(A long time coming, forgive me. Many things took my attention, but I'm back on track. And remember, please let me know you like this stuff, us writers like to hear from you once in a while to keep going. - Eric) Chapter 4 I have to tell you, there is something about a horde of blood-thirsty, skin-hungry little devils beating a path toward your misfortune that puts a spark in your pants that shoots all the way up your spine and out your mouth. For my part, I didn’t scream. Well, not the kind of scream an inexperienced young woman makes shyly darting away from your nimble fingers and probing mind. No, mine was a hearty man-scream that had a lot of hate in it: quite simply I hated them for making me scream, the little bastards. I kicked out at the demon nearest me, and a mouth full of teeth clamped down on my leather for my efforts. Personally, I’ve been in this sand long enough to want to wash off for a week—the grit is dusty and dirty and makes a fine muck that sticks to your skin where you sweat. This demon took my sandy, dirty boot into its mouth as if it ate boots for breakfast. I screamed again, this time in pain. My own satisfaction in this pain came when I remembered I had accidentally stepped in a day-old pile of Lacuni shit on the way in here. I rolled onto my back, steadied my bow, and fired an arrow into the thing’s shit-eatin’ grin, missing my foot and breaking off two teeth as the shaft speared out of the back of its head. But there was no rest for me. I heard War causing all sorts of pain in the background, but I didn’t have the pleasure to watch whether it was he or the demons who were getting the worst of it. It’s not that I like seeing him in pain…much, but that old scar across my chest from his sword is a lopsided reminder that sometimes gets a chuckle at his misfortune. Scars aren’t all pain. I started to get to my feet, just as another demon scurried up to me, intent on eating a hole in my face. Another demon rushed up behind him. It was then I realized, to my dismay, that the one I had killed on my boot, hadn’t released its jaws. “War!” I called. Loudly. I didn’t have time to see if he got my message, and I didn’t have time to set another bow. I whirled the tip of my bow hard into the side of the demon’s head that was going for my own. To my surprise, the bow didn’t break. There was a satisfying crack as something in the demon’s head did break, and the demon was sent into the sand with its claws still trying to grasp me. I reversed the swing of my bow, using my other hand to guide it into a thrust that made its way deep into the throat of the next demon. My foot was hurting at this point—even more so than before. My movements had caused the demon’s teeth to grind into my little toe, my dear little piggy, something fierce. I hopped up against the rubble and aged timber of the overhang using my good foot and jammed the end of my bow into the dead miscreant’s face, trying to wedge its jaws open. I had them open just enough to get my foot out when a demon jumped on me from above. How it had managed to get that close without my knowing is a trick I’ll probably never discover; demons speak another language than the rest of us—most of it just some guttural hate interspersed with a few select curse words we men pride ourselves with when we are doing something like banging our fingers with hammers, or having our heads slammed forcibly into the sand by a demon who has just jumped on your back. “Fu—“ I started to say, but my nose hit the sand hard, followed by my lips and the teeth they covered. I felt blood right away, and that made my mind flare with a certain disposition that had me completely at ease with the thought of demons everywhere being strung up and turned inside out. Alive. The thing had my hair. I don’t keep it too long, mind you, just long enough so the women have something to slide their fingers through when moving on to better things. I shifted forward, rolling over my cheek, eyebrow, and finally onto the top of my head. The demon’s hand was caught under me as I flipped over onto my back, arching just enough so that I wouldn’t get a clawed foot in the back as the demon rolled onto its back. This time I felt, or saw with my periphery—it’s difficult to tell in the heat of moments such as these which sense comes into play to save you—another demon as it scrabbled across the sand toward me, low and thinking I was an easy kill. And it could have been right, had I not sent an icy arrow into its eye on my way to turning over on the demon beneath me. I must say, I was rather proud of that particular happenstance. The low rushing demon shot backward and to the side, spinning into a roll that indicated how much pain it was feeling. I flipped my body over, with the demon still holding onto my hair and thus my head, and drew back another frosty arrow, releasing it into the thing’s heart…or where I thought its heart might be. The demon released me quickly and clutched the arrow shaft, the hoar frost coating its fingers as it died. I stood over the little red beast. “That’s how we do it in Kingsport!” I yelled. I got one good huffing chuckle in just as I was hit from behind again. I shot forward, trying to go with the force of the body hitting me and rotated, gaining my balance in time to see War standing not twenty feet from me, a huge grin on his face. I looked behind me and saw a partially wiggling demon who had been mostly cut in half. The smell of its blood was on me and I found no comfort in that; I would have to spend much time grinding sand into my clothing to get the rot of it off me. “And that was supposed to be funny?” I asked Warren, who was now easing down from his loving fury. “I thought so,” Warren said, shrugging. His grin turned into a smile. He leaned to the side just a little and sunk the tip of his scythe just under the jaw of another demon he had killed, dragging the creature along as if he were painting the desert sand red with an improvised mop. I straightened and tested my toe—it was going to take about two weeks minimum before I could step without wincing. Slightly. I would wince a little more once in town when in the vicinity of any delightful woman—they loved to help injured warriors. I could be one of those in a pinch, easily. I exhaled and leaned against the certified wood that had failed me earlier and watched Warren start to collect the little red bodies, or the bigger chunks that were left. Once he gathered about twelve of them, he got out his rope and started tying them in a train, one after the next. “You’re taking them with us?” I asked, raising an elitist eyebrow. I could be elitist at will. Warren nodded, violently pulling a tight knot around the bigger demon’s throat and then looked up at me. “Someone will pay well for them in town.” “I don’t think you understand how…ruffian this will make us look,” I said with slight distaste. In truth, I simply didn’t want to fight off all the flies that would follow us. Warren stood up and thought about that for a second. “I like the sound of that. Ruffian.” I shook my head and limped—slightly—over to the man the demons had been roasting. The man wasn’t a pleasing image. His body had been mostly charred, his face not as much. Demons liked their victims to scream as long as possible before they died. They roasted them feet first, sticking them in the belly or sides with sharp instruments so the victim could focus on something other than the pain from fire as it crept up their body. There was nothing of value on the man. Hey. He was dead. I’m sure he would’ve wanted anyone other than the demons to have what was left after he died. I looked around me as Warren continued tying his trophies together. There was sure to be something of value out here: gold; a gem; a scroll that would bring interest to a wealthy merchant. Something. Anything that would make the pain in my little toe worthwhile. And even if there weren’t any loose treasure, Warren was right; the demons would bring something: a rancid smell; a trail of blood; flies; and, yes, a healthy price to someone willing to put up with all that.