The Belarussians’ surprise was just the start of Defender’s headaches.
“Source, Defender, to the source,” Tik-Tik shrieked. Mike grabbed him and ran, pounding toward the stairs to the chapel and what lay below it. “Have to replace the seal, can’t close the breach, replace the seal.”
He heard steps behind them and slowed. It was Marija. “What do you need?” she gasped, breathing hard. “My people are safe for now.”
Thanks be! “Get the bag with the flaming sword cross from my room. Bring it to the room with the portal.” He tossed her the key.
“Da.” She caught the key and raced to the closest stairs.
“You trust her?” Tik-Tik asked in his ear.
“For now.” He sped up. St. Michael, defender of Heaven, help us, please! St. Anthony protect us from demons. Father God, help us close the portal, please, oh please. Protect our souls. The spiral stairs felt closer, smaller, as he half-slid down the steps to the cellar and what waited there.
He slipped on loose dirt and rock at the base of the steps, almost fell. He caught his balance and stood, gasping for breath. Chaos swirled, roaring, deafening him. The stench of abyssal magic, evil, corruption freely chosen filled the air like smoke, choking him and burning his eyes. Mike reached inside his collar and pulled his St. George medal free. The silver flared, glowing white in the darkness. He heard steps behind him. Rude words in Slavic floated down from the doorway as the witch appeared.
Whatever Marija said in Polish, he agreed with. “That’s bad,” she added in English. “The bag?” She handed it to him. He caught it by the strap and opened the flap, triggering a shield. The stench faded a little. Claws skittered against the defense, testing it and him. “What more do you need?”
“Shield the doorway and get ready to run. If we can’t close it, you’ll know. Get your people out of here, especially Kabanos.” He’d be a very tasty morsel for an abyssal beast. “God be with you.”
“May the Lord of Hosts and the angels of Heaven guide and protect you.” She retreated up the steps and he felt shields forming behind her in the doorway.
Tik-Tik dug his claws into the padding on his mage’s shoulder. “Can’t do anything from here,” he said. “Physical seal, physical movement.”
Mike pulled a T-shaped, silver and iron tool like a sword’s hilt from the bag. “Gladius lucis,” sword of light. The preset spell triggered, and a gleaming blade extended from the hilt. A screeching laugh cut through the wails and hisses around him. Mike pulled a ring out of his jacket pocket and slid it on. “Scutum fidelii” shield of faith. A round shield like a Highland targe appeared. He drew more power from Tik-Tik and took one step forward. The chaos retreated, flowing away from him, thickening as it did. Another step, and the darkness folded in on itself, taking the shape of a man in a hooded cloak. It laughed and turned, retreating toward the portal’s mouth. Mike followed.
Hssssraaaahhh! A beast with two heads on long necks snapped at him. The rounded body stood only knee-high, but the wide mouths drooled venom. He blocked the bite, then swung the sword, severing the neck and sealing off the magic. Black ichor gushed. Hsssreeeeeee! The shriek cut his ears. It hurt. He used the shield to block the second head and cut it off as well. The head bounced twice, rolling into the darkness. Laughter bubbled from ahead of him.
“It will wear us down,” Tik-Tik warned. “Fight lots of beasts and nothing left for Boss Fight.”
“Understood.” He took a deep breath and pressed on. The floor sloped, encouraging him to hurry. He moved with steady slow steps. Darkness folded back from his advance, turning the stone walls and ceiling around him black as pitch. The abyssal magic swallowed light. I don’t like this. His gut screamed for him to turn and run. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” he recited under his breath. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
“You should,” came the hiss from ahead of them. “Fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” Tik-Tik corrected. “And anyone can quote scripture, especially wrong.” He sounded bored. “Someone didn’t do their Lectio Divina assignment properly. Probably cribbed it from that cheat site.”
If you make him mad, I’m turning you into a hat band if we survive. The darkness ahead contracted into man form again. Abyssal stench thickened. “How long have you tapped imaginations to find a form?”
“Longer than you have ever lived. I rule here and below,” the dark man pointed down with one black-gloved hand. He had no face, just darkness in the hood of his cloak. A black belt cinched the cloak at his waist, like a monk’s rope belt. The angular hole in the stone beside him pulsed. Raw abyssal power bubbled up and oozed out of the portal. Off to the side, a slab of stone with carvings on the top waited.
A faint whimper caught Mike’s ear. He glanced to the left and saw a figure cowering against the wall, mewling and trying to hide. Dirty blond hair hung loose from a braid, as if she had pulled her hair down to hide her eyes from the creatures lurking at the edges of the room. “God have mercy,” he whispered, then ignored her. He drew himself up. “Return to your proper abode. This is not your plane.”
“It once was. It will be again.” The being made a complicated summoning gesture with his right hand.
A pale shape floated up from the gash, like a translucent woman. The inverted tree-of-life pendant hanging around her neck pulsed. She moved toward Mike and Tik-Tik, reaching toward them. Broken nails marred her hands, and blood stained the front of her shirt and vest. “Revenant, sort of,” Tik-Tik hissed. “Or semblance.”
The magic around her shimmered with the purple-orange glow of the gash in the floor. “Semblance,” Mike said. He drew power from himself and sent it to the sword of light. “Return to your proper abode.” He blocked a grasping hand, severing the arm. The sword vibrated as if he’d struck stone. Black cracks flowed over the woman’s skin, crazing her. Her lower jaw dropped open, revealing fangs and a forked tongue. She lunged again, jaw opening wider and wider to engulf them.
He jammed the shield into her mouth and swung again. Power flowed out of him even as her form collapsed and the orangey blob oozed back into the gash. The sword’s blade dimmed and vanished. He crouched, setting the hilt down on the floor. The dirt and stone felt hot, like a sauna floor or the edge of a volcano.
Tik-Tik swarmed down. “Hot foot, hot foot,” he chanted, alternating paws. “Move the rock, move the rock! Nownow now!” The mongoose raced toward the dark shape and jumped, biting where the knee should be.
Mike dropped the shield as well and leaped toward the stone. He landed on it, arms flailing to keep his balance. Lungs burning from the brimstone in the air, he gasped, then braced one foot against the wall beneath the blackness. His leg stung as he leaned down and pushed. The stone resisted, then scraped forward toward the gash. Inarticulate howls filled his ears, a battle cry answered. Another breath, another push, muscle straining. One more centimeter, one more centimeter, gasp for air, shove, ignoring howls and burning claws that tore at him. Something flew past his head, hit the wall. Magic flickered. One more centimeter, grinding, scraping, air hotter, thicker, pain in his hands.
“Life to open, life to close,” a harsh voice screeched. “Stop him!”
Little farther, Lord be with us, little farther. He couldn’t see, couldn’t feel anything but rough stone and pain, fire licking his flesh. He’d never hurt so much! Air too thick to breathe, had to keep pushing.
Light flashed, clear and pure. The symbols on the stone radiated light, liquid silver flowing through the lines and curves to reveal Solomon’s Seal. Mike pushed once more. Something pushed beside him.
“Noooo! You cannot damn me again!” Words twisted to a shriek. Magic flared, backlash! Mike grabbed it, held it, fire in his arms, sent it to ground “Nooooooooooo—” The wail faded into silence. Darkness, safe darkness surrounded him. A soft gold light bloomed off to the side. He didn’t look. Too tired, hurt. He rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. The tips of his fingers brushed rough fur at his right hand. He pulled Tik-Tik closer and sank into rest, sweet rest.
“Defender,” a man’s voice said. “Defender drink this. It came from your bag, from the silk bag.” The voice spoke German with a Polish accent. Everything hurt. Words hurt. He started easing up. Hands helped support his shoulders. He drank.
Three, two, one. Energy raced through him. It burned, sort of. They called it lightning in a bottle for a reason. Shit, I hurt. Rich, where’s Rich? He opened his eyes the tiniest bit. His headache didn’t get worse. He opened them more. “Where’s Tik-Tik?”
“He’s eating his weight in blood sausage.” He heard laughter in Marija’s voice. “He bounced, or so he says. You didn’t.”
“And you’re too big for any of us to get upstairs without a block-and-tackle,” Kabanos said. “If you can get up to the ground floor, there’s food and a real bed waiting, in that order. Jelen said you’d need them.”
“I do. Give me a little room, please.” The others move clear, and he rolled into a seated position, then onto one knee, then stood. Kabanos steadied him, then let go. “Thank you.”
“I have the bag,” Marija said. “We used silk to move your tools back into the bag.”
Rich must have warned. He couldn’t think and walk, so he walked. All of him ached worse than in Basic Training, or the last time he went hand-to-hand with Sergeant Kim.
As he got into better light, he saw scratches on Marija’s face. “You’re hurt.”
“Not as badly as you are. I got distracted and one came partly through the shield. They’ve been cleansed, both soap and water and blessed silver-balm.” She sounded tired. “I know better, but I’ve never seen an abyssal creature up close before.”
“And I don’t want to see one ever again, thank you St. Michael and St. Woitich,” Major Kowalczyk murmured.
(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved
Good action scene! Let me see if I visualize this right. The seal is one larger stone over the “well” opening. This was first rocked loose, then pushed aside. Mike is now on/at the moved stone, pushing with his legs to get it back into place. He had to keep balance and not fall in, first. I’m guessing that once the stone got back into place, it re-linked to the rest of a pattern and the seal flashed back into power.
They’re not done, though – that phrase about a life to open, a life to close is for the breach, and not the seal? Something got knocked back, but there’s another problem in the bog that feeds this.
I think that those who removed the seal are due for some rough justice, and not necessarily at the hands of Defender and company. Close encounter of the bog kind, perhaps.
What happened(happens?) to the figure cowering against the wall?
To be continued . . . *evil kitty grin*
Or as David Weber puts it “Tum, te, tum, te, tum . . . .”. 😉
Great action scene! And the one hiding…a MacGuffin for later?
Very well done. Looking forward to reading this in its entirety.
Re read the snippet and it seems like might be a bit of a disconnect. In one line Defender pulls Tik Tik closer and then four lines later he is asking where Tik Tik is. Perhaps something more than “rest, sweet rest” to indicate the passage of time? Or maybe I am just overthinking it.
There will be a scene break mark in the book, and I’ll probably go through and tidy things up, make transitions clearer.