Kyembe the Spirit Killer gasped from the top of the stairs.
Masked men and lupine demons surrounded Wurhi. They had cornered the little thief. Death was no doubt heartbeats from her.
Gritting his teeth, he channeled his inner magics. His ring flared. Burns slithered up his arm as the eldritch energy extracted its terrible price.
“Wurhi! Shut your eyes!” His aim was circumspect. Too close to the Zabyallan and the hellfire might leap to her. His ring levelled at the devils feasting on the guards. He shut his eyes.
Hellfire leapt forth and - even through his lids - it shone like the Lighthouse of Pharos. Its crackle was the sound of bone bursting. Bestial yelps swept up with the screams of men and an acrid tang of ash. His eyes opened.
One of the demons and several robed men had immolated into clouds of white soot. The rest stood paralyzed, clutching their faces: hellfire’s unearthly brightness and heat had stung their eyes shut.
Kyembe did not waste the opportunity.
Brandishing his improvised cudgel, he took a running leap. One step carried him onto the balustrade. The next had him soaring toward the ring of creatures surrounding Wurhi as he roared a battle cry in Gezi: “Ukufa Kuza!”
Death-bringer. And death did come.
He landed on the shoulders of a masked man, riding his collapsing body to the stones. Kyembe’s cudgel came down.
It caved in his struggling foe’s skull. An upward sweep of the poker caught another half-blind man on the chin.
Teeth, blood and bone exploded; the masked man’s jaw crumpled, his head arching backward through the dark. His neck twisted unnaturally as Kyembe snatched the corpse’s dagger from its limp hand. The Sengezian twisted his body with all his prodigious speed and power, casting it toward the beast closest to Wurhi.
The blade plunged into the lupine devil’s eye.
Howls of agony shattered the air as the creature reeled backward, clutching at the blade embedded in its eye. The attackers fell into disarray, half-blind and panicked. Kyembe darted into their midst.
“Wurhi! Get up!” He clasped his comrade’s hand, yanking her to her feet. She gasped, and her other hand clutched her shoulder. His brow creased. No wound met his eye, but that did not preclude the demons having dealt her some hidden injury.
“Come! I will heal your wound, but you must move!” He dragged her toward the stairs, channeling his inner eldritch energies. A golden light enwrapped his hand as he pressed it to her arm. “Is that better?”
Wurhi let out a strained breath, rubbing her shoulder. “Thank you. Could barely move it.”
“Good.” He pressed his hand to his own arm. The magic spread through his flesh, sloughing away his burns. “We need our weapons.” He glanced to the devils. “Preferably quickly. Can you pick the lock on the vault?”
She mounted the stairs. “Yes! Yes!”
He brandished his brass cudgel. “Then go. I will hold them here as best I can.”
The tiny Zabyallan flinched. A discomfort lay in her still, despite her physical recovery. “Kyembe, I-”
“Later!” he barked. There was no time to spare. “Go! Already, they recover!”
She grimaced. “Don’t die.”
He brought up his ring. Hellfire flared. “If you move quickly, I will not! Now go! Keep your eyes turned away!”
Shutting his eyes, the Spirit-Killer levelled his hand at the knot of attackers.
A flash. Screams and ash filled the air.
He pressed his healing magics to the burns rising on his arm then dropped low like a stalking cat. He rushed forward, his bare feet making not a sound on the stones. The beam had struck no wolf-men, but four robed figures were no longer a threat.
He swung the poker.
He fell upon the attackers. With each of his strokes, a man fell. He blurred through their ranks, and soon the tiles were littered with their dead.
He heard nostrils flare behind him. One of the beasts leapt toward his scent.
Claws swiped with inhuman celerity, but the Sengezian proved faster. He spun, dancing to the side and aiming a strike at the devil’s outstretched claw.
Brass quivered in his grip. It felt as though he had struck stone.
“By the stars…” he murmured.
The creature snarled and came at him again.
Its claws tore the air, but Kyembe weaved around its every blow, striking back with scorpion-like precision. His cudgel cracked across elbow, rib, knee and neck, but rebounded each time. He frowned. “What manner of devil are you?”
He snapped the poker across its snout. The beast snorted in pain, then howled its frustration. It lunged for him with all its great mass: aiming to pull him to the ground where it could tear him to shreds like a leopard on an antelope. Yet its grasping reach caught only empty space. He had dipped low, his weapon sweeping. The poker’s hook caught the beast’s ankle.
Now, its bulk worked against it.
The devil hit the stones with the sound of a falling horse. As it struggled to rise, Kyembe leapt on its back, driving the breath from it. He concentrated. His ring flared. Burns rose up his arm. The beast was already thrashing and he would not have time to form a beam.
He would improvise.
His fingers coiled into a tight fist. He shut his eyes.
His hand blazed like a falling star. Bracing his legs over the beast’s back, he roared, driving a burning blow toward the sound of its struggles.
It blew through the monster’s flesh as it fought to rise, burning dense hide to reach deep into its core. The wolf-man’s snarl melted into a howl of anguish.
Innards superheated. Organs boiled.
Its torso exploded. Thick clumps rained down on all near.
Boiling gore flashed across the half-dark elf’s skin, but left no mark: he was accustomed to burns of a far greater bite. He opened his eyes to find the beast blazing on the stones. His magic sloughed away his own burns.
The masked figures — half-blinded once more – plunged into confusion.
They slashed at the dark, their daggers striking nothing or each other. They stumbled over tables. Chased empty shadows.
A deep growl sounded, returning discipline to their ranks. The black-coated beast squinted through the ring’s light, sizing up the Sengezian with sharp ears high on its head. Its snarl seemed human. It bore a note of challenge.
Kyembe leapt back from the burning creature and raised his cudgel. “Come!” he called. “Perhaps you will fare bette-”
It was swifter by far than the smaller one.
With a curse, the Sengezian dove to the side. Air parted where the beast passed mere finger widths from his skin.
The devil collided with one of tables, shattering it. Kyembe rushed to take advantage.
It sprang onto all fours and leapt, near-severing his arm with its jaws. Its fetid breath reeked of rotted flesh. The swordsman recoiled. As the beast loomed to its full height, Kyembe shuddered: even the hulking Eppon of Garumna seemed small compared to this devil, yet it stalked him with liquid grace. Circling to the side, he sought to place the burning corpse between himself and this titanic foe.
Then he noticed something strange. “What?”
The flame was moving, growing dim. He risked a glance toward it.
The burning beast was rising from the floor.
Its monstrous body blazed and its blackened ribcage lay bare. Somehow, flesh renewed by the heartbeat. Sinew knit over bone. Viscera swelled like bubbles until they returned to their natural order. Stone-hard hide grew over new musculature.
An alarming possibility dawned on him. His gaze shot toward the creature whose eye he had gouged. “By the stars!” The bestial orb was whole in its skull.
“Deviltry,” he hissed. “Deviltry revives you.”
The black-coated devil regarded him with rapt attention tinged with amusement.
Kyembe swore. Well he knew the beasts of the south and the demons of the outer planes. Substances, tactics, and spells he’d learned to be their bane. Of these fiends, though, he held no familiarity. His wanderings had not reached much of the dark, cold places of the world. He glanced to his weapon and yearned for his blade. Its magics might not have ended these creatures, but its bite had always served him well against all manner of foe.
His hand flexed. Hellfire’s full fury had proven their match. He glanced to the balcony. He would need time and distance for a beam.
Kyembe darted for the closest flight of stairs
The largest of the devils gave a short bay. By its command, two of the beasts loped into the Sengezian’s path. They stalked forward, teeth bared and snapping, herding him as though he were a cornered stag. He made to slip past them, but two other wolves circled his flank.
Their towering leader moved to his other side. He was efficiently closed in.
No longer did they charge wantonly like raving barbarians. Now they moved as a cold, instinct-driven pack - cautiously hunting dangerous prey. He could only give ground. Even with his swiftness, he doubted he could avoid every swipe of claw or gnash of fang. Not from all sides.
He grimly studied their natural armaments.
It would only take one to end him.
He took a step back.
Immediately, a pair of beasts broke from the pack, loping for the stairs.
“Come brothers!” a masked man cried. “The hunters surround the lamb! Onward! To our prey!”
They had gotten him.
“Bastards!” Kyembe began to bring his ring to bear, but the beasts tensed for a spring. The moment his attention lapsed; they would be upon him. Letting loose his own growl, he studied them in frustration.
All he could do was hold these devils’ attentions. Goad them. Attempt to make them err so he could slip through their encirclement.
Unfortunately, that would leave a certain Zabyallan to shepherd herself for a time.
“Run swiftly, Wurhi,” he whispered.
His eyes drifted across the beasts before him.
War-cries sounded from above.
- Ontario, Canada
I'd like to balance the scales.
Please note that if I review you, I tend to see the positives in any work and seek to encourage people. I tend to review quite high. That's okay, as this is an amateur writing website. I'm no expert, myself, after all.
I like a lot of things, and I try to see both the strengths and the potential in any work and talk about those.
After all, most of the time, writing is a gift.
And I am not one to spit on gifts.