And yet another Monday creeps up on us and attacks our perfectly innocent weekends from behind. It’s been a good weekend here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia; I spent the entire weekend with my grandbabies, which is just the best. When I wasn’t babysitting, I was listening to radio shows, the good old stuff from the Golden Age, and the newer stuff.
So last week I promised you the thrilling conclusion to the adventures of Paul and Ellie under the Great Monument in London. Well, it won’t be concluding; one more installment to go. But in the meantime, will the Nazis crush Paul and Ellie, and carry young mage Amelia off to serve Hitler? Or will our heroes prevail and save the girl? Let’s find out!
Errand Part 7
August Hartmann, Nazi mage wore a sardonic grin as he summoned magical power with a strange, tuneless humming. Paul stood his ground opposite Hartmann and began summoning power himself. A smell of ozone and something darker, more dangerous, filled the air of the stone-walled room.
Ellie couldn’t watch, though. She had Amelia Perdue’s hand clutched in her own, keeping a tight hold and pulling her along as she backed away from Paul. Hartmann’s four armed thugs had spread out across the room and were now slowly closing in on Ellie and Amelia, trying to flank her. Ellie held out Paul’s pistol and swung it back and forth in jerky arcs, trying to cover all four men at once. But it wasn’t possible. When she turned to the left, the men on the right moved in closer. When she swung back to cover them, the ones on the left took advantage of the chance to advance.
Crap! This wasn’t going to end pretty, Ellie thought. “Guys, back off now!” she said.
“Geben Sie uns das Kind,” said one of the men on the right.
Ellie instantly swung the gun around to point at the speaker. “I don’t speak German,” she said.
“Geben Sie uns das Kind und wir lassen Sie leben,” the man continued. He suddenly smiled, and lowered his gun. “Geben Sie uns das Kind. Bitte.” He took a step forward, reaching out with his free hand.
Ellie fired. The gunshot was deafening, echoing in the stone room. Amelia’s hand jumped in Ellie’s own, and the girl made a small cry of surprise and discomfort. The thugs, particularly the one who had spoken, looked surprised. The bullet had whizzed past the speaker’s head; a dribble of crimson ran down the rim of his ear, where it had nicked him as it passed.
Ellie could see the speaker was talking again, but her ears were ringing so loudly that she could barely make out his words. “Nicht schießen. Sie können das Kind verwunden.” is what it sounded like. But still it meant nothing to her.
“Back off! Next time I won’t miss,” Ellie said.
“Look out!” shouted Amelia.
Ellie spun, but was too slow. One of the men hit her in a flying tackle that knocked her hard onto the stone floor. She lost her grip on Amelia’s hand. The gun she held went off, and one of the men shouted in surprise and pain. He fell, gripping his right calf; blood spilled out, running over his fingers.
Her attacker recovered more quickly than Ellie did. In an instant, he was sitting on top of her, his hands around her throat. She fought him, but he was too strong, and his weight bearing her down made it difficult to maneuver. She fought for breath, but red tinged her vision and the ringing in her ears became a hissing sound, like rushing flood waters. Dimly she was aware that a struggle was going on nearby her, but she couldn’t see it. Her struggles became weaker, her hands drumming uselessly against her attacker’s arms.
Ellie knew she only had a few seconds left. Wildly she threw her hands out, trying to find something, anything, that could help her.
* * *
Paul had let Ellie back away from him, drawing the child with her. Better if they were out of range when the trouble started. He never looked away from Hartmann, his gaze meeting the German’s without flinching. Hartmann was gathering his power. Paul began drawing in power as well. This wasn’t as easy as it sounded; each magical practitioner had his own method to summon the power. Hartmann’s was obviously humming. For himself, Paul began speaking, muttering under his breath in syllables that had no translation into any civilized language, sounds out of the ancient, secret past and were almost impossible for the human voice to duplicate. He could feel it gathering, primal chaos coming from everywhere and nowhere, coming into his body and being shaped by his words.
Hartmann fired first. His humming grew louder, and then he opened his mouth and the hum became a scream that made no sound at all, but still filled Paul’s ears with a shriek like the death screams of some unnatural creature. It felt like a vice had been clamped down around Paul’s head, and he could feel his concentration failing, the flow of power into his body slowing, then stopping. Suddenly came a feeling like somebody had shoved burning needles into his ears, and he shouted in pain. He pressed both hands to his head, and felt hot wetness as blood ran from his ears. Paul fell to the floor.
Hartmann smiled in triumph as Paul dropped to one knee. But Paul had not fallen due to pain. He drew up what power he had summoned, and pushed it out with one sharp word. As he did so, he slammed his fist onto the floor with all the strength he could muster. The floor beneath his hand shivered, and Hartmann gasped as he felt the shiver hit him. His entire body stiffened in surprise and pain, and his head snapped back as though he had been punched. The screaming stopped.
Paul had to move now, before Hartmann had a chance to recover. He threw himself forward, landing on his belly at Hartmann’s feet. He grabbed the man’s leg and started chanting more arcane words. Under his grip, the leg started to stiffen. Hartmann shouted in surprise and pain, gripping at the affected leg as muscles twitched, cramped and then hardened into stone. In desperation, Hartmann reached down, grabbed Paul by the hair, and shoved hard, shouting as he did. It didn’t break Paul’s concentration; he didn’t dare let it. Then Hartmann pressed his hand onto the back of Paul’s neck, and he began humming again.
Paul screamed as the touch on his neck became a burning brand; he could feel his flesh contracting, blackening, could smell his hair starting to smolder. But he didn’t let go of Hartmann’s leg or the spell that was petrifying Hartmann’s flesh. He didn’t dare stop, or he’d be dead, and Ellie and maybe the child with him.
* * *
Ellie could feel the hands around her neck squeezing tighter, could smell the man’s breath as he leaned over her, panting with exertion and with the excitement of the fight. Her chest burned for lack of oxygen, and she felt her thoughts slipping away as consciousness faded. She no longer had the strength to strike at her attacker. All she could do was scrabble wildly on the floor, desperate to find something to save her.
Her hands closed on something hard and warm, almost hot to the touch. It was the pistol she had fired only seconds ago; the barrel burned with the heat of the bullet’s passing. She gripped it by the barrel; there was no time to turn it around properly, and she didn’t have to freedom to do it, anyway. She brought it around in a wide arc, and struck her attacker in the temple with the pistol’s butt. His head snapped hard to the left, but he didn’t let go. So Ellie hit him again. Now blood ran from a cut on his temple. His grip on her throat lessened but didn’t let go. Blackness was closing in on Ellie’s vision; it was almost over. She closed her eyes; if this didn’t work, it was over. She mustered all the strength she had in her numbing limbs, and swung as hard as she could.
Suddenly the grip around her throat was gone, and the weight of the man slumped over her, pressing her to the floor.. Ellie gasped for air; her throat contracted, and suddenly she was coughing. It burned worse than the attack had, but at least air was coming in. As the coughing slowed, then stopped, she opened her eyes to find her attacker lying face down and limp across her body. She pushed at him, but her limbs were too weak; she couldn’t move him. She looked around.
One of the thugs held Amelia in his arms, and it wasn’t an easy job. The little girl was flailing wildly, shrieking at him. He clutched her close to him in one arm, and used the other to protect his face from the girl’s waving hands. Already he had three long bloody lines drawn down one cheek where her fingernails had found their mark.
“Amelia!” Ellie croaked. But the girl and her attacker didn’t notice. Ellie started pushing at the unconscious man on top of her, slowly rolling him off her.
Meanwhile, one of Amelia’s wild swings got through the man’s defenses, and he shouted in surprise as his nose was pulped by her blow. He swore loudly in German, and slapped Amelia hard. The little girl’s head snapped back, and she went limp for a long second.
“Amelia! Amelia!” shouted Ellie. “God damn you!” Finally she got the dead weight of the man off her, and Ellie scrambled toward the girl, and tried to get up on unsteady legs.
When Amelia lifted her head again, the look on her expression had gone cold. Her flailings, which had stopped when the man had hit her, did not start up again. Instead she looked at him with dark eyes. The man, nonplussed, simply held her, his mouth agape.
“Amelia?” said Ellie, worried.
Amelia turned to look at Ellie. Ellie stopped in her tracks. The little girl’s gaze chilled her. “I didn’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to hurt anybody,” she said. She turned back to look at the man again. “You made me do this.” She laid her palms very gently on either side of the man’s face, and drew his head down and closer, as though she intended to kiss him on the forehead. Instead she pursed her lips and blew gently on the skin of his face.
And…. the man disappeared. At one instant he was there, and the next there was a thick mist of crimson droplets in the vague shape of a man. Unsupported now, Amelia fell, landing in a heap on the floor. The cloud of red — what was left of her attacker — rained down onto the thick rug where he had once stood. Ellie watched it happen, but could say nothing. She could do nothing. She had seen power before, had seen Paul practice his dark art. But she had seen nothing even close to the level of power wielded by this little girl.
“I didn’t want to do it,” said Amelia. A big tear ran down her face. “I didn’t want to do it.” Her face crumpled and she began to shake with silent sobs. Part of Ellie wanted to run forward and comfort the crying child. But she didn’t move. She was afraid to touch her. What was she? How big a danger was this little girl?
Ellie’s thoughts were interrupted by a shout of pain behind her. It was Paul’s voice. She turned to see Paul on the floor at Hartmann’s feet. Hartmann was in obvious pain, clutching at his leg, which, along with his slacks, had started going a bizarre gray color, as though the natural coloring was being bleached out. The two thugs still standing had abandoned the battle for Amelia in order to help their master. One of them was standing over Paul’s prone form, kicking him in the ribs. One of these kicks had been the source of Paul’s cry of pain. The other was fumbling with his pistol, which had apparently jammed.
Damn! The battle wasn’t over. Ellie looked back at Amelia. “Stay here,” she said. But the little girl seemed lost in some private hell; she barely noticed Ellie’s words and was content to just sit there and mourn her actions. Ellie didn’t have time to insist. She turned and raised the gun that she’d been wielding only a moment before. Damn it! No good; using it as a club had broken the trigger assembly. It was useless.
She was going to have to do this the hard way….
Okay, that’s it. Who knew the battle would have so many bits of excitement in it? Not me, that’s for sure. I promise, the next episode will definitely be the thrilling conclusion. Until then, keep tuning in, and please do write, comment, tweet, and share. And if you have any recommendations for Fun Friday, send them along! I’ll be back on Wednesday. Until then, enjoy your week!