NB: I do not own these characters. If I did, I would be sitting on a beach somewhere drinking cocktails with a guy who looks like a model, not sitting in a slummy internet cafe in the middle of Sydney...anywhoo...
The Point of No Return
The knife pierced Maerad's side so quickly and so suddenly that she hardly realised anything had happened before it was withdrawn again. She stared around at the holder of the knife and was not surprised to find it was Enkir, his peaky malevolent face glowing red in the heat of the screaming battle raging all around them.
Her hand found her pierced side and she felt a wetness press against her palm. She should have been more careful, she thought, trancelike. Cadvan had told her so, before they had rushed out of Til Amon's walls to attack the Black Army on the other side.
"There are rumours that Enkir is leading them," he said. "Be careful. Most likely he desires you as much as the Nameless One."
She had told him off for frightening her just before her first real battle and he had smiled, a grim smile, but it had relieved her a little.
She had forgotten his advice…and now…
The pain was starting to build, like an unstoppable wave of pressure approaching from her side to her mind.
"Why?" she asked Enkir, who was standing, watching, waiting for her to drop.
"If the Great One gets the Song, he gets Edil-Amarandh," he said. "I want to fight him fairly. If he gets the Song, I will not be able to do that. And I want control of Edil-Amarandh oh so much…"
"Destroy the Singer, destroy the Song," Maerad whispered.
"Exactly," he answered. "So much for the Chosen. Elednor Edil-Amarandh na, wiped out by a knife blow. All those prospects and silly legends in songs, gone with one stab."
Maerad's legs weakened. She collapsed gently against something hard and sturdy, and remembered vaguely that she had been fighting against the wall of Til Amon before she had been stabbed. At least she was out of the battle here…
She slid slowly down the wall, the pain reaching both legs and making them as weak as strands of straw. Enkir eyed her uncaringly from up above and she stared quietly back up. He seemed so tall from the floor, so imposing, as unbeatable and untouchable as a storm.
"It appears my work here is done," he said and smiled; a smile so cold and so pitiless that Maerad's spine froze in simple terror. He turned and melted into the crowd, and, as he did so, the strange dullness that had covered Maerad's ears since the stabbing vanished and the rushing noise of the battle flooded back to her.
Her head was fogging with pain; she could hear only shouts, men and women screaming, the clash of metal on metal, wood on wood. No one had noticed the stabbing; there was so much going on and Enkir had been so subtle, so quick…
Maerad took in a deep breath and forced herself to look at her side. He had stabbed her just where there was a gap in her chain mail, had pierced her flesh effortlessly. A crimson stain was spreading on the material of her jacket.
She replaced her hand over the wound, clutching tightly, and tried to think. But her mind was fogging over her vision now, and she could only see black shapes on red, moving back and forth, twisting and turning, over and over…
A voice. Someone was calling her name. No, not calling. Shouting. She looked to her left a little and saw Cadvan rushing towards her, his face blackened and smeared with blood. He dropped to his knees before her.
"Enkir." Maerad was shocked to hear how breathy her voice had become; her throat could hardly drag the words out. "He stabbed me. It was so quick - "
Cadvan's face grew pale under the muck. He gently reached around and peeled her hand away from the wound, examining it with his own.
"It's all right," he said. "A bit of - " And then his voice gave out and his face stilled in what Maerad knew was shock. For a split second he stared at her wound with the same still expression, then his eyes flicked up to meet hers.
"Healing," he finished, but he spoke in a monotone.
"It's bad, isn't it," Maerad said. It was not a question.
"No," he protested.
"It is." Maerad glanced down at the wound; the blood was still spreading. And suddenly she understood exactly what Cadvan just had.
"It's poisoned," she said. "He cursed the blade so that the wound can't be Healed. Didn't he?" She glanced up at Cadvan, who didn't reply. "Didn't he?" she pressed.
"No," Cadvan said again. "It's just - it's just - "
"This is it." They stared at each other blankly, terrified. "This is it," continued Maerad. "It can't be Healed. It can't be stopped. This is it, isn't it?"
"No," whispered Cadvan.
"Don't lie to me."
Their eyes met. Cadvan slowly withdrew his hand from her side and took her own hands in a tight grasp. All colour had drained out of his face; he looked suddenly like an old, old man.
"Not like this," he said. "Please, not like this."
Maerad had never heard Cadvan plead before; he had always been so firm, so supportable. He took everything that came, maybe not with a smile, but with a grim sense that that was how it was. And now he was pleading…
A wave of panic overwhelmed her, fear shuddered its way through her. She was suddenly faced with the realisation that this - truly was - it. She was going to die. Just one moment, one split second when she had been off guard. If she had seen Enkir, if she had moved just one bare step away…
But she hadn't and now she was…dying.
"I'm sorry," she said. She felt her eyes prickle with hot tears. "Oh, Cadvan, I'm so sorry - "
Cadvan's eyes shone with tenderness; he gently leaned forward and brushed her hair away from her eyes, tucking it behind her ears.
"You don't need to be sorry," he answered. "There's nothing to be sorry about."
"But the Song - the prophecy - "
"It wasn't your fault. You didn't do this."
"Y - you told me t - to be careful." The tears that had been threatening finally spilled, Maerad bit her lip hard before continuing in an effort to keep her voice level. "And now this had happened and I can't play the Song - and the Nameless will take over the Light - take - over - "
"Shh," Cadvan implored. His hand stayed on her cheek and she could feel his fingers trembling on her skin. The pain would have been unbearable now, had a numbness not been creeping through her limbs. Maerad both welcomed and repelled it; it was relieving the pain and yet it was a reminder, a hint of what was coming.
There was so much she hadn't said, so much she hadn't done. She had planned to be a scholar when all this was over, to go to a School and learn subjects like everyone else, vague, silly, simple plans that those who are trapped by fate have.
And she had failed so many; Cadvan, Hem, Saliman, Silvia, all those whom she had met, all those who lived and loved in the Light. She had failed them, failed them as soon as that dagger had pierced her skin.
She took in another deep breath and tightened her grasp on Cadvan's other hand.
"You - have - to - " She tried to move her position and pain ricocheted through her, making her gasp aloud. Cadvan looked at her quickly and their eyes met; and Maerad was suddenly horribly aware just how much this was hurting him, petrifying him to the bone, yet numbing him in the same way as it was her. This was their last moment and yet it didn't seem real, it didn't seem right, it shouldn't be happening like this - and so suddenly –
They had forgotten the rest of the battle and the rest of the battle had forgotten them. It was just them now, sitting there, staring at each other, lost from the rest of the world. Just them, no one else. Just them.
"You have to keep fighting," Maerad said in one quick breath. "Fighting the Dark - you may be able to win, you may have a chance - "
"I will, you know I will, you know I will."
They swapped a look of silent panic.
"Don't do this," Cadvan said. "Don't do this to me, Maerad - "
Maerad felt her stomach clench.
"Hem," she whispered. "Hem - keep him safe, tell Saliman - "
"Yes - please - don't - "
"And Silvia and Malgorn - and - and everyone, and say I'm sorry, I'm so sorry - "
Cadvan hastily shook his head and kissed her tightly on her forehead to quieten her. For a moment, he stayed there, resting his cheek on hers. His hands were shaking in hers.
"Maerad," he said after a while, in a suddenly calm voice. "If I had to choose - between the Light and you - if I had to choose right now - it would be you."
Maerad blinked, her heart tightening.
"But you - "
"Without a moment's hesitation. Without a second's thought. That is how much you have meant - how much you mean - to me."
They stayed silent for a while, his cheek on hers, her hands in his. The numbness was creeping into Maerad's mind now; she knew it wasn't long.
"I don't want to leave," she whispered into his ear. "It's not fair, I wanted to keep going. I know I wanted to be normal and that I couldn't - but that didn't mean - that I didn't want to keep going. Because I did, I really, really did, Cadvan - "
"I know," he answered. "I know you do."
"It's not fair."
"No. No. It's not."
Maerad felt her cheek grow damp and realised tears were coming from his eyes also. She clung onto his hands as if she never wanted to let go, as if their grip on each other would keep her there just a second longer, or take him with her.
"You're leaving me," Cadvan said.
"I won't," she replied. "I won't leave."
But she was failing with each word she said.
Cadvan moved away and they studied each other, hungrily, knowing they would never see each other again and wanting to drain the most out of every millisecond they had left. Maerad concentrated on every part of his face separately, the whiplash marks curling around his left eye, the grim tightening around his mouth, the unending, burning sadness in his eyes.
"Maerad," Cadvan whispered. "I love - "
Maerad shook her head, just as he had a second ago, then leaned forward, ignoring the pain screaming across her side as she did so, and pressed her lips to his.
They stayed still, suspended outside of time, trapped within a bubble of their own, where Death and War and Misery were stayed for just a moment, where nothing else mattered except the feel of the other's skin on their own. If only, Maerad whispered inside her mind, if only this kiss, this love, could bring her away from the edge, could drag her back, could Heal her. But it was as Cadvan had said once before, long, long ago in that shining city of Rachida: No power, not even love, can overcome the ban against Return. And she had passed that Point of No Return, had stepped a millimetre, a millisecond, over it and now there was no going back. Not even the love that she felt, the absolute, soul-stripping love, not even that could take her back. Not the love of the Light. Not the love of Cadvan.
Her consciousness was fading now, she knew it, she felt it. A darkness, darker than anything she had seen or imagined in all her experiences of the Dark, and yet much softer, much warmer as well, was slowly overcoming her. She clung onto the last remnants of the world around her - the sounds of the battle, strangely muffled once more, the leaping in her stomach, the kiss, the kiss, the kiss…
They slowly broke away and stared at one another, and Maerad suddenly found the power within her to smile.
"I love you too," she said.
Cadvan, though his face burned with pain, smiled also, a sad, wholly devastated smile, but a smile.
"Maerad," he said. Nothing more. Just her name. He could not say goodbye.
The darkness was taking her. She could feel her body trembling, her breath slowly fading away, and, worst of all, her eyes flickering closed. It was not so bad, she thought foggily. She was dying, but she was warm, she was relaxed, she was loved. And he was there, still holding on to her, still saying her name.
"Maerad. No. Maerad…"
He wanted to hear her voice just one last time, he wanted to hear her say his name, he wanted to hear her breathing. But she was quiet, she was limp, and Cadvan knew that she was gone.
He closed his eyes and let the pain and the sorrow and the absolute, full yearning overwhelm him. And then, as he heard running footsteps behind, he leaned forward and rested his forehead on hers, and let the last warmth of her body fill him.
The battle stopped, the night blackened. And all that had been was lost.
Past the point of no return,
No backward glances,
The games we've played till now are at an end.
We've passed the point of no return…
Dismal, yup? Don't worry, chapter 2 is better! Review anywhoo, and I give you cocktail! Cocktails for all! Sorry? What? Bribery? This isn't bribery, it's - hey, where did those handcuffs come from? Noooooooooooooooooo -