The Twelfth Round (abridged)
There was no purchase inside the shaft, no nearby ledges we could get to in order to facilitate our escape. We would have to go a different route.
We looked back the way we’d come. Approaching us was the Lapin in black we had fled from. He stopped in the middle of the hallway, standing still, his gaze far away.
Since he didn’t try to murder us on sight, I attempted to gain his attention. Hal chastised me, “Don’t talk to the crazy person.”
We heard Chaffington and his men coming down the hall. I heard Hal gasp, as if the Lapin before us had suddenly disappeared. I was watching closely, and saw him, for lack of a better description, wrap the shadows around him.
Hal and I made a break for it. We made our way all the way around the shaft, coming out in the large room where we‘d dropped to this level. There were two of Chaffington’s men guarding a rope leading to the higher level. I rushed out at them, raining blows upon two of them. While they were busy shooting at me, Hal engaged another with his taunts, pushing him over the ledge. With a huge effort of will, the Lapin grabbed the edge and pulled himself to safety. Well, at least back into the fight.
If all went well, things wouldn’t be very safe for him.
Hal finally knocked him out and over the edge, and I dispatched my two opponents. We climbed the rope and made our way up a level, hearing our pursuers advancing below, having been drawn to the noise of the fight.
We cut the rope, hoping to slow them at least a little.
Rather than go the way we came, we once again made a circle around the shaft. As we were turning a corner, we came upon a doorway from which I heard a gurgling noise.
“Don’t go in there,” I warned Hal.
We continued down the hall, coming to the intersection. Out of breath, I turned to Hal and said, “The reason we came down here was that it was supposed to be as dangerous for Chaffington as it is for us. Why don’t we go back, piss off…gurgle, run, and put it between us and them?”
We made our way to the door, I held my light out before it and we heard the clink of chains followed by a loud thunk as a six inch spike impaled itself in the wall across the hall. From inside we got a glimpse of shifting metal and Hal heard what he could only later describe as a bastardization of the Waxmade language.
We ran back down the hall. Behind us, one of Chaffington’s men rounded the corner, and was pinned by two spikes to the wall.
He was nailed to the spot, and as dead as a doornail.
We turned the corner, heading toward what we hoped was the back way to the exit. There was a Lapin rifleman between us and the exit, and from the right we heard the blast of Chaffington’s voice, “I want you to find those fuckers and kill them!”
Hal attacked the rifleman, while I rounded the corner and Opened the Gate of Battle on Chaffington.
Tensing all my muscles, and uncoiling like a spring, I delivered all my power in a single, mighty blow to Chaffington. It hit true, and would have felled lesser men.
Chaffington took it like a champ.
Just being near that much power was intimidating. I darted around, striking Chaffington, striking the rifleman, pulling out all the stops, using all the techniques I’d learned. It didn’t seem to be enough.
I was finally reduced to simple blows. I was near the edge of death, I was spent, I was tired. I distilled what energy I had left into the explosive power of my fists, doing my best to wear him down. But I was worn down already.
I kept hitting him, he kept hitting me. Hal was doing his best to keep me on my feet while keeping Chaffington at bay.
Hal, that son of a bitch, looked fresh as a daisy.
Finally, one of my blows sent Chaffington toward Hal, and Hal used that momentum to deliver a finishing blow.
As I stood wavering, nearly dead on my feet, Hal walked up to Chaffington’s body, picked up his axe, and lopped off his head.
Chaffington did once observe we had a flair for the dramatic.
From the shadows approached the Lapin dressed in black. He looked the two of us over and asked, “What do you plan to do now that Chaffington is dead?”
“Sleep,” I replied, not even realizing the words I was saying.
“Well,” he replied, “I would advise you not to return up top. Whistledown will have installed himself in a position of power, and that will not change things very much.”
“I suggest that you come with me.”
Hal walked up to Chaffington’s corpse, picked up his head, walked to the hole in the ceiling that was the entrance to the lower levels, and lobbed it to the deck above.
The man in black walked down the corridor, and we followed.
He led us deep into the lower levels, and we came to a hidden door. Inside was a comfortable room, occupied by several persons. I staggered to a bunk and collapsed, while Hal sat down to have a conversation with our newest acquaintance.