The Gods Wager-Part One

The Proposition

Ozmos took a deep breath, steeling his nerves as he soared towards the temple of the First Gods on the back of his colossal falcon.  Though it was Ozmos himself that had demanded an audience with the First Gods, he was mindful of the fact that the pantheon greatly outnumbered him.  Ozmos was also painfully aware that he, having no other gods in his pantheon to rely on, could only ask his faithful to give him the strength needed to confront the First Gods.  As his falcon swooped down towards the ancient temple, Ozmos leapt off the great bird, flipped through the air three times, then landed at the foot of the temple in a crouching position.  Ozmos turned his fierce gaze to the entrance of the temple before slowly rising into a strong, warrior stance.  As he stood there, staring defiantly at the temple, a small figure scuttled out of the shadows of the entrance-way.  As the figure entered the sunlight, Ozmos could see that the figure was nothing more than a short, thin, elderly man that seemed to be in danger of being swallowed up by the thick cloak he wore.

“Ozmos,” the man wheezed loudly, “Son of the Holy Father, Protector of the Unwashed, Defier of the First Gods-“

“I think you’ve covered enough of my titles,” Ozmos barked.  Let’s just get on with it.

“Very well,” the old man said, smiling wryly.  “If you would follow me then.”

Ozmos let out a frustrated sigh before following the old man into the darkened entrance of the Temple of the First Gods.  As his eyes adjusted to the interior light provided by several flaming torches along the wall of a barren hallway he was being led down, Ozmos found his nerves settling by his surging fortitude.  Moments later, the old man led Ozmos through a doorway into a large antechamber.  In the center of the chamber, a large pit of fire burned, sending dancing shadows across the walls and ceiling.  On the opposite side of the  chamber, a robust, middle-aged man with long hair and a strong beard sat on a throne atop a large dais glaring down at Ozmos.  Seated next to the man was a woman of great beauty, her face an expression of soothing calmness that eased the remaining nerves of Ozmos.  Before the dais, a young man in full armor stood, his arms crossed in an expression of defiance as he to glared at Ozmos.

“Dekus,” Ozmos said, bowing his head to show respect to the gods before him.  “I am honored that you would agree to meet with me.”

“Honored,” The bearded god Dekus barked angrily.  “The only reason I agreed to this meeting is to see with my own eyes the petulant child that would dare to request an audience with the father of all the gods.”

“You are the father of all the First Gods,” Ozmos stated bluntly.  “But, you are not my father.  I am not one of your god children.  You would be wise to remember that.”

“You would dare,” Dekus roared.  “You are nothing to me, the First of the First Gods!  You are but a juvenile to me!  A false god trying to claim what belongs to me and my First!”

“I may be a new god,” Ozmos declared calmly, “But I am a god, make no mistake.  My followers give me just as much power as your followers give you, and my the size of my flock increases constantly.  Even as I speak to you now, I gain more followers.  Soon, my congregation might even outnumber yours.  A new dawn is rising, Dekus.  The faiths of man are ever-changing, and you of the First Gods cannot hope to remain relevant in the face of such evolution.  I represent the progress of man from the darkness of the First Gods to the light of the one, true god.  You cannot hope to halt such progress forever.”

“We do not have to stand for such disrespectful boasting father,” the young man in armor shouted.  “Let me face this heathen usurper in combat and I will prove who is the better god.”

“Calm yourself son,” the woman in the throne beside Dekus chided.  “There will be no combat in this sacred temple.  And husband, you let your temper get the better of you again.  Please, allow me to handle this situation.”

Dekus glared at his wife briefly before finding his anger melt before her soothing eyes.  “You are right my love, as always.  Please, speak for me.  I trust your judgement in this matter.”

“Thank you my husband,” the woman said, smiling and placing her hand on the cheek of Dekus.  After a moment, the woman turned her attention to Ozmos, who stood tall and defiant before the First Gods.  “Do you know who I am?”

“Of course my lady,” Ozmos replied, bowing his head slightly.  “You are Ielis, wife to Dekus and mother of the First Gods.  I am honored to speak with you.”

“You come before us speaking of honor,” Ielis affirmed, “but then you proceed to inform us that we are antiquated and obsolete.  It seems you are the god of contradictions, if not the god of good judgement.”

Ozmos let out a long sigh, then lowered his head before speaking again.  “I must beg your forgiveness I’m afraid.  It was not my intention to insult you, your husband, or any of the First Gods.  Nor was it my desire to be the cause of confrontation.  I am not a warrior like your son, Atul, the God of War.  I am a god who spreads the tenets of peace, the words of love, the code of brotherhood.  I have not come to your temple, your home, to attack or threaten you.  I have come only to show you the truth of the world outside this temple.”

“And what truth might that be,” Ielis inquired dubiously.

“A simple truth,” Ozmos replied.  “One that should be obvious to those not blinded by pride or arrogance.  As I have stated, I am new to the role of god.  Once, I was but a mere mortal man elevated to the position of god by those who believed in me and placed their faith in me.  Being that I was once mortal, my followers see me as one of their own.  A god who cares more about the people of the world than about his own power.  I am here to warn you that my followers are growing at an exponential level, converting even those who once followed the First Gods.  As I said, this is the path of progress, and I fear that the First Gods are in danger of being wiped from existence by such progress.”

“And so, you have come to our domain out of concern for our existence?  You are telling us that you are acutally concerned about those that you are usurping?”

“I am not trying to usurp the First Gods, my Lady.  If I had my choice, I would gladly share my faithful with the First Gods.  I am afraid,  however, that such a thing is not possible.  It is the will of the people that the order of the First Gods fade from existence, leaving only myself as the one true God of the people.”

“This is preposterous,” Dekus bellowed, springing up from his throne and waving an angry fist at Ozmos.  “You claim that you are no warrior, yet you are clearly here to challenge us!  And yet, you are but a single, solitary god, challenging a pantheon of many.  Why should we care what you have to say to us?  What could you possibly have to challenge us with?”

“Again Old Father,” Ozmos replied calmly, “I am not here to attack you.  I am here to inform you.  Your days of godhood are waning.  Soon, you will fade away as your faithful are all converted to following me.  Your existence will be forgotten, and you will be nothing more than stories parents tell their children to bore them to sleep at night.”

Dekus glared at Ozmos for a long moment before finally letting out a loud, boisterous laugh.  “I have to admire your fearlessness Ozmos.  I question whether it is courage or foolhardiness that motivates you to challenge we the First Gods, who have ruled the heavens for thousands of years.  You say you are here to warn us of our impending demise, so tell me then, what do you propose.  What is the true reason for your visit here?”

“Despite what you might think,” Ozmos replied, “I do not actually wish to see you or your pantheon destroyed or eliminated.  That is not my way.  I am actually here to make you an offer.  Your reign as gods will be over soon, but your legacy can live on if you choose to join me and my gospel.  I will canonized as the first of my saints.  It is an honor I bestow on only the holiest of my flock.  You will be remembered always as my disciples, immortilzed in scripture for all time.”

Dekus stared coldly at Ozmos, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully as he rubbed his bearded chin.  Dekus then took a deep breath, exhaling it slowly.

“I have an alternate offer,” Dekus said at last.  “A true test of the validity of your statements.  If you are so certain that your flock is stronger than mine, then I propose a wager.  A true test of the faith of our followers.  I propose that we each choose a champion among our faithful to represent us.  These champions will face each other with their faith in their hearts and we shall see whose is stronger.  We each give our champion a set of weapons and armor that is strengthened by their faith and see who’s faith prevails.”

“An interesting proposition,” Ozmos responded, nodding his head thoughtfully.  “And what will be the stakes to such a wager?”

“If you win,” Dekus answered, “then I, and all the First Gods, will agree to your offer.  We will relinquish our godhood and agree to become these saints that you speak of without any further resistance or complaint.”

“And if you should somehow happen to defeat me?”

“Then you will give up your godhood, tell your followers that you are a fraud, and return to your existence as a mere mortal.  I will even allow you to become a legend among our followers.  I will create a parable about you, the man who challenged the First Gods and lost.  Your story will forever be a moral for all to learn from.  How do you respond to my proposition Ozmos?”

Ozmos turned his glance towards the fire pit in the center of the room as he pondered the offer presented by the Old Father.  Weighing his confidence in his faithful against the risk of losing such a wager, Ozmos came to the conclusion that there could only be one possible outcome for his beloved flock of followers.

“Yes Old Father,” Ozmos answered slowly.  “I have as much faith in my followers as they have in me.  The terms you have put forth are acceptable.  I agree to your wager.”

“Excellent,” Dekus replied with a laugh.  “Then let it be so.  Let us now go and find our champions and make our preparations.”

“As you wish,” Ozmos said, bowing respectfully towards the First Gods.  “Shall we reconvene once all is ready to witness the challenge?”

“Indeed we shall,” Dekus replied cheerfully.  “I look forward to the contest.  I must thank you Ozmos.”

“Thank me for what?”

“Existence has been a bit mundane for me of late,” Ozmos stated.  “You have brought a touch of excitement into my life.  No matter the inevitable outcome of our game here, I am at least grateful for this experience.”

“I am happy to breathe some new life in your ancient existence,” Ozmos said casually as he walked out of the antechamber.

Ever Vigilant, Part One

“What is this,” Nathan asked, glaring at the computer monitor in front of him.  “Is this real?”

“I’m afraid it is Nathan,” Helena replied soberly.  “This is footage recorded off of someone’s cellphone two nights ago.  There are other videos like this on the internet as well, all of them just as violent and disturbing.”

“I don’t understand,” Nathan muttered, shaking his head in disbelief.  “I know I was away for a while, but I was barely gone for two months.  You are telling me that, in that amount of time, Kurt disappeared for, how long?”

“Three weeks,” Helena replied.  “He was gone for at least three weeks.  At first, we were all so busy with our own lives, that we didn’t even notice.  Plus, you know how secretive he is.  Sometimes he just disappears for days at a time.  After a week or so, I started to suspect that something was wrong, so I went looking for him.  I searched every inch of that damned city, but I couldn’t find a single clue to his whereabouts.”

“Not surprising,” Nathan scoffed.  “If Kurt doesn’t want to be found, then he is almost impossible to find.”

“Unless we have your powers,” Helena added.  “Unfortunately, you were off-world.  No need to apologize, I know you were taking care of something vitally important.  But, without your help, I could not find Kurt at any of his usual haunts, or anywhere else in the city.  None of his associates were able to find him either.  I was about to extend my search globally when Kurt suddenly reappeared, returning to his crime-fighting as if nothing had happened.  At first, I shrugged it off as typical behavior for Kurt, but then I began to see these videos popping up online.  They started slow at first, but then began to increase in frequency as Kurt continued his crime-fighting.”

“I’ve known Kurt a long time,” Nathan said grimly, “and I have never seen him act so violently.  Yes, he uses his fists to make his point, but this is going beyond street fighting.”

“Way beyond,” Helena agreed.  “Nathan, he’s killing people.”

“No,” Nathan exclaimed, shaking his head furiously.  “Kurt doe not kill.  Kurt has never killed to my knowledge.  Never!”

“Look closely,” Helena instructed, queuing up another video.  “This video is the most disturbing one I have seen yet.”

Nathan stared at the computer screen in disbelief as another video began to play.  In this new video, Nathan watched as his long-time friend, dressed in his full Vigilante gear, attacked a gang of common thugs who had been robbing a small jewelry store.  Nathan was horrified as he watched his friend, who had sworn to never kill anyone, began beating each thug into unconsciousness.  Within moments, Kurt was surrounded by a circle of thugs, and it was clear that the Vigilante was far outnumbered.  A moment later, Kurt pulled a gun out of his utility belt, and began shooting wildly at the criminals circling him.  Nathan gasped as he watched thug after thug drop as each one was hit with a killing shot from the gun in Kurt’s hand.  Kurt began to laugh as he shot each thug, a macabre  sound that brought chills to Nathan’s spine.   A moment later, the remaining hoodlums began to run away, and Kurt responded by pulling a large knife out of his belt and chasing down every thug he could catch, and stabbing them viciously.  Once the thieves had been dispersed, Kurt turned his attention towards the person recording the incident on their cellphone, and charged towards them.  As the cellphone fell to the ground, Nathan could no longer determine what was happening to the owner of the cellphone, but the blood-curdling screams echoing off the surrounding walls filled his heart with dread.

“I don’t,” Nathan whispered, pausing to gather his thoughts.  “I don’t understand this.  This is wrong.  This is not Kurt.  This is wrong.  I have to stop him.  I have to stop this.”

“I’ll help you Nathan,” Helena said.  “We can call the Coalition together and confront him.”

“You call them together,” Nathan said bluntly.  “I’m going after my friend.  I’m going stop him.”

“But, Nathan,” Helena began.

Before Helena could complete her thought, Nathan rushed out a nearby window, and took to the sky.  Flying as fast as he possibly could, it took only a few minutes for Nathan to reach the city his friend Kurt called home.  Overwhelmed with a mix of panic and confusion, Nathan frantically flew around the city, using his enhanced vision to search for the man known as the Vigilante.  Though it seemed like hours, Nathan’s search ended minutes later when he at last spotted the Vigilante running along a rooftop.

“Vigilante,” Nathan bellowed, his voice echoing across the cityscape.  “Hold up, it’s me, the Extraordinary Man.  I need to talk to you.”

The Vigilante looked up towards Nathan, cursed under his breath, then jumped off the roof he had been running on.  Nathan let out a gasp as he rushed down towards his friend.  As he reached the rooftop, Nathan spotted the Vigilante swinging on a grappling hook towards another building.  Nathan shook his head, and flew towards Kurt, grabbing his friend by his arms, and carrying him to a nearby rooftop.  Once he reached the roof, Nathan released the Vigilante, and landed near his friend.

“Kurt,” Nathan exclaimed, shocked at his friend’s behavior, “why are you running from me?  What is going on with you?  I know you have gone through something recently, and I just want to talk to you.”

“Leave me alone,” Kurt spat, turning his back towards Nathan.  “I don’t have anything to say to you.”

Nathan paused after hearing Kurt’s voice, his enhanced hearing immediately signaling him that something was wrong.  The sound of his friend’s voice had changed, now sounding foreign and unsettling.

“What’s wrong with your voice,” Nathan asked suspiciously.

“Nothing,” Kurt replied, clearing his throat.  “Got a cold.  Now, go away!  I’m busy!”

“No,” Nathan replied, staring at his friend skeptically.  “You’re not sick.  Your voice is different.  It’s like you are…”

Using his enhanced speed, Nathan rushed towards Kurt, grabbing his friend and tearing off his mask to reveal the identity of the man underneath.

“You’re not Kurt at all,” Nathan shouted, shocked by the unsettling face staring back at him.

“No,” the man who was not Kurt replied with a villainous grin.  “I guess I’m not.”

Nathan released his grip on the man who was not his friend, and retreated in horror as the man began to cackle wickedly.

On Blackened Wings

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You Burn

Rand could not hold back his joyous laughter as he soared through the air on his newly acquired wings.  As the cool wind gently nipped at his face, Rand felt the troubles and concerns of his life slip away into nothingness.  At that moment, all Rand cared about was the feeling of unparalleled freedom he felt soaring among the clouds.  Rand had never dreamed that flying high in the sky could feel so truly amazing, and he found himself wishing that he never had to touch the ground again.  As Rand began to feel more comfortable with his newly acquired wings, he began to test himself by attempting to mimic the actions of the birds that he had witnessed in the sky.  Rand pulled his wings close to his sides, and launched into  a free-fall towards the ground below.  Seconds before reaching the ground, Rand opened his wings again, catching the air perfectly to halt his fall and send him back up towards the sky, spinning and laughing as he rose.  Once he reached a high enough altitude, Rand dove towards the ground again.  Instead of rising back to the sky, Rand this time opened his wings further to allow himself to soar low to the ground.  Rand let out a triumphant shout as he watched the ground below him speed past.

As he soared along, close to the ground, Rand suddenly noticed a strange creature crawling on the ground ahead of him.  As he got closer, Rand noticed that the creature was actually a man.  Rand recognized the man immediately as he flew over him, and the joy in his heart was instantly consumed by pure hatred.  Rand adjusted his flight to bring himself back into the sky, and he circled around to get another view of the Seraph below him.

“How do you still live.” Rand shouted to the Seraph too far below him to hear.  “How is it possible?  I told the elders we should have killed you!”

Rand continued to circle the Seraph below him like a vulture waiting to feast, cursing the gods for sparing the creature’s life.  Letting anger take control, Rand dropped into another dive, aimed directly at the Seraph below.  Rand felt his blood boiling in his veins as he soared towards his target, and his mind began to focus on getting his revenge.  In a matter of seconds, Rand reached the Seraph, but was soaring too fast.  Unable to control himself, Rand crashed into the Seraph and rolled several feet before coming to a halt.  Rand moaned as he felt the pain of several broken ribs and a fractured jaw.  As Rand tried to get back to his feet, he heard another moan from the nearby Seraph.

“How,” Rand hissed, spitting out blood.  “How do you still live?”

Rand tried to stand but found that he had sprained his ankle as well, forcing him to drop back to the ground.  Rand fought back tears caused by a mix of pain and frustration as he looked over to the Seraph lying broken several feet away from him.  The Seraph began to attempt to move again, and Rand found his mind filling with hatred and anger once again.

“Die, damn you,” Rand shouted.  “Why won’t you just die?”

The Seraph responded to Rand’s question by coughing up blood, drove Rand past his breaking point.  With a scream of anger mixed with intense pain, Rand rose to his feet, ignoring his injuries, and hobbled over to the Seraph.  Letting out an anguished cry, Rand grabbed the Seraph and mustered all the strength he had left to launch himself back into the sky.  Though it was a great struggle, Rand lifted the Seraph high into the air, leaving the ground far below him.  Once he rose as high as he felt he could go, Rand released his grip on the Seraph, letting his son’s killer fall.  Rand began to fly in a circular pattern, watching intently as the Seraph dropped to the ground.  An eternity later, the Seraph crashed into the ground violently, leaving a bloody splatter around his body.

Rand felt a sense of relief as he stared at the lifeless body of his son’s murderer lying on the ground below him, and the tears began to flow from his eyes.  Moments later, Rand’s relief was turned to horror as he felt a burning sensation on his back.  In his peripheral vision, Rand could see flames coming from behind him.  Before Rand could realize what had happened, his wings had caught fire and burned up, leaving a mass of charred skin on his back.  Rand let out another pain filled scream as his once glorious wings burned off, leaving him charred and falling back to the earth.  Despite the agony of losing his wings, all Rand could focus on was his family as he fell to his death.  A brief moment later, Rand’s body crashed into the ground bringing his life to a painful end.

“I’m sorry Waryn,” a white-winged Seraph named Gabras announced.  “Your son did not survive the fall.”

“My son,” Waryn whispered as he knelt  over his son’s lifeless body.  “What did those animals do to you?”

” I can’t explain what happened here,” The Gabras stated.  “It seems that Ezkel’s wings have been chopped off his body, and his death seems to have been caused by the fall from that.  But, I can’t possibly imagine how that is possible.  We may never know the true story of how your son was slain.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Waryn stated coldly.  “All that matters is that my son lies dead in the dirt like some common beast.  Wrap up his body so that we can take him back home and give him a proper ritual.”

“Of course Waryn,” Gabras said, then turned his attention to the burnt and broken body of the Devlin lying nearby.  “And what of this beast?”

“Leave it,” Waryn snapped.  “I know that creature is somehow responsible for the death of my son.  Leave it lying in the dirt for the other beasts to feed on.  That is a fitting end for that creature.”

Waryn let his tears flow as he and Gabras wrapped Ezkel’s body in a large cloth.  The two Seraph then launched into the sky, carrying Ezkel’s body back to his home for a proper burial.

On Blackened Wings: Part Four

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Written by Derrick Nadeau

Part Four

You Are Reborn

 Rand stared at the black wings bolted to the side of his farmhouse as his mind swarmed with mixed emotions.  From the moment his son had been murdered by the monster once attached to the black wings, Rand’s life had become a whirlwind of anger, hatred, and sadness.  Rand picked up the ax he had used to remove the wings of his Seraph captive, and his mind swelled with the memory of what it felt like to chop the wings off of the monster that had attacked his family.  Each swing of the ax allowing Rand to expel his anger while the sound of the monster’s flesh tearing recharged his hatred for the next swing of the ax.  Rand stared down at the blood covered ax and found himself wishing he had been allowed to kill the Seraph instead of being forced to watch the monster that had destroyed his family crawl out of his village, wingless, with two huge, cauterised wounds on his back.  Though it seemed unlikely that the Seraph would survive the long journey back to his people, the small possibility that the monster could make it home filled Rand’s heart with bitterness.

Rand tossed the ax back on the ground, disgusted with the weakness of his village elders for letting the Seraph just leave.  Rand walked up to one of the wings, grabbed a hold of the crossbow bolt anchoring it to the wall of the farmhouse, and attempted to wrench it free.  Rand pulled on the bolt with all his strength while attempting to wiggle the bolt free, but could not get it to move at all.  As he tried to force the bolt out, Rand’s hands became sweaty, eventually slipping off the bolt and sending Rand reeling backwards.  As he slipped back, Rand tripped on the ax he had tossed on the ground, altering his fall so that he bumped into the wall of his farmhouse, landing between the two black wings.  Rand leaned against the wall for a moment, regaining his composure from the fall, when he suddenly began to feel a burning sensation on his back.  Rand attempted to push himself off the wall as the burning intensified, but found himself inexplicably paralyzed.  Panic began to overtake Rand’s mind, and he let out a scream filled with fear and agony.

Rand’s wife, Meleda, was preparing dinner when she was startled by the sound of her husband’s screaming.  Grabbing a nearby kitchen knife, Meleda ran outside to discover her husband writhing on the ground, covered by the black wings of the Seraph, and screaming as though he were being torn apart.  Meleda attempted to run to her husband’s side, but was blocked by the flailing wings.  Meleda lifted the knife in her hand, and stabbed at the closest wing, which seemed to only cause her husband to let out another agonized scream.

“Rand,” Meleda shouted, hoping her husband would hear her over his own screams.  “What is happening?  What can I do?”

Rand did not respond, continuing his chorus of pain, and Meleda began to feel panic set into her mind.  Desperate to help her husband, Meleda began to stab at the black wings again and again, ignoring her husband’s frantic cries after each stab.  After several hacks, one of the wings swung up and hit Meleda square in the chest, knocking her to the ground brutally.  Meleda placed her hand on her chest, sore from the impact of the wing, and felt for broken ribs as she tried to catch the breath that had been knocked out of her.  Meleda pulled her shirt open slightly, and examined her chest.  Meleda was not surprised to see a large, deep black bruise on her chest, but was relieved to see that no bones appeared broken.  As she watched a large welt begin to form on he skin, Meleda realized that the screams of her husband had abruptly stopped.  Meleda looked up to see rand lying still on the ground, covered by the black wings, his body slowly undulating as his breathing became deep and heavy.

“Rand,” Meleda cried, her voice barely able to produce more than a harsh whisper.  “My love, are you hurt?  What happened?”

Meleda paused, staring at her husband and praying for his response.

“Rand,” Meleda shouted, “Husband, please answer me!  Are you all right?”

Meleda struggled to get to her feet and move to her husband when suddenly, she saw the wings of the Seraph begin to stir.  Meleda watched in shock as the wings spread wide and her husband slowly rose to his feet.  Horror began to fill Meleda’s heart as she witnessed the sight of her husband standing before her with the black wings of the Seraph somehow attached to Rand’s back.

“Rand,” Meleda whispered, choking as she did.  “What has happened to you?”

Rand began to slowly move each wing, testing the strength and flexibility of his new appendages before turning his gaze to his wife.  Meleda was startled by the look in her husband’s eyes, a combination of awe and elation.

“My wife,” Rand said, smiling at Meleda.  “My love.  Look at me.  Look at what the gods have given me.  Look upon your husband as he has been reborn!”

“Reborn,” Melada whispered.  “I-I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I,” Rand laughed.  “Not fully.  It seems the will of the gods that I should be given this gift of our enemy’s wings.  Though the pain was exquisite, I am now truly blessed by the gods.”

“But why,” Meleda asked.  “For what purpose?”

“Who am I to guess at the whims of the gods,” Rand replied.  “Blessed though I be, I have not been given a glimpse into the will of the gods.”

“This is no small matter,” Meleda stated.  “We need to seek the counsel of the elders.”

“Yes, perhaps you are right my love,” Rand responded.  “Very well, let us seek the advice of our village elders.  I will meet you there my wife.  But first, my heart is aching to test out these wings.”

Before Meleda could answer, Rand began to flutter his wings, causing a wind to blow the dirt around.  Meleda covered her eyes to block the wind and dirt as her husband began to lift into the air.  With a cry of pure joy, Rand launched himself into the sky, leaving his wife behind.  Meleda watched her husband fly away, but instead of feeling awe or amazement, found only fear and concern filling her heart.

On Blackened Wings: Part Three

cooltext1595959836Written by Derrick Nadeau

Part Three

You Suffer

Rand studied the damage done to his village as he walked back to his farm from the town square.  Looking at all the destruction and pain caused by the Seraph attack, Rand found it difficult to agree with the sentence the village elders had decided on.  Rand had argued his point that the Seraph he had captured should be put to death immediately, but the elders would not allow such violence in their village.  Instead, the elders decided that the captured Seraph would be stripped of his wings and released outside the village to find his own way home, or die trying.  Rand found himself hoping for the death of the Seraph, a fitting end to the monster that took his son’s life, but also prayed to the gods that the death would be long and painful.  Rand took a deep breath, attempting to push down his anger and hatred to think with a clear mind, but the attempt was made futile the moment he once again saw the captured Seraph pinned to the side of his farmhouse.  Rand walked up to the Seraph, ignoring the questions from his wife and youngest son regarding the decision of the elders.

“I want to kill you,” Rand spat at the Seraph.  “Right here, right now, I want to kill you to avenge the son that you took from me.”

The Seraph, weakened by loss of blood and dehydration, began to cough violently until flecks of blood began to form on his lips.  Rand grabbed a nearby bucket of cold water and dumped it on the head of the Seraph.  The Seraph then began to struggle violently, attempting to pull his wings free from the crossbow bolts that held them firm to the farmhouse wall, while also attempting to break the rope that Rand had used to tie his hands together.

“You are too weak to break free now monster,” Rand shouted.

“Then kill me,” the Seraph hissed, barely able to speak.  “Kill me and take your revenge!”

Rand grabbed an ax that had been leaning against the wall nearby, charged towards the Seraph, lifted the ax to strike a fatal blow, then paused.

“I cannot,” Rand said, his arm shaking as he held the ax up.  “I am not allowed to kill you.  The elders have decided that you shall live.”

The Seraph began to laugh at that moment.  A weak, raspy laugh that could only be heard by Rand.

“Weak,” the Seraph hissed as he laughed.

“Say that again,” Rand said through gritted teeth.

“I will say it again, and again,” the Seraph continued, his voice becoming louder though still hoarse.  “You are weak!  Weak little animals!  That is why we hunt you.  The gods made you for the sole purpose of being prey for the mighty Seraph.  You are fooling yourselves if you think otherwise.”

“We are not animals,” Rand shouted,  “Look around you!  We have built ourselves a civilization here.  We are peaceful farming community.  We have never harmed your people.  We have given you no cause to slaughter us year after year.”

“The gods give us cause,” the Seraph said.  “You can pretend you are civilized all you like, but you always have been, and always will be animals put here for the Seraph to hunt and kill.  That is all you will ever be.”

“How can you say such things,” Rand asked.  “How can you look me in the eye and say such things to me.”

“Look you in the eye,” the Seraph asked in return.  “I look you in the eye and it only confirms my beliefs.  Look at yourself animal.  See yourself as we see you.  With your yellow eyes that glow red at night.  The horns that protrude out of the tops of your beastly heads.  Horns that point to the sky as if you are constantly praying to the gods.  It is my people that have been given the blessing of the gods.  My people who have been given wings so that we may soar in the heavens with the gods while you filthy animals work in the dirt where you belong.”

“Stop calling us animals,” Rand shouted, finding it harder to hold back his urge to kill the Seraph.

“Why would I,” the Seraph asked smugly.  “You are proving my point.  Look at how angry you are.  I can see your pathetic, animal emotions fighting to take control of you.  I can see it in your beastly face.  The faces of my people are beautiful, hand carved by the gods themselves.  While your faces are ugly and hairy.  Your noses are flat like the swine you tend to in your pens there.  Even your feet bear hooves, just like the feet of your pigs.”

“Stop now,” Rand shouted.  “Or I swear I will kill you no matter what the elder’s decision!”

“Then do it animal,” the Seraph shouted.  “Prove me right!  Show this world what an animal you still are.  Through aside your facade of civility and give in to your true nature.  Become the sad little beast I know you to be!”

Rand lifted the ax as high as he could, let out a blood-curdling scream, and sent the ax down with all the strength he had into the flesh of the Seraph.  As the Seraph let out his own agonized scream, Rand’s wife let out a gasp of shock as she grabbed her young son and turned his innocent eyes away from the brutal scene.  A spatter of blood smacked Rand in the face, and he felt a twinge of satisfaction as he again bit into the Seraph’s flesh with his ax.  Rand’s wife tried to cover her son’s ears with her hands to protect the child from the screams of agony mixed with the aggressive growl of her husband.  Rand’s wife closed her own eyes and listened to the sickening thud of the ax finding its target again and again until finally, the screaming died down to moaning.  Rand’s wife took a deep breath, slowly opened her eyes, then turned to see what her husband had done.

“It is done,” Rand said, spitting on the broken, wingless Seraph lying on the ground before him.  Rand looked up at his wife and son, who were staring back at him with expressions of pure shock, then quickly moved his gaze to the black wings still bolted to the farmhouse.  the wings twitched slightly, and Rand was pleased to see blood dripping down from the areas that  he had chopped away from the back of the Seraph.  As he stared at the wings, Rand heard the sounds of his fellow villagers approaching behind him.

“You have kept your word,” Delphon, one of the village elders announced as he approached Rand and the broken Seraph lying before him.

“I have,” Rand said back.  “I would not defy the wishes of the elders.  I thank you for at least allowing me the honor of carrying out the monster’s sentence.”

“I know you do not agree with our decision Rand,” Rigus, another elder spoke up.  “But, I hope in time you will come to understand it.  We cannot allow ourselves to become like them.  We cannot allow violence to become our way.”

“I do understand,” Rand said.  “Deep down, I know that we must be the animals these monsters think we are.  It is just hard to deal with the murder of my son.”

“We do hope this has brought some sort of closure for you,” Rigus said.  “Perhaps you will see that justice has been done for your son’s death.”

“Perhaps,” Rand whispered to himself, then cleared his throat before addressing the villager.  “Let’s get these wounds cauterized so we can get this monster out of our village for good then.”

“I brought a nice, hot iron for just that purpose,” Hark, the village blacksmith announced as he approached the broken Seraph.

Rand felt another twinge of satisfaction as he watched the blacksmith use his hot iron to cauterize the open wounds left in the Seraph’s back by the removal of his wings.  Rand allowed himself to find pleasure in the pain filled screams of the monster that had taken his son from him.  Though the elder’s had not allowed Rand to seek his vengeance in the death of the monster, taking the wings of the Seraph proved to be a favorable alternative.  Rand closed his eyes and pictured his son’s face, then let out a long sigh that helped him release some of his pain into the heavens.

“You are with the gods now my son,” Rand whispered as he looked to the sky with tears in his eyes.  “Though my heart is heavy, I take comfort knowing you are looking down on us.  You will always be loved here.”

On Blackened Wings: Part Two

cooltext1595959836

Written by Derrick Nadeau

Part Two

You Hunt

Rand wiped sweat off his brow as he stared up towards the sun standing high in the noon time sky.  Taking a swig of water from his flask, Rand stared at the field around him.  The year had been good for farming, and the crops had yielded a bountiful harvest.  Rand looked over to his eldest son, Emrik, harvesting tomatoes nearby and smiled proudly.  Rand looked back to his farmhouse and saw his youngest son, Donno, tending to the pigs in their pen with his mother, and his smile grew prouder.  Rand’s favorite time of year was quickly approaching, the end of harvest when the air would start becoming cooler and the leaves would change, and he was anxious to spend that time taking his sons out to the forest to hunt for wild game.  Though his people had been farmers for generations, planting crops and raising livestock, Rand had decided to rekindle the old traditions of hunting game in the fall and winter to sustain his family during the harder periods of cold and snow.  Rand had even used his skills as a tinkerer to upgrade his hunting weapons, such as turning a simple bow and arrow into a crossbow to improve his chances.  Rand had tried to share his inventions with his entire village, but was denied by his village elders.  The elders had decided that farming provided all the food needed by the village, and the old traditions of hunting wild animals for food no longer needed to be used for sustenance.  Rand shook his head and let out a chuckle as he thought about the arguments he had tried to use to convince the elders that hunting would add to the food supply in the harsh winters, and help everyone survive.  The elders quickly dismissed Rand’s claims, telling him that the farmlands yielded plenty of food for the entire village.  Though they had determined that hunting did not need to be used as an alternate food source, they would not deny anyone that chose to hunt on their own.  Rand had taught his sons to hunt, building crossbows for both, as well as a few of his closest friends.

Rand’s thoughts were interrupted suddenly by the sound of a bell ringing loudly at the edge of the village.  The bell was an alarm warning the village of an approaching attack by the mortal enemy of Rand’s village, the Seraph.  The Seraph, a race of winged hunters and warriors, believed themselves superior to Rand’s race, the Devlin.  With their horned heads and hoofed feet, the Devlin were treated as nothing more than mere animals by the Seraph  to be hunted and killed in a yearly ritual dedicated to the Gods.  The fact that the Devlin were merely farmers also led to the Seraph seeing them as weak pacifists that deserved to be hunted.

“Emrik,” Rand shouted to his son, “That’s the alarm!  The Seraph are coming!  Get to the house, now!”

Emrik responded immediately, dropping his basket of tomatoes and running full speed towards the farmhouse.  Rand followed closely behind, but could not match his son’s speed.  Emrik reached the farmhouse, paused, and turned to make sure his father was not too far behind.  Emrik was relieved to see that his father was only a couple of steps behind him, and he turned his gaze up to the sky.  Emrik could see the silhouettes of several Seraph hunters in the sunlight, and his heart filled with dread.

“They’re coming father,” Emrik shouted, pointing to the sky.  “Hurry!”

Rand reached the doorway of his house, breathing heavily, and turned to look in the direction his son was pointing in time to see the Seraph diving towards Rand’s village, their spears hungry for blood.

“Get in the house,” Rand hissed through heavy breaths.

“But father,” Emrik protested.

“Go,” Rand shouted.  “Make sure your mother and brother are safe!”

As Emrik ran to find his mother and brother, Rand looked to his tool shed several yards away from the house and calculated his chances of making it to the shed safely. The crossbows Rand and his sons used to hunt were stored in that shed, and he knew that he would need the weapons to keep his family safe from the sky hunters.  Rand took a deep breath, cursed his fortune, and ran at full speed towards the shed.  With his focus centered on the shed in front of him, Rand did not see the Seraph bearing down on him.  Rand let out an agonized shout as the Seraph swooped down and knocked Rand to the ground.  Rand rolled over, holding his now aching ribs, to see the Seraph, a young hunter with black wings, circling back to attack again.

“Father,” Rand heard Emrik shout as he ran out to help his father.

“No son,” Rand shouted back.  “Stay in the house!  Don’t worry about me!”

Rand watched in horror as the black winged Seraph swooped down again, this time aiming for his son.  Rand struggled to get to his feet as his son was knocked to the ground by the Seraph.  Rand fought the urge to run to his son’s side, knowing that he would not be able to protect his son without a weapon.  As tears filled his eyes, Rand turned and ran to the shed, the sound of Seraph wings taunting him from the air.  As Rand approached the shed, he put his head down and ran into the door of the shed.  Using his momentum coupled with the hard bone of the horns on his head, Ran was able to easily break through the locked door of the shed in one single attempt.  Once inside the shed, Rand grabbed his crossbow and a quiver of bolts,  and quickly loaded a bolt into the crossbow.  Rand rushed out of the shed to see his son lying on the ground with the black winged Seraph standing over him.  Before Rand could react, the Seraph stabbed his spear into Emrik’s chest, piercing the young Devlin’s heart.

Rand let out a blood curdling scream as he watched the spear pierce his son’s chest several more times.  Acting on pure impulse, Rand lifted his crossbow, aimed it at the black winged Seraph, and released a bolt.  The bolt soared through the air and found its mark, piercing through the right arm of the Seraph.  The Seraph let out a cry of pain as he grabbed on to the bolt protruding from his arm.  The Seraph turned to face Rand, raising his wings to take flight.  Rand had quickly loaded another bolt into his crossbow, and he rushed to fire it at the Seraph.  The second bolt found its way to the Seraph’s wing, boring into the thin, feather covered flesh, and sending the Seraph careening backwards towards Rand’s nearby farmhouse.  The Seraph screamed as the bolt found purchase in the wall of the farmhouse, trapping him against the wall.  Rand, having once again loaded his crossbow, fired another bolt into the Seraph’s other wing, preventing the creature from escaping.

Once Rand had determined that the Seraph was securely trapped against the wall of his farmhouse, he ran to his son’s side and cradled the boy in his arms.  With the sounds of the Seraph struggling to free himself echoing through the air, Rand stared down at his son with tear filled eyes.  Rand watched helplessly as the god of death stole his son’s life away, offering a prayer for the safe travel of his son’s soul to the heavens.  Once the life had fully slipped away from Emrik, Rand closed his son’s eyes and kissed him on the forehead.

Rand grabbed his crossbow, then focused his hate filled gaze on the captured Seraph.

“You took my son from me you bastard,” Rand shouted as he loaded another bolt into his crossbow.

The Seraph did not reply, but instead focused solely on the bolts holding his wings to the wall of the farmhouse.

“My son,” Rand shouted, aiming the crossbow at the Seraph’s head and walking towards the hunter.  “My eldest son!  You took his life!  You stole my son from me!”

The Seraph turned his focus to the crossbow aimed at his head, his eyes growing wide, but still did not respond.

“Do you not feel a bit of remorse,” Rand asked, still shouting.  “What kind of horrible creature are you?  You murdered my son!  For what purpose?  To appease your cruel gods?  How many sons of my people have been taken by your hunters?  And now look at you.  Trapped here by my bolts.  Your wings useless to you now.  I should just put another bolt in your head and finish you!  Or perhaps through your heart as you did to my son!”

“Please,” the Seraph cried out at last.  “Please don’t kill me!”

“So you can speak,” Rand said.  “And those are the words you choose to say to me?  To beg for your life?  You did not even give my son time to beg for his.”

“Please,” The Seraph said again as Rand pushed the head of the crossbow bolt into the his chest.

“Beg all you want monster,” Rand spat.  “You killed my son.  There is no reason for me to spare your life.”

“Perhaps there is,” A voice said from behind Rand.

Rand turned to see several of his fellow villagers approaching his farmhouse, including the elders.  Rand turned back to the Seraph and once again pointed his crossbow at his head.

“He killed my son,” Rand said, addressing the approaching villagers.  “He deserves nothing less than death.”

“Our village has lost many sons this day,” One elder said.  “And we will lose many more when the hunters return in the next few days.  And yet, you have done something that has never been done before Rand.  You have captured one of the hunter’s own sons.  We understand your need for justice in your son’s death Rand.  But, perhaps there is a better way.  A way that will show the Seraph that we will no longer sit by and allow them to take our people from us.”

Rand took a deep breath, glared back at the captured Seraph, then lowered his crossbow reluctantly.

“Tell me your plan,” Rand finally said after a long pause.  “Convince me why I should not just kill him outright.”

On Blackened Wings: Part One

cooltext1595959836Written by Derrick Nadeau

Part One

You Rise

The sound of wings beating on the wind ripped Ezkel’s mind from a deep meditation.  Opening his weary eyes, Ezkel tried to focus his vision on the sun soaked sky above him.  Excitement and relief filled Ezkel’s heart as he realized that it was finally time for him to go home.  Though Ezkel had lost track of how long he had actually been abandoned on the cliffs above his home, it had begun to seem like his entire life had been spent in exile.  Ezkel closed his eyes once more, took in a deep breath of the cool air, and slowly rose to his feet.  Ezkel moved clumsily on weak legs towards the landing area, keeping his eyes skyward as the sound of the wings grew closer.  Ezkel allowed himself a smile of true joy as the source of the sounds came into view.  As Ezkel approached the landing area, he waved at the three winged men flying down to meet him.

“Hello father,” Ezkel said as he walked up to the three winged men.

“Ezkel, my son,” one of the men replied, reaching out to embrace Ezkel.  “It is good to see you alive and well.”

“Thank you father,” Ezkel replied, circling his arms around his father’s muscular form.  As he embraced his father, Ezkel felt his skin brush up against his father’s wings, and he felt a pang of sadness.  “It has been a challenge, but I am proud to say that I have survived the ritual.”

“Unbind him,” Ezkel’s father said to the two other men at his side.  “You did well my son.  I am proud you have survived the ritual as well.  Now, it is time for you to go home and prepare for the hunt.”

“I am very much looking forward to that,” Ezkel beamed.

Ezkel let out a sigh of relief as the two men accompanying his father walked behind him and began to unbind his wings.  Ezkel winced as he stretched his wings, now stiff and weakened from the ritual binding.  Though his wings now felt broken and useless, his feathers almost completely fallen off, Ezkel accepted his pain as part of the ritual.  When a boy reaches the age of fifteen, he is then sent to the cliffs above his home, wings bound tightly so that they cannot be used, and forced to live on their own for one month.  Once the ritual is complete, the boy is allowed to return home as a man.  Now considered a man by his tribe, Ezkel would be allowed to join the annual hunt of the Devlin with the rest of the men in his tribe.

“Let’s go home then,” Ezkel’s father announced.

The two men then wrapped a harness around Ezkel’s waist, stood on either side of him, and prepared to launch back into the sky.  With his wings in their weakened state, Ezkel had no choice but to allow himself to be carried home by the two men.  Though it was the most degrading part of the ritual, being carried home after a month of wing binding was considered an important lesson in humility.  Ezkel placed his hands on the straps of the harness and held tightly as the two men began flapping their wings, slowly at first then increasing speed until they began to lift off.  Ezkel began to grow excited as he felt the ground fall away from his feet.  It had been too long since Ezkel felt the joy of soaring through the sky, and the wind on his face brought back pleasant memories of mock dogfights in the sky with his friends as a child.  Ezkel looked over at his father, flying by his side, and smiled brightly.  After a month of pain and loneliness, Ezkel allowed himself to revel in the bliss of gliding through the air.

Ezkel watched the ground below him as he soared past, not realizing how homesick he was until he actually saw his village growing larger as he approached.  Ezkel’s father smiled at his son before suddenly diving down to the village below.  The two men began to slowly lower Ezkel down to the ground below, circling the village as they lowered down.  As the men approached the village center, Ezkel was pleased to see it filled with his fellow villagers cheering for his return.  Once he reached the ground, Ezkel began to remove his harness as his mother appeared from the crowd and ran up to embrace her son.

“Hello Mother,” Ezkel whispered as he wrapped his arms tightly around his mother.

“My son is back,” Ezkel’s mother cried.  “I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too,” Ezkel whispered, choking back tears.

“Our son has done us proud Ada,” Ezkel’s father said as he approached his son and wife.

“Yes, Waryn,” Ada said, not letting go of her son.  “I am a very proud mother.”

“I can see that,” Waryn said with a chuckle.  “But I’m afraid you must let him go now.  It is time for him to finish the ritual.  If you are ready of course.”

“Yes father,” Ezkel replied calmly.  “I am ready.”

“Then come along,” Waryn commanded.  “Meet us at the lake.”

Though he craved a good night of rest, Ezkel knew that his ordeal was not over yet.  With an anguished sigh, Ezkel watched as his parents flew off without him.  The next part of the ritual would consist of Ezkel, his wings still unusable, making the journey by foot out of his village, through the forest of the ancients, until reaching the great lake of renewal deep in the forest.  The journey, normally just over an hour, would take a bit longer for Ezkel in his tired and weakened state, but Ezkel took a deep breath and pushed himself forward.

As night began to fall, Ezkel arrived at the lake of renewal to find his fellow villagers, including his parents, waiting for him.  Ezkel felt pride overtake his state of exhaustion, giving him the strength to finish his journey.  Ezkel walked to his parent’s side, and stood there gazing into the water of the lake of renewal.  Ezkel’s mind began to drift off when another man, the minister of the Lake of Renewal stood before him.

“Young Ezkel,” the minister said, projecting loudly enough for all to hear.  “I have watched you grow up from a young child into the man who stands before me now.  You have completed the binding ritual, and are now standing before the Lake of Renewal, ready to complete your transformation.  Now, your destiny is in your own hands young one.  You must walk into the lake and bathe in its rejuvinating waters.  Are you prepared?”

“I am prepared Minister,” Ezkel replied.

“Then take the journey,” the minister replied.

Ezkel straightened himself, gave both his parents a reassuring glance, then began slowly shuffling towards the lake.  Ezkel continued walking until he was waist deep in the cool water, then turned to look back at his parents.  Ezkel’s father smiled back at his son, then gave him a nod of approval.  Ezkel returned his father’s nod, then allowed himself to fall backwards into the lake.  As Ezkel felt the waters engulf his entire body, he felt tranquil and relaxed, but only for a moment.  Suddenly, pain overtook every nerve in Ezkel’s body, and he began to thrash around in the water, unable to lift himself out of the lake.  Panic set into Ezkel’s mind as felt water fill his mouth, and he felt that he would undoubtedly drown in the lake.  Ezkel then used skills of meditation he had learned during his time alone on the cliffs to calm his mind and push the pain out of his body.  Once calmed, Ezkel found his footing on the bottom of the lake, and raised himself out of the water.  Ezkel was amazed to find himself suddenly full of vitality as he rose from the lake, letting out a shout of exhilaration as he shook off the lake water.

At that moment, Ezkel realized that his wings felt fully functional once again, and he spread his wings out fully with pride.  Ezkel heard a gasp of shock, and he looked to the shore to see his parents staring back at him with their mouths hanging open.  Ezkel walked back to the shore, flapping his now rejuvenated wings to air them out.

“Son,” Ezkel’s father said as he ran up to Ezkel.  “Your wings.”

“I know father,” Ezkel said, his smile beaming.  “I feel like I could fly around the world now!”

“No son,” Ezkel’s father said.  “Your wings are black.”

Ezkel stopped suddenly, shocked by the words of his father.  Ezkel’s race, the Seraph, traditionally had white wings, even after bathing in the Lake of Renewal.  Once every few decades, Seraph would rise from the waters with black feathered wings instead of white.  It was believed by the Seraph that black wings were a gift bestowed upon the greatest of hunters by the gods themselves.  To rise from the waters with black wings was a sign that you were truly blessed by the gods as the supreme hunter.

“My son,” Ezkel’s father announced to the crowd of villagers, “has been blessed by the gods.  Ezkel has been given the wings of the supreme hunter.  As is our way, we shall bow to the decision of the gods.  My son will lead the hunt.”

Ezkel felt his heart swell with pride as the crowd of villagers cheered and began chanting his name.  Ezkel spread his wings as far as he could for the entire village to see as he smiled at his proud father.

“Let us celebrate,” Ezkel’s father shouted over the crowds cheers.  “In two days we hunt!”

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