Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 04

“You shouldn’t have come here, demon,” he said as he wrenched his sword free, spilling the demon’s dinner of partially digested villagers.

It twisted around and swung at him, but he ducked, and the blow shattered several of the stilts instead. He stabbed upward, through its armpit, deep into the meat of its chest cavity. At this rate, the hut was going to collapse on top of them, and it was not his place to needlessly kill the property of House Gujara. “Get out of here,” Ashok ordered the casteless as he pushed the demon back against the other supports.

But rather than flee, the non-people were jabbering and squealing at him in their rough, mangled dialect. “There’s two of them!”

“Behind you!” A child pointed back the way he’d come.

The sword warned him as well, a sudden rush of instincts and a desire for self-preservation, and Ashok threw himself aside. Even then, a black blur of demon flesh rubbed against him. The interlocked plates protected his chest, but where the hot hide brushed against his face blood came welling up through his lacerated skin.

Two demons!

Both of the huge creatures were on him then, clawing and snapping. They were identical in size, shape, and viciousness. He’d never faced such a challenge before, but the sword had, and it told him exactly what to do. Ashok slashed and danced between the limbs, painting with blood and bone shard sparks. He hit them each with a dozen clean strikes, each sufficient to kill a man, but it barely slowed the demons’ onslaught.

A claw broke mail and sliced into his left arm. Another claw cut a gash through his cheek. The fresh pain merely kept Ashok focused. He was unable to feel fear, only a cold calculation of the odds, and it wasn’t looking good. At least the first demon was no longer trying to escape.

The demons were bigger and stronger but Ashok was moving constantly, trying to keep one of the savage creatures in front of the other so he only had to respond to one set of attacks at a time. There was no room to maneuver here. The casteless were running or clambering down the hanging nets like monkeys. There was a loud thump overhead as a burning beam landed on their improvised roof. Instinct whispered to Ashok, and he swung upwards, smashing through the thin boards and spilling flames onto the demon’s heads.

They had no visible eyes, but the burning roof support seemed to blind them. Ashok stabbed, taking one through its pelvis, then he lowered his shoulder plate and crashed into the other, driving it off balance. The demon flesh scraped the paint from the ornate carvings of his armor, then grated across his now exposed arm. For a beast of the depths, the demon felt remarkably dry and hot. His ploy worked, and creature was put off balance and sent crashing through the ramshackle wall, over the edge, where it struck the hanging nets, thrashing about and entangling itself.

Seeing where it was suspended, Ashok leapt across, caught hold of the netting above the demon, and hung there, swinging in the fiery wind, dangling from the rough hemp with one hand. There was still a demon on the platform behind him, and the one thrashing below him, but that was only for a split second, because then Ashok struck at the ropes, cut them all in one swing, and dropped the entangled demon to the shore below.

It hit the rocks with a thud. Ashok glanced down and saw that fallen demon was twitching, its thick skull cracked open and leaking white. Hopefully that one was finished.

He scrambled up the ropes and rolled onto the top platform. The fire had spread quickly. There was a thump as the other demon leapt up and landed next to him. He attacked, but the demon intercepted his arm with a blow that would have killed an ox. Bones cracked and Ashok’s sacred sword went bouncing across the floor.

Damned blood loss…He must have been injured worse than he thought. He’d never lost hold of his sword before. He called upon the Heart of the Mountain to seal his wounds as he lurched to his feet, but the demon struck him hard enough to deform steel plates and knock him through the wall of a shed.

The Protector landed in a cloud of splinters. The shed was burning around him. Flames were licking up the walls as Ashok crawled in the direction of his sword. There was still air to breath near the floor, but his chest was so wracked with pain that it hardly mattered. The second demon followed him, webbed toes gliding soundlessly across the wood, its lump of a head clanking through the dangling chains and hooks, sending them swinging.

The demon would reach him before he could reach his sword.

It bent down and claws slid through his armor, clothing, and skin, hoisting him from the ground, up into the smoke and toward black teeth. Blood poured from the lacerations on his back, but he ignored the pain, and fought, striking with his elbow against the beast’s thick skull. All he did was lose more skin. It lifted Ashok up, then smashed him back down, through a support beam, and hard onto the floor.

Angruvadal was just out of reach. Ashok lay there, the air driven from his body, flat on his back, glaring at his impending death.

The old casteless appeared through the smoke, bellowing incoherently, and jabbed his illegal spear into the demon’s back. Even the finest steel had a difficult time piercing demon hide, so the blade bounced off harmlessly. The demon swiveled its eyeless lump of a head toward the casteless, not realizing in time that this non-person was no threat, only a momentary distraction, but it was enough for Ashok to roll over and lunge for his sword.

His fingers closed around Angruvadal’s grip as the demon turned back to finish him. The angle was awkward, but Ashok had desperate strength and the sharpest sword ever forged. Black hide parted, hardened bone shattered, and the demon toppled as its leg came off in a spray of shimmering white.

The Protector struggled back to his feet. Now it was the demon’s turn to crawl. One arm was hanging useless at his side, but Ashok could fight with either, and he went about methodically hacking the demon to pieces.

The demon rolled over and raised one of its claws, almost as if it were begging for mercy. The line opened in its lump of a head, and alien sounds poured out, a series of incomprehensible hisses and gurgles. Ashok paused for a moment. He’d never known demons had language. There was no way to know what it was trying to say, but it didn’t matter, the Law was very clear on this matter.

“You are guilty of trespass.” Then Ashok swung and hacked a massive chunk of flesh from the top of its head.

There was a crack as more supports gave way. The floor shifted hard to the side. He could withstand unbelievable pain and recover from injuries which would instantly kill a normal man, but that didn’t mean he could breathe smoke or survive being in a collapsing stilt house as it was consumed by fire. It was time to take this fight elsewhere. Ashok put his boot on the dying demon and shoved it over the edge of the platform.