CHAPTER EIGHT: TO FIGHT
A/N: As stated in the summary, I've picked up this fic after a long absence 'specially for Anna. I greatly appreciate all reviews, but I feel I've improved as a writer since I completed the previous seven chapters; concrit of them is certainly accepted, but it may not do much good. All feedback for this chapter is very welcome. :)
The story so far: Sparx has been summoned to another dimension, where familiar faces have changed. The powerful Lightning Knights of this world, Tim/TNT, Louisa and Avraam, are now after her as she runs to the Dark Elves with the rebels Chaos, Kellamy and Vincenza. Kellamy, an exile from the elves due to events in his past, has been taken into their custody, while Chaos pleads with them for sanctuary. The pursuing Knights have come to a recent downfall over a forest. The three-centuries-ancient ghost Vincenza still claims Sparx to be Destiny's Chosen One—but can she be trusted?
"Short," Tim muttered moodily, kicking at a stray treebranch and missing it. "No, I'll go with short cubed."
"How well do you know this area, Tim?" Louisa demanded. She struggled against the tree wrapped around her again, trying to use her powers to char it into firewood, but to no avail. She had repeated the fact of her identity as a Lightning Knight, to convince the Light Elves to allow them to continue in their mission, but the representatives of the fabled race of benevolent forest caretakers had not listened.
"They…um." Tim paused. It had been a long time since he had had reason to repeat his parents' warnings about just what happened if you wandered off from the mining areas, and what a woman called Isylen had once told him. "Really don't like people entering into their territory with weapons, and they're a bit upset about the mining."
Bit upset was an understatement, he thought; but they were pacifists, and they didn't really have a choice but to let the humans use the forest they didn't need anyway, did they?
"There was a treaty," Louisa said. "A transfer of title and an agreement against antagonism. Why can't they see we're Knights?"
Because you fired at them? Tim thought, but didn't say it aloud. He would have done the same if Avraam hadn't fallen on top of him and prevented him from fighting. "It's…their land," he said. "But you're right. They'll have to let us go sooner or later, unless they want the whole of Knight Command coming after them."
"We lost them," Louisa said gloomily. "It'll be hard to find them if they were accepted into the Darkholt."
"It's an if," Tim pointed out. "Kella's a weird one, we know that."
"I note the optimism." Avraam twisted his body around to look at them; Tim noticed with a sinking feeling that he was still bleeding from a deep cut in his shoulder.
Eight days. Over a week, and Chaos had left her alone locked in here yet again for yet another long session with the elves which she never told her anything about afterwards.
Sparx kicked at the walls, spitefully glad at the dark scuff-mark she left across the pale polished stone. Why wasn't she allowed some action, especially if Chaos' fight was so desperate?
The door opened; she looked up, expecting to see Chaos so she could give her a piece (several particularly choice pieces, in fact) of her mind, and saw instead the woman who'd been called Shrew, accompanied by Vincenza.
"What the oblivion do you want now?" she demanded of the ghost. "First you nag us about being Destiny's servant, and then you went off to discuss—subjunctive propositions or whatever it was!"
Vincenza sniggered rather nastily. "Chaos has been successful. She recommended we make an offer to you."
"What kind of offer?" Sparx asked.
"One combining my sorcerous expertise with your…nature." The ghost let a hand drift towards her face, and withdrew it as though in contempt.
"As your 'chosen one'?"
"No, as the particularly inarticulate mortal come to trouble us," the Lady (and it was painful to use that word to refer to her) retorted.
Sparx held up her hands. "Hey, I could do with a trip out of here."
"Excellent." Vincenza smiled, but the expression only reminded Sparx that the woman happened to be a corpse.
"What do I have to do?" She had been led through various narrow and dark passages, as though the two of them were ashamed of taking her with them. Possibly they were, if Chaos hadn't been cleared—but if they were actually bothering to help her, what did that mean?
"Eilian here happens to be rather fortunate in her ancestry," Vincenza said. "Not that it does her any good, you understand, there being a balance of power spread across almost all thirty-nine of the Clans."
A better name for the Shrew than Lady.
"It does me good enough," Eilian said. "But to rely on the ancestors only ever causes one failure."
"An attitude sparing mortal incompetence," Vincenza said. "Back in my day…"
"Okay, okay," Sparx said, cutting off what appeared to be rapidly developing into a long and fierce denunciation of the hierachial practices of Vincenza's time. "You want to do something to me that's got something to do with her ancestor. Got any specifics handy?"
Eilian tapped out a pattern on a seemingly blank area of rock next to them, and it slid open to reveal a hidden room walled with bookshelves and odd-looking apparatus. "Just a little something to help you learn the language, that's all," she said, and took a handkerchief between a pair of tongs, holding it out to Sparx. "It won't take long. Breathe into this."
Vincenza wouldn't want her chosen one harmed, and she did need this done to her; Sparx gingerly accepted the proffered cloth, and held it against her face until black spots started to dance in front of her eyes and she disappeared into darkness.
Her mouth felt as though someone had packed it deeper 'n Ghost Canyon with cotton balls, and she was strapped to a table staring up at a dark ceiling.
Not the best awakening she'd ever had. She struggled, trying to break through the bonds; but it was useless, and she flopped back onto the table, resting.
Someone had to be around here; she opened her mouth to call, but no sound seemed to be coming out.
Was she still underground with the elves? She could imagine the layers of rock above her, the long distance to the surface. Or worse yet somehow with the Lightning Knights of this world—but the restraints were of a softer material than metal, and now she could see a little better the twisted patterns across the ceiling weren't Knightly either.
"I demand that you release me!" she suddenly yelled, and closed her mouth in surprise. She didn't sound anything like herself, and her mouth felt really weird. Kinda cold, like she'd just finished eating one of those ices she'd never really grown out of.
"Awake?" Vincenza floated into view. "And how do you feel?"
"Perfectly adequate, thank you. Would you care to explain—" She stopped herself. "What the oblivion did you do to me, you bitch?"
That sounded a little more like herself. Still not quite the way she'd thought it, though. She frowned, trying to pick out what was wrong.
"Eilian, come here." Vincenza beckoned impatiently. "You see? Successful, as I promised."
Eilian's dark eyes looked down on her, almost contemptuously. "What has she absorbed?" she asked the ghost. "Anything close to the original's abilities?"
Vincenza shook her head. "Tongue, not brain or heart or memory. There was power in the object, though."
"Power that…" Eilian shook back her short hair. "I have enough power of my own," she said throatily. "I require no more of our past."
"Cease this!" Sparx broke in. "No! I mean, let me go, because I'm so gonna kill you!"
"Like this?" Eilian unexpectedly bent over her, tracing her arm just above the restraint. "Why don't you tell us how? All tied up like you are?"
Eilian, she decided, definitely reminded her of Lady Illusion. In all possible negative ways.
She still hadn't even learned what they had done to her.
"Get away from me!"
"There's no need to pester the girl." Vincenza, though, floated uncomfortably close to her. "My dear," she said to her, "it's time for your explanation—summarised, of course, for the sake of your comprehension. There was once a queen of the elves they called Silvertongue, the last to rule, post mortem they preserved that part of her in the very same metal, Eilian is distantly related—and now that artifact is a part of you."
"You…mutilated me." There was still the faint taste of blood in her mouth, now she thought of it, and she had realised now that the language she spoke hadn't exactly felt like Standard as she formed her lips around the syllables and her mouth moved. "How much of me is her? Does this make me evil? Is it going to backfire on me in a really bad way?"
Thankfully, those last sentences at least seemed more her.
"Little, entirely up to you, and no. I think," Vincenza added unkindly, tapping a long finger against and through her spectral cheek.
Sparx thrust up against the restraints again.
"You're merely human, aren't you?" Eilian said. Blue light danced from her fingers to the leather straps. "I hardly needed precautions."
"Actually, I'm not."
It was as though a volcanic flame built within her; her sword materialised between her hands, and she sat up, finally freed. She grinned, noting the not-quite-so-cocksure look on Eilian's face with some glee.
"Jacob," the elf said.
So they did know him in this world, Sparx thought. He'd been one of Zoar's apprentices, the creator of various legendary sorcerous artefacts and about seven mage-blades; most of them were lost, or safely locked away due to their tendency to destroy most of those who attempted to use them.
"Yes. Sword of Jacob," Sparx said. "This one's bonded to me, when a bunch of nasties tried to steal ancient artefacts from the Knight museum and I stopped them." She was slightly conscious of the boastful edge to her voice, but if Eilian was going to keep the high-and-mighty attitude she was damn well going to prove herself. The sword flared in response to her mood, a pink glow tinting its edges.
"Brave of you, I'm sure." Eilian's smirk had returned, Sparx noticed in irritation. "Of course, for the Knights and their meagre opposition, that would be hardly a difficult task."
"Oh, she's somewhat more than you think," Vincenza said, sounding vaguely bored. "Perhaps the best choice for this purpose, in the long run."
She was carrying more energy than accustomed, Sparx noticed; her sword felt ready to blast out at any moment, dangerously uncontrolled.
They'd done this to her, as well.
"Can't you reverse it?" she burst out.
"And waste our efforts?" Eilian smirked. "Not a chance, mortal's get."
It had apparently been Chaos' turn to pace during her absence, and she said something unintelligible when she saw Sparx walking back through the door in Vincenza's company.
"I beg your—I mean, what?" she asked.
Chaos looked puzzled for a few seconds, and then replied in a manner she recognized. "You imbecile!" she said. "You were stupid to go off with those two; I had my reasons to refuse them!"
She too was speaking more clumsily than usual; Sparx briefly wondered if something had been done to her as well, before recalling that she was speaking a language Random had known nothing about. A language she knew now—instead of her native tongue.
This so sucked.
"They said you recommended me!"
"I told them that I wasn't as much a fool as you strike me as! Turns out I was right." She turned to the ghost, scowling. "Tell me what you did."
Sparx stuck out her tongue.
"…Oh," Chaos said limply. "I suppose that was one way of teaching her."
Vincenza smiled. "Now for your news, Chaos dear?" she suggested.
Chaos sighed. "Fine. I see you already know." She turned to Sparx. "I've succeeded. You and I will be free to move about here, with some protection from the Knights."
"What about Kellamy?" Sparx asked.
"That's where I'm going." Chaos took Sparx' arm with her metal hand. "Du Lac, feel perfectly free not to follow us."
She and Chaos walked as Vincenza obnoxiously floated, deeper in the earth along long winding passages; Chaos talked to what appeared to be a pair of elven guards for a while before they were permitted to pass, and then they opened a cell door to see Kellamy, in a tapestried room with a warm fire burning.
Not exactly a miserable cell, Sparx thought. He even had a bottle of some red substance in front of him, paired with a delicate glass filled with the same.
"Good to see you," Kellamy said, standing up from the table at which he had been sitting. He picked up the bottle. "Moriturus te saluto. May I offer you a glass of anything?"
"No." Chaos took it out of his hand, and then smashed it against the wall. "Pull yourself together."
Kellamy merely looked mildly nonplussed at her actions. "There is no need to be harsh," he said. "I simply wish to snatch whatever slight pleasures I can."
"You're drunk," Chaos said. "Idiot."
He insouciantly lounged back in his chair "What else am I to do, for now?"
"Prepare for the upcoming trial by combat," Chaos said. She thumped her metal hand on the table. "I'm not giving up. Don't you dare do the same."
Kellamy sighed. "I'll fight, of course; I look forward to it. Please assure me it's soon."
"What if you lose?" Sparx asked into the silence. She turned to Chaos. "You got us accepted; can't you do the same for him?"
Chaos shook her head. "I can't go against their law."
"Law can be changed," Sparx said. "It is frequently mutable; surely one of your influence could—"
She stopped her treacherous voice with not inconsiderable effort. "You'd better fight and win, Kellamy," she said, "and don't pretend otherwise."
Louisa watched as the elven woman kissed him.
"I'm glad to see you again," Tim said in her language, smiling at her after she'd finished. "I don't suppose you've come to a decision about us?"
She shook her head gravely, her long fair hair pooling around her shoulders, answering him in the same language. "The Knights do not seem to have realised you're here yet, though they have sent observers to the Darkholt."
She pointed to the skies, where the Knights had been depressively watching the odd observation vehicle travelling across it.
Tim sighed, his shoulders drooping miserably. "I did save you once, Isylen," he said.
"Patience, boy," she told him, patting his shoulder. "And farewell, for now."
She melted away from him like snowfall, leaving them alone once again; Avraam stared at his teammate, but was apparently too polite to make any remarks.
"What was that about?" Louisa asked for him.
Tim shrugged. "There's not really much to tell. My dad was a miner, so I grew up around here, and one day decided to, uh, go exploring on my own."
"To disobey rules, you mean," Louisa said indulgently.
"So I met her," Tim said, "and she said she could help me back to the human camp. But when we were nearly there, there was a logchipper gone rogue—and that's when I found out about my powers, and got to rescue her." He shrugged. "You learn a few things about elves, around the mines. Too bad it's not helping that much now."
"Patience, Tim." Louisa repeated Isylen's words. "Trust me. They will not keep us here for an eternity."
Avraam sighed, leaning back and closing his eyes; he still looked in poor condition, worsened by their days spent covered only by the canopy of trees, and Tim wrapped a hand around his teammate's forearm for whatever comfort that would offer.
It was a pretty good training session.
She smiled as she battled him, skilfully and what was more important, silently; she'd managed to push him to a point beyond talking, both of them panting as they continued to duel.
He wasn't bad; a bit stiff from his recent experiences, perhaps, but with a distinct technique and style to her, plus some moves she hadn't seen before.
She leaped towards him, using one of her faster blade-sequences; he seemed to unexpectedly fall back before her, until he teleported out of the way and she had to quickly dodge as he attacked from behind.
So he wanted to use powers? Fair enough. She focused on her sword, and it started to glow; sparks struck off his blade as she forced him back, step by step. She could almost have broken him in two, powered up like this. She felt stronger than usual; an actually-welcome side effect, perhaps. But he was still fast and quite skilled, and avoided her nicely enough.
An excellent training session.
"You win," he said eventually as she moved, feeling more sure of herself than at any moment since she'd come here, fighting in that way that always felt as though she was connected to all the dimensions in the multiverse, perfectly confident in her powers and abilities.
He stepped aside, unexpectedly; in her lunge, she almost ran into a wall before turning back to him.
"Powers," he said. "You're stronger than me, with or without; let's do without, if you don't object."
"Fine by me," she replied. She grinned as they started again, keeping herself quiet; this was good.
They were confined in the space, observed by Chaos with an elven guard posted on the door; a fairly small room with an uncomfortably low ceiling, but useful enough for their practice. Lucky for Kellamy that his imprisonment was on very generous terms.
She fought on; it had been such ages since she'd had action like this, not having to run any more but standing and fighting.
He would've picked up popular approval in one of the Knight competitions, his style flamboyant and showy; she might have seen it as treacherous, hiding where his next move came from, but the underlying patterns beneath his moves were anything but. If he wasn't so much about the show…
She hit him three times in quick succession, small taps on his shoulders; smugly, she forced him against the wall and battled him there. He lasted; dazzling, really, was another word for how he fought, pretty patterns; but in the end she won out, and disarmed him.
He smiled at her, somewhat wearily. "You're very good. Thank you."
"For what?" She gestured to the sword on the ground, not wishing to say any more.
"I—don't know how much good your efforts will do," he said softly, leaning back against the stone wall.
"Hey, don't back out like that. It's been ages since I got to fight like this!" Do not cease; I find this marvellously entertaining, she didn't want to be so pompous as to actually say.
"You seem to favour your right side," he said thoughtfully as they resumed, dodging a lunge and returning it with his own, more subtle, strike.
"So what's with the extra wrist movements in that—" she paused—"Greymalkin's Jab?"
The elven phrase had come in response to her mental picture, a move named after some lord she'd never even heard of.
"You consider this more efficient?" A modified Greymalkin's without the extra shimmer; she defended her left side, blocking him as it was her turn to pace backwards. "Yeah. Better—but not good enough." She lunged forward, on the attack once more.
"Your finta in tempo is a trifle sloppy."
"You are more reluctant to go for the kill than I—I know how to finish things, Zoardamnit!"
"You're more passionate in attack than defence."
"I'm still stronger than you. Ha!"
"Does this qualify as a passionate finish?"
"Not really, I'm not down yet. Come and get it!"
"A feint in quinte? Quite shabby."
"Shabby this, elf-boy!"
She had him, against the wall, facing each other in corps-a-corps as they glared at each other, neither budging a Kyrilian centimetre.
"That's enough," Chaos said finally, clapping her hands to get their attention. "You don't need to drain yourselves."
Sparx stepped back from him, making her weapon dematerialise. "That was—" exhilarating, illuminating, pleasurable— "fun!"
Kellamy placed his sword in the wall-holder, and drew a hand across his forehead. "Very warm," he said, slipping off his shirt; Sparx rather wished she could do the same. Turtlenecks had their disadvantages.
"Oh yes. Sweat rather suits you."
They both turned to see Vincenza watching them, inaudibly clapping in the air; Sparx scowled, crossing her arms across her chest. "What the oblivion do you want now?"
"Who said I was addressing you?" Vincenza answered, and turned to Kellamy.
Sparx wasn't sure whether to feel insulted or relieved. "Do you have something else to say, or are you going to waste your time in gawking?"
"I appreciate talented—swordsmanship; is that not enough?" She laid a transparent hand on Kellamy's arm; he laughed good-naturedly.
"The voyeuristic advantages of ectoplasm?" he said.
"I find great art has as much impact on me, without the benefit of hormones—but perhaps you would agree that some beings count as both?"
"Yourself, milady?" he asked gallantly. "You've mentioned admirers in your own time, I believe. Now, as to your recent deeds with—"
Sparx gave a loud yawn. "Talk about mutual appreciation society," she said loudly, talking to Chaos.
Vincenza looked up at Sparx. "Now you mention it, I went through enough men in my time—I'm sure you could be worth admiring in an appropriate setting. Several baths, ridiculously expensive dress, paper bag over your head…"
Kellamy shot Sparx an apologetic look. "Thanks for the fight," he said. "One thing I wanted to tell you—"
"It's time to end this." The guard, returning; they hadn't noticed him, facing Vincenza.
"Your words are different. You haven't changed," he said to her as he was led away. "Chaos, I'll try not to fail you."
Vincenza watched him leave.
"Will he win, oh voice of Destiny?" Chaos asked.
The ghost shrugged. "Stop worrying. I know what you're doing."
She didn't look as convinced as she might have been, Sparx thought. The pervert dead girl and the elf who seemed pretty worried himself—
—wait, elf and dead…ghost. Dead ghost who'd died three hundred and something years ago. Dead ghost who fancied herself a sorceress—
Louisa had been chatting to them for hours, leaving him and Avraam still tied up at the back of the cave, and Tim felt quite exceptionally annoyed that she had ordered his silence, when after all he was the one with (a certain meagre; you damn well learned the local lingoes if you were going to live around here) experience.
Then again, she was meant to do the talking, he reflected. It was inaction that got to him, not wanting to speak in particular; give him a chance and he'd fight, winning back what the rebels had done to him and his friends.
After they'd scrounged through the wreckage of Avraam's flyer for the remnants of the med-kit, of course; he looked like he could do with at least a powerup.
And then there were the final formalities, from what he could hear; a sulky-looking Louisa was escorted back to them, and then they left them in the dark.
"What's gonna happen, Lou?" he asked.
"They're sending us back to the Knights. Away from our mission." She frowned. "I'll find a way to rescue us. I promise."
Sending us back. Didn't sound so bad on the face of it. Then again, he'd heard rumours, in the mines.
Vincenza shrugged. "A rather decent codename, m'dear—my world-equivalent, I presume? Who was I, then, without the ridiculous bonds of society keeping me shackled?"
"He's a skeleton coming close to taking over the world," Sparx said coldly. "Which is nothing to be proud of."
The ghost hugged herself jubilantly, her arms passing through her dress. She looked oddly girlish and young. "I knew it! I knew I was destined for greatness!"
She's Lord Fear! What is she trying to do? What does she want?
But the rest of them were different, sort of. Kellamy, for one. But…
Vincenza paused in the air. "I've helped you here, of course," she said. "I want you to win this!"
Don't trust her.
"Then what will we do after Kellamy wins?" Chaos asked.
Vincenza smiled. "I'll tell you," she said, and disappeared again through the door.
"Don't trust her," Chaos said, turning to Sparx; and she thanked Zoar that Chaos agreed with her on this one.
A faint sound, but enough to wake him; he looked up, blinking in the dark, and saw Isylen, accompanied by another elf.
"Be quiet," she whispered to him. "I've heard the news. My brother decided to make you an alternative offer."
"I'm listening," said Louisa.
"Isylen does not always agree with my methods," the other elf said, his silvery eyes seeming to gleam faintly in the dark. "But needs must forge allies—and I believe we have a lot to learn from some human methods. Considering the alternative…"
"Explain, Jenlen," Isylen said icily.
He looked momentarily embarrassed. "All right. We'll use your powers to teleport you to the foes you seek. Fight the Dark Elves for us and we'll be able to take some of their territory." He turned to Louisa. "You're the leader?"
"In return, you'll sign a contract for the Knights for us to retain lands not yet taken by your mining."
"All that, for a little signature," Louisa said thoughtfully. "That's really all you want?"
He clenched his fists. "The land is important to us, human. But you're right we'll want more eventually. When we convince more to start thinking like us and do more than sit here meditating about peace."
"Then I'll willing," Louisa said. "Provided you free my hands."
She freed Tim and Avraam as the siblings conferred, Jenlen whispering to others through a transparent disc he formed in his hands.
"Wanna-be violent elf revolutionaries," Tim said quietly to her. "Didn't know there was such a thing."
"You could go with the other elves," Louisa said. "Get your powers stripped from you and forced back to Londres headquarters—with no guarantee your mind goes with you."
Tim shuddered. Looks like some of the stories were true. "Nope, I prefer violence."
"Good." Louisa reached to her utility belt; though they'd been searched, the battery pack she kept in there had been left. "Avraam, fix yourself up."
"We'll make sure you have as much energy as possible," Isylen said, returning to them. She knelt beside Tim, leaning closely towards him. "I might not see you again."
"Yeah. If that's so, I'll miss you," he said as her face moved towards his. "Same with this girl back home, Brenda…"
She drew back from him, looking vaguely disgusted.
"She left you a semicycle ago," Louisa pointed out maliciously. "First loves often remain with us, Tim…"
"…I meant Betsy. Sorry, I'm hopeless with names," he added. It was truthful; he hadn't meant to name the wrong girl, but as a well-known Knight there wasn't much shortage of women in his life. They just didn't stay in his life for very long.
She laughed, and stood in a rustle of robes. "We'd better go now, then," she said. "The spell will build up, and then activate. Wait for it."
A glowing network of golden lines surrounded them, then blinked into invisibility as the elves disappeared.
Aschylon of clan Silke was his opponent's name, Sparx could understand now, and there Kellamy was, approaching the Arena, slightly pale but looking confident enough.
He would probably need that; Aschylon was tall and muscular, and resembled a well-polished piece of granite in the smoothness and strength of his movements.
Sparx saw a tall elven woman step towards Kellamy from the rest of them, and say something softly to him. Chaos watched, impassively, and to the back Vincenza floated some distance above the spectators.
The woman faded back into her group; Sparx looked back at Kellamy to see him falter, slightly, paler now as he walked to the centre of the Arena.
I would have won, he had boastfully claimed. It didn't look like that now.
He and Aschylon stood facing each other, in the centre of a circle marked with a red outline; they paused like that for a long moment, and then Kellamy was the first to draw his sword. Aschylon followed suit, and an instant later Sparx blinked as bright light crossed the room. When she opened them, she saw that a translucent dome had centred around the fighters, formed atop the red outline; they'd be trapped there, she guessed, until it was over.
Talk about pressure!
But the voice-of-Destiny had said that Kellamy'd win, and maybe she ought to know, even if her orders were about as trustworthy as the Daily Thunder's gossip page. Sparx made herself settle down, watching the fight; Kellamy wasn't as bad as he was looking right now, though Aschylon was definitely good.
Definitely good, she thought again, watching him drive Kellamy back in a series of quick, sharp thrusts that belied his size in their speed. But surely Kellamy was bluffing…
She looked again across the room to the woman who had spoken to him, but couldn't quite pick her out from the others there. Turning her attention back to the duel, Kellamy was continuing to be beaten; and then the first cut, pale blue-green appearing across his collarbone.
He stepped back, glancing down at the blood; it seemed to give him resolve, and he fought back, lunging at Aschylon and forcing him into a more even battle.
For a while. He was taller and stronger, and Kellamy seemed to be wearying; another cut opened across his arm, and he even stepped back, granting Kellamy a moment as he recovered.
Bad match, Sparx thought. Like—like putting Ace or Random up against the whole lot of minions, when though they'd be brave and fight, in the end it just wasn't going to work.
Another cut, across his cheek, accompanied by laughter from the elves. She risked a glance at the ghost; Vincenza had one arm folded around her waist, tapping her fingers on her other arm.
Worried, too. Sparx clenched her fists, feeling suddenly very helpless.
Bad to begin with. Either it's kill or be killed in this—and it looks like it's not gonna be the nicer one of those.
She could save her friends, normally. But she wasn't even sure if she could have beaten this guy.
She'd just have to hope. As though in response to that, Kellamy lunged forward, wildly; not a good strike, not neat or elegant the way she'd seen him fight before, but effective; he opened a cut on Aschylon's shoulder, near his neck.
Aschylon looked surprised, as though (and probably) he'd never expected anything of the kind; he returned to the attack, and blood temporarily blinded Kellamy as Aschylon's strike scraped across his nose.
It was slow, and brutal; Sparx placed her hand to her mouth, biting down on her forefinger. He hadn't rallied, exhausted by now from the wounds continuing to be inflicted on him; he moved wildly, showing no trace of the showy grace that characterised him in a fight.
He was…doomed. Chaos looked as concerned as Vincenza, and as though scenting the blood, the watching elves moved closer, waiting for the climax.
And then she saw him look up, his attention taken from the fight at that crucial moment; she vaguely perceived a bright flash of blue, but watched in horror as he failed to block Aschylon as he stabbed him in the side, falling to the bloodied ground as gently as though he was flying.
Aschylon glanced up, and then raised his sword to strike the final blow; she had placed her hands on the dome as though she could force her way through with her bare hands, and then materialised her sword, whispering open in the language she did not know.
The dome shattered around her, a sharp maze of broken glasslike shapes, and she rushed to fight, noticing dimly that it reformed as Aschylon prepared to meet her.
"This should not be your fight, human!" he said to her, the first time she'd heard him speak. "Battle what's outside!"
She couldn't see much out there, something rushing; but Chaos could fight there while she dealt with this.
"Of course it's my fight! He's my friend!"
Fellow fugitive whose previous save of she wasn't going to nullify, if she wanted to be grim about it—but she'd come to know him and the others, somewhat, and damned if she was going to let him bleed to death here.
"Loyalty at the cost of honour, Knight?"
He was as good as he'd seemed; but she was fresh, and held her own against him.
"I'm not gonna let him die!"
"Then die with him; quite frankly, I don't care."
He was on her, fighting like one of Zoar's Devils; she stood her ground, though, and powered up her sword.
I have to do this.
She knew how to finish things. Zoardamnit.
She saw Aschylon's panicked eyes as her sword went up and under his ribs, and withdrew it bloody as he fell to the ground. As dead as any minion she'd fought.
Sparx turned to see that the barrier had disappeared, most elves gone but a few remaining with Chaos to fight against the Knights.
And closer to her, Tim, pulling Kellamy up by the hair as he held his sword to his throat.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl.
"Leave him alone," she said coldly.
Tim smiled. "Surrender first."
She looked to Chaos, battling Louis and Avraam with the help of some of the elves.
"Maybe he'll bleed to death anyway," Tim said, pulling his head up by his braid; Kellamy seemed only vaguely aware of what was going on. "You shouldn't care about the Zoar-cursed freaks."
"I advised you to release him!" she cried (damn voice!), and then Vincenza swept through the Knight; in that instant of distraction, she pushed him back, beyond the red border.
She fought alongside Chaos, against the Knights and above the bodies of fallen elves; she'd kill them.
"Better this way!" Her alternate lunged toward her, smiling in a way she remembered feeling like herself, and she let herself fight.
This was, after all, why she liked being the person she was.
"Destroying you will be most—pleasurable!"
Still, it seemed to confuse him long enough for her to get the upper hand for the time being.
"So what's with the language upgrade?" he asked. "We're supposed to be fighters not nerds, I only know it from growing up near here! You're destroying our rep!"
"…And that's all you'll destroy," he concluded grimly, forcing her back.
She needed an advantage, like five minutes ago.
They fought, testing each other's strength and skill; she tried moves she'd seen Kellamy use, and he beat her back with things she didn't do, as though he'd figured out what her dimension had trained her to become.
The red border, below her feet. If she timed it just right she…
She retreated beyond it, daring him to come to her; and as he stepped across she dived down, rolling across the floor as the dome materialised for an instant around him, and flung him into Louisa as Chaos snapped one of Avraam's sais in two with her metal hand.
And then it was just her and Chaos, back-to-back against the three Knights; she saw Kellamy slowly get to his feet, stumbling; Louisa blasted him, and he fell next to other elves.
Maybe she'd failed, after all.
Chaos reached out and grabbed Louisa, stealing energy from her body; Louisa reeled back as she threw her down.
"Like old times, Virus?" she said, activating close-quarter blasts as she fought.
Chaos shook her head. "I'd never go back."
"The same here!" Louisa almost screamed.
Sparx was beating Tim, now, with Chaos holding her own against the other two. Louisa smiled a deaths-head grin, and materialised a glowing blue shield around herself and her teammates.
"Until later, Chaos."
They disappeared in the lightning field; Sparx stepped back, and wiped a hand over her forehead. Chaos quickly stepped aside, and she went with her; they both bent over Kellamy as he lay there, staring into the face of an elven woman who looked as though she might have been sleeping.
"I suppose I should tell you the truth now," he said, looking up at Sparx. He slowly reached up a hand to touch hers. "You…shouldn't have saved me, perhaps. When I duelled with her brother before, I cheated to try to kill him—"
His voice trailed off, the hand slack in hers. He didn't seem to be breathing any more.
She smashed her fist into the ground. All she could do.
"Sparx! Repeat after me—to call on dark Zaita, suspension in the abyss."
The voice was authoritative; as though it compelled her, Sparx said the words, and then thought.
"Damn ghost, short it—why didn't you warn all this would happen!" What had she done now, to obey her?
"All I can do is apologise." She actually looked shaken, but that wasn't good enough for someone who called themselves the voice of bloody Destiny. "I helped you with Timothy, and then gave you the sorcerous incantation to speak to save him, to prove myself; you should know by now that it's not him who matters in this!"
He was surrounded by a faint green, apparently frozen in time like some legendary figure. Sparx raised a hand to her mouth.
"I think people always matter," she said, looking at the death around her. She drew her knees to her chest, staring into the distance as though she could see the sky beyond the dark caves. "It's why I became a Knight."