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  • Rebekah Olson

Chapter 56

Jerryck sat bolt upright before he even registered what had awakened him. Sound still reverberated, shaking the wall of the hut. The hitter crouched in the doorway, silhouetted by the gray light of early dawn, looking out. He slowly backed inside the hut, still crouching while he moved, his face set in grim lines, his hands on the hilts of both the dagger and his sword. The guide had also jerked upright out of sleep, along with everyone else in the hut. “What was that?” “Explosion,” Jerryck said. Another one went off somewhere in the middle of the encampment. Senka let out a wail of terror. Khata clapped a hand over her mouth, quieting her. Not that it made any difference, so many screams and cries were resounding throughout the village. Short, percussive rat-a-tats started up. The screams intensified into anguished terror and gurgles of death. Sakila jumped to the doorway. Tajor and the hitter grabbed her, holding her back. Jerryck looked out into the growing light. A stick, one end bulging like a ball, twirled through the air, flipping end over bulging end, from somewhere above on the other side of the encampment. It hit a building that exploded into flame and splinters of wood. A heartbeat later, the percussion shook the visitors hut. People sprinted past the entrance of their hut. More ran around in utter chaos. The snappy rat-a-tats continued. Dirt splashed like water around running feet. Individuals fell to the ground, bleeding or dead. “They’re missing a weapon,” Tajor said. He had his head cocked, his ear toward the rock face on the far side of the encampment, the source of all the short percussions. Sakila struggled to get free, staring out the door at the bleeding people. “I have to get out there!” “You need cover,” the hitter said. “Or a distraction,” the guide added. “Distraction,” Tajor said. He dipped his finger into the cold ashes of the fire and hastily drew rune symbols in a ring on the floor of the hut. “Jerryck. That jar on your shelf. Get Yeshiyahu.” “How?” Jerryck asked. “The spells in the jar enable the owner to call the entity from within no matter what.” Tajor finished his symbols and wiped the rest of the ash from his fingers. “What am I supposed to do?” Jerryck demanded. “Just say ‘Yeshiyahu, come and get in that circle of symbols there’?” The moment the words left his lips, his hair stood on end and magic ignited the runes making them glow. With a puff of sickly yellow smoke and a hint of sulfur, the little creature appeared in the circle. “Master called.” “That was fast,” Jerryck said. “A shorter time in the jar—” Yeshiyahu’s words were cut off when a series of small holes opened up in one side of the hut. Whatever caused them flew over their heads and out through the opposite wall. “Gunfire? Here?” “One of the worlds with Nazis figured out how to open portals,” Tajor said. Yeshiyahu cocked its head and flicked its pointy ear. “I don’t hear any machine-gewehren.” “Which means they’ll likely treat the Schmeissers like the heavy weapons and support them with Mausers. You go find the Schmeissers. Wreak some havoc and hamper them.” “You’re not my master!” Yeshiyahu snarled. “My cause here… is…” The runes flared. Yeshiyahu’s eyes bulged. It made some sort of choking, gurgling noise. Its knees buckled and it fell, bringing its nose close to one of the symbols. It glared at the symbol. Then up at Tajor. “We don’t have time for power struggles or games,” Tajor said. “Obey.” “Fine!” Yeshiyahu hissed. It vanished with a little pop. The toddler whimpered. Khata trembled, silent tears streaming from her eyes, so wide they showed white all around. Another building exploded. More screaming people died. Sakila wept, begging to go out and help them. The hitter still held her back. “You need cover!” “We are not any safer in here!” She pointed to the holes in the walls. They shook again as yet another building exploded, this one closer to them. “The entire encampment needs a cover,” the hitter said, so quietly it was hard to hear him above the cacophony of the attack. “I could make fog,” Jerryck said. “If I had more time.” “I can help you with power.” Sakila stopped struggling and leaned closer to him. She reached out and put both hands on his temples. Her aura connected with his. Her energy flowed into him. He shaped the magic faster than all the practices he had done getting ready for Heston’s military game. When he spoke the words for the spell, it didn’t grow so much as it sprang from the ground, all at once, through the entire encampment and beyond into the trees. The sounds of the attack tapered off, with shouts of startled surprise coming from the rock face. “Jerryck,” Tajor said. He pointed outside. “I can’t go into that fog unless you want it dispelled everywhere I go.” Jerryck threw up a bubble shield around Tajor, much like he did when opening a portal. This one, instead of containing the magic within, it would keep the fog without. Weeping and wailing continued, more apparent now that there was less noise. Sakila stepped outside, her energy still flowing. The guide stepped out with her. A smattering of shots still fired. The guide yanked her down into a crouch. He turned back to the hut.“We need more of a distraction.” More shouts from the attackers. One of the weapons stopped. Someone over there screamed. Then maniacal laughter floated through the mist. “Yeshiyahu found a target.” Tajor smirked, stepping outside, carrying the toddler and bringing Khata by the hand. A few human shapes ghosted past them toward the trees. One of them stopped, stumbling their way. The girls’ uncle coalesced into sight. He saw them and caught them up, weeping frantically. Tajor said something to him in his language. The man took both the girls and ran for the trees with them, vanishing into the mist. The weapons fire picked back up. The quiet guard pulled Jerryck out of the hut. The guide said, “We still need more of a distraction. If I were them, intent on eradication of the populace, I wouldn’t rely on blind range weapons.” “No, they’ll come down into the fog and sweep the place,” Tajor said. “How about an elemental?” Magic pushed at the far edge of the fog, probing it, countering it, clearing it. More than one person behind that magic. Jerryck pushed back, holding it in place. Tajor snapped his fingers a couple of times in front of Jerryck’s face. “Distraction,” he said. “You handled that fake elemental your friend tried to make in the throne room last summer. Make a real one.” Jerryck opened up his senses, monitoring, checking whether or not he could handle that much extra magic. More shots rang out. The other magic-users still pushed and tugged, fighting his fog spell. Sakila still supplemented his energy. Over all that, there was some kind of a shadow, a whisper of magic from at least two other people. It was small enough, he couldn’t grasp or identify it. “Elemental!” Tajor shouted in his face. “Distraction!” Jerryck refocused. With the assistance from the shamaness, he could do an elemental and still maintain the fog. He went over the words in his head a couple of times. He gathered his energy and concentrated. He opened his mouth. The spell initiated before he uttered a single syllable. The first word hung on his tongue, melting into a long moan of shock and surprise. The air around them drew itself together and solidified. The consciousness of the entity rose up, coalescing as the body took shape, impatient with the desire to destroy, yet awaiting his command. Someone grabbed Jerryck by the shirt and yanked him off to one side, behind the building next to the visitor hut. He glimpsed Sakila, stumbling off in the opposite direction with the quiet guard. The fog engulfed them. The guide stayed by the visitor hut, face down in a growing pool of blood. “What are you doing?” Jerryck slapped at the hitter, who was pulling him farther away and making his concentration on the elemental slip. “Your distraction worked.” Tajor followed closely. He hiked his thumb behind himself back the way they’d come. “Why did you make it right over our heads?” “I didn’t think about that,” Jerryck said. The hitter gave him an irritated glance. “Obviously.” The exploding pops of the enemy weapons had picked up again. Tajor had to raise his voice to be heard. “Can you move it?” “Where to?” Jerryck looked around, blind to anything further than a couple of feet in any direction. The hitter pointed. “Slowly across the village toward the attackers.” “How slowly?” Jerryck concentrated, mentally issuing the order for the elemental to move. “Inch by inch,” the hitter said. “Make them nervous watching it come.” He pulled Jerryck along, farther into the encampment. The reek of blood and excrement increased with every step. They came across a wounded woman, weeping over a dead child. Jerryck reached for her without thinking. The moment he took his focus off the magic he already maintained, the spells tried to slip. Whoever pushed the fog made headway, clearing some of the space of the far side. The elemental gleefully smashed into the nearest structure. The only part of the magic that remained constant was the energy flow still pouring from Sakila, even though they had lost visual contact. It centered him. Enabled him. He pulled back, using that stability to refocus on the two spells and get them back under control. He couldn’t get the fog back to cover up the small part of the encampment now exposed. He did get it to stop retreating and revealing more buildings. He also got the elemental to stop smashing up whatever it came across, and restart its slow progression toward the attackers. They shot at it, using two different sizes of slugs. The smaller ones had a rounded end, like what he had extracted from Khata’s side wound. They flew through the air at regular spaced intervals, as if machines fired them one after another after another, less than seconds apart. The other slug was larger, longer, more pointed. Those came one at a time, as if individually fired. Every time one of the projectiles ripped through the elemental. It disrupted some of the air that made up the body. The creature started shrinking. To replenish and sustain it, Jerryck drew in currents of air. That disrupted the fog. He turned his focus back, trying to keep what air the creature had. It still leaked and continued shrinking. The head of the creature rose well above the fog’s ceiling. Jerryck drew air down into it from higher up. That left the fog intact. He still maintained his attempts to keep air escaping. Both methods together maintained equilibrium with its size. “Finished?” Tajor asked. “Huh?” Jerryck looked around. He had paid no attention to where Tajor and the guard led him. The two of them ducked low for some reason. Why? It wasn’t like making themselves less visible would make a difference in the fog. Another explosion went off. A second echoed, much closer to the ranks of the enemy. Yeshiyahu’s maniacal laughter floated through the air. The hitter looked in the direction of the sound. “How does that thing laugh so loud we can hear it over all this noise?" Jerryck didn’t have an answer. Tajor didn’t give one. He started forward again, still crouching low. “Where are we going?” Jerryck asked. “To check on the shamans,” the hitter said. “Have you felt the magic from any of them?” Tajor asked. “No,” Jerryck said. He followed the two of them, walking normally, trying to puzzle out why they moved so laboriously low to the ground. They passed a central open space with a large fire pit. A sort of gathering area? On the other side was one of the largest structures in the entire encampment. Still small compared to an inn at a Brendish village, it could have given shelter to at least a couple dozen sleeping people. If it was still intact. Half of it was gone. Holes riddled the remains of the walls. The roof lay smoldering in pieces on the ground. The popping of the weapons stopped. Jerryck should use the quiet to go over there. To peer in. Search through that smoldering rubble. Look for someone alive who might need help. His feet froze in place, refusing to go any nearer. The hitting guard did. Tajor did. Staying in Jerryck’s sight, they both went to the ruins. Tajor gave no indication of what he saw in there. The guard shook his head and turned away. They both returned. “Are any of them still alive?” Jerryck asked without hope. “It looks like they got hit first.” The guard passed Jerryck, heading back the way they had come. "If they’d heard the attack start up, they’d have reacted. At the very least, they would have jumped out of bed like everyone else.” Jerryck followed him closely. “So that means they can’t rally and defend the people.” “It means this place was under observation,” Tajor said. “They knew who was most dangerous, where they were, and got rid of them first.” “Wouldn’t that mean they knew we were here too?” Jerryck asked. Shouts in the guttural language of the foreigners rang out, close by, down inside the encampment rather than up on the rocks above. The guard uttered a few foul words. “Time to go.” Tajor sped up, almost disappearing into the fog. The guard hustled Jerryck after him. Yeshiyahu let out a feral, raging battle shout that rang everywhere. There was another pop from one of the weapons up on the rocks. The little creature made a gurgling, strangled noise. Then a loud whump echoed, bouncing off the buildings. A burst of air blew down, driving away more of the fog on that edge. Jerryck held it tight, struggling to keep it in place. The guard looked back toward the enemy. “What was that?” “Yeshiyahu won’t harass the enemy anytime in the near future,” Tajor said. The sound of another explosion, accompanied by a red glow through the fog, came from the direction of the elemental. The last shred of it burned away. The entity that inhabited the body sank back down into nothingness. The magic that summoned and held it disintegrated. Jerryck staggered with shock. He had never had a spell torn asunder with such violence. His eyes rolled up. His head spun. His knees turned to jelly. His arms and legs shook. A chill ran through his entire body, his energy pouring out of a fresh wound in his aura. Sakila’s energy flared around him, concentrating on the aural wound, soothing it. The bleeding sensation eased. Then it ceased. It left him weakened. But at least his life was no longer draining away. “You want to move faster, you can damn well help me out!” The guard shouted to Tajor, half dragging, half carrying Jerryck over the cold dirt. “No, I can’t.” Tajor walked backwards ahead of them, watching both them, and the way forward. “I told you, I can’t touch him. It would nullify the magic he’s working. That includes the little bit left of our visual cover.” “It’s already thinned to the point it’s almost useless,” the guard growled, dragging Jerryck a few more feet. Jerryck looked around. The fog was rapidly thinning. His skin prickled with magic again. He opened up his senses to it. There was still that wisp of something he couldn’t quite identify. More prominent than that, magic-users pushed at the remains of the fog, clearing it, pushing it away, dispelling it. The edge would reach them soon, and expose them. He turned to face that way, probing for the location of those magic-users. If they were close enough, perhaps he could throw some offensive spell of them. “You back with us again?” the guard asked. “Keep moving,” Tajor said. Jerryck cuaght movement out of the corner of his eye. The guard must’ve seen it too. He sidestepped, putting himself between Jerryck and whatever it was, dropping low in a wide stance. Two men came into view through the remains of the fog. They wore hard, round helmets with curved flanges at the bottom. Long, belted coats hung to their knees, brushing the tops of their boots. One had a knitted scarf around his neck. The other wore gloves with the fingers missing. Both carried mechanical devices, a long metal tube attached to shaped wood with other metallic accoutrements sticking out here and there. Both the men held the wood end of their device firmly to their right shoulder, keeping their instruments pointed in whichever direction they turned. Both now pointed at Jerryck, Tajor, and the guard. Fear pulled through Jerryck. Magic rushed to his fingertips. The end of one of the devices flashed. The pop it made was much louder from this close. The device jerked. The magic escaped Jerryck. Both men’s heads turned into small spheres of heat and flame. At the same moment, the guard’s neck exploded. Blood and flesh spewed everywhere, spraying all over Jerryck. A bone fragment struck him in his left shoulder. The influx of energy from Sakila cut off, severed as if with a knife. The fog spell shattered. The last of it whisked away so fast a tornado may as well have ripped through with him at the center. He didn’t feel as wounded as when the elemental had been destroyed, but it still left him shaky, and even weaker than before. Some of the blood that had spattered him dripped down his side. It was warm compared to the chill that surged through his extremities. He looked down at himself. There was more blood than he expected. A lot more. His shoulder hurt. A dull, throbbing pain that gripped him, similar to a crushing vise. His left arm went numb. He wiggled his fingers, trying to get some sensation from them. He saw them move. He didn’t feel it. He bent his elbow to make sure his arm still worked. The pain in his shoulder sharpened. With a hot stab, it overwhelmed. He dropped to his knees. He sucked in air through clenched teeth. That was no bone fragment that had struck him. He wilted further. The pain weighed him down. He kept himself from falling prone with his good arm. His training at healing kicked in. He spoke the words of a spell that numbed the injury. Then he magically immobilized that part of his body. Other magic probed. Observing. Searching. Pinpointing the exact location of the magic he worked. One of them had the same signature as the taint in the river, as the portal for the raiders.

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