Face To Face
Xu jumped forward as the sword tip went into his skin. A tongue slid out of the giant mouth in the ground in front of him. It slithered across the floor toward his legs.
“Keep walking, monk.”
“That thing is going to eat us,” Kui whined.
The tongue stopped, and turned toward Kui first. Kui wanted desperately to step back, but the sword at his back held him in place.
“What is this thing?” Xu yelled to the whole room.
“The great god Venara,” The monk with the sewn-shut eyes said, and saluted. “Venara is the city. Venara is the god.”
The tongue stretched quickly out and grabbed Kui's ankle. Kui hit the ground, and suddenly Xu had a clear path to the sword that had been held against Kui's back. Xu flipped to the right and felt the rush of a sword slice through the spot where he'd just stood. He grabbed the guard that had been behind Kui by his wrist, and squeezed. His sword dropped into Xu's hand. Xu threw the guard over Kui, where he landed on the surface of the giant tongue.
The tongue was slick with saliva and the immortal reached out desperately, but slipped quickly into the mouth. Xu swung his newly acquired sword. Shun dropped as he heard movement from the guard behind him. He ducked down just in time. As the blade sped over his head, Shun grabbed the immortal's arm, and flung him into the mouth.
The last immortal stood with his shaking blade pointed at Xu. The tongue began pulling Kui towards its waiting mouth. Kui grabbed at the passing, fleshy ground, but couldn't keep a good grip.
Xu pointed his sword at the mouth. “I can't think of a worse place to be immortal.”
The immortal lifted his sword and ran at Xu. Their swords met time after time, with sparks and loud clangs. Shun ran to Kui's side and grabbed his hand, trying to hold on, but the tongue continued to pull Kui closer.
“My leg!” The saliva contained some corrosive agent that burned through Kui's robe. “Xu--help me!”
Xu wanted to, but this swordsman was better than he expected.
Horatius laughed, it would only be a matter of time before the monks and the eyeless wonder were digested below the city. He knew the beautiful woman warrior was watching him from the third floor balcony. Let her, he thought. Let her see the power she has chosen to confront.
“Master--the stones of the underworld are ready.”
Horatius smiled, and waved his servants forward. They placed red glowing stones at each point of the glass star in front of his throne. The glow of the stones pulsed together, and after a few seconds, a faint image, like that of a ghost, stood eight feet tall before him. It looked like a man in the robes of an ancient dynasty. After hundreds of years, the master vampire would speak to him.
“At last, Master,” Horatius got down on his knees and bowed his forehead to the warm glass star on his floor. “I have waited so long to speak to you.”
“I wish I could enjoy your palace and all it's pleasures personally, Horatius.”
“Soon my master, soon.”
“The Lords of the North and South Sea thought this prison of night would hold me forever.”
“You defy them, master. Your agents have escaped and brought terror to the world when it tries to sleep.”
“A soul here, a soul there. I was once ruler of this chaos called Earth.”
“Sir, the armies of civilization are gathered in the north and south for a great battle. Already the Manchus are marching.”
“That does me no good if the dragon gate stands.”
Horatius held out his hand with a scroll.
“It won't bring down the gate, but this scroll offers a key. You and your minions will be able to travel to and from the underforest, at will.”
Horatius flinched. “It doesn't break the curse, I'm afraid.”
“Bring it to me, and let's end this conflict.” The ghostly Master laughed as his image faded away.
Tian listened to every word with growing dread, but it was the laugh, as the ghost faded, that slapped her in the face. She knew that laugh. Tian heard that same laugh shake the foundations at her home, when she was a child. She was not sure, but it stood to reason that the Master of darkness she sought was not Horatius.
“So little girl, who is it you intend to kill?”
Horatius's voice echoed through the three floors. Tian knew he was talking to her. She squeezed the grip on her sword and walked into view at the edge of the balcony. “Well, after I kill you, I suppose I'll have to find that underforest.”
Horatius laughed. Archers on each side of the throne stretched their bows and aimed at Tian. “I doubt that. You'll have to survive this night first.”
The bows snapped. Tian barely flinched and knocked the arrows from her face with one swipe of her sword. Tian flipped, and jumped towards Horatius.
The breath coming out of the hungry mouth on the floor filled the large room with an unbearable odor. It made Xu light-headed. The immortal didn't slow any, his sword came down over and over at him. Shun screamed in pain, as his arm felt as if it was being pulled from its socket. Shun found a grip on the flesh floor with one hand, and Kui's free hand with the other. The tongue tightened around Kui's ankle. Kui screamed.
Xu got a kick in to the immortal's midsection, and knocked him back. Xu caught his breath for a second. “It's pretty unique how you guys keep going after your heads are cut off.”
The immortal lifted his sword over his head.
Kui screamed again. Shun called out, “Xu--damnit!”
“Shun, listen for the sword.”
Xu swung the sword hard at the immortal. He blocked, and the swords clanged loudly. The sword continued to shake in Xu's hand, making a faint sound. Xu flipped the sword through the air towards Shun. The immortal pointed his sword at Xu, who avoided the blade by standing on his tip toes. Xu grabbed the immortal's arm and lifted his knee, it didn't break as quickly as a human, but Xu felt the unnatural twist on his leg.
The sword flipped in the air. Shun had been blind almost every year of his seventy years on earth. He had survived in part by learning how to follow the sound of swords as they flew through the air. He heard the sword come toward him and let go of the flesh floor. Kui screamed and slid toward the giant mouth.
The sword spun in the air toward Shun; if he didn't get it, Kui would be gone. Shun closed his hand and felt the blade slice across his fingers. Shun screamed in pain as the sword went past him. Kui reached for the sword, but the grip on his ankle was too tight. The sword disappeared into the mouth.
The giant mouth yelped in pain, and the whole ground shook. Shun took out an eyeball and held it over the mouth. The sword was jutting out of the gums, inside the giant mouth. The tongue suddenly let go of Kui, who rolled away instantly.
Shun spun away from the mouth just in time to see the immortal with the broken arm disappear into it. The mouth screamed again as the sword pushed deeper into the giant throat.
Shun held his eye up and looked at both Xu and Kui dusting themselves off. The ground started shaking underneath them. The mouth roared a deep, gutteral war cry. The walls in the entire city shook, and the three men, so close to the mouth, had to cover their ears.
“We angered it,” Shun said.
“Angered what?” Xu yelled over the rumbling chaos.
“The great god Venara!”
Tian landed on the floor of the throne room at a run. Horatius outstretched his arms, and opened his palms. Tian gasped as she watched blue fireballs form in his hands. It was too late--she was committed. Horatius threw the fireballs. Tian swung her sword and knocked the first one out of the air, but the second struck her in the chest. Tian fell back and slid across the floor. When she finally stopped, she heard a chorus of wraiths at Horatius's side laughing at her.
Tian looked up at the Roman standing in front of his throne. Her whole body ached from the damage his energy attack had done. The worst part-–she dropped her sword. Two wraiths landed just in front of it, and she heard two land behind her.
A blood curdling scream shook the walls, coming from below the throne room.
Horatius looked suddenly desperate. “Venara...?”