Narrator’s Note: Okay, so like, this event was way too big, too fast, too hairy-scary and too mad fucked up to just do it from what I saw only. I mean, there were like four fuckin’ copies of Charlie, the fat punk kid that had bashed me with that Cold Iron bar a buncha weeks before what happened here. And, yeah, things got kinda fucked up here. Not all our fault. I mean, if you’ve read what happened all along, then you know how wicked screwy things have been up til now.
And for what happened after all of this… we’re still trying to fix things. Don’t you give up hope, assholes!
Anyways, I couldn’t figure out a way to make, like, a decent way to split it up better. Whoever splits up a chapter so it’s got chapters of its own, am I right? So I figured I’d do it like cut scenes in a video game, and like split the stories by the action button symbols. If you think about it, each one is sorta like counting. A circle, by definition is kinda a one-sided polygon with a curve, and a cross has got two lines, so two sided. Although a coin would be a two-sided dice, I guess. Anyways, that’s why I did it, and how. Now I just have to deal with the consequences of what we did, how we were kinda forced into the situation and all of what happened in the lower gym that day.
For the record, WE are still fighting, still trying to fix all the things that went wrong after. You should too. DON’T EVER GIVE UP!
Robby French/Sir Robyn the Blue
When someone comes to your front door, bringing pain, you have to answer with more pain. Or you can get comfy under a stone. Well, I’m not ready to rejoin my parents just yet.
So that meant someone was about to get my full attention. I gave a brief pep talk to the guys in my group. Magnus was ready for it. I’d just spent the last half hour fending him off, so if any of them were warmed up for this, he sure was. And I had a good look at his skills while we had that little sword dance. Boy was good. Mad good.
I was a little worried about Cody. He was a healer more than a warrior. But I knew he was double tough. I’d have to keep an eye his way when the shit started getting hairy. Not that I was afraid he couldn’t hold his own. I was more afraid that he’d be better than expected, and gather more attention.
My plan was kinda simple. Screw up things in the middle long enough for the sides to be able to push in. Not a complete surround move, but effective, considering we were in a box. It’s an easy concept. Get them to commit to the center, then fold in on them from the sides. The one rip in the plan was those weird squid faced things crawling up the walls. But I couldn’t focus entirely on that at the start. Once we got the advantage on the floor, I could concentrate on the chunky monsters moving around the edges. I’d have to trust Sylvia and Jack and Bethy to keep our back door protected.
Fortunately, Bethy knew how I thought and was ready to deal it out on her own. And Jack was no slouch, as we found out in class today. Sylvia was hurt, but her friends were hurt worse. She’d do what she could. The three of them, I felt, were a strong backup for the rest of us.
I’d set up the triads with the basic idea of two strong types and one fast type. I was to learn later that werewolves have like ridiculous speed when they get mad, but at the time, my thoughts were more on one quick person to set up the incoming enemies for the bigger, stronger types to lay out enemies with as few strokes as possible. Kenny, my Kenny, was agile, had a keen eye for patterns of enemies and how to break their lines. Juan, my true friend, was not only a trash talker and brow beater of great skill, but was used to fighting groups. He knew the kind of things I had in mind as well.
Besides, we didn’t have time for anything more fancy. Keep it simple, stupid.
So, as soon as I gave the pep talk to my group, I got ready for what I had to do. As I predicted, one came at me hard from the left and I banked him around, setting him up for Cody. Then I set about doing my part of the plan. I did manage to get a look back as Cody cleared his blade and moved to another opponent. He looked a little scared, a little angry. But he was focused.
And I needed to be as well. One of the Dauntain swung for my head, a tall kid with a black leather jacket on over his neon green shirt and oddly out of place light colored khaki pants. I mean, who the hell wears a leather jacket in summer? So I smacked his blade as it passed over my head and twisted his attack to a block, getting his blade to occupy the blade of one of his friends. That pretty much decided it, I was going to use this fashion-disaster idiot as my cat’s paw for the battle action I had in mind.
I grabbed the back of his jacket and spun him back towards the rush of his friends. He yelped as he was forced to block the blade of another of his friends. I swept my saber through a long reach, striking one blade out of line and sinking the point of my weapon into the underarm of the guy that Black Jacket had first parried for me. Not a killing strike, but enough of one to get him to back up.
See that was my plan. Keep them occupied, focused on me, and keep my own skin from feeling any Cold Iron. That meant I couldn’t get involved in long duels. Stick and move, get them tripping over each other. Don’t let their numbers become a plus on their side. Get them to crowd each other, make mistakes, and then make them pay for those mistakes. It’s a good plan, if you can move fast enough to make it work. I was planning on being more than fast enough.
Anyways, two moved in from either side of me, both with their weapons pointed in for straight, spearing thrusts. Since I didn’t want to be a goat-boy shish kabob, I took a twisting step and pulled Black Jacket along with me. My blade swept up to parry the stab coming from my left side while Black Jacket (we’ll call him BJ for short), was forced to deal with his buddy on my right. For a leather jacket tough guy, he sure complained a lot.
I was presented with one of the formori, this one who had a long, pointy, slimy green tongue. I mean like over one and a half meters of tongue here. It was hanging out of a mouth full of short, triangular teeth, set in rows. I know that because his mouth was so wide open, his lips so stretched out of the way, that I could pretty much see his tonsils. He slashed in at me, going from over one shoulder to the opposite hip. His blade, with its funky half Iron-half silver edges came at me in that slash, futzing with my vision, but I stepped back as it passed by me. Then he leaned over and brought that tongue forward, spearing at my face.
So I lopped it off. He snapped his mouth shut, drawing what was left of his tongue back into his mouth and backing up. His hand slapped over his way too wide lips as vile green fluid seeped out of his face. Dunno if it was blood or spit or whatever. But the tongue guy did back out of the fight for a moment, so I was happy with that.
BJ thought he could get loose from my grip and I obliged him. I tugged down on his jacket as he squirmed to be free of me and that bent him over at the hips. Sometimes being short has its advantages. I gave a little hop and rolled over his back, swinging my sword over and down as I did, intercepting another swipe at my head. I blind parried a shot from my right, while my left hand reached out and grabbed BJ’s right wrist. He yelped again as I brought his arm up, his blade nearly poking one of his allies in the face.
This gave me a moment to glance around and take stock of my immediate situation. I think there were six around me, couldn’t be sure since BJ kinda blocked some of my view. As a matter of keeping control of the situation, I popped my elbow back hard, striking BJ in the head. He flinched from the hit, which gave me another moment of control of his body.
“What’s the matter, BJ?” I asked as I felt him trying to shake the cobwebs from his now confused head. “Feeling kinda dizzy?”
“Fuck yo…” he started to say, but I gave him another elbow and then ducked as one of his friends tried to gut me like a fish. I stepped under BJ’s wide based legs, pulling his arm with me and getting him to stand up taller. His friend’s blade slashed into the leather across his back. Not sure if it tasted skin or not, but I wasn’t concerned. It didn’t taste my skin, that’s what counted. I stood up nearly face to dazed face with BJ, hearing his blade thud dully on the mats below us. I released his arm and head butted him, hard. He sailed backwards and knocked over at least two other enemies.
The other five around me all got a worried look, holding their blades up at the ready, two handed style. I dropped into a wider stance, my blade held by my hips, two-handed as well, the point going up just a little higher than my right shoulder. I could feel the cold that had penetrated my Dragon’s Ire from being in such close proximity to BJ before. It was fading as my aura built back up, but I couldn’t afford to worry about it. I was in a kill circle, and they knew it. But they were also afraid.
“Okay, boys, and girl,” I said, noting there was at least one female in the group surrounding me. “I got you outnumbered. Who wants to surrender?”
“Black Circle don’t surrender!” one shouted from my left. He took a step forward, shouting a hoarse battle cry. That’s just the opening I was looking for.
He came in with his blade held out stiffly before him. Not the brightest bulb in the pack, I’m guessing. I twisted his way, using a modified two handed version of parry two, and, standing my ground, lifted my point under his blade and let his rush push my blade into his body, right into the soft part of his belly. I drew my blade out of him with a grand sweep and spun in place, planting a sneaker in his back. He sailed forwards, forcing two of the others surrounding me to back up or take a nick from his hybrid’s razor sharp edge.
A flash of movement and that weird vision warping effect on my right side caught my attention. I parried using three, turning as the slash came at my neck from the high side. And the strength behind that slash was im-pressive! Don’t know if I could have taken that without stepping around with the slash. I was kinda surprised that the Dauntain who executed that slash was the girl. But I had no time to worry about it much, as another blade slashed in at my feet. I spun through a step over the attack at my feet, feeling the whisper of Cold Iron pass under my hooves, and lashed out with my blade, touching two other blades as I turned. I came set and flashed my blade back up over my shoulder as a familiar energy slashed down at me.
Charlie was behind me. Well, one of him was behind me, his blade still engaging mine from behind. I was stretched up and back, my weapon over my shoulder, held with two hands in parry nine. His weight and strength kept my blade in place. I risked a look back and saw him shocked that his strike hadn’t caught me off guard, and then saw that shock turn into a predatory grin as he realized something. I realized it too. As long as his blade was engaging mine, my soft belly was wide open to attack.
I was beginning to wonder if I might should rethink this plan a bit. Right about then, a particular smell hit me. My Dragon’s Ire was keeping the cold mostly at bay, but being so close to all these Dauntain was enough to let things filter in. Smoke. Lots of it. Which meant there was likely lots of fire nearby as well.
“Smell it, don’tcha?” Charlie asked. He tried to put more pressure on my blade. Which left me vulnerable. Can’t have that. Besides, my best defense is mobility. Standing still isn’t part of the plan.
“Yeah, you really need to wash more often!” I replied, slipping my blade free and turning to slash across his midsection. I sort of ducked in the turn and watched as three blades sang in at my head, stomach and hip all at once, two of them intercepting each other, the one aimed for my noggin passing through clear air. The other two would have hit as well, if I’d been standing still longer.
Charlie stepped back, bringing his blade around to block my shot, but he wasn’t fully prepared for my speed and strength. His weapon shifted clear out of line, but I didn’t have the chance to capitalize on it. I completed the turn as the three who’d tried to gut and decapitate me had come set and were closing in, those squirrely half and half swords of theirs doing wicked things in my vision. A boy to either side, and the girl who seemed a lot stronger than she should be.
Come to think of it, they were all a lot stronger than any of them had a right to be. Kenny’s often repeated warning about looking below the surface came to mind. These were clearly not what they at first appeared to be. Dauntain powers were one thing. I sensed that there was more than that going on here.
Smoke. Fire. It’s a simple formula. They weren’t just going to kill us, they were keeping us here so we could fry!
Speaking of smoke, if I was smelling it there in the middle of the lower gym, with all that empty air around me, then we were clearly already in deep dookie as far as fire safety was concerned. The only way in was blocked by the broken scoreboard, and we had tons of baddies trying to skewer us, apparently not concerned about being burnt up with us. We needed a way out.
Charlie fell back as the others pressed their attacks on me. I moved forward, towards the blocked door, just because that was where the space was. I needed room to move. I also needed to get something going on this fire problem. I spun, and ducked, hopped over attacks at my feet. I slashed and parried and feinted. At one point I saw the Charlie leading the attack on me with a view of the one goading Cody, and, as my head turned, another Charlie trying to sneak up on Nick. Talk about a mind fuck. Magic can be screwy!
“Jack!” I shouted. If anyone could multi-task and find us a way out, it would be our cyborg-brained buddy.
“I’m here,” Jack called back, almost directly behind me, but about ten meters back. Something in his voice made me realize how stressed he was. I got the feeling he knew the problem with the fire as well. I hoped that that quaver wasn’t because Sylvia and her friends weren’t a lot worse off than I had thought they were at first glance. And let me tell you, brother, those girls had been whacked pretty badly before coming in here.
“The door is blocked. We need a way out of this fire.” I blocked two shots at my head and one to my legs, still weaving my defense while handing out the order. I slashed through one incoming attack and slid my blade down toward the guard of the hybrid sword. It was so weird watching my blade’s bright blue glow flicker and twist in the distortion effect of the enemy’s weapons.
“I’m on it,” Jack replied. “I’ve also alerted police, ambulance and fire officials. Help is on the way.” Wow, thorough! Jack seemed to be on top of things. So I decided to give him some more discretion. Almost immediately he called back with “I got us a way out, but I can’t do it alone.”
“Take whoever you need!”
“Paul,” Jack called out. Seemed natural for him to call on his boyfriend for help, but it was a good choice.
Looking around quickly, I saw all the big guys were very busy with big things, Kenny was holding a line all by himself. Sven was banging away with another werewolf, Magnus had a pile of decaying bad guys lying around his feet and was just a blur of sword mastery. Nick seemed to be holding his own despite things getting thick around him. Bethy’s arrows were finding marks and helping with remarkable accuracy and timeliness. And Cody…
Cody was engaging in some kind of private duel with one of the Charlies? Thought I’d warned him against doing that. But his area was mostly clear, including a dead squid-bear monster, partly pinned to the floor by Bethy’s crystal shafts.
Seems we were doing well.
And then I heard a loud burst of crashing noises, twisting metal and splintering wood, and a cry of agony from the left side. My blade seemed to be doing its own thing, just blocking, blocking, blocking. I risked a look towards where the sound came from. A lot of the fighting paused with all that noise, and a lot of us looked over. Some kind of commotion near Mitch and one of the squid-bear-things had brought down part of the semi-retracted bleachers. Dust added to the smoke already filling the room.
“Pop!” I heard Kenny call out. And then all hell broke loose again. Just like that the fight was on again. I think in that brief pause, the baddies realized that their huge advantage was now a lot closer to 3 to one, and while we were taking lumps, they were taking more.
I got back to the battle at hand, taking advantage of the slow down to decap one of my four dance partners and planted a boot in the gut of another. If Mitch had gone down, Kenny would have his hands full, especially with Paul bounding off to do what Jack needed to get us out of this mess. Cody was locked up, so I needed to utilize Magnus to shore up Kenny’s side. I did some Satyr showing off, swirling, spinning my blade, using kicks and twists to keep things interesting. In that time, Cody got loose and helped Magnus get freed up. So that allowed me to take another enemy down as I maneuvered my playmates his way. This basically brought the whole center group of baddies into the center.
Magnus and Cody exchanged words in Garou (I really need to learn that. Would be a cool Han Solo/Chewbacca thing!). Then they split off, Cody charging behind Magnus to give help to Sven, Nick and Croaker’s zone. They had two of the big squid dog things and at least one of the bad guy werewolves on that side. Although I inwardly cheered seeing Croaker doing fantastic against five enemies, two others melting in their crawling green fire-lines from his attacks. Sven was amazing, all controlled movements and fluidity. And Nick, my buddy, was angry poetry in motion. But they had a large number of baddies left. At least nine that I saw.
Cody split off just before I got there, although his head was on a swivel, checking out how things were for all of us. A good sign.
I moved my group over to Magnus’ area (wasn’t easy, had to keep those idiots close enough to chase me yet still make the hole to fall back through). Our dance partners mixed in, like some weird square dance move. I took a high bounce, only slightly using my bouncy goat legs, and landed beside Maggie. His butt seemed to square up to the middle of my back as we came set, back to back.
“How you doing, blade dancer?” I asked. The seven that remained in our area were very wary of the two us, together.
“I am good,” he said. “You are tired?” he asked. I got the sense that it was partly a jibe, but also partly concerned. Before this ambush, he’d pretty much worn me out with our little dominance challenge duel. I was still sore from where he pounded me in that match. Either way, the question didn’t need an answer now. Definitely didn’t need to let the baddies know how winded I was feeling. Three surged at us, blades in the front trying to mess our eyes up. I parried two and sank my blade tip into one’s leg. Mags just power batted his attacker’s blade aside and back-fisted the dude so hard I thought I heard his neck snap.
Did I ever say I was impressed by Magnus’ controlled use of brute force before? Fighting him before, I realize, he probably wasn’t holding back, but he was giving me a lot of his attention. I don’t think he was holding back when he fought me, he just had the sense to keep all of his cards close to the chest. Now, he was laying them all out.
Our dance partners backed up as we had hacked two of their number, if not totally out of the fight, certainly back from it. I risked a look around to assess the situation. “Kenny needs a partner. I got this, go help him.”
“This has been a good plan,” Magnus grunted and he shifted forms behind me. The baddies backed up. He jumped clear over the enemies, a few of which took sword strokes after him. Two of those fell to my own blade flashing out hard and fast. Their heads hit the ground only shortly after Magnus did, on all fours, looking like a giant cross between a wolf and a Clydesdale horse!
Two more filtered my way, and I could tell that these stragglers were the last of the enemy back line. “Okay boys, and girl. I’ll accept your surrender now,” I said, watching as the five left made ready to attack me.
“Black Circle!” Charlie commanded, resting his sword over his shoulder. “End him!”
“Leading from the rear, huh, Charlie? Coward, I’ll kill you last,” I whispered under my breath. And then things got crazy. The girl screamed and charged in from my right side. She looked kinda rough. Not saying she was bad looking, but clearly the battle hadn’t been kind to her so far. She tried to rush me and slash through my chest. I parried and spun, pushing her past me. Almost at once, the two boys who had been her partners before tried to simultaneously sweep my leg and open my throat, going high and low from opposite sides. I managed to parry both attacks with a downward parry and stepped back. The one standing before Charlie jumped forward, high, seeking to bring his blade down on my head while the other two had me stuck in the twin parry.
I leapt back, ripping my blade back into a middle guard as I went. I’d been fighting one handed all this time, but the press of attacks coming at me was starting to sap my strength. I brought both hands to the handle and assumed a very non-fencing stance. It was time to go old school. And in case you haven’t been reading all along, clear back to Coupé (I swear, you guys who haven’t read that yet… seriously?), old school is what changelings excel at.
One rushed in and seemed very committed. In fact, I think he probably should have been. Committed that is. I blocked his strike with my blade down over my right shoulder, stepped away from him and stroked my lightsaber through his body, a long, strong rip across his back. Hit bone with that one. I was fairly sure he wasn’t getting back up. Another, from the other side saw his buddy move and thought to take advantage of my exposed back. Yeah, good thought, that! I dropped to one knee, twisting to face the guy running at me and I slashed across his middle. He hit the ground in two parts. I think his legs actually took two more steps before falling without his torso. Both enemies did that vaporizing green fire thing, adding more ash to the already intensifying smokiness in the air.
Charlie came at me, leaping. His blade rang off mine, the blurring effect that the hybrids had on my vision making my teeth wiggle, my nose scrunch up and my horns itchy. I stepped around as I regained my feet, and swept my blade back. Good thing too, since there were a couple of enemies charging up behind Charlie. They were keeping me pinned.
Kinda like how I planned them to. And then something big and heavy slammed into me from behind. It forced me to pull a couple of quick parries while I regained my balance. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t fall over. But the big hit from behind did knock me forward a few steps. Which put me square in the kill box of at least three blades.
Charlie led a charge again, two of his minions by his side with blades held out, running forwards. Guess they were trying to make me into a Satyr pin cushion. The last three steps into attack range, Charlie stopped. I had to hack away two blades to either side and then deal with the two spearing attacks, fleché style. So I stepped forward on the spearing two, managed to capture both of their blades on mine and jumped, somersaulting in the air over both of their weapons.
Which put me almost face to face with Charlie. His face went from a grin of grim satisfaction at the way his attacks on us seemed to be going, to utter shock and surprise at my agility in action. I also noticed that one of the other Charlies in the room had suddenly lost his head, care of Cody’s heroic move. At that moment, my Charlie seemed to have a ripple of green fire slide around on his neck, and he cringed, as if he knew that one of his “brothers” had just permanently left the Hat of the Month Club. So, rather than exclude the Charlie in front of me from the action going on, I decided to help him out.
I head butted him, eyebrows to eyebrows. Charlie dropped to the ground like a sack of bricks. I made a point of kicking his blade away as I turned to face his remaining compatriots. Didn’t much care where it went at that point, as long as it wasn’t where he’d be able to find it once his eyes cleared again.
There were three left behind me. A Dauntain on the left, some weird looking kid with kind of a fishy smell to him on the right and in the middle… something ugly. Not one of the squid-bear things. It was sickly looking, must have been human-ish before, but had arms that looked more at home on a lobster than a dude. And like segmented armor plates of lobster-like stuff as well down the arms, across the shoulders and back, and down the legs. It was the big thing that had slammed me from behind. Thankfully it didn’t have a hybrid to match its size in its clickity-clackers. Unfortunately, with those pincers, it didn’t need them. It was easily three times my weight, if I had to guess.
A loud crashing sound came from the direction of the rock climbing wall. Which told me Jack’s plan to get us an escape route was paying off. I grinned. And then two more enemy blades came into my circle. I guess that I was succeeding at getting their attention away from the others. It was time to get moving out of here. Just a few of us could hold off the enemies that remained while our wounded escaped first.
I engaged all of the ones surrounding me, actually using lobster-mobster as a ramp, running up his left arm and lopping off his head as I vaulted past him. He began the green fire evaporation even as I landed and came set nearer the devastated scoreboard. The enemies rushed around their consuming friend to face me, thinking they had me trapped against the wall.
All part of my tactics. Sounds all convoluted and crazy, but big fights are like that sometime. Besides, I needed that moment while they were moving in to catch my breath. I’d been fighting a long time, first against Maggie, then against all these freaks. I was really feeling it, my heart banging around in my narrow chest.
I had a moment before they surrounded me again. I took it to see how well things were going. Magnus was a whirlwind of fury over by Kenny’s side of the battle, but I didn’t see my Kay, or Master Mitch for that matter. It could have been the gathering smoke in that side. Or the mass of debris that used to be the pull out bleacher stands there, now a spilled out wreckage on the floor. Still it disturbed me. Croaker’s group was making progress, blending their movements, trading partners from the center and just becoming a blade storm in the middle, the Garou working together defensively while Juan did his thing on the outside. They’d be clear soon.
It was all happening so fast. The attacks, the fire, switching around, escape plan. The enemies moved in on me and I made my way through them. Using as little energy as I could at this point. A thrust would come in, I’d duck it, grab the hand holding those maddening squiggly blades, move him into a friend to block, hack at someone elses weapon, spin away. Sweeping strike at one guy’s head to back him off, turning that into a stab at another’s chest and feeling my point bite. Turn, thrust, parry, spin, twirl, whack! They were falling, but it was still taking a lot out of me. I let myself get lost in the hack and slash of it.
And almost as fast as it took to get into that position against the wall, the last of the enemies in the center fell, melting away in green glow. One day I’ll have to find out how and what that was all about. As the las one dropped, I took a moment to bend over my own knees, leaning my butt against the wall. I felt empty, wasted. But I had to shake it off. The room had grown much hotter, more smoke making the gym seem misty.
I had to push off the wall and see where we needed to finish off. We had to escape the fire, or Korbesh’s work would still be a success. And warn the Queen, if they weren’t already under attack.
When I turned around, ready to rally our boys through the escape tunnel that Jack and Paul were supposed to make, I found myself pulling up short. Standing in the doorway was a dark figure, holding Bethy up by the neck. Jack and Paul were lying on the ground, and Sylvia was trying, and failing to get to her feet, leaning heavily on her lightsaber. A dawning realization fell on me like a sock full of nickels to the face.
And then we all heard Bethy’s blood curdling scream.
Monsters! Monsters?! Really?!
Monsters that looked sorta human. Some of ’em less so than others. Seems like ever since we moved here, after my father’s death, monsters just keep coming out of the woodwork. Kinda makes you wonder how long stuff like this has been going on. And to think, this morning we were just going to be joining a fake fencing class with Jack and my new best friends. Now we’re associated with werewolves and fighting monsters in the downstairs gym with magical sword-shaped sticks.
And I thought crap was weird when we were stationed in California!
I must have really looked kind of out of it, thinking over these things. Robby spread us out, set the lines, as it were, gave us areas to cover. Our line started near the middle of the room, cutting it in half. We got the left flank. Robby took the center. Somewhere in the back of us, Toothpick and Bethy were helping the wounded girls who ran into the gym ahead of the gathered nightmares across from us.
It wasn’t looking very good. I might not be a gifted military strategist or experienced chess player, but I could recognize a trap when I saw one. They were between us and the only doorway. And they had sharp things in their hands, ready to hurt us. The whole speech thing between Robby and the bad guy, Korbesh, kinda pissed me off. Oh sure, it scared me too, and it had gotten so cold in here that I could believe this Korbesh guy was the devil himself.
“Paul,” I heard Mitch say as we stared down the line of glowing eyes and monsters and swords. The cold leached into me from the line of baddies facing us, like a wall of icy mist, it rolled over us. Fortunately, the heat and light that Kenny and Master Mitch were putting out was enough to keep me from shivering in my sweat soaked gear.
“Yeah?” I replied.
“Do you know your father’s call sign?”
“They called him Spartan,” I said, raising my voice a little at hearing him mention my father.
“You know how he got that name?”
“He earned it in flight school. His instructors gave it to him.”
“That’s probably the official line. Did you know we called him that back in school? He was a tight end, one of the best in the state. He was a scraper, tough as nails. State semi-finals, first time the school football team had been to any level of the championship tourney in twenty years. We were stacked up on the goal line, backed up. Game on the line. We were hurting, cold, pushed to the limit. Your dad was key in holding the line, even threw the key block that got us started off that line and moved us up field. He got us fired up.
“Our Latin and Greek teacher, Mrs. Frost, said he stood on the line like a Spartan manning the pass at Thermopylae. She was quoted in the school and city newspapers saying that. He was Spartan from then on. He inspired us on the football field and in other things we wound up involved in later.”
“You’ll have to tell me about that sometime,” I said, gripping my skateboard shield even tighter.
“He was always the first one to guard his friends, to stand up for them. You’ll do your father proud today, Paul. You deserve the name Spartan as well.”
I risked a glance at master Mitch. His eyes were like stone, as I kinda felt that he was ready to die to protect his son and the rest of us. He’d been dating my mom for a few weeks now. I felt suddenly a lot better about that than I had before. I wasn’t upset that they were dating, but I knew that if anything ever threatened Mom, Mitch was going to be there to protect her.
Assuming of course we survived this crap. I nodded to him. He grinned fiercely at me and then turned his attention back to the line of enemies.
“When it starts, I’m gonna be trying to set up hits,” Kenny said. “Pop will be kinda busy, so you and me will be doing volleyball stuff. Ya got me?”
“Think so. You set ’em, I spike ’em.”
“Yup,” Kenny grinned at me. I could almost see the Egyptian black eye makeup around his almost glowing gray eyes. Warmth and light flowed off him in the chilling air around us. I swished my blade around the back of my hand and resumed the stare down with the grim stares coming at us. “Just keep your head on a swivel and focus on the now. After we take a few out, we’ll make a move to break them,” Kenny said calmly. That confidence was good to hear, but I wasn’t sure I entirely felt it. They were used to these kinda things, I guessed. This was my first mass assassination attack. You might guess I was more than a little nervous. Way more.
“So, any tricks you’ve been saving?” I asked sort of out the side of my face at Kenny. A couple on my right took an ominous, slow step my way, forcing me to focus my attention more that way. The blades they brandished were a weird mix of dark metal on one half, and bright metal on the other, with sort of a widening towards the pointy end.
“One,” Kenny said, tilting his head slightly. He reached out with his hand as the enemy slowly advanced at us. A twinkling of lights glistened out from his hand, striking the mat that two of the advancing Dauntain sword wielders had just stepped on. “Alley-oop!” Kenny cried out and snapped his fingers, gesturing up.
I swear the things these guys can do still astound the hell out of me. The mat shivered, shook, caught the attention of the line of enemies coming at us. Then the mat shifted, lifted and shot towards the ceiling, carrying with it the two Dauntain like a magic carpet. They soared up to the ceiling, smashing right into a bank of fluorescent light tubes, sparking and shattering as they slammed, hard. The mat fell, forcing a few of the advancing line to back up. Then the two swordsmen fell back onto the mat, one, then two. They landed with wet, crunchy sounds. Their blades fell point first and one of them stuck into the ground with a slight twang!
Over the entrance to the gym, the scoreboard rang out twice, the HOME side advancing two goals. I looked over to Kenny, who was smiling broadly.
“Showoff!” I called, but I couldn’t help but grin as well.
Then another sound came from the scoreboard, as one of the big octopus faced things smashed the board with one of its meaty forearms. It gave the board another hard shot and the whole board fell, dropping so that it effectively blocked the entrance to the gym. We were now pretty much stuck in here for the duration. There was no other way out that I could see.
“Oh, not good,” Kenny said. I kind of agreed. I heard a lot of trash talking going on to the far right side, where Juan and Nick and Sven stood, staring down their side. Sven was noticeably silent, with our two big mouths doing the rest of the rant. Not my forte, so I kept my focus on the ones staring us down.
I did a quick head count on the bad guys. We were looking at the losing end of a 5 to 1 ratio, maybe even higher. If it was by weight alone, they’d definitely have a 10 to 1 on us. Those spider-squid-bear whatever the fuck they were things were huge. And not in that chunky couch potato kinda way. Kenny might have put two numbers on the score board, but that wall crawling muscle beast put the score board out of commission. And tactically blocked us in as well.
Then the enemy seemed to decide it was on. They moved forward, howling, blades held high, faces etched in hate. The wave of cold moved with them and my breath shivered on the way out, fogging before me in the flickering near dark.
Seemed like everyone else on our front line screamed as well. Kenny’s dad almost louder than the werewolf boys. I felt too fluttery to scream. I remember clearly that my chest was heaving in the moments before we clashed. I remember that my body seemed to feel super-charged, suddenly stronger, lighter, faster, and my senses were incredibly sharp. I could hear my own breath in my ears, sounding like thunder, like waves crashing against granite boulders during a thunderstorm.
And when the enemy wave got close, I moved. I surged forward, I brought up my skateboard to block one strike, let my now glowing golden blade parry an incoming hit, and then… something came over me and I was just emotion in motion. I turned and found myself hacking wildly, deflecting attacks with both my skateboard and my blade, my grieves taking hits for me, just keeping the enemy from hitting the soft spots. I remember head butting one through my helmet, knocking him backwards far enough that two of his friends got knocked down as well.
And then I felt the first cut tag me. Followed by three more. Shallow cuts mostly, one more of a short stab, one a drawing cut up the side of my thigh. It hurt. A lot. I winced and gasped at each one, but I didn’t stop moving. Something inside me said that if I stopped I was dead.
I took a big hit against my improvised shield and I felt that my blade was drawn way back. I’d backed up several steps and tried to sweep my blade wide through the enemy ranks. I felt the blade slow down a little through the sweep, a couple of times. But at that point, the pain had forced tears into my eyes, and I was squinting a bit. So, being perfectly honest, I wasn’t really targeting any opponent more than just swinging wild to get some space, assess my wounds.
I came set, blade back down covering my wounded leg, skateboard shield held up close by my chest so the wheels were pressing through the damp, sweaty fabric of my YMCA t-shirt, pushing the chest protector slickly to my skin underneath it all. I growled as I came set in that position, feeling my muscles bulge and twitch with adrenaline, feeling the cuts itch as blood mixed with sweat. My eyes scanned back and forth, looking for a target or an incoming attack to defend.
Four of the enemies before me were standing still, in a line, like some messed up Mannequin challenge. Then the one on the far right dropped his weapon, gasping. The next one in line took a half step back, clutching his abdomen. Number three pitched forwards, a spray of blood erupting onto the mats. The last in line simply tried to raise his weapon in a threatening manner when his head fell backwards off his neck. I’d sliced through all four with one heroic sweep. One by one they all fell over, mortally wounded, dead or dying as they went down.
“Nice one!” Kenny said, skipping around, keeping at least six enemies busy chasing him. They had him in a circle, and I was about to go help him out when he screamed, “Your six!” My old man was a fighter pilot. A great fighter pilot. He would tell me stories of flying, training, things that other pilots said when performing their duties. And among just about every military person I’ve ever met, the expression “cover your six” has always meant to watch out behind you. Sometimes as a friendly warning about a social issue. Sometimes as an emergency warning about danger.
I turned on my heel and stepped back. The warning came just in time, too. Something big, hairy, ugly, smelly and big dropped from the ceiling, right in front of me. It looked like some oddly colored bear, slick with slime in its fur, was trying to swallow a huge squid, whole. The tentacles spread out and this weird parrot-like beak inside the webby flesh opened wide, dripping with mucous. The smell was, well, challenging.
I can admit it. This was the first monster I’d ever faced up close. I was a little shocked by the squid-bear thing. I didn’t panic or run scared, but I did go flat footed for a moment. I stared long enough for the thing to attack me.
It closed the tentacles all at once, lashing out with them so they slammed into my head and chest like a steel trap. I hit the ground, my hand coming to rest next to one of the bodies of the Dauntain attackers I’d already dispatched. There was so much sticky, viscous fluid drenching me from that hit, I felt like I’d been a contestant on some Nickelodeon game show. That woke me up!
I guess it thought that knocking me down was the same as knocking me out, because it jumped at me like your neighbor’s cat. I managed to get my saber up before it landed on me, holding it firm with both hands. The thing landed on me, its front paws jamming my shoulders hard. Thankfully, it didn’t land its rear paws on me as well, or I’d have been dead already. But I did manage to get the blade up under its bulk as it crashed into me. I felt the blade sink into the beast, but I don’t think I hit anything vital.
Didn’t make the monster any happier. It howled and draped its weight on me, a trickle and then a flood of something gooey, very hot and wet gushing over my chest. I struggled to get my arms free, but the squid-bear weighed a ton. And it wasn’t just sitting still. It wriggled in its discomfort, thus increasing mine.
Which didn’t make me happy either. Even worse, somewhere in this power-bomb slash belly-flop, I’d lost my skateboard as well. And the big squishy thing sitting on my chest had all those tentacles, and all that big snapping beak, aiming at me.
I got one arm up and managed to push in at the soft, rubbery flesh around the beak. The tentacles were all wiggly and bashing around my elbow, but I managed to lock out my arm, keep that beak from giving me a fatal kiss. I was struggling to get my other arm loose and bumped the handle of my lightsaber, still embedded in the thing’s chest somewhere. I don’t’ think it went into organs, just skittered off the ribs but stayed under the gross, slimy skin.
Wherever it ended up, when my forearm bumped the handle, the beastie twitched, leaned back some and roared. Goo from its mouth sprayed my face. It was nasty, smelt like rotting fish, sour milk and skunk ass. I was not feeling it. I held my breath and managed to get my second arm up, inside the shroud of the thing’s tentacles, on either side of the beak. The beak was huge, and it snapped open and shut as it screamed, making a weird stuttering screaming sound. If it snapped shut on me, it would take out a chunk the size of a coconut, at the very least. Past the beak, I could see a spinning circle of muscle and five thick, yellowed, wedge-shaped teeth. This beast was almost designed by nature to pin something down and chew it up.
It brought its weight down and I had to lock out my elbows again. The beak plunged down, the rubber skin around the beak giving it an awkward ability to surge forward, trying to bite me. It was heavy. It was strong. It smelled horrible. And it wanted to eat me. Plus, there were others of these things out there trying to eat Jack and the rest of our new pack.
I wasn’t having it.
‘Kay, so, I’m struggling to keep this monster from biting parts out of me with my bare hands, right? And he’s all slobbing me with his facial mucous. You’d think that would have me entirely focused. But something did break through all that grunting and screaming right above me, and the sounds of battle all around me. And that was a familiar sound.
Wheels. My wheels. My skateboard. It’s a specific thing. Any real skater knows the sounds of his board. The sounds it makes when rolling clean, the click-clack of the trucks when you pull a trick, the creaks of the deck as you lean deep into a turn or pull up the front wheels. You know and live and feel the noises of the tail and nose grinding. So when I heard that skittering sound of the wheels sliding sideways on the mats, as if the board had been kicked from one side and put into a flat spin, I knew exactly what it was. And where.
My eyes sought it out and locked on to the skateboard. It was about 6 feet away, just coming to a halt from the spin I’d heard. Close enough to see, but well beyond my reach.
I needed a game changer at this point. Strong as I am, the goo in my face was affecting my breathing. I was starting to worry about that being the thing’s plan, suffocate me with the slime and with leaning on my chest enough to keep me from inhaling. Which is one of the grosser ways to die that I can think of. I saw, just past the skateboard, that Cody was in a similar fix. And I watched him put his foot under the thing and boost it off.
But Cody has shorter legs than me. Managing to get that leverage wasn’t likely to work in my favor. But it did give me an idea. I shifted under the thing as best I could. Used my shoulders back and forth, arched my belly up, dug in with my heels and tried to wriggle through the hips. All to keep the beak from dropping on me, and to get my knee to bump the lightsaber handle.
Beastie didn’t like that. I must have managed about five bumps, each time getting the squid-bear to back up a little, try to put a paw on me harder, twisting those tentacles to try and get a grip on arms. Twice during that, it cut my arm with a mere scrape of the beak. I was just far enough away from the beak to not get snagged by it, but close enough to get scratched. Some of the mouth slime landed on the cuts and it was like dripping, running fire ant bites. Lots of ’em.
On one of its wiggles, trying to get free of the lightsaber moving in its flesh, I managed to wrap my leg around the handle. The thing definitely didn’t like whatever pressure that put on the inside. It rolled off me to get away from the pain. In doing so, it ripped the lightsaber out of its body. Which would have been good for me, except that it also ripped the handle from behind my knee and spun it up into the air. I didn’t have time to follow it, however. You see the beast had rolled off me and landed on my skateboard. Which careened off somewhere else into the fight.
I shook the goo off my face and arms, no sword, no shield. My eyes stung. I managed to get a decent breath after spitting some of the evil goop out of my mouth. Just in time for the beastie to roar a challenge and charge me.
I wasn’t having it! I’m supposed to have amazing strength and speed and agility. Super soldier stuff. Time to see what all that’s all about.
I reached out and grabbed one of the guys trying to overpower Kenny. There were at least ten either crowding around him or actively fighting him. Why should shorty have all the fun? So I borrowed one of his Dauntain toys under the arm and tossed him like a sack of potting soil, right at the squid-dog’s open tentacle-beak-snout thing. Not sure what you’d call it, so I’ll just say its mouth.
Squid face didn’t’ disappoint. The tentacles went wide, the beak opened wide. The Dauntain kid went snap, crackle and pop, screaming the whole way, even as his body started that green line, burning, disintegrating thing. Proof enough that Beastie might have had the mouth strength to crush me, with just a few chomps. It spit out the hot and flaking remains of the Dauntain I’d just fed it and pawed the ground, less than a dozen feet from me.
Something looking a little like a “liberated” werewolf head went soaring past me, smacking into one of Kenny’s playmates. He sang back a jaunty “Thank you!” and kept going. I tell you, the whole thing was wild.
And as crazy as this whole fight was, I kinda liked it. Okay so maybe it was the adrenaline. Maybe it was that I really was enjoying dishing out some pain for a change instead of taking it. Maybe it was that I was fighting to protect others, including my Toothpick. Definitely it was that last one, but more likely all of those choices mixed together in different parts. At that moment, even with the danger and the bad guys trying to kill us and the building catching more and more on fire, I felt… amazing. Like this was the kind of stuff I was born for, and I wanted more.
Seems odd to say that now. In the heat of it, though, it felt natural. I was excited but also calm. Like this was maybe something I’d been missing my whole life.
Despite the brief interruption of the traveling skull, to which both I and the squid-bear thing had followed as it zoomed between us (must have looked like a weird tennis match moment), the fight was still on. It pawed the ground, settling deeper into its stance, preparing to charge me. I looked about wildly for my gold lightsaber or my skateboard. Neither were in sight. But my eyes did light on one weapon nearby.
It was one of the hybrids. The one that had landed point first into the mat when Kenny had hopscotched those two enemies at the start of the fight. The scoreboard kills. The blade was still imbedded in the ground, almost 10 inches of the pointy end buried, about ten feet from me, with the beastie about fifteen feet beyond that. It was all I had available. The bear-thing was big, heavy and strong. Possibly stronger than me. Not a thing I wanted to test hand to tentacle. Especially after watching that mass of tentacles and the huge beak crunch through that Dauntain kid I fed him like a stale dog biscuit.
My course was clear. I had to get to that blend of bright and dark metal, somehow get it out of the ground and hope it was still a viable weapon. Oh, yeah, and then I had to keep fighting the squid-bear while doing all that before it used me for beef jerky.
I ran forward, full out. Fortunately, our enemies seemed to have the good manners to dissolve after being killed, so there weren’t a bunch of bodies in the way. I put on my best sprint speed and planned my move. I’d use the blade handle as a break, turning all that running speed into the energy I hoped would be enough to pull the blade free, and give me enough angle from that stopping to dodge out of the way when the thing tried to bull through me.
It charged as well, the tentacles first going wide in a battle scream, that beak in the middle spreading wide and dripping with thick, green-glowy tinged saliva. Then, as it ran, it pressed all the tentacles together, as if to streamline itself during the charge. Or maybe it just wanted them all in front to protect itself, or like because then they all could just wrap around me as it rammed into me. Whatever the case was, it was still plenty gruesome charging at me like that. And for something that big, that off balance looking, it was hella fast.
I got to the sword first, amazed at my own speed, and lifted my feet to the right side, kinda launching into a baseball slide without aiming at the ground. My hands reached out and snagged the longish handle of the hybrid sword and I tightened my grip. True to expectations, the jolt in my shoulders as my arms went straight, resisting my speed and weight, was harsh. But I knew I’d only get this one chance at this. If I failed in this, I’d be caught unarmed, unshielded and flat-footed when the beast collided with me a moment later.
But the blade held fast. My whole body swung around the handle, spinning counter-clockwise. The blade made a weird twanging sound as I spun around it, landing behind. I landed on one knee, looking across the crude pommel of the weapon as the squid-bear bore in on me. Its tentacles spread wide to tuck me in against its horrid beak, ready to hold me close, snap my bones and push me down its gullet.
I kept my grip tight and pulled back on the blade, hard, feeling a little give in the concrete as the strangely twinned metals vibrated. The beast reared back as it neared me, as if to make a leap at the moment of attack. There would be no way out for me. With a desperate surge of strength, I tried to pull the blade free. I heard myself scream with the effort. A scream that I heard weirdly echoed somewhere behind me, followed by Kenny shouting “Pop!” in that worst of all possible ways.
Dunno what happened but time seemed to slow. And I know that sounds weird, or like some kind of movie trick. Anyways, in this slowed moment, I felt like my own movements were still at normal time. The Beast had left the ground with its front feet and was pushing itself into the air with its back ones. I kept tugging at that hybrid’s handle, using everything I had to pull it up. Back strained, bowed out backwards. Arms bulging, tight, trembling. Legs half bent, grinding against my bones to straighten up, give leverage and power to my efforts.
And with a soft sound, like a measuring spoon sliding into sugar, the blade lifted free of the concrete. So much of my efforts had been aimed at tugging the blade free that I had no time to step back and keep my balance. I fell backwards, and in the numbing cold and near dark of the gym, with time going slow, the sight of the beast coming down on me again, even as I was falling backwards, with the ceiling overhead flowing with sheets of dark orange fire, it felt like I was falling backwards into hell itself, with a demon about to devour my soul in one loud, wet, painful chomp.
Desperately, I lifted the blade up, knowing I had no chance at all to get it in place. My shoulders and the back of my head smacked onto the mats behind me. The tentacled menace continued to fall towards me. I felt time start winding back up again, could almost hear it as a whooshing sound filling my ears, even above the many other sounds of combat going on around me. My butt and thighs finally landed and my whole body shook with the impact. The beast landed on me, but…
But the tentacles didn’t envelop my head. The beak didn’t fall to my flesh to rip my chest open. The weight of the thing didn’t land on me with the fullness it had before. Its giant paws didn’t trap my limbs nor spear into my guts, holding me in place, eviscerating. None of that happened.
Because the hybrid had found its mark. Somehow, my hands had moved fast enough, almost faster than thought itself, to line up the bent and twisted point so that it had pierced right under the squid bear’s mammoth ribs, deep inside. And whatever evil magics were linked to these blades began its work, eating the thing from the inside out. I later learned from the others that the hybrids were soul drinkers. That they were made to devour victims upon causing severely weakening wounds. And here I was, firsthand witnessing the beast being sucked dry of its existence. The thing whimpered and gasped, drooling uncontrollably as it fell inwards, painfully, upon itself. One of the thing’s beady black eyes stared down into my face, wide now with pain and panic instead of its previous cold, anger fueled stare.
And almost as quickly as it began, it was over. With a sickening crunching sound, a slurp and a pop, the squid dog was no more. Not even a carcass remained. Even the viscous drippings of slime that had been clinging and flinging from the tentacles and beak had been drawn into the blade. The metal above the handle seemed to glow a pale, sickly green just then, a whitish-green tracing of pearlescence chasing around the strange symbols scratched into the blade, fading slowly.
I felt sick just holding the thing. Like I was somehow tainted just using it to defend myself. So I flung it down. I felt that the hybrid was somehow judging me. Mocking me for being weak or not submitting to glorying in the kill. I’d been touched by evil before, but that damned sword was evil of a type I never knew existed. And to be completely honest… part of me wanted to keep it. To revel in the power it represented. To give in to the chaos and bloodlust.
Yeah, part of me wanted that. And part of me was completely terrified of how much I wanted it.
I looked around, sort of in a daze. I spotted my lightsaber, resting just a few yards behind me, beside my skateboard. They had somehow been kicked around, rolled and wound up together. I turned over on my stomach, got to my hands and knees and crawled to my weapon and my board. I felt like my body weighed 16 tons as I started that crawl, but I seemed to gather my strength back as I moved. I got my hand back on the board first, and felt almost whole again, almost completely strong. I slid the board over my elbow, the front trucks tucked between my fingers. It felt good. I picked up the lightsaber, sitting back on my knees and heels, and the blade went from simple metallic gold painted wooden dowel to glowing, humming laser sword. I rocked back up to my feet.
I inhaled, exhaled, felt suddenly calm, easy, strong. Centered. It all came together for me just then. I understood, at least a little bit more so, anyways, who and what I was.
“Jack!” I heard Robby call out. His voice traveled over all the din of combat like it was built for that purpose. And I guess in a way, after all the centuries of his life, it sort of was.
“I’m here,” Jack called back, his voice as ever calm, but raised to be heard as well. Three hybrid armed goons moved towards me and I met them head on. One hacked at me, but I parried him away and used the return stroke of that parry to take of one of his pal’s sword hand… at about the shoulder area. The one that hadn’t had the pleasure of interacting with me yet moved in to shake swords and I bashed him with the board, first like a backhanded slap and then punching him with the edge over my fist. He went down, leaving me only one to play with. Another of the weirder ones came over, very heavy set. I sort of back handed the one I’d given permanent short sleeves to with the point of my saber and thus only had the two left to go.
“The door is blocked. We need a way out of this fire.” At once I realized why Robby was our leader, despite being one of the youngest here. He could delegate authority in the middle of a fight, and still had the presence of mind to deal with the changing situations, and like, he knew which person was suited to which job.
“I’m on it,” Jack replied. “I’ve also alerted police, ambulance and fire officials. Help is on the way.” I hacked at the one chunky formori, who seemed to enjoy being sliced. His body was a mass of scars. The shallow cut I gave him only seemed to make him moan in pleasure, but it wasn’t enough to take him out of the fight. He countered my slash with a short stab at my groin. Using that parry seven move, I was able to block the shot at my boys and give myself enough room to step back from the freak.
“I got us a way out,” Jack called back. “But I can’t do it alone.”
“Take whoever you need!” Robby ordered.
“Paul!” Jack called out. I slashed hard at the formori in front of me and lifted my shield to smash his face. He’d seen that move, and tried to bring his blade around to block the punch but it was a total fake out. I kicked him in the head hard enough to rock his whole body in a backwards arc. Before he could recover, I drove forward and slashed into his neck with my blade. That golden lightsaber snicted through his throat like a hot knife through Jell-o, and his head flipped backwards, separated from his body.
“Yeah, I’m clear,” I said, moving in on the last one. I lowered my blade and stuck my left fist on my hip, with the board held back. The Dauntain looked up, confused that I wasn’t ready to fight, just smiling at him. He didn’t see Magnus charge up behind him and stab through from behind. The Dauntain kid seemed to wince and straighten up as Magnus’ red lightsaber pierced through his chest from behind. He jerked his blade free and nodded at me, as all around us the defeated enemies were dissolving in green burning lines like newspapers rolled tight and tossed in a fire. Which reminded me, we were likely going to be cooked when this place burned down around us.
Magnus tapped his saber on mine and ran off towards Kenny’s area. I turned my head towards Jack’s zone.
“I need you to smash through this wall.”
“The rock climbing wall?” I asked, kicking the formori’s evaporating head away as it started doing that green fire burning away to dust thing. What!? It was staring at me.
“There’s a hallway behind it, leading to the back ends of the locker rooms. We can get out through there. But I need you to smash through the wall,” he said. Then I heard him strike the wall twice with his lightsaber, the humming blade choosing to scorch the plywood as if it too were an enemy. I gave it a look and he’d drawn an “X” on the wall, the trailing ends of his strokes partly circling back like brush strokes lifting away.
“Here goes nuthin’!” I shouted and ran straight for the wall. As I got about ten steps away, I raised my shield and held my blade forward, hoping to soften whatever the wall was made of a little before I hit it at full steam. Got to admit, things were kind of a blur as I ran by. I must have been going pretty fast, because I barely felt hitting that plywood structure, reinforced by two by fours and aluminum struts. I bashed through it like it wasn’t even there. Like one of those paper banners the cheerleaders hold up for the football team to go howling through at the beginning of a big game. Like walking through a hard rain, you know. You feel it, but it can’t slow you down, can’t resist you.
So I slammed into the wall. The point of my saber stabbed right through it like pushing a pencil through a sheet of paper. My body tackle hit less than a heartbeat later. I’d left the ground on that step, all my weight and momentum in the air. It was freakin’ amazing. I felt the impact and then the wall gave way. It shattered under my body as I rammed through it. I felt, heard, smelled even, the wood crunch under me, falling away from me. And while I felt the impact, it didn’t hurt. Even the places where my body was already cut from combat wounds, or spots where the squid thing’s mouth goo had burned me, didn’t so much feel hurt at that moment. Maybe a little tingle, a hint of pressure.
And then I was through. Time seemed to kick back to normal. I’d landed on the other side of wall on my feet. I had enough presence of mind to hold back my blade after crashing through. That and to keep my shield up. My feet hit ground, and I put on the breaks, hands like I just described and for good reason. The other side of the hole I’d just punched in the rock climbing wall hid a passageway. It was maybe fifteen feet past the hole, and the spot Jack had selected was perfectly placed so I’d go through the open doorway there. The door had long ago been taken off. Feet on the ground, hands to the opposite wall, I was able to stop myself without going brain to bricks on the other side.
I felt pretty good about plowing through that wall, making an escape route for my friends. This super powers business could be pretty cool sometimes, I guess. Especially when I knew that what I did was helping, not screwing up.
That’s when something with a really deep voice chuckled at me and said “Well, well, well. What have we got here?” all sinister like. Then something hit me real, real hard, and I don’t remember much else for a while.
I’ve had way too many days like these. I must have. Because despite how much fun breakfast had been, and how much fun we’d had with our new fencing buddies, and the weird leadership challenge that Magnus just dropped on Robby’s narrow shoulders only to lose it on Magnus’ own terms, despite all this, when the Dauntain and other Black Circle types that our bitter enemy, Sir Korbesh, just dropped on our doorstep, I didn’t panic.
In fact, Paul and I joked openly. Even when I used what Paul later called the Jedi Mat Splat, we kept things light. Playful banter and such. Maybe I was only outwardly calm. I know Juan/Croaker was going off at the mouth in typical Red Cap fashion. I know my dad was calm, keeping his focus on the enemy, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses. And I know that Robby was in super-high pressure, steam erupting under the collar, “lemme at ’em!” mode.
For some reason, despite my anger, my fear, the cold seeping in through the edges of my Dragon’s Ire aura, all of that, I was oddly calm. As if I was too used to being attacked by a gang of murderous assassins armed with soul drinking weapons made of Cold Iron and silver. As if hearing that Korbesh was not only ambushing us, the local Freehold, our allies all across the region, but also our beloved Queen Mab as well was all just par for the course.
But, in my own way, I was terrified. We were in it bad here. Outnumbered, stuck in a concrete box that’s at least half built underground, even deeper at some places because of the hillside the Y was built into. And all the baddies before us seemed to be supernatural, armed with the stuff that crushes Dreams. As traps go, you almost couldn’t ask for a better set up.
This was going to be a moment of truth, and not a pretty one. If we got out of this just bruised or wounded, I’d call us very lucky.
The unspoken plan was simple. Keep the bulk of the fighters off the newbies, give them a better fighting chance. If we were going to survive this, those of us used to fighting groups of killers at a time needed to give those barely educated to the sword every opportunity. And we knew right off the bat that if any of the werewolves went to full size, full fur, the already limited and crowded space in here was going to get tighter. That and they would become bigger targets.
So, yeah. We had to keep the baddies busy long enough for our greenest fighters to make it through the first several minutes, trim the numerical advantage down some. We had to fight this mixed bag gang as a team, being mixed bag ourselves.
And as suddenly as that, it was on. The enemy seemed to be set up for three waves. Rough skirmishers in the front, more skilled or leader types behind, and the giant monsters that seemed programmed to use the walls as their floor, completely going around us. That was the biggest danger, I knew. Creatures that large able to go up walls like that likely were incredibly strong.
But I soon had too much to worry about. I leapt over the first one that came at me and somersaulted, skull kicking the one I vaulted as I passed. Not sure if that put him down or not, but my main concern was drawing a lot of attention to myself.
It seemed to work. I heard a loud roar to the left and knew that Pop was in full-on angry Troll mode. Caspian can be a fearsome adversary when he’s showing his full Trollish nature. And that booming basso-profundo voice only magnifies that. My own voice is not so powerful, so in fights, I tend to save it for snappy patter and confusing jokes, and the occasional shouted warning. In fights, I tend to not use my voice for cantrips. Gives your target too much warning.
So, after vaulting into the second row, more or less, I turned and lashed out at the nearest two. I struck true, cutting low through the back of their thighs. It was enough to drop them to the mats, but probably not enough to take them out of the fight entirely. Good enough though. I had a role to play in this little melee. I had to give Pop the room he’d need to take on the giant monsters climbing up the walls, and keep the pressure off of Paul long enough for him to survive.
Got to say, my estimate of Paul was already pretty high, but a first time sword battle against this many opponents was not something you just send a newbie out into and leave him in place. I made it a point to stay near him, even when taking these assassins on a merry chase. Give Paul enough room to do what he was born to do, give Pops enough room to play with the big nasties, and try to keep all of our skin’s pretty and un-pinked in the process.
About six surrounded me, a few not sure if they should close in on me, shift to Pops or Paul, or just wait for me to drop a few more so they could fill in the gap. They were actually being cagy. That got me worried. It meant that someone had trained them, infused a little discipline in them and had given them a battle plan. Not sure if that was Korbesh’s doing or if he had someone working his troops for him. Not important at the moment, though. I had six of those nasty, vision shaking blades pointing roughly in my direction.
“Okay, gentlemen,” I said, saluting with my blade. “Today’s lesson is how to fight a group when you are outnumbered and surrounded. Thank you for volunteering. I apologize in advance for all the places that are about to hurt.” I smiled, hoping to upset them, keep them off balance. Keep them from actually thinking as they fought. And it helped calm me down to impose my will on them. Making them think I was in charge.
See, I can learn some things from how Robyn does things. Now just the practical application.
“Step one, control the movement of the group. Get them to get in each other’s way, by attacking and retreating quickly,” I said and spun, swirling my blade overhead. I struck out at one of the more monster looking kids. Less Dauntain, more one of those formori that Nick and Cody had told us about. Monsters from the inside out instead of the outside in, like the big things.
My blade went right at his head, forcing him to duck. I let my attack carry through and pulled it back as it threatened one that I could have told you was Dauntain if I were blindfolded and drunk. His blade snapped up to parry, but I had already retreated. The formori kid had taken the bait, however, and the two of them banged into each other as they chased me. I skipped back out of range and lifted my feet high as an opponent to my left tried to take out my knees. My feet had barely hit the ground when a hybrid sailed in at my head from behind. I felt the enemy’s path heading towards mine and simply knew where I needed to be. I dropped low, spun right and slashed upwards as I turned. I felt something firm interrupt my blade’s path for a moment and knew I’d scored a deep cut through one of the baddies.
The much abused scoreboard, now blocking the exit, offered up a sad, tortured “ding” as it registered another kill for me, before sparking and losing the last few bulbs it still had power to light. It almost whimpered like R2-D2, giving up a puff and stream of acrid, gray smoke from inside. Poor guy.
I pushed past a pair of enemies, took two steps forward and then took a step up the wall. I used that to pivot, gain altitude and launched myself at the five remaining in my “class.” I slashed on the way down, parrying one blade and barely dodging past another. I hit the ground on my shoulder, curling, rolling, came up and slashed laterally from under my left arm all the way through the right side and behind. I felt my blade ring off three others in that move and had a rough idea where all the enemies were. I turned, smiling as they seemed to be trying to figure out how I’d done what I’d just done.
“Step two, use your environment to your advantage. For example, I now have all five of you pinned against the wall, trapped and surrounded.” I grinned, bringing the point of my blade up in a mocking way, using my other hand to give them the “bring it on” gesture. They moved in, spreading out to encircle me again. Even as they did, I felt another “wrong path” moving towards me from behind. A familiar wrong path.
The attack that came in from the wrong path was swift and studied. My response to it was equal parts luck and skill, turning, swinging my blade up from under to intercept the slash at my back. Almost immediately the attacker freed his blade from mine and pulled back to attempt a lunge to my hip. I hacked down and stepped away from the lunge, so I could keep at least part of the other five in my peripheral vision. This was someone skilled.
I ducked under the attack and came set, the enemies arrayed out before me, trying to circle. But I found the one that was skilled right away. Charlie, the guy who’d lead that group of bullies who attacked us on the beach. The one that scored a Cold Iron hit on Robby. He looked slimmer, by almost 60 pounds. And he moved like he had sword training. It’s just a way that he walked with that heavy hybrid weapon in his hands. My angry notched up a dozen places.
“We meet again,” I saluted him briefly with my blade. “Come to join the class?”
“I came to teach you a lesson. Of pain. And death.”
“Do I have to pay extra for the death part, or is that just extra credit?” I asked, parrying two enemy attacks from opposite sides. Both the side attackers reset and swung in at the same time, trying to both slash me at the same time. I ducked under, their blades ringing off each other’s weapon instead. I brought my saber across theirs, locking them long enough to kick both in the nuts. The two side swordsmen went to their knees, giving me a chance to bounce a step back from Charlie.
“Step three,” I exhaled, beginning to feel a little winded. “Your blade isn’t your only weapon.”
That’s when the huge, heavy, hairy forearms fell around my shoulders, pinning my arms to my sides. Hot, fetidly stinking breath, moist with what I don’t want to even imagine, assaulted my neck and left cheek, steaming past my face in the gathered cold. To say it was revolting would be to give it that foul smell some kind of charm and grace. Rotting fish layered in decaying, fermenting cabbage and vinegar would have more appeal than this creature’s odious breath.
“What is step four?” Charlie said, moving forward quickly. His blade shot forward, aiming to spear me in the guts. I didn’t have any chance of breaking that powerful grip those monstrous arms had on me. Nor did I have any way to bring my blade around to protect me from the double-handed lunge Chuck intended to impale me with. So I had to move quickly, do something fancy, and trust that I could handle it.
“Step four,” I grunted, leaning my head back on the shoulder of the creature immobilizing my arms, “Capitalize on your enemy’s mistakes!” And as Charlie got closer, his blade leading the way, I curled my hips and legs up, using the guy holding me in place to steady me. Charlie’s blade sank just under my butt, snagging a bit of my YMCA shirt with the point. He’d clearly missed stabbing me, but the guy holding me wasn’t so lucky. Charlie’s Hybrid rammed into the beast holding me, and it screamed in agony. I kicked my feet out as hard as I could, clearing the blade partly stuck in the guy behind me, and Charlie as well. I was freed and landed on my feet about six feet away from the pair.
Turning, I saw that the one who had held me had been one of the twisted werewolves. It howled in anguish as the blade pierced its middle. I say “Its” because in that giant furry form, I couldn’t tell if this was a female or a male werewolf.
Charlie angrily pulled the Hybrid out of the werewolf’s abdomen, but not like how you might if it was your friend. He savagely ripped out after giving the blade a push deeper. The werewolf’s intestines spilled out, smoldering. Whether that was just because his insides were warmer than the chilled air, or from the sizzle of silver sinking into his supernatural flesh, I couldn’t say. But it was what Charlie said that chilled me even more.
“Useless!” Charlie hissed, an angry sneer twisting almost to a grin of dark joy as he immolated the werewolf who had been his ally. I knew this was an ambush, an assassination crew, but I never suspected that the enemies arrayed against us would take such liquid, visceral pleasure in sacrificing their own. I swallowed hard, taking a quick look around at who was left for me to fight.
“If that’s the death lesson, feel free to demonstrate on more of your friends,” I quipped. But I felt no joy in the joke. These guys didn’t just have murder on the mind. They were fuckin’ insane!
“My blade is wet now,” Charlie said, holding it up and out towards me. “It hungers for more!” It was dripping in red from the werewolf it had just nibbled on, but then… and I shit you not, the blade went dry. With a slurping sound, no less. It was like the Hybrid was sucking in the blood. It was like in that moment, as it was drinking in the blood, the vision distorting effect of the Cold Iron wavered and I could see the whole weapon clearly. I actually saw the carvings in the blade pool in sanguine as the flats of the weapon went dry and then Garou glyphs carved into the twinned metals puckered and went dry as well.
Guess I know now what it means to be a soul-draining blade. Foul magic of the worst sort. These guys weren’t just insane, they had skills and resources. We’d completely underestimated them. I would not make that mistake again.
I must have been standing there a bit dumbfounded for a second or two, you know, watching the Hybrid feed. I thought back to when Robby tried to kill himself, and how my hand had been just bare millimeters from the Cold Iron side of one of those weapons. He had been just that close to complete oblivion. Me too, for that matter.
Charlie decided to press the advantage, grinning evilly. “Black Circle… Lesson one. When your enemy talks to much, crush him with numbers, blades and pain.”
And it was on again. They closed in around me, moving around Charlie to swarm at me. My back was to a wall again, near the crushed and defeated scoreboard, so they couldn’t completely surround me, but there were at least seven or eight of them, plus Charlie. As they rushed in, those horrible blades seemed to almost glow, sensing that one of their brood had feasted. The distortion to my vision was fully back on the Cold Iron sides of the Hybrids. I needed a game changer.
So I rushed them. Oh sure, it was safer to let them come to me, keep a wall to my back. They expected that, though. I had to be unpredictable, mobile, get them to bunch up and almost fight each other. Plus, I wanted to put a sharp point into Charlie real soon. I wasn’t mourning the loss of werewolf he’d killed while trying to shish-kabob me, but if he’d do that to an ally, I can only speculate on what he’d do to someone he’d captured to play with.
And to be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to find out.
The first two, who’d probably intended to split wide after trading slashes with me suddenly found themselves having to backpedal. I followed behind my blade, knocking one point aside and blocking an incoming shot at my neck, turning it and the person taking that shot directly into the path of one of his friends. Someone groaned in pain from that, but I was too busy to count coup.
I traded blows with the ones that still surrounded me, trusting my Eshu talent to know the right path to guide my parries, mark my steps. It was enough that I could eventually started scoring hits. I let the bravado and talking end as I fought for my life. Behind the line of enemies, I saw Charlie moving, looking for an opening to strike me. Yes, I was getting worried. Skill can overcome superior numbers in a sword fight. But it’s not a foregone conclusion.
And then one of them tagged me. A shallow cut, probably on a backswing away from something I’d rushed to parry and had to quickly move to another attack to defend. The tip of someone’s weapon carved a short, shallow line into my left calf. The cut was cold, but not the searing Black Kiss from the edge I feared the most. Still, I winced, cursed impressively and spun, hurling my lightsaber right into the one who’d cut me’s head. It caved in around the blade, dropping that enemy.
And leaving me without a weapon. Charlie said something, not sure what, but the others stepped back from me. They held me in a circle of blades, each of them prepared to surge in as one, skewering me from multiple angles. I looked towards my blade, no longer humming with Glamour, about fifteen feet away. Far enough with all these Dauntain sapping the light, heat and Glamour from the room that I wouldn’t be able to use my magic to recall the blade to my hand. Too much Dauntain interference.
“You think you’ve got me,” I smiled, narrowing my eyes. “But I still have a few tricks up my sleeves.”
“Like what, Faggot!” Charlie screamed, rushing towards me, his blade held up, ready to push the point into my chest just under my neck. It was a blur of silver and dancing black warping lines as he surged in to claim from his fellows the honor of killing me himself.
“Like this,” I said, and I enacted the Wyrd. I called from my Changeling soul Kay Neth’s personal weapon. My crystal ikwla. Two feet of blade mounted on two feet of handle. Tapered, thin profile, razor sharp, and tougher than mortal steel could ever be. Forged by magics older than your world. If you want a good idea of what it really looks like, check the internet for images of ikwla. If you want to know how effective it is, ask the British Colonial forces that faced off against the Zulu nation in Africa.
So, with my best weapon in my hands, I lifted Charlie’s point up out of the way from his charge, carried it out away from me and sliced across his chest. He gasped and tried to back away. Not this time. I hooked my foot behind his and gave him a shoulder brush. He tipped over and wildly swung at my head. I parried with the handle of my ikwla, wrenching both hands to slide his weapon away from me, but it was a reactionary attack on his part at best. No energy behind it. He hit the ground, still holding the weapon, but one hand holding his chest. Red flowed freely there, soaking his shirt.
His compatriots took a moment to stop and look to each other. Clearly they got their orders from Charles, and with him on the ground, wounded, they weren’t sure what to do. I took a moment to scan the area.
Dad had already put the hammer down through one of the giant wall crawling squid bear things. It lay on the ground, feet up, head caved in. He was at the top of the retractable bleachers, attacking another one. They seemed fairly evenly matched, although if those things were strong enough to fight while resisting gravity, I realized they probably were a lot tougher than I’d imagined. But for now, Dad was doing what he was built to do.
Past my current party guests, I saw Paul on his back, dealing with another of the squid bears, no weapons in his hands, just dealing with the thing with brute strength. I could see his weapon and shield weren’t too far away, but in opposite directions. I had to do something soon to help him out.
And as much as I wanted to check on Robby, and the others, I had too much going on right here to divide my attention. They were depending on me to manage this side of the battle. I was not about to let Juan and my Robby down.
I risked a quick gimmix cantrip. I spun my ikwla through a series of defensive slashes, getting my dance partners interested in keeping their skins in one un-serrated piece, to start. The whole time I was singing, and moving the group away from where I’d dropped but not finished off Charlie. “Kenny and Robby, sittin’ in a tree, kay eye ess ess eye ehn gee!” At “gee” I had formed enough distance around myself to plant the blade into the mats under me. I turned and looked towards where Paul was doing a nifty move of his own, fighting the squid-bear and sprinting to do… something. Couldn’t see what from my angle. “First comes sex,” I said, reaching out my hands in claws, “then comes war,” and I used my telekinetic spell to grab both of Paul’s weapons, grunting with the strain as the Glamour tried to flee the spell, “then Ole Charlie drops to the floor!” I raked my hands together, still stretched across the floor to the gold lightsaber and skateboard.
It almost didn’t work. But the two weapons surged across the mats towards each other, bouncing and landing in a loose pile. Beyond, I saw Paul pull some kind of wicked fast nifty move and the squid-bear seemed to sag as if mortally wounded. I grinned but had to take care of other matters before I could congratulate him.
I spun, wrapped my right hand around my ikwla’s handle, twisted and pulled it free. My Bunk had helped with the spell, but I still felt a bit drained from using so much Glamour while I still had Dragon’s Ire up. I was burning through energy quickly, both mystical and physical. But man! I felt great! Even with the fear and anger and danger.
Three enemies surged in and I slung my blade around in a wide defensive screen. Had both hands on the handle after the initial swing, arms up, the blade pointing down, going around my body like a wall of steel. I brought it around and stepped towards two. Beyond the two I attacked, I saw Charlie get to his feet, drawing his fingers across the wound with one hand… sealing it with magic!
I continued my attack on the two before me, slashing diagonally from overhead, all the way through. Both of the enemies in front of me took the brunt of the strike on their weapons. But I wasn’t finished with them yet. I jumped, suddenly, my Eshu talent informing me that something bad was coming at my legs. While in the air, one of them scratched my hip with a silver edge, somehow just nicking me over the top hem of my gym shorts. The other one in front of me swung and I caught the flat of his blade from behind, bounced off his weapon and followed his edge up to his hand. The ikwla’s blade sank into his hand above the thumb, severed that, followed the top of his forearm, shaving into the flesh there, and then bit into his chest, ripping out as I landed.
He dropped like a rock in a pond.
His counterpart pushed his body aside, but left himself open to my attack. I reversed my grip and, with my left palm on the butt end of the handle, drove the point into the second guy’s eye so deep it poked out the back of his head. He also fell, smacking into the ground in exactly the right place for me to look Charlie in the eyes.
“Ring the bell, motherfucker,” I called out to Charles, beckoning with my left hand. “School’s in!”
He didn’t like that.
And then, from out of nowhere, this flea-bitten, mangy werewolf head, sans body, goes soaring past me to crash into one of my circle of followers. It dropped the formori dude it hit like a bad habit. The remains of the scoreboard whimpered a brief and final hurrah, with a single bell ding. I remember taking a moment to bask in the glory of that fortuitous event with a shouted, slightly-brightly British accented “Thank You!” and a quick hand wave from whence said head came.
To be perfectly honest, when that thing streaked through the room, it gave me a little extra breathing room. The remaining cadre of Dauntain and formori warriors looked on in a state of disbelief at things. I guess they had been told this would be an easy kill. Also being honest, it really should have. They still had the press of numbers, at least two to one over us, and in places more so. Like right around me and the eight pairs of eyes (one girl accounted for two sets of those) staring at me with hate and fear and, presently, a lack of will.
“Get him, you useless idiots!” Charles shouted from behind his line, raising his sight twisting blade. “Kill the Fae Fag!”
The nearest one to me raised his weapon high overhead, preparatory to rushing forwards and slashing me from shoulder to hip. I saved him the trouble, spinning on my back foot and ramming the spear point deeply into his rib cage from a spot just under his top abs. He gasped and began that weird green-fire burning away thing that these guys seemed to do when killed.
Which is good, because it made it a lot easier to rip the blade out of his body and block the incoming attack from the four-eyed chick formori who had long spikes and scales decorating her skin. She was strong and I had to step back from the strike. She was skilled too, because she followed up the initial strike high with a second shot low. I blocked her using parry three to parry two, stepped inside and dropped, squatting. This brought my blade tip up and I levered my hands on the handle, ripping a cut with the tip of my ikwla across her throat. Her weapon fell, she stepped back, holding her throat.
Three down, five at least, plus Charlie who seemed to be able to heal himself. My chest heaved with the need to draw in air from all the exertions. But I felt good. I felt light and swift and agile. The two wounds I’d taken had begun to sting as they ran with small amounts of blood. I could feel the cut on my calf running a little more than the hip scratch, but I could also feel the liquid slipping out of me coagulating already, turning sticky and thick in my leg hairs.
Robby’s voice cut across the din of battle and what I began to realize was the crackling sound of fire. I got the gist of what he was saying, although I was suddenly very busy fighting off the group surrounding me. They were a lot stronger than they looked. But it seemed like, as had happened so many times in our shared pasts, that Robby had a plan, and was mobilizing our guys to make it work. That’s a confidence builder!
So I fought on, three or four other enemies joining my side even as I started thinning the odds. Seems I was very popular. Way too popular. I don’t like to brag, but I’m no slouch in combat. I was taking a few bangs and bruises along the way, but I was dealing out killing shots about two a minute, while still fending off so many. Fortunately, a lot of them went through that green edges of burning paper thing quickly enough that I didn’t have bodies on the ground to dance around.
I was beginning to get tired. If I could have just a minute to catch my breath, I’d be fine, and could wipe the floor with the rest of them. But I’d been fighting off multiple bad guys for several minutes, none of them lightweights in the strength or toughness departments, and pulling cantrips, and trusting my Eshu talent, and trying to engage these fools with my mouth to distract them. All of this with the Dragon’s Ire pumping out some protection from the cold and darkness these creatures brought with them. It was wearing me out.
I had been so busy dealing with baddies, keeping an eye on Paul, even using quick gimmix cantrips to haul his weapon and skateboard back near him that I hadn’t kept an eye on Pop. I knew he could well handle himself in a battle. Caspian is just one of those forces of nature in a fight. So when I heard a huge crashing sound, the squeal of twisting metal, the snap and crunch of wood shattering, it caught my attention. And then I heard the sound I almost never hear.
My Pop crying out in pain!
Just about everyone on our side of the room turned to look. My blade was halfway to striking a Formori in the neck when we all seemed to “halt play” and look at the commotion. From the sides, you know just watching the fight, it probably looked pretty comical. I took the opportunity to finish the stroke on the Formori, completely slicing through his neck, right between two neck vertebrae.
And then I got a better look at what was going on. A cloud of dust mixed with the gathering smoke. Flames which had only been licking at the wooden bleacher boards had been flung every which-a-way as the seating fractured, flipping all across our battlefield. An entire two sections of the bleachers had been rent inwards, just at the place where they joined. The accordion lattice of metal struts and tube steel supports lay outward like tall grasses growing around a large boulder. Thick enamel paint curled and steamed under the flames licking up from the splintered wooden boards. The smell lifted my way with the waves of heat and smoke and decades of dust now airborne and smoldering.
In the center of this explosion of destruction, lay Caspian, on his side, howling in agony. A broken board, probably twelve feet long and splintered as fuck, was imbedded in his left thigh. How deep I could not tell, but his blue blood leaked out fairly quickly. I immediately knew that it wasn’t a light wound. The thing he’d been fighting, one of the squid-bear creatures, also lay in the pit of destruction, also wounded. It seemed stuck, however, impaled through, chest to back, by three broken tubes of squared steel. I wasn’t sure if that would kill it, but it certainly wasn’t going anywhere.
“Pop!” I screamed, took a swipe at another formori near me, disarming it of the Hybrid it held loosely in our distracted state. I saw two of my group running to take advantage of things and get an easy kill on Caspian. I was still surrounded, still outnumbered, but all my attention suddenly shifted. Robby had called Paul off on some errand, which freed up baddies to go after me. Now I was alone on my side, and had to defend my wounded father. And these arrogant pricks thought they were going to get an easy kill on both of us?
Not today, friends and neighbors!
I Hopscotched myself across the intervening space, landing at Caspian’s side. His agonized wheezing distracted me, but I got there ahead of the two who had shot out to get easy hits. I landed, holding my ikwla by my side, point behind me, both hands on the handle. The two who rushed forward, a Dauntain who looked like a Red Cap and a formori with long spikes protruding over the backs of his wrists, skidded to a halt, their companions moving in to assist them.
“You… shall… not… have him!” I whisper-snarled and spun into the attack. I clashed blades with the Red Cap and raised my boot into the formor’s rib cage. Continuing the spin, I stuck the ikwla about a third of the way into the formor, only to have him rake one of his spikes across my hip. I couldn’t stop, though. Pain would have to wait. I hopped my feet up onto the Red Caps leg and ripped my blade out of the formor, who screamed in agony but remained on his feet. I brought the handle down hard on the Red Cap’s skull as I moved, riding him to the ground like a surfboard.
The formor hadn’t had enough yet, and it tried to Wolverine me with both of his forearm spikes, which seemed to lash out on tentacles. I blocked one away and hacked the tentacle of the other, severing it in a spray of gray-green ichors. The Dauntain Red Cap under my feet rolled, forcing me to step off him, and he lunged at my ankle… with his face!
Red Caps can bite through anything. They are the fae equivalent of a shark armed with teeth and jaws capable of biting and junking an old car, like from the time when cars were made of metal. They are just relentlessly powerful where that unhingable jaw of theirs is concerned. And this one wanted my foot inside his mouth.
And he got close. His lips barely touched my flesh, his teeth already grazing my sneaker, when I struck. My blade went through a tight downward arc, and I pushed myself away at the same time. The Red Cap lost his head, literally. I lost a sneaker, or at least the heel, as the Red Cap’s head tore off the back half of my shoe. I counted myself lucky not to have lost more.
Caspian groaned behind me, which drew my attention back his way. “Kay Neth! Behind you!” he shouted as our eyes met. I turned and swung my blade up to block. And just in time as Charles brought his blade down at my head. I stepped back, now about ten feet from where my Pop was bleeding out, foot scorched a little from the near miss with Red Cap teeth, keeping my guard up and blade free, even as those wicked Hybrids kept trying to force my eyes away. And Charles’ allies moved in behind him, encircling us. I was cut off, and forced now to defend my Pop.
“You could have joined us. Just given us Robyn. Given us the Tear,” Charles said, his assembled blades moving in, closing around me. I stepped over a piece of twisted metal still attached to some of the wood. The burningwood. “You could have been a god. Now you’ll just be…”
I had enough. “Bitch, just shut up and bring it!” I shouted cutting him off. If he had a speech ready, I wasn’t interested.
“Fair enough. Black Circle… kill him. Make it brutal.” And his guys started to move past him, blades held up at the ready. I set my back foot, gripped my left hand tighter around the handle of my ikwla, and grit my teeth, ready to see the game out to my last drop of blood.
That’s when Magnus came to my rescue. Big guy just charged through half the enemies, wearing his giant wolf form. He smashed one into another like a runaway train engine, and his mouth completely closed around a third’s waist and slammed shut with a sickening crunch!
We got busy after that, still the both of us outnumbered about nine on two. Charles backed up, trying to avoid being caught between an angry Garou and a pissed Eshu, letting his people take the brunt of our counterattack. At one point we passed each other, him shifting back to that awesome 10 feet tall war frame. We shared a glance for a moment smiling. We were winning, we were surviving.
And then there came an ear-splitting, earth-shaking, blood-curdling scream from the back of the room. Definitely female, or in the higher spectrum. I risked a look and felt a new horror wash over me.
Paul’s body spun three quarters the way about on his long axis as he was bodily hurled back through the rather large hole he’d punched in the rock climbing wall. He must have been tossed at least six point three five meters into the gymnasium, and when he came to rest, he rolled another half turn over. His armaments came out with him and only separated from his hands after he came to rest, landing between myself and Beth. Sylvia turned as well, startled by the noise and must have had a better vantage point than the rest of us for what lay beyond the breach.
“Korbesh!” she breathed out, attempting to bring her blade up. Her left leg, damaged further by the stress of fighting, was barely supporting her weight, and she kept it behind her, turned sideways. Bravely, she brought her weapon into position, getting a nearly glow-in-the-dark sort of smile returned in her direction from the darkness on the other side of the breached wall.
The man strode through the breach with an air of power and grace belied by his thick, powerfully built body. He moved like a man half his weight, and all of it was business weight. If there was fat on him, it was measured in grams, and in numbers no higher than three orders of magnitude. He was layered in leather, with sections of ringed mail stitched to his jacket and thick loops of metal bound around the arms with smaller strips of leather, like a three-tiered ring of rings. His boots were heavy, black, and looked like there was something caked on them. Mud perhaps. I didn’t want to give thoughts to what else it might be.
This was our changeling allies’ great enemy. The Red Cap lord and leader of the insurrection against the throne, Sir Korbesh. In that moment, I understood what made him such a concern for them. His very air spoke of formidability. His stride was confidence. His pace was the calm and measured tread of a warrior born in his element. The smirk that somehow translated even through those cruel, wide, large, flat teeth was a testament to his savagery, cunning and thorough enjoyment of this moment. He was a master planner, a General well versed in all facets of combat, deceit and strategy. And Sylvia, Beth and myself were all that stood between him and our injured comrades and our fighters’ unprotected backs.
He bore in his hands a weapon of such uniqueness that I must describe it. Similar to the hybrids the other enemies were equipped with, it was composed of the two metals our supernatural allies are mortally susceptible to, those being Cold Iron and silver. Unlike those weapons, this was a work of art, even if intended for violent purposes.
The metals weren’t so much lined against each other and melded into a twin edged weapon as they were woven, much like the twin snakes of fabled Mercury’s caduceus staff. The similarities didn’t end there. The edges of the blade were where the humps of the snakes turned back inwards, creating rounded cutting surfaces. Decorative scaling marks were etched into the snake bodies, catching light at odd angles. The point actually was split into two points, as if representing the tails of the snakes so entwined. At the guard, the snake bodies each performed some complicated gymnastics to produce a ringed guard with cross guard. I could see the pommel of the sword coming out of his hand, the handle easily long enough for two much larger than normal hands. At the very end, the pommel was formed by the two snake heads lying against each other, as if asleep and comfortable in each other’s company.
If I hadn’t already tuned out so much of the emotional aspects of the carnage going on around me, I might have fainted at the sight of this warrior and his weapon. There was something dark and menacing in the set of his flat, grinding teeth, the way his hair hung in dark greasy ringlets around his paler than death face. And his eyes were a combination of bloodshot, oily and wide that still gives me nightmares. Only seeing my so-called father walk through that opening after tossing Paul through it so casually would have chilled me more.
Sylvia was closer, and she made the first move. Although her foot was injured and it pained her to walk, she stepped forward and pushed the point of her lightsaber towards his face. But she was not moving with the usual grace and skill she was renowned for. Korbesh bashed her weapon aside with his, sending sparks flying at the contact. The air around us seemed rent by a blast of glowing metal heat and arctic chill as those sparks faded and vanished. The parry was hard enough to put her weapon so far out of line that her body was nearly turned about from the blow.
Gasping but undaunted, Sylvia turned completely around with the rebound of Korbesh’s power-block, stepping slightly closer to him and slashing boldly for his sword arm. His response was something we’d just been trained in during the morning session, a lesson I’d learned well. He parried under her cut using Secunde, lifted his arm slightly and punched his blade forward. The thrust came so fast that Sylvia barely had time to whip her blade around and under in a desperation circular parry of her own. This left her foot exposed and Korbesh wasted no time. He swept her leg with his heavy boot, taking her weight off her uninjured foot and forcing her to stand on the one that was seriously harmed already.
Sylvia fell to the ground loudly, crying out in pain. If it weren’t for my enhanced senses, I would not have heard the sound of bones breaking in her leg over the noises of the battle occurring behind us. She did manage to keep her weapon in hand, a testament to her own skill and training, but anyone looking could tell, she was mostly out of this fight.
Bethy stepped back, pivoted on her foot and fired one of her crystal shaft arrows right at Korbesh. The range was less than four meters. At the velocity that her bow was releasing shafts, that arrow should have pierced Korbesh in half an eye blink. Somehow, he managed to twist his body out of the arrow’s trajectory. She quickly had another missile armed and pulled back and fired again. This time the Red Cap batted the bolt out of the air like he was taking batting practice from a little league pitcher. The crystal shaft bounced off his weapon and fell to the ground near me, coated in frost that was rapidly turning into a glaze of ice. Given that we were in early July, such an occurrence was far from natural.
Bethy nocked another arrow and took a step back to get range, but Korbesh had moved forward with her last shot, and he stabbed at her with the snake-blade. She dodged to the side, trying to bring the arrow around, but he used a clever trick and caught the lower bend of her bow. With an underhand twisting move, he wrenched the bow from her hands. It clattered to the ground near Paul.
I realized now that I had been standing still, uncertain how to proceed. Paul was unconscious, Sylvia was hobbled, and Bethy was fighting this terror alone. He had lunged in for her neck with his open hand, his weapon cocked back by his hip ready to run her through. I gripped my saber and charged in to help her. Korbesh saw my rush in and he waited, even as he grabbed Bethy by the throat. I tried to strike for his weapon hand, but he was much faster than I had thought possible. In the same moment that he presented an open wrist and my weapon sang down to sever it, he shifted his wrist slightly, catching my blade, twisted it over and down, putting the point into the mat beneath us.
And then in one swift, incredibly powerful move, his blade moved up, around and severed my blade right above the hilt. He raised a boot and kicked me in the chest hard enough to send me sprawling beside Paul. It knocked the breath right out of me, and I could barely move to sit up as he had close words with Beth.
“Call to him, Sweetling! Lure your bastard lover over here so that I might end his existence before your eyes, before I send you to him, Undone in oblivion’s embrace!”
Despite being held by the throat, Bethy managed to spit in his face. Which made him grin all the more. And then…
And then he stabbed the twined points of his blade into her shoulder. She screamed, a loud, piercing cry of pain and anguish that made my skin crawl.
Most of the battles in the room had neared completion by this time. I had no way of knowing, since my attention was fully distracted by this nightmare of a warrior. So when Bethy let out her scream, it was much easier to hear for the others. Including Juan.
“Elzbeth!” Juan cried out from the far side of the gym. Nearly 50 meters separated him from our area. It must have seemed like a continent to him. His nimbus of golden energy flashed red and I saw him hack through the waist of the enemy before him with a single swipe as he started rushing to Beth’s side. Across the battlefield, friend and foe alike cleared a path lest they suffer his headlong wrath.
I released my now useless saber handle and realized that Beth’s bow was right beside me. I had no training in the weapon, but had read extensively on its use through the 63 ancient warfare texts I have read. I scooped up the weapon and the one arrow available. As I nocked the arrow, something curious happened. Three more appeared in my hand, one grasped in my palm and thumb, the other two sticking between the middle, ring and “pinky” fingers. It became clear to me that this weapon somehow was how Bethy was able to launch so many shafts so quickly, despite having no quiver to provide the ammunition. Again, I marveled at the powers these changelings could command, and added a new series of questions to an already extensive list.
Such speculation would have to wait, however. In that moment, I was in more of a need to believe and perform than analyze and question. Lives were at stake. Bethy was in serious pain and trouble and I had only this one way to fight back now. So I took it.
My first shot rang off one of the metal rings protecting his upper arm on his jacket. It shattered against the ring, but delivered enough impact to bring the biting part of Korbesh’s weapon out of Bethy’s arm. The wound smoldered with vapor, and she struggled to free her neck from Korbesh’s grip. The twin points bled slightly, but the blood seemed to clot or freeze against her shirt. He turned his evilly grinning countenance to me as I loosed the second arrow in my fist, switching the next one in my fingers to the nocking position and just blindly letting fly, hoping it didn’t hit Bethy.
This one landed squarely in his chest, entering between his pectoral muscle and collarbone. Not a lethal hit, but an area that his leather armored jacket didn’t cover with the lapels hanging open. Surprisingly, he was bare chested under the jacket, and had strange spiral burn marks, almost like an electric stove element, branded against his flesh. His whole body jerked back as that shaft sank into him. Still maintaining eye contact with me, he twisted his head and bit through the shaft with a loud, echoing chomp sound. I tried to gather my wits for a third shot with him looking at me, but my fingers felt cold and numb.
I reloaded the weapon as he tossed Bethy aside, hurling her on top of Sylvia, who groaned in greater protest. I believe Beth may have landed on Sylvia’s injured leg, causing further injury. Korbesh turned to face me, spitting out pieces of crystal as he advanced. I brought the bow up and he suddenly was in my face, his chomping teeth snapping the bow in two. He smashed forward with his head into mine and knocked me to my back again. Grinning, he raised his weapon, reversed the grip, and prepared to plunge it through my chest using both his hands, seemingly unaffected by the arrow I’d put into his shoulder.
“You are brave, little one. I will grant you a swift journey to Oblivion,” Korbesh said to me. For a moment, I had a brief glimpse through his changeling form to see the human underneath. My computer brain filed away the information, not knowing that I might not be able to do the necessary records search later.
This was when Juan tackled him, moving with a speed I’ve still no explanation for. He must have covered that 50 meters in under three seconds, from a dead stop. They tumbled back from the impact, both warriors bouncing off the heavy plywood of the rock climbing wall and falling, although neither completely went to the ground. They both regained their stances, still armed, and faced off.
Beth called out Juan’s name and he said something to her over his shoulder, but I couldn’t hear what it was. My head was still ringing from the impact of Korbesh’s skull into mine. She tried to help get Sylvia up as Juan and Korbesh moved in on each other, blades swinging in. I saw the sparks fly as their weapons met. Juan’s red glow seemed to be less intense than it had been before, but was still a flickering fire fueled by rage and other emotions. I tried to wake Paul, knowing that we needed to get out of the way. If Robby’s personal duel with Magnus earlier was any indication, two master swordsmen of changeling heritage were likely to pull out all the stops to destroy each other.
Juan was a creature of fluid grace in this combat. He seemed to be faster than Korbesh, quicker on the response to an attack, quicker to launch his own strikes. But the Red Cap lord was not unskilled himself. He seemed to know when the attacks were coming and positioned himself to minimize their effectiveness against his defense. He minimized his effort, but maximized his efficiency. Juan danced around the edges, putting on a display of his talent and skill. Korbesh was a fortress, however, maintaining control of center. And as anyone who plays chess knows, if you control center in the middle of a match, you are more likely to win the endgame.
They fought on, Korbesh effectively blocking the exit Paul had punched through the wall. The general coldness of the room seemed to be vanishing, and I realized we were running out of time. The fire alarms were ringing through the rest of the YMCA building at this point, and I had the feeling that evacuations were going on in other parts of the sprawling complex. But it would be still several minutes before fire crews could get to us for a rescue. The ceiling overhead started to glow with an angry red pallor, and I could now smell a greater particle concentration of carbon in the air: smoke!
In the middle for a fight for our lives, with the building about to become a cinder around us, we still had to deal with the monsters in the gym before we could escape. I was not about to leave any of them behind, much less leave my boyfriend unconscious with this evil man just steps away, bent on killing anyone in his path to the crown.
As I tried to pull Paul’s body over to the two injured girls, seeking to keep them in a group in case I needed to help Juan fight, I saw Juan make a critical mistake. He had drawn his arm back for a thrust, disengaging his blade from the powerful man’s snaky weapon. His forearm was exposed. I saw it from behind, his elbow clearly kicking out to the side as he gathered strength for the thrust.
Korbesh saw it too. And he was quicker than I’d have given him credit for. The twin points of the fiend’s blade seemed to shoot forward like a striking diamondback rattlesnake. Korbesh’s left arm had grabbed Juan’s shoulder as the points entered his lower belly, angling up. He pulled with his left arm as his right drove the blade deeper into Juan’s body. I saw the points emerge through his back as Korbesh lifted, picking Juan up on the blade.
Juan’s body twitched as it sank more onto the blade. I could hear Bethy screaming near me, despite her own wounds. I also heard Robby and Kenny call out Korbesh’s name. I collected Paul’s skateboard and tried to get it to sit on my forearm how it normally does on his, but his arm is longer than mine. I had to settle for sliding my elbow deeper, expanding my arm and using my triceps to hold it in place. I still didn’t’ feel ready to take this beast of a man on, but I was the only protection between Paul and the girls. I had to be ready when he was done with Juan.
In retrospect, that sounds cold to say, since in my mind, there was no hope for Juan with that weapon piercing him from belly to back. In all of the literature and medical texts and accounts of warfare I’ve ever read, a wound like that, run through, is almost always fatal. And I’d just watched a friend die.
“I have Undone you, worm! You are unfit to be remembered as my son! Burn in Oblivion,” Korbesh said, his face very near to Juan’s ear. Juan moved his head back, blood dripping down his chin, probably his own. His face shivered with agony as he spit blood onto Korbesh’s face. The evil Red Cap leader grinned as the bloody sputum trickled down his face. And then he shoved Juan’s body back, planting a foot on Juan’s hip to sling the changeling boy off his sword. Juan’s body collapsed to the floor, blood pooling under him on the damaged remains of the rock climbing wall, dripping thick and heavy onto the mats.
And then the broad shouldered man in black leather, his gaunt, much too white face grinning with a wash of Juan’s blood-spit still clinging to his features, turned to grin at me. I raised my blade and my Paul’s shield, prepared to defend. But he and I both knew, I was no match for this demon. I would fight to the death to defend Paul and the girls, but I would not survive fighting this dark force of unnatural origin.
“Korbesh!” Robby yelled, wading through the last of the fights still going on. He bounded towards us on his goat legs, clearly showing his full Satyr nature. His sword was humming an angry blue as he ran for the monster before me. His eyes flashed with tears even as he hacked one enemy in half down the center when the foe stepped into his path.
“You still fail, Robyn the Blue,” Korbesh said above me, looming. He gave me a quick glance, grinning. “You still lose.” Robby was less than three meters from us when Korbesh twinkled, shivered, twitched and was suddenly gone, pinching inwards on himself, his gravelly voice echoing with “I’m off to see the Queen.”
Robby landed, hooves first, beside me and his blade slashed through where the Red Cap had stood. He turned, a look of pure rage and hatred on his face, tears streaming down his cheeks. He looked around for someone to take his anger out on, but the enemies were mostly gone. The few that were left were busy defending themselves against our friends.
We had won the day, but the cost…
Robby dropped to his knees, his saber dropping from his hand, leaning over Juan. Bethy moved to Juan’s side as well, taking his head in her lap. She leaned over his head and Robby simply put his hand to her shoulder. Looking around, I saw Sven and Magnus standing guard over Kenny, who was helping his gravely wounded father. Kenny’s eyes kept going back and forth between his father and where Robby and Beth crouched over Juan. His eyes briefly met mine. Something there passed between us, but I wasn’t sure what. All I knew was that in that moment, I felt closer to all of them.
I heard a sound near me and turned to see Paul leaning up on his elbows, shaking his head. I felt a swell of relief soar in my heart. He was unhurt! That amazing self-rejuvenation ability of his had come through again. I moved to his side, dropping to one knee.
“Toothpick,” he said, gazing my way. “You okay?” Even though he’d been injured in this grand melee, his first worry was about me. That is love.
I dropped both weapon and shield and hugged his head to my chest. He seemed stunned for a moment and then grabbed me around my chest, holding me with the same desperate strength that I held him with. I don’t know how long we held each other, but it didn’t feel like long enough. All around us, our friends were gathering, wounded, bloodied, battered. But the battle was over. We, it seemed, had prevailed.
Now we only needed to get out of the burning YMCA building before it collapsed and killed us all.