Chapter 6: The Play Ends
Both quickly turned, firing at the dimly seen figure lurking among the shadow-shrouded pillars, the solid impact of the darts startlingly loud.
The intruder leapt towards them, a shaft of light illuminating Torquimis’ running form, the two projectiles buried in his long kite-shaped shield, his axe glittering in a spinning arc.
His would-be victims leapt apart. Taxa ducked, the axe missing his head by an inch, cast aside the dart-thrower and drew his own weapon.
Vesula reloaded, watched the two men whirl about each other and across the floor in a frenzy of slashing blows. She cursed vehemently, lowered her weapon. They were too close together, and a shot meant for one might easily strike the other.
Oh merciful Tewen, she thought in desperate ritual prayer. Hear my heartfelt plea - let not my love fall before his enemies. Shield him with your strength, preserve his soul.
Torquimis turned Taxa’s blow with his shield, countered with a lusty stroke. His agile opponent leapt aside, struck the swinging weapon, knocking it from the pirate's grasp.
With a vile oath, Torquimis leapt forward, ramming Taxa with his shield. Both men fell against the floating jewel. It flared to life and they stumbled back, startled.
Light burst forth in an amber tide that swept away the shadows. All present were frozen by its shining splendor, stood in awe of the fantastic sight. The light condensed. A form took shape within the crystal – a face, noble and serene, a sculpture of living light. The eyes opened and gazed upon them, full of wisdom, touched by sadness. The lips parted, and thus it spoke within their minds; not in words, but with images and emotions deep and subtle that plucked the chords of thought and thus engendered inner speech in each one’s native tongue:
We, the first-born of intelligent beings, who climbed from savagery’s dark nadir to civilization's glowing heights, are no more - we have become as dust, our works fallen, laid low by time's fell hand that rends all things with slow decay.
Though we drank from the cup of immortality and grew not old, we wearied of life everlasting and thus sought death’s embrace, for it is the brevity of things that lends meaning to existence; mortal beings are not meant to taste eternity.
I, Sumin, the last of my kind, made this thought-crystal, leave this message, a treasure of wisdom for the benefit of those to come: Seek not immortality; for all things must pass away so new things can come to be. Therefore, rejoice in the presence of those you love, the smile of your children, the joy of existence, for when death’s hand marks the end of life all must descend into that realm of eternal night.
At last my hour has come upon me - my earthy vessel comes to grief upon that dark shore. The play ends, the actors depart the stage. Farewell, and may peace be with you all your days...
The crystal dimmed, cracked under the weight of centuries, fell into a thousand tinkling shards upon the floor; disintegrated further to mounds of worthless dust, these stirred fitfully by the gentle breeze. The shadows crept in. Silence reigned once more.
The corsair captain, a shocked _expression on his face, staggered to the ruined jewel, dropped his shield, fell upon his knees and scooped up handfuls of gray dust; watched it sift between his fingers with disbelieving eyes. The others, the effects of the astounding experience still upon them, looked on in a daze.
By Hekmeth's bloody beard, thought Torquimis, in anguish. The secret of immortality is lost forever, and all my dreams have been reduced to this, rendered thus by fate’s cruel hand. Then, grimly: But at least I will have my vengeance ere this day is done.
In one fluid motion, the buccaneer seized his shield, wrenched free a dart and hurled the missile at Taxa, striking his shoulder. The Yaxkanite reeled, the toxin felling him like a mace’s blow.
Vesula cried in horror, fired. The dart missed, her aim spoiled by the sudden shock of Taxa’s doom.
The corsair captain vaulted the Yaxkanite’s writhing form, dagger drawn, he charged towards Vesula. She leapt aside, struck his arm with her dart-thrower as he hurtled past.
With a cry of pain Torquimis dropped his weapon, spun around and cast his shield at Vesula’s legs, knocking her to the ground. Falling viciously upon the girl, he ripped the girdle from her hips and used it to bind her arms behind her back.
Breathing heavily, Torquimis leered at her. “You were ever eager for my touch,” came his sarcastic taunt. “Why the sudden change of heart?”
“Animal,” she cried, spitting in his face. “You’ve killed the only man I ever loved.”
Uttering a cruel laugh, he slapped her viciously, forced her thighs apart to expose her sex, and drew another blade.
“Lets see if you enjoy the thrust of this as much as the other,” he said thickly, eyes alive with sadistic lust as he pressed the point against her tender flesh.
Suddenly, Torquimis stiffened, eyes bulging, the blade dropping from his nerveless fingers. He collapsed upon the floor, a dart protruding from his nape where it had been thrust.
Taxa swayed above him, fell to his knees, and then, his strength spent, sprawled across Torquimis’ corpse, his last thought vast relief at having saved Vesula’s life.
The girl struggled free of her hastily tied bonds, clasped Taxa’s still form to her breast, sobbing uncontrollably, rocking backwards and forwards in inconsolable grief.
“Oh, these tears, the essence of my grief,” she cried. “That I could drown in their bitter flood and be no more. Oh my love, how can I bring you back to me?”
Time passed. Slowly, the cool body began to stir. Life, like coals beneath the ash, began to flame, roused by Nature’s healing art. The heart and breath quickened, the pale cheeks flushed with youthful health, and Taxa slowly opened his eyes, like a man arising from the depths of slumber, to smile weakly upon his love.
“Grieve not, for I still live.”
She hugged him tightly and cried, but this time her tears were of joy, not of sorrow. “But how?” she gasped, between sobs. “The poison …”
“Most of it was injected into the shield. What little remained I could, unlike Torquimis, neutralize using my Inner Healing. Even so, it was a near thing.”
“Oh, I thought I’d lost you forever,” she cried. “No more doubts, no more foolishness. I am yours until death.” And then more softly, with lowered eyes: “If you’ll have me.”
“I would be honored,” replied Taxa, climbing to his feet and raising her up. “For though that gem is dust,” he continued, with deep sincerity, “the Jewel of Besminur stands before me still in all its radiant glory.”
Vesula smiled, a great joy welling up in her heart, for life now held the promise of new beginnings.
Taking his hand, she said: “Then let us heed the wisdom of the Elder Race and rejoice in our love for as long as we shall live.”
And thus they turned their
backs on the cadaver of Torquimis, and walked out of the darkness and
into the light of day.
This story is copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)