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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 56: Hastings 62
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Again time rolled past. Lauren still frequented Wandborough, healing the sick, teaching the gospel, and watching for any sign of the vampires. But the long arm of Rome was beginning to extend this far, and with it messengers from the church. Her views and her teachings were a bit unorthodox, and although she thought an inquiry would reveal her to be schismatic but not heretical, she would rather avoid the inquiry altogether. She had the occasional conversation with werewolves passing through that end of the western woods, similarly helping and healing many of them, and kept them mindful that she was eager to oppose the vampires Tubrok and Horta should they appear. Another generation grew up in the village, and those she knew grew older, and despite her healing abilities quite a few died. They die so young, so soon, she thought; no wonder the vampires consider humans of little import–to anyone who doesn't age, they pass like, well, like the grass which withers and dies. She was saddened by the loss of so many, not that they were friends, but that they were not friends, that she had never really become friends with them, but was always regarded as some sort of mystic or fairy.
One day, a familiar face appeared at her door.
"Garla!" she exclaimed.
"Good day, lady," came the reply.
"What brings you my way?"
"I come to see you."
"I'm a long way from the pack."
"Yes, but you taught me well. You told me that if I practiced traveling the between I would get better, and I did. I'm one of the best now."
"So, you came to see me; that's very nice. What can I do for you?"
"I came, lady, to warn you that Horta has been seen. He has a large mob of young vampires and ghouls, and has come up from the south toward Wandborough."
Lauren almost leapt from her chair and began gathering her things. "Do you know how far away he is, or how long it will take him to get there?"
"If he continues at his current speed, he should arrive tomorrow night."
Lauren stopped rushing; she felt a bit foolish. "Thank you," she said, "for letting me know so promptly. I will be making a stand against them at the edge of town. Is there any chance that some of your people will be able to stand with me?"
"I will try to raise some, but for the most part there is less love for humans today than there was when we met."
"It's the Romans; they have a very superior attitude. I'm not surprised that they've alienated the wolves further; they haven't made a lot of friends among the humans, either. But any help you can find is better than none at all. Thank you. So, how are you?"
And from here the conversation drifted into discussions of Garla's pups and grandpups, the new pack mother, the territory problems caused by Roman occupation, and other more mundane things. There was time to prepare; right now it was time to be human.
Lauren readied a few things, reviewed a few things, practiced a few things, and went to bed very late. She wanted to sleep late in the morning, well into the afternoon, so she would be at her best late at night. Dressing for battle, she made the familiar trip through the between to Wandborough just before dusk. Her presence was noticed almost immediately, but she stood on the southern edge of town and waited.
"What are you doing?" a young boy asked her. Focused as she was on the south, she had not noticed his approach from behind her.
"I'm standing guard."
"Do you do this always?"
"I am always here to guard the village, but I don't always stand in the road to do it."
The boy seemed uncertain as to whether that answered his question. After a moment, he thought of another. "So why are you here now?"
"I'm anticipating trouble tonight. Have you heard me speak of the demons that do battle against us here on earth?" The boy nodded. "I have heard from my friends the forest people that some are headed this way, and I will stop them if I can."
That seemed to satisfy him, and he went back to playing. Soon the streets grew quiet, and darkness settled over the world.
Lauren found her cat's eye marble, and brought the world back into view; and she shifted some of her sensory resources into olfaction. She had smelled a vampire before, and if the wind was right she should know of their approach before they came into view. Darkness engulfed her, and still she stood at her post.
Eventually the smell arrived, the smell of death, of the partially decayed bodies of the undead. Now that they were approaching, she no longer needed that early warning system. Smoothly she shifted her sensory resources back to normal, her eyesight still enhanced by the magic sphere in her left hand.
She had brought the telekinetic capture rod; the disintegrator was still broken, and this one seemed more likely to be useful than the simple telekinetic lifter. She also had the fifty caliber revolvers she had taken from Arnie the Ghoul, the bow and arrows, the psionic drill and blaster, her three kau sin kes, her collection of mental tricks, the miracles she could call through the Word of God, and the magic she had learned from Merlin. It was a lot to remember, a lot to keep straight in her mind. She again appreciated the advantages of specializing–Sir Sagrimore never had to wonder what to use; he just swung his sword. That wasn't entirely fair; mounted, he always used his lance first, and sometimes he used that mace, or at least she thought it was a mace, but it could have been a flail or a morning star or something like that. Merlin, of course, had to choose between many magics, the psionics which he called the inner powers and the supernatural manifestations which he called the outer powers, but he never had to choose between whether to use magic or draw a sword. She had chosen for herself to increase her options; than meant complicating her choices. If it also meant slowing her response time, that was a bad thing.
She set aside the bow and arrows. This was the sort of weapon that was reliable, in that it tended to work in just about any world, but it wasn't powerful or accurate as compared to her other options. The revolvers were very powerful, fast, and reasonably reliable, but there were two weaknesses. One was that there were five shots in each, and then she would have to find cover to reload. The other was that she was not well practiced with them. She had a lot of bullets, but could use them all just practicing. No, the guns would be her fallback weapon. She would start with the Word of God–it was her best defense–and the psionic weapons, and the magic she had learned from Merlin. Also, she would try to stay at range, so she would not have to rely on the martial arts. She drew the psionic weapons, the stronger blaster in her good right hand, the drill in the left, and watched the road and the woods around her.
It was yet a long moment before the enemy came into view. They must have thought darkness sufficient cover, as they made no efforts to conceal their movement, marching on the road from the south. It was clear they intended to crush this haven of humanity she had nurtured. She did not attempt to count them, but thought there were near thirty. Horta led; Tubrok was not among them. In the true spirit of evil, she thought, he lets his lackeys take the risks.
Now that they had come into view, she decided that the marble would be more a complication than an aid; if she had to hold it in her hand while she fought, she would probably drop it. She quickly slipped it back into its pouch, and prepared to strike the first blow.
"In the beginning was the Word," she began, "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."
As if the house lights came on at the end of the play, the road south of Wandborough was suddenly alight, and the advancing force hesitated. Half a dozen of their number hesitated more dramatically; these, Lauren realized, were the vampires, unable to stand the light of God, while the ghouls accompanying them paused only because the magic surprised them. She didn't have long to think. She began funneling mental energy into the weapons in her hands, and struck again with faith.
"He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet." A few of the ghouls had separated from the mob and were moving forward swiftly; she fired the blaster at the leader; its operation was becoming easier from practice, and she hit him twice, knocking him back, before also firing the drill at another. She continued her barrage of faith. "And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things."
Several of the ghouls appeared to be readying bows. Lauren holstered the drill; she would need her left hand. As the first of the archers let fly, she spoke, "Dialtha Thur", as she waved her free hand in front of her. The arrows were knocked from their course, landing off the road. She fired the blaster several more times.
Suddenly her body was wracked with a searing pain, a pain she had felt before. Horta had launched one of his vile spells against her. The blaster slipped from her hand, and another wave hit her, knocking her back. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," she gasped, and then drew the revolvers, firing each of them into the heart of the crowd. The explosions echoed in the night.
"If God is for us, who is against us?" she declared, and fired again. Again she was hit with pain, although this time not so intense; an arrow bounced off her hidden plate armor. "For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." That, she hoped, would take the rest of the force out of Horta's attacks. Again she fired the revolvers, but the undead army was closing the gap, seeming to have accepted injury as the cost of victory. She fired both revolvers a fourth time, and two of her enemies flinched from the impact, but the horde still advanced.
In the back of her mind, she heard noises, voices and motion behind her. Even as she searched for her next attack, she tried to grasp what she heard.
"It's Laurelyn!" one cried.
"She's fighting the demons!" called another.
As she spoke her next words, "There is the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man", and fought back the darkness, she heard the alarm sound in the center of town, and more voices joined the fray.
She could now see Horta before her. She wasn't going to beat him this time; she smiled, knowing that one day she would destroy him, and fired both revolvers point blank into him. He fell back, wounded—but her guns were empty, and before she could choose another attack she was struck with a punch that knocked her off the ground backwards. She could not say whether it was vampire or ghoul, but whatever it was it leapt upon her like a beast.
Men were arriving, armed with farm tools. They were also shouting words of faith. At the same moment, there was another sound, the howls of a pack of wolves; Garla had arrived with reinforcements.
There were shouts among the enemy, and they began falling back. The creature atop Lauren leapt from her, and began running down the road. Without thinking she sprang after it. Vampires and ghouls were fleeing, scattering, even as humans and werewolves tore into them. Lauren felt victory in her grasp. Wandborough was safe; its residents had shown that they were able to defend themselves.
Suddenly she was hit; someone plowed into her side under her left arm, knocking her over. Before she could scramble to her feet, she was hit again, kicked, stomped. The armor was good, but even through it she could feel the power behind these blows. She tried to turn, to face her attacker, but she was struck again. Finally she rolled to her back, to see the face of the vam fighting her. It was Horta who leered at her, showing his fierce teeth in his cruel smile, before crushing her face with one last blow.
As the scene came into focus, a tall black bear was poking at her, asking if she was all right, while a raccoon stood alongside him taking notes. I'm dreaming again, she thought. In a moment it will all come right.
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 #94: Novel Meetings. 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: