Fantasticoe -- 2012
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The Die is Cast

Addam Peters

"Tell me, young lord. Do you wish to live?"

The voice echoed off the stone walls of the Wraith family castle. A chandelier hung high in the air over a table covered with a white tablecloth. The tablecloth was stained red with splotches of blood from guards, nobles and assassins that comingled on the table. Corpses cooled on the floor as their lifeblood pooled around them. The last living member of the long line of Wraith lay bleeding on the dining table after having dispatched his would be dispatchers. He knew the low-level assassins he had killed were not the true masterminds of the attempt on his life. He had been betrayed. His family, his home, the village they ruled over and even most of the Knights of the Dark Cross had been destroyed. He was sixteen and he had already lost everything. He could still hear the pained screams of his vassals echoing down the hallways of the once-great castle.

The sound of fingers snapping echoed across the dining room before fading into an unnatural silence-- taking with it the the grogginess of bloodloss and the pain from his missing arm. With the sudden lack of pain and clarity of mind the last remaining heir decided to use this reprieve to truly consider the question the shadows had asked him. Do I want to continue living? Everything is gone now. I could try to revive my family line but what would be the point? If I don't know the reason behind the attack it could happen again. No! I will not allow a travesty of this kind to ever happen again, I'll find them! I'll find them all and make them pay for my family! I shall make them regret leaving me alive. For what they've done and for what they might do, for what they tried to do their lives are forfeit!

"No, I wish for vengeance! I wish to hunt my enemies and pay them back a thousand-fold! My family and my people cry out for vengeance and they will have it! They will never take anything from me again!" screamed the boy to the unknown voice. He heard laughter bouncing off the stone walls, laughter filled with bloodlust and insanity.

"Then I suggest a contract, my dear boy. I will save you. I will give you the power to hunt your enemies. I will serve you… but when the time comes, I’ll take your soul as my own." The room visibly darkened. A man appeared, standing by the far wall. There was nothing particularly extraordinary about his appearance at first glance, he seemed to be a normal herald. With a second look, though, the young man saw that the herald’s eyes burned red, and that his shadow was not his own. The light from the torches showed an entirely different shape on the wall, the shadow of a tall man in tattered robes with rotted wings.

The wounded boy stared at the man. The herald walked slowly towards him, a disturbing smile playing lightly upon his lips.

"Who are you?" the boy asked. He swallowed. He was the last of his line. He would not allow anything to see him tremble. The strange man walked slowly, deliberately. Even the pools of blood did nothing more than make his smile grow wider as he stepped in the life fluid of the collected corpses. The sound of each step rebounded off the stone walls.

"I, my young lord, am a Reaper," he said. "As for who I am—well, names are such a human concept. Perhaps for the course of our arrangement you should simply call me Harbinger." Harbinger leaned over the table and stroked the boy’s cheek, never letting the smile fall from his lips, and looked over the boy’s wounds. His right arm was missing at the shoulder, and a whistling sound could be heard coming through a hole in his chest every time he breathed. Harbinger’s smile grew wider.

The young heir literally looked into the face of death with calm and poise, but if one were to look at his hands they would see twitching that  belied that facade. He was thinking a mile a minute and attempting to show no weakness to a predator that could rip him to pieces. "What  will you do with my soul when the time comes, Reaper?" By refusing to use the name given he was hoping to establish a dominant place in the conversation.

When Harbinger chuckled and wagged his finger back and forth that hope was shattered. "Uh uh uh, that would be telling."
What is a soul anyway?  What profit does keeping my soul do me?  I don't know if there is another life or an afterlife so why should i need it?  Even if I do give it up though, why shouldn't i just die here?  In the corner of his eye the shadows flicked and drew his attention to his reason for life.  There pinned to his chair with a sword through his chest and lifeless eyes stared his father.  NO, soul or not.  I will not die, I will end those who would dare hurt my family.  Even if I have to sell my soul a thousand times over these fools will pay.

With the fire of determination lit anew in his eyes the new lord of Wraith pulled his eyes back to those of the reaper but ended coughing out blood and with slight panic realized that these negotiations had a time limit. "You will help me hunt my enemies? You will obey my commands and serve me as your lord?" The last Wraith spoke with the voice of a man far beyond his years, with a regality he had often heard in the voice of his father.

Harbinger went to one knee, bringing a gloved hand up to his heart.  The other was fisted against the stone floor. "Of course, my Lord."

The smile that never seemed to leave his lips was mischievous and made it impossible to tell if he was being serious or not, but the young lord had little choice but to take what was offered him.

"I hereby accept your contract," he said, speaking with effort. "In life you shall serve me, and in death my soul shall serve you."

Harbinger’s smile grew to impossible proportions. He stood, picking up a large knife off the table beside the young Wraith. He brought it under his own armpit and made a quick, deep cut around his arm, severing it completely. He let it fall to the floor.

 The boy watched, too exhausted and wounded for amazement, as a maroon and black shadow exploded out of the Reaper’s shoulder. As the boy looked on, the shadows writhed, taking the shape of a new arm with a sleeve and glove already covering it. After flexing his new fingers, Harbinger bent down and picked up his severed limb. He brought it to his new master’s shoulder, grinding the bloodied end of the stump into the bleeding shoulder of his lord. The young Wraith screamed.After several minutes of screaming, the fire in his shoulder calmed to a dull roar and he looked down. His new, sleeveless arm was the correct size and shape, but beyond that the similarities ended. There was no skin to conceal the muscle. The boy watched as the muscle slid along the bone as he twitched his fingers. It was hard not to shudder when he looked at it. It was the deep, rusty red of dried blood.

"You see," said the mysterious Harbinger, "I shall give you a weapon that humans cannot touch." To illustrate his point, he touched the pommel of a giant scythe lightly to the temple of one of the dead assassins. The boy watched in fascination as the skin blackened and then crumbled to ash.

"In order to wield the scythe of a Reaper, one must be a Reaper—or at least have the flesh of one. This weapon will never dull, never break, and will rend the very souls of your enemies."

Before the boy had a chance to stand and test his new arm, a hand pinned his chest to the table.

"There is one more thing I will give you if we are to embark upon this venture, my lord," Harbinger said. Picking up the knife he had used to server his arm, Harbinger held it above his master’s left eye. He watched in satisfaction as the young man never flinched--  not from the blade, nor from the drop of blood that the fell from the end of it into his eye.

While he may not have flinched when it was happening, as soon as the blood seeped into his eye, his head exploded with agony that made the pain he had felt in his arm seem like a pinprick. Before he could scream the pain abated, leaving him gasping for breath.

"With this eye, you shall be able to look into the soul of your foe. You shall see all the people who have died as a result of their actions. All you must do is look in the eyes of your enemy. You must beware of this power however, my lord, for as you can see these specters, so can they see you. When you see these souls, your Reaper’s eye shall show you the death of every single one of them to judge if you do not avert your gaze quickly enough. It would be quite enough to drive most men mad. I do so very much look forward to seeing how you do, Master." The crazed grin never once left the face of his new servant, even as he helped his new lord to his feet. As Wraith held out his hand, the shadows in the room gathered and bent into the form of a five-foot-tall black scythe.

The boy turned to his savior, his protector and to the creature who would one day take his soul. "Thomas vi Wraith commands you. Never lie to me, obey me, cover the world with the blood of my foes, protect me with your life."

Harbinger’s red eyes glowed as he resumed his position of submission with one knee on the floor with a smile, Yes this one will not leave loopholes.  This is giong to be so Interesting. "Yes, my lord."

The shrill scream of a woman tore through the silence of the castle; before the echo had even ended Thomas was sprinting through the halls. His adrenaline and hope to find a living member of his house drove him to speeds not previously known as he subconciously tapped into the reaper blood now mixed with his own. Coming to a corner Thomas pushed off the stone floor with a leap and rebound off the wall shooting down a hallway where the screams continued to ring out. With a shout he rammed his shoulder into the door at the end of the hall where sounds of clothes ripping and sobbing was getting quieter by the second.

The room was just a food pantry stuffed with sacks of grain and flower and a woman on a table thrashing violently as she is held down by her assaulters. The woman is dressed in the torn reminants of a maids uniform and lies spread on the table with fresh bruises covering her face, arms and legs with 5 men in dark blue armor standing around her and holding her down as Thomas breaks through the door. For a second no one moved as the men about to defile the woman on the table turn to him in shock that anyone was still alive. The maid saw the young lord of the manner standing in the doorway with a seemingly greivious wound to his arm that was stripped of skin and blood staining his chest, his eyes were moving from one man to the next and his face being masked with more and more disgust.

Thomas was looking from one man to the next taking advantage of their shock to make eye contact with them and with each one the world slowed and all of the people murdered and murdered or otherwise wronged by these men was bared naked before him. All the men heard before Thomas disappeared from their vision was a whispered word, "Guilty". Thomas seemingly disappeared from their sight until four of the rapists turned suddenly at the sound of their comrade screaming. They found him clutching his stomach right before he toppled back his torso seperating form his legs.

The remaining assassins pulled their swords and tried to split Thomas down the center with overhead slashes, but Thomas's new arm was far stronger than any humans and was able to pull the scyth through two of them before having to leap back to avoid their slashes. Their swords impamcted into the unforgiving stone floor as Thomas spun on his heel planting a kick into the head of one of the assassins. The other recovered in time to lunge at Thomas's exposed side, the young lord was able to spin the pommel of his scythe and bat the sword off target before yanking up on the blade bisecting the assassin. A quick spin to meant to take off the head of his last target proved to be unnecessary as he found the maid standing crouched down holding a sword through the knights chest with the look of fury that only a potential rape victim could wear.

Thomas quickly dismissed his scythe and kneeled down beside the maid slowly prying the sword from her grasp , "Are you alright?" The maid was one that he didn't know personally but looking at her now couldn't figure out how he could've missed such a beautiful woman. It took a few minutes but she calmed down but eventually nodded, "Have you seen my mother or sisters, my lord? The last I saw them they were going to serve in the dining hall." Thomas quickly looked away, he knew for a fact that all those who were in the dining room with him as well as the adjacent kitchen were amongst the first to fall.

Thomas's silence was all the answer that she needed to know that everyone was dead. After wiping away her tears and standing up she clasped her hands and bowed before speaking with determination, "Please, my lord, let me continue to serve you. My name is Abigale. Let me continue to be your servant as you hunt down these monsters." Thomas had never been good at refuting women having been raised under a stern mother hand and so could only gape at her audacity before sighing, "fine, but i won't be slowing down for you, the only speed is mine."

"Well said, my lord" turning towards the doorway Thomas and the Abigale could see Harbinger standing there. Thomas merely nodded to his personal reaper and resummoned his scythe. As he turned his eyes panned across a deeper section of shadows before the red outlines of souls passed before his eyes, the dead and they wronged all leapt out at him from the eyes that he didn't even know he had seen. Thomas swung the scythe through the shadows in the corner of the room and strode towards the door even as the last of the assassins tumbled down, cut in half. He walked to the door out to the dining hall, looking out over his burning village.

"Come; Harbinger, Abigale. We have so much work to do.