The man released his hand as soon as Drake was up, and stood by as the pilot did what he could to brush himself off. Then he beckoned, and was off, striding across the broad expanse of the field behind them with great sweeps of his long legs. Drake felt dwarfed beside the man, reaching only to his shoulders with the pate of his head, and every one of the man’s strides was one and a half of Drake’s.
Only minutes passed before Drake was clutching his side, wishing for a respite from the stitch that had developed there. Rain continued to pour all around them, filling artillery craters with muddy water and glancing off of the man with the boat oar as if he were dressed in wax. Drake’s boot squelched, and the other foot came down heavily because it was missing the thick sole. Mud squished in between all of his toes, shod or not.
The terrain had shifted from a mass of mud and mire and barbed wire to one more hospitable, but nevertheless scarred by war. Great craters lay scattered across the fields of green, where artillery shells had thrown away the offending grass and dirt. A thin layer of grass lived on the ground here, but it was variously trampled or lush, and so uneven in its color. In the distance, Drake could see a copse of trees and several farm houses, but even those were not unscathed. Several trees lay on their sides, trunks split and splintered by stray shells, while the chimney of one house nearby lay in a shambles around the base of the building.
Drake followed the swift stride of the other fellow as he sped across the countryside. The boat oar thumped the ground with every other step, the narrow handhold at its base cracked and worn from constant abuse by the ground. Lightning flashed more often now, lighting up the area with its unforgiving brilliance every few minutes, and the roar of thunder was an almost constant companion. Sometimes it was loud, and other times distant and faint, but it was a rare moment when only the wind by his ears and the splash of rain met Drake’s ears.
He realized presently that his companion was speaking to him. “Sir Geoffrey Scott, at your service. I am—or was—Merlin. Reincarnation is a strange thing, you know.”
“That’s preposterous,” Drake retorted.
“Yes, like the walking dead?” answered Geoffrey, and he looked back at Drake with a wink. “I am as Merlin, and just as he molded the world in his image, so can I. My enemy—our enemy—lurks somewhere on the German side. It is he who marshaled a host of the walking dead; and it is I who wrought sanctuaries, up and down our lines, in which our fellow countrymen might hide until the battle is finished.”
As Geoffrey paused, Drake spotted the wrack of an Albatros scout scattered across the field ahead, to their left. Its wings were shattered, the struts in pieces on the ground and the fuselage torn apart, by stinging bullets and the trauma of the crash. A man lay over the edge of the nacelle, quite limp, blood draining down the side of the aeroplane from his injuries.
Drake was suddenly reminded of the plight of his friends of Fifty-Fourth Squadron, whose sight he had lost when his plane fell away. Was Bane still alive? Albert? He gritted his teeth and took a deep breath. He would learn later, assuming he survived, himself. It would be a matter of time before he could make the aerodrome again anyway.
“The enemy seeks to turn the occult into a weapon with which to win the war. A battalion of soldiers who never sleep and never eat, who are mindless and can never lose morale, and against whom weapons are useless . . . it is every general’s greatest dream, and the Germans imagine they have acquired it. But such powers are attained at the highest price, and rarely work as properly intended. To master evil is to be mastered by evil . . .” He trailed off, a distant look in his deep eyes. Then he turned to Drake again, and spoke with renewed fervor.
“Sir pilot, I am in direst need of your assistance—Britannia and her allies are in direst need. Give me wings that I might soar and seek with hawk’s eyes the lair of the hated Faust.” They had drawn up, several hundred yards short of a flattened aerodrome landing strip. An aeroplane sat on the turf, a two seated observer by the looks of it.
“But why? Why me—why an aeroplane?”
Geoffrey smiled. “With the power of flight, a hunt that might last days could be reduced to one of hours. Surely, I could concoct an ointment of flight . . . but it would have taken hours, and limit what other preparations were needed—and there were many.”
Drake peered up at Geoffrey’s imploring face through the slanting rain. He longed only to be returned to his aerodrome, to see Bane and Albert and the others, but to turn down a request for aid was against Drake’s nature. Though it seemed he was about to lose himself in a maze of madness, he finally nodded. “I’ll fly you wherever you need to go,” he said.
Geoffrey tapped his oar on the ground and smiled. “The bones told me I could count on you.” With that cryptic phrase, they continued on to the aerodrome that rose from the mists beyond. As they drew closer, Drake could make out the shape of the craft sitting forlorn on the sodden grass, rainwater sliding from its painted wings in crystalline curtains. It was a Quirk. He swore silently to himself, but looking about at the raging sky, decided that chances of meeting an enemy scout, let alone a flight, were slim. He walked up to the Quirk, and strode around it, examining the craft with a critical eye. It was in good condition—indeed, seemed to be new to the front, if a lack of scratches and wearing was any indication.
Looking up to the nacelles, Drake saw a slender sprig of leaves and small white flowers, interspersed with long thin needles. This was tied to the struts by the nacelles, and Drake turned to ask Geoffrey the purpose of vain decorations. When he looked back at Geoffrey, he saw the man engrossed in conversation with a Merlin perched securely on the man’s raised left hand, his other continuing to grip the oar. The bird flapped its wings awkwardly on its perch, turning its head to look at Geoffrey out of first one, then the other shiny black oculus.
As Drake approached, he heard Geoffrey’s instructions to the bird. “Once you’ve found the battery, inform the commander that he is to bombard his own lines. Brook no argument—besides, I’ve already told him what to do, you’re just the messenger.” He paused, and the bird issued a piercing screech. “Yes, of course you’re important—otherwise the lines would be completely overrun.” It screeched again as soon as he was finished, and flapped its wings in apparent agitation. “Oh shut up and get on with it!” Geoffrey tossed the bird into the air, and it caught the breeze with wings held wide.
Ignoring the rain, the Merlin sped away into the dark heavens, and Geoffrey watched it for several moments before turning to Drake. “Well, now it’s up to us.”
“You’re instructing the artillery to bombard our own lines?” Drake asked incredulously. “That’s suicide!”
“Fortunately, it is not. I find some hope that artillery shells have the destructive power to actually stop a corpse in its tracks, by removing several or all of its limbs. Alas that they are so inaccurate,” he mused. “Now, let us fly.” Geoffrey turned toward the Quirk with a smile, and Drake followed, confusion briefly stemmed.
For a moment they stood beneath the machine as it dripped with rain. Inwardly, Drake wished that his Pup sat before him, and not in the sticky mire of No-Man’s Land. “Well,” said Geoffrey. “How does it work?”
Drake explained, going through the check list. He clambered around the machine, poking into both pilot and observer nacelles, examining the engine and cowlings, checking the struts that held the wings up, and together. “What are these?” he inquired after the sprigs of white flowers, which had five petals each, and a pink center. About to pull one off to examine it more closely, Geoffrey stopped him with a cluck.
“Hawthorn!” he said, and then expounded after Drake cocked his head curiously. “Hawthorn—it wards away evil. No doubt this steed will be seen before the day is through, and the evil eye cast upon it. We must be prepared.”
Everything was in order, and in good condition. “You’ll be the observer,” Drake was saying as he clambered around on the wings. “I’m afraid that means you’ll need to start the props going. So, just give them a shove when I tell you to, and we’ll be off. You’ll need to climb into your seat afterward, of course,” he added as an afterthought.
Geoffrey nodded. Dropping into the pilot’s seat, behind the wings, Drake checked everything over once more. When all was ready, he shouted, “Now!” to the wizard, who threw down one of the props. As the engine turned over, it coughed to a start, and Geoffrey was clambering onto lower the wing, and from there into his nacelle between the wings. His boat oar remained clasped in one hand, though it was difficult to maneuver the length of it in such cramped quarters; finally, he managed to shove the base of it into the bottom of the nacelle, so that the paddle head stuck out over his head and butted against the upper wing.
Meanwhile, Drake was maneuvering the craft down the runway. As it picked up speed, it trundled down the flattened grass, and Drake pushed the nose forward so that the tail was off the ground. As he pulled back on the stick, the whole vessel lifted slowly into the air, and Drake discovered that the bird was fairly stable in the air—surely a fault, he thought to himself, as it would resist adroit maneuvers.
Before they gained great altitude, Geoffrey shouted back, “No higher! I must see the ground clearly.” Thus, Drake leveled the plane, using its stable nature to advantage as he set about a level flight. He felt naked flying true, but peering about saw no evidence of an enemy flight in the storm torn sky. Geoffrey raised himself in his nacelle, till he was half standing and his head brushed the upper wing. He craned his neck out over either side intermittently, staring down with one hand over his head.
Far below, the mud and muck of the front came into view, and the boom of artillery shells echoed over the shattered land. Glancing down, Drake saw the common scene of an artillery bombardment—the flash of the shell, and the rain of mud and shrapnel all around the sudden crater. This close to the earth, he could see figures moving against the mud, marching around in confused throngs through the warren mazes of the trenches. A shell landed in the midst of a crowd, and Drake turned away from the mess as bodies flew into the air, and limbs mixed with the mud.
When he looked back up, Geoffrey had climbed entirely out of his nacelle, and was clambering up onto the surface of the top wing. “Get down!” Drake immediately shouted, but Geoffrey only grinned back and winked.
“I need a better view, good man. Don’t worry, I’m light on my feet.” And then he was up, standing on the wing, graying hair and tweed jacket thrown back by the wind. He stared out, over the wrack of the war, and Drake was given the impression that great spotlights beamed out of his eyes and over the mire, hovering over bunkers and machine gun nests on the German side. He instructed Drake to fly north along the front, so that the entirety of the German trenches could be observed.
They rolled by beneath the Quirk, and Drake too watched over the side of the fuselage, his view partially obstructed by the wing in front of him. Staring out over the country, he realized that something dark and fast was headed for his craft. Instinctually, he stepped on the rudder and pulled the stick, sliding the plane away from danger—this was no scout designed to tangle with an enemy. Then, with a sickening wrench of his stomach, he looked up, and found that Geoffrey had simply walked up the wing toward the rising tip, and was peering over it as if nothing untoward had occurred. Drake began to level it out, sending wary glances back at the dark movement, but Geoffrey waved at him.
“Don’t quit because of me, dear boy! I’ve planned this night too long to let a simple barrel roll drop me to the earth.” His smile communicated deep knowledge and arcane secrets, but Drake feared to test the exactitude of the statement with that precise maneuver—or anything that inverted the craft. Nevertheless, he redoubled his efforts of evasion, banking to the left. He looked back and saw that the approaching mass was a cloud of crows, wings flapping noiselessly compared to the noise of the rain and the throb of the engine, the pounding of artillery below and the peals of thunder.
Geoffrey ran up and down the wing, never letting the swarm out of his view. Presently, the noise of their raucous shouts drowned out all but the thrum of the engine and occasional peals of thunder, which followed bursts of lightning that showed the sheer number of black birds. They circled the quirk, and when it became apparent that he couldn’t outmaneuver or outrun them, Drake sat back in the pilot’s nacelle, maintaining a fairly level flight. He stared around wildly as the birds worked their ways closer, praying that the hawthorn’s protective spells held.
“My staff!” Geoffrey cried as the crows surged closer, a seething mass of black. Drake’s vision had become obscured by their cloud, and could no longer see the earth below. “Hand me my staff!” Looking up, Drake saw that Geoffrey had become surrounded by the black shapes, and heard them screaming their rough cries at the wizard.
Clambering out of his nacelle, trusting the aircraft to hold its nature as a stable flier, Drake inched tenderly along the craft toward the observer’s seat, out of which poked the oar-staff. He heard Geoffrey shouting at the birds, and saw him swipe at them with his hands. Several spun away from his strokes wildly, and drop away with broken wings. Something splashed on Drake’s cheek—he took it for rain at first, but the warmth of it was too great, and he realized that a drop of blood had fallen from the battle above.
Achieving the second nacelle, Drake dragged the oar from its place and held it out unsteadily to Geoffrey, who continued to be surrounded by more and more of the infernal birds. A hand thrust out of the black feathered frenzy, and Drake slapped the wooden staff into it as wind whipped past his face. Geoffrey’s fingers closed around it, and he drew himself up to his full height; Drake could just see past the flurry of the crows’ wings.
The plane had begun to nose downward, as all of the onboard weight shifted forward, and it rolled slightly, a natural tendency to bank revealing itself in the particular craft. Panicking, Drake struggled back toward his nacelle, clutching the fuselage tightly with hands and knees until he was safely stowed away again in his seat, control stick grasped in white-knuckled hands.
Birds threw themselves against the hawthorn’s charms, swooping low over the fuselage. They chattered rancorously. Drake felt feathers brush his face, and ducked away, trying to peer through the black storm around him.
“Be gone!” Geoffrey shouted, as an angel from on high. His voice boomed with power, piercing the rough calls of their attackers. A talon found Drake’s cheek, and he shouted in surprised pain, putting up a warding hand against the bird that had struck him. Its pinions slapped his face as it retreated with a curse. Some of the murder, he noticed, heeded Geoffrey’s imperious voice, turning wing and retreating into the dark heavens. Yet the majority remained, and Drake saw Death in their obsidian eyes.
“Be gone, foul agents of the storm!” Geoffrey cried. His boat oar was raised horizontally above his head, like a third wing. The crows answered in their hoarse voices, and several stooped on Drake, blotting out his vision with their flurried wings. Sharp beaks pecked at his face, and he felt talons gripping his shoulders. If not for the goggles over his eyes, they would surely be pierced. Abandoning the control stick, he fought the dark hellions off with both hands, beating them away, while Geoffrey shouted over the storm.
A sudden flash blinded Drake, and the harsh smell of ozone filled his nostrils as heat flashed over him, hotter than a raging bonfire. Thunder crashed around him, the loudest thing Drake had ever heard, so that his ears were ringing with the noise long after it had ceased. Drake scrabbled with the controls, uncertain precisely where was level. The entirety of his being seemed to have been assaulted, as his eyes were awash in the jarring colors of aftersight, and his ears buzzed with ringing bells. In his nose, the metal stench of ozone was king, and searing flesh his queen, while all over his skin the sudden wash of heat had left behind a fading pain and dripping sweat. He felt contained in a broken shell, until the damage slowly bled away.
When finally his vision returned, albeit blurred, Drake found that the crows had vanished, and the only sign of their attack were the cuts along his cheeks and a multitude of singed feathers fluttering in the cockpit.
“Turn back!” Geoffrey was shouting. “Their origin is behind us now, you must turn back!” He was standing yet on the top wing, oar beside him now instead of overhead. It smoked slightly, with smears of black along it, and through the ozone Drake could detect a hint of seared flesh. The grasping hand was somehow warped—was that rain on it, or ruptured blisters?
Blinking profusely, Drake tilted the stick and stepped on the rudder, and the Quirk dropped to the right, its ailerons disrupting the airflow over the wings. Runnels of rainwater sped off the trailing edges in miniature waterfalls, while the leading edges sliced through the precipitation and created clouds of mist. On top, Geoffrey leaned with the turn, keeping himself level by rolling his feet. The water spraying round his feet seemed to bend away from him. Like an eagle seeking prey, Geoffrey looked out across the world, and his hair and coat were carried by the wind.
The Quirk cut a broad arc through the sky, peeling over blasted mud with an ill grace compared to the light agility of a Pup. Nevertheless, it carried them faithfully, and soon Geoffrey was pointing at a spot on the front that seemed no different than any other. Twisted wires littered it, and the rain had turned it into a sea of mud, just like everywhere else. There was a bunker built into the German lines toward which the oar pointed, and the black muzzles of machine guns poked out of slits in the walls, tiny even at such a low altitude. Drake wiped rainwater from his goggles and leaned out to seek an area conducive to landing.
There was a field not far behind the lines, broad and flat. The grassy turf was mostly undisturbed by the violence of the war. Flowers bloomed on the far side, their color dulled in the rain but welcome nonetheless in the grey afternoon. Cutting the throttle, Drake eased down the rotating nose so that it was pointed for the glade. The last feathers in the nacelle finally found their way out, into the wide wind, and vanished, spinning, far behind.
With a rough jolt, the wheels touched earth, and Geoffrey leapt from the high wing, onto the sodden turf behind. Drake’s head whipped around, fearing for the wizard, but the man leapt up unsoiled. It was with relief, therefore, that Drake killed the engine and climbed out of the nacelle, dropping heavily to the ground. It squelched beneath him, and the bootless foot was immersed in cold water.
“You need follow me no longer, sir pilot; you have served your part well, and I thank you.” Geoffrey nodded to Drake, and with a sweep of his staff turned westward, to the front. Stunned, the airman watched his erstwhile companion stride away through the swaying grass. The smell of rain was thick in the air, overcoming the ozone and burnt meat stench that had clung to the Quirk, sitting like a tamed beast on the grass behind its master.
The suddenness of the dismissal was staggering, and Drake quickly felt as though he’d been dragged through a madman’s fantasy, somehow induced to believe the ravings by a fit of sympathetic insanity. As soon as Geoffrey had vanished from sight, into the trees beyond, Drake was overcome with a sense of the absurd, and wondered if it was possible that he had somehow imbibed opium smoke inside the Brits’ bunker—perhaps he was there still, lost in the fancies of a smoke dream?
But the rain was cold as it dripped down his collar, from whence the scarf had disappeared. His leg throbbed, with none of the deadening effects of opium’s sickly smoke, and the cuts on his cheeks stung. Rubbing at them with a gloved hand caused only further inflammation. Leaning back against the Quirk’s solid hull, Drake pulled out his pistol and set to work cleaning it, wiping away the mud and the grime with an oily rag while he mulled the past hour over in his mind.
Finally, as he pulled apart the bolts that held the pistol together, the pilot conceded to himself that it had all happened. He was there; standing in the midst of a field just behind the German lines, and somewhere beyond a wizard sought his peer to vanquish him. What would it be like? he wondered. Geoffrey’s magic was less than flashy, Drake had noted, save for the blinding explosion that had banished the crows; Drake imagined that the wizard had called down a bolt of lightning from the angry heavens, blasting the murder with white heat that cooked them all. The hawthorn had been burned, he’d noticed—perhaps it had taken the destructive powers of the bolt into itself, and thus saved Quirk and crew.
While he mused, the gun began to gleam, and the rag achieved new stains. Stuffing the cloth into a pocket, Drake fitted the gun back together, carefully lining up the barrel and the grip and locking it back in place. It was cleansed, pure again and ready to fire. Water drummed on the aeroplane wing above him, saving the airman from a majority of the precipitation. He shivered in the wind, feeling the frigid caress on his naked neck without the scarf.
He pushed a bullet into the chamber of his gun, looking around curiously. The British infantry were in their sanctuary holes, hiding from the corpses, but what of the Germans? Surely they weren’t all dead.
Staring all around with wary eyes, Drake strode around the front of the aircraft, to its props. He stuffed the gun into his jacket and pulled down on the closest blade. The engine started with a pop, and Drake ran around, clambering gracelessly into the pilot’s nacelle. Pushing up the throttle, he peered after the trees through which Geoffrey had disappeared, and wondered why his services weren’t required for the trip home. Nevertheless, he sought the air, guiding the Quirk’s nose down and then up in a maneuver far more graceful than his achievement of the cockpit.
Circling up, out of the glade, the Quirk breasted the trees at its edges, and the front came into view, shrouded in the mists conjured by the rain. Instinct told Drake to fear the front at such a low altitude—archie batteries would tear him to shreds with ease—but the eerie silence of the trenches and curiosity overpowered his apprehensions. Drake aimed for the broken land.
Trees fell away behind him as if falling, and the engine sneezed a burst of black smoke. Drake checked the fuel again, and was happy with its report. Within moments, the dark mud and craters of the constant battlefield rose up beneath the belly of the Quirk. Banking to allow himself a better view, no longer worried by a madman on the wings, Drake scanned the ground with darting eyes, flitting from bunker to trench behind the rain smeared lenses. Mists rolled over the trenches, reminding Drake of the gas attacks at Ypres two years prior. He shuddered and turned his mind from the memories, looking instead for any sign of Geoffrey, or his foe.
The wailing howl of a dog reached Drake’s ears as he passed over a low-lying bunker. Following its cry, the airman spotted the wizards’ battle. They stood on opposite sides of the trench, facing each other. Geoffrey, with his oar-staff raised, was clearly recognizable. The other, dressed in the long coat of the trenches, stood with his arms folded, blond hair tossed in the wind. A black spaniel stood beside him, its broad muzzle reaching to the man’s middle thigh.
His wings passed over the pair, but neither looked up; they were intent upon each other, and the clouds were blackest above where they stood. Rolling around again, Drake cut the throttle, trying to maintain his view as long as possible. He saw the fair man gesture, and the dog howl. Out of the trench, rising from the mud like avenging demons, corpses struggled toward Geoffrey. Bedraggled and covered in mud, they clawed their way up the inner face of the trench, arms reaching for the British wizard.
Before they could reach him, Geoffrey had scattered something from his hands across the ground before him, as if sowing fields. “Rise!” he shouted, and from the earth sprang men, fully armed in the ancient panoplies of war. Banging spears to shields, they fell upon the dead with great clamoring, to thrust bronze points into dead breasts, or beat off ragged claws with heavy shields. Then the Quirk was over the duel of wills, its fuselage between its pilot’s eyes and the goings on beneath.
As Drake dragged the plane around for another pass, his curiosity like an anchor to the spot, he heard Geoffrey shout something indistinguishable. The next roll of the Quirk brought them back into view, and Drake saw that the mud at the feet of the fair one and his dog was boiling. It writhed and bubbled, and steam issued into the air around them; within moments, their feet had sunk into the ground well past the ankles, and the mud seemed to reach out to pull them down.
The black dog whined and barked, at another gesture of its master, and once more the mud at their feet was solid, so that they had to break their feet free from its cloying embrace. “Dies sind die Kleinen von den Meinen!”1 the man shouted at Geoffrey. “Ich bin tausend mal besser als Sie!”2 He threw out a hand, and the dog spoke.
Geoffrey raised his hand in a fist, index and little fingers raised to form the horns. His answer to the other was lost to the wind and the rain, but Drake could see strain in the distant face. With the butt of his staff, the cracked handhold of the oar, the wizard drew a circle in the mud, measured carefully. He turned a slow circle in order to carve the circumscription into the dark earth, concentration writ on his bearded face. Meanwhile, the dog barked and its master gestured again, and the mists thrown up by the rain rushed into the trench as if carried by swift breezes.
For several moments, the only glimpses Geoffrey could catch were over his shoulder, so that the pair was framed, one on either side of the rudder. A monster rose from the trench, its milky coils visible on either side of the tail as it boiled up. When he could glance back again, the beast struck at Geoffrey over the struggling melee of armored warriors and corpses, great fangs closing around the wizard’s body. Drake bowed his head and aimed the nose for home; yet he shot one look back over the tail fins, and saw the beast’s wide maw still gaping around Geoffrey. It worked its jaws as if they closed on something too great for its gorge, though only Geoffrey stood before it. In wonder, Drake brought his craft about, and saw the serpentine monster dissolve into a cloud of fog that melted away, back into the trench. Its composite mists lay in streaks between the corpses and their armored foes. Behind the desperate combat, Geoffrey sank to his knees, supporting himself against the oar.
“Ich ermorde Sie!”3 shrieked the fair man, and more things less fair that raked at Drake’s ears, though he understood no German. Shrugging off his greatcoat, he threw it into the air. The sleeves fluttered, and the coat opened and began to lengthen and grow as the black dog howled. Defying the dictum of gravity, the mantle hung in the air as it writhed, changing shape. Geoffrey remained kneeling, his head bowed against the haft of his staff, and at that moment it became apparent to Drake why Geoffrey had not asked a return flight of him. The wizard had no intention of winning over his foe—or no conviction that victory could be attained; he sought, instead, only to defeat his opponent.
Yet, this quest seemed to have fluttered like a songbird beyond the wizard’s questing fingers, for Geoffrey appeared vanquished already. His minions, despite their skins of bronze, fared poorly against the walking dead, who fought on despite all traumas to their flesh. And hanging in the air above, the German’s greatest work yet grew all the more dreadful.
The sleeves warped and widened, transforming into webbed membranes. The body of the coat rolled into itself and thickened, drawing itself out like a strip of clay stretched in the potters’ hands, until it was a ropelike trunk of sinewy flesh. The sleeves-turned-wings, fingered like a bat’s, flapped once as life blossomed in the beast, and wind rolled from beneath the membranous pinions. Each digit which held aloft the skin was tipped with iron. From the body arced a hideous head, formed out of the folds of the fabric; curved horns rose from its skull, and a wiry beard hung from the beaked chin. It yawned wide, fangs glistening in the rain, long slender tongue flicking in and out like a serpent’s fork.
This beast rose hissing over Geoffrey, a viper rearing to strike. With a shriek, it breathed death upon the chaos under its shadow—the warriors of bronze toppled beneath the toxic storm shot from the dragon’s mouth. Freed of these irritants, the walking dead continued toward their weakened target. The fair man gestured, and the dog barked, and the corpses of the bronze-clad fighters rose like those they’d contested, turning to join their erstwhile foes.
Geoffrey rose, then, and his face was terrible as the dragon’s. Though the fiends under the German sorcerer’s control struggled against the invisible barrier of the circle, they could not pierce it. The dragon swooped overhead, jaws gaping to spew venomous bile that hissed and steamed on the ground with poisonous vapors, but the foul venin was turned back by an invisible shield. With a cry, Geoffrey cast his staff across the gulf of mud, spade first, and it landed in the muck with a splash that soiled the German’s boots.
Having broken the circle, the corpses broke in upon Geoffrey, their hands clutching at his flesh with the iron strength of death, and the dragon rained its deadly bile. The wizard vanished under the onslaught, but gave one final command: “Strike!”
And his staff struck, a viper in the dirt, paddle head gaping wide with a pair of long fangs. Yet, the spaniel proved faster in its defense of the sorcerer, leaping upon the snake that had been an oar moments before. They struggled, the dog yelping and barking as its fangs flashed white against the black of its fur. Beside this struggle, the fair man laughed quietly to himself, arms crossed once more in confidence of his victory.
Having observed this final phase of the duel in broad circles, never leveling out his flight properly, Drake seized upon inspiration, disappointed in the outcome of the battle. He stooped, dropping low over the mud and the trench until his wingtip almost touched the ground. Too late, the German looked up, and he saw his doom dive low on heavy wings of wood. Drake’s leveled the pistol, adjusting constantly for the attitude and velocity of the Quirk as it sped by. Only one shot before the man could throw some magical spell upon him, Drake thought, and squeezed the trigger with a decisive exhalation. The bullet flew true, and the back of the German’s head burst out in a mist of red. The dog howled and vanished, leaving behind a splintered boat oar in the sticky mud; the bodies ceased their attack and collapsed, free of the sorcerer’s bonds of obedience; and the dragon fluttered to the ground, no more than a soaked and muddy coat lying amidst a pile of bodies. Among them, Drake saw a patch of tweed, but could spare no further moments.
Through the slackening rain, an unknown craft had appeared, nothing more than a black spot on the horizon, but closing fast. Afraid for the worst, Drake pulled the Quirk’s nose west and sought the Allied lines.
And the German statements (hopefully well translated . . .)
1 – “These are the smallest of my works!”
2 – “I am a thousand times better than you!”
3 – “I will murder you!”
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