Aymun awoke on the ground, sweating, blankets kicked aside. The winter had been tough, sleeping in unheated houses and outside around dwindling campfires, but the ground had finally thawed and the sun had started making brief appearances. Last night had even approached warm, and Aymun had taken the blessing with a smile.
Waking amongst the twigs and brambles didn’t disconcert Aymun. He’d never lived a life of comfort or wealth, but over time he had come to enjoy the feeling of God’s earth against his back. Whether it be the shifting sands of back home or the branchy forests of England. Something, however, was wrong on this morning. It was not that a demon lay snoring three feet away from him. Or the fact that his tummy groaned from lack of food. No, it was his missing companion that concerned him. Vamps never awoke first. He always needed stirring.
But this morning, Vamps had awoken and left their camp in silence. Or was it Crimolok — Red Lord and sibling to both Lucifer and Michael — who had left?
The archangel had found its way inside Vamps after a confrontation in Hell’s throne room. Such tales would once have been the domain of Aymun’s precious Quran, but in these times new chapters were being written out on blank pages. There was no way of knowing how mankind’s story would end, or even what would happen next. God had abandoned His children and monsters fought in His wake. Crimolok was the worst of them all, but he was trapped inside Vamps’ body.
Aymun reached out and shook the snoring demon to his left. “David? David, wake up.”
The demon bolted upright, as he often did when woken. The small creature was a bag of nerves. “I am David!”
“Yes, you are David. I am Aymun, your friend.”
The demon blinked and stared at Aymun. It spoke slowly. “Yes, Ay-mond. Safe Ay-mond.”
Aymun patted David’s sinewy thigh. “Vamps is missing.”
David leapt up and started hopping anxiously. He’d been naked when they’d first started travelling with him, but now the demon wore loose-fitting black trousers and a Tottenham FC shirt. “Bad thing. Bad thing. We must find.”
Aymun stood up. “Yes, we need to find Vamps and the abomination inside him.”
“Vamps good. Vamps bad.”
“Both. Help me look.”
David stopped hopping and gave Aymun a serious look. “Yes. Help.”
And so the two of them set off through the woods, a Syrian and a demon, both far from home. Which direction Vamps had travelled was unclear, but Aymun spotted some trampled leaves and a snapped branch that led him towards a nearby incline. He hoped he would find his friend at the top.
He hoped he would find his adversary too.
Truthfully, Aymun had been at a loss since surviving the battle at Kielder Forest. They had the Red Lord contained — imprisoned inside a mortal vessel — but the problem with human bodies was that they were fragile. Crimolok’s current emancipation was temporary, which was why Aymun eagerly sought a path that would take advantage of their current, brief reprieve. With the Red Lord contained, now was the time to act. But act in what way?
The incline steepened, and the undergrowth gave way to stoney earth. Soon, they were trudging upwards towards the edge of a rocky outcropping. Vamps stood on the highest ledge, staring down at the stony ground twenty-feet below.
Aymun slowed his approach, not wanting to startle his friend and cause him to fall. “Vamps? Vamps, my brother, what are you doing?”
Vamps didn’t turn, but he gave a reply. “What d’you think would happen if I threw myself against those rocks? You reckon Crimolok would die with me?”
Aymun approached a few more steps, trying to see his friend’s face, to see what was going on there. “If you kill yourself, who knows what would happen?”
“I’d go to Hell, right? That’s what the Bible says. And the Quran.”
Aymun chuckled, but it was from nervousness not humour. “They are just books. Words on paper written by the pens of men. The truth is deeper than mere words, and it is ever unknowable. We were not made to understand the workings of existence. I fear we have learned too much already.”
“But there’s a chance I could throw myself from this ledge and take Crimolok with me? We don’t know, do we? I could end it all right now and this shit might be over.”
“You would be gambling with the lives of millions. Perhaps billions.”
Vamps finally turned to face Aymun. Despite his dark skin, he seemed somehow grey. Sickly. “I think you’re being extremely optimistic.”
Aymun shrugged and conceded the point. “Then I would tell you that even one life is too precious to gamble with. Vamps, you shoulder a great burden, but you have done so before with great courage. That courage is still inside you, as much as anything else might be.”
Vamps clutched his stomach as if it ached and his face creased in misery. His impassiveness fell away, and his emotions took over in a flood. “I can feel him in me, Ay. Every day, it’s like I’m getting more and more crowded out.”
Aymun put out a hand and took the final steps between them. He wished he could take this burden from his friend, but that was not the way of things. “We shall win this fight, brother. Mankind shall prevail as it always has. The evil inside you shall perish and we will see brighter days. This I promise you.”
Vamps nodded, tears in his eyes. “I… I didn’t sleep well. I think I just need to rest.”
Aymun took Vamps by the arm and moved him away from the ledge. “Then rest we shall, brother.”