Authors: Julius St. Clair
“Catherine, think about it. There’s no guarantee that James will be able to control himself.”
“That’s not true!” James shouted, clenching his fists. “I’m fine now, and the Quietus have never been mindless—”
“That’s not true though, is it?” Chloe said, piercing his resolve with her steel gaze. “The Quietus were controlled by Thorn at one point, and there were times in which you found yourself transforming against your will. What if someone triggered you on the battlefield? You’re a danger to all of us.”
“I’m not dangerous.”
“Is that true?” Chloe asked Catherine. Catherine didn’t say anything.
“So what’s supposed to happen then?” James asked. “You take me to a cell until the war is over? You don’t know how long that will last.”
“It’s for your own good as well as ours. I don’t want to force you, James. Please, just come with us peacefully.”
“I didn’t want to bring this up,” James swallowed nervously. “But…if we’re talking about imprisoning people that could be controlled, then you should be jailed too.”
“What are you talking about?” she scoffed.
“James…” Catherine warned.
“You were controlled by Gideon,” James said harshly. “Someone who is still alive actually. And unlike me, you didn’t kill bad guys. You slaughtered innocents. I’ve proven over and over that I can handle my Quietus heritage, but you’re still a liability. Gideon could take you over at any second. I’m thinking that you should go to prison instead of me.”
James received a punch to the face from Chloe. She had moved so fast that even Catherine was caught off guard.
“You deserved that,” Chloe cried, her voice breaking as she stared down at him. She reached down to help pick him up. James took her hand and she lifted him to his feet. Then she wretched her hand away and took a few steps back while she pointed at him. “You know you’re wrong for saying that.”
“It’s true, isn’t it?” James said, rubbing his face.
“I’ve…that wasn’t me. I didn’t choose to kill them, but you chose to absorb those people. They can’t even die, James. What do you have to say to that? Huh? It’s worse than murder. You remember the stories of the Siege.”
“Yeah, all too well,” James said. “It’s been a stigma on me and my people for years. But I don’t look to the past to justify my actions in the present. I move forward knowing what I’ve got to do. Those Ancient Knights were horrible, horrible people, and if I didn’t do what I did, not only would we be dead, but countless others as well. Like Kyran, I did what I did so you could sleep a little easier at night.”
“Don’t compare yourself to him,” she scowled. “You’re not even close to being a man of his caliber.”
“Chloe, come on,” Catherine said. “All this arguing isn’t getting us anywhere. Let’s talk it out.”
“Here’s us talking it out,” Chloe said, cracking her knuckles. “Come with us peacefully, or we’ll take you by force. Period. You have to answer for your crimes.”
“You became a Delilah so quickly,” James said, tensing his muscles. “Makes me wonder if you even have a brain.”
“Are you trying to piss her off?” Catherine yelled at him.
“I see clearly,” Chloe said with a smile. She stretched her hand out and her long sword eidolon appeared in her hand, so large that it was nearly her size in length and width. Because it was a manifestation of her, it wasn’t heavy to hold. “I see that you’re willing to justify your actions so that you can pretend that everything’s okay. You can’t see that you’re sick. See, at least Kyran understands that the atrocities he commits is wrong. He doesn’t try to make excuses. He admits that he’s a killer and tries to make up for it by contributing to the world around him in his own way. You can’t do any of that. You only think of yourself, and that’s the difference between the two of you. You’re barely a man. You’re still the same child that we allowed to tag along with us all those years ago.”
“A child that survived through it.”
Catherine sighed. “Fine,” she said wearily. “I guess it can’t be helped.” She summoned her multi-colored eidolon and rushed Chloe from the back.
“You’re going to take his side?” Chloe asked as Catherine tried to lob off one of her legs. Chloe leapt in the air and back-flipped until she was several yards away. James walked over to Catherine’s side and summoned both of his eidolons—white and black respectively. Catherine took a deep breath as Chloe gave her a pained look of betrayal.
“Catherine…” she began to say, but Catherine waved her away.
“You’ve come to imprison or kill my husband. I’m not going to let this slide.”
“Doesn’t anything I said make sense?”
“It does to some degree, but James has proven time and time again that he’s not a monster, and even if he did lose control, then we would put him down if necessary, but only if necessary! You, Bastion, James and even Kyran has lost control before. But we didn’t treat them any differently. We took care of them and helped them through the ordeal because we would expect no less from them if we weren’t ourselves.”
“This is different.”
“You’re blinded by your love for him.”
“So you say.”
Chloe sucked her teeth. “I don’t want to hurt either of you. You’re my family, not just my friends. So…I want you to come with me. We’ll fight in the forest about ten miles from here. The trees are spaced out and we won’t do too much harm to the foliage.”
“Yeah, right,” James said. “We’re not going anywhere with you.”
“Come with me or I destroy the cabin.”
“That’s not ours,” Catherine retorted. “That belongs to the kids.”
“I’ll still do it,” Chloe huffed. “If I have to.”
“No, you won’t.”
Chloe’s eyes narrowed and James held up a hand. “Fine,” he said. “We’ll go.”
“James!” Catherine shouted. “You know that Kyran’s hiding in there. We’ll be at a greater disadvantage.”
“At least the children won’t see the fight, and what I might have to become to end it.”
“Going to absorb me too?” Chloe said, then she stuck out her tongue.
“Don’t tempt me.”
“Whatever,” Catherine said, grabbing James’ arm and pulling him away. “Which way.”
“Follow me,” Chloe said, speeding past them so fast that their hair was caught up in the draft.
“She’s faster than ever,” James mumbled under his breath. Catherine huffed and grabbed his hand, wrapping her own hand around his while he still held his eidolon. Together they ran behind Chloe, forcing energy into their legs to keep up. It only took a couple minutes to hit the forest’s edge. James noticed that the trees were so spaced out that it should be impossible for someone to hide above, but Kyran was very resourceful.
Most of the leaves were gone from the branches, and a grey and blue sky greeted them from above. The trees were tall, but they could still see the tops clearly. The leaves at their feet nearly came up to their knees, and their colors were still vibrant and bright, as if the branches had simply cast them away.
Chloe crunched through them as she made her way to a clearing. There was lush grass underneath the ten yard circle, using the leaves as a barrier. It was clearly manmade—a way for Kyran to reveal that his presence had once been there.
“No way to talk you out of this?” James asked, scanning the branches. Not even his eidolons were picking anything up.
“None,” Chloe said. “And by the way, I’m still mad by what you said.”
“Had to try everything I could think of.”
Chloe responded with a flash of light, descending down from the heavens above. The pillar of light pierced through the clouds, cut through the tree branches in its way and engulfed Chloe in such a blinding brilliance that Catherine and James had to shield their eyes. Though they had long discovered that it wasn’t necessary to summon the light to transform, Chloe still used it as a way to intimidate her opponents. By blinding them, even if only temporary, she showed them that at least for a moment they had to yield to her might.
“I’m coming,” she announced before the light had subsided.
James and Catherine lifted their eidolons, but Chloe had come low. She pressed the blade of her long sword against both of their abdomens and pushed. James and Catherine instinctively leapt back as Chloe completed her swing so they weren’t cut in two, but they had still been cut. A thin line of blood was steadily getting bigger on their Sage robes as they noticed that Chloe had disappeared from their sight.
“I’m transforming,” James said, sucking his teeth. “I’m not going to let her do this, and I know Kyran’s just waiting for his moment.”
“James, don’t. You’ll be vulnerable.”
“It will just take a couple seconds.” As soon as James sheathed his eidolons back into his body and fell down onto all fours, he screamed. Catherine’s head swiveled back to her husband who was now being stabbed in the spine by a stone-faced Kyran. The assassin had one arm wrapped around James’ half-Quietus body while the other arm twisted, trying to paralyze the Sage. Catherine leapt to James’ aid, but Kyran had already let go.
She ran after him as he glided backwards, as if he was being pulled back against his will. Kyran looked at her expressionless while he sped through the leaves, kicking them up all around her. Catherine put a burst of energy into her legs and leapt forward in a blur. Kyran vanished completely.
She pivoted in place and headed back to where James was.
Because he had been hit in the spine, he hadn’t been paralyzed, but he was forced to heal the wound instead of completing the transformation. Chloe was hacking away at him, trying to cut off his arms and legs as he stumbled and scurried backwards, trying to escape. He was only able to dodge a couple blows. Catherine stepped between them and blocked one of Chloe’s swings. Chloe grinned and overpowered Catherine with brute force, swinging so hard that she was knocked back. Catherine maintained her balance as she ducked under another blow and tried to hit Chloe in the side. Chloe kicked her sword away and swung again but Catherine was too quick. She leapt over Chloe’s head and summoned a pillar of light to consume them both. Catherine had done a similar technique against Orchid long ago and it had worked. Chloe hadn’t been there so she hoped that it would work, but Chloe was too resourceful. She summoned her own pillar of light to overlap Catherine’s and the illumination was too much for Catherine’s eyes.
She found herself being skewered in mid-air. The breath was taken out of her as she slid down Chloe’s blade a little. The pain was so great that she nearly passed out but Chloe wasn’t a cold-hearted killer. She kicked the Sage off of her blade and let her breathe.
“Catherine, please,” she said. “I don’t want to do this. Not to you.”
“You should have finished it,” Catherine huffed. She clutched the wound as her head bobbed up and down. She struggled not to go faint.
“I avoided a killing blow on purpose,” Chloe said. She was about to reach out to Catherine when James tackled her to the ground. Chloe kicked off the full Quietus over her head and she jumped to her feet. Summoning her long sword back into her hand, she charged the beast, clashing with its scythes. Catherine coughed and tried to catch her breath when she felt a presence beside her. She looked up to see the beady eyes of an old friend.
“Hello, Princess,” Kyran said as he kneeled beside her. “We meet again.”
“Kyran, put a stop to this.”
“This is what we must do. You have seen James’ power firsthand.”
“If the Delilah didn’t put these thoughts into your head, would you be pursuing this? Would you hunt James down? Even after all we’ve been through?”
“Our friendship and our common experiences don’t mean we get an instant pass. If anything, by stopping him, I am doing him a favor. I volunteered for this assignment because I would be gentle. The Delilah would not.”
“So you’re Delilah now?”
Catherine’s eyes widened in surprise. “But why?”
“Because they possess the drive and vision that we always lacked. They seek harmony, even through questionable means.”
“But we did the same in Allay.”
“No, we performed horrible things in the name of silence, not peace. There is a difference. Peace must mean that all the people, and all the races except for the insane are in harmony.”
“And who are the insane?”
“The ones that threaten our existence as a whole,” he said, looking up to make sure Chloe didn’t need assistance. He bent back down to Catherine’s ear. “It’s time to start thinking bigger.”
“Funny, coming from you,” she said, swiping at his legs with her hand. He stepped back just in time and she stood up strong. “All you can see is Chloe.”
“And you, James.”
“You know that’s not true. I’ve always fought for the greater good.”
“Then why are you playing house in a rundown cabin with displaced children?”
Catherine’s mouth opened but nothing came out. She frowned and crossed her arms as Kyran’s eyes smiled. Catherine unfolded her arms and unsheathed her eidolon from her hip. Kyran’s body became rigid as he followed her hands, which slowly spun the blade in a circular motion.
“If you won’t listen to reason, I will have to stop you,” he said.
“I know,” Catherine replied. “As will I.”
“So be it,” he said, gliding backwards once more. She ran forward, but it was as if he was already far off in the distance. He disappeared from her sight. Catherine leapt to one of the thick tree branches and crouched low, looking for where Kyran could be hiding. There were no sounds but the clash of eidolon against scythe in the distance. James had indeed gotten stronger and so did Chloe, but they were both still friends, and so neither was willing to abandon their care for one another yet. It seemed that the battle would be decided between Catherine and Kyran.
He won’t hesitate, Catherine thought to herself.
She closed her eyes and let her eidolon sift through the threads of the environment, dissecting every tree, bush, movement and atom. Not even Kyran could hide for long, and if he was watching, he would know what she was doing. He would have no choice but to strike, and that would be her chance to catch him off guard.
But he didn’t come after her.
And even more surprising, she found his location. The eidolon picked up his scent and a trace amount of his DNA.
“What are you up to?” Catherine whispered to herself as she leapt down from the branch and hit the leaves running. The crunching sound under her feet was large amongst the silence but she kept her focus zeroed in on Kyran who was hiding behind a thin tree. His bony shoulders were visible long before she arrived there. She came at him from the side, cocking her eidolon back and swinging hard as if she intended to chop down the tree altogether with him.
He didn’t move.
And her eidolon went straight through the tree, and his jacket along with it.
She narrowed her eyes at the black trench coat, still attached to the tree by some invisible force as the tree timbered to the ground. As the tree hit with a loud boom that echoed across the small forest, she realized that he must have used his invisible dagger to hold it there.
She spun around and Kyran was there, reaching out and grabbing her throat with his long, bony fingers. She went to stab him but he jumped on top of her shoulders and spun around her like he was a scarf. He applied more pressure to her larynx and she dropped to her knees in a panic. She tried to scream but his grip was uncanny. She tried to punch him, but he squirmed at the right moments, dodging her blows as if he was made of liquid.
“Sleep, Princess,” he whispered in her ears. “Do not worry. We won’t kill our friend unless he gives us no choice.”
Catherine’s eyes bulged as her vision went black. James’ words echoed through her mind as she went unconscious:
“I’m not Bastion. I don’t go insane when my survival is threatened. I care about the people around me most of all. If you were in danger, I’d do anything in my power to ensure your safety.”
* * *
Bastion thought about heading home. To lie on his bed with Lily at his side and take a nap. He would hold her tight from behind while he nestled his face into her hair, and she would giggle and say that he was tickling her. Of course, he would deny that he was doing anything, and she would turn over, and he would attack her with a kiss. And then the rest would be history.
That’s what he wanted more than anything. Just to be with her, not all those people.
It was nice at first, gaining their attention and acceptance, but he wasn’t used to that. As a few minutes turned into an hour and that turned into more hours, he began getting restless. They would complement him on his skill and give their own take on why they didn’t talk to him earlier. Most mentioned the Great Collision and how it was a big upset, but everything seemed to be okay. That’s how the end of the world worked, they said. People talk about the end, but it never happens. Life goes on. Humanity goes on. The world keeps on spinning.
Bastion got bored with hearing all of that.
He just wanted to go back to his world, or take a stroll to Lily’s. Those were the only two people he really cared about and could rely on. He had seen people like this before, not with him, but others. How popularity didn’t equal loyalty. All it took was a little gossip, a couple rumors and a change of public opinion and he would be the pariah again. A few minutes of their praise was fine, but not hours.