Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wither The Vain: Feast Of The Dead Part 4

Last Dance Of The Night

Have you ever been hunted? It isn't like they tell you in novels. You don't ever feel like someone's watching, don't feel hairs rise on the back of your neck, don't see flashes out of the corner of your eye. At least, those things don't happen until you know you're being hunted. Then, you realize just how deep into it you are. You start realizing why the roads have been clear in the direction you're going. You realize why the alley you chose to hide in was empty of vagrants. Seth said it first.

"We were herded here. Right into this alley. We need to leave. Now. Find somewhere that suits us better. We can look for a place."

Wither shook his head.

"No time for that. I can feel them coming. We have to choose. Rooftops, sewers, or the streets. Quickly."

"Rooftops. I'll have my flight and we'll be hampered in movement the least."

I was already writing. I stabbed my pencil into a period and the words leaped from the page, building a stairway to the rooftops. We flung aside the table and sprinted up the stairs, Seth taking flight. I huffed and puffed as we ran, on Holly and Christoph's tail. Wither was taking the stairs three at a time. He was pale and shaking as he moved. I expected him to miss a step any moment and crash down.

The Hunt terrified Wither. He had made friends with Thane centuries ago, back when he still returned to oblivion like the rest of us. We chose to fight once, and they sent the hunt instead of Thane. Black Shuck tore him limb from limb and dragged him back to hell in pieces. He had been robbed of all his dignity, all of his power. That terrified Wither the first time, and it was set to happen again.

As we made it up to the roof, we realized that we were being waited for. The great shaggy Black Shuck stood alone on the rooftop. The massive hound stood on two legs and slowly flexed as waited. He watched us from his single eye and grinned.

Seth rawked mockingly.

"Where is the rest of the hunt?"

"It is just me. I'm all it ever really took. The others were for show. We have enough things to worry about without wasting effort on you. Now come little children, it's time to go back to hell. I always told them you were useless. You couldn't kill the world if you tried. Leave it us, leave it to the Sleepers, and the Judges, and the Council, and the Scavenger. You are unneccesary."

Wither cracked his knuckles and tossed his gloves into the alley. Holly's flesh slipped apart slightly as the vines that held her together slid into her hands. Seth circled above, crowing angrily. I pulled a fresh Excalibur brand pencil from my pocket and twirled it between my fingers. Christoph simply charged.

Ivy erupted from Christoph's palm as he reached for Shuck, seeking to entangle the beast. Shuck wrapped his arm in the ivy and jerked backwards. Christoph flew past his target and scraped against the gravelly rooftop. With another jerk, Shuck fliped Christoph over him again, slamming the mammoth tree beast back into the roof. Seth dove for Shuck as the hound began kicking Christoph in the chest, splintering chunks off of the great tree's trunk.

Seth plowed into Shuck back and drove him into the ground. Christoph wrapped an arm around the hound and began to sprout thorns. I thought we might be winning for once, until Shuck drove a furred fist into Christoph's elbow, breaking off his arm. Black Shuck grabbed the arm and slammed it into the side of Seth's head. Bones cracked and Seth fell. Shuck grabbed Seth by the wings and squeezed inward.

Seth screamed as his wings splintered apart and the bones cut through his feathers, through his flesh. Wither was on Shuck's back, his long gray hair striking against the hound's midnight shag. Wither wrapped his fingers around Shuck's throat. The hound flickered slightly, his fur slowly fading from black to gray. Black Shuck rammed his elbow into Wither's ribs and my brother gasped. A burst of color injected itself back into Shuck's coat. He was fighting Wither's hands.

I kept writing. Almost finished. Holly was there lashing her vines around Shuck's wrists. Flame licked along the vines and ate into Shuck's wrists. The hound dropped Seth and looped his hands around Holly's vines, jerking her close. I scribbled furiously. Almost there. I stabbed the pencil home and flipped it into the air. The pencil become a thousand pencils. A thousand pencils became a thousand arrows.

"Wither! Holly! Down!"

They didn't move. Black Shuck wouldn't let them. Holly's vines were wrapped tight around Shuck's and Shuck had hooked an arm around Wither's leg. Besides, it didn't look like Wither was willing to give up his hold on Shuck's neck for the world. I could hear him, screaming.

"You won't have me hound! You won't get me! I won't run anymore! Just die!"

I lowered my arm and the flock of arrows plunged to earth, running the three of them through. Holly's flames spread, engulfing the arrows, Wither, and Black Shuck. She whimpered and writhed, trying to pull herself free of the arrows as the flames spread. Wither's hands still clutched at Shuck's throat tightly. Shuck tilted back his head and whispered into Wither's ear. Wither's hair lit on fire as the words passed between them and Wither let go.

He hair receded from long to short, from gray to black. His eyes that had been growing ever duller cleared like the sky after a storm. The arrows receded from his flesh and healed back over. Wither dropped to his knees, staring at his hands.

Black Shuck stood and unraveled the vines from his wrists. He pushed Holly off of the arrows piercing both of them and left her laying in a bloody puddle on the rooftop. His flesh healed around the arrows, snapping off their ends as he mended. He pushed Christoph's forearm tight against his elbow and the joint eagerly grew to accept the limb. Christoph stared wordlessly at Shuck as the hound turned and walked away from him. Black Shuck bent and stretched Seth's wings wide and blew across them. The skin rippled and reformed as the bones knit themselves back together. Seth too was left silent.

Black Shuck passed me, smiling, and patted me on the shoulder.

"You've improved Arturo. You've all improved. Wither knows what must be done. You four are sufficient I think, to end this world, should it become necessary."


Wither stood and walked to Holly.

"I did good, didn't I? I was Hell for you. I even... I even read his entry..."

Wither smiled softly.

"What did it say?"

"That he was to exist until the rest of you died. That he was a force of nature, like you."

Wither reached out and touched her cheek with his left hand. The three of us waited for her to begin to heal.

It never happened.

Her hair receded into her skull, the vines rotting, her body slowly starting to fall apart.

"What did the book say about you, when all three of us were joined through blood?"

"That I was a lie. That I was a lie that was told to Arturo when he wrote Revelations. I was never supposed to exist. The Council..."

She coughed up part of her trachea and a fistful of blood.

"The Council's been misleading the Horsemen for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. You have to correct it. They shouldn't have the power they do. Things are out of balance. The Scavenger has to be erased for things to get close to where they were."

"And you?"

She took took Wither's hand and wrapped it around her throat.

"I get to sleep and you get your left hand back."

Wither nodded, his eyes wet.


As she turned to ash, we became four brothers again, as we had been since the beginning. When Wither stood, his eyes were dry again. His left hand was throbbing and red, the skin flaking off of it, just like his right. I brought him his gloves. He slid each one on, straining to fit his hands into them, before zipping them shut.

It was time to go. This time, we were the hunters.

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