The stallion pounded the ground with its hooves in a wild gallop, its horsewoman leaning over its neck. With no saddle or bit, the mount flew free, its mane in the wind.
Nighttime enveloped the... [+]
“You write a lot of reports for the leader of a squad that doesn't even exist on paper,” Kid said from his perch in the church's rafters.
Kid looked like what he was called, an adolescent boy. In truth he was probably the oldest member of the group. Him or Ms. Veronica; they weren't sure because neither of them could remember the exact year they'd been born. They were both sure it had been in the 1400s, and Kid knew for sure he'd been born in the spring.
Kid's current Master and friend, the mage Roger, looked up from the report he was about to send back to the general who absolutely did not know they were out there and definitely had not ordered them to apprehend a Nazi mage occupying that village.
“Just because we don't exist doesn't mean we aren't accountable,” Roger replied.
“Get down from there before you fall and break your neck,” Horace grumbled.
Kid rolled his eyes, and dropped to the ground next to the man, who was a descendant of the ancient Berserkers. The fall from the rafters was about ten meters, nothing to him but Horace yelped and cursed.
Horace's tirade about reckless magical creatures who should respect an old man's fragile heart was interrupted by the arrival of the village priest. They could tell how deeply upset the man was because he didn't stop to cross himself as he passed Ms. Veronica. He didn't even clutch at his rosary.
“They've taken the children!” the priest cried, tears leaking from the corner of his eyes.
“Where?” Roger demanded. He, like the priest, spoke French.
“The Gagne's farm. They fled the occupation, it's empty. But now it crawls with Nazis. That beast of a man makes it his base. Now they've taken children. I don't know why.”
“We'll find out, Father,” Roger assured him. He looked over at Kid. “How many of us can you make invisible?”
“Without alerting the mage to the use of power? Three.”
Roger nodded. “Horace, Ms. Veronica, let's go.”
The Berserker and the vampire nodded and fell into step in a loose triangular formation around Kid. He concentrated, using spells ancient when he'd actually been the age he appeared. He heard the faint yelps from Veronica and Horace as they looked down to see themselves gone. Roger was used to the effect. They moved silently and approached the farm. The farmhouse was lit, its windows gleaming against the evening light. The barn was dark; shadowed by something more than a lack of sunlight. Kid pointed to the barn and Roger nodded. They crept towards the structure. At one point a patrol approached near enough that Roger, Kid and Horace had to hold their breaths.
When they reached the barn it was too late. They found the children, five of them arranged at the points of a pentagram inscribed on the ground in ash. Around that was formed a circle of horseshoes.
“They summoned something,” Roger said, kneeling next to one of the children. “Demon?”
Kid shook his head and pointed to the horse shoes. “Iron circle. Fae.”
“There's an inscription here,” Veronica said, “but my German is rusty. Kid?”
He went to her side and studied the markings, and then cursed out loud in three languages.
“That bad, Kid?” Horace asked.
“Bogeyman. They've summoned a bogeyman. A fae monster that particularly targets children.” Kid glanced at the slain ones. “Thus this sacrifice.”
“Damn,” Roger said. “So these poor mites are only the first. Any idea which bogey we're looking at?”
Kid paced the circle, comparing the German inscriptions with the Latin he remembered.
“Bloody Bones,” he finally determined. “They've called a Bloody Bones. They lurk in cellars and under stairs and in ponds, and snatch little ones as they pass. If this thing is loose, there won't be a living child in this village within a month.” He held his hand out over the circle. “And I see no binding on the creature. It's free.”
“And darkness has fallen,” Veronica said, looking out the barn door. “This thing will be choosing its victims even now.”
“We have to stop it,” Roger announced.
“How?” Horace asked. “There's only six of us, in a town crawling with Nazis, and now a monster. How do we even find this thing?”
“Bait,” Kid said, staring down at the poor little sacrifices. “We don't find it, we bait it into the open.”
“No,” Roger said. “No, Kid, that's not a good plan.”
“It'll work,” Kid said. “I look young enough, and I can radiate enough magic to be too tempting to resist.”
“You'll have to be alone, though,” Veronica said, “It only attacks children it lures away from their parents. In the legends, anyway.”
“I know,” Kid said, locking his hands together so no one could see them shake. The idea of entering battle without his Master by his side was terrifying; Familiars fought beside their Masters, not alone. But for the children of this village, and the ones the Dark mage clearly meant to unleash it upon later, he had to do it.
“What about the Nazis?” Horace asked. “They see you, they'll shoot you before the bogey gets you.”
“We'll cause a distraction,” Roger said, “Draw them and the mage out.”
Kid knelt on the floor and found a loose horse shoe nail. Cold iron; the best weapon against a fae. Hopefully it would work on the bloody bones. All he had to do was get close enough to stab it in the heart. Without being ripped limb from limb.
“You sure?” Roger whispered.
“No,” Kid admitted. “But I'm doing it.”
“Good man,” Roger said, clapping him on the back.
Kid smiled for Roger, nodded to the others, and went to find a monster. He kept himself invisible as he awaited the commotion that would indicate the rest had started their distraction. It didn't take long. Before the moon had reached its highest point when the sounds of gunfire and screams echoed through the night. Kid dropped his invisibility and stepped into the middle of the road.
“Bad little boy,” hissed a voice, “out of bed late at night. Naughty.”
Kid turned, fist closed around the nail. He only had one shot. But the night was pitch dark, the moon a bare sliver and he couldn't see the creature or pinpoint its location by sound.
Claws raked across Kid's back. He stumbled forwards, nearly fell. The monster laughed. He felt hot blood trickle down his back. Terror gripped him. He was alone, in the dark, with a monster he couldn't see, and now he was injured.
Kid took a deep breath. He had to do this. All those children would die, if he didn't. Roger would die. The team would die. He was afraid, but that didn't matter. He wasn't a helpless child he was a being of pure magic and he was going to fight. He was going to win. He was going to avenge those children in the barn and end this creature.
Kid closed his eyes. He focused on the sound of the creature's breathing. Its claws had raked straight out; it wasn't much taller than him. Which put its heart at his shoulder height. It was near. He shivered, projecting fear and confusion. He felt as much as heard the creature rush at him. He had to wait for the perfect moment.
The creature caught him by the throat, pulled him close. He choked for air, let himself be dragged. Almost. Almost there. He could see it now in all its horror: blood soaked bones held together by stretched papery skin, a dry skull grinning down and eyes like the pits of Hell. It reared back to strike.
But Kid struck first. He clenched the nail tight and punched it in the chest with all the strength in his body. The iron did its work and his fist crushed through the thing's heart and out its back. It stood there, still holding his throat, for an eternity, eyes wide in utter shock. Then it crumbled slowly to dust.