[Cecily]Six: "A Bevy of Beholders"

June 23, 2189

       I don't know what I had expected out of the trip to Avalon, but a day at the beach certainly wasn't it. I wiggled my toes in the sand, the quiet surf rolling up and soaking my pant legs. The water had that shocking chill of early spring. I stood there until I could almost not feel my feet before scrambling up onto a nearby outcropping of rock.
       I had awoken early that morning, despite having been up deep into the night talking with the others. It had been an interesting study into the minds of my traveling companions. Stark has this deep sense of practicality about her. She's taken all that has happened with an amazing aplomb for someone who, just a week ago, would have only read about these sorts of events in a fantasy novel. Though since we left Grayson behind, she seems a bit distracted.
       Shen is both mysterious and mystified. He, out of all, seems the most a stranger in a strange land. And yet, he has managed to hold on to this air of serenity, even in the most chaotic of moments. I envy him that, I think. I've never really felt disjointed in my life, but I know I've never been as grounded in myself as Shen does.
       And Griffin, who had barely spoken at all, much more interested, apparently, in hearing what we had to say. He was very adept at turning the conversation away from himself and back to each of us. I get the feeling that there is a lot more to our merry bard than he may ever let on. I wonder if there's something else he's searching for, other than his father?
       I was more garrulous than usual, though I think the ale we got from the man who rented us the house had something to do with that. Somehow we got on the subject of sibling relations, and Stark and I traded stories of brotherly torment. I remember trying to explain my relationship with Harry to Shen, who seemed somewhat baffled at the concept of showing affection through verbal torment. I tried using the little spat from the day before, back at Benedict's keep, to illustrate that Harry's words and tone might sound snotty to anyone else, but to me, it tells me he's worried about me.
       Put "Demon hunting is never wrong" on my gravestone, indeed. The boy has no imagination, sometimes.
       I think I got my point across, but by that point it was almost three in the morning, and I had lost track of how many mugs I had consumed. I decided at that point discretion was the better part of me not embarassing myself, and bidding my compatriots good night, had stumbled off to bed.
       Out past the rocks, I could see a blonde head bobbing among the waves before vanishing beneath the surface like some mer-creature. Stark thinks I'm mad for chasing demons. I think she's off her rocker for skinney-dipping in water that's barely above freezing. To each her own, I guess.
       My love for my work has never been something I could easily explain. I've tried, more times than I can count, to alleviate those incredulous stares I get when I tell people what I do, but it only tends to make them look at me in an even more aghast manner. I think Harry, understands, because he has a very similar, if considerably less dangerous obsession.
       But I'm not sure obsession is the right term. It's a need, sort of a deep-seated necessity. That sounds stupid, but it fits. Maybe it's a need for the adrenaline rush, or a need to feel like I'm doing something for the good of all people. Or, if I want to by cynical about it, maybe I just need to feel like a hero. But let's not go there.
       I stayed out on the rocks until I noticed my little peninsula was quickly becoming an island as the tide came in. I made my way back to the beach before I ended up having to swim, though I still ended up soaked up past my knees.
       As I made my way back up to the house, I realized that I suddenly understood a little more why Harry reacts to my work the way he does. Watching me do this, after watching our father do it for years before, it can't be easy on him.
       Still, I guess when people ask me why the hell I do something so insane, I can claim it's in my blood...

June 24, 2189

       The hill fort was in the latter stages of decay. Had we been in Blythe, I'd have guessed it to be about two or three thousand years old. But most of the solid stone walls still stood, and it would give us a clear view of the surrounding fields.
       We were pretty sure it was someone from Benedict on our tail. They had probably noticed Syrana had conveniently gone missing right about the time Benedict sent Fletcher and Harry packing. I wasn't too keen on getting into a fire-fight with these folk, and definitely did not want a repeat of the bar scene. If it was Syrana's sister after us, well, Griffin had charmed her once, let's hope he could do it again.
       There was plenty of room for us and the horses inside the walls. A quick survey of the place revealed an old well, still in good shape. I gave Stark one of my extra pistols, and an extra clip before hauling out the rifle and settling myself atop one of the crumbled walls.
       Sure enough, six riders broke out of the trees about a quarter of a mile away, and using the rifle's scope as an eyeglass, I was able to make out Gerda in the lead.
       It was about then I heard a soft, low chuckle, the kind that makes your blood run cold. Slowly, I turned to look behind us. It was like a scene out of my worst nightmare - five Beholders stood arrayed against the afternoon sun, and five malevolent, red oculi watched us hungrily.
       Gerda and her riders forgotten, I fired at the one in the lead, though it easily dodged, and then charged. I dropped the rifle as I dove from the wall, and pulled the sword from the makeshift scabbard on my horse's saddle just in time to deflect a handful of claws. "Don't look in the eye!" I managed to yell before I was slammed into a rock.
       Fletcher grabbed the teddy bear from his pack and began invoking the binding spell on the leader, who vanished with a satisfying *pop*.
       I spent the next few moments keeping him in one piece while he finished the spell. The broad-sword was light and well-balanced despite its size, and even better, the Beholders seemed at least wary of it. I discovered why a moment later. I sliced open the arm of one who was a little to close to Fletcher, and the wound seemed to catch fire.
       Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I took full advantage of the situation and presed the attack. Time seemed to stretch, and I felt I had been doing this for hours, not the minutes I knew logically had passed. It was as if everything around me was moving in slow-motion. I saw Fletcher fire with the easy grace of one long accustomed to a gun in his hand. I could feel the thrum of the sword as it cut through the air...
       And then time snapped back into place as I ducked under the massive arm and drove forward in a desperate move to try and cut a leg out from under it. I felt the sword bite, and saw a spurt of flame, when its other arm swung in and slammed into my stomach, knocking me back.
       I felt the muscles give a moment before the pain hit. I stumbled, driving the sword into the ground to catch myself as the world sort of skewed sideways. I somehow managed to regain my balance, but I couldn't quite stand up straight. Something was very, very wrong. My hand went to my side, which was slick with blood and ... I felt suddenly nauseous.
       Fletcher, who had been running interference, did something I couldn't see, and suddenly the Beholder stumbled back and turned on him, slamming one massive, taloned hand into the side of his head. Fletcher went down, but rolled out of the way. Holding my insides in as best I could, I clambered up one of the rubble piles, so when the Beholder turned back, we were eye to eye. Two normal eyes widened in shock as I slammed the sword thruogh its oculus, and deep into its skull. I fell back to avoid the erupting flame as the Beholder toppled to the ground with a loud thump. "Score one for the good guys," I muttered as I hacked the head off. I would have laughed at the expression of surprise on the Beholder's face, but it hurt too damned much.
       I took that spare moment between attackers to see how bad off we really were, and I wasn't disappointed. Gerda and her remaining men, who had charged into the fray right after the attack, were barely holding their own against another Beholder. Griffin lay motionless, and Shen, bleeding profusely, was tearing at yet another as Stark unloaded round after round into it. There was no sign of Harry.
       It went downhill from there. Fletcher and I got the rest of the group behind us. The remaining Beholders advanced on us, backing us quite neatly into a corner. I tossed a grenade behind them, hoping to take out one near the back, but it wasn't enough, and then the lead one charged.
       I knew from its first swing that I was in deep trouble. Those sharp talons raked across my back as I dodged. My jacket took the worst, but I felt a sharp sting and knew it'd gotten some flesh. I managed to deflect the next blow, but by this time I was down on one knee, and couldn't get back up.
       I looked up at the Beholder, hoping that if I could get it to try and feed, I might have just enough time to run it through with the sword. Then something slammed into it from behind, and it just toppled over. The other two followed suit, and I could see windged figures rapidly descending toward us. I really hoped they were good guys, as my other leg gave out completely and I hit the ground with a thud.
       I think I passed out for a minute, because I suddenly found myself wishing I was still unconscious. And then Stark was there, prying my hand away from my side. The look on her face was not reassuring.
       Neither was the forboding visage of the large, winged man who stepped up behind her...