Tuesday, June 12, 2018

No Better Life - Chapter 7

by Gerry "Gray" Chartier
[Editor's note: click to read Chapter 1; Chapter 2; Chapter 3; Chapter 4; Chapter 5; Chapter 6]

Gray slogged after Eoin as he trotted down corridor after corridor. the younger man barely hesitated every time they hit an intersection, sometimes running straight through, other times turning His choices seemed random to Gray, but the sorcerer was fairly certain they never wound up in the same place twice.

“Hey, Gray,” Eoin asked over his shoulder, “What would you have done if Fessler hadn’t gotten that door open and we had to fight it out?”

“I was hoping to get taken by the berserker rage,” Gray panted, “What was your plan?”

A distant howl drifted to them from the way they’d come.  Both of them stopped and stared down the dark corridors.

“Think they’re following us?” Eoin asked.

Gray gave him a shove forward.  “Let’s not stick around to find out.”

They ran down more corridors, an occasional howl keeping them from slacking their pace.  Despite a pace the sorcerer could barely sustain, the howls gradually got louder and more frequent.

“That’s definitely closer!” Eoin said.

Gray nodded.  “I’m slowing you down.  Get going on your own.  I’ll hold them off.”

“No one but you can sail your ship,” Eoin protested.

“Stormseeker won’t do anyone a lick of good anyway if no one gets out of here,” Gray retorted, “You’re faster than me, so you’re the one who gets to bring Fessler’s notes to Charwindle.”

Anguish was plain on Eoin’s face.  “You’re going to buy me time with your life?”

Gray pulled a length of plain white rope from his pocket and arranged it in a circle on the stone floor.  “Believe me boy, I’m not going to sell it cheap.”  He willed another light into being and handed it to the younger man. “Now take this and skedaddle!”

Eoin hesitated, but took the orb of green light and resumed running, disappearing in moments now that he didn’t have to hold back so Gray could keep up.  The sorcerer watched the direction he went till he could no longer make out the light, then turned to face the directions of the howls.

“By my will, I empower this circle versus magic.”

Energy flowed through Gray into the circle of rope, a barrier springing forth from floor to ceiling.  He stepped into it and waited.

He had to wait long enough to regret not putting the circle next to the wall so he could lean against it, but the howls grew louder, and eventually he could hear breathing just outside the illumination his light was shedding.

He began drawing energy into himself.  “Come for a taste of what your packmates got?”

“Already took your best shot, sorcerer,” came the reply, “We regenerated from it.”

“If that’s the case, step out into the light,” Gray said, “I’ll hit you again, make your hair stick out all funny.  I’m sure it’ll look hysterical.”

Silence, for a moment.  “Where’s your friend?”

Gray glanced back, hoping Eoin found the others alive and safe.  “Got tired of running.  Sent him ahead.  Where’s Karayan?”

“She followed the elf,” the voice replied, “I volunteered to track you to get some payback.  Now, here you are!”

Gray beckoned to the unseen werewolf.  “Well, come on and get it then.”

“I’m not the one cowering in a circle of protection,” the voice taunted.

“I’m not the one hiding in the shadows,” Gray retorted.

“Your circle doesn’t block the corridor, Gray,” the voice pointed out, “You can’t stop us all from getting by.”

Gray grinned.  “Maybe.  But I can make damned sure the first one of you who tries dies in the attempt.”  He slid his silver dagger an inch out of its sheathe, letting the blade gleam in his light.  “Whatever I cut off with this isn’t growing back.”  He slid the dagger back down into its sheathe.  “So, how about it?  Who wants to go first?”

There was silence, then shuffling, then growling and snarling like a pack of dogs fighting over a carcass.  Then, bipedal lupine figures began stepping into the light, two abreast, then another two behind them.  Killer scrambled up to his shoulder, screaming in rage.

When Gray didn’t immediately let loose, they bounded forward, rushing him as a pack.  Gray held back until the four of them were about to reach him before cutting loose.  Power surged from him through his outstretched arms, the jagged bolt of lightning illuminating the dark corridor like a moment of pure sunlight.  It lanced through the two werewolves on the left, scorching fur and searing flesh, sending them hurtling back down the corridor.

The next werewolf tried to squeeze between Gray’s circle and the stone wall on the right.  Gray surprised him by stepping out of the circle and shoving his head into it, the werewolf’s skull bouncing off it like it was solid rock.  Killer leapt onto it, latching onto its ear and savaging with his teeth.  It staggered back, stunned, but the one behind it took its place, its claws lashing out at Gray’s torso.

Gray’s ensorcelled cloak held, turning razor-sharp claws like a breastplate.  The sorcerer danced back into his circle, drawing his silvered dagger and launching a ball of scintillating energy at the werewolf’s face.  It raised its arm, the magic missile burning into its limb instead of its face.  Gray lashed out with his dagger, drawing blood across the werewolf’s midsection, but only a superficial cut, not an incapacitating wound.

There was a surge of magic, and Gray’s circle of protection abruptly faded.  A grinning man stepped into the light.  “His circle is down!” he shouted, “Get him now!”

The two werewolves exchanged a look before pouncing as one, the one with Killer still latched onto its ear.  Gray stepped into the attack of Killer’s foe, feigning a shot to the throat before launching a magic missile at its groin.  Its snarl became an agonized yelp, and it dropped to its knees, clutching ruined genitals.

Gray plunged his blade into the crippled werewolf’s throat, the backlash energy of its death washing over his personal wards.  Killer bounded onto its fallen form, screeching in triumph.

Howling in rage, its partner lashed out, its claws slashing through the sorcerer’s upper arm. Gray cried out, clutching his crippled limb to his chest, but slashed with his dagger, the blade cutting deep into his assailant’s forearm.  Its cry was almost human, and it recoiled from the deadly silver in Gray’s good hand.

Its hesitation gave Gray enough time to rattle off his healing chant, but as he restored his limb, he saw the two werewolves he’d struck with his lightning stir and begin to rise again, and the abjurer who’d disrupted his circle begin to transform.

He began drawing in the power he would need to once again channel lightning, but his current opponent pressed his attack, forcing him to launch less powerful magic missiles.  The werewolf ripped one apart with its claws in midair, but Gray managed to sneak another past his defense and hit a leg.  The werewolf stumbled back, only to be joined by three more of his kin.

“Gray!  Hit the deck!”

Gray didn’t hesitate a moment, dropping belly-first, a flock of arrows whistling over him before he’d even hit the floor.  In the narrow corridor, the projectiles couldn’t fail to hit, the flight of arrows staggering the werewolves back.

As they tried to turn and retreat, the sorcerer blasted the leg out from under one, jumping on top of it as it fell and driving his dagger between its ribs from behind.  The fight went out of the werewolf when his blade punctured its lung.  Gray withdrew it and stabbed it through the back of its neck, right at the base of its skull.

He barely noticed the backlash deflected by his wards, wrenching his blade out of werewolf’s spine with a snarl barely less animalistic than the werewolves’.  He rose to his feet, paying no heed to the arrows whistling past him as he advanced at their retreating forms, drawing power into him, Killer dashing up to his shoulder as he stalked forward.

A pair of arms wrapped around him from behind.  He shrugged them off, lashing out with lightning at the fleeing werewolves.  The arms returned, joined by another pair, holding him back from pursuing the shapeshifters into the darkness.

“Gray, no!” Eoin cried, “We don’t have time for this!”

“They’re all over the place, Gray!” Darvan shouted, “We have to go!”

Gray turned to Eoin, then Darvan, wrestling his anger back under control.  He relaxed in their grip and nodded.  Killer screeched in disappointment, but the pair released him.

Eoin clapped Gray’s shoulder.  “You weren’t joking about the berserker rage, were you?”

Gray shook his head.  “I wasn’t berserk, just angry.”

Charwindle stepped into the light.  “I pray we never see what occasions your frenzy then.  Now, if you would like to join us, we’re leaving these catacombs.”

Gray rested his right hand over his heart.  “Thank you for coming back for me.”

Charwindle grinned.  “Repay me by getting us safely home.”

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