Permit me the luxury of a brief and tragic tale. A tale in which our hero ultimately becomes our greatest villain. It begins after the Great War laid waste to the world, wherein the Fae people were driven to destruction and humanity’s greatest saviour became their ultimate doom.
A solitary figure strode across the ashen and desolate plain, a tattered grey cloak billowing behind him. He was a tall man and strongly built, with matted, silvery hair, a scar-lined face and the grizzled complexion of a warrior. His attire, scorched armour made from gears and machinery whirring and whistling together, spoke of a man possessed of a strong temperament and wholly together. Yet his left arm was stripped free of any covering, the skin burnt and twisted into a darkly scaled mess that ended in five sharp claws. And in his crystal clear eyes roared the fires of madness and bloody death.
All around him lay fragments of what had once been men and women, taken in one single blow from the world. Now they were ash heaps, “...to dust,” muttered the man gutturally, never breaking his stride. His voice was low and mellow with a hint of treble to it, a voice dripping with charisma and effortlessly listenable. Assuming one was not distracted by the madness in his eyes. Further, assuming anyone existed on the plain to listen to his speech.
He was hunting, hunting for something. No, for someone. His nostrils flared, as if he were a purebred stallion - not a stallion, a hunting dog. I am a great dog of war. His perceptive eyes narrowed, looking beyond the swirling ash and charcoal heaps dotting the landscape. Here and there tongues of fire licked up through gashing wounds - the earth itself hungry to devour the remnants of battle. And yet, despite the light from these flames the landscape was incredibly dark and colourless - all shrouded in grey mourning cloth spun from cinders and black, choking soot.
Conqueror, he thought to himself, I am the conqueror of the dead. But no consolation, no solace, was to be found in this line of interest. Conqueror of the dead and a hunting dog of war. And like a hunting dog he stopped for one moment and then inhaled, one long and deep breath.
A scent, familiar and pungent, blasted through the noise of conflicting odours: ash, dust, smoke and blood. It roared through his nostrils, awakening instincts honed to perfection by unique combinations of chemistry and sorcery. This was the scent he had been searching for and as his eyes rolled back, breathing in the thin trail of vapour, a menacing grin spread across his face, detailing a set of sharply pointed teeth. In that moment, one could have been forgiven for believing they observed a wolf or a shark and not a man - yet no one stood upon the scorched plain to observe this phenomena.
No….no one stood. But several crawled or rolled themselves around onto their sides now as he raced past. Living corpses, grotesque and decorated with the outcomes of war and violence - moaning in agony as they slowly burnt. They were already dead and yet did not recognise this fact: refused to die as they burned, their limbs and torsos blackening and turning to charcoal as they fought the inevitable. They were few in number, these living dead, perhaps only twenty odd bodies dotted the fire-swept land. Yet, for their few numbers they seemed to be an endless sea of lost souls.
These men and women the hunter stumbled at, momentarily, for they had been his friends...once. But he shook his mane of silver hair and snorted irritably. Friends, no more.
He had no time for friends, or for enemies. No fear, no love, nothing but the wild lust of power drove him onwards. Nothing would stand in his way and his quest for salvation. Saviour, he thought with that grim smile flowering once more on his face as he strode, I am the saviour of humanity.
He started and stopped suddenly, the sheer stench of his prey awakening him from his routine running. Now where are you? He sniffed again, inhaling that foul - yet sadistically pleasant - odour once again. Ah, just to my left.
He turned, faster than humanly possible, dodging a weak sword thrust, headed towards his midriff. His clawed hand swung at that same moment, catching the blade and knocking it from the hands of its owner. A slow chuckle gurgled from his throat as he perused his adversary - the target of his hunt.
She was robed in a shimmering cloak which had once been blue but was now a stained purple at the hem, washed as it was in the scarlet pools beneath her. This cloak was as askew as her short shorn hair, a rough blowing straw-coloured mess riding above her childish face like a bird’s nest atop some lumbering bull. Her nose was bent in a broken mess, yet her eyes glared out furiously, arguing against the desecration of her face.
“You truly are a monster,” despite the anger in her eyes she stated this calmly, softly, with only the hint of a sob rising from the back of her throat. This sob melted into her lilting accent, “Why?” Her body shook with tremors of silent grief, her anguish spoken not through words but in shudders of voiceless pain.
He cocked his head, observing where she lay like a newborn filly, her legs trapped awkwardly beneath the weight of her body. A gust of wind flicked her cloak aside, revealing the dirtied, plain breastplate she wore beneath. His gaze scanned across her, witnessing the remaining and battered armour covering her arms and legs. Did I truly love her once?
Disdainfully he spoke, “It had to be...I,” he paused briefly, “I am the saviour of humanity and if I must be a monster to accomplish this, then a monster is what I am.”
He crouched before her, reaching out his left hand as he extended one black claw to stroke the side of her face. The stroke was soft, caressing as it began. Then maniacally it cut - one sharp and long slash down across the woman’s cheek. The wolfish man pulled back the claw, a single crimson tear dripping on it. Raising the claw to his mouth, he allowed his tongue to travel along its length, drawing the bead of blood into his mouth.
“The taste of freedom is full of pain and loss,” he mourned. “You were, as ever, my greatest victory and my heaviest defeat.” He paused, taking a deep breath, “Yet the price of victory - the cost of salvation must be paid. In full. I do what I do now, in order that others can not, will not, pay the same price.” A tear rolled down his face. “You...understand. You must understand!”
He shouted these last few words directly into her face, as she stared ahead, looking somehow beyond him. Then, sensing the lapse in his monologuing she retorted harshly, “Go to hell!”
He flinched, as spit flew at his face, mingling with the tears that poured down his brow. “I am sorry. I truly am.”
The claws of his left arm curled into a fist, the darkly calloused skin throbbing and beginning to glow with a deep, hot orange. Steam rose from the skin along the arm in gentle puffs as the orange deepened further in the centre - the entire length of his arm glowing with a red-hot light. Within seconds - within half a second - his left limb held more in common with a branding iron than any human appendage.
He extended one claw and with a spurious movement and a flurry of motions, etched a line around the woman sprawled before him. A line that began to blaze and burn with tongues of fire as he drew, until his victim was surrounded with a golden circle of flame.
“I wish this had all been under better circumstances. Another while. Another world. Another war. But all I can suffice to state is that this, truly is the end for us. A new dawn must emerge and you no longer have any part in that. Farewell.”
Faster than the woman could even think to reply, the man lashed out with his burning touch, striking her across her cheek. The single cut he had made previously, lit up with a flash of white heat - as if her blood was turned to fire from the inside. She froze at the touch, her body crumbling and disintegrating into ash, as she screamed a single word, echoing upon the still air, “NERO!”
As the word carried upon the wind, the circle of flames rose in unison, joining into a solid bar of white-hot light racing toward the heavens. The flame extended for one brief moment and then instantaneously vanished - dissipating into the still air. The woman was gone.
The throbbing heat in the man’s arm began to cool, the colour leeching away. White-heat, changed to red, turned to sunset orange, again returning to the black carapace of skin that marred an otherwise normal body.
The man remained crouched before the spot where the woman had previously continued to exist. A sense of regret and sudden shock seemed to overwhelm him and he covered his face with both hands as he freely wept.
Falling onto his back, he released his hands, allowing them return to his side. Tears flowed from bloodshot eyes and he gazed up into the sky as it began to prepare itself for the arrival of night - twin moons floating merrily across the sky.
“I loved you,” the man whispered, pain singing in his words, “Mara…”
And his words drifted endlessly into the void of eternal loss.