Those musical, beautiful sounds wept through the walls of his prison from somewhere above. The cry of violins and a long, drawn opera voice whose words never quite came to fruition
Chaffen heard it so faintly that he was sure he had imagined it. Imagined it, as he had so many things. Dreams and reality now blended together. How long had it been since he last stirred? Minutes, or days? His eyes felt tired, like he had been searching endlessly for something that simply did exist, yet he knew without a doubt that he had slept... If one could call it that.
Those strings continued, bringing back to mind that familiar dream. The monster standing there cradling his son, but sometimes it wasn't just Kazimir, sometimes Fédora, sometimes both of them. Their cries and screams were torture on the man's broken mind and echoed through it like the dropping of a pin in a deafeningly silent room.
The look in the eyes of the beast taunted him still, for the more the looked at it, the more he saw himself reflected back in that stare. But this monster was not him. He had changed, as surely as the weather did, Chaffen had grown, evolved past that primitive beast that held captive his mind, his only pleasant memories of his family and kin. Held hostage his love for them, and used it against him.
Who you are. What you are. Look at me. Look. At. Me.
Those words, though they were never spoken, hissed in Chaffen's mind, it was his own voice, but its meaning he could not truly decipher. It was joined with words that Previntius had spoken, and Chaffen found himself asking the same questions.
Where was the Archangel? Why had not he been stricken down before now? If he was in fact so crucial, if he meant so very much, why had he been allowed to live?
The music played on overhead, and the questions were allowed to play in the assassin's head until he again lost consciousness. Unable to move, unable to see, there was little else to do besides sleep.
Stories above the chamber, Previntius paraded elegantly in what he called his ballroom, dressed to impress in a suit made just for him, entirely content, a smile worn upon his face. The room was decorated in black, silver and red, drapes of sanguine, blood pools that bubbled in flat, decorative ponds on either side of the room, at the head of the room, instruments that played themselves conducted by nothing but pure shadow. He danced not alone, no, but with him were a number of people, or, what were once people. They danced together, corpses all dressed up, animated again, with shadow. Their eyes were open, and though the blinked now and again, there was no doubt that each and every one of them was dead long, long ago.
“What will you do with him?” Merzen asked, her pale, weak eyes staring up at the tall, four-armed, scaled demon who held her spellbound with his stare, and captive with his arms. She was bereft of her fangs, all her charms, her vampiric abilities that made her who she was had been taken from her entirely. On one side of her skull, where the bullet had pierced her, the flesh and bone was caved in.
“Does it matter so to you even now, my pet?” the demon asked, his toothy smile flashing as he brought her about into a low dip, his arms about her lower waist. Forced to comply, she completed the bend.
“It matters.” She insisted, the only thing she had control over it would seem was her voice.
“Why? He has never shown to you the affection, the adoration that I have. He has never obsessed over you as you have for him.”
“Doesn't what? Matter? Why of course it does, my dear. You are hopelessly addicted to a man who has never cared for you, and never will. Why? What is he to you, that you should care so much for him even now?” He allowed a small turn, continuing their courtly, but gruesome seeming dance. The ghostly opera singer continued. “After all you did to so dutifully lead me to him, and, him to me. All of this.... All of this, my sweet, is because of you.”
She spat in his face.
He grinned at her rebellious nature and straightened to wipe it on the cuff of his coat, but resumed even still. None of the other dancers even seemed to notice, in fact all carried on as if nothing at all was being said. For a long moment, nothing was said at all.
“He was a man once.” She finally said. “Just as he is a man now. Why must you destroy it?”
“Who he is now is a fluke, Merzen. He was never meant to be what he is now. I am merely reminding him of who he really is.”
“You mean corrupting him.”
“Is that not what you wanted for the longest time, as well?” he countered quickly. Her lips fell tightly shut. He laughed at her. “I know what it is you would say. That you were a slave in your own body. No different than you are now. Isn't that right?” Again, she said nothing and he laughed once more. “Silly girl.”
The song ended, and he stood straight again, bending low to kiss the back of her hand, but the gesture made her wince, as though it were painful. He backed up and released her, but the moment he had, the moment that his fingers lost their contact on the woman, she fell lifelessly to the floor, her body not her own, unable to move, but her eyes and lips trembled as she struggled to overcome his hold on her. Previntius moved away and up the stairs at the head of the room, where the organs all played and placed himself among them in a throne composed entirely of bone... Not too unlike the one Chaffen kept in his own home.
“I have an order, you know. Adelfel will not be pleased if I do not complete what I was sent here to do.”
“Then do it!” Merzen shouted, given a brief moment to reply, she scrambled onto her torso and faced him, though still too weak to get off the floor. “Finish him and be done with it, Previntius! You torture him too much for this. End him and be done with it! You have your prize. Will Adelfel appreciate you wasting his time?” She countered heatedly.
Reptilian eyes stared at her from across the room, framed on either side by dancing minstrels. “You think I should grant him mercy. But why? For what purpose, Merzen? He will die, all the same, it does not matter. He will die, and when he does, my Master will be pleased. The work he has sent me here to do will be done, and my use for you will have run out.”
“And do you not think that Adelfel will think the same?”
“What do you mean?” He asked after a long moments pause.
“He sent you here to kill him. To clean up his mistake. Once that is done, he will have no more use for you either. Why would he not simply dispose of you as well? Are you not merely a copy of what he was?” She asked, finally coming to her hands and knees, her black hair tumbling about her feline features.
Previntius paused at her words, but soon, he was laughing, it was an altogether intoxicating, charming, but somehow hideous sound.
“In a manner of speaking, yes. But, I am much improved from that... project, if you will. I for one hold no illusions of who I am, who I was, or who made me. I know full well what I do, and why I do it. Moreover? It is said that if you want to make for good breeding, you must start with good stock, would you not agree?”
“NOT, good, for what the master intended.” Previntius cut her off. “And now he is causing problems. He must be dealt with. So he shall. Ergo, why I am even here.”
“After, I will do whatever it is that Adelfel wishes of me. Perhaps he shall promote me. Perhaps he shall award me more power. Give me some rank. I cannot be sure, but it doesn't matter. Do you want to know why?” He asked, rising from his seat and pacing across the room back to her, he picked her up by her hair, so much so that she dangled off the ground and cried out with pain. “I will do it because I enjoy it. I do not do it for payment. I do not do it for reward, but because I have no illusions that from the day I was born, this was what I was meant to do.”
She was unable to speak now, and he dragged her off. As he left the hall, the entire room in its splendid grandeur glimmered and faded away at once, revealing itself to be nothing more than a crooked, empty hall with a throne in the far front of it, the blood in the sides of the room especially real. He took her back to the room where she was being kept, a cage small enough for her to sit in, and nothing more. Throwing her in without regard to her comfort, he had two of his underlings stand guard at her door.
“Previntius!” She screamed after him. He paused in the doorway and looked back at her.
He said nothing, so she spoke quickly.
“For all that he has done, he deserves the truth, don't you think? He deserves to know how he came to be. Before you end all of this. He must know.”
Previntius chuckled darkly.
“Oh believe me. He will know. He will know and it will end him. I am counting on it.”
The dream came once again, emerging from the blackness of the assassin's mind as it usually did, starting with memory that somehow became twisted and dark. As he looked on, his daughter stood in the demon's grasp now, screaming and reaching for him, and though he tried to reach for her he found he could not. Tears stained either cheek and ran coldly towards the floor, drenched in blood. Again, the demon met his eyes, the sound of popping bone emanated and the man tried to turn away his gaze, refusing to look upon it, but no matter where he looked, it was right there before him again, in all directions, and closing his eyes revealed it in bitter, closer detail. Sometimes he could see it through the demon's eyes, looking down at her as she broke, seeing the light leave her small, silver eyes. Chaffen felt more and more of himself slip away with every occurrence of the dream.
All at once he came away, breathing heavily into the room, unnaturally cold, his heart thrumming rampantly in his chest. His eyes scanned around, looking for them, the glowing red eyes that he had come to know as the demon's eyes in this dark place. But, they did not come. Yet, still the air was cold. He could become invisible, Chaffen reminded himself. He was surely here.
It lingered for several minutes before Chaffen spoke.
“Do you delight in this torment, Previntius? I am sure you must, or else you would not linger in the shadow like the coward you are.”
No reply came.
Again, the cougar tried to taunt the man into showing himself.
“You must be feeling particularly weak, to see how little effect these tricks are having on me.” He said, thinking that to hear it himself would reaffirm his own beliefs.
Once more, nothing was said, and Chaffen said nothing now, convinced that the cold must be something else... Something else, he thought, realizing then what he was sure it must be. He recalled back when Nero had made the deal with the banshee who had been under the employ of the Mortem, how at the end of Dresden's life, a reaper had appeared to them. Though they had not seen it, the chill was familiar, and just like this.
“So this is it, then.” Chaffen murmured quietly into the room. It had all come to this, he thought. At last, the demon had been too negligent with his toy, and the assassin would die and be released at last. At least his torment would end, and his kin would be more or less safe. He would accomplish what he came here to do.
What happened then, he did not expect. As he had closed his eyes to accept what he was sure was coming to him, a sudden, blinding flash of white light clouded his mind entirely. Fate! At last she was here!
No. No she wasn't, he realized as his eyes came open to land upon an unexpected presence. Though he had never seen the man before personally, he recognized him by Fae'iqa's description of him.
The figure was tall, feline, with long hair that drug the floor, massive wings, four of them now, that came out to either side, long, almost egyptian seeming features. He was solid white, decorated in gold and white attire, bangles and chains, he was unlike any creature Chaffen had ever seen.
“Ruku.” Chaffen breathed wordlessly into the room, which had gone eerily still. The angel nodded.
“Why are you here?” Chaffen asked suddenly, looking about- had he just died? Was that what was happening here? He didn't remember it happening like this before.
“You are not dead, Chaffen Markevich. Not yet.” Ruku said, standing as he was. Chaffen realized that so long as the angel was there, he felt no pain. It was a welcome relief for the moment.
“Have you come to release me? To aid me? To kill the demon?” He asked quickly, eager.
“I'm afraid I can do neither of those things.” Ruku replied, his tone dripping with sorrow. “But I have come to give you a message.”
“W-What? Why can't you? Fate could do it! Where is she?”
“Gone.” The word sounded like a guilty verdict on the stunned prisoner, staring on in confusion and worry.
“What do you mean? Gone where? Gone how?”
“When Fae'iqa made her pact with me, over Fate's soul, to say it caused a raucous in the beyond would be something of an understatement. In fact, my even being here to speak to you goes against everything that I am bound by.”
“What do you mean? I don't understand! Explain yourself, Angel!” Chaffen demanded.
“Angels are not permitted to meddle in the lives of mortals, Chaffen. Regardless your past, you are mortal now. Fae'iqa is mortal. The gods do not interfere in the lives of men here, of women here.”
Chaffen, starting to grow enraged, cut him off. “You're wrong! A god made me, and PUT me here, a god is the reason I am here, a god is the reason Prev-”
“No, Chaffen. I am not wrong.” He said it with such a calm and factual tone that Chaffen's words cut off and he stared at the man blankly, unknowing what to make of his sentiments. Finally, Ruku continued. “Fate Leone was not an angel, Chaffen. At least, not in the sense you would think she is. She is fallen. A fallen angel. When she died, all those centuries ago, she was maddened. She was insane. The Gods had decided that the actions at the end of her life would determine where she would go. They decreed that Fate Leone would go to Hell.”
“Why? For what purpose? What did she do?” the bound man asked, eager now to know the truth.
“Fate Leone, in the end of her days grew desperate in her attempts to replace her kind. To regrow the Kethese. The race that you had a hand in destroying. So maddened was she, that she sought to eliminate any and every form of darkness in the world that she could find, including, but not limited to, myself, her mate, and her own child.”
“W-What? You?” Chaffen gasped, not believing it.
“I was part demon. Not unlike your kin, Nero. My father was a demon. Her mate, and her child? There was nothing wrong with them, but she decided they were unworthy of being Kethese, despite that she had made them so, and killed them both, before she was later killed herself by Mackaeth, your predecessor.”
Chaffen now found himself unable to speak, his throat going dry as he stared at the angel. Rage colored his eyes.
“This is a trick. Another foul vision from the Demon. This cannot be real- I do not believe you! BE gone, you cannot torment me any more!” He screamed.
Ruku waited patiently before the man, eventually shaking his head.
“No Chaffen, it is not a dream.”
“Then what does any of this have to do with me? What is it you have come to say?”
“When Fate was sentenced to hell, I plead for her to be given a second chance. I made a bargain with the gods to show them that she could redeem herself. You... you were the bargaining chip. The arrangement was that, if Fate Leone could convert you back from a life of darkness into a good man, into something better, into someone worthy of the light, that she would be free to live a second life. She would be given a rebirth, a chance to redeem herself. But... if she failed, she would burn with you at the time of the end of your life. But, in so doing to try and cleanse you, she had further broken herself. Her soul cannot be repaired now. The deal that was made between us, regarding her and Fae's arrangement has been nullified. Fae has broken her contract, and Fate herself has gone beyond any chance of hope. The gods have seen it undone. The message I have come to deliver you is this:
Time has run out, Chaffen. If you do not find a way out of this, a reason to live, you will die, and you will go to hell. When you get there, Fae will not be there- at least, not immediately. I cannot say whether or not she will even meet you there. Her fate has once again been undone, and she commands it now. Her actions and her actions alone will determine what happens to her. This will be the last time you ever hear of Fate, or me, for that matter.”
Stunned, the cougar's mouth sat slightly ajar. Finally he found words.
“What do you mean? Why have you come to tell me this? If none of it really matters anymore, then why. What will become of her, and you, that I will not see you anymore?” Not that he had missed them terribly in the first place, angels always made him uneasy.
“I am here because if you can survive, it will delay Fate's judgment. It will prove to them that I was right. That she could heal you. That she could make you something better.” His tone was almost condescending, Chaffen felt slightly insulted by it. “They may decide to show her mercy, if that is the case, I can hope. As for me... For my meddling, I am being stripped of my power. I will be forced to rebirth to reaffirm my worthiness. Neither of us will be able to speak to you then, and, I assume, it will be the last you get to speak to any of our kind.”
“What of the gifts that Fate gave me- my wings; my fertility? The restrictions? My children?!” Chaffen insisted.
“Those gifts are gifts that cannot now be undone... For as much as they should not have been, your children have pure souls, Chaffen. They walk in the light, for now. The gods will not see that touched. Your wings, as they are key to your ability to have children at all, cannot be removed from you. They are so much a part of you now that you may as well have been born with them... As per the restrictions... None were listed, but I would not tempt the gods to remove them should they see you putting them to tremendous darkness.”
“But you said the gods don't meddle.” Chaffen uttered sternly.
“True enough, but then, Fate was not a god herself, was she? She may not have been strictly mortal, but she was not one of us. She was like any other enigma in your world. An immortal that tread the line between life and death. Like any demon, vampire, demigod... What have you. As such, what she did to you, while powerful, was still within the realm of mortal affairs. But, she tried to make an immortal deal, through me. It became the god's business then. They have effectively rinsed their hands of all of this, and of you. At the end of your life, you will be treated as any other.”
“Wait.” Chaffen stopped him immediately. “What do you mean, as any other? Are you saying that I could go to heaven, if I was worthy of it?”
The angel paused for a long moment, his hands rubbing slowly together before him, his form was starting to lose it's shape, he was running out of time.
“I cannot say. They have not shown this to me... And refuse to do so.”
“You did not say why you are doing this. If it is true that Fate is corrupt beyond repair, then would not you, as an angel of the light, expect for her to go to hell? Wouldn't you want that?” Chaffen asked finally.
Ruku smiled, but it was a small, sad sort of thing, the darkness of the shadows in the room began to close around him; Chaffen's pain began to return.
“I loved her, Chaffen. More than anything in this world. More than anything in any other. More than heaven. I would give anything to be with her again. Anything. My life. My substance. My place here in these golden halls. It goes against my laws to bring you this message... But if it means that I might see her again... I am sure you would take the same chance.” He said finally, and it was something that Chaffen was sure he knew for a certainty. He said nothing and merely nodded.
The pain intensified, and he blinked. When his eyes opened, the man was gone, and he was blind once more, leaving him to wonder if he had hallucinated or dreamed the entire thing. The chill in the room remained.
Now and then, someone would enter the room to feed him, forcing something down his throat in his state of unconscious, just enough to bring him awake for Previntius' uses. It was in these moments when these lesser underlings would enter that Chaffen became aware of a door situated somehow behind him further back. His tortured ears could hear that even still, the grating of stone on stone, the lock of what he presumed was dragonsteel.
Pain began to merge with his dreams, he could never quite tell when he was awake. The four armed demon came to him in his sleep as well, and the pain of torment could be felt in his mind. Day by day, Chaffen seemed to lose a little more of himself, and more and more he began to sympathize with the beast he kept seeing in his dream. Look at me.
The more he looked, the more he saw a broken, tormented man. A shell. A husk, confused, enraged. Powerful, yet weak in all the ways that mattered. Ruku's words taunted his mind along with Previntius' own.
You think you have some grand purpose in this world. You think the gods will save you here.
The gods do not mettle in mortal affairs.
You have no idea who you are.
Your entire existence has been one colossal mistake... You are no better than the rest of us. Through and through, you are still the animal.
Fate wasn't coming. Ruku could do nothing. The gods would not act.
But why should Chaffen care about the fallen angel's fate if she could not have bothered to tell him any of this herself? If her fate wasn't tied to Fae's anymore? Why should he care?
Dying was still the best option to save his children.
Without even realizing it, he was staring into the scaled demon's eyes as the man sat before him, indeed, sat. It was a high-backed chair made of bone and shadow, it seemed to move on its own as the man reclined, watching Chaffen.
“What?” Chaffen asked darkly, his throat sore from lack of proper drink and too much screaming, his fur matted from sweating, his wings pinched beneath him, lifeless and weak feeling. He still couldn't feel his tail, and the pain in his ears and arms, hands and feet had been there so long now that it remained numb so long as it didn't move.
“Oh, nothing. It's entertaining to me to watch you descend into madness.” Previntius seemed to croon as he sat there, his arms crossed over his chest.
Chaffen said nothing.
Because the red eyed behemoth seemed to enjoy his own voice, he spoke again. “I cannot begin to describe how good it tastes, to me, the scent of your fear, your pain as it taints the air. How delicious the look in your once hardened features to see you giving up.” He laughed. “How pathetic you've become. I confess, to see how far you've fallen is remarkable. People spoke so highly of you. Of what you were.”
“People?” Chaffen asked dryly.
“Other demons. Once worshipers of yours. I must admit, especially few of them exist anymore. Your name means as little now as does any other name, but, alas... You're so vain, you don't believe that do you?” he chuckled, “Of course not. You think that any evil being that hides under a rock would surely know exactly who you are. Isn't that right, Theos? Adonis? What other pet names did your kin call you? My, my, what a sultry little show you would put on for them.”
Chaffen grew tense with the talks over his intimate endeavors with others, and said nothing once more.
“If only they knew what a fake you are.”
The assassin's eyes popped with insult and he glared at the man. “Fake?” He snarled. “I have never been anything of the sort with them.”
“Oh! No, no, of course, not intentionally.” Previntius said, sounding falsely apologetic.
“Intentionally? What game do you play, demon? Get to your point.” Chaffen was done playing this game, and as much as these talks gave him something to do besides stare at the blackness, they also gave him more nightmares and tricked his mind. He knew they were mechanisms to break him down somehow, but he did not know to what purpose.
The demon was tight lipped for a moment, regarding his prey as he shifted, his ankles crossing as he reclined, the shadows seeming to swarm about his person a little bit more. How much did he want to divulge? How much would do the most damage? He grinned some. The truth would crush him, and that was what he wanted to see.
“It is a game.” He agreed finally, moving to stand, his chair wandering off on its skeletal claws and placing itself at the far end of the room. “All of this. This place. For me, anyway. For me it is a game. I have nothing to lose here. At least, not anymore. You are mind and my victory is within my grasp, but I must admit, inching slowly towards it knowing that you have no chance of ever catching it first is far more satisfying. Alas. I will answer your questions Chaffen. I know you have many... though, I will say, the visitation you had earlier was a surprise.”
“So, it was a trick.” Chaffen was relieved at once, but Previntius shook his head, chuckling.
“Oh if only I was capable of such powerful tricks. No, I'm afraid, it was only your thoughts that had given away that anything happened at all. How amusing, I think, that you would discover first hand that help isn't coming.
“You could still have implanted it. I do not believe you.” Chaffen reasoned. Right now, believing that everything Ruku had said, and that he had showed up at all, was a lie was easier. After all, Previntius had seen into Fae's mind, he surely had seen the angel in her memory, he could have created it, Chaffen reasoned.
“Believe what you like. In the end it won't matter. You will die. You will go to hell, and there see the truth of things.” He snorted.
“What truth?” Chaffen inquired bluntly, curious to see the level of falsification that the demon was willing to go to to try and pull off the illusion.
“That the hell you remember is not real at all, and that you were not created by a god, but merely corrupted by another demon. A demon named Adelfel. The same man who corrupted me... Well, okay. Let's not say corrupted. I was already fairly corrupt. So were you, come to think of it. But-”
“What? What do you mean I was? There was no was.”
“Oh, right, right. I forgot. You still think you were created.” Previntius replied, again, condescendingly. Chaffen glared at him, his pearly whites grating together. The demon again circled him as he had before, his red eyes growing hazy as he passed through thicker shadows, like moons disappearing behind clouds. “Shall I start at the beginning, then?” He laughed.
“Your name was Chaffen Mal'Thorne. You were a man of little repute, a man who almost no one knew. You worked hard for what you earned; that was to say, you were a thief. You stole from people on the daily because you were too weak to properly work. You eventually found love and settled down. You had a child, one son, and started a farm with this woman. You tried to correct your ways, but ultimately it was the thrill of the job that kept you doing what you did.” With each word the demon spoke, Chaffen grew more and more irate. “So, you did what any weak man would do, and sought out help in the form of a gypsy woman who swore she could change your fortunes with a bit of magic. You agreed.
Unbeknownst to you, this woman was a demon to whom you unwittingly traded your soul to. This woman worked for my master, Adelfel. From that moment, you became his pawn. He took you and corrupted you. He removed all the parts of you that he could. You rebelled against him, which is when he forced you to kill your own wife and child in front of you-”
“They.. No! No. You are wrong. I never had children. I never had anything before what I am.”
“Quiet now, I'm not through. You'll see. Yes, I know, you had names for those people, John, you called the noble man that you killed. I am here to tell you that in truth, what happened was that you split yourself. Your personalities. The noble man you were trying to be with the man who sold his soul to a demon. You were never a husk demon, Chaffen. You were a man. A man as real as any other- hell! A man as real as I was before I became what I am now. You are John. John is you. No, that is not his name, but we will call him that for simplicity, as that's the name you've called your better half for so very long. When you split him off, it made it easier for you to cope with the idea that you willingly murdered your wife and child. This of course made it easier for Adelfel to corrupt you and change you into what he wanted. He whipped you into submission and gave you power, and any semblance of John was lost for a very, very long time.
Perhaps you will not believe me, but you are well over two thousand years old. You only remember perhaps that very beginning and the last six hundred of it, but still. It matters little. Under Adelfel's tutelage you surpassed his greatest expectations. Amassing an army, growing devout followers, delivering countless other souls to him with your kills, the destruction of an entire race of furres... There seems to be one aspect of your life that you got correct- that you were a machine used for war, for genocide. You were, and that you did exceptionally well for a long time. But then, later, you met Kathnerya, and she inspired in you love. Love like John had. Slowly but surely the little pieces of you that you had banished came back, and your rebellion came back with a vengeance. And now, here you are... All reformed and grown up as it were.” He snorted chidingly.
“You do know the rest of what happened there. When you freed yourself from Adelfel's control, however, you made a crucial error in that, because you thought he was in fact the devil, you did not try to kill him. You fled. You cost him a great number of souls in so doing, but you allowed him to live. And so, I was created. The difference between you and I? I was willing. I knew what I wanted, and I had nothing to lose, everything to gain. I am a more willing servant to him than you ever were.”
Chaffen's eyes had grown hard and he refused to believe a word of what the man was saying, but, as his mind was an open book to this creature, he could not hide his thoughts.
“Come now, Chaffen.” Previntius said, finally coming to stand in front of him. “I know you are smart enough here to make the connections yourself. You struggle to this day with your rage. Your inability to be both ruthless and kind. Your desire to be noble but free and yourself at the same time. Have you never wondered why you are so very declined to change, and to such powerful things as to magic? Why you hate thieves so very much? Both are what lead you to your current predicament. Have you never wondered why it is you only remember John's life, if in fact you have allegedly had countless other hosts before? Have you never wondered why you felt so strongly for their deaths, why you felt Johns pain? Did you ever honestly think that the god of the dark could make a mortal from thin air and a willing soul? Well, yes, they could, but... Would they? Knowing what you know now, what it seems Ruku has told you. Would not doing exactly that be an immediate action of war?
Have not light and darkness always existed in balance? Have you yourself not striven to uphold balance to a degree, only to just find out now that the only one who has ever helped you herself has sacrificed herself in doing so, and that she wasn't even sent here by the gods you are trying to hard to impress?”
He laughed quietly and allowed Chaffen to react to what he'd said.
Chaffen was in disbelief, but so taken aback by the accusations and seeming similarities that he did not know what to say. It could not be. That was not his family. It couldn't possibly be.
“You locked John away and made yourself into the epitome of everything you wanted to be. Strong. Wealthy. Adored by many. No magic, no thieves. A coping mechanism, Chaffen. Something to convince you that you weren't who you really are.” The demon continued, staring into the cougar's chrome eyes, which reflected red stare. He shook his head, laughing incredulously.
“Denial will get you no where, Chaffen. If I could show you the truth, I would, but alas, even my power has its limits. Still, there is a woman who wanted you to know this. She is here in these very halls. Loyal to you after all this time. Loyalty- the kind you yourself have no concept of for the wretch that you are. A woman who cared about you for the monster you are. Look at yourself.”
“Rani?!” Chaffen gasped, thinking that if anyone loved him, if anyone knew how he really was, it was the Caracal herself. “She cannot be here!”
A small, sad smile crossed the scaled demon's lips.
“You fool.” He said simply, not answering the question.
He turned then to go, and as he went, he waved a hand dismissively as spoke one last time.
“You know what the really tragic part in this story is, Chaffen? That you had everything you wanted. Friends, family. A home. Money. Power. Status... Children. You had what you decided was a normal, worthy life of living. You had all that, and then gave it all up. Why? To come here, to kill me. You came here thinking that it would save them. Thinking that by your life or death, they would be safe.” His cruel laugh sounded out of the man, echoing off the crooked walls as he went.
“You fool.” He repeated.
“Nothing can save them now.”
He was turning and quickly fleeing from view.
These words froze themselves into Chaffen's mind as his eyes suddenly flashed wide open. The demon meant to go after them after all. After Chaffen was dead, perhaps even right now, in this moment. Moreover, if Rani was here, he had to find her, he had to get to her.
With nothing but strength to compel himself, Chaffen lurched himself forward. The spikes in his hands cut through him, and into them, but he tore through the flesh to get free, ignoring his pain and the sudden blood that rushed through him. Now, he relied solidly on the rage that had gotten him to this point. The rage that had been the only single remaining thing in the entirety of his existence. His feet ripped off of the spike that had kept them down and his wrist on left hand was sacrificed, he willingly broke his hand, feeling the bones crack beneath the weight of his sudden force to free the limb. He was successful in this, and soon, loosed the bind on his right wrist and launched himself forward, towards the confused, hesitating frame that was Previntius. The assassin moved so quickly that his muscles ached and some of them snapped with the strain of what he did, hurling himself at the demon as blood wept from every new injury.
Previntius, so taken aback by this sudden escape twisted and caught Chaffen head on as they fell back into one of the walls. The scaled beast, far bigger and stronger, threw the cougar off of him. Arachnid-like wings seemed to find their strength and launched him into the air, legs were brought up just as the other advanced. Chaffen felt blows land that he had not even seen coming, and shadows still blinded every movement. He was forced to rely on that hearing now more than ever, and the scent which seemed to follow the demon, one he couldn't escape, the taste of death. The room grew colder, but with every breath and every new injury, the feline found renewed range, new courage. He would fight to every fiber of his being to protect them if he had to. Previntius with two of his arms threw the assassin back towards the slab upon which he had been imprisoned for the last several weeks, and with torn hands, Chaffen gripped the spikes that had bound him and wrenched them free with all his strength. Now, he wielded them like blades.
As a blur, the demon came for him again, shadows thrown up around the assassin in an attempt to trap him, but Chaffen passed through them before any of them could take shape. He may not have magic to aid him, but he had one thing that this creature didn't... Experience. He was faster, and more importantly? A man with everything to lose. Previntius came at him and Chaffen buried the two spikes into his chest. They slowed the demon, but did not stop him. He noticed, however, as the man bled, a black blood oozed forth and out of him, working to try and heal the demon, to repair him as he took injury. Once, Chaffen had blood just like this. He would have to end the fight soon, one way or another. When one of the spikes was thrown from his grasp, his fingernails raked in its place. He forced Previntius back, then wheeled around as the villainous creature threw all his strength into its next lunge. Leaping to the side, the rogue put himself directly behind the man, and with all his force, kicked forward, using his and the foe's momentum to throw him into a large spike that had been put in the wall specifically to aid the demon in a fight like this. Chaffen had discerned their location over the weeks of imprisonment, the minute sounds having acted similar to a form of echo location for him to pinpoint every obstacle in the room. The room was lines with spikes similar to this one, and now, this one had just impaled through the demon's chest and out his back.
Choking and coughing, two of four arms threw him back, but this time, Chaffen was ready, and repeated the gesture, but this time, the spike came through Previntius' spine, shattering it and leaving a gaping hole in his chest. Chaffen, overcome with his rage, abandoned his second spike weapon and reached into the cavity, taking hold of the still faintly beating heart of the demon and clamped onto it so tightly that his own fingernails bit into his own flesh on the other side of the pulsing organ.
Without another word, he ripped the trembling piece free, tossed it aside, and before he could try to grow that too, Chaffen leapt onto the man's shoulders and clamped his thighs around the demon's head. Hips then gave a sickening twist, the crack of his neck sounding loudly through the cavernous, hall-like room. The body, somehow hanging from this constant momentum, was stilled there as Chaffen removed himself, jumping free of the falling corpse. Then, with one powerfully aimed kick, he dislodged the head entirely from the shoulders and set it flying away.
Panting, Chaffen watched as the body finally fell.
He fell with it, and at once, the cold and blackness fell in around him.
He did not know how long he had lain there, but when he woke, he felt weak. The shadow in the room had dissipated entirely, and with his feline eyes he could see clearly. The room itself was long, with a straight pathway that lead to and from the central slab upon which he had been placed. It was stained with his blood. Spikes lined the sides of the room and ceiling, similar to the sideways spikes of the desert above this place. At this end of the room where he lay, which is the way the slab faced, it ended in nothing but a closed wall, the wall he had seen Previntius pass through. But, on the other side of the slab, at the far end of the path there was a door, if only he could get to it. He tried to take an inventory of his condition. Still, he could not feel his tail, but he could see it, hanging limply there. His wings felt like dead weights, exhausted by his fight with the demon, whose body still laid nearby. The blood was still oozing from it, so he could surmise that he had not been out long. However, the toe on right foot was missing entirely, torn off in his escape it would seem, and the wound bled steadily. Moreover, his left hand was broken beyond any form of use, holes in both hands, gaped at him, still bleeding. He knew if he didn't do something, and soon, he would surely die. And even if he somehow survived the night? How would he survive to escape this place? He had no idea how far below the surface he was, or if he was even strong enough to get out.
Slowly, but steadily, his eyes tracked back to the corpse of Previntius. He had heard of Nero doing something similar to save his pet once, but would it work here? Could this black blood restore him? How did he even know it was the same substance?
He had little to no choice. Do nothing, and die.
He crept with his remaining strength towards the body, and however disgusted, he looked down upon it. His natural need to feed, that obscene, cannibalistic blood lust kicked in at once. He tore into the flesh and muscle, ripping away whole chunks and swallowing them down with no time to taste, for once, embracing entirely and truly who he was.
Again, he passed into darkness.
When he woke, he was not the same. He did not at first know how, but he knew he was not. But, it did not matter. His wounds, however still there, had closed. They no longer bled, and he could stand. Renewed by the blood he had stolen, he made his way through the hideous lair. Once busy with other demons and cauls alike, the halls were now barren, lifeless creatures lay everywhere, made alive by his magic alone, and now that it was gone, so too were they. He found his clothing, or what remained of it, and strapped on his armor, even, must to his satisfaction, recovering one of his Deathbringers from among the lot.
It was there that he found Merzen, trapped in her cage.
“So here too is the answer to all the riddles.” Chaffen said in a lot, haunting tone as he looked at her. She looked up at him at once, her eyes wide and filled with hope. She beamed and clung to the bars of her cage, reaching one hand out to him. This was how Previntius knew where he was. Nero hadn't given up anything at all. Merzen, somehow revived, had told him everything.
“You're alive!” She cried. “You have bested him then! Yes!” She cheered, but the joy was not evident on Chaffen's face, and she stared at him strangely, slowly becoming concerned. “Chaffen?” She asked finally.
He released her from the cage and looked at her. Not a demon, not a vampire no... But a human. A lowly, weak human. Presumably the woman who had begged Previntius to tell him the truth, if it was even that. He could not know now. He had decided to find out for himself when he got home what the truth of it actually was.
“Where is she?” Chaffen asked.
“Do not play games with me, Merzen. Where is Fae'iqa? Where is my wife?”
He could tell by the look on her face that Rani was not here.
“So you spoke to him, to tell me all those things?” He asked. She nodded feverishly, it was clear that she was happy by this. She obviously thought that she had done him a favor in doing so, that she had saved him. “And they were true?” Again, she nodded. He could see in her eyes that, to her knowledge, she was not lying.
Without another word, he took his Deathbringer and buried it into her chest. His eyes met hers, carelessly and cold.
“You have destroyed me.” he said as the look of shock came into her eyes and she gurgled somewhat incoherently. “I was better, being ignorant. We shall see how much of that is true at all. I do not believe him, and I do not believe you. Go and be at peace.” He growled, and though they were gentle words, he spoke them like a curse. Pure heartbreak came into her stare, none the less, before she crumpled to the ground.
He scanned the entirety of the place thrice to find any hidden compartments, not finding Fae or anyone else alive anywhere. He did recover the last of his weapons, though some were broken or dented and almost all of them were scratched and would need repair. Only when he was truly sure he was finished there did he dare his climb back to the surface.
It was faster to fly, but when he arrived at the top he realized that it was still daytime yet, and the heat was still plenty deadly. Again, he waited for nightfall before heading out over the Mirror Flats. He made his way back to where he had left the airship, only to discover that it had been completely destroyed beyond use by flying minions of Previntius, no doubt they had known he would take it, and had been looking for it.
He had no choice now, he would have to fly home himself. It would take over a week, and he had to stop for food and rest on several occasions. His conditions improved, but still he was seriously weakened from his numerous injuries. It would seem the blood did not last forever, as his wounds healed at their normal, slow rate he discovered.
Three weeks later, he sat at a meeting with Drossath.
He had already been home and met with his kin, and was steadily reacquainting himself with live in the city and in his own home. It was all rather bitter sweet, considering that Fae'iqa he discovered was not there. Moreover, she had not returned with him as she so hoped to. She was lost to them, somewhere. Had she gotten lost on her way to the Flats? Had she died during her travel? Had she fled entirely out of worry?
Chaffen supposed he would never know.
“You cannot simply wait around for her to return, Knives. You must return to your duties, and we as Barons have a task that needs taken care of- now, before anything else!” The wyrmme was exhausted already, Chaffen could see that the lack of them both had been trying on the budding city.
“What do you expect for me to say, Drossath? I have no answer for the people. I do not know where she is. I do not see why my marriage to her matters in this.” Chaffen pressed.
“We cannot have her as merely listed as missing. We cannot leave that open ended. We must solve it, and with that comes your signage, your ledgers, everything. You say you took her name when you married.”
“I did.” The assassin agreed.
“And she is gone now, so either she has abandoned you or she is dead, Chaffen. You must accept this. The people will not accept that you are wed to a woman who has abandoned their city. Say what you will happened to her, but that is how they will see it. Do you expect them to believe some story that she and you went off to fight some demon?”
“We fought demons in the city, demons they saw. Many of these people were here when Previntius attacked the first time.”
“So, suddenly she goes missing when you go off to attack an unseen villain? You miraculously come back alive?”
“You think they will accuse me of murder. That I did this.” Chaffen pointed out bluntly. Drossath nodded. Chaffen sighed some.
“We shall stick with the original story, Chaffen. That you went to investiage a threat to Blackridge. This is a duty that falls into your responsibility as Warmaster. We will say that you were attacked. In her grief, she left you. We need a replacement.”
“Nero has already been doing this job for over a month... He is rusty at it, I'll grant. He was never raised to be political.”
“But then, who of us were!” Called a familiar, somewhat flamboyant sounding privateer from the doorway into the small council room in the back of Town Hall. Calixto greeted Chaffen with a warm smile. “We thought you dead. I have to confess, it's good to see you around.”
Chaffen smiled weakly in reply. Drossath offered up new paperwork... As Chaffen read over them his stomach sunk. They were legal documents, official Annulment papers.
“There is something you do not yet know.” He confessed to the pair.
“Oh? And what's that?” Calixto asked, leaning casually against the door frame.
“We were keeping it secret, to keep them safe from the Demon and whoever else might want to hurt them.” the cougar offered vaguely.
“Them?” Both the others recited in unison.
“Twins. Fae'iqa and I have twins. A girl and a boy. Kazimir and Fédora. I will not have their names changed. I refuse. They will be two years old- or, six, if you go by the feline standard- come February.”
The two men stared at each other in stunned silence. Finally, Drossath nodded.
“As you wish, Chaffen. Make your mark.” He said, pressing the issue.
Chaffen took the quill from the man uneasily and regarded the paperwork. He would need a new last name, wouldn't he? After what all had happened, after what the Kethese Orb had shown him... Everything that he now knew to be true. He decided that moment that he was tired of hiding who he was. Of trying to be someone else.
The demon had been right on some things. That this was who he was. This was who he had always been. He wasn't some forsaken fighter for the light. He wasn't some destined player in a grand scheme of chess... He was just a man. A monster, but a man, still. He had been deceived by a Demon and had been corrupted. He had chosen to become one. Who he was, and everything that he was, was, all of it, entirely his doing. All of his faults were his own. The gods would not aid him here, and nor it seemed would the angels. He was but another man put on this earth to simply exist.
So let the cards fall where they may, he thought as he put the quill to the paper and signed his name.