Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 03
Keeping Angruvadal low at his side, Ashok stalked toward the darkened barracks where the cry came from. There was a sickening crack and the noise abruptly stopped. Ashok froze.
The demon knew he was here.
The huge hut was big enough to house dozens of casteless. Ashok’s eyes couldn’t quite pierce the shadows inside, but he knew that it was watching him. He knew the demon would look upon him and see a tall man, lean and hard, dressed in lamellar armor, plates lacquered gray and inlaid with silver, held together with leather and silk, not so different from some of the humans it had killed before, and hardly intimidating to something as strong as an elephant. Only unlike the others, this man was completely devoid of fear.
Something smooth and vast slid along the floor of the hut, blacker than its surroundings. There was a shimmer as a bit of firelight reflected off of its nearly impenetrable hide. It didn’t immediately barge into the open to try and eat him as he had hoped. He’d surprised the last demon he’d fought by side-stepping its charge and opening its guts with Angruvadal. This demon was not so stupid. No…This demon recognized that this particular human was somehow different than the others. It understood that this human wasn’t prey.
Both of them had magic in their blood.
Curious, the black shape slowly lifted itself from the floor and slid forward into the light. The demon flowed so smoothly that its movements were like pouring oil. It had to twist its wide shoulders to fit through the door. The soft wood crumbled to bits as the demon’s razor hide rubbed against it. Once on the platform, the demon no longer had to slouch. It rose to its full height, towering over Ashok. The young nayak at the jungle’s edge hadn’t been exaggerating its size at all. Sighting a demon on dry land at all was a rare experience. Most men would go their entire lives without seeing one. Ashok had seen four, and this was the biggest by far.
Demons came in many shapes and sizes, and it was whispered that truly vast beings had been seen amid the waves, but the ones he’d fought had been shaped like men…mostly…though each of them had been distorted in a different way. This one was too tall, its limbs too long, its fingers longer still, and each ended in a black point. There were three fingers, splayed wide, with a translucent webbing between them. Its legs were too short, too squat. Its head was a lump, nearly featureless except for a horizontal line that divided the lump in half.
“The ocean belongs to demons. Land belongs to man. So says the Law.” Ashok slowly lifted his arm, revealing his black steel blade.
The line across its otherwise blank face split open, revealing teeth, black and shiny and sharp as the rest of its body. It let out a hiss of air that sounded surprisingly dry and raspy. That was the first sound he had ever heard a demon make. It must have recognized the sword that had been dispatching its kind since the Age of Kings.
“The penalty for trespass, for either side, is death.”
Now they understood each other.
The demon bolted.
Ashok went after it.
Demons were faster than men, but a Protector was no longer just a man. He caught it before it could get around the side of the casteless barracks and struck. Nothing in the world was sharper than an ancestor blade, and it cut smoothly through demon’s back. Their blood was thin and milky, and it shot out as if it was kept under a great deal of pressure. That wound was deep enough to fell any normal being, but it only stung the demon.
It spun, swinging at him, but Ashok dodged aside as its claws obliterated the barrack’s wall.
Moving as fast as lightning, the demon lashed out over and over again. Ashok moved back, placing his body to avoid the blows and turning aside the rest with his sword. The demon’s claws and bones were grown from a material harder than steel, nearly as hard as the ancient sword, and glowing sparks rose whenever they met. Ashok was not concerned for his sword. The chips were from the demon’s bones, because nothing could harm this sword except dishonor.
He had fought and defeated three demons, but combined, the many bearers of Angruvadal had killed nearly a hundred, and though their memories were not perfectly clear, their instincts remained, and they belonged to him now. The demon’s erratic movements were expected, almost predictable.
Ashok dodged a mighty blow and ran the edge of his sword up the demon’s arm in response. White blood hit him in the face. Demons didn’t have veins and arteries like a man. Instead the interior of their limbs was a solid slab of dense meat, white as snow, all of it soaked in their thin blood. But like a man, let the blood out and they began to weaken. The Protector attacked, lunging forward to drive several inches of black steel between its flexible ribs. Their vitals were hard to reach, and even when pierced, they didn’t die quickly. The creature flowed back, out of reach of the sword.
If demons felt pain, they never showed it. They were like Protectors that way.
It leapt to the side, crashing through a railing to fall to the next level. He thought about letting it go. No one really knew how demon’s bodies worked, so maybe he’d wounded it enough that it would slink off and die…But the Law was clear. The penalty was death, so he had to be certain. If the demon couldn’t dive directly into the depths, it would head for the surf. Where the two worlds met was no man’s land, but in anything not shallow enough for a man to see his feet, evil lurked, and then Ashok would be the trespasser. He had to catch it before then.
Without hesitation, Ashok leapt over the side after it. His boots hit solid wood. He could still feel the vibrations of the fleeing demon. This level was darker, damper, covered in hanging ropes and moist nets and the stink of fish. Only the casteless ate the unclean animals of the ocean. Catwalks stretched between the stilts and scaffolds. There were beds of flea-ridden straw in every corner. This place was nastier than the foul huts above. Even among the casteless there was rank, so how low did one have to sink to be the lowest amongst them?
There was a crash and a shout just ahead. Ashok ran down the catwalk, through a rain of smoke and ash from above and a mist of saltwater from below. A shack had been constructed of discarded garbage, using the stilts of a real building as a frame. There was a hole in the wall where the demon had smashed through.
Inside the shack were several women and children, filthy, ragged, and thin. The untouchables had been hiding, hoping the demon would pass them by, but instead they had wound up right in its path. A male casteless, old, defiant, and tiny, was the only thing between the monster and its victims. Ashok had never known that one of the non-people could be capable of real bravery, but this casteless dreg was defending the shack like he was a warrior defending the Capitol.
Only Ashok noted that the old casteless was holding the demon back with a spear. That was a severe violation of the Law.
The demon swatted the spear aside and the old man with it. It would crush the cowering humans just out of spite before leaping to the surf below. Only Ashok reached it first and drove Angruvadal through its back and out its stomach.