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Chapter 73 - A Dark Personality

 Chapter 73 - A Dark Personality

The gallant young man turned his glimmering eyes onto the Butcher. An easy-going smile touched his bright face. Everything about his face - from his eyebrows to his eyes to his mouth - was friendly and inviting. He was the very picture of a friendly boy next door.

But it didn't blend at all with the dried blood and stringy meat that clung to the rest of him.

"What are you doing?! Hurry up!"

The Butcher didn't know how strong his companion really was, but he had to have some skill if Frost de Winter chose him for this mission. Cloudhawk had to be close, the situation was dangerous, but the guy was simply taking his time like there wasn't a care in the world.

"I do want to help you, honestly." The young man offered a sheepish smile and bashfully scratched his head. With a helpless sigh he said, "But he wouldn't agree. You're exactly the kind of person he hates, and I've worked so very hard to keep him from killing you up to now. I really hope you understand."

His partner's confounding words sent the Butcher in a rage. "What 'he'?! What the fuck are you on about!"

"He..." The first thing to change were the young man's eyes. Their sentimental warmth vanished and a scarlet light rose behind his pupils like a ghostly fire had been lit deep within. Next was his expression, the contours of his face, his mouth - everything changed almost immediately. The man was the same man, the face was the same face, but the soft lines all grew hard. Friendly eyes became ferocious. All at once he went it was as though a bloodthirsty demon had woken up inside the angelic boy and changed him completely. His pleasant voice had changed, too, and now was grating to the ear - coarse and savage. "He is me."

So fast!

The Butcher's two-hundred pound body was flung into the air by a kick he hardly saw. He still wasn't sure what was happening when a bone spear pierced right through his chest, pinning him to a tree.

He gaped, absolutely at a loss at the changing circumstance. This was unthinkable, how could this person change so suddenly, so dramatically? Why would he attack his companion without any rhyme or reason? Had he forgotten Frost de Winter's orders?

"Ah! Free at last!" He looked down at his blood-soaked hands and a sinister chuckle rolled from his throat. He stretched and took several deep breaths, as though he'd been locked in a box for days and only just let out. He stopped over to pick up a dagger and began to play with it, tossing it from hand to hand. He slowly walked toward the Butcher. "You know, every time I see someone like you, so eager to lick the gods' boot heels, I can't help but feel... inspired. Artistic expression just fills me up, threatening to burst free. It's a compulsion to create."

The Butcher had no idea what he was talking about. He grabbed the spear jutting from his chest and winced and he tried to pull it free. "I don't give a fuck what sort of freak you are! You just signed your fuckin' death warrant! Frost de Winter will see you hanged!"

The blonde man didn't answer. He stepped in close and with his dagger deftly cut a path along the Butcher's face. He carved a circle - not deep, not large, but just right. The dagger split the bigger man's flesh and traced a path until a patch of it fell away. An ear-piercing scream of pain served as musical backdrop. "Let me introduce myself. My name is Naberius [1] and I am an artist. Carving is my specialty."

The Butcher continued to scream and struggle.

Naberius' dagger continued its gruesome tour of the Butcher's body. Like a skilled artisan he continued his work, absorbed in the process, inch by bloody inch. As flesh and muscle fell away his twisted expression was almost intoxicated. Before long the ground was covered in blood and meat.

The process was surprisingly quick, though the pieces were small. Still there was no crueler punishment.

In a testament to the madman's skill he kept his victim conscious all along so he could feel every bite of the dagger. Agonizing torment ensued and he would not permit for the release of death. Not yet. He would keep his plaything alive so long as he was 'inspired', for as long as three days and three nights. Even when they were nothing but bone and organ his toys still lived.

An artist needed an audience, after all. Who better to appreciate his work than the source material?

Naberius liked to show his victims his masterful work with a mirror when he finished. The more they wailed, the shriller their cries, the more satisfied he became.

The Butcher earned his name, certainly. But this one... he was a true demon.

As he neared the two-hundredth pass of his knife Naberius shuddered, as though a shock had run through him. His dagger deviated ever so slightly, nicking an artery. Furious, he shouted at the wind. "Gabriel! [2] What are you doing? I haven't completed my masterpiece - 'The Angel of Bone'. Don't even think of interrupting my work!"

Gabriel's will was inside him, battling for control.

Naberius could play for days, so what recourse did Gabriel have? They didn't have time for this, they were only still breathing because they were supposed to go to Hell's Valley. If they were eliminated and returned home with their mission incomplete, the result would be their execution.

Two minds struggled over control of their shared body.

Cloudhawk watched the exchange from behind a tree. He witnessed everything, from the Butcher's nightmarish mutilation to the struggles of the blonde haired man. Inwardly he cursed Frost de Winter for being a freak, but the ones he sent after him were just as insane.

The ugly one was mad for slaughter, rather straightforward.

The handsome one was a multi-personality psychopath. Typically he seemed gentle, even shy, but deep inside lurked a pitiless and foul spirit. It was more than just twisted thoughts, too, for when one or the other came out their abilities were different.

The dark one was much, much stronger than the normal man.

By himself the golden haired youth was no weakling, and paired with the power of the darkness he was a fearsome foe. His perception and psychic power was also formidable, without a doubt. If he had any relics Cloudhawk wouldn't stand a chance.

He was a true monster.

After Naberius' petulant outburst he chose in the end to compromise. After all his dagger had slipped, the piece was ruined. Even if he finished 'The angel of Bone' it would be flawed. To a master sculptor this was an insurmountable error.

"Well, if we don't have time to play then we'll deal with that irritating gnat first!"

Naberius turned suddenly, right toward where Cloudhawk was hiding. The dagger deftly spun in his palm before he threw it. It passed through whatever foliage was in its way on a straight path to the spot between Cloudhawk's eyes.

Cloudhawk flung himself out of the way as fast as he could.

But as he fought to escape the dagger he tried to keep an eye on Naberius in the distance. Only, the psychopath vanished suddenly. He was fast - but Cloudhawk could still catch glimpses of him as he approached.

A fierce wind blew at him, followed by a murderous intent.

Golden hair whipped through the air, framing a savage face, and unexpectedly close. His eyes were wide and round, his mouth twisted into a sadistic grin. Every muscle in his face was contorted in uncomfortable ways, making his handsome features hideous and dismaying like a nightmare.

The dagger was four or five meters away still.

Naberius had started to move the moment after throwing the weapon, and arrived before it. As the dagger closed in he lashed out at the wastelander. Cloudhawk, reeling as he tried to avoid the dagger, couldn't get out of the madman's way.

He swiped with his right hand, fingers splayed. Fingernails jutted out like a cats sharp enough to rend flesh while all the muscles and veins in his hands and arm abruptly swelled, knotted with power.

Unfortunately Cloudhawk's intuition was once more proven right. The blonde man was much more dangerous than he appeared from the outside, much more dangerous than the Butcher. He wasn't as strong as the large man had been, but he was much, much faster.

This fight wasn't an arm-wrestling match. The strongest one didn't always win. Moreover the freak was fast and powerful. His explosiveness was shocking.

Cloudhawk tried desperately to get out of the way but the man's talons caught him in the chest. His robes were ripped open and five trenches were carved in his flesh. Naberius' claws weren't just sharp but also surprisingly fierce. His left hand reached out for a second pass while his right whipped around to catch the dagger in midair.

Meanwhile, faced with a different enemy, Cloudhawk switched up his tactics.

Against the Butcher he'd stretched out the fight, doing what he could to waste the big man's energy and frustrate him. Then it was just a matter of finding the right time to strike. Naberius was too fast for him to run and if he tried he'd just be exposing his back to the enemy. Before he knew it his back would be shredded.

There was a serious difference in their speed, but that didn't mean Cloudhawk was without options.

Naberius was fast, but he wasn't faster than a bullet, and Cloudhawk had just learned he was able to see bullets mid-flight. Naberius' attacks were clear as day. He wasn't as fast as his opponent, so all he could do was try to reduce any wasted movement and keep his movements as compact as possible. He had to choose his strikes, attacking only when he had the upper hand. A decisive blow to turn the tables, that's how he would offset his enemy's speed.

Naberius' left hand swept by with a gust of wind. Bloody gashes appeared on Cloudhawk's throat, but not as bad as the deep fissure that appeared on the tree trunk just beside him.

Two quick attacks, and by now the dagger he'd thrown had arrived. He snatched it from the air. With a flick of the wrist he spun it around toward his victim's throat like a propeller. Cloudhawk ducked, causing the dagger to dig into a tree and carve out another five-centimeter deep incision. The freak reacted by bringing his right knee up to try and catch Cloudhawk as he dipped down.

The knee came at Cloudhawk like a sledge hammer. A direct hit would shatter bone.

He netted the fingers of both hands together and fended it off. He used the momentum of the blow to kick off the ground and it sent him three meters straight up. Agile as a monkey he clambered up the tree into its spindly canopy. But no sooner had he landed then a gust of wind arose at his back. Naberius' mad laughter cackled in his ear.

"Hehehehe! You're too slow!"

The glint of a dagger came tearing down.

Cloudhawk swung his hand around and slapped Naberius' wrist away. Fast as he was his attacks were sloppy. The dagger was in his right hand but was knocked to the left marking out a half-circle away from Cloudhawk. The wastelander continued to protect his vital areas with only his hands so that even separated by only ten centimeters, his opponent's blows couldn't find their mark.

With the dagger deflected, the claws came back.

The two men battled in the branches of the petrified tree. Cloudhawk juked and dodged but Naberius still moved with far more grace and surety. Like a ghost he came at him from every angle while bits of tree clattered to the ground below.

The tree's withered crown was clipped and snapped like a man tired of his hairstyle. The two fighting on its head were like the scissors of an untrained barber. Before long the tree had a very nontraditional hair style, and the ground below was littered with broken branches.

Naberius cackled all the while. "Hehehehe! You have a strong will to survive this long!"

Cloudhawk focused only on defense. He was so far successful in protecting his vital areas but Naberius' attacks were too fierce, too precise. He couldn't avoid them all, eight or nine spots had been wounded and were seeping blood. Thankfully his regenerative abilities meant the damage wasn't serious, but he didn't dare discount their cumulative effect. Naberius was all about torment, and something told him that the freak was still just playing with him.

1. I went with the name of a marquess of hell, a demon who teaches art and cunning and speaks in a hoarse voice.

2. An angelic name this time, in the story he is called 'Gold White'. His very Aryan features are typical of archangels and Gabriel is said to have a white-gold aura.