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Benevolent Evil (Chapter7) Tragedy of life - part1
Previous Chapter _ _ // _ _ Next Chapter
The next day we were still traversing the woods, presumably traveling towards the civilization.
And that was when the first concerns regarding my demonic nature started slowly surfacing. The thirst I felt only grew, my throat and lips ever dryer. It was still more than manageable, for sure. But I did not want to take any chances, nor miss an opportunity to aid myself. Thus I easily decided on preventively consuming the blood of the wild animals.
The idea came to me after seeing what was left of that doe I smacked with the stone yesterday. Even after Reglen was finished with it, it was still dripping blood ever so gently from its -not so gently- smashed head. So that night it seemed like a reasonable thing to put to test. Even more so since I knew for sure that demons drank blood.
I managed to gather half a cup and gulp it in one sip.
Yeah, the book said human blood, but I could see no harm in trying the same with the animal one. Even less so as I had literally eaten half a rabbit on my first day here that and I was still alive.
Unsurprisingly, I had no problems or disgust in doing so, never been the type of a guy to be sensitive about blood. Hell, I even liked eating my stakes almost raw, when I was still a human.
However, to my disappointment, it felt lacking, inadequate for my body.
As if I grabbed a full glass of water, eager to quench my thirst. Only to take a short sip and suddenly it’s all gone. The glass unexplainably empty, the thirst dulled just slightly, but still raging there. No different than trying to handle a burning house with a half-empty bucket.
Well, maybe it was a quantity thing, so I decided that tonight I should actually go into the woods hunting to try out that theory, just to be sure.
However, running around the unfamiliar forest on an alien world might be a pretty stupid decision, as those things go. Maybe even for a demon likes of me… you just can’t ever be too sure when it comes to safety.
“Tell me.”- I voiced my concern to Reglen- “Are these woods dangerous at night, or in general? ”- warily scanning the surroundings as I spoke, as if to drive my point further. Yet nothing moved beside the grass stomped beneath my very feet as we walked forward, not even a leaf touched by the wind.
“They sure are now.”- he grunted, sizing me up without breaking his pace.
“What do you mean?”-I looked sharply behind us, just in case
He raised his eyebrow at me-” Well… some namesake of mine summoned a demon two day ago, so… “
“Oh!”- I glared at him, unamused - “I am being serious. Anything I should be on the lookout for? Some magical beast or an ancient horror, dreadful curse or such stuff?”
He meet my eyes, human brown to demonic cyan, and blinked in confusion.- “What by the faith are you even talking about? Ha!? “
I sighed loudly- “ Goddamn it man, I just want to know for sure if there are damn things in these woods that might kill or harm us. “- shaking my head, wondering why everything was so complicated to ask?
He seemed taken aback for a moment -rattled even- with the bluntness of my words… or it might be that saying ‘Goddamn’ did not translate very well religion-wise. But whatever it was, he regained his composure in a flash of a blink.
“ For me… ?”-the old man moved his left hand, pointing at himself- “Yes, sure… menace everywhere!”- heavy breath escaping him, his steps unsteady- " For you?!?”- he shrugged his shoulders, the hand now pointing at me -”No, S-seriously! What wildlife or cursed beast would in bloody faith dare to attack a demon?”
I nodded politely, taking his words at face value and at heart, simultaneously avoiding a leaf-full branch in front of my face. My spirit ever so slight lifted by a sudden sense of newfound safety. Even if I had confused the hell out of my summoner to get it. Sometimes you just can’t put a price on safety I guess.
“If my plan for going hunting is not that risky of an idea after all, this could work!”
With that decision confirmed, slight smile eclipsed my face as I walked towards my uncertain, albeit now somewhat safer, future.
The entirety of my surroundings turning brighter, colorful unlike just a mere seconds ago. I guess the right perspective is everything. Though a few rays of sunshine that pierced their way through the receding canopies of the surrounding trees surely had a shiny role of their own to play in all of it.
Or so it seemed, until that same sunlight gave birth to a shadow of mine, drawing a predatory outline onto a towering rock next to me. The clean stone surface acting like the crudest of the mirrors, yet hiding nothing about the demonic nature of my body. Nightmare given form, standing motionless, waiting for the body of mine to move as if I was its next unsuspecting victim. Its sharp fingers prolongated by the laws of optics by which shadows are formed, the horns of mine spiked upwards far beyond their real size.
My hand twitched on instinct at the sight of its casted black form, weary and fearful of an apparition still unfamiliar to my psyche. The shadow that moment ago seemed carved into the stone, instantly traced my movement in the suite. I stood rooted, unable to turn away from it, unable to shy away from the truth it was conveying.
Alarms sounded off inside my head, triggered by common sense! If I myself could literally get scared by the form of mine shadow, how would then others react to what I was? I had to deal with the thirst no matter the number of dead animals. Even the slightest slip-off on my part would be the end of any trust I might hope to foster among any sapient beings.
“Hmm… Reglen? How long till we get out of the forest anyway?”- He was already dozens of steps away, his horse following him patiently. The animal did not seem disturbed by my rough voice at all.
“Four days or so… if there is no heavy rain.”
I moved my legs to catch up to him- “It rains often here?”-but could not restrain my neck from nervously glancing back where my shadow once was.
“Nahh, not during the summer.”
Alright, so I would have at least four days to try out that ‘drink animal blood-theory’. Fair enough. I inhaled a breath of fresh air with relaxing satisfaction. Finally moving my large frame forward, easily walking through a bush or two which the old man and his horse had to sidestep.
It occurred to me that it might be practical for me to lead the way. But considering I had no idea where we were going, nor were we seemingly in any rush, such an idea slipped away from my focus.
Then I noticed the same squirrel I had given an acorn some time ago was stalking us. Though that might be because I have fed it on a few more occasions. Animals tend to like you if you give them food, even if you are a demon it seems.
And it easily recognized me, despite the leather cape I was now wearing.
“Do you have any pets?”-my mind digressed with the simple topic.
Reglen paused his steps, aimlessly turned back towards me, and patted the horse over his mane.
“Zekulja here is the closest thing I have to it. It’s a really smart animal, might not seem like it but trust me.”-the horse snorted and gently shook its head upwards, as if it understood and was glad to be adored by its owner.
Then Reglen went on to tell me a story about how Zekulja knows how to close the barn’s doors at night by itself, and even to open them in the morning. -”Really smart horse I tell you. If it was a human it would have been an alchemist heheeh.”
“Alchemist at the very least!”-he sounded ecstatic, turning around to continue on our way, his steps easy. Zekulja, the smart horse, followed without a command.
As expected, this world had countless things I did not know about. Something the familiar blue sky and plentiful earth-like wildlife almost made me forget... almost.
Trying to use my time efficiently I again proceeded reading the book, walking slowly behind the Zekulja. And to my utter luck, the next chapter was describing a full-scale battle! It turned out the author had to wait for quite some time for the demons to decide to attack some of the major cities directly. Two months to be more exact, it was a hard decision, but it seemed to had paid off as the winter was now over, what made for easier movement of the armies. Not to mention other advantages.
The Encyclopedia Demonologica
by an Arch-Inquisitor, master Pareus the Valiant
Battle of the Dead Friends.
What can I proclaim? Which words are ought to describe how ones feel under the pressure of command on the eve of the battle.
Hopeful, desperate? I in my faith, I felt both. Our army dwarfed enemy forces and the city the demons were sieging still stood strong, its defenders undoubtedly encouraged by the fact the help was on its way.
But regardless of the circumstances, no commander can but wonder what will happen if he is defeated.
By the damnation! I was only put in the command because the local aristocracy could not decide which one of them should be in the leading position. Thus the more religious among the nobles sided with inquisition. And as there were no other higher-ranking inquisitors in my area, or they had fallen defending the faith, the weight of that leadership fell onto me. And I decided to fulfill my role as honorably as my religious beliefs demanded it. After all, I have been born and raised to shine the light of fate onto the darkness.
Yet horrors of reality are relentless, fleeing refugees, logistical nightmares, and decisions of life and death are constant weights of any command. With me deciding to group all of our forces, many other outposts were left undefended, the spilled blood of the innocents now on my hands by a virtue of merciless leadership choices I had to perform. Sacrificing the safety of some for the future of many.
My mind was in a state of war, as much as the surrounding lands. My soul even more so... the letters I got the night prior indicated many northern monasteries faired even worse. Burnt to the ground, specifically targeted even it seemed. Among them being the one I had the privilege to call my home.
I have seen so many houses burnt and abandoned over the last few months. By the faith, I had even commanded it so on more than a few occasions. Practicality over sentimentality was always the Inquisition’s way.
But no home burns quite like your own, its flames fueled by your childhood memories, making its afterglow ever so brighter. So bright in fact that reading about it tears up your eyes like you were staring at the sun that will never rise again.
They say that the faith is the only thing Inquisitor really ought to need. Yet now it was indeed all I had left.
With everything I ever knew now lost, I truly had no other option but to valiantly go into the fray and give myself to faith. Comforting the conscience of mine, that all I had done, all the hard choices, they would be forgiven if I was to redeem myself and the men I lead with a victory.
Indeed, no price is too high to live to see a demon die.
[Alright! So that is how he became famous?! Leading an army? That must be it...]
I walked into the command tent with all the confidence I could muster. From the moment I set foot inside, all the eyes were glued to me like bees on a honey. But a heavy breath or two was all I heard.
My gifted senses rushed over those stares, scrutinizingly searching for traces of foul influence. Like an owl from a top of a tree trying to sight a vermin. Yet, as I expected, all the eyes that looked back at me did so with a spark of emotion… worry, reluctance and unease the men around me held deep beneath their stoic expressions. Not a thing I would notice if their mind and soul were enslaved by anything demonic.
“We are all here out of the free will of our soul.”- I spoke with ease.
Everyone present nodded in confirmation, not particularly surprised at my revelation. We were not as naive as our ancestors in centuries prior to get infiltrated by darkness anymore, yet one can never be too careful.
An older aristocrat rushed forward, eagerness emanating from his posture as he saluted me-“Soul to faith, life to state!”-his words echoed with military demeanor.
I returned the salute without saying much, nodding for him to continue.
“We have them!”-he proclaimed -” We fucking have them!”- his fist zealously clenched.
And indeed, our swift march caught the demonic army by surprise. Never in a thousand deaths could have they expected we would dare to challenge them on the field of battle, not so soon anyway.
The old aristocrat continued -“The city and its river are still blocking their escape to the west, hill is blocking them to the north, deep forest and swamps towards the south, and from the east...”
“And from the east, we march”-I added before he had the chance to finish.
“We do!”-ecstatically confirmed the old aristocrat.
“Everyone sure there isn’t any other river crossing nearby?”-my mind suspicious at our seemingly endless good luck. As today the sun was shining ember hot.
“Heh, sir.”-the old aristocrat starred at me with a smirk-” this is the my countryside, I was born here, I know the lay of the land like a peasant his crops.”-he was now excitedly nodding-” The town’s bridge is the only way over. And good part of the river’s shore has been blessed properly for generations.”
My heart skipped a beat from those joyful words.
[River’s shore was blessed? Wtf? Plus, demonic army couldn’t simply escape into the swamps? I mean, if they were already so outnumbered? Hmm… well, there is probably a thing or two I am missing. Some concepts here are just too alien.]
Truly, like first summer rain, it was refreshing to hear the good news, as we had lost a staggering number of scouting parties over the last few days. However, it seemed their sacrifice was not in vain, the demons simply failed to expect us mustering such a large force so quickly. And truth be told, logistics of this endeavor were staggering. Organizing more than 40 000 brave souls was a monumental task. Especially under our conditions. But by the fate! Marching them all so quickly as ought to not give demons time to orderly retreat had prayerfully succeeded, we had them in our trap like a hunter has its prey... still alive, but severely disadvantaged.
“Final estimate on the numbers of demons we are facing?”- my voice sharp as a holy blade.
Scouting officer standing in the back slid the information out instantly-“Around 55, give or take a few.”- others present turned towards him and nodded in agreement. Nobody was disputing the figure.
Even more so considering the coded-written letters from the sieged defenders talked about similar numbers, their local messenger pigeons proving rather well trained. And when a multitude of independent sources gives you the same wisdom, one ought to trust them more often than not.
Usually it was a rule not to take the field against the demons if you did not have the advantage of 1000:1. But our men were well fed, equipped, trained and the most important of all, many of them were fairly experienced. This was our chance and we had to take it.
“Ghouls? How many?”-I asked again.
“Dozen thousand sir… far more than we expected.”- the same words answered.
“Excellent!”- my voice hopeful, others nodded.
[ At first I was confused by this reaction. Why the hell would you be glad the enemy had more troops than you expected? However it turned out the type of demons who were able to summon and control ghouls in the first place were usually far easier to kill – if you were able to bypass the body of minions protecting them that is- and killing one of those demons would often render his minions totally stupid, suicidally aggressive and thus useless in large-scale battle. Meaning that one lucky arrow could do wonders. The real problems were other types of servants of darkness which were individually far stronger and trickier to take down. And thus more minions also meant less of those stronger demons. Crazy... ]
“So only 15 or so demons ought to be hard-kills?”- my conclusion logically inescapable.
“Indeed”- the same old aristocrat now replied -” those are our estimates too.”
“That is it”-I decided -” rally up the men, as quickly as we can. I will not wait for the night. Otherwise, they might strike us during the dark. Better to force them to fight now when the sun is high.”
“Yes inquisitor!”-all the present answered in unison, already moving to carry out their orders.
“One more thing!”-I rose my hand to command their attention-”all the spoils! Trophies, silver blood. All will be shared among every man! Inquisition forfeits its right to spoils of the battle. Let the men know! They are now in charge of their own fortune!”-as it was all or nothing battle, I decided to invest all I could to raise the moral.
Loud cheers erupted, rightfully so.
[From than on the story exploded into commotion, and it was actually a bit hard to follow everything. Too many names of people and places I did not know about. However once the battle lines were drawn, even me, and individual not at all familiar with the nature of combat in this world understood what was happening. ]
Enemy had reacted fast, but not fast enough for us not to be able to position ourselves upon a slope of a small hill looking down onto the besieged city from the north. Its banners flying high and proud. With my helmet's visor lifted, I could even see people cheer and wave from its high and distant walls. Something the others in my army simply could not notice, lacking the blessings of the faith. But it had done wonders for my spirit nonetheless. The only saddening thing is that I knew the defenders were so heavily barricaded inside that they would never have a chance to sally out and try to aid us in time.
We would have to carry this faithful moment into the victory by ourselves.
Thus we marched forward, towards the even higher ground.
There was some sporadic skirmishing, but our disciplined lines easily repealed any probing attacks by foul minions.
I wasn't exactly sure why the enemy wasn’t pushing harder to contest the hill at that time. Even if some of them were soundly at sleep when we arrived they should have been awoke by now. Not even the demons can sleep through a battle, no matter what folk tales might say.
Only a few days later did I find out that few of the stronger demons weren’t even with the enemy army at that time. Pursuing instead our scouts and ravaging the countryside, searching for civilians that might have hidden in nearby woods. All to feed their hunger. Thus they weren’t even aware of what was going back at the city they were sieging.
[Wow, well that was another strategic stroke of good luck if I ever saw one. But then again, war is always like that, one side often has more luck than the other.]
We decisively pushed onward, our formation solid, our organization adequate… but there were other things I had to take into the account. Like for example... → [Long story short, after an hour the hill which gave superior position was completely under their control, and they even managed to bring forward catapults and other similar contraptions, prepared to pounce down onto the enemy ‘camp’. However, the ammunition was running late. What did justifiably cause much frustration among some aristocrats.]
Finally, when our front line was ready, sixteen men deep, I ordered them to hold still no matter what. Putting the best troops and most of the holy metal on the flanks. Raw recruits filling up the middle, with the addition of a few grizzled veterans to command and shore them up.
Further behind the main line, I formed up a sizable reserve out of the local aristocracy and their personal entourage. My wisdom stating that their quality equipment and ample of training ought to make them competent to react to the chaos of battle. While their colorful banner would inspire men wherever I decided to send them. Not to mention tricking the demons into believing that the nobles were the ones commanding the army.
Then, with our formation solid, I had all the patience of a saint.
It made no sense to rush down at the enemy which was now gaining some sense. Ghouls grouping up in large numbers, keeping a check on us. In turn, my men took out their potions and drank them, even though no order was given, their hands never shaking. Many of them were severely too experienced at this point as to not know what ought to be done. After all, a number of them were the survivors of the previous decade. Gritfull determination in their eyes. Soul to faith, life to state indeed.
Gazing down upon those men from my horse I felt prideful, yet looking further down, at the bodies of faithful being used by demons to serve them made me sick. Comforting myself that I would not have to stand for it long. The catapults were finally ready, and at my mark, they unleashed a torment of fire.
[Sadly for him, most of the catapults were missing, by a lot it seemed, it took them a fair bit to fix their aim. Even though the flammable pots of hard clay they were firing were efficient in more ways than one. The nearby bushes and other plant life soon caught fire with the wind feeding it ever larger.]
What has happened in that faithful moment was beyond me. As the flames spread like a holy fury, they soon stared burning the nearby woods. Western winds swaying it towards the enemy.
It was under those circumstances that my silver eyes saw a familiar dread of seven steps long tail in the distance, marching out of the woods. Memories from the Ridge-city rushing through my eyes, a monstrosity I had faced before now inescapable. From the forest behind that demon of my nightmares, emerged 47 other servants of darkness in all of their evil and heresy.
The leading beast predatorily gazed around, scrutinizing our respective armies with the glare of its sickly cyan eyes. Its dark body contrasting the vividly green trees in the background. Then the demon rose its right hand, the entire arm sluggishly liquefying and reshaping itself into elongated war-hammer. The blood-freezing screech escaping its jaws. I gripped my sword ever harder, not many see such foul soul bend itself and live to tell of its heresy.
We might have had numbers on our side, but regardless, the demonic army had an exceptionally dreadful leader, confident to face us. The fact I had in times passed personally seen him turn into the dark-mist during the struggle in Ridge-city, and witnessing now the ease by which he was able to sculptor the parts if its body, made me shiver.
There was the true hard-kill, in every dreaded way it mattered. Its dark gifts versatile for slaughtering humans.
Its seven steps long tail wiped the air above his horns, the cyan eyes rushing over our formation.
But as soon as his gaze fell upon me, his tail slammed at the ground, the ghouls below the hill dashed at us with mindless fury.
My hearted skipped the beat.
I couldn't believe it... they were attacking while we held the high ground? I had hoped to provoke them, but never expected it to be that easy. Something did not add up.
“*Brace yourselves men! Brace yourselves with steel and faith!”-I yelled from the bottom of my lungs. And as my words passed their ears, every soldier that had a war-pouch urgently raised it over his head and poured its blessings down upon himself. Dust of holly metal bonding with their armor and weapons. The others in the back preparing the burn-*jars and other flammable concoctions.
With me uttering another command, the heavy crossbowmen were instantly firing upon the horde, despite still lacking range to be confident of hitting them. But there was no waste in doing so, we had ample of ammunition. Ghouls rushing forward, many of them down on four legs, like beasts from the wilderness.
Our formation tightening.
I had every belief that my men would hold solid, would not break under any punishment mere minions could dish out. Not without being flanked at least, or if they had their line crushed by a demon.
But when I looked down, the demons were still standing their ground, not rushing to aid their vicious servants. All that while the catapults were still firing over me, even more frantically than before, most of their shots flew into the forest, but some landing just right.
It was only then the demons started moving forward, their heavy bodies building up speed deceptively quickly. And then it dawned to me, as to what was about to happen.
[Turned out the reason the demons were waiting for their minions to push forward first was to give them a head start. So once the demons charged at full speed they could time their collision with the human line right around the moment the ghouls get there. ]
And my soldiers comprehended what was to occur too. To make matters worse, all of the servants of darkness quickly started grouping up, jointly aiming for the center of our line. Exactly where we were the weakest. Without flinching, I ordered for all reserves to be rushed there preemptively. A hard and risky, but decisive decision.
The words of my late commander echoed in my thoughts ‘Plans will fail, you must not.’
May the faith reward his sacrifice!
With surge of sentimental inspiration I looked onward...
The thunder of enemy steps ever louder, the dust of war rising behind them. Their glass-shattering roars ever more eerie. The ground itself trembling in fear as much as my horse. Seeing the time was upon me, I rode to take my spot behind the center.
There I could see the horror on the faces of the soldiers all around me. Looking at the man next to them, thinking of who would die first. Then the western wind swayed over us, and the smell of piss and sweat washed over me, followed by my doubts.
Because I could see knees shaking and hands twitching among less experienced troops. The fears of mine told that we would not hold our ground, no more than a hen would hold its against the fox. Not when shocked-charged by such a dread.
My body moved on its own. I jumped down from the mount, my heavy armor protesting loudly, as I rushed among my soldiers, roaring the first words that blighted my mind.
“Here we soldiers stand! From all around the North! Waiting in the line to hear the battle cry!”- their eyes turned on me, as the ominous echo of thunderous dread which was to come grew ever louder.
“The victory is near!”-my voice echoing confidence for which I had no basis in reality -” Let the fate fill your heart, bringing power to us all!”
My words growing rhythmic with the thunder of demonic steps-” We own the right to live the fight, and me to die for all of you.”
I raised my sword- “Now swear, the blood upon your steel will never dry! Stand and fight together, beneath the blue of sky.”
“Brothers! We are warriors! Warriors of mankind!”
Or at least that is what I think I had said. The exact words are lost to me. I just know it did not make much sense. But the confident tone I had, and the sheer presence of their commander was enough for the men to harden their resolve.
They gazed forward, lowered their long spears, pikes and halberds, grasped their shields as hard as they could, unmovable till their death does them apart. The reserves rushing in to form up an even deeper line in front of me. Ominous thunder of evil now closer, soon to be upon us. I lowered my visor.
As the wave of cursed beings closed in on us under the barrage of crossbows, their grotesque faces an insult to humanity. A rain of javelins and burn-jars unleashed itself upon them, dripping from hands of my soldiers like a water from a clouds ripped by thunder. The sound of broken glass and clay echoing over the landscape, gashes of short-fueled fire whipping the air, roars of demonic anger piercing through both the sounds of war and bravery of one’s heart alike.
Yet, all of our violence barely blunted the savage momentum of darkness.
[WOW! He actually wrote that down! Admitted he was scared, didn’t know that he was talking about, and doubted his men? Fucking unbelievable! I would have killed if I could have found historic record such as this one back on Earth. Holy fuck, he really was valiant alright. Valiant as fuck to write this down!]
And the death did come for them indeed. Demons crashed into us as if they were themselves launched from catapults. Their dark shapes cutting at our formation like a plow through a moist soil after the rain. Throwing grown men around as if they were mere children, showing no resemblance of mercy. Braking the bones of human bodies beneath the weight of their unholy form, and ripping them apart wherever they managed to grab onto any extremities. Hands, legs, necks, it was all the same for their unholy strength. Yet the dense mass of my men was unyielding like a waist-deep water, slowing down the servants of darkness that tried to cross this river made of pikes, spears and halberds.
However, the ghouls crashing into us mere seconds after completely collapsed the first few rows in the center, overwhelming them almost effortlessly. The ensuing chaos spreading throughout our formation like a ripples in a pond, propagated by the screams of my men.
The enemy minions pressed onward, bursting onto us like water poured on a heated oil, the sizzling sound of their claws scraping the armor, nerve breaking. Their savage disregard for self-preservation, corrupted body that feels no pain or maiming, and eagerness to kill pushing them over the shields and spears alike.
Clank of chain-mails being torn up like a linen sheets, uprooting one’s nerves.
I saw my men fall, I heard them yell and cry out, blood spewing all around, shit and piss from their open guts littering the ground. Their spears snapped easier than their spines.
Both left, right and in front of me, there was no human soul that did not sustain some injury.
Distraught like the rest of my men, the body of mine acted on pure instinct, my heavy blade flashed with the speed of my holy gift, slamming onto the head of a ghoul that tried to forcefully push pass the two soldiers in front of me and create a gap. Another one that rushed behind it meet the similar fate as me and the men slashed at its cursed body.
But something else mercilessly grabbed at my attention.
All around, the sounds of bones snapping and armor bending moved ever closer, followed by helpless howls. The man on my right fell down the movement after, his head smashed into his shoulders like a ripe pumpkin. Behind his falling body, my arms shivered seeing the seven steps long tail flash by.
I saw my death coming for me but it simply passed me by, ripping through our line like a thunder over havens. Sounds of grown men helplessly crying for aid following in its wake. Instinctively, my eyes traced after the deadly abomination only to catch the glimpse of it already far, ravaging an artillery emplacement, splintering ironwood frame of a ballista like it was a toothpick.
Distracted such as I was upon witnessing that, my senses suddenly screamed with the ferocity of a mother standing upon a grave of its child.
Alarmed, my legs dashed on their own, and I took a step left, readying my sword. But another demonic shadow flashed next to me and I got knocked down like a drunkard.
My heavy armor now dented at the shoulder-plate, dull pain echoing from it. Like a scared cat, I looked for my assailant whose entire body was drenched into the blood of my soldiers, its five-steps tail flashing in the air.
With the sword still in my hand and the faith inside my soul, I lashed from the ground to retaliate, desperate as it seemed.
The servant of darkness parried with its five steps long tail, and jumped away, killing a man for every step it made after that. While halberds and relentless thrusts of countless weapons rained down on it, trying to crack its unnatural skin.
Hot air escaped my lungs, as I rose from the ground. But another ghoul was already onto me, yet its chest got impaled by a spear from my left, war-hammer slamming into its head not a second later.
“Protect the Inquisitor!”- roared one of the soldiers behind me.
“Better strike at the darkness!”- I was even louder.
But dozen of men formed up tightly around me regardless. I was quickly again a part of some kind of solid formation. What rose my odds of survival significantly and gave me the chance to asses the situation. Some arrows flying past us.
The rampaging servant of darkness closes to me sneered upon ever increasing density of soldiers around it. Its five steps long tail retreating into the dust with him.
I immediately urged my gifted senses to trace where it would reaper to assault us again. Yet, its five steps long tale was nowhere to be seen, even by me.
Instead... at that very moment as I stretched the capacity of my awareness I realized how broken we were. Our center complicity bulged, on the verge breaking, our cohesion ripped apart. Only the sheer mass of bodies giving us any resemblance of resistance.
I cursed! Wrenched minions of darkness digging through the cracks of our formation like a pack of wild hogs unleashed onto potato fields.
In the distance -some forty steps away- I saw a young boy, 17-18 summers old at most, fingers of his left hand ripped off. Few older men, the members of lord Alin’s personal retinue, trying to protect him. Their experience radiating from their synchronized movements as they managed to admirably hold their own against ghouls, slaying them down by a dozen, while safe behind their iron-disciplined shield wall.
The very next moment a servant of darkness appeared among them, scattering their bodies around like a flock of scared pigeons*. Cries of pain and screams of missing body parts following in its mirage. An ash-colored spikes over his six feet long tail dripping the blood of the brave onto the grass beneath.*
Out of nowhere somebody slammed the foul beast with a burn-jar over its horns, the flammable liquid however, failing to ignite. The men that were still somehow left standing quickly turned their weapons at the demon, hard pressed to survive.
Imagine then my bewilderment when none other than that same boy of just 17-18 summers suddenly charged the servant of darkness from behind, his fingerless left hand still pouring warm blood. To add shock to my disbelief he evaded the beast’s tail with cat’s agility and almost climbed upon the its horns as if he was dealing with a tree and not a dreadful man-slayer. An ax in his right hand pinging violently upon the demon’s scalp like a woodpecker’s beak.
Such act of courage and sheer skill beyond that of a mere human made me believe I was actually witnessing an awakening of a gift of faith, a miracle. Yet the boy’s dilated pupils radiated with adrenaline fulled anger and not a silver afterglow of some blessing.
And fearlessness can only get your so far without the grace of faith.
With one fell swipe of the demon’s hand the young man was flung through the air like a rag doll, crashing somewhere in the knee-deep grass behind our line. Dead or unconscious, I could not possibly know. Immediately after, a dozen crossbow bolts peppered the said demon and the body of the men now surrounding it alike.
“Friendly fire!”- a sergeant next to me screamed from the bottom of his lungs, but the steel-tipped onslaught from above still kept coming.
I cursed under my breath seeing an unknown soldier fall on the ground gasping for the air, three crossbow bolts anchored in the back of his breastplate. The servant of darkness crushing the unlucky man’s head with a single step, an eye popping out as his helmet got squashed into a scrape iron.
Before I even had a chance to blink to shield my mind from that vomiting sight the sergeant next to me was wrestled down to the ground by a ghoul whose growling resembled that of a drowning man. Urgently as possible I and the soldiers crowded around, pummeled down onto the ghoul making a mincemeat out of the wretched thing and pulled a visibly shaken sergeant back onto his feat.
“Hlhelp! Hel-- Aaaa!!”- somebody was yelling, further at the front. I was honestly shocked there was anyone still alive there.
Chaos of the battle overwhelmed even my senses, in very much the same way as our center. And then the reality dawned onto me.
We were losing... disfigured human bodies laying on the ground presenting more than enough of the evidence.
There I was
We hadn’t been real busy that night. We did go out for a noisy drunk around 0400. Although as soon as he saw us, he jumped up and took off running. Over a berm in a vacant lot. Down an alley gaining speed and he was gone. That’s a lot of energy for a drunk dude.
Bill was in the back with me. He had already gotten out and was jumping up and down and waving at the guy.
“Dude. Dude, we here to help you,” he tries to yell, while laughing so hard he’s losing all muscular control. “Come back. Come back.”
I come running around the back of the rig with all our medical kits. Since I sit on the right side, that’s my job. I got the first aid kit, the lifepack, and the oxygen kit. I am ready to save lives.
I see Bill waving his arms and laughing hysterically.
“Where is our patient,” I yell.
Bill turns towards me and points vaguely behind him.
“He went that away.” And starts laughing harder.
We get back on the engine. The Captain is shaking his head. By this time he’s been with us for the past 22 hours. He’s ready to go home. He didn’t even get off the rig.
We get back to the station and it’s about 0430. Everyone goes back to bed except me. Just not tired and I got a crappy roll away bed in a back hallway. Worst station in the city.
Most modern stations everyone gets a room. At our station the Captain has an office with a bed. There is another small room with a bed and the driver sleeps in the watch office, where he gets to hear the radio dispatch and answer the front door.
Perfect setup for three people. A typical crew size. Except our department runs four man crews. So I get to sleep in a back hallway.
We have a small neighborhood station designed to hold two engine companies. A front line engine and a spare rig. The station was built in the fifties. Rigs were a little smaller then.
Our behemoth is parked in the center of the station apparatus bay. It carries 450 gallons of water and 50 gallons of foam. It carries a ton of hose. Two 200’ bundles of 1.75” firefighting hose on each side of the engine. Both are connected to the pump panel and can be filled with water with the pull of a single lever. 600’ of 2.5” hose that can be used if there is more bigger fire. That’s in the back. There is 1000’ of 5” supply hose to connect to the hydrant and/or other rigs. Also in the back. Next to the 2.5” hose. It’s a big engine.
The size of our engine companies and our truck companies (massive) has absolutely nothing to do with the penis size of our senior staff. That is only a rumor.
Back to my story. I look up the hill at our beautiful houses and at the very top, about four blocks, I see a beautiful orange glow.
In my line of work, an orange glow is not a good thing. Not at 0600 on a fall morning.
I narrow my eyes for a microsecond, trying to get the fuzz out of my brain. I get our driver to take a look see as I start putting on my gear.
He hits the station alerter getting everyone else up. Hitting the station alerter causes Dispatch to call on the land line wanting to know what is going on. He tells them we have smoke visible from a single family residence and we are responding to investigate.
As the apparatus bay door opens he finally gets on the rig. He is the last one aboard. The Captain is calmly waiting. In the back, Bill and I are putting on our air packs and checking our gear. From the time our driver saw the fire to him driving us out the door one minute has elapsed.
We pull up in front of the house. It is definitely on fire. There is a large volume of smoke coming from the roof. I have an easy shot at the front door, so I grab the 200’ preconnect bundle. Bill grabs our break down the door tools.
I can hear the Captain talking to dispatch. He is saying we are investigating a large volume of smoke from a single family residence. I hear him call for a full response.
We now have three more engine companies, two truck companies, a battalion chief, a medic unit, and an air rig coming. All of them are coming from different parts of the city. All of them will be here within 10 minutes.
I have taken ten steps and am laying down the hose in front of the front door. As it’s filling with water, I put on my face piece and am opening my air pack. Bill tells me he is going to take a quick look around back. He’ll catch up.
I kick in the door, bleed the hose and crawl into the smoke. I can’t see shit. It doesn’t seem very hot so I stand up. I run deeper into the house.
I am looking for that glow. The root of the fire. At about that time I crash into the back wall. I am now doing an upside down turtle impression. Like you know who.
I somehow look to my left and see nirvana. Not the band. An orange glow seemingly in the distance. I scramble up and drag the hose line that way. I can hear Bill calling.
I stumble into a room and there it is. The fire. On the floor is a small wooden tile that has fallen from the ceiling. It is burning. I stomp on it with my boot.
I speak into my radio, “Command, this is Engine Team A. I have a tapped bathroom fire.”
I have just put out a fire entirely by myself.
It was a poorly installed heat lamp left on to ignite the cute handmade cedar squares that made up the ceiling and the walls. The cute very dry and flammable handmade cedar squares.
Thank you for the awards anonymous donors.