[Official Fiction] Harbinger - Part III Calvin Crowner Uskadesh ripped the knife cleanly from the last of his crew, his wings and robes doused in blood. The look of denial and confusion clear in the dying gargoyle’s eyes as the minister cleaned the blade on the jaw of the recently deceased. He spoke soothingly, bending his neck so the young one could hear, “These are the last words you will hear: know you have served your queen valiantly.” With that he was on his way: a message to give and glory to receive. The guards-in-training had shown flashes of brilliance in their fight. However, even has a minister he had many years more battle experience in battle than the whelps were dispatched with scant effort. He felt comfort and peace in that this nasty piece of business was finally and victoriously ended. But, running for so long was taking its toll. His wings and lungs screamed for rest. A half moon assisted him with the shroud of shadow as he sprung and forced his body through the wilderness toward the rendezvous point. In Uskadesh’s flight he could feel the presence of hounds growing around him as he closed the distance to his destination. Virtuebane had arranged for a form of entourage. Quite fitting, he thought. I think I shall have a few of these as pets as part of my reward. The clearing was non-descript. No pyres of flame, no wailing and cries of lost souls … simply the gilded touch of the night slipping through the dark limbs of the trees. Virtuebane seemed to be waiting patiently. Sitting on his haunches, he was loudly enjoying a bit of what smelled like roasted pig. His resonant yet grating voice lifted through the calm night air, “Hail good minister. Having a bit of a treat. Something about leading a demon horde keeps one famished. Care for some?” The look of confusion must have been too obvious on the minister’s face, because Virtuebane continued. “Oh come now, we demons are not all ruptured torsos and torn hope. We’d never survive without SOME civility,” he chuckled. The otherworldly being savored the meat with uncanny delight. Uskadesh waited for him to finish. “No, thank you. Gargoyles do not care for pig. At least this one does not.” The demon made short work of the meal and sucked the ends of his talons as he addressed the minister. “So! What is all this rushing about in the darkness?” Uskadesh composed himself to offer the news. “As you know your plan has gone well. Courage has fled the humans, love has been betrayed, and truth among the few has been corrupted.” Virtuebane raised a dark hand, prompting the minister forward. “Get … to … the point.” “I have on good faith -- that is with my own eyes -- confirmed the presence of the crystal with the elusive rogue Ricardo. He will be attending the memorial services.” Virtuebane roared with the news-- laughter and blue spears of lightning erupted from his being. The hellhounds bayed and barked with sudden cacophony. “We demons do know happiness, good minister, and this brings much joy to me. Incidentally, how is that wound mending since our last meeting?” Uskadesh cringed in memory, the torn and wounded flesh warming in recollection. “It has not mended well, my liege.” “Ah health. How do they say? It’s wasted on the young?” The pack of hounds seemed to grow as the demon spoke. The beasts sniffed at the growing tension in the air. Prolonged howls shredded the silence as Virtuebane rose. Uskadesh grimaced. Murderous intent was clear in Virtuebane’s question and the lowered, predatory stance. The gargoyles spoke, despair clear in his voice. “How have I failed you?” Virtuebane inclined his head with false concern, “Oh you have served your traitorous purpose quite well. But traitors cannot be trusted.” The demon was fast. His maw snapped open, arms flung wide as the beast lunged -- claws and hands a blur. Virtuebane wrenched the gargoyle’s wings from its back. The pack howled barking madly, foam and flame dripping from their muzzles. Uskadesh fell in a slump. Virtuebane mockingly attached the wings to his own shoulders, “How do they look?” I think I will wear them to the services.” The demon leapt a once more. His voice was a searing spike in Uskadesh’s ear as it clutched the gargoyles head in his hands, “These are the last words you will hear: know you have failed your queen and your people.” Virtuebane quipped, “I have friends looking forward to meeting you.” Hellhounds set upon the minister as he screamed. His own howls mixed with the bloodlust of the pack. Virtuebane spoke above the fray, “Oh! One more thing … demons do not eat pig.” Uskadesh eyes had finally adjusted to the darkness. As his body was torn he recognized the remains of what could only have been … something human, in a pile across the glade.