Adrammelech froze in seeming indecision under the glaring noonday sun. Storm slammed the flat of his blades on his crysmeir armor. “What’s wrong, monster? Can’t decide what to do? Or maybe you just can’t do anything at all?”
All the Abeytu, Minninnewah and Namida alike, were staring at Adrammelech in confusion. They couldn’t understand why he hadn’t killed Storm already. What was he waiting for?
Gaagii took a trembling step forward, one of the few times in his life he actually led from the front. “Master? Why don’t you kill this blasphemer?”
“SILENCE!!” Adrammelech’s voice was accompanied by a blast of power that obliterated the old shaman in a split second. Ash drifted through the air where he’d been. “How dare you question me?”
The Namida dropped to the ground in terror, wailing in fear, praying and pleading for mercy from their god. The Minninnewah trembled in shock but stood their ground, wondering at Gaagii’s quick death while Storm still stood unharmed.
Storm saw the question on their faces and presented it to the Namida under the guise of questioning Adrammelech. “Well, you can kill an old man but you can’t kill me? Why is that, I wonder?”
A few of the Namida lifted their heads, looking from where Gaagii had been to Storm who stood defiantly before their god.
“I can kill anyone I want,” Adrammelech thundered, shaking the ground with the power of his voice.
Storm shrugged, feeling more confident with each passing moment. He’d killed one demon with his Ghibbore power, flattened a frost giant, and nearly killed it again when it was resurrected as a demon, perhaps he could use that same power to kill the fake god in front of him. He didn’t kid himself about it’s power though. If Adrammelech got a clean shot at him, he was toast. The only way to avoid that was to test the part of his theory about the The Six, that not only couldn’t they initiate an attack on anyone who wasn’t one of their followers, if one of their attacks hit a non-follower it would either fizzle or backfire. If that was true, he could use the Minninnewah as cover, darting out to strike the monster then diving back behind them again before it could strike back. If it wasn’t true – he quailed inside – it meant a lot of innocent people were going to get killed because of him.
“Fine. Then, by the Ancient of Days, try to kill me.”
At Storm’s words the air seemed to ripple, momentarily revealing a dark, twisted humanoid form behind Adrammelech’s perfect movie star appearance. The assembled tribesmen gasped in shock, understanding a veil had been pulled back, momentarily giving them a peek at their god’s true form. The revulsion on their faces was a testament to their reaction at what they’d seen. Adrammelech was forced back a step by the power of the Name. He snarled in angry defiance, uncaring about the disgust stamped on his follower’s faces. “How dare you use that name! I am done with this charade.” He turned as if to leave.
Storm felt his temper snap. He barked at the monster like he was a Drill Instructor again, back on the parade ground at Parris Island. “Get back!”
Adrammelech stopped in stunned surprise.
“You challenged and I accepted,” Storm grated. “We agreed to single combat to the death. Neither of us can leave until the challenge is finished. Our words hold us captive.” He held his breath, waiting to see if the journal Tikvah had told them about was accurate. Adrammelech had agreed to single combat to the death. If the god’s compact creating Gaia required them to honor their word, it meant he couldn’t leave until one of them was dead. Adrammelech struggled for a moment like a fish caught in an invisible net. If Storm’s theory was correct, The Six had to be careful what words they used and what they agreed to, which Adrammelech, in his anger and pride hadn’t been. As he watched him, he felt a surge of cautious optimism. He might actually survive this encounter after all.
Adrammelech brushed himself off as if he’d never attempted to leave. “It is beneath me to strike first at a mortal challenger because, as you can see,” he gestured at the spot where Gaagii had stood, “a single blow from me will utterly destroy any man.”
It was a good recovery, Storm had to give him that much, and the fact he really could vaporize a man with a glance made his claim believable to the watching Biqah. Since Adrammelech was constrained from striking the first blow as he had suspected and Ralt had confirmed, and would continue to stall with one believable reason after another, he was obvious he’d have to attack first, but he was going to do it on his terms.
Storm slid his swords back in their sheaths and whirled around to face Lorelei. “Hold your bow-and-arrow loosely by your side so I can take it,” he silently mouthed to her. Without waiting for her he whirled back around to face Adrammelech, making sure his steps put him right beside her, his hand barely touching her bow.
He addressed Adrammelech. “Beneath you?” he sneered. “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” he quoted, hoping to spark another angry outburst.
His hopes were realized when Adrammelech’s face twisted with insane fury. He clenched his fists and took a mighty step forward, cutting the distance between them in half. “How dare you!”
Storm forced himself to grin at the looming monster. “Bite me.” It was one of the few expressions that were common to Earth and Gaia, and had the same meaning in both. A gasp of disbelief rose from the assembled Biqah.
Adrammelech’s reaction though, was a thing of beauty. Unaccustomed to defiance and unable to leave or destroy Storm for his insolence, he arched his back and howled at the sky like a mad wolf. Black clouds billowed up out of nowhere, lightning spat out in all directions from him, hurricane winds ripped across the meadow, and thunder shook the ground.
It was the opportunity Storm had been looking for. He grabbed Lorelei’s bow, stepped behind her, and loosed an arrow at Adrammelech’s chest. She was a Child of Heaven, able to strike any creature with pinpoint accuracy, especially with her bow and he was able to use her power. His arrow buried itself in Adrammelech’s chest, cutting off his unearthly howl of rage. He coughed, leaning forward to clutch at his chest. Storm didn’t give him time to recover. He was already reaching for another arrow in Lorelei’s quiver. He said in her ear, “Don’t move,” then, knocked and fired over her shoulder just as Adrammelech straightened up to hurl power at him.
The blast of power obliterated the arrow as if it had never existed, but Adrammelech hadn’t been paying attention to where Storm was standing. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw him standing behind Lorelei. Before Lorelei could do so much as blink, before Adrammelech could recall the blast, it bounced off her and ricocheted straight back at the false god. It struck him with the full force of one of his own kind attacking him, hurling him to the ground with an earsplitting roar. The shock wave knocked down everyone in the front ranks of the Namida but rebounded from the Minninnewah like ocean waves off a seawall. The ripples were visible to the naked eye as they expanded and spread before dissipating.
For the first time since the Chaos Wars one of The Six screamed in pain.
Adrammelech’s false front was completely gone. Instead of the handsome, well kept, 12-foot god-man, Storm found himself looking at the burned and seared figure of a man with skeletal wings. His face, body, hands, legs, feet, everything looked as if he’d been seared over a grill until there was nothing left but black, charred flesh clinging to the bones. His teeth and nails as well as his tongue were all burned black. The only color left anywhere on his body were his eyes which were completely blood red except for pinpoint black pupils.
Storm tried to imagine how anyone could survive being burned like and couldn’t. His stomach revolted and he clamped his jaws tight to keep from throwing up. Others around him however, weren’t so successful. The sound of people being sick filled the meadow, followed immediately by the accompanying smell. He wrinkled his nose and saw Lorelei fighting to keep from being sick as well.
Adrammelech was writhing on the ground, shrieking with pain from his own reflected blast. Storm dropped the bow and hurled himself forward before the monster could recover. This might be his only chance and he intended to use it.
Adrammelech sensed danger and rolled away from him, still sobbing with pain, trying to keep his distance so he could prepare another blast, but Storm was relentless. He put his head down and charged ahead as fast as he could. Adrammelech was staggering to his feet when Storm finally closed the distance between them and laid an outstretched hand on the monster’s leg. Power that could harm or heal poured into Adrammelech, shattering bones throughout his body like a string of firecrackers going off. The monster staggered with new screams of pain but Storm wouldn’t be denied. He wrapped his arms around the creature, channeling his power into it as fast as possible.
Adrammelech collapsed to his knees and hit Storm with a clenched fist, trying to knock him away. The crysmeir saved his life then. The incredibly hard links burst and shattered under the blow, absorbing the power of it and slowing it down. Even with all that and Adrammelech being weakened, Storm still felt two of his ribs break and others crack.
He gasped in shock but held on even tighter. “Die monster, die!”
But the last of his power poured into Adrammelech without killing him. The great beast was still moving, slowly and feebly, but moving. As long as Adrammelech was alive, he was dangerous.
Storm staggered back, drawing his swords. His herculean effort to kill Adrammelech had left him dizzy and faint. His broken ribs made it difficult to breath. He righted himself and moved to the attack again, slashing wildly at Adrammelech, hoping to hit something vital.
The broken bones throughout Adrammelech’s body made it difficult for him to move or stand but he lifted his head and glared at Storm. Killing power lanced out but Storm got his second sword up just in time to block it. Adrammelech was weak and his blast seared the blade and blackened it, melting it slightly around the edges but that was all.
Storm laughed, then hissed in pain as his broken ribs protested the movement. He hurled himself forward raising the damaged sword overhead like a dagger. He plunged it into Adrammelech’s chest nearly to the hilt. Adrammelech coughed in pain and his involuntary spasm flung his arm out, slamming Storm in the side, rolling him over and over across the meadow.
Storm clenched his teeth in agony as more ribs broke. He lurched to his feet, swaying like a man in a high wind, waving his arms to stay upright. He caught a glimpse of Lorelei, her face bone white with fear for him but he couldn’t take time to assuage her concern. Around him the Biqah were watching in stunned silence as a mere mortal fought a god.
Storm shook his head to clear it. If he didn’t end this soon, Adrammelech was going to wear him down. Monster or not, the creature had near endless reserves to draw upon to sustain him. Storm took a deep breath, then another. Adrammelech was pulling himself up to his knees in preparation to stand. Storm felt a tiny bit of power return to him and heard a Voice in his head. “Use it well.”
The pain in his ribs called to him to use it to heal himself so he could fight better. Another part of him though, urged him to use it on his enemy. He made up his mind and steeled himself to endure the pain a little while longer. He hurled himself forward, holding his great sword in both hands.
Adrammelech got one foot under him and looked up just as Storm attacked. He plunged the sword to the hilt in his chest at the same time he pushed all his remaining power along the blade into the monster to kill him once and for all. Adrammelech’s eyes shot wide.
“No . . . you . . . can’t . . .”
The monster tottered for a moment then fell over backwards. His body hit the ground with a deep resonating boom that seemed to travel deep into the ground and spread throughout the world. Birds flew into the sky in panic and the tribe’s horses suddenly reared and whinnied, their eyes rolling white as they pulled on their ropes, prancing around in fear.
Storm dropped to his knees as Adrammelech’s body slowly crumbled into jet black dust that was picked up and whirled away by the wind. With nothing to hold it up, his sword toppled to the ground. His head spun as he tried to take it in.
Adrammelech was dead.