I let my longsword fall slack as Marlowe rammed his sword point through the last of the demon’s victims. I winced as the poor thing let loose a horrible screaming wail – the demon I presumed. I glanced around the field in which we stood, blood and bits of bodies scattered everywhere. I absentmindedly brushed sweaty blood-soaked hair from my face. The cut on my forehead wasn’t bad, but blood in my eyes had just about gotten me killed twice. I shuddered. Demon-possessed people died just like regular people – but in an eerie silence that made it awfully hard to concentrate on the work at hand.
The screaming wail cut off as Marlowe wrenched his sword free of the body. It fell with a clatter of old armour. I saw something flicker in the dead man’s eyes before the head lolled to one side, away from me. The next second, Marlowe’s head snapped backwards and he screamed – both surprise and pain. Before I could act, he dropped to his knees, clutching his sword for support. This couldn’t be good.
Warily, thankful I hadn’t let go of my sword completely, I approached my friend.
“Marlowe? Are you all right?” He was clutching his head as if it pained him, making little moaning sounds. Something wasn’t right. “Marlowe?” I asked again, flicking a sliced-off hand out of my way with the point of the sword I held in my right hand. I reached my friend and leaned over him.
“Are you okay?” His head came up slowly, staring at me like he’d never seen me before. I lost patience. “Damnit Marlowe, we don’t have time – for… this…” My voice trailed off as I saw his eyes. They were white. Completely white. That is not normal.
“Hell…" I started backing off, slowly. He smiled at me, slowly, coldly, delightedly.
“You’re quite right,” he said. And then he moved faster than he’s ever moved before. If it was even Marlowe any more.
One second I was standing, moving cautiously away. The next, I was dangling in mid-air, held up by his hand around my throat. I gargled helplessly, struggling to keep a grip on my sword. I swung my feet wildly, hoping to kick him somewhere – anywhere it might help me get free.
He laughed at me, extending his arm fully – even if I could have gotten enough power behind a kick to make him release me, now I couldn’t reach. Then he squeezed. I gagged, fighting to draw breath. His hand tightened further and I saw spots in front of my eyes. Spots of ever encroaching darkness. I felt my sword slip from my fingers and drew my hands up to claw feebly at his hand.
“Mar- lowe…” I choked out his name desperately. Trying to reach my friend. He had to be in there somewhere. He chuckled, the sound grating on my ears
“Little bard,” he laughed. “I am not Marlowe. Your friend is gone. I am Grazz’Vog.”
You’re a bastard I thought, but I lacked the breath to say it. Besides, completely unintentionally, the demon had given me an idea. I abandoned my useless scrabbling at his hands and reached for the pouch on my belt. Fumbling frantically, I pulled the carefully twisted paper package containing ground mica. If I could just get the words out, I could cast a spell to blind him and get away.
“Ha- haer-rrrrr...” I struggled to get the words out past his grip on my throat. More laughter and the grip tightened further. Now I couldn’t breath. Couldn’t speak. I was going to die. My closest friend, my only friend was going to kill me. How ironic. My hands curled into fists, too many attempts on my life had failed for me to give up now. The paper in my hand crinkled as my fingers curled. Suddenly I smiled, glared at the demon-wearing-Marlowe’s-face and threw the mica into his eyes.
He snarled, automatically bringing his hands up to his face to rub at his eyes. I dropped like a stone. I hit the ground at his feet and crumpled up, gasping for breath. One hand went to my throat even as I scrambled backwards. No time to grab my sword, I had to get out of there. Had to come up with a way to get the demon, this Grazz’Vog out of Marlowe’s head.
I heard a scream of rage behind me and the sound of heavy footsteps as I forced air past my bruised throat and into my lungs. I didn’t dare look behind me. Instead I concentrated on running. On thinking. I needed a priest, a cleric, a paladin, a church. Something.
Wait. A church! We had passed a Temple of the Silver Flame on our way out here. I cast a glance behind me, stumbled and almost fell. Grazz’Vog laughed again; he was clearly in no hurry. But if I could convince him to follow me to the temple, and somehow trick him into going inside… Surely there would be someone there who could help. Either way, it was my only chance.
I was at the edge of town now. I skidded to a halt, only partly faking my need for oxygen. Holding my chest, oh how it ached! I stared up at the face of my friend
“Marlowe, please.” My begging was not feigned. If I could reach him, if he could defeat the demon, I could get my friend back.
“Run little bard! Run!” There was a bass rumble in Marlowe’s voice I’d never heard before. It almost entirely masked the whistling sound my longsword made as the demon chucked it at my head. I threw myself to one side at the last minute, snatched the weapon from the ground and ran. Praying as I did there’d be a priest or cleric in the temple who could help.
This had to be the most bizarre chase I have ever experienced. I could barely breathe still, and I fought for every one. My lungs burned as I dodged and darted around buildings, into doorways and under the occasional cart. Marlowe had always been faster than me and the demon now inhabiting his body seemed to be delighting in taking pot shots at me. Thankfully it wasn’t as good a shot as Marlowe and they all missed. Either that or he was deliberately avoiding hitting me. I wasn’t sure which option I preferred to be honest.
He hurled taunts and insults at me, making sure I knew he was toying with me. I didn’t really care; I didn’t understand half of them. Just as long as he didn’t realise I was toying with him. I skidded around a corner and almost fell again; I grabbed at a nearby wall and managed to stay on my feet. Marlowe-Grazz’Vog was gaining on me, but I could see the temple in front of me. Ducking my head, I sprinted for the stairs and raced up them.
Time to set the deception.
I flung my head up, looking towards the temple and skidded to a halt. I stared up at the door, my shoulders sagging. I’d come the wrong way. This wasn’t the temple. This was the old temple. The demon behind me laughed again as he followed me up. I cast a desperate glance over my shoulder at him and prepared to run again.
Too slow. I threw myself forwards, trying to get behind a pillar. Too slow again. Grazz’Vog grabbed the back of my cloak and yanked. My feet flew out from under me and I hit the stairs hard. Before the haze cleared, he’d dragged me to my feet and slammed me against the pillar, Marlowe’s ridiculous-looking halberd in his hand. Only, as pain burst through my skull, it didn’t look so ridiculous any more.
“Ahh,” I gasped, pulling air into my lungs as the pointy end of the halberd came to rest against my throat.
“You thought you would trick me?!” Marlowe’s usurped voice roared and thundered, crescendoing upwards in a way he’d never be able to pull off himself. “You try to trap Grazz’Vog?” He sounded both furious and incredulous; I guess no one had ever had the guts to stand up to him before.
“ANSWER ME!” He shook me violently, then slammed me back against the pillar, halberd still in place, still threatening. I struggled to stay conscious and managed to stammer out
“I didn’t- I hoped. I- I… It’s not…” I trailed off, despair filling me. There was a time I could have sung it away, but you need air to sing and I had none left.
“Spit. It. Out.” The demon shoved Marlowe’s face into mine, increasing the pressure on the halberd so that I felt blood trickle down my neck into my tunic.
“It’s not a temple!” I blurted it all out, desperation filling my voice and face. My voice rose to a sobbing scream. “It used to be! It used to be! It’s not used any more…” My voice faltered as the demon twisted my friend’s face into a horrible similitude of a smile. Oh the irony, killed by my possessed best friend. He started laughing, horrible and high pitched.
“Oh little bard, do not despair,” he chuckled. “We’ll go inside anyway, you and I. Since you want to so badly.” And with the halberd tucked under his arm he wrenched me off my feet and dragged me into the temple-that-was.
As soon as we set foot inside, I threw myself sideways and started screaming
“HELP! SOMEBODY HELP!” A sudden hiss and the demon realised my trick. He turned his head slowly to stare at me, death in his eyes. I lifted my longsword, miraculously I had held onto it this time, and stared back.
“That is my friend’s body,” I told him, with a calmness I did not feel. “I’ll thank you to leave it now.” He roared with laughter.
“I like this body, little bard. I think I shall keep it for a while longer.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it!” A new voice. I turned my head the barest inch and caught sight of a young man dressed in a robe of the Silver Flame, with the gentle clink of chain mail coming from beneath it. “A demon?” The question directed at me. I nodded grimly, not daring to take my eyes off Grazz’Vog-Marlowe.
“Distract him!” The priest yelled and flung himself sideways as Grazz’Vog apparently bored, charged the both of us.
The cleric started chanting, and I threw myself in front of him, longsword raised to parry the downward stroke of the halberd. It was Marlowe’s favourite weapon. To my everlasting gratitude it didn’t appear to be that of the demon’s. He handled it clumsily and that enabled me to stay two steps ahead of him. I tried to sing, to bolster myself and the unknown cleric whose voice rose and fell in chant behind me, but failed. I had no voice left. I would have to rely on more mundane skills to get through this.
“Damn you back to hell demon!” The cleric behind me screamed in righteous defiance. How I wished he’d shut up. I don’t know what it was, but suddenly Grazz’Vog ignored me. He seemed to have realised there was a chance this cleric could actually do what he was attempting to.
“MOVE!” I screamed at him, cutting in front of Grazz’Vog and hammering a blow at my friend. The demon, growing more comfortable with his weapon, caught the hilt of my longsword with the halberd and wrenched it out of my hands. Before I had time to reach for the bow on my back, he slammed the haft of the halberd into my wrist. I screamed as the bones shattered into pieces and stumbled backwards. The demon stared down at me as I wavered on my feet, wondering if I was worth the effort. The cleric still chanted and while there was hope I could not abandon Marlowe. I stepped forwards.
With an aggravated huffing sound, the demon simply swept me to one side. Reaching down with one hand, he grabbed me by the neck – again. With barely a breath of effort, he lifted me off my feet and flung me across the room. Into a pillar.
Pain and bright colours flared in my skull and the world went dark.
Screaming woke me.
“Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!”
I forced my eyes open and almost immediately wished I hadn’t. The crazy little cleric was standing over my friend, hands raised, an expression of religious ecstasy on his face.
“BE GONE, DEMON!” He cried in a great, resonant voice. He’d probably make a good singer. If he wasn’t in the process of killing my friend that is.
“Stop!” I cried, “you’re killing him!”
“The demon must be exorcised!” The cleric didn’t even turn his head as he focused his energy on my friend. I got my hands underneath me and tried to push myself up
“Aieee!” I screamed as I put my weight on my broken hand. I’d forgotten all about it. I slid back to the floor, panting and cradling my hand. All right, take two. Using only my left hand I managed to get onto my knees. This alone made my head spin and I retched. I squeezed my eyes shut and forced myself onto my feet and upright. I clung to the pillar with my good hand, fighting nausea and opened my eyes.
Marlowe was on his knees, screaming. I’d never heard a person make such a horrible sound before. It was as if his life, his very soul was being torn from him. I realised then what the cleric must be attempting to do. He was trying to exorcise the demon from my friend’s body. But Grazz’Vog had attached himself – somehow to Marlowe’s soul. The cleric was literally tearing them apart. It might work. But it would almost certainly kill my friend.
I staggered forwards, away from my comforting pillar. Head pounding, my throat swollen and aching, I stumbled up to the cleric and yanked at his upraised hands.
“Stop.” I begged him. “Please. You’ll kill him!” I don’t think he heard me. There was a shout from Marlowe – a desperate bellow from the demon. I stared in horror as it took form in front of us. Grazz’Vog had only a shadowy form, and for that I was grateful. It took in the scene, Marlowe’s body had slumped to one side, his chest crushed in by the force. The demon stared at us instead, vaporous lips forming words I could not here. It swooped at us.
“DO SOMETHING!” I screamed at the cleric, who looked rather stunned. As if surprised his little exorcism had worked. If that demon didn’t kill me, I promised myself I’d have words with this fanatical little cleric. He cried something incoherent and thrust his holy symbol in front of his face. I have no idea what he said, but it worked. Grazz’Vog froze in place.
And then… And then, he spread outwards, the formless edges of his hazy body fading and blurring as he gathered speed. Until finally with a faint popping noise, he blew apart. A burning wind slammed into both of us and we went down in a tangle of limbs. I heard myself scream as I landed on my broken wrist and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that I’d received yet another blow to my head and that it wasn’t going to be good news for me.
I struggled to shove the stunned cleric off my legs and used my elbows as leverage. Nausea hit me again, along with a blinding pain behind my eyes and this time I did throw up. Oddly enough, it seemed to clear my head.
Marlowe lay on his side not far away. I scrambled over to him on my knees, balancing with my good hand. I nearly fell onto him trying to stop myself. Dizziness swamped me as I searched for a pulse. I couldn’t find anything with my hand, so I laid my head on his chest. The dull ache in the back of my head turned into a pulsing pain. I ignored it and felt what I was looking for. Barely, but Marlowe was breathing. I struggled to push myself upright again and turned to the cleric.
“He’s alive! Help me!” I stared, the cleric was out cold, lying on the floor with his arms flung out. I had some healing, but it wouldn’t be anywhere nearly enough to heal Marlowe. But I could stop him from dying. Pushing my own pain to the back of my mind, I summoned up the healing magic and poured it out into Marlowe’s body. Again and again I flooded him, until I had run out of magic myself. It wasn’t enough.
I felt despair surging up through me, he would die, and all because I didn’t have enough healing spells available to save him.
“NO!” I screamed it at him, furious. Marlowe was my only friend, I couldn’t lose him. The throbbing pain came flooding back. It started behind my eyes, then swarmed up to my temples before shooting down my neck into my shoulders and spine. I closed my eyes as the room started spinning again. If he was going to die, I would be awake for it damnit.
“Terryn?” That voice… soft and uncertain, but undoubtedly Marlowe.
My eyes flew open and I winced at the sudden onrush of light. He was still curled on his side, but his eyes were open. On their knees opposite him sat another cleric, this one wearing the robes of a more senior priest than my crazy little friend. I half-turned, there was yet another cleric attending to their fellow.
“Ma’low’,” I felt literally faint with relief. Or perhaps I just felt faint. Marlowe was looking at me funny, as if I was talking strangely. I didn’t care, he was all right. I learned forwards, to tell him how glad I was he was okay. I slid a little on my knees and caught myself without thinking. Pain tore through the hand I simply could not remember was broken and I whimpered. Light was fading from the room, but my burning dry eyes welcomed the darkness.
“Terryn? Terryn, are you all rig-”
This time when I woke up, I was in a bed. A soft, comfortable, lovely, wonderful bed. My it had been a long time since I’d slept in a bed that was actually comfortable, and that I didn’t have to share with the bugs. A shadow fell over my face and I looked up into Marlowe’s face.
“How are you feeling?” He asked, his voice soft and concerned and – thankfully – back to normal. I blinked for a minute, taking silent stock. Headache? Still there, but fading rapidly. Hand? I rotated my wrist, all better. Throat? I coughed experimentally, it’d be tender for a couple of days and I’d better lay off the heavier songs, but I could breathe again and that was the important part. “The clerics say the headache will fade and you’ll have full use of your voice again in a couple of days.”
Bless him, he always knew the right thing to say.
“I’m okay,” I said finally, realising I still hadn’t answered his question. I shoved back the blankets over me and fought my way to an upright position. Marlowe leaned forwards and helped me clear the bedclothes. Travelling on the road, I’m not used to more than a bedroll.
“Good,” he said. “You scared the hell out of me, collapsing like that.”
“I? I scared you?! I-!?” I spluttered at him disbelieving. “After all that?! You were possessed and I scared you?!” I would have undoubtedly gone on, I can talk after all, had I not noticed his sudden grin. Damn fool was teasing me.
I threw my pillow at him.
He caught it easily and tossed it back, grinning.
“Now I know you’re all right,” he chuckled.
“And you?” I asked, suddenly serious. “Are you all right?”
He smiled at me, a more serious expression than before and I noted with relief that his eyes had gone back to their normal green instead of that horrible white.
“I am all right,” he assured me. “Except possibly for this…” he gestured at his feet and I leaned over the edge of the bed to take a look, wincing as it triggered a sore spot in my head.
“Oh… oh my.” I blinked rapidly, staring down at Marlowe’s – hooves. Goat’s hooves to be exact. I lifted my head and looked at him, eyebrows raised.
“The cleric assures me it won’t be a problem. In fact, they’ll only manifest sometimes – along with a ‘certain shortness of temper’” his voice rose slightly on that last, mimicking the cleric obviously. He sounded a little short of temper already.
“Well,” I said finally, a smug smile forming. “It’ll make a great story.”