The Leopard & The Raven
The land was silent, as clouds hung above the woodlands like a morning gown, the final curtain call of a sorrowful play.
There was a prowling Leopard, who had forgotten how to blink. He sported a scar on his chest. So mangled and jagged, running from his chest all the way to his abdomen, the color ranging from pale pink to scarlet red. His tail twitching, as he made his way towards the river. He heard fluttering wings, his friend The Raven was flying towards him, with quite grace too.
The presence of his old friend prompted The Leopard to look up. And sure enough there he was flying above him.
“Good day, my good pouncer,” said The Raven, “was today a good day for you?”
“It was fine,” The Leopard remarked.“Woke up, killed three pheasants, went to sleep, and now I’m looking for the river to sate more hunger.”
“Ah,” The Raven nodded, “mine was beautiful too, I woke up to buzzing bees, did some stretching, gouged out some dead things eye, took a long water bath, after that I went to chat up the flowers and-”
The Leopard blocked him out and kept walking. He was running off his beak again.
After his rambling was finished, The Raven started looking at various places at once, trying to remember something.
“Oh, right!” he exclaimed as he inched closer, “Did you know that The Wolf died four moons ago today?”
“Really?” The Leopard exclaimed in surprise. “The same wolf that campaigned eternal slaughter upon all that were dirty and impure?”
“Uh-huh,” he said, “threw himself off a cliff before The Ram could kill him.”
“The Ram?” The Leopard questioned. “Who was this Ram?”
“One of the first that fought him, you never knew?”
“No, I’ve never heard of a Ram from anyone.”
“True,” The Raven conceded, “I don't think he’ll be remembered as much as his adversary...”
“No, I don't think he will.”
The river was now in sight, adorned with grass and stone in its edges. The Leopard stood at the edge in wait as his eyes looked for fishes to eat.
“Are you sure that it was this...” The Leopard struggled with the word, “Ram, that dealt most of the wounds?”
“Yes,” The Raven nodded, “why do you ask?”
“After he gave me this little gift,” he gestured towards his chest, his eyes never leaving the water, “I sent green, lanky snakes to kill him, didn't do much I suppose.”
Silence invited itself into the conversation, refusing to leave for a while. The silence served not as peace, but as a prologue to a climax. The Leopard launched forward and caught a barracuda. Which he then began to beat against a tree and claw with his digits in order to kill it. Grinning with excitement and pride in his eyes.
“How is it, by the way?” The Raven said, uncharacteristically meek.
The Leopard chewed on the meat, and licked blood off his snout. He looked puzzled as to what The Raven was referring to, until he realized it.
“Oh,” he sighed. He looked at the scar, that horrid reminder.
“All I do is get older,” he said as he stared at his kill, “And as I heal, I tire. And when I tire...”
The Raven prompted him to continue with a nod.
“They come back to pester me...”
He seemed confused and unsure, The Raven noted. Who are ‘they’? Are they an animal? Maybe weasels? Most weasels.
Sickened with worry, The Raven asked. “Do you know who they are?”
“They are a pest, Raven,” said The Leopard, his kill completely forgotten. “They are stalkers, ones that exist only inside of your skull, but they are not like Man, and not like animals in the smallest bit.”
The Raven took a minute to think, until he finally mustered up an answer.
“You mean...” he said unsurely, “memories?”
“Yes,” he growled, “worse than any fang or claw they are.”
“Why?” The Raven questioned.
“Whether they be animal or Man, at least when they are done they will end you,” he said. “But not memories, no matter how much they hurt, they will not kill.”
The Leopard’s eyes were somber and dull, no longer keen nor lively. Staring at himself in… nostalgia?
“Do you wanna know something, Raven?” asked The Leopard.
“I like to know things so yes.”
“I know what the happiest day in my life was, and yet I don't remember it...”
“Well, what do you remember?”
“I remember when he gave me this...” he put a paw on his chest, caressing the scar.
“All of the memories within me,” The Leopard laid his head as if to sleep, “those that are calm and serene, come and go like a breeze. But those that are horrible and turbulent, they come, and refuse to ever leave.”
“Can't you just try to focus on the good?” asked The Raven. “I could even present you to the flowers, I’m sure they’ll like you.”
“N-no, no, I can’t, you shouldn't,” he said, “I’ll surely forget them as the full moons pass. And I’ll only remember this day, because of what I had to relive in this little talk.”
The Raven flew briefly, landing on The Leopards head and looked down into his eyes.
“Do you want me to stay?” said The Raven. “For a little while at least?”
The Leopard nodded slightly, as to not knock his friend over.
They stayed silent and never spoke for the rest of their stay together. The Leopard soon fell asleep and The Raven flew back to his nest. Both of them marked by that day, but with different marks in different shapes. The Leopard would forget about the flowers, and how the The Raven’s say was, but his mind would always relive that moment of weakness, of vulnerability. The Raven would not remember that The Wolf or the scar even existed, but would always treasure the openness and intimacy that he shared with The Leopard.
A Timely Interrogation
The bag was removed from his head, and his eyes were assaulted by a bright light above his head. His ears ringing as he wriggled in his chair, a metal table in front of him. He tried to bring his hands up to his face to rub his eyes but when he tried, he noticed that he was in handcuffs.
“Zachary Acacius?” a voice drawled, he couldn't see where it came from.
“Yes, for now at least,” he said, rolling his eyes.
Suddenly the bright light was diminished which allowed him to see that his suspicions were proven correct, he was not the only one in the room. There were two men with him, one was pale with blond hair, the other was tan with black hair. They both wore black suits and-
“You are the FBI aren't you?” he asked, catching both men off guard.
“W-what makes you say that?” One of them stuttered.
“Oh come on, really?” he asked no one in particular, “Black suits, sunglasses, dingy room, bright light in my face, I’m in handcuffs...”
“Alright, alright,” the tanned one said. “You shall address me as Agent O-6, sir are you aware of why you are here?”
“My internet search history?” he joked.
“No,” the blond agent yawned as he held an orange folder, “the problem here is, that you seem to be everywhere and yet no one knows where you are from.”
Once the folder was on the table a total of three pictures spilled out of it. One was blurry. It was of himself sitting at a desk working in an old computer, labeled 1995. The other one was black and white, he was standing next to bespectacled man holding a rifle, with a dead rhino on under his boot, labeled 1910. The last one was scorched around the edges, Zachary could be seen wearing a greatcoat and a red lining on collar coffs, along with a peaked officer’s cap, 1871.
“What is this supposed to be?” he asked, recognizing the third picture.
“You tell us,” Agent O-6 said, “all we know is that these are all pictures of one person, you. And considering you are just 21 years old, we sincerely doubt you could even have been present at the taking of these pictures.”
Zachary started sweating.
“L-listen,” he stuttered, “this all must be some sort of misunderstanding okay? I’m just some loan-crippled desk worker with a side job at McDonald’s.”
“Your file says it’s Burger King.”
“Oh, it’s the same thing,” he complained. “Stop pretending it isn’t!”
The blonde agent looked at him, his patience running thin. Zachary noticed that he had bags under his eyes. He shoved the pictures in front of him and gave him a steely-eyed look.
“I am Agent O-4,” he said suppressing another yawn, “and this is my ultimatum, you can either give us an explanation, or we force it out of you, it's that simple.”
Zachary didn't want to be here, he wanted to embark on another adventure, he would just have to buy himself enough time. After almost a minute of totally careful consideration, Zachary gave his response.
“You see sir, your mother and I are really into cosplaying-”
He was cut off as the agent, without the slightest hint of anger in his face, grabbed Zachary by the hair and slammed his face repeatedly against the steel table. All the while his partner smoked a cigar in the corner of the room, indifferent to what was happening.
After maybe the thirtieth time, Agent O-4’s lack of sleep did not help him in keeping count, he stopped. He dug into his pocket and started to clean his bloodied hands with a handkerchief.
Zachary’s nose was broken, split apart like a canyon, with the crack right in the center, as blood flowed down his face without restraint. His eyes were spilling tears, which seemed to multiply the more he regained his senses. Everything was a haze between consciousness and unconsciousness for Zachary, but the agents didn't seem to care.
“Christ,” Agent O-4 said rubbing his eyes, “I really need to get some sleep, hell I am already tired and I only hit him like what? Twenty times?”
“You want me to bring you some coffee?” Agent O-6 asked, “The machine is kinda far away from this interrogation room, but I don't mind doing the trip.”
“I’d like that, thanks,” he said.
As the agent left the room to look for coffee, Zachary's mind began to turn like a wheel. Suppressing his need to growl and scream, his eyes turned to the man before him, he would kill him, get out, and go on another adventure with no one to stop him. Agent O-4 was facing away from him, guarding the door to the room. So not only is he tired, he’s also stupid.
He got up from his seat quietly and began to prowl towards him. If you asked any of the people that knew him, be it Genghis, Vlad or even Leonardo, they would liken Zachary less to a man and more to an animal. Someone who mirrored the image of self-congratulating conceit and low cunning of a beast.
Using the chains of his cuffs, he started strangling the agent with brute abandon, so much so that the chain started cutting his neck and hurt Zachary’s wrists. The soundproof walls also served in aiding his hunt, and soon enough the prey stopped its pointless struggle, blood spurting from its neck.
He got the keys from the dead man’s pockets and unlocked the cuffs. Quietly walking out of the room, he saw a small desk where his possessions were gathered. Most peculiar of which was a silver pocket watch.
“Well, where to next?” he asked himself, “maybe I should try the Holy Roman Empire, I did always want to become a knight.”
He clicked the watch, and the river of time began to split. He would reappear of course, in a different place, at a different time.
Gottfried and Freischütz were not artsy. They didn’t know the complexities of painting, nor did they ever bother to look into them. But they could see the beauty in the oil painting they were sent to guard. The painting showed a young man standing atop a mountain. He was staring at the world before him: mountain peaks, ridges, and the clouds further beyond, all enveloped in a sea of fog.
The painting revealed how man can rise above life’s misfortunes through willpower and resolve alone, without the help of God.
To the common woman or child, the painting was merely that - a painting. But to The Vatican it wasn’t.
And that was the reason Gottfried and Freischütz were there.
Gottfried looked at the window, his eyes sullen and irritated through his glasses. Hamburg was enveloped in mist.
“Behold, my fellow German!” The lanky man made a grand gesture towards his handgun, startling Gottfried. “The SACRÉ Model 471. The perfect weapon. I was the one that made it after all. Each bullet, or like I call them; Acts, are made of silver, salt, and cold iron. They are cursed, blessed, and have runes all over them, and-”
“Freischütz,” said Gottfried in a harsh whisper. “If ya could stahp stroking yer ego, I’d like to remind you that we hav’ a demon to catch!”
“Oh fine, you spoil sport.” Freischütz grinned. He lowered the gun and leaned back against the marble wall. “I still think it to be moronic that the demon would bother to steal the painting. Why not just seek another artist and influence their dreams to produce another piece?”
“Demons spread their influence through art,” Gottfried explained, pushing up his glasses. “In order to cross the threshold, they influence the minds o’ creative types: musicians, writers, and others. They spread their influence and- wait why the hell am I explaining this? Yer supposed to know this stuff!”
“Father Nathanael is boring. You explain it way better than him.” Freischütz smiled, giving his partner two thumbs up.
Gottfried groaned, pulling out his book. The book’s cover looked like torn and burnt flesh, a distorted face as its cover. He flipped through the pages rapidly and reread the marked chapter.
Max Freischütz kept his eyes on the north hallway, sweat ran down the back of his neck.
After an hour of silence, they were soon greeted by the sound of a window creaking open. It sounded like a whining dog. They both looked at each other and nodded. Max loaded his gun and Gottfried recited an incantation in his mind.
Afterwards, a black tar-like substance crawled in from the open window. It slithered along the floor and the walls of the museum as it made its way towards the painting.
Soon a figure formed right in front of said picture. A monstrous figure with clawed hands, legs like a jackal, and eyes resembling burning balls of fire - with a cavernous maw filled with mangled teeth like hooks and daggers. It also had horns curving upward like a bull.
The creature stretched a clawed hand towards the painting, in a flash, golden chains erupted from the floor, wrapping around the daemon, dragging it towards the ground. Now kneeling, it wriggled, until it felt the burning touch of cold iron in the back of its head.
“Spring-Heeled Jack,” Freischütz said. “In the name of our Lord in heaven, who you have scorned, and by the authority vested upon us by The Vatican, you shall be cast down to the pit from whence you came. Any last words?”
“I have committed no crime!” The creatures spat. “I weaved the dreams that the artist dreamt. My dreams birthed that painting. It belongs to me!”
Before the bullet could be fired into his skull, Spring-Heeled Jack used his talons to launch itself towards the ceiling. The chains broke, the links spreading across the floor and the struggle began.
Spring-Heeled Jack’s legs winded like twisting springs, and from the cavernous ceiling he bounced back onto the ground. Then onto the wall, then the next wall, then the ceiling and so on and so forth. Disorienting the enemy, he cocked his charred arms back and langued towards his prey. Freischütz could barely land a single shot on him with any of his Acts.
Soon greeted by a clawed fist digging straight into his stomach, Freischütz was launched towards the wall and cracking it by the sheer impact of his body.
Gottfried finished his incantation and a pulsating red eye formed on his forehead. The eye tracked the beasts’ movements as best as it could, which was just enough. He dodged most of his pounces, leading him on through his hallway. The daemon’s fist winded up and lunged towards Gottfried.
“The painting is mine, church dog!”
Gottfried barely managed to dodge the attack. But it didn’t matter, he had won.
Spring-Heeled Jack, for all his acrobatics, could not change his trajectory midair. He fell exactly where he wanted him to be, directly upon a sculpture of a giant wooden cross.
As he landed, he could feel a searing burn travel through the entirety of his body. It burned like if someone had poured liquid metal down their earhole. He could feel his own strength leaving him, his muscles rotted away, his bones crackled like old wood, his leathery skin turned to paper.
The sound of a gunshot flooded the hallway with a thunderous roar. The shot landed in his throat, his vocal cords destroyed, and every breath became a fruitless endeavor.
There in the hallway limping towards him was that cursed gunslinger, Freischütz. His church robes stained in blood and concrete, he stood above him like an executioner, looking down at a prisoner of war.
“And you, monster! When you reach the sixth floor of hell, tell Alighieri that Max Freischütz send his regards.”
Another shot echoed in the halls, shot through the heart like the rabbid dog he was. The hunt had ended.