Chapter 15 cont.: Out Through the In Door
Below, the rockcrusher grabbed the thickest leg of the tower, clamping down on the wood with its powerful jaws. The rockcrusher squeezed, crushing the beam into kindle. Each flex of its jaw severed more of the support. Kwado tried to cling to a post near the center of the platform, but the floor tilted forward and he spilled over the edge. By the grace of the gods he managed to hold onto the lip of the platform with his one good hand.
“Go away!” he shouted. “Leave me be! Go find some stones to chew on, why don’t you!”
The rockcrusher howled and brayed, slapping its tail in the mud, then resumed its meal.
“Ya damned demon!” a man’s voice bellowed from below.
Kwado craned his neck at an awkward angle in time to see the Hammer hurling through the air. He landed on the rockcrusher’s back. The rockcrusher released the beam and tilted it head to try to get a look at its attacker. Before the beast could respond, however, the Hammer’s grabbed hold of its neck and hooked his blade against the skin. He tugged back and slit the beast’s throat open like a blistered peach. Blood painted the mud red.
The rockcrusher slammed its head down flat in the dirt, desperately trying to stem the flow of blood, but the Hammer jabbed his blade three more times into its ribcage. The rockcrusher whined and howled, throwing itself backward like a bucking bronco hoping to take its murderer with it into the afterlife by crushing him beneath its considerable weight.
But the Hammer was too quick, jumping off of the rockcrusher and scrambling out of the way of its flailing tail. Once she was on her back, squirming in the dirt, he leapt forward and thrust his blade beneath her left shoulder plate, straight through the heart.
Kwado regained his grip and threw himself back onto the platform, panting on his belly. He stared down at the Hammer with his face sticking over the edge of the leaning tower. The warden wiped his blood-soaked blade on the rockcrusher’s matted chest hair and spit the beast. He grumbled and turned to look up at Kwado.
“Well, if it isn’t my little troublemaking troll,” the Hammer said. His voice had an edge of loose sanity to it, coming from a man who had recently seen things no man has a right to. “Don’t try and look so innocent, troll. The Hammer isn’t as thick-headed as you think. Put the whole thing together while I watched Rorkey and Mick slain like dogs in the street, put down by your pals in the quarry. Can’t believe I didn’t see it to begin with. Where is that weasel partner of yours, anyhow?”
Kwado just stared at him, his mind as blank as his lips were dry.
“No matter,” the Hammer said with a shrug. “After I finish with you, I’ll find the runt. Weed him out sooner or later. Teach the whelp good and long what the price of messing with the Hammer be.”
Before Kwado could find his words, the Hammer pointed at him, but not with his finger. The tip of the warden’s Qilin rod aimed at Kwado’s face. “Give greenie a taste!” the Hammer yelled to the Gulag’s unyielding enforcer of captivity.
At once Kwado felt like he had been kicked in the scrotum by a donkey. His intestines felt scorched by flames, and every muscle in his body contorted in the wrong direction. Inescapable spasms of pain wracked him from head to toe, inside and out. It was all he could do not to bite off the tip of his tongue as he vomited in quaking jerks.
“Stupid monsters…,” the Hammer grumbled. “Ya never learn, do ya?” He casually fastened the punishment rod to his belt and mounted the ladder. He pulled himself easily up the twisted rungs with little concern to the towers creaking. “Never fails. We take you miscreants in, give you honest work for the first time in your miserable lives, but how are we repaid? It’s always the same in the end, ain’t it? My pappy was right—no matter how much time goes by I hear the wisdom in his words. Only good monster is a dead monster.”
The scorching rivers of pain receded to a dull throb that stabbed behind Kwado’s eyes. The Qilin’s punishment may have ceased, but he was left exhausted, like he had just spent three days as a punching bag for some primate. He willed his arms and legs to move, to pull him up or scurry away to the other side of the hanging platform, but they remained silent passengers. He watched helplessly as the Hammer came up over the lip, still muttering under his breath.
“Funny thing is, you dogs must have actually thought you could win this fight,” he said. “But you never will. Never. That cursed wizard spewing his spells into the overseer’s ranks…it won’t make no difference. Whether tomorrow or another day, there will always be honest folk like me-self, fine upstanding patriots ready to put you scum in your place.”
Kwado heard the Hammer’s sword slide out of the sheath before he saw it. His eyes opened wide, searching the man’s silhouette for some glimpse of mercy. Moonlight reflected off the blade’s edge. He tried to plead for the Hammer to stop, tried to explain that it had all been an accident, a folly he wished he had never been involved in. But all that came out was a pitiful whine that riddled him shame. He wanted to slap himself for such cowardice. The very idea that he would cower before this despicable man filled him with rage.
“I’m not sorry,” Kwado insisted in a weak voice.
The Hammer paused, taken aback. “Oh? Foolish words for your last.”
Kwado tried to pull himself up, to face his assassin like a man, but his muscles were still too tight. When he pressed his shaking hands to the floorboards, the Hammer stepped on his knuckles, grinding them like a cigar stub. He grinned cruelly as Kwado moaned.
Kwado fought down the pain and gritted his teeth. He turned his face up to look at the Hammer. “Choke on it.”
The Hammer scowled. Kwado saw a certainty pass over the man. He was done toying with the troll, finished with idle words. Now he only craved blood. The Hammer reached down for Kwado’s neck, oblivious to the shadow that descended over him. It was Boram! Kwado’s eyes locked on the gargoyle, and the Hammer turned to see what he was looking at.
Boram landed a heavy stone fist into the Hammer’s jaw, wiping the stupid grin from his face before he could blink. The Hammer spilled across the platform, dazed and confused as his sword skittered over the rail. Before he could recover, Boram landed on the platform and snatched him up as easily as a ragdoll. Something clattered on the floorboards beside Kwado, but he could not pull his eyes away from the gargoyle. He was beautiful, a twilight guardian angel with yellow eyes that burned through the shadows.
“You…you s-stay back,” the Hammer said. He jabbed the Qilin rod at Boram.
“Your little tricks won’t be working on me tonight, human,” Boram said, batting the rod out the warden’s hand with a snarl.
The Hammer flinched and tried to cower into a small ball, but Boram wrapped his arms around the man’s torso and squeezed. The Hammer’s body twisted helplessly under the stone hug. Boram bowed his head to Kwado then took a step back into the open air with a sweeping unfurling of his wings. “Goodbye, my friend,” Boram said.
And then he was gone. Shooting up into the evening sky like a missile, trailed by the Hammer’s screams. Kwado wished he could feel pity for the man, but he was getting everything he deserved.