Bodies like machines stutter, turn, twist and, in falling, collapse to pieces under the hefted might of blades both steel and AM. But for the thud of attack to flesh and bone, the gasp of breath, the grunt of effort, there is no sound. It is a silent battle, heaving beneath a looming sky, bereft of colour. Beneath it, the ground drowns with blood, mixed to thick paste by sand and dirt, a filthy remnant, nothing more.
Opposing forces clash in violent bursts as though ground has become sky and resonates to thunder. Blue sparks of AM blades, white sparks from metals, the intermittent soft rain of red, warm as midsummer, and they are drenched. Skin painted battle crimson, blood and sweat running free, drying to crusts and restraining movement. For these few warriors battling for footholds, their boots sliding in the slick ground, their muscles strained to snapping point, it is almost too great a burden.
And still the enemy flows toward them. A torrent. A flood. It threatens to crash over them, bury them in a sea of bodies. Faces are masks, stained and strained to torturous visages as a thousand and more eyes narrow at the incoming horde, judging, counting, trying not to flash signals of the fear tapping a Morse code on the beats of their hearts. All but five hearts. These five beat regular and slow and easy, speeding only now and then in anticipation of the battle to come.
Mired in mud, Margo raises a feral green gaze to scan the crowded horizon, and grins. ‘Oh look,’ she says to Rolf, wedged in tight next to Moe a few metres down from where she holds ground. ‘More friends are coming to play. Do you think we should tell them we’ve broken all our other toys?’
Rolf’s return smile is a half circle of blood-smeared teeth, shining bright as the moon. ‘Oh I think not. They might not want to play.’
She laughs, throwing back her head to expose her gore-flecked throat. Beside her Captain-General Wade gapes, hollow-eyed with incredulous terror. ‘What the hell are we doing?’ he demands in querulous tones. ‘You destroyed the Mengel fleet with a whistle, carved a pathway through the ocean with a smile and burnt the witches mid-air with a blown kiss. Why now do we stand and fight? What hope have we without your magicks?’
Margo leans across and rests her elbow on his shoulder. ‘My dear pet,’ she says gently. ‘That was necessity. This is not. This is something else entirely.’
‘What?’ he all but screams in her face.
She pats his cheek, indulgent, as if he is a child. ‘Fun. This is for fun.’ She blinks at his shout of fury and leans back to regard him with a hazy look of concern. ‘Aren’t you having fun?’
Wade pushes her away and gestures at his men, exhausted and grimy, their strength all but spent. ‘Do they look like they’re having fun?’
Margo pouts, but her pupils are large, the irises around them dark as heavy cloud. ‘Well there’s no need to be rude. All you have to do is ask.’
Wade closes his eyes and sighs. ‘Margo.’
Margo steps away and leans on her blade, expectant. ‘Yes, my dearest pet?’
‘Would you please use your magicks on the approaching enemy?’
She tips her head to the side like some rangy, tatty-feathered pecker of carrion, some graveyard sentinel, it gives her an unhinged look that Wade feels lies perilously close to whatever torrid energies rage at her centre. ‘What would you have me do?’
Wade sighs again. ‘Anything. Just get rid of them. You can fight forever and never tire, so can your companions, but my men and I are done.’
Now Margo heaves a sigh. ‘As you wish.’
She lifts a finger, pointed as a spear. The ground beneath their feet, thick and rancid, shifts and begins to boil. Wade and his troops lurch backwards in horror as blood unravels from mud in glutinous rivulets, sliding around their feet and legs like broad, sinuous serpents, their heavy slide causing cries of unbridled alarm. Glistening, foul, these bulky ropes of gelatinous blood coil and undulate, appearing almost eager in their movements. They are waiting.
At the flick of Margo’s finger they rear and dive beneath the sodden ground. Moments later, screams from the approaching wave of enemies split the air clean and sharp as lightning bolts. Each new scream is a direct shot to the nerves, searing them to char, to cinder, and leeching the skin of Wade and his men to ashen hue.
They watch in mute horror as distant snakes of blood wrench their enemy into the ground, smothering them, swallowing them whole, tearing flesh from bone and growing ever larger, ever stronger with each new death. The screams turn to frantic war cries as those, as yet unharmed, draw blade against the blood, but it is futile. That which does not live cannot die. All too soon their enemy is gone from the horizon, leaving only silence and blood, great lakes of blood upon the flats.
Wade swallows bile. ‘Was that necessary?’ he asks, uncaring of the quiver in his voice.
‘Necessary?’ Margo shrugs. ‘No.’
‘Because you asked.’
‘I will never ask it of you again.’
Margo pats him on the shoulder. ‘You will,’ she says softly, certainly, a small, sad smile playing with the corners of her luscious cherry lips. ‘Because there will always be things you can’t do that I can.’ She looks across at Kitty, who’s already looking at her, his gaze knowing, sadness seeping through it like blood through peat. ‘That’s what I was made for.’
© Ren Warom 2013