Chapter 123: And thanks for all the fish
Watching the glowing tip of Bruce’s dagger emerge from Samuel’s back, I freeze in horror.
This... this vindictive asshole!
Somewhere in the back of my mind I register a mix of shocked gasps and Steve roaring like an angry bull, but my eye is transfixed by the tragedy playing out in front of me.
Samuel looks down at his chest, then up at Bruce in disbelief. “Bastard... You stupid bastard,” he manages to bring out, ineffectually pushing against Bruce’s arm.
Bruce’s eye flicks over to meet Samuel’s and a flicker of regret seems to pass through it, before he turns back to sneer at me. “Looks like there’s”—he coughs up a mouthful of blood before continuing—“still going to be an odd number.”
I stare at him, lost for words, with a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Steve arrives on the scene with a face like a hurricane. He grabs Bruce’s arm like he wants to strangle it, and carefully starts to pull the dagger out of Samuel’s chest.
I can practically hear the bones grinding in Bruce’s forearm under Steve’s grip, but he just grunts. “Careful Steve, she’ll—hnng—she’ll come after you next.”
His words barely filter through as I continue to stare at him, unblinking, my mind still going a mile a minute. He got me. That bastard got me.
Steve doesn’t even flinch at the warning. “Hang in there, Sam,” he mumbles. “This ain’t over.” As soon as the dagger is out, he carries Samuel over to where Dave is waiting, his Focus Crystal already glowing.
Calyx walks over and stops next to me. “No, she won’t, Bruce,” they say, cool as a cucumber. “Because unlike you, Emma has honour.”
Yet, they’ve positioned themself subtly between me and Steve, and their body language is kind of guarded.
I can’t blame them. Well, what’s done is done.
I let out a sigh and move closer to Bruce with a sense of calm finality, gripping my spear with two hands. He opens his mouth but I cut him off. “I think we’ve all heard more than enough out of you. Goodbye, Bruce.”
“See you in Hell, bitch,” he sneers at me as I raise my spear over my shoulder like a golf club.
My swing connects with his temple at considerable speed. His head snaps aside with a sickening crunch.
Bruce’s eye rolls back and he goes unnaturally still. I study him carefully. I can tell the last dregs of Lavi beneath his skin have stopped flowing, and are now diffusing out. Looks dead enough. On the other hand, I didn’t get a pop-up.
Just to be sure, I lift up my spear, then jab it down into his lifeless eye. I impassively watch it enter, barely even shuddering at the squelch.
I pull my spear back, and mechanically give it a swing to clear it of gore like I’ve gotten into a habit of doing. Cleaning your weapon once that gunk has dried up is a bitch.
Still no pop-up. Guess that just isn’t a thing in Hub Three, ’cause there’s no way he’s still alive. Oh well. So long, Meathead.
I expected guilt, maybe a sick sense of achievement mixed in, but I just feel kinda hollow. This is only the second human being I’ve killed. Shouldn’t I feel something?
Kaitlynn comes up to me, and gently begins to pry my spear out of my white-knuckled grip. “It’s okay, Emma. The fight’s over. You won.”
I let out a frustrated huff that sends sand scattering along the beach, but finally let go of my spear and allow my eyes to close for a moment. “Did I?”
Calyx gives me an inscrutable look. “You did,” they finally decide. “What Bruce did can’t be considered winning, just losing very poorly.”
I crack a smile at that, but it feels hollow.
Calyx gives me a final once over, seems to decide I’m not about to stab them in the back, and turns their attention to the site where Dave is trying to Restore Samuel.
One look at Dave’s face tells me it’s not going well. The blood that’s everywhere—despite the cauterizing effect dagger should have had—is also a pretty strong hint.
Not that I’d held much hope. I got a close-up view of how Bruce stabbed him right through the heart. Restore isn’t going to cut it when you need open-heart surgery.
Steve is clasping Samuel’s hand, tears flowing freely down his left cheek.
We make our way over. I swallow heavily as Samuel’s dopey-looking eye falls on me. “Samuel... I’m so sorry.”
He gives me a miniscule shake of his head. <Don’t be.> His voice sounds calm in my head, gentle. <I was blind to his faults. No, that’s a lie. I wilfully ignored them.>
“Why?” I ask softly.
He smiles weakly, a trickle of blood leaking down his chin. <I think you know why. I even snuck him one of the council’s spare pearls and convinced them to allow him to take part in that bloody lottery. I was so happy when both our names were drawn. What a fool I was...>
Shit. Guess Bruce stabbed him in the heart in more ways than one.
Steve gently wipes away the blood. “Don’t use Telepathy, Sam. You need to save your Lavi.”
Samuel looks at him gently. <I’m done for, Steve. Just... make it out of here, yeah? And let those... bastards who built this place... have it.>
And with that, his eye glazes over, and he stops breathing.
After a moment, Dave lets out a deep sigh, puts his Focus Crystal away, and closes Samuel’s eyelids.
Steve lowers his head. I hesitate, then put my hand on his shoulder. “My condolences.”
He jerks his shoulder away and stands up. All of a sudden, I find myself with a tall, buff, and rather angry dude in my face. “You don’t get to say that. This is your fault.”
My eye twitches and my body tenses as he glares at me with balled fists. Jacob quietly appears behind him, holding his spear in a loose grip. Kaitlynn steps partially in front of me, with her eyes narrowed and fire brewing in the Focus Crystal near her throat. A flicker of lightning crackles between the tines of Alec’s trident beside me.
Dave just sighs and wearily shakes his head.
Calyx carefully takes a step towards Steve. “Let’s not do anything rash, Steve. Enough people have died today.”
Steve’s eye flicks around. “I wasn’t actually going to...” He finally allows his shoulders to sag with a sigh. “Whatever. Calyx is right. I’ve had my fill of violence. Just... get out of here.”
I swallow. “You sure? We could help bury—”
He firmly shakes his head. “Just go. Let us mourn in peace.”
I purse my lips, but nod. “As you wish. Blue Dragons... retreat.”
I climb onto Elizabeth’s back and flop down next to Loudmouth in silence, going over our options in my head.
Jacob sits down next to me with a sigh, careful not to accidentally stab Elizabeth with the sword under his belt.
I frown. Sword? Didn’t he lose... oh.
Jacob must’ve picked up Bruce’s weapon. I guess he won’t be needing it anymore, anyway.
“Samuel was Yin, wasn’t he?” Jacob ponders out loud as the rest arrive one by one. “Do you think he, ehm...”
“Yes,” I reply. “He was in love with Bruce. I doubt it was mutual, though.”
“Oh!” Alec exclaims behind me. “That explains a lot. But how? When? Wait, Bruce did say he had friends with the council, d’you think he was talking about Samuel?!”
Jacob shakes his head. “Pretty sure that was a bluff. I never heard Bruce or any of the others talk about the council with anything but derision.”
“Perhaps it only happened after Bruce sought the council’s protective custody,” Dave muses. “Someone would’ve had to bandage his wrist, help him dress...”
I sigh. “Christ. What a mess. And we’re back to square one, with nothing to show for it.”
“Well,” Alec says. “I wouldn’t say nothing.” I turn around, and he holds up a gorgeous spear made of magenta crystal, with a shit-eating grin. “I figured you might like this.”
I raise a brow at him. “Really, Alec? Stealing from the dead?”
He scoffs. “You didn’t say anything about Jacob’s shiny new sword. And, hey, I don’t mind keeping it if you don’t want it.”
I click my tongue. “Well. I didn’t say that.”
Alec makes a show of pouting as I snatch it out of his hands. “Well, holding it was getting uncomfortable anyway.”
I raise a brow, as the crystal simply tingles pleasantly on my skin.
Loudmouth stares at it wide-eyed. “So pretty! Can Loudmouth touch?”
He reaches out, but I realise what’s causing the tingles just in time and move it away.
I smile at him in apology. “Best not, buddy. It’s a little Toxic.”
He pulls his fingers back with a hiss.
Now that I’m paying attention, the little tendrils of Toxic Energy boring into my skin seem really obvious, but I’m probably just extra sensitive to them. It’s not much, but it’ll still come in handy. I can do with a little extra.
I consider tossing my original spear entirely for as second, for the sake of travelling lightly, but I decide not to. I have some spare straps on the back of my armour for this kind of thing, so I’ll arrange them to hold a second spear later.
That’s to say, I’ll have Alec do it.
“So,” Kaitlynn says. “What’s plan B?”
Thanks for reading! ^^ You might be interested to hear that I'm hard at work on a paperback version! The cover is already done, I managed to get the layout to work with all of my tables and stuff, so it's mostly a matter of some final tweaks and ordering a proof. As soon as it's out, I'll be diving into the editing for Book Two!
An audiobook is also still a possibility I'm looking into; I'll keep you guys posted ^^ If you've got a moment, please hit that big green button to give me a Boost ;)