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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 2: Brown 97
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Previous chapter: Chapter 1: Kondor 97
Derek had not realized before how much war was like chess. In the attack on Washington, DC, his side had lost its greatest asset, Lauren Hastings, the woman who was to their side sorceress, general, warrior, angel, and teacher; but they had destroyed the vampire mage Tubrok, the leader and lynchpin of the vampire chokehold on Earth. It was like sacrificing your knight to capture your enemy's queen. Humanity felt the loss, but the vampires were in shambles.
After Washington, things broke wide open. As Bob had predicted, Tubrok had left no successor, no heir to his position. A truly evil dictator, he clearly expected to control the Earth until the end of time, and perhaps beyond, and would not allow anyone to be in a position to overthrow him from within; nor did he care what became of his vampire brethren if judgment overcame him. That meant now no one was in charge. The so-called Superiority Party was caught up with infighting for the position of Chairman, the various world leaders who had been Tubrok's puppets were now consolidating their positions to do battle against each other, the human support for this power that had brought peace (at a dreadful but hidden cost) was collapsing as war loomed, and so rebellion arose around the globe. The domes which covered so many cities, whose only true function arguably was keeping the protective daylight away from people, were now being assaulted and brought down with no more help from him than transmitting information to the underground.
However, Geneva was still held. This was the last of the key cities of the vampire government, and they were making a last stand there. Twice locals had attempted to open that dome, and twice they had been repelled or worse. It looked as if they were going to have to finish Geneva themselves.
They were an interesting group. Derek Jacob Brown, despite his abilities, was in his own eyes a minor part of their contingent. Those abilities included the critical function of being able to hack into any computer in this or any of several other worlds, a talent that had been essential in opening this world to the sky. He'd also learned a few mental tricks, in large part thanks to Lauren getting him started. He had become a decent shot with a laser rifle or a bow. Yet the oddest ability he had was that he could change form. Although originally born human, versing out at a mere twelve years old, he was later born again, given the amazing experience of growing up as the sprite Theian Toreinu Morach while remembering his human and verser existence, until he was killed at seventeen. Now, thanks to a bit of magical help from Lauren's student Bethany of Wandborough, he could switch between human and sprite, and a third form, a sort of half-way form to whom he gave the name Ferris Hoffman, retaining the wings of the sprite form although his flying ability at this larger size was limited to gliding.
Bethany was a member of their team. She was the only member who had been born in this vampire-dominated world. Bob Slade, certainly the greatest swordsman Derek had ever seen whose skill with a blaster was also impressive, was another verser. His wife Shella traveled with him. Perhaps she was also a verser, now, although she had been the daughter of someone Bob had met on his travels and was a talented sorceress in her own right. The last member of the team was something of an enigma. He was known to Bob and Shella as Shella's Uncle Omigger, who had gone with Bob on one of his most memorable adventures and later took a serious interest in studying why Bob never got older, apparently infecting himself with scriff in the process. However, to Lauren and Bethany he had the much more familiar name Merlin. As Merlin, he had been one of Lauren's teachers, and one of Bethany's idols. Now he was teaching all of them, in his own peculiar fashion; but whether he was Merlin or Omigger, he was certainly a powerful wizard.
Without Lauren, however, the group seemed to lack focus. It took several months for them to recognize the need to assault Geneva, and then a couple of weeks beyond that to decide how to do it. Part of the problem, Derek realized, was the tendency everyone had to defer to everyone else. Bob, who was the best fighter and arguably the best tactician, was also late to join the group, and did not want to be perceived as taking over. Bethany, the only person who had been with Lauren from the beginning, recognized her own weaknesses in that area--she was not a planner, tending instead to think of bits she could do and improvise when she got there. Merlin always stayed in the background. It seemed his style was to advise, but leave the decisions to others. This may have contributed greatly to his reputation for wisdom, as he never had to speak on any question, so he wouldn't if he didn't have an answer. In the midst of this, Derek had often taken charge in the moment, then backed down, as even with the forty or fifty years of his combined lives he was youngest in this group of multi-centigenarians (apart from Shella, who was still new to the verse and not any older than her apparent twenty-some years). He was also the smallest, even when he stood at his full five foot human height. He felt leadership being dropped in his lap, and he did not at all feel sufficient for the task, but someone had to do it.
Planning Geneva didn't really take much time or effort. They had to choose a place to enter, but the combination of the magical clairvoyant and teleporting abilities at their disposal meant they really only needed to find a spot that was near the dome controls but somewhat private. They never worried much about group tactics; it was more a matter of keeping someone on watch and ready to alert everyone if (or, more realistically, when) they were attacked. Derek was the only one able to get around the computer security systems to actually open the dome, so that was the only job that had to be assigned. The elaborate multiple-track paths they had come to use were not so important now that Tubrok was gone, but they still split into two groups for part of the journey, and made several stops along the way, to confound possible trackers.
The vampires were waiting in Geneva. That was something Derek realized he should have anticipated. Already the vampires had repelled two local attacks, and they had no other city so firmly under their control. It would cost them dearly to lose this one. No sooner had Derek's group materialized than a cry arose, and vampires and ghouls and the men who still clung to the hope of the false immortality descended upon them in great numbers. Bob drew his sword and blaster and charged, firing, into the fray. He was hit with a wall of flame the origin of which Derek never saw, but kept running. Shella was already shouting spells to support him; Bethany was fumbling in her pockets for something, no doubt one of her magic toys. Merlin had been last to materialize here, but Derek didn't have time to look at him. He readied his laser rifle and started firing into the crowd.
There was a loud crack, a noise so thunderous Derek thought the earth shook. At that same instant, Bob had been knocked back a good forty or fifty feet, crashing hard enough into a wall to dent it. Shella split her attention between what she was doing and what had happened to him, as he appeared dazed; she failed to anticipate the incoming laser fire that tore him to bits. Apparently the enemy knew who the most dangerous fighter was on their side; the wizards would be a lot less able to work their magic without his protection. Derek hit several of Bob's attackers with his own shots, but his response was too little. The warrior had fought as well as he could, and as he breathed his last his body dissolved into the scriff, off to another world.
To Derek's chagrin, Shella left with him, dissolving to dust at the same moment he did, crouched over him. The dust that fell from them--a small quantity which Lauren had explained at some point as the impurities that were left behind--mingled on the floor, mute testimony to the bond that connected them.
The loss of Bob Slade was going to hurt significantly; the simultaneous loss of Shella could not be good. But now he realized that his remaining companions, Bethany and Merlin, were caught up in a discussion so earnest he'd have mistaken it for an argument had they not seemed so agreed.
"He's here," she said. "Don't you see? The dome has cracked over the city, and is starting to collapse."
Derek only partly wondered who was here; he was more taken by the fact that indeed the dome had cracked, and daylight was beginning to filter through the surrounding windows. The enemy was hesitating, holding back in fear. Bethany was still talking to Merlin.
"He's coming in the clouds. I have to go. It's time."
"By all means, child, you must go. You can't stay here anyway. We'll be fine; don't worry about us. Go."
Derek could hardly believe his ears--or his eyes, either, as Bethany suddenly rose into the air. The ceiling above her head broke open, and daylight funneled through it, and she was gone.
"What's happening?" Derek asked; it was the shortest way he could think to phrase all the questions he had.
"It's the end of the world," Merlin answered. "At least, it's the end of this one. We always knew that worlds end, and now we've been privileged to be part of the end of one."
"So where is Bethany?"
"She's gone to the clouds to join the army of the One who rides the white horse. This is His world, too, you know, even if evil has held it in a much tighter grip than most. I'd say the wicked are about to meet their destruction. I'm only sorry Spellsbreath wasn't here to see it."
It was indeed a shame that Lauren, whom Merlin had named Spellsbreath, wasn't here. It was she who had helped Derek see that God just might be behind their adventures, putting them where they would be needed. He knew that neither Bob Slade nor Joe Kondor agreed with her exactly (nor, for that matter, with each other); but here it seemed she was being proved correct. At least in this world, Armageddon was arriving.
Still, he had no desire to die just as the greatest event in the history of the world was unfolding around him; and the vampires seemed to be overcoming their fears and shifting into some sort of final frenzy. Derek realized that they would be coming for him in a moment, and he couldn't possibly kill them all. He had three hopes. One was that Merlin would come up with something that turned the tide. The second was that the training Lauren had given him in using the knife would prove itself. The last was that he could reach that spot in the room where the daylight shone clearly through the hole created by Bethany's departure. He made the dash for the light, drawing his butcher knife out of the simple sheath he had provided for it.
His intent was apparent, obviously. Vampires and ghouls began charging his direction. Flashes of light and bursts of sound told him that Merlin was not idle in the midst of this; but already he found himself slashing at those closing around him.
He remembered his mental powers, the magic he had learned as a sprite and refined some in the recent months under Merlin's tutelage. There wasn't much he could do with this; but he did use the telekinesis to grab loose debris and toss it into the path of his assailants. He should have learned the minds of the wolves; he could have called for help. No, he realized even as he thought it that they, too, would be joining that army above. The world would be saved; he would not stay to see this.
He was mere inches from the protected place of light when something grabbed him. He squirmed free, but it caught him again. He did not know one of these villains from another; this one, however, had a gun, and proceeded to discharge it into his back, several times. He felt life leaving him--or perhaps it was the other way around--and he blacked out. Behold, He is coming. This last thought crossed his mind, and he was gone.
As to the old stories that have long been here: