III. "Slayers at Work"
Page 3


"MOUNTAIN KING - ELO"


        “Definitely getting closer,” said Severus, staring off toward the east, his breath visible in thick vapors drifting off in the Alpine cold. His flat, oriental face creased with unpleasant wrinkles as he concentrated. “Its presence is unmistakable now.”


        Gaval was at the Rogue’s side, his eyes gazing hatefully at the broken landscape around him. Nabob and Lothos were right behind, along with Jabez and Sasha - bickering over the map constantly - and the rest of the Rogues and Seedlings following behind in close order. Above them, the sun was waning in the sky, darting in and out from behind the towering mountains overhead. They had reached the plateau on Sasha’s map, stalking across it for the past couple of hours, hoping to catch up with the elusive Spectre. And from the unnatural aura that hung so heavily over the place, it looked as though they weren’t far off. Gaval certainly didn’t have any innate magical talent, and even he could sense it. Plague-Sever was damn near.


        “Cold...” Brianna murmured from just behind. She had a robe drawn up around her like a shield, as though trying to ward off the supernatural chill.


        “Yeah, it’s here all right...” the Ragin’ Cajun growled, sliding a pair of rune-covered stakes out of his bandoleer and taking a few steps forward. Bony rat-bastard’s gunna pay the piper at last. “If you ain’t armed, get that way fast!”


        The young Seedling Slayers scrambled to reach for what was left of their weapons. Some had little more than sanctified medallions from their respective churches. Others removed bullets with crucifixes carved and blessed into the ammunition, but with want of firearms they had no idea what to do with the things. Still others removed from their bags hand-held tasers that had been mistaken by airport security for cassette or CD players. Electricity had not been tried on the phantom yet, and at this point anything was worth a shot.


        All at once they stopped. Even the Cajun - whose blood had been stained by darkness - stood still in his tracks. It was their bones; that terrible sensation. As though someone were rubbing sandpaper on their spines and the vibrations traveled up and down their skeletons. It was like being at a satanic concert where the sound system was cranked up to the threshold of pain. 90 decibels of spectral energy poured through them yet the sound they heard was barely audible to the human ear. The clicking was horrific. Panic gripped each of them like a vice. It was senseless and automatic. There was no reason for them to feel such terror. They simply felt it. Gloom. Dread. Fear.


        The Plague-Sever Spectre was near.


        It was an odd spectacle, their reactions. One would expect the kids to resort to stark terror and panic out of control, but they had been groomed to fight their personal battles in each their own way. Gaval and Lothos were most used to this dread presence of the Spectre’s. Their hearts raced and their breathing was staggered but they each continued to look around in silence. They would not be this thing’s prey today. Nabob held his fear in check as well, crouching down and sweeping his aim around sharply, clutching his sidearm in both hands in front of him.


        The Rogues reaction, however, showed much less focused discipline. No one who experienced Plague-Sever’s presence for the first time could avoid their human instincts. It was akin to the feeling a mouse experiences just as an owl swoops it up from a field. Helplessness. Confusion. Inability to breath.


        “Divinity protect us...” whispered Severus, his legs shaking visibly beneath him. The terror that held him incapacitated had gripped the other Rogues as well, restricting their breathing like a giant hand slowly crushing their throats. One of them, a waif-like man named Arcadius, turned to run, only to be stopped in his tracks by Jabez, whose strong hand clamped down on his shoulder like a vice. Their leader turned to face the cold wind with an angry scowl.


        Gaval looked over and saw Brianna, the peculiarly white Rogue, drop to her knees, tears running down her face, battling to keep the terror from washing over her. Her eyes were forced wide open, glowing cyan from the Rush, and her mouth was moving rapidly, as though chanting. He thought he heard her mutter the word ‘Goddess’ somewhere in there...no time to contemplate that, though. The Cajun glanced back fiercely at the rest of the group. There was no shame in cringing at the presence of Plague-Sever, but if they stayed frozen...


        “W....Where is it?” stuttered Lothos with icy breath. It felt frigid. The air had a sharpness to it like no other air on Earth.


        “Chosen not to show itself ah think...really close,” whispered Gaval through his trembles. It was the cold that bothered him the most. He had grown up in South Louisiana where winter weather only lasted a few weeks a year. California’s climate suited him perfectly, and his tolerance for heat was great, but the only warmth they felt in those brief moments before the chaos ensued was the beating of their terror-driven hearts. “Severus, you said you could help us see it better?”


        Severus glanced down at Brianna, who stopped chanting long enough to look back up at him, their eyes meeting as though to beg each other to help themselves out of that terrible place...


        “Severus! We need to see it to slay it, Chause!”


        The Rogue mage, however, remained frozen in his personal hell for that moment, unable to move, barely breathing, shaking fiercely at the oppressive presence.


        Brianna, however, snapped out of it faster. Tracing a pattern on the ground, she closed her eyes and began chanting even louder, her voice suddenly projecting out to all of them as though...well, as though by magic. She raised her hands and made sharp gestures that quickly formed a mystical symbol in the air, glowing unnaturally and seemingly bleeding a greenish-black energy. Jabez took a step back, looking on at the spell-in-progress with disgust, but said nothing. It was a Rogue spell specially modified and prepared by Brianna, Severus and Lothos that morning as they conferred on the invisibility problems the group faced. Her eyes shot open, her face darkening with unfamiliar power, chanting in a language long forgotten by civilization, her eyes glowing brightly with the Rush. Then, she swept her hand out towards her companions.


        Energy snaked its way across her arm and discharged into the air. All at once, a flash of light appeared in front of each of the Slayers in the group, blinding them for an instant. Gaval shouted in confusion and fury, a fear that the spell had somehow gone wrong burning inside him...but when he opened his eyes he almost stumbled backward in surprise. The world had changed...the landscape transmuted from the gray and white of the Swiss Alps to the same scene streaked across with disheartening green and black. He recognized it as negative energy, the unholy inverse luminance that gave the undead their spark. The spell, an uneasy and experimental mixture of necromancy with Rogue magic, had worked. The shock almost overwhelmed him...the dimensional boundaries had been pierced, and he was staring right through them, staring at...


        Staring at something that should not have been there.


        Teeth appeared. Teeth that were cracked and chipped. Teeth that clicked angrily and gnashed relentlessly. Eye and nose sockets appeared. Within them was the darkest black imaginable; holes in the face of fear which were void of any life or joy. Then a crooked spine with small arms and legs appeared along with a skeletal tail. Claws ended that appendage and the four others as they dripped with black negative energy.


        And it was already right on top of them.


        The Spectre was weaving its way through the group of Slayers in a southeasterly direction, heading straight for Cory, Clint and Seth.


        Everyone was surprised to hear little Garland shout out in a rageful fit, “Kill it! Slay Plague-Sever!” In unison the Seedlings cried out with their mentor and charged toward the thing with shaking legs, “EVAAAHHHHLLL!”


        “Well, yeah, if you want to get all descriptive,” murmured Nabob as he watched them attack the beast helplessly. They were all Rushed now, a group of unstoppable teens. This was where he found out whether or not all of their blessed training was any good, because now only their training would save them.


        Gaval and Lothos, the only two whose eyes were void of the Rush, nonetheless charged the creature. With a massive exertion of willpower Gaval managed to keep his tainted Rush at bay. He knew he could use it only as a last resort. Their strength was in numbers and this was their best chance to stop the thing despite their lack of equipment. The Cajun reached the Spectre first. He aimed his runed stakes right into the creature’s eye sockets, leaping off of a tree stump to get the height he needed to reach the creature which was hovering at about eight feet above the hill. Without the Rush, however, he didn’t have the strength to get as high as he wanted and his stakes fell on the creature’s jaw bone, scratching a jagged, clicking tooth.


        What surprised Gaval the most was the feeling of solid contact. Last time he had tried to strike Plague-Sever he went right through it! The glancing blow only jerked the Spectre’s head a bit to the side as it ignored Gaval and continued pushing through the converging group, Seedlings trying to catch up with it as fast as the Rogues were trying to get out of the way. The Cajun landed in a cloud of dirt and rolled down the hill a bit, his black leather waistcoat almost flying off.


        “I could have told him that wasn’t gonna work,” growled Nabob, firing his Beretta uselessly at the creature as Jabez stepped up beside him. “Can you and your boys do some fire? Something magical might...”


    “Three steps ahead of you,” Jabez shouted, clenching his fists tightly. A second later, both of his hands were wreathed in flames, crackling halfway down his forearm without doing any evident harm to him or his robes. He extended an arm, releasing a rapid barrage of a half-dozen bolts of magical fire that left trails of searing smoke behind them, cutting between the young Slayers’ ranks and engulfing the ghostly figure in front of them with flames.


        Nabob’s hopes rose for a fleeting instant as he ran, but as the small firestorm dissipated and the thick smoke trails wafted away, he could see that Plague-Sever was still very much there, and apparently unharmed.


        “Sod it twice!” Jabez swore as they leapt over a large granite rock to keep pace with the running fight. “You say you’ve faced this creature before?”


        Nabob nodded and glanced at his useless pistol. “Enough to know there’s not a damn thing I can do to stop this thing...not without a trip to the ASG reliquary. And those kids won’t be able to do much either without their gear. It’s pretty much up to you Rogues to kill this thing if it’s gonna be today!”


        Continuing to belt after the creature, Lothos considered going for his staff as he ran. He startled and snarled as he met Nabob’s gaze. Gesturing at the beast, he roared at it, “Damn your eyes, you godless Lovecraftian fuck-knuckle!” He turned back to Nabob. “I cahn’t blast it! Cahn’t risk that it’d heal the bloody thing!”


        Nabob’s jaw tightened; they hadn’t considered that. He met Jabez’ eyes and found mirrored uncertain agitation there too. The Rogue didn’t know what that would do either.


        Cory and Clint ran headlong into the Spectre swinging wild Rush-powered blows at Plague-Sever. Wrapped around their fists were silver chains with Catholic scapula medals on them. Both of their blows landed on the Spectre, but the effect was not the desired one. Their hands phased into the creature’s rib cage, then became tangible only inside, lodged solidly. With a collective shout, they were pulled off their feet, dragged backward by the creature - apparently oblivious to their intrusive presence - feet dangling two feet above the ground. Clint struggled with curses and swears to remove his fist from Plague-Sever’s ribs but with nothing silver or magical in his other hands he had no means of tangibly touching the creature to get a foothold for pulling his fist. Cory simply flailed back and forth looking desperate. He reached out with his free hand for Seth, now running right behind them.


        “Help goddammit!” he cried as Seth, eyes glowing cyan with power was able to catch up to them and grab Cory’s hand. Seth immediately slammed on the brakes, his Asics cross trainers dragging and kicking up dirt and pebbles on the hillside.


        Gaval, groaning with slight pain, got back on his feet and glanced southwards. This was eerily comic in nature. His Seedlings were in hot pursuit of the Spectre, who had Clint and Cory’s fists lodged inside its intangible ribcage, and was forcibly dragging them across the plateau. Jabez and Nabob were leading the pursuit, while Lothos stumbled along trying to keep pace with the part-time superhumans. The four other Rogues had shrugged off their fear by now, and were trying to keep pace...Brianna, though, was still kneeling where she had been before, still chanting, obviously trying to maintain the spell. The vivid panorama of negative energy was starting to waver, though, and he knew that she wouldn’t be able to keep it up much longer.


        He looked away, mind racing...the Spectre was heading south to find a way across the gorge. Alone, he gritted his teeth and channeled his rage into a fitful tainted Rush. His eyes surged with an orange glow and he writhed in agony on the dusty ground for a moment screaming in agony. After a moment he leapt to his feet, darting southwards to head off the vile creature with inhuman speed.


        He didn’t notice Brianna looking up after him.


        “Stop! It hurts!” cried Cory as Seth tugged on his arm, trying to dig in his heels as he too was dragged across the plateau.


        “You’re tearin’ his arm off!” yelled Clint.


        “It ain’t slowin!’” shouted Seth. “What the hell are we gonna do?!” Clint and Cory looked at each other desperately. It was clear now that the Spectre was completely ignoring them, bent only on getting to where it wanted to go. This was good because otherwise they’d have been eaten or Rush-raped by now. Worse, Brianna’s spell seemed to be fading...already the Spectre was half-invisible again.


        Seth’s face suddenly lit up. “Use each other as leverage to pull your hands out! Let go of the chains if you can!”


        Clint nodded as he put his boots against Cory’s chest. “You do the same!” he ordered. Cory, who was clearly in a great deal of pain forced himself beyond the hurt and fear and swung his feet up and around Clint’s legs. Seth was jumping up at the Spectre’s barely visible tail trying to grab hold of it to stop it...in vain, since without magic assistance it was entirely intangible. “PUSH!” cried Clint.


        “It’s slowing!” cried Lothos who was huffing to keep up with these occasional superhumans. “Somebody bite it in the ankle for me! I’m wasted!”


        With a final jerk Clint managed to get his arm out of the creature, albeit without his silver medal. He wrapped his arms around Cory’s legs before he could fall to the ground. “I’m not gonna let it take you, Stephenson!” he shouted as Kysha and Sasha caught up to the Spectre. Clutched in their hands were the most ancient of improvised weapons: bowling-ball sized rocks.


        “No, you’ll hit the boy!” warned Jabez from behind them. “Without your weapons you can’t harm this ghast! We must gain its attention!” He beckoned sharply, uttering something in a half-whispered voice too low to hear, and a second later his eyes, already aglow from the Rush, crackled with electrical energy. A bolt of lightning sprang from Jabez’s eyes directly to Kysha and Sasha’s hands, causing their fists to glow with an unnatural light. “Get it! Take hold of the beast!”


        “Get it? That’s your plan?” Nabob snorted as he ran beside the Rogue sorcerer with eyes aglow.


        “You have a better one?” Jabez puffed. Even with the Rush, the exertion of running to keep up and casting spells simultaneously was clearly beginning to tax him.


        “No, but this isn’t working - the seeing spell’s fading too fast. We need to back off and come up with something real!”


        Sasha, meanwhile, gritting her teeth at the sharp pain enveloping her hand, grabbed hold of Plague-Sever’s tail, while Kysha seized one of its rear leg-claws, which hung limp from its fading skeletal torso. Static discharges ran the length of her fist up into the creature’s body, rendering it briefly visible in sporadic flashes.


"FURIOUS ANGEL"


        The Spectre came to an immediate halt and craned its neck around to face them. The glow in their hands began to fade as they clutched the phantom’s limbs. Just as Clint and Seth pulled Cory out of and back away from Plague-Sever it became fully tangible and roared in frustration. The roar was more psychic in nature than it was auditory and it left nearly all of them falling to their knees in anguish, stunned. Batting aside the two girls where they stood the Spectre turned directly south and proceeded on its course to wherever it was so hell-bent on getting to. As it did so the last traces of Brianna’s spell faded from their eyes, the vivid flow of negative energy around them fading from sight, and the Spectre with it. Cory and Clint’s medallions dropping from the phantom with a slight jingle; Plague-Sever was no worse for wear.


        Marco and Dwayne pulled themselves to their feet and aimed their one-shot electronic tazers at the creature as it faded into the hills, but if their aim was true, no effects of the wired projectiles could be noticed. Their Rush seemed to vanish along with their hopes as the Spectre began to once more put distance between them.


        Marco looked at Dwayne in disbelief at their failure as his friend from the Bronx tried to force a smile and quipped, “Well, that was at least more pleasant than a root canal.”


        “I don’t know,” frowned Nabob as he starred at the dirt from all fours. “I’ve got a pretty lousy dentist. Still, after whatever the hell that was I wonder if she does frontal lobotomies. What was that?”


        “Must have been a psychic scream,” said Garland. “The Spectre seems to work and exist in ways completely unanticipated.”


        “Gaval...Where’s Gaval?!” asked Sasha.


        Kin stepped up and spoke, contrary to his usual quiet demeanor. “He’s back there with Brianna, probably. Fell way behind after Spooky threw him. Don’t think he was hurt, probably.”


        “He sure got to Spooky quick for a mere mortal,” noted Marco. “You gotta admire that commitment after losing his Rush for so long. How’s Cory?”


        “Not good,” frowned Kysha leaning over Cory. “Both his arms are badly hurt. Ah don’t think they’re broken but one sure looks dislocated, and without the Rush...”


        “...he’ll need a hospital,” finished Nabob. “This chase is over...for now.”


        “Perhaps we can ease his suffering for now,” said Jabez as he motioned over one of the Rogues who understandingly leaned over Cory’s shaking form, placing a hand on his dislocated socket.


**********


        Gaval stood at the opening of a rope bridge. I know it’s coming this way. There can’t be another way to cross for miles, he thought to himself. It’ll be like Gandalf over Khazad-Dum. “You will not pass,” he whispered. Man, he couldn’t wait for Fellowship to come out at the theatres at Christmas.


        A familiar clicking came as the answer.


        He started and glanced around the area. He couldn’t see anything unusual, yet it clicked. “YOU HEARD ME DIDN’T YOU!?” he cried. “Ah’m not the weakling you threw around last time, you monster!” Staring around him in every direction as he shouted Gaval continued a fruitless search. “Ah’m not letting you go another step further! This bridge is where it ends, Sever. You shall not pass!” With that rageful declaration his eyes lit up with orange light not unlike a jack-o-lantern. The world around him changed as his vision sharpened and his ears sensitized. Pain shot up through his abdomen as he cried out an inhuman cry of both pain and fear. He was a mixbag of emotions and a dangerous one at that.


        When the tainted Rush settled a second later he started at what he saw. There, hovering before him was the skeletal monstrosity he had been chasing down in his dreams for months. It was as plain to see as the rocks and trees around them, yet he knew it was somehow still invisible. It was this Rush that Nighteye cursed him with. It allowed him to see the creature. There was no vague form or phantasmic structure to its body. It was as plain as day to him now, looking like an animated skeleton from a dinosaur museum. He almost laughed out loud at the creature’s appearance. “You...you’re all teeth aren’t you?” he asked in a voice that hinted at madness.


        As the Cajun’s breath dissipated into the chilled air he reached slowly for his runed stakes, eyes burning with power. He gripped the stakes so tightly that the wood in them creaked and began to crack. Suddenly the beast charged at him. He saw it coming and back-fisted Plague-Sever with the stake’s blunt end. The rune on it flashed with power as it came in contact with the phantom. The blow came with such force that the Spectre was thrown back from the bridge and literally into a rock formation behind it as it phased into the solid object.


        Gaval smiled at the results of his attack and turned to the rope bridge behind him. Kicking the stakes holding the ropes into the soil to splinters he destroyed the west end of the crossing completely in seconds. As he tore the remaining rope connection he turned around to see the Spectre emerging from its rocky landing site. “You’re not getting past me dis time!” he promised. If bone can look angry, this is it, he thought as it sprung towards him.


        He thought the Spectre was trying to tackle him, but the Cajun underestimated the creature’s intelligence. It went instead for Gaval’s feet and biting down hard spun him around towards the very same rock Gaval had thrown it into. Gaval could not phase into solid matter. The Buick-sized rock creaked and lurched backwards as Gaval slammed into it, eyes blinking in orange power confusedly. Plague-Sever then lowered its knobby skull towards a nearby tree and rammed it solidly, felling the pine over Gaval’s shaken form. As he felt the pine needles bury him from the sight of his objective Gaval felt the cold and dread subside. His quarry was escaping again.


        He quickly pushed aside the branches and refocused his tainted Rush just in time to see Plague-Sever make a spectacular leap over the gorge, catching the other side with its gruesome overbite and climbing to safety on the east end. He only had moments to leap back onto the wily phantom before it could run off again.


        Backing up for a head start the shaken Cajun started to sprint with all of his might towards the edge of the cliff. There is no spoon, he thought. Just before he reached the edge he made the mistake of looking down. Suddenly visions of the “jump program” on The Matrix flooded his mind. After all, Gaval was still a mortal man with mortal limitations. Suddenly it dawned on him that he was trying to leap across a 50 foot wide gorge to catch the most dangerous killer on earth and in that split second he hesitated. The leap, though quite possibly the longest jump ever carried out by anyone in the history of long jumps was at least a good ten feet short as Gaval plummetted to the bottom of the gorge, his black waist coat flapping in the wind behind him.


        Apparently, there definitely was a spoon.


        On the west side of that gorge in the Alps, Plague-Sever crossed into Austria from Switzerland and made for his goal. Something familiar. Sanctuary. Home.


**********


        It was dark and cold; another night in the Swiss Alps was upon the exhausted group of Slayers. Wounds were being tended to. Others were sleeping a hungry, worried, and anxious sleep not knowing when the opportunity for slumber would present itself again. Food had become less of a priority for everyone after the nonstop hiking.


        “He ran off south on his own,” Brianna reported. Nabob and Jabez pressed her for more information. “I was clasping the last remnants of the necrotic merging incantation. I could barely take the moment to pay him any attention. All I know is he went south.” She looked down for a moment as if grasping for something else to say. Her face had a puzzled look.


        “You’re sure that’s it, Brianna?” Nabob put his hand on her shoulder to let her know there was no pressure in the questioning she was receiving. They just wanted to find the missing. He felt just a touch less uncomfortable with the girl because she, too, was both akin and vastly different from these Rogues.


        “Yeah. That’s it,” she frowned.


        “Well, I’m gonna take a little walk south, then, and I’m sure he’ll turn up. You guys keep seeing about the hurt and get rest when that’s done. We were real lucky this time.”


        As the Brianna and Jabez walked off Nabob stared out into the dark wilderness and locked his jaw in frustration. He had no idea where this was all going and the chaos of the recent confrontation with their quarry couldn’t subside quick enough.


********





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