The Devil's Gift

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XXXI

The beautiful sun began to shine bright over our shelter and Armaita and Sophia began to shuffle and shift about beneath the blankets. They soon opened their eyes and set them upon the view, the lake was swimming with colours, the sky was bright and shining in the sun, even the grass and the trees were bathed in a warm morning sun that completed the picturesque view. We began to take down the temporary shelter as Armaita and Sophia stretched their legs and headed to the lake to freshen up whilst Oceana and I remained behind. We took this moment to delve into Oceana’s bag and withdraw a flask filled with blood. It was leather like the water pouch, and we both took a hearty swig. It was not quite the rush we were used to but it staved off the hunger just that bit more.

As we dismantled the shelter and tossed the remains deep in the woodland behind us, I began to think on the journey we had ahead of us. We’d just scratched the very dust off the surface of Agartha and could have been killed twice already. Both times we were lucky, but it got me wondering how much luck we really had.

‘Sire?’ Oceana asked.

‘Sorry, yes?’ I said.

‘I was just saying, do you think we’ll make it to the forest before nightfall? If so, wouldn’t it be safer to camp outside the forest during the night, we don’t know what sort of dangers are lurking in the trees, especially at night, we don’t want to end up having to camp in the woods.’ She said nervously.

‘True, I would have thought we would make it before nightfall, I think you’re probably right, take the forest in the daylight. Most horrible creatures come out at night…’ I added slowly. Oceana nodded and resumed the dismantling of the camp. I walked over to Sophia who had just left the water’s edge.

‘Are you alright?’ I asked; she groaned a lot, it appeared the baby was causing her some amount of discomfort.

‘Yes, I’ll be fine, I just want to get all this over with and raise our child.’ She said optimistically. She was always looking at the brighter side of bad situations, whether this came under a bad situation or a catastrophic one, I was not so sure.

‘If you need anything, anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask me ok?’ I said to her, cradling her soft face in my hands.

‘I know.’ She whispered, closing her eyes, falling into the moment. An exaggerated cough, coming from Armaita, indicated now was probably the best time to set off if we were ever going to get round to destroying the weapon. I let my arms fall to my side as Oceana sidled up to us.

‘Are we ready?’ She asked me to which I responded with a nod. So we set off once more edging our way to the forest, watching the hours trickle slowly past in mostly silence. The sun began to move slowly across the sky as the edge of the clearing began to become clearer. I heard a rumbling that I assumed came from the forest to the right.

‘Wait here, I just heard something.’ I said to Sophia.

‘It’s nothing, it was my stomach, this baby sure likes food!’ She exclaimed, rubbing her hand affectionately across her stomach.

‘You’re right, I’m sorry, I never even gave it another thought. We need to stop so Armaita and Sophia can eat.’ I said to Oceana who seemed only too happy to stop. As the sun was beginning its final descent over the horizon, bathing the path and the lake in orange light, I headed to the clearing to my right. Once there, I found a branch, about five and a half feet long and began to fashion a pointed spear, using my nails to crave the wood into a perfect point. I headed back out to the path where an exhausted Sophia (the baby seemed to be draining her powers making her less resilient) and Oceana had taken a seat on the floor and were engaged in polite conversation.

‘Armaita.’ I said as I approached her.

‘Yes my lord?’ She asked politely.

‘Would you keep this with you?’ I asked, handing her the spear.

‘What for?’ She asked, a puzzled expression creeping into her face.

‘For peace of mind more than anything, you see,’ I lowered my voice making it inaudible to Sophia, ‘I see Sophia is becoming weaker, I know you’re more than adequate at protecting her should the need arise, but I feel it would give her some small comfort if she could physically see she had protection, surely you understand?’ I explained.

‘Of course.’ She replied and took the spear from me. ‘Nice craftsmanship.’ She added with a cheeky wink. I began to remove my clothes until I was stood in nothing but my short undergarments and began wading out into the lake. I remained motionless, my eyes trained on the fish that were flitting about but I did not strike. I waited longer and the fish soon became accustomed to my presence in the water and began to swim slower. It was then that I struck. My arms dipped in and out of the water so fast I had caught five fish and thrown them to Oceana before the other fish that were still in the water, had even realised what was happening. I managed to catch another three more before they all darted off, but eight was more than enough for two angels. After using a small knife to gut four of the fish, Oceana began wrapping the others in cloth, preserving them for tomorrow night where were unsure whether we’d be close to a food source by then. After I had dried out, I put my clothes back on and we all headed toward the clearing on the opposite side of the path.

We began to set up another make-shift camp using the same materials, which were thankfully still available, as last time. Once the tent was set up, I and Oceana began gathering wood for a fire. We searched in between the scarce trees and settled for knocking one down and breaking it up. As we returned to the campsite, we dumped the logs on the floor and I began gouging out a circle on the floor to make a pit for the fire to sit in. After arranging them in a small circle inside the pit, Oceana asked how we were to light it. Very few vampires knew of the technique I was about to demonstrate, only the better explorers knew this and I was taught by the sword smith.

‘Ah my dear, watch, you’ll see how real vampires light a fire.’ I distinctly noticed Sophia roll her eyes to Armaita who chuckled. Smiling to myself I bent low over the wood, bared my teeth and concentrated on the feeling of feeding, it was not difficult to do seeing as how I could quite happily feed right now. As I’d been taught, this technique began to allow my canines to secrete drops of venom which fell to the ground and landed on the wood. As soon as it touched the bark on the logs, the corrosive venom began to eat away at the bark causing intense friction and heat, settling the logs alight. Oceana was mesmerised by it as was Sophia who gave me an exaggerated round of applause.

‘Oh well done! I’d never have though that would work!’ She said looking impressively at the logs which were now alight and slowly spreading to the rest of the pile.

‘Well it was an old technique, not many vampires know that one, I pride myself on my knowledge of things most of my kind don’t.’

‘Well I certainly didn’t know that one!’ Added Oceana taking a seat by the fire with Armaita.

‘Ah well the longer you’re a vampire, the more things you learn.’ I responded. Armaita took the freshly caught fish and knelt close to the fire. She stuck her hands straight into the flame, holding the fish in her bare hands as it began to slowly cook. My mouth dropped open as did Oceana’s but Sophia remained completely at ease, as if this was a natural occurrence.

‘How can you do that?’ Asked Oceana, mesmerised for the second time tonight.

‘Well, as an angel with warped powers, we can withstand fire and heat, I found this out after someone in the city mistook me for a vampire, they were convinced vampires existed you see,’ Armaita added throwing a glare at me, ‘and they threw a torch at me. Naturally, my dress caught fire and I waited for the inevitable moment the flames would scorch my skin and burn me alive, but it never came. I just stood there in shock as the flames licked my skin but did not burn me.’ She explained.

‘Wow, that’s very impressive! Are you weaker to cold then?’ Oceana asked. I paid close attention to her answer; the outcome could perhaps give us an upper hand in fighting angels should we survive. It seemed Armaita was already aware of this and glowered at me before answering.

‘Not that I’m aware of. As angels, we have very little weaknesses, I’m not even certain we have any at all.’ She answer Oceana who seemed deeply interested on a less war-related ground. The clearing began to fill with the sizzling of the fish and, what Oceana and I felt, a repulsive smell that seemed to entice Sophia and Armaita. I used to like fish of course, when I was human, but the memories of my human life seemed distant like an old dream that I couldn’t quite recall. The night was still quite young as was spent in reasonable merriment considering the task we were on. Sophia laughed and chatted happily, feasting on a perfectly cooked, so Sophia described much to Armaita’s delight, piece of fish that seemed to be of a breed she’d never tasted before. Oceana too seemed to be enjoying the conversation though I could begin to notice the slight gaunt look her face had become from lack of blood, if she was in pain because of a burning throat, she did not show it.

‘So tell me,’ Oceana began, her question directed at Armaita, ‘what’s it like in Heaven? Since I was a little girl I’d always dreamed of knowing.’

‘It’s incredible, it’s so hard to describe perfection. Everything is bright, clean and happy. It’s as if you dreamt a perfect world where everything you ever wanted has come true and you’re standing centre-stage. It really is magical.’ She said reminiscing.

‘What about Deus? Is he like the Bible describes?’ She asked eagerly.

‘Oh, well firstly, think of the most perfect man you dream of, multiply that by one hundred and you’re not even close. He’s really something else to look upon, but terrifying too. You see the perfect shell of a man, but you’re terrified of the inside, his power and his cruelty is matched only by that of his ego. The Bible is nothing more than a lie to entice others to follow him and in doing so, destroy their own lives and free will.’

‘I used to be a priest, and I am so grateful I found out the truth before it was too late. Tell me, why did Deus want me dead?’ I asked Armaita.

‘Now that’s a complicated question. Basically, Deus foresaw you becoming so powerful and defeating everything he has worked to build, he saw you as a threat to his plans and took the necessary actions he felt would be sufficient to protect it. What he did not count on, was that Lucia would be there to tempt you away from him and ultimately bring about the coming of the power to restore order.’ She explained.

I absorbed the information over the rest of the night as the angels began to pull out the blankets once more and doze into a deep slumber, leaving Oceana and I alone and awake.

‘I wonder what the weapon is...’ Oceana mused quietly.

‘I really don’t know, I assume it is some sort of physical weapon, but it could be anything, could be another book like the Bible.’ I responded. We spend the majority of the night discussing ideas as to what the weapon could be as the fire began to slowly burn itself out before we added more logs to it. The night passed fairly quickly and once more, the angels began to stir beneath the blankets as the sun rose above the treeline of the forest and into the clearing. As they sky brightened around us, Sophia woke up and went back down to the lake, Armaita following her. Once more, Oceana and I dismantled the tent and then followed the to the lake’s edge.

Sophia was bent low over the water, washing her face whist Armaita was doing the same. Moments later, we were ready to enter the forest.

‘I don’t know what’s in there, but if our previous experiences are anything to go on, it won’t likely be rabbit. Keep together and keep your eyes sharp. Any sign of movement and we stop until we’re sure any possible danger has passed. Agreed?’ I asked seriously. Once the other had all agreed, we proceeded to the edge of the forest.

‘This might be a bad time to bring it up, but I have a bad feeling about this.’ Oceana said nervously, staring at the tree that towered over us, the first of many that were at least three times taller than any I’d seen back on the surface.

‘Neither do I, but we can’t turn back now, we have to press on.’ I replied. I found my voice was quiet and was not full of confidence. Without another word, we entered the Forest of Nex.

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