For the briefest moment, the smoke parted, revealing the apparent tranquillity of the statue erected before it blanket over them again. A mass of bone sewn together under the strength of flesh leather, ‘Fury’.

Amongst the crowded mess of people, rancid odours rose from the cluster. Flies gathered on backs, attracted by years of sweat and blood. To see such a group from far away, one might imagine a sounder of swine or herd of cattle. To be in such a horde might be described as hell. With the thick air of burning flesh and ash beginning to dissipate, many would stare lifelessly into the night sky, instinctively exploring other worlds through their mind’s eye. But with the stars comes the light, and with the light, an opportunity. An opportunity missed by many.

Under the shroud of darkness, it is always hard to notice a calf missing from the flock, there is a meager shift of power as the blind regain sight. Z, acutely aware of this, matted his locks stiffly together in an attempt to clear his vision. Many years he had waited for the clear of night, such a rare occurrence always warrants action.

Waiting for the Light Tower to move its eyes from him, Z rubbed sand in between his hand, fine rock scratches and grips to course leather, softened only by fresh scars. With the beam of light moving from him, a deep breath cuts through the silent ringing. Far from the flaming glare of the tower, moonlight finally poured out of the clouds, kissing the skin. Not bright enough to burn like the sun or the fire from those wretched Light Towers, but enough to navigate through the crowd of ghosts.

During the first moon nights, Z would be cautious not to let his face be seen – this mattered little to him now, however. His face so bloodied and bruised from constant rounds in the Grinder, it would be hard to distinguish him from any other Wraith. Wraith… he hated that name, only another way to identify those forced to compete for life or become food. It was not as though they were hard to miss, simply look for the cluster of bones being held together in a bloodied suit of shredded flesh.

As he floated through the masses, the blinding flicker of fire glared into his eyes, again revealing his humbled face. His cheekbones protrude as if meat had been cut away in chunks leaving only bone, had it not been for starvation, a muscular chiselled jaw would be visible. One eye sparkled turquoise, mimicking the beauty above him. His other was muddied from the cold touch of steel, leaving the raw skin open, brow to cheek, that never fully healed. In the still of the night, the sound pulsing of blood was all that filled Z’s mind. Looking into the night sky, his muscles turned to stone, he could do little more than hope the Wardens didn’t notice him. The scrape of metal quickly confirmed what many believed was to come. The ground quaked with every step, a hulking slab of muscle and pain moving ever closer. All eyes became fixated on the ground, not out of respect or even fear, but of hope that he would not choose you.

Disgruntled moans and grunts could be heard as people were thrust to the side. The grotesque shadow slowly crawled onto him from the ground until there was no more light, only the plumes of sand and dust that came with each bellowing huff out of the nostrils of the monster before him. Eyes burning like embers behind twisted, taut, tough metal wire beaten into the shape of a creature with horns sharpened and serrated to tear muscle from bone. His stare rested on him like weights on his shoulders, the earth stood still, gravity pulled harder, despair once again suffocated the air, swelling in his chest as he inhaled it in.

The sky split as screams tore through the silence like shards of glass. It was always easy to tell the difference between the screams of terror, horror or pain. This was pain, high pitched, desperate, constant, screeching, leaving hairs on end. All heard this scream, it was expected during the nights, but only few had ever experienced the excruciating torment that happened in that shack of rusted metal and blood. Z touched his shoulder, reminding him again of the aroma of his burning skin.

The suddenness of the pain that surrounded them grabbed everyone’s attention, even the beast towering over him. A moment was all he needed, like smoke in the wind, he vanished, leaving the colossal beast dazed and confused. In a fit of anger he instinctively grabs the closest Wraith in front of him followed by a mighty roar and muffled sobbing. It wasn’t the smartest or strongest who survived these lands, but the lucky.

Z had never had much good fortune in his life, but the mistress of life did bestow upon him his greatest asset. Speed. None could run faster. During the earliest days of the Great Dry, everyone ran, most were caught or killed. Z ambitiously though he might never be taken. But those who brave the sand mountains are either with one of the mainy mighty warlords or are already dead and just waiting to die. With the speed he had, he developed his stealth and his fighting, even when in the Grinder he would always survive till there was only one other left.

His body was long and thin, except his shoulders. They were broad and strong, much like his fathers, according to his mother. He hated this the most, the size of his upper torso made his life difficult, more visible, less nimble, threatening. Z especially hated his body for what was to come. A large gate made entirely from iron and fire, supposedly unclimbable, but fortunately, it wasn’t impassible. A narrow hole, barely large enough for a dog to fit through. Hidden from all, save those who already knew where it was. It was impossible to get past without gashes and pain. But he had to do it, like every time before – and like every time before, it was always worth it.

Beyond the gate, between the rusted metal, he saw the flickering gentle candle, silhouettes gracefully dance and sway on the flowing translucent cloth. Twenty meters above him a flat sheet of tin clanked in the wind. To prevent people attempting to climb over, the metal was often covered in various assortments of oil and fuel. Clumps of sand and oil formed between his fingers, metal shards lodged themselves into their new comfy home, his forearms seized up, becoming as strong as the metal he climbed. Z knew this was no place to linger. Sliding the tin sheet to the side he began to pull himself through the labyrinth of death. Wardens would patrol the top of the wall often, the thuds of boots over hollow metal were constant. The size of the hole gradually decreased as you came closer and closer to the exit. The final meter was no larger than the size of his chest, with each inch closer Z exhaled more and more until his lungs were emptied of all air, allowing him to squeeze further. His fingers gripped the outside of the hole, one final pull was needed. Stillness surrounded him, no thuds of boots, no chatter of Wardens, only the steady breathing directly above him. Blood rushed to Z’s head, each pulse could be felt through his body. Patience is abundant amongst the soulless bodies of the Wraith. The metal once again vibrates as the Warden moves on. 

A quiet roll on shifting sands might have been all that was heard from Z that night. Pulling the smooth cloth to one side, he laid his eyes on silky hair and soft skin. The comforters to the Fury. Lost in thought of lust and enveloped by basic instincts, Z stood in awe of the beauty that had only come to him in his dreams. The peace was rudely interrupted by a loud crack. His face stung, cheeks vibrated. A heavy pinch pulled him up by his still rosy cheek, only one person every pinched his face. He knew it was her anyway, his mother had the same eyes as him.

“Azeal?!”

He always hated that name too.

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