Home of Sword and Soul
The riders peered down from their perch at the solitary hut barely visible among the banyan trees. Two of the riders, black skinned and bare-chested, pulled their bows from their sheaths then calmly loaded them with wicked flaming arrows. Their face scars revealed their origins; they were Nuba from the Upper Nile region, the most renowned archers of the East. The third rider, a Makurian, leaned forward on his mount, squinting his eyes as searched for the most convenient way down the hill and close to the hut. His skin was slightly lighter than his companions and he bore no facial scars. A conical metal cap rested on his head; his upper body was protected by chain mail concealed by a blue kapok jacket. A silver cross hung from his neck providing the spiritual protection his armor and weapons could not. He looked at his companions and they nodded their readiness. He nudged his horse and descended the hill.
Kenyi did not ask for this task. When the priests came to his fort on the Nile to seek hunters he worked his way to the back of the crowd of troops. He’d had his fill of fighting, having served on the frontier during the Arab incursions. He’d seen too many men die on both sides and he’d killed too many himself. He’d condemned his soul to Hell; there was no reason in his eyes to pile onto that which was already evident.
But then he heard the priests talk of demons, of minions of Hell released by the Arabs in their ignorance of their land and his mind quickly changed. Here was a chance for him to redeem himself in the eyes of the Lord. This would not be killing. This would be righteous. He pushed his way to the front of the crowd and fell on his knees before the priests, pledging his body and soul to the cause. They accepted him without hesitation, praying over him as they draped the silver cross over his head.
He touched the cross as he made his way down the muddy slope, the smell of the foul occupant inside the hut smarting his nostrils. It was a stench he’d become familiar with in the five years since he gave his services to the priests. He had not imagined it taking so long with the number of volunteers the priests received. But demons are craftier that men imagined, and they fight for their tainted lives just as furious as any man.
He reached the base of the hill just as the Nubans released the arrows. Each struck its mark, furrowing into the thatch roof and quickly igniting it. The fire spread quickly, consuming the dry grass then scrambling to the walls. There it slowed, hindered by packed clay yet fueled by the imbedded straw used to thicken it. Kenyi was perplexed. Surely the innards of the hut was like an earthen oven, where was his target?
He was answered by a howl then an explosion at the hut’s door. A man streaked outside, his back aflame. Kenyi wasn’t fooled by the ruse. He kicked his horse and it sprang after the fleeing man. The fugitive transformed as Kenyi neared; he fell on all fours, his legs and arms thickening with each lope. Fur replaced skin and horns broke free on its forehand. Kenyi was only moments away when bat-like wings sprouted on the demon’s back then expanded quickly into appendages more than enough to lift the beast into the sky. Kenyi looked in wonder but not in fear. This was the largest demon yet. He whispered a prayer, touched his cross and then spurred his horse faster.
The demon took one bounded and rose into the air. It spun about then spewed hellfire at Kenyi. The fire streamed at the rider but neither he nor his horse faltered. The cross grew warm against Kenyi’s chest and the flames splattered yards before reaching him. Kenyi shifted his lance, raising it over his shoulder then letting it fly. The weapon streaked for the demon’s heart, but it too had its protections. The lance shattered, pieces of wood and steel raining hot onto the vegetation below then sparking small fires where they landed.
The demon twisted again, striking out with its right wing. It struck Kenyi hard, knocking him from his horse. He landed as best he could then rolled to his feet, his kaskara drawn. The demon swiped at him again; Kenyi ducked the wing then sliced it in half. The demon fell from the sky and tried to right itself but Kenyi was upon it, hacking with sword and dagger. The final blows came from beyond; two arrows appeared in the beast’s head, pinning it to the ground. Kenyi finished it by loping off its hideous head.
The warrior fell to the ground no sooner than the deed was done, his body consumed with fatigue. By the time he was able to sit up the Nubans had joined him.
“Another fugitive sent back to its maker,” one of them said.
Kenyi nodded then grimaced. “There will always be more.”
“Maybe not for you,” the other Nuban replied. “You have killed more than your share. The priests call you home.”
Kenyi looked at his cohorts then at the cross on his chest. Yes, he’d killed many demons, but it still did not equal the number of men that had fallen to his blades.
“Where is the closest monastery?” he asked.
The Nubans looked at each other and shrugged.
“There is a church in the village about three spans from here,” one of the Nubans said.
Kenyi got up slowly then mounted his horse.
“We will go there then,” he said. “They can direct us.”
“As you wish,” the Nubans said in unison.
They guided their mounts toward the hills, headed for the village church. Kenyi looked back at the smoldering remains of the fugitive as it sank slowly into the ground, returning to Hell. He would send many more below before he was done.
Excellent rendering of Kenyi's image.