A Most Terrible Beast
Jessica J. Lee
jei did it

He crouched on a stamped-down patch of blood-slicked grass, shoulders slumped, thin fingers wrapped tightly around and forehead leaning against the hardwood haft of an enormous double-headed battle axe planted head-first on the ground. Both blades were smeared so thickly with crimson that the steel underneath was completely obscured. His already tattered robes sported a couple new tears, dark stains soaking through the black material, barely visible under the early morning sun. An even blend of blood and dirt streaked his pale, gaunt face, jet-black hair matted with the same gory paste. All around him corpses were strewn about, some barely recognizable as human, crudely hacked into rapidly cooling parcels of ruined meat.

Lifting his head, he smiled thinly as the first few hesitant drops of rain struck his upturned face. A fine drizzle was well underway by the time he straightened, slowly and smoothly unfolding his skeletal, almost delicate frame from its closed-up position close to the ground. He slung his axe onto his shoulder with an ease and fluidity born of both long years of practice and preternatural strength, especially for one with so brittle-looking a figure.

The uniformed soldiers lingering on the battlefield to collect their dead gave him a wide berth as he slogged through, heading away from the carnage, though they were careful in their attempts to refrain from being overt about their discomfort at his presence, not wanting to offend him. They worked faster as the rain came down with renewed vigor, the fat drops of water drumming a grim beat against iron helmets and studded leather vests.

Upon topping a low hill some distance away from the scene of the skirmish, he lowered his axe and let it drop, the top points of the two blades sinking into the earth, haft falling against his leg as he released it. Arching his spine, he stretched aching arms behind his head, flexing fingers suffering cramps from gripping his weapon too hard for too long. He noticed a curious weight in one pocket and reached inside to extract what looked like a roughly cut slice of a human liver. He did not remember putting it in there.

The rain was already showing signs of abating. Turning his face to the east, where weak rays of sunlight were struggling through a thin layer of grey cloud, Rakashev Maelstrom hoisted his axe back onto his shoulder and set off down the hill, leaving shaken soldiers, mutilated corpses, and a half-eaten liver in his wake.

It looked like another wonderful start to a brand new day.