Saturday, January 17, 2009

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

The Nick Of Time

(and other abrasions)

Shadows Of Polaris


Al Bruno III

Chapter Six

The trap had left Audra unconscious, Jack pondered her as she hung there by one arm. Finally he muttered to himself, "Better safe than sorry." and hefted her over his shoulder. There was a snap and a spark; her fingers left behind five tiny spots of scorched flesh as they were pulled away from the wall. "Wait up Trager."

Audra stirred with a moan and then fell unconscious again.

Do something! Matthew thought as he struggled and cursed, For God's sake you broke a Whosiewhatsit Crystal that's got to count for something! But the more he fought the harder they held him. "Somebody!" He cried, "Somebody help! Somebody!"

"Fear not Outlander." Constable Trager said as he led the Sentries back into the treeline. "It will all be over soon enough. When your mind and your body have been properly adapted you will finally understand your place in the greater scheme of things."

"Snip snip." Jack laughed.

Matthew dug his heels down only to find himself dragging furrows in the snow and dirt. He shouted Audra's name over and over but she didn't react, not even a twitch. So much for his hopes of her playing possum. If they were going to make it out of this it was up to him.

Closing his eyes he prayed. He tried to call some great and benevolent power down from above to help him. Matthew had never wished this hard for anything in his life, maybe because he always suspected none of his aspirations or dreams would ever come true. Gritting his teeth he tried harder, turning his focus inward. Audra had told him that everyone had a spark of magic in them. Where was his? He wasn't even sure what he was looking for. Was it like recovering a lost memory? Or more like flexing a rarely used muscle? Matthew felt like a child leaping at the clouds in the hope he might somehow fly.

The Sentries released him and he stumbled forward.

I did it! I really did it!

A crash filled the air. Matthew turned to see a tree fall. The Sentries moved to defensive positions in front of their Constable as a dark shape lumbered out of the woods. The bear raised itself up on its haunches and roared a fresh challenge. Starlight and shadows left its fur dark and its eyes gleaming. Its breath steamed with every roar, its snout dripped.

Looking upon it Matthew knew that it was old, it was dying.

No not it. She. It's a she.

Jack laughed, "If it ain't damned one thing it's another." He drew his Desert Eagle and took aim at the beast.

The bear dropped down to all fours again. The ground reverberated with the impact. The she-bear moved with startling speed. The Sentries barely had time to fire before the beast was on them. The Constable began to chant, her voice sibilant and frantic.

Oh God what am I doing? Matthew charged forward tackling Jack Diamond as he fired. Both men tumbled backwards into the snow and mud. Audra hit the ground a few inches from them but didn't stir.

The bear howled with pain. Arcs of blood streaked the snow. One Sentry was scrabbling to get clear of her. Another was disemboweled and crying like a child. The third sentry was lying near the chanting Constable and he was lying perfectly still.

It wasn't easy to keep Jack pinned, he spat and he struggled. Twice Matthew saw the barrel of the gun lurch towards his face, twice he had to push back with all his might. Jack Diamond pulled one of his hands from the weapon and reach into his pocket. There was a metallic click.

Knife! Matthew thought as he grabbed at Jack's other wrist, Knife!

The bear was nuzzling at the gut of the last living Sentry. He screeched and flailed at the beast's snout.

Still chanting the Constable drew her saber, the blade was shimmering, it steamed against the cool night air.

"Bear or no bear." Jack whispered, "You are dead meat on a fuckin' stick."

The switchblade left the fingertips of Matthew's left hand slick with blood, a dozen tiny slashes crosshatched his stomach and thigh.

It's only a matter of time before he gets me good with that thing. Matthew thought, And then it's all over for me, all over for Audra, all over for everything.

Turning from the bear, Constable Trager approached the struggling men, her blade raised high.

Jack was flat on his back, Matthew straddled him. Shifting his hand Matthew gripped his adversary's wrist and twisted, trying to shake the switchblade loose. He was so intent on this that his hold on Jack's pistol hand loosened.

Matthew froze at the sight of the thick gun barrel zooming towards his head. He threw himself to one side as Jack fired. The boom of the pistol set his ears ringing, muzzle flash seared across his face.

The blast knocked Constable Trager out of her boots and sent her tumbling back through the snow and mud. The bear was on her before she could even cry out.

Head spinning with the smell of cordite, Matthew rolled onto his side to see Jack Diamond shaking his head with disbelief. He seemed to have forgotten that Matthew was even there.

Matthew kicked him in the face as hard as he could. Jack grunted with surprise and toppled. Matthew kicked him a few times more just to be sure.

Raising himself to his knees Matthew saw the bear approaching. She wove and stumbled, her maw soaked with gore, her hide pockmarked with bulletholes. Matthew was too drained to move.

The bear turned away from him, sniffling instead at Audra's supine form.

"No!" Matthew snatched up Jack's pistol and pulled the trigger. All he heard was a dry click. "Damn it!" He shouted and threw the heavy pistol at the beast, striking it in the flank.

Snarling the bear wheeled around to face him, her hackles raised. Patches of blood trailed beneath her, her breaths and growls were watery and torpid. It was almost a relief to surrender to his doom.

Better it wastes its last moments on me. I got Audra into this nightmare. I will get her out if it.

The bear drew closer, her snout inches from Matthew's face. So close that he could smell the stench of the blood and shit clinging to its fur. It was so close that Matthew could see his reflection in the beast's eye. There was something else as well, something glistening within the heart of that murky silhouette. He peered at it with a feeling that was not quite wonder not and quite dread. It was Polaris, he realized, the Pole Star. Above them, it shone through them, it connected them.

...he feels the pain of her wounds, old and new and the weariness that nests in her bones. Half-blind and alone she had been roused from her fitful slumber by the scent of intruders. Every instinct had told the she-bear to stay in her den and let the strangers pass but she could not. She knew that if she closed her eyes again she would never waken, she would be lost to the yawning dark that had claimed so many of her kind. And there would be nothing left to mark her passing no cubs, no mate, nothing.

She would be nothing.

That was enough to drive her to her feet, enough to set her stalking her quarry one last time...

Matthew and the bear exhaled together. The darkness intensified, making it seem the whole world was fading from existence. There was no tabernacle, no Audra, and no stars save for the Pole Star.

Only Polaris remains and we are lost in its shadow...

The bear stumbled forward a half step, her slimy nose brushing his cheek. It wouldn't be much longer now, Matthew just knew.

Tentatively the bear licked his face, her tongue tracing along weal of blood and saliva from his chin to his ear. The bear managed to lick him three more times before she fell to her knees. A gurgling sound escaped her throat as she struggled to raise herself back up and failed.

Kneeling beside the beast Matthew kept quiet vigil, stroking its fur and staring into its eyes. With each of the bear's shallow breaths the world seemed to fall back in place around them- the stars, the ruins, the bodies.

When it was over Matthew stared purposefully at Harnett's Tabernacle. He lifted Audra up easily and carried her to the shelter of the
decrepit building. He shouldered the heavy iron door closed. He cradled her limp form close to him for a little while but not too long for he knew if she awoke he would loose his nerve.

Gently he set her down on the cold floor and tried to make her as comfortable as possible. He allowed himself to kiss her once, briefly and chastely. Then he stood and pressed the palm of his hand against the stone archway.

Gold light flooded the chamber. Against the far wall, behind the altar, a section of the stonework shifted like haze. The Wier was open.

"The stars are right. Ursa Minor is in ascendance. The Pendaroth
is among us now 'an unlick'd bear-whelp that carries no impression like the dam'."

"...going to Harnett's Tabernacle is suicide."

"...The Pendaroth is the first. He will gather the Valiant Ones to his side"

"...all they know is you go through that Wier and you don't come out."

The stone of the wall was rippling now, frothing and bubbling like magma. He cast off his shoes, frilled shirt and wallet, piling them on the floor. A warm alien wind filled the air and tousled his hair. Grinning with anticipation Matt crossed through.

No comments:

Post a Comment