Holy Calamity (part six)


(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)


…Herax bodies lay spilled from the wrecks in the plaza, many of them horribly contorted and mangled. Aleck tried not to look as he jogged between them. He entered the front gate of the Circus.

“Aleck, don’t do this!” snarled Akaz, suddenly beside him, his voice echoing in the tunnel. “Get back to the God-Dog and wait until the dust settles!”

Inside the Circus, in the middle of the arena floor, several wrecked Herax ships blazed in a tangled pile. Entire trees lay burning among them. Pandemonium surrounded the conflagration: hundreds or perhaps thousands of Givers, Wilders, Diggers, and Deep Ones danced and reveled around the titanic, leaping flames. From overhead rumbled the incessant chant: We come as one! We come as one!

Aleck saw Herax boats swoop in low, raining barbed javelins and burning pitch, while the crowd fired back arrows and sling-stones. He saw unharmed archers scrape hot tar from their skins with the heads of arrows and relight the stuff in the fire, laughing as they fired flaming arrows back up. Hooded Keepers shuffled back and forth through the crowd, nursing the wounded with whiskey and bandages.

Aleck dodged through the crowd to the fireside. It roared huger and hotter than any he had ever seen, yet he felt no harm to his skin from it. For a moment he stood entranced, hands resting on the rail of a fallen ship, staring into the huge mound of shimmering coals. The tower of flames leapt bright against the cobalt sky. The metal rail felt like the surface of a stove; he turned his hands over and stared at his unharmed fingers and palms. A burly Digger threw his arm around Aleck’s shoulders and guffawed into his face with whiskey-stinking breath: “Akaz Fire-Wolf protecks the faithful, my son, haw haw!”

Aleck saw a pair of Wilders flinging speared corpses onto the fire.

Suddenly Akaz ran past him through the crowd, barking. A laughing Wilder leapt into the air and transformed into a hawk. Aleck watched him soar up towards the circling boats, where many crows, hawks, and owls flew likewise. One by one they would dive to the deck of a Herax ship, shift into wolf form, and wrestle a soldier off the far side, plummeting with him for a span before turning back into a bird. On one ship, Aleck saw two bears rampaging together, swatting Herax overboard. Another warship swarmed with a dozen elk, broad antlers swinging everywhere. Fallen Herax, living and dead, were heaved onto the fire.

Aleck heard rapid gunfire overhead. Looking up, he saw one of the flying rafts he had stolen from here — only hours ago, he realized. It felt like weeks. The raft carried a white Ford cargo van with a ring-mounted machine gun in the roof. The gunner laughed, swinging around to spray a flying boat with bullets. The deck kicked up splinters. Machinegunned Herax sprawled overboard.

The sound of the motorcycle’s engine passed by and halted not far from Aleck, idling. A man with a hunting rifle wandered unscathed through the conflagration of flaming timbers, balancing effortlessly as they shifted under his weight. He flung his rifle towards the crowd, and Aleck saw the motorcyclist lean in to catch it: a white woman with long, red hair. Her heavily-freckled face was shaped exactly like Beth’s and the Nymph’s.

The man in the fire hauled a crackling pine-sapling, thirty feet long, out from the midst of the pile. He scanned the boats overhead. Gripping the base of the trunk with both hands, he swung the sapling around in a roaring arc and hurled it a hundred yards through the air. The burning tree turned end for end and smote the mast of a diving longboat, flipping it over. The crew tumbled directly onto the fire, the boat smashing down on them and sending up a huge gout of sparks. The mob in the Circus raised a deafening cheer.

The man hopped down from the fire and got on the motorcycle behind the redhead. “That should give the motherfuckers some strategic data to analyze,” Aleck heard him say over the roar of crowd and fire. The man looked like Old Aleck, aged maybe thirty or so, but with no scars, brown hair, and a black eyepatch. Aleck pushed his way through the crowd as the motorcycle started to pull away. He dodged between bodies, trying to catch up. “Hey!” he shouted. The crowd thinned as they got further from the fire, parting for the motorcycle and cheering as it passed. Aleck dove into its wake and broke into a full run, but the motorcycle picked up speed and roared away.

“What the hell!” Aleck said aloud, giving up the chase.

“They’re us, more or less, from a parallel Earth,” said a woman’s voice. Aleck turned and found himself face to face with Beth, his future wife, astride a creaky old bicycle. Beside her, Aleck’s older self crouched on a pink girl’s bike.

“What?” said Aleck, looking back and forth between them.

“All of us are intertwined with the cosmology of this world,” Beth continued.

“There you are!” said Akaz, running up to them….

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