Biron stumbled into his home like the drunk he was. The night was cold and fel mists were clinging low to the ground, obscuring visions further than an arm’s length. He was eager to climb into his nice warm bed and curl up with his wife, despite the face she would surely scold him for coming home at such an hour stinking of Dwarven rum.
His attempts to sneak up the stairs still caused enough racket to wake the whole household so he resigned himself to an angry wife whee he reached his bead. To delay the inevitable he stopped at the children’s room to watch them sleep. Much to his surprise, neither little Bonnie or Jacen were in their beds. It was well passed their bedtimes; they would get quite a scolding when he found them.
He relaxed and considered the possibility that maybe they were sleeping with their mother. Bonnie did get scared on nights when her father wasn’t home. Unsteady feet carried him to his room to find the door already open. His wife’s silhouette could clearly be seen standing next to the bed.
“I know I said I would be home for supper my love, but Sheriff Corsi just got engaged to be wed. He bought drinks for everybody. I could hardly refuse the sheriff…Vela, are you ok?”
Vela hadn’t moved an inch since he entered the room. Concerned, he reached out and touched her arm only to find it as hard as stone!
“What?” he drunken mind couldn’t process the thought, until a slight breeze blew the curtain’s open. Pale moonlight briefly illuminated the room, revealing Vela was an obsidian statue, her face contorted in terror. A ruby red slash was clear across her throat and blood flowed freely from the “wound”.
“Vela no!” he screamed and clutched her stone form.
The Bloody Sculptor had come to visit.
Elsewhere, another creature of the night stalked a much different kind of prey. His name was Logan and at that moment he seethed with bloodlust. There was a man much deserving of severe punishment nearby, and Logan longed for retribution. It would have to wait for another time though, as revenge wasn’t what brought him here.
No more than a hundred feet away stood the home of Magnus, a murderous fanatic of a man gifted with absolute control over metal. Magnus saw himself and all other gifted individuals as the “chosen ones” of the gods, handpicked by the Celestial Ones themselves to rule over mankind. Just a week ago he had slaughtered a town full of innocents and nearly killed Logan and his comrades in the process.
Three long metal blades burst forth from between the knuckles on each of his hands; a “gift” from Magnus many years ago. It was a subconscious reaction to the rage he felt, something he still had difficulty controlling after all this time. Thankfully, he had at least learned to ignore the pain as the blades cut through his flesh.
Magnus’ “home” was really more of a palace made entirely of various metals, deep within the woods of Wolfhorn forest. Its polished surface seemed entirely out of place amongst the browns and greens of the forest. Another reminder of how the madman saw himself as above the rest of the world. He longed so much to walk right into that building and gut the man who had forced steel onto his bones in the most agonising few hours of his life.
Instead, he sheathed his claws and wiped the blood from his knuckles onto one of the many animal skins he wore. He wasn’t a fool; he was no match for Magnus, not with a skeleton full of steel anyway.
“A wise decision,” said a voice from the shadows nearby.
Logan wasn’t startled though; he had smelt her several minutes ago and knew she was no threat. A shapely silhouette stepped into the moonlight, revealing a beautiful young woman with hair as black as ebony and a stunning red gown.
“If you came any closer to the temple and my father would smell the metal in your bones just as easily as you could smell the ale on his breath,” said Wanda Lensherr, also known as the Scarlet Witch
“How’d you know where I was?” asked Logan, not really caring about the answer.
Wanda snapped her fingers and a thousand strands of red light appeared like spider webs throughout the forest. They extended all the way around the metal “temple”.
“My strands tell me when anything as small as a rabbit comes within two hundred spans of the temple,”
“Heh, he calls that thing a temple? He’s more far gone that I thought,”
Concern briefly flashed across the Witch’s face before returning to perfectly flawless composure, “I didn’t think you would come, not after…” her voice trailed off.
“I almost didn’t, but I wanted to hear what you had to say, after letting that son of a swine you call a father slaughter all those folk in Nabras,”
This time she didn’t hide the shame, tears welled freely in her eyes, “I swear Logan, I didn’t know he was going to do that. You’re right, my father is far gone, but I still believe I can save him,”
Logan snorted derisively, “Still on your little quest to save you papa’s soul?”
Wanda wiped her tears away as elegantly as possibly and walked up close to the ranger, “you of all people should believe in redemption,” she reached out and stroked his hairy cheek, “of being brought back from the edge of darkness,” her fingertips brushed his forehead, and tiny bolts of red energy danced between them and his skin. Suddenly he felt unwanted memories coming back to haunt him
Two men, each clothed in matching black robes with hoods that concealed their faces, walked a dimly lit passageway, deep below ground. One man, the taller of the pair, walked proudly and with purpose, while the second followed behind, his posture suggesting he would rather be somewhere more comfortable.
Flickering torchlight illuminated the tunnel adequately enough, while creating dancing shadows that stalked the two. They passed a several barred dungeon cells, some empty, others containing corpses in various stages of decay, until they eventually stopped at one towards the end.
“Rrrraagggh!” two hairy hands, with dirty uncut nails, reached from the cell towards them. The smaller man jumped in fright, but the larger man stood unfazed.
In the cell stood a savage beast of a man, dressed in naught but some rags around his nether regions. The remains of some leggings, perhaps suggesting he had once been civilised. He was short, but well muscled, and quite hairy.
“Who is it? What is it?” asked the smaller man.
“Wraith found him in the snowy wilds to the north, running with a back of wolves. It appears he was once a man, but now he is little more than a beast,” he did not sound displeased with this.
Suddenly six long shards of bone erupted from between each of the bestial man’s knuckles. He leapt towards the bars again, unsuccessfully trying to impale the two cloaked men on the claws.
“What in the Twelve’s names are those?” asked the smaller man.
“Claws, but that’s not even the best part,” with a sadistic grin he extended his right hand, pointed his index finger at the prisoner and said a single word, “incendi.”
A ball of flame erupted from the man’s finger and engulfed the feral man, who screamed in agony. Quickly the flames dissipated, and the man was left writhing on the ground in agony, and red and black smoking mess. The smaller man cringed and almost looked away, when something amazing happened; the charred flesh began to heal at a remarkable rate. Within a dozen heartbeats half of burns were healed.
“By the Walking Gods…that’s incredible!”
“The Twelve have blessed us with this gift, this weapon Cornelius. I’ve have been quite extensive with my tests of his abilities; nothing can kill the beast. Not sword, not flame, not even magic. We have an unstoppable assassin in our possession,” he couldn’t help but smile at the possibilities.
“But how can we control such an…animal?” asked Cornelius.
“I have my best mentalists working on it. I am confident they will break down his mind and reshape him as my puppet by sunrise.”
“The Twelve will smile upon you Brother, not to mention the rest of the Black Talon. But what shall you name the creature?”
The taller man grinned wolfishly beneath his hood, “I think Wolverine is an appropriate title for such a beast, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes indeed, Brother Striker,”
Logan snapped his head away from Wanda’s touch and without thinking placed his claws against her throat.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again!” he was breathing heavily, as is just awoken from a nightmare.
“I’m sorry Logan,” she replied, although she didn’t appear entirely repentant, “I merely wished to show how much a person can change,”
“Is this all you brought me here for? To steal intimate details from my head?” he snapped.
She moved in close, this time keeping her hands where he could see them though, and whispered in his ear, “There was a time when we shared all sorts of intimate details,” before kissing him on the check. Her lips quickly moved to his, and the pair shared an intimate embrace. For the briefest moment he forgot all the troubles in his life and thought only of the good times he had shared with Wanda in the Brotherhood…before her father had learned of their affair.
He broke the embrace suddenly and backed away from the scarlet clad woman. That was the past; too much had happened between them to ever go back to that, and yet he longed for it.
“Enough dwelling on the past Red, why did you call me here?”
She looked as if she was about to try to press the issue about their past relationship but gave up for now.
“Not far from here, a day’s ride or so south, is a town called Stonehampton. Over the past few nights children have been disappearing from their beds while their families are turned to stone. I think the Bloody Sculptor is doing this,”
Logan laughed out loud, “You called me here because of a fairy tale? The Bloody Sculptor’s just a story ta scare the little ones,”
“All myth is steeped in reality Logan. My brother can move faster than the eye can see, your master can pluck thoughts from your very head. Who are you to doubt this?”
She had him there; he had no argument, “fine, it’s the bogeyman. So what do you want me to do about it?”
“No one can track better than you,” she replied, “there’s a chance those children are still alive, and if they’re not…you and I can wreak bloody vengeance in their name,”
“Why’re you doin this Wanda?”
“Are you going to help me or not?” she dodged the question.
“Yeah, I will. Got your gear?”
She walked back to the tree she had appeared next to and picked up a small pack from the shadows, “I told the others I’m going to study my magic in solitude for a few days. Bring a horse?”
“I tied it up by a stream not far from here,”
“I know the place,” she said before her features softened, “thank you for doing this Logan,”
At that moment he knew why she wanted to save the missing children; redemption. She had stood by while her father slaughtered hundreds of people and now the guilt was devouring her insides. This wasn’t about saving children, it was about saving her soul.
They rode through the night in relative silence. It was slightly awkward having Wanda sitting so close behind him. Her scent filled his nostrils with every breath, bringing back memories both happy and painful. The Brotherhood had once been a home to him, despite the fact that Magnus saw him as little more than an animal. Wanda had been the first to show him kindness in a long time and soon a special friendship had blossomed between the two, much to the chagrin of her brother Petros.
Magnus, meanwhile, was oblivious to this, as he spent the majority of his time either studying ancient texts or travelling in an attempt to recruit more gifted to his cause. When their friendship turned to something more they kept it secret, for fear of angering Petros and Erik. Eventually though, their secret was revealed and an enraged Magnus tortured him.
He saw the wild man as unworthy of his precious daughter, apparently being gifted just simply wasn’t enough. He forced molten steel beneath Logan’s skin, molding it over his bones in the most excruciating torture he had ever endured. His bone claws were, “enhanced” becoming weapons of a civilised man rather than those of beast, as Magnus saw it. Worse than the torture though, was the fact that Wanda could not bring herself to stand up to her father, even if it meant possibly saving her love’s life.
Because of that fact alone, he had let himself die. But his stubborn body refused, healing everything until the only scars left were those on his soul. He had left the Brotherhood the next day, returning to the nature dwelling life of a ranger, before eventually joining Lord Charles Xavier’s Knight of Greymalkin, a group opposed to the Brotherhood.
“What’s that?” interrupted Logan.
He dropped off his horse and wandered over to a strange shape in the pre-dawn light. Wanda joined him and realised it was an obsidian statue of a dog lying on the ground. A large streak of ruby ran along the dog’s side, and somehow blood constantly poured from the “wound”.
“The Sculptor did this,” said Wanda firmly, “this is exactly how his victims were in the stories my father used to read me as a child,”
Logan didn’t see Magnus as the type to read his children stories but he said nothing, instead smelling the air for any sign of a scent. There was only a faint, metallic tang of blood, and not dog’s blood.
“Hmm, not enough scent to track. Must be a few days old, and it rained the night before last,” he stated.
“There’s magic in the air too, dark magic. It makes my skin prickle,” replied Wanda.
“We’ll have to go into the town after all,” grumbled Logan; he hated having to deal with people.
They rode until the sun rose on the western horizon and the trail left the forest and meandered across a meadow. A short ride away in the distance, the town of Stonehampton could be seen. It was no where near as big as Greymalkin or Nabras…or what Nabras once was, but it was large enough to house a few hundred people. It looked to have a very comfortable feel to the place, with little cottages along cobblestone lanes that brought a smile to Wanda’s face and made Logan groan.
“Something’s wrong, the air’s thick with tension,” stated Logan grimly.
As they entered the town, they couldn’t help but notice a lot of townspeople milling about the streets in groups of two or three and talking in hushed voices. They eyed them warily and hushed up when the odd pair rode passed. They failed to realise it was pointless.
“What did they say?” whispered Wanda.
“Another family was attacked last night. The mother turned to stone and the children taken,”
“Missed the fun, he came home drunk after it happened,”
“We better stop and ask someone where this family lives…lived,”
Logan merely grunted in reply and rode on through the town; he wasn’t one to ask for directions. It wasn’t long until he found what he was looking for though, the law. Three men, bearing breast plates marked with the star shaped emblem of a city watch walked past them and down a side street. They unwittingly lead the pair straight to a small cottage, much the same as any other around the town, save for the fact there was a large crowd of people gathered outside.
While the three watchmen were busy holding the crowd back Wanda and Logan tied their horse up across the lane and casually walked in through the front door like they owned the place. Plenty from the crowd saw them enter but thanks to Wanda’s chaos magic, no one seemed to say anything.
The house was dark inside, with all the curtains drawn to keep out prying eyes. Logan took one big whiff of the air, identifying the various scents of a household home; food, dust, sweat, wood and faint traces of the outdoors. One scent stood out as unusual though, it seemed akin to raw meat but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Perhaps last night’s dinner? No, there was too much of it, and it smelled…rotten?
“The air is thick with dark, old magic here, its almost hard to breath,” gasped Wanda, while rubbing her temples.
“What are you two doing in here?!” demanded an authoritative voice from the top of the stairs.
He quickly came down stairs to face them, and they noticed he wore the star emblazoned breastplate of a lawman, except his star contained a circular eye within it indicating he was a sheriff. His shoulder length black hair and youthful visage suggested he was new to the role as well.
“I asked you a question, what are you doing in here?” asked the sheriff.
Logan was about to knock the man unconscious with a punch to the head when Wand spoke, “We’re here to help sir. We heard about the…disturbing crimes occurring in your town and thought we could offer our services. I am Wanda Lensherr and this is my assistant Logan,”
“Assistant?” muttered Logan under his breath. Wanda shushed him.
The sheriff eyed them both suspiciously and replied, “I am Sheriff Domas Corsi, head of the Stonehampton Watch,” as he spoke his eyes took in every feature of the two strangers, “what sort of services could you offer?”
“I am skilled with the magical arts whilst Logan is an expert tracker,” smiled Wanda, “I am confident we can track the Bloody Sculptor back to his lair and save the missing children,”
Logan grimaced at the mention of the bogeyman and Sheriff Corsi eyed them both warily, “You think a creature from a children’s tale did this?”
“All the signs suggest it,” Wanda shrugged.
Corsi took one step forward, no-one failed to notice his hand rested just a finger’s length away from the hilt of his sword. “Here is what the signs suggest to me milady. You used your magics to petrify these poor victims, while your man here dragged the children away. You may think the Sheriff of Stonehampton a fool but you are sadly mistaken!”
He reached for his short sword but before he could even pull it from its scabbard he was struck with a flash of blinding red light. When vision returned to Logan’s eyes he saw the sheriff was gone, and replaced by a potted plant.
“You turned him into a potted plant?” asked the ranger, genuinly shocked.
Wanda blushed, “It was the first thing that came to mind. He’ll change back in a few hours with only vague memories of a strange dream,”
“Remind me not to cross you,”
“You better not, or I’ll turn you into a cow pat,” she smiled before seriousness returned to her visage, “Is there enough scent to track him?”
“Yeah, let’s move,”
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