It’s been a while since I’ve done a Hoal story! Here’s part 4 for the Saga of Wolves. You can find the rest here.
Skin I am wearing
A Shell that is not my own
Fits me like a glove
I let out a heavy sigh as the cool morning air hits me in the face. My breath lingers in front of me. It reminds me that I am still alive. Living and breathing, not some undead beast that I suspect I have become.
I cup my hands in front of me and make a vain effort to catch the small cloud of warmth.
This is crazy. I’m in this mess because I killed someone. Now I have to kill more people?
It isn’t doubt. It only serves as a reminder of what I promised. Of course it’s crazy.
My fingers feel foreign and new. Power dances within them and they don’t crick like I’m used to them doing. There are no imperfections amongst them. They don’t need to be loosened. They don’t need to be readied. They are ready to kill.
I slip my hands into my pockets and walk through the quiet streets. A homeless man shivering in a makeshift blanket. A baker adjusting the shutters of her shop. A patrolman guard glancing about looking for a sign of trouble.
I have days like this many a time. But I have never looked at these people as potential victims. I only looked upon them as fellow men and women.
My head hurts.
Crissa, the baker woman, had always been fetching to me in an odd sort of way. Now she seems nothing more than a pile of meat read to die at my whim. I have no doubts she hasn’t changed. Four days prior I had made an empty pass at her. I drew a blush to her cheeks and the answer might have been yes. I stop and stare at her.
“The shop’ll be open in an hour sir… S…sorry.” She says timidly.
I open my mouth to respond and I remember, I’m not wearing my face anymore. Crissa’s down cast gaze and faint blush at her cheeks remind me of that.
No. The blush is from the cool air. She doesn’t like pretty men. This woman likes rough and rugged men like I am… was.
I can’t kill her. She doesn’t deserve it. Adultery is a crime punished by bored politicians. This woman should not be bound by expectations of society. It would only serve as a twisted sense of mercy. I will not be a demon of mercy. Never have been. Never will be.
A man steps from the shop. Rough and harsh. Beady eyes as black as they are brown. I know this man. He is the man that calls her ‘wife’.
“Sir. We’re not open. Move on,” he speaks, “I have no bread to sell as of yet.”
I narrow my eyes at him. But I can kill him. He has no love for his wife. They have no children.
He stares at me. His eyes narrow in irritation.
I nod and continue on. He will die. But not today. It is reasonable that Marlea would expect me to kill many. I will form a list.
I could hear his muttered curses as I walk away. He grabs his wife by the arm and offers her a harsh glare.
“I… I’ve never met that man,” she says.
Not entirely honest, but how was she supposed to know. Other than my ash colored hair I am someone else entirely. Be that as it may, her husband acts as swirling mass of jealousy hell bent on exposing her treachery.
If not for her kind manner and open disposition that shop would have no business. The husband was not even close to a master at his craft. The talent and devotion laid in Crissa’s lap alone. Her husband works hard but he knew well he proves useless other than his shrewd business sense. It sours his heart towards Crissa and leaves him cold and cruel.
Why do I know all that?
I rub by head as I walk away. The details pour into my mind effortlessly. It felt as though I had lived my life along side that woman. In reality, I have only entertained an idle thought of seducing her. Plain as day, Crissa resents her husband. To me it is just an opportunity to profit.
The foul power bestowed upon me tells me things about people I never wanted to know. The man huddles crouched on the street. I see a tale of a man betrayed by a business partner and left out in the cold. A glance at the guard shows me a cruel man that uses his station to draw blood as he wishes. A story hangs over every man and woman in this city.
I know there are many in the city that deserve to die. This sight goes against my instincts. I fought for money and I’m damn good at it. In the pit I never knew the other man’s story. He just needed his face punched in and I got paid.
This complicated things. I choose now. I decide who lives and dies.
My shoulder flinches as a man crashes into me. I keep my balance easily while the man stumbles to the way side.
“Hey! Watch where you’re goin’ Princess.”
My eye twitches, I recognize the man instantly. Josta the Brick. He proves one of the few men I couldn’t defeat in the pits. He earns his name because of his durability and his lack of finesse. His clumsiness eclipsed only by the power of his punches.
My body slides backwards from a firm shove. Familiar memories flood through me. The same stiff arm would have floored me in the pit. This felt more like a child on a schoolyard playing bully.
“I think you owes me an apology.” Josta had drink on his breath. No doubt staggering home from spending his winnings on booze and whores.
“I don’t owe you shit,” I say. Instinct grips me and I lower into a familiar stance. Hands high, stomach tucked and weight low and steady.
Josta laughs. Even as drunk as he was, he knew the air of a pit fighter when he saw one. His eyes narrows into a sneer.
Rage bubbles up in me. I know why he laughs. Bright eyed youths looking for glory always come into the pits. They leave with scars and broken noses. To him I am just a pup.
“You have spirit, Princess.” Josta says with a sleepy stagger. “But I’d tear you in two. Stay out of the–“
The crack of my fist square in his face was my response. My muscles tense as I could feel the bones in his nose splinter. I almost forgot the satisfaction of landing the first blow. He staggers backwards as a cloud of blood explodes on the front of his face.
Josta managed to stay standing. His hand lifted to the ruin of his nose and his eyes locked on me. His eyes looked sober. His eyes smile as much as his bloodstained teeth.
“Hoal.” Josta said with a dark grin. “You can’t fool me with that face. That sort of punch, you always wanted to give me, but was too much of a puss to do so.”
He beckons to me, taunting. This was the Brick. A bloodied nose broken for a dozen times would not stop him.
I hesitate. I can see Josta’s life lingering about him. I could see the truth of his past. Family is destitution stricken by the dark plague that took so many. Each and every one of his fights, the coin went to his family. They all died one by one until Josta stood alone and broken.
He lashes out with a punch. My body dodges before I can even consider. Raw instinct grips me while my hesitation clenches my heart. I reach upward, snag his arm, and twist it into an arm lock.
He knows. He knows who I am…
I glance back and realize we’re alone on the street. The initial punch did nothing to draw attentions of nearby guard… not yet.
I push and barrel him to a nearby alleyway. He grunts in surprise at my power. He twists and settles on the wall. Josta stares at me intently and pauses to wipe away the blood on his face.
In all the times he had fought Josta, he had never seen him do that. Even blinded by blood he would fight on until his opponent quivered on the ground unconscious. Confusion, fear and doubt hung in his cold eyes.
I could see it as though it was a book. Josta stands a broken man. Fighting just to fight… his purpose shattered by apathy of the world about him. He stands as a threat to me. Marlea says I am dead to the world. If this man knows… just from one punch.
Not played for mercy
This is about survival.
I’m sorry old friend.
I reach out with my hands. Josta raises his own in defense against a punch that does not come. My right hand settles on his shoulder, my left on the side of his face. With a firm twist his neck snaps. Josta falls to the ground lifeless.
I feel it immediately. The flow of power. The blood in me races and drinks in death.
The feeding is not literal. His blood spills on the ground and his eyes are wide and lifeless. But the details of Josta life filter down to this single moment. I consume everything about him.
“Hey!” The guard’s voice calls behind me. The same one on the street prior.
I step aside out of instinct. I feel calm and unthreatened.
The guard walks past me as though I don’t exist, focused on the ruin of Josta’s corpse. I open my mouth to speak but decide against it.
“Not another one,” the guard says. He turns to me and frowns. “Are you all right sir?”
I gape. I killed this man, clearly. I even still have the blood–
I look at my hand. It is clean, even devoid of the scuff caused by impact with Josta’s battered face. To the guard I am but an unarmed man, accosted by this mad pit fighter.
“Did you see anything?” The guard spoke, urgency in his voice.
“No,” I say, “His neck is broken.”
“Another one…” The guard tenses. “Damn it all. If you’re fine then please get out of here. It’s not safe.”
“Thank you,” I say.
Understanding grips me. I had devoured Josta’s life and even the motivations to his murder. The guard is no idiot. The story lingering about him tells me this. He simply cannot suspect me. I can get away with anything I want.
I offer a shallow bow and turn to walk out of the alley.
The sheep cannot see
that a wolf is among them
I shall drink deeply.