Thomas R Clark
“Fuck you, witch.” Gerrard spat blood at Ami Nightswan’s boots. She stood before him, Dusk and Dawn drawn, the crystal blades covered in a neon auras. They hummed and vibrated, creating a soundtrack of white noise. He was on his knees, hunched over, his bald head covered in streaks of blood. He was helpless before the witch and her mercy. His own sword was in shattered pieces, scattered on the ground. His armor felt heavy, the deep wounds on his shoulder and back, inflicted by the witch’s eldritch weapons, exasperated its weight. He was unstoppable! The Dragon’s power made him impervious to all! All but the Moonstalker, Ami Nightswan and her magic blades. How could she beat him? Gerrard couldn’t answer the question. What he could do was grovel, or die with pride.
“Sir Gerrard of Hechate, you have been charged with disrupting the Balance of the Realm and consorting with The Dragon. For this you must die. How do you plead before the Saints?” She drew back the blades, preparing to strike the death blow. There would be no quarter.
“Fuck off, The Dragon gives us strength!” Choosing the latter, he puffed his chest out and rose his head in defiance, staring into her green eyes. They were soulless cat’s eyes – tiger’s eyes. “And fuck your Saints. Fu-” Ami brought her swords down in a criss-cross pattern across Gerrard’s chest. They bit through his armor and into the bone of his sternum, neatly shredding his heart and lungs before completing their arc. Gerrard said nothing more.
“No, fuck you.” Ami Nightswan said to the fresh corpse laying at her feet, and sheathed her crystal swords. Blood seeped from the armor’s crooks. She brushed her effervescent cloak aside and reached into a pouch hanging from her belt, withdrawing a vial. Uncapping it, the witch sprinkled the area with its contents. Pockets of the ground and the dead man before her sizzled and smoked, the stench of rot permeated the mist. Ami wrinkled her nose in displeasure. “And fuck your Dragon.”
The ugly of her job as the Hero of Twilight was enforcing the Balance of the Realm. And dispatching any instances of the The Dragon’s corruption. She didn’t care to take lives, in fact she preferred to retire to her home in Witch’s Valley and live a life with purpose, aiding those in need with her knowledge. If life was this simple, they would have no need for the Heroes of the Balance to exist. The all consuming evil of The Dragon exists throughout the multiverse, and thus the Heroes must rise to answer.
Bloodlines chosen by the Saints themselves held the Heroes, passing the responsibility of maintaining the Balance of the Realm down through the ages. The Heroes of Light, Darkness and Twilight, all bound to execute their duty without prejudice when called upon. Of the three Heroes, only she, the Hero of Twilight, was immortal, living through time and in all times. Alongside her descendants and those who call the immortal witch an ancestor, Ami Nightswan was unique.
Ami kicked Gerrard’s body, scraping his bloody loogie on her boot off on his scarlet cloak. The armor shifted and a plate fell. It bounced off the dead man’s metal covered arm with a clang. A portion of Gerrard’s rib cage plopped out after, pushed by the fountain of blood pouring from of the exposed wound. The ground about his body was soon encircled by a crimson pool.
“Fool.” Satisfied her magical decontamination work was done, the witch utilized a more mundane means for exit. She whistled, summoning her strider. Resting in place a hundred yards away, the tall camelid with clawed toes snorted. It took its sweet time getting to her. The favored beast of burden and personal transportation in The Realm, they could gallop along roads at a steady gait, or claw their way over rough or mountainous terrain with ease. Striders were also notorious for their stubborn demeanors.
“Be quick about it, beast.” Ami urged her mount on. Night would fall soon, and she wished to be as far from this place of destruction as she could by then. Camping on the open plain didn’t appeal to her, whereas hiding in the relative safety of a wood or grove was much more appealing. She’d be able to do so, provided the strider ever reached her. “Well? I’ve not got all day,” the camelid rolled its eyes, and might have picked picked up the pace.
Rain came and thunderous bolts of lightning pierced the sky. Flashes of daylight broke the darkness with each strike. Drops of water assaulted the terrain and anyone, or anything, unlucky enough to be caught in its midst. Fabric soaked in the moisture, plants sucked in the sustenance, dry earth became mud, and corrupted blood came to life. It grew at an alarming rate, spreading down Sir Gerrard’s cloak and into his armor. Into his flesh…
The armor shifted, then moved. Sir Gerrard’s gauntleted hands pushed his body up. Hanging his bald head between his shoulders, he remained on his hands and knees, the rain cascading off his bulk. Below him the coagulated puddle of blood bubbled, releasing living tendrils of blood, feeling about in the air. They stretched and reached for something to latch onto. They soon discovered Gerrard’s armor, and returned to from where they once were expelled.
Gerrard brought one knee up, and rested his elbow upon it. With his free hand, he reached into the mud and retrieved the bone cut from his chest. The other knee followed a moment later and gerrard rose to his full height. He slapped the section of his sternum back into his chest and tilted his head back. Fire burned in his eyes.
The fire of The Dragon.
Thunder crashed. Gerrard opened his mouth, it glowed with the same ferocity and fire of his eyes. Brimstone vomited onto the remnants of his broadsword. The falling rain sizzled and cooled the molten mixture, forging a new blade from the unholy bond of The Dragon. Jagged and scarred it glowed white hot. Gerrard grabbed the sword by the pommell and held it high.
“Moonstalker!” He roared with the thunder. It was time for the witch to pay. He swung the sword in an arc. Jets of brimstone flew off the blade, screeching as the rain water boiled and steamed, creating a fog as the droplets crashed into the ground. In the mist, a figure rose from the ground, then another and another. Soon, Sir Gerrard was surrounded by a host of knights in the gloom, eyes smouldering in brimstone.
Thus is the power of The Dragon.
The rain clouds followed Ami and her strider across the rolling grass hillands. They reached the edge of the forest with enough time to set up shelter. Always proactive, she gathered dry tinder and logs for her fire first. The first drops fell as she hammered in the last stake of her canvas lean-to, the back wall to the wind. By the time the storm was relishing in its full glory, Ami was comfortable with a warm fire, heating up a broth with rice and a loaf flatbread for dinner.
Her swords rested in their scabbards, leaning against the fallen log Ami sat upon. The threat was dispatched, she had no need for weapons. Still, she kept them close to hand. Next to them the strider slept, its legs folded beneath its body and its long neck curled around its lean bulk. For as large as the camelid was standing erect, it found a low profile when at rest.
Ami sat with her cloak draped around her head and shoulders, covering the length of her long black hair. She sipped on her soup, steam rising from the cup. Holding it with both hands, she found it warmed her while center. The soft glow of the fire flickered shadows across her aquiline features under her hood. She closed her eyes, focused on her singularity, and fell into meditation. Exhausted from battling Sir Gerrard, she slipped into a lucid sleep.
Being ripped out of this state was jarring.
The witch’s eyes shot open, nausea coursed through her midsection. Ami dropped her cup of soup. The fire was now only coals and the broth was cold, telling her she’d zoned out for a while. A humming sound resonated across the log. Her swords shook in their scabbards. Dusk and Dawn felt something, too.
The Dragon. Was there no relief from this scourge? Ami thought. She stood, dropping her magical cloak to her shoulders, pulling the swords from their scabbards in the process. The crystal blades, Dusk of onyx, Dawn of diamond, were stronger than steel with a monofilament edge capable of cutting through any substance. When in proximity to the corruption of The Dragon, they pulsed and glowed, as they did earlier in the day, and now.
“Moonstalker, show yourself!”
Ami stepped out from under the lean-to and saw the eyes floating in the darkness and fog. Fiery, floating spots in the misty void. At the forefront was the revenant form of Sir Gerrard of Hechate, the brimstone of the The Dragon oozing from the creases in his armor. The hive mind of the entity was often foolish, forgetting its previous experiences. Its children were ignorant to the witch’s true power.
“I am here, Gloom Knight. I see The Dragon fills your veins.” The witch said, cold, calculated confidence dripping from her words. Her eyes blinked from green to soft amber glow. How was he still alive, albeit possessed by The Dragon? She purified the area. Then she remembered. The blood he spat on her boot. It was corrupt.
“You cannot defeat The Dragon, Moonstalker. It will consume all there is, including you. Bring her to me!” He thrust his sword forward, and a dozen gloom knight clones stepped forward from his left and right, identical weapons in hand.
“You can do better than that, no?” Ami sighed in exasperation, taunting the undead knight. “I mean, you are privy to my status as a legendary being, feared by The Dragon’s Children, right? What makes you think you’re better?”
“You think too much of yourself, witch.” He snapped a gauntleted fist and the drones struck. The left and right flanks formed a pincer about Ami. She grinned as they closed in on her. The gloom knights rose their swords in unison and swung down upon the witch.
She wasn’t there.
Their blades ran one another through. Brimstone, steel, bone and flesh collided with a frightening clash and exploded, waking Ami’s strider from its slumber. It snorted in disgust at being disturbed. Parts of gloom knights rained down around them, dropping with loud thuds and clanks of metal.
Sir Gerrard cackled in response, his brimstone eyes flaring. Strewn about, tendrils grew from the dismembered limbs of the gloom knights, pulling the body parts to the remaining Gloom Knight. Tentacles of blood and tissue grew from these, attaching themselves to Gerrard’s torso. Six additional arms lined each side of the monster, each brandishing a sword forged from Hell.
“The Dragon will triumph!” Gerrard bellowed.
Ami’s strider snorted and spit at Gerrard. The loogie landed square in the middle of his face. It sizzled and steamed.
“Foul beast!” Gerrard raised all thirteen swords, holding his primary blade with two hands, ready to strike down the camelid. The campfire between the two flared, casting long shadows in the darkness. The strider’s shadow stood tall, its clawed feet reflected as scythes in light. The Gloom Knight’s shadow, too, stood. Towering high above Sir Gerrard, it rose an immense leg and mounted the ethereal strider.
The shadows reared back and lunged forward, meeting Sir Gerrard’s mutated form. The ghost strider’s long, curved shadow claws pinned Gerrard’s many arms to the earth. He struggled to no avail as his own murky profile drove a baker’s dozen worth of ether blades into his chest. The fire flared and the shadowy revenant grew in size. It opened its mouth and consumed Sir Gerrard in a single bite. It chewed twice then swallowed, and Sir Gerrard with all his parts, ceased to exist.
At least on this plane of the multiverse.
The strider snorted, folded its legs and sat back down. The fire receded, the shadows fell and Ami Nightswan stepped back from the darkness. No longer warning her of danger by glowing and vibrating, she sheathed her swords. Without a word she reached into a saddle bag hanging off a tree limb, withdrew a fistful of hay and handed it to the animal. The camelid took it from her with its prehensile tongue. She patted her mount’s neck.
“When did you learn to spitlike that?” The strider rolled its eyes in response, as to say “I’m a camel, it’s what we do.”
Ami Nightswan chuckled, satisfied the danger passed and the Balance of the Realm was restored.
Bio not provided