Second-Hand Goods~ chapter 18

     Most people think of darkness as evil or a representation of evil, but every hunter in the Goodbody family knew better. Darkness is where you hide yourself in order to strike. Sam’s father had often told her and Jack when they were younger that a truly gifted hunter only needed one strike. She thought he was bluffing, until she went on a few hunts with him. The man was lethal, precise and elegant. Two of these traits were ones that Samantha was clearly not blessed with, but what she lacked in grace she more than made up for in ingenuity and a willingness for extreme violence. The Lich’s lair was almost entirely made up of a small maze of books in enormous shelves, and where there are brittle yellowed pages, there’s bound to be a fire someday.

    Samantha had spent the last four minutes scrabbling to get as many candles up and in books as she possibly could. The work had mostly been done, and now her efforts began to show themselves. The rest of the work would be done by the Lich. The most dangerous creatures in the world are the hunters who are completely unused to being hunted. Easing off the edge of the bookcase she was on, she climbed down about halfway before jumping off and hitting the ground with a soft thud.

     It didn’t take long to find the Lich. The soft sound of cloth dragging along the ground accompanied by the gentle rattle of bones moving under their own power gave it away. It rounded a corner to find itself confronted by Sam. It stopped suddenly, its black robes swaying slightly as it cocked its head to regard her curiously. The Lich’s movements were sure and steady, it hunted without any concern for haste since it knew whoever had come to kill it wouldn’t run. What passed for a smile crossed its face, but most of its expression was lost since the ravages of time had removed any skin, leaving a bleached white skeleton that looked so clean it could have been used as a model in a medical school.

    It raised a hand and pointed at Sam, who immediately whipped out her knife, flicking it open. She hardly had time to lift her arm up in a defensive posture when her entire left side went numb, the blade sliding out of numbed fingers and sticking in the ground. Raising his skeletal hand into a fist, the Lich still looked confused. Normally, when it showed its prey the overwhelming difference in power, they cowered in fear. This girl seemed to possess no such thing. Rather, she seemed enraged.

     Before Sam could collapse, she reached for her backup weapon, a small dagger, called a stiletto, that she hid under her leather jacket, tucked into the inside by small leather straps. It was a special weapon that disrupted magic of whatever it struck. Once upon a time, back in the days of the werewolf king Aldric Redtooth, it had been more necessary to have weapons like that. Magic had been slowly dying from the world, however, and so getting a hold of such a weapon had required pulling in a lot of favors from people she didn’t want to think about. Flinging the dagger underhand with unerring accuracy, it struck the Lich square in the forehead. The force of the blow rocked its skull back, even as one last blast of magic burst out from its hands.

    Turning to the left, Sam plowed into the books on the shelf, hoping to at least get out of the way of the blast. To her surprise, she went flying all the way through the shelves to another corridor, the blast missing her by mere inches. That still left her weapons in the corridor she had just left, under the watchful eye of her target. A small tinkling sound echoed through the books, the sound of the Lich dropping the knife she had thrown to the ground. Sam began to climb the bookshelf with a desperation she hadn’t felt for a long time. The portion of the bookshelf where she had just been standing blew outwards from the force of a spell. An enormous boulder thundered past, rolling into the next massive bookshelf and causing it to lean precariously away from Sam.

     In that instant, the inferno Sam had begun finally burst forth in brilliant orange. Pages of books likely irreplaceable in this world burst into flames along the edges of the maze and began to shower lit pieces of text down onto the books below, causing them to smolder and light as well. Sam decided it was time to get to a higher ground, lest she become a smear on the ground. She kept climbing to reach higher ground, even as the Lich stepped through the hole he had made in his own maze. Finding a spot about halfway up, Samantha rolled through the books and waited on the other side while they crashed to the ground. The Lich stepped back through the hole and looked around, seeing nothing. Raising a skeletal hand, he snapped his fingers and all the remaining lamps went out. Thankfully, due to the glow of the fire Samantha could still barely make out his form, a dark blur moving amongst the shadows visible mostly through its movement.

     Reaching down, the Lich grasped a book and held it up to its eyes. Opening the cover, it leafed through a few pages and suddenly whipped its head around to look up directly at where Samantha was hiding. Shit! The Lich knew exactly where every book in the entire maze was supposed to be and had figured out where she was based entirely on that? Hurriedly, she rolled backwards to the other side of the shelves, hearing a hollow thunk hit the wood near where she had been hiding. The air shimmered in the form of a spear, thrown hard enough to deeply penetrate the next layer of books. As she watched, it pulsed and glowed in the darkness.

     The Lich snapped its fingers again. “Crap.” Sam managed one word as she rolled off the bookshelf, barely managing to grab onto the edge. The air spear exploded, sending splinters and shards of wood flying everywhere, cutting into her fingers and causing her to let go, falling to the ground. She barely had time to get her bearings before she found herself face to face with the Lich again. Another burst of air blew her backwards into the boulder, knocking the wind out of her.

    Stepping through the hole in the bookshelf, the Lich cackled softly and raised its hand again. Sam raced through options in her mind as another air based spell gathered around the Lich’s fist. Can’t go backwards, can’t go to either side. The only option left was to move forwards. Sam got low and dashed forward, tackling the Lich around the knees. It went down like a sack of feathers, bones aren’t so heavy as all that. Sam wondered if the Lich had ever been tackled before. The tackle took them clean through the entrance and back into the corridor she had first run into the Lich. It angrily slapped a skeletal hand against the ground with a loud clack, and a gust of wind sent her flying up into the air.

    Samantha Goodbody had always been lucky. Her brother often said it was the devil’s own luck, though she objected because she wasn’t a devil. She wasn’t about to argue with the fact that she was lucky. Along with Sam, her knife was sent flying into the air, embedding itself in the bottom of a bookshelf above her. Grabbing desperately, she managed to grasp onto a bookshelf. Letting herself drop, she pulled her knife out on the way down. Sam found her descent arrested by an unseen force. Turning her haze down, her eyes were met with what she assumed to be the furious stare of the Lich.

    With a force she had never experienced, she got tossed through the bookcase. Without stopping, she blew through the next, and the next until she flew clear of the maze and hit the wall with a sickening thud, landing near the entrance to the room. The fiery embers from the fire Sam had lit earlier still rained down around the maze, setting enormous swathes of the library labyrinth alight. Getting up, she shook her head and tried to get her bearings.

    “So…how is it going?” Liam was still standing next to the attendant who had his arm around Liam’s neck.

    “You got taken hostage?”

    “Yeah, sorry. I guess it’s not going that well on my side either.”

    Sam cracked her knuckles and tested her balance. She was dizzy, but it was manageable. The pain in her side was more worrying, from where she had impacted against the wall. “Well, back to it then.”

    Bracing herself, Sam ran across the room and threw herself into the first bookcase. It tottered back and forth. Squaring her feet and planting herself firmly, Sam pushed upward against one shelf as the whole case tottered away from her as hard as she could. Slowly falling away from her with a ponderous groan, hitting the next bookshelf and started a chain reaction headed directly for the Lich. Taking a deep breath, she wiped at her brow. Got to work for that money.

    A sudden burst of wind blew past her towards the Lich and into the maze, almost sucking her through the bookcase in front of her. With a loud crack, the bookshelves around the Lich evaporated in a sudden burst of sizzling power that left the Lich standing in a wide circle of empty floor. Standing up on wavering legs, she shook her head back and forth, sending her hair flying. Somehow, impossibly, she had managed to keep a hold of her knife. Part of the labyrinth still stood tall, but the sudden wind caused the fire to spread inwards, roaring through books and creating a fiery inferno.

     Time to hide again. The only way Sam could fight an enemy this strong was from the shadows. The light from the spreading fire flickered over the walls, sending the shadows fleeing into nothingness. The edges of the maze were all alight now, leaving Sam no place to hide. As she watched, the wall of burning wood and books directly in front of her melted away revealing the Lich, who had made itself a path through its own hunting ground to reach her. Sam readied her knife, but was blown off her feet and back into the wall. The Lich continued its slow advance, a predator slowly closing in on its prey.

    “This may not be the best time, but how are we sure this will beat the Lich? I thought they had some special item you needed to destroy, but you really had no idea where it was, did you?” Liam had been released by the attendant. They were passing a small flask back and forth between themselves.

    “Not a good time, Liam.” Sam rose from the ground on unsteady feet to confront the Lich. There was a loud sound of wood hitting the ground in the distance and the floor shook, a slight tremor flowing out from where the wood had fallen. The Lich stopped and suddenly tumbled forward and remained still. Sam smiled the smile of a woman who knew her number had been up for a moment. The attendant collapsed forward, lacking any will to move without his master being alive.

    “He kept the one thing you needed to destroy him in his own maze? Why would he do that?”

    Sam wearily shrugged, reaching over to touch her left side and check for broken ribs, “A hunt is no fun, if you can’t get beaten. You can’t get any rush out of that. He just never expected someone to light the whole thing on fire. Now I just have to collect the skull and bring it to the Nair mansion and I get paid.”

    “You need a trophy?”

    “Yep. No skull, no paper.” Sam reached down and picked up the black robes. A rain of dust slid out of them and billowed into the air, lighting on fire when they reached a certain height. Sam stared, watching her glorious pay day go up in smoke. No skull, no cash. Sam took a deep breath. “FUUUUUUUUC…”. Covering his ears, Liam left the room. He may be practically immortal, but he still liked being able to hear.

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