Her mother lay the wet cloth on Marra’s head. She pincered matted hair between her fingers and moved it behind Marra’s ear. Beads of water eased down the girl’s forehead. The Sin sat on Marra’s chest. It moved up and down in the rhythm of her drawn breathing. It placed it’s hand on the cloth. On Marra’s mother’s. The small beads of water continued to roll. It was almost impossible to make them out from Marra’s tears.
Sunlight cut through the leaves. The forest became friendlier than the night before. Marra was awake before she opened her eyes.
The same dream again.
She could smell the dogs. How bad was it this time? The Sin had never forced her to kill another human but animals...they were a different story. It reminded her of ghost stories as a child. Holding her bed clothes over her face. Afraid to open her eyes. Marra remembered how much darkness had scared her in those years. She eventually opened her eyes, just as she had done as a child. Darkness didn’t scare her anymore. There were never any ghosts. The shih tzu’s jaw lay half unhinged, torn down it’s right side as far as the ear. Light was so much worse. The Sin’s red veins had sunk once more. The shade of Marra’s forearm had lightened. For now it would be quiet. Sated. Soon it would be back. Horrible, ferocious. Slowly the shade would darken. The thoughts would flood her mind. Begging her to let go. Maybe this the time she finally would.
She remembered the last thing her mother said to her.
“Hey.” Wren coghed.
“Get rid of these chains.”
“What’s wrong with your arm?”
Marra looked at the boy. He must have been fourteen. Maybe older. Marra couldn’t tell. His dirty brown hair curled at the edges. Like small waves. His clothes were ragged and torn but the boots were holding together. He didn’t shiver in the morning chill.
Wren reached out putting his fingers on Marra’s leg. She felt the heat of his hand. It grew hotter and hotter.
“I can’t make fire. But I can make this hurt. Make it burn.”
Marra scowled at him.
“I’ve been marked.”
“You can say the full word.”
Wren tried to feel like he was in control again. He didn’t even notice moving his hand from her leg.
“Are they real?”
“The one that clawed me was.”
“Big as people say.”
The only thing more dangerous than the Madra were the Nephilim. The product of carnal union between angels and men. Like everything else the holy spouted Wren had assumed it was all false. Ravens that were dragon like in their size. Maybe this girl was crazy? But he had seen her arm the night before. That red glow...
“Do you have the thirst? I mean, do you need to...”
“I’ve been marked. You know how it goes.”
“I thought it was all lies.”
“There are some people who don’t believe there are any elementals left.”
Wren stood up and walked behind the tree Marra was bound against. He untied her chains.
Marra stood up and gathered the chains. Wren was intimidated by her height. Raven black hair hung in front of her face. A large green hood covered the rest of her hair. She picked up her bow and began pulling arrow heads from the dead dogs. An Alsatian was still breathing, the arrow had lodged in its throat. Marra stopped. She drew her blade from its sheath. A small dagger. She kneeled beside the animal and placed her hand on its ribs. The dog’s pupils found Marras. She looked back and nodded solemnly. The dog’s neck broke easily. Marra started with the ears.
“You got a knife?”
Wren stared at Marra as she skinned the animal. She threw fur into the long grass. Blood stained her fingertips. Wren felt the tingle in the sides of his mouth. Inside felt dry and wet at the same time. His stomach tensed. He kneeled, the vomit flowed freely. Marra heard the wretches before she looked up. She had given way to her stomach several times when she first learned to skin food. She walked past Wren, he wiped the tears and spit from his face.
“When was the last time you ate?”
Wren coughed, trying to clear his throat. The words refused to free themselves from his mouth. He continued coughing.
“It’s all bile. Must have been a couple of days right?”
“Dogs...they’re okay when you get used to them.”
Dry wood and stones were easy to find. Lighting a fire during daylight was easy. A fire at night could be the difference between life and death. The temperature could fall as far as to necessitate heat. But where heat was necessary it could easily draw attention. Die from the cold, die from a scavenger. The choice was up to the wanderer. Sometimes lighting a fire close to a fort or town could yield a Samaritan. Sometimes it could yield a well placed arrow.
Wren stacked the twigs on top of the branches. It was harder to notice Wren’s hands glow in the daylight. He flicked his fingers, sparks landed on the twigs. String lines of smoke rose but the fire wouldn’t take. Marra gave him several attempts before she took two arrows from her quiver. She knelt beside the boy began clipping the heads together. The flames rose.
“You ever eat dog before?”
“Thousands of years ago half the world thought it was a delicacy. The other half thought it was barbaric.”
“I guess I’m the other half.”
Marra rooted through her bag and took out a heavy scarf. Wren put out his hands.
“Can I see?”
He rolled the cloth in his hands. Looping it, touching every fibre he could. He handed it back to Marra after a few moments. The heat kissed her neck as she wrapped the scarf around. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt heat like this. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She opened her eyes. The dog looked back. The raw flesh of the skinned dog.
“Why haven’t you cut your arm off?”
The boy watched the cinders of the fire rise towards the leaves. Occasionally he would close his eyes and listen to the crack of the kindling. Marra pulled the scarf tighter around her throat. The skin on her forearms goosed. Hairs on end. Marra stood up and walked towards the animal carcass.
“Help me with the dog.”
They skewered the animal and placed it above the flames. A crow cried out in the distance. Marra shuddered for a moment. The boy didn’t seem to notice. The forest was everywhere. Occasionally the weathered remains of an old building greyed the green surroundings. Covered in roots and ivy they were easy to miss though sometimes finding them could prove invaluable. Most often wanderers of the forests died. It was hard to live long enough to starve but dehydration was a severe threat. Man had once been king of the food chain. No living human was old enough to recall that time. Wanderers used the buildings as camps leaving behind goods after death. At first Marra had refused to take these items. Rarely was a body found inside the camp. She took comfort in believing they were hunting. That they would be back. After some time she realized that her chances of survival depended on looting these camps. Marra blamed these actions on her possession. The Sin’s selfishness. But sometimes, in the quiet moments before she slept, she accepted the real truth.
The dog’s red flesh browned. It had been a long time since Marra felt guilt about eating an animal. The boy was still used to seeing dogs as family pets. He bit into the meat and chewed. The taste was not bad but it didn’t help his stomach from trembling as he swallowed.
“How long are you alone?” Marra didn’t look at him as she asked.
“Maybe a couple of weeks, I lost track early.”
“Easy to do.”
“Best part of two years. Give or take.”
“You haven’t found a town? Even a fort?”
“Many. It’s hard to get accepted under normal circumstances. People are scared. The mark makes it impossible.”
Wren tore another piece from the dog. His sense of guilt yielded to his hunger.
“The ancients said the Nephilim were the children of fallen angels and the daughters of men.”
“The ancients said a lot of things.”
“Do you believe them?”
Marra looked at the boy. His eyes gave him away. Those giant black pupils. A child unsure who or what to believe. She rolled a piece of the dog on her teeth. Marra didn’t consider whether or not the ancient’s were right. It didn’t matter to her. Even if the Nephilim that marked her couldn’t restore her she could get revenge. Or at least die fighting. Heaven or Hell. Whichever one she ended up in couldn’t be much worse.
“If God is real he’s got some explaining to do. If he’s not that would explain everything.”
It was the first time in days Marra could think even remotely clearly. The Sin was quiet. She wondered if there was a way to trick it. Some ruse by where The Sin might believe she had killed, believe itself sated. Why haven’t you cut off your arm? She had considered it but the priests had told her the infection was one of the soul. A severed arm would yield nothing but severing an arm. Whether she believed them or not was still undecided; the fact remained that a one armed archer was both ridiculous and hilarious. No, she would have to keep the arm. Revenge or redemption, she needed it for both. The boy held no bounds as he ate the dog meat. Marra smiled as she looked at him. Stupid but tough. She felt an unfamiliar feeling sooth her chest. Lioness to cub. Shark to pup.
“You’ll die out here.”
“What do you want, if you live?”
“I want to find those responsible. Find my kind. Kill one, save the other.”
“Big words for a small man.”
“Words are all I have right now.”
“Then we’re not so dissimilar.”
“You want revenge?”
“I want a cure. I want to be back with my clan. But yeah, I’ll settle for revenge.”
Wren straightened his posture and stretched his neck. His muscles fought against his efforts. He felt the tension grow, pushed a little harder, and then abate. Wren sighed and moved his neck in circles. His hands began to glow as he placed them on his throat. He breathed deep, held it for just a moment and breathed out again.
“So you’re making an offer.”
Maybe not so stupid...
“We can try to protect each other-”
“Until you kill me?” Wren cut in.
“How does it work? The blood lust and all that.”
“It’ll be okay for a few days. Then I’ll start to hear it. As if it’s someone else talking. Telling me to hurt others. A few more days and I’ll become angry for no reason. I start to lose control a few days later. At this point I’ve always killed something.”
“I don’t know what happens after that.”
She spoke slowly as though a part of her was trying to find out.
“Animals. Never a person. Yet.”
“So you’re offering me protection until I become ‘yet’?”
“It’s mutual. You look out for me, I look out for you. ‘Yet’ might never happen.”
“So what’s our next move?”
Marra looked quizzically at the boy.
“Mind made up?”
“I would’ve died last night. I owe you a life.”
Marra didn’t know how to respond.
So she didn’t.
Twilight of the Gods
He had given up his name almost a decade ago. It was a simple name. John; like the Baptist. He kept the book in his hands at all times. Even the thought of the pages out of reach shuddered him. He held it in the enclave of his left arm. Close to his heart as possible. He mumbled to himself as he trudged through the long grass. Ahead of him a tree bearing fruit just as he had known there would be. Another possibility his mind had produced. His was a reality of his own creation. Truly, if he had wanted to, he could lift his feet from the earth. Levitate for a moment, fly to another planet. But he did not want to. He told himself that if he ever did, there would be no problem, and then quickly thought of something else.
He told himself that he enjoyed climbing the tree. It was good exercise. But wouldn’t it have been possible to just manifest the fruit from nothing?
“I don’t want to.”
His finger found another splinter and housed it. The pain ran through his hand dully.
“I don’t want to be a God. I am a man who knows The Secret. Better to be a man of sound mind and wisdom. Benevolent and kind. Power would only corrupt.”
Unless I manifested my destiny to be peaceful and loving...
“No I must suffer as man.”
He had reached the fruit. The red skin caught a ray of light. Obscured, his reflection, gazed back at him. A moment of misjudgement as he reached for the fruit. The book slid from under his arm. Away from his heart. Down, down, down. He could not hear the pages as they hit the ground. He had forgotten about the quantum and the quantum had forgotten about him. How could a God be so stupid?! He closed his eyes for a moment and breathed slowly. He must be calm to manifest, the quantum would never listen to a cluttered mind. Even if it did the results could be less than satisfactory. Far less.
His hands found the branches easily as he made his decent. And then he heard it, somewhere in the distance. Shuffling of feet, movement of grass. John, who had not been called John for many years, froze. He gripped the branches, chameleon like.
“Just keep looking.”
“I am looking!”
“Then why am I constantly the one picking up all the flint?”
“You’re used to looking for them. I don’t use arrows.”
“That’s right you use fireworks.”
“Someday it’ll be real fire!”
“And I’ll still be able to pick you off with an arrow.”
“Yeah right. You and that crazy arm of yours will be burned to a crisp!”
He heard laughing. Threats of death with laughter? He poked his head out from behind the tree. A boy and a girl. Young. The girl was tall, the boy a few inches smaller. As a God he could have destroyed them both. As a God he could have recreated his book from air. What did a God even need with a book?
“There’s something here.”
“Will it make arrows?”
“It’s a book?”
“Can you read?”
“Not the old language, you?”
“We can use it for heat.”
“It would only keep us warm a few seconds. Maybe I can find something useful inside?”
Wren shook his head and smiled.
“I’m totally going to fry you when I get my fire working.”
“Keep dreaming smoky.”
John, who was not John, saw the boy pick up the book. He took a satchel from his back and put the book inside. He heard them bicker into the distance and quickly scaled down the tree. A God could have appeared in front of the two. A God could have smited their transgression. A God would never have dropped the book in the first place.
But John, who was not John, had decided to suffer as a man. And what is a God without conviction.