“What was a demon but a lost soul, one that had bee forced to use his skills to survive.” –Alice Hoffman
Rogue, her upper body enshrouded in a tattered cloak stumbled forward, her feet dragging loosely across the dirt and gravel road that wound through the lush, lively forest around her. To her right she could smell Nakir’s focused color trailing her, keeping an eye out for any form of danger as she slipped between trees and foliage with elegant grace. The acrid smell of decaying wood and cold, fungi infected mud swirled through her senses, distracting her from the shifting auras of the animals that inhabited the forest that now encased her.
“Shut up. I don’t know what’s going on but I don’t need another voice in my head,” Rogue hissed to the side. Returning her gaze to the path before her, Rogue spotted the shape of a young boy darting across the trail and into the forest.
“Nakir, did you get a read on that boy? I couldn’t sense him,” Rogue spoke softly.
“What boy? Rogue, no one else is out here,” Nakir answered concernedly. Rogue shook her head and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand.
“I must be tired,” She whispered.
The sun had begun to set once more on their third day of travel when Rogue spotted the auras of several oblivious soldiers marching in her direction. Their weapons dangled casually in their arms as they talked loudly amongst one another.
“Az, do you see those four up ahead?” Nakir whispered from the forest. Rogue tasted the vibrations of Nakir’s words, however quiet they were and nodded, somehow knowing that the other woman was watching for her answer.
“Do you want me to take them out?” Nakir asked. Rogue shook her head and continued to walk forward. It was easy to feign injury. After three days straight of constant hiking over small mountains, through swamps and across creeks without more than a few hours of sleep, her body really was exhausted and her feet sorely ached.
“They smell of food and there is residual warmth on their clothing. The camp is close,” Rogue muttered to herself.
“They could just have been camped for the day,” Nakir offered. Rogue shook her head.
“They have no bags or supplies. The chances of that are small. Nakir, I don’t want to kill these people,” Rogue responded, hoping to gain some sympathy from her sister.
“I know. But father is right, they’re terrorists,” She answered in a hard voice. Rogue bit the inside of her cheek but kept back from retorting as the men were now within earshot. One of the soldiers, clad in tan combat gear and thick black boots smacked the lead unit in the arm and pointed in Rogue’s direction. At the gesture, Rogue frowned and let out a deep sigh filled with pain.
“Here we go,” she muttered. Letting her toe catch on the ground, Rogue collapsed into the mud and lay there unmoving. The four men began maneuvering cautiously toward her. The lead soldier reached her moments after she fell, his gun aimed at her center of mass. When he realized she wasn’t moving he raised a hand for his men to stay ready. Shifting his gun to a more comfortable position, the soldier reached down and turned Rogue over, gasping at the pallid face before him.
“Holy shit, Rogue?” He gaped, immediately recognizing the woman he had seen constantly around Kennedy and New Kennedy. Rogue opened her eyes, startled and focused her empty violet eyes on the man’s face.
“Jackson?” She asked in surprise and fear. Jackson grinned from ear to ear and helped Rogue to her feet.
“What the hell are you doing here? Are you alright?” He asked, handing her a bottle of water from within his vest. Rogue quickly guzzled the drink and nodded her thanks.
“I’m searching for a camp called Hayfork,” She answered, her eyes wide as she looked at him, hoping, praying that he just happened to be in the area.
“That’s where I’m coming from, just happen to be on patrol. Virus had me come out here to look for you. We’ve been searching for god knows how long,” Jackson grinned, “Come on, we’ll take you back there.”
“Care to explain who the girl is, Jackson?” the gruff man to Jackson’s side asked. His bearded friend bore much concern in his color and posture, however no one else noticed the way his hand tightened around his rifle and his finger lingered over the trigger, the way his animal instinct thrummed in the back of his mind. Not like Rogue did. Jackson looked back at Rogue as he walked, failing to notice the wide-eyed horror on her face as she stared at the ground.
“She’s a Mercenary where I’m from down south. She’s one hell of a friendly,” he informed happily. “Man, Zaria is gonna be thrilled to have you back, Yellow-Eyes.”
Rogue’s ears perked at the name and she looked up sharply, fighting back the tears that threatened to burst forth from her eyes.
“I can’t kill him, I wont,” Rogue thought in panic.
“Yellow-Eyes?” The man responded curiously. He took a quick glance back, but Rogue’s eyes maintained their purple hue. Jackson chuckled and patted his friend on the back.
“Trust me, you don’t want to be in a position where you have to find out.”
“That’s not very comforting,” the man smirked. Jackson slowed his pace to walk beside Rogue who marched along behind them. She could almost hear the calculations of shot order in Nakir’s mind. From the way the woman’s fingers brushed against the metal trigger of her rifle and the ease in which the massive weapon was carried in her arms, as if it was a part of her, Rogue knew Nakir was no amateur.
“Rogue, where’ve you been? Everyone’s been worried about you back in Kennedy,” Jackson asked, interrupting Rogue’s morbid thoughts. She frowned slightly and shook her head.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rogue murmured. Jackson’s color flooded with green, but she ignored the taste of his curiosity for his own safety. Up ahead, Rogue spotted the miscellaneous aura of Hayfork’s people. The majority were militants, their rifles and side arms habitually attached to them from what surmounted to possibly decades of combat experience. The rest of the people were unarmed civilians, all under the protection of the militants within.
“I think we’re almost back,” Jackson sighed, adjusting the strap of the rifle secured over his shoulder. “And thank god too. We went out on patrol the other day for about twenty miles and my feet are killin me.” Rogue bit back the desire to chastise him for his complaints. It wouldn’t do her or him any good to discuss just how long she had been traveling for.
“Jackson, drinks are on you tonight for cutting this patrol short,” Jackson’s friend called back jokingly.
“Oh fuck off,” Jackson laughed.
“How long have you been here, Jackson?” Rogue asked solemnly. Her melancholic appearance failing to detract from her pleased companions mood. Jackson looked up in thought and shrugged nonchalantly.
“Four months? Was ordered to perform regular patrols of the area. Virus and Tanner have some of us scattered all over the state looking for you or looking for some sign of Seraph. Up until now I haven’t found shit.”
“So what now?” She pressed as the gates to Hayfork drew closer.
“Now I get to bring you back and go home to the wife. The baby should be coming in the next few months so it’s about time I got back,” Jackson said joyfully. Purple warmth radiated from his chest at the notion of his unborn child.
Jackson guided the group through a pair of large wooden gates made from long portions of trees and bound together with bands of steel. The overcast sky drained the surrounding area of its warm colors; causing the residents of Hayfork to take on a dreary, sallow color despite their relatively content faces and colors. Rogue’s critical gaze counted the amount of guards that patrolled the area, making eye contact with several who stared at her with unreciprocated intrigue.
“Fourteen,” Rogue thought bitterly. She felt the nanites in her body begin to stir the instant the gates closed with a heavy groan behind her. A subtle stir, warning her that she needed to follow orders. Rogue shook her head, denying the sadistic devices their desire. Immediately they began to thrum beneath her skin, pulsating with anger at her refusal.
“Just do it. We want it, death.”
“Jackson, how many people live here?” Rogue asked weakly, trying diligently to bite back the pain the machines were causing as she clenched her fists together.
“I’d say about fifty?” Jackson answered with green vapor hazing about his frame. In those mere seconds the throbbing in Rogue’s body began to multiply to an almost unbearable level and she let out a muted grunt through her clinched teeth.
“Can you get them out? Please?” Rogue begged, darting her dim yellow eyes about the encampment. Her terrified gaze skimmed over men, women and children, mortified that she could not endure the excruciating misery for much longer.
“What, why? Jesus Christ, Rogue, are you okay?” Jackson stuttered off as Rogue doubled forward. The nanites had begun to assail her internal organs, making it difficult for her to breathe.
“No! God no!” She cried out, her fingers digging into the dirt. A throat-tearing cough erupted from her open mouth, spewing frothy, pink blood onto the ground.
“Medic! Medic!” Jackson called out as loudly as he could. Reaching down, he took hold of Rogue and lifted her into his arms. With fervor in his step, Jackson sprinted down a row of houses with the flailing woman coughing blood onto the path behind them like a trail of bloody breadcrumbs through a forest of endangered lives.
“Jackson,” Rogue started haggardly, letting Azrael’s power overcome her, “I’m so sorry Jackson,” she whispered. Jackson looked down into Rogue’s illustrious yellow eyes and stopped in his tracks.
“For wha-,” he started to say. Rogue’s hand whipped up and broke Jackson’s neck faster than he could see. His body collapsed into the dirt and Rogue deftly caught herself on hands and feet like a cat. She stood and stared down morosely at the man who had merely tried to save her life. Had left his pregnant wife and home to come look for her with no guarantee of ever finding her, and without the promise of return.
A tall, brunette woman with angular features stopped slightly down the street from where Rogue peered down at Jackson’s lifeless body. Her body quaked and her eyes widened in horror. She let out a loud, blood-curdling scream that alerted everyone around the encampment that something perverse had taken place. The wounds inside Rogue’s body began to heal with each step she took toward the cowering woman cloaked in oozing fear that trickled from her body like a sickness.
“I understand that you’re afraid,” Rogue said sadly, closing the distance between her and the shrieking woman. “And I would never have the audacity to ask you for forgiveness.” Rogue finished her statement while tilting up the chin of the mortified woman before her. Shakily raising her hand, she wrapped her fingers around the forehead of the trembling woman and shoved the back of her head into the wooden building behind her, pulverizing her fragile skull between aged wood and steel-like flesh.
Rogue stared down at her palm, coated in warm, slick fluid and clenched her fist tightly.
“God forgive me,” She thought.
“Get down on the ground!” A loud, confident voice ordered to her side. Rogue turned slowly and cocked her head like a dog. “I said get down on the ground or we will open fire!” He repeated from where he stood before six other men. It was the man that Jackson had spoken with on their return from the road. He seemed like a kind man, his facial features full and warm. A thick dark beard covered his face and neck, causing him to seem almost jolly if it weren’t for the heavy firearm balanced in his confident hands and the infuriated orange and red radiating from his form. Rogue shook her head violently.
“You should have ran,” Rogue said sullenly. Black webs danced their way across her lightly tanned skin; ribbons of black deigned to forewarn her prey.
“What the fuck is she,” one of the men muttered, yellow clouding his shape. Rogue frowned and strode in their direction, feeling the crunch of dirt beneath her boots and inhaling the pungent, sickly sweet scent of fear.
A warning shot glanced off the ground at her feet, but Rogue continued to advance without hesitation.
“I have to see her again, protect her. No matter the cost. I’m so sorry,” Rogue pleaded. She dropped her hand to her thigh and drew her chrome pistol. The soldiers assigned with the protection of their encampment didn’t bear an inkling of a chance. Rogue pounced on her prey like a ravenous lioness. Several bullets tore their way through her abdomen and a single round through her left shoulder. The screams drowned one another out in sonorous echoes of fear and agony. Rogue stood over a mass of bodies. All seven lay scattered around; only a single, gushing wound through each of their throats marring their once animated corpses. Her vibrant yellow eyes glowered at some invisible enemy that only she could see.
“Happy? You’re going to get your feast,” Rogue murmured angrily.
“Yes. So sweet, so wanted. Kill them all for us,” The syrupy voice droned in Rogue’s ear.
Twisting on her heel, Rogue began to stalk through the streets, her shoulders hunched and feet dragging across the dirt with each shambling, ill desired step. All of their deaths came with ease, but the guilt pounded against the inside of her skull like a jackhammer as each life was snuffed out, slowly driving her further into insanity.
“Why are you doing this?” the man in her grasp begged with tears streaming down his face, clung to by dirt and sweat. Rogue threw her head back and laughed manically.
“I don’t have a choice! I’m sorry, but its kill you or lose Her,” Rogue spoke, “And unfortunately Seraph isn’t an idiot.” The man’s cry died with a sickly pop.
Nakir watched her sister from afar through the magnifying optic of her rifle. Pulling away, Nakir sighed and rested her forehead against the eyepiece.
“Something isn't right,” Nakir breathed. Peering back through her optic, Nakir could see that Rogue had already finished her slaughter. The blonde woman sat on the ground, her back leaning against a stack of firewood. Nakir stood up, adjusted the rifle over her shoulder and hustled toward her sister.
Rogue looked up as Nakir rounded the gate and walked slowly toward her, but looked away quickly to hide the red rims around her eyes. The soldier was diligently cleaning her blade of any traces of blood with a piece of dark cloth.
“Az, are you ready to head back home?” Nakir asked softly. Rogue smirked and stabbed her blade into the ground, burying it to the hilt in thick dirt and gravel.
“Give me a few minutes please. There’s something that I need to do.”
“Sure, I’ll be here,” Nakir replied solemnly, following Rogue with her eyes until she disappeared around the corner.
Rogue walked heavy-footed toward the far end of town where a short cathedral stood. Its doors were ripped from its hinges and now lay on the ground as Rogue passed by. She walked up the three stone steps and through the entryway. The diffused light from the clouds above created a soft shadow of her dismayed form and only a few lit candles around the interior of the building lit the wooden pews and shattered priest’s stand at the front of the church. Rogue lowered herself slowly down at the knee high wooden bar at the head of the room and placed her elbows softly upon it. She could still smell the cold, saccharine fear that permeated around the body of the priest beside her, his throat split from artery to artery.
As she knelt, her body began to shake. Rogue dropped her head into her palms and let loose the torrent of tears that she had been failing to retain. The flood of emotion spilled forth like a dam shattered by an inexorable force. The sounds of her sobbing rebounded and ricocheted about the cold and damp structure. It glanced off the stained glass windows until the sound of sorrow seemed to belong within, as if grief itself dwelled within the walls of the church.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Rogue bellowed, smashing her fist into the wooden beam before her, shattering it like brittle clay. “I just wanted to be left alone! Why do you hate me?”
Silence greeted her with no sign of response from the massive visage of Jesus ordaining the stained glass window that center pieced the church.
“You speak of being a loving god and then torture me like some fucking lab experiment! What the fuck is so wrong with me that you’d turn your back on me? On us? You let Clarice die and she devoted her life to you! Fuck you!” Rogue bawled. She took hold of what remained of the wooden beam and hurled it through the window, sending a cascade of colored glass tumbling to the ground. Rogue threw her head back and shrieked desolately into the air until her throat was ragged and sore and her body ached from the sobs wracking her frame. She turned slowly and shambled down the long walkway, but stopped at the entryway. She traced her finger down the wooden doorframe and exhaled haggardly.
“I believed in you. I’m not the monster, I see that now. I’ll do whatever I have to do, kill whomever I have to until I see Her again. And when Seraph lies in a pool of his own blood at my feet and the world burns again, the people will know it was their coward of a God that let it happen. Their God, my God, betrayed me and let me loose,” she whispered hatefully. “You could have stopped this... you could have stopped me.”
Nakir tilted her tiny chin up as her sister returned from her short venture, wiping cold droplets from her eyes.
“Are you okay?” Nakir asked, leaning forward and peering up devotedly through Rogue’s grime coated blonde hair that refused to reflect the strong rays of the sun.
Her violet eyes refused to focus on anything in particular for a brief moment until Rogue broke into a crooked smirk.
“Nakir, can I ask you something?” She said softly. Nakir cocked her head like a curious dog and smiled sweetly.
“Anything,” She answered.
“Seraph, our… father; does he hate me?” Rogue asked. Nakir’s eyes seemed to grow dark, mirroring the shadow of pain in Rogue’s question. The small woman activated a small beacon latched onto her belt and beckoned for Rogue to take a seat against the stack of firewood.
“Az, you’ve been around for the better half of a century. If I know anything, its that spending that much time with someone is bound to make two people get angry with each other sometimes. However, father loves you. He has to, or he wouldn’t have spent so long trying to bring you home.”
“That’s what I don’t understand. He tried to have me killed, twice. Why would he want me back?”
“In those few days I’d never seen father so depressed. ‘Azrael is scaring me,’ he said once,” Nakir divulged.
“Me? But even when he captured me, with all my power I couldn’t even touch him. That doesn’t make-“
“You’re still growing,” Nakir cut in sharply.
“What?” Rogue asked, perplexed.
“A year for you is like a month. The Mercenaries like father and I age seventy-five percent slower than the average human. You were born and grew to maturity at an accelerated rate that made father believe you were going to die. But instead, at twelve, you stopped. Right now you have the body of what would be your eighteen year old self,” Nakir explained. It was like a bomb went off in Rogue’s mind. She stared at Nakir in utter disbelief, lacking the ability to create a coherent response.
“You won’t stop getting stronger for at least another thirty years. If he knew I told you that he’d be very angry with me,” Nakir exhaled. Rogue looked down at her palms and turned them over until she located a long scar that ran the length of her forearm. Or at least it had. It had moved several centimeters down from its original position in the last few years. Nakir was telling the truth.
“I’m still growing,” Rogue confirmed with herself.
“Say something?” Nakir said uncomfortably.
“So he decided it was better to kill me than risk letting me get strong enough to overthrow him.” Rogue stated. “Why do you follow him Nakir? You’re not stupid, you have to know that murdering these people is wrong,” Rogue queried.
“I don’t like hurting people, but father is right. If we let man continue down the same road that it had been on, even more chaos and death would follow. This way, we can at least try to control everything. Sheep need a shepherd, Az. Even if that shepherd hides away from the flock like a wolf,” Nakir said somberly.
“Is his view so obscure?” Rogue pondered. “For a shepherd, he sure kills a lot of his flock.”
“You can’t let the sick contaminate the rest can you?” Nakir retorted in a matter-of-fact tone.
“So that’s why he tried to have me killed? I was going to poison his well groomed flock with my sickness, my bloodlust,” Rogue breathed angrily.
“You did.” The words made Rogue’s breath catch in her throat. Nakir smiled sadly at her sister. “And now he’s making you fix it, but we’ll fix it together, right sis?” Rogue nodded slowly and leaned back, placing her elbows in the dirt. The sound of whipping rotary blades snapped repeatedly like a revolving door across Rogue’s tongue.
“Hey Azrael?” Nakir started. Rogue looked over expectantly, cocking her head to the side in curiosity. Nakir’s color was one of slight fear and hesitation, but the green wrestled the unsightly color and overpowered it. “You always mentioned a girl named Zaria in your sleep. Who- who is she?”
Rogue smiled broadly and closed her transitioning green eyes as she tilted her face up toward the sky.
“She’s my light,” Rogue smiled before looking over at Nakir who looked on diligently for her sister to continue. “And the love of my life.”
Nakir laughed sweetly and heartily. She clutched at her stomach as laughter wracked her body. Rogue watched her in confusion, not understanding the color of joy and realization radiating like sunrays from Nakir’s figure. Nakir finally sat up and wiped the tears from eyes.
“Care to explain?” Rogue prodded.
“Well I always wondered why you never pursued anything with the soldiers. But now I realize its because you’re into women,” Nakir chuckled. “How I didn’t see it sooner, I’ve got no clue.” Rogue smiled and tittered softly.
“It’s more than that. It’s something about her laugh and the way she talks. Or when she looks at me and all I can smell and taste and see and hear is purple and white. It’s as if I can feel her kindness washing over me like droplets of rain. Her light it- it frees me,” Rogue explained rapidly. After her burst, Rogue brought her eyes from the heavens and looked nervously over at Nakir.
“When we get home, I want you to tell me all about her. I’ve never seen you so girly,” Nakir beamed.
“Could Seraph have twisted a soul so kind?” Rogue thought.