Turning the Demon Wheel
...Tian listened to the sound of her father screaming. She was well hidden under the house. She hugged the Demon Wheel manual. All these years she had asked her father about it, and the techniques that were described in it. She never once believed that he would let her look at the book, let alone be entrusted to protect it. Nonetheless, he was dying inside the house, and she held it now. He screamed again, this time calling out her mother's name.
Were they torturing her in front of him? Tian considered the possibilities. She couldn't do anything. Whatever was up there, it didn't seem to know she was hidden under the house.
“Hide, Tian. Avenge your family when the time is right.”
Now she heard her brother scream. Father begged, and he screamed again. The bastards.
As morning approached, the screaming continued. It had developed a certain rhythm. She heard booming laughter that shook the stone and boards above her. The screams stopped. The monsters were doing something else. Father was silent. It wasn't long before a gentle light shined into the hidden basement. Tian crawled to a small gap in the wood, and peered out. Their stables were on fire. The horses neighed with growing panic. Tian turned away from the crack in the wall. The fire illuminated the scene just enough.
Tian opened the Demon Wheel Manual. The book's spine creaked, and it's pages smelled of her father's musty hiding spot. The first page had a crude drawing her father had sketched, of her mother in a sword stance. The calligraphy at the top of the page read "The Immortal Destroying Blade." Tian turned the page.
Another drawing, this time of her mother in a fighting stance without a weapon. "The Demon Crushing Fist." Suddenly her father screamed again, longer and with less control than before. The monsters weren't playing anymore. He would be dead soon. Tian made the fist she saw on the page, and began her practice...
The wraith landed in front of her and bared its teeth. Tian flipped her sword to her left hand, and made a fist. She aimed for the spot on its chest. Underneath its leathery skin, a black heart pumped a foul liquid. Her fist hit the wraith square in the chest, and the heart ruptured immediately. The creature fell before her, its wings collapsing over it like a dome. There was no time to celebrate. Two of Horatius's immortal guards ran toward her.
Tian gripped her sword tight and ran at them. Steel met steel with sparks. Tian spun low and into the guard's body. She flipped him over her, and snatched his sword. While he staggered in recovery, she spun with her two swords held out. She spun with such speed, the guard's neck hardly offered resistance--his head tumbled. She turned back to face his partner, but the other immortal ran away.
Tian laughed, and heard a snort behind her, like a horse. She turned, then stepped back. There was nothing in the Demon Wheel Manual about this. Almost ten feet tall at the spine on its back, the six-legged beast looked something like a lizard. Its body was almost the width of the enormous hallway. Its teeth looked as large and sharp as carving knives. It stomped its three left feet, ready to charge. Tian assumed a fighting stance. What ever it was, she hoped it could sense the river of blood and bodies that stretched out behind her.
Tian tried to ignore the sounds of alarm across the palace, and focused on the monster. It spit some kind of poisonous spray as it hissed and lurched towards her. The building shook under the pounding of six running feet. Tian closed her eyes. She thought about the first time she'd read the page of the Demon Wheel Manual marked "Limitless Occult Kungfu". Imagine the ladder that is always before you...
Tian jumped into the air. The high ceiling gave her just enough room to twist in the air above the beast. It tried to spin around, and instead hit the wall. Stone crumbled under its weight. The third floor underneath gave way, and the large creature broke through. It shrieked, and fell down like a stone to a level below. It sounded as if it somehow crashed into the street, just outside the palace.
Tian squeezed her sword and walked to the opening on the central courtyard of the palace. Gongs and bells rang over and over. She walked along a third floor balcony. Tian looked down and saw Horatius, as he walked to his throne. Two wraiths guarded him, but he sat upon his throne, unconcerned.
Xu led them back into the palace. He knew they should have cut their losses and left, but he didn't want to abandon Tian. He had Chi Zhen's blood drying on his robe to remind him what was at stake. Kui led them to a stairwell that twisted all the way down through four levels. They ran down the spiralling steps and into an empty hallway, barely lit by dull lanterns.
“Underground...?” asked Xu.
“According to Chi Zhen's map, this leads to a ladder that goes directly to his throne.”
Shun touched the wall. It looked like dirt but it pulsed. Shun took out his eyeball and stared at the floor as the walked.
“How does that help us?” Xu kept one foot on the steps going back up.
“Excuse me master, but you said Tian intended to kill Horatius.” Shun stopped as he felt the ground moving, like a giant heart beating under the floor.
“Doesn't mean she will.”
Xu and Kui kept walking through the hallway. Shun snapped his fingers and they stopped. “Wait, do you feel the ground moving?”
Xu shifted his feet; he felt it slightly, but the ground moved. Xu took his stolen sword and stabbed the ground. Down the hall, a deep moan echoed in the distance.
“A reaction?” Xu whispered to himself.
Kui overheard, and decided to answer his question. Kui pulled out his sword and spun it, before stabbing the ground. The moan echoed in reaction a second time.
Xu raised his right eyebrow, and shook his head.
“What does that mean?”
The three men walked down the hall toward the moans, this time with their swords raised. Five quiet minutes passed. Each second seemed to drag longer, as each of them feared to make a sound. They eased into a large room. The ceiling was clearly the stone floor they had seen in Horatius's throne room: it had a clear glass star in the middle that was home to his throne.
Xu pushed them back so they could hide and look. There was no activity in the large room. The floor was the color of pale flesh. A thin red line was centered under the throne above. A group of people were lined at the far hallway. They waited with eyes closed, and hands together in a salute.
“What are they doing?” Kui whispered. Xu waved his question away and they waited. Two minutes passed and the gongs and bells stopped ringing above. A man stepped forward into the room, wearing a hooded black robe. He lowered the hood. His eyes were sewn shut.
“Great God Venara, my Master Horatius is aware of your injuries.”
The ground and walls shook as the moan they heard earlier emerged from deep underneath them.
“To aid with your healing, the Great Horatius offers these slaves for your consumption.”
One of the slaves who waited at the far hallway stepped forward and walked towards the center of the room. Xu, Kui and Shun's eyeball all peered over the edge and watched. The slave stopped a few steps from the red line in the center of the room and lowered his hood. His eyes were also sewn shut. The slave could see the red line split into an open mouth with teeth the size of dwarfs and a foul breath that polluted the air.
Kui gasped as the slave bowed. A giant tongue shot out and pulled the slave into the mouth. The slave reached for the edge of the giant lips and begged for mercy as the trance he had been in was ended by pure fright. The giant floor mouth belched and moaned again.
“He's still hungry,” Xu said. “We need to get out of here.”
Shun wanted to agree, but he felt a sharp prick in his back. Xu felt a swordtip between his own shoulder blades.
“Damnit,” Xu said as he dropped his sword. Four immortal guards had taken advantage of their distraction.
“Walk!” One of the guards demanded.
Xu stepped out into the mouth room. It felt like walking on a sponge. The monk with his eyes sewn shut bowed to Xu and his friends.
“Great God Venara, my Master Horatius is aware of your hunger. For this, he offers you a meal rich with powerful warriors.”
Tomorrow: Friday, JAN 22
The Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction Presents:
Bram Stoker Award winning author
Rain Graves debuts her flash fiction story
art by VeryScaryCarnival