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.”