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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 121: Hastings 82
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Lauren use to joke about her sister's sense of direction. The girl knew how to get to many different places starting from home, but couldn't get from one place to another without going home in between. Yet as she sought what must by now either be an ancient oak grove or an unrecognizable forest, it seemed that the way to proceed was to go from Camelot to Merlin's old place, and from there toward Nimue. This had the added advantage that it involved considerably less magic, and so was less likely to be opposed by other magic. It had the disadvantage that Lauren was fairly certain they would be going out of their way some distance to do this; Merlin's home was south and west of Camelot, and Nimue's wood south and east. It was the best plan she had so far.
She also had a growing concern that they would be discovered–not that they would encounter more vampires or ghouls, as this seemed inevitable, but rather that having now destroyed so many someone was going to realize that something was happening. Every vampire destroyed opened the possibility that another vampire knew of their presence through that mind link. They had in a sense been lucky. Their luck would not hold forever.
They followed the valley around the southern side of Camelot, moving more slowly than they had been as Lauren searched her memory for anything that would help her retrace the lost path. It had never been much of a road; Merlin would not have allowed a course which plainly led to his abode, and routinely obscured anything which started to do so, commanding the plants to move into the clearing. Still, she had traveled back and forth between his grove and Camelot many times with him, and perhaps as many on her own. It was all changed, all unfamiliar, but she continued to feel her way, following the slopes of hills and the courses of streams, the things which would not have changed so much even in centuries.
As evening fell, they began to set up camp. Suddenly, completely unexpectedly, they were attacked. Four creatures came upon them. They moved with such speed Lauren knew they had to be vampires. Before she could react, one had hit her, knocking her back several feet onto the ground.
They must have grabbed Bethany; Lauren heard her shouting out defensive magic, the struggle in her voice. Before getting back to her own feet, Lauren spoke one of her own defensive scripture prayers, created a force shield with her mind, and pulled her psionic blaster.
Indeed, two vampires were holding Bethany; the other two had turned their attention away from Lauren for the moment, apparently thinking her out of the combat. Freeing Bethany seemed the first step, so she fired the blaster twice at the nearer of the two holding her. This caught the attention of one of the other vampires, who sprang toward her–but her shield held, stopping the attack several feet from her. Shouting scripture and firing the blaster, she soon forced the one to release Bethany. Then she sprang forward, into a flip, landing her feet against his chest, firing the blaster once more, and slicing his neck with her invisible blade.
Perhaps recognizing where the real danger lay, the other vampire released Bethany and turned toward Lauren. Cartwheeling to the wagon, she grabbed the capture rod and caught this one in its force field. She lifted it up, well above them. Probably it was strong enough that it could break out—but if it could not fly, it would have to suffer the fall. This left two opponents on the ground, and with Bethany Lauren could handle that.
Scripture poured from her mouth, and her opponents seized with pain. So much of her mental energy was maintaining the capture field, though, that she could neither fire the blaster effectively nor think of scripture as quickly as she needed it. She needed a different weapon; the revolvers were on her belt, and she drew one out. It was fully loaded; she could fire five shots, each a powerful fifty caliber bullet–half an inch in diameter. Of course, she herself had been shot by this gun once and not been more than bruised—but that was because of the plastic armor she still wore, and because being in the air at the time the impact had spun her around without penetrating. She started shooting; the explosion echoed in the hills. We've announced our presence quite clearly now, Lauren, she thought, but two of the three bullets she had fired had found their marks before the monster had dashed behind a tree. She put one of the other two in the other vampire, which also retreated to cover, and her final shot was wasted.
It was at this moment that two things happened. One was it very briefly crossed Lauren's mind that Bethany had not done anything for at least a minute–an eternity in a combat of this sort. The other was that she received a potent mental shock as the vampire suspended above her broke the force wall and plummeted to the ground. It would be injured, she knew, but was not likely to be dead. That meant three wounded vampires. Normally she preferred to take out opponents one at a time; tactically it seemed to make more sense–destroying one was better than weakening all, because it reduced what they could do to her and gave her fewer enemies to track. Of the four they initially faced, three remained, and although all three were injured she could not know how much it would take to finish another, or which she should finish.
She dropped the one revolver and drew the other. It would take at least a moment before she could use her mental powers again, but she had the magic, the outer powers, and the revolver, and the martial arts, and Bethany. Another verse of scripture followed, "At evening time, behold, there is terror! Before morning they are no more. Such will be the portion of those who plunder us." Then another bullet finished one. Before she could pick another target, the one that fell from her capture field sprang at her from behind, and knocked the gun from her hand.
There was a flurry of fists and feet, as Lauren used all that Raiden had taught her to block them. She was more than a match for two ordinary human opponents, but these were stronger and faster than any human, and they came at her relentlessly. Finally, inevitably perhaps, one of them managed to pin her down. Her attempts to shout out another verse were met with a mouthful of dirt, and she found herself choking and being choked.
Her eyes fell on Bethany. The girl was standing helpless, staring at them, and Lauren could not think why. Then Bethany choked out one word, a cry, a question, a pleading.
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 #122: Character Partings. 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: