The Final Fight, Part 2
Hi All, it's been a long journey and many thanks to you all for coming along with me. It's been fun! I knew more or less where I wanted to go, and despite some detours, i got there. Hooray. That doesn't mean it's over, just that things will now be a little different. I will be reorganizing this site, and editing the Floating City to send off to agents and hopefully be published. What is here is merely the rough draft (but a complete one). I'll let you know if it ever comes out somewhere (or I self-publish it on amazon), and there will certainly be a fair few differences. For now, stay tuned. Thank you. - Silas
As they neared the floor, the light cut out for a final time and the fell the remaining distance to the ground. Roshan landed heavily, Eithne beside him. Rika and Isa both rolled out of the fall and sprang to their feet. Winded, Roshan took a few moments to pull himself up and look around.
Despite the enormous shaft of light that had heralded their arrival, the attention of the people on the floor seemed to have stayed focus on the group of Resistance members bearing down on the central crystal. Though they were far away, Roshan could see the white shock of the Don’s hair, and he recognized the silhouettes of Syd, Simon, and Trentor. He reached down and helped Eithne to her feet.
“Stay behind us, yes?” He stared at her until she nodded. He squeezed her hand.
“We need to move,” Isa shouted.
“We’re ready,” Roshan said. Isa and Rika both turned and dashed towards the center of the room, and Eithne and he took off after them.
Bodies littered the floor. Most wore the black cloaks of the Choisant, but not all, and Roshan forbore from looking to closely. He didn’t want to risk recognizing any of the fallen figures.
They were within fifty feet of the Don and his people when the last of the guards fell. Someone, it looked like Simon, skewered the man in a leaping lunge. The Choisant’s lance fell from nerveless fingers, and clattered to the smooth stones. Blood splattered the pristine white of the floor.
As the Don stepped forward, Roshan yelled “STOP!” The echoes reverberated throughout the chamber. The group around the Don paused, allowing Roshan and his friends to close the gap. When they were about five paces away, Isa and Rika halted. Roshan stopped right behind them, a trifle winded from their sprint. The Don stepped towards them.
“Roshan, Rika, Isa, and is that Eithne? I’m so glad to see you looking well,” His voice kept its usual urbanity. He didn’t even sound surprised.
“Shocked to see us alive, Alistair?” Roshan asked, his tone bitter.
“I was there when the ceiling caved in,” the Don shrugged. “I had hopes, but there was so little time if I was to make use of your gift.” He raised his own Foinse-rod. Unlike the rod clutched in Isa’s hand, this one was matte black. It looked like nothing so much as a long, dark hole held in the Don’s hand. The light around him seemed dimmer, as if the rod were drinking it.
“Is that why you left us to die?” Isa asked.
“I did not leave you to die, dear girl. Rather, think of it as me having confidence in your survival skills.”
Beside and behind the Don, Syd frowned.
“You told us they were dead,” Simon said.
“Said the mountain came down their heads, you did,” added Trentor. “Said that it was by Alos’s own luck that you survived, and that they had perished.” The two of them flanked Syd, and if Roshan had been next to them, he would have hugged them. This was what they needed, to convince the other fighters to ignore the Don and call of this madness.
The Don frowned. Before he could respond, Roshan pressed the attack.
“Do you what he is doing here, do you know what he has planned?” He demanded of the other Resistance members. He recognized some of them, there were Hana and Bira, and tall, dark-skinned Dakian he knew only as Bolden. He noticed Harshun and glared him down. Harshun stared back, unblinking.
“I am here to end the reign of the Prime and his minions, of course,” the Don said, smiling. “That has always been my goal.”
“I meant here, in this chamber,” Roshan said. He wished he hadn’t given him such an easy line of questioning, but to change the subject would look weak.
“This is the heart of Ater-Volante.” The Don made a grand gesture, indicating the room. “Control the heart, and you control the city.”
“Except you mean to bring the city down around our ears,” Isa sounded calmer than Roshan. That was good. Calmness and reasonableness would be persuasive. In response, the Don arched an eyebrow.
“Whatever gave you that idea?”
“You did.” Syd said. She spoke in a conversational tone, but her words cut through the air like a knife. The Don whipped his head around to stare at her in surprise.
“How long have I known you, Alistair? Your actions this past week have been utterly out of character.” She waited a beat, then continued, “I won’t let you destroy this city. Kill the Prime, smash his government, yes, but I will not permit innocent blood to be shed.”
“Innocent blood has already been shed,” the Don snarled. “My family among them. The Prime must go.”
“I agree. But you cannot use the negator on the central crystal. I will not allow it.” She moved to stand between him and the crystal, Simon and Trentor still beside her.
“Hold on, now, Syd,” Hana said. “What proof do you have of this.”
“Yes, what proof?” The Don was still enraged.
Syd’s calm was icy. “You’ve thrown years of planning away on this mission. You’ve thrown allies away today in the Committee and the people we left behind, or did you think I didn’t know you called the Watch on them.
“It was necessary.”
“It was risky, with no clear reward. Tell me, what’s our escape plan, what is our end game? When Striech crushes the Resistance members on the surface, and he will, however bravely they fight, what’s to stop him from rolling us up?”
The Don lifted the negator again. “This.”
“That is a wondrous device,” Simon said, “But it won’t stop an arrow. We few here cannot hold off an army. Why have we come here, if not for something beyond your stated intentions.”
The Don took a deep breath and let it all out. His voice returned to its polished urbanity.
“Suppositions and feelings, that’s all you know.”
Syd nodded. “Yes. But, if you truly do not intend the crystal harm, then we have no problem here.”
“Hand over the Foinse-rod, Alistair,” Roshan said. “There is still time for other plans.”
The Don looked from Syd to Roshan and back again. “I do not abide traitors,” he said, his tone conversational.
“I have yet to betray your ideals,” Syd said. “Let me guide you back to them.”
“You are the one who has strayed.” He nodded at Harshun, who moved with several others to the flank of Syd’s trio. A second group moved to the opposite flank, leaving Hana and Bira and the Don in the middle.
Syd looked back and forth between the two groups. “Will you force friend to fight friend, Alistair?”
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” Roshan put in. “There’s still time.”
“No,” the Don said. He repeated the word. “No. If you are not with me, then you are my enemy. Take them.” The scene dissolved into chaos.
The two groups darted inwards towards Syd, Simon, and Trentor. The clash of blades sounded. Roshan looked on in shock, but Isa and Rika surged forward, their weapons lowered. He clenched his teeth, and followed on their heels.
Simon was a whirlwind. His long blade was everywhere at once. He parried every stroke, but the other fighters were skilled as well. They pressed inward, and there was no space to counterattack. Trentor, on the other side, struggled.
He was not the blades-man Simon was. A thrown knife took one fighter in the knee, he blocked a blade, and headbutted another. The man fell, and Trentor staggered back. Harshun leapt into the opening, his knife flashing. He sliced Trentor in the side, and he fell to one knee.
“No!” Isa cried. She leveled her staff, and a burst of energy sizzled forth, only to dissipate as it passed the Don. She cursed.
“The Negator,” Roshan said. “Fòrsic tech won’t work.”
Without breaking stride, Isa whirled her staff out until she had it clutched above her in one hand. She crow-hopped and flung it like a Javelin. It slammed into Harshun before he could deliver the killing stroke, and he flew backward from the impact.
The Don stepped forward toward the central Crystal, and Syd stepped out to meet him. A hand-axe slid forward into her palm. The Don stopped, and spread his hands, he was unarmed, except for the black expanse of the Foinse-rod.
“Stop this, Alistair.”
“I will not.”
“Then you leave me no choice,” she raised the axe.
“I will not be denied.” The Don stepped forward again. “Not by you, not by anyone.” He raised the Negator. A black nimbus surrounded it, and the air around them darkened further.
Roshan yelled a warning. “Don’t let it touch you!”
The Don struck. Syd dodged nimbly to the side, and swung her axe. The Don whipped the rod around and parried. There came a crackling detonation, and Syd was sent flying backwards. The head of her axe went spinning off into the melee. The Don moved forward once again.
Roshan felt as if his limbs were moving through molasses. Everything was happening so fast. Rika made three lunging steps, and the crystals in her boots pulsed. She shot forward, delivering a vicious kick to a fighter about the stab Trentor on the ground. Isa was right behind her, she helped the Trentor up, and they turned towards Simon.
Simon’s fight hadn’t changed. The fighters circled him like a wolf back, attacking from every angle. His blade whipped around to meet each of their attacks in turn, but they came too fast and too furious for him to strike back. A knife from Trentor took a woman in the back, and she fell. Simon darted out through the opening that made, and suddenly the remaining three men were in front of him. He whirled his blade.
“One at a time now, lads.” His clothes were rent, and blood dripped from both arms, but he stood tall.
“Simon!” Syd’s voice. The Don was forcing her backwards, the Negator held at the ready. He couldn’t hit her with it, but neither could she get close to him without a weapon. If she circled him, there would be no one between the Don and the crystal.
Simon’s head whipped around. One of the fighters lunged forward, and he barely stepped out of the way, the blade ripping at his cloak.
“Simon,” Syd called again. Her back was to the crystal now.
“Stop me, will you?” The Don said, his voice ugly with hate and scorn. “There’s no one alive who can stop me. I. Will. Have. My. Revenge.” He plunged the Negator at the crystal. Syd raised her arms in a defensive cross.
“Watch out!” Roshan called, helpless to intervene. But then Simon was there, his blade parried the Negator. The metal smoked, then cracked, shattering into thousands of pieces. The Don lunged forward again, and the rod pierced Simon’s chest and struck the central crystal.
A rumbling concussion threw everyone to the side. The lights flickered back on, the glow suffused with lines of darkness. They drained towards the crystal, the Negator, the Don, Syd, and Simon the center of a vast whirlpool of light.
“Simon!” Syd yelled for a third time. Roshan saw her take his hand as he toppled over, the rod burning a path through his body. And then the lights went out again.
The world went mad. Everywhere he heard the sound of falling stones and crumbling rocks. The earth shook. It was difficult to maintain his footing.
“What happens now?” Isa asked, shouting to be heard over the noise.
Roshan shook his head, still in shock.
“Fall to our deaths, I expect,” Trentor said, grimly. “What else is there to do?”
“We have to get the Negator,” Roshan said finally. “I don’t know what changes the Don made to my runes, but maybe we can reverse it.” The fight around them was forgotten, and he, Isa, and Rika charged forward again.
The Don was screaming. Black smoke roiled and poured forth from where he had scarred the crystal. He kept trying to jerk his arm back, but everything was stuck fast. The only light came now from Isa’s arms, and they glowed brighter and brighter as she hurdled towards him.
She hit him in a flying tackle. The Don screamed again, a piercing cry of anguish. Roshan saw fingers still clutching the Negator, pressing it against the central crystal. His hand had been left behind! Roshan wondered how he was supposed to adjust the runes on the rod if he couldn’t touch it. Then, he had an idea.
He fished into his pocket until his fingers touched a rough-hewn crystal. It was the sleep crystal, the unbroken one from so many months ago. With his pen knife, he modified the central rune, adding a few lines and scratching out another until it became a different glyph entirely. One of reversal. Without pausing to consider whether it was a good idea, he activated the crystal and slammed it against the end of the Negator. The crystals touched with a deep thrumming noise. The air began to shake and tremble with violent abandon. The black lines swirling in towards the crystal sped up, visible even in the flashing darkness. His wild instinct hadn’t worked, and Roshan let go of his crystal despondently. The crystal didn’t fall.
He blinked in surprise. It began to glow with a malevolent light, and everywhere the shaking ceased.
“Something’s coming!” Isa shouted. “I can feel it. Get out of the way!”
Roshan dove to one side as a blinding flash lit the room. An intense beam of light shot forth from the Negator and slammed into the far wall. He heard an earth-shattering roar, and felt a bloom of heat that scalded his face and crisped all the hair on his head. His cloak combusted, and he rolled desperately to put it out. That distracted him, and when he looked up he gasped in astonishment.
The beam had carved out a circular tunnel in the wall, wider than Roshan was tall. The rocks glowed with a molten red light.
“What in Alos’s name was that?” Rika’s voice sounded muffled. Roshan realized his ears were ringing.
“I don’t know,” Roshan started to say, but a shattering sound drew all their attentions. Black lines no long suffused the glow of the central crystal. Instead, there were cracks. As Roshan watched in shock, pieces started to flake off. There were more and more and larger and large pieces until, at least, the crystal shattered. The lights went out again.
“Oh no!” Eithne breathed. “No, no, no, no, no…”
Roshan heard Isa curse. Light flared from her arms, illuminating everyone’s shocked, white faces. The remaining Resistance members seemed to have vanished out into the darkness. There was no sign of Harshun, Hana, or Bira.
“We have to get out of here,” Rika said. She and Trentor stood by Syd and Simon. Simon lay on the ground, unmoving, his chest a lump of charred flesh.
“And go where?” Eithne asked. “The city’s going to crash into the desert.”
“Some place where we’re not going to crushed by falling rock.” A chunk of the ceiling crashed down out in the darkness, emphasizing her point.
“I don’t want to be trapped underground again,” Roshan said, “Not ever.” He looked around. Other than the lift shaft, there didn’t appear to be any entrances or exits. There was one large hole in the wall, however. He could see light at the end of the tunnel.
“Will follow the path of the beam,” he said, pointing. “At least there is daylight at the end.”
The floor had started to list. They had to scramble to stay upright on the smooth stone, but they managed it. Roshan helped Rika and Syd drag Simon. With Trentor wounded as well, no one was strong enough to carry him over the shoulder. Roshan was sure this wasn’t helping Simon’s wound, but the Negator rod did appear to have cauterized it. If they could get him some where safe, he might survive. If the fall didn’t kill them all, of course. The pitch in the floor was becoming more pronounced.
They stumbled into the tunnel. The stones retained some of the heat from the blast, and Roshan instantly began to sweat. There was nothing to do but keep dragging. Isa and Eithne supported Trentor now, his legs unable to support his full weight. They continued onwards. The tunnel seemed endless, although they could see daylight growing at its opposite end.
Roshan thought they might have been walking on the walls now. The pitch of the floor had become very steep, and the city swayed from side to side, shaking like a drunkard.
After a seeming eternity, they reached the edge of the tunnel the beam had carved. Roshan gazed out over empty space and his heart sank. Outside, there was nothing. He could see blue skies and wisps of cloud, and an empty desert landscape, canted at a crazy angle. He didn’t know what he expected, but it was clear they could go no further.
They set Simon down.
“Not a bad place to die,” Trentor said, puffing. “What a view.” They all stared in silence, looking out at the expanse. Roshan took Eithne’s hand and held it fast. She squeezed it in return, but said nothing. There was nothing to say.
The creak of leather on leather made Roshan look up. His jaw dropped open.
“Don’t you all look glum,” Aki said. She, and Maz, and several others were hovering in mid-air above them. Crystals in their chests glowed and they wore the strange suits Aki had mentioned. The group was battleworn, more than one of had bandages or bloodstained skin showing, and all of them had deep circles under their eyes. A group of people had never looked so beautiful.
“Aki!” Roshan called. “You’re alive! What are you doing here?”
“Saving you, apparently. I knew you had to be the cause of that beam of light. She looked at the group. “Where’s the Don?”
“Who cares,” Roshan said, suddenly glum again. “We failed.”
Beside him, Syd nodded. “We failed, but it is not yet over.” She looked up at Aki. “Can you carry us to safety?”
Aki looked around at her group. “Yes, I think so.”
“Then let us go. Staying here is dangerous.”
“Too right it is,” Isa muttered.
Roshan stared out at the landscape again as Aki and her friends descended towards them. He tried to think of all the people on Ater-Volante, terrified as the city began to fall. They had failed to stop the Don. But Syd was right, too. This was far from over. Even if the Prime and the Don both died, Alis Dak and the Resistance would still survive. With Ater-Volante gone, there would be chaos, and the failing of Fòrsic crystals loomed large over everything. There was still work to do. He took Aki’s hand, and stepped out into space.