Hot breath from the hounds of hell seared his nape as he ran from his pursuers. Stumbling, faltering, he feared their victory, for it would ensure the loss of his soul. There was no return from damnation for him. He’d torn limb from limb and tarnished beauty. Forgiveness would require mercy no judge could bestow. As he blindly careened through the wilderness, he could only hope for refuge. He knew he was undeserving, but as long as his heart kept beating, he would seek to survive.
He hadn’t always been a monster. There’d been a time when he knew peace and embraced tranquility, but those days were gone. Now, he was a killer without the support of a cause. A nomad left adrift by changing ideology. A hero who became dispensable when his services were no longer required. A soldier haunted by nightmares and blood on his hands.
To soothe torment he’d turned to drugs. Their comfort became agony when he could no longer afford them and stole to acquire them. Their powerful beckoning compelled him to commit heinous acts. Each step leading him to further depravity and erasing his conscience. Now, he was a fugitive from a society that shaped and employed him, then turned him out without concern for what they’d created. The sidewalks were cold. His needs went unfulfilled. No one cared.
He reverted to the savagery he’d needed to survive the hell of war. That led to slaughtering innocents and his current flight into unknown territory when he’d been identified as an enemy to the life around him. While that definition was true, it didn’t take his programming into consideration. He’d never learned other skills. He’d been taught to kill and was good at his job. He’d nearly abandoned all hope for sanctuary when a path opened up beneath his feet and an eerie light shone through overhanging limbs. Compelled to plunge forward to escape his pursuers, he hadn’t the time to concern himself with where it might lead.
The path led to a moonlit clearing where an oddly tilted cottage made of dark wood sat on a weed-choked knoll. Fog emanated from it like tendrils of smoke from an abandoned campfire. The eerie light that had illuminated his journey radiated from small windows that were shaped like human eyes. There was a stillness in the air and he could sense something waiting behind the façade. He felt fear for the first time in years. Hearing no footsteps pounding behind him, he approached cautiously, ready to fight if attacked. He was fatigued, thirsty, and starving. He’d been led here and had no choice but to knock on the door. No one came, but the door opened. Stepping inside, he had no idea what fate had in store for him but turning back would only lead to imprisonment and death.
The air inside the dwelling was musty and warm. There was a slight smell of sulfur laced with the odor of rotting flesh he’d become familiar with through combat. Cautiously moving forward, he entered a room that became brighter as he moved towards its center. The source of the light turned out to be the aura of a wrinkled crone who sat in a willow-branch rocker, slowly rocking as she eyed his approach. When he was several feet away, he could see a pair of dice glowing in her gnarled hands. Her bony fingers caressed them in a loving way. Now that he was close, he could hear her voice softly crooning to the dice.
“He’s here.” She said, then turned dark eyes to him and proffered the cubes. “Is he ready to gamble for his soul?”
“What are the rules?” He asked.
“Beat my roll, and salvation awaits. Lose, and the consequences of your depravity will manifest. Should you choose not to roll, your flight will continue and the outcome determined by chance.”
“Who rolls first?” he asked, eyeing a table laden with food and wine behind the crone.
“Why, you, of course. Are you feeling lucky?”