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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 126: Hastings 135
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The day of the attack on Washington dawned clear over Philadelphia, but a cloud shadowed Lauren's mind. She was not at all certain she was ready to face Tubrok. Ana had predicted the death of the vampire; but even with this divine assurance, Lauren felt inadequate. She was maybe three centuries old now; he was as many millennia, and then some. She was self taught, in a hit-and-miss proposition; he had been dedicated to magic since before Merlin walked this world. For all her immortality, her body was mortal, and could only withstand so much punishment; his form was by now almost entirely magical, a body walking more as a placeholder to provide contact with the world. In every way, she was overmatched.
Every way except one, she reminded herself. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Those were the words. Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world. Tubrok was more powerful than she was; but Tubrok's master was not so powerful as her Master. They were not even in the same ballpark. This depended not on her, but on God. It was important to remember that.
Still, the foreboding hung heavy on her. Ana had predicted this as the greatest challenge she had yet faced. Perhaps this was the source of her worry. After all, if you know you are facing a tougher test than any you've ever taken, it's not good to be cocky. She'd failed more than one test in her time. She had no reason to expect to pass the test when it was the toughest one so far. There was something about a prophetic word that made you think yourself invincible. Lauren did not feel invincible. She felt responsible, as if it were up to her to make God's promise true. That wasn't so, she reminded herself. It was up to her to obey God's instructions. He would see to the keeping of His own promises. She would do what she was told, open the dome over Washington, and it seemed face Tubrok for a final confrontation. God would take care of bringing His word to pass.
Still, there was this feeling, like expectancy, but in a negative sense.
Perhaps it was fear.
It had been so long since she'd actually felt fear, she was not certain this was it. Yet as she turned it over in her mind, she realized that indeed that was what she felt. She feared failing, failing to free Washington and the world from the tyranny of the vampires. She feared failure, discovering that she was not so strong as she thought, being defeated in combat. She feared that she would give up before she won. She feared that she would let God down, and not be the warrior He had sent her to be. She was afraid.
It didn't matter. There was work to do.
Their team split up again, so that it would be more difficult for anyone to trace their teleports back to Ana and Dimitri. In fact, they walked across town before leaving, and left from different parts of Philadelphia, to further obscure the scent. Knowing that they would not soon return, they took everything with them. Lauren floated her cart behind her as she entered the mist. They joined forces at the café in France, and from there made the leap to Washington. Again they used Shella's trick of creating an invisible marker inside the dome control building, so as not to risk being seen en route.
They took every precaution, checking for alarms, entering by stealth. Three vampires were inside the control room; one appeared to be standing guard.
Lauren was genuinely surprised. She had been so focused in her mind on the confrontation with Tubrok, on the arrival of those forces which were to be sent in response to the dome opening, she had not been cognizant of the first fight, the battle to take the room. Thus as she entered she was not prepared.
Fortunately, Bob was ready. He had stepped through the door in front of her, and struck the guard hard with his sword, shouting something about the power of Thor as he did so, before anyone in the room could move. This blow would not be fatal to a vampire, but it was surprisingly effective, knocking the monster back and leaving a severe gash across its chest. Bob expected her to tackle the others, clearly; he moved on this one solidly, hitting it again.
It made sense to save their expendables for the anticipated big battle, when the enemy cavalry arrived. Lauren tossed the disintegrator into the wagon, which she dropped against a wall as she drew the psionic blaster in her right hand and fired at one of the beasts behind the desks. As it scrambled for cover she fired again, this time with the psionic drill now in her left hand. The blaster had missed, rattling a file cabinet behind the target, but the drill put a clean hole in the vampire's shoulder. It ducked behind the desk as the blaster fired again, and again she missed.
Bethany had come through the door third, and already her invisible blade was slashing at the third vampire. This one did not look as if it was going to hide; it was preparing to spring, although whether it would go for one of them or seek an escape was more than Lauren could tell yet, and she was a bit busy with her own target. Still, she thought to delay him.
"And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things." As Lauren shouted these words, Bethany's target recoiled. It would not spring yet. But Lauren's attention had been shifted; she lost track of her opponent, and when she looked back, it had vanished--probably behind the desk, she thought. She sprang forward onto it, prepared to fire down on the other side.
It was not there.
Her first thought was that it had slipped under the desk; she leaned forward to look. Bethany was taking advantage of the hesitation Lauren had caused in the other, keeping it busy with her blade; Bob could be heard beating on the guard and calling on the names of his gods.
Suddenly she heard Shella shout. Off balance as she was, the impact of the vampire springing from the side of the desk knocked her forward; she was headed for the floor. Her guns dropped from her hands.
Somehow she managed not to think about her options. She had often lifted herself telekinetically, in what people tended to call levitation. Now she used that same ability to break her fall, slowing to a stop inches above the ground, and coming back up toward the ceiling. As she rose, she drew the revolvers from their holsters, and as soon as she saw her target sprawled on the floor beside where she nearly crashed, she fired into it, both barrels, three times. The flesh fell from its bones, leaving the skeletal remains of what was once a man. She'd gotten a young one.
Bethany had not been so lucky. Again hers was coiling to spring, and clearly intended to target Bethany. Lauren turned one gun toward it, and fired. Her bullet and Slade's dagger found it at the same time, and it fell to dust.
"Well done." It was Merlin's encouragement. Lauren briefly wondered why she had not seen his handiwork in this, but let it slide. It was entirely possible that he was helping magically in ways they would not notice, boosting their luck, protecting them, backing up their attacks. If he was waiting for the big battle, that was fine, too. They would need their strength then.
"Derek," she said simply, "the computer." As he rushed over to the work station, she landed and replaced the spent shells in her guns. Then she recovered her dropped blaster and drill, and put herself back together.
Sunlight poured into the room. Merlin was at work. "There's no point waiting," he said. "Daylight is our best ally, and if we can bring it in sooner, we'll be that much better prepared.
Suddenly there was the noise of an explosion, not far from where they were. "What was that?" Lauren exclaimed.
"I don't know for sure," Derek answered, "but it appears they may have boobytrapped the gears on the dome or something. Anyway, I had just started opening them, and now I've lost control."
It was a sensible precaution, and something which they should have expected. With the gears damaged, it might be more difficult to keep the domes closed--they might start slowly slipping--but it was impossible to open them. They were going to have to come up with another way.
That, however, was going to have to wait. Their arrival had been announced; the enemy was coming.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #209: Versers Victorious. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: