Updated: July 23, 2011
This is the second part of a silly but nice action-packed story I've written almost twenty years ago.
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 developed.
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 monster.
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 see him.
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 Bladaire.
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 not.
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 the ground.
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 death wishes.
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 was.
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 art.
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.
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 not lose.
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 vultures?"
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 ground.
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 ...