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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 109: Hastings 78
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Realizing that they were now in vampire country did not sit well with Lauren; neither did it slacken her resolve to find Merlin. After all, if they pushed it could not be more than a day or two from here, and then they would at least be in a position to find out whether he was still alive, and whether they could help him. They could be here and gone before there was more trouble, she hoped. Anyway, both ghouls were destroyed, so no one was reporting their presence. If they kept a low profile, they might manage to avoid any further problems.
Thus it was that the next morning Lauren repeated her ritual, and again picked up a direction which, she hoped, led to Merlin. They resumed their journey through the woods, forcing a path as they could. It was hard travel, even levitating the cart. Bethany remained in high spirits, as if fighting the ghouls had introduced her to a new level of excitement and adventure. They were not only on a quest, they were on a daring and dangerous quest from which they would emerge heroes.
Lauren's hopes of an uneventful day were not to be realized. Shortly after sunset they were crouched in the bushes, eyeing a lone figure ahead of them.
Does he know we're here? Bethany's thoughts came into Lauren's mind.
He's not sure, I think. There is a wariness about him that suggests something, that perhaps he expects trouble or thinks he heard something–I don't know.
But he doesn't see us?
I couldn't promise that. But he is not moving toward us, and there's nothing about his actions that suggests he thinks this is the direction he should watch–he's neither looking this way more than any other, nor avoiding looking this way. If he is specifically watching us, he is very good.
Could we get around him?
Might be. But we should know for certain that he doesn't see us. After all, if he knows we're here and he leaves, we could become the main course for the next regional feast. Between us we might be able to destroy more than our share of ghouls, even a couple of vampires. If they come against us in force, though–or even if one or two extremely powerful ones are among them–we could be in trouble. And besides, if he doesn't know we're here now, we might alert him if we move.
You could use your mind trick, to prevent him from noticing us.
I don't think it works if someone is paying attention to you. It can keep people from noticing you if they haven't already, and I can get them to forget about me if they aren't paying attention, but if they're watching me there's nothing I can do about it.
They stayed still and silent for several minutes. Their adversary also seemed quiet, listening and staring, as if trying to find something or someone in the woods. Lauren had once wondered how keen vampire senses were, whether they could see or hear better than she, even whether they could smell humans nearby. Whatever senses this one had, he was pushing them to the limits in an effort to discover–to discover her.
She hardly thought it wise to let this one go. How could she know whether it gave up looking or decided to nonchalantly go for reinforcements? They should kill it. But then, she also remembered that when she killed Jackson, Gavin knew it. Sometimes these monsters had a mind link of some sort which let them know what was happening with each other–not universally, but in pairs. Killing it might alert some other vampire to their presence; not killing it might alert some other vampire to their presence. Did it know, or not know?
Vampire minds were a bit alien, a bit different from human minds, but she had read them before (at least one of them) without too much difficulty. Perhaps she could find out what this one knew by picking up its thoughts. She focused her mind on him.
Where are those two? That did not sound good. They were supposed to be here today, and they're late. No, that could not be them, could it? Was someone scrying on them, reporting their movements, so they could walk into a trap? It hardly seemed likely, though, that someone would set a trap of one vampire. Or was he an envoy, sent to meet them? Lauren so thoroughly identified herself with the humans and wolves against the vampires she sometimes forgot that there were wizards who did not defend humanity, even who opposed it, some who sided with the vampires. It could be that the vampires were aware of two wizards entering their territory, and did not know who they were.
All this passed through Lauren's mind in a flash; the thoughts of her target were still there. Scum, was the next word, followed by a string of language so disgusting Lauren almost stopped reading. Then, It is impossible to get good help in this century. They are all idiots, even the young vampires. Education has just fallen apart.
Lauren almost sighed aloud; she stopped reading. He wasn't looking for them. He was looking for those two ghouls they had killed yesterday. If they remained still, he would eventually leave–it might be all night, but a fight was more risk than a lost night's sleep. We're all right, she told Bethany. He's looking for those ghouls, and has no idea that we are here. We'll wait him out, and no one will know we were here.
He'll know someone is here, Bethany answered, when he finds those ghouls.
There was that, of course, but he might not find them for days in this wilderness. He might not find them ever. Even if he did, he would know that his ghouls were killed. He would not know that there were two wizards traveling the forest. They were not far from werewolf territory–indeed, what were they doing there? What were they supposed to do for their master? Perhaps they were intending to get something from the wolf lands. A forensics expert could tell that those bodies were not attacked by wolves, but could a vampire? No, the risk there was minor.
Lauren was lost enough in her thoughts that she was no longer watching. Bethany's mind interrupted her. What do we do now? was the question. Lauren raised her eyes and saw that everything had changed. Apparently unaware that they were there but looking for his servants, the vampire was walking straight for them. It was not what she wanted, but it seemed it had come to this.
Get ready to ambush him, she thought back. We have to finish him quickly. She drew out the psionic blaster, and ran through her verses in her mind. She could see Bethany also recalling her magic.
It was only a moment; the walking corpse climbed the slope toward them, and suddenly stopped. The look on his face and exclamation from his mouth told them they had the advantage; he was surprised, and they needed to act.
"And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things," Lauren called, as she fired her blaster. The magic of those words had always proved disabling to the undead in the past, and this time it had the desired effect. He recoiled in pain, and the blast hit him solidly. This gave her time for a longer verse. "He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Bethany was not idle during this. She, too, had seen the opportunity and grabbed it. The invisible blade with which she had learned to dice vegetables was tearing the body. There was no blood, of course, but the damage was adding up.
The monster got control of his pain for the moment, and sprang toward Bethany. Before Lauren could react, it had knocked the girl to the ground. She couldn't risk firing into that fray. But she could still help. "Wail, for the day of the Lord is near!" she declared, weakening the vampire. "It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will fall limp."
Bethany had not forgotten her Bible lessons, either. While struggling against the powerful enemy, she shouted, "Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation." It fell back, howling in pain, and Lauren again fired the blaster at it, and again, and again.
It lay still. Was it dead? Lauren remembered her theory, that when vampires die they show that level of decay that they would have undergone were it not for the evil magic keeping them alive. This one did not seem to have changed. It could be a young one, whose body was not so different alive or dead. It could be hoping they would leave it for dead. She did not think it young.
"It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment."
It cried out, and tried to rise. She fired again, and it collapsed. This time, the body immediately rotted before their eyes. The putrescence sickened her. She turned to Bethany.
The girl's injuries were not too severe. Still, Lauren tended them as well as she could, and said they should not go farther, but should move away from this spot, in case this vampire was linked to another. When Bethany was ready, they carried their things a few miles, and then made camp.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #119: Character Projects. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: