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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 134: Hastings 86
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It seemed to Lauren that Bethany woke her a bit on the early side. Then again, once she was awake, there was no point debating this. Bethany was obviously tired, and so would be unreliable as a watchman. Lauren would not get back to sleep before it was time to wake up anyway, so she might as well take the watch. Besides, she'd pulled a few all-nighters in college, years–decades–centuries ago. Why think of college? In Philadelphia she regularly stayed up thirty-five hours and slept thirteen, a useful habit then left over from NagaWorld where they had forty hour days. Bethany could sleep; she could read and keep watch. She pulled out her Bible and continued her studies.
Reading by a scrap of magic light was tiring; she soon gave it up for fear she might fall asleep over the book. Needing to stretch her legs and make sure she was fully awake, she packed up such things as she had pulled out to set camp, and put on fresh clothes. She also packed Bethany's things, but for the bedroll in which the girl slept, and had a bite of breakfast to quicken the morning routine. It would be a significant day, whatever happened, and she found herself anticipating it.
Something caught her attention; she was not certain what. Given these woods, though, and their experience of the last several days, she was concerned. She shifted her senses to olfaction, and quickly found the scent on the wind, a strong smell of decay which nearly cost her her breakfast. Vampires, she thought, probably more than one—but where are they?
She had not risked using any of Bethany's gifts to her while the girl was around. At the moment, though, she needed to see, and her student was sleeping. She drew out the pouch in which these were contained, and felt for the roundness which would be the marble. This she squeezed out of the bag into her hand, and so let her vision shift into that cat-like view of the world. She would need her other senses, she knew, so she shifted her natural senses back to normal as she scanned the woods upwind.
She found them; there were three of them. One she recognized immediately, one she did not recognize at all, but there was something vaguely familiar about the third, something she could not quite place but knew she should know. Could that be Tubrok? No, the second was Tubrok, the vampire she had never seen. Horta, whom she could not fail to recognize, was obviously deferring to this one, and that could only be his liege. Who was the third?
Recognition came to her with a very serious twinge of worry. That third vampire was Jackson. Certainly he was a weaker Jackson than the one she had killed, or would kill in the early twenty-first century. It would not take the full strength of half a dozen trained vampire hunters and her own disintegrator rod to finish him. But she was trapped by her own foreknowledge. She knew she would kill him hundreds of years in the future; how could she believe that she could kill him now? It was very like when she fought Horta. Now she faced three vampires, one so powerful that even Merlin balked at open confrontation, the other two protected by destiny, by her knowledge that they would live to face her another time. This was not a battle she could win. The war, certainly, was won; the battle would be lost.
Perhaps, though, the battle is not so hopeless. If she killed Tubrok, here, now, Horta and Jackson would likely quail and flee, and she and Bethany could complete their mission. Tubrok was powerful, but she had no reason to think him invincible. God was certainly more powerful than any vampire, even an antediluvian. Perhaps she was here to end Tubrok's evil. She should wake Bethany, and get her ready to fight as well. It would be a terrible battle, but she could not risk the girl's life.
A pleasant thought then occurred to her. The same foreknowledge which told her she could not kill Horta or Jackson demanded that Bethany, too, would survive. It appeared that only Tubrok and Lauren were at risk in this battle, and for Lauren, that risk was not eternal. She smiled, and replaced the marble in its pouch, the pouch in her pocket. It was time to get ready.
Nonchalantly she nudged Bethany with her foot, and opened her telepathic link. Wake up, but don't startle. There are three vampires in the woods, and I expect them to attack. You need to get ready without looking like you're getting ready to fight, and you need to be ready to run when the time comes.
Run? Bethany's thoughts came back. Surely we can kill these three?
I know it will sound strange, but I know that you cannot be killed in this fight; I also know that two of them cannot be killed. Centuries from now they will die at my hand; it has already happened, and so is inevitable. After the first dies, I will find you again, in Philadelphia, and you will be there when I kill the second. But I cannot say that I will not die here. One of these has killed me before, and I could die again.
So why don't we just run?
Lauren considered that for a moment. Why not just move back into the oak grove, and hope they don't follow? She knew why, but was it necessarily so?
We have a chance to kill Tubrok, she thought back. He is the third. All of our force should be focused on him. If we can kill him, I believe the others will flee. In any event, if we can weaken him before we flee to the dryads, they may be more open to helping us. But remember that: we will attack Tubrok, and then whether we win or lose, we move to the grove. If they pursue to the grove, use the twilight to get back to Wandborough.
"I can't go on without you," Bethany said, and Lauren felt the sorrow of separation. She knelt next to the girl.
"Of course you can," she said. "You've learned much from me, all you need to know to find your way from here. If we're parted now, it's not forever. I'll see you in Philadelphia. I've promised this; I've seen it. You have your bible, you have a wonderful understanding of the outer powers and of the inner powers, and you can create your own magic. It won't be long, I suspect, before you're creating powerful magical toys. If you have questions which you can't answer, you know where Morgana is. I think she'd help you." Lauren stood, and peered through the darkness. The vampires were not visible to her at the moment, but she was certain they were still out there.
"Besides, I don't know what will happen tonight. They might run; we might defeat them. Get ready."
As Bethany pulled on her boots, Lauren considered what weapons to use against the foe.
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 #128: Character Gatherings. 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: