We smelled the town of Dunskillen long before we saw it. The area was thick with the acrid odor of smoke and the sick, sweet scent of rotten meat. As we got closer, the breeze changed intensifying the cloying stench. Thinning trees gave us sight of the skyline filled with smoke. I nudged Dearbhaile to behind me. I drew my sword and Robilar did the same.
“Wen, scout ahead,” Corath said. I cocked my head at him. “None of you are as stealthy as Elven.”
I conceded his point with a shrug. The Gorauch disappeared into the distance.
“What should we do, Carter?” Lady Orwen said.
“Ready yourself for battle. We could be attacked at any moment.”
Keeper Dearbhaile moved slowly to the center of the circle again, with her lips compressed in a thin, white line, clearly upset, but she held her peace. The sun rose higher in the cloudless sky, pounding down on us. Sweat rolled down my face, and soaked the top of my buckskin pants. The moisture served to aggravate the moss in my belly. The maddening itch mounted in my mind. I squirmed and gripped my sword hilt tighter. My abdomen burned with the urgent need for me to scratch. I groaned, and clenched my jaw. I jumped when a cool hand landed on my back.
“Are ye alright, Carter?”
“Not really.” My voice sounded raspy even to me. “This damned Tianarri moss is driving me bugshit.”
Dearbhaile leaned back, blinking. “Bugshit?”
“What does bugshit mean?” Robilar said.
“Crazy. The desire to scratch is maddening.”
“So scratch.” Robilar chuckled. “What’s hard about that?”
“He cannae. He be infected with Tianarri moss.”
“Wen returns.” Lady Orwen called.
“I’ll fill you in later, Robilar.”
The Gorauch approached at a shambling run. The way his limbs flopped about, as if not under his control, caused a knot to form in my belly, pushing out the urge to scratch. My heart kicked into overdrive as I locked onto his approach. I threw a glance over my shoulder to my Rishka. Seeing she was safe, though intent on the approach of the white-haired Elven, I turned back. I raised my sword while I did so.
“Carter?” Lady Orwen said. My name was the signal Wen waited for. He launched himself into a sprint at me, eyes ablaze. “He’s possessed!”
“Wen!” His brother shouted. Time slowed around me. I moved to intercept him. “No, Carter. He’s my brother!”
Corath’s voice sounded slow, deep, and drawn out. The controlled Elven’s steps decelerated as if he were running through molasses, then halted. I broke into a run, and raced passed Wen. As I did, I caught whiff of decayed vanilla: a L’Arc demon had him. I hoped what I learned about possession during game sessions was accurate and the demon’s body would be nearby. ‘Kill the body, kill the possessor.’
I found the L’Arc standing at the edge of a wall, staring at Wen’s back. This one was different from the others. Its shoulders were broader and it wore blackened gold plate mail. The others were stunning, beautiful, statuesque and nude women with flawless milky skin, raven hair, large bat wings that unfurled from their shoulders and slender black tails. This one had scars over its face, eagle wings and stubble over its jaw. This one must have been one of the males. ‘Wow. Either Belial, or his dad, are sexist bastards. They have the females running around naked, yet they cover the males in heavy armor.’ Not that I wanted to see this demon without clothes. Time resumed its movement. The demon registered my presence, eyes wide. As its mouth dropped open, I ran it through with my sword.
“Carter!” I spun around at Dearbhaile’s scream. The others were under attack. I raced back to my friends. Halfway there, a rush of wings caused me to halt. The sky was blotted out by the shadows of about twenty L’Arc demons. I didn’t wait for them to land before scything into them. ‘Stupid demons.’
I heard my love scream again. I looked over. A large, muscular humanoid with greenish-black skin stretched tight over his frame had her neck in an immense clawed hand. He flipped his middle claw in the air, then vanished with a boom. I howled my rage to the heavens. A crimson fog descended over my eyes. I slashed, and chopped, sliced and hacked at any demon that was near me. I stopped when I realized Corath’s brother stood before me.
“Greetings, Carter Blake.” Wen’s mouth moved, but the hoarse, graveled and sweet voice belonged to Belial. Now I knew who had my love. “I have your woman. If you want to see her again, come to the former tower of Wizard Cora.”
I pointed my blade between Wen’s eyes. “I’m coming for you, Belial.”
He laughed. I bellowed and cleaved his neck with the sharp dryad weapon. Wen’s head fell from his body, still laughing. I kicked it away, and shut my eyes. I visualized the opulent room where I’d last seen Wizard Cora. I saw again the torches as they burned in brackets on stone walls, rich tapestries hung here and there. I remembered seeing the thickest rug I had ever encountered. I was able to picture the entrapment sigil drawn on the floor underneath. The sounds of the battle faded until all was silence. I felt a pressure on my body not unlike that time I’d went scuba diving in the summer when I was nine. I remembered marveling at the knowledge of all those tons of water surrounding my body, waiting to crush me, yet knowing my soft form was capable of withstanding it. I pushed that memory away and refocused on the summoning chamber. How did the outline of that tower look? I intended for nothing to slow my run on the demon’s new headquarters.
The pressure vanished. I opened my eyes, and saw the chamber I’d been visualizing. How the hell did I do that? I shrugged away the question. I’d worry about the riddle later. I readied my sword and went to the door. I placed my ear to it. I heard nothing, so I opened the door. The hallway was also lit by torches. I surprised one of the short humanoid wingless bat-like creatures I’d encountered during my escape from Belial’s fortress. The thing’s angry red muscles rippled as it moved, causing a clear, glistening and viscous fluid to roil down its body. Nictitating membranes flicked across its oil drop eyes when the demon discovered me standing in the room. I reacted first, slashing my blade across its throat. Blue ichor splashed my front as the creature collapsed. I continued on.
Down a second hall, I spotted another of the demons standing guard outside a big wooden door. I slipped along, until I was about a meter away. I hope Ugly doesn’t turn my way. The fiend did, and chittered something at the top of its voice, raising a spear. The door was yanked open. A L’Arc spilled out, shield leading the way. At the same time, a blackish green demon with oversized claws appeared beside me. This was either the one that took my Rishka, or was similar. Either way, he had my full attention. I lunged at him.
A clawed hand intercepted my sword and redirected the weapon to the side. I was hit from behind and shoved towards an incoming swipe from the other hand. My chest was slashed open and I found myself behind the L’Arc. I thrust my blade into her back, right between her wings. The sword went in as if she were warm butter. The bat-like demon thrust its spear through the L’Arc’s body and into my left bicep. I screamed, and was behind the thing without my sword. I felt as if my hands were guided by another as I gripped its head and put it in the path of the black demon’s stab. I shoved the smaller demon forward, further impaling it on the other’s claws which sliced my face. I growled, and tried to ignore the burning of four cuts traveling from my forehead to my cheeks. I didn’t understand how the demon missed my eyes, but I was glad he did. Damned thing tried to blind me!
He went for my eyes again. I grabbed his wrist. Blasted demon was a hell of a lot stronger than me. All I managed to do was slow the approach of those lethal claws. Once more, I had the feeling that another guided my hand as I punched the demon in the base of his neck. The force on my right hand let up. I rammed the clawed hand into the demon’s own eyes and brain. The demon fell to the floor. I bent at the waist, panting. The adrenaline seeped out, allowing me to feel my wounds more. I leaned against the wall. I gritted my teeth, then bit my tongue to keep the blackness at bay. Dearbhaile needs us, you pussy. Get going!
My left arm burned like fire. I pushed the pain back enough so I could enter the open door. Belial stood within as if he’d been waiting for me. Belial leered at me.
“Where is Dearbhaile?” I yelled.
“She’s… being taken care of.” He laughed. “You’re all alone Carter Blake. No Moment of Prescience, no Dearbhaile to rescue you. This time, I’m going to kill you.”
“Before, I might have needed them. I’m not the same person who surrendered to you to be your slave. I’ve grown.” I raised my sword, tilted my head to the left and right, making my vertebrae crackle. “Let’s dance, monkey.”
He snarled, showing off his black teeth, and charged. Our blades clashed, sending shockwaves through my arms. I tightened my grip, and pushed the steel against his snow white one. I knew he was stronger than me, and wanted him to push back harder.
The half-demon shoved hard. I ducked and at the same time, released my weapon which flew through the air behind me. As I hoped, his arms went over my head, leaving him flat footed. His sword arm was across his chest, and I was in perfect position. I punched him in the groin as hard as I could with both fists. All the air left his lungs in a rush. His grip slackened on the white sword which dropped. Mind blank, I snatched the longsword from the air, spun 180 degrees, and after spinning the weapon to a better grip, slammed the length into him.
The pure white blade sank into the half-demon’s chest like a hot knife into warm tallow. His jaw dropped as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened to him. I released the hilt of the sword which was heating fast. I stepped back and Belial crumpled to the ground. Seconds later, the wound caused by the white blade split open further, spilling out a flood of squirming maggots. I jumped back, trying not to puke in revulsion. The maggots soon evaporated, leaving a pulsating, silver blood-covered sapphire sphere. The sphere, as it pulsed like a beating heart, grew larger before my eyes, draining -something- from Belial’s corpse. The corpse looked more and more desiccated with every passing moment. Soon, a hollow husk was all that remained of Belial. The sapphire sphere pulsed faster and faster. Cracks formed in it, violet light streaming upwards. The sphere shattered into little pieces, leaving a huddled form lying on the ground. As the violet light faded, the form began to move.
The form soon showed itself to be a man curled in a fetal position. He rose to his feet and stood before me. He was about eighteen centimeters shorter than me and about the same in kilograms lighter. He had short brown hair, friendly brown eyes and a faint smile. To my discomfort, he was also nude. Before I could say anything, he looked down at himself, shook his head and caused clothes to appear on his body. He wore a faded blue chambray shirt tucked into sun lightened blue jeans stuck into travel battered leather boots with a pair of crossed gun belts slung low on his hips. Large revolvers with sandal wood grips were in the holsters. A faded bandanna was tied around his neck. He glanced back at me with his hands out to the sides as if asking for my approval of his dress. I noticed I got his eye color wrong. It wasn’t brown after all, but a faded blue color. He looked like the way I always pictured Roland Deschain of Gilead, from Stephan King’s The Dark Tower books.
I folded my arms across my chest and frowned. He looked back down at himself and shrugged. His clothing shimmered, and then changed again. When he looked up at me again, he had dark gray eyes, cinnamon colored hair in a ponytail and a Van Dyke beard. He wore a black three-piece suit with a lavender shirt. He was broader across the shoulders than I and a little narrower at the hips. His grin seemed to ask my opinion of his appearance this time. I shook my head, causing him to shrug again. This shrug seemed to say, “To hell with it.”
His cinnamon hair darkened to the color of fresh coffee, his shirt flashed to white and his eyes showed crimson for a moment before settling on hazel. He grinned at me again, wiggled his fingers at me in a wave and vanished in a flash of black tinged violet light.
I walked over to where the mysterious stranger had been birthed from a sapphire shell and picked up the sword I had used to kill the half-demon Belial, son of Lucien the Demon King and Zatanna the Lich Queen of Amcorath. The sword was no longer pure white. The blade had a faint outline of violet which only showed up when I moved the sword a particular way. The weapon also no longer sent waves of cold through my body, but felt warm to my touch. I turned to join the larger battle outside and discovered Lady Orwen standing in the doorway with a worried look on her face.
“I’m not sure, Carter, but I think he was Samhaine.”
“He ruled the Pits before Lucien. It’s not good that you just freed him.”
I growled. “I was not about to allow Belial to get away with his crimes, Princess.” She blinked as she leaned away from me. I don’t think she was aware of it. I sighed and headed towards the door. I didn’t care for the look of wariness on her face, but bit my tongue. My head throbbed. “We need to find Keeper Dearbhaile.”
“Corath has already searched the tower. He found no sign of her. Carter, I think Drago has her.”
My jaw tightened. I stared at the floor for a few seconds as my heartbeat accelerated again. I gripped the hilt of the white blade so hard my knuckles creaked. I peered at Lady Orwen from under my eyebrows. “Looks like I’m going after her.”
“Where will you search?”
“Let’s ask a demon.”
“I don’t think any will be talkative, Carter. If we can even capture one.”
“I’ll make one talk.”