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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 137: Hastings 87
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First, she would need light, something on the order of The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light. That would illumine the enemy. Then she would have to launch an attack specifically at Tubrok, so Bethany would know which he was; however, she should also do something that would hit all three of them. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire was a good selection, as it would strengthen God's side and weaken the enemy. But which should she do first? Until she attacked Tubrok, it would be difficult for Bethany to know which he was, but weakening all three in the first blow seemed the better choice. Was there another way to mark Tubrok?
Someone spoke in the darkness, a voice she had not heard before. "Who trespasses in my woods?"
Don't answer, Lauren thought; don't give anything away. But Bethany was not so careful.
"I am Bethany of Wandborough; this is Laurelyn Spellsbreath, Mystic of the Western Woods. We are wizards; we seek–"
"We seek Camelot," Lauren interrupted. "We are on a pilgrimage to see the sites of the ancients, to understand the magic they knew."
Lauren strained to hear; Horta was speaking to Tubrok.
"It is not she, I tell you. I killed Laurelyn Spellsbreath, centuries ago. This is an imposter, using the name to frighten us."
"Can you be certain?" Tubrok answered.
"Certain? I killed her with my bare hands; as I crushed her face, she turned to dust."
"Fool. Vampires turn to dust because we live in immortal death. Wizards live in extended life. Did you kill her, or did she escape into another dimension?"
There was a moment of silence. "I could not say," Horta said, "that she did not escape. I thought I had killed her, and she was not seen again for centuries. I thought her body crumbled before me, but it is possible that it was a trick."
"Does this look like the woman you killed?"
"It looks very like her."
"Then this might be a student of the Meddler himself?"
"I thought only one such remained alive—but this could be another."
There was another silence, and then the voice which must be Tubrok's called again. "Why have you returned to these woods now?"
Lauren wasn't certain how to play it now. Apparently her identity as a student of Merlin gave her both protection and vulnerability–they were loathe to let her live, yet fearful of fighting her. But denying it at this point only painted them as prey. Go with the image, she thought. "It has been a long time since I felt the earth of these lands beneath my feet. I have brought my pupil to see the lands of mystery, and to meet my classmate Morgana. We hoped by daylight to enter the oak grove of the dryads, and commune with them, for some are alive still who remember the days when I walked among them."
That was a nice touch; she was glad she thought of it. It added verity to her identity. Who would know that this was the grove, but someone who had been to it before? And who would expect to be known to the dryads but someone who once knew them? Lauren was not familiar with the grove or with the dryads–Merlin tended to avoid the place, knowing his destiny led there. Tubrok couldn't know she had not been here.
However, there was an extended silence now. In the dark, she could not know whether they were still there. Straining to hear something, she shifted her focus to her ears, and realized that there was now movement in three directions. They were surrounding her, preparing to attack from three sides.
Bethany, she sent, it is about to happen. Be ready for the attack, left, right, and center. I'll try to show you which is Tubrok.
To her left she heard the mutterings of Horta, and recognized that he was beginning one of his vile spells. It occurred to her that his master Tubrok must also have such magic; she had not considered that. It was time to act.
"The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light," she cried, "and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned."
It had its intended effect. The woods were ablaze with the light, and the vampires hesitated. Horta lost his focus, interrupted his spell, and began plunging through the woods toward them.
"Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun," she cried. It was the only thing that came to mind, but at least it would help. She and Bethany lit up, and the vampires averted their eyes from the brilliance. Still they charged, and it was time for something else.
Lauren leapt upward into a flip, over the head of the middle one. This proved to be Tubrok, and he, too, leapt into the air. She narrowly avoided being grabbed by him. Finding her feet on the ground, she threw up a mentally-created shield, and Tubrok hit it. He fell back, but so did she, and she dropped the shield. Her psionic blaster found her hand, and she fired it at him and remembered another prayer.
"From the Lord of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, With whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire."
All three vampires stumbled and burst into flame. Jackson fell back, and dove into the stream. Horta began some counterspell to douse the fire. Tubrok ignored the heat, and dove into her.
The crushing force of the blow was unexpected. At once Lauren felt the air knocked from her lungs as she was thrown to the ground and crushed both beneath his weight and by the force of his arms. She gasped for breath, trying to speak another prayer, but had no air.
The slicing force came to mind. Focusing her thoughts on a narrow line, she moved it across her attacker's back, digging a gash. He clearly felt it; he whirled toward it to see what had struck him, and she slipped free from his grasp and kicked him while he was off balance. Now that she had the invisible blade, she swung it again.
Bethany was busy with Horta; Jackson was still trying to douse the supernatural flames with water. There was nothing Lauren could do about them at the moment, as she was quite busy here. Right now Tubrok was distracted by her blade, trying to determine the source, and Lauren was managing to control it without looking like she was doing so–but it was likely he would realize her involvement in a moment.
The pistols seemed the logical choice. After all, if there was anyone in these woods who didn't know she was here, they couldn't be worse than this. She drew both, and fired. It was difficult aiming both guns and continuing the invisible blade, but she did so.
The squint of Tubrok's eyes as he turned toward her reminded her that she was still aglow; Bethany, too, was still shining. Horta had fallen back from her, and was working another spell–perhaps to counter the light, Lauren thought, and she wondered whether she would be able to continue to fire the guns, move the invisible blade, and pray for more light at the same time. She fired the guns and swung the blade. A new prayer came to her lips. "For the ruthless will come to an end and the scorner will be finished, Indeed, all who are intent on doing evil will be cut off." Again she swung the blade at the weakening monster.
Bethany had turned toward Tubrok as well, and Lauren could hear the familiar words of Bethany's cutting spell. As if they had practiced it, both of them went for the neck, and striking it from opposite sides gave it nowhere to go to escape the blow. Tubrok's head fell from his shoulders into the dirt; his body stumbled blindly and fell next to it. Lauren waited for it to crumble to dust.
It did not crumble to dust. The head spoke, shouted. "Get me out of here," it cried, and Horta abandoned his spell and rushed to his master. Bethany dove on him, but the girl had not been trained for physical combat, and he threw her thirty feet into the dirt by the grove. Lauren fired again. One bullet went into the dirt next to the severed talking head, the other into Horta's gut. Horta kept coming, tossing the decapitated body over his shoulders fireman's style and grabbing the loose head under one arm.
I can still stop him, Lauren thought. I can still kill Tubrok, end the miserable existence of the vampire Merlin feared to fight. She raised her gun to fire again, but she never pulled the trigger. She was hit solidly from behind. Jackson had finally gotten his flames extinguished, and struck her with the force of a truck. She fell forward, and felt his weight land on her back. He jumped on her twice before she managed to roll out from under him; but he kept on his feet when he landed again, and she was now in the dirt. She was running out of weapons. Her eyes darted left and right for her guns; reaching her hand toward one, she pulled it toward her with her telekinesis, but Jackson stamped on her arm, and it fell short. Again and again he stomped her and kicked her.
Finally he stopped. Lauren could not find the strength to move, to speak, even to think. With a leer on his face, he lifted her battered body, and was about to bite her neck.
As her head turned, she saw Bethany rising from the ground. Go, she thought to her. I will find you again. The girl stood, unsteady, uncertain. Jackson pulled back Lauren's cowl–and was confronted by the chainlink coif which came down over her shoulders. Enraged, he grabbed her head and twisted, and it was over.
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 #134: Versers in Space. 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: