In Which The Villain Wins?

Hey there! New update for this week ends on an appropriately ominous note. At 1477 words it brings the story total to 53844. Even as I was writing this update I was noting all the changes I wanted to make when I edit. This whole endgame needs tweaking, I think. Still, not bad. And it’s actually been written, which is the important part. Can’t edit it if you don’t write it in the first place!

 

“Clementine!” Dorean bellowed, pausing his litany of First Words to summon her aid.

“A little busy!” she shouted back from where she was facing off against Lonesome. The two Spirit Talkers had untangled from one another at the bottom of the stairs and entered a stalemate of sorts. Neither was close enough to the sword that they could get to it before the other, and wrestling over a sharp weapon seemed like a decidedly bad idea to everyone involved. That left summoning Spirits for help, which was also something neither of them wanted to happen. Clementine had tried it just after extricating herself from Lonesome, and he’d tackled her again. She’d gotten out of it, if he kept doing that she’d never be able to have a decent conversation with a Spirit. That meant to supernatural assistance, and that in turn left the two of them facing each other down.

“Don’t make this any harder than it has to be, Clem,” he tried reasoning with her again. “Just give yourself up.”

“Ain’t gonna happen, Coop. Why don’t you put away the shiny armor and just throw in with us? You know how this is gonna go. You may as well be on the winning side.”

“I do know how this is gonna go,” he admitted. “But it’s not like you think. You might win this fight, but then what? You get the power of gods? That’s a quick paddle toward a rushin’ waterfall, Clem.”

“Lonesome!” Katherine called from across the room. She and Carter had both gone in separate directions to get away from one of the rock monsters, and she’d been the unlucky one. “Quit your jawing and do something!”

“Better see to it, Coop,” Clementine told him mockingly. “Your girlfriend needs help.”

“I don’t want to hurt you, Clem.”

“You tried to throw me down the stairs!” she exclaimed in exasperation.

“And you were gonna stab me,” he retorted, “so let’s call it even.”

“Lonesome!” Katherine shouted, “Jawing!”

He kept his eyes locked on Clem, doing his best to ignore Katherine, as much as it tore at him. “Just going by what I’ve seen, Clem. You’ve already got blood on your hands. Dorean has shown he’s willing to kill to get what he wants. Say the two of you get the power you’re after. You think everyone is just going to do what you say? You’re going to need to show you mean business. There’ll be a sea of blood before it all settles out, and you’ll both be bathed in it. There won’t be time to decide who deserves it and who doesn’t, not chance to save someone like Clayton. And once Dorean’s had a taste of it what makes you think he’s gonna stop? What makes you think you will? Working with an Arbiter I’ve seen men who got to enjoy it. To need it. One of them was a Spirit Talker. Is that what you want, Clementine? To be a cure that’s worse than the disease?”

Her expression rapidly transitioned from insulted to angry to horrified as what he’d said sunk in. “I can keep him in check,” she said. “I can keep it from getting out of hand.”

“Take a quick look around,” Lonesome told her. “I think it’s already gotten there.”

She did look, silently taking in the rampaging rock monsters and the posse as it scrambled to stay clear of them, trying in vain to get close enough to Dorean to put him down. After a second she set her jaw. “Sorry Coop, it’s too late for – hey!”

Roots, rough and fibrous, had sprouted from the ground and begun to wrap around her feet. She looked back at Lonesome to see his hand grasping one of his many trinkets, lips moving quickly but silently as he whispered to the spirit who lived within.

With a timbre of desperation in her words she tried to convince it to stop, but it wasn’t in the mood to listen. It knew Lonesome, had lived in the piece of wood he now held for years, and was more inclined to listen to him than Clem. And so, despite her objections, it continued accelerating the growth of the ancient, gnarled roots from below. They wrapped up her legs, trapping her in place, and began working their way up her middle. She called out for another Spirit to help, but they were either too busy working the rock monsters for Dorean or not in the mood to interfere.

“Coop!” she abandoned the Spirits to appeal directly to him. “Don’t do this! You can’t kill me, Coop, it’s not right!”

Though the words brought a worried frown to Lonesome’s face, he didn’t stop speaking. The roots continued their growth until they wrapped around her neck and face, firmly lodging in her mouth so she couldn’t speak. Eyes wide with panic she waited for them to constrict, to crush the life from her in one agonizing moment. But it never came. They stopped growing once her mouth was covered, leaving her free to breathe through her nose.

“Now you just stay right there,” Lonesome told her before turning and heading right for her cavalry saber. After scooping it up from the ground he pivoted smartly and headed for Dorean, speaking aloud to the Spirits that animated the rock monsters in the hopes they’d listen to him and go do something else.

Meanwhile, Clayton had passed through the door behind the throne. Beyond was a corridor that went both left and right. He stopped, unsure of which way to go but nervously not wanting to stay put in case one of Dorean’s rock monsters came after him. He wasn’t entirely certain how it would fit through the door, but it wasn’t something he wanted to find out.

High set windows afforded enough light to see by, and Clayton scrutinized first one way and then another. Footprints in the dust and dirt on the floor provided a clue. The hallway to the right looked more heavily traveled, so that was the direction he set out in.

The corridor opened into many empty, long disused rooms. Many showed signs of at least some activity, as if someone had gone in and poked around, but Clayton spared them little more than a curious glance. He followed the corridor through twists and turns, until at last he arrived at a room that looked as if it had been designed as a temple. The stone door was as carefully balanced as the one that led into the Great Hall and equally covered in carved reliefs. Inside, more elegant columns reached for a ceiling that was domed and decoratively carved itself. And in the middle of the room was a waist high stone platform. On the floor beside it was the lockbox, and atop it’s flat stone surface were the bones that had once occupied the box. Laid out in careful order, they formed the frame of something almost human.

He stared in awe for a moment, then remembered why he was there. There was nothing at hand he could use to crush the bones easily, but maybe that didn’t need to happen just yet. If he scooped them all into the box and brought it back to the fight in the Great Hall, perhaps the simply threat of destruction would be enough. As his hand neared the bones, a strange feeling of unease descended. The hair on his outstretched arm rose, prickly and uncomfortable. When his fingers brushed a femur it was almost as if an electrical current shot up his hand. He jerked back, eyes wide, and a voice began to whisper in his ear.

As one, the rock golems stopped moving. Mid action, the animated earth simply froze into immutable rock once again. And then, as gravity once again embraced them, they began to fall apart.

“Ha!” Katherine shouted into the sound of falling rock. “Good job, Lonesome!” She started towards him, revolver pointed squarely at Dorean, who was slack jawed and wide eyed with surprise. But then she realized Lonesome wore a similar look, and stopped. “Talk to me, Cooper,” she ordered him.

“They’re gone,” he told her, eyes darting around the Great Hall as if searching for something. “The Spirits just… up and left. All of ‘em at once.”

“So, not you?”

“No,” he shook his head. “Definitely not me. Something’s wrong, Kat. Really wrong.”

Dorean began to chuckle. It was a low, throaty sound that bubbled up from his throat and burst into the air with dark merriment. Katherine glared at him, and seriously considered pulling the trigger, but she didn’t have many bullets left and didn’t particularly feel like wasting one just yet. “Something funny?” she demanded.

“It may not look it yet,” he told her with a toothy grin, “But I believe I’ve just won.”

 

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