Tricks of the Trade

Screams. Terrified people ran for their lives as the creature walked through the small town. The creature, known as a shade, was about seven feet tall and dressed in what seemed to be a black cloak. If shades had faces or not, no one knew, for their faces, if they had them, were entirely hidden in the shadow of a black hood. The shades carried a weapon: a black blade, curved so that the edge was along the inside. They resembled stretched-out hooks more than swords. The creature had come, as all did, to steal, kill, and destroy.

The shades were but one kind of the evil that plagued the land: they were markedly more powerful than the average demons, which were gray, skeletal monsters and generally wore a reddish armor and carried axes, bows, or rifles. However, both paled when compared with wraiths, which varied in form, shape, size, and all other orientations.

As the nightmarish monster crept through the small town of Armarium, people ran inside, locking themselves in and barricading their doors. Children wept, women screamed, and men trembled as the creature passed. People on the streets fled into whatever buildings they were near. Unfortunately, though, one woman was not fast enough.

Without warning, the creature, who had been moving at quite a slow pace, leapt with alarming speed and grabbed a poor woman, his hand covering her face. The shade rose his blade and prepared to kill.

"Now!" a voice shouted.

A gunshot resounded and monster was hit in the side. Black blood rolled slowly from him and quickly dissipated in the cool evening air. The monster released the woman and shrieked.

"Who dares?" the shade hissed.

A tall young man, in his early- to mid-twenties with short blonde hair and clad in leather armor erupted seemingly from nowhere, a sword in hand. He launched himself at the shade, maneuvering his blade skillfully, with the control that could only come from years of training.

With terrifyingly swift reflexes, the shade spun and raised his sword, blocking his assailant with one flowing movement.

"You dare defy me, boy? I will destroy you," it hissed.

What the creature did not know was that he was talking to a master of combat. The man he was talking to, called Kael, had been trained in all forms of combat since he was still a young lad. This "boy" was more than capable of holding his own against the monster.

The creature lunged at him, swinging his blade. Kael blocked and responded with a second attack. The creature twisted out of the way, but was not quite fast enough. Black blood chased Kael's blade as it sung through the shade's shoulder. Again, the shade shrieked.

"You will pay!" the monster swore.

Kael swung his blade again, but this time it was deflected. A gunshot exploded. The shade leapt out of the way, but blundered, for he moved toward Kael. To close for the blade to be of any use, Kael hit the creature in the face (or where it would be) with the hilt. The shade stumbled back, enraged.

"Leave," Kael commanded. Out of the corner of his eye, Kael could see movement. He glanced over to see his younger brother, Rodion, repositioning himself for a better shot. Rodion raised his repeating rifle and took aim.

Kael was distracted for just long enough to be caught off-guard when his foe swung at him. Kael raised his weapon to defend, but had a poor grip on it, and it was knocked from his hands and landed in the ground several feet away.

Another gunshot. This one hit the shade in its already damaged shoulder. The creature wailed furiously. Kael drew his two revolvers and took aim at the beast's face, but the shade, recovering quickly, grabbed Kael's face and drove him into the dust. The guns clattered uselessly out of reach.

Kael kicked blindly, hitting the creature in the chest and releasing its grip. Kael then, able to see once more, kicked the creature full in the face, knocking it away. Both Kael and his enemy scrambled to their feet.

Another gunshot. The creature was hit in the stomach this time. It had finally had enough. The monster located Rodion and dashed toward him. Kael ran after the shade, jumped onto its back, and wrapped his arms around the creature's neck. The shade frantically grabbed Kael and flung him away and into Rodion. Rodion fell back, Kael on top of him, and his rifle clattered to the ground several feet away.

"Great," Rodion grumbled.

"Don't you fret, Rodya, Amadeus is still around here somewhere," Kael said. "I'm sure he'll come and save us."

The shade drew nearer and raised his sword above his head, readying for the final blow.

"Any minute now," Kael said, obviously losing faith.

"We're dead," Rodion murmured.

"Do you see know?" the shade rasped. "Do you see why it is worthless to challenge--"

"God?" came a voice from behind. The shade wheeled and stood face to face with a gaunt man, clad in black from head to toe. He looked almost like a priest. He easily, even nonchalantly, held a rapier in his right hand, the tip hovering barely an inch from the ground.

"Deus!" Kael said, relieved.

"It doesn't matter who you are," the creature breathed. "I'll kill you just the same." The monster leapt and brought its sword down over its head.

The newcomer, known as Amadeus, lowered his stance and lunged. The tip of his rapier passed easily through the shade's forearm and embedded itself in his shoulder. The shade, still mid-flight, dropped like a stone to its knees.

"This arm is worthless to you now," Deus observed. With a twist and a swipe, the creatures limb was shorn from its body. Black blood filled the air as the creature howled.

"Way to go Deus!" Rodion cheered. He was quickly silenced by a skeptical glance.

The monster painfully rose to its feet.

"I don't need a weapon to kill you," it said quietly. In a flash it thrust its arm forward, palm toward Deus.

Deus's long black coat flapped wildly and his hair was lifted from his forehead, but Deus held his ground, unharmed by the spiritual attack.

It was in that moment that the creature understood.

The shade turned and ran.

Deus was upon it in an instant, and there was a sickening crunch as Deus buried his boot in the back of the shade's knee. The creature fell to the earth. Deus sheathed his rapier and produced a revolver from inside his coat. The creature had raised itself to a kneeling position and began to lift its head. The end of the barrel stopped the progress.

"In the name of my Lord, die."

Rodion flinched. It was not that the sound of guns had startled him; he was an accomplished marksman (probably one of the best around, thought he) and the percussion of a detonating shell was nothing new. But Rodion always flinched when Deus fought. It was just so . . . different. Deus never became angry when he fought, he never hollered or beat his chest; he just fought. With cold and calculating precision, he just fought.

The first time Rodion witnessed Deus in combat, he wouldn't talk to him for a week. Deus had always been the one who took care of the brothers; he had studied some at the local monastery before he abandoned the formal teachings of the Church, and left to wander. Rodion and Kael had followed him. Deus was their source of wisdom and counsel, of nourishment and guidance. To see him so efficiently and coldly dispatch enemies made Rodion uncomfortable.

Kael saw things differently. His brother had always been there, certainly. And he was easy and helpful to talk to. But in Kael's eyes, he had always been the weak one. Kael had decided to go with Deus so many years ago not out of fraternal loyalty (which he had, don't misunderstand) but to protect him. The thought of his scholar brother on his own in so dark a world terrified him. He soon learned, though, as Rodion did, that Deus was more than capable of defending himself. He was almost as good a fighter as Kael himself.

The two younger brothers often joked with him about it; that in Deus's studies he found a book that gave him supernatural powers. And Deus would always smile and simply hold up his Bible. Kael and Rodion were never sure if he was participating in the joke or not.

"Kael," Deus said. Kael snapped back to the present. His brothers were standing over him and the townsfolk had slowly and carefully began to emerge from their hiding.

"Kael, we must take care of . . . that," he nodded toward the tattered remains of the shade.

"Just leave him for the vultures," Kael muttered.

"No, he shall receive a proper burial." The brothers stared.

"Otherwise," he said, the corner of his lip curling into a smile, "he may stink up the joint."

Kael grinned and rolled his eyes. Deus-humor.