[NeOPulP] Discordia: Installment Eleven

Chapter Nine:
Pretty Lies
The word spread through the neighborhoods and subdivisions of Baton Rouge like a rampant strain of mutant influenza: the one named Louis had arrived in Discordia.  Everyone wanted a piece of the action.  The bounty for his head ranged from a small island off the Mississippi gulf coast, to a spell to control minds, one of the more difficult and forbidden forms of magic.  All the gods and devils from human mythology, and a number of deities that had nothing to do with people, gathered in the divine dimension to watch the unfolding scenario.  It was like Super Bowl Sunday, and there was only one minute to kickoff.  The forces of evil converged on the fortress known as the Pentacle from every direction.
Most of the city’s neighborhoods provided a safe and peaceful environment to live in, back on Earth.  In Discordia most of the neighborhoods belonged to bands of evil warmongers, and every crew was named after the place they called home.  Street gangs on Earth were similar, but on Discordia the gangs were everywhere.  The notable exceptions were downtown, where the Pentacle stood as a bastion for the light, and the university area, where another fortress called the Quad had kept evil at bay for ten thousand years.
The South Side Wrecking Crew rolled up from McKinley Street in Cadillacs and Lincolns with boom boxes beating out earthquake bass.  It was an extravagant show of their power; not that seven hundred athletic black men armed with machetes and shotguns needed cars to show their strength.  The Garden District Black Guard brought human sacrifices along for the trip, hoping to boost their chances at capturing Louis Comeaux with a few burnt offerings.  The Hundred Oaks Hundred boasted closer to five hundred members.  The veterans of the group rode up on their signature motorcycles, and took a position between the fortress and the river.  They tightened the gears on their compound bows, and waited for targets to turn into pincushions. 
Every major mob turned out: the Bocage Bandits, the Highland Road Hellhounds, and the Valley Villains.  They all wanted the reward, but more than that they anxiously awaited the celebration that would follow the fall of the Pentacle.  The fortress had frustrated the progress of wickedness for far too long.  At last the time had arrived when a united front of evil would smash the place into a million pieces, and bathe in the blood of its defenders.  It was going to be quite a party.
An incredible number of warriors arrived almost simultaneously under the cover of nightfall.  The fortress sentries were caught off guard.  Nobody inside had a chance to escape.  The siege forces waited in the tree line surrounding the fortress, well out of range of guns and bows.  The forces of evil never before coordinated their attacks or showed discipline.  After thousands of years of chaos, their tactics had changed overnight.  Something finally quieted the infighting among the tribes of the wicked.
For their part the defenders lined the top of the wall surrounding the fortress.  They were outnumbered almost ten to one, and everyone knew it.  The night grew black as the pit.  Neither the moon nor the stars shone down upon the scene of the upcoming battle.  The defenders made peace with their creator, uncertain if they would live through another day.
The Order of True Love gathered in a large circle on the roof of the small fortress.  The thirty acolytes had begun work on a long and complicated spell.  They would meditate and chant silently through the night, building the energy necessary to cast the enchantment.  The air was filled with positively charged ions, and the bystanders sensed the energy crackling within the confines of the circle of magicians.
Jesus and Michael stood off to one side with Uri, engaged in a heated conversation.  Cara showed up to escort them to the roof just as the pair exited Michael’s room.  The woman didn’t want to be involved in their discussion with the high priest, so she joined the circle and aided in the stockpiling of magical energy.  The reason for her desire to remain aloof was apparent.  Jesus was angry, and his mood wasn’t improving.
“Everyone knew that Louis’ presence would bring an unparalleled response from the bad guys.  I assumed that someone would have the common sense to send out scouts to alert the fortress to troop movements.  On top of that, nobody woke me up until we were completely surrounded.  I expected this assignment to be difficult, but I didn’t think it would be made more so by our allies,” the Colombian ranted as he paced back and forth.
The blistering reprimand didn’t ruffle Uri in the slightest.  The old man waited for Jesus to run out of steam.  Uri’s parents were Russian emigrants, but the inscrutable expression on his face made him look like a wizened Chinese seer.  Jesus finally finished the tirade.  Uri conjured a small sphere of encryption, so that no enemy sorcerer listening from a distance could understand what he was about to say.
“I understand and share your concerns, Señor Mendoza, but please allow me to answer your accusations.  Scouts were sent out to the north, south and east.  We can only assume that they were detected and killed before being able to report back.  I should add that the encircling forces arrived en masse.  We were surrounded before we knew what was happening, no more than fifteen minutes ago.  Nobody dawdled in waking you up.  However, none of those facts are of any benefit to us now that we are surrounded.  That’s all water under the bridge, as some would say.
“I do have information that will be of immeasurable value.  As I told you, we escorted Louis to a safe room underneath the fortress when trouble started.  I understand your anxiousness to join with your ward, but I asked for your presence up here for a very good reason.  Do you see that stand of trees far down the river to the south?” 
Uri did not point, but instead gazed in the direction of the copse. Jesus nodded affirmatively.  It was too dark to see naturally.  Uri planted a vision of the trees in Jesus mind, so that Jesus saw the scene as if it were daylight.
Uri continued, “There is a tunnel under the fortress that runs three miles to the south and comes out in those trees.  The exit has a permanent ward on it that prevents its discovery.  You will be leaving through that tunnel, and shortly after that everyone else here will follow. 
“I discussed the situation with Moira, and the fortress will be abandoned.  A small group of volunteers will remain behind to draw the fire of the attackers, and everyone else will flee for the Quad.  The Pentacle was not designed to withstand an attack of this magnitude, and it would mean certain death to stay.  The Quad stood through a much more determined siege eight thousand years ago, and we believe that it will stand again easily.
“You, Michael and Louis should precede the wholesale evacuation.  The ploy won’t last for long, and our flight is bound to turn into a running firefight.  It would be safest if you weren’t with the group,” Uri finished.
“Oh, it will be much safer for you, that’s for sure.  As soon as they realize Louis isn’t with you, they’ll break off the attack and look for us,” Jesus noted bitterly.  “I know that you are right, though.  If we hole up in the Quad, then sooner or later they will take us down.  Evil has a world full of reinforcements, and we won’t have any.  We have no choice.”
“We took the liberty of bringing your car into the stockade while you were sleeping.  You didn’t have anything with you, so we assumed your belongings were in the vehicle,” Uri changed the subject.  The old magician didn’t want any part of their troubles.  He was a good guy, but he hadn’t been a good guy for very long.  He still looked out for number one.
“That’s a good thing, at least.  There’s a rocket launcher in the trunk.  Give it to the volunteers who stay behind.  I’m taking the M16 with me, but I can’t carry all the ammo.  If anybody here needs 5.56, then dole out what I leave behind.  It’s the least I can do.  Now point me in the right direction.  I’m tired of talking,” Jesus poured out all of the statements in one big breath.  The promise of battle affected him like amphetamines.  He was wired for sound.
“Cara will escort you to Louis.  I will send someone for the rifle and the ammo you mentioned, to save time,” Uri provided helpfully.  Uri was relieved that Jesus hadn’t asked for acolytes to accompany him, or insisted on traveling to the Quad.
Jesus marched over to Cara and pulled her out of the circle by the fabric of one of her robes.  Irritation spread over her features, but she didn’t make an issue out of the assassin’s behavior.  They headed for the stairs.
Uri said his farewell to the priest, “Father Michael, I wish we could have spent time together under more pleasant circumstances.  You have all of my prayers, for whatever they’re worth.”
“Prayer is worth more than any human knows.   Hope that we will meet again one day, Uri,” Michael called over his shoulder as he rushed off to keep up with Jesus and Cara.
The three entered the stairwell to descend to the basement when they bumped into Lena and Rosie.  Michael had forgotten all about them.  The look on Jesus’ face indicated the Colombian hadn’t included them in his planning either.  Lena saw the look, and set her jaw in grim determination.
“Where are you going, Jesus?” Lena demanded without the slightest concern for politeness.
“We’re, uh, leaving.  Everybody’s leaving.  These people will take good care of you, though, Lena.  You’ll be safe with them,” Jesus told her.  She was blocking his path, and he attempted to move past her.
Lena stepped directly in front of him and said, “No.  Absolutely not.  No.”
Jesus found himself looking directly at her latex covered breasts, and almost forgot what they were talking about.  He looked up into her face and asked, “No?  No what?  What do you mean no?”
“We’re coming with you, Jesus.  What did you think?  That you could just leave us behind?”
“You really will be safer with the soldiers, Lena,” Cara put in.
“All of those evil people out there will be coming after Jesus and Louis and I,” Michael added.
“Your objections are duly noted.  You brought me here, Jesus Mendoza, and I’m staying with you,” Lena informed them adamantly.
“And I’m staying with both of you,” Rosie spoke up from the stairs.  She sounded about as certain as a bride with cold feet, but she had made up her mind.  “You’re the closest thing to friends I have in this dimension.”
“Do as you like, girls, but I can’t promise that I can protect you.  Meanwhile, please get out of the way.  We are in a very big hurry.  Every second we stand here helps our enemies,” Jesus said angrily.  Lena got out of his way, but she kept up as he bounded down the stairs.
The five of them hurdled down the fourteen flights of stairs to come out in the basement of the fortress.  The basement was a massive affair that stretched out like a section of Carlsbad Caverns, as far as the eye could see.  The lighting ended long before the rock walls did.  Everybody knew that there weren’t any caves in the muddy Louisiana ground, which was why the designers of the fortress thought the caverns were such a good idea.  Nobody would storm the fortress with the intent of checking the caverns.  Cara was the only one of the group who appreciated their surroundings.  None of the others gave the caverns much thought.
Louis was with two female soldiers not far from the stairs, and further inside the cavern there were five horses tethered in a line.  The horses were anxious, because they could sense the apprehension of the people.  The women were the same two who rode out to meet Jesus and the girls.  The one with the scar introduced herself as Dorothy, and she introduced her fair companion as Elizabeth.  The two were heavily armed, but compound bows were still their ready weapons.
While introductions were made all around, two runners arrived with Jesus’ M16 and five cases of ammo.  They put the goods down. One of them told the assassin, “Nobody here has .223, sir.  You may as well take it all.”  Jesus nodded, and they hurried back up the stairs.
“We weren’t expecting this many people,” Dorothy admitted, “so there are only five horses.  We can send for more horses, but it will take time.  We have sleeping gear and basic essentials for five people.”
“I’m not going with you,” Cara announced.  She hugged Louis and told him, “Take care of yourself, Louis Comeaux.  I want you to have gained twenty pounds by the next time I see you.” 
The two female warriors exchanged glances.  They knew that Cara never displayed affection openly.  What they saw convinced them she must be attracted to extremely frail younger men.  Dorothy whispered to Elizabeth, “I knew she was the domineering type.”  Elizabeth giggled.
Jesus wasn’t paying any attention to the little drama.  He busted open one of the cases of 5.56, and removed the two hundred round blister packs from the wooden box.  He threw a couple of the blister packs to the idle priest, and instructed him to help load them into the saddlebags.  Louis saw what they were doing and rushed over to help.
“You never answered my question about the horses,” Dorothy reminded Jesus.
“I didn’t realize you asked a question.  Even if there was time to get more horses, I don’t think most of these people can ride.  Louis, have you ever ridden a horse?”
“No,” the young man admitted.
“That means you’re riding behind me,” Jesus told him.  “I assume your presence indicates that you two ladies are coming with us.  Dorothy, would you mind if Rosie rides behind you?”
“I am an excellent rider, thank you very much,” Rosie spoke up.  “Do you think all women are incapable, Jesus?  I’ll have you know I won many awards for my equestrian skills.”
“That’s great, Rosie.  Whatever.  How about you Lena?  Were you bareback rider of the month as well?”  Jesus grunted the questions as he broke open another case of ammo.
Lena got a brief mental image of Jesus riding her bare back, and she focused to make it disappear.  She tried to keep her sexuality at bay, but it had always been a big part of her life.  That was why she hated to say no to the Colombian.  She told the truth anyway, “No, Jesus, I don’t know how to ride a horse.”
“I can handle you,” Dorothy volunteered.  Lena blushed, because as disgusting as she found her own thoughts, her mind never stopped working.
Michael spoke up, “I’ve never ridden a horse before.  What do I do?”
Jesus rolled his eyes and said cynically, “Christ, help your servant.  Elizabeth, do you think you can ride with the good father?  We are leaving right now.  Which horse do Louis and I get?”
They all mounted, and Dorothy led the way into the caverns.  She was chosen to escort them because she knew the way to the surface, and very few people in the fortress did.  Dorothy was also a fierce fighter, as anyone who looked at her might have guessed.  Elizabeth was along because she and Dorothy were lovers.  Elizabeth wasn’t just another pretty face, though.  She was highly skilled at archery, and she had a gift for communicating with horses.  Elizabeth followed right behind Dorothy.
Jesus and Louis were next in line, with Rosie right behind them.  Dorothy and Elizabeth insisted they bring the extra horse, because they hated to leave the steed behind.  They tethered the unburdened horse to Rosie’s mount, pointing out that it wasn’t difficult to learn how to ride.  They also pointed out that having a fresh horse could mean the difference between life and death in a cross-country chase.
They traveled down an increasingly narrow passage beneath the earth in near absolute darkness.  Louis’ flashlight he brought from home provided the only light, but Dorothy didn’t need it to find her way.  The rode in silence for about thirty minutes before the ground rumbled.  The battle at the Pentacle was underway.
“Damn.  I hoped we would have more time,” Jesus complained loudly.
“We have more time than you may think.  Moira let me in on the battle plan,” Dorothy spoke from the lead.  “The sound you heard was probably the Order’s spell taking effect.  The spell is the key to everyone’s survival.  The attackers will see a full host of soldiers defending the fortress; in reality there will be fewer than twenty.  Right now the majority of the Pentacle’s forces are following through the caves behind us.  It will take hundreds of people a lot longer to traverse this tunnel than it will us, but that’s not why we have more time.”
Jesus thought she had a real flair for the dramatic as he waited for her to reveal the secret.  Dorothy intoned gravely, “When the last defender falls, a countdown will begin.  Sixty seconds after the Pentacle belongs to evil, the entire place is going to implode.  The rear of this tunnel will be sealed.  There will be no significant underground pursuit.”
“God have mercy on the men that stayed behind,” Michael said reverently.
“Moira stayed behind.  She wouldn’t abandon her post, and most of her honor guard stayed with her.  Our lives are being saved by eighteen women,” Elizabeth revealed sorrowfully.  “She saved my life once before.  I should have stayed with her, but Moira ordered Dorothy and I to lead you through the caverns.  She wanted me to live.”  Tears ran down Elizabeth’s cheeks, but the darkness hid the sight.
Louis spoke up in a voice that sounded alien to his body.  “I promise you that she will not have sacrificed her life in vain.  When I have the stone, everything is going to change.”
The sound of Louis’ voice sent chill bumps down Jesus’ spine.  He knew that it was not the young man speaking.  The powerful being inside of Louis was slowly rising to the surface.  Jesus hoped for the best, but feared for the worst.  He wondered what it would mean to his mission if Louis disappeared altogether.
Michael heard the difference too.  The priest still didn’t know how to approach his God appointed task.  He spent the day talking to Louis about God and salvation, while Jesus slept.  Louis had a flippant attitude about religion, and only listened to things he wanted to hear.  Michael felt no closer to saving the young man than he had before he started.  The sound of Louis’ voice in the dark tunnel worried the priest.
Rosie rode behind them in silence.  She hoped she made the right decision accompanying the small group.  Lena and Jesus had saved her life once already, and she hated to lose the only friends she had in such a harsh place.  She felt discouraged by the men’s aloofness, however, and began to experience acute loneliness at the back of the line.  She was thoroughly depressed when they reached the tunnel’s exit.
When Dorothy passed a point in the tunnel, a power circle lit up on a large metal plate blocking the exit.  It contained the symbols that hid the exit and allowed the giant plate to be opened and closed.  Dorothy dismounted from her horse and approached the power circle.  She touched several of the symbols in a rapid sequence, and the plate rolled out of the way.  They all rode forward into the fresh air.
It was midnight, but there was moonlight outside the tunnel.  The darkness over the fortress was the result of sorcery, and it did not extend that far down the river.  They were all relieved that there would be some light by which to ride the horses.  The disconcerting blackness of the tunnel had taken a toll on their morale.
“I know where we are.  Everyone try to keep up.  We must make haste down the river,” Jesus called out as he kicked his horse into a gallop. 
The others followed as Jesus set an insane pace for the swamps to the south.  Nobody looked back at the light show cast into the night sky by the fighting at the Pentacle.  Nobody wanted to dwell on the death and the suffering that was the inevitable product of such battles.  The small group was three miles south of Baton Rouge and riding hard when the night sky turned a brilliant white.  The sound of a thousand claps of thunder rolled down the river and washed over them.  It sounded like the heavens had burst.  The Pentacle had fallen, and the spell had taken effect.
“Moira is lost!” Elizabeth cried out to the sky and the earth and the river.  Her grief was inconsolable.
As the small, ragtag band of adventurers set off through the caverns beneath the fortress, the army of the Pentacle prepared to make a dash for the older, more secure fortress a few miles away.  Moira gave a direct order for all regular troops to abandon their posts.  Several hundred men and women  marched hastily down the stairs and into the caverns.  All of the members of the Order of True Love accompanied the soldiers.  The powerful spell cast by Uri and his acolytes covered their escape, so that the forces of evil would not know they were leaving.
Moira kept it a secret that she intended to remain behind when the other forces fled through the tunnels.  Moira’s second in command, a warlord known as Scorn, caught wind of what was really taking place.  He disobeyed his orders to lead the escape.  Instead he left that in the capable hands of Uri and the Order.  He spread the word to a few of his best fighters that he was staying behind with Moira.
Scorn and twenty of his men joined Moira and her ladies on the walls.  Moira showered Scorn with curses and insults, but she was gladdened at the sight of her closest friend.  She had known that he would never leave her.  Scorn, for his part, accused her of trying to steal the glory, and denounced her plan to exclude him.  His words didn’t hide his meaning.  He would be at her side when the end came, no matter the numbers they faced. 
To the enemy the defenders looked like hundreds of warriors.  That was little consolation to the defenders.  Twenty feet of space separated each soldier from the next closest ally.  The defenders didn’t intend to hold the walls for long.  Their presence was merely a ruse anyway, a ruse that they would buy with their lives.
The forces of evil received the order to attack, and sorcery glowed among their ranks as they charged.  Fireballs and lightning bolts crossed the distance between the forces on the ground and the wall.  Magic spells lit up the night sky.  Gunfire erupted when thousands of evil men drew within range of the walls.  Bodies littered the ground before the fortress walls, but the charge never faltered.
The men who reached the stockade hurled grappling hooks over the top and began to climb.  One woman shot a rocket into the attackers, and forty or more twisted men felt the agony of their demise.  Bullets and arrows filled the air around the defenders, and the men and women on the walls were failing fast.  The attackers paid dearly for their success, but Moira was forced to sound a retreat.  She had hoped to hold the wall a little longer, but she knew it was no use.  Her only choice was to retreat.
Half of Moira’s people got isolated on the far side of the fortress, and were cut down like dogs.  Only Moira and Scorn, and a few men and women, reached the interior of the fortress.  They quickly barred the giant doors.  Within seconds the enemy could be heard on the other side.  Moira ordered her small force back, away from the door and onto the stairs.  The door exploded inward with a deafening boom, and smoke filled the air. 
Hundreds of bloodthirsty warriors ran through the shattered frame, only to meet death and injury at the hands of the few remaining defenders.  The attackers were jubilant about how easily they breached the walls of the fortress. They never even noticed that the fortress was practically empty.  Bloodlust took control of the mob of evil men.  They charged up the stairs at the last guardians of the Pentacle again and again, and each time there were fewer defenders left standing. 
There was so much gunfire that many of the attackers in the front ran out of ammunition.  Unable to turn back because of the press of people behind them, they flung themselves at Moira and her people armed only with knives and sticks.  The number of attackers pushing up the stairs could not be measured.  Though they climbed over piles of dead bodies, they never faltered in their effort to exterminate the defenders of the Pentacle.  Within a few minutes the only defenders left were Moira and Scorn.
Moira had been shot at least thirty times.  Blood streamed out of her from wounds that would have been fatal to any ordinary human being.  Moira was a warlord.  She would not die easily.  She used guns early on, but eventually ran out of ammo.  After that, every man who came within her reach went down.  She swung her great mace Nutcracker with such force that men’s bodies were hurled right and left like rag dolls, but the terrible advance continued unabated.
Scorn stood by her side as they backed up the stairs.  Bullet wounds decorated his chest and his abdomen, and it seemed there was no end to the blood the man contained.  He wielded a great sword called Judgment, and none that were cut by the blade survived.  Scorn hacked clean through men’s torsos, legs and arms, and he never seemed to tire.
Scorn and Moira backed halfway up to the third floor when the crowd came to its senses.  Loaded guns were passed to the front.  The two champions didn’t stand a chance, so they charged into the gunfire.  Scorn skewered four people with Judgment as he flung himself down the stairs.  A bullet to his brain took all the fight out of him. 
Moira fought on with fifty or more bullets inside her, taking another fifteen men down to hell after Scorn fell.  She finally slumped to the ground with her giant mace still clutched tightly in her fists.  The men who killed her were awed to silence.  They had never seen such courage.
Their reverence was cut short.  The fortress turned into a giant ball of energy, and imploded with the power of a sun gone supernova.  The power involved to destroy the fortress was so great that it had to be directed inward.  If it had been directed outward, then most of the city would have been vaporized.  The fortress was too important to give to the power of evil, however, so it had to be destroyed.  The hundreds of evil attackers who survived the blast felt lucky indeed, and set about the task of finding out what happened.  It was hours before their sorcerers learned that the fortress had been abandoned.  The Order’s magic had worked beyond all expectations.
Years later, songs would be sung of Moira and Scorn and how they faced an army alone.  Their heroism was never forgotten.  Instead it grew with every telling.  Within a thousand years, songs told of the victory won that day.  Songs told of how Moira and Scorn won the battle, and walked out of the fortress hand in hand to live happily ever after.
Nobody ever liked the ugly truth.  People have always preferred pretty lies.  Where once stood a glorious fortress beside the Mississippi River, there was only a gigantic crater six hundred feet in diameter and two hundred feet deep.  The crater testified to the true story of what happened to Moira the Red and her loyal friend Scorn.  They died a bloody death at the hands of mindless, evil people, but they gave their lives so that others could live.  The truth meant more than any fairy tale, in a savage place where no fairy would ever fly.
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