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Fallen One

The zone between Haven and Frontline was quiet. Ash and the corpses of buildings. As a member of the Staves, he had never ventured this far into the ruins. If he had waited three days a Sword would have been able to escort him but for some reason he had elected to undertake the journey alone. The Arcana, after a brief and private deliberation, for some reason, had approved. He carried the staff, more symbol than weapon, his satchel, one pistol with two spare clips (a gift from the Coins). In the boiling murk of sky the jagged bulks of corrupted Eyes hovered and drifted; the injection of Cloak coursed through his bloodstream (a gift from the Cups), masking him from their cavernous gaze. He whispered the mantras taught to him by Arcana Five, wrangling his nervous neural patterns into docile shapes in case the Eyes peered into the psychic spectrum. The Swords said that they rarely did, not over the border zone, since there was little life left to see. 

It was quiet but not silent. Moaning winds, rubble settling, steel creaking. Too easy to imagine as the sounds of ghosts. He walked on, staff in hand, mantras in his mind. Until one of the ambient haunting noises became too regular to be random. Something was following him. If it wasn't a Sword patrol (still three days away) or a Coin shipment (none scheduled), then that meant it was... 

He drew the pistol, visualized the pattern that Arcana Eleven had taught him, and turned to face the direction of the noise. He had never ventured this far into the ruins. He had never seen a live Demon. The Swords were trained to fight Demons. If he had waited three days he wouldn't be alone. He wondered why he had felt the need to leave immediately. He watched the pocked and razored carapace of the creature lurch forth from the skeleton of a skyscraper. It was somehow shiny in the permanent twilight and giving off smoke like charred wood. He wondered why the Arcana had agreed to let him travel alone. He was sure that he was getting the visualization wrong, forgetting the mantras. He had read every account there was of the Swords' encounters with Demons, he had read every research paper written about them. When it moved it made a sound like poisoned lungs wheezing for their last breath. He pointed the pistol. It began to growl. 

Except the growl was not coming from the Demon. From behind him instead. Becoming a snarl, then above him, becoming a roar, and another creature leaping through the air over him towards the Demon. Claws and fangs flashing. There was a collision, the wheezing pitched up into a scream, blood suddenly erupting, a thick stench of infection. The new creature tearing and rending, smaller than the Demon but more savage, the shape of a man, almost. 

He had read all of the accounts from the Swords who had travelled to Frontline and back to Haven, their stories of the guardians there who led the forces against the Demon Army. Most of them were likely embellished, understandably exaggerated, fables for morale. The Dragons, they called them. Exactly who he was searching for. So he recognized who stood before him, over the corpse of the Demon, by description, which turned out to be true and not a tall tale after all. The Mystic Warrior, the Tiger Man. 

“You're Callan,” he said. “My name is Marshal.”