Episode 12: Viktor's Castle Burns
by David Noonan
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The Butcher
The Butcher

I awaken to the sound of screams. Someone is attacking Master Viktor's castle, and they're slaughtering all the guards and worshipers in the servants' quarters below. Lucky for Master Viktor that I'm here to take care of this intrusion. Tamnnis the Dreamer craves battle, and I haven't had a good battle since we got back from Peru.

I slither out of my nest and press my claws against the ancient stone of the keep. I can sense it below me: a vital, jumpy spot amid the background tumult of sensation. It's another abomination, and a powerful one at that.

A grin spreads across my wide mouth, and I snap my jaw in anticipation. When Master Viktor returns from his trip, I can present him with the intruder's head and say, "Look what Tamnnis has done, master, all for your greater glory!"

(Of course I'll consume the rest of it, other than the head. I'm not beyond keeping a little pleasure for myself.)

I start creeping downstairs, trying to dampen my own sorcerous energies. I want the element of surprise. It probably thinks it faces only mortal opposition. But I've already consumed five abominations for the greater glory of Master Viktor -- and my personal pleasure.

There was the byakhee in New Orleans -- my first and toughest battle to date. Then the slimoid nahual down in Mexico, which was a tough foe but easy to outwit. And the vitiosus/eviscerator abomination in the Paris sewer tunnels. I think it would have begged for mercy at the end if its mouths were still working.

The carnival trip netted me the twinned husk that Minerva created. And in Peru, I defeated a mecatl with some help from Master Viktor. And because the mecatl had just killed another one of Minerva's abominations, a merging of Feculus and Glotra, I got to consume that one, too.

That's actually six abominations; I'm getting to be quite the gourmet. And I can sense a seventh meal beyond me in the courtyard. The guards are using guns now from the upper windows. It doesn't sound like it's working -- if a gun works, you can stop shooting it. But mortals tend to keep firing their guns if they don't work. I'm not sure why.

I peer out a lower window, and I stop breathing when I see the monstrous beauty of the abomination before me. It almost hurts my eyes to look at it. It's too terribly wonderful to look at all at once.

But I can focus on parts of it. Its head is obscenely large, with black fur stretched too tightly across the bones of its skull. Curving tusks on either side of its toothy mouth drip gore.

The torso is all thick slabs of muscle under wrinkled gray skin, but the amazing thing is the red scars scattered across its entire body. As I watch, horrid cockroaches crawl out of the wounds, scurry across the abomination's body, then disappear into other wounds. The part of me that used to be Ebriel the Hunter recognizes a fellow demon, one known as "The Butcher." It's good to be part demon -- it's like you're always seeing family members running around out there.

And the abomination's overall shape is simian and twice as tall as me. Its arms look like they could crush me with ease, assuming I can avoid its sharp tusks. And who knows what those roaches do? I silently thank Master Viktor for expunging fear from me, and I grin in anticipation. This will be tougher than the byakhee, to be certain.

Down the corridor, I see four guards massing near a door, ready to burst into the courtyard. Whether they're going to attack or try to escape, I'm not sure. But they give me an opportunity, so I shift my form into something innocuous and human, grab a fire axe from the wall, and join them. It's good to be a shapeshifter.

We're out into the bright sun of the courtyard, and the butcher-abomination spears one human with each tusk. I see the ivory spikes emerge from their backs in a spray of blood, then the abomination rises onto its hind legs and shakes its head, flinging the humans into the courtyard walls. I'm impressed enough to watch as the bodies hit the walls with a wet slap, then leave a red splash on the wall and a bloody trail down to the ground.

Two more humans, then me. The butcher's arms come out, snatch up the humans like playthings, then hold them aloft. It pauses long enough to let them scream, then claps its hands, smashing them together. A gory tangle of limbs falls to the ground, then it charges me.

I move enough to the side that its tusks won't kill me, then shift back to my crocodilian form and leap on its back as it rushes past. It crashes into the castle wall, and my jaws are around its neck. I can taste the stinging heat of demon blood, plus a dozen scents and tastes I don't immediately recognize. My teeth are burrowing deeper into the cords of muscle around its spine, and the blood is spilling out of my mouth and down my chest. This battle might not be as hard as I thought.

And that's when the butcher's skin erupts as hundreds of cockroaches leap out of every sorelike orifice on the abomination's massive frame. They're biting me, and I feel a cool numbness everywhere their tiny mouths feed. They're stealing my strength; a wave of dizziness almost knocks me off the butcher's back.

There's a low rumble from the butcher -- a laugh, perhaps -- and then it whips its back around so fast that I lose my grip and go tumbling into the courtyard. The cockroaches chase after me, a wriggling carpet of brown. So I start climbing the walls of the castle by using my claws to dig holds in the crumbling granite of the castle walls. I'm a faster climber than a cockroach, so I reach the main building's roof in seconds despite the numbness that I'm now feeling in my joints and deep in my bones.

The roof creaks below me as I scurry onto it and look below me. The cockroaches retreat back into the butcher, who moves to a corner of the courtyard and starts climbing. It doesn't climb as well as I do, but it makes steady progress. I summon the last of my sorcerous strength as it reaches the roof opposite me, but it's a pittance. I can't beat this terrible, wonderful creature; I'm just not strong enough. But I think I'm smarter than it is, so I might still please Master Viktor one last time.

I leap up to the base of the north tower, which is a narrow minaret stretching above me, and start climbing. It clambers across the roof to chase me, then starts to ascend.

I reach the conical roof of the north tower, but it's too steep to stand on. I crawl around to the far side and wait, my claws flat against the shingles.

I notice the vibration, faint and tremulous, when the butcher is about halfway up the other side of the tower. The tower is swaying as the abomination climbs, and I can feel the creaking of the timbers and the grind of stone on stone. There's a rhythm to the sway that matches the pace of the butcher's climb.

His arms reach the edge of the roof, and I make my move. I leap over the roof and onto his back. I've subtracted my weight from one side of the tower, then added my weight -- with interest thanks to gravity -- to the other side. The butcher is much heavier than I am, and my impact is enough of a surprise that it loses a grip with one arm, swinging out from the tower while I desperately cling to its back. Then some stones give way and we're falling.

I see the red shingles of the roof rushing toward us below. In a fraction of a moment, we'll hit them and punch right through the roof. We'll probably crash through the next floor, too, landing in one of Master Viktor's laboratories.

We're abominations, so the fall won't kill us. And even if we land on something caustic, poisonous, or aflame in the laboratory, that won't kill us either.

But my last conscious act is to twist my neck and look up at the sky. Above me I see tons of stone -- the collapsing mass of the north tower, its stones following us earthward.

That should do the trick. I hope Master Viktor will be pleased.

To be continued...

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