(I haven’t posted any fiction for a while, so I thought I would. I found this when I was cleaning out my files, I wrote it about three years ago when I was going through a swords-and-sorcery phase.)

Smoke rolled over the Dread Plains, thick and dark as ancient wine.  The rising mists mingled with it, acrid gray and smothering white blending into a colorless wall.  Shapes danced amid the vapors; here a face, there a hand. The scent of death and blood hung like cheap perfume in the cool morning air. It was not a good time to be walking the world.

General Tobias, Warmaster of The Horde of Devils and victor of ten thousand battles, sat resplendent in his dragon-skin armor; flakes of dried blood drifted down around him like snow with each movement his fearsome war-beast made. Like a cresting ocean wave, his Horde surged forward, trampling the tall yellow grass and screaming curses to the steel-cold sky. Armor gleamed and swords flashed, teeth and talons glowing red against dark flesh.

The city before them had high walls of clean gray stone, unmarked by soot or rust. It rose quite abruptly from the gently rolling plains like the forgotten stump of some long-vanished tree. The gates were thick oak, bound with serviceable bands of black iron and lacking the bristle of spikes most of its brethren sported. No towers protruded from the wall, no guards walked its length. To the Horde of General Tobias, fresh from many victorious battles, it was a ripe fruit begging to be plucked.

When word had come from his scouts that a city had been spotted, he had given the order to attack at once. This was The Horde of Devils; they feared nothing and no one, living or dead. No simple city, walled or no, could stand against them. He did not think to question where this city had come from; when last he had passed this way there had been nothing but the grass and the mists.

Thundering across the yellow plain, screaming fearsome curses in a dozen languages, the Horde was a sight to turn the blood of even the strongest man to ice. The city lay silent in the early morning, unwary and unsuspecting. A fiendish grin split the scarred face of the General. This would be an easy morning’s work. As they drew neared to the city, a small door opened in the massive gates, admitting a single figure dressed in the same shades of gray as the city wall. It was small and slender, rubbing its eyes and yawning like a child newly woken. Tobias laughed and signaled his men to slow. They formed a semi-circle around the gates, an ugly wall bristling with steel and malice. The general raised the visor of his helmet to get a better look at his adversary.

It was a child; a young boy (or girl with boyishly short hair) with the clear, wide face of the common born.

“What is this? A bribe to save your city? It will take more than this morsel to sate my men. They thirst for blood and conquest.” The child scratched his side lazily.

“I am prepared to accept you surrender.” Laughter thundered around them as the words drifted through the Horde, passed from mouth to ear. Tobias nudged his war beast closer, looking for the fear in his quarry’s eyes. There was none; no fear or excitement, only a curiously flat boredom. Tobias leapt from his mount’s back, drawing his sword; the dread blade War-lust, who had drunk the blood of a thousand enemies. He pressed the wickedly sharp tip to the boy’s chest, just above his heart, knowing the fear would appear. It did not; in truth, the child looked half-asleep. He applied the slightest of pressures, the razor-sharp metal parting the threads of the boy’s tunic as if they had no more substance than the fog. The boy’s face remained impassive as a drop of bright red seeped into the thin gray cloth and the General felt something stir uneasily within him. It was something he had not felt since he was a boy himself, the first faint threads of fear.

“Insolent child, I will peel the skin from your bones and fly it from the walls of your own city! Have you any last words, worm?” There were no words, only a slow smile that froze the bones in Tobias’ body. This was not the smile of a child, but of something best left buried and forgotten. General Tobais, Warmaster of The Horde of Devils and victor of ten thousand battles, saw his own death in that smile.

Waves of pain washed over the general. His world shifted, colors grew dim and everything became gigantic. He screamed, the sound growing suddenly high and shrill. Dimly he was aware of the horrible screams coming from around him, his terrible Horde was gone. An enormous hand closed around his newly furred body and Tobias felt his bladder release. The child’s face, huge and indistinct, filled his vision as a voice roared in his ears.

“I suggest you run.”

 The mouse leapt from his hand into the dirt, scrambling amid the dry grass as the transformed Horde meowed and gave chase.

 Fog rolled in like a blanket, covering the discarded weaponry the Horde had left behind, leaving the plains as featureless as they had been before. The boy bent and picked something up; it was the battle standard of The Horde of Devils, blood-red silk embroidered in black with the leering face of a demon. It had flowed over countless battlefields and over numberless conqured cities. He used it to wipe the mouse urine from his hand.

With a smile, the boy opened the door in the gate and returned to his city.

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