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1. 1. Mark of the Beast.

On hasty legs, Ashur Michaels trod through the thick of fillmore's renowned forest. Sturdy, youthful good looks buried beneath a dirty, blue and red baseball cap. A nest of dirty-blonde hair, buried underneath the tattered chattel. His steely blue eyes, brimmed with hope and desperation. Motivating his firm, planted legs that dug into the moist, leaf-padded ground.

A copious mist hung amidst the trees. Its endless and impenetrable fog, blurring his mortal vision. Some called it a blanket for the evil, a safe haven for the guilty, and refuge to the weak. Ashur was neither of those people, but he’d endured enough.

Moreover, he was no mere criminal. No older than 19 years old, he’d had his demons, too. He feared more than the eerie darkness, blanketing the forest. He cowered under the gaze of a man, more than he dreaded the thought of hypothermia. A wicked testament to whatever he was so desperate to free himself from.

When the blood-curdling howl of a wolf ripped through the air, Ashur paled. Feeling the swift, cold kick of fear in the bottom of his abdomen. Hastening his heartbeat, but freezing his body in an unwilling and abrupt halt. Crushing branches and dead leaves, under the heavy weight of his abhorrence.

”You better not be a hungry wolf,” Ashur grumbled to himself.

He wondered then, if it was a foolish idea to run away, at such an hour. When a stingy moon chose to be unkind in the sharing of it's silver effulgence. Keeping its light above the brawny branches, of tall, sinewy redwood and pine. Where ghost-like whistles of the wind, sang through the leaves and branches in a taunting symphony.

Consequently, The night, was cold and unforgiving with its environment. The reason many unlike Ashur, admired it from a safer distance. Blots of fresh blood, sept from the tiny wounds on his left arm. That, coupled with the cold of the night that glanced his skin, caused pimples to rise on his flustered flesh. Taking a shot at his sanity, or rather his motivation to continue his journey.

A twig broke abaft Ashur, and his head swiveled around. Unfortunately, he faced more darkness, and a thick mist that’d come out of nowhere. Ashur’s breathing hastened, but he clutched his knapsack against him.

”There's no way in hell I'm becoming wolf food.” He blustered, elevating the warmth he needed to stop shivering.

Once upon a time, Ashur found peace in darkness. With the sight of an eagle, and the reflexes of a cat, he learned parkour. A dangerous pass-time, that satiated Ashur’s unease. He had yet to encounter any danger, but his dreams played tricks on his mind. Nevertheless, he took off through the trees, letting the adrenaline from his fear fuel him.

He had only one thing on his mind. To clear the forest and cross the Fallmire River. He could smell the water from a channel of streams, running against its moss-ridden beds. A two-mile mark, that left him with another three to enter into BlackFall, the neighboring Town.

Ashur had no other means of transport but his legs, so he put them to use. Displaying acrobatic grace, and reflexive dodges and turns in an unpredictable forest. Unlike rooftops, forests had no symmetry or very little to no straight lines. It took everything out of Ashur to not fold, but he had no other choice.

Another howl erupted through the trees again, distracting Ashur for a mere nanosecond. The sound of legs, but more than one pair, ran beside him. He could sense a malevolent energy, that left a cold feeling crawling up his spine.

Ashur’s pace revived and his breath became brutal, with billows of fog escaping his mouth. Each admission of breath cramping his teeth, and drying his chapped lips. Yet he progressed further into the thick of the trees. Trusting that he wasn't prey to some savage beast, lurking in the shadows.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, as a newfound fear surmounted inside him. His head arced to the left, and he stiffened—air lodging in his throat. A thing from his dreams, so vivid he lost track of his feet and they almost buckled below him. Two glowing dots, surfaced from a gathering of tree, still hidden in the fog. The two eyes, glowed like the embers of a dying fire and Ashur had never felt more frightened. Yet that trepidation, was what kept him moving.

Ashur focused his gaze before him, in time to see the edge of a ravine. His eyes widened, mouth parting in a sharp gasp as he inched closer, unable to stop himself. He calculated the other side, to be at least ten feet wide. Unfortunately, he could not see the bottom.

His head flashed around, frantic and red with desperation. Ashur searched for the glowing red dots, unable to spot them again. At the edge of the ravine, Ashur gathered as much momentum as his lithe body would allow. Somersaulting at the right moment to avoid a fall, that could very well have been his demise. He could feel gravity threatening to pull him down, but he kept his legs and arms swinging. Oblivious to the speed, and precision he withheld. The force of his jump had so much power, he could clear the ravine with ease.

Ashur began smiling in triumph, until he saw the outline of a large animal. In the air, jumping alongside him. The knee-jerk reaction, had Ashur flailing like a wild cat in the air.

“Holy fuck!” Ashur cursed, breaking a nasty fall, by plummeting face down, on the moist, hard forest floor. Wheezing, coughing, and clutching whatever part of his body felt broken.

In light of his injuries, Ashur heard the rustle of leaves nearby. He had forgotten the wolf he’d seen, but not for too long. His body ached, raging fires of malady pulsating through his entire nervous system. As if it weren’t the most odd occurrence, that blinding pain became sizzling tingles. Ones that sent his body aflame, in a fit of vibrations. Abrasions, slits, and scrapes, began morphing, disappearing from his skin. Ashur was left dumbfounded by it, yet his shocked expression could only last for those few meager seconds. For once more, the threat of the wolf flashed through his mind like a panorama of horror.

"Hello?" He called out to the night, uncertain he would receive a reply.

The soft pattering of feet emanated from his left, and his fear rose at an exponential level. Forcing a shiver through his unwilling body.

"Is anybody out there?" He asked yet again. Foolish in a quest, he had no idea the danger of.

The footsteps got closer and the growl of the beast, raised his pressure. A bed of brush moved to Ashur’s right, and leaves shuffled beneath the feet of the beast that lurked closer to him. His face became ashen, when the red eyes re-appeared.

Only this time, much closer.

Ashur crawled backwards on his rear, head shaking in disbelief. Breath trembling, when he came face-to-face with a feral looking wolf. Dark, matted fur that glistened under the glow of the moon. Red, vengeful eyes settling on Ashur, who couldn’t believe the size of the beast or the sight before his eyes. In that moment, he felt his death but his mind screamed for him to run. To flee, in hopes of preserving his life a little longer.

Misfortune became Ashur’s luck, when his spine rested upon the thick, rugged trunk of a tree. As if on cue, the creature’s canines revealed themselves, as though prepared to tear into his flesh. Ashur sat frozen, as the cruel, heady breath of the wolf assaulted his nostrils. Even his stomach swayed, as the stench of decay and death stole whatever fresh air Ashur had tried to inhale.

In lieu of this, he had no resistance against the savage beast. Eyes so malicious, Ashur could feel them envisioning his bloody slaughter. The threatening snarls that emitted from the wolf’s loosened jaws, ensured that he did.

Without warning the Wolf lunged at Ashur, who covered his face with his right hand. Letting out a piercing scream as canines ripped into the flesh of his lower arm. With so much savagery, Ashur expected the pain to last longer.

Yet, it seemed it was only in his head.

His eyes were still closed shut, but the assault of the Wolf was no more. Forcing his eyes open, Ashur peeked from behind his arm--but nothing was there. The beast vanished into thin air, as if it weren't there the past two seconds before. Ashur checked his arm, noticing the large, bloody tear in the fabric of his sweater. His eyes narrowed, suspicion arising when his hand, revealed no scar.

No teeth marks of any kind, that oozing blood. Just the torn, tattered sleeve of his jacket.

”What the,” Ashur began, spinning, turning, and scanning his arm. He looked down at his torso, noticing a large stain of blood, dirtying his top. “Where’s the,” Ashur swiveled his head upwards, then to the right.

His body froze where he sat, hunched up against the tree when another howl ripped through the air. It sounded a distance away, but still Ashur chose not to take any chances whatsoever. The pain had subsided, which to Ashur, seemed impossible. He took it as a sign, that he was to continue living, even if the questions to follow bothered him. Consequently, he climbed to his feet and dashed off through the trees. His legs throbbing, as his face contorted into one of immaculate distress. His breathing grew shallow, bringing him to exhaustion. Fear being the only thing that kept him moving.

After what seemed like hours of running, Ashur cleared the forest. Finally, to his good fortune he ran out, unto a deserted freeway.

Or so he thought.

The loud blare of a horn echoed, ringing Ashur’s eardrums. Headlights blinding him, forcing him to cover his eyes instead of jump for cover. Fortunately, the driver of the vehicle swerved to the right. Sending the car into a wild tailspin, as it careened to the left of the road. Burning rubber filling the air, as the car screeched to a rumbling halt. Without a second of despair, the driver of the vehicle emerged.

"Are you out of your mind?!” A deep baritone rumbled through the air, like the roar of a beast. Under the glow of the moon, and headlights, Detective Varic Tate revealed himself.

Before Ashur could respond, Tate grabbed his arm, pulling him up from the ground. “Hey! Take it easy, I’m not a lowlife.” Ashur demanded, unable to understand the man’s dominant presence.

“I don’t know.” Tate grimaced, giving Ashur a once over. Scrutiny dead-set in his eyes. Eyes that were the attention grabbing kind. “You look like one.“

”Pff!” Ashur sassed, yanking his arm from the man’s grip. It was then that Ashur saw, the badge. A detective badge, etched with gold and silver.

Ashur deduced the man to be in his early thirties, with a temper and a possible drinking problem. Even his dangerous, but investigative aura gave Ashur the creeps. The badge explained it all, but even then, Ashur did nothing wrong.

"Are you trying to get yourself killed, Kid!" The man challenged, but Ashur was too shaken to reply.

"I-, I'm sorry. I was being chased by s-something in the woods-," he started but the detective interrupted.

"The woods are dangerous at night.” Tate loomed closer to Ashur, who then noticed another gem about his detective friend.

Tate’s gun, holstered beneath the jacket he wore, was easy to notice. Another eye-catcher, was the long, distinct scar that started below his hairline, on the left of his face. It was ominous at first, but Ashur’s eyes trailed from the stranger's forehead, down beneath his left eye. His eyes widened, then he jumped back with a sharp gasp. It was obvious that whatever inflicted the scar, left the man blinded in the left eye. Strangely, Ashur began wondering why that freaked him out, as much as it did.

“You’re-,” Ashur‘s words came to a halt, when the man held a hand up. Ordering Ashur to be quiet.

“Blind in the left eye?“ Tate asked gruffly, sucking his teeth in a bitter manner. The snarky glare on Ashur’s face, giving him reason to smolder and attempt intimidation. “What’s new?” He asked, shrugging, yet demanded an answer. Eyes glued behind Ashur, who had no choice but to slump under his heavy, judgmental expression. Ashur's body shivered, pondering the possibility of the wolf returning. He could feel the same aura, but it wasn’t as daunting as the first time he’d come in contact with its strange feeling.

”Why were you running?”

“I was trying to get to Blackfall. The woods are the faster option, and I don’t have a vehicle.” Ashur rolled his eyes, but the strangers eyes, or eye, demanded his attention.

“What happened to your arm?” Ashur’s eyes flew to his arm, but he had no way to explain. “You’re bleeding. Who did this to you?”

“I-I don’t know! I was running through the woods, and I felt like I was being chased so I started running. I fell....I had to jump over a ravine, and then there was this really big wolf-.” Ashur’s ramblings ended, just as he ran out of breath.

The stranger, Detective Tate, peered at Ashur. For a small fraction of a second, his eyes glinted against the moonlight. Senses then arose, that Tate had turned off for many reasons. He then began questioning why he needed to, for a pungent evil, left its stench in the air.

Something wicked, and familiar.

"You're coming with me."

”Why?! I didn't do anything.” Ashur demanded.

He made futile attempts to free himself of Tate's grip. Demanding to know why he was being detained, when he was a victim. Leaving himself lowered to the standard of an unlucky orphan, who trouble found wherever he went. Once again, dealt the hand of a system, that saw him and judged in the blink an eye.

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