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1645 ACHARIUS - Mags & Agatha

Merwood, Dread Hideout (One hundred sixty-three yrs. later)

Acharius emerged from his lair, the cave deep in Dread Hideout Country. A lumbering shape unfolding in daylight. Brown doeskin breeches and lawn shirt covered by a thick green tunic. An oversized leather hood drawn up to shadow his features, should anyone see him. Bow in hand and quiver at his back he walked cautiously. Always ready.

Without being able to perceive color, he had to study the black and gray shapes more carefully to notice movement. The afternoon light was merely blinding white. He’d no idea the particular hue.

Tipping his head, he sniffed and caught the stink of Cimmerii. Not uncommon for them to occasionally pass through here heading to Battling Territory.

He meandered the narrow trail he’d worn through the Netherwoods’ thick trees. Ducking vines and pushing huge curling leaves from his face.

He caught the first scent of human blood and jerked upright.

The Netherwood was not an uncommon place for dark Dreads to make their sacrifices in the name of demons.

Like Radix or Nierwae, the Firoque King. The black demon who ruled in Battling.

Acharius cautiously jogged in the direction of the smell. Rounding the bend, he found a man leaned over two little girls, which huddled together whimpering. He roughly pinched the hand of one. Having already drug the blade along her tender palm, he now squeezed it so roughly blood streamed to the dirt and moss. Searing it in black ash.

“Stop!” He barked at the stranger.

What fool mission is this?

The man in the black hood turned. Beady onyx eyes trimmed in orange, set on the mighty blonde giant. His face was mottled with black blotches and a scatter of moles. Skin already withered as though he were much older. The man’s dark grin revealed pointed teeth, as he assessed Acharius’ massive size.

Stop staring at me like a prized horse. Acharius’ jaw ticked.

“You’re one of them. One of those he seeks.” The man cackled shrilly. “He’ll delight in hearing of you.”

But he won’t.

“I’m certain he would.” Acharius cocked his large squared head. “But you’ll not speak of me.”

“I will.” He said gleefully.

You won’t have time.

Before the man blinked, Acharius pulled his bow and planted three arrows in the man’s withered torso.

The Cimmerii Firoque fell. The markings on his face receded and darkness seeped from his eyes.

Looking down at him, then to the cowering girls, Acharius saw the resemblance.

“Your father?”

God, I hope not!

“He-he wasn’t any-anymore.” The wounded girl said. Cradling her hand.

Acharius nodded quickly. Now what the Hell do I do?

Standing over them, his shadow enveloped them as they stared up his towering height. Peering at his face.

Shock was written over them.

He met their huge eyes and witnessed the terrified vulnerability in their faces. If I walk away, they’ll die in these woods.

He warred with himself. I’ve no time to tend little girls! What in bloody hell do I do with them?

They’ll starve-or freeze if I do nothing. He was still sorely tempted to walk away and hope a villager happened on them.

But looking at the dual pairs of dark eyes, he was convinced they’d not make it hours. Much more, days.

He groaned, relenting. I’ll wish I’d kicked my own tail, one day. He was certain.

“Stand children.” He barked.

The two girls eyed him warily. “Tis safe. I won’t harm you.” He softened his voice.

“You’re huge.” The older of the two whispered. “Like a bear.”

Same disposition, I suppose…

“I am a large man.” He acknowledged.

“Where will we go?” The younger one peered around her sister. “Are you going to eat us?”

Good God.

“I don’t believe in eating…children.”

The girls gasped.

He turned to hide his grin as he gestured for them to follow. “I’ll have to build you a house.”

“What will we do to repay you?” The older asked.

Not starve to death whilst I try to figure out how to deal with you.

He scowled. “There’s no payment for saving children. Come!” He ordered. Seating his bow back over his shoulders.

“How do you let arrows fly so fast?” The younger asked skeptically. “How do you hold that thing? It’s as tall as me!”

Not very damn tall. He thought in aggravation.

“Much training.”

What the hell am I supposed to do with…children. His nose wrinkled in disdain as he turned his back and expected them to follow.

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