A river you don't want to visit.

A river you don’t want to visit.

My second Splatter Elf tale, “River of Blades,” will be officially launching July 31st. This follows Katzia, the half-elf snark queen from “The Unicorn-Eater,” on another adventure to find swords. She does love her swords. On her journey she has to deal with brain eating imps called cerebrax that burst out of people’s skulls and are generally ill-tempered. She teams up a “Shield Elf,” a masochistic elf from the pits of one of the Nine and Half Hells, that seeks to absorb attacks for her as an elfin shield. Below is a brief excerpt of the story to whet your whistle. Comments are appreciated of course:

Katzia’s blond hair had turned pink from all the blood. It dripped as she walked, leaving a splotchy trail behind her. Despite being a half-elf, she felt uncomfortable in the elven town of Locanta. Like emaciated ghouls, they walked with their mouths open, blinking and twitching. It gave Katzia the fucking creeps.

The villagers scattered out of her way as she drug the bloated corpse of Del Dannis into Locanta. A former war hero, Del had turned to a life of ear-clipping. The elves offered big bounties for those who made their living selling elf ears to warlocks and jewelry makers in the Swishing Hollows of Schetzera. Katzia didn’t mind them. Gave her something to do. This was the third ear-clipper she had killed in two weeks. Cut both hands off one short bastard with a bent nose. She scalped a man she called “Browntooth,” a slippery fucker that almost got away from her by jumping out the window of a ruined temple. Grabbing a handful of his matted hair ended that plan. He hit the ground. His scalp stayed.

Good memories.

Word was, Del massacred a dozen elves on the road to Gulbradan. Wasn’t much left of them but pulp and their formerly luxurious hair. Most of the blood on Katzia was Del’s, but he managed a few good blows with his bone hammer. Enough that she needed a good massage from the local witch doctor.

There.” Katzia dropped Del’s body with a wet plop. He laid face down, blood spreading out from his exposed skull. “Del Dannis as promised. Where’s my reward?”

A shriveled-up elf with grayish skin and stringy black hair rapped her cane against the ground. Katzia had dealt with her before. Called herself Crone Orti. “How did you kill him?”

A sword,” Katzia said, pointing to the blade hanging from her belt. “A beautiful sword, I might add. You know, like the one you’re going to give me for killing him. I believe it’s called Serpent’s Kiss?”

We wanted his head smashed in,” the crone hissed. “Did you not read the bounty we posted?”

Dead is dead. Why does it matter if his head is smashed in?”

It’s what we asked.”

I don’t see the—”

Del’s skull cracked open and tiny, probing fingers pushed away fragments of bone and brain. A clear, bulbous head poked out, milky eyes creaking open. The creature looked left and right. It let out a pathetic squeal.

That’s why.” Orti hobbled backward.

The fuck?” Katzia recoiled, hand going to one of her swords. She whipped Gemstream from her scabbard, the smooth sapphire-crusted blade glistening in the red sun. She held it in front of her as the creature licked brain matter from its claws with a thick tongue. It had long pointed ears that flicked away blood and two slits for nostrils that snorted repeatedly. Reminded Katzia of some kind of imp-cat-devil child hybrid.

Katzia crept forward, hoping she could snatch the creature from Del’s skull with little struggle. “Easy now. Let’s play nice.”

A mistake.

The creature sprang from Del’s skull like a mad rabbit, showering the gathered crowd in brain matter. It skittered around their legs, snapping at them and grasping with sticky fingers. The monster spat blood and squealed as it leaped at the crone’s face. She fell backwards and it crawled all over her body like a manic spider.

Orti swatted at the monster with her knotted cane. “Kill it! It’s a Berusian cerebrax!’

Katzia sprung into action, swinging her glimmering sword. It did a back flip and cartwheeled out of the way. A foul green mist pumped from its mouth. It reeked of old fish and rotted pine. With a slight hint of something else. Cheese?

Don’t breathe it—”one elf tried to say, but it was too late. He had taken his last breath with that very warning. His eyeballs oozed out of his head and leaked across his cheeks. His lips turned purple and he hit the ground. His head shriveled up, arms and legs withering away to crumbling dust. He looked more like a rotting squash than an elf.

Several other elves fell victim to the mist, but Katzia kept back-pedaling away until it dissipated. The cerebrax skittered away, slinging blood from its fingers as it went. The squealing faded, leaving the village coated in blood.

Katzia bent down to help the old crone up. “How much you going to pay me to kill that? More than one sword I presume?”

You should have smashed Del’s head in like we asked.” Orti knocked away Katzia’s hand. “Don’t you even ask if I’m fine?”

Sorry, your eyes aren’t leaking out of your skull. I assumed you’re fine,”

Luckily only the newborns do that thing with the mist,” Orti said.

Yeah, tell that to your fellow townspeople writhing on the ground with their faces melted.” Katzia pointed toward a group of people slowly dying. “Am I getting compensated for my work or not? I have a collection of my own and it’s not elf ears.”

Oh?”

Katzia hocked up some phlegm and spit it onto Del’s head. “Swords. I collect swords. Serpent’s Kiss, remember?”

You’ll have to do more than incorrectly kill one ear-clipper for us to give you our town’s treasure.”

Fuck you. Give it to me.”

No.”

No? I have a sword. Did you forget that?”

If you’re just going to chatter mindlessly, then be on your way. We have bigger problems to deal with.”

I’m here for more than just one sword,” Katzia said. “I’m told you know where the River of Blades is?”

The crone hobbled away. “Why would I tell you that?”

Katzia stepped in front of Orti. “Because you want that cerebrax dead and I’m the only one that can handle it.”

It?” Orti cackled, putting her withered hand on Katzia’s shoulder. “There are hundreds of them. Killing one is like killing one ant. You’ve accomplished nothing.”

So what are you saying? There’s a family of these things?”

Not a family, half-human. A colony. With a mother.”

One mother birthed a whole colony? Must hurt. Either that or she’s big. Really big.”

Orti spread out her hands. “Huge. Bigger than six of you stacked on top of each other. Pumps these disgusting imps from its womb two or three times a week. They start out small until they bore into someone’s nose, ear, or mouth while the victim sleeps. We used to call them dream-eaters before we found out it was the brains they wanted. Berusia the Stubby Witch discovered them, hence the name, Berusian cerebrax.”

Fucking stupid name.”

The crone blinked.

Katzia waved her hand impatiently. “Carry on.”

One got a hold of Del Dannis. He used to be a trader from one of the bigger cities in Schetzera. Brought us stale bread from Uclix. He was a bastard and fleeced us more often than not, but we never dreamed he’d turn ear clipper. The cerebrax got into his mind and turned him mad.”

Fascinating.” Katzia folded her arms. “So if I kill this mother, you’ll give me Serpent’s Kiss and tell me where the River of Blades is?”

Are you that stupid, girl?”

Katzia clutched the old woman by the scruff of her neck. “I’m no girl, you old bitch. I’m older than—”

Orti sniffed.

Damn, that line’s not going to work this time, Katzia thought. “Anyway, I’m pretty old.”

You find the mother, you find the River of Blades. The river is full of the swords of those who have failed to stop her over the years.” The crone pointed her crooked finger in Katzia’s face. “Go north. The trail of corpses will guide you.”

Every trail is composed of corpses around here.”

But these corpses will have their heads exploded. That’s how you can tell you’re going in the right direction.” She sneered and struggled like a trapped rat. “Will you let me go?”

No, I need a shield.” Katzia cleared her throat. “Sorry, I mean a guide. I don’t plan on wandering around aimlessly looking for this colony. You must be good at guiding. You don’t seem good at anything else other than pissing me off.”

Nonsense.” The old crone slipped away. “That’s why we have Elandral.”

I wasn’t serious,” Katzia said, raising an eyebrow. “Who is Elandral?”

Orti gave a weak attempt at a whistle. The ground rumbled and cracked underneath them. Steam pumped from various holes. Several elves stopped what they were doing and started singing like a choir,their shrill voices filling the air.

Did you rehearse this?” Katzia asked.

The crone closed her eyes. “Quiet.”

Don’t tell me Elandral is a big gopher,” Katzia said, stepping away as red cracks spread out. “I have an aversion to followers of the god Momatt. Give me the creeps.”

A gaping black pit opened up in the earth, yawning like a gate to one of the many Hells. A thin, ragged elf emerged from the steaming, burping pit. Slithering out like a newborn, his eyes blinked to adjust to the light. He dusted off ash and fragments of bone.

This is your temporary mistress,” Orti said, pointing at Katzia. “Go to her.”

The elf crawled on his hands and knees and stopped in front of Katzia. His bald, lop-sided head lay against her boot. He kissed the blood away from the leather, leaving behind smudged imprints.

Katzia kicked him away. “Gross. Stop it.”

The crone kicked Elandral as well, but not nearly as hard. “He’s trying to show that he likes you.”

I am yours to abuse, my lady,” Elandral said, his voice strained. “I am the Elfin Shield of Thaaka, God of Everlasting Pain and Torment. I lie prostrate before you and my god.”

A priest?” Katzia almost backhanded the crone for even suggesting such a foul thing. “I’ll not have a priest of some perverted god following me around. Especially one of everlasting torment and pain.”

Orti cleared her throat. “It’s everlasting pain and torment.”

Yes, that sounds much better,” Katzia said, backing away from Elandral as he still inched toward her like a slug.

I will absorb pain for you, my lady.” He kissed the ground in front of Katzia’s feet. “My pain is Thaaka’s joy.”

Elandral’s body was a map of scars. Crude carvings of skulls, serpents, and flames marked every spot of his face. Tattooed across his lips was dir-aldi, the elvish word for “Suffering.” While he appeared to be a young elf, the multitude of scars made him look shriveled up and feeble, about a five feet tall with boots. Of course he didn’t wear boots because that somehow enhanced his suffering. He clutched at a simple silver circlet hanging from his neck. The Crown of Thaaka. Katzia had met some followers of Thaaka when traveling with the Rolling City. They liked to stab themselves in the hands with knives and set their eyebrows on fire. Fun guys.

You will step in front of a sword for me?” Katzia asked, thumping Elandral in the forehead.

Of course. I will throw myself upon it if needed. I am your shield.”

I never use shields. They’re clumsy and heavy.”

Elandral bowed as deeply as possible. “I shall be your succor, my lady.”

A screech ripped through the village, knocking the old crone on her ass. Elandral held up both his arms, fists upward, stepping in front of Katzia. He stood rigid like petrified wood. His muscles tightened like overdrawn bow strings. The fool would die for her. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Happy? Sick? Maybe a mixture of both. Katzia hadn’t had such interest for an elf since Tizuni popped her neck back in alignment last week. With Elandral it was warped curiosity. Like watching someone vomit up tiny yellow worms from the Wormling Plague. Disgusting, but entrancing to watch.

The screech came closer. Small huts rocked back and forth as a sleek dragon swooped overhead. Its black, hairy form weaved to and fro. Been a while since Katzia had seen a hairy dragon. There went a saying in Grotsekia, “Hair on a dragon, pack up your wagon.” She preferred the non-rhyming version, “Hair on a dragon, start fucking running.”

*

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in “River of Blades” keep an eye on my Splatter Elf Facebook page for the official announcement. And if you haven’t picked up “The Unicorn-Eater,” my first Splatter Elf tale featuring Katzia, you can scoop it up here.

 

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