August 16th 2014 – Molly
I flailed around like a teenager trying to dodge a knife. And by some miracle, I was halfway successful. Apparently even my luck can’t be all terrible all the time. The knife fell short of my torso, instead catching me across the side of my thigh. With the blunt end. It still stung like hell, and I’d have one heck of a bruise in the morning, or afternoon really. But I’d probably be able to walk. As I congratulated myself on not getting hamstrung, my dive ended and I crashed headfirst into the floor, sliding along into a position partially covered by the pews.
It was a start. I had fire, I had distance, and I had sleep, and therefore, mana. Combined, those three things gave me a much better chance of victory than I’d had at any earlier point in this evening. The fire wasn’t spreading quickly, and it probably wouldn’t without another push, but the few pews that had caught were putting out a thick black smoke, courtesy of whatever they put on the wood that gave the church it’s traditional churchy smell. I got all my limbs back under me and took a peek around the side of the pew, looking for Father Murphy. He wasn’t where he had been when he threw the knife. I gave the fire another small push, sending a few tongues of flame to the base of the next row of pews, expanding my safe zone. Father Murphy wouldn’t be dumb enough to rush me, he’d seen enough of my magic know to know that the best outcome for him there was mutual destruction. I might not be able to fling fireballs around at range, but if he got within a few feet of me I’d have no difficulty tagging him with fire from the pews. That left those knives, and any other ranged attacks he might have.
I tried to suss out what he was going to do next. Waiting favored me, once the fire spread far enough I could just pull a Moses and part the sea of flames between me and the door. Not to mention, a burning church would bring Adrianne, and probably the local fire department, running. Either way, company would prevent the priest from killing me outright, and I could always break out or jump bail later. He might have some pull with the fire department, but I was effectively a Jane Doe at this point, there’s no way the police wouldn’t take custody of me, especially if I accused him of something inappropriate. Assuming he still had some kind of instinct for self preservation, that meant he’d either go for a better angle, maybe above me or on the same side of the pews, or get a different weapon. The smoke would take care of above me, in another minute he wouldn’t be able to breathe, let alone aim, from up there. As long as I kept low, I could force him to dangerously close to the pews if he wanted to use his knives.
That just left… Oh, fuck me, guns. I ran for the door, praying that he hadn’t gotten there first. My streak of good luck had already run out, Father Murphy was standing right in front of the door, feet spread, with a revolver in his hands. The crack of the gunshot cut across the dull roar of the fire, almost deafening in the confined space of the church. The first shot went wide or high, and I dived back into cover before he could get off a second. Goddamnit, he was fast. Or the gun was hidden nearby, whichever it was, this fucking sucked. The one fucking time I actually bothered to think the situation through was the one time I probably would have been better off sprinting to the door.
Well, bitching and moaning wouldn’t solve this problem, but wanton destruction might. The pews were thick wood, practically the only well-made things in this pitiful excuse for a church, he wasn’t about to shoot through them with a revolver. I silently thanked whatever pathetic excuse for lucky stars I had that the good Father didn’t own an assault rifle. He could try to get to the end of the pew, but he’d have to abandon his position by the door for that. I pushed outward, not so much feeding the fire as spreading it with an invisible rake. There was plenty here to burn, the empty gaps between the wooden furniture were the only things slowing the spread of the fire. With one good solid magical shove, I managed to catch the side wall of the Fairburn church on fire.
Your move Father Murphy. I had two rows of flaming pews between us, and once the wall to my left lost enough integrity I’d be able to bullrush through it to freedom. The suffocating smoke prevented him from shooting me from above, he’d have to make his way into my inferno if he wanted to get a clear shot. I ducked lower to floor, crawling along to keep below the heat and smoke of the fires. I kept between the first and second row of pews, near the wall of the church.
“Please, stop this madness. Whatever it’s telling you cannot be trusted! You can’t do this alone!” Father Murphy’s shout barely carried over the roar of the flames. Unfortunately, if he wanted this to end peacefully, it was too little too late. Seriously, what the fuck did he expect? He was willing to use deadly force to prevent me from leaving the church alive, that’s not how a reasonable, trustworthy, person acts. Also, I’m not actually sure if I could have put out all the fires, even if I was inclined to try. I’d usually relied on the fire department, or one of the fire extinguishers I kept at home, for that part.
Internally, I debated on whether or not to respond. With the possible exception of murder-puns, I really did try to avoid talking in combat, it just isn’t professional. Here though, it might buy me a little time.
“Sorry pops, but if you want people to trust you, don’t try to kill them!” I shouted. Not the most pithy line I’d ever come up with, but it got the point across. The blast of magic I followed up the words with got the point across even more concisely. It wasn’t much of a missile, but I let it unravel as it flew towards the center aisle. As it passed through the flames, the fraying weave of prana caught fire and devolved into a liquidy-fire vaguely reminiscent of napalm about halfway through it’s flight. As far as techniques went, it was neither efficient nor easy to hit with, but it most definitely had the potential to be fatal.
It crashed into the floor and quickly cut off the center aisle of the church. Unfortunately, it was damn near the last of my prana. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel, the nap definitely helped, but I needed a real meal and some time to meditate before I’d be back in fighting condition. Soda and morphine was not a replacement for real food and real sleep. I had one more big spell in me, maybe two if I was comfortable with collapsing on the spot after the second.
“I don’t want to hurt you damnit! I’ve been trying to be reasonable, but you’re not giving me much of a choice here! You know I can’t just let you leave, not with that thing inside of you!” Father Murphy shouted. That didn’t sound good. The subtext there practically screamed he was about to murder me. I crept back towards the flaming wall. It had only been half a minute or so, but I needed to blow this joint. Sadly, not literally. For the third or fourth time this week, I wished civilians could buy grenades. Sadly, black market ones went for several hundred each in Texas, which put them a bit out of my perpetually broke budget. Not that it would have mattered, what with the whole kleptomaniacal hospital issue.
So, instead of just lobbing a grenade and walking off into the sunset, I pulled my last magic trick for the evening, and hopefully the week. As you probably know, heat rises, fire spreads upwards, and flammable things burn from the top surface downwards. This is why house fires gut the inside of the building before collapsing walls, and why the logs on a campfire get black up top while staying brown underneath, at least for a time. Unfortunately, short of being an archmage and messing with the fundamental constants that underlie space and time, or controlling airflow in a space, there’s not a lot you can do to make fire burn sideways.
I’m not an archmage, you’ve probably noticed this by now. I’ve still got four or five decades before I get there, assuming I don’t blow myself up first. But, this church had a second floor gallery, a short hallway along of the side walls of the building. It was probably intended for a choir, but it’d do for what I had in mind. I reached out to the fire along the wall to my left and fed it. Not a lot of energy, nothing really special, but enough to start seriously gnawing at the base of the second floor hallway. Then I retreated backwards towards the altar. Father Murphy had to be circling around the right side of the church, or still holding position by the door, my fires blocked the center aisle and turned the left side pews into a flaming deathtrap. If he had been ballsy enough to try approaching from the left, I might even accidentally kill him. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing at this point.
Father Murphy’s revolver barked, sending a bullet whizzing above me. I slipped behind the altar before he could get off a second shot, then peeked around the side to get his position. He was standing within the pews to the right of the aisle, slowly advancing through cover. That really wasn’t a great idea, if I was at full strength I would have happily disabused him of the notion that wooden objects count as cover against a fire mage.
“There’s nothing for you to win here by fighting, all you’re doing is making it worse for yourself! Help me put out these flames and we can talk about this!” Father Murphy shouted. Ugh, the poor sap still though there was a chance of a peaceful outcome here. He shot at me, I don’t negotiate with, or take advice from, people who try to shoot me. I don’t feel that’s an unreasonable policy.
“Go to Hell! Have I not made it fucking clear enough that I’m not interested in talking about this! You tried to kill me, you’re still fucking shooting at me!” I responded from behind the altar. I didn’t think that part was hard to understand.
And then it happened. With a resounding crack a huge section of the second floor gallery completely detached as the burned buttresses lost enough integrity. The gallery only had ten feet to fall, but it probably weighed the better part of a ton. As it crashed into the floor of the church, the whoosh of air sent a tsunami of flame rushing towards Father Murphy. It was a beautiful sight, the tongues of the various fires all drawn inexorably to follow the path of least resistance, merging into a single massive wall as they slammed into the right side of the church. The falling section of hallway also had one other fortunate effect. The weight of the collapsing wood pushed outward into the left wall of the church, knocking the lower portion of the already weakened wall over, and that was my ticket out of here.
Where was I during all of this you ask? Running straight towards heart of the inferno of course. It’s not quite as insane as it sounds. As the wall fell, I slid behind the very first row of pews, ducking under the seat to cover myself on three sides with wood. The pews were already on fire, but being low on the ground and keeping a few inches back saved me from the worst of the heat. Heart pounding, I counted to three, then slid out and sprinted for the exit. I didn’t waste time looking for Father Murphy, this was all or nothing, if he had already gotten up, I was dead no matter what. My prana was utterly drained, and even through the sting of the small burns all across my body, I could feel the familiar nausea of mana-exhaustion beginning to take hold. The burning planks from the collapsed gallery and wall had spread all across the floor, leaving open a path that was only moderately filled with fire. I ran, I screamed, I even prayed a little. I dodged around the worst of the fires, and leapt over the rest, I was far past caring about a few burns. Everything was black and red and orange, there were no lines, just blurry shapes distorted by the heat and obscured by the smoke. If I’d had more prana or more concentration, I might have been able to shift the flames out of my way. Instead, I just rushed through, somehow finding the strength, or the insanity, to ignore the heat and the choking smoke.
And then it was over. I suddenly staggered into the cool quiet of the early morning. It was still dark, save for the light cast by the burning church behind me. If you ignored the merry crackling of the wooden church and the distant wail of sirens, it was a downright peaceful morning. I smiled, tasting blood as my chapped lips cracked. Finally, it was over. This endless week from hell, the constant assassination attempts, the endless delays. I was going home.
And Adrianne was standing in front of me, still wearing that ridiculous shirt with the giant kitten on the front. The flickering orange light of the burning church cast an impossibly tall shadow behind her. She had an odd expression on her face, somewhere between approval and homicidal rage, with maybe just a hint of curiosity mixed in. She hadn’t really been subtle about wanting me to use the violent solution, and my entire hare-brained escape plan pretty much hinged on her backing me up.
Before I really registered that she had moved, I was flying through the air.
Adrianne was carrying me, slung over one shoulder. It wasn’t comfortable, and I’m pretty sure that only thing that kept me from vomiting was the complete and utter lack of anything in my stomach. I experienced the short trip as a series of jerky hops, as Adrianne covered impossible distances with her leaps. Eventually, we ended up in a clearing surrounded by trees, and she unceremoniously dropped me before rushing off the way we came. With nothing in my immediately vicinity trying to murder me, I quickly succumbed to exhaustion.
A few hours later, I woke up behind some bushes. I was covered with that ridiculous kitten T-shirt Adrianne had been wearing, though the vampire herself was nowhere to be found. Which really wasn’t surprising, considering that the sun was finally up. Adrianne had probably left for somewhere darker, where she was less likely to sunburn horribly. Next to me lay the shoebox filled with money. Except it wasn’t just filled with money anymore. Adrianne had been busy while I was out, there was a bag of trail mix and some granola bars, along with a printout with directions to the nearest greyhound station, and a note mentioning to ask ‘Stan’ about his ‘favorite band’ to buy a ticket without an ID. There was a bag filled with bottles of water and soda, along with even more food sitting next to me. I dug in eagerly while I opened the last piece of paper in the shoebox. There wasn’t much written on it. It just said “Happy Travels – A”. There was a phone number at the bottom. Wow. For a few moments, I just sat there, I couldn’t actually recall the last time anyone had done something that nice for me. I had a sinking feeling the answer might just be never.
After my meal, I started walking, a smile on my face for the first time since the goddamn airport had gotten itself blown up.