I remember it, clear as day. The mountain tore open just after the evening sun was a mere memory, flames and rocks leapt forth high into the sky, crashing through thatched and wooden roof alike. The end of the world had come and I stood, mouth agape as a fiery hand pushed forth into the torrential downpour and grabbed the remnants of rock from where once a mountain watched over the town. It pulled forth a four-horned being, its eyes afire and the entirety of its body hissed as it moved through the rain. Steam and smoke rose into the air, fires burned as if they’d come from hell itself. I was soaked to the bone, yet the fires seemed to resist the cleansing waters from above.
Ellerie! My darling daughter had gone off to play with a friend, she was smart for seven years old but in this chaos, one could be forgiven for losing their way. “Ellerie!” I screamed as villagers abandoned their belongings and ran as fast as they could. Animals had been cut from their posts and freed into the wilderness, even they were heading away from the beast I was heading towards. “Ellerie!” My voice cracked in the smoke as I tasted ash, my lungs heaving as I coughed and sputtered. The neighbour’s home was half crushed by a large piece of rock and I stared at it for I’d never seen a rock so large that was holding flames. Coals sure, but this was bigger than a wagon and seemed to burn endlessly in the rain. “Ellerie!”
“Where is she?”
I spun and my darling wife was still alive, I stared blankly into her eyes. “I, I’ve no idea-“
She turned to the road before me and beckoned. “Come now, we must-“
“You must flee!” I grabbed her arm, pulled her in and kissed her. We spun during the kiss and I pushed her away. “Please, I must know that at least one of us survived this hell…”
She paused a moment, stunned by the suggestion that she should leave her family. “I can’t-“
“You must!” I grabbed her hands, taking solace in the fact the rain was washing my tears away. “I will not have the strength to go on unless I know you are safe.”
Her lips were soft, yet forceful, as she pulled me in again. “Please…” She sobbed. “Come back to me with her… bring her back safely.”
I swallowed the knot in my throat and sent it to match the one in my stomach. Turning away was the hardest part. I loved her, more than words could describe, yet I couldn’t watch her go. The flaming beast of the mountain opened its maw and let loose a roar that felled trees nearest him and knocked people running away to the ground. I helped a poor man to his feet and put him back on his way, as I turned, my wife was long gone. “Ellerie!” My throat was dry and the rain would not quench it. I stared as the black ashen rain streamed down my skin, dripping into ebony puddles on the ground at my feet. Gasping for air, longing for water, I rushed forward avoiding goats, sheep and those who owned them. “Ellerie!” I cried out, a sinking feeling began to take hold.
My eyes were wide and I searched the direction of the cry. There, some ways away stood my poor daughter all alone and abandoned like one of the livestock. I sprinted toward her with everything I had, if I had anything left. All hope was before me. The ground rumbled and shook, my legs came out from beneath me and I tumbled. From the dirt, mud and ash I looked up to see the giant beast spreading its large leathery wings into the night sky as it stepped forth from its mountainous prison. With each step, it cleared distances I could not. In the path before it, lay my daughter, face down in the mud and motionless. She must have fallen when I did! I pulled myself from the dirt and ran in her direction. The road was muddied and treacherous, yet each step felt sure-footed. I wouldn’t lose her, not when I was so close. “Ellerie!” I screamed between gasping for air and panting. “I’m coming!” The beast stood taller than the castle’s parapets which were rumoured to scrape the clouds, yet somehow I could feel its breath upon me as I ran down the road to my daughter’s side.
“Ellerie, I’m here!” I slid to my knees in the mud at her side and rolled her over, she was breathing but unconscious. Ellerie… My attention turned to the trees across the road as they snapped like twigs while the beast stepped through. Each step crashed like thunder, shaking the world at my feet. I closed my eyes and clutched my daughter’s head to my chest. For lack of anything better, I broke down. I sobbed at the world. My beautiful Ellerie, seven years old, would die at the hands of some demon from Tartarus. It was something I’d only seen a likeness of in ancient drawings and heard retold in tales. Myth made reality. The dirt at my feet stopped trembling, the thunderous footsteps silenced and I glanced to the beast.
That was when I saw him.
The being before me wore a peasant’s pants, loose fitting from the waist and ragged below the knee. He wore no shoes, and his shirt was barely a wrap of cloth around his midriff and up and around his broad, athletic shoulders, then tucked back into the waist of his pants. His auburn hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail that was left dangling in the breeze, while hair hung loosely across the left side of his face drifting down from the right. He stood unflinching, a long, broken blade in hand, staring down the maw of the demon from a time long since forgotten. He was the last bladesinger, fearless in the face of certain death, and he was ready to sing the final song of his people.
I gasped at the sight. He was definitely a shorter man than I, yet the giant demon of flame and death stood over him as if frozen in fear. Lava seemingly ran from its mouth and landed with a hiss and a flame at its feet. As the four of us stay locked there for what seemed like an eternity, the demon blinked its flaming eyes and then roared so loud that it was simply replaced by a humming that stung at my ears. The man’s shirt blew away into the night sky, revealing the truth of the matter to me.
Across his shoulders and down the backs of both arms were the runes of each of the bladesingers in his lineage. Twelve at a guess, they were dark upon his skin but it was what lay below that haunted me at a quick glance. On his back was a tattoo of a date, not just any though, but this day’s. Below it, immortalised upon his skin, were the words: The Last Song of the Bladesingers.
How could he have known? How old was the tattoo? I watched, wide-eyed as he cracked his neck from side to side. The demon spread its wings wide into the skies above the surrounding trees and as it roared, flames erupted forth as if someone were blowing the embers of a nearly dying fire. I cringed as the sudden light tore at my eyes, the wind dried them and the heat stung. The small man before me cast a large shadow in its light, yet like a pillar of the world, he remained unmoved. His blade’s broken tip began to circle at his side, a slight whistling carried along the breeze. I’d never known anyone who had seen, nor had seen myself, any of the blade singers. It was thought they and their ways died out when the wars ended several decades ago. But his style, his markings and his lack of fear all pointed to it.
The demon raised a glowing hot claw and began to draw it down. The bladesinger’s sword stopped turning at his side and it lashed upwards, a long glowing arc thrashing the demon backwards as it growled and roared. I never understood how bladesinging worked until that moment. Like a musician, every single movement, every single lashing, every single breath the bladesinger took was in harmony with the one preceding and the one following it.
Reeling, the demon roared in agony as the onslaught of glowing arc after glowing arc rained down upon it. Its wings punctured, flames slowly dying, a horn lashed off and fell just behind the bladesinger as he pushed forward, I nearly felt bad for it as the mastery before it was unlike anything it had seen. It clawed at the nearby trees, but as they fell the golden arcs cleaved through, striking the beast and sending large pieces of tree tumbling to the ground.
One of the demon’s flaming eyes suddenly went out with a lash and it turned from the bladesinger and mule kicked him with one of its cloven hooves. I felt the wind as he soared overhead and landed in a crumpled heap some distance behind me and his sword embedded itself deep into a nearby stone as if the rock itself had grown around it over time. I froze as my eyes locked onto the bladesinger. He was motionless and silent, the mud beneath him growing darker with blood. The ground trembled beneath my feet as the demon slowly turned back to us, his one flaming eye locked upon the bladesinger. The demon rose, cradling its right arm which had been lashed so many times it was leaking lava, and slowly stepped toward its prey. I gathered up my daughter and rushed to the side of the road, nearest the sword. I lay her upon the grass and stared up at the bronze hilt, encrusted with a single sapphire and a red leather grip, I prayed to any and all of the gods to grant me the strength to pull it from the stone.
My knuckles began to turn white as I pulled at the hilt. I could see the bladesinger stirring, but with no blade, he would surely perish. I tugged again, and it barely flinched, but it was something. I shoved it back and forth, hoping that if there were any justice in the world, it would come loose. With a crack, the stone fell into two pieces much to my amazement and the blade fell heavy into my hands. I turned as the demon stepped toward the bladesinger again and he glanced up from the dirt in my direction.
“Your song…” I yelled. “Finish it!”
I tossed the blade, hilt first like a javelin and it sailed through the rain. The bladesinger’s face fell back into the mud and his eyes closed for a moment as another thunderous step rumbled toward him. My breath was gone and I stood, watching the blade sail helplessly toward its companion as if it were falling in slow motion. I could hear the rain as it splashed against the broken steel, I could taste the ash as rain pushed it down my face and into my mouth and I could feel it, as hope slowly drained away at the sight of the motionless bladesinger. I swallowed ash, water and my nerves as it neared him. Please. I thought. Finish the song.
The demon raised its left claw, steam wreathing it amid the downpour, and it stared down upon the tiny man before it. Flames flickered and danced as it brought the claw downward, cleaving through the darkness of night. The hilt sailed just within an arm’s length when the bladesinger, with renewed vigour, pushed forth from the mud with his left arm and caught the sword with his right. He pushed off the ground and onto the demon’s fiery knee, where he leapt off and thrust the shimmering blade so deep into the demon’s chest that its broken tip appeared beneath the demon’s left wing out of its back.
I leapt up and cheered, but the moment was short lived. The demon erupted in a spectacular blaze of glory and the bladesinger, who was shoulder deep into the lava-like chest of the beast, was naught but a memory as it tumbled in a heap to the ground. Stunned, I stared at its corpse, the searing heat still evident from its smouldering ruin. It crackled and hissed as my eyes searched for any sign of the bladesinger, but all that remained was the molten hilt of the sword, no sapphire and no leather to signify its importance. A fresh lot of ashes danced amid the rain as I stood, shocked at what I had witnessed.
I turned to Ellerie, joyful that she was alive, but I couldn’t find the words. I dropped to my knees and she rushed to me, leaping into my arms and I held her tight. “I want to go home.” She cried. I glanced over her shoulder as the last brassy tones from the bladesinger’s sword melted away to the demon’s body below. I gasped and clutched her even tighter than before. “Me too.” I sobbed silently for my unnamed saviour. “Me too.”
If you made it this far, please share this story! I am working on getting published and I’m currently writing short stories (such as this) to help build the world that my novels are going to be set in. I currently have written two first drafts (Jefferson & The Magician’s Curse and A View of Two Worlds) which I plan to edit in the new year but also have two other works in progress (Gabriel the Great @ 25% and Pandemonium @ 50% both of a first draft) as well as enough plot and material for a total of eight novels (2 prequels and 2 trilogies). If you’d like to read more of my work, Circle of Vengeance is still out there on Lulu and the iBooks Store for absolutely free! Feel free to leave a comment if you enjoyed it or chase me down on Facebook or Twitter along the side! Thanks for reading!