Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: The Sane King by Matt Knott
The Sane King by Matt Knott
This is an excerpt provided by the author for the Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off Competition
Panting, he stood a foot from James, who laughed with every shift of East and West as the axes formed a red horizon. Wicked edges carved away at the beast that had slaughtered Mort’s home. The actor spun and darted to the right as Mort fought his urge to kill and stepped left.
Bolts flew between them, and the sallow-faced, fish-eyed maniacs that were next in line hurled backward at the impact, knocking those behind them over the side. Their limp bodies cracked against the stairs below as they plummeted over the edge of the Spiral Stair.
Bell took his place next, bringing his brutality to bear and battering the swarm aside. Mort and James stood behind Arra and Rayle. The woman’s foot tapped eagerly against the black sun that shone bleakly over the once-happy mosaic covering the plateau.
Her hunger to face the thing was palpable, and Mort had found a taste for it himself.
Bell had shed his civilized demeanor. Where his maul swung nothing could stand and was swept into the howling sky. Stern danced lithely beneath the powerful swings, lacerating with grace those that charged into the gaps. Each measured move complemented the savagery of his lover as they made massacre.
With a final twist Bell grasped the maul beneath the head and thumped the haft into a face as he stepped aside. Stern followed with a taunting lash of metal that opened the stunned man’s throat.
Sanny and Karri fired again, and Bray tossed Sanny the second bow to loose a third shot into the crowd as Rayle and Arra fell upon the Limb like wolves.
A storm of steel blew the attackers back as broadswords flashed like lightning and the thunder of roars followed each strike.
For a moment Mort thought the two had cast aside all sense and would rush heedless down the stairs, but almost as one they leapt back and allowed the bolts to do their work.
The Limb howled in outrage but did not stop as the Defeated rotated and continued to tear into it. Birch had driven home the importance of using narrow space to their advantage and the discipline to use it effectively.
Even if they’d not made it to the Stair, they could have made the strategy work, but here, forced to push upward and fighting the poor footing as much as the Defeated, the Limb suffered with every drive.
‘Dern!’ Mort screamed, lifting the ax and hacking downward as he and James took to the front.
As the wedge sheared through flesh and bone to slam into brain, he swore that for a moment the Limb recoiled, and in all the eyes that stared up at him he glimpsed a human quality for the first time.
Bray wound the crossbow and tossed it to Sanny as she dropped the empty weapon into his hands. James and Mort shifted out, and once again Stern and Bell took to the front.
It was working.
His mother looked to him and Sanny with approval. Her face was ghoulish and stained, but behind the battle mask he saw the woman who had been a parent to them both. Bell stamped his feet and shook his maul as Stern wiped his twin blades against each other casually. Rayle clapped them on the back and took to the front.
Birch coughed and Bray looked over at the captain. He was propped against a large arch, hands crossed over his thighs. Since the fight below, he’d breathed in ragged gasps but was otherwise blind to the world as he slept deeply.
James and Mort took up the assault, and Karri and Sanny fired as Bray passed up a loaded bow and reloaded the empty. He watched the bolts strike home, but rather than reeling back the Limb rushed, forcing Stern and Bell to action. The Limb was fighting more fiercely. Mort bled from a deep wound above his eye, and James grasped the man’s chin, inspecting it before slapping his partner’s cheek with a grunt of respect.
Stern and Bell struggled to adapt, and Bray gasped as a knife caught the narrative in the arm, halting his twist and forcing Bell to angle his aim upward. Stern ducked, and the hammerhead connected with the bare-chested man who had drawn blood, sending him spiraling over the side.
Bell shoved Stern behind him and bellowed as he strode forward, taking vengeance for the cut with a harvest of carnage.
Finally, he withdrew, and Rayle and his mother took the fore, though Bray saw Bell was not satisfied. He ignored Stern’s muttered oaths and focused instead on the scarlet trail winding down the man’s arm with terrible intensity.
Time and again the pairs rotated. Every life the Defeated took sapped their energy, and the killing never ended. Every drop of blood spilled by the few was a victory for the Limb.
‘We’re almost out,’ Bray yelled to Sanny as he struggled to load the bow on the sixth rotation. She looked to the handful of bolts and shrugged.
‘Keep going,’ she said, aiming as his mother stepped aside to give her and Karri a clear shot.
Sanny pulled the trigger and the string snapped, dragging the wood forward and shattering the body of the bow as the girl staggered. The destroyed mechanism hurled the bulk of the wood backward into her face.
‘Fuck!’ Karri growled as she and Bray turned to catch her.
Splinters covered Sanny’s hands and her nose pressed against her cheek. Karri lowered her down and was forced to hold her arms as the girl struggled to sit up.
‘Give me,’ the girl said, dazed, reaching for the loaded bow in Bray’s hand.
He almost did as she asked.
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