Friday, January 16, 2009

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): Shadows Of Polaris chapter two

The Nick Of Time

(and other abrasions)

Shadows Of Polaris


Al Bruno III

Chapter Two

Matthew stared at the guns wondering which might be more painful- multiple bullet wounds or ritual castration. He had a funny feeling that with his luck he was going to end up with both. Audra gave him an elbow in the ribs and then glanced down the hallway to their right. It ended in a wide picture window. What had she seen? Something helpful? "Look," Matthew began, "I think there's been some kind of terrible mistake..."

"I'll say. Those shirts went out of style years ago."

The four men had a good laugh at that.

Matthew Peterson- straight man to the universe!

"Sir." Matthew tried again, "Whatever the reward for my capture is I'm sure I can more than double it."

"The bounty for an Outlander is an Audience with the Regent. Are you saying that you can get me two audiences? I'd like to see that."


"I thought so."

Audra was shaking her head and whispering under her breath. Matthew couldn't understand the words but it did sound a little bit like Latin. The poor thing must be really terrified of this guy.

Matthew said, "Who are you?"

"The name is Jack Diamond."

"Ok Mr. Diamond, what do I have to do to get out of this mess?"

"Ain't a damn thing you can do buddy. You are in the wrong motherfuckin' place at the wrong motherfuckin' time."

"People will know I'm missing."

"Buddy people go missing every day." Jack started to laugh but then his gaze fell
on Audra. Her whispering had become more frenzied, "Oh no, you just cut
that shit out right now missy!"

Jack raised his cannon of a pistol, taking aim at the girl.

The other three moved forward, their weapons at ready.

"No!" Matthew cried.

Her hands seemed almost to glimmer as Audra pulled the bottle of baby powder from her knapsack and threw. The plastic bottle shattered like glass when it struck Jack Diamond's forehead. A cloud of white, sweet smelling powder engulfed the four men.

"This way!" Audra dashed to the down the dead end hallway.

Matthew followed her shouting, "Wait! You're going the-"

Wild arcs of gunfire peppered the walls. Audra shouted something, it sounded like gibberish to Matthew but when she was done the bay window shattered outwards.

How? He almost faltered at the sight of it, How did she-

Then he remembered her saying "Because I'm a sorceress. Well, sorceress in training really."

And before he could say or think anything else she leapt out the window.

Is she crazy? What floor are we on? How high up are we? Matthew
thought as paused on the windowsill and peered down. His eyes found a mass of
snow and naked shrubbery. It was a drop of four feet, maybe less. He breathed a
sigh of relief.

A flurry of curses made him turn back, he could see the four men chasing after him. The white powder coating their faces made them look like a quartet of psychotic mimes. Matthew jumped out the window.

Only to hit the ground all wrong; somehow managing to both smack his head into something hard and knock the wind from his lungs. He rolled in the snow, crunching broken glass and torn branches beneath him.

Audra was shouting in his ear for him to get up and run but his legs felt rubbery
beneath him. It was too much effort to breathe, much less run anywhere. Matthew let himself be half carried, half dragged into the shadowy treeline. He glanced over at her face, her eyes were narrowed, her teeth clenched. pretty...why is she helping me?

Everything swam out of focus. Does this mean I'm going back home? He wondered.

The next thing Matthew knew he was lying beneath a pine tree watching Audra retreat into the darkness. Her voice was a haggard whisper, ".... be right back. Gotta make sure they can't find us."

"Wait." His voice was thick slurred, his mouth tasted like blood. He must have bitten his tongue in the fall, "Wait."


"What's-" He spoke the word uncertainly, "What's a Pendaroth?"

Her eyes widened "Where did you hear that?"

" it."

She nodded, "Shut up and wait here."

Matthew watched her disappear into the darkness. This school of hers certainly had nice campus, lots of woods. He wished he'd have gone to school with grounds like this instead of a measly community college.

What kind of school teaches magic? Must be a liberal arts thing.

He slid down the tree and stared at the sky. The stars glittered coldly, pinpricks
of light shining through the broken canopy of the treeline. His eyes found all the old familiar constellations; Orion, The Big Dipper, the Little Dipper. Wherever he was, at least the stars were the same- that was something. His eyes found the star Polaris shimmering coldly from its place in the Little Dipper. It almost seemed to be staring down at him, like a single mocking eye.

The sound of footsteps close by startled Matthew from his thoughts. He sat up suddenly, his heart hammering. He'd almost fallen asleep! Was he crazy?

He could hear voices too, gruff angry voices getting closer every second. Matthew tried to concentrate, tried to gage which direction they were coming from. The voices became shouts, he thought he heard the dry clock of weapons being readied.

Was that motion he saw up ahead or nothing more than his eyes playing tricks on him?

Was that Audra he heard whispering?

More gunfire filled the air but it sounded different this time, muffled.

Silencers? Are the using silencers? That's not how they sound on TV.

And then as suddenly as it had begun it was over. He could hear footsteps moving again. Just one set this time.

What just happened? What just happened here?

Audra knelt beside him, out of breath. "Three down. I don't know where Jack
Diamond is. We better get moving."

"What did you do?"


"What did you do?"

She took him by the wrist, pulled him to his feet. "Let's just say that
kinetic energy and I are old friends."

"What?" Matthew found himself dragged at breakneck speed through a maze of trees and brambles. The darkness made every shadow seem swollen and ominous.

"You can look it up when you get home. You have encylopedias don't you?"

"Are they dead?"

"Do I look like I care?" She stopped suddenly and gave his wrist a hard tug, "And by the way, the Pendaroth is none of your damn business. Your only concern is getting out of here, not learning all our quaint little folk tales ok?"

"I'm sorry."

"No. If we don't get over the fence before the forces of order or the Dean show up - then you'll be sorry."

A well-worn path snaked through the wooded campus. It split off and branched out in crazy directions. Matthew could see buildings off in the distance and he
wondered if they were dormitories or if they were classrooms. Regardless of what they might be, Audra was leading him away from them.

He didn't like this, it was too secluded. For all he knew Jack Diamond might be
shadowing them, waiting for the right moment to strike. Matthew couldn't
believe that he was worth all this trouble. Whoever said it was nice to feel wanted had never been to the city of Olathoe.

"Why do they hate Outlanders so much?" he whispered.

"The Regent believes that that if an ordinary schmoe like you can get this far you're either pitifully unlucky or potentially dangerous."

"I'm not dangerous!"

"Believe me I know." She slowed her pace. "Ok we're there."

A wall of darkness loomed before them. It stretched as far as Matthew could see in either direction encircling the wooded campus. As they drew closer he could
see that it was a stockade fence. "Hm." He said, "I expected something more... something more..."


"Yeah gothic."

"The original fence was wrought iron and gothic as hell. It was destroyed in the Morgan riots of nineteen eighty-six."

"Riots?" he approached the fence, appraising it. It was almost ten feet tall and looked easy enough to climb but the top ended in a series of regular sharp protrusions. He did not like the looks of those and he had to wonder if they were to keep the riff-raff out or the students in.

"Yeah it was right after the Vlodek purge and..." She paused, "Shhh! Get down."

Matthew got down. He could hear the scrabbling noises too.

A pair of shadows clumsily made their way over the fence and plopped down a few feet away. "Lorelei?" Audra whispered.

"Audra?" one of the figures moved forward while the other held back, "What are you doing?"

The two girls hugged "Sneaking out. What are you doing?"

"Sneaking in. How was your trip?"

"Worst vacation ever."

A man's voice interrupted, "Lorelei do we have time for this?"

"Can it." Lorelei whispered harshly, then she turned
back to Audra "What's up?"

"Oh you'll love this." Audra said "Come out Matt. It's my roommate Lorelei and her boyfriend."

"He is not my boyfriend Audra."

Matthew walked out from behind a tree with as much dignity as he could muster.

"Where did you find him?" Lorelei snickered, "And where did you find that shirt?”

So much for my dignity. Matthew groaned. Lorelei looked to be about the same age as Audra but her hairwas shorter and her physique was more robust. She was good-looking but there was something predatory about her that Matthew found unnerving.

The man who wasn't Lorelei's boyfriend stepped closer. He was wearing scruffy-looking jeans, a battered leather jacket and a rumpled gray fedora. His eyes were dark, so dark that the seemed to blend in with the night itself. "Matthew?" He said, "Matthew Peterson?"

"Uh yeah." He shook the hand that was offered him. No wonder Lorelei doesn't anyone thinking that's her boyfriend, the guy must be at least forty. "Do I know you?"

"Of course you- oh." a pained expression crossed his features.

"Have we met?"

"Yes." He cleared his throat, "Just now. I'm Jason, Jason Magwier."

"Matthew Peterson, but you already know that...somehow."

Audra pulled the brim of Jason Magiwer's hat down over his eyes, "Don't let him freak you out Matt he's just being cryptic. He gets off on it."

"He's an Outlander isn't he?" Lorelei said with an appraising look.

"Big time."

Once his hat was straightened Magwier began pacing, head down, arms clasped behind his back. "You have to get him out of here."

Audra groaned, "Gee thanks I never would have thought of that."

"We could take him back the way he came." Lorelei suggested.

Magwier shook his head, "You saw what it was like out there. They Constables have placed Sentries at every streetcorner. He'd be spotted in seconds -frilly shirt or not."

"There are about four wiers I can think of." Audra said.

"There are five, a sixth is being built on the Regent's estate. All of them are one hundred percent unreachable."

Matthew asked, "How would you know?"

"Trust me I know."


"He knows." Lorelei said with a frown, "He remembers."

Audra waved a hand, "Look I'll just head on over to Pexley's Emporium. He's so sweet on me he'd do anything, even book passage out of the City."

"That won't work either." Magwier said as he paced, "You know he's in bed with the Kuen-Yuin."

"So what? " Lorelei kicked at the ground, "It’s not like they know he’s here."

Audra shook her head "He made a phone call."

"He what?" Jason Magwier and Lorelei said with matching looks of dismay.

"It was a stupid phone call!" Matthew shook his hands with frustration, "A stupid stupid phone call! How was I to know?"

Magwier said, "I'm surprised the Gray Mandarin's men haven't shown up already."

"They did." Audra said, "I took care of them."

Lorelei high-fived her, "You go girl."

"Excuse me." Matthew said, "Am I to get the impression that I'm screwed

"Sounds like it." Lorelei replied.

"No we aren't finished yet." Magwier stopped pacing and shook a finger at them, "They won't expect you to go to Harnett's Tabernacle."

Audra approached him, her voice was icy, "That's because going to Harnett's Tabernacle is suicide."

"I don't think we have a choice." Jason Magwier said "There's no other way. The Constables are out for blood."

"Oh man." Audra crossed her arms and gave Matthew a worried look.

"Come on people-" Matthew was nearly stomping his feet with frustration, "What's a Tabernacle? What's a Harnett? Why is it bad? Throw me a bone here!"

"Audra," Magwier stopped pacing and scowled into the darkness, "how exactly did you deal with the agents of the Kuen-Yuin?"

"They shot at me, I was ready. I returned their violence threefold." Audra squinted and followed his gaze.

"You killed them?"

"They were trying to kill me."

Matthew added "But she said that Jack Diamond guy got away."

Lorelei made a choking sound, "Jack Diamond? Jack Diamond was here?"

"Jack Diamond is still here." Magwier said, "And he's mad."

Shadows shifted in the blackness. Magwier tensed, Lorelei drew back to stand beside him. Matthew recognized the three shapes shuffling towards them, he recognized their designer shits and their cold eyes. But now their flesh was torn and hanging. "I thought you said you killed them." Mathew barely had breath to speak "I thought you said they were dead.

"I did." Audra said, "They are."

The gunshot sounded like canon going off. A hole the size of a fist appeared in the stockade fence just inches from where Audra was standing. Everyone dove for cover. "Stick your head up again bitch so I can air it out for you!" Jack Diamond leaned out from behind a tree. He fired again, destroying another section of the wooden barrier.

Magwier said, "What did you two do to him? He doesn't raise the dead unless he's furious!"

The dead men drew closer; Matthew could hear their teeth grinding. They were
trapped, between the gunfire and the fence there was nowhere they could run to.

"Jason!" Lorelei hissed as she fumbled around in her pockets. "You remember what I'm thinkin' lover?"

"Of course." Magwier crawled over to where Audra was cowering, "We'll take care of this but you have to get him out of here and you have to go to Harnett's Tabernacle."

"But-" Audra tried speak.

"No buts- the only thing that that man hates more than being humiliated is me. And remember- Harnett's Tabernacle." Magwier said before crawling away again.

A bullet impacted on the ground just inches from Matthew's hand. He yelped and
pressed himself against the fence.

Lorelei was chanting over a handful of stones, in her other hand she held a wooden slingshot.

"Be ready." Audra whispered as she slipped her hand into Matthew's.

The stones in Lorelei's hand began to shimmer. Magwier crawled over to her and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. The first of the zombies was within grabbing distance of them.

"Now!" Magwier cried.

Lorelei raised herself to one knee, loaded one of the glowing stones into her slingshot and fired. There was a flash and a wet popping sound. The lead dead man went down, the top of its head torn away.

Howling like a lunatic Magwier dodged past the remaining zombies and barreled into the woods. Jack fired twice, missing both times. Magwier tackled him, the pistol went flying.

"Come on." Audra said as she started climbing the fence. Matthew followed her, using the smoldering, ragged holes as fingerholds.

It took two stones to bring down the next zombie and even as it fell the third one was right on top of Lorelei. It clawed at her, knocking her to the ground in its eagerness. She cursed as the gleaming stones tumbled from her fingers. She kicked at the zombie only to have it grab her leg.

Carefully heaving herself over the top of the fence Audra landed on the cobblestone street. Mathew hurried to follow easing himself as gently as possible over the sharp spikes. He could hear Lorelei struggling with the last of the dead men.

Further away two men were grappling in the snow, flailing at each like a pair of feuding children. Somehow, Matthew thought, somehow I expected this to be more kung fu and zaps and less grunting and scratching.

"Matthew!" Audra called, "Hurry up!"

"I think your friends are in trouble."

"They can take care of themselves! Come on!"

Jack punched Magwier, knocking him back. "I should have fuckin' known you'd be behind this." He said as he clambered to his knees. His left hand snaked into his coat pocket.

"You give me too much credit." Magwier launched himself to attack again.

Cursing himself Matthew dropped from the top of the stockade fence. "Audra I think your friends are really in trouble."

"Don't worry. They thrive on it." she started running, "This way."

"Audra I'm serious I think-" a gunshot cut Matthew off, a fresh hole was torn in the fence. Afraid that he might be dead, Matthew reached up and felt wood splinters in his hair. "Wait up!" he called to her."

Of course he had to assume that she knew where they were going because to him all the alleys and side streets looked the same. Audra kept a brisk pace and refused to answer his questions with more than a grunt or a shrug. Matthew just figured that she was worried about Lorelei and her un-boyfriend. Occasionally they would slow at the mouth of an alley and observe the goings on. The more that Matthew saw the more he marveled at the city's dichotomies. One tableau in particular brought that crashing home.

It was a street where spectators had gathered to watch a double-jointed man caper to the music coming from pipes being played by a round-faced boy. The gathered audience was varied, most were average looking, if strangely dressed but scattered among them were albinos in lace and six-fingered men in leather. Some of them tossed black rubies into the basket at the pipe-playing boy's feet;
others merely nodded sagely as they watched the dance unfold. A Constable observed the assembly from a discreet distance, her uniform immaculate, her medals glinting. A pair of huge sexless figures flanked her on either side; their heads were shaven, their faces intricately tattooed. They wore armor that looked to Matthew like something out of the Middle Ages. The assault rifles they carried were very much on the cutting edge.

"Are those-" Matthew began.

Audra replied as she dragged him to another side street "Sentries. What you get
when you combine magic, steroids and ritualized abuse."

They made their way through the abandoned furniture and bags of garbage. Matthew asked, "How does magic work?"

Audra paused to get her bearings, "Magic is just another kind of energy. It's soul energy. Everything- you, me, Jack Diamond, animals, buildings- has a soul. Magic is the act of harnessing and directing that energy."

Matthew nodded "Like when you made your hand glow back at the Dean's house."

"I'm impressed. I didn't think you'd noticed that." She gave him a pleased look and then started pushing an old desk from one end of the alley to another, "That was me calling upon the power of Anarchy to make sure the bottle of babypowder blew up in the Kuen-Yuins' faces."

Matthew helped her wedge the desk up against an old brick wall on the side of the alley, he could hear music and dozens of people talking. It sounded like a bustling computer show. "And when Lorelei made the rocks glow?"

"She was calling upon the powers of Mother Nature. The girl calls herself a sorceress but I swear she's a closet Wiccan." Audra climbed up onto the desk.

"What did you do to Jack Diamond's friends?"

"Shh!" Audra put a finger to her lips.

Matthew looked around, the lights were on in some of the buildings that bordered the alley. "Do you hear something?"

She put her hand over his mouth, "Shhhh!"

He couldn't hear anything over the din from the other side of the wall.

Maybe she has super hearing. Matthew thought, Or maybe she's just trying to get me to shut up?

She wouldn't be the first.

"Come on." Audra said and then she climbed over the wall. Matthew hopped up onto the desk and followed her.

The street they found themselves in was a wide cul-de-sac and it was crowded;
crowded with people, crowded with voices, all seemingly trying to sing, chant or shout each other down. There were twice as many listeners as there were talkers. Most of the people addressing the masses stood on boxes or makeshift stages; a few of them had elegant podiums. Some spoke alone others had choruses singing in the background.

They're all preaching! Matthew realized This is all religious stuff.

"What is this?" He asked.

"Recruiting station." Audra said, "Come on."

They threaded their way through the crowd "This is the tabernacle?"

"No." She shook her head, "Not even close."

She paused for a few moments to listen to a trio of women singing hymns. Their voices were beautiful and the language they used was as alien as all the other tongues Matthew had tonight. He wished he could relax enough to enjoy them, "Then what are we here for?"

"The faster we get past the city walls the better. So we're gonna borrow a car."

"From who?"

"One of my friends."

"What about your other friends? We shouldn't have left them."

She started walking again. On a nearby podium a particularly devout missionary was offering his body for any that would convert to his faith. Audra had to bulldoze her way through the line of eager converts "You worry too much."

"How can you be so calm? They could be dead or worse by now."

"They could be but I doubt it. It's gonna take more than the likes of the Kuen-Yuin to bring those two down."

"If you say so. I'm surprised you just aren't going to steal a car."

"I can't hot-wire for a damn."

A Catholic priest stood at a podium, speaking in a soft voice to a fair-sized audience. He shuffled though his bible with quivering hands and spoke into a
microphone that was plugged into a worn-looking amplifier, "Now giants were upon the earth in those days. For after the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, and they brought forth children, these are the mighty men of old, men of renown..."

Audra waded in to the audience. Matthew followed listening. He was a lapsed Catholic but it did his heart good to see that normal wholesome religion had found its way into this bizarre place. "So this guy is going to help us?"

"Yes." Audra motioned for him to stand behind her.

"Shouldn't we wait until he's done with his sermon?"

"Why? There's no one listening."

"What do you call all these people then?"

"They're in line for the frozen custard stand next to him. He just sets up next to it so he has a captive audience."

"Oh." Matthew stared at the frozen custard stand; they certainly were doing brisk business. "You don't think-"

His mind did a little spin kick in his head at the sight of Audra; she and the priest were staring at each other. His voice was beginning to quiver, he lost his place several times. When she began to unbutton her shirt he dropped his bible. Index cards and bookmarks flew everywhere.

"What are you doing?" Matthew grabbed her arm.

"Getting Father DiSorbo's attention."

Matthew fought to keep his voice steady and his gaze at eye level, "You're flashing a priest."

"It's nothing he hasn't seen before."


"Relax that was months ago. Besides I was drunk and he never told me he was a

The frozen custard line moved slowly forward, nudging them along with it. After
dropping his bible a third time Father DiSorbo gave up and sat on the edge of his podium, his face buried in his hands.

I know how he feels. Matthew observed.

"OK I'm gonna go talk to him, you stay in line and get me a large chocolate custard with chocolate sprinkles."


"No buts- I need him spooked but not too spooked."

"How am I supposed to pay for this?"

"Here they take American currency, get something for yourself too." She slipped a worn billfold into his hand and made her way to the priest.

"This-" He gaped, "This is my wallet!"

Fuming and grumbling to himself Matthew stood in line. Usually he had to go to a singles bar to feel this out of step and pathetic. When he glanced over at Audra he could see her flirting and playing coy with the blushing Father DiSorbo. The sight left Matthew with a queasy feeling in his stomach.

I don't know who the bigger jerk is. Him for putting the moves on her or her for not being all that upset. I mean how old is she anyway? She’s practically a teenager.

"Hear me!" A voice boomed from the other side of the street, "Turn your backs on the false promises of heretics! The stars are right. The Little Bear is rising. Soon the Pendaroth will come and herald a new Golden Age! His might will heal the sick and blight the unbelievers!"

The man delivering the sermon was huge, almost Sentry-sized. He wore a robe and hood made from a bear pelt. There was a pretty good crowd of listeners gathered around.

This Pendaroth must be more than a 'folk hero'.

He continued to speak, his voice almost a roar, "The Outlander will be found by a she -bear and to protect him from Those That Hunger she will give him a piece of her soul. Then he will wander from world to world. During this time his faith will be tested and his power will grow. Soon his acolytes will gather around him in the City Made of Song."

A ripple of panic began to work its way through the crowd, some of the spectators froze in place, others waited, gathering in small groups and watched. Six Sentries made their way along the street, their assault rifles held at the ready. A trio of Constables followed in their wake. Matthew felt his knees buckling, he looked back at the podium. Father DiSorbo was glaring at him, but Audra too busyplaying the vamp to notice. Matthew turned back the way they had come.

Maybe we can double back before we're noticed.

Then he saw Jack Diamond climbing over the wall. He didn't look good, he looked like he'd been set on fire and flung out a fifth story window. Jack half-fell half dropped onto the pavement, cursing loudly and gritting his teeth when he straightened up. Scanning the crowd he spied Audra, the murderous expression on his face deepened. He raised his red-streaked right hand, taking aim at her with his canon of a handgun.

So much for Magwier and Lorelei being able to take care of themselves.

Matthew shouted to her but the commotion spreading through the crowd drowned him out. The Sentries approached the man in the bear robes, with the Constables following close behind. They shouted orders, Matthew was sure that he heard the word 'Sedition' being used. Jack still had his pistol aimed at Audra.

The bastard is waiting for her to turn around. He wants her to see him before he kills her!

He shouted again but he might as well have been whispering. The throng was growing agitated, apparently they didn't like the Constables barging in on them.

A squeal of amplified feedback stabbed through the air. The entire cul-de-sac was momentarily stunned into silence. They all looked to Father DiSorbo standing atop his amplifier. His eyes were bulging. He had the microphone in a white knuckled grip, and with his other hand he was pointing into the crowd. He shouted "Outlander!"

Oh crap.

No comments:

Post a Comment