Nanowrimo Novel 2009: Currently Untitled

•February 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Revisiting an old story from quite a while ago that I never finished. Here’s the next chapter in my zombie novel… and links to the chapters preceding it:

Chapter 10      Chapter 9      Chapter 8     Chapter 7     Chapter 6

Chapter 5     Chapter 4     Chapter 3     Chapter 2     Chapter 1

Prologue

WARNING:

The Following Contains Crude and Rude Language as well as some violence

If such language upsets you, READ NO FURTHER!

Chapter 11

 

Percival took the first watch. It went as peacefully as everyone hoped it would. When he finally got to sleep, however, peaceful would not be the word to describe it. He dreamt of Brown College Campus with its high fences between the college buildings. They had secured the center of campus from zombies within the first month of the major outbreak and had maintained a working society until supplies began to run short.

It was then that Percival suggested they raid the nearby towns and houses for further supplies. The first expedition had gone so well that the Campus Council had chosen to send Percival and his team out for an extended search through much of Tennessee.

Percival’s dream, however, didn’t focus on the good past. His dream instead focused on the future of what he now called ‘home.’ Brown College fell not to zombies but rather to rogue military units or creeps carrying looted military gear. The Campus was nothing but a smoking zombie infested ruin on the Tennessee Kentucky border.

Percival woke with the morning sun streaming in through the big bay window that showed the street, and a horde of undead milling around a few paces from the house. He bolted upright from his position on the bed and scrambled to his feet.

“How long have they been there?” Percival asked. “Why is the window open?”

“It’s not. The curtains needed to be pulled aside to let the light in,” Roy Joy answered in a matter-of-fact tone. “My friends have been here since before the sun came up.”

“Have they come any closer than that?” Percival scrambled to get his gloves and helmet on. He didn’t feel tired despite his lack of peaceful sleep the night before.

“Christine and Matthew asked them not to, so they haven’t.” Roy Joy turned away from the window. “My wife and son are very nice and very peaceful, aren’t they? Wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“Yeah. They are, Roy Joy.” Percival moved to Sarah and gently shook her awake.

“What’s wrong… Is it time to go?” she muttered.

“Yeah. Time to go. Get the others up. We need to leave, but do it quietly.” Percival turned to leave.

“What? Why…” Sarah sat up slowly. She rubbed her eyes groggily.

“Look out the window, but be quiet about it.”

Sarah eyes widened. She nodded. She swung her legs off the couch and crouched by Karl.

Percival collected his rifle and tugged his helmet on. He crept to the door separating the living room from the dining room. He opened it as silently as he possibly could. He moved toward Jessica and Morrbid. They were still asleep and soundly entwined with one another. Percival was glad that they were still clothed. Despite his anger with Morrbid the previous day, he wouldn’t wish infection on the man.

He snuck over to the pair and touched Jessica on her uninjured shoulder.

She started, blinking sleepily at Percival.

“What… we didn’t do anything, don’t worry. He knows,” she muttered.

Percival shook his head. “It’s time to get up. There’s a horde outside the front, I’m about to check the back. Get ready, we’re leaving soon.”

Somewhere between the words ‘horde’ and ‘leaving soon’ Jessica completely woke up. She shrugged off Morrbid’s arm and sat up.

“Where are they?” She asked.

“Out in the front street. Apparently they don’t want to go near the dead stalker on our doorstep, but that doesn’t keep them nearly as far at bay as a live one.”

“Wait, what?” Jessica had the distinctive look of a confused person plastered on her face. “How do you know that?”

“Empirical evidence. Carlos figured it out. Something about the stalkers keeps other zombies away,” Percival muttered. “We can discuss it at length later. Right now, we’ve got to go.”

For a moment, Jessica seemed as though she were going to ask another question. Instead, she just nodded and turned to wake Morrbid up.

Percival was glad at least one member of that pair actually listened to him. He moved away and to the nearest window. He stood to the side of it and slowly moved the curtain enough so he could see the backyard.

While not devoid of zombies, the backyard was certainly empty by comparison. Only three shambling corpses meandered around in the back yard, mere feet from the house.

Percival couldn’t quite understand why the zombies weren’t swarming, breaking the windows, and knocking the doors down. He also wasn’t about to complain about the odd behavior. He let the curtain fall back to a resting position walked quietly back to the living room.

Everyone was gathered in the living room waiting for him to come back. Everyone also had all their gear ready.

“What’s the situation like?” Karl asked.

“More of them out back, but fewer in number. Just a handful.” Percival set his rifle down, and took out his sledgehammer before he looped his body through his duffel bag’s strap and pulled it tight. “I’d prefer we go out the back without shooting any of them. If we can do it silently, that’d be best. One feeding moan will probably bring the rest.”

“Does anyone know why they’re not just swarming the house?” Sarah asked.

“Christine and Matthew asked them not to,” Roy Joy repeated what he’d told Percival.

“His wife and kid,” Percival clarified. “The dead stalker out front probably has something to do with it.”

Sarah nodded.

Percival suspected that there would be a grand discussion as to what precisely caused this behavior. He hoped it would wait until after they got back to the Campus. He slung his rifle and hefted his sledgehammer. It had a comforting weight to it, and although he’d had it for less than a week, he felt it was an old and trusted friend.

The others took out various melee weapons as well. Morrbid had a machete. Karl had a crowbar. Carlos took out a trench-knife.

Roy Joy hefted an aluminum tee-ball bat. Percival thought he recognized the bat from the bin of sports equipment in the game room. He wasn’t about to bring it up, though.

He snapped his visor down and moved through the door leading to the dining room door.

“We do this quickly. As quickly as we can. Don’t give ‘em time to scream. Okay?” Percival looked around his group of melee fighters.

Each of the men nodded. Each, including Morrbid, seemed ready to rush out and deal with the undead.

Percival moved to the set of double doors and pulled back the curtain enough to see. Half a dozen zombies still milled around in the yard. Percival looked back to his group.

“Who wants two?” he asked quietly.

“I do.” Morrbid raised his machete.

“Get the closest pair then.” Percival turned back to the doors. He hoped that trusting Morrbid to kill both the zombies without screwing it up wouldn’t come back to bite him.

He tucked the sledgehammer into the crook of one of his arms and turned both the handles at the same time. He yanked the doors open simultaneously.

The air was surprisingly muggy and stank of the zombies outside. Morrbid rushed past Percival, shoving the younger man aside as he pushed out the door, machete raised high.

Percival hefted his sledgehammer and ran through the wide-open doors. The sound of stomping footsteps following after him said the rest of his team rushed out as well.

The zombies in the backyard immediately stopped milling about and looked toward the team of survivors.

Percival crashed into the farthest zombie, bringing his hammer around in a vicious arc. The heavy head crunched into rotting skull and decimated the brain-matter beyond. The zombie flowed with his follow-through and collapsed with a soft thud to the grass as he yanked the sledgehammer in the opposite direction.

He spun, half expecting to see the others needing help with their individual zombies. Karl wrenched his crowbar from a destroyed head while Carlos cleaned his trench knife. The latter zombie still twitched, though the pair of neat puncture wounds in its forehead listed it among the dead and not the undying. Morrbid’d lopped half the head off of one zombie and completely decapitated the other. The second of his zombie’s jaws still snapped, dead eyes fixated on the human that’d parted head from body.

Percival took a moment to clean off his sledgehammer’s head with a scrap of clothing from his zombie as his group of survivors collected around him at the edge of Roy Joy’s backyard. He surveyed one-by-one, then nodded. He sometimes hated being the leader of the group.

“We move, quickly and quietly down the street, away from the horde. We stick to the backyards as much as we can unless some other threat presents itself from there. Questions?” Percival said.

The members of his group shook their heads. Even Morrbid, who Percival had expected to cause some trouble, was quiet and accepting of Percival’s orders. Perhaps Percival’d underestimated the man.

“I’ll take lead. Karl, wrap up our rear?”

“Certainly, Percival,” Karl answered.

“Sarah, Jessica, you’re in the middle. No arguments, Sarah. You’re injured and until you’re back to 100 percent, you stick to the middle.”

Sarah opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. Percival was glad he wasn’t going to have to argue the point of her safety with her. “Rest of you, take up positions as you see fit.”

Percival led the way to the hedge separating one yard from the next. He listened for a moment, then pushed through it. He parted branches of the brush with his hammer and gloved hands, but still felt the tugs against his jacket and jeans. He was glad, again, for his motorcycle helmet, as it kept anything from scratching his face. He emerged in another backyard.

This yard was decorated with a grill, sitting on a cement patio, a couple bits of wooden furniture, a picnic table, and a trampoline in the corner of two hedges. He waited for the others to squeeze through the hedge. As he waited, the studied the trampoline. More than a handful of its springs were rusty, and a couple were outright missing, but all together it appeared to be intact. He could climb up on it and bounce to survey the surrounding yards.

But then again, the springs were rusty and decrepit looking. Even if they held his weight, and he doubted they would as he continued to look at them, they would groan as he bounced and alert all the zombies they were taking the time to avoid.

He glanced over his shoulder at the cluster of people pushing through the hedge. Karl was just coming through and Percival decided it was time to move on. He moved to the next hedge, found a weak spot, and pushed through and into the next yard. It held similar decorations as the previous yard, cement patio, grill, picnic table and appropriate wooden furniture. The largest difference was a child’s playset instead of a trampoline. It was complete with swings, sandbox, and an aluminum slide.

The supports of the slide didn’t look near as rusted as the springs on the trampoline, and Percival determined that to be a good thing. It would be worth the risk of climbing up atop it and surveying the area around their current yard.

He crossed the yard as the others pushed through the hedge to join him. He dropped his sledgehammer and duffle bag near the playset, kicked one of the supports of the slide, and decided it was solid enough to climb. He pulled himself up the handful of rungs of the ladder at the back. He stopped just high enough, one rung from the top, to see over the neighboring hedges.

Percival looked around. Three of the neighboring backyards stretching in the direction they were headed were empty and devoid of life. This suited him perfectly fine. They’d make their way through two yards and cut back to the street, if the horde wasn’t terribly big and stretching four houses down. If it was, they could always retreat back to the backyards, kill the handful of stray zombies, and proceed further down the street, carefully hidden behind the buildings.

Either way, they’d need to be quick about it. The morning was fading fast as the sun climbed higher into the sky. It wasn’t noon yet, but it soon would be. It was a downside to the change in seasons and winter creeping slowly but surely toward them. Winter had its benefits, but… out in the open, those benefits hardly outweighed the risks.

It was another reason he had to safely direct the group back home. While true winter was still a month, or more, away, the tendrils of its coming were easily felt on the horizon. He didn’t like the thought of spending the cold months away from the Secured portions of the Brown College Campus. He rejoined the group to share what he’d seen atop the slide.

“There’s four zombies three yards over,” he said quietly. “We cross two yards and check the street. If we can avoid them all, the best. If not… we’ll play it by ear.”

“Haha…” Sarah muttered.

“No pun intended,” Percival said. “Questions?”

“Are we sticking to the same traveling order, Mister Polz?” Andrina asked. She was checking her pistol.

“Yeah. At least until we get to the last yard. Then we’ll check the street in a different formation.”

She nodded. Percival waited a handful of tense seconds and when no one voiced any other concerns, he turned and headed for the hedge. He pushed through, surveyed the yard, then moved to the next hedge. A handful of minutes later and the group had caught up with him and he pushed through the second hedge and into the yard. He paused, waiting for everyone to catch up with him.

“Next yard over,” he whispered, just loud enough for his voice to carry past his helmet and to the others, “is the yard with four zombies. We check the street. Rather, I’ll check the street. No reason to risk everyone going out there.”

“No reason to risk just you either. Or letcha steal all th’glory, hot-shot,” Morrbid said.

Percival stared at him for a moment. The man was undoubtedly hostile, and while Percival had trusted him to handle two zombies in Roy Joy’s backyard, he hardly wanted to trust him to watch his back as he scouted the street for zombies. He sneered, glad that the motorcycle helmet would hide the facial expression. It wouldn’t do well to be leader and let people like Morrbid get under his skin. He opened his mouth to speak, but Andrina cut him off. He didn’t think it was intentional.

“He’s right, Mr. Polz. You shouldn’t go alone. Although, Mr. Kaufman, our fearless leader wouldn’t needlessly risk himself for ‘glory.’” Andrina steamrolled whatever comment Morrbid was about to counter with. “I’ll go with you. I’m light on my feet, and am better at judging numbers than you.”

Percival didn’t want to take either of them. He wanted to ensure that they all were safe behind a wall and he did all the dangerous work. But, as much as he hated admitting it, she was right. Working in pairs was an unspoken rule, and she was better at conducting headcounts.

He could remember his first class with her in a massive lecture hall with over 400 students in it. She’d not only told them how many people were seated in the room, but also how many were in each section and row, with little more than a glance. Some students hated her for her ability to take roll in a 400 student class, but Percival found it amazing and had utilized her skill in the field since.

“Alright,” he said. “You accompany me, the rest of you stay back and watch the yard.”

They nodded. Percival moved to the corner of the house, slowly pushed open a wrought iron gate fixed into a fancy wrought iron fence that stretched to the hedge. It creaked, and he hoped it didn’t carry as far as he was worried it might. He squeezed through after pushing it open just enough to do so. Andrina had less trouble slipping through the crack.

He immediately attached himself to the wall and slunk along it to the street. He stopped at the corner of the building, glancing at Andrina. She’d pressed herself to the wall as well and waited for his signal.

The immediate street before them was empty of zombies. That was a good sign, but Percival knew that didn’t mean a lot for what might lie in either direction. He slowly peeked around the corner, up the street and back toward Roy Joy’s house, then away and toward their vehicles. A substantial horde lay between them and the house, and, easily, a couple dozen zombies were between them and the route that would take them back to the relative safety of their cars.

He ducked his head back and looked to Andrina.

“How many, Mr. Polz?” she asked.

“A lot.”

She nodded and slid around him to the corner of the building. She’d be able to give a better count, and likely assessment of danger. She poked her head out and snapped straight with the reverberating crack of a rifle shot echoing through the neighborhood and a plume of red puffing out behind her head.

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See you next week

•February 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So… this week has been a little busy for me. For those of you who don’t know, I’m also a gamer (tabletop rpg and video games) and the former in that parenthetical list is something that has eaten into my timetable this week. We’ve been on a hiatus for a couple weeks after a bombshell, and we’re returning… and really, I’ve been working on stuff for that game. So, in short, that means no real story or essay post this week. Next week, though, will have one!

A Story of Kyle Reigns

•February 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So… I didn’t get the writing I intended to do during the Superbowl done… whoops. Here’s an extra long post, hope it makes up for the lack of one last week.

WARNING:

The Following Contains Crude and Rude Language as well as some violence

If such language upsets you, READ NO FURTHER!

 

Kyle pulled himself up onto the wall. Three days had passed since Sable had approached him and detailed a plan to steal the Crown Jewels of the Royal Family. He could barely keep the butterflies settled in his stomach as he perched atop the wall and watched a pair of guards walk by. Their boots echoed off the stone as they paced past. He rubbed his thumb over the pearl ring on his scarred hand. That ring provided him invisibility. It wasn’t something he was used to using, and it didn’t help to alleviate his butterflies.

The guards walked past, completely oblivious to Kyle’s presence. They talked of a card game that was going on in the barracks. Likely to still be going on for some hours, and both hoped to get in on it at the end of the shift.

As their footsteps faded, Kyle hopped down onto the wall. He quickly padded across the span of the wall and hopped over the ledge. He moved quickly, but quietly. The ring made him invisible, but didn’t silent him.

He slid down the stone wall, one hand pressed to the stones, feeling the bumps and crannies as he went. He landed softly, crumpling with the impact, and tumbling forward in a smooth roll. He came up near a giant fern, likely imported from the jungles far to the south, and testament to the extravagant use of magic at the royal garden. The fern wouldn’t possibly survive a Bragnogian winter. Outside of this wall the palace, and city beyond, were blanketed with a thin coating of snow. Winter didn’t exactly rage outside, but it certainly had the land in a vice grip.

He stared across the garden. A couple rose bushes glowed dimly in the night, their roses enchanted to emit a faint glow. Other flowers provided pockets of light and a dim illumination throughout the entire garden. Another guard sat on the ground and leaned against a small cherry tree. His pike was propped against his shoulder and his helmet was tugged down to shade his eyes. His chest slowly rose and fell in a slow rhythm that Kyle could guess indicated that he was asleep.

Kyle turned his eyes away from the sleeping guard and turned them to the palace. The walls, at least at this section of it, were crafted of a pale red stone, intermingled with the occasional white block. The palace was comprised of several towers with a central keep. Large mansion wings barged out from the central keep to accommodate the Royal Family, in generations past, and royal guests more recently.

Kyle knew that the second window on the right, from where he now crouched, was unguarded at this hour. The indoor guards would be changing shifts soon. He cast one more glance at the sleeping guard in the garden, then dashed quietly across the garden. He stuck to the dimmer tracks of ground as he crossed out of sheer habit. He padded right up to the far wall and pressed a hand to it.

The stone was smooth; even at the point where two blocks intersected. Those had the barest of creases. He’d read of walls such as this, and even come across one in his trials and tribulations in Trollivur, his home city. His previous encounter had left him without a prize as no other way up the wall was available to him then. He glanced up, counted the windows and adjusted himself to the right a handful of paces.

The smooth stone wall in Trollivur had defeated him for lack of a way to climb it and a lack of a way to circumvent it. Kyle tugged gloves out of a belt pouch too small for them and looked at the sleeping guard again. He watched the guard’s chest rise and fall a few times, maintaining that nice sleepful rhythm, then turned back to the smooth wall and slipped the gloves on. He immediately faded into view as the ring lost its ability to render him invisible thanks to the enchantment on the gloves.

Though, for now at least, Kyle had little need for the invisibility enchantment, and a great need for the ability to practically walk up walls.

Kyle cinched the gloves tight and placed one hand on the wall, palm spread wide, then the other hand. Both stuck and he pulled himself up with a grunt. He braced his feet against the wall, pulled one hand away, then pressed it to the wall again a span higher. He set to climbing up the impossibly smooth wall in this fashion. It took him longer than he expected and his arms and legs ached with the effort of the climb to the window. He peered into it. This portion of the keep was under the same enchantment that kept the garden nice and warm. It resulted in a window that was clear instead of frosted over, or blocked by a layer of snow.

The room beyond the window was a hallway, crafted from the same pale red brick that the wall was, though a fair portion of the stonework was hidden by tapestries and carpets rendered in royal blues and purples. He edged around the window, looking as far as he could down the hallway either way. The effort of climbing around the wall made his tired muscles scream. As soon as he was satisfied that the hallway was empty, as Sable’s scouting had revealed, he pulled himself onto the lip of the window and pulled a latch-guard from his belt pouch. He slipped the tool into the crack in the middle where the window closed and slid it upwards.

It caught for a moment on something invisible, then, with a barely audible groan, pressed through it. Kyle could only guess that the tool had disabled a warding spell of some sort designed to alert the guards to an opened window. He was thankful for the gift from Sable, she’d outfitted him with all of his magical gear, and forced the latch-guard up and flicked the window latch open.

He shuffled to the side, pulled open half of the window and slipped inside. Anyone bigger would have needed to open both sides of the window. It was one of the few times that Kyle blessed his small stature. He dropped down to the floor and closed the window behind him. He relatched it as well. The hallway stretched away in either direction, a handful of ornate oak doors dotting the far wall. He counted the doors again, closed his eyes for a moment, and consulted a mental map.

If he was where he thought he was, and he should be, to the right would be the prize he sought. To the left was a trinket he’d be paid handsomely for. Of course, in between either would be any number of small items he could pilfer and pawn later. He opened his eyes and slipped the gloves off and immediately vanished from sight. He tucked them away into his belt pouch and padded near silent down the hallway toward the minor trinket. He stuck to the wall, counting doors as he went. At this time of night, he had little chance of running into a servant this high up in the keep, but it was best to stay out of the way of potential stragglers or late night wanderers that might be meandering down a hallway. Unless they were drunk, he didn’t expect anyone to be hugging a wall as he was.

The fourth door passed him and he rounded the corner. The hallway stretched further into the keep, but the door Kyle wanted was on the opposite side of the hallway. He crossed the walkway, darting quietly past the guard as he walked a slow round. Was he early? Kyle shook his head, stopping next to the heavy oaken door and waiting for the guard to round the corner before turning back to the door and producing a set of lock-picks. He paused to listen to the guard’s receding footsteps before setting to opening the door.

He tucked the picks away and slipped through the door, having opened it just enough for him to get through. He closed the door behind him. The room was a trophy room of the Royal Family. Stuffed beasts from all corners of the world decorated the room, family heirlooms mounted the wall, ancient weapons, and magical artifacts, each and every one. The room was dim, bright pools of light highlighting each treasure or trophy.

Kyle moved into the room, it was carpeted and muffled his steps far more than the bare stone or rugs outside in the hallway. He walked through the room, quiet as a whisper, a loud creak jarring his attention, and causing him to jump away from its source.

His gaze settled on a suit of armor. He could have sworn the helmet was turned to be ‘facing’ the door when he entered. He took a few more steps, watching the armor. The helmet turned slowly, with a definite creak, to follow his progress. He frowned, and hoped the sound didn’t carry past the walls of the room, and quickened his pace.

He glanced at every item he passed. Sword? No. Helmet? No. Robes? No. Spellbook? No… but he swiped that anyways after checking around it with the latch-guard. There was no point in taking the unnecessary risk of setting off some other alarm by snatching an item. He deposited the spellbook into his belt pouch and continued his hunt for the item Joyce wanted from this room.

He passed several more items of interest, but not important, and came to stop before a knobbly arm-length twig. He looked it over, checked it with the latch-guard, and picked it up. Power tickled his fingertips as he gingerly held the wand. He wasn’t entirely sure what the Wand of the Archmage could do, but he was, without a doubt, certain that this was it. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he heard a whisper that he could control anything magical with the wand, and that he should use it now. He bit his lip, glanced at the animated armor and resisted the temptation to flick the tip of the wand in its direction. Reluctantly, Kyle put the wand away into his belt pouch.

He walked to the door and pressed his ear to it. This was going smoothly, almost too smoothly. But this must simply have been a sign that his luck was changing for the better. He listened for sound on the other side of the door. He heard, though faintly, the telltale raps of boot leather against stone as the patrolling guard passed the door. He held his breath a moment, listening to the footsteps fade, far faster than they had when he was outside of the room. He waited a span of three slow breaths before opening the door. He may be invisible, but the door was not and it would be blatantly obvious if it opened by itself.

He opened it as slowly as possible, peeking through the crack between the door and doorframe before further opening it just wide enough for him to squeeze through. He closed the door behind him, ever thankful for whatever maintenance or magic kept the keep’s doors so quiet on opening and closing. He waited patiently beside the door, just listening. When he heard nothing beside the quiet sighs and moans of the stone walls, he moved away from the door and back down the hallway in the direction he’d come from.

He moved quickly and quietly, sticking, once more, to the wall as he rounded the corner. He counted the windows, and glanced at the one he’d crawled through as he passed it. It appeared the same as it had been when he’d left it. He move quickly, not wanting to bump into the guard patrolling this level of the keep, and by passed the first intersection.

He rounded the corner at the end of the hall and, as expected, began climbing a wide set of stairs. The stairs led up to the next floor of the keep. He took them two at a time, pausing to listen for footsteps every handful of steps. He cleared the top stair and moved down to a wide set of double doors. These were bigger than the others down below and had a large ring for pulling. No lock or latch was apparent on the wooden door. Of course, someone coming this far into the keep was either a trusted guard, royal family, or escorted by one or the other. Kyle smiled at the audacity behind it.

He took his latch-guard out and ran it up the middle of the door. He expected, and wasn’t disappointed, that the door would be warded. However, if it were barred from the other side, there would be little he could do about it. He took a breath, putting the latch-guard away, and pressed his shoulder to the door. It swung inward slowly and silently.

Within was a display hall. It stretched away from him a good thirty feet, maybe further. The floor was littered with ornate rugs depicting the long history of the various Royal Lines to have worn the crown jewels over the centuries. The walls were decorated with tapestries heralding the glories of the current family to sit the throne. They would eventually be incorporated into a rug to decorate the floor when the dynasty changed, but for now… they touted the various accomplishments of three different Copperfolds for anyone who was granted an audience here. Kyle had expected all these things. What he hadn’t expected to see was the Princess heir, Ashley Copperfold, standing between him and the Crown Jewels, staring at and studying them.

She was dressed in an obnoxious pale purple dress. The shoulders bulged out and made it look like she had two large, purple turtles sitting on her shoulders, and resulted in causing her arms to appear like twigs dangling beneath rather than actual limbs. Her blonde hair was done up in a neat bun, and she seemed duly unaware of Kyle’s presence.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” he blurted out before he could stop himself.

She spun around, the dress’s skirt fanning out as she did, searching for the source of the sound and locking her eyes on the partly open door. “Who’s there?”

Kyle hurriedly closed the door.

Ashley’s fingers flittered through a couple gestures and she thrust her palm forward toward him with an arcane word.

Kyle suddenly popped into being and froze as though the Princess’s gaze where that of the gorgon. Her face twisted into one of anger.

“You. I remember you. You’re that pathetic little scrap of human waste we had locked up that My Lord Windstrom and his wench wanted freed so badly.”

Kyle could hardly fault her for having a good memory. Though he’d been locked up nearly two years ago, the princess, who’d seen him twice, remembered him; and his connection to both Jace and Signy.

“Ain’t whatcha think it is, Your Highness,” Kyle said.

Ashley suddenly smiled.

“Hardly,” she said quietly. “You’re just here to murder me and swipe the Crown Jewels. Maybe even intend to place them on your head and lay claim to the throne.”

“No…” Kyle slipped his hand into his belt pouch.

“But I can use you. Yes-” Her smile took on an evil glint. “-She stole him from me you know. He was rightfully mine, and she took him, then cast him to the wilds down south. And you’re going to help me get back at her for it.”

She pointed a finger at his chest and he whipped the Wand of the Archmage out of his belt pouch and pointed it at her.

She laughed, heartily and bodily laughed, at him. “What’re you gonna do with that little twig? I can scream once and a dozen guardsmen will be here within half a minute. And I know enough defensive magic to keep you from harming me too, so don’t bother throwing any knives. Thief.”

“You scream or even look like you’re gonna… and I’ll,” Kyle said. She cut him off.

“You’ll what? Tell you what, put the twig down and you’ll not be harmed in your taking. Your little assassination attempt will be uncovered to have been the plot of that little blacksmith wench and she’ll be dealt with appropriately.”

Kyle took a step forward and jabbed the wand in the air at her. “You… shut it.”

Ashley just smiled at him, planted her hands on her hips and drew a deep breath.

“I warned you!” Kyle swished and flicked the Wand of the Archmage at her. One moment the Princess Heir was there, then next there was a subdued ‘PLOP’, and suddenly she was gone. A blood red haze remaining where she once stood. It took Kyle a moment to realize what had happen, and a moment to notice the pair of feet that ended at the ankle still standing in blood red slippers and a pool of congealing red that seeped into the rugs.

“Oh shit…” he murmured. What was he going to do? He’d killed the Princess. He’d murdered the Royal Bitch who’d threatened him. Who’d be among those who had convicted him to begin with near on two years ago. “Shit… shit, shit.” He murmured. The butterflies he’d felt when crawling over the outer-wall were nothing compared to what he felt now.

He didn’t remember putting the wand away, or walking across the room, staying well away from the red puddle that was Ashley, or taking the Crown Jewels and putting them into his belt pouch.

He did remember stepping out of the room and seeing a guard there. He sucked in breath, halted… Ashley’s spell had canceled his invisibility and he’d forgotten in the haze of murdering her to reengage it.

The guard shouted something at him. He wore the standard guard’s uniform, though it didn’t seem to have the contours of armor beneath it. He had a sword drawn. Kyle acted, more on instinct than anything. He drew a dagger, took two steps forward, turning the sword away with the bared dagger and in the half step it took to close with the guard, had flicked a second blade from a wrist sheath which he buried the second dagger in the guard’s throat.

He died gurgling on his own blood, one hand clawing wetly at the dagger Kyle left there. Kyle felt sick, nausea swept over him like an unending tide. He pressed a bloody hand to his mouth, stepped back away from the dead guard and spun to leave. He sprinted down the stairs, heedless of the racket he made as he ran.

He returned to the window, barely remembering to pull a glove out of his belt pouch and put it on as he fumbled with the window latch. It hadn’t been that slick when he first opened it. Nor that red. It took him three tries to get it open. He wasted no time pulling himself through and starting the trek down the wall of the keep. The glove let him slide down and land in the garden in a fraction of the time it’d taken to climb up.

He landed with a grunt, and started across the garden.

“HALT!” The shout came as a surprise to Kyle. The guard that had been sleeping was no longer doing so and stood between him and the outer-wall, his pike lowered and pointed at Kyle’s chest. He studied the man again, armored and helmeted. The same strike he’d used on the previous guard wouldn’t work on this man. Kyle felt sick to his stomach again.

He didn’t like how readily the thought of killing the guard came to mind.

Thankfully he didn’t have to decide on a way to kill the guard. From above, something crashed into him and bore him to the ground. Half a heartbeat later, Sable rose from the crumpled guard, wiping a bloodied dagger on her hip.

“Turn your invisibility back on, yuh moron,” she chided him.

Kyle felt sick and like an idiot. He’d forgotten about the ring, some part of it assumed it was destroyed in the room the Crown Jewels were, and thumbed the pearl. He faded from sight.

“I’ll see you in a couple days,” she faded from sight as well.

He turned, vomited, then cleared the garden in record time. He hit the outer-wall and climbed up it smoothly. Luck graced his boots for, what seemed like, the first time that night. The perimeter guards weren’t near this section, and he could sprint across it and drop back into the city.

Where he would go, he didn’t know yet. He did know he’d done something horrible… and stupid though. His troubles were just beginning.

Placeholder

•February 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Placeholder. Yeah, there will be a proper post. Just not right now. I’ve been sick for the majority of the past week, but am doing better. I’ll write up a post this weekend (likely during the Superbowl) and post it then. I apologize for the delay.

A Story of Kyle Reigns

•January 27, 2012 • 1 Comment

Kyle skulked around the Royal Palace for a week. He studied windows and doors and watched the changing of the guard. He took careful notes of which windows tended to be dark at night and how often the guards patrolled. He even took a handful of courier jobs which granted him, albeit temporary and highly restricted, access to the palace. He studied places he might hide and ever-burning torches and glow orbs. He also guessed as to what sources of light might be removed and not noticed. He felt out the ebb and flow of the Royal Palace. He observed the servants coming and going and how at ease everyone was. There was a sense of placation among the nobility that came to call on royalty, and even among the guardsmen assigned to guard the halls.

Kyle hadn’t expected that when walking these halls. He had anticipated hostile looks from every guard as he passed. It hadn’t been that long, a mere two years, since he was led shackled from the royal dungeon through some of these halls. He half, more than half, expected to be recognized at every turn by every other guardsman, but not a one cast him even the slightest of second glances. Somewhere in the back of his mind, all that set him at ease.

And all the while during his extensive scouting of the building, he was never called on by Joyce to be given his job; though that didn’t entirely concern him, as he trusted Joyce to call on him when the time came. What did creep into his mind of worries was that he hadn’t seen Sable, or Bear, or Greg, or any number of other thieves scoping out the place. He’d expected, given the huff and puff that Joyce had put on, there would be several members of Joyce’s band looking at the place. Kyle doubted that they were simply better than he, and eluded his notice.

One might call that arrogance. Kyle thought of it as he was simply better than they were in some regards.

It was the last day before an unofficial ‘couple of weeks’ had passed that Kyle watched Jace walk out of Royal Palace. It concerned Kyle more to see Joyce’s brother walking out the building than it had the entire previous absence of the other thieves had. What was the holyman doing there? Was he onto Kyle? Kyle’d followed Jace’s instructions to the letter, avoiding the shop and Signy all together while Jace was in town.

He’d listened to the big man, dressed in military finery of royal blue and gold and cut to express his martial prowess while still looking formal enough for a high-class ball, out of some base grudging respect because he’d managed to save Kyle’s life not once, but twice. And the rogue hadn’t repaid the favor.

The lease he could do would be listen to Jace. Of course, if Joyce’d told Jace what was up, he might be there to warn the royal guard of the impending theft. But that hardly made sense. The two brothers barely spoke to one another, and when they did kind words weren’t exchanged. Kyle left the edge of the Royal Palace, curiosity piquing his interest. He continued to ponder why Jace was in the palace as he shadowed the larger man across the city of Bragnog.

Kyle followed him through winding cobblestone streets, magically smoothed and glistening white, of the royal district, to the temple district where the street matched whatever temple dominated the street it was on. Kyle, halfway through the temple district, recognized where Jace was going: Signy’s shop.

Kyle sneered, curling his lip at the thought of Jace returning to the smithy he had bought for, and was currently banned from, Signy. He broke away from tailing the cleric and walked down a side alleyway. Sable stepped out of the shadows before him. He didn’t dignify the woman with a shocked response, though his heart was suddenly racing in his chest.

“What’d’ya want, Sable?” Kyle asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Joyce’s gotta job fer yuh, rooster,” Sable cooed. She smiled and slithered in her saunteringly sexy way toward him.

“You just his messenger now?” Kyle asked.

Sable shook her head and drew a finger down the side of his cheek. “Hardly. I just happened to be the one to walk away from the palace and tail you tailing Jace. Still heartbroken over the falling out?”

Kyle shook his head. “Been workin’, not thinkin’.”

“Want another distraction?” Sable asked with a coy little smile.

“No. Not right now. Does Joyce want me to come to him?”

“Mmm.” She considered him for a moment longer than Kyle was truly comfortable being considered. “No. I’ve got th’job and the details here with me.”

“So you are little more than a messenger.” Kyle took a step back and leaned against the wall of the alleyway.

“Please.” She mirrored his pose against the opposite wall. “I’m far more than a mere messenger, and this is hardly the place to discuss such delicate plans. Meet me at yer safehouse on the corner of th’temple tuh Moradin.” She then slipped back into the shadows, as though the wall wasn’t even there.

Kyle wished he knew how she did that. It was likely some magic trick he’d not stumbled across yet. With that thought, he settled on that he may want to visit an academy for a period of time and refine his raw magical talent.

He pushed off from the wall and walked back to the street. He stepped out into the street and worked his way away from the smithy and back into the temple district. He padded around behind the great stone monolith that was the temple of Moradin, then climbed up the backside in the fading daylight. He pulled himself onto a ledge and pushed open a small, stone door set into the side of the building. The room beyond came alight as he closed the door behind him.

The room was small with little room for anything more than a small bed and a table, each set against a wall. The walls were bare stone, seeming to have been carved from the temple itself. Kyle’d never bothered to decorate this particular safehouse. When he had come here, it was usually just for a night. This location was one he used solely as an emergency escape hole.

Sable lounged across the small bed, waiting for him. She sat up as the gloworbs raised the light level in the room. “Took you long enough, darling.”

“I don’t have yer shadow jumpin’ capabilities,” Kyle said.

“I’d be glad to take yuh on as an apprentice tuh teach you such tricks,” Sable said with a small smile playing across her face.

“Sure… After the job.” Kyle moved deeper into the room, standing at the edge of the bed. It took him a mere two steps to get that far.

Sable nodded and slipped a hand into a belt pouch and withdrew a map, then a sealed letter. She held the letter out toward Kyle while spreading the map out across the foot of his bed. Kyle took the letter from her hand.

He recognized the seal on the letter as being Joyce’s and broke it open. He scanned the contents of the letter. It told of what Joyce wanted stolen. Kyle put the letter down, feeling slightly dizzy. In the letter Joyce had listed a handful of items he wanted from the Royal Palace. Among them was the Crown Jewels of the Royal Family and the Royal Scepter. He’d seen the jewels once, and that was at his sentencing. He had, as a supposed murderer of a noble, been sentenced by the king himself.

He swallowed and put the letter down on the small table. Sable looked up at him.

“Yuh look like yuh’ve seen a ghost,” Sable said. There wasn’t even a touch of concern in her voice.

“He wants two of the best guarded relics in the entire realm.” Kyle leaned against the wall. “No… Can’t be done. You know, I thought he was going to ask for candlesticks or something.”

“He’s gotta lotta faith in yuh, Kyle.” Sable smoothed the map out. “Yuh ain’t gonna be going in alone either.”

“Okay… What’s the plan then? I assume you’ve got one… that you will be goin’ in with me.” Kyle pushed off of the wall and knelt at the foot of the bed.

Sable smiled, almost venomously, at him. “If you would stop worrying an’ look at th’map, I’ll go over what I’ve done devised.”

Kyle looked from her, in her tight leathers, and lounging in such a way to show off the curves of said leathers, to the map. It was a map of the Royal Palace, complete with guard stations, patrol routes, and servant movements. It was even magically animated to show the most common routes of any given patrol through the building.

“Now then… Here’s where we’ll enter. There’ll be a distraction by Grassroots here.” Sable pointed at the map as she began to lay out the plan to swipe the Crown Jewels and Royal Scepter.

Fleeing

•January 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

WARNING:

The Following Contains Some very brief descriptions of Violence and mild Gore.

If such language upsets you, READ NO FURTHE

 

Topkoft struggled up the hill. It looked stony and solid, but his leather boots sank into it as though it were sand. He looked to his right. Nopl, struggled the same as Topkoft did, though the senior demonslayer didn’t display any of the worry that Topkoft did. The thing at the top of the hill hardly looked human. It bore the vague shape of a woman, an obese woman falling out of a mostly destroyed robe; a robe that once belonged to a member of the priesthood that supported the demonslayers. The abomination was likely a blasphemous she bitch that had welcomed a demon to infest her form and grant her power that no mortal was ever meant to touch. Such people lost their souls in the pact and became a blight to the land. They twisted the very world around them. They threatened to break the very fabric of reality with the unholy power gifted to them.

The thought forced the fear away from Topkoft’s mind and gave him fresh vigor to climb the faux stone hill. The state of the stone beneath his feet was testament to the corrupting nature of the demon. He drew his broad sword as the demon lifted its head from its relaxed meditative posture and craned it around. The bulging hump on its back twitched a few times as it lifted up from the ground, legs unfolding from the full lotus position and touching lightly to the ground though it seemed to Topkoft as though that was a habit from mortality rather than a necessary pose.

Topkoft drew his short sword. He was nearly in striking distance. He was the youngest of the demonslayers that Vrocknar’d chosen to hunt down this young demon, and by extension, the spryest. He lashed out with his broad sword. It felt as though he were forcing his sword through thick molasses. He heard the pop behind him, then felt something wet and sticky splat across his backside. He continued to force his sword toward the demon as it stomped one foot and a jagged shard of metal sprung from the ground. Right in the way of his sword.

He smashed the weapon into the demon’s new toy with bone-jarring force. The impact reverberated back into his arm as the demon took up the shard of metal like a staff. The molasses disappeared from around Topkoft and he used his new found freedom of motion to thrust quick strikes at the demon.

The demon effortlessly turned aside each of his strikes. It pivoted, turning the shaft of jagged metal to meet each slash or gently turn away a frantic thrust. Topkoft worked hard to press the demon back, each blow closer to making contact than the last, but still nothing quite struck true.

Vrocknar suddenly appeared behind the demon. Its eyes, blood shot to the point of appearing entirely crimson, popped open wide.

Topkoft learned then that the demon’d merely been playing with him. It smashed away a double stab, pivoted, and jammed the tip of the shard into his middle. He felt the leather and metal plates buckle and bend with the impact, then flew. He tumbled through the air, away from the hilltop and the demon and Vrocknar. The world spun and he slammed down, hard, against the stone, that wasn’t stone, floor right next to the tunnel entrance they’d entered this hellhole by.

His head spun. Stars swam before him. He wasn’t dead, or even seriously injured by his short, rough flight through the air. He pushed himself up. No normal blow could drive someone through the air like that. He felt suddenly sick. He’d been touched, directly, by the blasphemous demonic magic and flung across the cavern by it. Did that mean he was corrupted? The priest’s teachings spoke of corruption taking place with but a touch and agreement.

But what if they were wrong and it could be forced on someone. It had certainly been forced on the area around the demon. The cavern wasn’t natural, the stone looked solid until stepped upon, the tunnel leading to it came from a branch that was entirely new… Topkoft fought back the urge to vomit as the most pervasive, and sinister, of the demon’s spells took hold. It was a spell that required no casting, or even active part on the behalf of the demon. That spell was fear.

It ate away at Topkoft. He was tempted to remain where he was, feign death… but then, he knew the demon would find him anyways. He pushed himself up, saw Vrocknar still engaged with the demon. The old man’s dagger flashed, and rang metallically against the demon’s staff. He caught Topkoft’s eye, and Topkoft looked away. He could see the other demonslayers scattered around the hill as well.

Nopl’s stumpy legs were all that was left of him. Ysdrial stood on his tiptoes, an earthen spike rammed through his chest, the point dripped red gore and it held him in the tiptoe position. Kopper was nowhere to be seen and Hrothgar laid near the opposite wall in a pool of his own blood, one hand still clutching the ruin of his neck where the earthen spike had slid through his armor as a hot knife goes through butter. Brovar wasn’t anywhere to be seen either. He’d either exploded as Nopl had or had fallen somewhere out of Topkoft’s sight.

Topkoft staggered to his feet. His legs didn’t want to support him all of a sudden. He met Vrocknar’s eye, saw the older demonslayer freeze, watched the demon smash his weapon arm with its staff at the elbow, and turned away. This was folly, he told himself. His legs found their strength with the addition of a goal. Especially when that goal was self-preservation. He put his legs to motion, sprinting away from the scene of all the carnage and death. He dashed into the tunnel and was barely four steps in when the walls smashed together behind him; inches away from crushing his heels.

Topkoft raced along the tunnel, running blind in the sudden absolute darkness, pumping his arms furiously at his sides. He stopped only when he ran headlong into a wall. The sole thing that prevented him from knocking himself out, or smashing his face up beyond being recognizable, was his helmet. He fell back onto his haunches and sat there in the sheer, black, darkness, listening to the soft drips in the cave and his own ragged breaths.

He couldn’t say how long he sat there, but eventually he stood. He took a moment to sheath his paired swords and fumbled for his flint and steel. If the demon hadn’t come for him so far, and he’d already written off the possibility of Vrocknar getting the better of demon, it likely wasn’t coming for him. The realization, the tiny blossoming of hope, calmed him considerably.

With that calm realization, and a spark of light from the flint and steel, came another realization. What was he going to tell the council? He’d fled from the demon he was supposed to have killed or died trying to kill. Demonslayers weren’t supposed to run away. They weren’t supposed to leave a job undone. Teams, like the one Topkoft had belonged to, frequently left the monastery keeps that dotted the land and came back with only a couple members. They usually also returned with a new raw recruit or two. A demonslayer’s lift was short and violent when he left a monastery keep, but it was a rare occurrence that an entire team was wiped out, or even reduced to a single member.

He struck the flint and steel together again over a stubborn torch, paused to listen for imagined footsteps, then did so again. The council wouldn’t be happy with him. He was almost certain of that. He didn’t know what the punishment for running was, it hadn’t happened in his monastery, but he couldn’t imagine it was pleasant or less than fatal. He struck the flint and steel again. The torch caught.

He was still among the best of the best. Demonslayers were faster and better trained than your average swordsman of the land. They needed to be to take on the magical furies of a demon. He shook a little in the darkness. He’d been the fastest, not the strongest, and nimblest of the team that had entered that cavern.

The torch caught, and he knew what he would do. He was still among the best. Hired swords were a valuable commodity. He could even train some petty lord’s personal guard. He slipped a hand under the edge of his helmet and undid the chin strap. The rest of his gear was unrecognizable, the stuff a wandering swordhand might carry. He pulled the helmet off and looked at its blood spattered visor and looked at the sunburst with a single crescent moon eclipsing the upper edge and an array of stars beyond it. Gore dripped down from the crescent moon and onto the sunburst, making it seem as though it were the early rising sun. The breaking of a new dawn.

The council would assume they’d all died. Another, stronger and larger, team of demon slayers would be dispatched to handle this threat, the land would be safe, and Topkoft would survive to fight another day against mortal enemies. At least that is what Topkoft told himself as he dropped the helmet to the side of the tunnel.

Torch in hand, he started walking toward the exit. It was a new day, and he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to find some poor wench to spend it with before seeking his fortune in some meaningful manner.

End.

There will be more of Topkoft and Vrocknar and the demon and Zaurell. I hope you’ve enjoyed their little introductions… they’ll all be players in the longer fiction I write for NanoWriMo next year.

Until next week… fare thee well.

Meeting with a Demon

•January 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

First, I want to apologize for the lack of a post last week… it wasn’t intentional. Other events just caught up to me. So, this week you get one that’s, roughly, a 1,000 words longer than normal. Enjoy.

WARNING:

The Following Contains Some very brief descriptions of Violence and mild Gore.

If such language upsets you, READ NO FURTHE

Vrocknar’s stomach churned. He’d been through this a dozen times before, and it never got easier. He checked, again, his stained and dented, grey steel, plate armor. He tightened a strap under his left arm and flexed his gauntleted hand. He tightened fingers around his sword’s pommel and drew in a shaky breath. This was his calling, however, and his six comrades were waiting for his signal. It’d take all of them to bring the demon down. He knew not all of them would make it out alive.

He tightened his grip on his sword, an inelegant piece of iron with a pommel designed for two hands as the blade itself was longer than his arm by a few inches. It was double-edged bastard-sword and both of its edge had been honed to a razor’s sharpness. Some may use such a sword for hacking apart an opponent. Vrocknar was a surgeon with his chosen weapon. He’d found that demons died just as easily from a sword through the ribs as any man, but hacking a bulbous limb from the beast usually just pissed it off.

He let the breath, one he hadn’t even realized he was holding, out slowly. He hated being in command more than worried for what would happen in the cave. Before him were six fellow demonslayers. Each wore a different style of armor ranging from simple leathers to heavy steel plate similar to what Vrocknar wore. Each reflected the man’s individual fighting style, near as much as their weapons told how they fought. The sole commonality among the group was their helmets. Each was steel plated in white-gold with a master-crafted, clear, crystal face-shield. They were dwarven made, and adapted to the wearer. Each swept smoothly back in a conical design to glance blows away rather than stop them outright and at the crest over each member’s forehead was an engraving of a sunburst with an a single crescent moon eclipsing the upper edge and an array of stars beyond it.

Vrocknar dropped down from the small outcropping of stone he had stood atop studying his troop. He’d wasted enough time. His stomach wasn’t going to stop churning until they’d rooted out the magic born demon in the cave and slain it. The other demonslayers gathered before him shifted uneasily. For some, such as Topkoft, it was their first outing. No one had more experience than Vrocknar, though. Few demonslayers lived long enough to bring down more than 4 or 5 of the beasts. Theirs was a short-lived, but glorious, life of adventure and brotherhood. They were well compensated, armor and weaponry gifted unto them, and meals were frequently free as well.

A troop of demonslayers was usually welcomed anywhere they went. And they were frequently thought to be the elite of the elite, the best and brightest fighters, soldiers, and, some would say lovers, of the land. A woman who bore a bastard from a demonslayer was considered to be lucky indeed.

He nodded to the half dozen arranged in a crescent around him. Each looked back to him with a grim determination in their features. He wondered, ever so briefly, if any among them had the same stomach churning he felt before every encounter with a demon. The thought passed quickly, replaced with his own determination and a thankfulness that he had such stalwart, if untested in some cases, brothers beside him. They still looked to him for leadership.

Vrocknar drew a small breath, looking past them to the opening in the hillside. The cave was dark and foreboding, beckoning warriors to their doom to introduce them to its dark mistress of night and pain. According to the local farming community it wasn’t terribly deep. Every spring they had had to root out a bear or some other wild animal that had chosen to make the cave its home, and had explored it to its ends.

But Vrocknar, and any other veteran (or studied) demonslayer knew that demons could control the very earth beneath their feet and just because the farmers said it was a small cave didn’t mean that the demon hadn’t changed that. He returned his gaze to his brothers-in-arms before him.

“We’re here to do a difficult task,” Vrocknar said. He knew he didn’t need to give a speech, but felt it would help anyways. His commander had given a speech before his first hunt, and it had helped to quiet his nerves. “But we’ve trained for this. We’re hardened and fast, and heroes of the land. We will get in there and end this menace to it. The demon is young yet –“ he hoped that report was true. A young inexperienced demon was easier to handle than a full-fledged monstrosity. “—but don’t let its human appearance beguile you. It may not have warped entirely to its demonic nature, and may beg that it is still human.” The reminder was a necessary one; demons always started out looking human.

“Let that not stay your blade. Remember your training, relax and let your well-honed instincts guide you. You’re all strong, and I entrust not only my life to your hands, but also the lives of your battle-brother standing beside you. I trust in you and feel it an honor to stand with you today in this endeavor.” Vrocknar stroked the hilt of his sword, a growling bear, looking at the warriors around him. They each nodded as his gaze passed over them. “Hrothgar, Kopper, you’re our torchbearers. Let us not fall into darkness in this endeavor. It’s been an honor. Vrsnar, sloosha-koon,” he quietly uttered the victory prayer before them and moved toward the cave entrance. They parted like silk before him and fell in behind him.

The cave entrance was like many Vrocknar had seen before, rough walled with natural cracks and furrows. The floor sloped gently down into the earth, stretching away from them like a hungry maw. The torchlight of Hrothgar and Kopper illuminated down to their first intersection. The demon had been at work in the caves it would seem. The locals had told the demonslayers that the caves held curves and a couple caverns, but no intersections to get lost at. Vrocknar repressed a sigh and stood at the intersection for but a moment before deciding to go left. It would do no good to split his force up. If it became a true maze, he may need to, to expedite the search for the demon, but for the moment there was safety in numbers.

He moved down the cave’s natural hallway, watching for signs of anything unnatural that might indicate that they were approaching the demon’s territory. He led his troop for what seemed like forever through the twisting cave tunnel. After traversing a steep slope the tunnel abruptly opened into a cavern. The ceiling stretched several spans overhead, and had an oval shape to it, stretching away with a gentle curve. Stalactites and stalagmites hung from the ceiling and rose from the floor in natural progressions. The ground near the middle surged up, forming a little gray, stony hill. At the apex of the hill sat a figure, surrounded by blue and red glowing orbs.

The demon was once a woman and still wore the tatters of a robe. It still held enough form that Vrocknar could recognize it as a robe of a priest of his holy order of demonslayers. The abomination before him, sitting calmly cross-legged atop its crafted hill in a pose of meditation, was once a priestess who studied holy texts and performed ceremonies of location. Those ceremonies verified, and sometimes divined outright, the presence of a demon when a concerned individual brought word to his order. They were supposed to be above corruption on all levels and this was the form of ultimate blasphemy. Possession, they were taught, was always a voluntary thing.

Vrocknar ducked back into the tunnel that led to the cavern housing the demon. His troop stopped behind him. He drew a shallow breath, studying them. “It’s in there. It’s gathering its power in the middle of the cavern. If we can come at it from all sides we likely confuse it and be able to land the killing blow.” He glanced around his soldiers, his brothers, and nodded. “No heroics though. Be careful in there and let’s do this as quick as possible.”

The group of men around him nodded.

“Hrothgar, Kopper. It’s got glow orbs of its own floating in there. We’ll not need the torches. Make use of your shields instead. Questions?” Vrocknar looked around. His veterans, Hrothgar, Kopper, Brovar, Ysdrial, and Nopl all solemnly shook their heads. Each had been on at least one hunt before. Topkoft’s features, a softly tanned, angular face with the scruff of a black goatee at the point of his chin and dark brown eyes, bore the nervousness of a young boy about to get into his first scrap with an older, stronger boy. The lad noticed Vrocknar watching and the youth’s face evened out to mirror the veteran’s. Vrocknar nodded.

He drew a shallow breath. “Move.”

Vrocknar drew his sword and led the way around the corner. He skirted immediately to the right, following the rough, uneven wall. He kept his gaze locked on the demon sitting in its blasphemous robes atop its earthen dais in the center of the room. It flinched no muscle, sitting perfectly still and gave no warning that it knew they were there.

Vrocknar reached the opposite end of the cavern after an eternity of slow walking. He watched Brovar approach from his right and Kopper on his left. He trusted his other brothers had arrayed themselves around the cavern. He tipped his head toward Kopper, then at Brovar. Each flittered a hand signal down the line to the demonslayer next to them. Vrocknar waited two heart-beats, then stepped away from the wall, moving smoothly toward the demon on its pedestal.

Kopper and Brovar moved with him. He approached the demon’s backside, facing a bulbous hunch from which sprouted a third arm. The hand at the end of the grotesque extra limb flittered fingers through a gesture quick enough that Vrocknar didn’t quite see what it had done. He saw from the corner of his eye what it’d done though.

Kopper simply exploded into a red cloud of blood. Bits of armor, bone, and body matter bounced off of Vrocknar’s armor and flecked his helmet’s crystal face shield with red. Vrocknar glanced at where Kopper had been. Only a bloody ring remained where the once proud warrior had stood. Vrocknar whipped his gaze back to the demon, quickening his pace up the hill. In the moment he’d taken to look away, the demon had gotten to its feet and ripped a jagged pole of metal from the ground and held it like a staff.

Brovar uttered a war-cry, digging the toes of his boots into the ground and springing forward at a sprint. Others around the dais echoed his cry. Vrocknar didn’t. He quickened his pace, almost keeping up with the younger Brovar, slipping half a step which ended up saving his life as an array of stone spikes rocketed from the ground. Brovar wasn’t so lucky, and from the sounds of pain, neither were a couple of his fellow demonslayers. The earthen spike retracted back into the ground nearly as smoothly as it had appeared and Brovar sank to his knees, then fell, rolling down the hill.

Vrocknar closed, almost within striking distance of the demon. He growled, from his vantage he could see the demon’d felled four of his companions. Their still forms lay broken around raised mound. He didn’t take the time to do more than glance at their fallen forms. He charged the final few steps, jammed his sword forward in a wild thrust centered on the demon’s middle.

The demon spun, swiped its staff upward, and instead of running the tip of his sword through the fleshy middle of the demon, Vrocknar found himself burying the blade into a solid wall of dirt. He jolted with the impact, tried to wrench the blade free and found it immovably impaled in the wall. He let go, and drew his dagger. He slid around the wall in time to see Topkoft’s frantic duel with the demon.

Topkoft struck with two short blades, each darting and slashing in strike after strike trying to taste the demon’s flesh. The demon turned each blow with a quick movement from its impromptu metal staff; its bulbous back and third arm were to Vrocknar.

While in a standup fight of honor between men, Vrocknar would never stab someone in the back. He dashed forward, uttering a yell as he drove his blade through the bulbous protrusion on the back of the demon.

It had less effect than he’d hoped for. The demon smashed away a pair of strikes from Topkoft and brought the tip to bear against the youth’s chest. The young warrior was knocked backward, sent flying through the air, to land hard near the exit of the cavern. He started to get up.

Vrocknar wrenched his dagger in place. He twisted it and yanked it back. It left a gaping hole in the bulbous backside of the demon as it turned to face him in an absurdly slow fashion. He lashed out with the dagger, meeting his metal with its. He struck quickly, pressing forward, but not finding any gap in its spinning deflections. Yet, he pushed on, his eyes flickering from the abomination before him to the youth pushing himself to his feet. If Vrocknar could distract it for long enough for the youngest of the warriors he brought with him to succeed where he’d failed…

Topkoft pushed himself up and locked his gaze with Vrocknar. What Vrocknar saw in the youth’s face gave him pause. He didn’t feel the jagged staff shatter his arm. He was shocked by the terror and fear blazing in Topkoft’s face, and stunned as the youth turned and fled into the tunnel. The entrance slammed closed behind the wayward demonslayer just as the demon’s staff slammed into Vrocknar’s knee, dropping him to the ground. He let out a groan, lifting his good arm, despite the pain suddenly racking his body, to grip the demon’s ankle.

It bent down, studying him for a moment. It swatted his hand away and sat.

“I’m not a demon,” and otherworldly voice said from several directions at once. The distorted, once female, face’s lips moved with the words. “I am human, as warped as this form may be, like you… the elders, they lie to us. This power isn’t terrible and hell-wrought, it’s a gift from the others, the gods themselves.”

It bent forward at the waist and Vrocknar thrust out a punch for the demon’s face. It turned the blow away.

“And I’ll teach you. You’ll resist at first. I know I did, but there is a new power rising and you will make a wonderful addition. So, Vrocknar—“ the fact the demon knew his name terrified him, “—let us have a philosophical discussion of this dilemma we find ourselves in.”

R