Looking down from the ridge, Brian spotted the four fighting forms rendering havoc in the camp. There was
Randolph the Angry, running across the blazing compound, his own Devil in his hands. William the Young Brother
followed close by, driving into the thick formation of pikemen with all the zeal and ferocity of the youngest
sibling in a household. Robert the Red was back in sight, too. And the hybrid quadruped hopped from crotch to
groin, from neck to throat, slashing men open in the unique killing way his one-of-a-kind life form had
On the hill top above the camp, Edwin aimed his bow against qualitative targets, assassinating any man
with commanding charisma that rose from the frightened crowd. Many were already fleeing, swimming the river to
the far side or running into the woods, but most were still too dazed to realize what was happening. They were
too occupied with raw survival to devise escape plans. Fires limited flight routes to a few narrow corridors
controlled by confusion and death.
Stragglers would be taken care of later, Brian thought. They would be hunted like wild beasts. Many would starve
to death, inept to forage for their existence. Gordon's soldiers would mistake them for highwaymen when they
approached his camps begging for food and shelter and, without second thought, ruthlessly murder them. True
bandits would kill them, to reduce competition. And those of the former legionnaires that survived human
misfortune, wolves and disease would claim.
The important thing was, the bulk of Gordon's army would die tonight.
Devil came to Brian a moment later, healed of its death earlier. The blue magic had destroyed the horse, but it
had pieced itself back and gone seeking after its master. Brian climbed into the saddle.
He raced for the officers' tents, setting the ground on fire behind him. There were no soldiers barring his way
this high on the slope. He was free to ride any way he wanted. Skirting the heart of the fighting, he aimed for
the rich tents.
Several officers had tried fleeing the combat, exiting the rear of their tents and crawling for the vale's
northern entrance, but Edwin's arrows had claimed them all. Close to fifty corpses littered the weed-choked rock
behind the burnt village. After so many failed attempts, the rest had chosen to remain, huddling in terror within
their tents, awaiting a grim destiny.
Edwin was relentless. His bodkins flew without pause. Every minute saw a score new deaths.
The deceased fishing village had been erected on the sandy shore of Goldtrough. Green river-pebble had been used
for foundations and they were all that remained of the charred houses, now. Timber floors and walls had been
burned to ashes, lone rafters amidst piles of charred rubble still standing erect like teeth of a buried
Many of the houses had been built by the waterside, sprawling their legs in the murky shoals. Wooden grilles
surrounded most of them, creating pools that had been used for trout mongering in peacetime. Now, schools of dead
fish infested the submerged cages, probably poisoned when the invaders had taken the hamlet. The slate and
pine-bough roofs were gone, only the tips of the greenest branches that had survived the fires remaining.
Everything else had been ruined.
Bodies of villagers littered the area. Children, women, old men, healthy sons and husbands ? all had been killed.
The enemy had been so ruthless to desecrate the dignity of all village women, from maidens to mothers and
gray-haired matriarchs. Only the Sand Brutes from the Brown World were known and believed to be so evil. No one
reckoned the people of the Green World to be like them.
Following the looting and raping, the legionnaires had switched to massacre. And after they had killed everyone,
they had burned the place down. If the fires had meant to serve as funeral pyres for the murdered people, then
the intention had been missed. Improper treatment had left most of the corpses intact, only half devoured by the
flames and blackened on the outside like grilled sausages. The result was grislier than mere abandoning of the
bodies could have been. This way, crows would not eat the toughened skin of the half-cooked bodies, prolonging
the misery the trapped souls had to suffer.
Nothing could compensate for the evil done.
Only madmen could live amidst so much death. If the dreadful sight of semi-digested carnage did not repulse them,
the horrible stench certainly should. Still, out of some irrational, lunatic conceit, the Fox Legion had chosen
to bivouac at the burned village's center. Had it been their commander's idea or a necessity unknown to Brian,
the facts spoke of an illogical decision committed by mad people. Then again, he should not have been surprised.
What could he expect of children's murderers?
Beautiful silk pavilions defied the red chaos surrounding them, soot and debris glided down their oiled sheets,
leaving them shiny and spotless. Their cressets stood upright, burning scented, oil-soaked straw instead of the
crude pitch used by common soldiery. Such a mindless commodity, so useless, Brian thought. When vanity was the
leading line of a person's character, the consequences could not be noble.
Dismounting, Brian bid Devil wait for him. Red eyes the color of his own narrowed in dreadful intelligence.
Snorting, Devil stepped away to inspect a goat carcass.
Brain waited till the heat of his armor dissipated somewhat before he moved on. Dirty tendrils of gray and
coal-black smoke skittered along the joints of his flexible armor suit.
Two figures slunk out of a blue-and-white pavilion, trying to slip away. They were a captain and his first
lieutenant, shiny with sweat plastering their hair to their brows and wide-eyed with animal panic. They did not
A nervous whirring was all the evidence of long-range death coming. The first black-feathered shaft hit the
senior officer in the throat. He gurgled and fell. His subordinate gasped and started to run. Brian discharged a
half a dozen bolts from his crossbow. Raking the empty night, small metal stings of death studded the
lieutenant's back. Breathless, the soldier stumbled in a poison-convulsed heap.
Brian passed a forked pennant displayed before the tent and tore it down. He picked a torch from its place in the
ground and cast it on the pavilion. Running feet to the left. He whirled, his index pulling on the finger of his
repeated-shot arbalest. The scullion fell dead. Well, that had not been Brian's most immediate intention.
A sound of feet skidding on the gravel. The DevilRider hunched down and cued on the noise. One of the skivvies
was trying to flee. She was hugging dirty rags and handpicked jewelry under her armpit, clumsily fighting her way
around bodies and tent rigging. Brian let her go. He was not so merciful with another man-at-arms inching his way
toward freedom. A pair of darts assured he never reached his goal.
Grim Brian approached a yellow tent with the uttermost wariness. There was no way of knowing who lurked inside.
Titanium might not have been the only wizard. NightFighters were living relics these days, almost as sparse as
DevilRiders, but there could still be one or two lying in wait somewhere.
Sallow lamplight radiated from within the pavilion, oozing beneath the tent edges and through the entrance flap
slits. Persons inside could not be seen separately or counted.
Brian burst in.
He found himself facing eight people. Leftmost was a terrified soldier with a crossbow. He disposed of him
immediately, four darts in the chest. By the dead crossbowman stood a clergyman of the High Society, murmuring a
prayer of Salvation for the tent residents. His indigo-blue dress was dotted with white crescents of the Judging.
Supposedly, the fool was harmless ? except that he might have been inciting masses to debauchery.
Captain Edmund Lakeface was the third on the left, his hands folded at his crotch to keep from shaking. His
auburn beard dripped sweat and scented oil onto the front of his regal shirt. His commander, another well-known
face, General Conrad Griffin, known as Skunk, completed the left flank.
The other side had three women and one male soldier. The footman was a simple swordsman in brown leathers and
beaver furs of the River Guard. He was one of the renegades. Brian pinned his fat neck with seven quarrels. Each
shot was a unique delight.
The two serving ladies made no impression on Brian. Their mistress, though, thoroughly did.
For an instant, his guards went down as he beheld the most beautiful woman in the world, seen at the worst place
on it. Her face was oval, adorned with two big, frightened eyes the color of malachite and jade frosted in ice.
Reddish-brown hair encircled her pale features, tucked in two thick roll-braids that covered her ears and
the jewelry. A neck as graceful as swan's glided down into a green silk nightgown matching her eyes in color. Her
shoulders were bare, the collarbones gently spoiling the smooth texture of unblemished skin. Almost as tall as
he, the lovely dame stood by her simple maids in waiting, hands demurely folded at her belly.
Brian's red eyes narrowed. Red straps of DevilLeather ribbing his torso thinned as his guards returned and the
armor reacted to his mood. "Greetings everyone," he said and lifted the DevilMask.
A flicker of panic crossed General Conrad's blue eyes. Terror possessed Lakeface. The noble woman frowned, her
delicately trimmed brows twitching with serious interest. Brian smiled. His spiky autumn-russet mustache and
square mouth-beard followed the curve of his full lips, the reddish-gold dots of light from the lamps reflecting
on each whisker. Brian made his eyes become normal. "I want everyone behaving nicely. Obedience equals survival,"
he explained in his thick, rogue tone. The crossbow of black walnut lacquered and polished with
beeswax-and-elephant-milk brew aimed threateningly at each person till they nodded. DevilDesigns spiced with
Cardani arabesque were engraved in the elegant stock, changing their magic shape as the light angle shifted. A
knot as big as an apricot burgeoned on Edmund's whiskered throat. Drops of sweat rolled down his scarred cheeks.
He brushed an invisible spot on his blue coat.
Brian's eyes scanned the group, then returned to involuntarily ogle the noblewoman. "Who is in charge of this
camp?" the DevilRider demanded. He kicked a fringed silk cushion to the other side of the pavilion.
As he expected, the beautiful lady cleared her throat and answered. "I am."
Brian chortled derisively. "You are?"
She gave him a minute nod, as haughty as short. "Yes, sir."
He liked that. There was respect in her voice, even if he needed none of it now. "Your name?"
"I am Arch-Duchess Wilhelmina Gordon," she said.
Brian closed his eyes to keep their red checked. When he opened them, a half heartbeat later, they were
cloudy-blue again. "So you are Wilhelm's sister?"
"Half-sister," she corrected. "Our father was the same."
"I hope you inherited your father's benevolence." Old Lady Mercedes Harding, stupid Gordon's stupid mother, was
known through the realms as the Steel Nanny. She was one of the cruelest governors to have ever ruled
Stories told she had hung suitors that had failed to amuse her. Stories told she had castrated her first husband
after he returned from a hunting party smelling of other women. The second, Nicholas Gordon, Wilhelm's father,
had been much wiser. The Steel Nanny sowed ultimate terror in the dark domain of Bladaire for over forty years
now, ever since she disposed of the old tyrant and made his example of despotism a child's game. Her elder son
Wilhelm had been a most prodigious student. When he had come of age to carve his own kingdom, his mother's
education had been his aide. Only, he had strayed too far, hitting into the Land of Panther, the peaceful realm
ruled by DevilRiders.
His death was imminent, only it was constantly delayed by unexpected roadside turns of events. Brian had sworn he
would kill Gordon. It mattered little how long the hunt took. Eventually, Wilhelm would pay for his mistake for
crossing the Wildcat Borders.
Luckily for him, he had his vast armies and masses of zealous, politics-and-fear-blinded followers and
mercenaries to buffer the wrath of DevilRiders. In the end, nothing would save him ? much like this camp could
One of the serving girls looked behind Brian. The DevilRider needed no more than an instant to know there was
someone at his back. Focusing, he let DevilArmor become a rock-solid carapace ? then lunged for the hazard.
He ripped the NightFighter's veil off, casting it to the ground; without it, the warrior was nothing more than a
superb sword fighter, something the common soldiers would find appalling, something Brian found amusing. The
problem was, while he was distracted with fighting, the desperate tent prisoners could try to flee.
The servants screamed in an absolute fit of womanly panic, edging away from the razor-sharp blades. General
Griffin decided it was a good time he joined the combat, drawing his longsword and plunging in the duel. Shocked,
Lakeface followed suit.
The pavilion shook with clawing motion from outside. Ax half-moons tore the silk, allowing a burly berserker into
the crowded tent. Wailing, the servants fled his heavy, hairy figure, bumping into Wilhelmina. Pike shafts
stabbed blindly into the tent's interior.
Brian kicked Edmund away, leaving a smoky boot print on the goldcloth foxhead torso emblem. He ducked, a heavy
double-bitted cleaver streaming past, hitting Skunk in the knee. The general howled, a fountain of blood spouting
from his crushed leg.
Grim Brian pulled the axe heft from the warrior's brawny hands, then rammed the ridge of his palm in the ugly
face. Cartilage crunched like a bug. Blood gushed in an ample jet. Muttering a shriek, the berserker flew
backwards in a stunned heap. The DevilRider picked his goatskin-rimmed horn buckler and hit the returning
Lakeface in the neck with the blunt edge, fending him off again. Choking, the captain dropped to his knees,
coughing and gurgling, a blue welt budding on the side of his thick, infantry neck. The NightFighter was a
whirlwind of black color and sparkling diamond, but he was too slow for the DevilRider.
The maidens kept on wailing and wincing in fits, every time a man came too close. Wilhelmina stoutly and
patiently endured the battle, dancing away from the entangled mass of men. The monk preyed endlessly, his face to
Grunts. Slashes. The pikes on the outside went dead. Robert the Red burst into the tent, all smoke and hot
sparks, kicking the NightFighter in the shoulder. Spiked boot soles cut into the man's flesh, numbing his
wielding arm. Still, he would not give up.
Somersaulting through the confined space of the tent, the warrior danced madly, avoiding two black-and-red
DevilSteel blades and their harsh, unequivocal portend of death. Lakeface was out of action. General Griffin was
nursing his new handicap. The burly axman was begging for breaths on the blood-spattered floor.
The warrior was an excellent one, Brian noted. He managed to survive for more than a few minutes while most of
his comrades had died after seconds. No insignia indicated the man's rank, but he was certainly either the Spider
Weaver or the Eel Thunder.
And getting desperate. There was no way he could win this fight. Robert and Brian were the two best DevilRiders
in the world ? meaning the two best fighters in the world. No one could survive the combined formula of their
Suddenly, he dove for his PanicVeil. As he reached for the shredded piece of magical cloth, Brian remembered his
crossbow, pulled it free of its fly-eater grip-sheath at his waist and fired two darts in the man's open hand.
Piercing through the soft flesh of the wrist, the quarrels pinned the NightFighter to the ground. He hissed and
said no more, tugging worthlessly on the injured arm.
Robert tore him open with unchecked fury, letting his ribs and lungs and much else fly all over the tent. Red
drops hit Wilhelmina's neck and face and she blinked them away. Gore painted the pallid face of the freckled,
flax-haired servant to the left and small, exotic, hooked-nose features of the swarthy maid on the right. They
shrieked. The dusky girl gagged. The other fainted.
Red lightning licked the blood off Bob's Devil. Its pommel face grimaced with pleasure. The horned quillons
curled into a ram's horns, then straightened into wicked snakes. Robert gasped with gritted-teeth satisfaction,
sucking the air between his ruby fangs.
Brian turned away, inspecting the shadowy corners of the tent. Robert picked the PanicVeil and ripped it in two,
breaking the knitted spells. He prized the man's scalp for trophy. He gave the black-ink eel tattoo on the man's
right cheek a condescending poke.
"Wake that bitch!" Robert hissed amidst Griffin's screams. "Silence!" he ordered the general. When the other
failed to comply, he killed him simply, a sword through the heart.
The black woman shook the still form of the swooned maiden, trying to bring her to life. Brian watched carefully.
The pale girl's lips were wriggling softly. The girl was not unconscious.
"Look out," Brian called an instant before magic was released.
There was the other wizard, Titanium's never-too-far-away apprentice, Magdalene the Bitch.
It was a point-focused ray of energy that hit Brian, made personally for him. The DevilMagic that generally
protected him got confused around this private gift of conjuration, cast of Magdalene's very soul. Gasping, Brian
the Grim flew from the dazzling shock, through the yellow silk and into the burning night. Colors swirled as he
landed on the ground. This time, the granite carapace of the DevilArmor saved his back, but there was no
immediate cure to the blow in the chest.
The cute, docile servants were no servants at all, he realized with bitter anger. The black woman was charging
his sprawled form, gripping the DiamondSaber in her long, deft arms. Magdalene, ecstatic in her sadistic game,
was readying a new spell. Tactically devious, Gordon's sister was leaving the battle scene, protected by magic
from Edwin's arrows. Robert was nowhere to be seen.
The distraction almost cost him his crotch. The saber sunk into the ground between his legs. Brian kicked the
brown-skinned girl away, rising awkwardly, his chest thick with pain. Magdalene let out a piercing, gasp-riddled
cry. The veins of her neck made her skin look old and shriveled. She gazed at the sky and summoned the next
spell. Her long-nailed fingers gripped the dead berserker's head straddled between her legs, incising into the
dead flesh. She shuddered as magic fled her body ? riding for Brian.
A pillar of pink light slammed into him, blinding him. He drew the mask on, rolled over and rose. The black girl
charged him. Her DiamondSaber made her dangerous. She tried to kick him off his balance, but while the blows did
not harm him, they did shatter his poise, turning him an easy prey for the would-be servant. She aimed ruthlessly
? crotch, kneecap, crotch, slabs, crotch, neck, solar plexus, crotch, crotch. He grunted to make her believe she
was gaining progress, while carefully timing counterattack. The female soldier was no real problem. The wizardess
Brian dared to look aside. Devil the DevilHorse was gone, too. No matter. Devil would always return.
He focused on Magdalene. She was called Bitch for no small reason. Born to an army camp strumpet to an unknown
customer, no great future prospect had been granted the newborn Magdalene. Becoming a whore herself, she had
lived off meager lays with miscreants enjoying her in morbid ways till another pervert had found her and given
her an opportunity to hone her blood gift into profession. And she made the legacy of her own suffering into dark
Still, Brian could not kill her right there and then. He had a weakness for women. Maybe he was mad. He knew
nothing of the black girl, but she was slowly getting on his nerves.
Magdalene dealt another blow. It was Personal Magic once again, striking through his defenses. Wailing softly, he
dropped, helpless for a moment. A black arrow saved his life. Hitting the saber, it deflected the blade from
decapitating him. Magic did protect the woman, but it did not include the dead NightFighter's diamond sword.
This was no game of niceties, Brian thought. These women sought him dead. And Childrenkiller's sister was getting
away. Always someone getting away.
Brian waited till the girl completed her set of kicks and punches and swings, then attacked back. Magdalene's
magic seared his bones, but he would not succumb. He kicked the black girl's slim belly. She grunted and flew. He
landed on top of her in the pose he preferred reserved for bed games.
He clouted her between the eyes. She thrashed once and went still, her eyes rolling up. Magdalene's magic
catapulted him ten yards away crashing into another tent, bringing it down. One of the long poles jarred his
armpit. The wizardess was in plain sight, now. Her freckled skin was grimed in soot and sweat. She was gouging
the axman's eyes out with her talons, working her lips in quick invocation of sorcery. Robert loomed up behind
her like a tidal wave.
He was injured and bleeding ? shedding his true, blue blood, which meant his DevilSoul had been hurt. Still, he
was strong enough to put a knife under the wizardess' throat and pull across.
"My noble friend there got sentiments for cunts like you, but I don't suffer from that symptom. Oh, I would have
raped you dead wasn't I disgusted. Who knows how many dogs pissed in your cave?" He spoke in the wizardess' ear
as she groped for words and breath that would not come, bleeding to death in his deadly hug. He winked at
Brian jumped to his feet and raced after Wilhelmina. Robert remained to stop the flood of panicked troops from
exiting the valley. Black arrows rained more thickly than ever, challenging Edwin's mastery of archery and Homing
magic to their limits. Just then, Devil showed up, rising black and red and whole. Brian did not wish to ride
Devil, now. He could accidentally hurt Gordon's sister. He did not want that.
He sent a mental message to Edwin. Lay off your arrows of this mark, Ed. Gordon's sister was a prize they must
He found her hiding behind a boulder where the archer could not harm her. Once Magdalene had died, her magic
evaporated, leaving her exposed to the night's silent shooters. She had smartly chosen to hide rather than
attempt a futile run for freedom.
"Hello again, Miss Wilhelmina," he said, brushing dirt from his cheeks.
She spared him a cool glance. "Then I am your prisoner, I assume?" she asked almost boringly.
Brian grinned. "We shall see about that. Your feet are bleeding," he noted.
The woman inched away. She did not want him touching her. Brian knelt down, placing DevilSword far from her soft
skin. "Let me see."
"There is nothing to see," she whispered in a breath-taken tone, wincing and flinching and scowling at every
detonation that rocked the hillside. "I ran barefoot over rock and thorn. A folly, nothing more."
Brian's eyes flushed red with momentary anger. "Prisoners should listen to their captors."
She blinked. "Then I am a prisoner, after all."
An arrow hit the boulder, tearing a patch of moss off it. "I should better get you away from here. My enemies
might miss me and harm you instead. They do not see that well in this dark." She opposed the idea, yet disliked
the prospect of dying even more, so she nodded and let him drag her away.
"You're hot," she commented as he gently pushed her ahead of her.
"It's the DevilArmor," he replied. "It must be hot. HellSmiths forged it. They know nothing of cool things."
Brian glanced behind him. Robert was coming uphill, thundering on Devil. The wave of seething air preceded his
searing form. The noblewoman swallowed a hot breath and looked away from the burning silhouette. Brian tried to
shield her from the heat as much as possible. "What are you doing here?"
Robert hopped down. He was hurt, but would never confess his injury. "I came to rape her," he stated coldly.
Wilhelmina shot a stare in his direction.
Brian pursed his lips. "No, you are not."
Robert sniffed angrily. "I will. Just like they did to all those women in the village."
Wilhelmina shook with fright and fury. "Well, it was not me! I never raped anyone."
Robert swelled with rage. "It was you who gave the order."
"It was Griffin." She matched his lewd gaze.
"Anyway," he said after a short pause, "I will rape you, sister of Wilhelm Gordon Childrenkiller."
Brian removed his gloves and tucked them behind his belt. His black-tinted nails were in sharp contrast to the
red knuckle spikes. "Listen, we need her whole. Gordon will not like if we mistreated his kin."
"Sure he won't. That will make him angry and do something rash. Raped or no, she'll still be his sis, and he's
going to pay handsomely for her in ransom. Won't he, darling? Or perhaps, he might leave you with us, the Devil's
Wilhelmina looked away.
Brian locked his jaw. "Robert, go back to fighting."
"Fighting is done. We won. It's raping time, now, brother."
"You're injured. You are not thinking reasonably." Brian dreaded what could develop from this verbal duel, but he
was not going to back down. He could not let Wilhelmina get raped in front of his eyes. She was his arch-nemesis'
sister, and still . . . he was unable to render her any harm. Why? He did not know. His mysterious DevilSoul
would not tell.
A clamor of battle brought them around. A wedge of spearmen was plowing its way out of the valley. They had to be
stopped. "Wait here," he said to Wilhelmina. "Do not run away. If you do, you will be killed."
She nodded. She understood. That archer on the ridge had his orders. And he would not miss. She sat down on the
Robert leapt into the saddle. "Let's show this rabble some true terror," he suggested. "Devil, give me HellFire!"
He cast a glance at Wilhelmina. It was not over yet, but he would obey Brain. For now. The two of them rushed
into the battle.
TO BE CONTINUED ...