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So much for the Gods.
Years of enduring have left her marble creased, two dried rivers meeting at the height of her throat. That’s where I begin. Careful fingertips caress her jaw, promising one final act of servitude. A hymn, a prayer trailed to the base, pursuing her tender swallow. On her exposed flesh, the words rest with my straining breath. And as I inhale, I lean into a bow at her breast.
“Ha!” His howls of laughter resound through her hall. “Pray now, Syco.”
My beloved Goddess. I needn’t demand to know. Her fate was sealed by our trespass. As it has been for months now. The last of her sacellums, already in ruin, now mutilated with the others. Her precious beauty is lost to those that succeed us. Resentment surges, constricting my silenced throat.
“No Latin rebuttal?” Howl mocks.
For the goddess, I remain taciturn. Even so, I gather her fragile remains, enfolding them into my robes. Her mutilation will be remembered.
“Without your goddess, who will you bow before? Will the wolves have you on your knees?” His insults have matured. “The world perished to them, even your goddess crumbled. Her servants are all that remain.” That earns a giggle from beside him. His sister.
The very pistol. Her obsession with the piece is almost sickening. She doesn’t carry it preventively. No, she clutches that gun because it’s the only one we’ve found. And wielding death between her thin fingers empowers her. It provides comfort.
“The Gods long since abandoned us,” Pistol joins her brother’s cackle. Of that statement, I am well versed. My Goddess was the only one who remained. Her valiant efforts are what allowed us our current freedom. She delayed the wolves as we fled. And I had to endure the vision of her last breath. It now stains my mind.
“Slave,” he’s dissolving to simple abasement. Here I had praised him.
“That’s enough,” the deep timber of a humming engine. Aside from our stolen very pistol, his rumble is one of two sounds that remind me of civilization.
Relief consumes me. Even his measured footsteps approaching are a welcome respite. He squats before me, resting a hand on my shoulder. My friend.
“I apologize for them,” Hum grumbles. From this distance, his warm breath moistens my cheek. The smell is akin to seared flesh, with a hint of alcohol. I flinch, but remain still. It’s such a common scent for him.
“Hum,” Pistol stutters, her tone now laced with remorse. “It was light teasing.” Hum’s fingers clench on me. He seems poised to argue, but another voice speaks first.
“We don’t have time for this,” the high pitched static of a radio. Ah, the second sound. I miss the purr of electricity. Real electricity. “The plan was to loot and leave. The sun’s going down. These ruins will be overrun soon.” Darkness. The wolves relish in the night, their proclivity for it is immense. But me, I have no affinity. I am simply shrouded in darkness. My Goddess decreed it so.
“Let them come,” Howl huffs, “you think I’m scared of a couple howlers?”
Hum stands. I hear a flick, then a soft hiss. He’s lighting a lantern. Usually, he’d force himself between the others, raising objections about their crude dispute. But he doesn’t seem in the mood today. He’s restless.
“Why, because you are one?” Static jeers. His banter revolves around Howl’s shriveled self esteem, and that may be why it never fails to produce a smile.
“I warned you,” Howl growls. Clack. The very pistol. Is he really threatening Static? Or is it all performance, the way it usually is? “Don’t you ever relate me to those monsters.” Their parents were devoured by the wolves. That may be why they focus so readily on my Goddess’ destruction. It’s a loss they had no investment in. And a suffering only I sustain.
“I dare you to shoot me,” Static roars. There’s a flurry of leather. That will be his knife. Even with it, he stands no chance against the very pistol. Although, Howl isn’t known for his accuracy.
“Then I’ll kill him,” Howl bellows.
“Kill Robe and I will devour you,” I know it’s Hum’s voice by the pet name. But it’s almost inhumanly low.
Howl cocks the pistol. Is he really going to fire on me? My shoulders rise as my body tenses.
“Did you hear that?” Hum’s voice continues to slit through the depths of his esophagus. As the room grows silent, I find myself holding my breath. Hear what?
The silence persists.
The smell of smoke.
“Hum?” Howl’s the first to speak. His voice clings to the musty air.
And then Pistol screams. Tearing. Ripping. Gurgling. The wolves. I hold still. There’s nothing I can do to save her. Even if there was, would I bother?
A chemical smell engulfs the hall. A flare. It clatters into the far wall, before whipping to the ground. It lies there sparking. He missed.
“Son of a bitch!” Howl screams. His cry has me scrambling backward. The clash of very pistol and tooth drowns out all other noise. This is my chance to hide. I have to hide. One prayer filters through my otherwise scrambling mind. It’s not him.
This time Howl releases an agonized whimper. Oh Goddess, no.
“To hell with you!” Static’s voice rises. Howl stumbles back as Static engages the monster. He wrestles, leather brushing fur. It’s barely audible over Howl’s grunting.
Another flare. I anticipate its end, until I realize–he shot at me. I can’t scream. Instead, a faint chirp claws through my throat. I’m going to die. I brace myself for impact. And impact it does. It buries into flesh, a gush of blood drenching me.
But it’s not mine.
Hot breath pours over my face. It’s foul. The distinct smell of blood deep from within. His teeth clack shut, only to peel open with a heavy pant. His lapping tongue slithers through the moist crevices of his mouth. And then he’s gone. Though his wafting breath remains, encircling me. It’s not him.
“He’s going to come back!” Howl shrieks. “Ready yourself Static.” Howl’s foot drags across the ground, as he limps his way towards me. The clatter of flares draws my attention; he’s really planning to kill me. “The wolf wants our little Syco alive.”
“No,” Static’s voice is strained, “you don’t mean?”
Cocking the very pistol is all it takes. Wind rustles past me, slamming me into the wall. There’s a clatter. And then Static is sprinting towards me.
The wolf yelps. Static never misses. He fumbles with another flare as Howl groans. A cold chill holds the room, fear stilling us all. Is he dead? For a moment, I’m concerned. It’s not him.
My mind barely registers the noise. It’s so inhuman, I resist reality. But I know. As the hiss desists, my heart sputters. The hiss, Howl’s hiss, was the remaining breath in his lungs escaping through a crushed windpipe.
“Monster!” Static’s frantic lament quickly becomes anger.
A fumbled flare and then-
The sound of cloth shredding permeates the air, followed by a low snarl. Static wails. His knife chews the wolf’s pelt, only to rip back and sink in again. But it’s not enough. None of it is enough. Static’s wails flood with liquid until he gasps, his body slumping to the ground. My hands clamp over my mouth.
And then I hear dragging, a sound similar to Howl’s limp. It’s unbearably slow. Each step is met with resistance, each slide of the foot laborious. And then his breath. The rust of blood is nauseating. It taints the air. But underneath that smell, there hints another. Alcohol. It is him.
I’m the wolf’s finishing prey. Hum’s finishing prey. Tears bead on my lower lids as I await my fate. Like my Goddess, I stand willing. My arms straighten out on either side of me, revealing my every vulnerable point. If it’s by his hand, I relent.
“I’m sorry,” the guttural hum. “The hunger was unbearable.” He lingers for one excruciating moment and then he collapses into me. The form of his body is surprising. Human. Even the strangled breath that escapes his mouth sounds human. I raise hesitant hands to my friend’s bloody skin, too consumed by fear to truly touch him.
His body goes limp, slumping from my lap, and out of my weak embrace. Where he laid, there’s only blood. That’s when I cradle him, my fear overturned by worry. And I only grasp him tighter as I hear the howls. How the goddess prays he raises his head. But he can’t.