Chapter 13. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

Déaþscúa cursed and flung himself at his gun. The men opened fire. KT and Kai dived to the floor as the chamber filled with bullets and a constant roar of echoing gunshots. Bullets tore through Déaþscúa and he screamed out in pain but still managed to grab hold of Aeternum Nox. He rolled back to his feet and opened fire in return even as holes were blown out of his body. His shots blasted through men like paper but there were so many of them. The gun fell from his hand as a bullet shattered his fingers. More and more slammed into him, jerking his body wildly. Blood splashed all around him in a chaotic fountain of crimson. 

The shooting stopped and the room fell into silence. Déaþscúa stood swaying for a moment, his body barely recognisable as human, then fell to the ground in a mound of tattered flesh. Blood pooled around him and bone was visible through clothes and meat. 

Annis’ voice cut across the deathly silence. “And so a legend ends. Pathetic really, that these crude mortal weapons can cut even the strongest of our kind down. You did well, Golman.”

One of the gunmen gave an oily smile to the room at large. “You’re welcome. I always keep my word, witch.”

“As do I,” Annis answered coldly. “You will receive what we agreed upon.”

“And what of the wee kiddies?”

“They have no use without Déaþscúa to taunt but I suppose their energy can be put to use. Take their weapons and wait for me. I’ll be there shortly to finish Déaþscúa once and for all.”

There was a sudden shout then a storm of motion consumed the chamber. From the still open doorway charged the entirety of the MacFeelan clan, their melee weapons held at the ready while their guns already reaped the lives of men. They looked grimy and worn but their spirits weren’t even slightly diminished. Waves of magic flashed, throwing or burning men with contemptuous ease.

Then Elizabeth ran in too, sending jets of air into the gunmen or knocking bullets away from the Scottish warriors, alternating between offence and defence without thought. She rushed to the teens’ side, weaving between fighters without slowing. 

“Come on!” she told them, grabbing each by the arm and dragging them through the battle toward the door forward. “We have to push on. This is our chance to stop Annis once and for all. Stay close to me.”

Elizabeth batted away any attackers with great gouts of air until they were safely in the tunnel with the sounds of combat at their backs. She didn’t let them slow though. There was another door ahead made of wood but Elizabeth reduced it to splinters with a wave of her delicate hand. 

They ran into another chamber much like the one that they had left only smaller. There was no other exit visible. Not that KT spent any time assessing the room. Her eyes were drawn instantly to the woman who stood calmly in the centre. She was tall and slim, her body wrapped in a thin black material that looked like a strange cross between a cloak and a clinging shift. Raven black hair descended down her back while brilliant blue eyes stared out from a youthful face. The only real feature that betrayed her identity was the pale blue tinge to her skin like that of a recently dead corpse. She smiled revealing fanged teeth.

Beside the woman was another lycan. This one was bigger than any of the others that KT had seen, its entire body a great mass of muscle. Its fur was a dark red and its teeth and claws looked razor sharp. A constant low growl rumbled from its throat.

Above them was a sphere of darkness that pulsed and writhed with a twisted energy. The air in the room was cold and prickled at the skin. A faint wind pulled upwards in a spiral towards it. A stretched line connected it with Annis.

“And so the cavalry arrives,” the woman observed mockingly. “I expected Déaþscúa to come prepared with more than a few brutish Scots, a woman who thinks herself a witch, and some children who believe themselves to be adults. I suppose the fact that he actually asked for help is miracle enough. I half expected him to stick to his stubbornness and come alone again.”

“Enough,” Elizabeth said, cutting the other woman off sharply. Without waiting, she held out her hand and air began to spiral around it in a maelstrom of crackling power. The air shot out in a roaring beam straight for Annis’ heart. 

Annis held out her own hand as the beam struck. The air hit her hand and split into two halves that sped to either side of her before carving great gashes into the stone behind her. The entire room shook with the impact. The woman in black shook her head almost regretfully.

“See? Nothing but a girl playing at being a true witch.” She clenched her hand and Elizabeth rose from the ground with a choking noise. Elizabeth struggled against invisible bonds and shouted in silence. “Stay there while I have a word with Déaþscúa’s little friends. I’ll deal with you later.”

Annis took a step closer to the teens. Without thought they both took a hasty step back. The line between her and the sphere was thicker now and a similar dark glow surrounded the witch. She smiled at them as her eyes took in their every detail. She was beautiful, completely opposite to how she was described in the stories. Now that she was closer though, KT could see long talons tipping her fingers like the legend said.

“I can see why Déaþscúa has taken an interest in you both. You have a most unusual aura. One I haven’t seen in many years.” She paused and her focus sharpened. “You’re from Aife’s Lodge, correct? I assume that I hold people close to you? You don’t seem overly distressed so they were not one of my thralls. Good. It is always nice to have leverage.”

Kai took a defiant step closer to her, his teeth bared almost as fiercely as the lycan’s. “Damn right you have our family! It was our mum you decided to crucify and leave for dead! I don’t give a shit who you are! All I know is that I’m going to kill you!”

Annis laughed. “How cute. If you killed me though, how would you know where your loved ones are? They clearly aren’t here, are they? Claine, show him why mice shouldn’t pick fights with tigers.”

The lycan made a single short grunt then sprang at Kai before the young man had even registered the movement. He managed to manoeuvre his axe between them at the last second so that the beast’s claws clashed against the weapon instead of his flesh. The force of the blow still knocked him from his feet and sent him sprawling backwards. Kai had to roll and swing the axe instantly when the lycan dived straight after him. 

KT started towards her brother but another step from Annis halted her feet. She locked eyes with the woman, her hands shaking as she readied her weapon. Annis ignored the blade as though it didn’t even exist. 

“You look so alike his last companion. He clearly has a thing for dark haired beauties. She died because of him you know. Now you will too.”

“You killing innocents is not Déaþscúa’s fault,” KT hissed. She wrangled her emotions into control and steadied her hands. “You are nothing. You didn’t dare to even be in the same room as him when you had him murdered!”

“Oh, he isn’t dead. Not yet. It will be my hands that end his life, not hired muscle. They couldn’t kill him even if they tried. I think that I’ll personally kill you too. I do love to kill those that attach themselves to him. You’re so young and full of life as well.”

Kai screamed out, causing KT to turn her head for a split second. Annis used that time to dash at her, the metallic claws flashing out. They lunged for KT’s throat like vipers. KT threw herself onto her back and kicked up with both feet, catching Annis in the gut with her heavy boots. The witch staggered back and KT swept her leg at the other woman with the intention to trip her. Annis jumped her leg and landed gracefully a few feet away. She watched KT stand without moving.

“You appear to be a natural fighter. And your aura shines so brightly. Interesting. Killing you would be such a waste. I could use someone like you. I wonder how far your inherent talent can be pushed.”

Fire sprang up in Annis’ hand. KT jumped to the side as she threw it, narrowly dodging the splash of flames that cracked the ground where she had been standing. More fireballs came at her that she clumsily hurled herself away from. Annis was keeping her on the defensive, keeping her from getting close. KT couldn’t win if she couldn’t get close. She skidded to change directions and with a scream ran straight for Annis. The witch gave her a cruel smirk then sent another wave of flames directly at her.

The flames struck KT and washed over her entire body. The heat was intense but she didn’t feel pain. The silver threads on her clothes glowed crimson then disintegrated. She pushed through the fire and swung the doublesword at Annis’ head. Annis blocked with her talons but a look of mild surprise flittered across her face before she reset her features. 

Behind her, Kai roared a curse as another cut opened up his skin. His left shoulder had already taken a blow from a clawed hand and now blood gushed from a single line that ran down the side of his ribs. The lycan was faster, stronger and more experienced than him in every single way. 

He risked a glance over to KT but was forced to ducked low, almost falling as claws swept above his head. Before he could straighten the lycan kicked out at his chest. All air was knocked from his lungs. He collapsed to the floor. 

KT swung wide and Annis grabbed her arm with both hands, halting the sword completely, just as KT had planned. She drove her fist into the witch’s jaw and felt bone break. It was her fingers that had snapped though. Annis’ skin was hard as stone. Her head had barely moved at the impact.

Annis’ grin was almost animalistic now, her sharp teeth glittering in the weak light. The orb above her was smaller now while the glow that surrounded her was growing in intensity. “I don’t suppose you’d willingly join me?”

“Fuck you,” KT said through laboured breaths. She was trying to keep her cool but her fingers stung painfully and she was beginning to realise that she couldn’t win against this woman. How arrogant had she been to ever think she could have?

The lycan appeared at Annis’ side once again, this time with Kai held up by the throat in one giant hand.

Annis waved her hand and a hammer of air slammed into KT, sending her flying into the wall. It was an effort for her to open her eyes. KT tried but couldn’t move anything. Kai still hung helplessly. KT didn’t even know if he was conscious or not.

“What you don’t understand is that my goal is to save the world. As soon as I have enough power to open the Gate then the world will know peace once more. Lives have to be lost but none of them are wasted. Déaþscúa, and those like him, can never understand this. But that’s okay. He is prophesied to die to the woman of black. His power is the last thing that I need. It’s inevitable. So, I will ask you again. Will you join m-”

A hammer smashed into the side of Annis’ head. Her face distorted horribly in the split second before she was sent flying across the room. KT’s eyes flickered to the side and rested upon Friseal. He gave her a big, goofy grin then offered her a hand. She took it gratefully and was pulled to her feet as though she weighed nothing. 

“Friseal doesnae like seeing pretty lasses get hurt. Annis is pretty outside but very ugly inside. KT pretty everywhere. Friseal protect KT from ugly witch,” Friseal said in that slow, gentle way that he spoke. When his eyes turned back to Annis though, they burned with a fire that was at odds with the rest of his face.

Annis was back on her feet now, a snarl firmly set upon her face. Her pale cheek was red as though she had been slapped. There was no other sign that she had just been hit with a giant chunk of metal with enough force to shatter a human skull.

“You will regret that,” Annis said quietly. “I’ll wipe you and your entire family from this sorry land.”

“Annis talk big but Friseal doesnae think she has strength te back words up. Friseal think Annis should stop eatin’ people and try haggis. It make Annis big ‘n’ strong like Friseal.”

Annis took a deep breath then let loose a barrage of fireballs. Friseal didn’t move. His hammer swung to meet the flames and batted them away like tennis balls. The lycan had thrown Kai to the ground and now charged the Scotsman. Friseal fought him off easily, even the werewolf didn’t want to get acquainted with the fearsome hammer. Then Annis rejoined the fray, her metallic nails and the lycan’s claws moving with lightning speed.

Friseal grunted with effort, his burdensome hammer moving with speed and finesse that should have been impossible. He was holding his own, but only just. The lycan struck high and Annis hit out low. Friseal managed to block both but in the process had his weapon knocked from his hands. He staggered back and clenched his fists, showing no sign of fear or doubt. 

Then there were swords, axes and hammers all around him. Niall placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. His entire body was drenched in blood. None of it looked to be his own. 

“What did màthair tell ye about wanderin’ off alone?” the clan head said with mock sternness. 

Friseal gave him a sheepish grin. “Everyone else was busy. Hadtae keep the young ones safe.”

“Well, we’re all here now. Let’s show this blue-skinned bitch why no one messes with the MacFeelan family.”

Annis swept her gaze over the assembled warriors with weary contempt. The lycan stood ready at her side, dwarfing her. The sphere was almost gone now but the effort of absorbing it seemed to be taking its toll on her. A sheen of sweat was beginning to show.

“It seems,” she began, “that the powerless are still no match for our kind. That is good, I suppose, if inconvenient. I didn’t want to resort to this. Enjoy your tomb.”

She clapped her hands and the walls shook. Energy cracked across her body and spread to the stones around them. Dust rained down and a deep, reverberating rumble filled the air. The MacFeelans ran at Annis and the lycan with a loud battlecry. The witch raised her hands and fallen rocks began to float around her. They shook, shedding chips of stone until all had a sharpened point. She thrust her arm out and the rocks flew forward. Niall and the others went into defensive positions but the spikes went around them, aimed straight for KT. 

Before KT had even registered what was happening blood splashed against her. She cried out. Friseal stood before her, his back to Annis. The points of the spikes jutted out from his chest, gut and limbs. Despite the horrendous injuries, Friseal showed no sign of pain on his face. 

“KT…unharmed?” he asked. Blood dribbled from his mouth with every word and his breathing was a laboured gurgle. KT couldn’t muster her voice so she nodded faintly. 

“Good.”

He swayed then tumbled to the ground. Niall and the other MacFeelans rushed to his side. Niall collected Friseal’s hammer and handed it to his brother reverentially. Friseal took it slowly, using it like a staff to keep himself standing.

“Did ye git her?” Friseal rasped. 

Niall shook his head. “The second we were distracted she teleported away. Had a matterlink. Took the walking carpet with her. Damn cowardly bitch.”

“She got me real good, didnae she? KT safe though so witch lady missed.” Friseal chuckled at that. The room was still shaking, making it all the more difficult to stand. His knees shook then gave out. Niall caught him and lowered him gently to the floor. “I feel tired.”

“Hold on, Fri. We’ll fix ye up, okay,” Niall told him as he grasped his brother’s hand. He rounded on Elizabeth. “Can’t ye do anything, Lizzy?”

Elizabeth shook her head softly. “He’s already lost a lot of blood. To heal him I’d need to remove the spikes which would spill more blood. His internal organs have all been pierced. He shouldn’t even be alive after that.”

Friseal curled up as much as he could, wrapping his free arm around the hammer in a childlike embrace. His eyes were closed but his grip on his brother’s hand tightened. “I don’t want te go, bràthair. I never liked the dark…” 

His voice grew quieter as he spoke until it was barely audible above the shaking of the walls and falling rocks. His hand grew loose and his breathing slowed. With tears in her eyes, KT leaned in and kissed his cheek. A warm grin spread across his face as one final, long breath left his lungs, then he was still.

Niall bent down and picked Friseal up like a father would pick up a sleeping child. Rocks fell around them and the earth shook and crashed but for a few moments, everyone was still. “Màthair would be damn proud of ye. Ye are a true hero, Friseal MacFeelan.”

It was a young MacFeelan who brought everyone back to the danger of the situation.

“This place is goin’ te fall in around our ears real quick. We have te go. Now.”

“Agreed,” Elizabeth said. “Annis has rigged this entire structure with runes. When she clapped she triggered them, starting with those furthest away to block all the exits. She’s drained the magic from the stones, leaving the whole place unstable.”

As if to emphasise their words, louder explosions rocked the ground, threatening to throw them all off of their feet. Giant cracks split the stones on every surface. Kai was slung across one of the warrior’s shoulders and they ran back into the first chamber. Bodies lay thick on the ground and blood drenched everything. They found Déaþscúa’s shredded form and two of the MacFeelans carried him between them. It didn’t matter as the door back into the tunnels was already blocked by a thick layer of rubble.

“We’re trapped!” roared a twin axe wielding MacFeelan. “That murderess built this entire network just te cave in on us.”

More crashes shook their eardrums and the cracks in the walls and roof finally gave way. Fires and explosions flared into the room, firing rock fragments like hail. Everything was crumbling with a noise that became life and death itself. The earth caved in upon their heads.

Previous – Chapter 12.

Next – Chapter 14.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 13. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

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