Live and Die by Magic – A Realm of False Gods short story

If, after reading this, you want more, there will be a link at the end.

February 2014

Paris, France

Ambush

With an unnecessary flourish, I used my right hand to control the air. In my left, I held my trusty broken compass, using the air I conjured to direct my tracking spell. The wooden compass needle spun a little before settling on a direction, and then I started moving, following where it pointed as I raced across the stone plaza in front of the Louvre.

It was my first time in Paris, not that I was going to get to see much of it, and it had been drizzling steadily since I arrived as if the French capital disapproved of my presence here. The temperature was only just above freezing, cold enough to penetrate if a person was outside for long enough, which I already had been. The rain wasn’t helping, and my hands were half-frozen because I couldn’t conjure with gloves on. I wasn’t wearing a hat either, so my ears and head were getting cold as the rain hit my scalp. Years ago, I wore my dark brown hair long, but in defiance of my ability to wield magic, my hairline receded in my late twenties. Nowadays I had a buzz-cut because of its practicality, the hair on my head roughly the same length as my five-day stubble.

A call from Deputy Commissioner Bliebtreu brought me here earlier today, his forces were stretched too thin to cover what might be a singular event he said, but he believed there was something here if I had time to check it. Things were quiet in my home city of Bremen, those from the immortal realm too wise to go there now I was back to defend it, so I got in my car and drove the eight hundred kilometres in one go, stopping only to relieve myself and grab refreshments to eat in the car. The journey took all day, so it was late evening now, and I was already tired but Bliebtreu hadn’t been wrong; there was something here.

Night was upon the city, dark shadows from the streetlights made my silhouette appear freakish as I ran down stone steps toward the Seine and away from the tourists still gathered outside the famous museum. Something had been taking children; three in four days, each of the parents reporting an intense cold sensation before they lost consciousness. They awoke with their child missing and all the terrible emotion that would invoke. I spoke with only one set of parents, the ones whose child was taken last night, their number passed to me by Bliebtreu. I took his word for it that the others reported the same story. They were all attacked in the street with no witnesses to report seeing anything.

I worried for what that meant because there was only one creature I knew of able to operate like that and they were all dead, hunted to extinction by the demons several thousand years ago because even they couldn’t stomach that level of evil.

If you are wondering who I am, then the answer is Otto Schneider. I’m a wizard. My abilities came when I was fourteen, scaring the pants off me because I could suddenly do all manner of things that I shouldn’t be able to do. I watched my parents for weeks, trying to carefully word a question so I could ask if they were like me without telling them what I was suddenly like. I felt certain they were not and, in the end, after observing them constantly, I accepted that it was just me.

Slowly, and very privately, I trained myself, experimenting with what I could do and learning, mostly from failure, what I could not. I can control elemental magic, which is to say that I can conjure air, water, and earth, and manipulate them to create fire and lightning and ice and steam and all manner of other useful effects. I went through the thirty milestone a while back but haven’t aged since 2012 when… well, that’s a story for another time, but I am stuck permanently in my early thirties and that suits me just fine.

One of the tools I developed was a tracking spell, which I was using right now to find Jean Dujardin, a four-year-old boy snatched twenty-six hours ago. I suspected I was already too late for the two children snatched previously.

Hurrying onwards, running along the bank of the river and drawing odd looks from tourists out despite the weather, my second sight picked up the familiar glow of a supernatural aura ahead. This was almost certainly the creature that took the child, but a glance at my compass confirmed I was still a long way from the boy I was tracking. That could mean only one thing: the monster wasn’t in the same place as the child. This could be good or bad; the one thing my tracking spell wouldn’t do was tell me what condition the target was in; all too often, it led me to a body. Whatever the case, tonight I would get to fight the creature without the child in the way and that would give me a free hand to unleash my full arsenal.

I slowed to a walk as I slid the compass back into a pocket. I would want both hands to deal with what I was about to find. Ahead of me was a bridge over the river and behind the concrete structure, as it formed the first arch into the water, was whatever was throwing off the aura. I couldn’t tell what it was. It could be a demon or a shilt or what I hoped it wasn’t for all I knew. It could even be something new, but whatever it was, it was about to get both barrels. Metaphorically speaking.

Closing the distance, I could see that whatever was there hadn’t moved yet, but it was hiding in the shadows just the other side of the bridge as if waiting to ambush the next person coming through. Well, it was about to get a big surprise then.

Pulling ley line energy into my core from the fat line running through the centre of Paris and under the Louvre, I conjured moisture in the air, agitating it to create static electricity. Lightning was one of my most devastating spells, one which I had learned to control with deadly accuracy over the last few years. I could follow that up with fire, or ice or whatever the situation called for depending on what I found.

It was still there, just at the edge of the bridge, clearly ready to leap out the moment I emerged from beneath the concrete arch. It didn’t get the chance.

As my right foot took the next step, the one that would bring the hidden figure into sight, I swivelled toward it, dropped to one knee and pushed the spell. From above my head, lightning arced; a blinding fork that ripped through the air with a deafening blast. Whatever it hit would need to have some serious magical muscle to stay conscious and was likely to get thrown several metres when the electricity earthed.

So it was to my great surprise when the lightning hit what appeared to be a giant shield, shaped like an ancient knight’s, and earthed directly into the ground.

A growl was all the warning I got before the creature in the darkness leapt. It was coming right at me, moving fast and full of deadly intent. I was barely able to switch spells fast enough to stop it hitting me. Conjuring air instinctively because it is my most versatile spell, I caught the figure in mid-air just a metre from my face.

Its red eyes glowed in the dark, the mouth beneath them drawn back into an angry sneer. The air spell wasn’t going to hold it for long, and I hadn’t allowed for the reach of its arms which even now were swinging in to smash my head.

At the last moment, just before I pushed fire from my right hand directly into its face and just a split second before a clubbing hand would impact the side of my skull, we both stopped.

The red behind the eyes staring at me dimmed and the face split into a grin. ‘Wizard?’

Old Friends

‘Zachary?’ I hadn’t seen the big, stupid, snarky d-bag of a werewolf in years. Not that I thought he was dead, but I hadn’t heard anything about him for so long, he had slipped from my memory. Looking at him now, I had to admit I forgot just how big and imposing he is. Standing over two metres tall, he was as broad across his shoulders and chest as two average men and like me, his age was frozen in time. Unlike me, he was still in his twenties when it happened, but some guys get all the luck. His hairstyle had changed but that was about it. ‘Why were you about to ambush me?’ I asked.

‘Ambush you?’ His forehead wrinkled as he tried to work out what I meant. Then, when he looked back at where he had been in hiding behind the bridge, he sniggered. ‘I was taking a leak, dummy. Why would I want to ambush you? It’s not like I need the element of surprise to beat you, puny wizard.’

It amazed me how he slipped so easily back into being a dickhead after almost a decade. I didn’t bother to retort, there was little to gain from engaging in a battle of wits, other than to encourage even more abuse from him. I was close to one meter ninety tall, hardly short for a man and I wasn’t skinny either, yet Zachary always referred to me as if my proportions were childlike. For him, everyone was small by comparison and he liked to remind them as often as possible. He wore a permanent uniform of work boots, the Timberland style ones, jeans, and a t-shirt or vest. He ought to be freezing but something about his supernatural nature kept the cold at bay, so he never wore a coat. Tonight, his white t-shirt was stuck to his skin, the rain soaking the cotton, but it was probably a deliberate effect on his part as it did a great job of framing his pecs and his shaggy blonde hair, which I looked at with a hint of jealousy, was longer than before and styled with some kind of waterproof product to make him look like he was about to audition for a boy band. The clean-shaven jawline just made him look even younger than he was.

Pushing all that to one side, I asked a question. ‘What was that shield thing?’

He waggled his eyebrows. ‘You mean this?’ He took a step back and brought up his left arm like a knight might if carrying a shield and the thing that deflected my lightning sprang into existence. I could tell it was ethereal; constructed of magic, not matter, but it looked solid enough. Answering a question I had yet to ask, he said, ‘I picked it up in Croatia.’

‘Croatia? What were you doing there?’

‘This and that. Mostly avoiding those dicks from the Alliance who still think I should join them. I was in Mostar a while ago and a priest gave it to me. It’s part of some ancient suit of armour. A couple of demons saw it and went nuts, saying something about this being the shield of God. I don’t know whether it is… was, but the priest said it was found when the city got bombed back in the nineties. The church got damaged and this was found hidden inside a column. Everyone who touched it died instantly so they carefully tipped it into a box and sealed it up. I had a problem to sort out for them and the priest asked if I wanted to use it. I guess he knew enough about me to know it couldn’t kill me.’

‘What does it do?’ I asked. ‘Other than earth my lightning spell instantly.’

‘It defends me. When I first touched it, it bonded with me or something. It was a piece of metal, but when I gripped it, it changed form, flowing into me and now, when I want it, all I have to do is imagine it on my arm and, hey presto, good magical word that, it appears. It also comes out by itself though, sensing attack and defending me. It was useful in Croatia when the demons came because it deflects hellfire.’

I stuck out my bottom lip and nodded, impressed. It was a fancy piece of hardware.

‘What’s with you anyway. This is a very different outfit to the one you were in last time I saw you. Back then you looked like a librarian; all tweeds jackets with leather elbow patches. Now you look like you slay vampires for a living.’

I looked down at what I was wearing. His jibe about my clothes was all nonsense, of course. I had never even owned a jacket with leather elbow patches, but I did dress more sedately back then. ‘I spent some time in the immortal realm and I seem to do a lot more fighting than I used to back when we first met. These clothes are just more practical and hardwearing.’

I had on a pair of army boots, or what might pass for army boots, I suppose. They were comfortable and practical and didn’t fall off in a fight like a pair of leather loafers once did. My trousers were black, rip-stop material designed for combat and I wore a long leather coat because it was easy to move in plus I liked the way it trailed behind me like a cape when I ran. Okay, I might have seen Blade one time too many.

‘What are you doing in Paris?’ he asked, doing whatever it was that he did to make the shield go away and then starting to walk along the path.

He was going the direction I needed to go, his ‘ambush’ temporarily distracting me from my quest to find the missing boy. As I took the compass from my pocket again, I said, ‘I could ask you the same thing.’

‘I asked first,’ he countered.

Pausing briefly while I checked my direction, he waited for me until I started moving again.  ‘There’s something here,’ I murmured absent-mindedly, wondering again if it was going to be the thing I didn’t want it to be. ‘Something that took a child earlier today.’

He stopped and placed a hand on my chest to stop me. ‘Do you know what it is?’ He was being serious for once, not something I got from him very often in the past.

‘I might. Why?’

He started walking again. ‘I caught sight of it two nights ago. I chased it for over a kilometre, but I lost it in the rooftops near Notre Dame. Whatever it is, it’s unfriendly and it is fast, and it fires some kind of barbs from its face.’

I hung my head. I knew what it was for sure now. ‘It’s a whyker.’

The Whyker

‘Are you tracking it?’ Zachary asked. He had seen my broken compass before and knew what I used it for.

I shook my head. ‘No. The boy. A four-year-old called Jean Dujardin.’

Zachary’s face was an angry mask suddenly. ‘Four-years-old? This thing deserves to die. What did you call it?’

‘A whyker. I didn’t think there were any left. I only heard about them in legends told by the demons. They ended up trapped in the immortal realm along with all the other magical creatures and the demons hunted them to extinction. If that’s what this is, then we are in trouble.’

‘That’s hardly hero talk, wizard. Don’t be such a worrier. You’ve got the werewolf back on your side tonight. It won’t stand a chance.’

I wasn’t so certain. ‘From what I heard, it took dozens of demons to kill just one of these things.’

Turning around to walk backwards so he could look at me, he asked, ‘Does it have magical testicles?’ I raised one eyebrow at him. ‘Didn’t think so. One kick to the spuds and it’ll drop like anything else.’

He always had a joke, but this was a serious situation. ‘We need a plan, Zac. We can’t just run at it and shout insults.’

He considered that for a second. ‘How about this? I throw myself at it and while it’s wearing itself out trying to eat me to death, you stick some lightning up its butt and explode it from the inside?’

Ignoring him, I looked down at the compass and up again. ‘We need to get across the river.’

‘It’s there!’ yelled Zachary, breaking into a run. ‘Last one there is a children’s entertainer.’ Ignoring yet another jibe about my particular set of skills, I tracked where he had been looking, squinted and then, remembering myself, I closed and reopened my eyes, bringing my second sight into play. I didn’t need to close my eyes to do it, but it made it easier and I got a headache if I didn’t.

I saw it instantly, a glowing golden aura rising out of the water of the Seine on the far bank. Seventy metres ahead of me was a bridge we could use to get across. Zachary was already there, his speed not something I could ever hope to match. I had a few tricks of my own though, one of which was particularly appropriate for this occasion.

‘Ha! Beat me now, wolfman,’ I muttered to myself as I faced the water and held out my arms. Using an air spell to provide lift, I glanced around, saw that there were hundreds of people who would see me and lifted myself off the ground anyway. The first few times I had tried to reverse engineer my air conjuring to give me flight had not gone very well. I crashed a lot, but I got the idea when I saw another wizard do it with finesse. Knowledge that it could be done plus a lot of practice resulted in enough confidence to do it now.

I flew upright, looking graceful as I crossed high above the river, and making sure Zachary saw me as I passed him. He was running flat out, moving faster than an Olympic sprinter, but I was still going to get there first. He frowned at me and mouthed something that would not be printable, then he gave me the bird for good measure.

The whyker was out of the water and long gone by the time I touched down on Ile de la Cité, a small island sitting in the middle of the Seine and famous for being the home of Notre Dame. It made sense that the whyker was here somewhere. Churches always sat on the most powerful ley lines, which was why creatures from the immortal realm so often chose to cross through near them. Notre Dame is huge and ancient, the ley line beneath it bigger and more ancienter. I tried to correct the word in my head but couldn’t work out quite how it should go. 

‘Did you see which way it went?’ asked Zachary, arriving next to me a few seconds after I touched down. He was jogging on the spot, all pumped up and ready for a fight, looking about for any sign of the creature.

I shook my head, checking the compass one last time before putting it away. ‘No. The boy is here though. Less than fifty metres from us. This is good and bad.’

‘You know how I love it when you are cryptic, wizard,’ grumbled the werewolf as he started to strip off his clothes. Not that he was wearing much, a t-shirt, jeans and a pair of work boots; his usual outfit regardless of the weather. The t-shirt was soaked through, but he took everything off and folded his clothes neatly, placing them under a bush in the vain hope they might be safe there until he returned.

 Cat calls and whistles came from a party boat going by on the river as women caught sight of his lean muscular frame and naked butt. He turned to give them the shot they were calling for and then transformed into a werewolf right before their eyes to scare the living crap out of them. One second he was a naked man, the next he was a terrifying beast. He was tall for a human, but once transformed, he stood upright on his back legs to reach a height of two and a half metres. The change left him man shaped except for his wolf head and wolf hands. Not that his hands became paws; they were still hands but far bigger than before and each digit ended with a fifteen-centimetre claw. The claws made it hard to grip things, though not impossible. Otherwise, he looked like a man wearing a convincing costume as his white skin became almost black and sprouted course black hair. His blue eyes now glowed a deep, dark red inside his skull and a golden glow emanated from inside his skin in thin lines like his veins were filled with liquid gold. He was terrifying to look at but also nowhere near as scary as some things I had seen.

Humans, normal people that is, were now almost all aware on some level that supernatural creatures really did exist. The proliferation of good quality cameras built into everyone’s phone guaranteed there would always be someone around to capture an event and there had been lots over the last decade or so as the demons began to push their way into the mortal realm. Tonight was no exception, so as the screams of horror subsided, phones came out.

Zachary turned to give them three-quarter profile and howled dramatically for the cameras.

‘Was that entirely necessary?’ I asked when the ship was passing from sight and he finally stopped doing muscle poses.

‘Necessary? Of course not,’ he growled, his naturally deep voice now just a touch deeper and a little more growly. ‘I think they liked the show though. Besides, hiding what we are and letting them pretend we don’t exist won’t do them any favours when the curse finally breaks. Demons will come to enslave all these good people and I don’t think you and I can stop them. They need to be ready.’

He was right, of course; we had talked about it before. No one knew when the death curse would fail, not even the angels and demons, but we knew it was coming and when it happened, the Earth would be changed forever. ‘It’s not just you and me, Zac,’ I told him. ‘There are others who will face them with us.’

‘I know,’ he sighed, twisting his head side to side as if limbering up. ‘Did you see the thing on the news in Chippewa Falls? I had to look up where that is, but the story has demon stamped all over it. Someone there beat it.’

I nodded. I had seen it and I knew the Alliance were trying to find out who was there for them to recruit. ‘Bliebtreu and the Alliance are trying to pull some of us together into a force that might be able to fight them.’

‘The Alliance,’ he scoffed. ‘They can all go f…’ suddenly he wasn’t standing next to me anymore. I caught a faint glimpse of his shield manifesting, but it went with him as he flew backwards out of sight.

I whispered, ‘Cordus,’ to power my barrier spell, an invisible shield of my own design materialising just in time to stop the next giant barb from hitting me. Behind me, I heard a splash as Zachary hit the river.

The barb had caught the curved edge of my shield, glancing off rather than driving me back into the river, but it jarred my whole arm and made it feel numb. All around me, the lights were going out, plunging the area into darkness. It was a trick I had seen others perform though I had not yet worked out how it was done. Twenty metres ahead of me was a road running along the outside edge of the island. Cars were screeching to a stop and horns were blaring as the whyker walked in front of them, blocking the street and causing crashes. Panicked screams filled the air as those with any sense abandoned their cars and ran.

Behind and to my left, a barge designed for taking people along the river was moored. I heard yells to get clear as they too spotted the approaching monster and ran for their lives.

‘Wizard,’ the whyker hissed, its voice like a skeleton’s bones being rattled together. I had only ever heard stories, I hadn’t even seen pictures, but the descriptions didn’t do this thing justice. It was nothing short of an abomination, something the Earth’s source energy created at the dawn of time specifically to power nightmares for the rest of all eternity.

It was five times my size, maybe three metres high and four metres long, and it resembled a scorpion, less the tail, with a spider’s head. Its body looked like chitinous plates, a hard exoskeleton that shone with the rain and streetlights. Multiple eyes stared at me, sizing me up as it considered which bit of me to eat first. Its voice came to me without the need for a mouth that could form words, the sounds arriving in my head unbidden and in my own language, a magic of some kind translating it.

‘You are about to perish, wizard. Why did you come here?’

I wanted to stall for as long as I could. I had heard Zachary surface already. No other creature on the planet can string together that many expletives and somehow still make a coherent sentence. Together we might still be no match for this thing, but I certainly didn’t want to take it on alone.

I answered its question. ‘I came for the child. Is he alive?’

‘Yes,’ hissed the whyker. ‘Though not for long. The child possesses what I need to sustain myself in this mortal realm. Soon I will consume him and look for another.’

I stepped forward, conjuring the earth as I closed the distance between us, my strides showing a confidence I didn’t feel. Readying my spell, I snarled, ‘I’m afraid not. I am here to stop you.’

‘One mortal wizard? You will die painfully.’ It moved suddenly, just as I unleashed my spell. While it was talking, I had been pushing my senses down into the ground beneath its feet. It was standing part on the grass of the riverbank and part on the road. Gathering the earth in my mind, I planned to rip out a wide circle of it and flip it upside down to pin the monster in place while I worked my next spell. I thought I could probably kill it if I had it in one place for long enough, but before I could make any attempt to trap it, it leapt.

It went high into the air above me, planning to land right where I stood. My barrier spell would deflect the initial blow but would then collapse at which point the monster would skewer me most effectively.

Trying to judge it right so I wouldn’t go for a swim, I conjured air to shoot myself back out over the river. The whyker landed where I had been standing a heartbeat before and I hit it with fire, a white-hot lance that would burn through steel given a few seconds. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sustain it for that long. Even with years of training, I can only conjure one spell at a time and my upwards trajectory had already been corrected by gravity. I either switched back to an air spell or I went for a swim in the Seine.

The whyker had magic of its own I discovered as it raised itself onto its rear two sets of legs and created a ball of what looked like hellfire with the front pair. I didn’t hang around to find out if it was hellfire but went higher and then over the top of it. Flying using an air spell isn’t like you might imagine: all smooth and graceful. Even with years of practice, it is jerky and precarious. I’m never entirely certain if I will break my legs when I land, and I cannot very easily conjure any other spell while I am falling. On the ground is better, so, I picked a spot and made sure I landed in cover, placing a thick, raised ornamental flowerbed between me and it.

It had shot several blasts at me as I flew over its head, each of them missing, but now that I was easier to pinpoint, the next one hit the flowerbed I cowered behind. An explosion of pulverised brick and ancient mortar peppered me with shards of stone. I ran across the street to get some more distance, keeping low so it wouldn’t see me and hid around the corner of a building.

As I glanced back out, the beast fired into the raised flowerbed again, blowing it to smithereens. Instinctively, I ducked away from it, the werewolf’s voice reaching my ears the next second. ‘Will you get up, wizard? You’re embarrassing me.’

‘Will you take some cover?’ I hissed. ‘That thing’s got a cannon.’

He shook his head, never taking his eyes off the whyker. ‘There might be girls watching,’ he explained as he puffed out his chest.

The whyker was coming our way. While I cowered and coughed in the dust kicked up by the exploding flowerbed, Zachary stood in the road willing the creature to come at him.

Then I heard a siren and stole a glance around the corner of the building. From behind the monster, a single police cruiser had just entered the street. There were more sirens of course, the cops reacting as they undoubtedly received multiple calls, but they were all still too distant to be of immediate concern.

The unfortunate fellows in the car down the street never stood a chance, the whyker barely even bothering to look before it fired a bolt of hellfire directly at the car. It exploded in a ball of flame before Zachary or I could move. There was just no way we could have stopped it.

There was openly expressed rage in his voice when Zachary’s grumbling bass reached my ears, ‘Come along, wizard. I think it high time we introduced ourselves.’

Taking a second to catch my breath, I pushed away from the wall and stood up. There were two of us against a ridiculous beast powered by a stronger magic than I could hope to wield. Earth’s source energy, the strongest source of magic, didn’t bother with measly ley lines, it tapped right into the core power of the planet and no human could survive channelling that much juice. Despite the werewolf’s cockiness, we were about to get our asses whooped.

Zachary didn’t care about any of that though. He stood in the street and faced it down. ‘Sorry, old chap, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. You’ve probably heard of us. I’m the ass-kicking werewolf who is about to tear your head off and make you eat it.’ I ran the picture of that in my head and couldn’t make it work no matter what I did. He wasn’t finished though. ‘My little friend isn’t hiding,’ he hissed at me out of the side of his mouth, ‘stop hiding, wizard.’ Then went back to his previous volume. ‘He’s getting ready with a really big magic trick.’ I sighed at his deliberate choice of phrase. He insisted on talking about me as if I was about to pull a rabbit from a hat or vanish in a puff of smoke. ‘I’m giving you five seconds to die on the spot of your own volition. After that, we’re going to make you regret being born.’

‘I’m getting hungry,’ the whyker’s voice echoed in my head. ‘Your feeble attempts at magic will do nothing but briefly delay my meal. Time for you to die so I can feast.’ Then it let loose with a barrage of hell fire and the sharp barbs which it shot from holes either side of its mouth. It was like spitting out its own teeth, but they were the size of beers cans and moving at the speed of bullets, each of them powerful enough to punch a hole through a wall.

Zachary stood his ground, hunkered down behind his shield, or maybe that should be God’s shield given the way it protected him. The hellfire blasts hit it and simply dissipated, fizzling down to nothing as if the shield was absorbing them. However, the barbs were something the shield hadn’t been designed to deal with. He didn’t let their energy push him back though, he held the shield in place, refusing to yield so each one clanged into the shield and ricocheted off to hit a wall or a car. Half of them then penetrated what they hit to a depth of twenty centimetres. The ones that hit the cars went right through.

Shouting at the monster from behind his shield, he said, ‘I’m about to count to five. Then you’re in big trouble.’ Angered by his defiance, the whyker doubled the barrage, shunting Zachary back half a metre despite his attempt to stay put.

How the hell were we going to beat this thing?

‘Are you planning to play along, wizard?’ asked Zachary in the same tone he might use to ask someone directions. ‘I’m getting ready to kick it in the nuts and could use a distraction.’

I had no idea what he had in mind, but I could do a distraction easily enough. There was lots of water nearby and it was already cold out, so I chose to hit the big, ugly, magical brute with ice. It’s a simple spell, and water is easy to manipulate.

Reaching out to the river, I pushed my senses into the frigid water and began a maelstrom beneath the surface that erupted upward in a waterspout. Then, switching spells, I conjured air, twisting it into a tornado that spun in a tight funnel above the water, drawing it up into the night sky. I stretched it until it reached over fifty metres in height, then focused my effort into dropping the temperature, taking the millions of litres of near-freezing water just a few degrees colder. Suddenly I had ten thousand icicles just hanging in the air.

They weren’t hanging for long.

I yanked them downwards, sending wave after wave of deadly frozen spears at the whyker’s head. I doubted they would do him much harm, even if I did mentally label them as deadly. However, they were enough to distract him as Zachary asked.

The whyker didn’t see the ice coming. The first few icicles smashed into its head and body, but as expected, their effect was minimal and the damage they did was nil. The ice exploded into millions of pieces on impact, showering the street with ice crystals though the whyker ignored them as one might ignore the buzzing of flies.

I had only used about one percent of the available ice so far though, so I gritted my teeth and threw the next fifty percent in one go. Sheer volume was one thing the whyker couldn’t ignore, the constant barrage began to pummel it to the ground, and it was being slowly buried as the smashed ice built up around it.

Angry that we continued to challenge it, the creature switched its attention to the ice, attempting to avoid it but finding I could follow it wherever it might go.  The moment it was distracted, Zachary came out from behind his shield, breaking into a sprint as he charged toward the monster. I swear I heard him shout, ‘Five,’ as he barrelled down the street. I had no idea what he planned to do but I diverted the rest of the ice back into the river so I wouldn’t hit my ally with it, then pulled in more ley line energy and attacked the whyker with fire, shooting over Zachary’s head at the monster’s ugly face.

Zachary reached the ice and threw himself onto it, sliding on his right shoulder as he held his left arm up. At the end of his arm were five sharp claws, one extending from each finger like five daggers. The lack of friction on the icy road carried him between the creature’s front legs just as it saw him. It recognised the danger but couldn’t do anything about it.

Was there a vulnerable spot on its underbelly?

No. There wasn’t.

I saw Zachary’s claws clip the creature’s legs and underside as he slid through to pop up behind it, but nothing happened. The whyker didn’t howl in pain, viscera didn’t fall out to douse the street in awful black lumpy liquid. It didn’t even really seem to care about the fire hitting its face. I had wondered how on earth the two of us might beat a creature it took a platoon of demons to kill. The answer appeared to be that we couldn’t. The only advantage we gained from our last move was that now its attention appeared to be drawn in two different directions.

Zachary shouted to me, ‘Wizard, we have a problem. This thing doesn’t have any testicles. I think it might be a girl.’ Even now, when it was about to mush him into the ground, he was still making jokes.

As if annoyed by his comments, the whyker spun about on the spot, attacking Zachary with its front legs, grabbing for him with its pincers. God’s shield came into play, defeating the creature every time it lunged for him, so it switched to forming hellfire which it flung at him. That had the same effect, the two of them reaching an unhappy stalemate as the whyker did its best to kill him and Zachary refused to die. The tables had turned though, the creature was focused on Zachary, making him the distraction and leaving me with a free hand. The sensible move would be to run away at this point. Throwing all the power in the world at this thing didn’t seem to have much impact; I couldn’t see a way to defeat it, but something occurred to me as I dithered over which spell to try next.

Rope a Dope

So far, we had tried magic and little else. It was a magical creature and probably thousands of years old which made it very powerful and very experienced in using magic to defend or attack. However, given a second to think, my brain flashed to several occasions when I caught out demons and other creatures by dropping the magic to punch them in the face instead. They never expected it, always too reliant on magic to consider any other form of attack likely.

I needed to try the same trick with this thing, but I needed something bigger than my fist to do it with. I saw what I wanted, but I couldn’t get it from where it was all the way to where I needed it, I just didn’t have that kind of power. The obvious alternative was to get the whyker to go closer to it. It wasn’t going to voluntarily play chase though, so I needed something it would follow. Like…

The boy.

It admitted it needed the boy to sustain it in this realm. I didn’t know if it was any boy it needed or one with some kind of special qualities, but it had come back to this island for it. I stopped debating the concept internally and started running. The compass came out of my pocket just as I conjured the tracking spell. I had an item of the boy’s clothing to use as a focus, the spell telling me he was very close now.

‘Zachary!’ I yelled to get his attention as the whyker continued to pummel him. He was down on one knee, the shield above his head as the monster did its best to smash him into the ground. It was beginning to succeed I saw, the tarmac around the werewolf beginning to crack and crumble. ‘I’ll be right back,’ I shouted. ‘I need to get something.’

I got an incredulous expression in response and Zachary shouted something unrepeatable in my direction as I ran up Rue Aubé and away from the action. His words carried on the air as he bellowed after me, promising to give my mother something to hang her bathrobe on. I wasn’t entirely certain what that might be, but I had a good idea.

I felt a desperate sense of urgency; the whyker wasn’t stupid and might decide to explore where I had gone. My plan relied on getting it to the water, not drawing it further inland.

The boy was close. I could tell that much because the compass was pulling now as it always did when the focus got near to the target. To my right was a large building, some kind of commercial business but it was centuries old, the walls made from rough-hewn rock, not formed house bricks. The boy was somewhere inside, and I thought that was going to be a problem until I spotted an iron gate leading to steps which descended below the building. I thought the compass was trying to take me inside, but it was merely indicating toward the middle of the building, a position I could just as easily reach by going under. Not only that, the dark passage looked like the place a monster would hide a frightened child.

The gate was open, which I suppose it had to be unless the whyker had obtained a key from somewhere. However, as I looked more closely, I could see that the gate itself was intact. The piece on the wall where it should latch onto had been ripped away, the anchor bolts torn out of the rock. I paused; if the door was open, why hadn’t the child escaped? Even a four-year-old could climb some steps. Unless the whyker had already killed him.

I steeled myself for what I might find and descended into the darkness, conjuring a flame into my hand to light the way. ‘Jean,’ I called, trying to make my voice sound friendly, certain the poor child was down here and terrified in the dark. ‘Jean.’

I heard a small sound of movement, like a foot moving on a dusty floor and then I saw him, my second sight picking up his aura. It was weak, but it was there; the child possessing some supernatural ability even if it was years away from manifesting. His clothes were dirty, and his face was streaked with tears, but he was unharmed so far as I could see. He was held to the wall with a gluey secretion, far too strong for the boy to break free by himself, but it snapped and came apart the moment I got my hands on it. He didn’t know who I was, and my French was about as good as his German, but he clung to me like a spider monkey on its mother as I climbed back up the steps to the street.

Just before I exited onto the pavement outside, I paused again. The passageway leading down was less than a metre and a half across. How did the whyker get down there to deposit the child? I couldn’t ask Jean and even if we did speak the same language, I couldn’t be sure he would be able to give me a clear picture. It didn’t matter though; I was certain the whyker had been down there; how else could it have stuck Jean to the wall?

The question rattled around in my head but a crash from the direction of the river made me pick up the boy and run. I felt certain carrying the terrified child to where he would see his monster again was a bad idea; I was going to use him as bait and that wasn’t fair. I did it though, accepting that I had no time for anything else and a definite need to protect the next child the creature might snatch if I didn’t stop it now.

I was running when I hit the corner, firing lightning bolts at the back end of the creature to get its attention. I made sure it could see me with the child, but my eyes were drawn to Zachary. I had worried about him, worried about leaving him to fend off the beast by himself but once again, he proved how close to invincible he was.

I expected him to be half buried in the ground, pounded flat like a steak, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. He had the shield on his left forearm and was twirling a lamppost in his right hand. As the monster twitched its head around to see where the sparks arcing over its back end came from, Zachary darted in to smash the lamppost into the side of its head.

It flinched from the blow, demonstrating how much power the werewolf was able to put into it, but its focus was already on me. It had seen Jean and it wanted him.

Above all, I needed to keep Jean safe. He hadn’t seen the whyker yet, his head was tucked over my shoulder, so as I faced the monster, he faced away from it. That was about to change though as I ran away.

Jean stiffened instantly as he saw the monster again, and though I cooed for him to close his eyes, his little hands dug in to hold on for dear life as the whyker screamed in anger and charged after me. I didn’t have far to go, but I wasn’t sure I could make it even with a decent lead. The werewolf came to my rescue again. As the whyker turned around to chase me, Zachary leapt at him, driving the lamppost up into the air and then down again. The tattered edge, where he tore it from the ground, came down where two chitinous plates joined and he finally got through its armour.

It bellowed in rage, turning around on itself to swipe a giant front arm which caught Zachary across his ribs. He flew across the street, swept sideways to crunch against a building.

He would get back up but not soon enough for the last part of this. I planned to end it now and Zachary had just bought me the time to get in position. At the water’s edge, I slowed and turned to face the monster. Jean still clung to me and I had to prise his fingers away from my neck as I set him down on the pavement behind me. He wouldn’t let go completely, clinging to my left leg and hiding behind me, but it was now or never as the whyker stalked towards us.

‘That’s mine,’ its words echoed in my head.

‘Come and get him, monster,’ I growled back, my jaw set and my teeth clenched. What I was about to attempt ought to be possible, it just wasn’t something I had ever tried before.

He was coming closer, unwilling to throw a barb at me or risk flinging hellfire for fear of hitting the child and depriving himself of his prize. That played into my hand, but I backed up a pace to give myself some more room as I drew in ley line energy hungrily. I would need to channel more of it as I conjured the spell. There was no more time to ponder on the task though because it was at hand.

I reached into the Seine again, pushing my will deep into the water to gather a surge from the very bottom of the river. As the creature came level with it, I forced water up in a huge funnel, pushing the abandoned river barge upwards. I could feel the sheer magnitude of the task pushing back against me; I was trying to move so much mass it was making my jaw hurt.

It moved though, inexorably lifting above the surface on a giant water finger. I had to wait until the whyker came past it, as I didn’t want him to see what I was doing. Fortunately, the sound from the barge itself was drowned out by the noise of approaching sirens.

‘Did you really think you could stop me?’ asked the whyker, it rattle-of-bones voice sounding in my head. I barely heard it over the noise of blood pumping between my ears as I grunted with the effort. I felt like collapsing to the floor, but I was close now, the barge almost ready to tip.

I planned to hit it with something it couldn’t just magic away; a thousand tons of steel. Drop that on it and it would either be crushed to death instantly or be pinned in place, at which point I felt confident Zachary and I could finish it. I was wrong though, neither thing happened.

The beast was almost on the spot I had marked in my head when the tail end of the barge eclipsed the moon. The sudden change in light on the path gave the game away, the whyker whipping its head around to see what I had in store for it. I forced a last-ditch effort into the water and the barge flipped, toppling over to land top side down right on my aiming mark. Dirt, water, and muck from the bottom of the boat all slammed down and together with paving slabs exploded outwards with a force that was enough to make me stagger backwards. Carried on the air, the muck and water and everything else pelted me, and an orange buoy the size of a small car bounced by as it too made a break for freedom.

The barge had landed right where the monster had been.

It wasn’t there any more though, it had seen the danger coming and escaped.

In many ways this was a better result because its method of escape was to shrink. It had some shifting ability in its genetics somewhere which explained how it had been able to move around Paris freely enough to steal children and how it had been able to fit down the tight passage to hide the boy.

It was my size now and I experienced a swell of confidence as I lifted my arms to ready the next spell. Now it was smaller, I planned to explode it from the inside. It was something I had done before, even though it was disgusting to witness, but as I tried to conjure the spell, I sagged. I was done, half crippled from the effort of the previous spell. I needed a chocolate bar and a lie down, but the beast was already beginning to grow again.

I screamed at myself in defiance of my own weakness, filled with rage that I could come so close and yet be defeated.

‘Shall I save you again?’ asked the werewolf, as he gripped the whyker’s head and ripped it clean off. ‘Told you,’ he spat at the headless corpse.

From behind me as I leaned on my knees for support, four-year-old Jean whooped with joy and finally let go of my leg, running to hug Zachary instead.

The monster’s body hung in the air for a second or so and then collapsed to the ground where it leaked ugly dark liquid onto the path. Considering the destruction around us, I doubted a little more muck to clean up was going to be of much concern. The rain continued to fall steadily, mixing with the goop to wash it toward a drain. Flashing blue and red lights bounced off the surface of the water as cop cars came over the bridge. Yet more of them were approaching along the edge of the island, driving on the pavement and grass to get around the abandoned cars. They would arrive soon, shouting orders and getting excited. Zachary wouldn’t hang about for that, he never did, and I wondered when I might see him again.

The monster was dead, and the boy was safe, those were the things that mattered. I would do my best to tidy up the mess, putting the barge back into the water while hoping a call from Bliebtreu would smooth things over with the authorities here. It wasn’t as if they could hold me, I was too powerful for that.

Right now though, I felt utterly exhausted. Choosing to stop fighting it, I lowered myself to the ground and sat in a puddle. I was soaked anyway.

Zachary, still looking like a two and half metre-tall werewolf, had Jean on his shoulders like a dad at a Sunday soccer game, both his hands held up so Jean could hold onto them. When he caught my eye, he said, ‘I know I’ve said it before, wizard, but…’

I wafted a hand for him to stop talking. ‘I know. I know. I’m such a disappointment.’

The End

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