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The Last Forest

Blood. Stone. Vengeance.

By TJ TolsonPublished 3 months ago 36 min read
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The wall that surrounded the forest was, as far as the people were concerned, impenetrable. It was twenty feet tall and three feet thick. Its construction was that of stone and metal that had been fused in such a way that its surface was impossibly smooth to the touch. At its top, deadly spears of sawtooth metal of assorted sizes pointed in all directions and Razor Coil had been twister to fill in the gaps. A perfect blend of magic and science to protect the country’s most valuable commodity. The only way in was an elaborate metal gate protected by some of the toughest soldiers trained at Royal Academy of Arms. Vagabonds and thieves, brigands and mercenaries, all kinds had tried to make their way in. So, no one expected a blacksmith to do it.

The gauge in the wall was only just tall enough and wide enough to allow the muscled frame through. He let the last of the loose rubble fall before pulling himself through and entering the Forest proper. Once clear of his makeshift entrance, he stretched his arms and hoisted the hammer in hand. The hammer had been a gift when he had been promoted to Head Assistant; a magic imbued tool to forge enhanced weapons and armour for the Royal Guard. He was glad his theory had wrung true and that the magic needed to forge such armaments also cut through the protective magic on the wall. All he needed to do then was take a couple of months physically breaking through the actual wall part. All to impress a girl.

Not that he’d impress the girl right at this moment. He was a sweaty mess, and the sun was blaring directly overhead. He knew that she preferred the softer light of the afternoon. He’d have to do it tomorrow; there was a shift at the Forge tonight with his name on it.

The Smith figured he didn’t have to hide the hole on the Forest side of the wall. He’d chosen the point because it was the furthest part of the wall away from the gate. He knew that the few who were allowed entry into the Forest never ventured this far in. Only the Magi-Corps would, but they weren’t scheduled for another survey for a month or so. He slipped back through the gap. Once through, he pulled the makeshift bush he had constructed into position and did his best to hide the hole from the public side. It wouldn’t hold up to an inspection from a couple of feet away, but it would remain unnoticed for the time being.

* * * * * * *

The Smith didn’t have a chance to change into anything more fitting as he rushed from the Forge to the meeting place they’d arranged. He couldn’t believe he’d been dragged into work on his rest day. Damn his master for falling down the stairs today of all days. He’d cleaned himself up as best he could but had to resort to simply unhooking his apron from around his neck and folding it at his waist. The forge gloves, he slipped into the back of his belt and then he brushed his hair back into as neat a look as he could get.

Soon enough, he careened into the meeting place and a quick glance around found what he was looking for. He immediately relaxed. It seemed she had been called into work on her rest day as well, judging by the fact she was still in her work clothes. The loose-fitting trousers she wore hung above her ankles and leather sandals protected her feet. She wore a long, cotton top that hung below her waist and it sported paint stains running this way and that where she had absentmindedly wiped her fingers while working on a project. Her hair was pulled back and kept in place with a handkerchief he’d given her on her last birthday.

“It seems we both managed to pull a short straw today.” The Artist said as soon as she he was close enough.

“Tell me about it.” He chuckled. “At least I don’t feel quite as bad about my own appearance now.”

She frowned, although it was clearly not for real. “Are you saying I don’t look pretty?”

His smile was wide. “I’m saying you’ll always be the pretty one compared to me; the relatives always stay the same. We both look like crap at the moment.”

They laughed in unison and at the same time he moved to wipe charcoal from his face, she moved to wipe paint from hers. They both stopped when they noticed and started laughing all over again. Once they had recovered, she pulled him into a tight hug. Although he was wider and bigger, she was actually taller, and her long limbs easily reached around his bulk with ease. He returned it with equal ferocity.

She pulled away. “I hope this spot you’re talking about lives up to the amount of time you’ve spent gushing over it.”

“It does. A thousand times.” He hadn’t told her exactly where they were going.

“Are you going to lug all this for me?” She gestured to the floor beside her. ‘All this’ turned out to be a collapsible easel, a bag of painting tools, and a smaller bag of actual paints. There was also a roll of sketch parchment.

He reached down and picked the easel in one hand and the two bags in the other. He looked at the paper roll, wondering if he could tuck it under his arm, but the Artist picked it up.

“I see you didn’t bring the good canvas.”

She elbowed him as they made their way down the street to where the Smith had tied his horse. “First of all, I don’t think this place is as good as you say so I don’t want to waste something useful.” He feigned shock and she smiled. “Secondly, I’d have to convince Maestro to give me one and we both know what he’s like.”

“Okay, I shall forgive you. Now, hop on.” The Smith had tied all the equipment to the horse while they had been talking and now pulled himself up into the saddle. The Artist followed suite, making an easier job of it than he had. “Hold on.”

They set off towards the centre of the city. It didn’t take long before they reached the Smith’s destination. He ignored the quizzical look the Artist flashed in his direction as he pulled the horse into an Inn’s stables. She slid off first to allow him to as well and he tied the horse off to the nearest post. When she opened her mouth to ask a question, he placed a finger to his lips to stop her. She threw a glare at him in response, and he grinned. He quickly removed the things from the horse, passing the parchment to the Artist again, and gestured with a nod.

He led them not into the Inn itself, but around the back. They slipped through two separate alleys between buildings when suddenly the wall loomed ahead of them as if it had only just appeared. The city layout sometimes caused this effect and the Smith had made full use of it. The Artist’s eyes widened in surprise; she had never come this close to the wall before. Once again, she opened her mouth for a question, but he hurried on before she could air it.

In the area directly leading up to the wall there was a dead zone of kinds. It was forbidden to build any structure within it and structures on the border can’t lean or cross over into the zone. It meant the city stopped dead about ten feet from the wall as if a physical barrier was there. At some point, the Kingdom had started planting trees and plants to fill the area, as a sort of tease for what lay unseen within. The Smith entered this area and circled for a short moment before stopping at and starting to clear away the bushes hiding his makeshift entrance. Apparently, this was finally enough for the Artist to stop listening to the Smith and speak up.

“That cannot be allowed!” Although there was no actual need for her to be over quiet, her voice was a hoarse whisper.

“Not technically, no. But if there is one place in the city you haven’t seen the beauty of, it’s in the Forest.”

“Yeah, that’s true. True because only Royalty and anyone they invite with them can go in there!” she remained where she was as he moved forward to completely clear the entrance. “This is too high risk just for my art.”

He finished clearing the foliage and turned back to her. “Look, we’re nowhere near where the Royals and their guests used the Forest. Trust me when I tell you this is worth the risk, especially for your art.”

A tone in his voice earned a pause before she replied. “That sounds like you know a specific place in there for me. But you can’t.”

He levelled his gaze. “Can’t I?”

“I just said only Royals or those by their invitation can go in there. You are most decidedly neither of those things.”

He nodded. “You are correct. But I do work for one of those things.”

“Your Master? She’s good, but not invited to meet with Royals good.”

“Okay, also true.” He turned to look at the entrance he had created, his back to the Artist. “But what a lot of people don’t know is that her Master is the current Royal Smith; and he is definitely one of those things.” The Artist remained silent, and the Smith took the moment to continue. “Not too long ago, the Royal Smith was invited into the Forest to survey a rare mineral that only appeared there. Only, his eyes are beginning to get shaky with age, so he asks for his best former student to come along to assist. The Royals allowed it and my Master gets the call. At the time, I’m still fresh-faced in the forge but it’s only us two that day. She can’t leave me in the forge alone, but she also can’t pawn me off to someone else when I’ve just started my apprenticeship. So, she takes me with her with the intention of leaving me at the gate under the watchful eye of the guards there. When we arrive, the Royal Smith finally asks me who I am. My Master calls me her best student. The Royal Smith is surprised, my Master has high standards. So, on a whim, he invites me inside.” The Smith paused to turn dramatically back to the Artist. “I’m sure the guards will stop me, but they don’t. We’re escorted the whole time and although I wasn’t allowed to wander, they couldn’t stop my looking. Then I spot it.”

He stopped and the Artist sighed as she took the cue. “What?”

“Inspiration!” With no warning, he turns and dives through the crack in the wall. He hears her call from behind but ignores it as he pulls himself completely through and dodges to the side, out of view.

He stays there, listening as the Artist foul mouths him to herself, some real nasty words. Soon enough though, she does what he always knew she’d do in this situation and followed him in.

Apart from having to duck her head a little more to get through, she made it with an easier job than he had. He considered making her jump but decided that would be ill-advised in her current state. Instead, he stepped forward to meet her.

“See? Nothing to worry about. Now let me show you the best bit yet.” He hoisted the gear he was still holding, managing to get it into one hand this time, and grabs her hand with the other, pulling her further in.

“If we get caught, I’m telling them you kidnapped me.”

He smiled; the humour meant she wasn’t as worried anymore. “I’d hang for that.”

“Well, it would be better than both of us being killed for venturing in here.”

The Smith didn’t reply as he kept an eye out for a specific feature that would tell him he was in the right area. The trees rose high into the air, not quite topping the wall, and formed an interlocking canopy that left the ground in perpetual shade. Foliage, flowers, and grass ran under foot along with the thick and thin roots of the trees themselves. The Smith didn’t move through it quietly but did manage to avoid actually destroying anything. A couple of minutes passed with neither saying anything as they focused on not falling over when the Smith suddenly veered off in a new direction, pulling her along in his wake.

Without warning, the shade gave way to the evening light and the trees disappeared completely. The pair had moved into some kind of open meadow area. Luscious green grass spread away from them, scattered with flowers of every colour, even if they all appeared to be the same type of flower. That wasn’t the only weird thing though. The meadow was perfectly circular, about twenty feet in diameter with the trees around the circumference bunching up as though there was something physical stopping them from growing into the meadow. Boulders ranging in size from a horse to a carriage were scattered about randomly.

“This is amazing.” The Artist said once she’d caught her breath. “I can see why you brought me in here.”

“Not yet.” Was the Smith’s reply as he continued forward and weaved through some of the boulders towards the middle of the meadow. She pulled him to a stop when she saw it. The statue.

It was stood within a cluster of smaller rocks, no taller than the ankle. It was of a figure that was taller than the Smith, but shorter than the Artist. It had its head bowed with long hair that hung down to hide its face. Its shoulders were slumped forward slightly, its arms hung at its side, and its legs were slightly bent. At first glance it appeared to be naked, yet neither female nor male; it had no genitalia. As the Artist drew within arm’s reach, she could see a thin raise at neck and wrists and realized it had been made wearing a tight bodysuit.

“Impossible craftsmanship.” The Artist muttered, running her fingers along the stone surface. She traced the strange black welts that flowed all over the statue. “I have seen nothing like it before.”

While the Artist continued her admiration, the Smith placed all of her equipment against a nearby stone. “They have no idea what it’s made from, or even who made it. It’s completely indestructible, because of course they tried. It puts anything humanity has ever made to shame.”

The Artist moved to stroke the hair. “I can practically feel each individual hair. Has it always been here?”

“Can’t say for sure. I couldn’t get much out of the guards at the time.” He shrugged. “Good inspiration though, right?”

The Artist turned to him. “Literally perfect.”

She quickly moved over to her equipment and started setting it up; the easel, the paints, and her tools. The Smith stood back and watched. He loved seeing her in the zone. It meant she’d be occupied for at least the next couple of hours, focusing only on what she could create. He made his way back to the forest’s edge and began his secondary goal of coming here. To find some of that rare mineral they had been surveying when he was here last.

He tried to figure out the right direction by orienting himself to the angle he had seen the statue from on the original trip. When he was mostly sure he had the right way, he set off at a wandering pace. With the Artist enthralled with such a subject, he knew he had plenty of time to find what he wanted and return to her before she’d finished. All he had to do was find some ore and gain a small sample. Then he’d have to figure out a way to forge something in secret. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise his Master had hurt herself today. If he was lucky, she might let him run the normal day-to-day stuff and keep the special orders on the back burner until she returned. That should give him enough time to forge something unique.

It took him the better half of an hour to find the first clue he had been looking for. It was more by accident then a deliberate fine, the sun catching just at the right angle to create a glint of light that ran across the floor. Mimicking what he had observed the Royal Smith do before, he crouched down and ran his fingers through the soil. A Dust-Vein, off-shoots of the mineral that came free of the source and mixed with the soil downhill. Staying crouched, fingers still in the ground, he moved his gaze slowly from left-to-right until he saw what he was looking for. A clump of trees with black veins that came up from the ground and twisted around their trunks. He quickly moved over to them and found what he was looking for just beyond. The Smith pulled his augmented hammer from the loop at his belt and got to work. The resulting material wouldn’t be a lot, but it would be enough.

With the small pouch he had brought with him bulging and secured, the Smith made his way back to the statue clearing by as direct a route as he could figure. He’d made sure to keep track of his path, getting lost out here would have been too embarrassing. By the time he stepped back into the meadow, he was coming close to being gone for three hours. The Artist would likely be done, or very nearly done, with the evening sun moving closer to night.

He dodged quickly through a sequence of stones, including two that were taller than he was. It led him to where the Artist had set her gear up. Except the Artist wasn’t there. The Smith stepped closer and found her easel on the floor, knocked from its original position. The drawing on the parchment wasn’t complete. Her paints and tools had been spread about haphazardly.

“Hello?!” he called out.

He bent down to pick up one of the tools he had nearly stepped on and caught a glimpse of a sandal-clad foot sticking out from another of the bigger stones. He rushed forwards, the tool forgotten, and rounded the stone before jamming to a stop. The Artist was laying face-down on the floor, unmoving as a Lion stood with one large paw resting on her back. Except it wasn’t a conventional lion. It was one of the Magi-Beasts created by the Royal Households and released into the Forest for hunting. But that wasn’t for another two months at least. It shouldn’t have been here, now.

The Beast turned its head slowly until one of its eyes locked on the Smith. There was blood around its maw and when its hackles raised with a growl, he could see some kind of meat in its teeth. He pushed it out of his mind. Instead, he stayed as perfectly still as he could, fearful any movement might set the Beast off. He couldn’t see if the Artist was still breathing but any more pressure on her back wouldn’t be good. The Beast clearly was not accustomed to patience as only seconds after the Smith had appeared, it moved.

When it removed the paw from the Artist’s back, a breath escaped her like a sigh and the Smith took that as a good sign. The Beast began to circle slowly, and the Smith followed in the opposite direction, keeping the distance between them the same. Belatedly, the Smith wondered if he was making it worse by standing his ground, but he dismissed the thought as mostly irrelevant for now as the circling tactic was bringing him closer to the Artist. As soon as he was close enough, he crouched down and touched the Artist’s back, hoping to elicit a response. He didn’t have time to confirm one as the Beast exploded forward and in two steps leapt at him.

The Smith leapt to the side with as much speed as he could muster but it wasn’t quite fast enough for a complete dodge. The Beast’s side caught his legs mid-dive and he found himself sprawled on the ground as the Beast rounded on him again. The Smith scrambled to his feet, sure if the Beast pounced on him while he was down, he’d never get up again. The Beast mirrored its first leap and this time the Smith added forward momentum to his dodge and avoided it altogether. The Beast recovered quicker this time and spun with a swiping paw that now had knife-sharp claws protruding from them. The Smith raised his arms instinctively to protect himself and the claws cut into the forearm of his left arm. He cried out in pain and staggered away as the Beast raised its claw to its mouth and in an unnerving move, licked the blood off them.

The cuts weren’t tremendously deep, but blood welled from them all the same. The Smith grimaced at the same time an idea struck. He pulled his heavy leather forging gloves from his belt and slipped them on, ignoring the pain in his arm. The gloves went all the way to the elbow and the Smith was willing to bet they’d protect his arms from further damage. He’d never let his eyes leave the Beast while he did this and watched as it finished cleaning its claws and levelled its gaze once more on the Smith himself. He wasn’t expecting the sudden acceleration and could only raise his gloved hands to protect himself.

Mid-leap something slammed into the Beast’s side, and it was thrown to the ground with a roar. The Smith glanced through the gap in his gloves and saw a golden arrow embedded just above the creature’s right shoulder. A mounted soldier burst from the Forest’s edge in a flurry of leaves, dodging or leaping over the rocks. On one of these jumps, the soldier used the momentum to fling himself forward at the Beast. The soldier was fully armoured and stuck the Beast like a ballista bolt that held on. The Soldier was big to begin with and with his armour, bigger still. As he and the Beast rolled on impact, he got to its back and locked his arms around its neck. They stopped with the Soldier on the floor and the Beast on top with his back downward, stuck in the Soldier’s grip. The Soldier twisted to slam the Beast into the floor and now with both of their sides, he locked one leg over the Beast’s ‘waist’ and held it there. The Smith moved to take a step forward.

“Stand still!”

The voice rang out in the clearing and radiated enough command that the Smith froze in his tracks, only turning his head to see another mounted soldier trot out from the Forest and stop. Where the first Soldier’s armour was dark and matte, this one’s was shined to a reflective polish, and he sported a cloak of navy blue that ran down his back and onto the horse. A sword was fastened at the waist, and he pulled his helmet free to rest on the saddle in front of him. Two more soldier’s, armoured like the first and wielding bows, stepped out to flank the Captain.

The Captain’s gaze swept across the scene before him. The Soldier pinning the Beast, the Smith stood frozen and looking up at him, and the Artist face down on the floor. He rose his left hand and the soldier on his left nocked his bow. The Smith braced but the soldier aimed upwards before loosing. The arrow flew up a good thirty feet before exploding in a red mist. The Captain then lowered his gaze to the Smith.

“The Smith’s apprentice.” It was only then that the Smith recognized the man. The Captain of the First Division of the Royal Guard. He had been on the gate when the Smith had last visited. “I did not know an expedition was planned. I would have stopped it if I had known.” He said it in such a way that it was clear he knew there wasn’t one at all. The Smith knew his response would be an answer to an unsaid test.

“Can you help her please?” he gestured to the Artist.

The Captain raised an eyebrow, then raised his right hand. The right-hand soldier moved forward and started checking the Artist for injuries. The Captain drew the Smith’s attention again and despite wanting to know how the Artist was, the Smith thought it would be best to obey for the time being.

“How did you get in here? You didn’t pass the guards at the gate.” The second part was a statement.

The Smith shrugged. “Made a hole.”

“In the wall…” The Captain drew out each word, his voice clear with disbelief. The Smith could see the soldier behind shake his head.

“Uh, yeah. I used this.” He pulled the hammer free from his belt. As soon as he did, an arrow embedded itself through his wrist and the hammer fell to the ground with a heavy thud. The Smith cried out and lifted his hand to see a normal wooden arrow penetrated through from the back. An unseen archer had taken a shot.

“Hold fire.” The Captain shouted, giving instructions to those the Smith couldn’t see.

The Smith cradled his wrist and looked behind him to see more soldiers stepping out of the Forest edge. More came until there was about sixty or so altogether in the meadow. The Smith figured it might be the whole First Division. They all wore the same dark, matte armour that sported black stripes along the ribs; the Smith noted the Captain had these as well. Some wore helmets, some didn’t; the former held long spears and had short swords at their waists while the latter were the archers.

The Captain dismounted and walked up to the Smith carefully. He bent down and retrieved the hammer from the floor. The Smith noted he gave no apology for the arrow. The Captain hefted the hammer and examined the head. “A fine tool to forge Magi-Armor and weapons.” He paused and slipped the hammer into a spare loop on his own belt. “I suppose I should not be surprised it could break the Spell Wall. How long did it take?”

“A couple of months. The wall isn’t too thick after the magic, and I could only work at certain times of the day with certain tools.” The Smith had considered lying but decided against it.

“So not a spur of the moment decision.” Another statement. “Do you know what the penalty for trespassing in here is?” The Smith shook his head, he hadn’t been aware there was any kind of punishment as in normal circumstances you physically couldn’t get in. “Death.”

The Smith stilled and forgot the pain in his wrist and arm. His mind tried to think of ways he could get out of this, as well as the Artist. A quiet, shaky voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Not…his…fault.” He turned and saw the Artist now in a sitting position with the Solider supporting her. Claw gashes ran down from shoulder to waist, not quite straight. This left her top torn open and completely useless. The Captain had looked at the voice as well and now stepped over to his horse to pull a blanket free. He threw it to the soldier next to the Artist who quickly arranged it to cover her upper half. “Don’t blame him.” Her voice was a little stronger this time.

“Ignore her. No doubt delirious from the pain.” The Smith said, looking at the Artist. Knowing she was alive firmed a thought that had been floating around in his head. “She’s an unwilling participant, I’ll take the punishment.”

The Captain smiled. “That’s nice; protecting each other like that. Here, follow me a moment. Bring the girl.” He directed the last sentence to the solider who put an arm underneath her knees and supported her shoulders with the other and picked her up with apparent ease. As he did, the black highlights on his armour lit up with a soft blue light and the Smith suddenly realized all the soldiers were wearing Magi-Armor.

The Smith followed the Captain as he led him around the rocks and back to where the statue stood. They walked up to it and the Captain indicated for the soldier to place the Artist at its feet. He did so, the lights on his armour fading, and then turned to the Captain.

“Take another and find the hole he made.” He jerked a finger at the Smith. “Ensure it is manned completely until it can be repaired. Keep the rest in a perimeter around me and make sure the Beast is properly secured.” The soldier nodded and rushed off to carry out the orders. “Now…” The Captain returned to looking at the Smith and the Artist. “What do you know about this?” he gestured to the statue that was now behind the Smith.

“Some unexplainable statue from the past.” The Smith offered.

The Captain nodded slowly. “Partially true, I suppose. This statue can’t be dated by science or magic so we can’t be sure when it was made exactly. What we do know, is that it depicts a figure of a member of the race of Angels.” He paused but neither the Smith nor the Artist reacted. “As I’m sure you know, the Angels disappeared from our world more than 5000 years ago.”

“Angels were real?” The Artist muttered.

The Captain looked at her. “Ah, I sometimes forget the history of other races was censored. Well, now you know, the Angels were very real.” When neither ventured any more comments, the Captain continued. “The theory is that since there is only one remaining rendition of what an Angel looks like, and although similar it is not the same as the depiction used for the statue, then the Statue must have been carved at least 5000 years ago. Which would not be impossible due to its durability. Now, if we can someone break or bypass whatever magic or whatever is protecting it and get even a modicum of answers from analysing what it’s made of; we can find some crucial information about races long gone.” He turned away to look at the waning sun. “I’m not a great believer in that theory but it’s not my place to say either/or. Of course, any knowledge of this is as restricted as entry to this forest. As secret as a secret can get.”

The Smith blinked, asking a question he figured he knew the answer to already. “Then why are you telling us?”

A sigh escaped the Captain’s lips. “It will lessen the weight on my conscience.”

Before the Smith could confirm his meaning, the Captain spun around with sword in hand and lunged at the Smith. The Smith couldn’t even flinch in an attempt to get out of the way, but the Artist was already moving. In fact, she had been moving before the Captain had even turned around to attack; seeing what was coming before the Smith did. She managed to get in between the two men in time. The Captain’s eyes widened a fraction, but he didn’t slow, and his sword pierced her through the chest, just below the sternum.

She made a pained grimace, no doubt the Beast’s wound from earlier masked most of the pain, and lurched forward to grasp the Captain by his shoulders. “Run.” She managed; a whispered shout directed at the Smith.

He didn’t run. He didn’t do anything. His eyes were locked on the length of blade piercing out of the Artist’s back. It was a double-edged blade with the edge seemingly formed from bronze, the middle of the blade was an open lattice of silver that had been patterned into vines. Any normal sword would have been pretty weak with such an open core for the blade, but this was a Magi-Sword. The Smith knew that for a fact because it was a weapon he had forged himself. The very first thing he had made after receiving his hammer.

The Captain snarled and the black accents on his armour lit up with the same light as the soldier from earlier. With vicious force he pulled the sword free, tearing the wound wider, and broke free of the Artist’s grip. In the same movement, without deactivating his armour, he spun a full circle and his blade passed through her neck, decapitating her with little effort. The Smith finally moved, stumbling backwards as her head toppled and blood spurted over and around him. He hit the statue and his leg gave out, leaving him sitting at its feet. The Captain straightened and flicked his sword to the side, the blood on it starting to evaporate. A bonus of the sword being magic forged.

The sword came up again as the Captain took another thrusting stance, angled downward slightly to hit the Smith where he sat. When the Smith had fallen, he had jarred the arrow in his wrist and the forgotten injury flared with pain that trailed up his arm to his shoulder. Although he didn’t want to, his eyes squeezed shut seconds before the blade made contact. He let out the breath he had also been holding and realized the blow had never come. He opened his eyes slowly.

The blade tip was mere inches away from his throat. It had been stopped by the statue’s hand that had moved at the last second and gripped the blade between forefinger and thumb. As both the Captain and the Smith watched, the grey colour started to fade away, starting with where the fingers touched the sword. The fading grey revealed the dark skin of its flesh before giving way to the slightly off-white bodysuit that had stylized leaves in silver running its length; something that couldn’t be seen before. The stone further regressed, the black welts transforming into brambled branches that in turn became ash that fell away from the body. The statue straightened, keeping hold of the Captain’s sword, and the last of the stone from its face disappeared.

The Angel raised its head and looked down at the Smith before back to the Captain. Looked in so much as angled their face to them as the Angel kept its eyes closed. The hair that had covered their face before, now framed it, nearly golden in its blonde.

“Humans.”

The word dragged across their tongue and echoed two or three times with different voices, male and female, before fading away. Despite the alien-ness, the tone was very clear. Disdain. Hatred. Their closed gaze turned to the body of the Artist.

“Humans killing Humans.” They paused and released the grip on the Captain’s sword. Immediately, he took a couple of steps back and took up a defensive posture. “Nothing has changed.”

The Captain narrowed his eyes warily. “Division to me!” he shouted, and from wherever the soldiers had taken position, they appeared to from a loose circle with a couple of layers. The Captain pointed his sword. “Well, this trumps the theory. I’ll ask you to come peacefully.”

The Angel inclined its head to the side, its golden hair moving as fluidly as water might fall, reflecting light in each strand even with so little sun so late in the evening. “Still think you’re top of the food chain…” In a blink, they had moved to a spot behind one of the soldiers in the back row and with the effort one might use to pick a piece of fruit from a stand, they tore his heart out. Before the body hit the ground, the Angel was on the far side, this time in the closer circle behind another soldier, and tore her head off.

The sudden, instant violence caused chaos as the soldiers attempted to locate and form a defensive against the Angel. Every time they appeared, and the soldiers turned, they were gone and killing someone on the far side. It only took about a minute before the Angel finished its assault. The Captain had been shouting orders during the attack, to no avail. The Angel appeared back where it had started, standing over the Smith who could only watch the deaths unfold in front of him.

“Humans have never been on top of the food chain.” There were still vestiges of multiple voices, but this time they all seemed to be more in sync with each other.

The Captain turned on the spot, wide-eyed, looking at the death that had fallen on his soldiers. When he ended up facing the Angel again, fury was etched in his face. “I guess we’ll settle with dissection.”

He flowed forward and aimed an overhead strike. He was angry, but he was still a trained soldier. The attack was fast enough and strong enough that it probably would have killed any other opponent. As it was, the Angel took a small step and twisted its body to allow the blow to pass by harmlessly. The Captain was quick though and immediately twisted his wrist to re-orientate the blade edge towards his foe. He aimed an upwards blow at the Angel’s mid-section. The time, the Angel didn’t bother to dodge but caught the blade instead. In the same way as before, they clamped the edge between forefinger and thumb stopping the momentum dead. They turned their gaze to the Captain’s own and he realized they still hadn’t opened their eyes.

“Are you playing games with me?!” It came out as a growl between gritted teeth as he reversed momentum and tried to pull his sword free.

“This is a fine weapon.” Their voices were dissonant again, overlapping and interrupting each other. “In the hands of a more skilled warrior, it might actually harm me.” Lightning fast, she reached out and crushed the Captain’s wrist, shattering the armour and the bones within with ease.

The Captain stifled a pained cry but could no longer grip his sword. The Angel flipped it with their fingers, and it spun through the air a few times before piercing into the ground to the side of the Smith. The Smith flinched but didn’t move. The Angel looked to him.

“As its creator, it belongs to you.”

“You can tell?” It hadn’t been the question on the Smith’s lips, but he couldn’t stop himself.

“Like a child crying for their parents, weapons sing to theirs.” They turned back to the Captain. “As for you…”

“You know the Angels don’t exist anymore, right?!” It seemed where physical attacks had not worked, he had opted to try psychological ones. “For thousands of years. Humans are the dominant species. The only species that matters.”

For the first time since waking, the Angel smiled. A blink took them nose-to-nose and the Angel grasped the Captain’s other wrist in its hand, breaking it with as much ease as the first one. They then shoved him in the chest hard enough he was lifted of his feet and thrown backwards. When he had slid to a stop, he struggled to a sitting position, a handprint in the centre of his chest with cracks running to the edge of the chest plate.

“Look…”

“Stop.” The Angel interrupted and opened their eyes. Brilliant white light spewed forth, burning the grass and the flowers as it went. The Captain started screaming as his flesh started melting, his armour smoking and cracking further.

The light died away and faded until just the Angel’s irises remained glowing. “Divinity is never gone.” The space directly above its head seemed to bend and warp and a ring of solid light flowed through, hovering a foot above them. At the same time, wings of light unfurled at their back and lifted them into the air to hover a few feet from the ground. The wings were made of hard, sharp edges instead of feathers as one might expect and floated separately from their body.

“If their knowledge has faltered, Humanity will learn their place again.” A sphere of light appeared in its hand that was loosely held at its side. They gripped it and it stretched into a long spear in their right hand. The Captain was still moaning and whimpering in pain and didn’t react as the Angel hoisted the spear and sent it flying to pierce his heart. He let out a dying gurgle of a breath and slumped to the ground as the spear disappeared.

The Angel turned and looked at the Smith, really looked. He felt a warmth flow through him and glanced down to see his body enveloped with white light. The arrow in his wrist melted to slag that dripped from his hand to the floor and the wound knitted itself back together. He ripped his left glove off and saw the same thing happen to the wounds from the Beast. When the light faded, he felt better than he ever had before.

Without a word, the Angel looked upwards and shot into the sky in a pillar of light that exploded in a flare that could be seen from miles in every direction. The Smith was left alone to figure out what he would do next.

* * * * * * *

Years had passed since the Beacon had lit the sky of the Capital. Even now, people still talked about what had been found there. Half the First Division of the Royal Guard, including its captain, and the body of the Maestro’s upcoming student prodigy. There were many stories about why she was there, but there had been no confirmation from anyone. The fact the indestructible statue had come to life didn’t remain a secret for long, and soon everybody knew an Angel roamed the Earth once again. The King had tried very hard to stop the populace from knowing but the Smith had made sure he wasn’t successful.

He had changed in the years gone. Still muscled, but in different areas from where he had fought battles instead of forging metal. Naturally, he had changed his look up as well. He now wore mis-matched armour that he had stolen and scavenged from battlefields. He spared some money for a good cloak that would protect him from rain and sun alike. His sword rested on his right hip and looked as if it had been there his entire life, like it belonged to him proper. The intricate blade was hidden beneath a simple leather scabbard, and he had dulled the metal around the handle with a number of deliberate scrapes and scuffs.

They’d let him into the garrison with no problem, it was public access to report crimes after all. Then he’d used his official Bounty Hunter Sigil to get further into the building, to the armoury and canteen. He was only stopped when he passed through the door that led him to the guard quarters. The place where they rested after active duty or readied for it. As long as there were no incidents that required their attention, they would be here.

“No entry to here, friend. The bounty board is in the previous hall, in the corner.” A guard said from where he was belting his boots on.

“My bounties are all lined up already.” The guard and those around him finally turned their attention to the newcomer and saw him gripping his sword. “My bounty was tasked by Divinity itself; a calling far greater than humans can provide.” He pulled the blade free silently and the guards all scrambled to reach their own weapons before he fell on them like a storm.

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About the Creator

TJ Tolson

I'll be using this to post works that I call Concept Pilots (CPs for short). These are essentially random ideas my brain generate that stops before any actual novelisation happens. Should be fun reads though.

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