Hero’s Curse-Chapter 8
Chapter 8: Redcaps
I whistled for Harley as soon as I got to street level. Aidan and Tim stayed in the lobby as I ran outside. I guess with a paladin in town their compulsion to fight monsters was gone. I was good with that. I didn’t trust Tim to have my back and I wanted Aidan back here to make sure I got reloads if I needed them.
Outside, I heard the distinctive sound of a Harley-Davidson idling. I followed the sound to the alleyway behind the store. My mount was a pristine black and chrome Competition Hot 1969 Sportster. I was starting to like my leprechaun armorer. I took off due west in the direction Joey wanted me to go. The top speed of this bike was supposed to be 180 mph. I had a feeling my mount could go faster. I made sure to ride only a couple miles above the speed limit. I didn’t need to be pulled over by a cop.
It only took a few minutes to get to Pioneer Park. It wasn’t in a good neighborhood. A large percentage of the people in the Park looked like they were homeless. Most of them were clustered in groups. They looked scared. I parked next to a manhole cover. If my mount hadn’t been God’s will made solid, I probably would have worried about leaving it parked on the street.
A group of the homeless saw me go into the sewers. I didn’t care. They weren’t the kind who would report me to the authorities. I made sure to pull the cover back into place before I dropped down. Thankfully, it smelled like I had dropped into a storm drain rather than an actual working sewer. It made sense. Redcaps wouldn’t want to live in shit anymore than I would. It was in the middle of summer, the drain was completely dry.
Aidan hadn’t been kidding when he said my visor would work like night vision glasses. Sunlight glimmered through the small openings of the manhole cover above me. I could make out details for about 20 feet in varying shades of green and black. In the distance, further out in the darkness, a couple of small red glowing lights moved over the floor and walls. They had to be rats. The drain was made out of brick that had been hand mortared into place. This drain had probably been built in the late 1800’s. At one point it had been a perfect circle 10 feet in diameter. Over the years, dirt, leaves, and everything else that washes into storm drains, had built up at the bottom of the drain leaving a flat area about 4 feet wide.
“Sanguinis.” In an instant, my shotgun was in my hands. I could hear the rumblings of cars driving on the street over me and noise from the rodents that made the tunnel their home. I walked into the darkness. After 30 feet, the only light was from the body heat of the rats in the drain with me. Luckily there were enough of them; I could usually see where I was going. I was in their territory and they weren’t frightened. Most didn’t move away until I was just a few feet away from them. One particularly brave rat attacked me; after I stomped down, the hot blood that splashed from its body brightened the tunnel for a few seconds. Its death squeak brought other rats. By the time I was 10 feet away, a seething ball of small red lights was fighting over its remains.
I wasn’t putting out any of my own light. Despite the summer heat, I had been perfectly comfortable in my leathers. My armor was climate controlled and invisible to infrared. I remembered Aidan saying something about the difficulty of converting heat into useful energy. I wondered if I was lucky to have Aidan or if all paladin armorers were this good.
When I came up to the first intersection, I pulled out my phone. It was so dark the light from my screen seemed like a beacon. Magic was useful; my cell signal was great. I turned on my GPS app and set it to track my movements. Getting lost down here would suck. I quickly put my phone back in my pocket so the screen would not make me a target.
It wasn’t until I was approaching my fourth intersection, when I heard voices coming from my right. I didn’t know the language. I mouthed ‘Gecko’ and quietly walked up the wall to my right. I was about 8 feet off the ground when I squatted into a crouch. I was so still a rat crawled over my back. This was a good thing; it meant I looked like an inanimate object.
I was on the wall for three minutes. I wondered if I had made a mistake. My muscles were getting fatigued and on the verge of cramping when two figures walked into view. They were short, at most 5’3”. Their body temperature was higher than a normal human’s. They were like light bulbs. My infrared vision made their wool caps look black. My compulsion told me to kill them. I fired twice at the back of their heads and since I was, at most, 10 feet away from my targets, I didn’t miss. They dropped instantly. “Gecko.” I jumped to their bodies and released my bayonet. I stabbed both bodies through the heart. After dealing with the troll that wouldn’t die, I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. Neither body reacted. They were both dead.
Both Redcaps were laying face forward on the ground. The 00 shot had turned the backs of their heads into mush. I turned them over. They looked like Popeye’s cousins, the same short stature with oversized forearms, wool cap, beady eyes, potato like nose, and jutting jaw. Their stench was horrible, which made sense. Their wool caps were always soaked with blood and most likely had never been washed.
One was armed with a six foot long spear made out of a single hunk of iron from the head to the shaft. The other had a quiver of six iron javelins and an iron club that looked like it could be used as a spear thrower. With my new found super strength it was hard for me to judge how much things weighed. I guessed with all that metal, the spear had to weigh at least 40 lbs and a javelin 15; even with armor, getting hit by either of these would suck.
I was debating whether or not to switch out my drum mag to a fully loaded one when I realized I had forgotten to hang replacement magazines on my belt. Fuck! It was a good thing I hadn’t needed an emergency reload. I had just finished putting my replacement clips on my belt when I heard more Redcaps coming toward me. I still wasn’t sure how to gauge my super hearing. I didn’t know how far away they were. I took off away from them. The two Redcaps I had killed hadn’t been carrying any torches. They probably had infrared vision. I hoped so, my plan wouldn’t work otherwise.
I’ve never been in a storm drain system before today. I was surprised by the length of some of the tunnels. I guess I shouldn’t have been. The drains likely had a similar pattern to the streets above. In Salt Lake City, a city block was about one tenth of a mile or 176 yards. A hundred yards from the bodies, I stopped. The other elves hadn’t gotten to the intersection yet. I went into a kneeling firing position. I switched out to a box magazine and put the drum mag on the ground within easy reach. I flipped up the peep sight and set it to a hundred yards. Should I use my GPS app to get the exact distance? I decided not. My armor was opaque to infrared. I should be invisible to the Redcaps. If I pulled out my phone I’d be screaming, ‘Look at me!’
I understood why the storm drains didn’t smell bad; it had an extremely efficient cleaning service. The cooling bodies were now entirely covered by a carpet of small red lights. If I listened carefully, I could hear the hundreds of tiny mouths ripping at freshly dead flesh. Right around the 3 minute mark of waiting 8 Redcaps trotted into view. They started kicking at the rats. The covering of rodents was so dense, it took a few seconds for them to realize their dead friends were underneath.
The Redcaps started screaming in grief and rage. I hadn’t fired before because it was hard to keep a bead on someone kicking and stomping on rats. When the elves started yelling, they stopped moving. I hadn’t fired Sanguinis except for the few practice rounds. I kept it simple by aiming at the center of the mass. Three of them fell before they realized they were being attacked.
My opponents were pros. The best way to respond to an ambush is to charge and they did. It’s harder to hit a moving target. I winged two before I went through my clip. An Olympic sprinter can run a hundred yards in 9 seconds. The Redcaps were faster. I’d never been charged before and I fumbled my magazine change. By the time I had my drum clip loaded, a Redcap was just 3 feet away from me. I fired on full auto from my hip. His body jerked in a continuous stream of 00 lead shot. I wasted close to half my clip on him. I realized this was a mistake when I ran dry and two fae were left.
I closed my eyes and screamed, “Lux!” Even then the flash light was bright enough to hurt. The screams of aggression in front of me turned into cries of pain. As soon as I opened my eyes, I lunged for the Popeye closest to me. His eyes were tearing; he couldn’t see. My bayonet plunged through his nose and into his brain. As he fell his head slid off my blade. The last Redcap charged. I jumped into the air and screamed, “Gecko!” My boots were firmly locked on the ceiling. I kept my knees and hips bent to decrease my height; the momentum of his charge caused him to run below me. He was staring up in surprise when I speared him between the eyes.
When I dropped to the ground, I was exhausted. In the middle of changing magazines and getting reserve ammo from my backpack to put on my belt, I realized my gasping breath had been drowning out the sounds of multiple quiet footsteps coming from behind. As I spun, I felt something hit me, knocking me forward. I rolled to my feet instinctively. I wasn’t used to carrying a shotgun. I left it on the ground. “Sanguinis!”
There were too many Redcaps to count just 50 feet away. The air filled with javelins. I skipped backwards, turned, and took off running toward the intersection. It slowed me down to weave and dodge but luckily elves couldn’t throw and run at the same time. It evened out. At the intersection, I crouched behind the corner of the right hand tunnel. It felt kind of wimpy but I did it anyway. I swung Sanguinis around the corner, only my shotgun and my right arm showing, and sprayed my entire clip in the general direction of my enemies. After I ran empty, I stood up, changed magazines, and peeked down the tunnel.
I was shooting 3 inch, 12 gauge shells. In the four seconds it took to empty my drum, I had sent 300 lead pellets down a ten feet wide tunnel; every pellet that hit a wall ricocheted. Because of my super strength and the AA-12’s minimal recoil, I had been able, with one hand, to keep Sanguinis level at knee height. It’s hard to run with pellets in your knee. Even the ones that hadn’t been hit were moving slower. I had enough time to take seven aimed shots before a particularly aggressive elf almost got close enough to spear me. Being this close had advantages for both of us. I didn’t have to aim to hit him. I screamed, ‘Lux!’ This time I looked away and closed my eyes. The blast of light wasn’t quite as painful. When I opened my eyes I didn’t see spots.
I didn’t stay to chat. I took off running as fast as I could. Until now, I had been able to use the infrared glow of the Redcaps and the rats to see where I was going. I don’t know if it was the noise the Redcaps were making or the light blast I had set off but the rats had disappeared. I was running as fast as I could into pitch darkness.
I was about to say, ‘Lumen’ when I had an idea. “Harley!” Within seconds I heard the pop-pop…pop-pop idling of a Harley-Davidson. I ran headlong toward the sound. I jumped on the bike from behind like a stunt man in a 1950’s cowboy flick. While in the air I sent Sanguinis back to Aidan.
I took off as solid iron javelins pierced the dirt next to me. I must have been going 20 mph by the time I flicked on the headlight. Within 30 seconds and a few intersections, I had gained hundreds of yards on the Redcaps. I stopped about 200 hundred yards from the last intersection and called Sanguinis back me. She was fully loaded. I got off my bike and got into a kneeling shooting position on the ground. I switched to a box mag. As I waited for the angry elves, I sucked down the Gatorade as fast as I could. The extra cups of sugar in the sports drink should have made it undrinkable; it was nectar. The rumble of Harley behind me was too loud for me to use my ears to listen for the elves. I wasn’t about to turn her off. I might need another quick getaway.
I fired as soon as I saw one enter the intersection. His head jerked and hot glowing blood sprayed from his skull. I had been aiming for his chest. My distance estimate was off. It wasn’t 200 yards. The Redcaps charged. They were tired. Some of them had pellets in their legs. They had a longer distance to run and I had been charged before so was more prepared. I used Kentucky windage to aim for their chests. I didn’t fumble my magazine change this time and the last one died 20 feet from me.
I was congratulating myself for a job well done when I felt a tug at my right shoulder. I looked down and saw the top three inches of a silver grey spearhead coming out of me. I felt surprisingly little pain. My arm went numb and Sanguinis slipped from my hand. As I faced my attacker, he pulled the spear from my body and used the haft to strike my left arm. I could feel the bone snap; this really hurt. I had let the Redcaps ambush me from behind, two times in a row.
There was only one elf behind me. The fairy facing me was a couple inches taller and more muscular than the others. The others had worn and carried black iron gear. He was wearing a breastplate the same color as his spear. It looked like they were made out of titanium. Instead of killing me like I expected, he stepped back. “Paladin, my name is Raeleus. Surrender your gifts and I will give you a quick and painless death.”
Raeleus looked pleased. He had the right to be. He had played me perfectly. I had better things to do than talk to the villain in the middle of a fight. This wasn’t a movie and my name wasn’t Bond. I kicked out at his right knee. He blocked with his spear. There was a flash of light each time his spear made contact with my boot. From the damage done to my left arm, I had expected my feet to hurt. They were fine. I stayed too close to him to stab me with his spear. I forced him to defend himself like he was holding a quarterstaff.
I made no attempt to protect myself. I kicked again and again. If I gave him time to attack, I was dead. I had no way to defend my upper body. In the midst of my attack Raeleus never lost his smile. I was holding losing cards. In the long run legs are slower and take more energy to fight with than your arms. Sooner or later I was going to get tired.
The best fighter in the world doesn’t fear the second best. Experienced fighters play the percentages. They don’t take stupid chances and are therefore easier to anticipate. The inexperienced are almost impossible to predict; they don’t know enough to make the smart choice.
I’d never done a jump kick before in a real fight; it’s an idiot’s move. It was a day for firsts. I had never been in a storm drain, ridden a classic Harley, or killed fucking fairies before either. It’s a stupid move to jump in the air when it counts but if I played it smart, I had no chance at all. I pretended to be a smidgeon more tired than I actually was and, as I anticipated when I finally stopped kicking at his legs, he sent his spear toward my upper chest. I saw it coming and jumped in the air face down parallel above his spear, my head pointed toward him, my feet pointing away. When he realized I had jumped above his spear, he pulled back for another thrust. As he did, I converted my leap into a forward summersault and blindly kicked in the direction of his face.
It felt like I had kicked a watermelon. A moment later, I landed flat on my back. The pain I felt at my right shoulder and left upper arm was agonizing. Molten lead being poured over me couldn’t have been worse. I howled in pain. I was still screaming when I lifted my head to look for Raeleus. He was lying still on the ground. The watermelon I had kicked had been his face. The front half of his skull was completely crushed.
I realized as I was losing consciousness, the compulsion, my overwhelming need to be here was gone. Joey was giving me a hint; the fae were all dead.
I woke up because something furry with sharp teeth was gnawing at my upper neck between the junction of my helmet and jacket collar. I turned my head and crushed the rat between my helmet and shoulders. As I got up, I felt an explosion of pain coming from my right shoulder and left arm. For a second the discomfort was so intense I didn’t notice the swarm of rats that had crawled on top of me.
It hurt too much to try to brush them off with my arms. I whipped my head from side to side to keep the rats from my neck. I ran to the side of tunnel and slammed my body against the curved walls. The agony of the impact against my shoulder and arm made me stagger. I didn’t care. I wanted the fucking rats off of me. Again, I threw myself against the wall; each time, I screamed. The tears streaming from my eyes almost blinded me but I got the rats off.
Every rodent from miles around must have come for a meal. I walked slowly through them. I had been lucky I hadn’t stepped on one and lost my balance while knocking them off me. Once I got past the dead Redcaps, the number of rats had dropped to nothing. The glow of my own blood gave enough light to see.
I couldn’t move my right arm, trying to move my left was unadulterated misery. Blood kept pouring from my neck where the rat had been. I was getting light headed. Wall climbing was cool but I could see why most paladins picked a healing spell instead. I needed help.