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Fighting With Gods

Deities get bored just like mortal folk. But their pastimes are far more deadly. This short story is about Chansun, an adventurer who finds himself being used as a pawn in a game by some very powerful beings. “The woman spoke, and Chansun fell in love, more deeply and thoroughly than ever before.”
Steve Dean's Short Story Fighting With Gods

Chansun stood perfectly still as the orc warily approached. Hardly daring to breathe, he waited as the orc froze, sniffing the humid air. It seemed to suspect something was wrong, despite the group’s meticulously planned ambush. Chansun could barely see the orc, revealed to him in slices as he watched through the thin gap created by the door he stood behind. The rest of the group was spread out around him in various hiding places. The dungeon was ancient but still solid, with stout doors and very little debris. No one was sure what it was used for, but the many small rooms were ideal for this kind of divide and conquer tactics. Provided the dividing and conquering was done by his group and not the orcs, Chansun reminded himself.

The orc moved again, heading straight towards his position. It wasn’t the largest he’d seen but was still taller and wider than him. It was wearing what looked like human plate armour, dented and rusty, and laced together with leather strips so it would fit. On most other creatures it would have looked ridiculous but on this muscle-bound creature, it was frightening.

Chansun raised his sword ready to give the orc a surprise as soon as it stepped through the doorway. But the orc stopped again, pointing its snout almost directly at him and sniffing loudly. Chansun calmly and patiently held his position, trusting the others to do the same and counting on their support when he made his move. Despite trying not to, he had to breathe and got the full impact of the orc’s stench. It was a mix of dead things, cesspits, and a powerful musky smell he found disturbing on a deep level.

The orc moved a few paces closer until it was almost within the doorway. They had to get it to come inside the room so they could deal with it quickly. It was a scout, sent out from the Warband somewhere deeper inside the dungeon. The orc’s eyes widened, and Chansun knew he’d been discovered. Before he could move the orc shoulder-charged the door, slamming the stout wood into Chansun’s armoured form. He was slammed into the wall behind him as the door drove him backwards. The door hit the front of his helm, just as the helm hit the wall, and Chansun’s vision faded to black.

*            *            *

Chansun stood in a loose group of other beings. They, like him, were men and women with the heads and paws of striped cats. In front of the group stood a towering figure clad in white armour that glowed in the strong sunlight. The figure, a tall and astonishingly beautiful woman, gave off an aura of power so strong Chansun wanted to run away and hide. The woman spoke, and Chansun fell in love, more deeply and thoroughly than ever before. He didn’t understand the words, but the meaning came through as clear as her exotic blue eyes. There was an army of demons nearby, and they needed to be vanquished. The task for this group was to take out a nest of archers in a small ruin on a wooded hill. Both the trees and the fallen stones prevented a direct attack, so Chansun’s squad needed to sneak around the back and take them out, hand to hand.

Chansun felt an almost sexual need to get started and was off and running as soon as the glowing figure released them with a small gesture. The whole group knew exactly where to go, running as fast as they could towards a wooded area. Once inside the trees, they slowed and began instead to sneak around the hill as silent as the creeping dawn. They moved as one, spread slightly apart, moving from cover to cover as if they’d practised many times before. As they skirted the hill and moved further into enemy territory the group slowed further, moving one by one, each checking the way was clear for the next.

Chansun moved up behind a fallen tree, keeping low to the ground. He slowly raised his head and looked up the hill. He could see nothing of the enemy position from this angle, but he knew with absolute certainty they were up there. He was about to move on when a thought appeared in his head. “Wait!”

He froze and returned a thought. “What is it?”

“Something, a movement, at the top of the tree.”

Chansun looked straight towards the tree, picking it out from the others because of the shared thought. He studied it for several seconds, and eventually spotted a slight movement, something was up there, probably a lookout for the archers. As no alarm seemed to have been raised, it didn’t look like they’d been spotted. But to reach the ruin they would need to cross under the tree, and that was impossible without being seen.

“Look for others”, Chansun thought, aware time was moving on and his urge to fight was growing.

Two replies came, and two more shapes hidden in the trees were revealed. They were in a line, carefully placed to cover any approach from this direction. Lacking ranged weapons, the group’s only options were to just run as fast as they could and hope the alarm wasn’t raised in time, or send three people up the trees to take out the lookouts simultaneously. Chansun was all for breaking from cover and charging at the enemy, as were a few others, but the group consensus was to at least try and neutralize the lookouts.

The group split in two. Chansun and the rest moved as close as they could to the ruin without being spotted and prepared to make a charge if they or those attacking the lookouts were spotted. Chansun crouched behind a tree, every muscle tense. The three tree-climbers had successfully reached the bottom of the relevant trees and begun to climb. Every creeping move of the climbers brought Chansun closer to his trigger point, his entire body shaking as he used every scrap of will power to hold himself in place.

Suddenly he was off and running, streaming up the hill with the other attackers. One of the lookouts had spotted a climber, and let out a physical and mental scream. Chansun was halfway up the hill before he’d even registered what had happened. And now, as he drew closer and the archers re-positioned to fend off the attack, Chansun got his first look at the enemy. They weren’t like any archers he’d seen before. They were lizards of some kind, with many legs and demonic eyes. Their bows were part of their bodies, and the arrows were spines pulled from their backs, dripping with acid.

They moved with great speed and were soon shooting their deadly missiles down towards the group. Chansun heard and felt the passing of the arrows at first and second hand. Only the speed and agility of himself and the rest of his band saved them from harm. But as they closed, the demon lizards began to hit their marks, sending a sharp and stinging agony through Chansun’s mind. Each hit was a kill, whether the spines penetrated or not, the acid burning through the skin, and poisoning the blood.

Chansun felt the air of several passing arrows but finally reached the top, his body on fire with battle-lust. He vaulted the first piece of stone he reached and dropped down on the lizard crouched there re-loading. As if he was controlled by an unseen puppet master, Chansun unsheathed his claws and slashed them across the creature’s neck, almost taking off its head. He was off and searching for another target before its body hit the ground.

The ruin was a jumble of fallen stones and saplings, giving him and the handful of survivors the advantage. Arrows smashed into stone and rammed into the trees around him, but none penetrated his skin. Blood-lust coloured his vision with a red haze as lizard after lizard fell beneath his claws. The demon lizards didn’t run, or panic, but just kept firing, their spines regrowing after every shot. Their numbers dwindled quickly as he and his compatriots continued their work.

In the end, it was more bad luck than anything else that finished him off. A lizard fired an arrow that missed him but bounced off a statue, nicking the skin on his shoulder with the smallest of cuts. The agony came on immediately, a searing pain spread around his body and down to his heart. A horn sounded somewhere in the far distance, and the battle was over. Both cat people and lizard demons simply stopped fighting and headed back to their lines. If there had been a winner, and who that was, Chansun had no idea. The agony faded as he died, a wave of mental energy washed over him, taking away his pain, his cares, his needs.

*            *            *

…orc moved a few paces closer until it was almost within the doorway. They had to get it to come inside the room so they could deal with it quickly. It was a scout… Chansun shook his head as a sudden weakness flowed over him. All colour was missing from the world, there was a stench he hadn’t noticed before, and his ears were ringing. Something had just happened, something… he was… The thought faded, along with the weakness. The sword in his hand had never felt so light, and he suddenly knew what the orc was going to do. The orc’s eyes widened, Chansun stepped back along the wall and swung his sword to where the orc was going to be. The orc hit the door, which slammed into the wall just as the sword blade bit into its neck, taking its head clean off. It fell to the ground in a clatter of rusty iron, the head blinked twice, then was still.

A shape peeled from the shadows. A small man approached Chansun.

“How did you do that? It was as if you knew what it was going to do.”

Chansun patted Evurn on the shoulder. “Just a lucky guess.” He sheathed his sword, it did feet lighter.

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