A young couple takes a hike on the Appalachian Trail that leads to the resurrection of an ancient evil. The rise of the Magus signals the return of forgotten powers to the world, and one man will rise to stem the growing tide of evil.


16. Battle Stations

“How nice it is to see you again.”  The voice was pleasant enough in its intonations, but it contained an undercurrent of gleeful evil that Danny and Carol were all too familiar with.  Neither Danny nor Carol could quite stand to meet the wizard’s evil gaze, but they could feel the heat of his anger beating against their faces anyway.

            Thinking that it was best to try to minimize the damage, Danny said, “Master, we’re here to serve you.  What do you want us to do?”  The words were vile in his mouth, but he had to at least make an effort to blunt the monster’s rage.

            “First I want you to get over here and kneel before me.  I want you to apologize for failing me when I was wounded.  I want you to beg for my forgiveness.  And then I want you to get me out of this miserable bed and dress me for our journey.”

            Danny gently removed his hand from Carol’s.  He slowly approached Maraydel’s bedside and sank to his knees on the cold tile of the hospital room floor.  Before he could begin to beg, the magus spoke to Carol.  “And you, my darling little whore, come over here and give your master a kiss.”

            “Master, please, I beg for your forgiveness.  Don’t take it out on her.  It was my fault.  I was the one that talked her into running away.  If you must punish someone, punish me.”  Danny hated the necessity of groveling before the evil wizard, but he hated the idea of seeing Carol tortured again more.

            “Shut up.  I’ll deal with you soon enough.  You will both learn that there are consequences for betraying me.”  While Maraydel was addressing Danny, Carol had made her reluctant way to the opposite side of the bed.  Danny could see her sneakers as she neared Maraydel’s side, and he willed himself to keep his eyes cast downward instead of raising them to meet the sight of Carol kissing the foul thing in the bed.  He felt like a coward for averting his gaze, but he was afraid if he looked he would be unable to resist the urge to disregard the consequences and attack Maraydel.

            Carol was finally forced to look at Maraydel where he rested in the hospital bed.  As her eyes took in the disfigured face of the wizard, she had to fight the urge to vomit.  Bile rose into the back of her throat, and she struggled to swallow it back.  Maraydel noticed her hesitation and chuckled.  “What’s the matter?  Don’t you like what you see?”

            Carol forced herself to maintain her composure as she replied, “Of course I do, Master.  What’s not to like?”

            “Then kiss me as I commanded you to do.”

            “Yes, Master.”  Carol’s words were a whispered reply as she forced herself to lean in and press her lips to Maraydel’s cracked and blistered lips.  She started to draw away after a brief kiss, but Maraydel’s hand reached up and clamped onto the back of her neck.  She heard a wet pop as his hand tugged against her neck, and a warm fluid began to ooze down the side of her neck before turning to follow the line of her clavicle towards the cleft between her breasts.  She gagged as she realized that a blister had burst on his burnt hand, and it was pus from the blister that was running down to soak her bra.  With a horrified retch, she managed to pull free of Maraydel’s clutches.  She staggered back against the window ledge behind her before she finally lost her battle with her gorge and turned to vomit into the corner of the room.

            “Well, it doesn’t matter.  We’ll have plenty of time to reacquaint ourselves when I’m feeling more myself.”  Danny had to struggle to suppress the anger that the monster’s amused voice caused.  Forcing himself to focus on other matters, he slowly climbed to his feet.  “I’m going to find you something to wear.  I’ll be right back.”  He turned and walked from the room.

            In the hallway, Danny stopped and leaned against the wall for a moment.  He needed the break to stop the enraged shaking that was coursing through his limbs.  How can anyone be so evil?  The thought went unanswered, and Danny knew that he needed to pull himself together.  If he allowed himself to dwell on the problems he faced, he was afraid that he would become unable to act, and he knew that failing to act was often more dangerous than acting without thinking.  So what do I need to do first?

            A moment’s thought gave Danny an idea, and he immediately set off to look into the various rooms of the critically ill and injured patients in the Intensive Care Unit.  The first room was no good.  There was a nurse checking the vitals of the elderly man in that bed.  The second room was also out of the question.  There was no one there other than the patient, but the patient was a young lady.  At the third room, Danny finally found some good fortune.

            The third room contained a middle-aged man lying in the bed.  He had a tube from a ventilator running into his mouth and the edges of a nasty bruise were peeking out from beneath the edges of the bandage that was wrapped around the patient’s head.  Danny slipped silently into the room and tiptoed to the closet that was in the room’s far corner.  He opened the door and was relieved to see a battered pair of blue jeans and a flannel shirt hanging in the closet.  The clothes appeared to be bigger than Maraydel would need, but Danny knew that too big was better than too small in this case.  He grabbed the clothes and a muddy pair of hiking boots that were on the floor of the closet.  With his loot in hand, he headed out the door and hurried back down the hallway to the room where the love of his life and his mortal enemy were both waiting for him.


            Sarah and Amy emerged from the elevator and approached the desk for pediatrics.  “So who did you say you were here to see anyway?”  Amy seemed blissfully ignorant of Sarah’s discomfort.  She had chattered amiably to Sarah during the entire short ride to the floor for Pediatrics, and she was one of those people that could maintain a conversation almost entirely unassisted.  Sarah had only been required to supply an occasional word or sound of acknowledgement to send Amy off on another conversational tangent. 

            “Amy, listen, you’ve been really sweet, and I’m glad I could help, but I know where I’m going from here.  I must have hit the wrong button in the elevator, that’s all.  Then I got off on the wrong floor and lost my bearings.  Sorry, but I’ve been a little scatter-brained today.”  Sarah hoped that the pleasant young nurse would allow her to slip away at this point, and she was so focused on the conversation that neither of the ladies noticed the sound of the elevator dinging to announce the arrival of another passenger.


Derrick Davis was the policeman that was supposed to be guarding the burned patient upstairs.  Derrick knew he was never going to be what the ladies considered attractive.  He had a tendency to gain weight no matter what he ate.  He was slightly bucktoothed and wore thick glasses.  He tried to make up for his genetic shortcomings by being charming and witty, but mostly he just made himself a nuisance to the women he met.  Of course, like so many other men like him, he had no idea that he was just annoying.  And because of his lack of awareness, he always felt slighted when women brushed off his attentions.

            Maraydel had used Derrick’s hurt feelings to stimulate an intense anger at the nurse that had (in his mind at least) snubbed him.  Ordinarily a peaceful man, Derrick stepped from the elevator with lust and vengeance on his mind.  He heard the hateful nurse chattering happily to Sarah around the corner, and as he rounded that corner, he had his 9mm Beretta in his hand.  Amy had a clear line of sight to the corner, but Sarah had her back turned to Derrick, so it was a simple matter for him to step forward and bring the butt of his pistol crashing down into the base of Sarah’s skull.

            Amy drew in a deep breath to scream as Sarah’s eyes rolled back into her head and she crumpled soundlessly to the floor.  Before Amy could utter a sound, Derrick stepped forward and delivered a stunning blow to Amy’s sternum with his free hand.  Her scream changed to a choked cough as her breath exploded from her lungs and she doubled over from the force of the blow.  Derrick caught her chin in his hand as she bent forward, and he yanked the unlucky nurse upright.  He spun her about and clamped an arm around her throat before turning to drag her towards a nearby linen closet.

            “I’ve got something to show you, you prick tease.”  Derrick fumbled with the gun for a moment as he struggled to turn the handle to open the door behind him.  He wasted a few seconds fighting the handle before giving up and shoving the pistol back into its holster.  As he backed into the closet, he could feel Amy’s struggles starting to grow more frantic as the momentary paralysis began to ease in her diaphragm and her lungs struggled to draw air.  Derrick backed into the room and paused to kick the door shut with his foot.  As the door shut, he turned to shove Amy farther into the room before returning to lock the door.

            Amy’s senses were reeling.  She had nearly been knocked out from the force of Derrick’s punch, and she was struggling to cope with a life that had suddenly gone horribly wrong.  She was trying desperately to catch her breath so she could renew her screams, but the most she could manage so far was a tortured wheeze.  She stumbled as she was shoved into the room and crashed to the floor.  As she continued to struggle for breath, she rolled to her back to see her deranged attacker moving towards her.

            “No, please, don’t do this.”  She had finally managed to draw just enough air into her tortured lungs to begin to plead with Derrick.

            “Shut up, bitch.  I’ll show you.  You stand upstairs and tease and flirt, then run off when I start to get interested.  Well, you’re not getting away with it.  I’ve been putting up with bitches like you my whole life.”  As he finished speaking, he slid to his knees in front of her.  Amy tried to close her legs, but Derrick was too quick for her.  He lunged forward, causing her skirt to ride up over her hips, and she could feel his manhood pressing into her through his trousers and the fabric of her panties.  One of his rough hands pawed her breast.  The other reached forward and wrapped itself in the hair on the back of her head.  He pulled her forward and crushed his mouth against hers.

            Something gave way in Amy’s mind, and an angry animal that she had never suspected resided within her emerged.  She drew in one deep breath, and she would remember Derrick’s sweaty, aroused smell for the rest of her life.  Her hands struggled to push him away, but he was just too strong.  As her hands slid down his side, she felt his pistol where it was still loose in its holster.  She opened her mouth, and when Derrick, thinking that she was beginning to give in, slid his tongue into her mouth, she bit down on it with all her might.  She felt the end of his tongue tear free in her mouth as he lunged backwards in pained surprise.  As he pulled away, the pistol tumbled free of the holster into Amy’s lap. 

            Derrick’s eyes widened and he looked like he wanted to say something, but he never got the chance.  Amy had grown up with three older brothers.  Those brothers had taught her a lot.  Most importantly, they had taught her how to handle a gun…and how to shoot.  She checked to make sure the safety was off and a round was chambered before gripping the pistol in both hands, centering Derrick’s face in the sights, and pulling the trigger.

            Amy spat the end of Derrick’s tongue from her mouth and struggled to her feet.


            Sarah was struggling to recover her senses.  Being clubbed with Derrick’s pistol had knocked her unconscious for several moments.  For a brief eternity, the world remained dark.  Finally she was able to open her eyes.  The harsh fluorescents of the hospital stabbed into her eyes and she blinked rapidly to clear them of the tears that formed in response to the light.  She struggled to roll to her knees, but the movement sent waves of pain rolling down her neck and upwards into her brain.  She retched, but somehow managed not to vomit as a debilitating bout of nausea settled into her stomach.

            After a few seconds, the nausea and pain subsided enough for her to reach her knees, and she paused to catch her breath before trying for her feet.  She was just starting to allow herself to wonder what had hit her when a gunshot rang out from nearby.  The sound of the shot sent adrenalin pumping into her system and she surged to her feet and staggered to the counter.  The natural high that settles in after an adrenalin rush enabled her to mostly ignore the renewed nausea and pain that her injury should have caused, and she managed to balance herself weakly against the counter.  She glanced around the hallway and wondered idly what she should do next.  Before she could make a decision, a door marked Linen swung open and a bloodied apparition staggered through it.

            The woman walking stalking towards her had blood spattered from her mouth down the front of her white nurse’s uniform.  Her hair was in disarray and her cap perched precariously where it was dangling from a few bobby pins.  A long run traced its way up her stockings and disappeared under her skirt.  Last, but not least, she held a pistol in a death grip in her right hand.  After a few moments, Sarah’s addled wits finally realized that she knew this person, at least a little.  “Amy?”

            Amy seemed dazed as she approached Sarah.  She stepped around Sarah where she wobbled against the desk and leaned slowly onto the counter to rest her weight on her elbows.  Her head sank down to use her folded arms as a pillow, but her grip on the pistol never wavered.

            Sarah’s confusion was growing, and she noticed that a number of patients were peeking out into the hallway to try to locate the source of the gunshot.  She ignored the curious stares of the patients and said, “Amy, what is it?  Are you alright?”  Amy did not answer.  Instead, she shook her head against her arms and waved behind her with the pistol towards the door marked with the word Linen.

            As Sarah looked in the direction that Amy had indicated, she noticed a pool of blood was beginning to slowly spread from under the door.  She quickly realized that she may get answers more quickly if she stopped asking questions and had a look for herself.  She felt a bit like she was walking a tightrope as she shoved away from the desk and moved towards the door because her equilibrium was still seriously disturbed from the blow that she had received.  Several unsteady steps later, she managed to latch onto the handle of the door and push it open.  In a detached way, a part of her mind that was content merely to observe noticed that she had stepped in the pool of blood where it was spreading from under the door.  The door nudged to a stop against something soft before it could open completely, and Sarah weaved her unsteady way around it to look into the room.

            Her addled brain took a moment to comprehend what she was seeing.  When understanding finally sank in, she turned and finally lost the battle she had been fighting with her concussion-induced nausea.  The remains of the breakfast that she and John had shared in a morning that seemed gone in the mists of time splattered onto her shoes and the floor between those shoes as she leaned over and vomited.  The violent motion caused another blast of pain through her head, and she only barely managed to keep from falling into the mess that she had made.  In a desperate effort to get away from the sight of the policeman’s brains dripping from the wall, she pivoted and hurled herself back out into the hall.  A few steps placed her against the far wall, and she grasped the handicap rail to steady herself before bending over and retching weakly.  She was relieved to discover that all she had left to vomit was a little bile and spit.  She stayed where she was and breathed deeply for long moments once the retching had passed.  Finally she felt able to face things a little more steadily, so she stood up and looked towards Amy.

            The bloodied nurse was still resting her head on her folded arms.  Two nurses that Sarah had never seen were bending over her asking what was wrong, but Amy was unresponsive.  One of the nurses noticed that Sarah seemed to have regained at least temporary control of her stomach, so she loudly asked, “What’s going on?  What’s in there?”

            Sarah blocked the image of the dead policeman from her mind before replying, “See for yourself.  And could you call a doctor for me?”  She began to slowly make her way back towards the nurse’s station by sliding her shoulder along the wall for support.  When she reached the desk, she reeled around the huddle of nurses and moved through the break in the counter behind them to sag into a chair.  “I think I may have a concussion or something.”  She reached up to touch the back of her head and felt a large knot just where her neck met her skull.  Even the slight touch of her fingers to the knot caused another bolt of pain to shoot through her skull, so she stopped and looked expectantly at the nurses where they were watching her.  When neither seemed to know what to do and consequently were still doing nothing, she lost her temper.  “Get a doctor!  And call the cops!  Don’t just stand there looking stupid.  Jesus, what’s wrong with you people?”

            Sarah’s sharp turn finally seemed to get through to the nurses.  The one that had spoken to Sarah huffed a bit, but she reached across the counter to grab the phone and punched a button.  As she talked heatedly into the receiver, the other nurse pulled another chair around the counter and forced Amy to sit.  Then she turned her attention to Sarah.  “So what happened?”

            “I wish I knew.  One minute, I was talking to her in the hallway here.  The next minute, I heard a gunshot and opened my eyes to find myself on the floor.  I’ve got the mother of all headaches, and I’ve puked on my shoes.  I don’t know who hit me or why.  You’ll have to ask her.”  She waved distractedly at Amy before continuing.  “I was trying to figure it all out when you two showed up.”

            Amy looked dully at Sarah for a few moments before trying to put together some answers.  “It was the cop from upstairs.  He stepped around the corner, clubbed you in the head and punched me in the gut.  Then he dragged me into the linen closet.  He tried to rape me, but I got his gun from him and shot him in the face.  Any questions?”  As she finished, she finally began to show some emotion, but it was not the shock and sadness that the ladies expected.  Instead, a vicious satisfaction lit her face and she glared defiantly at the other three ladies at the desk.

            The tense moment was broken by the ding of the elevator arriving around the corner from them.  A security guard led a very belated charge around the corner and he was trailed closely by a policeman in a uniform that matched the one of the dead officer in the closet.  The guard stopped in shock at the sight of the blood where it was pooling outside the door of the closet, but the officer barely hesitated.  He stepped to the door of the linen closet and stepped inside.  The door closed behind him for long moments, and the rapidly growing crowd in the hallway sat quietly waiting for the officer to return.

            Long moments passed before the door was pulled open again.  The officer that had stepped inside to investigate emerged into the hallway with a grim and pale expression on his face.  “Okay, someone tell me what’s going on.  Right now.”  As he said the words, his hand drifted down to the butt of his gun.

            Sarah sighed and said, “I wish I knew.”


            Danny fought not to gag as he rapidly dressed his burnt master.  He found that if he breathed through his mouth the smell of burnt, infected flesh was not nearly so overpowering.  Even though he was nauseated by being forced to touch the monster, a part of his mind was in awe of his unwanted master.  As bad as Maraydel looked now, he was still obviously much recovered when compared to how he had looked when Danny and Carol left him.  Burnt skin would flake away from his chest and back as Danny dressed him and the skin underneath was pink and perfect.  Danny could also sense the struggle that he was winning with the pain of his injuries, and he was dismayed to sense that less and less of Maraydel’s energies were being consumed in his struggle to heal, because he knew that when the magus was healed, he would return his attention to his rebellious slaves.

            Carol helped Danny as much as she could.  She was barely managing to continue functioning through the blanket of despair that had settled over her.  She knew that they were doomed.  She and Danny had nearly escaped, but a cruel fate or an uncaring God had dragged them back to the side of the thing that they were being forced to serve.  Maraydel had nearly died.  She knew that.  She also realized that she should never have squandered her chance to end it.  So what if she had died?  She could still have ended the evil life of the man that had tormented her before and would now torment her again.  At least her suffering would have been over.

            Maraydel was delighted with the events of the day, but he felt a growing sense of urgency as well.  Somehow the shaman had managed to elude him completely.  He had escaped from the vision where Maraydel had trapped him, and the magus could feel his enemy already moving towards another confrontation.  Such a confrontation was the last thing that Maraydel wanted just then, so he was pouring all of his considerable power into once more healing the body that had so recently been resurrected from death.  He clamped down on the pain of his damaged skin and helped Danny shove him into the clothes that he had stolen.  The strong young man was again proving useful.  His attempted betrayal would not be forgiven, but perhaps his punishment could be eased a bit in duration and intensity.

            Maraydel sent his thoughts drifting down through the hospital to the corpse of the policeman.  What a pleasant diversion that had been.  He considered it a shame that the officer had been unable to complete his rape, but the entire situation still pleased him enormously.  He had been able to drive a normally decent man to the brink of unspeakable cruelty.  And the fact that the man had died also worked to his advantage, since there was now one less figure of authority to stand in his way.

            Danny and Carol finally managed to finish dressing Maraydel and Danny hurried back into the hallway to find a wheelchair.  There was one waiting behind the nurse’s station where Amy had been working before Sarah’s arrival.  After a quick check up and down the hallway, Danny darted behind the counter and retrieved the wheelchair.  He rolled it back into Maraydel’s room and stopped long enough to figure out how to expand it from a collapsed position to its full size.  As he locked the braces in place to keep the chair expanded he heard a sound that sent chills down his spine.

            Danny left the chair where it was sitting and hurried to the window.  Across the parking lot from the hospital, he saw three police cars squeal into the entrance of the parking lot with their lights glaring and sirens blaring.  Danny had no idea how Maraydel had cleared the way for their arrival, but based on the evil man’s prior behavior, Danny had a strong suspicion that the police cars were on their way to deal with some mess that the magus had made.  Ordinarily, this would have been no problem for them, but Maraydel was ready to be on his way and Danny was afraid of what might happen if the police tried to detain them.

            “Carol, help me.  We’ve got to get out of here.”  For a moment, Danny was afraid that Carol would hesitate and by doing so provoke some other evil deed, but the moment passed and Carol moved to grab the wheelchair and move it to the bed.  Danny hurried to the same side of the bed and grasped Maraydel in a bear hug.  His master gasped with the pain of the rough treatment and cursed under his breath, but apparently Danny’s urgency was getting through to him because he did not utter any new threats or warnings.  Holding the debilitated monster close to his chest, he spun him off of the hospital bed and into the waiting wheelchair.  Both Danny and Maraydel sighed in relief when the transfer was completed.

            “Carol, you scout the way ahead towards the far side of the hospital away from the sirens.  I’ll push him.”  Carol only nodded her acceptance and stepped to the door of the room to check the hallways.  While she was checking Danny moved into position behind the wheelchair and moved it towards the doorway.  Carol glanced behind her to make sure that all was ready.  Seeing that her love and her first unwanted lover were prepared, she waved for them to follow her and stepped out into the hall.


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