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Astarte breaks free of her restraints, attempting to head over to the Stranger to free him, only for the townsfolk to unholster their weapons and send a barrage of bullets towards them both causing her to collapse down onto the quickly igniting wood as her eyes flicker closed.
The pair awake back in the motel room, breathing in and out heavily, seemingly unharmed. The Stranger is laying on the bed and Astarte is sat down on the floor a few inches before the bed with her legs crossed at the ankles and her back laying against the wall.
“Defective not ruined right. I honestly thought that would never happen to us, kind of trippy.” Remarked Astarte getting up slowly to her feet holding her knees.
“What just happened?” The Stranger questioned as he checked himself for bullet holes.
“Malum is a Fane, which means anything in the town is inside a sort of magical field. They are connected to the war, displaced, never entirely here and now nor back then. They are designed to keep the inhabitants alive, whenever anyone dies it loops to give the person another chance to survive the ordeal that they found themselves in. It also stops those who live in there from ageing.”
The Stranger clambers to his feet and makes his way over to the window. He draws the blinds and glances around at the environment, taking in as much detail as he could.
“But the town looks normal. Nothing out of the ordinary, from the cars and buildings to the signs and billboards.” He concludes turning back to look at her.
“Its designed to be deceptive. Malum looks like any town USA because that’s what being a Fane does, makes it fit in with the surrounding towns so not to stick out.” She replied.
“They said they lost a child though. Surely that can’t be right.”
“The Fane is old and disused; its obviously become damaged somehow.”
The pair’s conversation is cut short as an axe is forced through the door, cutting it in two. More cuts of the axe until the door is no more. The Stranger and Astarte try to run for the bathroom, only to be shot down before reaching the door.
More weighty breaths coincide with the duo waking once more unharmed in the motel room in the same positions.
“It’s only happened twice, and I already hate it so much. We need to get out of here.” He sighs.
“I’m sure they make a film, like this at some point but not for a few years yet… but yes you’re right of course.” She responds once again getting up from the floor though with greater ease than previously.
“The door perhaps? What’s the worst that could happen?” He asks jumping up from the bed.
“I don’t think that’s a good…”
He unclasps the chain and unlocks the door, swinging it wide open. He takes two steps out only to be shot in the side several times causing him to keel over onto the door.
“Fuck!” Astarte exclaims with twitching eyes.
She found herself unable to move, soon enough joined by her ungracious hosts who as can be expected shot her dead once more as well. They are swiftly reset and get to their feet once again.
“That! That is the worst that could happen!” She hissed.
“I don’t see you coming up with any better ideas.” He retorted.
“Well I do have a better idea. We need to get to the tree.”
“This is no time for horticulture.”
“These aren’t normal trees. The trees act as centre points for Fanes and each one contains an ancient relic, let’s just hope it hasn’t been scavenged.”
The ominous knocks begin once more causing the duo to visibly shudder.
“I’ll explain more on the way but first we need out.” She states
She looks around trying to figure out a plan of escape, spinning on the spot a few times and tilting her head this way and that way before finally focusing on the back wall.
“Hmmm a little inelegant but…” She remarks.
She places her hand on the wall and opens her mouth as if to speak but instead what comes out of her mouth is the sound of brick being smashed and a section of wall, just wide enough for the pair to slip through, shatters away. As if in reply the axe that they had seen in a previous take on events splinters through the door.
“How did you…?” He tried to ask.
“No time.” She interrupts pushing him through the hole in the wall.
The room they were in was on the first floor and the room backed onto a few metres long of grass before giving way to the road. From where they were, they could see the ends of the row of rooms which was a couple of feet away at both sides, their room being almost exactly in the middle. She pushes him to the side and landing on top of him just as a bombardment of shots starts to make its way through the wall cavity.
“Mmmm, you know this is quiet a nice position.” She giggles.
“What’s wrong with you? This is not the time nor the place for that.” He snaps.
“Oh, you are no fun. If you had any idea how unusual this opportunity is… fine.”
She climbs to her feet and grabs his hand pulling him to his feet just as their assailants had stopped firing.
“Do you see them?” Mary asked her husband.
The Stranger and Astarte could hear them without much trouble because of how loud they were speaking. The Stranger puts his lips to her ear.
“Why don’t we try to slip around the other side when they come through to look for us?” He whispers.
She nods and the two dash for the closer end of the block as to avoid crossing over the hole in the wall, just getting around the corner as their aggressors made their way through the cavity. Not waiting for them to realise what they had done they circled around to the front of the motel rooms. The front was almost a mirror image of the back; a couple metres length of grass before being replaced by the black tarmac of the road network. They made their way over the road without any difficulty as there was no sign of any actual traffic though a few odd cars littered the sides of the road. Astarte tried to get her bearings, trying to work out where the tree was and all of a sudden, she saw it out in a clearing behind the row of houses on the other side of the road.
“Do you see them?” Came the booming voice of Anders from behind the motel rooms.
“If I could see them, I would be shooting.” Countered Mary.
“Maybe they did a circle on us.”
“Come on quickly to the tree.” Astarte said pointing to the point in question.
The pair dashed towards the wooden nucleus, stopping about a foot away from it. Astarte placed her palm onto the tree and veins slowly twisted around her hand as if trying to work out who she was, like an organic fingerprint scanner. She could feel vibrations, like a heartbeat, reverberating from the tree. The outline of a knife formed on the tree under where her hand was placed, slowly the knife began to materialise. The handle seemed wooden though smooth and new in stark contrast to the aged rough bark of the tree, but said handle appeared oddly large for a knife. In the middle of the handle was a small jewel in the shape of an apple, which seemed to be alive with ocean and navy blues that appeared to dance and intertwine within in confines. Soon the veins retracted, and she took her hand away and looked to the Stranger, gesturing for him to take it with a head movement.
He clasped at the handle and pulled it from the tree, there was a little resistance from the bark as if it had been stuck with medium strength glue. He placed a finger above the jewel and pressed down causing the blade of the knife to lengthen out, so it became a sword and then then it ignited with a beautiful blue flame of numerous shades and hues. He did not need help to work out what to do, it was instinct. He gazed into the blue blaze and knew this was a part of his past, he just didn’t know exactly how.
“While you wield the sword, bullets will be melted by the divine fire. You need not fear any evil. It’s time to end this and it will be so easy, by the sword.” She declared.