Act 1: Chapter 6, Part 8

Posted on September 24, 2017

In Which Evan is Fortunate

Evan. First Day of School. Time to Fight or Die

Evan took a step, out onto the walk. The pale shape ceased all movement. Already bringing up his shooting iron, he took it in as it turned and started skittering toward him.

The Beast was fast, as tall and at first glance as wide as one of the largest breeds of Beast-hunting dog, but far longer, the actual body thinner. A Stalker type, perhaps. One that had fed some. Slick-looking, pale skin gleamed in the gaslight, not like an amphibian’s, but that of a hairless albino mammal covered with something thick and oily like Vaseline. Clawed legs, too many, twelve, sixteen, more? Many joints, too many of those as well, and different numbers on different legs, giving it a wildly undulating gait as it sped toward him, fewer jointed legs moving somewhat like a dog’s beneath it, the longer, many jointed legs extending out to its sides like a spider’s or a centipede’s. Its face was birdlike, only with one bulbous orange eye in the middle of the head, and below it, three beak-like juts of bone formed a pyramid over a vast maw. Something glowed inside that maw, a sick green light.

Evan felt his guts clench up, his mouth go dry, his knees go weak; somehow, the real thing, a true Beast, was different even than the quite good phantasmal replicas in the Gauntlet. Or maybe it was something about this particular Beast, the way it moved, its too many joints, its glowing maw. Regardless, it was more horrible than he’d been prepared for. But his gun was up and he was peering down the barrel through the sight at the Beast; as his conscious mind gibbered, his body reacted, his training continued doing its job.

And so Evan Cadell met his first Beast with sound and fury.

It was too fast, having covered a third of the distance between them in the time between its first turn and when he finished aiming. So he shot the legs: long, slender, and likely fragile. With his first shot, the best placed, the bullet blasted apart not one, but two, of its long spider-like legs on its left side, struck just as they were lined up in their circulations; fistfuls of thick, pus-like fluid sprayed from the severed ends of the remaining stumps and the severed legs alike. The second bullet exploded the front dog leg on its left side, shattered bone-like black fragments spraying across the concrete of the walk behind it. Its gait undulated even more wildly. The third shot smashed the first dog leg on its right side, and its head tilted down toward the ground.

It wasn’t enough.

The fourth shot cleanly pierced its massive eye, bursting it and releasing a torrent of more of the pus-ichor out in front of it, drenching the walk in milky pale slime. The fifth shattered one of its three beak-things, the wound extending the maw across the lower left of its head, gaping gore. At this point its head, no longer supported by the two severed front legs underneath its body, started dragging on the ground, a slight drag on its momentum. The sixth bullet impacted its body where the back of the neck met the top of the back, opening a hole in its shoulder.1 Near where a sensible creature would keep its spine. Darker fluid jetted out of the wound.

It wasn’t enough.

The gun’s roar echoed up and down the lane, off the windows and security gates of the businesses on this closed and shuttered, untracked commercial lane. Evan shot fast enough that the noise was essentially one long explosion rather than six distinct gunshots. As he shot, the creature covered the second third of the distance between them, despite its shattered gait, despite dragging its ruined face on the ground. And it kept coming.

Evan didn’t want to look at it up close, so, tucking the spent gun against his chest with one arm, he twisted and dived, using the other arm to direct his motion half forward and half sideways, rolling across his shoulder, like he’d practiced a thousand times. He rolled across the currently-still moving-walk that shopping lanes tended to have and onto the flagstones of the lane, which sucked, but not as much as it could have; the bargain-basement warding charms in his jacket kept the roll across the stone from being too unpleasant.

And just in time. The Beast careened past him through the spot he’d been standing as he hit the top of the arc of his dive. One of its spider legs flickered out in his direction, impossibly long, and came away with a gleam at the tips of its three claws. Evan registered the image and the sensation of an impact against his hip at the same time, the blow not even strong enough to knock him off course.

He was already coming to his feet, right hand flicking open the cylinder and dumping out the spent casings in one endlessly practiced motion, the left snatching one of the speedloaders out of its nook on his belt to jam it into the cylinder so that he could snap it closed. He dropped the empty speedloader; he could collect it later, if he survived.

As he reloaded, something he could do in his sleep, he kept his focus on the Beast: he hadn’t slowed it down that much, but losing those legs appeared to make it more difficult for it to stop. Though, he supposed it was possible that when it wanted to stop running, it always clawed at the ground frantically, trying to find purchase with its remaining legs as it tried to turn, before losing its footing and tumbling away a couple dozen feet, its long body flopping and twisting, leaving a long smear of ichor behind it on the concrete of the walk. Or whatever surface it happened to be stopping on. He heard a quick, distant tapping behind him as he watched the Beast’s tumble.

He didn't have time to think about that tapping though. The Beast was up on its feet and gathering momentum toward him by the time he had the pistol trained on it, so he took a step back, intending to backpedal while he unloaded on it. Only his left leg wouldn’t support his weight, and he stumbled, nearly falling, his first shot going wide, merely clipping one of its spider legs.

He thought: Fuck I’m going to die.

Then he thought: Fuck it. And he steadied himself for unleashing a second volley. As he focused, even more than the first volley, everything seemed to move in slow motion around him. He saw that, distressingly, the eye cavity appeared to contain or be transforming into a second circular maw, full of gnashing jagged teeth, along with a dozen tiny tendrils with tiny eyes on the ends.

He put two bullets into the new maw. They smashed some teeth while the tendrils mostly dodged out of the way, though a few of them disappeared back into the depths of the maw and did not reemerge (that he saw); other than that it hardly flinched. His fourth and fifth shots severed three more of its spider legs, one on its left, then two on its right (it was a lucky shot), and it definitely slowed, but not enough. It somehow reared up, its unsupported upper body popping and clicking into a new configuration, the noise of the bones rearranging loud as return fire. His sixth shot slapped into the lower torso, now that it was upright like a centaur, and it staggered, but it staggered forward.

Evan raised his iron to club the Beast with it as it ate him. To toss the thing into one of its maws and hope it choked. His other hand scrabbling at his wallet, hoping he had a silver bit to shove down its throat as it tried to eat him. He stared at it, and could see it so clearly. It was like a bright light approached from behind him.

Evan was slammed into the Dens-i-glass store front of the strip mall by a massive, impossible gust of wind that came absolutely out of nowhere. It sounded like the world had exploded, and then it sounded like that again when his head thwapped against the glass. He was distantly aware that the Beast, for some inexplicable reason, did a sort of front flip past him, only bending in the wrong direction, its chin sliding across the gravel as its body folded completely up and over itself in a manner that would have been hilarious and satisfying if he hadn’t been having an up-close-and-personal visit with the ringing bells of a cathedral inside his head at the time.

After far too long a moment he staggered away from the window, shaking his head, shaking it off, and spun to see a blazing white light. After a second shake of his head, his vision focused enough that it became evident that he was seeing a humanoid figure, its back turned to him, wielding a fucking FLAMING SWORD, the flames white like the stars. It was, somehow, between him and the Beast, which was feebly trying to scritter away from the figure with its remaining legs.

As his eyes adjusted to the light, Evan could see the Beast was scraped up something fierce, with huge holes along its hindquarters where the hollow-point rounds he’d put through its maws had impacted its interior.

The figure was wearing a solid looking warding mantle of an indeterminate dark color, had shortish, probably dark hair, though it was hard to tell what with the FLAMING SWORD backlighting them, and approached the Beast cautiously. Evan noted, his mind fuzzy, that it looked like the figure had a sword sheath hanging from his belt, but it looked like there was a hilt emerging from it, somehow, even though the figure was holding their sword. Also, another item was hanging from the belt on the other hip, a rod of some sort. The figure took a quick step forward and the Beast lashed out with some of its remaining spider legs, but the figure nimbled back and swept through the legs with the sword, the flames flaring up silver like the moon, and the legs burst in clouds of silver steam and foul dark smoke.

Then the figure lunged forward, driving the flaming blade into the Beast’s face, through the shattered lower maw, tilting the blade upward until it ripped up through the upper maw and the top of the Beast’s head.

The Beast thrashed wildly, and the remaining spider leg flailed up at the figure. The figure whipped out its right arm, brushing aside the limp claw, the many-layered warding charms of the mantle more than up to the challenge of preventing any harm from the Beast’s dying spasms and tremors.

Of course, as the blade had been buried in the maw, the flames had been just as buried. The silhouetting effect of that sword, wielded facing away, disappeared, of course. Of course, in the bright orange of the surrounding gaslights, some color emerged, and Evan could perceive details about the figure. The hair was indeed dark, of course, as dark as the enveloping night. Its length was, of course, the exact length necessary to be rakishly shaggy. Because it was, of fucking course, Chris fucking Gramyre.

Gramyre drove his left arm forward and down, plunging the sword again into the thrashing Beast’s dying torso; wracking one final time, the loathsome thing fell still. Then in one elegant motion, he pushed his hair, just barely hanging down to eye level, back from his face and looked over his shoulder.

Surely his eyes didn’t sparkle in the gaslight. Surely.

  • 1. Question mark? Shoulder might not be the right descriptor. Evan was too busy having a life-or-death confrontation to put more thought into it.