Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine

The Crimson Blade

An eleven chapter saga of swordplay and sorcery
Chris Gordon

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Previously: Kael and his raiding party have attacked the fortress while most of the enemy troops are away. Battling their way through the skeleton garrison, they press deeper into the fortress, seeking the evil sorcerer Kelmar...

CHAPTER TEN:  The Crimson Blade

It had been a bloody fight to reach Kelmar’s chambers. On several occasions they had encountered groups of guards, and after each encounter had left only dead and unconscious bodies behind them. Though Kelmar’s arrogance had lead him to post only a small number of defenders here, each of the three companions bled from cuts and scratches, a painful reminder of the near-misses that would have meant their own deaths and not those of their enemies if they had not been so fortunate.

The three men now stood back to back in a wide hall in a wide hall, surrounded by both Kelmar’s soldiers and a number of the hideous Thrait. Kelmar himself stood upon a wide dais at one end of the hall, flanked by two huge Thrait bodyguards, an amused smile touching his lips as he studied the trio.

He was old, very old - Kael could see that. His hair, grey and long and thinning on top, and the lines in his face told him that. Despite this, he stood upright, proud and strong, as if age had not diminished his vitality. A short sword was held by the sash at his waist.

‘Siman, Tarabus, and the outlander,’ he said flatly, almost mocking them. ‘How pleasant it is to see you all. Perhaps some of you are harder than I imagined. That you got out of  Varl alive is testament to your determination, but to see you here in my chambers - that truly shows you are not all the spineless worms I believed you to be.’

‘You are the spineless one, Kelmar.’ Siman said grimly. ‘You are the one who slaughtered our families and children. You are the one who allowed himself to be seduced by the vile texts of Orta, and their promises of wealth and power!’

‘Promises that have been fulfilled as you can see,’ Kelmar smirked. He spread his hands wide and gestured to the rich furnishings of the room. Tapestries and silk hangings adorned the walls, the floor of the room was covered by many exquisitely-made rugs, and dotted around the rooms were representations of the vile toad-god Orta, cast in gold, with gems studding the bulging eyes.

‘Orta well rewards those who do his work. And punishes those who defy those that preach his word. The citizens of Varl would do well to remember that.’

Think you that he would let you slay one such as myself? One who has been instrumental in ensuring his work is done?’

‘Did you, Tarabus,’ he said, pulling out his sword and levelling it at the man, ‘Think you could cut my throat and be rid of me? Orta himself brought me back from the dead to ensure that you were all punished for your insolence. My army will follow me to the end, follow me until you are dead to the last man, woman and child. The riches I can give them ensure their loyalty to me- as I said, Orta rewards well those who do his work.’

‘We would rather all die than bow down to your vile god and his filthy rituals!’ Tarabus screamed at him.

‘Then that is exactly what you shall do, every last one of you.’ Kelmar sneered. Perhaps after my blade has drunk its fill, I will have my men drop your corpses upon your kin in the town, lest they forget the price for such effrontery as this.’ He looked at his soldiers. ‘Take them! And I want them alive!’

The room exploded in a fury of  violence. Sparks flew as steel clashed upon steel and the trio were assaulted on all sides by baying men and Thrait alike.

Though outnumbered, the companions had one advantage - Kelmar had told his men to take them alive, and their blows were tentative, without real power. Kael and his party had no such limitations, however, and many of their attackers went down with their skulls split, or staggered off screaming with an arm or a hand missing, or some great gash that opened up on their body like a bloody, toothless mouth.

They could not last forever against these numbers though, even with their tactical advantage. Slowly but surely the press of men and Thrait was beginning to take its toll upon them,  their strength failing, their hope of victory fading. All they could do was fight to their last breath, and die rather than being taking alive to fall victim to that accursed vampire sword.

All seemed lost. Tarabus had gone down, a well aimed blow from the pommel of a sword had seen to that, and he lay motionless upon the floor, an egg-sized lump on his temple bleeding profusely. Siman was fading, his sword now slowing, his breathing hard.

Kael too, was nearing the end of his strength, and he knew he would soon fall where he stood. His own shouts rang loud in his ears as his rallied his last reserves, another attacker reeling backwards in a fountain of his own blood, cleaved from shoulder to breastbone by Kael’s great sword.

‘Come, dogs - come and try to take me alive!’ he spat, a grimace upon his face and that strange light in his eyes. Drenched in gore, his serpentine locks caked with drying blood, he challenged them.

‘I do not go quietly, maggots! Pain surrounded my entrance to this world, and I intend my exit to be the same!’

There was a moment’s hesitation as they faced the madman in front of them, and an almost stunned silence in the howling throng, their confidence wavering as they realised that neither he nor his companion would simply throw down their swords and surrender. They would pay in blood before they took them.

Then there was confusion. Shouts from the other side of the mob, and men went down screaming as they were run through or sliced open as if in a charnel house. Men died as they turned to face this new foe, and others died as they turned from Kael and Siman. Whatever was happening, they wasted no time in taking advantage of the confusion.

Both men and Thrait were dying by the score as Kael and Siman fought with renewed vigour, finding new reserves of strength as their hopes of victory were resurrected. Both of the men laughed out loud as they realised what had happened.

Olver, Ivon and Gurshan had entered the battle! And Cara was with them, sword in hand, fighting as insanely as her rescuers!

Now the defenders, attacked from both sides, began to panic, to flee from the battle that had suddenly turned against them, to run screaming as they realised that their cause was lost. Many were felled like matchwood as they lowered their swords and turned away, hamstrung by the reunited party.

‘Cowards!’ screamed Kelmar. ‘Fight like men! I command it!’

His hired army paid no heed, and soon they were fleeing in a mass panic, their only thought to escape the carnage around them.

It did not take long before the room was empty save for the companions, and Kelmar and his two massive bodyguards, silent but for the groans and screams of the injured and dying, writhing in their own blood on the floor.

‘It seems your Army are not so devoted to your cause after all,’ Siman said to Kelmar. ‘It would appear that money does not furnish them with true loyalty , let alone a spine!’

Kelmar stood and stared contemptuously at the seven people in front of him.

‘Do you really  believe I need those scum to destroy you? You killed me before, remember? This time you shall not be so fortunate. My blade thirsts for your blood, come quench its needs!’

‘My blade also thirsts,’ said Kael. ‘Though it is your blood that it desires!’

He rushed at Kelmar, and the rest of the band went with him. The two body guards leapt forward to protect their master, and were set upon by Kael’s companions.

Kael swung his sword, under Kelmar’s attempted parry, the sword disappearing into the belly of the other man. Their was no blood, no cry of pain from his opponent, only a counter strike which was only just short of a killing stroke had he not managed to dodge it in time-it caught him on the upper arm and opened a long wound there.

His own sword had gone through the man as though he were as insubstantial as thin air! Where it should have killed him, it had had as much affect as a knife cutting smoke! Kelmar’s blade had flashed red as it cut into Kael’s flesh, and his arm felt weak as though the sword had drained something from him. What manner of evil was this?

He dodged a second blow by Kelmar and swung his sword again, this time slicing through his neck with enough force to separate his head from his body. Kelmar merely laughed.

‘Fool!’ he sneered. ‘You cannot harm me! Your sword will not harm my flesh! Your death will be exquisite!’

Next: Chapter Eleven: The Final Battle

back to Chapter Nine: Into the Keep

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The Crimson Blade is copyright by Chris Gordon. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)