CHAPTER 43: SCORPIO AND LEO ASCENDENT
There was fifty of them all told. Cole thought to himself. Cossacks, Vikings, few pirates what have you. Tough too. This is the best that Thomas has to offer. Any one of these could give me trouble on their own, Cole thought. Not much trouble. But still, trouble. All this went through his head as he arced though the air, spinning and turning to avoid enemy fire. Sometimes Cole thought he was a Temporal. Time was gliding around him, like a swan on a lake. If you could have seen his face under the mask, it would have been as serene as a marble saint. In his mind: odds, strategies, possible outcomes ticked over and over like some wondrous mechanical beehive. And even before his first toe, of his first foot touched the ground for the first time, he knew what he had to do.
They won’t try any fancy stuff.
No pretty moves, no posturing.
They are fifty big, burly men armed to the teeth with axes, swords and whatnot.
They’ll crowd me and hack me to bits.
Got to keep moving.
He was on the ground, on his knees, braced, arms crossed, ready for the spring.
First to die: Thin, lanky character with long blonde hair. No uniform but he’s carrying a Valaska, a light, elegant axe which means he’s probably a Slovak.
He’s wiry, the weapon’s light, he’s not wearing any armour so he gets to Cole first.
He’s smiling wild.
Thinks Cole’s unarmed.
Cole releases the clasp and two jagged blades shoot from his wrists.
Blondie stops smiling.
Scorpion doesn’t sting ‘till he’s ready.
Blondie’s dead and Cole has a nice new axe. Cole has stabbed the Slovak through the chest with one arm, grabbed the axe from him with his free hand and used his newly deceased corpse to vault over his head before it’s even hit the ground. He’s got to keep running, jumping, just got to keep moving can’t let them hem him in…
He lands, ten are coming towards him, weapons drawn, another fifteen coming up behind him. They know what they’re doing, trying to crush him with sheer numbers.
He waits until the right fifth of a second and swings the Valaska around wildly in a perfect circle.
From the shouts, screams and number of impacts he estimates two dead, eight cut and probably in shock from losing fingers, noses or a patch of scalp and the rest must have jumped back in time to miss the blow.
Damn, swung too early.
He swings again, which they expect..
Then he releases the Valaska and it flies into the chest of a rather consternated looking Viking, which they don’t.
He sprints in the direction he threw the axe, knowing the crowd there will still be in shock and thinned out.
Time to end this.
All the scenarios going through his head but he knows there is only one.
Kill Thomas and this thing’s over.
There he is, standing with his arms folded and a grin on his face like the smug piece of crap he is.
And he’s rehearsing what he’s going to say in his mind even as he punches and slashes his way through the monkeys to get to the organ grinder.
Start a riot in my city?
Kill my men?
Throw a table at me?
Thomas, when I’m done with you they’re going to put your face in safety manuals.
And now he’s here. Standing in front of the Thief’s Son. Toe to toe. Wrist blade raised, and it isn’t stopping until it comes out the other side.
And he’s still smiling.
Without a word Thomas flips into the air like a circus gymnast, revealing Ezekiel Holtz standing behind him with two six-shooters cocked and loaded.
“Howdy.” he smiles and unburdens both guns of their cargo into Cole’s chest at point blank range.
You’re okay, Cole tells himself as he’s thrown back through the air. He can hear Marie’s scream dimly in the distance, like it’s coming over a mountain.
But I’ve been shot. Twelve times. Point blank range. In the chest.
Armour will suck it up. Done it before.
Lungs just got banged empty. You’ll be fine. Take another breath when we land.
The helmet felt like it was full of lemonade. Green dots were eating his vision, it blurred and melted like someone had thrown acid on a painting.
On your feet Cole. Unconsciousness is for momma’s boys.
Momma. Whatever happened to her?
Really not the time Cole. They’re sorta going to kill you.
From the moment he leapt through the air and collided with the helicopter Joriel knew that life was good.
It was good that he could run and leap again.
It was good that he could feel the metal hull of the helicopter buckling beneath his paws like an eggshell.
The sheer terror in the pilot’s eyes as he stared through the window at them was good too.
It felt good to be free and strong and terrible again.
But what felt best of all was to feel the wind in his mane and to see the ground veering below, hundreds of feet down. He was flying. After so long, he was flying again.
As the helicopter began it’s tailspin towards the ground Joriel roared triumphantly.
He couldn’t think of a better way to die.
If she was truthful to herself, Isabella had always known he was never really gone.
How could he be, when she still had the nightmares?
But she had fooled herself, because she had to. When she saw Thomas devoured in white flame she had let herself believe that it was finally over, and that she could now sleep sound.
Like Marie, Isabella had never totally believed in Mabus’ world of lies.
Like Marie, she had also had the nagging sensation in the back of her head that something wasn’t right.
Unlike Marie, she didn’t care.
She could believe Mabus’ lies because they were no different from the ones she had always told herself. He’s gone. He can’t hurt you anymore. You are safe and loved.
But she had always known.
Even when Marie had told her she would have to run to the inn and lure the fake Thomas to the bridge, for all her outward protestation and pleading, inside she had taken it with dull acceptance.
I will run, and he will chase me.
Because that’s how it goes.
I will always run. And he will always chase me.
The Scorpion had bought them all the time he could. And Thomas was coming towards them.
And she thought, as he stalked towards them, knife in hand; I’m ready.
I’m ready for this.
At long last, I’m ready for this to end.
Beside her, Marie had been ready since the day he killed her father.
Everything stopped when the shots went out and Cole fell. Shouts died in the throat. Weapons were lowered.
You would have thought you were looking at a painting. These bloody men of war, standing in the wrecked room, which wreathed in the smoke and dust from the burning wall. Waiting for the figure in gold to rise, or lie crumbled on the ground.
He struggles shakily to his feet.
First thing he sees: Giant with beard, scowl and huge studded club.
Last thing he sees: Huge studded club (in close up.)
Helmet takes a lot of the blow, but let’s be reasonable here.
He’s back on the ground.
Someone’s shouting “Pin him down! Pin him down!”
It’s a good plan, Cole thinks to himself. Pin me down, make sure I can’t fight back, then take off the helmet and smash my head open like a cantaloupe. Good thinking. That’s what I’d do.
Suddenly he feels what it’s like to have eighteen heavy men in full armour jump on your chest.
Can’t see, vision’s gone. Either someone’s jumped on his face or he’s passed out.
Well that was your life Cole, how do you think it went?
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. Spent the first half of my life almost getting killed, and the second doing the killing. Was never anything better than a shiny murder machine.
And when I finally did something, one tiny little, good thing with my lousy horror movie of a lousy life, when I actually risked everything to save someone who deserved better, when I finally got up the courage to act like some kind of halfway decent human being. It got me killed.
So there you go.
Remember what Momma used to say?
Shut up about Momma, I’m dying.
She used to say, your last breath is your last chance to turn it all around.
Well I think that was my last breath five seconds ago because it doesn’t seem like I’m breathing anymore. Looks like I missed my chance.
It’s just an expression, your actual last breath has nothing to do with it. Stop being so literal.
Doesn’t matter, any second they’re going to kill me anyway.
Are you going to let them?
Why not? Why the hell not? Dying will probably be the best thing I ever did..
Not for the girls.
Let me die.
He’s going to kill them.
Let me die!
He’s going to kill them.
He’s not going to kill us, Marie swore to herself. Everything has been leading to this. Papa’s murder, the fire, the road, the lightning, Mariana, learning how to be a Temporal, the bombing, escaping from Mabus’ dream, it was all leading…
And she realised that her life was flashing before her eyes.
Well, that was ominous.
Thomas was coming closer and closer. The knife and the smile as sharp as each other.
“You’ll be sure to say hello to your father, won’t you?” said Thomas.
“Funny.” said Marie “I was about to ask you the same thing.”
That was all it took.
Thomas broke, saw white and leapt with a scream.
Marie saw a flashing blade, rage filled eyes, bared teeth…
She shifted just three feet to the left.
Thomas met thin air and went sprawling, rolling, sliding, and righted himself like a cat. He stood, right into the path of the three knives that Isabella had thrown with expert skill.
He dodged the first, the second, his body whipping back and forth like a pharoah’s whip.
The third came, glanced off the knife in his hand and grazed his cheek on its way to the wall. A red line as thin as a hair blossomed beneath his eye.
And then Marie realised. The reason why Thomas could move and fight the way he did. The reason he had almost beaten Mariana to a standstill, the reason Mabus had taken him here…
Thomas was a Temporal.
Thomas sprinted, his knife held high.
Marie pulled into slow time but it hardly seemed to make any difference he moved so quickly.
He grabbed her wrist and twisted it until she had to drop the blade.
Isabella screamed and leapt on his back but he kicked her savagely in the stomach, knocking her back.
Marie felt his hands close around her neck and suddenly she was pinned against the wall.
His face was horribly close to hers and his eyes seemed to burn into her face.
The knife was raised.
Oh God, this was it.
And Marie screamed.
And when he heard that scream Cole was awake and grappling with a black wall of pain and pressure and he roared and threw himself at it and the wall roared and threw itself back.
Thomas glanced away from Marie as the huge dog pile of warriors jolted like a pool of magma when a bubble explodes.
“Hold him down!” Thomas roared.
The Golden Scorpion glittered in the shadows as every muscle turned to concrete and he hissed in satisfaction as he felt the pile give way. But they wouldn’t let go, they didn’t dare. The scrum was the only thing that was keeping them alive and they knew it. Suddenly, Cole hit on an idea.
The wrist blades shot out and two of the writhing bodies went limp.
And suddenly the warriors began to yelp in fear as they realised that they were no longer holding Cole.
He was holding them.
He was standing on the ground, feet planted firmly, holding fifteen men on his aching shoulders.
And as Thomas watched, his jaw dangling at around the level of his belly button, at this impossible image he began to realise just what he had picked a fight with.
This Golden Scorpion was not human.
He was something entirely other.
And the wails from his shoulder grew louder as, with faltering, agonised steps Cole began to walk with the whole swaying mass on his back, teetering tottering, to the great hole in the wall. Some were trapped under their comrades. Some were held in place by Cole himself. Some were simply horror-struck by the sheer inevitability of it and could not move. Whatever the reason they were all still on the Scorpion’s back when he finally and solemnly flung them over the side.
And while they were still in the air, howling and thrashing, before they had even exploded on the ground below in a shower of red, the Golden Scorpion had turned to face Thomas.
Thomas, Holtz, a Hungarian Hussar, a Zulu warrior and two Pawnee braves were all that remained of the original force of fifty.
And Cole was still standing.
“Okay.” said Holtz to Thomas “What’s we do now?”
“I…I…” Thomas couldn’t even form a sentence.
“Thomas, let her go…” Cole panted.
“….no?” Thomas suggested.
Cole collapsed to the floor.
“Thought so.” said Thomas “Gentleman?”
“Like a dog?” Holtz asked.
“Like, as you say, a dog.” said Thomas.
Thomas stabbed Marie, right in the chest.
Or he would have if she hadn’t shifted out a split second before the knife hit.
He swore and spun around to see her standing with the sword once again in her hand.
“You just can’t kill me, can you?” she asked “Don’t you think it’s getting a little pathetic?”
“Maybe.” Thomas admitted “But if I can’t kill you I can still kill everyone you care about. Starting with…”
He gestured to Holtz, who placed the barrel of his gun up against the Scorpion’s head. At this range, there would be no chance.
Cole gasped and prepared for the bullet.
There was a roar and the room was bathed in a white light.
The helicopter had returned to its rightful spot, framed by the hole in the wall.
Joriel grinned at them from the pilot’s seat, and for some reason he was even more terrifying in human form. Something about the grin, or the fact that he had his finger on the trigger of two very powerful machine guns, or some combination of the two.
“Kill him, Holtz.”
“Tom. It’s over. We lost this one.”
Lost this one. Lost every one.
Thomas watched as Marie, Cole and Isabella limped to the wall and one by one, Marie shifted them into the chopper. The great metal machine drifted away from the tower and tipped its nose towards the centre of New Gomorrah, towards Mabus’ chamber, gliding over beaten air and the great plumes of smoke from the city below as if bouyed up by them.
You just can’t kill me, can you? It’s getting a little pathetic, isn’t it?
Again, so close. Again, he lost.
A sane man would take it as a sign that it was time to give up.
“We’re not giving up.” said Thomas “Holtz. How many helicopters do we have?”
“Four or five.”
“I want them all in the air.”
“To shoot ’em down?”
“Oh that’s brilliant, yes, let’s just shoot them down from a distance, that’ll be satisfying. Idiot!”
“Sorry. Don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Get them in the air. Tell them to broadcast on loudspeaker to any mobs they find. Tell them that the Golden Scoprion is making his last stand at the chamber. Tell them this is almost over. Tell them that Mabus is dead.”
“Groethuis!” Mabus gasped and the array of life support machines that had been silent for minutes now suddenly launched into triumphant beeping chorus. Respiration, heart rate, brain activity. They were suddenly back and Groethuis actually yelled in shock.
“Master, you’re alive!”
“That…that’s not possible. You’re alive! God damn, I’m good!” he crowed triumphantly.
“Groethuis,” said Mabus.
“I’m going on a killing spree.” said Mabus “Please fetch my shoes.”