Tuesday, 12 April 2011

An Excerpt (taken from Chapter Twenty-Three)

‘Cauldrons!’ Windchaser-General Rackyard called, wondering if it was wise to use all of their tricks on this first assault. With one glance she acknowledged the speed of the horde’s ascent and realised that if they did not, there would not be any need for a second. The men obeyed, dragging the reliquaries to the crenels and upending their consecrated contents upon the advancing Hellspawn. Daemons fell away from the walls, dragging their fellows with them to splash into the deadly moat. Many avoided the downpour and continued their climb, and Rackyard knew it was only moments before they reached the parapet. Cursing was becoming a bad habit tonight.

At the other end of the crenellations, Jharek Doon was beginning to doubt his ability to make sane decisions. He and his men stood with frightened anticipation, clasping windcannons and blades as though the weapons might save them. He sighed, inwardly cursing himself: he could have been halfway to the Wastes by now. There might be a good deal of nothing there, but at least every daemon in Hell and its brother wouldn’t be so keen to get their claws on it. He chuckled to himself – if he made it through tonight, he’d be gone come the morning.

As he awaited the landing of the first claw like a grappling hook on the parapet, Rueger nudged his side. ‘Sire? What the Hell are those?’

Jharek followed the footpad’s pointing finger and his eyes widened with shock and fear. From among the seething mass below, several creatures were lifting into the night sky on leathered wings. Jharek pushed through his men and waved his arms to get the General’s attention.

‘Eyes up, beauty! The bastards’re flyin’ an’ all!’

Rackyard looked up and swore: varls, several score of them, had taken flight and were hurtling towards the Greathouse. ‘Aim for the wings!’ she roared, levelling her long-barrelled cannon and squeezing off two shots. The bolts tore through the wings of the lead daemon and the beast pitched into the moat below. Crossbows and windcannons swept up, peppering the varls with a volley of silver death.

The men at the walls fell back aghast as the first of Gothmarok’s foot soldiers swung up onto the battlements. The beast was seven feet tall, long arms ending in sharp claws over a foot long. Its face was flat, bat-like, its skin scaled and red and slick with viscous, oozing perspiration. The claws swung out at the nearest marshal, tearing his face apart with one stroke. Galleo leapt forward, dipping under the belkor’s next swing and ramming his left-hand, talon-like shadowblades into its chest. The beast roared and Galleo tore his blades free, spinning and slicing its head from its shoulders. Before the body had a chance to fall he kicked it back over the wall. The man beside him staggered back in fear as another belkor came into view, but was plucked from his feet by a swooping varl.

All became chaos and Rackyard swung towards the vestibule where the Gathering of Ten were huddled. ‘If you ladies and gentlemen have anything terribly clever up your Saints-damned sleeves and you’re waiting for the right moment – this is it!’

Behind her three varls landed on the farthest catapult and began to tear the weapon apart, slaughtering the four-man crew who stood around it. A volley of windcannon fire hurled them back over the walls, but several more took their place and the weapon was destroyed, the crew swept to their deaths.

‘Luveers!’ Rackyard shouted.

A moment more, Lorena!’ Gennen hissed, his voice betraying his fatigue, and Rackyard realised the awesome physical and mental toll that such high-level magicks drained from the Luveers. For good measure, she swore again, then swung away from the vestibule and levelled her windcannon. The bolt she launched tore another varl from the sky.

A daemon alighted beside her, black wings shimmering in the air. Rackyard let her cannon drop to swing from the leather carry strap she wore; her hands flicked out, unleashing two crescent shadowblades that opened up like Shojinese fans. The varl’s double jaw opened wide, revealing four rows of blackened teeth, and Rackyard swung both weapons, ripping deep gashes in the daemon’s abdomen. As noxious vapour pumped from the wounds, Rackyard retracted her right-hand blade long enough to toss a Rhynn Prism onto the toppling corpse...

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