When I finished my first book it clocked in at around 150k words, 20k over most submission requirements. This chapter is self contained in that its contribution to the plot can be summed up in a couple of sentences, so it didn’t make the cut. While discussing the editing process with Jeremy (whose wife just released her first book), it occurred to me that the very same self-containment means it tells its own story, and makes a good candidate for a short story.
This chapter came near the end of the book, so it doesn’t spend much time repeating the descriptions that came earlier, so the technological aspects come across as being purely magical. I’m ok with that, because it’s fun. It leaves a lot unsaid, but those parts don’t actually contribute to this story.
The Flight of the Vampiraptors
Bronze dashed down the hallway, leapt over the deathtrap, climbed the ladder, and was out of the sewer in less than a minute.
When he popped out of the manhole, the surface crew swarmed him with questions. “Are you ok?” “What happened?” “Where is Mr. Biblophilous?”
Bronze dashed past them to the wagon. “We won, but I have to catch some escapees. Help me put my wings on.”
He threw his damaged helmet it into the cart and grabbed his light intensifying goggles. He grimaced as he pulled the dangerous optics on, but they were his only hope for spotting the vampiraptors in the night sky.
Once his wings were attached, he launched himself into the air and fought for altitude. His Gift of Vigor only went so far, and the fight had taken its toll. His shoulder ached where he’d been hit by the rail gun and his pectorals soon burned with exhaustion. A helpful thermal from the cold street surprised him. He’d heard about them from a tribe of canyon-dwellers with leather gliders, but thought they only happened in the summer.
The Builder had amazed him by leveraging Bronze’s ability to raise and lower his density by engineering a pair of alchemically strengthened, thaumaturgically powered wings. By dropping his weight to around a quarter normal, he was able to take flight.
Once above the rooftops, he shifted to a glide, raising and lowering his density to gain speed and altitude and granting his muscles a little recovery time. Through the goggles, the moonlight lit the streets well enough to navigate to the government district. He caught up to a flock of glowing dots as they circled the ten story tall palace. When they landed on a ninth floor ledge, he dove to intercept.
Just before contact he flipped feet-first and raised his density to that of lead. His powerful kick crushed a thaumechanical vampiraptor into the foamstone wall. It detonated, sending sharp pain up his legs, launching him away, and blowing a hole in the building.
He’d planned on the blast, but the thaumaturgic jolt stunned him and his wings spasmed. He plummeted. Adrenaline surged, but he forced himself to relax and let his density drop so he could catch the wind in his wings. By the time he rose back to the level of the blast, the Homunculi had shattered a window (right next to the gaping hole he’d just made) and escaped into the building. Munks weren’t very bright.
He pursued them through a small room and into a deserted hallway that stretched in both directions, where he spotted the monsters loping away like a pack of wolves.
The hallways were too narrow to fly in so he unclipped the wings from his arms, letting their leathery folds hang from his shoulders like a cape. The wooden floor creaked and crackled as he ran, requiring him to keep his density below twice normal.
His quarry turned down a side hall so he sprinted to avoid losing them. When he rounded the corner, one of the munks launched itself at him. Predictable. Briefly spiking his density, he caught it by the neck and struck its chest with an open palm. The body separated from the head and flew two feet before it exploded, its parts bouncing off of his alchemically hardened leather armor.
He scanned the hall. No more immediate attackers, and the pack of killer munks searched the fancy crown moulding fifty yards away. As he closed the gap, he could hear high pitched chittering, like from a swarm of angry hyperactive squirrels. One of them screeched and they all bolted away.
They ran faster now, like wolves that had caught a scent. He sprinted at first, but realized that this was going to be a marathon and slowed to a jog. By increasing his density without bringing his armor with him, it didn’t weigh him down. The raptors reached the end of the hall and vanished into a dimly lit open space ahead. A scream devolved into shouts.
The hall opened to a large foyer, some fifty feet across and four stories tall. From the third level mezzanine, he saw a group of well-dressed aristocracy attempting to separate a vampiraptor from a woman in pale yellow robes. Clempson had described the vampiraptors’ attack, but he wasn’t prepared for the horror of watching the woman hang by her ankles and flail her arms while she bled out. The sight shook him, and he reflexively looked for a way down. Some men attempted to pull the thing from her, but the munk exploded, blowing the woman in half and driving back everyone around. There was never anything he could have done.
He yelled to be heard over the chaos, “They’re after the Emperor. Which way did they go?”
A woman pointed at one of the exits from the mezzanine and yelled back, “Tenth floor — they took that hallway.”
Shouts echoed through the halls, but there were few people in the Castle to repeat the alarm. He caught up to the pack once more while they searched walls and ceiling, but then they were off again faster than he could follow. He’d never catch them this way.
He followed the sound of hastily yelled orders to a cluster of soldiers with kite shields and short, broad swords fighting off a pair of munks. The vapiraptors clung to the mens’ shields and sought flesh with their claws while the beset soldiers used a shield wall to protect each other and tried to figure out what they were up against.
Bronze didn’t have time for subtlety, so he flowed into the melee as if the combatants were standing still. Vigor kept him looking in his twenties, but Bronze had been practicing martial arts for longer than these men had lived. He slid an arm behind the nearest soldier’s kite shield and stripped it from the man’s arm, splitting one of the buckles in the process. Holding the shield by its handle, he spun and smashed the shield into the munk that assailed the group, then windmilled his arm, bringing the point of the kite down between the vampiraptor and the shield it clung to. The raptor’s arms snapped and the munk clattered to the ground.
Before it could recover, he spiked his density and punted the monster into its companion. The two munks tangled, giving Bronze a moment to drop his density to normal and bring it back up, the shield now sharing his enhancement. He shifted his grip on the shield to the top edge, and brought it down on the munks, smashing them to the floor in a heap. Flipping the shield down against his forearms, concave side out, he dove onto the tangle of munks. The explosion threw him back, but the shield’s steel face blocked the thaumaturgic jolt.
The soldiers pivoted their wide-eyed gazes between Bronze and the hole that the exploding munks had blown through the floor, and Bronze knew he could get what he needed from them. He stood and tossed the shield back to the man he borrowed it from, then addressed the soldier with the most decoration. “I have to find the Emperor before they do. Where is he?”
The soldier responded without hesitation. “Next floor up, east wing. Follow me.”
They ran for the nearest stairwell, but lost crucial minutes convincing the guards at the top to let them past. Bronze’s escort convinced them to bar the heavy double-doors and come with them. The men’s slow pace grated on Bronze’s nerves, but knew that it would look bad if he approached the next group with the current group chasing him.
The squad turned a corner and hustled down a fancy hallway wide enough to be called an arcade. Behind them, Bronze heard the chittering of angry hyperactive squirrels echoing off of the wood paneling. Forty feet ahead, an oversized double-doors stood open, two soldiers standing guard with halberds. The Emperor stood just inside, arguing with someone.
Bronze turned to see the munks flying towards them above head height. He leapt and raised his density to max, intercepting one of the vampiraptors with a downward punch. His fist, harder than steel, smashed through the munk as if it were wet paper. It exploded, sending a spray of sparks and white-hot parts bouncing off of the floor. Two more fliers shot past him out of his reach. He dropped his density before he hit the floor, then spun to follow, watching the men with halberds pull another munk out of the air. The remaining munk flew past them into the room.
The bat-like munk swooped around behind the Emperor and landed on his back. Bronze sprinted, dodging around the bewildered guards, but couldn’t reach the Emperor before the vampiraptor wrapped its mandibles around the man’s neck.
Bronze knew that grip all too well. Important looking people screamed and ran for cover as he ripped the mandibles apart. The jaws cracked, and he threw the munk at the nearest window where it exploded, blowing the window out.
The Emperor held his throat, blood pouring between his fingers. There was nothing Bronze could do. Nothing. He stepped back, allowing others to attend to the man’s death. His escort caught up to him and stared in horror while the Emperor bled out.
The guard captain looked up and asked him, “Was that the last of them?”
How many had he seen die? Eight? “There might be another one around here somewhere. Look for nine dead monks.”
“Who are you?”
Bronze realized he’d worn out his welcome. “Good question,” he replied, while clipping his wings back onto his arms, then he launched himself out the window.