The Leader

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The Leader

Major Dan Talbot woke with a start, knowing that the battle that lay ahead was going the final assault of the enemy forces. Directed by a soulless entity, the going had been difficult at best. Many men had disappeared under the assault of the alien invaders.

Soldiers fell screaming, immolated and nothing remained of them, but ash before they hit the ground. The weapons that the aliens used there was no defense against the energetic particle beams. Engagement after engagement they sent soldiers back to the medical ship with horrid wounds and missing limbs. Finally the United Terran Force troops started to take the alien weapons from fallen enemy and turned them against their previous owners with great effect. Still, the fighting had been brutal and costly.

Major Mort “Muerta” McFee ran up to Talbot announcing that the aliens had not moved from the last scout reports, but that the areas that before they cleared out near the encampment, the aliens had reoccupied. They were going to have to drive them out again.

“We should have not pulled back last time.”McFee sighed, rubbing his eyes. “But we had no choice. We were out of time and the orders were to regroup.”

Talbot knew McFee was right. Even though it was a new fight today, it was necessary to have pulled back into the containment area the night before.

Talbot commanded the united expedition force, every soldier was his to lead. He had seniority and had been in the battle zone longer and knew precisely how Mcfee felt. The United command of Planetary Forces made poor choices, calling them away from the area at a critical time.

Talbot turned to the task at hand, the numbers of the enemy were not known and they were in a better, more defensible position. The space separating the humans last-ditch effort to contain the raiders, bordered by thick forested hills on one end and had flat open areas on the other was their best battlefield. This had the advantage of giving cover if the enemy would charge across the open field.

Talbot gave the order to advance, stealth was the order and plan of the day, they would be in place and ready when the order for a mass attack came from the Commander. The battle plan was in place and an entire division was ready, but they needed to keep the aliens occupied and off-balance.

Moving quietly, the Major rounded a large boulder and surprised an alien soldier-scout who was just moving with the stealth of a snake, having stopped only to rest there out of sight. Equally surprised, he paused, and the alien screamed and charged Talbot who went on the offensive with a bayonet in one hand, his service pistol in the other.

The human forces were not yet in place behind the trees and now the enemy was aware of the humans’ movement. Gunfire erupted all around them, the aliens charged across the clearing to the forest after the scouts picked up the battle cry.

The alien injured Talbot, the hand to claw struggle was only decided by the skilled use of his edged weapon that the Major won the fight. The Major had to pause a moment for first aid as he hid behind the stump of a destroyed tree. His med-kit soothed the torn flesh and using an applicator, he smoothed on a synthetic flesh called “QuickSkin” that stopped the bleeding, in moments he was ready to continue the fight.

*Good stuff this* Talbot thought *Not even a scar.* as he continued forward. A rapid-fire three barreled cannon manned by two aliens were engaging the right flank of his troops and giving Major McFee trouble.

Talbot moved to a vantage and shouldered his full-sized battle rifle, lined up the telescopic sight, he pulled the trigger on the rail gun and launched a three-millimeter mylar projectile into the cannon and crew at forty times the speed of sound with devastating results. The impact turned the heavy cannon on its side while disrupting the armor and barrels of the huge weapon, for the gunners it was complete devastation.

Even at half-power the force of the shot rattled Talbot’s teeth. In training, a full power shot was capable of stopping an aircraft from miles away. But the shots were slow and took time to charge. In battle most settings were at fifty-percent power or less.

As the soldiers of McFee’s team moved forward, it became clear that the aliens had flanked the human force. Shooting came from all sides, the troops were surrounded and fought back, but they were completely defensive. 

They had never got the position secured in the forest and the situation was getting desperate! A stroke of luck or a heroic effort by the soldiers would be the only way to survive this.

The Major ran along the lines, behind the aliens, trying to inflict as much damages as he could, he needed to make the aliens to break off and regroup, but the alien army was kept up the pressure, the one man strike force attempted to a flank them and come around from behind…

“Danny?” The familiar voice cut across his focus as he was sneaking up behind the aliens, his weapons set, his ammunition ready.

Firing in rapid mode, ultra-high-velocity projectiles, bits of plastic really, violently blew apart the hardened armor of an assault vehicle that the aliens were using as cover.

“Danny, time for dinner.”

Little Danny Talbot pushed over a plastic alien to its back, the loss of the alien leader would be devastating to the enemy. Overturning a self-propelled field gun, then left the battle there in his room. His troops patiently sitting for him to return to command. Even the monstrous enemy would not move with the patient silence of a child’s toy while the leader went to eat his evening meal.

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The Pirate Kingdom Facet 10. Surprise

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Facet 10. Surprise

The Thunderbolt fired upon the first Momo ship, the engines of the Buccaneer Co-op’s great battleship flared under a gang-start into full power. An attempt by the Momo battleship to fire on the Thunderbolt was abruptly ended by the Lightning. With a sudden charging of weapons. The high energy discharge flared violet to blue to deep-blue as the frequencies built up. A cold shot against the shields of the MoMo destroyer, changing frequencies in milliseconds as it warmed-up while it was brought to bear against the warship.

The Momo lead ship Destructor lit up in sparkles of overloaded conduits and melted armor as the ship took disabling damage, the Buccaneer Consortium Lightning lived up to the name given to it when it was designed and built, the energy discharge became the first use of the weapon in the history of warfare.

The Buccaneer battle ship, ThunderChild, sped towards the hostile ships firing a Singularity class torpedo at Empire’s Hammer. On contact with the enemy ship, the weapon absorbed all the energy of the shielding while the Thunderbolt charged its massive rotary canon, a ten-barreled helical rail gun, taking  aim at the Power Cubed,  a fighter-carrier before it de-cloaked, surprising the Empire ship that its camouflage was ineffective against the Buccaneer close-combat ship. 

In the abandoned exam room, Phoenix called her ship, telling them to send a distress call for the port. Ducking a shattered air plenum and hanging ceiling panels, she could hear hissing of high pressure gas leaking in the hallway when she saw them through the transparent walls.

A group of men and women dressed in red and black surrounding a tall male with shoulder-length red hair, came moving quickly down the hallway at the opposite end and stopped. They surveyed the carnage at the other end of the hallway and motioned to the standing nurses and doctors, indicating to them to get behind the new group.

One of the women in black armor with a red crowned skull on her shoulder opened the door to the room Captain Phoenix Alexandra took shelter in.

“Quickly! Come with us if you value your life.” Was the raven-haired warrior’s only words.

The Captain did not need a second invitation.

The Pirate Kingdom: Facet 3. Investigation

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Facet 3. Investigation

Teams from the four ships went through the Seraph. Shattered metal from high-speed projectiles littered the floor. Here and there, tables overturned, cargo containers upended and used as barricades. Smoking bodies showed the futility of the resistance.

Edged weapons were in evidence, indicating that pitched hand to hand combat had been widespread. The raiders took to using combat swords that strongly resembled those used by the Pirate’s of the outlands.

“Pirates? This is not their way!” The first officer of the Copper Nugget commented over the intercom system between teams.

She picked up a slim bladed sword that glittered with cruel, hair-thin barbs. Wider at the tip, the single edge serrated in a way that promised hideous wounds.

“This is Royal Pirate style! Damn them! I don’t know why this would happen!” Lieutenant-Commander Pollux’s voice took an edged of anger. “They demand a tax, then slaughter and rob?”

Captain Alexandra walked through in her armored entry suit. “Life support systems are nearly repaired. We should be able to…” and pressed a button.

The lights illuminated and ventilation of the air began.

Emergency lights flashed on a panel, they were venting atmosphere in the bridge somewhere.

Four of the repair crew found where a railgun had blown a hole the size of a fist in the outer hull. Nearly a meter thick of Fendrik Alloy, it was exceptionally tough material that could absorb radiation and meteor impacts without appreciable damage. Very durable and widely used in the boomer ships.

The crews failed to find Captain Metrano’s body. Fine-object scans allayed worries that the attacking force ejected Captain Metrano out into space, scans performed for dozens of kilometers around the ship, searching for his body. Several bodies were found within a few hundred yards but it appeared they had not been forced out of any airlocks. The bodies showed signs that the force of venting atmosphere sucked victims out during explosive decompression.

“Captain to the Alexandra” As the master of the big ship called over the communicator that hung on her shoulder. “Contact the nearest Pirate Hegemony outpost and ask if they had any ships in the area.”

Releasing the mic, she looked at the first officer. “We have to find out if there was anyone in the area. The PH has more information on movements than any one kingdom. If a pirate was here, the best odds is the PH will know who it was.”

“The log said they were in Imperial ships.” First mate Modoc of the Fireball said. His handheld readout reflected off his eyes as he read the transcript.

“Until we can get verification of what is written, at the moment it is all preliminary and we cannot settle this with the conflicting evidence. A written account and then we have pirate weapons stuck in some of these crews. ” One of the Seraph’s engineers pointed out. “Until I can get the computers data banks back online and we get access to the sensor logs.”

“Agreed. We need to return to the ships and organize the information thus far recovered. The confederacy of buccaneers will wish to take charge of the investigation of this crime.” Communications officer Kitt had brought up over the intercom system while he worked under the flooring with the internal data storage units.

“Negative. We are the only ones here. My ship is the most advanced and has the complete facilities to perform a preliminary investigation of the attack. If any of the pirate kingdoms or clans wish to get involved they have to establish their jurisdiction. ” The communicator buzzed in their ears.

“Copy, no need to get short on the radio. You have the more current equipment. But the Buccaneers and Pirates normally have the best of everything.”

“They have been contacted already.” A voice unrecognized as any member of the Fireball. Those that had readouts did not recognize the transponder codes.

Captain Alexandra keyed up her communicator “Crewman, identify yourself, you do not have a transponder address that is on the crew manifest.”

“No surprise captain, as we are not in the ship, we are outside. You should find three extra ships logged into your little network and we have assigned ourselves identifier codes.”

“They have?” The distracted voice of Carla Qualy as she was running file scans of the memory core.

“Yes they have, we have three ships pulling up outside now. Fireball has announced the arrival of the pirates first.” Captain Alexandra spoke. “I’ll be having a word with my ship’s security about this, we have better scanners than the Fireball.”

A collective “Ooh.” came from the several teams over the com network.

Outside three medium-sized ships with crossed lightning bolts and a forward facing skull painted on the side approached and stopped a short ways away from the confab of ships and the smoking wreck.

Leading the way, the ship Thunderbolt came into visual range.

The pirate fleet had arrived.

Dragon Master University chapter 17. History Crystal

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XVII. History Crystal

Professor Koos watched Jona as he took in the history lesson presented him.

******

“Many years had passed with the green wizard teaching his student, in time, the student moved out to the valley beyond, taking with him, the red-haired daughter of the green wizard. In the honor of his wife, the wizard became the red wizard and the two great wizards taught the ways of how earth lived within each of them.

Crops flourished, and in time people began to move into the vale of the red wizard. The green wizard would come and visit time to time, the houses were at peace.

Barbarians came, camped out on the far shores of the valley. The red wizard told the people to go and greet the new comers. But in a savage display, the barbarians raided houses and farms, burning as they went. The green wizard cast a spell and withdrew, telling the red wizard that the spirit of man is all of destruction and domination, but the younger wizard of the crimson sky refused to hide with his wife’s father. The red-witch and crimson wizard joined forces with the communities of the valley and stood against the destroyers of their lives.

All day and night the war came, the barbarians came from the sea, dressed and ready for war. In the middle of the vale they forced against the defenders and were slowly pushed back. The red witch lead her own side against the hoard, calling on them to fight and telling the attackers to drop their weapons and leave.

Suddenly she had stepped in a hole, a small gopher hole that broke her ankle. The red wizards wife was down in the front of the barbarian hoard as they surged forward towards her, axes glimmered in the light as she lay helpless on the ground. All her protection was busy fighting others of the invaders.

Fifty meters away, the battle line drew closer.

The wicked edges of the knives and axes pushed forward and the red wizard grabbed at his pendant. Looking for someone to volunteer to have a spell cast on them, he could change someone into anything he wished, his pendant, like that of the green wizard was that of a dragon.

Forty meters. The Red-Witch could see their eyes, locked upon her.

Everyone was in combat and pushing the invaders back, the fighters cut him off from his beloved wife. The wizard looked for someone to transform into a dragon! No one was there.

Thirty meters.

She lay screaming on the ground, the skin of her leg tented up by fractured bone that threatened to cut through from the inside, the red-headed warrior-woman was unable to focus enough through the pain to help herself, her people of her brigade were falling back, her life was in danger.

She was alone.

Twenty meters.

Blood lust of the barbarians grew, Uruk the Strong was in battle mode, he knew if he could get to her, the fight would be over. Pushing through, he could see the freckles on her face as he adjusted the grip on his sword.

Fifteen meters.

“Is there NO one that can help?” Bellowed the red wizard, his weapon stunned another berserk warrior charging him. A staff of hardened hawthorn wood with a crystal embedded in it, a gift from the green wizard.

Ten meters.

The tide of the battle was turning against them, the people of the valley would lose their homes, their witch and their lands. The wizard knew that he would lose his heart and his love. He had to protect her no matter what.

One last thought as the words he spoke in a long dead language, changed for use on self instead of another.

Seven meters away.

Uruk was nearly upon her when a shadow blotted the sun out.

It was the largest creature he had ever seen in his life, but he recognized its shape. The blood-red scales, eyes that looked into one’s soul.

“DRAGON!” He screamed like a little child.

And such a dragon, easily three men tall,  landed with such force that the ground shook. The red witch had no idea where it came from, under the shadow of its tail, she drew a dagger.

As the great-lizard like creature gazed at the barbarians, she stuck the dagger in at the base of the dragon’s tail, shoving and twisting at the same time.  This scaled monster was not going to eat her or any of her people with impunity.

The dragon let out a roar that, people who heard it said, the echo bounced back and forth for days.

All fighting, everywhere, halted.

The hundreds of barbarians had a collective loss of bladder control as the ground at their feet became suddenly wet.

The dragon’s roar ended up in a shrill screech that caused the barbarians to drop their weapons as the warriors attack turned into a retreat to the sea that had brought them to the lands of the red witch and wizard.

The valley was safe, the people of the lands cheered the dragon who reached back and pulled out the knife that stuck in his backside with a clawed hand, his only identifying mark was the pendant that he wore around his neck.

Her husband had saved her life, the lives of the villagers and the valley at the cost of his human shape.

What spell did you use, husband?” But the dragon could not speak in human words. Protecting the valley and his wife became the history of the land.

In time the dragon became known as a fair and wise judge, learning to speak human, but never able to tell of the magic spell he used on himself.

The green wizard tried for years, but the many thousands of different spells in different languages, no one could find out what one it was. But the quest continues to this day. The dragon known for its valley that it so well protected has since become known as Vale.

The blood of the villagers that gave their lives, watered by the barbarians in their moment of fear, sprouted trees along the shores of the stream where they fought. The stream changed the flow, but the hedge grows still as a memorial to those that gave all that they had to the protection of the land and the lives of those they loved.”

*******

Jona looked as the crystal faded back to its normal color and then the thought struck him.

“Professor Vale?”

“Indeed” Koos said. “This all has occurred long before there were dragon schools, but Vale and a few others have come together and have promoted safety for both human and dragon. Indeed one country has even developed a fighting style of dragons, used by dragons and mankind alike. Adapted of course for the different needs and body styles.”

Jona sat there with his mouth open as if going to say something but froze in the middle of the word.

“Lore and law, that is what you need to know in all forms. Lore — that is the story you just saw, law is what is handed down from the lore and the wrongs within it. Does it touch you? Yes, through Professor Vale.” Koos lectured him.

Jona nodded, “Yes, I see, Professor, thank you. I will get the past due homework in. Kolo has helped me, she is very good tutor, she is also the sister to one of my roommates.”  Jona stood up and thanked Professor Koos. Gathering his books, he returned to the dorms to retrieve his assignments.

Watching Jona walk out of the classroom, Professor Koos would only hope that he had the spark started in the soul of the boy, for if he did not continue to improve, they would have to pull him off of the racer team.

Koos knew if he could push the young man, get him to realize the potential in his soul, get his heart and spirit in the same spot, one day, dragons or humans would never have to worry about trauma or illness.

“I must speak to Kolo…” His thoughts trailed off, shaking his head, the boy was old enough to make his own path, but occasionally, Professor Koos knew, even the wisest needs a friendly slap to the back of the head to get them ot pay attention.

He walked to his chambers that looked out over the sapphire blue lake and sent word to Kolo to come see him.

The Red Witch’s Dragon (A short story about 3,000 words)

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The Red Witch’s Dragon

Smoke of the burning ships drifted across the hills.

They had come.

The warriors from the north and east to the verdant land. Of the people, even the Green Wizard had summed up his advice in one word.

Flee.

Even the Green Wizard had told the younger, more volatile Red Wizard of the west to leave the area. They could return to the land after the raiders had left.

The Red Witch and Wizard taught the artisans the ways to perform their own brand of magic on ingots of gold, silver, copper and other metals. As they traded for and wide for the raw materials that they brought back to the village, both the husband and wife of the mountain felt they owed the village the best protection they could do.

“The best protection, my son, is to lead them to safety.”

Safety from the Dubh-Gall. Ferocious warriors that the world had not before seen. They came out of the north in high prow-ships, rowing like madmen. Swift, unstoppable and terrifying. In another age and language they went by another name.

Viking.

****

“Move along! Quickly! The sooner we are through the hills…”

A scream echoed down the line of people. In the distance, the glint of steel shown through the forest.

They were coming.

“RUN! Drop everything that you are not wearing, carry the children and run!”

Oengus, the Red Wizard turned to his wife and they both knew what they had to do.

“Come with me.” The Red Wizard said to the most well armed of the men that did duty as the rear guard.

“Flank guard, come with me!” Assa the Red Witch said loudly. ignoring the irritated look from the Green Wizard as he herded the people through the gap.

Taking a group of adults to the rear, the plan quickly evolved to keep the Dubh-Gall from crossing the stream. They lined up in two rows, forming a giant V to keep the raiders from crossing the water ford and away from the escaping people.

The plan was to force the raiders to think they had broken through, only to cross at the deepest part of the stream where the swift waters flowed into a cataract.

****

Confident in their plan they deployed their under-armed and untrained warriors, painted the ruddy color of blood, they took finely forged weapons meant for trade and selling to princes and kings. This time, the people used the fine weapons to defend children, and those that could not defend themselves.

These were not soldiers, the was the leader, but the Wizard himself was no soldier.

Still, he had read the books of Alexander and Hannibal.

****

The rending of wood and metal upon flesh. The battle of the artisans against those of the raiders was decidedly one-sided.

Battle hardened from their many raids where the people ran like sheep. They were not ready for the she-wolf in red hair in the form of Assa, The Red Witch.

****

Their attack faltered as they surged forward against the raiders, the bright red hair and furious scream of a wild-eyed warrior woman bent on protecting those that have asked for it— fell.

Of all the things to happen to a person with arrows flying both directions, spears thrown and sharp instruments swung like scythes in the field.

Stepping sideways to dodge a swinging ax, she moved in front of a charging horse that killed the murderous berserker with its massive hooves and knocked her down in the process, stepping on her foot as it charged forward.

****

Two-hundred fifty paces from the front of the lines, she was not in the lead and her line began to falter.

Fighting and falling back, the line of home protectors, elders and the crazy aunt that everyone has, stood between the fleeing line of family and the bloodthirsty men from the sea.

In the clearing of bodies, Assa’s head bobbed up and down as she tried to make a splint out of a dropped battle club. Too far away, Oengus the Red saw his wife laying on the ground in harm’s way.

The line had moved away from her as his line was putting pressure on the raiders with archers and running battles.

But Assa was alone. Without a leader, her line began to fall back.

****

One-hundred fifty paces between her and the fighting line of death.

Arrows fell around her, the Wed Ritch without a weapon or tool, dragged herself to a broad shield dropped in the heat of battle and pulled it over her as three arrows hit nearby. Using it thick leather, wood and metal as an umbrella to protect her from the steel rain.

And the viking archers were finding her range.

Pulling the shield over her, broad as two men, an arrow struck the shield at a dangerous angle. This archer was spot on target and she was the bullseye.

Looking about, Oengus sought a volunteer to become a protector of his wife. Try as he might as they pushed towards where Assa was, the raiders were too strong and pushed back.

One-hundred twenty-five paces, the line grew closer to her. The defenders were retreating inexorably back, no one stopped to help her, they were all too busy fighting. Those that fell were on their own.

Such are the costs of war.

Oengus continued to search, but no one could break away, his own line unable to make headway.

****

Her line of defense was enough to keep safe the lives of the fleeing villagers that had moved out ahead of the landing of the high-prowed ships. Little did they realize that the well planned invasion had come in three parts, each raiding party had landed ten miles apart, north to south to cut off the refugees escape route.

One-hundred paces.

The line had to reform as the fighters fell back from a wedge attack the raiders had formed.

The vikings were trying to punch through the lines and nearly did so, but Nial had other plans, half his family had yet to cross the water ford and de was not about to let the line closest to them break and endanger the people he is trying to protect.

Failure was not an option for any of them.

****

Seventy-five paces away from Assa.

Looking about at the melee of furious fighting, Oengus saw his love and reason for living now only steps from capture, hiding under broad shield, even from here, Oengus could see that her left foot was not in the anatomic normal position. It was badly broken by the warhorse stepping on her, the pain would be excruciating. It was no small wonder that she had not cast some spell of hiding or concealment, the agony of her broken foot kept her from focusing.

****

Forty paces.

No one was able to take the time, everyone was defending to their utmost

Assa could see the individual hairs in the beard of the pig-tailed, pig nosed man who carried a sword nearly as long as he stood tall.

Two thin lines of defenders, one defender deep stood between her and death, like mighty trees standing against the storm. Screaming berserkers, by the twos and half-dozens, charged time and again against the smiths, tinkerers, carpenters and farmers, crashing like waves against stone. Steel upon steel and bronze upon leather, the screams of the dying and the momentary victorious sounded along the battle line, it all blended in an awful din.

Oengus knew that they could not keep up the defense, the archers left alive were running low on arrows. Youthful runners sprinted, some never returned, a small few returned bringing arrows in hand and in body before collapsing in death, giving the arrows that had pierced them as they had run. Each man bled to hold his line next to his brother or cousin. None of the villagers would give a willing inch to the biting axes and hissing arrows.

Their own archers gave the raiders something to respect. Time and again, even as their own had fallen to arrows that came in, they outdistanced the Viking archers with their long bows.

Thirty paces. The wounded men stood against the charging invaders of the land, like time and waves on rock, it was wearing them down.

Twenty-five paces.

The line retreated, but at a hideous cost to the men of the east, dozens fell with arrows jutting out of their eyes and stuck in their throats.

Twenty paces.

Oengus was in a panic, he needed a subject, someone who would willingly endure a temporary transformation and be the hero of the day.

No one!

Anyone?

None could turn to even engage the question. Everyone was committed to the battle.

****

Fifteen paces.

He was the wizard of harvest, he could bring a flood and storm. But here in the vale, they were all in the floodplain. He had one spell, ten-thousand spells for the same effect, ten-thousand ways to cast each one and he had to undo what he was about to do. Once done, anyone else would be hard pressed to cast a counterspell on changes he wrought with his words.

****

Ten paces.

Out of time. Oengus knew who would do the heroic deed. But the return would be so much longer than the first transformation.

Sliding his sword into the scabbard and dropping it against a tree. He readied himself for the power to flow and transform.

Oengus, Wizard of the Red Dragon of the Westland was ready.

He imaged in his mind his subject and began chanting the five-keys of spells in a specific pattern.

He awoke the land and called upon its power.

****

Assa the Red Witch of the Setting Sun, hid under the broad viking shield, dropped by a raider when her defenders surged forward out of the narrows where the water flowed, her ankle hurt so bad, she screamed when she moved it. Remaining still was not an option.

“Protect the Red!” The artisians yelled. A gravelly voice of the singularly talented smith in seven villages, he called himself “The Smite”, bellowed that no one would be allowed to take the Red Witch.

“Gather her! Pick her up and take her away!” As his great hammer inverted yet another Norse shield into the unfortunate wielder.

But no one came.

She was alone. In a sea of friends and family, of those she had healed, the only help could be had were those that were fighting to protect her untenable place under the broad disk of bronze and iron.

Using a sprig of a spice she dug from the ground, Assa chewed on it for the narcotic, albeit minimal, effect it had.

She needed greater magic than she had with her, her bag, torn from her body by Ulain and his bronze-armored steed when she was ran over by the thundering hooves that stepped on her ankle.

“HERE! Assa!” It was Ulain’s son with the armored horse holding out his hand whilst holding onto the reigns of the angry warhorse with the other.

They were in a semi-circle of a path, a lane really, two rows of fighters, archers on one side shooting between the ranks of the defenders on the other, into the bodies and heads of the raiders that surged to drive the villagers into the water.

It was the plan all along, to draw the heavily armored invaders into a white water grave in the rapids, but with the falling of their leader, she now needed more protection than any of them.

A loud sound, like that of a gong, sounded loud and the great black horse fell, Ulain was gone, Assa did not know if Ulain died somewhere or unhorsed and was fighting on foot. His son now lay crushed under the horse that had an embossed mark like a hammer on the side of the horse-helmet, struggled.

Assa could feel the horse remained alive, but instead of shifting emotions and feelings of the animal, it was a soft blur, the horse was unconscious.

****

Then Assa spied an object that made her heart leap for hope— Her medicine bag, lost in the early part of the fighting. In it she could heal a broken ankle in moments, give strength to the fighters defending their homes and heal herself.

Now she needed Oengus and he was a thousand paces away and the killers of women and children were…

****

Ten paces.

The villagers would shove and battle, gaining ten steps and be driven back eleven.

If viewed from above, the line moved as a snake, writhing, biting, killing— pain.

Her bag, was fifteen paces behind her, she struggled towards it, putting distance between herself and the inexorable retreat of the line to the river.

An ax banged against the shield and bounced away.

The battle was twelve paces distant. She was getting hit with debris that flew about during battles.

A blast of wind blew her bag towards her hand, almost into her grip, but paused.

Not waiting, she lunged and grabbed the soft leather and pulled it under her makeshift roof.

Focusing as she pulled out a stone, spit on it — which was a challenge as her mouth was dry — she only needed a little moisture to have the powder stick to the stone.

And … A sound that grew louder…

The battle seemed different.

Sounds of the rage of war had changed, becoming screams of fear.

Lifting up the shield that was her savior several times in the last few minutes, she saw what looked like ruby-red tree trunks just to the battle side.

It was…

A dragon!

****

The roar of the furies combined with the sound of a thousand storms were no match for ruby-red dragons voice.

The roar echoed off the distant mountains and rolled back along the battle line.

Although in legend and by fire they bragged about being brave, but on this day, the raiders had a collective loss of bladder control at once… Then ran.

Snarling with fury the great dragon launched itself against the fleeing hoard and continued to roar and snarl as they dropped weapons to run faster. The raiders of the lands did not feel they had to outrun the dragon, just the man next to him.

Sure victory had become a race of retreat to the boats.

In legends down time, the people told and re-told the story that the roars of the dragon echoed in the hills around the vale for three days after the battle.

Those raiders fallen  behind were left by their brothers, the Dubh-Gall that fought and drove the farthest inland were now the most far behind when the running began,  finding themselves abandoned by the hoard of now frightened men who sailed away on the ships they arrived in. The abandoned warriors settled peacefully, never wishing to draw the ire of the red dragon of the west ever again.

In the vale, where the villagers returned, blood that had seeped into the ground from the defenders that would give their lives for the loved one named Assa that taught them all how to live, love and laugh.

In the days that followed, leaders looked for Oengus. After weeks of searching, finally identified him by his medallion of a Red Dragon hanging around his neck. No help could be rendered in by any artesian or even the great Green Wizard of the east.

Oengus had changed himself into the dragon, but unable to speak any human tongue in his condition, no one knew the spell he performed.

Finn of the White Water, where he lived on the river, was able to perform the mathematics to figure out the time needed to change Oengus back to his normal self.

One-hundred million ways to cast the spell, each one taking a half-minute to recite in a rush without mistakes.

Assa would age, pass, then be dead and gone if she had to go to the end and try every spell to get her husband back.

Such was the price of a hero.

He won the respect of every day the villagers lived in peace, but had no part in the celebration, he could never know the hugs of the children that he saved.

For dragons live forever, men and women do not.

Even witches and wizards.

In the decades that followed, if one stopped and listened in the far end of the vale, one could hear the red witch yelling at her husband, calling him names for using a spell that no one could reproduce.

****

Early one fine spring day, about two years after the battle, Granuaile walked to the mountain of the dragon and announced herself.

The Red Witch, always enjoying company, yelled at the husband.

Once they called her Assa, the Red. The Gentle Red Witch.

Now, she called herself Nessa, meaning “Ungentle”, she became Nessa the Red, the Warrior Witch of the Westland.

“Dragon! Show yourself! It is the girl from the village.”

Pointing to the vale, Granuaile told them of the trees that the Green Wizard had planted.

“Come see. A monument to the day you saved us all.” With that she ran off down the path, waving at the Red Witch.

In the lane, near the ford, trees now lined the path that followed where the dragon had stood and walked until the fighters and defenders that held their ground in defense of the Red Witch of the Mountain, was safe.

In the times that followed, the stream silted up and moved, the ford became a meadow, but the trees remained. When they died or fell, there were people of the land to replant the trees, eventually becoming giants, growing over the path with a protective canopy along the section where once stood a dragon that was a man who gave his life as a human to protect the jewel of his heart.

In time the vikings would return, forgetting the Red Dragon that lived in the Westland.

They would not forget for long.

The Leader

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The Battle

Dash McCallen

Major Dan Talbot woke with a start, knowing that the battle that lay ahead was going the final assault of the enemy forces. Directed by a soulless entity, the going had been difficult at best. Many men had disappeared under the assault of the alien invaders.

Soldiers fell screaming, immolated and nothing remained of them, but ash before they hit the ground. The weapons that the aliens used there was no defense against the energetic particle beams. Engagement after engagement they sent soldiers back to the medical ship with horrid wounds and missing limbs. Finally the United Terran Force troops started to take the alien weapons from fallen enemy and turned them against their previous owners with great effect. Still, the fighting had been brutal and costly.

Major Mort “Muerta” McFee ran up to Talbot announcing that the aliens had not moved from the last scout reports, but that the areas that before they cleared out near the encampment, the aliens had reoccupied. They were going to have to drive them out again.

“We should have not pulled back last time.”McFee sighed, rubbing his eyes. “But we had no choice. We were out of time and the orders were to regroup.”

Talbot knew McFee was right. Even though it was a new fight today, it was necessary to have pulled back into the containment area the night before.

Talbot was in charge of the combined forces. He had seniority and had been in the battle zone longer and knew precisely how Mcfee felt.

Talbot turned to the task at hand, the numbers of the enemy were not known and they were in a better, more defensible position. The space separating the humans last-ditch effort to contain the raiders,  bordered by thick forested hills on one end and had flat open areas on the other was their best battlefield. This had the advantage of giving cover if the enemy would charge across the open field.

Talbot gave the order to advance, stealth was the order and plan of the day, they would be in place and ready when the order for a mass attack came from the Commander. The battle plan was in place and an entire division was ready, but they needed to keep the aliens occupied and off-balance.

Moving quietly, the Major rounded a large boulder and surprised an alien soldier-scout who was just moving with the stealth of a snake, having stopped only to rest there out of sight. Equally surprised, he paused, and the alien screamed and attacked Talbot who willingly engaged the enemy.

The human forces were not yet in position behind the trees and now the enemy was aware of the humans’ movement. Gunfire erupted all around them, the aliens fought their way into the forest after the scouts had come through. The alien injured Talbot as the Major won the fight and had to pause a moment for first aid as he hid behind the stump of a destroyed tree. His med-kit soothed the burn and using an applicator, he smoothed on a synthetic flesh called “QuickSkin” that stopped the bleeding, in moments he was ready to continue the fight.

*Good stuff this* Talbot thought *Not even a scar.* as he continued forward. A rapid-fire three barreled cannon manned by two aliens were engaging his right flank of the troops and giving Major McFee trouble.

Talbot moved to a vantage and shouldered his full-sized battle rifle, lined up the telescopic sight, he pulled the trigger on the rail gun and launched a three-millimeter mylar projectile into the cannon and crew at forty times the speed of sound with devastating results. The impact turned the heavy cannon on its side while disrupting the armor and barrels of the huge weapon. Complete devastation for the gunners.

Even at half-power the force of the shot rattled Talbot’s teeth. In training, a full power shot was capable of stopping an aircraft from miles away. But the shots were slow and took time to charge. In battle most settings were at fifty-percent power or less.

As the soldiers of McFee’s team moved forward, it was suddenly clear that the aliens had flanked the human force. Shooting came from all sides, the troops, surrounded, fought back but they were completely defensive.  They had never got the position secured in the forest and the situation was getting desperate! A stroke of luck or a heroic effort by the soldiers would be the only way to survive this.

The Major was trying to recover and regroup, but the alien army was keeping up the pressure, the human strike force attempted to a flanking maneuver and come around from behind…

“Danny?” The familiar voice cut across his focus as he was sneaking up behind the alien’s camp.

Firing in rapid mode, ultra-high-velocity projectiles, bits of plastic really, violently blew apart the hardened armor of an assault vehicle that the aliens were using as cover.

“Danny, time for dinner.”

Little Danny Talbot put down a plastic alien on its back, leaving the battle there in his room. His troops patiently sitting for him to return to command. Even the monstrous enemy would not move with the patient silence of a child’s toy while the leader went to eat.

Dark Heart, Pure Soul Chapter 19. A Nightmare Of A Possibility

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19. A Nightmare Of A Possibility

Twitching, the world took on a surreal color pallet.

She slept with her arm over his shoulders, cuddled up to his back like two spoons in the flatware box. This world faded away and another one slid forward on soft cat-paws in his mind.

A nightmare invaded Kane’s slumber. A violent dream.

He was angry. He was fighting and he was fury incarnate, down to his core, he was… He was…

He was Orcus the avenging demon of wrongs. The angry imp that struck in an instant.

The black-soul that would invade a lover’s heart and turn the loving soul into a murderer in a moment for minor wrongs, bringing new slaves to the Dark Lord for his bidding.

And found – Not an angelic minion, a nameless adversary. It was… It… was… even in his dream, he stammered.

It was HER!

He defended his Angel.  It played vividly in his mind, he was again there when the Hoard attacked. For his heart focused only on one soul ever. A heart properly motivated would do anything. In defense of his deepest mote of love, that one spark never lost, did he do the unthinkable.

But the hesitation brought the unwanted attention of the Dark One who did not believe in such deep thoughts – Backing up his best, his most infernal, the one who brings the most of the new souls in for the Satan, Emperor of Hell to torment for his pleasure.

The Great Angel of the Pit arrived and struck her a crushing blow, pushing the smaller imp out of harms way, attacking the crimson haired angel delivering a huge slash across her arms and with that single blow of his clawed hand, he knew her name.

Bronwyn they called her. In that instant he knew it was her human name. Somewhere in time there was a candle lit for her. But that mattered not, this soul, that forestalled the killing stroke of the best of his warriors, one who commanded a legion. The Emperor’s best and brightest, the most savage, one of the most feared of all.

A blow stung him to the core as she struck back, a blessed sword of holy crystal! With a mighty roar of a thousand damned hearts, and struck at her with claw and fang, to tear out a new soul. Not one that would be returned to this little Angel’s lord. Her flesh would be ravaged, spirit would be torn and body broken as he pounced on her like a savage raptor of hate, of the dark side and he struck with a blow to shatter souls; it was the law of things in battle. The mighty overwhelm the weak.

But this angel did not read the rule book.

The bright, pure soul of the host, drove Hell’s Master backwards the flash of a moment as she struck him with the might of the host. Michael would not have struck as hard. Silver chain mail over her torso resisted the power of darkness, for this was for this was one of the great warrior archangels. Fitting her like a wet shirt, it guarded against  the savage horde. However, it was not on par with the supreme demon of the darkness.

The battle ensued, he was savage and she as a blinding light against his dark, claw to armor, fist to fang. The whole of the lands shook with the fury of battle. Master against Angel, there was no turning back, Bronwyn was fighting for her immortal soul and there was no mercy, no plea that would be heard. This was a battle to the end of it all, to the death of two immortal beings.

She struck with enough power and heart to knock him to his knees, enough power to break a demon. But not this Dark Lord, almighty in his satanic powers, he was beyond her dreams of power. He took his measure of her strength, weighed her power and compared it to his own. She who had gotten a few hits in, her light was as a small lamp in the pitch darkness of night. Bright as she was, she was found wanting, and he retaliated.

That little blessed knife of hers,  broken and thrown away, hummed feebly in the dirt.

And the Devil struck with the might of Hell – again and again the great dark fist of the Emperor shattered her body, her shield of faith. Her soul would taste like a sweet grape on his tongue after he tore it out of her and consumed it, never to return to the adversary of her Lord of Light. To hell with an angel.

Beaten, weaponless, on her knees, held by one wing he beat her again and again. She screamed one name.

“Orcus! HELP!”

Her screams echoed in the cold, dead heart. Somewhere in the dust of ages, among the dead and heavily scarred flesh that wound around the blackened and charred whole of his soul, a spark that was hidden was found and it heard – the spark flared, burned and ignited something within the emptiness that was the heart of a demon.

A rage that grew, fanned to flames by the winds of memory that rushed back, an awakening of a promise once made to a pure soul. The spark that remembered once promised to protect.

And failed.

But not this time.

Not again.

Never again.

Shall not. Ever again. Fail.

And a single word, born from the very core of fury.

“STOP!”

Corruption was who he was, a body covered in hideous scars of ages of combat, unholy visage of a beak-like face, horns for hair and red-rage that glowed in his eyes. Orcus, a name known only to Bronwynn, had in that one moment, that blistering rage that erupted and attempted control of in a futile effort, the Emperor of Hell saw and knew.

One brief shining moment of longing crossed the angry face of the warrior-demon. Of passion’s fire kindled in a heart that had long gone to cold ash. A history that was once forgotten, rose again in the demon once thought soulless, an ember of passion rose and the testimony of that one quiet hot mote arose to live again in the being that was Orcus. A soul, blasted and scarred with self-hatred and anger.

“You wish this female? Take her soul then. Use the battle-ax, the Claw of Hades and cut it from her.” The terrible eyes of the Emperor turned on the General of his legions. “Strike her sacred body, cut off her wings, cut out her soul and you will stay together for an eternity! You will command together. Whole legions of demons that would respect you both, you will the power second only to mine, you both will be in Hell forever.”

The dark countenance of the Dark Lord was that of savage pleasure, to have her struck down without her fighting back. A total defeat of an angel and the stealing of a soul as pure as this.

“Power and love of your mate for all time. Fear and respect from others, none shall dare not stand up to you.” The Dark Master spoke to the smaller demon.

On the battlefield the three stood, all demons had stopped their corrupt actions and watched the drama, would an angel switch sides for love? Would the great Gardener stand up and save one of his own. A warrior angel, the best and brightest, one that had once turned her back on heaven to live a life with a love. One where her heart once rejoiced so much that it echoed in heaven.

The Dark Lord held her by a copper-colored wing, this angel, one who had given her heart to Orcus so long ago with the blessing of her Enlightened One. The long scarred and hideous arm held her out as if to offer a meal to the demon for his abuse, for the cut to come. To take her into the darkness and drive out doubt in the host.

Once an old affable gardener with wisdom unmatched and told her to go to the Imp and love him good and well.

“Raise him up, love him all the days on that little spot that you claim your own.”

This moment she hung helpless in a giant’s clawed hand. On a finger an ebony ring of an apple surrounded by a snake on the hand, he squeezed and smoke billowed from her wing and Bronwynn screamed in pain. The battle between the light and dark over for the moment.

But there was no fight left in this angel. Her crystal sword broken and the angel’s battered and bruised body hung limply from combat against the one called Satan. She was out of energy. With not enough strength to fight, she hung in his mighty grip and cried. Holy chain-mail hung off her in tatters and shreds. Plates of armor, harder than diamonds, tougher than a heart of a warrior crushed like foil lay on the ground.

Defeated, no weapons left, too weary to lift her arms.  Bronwyn hung there, broken and beaten.

A flick of the wrist and she was flung across the battlefield at the feet of the demon of retribution, vengeance and pain.

“Cut her soul from the angels body and you will have her forever.” The Dark One spoke. “How deep is the love you have? What would you do for that passion that burns in your chest? Do you believe you have a love for this small one?”

“She pleases me.” Orcus looked at her.

The old rage was there, ruby-red eyes of a savage demon. But… something else and it did not go unnoticed.

“DO you love her?” The question was more of a statement by Hell’s Master.

“I…” A hesitation. How does one give up a weakness? Never a good idea to do so to anyone that has power over you… but… “Love her.”

“What sweetness.” Satan laughed. “Would you do anything for her love?”

“Yes.” Orcus was watching her, greed in his wholeness. Cultivated consciously, lust for power. Turning away from love. Lust for a mate. Not love. To use her for pleasure. NOT love.

“I love her.” Damn it all! Orcus thought. Not what he wanted to say.

“Sweet indeed. Love for an angel. Does the small demon wish her with him forever and ever?” The Emperor said softly. “I can give her to you.Just give her the stroke, take her soul and bring her to you. Live forever in each others company in the beauty of your world. Can you do that? Can you love her enough to bring her to you?”

Orcus nodded.

“I can do that. The soul of an angel, power untold. I can do that.” A grin from the lips that split with the evil of his own words.

Savage anger glowed from his eyes, the Claw of Hades, an old friend, a battle-ax whose blade had ten points for piercing of armor in his hands that caressed its polished surface as if it were a sexual device. The tip of the main blade pressed against the bare flesh of her chest, an unprotected gap of her rent and destroyed armor.

Bronwyn looked up into the eyes of the one she loved most in all the worlds, all the universes that existed, anywhere she ever lived, anyplace she had gazed upon — she had given him her heart.

The tip of the ax rested against the curve of her throat, where it joined her torso, she had nothing more to give this demon, the imp that held her heart. Trying to tell him, never did he fail her. For she loved him greater than all the souls that were in heaven.

An evil laugh as the Master knew what would come. “Would you do anything for love?”

“I would do anything for power! I would do anything for love.” Orcus cackled now.

Bronwyn gave him her best, most vulnerable spot, knowing the pain of the cut coming. Not fighting any longer, she arched her neck back, offering her soul, she gave up all that would be her history, her love, her passion.

She would give up her heaven.

Her lord and her soul.

For him.

And waited for the cut that would take her from the light and plunge her forever into the darkness of the pit of the abyss.

She then heard the last time he would speak to her in this world.

“I’ll do anything for love.” His breath was hot on her cheek.

His breath coming in deep ragged gasps of blood lust, she knew. The tip of the cursed battle-ax, a gift from Hades to Orcus in another long ago age, pressed against her throat dimpling the flesh.

“I would do anything for your love. ” He said again, softer. “I will have you as mine forever.”

She could feel the muscles of the battle-scarred body tense, the winding up of the moment, he was ready and the blow was moments away.

“I”ll do anything for love!”

A pause…

Bronwyn closed her eyes, waiting for the first sensation of pain that marked the end of her heavenly life as she gave herself to her love, her heart, and the one that brightened her soul even from the darkest of realms.

She closed herself off to the view of the one with the weapon that had her at his mercy. The him through time and realms that they had traveled. Through dimensions, ages, together they had once loved laughed and had light of the universe in their hearts.

“I’ll do anything for love…” He drew a deep breath through sharpened and savage teeth…

*I love you.* It was her last thought.

“… NO! I WON’T DO THAT!”

Turning in an instant, Orcus hurled the cursed ax, the Claw of Hades at Satan himself, launching into an attack against the Emperor of Hell, this demon of legend, the First Emperor of all things of evil intent, action and temptation.

A simple flick of the Lord of the Demon’s hand and the ax flew away over his shoulder, landing uselessly in the battlefield beyond the reach of the smaller demon.

“TRAITOR!”

“I knew you! Traitor! You shall live forever as a slave to serve us all! Torment by those being tormented, undying life of slime, never-ending pain is all yours forever. I shall enjoy consuming your angel, she is MINE.”

“NEVER! You will starve!” The Demon screamed.

Savage was Orcus’ attack, the crushing blows he delivered was with every mote of his being, all sound, all battles, all conflict stopped as the host of heaven and the hoards of hell halted their battles and watched this ballet of destruction played out.

Watching the fight that suddenly became center stage of a battlefield, Asmodeus turned to Lucifer. “One-hundred on Orcus.”

“You’re on.” Lucifer already had plans to tell the Emperor how the odds were. Who bet on the outcome.

“I’ll take some of that.” The Beelzebub stood near the arch-demons. “I’ll take the Master.”

“Roll your own dice Beeze?” Leviathan laughed, the giant put down his vote for Orcus. Calling him “The once and future Emperor”.

Savage orange fire from the mouth of the Emperor for the chest of Orcus as he folded his wings around for protection and laughed as the flames enveloped his body.

“Time to fall!” A scream from the beak-like face as the demon went claw to talon, fang to fire as Satan did battle with the best and darkest of his demons. Green fire from the clawed hands of the demon that shattered the confidence and wings of the Emperor. The tail of the once-Emperor, whipped through the darkened atmosphere of war, a weapon unto itself, the prehensile appendage wrapped itself around the throat of the Dark One.

“To slime, to torment, to slavery with you! For LOVE I shall strike. For her soul I shall beat you into the ground.” Orcus screamed as his tail tightened against the armor-scale of a neck as he looked into the compound beast-eyes. Sixty-six and six-hundred pupils that he saw his reflection framed by the horned face.

“For my angel’s heart, you will suffer!”

Satan’s quad-lipped mouth opened up and exposed too many teeth as the Emperor of Hell choked on a grip tighter than steel that squeezed ever tighter. The Devil’s mouth tried to bite the scale covered hide of traitorous demon.

Twisting about in the noose of a tail, the Dark Lord landed a blow that registered on earth as an earthquake. Scientists explained that a previously unknown fault shook the humans. The same blow nearly obliterated the demon, but Orcus fought back with the power of love. The demon was unstoppable as Satan was relentless. Again they collided head on, claw to claw, fang to tusk. Each blow measured to inflict the greatest damage, each block meant to waste the energy of the opponent.

Never had there been such a challenge to his power. Victory was not assured, for the fist time in an age – Satan, the Emperor of Hell, felt fear.

Fire and fury, hate versus love. A Dark-Heart against the power of darkness, the energy of both opponents took a toll as they gave their all for victory.

One loved power, the other loved.

Suddenly a misstep, a missed moment in a battle against an implacable enemy and Orcus was flung backwards by a titanic blow, one wing broken, the other wing torn, horns broken, eyes unfocused. The right arm lay useless under his body.

Tired and out of breath, the Emperor of hell moved towards the demon that dared to choose love over immeasurable power, lust and greed. This Satan, wheezing and blinded in half his eyes, all the fingers on the right hand missing and the Emperor of Hell walked on his hands, swinging his leg forward in an ape-like walk, trailing black ichor that served as blood, towards the traitor, a stump where the left leg was missing. He struggled to tear with his remaining hand, to finish the demon, to turn him into the lowest of the slime of hell – Better! To consume the dark soul until it was no more, to digest and spit out that which they called “Love”.

As the Emperor got close to the puny and broken imp, close enough to strike with what was left of his claws and fangs, Orcus held his left hand outstretched towards the Emperor…

Was this beseeching? That thought was entertaining.

A plea for mercy? A laugh at the thought rose in Satan’s mind.

A plea? Hardly.

It was a call, a command to a part of the demon’s own wholeness, a call to an old friend, a gift from the Emperor that followed Orcus to the throne. The call to the Claw of Hades, a call that the ax must answer. Return to its owner no matter the obstacle.

Behind the Dark Lord, the Claw of Hades lay in the filth of the battlefield, forgotten in the rage of battle. Tossed so easily away by the more powerful demon and never given a thought after.

A mistake.

A fatal mistake.

The weapon, as much a part of Orcus as his tail was, answered its call. The ten-pointed ax trembled, slightly at first, then turned blade first and raced through the air to the Master of the Ax in a straight line, regardless of what was in the way.

The Dark Lord became aware of the whistling noise, the disturbance drew the great demon’s attention, but too late.

Too late!

Returning to Master of the Ax, the cursed weapon drove through the through the forehead of the Dark Lord on the way to the hand of Orcus. The look of surprise was entertaining to the old demon as for one brief glorious moment as Orcus nearly laughed, the Great Devil himself, the destroyer, He who defeated Hel who gave her name to the kingdom that He then ruled. He who defeated Hel held his hands up in frozen stark surprise…

And imploded without a sound, like a shadow banished from view when a light shines into the darkness.

The Dark Lord was no more in one last anticlimactic, quiet, mundane moment.

All that was left, an ebony ring of an apple surrounded by a snake that fell to the ground. Frost formed where it bounced until it stopped moving. A  freezing fog formed around the ring, curling over the ground as it rested quietly in the dust.

Panting, barely strong enough to stand, pain was his second world, a second life of passion drove him to stand. Shredded and torn, his right-wing broken, dark blood oozed through dozens of new wounds that covered his body as he knelt next to his angel.

Lifting her up in his arms, she reached up and caressed his face. His broken hand held hers gently. There were too many wounds on his immortal body, he was weak beyond description. The immortal demon was weakening further, the great heart had begun to beat, now faltered. He caressed her face with a blood-stained finger tears leaked from his eyes as dark blood leaked out of him into the dirt.

“I’d do anything for you.” He whispered softly and nodded, “I would do anything for your love, but I would not do that. I could never do that.”

“Come with me.” Bronwyn whispered. “Come back home. You are free.”

A soft cough from a few steps away interrupted.

“Hell needs an Emperor.” The Lucifer said, standing behind Orcus. “It is advancement by assassination in Hell. He must take his place on the throne.”

“NO!” The Angel refused to accept this! Orcus sacrificed it all for her life.

“NO! Stay with me!” Bronwyn argued. pulling on Orcus’ arms, her own hands too weak to grip tightly.”Turn away from all this, come home. I will not have this!”

“He could do anything for love. Fight the old Emperor,” Asmodeus nodded, frowning as he handed the ebony black ring of an apple surrounded by a snake to Orcus. “and win. He has changed the course of a war, changed a thousand hearts. He has altered the universe in uncountable ways. He did that all for love.”

“He did it all.” Lucifer nodded. “He did it all for love. But he cannot go with you.”

“He can’t do that.” Beelzebub whispered as he shook his head and bowed to the new Emperor.

The cool hand of Bronwyn touched him in between the shoulder-blades. “Orcus”, the name echoed in the webs of his dream, his face was wet from tears, Kane had cried out in his sleep.

Kisses on his cheeks as the hands of an angel cupped his face.

“What makes you cry?” She frowned with concern in her eyes.

“I dreamed I had lost you. Our time together was over and I had to use my powers to save you. I also remember my name, from so long ago. Orcus.”

“I remember that name. Punisher of broken promises and oaths. No wonder you do not break promises to children.” She smiled at him. “You are the children’s guardian of promises. You keep the promise of the gift giving when the days grow short and life begins anew. You are the one to shape a child’s view of the world.”

He shook his head, “I still lost you and I will not allow that. Ever.”

She slid her arms around him as she kissed her husbands tears away.

“We can change the future.”

Together they slept the rest of the night, no further dreams intruded.

But Kane had his doubts.