Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-Six

Roark couldn’t let his remorse for murdering Draegon get to him; he still had Weslyn to protect. They were running now, running through the castle and finding nothing but frenzied people fighting, hopeless people waiting to die, and dead ends that put them face-to-face with the black nothingness that sent cold chills up their spines.

As they ran, they came across numerous Keidenelle. Blood lust had taken over many of the savages, and they were killing people left and right– anyone and everyone they came into contact with, Keidenelle or no. More than once, Roark had to let go of Weslyn’s hand for just a moment to deal with a crazed man or two, terrified that when he went back for her hand there wouldn’t be a hand to grasp anymore. He still had it in his head to save her, no matter what happened. He could still save Weslyn.

But every exit was blocked, opening only to blackness. Even some corridors ended not in a door, but the vast nothingness he didn’t dare get too close to. He had once, he remembered, ages ago as Cheyne. Something told him now that crossing the blackness would be his end.

Save Weslyn. He turned and ran another way, shoving threatening Keidenelle out of the way with his shoulders. What if there was no way out except the black? It was far too unknown; he couldn’t condemn Weslyn to Mother-knows-what. Could he?

He decided he couldn’t. If there was no other way… he could still spare the girl a gruesome or uncertain death. He could give her that. But only if he had to, if there was no other way.

They came to another black dead end. He turned, pushing Weslyn ahead of him. They passed a junction where their corridor met another, and a handful of Keidenelle spied them and gave chase. Urging Weslyn to go faster, he continued to glance over his shoulder at their pursuers. They weren’t gaining much.

Up a set of stairs, through a wooden door, and Roark found himself and Weslyn at the crenellated top of a guard tower. Black surrounded the castle on all sides, even cutting through the walls in some places. What was left of the world was less than half the area of a farmer’s field. Everything outside the castle was just… gone. In a cruel mockery, the sky overhead was pale blue and clear, but still lighting flashed from nonexistent clouds, striking stone balconies that were still undisturbed by the black. Not too far away, the sounds of a heated sword battle came, but he couldn’t see who was doing the fighting. But the shivers that ran up and down his spine at the clanging sounds told him that Sonsedhor was one of the swords being used. That meant the fellow Jaidyn was down there, as well as the man he suspected to be the Dark Father.

The door tried to burst open, but Roark threw his weight against it. Their pursuers must have caught up. Nothing but the unknown before them, and a bloody death at the hands of Keidenelle behind. He fought against the feelings of despair that began to creep up on him, but they were overpowering. There was a way out of everything, but… there was no way out of this.

The Keidenelle on the other side of the door pushed in earnest, but Roark kept his weight against it as much as he could. That was one advantage he had over the Keidenelle– every one of them he’d seen was half his size or less. They were a lean people. Gradually, his weight and strength closed the door. Bit by bit, the gap narrowed, narrowed… closed.

He slid the bar into its slot, keeping the Keidenelle sealed out. Then they began to bang against it, probably using their own shoulders as battering rams.

“Pray,” he told Weslyn. “Pray it holds.”

Turning to look from the door to the merchant woman, he saw her on her knees, staring at the blackness. Was it his imagination, or had it gotten significantly closer while his back had been turned?

“Mother, I beg your mercy, I beg for safety,” Weslyn’s voice was thin and shaking as she stared at the black. She fell to her knees, trembling violently from shoulders to toes. She wrapped her arms around herself, repeating her prayers. Roark could see the blackness approaching, slowly taking over stone after stone of the battlements. Behind him, he heard the wood of the door creaking, cracking, beginning to give. It would only be a matter of time before the Keidenelle broke it down. But would that happen before or after the nothingness overtook him and Weslyn.

There is nothing else, he told himself dismally, trying to separate his emotions and his conscience from what he was telling himself he must do. There is no other way… I can still save her…

Quietly, he stepped up behind the kneeling Weslyn. He held his breath as he reached his hands out for her thin, pale throat. She wasn’t aware of him as she kept mumbling her prayers, her eyes locked on the approaching unknown.

His big hands wrapped around her neck, and he pressed as firmly but as gently as he could. She gasped, the last breath he would allow her to have. Her hands shot up to his, clawing. She leaned back against his legs, her lovely blue eyes looking up at him, pleading, not understanding, begging. He didn’t loosen his grip. He could feel her throat pulsing beneath him, hear her silent screams, feel her body crying desperately and trying unsuccessfully to get air.

Finally, she went still. He gently laid her on the stone floor of the battlement, not letting himself look at her. No… he was simply unable to look at her. Seeing her unmoving form would break him, he knew.

He rose and squared himself to look at the blackness that was still creeping toward his place by the door. He ignored the constant banging on the door behind him; the Keidenelle no longer mattered. His fate was in the blackness; he would wait for it.

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