A flaming timber crashed down in front of him. He leapt over it, using his magic to send the flames back toward his pursuers. He hoped it would take down a few of them, but he knew too much about his enemy to expect it to slow them long.
The undead rarely stopped for long.
Through the inferno that raged around him, he caught a glimpse of an opening between two falling buildings and darted into it. As he did so, the mage nearly fell into the arms of a shambling corpse.
The creature snarled and swung a rusty shovel at him. Tiernan staggered backward just out of reach and threw another fireball, effectively incinerating his attacker.
Regaining his footing, he glanced back down the narrow alleyway. His pursuers were nearly on him and their numbers seemed to have grown.
Flaming debris showered down around him, and the structures on either side of him groaned ominously. He ran again.
…and skidded to a halt.
Behind him, the burning buildings collapsed, crushing his attackers, but, all around him, others were pouring out of alleyways, surrounding him and cutting off all escape. However, it wasn’t any of this that made him stop though.
Somehow, in the mad fighting and pursuit that had ensued, he had ended up back in the town square where he had left—
“Did you find any survivors?” Selax asked calmly. He was still standing by the cracked fountain where Tiernan had left him. A pile of bodies lay about him, and he was currently fighting off more. He was still wearing that guise he claimed to be trapped in, and he had several cuts on his face and arms.
A blacksmith’s hammer nearly smashed Tiernan’s head, but he ducked under it and cut down the undead who had taken advantage of his distraction.
“Do you find this funny?” he snarled, as he sent more fire toward the mob surrounding them. A gust of wind blasted past him, fanning the flames and further stoking the conflagration around them.
“The question was meant in earnest. I told you that you would find none.”
Two more undead through themselves at him. Both were wielding old kitchen knives, and the greater reach of his sword enabled him to easily cut them down.
“And I told you to get out of my sight and think yourself lucky that I didn’t kill you.”
More undead came at him, and Tiernan found himself backing toward the fountain as he desperately fended them off. Behind him, he could hear Selax continuing to fight.
Sadly, he also continued to talk.
“Doing so would inevitably lead to Katerei’s death. Pandora does not bluff in such matters.”
Stubbornly, Tiernan held his ground, trying not to be pushed back. He was determined to stay as far from Selax as possible.
“Then tell her to let Katerei go and end this,” he said as he madly parried another attacker. This one carried a sword and looked to have been part of the town guard in this forsaken village. “She’s your friend, isn’t she?”
The wind howled behind me, and he saw several undead sent spinning through the air.
“As I have said, she is not acting at my behest.”
He laughed bitterly.
“No? So, she just happens to show up at just when you claim to be trapped in a mortal body and conveniently wants us to save you? And you’re trying to stop her? How foolish do you think I am?”
“Considering that she told you what would happen if you attempted to follow her and rescue Katerei and that she told you what would happen if anything happened to me, yet you elected to ignore her—“
Hearing a faint movement behind him, Tiernan spun, decapitating an undead. Realizing he was about be surrounded completely, he reluctantly backed toward the fountain. He couldn’t help Katerei if he were to die here.
“You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth—as usual,” he retorted. “You say you’re not working with her, you say you’re not trying to save your own life—but you tell me I have to do what she says and save you…”
He brought down another undead and, taking advantage of the opening, turned toward Selax.
“If she didn’t have Katerei, I promise I’d kill you.”
“I do not recommend doing what she says, but recklessly ignoring her will not help Katerei or anyone else. Others will suffer as long as you do. She destroyed this village and ensured the raising of its dead to prove that point to you,” Selax replied, still sounding eerily calm. They were almost back-to-back now. The undead hemmed them in on all sides.
Tiernan turned back toward those facing him.
“So, this is my fault, is it?”
“No, it is Pandora’s fault, but you and I are forced to deal with her. Handling Pandora requires planning, not hasty—”
“I’m not interested in listening to you anymore,” Tiernan said, coldly. With the hilt of his sword, he smashed another undead in the face. Twisting the sword, he sent it into the face of another.
The air screamed and spun briefly around them. The fire was whipped into a greater frenzy and began to catch on the undead near them, but it was a weak effort. Tiernan realized that Selax must be tiring, as was he.
How far, he wondered, would Selax go with this charade?
How far would he himself go to save Katerei?
“Fine,” he bit out. “Stop the tricks—call your friend off, let Katerei go, and I’ll help you.”
“I cannot do either—as I said, I have nothing to do with this. Pandora is acting independently.”
Tiernan froze. For the first time, he wondered if Selax might be telling the truth and then shoved that thought aside. He wasn’t even going to assume Selax actually was trapped in a human’s body, let alone believe anything else he said.
The undead pressed forward.
“It shouldn’t matter. She wants you alive and wants me to help you, right? So, she should call off these off?”
Behind him, he heard metal clashing as Selax fought. In front of him, more undead surged toward him to replace those he felled. It had been a small, destitute village, and most of their attackers were poorly armed. That was, perhaps, the primary reason they still lived.
“She might, but she is no necromancer. It is doubtful that she controls these and uncertain that she raised them.”
A frying pan snaked through his faltering defense and smashed into his arm. Stung, he almost dropped his sword, and a knife flashed past, cutting along his side. Rallying, Tiernan sent more fire into his attackers. Reeling back, he bumped into Selax, who was also being forced to retreat.
“So, what? She’s just going to let us die? How would that serve her grand plan of helping you ‘see the multiverse as it really is’?”
Around them, the undead closed in. Wearily, Tiernan lifted his sword for a final stand.
I’m sorry, Katerei, he thought.
“No, she will aid us if needed, but I suspect that she believes it unnecessary because—“
“YOU THIMBLE-HEADED IDIOT!”
Shafts of light burst in front of Tiernan’s eyes. For a moment, he thought that he’d been hit in the head and was hallucinating them along with the woman’s angry yell. Then, he realized the beams were burning into the undead, dropping them. The group in front of him pulled back, turning to face their attacker. Through the smoke and flames, a tall figure stalked heedlessly into the square.
“OF ALL THE STUPID STUNTS TO PULL—” the woman’s voice abruptly stopped and shifted in tone. “—you look terrible, by the way.”
“Thank you, it is good to see you too,” Selax replied, his tone actually shifting to a dry one. “Is—“
“GLORIOUS COMBAT!” another voice roared exultantly from the opposite side of the square. Startled, Tiernan turned and saw another shadow emerging. This one was swinging one of the undead by its ankle, smashing it into the others.
“Yes, yes, he came too,” the woman sighed. The small horde around them rallied and began turning on the new arrivals. Clutching a wooden staff in both hands, she raised and spun it. Light beamed from her hands, scything into the undead surrounding her. “It looks like we’re just in time to get you out of trouble…as usual.”
“Unfortunately not. Let us resolve this current difficulty and then we will get to the trouble.”
“Of course,” she snorted irritably. “Because you can never make a simple mess to clean up.”
Selax stepped back toward the undead, his energy seemingly restored. Likewise, Tiernan, realizing that he could still save Katerei, felt a surge of new hope and sent a another fireball into his enemies.
The fight that followed was fierce but short. The two new arrivals seemed to be about as deadly as Selax normally was, and, in spite of the numbers against them, the four of them prevailed swiftly.
Exhausted and numb, Tiernan sank down next to the fountain. Selax stood nearby, weaving slightly but stubbornly standing. The two strangers closed around them.
Cheerfully, a short, one-armed creature—which reminded Tiernan of a bear of some kind—sang loudly, as it slung an axe onto its back. The woman winced at the sound and glared at him. Up closer, Tiernan could see that she was an elf of some kind.
“Would you stop that caterwauling?” she said in an icy tone. The other smiled broadly and seemed about to increase its volume but instead turned abruptly toward Selax and gestured at Tiernan.
“So,” it said in a deep, throaty voice, “who’s your new friend?”
“I’m not his friend,” the mage cut in. “Who are you?”
“Okay, first, you should respect your elders, young man. We are asking the questions here, not you. As for being his friend, obviously, you’re not—no one under the age of a billion or so ever is,” the elf replied with an air of exasperation. “Kids, these days…and every other set of days for that matter…” She also turned toward Selax.
“All right, let’s hear it. What kind of stupid thing did you this time?”
This is basically a sequel to Fading Hopes. I have a bit more detail on how the situation in this story arose, but I'll probably post that background in a few days.
Once again, I ended up writing a story with Selax from another character's perspective, but it's actually the easiest way to write him. His thoughts on the situation would probably be organized in a dry, formulaic fashion and focus on the current circumstance less than might be expected.
This may or may not be thought of an answer to the Chron challenge, since it is only very loosely Cythera-related.
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Really interesting and fun to read ^_^ I was expecting a chron making fun of Tiernan, but I am not disappointed! It feels really good to read a new chronicle again. Thanks for writing! I think Selax is understating this Pandora's powers - with her Box, one can do just about anything.