Beringer blinked. The demon zipped to the next target and fired a black spike, smashing clean through her chest. The spike retracted just as fast, creating a vortex of soul energy that disappeared into the Void.
The third witch spun around, popping off rounds at it. The demon laughed, appeared next to him and spiked his face. The witch’s head vanished in a pyrotechnic cloud.
Beringer swore, sent forth a trickling of his soul into the Void and stopped the clock.
“O-ho! You have some tricks, mortal man!”
The Greater Demon sauntered from behind a gravestone, walking nonchalantly towards Beringer. This close, he could finally make out its form. It had taken on the shape of a mortal man, wearing a black button-up jacket and matching pants, with black gloves and knee-length boots. He was…the boy he had seen earlier.
“You must have been the one watching me.” The demon smiled. “Did you enjoy the performance? I know she did.”
Beringer kept his face a neutral mask.
The demon cackled. “What’s the matter? Peeping Tom got caught?”
“Your fight is with me,” Beringer said. “Leave everyone else out of it.”
The Greater Demon appraised Beringer and puckered his lips. “If you insist, Voidguard. It’s been so long since I met someone who dances at the edge of the Void. This should prove amusing—”
The Voidguard raised his pistol and with one hand rapid-fired a string of five shots.
Lowering his weapon, the Voidguard saw a cluster of bullets at head height, frozen in space-time. Scowling, he extended his pistol and crossed his left arm under his weapon, pointing the blade at the enemy.
The demon sniffed loudly. “Is that all? Is that how you make use of the Void’s gifts? You’re less of a challenge than I thought. Is that supposed to harm me?”
Beringer released his hold on time. The demon’s eyes widened. The bullets slammed into his chest and neck, exploding in brilliant light. The Greater Demon staggered away, protecting his face. Beringer aimed again, fired and fired and fired. The Voidspawn swept out a hand, and the bullets curved into the ground, exploding on impact.
“Not bad!” The demon laughed. “You might actually be interesting after all.”
“What’s your name?”
The demon said a Word. It rang in Beringer’s ears, vibrating in his skull, jarring his brain. Beringer gritted his teeth and drew on his aetherium. A cleansing light radiated from the soulblade, chasing away the Void.
“But you,” the Greater Demon continued, “you can call me Simon.”
In Beringer’s peripheral vision, he saw the witch creeping up behind Simon. She was burning bright, full of power. She must have replenished her supply somehow.
“Very well, Simon of the Void. There is no place on this earth for you. Leave now, of your own volition, or surely your punishment will be the greater.”
“Oh? Like what? Is the Creator going to come on down from high and smite me?” He lifted his arms to the sky and smiled. “Well, are you?”
“Hagios Michael, Hodegetria Mariam, protect us now in the hour of our need, grant—”
“Nope, he ain’t.” Simon placed his hands on his hips. “And you know why? He isn’t there any more.”
Beringer noticed a short black dagger in the witch’s hand. She continued to creep closer, closer, closer.
“—us the strength to endure this trial. Amen.”
Simon snapped his fingers.
The Void spilled from him, engulfing the world. Time stopped. The demon sniffed. “I know about your little distraction.” He took two huge steps forward and to his right. “She’s boring. I can eat her soul later. You, on the other hand, are far more interesting.”
“To the Unmaker with you.”
Harsh laughter rang in his mind. YOU FIRST!
The demon laughed. “He listens, you know. He watches. Quite unlike the other fellow you say you believe in.”
“No will but yours, Creator. Allow me to work your will.”
“Bah. I see your cute knife there. And I see you do a bit of fencing. So how about a little game?” He opened his right palm, and a jet-black saber emerged from the night. “If you touch me, you win. And if I take you, it’s off to the Void with you. Fun, eh?”
Simon placed his left hand behind his back and saluted Beringer with his sword. “En garde!” He slashed the sword down into a low guard, placing his left hand on his back.
Beringer didn’t want to play the Greater Demon’s game. Not that he saw much of an alternative. As Simon assumed his stance, Beringer flipped the xiphos around to the forward grip, almost—almost—fumbling the blade. He brought both hands high, blade at eye level, pistol by his ear.
“Oh? Unorthodox, my friend. Or just plain stupid. I can’t tell the difference.”
The demon was right. With time stopped like this his pistol was useless, and he didn’t dare to put his pistol down. Still, it was too damn easy to accidentally place the muzzle against his forehead and squeeze the—
He caught his finger on the trigger. He yanked the gun away, shifted his finger off—
Simon changed his angle with a sidestep, shuffled in and lunged. Beringer swerved out and cross-parried, deflecting the voidblade with his sunblade. Hot sparks jumped from the point of contact. Beringer flowed into a backhand thrust, going for the demon’s face. Simon jerked back, Beringer thrust again, and as his arm reached full extension he caught a blur of the Void. When Beringer brought his hand back, he realized that he had, barely, avoided the voidblade. Another thrust to push the demon back, another thrust—
—the demon sidestepped—
“That’s not gonna work on me!”
And Beringer damn near stumbled into the witch’s blade. He took two massive steps back, reorienting himself with the demon. Worms slithered across his vision, and he shook his head to clear it. The voice of his instructor returned to his mind.
Don’t ever duel someone. Just kill the fucker and be done with it.
The demon faced him, saber ready.
“Now, where were we? Oh yes.”
Simon shuffled in, lunged, and lunged again. The first was a feint from too far away; Beringer didn’t react. The second went for his face; Beringer punched his blade out to catch the saber and the Unmaker whispered something and the voidblade dipped to slide for his guts and Beringer dropped his weight to keep the pressure and guided the voidblade down and out but as Beringer could close for the kill Simon jumped back twice and out of range.
Beringer bit his lip, focusing on the pain and not the voices in his head. He had to think. Simon obviously had the reach advantage, and he knew his fighting measure. The demon danced at the edge of Beringer’s range, keeping just far away that Beringer couldn’t end things with a single thrust, yet close enough that his saber remained a threat. Going at him head-on would be challenging, if not suicidal. Beringer needed to do something different.
Beringer exhaled sharply, breathed deep, feigning fatigue and let his guard drop, extending his hand just a little further and higher. Simon took the bait, thrusting in. Beringer retracted and swayed back, dodging the strike, then exploded off his back foot and propelled the blade into the demon’s hand.
The demon yelped, his saber hand dropping. Beringer stepped in and thrust, arcing his xiphos around the saber and into Simon’s throat. Beringer cut out in a sweeping arc, catching the back of Simon’s arm and circling out. At the moment of the arm’s maximum extension, Beringer crashed in, capturing the demon’s arm in his armpit and ramming his pistol into Simon’s guts. And fired.
“Fuck!” Simon yelled.
Beringer maintained the pressure and fired again, feeling the demon’s body rock and shudder as the aetherium exploded inside him. He didn’t know how many rounds it took to kill a Greater Demon, and didn’t care. If he had ammo, he would shoot; if he ran out, he could slash and stab. The trigger stuck on the third trigger pull, had to be a malfunction, so he sliced a rising elbow into Simon’s face, pistol-whipped his head on the way down, and—
—A black blade punched through the demon’s chest.
“Huh?” Beringer said.
The witch. She was active. But time was still frozen. The Void still beckoned at the edge of his mind. Yet the hexe was blazing with power. Her dagger turned to ebony. Energies radiated from it, flowing into Simon. The Greater Demon dispersed into smoke.
Beringer took a couple of steps back, recovering his balance. And his breath. The Void retreated. Time surged forward with a vengeance, almost like a physical sensation.
“How?” Beringer managed to utter.
She tapped her head. “I needed him to think that I was frozen. I let him stop my body, but I kept my time sense.”
“You could have stepped in earlier.”
“He could sense my magic. I needed a distraction before I could make a move.”
She grinned. “Hey, it worked out, didn’t it?”
A dark mass congealed in between them, reforming into the shape of a man.
“Ahem,” Simon said.
Beringer raised his pistol, then realized the slide was locked back, the chamber fouled with black gunk. Dropping it, he transferred the xiphos to his right hand in a forward grip. The witch pointed her weapon at the Greater Demon.
Simon smiled, raising his hands.
“Peace. You won this round, didn’t you? It’s been such a long time since I last—”
The hexe stabbed the Greater Demon. He dispersed, and reappeared next to a statue of an angel.
“—had so much fun,” Simon continued, unperturbed. “We should cross swords again some time.” He bowed, grinning. “See you!”
The demon vanished.
The hexe blinked. “Is he…?”
“He’s merely wounded. He’ll be back. He’ll keep coming back until he is banished to the Void.”
“Greater Demons are annoying like that.” Beringer sighed. “Is that a voidblade?”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’d call it one.”
“That’s the surest sign of one who trafficks with the Void.” Beringer sighed again. Spinning around, he brought his xiphos to the guard, eyes boring into hers. “I am sorry. But I have to do my duty.”
If this story looks familiar, it’s the original concept of my Covenant Chronicles series. To see how it really turned out, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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