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The First of Nys wasn’t his lucky day.
Ged cursed silently, trying to ignore the violent protest of his lungs as he ran. Every minute stretched 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’ll 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 kill themselves. Today they call it Cleansing, while back in the day ‘zombies’ was the more accurate term.
No wonder why they’re keeping it all secret, behind closed doors.
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. He would tell them the truth about how the Empire got rid of anything that showed even the faintest trace of magic. The Curse, they called it.
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?
A light rain began to fall, sprinkling the gray cobblestones of the endless maze the Palace had suddenly become.
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?
Ged had heard the first Guards spot him, cries for reinforcements echoing through the naked stone walls behind him. They would seal every hole 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 one of them.
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, bribed the right people, made sure they’d look the wrong way at the right time. He was good at what he was doing. Until now.
They’re just everywhere. Like a fucking plague.
With a sudden pang of guilt, he thought about his family. What would happen to them if he didn’t make it? Faele could take care of herself and their son, but the Watch wasn’t exactly known for their kindness towards the nearest and dearest of convicted traitors.
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 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. 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. He made Ged jump with his abruptness, but there was a small smirk on his gaunt, bearded 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 since Ged had seen his friend’s features without lines of worry around his mouth and a dimness to his eyes.
“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. He just wanted to get out of here.
“We don’t have time for this,” he said curtly when Arturiel just looked at him, leaning against the wall with his legs crossed casually in front of him. 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 emerging from the shadows, aiming the point of his gun at Arturiel’s head. Ged dimly heard his gun clattering to the ground as it had fallen from his numb fingers.
“We need to what, Soldier Maevere?” Sirius Nymeron, the Eye himself asked coldly as he slowly prodded Arturiel forward.
His friend’s face was still, his movements jerky and wooden, as if he were a puppet and Nymeron merely pulling his strings.
They’d gotten them. Of course. 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 off 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.
“Leave him be,” Ged said, regaining his voice. As if it would change anything. Gods, Ged sometimes wished someone would end his delusions. Preferably with a quick and painless death.
Too late for that now.
Something in the Eye’s expression assured him he wouldn’t do him the favor.
“Of course. After all it would be a shame to ruin him just for loyalty’s sake, wouldn’t it?” Nymeron said evenly, cool expression unwavering. “Now there’s the question where exactly his loyalties lie though, isn’t there?”
Nymeron’s words sickened Ged not half as much as the look his friend gave him. 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 still 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.
A question of loyalties indeed.
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 as he watched Arturiel reach down and pick up Ged’s own gun with trembling fingers. He gripped it hard enough that his knuckles stood out white.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, but he only succeeded 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 at 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?” Ged shook his head angrily. “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 wheezed for air, but couldn’t breathe.
As if in a trance, he looked down on himself, felt the blood run warm over the hand that was 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. Unruly strands of hair had fallen into his face, halfway covering his eyes, slick and sticky. He felt the cold stone against his cheek, his life draining out of him and despite himself he couldn’t care less. He closed his eyes.
He was done.
Arturiel, you gods forsaken bastard. Why?
Until even that faded and he simply let go, drifting off into nothingness.