And yet another Monday creeps up and pounces on us all. How did you weather your weekend? For myself, we had a rainy weekend here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia. I spent my weekend reading and writing (when I wasn’t plotting the layout of my volcano lair, and practicing my maniacal laughter; hey, sometimes it’s fun to be the villain!)
Those of you who are interested in that sort of thing, I’ve put some pictures up on my About AJ page, so you can attach a face to the literary voice. Dig my hat; I love cloche hats and have like a dozen of them. Even cooler is the picture of me holding my newest grandson for the first time last week; he was slightly premature and therefore sooooo tiny! But he’s doing well and putting on weight, so all is good. I’m not a huge fan of having my picture taken, which is part of why this is my first time posting pictures of me here on the blog. But if there is continuing interest, I’ll make more of an effort to post more.
Both the pictures (in fact, most of the pictures of me and mine you’ll see here) were taken by my photographer daughter, Sarah Lydia. She does good work.
In the meantime, however, I think I owe you, Dear Reader, a thrilling conclusion to Paul and Ellie’s adventures under the Great Monument in London. What say I skip the niceties and just get on with the pulpy goodness?
Errand, Part 8 (Conclusion)
Ellie took only a fraction of a second to study the tableau before her: Paul on his belly in front of the Nazi mage, August Hartmann. His hand gripped Hartmann’s ankle, and the flesh and clothing under Paul’s grip was turning gray, grainy and stiff, as though turning to stone; the color and texture was creeping up the man’s leg, and now was nearly to his crotch. Hartmann, his face contorted with rage and pain, clutched at the afflicted leg with one hand. His other hand, which glowed reddish orange, was pressed to Paul’s exposed neck; tiny wisps of smoke, and the smell of burning flesh and scorched hair rose from that contact. On either side of Paul stood two of Hartmann’s goons; one of them was fumbling with his pistol, which appeared to have jammed. The other had given up on the idea of a weapon and was instead kicking Paul repeatedly in the ribs. Each time another kick landed, Paul’s body jerked and he made a half-strangled cry of pain and surprise. But he refused to let go of Hartmann or the spell that he was inflicting on the Nazi magician.
For herself, Ellie was bruised, her throat constricted and her breath coming in whistling little gasps after one of the goons had tried to throttle her. But she was still in the game. She had a pistol in her hand, but it was smashed, the trigger assembly in pieces after she used it to beat one of her attackers. The little girl, Amelia, whom they had come to protect, was safely behind her, unharmed, but traumatized by the magical damage she had just inflicted her own attackers: she had reduced a man to a mere mist of disintegrated blood and flesh. No nine-year-old girl should see that sort of thing, much less wield that kind of power. But it as done, and it left the girl silently weeping. Ellie kept herself between the attackers and the girl, but there seemed little point for that. They had forgotten the girl in their efforts to stop Paul.
She could hit the kicker and stop Paul’s immediate attack. But if she was unlucky — and there was no reason to believe their luck was going to improve this late in the game — the other guy was going to unjam his pistol and start shooting while Ellie was tangled up with the kicker. And then there as the mage burning his fingerprints onto the back of Paul’s neck. There was no way she could confront him directly; he’d eat her alive.
She had to act. But what to do?
‘Don’t think about it, just move!’ she thought. She had spent her entire life trusting to her instinct; she’d simply trust it again. Without another thought, she launched herself forward. She threw herself at the man who fumbled with the gun. She caught him low, like her cousins used to hit when they were playing football back home in West Virginia. The blow knocked the jammed pistol from his hands, and the momentum of the tackle knocked him back, plowing into Hartmann, and knocking all three of them onto the floor. The three of them landed in a tangle of limbs; the blow knocked the breath from Ellie’s body, but she had enough presence of mind to start trying to roll free before Hartmann or his goon could get hands on her. Rolling clear, she scrambled onto her knees and fought to catch her breath.
* * *
Paul knew he wasn’t going to make it another minute. Thud! Another kick powered into his right side, like being kicked by a horse. He felt a crack with that one; another rib broken. The pain was indescribable, deep and torturous; every breath was like a knife in his side. Blood on his lips told him that one of the ribs had probably pierced his lung. The only thing that was keeping him conscious was the burning agony of Hartmann’s hand like a branding iron on the flesh of his neck. Good; if he lost consciousness, he lost everything. Hartmann would be free to act, and his first act would be to kill magically defenseless Eleanor and take the child Amelia. That couldn’t — Thud! Another blow landed, nearly knocking Paul down. He bit his lip, forced his eyes open, and kept pushing, pouring magical energy into his outstretched hand. Under his grip, Hartmann’s leg was turning to granite; it was a difficult spell, costly in blood, energy and burning throughout Paul’s nervous system. But it was inexorable and impossible to reverse. As long as Paul could keep pouring power, there was nothing Hartmann could do to stop the progress, until the medusa effect reached vital organs and killed him.
Suddenly the world flipped upside down, as two people on his left slammed into him with their legs, knocking his own propping arm out from under him and throwing him to the floor. They also hit Hartmann, and suddenly both Paul’s grip on his leg and the hand scorching his flesh were gone. Paul instantly rolled onto his back and tucked his elbows tight against his body, protecting his throbbing ribs. Above him, the man who had been kicking him had been knocked off-balance, but still kept to his feet; he was watching as the blind blows resolved themselves into a scrum. Ellie had tackled both one of the goons and Hartmann into the mix, and all three of them were tangled together on the floor.
Paul didn’t bother with Ellie; she knew how to take care of herself. He kicked his feet, spinning himself on his back until he faced the kicker. Time to get some payback: Paul pulled his feet together and, kicked as hard as he could with both feet. The blow hit square in the man’s crotch with such force that he was actually lifted off the floor a few inches before falling backward in a moaning heap.
The movement cost him, though. Fire flew through his side, and Paul groaned and pulled his arms tighter against his side to protect his wounded ribs. He wanted to scream, but it cost too much air; he breathed in short, moaning gasps. Get up. He had to get up. This battle wasn’t over yet, and Ellie and the child were still in danger. Get up!
But he couldn’t. He fell back and closed his eyes as the pain washed over him anew.
* * *
The guy Ellie had tackled had been knocked silly by the fall. He was still conscious. But a large knot was already swelling above his brows, and his eyes were rolling in his head, unfocused. He wasn’t going to be a problem. But Hartmann was. He was already struggling to his feet again, using his previously decorative cane to support him where that Paul-petrified leg wouldn’t. Damn! Ellie looked to Paul. He had dealt with his own attacker, but now he was curled up on the floor, arms tucked in to protect his ribs, eyes closed. Blood stained his lips and chin, and he was panting rather than normal breathing. He wouldn’t be able to help her.
Ellie was on her own.
“Paul!” she shouted, as she clambered to her feet. She saw the pistol that the one man had been struggling to unjam. She snatched it up and began frantically pulling the slide, trying to clear the jam. “Paul, come on!”
She looked up for a quick glance to assess the situation. Paul had opened his eyes, and was trying to sit up. Hartmann had gained his feet by now. He looked at Ellie, matching her gaze for an instant before turning away, dismissing her as no threat. He leaned heavily on the can and began clumping toward Paul, moving slowly, but inexorably. At the back of the room, Amelia had overcome the shock of the attack, and had climbed to her feet. Her face, nightgown and bare feet were streaked with blood. She was not fleeing, though; she was only standing there, watching Hartmann, her eyes flicking back and forth between his struggles and Ellie.
“Amelia, run!” Ellie shouted, still struggling with the gun. Her Appalachian accent became stronger with her panic, and the word came out as “roon.” “Sweetie, please, you gotta get out of here!” But the girl didn’t run. She stepped closer to Paul, watching with a suddenly-detached curiosity that chilled Ellie. But she didn’t have time to consider the implications of that little girl’s expression. She struggled with the gun, panic making her clumsy.
* * *
Ellie’s shout drew Paul out of the red-tinged haze of pain his mind was trying to sink into. The panic in her voice as she called his name was so unlike her it actually frightened him a little. He opened his eyes, and frowned, trying to focus. Ellie was standing to the left of the door, looking disheveled and as panicked as her voice sounded. She wasn’t in immediate danger, but was wrestling with a Luger in her hands.
No, Paul was the one in danger. August Hartmann had regained his feet, and was now staggering over. Paul took as deep a breath as he dared, and raised up on one elbow. Even that small movement sent a sheet of pain through him, and he groaned as darkness swept over his vision and threatened to sweep him away. No, he couldn’t let it! He tasted copper in his mouth, knew it was his own blood, that we was going to die soon if he didn’t get medical help. But blood…. Blood was useful to a mage. He forced his breath to a more even pace, and began drawing in energy. He raised his free hand and pointed the palm at Hartmann.
“Herr Richmond, the battle is over. You have lost,” said Hartmann; he sounded as haggard as Paul felt. The battle had been a closer thing . “Give me the mädchen and I leave you alive to oppose me another day.”
“No,” Paul hissed.
“You are a fool!” snapped Hartmann. “Elender Mist! Give me the child, or I destroy you!” He glanced back at Ellie. Then he turned back and smiled down at Paul, a dangerous smile. “Or perhaps I should destroy your woman instead?”
Paul looked at Ellie. She looked up once as Hartmann spoke, but immediately turned back to the gun in her hands. She didn’t look frightened, she looked frustrated.
“Don’t touch her,” said Paul. This time speaking brought on a cough that felt like it was tearing him in two. He curled up in defense against the pain, but didn’t let it overwhelm him, or stop his drawing in power. Almost there. “This is between us; leave Miss Waite out of it.”
“YES!” Ellie shouted. Her sudden exultation startled Hartmann, and he turned back to her. Paul panicked at the sound, and, regardless of the pain, he threw himself off the floor, propelling himself forward onto one knee. One hand still pressed against his side; the other was inches from Hartmann’s belly.
For herself, Ellie moved even more quickly than he did. Moving so quickly her hands were a blur, suddenly the Luger was outstretched, the barrel pressed against Hartmann’s forehead.
“Try it, peckerwood. Try it and see how fast I burn you down,” said Ellie, her voice cold.
Hartmann froze. He slowly lifted his hands above his head. Paul felt the rush of warmth that said Hartmann had released whatever magical energy he had been hoarding. Paul sighed in relief, but didn’t release his own pent-up power; this wasn’t over yet.
Hartmann rolled his eyes over to look at Paul. Then, without moving his head, turned his gaze back to Ellie. “Miss Waite, what precisely is a “peckerwood?” You Americans have such colorful speech.”
“You’re a peckerwood,” said Ellie. She didn’t move or shift her gaze, but her next words were directed to Paul. “You okay?”
“Not really,” said Paul, and gasped a little as brief flare of pain shot through him. “Herr Hartmann, we’re taking you into…. into custody in the name of the King,” he continued.
All three were surprised by the sudden word. They all turned to see who had spoken: Amelia. She had stepped close enough to touch them all. She wore the oddest, coldest expression Paul had ever seen. It chilled him.
Amelia came closer, so close that she had to crane her neck to look into Hartmann’s face. “You hurt my friends,” she said.
“No, I didn’t,” said Hartmann. He wasn’t disturbed; he merely answered the girl’s comment.
“Yes. You killed Mr. Lewellyn. You hurt Mr. Richmond and Miss Waite. You’re still hurting my friend Liesl.” said Amelia. “You came into my house and tried to hurt me. Don’t you know how to do anything besides hurt people?”
“Amelia, it’s over,” said Ellie. “We’re going to take him away now. Everything’s going to be fine, just you wait and see. You’re safe now.”
“No. It’s not. He knows. Don’t you, Nazi?” said Amelia.
Hartmann didn’t answer. One corner of his mouth quirked up in the beginnings of a smile.
“Not even the secret division of the S.O.E. has the facilities to hold this man,” said Paul, ruefully. “The fact is that we’ll have to trade him back to the Nazis just to keep him from destroying us from inside; it’s not like we have facilities to hold him safely.”
Now the quirk on Hartmann’s mouth, turned into a full smile. “In der Vaterland, we execute magi as soon as they are taken. Cheaper and easier than trying to imprison them. But you English are too weak. You let your women rule you. You’ll never –”
Hartmann’s next words were never spoken. Hartmann vanished, replaced by a man-shaped cloud of red mist and the overpowering odor of copper. Amelia’s hand was outstretched, touching the mist where once Hartmann’s belly had been. She had done it again.
“He’s not going to hurt anybody now.” With those words, Amelia went back to the sofa where Paul and Ellie had first found her. She curled up into a ball, pulling the afghan over herself. She didn’t cry. She only stared off into space, lost in her own thoughts.
Both Ellie and Paul just stared after her for a long moment. Paul couldn’t speak if he wanted to; he had never seen so much power wielded so casually. He hadn’t even felt the discharge of power.
“Paul?” Recovered already from the shock, Ellie had slipped the pistol into her jacket pocket. She wrapped her arms around Paul’s shoulder. “Paul, come on, can you get up? We need to get you upstairs, so we can call for some medical help for you.”
“What about her?” said Paul, as he allowed Ellie to pull him up onto his feet.
“We came to protect her,” said Ellie. “I think she’s safe now.”
Probably, thought Paul, as Ellie led him out. But that much power invested in a little girl? And now she had killed. As that little girl came into her adulthood and her full power, how safe would she be? And in how much danger would be the rest of the country be?
“Errand,” and the characters and situations depicted therein are protected by 2014 copyright, and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of AJ Clarkson.
And that’s it! Wow, that last little bit got out of hand, grew longer than I had planned. Oh, well, so long as the story turned out fun, right?
If you enjoyed the story — and I really hope you did — please say something in the comments. Generally speaking, your comments are the only pay we bloggers get, so give us some love. I think I’ll take a break and only do a regular post next Monday, but the week after that, I’ll be back with more fiction. I have several options for the next story: we can have another Nazi-fighting, magic-slinging adventure with Paul and Ellie; or I can give you some interbellum Indiana-Jones style globetrotting fun with Grace Winslow from the Sisters of Avalon; or there’s always Eric and Sophie, an odd pair of misfits who hunt ghosts. Let me know in the comments which you want to hear; please don’t make me flip a coin (where am I gonna find a coin with three sides, for starters?)
In the meantime, it’s time for me to climb back up into the family treehouse, and get some work done. So I’ll see you on Wednesday. Please comment, share, tweet, and check out my other posts. If you have a recommendation for Fun Friday, please do email me at the addy on my About AJ page (and feel free to check out the pictures of my grandson; he’s just so adorable!) Later, guys!