Friday, April 1, 2011

Chapter Nine


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 33,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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Years before Sir Gildegarde Brisbane would set out on his mission to kill the dragon Dalanmire, he was introduced to a second cousin of the King, a young woman named Madeline. The occasion was a formal banquet in honor of the King’s birthday and it bore an air of importance and sobriety. When Madeline Farchrist tripped on the hem of her gown and fell into the punch bowl, Brisbane helped her to her feet and placed his overcoat around her wet shoulders. Madeline wrapped the coat around her frame, covering the now transparent fabric of her dress and embarrassingly thanked the man she would one day marry and to whom she would one bear a son for his kindness and chivalry.

+ + +

The first thing Brisbane noticed was the stench. The room contained only a collection of small kneeling benches, all facing the wall through which they had entered. He looked on that was a saw a mural depicting gigantic hands parting a bank of clouds, faded with age and festooned with spiderwebs. There was a stairway in the far corner, leading down into the earth, and it was from there that the stench came.

Roundtower and Shortwhiskers were making their way to the stairs and Roystnof was following them. Brisbane’s feet moved of their own accord, taking him across the room to the staircase. The stink became worse with each step, like rotting meat and gangrene. It passed over him in waves and made his eyes water. He didn’t know how the others could stand it.

As they reached the stairs, there was a low rumble from below that shook the building. The same eerie voice, soft and threatening, came out of the depths.

“And you are not alone, are you, paladin? I can smell the meat of a dwarf and two other humans. One of those humans is even more afraid than you are.”

Roystnof’s light spell extended down into the cellar, and as Brisbane made his way down the steps, the room revealed more and more of itself to his eyes. It was bare. All he could see was the bare stone of the floor and two walls. It wasn’t until his friends had collected at the bottom of the stairs and he was near the end that the creature standing against the far wall came into his view.

It was hideous. An unnatural mishmash of animals that could never have been created under their will of a caring god. Bipedal, it stood nearly nine feet tall, its massive legs slimming down to shiny black cloven hooves. Hairless and sexless, its body was that of a muscular man, but the skin was green and scaly like that of a snake. Its powerful arms ended in massive red crab pinchers and perched upon its solid neck was the head of a bull, with glowing red eyes and horns out to its broad shoulders. The stench Brisbane smelled came off the creature like heat from a flame. But perhaps most terrifying of all, painted on the far wall directly behind the monster, in a strange dark red ink, was the outline of a circle as big as a man, and inside the circle was drawn a five-pointed star.

Roundtower took a step towards the beast, his shield held in front and his sickly green sword held tight and ready to strike.

“Demon-spawn,” the warrior cursed. “Prepare to meet thy doom.”

The demon roared as Roundtower charged into battle. Shortwhiskers advanced a pace behind Roundtower and Roystnof backed up to the bottom stair and began to prepare a spell. Brisbane soon found himself alone and unsure of what to do.

Between the two of them, Roundtower and Shortwhiskers had the demon on the defensive. But every swing they made was seemingly easily blocked by one of the creature’s red claws. These appendages seemed impervious to their blades. Each time they collided, a shower of sparks erupted, but there seemed to be no other effect. Brisbane took a few helpless steps forward, wondering what good he could do. There was really no room for him to fight with Roundtower and Shortwhiskers there, and this monster was no simple ogre.

Then, tragedy struck. The demon caught Shortwhiskers’ sword between one of its pinchers and with a quick snap, broke the blade in two. While expertly parrying with Roundtower with its other claw, the demon unleashed a horrible blow to the unarmed dwarf, lashing a quick swipe across his face and knocking Shortwhiskers out and out of combat.

Quicker than Brisbane would have thought possible, the demon turned on Roundtower with an insane grin spreading on its bull jaws.

“Now you die, paladin!” it squealed, death heavy in its voice.

A huge claw fastened around Roundtower’s waist and the demon’s muscles bulged as it lifted Roundtower off the ground and held him at arm’s length. Roundtower cried out in pain and desperately brought his sword down fast on the demon’s head. But blindingly fast, the second claw came up and swiped Roundtower’s thrust aside, just as it had done to Shortwhiskers’ body. Roundtower’s blade flew out of his grasp and skidded across the stone floor.

It came to rest directly at Brisbane’s feet.

Roystnof’s magic struck. As he had done to the ogre, a huge bolt of red lightning crackled out of his fingers and struck the demon full in the chest, throwing it back and pinning it against the pentacle on the far wall. Roundtower fell out of the spasming grasp of the demon, falling heavily to the floor.

The lightning flashed and was gone, leaving the demon standing on shaky hooves and with a blackened chest. Shortwhiskers lay unconscious to one side of it and Roundtower, weaponless, was crawling slowing away, favoring one leg. The demon looked up and fixed its red eyes on Brisbane.

Brisbane tossed his short sword aside and bent down to pick up Roundtower’s slender blade. His hand closed around the hilt carefully as he slowly lifted it from the ground. Power surged up Brisbane’s arm and wrapped itself around his heart. A seductive, deep, and wholly feminine voice echoed in his brain.

—Greetings, young Gildegarde Brisbane.—

The demon was breathing hard. “And what do we have here?” it gasped. “A boy or a man?”

Brisbane could feel the demon’s voice working on his fear but the strange woman’s voice in his head was much more compelling to him.

—I have waited centuries for a warrior such as you. Roundtower was devout, but your potential eclipses his.—

Who are you? Brisbane thought.

Roundtower was kneeling off to one side. “My sword,” Brisbane could hear him saying, his voice faint and very far away. “Gil, give me my sword.”

—My name is Angelika.—

The demon roared and rushed at Brisbane, snapping him out of his reverie. The sword became a green flash in Brisbane’s hands, swooping up and attacking the demon almost of its own accord. Brisbane beat the penetrating claws aside, one after the other, searching for an opportunity to strike. The sword felt natural in his grasp. It was an extension of his own arm and he used it like a seasoned veteran. If Brisbane had stopped to think about it, he probably would not have believed he could do what he was doing.

But the demon was just too quick. It was all Brisbane could do to swat the angry claws away from him, and although the sword was much lighter than it appeared to be, Brisbane was tiring. Soon, he would miss one of those claws and it would snap him in two as it had to Shortwhiskers’ blade.

Suddenly, Roystnof cried out to him. “Strike, Gil! I have slowed it. Strike now!”

Brisbane made the decision in an instant. After blocking the thrust of the first claw, he ignored the second, which would certainly finish him if Roystnof was somehow wrong about his slow spell, and brought the blade of the sword down hard on the demon’s muscular chest.

The blade cut into the scales covering the demon’s body and an explosion of the demon’s black blood spewed out of the gaping wound. Brisbane was able to wrench his sword—for now, oddly, now that he had drawn blood with it, he knew the sword was truly his—free and block the approach of the second claw in the nick of time. Roystnof’s spell had worked. The creature was slowed.

The demon, eyes bulging with fury and pain, bore down upon the human warrior, amazed and terrified at his unexplainable speed. Brisbane cut again, deeply across the demon’s abdomen, and brought his sword out in time to mash the next claw attack aside. The slimy green snakes that were the demon’s intestines pushed their way out of their host, dangling from its belly and falling on the floor. The demon gave up the attack and crouched over, uselessly trying to push its organs back into its body with its misshapen claws. Its roars of rage had decayed into whines of agony.

—Strike the beast down, Brisbane. Send it back to its unholy maker.—

With the strange female voice echoing in his head, Brisbane, in a huge sweeping swing, brought his blade down on the top of the demon’s bull head and cleaved it nearly in two. The beast fell completely to the ground and lay still.

—It is done. Praise Grecolus for His wisdom and praise Brisbane for his bravery.—

Brisbane looked at his surroundings. At his feet lay the crumpled form of the demon, its body already turning to ashes as the spirit that had inhabited it was forced back to its plane of origin. To his right stood Roundtower, his shield lowered and his eyes wide in amazement. To his left, Shortwhiskers was weakly getting to his feet, one hand rubbing the side of his face. And the pentacle on the far wall began to run, the dried blood that had been its ink turning fresh and running down the face of the stone, smearing the image and dissolving the magic.

Brisbane felt a reassuring hand rub his shoulder. He turned and met Roystnof’s eyes.

“Roy,” Brisbane said. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” Roystnof said. “For what?”

Brisbane opened his mouth but nothing came out. He knew what he was sorry for. He was sorry that he had rejected the magic Roystnof had taught him and, in a time of crisis, had resorted to the warrior instinct that had always been inside him but which had never been nurtured. Brisbane knew all of this, but he could not bring himself to tell Roystnof about it.

Roystnof shook his head. “No, Gil. Do not be sorry. Perhaps it was wrong for me to try and teach you something I knew you could never fully accept. You are a Brisbane, Gil. Like it or not, you are a Brisbane. Your destiny is tied to the sword and not the spell.”

Roundtower stepped forward. “Brisbane?” he said. “I thought your name was Parkinson?”

Roystnof gave Brisbane an uncomfortable look.

Brisbane shook his head, letting his friend know he held nothing against him. “Parkinson is the name of my stepfather,” he said to Roundtower, “and I have adopted it as he has adopted me. I was born with the name Gildegarde Brisbane.”

“Gildegarde Brisbane?” Roundtower asked, a sprinkling of awe audible in his voice. “As in the famous Knights of Farchrist?”

Brisbane nodded defeatedly. “I am the illegitimate son of Sir Gildegarde Brisbane the Second. My mother was pregnant with me when she left Raveltown the night he died. Please don’t hold it against me.”

Roundtower looked a little shocked at Brisbane’s request. “I wouldn’t think of it,” he said distantly.

Brisbane lowered his head and saw the pile of ashes that had been the body of the demon. He still had his sword in his hand and he felt almost as if he couldn’t drop it if he had to. Forcing himself, he held the sickly green blade up and offered it, pommel first, to Roundtower, silently hoping—


—the warrior would not accept it.

—No, Brisbane. I am yours now. I am for you.—

Roundtower reached out his hand to take the sword, but he slowly drew it away. He stood silently for a moment and then nodded his head, as if making a momentous decision.

“It is a sign from Grecolus,” the warrior said. “For me and for you. She is now yours to combat the forces of evil. Without her, there is now nothing to stop me from riding to Farchrist Castle. She is a holy relic, but as a magical device, she would only be a hindrance to my quest for the knighthood.”

“She?” Brisbane said, not understanding.

“The sword,” Roundtower said. “Her name is Angelika, She has the enchantment of Grecolus.”

Brisbane looked incredulously at his weapon and the seductively feminine voice rang in his head again.

—I am for you, Brisbane. And you are for me.—

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