With the Demon’s claws about to tear open his throat, young Artr does the only thing he can: he kicks the Demon. Not between the legs, which probably wouldn’t have done any good. No, he kicks the Demon in the left knee.
It’s just enough to throw the Demon’s aim off. The claws meant for Artr’s throat hit the dirt instead. The Demon crashes down to the ground beside Artr. The Scarlet Warrior punches him in the side of the head. The Demon rolls a couple feet away.
Artr scrambles to grab the spear. He’s able to grab it by the head, not caring if it cuts his hand. As the Demon regains his feet, Artr sits up. He jabs at the Demon with the Spear of Justice.
The Black Demon screams as the spear rams through his midsection. As Artr gets to his feet, he transfers more of his weight onto the spear to press it in farther. It finally comes out the other side of the Demon. The monster drops to his knees.
He takes one last swipe at Artr with his claws. The boy blocks the Demon with one arm and then delivers a solid punch with his other. The Demon collapses to the ground, where he bleeds to death like any normal man.
Artr yanks the Spear of Justice free with some effort. He stares down at the Demon in shock. It’s not the first time he’s killed a man, but this was no ordinary man. The realization of what Artr’s accomplished begins to dawn on him.
With the butt of the spear, he pushes off the Demon’s headdress. The face isn’t as ugly as Artr had imagined. There are no scars or boils or birthmarks. It’s the face of a normal man, not a monster. Artr shakes his head at the thought of an ordinary person unleashing such horror.
Behind him, someone applauds. “Very good, child. Merlin chose well.”
Artr turns around and it’s a good thing his loincloth isn’t too snug as the woman is gorgeous. She has dark copper skin with glossy black hair down to waist. Her svelte, well-endowed body is clad in only a thin linen dress. Around her neck she wears a silver amulet with a symbol like a stick figure with its arms curving down. Her eyes are the most unnatural part of her, the irises so black they seem to pull in the light.
Since he’s only sixteen and never bedded a woman before, Artr finds himself tongue-tied. “W-who are y-you?” he stammers.
“I am Isis.”
She takes a step forward to put a hand on Artr’s shoulder. She gently massages his muscles there. “Such a strapping lad. You most certainly are the mightiest warrior in all the land, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Don’t be so modest. No ordinary man could kill the Black Demon.”
“I-I guess so.”
“Now that you’ve killed him, this world is yours for the taking. None can stand against you, not even the gods themselves.” She leans forward to whisper into his ear, “Not even Merlin.”
“What? B-but Merlin is my friend.”
Isis’ laugh chills Artr to his marrow. “Friend? That schemer has no friends, only pawns he commands. Don’t let yourself be another of them.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He made you kill the Black Demon. Then he will tell you to kill me. What do you suppose he’ll do next?”
“I don’t know.”
“Merlin talks to you of darkness and light, but he confuses one with the other. I am the light, not him.”
“B-but the D-demon?”
“I sent him to bring Merlin back to me to stand trial for his crimes. Instead, the coward fled so he could recruit you to stop me.”
“No. Your Demon killed my father. He made my brother a monster.”
“Did he? None of this would have happened if Merlin had not come to your village with that toady of his.”
“You’re lying.” Artr finally tightens his grasp on the spear. He’s going to ram it through Isis, but she’s no longer there.
Her laughter comes from a few yards away. “You fool. You can’t kill a god!”
The ground around Artr begins to shake. He has to use the Spear of Justice to steady himself as the ground heaves. Isis hovers in the air, her eyes burning red. “Now you will pay for your impudence.”
There’s a flash of light between Isis and Artr. “Isis!” Merlin roars. “Leave the boy alone.”
The ground stops shaking. Isis’ eyes return to their normal black. She laughs again. “Tired of letting others fight for you?”
“No one else will die because of our war,” Merlin says. “Let us finish it.”
“Very well. Let us finish it.”
“Not here. We will go to the Hunting Grounds. No harm will come to anyone there.”
Isis glares at Artr. “I will dispose of your master and then I will return for you.” She disappears without even a flash of light.
“Who was that?” Artr asks.
“She is the woman of darkness,” Merlin says.
“And you’re going to fight her?”
“There’s no choice. I can either go there or she’ll fight me here. It will be far safer on the Hunting Grounds.” Merlin puts a hand on Artr’s shoulder. “You’ve fought well, Artr. If I do not survive, use your wisdom and strength to guide your people. Make sure they stay in the light.”
Beaux and I are outside the camp with the rest of the villagers. Merlin appears before me in a flash. “It’s time for me to go and face Isis.”
“By yourself? Let me go with you—”
“This isn’t your fight, Marlin. You’re needed here. Help Artr. He’s still young.”
“I will, my master.”
He smiles at Beaux. “Make sure Marlin doesn’t run into any trouble.”
“I’m the only one he needs to worry about,” Beaux says, but she smiles.
“Farewell, my friends.”
Then he’s gone.
TO BE CONTINUED...Tomorrow, Merlin faces the ultimate temptation. Can he resist or will he fall prey to Isis?