I watch them ride off, my destination is in the complete opposite direction. I sigh and turn my horse, skirting the edge of the town. The empty eyes of the corpses watch me pass. I ride for about twenty minutes before the first drop of rain hits my arm. The clouds have covered the sky and it will not be long before it really starts coming down. I pull my coat on; at least it will protect me a bit form the weather.
The sun is setting and the rain has begun, but so far it is still light. I hear a wolf begin to howl, its lament rising on the air and carrying through the woods. Others answer it and join in, creating a chorus of the melancholy song. I listen closely, trying to judge how far off they are. The horse snorts, its ears drawing back at the sound. I pat its neck reassuringly, "Relax, I am much more frightening than any silly pack of wolves."
It is when the sun has just slipped completely behind the horizon that the sky tears open. Torrents of rain hit with little warning. In minutes I am soaked through, and still a ways from the town. I spur the horse onward, picking up speed. Water drips from my hair into my eyes and makes it even harder to see through the weather. The roads have been bone dry, so this sudden rain turns the dust into thick mud which splashes the horse's legs and my boots. Thanks to the rapid cloud cover, it is already pitch dark. The horse is running blind, but I do not allow him to stop or slow. I can see, even if it cannot.
Misery dislikes rainy weather, due to the current storm he has withdrawn to the farthest recesses of my mind. I have to search for him to find his presence, and I do not care to look. I have come to greatly appreciate stormy days, because they give me a little peace and quiet. Misery's presence taints every day of my life. I may hate Gabriel, and be his slave, but I can escape him at times. Misery is always there, I have no escape from myself. Since he has withdrawn, and I have had time to relax, my hands return to normal and my fangs shrink back. Now at least I will look a little less threatening to the villagers. I already know there will be no warm welcome waiting for me.
When I can finally see the lights of the town, the horse is nearly worn out. My clothes cling to my body, if I stay out too long like this I could fall ill. It is hard for demons to get sick, but when they do it weakens them considerably, and I cannot afford to grow weaker, even temporarily. If I did Misery would use the chance to take over, and when I reclaimed my body I would have much to answer to.
It is late and the weather is horrible, I do not even entertain the idea of completing my job tonight. My horse needs to rest anyhow. There is a small tavern, lit up in the gloomy night. I tie my horse outside for now; I will have to ask about the stables here. When I walk in, only a few people look up at first. I am dripping rain water in my wake, and leaving muddy boot prints. The floor is already covered in tracks however, and I have no reservation in adding my own. As people realize I am a stranger, more of them fall quiet and look up. I can see in their expressions the exact moment they register my eyes, and what they mean. Curiosity turns to horror and disgust in a flash, some people stand up. I do not know if they mean to attack me or leave. They are free to leave, but if they attack me, their day shall go bad quickly.
There is a stout man behind the bar. He stands taller and wider than me, although this is no large accomplishment. While I am tall, I do not have a large build, many underestimate my strength at first glance, but they do not make the mistake twice. When he sees me a scowl pulls at his face, tugging down on a scar that cuts through his right cheek.
"Your kind are not welcome here demon," he spits at the floor by my feet. I ignore this and keep walking, leaning against the bar and picking up a thick glass.
"I was sent to your town on business, by the grim reaper," I give him a minute to weigh the meaning in this statement. By casting me out, he will be inviting the reaper's wrath. When I see that he realizes this I continue. "I do not have any qualms with this town, or the people in it. I merely need a room for the night, a place for my horse, and a meal. In the morning I will take care of my job, and so far as I am concerned, never darken your doorway again."
His scowl deepens, twisting the scar grotesquely. I fish into my coat pocket and lay a small pile of coins on the table with a loud clunk. One of them threatens to roll off, but he catches it in his thick, pudgy fingers. Lifting the coin he examines it, his watery blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. The amount I have placed on the table is much more than anyone else would ever be asked to pay for a room and food here, but I need all the help I can get. I have more to spare after all. The coins were not come by earnestly, but my conscious is clean. I did not kill for the money, but what a dead body does not have use for cash, so there is no use leaving it to them. Even with the threat of the grim reaper's displeasure, he could still send me away. After all, my sleeping in a ditch would not keep me from completing my mission, and therefore Gabriel would not care.
Swiping the rest of the coins off the wooden surface he nods. "Around back, there is a barn where you can put your horse. You can stay there as well. I do not need demons in my rooms, scaring away my customers." I look around. The tavern is clearly full of locals that have nothing better to do than drink their stormy nights by. This town is on the outskirts of civilization, he does not have customers to scare away.
I could argue, or I could threaten, but I do not have the energy to do so, and the barn would be more private anyhow. I do not mind being separated from the humans, for I want nothing to do with them. "What of the meal. I have been riding a long time."
He glares at me, counting the coins. "I will see what can be done about a meal, but I make no promises. Perhaps I will toss you the scraps, or you can fight the street urchins and mutts for them." I grit my teeth but say nothing determined to keep the peace, at least for now.
I leave the bar without a backward glance, but I hear the man spit again, and it hits a few inches away from my shoes. My fingers itch to snap his neck, but I pocket my hands instead and walk back out into the rain. It has slacked off a little, and I walk the horse to the dark barn behind the tavern. There are a few other horses there, probably plow horses, from the looks of them. They are large beasts, made for pulling heavy loads and farm equipment. Once my horse is settled down for the night, I look around. There are a few hay bales stacked near the side of the barn.
They will make do for a bed. I push them closer together. The faint sound of glass clinking together comes from behind me. I spin around, a growl dying on my lips when I see where the sound is coming from. A girl that looks hardly eleven stands in the doorway of the barn. She holds a lantern high in one hand, but it does not cast light this far. In her other hand she carries a tray, that holds what must be my dinner.
She cannot see me, but she is shaking with fear. Her eyes dart around the darkness, trying to find the monster there. I step into the reach of the lantern's glow. She lets out a small gasp, as if she has seen something terrible. I never understand humans' initial reaction to me. I do not look so terrible. My eyes may be disturbing to some, but other than that I look completely human. Perhaps that is what unsettles them, that I can look so similar to them. "Y-y-your meal s-sir," She holds the tray out and stutters to get the words out. Her large brown eyes are sunken in her small face, and she looks like some kind of specter.
Her hands shake making the light waver. I take the lantern and the tray from her. Putting the light down I pull a gold coin from my pocket and offer it to her. "Thank you." She stares at it like it is poison, and I know she only takes it for fear of angering me if she refused. Without even picking the lantern back up, she turns and runs back towards the tavern, through the mist that is now falling. I look down at the food. A thick stew of some sort is in a small ceramic bowl, and a mug of mostly clear water sits next to it. I carry the food and the lantern back to the hay bales and start to eat.
The vegetables were cooked too long, and the stew is slightly burnt, but it is the best tasting meal I have had in quite a while. The chunks of meat in it might be veal, or beef. I cannot tell, and I do not care either way. It could have been diced rat, and I would have eaten it all the same.
When I have finished my meal I take the bible I found earlier out of my saddle bag. The blood on it has dried and I wipe it off, it falls in flakes onto the hay covered ground. I skim through the thin paged book, trying to find something familiar, something I may have read or heard before. Nothing sticks out at me, and in my frustration, I put it back down, and put out the lantern. Darkness falls over me and I lay back on the hay bales.
They are no doubt full of numerous bugs, and the hay pokes at me thought my clothes. I have slept in less comfortable places, and I will have no trouble falling asleep tonight. I hear the scrabble of rats feet upon the rafters and in the walls. They will find my bowl soon, and fight over the bits that are stuck to the inside of the bowl. With any luck I will sleep through the racket. I focus on the sounds of the horses shuffling around in their stalls and their snuffling breaths. It is not long before sleep takes me, and I drift off in the near silence.
I wake up to my face smashing into the floor. My fangs slice into the inside of my bottom lip. The rich coppery taste fills my mouth and I wake up growling. I shove myself up from the floor, snarling as blood drips from my lips. The man from the tavern scowls down at me, nearly twice my size. I am spitting blood, and there is hay in my hair, I probably look far from intimidating. "It is morning," he snaps at me, "It is time for you to leave. You are no longer welcome in my establishment." His lip curls as he looks at me.
I imagine the ways I can kill him. My sleep riddled mind is slow, and I cannot remember why I need to keep this man alive. Before I can devise a proper way to kill him, I remember why I am there. I will have a hard time getting anyone to listen to me if I am dripping blood. I wipe my blood on the back of my hand, and glare up at him. "Fine." If I have to say anymore to him I will lose my patience and he will lose his head.
Brushing the hay from my clothes, I walk past him. He stands and watches me as I saddle the horse again. After a night of sleep the horse is bright eyed again. He snorts as I put the bridle up to his mouth, but takes the bit.
I am glad to leave the barn, and that man behind me. I wipe more blood from my lip and head down the main street. It is still early, but people are already up and about. They stare at me as I ride by, it is likely that many of them have never seen a demon before in their lives. If they have before now then they might not have known it. It is difficult to hide amongst humans, but it is possible. Humans are naturally uneasy around us. Even when a demon is disguised as a human, other humans will find them odd and unsettling.
I myself have never attempted it, but I know of a few demons, that Gabriel does not use, that have tried. The adults steal quick glances from the corners of their eyes, they are nervous to be caught staring. The children do not have such shyness. They stare openly, their mouths hanging open, and eyes full of curiosity and horror.
It does not take me long to find what serves as a town hall in this small town. However when I try to gain entrance, I meet resistance. When I finally meet the leader here, my hands are bound by thick rope behind my back. I allowed them to do this for some illusion of safety. I could break these ropes with little effort if I chose. The fibers in the rope scratch at the soft skin on the inside of my wrist.
The man who finally takes a seat in front of me is not very impressive. He is short and thick set, with a bread that seems more inclined to grow on his neck than his face. His dark eyes look nervous as he looks me over. It is clear that they think I am here for some sort of assassination.
"You are the demon that claims to be sent here by the grim reaper?" He asks, scratching at his beard. I scowl, insulted that they do not even believe me. I suppose I should not be surprised.
I glare at him, leaning forward and making him push his chair further back, away from me. "I do not make empty claims. The grim reaper sent me here to seek a service from you. I advise you to listen."
There are two large men behind me. They probably think they could take me if I tried to attack. They are wrong. Three against one are not good odds for them. Not when the "one" is a demon. The man seems to be considering my words. He is not put in a good position, I recognize that. If I am lying, and he trusts me, I could be here to kill him, and there is not much he could do to stop me. If he was to turn me away and I was not lying, then the grim reaper would have him killed. I wait patiently for him to decide which death he would like to avoid the most. "Let us temporarily assume that you are sent by the grim reaper. Why are you here? What is your business with me?"
"Supplies. The wagon way does not reach the reaper's estate. He would like to establish a deal. He will pay you a handsome sum for every shipment that we could pick up here." I look around the room I am in. It is sparsely furnished. The two chairs that we sit at are clearly handmade, and not very comfortable. A small table stretches between us. It is flimsy at best, but I am sure that it provides him with a small comfort. One more thing standing between a bloodthirsty demon, and him. The walls are bare, no pictures or decorations hang from them. The place seems as bare as a prison. Sitting across from me, the man is hunched over, he looks a little like a prisoner right now.
He frowns, looking confused. "I thought that the next town did business with him. They are much closer than us, surely it would inconvenience him to go through this town." He would love that to still be true. Of course news has not spread yet. We only killed those townspeople yesterday, it would take a while to spread, but it would start soon.
While I do not particularly enjoy my role, I play it well. I smile slowly, showing my fangs. "They have run into a few problems and became incapacitated." It does not take him long to catch on. Dread fills his features and he looks away. "In the front pocket of my coat, there is a letter that Gabriel told me to give you."
He looks a little green, and I watch his hand tremor as he reaches towards the pocket. There is dirt under his nails, and I am pretty sure there is dried blood under mine. I stay perfectly still, so that he does not think I am trying to trick him. The smoother this goes, the sooner I can bet back, and crawl into my sorry excuse for a bed. When he pulls the envelope out, relief flits across his face, but it does not stay there.
The rain had gotten the letter damp, and I can see that some of the words had run through the back of the paper. Still, it must still be legible, for his eyes scan over it quickly. He rubbed at his forehead, stress creasing his brow. "You understand that I must return with an answer. After that I hope to never see you again."
He has been backed into a corner. Both of us know this. The letter, and my visit makes it seem like he has a choice in this matter. However if he were to refuse, I would be back within the hour to spill more blood , by order of Gabriel. He drops the letter and rubs at the back of his neck. "Very well, return to your master and tell him that I accept his offer." I nod, he has made a smart choice.
Misery speaks up in my mind. "I was so hoping he would turn us down. I could have used a snack before we leave." I inwardly wince in disgust. If Misery eats a human, I suppose that means I do too; I try not to think about that. I have no taste for human flesh, but that does not sway Misery.
I stand and my hands are cut free. I rub at my wrists, watching the men that tied me up. They look like they wish I was still tied up, or perhaps even shackled. My horse is waiting less than patiently outside, growing restless. I ride at a gallop out of the town, eager to escape the stares. I am used to it at least. I do not like the feeling of people watching me. Gabriel does not seem to share this sentiment. Every time he goes anywhere, he makes sure to stand out. He wants people to watch him. He wants people to fear him.
The ride back to the estate is a long one. When I pass the outer town, I skirt the edge of it. The stench of rot is thick in the air, and intensified by the warmth of the morning. Large carrion birds have already found the remains. They watch me pass, blood smeared on their beaks. Some of the bite marks suggest that the wolf pack I heard the night before has been here as well. I am glad when I leave the sight and smells far behind me.
I can tell there is something wrong the moment the estate comes into view. There are busted windows, and everything is dark and silent. Zeke sits on the front steps of the entrance. He looks like he has been waiting for me. I prepare myself for the fight that is likely to follow. However when he stands, he does not draw a weapon or threaten me, just speaks.
"Quite a lot of action you missed little brother," He walks down the steps and stands at the bottom, walking no closer. His blood colored eyes watch me as I approach on the horse. I always feel like his gaze measures my strength and finds me lacking. It makes me angry; I am stronger than he is. However, that does not stop him from being the better fighter. "How did your little trip go?"
"Where is everyone, what happened here?" I do not want to waste time with pleasantries with him.
Clearly he has other ideas. "Not so fast, are you just going to ignore my question?" His eyebrows raise and the corner of his mouth quirks up. I know he is only doing this to annoy me, but it works.
"Stop messing around, just tell me what happened," I snarl, getting off of the horse. He narrows his eyes at me, anger clouding his eyes.
"You have always been too impatient," he scolds me, "how you have survived this long is a mystery to me. Now stop being rude and answer my question, then maybe I will be inclined to answer yours."
I grind my fangs, glaring at him. "My trip went fine. I completed my mission, successfully, and now I would like to know what happened while I was gone."
"I suppose you would not be able to tell, you were probably asleep when it happened." He concluded, crossing his arms. I throw my hands up in exasperation, he is skirting around an explanation again.
"When what happened, Zeke?" I ask, with a sigh.
He smiles at me, which surprises me. We have never been on good terms, but he look he gives me now is happy. "Gabriel is gone." The three words take a minute to sink in. I run them over again in my head, and wonder if I must have misheard him.
"Gone," I repeat the word; sure that it was not really what he said. I wait for him to correct me, and for Gabriel to come storming outside to demand a report.
Instead he nods. "This morning, something happened. We are not sure exactly why it happened, but his hold over us was destroyed. He used demon language to knock out the demons close to him at the time, so that he could get away."
"Is he coming back?" I question, still not ready to believe this stroke of luck.
Zeke shrugs. "If he does, I for one will be long gone, I suggest you do the same." He leans against the building, and tendrils of shadow begin to encase him. In a matter of moments he is consumed by the shadows and then gone. He was the first demon to master shadow travel, I was the second, he has yet to let me forget that either. I stare at the place where my brother stood only seconds ago. The grim reaper is gone, but I am still a demon, I still have no place in this world. So the question remains, what do I do now?