Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

The swordsman Ragan Song engages in...

A Dance with a Demon
(Part One)

By Josh Chapman
About the author

Ragan Song, warrior, thief, and mercenary, was deep in the northern territories. His job – to slay the wicked leader of a diabolical sect, hidden somewhere in the steaming forests of Xyang. His reward – 10,000 crowns upon delivery of the high priest Nyarlothetep's head…

RAGAN SONG FLITTED FROM TREE TO TREE, nothing more than a shadow. The temple lay before him, a scant hundred yards of open ground separating him from the great pagodas of the building. Standing at the edge of the dense woods, Song turned his keen eyes to look upon the balcony which jutted out from the cerise and gold tower. He cursed beneath his breath as he spotted the two guards patrolling the length of the platform.

Knowing that the balcony was his only means of ingress, Song took a short step back into the encroaching shade of the delicate trees surrounding him. Grabbing the majestic ivory bow that was strapped to his back, he stooped and placed one knee upon the sodden earth. Nocking a crimson-shafted arrow to the bow, he looked up once again at the balcony. The two guards now appeared to be in conversation; one was perhaps telling a joke as his burly companion was laughing in great snorts, his breath misting the chill air before him.

Drawing the taut string of his mighty bow back past his ear, Song took careful aim at the laughing guard. Mouth set in determination, eyes narrowed, he released his grip upon the bowstring and loosed his shaft of red death!

The arrow was unerring in its flight, and pierced through the roof of the corpulent guard’s mouth, skewering his brain and bursting through his skull at the back of his head, such was the strength of Ragan Song’s arms.

Even as the guard slumped to the wooden decking of the balcony, Song had another arrow aimed at the man’s companion. An expression of horror spread over the man’s features. Song saw him open his mouth to scream the alarm and sent a shaft whining through the moonlight to bury itself in the man’s throat.

Now was his chance! Slinging the bow over his back, he rose from the ground and sprinted across the clearing towards the temple. The turf was wet and slippery as the man raced through the night towards the towering building and nearly succeeded in flooring him. The full moon overhead threw spears of light down upon his athletic frame, twinkling over the finely wrought metals of his armour--a breastplate of burning gold and chainmail of russet copper links. Despite the obvious quality of the craftsmanship, the suit weighed practically nothing and encumbered his agile being not at all, being as it was the finest such suit in all the East--stolen some years earlier from Emperor Xiaochan XI of Chenang.

Within seconds he had reached the wall of the temple. There he flattened his form against the hard surface and placed his ear to the stone. From somewhere within could be heard the deep resonant sound of chanting; obviously the monks of the temple were engrossed in some grotesque ritualistic mass for which they were renowned and feared throughout the Northern territories.

Looking up, Song could see the shadowy protuberance of the balcony directly above him. Flicking his damp mane of raven black hair from his face, he began to scale the red brick of the structure’s wall.

With fluid grace his hands instinctively found the minute cracks between brick and mortar and, hugging the stone closely, Song climbed some twenty feet before reaching the balcony.

Swinging himself up and over the wooden frame, he landed soundlessly upon the wooden platform to be met by the gaze of one of the guards. The man still wore an expression of shock upon his bloodied face, and his glazed eyes would have unnerved any normal man. But Ragan Song was far from a normal man.

Reaching down, Song tugged his arrow from the throat of the guard--it had severed the man’s jugular, which accounted for the floor of the balcony being coated dark red. Wiping the shaft upon the guard’s tunic, Song replaced the arrow in his quiver and checked the second man only to find that his shaft had snapped in two within the man’s bloody pulp of a head. Rising, he turned to face the entrance to the temple.

The door was of simple bamboo wood design, and was already slightly ajar as Song approached on silent, blood stained feet. He could see torchlight from inside and an overpowering perfumed scent found his keen nose. The somnolent chanting could still be heard, but seemed fainter here than at the base of the temple.

Drawing the katana sword, which hung in an ornate scabbard at his side, he stood to one side of the door and pushed it swiftly open. He waited in uneasy silence, trying to calm his breathing. He’d half-expected a volley of arrows to scream through the door and tear him to shreds, yet he could hear no one or nothing from inside.

Cautiously, he stepped inside the doorway. Immediately, he was bathed in the glow from the torches, and saw that he stood at the top of a gently sloping corridor, which ran on for a considerable distance before rounding a corner.

Moving swiftly now, Song paced down the slope and turned the corner walking straight into the path of one of the temple’s diabolical priests!

For an instant, the two men stood frozen. The bald headed priest, garbed in fine yellow robes, mouthed an utterance of surprise, whilst Ragan Song cursed and narrowed his glittering violet eyes in determination. Slowly, he raised his great sword and advanced upon the priest.

"Who are you, who would dare set foot in this place?" snarled the priest, drawing a wicked looking scimitar from beneath his robes.

"I am Ragan Song," replied the warrior, "and I am here to kill you." Then with lightning pace, he thrust his katana at the priest’s chest. The man only just managed to deflect the blade from his heart, sending Song’s steel to rip through the yellow robe and over the bone of his shoulder.

The priest staggered backward against the wall. Glancing at his shoulder, he saw a red stain blossoming upon his robes. Looking up at the face of his attacker, he spat in disgust and said between clenched teeth: "For this, you will surely die, stranger."

And then, with a suddenness which surprised even Song, the priest launched himself towards the intruder. He hacked mercilessly with his massive blade, a fiery savagery in his eyes, determined to destroy this man who had desecrated his place of unholy worship.

Song fell back under this attack; the priest had probably smoked large quantities of Yalpap leaves, as was the custom of this nefarious sect, thus rendering him oblivious to pain and fear. Now the priest had the advantage and was driving Song back towards the wall.

Then, with one monstrous swing of his wicked blade, the priest sent Song’s katana flying from his hand to clatter upon the cold floor some yards distant.

Taking a step forward, the priest placed the tip of his sword against Ragan Song’s throat, exerting just enough pressure to scratch a small wound into the skin and send a trickle of blood down Song’s neck, forcing him down to the floor. Glancing around desperately, the warrior’s mind raced attempting to contrive something-- anything that would allow him to escape.

"Now I will destroy you," said the priest, breathing heavily. "And as your mortal body perishes, so I will deliver your soul as a plaything to my goddess Shanazaraana! Whereby you will endure an eternity of suffering for your insolence before me tonight."

Swinging his scimitar in a wide arc, the priest uttered a depraved prayer to his demonic goddess, before bringing the blade thundering down toward Song’s exposed neck!

And only then did Ragan Song see his chance to escape. Even as the priest’s blade was hurtling through the pungent air on a course for the warrior’s neck, the man was in action. Placing his hands against the wall behind him, he propelled himself forward into the priest’s legs, bowling the man over to land with a sickening thud on the smooth flagstones of the corridor.

Even as the man hit the ground, Song was back on his feet. Flicking a glance back down the corridor, he spotted his sword some metres away. He couldn’t risk going to fetch it--he had to dispatch of the priest right now!

Turning his gaze to the walls, he gave a grim smile as his eyes fell upon an object suspended above the dazed priest in an iron mounting.

Stepping around the yellow and red bulk on the floor, Song approached the lantern and, lifting it carefully from the wall, took several steps away from the inert priest and hurled the flaming container with all his might.

The lantern struck the floor, just beside the feebly moaning priest, dowsing his robes in the perfumed oil of the container. Almost instantly, his front burst into flame, the fire licking greedily at the man’s fuel soaked costume.

The priest shrieked, desperately beating at the flames, which quickly spread to consume his entire smock: "No! Please, Please stop…. Somebody help…. HELP ME!"

Cursing at the noise, Song quickly edged around the human inferno and hurried towards his discarded katana. He swiftly returned to the howling priest and calmly ran him through, slicing deep into his heart to silence his screams.

Then, turning his back on the charred and blackened body, the warrior strode up the corridor and rounded the next corner.

* * *

Presently, he came upon another door, similar to the one the men on the balcony had guarded. This one, however, was locked fast. Placing his ear against the door, Song heard the same deep bass vibrations he had heard before. Positive they were coming from somewhere behind the door, he set about it with his katana and in minutes had hacked the hollow bamboo wood to shreds.

Stepping through the ruins of the door, he found himself at the head of a set of winding stone steps. A lantern hung upon the wall to his right. This he snatched from its mounting and proceeded with caution down the staircase.

He walked for several minutes down the many floors of the temple. Small recessed windows allowed slivers of moonlight into the tower, but as he gradually descended further, even these lights were gutted and Song realised he was somewhere beneath the temple, under the very earth itself!

And then the stairs ceased, and the warrior found himself before another door. This one, however, appeared to be much stronger than the flimsy obstructions he had previously encountered. It was constructed of some dark wood, which Song did not recognise. Even more disconcertingly, the door appeared to swallow up the light from his lantern, leaving the corridor in a murky half-darkness. The sonorous chanting now rang loud in his ears.

Song doubted instantly whether even he possessed the necessary strength to vanquish a door such as this. Carefully, he placed his hands upon the dark surface of the wood. Upon its surface, intricate runes had been etched, depicting cruel and bestial behaviour, which shocked even Song in its primeval savagery. He shivered slightly at the ice-cold chill of the mysterious wood.

Spreading his powerful legs, and tautening his great arms upon the reviled carpentry, Song pushed with all his might upon the door--pushed until a fire raged in his chest and his limbs felt like lead--yet still the door held.

Gasping for breath, he turned his back on the crude carvings and slumped against the door, exhausted.

As he stood and drew his sword, preparing to test the blade’s strength against the stubborn door, his keen hearing picked up a faint, muffled sound from the other side of the ominous obstacle.

Placing his ear to the frosty timbers, Song stilled his ragged breathing and sought to identify some nearby noise over the infectious tones of the demonic dirge, which now pounded inside his skull.

At first, he heard nothing. The door trembled under his face and hands in time to the rhythmical chanting and he had difficulty tuning his hearing to ignore the incessant distraction.

But then he heard it again. Of what it was, he could not be sure. But whatever it was, it obviously carried some sort of cold or flu, and was audibly demonstrating so with a succession of racking coughs.

Song could see no conceivable way of progressing without going through this door. He had no alternative but to leave himself entirely at the mercy of the Gods. He hoped fervently for good luck.

Stepping forward, he raised his katana and rapped thrice with its hilt upon the malevolent gloom of the door before turning and sprinting a short distance up the winding staircase, until his muscular frame was out of sight. Once hidden from view, he snatched the ivory bow off his back and fitted an arrow in one, fluid motion.

On to Conclusion

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A Dance with a Demon is copyright Josh Chapman. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)