Black clouds protected a pale streaked horizon from the congregation below. There was a hushed shutter that passed over them while they gathered before the deep blue crystalline alter. Resonating with gentle, thrumming waves, a great power enclosed the clearing about them. Twelve girls dressed in deep purple or black dresses. Eight men in dark red suits.
Solemn hymns started in the front row while two men stepped forward with thick, blue candles lit. The pair slowly came to the alter, placing their candles upon it while the haunting melody caressed their spines, beckoning them back to the safety of their brethren. As they returned to the group with haste, the hymns rose louder, and morphed into a dark song with lyrics in a language unfamiliar to the terrified, struggling bundle in front of the sparkling blue stone.
There was no regard or pause for the screams that erupted, reaching out in vain for a saviour. As if commanded by an unseen force, the crowd silenced. They turned with their heads bowed, parting for a man with thick, black hair tumbling in curls about his shoulders who stood a head shorter than all his followers.
He had wide, venom green eyes set into a tanned, squared face with a jawline barely graced with stubble. A smile held his lips captive. His hands were clasped in front of him, adorned in silver and gold rings with emeralds, rubies, or sapphires set into each. He was dressed in shades of blue with a lightly colored jacket and a dark, silken shirt beneath. Black leather pants outline strong, muscular legs, and tall electric blue boots ended just below the knee.
The struggling mass froze suddenly, realizing something had changed. It was as if they could sense the powerful presence of the man now standing beside the alter. In the silence, labored breathing could be heard from the bundle.
The man reached down with long, bony fingers to untie the sack and finally revealed a beautiful young girl with large, vibrant yellow eyes and short, spiking bone white hair. She was shaking, and her lush pink lower lip was split open with an angry purple wound. Her once elegant red dress was tattered and torn, revealing pale legs covered with bruises. She locked down her fear, though, and instead lit up the fire of the sun in her eyes.
Her rage sparked the maniacal flames within her captor as he beckoned her to stand, predicting defiance and looking forward to it. The man would enjoy her rebellion, though there was an uncomfortable rustle from the crowd behind the pair. They would never think to refuse him; then again, they’d seen his power and knew better than to challenge it.
He was surprised when she stood immediately instead, legs strong despite their abuse. She was no longer shaking. Was she brave or naïve, he pondered on a chuckle.
Turning to face his followers, he raised his hands into the air and proudly displayed a long, silver blade that the girl had not noticed in his hand a moment ago. She was wise and well aware she would die tonight, but she was ready for it now. No more screaming, no more struggling. There was no hope, and she would not face her last moments as a mewling coward.
Her chin raised a fraction, a short glimmer of satisfaction crawling into her nerves when she sensed the crowd stirring in agitation. They wanted fear. She let her eyes wander towards the darkened sky, searching in vain for the glow of the moon. It was hiding from her; unable to watch the gruesome ending. The man’s hand touched her arm, and she smiled to the heavens before slowly rolling her head to watch him from the corner of her eye.
“You do not realize your importance, and I thank you for the life you are giving. You will give us tremendous power,” he whispered with a voice like liquid sunlight, warming her skin. “Do not be afraid, I will take good care of you until the very end.”
It was strange to hear such humble, civil words which did not match the silent demand from his followers, irrationally amusing her, and she whispered hoarsely, “perhaps you should tell them that. I think they were hoping for a more lively performance.”
The edge of his lips twitched into a quick smirk that briefly sparked cobalt through his darkening eyes. He made a motion with his weapon, instructing her to turn around. There were hushed murmurs when she obeyed, growing much louder within their confusion after she knelt down without resistance when he pressed gently on her shoulder.
“Master,” came one boyish voice, shaking and quiet. All went silent in abject horror.
The man turned to the call, viciously chilled eyes regarding the crowd as if they were tiny roaches he would soon light afire.
A long silence followed before soon someone stepped from the gathering. They were ringing their hands, face hidden in the shadow of his dirty blonde hair and turned to the ground, hoping to show respect.
“Will you starve us while you take our first victim in months as calm as a flower, and ask us to watch our possible last meal together go to waste?”
Perhaps the man should have been angry, but he was stopped by the surprise that this trembling waif was capable of finishing the sentence without pissing himself. Instead he threw back his head and let a long, rumbling laugh roll from deep within his chest.
“By the gods, what are you talking about, starving? Where did such a silly thing come into your precious mind, young one. Tell me,” he was mocking the smaller boy now.
“You told us the fear feeds us. She does not fear you.”
He turned back to the girl with a raised brow, as if to question the truth of the statement. She was faithfully facing the blue crystal alter, resting her chin on the cold stone. His lips curled up, and he faced the boy.
“Would you take her place, then? Give your comrades a feast from your fear,” he asked in a low whisper, reaching out to grasp the back of his neck, yanking the boy’s face up. There were tears forming in golden brown eyes, pulling more laughter from the sardonic man. “You are pathetic.”
He dropped the young one, addressing the crowd with his glacial glare, sending a collective shutter through them.
“I am no shepherd and yet here I stand in a field of sheep; fragile and shaking with anxiety. I have taken care of each and every one of you, showing you strength and giving you a home,” he bellowed over the lot, watching them grow more tense over each second. “We are here to end one life that will feed our pack. Yet I seem to be the last remaining starving wolf, and I am staring down a gathering of frightened lambs. Does not a single one of you still possess the heart of the wolf I carefully cultivated within you?”
“I do!” She stated from the alter.
Behind him, there was a shuffle, and he knew exactly what the girl was doing. He felt the smaller blade hidden inside his boot pull free, marveling at her smooth skill even as the cold steel pressed against his neck. There was no sting, it was a warning rather than an attack. Her thin arm locked around him and she planted her foot between his legs, thigh pressing against the back of his. The slightest pressure and a turn of her waist would send a regular man to the ground.
All became still. She did not speak. He felt her ragged breaths on the back of his right shoulder, the only proof that she knew the danger she was in. Perhaps it was courage, he mused as his expression softened minutely.
“Do you see how she throws her life to the wind recklessly? Do you see the control she possesses over her heart and her mind even as she begs for death with her actions?”
Silence followed his questions, the grin taking his lips was spread out to border on mania.
“You foolish roaches chose a warrior; a wild soul that thrashes against its own fear, squashing it into oblivion. None of you will understand the mistake you made when you chose a victim stronger than yourselves!”
Blood sprayed across her hand as it was snapped away with the force of his movement, even as the blade sliced deep into his flesh before he left her. Too stunned to move, she watched her captor stain the earth with crimson as he lashed out with the long knife at his cult. They didn’t seem to understand right away what was happening; many were cut down without a sound. When the light went on, the screaming erupted, and bodies began to race about like ants. Some were tripping over corpses, others were sobbing blindly, two had grasped each other and made off for the trees. He was not going to allow anyone safe refuge though.
The girl was left standing alone and cold, surrounded by a morbid painting of gore that still had difficulty registering in her mind. Limbs were rotated in awkward angles, and flesh opened into gaping wounds that spat on the grass angrily. He had run into the treeline, whooping gleefully as the hunt pulled him on its strings to chase the ones who got away. She glanced down at the blood on her hand, dropping the knife as if it burned her. She couldn’t breathe with the thick copper that stained the air.
“Do you realize how impossible it is to find a human physically capable of staring Death in the face unflinching,” when had he returned, she wondered as she looked up at the man.
His throat bared no mark of the wound which stained her hand. She frowned at him, confused, perhaps in shock. His midnight blue eyes, beautiful a moment ago, seemed mutated by the blood soaking the skin around them.
“And yet, you seamlessly exchanged banter with the grim reaper, knowing he would take your life, and then threatened his in return. Tell me, are you foolish?”
She didn’t understand what he was saying, but his question struck a cord inside her chest that spilled pain through her body. Her actions were perfectly calculated; they were about control, not ignorance.
“Maybe I accepted my death and you were just taking too long. I wanted your attention back,” she was challenging him.
His smile was warm, inviting, and held no traces of the insanity she’d witnessed. He reached out his bloody hand, and in that moment she knew this was a far more dangerous game.
“Ah, this is something I never expected to find. You are the anomaly I have waited for. Come, my wolf,” the words seemed to reach her on a growl. “With your strength, not even I can take your life before its due time. I have much to share.”
Can someone deny Death twice without facing consequences? Likely not… but then again, it wasn’t like he could do any worse than she’d already prepared for.
Her lips pulled up to the barest smile, her eyes lit like the sun, and the moon peaked out from the parting clouds to watch in wonderment as she made her decision.