Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine

The Crimson Blade

An eleven chapter saga of swordplay and sorcery
Chris Gordon

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Previously: Kael finally comes face to face with the wizard, Kelmar, but discovers all his efforts may have been for naught. The wizard seems impervious to harm and, worse, wields the cursed sword -- The Crimson Blade...

CHAPTER ELEVEN:  The Final Battle

Kelmar struck again and again, utterly unfazed by Kael’s counterstrokes, which passed through him as though he were as insubstantial as a ghost. He laughed wildly, and his blows became more furious, and soon Kael had ceased his attacks and it was all he could do to fend off the sword of his opponent. Kelmar laughed wildly again, delighting in the sport he was making of his foe. He knew that Kael could only delay his end, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. Here and there the sword cut Kael’s flesh, and each time it landed it briefly turned red, sucking the life from him as though it were a vampire. He was weakening, and Kelmar sensed his victory was at hand.

He raised his sword for the killer blow as Kael dropped to one knee, bent over as though he were spent. Kelmar brought his sword down almost vertically, to plunge it into Kael’s back, intent on piercing his heart, a cry of triumph issuing from his lips as he did so.

Kael swung his great sword upwards to meet it, batting the vampire blade from the other man’s hands as the two blades clashed in a shower of sparks. The sword clattered across the floor as Kael drew himself back up to his full height, his ruse a success.

Already Kelmar was running across the chamber to where the sword lay in amongst the blood and gore of the battle, running past where his bodyguards were slowly losing the battle against Kael’s companions.

Kael ran after him, and slammed into him as he stooped to retrieve it, the two men tumbling onto the floor in a heap. When they stood, it was Kael who held the sword, and not Kelmar.

Kelmar eyed the big Nomad warily.

‘Now it is I who holds the sword!’ Kael said gleefully as he noted the concern in his opponent’s eyes. ‘Perhaps this will harm your flesh, yes?’  

‘You still have no hope, outlander! To use that sword is to become its thrall! Use it once and forever you will have to use it to sustain yourself. You will become like me, neither alive nor dead, a creature that feeds on the blood and souls of the living!’

Kael hefted the short sword in front of his face, examining it. Could the other man’s words be true? Would he become like Kelmar, sentenced to an eternal damnation of parasitic existence? He turned the blade over in his hands. Now it looked like any other ordinary blade. No traces of red were to be seen along its length.

‘To hell with the damn thing!’ he cried. ‘And to hell with you!’

With that cry he threw the sword at Kelmar, who staggered back as it plunged into him with enough force to bury it almost to its cross guard in his breast. Its point protruded redly from his back. He clutched madly at it and screamed as it turned red and began to suck him dry, his scream changing first to a gurgle then to a pathetic choking sound as it drained the very life and soul from him.

His flesh dried, wrinkled, then began to crumble as though dust, his eyes shrivelling back into sockets that themselves were shrinking, crumbling, the very bone itself becoming too insubstantial to hold its form. Soon there was nothing but a vague impression of what had once been a man, and that too crumpled to leave only a mound of dust where Kelmar had once stood.

The sword now hung motionless in mid air, in the same spot it had gone into Kelmar’s chest. It remained red as though it were a sculpture somehow made of liquid blood, held in the form of a sword by powers unknowable.

The two huge Thrait bodyguards had been slain, their corpses lying amongst the others that littered the chamber, and now all seven of the companions, bruised and bloody, stared silently, open mouthed, at the sword that hung so still, suspended in the air as if by invisible wires. Tarabus raised himself up from his prone position and stared groggily.

The sword began to spin along its length, slowly at first, gradually gaining speed until it became a blur. Transfixed, the companions began to back away towards the door at the other side of the chamber, none daring to take their eyes from the spinning red blade.

The silence was broken by a low hum that became a wail, as though a thousand trapped souls were screaming for their freedom. The sword began to glow with a dull light, then a white incandescence burst from it which blinded those that were looking at it so they had to cover their eyes. Then it fell.

The blade crashed to floor not with the clang of steel, but with a wet splash as the blood that had composed it lost its integrity and spattered to the floor. A thousand and one screams and wails seemed to fill the room, rushing past the viewers’ ears, a cacophony of tortured souls who had been trapped by the accursed blade. Then all was once again silent. The floor began to quake beneath them.

Kael was the first to shake himself from his stupor.

‘Run!’ he shouted, grabbing the still-dazed form of Tarabus and throwing him over his shoulder. ‘Run, Damn you!’ he yelled louder as they stared stupidly at the pool of blood on the floor.

This time they ran, none looking back as they sprinted along the corridor and down the stairway. The floor began to shake more violently, bits of masonry beginning to rain from above their heads. They passed other people running like themselves, interested only in escaping from the crumbling building. Whatever sorcery had recreated the keep, it was failing now that Kelmar was dead.

They followed a group of fleeing guards and were running from the main entrance of the keep as its mighty black walls began to collapse. They ran unsteadily, struggling to keep their footing as the earth rippled beneath their feet. The keep began to topple, collapse in on itself as though its thick walls were nothing more than matchwood. Outbuildings were also collapsing, and the great outer walls of the compound were crumbling.

Debris flying past their heads, fires starting at random, they managed to get through the main gate only moments before it began to collapse. They did not cease running until they had put much distance between themselves and the citadel, the floor still rolling beneath their feet, but not so violently here.

Kael’s companions collapsed onto the ground exhausted, gasping for breath as they watched Kelmar’s black fortress crumble. Kael laid Tarabus onto the scorched earth as carefully as he could before he too, collapsed in a heap. They heard the screams and cries of those who had not been so fortunate to get out of the crumbling building, and watched as men and Thrait alike fled on dragans and rassaurs into the night.

It would be a long journey home.

Epilogue: A Simple Gift

‘She’s no warhorse, but she’ll not let you down,’ Tarabus told Kael proudly. The young nomad nodded and smiled gratefully. A change had taken place in the other man over the past week, and not just the shrinking of the lump on his temple, the bandage that had covered the wound now removed. Tarabus had lost his resentment towards the newcomer, and now seemed eager to compensate for his earlier surliness.

‘Aye, she’s a fine horse,’ said Kael, patting the beast softly on the neck. ‘I thank you for your generosity, my friend.’

‘It’s the least I could do after the way I treated you, if only I had been able to get past my anger and-’ Kael cut him off mid-sentence with a raised palm, and told him to stop apologising. They had been through all of that. Ever since Tarabus had regained consciousness he had done nothing but apologise. At first it had been a welcome change, now it was becoming tiresome.

‘As I’ve told you so many times in the past few days, Tarabus - I too have lost those I love, and perhaps if our positions had been reversed, I may have acted the same way. What is past, is past. let us dwell on it no more. I’ll hear no more of it as I take my leave from my fine hosts.’

He looked at the small assembly of people who had joined him at the eastern gate. Olver, Simon, Ivon and Gurshan, his companions from that suicidal raid on Kelmar’s fortress stood grinning broadly, and he shook each man’s hand in turn. Tarran, a big arm wrapped protectively around his Daughter, grabbed his hand tightly.

‘Thank you.’ he said quietly. ‘There’s a place here if you want it, you know that. You don’t have to leave, you know.’

Kroll nodded almost imperceptibly. That he was tempted, he could not deny. To stay here, amongst good friends, to live comfortably instead of... instead of what? Where was he going? Did he even know himself? What kind of welcome would the east offer him if and when he finally reached it? The lure of this small city was strong, yet he had started upon a journey and he intended to finish it, for good or ill. Perhaps, if all went well, one day he could return here. There was at least one other good reason to do so.

He glanced at Tarran’s daughter, and allowed himself to briefly imagine what might be if he stayed, then put it to the back of his mind.

As if she had read his thoughts, Cara writhed free of her father’s arm and embraced him, as though trying to give him reason to stay. He returned the embrace, his will to continue faltering as he felt her curves. Like her father, she simply said ‘Thank you,’ then kissed him softly on the cheek and pulled away.

With a few final goodbyes, Kael mounted his horse and started across the clearing towards the tree line. The small group of people watched him as he receded across the swathe. As he reached the trees he glanced backwards for one final look at the city, and raised a hand to them. They raised their hands likewise in salute.

Kael disappeared into the forest.

The End

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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.)