Raised voices and the pound of feet upon the hill resound through the quiet forest. A rotten galaxy of hungry red eyes gleam in the sea of darkness residing within the close-clustered thrust of arrogant pine. Black serpentine limbs crawl hypnotic dances, needled teeth bare and slather and the hungered moan of five thousand starved stomachs echoes a rapacious song.
Darts of sunlight shoot from beaten steel raised above a paltry thousand men, perhaps less. A meagre feast, but a feast no less for ones so starved of sustenance. The Sleathe gibber delight, rolling across one another like sharks in the grip of blood frenzy. They can almost taste the blood, silken and warm on their tongues, can feel the heavy wet tang of flesh between their teeth. How they will fight and cavort in the carnage.
Busy with their fevered imaginings, they don’t see her. High above their hideout, she hovers, her wings beating steady cadences, their white feathers almost brazen against the blue of sky. And they don’t see the companion floating beside her, black and gold hair rising like the winds and coiling all as subtle strong as Sleathe flesh. These two wait, patient in the gentle winds high above the forest, smiling at the inky shadows lay all-unknowing beneath them.
Bored of watching the Sleathe, whose death is certain in her mind, an image of twisted bones scattered on the forest floor, Margo turns her gaze to the men advancing. At their head the Kitty runs, his claws flexing. Either side of him are Moe and Rolf, together at last. So beautiful, the two of them. Perfect animals. Her bitches. So why does she feel so detached from them? It’s not like her. Her mind is strange these days. She feels at a distance to all but the Kitty. He’s all that makes sense anymore.
She always saw the being hiding behind the Kitty, the immense golden shape of his power. It blinded her. But now it overwhelms her, and she feels, too, the ghostly presence of his companion angel, the Cherubim. The big one. He’s far from this world with the ex-Sanctimonialis, Sparrow Plenty. There are circles within circles here, not all available to her sight, even as wide as it has become. She wonders now, not what they will accomplish in this small corner of the puzzle, but whether it will be enough to unravel even a tiny portion of the whole.
It’s obvious Solomon, in his eagerness to share her essence, gave her more of his than she asked for. But Margo’s never turned down a larger portion, and she’s not about to start now, even though his power rages through her like wildfire. Searing her bones, gathering like ashes in her mouth and her belly. It weighs her down, almost too much to carry. At times it feels as if her flesh won’t contain it, as though it will explode from her, or replace her with itself. It is not simple power this. Not something she can wield blindly as she’s done before. It might not allow her.
At the feet of the White Ladies, smoke boils, cauldron black and stinking. The sea ripples in waves of sluggish red, foam blackened by cinders. The battle is fast being lost. Something feeds on it like a gull on the great, bloated corpse of a beached whale. This presence revels in loss and ruin, and Arch-Brigadier Morton knows nothing but despair. They were hard put for survival before it rested its great ravenous weight over the battle. Now they are lost for certain.
The Royal Witches are trying to hold it away but it is beyond even their combined strength. Stood on the backs of their great, faceless steeds they moan and writhe, their hairless heads blackened with spreading blots of necrotic flesh. This effort kills them slowly, it will rot their bodies to mush even as they fight they stop it from taking over the battlefield.
The 76th, the 102nd and the King’s bolt-men, who have no King to fight for, only a Queen, fight on bravely beside the 105th, but they are down to handfuls of men against the might of thousands. How has it come to this? Whatever forces reach them now are doomed to failure and, were Morton not a fighting man through and through he’d send word for them to turn back.
There is nothing for them but death upon this furthest shore of Great Britannia.
Kitty roars a challenge as he ploughs into the ebon throng of the Sleathe, his claws rending and tearing, his teeth exposed in a triumphant feline grin of pure murderous delight as shrieks rise from under his claws and black blood fills the air. Beside him the whine and shutter-snap of Rolf’s whips slice great gaping holes, wet gashes in the Sleathe collective. Limbs fly off to those flashing steel tips as fast as they form and the red of hunger in the Sleathes eyes swiftly rolls to panic.
Behind them, Moe’s blades scythe efficient swathes, making room for the nervous swell of infantry, unused to battling Sleathe. Giving them purchase in the mire to allow their blades to fall and take down yet more of the roiling, sadistic plague of pitch-dark flesh. The Sleathe recoil from the attacks and slither further back into shadow. Hissing in furious chorus, they throw out whips of their flesh to strike down soldier after soldier. Cleaving bodies in two and sending heads to fly like wingless birds into the boughs of the trees.
The cries of falling men begins to mingle with the angry hiss of the Sleathes and the sibilant slide of their intermingled bodies. Kitty gives the signal and, from above, Leek unleashes the Matrix. Gold threads lance between the bright green of needle to strike deep, gouging through red eyes into whatever foul mess of organs lies beneath. Margo raises her sword to join the fight, poppy lips parted in sheer bliss at the prospect of battle, but the power within her rebels. She fights it, instead, a lone battle of sinew and will. But it will not back down.
It rises up within her hard and hot as lava in the throat of a volcano and explodes. Pure white light drenches the forest, bleaching the needles yellow as it strikes and floods through to the forest floor, where four and half thousand Sleathe, still so very many, scream a cacophony of agonies. It does not so much burn their flesh as obliterate it, stripping it from tensile bones, soft and malleable as rubber.
Heatless but utterly pure, the light petrifies these racks of bone to ivory sculptures littering the forest floor. As the light recedes, snapping back into Margo’s body with a sound not unlike the unleashing of a bowstring, Kitty nudges a sculpture with the toe of his boot. It collapses to a pile of powdery white ash. Margo drops to the floor beside him, her face pale as the powdered ash of bone on the forest floor.
‘What the fuck was that?’ Rolf asks petulantly as she lands.
Margo doesn’t reply. She’s staring at the endless wasteland of bones, stretching into the forest as far as she can see.
‘I don’t think she knows,’ Kitty says. He touches her shoulder with a claw. ‘Are you OK?’ She doesn’t respond, so he shakes her lightly, allowing the claw to pierce into her flesh, to wake her up. ‘Hey. You OK?’
Margo blinks and looks up at him, her green eyes almost soft from shock. ‘I saw this,’ she says to him. ‘A forest littered with bones. I was going to attack, as we planned, but the power Solomon gave me, it burst out of me. I tried to stop it, but I couldn’t and it did this. Exactly as I saw it’
‘It’s all right,’ he says gently. ‘You will learn how to control it.’
She smiles at him, and he steps back from it. ‘I don’t need to control it,’ she says, and the quiet hunger in her voice resonates like thunder. ‘I need to learn how to control myself.’
Rolf throws down his whips. ‘Oh well,’ he says cheerfully. ‘We’re screwed!’
© Ren Warom 2012