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Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: The Boy Who Stole His Flesh Back by Stephen E Tull

The Boy Who Stole His Flesh Back by Stephen E Tull

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

METRON WIPED THE last of the man’s blood from his lips and fought the urge to spit the metallic bitterness from his mouth.

The chief of the goats nodded his satisfaction and went to join his own kind dancing and drinking around their fires. The forest around them was black with night.

If the goats were rowdy and energised by what they had done, the centaurs were solemn and quiet. In some ways Kyron had been right, the whole thing was wrong. The human hung limp. The ropes that bound his hands creaked against the satyrs’ hook, his pale body twisted in the breeze. The centaur chief spared his brother a look; Kyron looked back at that moment, a troubled look on his face, a crease on his brow. Metron was about to throw him a scowl but there was something else in Kyron’s manner, his mouth agape like the words were stuck.

Then the arrows came.

Centaurs and satyrs fell. The rest of them had time to stand in stunned silence and exchange vacant looks before a host of voices somewhere bellowed the sound of a charge.

Metron reared and roared something foreign into the night. Kyron had taken watch to the south of the clearing, the temple was to the north, the charge swept in from the east. It was cavalry, men on horseback; a great wave crashing over the new alliance.

There was no time to form a proper defence. The centaur bulls pulled heavy axes, the goat families mostly shrieked, and the humans ran through with the speed of marauders, slashing as they went, barely slowing their mounts. Within a few panicked breaths they had come and killed and passed through, back into the darkness.

If the shockwave had put the goats’ tails between their legs, it had brought the centaurs to life. Where if, in that disgrace of a ceremony, their heads had drawn low and they had half-forgotten who they were, they remembered now. If they had a backbone, it was their hatred of Men. Metron roared, Kyron and Lycus roared, and the last quiet of the night was broken in a great bellowing of centaur words to form a ragged battle line.

The goats were jabbering and squabbling. The goat women were shrieking some whiny women’s lament, the goat children were crying, the goat men looked like they could barely decide on fight or flight, and in the middle of it all, Skala, the chief of the goats, was clashing horns with his subordinates and hissing and clicking filthy goat words at them all.

A warhorn sounded to the east. Metron shouted the centaur war cry in response, and the whole line of those awesome beasts reared and crashed their hooves on the earth and the air rent with the deep rumbling of centaur voices as they cried for war.

Humans on foot now. A sea of deep blue cloaks. A crushing wall of bronze. A phalanx of spears. The centaurs didn’t wait for them to come. An abomination of flesh and iron surged headlong into the fray. Towering death. They knocked all the order from the human formation and it became a melee. Still, the humans were too many and the goats weren’t doing their part – it was obvious which way it was going to go.

Metron took his brother by the shoulder. “Sour their victory,” he said, pointing his chin towards the temple where the boys were.

Kyron hesitated.

“I’ll do it,” growled Lycus as he dispatched a man with a single cleave of his axe.

Metron looked at his lieutenants, his eyes fierce with battle. “Just get it done,” he said, and moved back into the fight before his brother had time to put his disagreement into words.

Metron fought his way closer to the chief of the goats. Skala was at work with his horns and his club and his knife. His tribe hadn’t the order of the centaurs or the humans: theirs was the desperate chaos of survival more than a cohesive search for victory. Small bands of them fought here and there, but many of them stood apart if they could, the women and children cowered, and all around, lone satyr were running from the fight.

Metron barged his way through them, pushing juvenile and adult males into action. “Call them back,” he shouted at Skala as yet more so-called warriors passed from sight.

Skala clubbed a man down to the ground and came to a stand-still. He stared at his new ally.

“I didn’t come here to make friends with a coward,” said the centaur, reaching out and knocking a goat who wasn’t fighting to the floor with a giant fist.

A terrible amusement crept across Skala’s face and he turned and finished the man off with his club. All of a sudden, a host of goat voices shrieked an alarm. The cavalry were returning to the fight, charging into the satyr flank, breaking through them to where the women and children were huddled, showing no regard. Someone blew a satyr warhorn, itself a great, jarring, twisting sound, and even those who had seemed eager to fight began to shriek for something else, looking for their chance to flee.

The chief of the goats looked over to those now cut off. There seemed no sadness on his face, no emotion at all.

“They’re your people,” intoned Metron, shocked and appalled that the goat men would leave their dependants so easily. “You have a woman,” he said pointing over at them. “You have a son.”

The big centaur twisted to find the satyr but he had been found first, so instead he twisted in pain.

Skala slid his blade into the other kidney for good measure. “All I have now is a knife,” said the chief of the goats, and he ran, butting and slashing his way clear into the darkness.

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