see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer
Halves + Chapter 21
The place where Duo and his
captain had stood was a vortex of raw power. The air combusted and flared,
and then the rock around the edges of the maelstrom began to scorch, blacken,
then redden and melt. Rao had his wards fully up and had taken the opportunity
to step back enough to avoid getting caught in the backlash. He stood
staring with a feral grin as his enemy, the crude, foreign bastard, the
thorn in his side, finally died screaming. As previously agreed, Kelna
and his followers poured every last ounce of power they possessed to feed
the small black tornado of flame and destruction, though it was unnecessary.
Duo must have died instantly; Rao had felt the man's protective wards
fall as he leapt forward, preparing to blast Rao.
Black magic wards were elaborate constructs, impervious to either magic
or weapons, though not both, the mage had to choose which to guard against.
The wards could be maintained with a minimum of energy, even while the
mage slept. The downside was that you couldn't cast through a magic-repellent
ward without weakening it, and you couldn't drive a major blast through
without dropping it completely. And once gone, a ward took several hours
to rebuild. Duo had been left defenceless in the face of the onslaught.
Rao sneered. He'd been right. His spies had tried to convince him the
two men weren't lovers, but Rao had sensed a weakness with the instinct
of dozens of generations of the wolves of Lin, a predator sensing blood.
And he'd been right. Maxwell had shown the weakness he'd known was there,
trying to defend the man, and had died for it.
One by one his followers ran out of energy. The storm flickered and died,
leaving only a smoking pool of blackening lava.
The smoke dwindled.
Shimmering heat waves from the heated rock warped the vision of...
Duo was crouched, one hand flung out, the other arm wrapped protectively
around captain Yuy, thrown to his knees by the initial force of the blast.
"No... " It was an incredulous whisper from Kelna. No one else said anything.
Then Rao let fly. It was a desperate blow, it was now a matter of life
and death, his death to be exact. He lanced a concentrated beam of pure
energy straight at his enemy's heart.
It didn't bounce and flare off a ward; Duo had dropped those...
Instead it dissipated like smoke around a slight shimmer that covered
Duo and a badly singed Yuy. Where Rao's black magic struck, a gentle light
briefly glimmered, forming strange elegant symbols that flickered briefly
and then vanished.
Duo's voice was insanely light and sarcastic, as if he hadn't noticed
the molten rock cooling in a ring around him a few feet away.
"Whassa matter, buddy? Surprised I could cast a white magic shield? Didn't
you know? I'm a man of infinite resources!"
Rao's mind flailed in confusion. No Lord of Lin could cast white magic!
This was insane! The delicate shields couldn't bear much of an assault,
though they could be raised in a second. They depended on strength of
heart and mind instead of elaborate cantrips of wards. But surely no white
magic shield could withhold against him!
"Yeah, I was taught by one of the best." Duo noted with pleasure the twitch
above Rao's eye. His 'friends' and even his sibling, empty of power, unable
to cast any protection for themselves or their leader, had prudently taken
a few steps back.
"Laugh it up, Maxwell." Duo was impressed Rao still had the bark now he'd
lost the bite. "I don't know how you're doing this, but I do know that
you can't cast through a white shield, and it's feeding off your strength
as we speak! How long can you keep it up? That's how long you have to
"Rao... " Duo let his voice slip into gentle disapproval. He lifted his
hand (Rao's followers took a few more steps back), holding it palm up.
Rao just sneered, knowing no magic could pass Duo's shield in either direction.
"Rao, baby, you really are a complete ass... "
All sorcerers relied on two or three types of magic, disdaining other
forms of attack or defence.
But Duo had never been too good with rules and traditions...
Instead of a ball of black magic, it was a silver flicker that sprang
from his spring-loaded wrist-sheathe into his hand and out through the
shield as swift as any mage bolt. It flashed through the intangible white
magic shield, past Rao's magic-repellent wards and into his heart with
a meaty thunk.
Rao gasped, and slowly sank to his knees, barely feeling the ground beneath
him as his heart seized around the dagger's blade like a torn oilskin
belching out blood. By the time he fell onto his back, his whole body
had gone numb, and his life flickered and faded without further notice
from those around him.
Duo, an arm supporting his captain, walked towards Rao's supporters with
condescending slowness. Kelna chocked once, more in fear of her own life
than out of any consideration for her brother.
Duo slowly lifted a hand, finger stretched like a weapon, and centred
it on the girl. Kelna flinched back, trying to keep some dignity in what
she knew was her death.
"Come over here, your ladyship." Duo's voice still had that casual tone
but an undercurrent of steel supplied the 'or else'. Kelna staggered to
her feet and approached the two, circling the growing pool of blood from
her brother's now still body.
Duo's hand turned palm up, the menacingly stretched finger bent and beckoned
as it motioned Kelna closer, closer. Kelna, white as a sheet, got near
enough for that hand to brush her cheek.
It suddenly darted forward and grabbed her by the neck. She managed not
to squeal, her eyes liquid with fright but otherwise still dry and determined.
Duo's lips quirked. Lin fed its children to each other like jackals, but
say what you wanted they bred strong and true. He didn't like it, but
the end result was nonetheless impressive.
"Oh don't worry, you little tart, I'm not going to kill you." Duo had
let Lin make him into a killer but he was damned if he was ever going
to enjoy pain or death, Septim's being the only allowable exception. Kelna,
twisted forward by the grip on her neck, stared up at him in growing terror.
Duo realized what he'd forgotten to add. "Or torture you either." Disbelief
and a slight relief flooded the big eyes.
Duo might have enjoyed a bit more gloating but he had other concerns.
He was drained from casting that desperate white magic shield, dredged
from childhood memories and fuelled by desperation. It was doubtful Rao's
friends might recover and start firing, but he couldn't take the risk.
The shield had barely been in time to save their lives during the concentrated
attack. Duo was amazed it had managed even that! The amount of energy
pounding into it had been considerable. But holding Yuy to him, he'd felt
only calm determination that come what may, that shield was going to hold.
And it had. He wasn't sure where he'd gotten the strength of soul and
mind to do that, he didn't want to know. He just wanted
to feel grateful they were both alive and leave it at that.
Another reason not to tarry; Yuy was starting to look very pale. His back
was scored with a burn from a lick of flame that had managed to get past
the shield before it settled. If he hadn't been wearing his thick leather
jerkin he would have been very seriously injured. As such, it must hurt
like the eleventh circle of hell but would not incapacitate him too much,
if the wound was dealt with quickly.
"I'm going to let this one slide, missie." Duo told Kelna, now more composed.
"On one condition. Well, two of them really. First, I want you to realize
that you don't have the feet big enough to slip into your brother's boots,
if ya see what I mean." Kelna bit her lip, but she obviously knew the
truth of the matter. She wasn't anywhere near Rao's level of power. "Second,
you're going to move that little ass of yours and teleport us back to
camp. I'm kinda lazy and don't want to carry my friend here all the way.
I know you're good at that sort of thing. And of course," the grip on
her neck tightened, "you will be coming with us so we can be sure to land
safe and sound."
"I- I can't- I don't have enough energy-"
"I'm sure you can find it in your heart to make sure I get my friend here
taken care of as quickly as possible. Or do you want me to remember what
started all this mess... "
Kelna gritted her teeth at the threat, gathered all her energy together
and let the world fade around them, pulling them back to the camp which
was mercifully quite close by.
[chap. 22] [back to