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CHAPTER 34 – Age of Valor

With screams of pain and rage, much of the battle moved inside where it spread into the hallways, offices and classrooms. Stairways between floors became choke points where a few determined fighters could hold off three times their number in the confining spaces.

As the opposing sides surged back and forth, Billy Ray forced four of Mickey’s fighters down a side hallway of the auditorium building where he laid into them with his Claymore sword and bellows of challenge. Soon, he realized everyone else had pursued their own fights beyond all but hearing. When a brief pause in his efforts allowed him to discover his situation, his opponents, coming to the same conclusion that Billy Ray was on his own, grew more determined in their assault. Swinging and jabbing with their pipe-swords, they began backing him up.

Just before the end of the short hallway, a stairway led to the upper floors. Seeing his chance to gain higher ground over his foes, Billy Ray turned and leapt up the first three steps. Turning, then, he beat back and slowed the advancing men.

The ringing of sword blade against pipes filled the stairwell, echoing in the confined space like a church bell-tower. Before he backed up to the landing halfway to the next floor, Billy Ray had reduced his attackers to three by half-decapitating one who came within range of his blade. Then, as he gained solid footing on the landing, another made the same fatal error. He dropped to the steps as soon as Billy Ray withdrew his thrust blade.

Billy Ray had no sooner roared his renewed challenge for the final two to come within range when five more charged up to reinforce them from the hallway below. Suddenly his fight had jumped from one against two – not a bad number, he considered – to one against seven. Even Billy Ray had misgivings about those odds. So, he did the only reasonable thing; he doubled his attack.

His ferocity held the men at bay until one of them lunged with his length of pipe low and tangled up Billy Ray’s feet. He went down hard, landing with a thundering roar capped by a heavy thud as his head struck the wall, and then a clattering of steel as his sword landed on the floor. So overwhelming had been his offense, and then his defense, that even with him lying stunned on his back, those on the steps below him hesitated.

When, at last, they saw he wasn’t going to immediately bounce back to his feet with his deadly blade, they moved up onto the landing. The first one stepped on the blade of the broadsword, slippery with its smear of fresh blood, and it slipped out to skitter halfway across the landing. They stood above the fallen giant, each one looking at his fellows and sharing grins of satisfaction. They had him at their feet, unarmed and at their mercy.

The first one to approach him, the one with his foot smeared with the gore from the fallen blade, lashed out with his pipe. It was four feet of inch and a quarter iron pipe, heavy enough to crush a human skull if properly swung. However, rather than a killing roundhouse, this was no more than a sharp rap to Ray’s forehead just above the right eye. It didn’t knock him out, but his ability to focus was much reduced. It was enough, too, to leave him lying on the floor at the mercy of the men gathered around him as blood streamed down his face.

The man that had hit him took a two-handed grip near the end of his weapon and drew it back over his shoulder for the next swing. Crushing his skull would be much more satisfying than merely shoving the sharpened pipe through his gut. The others moved back to give him swinging room.

Billy Ray shook his head and focused on the man’s grin. It took him a moment to realize the nearness of death. He spotted his sword on the floor almost within his grasp and lunged after it. But another one of the men quickly placed a heavy foot on the blood-smeared blade.

With his head throbbing and the walls and stairs seeming to spin sickeningly about him, Billy Ray bunched his muscles in anticipation of either throwing himself bodily into the group if he could, or, if he wasn’t quick enough, to absorb the blow that was surely coming in the next heartbeat.

But, before that fatal moment arrived, the men crowding the stairway landing suddenly found themselves bedeviled by a human thrashing machine emitting hoarse screams as he leapt down the stairs from the hallway above. Swinging his own scarlet smeared blade with both hands and in deadly earnest, Jared quickly felled two and beat the others back down the stairs far enough for Billy Ray to recover his own sword.

But when he tried to pull himself to his feet, Billy Ray found the walls and stairs still wavered about and the floor he tried to put beneath his feet might as well have been the deck of a storm-tossed ship at sea. He was aware of the lopsided battle going on just feet from him below the landing on which he reeled, but only from the sounds of grunts, shouts, and cries from the men and the hoarse battle cries coming from the mouth of the skinny, sixteen-year old boy.

As one after another fell to the boy’s blade, others came up from the hallway below to replace them. The narrowness of the stairway and the growing number of bodies littering the steps kept the men from swarming up to get behind or above him.

Billy Ray finally dragged himself to his feet and forced himself to fight off the dizziness. Braced with one hand on the wall and the other on the handle of his sword, using the Claymore like a walking cane, he rose up behind Jared, appearing to the men challenging the boy as a mighty titan rising from the grave, and glared down at the lower flight of stairs.

Below him, men and boy churned in constant motion. Lengths of blood splattered pipe hovered, lunged and swirled in the air above their heads, met there with loud clangs with the never stilled, flashing blade constantly replenishing its coating of gore.

On legs still wobbly and with a throbbing head still trying to hold a stable focus of his surroundings, Billy Ray raised his Claymore and, with a Viking’s roar, leaped.

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