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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 37: Hastings 56
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"So, what do you make of that?" Sir Sagrimore indicated a lone figure standing in the road some distance from them. It had appeared not far from their camp shortly after sunset, but was still visible in the fading dusk.
Lauren shifted her senses into olfaction; it came easier this time.
"Putrescence," she said. "The smell of death on her is even stronger than it was on all five of the ghouls we fought combined."
"I'd say she's a vampire."
"She looks like any ordinary peasant woman."
"They're counting on that, Sagrimore. They think maybe you'll hesitate to attack a woman, and in that hesitation she'll kill one of us, and then face the other alone."
"But we killed five yesterday."
"Those were ghouls. If this is a vampire, it's entirely different. They're always stronger, and usually faster, and sometimes keenly cunning. I have personally killed three. With the first, I had the help of a dozen well-armed experienced vampire hunters, and it was still close. The second I faced alone, and it was perhaps the hardest battle I ever fought. But the third was worse; although I killed him, I–well, the power that killed him hit me as well, and why I'm here today is not easy to understand. One vampire is more than enough to kill both of us, and our driver, and the horses, and maybe before we can strike back, if we fail to take it very seriously."
Sagrimore stared through the growing gloom. "It's waiting for dark, isn't it?"
That made sense. "Darkness is its natural world. All advantages would be with it at that point."
"Charging it would not be a good idea?"
"Wisely spoken. It would not, or at least, not as a primary attack. It might work as a diversion, but we might lose you in the process, and that's not a cost I'm willing to pay."
"I'm not afraid to die."
"I'm not afraid to die, either. But if we are to have any hope against Tubrok and Horta, we can't spend our lives on this minor demon."
"But you just said...."
"I know. Strong, fast, tough to kill, clever–vampires are like that. But I seriously doubt whether this one is more than a year or two dead. She's here because she's expendable. If she kills one of us, that's more than Tubrok expects. If she kills both of us, he's ecstatic. If she only scares one of us off the chase, he's got his victory. Yes, she'll be all the things I promised. But compared to the two we're following, she'll be nothing."
Again they both stared in silence through the gloom.
"So what do we do?" the knight asked. It was a good question; Lauren wished she had a great answer. She was pretty much making it up as she went along.
"We get back to camp and try to look unwary. I'll try to set up some magical warning system. I see three possible strategies for her. One, she tries to catch us off guard over dinner and overpower us; two, she tries to enter our camp as a lost peasant or something and surprise attack from our midst; three, she waits until we're asleep and strikes then. Whatever she does, we have to be ready to ambush her at the moment she thinks we're vulnerable."
The knight stood another minute, but he must have decided that her thoughts made sense. He turned and walked back to camp. Lauren followed him.
Sitting by the fire, she began to consider her weapons. She had the magic she had taught herself a few years ago when she fought vampires in the future–the present–whatever she should call the year 2005 when she was now living in the fifth or sixth century. Most of that was designed to attack vampires: light, fire, blessings and curses, and she'd learned how to walk through that other world, the place they called the twilight. Then there was her psionics, which were mostly about clairsentience and telekinetics, and she could fly and start fires (but unless she was working with something really flammable they tended to be small fires); oh, yes, and some mind reading and telepathy tricks. And she had a couple of psionic gadgets, mostly weapons; but the best weapon, the disintegrator, was broken. She had learned quite a bit working with Merlin, but he used magic for wisdom more than weaponry. Her martial arts were good, but vampires made ghouls look like clay pigeons and the physical combat was really only a supplement to the spiritual warfare. Was she forgetting anything?
Yes, she was. Just before Horta died, Bethany had yelled something about using the acorn. She still had no idea what the acorn did, but she also had the die, the paper clip, and the marble, and of course the bag that held them. Could they help? In fact, they probably could.
"Sagrimore?" she said.
"If you had to hold something in your left hand, would that significantly impair your ability to fight?"
"It depends on how big it is."
"Oh, it's small." She carefully fished the marble out of the bag, and handed it to him. "Close your hand around that."
He did, and then almost dropped it from surprise. "That's remarkable. I can see as if it were day."
"Yes. I figure that this vampire is waiting for darkness to be her cover. If we can see in the dark, we take away one of her advantages."
"Excellent! Now I'll be able to see as well as you."
Lauren didn't answer that. She had no other way to see in the dark; she just thought that it would be better for them if he could see. But maybe she could see, too. She thought about how she had enhanced her sense of smell; could she do the same with her vision? She closed her eyes and began searching her mind. She wouldn't need to taste at all, and could do without her sense of smell. She didn't want to be entirely numb, but some of her tactile sensation could be shifted to her eyesight. In a moment she had reorganized her mind, and reopened her eyes.
She saw, but not as she expected to see. There was no color; instead, there were vivid and sharp shades of gray. Her mind rushed for an explanation for this, and she found one. The cones of her eyes, which perceived light in the narrow bands she called color, were understimulated; only the black-and-white rods were sending any visual information to her brain at all. That information didn't have color, but it did have light levels. Her enhanced visual function was analyzing that information in more detail, providing her with far better discrimination. In a sense, the distance between the shades of gray had been increased, and yet at the same time they didn't look any brighter or dimmer. It was, she thought, as if you were looking through a magnifying glass at a ruler: the millimeters were still the same distance apart relative to the thing you were measuring, but you could see those increments much more clearly.
In a sense she had miscalculated; she had wanted color. She should have considered finding a way to tamper with the sensitivity of the sensors themselves. But she didn't have time to try something else, especially as this would work well enough.
"Can you smell it?" Sir Sagrimore asked.
"No," she said; "I'm not enhancing that sense right now. But," she stared through the darkness, "I can see it. Don't let it know we can see, but casually look a bit to the right."
"I've found her. Would it be acceptable for me to casually sharpen my sword?"
Lauren thought for a moment. That might make them look unprepared, but it also might give the creature pause. "No, but it would be alright for you to get up and put another log on the fire. I'll watch her, and you'll know if she's coming."
The knight nodded, rose, and turned his back to the woods to step over to their small woodpile. Lauren heard the logs shift as he picked one up; and at that moment the shadowy form she had been watching darted forward.
Pointing at the creature, she shouted, "The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #89: Novel Confrontations. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: