Chapter 22: All hell breaks loose
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
The shockwave when it comes hurls us all against the walls. The sunlight from outside goes away and the room almost goes dark.
But not entirely. Now, where before there was a seven-pointed star, there is a body. It doesn’t take me more than a moment to recognize Sanderson. She looks as if she’s asleep. Surrounding her closely is a fiery aura. It’s enough to dimly light the room, enough so I can see the three other people standing up from wherever the shock wave blew them.
Deecee’s the first to speak up, “Seffie!” she calls as she heads toward the table.
Amelia warns her, “Stay back, Young. That’s a dangerous magical field boundary around her. It could kill you.”
Becky is looking thoughtful as she approaches. “It’s a wonder it hasn’t killed Miss Sanderson. You feel how much power that radiation represents?”
Amelia nods. “I see your point. It looks as if something magical is trying to overpower her, to crush her.”
Meanwhile, I’ve been looking at the palm of my hand. It itches. And it itches because the silver is noticeably darkening as I look at it. I hold my hand up to show everyone. “Look, guys, we need to get moving on this soon, or else I’m dead.”
We all look at Becky. She shakes her head. “I figured this would be easy, just have Miss Young yank the star out, but I don’t see how anyone can touch Sanderson without being killed by that field boundary.”
“Maybe I can help there.” The voice comes from the throne-like chair, where no one was just a moment ago. The person there stands up and walks forward into the light.
I guess we’re all surprised, but I don’t have time to waste, so I reply, “Ah, Sanderson, how is it there are two of you?”
She points down at the body on the table. “Because that’s the real one. And you’re the person who can free me, Harry. That’s why I imprinted the star on your hand. It got you here, and it’s the only safe way to reach me physically.”
“You sure?” I ask.
“Hell, no,” she replies as she shrugs. “You think I’ve done this before? But I can’t get out on my own. All I can do is manipulate this avatar of myself. You reach me, Harry, and I’ve got a toehold to use against this plane of reality and all the dark power within it.”
Deecee chimes in. “But we need the jewels, Seffie. We can’t bind the star into the brooch without the jewels.”
Sanderson frowns. “Oh, shit.” She stares at Deecee a bit before replying, “In my right coat pocket, Deecee. They’re binding a hell. You understand what will happen when you remove them?”
Deecee nods. “Yeah. Why do you think Harry and Amelia are here?”
Sanderson (or, rather, her avatar) looks over at us with a half-smile. “They wanted to witness the Apocalypse?” And when neither Amelia or I smile, she adds, “Get over here, Harry, and get started. You’re running out of time.”
I walk around the table until I’m nearest to the right hand of the Sanderson on the table, the real Sanderson. I look closely at her hand and see that the conflict interface between the two magical fields creating the aura takes an odd twist, baring her palm. And although I can feel myself clenching as I do it, I bring my left hand in to cover Sanderson’s right, palm to palm.
I don’t know what I expected. But this isn’t it. The aura around Sanderson burns even brighter as her eyes open and her hand clenches mine. I can feel magical fields cutting into my hand, setting it afire with pain. Suddenly, the whole aura almost turns itself inside out as it withdraws from Sanderson . . . into my hand.
I used to think I hated Val Thompson the most. Now I realize the truth: Sanderson is my worst enemy. She has defied me, humiliated me, made me her servant. I will return all this to her with interest. I will beat her, break her, rape her, bind her, torture her . . .
And then I find myself lying on the ground, shaking with rage and horror. My hand still burns. I see it, and the star that was there is now etched in blood.
And just beyond it is a goliath demon ready to stomp on me.
I don’t know what just happened to me. Training takes over. I roll aside, yank out my knife, and start slashing away at demons while trying to stand up without becoming a vulnerable target. The demons seem to be everywhere, but they seem even more confused than me. I regain my feet in short order while killing another one with a blow straight at where its heart would be if it were human.
“Harry, to your left!” It’s Amelia’s voice. I can’t swing around fast enough, so without thinking I try to slap the demon aside. Like that will work. But it does. The moment that star on my palm comes in contact with the demon, it screeches and starts running away. Holy shit! I have a second weapon. I try to rapidly rethink my fighting tactics, remembering when I practiced with two blades before giving it up as too cumbersome. Though out of the corner of my eye, I see Becky wielding two rapiers again, to great effect.
Where are we? And where did these demons come from? Looks to me as if we’re in the same hell Sanderson and I visited. And then the dime drops: it is the same one, because it must have been freed when Deecee took the jewels to bind the seven-pointed star plane of existence. Which means she succeeded. Pity it might get us all killed.
I hear a screech and turn around, only to see a silvery bird behead a demon that was sneaking up on me. Thanks, Sanderson. I don’t know why I just wanted to go all Ted Bundy on you, but I take it back.
Harry, turn on your friends and kill them. The mental voice belongs to Thora the Assassin. She still thinks she can order me around, that the spell she put on me is still there! But what is she doing here? Amelia and I kill another demon as I try to figure it out. The demons are snapping out of their torpor. If we don’t kill them all soon, or get out of here, we’re dead. And given how my left palm continues to bleed and ache, I may be dead soon, no matter what.
I decide to trap Thora. I see her, dodge a goliath, smile at her to show her I’m friendly, and then swoop down on her with my bowie knife, aiming straight for her heart.
My knife never reaches its target. Out of nowhere, Thora strikes me a blow on my arm that breaks it above the elbow. My knife falls. And the next second, I feel the slash of a demon’s claw on my left shoulder.
I’m dead. I’m disarmed and surrounded by demons. I couldn’t even stop Thora, who doesn’t even bother to kill me before she heads off to kill another of us. And out of complete frustration, I scream at the top of my lungs. I don’t want to die, and yet I’m going to die in a hell. Me, a demon slayer, and I’m going to end up a demon.
There’s a demon in front of me, ready to polish me off. I think the only reason it hasn’t is because it was surprised by my scream. And just to strike one last blow, I slam my left palm into it.
I expected to hurt it and make it run away. Instead, it’s seized by fire and burns up in an instant.
I killed a demon just by touching it. Wow.
Maybe I’m not dead, after all. Or at least I can get my revenge before I die.
I slap another demon. Boom! Gone. Another. Bam! Gone. This is fun. I’m going to enjoy this.
And then I see Amelia, fighting demons. And coming up behind her is Thora, but one demon away from killing Amelia.
I can’t let this happen. And my hand is somehow a mighty weapon that even Thora has probably never encountered. I charge forward slapping demons away, determined to get in between Amelia and Thora by the time Thora kills the demon separating them.
I take a blow in the side from one demon that sends me spinning and causes me to lose time. I knock the demon out of the way, only to see Thora plunge a sword into the demon between her and Amelia. I can’t make it. I shout telepathically as loud as I can, Amelia. Thora. Behind you!
I’m not the best telepath. For once it works in my favor. I didn’t properly focus on Amelia, so Thora must have caught part of my mental blast, and glances back to see me. Amelia, blessed with that moment, lands a savage kick at Thora that knocks her off her feet.
But Amelia’s exposed herself to the demons. One of them strikes a heavy blow on her back that crumples her to the ground. And Thora, like some sort of gymnast, has recovered her feet and is preparing to kill Amelia with her sword.
I have only a moment, and I rush in. And I swing my hand to slam it into Thora’s head. I don’t care what it does, so long as it buys Amelia time.
Too late, I see Thora’s blade, just before it bites into my arm.
End of chapter twenty-two