Chapter Twelve—Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia
“My first thought was, he lied with every word . . .”
Linda’s first thought was that Ol’ Scratch looked like a cross between Skeletor and the Ancient Mariner.
A few minutes’ walking through the pitch-black cavern brought Linda to a wide chamber where Ol’ Scratch was sitting on top of a massive pile of bones--most of which had been split open for the marrow--and looked like he was contemplating something. He bent down, picked up a skull from the pile, held it at arm’s length, gazed wistfully into the empty sockets, and said, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath born me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be thy jibes now?”
Chuckling at his own jest, he cast the skull back onto the pile and picked up a femur: Presumably a fresh one, because it would’ve been immaculate white were it not for bright red remnants of blood and detritus. He snapped the femur in two with superhuman strength, sucked the marrow out of one of the halves, and cast it aside. Linda stepped to the side to avoid it. Ol’ Scratch caught the flash of movement out of the corner of his eye, turned. A look of surprise crossed his face, and it quickly turned to amusement. He said to her, “Linda Kilgore! By the gods, it took them long enough. But no matter; better late than never, as they say. Now you’re here, and I’m going to make you pay for that little . . . inconvenience . . . you caused me.”
Seeing what was in his eyes, Linda took the sword from around her neck, closed her eyes, concentrated hard. It grew to its full size. She glared at him and said, “Remember this?”
Ol’ Scratch grinned, revealing a mouthful of pointed white teeth, and countered, “That I do, little girl, that I do. But you’re no swordsman. You took me off-guard last time, but now you’ve lost your advantage.” He stood up and walked toward her. “Does the name Brian Machal MacMor mean anything to you? Of course it doesn’t; that was so long ago that even I can barely remember it; it was back when I had a name. Anyway, this Brian was the greatest warrior of all his people, probably the greatest in the world. And he wielded a sword much like yours: An alloy—culled from a fallen star—of silver and some rare-earth metal, folded and carbonized, harder than steel but still with all the cruelty of immaculate silver; a slayer’s sword, that burns my flesh just as it rends it. And do you know what I did to him?” That awful grin again. “I swung my axe, and I split his skull nearly in twain, right down the middle from the top to the teeth. If I could do that so easily to one such as him, little girl, what chance do you have?”
As if in response, an angry squawk came from the passage Linda had just walked down, and a giant black raven—Linda’s raven—flew into the chamber. Linda didn’t see it, but Ol’ Scratch did, and for a split second Linda saw his inhuman face contorted in horror. She held the sword in front of her and gulped as the creature lunged. She swung it like a baseball bat again; Ol’ Scratch leaned out of the path of the blow, tore Linda’s shoulder open with one of his claws, and slammed into her, sending her sprawling onto the cave floor. He loomed over her with his arms outstretched and his claws prone, like a grizzly bear looking down at a wounded hiker. He lept down at her. She held the sword point-up, hoping to impale him, but it was too far to the left; he would pass by it harmlessly and rend her with those horrible claws.
The raven landed on Ol’ Scratch’s head and thrust its razor-sharp beak into one of his eye sockets. He screamed, writhed, and turned . . . to the left. The sword pierced his sternum, and he rolled off of her, run through like a spitted pig. He writhed on the ground, spouting curses. Acting on her best guess, Linda stood up, grabbed the sword, pulled it out of the wounded monster, and plunged it firmly into his heart.
Ol’ Scratch’s body turned to ash, leaving only an irregular chunk of ice stuck on the tip of the sword, and this quickly melted.
Linda, all alone in the dark as far as she knew, collected herself and trudged on. The creature hadn’t made its den very far back in the cave, so she came to the exit after only a few minutes’ walking. She recognized this place; a short hike would bring her to the spot where she’d been parted from Frank and Erwin.
Meanwhile, Frank’s adventure was only just beginning.