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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 122, Slade 41
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Previous chapter: Chapter 121, Kondor 40
"I can help you," Slade called back.
"I don't need help," Joe Kondor shouted. "Speckles needs help, and if they've already got her in the temple we don't have much time. These sparrows don't need to defeat us; they need to delay us. We can't let them do that."
The logic was good, and it wasn't time to be arguing. "I'll be back to help," he said, and then turned and raced toward the ring of standing stones. Long before he got there, he heard the rifle start firing.
The path rose slightly, and then dropped. He found himself looking down into a crater from the lip. There were just over a dozen sparrows here, surrounding a raised flat rock. Speckles was on the rock. He scrambled down the loose gravel toward the bottom of the crater.
Reaching the bottom, he realized that Speckles was not actually on the rock. She was suspended above it. Well, that answers a lot of questions, he thought. They have a wizard among them, and we never suspected. There he stands, arms raised, doing this ritual and suspending her in the air before the fatal blow. Very dramatic; very unnecessary, if you ask me, but wizards always go for drama. But they were just now noticing him, and he wouldn't have much time to act. Pulling his dagger, he hurled it at the one with his hands raised.
Speckles abruptly dropped to the table. The wizard bird swept his hand in front of him, and the dagger was knocked aside onto the ground. Not good, Slade thought; but he didn't have much time to think, as the other thirteen birds were closing on him. The sound of Kondor's gun echoed regularly, and he thought to draw his own. He fired twice at the wizard; he thought the first connected, but the bird dropped below the table out of sight.
Quickly he turned the gun against the charging flock. He wanted to make every shot count, but he was in too much of a hurry. He did kill one, and wounded three, but it was clear that they would be on him in seconds. He slipped the MK-12 back into its holster, and stood waiting, tucking his toothpick between his belt and his buckle, and taking a deep breath. His enemies had no weapon but their wrath and numbers, but apparently intended to kill him with their bare hands.
As the first bird was within reach, he grabbed his sword and slashed through its neck as he drew it. He then spun around as he stepped forward, wounding one on his right, and impaling one on his left. Pulling the bloodied blade back, he threw it over his shoulder, killing one attempting to grab him from behind, and then hacking forward to cleave the skull of another lunging toward him. Feathers were flying around him, but he again moved into their confused midst, sweeping the legs of one, smashing the arm of another, and beheading a third. That was eight dead or crippled, five left, and they formed a ring around him.
He flipped the sword in his hand and raised the hilt above his shoulder. He now held it as a dagger, able to stab forward into any. He turned slowly, as they circled him, seeming to stand just out of reach as if waiting for the moment to strike. He put all his senses into overdrive.
A sound behind him told him it was happening. But it was the wrong sound. They wanted him to turn, to look behind him, so they could strike from the front. He whirled all the way around, bringing the sword down below his waist and driving it through the advancing attacker.
The other four fell back, forming a line between him and the table. The wizard stood behind them, singing an ominous and eerie incantation. This was not going to be easy.
"Modi," he prayed aloud, "this would be a good time for some of that courage."
With a mad scream, he charged forward, killing two more with a single strike, scattering the other two, and leaping over the table at the wizard. The strange noises coming from its mouth might have been a spell, but it was never completed. Slade crushed him beneath his boots, and silenced him with a sword through his neck.
Turning to one of the other two, he waved his sword in the air. "Ha!" he shouted, and the sparrow stepped back. "Ha!" he shouted at the other, and the two of them fled, scrambling up the path out of the crater and out of sight.
He paused and listened. There was no more gunfire. Either Kondor had won or he had lost. Or maybe he had just run out of bullets. Either way, he would have to revive Speckles and get back there.
"Come on, Speckles," he said. No, she wouldn't know what he was saying. He whistled, but then he didn't know what he was saying. Where was Lauren when he needed her? By now probably in another world by way of the bottom of the mountain. He bent over and gently slapped the bird's cheeks. "In another story," he said, "I'd have to kiss you to awaken you. Do you birds kiss?" He thought about it for a moment, but decided no, and shook her instead. Her eyes opened, and she whistled something.
"Yes, I'm here. We came to get you; I'm the one who got this far. But you don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?"
And then he stopped. There was a sound behind him, and the look on her face, alien as it was, told him that this wasn't over. He put his hand on the hilt of his sword, and turned around.
There was a snake that could swallow all snakes. It could easily swallow him. "Spawn of Jormungander, did you crawl from under the Bifrost bridge? Well, this will be good practice for the war to come." And with his hand on his sword he stepped over toward where his dagger lay on the ground beside the table.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #69: Novel Conclusion. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: