The Angel and The Wolf

February 9, 2013
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Betrayal. It was the first feeling that Jackson felt as he circled above the village that blazed with black flames. He drifted into the center of the devastated buildings, his speckled brown wings folding behind him. He immediately began to wish that the dark fires gave off smoke, so that the haze would obscure the dreadful scene before him.

The simple, thatched hovels where the villagers had once made their homes now lay in burning ruin. The few that had not been reduced to smoldering rubble now stood unfit to house anything: for some the roofs had caved in, some entire walls had collapsed, and others bore immense scorch marks like a fire had spontaneously blasted the inside.

It would take weeks to rebuild the village, that is of course if it had a single occupant remaining to rebuild it. Bodies lay strewn across the beaten dirt paths and piled about the circle of buildings that made up the center of the town. Jackson stared at them and they stared back with the vacant eyes of the dead, their remains painting the dirt and stone with bloody puddles. Mangled bodies of parents lay over their savaged children, caught as they mourned their cruel demise. Corpses lay frozen in their last attempt to flee. It seemed as though most had tried this.

Jackson saw a man pinned under his slaughtered horse. A few dying groans softly escaped him as he suffered from five long gashes across his chest. Jackson ended the man’s misery with a flash of electricity from his palm. The man had died with a scythe clutched in his cold hands, perhaps from a desperate attempt to fight his attacker. Jackson sighed as he looked away. Whether the man had attacked or fled would not have mattered, he would have died like all the others in the village and in the many villages prior.

In the middle of the gory circle of ruined structures stood a stone statue of a man on a horse, most likely the village’s founder or some other kind of local hero. His deeds and legacy were once revered by the townspeople, but now his final testament was desecrated with long gashes and disfigured with scorch marks in the stone. The defaced statue seemed to epitomize the completeness of the village’s destruction, not even reminders of its past triumphs had escaped unharmed.

It was as if an army had swept through the village. However that was not the case, as Jackson knew all too well. There was another level to the destruction that was invisible to all but two people’s eyes. Jackson was one of those people and he could plainly see the faint distortion like the heat from a flame laced the town, the distortion of imbalance. This kind of haze always clung to areas of great bloodshed, but only as a faint undertone that Jackson would have had difficulty detecting. Only one person could have blanketed this village and hundreds like it with such destruction while leaving it saturated with the distortion.

The bodies piled around him gave Jackson a grim kind of triumph. They were fresh; he was getting close to their murderer. With a rush of air Jackson shot like an arrow off the ground. The momentary ecstasy of the winds rushing past him distracted him from his mission, he loved to fly. He was brought out of his delightful stupor by a ripple of the distortion out of the corner of his eye. He flew with all speed in its direction.

At the nose of a cone of the unbalanced haze was that of a huge black wolf. Tentacles of darkness lashed behind him, mingling with the haze creating a strange rippling darkness. The wolf flew on pair enormous black ethereal wings. His eyes were nebulous pits and his muzzle seemed to be curled into a smile. The wolf lifted his head just in time to see Jackson crash onto his back. They plummeted to the ground below, Jackson barely catching himself with his wings to prevent serious injury from impacting the ground. As they hit the ground the wolf sent a wave of the distortion across the landscape.

Jackson rose to his feet and turned to face his quarry. A vale of darkness that covered the wolf quickly retracted to reveal a man with a rugged almost savage yet faintly aristocratic appearance. He was covered in a dark coat of furs and leather that was splattered with the blood of his victims. Scraggly black hair hung down in his face, becoming darker along the length of each hair until the ends of the hair vanished entirely for the light could not escape them. A small smile adorned his face and his eyes became a light brown that contrasted with his dark appearance. All around him the distortion rippled like a second garment, whether he was aware of its presence Jackson could not tell. On his right hand he wore a brown leather glove that was studded with a large, oval-shaped, black gem that the darkness that had surrounded him had retracted to.

They stood facing each other on the grassy plain where they had fallen. Jackson stood with his wings spread against the sky and his sepia cloak whipping in the wind as storm clouds gathered in the distance. The man before him reclined on his right knee with his gloved arm draped over it, his brown eyes staring expectantly at his assailant. Both were silent, observing the other for a malicious move.

Jackson spoke first, his voice laced with his deeply felt betrayal, hurt, and anger, “Luken.”

“Jackson,” Luken said with a huge grin splitting his face, the kind greeting he offered like honey from a viper’s fangs, “What a pleasure it is to have, um, met with you today.”

“Do not patronize me!” Jackson growled sternly, “I have chased you across the land to order you to desist.”

Luken lazily lifted his left hand to his chin and responded with faux concern, “I see. May I ask what I am being asked to desist?”

Jackson’s strictness shattered into a look of utter incredulity, “What? Are you unaware of the villages you have leveled? The destruction you have caused?”

Luken laughed, the pervasive current around him shook even more as he did, “Oh heavens no! If that is what you are requesting me to cease, I am afraid I must decline.”

Jackson’s expression turned to anger mingled with sorrow, “What happened to you, Luken?”

“Why, whatever do you mean?” he said with a chuckle.

The speckled winged angel was once again incredulous, “Do you not see the unbalance around you?”

“Oh that! I thought you meant my new choice in attire,” he said almost mockingly, rising and gesturing to the gory splotches on his clothing.

“It was not meant to be this way,” Jackson said, his wings dropping ever so slightly, “We were meant to defend and protect this land, like our predecessors did before us. And we have, for more than half a decade you and I have stood watch as guardians. You were my partner… my friend. What reason could you have to throw it all away?!”

Luken’s crooked grin grew wider, “Reason? Why would I need a reason?”

“Luken… please,” Jackson begged, desperation clear in his voice.

“Well I do suppose I have one reason,” Luken clenched his gloved hand, his eyes filled with darkness again as his fist ignited with black fire; “I want to watch the world burn.”

Jackson sighed deeply, he knew now that Luken was beyond his help. He cast aside his sepia cloak to reveal a white tunic that seemed to shine with its own light. From a sheath that had once been hidden beneath his cloak he drew a long steel rod with a cross guard. Twisted around the rod were two ethereal blades of light that formed a shining helix that ended at the cross guard. A great radiance began to emanate from him, even his muddy brown hair and his sharp hazel eyes seemed to shine.

“So be it,” he said, hoping his defiance veiled his hurt.

Two blades of ethereal darkness formed in Luken’s hands. Contrary to Jackson, greater darkness seemed to collect around him. The shadows mixed with the unbalance around him, creating ripples of distortion swirled with flashes of darkness. He said nothing, but threw his head back with a manic cackle.

With a flourish of his blade, Jackson sent a crackling shot of lightning at the mad man. A blast of dark flames met the bright lightning with a shockwave that savaged the landscape and brought Jackson to his knees. He shakily rose to his feet, his disoriented mind barely recognizing Luken’s blurry form as it rushed at him. Jackson had hardly lifted his blade when two sets of shadowy ethereal claws that Luken had formed over his hands clashed with it, halting them a mere inches from his face.

Jackson glared into the face of the man who was once his friend, even as impermeable pits his eyes bore his madness and bloodlust. The distortion swirled around them as one tried to force the other back. Jackson broke the contest by striking Luken’s chest with his palm, momentarily stunning him allowing the angel to knock him back with an uppercut empowered with a bright aura. As thunder rolled in the distance, Luken picked himself up and recklessly charged at Jackson once more. The speckled angel was surprised, his enemy fought like a frenzied animal without a hint of strategy.

Jackson quickly parried two ethereal blades on either side of him, forcing back the left and blocking the right. Luken slashed downward at Jackson’s head and was narrowly blocked by his shining blade. Flaring his wings, Jackson floated in the air and kicked Luken under his chin. The wolf staggered back as Jackson landed. The angel pointed his blade at his opponent, after the weapon glowed for a moment three golden tendrils launched from it. They lashed toward the distorted man but were halted when he unleashed a blast of darkness that enveloped them. The wolf laughed at the failed attack and charged Jackson again.

Jackson flourished his blade again, creating a circle of white fire around him. Within the burning walls he crouched, catching his breath and preparing for Luken to break his temporary defenses. A sudden wave of frigid shadow extinguished the barrier, revealing the mad man in the middle of his rush for the kill. However, Jackson was ready for him. He quickly stood and unleashed a bolt of lightning from his hand. Luken grunted in pain as he was brought to a sudden halt.

Jackson then seized the offensive. He lunged forward, grabbing a handful of Luken’s collar. He then launched the two of them into the air with a powerful beat of his wings. Once in the air Jackson shoved Luken away from him and sent another bolt of lightning after him, hoping to stun him long enough for him to hit the ground. Instead the lightning struck a barrier of darkness that Luken had cast in front of himself. Much to Jackson’s dismay, the shield then crumpled over Luken and quickly dispersed to reveal him in the form of an ethereal- winged wolf. As quick as the lightning in the storm that had drifted close to them, Luken flew to Jackson’s level and exhaled a cloud of black fire.

Jackson parted the barrage with a vertical swipe of his sword. The two of them shot toward each other and collided as thunder boomed from the storm around them. Their battle wore on for hours as rain pelted them. Each man dealt as much punishment as he received from his enemy. It was as if every strike Jackson made corresponded with a flash lightning and every blow Luken returned was mingled with a roll of thunder.

The rain soaked them, chilling them to their core yet they would not stop until the other was bested. But neither would yeild, their battle peristed growing in strength with storm. Jackson leapt back to avoid a snap from Luken’s jaws. Suddenly, pain shot through his body and numbed it of almost all of its feeling. He barly managed to stablize himself and hover in the storm. Blurrily, he saw steam drifting from a large burn on his leg. Jackson’s eyes widened, he had backed in to a bolt of lightning.

Jackson was sharply brought back into the fight when Luken’s lupine claws, augmented by ethreal power, raked across his face. The speckled angel lost his concentration and plumeted to the ground. In a moment of desperation, Jackson unfurled his wings with the greatest strain and managed to catch enough air beneath them to prevent a fatal crash. Despite this he still crashed in a crumpled heap of agony. Luken landed before him, asuming his human form with a cackle of triumph.

“My, My,” he said, spinning a single ethreal blade, “That was fun. It is a pity, though that you are going to die like a drowned bird.”

“Not yet,” Jackson growled defiently.

With all the strength he could muster Jackson cast a halo of golden light around Luken, trapping him. Jackson shakily rose to his feet and swung his sword at the trapped man. From the blade a whipcord of golden energy lashed through Luken’s body. Like a rope that had just been cut, Luken’s entire body slakened and crumpled to the ground.

Jackson collapsed next to him. Painfully, he managed to drag himself over to the fallen man. Jackson pressed an ear against his cheast, and heard a faint heartbeat. Luken was alive, but caught in something like a coma. Jackson looked desperately around as the wind and rain beat mercilessly against his wounded form. It was impossible to know when Luken would revive and once again seek destruction and bloodshed. He needed to act quickly to prevent more violence, but he could not think clearly in the storm.

Though his vision was blurred by the rain, in the distance he could see the hazy peak of a mountain. Paying no heed to the dangers of flying in a powerful storm, Jackson seized Luken’s limp form and began to fly in the distant peak’s direction. By the time he landed in a small cavern in the mountain, Jackson felt as if he would never be dry again. The cave was narrow, its rough walls holding only enough room for a few people. At the back of the cave was a raised piece of stone, almost like an altar in a rustic temple.

Roughly dropping Luken’s body, Jackson knelt before a pool of water to tend to his wounds. With a cloth torn from his tunic, he gingerly cleaned the wound on his face. His reflection sent cold horror down his spine, four long slash marks stretched from his forehead to his chin. The wounds would not be lethal so long as he kept them clean, but they would be permanent. However none of this captured his attention more than his left eye, or its lacking. The once striking hazel eye was no longer in its place, all that remained instead was a bloody, mangled socket framed and cut by his long scars.

He tied another strip of fabric over the missing organ as a makeshift eyepatch. With a quiet “shick” he drew his brightly coiled sword and stood over Luken’s prone form. Even in sleep, the distortion roiled around him like an erratic mist. The unconscious man before him had not only done irreparable damage to him, but had also ruthlessly massacred countless innocent lives as well as left a massive scar on the land that followed his bloody trail. Yet Jackson could not bring himself to kill the man.

Their past friendship was not what stayed his hand, that had become but a distant, nostalgic memory of a time long passed. Fear was what saved Luken’s life. The angel and the wolf had had been the guardians of the land for as long as there had been land; equal yet opposite forces bound to strive for the wellbeing of the land and its people. If he was to slay the other half, no matter how demented, Jackson feared the act would cause further imbalance. Imbalance that he would be forced to combat, alone. Perhaps the act would even cause the distortion to latch onto him as it had Luken. He cursed his own cowardice, but he would not kill Luken.

An alternative made itself known in his mind. Could he take Luken’s glove and gem, thus depriving him of his power? It was possible, though it would be painful. If he could stand the pain was irrelevant however, he was sworn to do whatever was nessesary for the land. Unfortunatly he would not do this either, for once again he feared creating imbalance. He did not know if he possessed the integrity to wield such tremendous power as both the angel’s and the wolf’s combined. The idea was foolish.

He would not kill Luken and he could not disarm him, but he had one other choice. A mad plan formed in Jackson’s mind. He snatched Luken’s body and laid it across the altar-like rock in the back of the cave. His sword glared with power as he focused intently on his goal. A golden box of ethereal energy surrounded Luken like a coffin. The coffin would keep him secure, but Jackson was not yet finished. With another burst of power he blasted the cave’s stone walls. Slowly a smooth, stone wall slid down from the ceiling, entombing Luken in the back of the cave.

Jackson staggered to the mouth of the cave and sat there, utterly exhausted from the vast effort. As he stared into the stormy sky, bitter truths made themselves known to him in a grim parade. The precautions he had taken would not hold Luken forever; they likely would fall to him soon after he awoke from his coma be it in a few days or many years. Jackson was a servant, sworn to defend the land and its people to his dying breath. Luken escaping posed more of a threat to the land than a petty tyrant or a violent warlord.

He was left with only one choice. He and the angels that followed him would become wardens of the lonely prison, forever on guard until that fateful day when the broken half of the whole broke free. The must be ready to fend off the greatest threat that any angel prior had ever faced. As the storm began to break and light began to shin through once more, Jackson gave a silent prayer before he succumbed to his exhaustion. He prayed that one of the angels that followed him would have the courage to succeed where he had failed.

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