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The room was bare, save for the few torches lit in their holders on the stone wall and a few chairs scattered about in an effort to provide furniture. These chairs weren’t fit to sit on, however; the legs were torn and snapped in half and large chunks of wood was missing from the backs as if a monstrous creature had relished a few bites. The corners desperately needed to be swept out for cobwebs, which gave the room an overall look of unkemptness. At first glance, one would assume that no one would possibly have regularly inhabited it, but judging by the dirt floor’s fresh gouges, one would think again. Two figures cast shadows upon the floor, the torch light illuminating certain parts of their silhouette as the fire danced from the light breeze let in by the room’s single, smashed window. One was standing in front of the kneeled other in a manner that made it clear who was higher up on the ladder. The man’s features were rough and aggressive, his build powerful and muscled, but his posture was formal, almost gracious as he examined the other man at his feet with dark, hungry eyes.
“You did your job, Deimos. That’s all that matters, isn’t it? Of course, I would have preferred that you did it the old-fashioned way, but your method…was unique.”
His voice was soft but with a certain edge like sandpaper pressed against smooth wood. At first, it seemed like it didn’t suit his build, but it had a sort of dangerous undertone like he was having a polite conversation that could easily turn violent.
The other, Deimos, didn’t answer, but there wasn’t an answer to be expected. It was the custom to merely accept what was given, let it be satisfaction or disappointment, but always, there had to be an inward resolve to do better, no matter what the verdict had been. For this, he was grateful; it was much easier to pretend with motions rather than words. All he had to do was keep his head lowered, his expression blank, and his fists shoved inside of his pockets to hide the way they clenched, his thumb roughly stroking the top of his index finger. Words, on the other hand, were harder to pick and deliver. The tone had to be convincing, the choice of language had to lose every ounce of double meaning and be nothing but sincere, and there were pauses between speech to think of. He couldn’t hesitate, he couldn’t pretend, he had to be natural but natural for him at the moment meant murder, and the one that he so dearly wanted to commit would cost him everything. Well, everything that he hadn’t already lost, that is.
“I admit, I had my doubts. I didn’t understand what you were doing — in fact, I might have guessed that you intended on betraying us. I’m sorry for thinking that, my boy.”
Deimos’s jaw clenched for a moment before he remembered to seem as relaxed as possible. It was his fault, after all. It was his entire fault. He was the one that wanted the assignment, and he got what he had bargained for and more. In all of his dreams to advance, to prove his worth, he had never thought that this very ambition to just be noticed would prove his downfall. The best that he could do was pretend that it hadn’t changed him in the least, when in reality, it had twisted his entire being beyond repair.
“…I want you to forgive me, Deimos.”
His head snapped up in surprise then, the breath knocked out of him by the sheer unexpectedness of the statement. He had been so focused on maintaining the stance of an obedient servant that he hadn’t expected a request for forgiveness, and of course, such a request required an answer. Still, his surprise quickly hardened to something a little bit more vehement as he finally looked at the man before him. Azrael. The man that dictated his past, present, and future, the man that could vault him to beyond his wildest dreams, bestow upon him honor, ruin his sense of self, kill him with a single nod. Deimos had been so careful not to really see him during the meeting for the very reason of keeping his sudden bursts of emotion under control, but now that he found himself locking eyes with Azrael, he couldn’t stop the sudden surge of malice from coursing through his veins. He saw red as blood pounded through his head like African drums, the beat steady but coming faster and faster. There was no question of it faltering. But then, something in Azrael’s cold irises made his will kick into gear and violently tugging his emotions back into line. He didn’t know what, exactly, Azrael saw in his eyes just then, but he didn’t like the way that Azrael looked at him. It was as if he had just been chastised to try harder because his façade was weak and easily seen through, and that frightened him, he had to admit. This meant that he had to make up for any possible transgressions that he might have let slip to knowledge in their brief connection. His newly kindled hatred for everything that the pack stood for was one thing, not to mention his shortly-lived betrayal with the enemy. Both on their own would have earned him punishment, and a quick and easy death was not necessarily assured.
“How…could I not, my lord?” he muttered, instantly wincing at the pause that he had let slip in his effort to choose non-ambiguous words. It had been short, but he knew that even the slightest hint of hesitation would instigate suspicions about his loyalties.
There was a brief silence during which he could feel Azrael’s stare burning into his lowered forehead, but he managed to pretend like he hadn’t anything to worry about. At least, he hoped that he managed. It wouldn’t be the first and last time that Deimos failed at seeming innocent, but this time was especially crucial, since that pause would have been costly.
There was an agonizing pause, seemingly dragged on just to elevate the suspense before Azrael spoke again.
“I’m glad, my boy,” he said quietly.
It was not safe to assume that he had stopped his assessment of Deimos just because of the sudden speech, of course, but it was still less safe to not answer and confirm his suspicions. He had to pretend that he had nothing to be accused of and that the very idea of accusing him would only belong to a madman. Deimos straightened up then, but his eyes were lowered, guarded, hoping that he would not have to speak again and slip up. Thankfully, Azrael did have something more to say.
“Do you know why I called you here, Deimos? I’ll admit it. I didn’t think that you could do it. In fact, you might even say that I was braced for your failure, which would have resulted in your…death. Our kind never forgives, Deimos, so whether you died at the hands of the vampires or by ours, you still would if you failed. But it wasn’t that I didn’t think that you weren’t capable of murder. You are, perhaps, just as good as some of the best fighters in the pack, but you’re young. I find that it is the younger ones that are…more enchanted by beauty, and I suppose that we made it hard on you by giving you beauty. It’s so hard to kill something so beautiful, isn’t it, Deimos?”
The last few words came out in a snarl that made the hairs on the back of Deimos’s neck stand up. Instantly, without thinking, he had taken a defensive position. A split second later, he regretted it, particularly as Azrael stared down at him coldly, his eyes seemingly mad with malice. The world was crashing down around Deimos’s ears. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think, he felt his body lock, unmoving, as if he had been turned into stone. But stone couldn’t beat as hard as his heart was at the moment, stone couldn’t see as clearly as he could. The room rushed in a whirl of color to his line of sight, the fire from the torches, the dirty gray of the walls, white, blue, brown. For a moment, he swayed on the spot, staring at just over Azrael’s shoulder. She was standing there, her eyes in her snow-white face burning violently blue, her gaze searing holes into him. Time slowed as she smiled her mysterious half-smile, her soft brown hair playing in the firelight before vanishing as he was wrenched up, his throat enclosed in Azrael’s vise-like hands.
“Was it something I said, Deimos? Did I hit a nerve? Is that why you felt that you needed to defend yourself from me? Or is it because I don’t have your loyalty any longer, Deimos? Has she touched you so much in the head that you would kill me if given the chance? Would you betray me as you did her?”
Suddenly, Azrael released him, letting him stagger back a few steps and gulp for air. His knees couldn’t carry him so he collapsed in the dirt, back at Azrael’s feet, his forehead pressed against the cold floor. Azrael’s voice had turned conversational again.
“And so, a werewolf decided to cross the boundaries of nature, disregard the code of honor for his pack, and destroy everything that we have ever built up because he saw fit to do so. When I told you to kill her, my boy, I meant that you kill her. I didn’t tell you to fall in love with her and expose yourselves to the vampires. I didn’t tell you to fraternize with the enemy, did I? I didn’t tell you to let her own kind kill her because you were too weak to do so. I wanted her dead by your hands, so you can prove your worth to me. But now, I’m afraid, you’ve destroyed my trust. I can no longer trust you, Deimos, I cannot give you assignments in fear of you burning them all to ashes. And now, you seem to want me dead. And that, my boy, I cannot forgive.”
Azrael paced around Deimos in a circle, his walk almost as if he were taking a stroll. Deimos stayed in the dirt, half-formed thoughts flitting through his mind like ghosts. His breathing was shallow, freer, air barreling its way through his lungs in fresh bursts. This was it. He had gone into this room intent on playing his part, but now, he was lucky enough to get out in one piece, let alone alive. Was that the real reason why he was called into Azrael’s presence? For death? He had been so stupid, so naïve. He had heard the stories about how hard it was to kill the vampires, how you didn’t only need a strong hand but a strong will. It was important to see that despite the fact that they were the very epitome of beauty, they would slit you from your belly to between your eyes without a second thought, but he still couldn’t see beyond her utter perfection, the honey-sweet words that dropped from her mouth, the fragrance of her silky hair. He had been blinded by beauty, and there had been nothing he could do. Yet, he made the attempt and left her to die to return to his pack, hoping that the very fact that she was dead would get him a welcome back with open arms despite the fact that every last one of the pack had been under the impression that he had betrayed them. And he had. He had betrayed both them and her. It seemed now that the only side that he was on was his own, as that was the only one that would accept him.
“Do you want to kill me, Deimos?” Azrael’s voice cut through his thoughts without pity. “Does every drop of blood that’s flowing through your black veins call for mine to be spilt upon the ground? Would my end satisfy the hole in your heart because I was the reason why you had to get rid of her? To save your own sorry skin? To be quite frank, I would rather have you pick a side. Me or her. At least then, your loyalties would be clearer than they are now with this little game that you’re playing. But now, it seems that you would have both of us dead.”
He didn’t know what made him do it. All he knew was that he had suddenly felt his muscles contract in the effort to push himself up so that he could look his previous master in the eye, his breath having slowed down to ragged inhales. And then his mouth moved and speech came forth without his will to back it up.
Just two words. Two words was all that was needed to speak the truth. He couldn’t believe how easy it was, how effortless. He wasn’t afraid anymore. In fact, he felt lightheaded, giddy even, with a slow smile breaking across his face. And then, he threw back his head and laughed, the sound of his own voice making him wince just slightly on the inside, but he didn’t care. He continued to laugh without mirth, without the faintest inkling as to what he was laughing about, all he knew was that everything was hopeless and that this was the only power that he had over the situation: how he would respond to it. He knew that this was the end, so why wasn’t he frightened? Why did he merely stare up at the ceiling, a sad smile on his face as he was thrown like a rag doll, as rough, violent hands descended upon him, intent on ending it?
He didn’t know.
Park City, Utah
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