The elfish-looking guy was standing on what looked like an old-fashioned sled, a plank with the front turned up and back. It was floating about six inches off the ground and I figured this would limit the guy's ability to react quickly. As he also wasn't the most dangerous-looking one in the group, I'd take out the trolls first.
My hands were in the pockets of the trench coat, but the right pocket was cut out --a trick I learned from a spaghetti western. As the elfish guy was speaking, I was carefully pulling the Gatling gun out of the holster and aiming it at the troll on my left through the opening of my coat. None of them appeared to notice. I raised the laser dot up his chest and past his chin and as the dot disappeared into his open mouth, I squeezed the trigger of the automatic firing motor. Just a quick squeeze to put five or six rounds into the monster's cerebellum and brainstem through the back of its mouth. The other two just stood there gaping like paper targets as I swung the gun past the elf, triggering a quick, un-aimed stream into the vicinity of his face and then shot a few more rounds into the open mouth of the other troll. It was a beautiful, perfectly-timed sequence if I do say so myself.
I paused with what I'm sure was an obnoxious smirk on my face. The two trolls dropped like sacks of cement and the elf slowly toppled … no wait, the elf wasn't toppling. The elf was standing straight up on the sled looking uninjured and unhappy; actually, he looked pretty annoyed. Thinking that I had missed him, I painted a dot on the middle of his chest and let 'er rip for a few more rounds. No apparent effect. That's what the Dungeon Master used to say when we would attack a magical creature with weapons that couldn't hurt it. But there weren't really magical creatures that were immune to bullets were there?
"Are you quite finished?" the elf asked in a frosty voice.
"Well, seeing as how…" I temporized as I raised the dot to his face and let him have another burst right between the eyes. He flinched and turned his head but other than that, no apparent effect. "Just checking," I explained.
"You are going to regret that," the elf said in a voice like ice sickles, "Such impudence shall not be tolerated." The sled moved ominously forward.
"So now you're going to kill me more dead than you were going to kill me already?" I asked, and just for the hell of it, I made him flinch with another face burst. This time something in front of him flashed violet, yellow and red.
The elf screeched in some language I didn't understand and spread out his hands as if pushing something in my direction. The sled dropped to the ground and I felt suddenly odd, stiff. I tried to shoot again, but found myself paralyzed, frozen in place like a statue of a really good-looking guy in a stylish trench coat.
The flash from the previous shots gave me some hope as I replayed it in my mind: a glowing surface that appeared a few inches from the elf, flashing from violet to yellow to red as though it was losing energy. Could the elf's magical protections have limits? I was determined to find out as soon as I could move my finger.
"I hope you enjoyed that little act of defiance, human," the elf spat out, but I didn't think he meant it; I didn't think he really hoped that I had enjoyed the shot. I had, though. The angry elf continued, "… because it will be the last thing you ever do in this life except suffer." I believed he meant that part.
I struggled again to squeeze the trigger, but the paralysis was total. It was an odd sort of paralysis without numbness or other signs of nerve deadening or loss of muscle control. I felt muscle strain when I tried to move, as if something was holding me in place against my struggling, but I felt no pressure on my skin. Something seemed to be holding my very skeleton rigid.
The elf swaggered over to me with an evil smirk. The little puke got right in my face to hiss some more threats, but I'll never know what he was going to say because that's when the tattoo attacked. The black cat leaped from my chest straight into the face of the smirking little turd, tearing my shirt open in the process. The backward force from the leap should have thrown me backward, but whatever was keeping me from moving, was keeping me from being moved, too.
The elf screamed as the cat bit his face off and disemboweled him at the same time. Or rather as the cat tried with considerable energy to bite his face off and disembowel him at the same time. The elf's magic was still protecting him, though the elf was obviously in trouble. Suddenly, whatever was holding me let go and something, probably the same thing, grabbed the tattoo cat and snatched it back from the elf. The cat was being held as though by an invisible net that could barely contain it as the black mercury feline body twisted and struggled and even flowed, trying to get away.
It was a fascinating sight but I missed most of it as I put a red dot on the elf's enraged face and hosed it down with lead. The magic shield quickly flashed from violet to yellow to red again, then again, then again. Or maybe it was different shields, going down one after the other. Finally there were no more shields and the elf's head quickly turned into lead-stuffed meatloaf.
I held the trigger until the clip was empty and then I watched the elf fall. At first, he just stood there wobbling, turning his ruined head back and forth as through trying to see from the pulped eyes. Seeing that, I quickly slammed my last clip into the receiver and was about to continue firing when the elf's head exploded. A white-hot jet flamed from his neck for a moment as his body wobbled. Then the corpse fell forward onto what would have been its face if it still had a head. The elf's back split open from the neck to the nether regions as though a zipper were opening and the fiery jet followed the seam until it was a flaming crescent streaming from the gutted corpse. In a moment the flames flickered out, leaving the body desiccated and slightly charred.
The tattoo cat, free now, stood near the corpse in an alert stance, staring at it like a pure black silhouette of a housecat watching a rat hole when it has heard a squeak. And sure enough, something sprang from the corpse. Another black-liquid creature, but this one was small and winged, bat-like. It flushed from the open cavity like a startled quail, but it was not quick enough. The cat sprang ten feet , snatching the thing from the air.
The two monsters rolled on the ground like battling shadows for perhaps a minute as the small flying creature seemed to be putting up a real fight. In the end, the cat seemed to flow into a flatter shape and engulf the little winged nightmare, and then the both of them vanished from sight like a shadow when the light comes on.
Well, that was interesting. With no one immediately trying to kill me, it felt like there was plenty of leisure time. At least that's my excuse for not getting out of there right away. I wandered over to look at the sled; it would be pretty cool to have my own magic sled but to my disappointment, it seemed just like a just a very high-quality, very light, but very mundane sled. There was nothing that looked like a control panel and no apparent power source.
As I was about to put the sled down, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and turned. There was an another elf just coming from the brush, and this one was throwing something at me. I raised the sled like a shield barely quick enough to deflect a slim bladed, four-pointed throwing star. I was surprised that the star didn't stick in the wooden sled and was actually pausing to look at the bottom of the sled --curiosity will get me killed some day-- when I saw the elf throwing again. I dodged and blocked it with the sled.
I was working out how to get the Gatling gun into one hand while still holding my improvised two-handed shield when another elf showed up, with two more trolls, and there was more movement in the bushes behind them. I spun around, keeping the sled between me and the monsters and then sprinted for the stairway, holding the sled behind me. I heard several clunks on the sled as I ran.
The monsters were all a lot faster than me in a sprint, but they lost wind before they caught me and I was able to keep ahead, barely, as far as the stairs. By that time the trolls were just feet behind me and I had a feeling that they would dive down the stairs and catch me if I slowed down. Ergo, I did the only logical thing: I flipped the sled around front, threw it down on the stairs and jumped aboard. I'd surfed stairs before with a snow board, so this wasn't that challenging.
At the bottom, I rode the board into the stream and nearly to the tunnel before it slid to a stop on a sand bar. Only then did I look back to see if the monsters were still after me. They were. When I looked forward, I jumped a bit to see the tattoo guy standing in the mouth of the tunnel, giving me that toothless scowl. I put my hands in my pockets.
"Look like you havin' some fun!" the old man said.
"Yup," I agreed, "Extreme sports while being chased by homicidal mythical creatures. Some day it'll be on ESPN, but until then, we aficionados have to support the game ourselves."
"Less go before Balsha's servants get here," the old man said. He peeled a tattoo from his shoulder and shook it before tossing it toward the sled. I was wavering on whether to pull the trigger when the sled suddenly rose up, very nearly making the decision for me as I jerked to keep from losing my balance. The sled hovered over to the old man and he impatiently waved me to the back so that he could hop in front with a show of unexpected agility.
A thrown rock slammed the stone tunnel near my head just as the sled started forward through the opening into the bright world. Soon, we were cruising along the beach at pace that I guessed at twenty miles per hour, and I took advantage of the lull in action to ask the old man a question that was concerning me, "So, aren't you going to try to kill me too?"
"Naw," The old man said dismissively. "You been a good tool. Might use you again some day."
"I've been a tool?" I tried to raise the gun stealthily under my trench coat, wondering if this man had magic shields and if I had enough bullets to break them down.
"Well, maybe a partner." The old man said. "You got yours. I remedied the spell on your eyes and give ya' revenge on the guy what killed your daddy and you got rid of Balsha for me. Good trade."
"Balsha," I repeated. "That's the elf I killed?"
"Ayep," the old man answered. "He was like a general for Baal."
"What did he do to piss you off?" I asked.
"Never you mind," the old man answered, "but he was the one that got your daddy."
"I heard that you were the one that captured him."
The old man looked over his shoulder at me and it was the first time I'd seen any emotion on the old man's face other than orneriness. He looked surprised. "Ayep. But I was workin' for Balsha." There was a long pause as he studied me. "Is that gonna mean trouble?"
I thought about it. "Doesn't have to," I finally decided. "But you still owe me."
The old man studied me for a moment more before turning back. We were now passing by the occasional beach walker, but they didn't appear to see us.
"OK," the old man said. "I still owe you. But you're a hunted man now. Best get out of California."
"Yeah," I answered, taking my finger off the trigger and lowering the barrel. "I guess I'd better run far and fast; just get me back to my car and I'm off like a prom dress." And miss all the action that was coming up? Not likely; I wasn't going anywhere.
This is the end of Ink Magic