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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 128: Slade 91
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As the ground parted, Slade shouted and leapt sideways. He saw Lauren rising above the gap, and spun around to see that Shella and the others had managed to land safely behind it. Someone was missing, but he didn't have time to worry about that at the moment. He had already dropped his blaster back in its holster, and now charged forward with sword and dagger. As he had hoped, the force walls were all down; perhaps Tubrok had dropped his to allow his soldiers to attack, and Lauren's had no doubt failed when she lost her footing. Now he was going to have his chance, the opportunity to fight some of the toughest adversaries of his career, vampire commandos. The first actually quailed before him as he screamed and charged, bringing up a berserk fury he imagined was reserved for Viking warriors in their toughest battles, and he struck hard and fast with both weapons, ripping away the synthetic armor and carving deep gashes into the dead flesh.
He was not alone. He could hear his wife's voice amidst the chorus of others, and the cacophony of gunfire seemingly from all directions. He knew his leathers would have little chance of stopping a bullet, so he kept constantly aware of his adversaries, keeping one between him and the bulk of the others even as he fought. This was more challenging than usual, as when he struck the fatal blow on the first its body fell to pieces on the ground before him–a relatively young one, Lauren would have said–but he quickly maneuvered close to another, shielding himself from their bullets behind their comrades.
Meanwhile, there was a battle of magic all around. It was four wizards to three, from what he could tell, and their four were keeping the opposing three busy–but then, they were also keeping the grunts off him, to a significant degree. He could see vampires being knocked about by invisible attacks, particularly as they approached him. Shella was watching his back, and that was good. Meanwhile, Lauren was still somewhere above them all, firing down into the heads and shoulders of vampire targets, tearing away chunks of their forms with her heavy caliber weapons; yet they fought on, disfigured and deformed. Here and there, one would collapse into decay, but it was a slow process. Even as she fired, she shouted words he remembered vaguely from church, decades ago, when he was a boy. Sometimes he could see the visible effects of her words, such as when several of the vampires caught fire. He also at times felt power coming from somewhere and strengthening and revitalizing him.
The magic battle took other forms as well. The flames flared and flickered; light rose and fell. Sometimes a smoke thickened about them, and sometimes it cleared. Much of what the wizards seemed to be fighting about was control of the room; but the increasing carnage of corpses for which he was not responsible told him that was not all they did. They were reducing the numbers of the enemy; they were still outnumbered. Slade wondered how many he could kill, even as he took a blow to the gut that knocked the wind out of him. Almost the attacker followed through with a blow to his head, but he was quick enough to raise the sword, and the creature sheared off its own hand from the force of the impact. He struck this one thrice more, and the rest of its body dissociated. He was wearing out, and at this moment had no cover.
The giants are going to beat the gods in the end, but I am on the side of the gods. Lauren had said that to him once. She was describing what little she understood of his faith, the Norse religion he had embraced upon his death. They were, it seemed, fighting a losing battle; but if his faith had taught him anything, it was that you keep fighting when you're losing, and even when you've lost. It didn't matter whether good or evil won the battle for the world. What mattered was the battle in the hearts of men, whether he, himself, held on and kept fighting for good. If every good man fights to his last breath, evil loses, even if it takes the field.
He plunged into another of the vampires, knocking aside the barrel of the gun even as the first bullet tore the side of his leathers. It had been close. He struck again. The blade was getting heavy; he had to keep fighting. What we must do, we can do, he thought. Phasius had taught him that. "By the power of Thor, I smite you," he cried, calling new strength to his arms once more, and hitting the monster's shoulder as it dodged the full impact of the blow.
Then something seemed to wrap around him. He could see nothing, but it reminded him of the serpent he slew not so long ago in the mountains of another world. Then he had used his dagger to pierce its side; this invisible beast perhaps had no side, at least none that could be pierced by such a blade. It was tightening around him, beginning to crush him, squeezing air and life from him.
Worse than all this, it stopped him from fighting.
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: