There are whispers handed down from old,
That ancient legends are truth-told;
Yet hidden away in myth and tale,
For a scoffer’s word to ne’er unveil.
There were giants in the earth in those days and the earth was filled with violence through them.
Sambeth lay motionless, listening. The soft grass cushioned her aching body. A blood red sun shone through her eyelids. She was slick with sweat, her limbs heavy but she mustn’t sleep. Not here where creatures roamed, untamed and increasingly savage. Hiding among the trees. The same towering canopy filtered the pulsing light. It cast a dappled pattern on her eyes, sore and dry from bitter tears.
I must get away from them. All of them. Far, far away.
A breath of fragrant air wafted past bearing a floral scent and every sense she possessed tuned into the depths of this great, green jungle that stretched across the face of earth. It was here, in the glade, where she stopped her headlong flight and threw herself down, gasping and trembling, seeking a moment to catch her breath.
She was some distance away from Arca, far enough beyond the city perimeter and deep enough in the most dangerous of forests to feel safe from pursuit. Her breathing returned to normal. The deceptive tranquillity of this secluded place settled the thunder of her blood.
The rustle of something heavy in the undergrowth propelled her to her feet. She chided herself silently.
Only her wits would keep her safe until she reached the tree. Pip would be there. She clung to that hope.
Automatically she brushed the dirt off her pants, noticing with a grimace that her hands still shook. By some miracle she’d escaped the bloodied banquet hall, dodging and weaving her way through the city, evading her pursuers until she escaped over the walls of Arca.
Her eyes closed, reliving the horror of that morning. Those last moments. The silent plea in her mother’s eyes for Sambeth to run!
In the midst of her hectic thoughts, Sambeth realised an unnatural hush had fallen over the forest. Even the birds were silent. With an instinct quicker than thought she rolled under a thick, bristly bush.
Into the clearing stepped a man. Or so he appeared to be. Except this was a creature of unearthly beauty and grace. His height was immense and he exuded such a presence of power and strength that Sambeth shook with the effort of restraining a cry of both terror and delight. She knew him at once and the bile rose in her throat. Altor, Earthborn son of the Fallen One.
“This place is perfect,” he called over a massive shoulder and swung around to face the way he had come.
Following him came an unusually small party to be venturing this far into the Endless Forest. Sambeth recognised the deep, blood-coloured robes of the priests of Asherah. Bands of terror tightened around her throat. The Asherah were the men of her legal father. The Asheran High Priest.
He would sentence her to death. Sambeth froze waiting for footsteps to approach her sanctuary and drag her out. No one came. Sambeth allowed herself to breathe and peer through the branches into the glade.
Filing along after the Asherah came dark-haired Arcan men and they brought with them three girls. She saw at a glance that the girls were both beautiful and highborn. Only the best for the fallen invaders. Sambeth breathed in quietly, a prickle of dread skittering up the back of her neck. The men were silent. Sambeth searched for one filled with reluctance, grief or anger but the faces of the Arcan guardians were cold.
With horror, Sambeth realised they were preparing to do a Cleansing. A frown gathered the edges of her eyebrows and drew them together. Cleansings took place in the city. Surely the Asherah couldn’t perform the dreaded ritual out here without the permission or presence of the Fallen One?
The blood-soaked priests of the Order of Asherah had usurped the city as much as the invading Fallen One, Proximus. They subdued the people in the name of the Fallen One. Their dark rituals and magical practices at once awed and terrified the unsuspecting Arcans. They arranged the Cleansings that took revenge upon all women for his Fall and reminded the men who was master now.
One of the Asherah moved among the girls. He lifted a hand to each forehead tracing a mysterious sign. Two of them trembled pitifully. Their beautiful faces gazed imploringly at their male guardians and then at the splendid figure of the Earthborn. He also shook but with anticipation not fear. His eyes blazed and his mouth opened. He looked as if he were trying to breath in the great waves of terror emanating from the doomed girls.
“Let us begin,” he commanded.
The priesthood of Asherah took their places in a semi-circle before him. The Arcan men bowed and pushed the girls forward into the semi-circle to stand alone on the soft, green grass.
“O Son of the Great Proximus,” the Asherah intoned, “mighty in deeds. Clothed in glory. All the Earth salutes you.”
Their robes whispered as they bowed before him. One of the girls sobbed aloud with fright.
“These men of Arca have brought from their Houses select pledges of their utmost devotion toward you.”
Altor laughed with pleasure. He gazed at the girls and the fingers on each of his great hands twitched. His eyelids drooped down over the beautiful, incandescent blue of his eyes. In her hidden spot Sambeth shivered. To observe such evil, to see how it transformed the perfection of those features into something hideous and repulsive caused a sickness in her stomach.
A priest stepped close to the girls. He gazed searchingly into the eyes of each one. Sambeth did not recognise him. Most of the Asherah were in and out of her father’s house all day and she knew them by sight. Altor, son of Proximus must have established his own segment of priests. This one selected a girl and motioned her forward.
“No,” Altor interrupted, “bring me that one.”
He pointed to the girl still sobbing.
In her precarious fastness inside the bush, Sambeth screwed her eyes tight shut and put her hands over her ears.
I do not want to see this, I do not want to hear this, I do not want to know this!’
A dragging sound penetrated her tightly pressed fingers. Sambeth knew the girl fought her fate. Sambeth pictured the father’s face radiating suppressed hatred, resentful his possession was plucked out of his grip. The sweet face of the girl, so young and innocent and scared rose behind her eyelids. This one was slight. She had great dark eyes and finely marked eyebrows. Sneaking a look, Sambeth saw her lips quivering. As she got closer to Altor she lost all control.
She screamed and started to struggle frantically.
“No, no, pleeeease!” she cried, a heart wrenching sound to Sambeth’s ears but Altor had all the killer instincts of a wild panther.
The more fear his victim displayed the greater enjoyment he had. The struggling, and crying and screaming stoked the fires of bloodlust in his unnatural heart and with a bound he leaped forward.
Sambeth pressed her hands hard against her ears, faintly humming, to shut out any noise of the pitiful slaughter. Tears streamed down her face as she pushed it into the softness of grass. Small bits of twigs and dirt scratched against her skin. Again a faint breath of wind slipped past her, this time carrying the smell of human flesh and warm blood.
Minutes passed before she dared to loosen her hands or open her eyes. Still the forest was silent except for the horrible deeds in front of her. Not a bird sounded, no creature stirred. The second girl also shrieked, cried and went brutally to her death but the last one was different. She was calm. Inscrutable. Not a muscle twitched on her smooth, white face.
She did not try to escape but walked serenely forward holding the frenzied Altor in a quiet stare. Dignity and pride showed in every line of her graceful figure and in the regal carriage of her head. Hair spilled over her shoulders like a silken black mirror. Altor sobered instantly. With every deliberate step she took toward him, his expression changed and the bloodlust faded out of his eyes.
“Well,” his voice purred, “what is this?”
She didn’t speak but came to a stop right in front of him, her eyes set on an empty space over his shoulder.
The silence lengthened and Sambeth saw Altor’s fingers twitch again. He lifted a hand and Sambeth prepared to screw her eyes shut once more. The Earthborn simply ran a light finger down the girl’s cheek and took a strand of her hair, letting it slip through his fingers.
“Such beauty,” he said quietly, “and courage.”
A quiet cough sounded.
“My lord, shall we continue?” the priest asked.
Altor flung up a hand, silencing him. With hands behind his back, the huge son of Proximus, half human and half angel, walked slowly around the girl. He was hideous, covered in blood and gore. Still, she ignored him, the dark eyes stared straight ahead. Her head held high yet without arrogance. She was simply remote.
“I haven’t experienced the Fixation that lured my father from the skies.”
Altor paused in front of her, “Now I understand. I feel it, when I look at you.”
The girl’s eyelashes flickered and for a split second her icy composure wavered. Sambeth saw her swallow and press her lips tight.
Sambeth knew that the girl had readied herself for death but not marriage with an Earthborn.
“I despise the puny, snivelling daughters of men. The pleasure is in their terror, the smell of fear and then…”
His eyes closed as he breathed in deeply a look of ecstasy on his face. A crease appeared between his brows and he looked at the silent girl once more.
“You are different,” he said, “cold as stone and proud.”
Altor circled her slowly. The snapping silence riveted the attention of all.
“My brothers have taken many women. Their children are powerful. As we are. I will do the same.
He swung around and faced the assembly of Asherah and men from Arca.
“Let it be known,” he declared, “this woman is mine.”
Sambeth breathed a deep breath of relief but horror spasmed across the pale face of the ebony-haired girl. The look vanished as quickly as it came. She was calm again. She would bear offspring to this insane killer. If she lived long enough.
A man stepped forward. Although tall, the Earthborn dwarfed him.
“We did not speak of taking my ward in marriage, Altor,” the man growled.
He barely dipped his head toward the prince. Altor swung around from his rapt contemplation of the girl.
“What?” He roared and his voice was like the sound of many waterfalls, “Ben-Adad, do you dare question anything I would choose to do?”
His eyes lost their heavenly blue and smouldered red.
“Would Proximus question it?” came the fierce reply.
The man stood poised on the balls of his feet, hand on the hilt of his sword. His body was coiled, tense and ready to leap into action if required. The other men were also ready. The Asherah twitched and murmured soothingly to Altor.
“My father would care not,” Altor answered after a quiet pause, “and nor would my brothers.”
“Then why do we meet here in the backside of the forest, so far from the city?” he asked, “Why are we bringing an offering to you?”
Altor snarled, “Are you not content that your ward’s life is preserved? And not only that, through her your family name will be preserved forever?”
“Your father defeated us in battle but the people still look to me, Altor, and we are many. Your grip is not so sure upon our necks.”
He looked over at his niece and she, after giving him a cold look, returned to gazing impassively into the distance.
He turned his attention back to the powerful figure in front of him.
“I would prefer to see my beloved niece, Rija, dead than the mother of your twisted offspring. No matter how powerful or what unearthly power they will possess.
The man paused, breathing hard, his lips pulled back in a hideous grimace, “The whole bloodline of men is in danger from the foul contamination of the Fallen Ones!”
Altor threw back his head and laughed aloud.
“Just so, my friend,” he sneered, “the other Fallen Ones and their progeny are overrunning the south, east and west. Soon the populations on earth will belong to us – they will become us.”
He cackled again, “Human kind will be no more.”
Altor turned his back on the gathering and stripped off to the waist.
One of his guards stepped forward with a damp towel and fresh garments. Altor wiped himself clean and dressed swiftly.
A sudden wind rushed through the clearing. The priests’ crimson robes flapped. The dark hair of the remaining girl whipped around her head. Sambeth’s sheltering bush swayed so violently she was nearly exposed.
Into the clearing he strode. The Fallen One, Watcher of the 7th, a magnificent angelic figure. The humans knew him as Proximus.
The Asherah fell flat on their faces. The men dropped to their knees. Only Altor’s opponent, Ben-Adad, resisted. With a mighty effort the man remained on his feet as did Altor.
“Father!” Altor cried and in his voice was a strange mix of affection, fear, pride and awe.
“Yes, Altor,” the Fallen One replied tranquilly.
“It is a pleasure to see you – as always,” his son replied.
The Fallen One gazed around the clearing taking in every detail. He was shorter than the gigantic stature of his son yet he too was of extraordinary beauty and his presence gripped them. Every man in the clearing stared unable to look away, mesmerised with an awe and fear they couldn’t describe.
He turned to Altor.
“Amusing yourself, I see,” his expression was bland but there was an unsettling look at the back of his eyes.
Altor dropped his gaze and did not reply. The silence lengthened.
“I wonder what you are doing out here, Altor,” he looked at the bloody remains, “and why you are taking a tribute due to me?”
Altor tapped his thigh, a dark frown curling his brows.
“These Arcans are getting too restless,” he growled, gesturing around at the three guardians.
Proximus gazed searchingly at the men. They shifted uneasily, unable to meet his clear, knowing eyes.
He snapped his attention back to Altor.
“Perhaps it is a good thing you are out here already.”
Altor’s eyebrows lifted.
A subtle expression rippled across the Fallen One’s face and a corner of his mouth curled up. Sambeth, peering in utter terror through the prickly branches of her bush, saw that the smile never reached the cold eyes.
“I’ve had news that he might be out here.”
Altor flung up his head to stare at Proximus. He took a step forward, ferocious eagerness in every limb.
“You mean Noesh?”
“The noose is tightening. My informant will tell me his exact location very soon.”
“Where? You must move quickly to destroy him, father,” Altor exclaimed, “the myth that he will finish us lingers in the minds of men.”
Unnoticed by anyone but Sambeth, the girl called Rija edged herself out of the main group until she stood at the very edge of the clearing. Every other person was gripped by the intensity between Proximus and his massive son. Fear clutched at Sambeth’s throat.
‘She’s going to make a run for it,’ she thought, ‘and if she does they’ll be after her and will search under every tree – and bush!’
By the time she thought this through, terror buzzed in her ears again and that blind instinct that causes people to act before they can even think coursed through her veins.
Categories: Biblical Adaptation, Fantasy, Young Adult, Adventure, ActionTags: Fallen Angels, Dragons, Primeval Earth, Strong Female Protagonist
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