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Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: Betrayal's Shadow by Dave-Brendon de Burgh


Betrayal's Shadow by Dave-Brendon de Burgh

This is an excerpt provided by the author for the Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off Competition


Your Majesty, he sent, putting us much urgency into the thought as he could. Your Majesty, I’m ready.

It felt as though an age passed before he felt the King’s presence blossom in his mind. Brice wasn’t given any warning – the King simply enveloped his mind and pushed it aside, taking control of Brice’s body. He wanted to scream but he couldn’t; he could only watch, helpless and terrified.

The King turned Brice’s head to either side, taking in the men who stood around him. With Brice’s mouth, he said, “Your King stands among you now. I will deal with these fools.” Then he turned to the army and Brice felt the King smile with his lips, a huge, jaw-cracking smile that felt alien on Brice’s face.

The King shouted, “You dare to attack Shorwin’s Hold! You dare to attack this stronghold of Royal might! Now you will learn the utter folly of your actions!”

The army fell silent, hearing this strange and powerful voice booming out at them. They didn’t seem afraid at all. They frowned up at him, as if confused.

The King didn’t give that confusion long to settle, though.

He reached out with Brice’s hands, still smiling, and Brice could just imagine how he looked; a man in armour pretending to be a Cleric, offering some kind of strange benediction. The gathered soldiers were watching, just watching.

Brice felt his muscles flex as the King brought his arms together, felt the surge of power in that movement, felt how the power reached out and enfolded the front rank of the army–

His palms came together, the sound of it no more than a meaty slap, and Brice felt the bloom of pain deep in his head. The far left and right sections of the front rank surged inward toward the centre, smashing against their fellows with such force that blood spurted and exploded into the air. Left and right contracted ever faster, as if invisible walls were surging together, gargled groans mingling with wet snaps and crunches, and Brice saw the men standing towards the centre of the row begin to react.

Some began frowning as they realized what was happening; others opened their mouths to bellow, still others began moving, feet lifting to take a step out of the line. But the hideous wave coming towards them from either side – a churning mass of compacted armour and crushed bodies – was moving too fast, as even as those thoughts and movements of escape began to form the wave struck them. The last remaining soldiers were enveloped in a gory mass, vanishing from view, body cavities bursting, bones crunching and snapping, blood spurting and arching and exploding outwards.

Brice wanted to groan at the pain that was now pulsing behind his eyes, and he felt warm wetness on his upper lip. Beyond the gates, the grisly mass of meat and armour and clothing and bone sloughed to the ground, like a mudslide subsiding.

Brice tried to close his eyes but the King was still in control. He laughed with Brice’s mouth and throat, roaring with mirth at the expressions of the rest of the remaining soldiers. As if what he had done, what they had witnessed, was one of the funniest things he had ever seen.

And then one of the men snapped out of the horror-induced fugue and lurched into motion; he began sprinting towards the Hold, his boots sending up splashes of blood as he came forward and his mouth opened to utter a mindless roar. That set off the rest of the army – they too began running towards the Hold, some slipping in the blood and guts, but the same roar came from their throats – mindless, rabid, animalistic.

The King didn’t stop laughing, didn’t even flinch in surprise at what the army was doing. He raised Brice’s arms again, fists clenched, and began raising them up and down, as if he were pounding an invisible drum.

Dents appeared in the mass of onrushing mercenaries – groups of five or six men were pounded into the ground by an unseen fist, disappearing from view in an instant, only errant squirts of blood marking where they had been. Every time a fist came down, men vanished from view.

Brice wanted to retch, he wanted to collapse and writhe on the ground, wanted to close his eyes and un-see what he was being forced to witness, but the King was ‘playing the drums’ now, as Brice had heard it mentioned. His power was like a rhythmic hammer, coming down on the soldiers as they charged, and the terrible ache behind Brice’s eyes seemed to surge in time with the movement of his arms.

Now the amount of dents was growing as Brice’s arms pumped up and down, the King’s laughter adding a layer of insane hilarity to the horror of men dying by the score. Some of the mercenaries were coming back to themselves, their eyes finally seeing the crushed, chunky masses that had been friends, fellows. They stumbled to a halt, their rage dying away to be replaced by moans and suddenly screamed prayers or pleas for mercy. But the King wasn’t listening.

Less than thirty mercenaries still stood now, these in a stupor, their bloodless faces marked with deep, unreasoning fear. They were spattered with blood and gore and rags of clothing, standing like red sentinels on a field of blood and sundered flesh.

Finally the King lowered Brice’s arms, his laughter petering out to a chuckle. He folded Brice’s arms, surveying what he had wrought. Brice felt the satisfaction spread in his mind, and felt that his lips and chin were now wet with blood.

Calm yourself, General, the King sent at him. I’ve saved you the trouble of dealing with this ragged bunch. Now you can detain the men that remain and question them. I don’t think you’ll have any problems getting the answers we want.

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