Yea, I wrote more. And I’m going to try to get at least two more chapters done today…we’ll see how that goes. =P
~Chapter Thirty Five~
Only Then Did She Fall
“Those are Pethnor’s rooms. There, above the gate. It may be him who we see pacing,” Aranel said softly. “We must run for the guardroom door. An he sees us and summons his men, we are lost. They will be on us in moments. We will not be any safer in the forest outside the castle than we are here, under his very window. Come. When next the figure passes out of sight, we’ll run. He must not see us.”
The figure moved beyond the casement. I stepped out into the courtyard after Netya, ready to sprint across that great open space. Suddenly behind me came a ring of steel and a gasp. A soft, cruel laugh sent shivers up my spine. I froze instantly, turning slowly around in dread of what I might see.
The same voice that uttered the laugh spoke quietly. “Ah, but my children…he already has seen you.”
My frightened eyes reeled back from what they saw. A man, taller than any I had yet seen here, stood cloaked in vaporous shadow in the dark passage behind us. His tunic bore no insignia, yet I knew the oily black cloth hid a heart so distorted it dimmed the very sunlight behind me. Grimacing and glimmering, his eyes poured out the black flame of sheer power and corruption and brutality. He wore no mask, and his face twisted into a hideous fusion of anger, pride, and victory. I started violently when he turned his gaze to rest upon me, for it seemed I saw Arhael staring back from those features; Arhael as he would have been, had he chosen to remain Saewon and never turned his back on his father’s kingdom of darkness. I saw Arhael, twisted to a demon of hatred, and I knew. Pethnor had come at last. The voice and laugh had been his.
In one hand, he bore a thin, deadly dagger, nearly long enough to be a sword. Clasped in the viselike grip of the other, he held Thalon.
“I regret to interrupt your little gathering here,” he spoke again, sneering. “However…you seem to have something that belongs to me. And I want it back.” His grip on Thalon’s arm tightened.
Thalon stood quietly, not fighting the impossible strength of Pethnor. I could see by the workings of the muscles in his face that he silently berated himself for letting the nearness of escape and the exhaustion of imprisonment and war cloud out his warning senses.
Netya’s hand fell to her sword hilt, preparing to draw. Pethnor merely chuckled mirthlessly and flipped the long dagger between his fingers, twirling it closer to Thalon’s face. “You draw your blade and your friend dies. I don’t suggest it.” Suddenly, pulling Thalon in front of him and wrapping a crushing arm around his chest, Pethnor spoke menacingly in Thalon’s ear. “Too long have I searched for you, boy, to have you thus torn away so easily. Too long has the thought of you, the thought of that woman, tormented me. I see hiding you away in the deepest dungeon I possess is not enough to keep you here. If your imprisonment does not suffice…perhaps that of your friends will. I have only to call out, and a hundred men will be here in a moment, waiting for my commands. You underestimate the strength of Pethnor. You underestimate the power of my sun-devouring horde. There will be no escape for you or your friends from within these walls, save by death only. And that shall be slow, cruel, and tortured.”
Pethnor began advancing on Netya and I, pushing us out into the courtyard with no protecting wall to place at our backs. Still he held Thalon before him, his long dagger flicking from Thalon’s face to ours. He smiled, revealing canine teeth that snapped hungrily at us. I shrank back.
Half hidden in shadow as she had been when Pethnor first discovered us, Aranel had gone so far unnoticed. Now, Pethnor’s advance had placed her behind him as he stood in the mouth of the narrow street. As the huge man pressed forwards toward Netya and I, Aranel stepped silently away from the wall. I caught her movement from the corner of my eye. I kept my face turned to Pethnor, forced my eyes to remain locked in his. I could not give Aranel away.
She advanced slowly, carefully. I saw her from the edges of my vision, placing one foot before the other, silent as a cat. She stood now barely a yard from Pethnor, her hand grasping her sword hilt, ready to draw and lunge in a moment.
Thalon, caught in Pethnor’s vise-like grip, struggled to speak. “I’m sorry…should have…”
Pethnor growled, pressing his dagger to Thalon’s throat. “Speak not, if you value your pathetic life, boy. I will have you. In fact, I’ve changed my mind,” he purred dangerously. “I won’t bother to imprison your friends. They aren’t worth my worst dungeon,” he spat. “I believe I rather would watch them die…now.” Pethnor laughed, and stepped forward, flicking his dagger.
Behind him, Aranel moved. In one fluid motion, she drew her sword, bringing it sweeping towards the giant man’s neck.
But Pethnor was too wary, and too fast. The slight noise of the draw blade warned him of what was behind, and he whirled around, letting go of Thalon and catching and turning Aranel’s blade with his dagger. He laughed loud, the sound cutting like glass. “I am not as oblivious as you think, children,” he spat, all his cruelty turning suddenly to rage.
As I watched, time slowed. I saw Pethnor’s free hand reach for the barbed sword that hung at his waist, but was powerless to move. In scarce a half second that stretched to an age, the sword was drawn. Pethnor twisted his dagger, catching Aranel’s blade on the curved hilt and ripping it from her grasp. It fell ringing to the ground, each bounce echoing in the narrow street. I caught a glimpse of her face, filled with startled surprise and pale as death, but defiant and unafraid.
In the same movement with which he disarmed Aranel, Pethnor struck. His scream of rage overpowered the sound of tearing flesh and death splashing the stones. Aranel choked, gasping pain and blood, but kept her footing. She stood firm, giving way neither for Pethnor’s rage nor the blade that penetrated her breast. Pethnor screamed again, insane in hatred, and pressed forward, putting all his strength behind the blade. I saw the tip spring blossoming scarlet from Aranel’s back, and she stumbled but did not fall, her face a mask of tortured strength.
Pethnor stepped back, wresting his sword from Aranel’s body. The barbed prongs along the blade caught on her flesh, ripping and rending it to a mass of shredded cloth and destroyed life. Only then did she fall.
The sight of Pethnor standing victorious, sword raised, Aranel’s lifeblood running from the blade down over his hand and soaking the cloth of his sleeve, broke the frozen spell of the last few seconds, and I lunged forward, screaming. Thalon caught my arm and pulled me back, but I broke free, falling at Aranel’s side as she fought the wave of pain that would be her last sensation. She coughed, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth, looked up, locking eyes with me. In a moment, Netya was at my side, and I heard the ring of Aranel’s sword, taken up by Thalon. I had forgotten Pethnor, but he had not.
Suddenly, I heard a shout. I looked up, and saw Arhael, framed in the light at the end of the alley. He had a bow at his back and a long sword in his hand, shining in the glow of the afternoon. He stood frozen for a moment, eyes staring in unbelief. As he gazed on Aranel’s fallen body, his face changed from anticipated excitement to an expression of anguished horror and disbelief. Then his gaze shifted to Pethnor, where he stood circling in a face-off with Thalon.
I saw Arhael’s eyes flick from Aranel to the bloody sword in Pethnor’s grasp, and something within him seemed to snap. In a moment, all traces of the jovial and open young man I knew disappeared, and Arhael became Saewon. His features twisted in a horror of hatred, the long scar on his cheek lending to his grotesque and hideous expression. His eyes lost their warmth and became filled with the overpowering drive to kill. He seemed almost to grow taller, to equal in height the frame of Pethnor his father. He called out in anguish, screaming a challenge as he sprang forward to meet the object of his hatred. And it seemed to me that I watched Pethnor engage himself in a fight to the death, so alike were the two figures.