“Ready the culverins,” Lord Vangley shouted.
“Culverins!” his men shouted in the distance.
Legions of vampires set down the cannons in the dank glade, priming barrels and raising them skywards. They abandoned the half-sunken catapult in the marsh, setting up the remaining Trechubets well short of the manor.
A green glow emanated from beneath the water, catching Talmot’s eye. As fog whisked past his ankles, he leaned forward, stabbing the water with his sword. Entranced by the glimmer of the gemstones below, he edged closer. “Fortunes long forgotten smile upon thee.” He eased his grip on the sword.
Crafted from the refuse of the bog, a giant creature rose from the depths, towering over the Mujahideen. With hands of mud and rock, it struck the vampire, knocking him backwards. Quick as a cat, Talmot sprung to his feet, and sliced off its arm, only to be pummeled by the other. As he scraped himself from the ground, more creatures rose from the mire.
“Lawson?” Talmot screamed.
The hunter shook his head. “Bog beasts,” he grumbled.
Dozens emerged from the swamp, and limped towards the front lines. Cannons exploded, blowing holes in the quag weaves as they inched closer. But they did not recoil, their wounds closing shut with the aid of the swamp as they continued their march.
“Brute force will not impede them,” Lawson warned.
“Then how do you propose we kill them?” Vangley asked.
Lawson hesitated. “We cannot. They draw their strength from the bog, incantations from forbidden crafts long forgotten. If the fires could not extract the moisture from the swamp and keep the torrent at bay, nothing will. We must either destroy those who hold dominion over them or withdraw.”
Soliders pounced on the first wave, blasting them with hand culverins, and hacking off chunks with swords and axes. As they fell, bog beasts transformed into a muddy gush, and jumped down the vampires’ throats. Shadowlings fell to the ground, regurgitating the swamp until their lungs faltered and could no longer breathe.
“Never.” The patriarch stood defiantly. “I did not endure all this just to be defeated by a gang of mud pies. Laurent, take my men and scout the manor ahead. Destroy Enura if she crosses your path.”
“But father-” said Laurent.
“I will watch over Lawson personally,” said the elder. “Sons of Vissorouy yield to no one. Remember that, fledgling.”
“My lord!” Lawson pulled him aside. Three shapes burst from the ground, and attacked the guard.
“Father!” Laurent cried.
“Go, now!” Vangley unsheathed his canesword, and jumped into the fray. He decapitated one of the mudmen, stomping its head with his boots. One of its eyes fell free, rolling into a cluster of weeds. The creature’s head morphed into a hand, and pawed at the gemstone.
Lawson snatched it up before the demon could reach it, covering it tight in his gloved hand. “Of course, the eyes. The instrument to which the spell is bound. Pluck out the eyes, and you will bring them to their knees.”
As the creature grabbed hold of the patriarch, Talmot jumped forward, and sheered off the remaining eye. Instantly mud and refuse fell back to the earth, an inanimate pile no more deadly than dry leaves.
The elder brushed the mud from his coat. “Put out their eyes, and bring them to me!” Vangley hissed.
The guard cut down the two remaining beasts, ripping out their eyes, and adding them to Lawson’s burgeoning pouch. The hunter tied it shut, and approached one of the culverins as Vangley’s personal guard stymied the approach.
“Do not fire another round,” Lawson instructed the gunner. “Raise the barrel, and put these inside.” He handed him the pouch.
“Do as he says,” said the elder.
“Would it not be more practical to fire these into the swamp?” The gunner considered the pouch.
“No, I want you to store them. Cap off the barrel; do not let them escape. Without the swamp, they have nothing to craft their form.”
“What shall I use to cap it off, sir?” he asked.
“This.” Lawson scooped up an iron ball from the ground.
“Very well.” The soldiers raised the barrel, and slipped the stones inside.
Though hundreds remained, the army of Vissorouy plucked out each one until the last beast crumbled, stuffing full their cannons, and sealing them shut with the remaining shells.
“Once again you came through for me while others falter.” Vangley watched the fog dissipate. “I owe you a debt of gratitude.”
“Thank me once we have captured Enura,” said Lawson.
“I believe you are mistaken, counsel. Vissorouy is not taking prisoners this eve.” He wiped his blade, and continued to the manor.