Ted spent a few indecisive moments looking from Marko to his dead partner, until a sudden building rattling energetic explosion sounded upstairs. They flinched, eyes darting upward nervously as plaster rained down from the ceiling. Ted panicked and shouted into his walkie talkie requesting backup. His request and questions were met with silence. Marko was reaching for the walkie talkie, when a chorus of muffled screams from the upper level halted him. A multitude of heavy footfalls thundered across the floor above their heads, followed by the patter of running feet.
Janet and Andrea exchanged anxious looks, instinctively moving closer together. Several portals abruptly popped open around them with startling flashes of light. Marko herded them against the wall, bracing himself for combat, as strangers came rushing out of the portals. Ted placed a restraining hand on his arm.
“It’s okay Marko, they’re Doorkeepers,” he explained.
They stood watching the newcomers rush in around them and hastily start regrouping. A larger portal opened and two men came through dragging a injured man between them, whom they lay on his back. The man’s body twitched and tremored ceaselessly. Marko called out to the two men.
“Hey, what’s wrong with your friend?”
“One of those winged demons managed to sink his fangs into Paul’s shoulder,” said the tall one.
“Then that man is infected! Why the hell did you bring him down here?”
“We couldn’t just leave Paul behind.”
“You sure as hell could and should have! You’ve put us all at risk for exposure by bringing him down here.”
“Look man, I don’t know where you came from but, us Doorkeepers stick together!”
“In another minute or so, he won’t even be human anymore! Either take him somewhere else or get a containment field around him.”
The two men defiantly crossed their arms, as the other newly arrived Doorkeeper spell weavers gathered around. Marko looked from one to the other incredulously.
“Did you hear me? Get him out of here or behind a containment field, before it’s too late!”
When the others made no move, Ted spoke up, “do as he says guys. He knows what he’s talking about. Gavin refused to listen and look at what happened to him.”
The group turned and seemed to see the prone body of the pudgy Doorkeeper for the first time. One look at the blood pooling under his head was all it to took for some of them to turn and hastily spell weave a containment field around their now convulsing comrade.
“Did anyone else get bitten or scratched?”
The men avoided looking at him, instead glancing furtively at one another. A ginger haired young man reluctantly raised his hand, looking around self-consciously. Those closest to him warily took a step back, opening a small space around him. Marko crossed his arms resolutely.
“You all know what that means. He’s going to have to get inside the containment bubble with the other one.”
The ginger haired man’s friends started to protest, but he went willingly. A moment later, Paul let out an unearthly scream, as a pair of large bony projections broke through his scalp growing into massive curved horns. Transfixed, the group moved closer. They realized the constant twitching in his body were the sinews and muscle bulking up. The girth of Paul’s arms and legs were slowly expending into trunk-like masses. His skin darkened into a muddy grey tinge. Horrified, the other Doorkeepers shouted his name. They eyes which opened in response to their cries were red and predatory. There was no gleam of recognition in Paul’s gaze. As the last of his humanity slipped away, he uttered a scream which gradually changed in pitch to a deep bellow.
Fully a barrel chested beast, Paul slowly rose up onto his haunches, eyeing them warily and growled. His comrades backed away slowly. Taking their cautious retreat as a sign of weakness, Paul attempted to lunge at them. His attack was blocked by the containment field. Undaunted, Paul leapt again and again, seeking out a weak point in the energetic field. The ginger haired man backed as far away from Paul as the containment field would allow. Ted grew concerned and turned to Marko.
“We can’t leave Carl in there with that thing. He’ll get trampled!”
Marko held up a finger to forestall his argument, directing his attention back to the activity inside the containment field. Carl was doubled over on his knees. The seams of his clothing strained and then split apart, as his wiry frame expanded and lengthened. Tufts of hair were sprouting all over his body. The furry hands covering his face and the widening feet bursting from his tight shoes spread into paws with fingernails and toenails growing into sharp claws. Carl suddenly stretched out on all four claws, surveying his surroundings through bright green feline eyes. Seeing Ted peering down at him, Carl swiped at his face with extended claws and succeeded only in raking up sparks from the containment field.
Suddenly aware of Carl’s presence, Paul turned and charged at him. Carl evaded the attack with ease, sitting back on his haunches and then leaping up onto Paul’s broad back and began mauling it with razor sharp claws. Paul frantically attempted to reach back over his shoulder and pull Carl off. The Doorkeepers crowded around, arguing amongst themselves about what to do, until an unearthly scream startled them into silence. Another one of their number was mutating. They turned and quickly scrambled away from a black haired man. His back arched, as a pair of leathery flesh colored wings sprouted from his back. They could hear bone knitting together as the wings grew and slowly unfurled. The goosebumps on his arms, legs, feet and face germinated pale scales. Marko shouted, to spur them into action.
“Don’t just stand there! The others of their kind will be here soon and we’ll be overrun. Do you really want to expend your energy maintaining containment fields? Yours friends died as soon as they got scratched or bitten. I hope you see that now. You all know what must be done.”
Marko’s words fell on deaf ears. Panic had set in. Rather than banding together, the men scattered eyeing one another. They hesitated long enough for the black haired man to complete his transformation. Belatedly, Ted rushed forward and launched a volley of enchantments which missed their target, as the bat winged creature took to the air. It flew straight up to the arched ceiling, turned and dove down towards the group, twisting and turning to avoid the spells cast it its direction.
In selfish attempts at preservation, while ducking and dodging its outstretched talons, the others launched weak individual attacks on the creature. One or two spells struck the winged creature, succeeding only in making it more angry. As if sensing the weakness in the Doorkeepers’ disorganized defenses, Carl and Paul began charging at the containment field hurling themselves at it. Ted began to pant from the exertion of running, hurling magic and reinforcing the containment field. Between gasps, he shouted to Marko.
“I don’t understand why we can’t bring that thing down. We are some of the Doorkeepers’ best spell weavers. Why is our magic not working? That creature’s relentless attack is breaking our concentration and wearing us down. Panic is causing the others to become unfocused. I can’t maintain the containment field all by myself. If it breaks down, we’ll have two more demons on our asses!”
“Whatever bit that man must have been an elven vampire,” replied Marko.
“An elf brought back from the dead by a vampire. The only thing other than ancient magic that will kill it is steel.”
Marko looked around and caught sight of an antique coat of arms wall plaque with crossed shields mounted on it. He grabbed Ted’s arm and pointed at it.
“Are those swords made of steel?”
“I…I’m not sure…I think so.”
“Well, there’s one way to find out.”
Marko ran over to the plaque and wrestled one of the swords from its mount behind the coat of arms.