“I thought I’d stick around awhile longer to adorn my wall with your head.” Talmot launched himself into the trees as the rooftop collapsed.
Essinger followed, swinging around a lower branch, and mounting its perch. He reached for his sword, but instead groped air.
“Perhaps I should return this to you. It served me well in your absence.” Talmot tossed down the sword. “What became of you anyways, old man? Out whoring?”
“Too dangerous these days.” The crusader frowned. “You could catch something if you are not careful.” He sneezed.
A crimson bulb of flesh rose from the ruins, uncurling and exposing rows of sharp teeth. A translucent form huddled below, beckoning the vampires closer.
“‘Tis not the best view from the bottom of the ocean, so I decided to go topside for some devilish play. I prayed for a mermaid or two, but all I got were horny eels and hungry sharks.” Essinger savored the blade in his hands.
“Foolish infidel. Repent to Allah, and he will give you 72 virgins once I cut off your head,” Talmot grinned. “Otherwise, one of those decomposing corpses back in town will have to suffice.”
“I’m fond of such corpses. One in particular.” He pondered her sweet smile.
Talmot and Essinger jumped the next tree over, as the hellflower scorched the branches with its volcanic breath.
“Essinger?” Lord Vangley stepped forward, his mouth agape.
“My lord, look out!” Lawson knocked him aside as the wicked vine snapped down, and severed a guard in two. Woven into the hellflower’s stem, bony scythes flailed the vampire legions as they swarmed. “We must view the stage from safer ground if I am to unleash the fury of my bow.” He helped Vangley to his feet, and scurried away. “Laurent?” he called.
The skeletal whip lashed at their retreat, burying itself in the trunk of an old tree. Vangley’s guard rushed forward, slicing the vine to pieces, the bones of its victims strewn across the forest floor.
“Perhaps there is safety in the trees, the very ones we tried to extinguish,” said the elder.
A root burst out of the ground, tripping the patriarch and his counsel. Slats in the base of a pine snapped open, its myriad eyes throbbing with a tawny gleam. The creature yanked its parasitic tendrils from the tree, and lumbered forward.
“Be still. You cannot outrun spiderwood,” Lawson whispered. “On my mark, roll to your side.”
Two children scampered by, torches crackling in their hands.
“Dionte, Deverrell, no!” Lord Vangley uttered.
The spiderroot pounced on the easy kill, scattering over top the twins, and snapping its jaws. Abruptly the woodcraft faltered, flames devouring its extremities. The creature screeched one last time before the miscreants kicked it off them.
“It’s mine.” Dionte came running with a parcel of flesh.
“No, mine.” Deverrell snatched it back.
Suddenly two stone lions jumped out of the forest, knocking the vamplings off their feet, and seizing the heart of the wood beast. They ripped it apart, devouring the soft, dark flesh before eyeing the vampires.
“Lawson!” Laurent called from the tree above. He unfolded a gray cloth, and tossed down the crossbow.
“I was saving this for Enura.” Lawson glanced at the hellflower in the distance. “But you will do just fine.” He pointed the bow and fired.
A lion jumped clear as the other exploded in a hail of rock and dust. The hunter adjusted his aim and fired again, catching the beast flat-footed, and shattering its lower extremities.
Stone stards cut into the trees, waking more spiderwood from their slumber. Dionte and Deverrell screamed, their arms and faces bloodied by the keen deluge. Before Lord Vangley could react, a shadow slipped out of the darkness, scooped up the twins, and ran towards him. The stranger deposited the miscreants at his feet, and glared at him with her green eyes.
“Olivia?” Vangley gasped.
“What fool goes into battle without a medic?” She uncoiled her scarf. “My elixirs are just as potent as my poison.”
“I will not have you here. Leave!” he commanded.
“Tell me something, my lord. Whose misguided notion was it to bring children to the battlefield?” Olivia asked.
“Field experience is invaluable if one wishes to become a man.”
“But real men use diplomacy. Your words, not mine,” she replied.
“Stop hounding me, woman. I am trying to conduct an engagement!” The adjacent tree exploded, knocking Vangley to the ground.
“Perhaps I could be some use.” Olivia pulled a splinter from his forehead.
The elder shrugged her off, and got to his feet. As he turned, the stone lion sprung out from behind a tree, and clawed its way forward.
“Save your arrow, Lawson.” Laurent pushed the bow aside, and charged forward. He swung down the stone hammer, again and again, pounding the lion’s skull to dust. “Finally we are free of your stain.” He tossed the hammer aside.
Spiderwood crept out of the shadows, tightening the circle around them.
“Wait a moment.” Laurent turned. “Where is Lawson?”