xxxxix. Escape By Raven’s Way & Hwy 9
Down below, Old One prowled up to Hellbear—and they circled one another—slowly sizing each other up. Neither flinched. Neither backed down even a bit.
Hellbear stood on hind legs, wailing maniacally. Old One leapt at it, clawing at its bones in a flurry. The two engaged in a battle of monsters fit for legend books.
Hellbear tore back—ripping Old One down by bloody swaths back and forth—and they became entangled in their melee—eight clawed limbs rolling through eddies. Old one’s blood gushed out of a dozen gashes, running in rivulets downstream, beneath the hanging bridge—sparking Eva’s deep-seated memories.
She smelled Midnight with her tongue. She could almost taste his salty blood on the air. She knew in an instant where she was—and where she had been all of this time. She remembered her promise to the cat never to stray from the Ruddy Stroll. She had failed him after all.
So she chose to fall. She let go of Seven’s wrist—who then could only watch helplessly as she slipped from his grip, with Marietta wickedly pulling her free.
“EVA!” he screamed—as she tumbled away—and Marietta lost her hold on Eva in turn. Now the red ravens clawed at Marietta, cawing as they clustered around her, keeping her from grabbing on to Eva again in her descent.
For a few moments, covered by ravens, Marietta hit free fall nearly parallel to Eva—before Aly’s hand suddenly shot out—catching Eva’s ankle at the last second. Aly bravely saved Eva from plunging to the bottom of the canyon.
However, it was a twisted salvation and redemption, for Aly was not Aly at all, but Faye, so Eva was saving herself from herself, and she felt torn, wanting to die for her sins, but also to live for Seven. She could not bear to perish or to thrive.
They watched Marietta plunge to the riverbed below—where she smacked hard into the rocky bank—and Draca darted out from the water—coiling in around her—slowly tightening—dragging her down into the Payne. Eva was swallowing herself.
Being immobilized, Marietta could not struggle—but she was still conscious while the great snake unlocked his jaw and started gorging on her flesh bag—his first bloodmeal in ages—leaving him hugely bloated—half-submerged by shore.
Meanwhile, the red ravens, bolting for the top like arrows, turned their talons upon Godwin, to put a stop to his assault upon the last bridge-post before the entire thing came crashing down. Seven’s father swatted and batted them off in his rage.
Then in the middle of Old One’s melee with Hellbear—the black cat started losing strength, outdone by the beast. But thinking of Eva—and how guarding her was all that ever mattered to him—he raged inside to turn the tide of combat. Roaring in an uncanny ferocity—his frame bulked and contorted—turning into a werejaguar—suddenly supercharged with an unnatural verve and vigor for victory—and a powerful new body. He owed it to Evan to save Eva at any cost.
So he slashed back at Hellbear in wild abandon—and took the monster off guard—for his claws were cutting higher up, now that he was bipedal—opening up a window of surprise hits—before Hellbear adjusted to the new angle of cat’s attacks.
The bear eventually countered, however, with a series of crushing blows that left Old One staggering backward. The werejaguar then played possum—laying motionless in the rapids—knowing this was his last slim chance at success.
Then when Hellbear moved in to kill him—he suddenly struck up in a flash, seizing the beast from behind by the spine. Screaming at the dark skies, he held Hellbear up in the air, straining now to snap the brute’s silver spine in two.
But now Faye sent blue lightning crashing down—electrifying Hellbear in a million arcs—as She screamed in a crazed madness from the clouds—furious with the cat for interfering in Her affairs—wishing him dead even if Evan lived on in the cat.
Old One cried in a great agony as electricity coursed through his body, but he did not stop bending Hellbear in two—determined to do it now—or die trying—and then just as Faye’s assault had almost ended him—he heard a crack—and a split.
Hellbear’s spine finally snapped—and the electricity retreated, zapping back up into the sky. The victory was enough to push Faye’s force back, as Old One recovered, dropping the two dead halves of Hellbear in the Payne, standing up tall.
The werecat roared victoriously—but then suffered a secondary wave of exhaustion, having been running on pure will. He so wavered and fell into the stream—taken beyond his own extremes—all in the name of avenging Evan and Eva.
Faye’s green eyes raced madly across the clouds. Minutes later, however, Old One emerged from the river—riding high in a new rush, clutching his trophies: two sharply splintered silver bear femurs. The Payne had restored him to the living.
He stalked over to the bloated Draca at the edge of the Payne—and he wasted no time in promptly skewering the serpent—plunging both bear bones into its swollen belly, simultaneously skewering Marietta’s body inside and killing snake.
Meanwhile, just as Aly hoisted Eva up to where Seven could then grab her hand—Godwin finally smashed out one of the bridge-posts—and the long catwalk folded like an accordion, now hanging on by just one post, teetering on collapse.
Seven and Eva started climbing steadily for the top—racing fate to make it up before the whole bridge came crashing down in one final collapse. But at the last second, Faye’s Aly’s heart turned back to darkness, as she succumbed once more to the evil influence of the twisted Silverskin.
So just as Seven and Eva were about to reach the top, Aly grabbed Eva’s ankle once more—this time intent on bringing her down into a broken pile of bones at the bottom of the River Payne. She smiled wickedly as she squeezed.
Eva screamed—gazing down into the dark Aly’s eyes—which once more turned the phantom girl’s heart. Eva’s subconscious yet struggled with suicide versus salvation. Aly the closed her eyes, letting go now, giving her life for them.
She spiraled down, careening past Old One, who had begun to scale the cliff. She sailed helplessly down far below to hit the rocky riverbed—smacking it hard. She instantly exploded into a mess of flesh, blood and bone, oozing over in river foam.
It mattered not that Aly was but a conjuration of the Silverskin, for she was in turn just as much a figment of Eva’s mind. So as Eva looked on at dark Aly’s descent, it was her belief that the lizard woman could die that did do dark Aly in.
Then just as Seven put his hand on the top rung—and then the other on a good strong root above—Godwin’s mace dislodged the final post—even as the ravens clawed him apart in countless gashes—and the entire bridge fell away.
But Seven was able to hold onto the root and Eva both—and they hung just below the lip of the cliff—unbeknownst to Godwin—who spun about now, swinging at the ravens. But the birds proved a hard target for his mace as they tore him down.
Then Seven and Eva heard something below them—and looking down they saw Old One climbing up. Eva shut her eyes—reeling at the sight of Midnight—her mind denying memory of him—in order that she may preserve her sanity.
Seven watched closely as Old One passed them to mount the precipice—praying the werecat took Godwin down. When Old One reached the top, however, Godwin was immediately upon him. The ravens had spread out now encircling him.
Godwin hurled Réðscipe at the werecat—but Old One dodged it, then tackled the old vampire down hard into the dirt. They bit and slashed at each other in a horrific fray of limbs flying faster than a human eye could track.
Meanwhile, Seven held back long enough for Eva to recover her wits—after which they slowly climbed up—for he felt they would not be safe there for long—and their only escape might be forsaken if they waited. They may yet have to run for it.
But before they reached the lip—Old One and Godwin came careening over the edge—still engaged in their wild brawl—and the ravens flew with them, interfering with Godwin every chance they got—as they all tumbled down toward the Payne.
When they hit the bottom, Old One landed on his feet like any cat can, but Godwin finally met his end, bouncing off a cluster of jagged rocks, cracking his skull open, spilling his brains out into the Payne. The red ravens landed all around.
Godwin had finally been put out of his misery, not much more than a hollow shell of empty rage under Faye’s control. Old One circled the elder vampire’s lifeless body, watching for any sign of breath or heartbeat. His red ravens awaited orders.
He had them scatter to the four winds to look for signs of the Silverskin. She had been beaten back significantly, with her pawns the dark Marietta and dark Aly destroyed—and her evil snake Draca dead and gone. She would be enraged.
But She had no jurisdiction here, this far out of French’s Forest. She could send pawns and perhaps control the weather and observe the, but She could not materialize Herself. She could only watch as her true love Seven got away.
She was quiet now, with no more singing ‘Lucky … Lucky … L-u-u-u-cky …’ But Old One sensed her still there in the shadows, deep in the woods—panting, haunted, waiting. She would wait an eternity for Her true love to return home.
One day Seven would surely slip up and slip back in for a visit to French’s Forest, or maybe he would risk just passing through on a whim—and she would be ready. She would there, prepared to pounce once more on prey.
So Old One knew it was his duty know to return as well, to his post in French’s Forest, forever prowling the wood in search of the mad Silverskin, forever protecting those like Evan and Eva had lost their way off of the ruddy stroll.
He reverted to his pure jaguar form and summoned the red ravens. Together they turned homeward up the River Payne toward French’s Forest, back into the lair of Lady Faye, back where the leaves ever trembled on a crisp moonlit night’s breeze.
Meanwhile, up above, Seven and Eva climbed onto land at last—and they crawled over to the grassy slope beyond. The Silverskin had stopped singing, the clouds had parted and they saw no signs of trouble anywhere around. It was quiet.
So they lay there for a few minutes, catching their breath, holding each other close—as Eva clung to consciousness. She gazed deep into Seven’s eyes—sensing they were finally safe. There would be no surprises this time, no sudden fast scares.
She hugged him close, burying her face in his chest as he stroked her hair. “I know babe. We’re going to be okay, now. Everything’s going to be alright.” He caressed her back trying to reassure her, but she already knew Faye was truly gone.
Despite the strange stillness all around them, however, they soon decided not to test their luck any further, and so they hiked up to the highway beyond. They followed the dotted yellow line out into countryside—under big blue skies.
Putting the woods of French’s Forest behind them, they walked along the gravel shoulder, talking about the most mundane things of which they could think, like what food or drink they would enjoy once back to their blessedly boring lives in Old York.
“It will seem like just a bad nightmare someday,” Eva cooed, pulling Seven close to her as they kept putting more and more distance between them and the forest. All she wanted was to get back to where they were so few days ago.
“Yes—it will seem like a dream. We will be able to laugh about,” he replied, reassuringly squeezing her side. If he never heard Faye’s voice again for the rest of his life, he would be a happy, most grateful man, forever in debt to the Fates.
But deep inside each of them remained a nagging disturbance, and hard to kill feeling, that no matter how far one ran, no matter how high one climbed—the Silverskin was everpresent. She had tendrils cast out into everything around.
Even as the days pressed on, as the weeks piled up and the months turned over—even as the years added to the distance between them and that weekend—somewhere in the backs of their minds they both knew Faye was lying in wait.
At last, a local farmer recognized Seven and pulled over. “Need a lift?” They climbed into the back of his blue pick-up truck. They rode the rest of the way into New London with wind in their hair—cares for now, for once, far gone.
(Author’s Note: If you are enjoying The Silverskin, you can buy the full 400 page Revised & Expanded 10th Anniversary edition paperback here. Forever Yours In French’s Forest, Rian Torr)