Artyom’s skin was burning. Not in the metaphorical sense but the real life, stuck in a building that was on fire, kind of burning. The deep animalistic rumble that emerged from his chest could barely be heard over the crackling of the flames as they greedily licked the building.
He pushed hard towards the front door, felt as his skin began to bubble. The wooden door was agonising to press his hands against but the will to survive surpassed his pain. The thick wood gave way with a loud crack, falling to the ground, throwing up dust in his face but all he could see was the outside, felt as the smoke-free air freely flowed into his lungs.
Coughing up ash, Artyom staggered forward, his eyes alert. He had only just managed to escape but what had happened to his brother? Where was Raphael?
The smoke had upset his eyesight as his vision was blurry but he could still make out the horses just at the edge of the village. They had been holding torches. Not the horses, but instead their riders, had burdened this village with the heinous fire, a fire so potent that seemingly no one could escape.
The growl emerged once more as he saw a rider pull his brother from the wreckage towards the others. If he could just get through the alley quick enough, he could cut them off before the rider had a chance to reunite with the assassins.
Artyom crawled to the buildings opposite the fire before getting to his feet once more. He sped forward, his right shoulder running along the exposed brickwork, his left arm cupping at his painful side. His heart was about to beat out of his chest with worry and fear, but the anxiety was the only thing driving him forward.
He rounded the corner and collided with the rider. He could see now from his position on the floor that he was no ordinary rider, the navy blue overcoat was a symbol, he knew who had set fire to the village and why they’d done so.
His eyes darted to his brother who was doubled over, his long curled locks hanging in his face.
Artyom watched as blood dripped from his brother’s mouth, a deep growl sounding from his chest.
The soldier had not got up from his position on the ground. His coat was dusty and dark, stained with something. The man held his hand to his ear, his eyes wide with shock as Artyom realised that blood was pouring from the side of his face and he was missing an ear.
The man was deathly pale but looked on at Raphael with horror.
Raphael’s body was contorting, the abnormal sound of cracked bones echoing down the alley as he threw himself at the building, clawing at the brick. His hair shed, the beautiful curls falling to the floor, a shorter cut sprouting in its place.
He cried out, a sound Artyom had only heard his older brother make once before when they were children, but instead of going to his aid, Artyom sat still, perplexed and terrified by what was happening.
Was this some kind of poison he’d been given? What would make his brother’s bones break in such a way?
Raphael looked at his brother, only his face was not his own, but instead that of the shocked officer who had now passed out from loss of blood, or fear, Artyom couldn’t be sure.
“Рафаэль?” Artyom mumbled his brother’s name, not able to believe his own eyes.
Instead of answering, Raphael straightened up, walking towards his brother. Artyom watched as Raphael stalked past him, pulling the coat from the officer with ease and putting his arms through the sleeves.
Raphael had told his brother to leave but Artyom was frozen to the spot. He couldn’t leave him, no matter what he was or what he’d become but he couldn’t deny the fear coursing through his veins.
Raphael swiped the hat, wiped the blood from his mouth and walked away from Artyom, leaving him crouched in the dirt. Artyom watched as his brother stalked towards the group, feeling his breath puff out of his chest as Raphael was welcomed into the group with open arms.
Artyom didn’t know what his brother had planned but if he knew his brother then he knew there would be blood.
He had to help him.