What more is there to say?

Oh, you want more…? Fine!

So I had to ink up the image of Stacey for the new cover of Ward. Tattoos play a pretty big part in the world, but Stacey had tatts before she got into things, though they are definitely form over function.

I knew in my mind that she would have a few, a sleeve and her shoulder at least. What I didn’t know was what form they would take. I knew they wouldn’t be tribal, but that’s about it. Then I was listening to Dead Robots’ Society (I think) and Terry Mixon (again, I think) spoke about a book series where each cover had different tattoos on the cover character pertaining to events in the book. I thought that was a pretty cool idea so I stole that, though the artwork is barely visible.

Part of that is because I just don’t trust my artistic ability not to look too shit that people won’t even consider buying the damn book when it’s out. I think it’s sufficient to at least avoid that in most part. Another reason is I just don’t have the time to do more on it. Lastly, it was also a stylistic choice, which serendipitously aided my design — or lack thereof.

But then when I finished, I was pretty happy with it. I mean, it’s definitely not going to win me any awards and I shouldn’t give up my day job, but I think I’m allowed to be a little proud.

So here she is, folks.

It’s pretty rough, I know, but at the size it will be when printed it won’t make too much of a difference, especially when all the darkness and stuff is layered on, like so:

A bit of a shame, regardless of the shoddiness of my work.

Oh well, maybe in book 2?

Ward – Stacey Trampler Series: Book One

It’s finally finished, folks. My novel, Ward — formerly Ward of the South — book one in the Stacey Trampler series, is done!

It’s taken me just over three years to get here. Not because it’s a doorstop of a novel, not because it took me a long time to write, not even because I’m a lazy bastard. No, it was because — and get this — I was not happy with the way it was and not happy with my skill level, or lack thereof.

I taught myself as I went, writing and re-writing, both the novel, other novels and short stories. That’s not as impressive as it sounds. English is my first language and I am not without education. OK, I don’t have a university degree or anything, but I finished high school (barely). I have even undertaken some further education, having tried to go to university three times and not finished for various reasons or another, mostly being money and having family commitments and being a “mature age” student.

So, no, not like I taught myself to read and write. Unless you ask my mum, then I’m a fuckin’ genius, but that’s a whoooole other story.

No, basically what I did was the equivalent of going to <INSERT BIG BRAND HARDWARE CHAIN NAME HERE> bought a few tools and watched a shit-tonne of YouTube on how to build a… THING.

Over time, I built some other THINGS and refined my skillset. Then, rinse and repeat. And every time I added a new tool to my Bat-Writer-Belt, I went back and reworked my original THING. Sure, in real life this would cause no end of issues and/or deaths. Or at the least serious injury and litigation.

All I can say is, it’s a good thing you don’t need to take out public liability cover on books!

Or do you?

How should I know, I’m not a lawyer.

Anyway, six drafts later, here we are. Finally, finally, FINAL-FUCKING-LY!

It was a blast, it was hell, it was bliss, and it was peeled ginger in my anus… Yeah, that last one, too. But the work doesn’t stop there. After three years I feel I am at a level where I can confidently continue to do this to an acceptable level. Acceptable to everyone? Hells no.

But fuck everyone.

Nothing can be for everyone. Not even the food of the gods, peanut butter, is for everyone, as unimaginable as that is. I can hold my head high and walk naked into the world with my junk and gut swinging freely and proclaim:

This is my THING! I made it. Behold it and weep, mortals!

That’s a powerful feeling. Warts and all, I am baring it to all that can see without shame.

The book, not my junk. I still have to get THAT looked at.

Because it’s not just about this one novel. It’s not just about Ward. It’s not even just about the four to follow Ward in the series.

It’s about all the others. It’s about finishing my draft steampunk novel, my 3/4 finished paranormal thriller, my YA dark-ish fantasy, my mystery novel. Hell, my fucking dinosaur zombies on the fucking Love Boat horror-erotica novel if I so fucking wish. Because right this fucking moment…





At least until the next road bump/block/kill sets the festering boils of doubt and imposterism a poppin’.



The Bladelands – Episode 3

The solid, powerful haunches of the beast carrying Duncan’s captor clenched and relaxed as its legs kicked. The creature, a transformed monstrosity, had once been a horse. It had no fur or skin, and the almost black bare muscles of flesh that had been expanded glistened. If it hadn’t been moving, it could have been mistaken for a statue carved from red and black marble.

“Keep up,” the rider said, not bothering to look around. She tugged the cord in her hand, the other end tightly bound about Duncan’s wrists.

Pulled sharply, he stumbled as his boots rasped on the cracked asphalt beneath them. Finding his balance, he hung his head and shuffled his feet, watched the weed-filled fractures pass.

“How about we swap places for a while?” He gave a dry laugh before licking his lips, though the sound his tongue made was much like his dragging feet. “Some water and food would be nice, too.”

The rider turned and with her the demonic steed. Its huge head was skull-like, the white bone replaced with dark crystal, like the morax horn tied to the half-demon’sbelt, and the small protrusions on her own forehead.

“What makes you think I’m going to feed you?” A wry smile spread across her face. She idly toyed with bear head, hung from her neck on a length of the same cord that bound him, nestled in her cleavage.

Duncan let out a snort. “You clearly want me alive. When you strip searched me, you didn’t have to give me my boots and clothes back.”

She gave the rolled up leather strapped at her rear a pat. “Good thing I hung onto this though. I think it would have taken hours to find all the little surprises you’ve hidden inside it. The masters in Citadel would not have been too pleased with that.”

The smile crumbled from Duncan’s face. “So that’s where we’re going. Citadel.”

He’d never been and meant to keep it that way given all the stories he’d heard. The dark, towering spires of Citadel stretched like gigantic stalagmites reaching for Heaven to stab at its heart. Or so the demon’s liked to so poetically state. Of the many stories among Bladelanders was that the place had sprung up overnight, it’s numerous jagged peaks piercing through the earth from Hell itself. Others, that the place had fallen from the sky, an infernal craft to carry the demons to Earth.

“Don’t look so down in the mouth, Duncan. I’m sure they’ll put out the welcome wagon for you, along with whatever else they might have planned.”

“So that’s your game now is it, Niz? Playing at bounty hunter for your new masters.”

Niz swung around to glare at him. “Provoke all you want, it won’t change a thing. I’m taking you to them.”

Duncan smiled. “Come hell or high water.” She smirked back. “You know we’re headed toward wetlands, right?”

“Afraid of getting your boots wet, Duncan?”

He kept his mouth shut, concentratedon the steady motion of his feet. As long as he kept a rhythm it wasn’t so bad. Each time he tripped or stumbled it took him longer to get his timing back, tiredness inching up his bones and muscles like maggots, eating away at him.

“Real, cheery, Duncan,” he muttered to himself.

“Don’t lose your mind yet,” Niz called out without turning, her body rocking back and forth as the creature beneath her powered along. “The masters will want something to play with.”

Lifting his bound hands, he extended a mid finger in response. It made him feel marginally better. That small rebellious victory was erased from his memory when bleached, bony trees in water greeted them and his feet started sinking into sodden ground.

Despite his fatigue, Duncan stood alert, eyes darting about. His head snapped back as a thick sound echoed from above. Dark eyes set in black peered at them. With a scrape of claws at the colourless wood, set against a sky of much the same grey, a crow took off, wings rushing. Duncan snorted a sigh.

Niz chuckled. “Afraid of what’s to come soon?” She looked back when he didn’t respond. “Not long now.”

“Nah,” he said with as much nonchalance as he could muster. “I’m just deathly afraid of drop bears.”

She gave a full-throated laugh and a shake of her head. “Koalas should be the last of your worries.”

“Yeah? You seen the koalas lately?” He looked into the dead branches around them. “Not to mention the kangaroos,” he said in a lower voice. His gaze dropped from the thickening branches and air to her, his nose and corners of his eyes wrinkled. “What’s in it for you, Niz? Why take me to them? You’re half human, or had you forgotten?”

Snorting in the back of her throat, Niz hacked up and spat out a gob of mucus. The projectile hit the cracked, grey trunk of a tree and oozed down. “That’s what I think of being human.” She wiped her chin with the back of her hand. “Like it ever did me any good.”

“People may have never trusted you, but can you blame them? And like you can trust the demons.”

Lips pulled back, she spun so hard he thought she might fall from her mount, the bear head swung wildly, looking at Duncan with sad eyes.

Or with accusation. He felt his heart quicken as he remembered when it had come free. Stuffing it and stitching it up. Crushing it in his fingers when finished.


He blinked several times in quick succession to wipe away the past and bring his mind to the here and now. Niz sneered at him.

“Do you know what happened to me when I was a child?” she said. “I was a reviled outcast from both sides. The demons saw me as trash, and the humans as a monster. My only fault was to be born.”

“So you never had a shot? Boo hoo. You still have a choice.”

“Yes, I have a choice, Duncan Foster. I choose to take you to Citadel. The other demons may not accept me, but at least the masters of Citadel give me a chance, and respect my results.”

A bitter laugh escaped Duncan’s lips. “You sound just like them when you say my full name like that.”

“Well, we both know names have power, don’t we.” She gave him a knowing look.

Duncan nodded, remembering the names that held the most power and sway over his emotions. And, as it tightened, his heart.

“So do not fear your drop bears, Duncan foster,” Niz called out, her voice ringing off the bark-free trees and skimming from the surface of the shallow water that was pooled among them. “There are far worse things ahead.” She turned to look at him with humour on her lips and in her eyes. “Or do you fear the mosquitoes that buzz around you? Or perhaps the crocodiles, or—”

Intense sound filled the air as a shriek like a locomotive whistle carved from human bone stabbed at Duncan’s ears, rising in pitch and pressure until it was a scream. Before it had finished, an almost identical wail overlapped it to take over, then a third.

Niz’s eyes went wide and she turned to look ahead of them as a mist rolled in. When she turned to him again, eyes full of damnation, another bank of thick vapour had crept in from their rear. She stopped the beast, threw the coil of cord from her hand, and slid from its back as stealthily as she could, arms wrapped about its thick neck so she landed by its head. Leaning in and pulling it down, she whispered into the hole that was once an ear, then dropped to a crouch. The creature cantered away as the fog enveloped Duncan, and moments later he could no longer see Niz or anything else.

Just as Niz had, Duncan ducked low to where the stuff was thicker by the damp ground. It would obscure his vision, but also afford him more cover.

Duncan slowed his breath. Just like he used to. He screwed his eyes to shut out the memories but it only served to focus them. A slender hand touched his chest and made his heart beat as it did now, but without the stink of fear.

He pried his eyes apart and took a deep breath through his nostrils, allowed the miasma to beat the images from his skull.

Thick and heavy like an oily blanket, the mist clung to his skin. Leaving his flesh somehow both warm and cold at once, it left behind a greasy feeling. It cloyed in his nostrils and lungs and exited as thickly as it entered when he exhaled. A taste like old, raw meat crept over his tongue and the roof of his mouth and clogged his sinus.

The triple shrieks sounded again, this time closer.

Duncan craned his head back and made out shadows in the sky. A breeze blew over, caused the smoky air to twist and roil, and created opening enough to see what they were. Ibises. The black headed birds were fleeing, but their flight couldn’t help him. Disoriented by whatever power was in that sound, the birds criss-crossed in each others way instead of flocking, so there was no way to know where the danger lay. But at least they were getting away,

But not all of them were so fortunate. Two collided head on and dropped to land some distance away with a crash of dry branches and twin splashes seconds apart. Water thrashed and the birds squawked in terror. There was a third splash, followed by fourth, then altogether more meatier wet sounds, and the birds were silent.

The death sirens came again from where the birds had been, and this time with it a steady, plodding stab into the muddy water. High above the trees, another silhouette fell through the screen of fog, coalescing and sharpening like a shadow puppet pulled closer to the screen. Before he could make out any details, or vice-versa, he rolled for one of the trees. His body careened sideways in his exhaustion and attempt to be silent and he hit the  thick trunk at an angle. Unbalanced, his hand fell to the ground to prop him up, slithering down a thick, snaking root.

The sound reverberated through the wood into his head where it was pressed against the tree at an angle. The plodding walk ceased and Duncan closed his eyes, but this time he had no issues keeping any unwanted visions out.

Behind the tree at his back, something creaked, the noise intensifying. Duncan jumped as a gunshot crack ripped through the tree and a branch fell into the water, the remaining limbs rattling as something moved among them. A hiss of inhaled air and a growl rolled through the air and down his spine as the creature sniffed about. It had to know he was here.

Duncan shifted his wait, inching along the trunk in an effort to see, prepared to move should the demon venture further or discover him. He had to know. He froze as something grabbed him from behind as soon as he exposed his back, covering his mouth. He relaxed as he felt hot, sweet-sour breath on his ear.

Niz shushed him, the sound no more than a slow leak from a pierced lung. “I’ll kill you,” she said, voice barely perceptible but for the fact her lips were pressed into his ear. As soft as it was, the words carried enough intensity that it may as well have been a shout. “You knew there were stalkers here, didn’t you? Nod or shake your head.”

As well as having her lips pressed to his flesh, so was her blade, and it bit into his throat as Duncan shrugged. He stiffened as the stalker shrieked. All three screams now came at once, the sound so shrill the tree vibrated. It had smelled blood.

His blood.

The branches of the tree groaned as it pushed its way around. One of its four incredibly long, multi segmented legs stabbed the earth with a bony protrusion jutting from its deathly flesh, another joining it as the stalker came into view. Three hairless human torsos had been fused together, one facing front and back each, and one inverted. Its lidless eyes were yellow and ran constantly, thick trails running over the cheeks and attracting flies. Lipless mouths bore carnivore teeth and elongated black tongues, blood-stained white feathers stuck out between the teeth of the head hanging among the four insect-like legs.

All three mouths shrieked again as the stalker saw its two targets and closed in.

The Bladelands – Episode 2

The Fall, as the survivors called it, had come abruptly, though many claimed they had seen the signs of humanity’s collapse long before. Evil’s hand could be seen everywhere leading up to the event, they said, spreading corruption to pave the way. Preachers, Rabbis, Imams, Swamis, cult leaders–all said they’d seen the rot well in advance of the first hellfire storms that wiped whole cities from the globe.

When the first of the largest cities fell under the deluge of fiery projectiles from the sky, people were outraged that the authorities had done nothing to warn of the meteor strikes. But the truth that they themselves had no idea, and the panic that realisation brought, came soon after. Within hours it was clear that the incident was neither isolated, nor celestial. But at the time, like now, Duncan had far more immediate matters on his mind.

He turned the pain from the remembered images of carnage he had caused into fuel for his legs as he thrust them harder, the bear head on his belt assisting. With no idea when K’Phrazzis would unleash the horde, all Duncan could do was run for his life, something he seemed to have gotten used to, as much as anyone could.

He weaved in and out of scrubland heading for a break in some trees. Knowing he couldn’t lose the creatures, the noses on the bestials like the morax so acute it would make no difference, he would attempt to slow them as much as possible. In their bloodlust to get at him they would likely get in each other’s way. He’d witnessed demons fighting over prey and just how possessive they were many times in the past, and it was his only true weapon. The horn shard in his hand would be of little use with its short reach, putting him in a place no sane person wanted to be–within reach of a demon.

Jaw aching from being clenched tight, leg muscles soaking in acid torture, Duncan tried to reduce the flow of fuel to the inferno that was his anger, to keep a level head. He failed. There were plenty that put themselves and others in the service of the demons for whatever use and desire. Collaborator, playing the victim, or both, Duncan had no sympathy for people such as that and their fates.

The crack and crash of kindling dry vegetation at his back did what he couldn’t bid his own mind to do, putting a stop to his thoughts. His breath streamed all the faster and his blood throbbed in his ears as fear set the tempo of his heart. Pain in his sword arm, legs, and heart forgotten, Duncan scanned his surroundings. The lack of familiar landmarks hit him in the gut like a baseball bat. If he didn’t find his way soon–

A screech from above was the only warning he got before he was swooped head-on by a female harpy. One of its sagging, pendulous breasts smacked the top of his head as he ducked, a clawed foot aimed at his eyes narrowly missing. Head darting quickly, Duncan made a sharp turn, rough bark from the tree he used to slingshot around scraping his palm. Gaze fixed on his path, he ran hard for a distance before ducking once more. This time he also brought up his blade as the harpies shadow kissed his own silhouette.

With a guttural cry and a shower of fetid blood, the harpy went into a nose dive, it’s bat-like wings flapping as it rolled, kicking up dirt as the membranous appendages scrabbled uselessly. As he ran on, Duncan noticed the diagonal gash running almost the entire length of the demons unarmoured flesh. It would have been an instantly fatal wound had his blade been longer and contained iron. As it was, he had no idea what this glass-like shard would do to the thing, and he had no time to find out.

Wiping gore from his eyes, he was confronted with a sight he didn’t think he would ever see. A landmark. An old windmill tower stood tall like rusted, decapitated skeleton, but it was the best thing he had seen in a long while. Certainly the only thing that gave him hope. Though the circular blade assembly and accompanying tail that would have once topped it was long gone, he glanced to the tip of the narrow pyramidal frame, squinting to make out what had replaced them. He changed direction once more, skirting fat, twiggy bushes that scratched at his coat, running on toward the jagged remains of a building.

Hurdling a pile of rubble, he flew through what would have once been the inside of a house, knocking several balanced jars from atop the remains of a skyward jutting brick wall that looked like broken, rotted teeth. Leaping again, he was outside the building once more. How many people must have died thinking they were safe in buildings like this all over the globe? Thinking their homes were hallowed fortresses from the Devil’s minions?

If only things had been that easy.

If only it had been that Biblical.

A satisfied smile tugged the corner of his mouth as Duncan heard a bellow of pain and a crash of debris. One of his pursuers must have stepped on the contents of the jars. Full of bent nails welded into caltrops, he’d perched them them there a week or so ago. He knew it was too much to hope it had been their leader. K’Phrazzis was too wary to run blindly into a building like that, dilapidated as it was. Whatever demon it had been they would be out of the race for his blood for the time. The iron content would ensure that much.

His victory was short lived, the cacophony of the horde gaining on him rising, the grunts and snarls of the nightmare beasts come to terrifying life incensed by his taking out another of them, no doubt. As much infighting as the demons had within their ranks, they abhorred when a human got the better of their kind, and the fact that they had been unable to eradicate them.

Veering around a rusted out tractor and onto a cleared out path that was once a dirt road, he channelled all his energy into a sprint. The din of the horde on his trail increased and he could almost feel the heat of their breath on his heels. A sound like dozens of untuned cow bells rose beneath the fracas and, hearing it, Duncan’s eyes closed tight. If he had been a praying man, he would have done so now.

The sounds of rampant foot, claw, and hoof were replaced by hell itself. The cries of pain replacing it varied from human to indescribable.

Chancing a look over his shoulder, Duncan slowed his pace until he came to a halt, doubling over to put his hands on his knees. His body jerked with fatigue as he held himself taut and ready to run again, his laboured heart and lungs wracking his frame. After a handful of deep breaths without incident, he allowed himself to stand easy and calmer to survey the scene. The tractor he had ran past was now at an angle, dust settling in the air around it above a large hole that was beside it on the road. After another handful of calming lungfuls, he traced his way carefully back to the tractor.

The sight and sounds in the hole were as satisfying as they were gruesome. Long, sharpened staves of iron lined the pit, barbs along their lengths holding down any of the demons that had not perished already. The trap had worked better than he could have expected, apart from the fact that this location was no longer safe. Eyeing the pierced and broken limbs in the pit, he could not make out any that resembled their leader. That wasn’t to say he wasn’t in there, but Duncan highly doubted it. Generals didn’t charge in with the troops, at least not the demon variety.

And the demon goddess had been here. If it weren’t for the fact that he was exhausted and still in very real danger, Duncan mused as he looked over the trailer and leaned a hand on it, he might have been impressed with himself. He had known far better blades men and women than himself that had never been bestowed that honour.

“Well done, Duncan Foster,” K’Phrazzis said from atop a hillock overlooking the scene, the demon’s voice travelling unnaturally.

“Speak of the devil,” Duncan said, tipping his head back and rolling his eyes. He turned to face the demon. “Don’t suppose this means I win?”

“Win?” K’Phrazzis strode down the mound toward him. “You have further dishonoured my horde by allowing them to live and die a slow and–“

Duncan stepped back and kicked the dead machine listing toward the hole. With a metal creak, it toppled into the hole, as it had been set up to do, sending up a further cloud of dirt. “Sorry,” Duncan said, waving his hand in front of his face and squinting. “What were you saying?” The sounds from the hole in the ground were now reduced in number if not intensity.

With an animal growl, the demon leaped over the pit, swinging his solid fists at Duncan’s head as soon as soon as his feet hit the ground. Duncan avoided them sluggishly, exhausted body fighting his command over it. Tired as he was, he did not avoid the third blow from the demon’s knee. It grazed his gut but winded him, though he was able to get his weapon hand up in time to slash at another punch. The demon grunted in pain and stepped back toward the edge of the pit. Duncan lunged forward with a kick, the flat of his boot landing on the demon’s hip and sending him toppling back. With a hollow clang, K’Phrazzis fell on the tractor, but Duncan didn’t wait around to see if the demon would give chase or retreat.

Duncan ran through long, yellowed grass that sang and waved like a dried out ocean. He would have normally avoided it from the noise giving away his position, but he couldn’t afford to in this fight. Exploding with a spray of seeds and clinging stalks, he stumbled out of the sea of yellow and into the mouth of an old water tank that lay on its side. The shade within it gave him a moments respite from the harsh sun, and also allowed him to better spy through the various rust holes in the corrugated walls. Trying to control his breathing, he pressed his cheek to one such peephole, the pitted edges scraping his skin.


He held his breath and listened intently, trying to discern footsteps from the general rustling of the swaying stalks and his hammering chest.

The tank gonged as something hit it and rolled, throwing Duncan headlong into the uneven surface. He rolled out the opening and onto his backside in time to see K’Phrazzis’ foot stomping toward his body. Rolling again to avoid it, he kicked out and tripped the demon, continuing his roll onto hand and foot to scrabble into an unbalanced run. He flew along, toes dragging at the dirt at times, and stumbled up an embankment only to trip at the top. He tumbled down, landing with a crash and letting out a whoop of air as his gut hit something hard and continued forward. Thrusting out his his arms, he grabbed on to something, the heavy object spinning him to fall backward before following after him. Duncan managed to get his arm out from the weighty objects path before it landed with a bone breaking thump.

Relief turned to desperation as K’Phrazzis fell on him with a snarl. Duncan kicked and scrabbled wildly, all thought and technique gone in desperation and fight for his life.

But no fight came.

Dragging himself out from under the demon, Duncan saw what had happened. The anvil that Duncan had pulled down with him as he fell down the flood embankment into his camp landed with it’s pointed horn facing up. K’Phraziss must have also tripped and fell in his bloodlust to get at Duncan. Now the spike of the anvil was embedded deep within the demon’s skull through one of his eyes.

Duncan let out a single snort of laughter before the tip of a blade touched his throat.

Holding out the suicidally short obsidian horn, his arm shaking from fatigue, Duncan spun around. A light-red skinned, blue-eyed female half-demon smiled back at him over a wide longblade. She pushed back a curtain of jet black hair with her free hand, revealing a line of dark protrusions running into her hairline above each eye.

“Well hello, Duncan,” she said before giving him another wide, toothy smile. Her eyes flashed malice. “Long time no see.”

The Bladelands – Episode 1

He’d learned to pick himself up over time.

His feet no longer scraped through dust and dirt, no longer tangled in low lying scrub that would have in the past hindered him.

And so too he would learn to pick himself up emotionally. One day, he told himself time and time again, he would learn.

This was just not that day.

The dirt and blood encrusted cloth — he called it blud, for blood-mud — dipped into the creek, revealing the slipstream of the water in rusty ribbons. Like a melting scab. The melting scab around his heart that, once washed away, ensured it would bleed fresh. He snorted a sad laugh. How many times had he repeated this act to form these thoughts in his mind, the phrases themselves now part of it. A ritual.

Glancing over his shoulder, he looked at the torso behind him with its severed limbs scattered about.

No. Not a ritual. Rituals were the sort of thing that caused that.

Water now running clean, he squeezed as much moisture out of the small stuffed bear head as he could. Turning its face to his, he pressed it to his forehead, eyes clamping shut. When he opened them, even though there was no one else to see, he was glad that there’d been enough water to run over his eyes and cheeks. At least, he thought when he heard the body coughing behind him, no one that mattered.

Pulling back his patched up coat, he tethered the bear head to his belt at his right hip, gently covering it and giving the lump a squeeze, causing the cracked leather to creak. Throwing aside the left side of the coat now, he unsheathed his sword and strode with quick purpose to the body.

The bloody, sneering face peering up at him showed little sign of the pain it must have been in as the ragged stumps of arms and legs struggled, the head craning to get a better angle on him. The creature gurgled in the back of its throat, its jaw hanging from shreds of flesh. Even without the use of it, he could tell the thing was growling at him, its yellow eyes narrowing as he approached. If it had been able to, the thing would have torn him apart with claw and teeth.

Kicking a blood splattered arm aside, he rounded the body and stood above the head. The things nose and eyes wrinkled and twitched before the rough-hewn, rust spotted blade pierced it between the eyes. Shuddering violently and coughing dark blood onto its mottled chest, the thing finally fell still. His gaze bore into its eyes, grip clenching on the bare, wooden handle until it creaked.

With a sound like a watermelon being torn in half, black tendrils jerked up the sword, like cracks forming on its surface. The eyes of the creature widened and it let out a new sound. A sound that had a barking, coughing rhythm. As the creature laughed, his steel turned to blackened crystal, but his primary concern was the approaching thunderhead of footfall. Taking a step to the side, he brought his foot down hard on the demons throat and grabbed the hilt with both hands. Pulling with all his strength, the thing would not budge so he gave it a hard wrench.

His resolve almost shattered along with the blade as its blackened crystal length cracked, reducing the weapon to half its length. The demon doubled its laughter but was soon silenced — hopefully for good this time — as his boot lifted from its neck and fell sharply on the remains of his sword.

A crash of trees from over his shoulder drew his attention to the surging demon horde and sent him into a sprint. The reduced length of his blade made it that much less cumbersome to run with, but also that much useless as a weapon.

And in this age of Hell on Earth, no more blade meant no more life.

The pumping of his legs slowed at the thought of no more struggle. No more pain and death. The waterlogged bear head smacking his upper thigh had other thoughts on the matter.

Lips peeling back and fists bunching, his feet hit the earth harder and faster. He wasn’t going to make that decision, but he wasn’t about to let the decision be made for him either, though he may not have a choice.

A snorting grunt from directly behind him and to his right made him veer sharply to the left then come about face in time to see the squat, bulky form of what the survivors called a Bulldozer but the demons called a morax. Like most demons, the thing was hairless, its thick, black skin looking like dry leather, if leather was made of rock. Moraxes had flat, almost humanoid faces, though somewhere between two to three times the size depending on the beast. This was a smaller variety, but no less deadly.

A set of deadly blade-like horns jutted from forehead and chin, those above its eyes the larger and giving the things their bullish appearance. Those horns, however, shone like obsidian and he’d heard stories that they were indeed volcanic glass. He’d never gotten close up enough to one to find out for himself, though it seemed he would get his chance. Despite their bulk and lowness to the ground, the things were fast. If he could deal with it quickly, he may yet outrun the following horde.

The moraxes lips quivered and it pulled then back into a hideous grin of sorts, exposing more black, crystalline protrusions. Top and bottom jaw were lined with jagged outcroppings of the stuff. The creature jutted its jaw and moved it from side to side, letting out a spine aching squealing grind that was obviously meant to unnerve. Switching his grip, he ran straight at the creature. Seeing its tactic fail, it galloped at him, lowering its head so the horns could impale him. At the last moment, he dove to the side and thrust his broken sword. Blade met flesh, burying deep into the moraxes eye. Its momentum jerked his arm, wrenching his shoulder and tearing the weapon from his hand.

He hit the ground hard and rolled, ending face down on hand and knee, but the wind had been knocked out of him by the sheer force of the demon along with his shoulder muscles. He pushed off the dirt, but a hammer blow to his back knocked him back down and snatched away his breath again. The hammer became a wrecking ball as he was kicked away, his ribs flaring and setting fire to his lungs. He clutched at his side, rolling back and forth in agony. When he opened his eyes his attacker was standing over him and circling, grinning. The demon’s voice fell from its lips like boulders rolling through lava. It’s speech was incomprehensible, but in whatever eldritch way they had humans could hear their words, and their minds seemed to match their lip movements to them. If one had the time or the inclination, you could train yourself to see and hear their true words.

“Ah, the Duncan Foster. Slayer of three of my brood brothers and sisters. And this poor, poor morax.” The demon knelt by the dead beast and ran his fingers gently across its head, his fingernails made of the same stuff as the fallen beasts horns. His words spoke of sympathy for the fallen creature, but it was an affectation.

“Yeah,” Duncan said, his voice hoarse. “So sorry about that K’Phrazzis. Let me get up and I’ll make it up to you.”

The demon’s touch faltered on one of the large upper horns as he snorted. “You humans and your humour. I am aware that you well know by now that we honour our dead who have fallen in battle.” K’Phrazzis wrapped his hand around the base of the faceted black protrusion, blood so dark welling from the folds of his skin that it was almost black.

“Don’t let me get in your way. I’ll give you some privacy. As soon as I’m up I’ll — ”

Giving it a sharp twist that let out a sodden, bony crunch, the demon began to extract the black crystalline horn, his own blood mingling with the beasts as he pulled. With a final tug, the thing came loose and K’Phrazzis rose to his feet. “For my sister.” The tip of the horn pierced the flesh of his left pectoral and dragged down. “For my brothers.” The cutting continued with a line mirroring the first before another was added between those. “For all the others of my kin.” The final incision cut horizontally, bisecting all three preceding it. Then K’Phrazzis turned to Duncan. “And now for the blood sacrifice.”

Sighing, eyelids drooping along with his head, Duncan managed to sit up on his knees and waited for the end to come. Not only did it not arrive but, Duncan saw as he opened his eyes and looked up, it had not departed. “What are you waiting for? Just kill me and get it over with.”

“As you wish, I will kill you, Duncan Foster. But your end will not be so — ” The demon cocked his head, as if searching for the right word. “Merciful,” he spat, lips pulling back in disgust.

The concept of mercy for demons, Duncan knew from experience, was as alien as demonkind was to humans. Remorse, pity, compassion, all the positive traits of mankind they lacked they more than made up for with all the collective filth of humanity. Greed, hatred, fear — the inducing of it and pleasure derived from it. Even lust, though to look at them their naked forms lacked any outward genitalia.

Something hit the dry earth next to Duncan’s knee.

“Prepare yourself, Duncan Foster.”

He knew what the demon proposed.

Duncan looked at the horn that ran as long as his forearm then looked up. He took a trip of torn cloth from his battered leather satchel and proceeded to wrap it about the thick end of the horn. As he did, he saw the horde assemble at K’Phrazzis’s back, looking at least two dozen strong. “Are you going to set a timer, or did you bring an hourglass or something for dramatic effect?” He Started to tie off the make-shift handle. “Because I — ”

The horde parted and the air left in their wake rippled. Duncan swallowed, but his tongue had turned to shrivelled and cracked leather, unbending and devoid of all moisture, clogging his throat. He knew what the heat haze-like shimmer meant, and it was in no way good.

A slit tore in the air and belched heat and stench in his face, and bathed him in an unearthly ruddy hue. The demons closest to the portal stood taller as the climate of their home world washed over them, their thick, rubbery outer skins peeled back to drape from their backs like cloaks or wings, exposing their glistening, naked true forms. Some of them were clearly excited as the exposed groups multi-form reproductive organs swelled.

A shadow fell over Duncan as an eight-plus foot tall demon stepped through. Her flesh rippled as she glanced around and settled on him, anemone like areola closing and similar genital fronds withdrawing. Rippling wisps at her back wound around her body to enclose and protect her flesh, leaving spiral lined flesh that thickened into the fleshy armour they all had.

Her eyes and expression bore no hint of any feeling or thoughts on the situation. “This is the human?” She did not look for an answer and none came. Her eyes bore into Duncan’s, unblinking, unwavering. “He will make a fine example for the other Bladelanders.” With that she turned and stepped back through the portal, the rift swiftly closing behind her with a gust of hot air.

With a groan, Duncan rose to his feet, dusting off his coat and jeans. “Don’t suppose we can get a cold one first?” He looked at the faces around him, settling on K’Phrazzis. “Maybe a latte?” The demon stared back. “Take that as a no?”

“Flee, Duncan Foster. Today we will honour you.”

As he sprinted through the bush land, black sword waving and bear head tapping at his leg, Duncan was reminded — as he always was — of the fateful chase that both saved and ended his life as he knew it.