WFOL Logo - Return to the Great Hall     

 

CLASSIC ROUND ROBIN

Chapter 2

by Moose



The sudden effort intensified the burning sensation in his side and Vincent muffled a cry of pain. He did not have to look back; the sound of shouts and running footsteps told him all he needed to know.

Again he ran, his cloak undulating behind him like large black wings, drawing the hunters away from the culvert. The crisp air and the sparkle of the frozen rain that had earlier enchanted him with its glimmering shimmer of the world of fairy was now proving to be a hazard. The still cold stole breath and warmth from him that he could ill afford to lose, and his blood soaked clothing was stiffening as it started to freeze. Although peripherally aware of these considerations, he had only one conscious thought; protect his home and family. Nothing else mattered, not where he was going, not what would happen when he got there.

Following a zigzag course he led them onward. Another shot rang out, narrowly missing him and putting a jagged rent in his cloak. His pursuers were gaining ground. Somehow, he found himself near an alley that contained several dumpsters and trash cans that would provide cover. Vincent dashed in, crouching beside a large dumpster. He was grateful for the respite, however brief it might prove to be, as he lowered his head, breathing hard.

That respite didn’t last long: the three men that were chasing him had discovered the alley in which he was hiding. From the angry sound of voices and the methodical way they were searching, Vincent knew they would find him fairly quickly. He considered his options. He could fight them and hope that the shock of his appearance would give him enough time to win that battle before he was shot again. This seemed unlikely, since all three were armed and in good health and he was winded and weak with blood loss. Vincent undoubtedly would be able to deal with one of them but not all three. He could continue to hide and perhaps be overlooked, but with the relentlessness of their pursuit and their thoroughness in the search of the alley thus far, that too seemed an impossible hope.

He shook his head in an effort to clear it as a wave of dizziness overtook him. Vincent knew he would have to remain where he was and face whatever he had to, however he had to, just as he had done so many times before. Despite the cold dampness surrounding him, he felt a surge of inner heat and a building rage. He would not die here alone, in a frozen alley, at the hands of petty criminals! Despite his desperate situation, he felt a twist of grim humor. He had been abandoned in just such an alley as an infant and left to die. It hadn’t happened then and it wouldn’t now! He would survive, as he had survived so many years ago, and he mentally prepared himself for the approaching confrontation.

It wasn’t long in coming; the ragged edge of his cloak was just visible, betraying his hiding place. One of the men called roughly to his companions and the heavy sound of footsteps told Vincent that all three had stopped in front of him. He did not raise his head although his entire body tensed in readiness for whatever it might be called upon to do.

“Well, what do we have here?” a mocking voice sneered.

He could hear one of the men pacing back and forth, debris and ice crystals crackling beneath his feet.

“Looks like another wino to me!” another voice offered.

“Yeah, could be, but it’s gonna be a dead wino. This dude caused us some trouble tonight. Screwed up the deal and then we had ta chase him all over hell and back. Kinda ruined my good mood. How ‘bout you guys?”

One of the men aimed a kick at Vincent’s side, and he could not suppress a sharp intake of breath and a low groan.

“Sounds like the guy is hurtin’. Seein’ as it’s the season of good will and all it would only be right to put him out of his misery.”

There were murmurs of amused assent from his companions and a short discussion of who would have the pleasure of shooting him. During the entire conversation, with the exception of the grunt of pain, Vincent had not acknowledged their presence. This apparent lack of interest irritated one of them and he felt another kick, this time to his outer thigh.

“Hey man, no need to get pissed! We’re gonna get rid of him, it’s just a matter of who does it. But let’s make this fun. Whaddya say to paper, rock, and scissors?”

A short bark of laughter was followed by the triumphant exclamation of the winner, who crouched down and nudged Vincent’s hood with his gun. “OK, you stupid piece of trash, take off that hood so you can thank me proper for ending your miserable life!”

As the gunman started to push the hood of his cloak back, Vincent rumbled a low vibrating sound full of menace and warning and his assailant rocked back on his heels.

“Whoa man, what was that!”

He looked up at his companions and they gestured him on, with one quick motion the hood was pulled completely back to be met with a full throated angry snarl and the sight of a mouthful of wicked looking teeth. Eyes narrowed to dangerously flashing blue slits, Vincent made a swift move towards his assailant and the person crouching beside him scrambled madly to get away.

One of the other punks aimed his gun just as Vincent launched a booted foot and pushed this second attacker off balance. The shot went wild and hit the wall a foot or so above his head, and Vincent felt a sharp shard of broken brick graze his cheek along with the sudden warmth of fresh blood on his face. He had managed to scramble up, knowing he would not be upright for long, but determined that if he was not going to leave this alley he would meet death on his feet.

“What is that thing?!”

“Kill it! Quick!”

Somewhere above them a window banged open. “You low life clear out of here! Or I’m going to be the one doin’ some killing! We don’t tolerate your kind ‘round here!” With that, a grizzled head popped out of the window as well as the barrel of a shotgun.

The report of the shot was heard just as a part of the pavement exploded near their feet. This had become a lot more than they had bargained for, and the three thugs gave it up and fled as Vincent sank down again. He could hear unintelligible muttering above him as both head and gun barrel were abruptly withdrawn from the window, and it was pulled shut with a resounding slam. He knew he could not stay where he was, in case the man with the shotgun or the police came to investigate the disturbance. Somehow he had to find the strength to either make his way below or find somewhere to hide.

Blood loss, adrenaline and the physical effort needed to make it to the alley had left him weak and shaking. Vincent took a few precious minutes to gather his strength before using the handle of the dumpster to haul himself to his feet and leave the dubious shelter of the alley behind. In the mad dash to both lead and elude his would be executioners, he had completely lost his bearings and had no idea where he was. Vincent knew that he would need to find safety and medical attention soon. The makeshift bandage on his side was soaked and he was cold to the marrow of his bones.

Peering around the corner, he cautiously exited the alley and used the wall of the building to steady and support himself. He saw no one, but his vision seemed to darken, and Vincent shook his head in an attempt to clear it. Nothing that met his eyes was familiar, so he slowly trudged on, keeping his feet only due to the grace of the building that he followed and his own incredible will.

He didn’t know how long he had been walking when he stumbled and fell for the first time. Sheer determination brought him slowly to his feet and he went on, searching his surroundings desperately for any landmark that would lead him to the home of a helper or to the safety and security of the tunnels below. Several cars passed by, and he was careful to turn his face away. None slowed or offered him aid as he made his halting way forward, always forward, no longer even thinking of direction, just determined to keep moving and remain on his feet. He stumbled and fell again. This time it took much more effort to get up. He could see Father in his mind’s eye, shaking his head and muttering about shock and exposure and other things that Vincent tried to make sense of but that just whirled around in his head, stubbornly eluding his grasp.

When he fell for the third time, a car slowed, but only to jeer insults and tell him to “go find a cozy alley and quit cluttering up the sidewalk” before throwing a half full can of beer at him and roaring off. The beer can hit the curb, and as he watched it roll down the pavement, Vincent gave in to a rush of bleak despair. He had always given aid whenever and however he could. Was there no one that would do the same for him when he needed that aid in return? He was tempted to just lie there, and did for a few minutes, before the fury that had possessed him back in the alley again manifested itself. He would not, could not give up. He would not die like a dog in a ditch; his body put on display as a freak of nature. If he would not keep going for himself, he would for the love he bore Father and his tunnel family. And for Catherine, beautiful Catherine, who was his very heart and soul. Vincent would fight to his last breath in order to prevent causing her such grief.

Painfully, he pulled his legs forward and braced his arms, steadying himself against the side of the building and lurching upright once more. He stood for a moment with his head down, breathing heavily, before noticing the odd sparkle of the ice and frost that rimmed the pavement beneath him. Somewhere in the drifting confusion of his thoughts, bits and pieces of the tales he told the children darted and flashed. Fanciful tales of fairy lights and fairy paths that would lead weary travelers through danger and back to their villages and cots. Vincent shook his head bemusedly and followed the glittering trail. He could barely make out a glow ahead and assumed that it was the reflection of a fire. If he could only reach it, perhaps he would be able to rest for a time and warm himself sufficiently to resume the search for a way Below.

Vincent was no longer consciously thinking, just following the sparkling path of the light on the ground before him. Something in him knew that if he could just make it to that golden glow he would be safe and everything would be all right. He seemed to be pulled in that direction. He just had to keep going . . . had to keep moving . . .

Intent as he was on the effort of just maintaining his feet, it came as a surprise when finally he reached that circle of light. Pulling his hood more securely over his head, he stepped into it and stood swaying in shocked recognition. The tall figure bending over the glow that had been such a beacon to him was familiar. The man’s back was turned, but he had a slight build, rumpled jacket and a faded baseball cap perched precariously over dark curls. This was impossible, it couldn’t be, yet Vincent was sure it was . . .

“Kristopher??”

The young man stood up, dusted off his hands and turned around. He gave Vincent the same lopsided, dazzling smile as he had the first time they’d met. This time he offered a steadying hand.

“Hi!”

~


Return to RR Index Page