Chapter 1: Jishaan
Oh what strength this poison gives me.
Let it set my body aflame until the day
it devours my soul.
I was dead—this much was obvious. Pity was I died and my rage had never encountered the intended recipients. Burning One take them.
The heat was unyielding in its assault and the sand I lay face first in was baking my body. As one who had given up, I licked the bloody crust encasing my lips and merely managed to get more grit into my parched mouth. Somehow, I raised my head to see the endless expanse of desert, heat waves snaking up from the shifting dunes. If only I could make my way to their oasis and slit their throats, the blood would soothe the sting in mine.
With a small snort I let the head fall back into the burning sand; the neck refused to support such weight. Transferring all the strength this pathetic body possessed, I lifted one arm, then the other, and began to crawl. It was agonizingly slow and the sand chaffed under robes against dry and feverish skin. Too soon and even will power could not move this body. The fingers twitched ahead of me and I lay still.
I was dead.
Awareness of my body came first—a warm numbness, not at all unpleasant. Then sound: the faintest shifting of cloth. Finally I moved gritty eyes beneath lids and managed to scrape them open. Oddly enough no irritation, only the feeling of sand grinding into my eyes.
I was lying on my back completely naked and all that was above was a rough, stone ceiling. For a moment I watched flickering shadows play amongst the peaks and valleys. That must mean the only light source came from a flame. Strange how dulled my thoughts were, shouldn't a feel something other then mild curiosity?
A deep, gravelly voice spoke to me, "How is your sight? I had the hardest time making sure your fucking eyes didn't dry out."
"Excuse me?" What was this lunatic talking about? But as I turned my head to examine him my mind began to return to a more alert state—my awakening was far more then I'd bargained for.
The only normal part of this person was the pantaloons held up by a sash, other then that it was obvious a demon had claimed me. His skin gleamed an odd combination of bronze and dark red. My gaze traveled up the powerfully built, hairless torso taking in the gleam from the nipple ring and numerous golden ornamentations in his pointed ears, sign of demonic power. But none of this alarmed me. It was the look of pure loathing in his bloody gold-flecked eyes. They held such unnatural force it made me want to retreat and never venture out again. How had I once thought my revenge the epitome of odium?
"Well can you see or not?" His fierce eyebrows drew down only increasing the pressure exerted on my trembling mind.
"…What in the name of the Holy Kahlara are you?" was the sentence I ultimately managed utter.
The bizarrely handsome face parted into a savage grin and the demon walked around to the other side of the table. I lost sight of him and could only trace his presence by the padding of bare feet. My dread increased the longer he remained silent and broke only when he spoke.
"Me? Your people helped create me. What idiots to not understand that actions have consequences…namely my birth." He laughed harshly at that.
"I'm getting to that." His voice growled next to my ear and a hand slapped onto either side of my head. "So shut up and let me finish."
I heard what sounded like nails scratching against rock as his hands pulled away. "My creation came from the loathing between your tribe and the other. My womb was a stack of corpses the height of three men." Suddenly his upside down face leered over my own. "I am made of sand, bronze, steel and blood. So who am I? You dumb ass. I am Hatred."
I wish I were still dead.
"What could you possibly want with me?" My voice came out hoarse.
Once again I heard him walk around and managed to twist my head to follow the broad back as he lifted a torch from its place on the wall. A low rumble of sound emerged and I wondered if his deep thinking was merely posturing or real. When Hatred spoke the words came out slow and thoughtful. "What do I want from you?" He moved out of my line of vision. "An exchange."
Despite my fear I began to feel amused. "An exchange?" A demon had rescued me and wanted a bargain… perhaps I had failed Kahlara during my life and this insanity was a dream meant to punish.
"Yes." A pile of cloth was thrown abruptly onto my head causing me to gasp in shock.
"You will belong to me: every movement, every action. And in return I'll help with you revenge."
At the word 'revenge' my rage was ignited to its former glory. I was engulfed with the urge to beat and stab and kill. This frenzy that came over me ultimately tainted my decision. What more had I to lose? Nothing. I would gladly give my soul and never attain the Rising promised after death. I would do this gladly so I could slaughter those sons of whores.
I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, ignoring the detached sensation from my rattling lungs. "Very well demon."
There was a long pause in which I decided to sit up and look for Hatred. He stood like a burning silhouette at the entrance of a dark tunnel. It was impossible to read the shadowed expression only momentarily illuminated as the fire flickered a certain way. But all of a sudden movement suffused his limbs and he turned and entered the passage. His voice snatched back at me.
"We leave tonight. Once you're dressed follow me and choose a weapon." I could almost see the bloodthirsty grin that must have emerged.
The soft sound of his feet eventually became inaudible and my situation came over me in a rush. Tonight my tribe, the Naraen, would be avenged. It didn't matter what the demon did to me afterwards. My body shook as memories came swarming back to my present mind. I had returned from a simple excursion to find a massacre. My parents, brothers…my wife—I could not wait to hear the screams of the Sojiin swine.
Newfound vigor imbued my limbs and I swung my legs to the floor and began to get dressed. But then I saw my hands.
What had once been young and strong was now leathery and so withered I could make out every tendon and bone. Frantically I examined the rest of my body finding it in the same state, right down to the shriveled manhood between my legs. What had Hatred done to me?
I leaped to floor, ignoring the pile of strange reddish sand and stormed down the tunnel after the demon. Fear at what I had become merged with my anger and I became a terrible thing at that moment, truly understanding I had nothing left to lose.
I roared, "What have you done to me demon?" The sound along with the meager light bounced of the wall in strange ways until I emerged into the golden cavern.
Far larger then the last, it was full of all manner of treasures. Gold, artwork, gems and ornate weapons—all given surreal life by the four enormous glass lanterns positioned in the corners. But I gave not even a passing admiration; there was a demon to deal with. I headed straight to Hatred who was currently pulling a gleaming spear out of his stash. When I got closer I was mildly surprised to see myself half a head taller, giving encouragement as I grabbed his shoulder and turned him to face me.
"What have you done to me?" I hissed through clenched teeth.
Hatred's brows creased and anger swelled in those kohl-rimmed eyes as he slapped my hands off him in distaste, as if my touch came from a leper. A final glare and he went back to his work. I wanted to beat the little bastard to a pulp; but that wouldn't get me any answers. So I calmed my seething rage and tried again.
This time he answered. "You have been dead over one hundred years. So shut your fucking mouth and be grateful you can even move."
Over one hundred years? My anger vanished and with it my strength. I sank onto a pile of gold coins and rubies and stared ahead of me. That long had passed since I had last seen this world. What changes had I missed out on? I looked up to Hatred and simply asked, "How?"
He rolled his eyes and sighed with irritation before crouching in front of me. "Stupidly you got lost and wandered close enough I could feel your death—so I took you. It was a fucking long process making sure you didn't decay, and draining your blood."
I noted his zeal whenever he swore and found it quite childlike. I shook my head to clear it of those ideas and waited for him to continue.
He frowned at me as if suspicious of my thoughts before saying, "Then I put my blood into your pathetic body and called the soul back. Way too fucking long." He shifted, looking at some distant nowhere past my head before concentrating on my face once again. "You—asshole, have no idea the effort it took so shut your ungrateful mouth."
Full of strange grace he stood and once again picked out weapons from the pile. I watched him, the only sound between us being the clink of metal as objects rearranged themselves.
Eventually I said, "Why me? Out of all the people that die in that desert each year."
My question stopped him as the demon chose his words. After a moment of silence Hatred answered, "Most of your people come to… peace with themselves as they lay dying. Not you. You clung to your anger with your last breath… that was… compelling."
I couldn't help but laugh. Bringing this on myself by attracting the attention of a demon with my own loathing. Those centuries of blood feud amongst our two tribes had given birth to a demon and an undead monster. And soon it was going to come to an end.
I stood and went back to the room to clothe myself and prepare for the night ahead. The bloodlust was upon me and it seemed to move my body better then any shriveled muscle could.
He had outfitted me in armor fit for only Kahlara's favored generals. It was made entirely of strange metal worked over with shifting symbols that seemed to convey an ominous message. Complete with a visored helm and twin scimitars I felt like an emissary sent back from the Rising to convey her message to those lost. But rather tonight I would become the Burning One's tool, the sadistic chaos that pitted himself against her glory Kahlara.
Still not used to the foreign feel of all the weight (though surprised I could easily carry it) I shifted in my place at the door to Hatred's sleeping chamber. Even he needed to sleep apparently. And this fascinated me. The old stories never once mentioned a demon having such a weakness.
A large eared desert mouse scuttled near the golden shine of my boot, under the coin curtain and into Hatred's room. I had never been a curious man, but now I found myself following after the rodent. Even a wrinkled corpse could not resist the urge to see a being thought of as a nightmare in such a vulnerable position as sleep.
Gently brushing aside the golden strands that clinked musically against each other and my armor I peered inside. Hatred lay in a heap of beautiful cloth I had never seen the like of: smooth and shiny. And there was nothing else save the strange light that rimmed the floor of the circular room. I leaned closer and felt heat from the slowly churning colors of orange and red.
I would have moved closer to investigate but he stirred and began to move and speak. Petrified, I feared what he would do for my trespassing, but it seemed like only a dream so I eased my stance and listened.
Hatred appeared to be having a conversation with a… wife? Well reassuring someone that he would be fine in an upcoming battle. My own fist clenched at thoughts of my Ria, stabbed through her pregnant belly, blood and entrails everywhere—I suppressed the emotions—not yet.
Sometime during my remembrance he had entered a battle in his dream and moved his body to go along with whatever images he saw in his head. But then he stopped and went into convulsions, grasping at a mortal wound that wasn't there. And then he screamed.
It was a sound indescribable, one that ripped away every rational thought and sent you sinking into an abyss of fear and despair. I was nothing before this onslaught of paralyzing sensation.
Finally it ended and I was able to return to logical thinking and find myself curled in a ball on the floor, my dead heart shuddering violently within my chest. I raised my head and saw Hatred sitting in his mound rubbing closed eyes.
"Serves you right for going where you're not invited," he said, not with the usual tone, but one that is weary beyond the point of caring.
I pushed myself up on shivering legs and managed to walk towards him. "What was that just now?" My voice sounded even drier.
Hatred's hands pulled away from his smeared kohl and he looked at me. For a moment I thought I saw relief and bitter sadness but it was gone in an instant as he frowned. "Glad to see you're still here so all my hard work wasn't wasted after all."
"What did you do?" I repeated.
He grimaced. "Screamed, I thought even a fucking idiot like you could figure that much out."
My silence pushed him to continue.
"Any being that hears my scream has their heart stop." With a sigh he moved past me and picked up the now lifeless mouse.
I contemplated and took the creature from him, turning it over in my armored hands. What he said would have seemed impossible if I had not experienced it myself. Looking back down at him I said, "You dreamed. I did not know that demons dreamed or even slept for that matter."
Exhaling in irritation he growled, "Nosy bastard aren't you?"
"I just no longer care what happens if I offend you."
Hatred's eyes turned down and he picked at the cloth, obviously considering if it was wise to be giving me information. Then he mumbled, "It's the fucking memories."
His gaze met mine. "The men that died didn't just give me their hatred and blood, they gave me their memories. And lucky me gets to experience one death every night! Fucking assholes!"
Now that he was angered he wasn't going to let it go and stood in a rush, pushing past me. "We're leaving—" His voice softened slightly (though was still harsh for a normal person) and he turned to consider me. "What is your name?"
"Jishaan, we leave now to the slaughter," Hatred laughed.
I waited a moment before following, sparing the most fleeting thoughts to consider: did he revive me because Hatred was lonely?
I could see their camp giving the night sky above the oasis a faint glow long before I heard the sounds of people. It was as if they were lighting up a signal for me to come and take their lives. We strode ahead boldly, no need to hide since none of them could possibly kill either of us. And as we walked through the shifting sands I allowed myself to relive the fullness of what had begun the end.
Neither the Naraen nor Sojiin could remember what had started this feud, but it had gone on for generations, even from before the first Black God had taken a hold of this world. Usually it was small night raids and pre-agreed upon battles that were fought where both leaders approved of the time and place. But they had crossed the line that day. They attacked during the day—by unwritten, unspoken rule that should never have happened! Some fool had decided to break that law and now they were going to repay the blood price!
…Then this disgusting affair would finally be over. I would be the last and my soul would go to a demon. I closed my eyes and pulled in a deep breath: a leftover action that my body clung to.
"Having doubts?" Hatred growled beside me.
"None." In fact I was savoring the dream of the massacre, it didn't matter to me that the actual murders were long dead.
We came to the top of a dune overlooking the Sojiin camp, which had become a village during the time I was gone. Some of the buildings looked to be made of stone even. They had become complacent and weak since wiping the Naraen out. It would make this all the easier.
Beside me Hatred crouched and examined the village below us. He wore exactly the same items as back at the cave, obviously not fearing any injuries. Why should he, when a single cry could kill any that heard him?
"This could take all night." He frowned then looked up at me. "You go down and kill a few before I finish them. I don't want to be here too long."
"As long as none draw breath when the morning comes," I said as I began to slide down the dune and in between the cheerily lit buildings.
They had been having some sort of celebration and there were many out in the streets. So despite being brainless and not posting guards it wasn't long before a group of men had circled me.
"Who are you and what is your business here?" One man said. He appeared to be the leader, older, with clothing slightly richer then the rest.
"Did the Black God send you?" Another chimed in and was silenced by the leader.
Remembering I wore the strange armor their comments made sense and I began to laugh before drawing my blades. The crowd truly became silent then and most backed away save for the brave and foolish. I said to them, "How weak you have become to be quelled by the Black God. Murderers and maggots both."
'What nonsense do you speak?" the leader was angered. I had offended their pride.
Feeling rather then seeing the other men unsheathe their swords I prepared myself. Now I had them riled it would begin in a moment.
"I seek the blood price. You murdered my tribe so now I shall return the favor." And before he had a chance to speak I had already opened his abdomen. Truly these blades were a marvel, as easy as slicing air. Everyone stood stone still as the man moaned, trying and failing to hold his innards where they belonged. He died writhing in a pile of his own foul smelling intestines.
"That was for my father." Done exactly the same. I almost wished I wasn't wearing a helmet so I could spit on the corpse.
It seemed they had all been waiting for the leader to finally die as now they started to scream and run, sending warning to those farther away. I turned to face the wannabe heroes. One young man stepped forward; trembling so bad his scimitar tip weaved designs in the air. But he stood his ground and spoke, "If you are truly coming to get revenge for the Naraen I should tell you none of the killers are still alive. We are a peaceful people and do not deserve your wrath."
I had to admire his courage. But in the end none of that mattered. "I realize this, but nonetheless none of you shall live to see the sunrise."
Somehow, he—a boy really—stopped his shaking and raised his sword to point at me. "Just because we're peaceful doesn't mean we can't fight. I will die to protect my village from you demon!"
"I'm not the demon."
Then all of them leapt at me in unison. I almost laughed again in surprise while they practically threw themselves onto my blades. Who knew a dead body could work better then a living one? Or perhaps that was Hatred's blood that gave me such speed and strength.
There was a lull in the fight and the few remaining men pulled away, gasping for air. I straightened and waited for them to attack again. Though they would have to wade through the mutilated bodies of their comrades. A bitter yet pleasant surprise that the brave boy was still alive; the one that rallied the others as they prepared to attack me again.
Then Hatred's scream hit.
Despite knowing what was coming I still barely managed to hang onto my sanity, and only really tried so I could watch them die. They squirmed and shrieked in fear, in fact every single person in the village was crying out as if glimpsing the worst hell imaginable. My vision wavered and I almost succumbed when thankfully silence arrived.
I shook my head and tried to calm my body into believing it was fine. The sound of footsteps; I looked up to see the demon weaving his way through the bodies towards me. I took the helm off and managed to work enough moisture up to spit on the leader's body, cleaning my blades on the part of his clothing not died red.
"Are you satisfied?" he asked.
I considered… no. I wanted more. More bloodshed and violence to repay them for everything that they had taken from me. However, there was no way that could happen now, and in truth the pain that Hatred had caused was enough. Turning I gazed at him. "Satisfied enough."
"Let's go then." He began to walk away and I followed. Stopping beside the corpse of the brave boy I spared a moment to close his eyes, easing the panicked expression on his face. This one soul deserved that much; I knew Kahlara would take him for the Rising.
Before we reached the top of the dune I asked, "Now what will you do with me?"
"… Whatever I damn well want." Hatred's tone was strange, as if unsure himself.
I had been right then. Hatred had selected me for a companion, one that wouldn't disappear while he slept. Who knew what this strange relationship based upon revenge and anger would bring, but what I did know was that we had nearly an eternity to sort it out.