Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: The Crimson Blade by Jay Faulkner
The Crimson Blade by Jay Faulkner
This is an excerpt provided by the author for the Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off Competition
“We need to leave,” the swordsman growled, without looking around.
“There’s nowhere to go, laddie,” Goran stated in resignation.
The Dwarf brought himself to his feet shield strapped to his arm, axe in one hand and walked to stand beside the swordsman. Side by side they looked around them at the slowly moving, unliving horde.
“How many are there, do ya mean or how many of those cursed abominations am I goin’ ta take with me ta Hell?”
“Either … both I suppose.”
“I cannae count that high, either way laddie!”
“So, what do you want to do?”
“Well,” Goran scratched at his beard as if deep in thought, “we could stand here until those things decide to make the first move but as they can wait longer than us why don’t we make that first move ourselves?”
“Seems reasonable enough”
“How about ya take the ones over there,” Goran said, indicating the numerous unliving to his left, before looking at the sea of endless bone to his right “and I will handle that rabble over there?”
“Are you two mad?” k’Tasha interjected in horror, “there are hundreds of those things. We cannot hope to stand against them so why waste time joking about it?”
“It doesn’t matter that we are goin’ ta die, my friend,” the Dwarf said with complete seriousness. “Everyone dies. It only matters how we die. I cannae think of people I would rather spend my last moments with so this is as good a way as any!”
“You are mad,” the Elf said with a fond smile, “but I love you for it you old fool!”
“Ah, ma darlin’, this isnae the time ta be declarin’ your love for me,” the Dwarf snorted with a wink, “though I know that I am hard to resist.”
“Be that as it may,” the Elf stated simply as she looked around at the approaching army of the dead, “I think that there is something wrong with your ‘plan’.”
“What would that be?” The Dwarf asked in confusion.
“You did not leave any for me!”
With a shout of fury k’Tasha brought both hands in front of her face, palms down and thumbs touching. A blast of scintillating colour exploded from her fingers, directly into the nearest skeletons shattering them into pieces as the foothills rained bone. Turning away, but staying close to the prone Nathaniel, she focused her attention – and magical might – against another rank.
“Well now,” Goran said with a berserk grin, “we cannae be letting her have all the fun!”
The Dwarf and the swordsman threw themselves into the front ranks of the approaching skeletons with fury and steel. Axe and sword cracked bone with each swipe but for every skeleton that they damaged – or even destroyed – another two took its place. From behind them came flashes of light as k’Tasha’s voice was raised in power but – like them – she was quickly becoming overwhelmed. Her magic could destroy four or five skeletons at a time but there were always more to take their place. Step by step, despite their best efforts, they were being pushed backwards until, finally, they were in danger of stepping onto Nathaniel.
And through it all he lay there.
It was k’Tasha’s cry – he realised afterwards – that roused him. The lethargy and nausea that had overwhelmed him when the unliving had started to rise washed away as he looked up to see her standing above him. It was the blood that flowed freely, from neck to arm, which caught his attention. He glanced around him and saw that both Kel and Goran were close to exhaustion and that – within moments – they would be overwhelmed. Getting to his feet, legs still unsteady, he reached down and brought the Chalice up to his face. Staring at it he tried to remember what it was that had invoked its powers when he had accidentally used it previously but nothing came to him. Straining in concentration he willed the chalice to do something, anything, to help him; it remained cold and lifeless in his grasp.
“Damn ye back to the Nine Hells!” Goran screamed in a mixture of fury and pain. His face was a mask of crimson, from a deep gash in his forehead. Nathaniel saw the skeleton that had injured his friend reach back for another blow and knew that Goran would not be able to stop the blade from connecting. He was going to lose his friends, here and now. They were going to die.
The word that escaped from his lips was little more than a whisper, taken on the wings of the wind and swept away.
Again, he repeated the word. Like personal matra it became something to hold onto as time slowed down. He saw a skeleton bringing back its arm, a dagger ready to be thrown - he could see a drop of perspiration as it flew from Kel’s head as he was knocked to the ground by the skeleton of an Orc – he could see the rivulets of blood flow down, and through, Goran’s beard – he could see the tears well up in k’Tasha’s eyes and begin to roll down her cheeks.
He could see the end of his friend’s lives approaching and he would not allow it. With a shout of pure denial he held the chalice aloft and in an ever-growing circle of light it burned with sliver fire. Rushing out in a wave of arcane fury it flowed over the fallen Kel and through Goran and k’Tasha who didn’t seem to notice its touch.
When it hit the first row of skeletons, however, it was obvious that they did. As soon as the light washed over them they collapsed, in pieces, to the ground. It was as if the force that had held them together had been stopped and so, like marionettes with their strings cut, they were useless.
The silence that followed the battle was deafening.
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