Captain Icilius strode back and forth in front of the five men standing at attention. His eyes bore into each and every one of them. Gerald took the gaze for what it was meant to be; an inspection of their worthiness. Gerald was still scared of the Captain; and he should be, but he knew today wasn’t about intimidation. Today was the start of something new.
“You five are the most worthy of my company.” The captain didn’t have to call out like he was addressing his entire hundred-man unit, but he did anyway. “Don’t take that as a compliment.” His eyes dared anyone to think he was actually being nice. “Being the smartest of the stupid still means you are stupid, but you have shown enough skill in battle that I can be confident you won’t get killed immediately.”
The captain stopped walking back and forth to stand at the center of the formation. “Because of your mild aptitude you are being given a gift by your lord and master.”
Gerald waited with his eyes locked forward and his chin held high, but nothing happened. He knew better than to look around so he continued to stand there and do nothing.
<I’ve seen people get killed by our lovely Captain for flinching and ruining his big speeches.> Gerald suppressed a shudder. He hoped he survived this gift.
“For the first time in your miserable lives you are going to be given real power.”
And that’s when it happened.
Gerald felt a pressure inside himself. He struggled to breath and remain at the position of attention as something warm and invigorating filled him. It was the first time since he stepped out of Prince Seere’s golden hall than Gerald hadn’t felt cold. In fact, for a brief moment, he felt whole.
Just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Gerald and the other four soldiers collectively exhaled from the experience. The Captain had been right. It was the best Gerald had ever felt, but like everything in Hell it came with a downside. That feeling was fleeting and it left him wanting more.
“You’ve been gifted with a trickle of power. Something so minuscule compared to our Lord’s supreme dominance that there isn’t even a unit of measurement to describe its insignificance.” The Captain glowered at them.
Gerald daydreamed for a second about what it must be like to have so much power, but quickly banished the thought. Thinking like that was a sure way to get killed. Having your head in the clouds was a good way to lose it.
“Now that you have power, I am going to teach you how to use it.”
Gerald was understandably reluctant to be taught by the ridged man. After all, the first time he’d been taught something new the Captain’s spear had ended up in his gut.
“Power can be used in a variety of ways.”
Two soldiers brought out a thick log and placed it upright next to the Captain. Without looking the Captain unsheathed his sword and took a swing at the log. A loud THUMP echoed through the small clearing as the blade dug partially into the wood.
“You can use it to be stronger.”
Gerald’s eyes widened as the Captain visibly grew large and bulkier. Veins popped and the Captains eyes went wild as he swelled. With a short yell the Captain drew a second sword and slashed at the wood. The wood practically exploded around the point of impact. The blade didn’t go all the way through, but it did send the log flying a few dozen feet backwards and tumbling to the ground.
Gerald gulped as the Captain turned and pointed his sword at them.
“Strength and durability is valuable. But you can be the strongest infernal in Hell and be worthless if you can’t hit anything.” The Captain’s figure blurred and suddenly he was standing by the battered log several dozen feet away.
Gerald hadn’t been able to follow the man’s movement.
“Speed and strength together are much better than either alone.” The Captain effortlessly lifted the trunk, which must had weighed a thousand pounds, and walked it back over to the five soldiers. “But most of us don’t have the luxury of having both in sufficient quantity.”
Once the Captain dropped the tree his body shrunk back to his normal short and stocky shape.
“Power also gives us the ability to influence things and shape them to our will or empower them to function how we want them too.”
The Captain took his sword and held it out in front of him. For a moment he just stood there staring at it.
<Wow.> Gerald thought as the blade’s edge seemed to flicker in and out of existence.
The captain gave it a casual flick and it cleanly sliced through the thick log. The ground shook slightly as the chunk of wood crashed to the ground. He went over to the dislodged piece, his muscles bulge again, and he picked it up. He walked back over to the man standing next to Gerald.
“Hold out your arms,” the officer commanded.
The man gulped but did what he was told.
“Find that power you felt. It could be in your mind, your gut, your heart, or your cock. Wherever it is, grab it firmly and believe. If you believe you are strong you will be strong. If you believe you are fast you will be fast.”
A fire burned in the Captain’s eye as he said this. Gerald would never forget that look. It was total, unabashed greed. It was the look of someone who wanted something so bad they would do anything, or be anything to get it.
It was in that moment that Gerald vowed he would do his best to get in the Captain’s good-graces, because a man who was willing to do anything for something was a man that could be trusted ─ up to a point.
<As long as we have a mutual goal this could work.> Gerald thought through the impromptu plan, because deep down he knew he was just as greedy as the Captain.
The fleeting satisfaction from the rush of power was something Gerald knew he would always want. If the Captain could help him get it, then the ends justified the means.
The man standing next to Gerald’s muscles vibrated, but didn’t bulge. The Captain didn’t care. He dropped the heavy log into the unprepared man’s arms. The man collapsed under the weight with a painful cry.
“Practice is the key to success.” The Captain walked away ignoring the man’spainful sobs. “Practice this and you can be great. If you are great, our Lord will give you more. As your prestige rises so will your power.”
<Good enough for me.> Gerald smiled, and started to practice.
Gerald brought his weapon down in an overhead swing. He’d perfected the technique cutting wood for the winters back in Massachusetts when he was alive, and had adapted it to crushing skulls on the battlefields of Hell. In this instance, he was aiming for the ground instead of wood, and his weapon of choice was an ultra-dense warhammer instead of an axe. But the effect was the same.
The ground split in front of him. The crack extended about fifty meters and the ground crumbled away. Hundreds of Beelzebub’s monstrosities were pushed into the fissure by the weight of their own army. The attack didn’t last long. Less than a minute passed before the ground sealed itself up.
Gerald could see behind him thanks to his power, so he saw to two creatures trying to sneak up on him. One of those got a bladed wingtip through the throat and the other was swatted halfway to the horizon by a backward swing of the warhammer.
Gerald jumped into the air and flapped his wings to gain elevation. Once he was high enough he surveyed the battle.
The situation was not good.
The airborne regiment that had flown into the enemy air support’s flank was all dead. Gerald had found the dual swords of the regimental commander and used them to dispatch a second enemy knight and absorb that creatures remaining power. General Icilius was executing his plan flawlessly, but it wouldn’t be enough. A wall of artillery explosions hammered the enemy horde about a third of the way deep into their formation. The shield-wall was fighting savagely with the front third and slowly advancing, but the amount of bodies they were leaving behind showed the high price the legions were paying.
A small, flying blur collided with Gerald knocking him toward the ground. It was scaly, slick and all teeth and claws. It crawled all over Gerald’s massive torso trying to bite or scrape at his flesh. All it did was uselessly scratch against Infernal Iron. Finally, Gerald got his hand around the creature’s neck and squeezed until the things head popped off.
<Little shit.> He growled, flicking his gauntleted hand to get the slime off.
Gerald used more power to heighten his perception of time. The battle slowed to a crawl, as he turned to survey it. Thankfully, he’d taken the time because another one of the critters was flying in slow motion toward him. With a thought Gerald enhanced his vision and saw another three following farther back. He traced the trajectory back to its origin and smiled.
Gerald let go of his enhanced perception and dodged left. The flying critter rocketed past him and straight into the fiery explosions of the artillery wall. Gerald ignored the things shriek and shot toward his goal. In the back section of the lines, situated around a number of large soldiers, firing the little creatures at him was the enemy General.
Gerald could tell it was him by the blatant ostentatiousness of the outfit. The patchwork creature had an overlarge man’s head on top of what looked like a hippopotamus’ body with stubby ostrich legs. He was wearing a cloak of multi-colored feathers larger and broader than the first knight Gerald slew. There was no mistaking the thing as anything but a General.
And the General saw Gerald coming.
With a thought, and influx of power, Gerald’s weapon became his trusty molecularly-honed spear again. He crashed into the General’s guard impaling the first creature through the throat. The thing gave a death-squawk as Gerald rolled and came up on one knee. He spun three-hundred and sixty degrees, slicking through unarmored thighs and knees with ease. Half the guards went down unable to move while the other half gushed blood.
Gerald ducked under the swing of a sword, pulled a dagger from his belt, and tossed it at the offender. The dagger passed through the swordsmen’s groin and imbedded itself into the ground. The swordsmen wouldn’t be getting up again anytime soon. Gerald used his own spear to thrust, hack, parry, and bludgeon his way toward the enemy general.
More of the little creatures tried to overwhelm him, but Gerald unleashed a torrent of flame from his mouth. Whatever the slimy part of the creatures was it was combustible. A dozen of the annoying beings exploded with enough force to kill a few of the nearby guards.
Soon there were only a few guards and the general left. The guards charged Gerald together, coordinating their attacks and doing their best to stop him. But Gerald was an Infernal Knight for a reason, and one by one the guards lost their heads or other important body parts.
As the last guard fell Gerald turned toward the general and…
…the next thing Gerald knew he was regaining consciousness. He shook his head and looked around. He was at the bottom of a large furrow. Dozens of bodies cushioned him, and by the scent and sticky sensation most were leaking flesh-bags whose internal skeletal structure had been reduced to powder.
<Clever bastard.> Gerald gave himself another good shake and launched himself into the air and back toward the General.
The monstrous leader stood tall with what passed for a sickening grin on his ashen colored face. Gerald hadn’t realized it before but only one of the arms on the creature’s body was a normal human arm. It looked miniscule and unusable on the thing’s bulky torso, but now Gerald saw it as the ruse it was. The General’s other arm was larger, considerably stronger, and ended in a fist the size of a horse-drawn carriage.
A single punch from that arm had knocked Gerald out cold. It was only for a few seconds, but Gerald couldn’t let that happen again. The possibility of drowning in the enemy horde was a real possibility.
Gerald charged back at the bulbous enemy General and swung at his torso on the side opposite from his powerful arm. The creature danced backward much more nimbly that something its size should ever be capable of, but not fast enough. Gerald’s blade cut deep and blood splattered the ground.
It only oozed for a second before it stitched itself closed, and the general’s face twisted into a superior sneer. Then it attacked.
Gerald barely got out of the way of the fist. It struck nothing but air, but the power of the blow continued long after the physical appendage ended. Several ranks in front of the General were flattened by the after-force of the strike.
<I can’t even be near that fist.> Gerald dived under it as the General tried to backhand him and dug a shallow furrow as a result.
As the huge hand passed overhead Gerald jabbed it with poisoned spikes from his gauntlet. The General let out a roar of pain and stumbled backward. The black spider web of poison started to crawl across his massive palm, but it didn’t make it far.
<Damn.> Gerald jumped into the air to avoid a follow-up hammer-fisted smash.
He realized his mistake a moment too late.
The pressure wave from the General’s punch washed over Gerald and sent him spinning away head over ass. He extended his wings fully to stop his tumble hundreds of meters from his target, and beat them powerfully into a dive and regain the momentum of the attack.
Seere’s legions would be turned to ash within the hour if he failed.
<I need a distraction.>
Gerald knew exactly what he needed to do.
He dodged the waves of pressure, or powered through them, as he closed on the enemy General’s position. He landed with a loud THUD, cracking the ground again, and throwing the massive leader off balance. Those stubby legs weren’t well made for fighting a maneuverable opponent.
Then he charged straight at the enemy. The General might be the leader of Beelzebub’s legions, but he still had the same trait as all of the enemy Lord’s creations. They relied as much on animal instincts as they did on rational thought.
Gerald was going to use both of them against the thing.
Gerald roared a challenge as he crossed the space, building up his energy for a powerful blow. At the last second he flapped one wing to dodge to the side. The General’s fist followed him to deliver its own blow.
Or at least that’s what the General thought was happening.
What Gerald did instead had taken an unknown amount of time to master. Quicker than a flash, Gerald cloaked himself in layers of light that made him appear invisible, while at the same time creating an illusionary copy of himself. The copy dodged to the side in a feint that drew the attention and the fist of the General.
The wave of pressure hit the doppelganger as it lunged for its imaginary strike. The force of the strike blasted the illusionary copy out of existence. Only then did Gerald drop his cloak and thrust his spear forward with enough force to make a mountain shudder.
Gerald felt the power within him get cut in half with the force it took to land that blow, but it was worth it. The spear tip, which flickered in and out of existence it was so sharp, penetrated the turned neck of the General. With a surge of effort that drained even more power, Gerald drove the spear upward into the General’s brain.
It was a guess that the leader’s brain was there in the first place, but no one decided to have a human head and not put the brain where it was supposed to be. Beelzebub wasn’t that creative.
The General’s body shuddered. Gerald let go of his imbedded spear and rained several poisoned blows into the creature’s legs and torso just to make sure. Finally, after a several seconds of twitching and foaming at the mouth, the patchwork General pitched forward onto the ground and died.
The effect on the battle was immediate. The control the fallen General had been exerting over the half-mad creatures was gone, making them fully crazy. They attacked anything they could reach. And for most of them that meant each other.
Whatever remaining champions Beelzebub had on the battlefield tried to restore some semblance of control, but they didn’t have the skill or the power the General possessed; a good fraction of which flowed into Gerald as he replenished most of his lost strength.
<Time to end this.> Gerald wrenched his spear out of the fallen General and started to carve a new path through the horde.
The leadership might be decimated but Seere’s forces still had to put down tens of thousands of rabid abominations before they could go home.