Grim Brian looked down at the sleeping fishing village. One would think it a peaceful place. Grim Brian
He gave the silent order. At his left, William slid the mask of his horned helm on his dusky face. Robert gave
his copper beard a light tug. Randolph clicked his tongue and coached his SnakeLance. Taciturn Edwin nocked his
silver bow with a black shaft and knelt by the worm-eaten oak stump. Tusk, his BoarWolf, nuzzled against his
master's suede pants, yellow eyes gleaming.
Brian flexed his palm. The leather gloves creaked with stiffness. After being soaked in blood for so long, from
within and without, oil and wax could not help them much. The steel scales that protected the back shone in the
The riders started down the trail. The PawHoofs of their DevilHorses left smoking prints in the gravelly ground.
Tendrils of weed curled half-cooked as the hot, soot-colored bodies of the HellAnimals trampled them, emitting
the scalding heat that was the essence of their bodies. Charcoal steam seeped from the sleek hide of the
ash-black horses, hissing like young iron in the jaws of a furnace.
Back at the ridge, Taciturn Edwin waited, running callused fingers up and down the length of his bowstring. The
jackdaw fletching of his bodkins was as dark as night itself, much like the acid-scorched arrow points; Brian had
always wondered how he managed to shoot so perfectly with his long, tinted nails pierced with little rings. Tusk
hopped after the horses, his boar's snout on a twice-the-size lupine body dripping saliva from curved fangs
jabbing out of the fat, black lips.
Lanterns swayed from tent poles, radiating feeble light for the sentries. Old fires smoldered in heaps of red
coals round the camp's perimeter, blinding drowsy sentinels completely. They would not know the attack was
Loose slate tumbled down the hill as clawed hoofs picked at the rock and splintered it, heat and weight drilling
into the granite like pickaxes. Giving his silent comrades one last glance, Brian led the formation for the
ivy-choked palisade of the bivouac. Edwin was aiming now, his bracers vibrating with the taut sinew and rippling
muscle they sheathed.
Brain drew his DevilSword. The horned face etched into the pommel winked at him, red, slitted eyes stretching
with malignant pleasure. Red lightning skittered up the blood gutter and along the fanged edge, converging on the
japanned tip into a bloody star of dying. Brian did not like to use the SnakeLance. It gave no satisfaction
compared to this blade.
He lowered the sword and pointed at the village. They charged.
Like an owl in its flight, they pounced silently. The slow ride turned into a light canter. The amble became full
gallop. Thundering like a gale the DevilHorses struck for the camp. Rock exploded in bouquets of shards as they
plowed over the craggy earth.
Brian saw it all, his DevilEyes having no respect for the dark.
They cleared the ring of hawthorn stakes, battering them down as if they were grass stalks. William and Randolph
moved to the left. Robert followed his leader. The guards never noticed the raid until the monsters were ten
paces away. But then, it was too late.
The moonlight-limned ridges of the first man's face twisted into bloodless lines as he beheld the nightmare
legend set upon him. Throwing his spear down, he turned to flee, his mouth full of yellow teeth parting for a
scream, but Robert's long lance caught him before he could shout alarm. The lance point shaped like a gaped
serpent's head sunk into his back like a knife. It exploded on the other side with a handful of ribs and chunks
of lung cupped in the viper's open mouth.
Upon contact with hot human blood, the hibernation spells thawed and the snake came suddenly alive. It whipped
its forked tongue and spat the gory debris out, then started to lash and wriggle, slithering back through the
puncture and settling back on the lance shaft. The wedge-shaped head glared at Brian in mute recognition, then
turned to seek new victims, hissing and growling, the way only metal snakes could.
Brian drowned his sword in the chest of a second spearman, chips of bone and blobs of bloody marrow flying far
ahead of the DevilHorses in a sparkling arc of death. The man's wail howled like the wind in his back. Twittering
with laughter, the pommel face thanked Brian for the kill. What a polite piece of weapon it was.
Robert's snake whirled and dove for the head of a third guard. It chewed his skunk-pelt skullcap off his scalp
along with a mat of hair and a slice of brains. Curling back onto the lance, the blood-drenched snake blinked the
gore out of its almond eyes and coiled for the next attack.
The first black arrow landed in the village. With pinpoint precision, the sleek shaft entered the throat of a
fourth man scrambling for defense. Gurgling with surprise, he stumbled, the Condemnation Spell woven into the
arrow eating his soul away while keeping him alive and full of pain and awareness.
Tusk buried its fangs into a half-dressed man-at-arm's loins, tearing the sheepskin clothes and ring armor like
paper, hewing a leg away. Wailing, the warrior dropped, and the hog-wolf hurried to trample the victim, still
puzzled by its dual personality, torn between lethal heritage of both species, between howls and grunts, between
impaling and hamstringing.
On the far flank, William and Randolph charged fast into the line of tents, snapping lines and uprooting pegs
from the rocky soil, making the moldy canvas sheets collapse on their sleepers, choking them in darkness,
confusion and panic. The searing heat from their animals set the tick-infested fabric on fire, burning the
soldiers alive as they groped for exit from within the pavilions. Whether aware or not of their attackers, every
soldier that came too close to the galloping DevilHorses fell back scalded and scorched.
William wielded his war hammer with precision and cruelty, slamming the spiked head into the bumps stirring under
the flaming sheets, flattening them down and, on occasions, leaving wet dents in the fire-licked canvas. Horrid,
crunchy pops of bones followed his dance around the camp, accompanied by shrieks of burning men and howls of
soldiers fighting rope, suffocation and heat.
Randolph worked his snake into the necks of dismayed, panicking soldiers, injections of metallic venom granting
no second chance to bitten victims. Edwin's arrows flew one after another every three seconds, always hitting a
new, unprotected neck or eye. Helped by a variety of seeking spells, they could not miss.
Already soldiers were rushing to fight the invaders. No matter the initial mayhem and terror the six of them had
caused, they were only a half dozen, and the enemy were thousands. The parts of the camp that had been spared the
first wave of attack had sent forth soldiers dressed and armored and sobered from their sleep, armed and
determined to dispose of the attackers, regardless of their dreadful reputation.
Even legends as stark as the Brotherhood of the Devil had their end. But not tonight.
Brian was overlooked for the moment, but his friends were caught up in a neck-deep well of gore. Using all their
skill and hatred, they battled the torrents of spearmen and swordsmen coming their way, fending off waves of
strikes with the cool efficiency of a veteran scythe-reaper in his field of rye.
An arrow chucked by his helmet, making him turn. Hidden by sponge spruce that grew uphill fifty yards away, a
group of archers was taking blind aim at his darker-than-night silhouette, seeking the lack of his mass rather
than its presence. Two more arrows zipped by his cloaked shoulder. One sang through the fabric of his panther's
cape. Turning about, he led Devil for the bowmen.
Seeing him closing the distance, the archers dropped their short bows and started to hobble away. Howling like a
coyote, Brian jumped on the stragglers. They screamed like frightened children. He clove their brains and parted
their tin half-helms. He slashed their hide bucklers and horn breastplates in two. Their padded vests and
disc-sewn jerkins ripped open like paper. Fire ignited on the branches of the spruce trees.
An arrow sunk into the horse's flank and disintegrated into ashes. A ray of dazzling orange-red light shot from
the wound, half-curdled lava-blood seeping in a rivulet of molten rubies as the magical bodies worked
DevilHealing into the gash. The arrow scar left no trace of its bleeding.
A spear shaft splintered against the animal's naturally armored chest. Its user flew ten paces back as the horse
collided into him, setting his skin afire so quickly that patches dripped like wax even as he catapulted
helplessly through the night's clammy air.
A man in homespun breeches soiled with shit ran to meet him, the halberd held high. Brian opened his belly and
let the rest of his feces stream out along with the undigested dinner. Tusk trotted by, running for its own
William darted by a few moments later, his war hammer gone. There was blood on his black mask, running from the
visor onto his cheek. In his hands was an automatic crossbow.
Close to a score swordsmen were gathering against the two of them a little further ahead, readying a swift,
sweeping charge. As they advanced and came within the useful range of William's weapon, the rider loosened the
whole magazine. Fifty darts with metal fletching and spiraled points for better perforation burst away in wiry
arches, quivering and buzzing like a flight of wasps. Two thirds of the attackers fell down, screaming and
gasping breathlessly, small, acid-dipped quarrels sinking into their worthless flesh. The rest slowed in fear and
hesitation, scattering. And then, in the gap between lost valor and regained courage, the two warriors astride
DevilHorses moved against their antagonists.
Bending low, Brian drove his sword into a man's guts, wrenching it out through his ribs and left arm severed at
the elbow. He skewered a second man through the heart. Gordon's men were no great heroes at night, Grim Brian
thought. Not against true foes, who could defend themselves against their malice.
His half-sentient sword worked into the flesh of the footmen, guiding his arm from one victim to the next. The
desperate soldiers were trying everything in their power to stop him, but all they could ever do was die.
Further ahead lay the charred remnants of the riverside community that had existed before Gordon Childrenkiller
had moved into the lowlands and occupied Whitewood shire. Officers' lodgings rested by that sad cemetery now -
big, pompous pavilions with streaming pennants and severed heads of the local villagers hoisted on long poles.
There, Brian hoped to find the souls responsible for the Wedding Day Carnage.
A flash of blue light from the right stole his attention. Wheeling aside, he managed to only get glanced by the
magical blow shot by one of Gordon's wizards. The explosion was deafening.
Any normal human would have burst to pieces, but the DevilArmor saved Brian's life. He flew from the saddle,
somersaulting and crashing into a knot of pikemen ten paces away. Grunting breathlessly, he took a moment
regaining his senses and orientation before he rose and repulsed the assault of halberdiers around him.
He grabbed the shaft of the first bold attacker, yanking it free from his hands and slamming it back in the
owner's nose and teeth. Whirling the stout ash pole, he cracked the skulls of several more men besieging him. He
dove under the cruel points seeking his flesh and blood, and drove into the confused lot of warriors. The black
smoke smoldering from his armor made his dance of death a painful affair.
There was the sound of compressed air that warned him of the second magical attack. Traveling faster than any
arrow, it shimmered blue and was hot like embers, all sizzling and hissing and crackling and taking on the
teardrop shape as it advanced for him.
He leapt aside, letting the sapphire fireball claim friendly casualties. The concussion knocked him off his feet.
Completing the clumsy loss of balance in a double roll on the scorched ground, Brian rose to meet this dangerous
Angry, he sought the magician in the fire maze of chaos. Yellow and red, sinuous shapes of flames rolled
skywards. Sparks and ashes and thick smoke whirled, clouding everything. Wood popped as blazes devoured it.
Humans screeched and yowled, as they were being burned alive. It was hard to see, even for DevilEyes.
Despite the screen of fires, Brian found his target. Dressed in the pervert fashion of the Forger Wizardry,
Titanium Squirrel the Fabled waved his vile magic atop a barricaded ridge on the eastern side of the encampment,
using the rampart and its dormant siege machines entrenched in the hard clay and granite for defense against
counterattacks. Assuming Brian disposed of, the Squirrel was fighting his DevilComrades, now.
Brian started to run for the fortification. Two hundred yards away, he could clear the distance in twenty
seconds. He could not let the wizard live much longer than that. Randolph was down on his feet, unsaddled much
like himself. William still rode, but he could not see Robert in the tumult. Tusk was too stealthy to show its
fangs before they claimed the victim.
Blue lightning arced from the wizard's Focusing Rod onto the battlefield. Wherever he sensed a living DevilRider
moving, he fired without distinction, having no sympathy for Gordon's soldiers present at the spot. Titanium had
always been known for his cruelty, but few would believe he could so pleasurably take it against his own men.
Their death was of no consequence to him.
Brian punched a dazed spearman in the nape; the spikes built on the ridge of each knuckle made sure he never rose
again. He kicked a big-toothed fool with a rusty anelace in his hands in the balls, then, as he bent over, rapped
him with Devil's hilt above the right ear. Almost like an afterthought, he slashed another soldier across his
chest. Then he drove the sword in a wounded man's guts sprawled on the ground. He hacked someone's hand off.
Titanium was feasting on the chaotic camp. His magical air-fire comets plummeted on the foaming crowds. They hit
the ground in huge splashes, like pebbles hitting a lake's surface, causing a human tide to rise in expanding
surges of death and flame.
The wizard turned his attention back on the DevilPack leader as Brian reached twenty paces from his position.
Snarling like a dog, his pearl teeth gleaming, Squirrel leveled his Rod at the DevilRider and fired. Calling on
the Instinct, Brain braced for the impact.
Magic hissed around the DevilShield, a blue curtain that oozed round an invisible barrier, shimmering with heat
and anger, but unable to pierce through. Still, Brian was seriously challenged with the force of the wizard's
attack, taking all his strength to maintain the integrity of the defensive cocoon. As the magic faded, Brian
released the DevilShield and resumed his race uphill. He was grimed in soot and sweat and exertion was throbbing
in his bones, all from the most recent encounter if not the entire night of fighting. He bled from dozens of
small nicks and wounds caused by his wild ride into dense shiltrons of spearheads and pikepoints. It did not
matter. He would kill Titanium tonight.
Then he saw the NightFighters.
The elite guard of Gordon's army, the NightFighters were terrible warriors with magical blades that could cut
through the DevilArmor. Black as night, they pounced from their hiding place, two dozen men with DiamondSabers
and PanicVeils. Roaring with laughter, Titanium started to saunter away.
Brian lowered his DevilMask before the magic of their PanicVeils could influence him. While protected from
psychic magic, Brian had no instant defense against the diamond blades. He had to fight those properly. Anxiety
overtook him as he thought of the Squirrel getting away. He decided to switch from honorable to desperate.
Small crossbows built into the armor of his forearms clicked as he squeezed the right knobs and fired poisonous
darts at his foes. Four warriors dropped in quick succession. Next, he drew a flinging knife and hurled it at the
fifth man. With a blade in his throat, the NightFighter dropped.
The rest came down on him in an avalanche of black silk and rainbow swords. They were wary of the dreadful
DevilRider, knowing that even their number was a narrow match for his skill.
Dancing sideways, Brian sought a route up onto the artillery nest. The drape of silk swirling about him was fast,
no gap to slip through. He resorted to more tricks. Drawing a WhiteIron capsule from a hidden pocket, he cast it
shattering on the rocky ground and closed his eyes shut.
The brilliant silver supernova explosion a thousand times stronger than that of the wizard's fires illuminated
the night, leaving the surviving NightFighters blinded for good. Silent like a shadow, he ran past the dazed
warriors, clambering onto the fortification after Titanium's half-naked form.
Something tripped Brian. Sprawling, rolling over, he saw a blind NightFighter holding his ankle in his fist,
aiming with the DiamondSaber for a maiming cut. Letting Devil do his own whim, Brian killed the helpless fool.
Jumping back on his feet, he followed after the wizard.
An arrow hit him in the chest, stopping short of his flesh by the instinctive contraction of the DevilTissue on
his armor. He plucked it out and looked for the marksman.
Three NightFighters exploded from the surrounding shrubbery, wielding their diamond swords in quick, clipped
motions of exquisite blade fighters. Grinning under his facial mask, he moved to destroy them.
The first saber cast of pure diamond, thin and deceptively brittle looking, kissed the DevilSteel in a shower of
sparks. Brian pushed the man away, whirled and parried the second blow from behind, ducked and evaded the third
from the side quarter.
Kicking high, he glanced a fighter's shoulder, numbing his wielding arm, then cut and drew flesh from the man's
thigh. Gasping, the soldier withdrew, nursing his bleeding leg. Arrows rained, aimed perfectly at his brains, but
they bounced impotently off his horned helm.
Brian had no more tricks to spare. These men would have to be minced to chops, he thought with no regret as he
danced fluidly round their lunges and thrusts and overhand blows, an inner counter in the back of his mind
numbering Titanium's steps. Soon, the wizard would get too far away. At least he was no longer involved in the
Then, a black shaft zipped past him and buried itself in the right eye of the second attacker. Looking far, far
back, Brian spotted Taciturn Edwin kissing his bracers. At the unspoken question lancing between the two men he
answered with a slow shake of his head. Squirrel had too much magic to be killed from this distance.
Brian made himself drop, surprising the remaining foe, and drove Devil into his loins. The full anger of Brian's
frustration pervaded the NightFighter, turning his insides into bloody soup. Gouts of red fire shot into the
wound before they cauterized it. Bloody tendrils remained trailing along Devil's fanged edges. It was
BloodScorching, a true hell-death the warrior had just been granted.
Letting the thigh-wounded fighter die slowly, since no mending could sew a DevilWound or halt the injected poison
from claiming the soul, Brian continued his chase, his panther-pelt cape billowing in his wake.
Sensing an ominous presence behind him, Titanium turned just in time to see Brian leap on top of him and bring
him down on the hard rocky ground. The wizard shrieked as the exposed parts of his skin were flailed off on the
rough ground. His scream died as the weight of the DevilRider expelled the breath from his lungs. Squirrel the
Fabled shook with agony as he skidded on the stone, rubbing his bones and joints bloody, patches of his hide
coming off with every inch of jagged granite. He was scraped all over.
The inertia threw Brian off his victim, allowing the wizard to regain footing and resume his flight. Cursing
under his breath, Brian rose to follow. Hugging the trees for leverage, Titanium was making his escape through
quick, unexpected twists and turns. Brian followed; disdaining grace, he let the sheer power of his muscle guide
him round the obstacles. He collided into trees, leaving cracked, smoking ruins behind him.
He swung with his devilish sword. Squirrel ducked. A shower of old branches collapsed on their heads. Brian bent
down, searching for wizard's body, but he was gone.
Brian spotted him wriggling over the wet forest litter, hiding behind bushes. Leaping into the shrub, Brian
reached for the pervert's legs. Shrieking, Titanium started kicking like a throat-slit pig. His soft, human-skin
shoes did little harm to the furious DevilRider, but they prevented him from managing a solid grip on the smooth
skin of Squirrel's ankle.
As the wizard started slipping, Brain nicked his under-thigh with Devil. Howling madly, Titanium pranced up - and
collapsed. His hurt leg could no longer support him. Grim Brian grinned like a wolf.
Frightened and wounded, Titanium could not focus on conjuring magic. His spells came out awkwardly. Brian built a
symbolic shield around him, then dove to claim the quarry. In a moment of brilliance, Titanium managed to
Grabbing a branch from the ground, he clubbed Brian on the side of his face, using feeble spells of magnification
to intensify the blow. The DevilRider reeled, surprised and stunned, watching from the shadow-misted corner of
his eye as the weasel-like creature limped away.
Before Titanium made his third step, Brian pounced with all his strength. His armored boot caught Squirrel
squarely in the face - eye, temple, nose, cheek, and mouth, all. In a very slow motion, every detail painfully
highlighted, the pervert's face exploded and he crashed to the ground.
Blood was trickling from his dented left earlobe. Torn lips swam in the gritty dirt. Squirrel was choking on the
blood in his mouth, but could not muster the spasm to vomit it. Boot-spike gashes in the side of his face pumped
crimson fluid out in a steady rhythm.
The wizard's remaining eye rolled backwards as he tried to lose conscience.
"Parting speeches bore me, so I will stick to the execution," Brian said. "You will never regret your deeds, so
it is pointless lecturing you, more since as a corpse, you will not be able to practice any of the acquired
Reaching for the Focusing Rod, Brain pulled the four Spell Augmentation Rings from their sockets. Blood exploded
everywhere. Titanium gave the final wail and died.
Brian did not linger. There were officers, in their tents, to be dealt with. He followed the slope of the hill
back into the flaming cauldron.
TO BE CONTINUED ...