February 20 at 10:00 PM
Photo courtesy of Mirko Delcaldo
Talmot and Essinger slashed down, Muslim and Christian fighting side by side, crusaders to the last breath. After centuries of felling one another, the champions grew fond of their squabble, and in addition, each other's skill. Their blades converged on the hellflower, hacking it to pieces. Blood and pulp exploded from the ovary, reducing it to little more than a mangled, wallowing tongue.
Several blossoms burst before the bramble sensed what was upon it, and lost the tendrils overhead in one pitiful snap. Fresh bulbs rose and swelled, hurling their yield. The two spun, shielding themselves with ringed capes, dancing effortlessly between the poisonous quills.
Catching the thumping with his ear, Essinger heaved Talmot into the heart. Blood sprung like a geyser as Talmot located the core, and split it in two. In a dying gasp, the blossoms spit forth their tongues. Bloodworms hatched in midair, spinning over the crusaders, and threading through the forest floor.
As the worms burrowed through the retreating footman, Talmot lost focus for an instant. A bony manacle whipped around a low branch and thrust down, cleaving off his hand. Essinger quickly snatched up the loose sword, and continued with both blades.
And as a wave of thorns crashed down, the two warriors fell into a black rage. Tangles were slashed to the root, hearts exploding one after another. Blood flowed from the thorny tangles; the wounded cannibalized by greedy their kin.
Though fighting with his left, it did not slow the mujahideen. After losing each of his arms in battle, Talmot forced himself to become ambidextrous, able to wield one when the other failed him.
When the crusaders finally steadied their blades, they had demolished more than a dozen brambles. But even as they caught their breath, hundreds more spun forward. And when Essinger took a quill to the knee, the crusaders finally pulled back, hoping a few had been spared by the effort.
Brambles bearing down on them, bloodworms sprung from its sacks.
"I shall paint a relief of your God, his brow narrowing, wagging your severed hand," Essinger chuckled.
"And again, I shall slit your throat," Talmot quipped.
Relieved at his comrade's dark wit, Essinger hobbled along. As before, the limb would regenerate. "Save your smile for the morrow, so that I may carve it from your pretty face."
"Indeed," he grinned.