No Way Out

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“Bucephalus, go!” shouted Deke, digging his heels into his horse’s flanks. The horse bolted forward with the fangs and barbs of the horde hot on its tail. Deke pressed himself low into the saddle as Buce took the twisting turns of the mountain path at breakneck speed.

The sounds of the pursuing mass began to diminish. Deke risked a look back and saw nothing behind him.

“Easy, boy,” he soothed his horse, putting gentle pressure on the reins. “We made it. Don’t you run us off the m—hya!”

The smell hit Deke first: a stench like a bloated corpse, potent enough to make bile rise in his throat. Deke’s unconscious mind recognized the smell and instincts of self-preservation kicked in. He hauled hard on one rein, and Bucephalus screamed and staggered as his head collided with the rock wall.

As the horse stumbled, a dark shape shot past overhead, a horrible winged thing that was a twin to the one that had attacked Deke on his attempt to climb down the mountain. Its talons missed Deke by inches or less, and he could feel its stink like a physical presence in the air. It shrieked its fury and disappointment as it recovered from its dive, sweeping out over the drop to swing back for a second attack.

Deke slid off of his horse and steadied his arm, doing his best to ignore the growing sounds of pursuit he could again hear. He focused his attention on the creature swooping toward him, shutting out all distractions and sighting down the pistol. He watched its wings beat, saw its feet flex in anticipation of tearing his flesh. He waited until it was nearly upon him and then fired four shots in rapid succession, shattering the front edge of one massive wing.

Feathers exploded outward. The creature’s wing folded beneath it, and its hunting shriek cut off abruptly as it smashed into the rocky path. It tumbled twice before striking the rock wall with a sharp snap, teeth and black blood flying free in a ghoulish spray. Its body rebounded bonelessly to lie at Deke’s feet. He gave it a vicious kick and sent it tumbling over the cliff edge to break on the rocks far below.

Short though the encounter had been, it had eaten all of the lead time that Deke had managed to gain. “C’mon, Buce. Go!” Deke urged, only half in the saddle as the first of Father McCaig’s congregants rushed around the corner.

Bucephalus ran. Blood oozed across the horse’s face and neck from where it had been slammed into the wall, and Deke patted away what he could to keep it out of the horse’s eye. The sounds of pursuit again fell away, and after a few wary minutes scanning the skies, Deke allowed himself to begin to relax.

“We still gotta carve us an exit, Buce,” Deke told the horse, slowing as they navigated a sharp bend to enter a cleft between the rocks. “This don’t—well, hell.”

Up ahead, Father McCaig knelt in the middle of the path, his hands moving over the corpse of the winged monstrosity that had assaulted Deke above. Blood dripped from his fingers as he finished the path of the Obey symbol. As Deke watched, gun raised, the thing raised itself from the ground like a puppet being drawn to its feet. Bones shifted, clicked and snapped back into place as its body knit itself back together.

“I could just shoot it again, Father,” Deke said, gun pointed at the monster.

“And I could raise him. You can’t win this one, Deke. They obey me. You can, too. Kneel. Obey.”

Although Deke had returned the word to its place in the book, he still felt the power in Father McCaig’s command—as if the reanimated body before him was not proof enough of that. It sparked an idea, though. Deke drew his knife.

“Not my style, padre. You know I always liked your sermons. I think you did well by the folks here.” Deke switched his gun to his left hand and gripped his knife close to the tip, holding the blade gingerly as he pressed the point to the hard metal of the gun.

“Sure, and what does ‘do well by’ mean to a man like you? That I kept them in line? That I taught them gullibility where they needed shrewdness, patience where they needed action? You used me, Deke, as you’ve used everyone. You’ll not talk your way out of this one.”

“Ain’t looking to talk my way out, padre.” Deke’s eyes never left the priest as he scratched smooth lines into the barrel of the gun, motions he knew by heart. His fingers tightened involuntarily on the blade as he drew the lines of Obey. The blade bit into his skin, drawing rivulets of blood which the glyph eagerly sucked up, drawing them into itself. “Just looking to buy a little time.”

Father McCaig smiled. “You and me both, Deke. You and me both.”

The demon-thing stretched its feathered wings and shrieked, sending a gust of foul air toward Deke. It bared its jagged teeth at Deke in a threatening display, demanding his attention.

Always before, the creature had attacked, never postured. Deke knew misdirection when he saw it. Listening closely, he heard soft slithering and clicking noises surrounding him, heralding the stealthy arrival of the rest of Father McCaig’s congregation.

The creature before him beat its wings heavily, raising up a cloud of dust. It shrieked again, and Deke shot it directly in its open mouth. As the bullet exploded out the back of its skull, all of its old injuries reappeared. Its wing crumpled. Its neck snapped. Blood spurted. It tumbled to the ground, broken.

“What have you done?” shouted Father McCaig, aghast.

“He obeys me now. And I say let the dead stay dead.”

Father McCaig howled, and his congregation howled with him as they attacked. They leapt from the rocks, rushed in from the path and scuttled in along the walls. They attacked with teeth and claws, stingers and blades, weapons both natural and improvised. They attacked without hesitation or thought of safety.

On Bucephalus’s back, Deke struck out with knife and gun. His horse reared, kicking out at those it could reach, while Deke’s knife skittered across armored plates to find soft gaps in between. These blunt and bladed weapons merely knocked the assailants back, however. It was the gun that did the true work, each bullet issuing commands that the monsters could not ignore in the very language that had created them.

Deke’s hand burned each time he pulled the trigger, the metal biting into the fresh cuts on his fingers and drawing forth new blood. His grip never slipped though, and when Deke spun the cylinder free to reload he saw that none of the blood had even made it as far as his palm. The gun drank every drop of it, feeding off of it to fuel the dark pact of Obey.

Eternal, painful moments later, it was over. Deke’s legs, forearms and sides were scored in a dozen places, and Bucephalus dripped blood from a dozen wounds of his own. But Father McCaig’s congregation lay dead around Deke’s feet, and the padre himself knelt in the path, surrounded by dust and blood.

“Will you let me by now, Father?” Deke asked, though he knew the answer. “Is this the only way?”

The priest smiled up at him, a mad grin. “It always was.”

Father McCaig reached up to move his leather eyepatch, and Deke shot him directly through his ruined eye.

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