Jonas de Winkler, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, had the Szlachcianka Katya pressed bodily back against her beloved iron maiden, corps à corps as the fencing masters have it. Be it unwonted gallantry or some feeling he dare not acknowledge, he could not bring himself to harm her directly in despite of the threat she posed. He sought instead to wrestle from her grasp the frankly unlikely mediæval spiked mace.
“Oh, you have such a firm, manly grip,” she crooned (and which I declined to translate), even as she drew the mace back and away from his clutches with a casual grace that betokened more than a woman’s natural strength. In the next moment she snarled bestially and brought it crashing round into his back, then pushed the big man reeling away.
I sought to distract her. “Do not resist us,” I cried from the other end of the dungeon, “lest the Master deny you the Power of Blood!”
“But that cannot be!” she insisted, though a frown upon her lovely features betrayed momentary doubt.
About me, the struggle to escape raged on. Nicholas Hat, having downed one of our two guards, dove to the cold stone floor to elude the sword of the other, tucking his shoulder under and rolling to his feet in a single motion, coming up with the fallen guard’s sword in the hands tied behind his back. A moment later his sheared bonds fell away.
Michael Ezekiel Tremayne and Sam York were still within the arc of the other guard’s sword. York faked a move to the left to draw open the soldier’s guard, then span round to throw his weight into him, but neither this nor Michael’s kick harmed the armoured man.
“Save us, Kato! You’re our only hope,” wheezed Jonas.
Racing to beat the guard bearing down on him, Kato reached the table of torture implements, cut his bonds and whirled about. The guard charged in upon him and swung, but Kato parried away the long sword by seizing up a pair of instruments that bore knife-like blades, amongst other things.
The guard’s comrade, leaving Jonas to the tender mercies of his mistress, charged past these two to assail the rest of us clustered at the back of the dungeon. But as he charged, sword raised, Nick Hat was faster and a clanging stroke across the guard’s breastplate beat him back.
Quick to react despite his bound hands, Tremayne hopped past Nick to throw himself at the staggered guard. He launched into a furious barrage of kicks with one boot and then the other, keeping his balance by sheer effort of will (BENNY, SNAKE-EYES, BENNY AGAIN) but each time the desperate guard stumbled beyond his reach or got up his sword to stop Tremayne from following through. And then Nick Hat came about and cut him down with a mighty double-handed blow that severed the guard’s arm at the shoulder.
“And that’s how Nicholas Hat dis-arms his foes!” he cried with bloodthirsty glee.
York gathered up that sword and sliced the ropes on his wrists, then swung out to fend off the last guard.
The Devil’s Mistress bore down on Jonas and with her spiked mace smote him a mighty, rupturing blow to the belly.
“Ungh—” With a breathless grunt the big man was flung back and collapsed to the dungeon floor, blood pooling rapidly through his cassock.
It was clear that I, with my not inconsiderable knowledge of anatomy, was the only one with a hope of saving his life. Behind York, I was clear of the last guard’s sword and ran to cut my bonds with a contraption on the table whose purpose I preferred not to conjecture. Kato and his opponent traded blows, the two torture implements of the Nipponese outclassing the guardsman’s sword, but foiled in turn by the steel of his helmet and breastplate. As I dodged past them my cursed knee gave out and I stumbled to the floor at Jonas’ side.
“For God’s sake, get her!” I cried, reclining there defenceless as I sought to stop Jonas’ bleeding. (BENNY, SECOND BENNY)
“Get the harlot!” York ordered Hat and Tremayne, employing an elegant bind to keep his opponent’s sword out of their path.
Nick Hat had needed no prompting and rushed to the attack. Pistol drawn, I held my shot as he passed in front of me.
Loath as he was to mar the beauty of the Devil’s Mistress, he was more attracted to the massive red ruby that topped her mace. His stolen long sword looped around her futile parry and sliced her across the midriff, but the crazed witch seemed to know no pain. She replied by swinging that mace into Nick’s flank, sending him reeling in pain.
Kato continued to best the other guard, fending off his sword with ease and punching his own bladed implement e’er harder, not piercing his breastplate, but driving him back. Beyond him, Sam York traded careful strokes, biding his time till he stepped aside to let his opponent overreach himself, and ran him through with a thrust to his unprotected armpit.
Drawing a ragged breath, Jonas scoffed at the szlachcianka from the floor. “My decoy worked! Surrender yourself, or my servants will cut you down like the bitch in heat that you are!”
And then Tremayne, spurning the need to cut his bonds, surged to the attack, surprising the woman with the virulence of his assault as he repeatedly kicked left and right, forcing her back into the corner between the iron maiden and the dungeon wall.
Nick grimaced away the pain of his injury (BENNY) and struck at the perfectly-proportioned alabaster arm that held the mace, but scored only a light graze with the tip of his sword. The Devil’s Mistress responded with a torrent of mace-swings that battered down his guard, utterly disregarded a ferocious butt of the head delivered by the hand tied Tremayne as she passed, and struck Nick a blow across the crown that drove him to his knees.
I discharged my pistol point blank, my shot passing through her gorgeous shoulder but scarcely causing her any more pause than the charging attack of Sam York, which struck only lightly as though he too could scarcely bring himself to harm her.
We were all ringing around the Devil’s Mistress save Kato, who fought on against the last of her dungeon guards behind us. He easily evaded the man’s every attack, but even with his strange features contorting with the greatest effort (BENNY) as he sought to put his opponent out of the fight, his blades merely rang again and again from the European steel of helmet and breastplate.
“The master’s will is gone from you! I withdraw it!” I proclaimed, seeking to unnerve her further, and reversing my grip on my pistol to punctuate the statement with a swipe of its club-pommel. But my ruses had overreached themselves at last.
“Only I know the Master’s will,” she gloated, “and it is I who command it!”
Even as she uttered this, Michael Ezekiel Tremayne seized the moment and launched himself bodily into the air, suppressing his æsthetic reluctance to damage so beautiful a face and lashing out with his booted foot to kick her square upon the chin. The Devil’s Mistress crashed back into the stone of the wall.
Then, spitting blood from mangled lips she pushed herself back up to her full height. “Master! We have need of thee!” she shrilled, even as Michael delivered a second kick and Sam York’s sword sliced across her leather bodice.
The ruby upon her mace flashed with a scarlet light and with a thunder of noise the very wall beside her erupted open, massive stone blocks crashing into the dungeon in a cloud of mortar dust.
Mistress and Master
The light of the torches revealed a hideous abomination in the space beyond: a huge glabrous sac of pulsating matter, tinged in a clamouring motley of blood red, ichor green, putrefying blue and all manner of other vile colorations to offend the eye. Sprouting from this gelatinous mass were a waving throng of slimy tentacles, each ending impossibly in a gaping mouth of razor-sharp fangs.
Existential dread emanated like a wave from the monster. Nick, Kato and Jonas were unmanned by it. But Tremayne, that seasoned hunter of monstrous beasts, if never so thoroughgoing a horror as this, kept his wits. He quickly took a lead by kicking out at the Devil’s Mistress once more, seeking to quell her before the monster would drive us back. Both feet struck her back against the wall, leaving her doubled up. With my knife I cut Tremayne’s bonds, then Sam and I cast off all gallantry, he striking at the woman with his sword and I with the pommel of my pistol, but she remained obdurate under our assault.
And then the snaking tentacles swarmed forth in a rush, peremptorily swiping aside Sam’s and Nick’s extended swords and launching fanged maws to bite at each of us. Sam York gritted his teeth, refusing to yield to the pain of the bite (BENNY) and roared in defiance of a bruising swing of the szlachcianka witch’s mace.
The glowing ruby at its tip waxed brighter with the stroke, and the truth flashed into my mind. “The gem on the mace! It is brighter when some part of the beast is near!”
Given a free hand, Michael quickly seized up a vicious blade from the table and in despite of the bite of a tentacle-mouth bravely returned to attack the Devil’s Mistress in the shadow of her Master. Fighting off the pain of my own bite-wound, I sought in these direst circumstances to call the judgment of angels upon the mismatched pair of apostate creatures. For all the will I could pour into the effort, (BENNY) the angels’ response lacked the strength to overcome such trenchant evil and the two raged on undaunted. Despairing then myself, I turned about and fled but my traitor knee gave out, robbing me of speed, and the attack the monster sent after me bit through my garments and tore Lord only knows how great a bite of flesh from my back. Lurching forward in agony, I held myself up by clutching at the door jamb, only half aware that I was just beyond the reach of that dread thing.
Nick Hat recoiled clear of the attack that lashed in past his upraised sword, but in fear of the huge monster he continued to back away. The next attack that came in at him he frantically parried away, and then he dashed past me to the safety of the stairway.
A tentacle whipped past the last guard and its toothed maw bit flesh from Kato’s neck. Uncowed, the Nipponese was raised to greater deeds and a final mighty thrust of his torture implement pierced the steel of the guard’s breastplate, killing him on the instant.
“All right, darling, this is it.” Sam York fought on beside Tremayne, applying all his concentration (BENNY) to strike the Devil’s Mistress, and was joined by Jonas de Winkler re-entering the fray with wild abandon despite his fearsome loss of blood, and stabbing some bladed implement down hard. Still the Devil’s Mistress fought on, though she swung more weakly now and Sam easily warded off her return blow.
But the hideous devil that she called Master thrashed out with undimmed ferocity. Attacking mouths filled the air about them, striking Tremayne upon the wrist, biting deep into York’s thigh and worst of all closing about Jonas’ ankle. The bishop crashed in a heap on the floor but the tentacle forced itself onward, up inside his cassock. A shriek of agony we could scarce imagine escaped his throat and was abruptly cut short as the last vestige of consciousness mercifully deserted him.
Kato, seeking at last to join the main assault, was momentarily taken aback by the bishop’s horrible fate. Then another tentacle flailed out at him, teeth closing in his side, and he was a warrior transformed. Blood streaming from his wound he literally threw himself at the Devil’s Mistress in a flurry of attacks too ferocious to counter. He stabbed low with one weapon, and brought the other smashing overhead, crunching through her skull and driving her lifeless to the floor. The dreaded mace fell from her grasp to clang upon the stone beside her.
Scarce able to think for the pain of his wounded thigh, let alone defend himself, Sam York seized up the mace and backed away in roughly the direction of the door. Michael Tremayne was in no better shape, and the pair crossed half the distance to the door before a hail of waving, biting attacks left Tremayne reeling from a multitude of small wounds and brought York down next to him, his left leg laid open to the bone. For a second time, the mace of the Devil’s Mistress resounded upon the stone floor.
The mace, I thought, a mediæval knight’s weapon like those upon the walls of the great hall above us: arms of the Teutonic Knights who had suppressed the pagans of this chill land in former centuries. Could this monstrosity that imperils our souls be some demon formerly worshipped as a false god by the ancient pagans…?