his force was slowly sliding her closer and closer towards the tree. He wondered why she did not attack, why she only blocked—and only enough to protect her neck, at that—and why she did not try something trick-filled as befitting the stereotype of Night Guardians. It was only a matter of time before he had her backed into the tree and unable to fend for herself. But Adrienne‟s mind was watching, more than mindful of the shadow cast by the man towering over her. Her onyx eyes peered up into his, and she chuckled softly. “You underestimate me,” she said under her breath, and proved it. Closing her eyes, the Guardian concentrated on the man-shaped patch of darkness, keeping her blade focused on pushing back the swords in her enemy‟s hands. When

the familiar notion came—the sensation like sinking and being pulled at once—she relaxed and let it wash over her. When it passed she opened her eyes. She had moved and not moved at once. She could see him, but he could not see her. The forest Adrienne could see perfectly—even with the shade given to the natural world by walking the shadow plane. It was hard to read his face, to see what he thought, but she guessed he was bewildered. One moment she stood before him, only slightly pressing against the sapparae with the blade of her own; the next moment she appeared to have…melted into the oak? The move had been so sudden that he had no time to remove the force from behind his swords. They scored a broad “x” into the old oak‟s bark at the Guardian‟s vanishing act. A silent hush fell over the forest. He turned around, his weapons up and at the ready. He sensed her near; where was she..?

„Here I am!‟
Her voice rang in his head before it cried out in his ears.

He felt the force of invisible magic driving hard into his back. The blow sent him flying forward against his will, and with a terrifically loud thud his body crashed so hard into the tree it knocked snow from its tired limbs; some fell on him as he lay sprawled out on the ground. Adrienne had since reemerged from the shadow plane, a small smile of amusement on her lips as she neared. Israfel was bleeding from the nose, and he looked quite dazed, but she could still sense the power emanating from him. “Oh, look. A snow angel.” With a small wave of her hand the fallen sapparae rose from the ground and embedded themselves in the tree behind her. “Claim your weapons and prove you‟re worth enough that I'll grant you a quick death, rather than the slow one you deserve before serving your eternal damnation.”

Hevnervals {Avenger‟s Waltz}
“Kryss fingrer og heng kors i halsen; fold dine hender hvis du trur de har meir makt enn denne valse” “{Cross your fingers and a cross around your neck; fold your hands if you believe they have more power than this waltz}”
--Steadily, Israfel stood. He was truly bewildered; not so much from the strength of the Guardian, as powerful as she was… but from the feeling of pain: he‟d never felt it before. The sensation throbbing lightly throughout his face was brand new to him, and he wasn‟t sure what to think of it. It was unpleasant, of course, but not terrible. Not yet, at least. Momentarily disregarding his adversary, he brought two fingers to the blood trickling from his nose. It was pleasantly warm. Then, he held up his fingers to a patch of light that had found its way through the branches of the tree he‟d fallen under. The pale moonbeams gave the blood a rich, deep crimson hue; it seemed alive on his fingers, as if it were still coursing through his veins. He knew that this liquid was the essence which he needed from her, and his desire to take it grew. He‟d felt his first pain, and now, his first lust for blood. His focus traveled the short distance from his outstretched hand to Adrienne, and despite the new pain, another malicious grin crossed his face. Keeping his pensive gaze, he noticed the sapparae, rooted in a tree behind her. Avoiding the degradation of passing her to retrieve his own weapons, his bloodstained hand flicked in their direction. With a second motion, he pulled his hand to himself, closing it. The weapons, in response, flashed closely past Adrienne‟s head. To his disappointment, however, she didn‟t flinch, but kept her air of contempt. Twin weapons reunited with their master, his grip tightened. It was her turn to learn pain. Without a pause for conversation, the ring of steel on steel dominated the tranquility once more as Israfel blasted forth with renewed passion. The blades clashed faster and faster as the rivals challenged each other‟s skills. The battle moved with stunning fluidity, both with excellent form and brilliant dexterity. With every offence he had to offer, she had a parry. To every attack she threw, there was a counter. It was a challenge of endurance to occupy them as each sought an opportunity. Adrienne was the first to find one, and after forcing both sapparae to one side, her

talwar arced towards his chest. With the added balance of his wings, however, he was able to evade the strike by leaning backwards. Too much momentum disrupted her balance, and the broad side of a sappara met her face like a bat before she had the chance to catch her balance and block. Following the cold steel on her face was a knee planted in her stomach to intercept her stumbling. Before she could double over, a punt from the other leg had her lying across the snow a few yards away, where she remained until she reclaimed her strength. She rose indignantly before long, barely dazed, as Israfel had done just moments before. A slim line of blood traced her right jaw where the edge of the blade had broken her skin, a few drops falling to adulterate the pristine snow. They advanced towards each other once more, and Adrienne noticed him eyeing the vital liquid with a strange glint in his eye. Keeping vigilant watch, they circled each other slowly. Both pairs of eyes stared into the others‟, reading for any clue of their next move. Israfel spoke dauntingly. “No arrogant remark this time?” She scoffed in reply. “You‟re not worth the energy.” He jabbed a sappara forward, but it was countered. “Aye, I suppose you‟ll be needing to save as much energy as you can.” Her talwar was deflected nimbly. “Ha! Let‟s see you own up to such a claim.” Two more thrusts of her sword; one he back stepped, the other intercepted. “So be it.” Immediately their swords were back in the repetition of blows, clanging loudly through the once serene winter nightfall; both warriors so highly experienced that any defect in form would have either of them disarmed (in either of its meanings). Occasionally a blade would come close enough to lacerate a piece of cloak, and at one point a few strands of Adrienne‟s hair draped in the way of a sappara and were set free, unnoticed by either of the focused rivals. Time dragged on, and neither one could win any ground, or at least keep any advantage they gained. Suddenly she was knocked backwards by an unexpected blow: one of his powerful wings had collided with the side of her face from out of the blue. A strike from his left blade knocked her talwar from her hand while she was stunned, and his other wing swung across her back, throwing her to where her sword had landed. Quickly

salvaging her weapon, she stood to hear the rapid crunching of snow underfoot as he ran towards her. Turning to face him, she prepared to take advantage of his haste, swinging widely at him. Her weapon hadn‟t made it to him before he muttered “Fulgoris!” All at once, every piece of metal in contact with her pulsed as jolts of electricity coursed through them. She immediately threw down her weapon, but the chain mail under her robes was clinging to her form, sending shockwaves of agony throughout her entire body. Her mind was cleared of all but the torture which had moments ago been her protection. After an eternity within a few seconds, the electricity subsided and she fell into the snow, temporarily paralyzed with pain, though still conscious. Her left foot was twitching involuntarily. Israfel‟s voice sounded from above her, seeming more sincere than sarcastic: “Come now, Guardian. Surely there is more to you than this.” She slowly opened her eyes to see the renegade towering above her. Using his foot, he rolled her over, face down in the snow. Gritting her teeth, she pushed herself to her knees, then steadily stood up. The jolt left her with little pain, but a numb feeling tingled at the ends of her limbs, and her joints had tightened up. To her surprise, she was having trouble regaining the nonchalance that always had come naturally to her. After shamelessly retrieving her fallen weapon, she inhaled deeply and took a defensive stance. Instead of taking to the offensive, however, Israfel also positioned himself defensively; one blade extended to challenge her swordplay, the other readily guarding his body and prepared to counter any magery she might attempt. His wings were poised at full extension, high in the air, giving him an ominously larger appearance and enough potential energy to move as quickly as needed. While keenly observing her, he tried to figure out what she‟d done just moments before; how she could have „disappeared‟ in front of him. The only logical explanation was that she had slipped into another plane of existence. The spirit plane? He wasn‟t sure if a Night Guardian had that ability, and even if she had, he would have seen her easily. The shadow plane, then… it made perfect sense. With reign over Night, the world of shadows would have to come naturally to her, and being a creature of light, it was the only realm he couldn‟t sense. Besides, there was no way she could have accessed the Divine plane…

Israfel grinned as an idea crossed his mind, but to Adrienne, it was no different than any other malicious smile he‟d made during their encounter. “Your move, black queen.”

“No one is exempt from death. Even the Gods themselves, as immortal as they are, will one day succumb to the comforting chill of its everlasting sleep.”
--The Guardian did not smirk at the invitation bursting with arrogance. She hadn‟t heard it; her mind was elsewhere, focusing on other things. Before long Adrienne‟s eyes began to glow a deep, ominous violet; the dark energy began to surround her like a powerful aura. The energy wisped in thin tendrils all around her. From the energy Israfel thought he heard…whispers? In the silence of the night the soft noise was even more clear, his assumption even more sure. They were whispers of the dead, being called to serve the will of the Guardian. A large portion of the energy concentrated itself around her right hand, swallowing whole the talwar with little thought to doing otherwise. The energy pulsed, throbbed, squirmed with life as it began to elongate and take form. At the same time the dark aura of energy surrounding Adrienne began to subside—almost as if the talwar was absorbing it all. Only it was no longer a talwar. With the energy settled and faded the renegade saw that she now held a scythe—the handle made not of wood, but of stone, of the darkest onyx. The handle glittered ominously in the moonlight. “A gift of Lady Death,” she said, gripping tighter to the scythe. “And soon I‟ll bestow this gift upon you!” Adrienne launched herself at Israfel, scythe raised at an angle so as to somewhat protect herself as she aimed towards slicing him in a diagonal half. His blades scored light marks in the stone handle. She was still trying to shake off the effects of his electrocution spell, however, noting with a bit of personal disdain that her movements were less graceful than they had been before. Still, he looked was surprised at the force with which she threw herself into the fray of battle once more. She wasn‟t the only one who had changed, however; Israfel‟s dark blue eyes were

glittering with a slightly different sentiment than they had been when this violent dance started. There in those eyes—which perhaps had once been filled with perfect compassion and love—lay the stirrings of bloodlust struggling against the chains of Temperance. It was only so long before the chain broke and he truly became something worthy of Hell. Under her breath Adrienne spared a chuckle. If grace was not going to help her, perhaps it was time to casting grace aside in favor of a more direct approach. The Guardian swung the blade around, fully intending to slice his abdomen open. Israfel dodged, leaving only the momentum still in the scythe to deal with; the weight was still too centered near the blade‟s head to stop abruptly without leaving herself vulnerable. Instead the Guardian followed the swing through its natural spin, catching the renegade Angel in his left side with the scythe‟s blade. Israfel gave out a cry as the blade dug in half an inch, bringing with it a painful heat as it drew blood. A grin twisted itself across Adrienne‟s lips at the second cry of pain he gave when she sharply yanked the handle towards her, turning the stab wound into a bloody gash and bringing him to Israfel to his knees. “You‟d better get used to it, Renegade. There‟s worse pain than that in Hell.” A second yank pulled the blade free. In the moonlight the contrast between the dark crimson of blood and bright silver of blade was made clear. Adrienne studied it with some kind of awe. “Who‟s to say I‟ll see the gates of Hell?” Adrienne returned her attention to Israfel, smiling as she twirled the scythe in her hands. “I promise that you will.” Pushing with all his strength the renegade rose and regained the offensive. His own movements were hindered by the throbbing pain in his side, making it easier to block his attacks. Something seemed strange about this pain, however—it didn‟t seem like one still affecting his face. There was a dull heat hiding just underneath the throbbing in this gash. Could she have bewitched him again? More than likely not; he would have sensed it…wouldn‟t he? His sword carved more faint notches into the onyx handle, but Israfel was no longer on the offensive. She was pushing him back, taunting and teasing with her hollow strikes of the handle, if nothing else. Adrienne was pushing to find an open spot, an open distance, an open weakness… Faking another swing she instead rammed the blunt top of the scythe hard into his abdomen. He went sprawling backwards onto the snow, gasping for breath. His swords fell nearby, within his reach, but his need

for air made it near impossible to move. There was the burning in his chest; it was almost as bad as the one in his side. Before long Adrienne entered into his field of vision once again holding the talwar as opposed to the large scythe. Israfel felt her weight, though lighter than his, pinning him to the cold ground in a straddle. Her eyes had a strange light in them. A light that glittered of triumph, of the smug knowledge of victory. “I‟ll make this part quick for you, since I take some pity on your will to live and survive the tortures awaiting you,” she said. Slowly she raised the sword, the blade‟s point hovering over his heart. This was it. After this Israfel was in the hands of Errinos, Goddess of Death, and he was certain she would not be kind in handing him his punishment. Except… “That…won‟t be necessary.” With a flick of his wrist he regained the sappara on his left even as he began to shift his weight to the right. He rolled over, pinning her under him, and causing her to drop the talwar. Feeling the surge of renewed strength fueling him Israfel pushed his own blade through fabric and mail, flesh and bone. Adrienne‟s pupils shrank to pinpoints, her eyes watering from the sudden intrusion of pain; a sharp gasp escaped her throat. His gaze turned mockingly sincere, even as he gave the blade an extra twist before pulling it out. There was a flare of twisted glee ringing in his mind. Is this what it was to take the life of someone fighting for the good he had once helped defend? He understood now what the darker creatures found so wonderful about it… That strange little feeling of power… “A pity you couldn‟t meet your promise. But some were made to be broken, it seems.” She could only gasp her last breaths in reply. Gently he took her limp wrist in his hand, drawing a line with the same sword. “I‟ll take what is mine.” He looked down at her face before taking what he came for, and found that things were not completely in his favor. Her gasps had subsided, the pupils had grown large and the eyes glassy. Her skin—while naturally almost milk white—looked downright ghostly now, contrasted only by the thin line of blood coming from her mouth. Her wrist felt cold, almost as cold as the snow. Silently he cursed his misfortune. His lust for blood had been too eager, his wound too grave, and now she was dead before serving any use to him. Knowing now that time was even more of an enemy he rose to leave when he heard a voice that sent strange chills up his spine.

„Welcome home.‟
He turned, and what he beheld in his sight sent another odd little chill. Adrienne stood before him, feet hovering slightly above the ground, and looking quite alive…except that she wasn‟t. In her hands she held the scythe again. Her face was hidden by the hood of her cloak but the ghostly paleness of her hands attested to her living death. There was blood leaking in drops from the left side of the cloak. From underneath her hood came the voice again, but Israfel had a feeling her lips weren‟t moving.

„Welcome home. Your new home… This is your new home…a place of ice rather than a place of fire. A place of never-ending night and never-ending death…‟
She began to advance on him slowly, feet still hovering above the snow, repeating the same thing over and over in a soft whisper that filled his head. The whispers of the dead were beginning to resurface, giving her mantra weight, like a cresting wave. The renegade stumbled backward, forgetting that her corpse was behind him and tripping over it. Even as he fell he worked to scramble away from this undead Guardian, doing so until his back came up against the base of a tall tree. Something about this specter hovering before him made him want to cower, to flee, but at the same time he felt too paralyzed to do so. The Guardian let out a short laugh—more like an inhuman bark than a natural laugh—and held up a hand engulfed in dark wisps of energy. At once the wound in his side began to flare up, going from a low, dull throb to a bright flame of pain almost instantly. It felt like something was eating into him. When he looked, the wound appeared to be doing just that; it was consuming him at an all-too-slow pace. Adrienne laughed again.

„You may be able to escape the hosts of Heaven. But there is no escaping the grasp of Hell.‟
The pain was getting unbearable. He could feel his flesh dying and rotting away, the muscles withering up, only to turn to dust and crumble away, the blood spilling without end from his body. Surely, surely he‟d die now. If fate was kind he would die now…

„There is no escape for the damned! There is only suffering!‟
Frightened beyond his awareness, he cast a look up into the face no longer hidden by

the cloak‟s hood. Israfel‟s scream floated out into the endless night as his gaze fell upon that dead face of the once-beautiful Guardian. The right eyeball lay shriveled up in its dark socket while the left was covered with a milky cataract. The skin in the area where he‟d cut along her jaw was black and peeling, giving view to the clean white bone underneath. Overall her face was bloated, fish-egg white in color save for the area of her jaw and her tongue, which lay black and swollen in her mouth.

„There is no escape…‟
As she brought the scythe in a decapitating slice, Israfel screamed again, hardly aware of it…

„Welcome home at last!‟
…or the jarring blow sending him back to reality.

Adrienne‟s boot slammed hard into the renegade‟s jaw, sending Israfel tumbling backwards while bringing him back to focus at the same time. Had it been real? Was he really in Hell? The pain in his side from the gash proved to be real enough… With a frightened jolt of his head he looked up from where he lay; there stood Adrienne, smiling mischievously as she leaned against the scythe—and very much alive. There was still on the dead air some echo of a scream—his scream, more than likely. She didn‟t move from where she stood, only continued watching him with that odd little smile. “Only the damned truly have anything to fear.”

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