Advertisement
Remove

A note from NoDragons

Sorry for the delay. Had to take a few days to sort my life out--

But I would like to announce MY PATREON where you can read 5 chapters ahead.

The angel arrived from above. Her wings were full of the setting sun, turning the golden feathers crimson. Jasper saw her more clearly now; she was a manufactured thing, with clear lines of articulation on her jaw and around her eyes, like a puppet. The feathers that grew from her amazon frame were metallic, but rippled in the wind.

"People of Midlund!" She called out. "When I first walked this realm, I did so with my spear in hand, carrying tidings of war and death for those who rebelled against the righteous law. I had hoped that when I returned, I would find peace and submission to the good."

Her spear swept its point towards the crowd. "And yet I see rebellion still lives in your hearts. I see you wear the mask of your foolish god, in defiance of mine. Rest assured. When I have purged the outsider– I will do the bloody work of justice."

The crowd jeered back. Fruits and bottles soared through the air. They crashed and broke apart against something that stood between them and the platform. Jasper squinted. There was a golden shimmer surrounding the stage.

"Amun?"

"I see it." They were pressing forward, elbowing and shouldering at the crowd. The blue-painted fools had weapons. Big, crude swords of Midlund make, farming tools, and spears.

"You can cry out as you wish. Children cry when the whip is applied. It does not spare the fury…" The angel lifted her hand and gestured to the guards. "Bring the first prisoner."

The first of the lot was unshackled and dragged forward, forced down to the butcher's block.

The crowd below let out a single, bellowing sound, a noise that ripped its way through a thousand throats and clawed the air in black anger. And with a sudden forward push– it moved.

A butcher swung his cleaver into a guardsman's face; a massive man with a chair leg for a club swung left and right, sweeping the orderly line of guards apart with brute force. They reached out with a hundred hands. They plowed into the guards with the raw weight of a hundred bodies.

Jasper was being carried along in the human tide. There was no room to breathe in the crowd, barely any space to see beyond the shoulders and the heads of those before him; he saw the fight unfold in flashes.

The guards stabbed, slashed, and fought. They were broken and beaten to the streets and their skulls were cracked open to the pulp beneath.

And all that raw, screaming violence didn't stop the angel from lifting her spear and thrusting it through the prisoner's beating heart.

With no exertion at all, she pulled it free again and kicked the body aside. It rolled and fell from the platform with the dignity of a ragdoll.

A captain roared; the sound carried a will and a strength that rallied the men to draw themselves up, falling into line. A wedge-shaped formation shoved out into the crowd.

They drove forward and cut down a dozen men in a heartbeat, striking out like a machine, threshing through the crowd. The weight of the masses moved in jolting, sudden steps. Whenever a space opened at the front, whenever a body fell, the crowd shoved a new body forward to step over the dead and dying and take their place.

The man in front of Jasper let out a small, sharp noise– and there was a piece of metal sticking out from the back of his throat, red and gleaming. The guardsman in front ripped his sword free.

And suddenly Jasper was face to face with the enemy. The crowd was pushing him forward, no space to retreat, no space to breathe, just–

Kill! The crowd breathed violence. Kill! The angel, atop the platform, gestured for another prisoner to be brought forward. She wasn't hurrying. She killed with a slow and mechanical precision.

Jasper and the man met eyes. There was nothing but panic in either face; there was no way out.

The man swept his sword down, and Jasper parried, catching the blow before it fell. Their swords scraped together steel-against-steel, someone shoving into Jasper from behind. He stumbled forward, grasped the man by the collar, and tried to throw him out of the way.

Instead, the guardsman crashed into his brothers and was pushed back up. He lunged at Jasper, stabbing as he rushed forward, and Jasper parried again– the man stumbled past him with the force of the blow and was snatched up by the hungry crowd. A brutish axe smashed through his helmet into his skull and Jasper flinched at the sheer, meaty reality of the impact.

He felt very much like a fool indeed.

And as he turned, another guardsman was already reeling his axe back. Jasper saw the blow coming–

Amun was there. He hit the man low and hard and drove a dagger up through his ribs, piercing through chainmail and heart alike. He stabbed again, for good measure, puncturing the stomach. Black blood clung to his hands as he pushed the dying man down.

Jasper swept his blade out, making space– driving back the mob and clearing space. They stood back to back, sweat on their faces.

"Jasper?"

"Yeah. Yeah we're in deep…"

"I don't think–

"Don't think, Amun, dammit. You're not good at it!" Jasper snapped, feeling sick and furious. Amun didn’t deserve it– he didn’t care.

The formation was breaking down. The guards were only human; they were badly outnumbered, and a man can only fight for so long before the arm was weak and the mind was full of fog. The crowd pushed new bodies to the front, stomping over the bodies of the dead.

It was chaos. Faces red with blood. Faces blue with devotion. The sun was fading out above, sweat and flies hanging in the sky.

They stood together– and the tide of humans pushed past.

The last of the guards were retreating, stumbling away. They fell into the stage's shadow.

The crowd came for them–

And met resistance. A shimmer appeared in the air between them and the stage, a golden barrier. Their weapons and their weight slammed against it pointlessly. Wherever a blade slashed against it, fractures appeared, golden cracks in the half-invisible membrane. But they sealed and vanished in seconds.

Jasper and Amun threw themselves against it. Jasper slammed the hilt of his blade against the barrier. Amun drew back and hammered his shoulder into the wall.

Nothing helped. It was breaking, yes, but slowly, slowly, only under the whole surging weight of the crowd.

On the stage above them, the angel ripped her spear free from the chest of a luckless woman. As the body sagged aside, she flicked the weapon in a quick arc, flicking the blood across the butcher's block.

She lifted a hand and beckoned.

It was Thorn. Thorn was pulled forward from the chains. She was oddly limp in her captor's grip–

"Jasper?" Amun asked, leaning against the barrier, his hair sagging over his face in sweat-stained curls.

"I know…" Jasper was watching, his face pale. He pushed Amun aside and shoved both hands against the cracks, trying to do– he didn't know what. He didn't know anything. He reached into the bottom of his soul and had nothing left.

"I'm sorry."

For a moment the words didn't even register.

And then Jasper felt the cold steel of a knife pressing into his throat.

"Oh." He said, feeling scraped empty and numb. And then, "I guess we both are."

Thorn was shoved down to the block. The spear rose, gleaming gold against the last of the sunset's bleeding light.

"HE'S HERE! I HAVE HIM!" Amun roared. "COME AND TAKE YOUR DAMNED OUTSIDER!"

And the angel, who'd continued her bloody work unhurried and without blinking, lifted her beautiful face to gaze down at Jasper. The expression on her lips was faint amusement.

The spear moved to point towards them.

"Yes, you do." She said. "How very fortunate."

The whole of the battlefield heard her, and she did not have to speak loudly. Her presence commanded the air and the earth.

Jasper felt her eyes upon him.

"Come forward, star-thing." She spoke.

And Jasper felt his legs want to obey. On his wrist, the talisman Sarabas gave him burned into his skin, searing orange-bright like a coal. He shook off the compulsion–

But he stepped forward anyway. His hand slipped into his pocket and out, holding the folded wringer tight in his palm.

The golden barrier let him through, sliding over his skin. Amun was held back, hammering his palm against the wall. "Angel! Holy messenger!" He called, and Jasper felt the desperation in his voice.

He played the only card he had. Jasper knew that. But the betrayal still left him stunned.

"I brought you the outsider. I ask for a fair exchange." The wall slowly let him through, and he sagged to the ground beneath the stage. "Please, release my companion. She has done nothing."

And yet the angel only laughed. A light, melodic trill.

"You do not command me, whoreson.” Her perfect, lovely voice was full of mockery. “Not even if all the blood in your veins ran blue. I do not exchange; I am of the gods, and the gods do not barter for scraps."

Jasper walked up the steps. They creaked underneath his stolen boots. None of the guards stepped in his way, or bothered to take away his weapon.

He was still. He kept his face numb. Nothing to give away that he was free of the angel's control as he walked towards his death. Waiting at the top of the platform was the patriarch, with his scar-ruined face; their gazes met and the patriarch grimaced.

“Tough luck,” was all he said.

Jasper looked elsewhere. His eyes trailed through the crowd. And– just for a second– he thought he saw a familiar face, painted in the fool’s blue. He thought he saw the Dessim, the old bandit cook, waiting in the mob. It could only be a trick of his imagination- but his imagination winked at him.

“You’ve worn the face of a human for some time now, starspawn. Perhaps you’ve come to enjoy our world, our sun, all the good things that your kind must covet, in their cold remit beyond all worlds.” She tilted her head.

Thorn rolled her head off the butcher’s block, drew a knife from her sleeve, lunged–

The angel kicked her down without even looking. “I have killed seven of your kind, starspawn. You will not be the first to escape me.” She didn’t go for the spear. Instead, she reached out her hand for his head, a glowing light gathering across her fingers.

“Well, you won’t be the first woman I’ve disappointed.”

Jasper reached up and flung the wringer into her face. It snapped open, rings spinning within rings, a spark of blue blossoming in the core as it spun towards the angel.

With a single sweeping blow she cut it out of the air, splitting it apart.

That spark unfolded into a pulse of crackling, eye-searing light, and flung them both aside in a wave of power. Things almost seemed to happen in slow motion. A shiver ran down Jasper’s outstretched arm, and he felt spurs of bone and feathers and scales unfold from his skin, and watched as droplets of flesh peeled away like soft clay, floating weightlessly in the air for a second.

Then the wave imploded inwards, dissolving flesh into golden mist and sucking it down into a hungry, swirling vortex. Jasper felt a hideous vertigo–

And a sudden, numb blackness that swept his consciousness away.

 

What.

What under the light did your idiot do?

 

What? My idiot? Our idiot, lest you forget.

I can’t really be accused of sole responsibility here.

 

Why though!? Why not leave!?

 

Oh that.

Well, you see…

He thinks he’s clever.

 

Advertisement

About the author

NoDragons

Bio: Author bios are for the mangy dogs who think they write literature. I write trash, and I am the king of the trash.

Achievements
Comments(63)
Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In