Sammy slid the van to a stop at the end of the street. They could get no closer, due to a stack of rusty car bodies blocking the street. All seemed quiet for now, but the pall of battle still hung thick in the air over the entire neighborhood. They both sat in their seats for a moment, surveying the scene. Then, Nathaniel turned to Sammy and stuck out his hand.
"Sammy, I am sorry I upset you earlier. No matter what, it's been interesting working with you. I'll see you when we get wherever it is we're going buddy." Sammy looked at his hand incredulously before taking it and shaking it enthusiastically. "And I am telling you, the only place we are going after we turn in all these heads will be The Prancing Pony for a couple dozen brewskis." Nathaniel shook his head, but smiled anyway. "Let's go then." He said, then opened his door and stepped out onto the cracked pavement.
Neither said anything as they picked their way through the wreckage littering the street. Nathaniel pointed his caster at the empty windows of the houses they passed, but Sammy just walked with a determined pace and his trademark grin. Finally, they reached the house in question. Nathaniel double-checked the numbers on a flattened mailbox he found in the middle of the street, but it was painfully obvious that this was the place. The house itself was more or less untouched, the faint green glow around the edges revealing the spells of protection that were still intact. But everything within a hundred yards of the place had been blasted beyond all recognition. Smoking craters were everywhere, and the stump of what was once a large oak tree was burning fitfully. It's smoky flames cast weird shadows that danced fitfully across the yard. Nathaniel motioned with his caster at an upper window of the house where he thought he saw a shape moving and Sammy nodded. Pulling an adjustable frequency anti-magic grenade from his belt he gestured at the window and signaled for Nathaniel to be ready. Nathaniel glanced at the sensor mounted on his wrist and made note of the magical frequency used by the spells protecting the house. He fiddled with the control on his caster for a few seconds, while Sammy did the same with the the grenade. When they were ready, Nathaniel aimed his caster at the window, and Sammy pulled the pin. After a silent three-count Nathaniel triggered a three-spell burst at the window at the same instant that Sammy lobbed the grenade.
Yellow light flashed from the muzzle of the caster and impacted the window with its customary hum and crackle. The spells from the caster disrupted the protective spells for only an instant, but that was long enough for the grenade to crash through the glass and enter the house. Sammy and Nathaniel both dived for cover as the grenade detonated. Hoping their plan worked, but not having time to check the sensor to see, they both jumped up on the porch and ran to the door before the spells could be re-cast. For good measure, Sammy aimed a spell at the door hoping to blast it off its hinges. It worked, and they both followed the disintegrating door into the house. They did their customary tuck and roll, coming up with their blasters at the ready.
But there was nothing but dusty silence inside the house. They crouched for a full minute, scanning the house and waiting for something to appear. Nothing did. The only sound was their labored breathing and the crackling of flames somewhere upstairs.
"Check your sensors Nate." Sammy said. Nathaniel looked at his wrist. The protective spells around the house were gone and no other magical activity was within the range of its ability to detect.
"Clear Sammy... I don't seen anything." Nathaniel said. Sammy grinned and muttered, "Maybe they cleared out before we got here." Nathaniel doubted it. It had taken a lot of magical energy to cast a protective spell over the entire house, and he couldn't come up with a single reason why the witches would do that for an empty house. He shook his head. "Let's clear it room by room. It's too easy to fool the sensor." Sammy shrugged, "You got it boss. Let's start down this hallway." He nodded at the hallway just beyond his position behind a moldy sofa and Nathaniel nodded in agreement. Raising his caster he sprinted across the room and stopped just outside the hall. "Go!" he shouted to Sammy, who sprinted past him and down the hallway and stopped outside the first room. As soon as he was set, Nathaniel sprinted down the hall and took up position on the opposite side of the door. Their eyes met for an instant and they both nodded and Sammy turned and kicked down the door. Nathaniel jumped into the room and rolled right closely followed by Sammy to the left. They rolled to their knees, covering the room but it was empty. They repeated the process until they had cleared all of the rooms on the ground floor. Then, they sprinted up the stairs and began clearing rooms there. As they stood outside the last door catching their breath, Nathaniel nodded at Sammy that he was ready.
"Dude, I'm beat. You kick this one. I ain't sure I got another one in me." Nathaniel rolled his eyes but shrugged his shoulders. It made no difference to him, Sammy was the more muscular of the two so the door-kicking was just generally something he was better at. Turning towards the door he kicked with all his might and was across the threshold before the door hit the wall behind it. But as he tucked into his customary roll he felt a wave of warmth wash over him and felt himself being pushed by an invisible hand across the room. He hit the opposite wall and slumped to the floor, the breath knocked from his lungs. As he lay there on the floor gasping for oxygen, his eyes focused on the ceiling and his blood ran cold. The ceiling was covered with complicated glyphs that he recognized as the runes of power witches believed provided them with additional energy for their embedded magical devices. Then a familiar grinning face came into his vision and the fear changed to a cold anger.
"Sorry Nate-o Potato... but you have no idea how hard it is to get behind you!" Sammy was holding Nathaniel's caster in one hand and his own in the other, and they were both trained on Nathaniel's chest. "I always knew you were paranoid above and beyond the call of duty, but you didn't even trust your partner most of the time!" Nathaniel had finally caught his breath, but his head still felt woozy and numb. "Wha... are you doon?" he managed to gasp, the anger growing stronger as his mind struggled to grasp this turn of events. Sammy's grin widened and he shook his head. "Nope, I don't get to fill you in. I only get to be the one to bring you in." Sweeping one caster towards the open doorway he indicated a dark shape that had appeared there. His voice took on a reverential tone and he bowed his head slightly, "SHE - will have the pleasure of answering your questions..." he turned his head and winked at Nathaniel as if he were telling one of his favorite bawdy jokes, "...before you die."
Nathaniel sat in the chair, his arms restrained at his sides and his feet firmly locked together on the floor. Smoky green tendrils crawling about his arms and legs were the only evidence of the restraining spell the witch had cast on him. She sat cross-legged on the floor in front of him, her face hooded and her hands making intricate patterns with her hands in the air above her head. Her voice wavered hypnotically, and despite his anger and disgust Nathaniel found himself relaxing, his mind filled with pleasant memories and delicious aromas. He pushed against them, trying to recall all of the horrible atrocities committed by witches in the past century since the secrets of their magic had been revealed to the world. The struggle continued in his mind until at last he gasped with the effort and gave in. Beneath the black hood Nathaniel sensed a smile, and having been broken it warmed his heart to see it.
"Now Nathaniel Roman, give me your heart. Tell me your pain, reveal to me your soul." Her voice was soft and tremulous, and Nathaniel felt an overwhelming desire to please her at any cost.
"My mother told me that witches were to blame for all of the trouble in the world... she would stay up late at night braiding ropes from human hair to put around our beds. I never could sleep, I was too worried about being turned into a frog in my sleep." The hooded witch nodded and her sweet voice sounded in his ears, soothing away the tension summoned by the memory. "We have ever been misunderstood, and silly superstitions, instead of providing comfort and safety, only heighten the mystery. Tell me more."
Nathaniel nodded dreamily, and began reciting a disjointed and disorganized history of his life. Memories long banished flickered through his mind; his mothers hands, worked to bloody blisters washing dishes to earn a living; visiting his father's grave every Sunday morning and reciting prayers to ward off evil spirits - and witches. Each and every painful memory was soothed and healed by the witch until his recitation returned to the present. Nathaniel told of the fear and anger he felt when Sammy betrayed him. He showed her the image of Sammy standing over him with his own weapon, and she nodded understandingly.
"Yes, your Sammy had to do a harmful thing love... but he did it for me. And for you." Nathaniel nodded, pleasure washing over him as he allowed her to take the pain of betrayal. "Thank you my love..." he mumbled, a thin string of drool dripping off his chin and onto his shirt.
"You are very welcome Nathaniel. Now, let me tell you what you can do to repay me..."
Two weeks later, Nathaniel stood next to Sammy in full dress uniform. They stood at attention before a vast crowd as a distinguished looking man pinned medals to their lapels. He stepped back, and they both snapped a crisp salute, which the man returned.
"Congratulations men. The United Nations, and the citizens of the world thank you for your dedicated service." He dropped his salute and reached a hand out towards Sammy. The solemn face he had been wearing through the entire ceremony was suddenly replaced with his more normal grin. "Secretary General Gunn, we have something for you as well!" Gunn's face froze, and he tried to withdraw his hand but Sammy held it fast as Nathaniel stepped forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Sir, we come bearing a message from our Mistress, Lady Felula the one you know as Yolanda Rorshack. She wishes us to tell you, that your war against witches is over." Nathaniel placed his other hand in the middle of the Secretary General's chest. He looked down and finally understood when he saw the still healing sutures across the back of Nathaniel's hand. The sutures that were instant and incontrovertible proof that a person had allowed a witch to implant a spell caster inside his or her own body. The sutures that preceeded the side effects of a magical implant that made it so easy to spot a user of such prohibited technology: the green skin and enlarged nose covered with pre-cancerous warts. In the instant it took the Secretary General to finally understand what was happening, and just before his security detail could leap to seperate him from the two witch hunters, Nathaniel looked at Sammy, and grinned, "Well, Sammy, ready to die?"
© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved