Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light?
Norman B. Rice
Brothers upon a Bloody Battlefield
The night was cold and the stars were twinkling merrily in the twilight ocean above the battlefield, sculptured rays of moonlight pushed through holes in the clouds and shone motionlessly on one spot intensely, like heavenly stairways. It had been a good battle, the Infected had put up more of a fight than they first predicted, their intelligence was growing with every new harvest. All species of animals littered the wet muddy ground, bears, wolves, lions, lynx, horses, and even a few humans. Thane pushed over the body of a human infested with his boot and examined it closely. His skin was black like charcoal and rough under touch, his eyes were replaced with balls of swirling liquids that bubbled and steamed neon colours in their sockets. Yellow teeth jutted from its gums at odd and obscure angles and its hair was completely black, perfect camouflage for stalking their pray in the shadows. His arms and feet were covered in skin that had been turned to rock, again it was black and coarse with sharp tiny spines covering their surface area. It covered their flesh like a volcanic carapace protecting them from sword strikes and arrows. His armour had been welded to his skin, an artificial shield. Thane sheathed his sword and rested it against his shoulder looking up from the body again over the battlefield. Thane was a Banisher, a member of a military sect that was dedicated to finding and eradicating the infected from his home country of Eden. More than that though he was an Honoured, a lieutenant in the Banishers. Honoured were the special forces of the religious military group, called in only on the most desperate of situations or to deal with missions that were too dangerous or too secretive to entrust to an average Banisher.
With a twisted gargle the corpse he had been examining suddenly sprang back into animation and slashed at him with one clawed hand. With all the grace and beauty of a dancer Thane twisted to the side and avoided the attack easily, slamming his sword down onto the infected’s wrist. The bone snapped under the strength of its hardwood sheath. Gripping the handle tightly he pulled the blade free from its prison and sliced the demon in half. There were two soft thumps as the top and bottom parts of the corpse fell to the ground. “Good job Yuki,” he said to the blade as he flung it over his shoulder holding the sheath in his left hand. “Bad demon!” he said to the corpse kicking it in the leg. Thane whistled merrily to himself as he walked through the blood soaked battlefield, other Banishers walked past him. Garbed in a full white set of robes with a silver armour chest plate, all walked with their hoods up concealing their faces and all bowed to him as he past. “Good morning brother!” he said joyfully spreading his arms wide and sheathing Yuki. Vigil looked up from the corpse he was examining and shook his head. Vigil was Thanes twin brother. He wore his usual ice blue coat with its white L-key pattern around its edges and carried his sword, Freya, which was identical to Thanes, in his right hand leaning on it slightly, its black scabbard shining in the light. His black leather shirt was torn and splattered with mud and a few specs of blood but his silver buckles still shone brilliantly in the twilight. He stood up and looked his brother in the eye, his pure blue eyes sparkled in the moonlight and his pale skin glowed eerily. Long shadows stretch from under his high cheekbones and his middle length, spiky blonde hair bent lazily on the gentle breeze.
“Did you collect the specimen?” he asked, his voice calm and serene. Before Thane could answer he said “Of course you didn’t, you killed it. Like you did with all the others. Angelo isn’t going to be pleased with this.”
“Angelo can bite me. If he wants infected tell him to come out here and get them himself, stupid old fool.” Thane spat.
“Show respect.” Vigil said looking at his twin disapprovingly.
“Respect is earned Vigil, not given. Just because he wasn’t in any battles dangerous enough to kill him doesn’t mean I have to show him respect.” He said tossing Yuki from hand to hand.
“Even so,” said Vigil sighing. Thane grinned.
“This battle today...”
“You fought well today, OK! I admit it you impressed me.” Thane jumped in the air and cheered.
“You never pay me a compliment which means I, once again, killed more infected than you did.” He gloated.
“Shut up, big idiot.” he hissed flicking Freya up to Thanes neck. Vigil smiled as another infected reanimated behind him, he spun so fast that the gust of wind he created blew the tails of Thanes coat upwards. As quick as he started he returned to his spot with Freya safely in her sheath and the infected’s head rolling down the battlefield. “Two hundred and ten.”
“Three hundred and four. And weren’t you supposed to capture live ones.” Vigils face dropped and he scowled as Thane laughed at him.
A rook, a junior member of the Banishers, ran up to the two of them and bowed. “Angelo sends a message.” He coughed holding out the white envelope. Thane snapped it from his hand and quickly opened it. “And Kyra wishes to see you in his tent before you depart for Illyria.” The rook bowed and disappeared back into the swarm of soldiers cleaning up the battle field, the rooks and soldiers were being taken to the side and purified before they were given to the ocean, and the infected bodies were piled and burned.
“He wants us to head back to Illyria for a few days before our leave of absence, wants to debrief us about what happened today.” he said scrunching up the letter and throwing it into a nearby puddle.
“There’s more to it than that.” Vigil said deep in thought.
“Yeh, this was just an ordinary battle, he must want something.” Thane looked around the immediate area, no one was in ear shot, but he moved closer to his brother anyway. “Are we still going to Nans? She’s invited a lot of the family around. And a few neighbours.”
“Yes we are, I am looking forward to seeing everyone.” A smile stretched over their faces thinking about what would occur at their birthday party. “Come Thane, we better go see Kyra.” Vigil said slipping Freya through his belt so she hung on his left hip and placing his hands firmly behind his back. Thane slipped Yuki through two loops on the back of his coat easily and she hung their contently, her handle just to the right of his right ear.
They walked steadily through the bodies, Vigil stopped and bowed to the bodies of the dead soldiers, paying his respects. Thane kept walking. “Why do you respect them so much?” he asked frustrated.
“They gave us a life brother.”
“We gave ourselves life! We were abandoned and survived for seventeen years just the two of us. We don’t need them. If it was up to them they would string us up and watch us dangle until our feet stopped twitching.” Thane said angrily. Vigil stopped dead and his eyes became hard and cold.
“Our kind is dead Thane, deal with it, we are the last of our species. We will never rise to the power they did all those hundreds of years ago. The sooner you can deal with that fact Thane the happier we will be, the least we can do is protect the humans from the infected like our forefathers did, I will not let them follow our fate.” Thane stopped and twisted around staring at his twin.
“Vigil, great protector of the humans.”
“Thane and Vigil, guardians of humanity.” He smiled. Thane grinned to himself, “Come on lummox Kyra will be waiting.” Vigil placed an arm around Thane’s shoulder and pulled him into a tight headlock as they walked. They were soon at a makeshift camp that had only five tents, one of the army general, three for members of the Banishers and one for Kyra, the resident Spellcaster. Kyra was a child genius whose powers of magic were spotted in the first months of his life when he would levitate his spelling blocks in the air spelling the words ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’.
The Council of Eden quickly whisked him and his family to the capital, Illyria, and he was tutored by the magicians that worked for the Banishers. To his day Kyra held the record as the only student in the Banishers history to surpass the power of his teachers, he was well known across Eden for being the most powerful magician. But he was also a talented smith, engineer, inventor, tactician and boxer, and only seventeen years old. “Thane! Vigil!” his voice cried across the field of sleeping soldiers. The whip thin boy was waving at them frantically. A shirt of black silk and trousers of black leather concealed the large amount of muck and soot he had acquired performing his many experiments. But a thick leather apron was tied tightly around his waist and it was burnt, holed and dirty. As they neared, Thane could better see his face. A long hooked nose sat in the middle of his face above thin lips and narrow cheeks. A rough, charred, head of spiky black hair covered his scalp and a nasty knotted scar stretched from his chin, down his neck and stopped just above his right collar bone. “Good to see you both. Nice to see you wore my new and improved armour boys.” He said looking at Thanes bare chest. “No matter that models obsolete now anyway.”
“You gave it to me yesterday.” Thane said shocked.
“Yes...and now it’s obsolete. Anyway, come I have exciting news...come come.” He said hurrying himself into the tent.
“You really should wear something other than that coat and your trousers for protection.” Vigil said scanning his brother’s bare chest.
“My shirts were all torn and muddy! What do you want me to do?” Vigil shook his head and walked into the tent, Thane followed him with a board grin.
The inside was a mass of metal instruments powder by pulsating balls of blue magic at their centres. The contraptions span and twisted, floated up and down, some even made noises and spoke. On the table in the centre of the tent lay a restrained human infected. His purple eyes glowing magically and purple fumes evaporated into the air around them, its hands and feet were tied through leather loops and it struggled to release itself from their grasp. Kyra moved closer to it and it lunged for him snapping its jaws together with sickening clicks. As fast as his brother Thane punched outward and uppercut the beast. It fell back onto the table, unconscious. “Thank you Thane.”
“No problem wee man.” He said shaking his hand to relieve the pain.
“What has your research found Kyra?” asked Vigil examining the infected closely, his hands still behind his back.
“Ah well, as you know the eyes of the infected are not like our eyes, our eyes work through a series of tiny light sensitive cells that detect light and turn it into an electrical signal to send to the brain which then decodes these signals and makes an image...” Kyra said quickly. Thane raised an eyebrow in confusion but Vigil nodded along understandingly. “Sorry,” Kyra said smiling at Thane. “I think I might have found a way to make a person invisible to the infected.” Vigil looked up shocked and Thane nodded approvingly. “Watch.”
Kyra quickly ran to a large table where two dozen surgical implements rested in a straight orderly line. He took a long needle attached to a syringe from the table and jabbed it gently into the infected left eye. Thane winced as he watched Kyra pull up on the syringe and the purple liquid moved up the glass tube slowly. When the syringe was full Kyra pulled it out of the eyeball and moved over to the table and gently started to mix it with a series of colourful liquids. Thane bent over the infected and examined its eye, it hadn’t changed, and whatever chemicals filled the eyeball they had been replaced immediately. The infected sprang back into animation and tried biting at Thanes nose, he withdrew and pulled back his arm. “Wait!” cried Kyra. “Wait,” he moved back to the table and cut the straps that held its arms down with a knife from his belt. The infected reared up and reached out for them but the belt holding him at the waist kept him in place. Thane gripped Yuki’s handle gently ready for an attack. Kyra picked up a clear bottle of liquid from the table behind them and threw it on the floor. It smashed into a million pieces and a thin cloud of gas rose up from the spilt liquid. The cloud was thin and transparent; Thane could clearly see everything in the room through the gas, but the infected span in his place and looked around blindly. Kyra moved forwards and waved his hand in front of the creatures face, it didn’t even blink. “See,” Kyra whispered. The beast flinched at the sound of his voice and searched blindly for its source. “The infected eyes work as a reaction of neuro-chemicals that release gasses from their tear ducts as you can see,” he whispered pointing to the purple wisps of gas. “Those gasses act as a filtering agent and actually refine light molecules, allowing them to see in the dark and also give them a kind of binocular vision.”
The creature suddenly lunged forwards and slashed at Kyra’s face. Vigil and Thane both pulled their swords free from their scabbards at the same time and both plunged the blades into the infected’s thick black chest. It coughed and then fell backwards off their swords and fell onto the metal table with a bang. “Thank you for that gentleman.” Kyra said angrily. “I needed him.”
“We just saved your life and that’s how you thank us.” Said Thane sheathing Yuki.
“Yes well do you know how rare it is when a Dark One inside an infected reanimates itself?” Kyra raged moving over to the body and searching for a pulse.
“Sorry Kyra,” said Vigil slipping Freya lovingly back into her sheath. “We were just trying to protect you.”
“Yes well...thank you I suppose. But next time try to seriously injure the creature not kill it. Anyway, as you can see the concoctions only effective for a very short amount of time, thirty seconds to a minute max depending on the size of the container and the concentration of the solution. But still useful.” He quickly walked over to another table that had a variety of weapons lain on a thin sheet of white silk. “Now I took into account your requests for new weaponry and designed two of these bracers for you, concealed underneath is a hidden eight inch blade of high tensile steel capable of slicing through armour and infected skin alike.” He said passing them the two metal bracers. “To activate the blade just click the button next to it, and the same to retract it.” Thane clicked the button and the long thin dagger shot outwards with a clean ringing sound. He rubbed his finger across the edge and it scraped his skin with rough sound, it was razor sharp.
“Now Vigil you told me you needed a better long distance weapon than your throwing axes so I designed you these.” He unrolled a long roll of cloth revealing a dozen highly polished throwing knives. Each was three inches long and razor sharp. Vigil picked one of the blades up and ran his fingers over it gently. The blades had a round handle with gold filigree scrolling over their surface. Vigil twirled and flung his arm downwards, the knife spun though the air before embedding itself into a rib of the tent that was less than an inch wide. The rib spilt down the middle and the two pieces fell to the sides and the knife dropped harmlessly to the floor. Vigil made an approving grunt and walked over and picked up the knife.
“Very useful, thank you Kyra these will certainly come in handy.”
“What do I get Kyra! Where’s my new toy?” Thane said childishly. Kyra smiled and moved a hand over the table.
“Well Thane I know how much you like to shoot things to I made you this.” He picked up a small rectangular box with two thin pieces of metal running its length. A triangular metal handle extended from the base of the box. In its centre were three metal rings that span and twisted within themselves. Kyra pulled hard on the handle and the two arms of the crossbow fired outwards and a blue ball of energy burst into life in the middle of the rings. The rings span so fast that they looked like they made one ball of solid metal. A trigger flicked from the bottom of the box, as did a small square button that sat directly under the spinning rings and a thin string on blue energy connected the two concave arms.
Kyra pulled the trigger gently and the blue string was drawn back and a small blue dart appeared locked against the nut. He pulled the trigger again and the blue dart fired through the roof of the tent at incredible speed a loud crack followed the darts as the string was released. “Cool!” said Thane snatching the crossbow from Kyra’s hands. Thane fired the crossbow several times at a rib of the tent, by the time he was done sixteen darts lined the length of the rib. “Nice.” He said smiling.
“A high powered assault crossbow powered by magical elements, capable of firing sixty darts per second in rapid fire mode the magical darts are capable of destroying nearly anything apart from steel so if you ever find yourself facing armoured guards aim for the legs or arms.”
“Or head.” Thane grinned. Kyra grimaced and nodded.
“Also click the button under the rings to release them when the element runs out, just click another ring into place and continue firing. Practically you could carry six or seven rings at any one time.”
“Couldn’t you have made it look a bit more...stylish?” Thane said looking at the plain metal.
“Wow Kyra thank you for creating a one of a kind, magic powered crossbow with government money that could have funded the army of a whole year. Wow Kyra good job.” Kyra fumed. Thane blinked.
“Thank you Kyra.” He whispered. Kyra snatched the crossbow from his hand and pushed on the handle, the arms returned to the side of the rectangle and the rings at its heart stopped spinning.
“I suppose you could acid etch some design onto it if you’d like.” He said looking at it lovingly.
“Thank you Kyra, I will treat it well.”
“I’m pleased, anyway, two more things before you go.” He pulled two necklaces from the table, they were thick gold chains with a large gold medallions hanging from the chain.
Four cabochon cut sapphires were set into the gold at its four compass points and a strange circular symbol was carved into its centre. “These were designed and created by yours truly, formed of twenty four carat gold the sapphires channel magic that an opponent could fire at you and renders it harmless, essential a portable shield against magic. And finally these last two objects you did not...I repeat did not...get from me if you are caught with them.” he pulled two identical plain black canes from his side and held them in front of them. They were nothing special, black snake wood with an ivory harlequin pattern around the bottom and a small ball of highly polished ivory as the handle. Kyra tucked them both under his armpits and pulled on the wood below the balls, the cane split in two revealing two long, thin blades. “Obviously when you meet with the council you can’t take your precious samurai swords into the chamber with you so, per your request I designed you these.” He sheathed the sword canes and tossed them both to them. Vigil and Thane caught the canes in mid air and weighed them gently in their hands for balance. The canes reached to the top of their hips and the swords were well made and again, razor sharp. “Now I know that you could break these because of your unusual strength very easily but if you use them lightly they will withstand. Of course,” Kyra pulled Freya from her sheath a few inches and stared at the flawless blade. “If you let me examine your precious samurai swords I will be able to replicate their strength.”
“No,” Vigil said forcefully pushing Freya back into her casing. “And they’re not samurai swords.”
“They’re Daitos, two handed Katanas.” Finished Thane.
“Well whatever, there you go; glad I could be of help. See you in Illyria.”