Thursday, August 4, 2011


This website is chock full o' good stuff. KINGS OF THE NIGHT celebrates the sword and sorcery genre with free stories in that grand tradition. Here is one of those stories.

Poet was barely conscious of his flight until he burst out the front entrance of Krovetch's tower and fell headlong down the stone steps where he tumbled into the street.

He shook his head, dazed for a moment. Then panic gripped him as he remembered the demon on his tail. He turned and saw Sirtago backing down the steps, swinging and slashing at the fiery demon as it slowly approached.

Sirtago's blade swept uselessly through the demon's body. Tiny flames licked and danced on the steel as it swept back and forth in great arcs.

Death seemed imminent for the both of then, and Poet was frightened, but it was Jeswanna's trapped soul that he worried most about.

* * *

It was a mere three days ago that Sirtago's mother, the Empress Viviana, had summoned both of them.

Sirtago's mother lived in an annex of her husband's palace. Entrance to the palace was forbidden to all except the Emperor Joasim and his trusted attendants. The annex housed the Emperor's family and was used for occasions of state and for certain ceremonies. Most of the time it was Sirtago's home.

Sirtago's mother was waiting for her son in the main hall. Sirtago thrust the heavy door open roughly, letting it bang loudly as it opened. The Empress flashed a look of annoyance at Sirtago's open display of temper. "Come with me," she commanded to her son, then she shifted her gaze to Poet. "You as well." Then she turned and moved into the inner chambers.

Sirtago and Poet followed the Empress through the courtyard with its fountains and into the rear chambers. At the door to the rearmost chamber she stopped and fixed her son with a baleful stare. "You must be strong," she said.

Poet glanced at his friend and, as usual, shuddered inwardly. Sirtago's ruined face -- his missing eye and the tooth that jutted between his lips like a tusk -- was a fearsome sight which Poet never was able to get used to despite having been the closest of Sirtago's friends since both were young children.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Sirtago sneered at his mother.

The Empress said nothing but opened the door and entered. Sirtago and Poet followed.

The sight that awaited them made Poet's breath catch in his throat. A figure crouched in the middle of the floor, naked and grunting like an animal. It was Sirtago's younger sister, Jeswana.

* * *

Jeswana was a vision of loveliness, a gift to the prosaic ground from the vaulted heavens above. She was the venerated object of idolatry in Poet's cosmos. He had adored her since they were children together. As they grew, so too did her beauty and Poet was captivated by it, as were many young men of the Trigassan Empire.

So it was a profound shock for Poet to see her now, crouched in the dark, nearly naked, clad only in scraps of her nightclothes, covered in her own filth and grunting like a wild animal.

"Your sister has been bewitched," the Empress said. "It is dark sorcery."

Jeswana's face was contorted into an angry grimace. She glared mistrustfully at the new arrivals, her lower jaw stuck out fiercely. Her face and hair were caked with an oily looking substance. In the dark Poet could not identify it until Sirtago spoke.
"She's covered in blood! Has she injured herself?"

"No," the Empress replied. She gestured to the corner where poet could see a black-robed figure crumpled in the corner. The figure was lying overtop a large pool of black-looking blood. "Issanni tried to clean her up. She tore out his throat."
Issanni was a gelding. He'd been Jeswana's guardian since she was a little girl.
"Poor Issanni," Poet said, thickly.

Sirtago turned to his mother. "How did this happen?"

"That caravan from that came through two days ago," the Empress said. "There was a young man among their company. His name was Krovetch. Issanni told me that Jeswana had invited him to her quarters. She lay with him that night and he left with the sunrise. Jeswana slept all the next day and night. When she awoke…" the Empress gestured toward the pathetic figure of Jeswana, "… she was like this."
Sirtago's eyes narrowed. "Krovetch…" he muttered, then shook his head. "I don't remember him"

"Of course you don't remember him!" the Empress suddenly exploded. "You don't remember anything that doesn't involve drinking, gambling or wenching!"

"I remember him," Poet said. "He arrived with the performers. Don't you remember the fire eaters?"

Sirtago scowled. "Yes," he said. "I remember the dancing girls! The ones who…"
The Empress shook her head in disgust. "Of course you remember those harlots!" she said.

Sirtago gave his mother a wounded look. "They were very flexible."

"Krovetch wore dark robes covered in symbols. He didn't perform, but seemed to be in charge somehow," Poet supplied. Krovetch had been darkly attractive, just the sort that would catch Jeswana's eye. He saw her in his imagination, batting her lashes at him and inviting him back to her quarters. "She laid with him?"

"Jeswana is only a shrinking violet in those mawkish verses you write about her," the Empress said, rounding on Poet. "We must deal with what is real, now!"

Sirtago nodded. "So we find Krovetch and kill him."

The Empress shook her head in frustration. "No! You can't kill him. How can you get him to reverse the spell if you kill him? You are so thick sometimes!"

"What would you have me do?" Sirtago shouted at his mother, his frustration mounting. "Run after him and ask him if he'd mind reversing the spell? Perhaps I'll invite him back to dine with us as well?"

"If that's what it takes, then you'll do it," the Empress said. "I don't care how you do it, but you must find him and get him to reverse the spell and you must do it before the ceremony of 

"Why before then?" Sirtago asked.

"Because your father makes an appearance at that ceremony. If he sees your sister isn't there he will ask where she is and some fool will probably tell him the truth. That will likely kill him. You know how frail his health is. Do you want to be Emperor that badly?"

"No!" Sirtago shouted, a note of real panic in his voice. Poet knew that Sirtago did not want to become Emperor at all. He would be forced to marry and then he would spend the rest of his days in seclusion in the palace forbidden by ancient law to have contact with any of his subjects save his trusted attendants.

Sirtago lived in mortal fear of his father's passing. On the day of the Emperor's death Sirtago's life of princely pleasure would end. It was a fate that he could not bear to contemplate.

Ramijan is only seven days away," Sirtago said. "Krovetch has two days' lead. He's likely going to Surunna. I can probably catch up with him in three."

"Let's hope you're right," the Empress said. "Let's also hope you can persuade him. Take Poet with you. Perhaps his verses will sway Krovetch if your sword cannot."

* * *

Poet and Sirtago left that evening. They took the two swiftest horses from the Emperor's stables and they took as many provisions as they could carry.

Poet struggled to keep up to Sirtago's pace as they rode north out of Trigassa and across the wild lands. They rode through hot days under the burning sun and cold nights under the pale moon until they reached the northern city of Surunna.

Saddle sore, tired and in a foul temper, Sirtago dismounted and thumped up to the main city gate. It was late evening and the entrances to the city were closing. The main gate had two guards who were to stand watch and challenge all who approached.

It had been a long night and Poet could see the guards were tired. They glared warily at Sirtago as he approached but continued to lean against the posts on either side of the approach to the city. When Sirtago got to within a few feet, one of the guards let his pike drop in a deceptively lazy movement, until the point stopped dead and unwavering mere inches away from Sirtago's chest.

"Wat' choo want, ugly?" the guard with the pike growled. The comment elicited the merest grin from his companion but it stirred a predictable anger in Sirtago.

"I am Ka Sirtago, Prince of the Trigassan Empire." He declared. "I have business in your city."

"Do you, now?" the guard with the pike drawled. "What is the nature of your business? Is it gamblin'? Debauchery? Perhaps a bit o' whorin'?"

Sirtago glared at the guard. "My business is none of yours," he growled, menacingly.

"Well, that's where you're wrong, lad," the other guard said, standing up straight from his leaning position with a great show of effort. "We're the First Surunnan Guard. Note the word; 'First'. We are the first line of defense for our fair city. We decide who comes in and who stays out. If you want to visit our fair town…"

"I don't want to visit your stinking, lousy town," Sirtago growled abruptly. "If I didn't have important business within your walls, I would give this cesspit as wide a berth as possible!"

"Sirtago, please…!" Poet protested.

"Shut up!" Sirtago roared, rounding on Poet.

"Fifteen krineri," the guard with the pike said.

"What?" Sirtago said, turning back to him.

"I'll let you in for fifteen krineri, Ugly Man." The guard repeated. "Unless, of course, you decide to make trouble."

Sirtago turned to Poet, a confused look on his scarred face.

"Twenty cereste," Poet supplied the exchange from Trigassan to Surunnan coin.
A look of anger darkened Sirtago's already enraged features. He pulled out his pouch and counted twenty cereste into his palm. It was money he'd won betting in the combat pit.

The guard gave the Trigassan coins a disgusted look, but threw them into his own coin pouch anyway. He held up his pike, tipped his helmet to both of them and stood aside to let them go by.

Poet was thankful that Sirtago had decided not to make any trouble.

* * *

Surunna was, to Poet's way of thinking, a stinking cesspit of a city. His nose was subject to all manner of assault as they made their way though the city gates and onto the main street. Animal dung, rotting refuse, a cacophony of different cooking odours, as well as a rank odor of unwashed humanity forced Poet to pull his collar up over his mouth and nose.

Sirtago wrinkled his nose in obvious distaste at the smell, but continued on up the street. "How will we find them if they are here?" Sirtago asked.

"A caravan filled with entertainers would likely cause some comment, even in a city of this size. Perhaps we should ask..."

"Good idea," Sirtago interrupted. He had spied a tavern and was heading towards it.

"I meant..." Poet began, but stopped himself. To try to argue Sirtago out of a tavern was an impossible task.

The tavern was much like all other taverns Poet had ever seen. It was dark and smoky. The crowd within was small and unusually subdued. The faces about him looked haggard and weary. He recognized dress from all parts of the empire, even from as far north as Cundy and Falassa. Poet saw two barmaids. Both wore sullen, listless expressions and were quite ugly.

Sirtago moved immediately to the long bar. "A tankard of your finest ale for my companion and I," he shouted. Poet saw several sets of eyes flick in their direction.

"A tankard of our finest is three krineri," the barman said, gruffly.

Sirtago scowled at the barman. Poet could see he was trying to do the exchange calculation in his head.

"Four cereste," Poet supplied. "Each."

"Pfah!" Sirtago spat, but dug in his coin purse and threw eight cereste on the bar. The barman scooped it up with a disdainful gesture and poured two meager tankards.

Sirtago picked up his tankard and turned to face the bar. One of the barmaids was approaching at that moment and as she caught sight of Sirtago's ruined face her eyes widened and she let out a scream.

Sirtago merely scowled at the wench as the tavern erupted into laughter. "Isn't he a handsome one, Marata?" a wag from the back of the room called out. "A fine catch! What beautiful offspring the two of you would produce!" Marata had no comment, merely scurried behind the bar to get away from Sirtago.

Sirtago scowled and raked the room with his one eye. The laughter died down and soon the tavern sank back into its former quiet.

"We seek a convoy of three caravans," Sirtago announced to the room. "Carrying a troupe of entertainers as well as a man named Krovetch."

At the mention of the name the house became deathly silent. Poet could suddenly feel the collective held breath around him. No one moved or said anything.

Sirtago scowled from face to face. "Well," he growled. "Do any of you know where we can find this Krovetch?"

The tavern patrons merely stared back at Sirtago, their tongues still and their eyes narrowed.

"In the middle of town you will see a tower," a muffled voice from behind the bar. The barmaid that Sirtago had frightened, Marata, stood up. She kept her eyes downcast so as not to look at Sirtago "decorated in ebony and gold. There you will find Krovetch." She looked up then and Poet could see fear in her eyes. "But pray, do not seek him out. He is wicked beyond description!"

Sirtago let out a laugh. "What have I to fear from a simple entertainer?" Sirtago asked.

Marata cast her eyes down to the floor again "Seek him and find out." she muttered, then scampered back behind the bar.

Sirtago finished his tankard in one long gulp, then slammed the empty container on the bar and stalked out. Poet took a final sip of his and followed Sirtago out.

"That swill wasn't worth four cereste," Sirtago said outside in the street.
"How much do we have left?" Poet asked.

"I don't know," Sirtago shook his head. "Come. We'll find this Krovetch quickly and be done with this city."

* * *

They walked through darkened city streets for an hour before finally spying the tower. Poet was tired and wanted to sit. He dragged himself after Sirtago as he bounded up the tower's stone staircase and pounded on the door.

Poet reached the top of the steps just as the front door opened, illuminating the steps and Sirtago with torchlight from within. An old, gray-haired man stuck his head out to see who had disturbed the night. When he caught sight of Sirtago he backed away, startled.

"We wish to see your master," Sirtago demanded. "We wish to see Krovetch!"
The old man shook his head. "The household sleeps!" he croaked. "Come back in the morning!"

Sirtago's eyes blazed at this and his hand went to the hilt of his sword. Poet felt a panic grip him. He was suddenly certain that Sirtago would kill the old man and barge into the house and then, prince or no, he and Poet would be arrested by the First Surunnan Guard and thrown into a dungeon and left to rot.

Before Sirtago could draw his blade, a calm, smooth voice came from within. "Let them enter, Tiatus," it said.

The old man moved slowly into the house, backing away from the advancing Sirtago. Poet followed behind and soon both were in the entrance hall of the house of Krovetch.

There stood Krovetch himself. He was of medium height dark haired, olive skinned and not unhandsome. He looked young, but carried himself with an authority that came unmistakably from an older age. His dark, keen eyes lighted on Sirtago. He showed no sign of fright or disgust at Sirtago's features, he merely stared intently into Sirtago's one good eye.

"Ka Sirtago," he drawled. "I am pleased beyond measure to make the acquaintance of another member of the royal house of Trigassa."

Sirtago glared at him darkly. "You bewitched my sister, you son of a whore!" he shouted.

"Ah, the fair Jeswana." He said, unperturbed by Sirtago's wrath. "I spent a few fleeting hours in her company, true, but I swear I did not bewitch her." He said, a small smile playing on his lips. "Is she unwell?"

Sirtago suddenly let loose like a hound after a rabbit. He rushed at Krovetch, piercing the air with a full-throated cry of hate. Sirtago managed to grab hold of Krovetch's robes before two mighty thewed guards leaped out from behind Krovetch and forced Sirtago back. Sirtago strained against them to no avail. Soon the two guards had him pinned to the floor.

Unperturbed by Sirtago's attempt on him, Krovetch sauntered over and crouched down beside the struggling Sirtago. "That was foolish," he said quietly. He reached down and touched Sirtago's hair almost tenderly. Sirtago snarled and tried to bite the offending fingers.

Poet stood rooted to the spot, trapped between his desire to help his friend and fear for the safety of his own person.

Krovetch stared at Sirtago's ruined face. He tsk'd. "Such a shame for a young man to be marked so," he said. "You've been this way from birth, so I've been told."
Sirtago let out a low growl and struggled harder against the guards.

Krovetch shook his head. "Such anger towards the world, and who can blame you? Saddled with a horrible visage, trapped by the responsibility of the crown -- you are stronger and braver than most any man in all the Southern Kingdoms, yet you are bested at every turn by your mother, the Empress." He sighed, as if in pity. "How far can you go? How far can you run to get away from yourself?"

Sirtago's his eyes spat venomous hatred towards Krovetch. "You laid with my sister!" he spat. "You used black sorcery… you… you bewitched her…"

Krovetch tossed back his head and laughed. "Laid with your sister?" he said. "I?"
He shook his head. He grasped his robe, unfastening it and letting it fall to the floor. He stood naked in his own hallway. Sirtago stared at him with an expression of horror twisting his features.

Where his genitals should have been, Krovetch displayed a misshapen lump of scars. He possessed nothing of his manhood whatsoever.

The sight shocked Poet. He'd heard of wizards who had sacrificed body parts for dark powers, but he'd never seen anything like this. He tried to look away, but not before he noticed a second scar in the center of Krovetch's chest -- a mark -- a strange glyph.

"How could I have laid with your sister?" Krovetch asked. "How could I lay with anyone?" He shook his head. "You accuse the wrong man. I did nothing to your precious sister. Nothing." He stared at Sirtago for a moment more, then turned to his guard. "Throw them out," he ordered. "Both of them."

* * *

The guards followed Krovetch's orders to the letter. Poet's breath was knocked out of him when he landed face first into the street outside the tower. Sirtago received a similar treatment and his body made a loud thump when it hit the ground.

Sirtago got up from the ground, making pained noises as he did so. He glared at Poet. "This is your fault!" he growled.

"Why is it my fault?" Poet asked.

"You didn't help me!" Sirtago said. "You stood there and did nothing. You just let those two guards overpower me!"

Poet pursed his lips but said nothing. He felt a stab of guilt. "I could not have overpowered one of those guards," he protested.

"No, but if you had tried, you might have distracted one of them long enough for me to get free, then I could have…"

"…killed Krovetch?" Poet supplied. "Then where would we be? In a dungeon somewhere, no doubt."

Sirtago made an angry noise and started slapping the dust from his clothes.
"Did you see the mark?" Poet asked. "On Krovetch's body?"

"That was hideous," Sirtago shuddered. "His loin snake and nuts -- completely gone."

"No. I meant the other mark," Poet said. "The one on his chest. It was some sort of symbol."

Sirtago shook his head. "I didn't notice. I'm going to see if there's another way in."
He said, and walked off around the base of the tower.

Poet drew his dagger and drew the symbol on the ground from memory. There was something familiar about it, but Poet couldn't quite figure out what.

Soon Sirtago came back. "There's a low window round the other side of the tower," he said. "Come and help me. Maybe we can break in."

Poet pointed to the symbol in the dirt. "Take a look at this. Does this look familiar to you?"

Sirtago glanced at the symbol. "It says 'man'" he said. "Come and help me!"

"No it doesn't," Poet said, shaking his head. "It…" he peered closer. Sirtago was right. He could see the Trigassan symbol for 'man' in the glyph. It was superimposed over another figure.

Poet quickly re-drew the glyph without the elements that made up the 'man' glyph. What he was left with was a partial glyph. He stared hard at it, trying to make sense of it.

"Poet, come on!" Sirtago said. "Stop playing around and help me!"

"This is important!" Poet protested.

"I don't know why I brought you along!" Sirtago exploded. "I should have brought Jacksar. He could have overpowered those guards and I would be in that tower by now!"

"Jacksar is as stupid as a worm. He'd have killed the city guards, Krovetch and his household and you'd both be in a dungeon by now. Ah! I've got it!" Poet grabbed his dagger and completed the glyph. "That's why I had such trouble with it. It's from the old tongue. It's the symbol for Gehnesh."

"What's Gehnesh?" Sirtago asked.

"It means 'demon', but I think originally it was the name of a specific demon. It's odd that the two symbols would be together like that."

Sirtago shook his head impatiently. "He's a sorcerer. Who can fathom such a mind? Come and help me break into this window!"

Sirtago led Poet around the far side of the tower where he had spied a window.
Poet shook his head. "We can't reach that," he announced.

"We can if you stand on my shoulders," Sirtago said.

Sirtago put his back against the wall and Poet climbed up until he was face-to-face with the darkened window. He could see nothing inside.

He reached up and pushed experimentally. With a low creak the window opened inwards. Poet climbed up the sill and thrust himself through the opening.

He crouched in the dark, waiting for his eyes to adjust. From the pale moonlight outside he could see that he was in a small bedchamber. Directly in front of him was a bed with rumpled bedclothes. Poet decided to use those. He would tie one end to the bed and throw the other end of the window to allow Sirtago to climb up.
Poet pulled the sheets from the bed. They were still warm.

Suddenly the air was split with a high pitched screech. Poet saw movement to his left and dived over the bed. He turned to face his assailant.

It was Tiatus, Krovetch's old retainer. He had managed to lift a long sword over his head and bring it down to where Poet had been crouching, but the old man hadn't the strength for another try.

Poet leaped on the old man, who managed to cry out once before Poet was able to gag him with one end of the bed sheet, and wrap him tightly with the rest of it. Once the old man was secure, Poet tied the second sheet to the bedpost and flung the other end out of the window.

Sirtago needed help squeezing himself through the opening once he had climbed up to the window, but soon they were standing together in the small bed chamber.
"The old man made a lot of noise," Poet said. "I don't know if anyone heard."

Sirtago nodded. "They probably did," he said and drew his sword. With a roar, Sirtago kicked opened the door and went charging out of the room.

"Sirtago, NO!" Poet shouted after him, but it was too late.

Poet rushed after Sirtago. Outside the chamber was a narrow flight of curving steps. He could hear Sirtago crashing up the steps above him. He drew his own sword and followed him up.

Two flights up he found the body of a guard still leaking a crimson river onto the stone. Poet leaped over the body. He heard Sirtago's roar and a loud crash.
Poet found the broken door and leaped through. It led into a large and ornate chamber with colorful hangings and marble columns.

Sirtago stood in the middle of the room, his sword drawn and bloody. In the corner was a large bed. In the middle of it sat Krovetch. Surrounding him were his performers, men and women, in various states of undress. Krovetch himself was similarly naked, his scarred loins in clear evidence.

"You did something to my sister!" Sirtago was shouting. "I know you did! Remove the spell or die!"

Krovetch merely sat, staring at Sirtago with an amused smile. There was a commotion behind Poet. He turned to see the doorway fill with Krovetch's guards.
"It's alright," Krovetch said to his guards. They halted just inside the doorway.
Krovetch turned back to Sirtago.

"You are tedious," Krovetch said, still smiling. "What can I do? What can I offer you to make you go away? Perhaps a new face?"

"You mock me, you insulting ..."

"I assure you I meant no insult, and I am perfectly sincere." Krovetch sat up and placed his hands on his knees. "I could make you handsome. I could give you a visage that would turn heads and enslave women's hearts."

Sirtago narrowed his eyes at Krovetch suspiciously, but Poet noticed that his grip slackened on his sword.

"Would you like that?" Krovetch asked. "Shall I conjure you a new look? Who would know you then? Who would know that you were the son of the Trigassan Empire? Think of it! You would be free. Free to go anywhere... free from royal responsibilities. You would be handsome and strong and could have the world at your feet!"

Sirtago's stance began to falter. Poet could see him begin to weave back and forth.

"I could give you all of that," Krovetch continued. "All you would have to do in exchange would be to leave me alone. What of that?"

Sirtago dropped his sword. He nodded and took a step closer to Krovetch.

Poet could not believe it. Sirtago was going to agree. He would accept Krovetch's bargain and he would pay for it with his royal birthright and his sister's life.

"What about Jeswana!" Poet shouted. The shout was enough to startle Sirtago out of his reverie. Poet pulled out his dagger and threw it at Krovetch.

The dagger struck Krovetch in his neck, eliciting a pained cry and gout of blood, which spattered his bedmates.

The guards behind him immediately grabbed poet. One raised his sword in preparation of a blow that would dispatch Poet.

Sirtago let out a great cry and flew among the guards, his sword slashing back and forth. Had Poet not already been forced to his knees by the guards his head would have been among those that now littered the floor of Krovetch's bedchamber.
Now the performers let out strangled cries and as one they leaped on Sirtago, clawing and biting. Sirtago let out a fierce roar and hacked and slashed at the naked figures. Limbs and bodies flew wildly through the air. Blood arced and spattered the walls, the floor, the hangings and the pillars.

Suddenly a great rushing sound filled the air. Poet looked over at the bed.
Krovetch was moving spasmodically -- almost undulating. His body began to glow red. Poet saw the mark on Krovetch's chest begin to change. The glyph representing 'man' faded and the other mark, Gehnesh began to grow larger.
Krovetch expanded. His flesh melted away and burst into flame. Poet watched in horror as another figure, a red, burning monstrosity, climbed out of Krovetch's body.

Poet screamed as he watched the demon slowly climb from the bed to the floor. The bed was burning and soon the flames leaped to the hangings. The chamber began to fill with an acrid black smoke.

"Sirtago, RUN!" Poet shouted and ran out the chamber's ruined door.

Poet dashed out of the tower and stumbled into the street. He turned to see Sirtago backing down the steps, swinging his sword uselessly at the approaching demon, stumbling briefly on the final step, before planting his feet on the dirt of the street. Poet could see that Sirtago was beginning to tire. The demon was relentlessly moving closer and closer and Sirtago's swings were slowing.

The demon laughed and suddenly a spout of flame leaped from its nether regions, coalescing into a huge, fiery phallus. Sirtago's sword cut through the thrusting member as uselessly as it passed through the monster's body.

Poet suddenly knew that it was the demon that had lain with Jeswana. She had invited Krovetch to her chamber. Perhaps he had let her see his scarred loins. Perhaps he had laughed at her horrified reaction before allowing himself to be taken over by the demon.

It was the fiery phallus that had violated his beloved Jeswana. Poet pictured it thrusting into her, stealing her human soul, piece by piece. Perhaps Krovetch could feel the violation vicariously, through the demon. A trade-off, Poet thought -- poor compensation for the price that he'd paid to become a powerful sorcerer.
An anger -- an unreasoning hatred -- entered poet then. He stood, suddenly filled with a rage that shook his body like an earthquake. He looked at the demon, trying to bore all of his rage and hate through his eyes and into the horrid creature's chest.

The mark. It glowed red in his chest. Suddenly Poet had a flash of an idea.
"The Mark!" Poet shouted to Sirtago who was still slashing at the demon with ever-smaller strokes. "Thrust into the mark!"

Sirtago did not react at first. But then he stopped swinging, turned and raced a few feet away from the demon, giving himself a few precious moments of thinking time.

Sirtago turned, his sword at the ready.

"The Mark!" Poet shouted again.

Sirtago raised his sword and with a mighty bellow he thrust his sword forward, spearing the demon in the chest exactly through the glowing glyph.

The demon let out a blood-curdling shriek and fell back. The blade stayed stuck to the hilt in the demon's chest.

The demon writhed and flailed wildly on the stone steps. It let out a scream that pierced the night. Poet covered his ears against the hideous noise that threatened to drive him mad.

As the demon flailed it began to shrink. The fire slowly dimmed and went out. All that was left was Krovetch's naked body, lying on the steps with Sirtago's sword buried in its chest.

* * *

Krovetch's tower burned all through the night. Before long the city of Surunna was awake and staring in horrid fascination as the black tower burned and crumbled. No one got buckets or made any attempt to put out the flames until the tower collapsed to the ground, and even then it was only to stop it from spreading to other buildings nearby.

Poet and Sirtago found their steeds at the tavern where they had left them. Weary and spent, they remounted and made their way back to Trigassa.

"Would you really have taken what Krovetch offered?" Poet asked after they had ridden out of the city. "Would you have given up the throne and your sister's soul?"
Sirtago gazed at Poet with an unreadable expression. Sirtago did not answer, he just kept riding.

* * *

Sirtago and Poet dragged themselves back into the royal annex, tired, dirty and sore. As they moved from the entrance hall into the kitchen Poet's heart leaped at the sight of Jeswana, sitting calmly at a table and eating a breakfast of dried fruit.
She pouted at Sirtago. "Where have you been?" she asked, petulantly. "You almost missed the ceremony of Ramijan."

Sirtago stopped and stared at his sister. "It's today?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied, as if he was thick.

Sirtago shook his head and stalked off to his chambers. "Don't count on me taking part," he said. "I'm going to bed."

"Mother will be furious!" she called after him, but Sirtago did not stop. Jeswana turned back to her plate before noticing Poet still standing there, staring at her. "What's wrong with you?" she asked.

Poet could not help but smile widely at the vision of loveliness that sat before him, whole and hearty. "Nothing," he said, sitting down across from her. "Is there any more fruit left?"

Copyright © Jack Mackenzie

Jack Mackenzie has had stories published in the anthologies Sails and Sorcery from Fantasist Enterprises and Magistria and in the upcoming Magistria 2 from Ricasso Press. He has had stories in Raygun Revival Magazine, and Neo-Opsis Magazine.

He has also had several stories published in Dark Worlds Magazine.

This story was originally published in the anthology Kings of the Night 2. The two main characters, Ka Sirtago and Poet, have appeared in several other stories:

"The Sound from the Deep" in Sails and Sorcery 
about which Kimberly Lundstrom at said
"Its strength is well-described action... a fun “buddy” escapade."
and "Pieces in a Game" published inKings of the Night 3.

You can find more stories at the KINGS OF THE NIGHT page.

You can find more stories about Ka Sirtago and Poet in the pages of DARK WORLDS MAGAZINE.

I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?

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