13.4 Beating a You Know What

by Matt P.

It turned out that shooting the horse did nothing to improve the disposition of the Nightmare lord. Walter hadn’t been completely sure that it would work, whether because the creature protected the horse as well or if the horse had actually been a part of it, but the horse disappeared in a cloud of black smoke that sent the rider tumbling. Walter took a couple of pot-shots at the tumbling form, but whatever was deflecting the bullets continued to work even as the man fell. Walter re-holstered his pistol and took three quick steps in to stab at the man.

The nightmare rolled away like smoke from the blade, coming to his feet with his sword appearing back in his hands. So he just pulled it out like that for show, Walter thought wryly. He didn’t have long to think, as the creature let out a resonant snarl and charged at him. His blade came in low, trying to cut Walter off at the knees. Walter parried down low, stepping back quickly. He tried to stab at the creature’s chest but his own blow was contemptuously slapped aside as the shadow stalked forward to him.

In a blur of speed Walter was forced to parry as fast as he could. He barely got his sword in the way each time, relying mostly on his knowledge of knife-fighting; but the blade was much larger, and at the last press he ended up with his blade pressed back against his own arm. He winced in pain, hopping back and looking to find a small and bloody cut. “Tennyson, can you make this smaller?”

Walter looked over. Tennyson was circling around Oberon and Tania, trying to time his attack just perfectly; if he came in at the wrong time then he risked throwing his half-sister off her game and potentially getting her hurt or killed. His eyes flicked up for an instant to meet Walter’s, and he grunted. “Very needy today,” he commented; but as he spoke the blade shortened to be the size of a bowie knife instead of a sword. Just in time, as the other creature tried to pressd the distraction. Walter whipped the much shorter blade up to block the sword attack, this time with more confidence. Instead of retreating, Walter pressed in quickly to get inside the reach of the creature’s longer sword.

His sudden change of tactics caught his dance partner off-guard, which is exactly what Walter wanted. The nightmare had been moving forward and even with it’s speed that let Walter get inside his ability to strike back, because of the length of his sword. As it started to pull back Walter tried to stab him in the throat. The nightmare managed to turn away and mostly avoid it, but Walter still managed to get a piece of where the shoulder should be. The creature hissed in agony, and now it retreated away from him.

“We’ve killed two of your friends, and we’re going to send you back too. You want to avoid getting cut to pieces before hand—” Walter began. He didn’t have a chance to finish, however, before something ran in to him from behind.

**** ****

Morgan ran out in to the main hallway of the school, and then stopped. She didn’t see Tennyson or Walter, who she should have seen without much difficulty. The High School wasn’t small, but it wasn’t that big either, and the central hallway ran like an arrow at to the front entrance, the hub from which the spokes came off. She could see down the hallway to the door, but beyond the windows there was only darkness, and each step she took seemed to take her no closer.

“I don’t know which of you miscreants is doing it, but I will warn you I’ve had a very long day,” Morgan offered to the empty hallway in a calm voice, “And I’m in no mood to be toyed with today.”

She heard the laugh and she felt it. It sounded like an animal, like a boar snuffling in the grass for a truffle, or the chuff of a large predator clearingthe air before a charge. It felt like the slithering of a snake across her skin, the warm trailing of scales on skin and the horror of an almost alien form of life.

“Oh,” She said softly, and in a flash her sword was in her hands again, extended to full long sword length and as comfortable as an old sweater. “Is that you, my hound? Have you truly turned against me, and done these things?” Her voice was but a whisper, and yet it carried through the darkened hall. “Have you turned against the hand that hooded you, my falcon, and had your eyes bared against my own flesh?”

From behind her there came a rustling and a low, beastly sound. She turned very calmly to find a creature of darkness formed on to the tiles. It stood no more than her own height, but as it began to move forward it did so on four legs. From what she could see of it, it had massive musclature—but a structure that changed slightly as it came toward her. One second it was closer to a boar, and one second to a lion, and then a massive snake. This meant that rather than walking or padding toward her, it seemed more like it flowed toward her indistinctly—except that every moment she actually focused on it, it seemed to have a distinct form.

It was a sight she hadn’t seen coming toward her aggressively in centuries. “Oh my hound, now turned against me,” She murmured softly. She breathed in softly, and focused on releasing. It was like letting go of a muscle so long tensed that it became the new default state. Her dark hair and height began to melt away from her, which left her slightly shorter than standard and with long crimson hair. Her features softened in some ways and sharpened in others, minor but enough that she looked like a sister to the woman she had been. She looked like the little girl Walter had seen grown in to the blush of young adulthood, with all the world of possibility ahead of her. She felt all of her centuries as she considered the creature in front of her, and what it meant that he was here.

“In the name of the Maiden and Mother, I command you to stop. In the name of the Mab and the Morrigan, I command you to stop. In my own name and my own right, I command you to stop,” Morgan spoke. The words were quiet but they radiated with power, resonating about her with a weight all their own. The walls of the hallway shook and warped—and then with an audible crash, broke and shattered away. It left her standing in the actual hallway, and outside she could see fights happening, confirming her theory; the hallway had been a part of…

She felt the blade coming for her, and without thought she whipped her own sword up and over her shoulder, blade down to protect her neck and spine. A sword clanged off it and she turned, so that her back was to a wall and she could keep her eyes on both of her attackers. The man was the white haired youth that Walter had sparred with before, the one who had proven talented if hasty. And he was not alone, as men began to stream out of rooms behind him from where they had been hidden.

“He has you handling the Hound? You holding the leash to one of the most dangerous creatues in Faerie?” Morgan demanded of the boy. He glared at her, drawing to his full height in order to try to look intimidating. Morgan had been dealing with powerful men who were far taller than her for longer than he’d been alive.

“He will name me a Duke when we bring Faerie to this realm,” he said proudly. Morgan snorted.

“So at most you’re someone’s second or third son trying for glory, or someone else who has always looked upon the throng and wanted,” Morgan guessed. At the young man’s flush, she grinned. “Do you think a beardless boy will kill a Queen of Faerie?”

“I am a warrior of the true King,” he said angrily, beginning to advance.

“You’re a puffed up popinjay dreaming of glory,” Morgan responded disdainfully, as she brought her sword up to ward off the boy and the beast, and the ten warriors they had apparently brought with them. “But you won’t be the first I’ve plucked.” She grinned a fierce grin, and launched herself at the boy.