Twelve-year-old Rogan stood at the top of a valley, surrounded by the rest of the barbarian hordes, watching as far below soldiers prepared to rip the wings off a thrashing fallen angel.
One of his fellow tribe members grunted, “How the hell can they do that?”
“The angels are shapeshifters,” Ivor, the Oracle of Wodan, answered. “This one is wearing human flesh, and thus, it is vulnerable. Otherwise, those soldiers would be decimated.”
“It must have stolen the flesh of a giant, then. He’s a big fucker.”
Though Rogan didn’t comment, he snorted in agreement. The fallen angel probably stood ten feet tall, but it wasn’t so fearsome bleeding on the valley floor, its left leg sliced off at the knee by two soldiers from the axe corps of the opposing army, its long wings roped to the bridles of mammoths, an arrow lodged in its left eye, and two spears stuck into its groin. When the ropes went tight, the angel’s right wing tore loose, popping out of its back by the roots. The mammoth on that side stomped down on the appendage. Slowly, the mammoth on the left began to drag the being away. The dying angel howled, leaving a trail of black blood in its wake. The soldiers in the valley laughed and cheered.
“Which fallen one is that?” Rogan asked quietly.
The Oracle of Wodan cleared his throat. “They say it is Samual, but demons lie.”
“That so, Ivor?” Rogan’s father, Jarek, laughed. “Men lie, too. Especially when they’ve been caught screwing the wrong person.”
Ivor gestured over to the right side of the valley where the mammoth trudged on with the detached wing. Floating above it was a figure bearing the overall shape of a man but sporting scales, plates, fins, and many reptilian qualities. “Angels screw the wrong things, too, Jarek. You see Pergamus hanging in the air over there? He didn’t screw any women, just the saurian beasts of the field. That is why we have such things as that to deal with.”
Ivor then pointed to their left. All heads followed along. From over the valley’s far ridge arose a large beast, reddish in the sunlight. It flapped its massive, leathery wings and roared.
One of the youths near Rogan screamed and then was whacked on his hindquarters by his father with the pommel of a spear.
“Damn things.” Ivor sighed, gazing down at the army in the valley. “Now we shall see how good their magick works.”
Rogan felt a hand slap the back of his head.
“Breathe, boy,” Jarek grunted.
Rogan hadn’t realized that he’d been holding his breath. No matter how much his father beat toughness into him, the natural reaction to seeing a dragon couldn’t be stopped. In this case, he felt his bladder near to bursting but hated to ponder what the punishment would be if he pissed on the leg of the Oracle of Wodan.
“Jarek,” Ivor said, “see the priests down there?”
“I see them.” Rogan’s father nodded. His long tresses of auburn hair fluttered in the wind.
“Would that they were all dead.”
“See what they do?”
“Waving their hands about and chanting. Isn’t that what priests always do?”
“Other than not get laid?” another barbarian chimed in.
Undeterred by the horde’s laughter, Ivor said, “See what they draw out to send at the dragon?”
The broken body of the fallen angel Samual ceased leaking black blood and began to emit something else. Mist rose out of the wounds like long ethereal eels. As the barbarians watched, the mist formed into humanoid shapes. The soldiers in the valley, while visibly awed, held their ground. The dragon hovered as if confused by these new arrivals.
“What are they?” Jarek asked.
Ivor folded his arms. “The escaping souls of all the flesh the angel used to walk around on earth.”
“People?” Jarek gripped the hilt of his sheathed sword.
“Yes. And a lot of them, given the size of that cage of flesh the demon wrapped itself in.”
Rogan frowned. “But the souls don’t fight. They just confuse the dragon.”
Ivor smiled. “Sometimes, young Rogan, that is enough.”
The soldiers in the valley made good use of the delay and shot several projectiles from bows at the dragon. These were not arrows or bolts, and not meant to pierce the creature’s hide but to wrap it. Within seconds, the beast sported eight lines of heavy rope that tumbled down to the earth. Soldiers rushed forth and quickly secured the lines to mammoths and horses. The dragon bucked and sent a few men aloft. One of the horses went airborne as well. The dragon twisted about, long neck extending, and bit the animal’s head off.
Rogan realized that he was holding his breath again. He let it out before his father noticed.
The mammoths trumpeted and turned, urged on by their taskmasters. The dragon was jerked out of the sky and crashed to the ground. As it struggled to rise, one of the mammoths galloped away, torquing the rope around the dragon’s left wing. The rope snapped off, but the wing twisted, folding in the middle, ruined. Like an army of ants, the soldiers in the valley ran forward and stabbed their lances into the beast’s limp wing. Soon they had the monster pinned.
Jarek shook his head. “They are dead men.”
Though it looked that way to Rogan as well, the taskmasters of the mammoths turned their great beasts and they thundered onward, stomping onto and into the dragon. The monster sank its slavering jaws into the leg of one of the hairy elephants, but the massive tonnage of the other mammoths pulped it, reducing the dragon to a wet, red carcass that steamed in the sunlight.
The barbarians around Rogan broke into applause.
Ivor grinned. “One would think they’ve done that before, aye?”
“Look there.” Jarek pointed at the floating Pergamus. “They’ve pissed off that dragon’s daddy.”
The devil in the sky glowed orange. Rogan’s hands shook, tightening his grip around his lance and sword pommel for comfort. He looked away from the angel and searched the sky. Rogan didn’t see their god, Wodan. He didn’t count on it, either.
Ivor eyed Rogan. “Are you about to pray, boy?”
Rogan nodded. “To the All Father, Wodan.”
“The All Father doesn’t care for words. What are the words of a trembling cunt on the wind to him? You would do well to remember that, Rogan.”
“We just stopped to see what happened, Ivor,” Jarek reminded him. “The guides were off due to bad dreams. We should move on. That well-formed army down there and their priests? None of our affair.”
Nostrils flaring, eyes now aimed up at Pergamus, Ivor replied, “I wonder.”
“What?” Jarek cracked his knuckles. “We need to get the tribe back on the route home.”
Ivor frowned as the halo of orange light about Pergamus grew brighter still. “Damn, we are not here by accident.”
“What do you mean?”
The glow left Pergamus and floated toward the barbarian horde like a fast-moving cloud. As it settled on them, all talk ceased. They stiffened, spasming, and their eyes rolled white. Then, they became of one mind and knew their purpose. Like puppets on strings, all of Rogan’s tribesmen, his father, and their wizard charged into the valley with weapons drawn and smashed into the surprised soldiers.
Then came the blood. And the screams.