Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chapter Forty-Seven

Zanthys was amazed he was still alive. Here he was, an untrained swordsman, wildly swinging his sword with no idea what he was doing, slashing without a care who or what he was aiming at, fighting against two men who were so desperate to have their hands on the false Sonsedhor he had had made that neither of them were willing to let a finger of their hands loose its hilt. Jaidyn and the stranger– whom he’d heard Jaidyn curse at multiple times using the name Akotherian– were fighting each other as much as they were fighting Zanthys. Maybe that was the only reason I’m still alive, he thought.

Neither of the other two men seemed at all aware of what was happening outside their little balcony, but Zanthys was. He heard shouts from somewhere, banging, running, screaming, and other evidence of mass chaos and panic. He thought he smelled blood, but even he had to admit that smell was probably imagined. None of the men near him had even a scratch, and who else could be close enough for him to smell their blood?

But the sounds and imagined smells did nothing to frighten him like what he saw did. Every time he let his eyes flicker toward the railing of the balcony where they fought– which was becoming more and more frequent– he could only see that blackness that made bile rise in his throat. It was growing closer. He knew that there was no way something like that could be moving as fast as he thought, but it seemed that every time he looked at the wall of nothing, it had gotten an arm’s length or more closer. He kept telling himself over and over in his head– between clashes of sword on sword– that it could only be an inch closer, or two maybe. But not the whole length of an arm, no matter how much closer it seemed to be.

Akotherian seemed to have the upper hand at the moment in his private skirmish with Jaidyn, and he flicked their shared sword at Zanthys’s head so Zanthys had to duck to dodge it. He stumbled and fell, rolling a bit as he lost his balance. His sword fell out of his hand. He ended up at the railing at the edge of the balcony, his nose an inch from the approaching blackness. The railings had already been halfway overtaken by the nothingness. He scrambled away from it in a poor imitation of a crabwalk, his hands and eyes searching frantically for his sword.

He found it just out of his reach. Jaidyn saw it too, as he struggled to regain the upper hand– or at least an equilibrium again– with Akotherian. But he still had a moment to glance at Zanthys’s sword, grin, and kick it further from where Zanthys was. He resumed his grappling with Akotherian in earnest, Zanthys forgotten in less time than it took to take a breath.

Zanthys crawled around the edge of the balcony, looking frantically for something to use as a weapon. Anything. All that was around him was masonry from the castle, and all of that was still attached and whole. He locked his eyes on his sword and bit his lip, praying that he would be able to get to it before either of the other men came out victorious and ran him through with his prank sword.

As he steeled himself to dash for his blade, he felt something sting his hand and looked down. A line of blood was forming on the palm of his hand. A few large shards of glass were on the floor of the balcony. Looking up, he saw a broken window– one of the decorative colored-glass ones from the audience chamber they had come from what seemed like ages ago. Not caring if his hand got slashed even worse, he grabbed the largest, most pointed shard he could find and got to his feet. The glass shard was colored red– It had probably once been part of some picture– a lord’s robe maybe, but all he could think of was blood. How appropriate. All this had to end now.

In the time it had taken him to stand, while Zanthys hadn’t been looking, Jaidyn had somehow managed to finally wrest the fake Sonsedhor from Akotherian and was standing over Zanthys’s abandoned sword, glaring derisively at the panting Akotherian. The defeated man’s back was inches from the black wall that had now completely overtaken the balcony rails. Fiery hate filled his eyes.

Staggering forward, Zanthys extended his arm towards Jaidyn, planning to bring everything to an end, prepared to sacrifice his own life, if need be. He was ready to be finished with Jaidyn, with his failed prank, with everything. Death would be welcome. As the sharp shard of glass neared Jaidyn’s torso, the man seemed unaware of it. Leaning forward, Zanthys prepared to make a final lunge to close the last few inches of distance, but Jaidyn wasn’t as oblivious as he’d seemed. The mad-eyed hero-wannabe shifted his weight and twisted; Zanthys’s lunge missed his target, and he stumbled, trying to correct his balance. He twisted in turn, his arm brandishing the glass shard flung out wildly. Blood and sweat covered his hand; the glass slid out of his grip as he overcompensated for his fall and instead followed his arm to the side, falling part-backwards, part-sideways.

The feeling that coursed through him as he hit the ground was one he couldn’t easily identify. Every muscle in his body clenched, twitching rapidly. He felt… blue, a crackling white-blue like lightning. His whole body convulsed, but screaming was impossible; any noise he tried to make got caught and fizzled before it left his throat.

It seemed ages before his eyes found their focus. Events were moving in slow motion. Akotherian’s hand was outstretched towards himself and Jaidyn. The forked pale blue lightning that erupted from his fingers had found its home in Zanthys’s chest and was still wreaking its havoc on his muscles. Forcing his head to twist around, he saw Jaidyn, Sonsedhor still in hand, his other hand at his chest. A dark patch of fabric stood out on his shirt towards his stomach, where the shard of glass had struck, sinking deep into flesh. A look of surprise was on Jaidyn’s face, but that quickly gave way to rage.

Akotherian seemed to be trying to pull his hand upward, to move the lightning that was still wracking Zanthys’s body to strike Jaidyn instead, but the sweat and panic that bloomed on the man’s face belied his ability to do it. He looked tired, worn out, used up, and it was all he could do to keep the deadly bolt in existence, much less move it. There wasn’t a doubt in Zanthys’s head that this was his end. He would die from this, here on the balcony.

Despite the growing patch of blood on his shirt, Jaidyn kept his feet and locked his eyes on Akotherian’s face. Zanthys had no faith left in him for mercy; they were all going to die here. Murder was in Jaidyn’s face, as sure as the glass was buried in his gut. He lurched towards his target, stretched out Sonsedhor, and without a word, buried the tip of the steel blade into Akotherian’s chest.

All at once, the twitching, white-blue crackling feeling left Zanthys; the lightning disappeared from sight; Akotherian cried out, his voice echoing, seemingly against the black wall that was so close Zanthys thought he could smell it; and Jaidyn fell to his knees, his hand still gripping Sonsedhor’s hilt. Struggling visibly to control his trembling arm, Jaidyn turned his wrist, twisting the blade into Akotherian’s chest.

Unable to keep his eyes open, and his mind focused, Zanthys tried to his last prayer up to the Mother before he lost himself completely, but once again, the words wouldn’t come out.

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