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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 127: Brown 94
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Previous chapter: Chapter 126: Hastings 135
The explosion was completely unexpected, and caught Derek very much off guard. He had finished the part that was supposed to open the dome, and it took a moment even after he'd said it for him to realize that the dome was not going to open. He sat there, completely uncertain what he should do.
However, his companions were already organizing for an assault; this seemed to be the best plan. He positioned himself behind the desk, and readied his laser rifle. Sunlight was streaming in through walls that had been turned to glass, but it didn't take much thinking to figure that if Tubrok had found a way to counter the opening of the dome, he also would have a way to deal with the glass walls.
Lauren, Bethany, Shella, Bob, and Merlin were all using whatever means they had to view what was happening on the other side of the office wall; Derek reached out with his remote sight, and watched as his companions discussed what he saw.
"There's the ring," Bob said. "They're coming."
"Those first ones through aren't affected by the sunlight," Lauren said. "Do you think they're human?"
"No," Merlin offered, "I'd say they're ghouls. What's that they've got?"
Derek tried to focus on the object, which looked as much like a soda can as anything else. It was a moment before anyone spoke again. Lauren picked it up.
"Oh, I saw something like that once; Arnie the Ghoul used it against me. It was some sort of smoke pot that gave him cover; I didn't hang around to see whether the smoke was poisonous or something."
"Yes, that seems to be it," Merlin said. "They seem to think that the smoke will block the sun, so the vampires can come through."
"Don't look now," Bob said, "but it seems to be working."
Sure enough, the glass was starting to darken, turning brown and blotting out the daylight gradually. Soon it would be as dark as it was before.
"Well, that's one point for their side," Merlin said.
Dropping the clairvoyance, Derek stood up, holding his laser. "Maybe," he said, "we shouldn't wait to see what they do next. I think we should meet them out there, kill the ones that are already here before more come through. After all, the vampires can't attack until the smoke blocks the sun enough; and if we've already killed the ghouls that's that many fewer enemies to fight when we get there."
"Agreed," Bethany said, and stepped to the door. "Agreed?" she asked, looking back at the group.
"You've got my vote," Bob said, "if it's a democracy."
"What's a democracy?" Shella asked.
"Never mind," Lauren said, "let's do it."
Bethany opened the door and passed through, already calling out some magic as she moved. Slade was behind her, then Lauren, then Merlin. Shella stood by the door, and looked to Derek.
"After you?" she said.
"Usually I'd say ladies first," he answered, "but in this case, you're probably right." He stepped through the door.
Battle was already joined. Bob was tearing through bodies like a food processor; ghouls were no match for him. Lauren appeared to be employing the same tactics, using her whipping chains on these, although she kept calling out Bible verses as she fought, which created a strange medley with Slade's calls upon Thor and the spells Bethany and Merlin were shouting. Shella's voice came from behind him, and as he watched the floor beneath the smoke pot seemed to turn to quicksand and swallow the strange device. Still, the air was thick with the foul darkness; even Lauren's light spells were having trouble penetrating this. He found a target and began shooting.
Ghouls were tough, and there were at least a score of them still standing; but they were not so tough as vampires. Derek picked another and resumed shooting; as it fell, he took another shot, and then replaced his power pack and kept going. It looked like they were winning, at least so far. Merlin pointed at one, and spoke a single word, and it froze in place. He followed this with a long string of strange words, and it burst into flame and was reduced to ash.
There was movement at the fiery ring; more were coming through. Only three human figures were with this group, which were probably more ghouls; but in their midst were beasts that looked as fierce as anything Derek had seen.
"Zombie dogs," Lauren shouted, and Derek heard her revolvers start firing. The heavy bullets gouged into the flesh of the beasts, yet they didn't slow when hit, until several bullets brought one down. Merlin's magic held one in place until it burst into flames, but the others were closing fast. When they were almost on her, Lauren leapt out of reach and floated in the air for a moment while reloading her guns. The hounds gathered beneath her, jumping and snapping, until she flew backwards out of her leap and landed beside him. Bob also fell back to their position; and the three wizards were soon behind them. From this consolidated position, they threw everything they had at the beasts--someone even hit them with a sheet of fire. Again replacing his power pack, Derek aimed for the eyes, although it occurred to him to wonder whether the dead used their eyes. Whether they did or not, Derek killed one, and then another, and soon the last fell. The ghouls who had been with them must have retreated or been caught in the crossfire; there was a moment's pause.
That moment was not to last. Derek heard the others reloading--Lauren's bullets, Bob's batteries--and realized that his own power pack was again spent. He pulled it, and was plugging in the next when it happened. The commandos came through the ring; all that they had faced so far was the shock troops, expendables sent to soften them up for the full assault. As they came through, they began firing machine guns.
The bullets were blocked. Whose shield it was didn't much matter, as far as Derek was concerned; for the moment they were unharmed. The enemy poured through, a score in all; and then someone different came in behind them. This last person spoke; the first words were foul and brief, but their purpose became obvious as Lauren fired, and the bullets fell to the floor. It was shield against shield now, at least for the moment a stalemate.
"So," the newcomer said with a touch of some unfamiliar accent, "I see you're all here. The famed Mystic of the Western Woods, who doesn't seem to want to stay dead. Meddling Merlin, who kept getting in my way but hasn't been seen for a while. Bethany of Wandborough, a thorn in my flesh in recent years. But you've brought friends? Curious. I'd ask you to introduce them, but since they're all going to die with you, it would be a waste of time."
"Tubrok," Lauren said. "We're glad to see you. Actually, we've been assured that this will be your long-overdue funeral. I imagine that when someone like you finally loses his unlife, there's probably something like a thunderclap, as air rushes in to the emptiness left by your long-decayed form."
"Your charms and petty magics don't frighten me," the vampire said. "Before the children of Seth took to the boat, it had already been prophesied that I would not be killed by anyone born of this world."
Bethany laughed. There was a spark in her eye. "Well, then," she said, "I guess you're safe from me. But then, I'm the only one of us born in this universe, and I'm probably the one least likely to be much threat to you anyway." Without hesitation, she pronounced the strange words of a spell; but Tubrok was not so easily caught off guard, and was also speaking magic before the sorceress had finished her first spell. Two others on Tubrok's side were beginning some sort of rituals, but Merlin, Lauren, and Shella had also begun their own magics. Even Bob seemed to be fumbling through something mystical, although he didn't seem entirely certain what he was doing.
Suddenly the ground vanished from beneath Derek's feet. He was falling, falling to some unfathomed distance--in the dark he could see no bottom. The others must have jumped clear, as he was alone here. He worried for an instant that there might not be a bottom, but then realized it would be far worse if there was one.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #209: Versers Victorious. 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: