The First of Nys wouldn’t be his lucky day.
Ged cursed silently, trying to ignore the violent protest of his lungs as he ran. Every minute seemed to stretch into an eternity in this Darkest Night.
He’d never make it out of here to warn Arturiel in time. This had been one grand miscalculation and in the end he’d fucked up. Completely and undeniably.
At first it had been a great plan. Insane, but still, irresistible. Of course, there had been the slight problem of getting out of this alive.
Face it, Ged, this is a fucking kamikaze mission. And there’s no way in the Seven Hells you get yourself out of this again.
For once Ged was glad that Arturiel had been busy keeping his back clear. That he hadn’t seen what Ged had. He didn’t want to imagine what his friend would have done if he’d as much as taken a glimpse at what was behind those gates. He couldn’t bring himself to wonder whether Eva had been one of them.
Gods, their faces. Their Eyes…
He’d never forget their eyes. Empty of everything, bereft of having sense enough to seek death as a release from… this.
They call it a humane solution. The only one that doesn’t kill.
People disappear and what is left behind… Ah, Gods…
And nobody knows. Nobody fucking knows.
Somebody would have to pay for this. In the end everything would come into the open.
Still he didn’t have the faintest clue how to even begin to tell Arturiel about what he’d found. Ged almost hoped he’d never get that far. Almost.
Trapped as he was in the Palace, he had only one way out if he was lucky. If he wasn’t, even this one way would be barred to him.
Who are you kidding, Ged? You’ve seen what they do. You’re just another bug that’s trying to crawl away before their boots smash you. Guess who’s faster? You or the boot, little bug?
A light rain began to fall sprinkling the gray cobblestones of the endless maze the Palace had suddenly become. Strangely enough it had never looked this imposing and threatening before. Challenging, sure, but not threatening.
Come on, you’ve been going in and out of here for the last two years like you owned the damn place and now you can’t find your way out?
Panic. Cowardice. Fear. Falling into the same old patterns.
Ged had heard the first Guards spotting him, their cries for reinforcements echoing through the naked stone walls behind him. They would seal every wormhole leading out of the Palace.
By now, Ged was desperate enough, he would have prayed to the Light itself for guidance in this Darkest Night.
As if Helos or any other of the Seven had ever been there when it really mattered.
He heard the alarmed shouts, running footsteps closing in behind him in the dark. Not long until the first gunshots fell. How long before the first bullet hit him?
Anyone who wasn’t an utter idiot knew that the Watch didn’t miss, no matter the circumstances. Ged knew. He’d been there when they trained him.
Gods, he was screwed.
Damn it, Arturiel! Where in the Seven Hells are you?
They’d probably gotten him already. Arturiel had made sure Ged would go clear, and he was good at what he was doing. Until now.
How much more proof did he need to know that nothing was going right this night?
They’re just everywhere. Like a fucking plague.
Ged had wanted Arturiel to stay behind, told him to take care of his wife and Ares, but his friend had refused. Faele could take care of herself and their son, but knowing them safe would have made all this so much easier.
Where does that sudden care come from? They certainly didn’t concern you when you two came up with all this. Did they?
Ged shrugged it off. He would get out of here. The gate was right there. About to close as the shouts and footsteps came closer. Just another couple of yards…
Not an instant too early, Ged hurled his weight out of the door. He halfway expected to bounce back into the Outer Wall by some invisible force, felled by a bullet into his gut, but nothing of the sort happened.
He was out. The cries of alarm ceased, muffled behind the thick walls.
“He’s got to be somewhere in here!” someone shouted.
Heavy footsteps went just past him behind the barred doors.
Pressing himself flat against the cool stone of the wall, Ged sent a silent prayer of thanks to Nys of the Shadows for having favored him tonight.
“About damn time,” a familiar voice said wryly and Arturiel Valyr stepped out of the shadows, a small smirk on his face.
“You made it after all.”
Arturiel’s smile widened just the smallest bit. For once he looked his old self again. It had been too long.
“Gods, don’t ever do that again,” Ged panted. “You just scared the hell out of me.”
Ged tried to get his heartbeat under control again and grabbed Arturiel by the arm, being rougher than he meant to be. The rush of adrenaline prevailed just a little longer.
He only wanted to get out of here. Exhaustion could come later.
“We don’t have time for this,” he said curtly when Arturiel looked at him as if there weren’t half a hundred guards on their heels. What in the Seven Hells was wrong with him?
“Just in case you haven’t noticed, but every godsdamn soldier at the Palace is about to have our hides. We need to-”
Ged froze when he saw another figure dissolving from the shadows, aiming the point of his gun at the back of Arturiel’s head.
“We need to what, Soldier Maevere?” Sirius Nymeron, the Eye himself asked with a voice as cold as the steel that slowly prodded Arturiel forward.
His friend’s eyes were large with shock and sudden understanding. They’d gotten them. Of course.
Gods, but they were fucked this time. Ged swallowed a curse.
“Maybe we need to keep our noses out of business that is none of our concern. Was that by chance what you were going to say, Soldier Maevere?”
The Eye’s words left Ged standing still for what seemed an eternity, unable to take his gaze of him. Nobody stood up against the Empire. Not without getting themselves killed in the process. Had they really thought they could outsmart the Eye this easily?
“I didn’t think so.”
A thin smile curled on Nymeron’s lips, as he slowly forced Arturiel to his knees.
“Let him be,” Ged said, regaining his voice. As if it would change anything. Gods, Ged sometimes wished someone would end his delusions. With a quick and painless death.
Too late for that now.
Something in the Eye’s dark, lilac eyes assured him he wouldn’t do him the favor. They sparkled with amusement.
“Of course,” the Emperor said evenly, amethyst eyes flickering for an instant. “After all, your friend has been such a useful tool in the end. It would be a shame to ruin him, wouldn’t it?”
Nymeron’s words sickened him not half as much as the look in his friend’s eyes. Arturiel’s blue gaze was empty and apologetic as he shook his head.
“I’m so sorry, Ged,” he whispered, almost inaudibly.
The Eye inclined his head and Arturiel rose to his feet, Nymeron’s gun no longer aimed at him.
Ged merely stared at him in silence, trying to cope with the abrupt turn of events. He’d been tricked all along, played by the one person he’d have trusted with everything.
Oh, for fuck’s sake…
He wanted to tell himself that something was wrong, that this was nothing but yet another of Nymeron’s mindgames. It was the perfect trap and he’d run into it blindly. He’d heard it snap and still refused to acknowledge it.
They goaded you and everyone else. Very much like Nymeron, don’t you think?
Anger fought with disgust and yet he couldn’t take his eyes off Arturiel as he took the gun Nymeron thrust out to him with trembling fingers.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, only succeeding in turning Ged’s defeat into cold fury when he felt the cold metal against his chest.
“Come on, just do it. You might even do me a favor, my friend.” Ged’s voice dripped with irony and spite. “Come on, let me tell Eva what’s become of you. I bet she’ll be thrilled.”
Something flickered in Arturiel’s eyes as the mention of his wife. A spark of fire that was extinguished too quickly. “She’ll understand,” he whispered quietly.
“Understand what? You becoming just another one of his puppets? Who are you kidding? If that’s what you call revenge…” Ged spread his arms, offering himself as a willing target.
“Go ahead. Finish me off so I don’t have to look at your face anymore. I’m tired of it. Just tired.”
The bullet hit him square into the chest and then again just a little lower.
“Me too,” Arturiel said with a weak smile. “There are so many things you never understood, Ged. Resistance against the Empire means death. You’ve brought this onto yourself.”
Ged fell to his knees, a hollow thud against the cobblestones in front of the Palace of Light.
Pain. Fierce, burning pain. He couldn’t breathe.
As if in trance, he looked down on himself, felt the blood run warm over the hand clutching his chest.
“Rot in hell,” Ged coughed, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. He sagged forward, unable to hold himself up any longer. Feeling the cold stone against his cheek, his life drained out of him and he couldn’t care less.
He was done.
Arturiel, you gods forsaken bastard. Why?
Until even that faded and he simply let go, drifting off into the darkness.