Heavy Boots of Lead
September 30, 2013
Authors Note: The following story takes place between The Chronicles of Jack Primus book I and book II. Jack is still living in Boston, spending most of his time studying the ways of the Stalwart with the ‘Man in Brown,’ Phillip Brownhurst.
Even though almost three months had passed since Jack moved into the storage room in the back of Phillip Brownhurst’s tavern, it was still hard for him to get used to having a bar be his home. Phillip had his own place not too far away and although the Dionysus follower spent much of his time with Jack, on most mornings Primus found himself wandering through the chairs and tables alone.
He bellied up to the bar and focused on downing a half-dozen cold chicken wings and getting some caffeine into his system. He had just opened his second can of soda when he heard a cry coming from the alley behind the bar.
Slowing only long enough to grab a baseball bat, he was half way into the alley when he remembered that perhaps he should have called Phillip first. Too late now, he thought as his boots took him into the early morning mists.
Gray still owned the morning and made him wonder if the Glooms could somehow be involved with whatever occurred behind the tavern. Phillip had warned him that Stalwarts often see Xemmoni everywhere when there was plenty of mundane evil to go around without any help from supernatural masters.
The strange thing was he couldn’t see anything. Then he looked down and spotted small circles of darkness on the cracked pavement. It didn’t take him long to recognize it as blood. It looked like a trail, but did it head left or right. He might only have seconds…
He enacted his Detect Darken spell. His Ki sent it moving through the clinging mists. He wouldn’t help him detect a decent person or maybe even an evil uncorrupted man, but if a Xemmoni was involved it would alert him at once.
At first he thought that he had stumbled into a more normal conflict, but then his spell reached something moving to his right. Like a thorn on malign energy, a sick purple aura stabbed through his awareness. Violet, the color of decaying flesh, disturbed and distorted the very reality it passed through.
“A Hyades,” he whispered. “The silent stalkers.”
Whatever it was, it appeared big and powerful. Crap, Jack thought. Maybe I should have called Phillip first or grabbed a better weapon. But then the scream sounded again, maybe a hundred feet away and certainly female. Screw that, he chided himself. I never had help before and I’ve been through worse with less.
A second later he was running west. A second after that a strange banging could be heard echoing through the lonely alley.
Whatever chased the woman was between Jack and the screams. Something tall, wide, and loud loomed up out of the fog. Jack slowed his sprint. The figure had to be almost seven feet tall, but even from the distance, it looked odd. Everything about it seemed square. Like a child had created a giant out of building blocks. Legs and chest were rectangle in shape as was its head.
As Jack drew closer, he saw the cause. Whatever this thing might be, it appeared to have made a suit of armor for itself. But this was nothing like medieval armor that matched a person’s form. This armor appeared bulky, like some guy used a blow torch in his basement and welded thick sheet of metal into squares, which covered most of his frame.
Just past the Xemmoni, Jack could make out a woman dragging herself along the pavement. One of her legs appeared useless and she released a third scream as the steel giant moved in for the kill.
“Hey, Tin Woodsman,” Jack called out. “Care to see what it’s like taking on someone who isn’t helpless or are you too chickenshit for that? Maybe you should just stay at home and pull the wings off of flies you poor man’s Iron…”
But Jack’s bravado faded with his voice as the thing turned toward him. Glowing violet eyes cut through the fog and for a moment, Jack wondered if maybe the creature could be a machine of some kind, but then the booming metal feet started to come toward him. The armor squeaked and rattled, but looked thick and sturdy. Along each of the Xemmoni’s steel legs, as well as its forearms, large knives nearly the size of machetes appeared to be built into the armor itself. The space on its left arm was empty for a two foot, back hued blade already rested in its right hand.
Jack didn’t wait to be attacked. He yelled for the woman to flee and then went in low and tried to smash the mountain of metal on the knee. He might as well swung at a lamppost. His fingers throbbed from the impact, but it didn’t slow the man down for a second. It swung its blade in a wide arc and Jack was just able to move back in time to keep from sprouting a second mouth.
Jack swung again, but the Xemmoni just held up its armored left arm. And there was another bone rattling blow to his hands. This time, with surprising speed, he hacked down at Jack. The Stalwart cried out when the blade cut him from his right collar bone to the bottom of his ribcage. If he had been a couple of inches closer his bowls would have spilled over the pavement.
As it was, Jack almost lost his footing as he back pedaled away from the Hyades and healed himself. The wound was bad and he felt a sliver of fear when he realized he’d already burned through half his KI.
But the creature proved relentless and rushed at him swinging again. This time Jack blocked it with his bat, but at the price of losing a foot off the tip of his weapon. He lunched what was left at the Xemmoni’s face. It hit the stark helmet there, but the unexpected blow caused the man of metal to take a step back. During this pause, Jack rushed away. But he remained weaponless and hadn’t even hurt the thing yet.
Sirens cut through the cold morning air. The Xemmoni stared at Jack. Their eyes met and Jack felt his blood run cold against his spine. Yet, instead of attacking him, the killer drew an object off its back. It proved to be a crowbar and with no great hurry it moved to the nearest manhole, pulled the top off, and then climbed in. The top was replaced and Jack was alone in the alley.
Alone in the alley… with cops coming. Some luck remained with him for he was still only a few hundred feet shy of the tavern and he was just able to make it through the back door when three squad cars tore into the alley.
“Son of a bitch,” he panted. “Phillip isn’t going to believe this one.”
To be continued next Monday