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Red Ruin

red ruin
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Estimated reading time — 19 minutes

Every other weekend I make it a habit of mine to visit Janine’s Mercantile, an indoor flea market located on the outskirts of the town I have called home my whole life. Summershore, Wyoming. Whoever named this town must’ve had a great sense of humor, too bad it doesn’t keep many people around. Last I checked the census had us listed for a hair under a thousand people that are spread out across a generous landscape and town limit. The winters are bone-chilling and the summers are fleeting here but one thing that never changes is the smile on the face of Janine as she welcomes you into her store every time. It’s part of the reason I keep coming back, the other part being the excitement I feel from shopping through unknown curiosities until you find a diamond in the rough.

Today was no different. I arrived in the early afternoon and began to pace leisurely up and down the five aisles inside the cool spacious building. Taking my time to look over whatever catches my eye. For the first few aisles, it was all the same stuff I remember seeing the past year and a half, knick-knacks, cooking stuff, and home decor that not many people bought up. But after that is when I normally find something I didn’t know I wanted. Sometimes it’s a new book that captures your imagination and other times you find an old Gibson guitar propped in a corner collecting dust.

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However my luck didn’t seem to be with me, nothing I saw was jostling my interest. That is until I found myself in the tool section looking for a new socket wrench set when I saw a piece of heavily rusted metal buried behind a messy pile of wrenches unceremoniously stacked on a metal shelf close by. It was rustier than all of the tools buried with it. But it was clear as day an ax head of some sort. It eclipses my entire hand with its triangle shape and curves leading towards the shaft hole. Seems old, no idea how old but it was also pretty heavy for its size. I guess it is made of solid iron or something of the like. That’s when a thought hits me as I feel the dense weight of the ax in my hands. My best friend Beau has been looking for a new restoration project lately and this might be right up his alley.

He makes a hobby of restoring old rusty forgotten things and turning them into works of art, in my opinion at least. The last project he fully restored was an old massive bear trap he found in the woods, nearly losing half his hand trying to retrieve the thing. I have told him before he should make it his full-time job as he is incredible at it, but it’s always the same answer with him. I can even hear him saying it in my head right now.

“If I make my hobby my work, then I don’t think I will enjoy it as much. I value the peace it gives me.”

On the other hand, I can understand it in a way. He enjoys this and doesn’t want the stress of work to interfere with his full bloom passion. I was satisfied with my grab for the day, a gift for someone else. Though upon inspecting the entire ax head I could not see a price tag anywhere, just a small sticker stuck underneath the head itself close to the hole where the shaft goes. The writing was harder to read than a doctor’s signature. Praying it’s not crazy expensive, I take my hopeful purchase with me to the front of the store where I see Janine perched upon the counter reading the day’s paper. She was wearing a cozy-looking flannel with her graying hair down to the sides while sipping from a mug that says “World’s Best Mom”. A strong pleasant aroma of coffee envelops my nose when I approach.

“Hey Norman, sorry I missed ya on your way in dear.” Janine put down her paper and gave me a warm smile.

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“That’s alright Janine, how are my favorite ladies today?” A blushing smile overtakes Janine’s face as I reach down to the side of the small counter and pet her dog Maple resting in her favorite bed overlooking the entrance. She wags her golden retriever tail as I pat her head a few times.

“We are just peachy today dear. Is that gonna be it for you today?” She says as I place the decaying ax head on the counter.

“It is, grabbing something to see if Beau wants to restore it. I don’t see a price tag anywhere on this though, just a small sticker I can’t read on the underside.” A look of confusion washes over her face momentarily before she speaks again.

“Harold grabbed this at an estate sale we went to a few days ago a couple of towns over. Rest their soul, they were a serious collector but most of everything they had was too expensive for our humble shop.” She turned the ax over to glance at the sticker.

“I don’t know why I let him write the prices on these, his writing is terrible. What does that even say?” I chuckle at her small joke as she squints to attempt to read the scribbles.

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“How much are you thinking?” My eyebrows raising at the question.

“One-second dear. Harold!” She turns and yells into the open back door behind the counter but no response returns.

She sounds his name once more, “Harold!” and waits a few seconds for a response but to no avail.

“I don’t know what he is doing, but how does twenty sound?” A hint of frustration dashes across her face at the annoyance of being ignored.

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“You sure? That seems super low coming from a collector’s estate. I don’t want to rip you guys off.” They are good people, always there for me when I need them.

“Hun, he couldn’t have paid more than ten dollars for this ol’ thing. The only thing in the lots that didn’t have any documentation or papers with it. He just didn’t want to leave empty-handed. You know how he is.”

I slide my wallet out from my back pocket and open it to see my last crisp twenty. I hand her the bill after she carefully wraps the ax head in plastic and stuffs it into a small bag.

“Honey! I need your help back here with some inventory on our new goods.”

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Harold yelled from the back of the store with his grating voice that he got from smoking for far too long. We all try to tell him to quit but he is stubborn and dismissive about it. Nice enough guy, he seems stand-offish to some in town but he just is a no-nonsense kind of man. Janine swings her head from side to side with a playful smile on her face.

“Now he wants to talk, well that’s my cue dear. Grab a bottle of water from the fridge on your way out. It’s supposed to be a scorcher today. Thanks for coming in today. Tell that son of mine to come see me once in a while!” She hands me my purchase with that welcoming smile that you just can’t help but return.

“I’ll be sure to knock some sense into him, give my regards to Harold. Tell him I’ll be by tomorrow to help him with his truck.”

“I will, dear, thank you. I’ll see you later.” She turns and walks through the open back door to help her husband while giving me a wave of goodbye.

I return the gesture and pet Maple on the head one last time before I grab water from the mini-fridge she has by the entrance with a sign posted on the front that simply read, “Free for everyone!”. After piling into my truck I start her up and begin making my way over to Beau’s house across town. He lives in a small house his family helped him buy but he practically lives in his garage. Nearly the same size as his house, he was always working on something. Never drank, never did drugs, just always found enjoyment out of fixing, repairing, and tinkering with whatever he could get his hands on.

I envied him in a way, he found his calling at a young age. It took me quite a few years and a lot of failed jobs to land one that stuck right with me. The simple small-town mechanic was enough for me at this point in my life, it provides me with just the right amount to allow me to live how I want.

On my way to his house, I pass through the few standing buildings that make up our town. Post office sitting comfily next to the sheriff’s place, and then a little way down is the supermarket on the opposite side of the street. Empty vacant buildings surround them with signs in front from the only real estate agent in town advertising their name and number and other services he associates with.

With the window down, the smell of a hot summer day enlightens my nose as I catch one of the handfuls of stoplights in town. Waiting there patiently for it to change, I decide to pick up my new purchase and unfurl the wrappings to look at it once more. I held it in my right hand while my left gently felt the edge of the ax blade. Practically non-existent besides the bumps of sharp rust caking most of it. A honk from behind alerts me to the already changed green light in front of me and in a hurry to put down my gift, I cut my index finger on my right hand open. Nothing crazy but enough to make some drops drip down my finger. Out of instinct, I put my finger in my mouth to prevent blood dripping all over my seats, probably not the best idea but last I checked I was up to date on my tetanus shot.

The metallic taste of blood floods my taste buds as I plow forward past the now green light. I take my bloody finger out of my mouth to inspect it once more but the blood was still dripping like the second it was set free from my body. I pull my truck over and grab a napkin out of my glove box along with some duct tape to produce a make-shift bandage. That’s when I start to hear it, the faint sound of a simple drum beat on repeat.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

I turn the knob of my radio fully counter-clockwise to see if my radio was the culprit but the beat consists just barely within my range of hearing.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

I shake it off as some weird tinnitus, I do work around loud equipment after all. Turning the volume knob back clockwise I hit scan to help me find some music to drown out this sound. I stop the radio on a country station and turn the volume just a little louder and continue my way over to Beau’s place.

When I pulled up in the gravel driveway he was standing outside uselessly tugging at the pull cord of a small green push mower. I swear I could read his lips as he stops and wipes sweat from his forehead with an oil-stained cloth he was hiding in his back pocket.

“Piece of shit”

Country music blaring he turns his attention to me exiting my truck with the gift in hand.

“Music loud enough? Could hear you approach from a mile out man.” Beau says dropping the pull cord and walking in my direction but not before giving the mower a small kick out of frustration.

“Just really like that song is all, got something for ya. Know you were looking for a new project that isn’t that piece of shit mower.” I flourish the ax head and his eyes light up like a kid on Christmas.

“Is that a Viking ax head? It looks super similar to ones I have seen online.” He grabs it from my hands without hesitation and inspects it closer.

That’s when I notice that it had a noticeable amount of rust missing that was present when I grabbed this not even thirty minutes ago. In some spots, you could see the original bare iron peeking through the spots of rust. I didn’t say anything though. I thought maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention when I first bought it. There must’ve been a confused look on my face because Beau looks at me with a weird look.

“You alright man? I’ve been asking you a question for a little bit now.” His voice showing concern.
I jolt my head quickly and refocus my attention.

“Yea I was just remembering what your mom told me, go see her sometime soon.”

“I’ll go see her tomorrow, but I’ve been meaning to ask ya-” His voice begins to fade away as the drumbeat intrudes on my senses once more.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

I feel a sharp sudden pain in the front of my head and instincts make my hand rest on my forehead for a sense of comfort. My eyes close and I hear Beau speak again.

“You alright? You getting a migraine?” He approaches with concern on his face once more.

“Ye-Yea I’m alright, I think I’m just gonna go home and take my medication. Relax for a little bit.” I say through painful throbs in my head.

I’ve had chronic migraines since I hit puberty and they always start randomly and sometimes ruin what I am doing at the time. No real reason why they keep happening but normally what the doctor gives me makes it subsides for a while. Does make me drowsy afterward though. Beau gestures with the ax head before speaking again.

“Thanks for the gift man, come by later and let yourself in if you want to help out a little bit with it.”

His sentence ends sharply with him looking around curiously and swiftly. I thought nothing of it as I pile back into my truck and head home for a restful nap. Giving a wave to his girlfriend Samantha who I see peeking from behind the curtains inside as I back out the driveway.

My nap was fruitful. The medication worked like a charm and was able to finally dissipate the migraine. I look at my fully charged phone and check the time, it was a quarter after 5 pm. My stomach growls to enlighten me to eat something, I think I’ll head over to Beau’s and eat there while giving him a hand on his new project.

The drive there is short, no longer than ten minutes. Even less if you don’t care about the speed limit on empty back roads. As I got closer I notice the blaring blue and red lights of police cars from around the corner, I roll my window down and turn off the radio and the only thing filling the warm evening air was a colossal amount of yelling and screaming.

When I turn the corner a shocking revelation is before me, Beau is standing in the large open doorway of his garage with a gore-slicked ax in his hand. The head of which rested on the ground beside him while he palmed the top of the wooden shaft with his right hand. He was only wearing his motorcycle helmet and a pair of jeans that had splatters of blood all over that shone with every passing rotation of the police lights. I could see prongs from multiple tasers embedded in his chest with the cords cut and dangling close to his hips.

I exit my vehicle and inch closer to the situation before me, one police car is on his lawn with two deputies behind it with their backs facing me. The other is sort of parallel to it no more than ten feet away from the front bumper with the sheriff and another deputy next to him with their sides of their faces the only thing I can see. That’s when I hear it again entering the limits of my hearing as I stop in the middle of the road.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

I shake my head slightly and try to refocus on the moment at hand. Sheriff Ogden and his deputies all had their pistols brandished directly at Beau while he shouts commands at him.

“Put the fucking ax down Beau, what the fuck has gotten into you?”

I look to Beau and he was as unmoving and unresponsive as a statue. Not even a muscle twitch was apparent, he just stood there firmly rooted in place. Sheriff Ogden yells once more.

“BEAU, PUT. THE. AX. DOWN.” In an almost pleading yet commanding tone.

Still nothing, like yelling at a mountain to move out of the way. He gestures to two deputies to move closer and what I guess was the decision to cuff him and end this once and for all. One from each squad car slowly and shakily inch their way towards Beau. One puts his pistol away and grabs the cuffs from his back pocket and shuffles to Beau’s left side while the other still aims at him with visible tremors in his arms from a few feet away on the other side of him. The deputy reaches for Beau’s left arm and in an instant, the ax swung tremendously fast and landed directly and deeply in the skull of the deputy as he dropped to the ground hard while a crimson river oozes down the driveway. The one aiming empties his clip in Beau, twelve rounds total pierce through his chest like a hole punch through paper.

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The slide of his pistol retreated but he didn’t reach for another magazine. He stood awestruck that Beau hadn’t moved an inch, that’s when another swing decapitates him and his head rolls into the lawn with a dread-stricken look on his face. Not a moment later passes before round after round was sent Beau’s way without hesitation. Hole after hole was born unto his chest until the gunshots from the sheriff and the remaining deputy ceased and Beau dropped to one knee. Still clasping the wood of the ax handle as the head rested on the ground and eventually toppled over in tandem with his body after a few tense seconds. The black driveway was now paved over with blood as I stood in the middle of the road filled to the brim with a whirlpool of emotions I couldn’t begin to explain.

With movie-level timing, three more squad cars roar onto the scene. The sheriff was the only one who was mildly composing themself, he began to bark orders to the new arrivals. One exited their car and horror overtook them and they ran to the back of their car and began to vomit uncontrollably. Some froze for a moment before acting, another rushed to the deputy with stiff shaking arms and their gun still pointed at my now-dead best friend.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Like an infection, it forced its way in and continued its endless song.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Now it felt oddly comforting like a constant in my new world of barbaric horror and disbelief. I must’ve been lost in my mind for a while as a shaken deputy was standing before me asking me some questions. I recognize her, her name was Meryl, the new rookie cop who moved here not too long ago.

“Sir, I-I need you to step back and let us handle this.” She was trying her best to keep her professional composure.

The delegating sheriff walks over to us and taps the rookie on the shoulder which causes her to jump in her boots.

“Meryl, give the guys a hand setting a perimeter. Make sure nobody gets close.” The calm but rattled voice of the sheriff sends her off. He grabs her by the arm before she is out of reach and says one last thing to her.

“Find something to cover the bodies till the ambulance gets here.” She nods without saying a word and goes off to do her duty.

The sheriff removes his hat and grabs me by the shoulder and walks me further away from the crime scene towards my truck and faces me away from it before speaking to me.

“I’m sorry you had to see that Norman.”

He pulls out a cigarette pack and offers me one, I accept and he pulls one for himself and lights it. Offering me his lighter right after. I don’t smoke normally but sometimes you just really need one. He notices my shaking hands and doesn’t say anything. I was thinking of what to say but nothing came to mind, I was still in shock at what I witnessed. Sheriff lets out a big sigh and speaks again.

“Do you mind coming to the station with us? We just need your statement and some information from ya.” He inhales his cigarette then blows the smoke behind him.

I nod my head in agreement whilst staring off into space. By then more vehicles had arrived, ambulances, fire trucks, and even a few more squad cars. One of the newly arrived EMTs begins hurling behind his door at the site in the driveway. Nobody judges him, half of them have pain and horror etched right onto their faces as they face the reality of the scene. The sheriff takes one last big inhale of his cigarette before tossing it to the ground and stomping it out. I followed suit right after. He puts his hat back on and says one more thing to me.

“I’ll meet you down at the station, I gotta make a phone call first. Take your time.” He then marches over to the gruesome scene and sits down in the driver’s seat of his vehicle. Reluctantly taking out his phone as he slowly dials a number he clearly doesn’t want to.

I hop back into my truck and the beat of the drum still plays in the corners of my hearing.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

I shake my head and turn the ignition to get myself ready to head to the police station. I turn up the music to drown out the drumbeat that has taken a back seat to the situation at hand. The sheriff’s vehicle was the first to leave and I followed him downtown to the station after sitting there for god knows how long while still processing my jumbled mess of a mind.

I open the front doors and the officer at the front gestures me to the back where I see the sheriff sitting at his desk mulling over it all. He offers me a cup of coffee when I walk inside and I accept before sitting down at the chair across his desk. He quickly cleared the mess by sliding some stuff off into a drawer in front of him. He tosses his hat onto the desk without care and finally speaks after a few moments of awkward silence.

“Twenty-one years I have been sheriff of this town, nearly as long as you have been alive. But in all my years Norman I have never seen anything like this. He was a good kid without so much as a parking ticket. Now he has murdered his girlfriend Samantha and two of my deputies in cold blood.”

He leans back and pulls out a near-empty bottle of whiskey from one of his desk drawers. He takes a fast swig and offers me one which I accept. As the burn makes its way down to my stomach he continues again.

“I don’t understand Norman. I need your help, you knew him better than anyone in town. Why would he do this?” I pass the bottle back to him and he takes another swig.

“Samantha called us, God rest her soul, and told us to hurry over. He ain’t acting right she told us. By the time we got there she-” He noticeably shivers in his seat and closes his eyes for a second before opening them again.

“I’ve never seen a man take three different tasers to the chest and still be able to do anything. Let alone three full magazines worth of ammo. How could he do that to my deputy-” He lost his composure for a second and a tear began to well up in his eye as he forced it back down. Leaning forward in his chair he continues.

“He had to be on something Norman, that ain’t natural. I know he didn’t do drugs but I need to ask you if he did. Toxicology is going to take a while and I need answers now.”

I didn’t have any and my mind was racing as I felt like I was under a microscope. Then the doors burst open and Janine and Harold barge inside with tear-filled eyes. They are shouting for answers before an officer at the front desk beckons them to calm down.

“Get the fuck out of my way, where is my fucking son.” Harold pushes aside the officer and sheriff Ogden stands up to interfere.

Janine is clasping onto Harold’s arm as if in a death grip, her eyes a waterfall of depression.
Sheriff Ogden had made his way to the couple and grabbed each of them by their shoulders. I knew what was going to happen but nothing can prepare you for it.

“I’m sorry.”

Then followed the desperate pleas and sobbing of Janine as it filled the room. The sound of a grieving mother is something nobody can forget, the deep sorrow she emanated made tears flow down my face. Harold’s knees nearly buckled in place as he shook his head refusing to believe it. He embraced Janine closer to his chest. The officer does their best to lead them into a separate room as they both begin to break down. Sheriff Ogden sat back down and wipes a tear away from his face that I didn’t comment on. He lets out a deep sigh and looks at me.

“Norman, there was something I forgot to ask you. In the call from Samantha, she mentions you stopped by earlier today. Is that right?” The microscope became apparent again, I felt like I was under some kind of suspicion. The drum beats began again in sync with a headache forming in the front of my head.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

“Ye-yes, I uh stopped by to give him a gift. An ax head I found at the flea market. Thought he might like a new project.” I said under a near mumbling tone, my confidence in my words was almost nonexistent.

The sheriff’s stare turned from that of mourning to one of a cold hard staredown as if sizing me up after what I just said. He took out a small notebook from his shirt breast pocket and began jotting down a few notes.

“When did you show up?” His gaze did not falter as it pierced me. My migraine grows in intensity in tandem with the drum beats.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

“I-uh showed up around noonish and gave him the gift before heading home to lie down.” My hand nervously clasps together and I twiddle my thumbs while my right leg sways up and down. I could feel sweat begin to pool on my forehead and top of my back

“Migraines again I’m assuming?” He said while looking at his notebook and writing what I said.

He looks up and must’ve seen I looked like a nervous wreck on the downhill, he tries to reassure me.

“Norman, I am just looking for facts here. Take a breath. Tell me what you remember while I piece it together. That’s all.”

I breathe in and out rapidly, unable to calm myself. It felt like I was having a panic attack while the drums beat their song evermore in my head. It was getting louder and nothing was silencing it.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Then the front door swung ajar again, two deputies came in holding a bunch of bags I could only guess was evidence. But one stuck out, it was the ax itself. Dried blood had made its home on most of the head as rust had retreated from it entirely. It looked almost brand new and freshly sharp. The deputies pile the evidence on the sheriff’s desk before returning to whatever duties they were tasked with. My anxiety reaches a peak and I was on the brink of shaking my entire body with fear. Couple with the groaning headache and I was at a near breaking point, it was all too much at the moment. Too much at once.

“Norman, relax for me, buddy. You look like a nervous wreck, take a sip of coffee. Breathe.”

I anxiously manage to guzzle down a sip or two of coffee, the drums rampaging in my mind still. My migraine makes me feel as if my brain would pop out my eyeballs at any second. The sheriff had put down his notebook by now and had walked over to my side and placed his hand on my shoulder. But before I hear him say anything, the drums sound deafens everything.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

He looks down from over my shoulder to speak and I finally hear him after another unrelenting beat.

“Lemme get you some water, take a breather and I’ll be right back.” He walks off somewhere behind me. Leaving me with the drumbeat and the fell ax before me. I look at the ax head once more and I don’t understand how it looks so new there is no way it can be the same one. I know I shouldn’t but I turn it around to see the underside of the back of the ax head and notice the same small sticker as before. The drums began to crescendo to an ear-bursting volume, my migraine was peaking in pain, and then with one more resounding chorus, it sounded once more.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

My vision went black. The beat had stopped along with my piercing headache and I was away in an ocean of nothing. My eyes open once again to a sight unfamiliar to me, I am at one end of a long stone bridge with an army of men surging in my direction across green hill pastures. My first instinct is to flee but then I hear a familiar beat.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

“Norman?”

I remember myself once more, it all seems so familiar to me now. Time freezes for a moment as I take in all that surrounds me. I wear the same helmet my father wore in his last battle, it is sturdy and fits me like it was meant to be. My chainmail covers my body, leaving no part exposed to arrows. It is heavy but my movement is untethered by it. The overhead sun is warm, sweat trickles from my brow and back. A stream runs beneath me with endless upheaval. The smooth wood shaft of my ax gives my hands a place to rest while I bide. I am unmoving as a mountain as the beat makes my blood begin to rise.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

An unknown voice calls out to me,

“Norman, what are you doing?”

Then the surge of a coming battle drowns it out, men charge towards me with spear, shield, and sword drawn as their battle cries shatter the air. They are nearly upon me. I breathe deeply and the clink of chainmail joins the fray as I raise my ax to my shoulder. The weight is comforting, it roots me in the moment.

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

The enemy draws closer, I can hear them roaring their war songs while waving their Saxon banners for all to see.

“Norman, god fucking dammit, PUT IT DOWN!”

Their words mean nothing, I am as stoic and cold as death itself. The bridge forces them to stampede at me in ranks of four side-by-side. So four shall die side-by-side with each swing. The beat has put my blood into a frenzy as they sync as one.
Dum dun-dun-dun

Dum dun
-dun-dun

Dum dun-dun-dun

Arrows clash against my armor, they are fruitless. A mere annoyance for I am Odin’s juggernaut, powered by the very war drums he plays for me on my ascension to Valhalla.

The first rank of dead men finally reach me and my powerful swing takes them to meet their God. Their blood splatters my mail as my next swing shatters the will of the next ranks. A survivor cries out for mercy at my feet,

“Wait! No!” He screams between bloody rasps of air, but there is no mercy here. A swift swing brings his pitiful life to an end.

Soon they will all know that there is naught here at Stamford Bridge but a boundless fury guided only by the whispers from the all-father himself that is my ode. Red Ruin.

Credit : Joshua Daeffler

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