Chapter 17. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

They grabbed a quick breakfast then gathered everything they would need and loaded it all into the SUV’s spacious boot. This included a heavy toolbox and several black cases that were handled with delicate care. They climbed inside, Déaþscúa taking the passenger seat while KT, Kai and Elizabeth filed into the back. It was like a limousine inside with heated leather seats and all manner of buttons and compartments. Even stuck in the middle as she was, KT had all the room that she could have wished for. 

Jearl started up the engine and the sound reverberated through the car like the throaty growl of a tiger. He turned it to face back down the path then slammed his foot onto the accelerator. It thundered down the dirt path yet it could have been a slow drive down a highway for all that the SUV shook or bumped. 

“So what are the specifics of the plan? Save Ailia sounds really vague,” Kai asked.

Déaþscúa nodded to Jearl then leant back in his seat. “Well, after you paid Ailia a visit that was so rudely interrupted by a group of men hired by a Mr Golman, she decided to teach him a lesson. The thing is he was expectin’ her, you see. I don’t know the details but Cathal says she left in the evenin’ and never returned. We can assume that he has captured her and that she is being held prisoner within his compound.”

“Or she’s dead,” Kai added dryly. “Any good gang leader should know to kill potential threats.”

“True that, mister,” Jearl nodded. “Savin’ that Roger Golman is a man who likes to stretch out his victories. He likes power. Anyone has the power to kill but few can hold lives within their hands and force it to their will. He’ll see Ailia as a potential advantage.”

KT stared at the pistols at her side and ran fingers down the edge of the doublesword. “So we drive to this compound and break her out? We don’t know where she’ll be within that place and it will likely be guarded by armed men. Me and Kai can’t pull ourselves back together after gunshots.”

“We won’t be engaging with the guards if possible,” Déaþscúa told them. “You two are the only ones who can fight. I don’t like those odds. We infiltrate the grounds then try to locate Ailia. Golman will be expecting any rescue attempt to be by powered individuals, mages or monsters, so will not be looking too closely for regular folk.”

“Where is this compound?”

“The south of Scotland,” Jearl answered. “It’s in a remote plot of land but is close to all the necessary transport links. He is a businessman after all.”

“It’ll be a few hours until we get there. Let’s see what this beast can do,” Déaþscúa said eagerly. He pressed a button and a heavy guitar riff began to blare from a dozen speakers. The noise was almost physical. He inched his head to Jearl and the SUV’s speed doubled.

The ride went by quicker than KT had imagined. The further north they travelled, the more treacherous and cold the weather became, but inside the SUV it might as well have been summer. Towns and countryside zipped past through the windows and the music drowned out the sounds of the engine and the wheels. 

It was hard to tell what time it was when the SUV finally pulled to a stop on the outskirts of a small town just off of a motorway. Thick clouds boiled overhead casting everything in shadow. They disembarked and gathered around the front of the car.

Déaþscúa slumped against the bonnet but he tried to make his voice sound as strong as ever. “Jearl and Elizabeth are going to ask around town and see what info they can find. KT and Kai will be with me as we go and do some reconnaissance of the facility itself. We’ll meet back up in that little cafe over there in two hours. Agreed?”

Everyone nodded before separating into the two groups. Elizabeth and Jearl made their way into the town while Déaþscúa headed off down a long road leading in the opposite direction. KT and Kai walked at his side, moderating their pace to match the man’s slow but steady limp. The constant look of suppressed pain on his face made KT wonder just how badly he was hurt.

It was a short walk along the road until Déaþscúa veered to the side and took to the sparse trees that ranged out all around them. The ground here sloped upwards where the road had been gradually inching lower. Despite the rough landscape and Déaþscúa’s unsteady walk, he still moved without making a sound. They moved through the trees until they came to an abrupt ledge that looked down upon a fenced off enclosure filled with a cluster of large buildings. Déaþscúa motioned for the two teens to get down then jerkily laid down himself. 

The compound was a series of five large brick warehouses that surrounded a central office block. A metal fence ran around it all that was topped with a tangle of barbed wire. Men in security uniforms patrolled the site, none visibly armed but easily a dozen in number. There were likely more guards that they couldn’t see as well. Gates opened along the road to allow a truck to exit then closed again almost as soon as the vehicle was fully through them. 

“You expect us to sneak in there, search until we find Ailia, then get back out again without being seen? You’re crazy,” Kai remarked cynically. 

“True enough,” Déaþscúa responded dryly. He continued as though he had not acknowledged Kai’s comment. “I would guess that the guards have concealed weapons but at least we know they won’t be pulling automatics or rockets out on us. At least not without grabbing them from someplace first.”

“Oh goody. We can be shot once instead of multiple times. Lucky us.”

“Lucky indeed,” said Déaþscúa without really listening. “Hmm. Their patrol routes are basic but cover the ground almost perfectly. This Golman knows his stuff.”

KT watched the men below while trying to fix their patterns into her head. “We could hide inside one of the trucks that go in. Or maybe dig under the fence,” she offered uncertainly.

“We could,” agreed Déaþscúa passively. He pulled himself to his feet with a groan. “Come on. I want to do a lap of the compound to find every little detail.”

Slowly, they circled around the compound, stopping every now and then for Déaþscúa to examine something or other before he would move on again. When they finally came back to the road Déaþscúa started up it straight away. 

They walked in silence to the small cafe that Déaþscúa had marked out earlier. Elizabeth and Jearl were not there yet so Déaþscúa ordered three coffees and a bowl full of deep-fried Mars bars, just because. The cafe was empty other than them so they seated themselves in the corner furthest from the counter and waited.

“It’s a good job we bought Mars bars,” Kai told them between mouthfuls of the fatty delight. “My teachers always said Mars bars were good just before an exam.”

“Yeah, because an exam is the same as walking into a guarded compound filled with armed men.” KT scoffed.

“Exams and battles are the same,” Déaþscúa told them slowly, his voice taking on the sound of a wise man imparting his wisdom. “They’re both bad for your health and are utter bullshit.” He started to laugh at his own joke but it quickly turned into a coughing fit. Blood dripped from his mouth which he hastily mopped up with a napkin.

The cafe door opened and Elizabeth entered, followed by Jearl. She looked disgustedly at the deep-fried chocolate then ordered herself a cup of tea that she sipped at disapprovingly. Jearl excitedly bought himself an entire bowl of the snacks and a hot chocolate to wash them down with.

“Did you learn anything?” Déaþscúa asked quietly.

Elizabeth sat herself down then began to speak. “Golman’s security is tight. All vehicles are searched before they enter and again before they leave. The guards are all rough men, none of whom are local, and he apparently has dogs out at night so nobody can sneak in under the cloak of darkness. None of the locals have ever been inside except for a single lorry driver and he said that he had not been allowed to leave the side of his lorry.”

Déaþscúa looked thoughtful for a moment. “Dogs, guards and a strong fence. That’s all easy enough. I have just the right plan.” The group leaned in around him as he filled them in on his scheme. There were some incredulous looks but he eventually managed to talk everyone around.

***

They took to the few shops around the village then returned to the SUV to make their preparations. When night came around, Jearl drove down the road, slowing as he neared the gate. Stone-faced security guards surrounded the SUV, their leader knocking on the tinted window of the driver’s door. It was the passenger side window that opened in response though.

“Good evening,” Déaþscúa said with a charming smile. “It’s looking to be a nice night. Wouldn’t you agree?”

The guard leader dashed around the car with a pistol now in his hand. One look inside was all he took before aiming the gun at Déaþscúa’s head.

“Mr Golman warned us about ye, freak. Keep your hands where I can see them.”

Déaþscúa lifted his hands. One still had a bullet hole through it. “Don’t misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to fight you. I simply want to speak with Mr Golman.”

“Ye arenae te pass this gate unless we’re draggin’ yer sorry carcass. Those are Mr Golman’s orders.”

“How very uncivil of him,” Déaþscúa said with mock hurt. “And here I was trying to be kind. You know that you can’t stand against me. When I come back you will all die a horrifyingly brutal death. You know I have the power to do it.”

“Ye don’t scare us. We know that ye got swiss cheesed back at the old fort. Our guns can take you down.”

“And yet here I am before you all a few days later.” He spoke cockily, his eyes scanning the surrounding land instead of watching the guards. As his eyes passed over the steep ledge to his left he nodded his head slightly.

***

Kai lowered a cheap pair of binoculars. He and KT were positioned on the cliff that they had used earlier in the day to examine the compound below. Scattered around them were several bags filled with an assortment of objects.

“Déaþscúa gave the signal. It’s time.”

“Right,” sighed KT from his side. “So we’re really doing this?”

“Looks like it.”

“We did say that we wanted to be involved in all of this.”

“True,” Kai nodded miserably. “That doesn’t mean that I have to like it though.”

KT stepped up to the ledge’s edge carrying a triangular shape of metal and fabric. It was a makeshift hang-glider that Déaþscúa and Elizabeth had made from items bought in the town. Kai picked up an equally shoddy looking glider and took a deep breath.

She grinned at him. “I didn’t realise you were scared of heights anymore. You told us that you’d gotten over that years ago.”

Kai shuddered. “I’m not scared of heights. Heights are nothing. It’s drops that scare the shit out of me. Velocity plus ground. Hard surfaces at high speeds. Blissful freefall abruptly ending with the shattering of bones and rupturing of internal organs.”

KT’s smile faded. “That was the least encouraging thing that you could have said moments before we throw ourselves off of a cliff.”

Forcing all thoughts from her head she moved back, filled her lungs, then ran for the edge with the glider held above her. She leapt from the ledge and immediately dropped several feet before the air caught the glider and eased her down at a more angular descent. Kai swore then followed with his eyes closed. They glided for only a few brief seconds before their feet brushed against the roof of the closest storehouse then thudded down. 

Peering over the roof’s edge, KT could see that the sniffer dogs that weren’t circling Déaþscúa’s SUV were pulling their owners away toward the other end of the compound. That meant that Elizabeth had deployed her bait. Most of the guards would be distracted now, if only for a few minutes. 

Kai had removed a small box from his rucksack and set it down. From the box he slid what looked to be a large, bulky pen made from metal. It was connected to the box by a thick wire. He fiddled cautiously with it for a moment until a bubbling black liquid began to froth around the end of the pen. It emitted a soft hissing sound.

“Blacklight plasma-cutter. Magical technology is pretty damn cool,” he said appreciatively as he set to work cutting into the roof.

He peered into the small hole and saw a narrow walkway that circled the large room within. Below that was a single large space that was filled with metal storage containers. One man patrolled the room with a torch that cut through the yellow gloom of the handful of buzzing lights that hung from the ceiling.

They moved to the side of the roof then cut a larger hole that a person could fit through. It took an effort to stop the circle of material falling to alert the guard but they managed it. The man below still seemed oblivious. As quietly as they could, KT dropped down onto the walkway followed closely by Kai. They crouched in the shadows and listened as the guard moved slowly around the crates below them. There was nothing to suggest that anyone else was nearby.

KT’s breath seemed too loud in her own ears. Every slight shift of her weight made the walkway groan. She had never been so conscious of the pounding of her own heart. None of it caught the attention of the guard though. She forced the distractions from her mind. If she wanted to prove herself to Déaþscúa then she needed a clear head. The slightest mistake here could doom both herself and Kai, not to mention Ailia, and Déaþscúa’s plans to stop Annis.

Kai waited until the guard paused in clear sight then shot him with a small tranquiliser pistol that Déaþscúa had provided them. The man cried out in surprise but even as he span around his movements became sluggish. It only took a few seconds for him to collapse to the floor. They climbed down a ladder then hid the unconscious guard in a corner before moving through the building in search of any signs of Ailia. There was nothing. KT took out her phone and dialled Déaþscúa’s number. He answered almost instantly. 

“The first warehouse is clear. No sign of Ailia.”

“Okay. We’ve pulled back so the guards will all be back on patrol. My bet would be that Ailia is in the central administration building. That will be where Golman spends most of his time. Do you think that you could get in there unseen?”

“Maybe. We’ll have a look. How long until Plan B is ready?”

“Give me three minutes,” Déaþscúa said before dropping the call. 

The teens moved to the front of the warehouse. The large entrance for vehicles was locked but the side door opened. KT peered out into the gloom. Guards and dogs moved between pools of light in a series of circuits. There was no chance of them crossing the gap to the administration building without being seen. They waited in silence for Déaþscúa’s distraction, placing sunglasses over their eyes which made the world almost unseeable.

The sky lit up in a sudden flash of red followed by a deep boom. Then more screeching sounds of fireworks heralded lights of every colour exploding above. KT and Kai dashed through the door, sprinting as fast as their legs would carry them toward the entrance to the brick building at the centre of the compound. The guards staggered around shouting, the sudden lights blinding them for a few precious seconds.

One guard was already opening the door to the administrative block. Kai tackled him straight through the door and fired a tranquilliser into his back from point-blank range. Another guard stood inside, his eyes wide with shock. KT slammed her fist into his face hard enough to jerk his head back into the wall. He slumped to the ground and Kai shot him with the dart-gun just for good measure. They closed the door then manhandled the two men into a nearby storeroom.

Moving as quietly as they could, the two teens searched the building. It seemed to be empty. The fireworks had ended and the guards outside were on edge but were luckily staying outside. It was not long until they found a large office that looked positively fancy compared to the rest of the compound.

KT redialled Déaþscúa. “We’ve found Golman’s office. There’ no sign of him or Ailia.”

“Right. Keep your voices down. My guess is that there’s a hidden room accessible from somewhere in there. Golman and Ailia are likely within there. Start a video call so I can look around.”

“No need,” Kai cut in. He was stood with his eyes closed and his fingers splayed. “Remember what he told us about faint air currents back inside the fort? There is a draft coming from that wall panel there.” He pointed to one of the wooden panels that looked the same as every other in the room.

Déaþscúa’s face appeared on KT’s phone. “Point me to this panel.” KT complied. “There must be a switch to open it if Kai is right. Move the phone around slowly so I can have a good look. No. No. Nope. Too obvious. Ah. That looks promising.”

“What does?”

“You see that glass vase of flowers? Golman doesn’t strike me as a man who keeps flowers. It is simple and boring to the point that nobody would be curious enough to ever move it. Give it a try.”

Kai stepped up to the small shelf that contained a few dusty books and the vase of lilies in question. He tried to pick it up but instead the vase only pivoted. There was a click from the panel that Kai had pointed out. He grinned widely. 

“Be careful down there. If Golman is here then he will be armed and won’t hesitate to kill you. Always remember that humans can be far more monstrous than any creature of nightmares.”

“Got it,” KT said then put her phone away. 

Kai drew his gun and stood ready as KT opened the secret door. It slid open soundlessly, revealing a stone staircase that descended under the building. KT grit her teeth as she stared into the darkness that stretched out before her. Seeing KT’s face, Kai entered first. He found a switch that lit the darkness with cold, white light. KT stayed close behind him, a pistol clenched firmly in her hands. The staircase ended at another door. Kai tried the handle and it was unlocked. He counted to three in a whisper then threw the door open. Both teens ran into the room with their guns swinging in every direction searching out a foe.

The room was small with grey stone for all six surfaces. It was completely bare except for a strange machine that rested against the back wall, a single chair, and a young girl who was chained up in the middle. Ailia looked as battered as someone without blood could look. She was completely naked beside the thick metal that bound her wrists, ankles and neck. Small holes lined her arms and her mouth hung open. Where her fangs had been there were now only gum. She did not stir at their approach.

“We’ve found her,” KT said unsteadily into her phone once Déaþscúa was on the line again. Seeing Ailia look so broken was difficult.

Kai had already set to work cutting through the chains using the blacklight plasma-cutter. He cut through one chain holding her arm then started on the one around her neck. “She’s unconscious I don’t know if she’ll be able to get out of her on her own feet. Wait. Shit!”

“What?” came Déaþscúa’s voice but she had already put the phone away. 

Footsteps were coming down the stairs. Golman’s voice sounded as they neared the door. “Is my wee sucker ready for her exercise? I ken that secretly you love it with all of your tainted wee heart.”

KT and Kai took aim at the door. It opened slightly but instead of Golman entering, a glowing ball that was slightly smaller than a football rolled into the room. Before either of them could react, streaks of blue lightning shot from the sphere and hit them both, knocking them to the floor with a fit of spasms. KT tried to scream but her lungs wouldn’t let any breath out. Her mind was nothing but white hot pain.

The ball stopped glowing. Golman stepped into the room with a look of smug satisfaction across his face. He was tall, had short, black hair and slightly pudgy features. He wore a neatly pressed suit that looked unworn and expensive. Upon seeing KT and Kai, a contemptuous sneer flickered across his features before settling back to cockiness.

“Déaþscúa sends bairns to do his dirty work now does he? Did you honestly think that you could break into my compound without me being alerted at any point? You clearly underestimate me. Even a mighty vampire is nothing more than my toy.”

“I’m a toy am I?” The voice was quiet yet cut off Golman like a slap. Ailia’s eyes were still closed but slowly her head rose. “On the contrary, parasite. You’re the toy, and a poor one at that.”

“Silence bitch! You live by my will! Your powers are suppressed by my technologies and your body is bound. I’ll make you watch as your friends here die.”

Ailia snorted then strained, a low growl rumbling from her throat. The chain that Kai had started cutting that held her neck snapped. 

KT glanced at the large mechanical device on the wall. It pulsed with red light. Wires ran from it to the chains. Her muscles stung but she reached out and grabbed the sphere that Golman had thrown. It sparked in her hand, sending fresh waves of pain through her body. Golman moved to kick her when Kai grabbed his leg. The man turned and shot him in the head but Kai had pulled up his hood. He screamed and clutched the back of his head but the second he had bought had been enough. KT surged forward and slammed the orb into the machine’s screen. Electricity arced across the metal then exploded into flame, throwing KT back into the wall.

Golman picked himself up and stared into the billowing smoke. The chains were still unbroken but nobody was held within them. Then a figure materialised in front of him. He yelped and tried to run. The door slammed shut in his face. The room echoed with gunshots as he tried to empty his magazine into Ailia. Dusty holes riddled her body but she didn’t flinch.

“So, little man, you think that tiny growth between your legs gives you power over me? You’re so confident. Self assured. Arrogant. Let’s see how much is left once you’ve been neutered like the mangy dog you are.” She reached out for the man. He shot her in the face. The bullet glistened between her teeth. She spat it out then slapped the gun out of his hand. In the blink of an eye she had grabbed his crotch.

“No! God no! Please!”

Ailia yanked her arm back with all of her unnatural strength. A scream unlike anything that KT had ever heard, even in nightmares, erupted from Golman’s lips. Both she and Kai whipped their heads away from the scene only to see a bloody chunk of flesh and cloth slap into the wall. Kai threw up, clutching his own crotch as though the pain had hit him through proxy. Even as a woman, KT still felt the urge to cower in a quivering ball.

“Enjoy your business empire, you dickless wanker,” the vampire finished. Golman made a strangled noise then collapsed. She wiped her hand on his shirt then walked out as boldly as if she owned the place. 

Struggling up, KT and Kai followed her. She strode through the building then swung the door open and exited into the night. Guards turned to her and began to shout. Guns fired but she was already gone. She reappeared in front of the closest man and tore out his throat with one hand before vanishing again. KT watched in stunned shock as Ailia systematically slaughtered every guard. The dogs ran away squealing. She licked blood from her lips and arms with a wide grin. She left the compound through the main gates leaving nothing but blood and corpses in her wake. 

KT and Kai followed her with a numb, stumbling, pace. Kai clutched the back of his head and swayed dangerously with every step. KT’s entire body tingled, except for her hand where she had held the electric ball, which she couldn’t feel at all.

The SUV pulled up beside them a short way along the road. Déaþscúa threw Ailia his coat. “Try not to soak it in too much blood.” Seeing the state of her body, his voice grew warmer. “You okay?”

Ailia snuggled deep into the giant coat, offering Déaþscúa a toothless smile. “I knew that you’d come for me, Brambles. See, you love me really.”

“We did all the work,” Kai grunted sourly as they all climbed into the car. It was a tight fit in the back between KT, Kai, Elizabeth and Ailia but the SUV was more than spacious enough.

Ailia leaned over the seats to rest her head on Déaþscúa’s shoulder. “You saved me so you must have a job in mind. Where are we going?”

“To get my sword back. After that I guess we can give dear old Annis a visit to pay her back for all of her kindness over the years.”

“And we all know that you show kindness with brutal punches to the head!” Ailia chirped. Despite her chipper tone, KT noticed that the vampire was trying hard not to show her gums.

Déaþscúa nodded. “Damn right I do.”

Previous – Chapter 16.

Next – Chapter 18.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 17. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

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