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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 131: Slade 92
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The true warrior knows to save his strength for the necessary battles.
Remembering these words Phasius had taught him, Slade had relaxed within the grip of the constricting force. The more he fought, he realized, the faster he would use his air and his strength, and he wasn't going to break out of this by force. Then Lauren had killed one wizard (not the one for which she was aiming, but they had to get them all anyway), and Derek another, and the third had fled. One of them, he thought maybe the first to go, dropped him on the floor, panting. Shella had rushed to his side. Perhaps it would have made more sense for her to attack some of the other vampires, but he wasn't going to fault her for her concern or her affection. Anyway, with Tubrok finished, it didn't take long for Omigger and Bethany to rout the rest.
"That was quite a shot," he said to Derek, once he had his breath back. "What on earth did you hit him with?"
The kid was turning back into a kid as he spoke; his voice changed oddly as he did. "It's silly, really. I grabbed one of the drugged sprite arrows. I can't imagine that the arrow was fatal, so it must have been the drug."
"Yes," Omigger said. "I find that fascinating. It seems Tubrok so wished to be always awake that he sacrificed his ability to sleep. To exist, he had to remain conscious of his own existence. If you rob a human of consciousness, his body is still alive, so when he regains consciousness his spirit reanimates his body. A vampire's body is really quite dead--Tubrok's was so dead, as Lauren observed, that there would not even have been dust from it. Thus when he lost consciousness, there was nothing to keep the monster alive, and the body failed."
"So," Bethany said, "why didn't you tell us before that we just needed to pour Sominex in the blood supply?"
"Oh, yes, right, well--well, it's just a theory. I hadn't thought of it before. I don't know everything, you know--but don't tell anyone, as my reputation is built very much on what my enemies think I know."
"Besides," Derek said, "although biology is not my field, vampires don't seem to have circulatory systems, and their nervous systems are obviously completely different, so I think you'd have to hit the thing pretty close to the brain stem or something--somewhere where the drug would actually put them to sleep. It was a lucky shot."
"I don't think anything is lucky," Bethany said. "God has been with us in so many ways; He brought this victory."
Omigger eyed her up and down. "She would be proud of you," he said; then, turning to Derek, "you, too, I think."
There was another moment of silence, and then Derek suddenly interrupted it. "Hey," he said, "we never did get the dome open. Something blew up, remember? We may have freed the world from Tubrok, but we haven't let the sun shine into Washington yet. How are we going to do that?"
Slade hadn't thought of that, but he started thinking now. "I guess that's my department. Let me go see what sort of damages we've got, and then I'll come back and talk with our wizards about how we can fix it."
As Slade left, he heard Derek's voice behind him. "Can anyone get my laser rifle up from the bottom of this hole? I suppose I could fly down and try to lift it up, but it's a long climb, and I'm hoping there's an easier way." He didn't wait to hear the answer.
The damage was well-planned, but not extensive. The vampires had primarily intended to jam the gears so they wouldn't turn further; clearing the jam would be difficult and dangerous, but probably once it was done the system would still function, although the computer controls would be disabled. He could deal with that. He knew where the relays were, and could bypass the computer controls to send power directly to the motors. He hated working with electricity--after all, it was electricity that had killed him the first time, and a lot less electricity than was hiding behind these panels--but he was the mechanic, and probably the only person who could do it. Opening the dome without the computer monitoring and balancing the progress of the panels wasn't the safest approach, but at this point it was a choice between possible structural damage and falling debris on the one hand and vampires roaming the streets on the other, and that didn't seem too hard a choice.
He returned to the office.
"This is going to take a few hours," he said. "I'm not sure what to tell you all to do; really, I'd rather not be left behind here, just in case that one that got away tries to come back, but there's not much most of you can do."
"Let me give you a hand," Derek said, now packing up his computer gear and holding his rifle. "I know a bit about gear systems, mostly from reading, and I can certainly help with the relays."
"Right," Slade said. "Anyway, an extra set of hands can't hurt. We're going to need some scrap iron or something to use for a prybar, and we're going to have to go about this carefully if we don't want to get ourselves mashed in the gears--a way of dying I've not tried yet, and have no desire to experience as long as I can avoid it." Derek picked up a toolkit, and they returned to the work together.
All told, it took about two hours to get the dome opened. The most difficult part was clearing the debris from the giant gears, although once they applied power to the relays there were a few tense moments when the entire city seemed to shake from gears struggling against each other. One of the great motors burned out before everything was completely open, so part of the dome remained visible, a raised horizon around the capital city and a mute witness to the tyranny that had been overthrown. Anyway, Slade thought, between the explosion and the grinding and twisting of the unbalanced drive system, enough damage was caused that it was probably never going to close again.
"I'm going to miss her," Derek said as they packed up their tools. "I know that Joe would call this a stupid question, but I can't help wondering why we had to lose her."
"What, Lauren?" Slade thought a moment. "I'd say that she'd finished what she'd come here to do. After all, she always said that God sent her to each world to--what was it?"
"To learn something, to do something, and to get something," Derek answered. "Funny, that. In my last world, I saved the sprites from being hunted by humans, and the entire time I was there I was completely focused on what I was supposed to do there. But I learned to fly, and I got these silly drugged arrows, and maybe if it wasn't for that we'd have all died here today. So, was I really in that world to save the sprites, or was I only there to prepare to fight Tubrok?"
Slade listened; he didn't say anything. It was a strange thought, and one that proved itself in his own life. In that last world, was he there to bring down Acquivar or to marry Shella? Before that, when he saved the girl Speckles from the sparrow people, was that because they had to save the girl, or because he needed to learn to fight better?
"If you think about Lauren," Derek continued, "it's like everything she's ever done was preparing her for today, for facing Tubrok. She went to Bible college before she got married. She learned those psionic skills when she was in that place with the orange grass. In Philadelphia, she met Bethany, and she discovered how to use her faith to fight vampires. Then she met you--she was going to need you to do this."
"Yeah," Slade said, picking up the thread. "After that, she met Omigger, who was calling himself Merlin, and learned what she needed to know to bring him here, even though she didn't know it. After that, she met you, and taught you, and then taught Bethany, who was going to figure into things so many times in so many ways."
"So, then, is her work over? Is she gone now?"
Slade hadn't thought of that. It was an interesting thought, that each of them had some grand mission for which they were preparing, and when they finally completed it they would find their rest. His was, of course, Ragnorak; whether there was rest after Ragnorak he could not say, but at least he knew for what he was being prepared. On the other hand, Derek was right. Everything he had already done had prepared him for this. This was still preparation; but it wasn't just preparation. That put things in a new light.
"My theory," he said, "has always been that everything was preparing me for Ragnorak, that is, the last battle. I think that's true; but I think Lauren sees a part of it that I didn't see before. Sure, we're all being prepared for the end of all things, in our own ways; but along the way, each thing is also preparing us for the next thing. When I got to Acquivar's castle, well, I got there because of things that had happened before, because I knew the djinni. But while I was there, I got a lot of practice with the sword. I also got Shella. I'm not sure we'd have won this time had it not been for that. It's like school, I guess. From the minute you get in, you're being prepared to get out; but each year is preparing you for the next year. So through all of life, we're being formed into what we're supposed to be when it's all over, but we're also being prepared for whatever comes next. Does that make any sense?"
Derek was quiet for a moment; without a word, they began walking.
"Yeah," he said, "I'd say that does make sense. Thanks. So, what do we do now?"
"I'd say we continue getting rid of these domes. It will be easier now; the vampires don't have the organization behind them anymore--Tubrok would never have arranged for someone to replace him. After all, on the one hand if he dies he doesn't care what happens to anyone else, he'd just as soon they all died with him. On the other hand, if you've got someone in line to replace you, that's someone you've got to keep watching constantly, because he just might decide he's tired of waiting. Besides, somehow I think Tubrok believed he was invincible. He would never have taken the risk of facing us today if he thought there was any chance we might win."
Derek only nodded, and they walked in silence until they reached the others. Bethany saw them coming. "So," she said, "where do we spend the night tonight?"
"Oh, I'm sure we'll find a place," Omigger answered. "What I want to know is, which of you is my new student?"
"You could always teach classes, like Lauren did," Derek said.
"I could at that, couldn't I? Well, then, students, let's find a place to stay. I'm dying to try one of these modern hotels--looking forward to it for many years, actually. Which of our liberated cities has the best accommodations?"
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: