Episode 9 - The Sleeper Awake

Page 5

Ruby chased after Skylar, heedless of the blind corners. Behind her, Montrose and Eddie followed at a distance, proceeding carefully.

Ruby found Devick around the next corner. The warrior chief stood before a huge, heavy wooden door, cursing out loud, her knife held ready. Two Ord priests lay at her feet on either side of the door. When she saw Ruby, she swept forward and pinned Ruby against the stone wall. "You want you die?" she hissed in broken English.

Eddie rushed forward, speaking Vayna. Devick replied, a venomous look in her eyes. They conferred in angry whispers. Then Devick released Ruby. Montrose made no move during the entire exchange.

"What are you doing here?" Ruby asked. "Is Jarrock here?"

Devick pointed at the door. "Jarrock. Many people. People scream. People die."

As if to prove her words, a scream of terror came from beyond the door.

Ruby felt her heart plummet. "Skylar, open this door."

Skylar shook her head and pointed at the door. She drew a line across her throat.

"Skylar, I know you're trying to protect me, but I've got to get in there. I have to do something."

Skylar nodded and dropped to the keyhole. Ruby gripped her sword. She didn't know what to do with it, but it felt good in her hands. Her heart raced as she waited.

The instant the latch clicked, Devick threw the door open.

Ruby stood just behind her as she bolted in. Inside was a wide stone room. The bodies of a dozen prisoners lay motionless on the floor. Several more prisoners huddled against the back wall, terrified. Four Ord priests stood around the room, their faces hid in shadow. In the center stood Jarrock, his head back, his chest out, the throat of a Vayna woman—the same woman Ruby had danced with in the Vayna village not so long ago—in his right hand. She hung there limp. Pale sparks ran up Jarrock's right arm as if he were drawing electricity out of her.

Two of the Ord priests rushed in to stop Devick's advance. She paused for a second, watching the life drain from her kin, rage building on her face. Then she sprang into motion. She careened to one side and kicked out the knee of a priest, snapping it with an ugly crunch. She reared around, belted the other one in the face, knocking him down, then soared at Jarrock.

Jarrock raised his left hand, his head still thrown back, not even looking at his attacker. With just a flick of his fingers, Devick's approach halted mid-air, only a foot from him.

Nothing moved in that instant. It was as if Jarrock had frozen them all.

Slowly, almost lazily, Jarrock drew his head up, and his eyes, which glowed faintly before, were now like two yellow searchlights, casting a sickly brilliant glow wherever he gazed. He sneered at Devick, who hung in the air as if suspended by wires. He gave a low, silky chuckle that reverberated through the room, carrying a power that pounded at Ruby's temples.

"He's a leech," Montrose whispered in the doorway. "A powerful one."

Her voice caught Jarrock's attention. He turned away from Devick, who remained frozen mid-air.

"Come in," he said. Ruby's hidden earpiece provided the translation. He beckoned with a finger, and an invisible force yanked Montrose and Ruby forward. They toppled onto the floor. Both their swords flew away as if on wires and plunged into the stone wall. Eddie remained standing in the doorway. Jarrock frowned and made the gesture again. Eddie stood and stared, horrified, but he didn't move.

"You are unique, boy," Jarrock said. "You would be, wouldn't you?" He nodded at the two priests who remained standing. "Get him."

They rushed forward. Eddie made no move to escape. He stared down at Ruby, paralyzed. The priests grabbed his arms and dragged him in.

Once secure, Jarrock turned back to Devick. "You're a slippery bitch, but I'm ready for you now. I could drain you like I did your friend here..." he released the Vayna woman's throat. She fell like a sack to the stone.

Devick's face screwed up with hatred. She spat in the man's face.

Jarrock wiped the spit off his cheek and examined his hand, his expression bemused. Then he looked back up at her. "Goodbye."

With a flick of his finger, Devick body shot back as if fired from a canyon. She hit the wall with a loud crunch and dropped in a lifeless heap to the floor.

A distant explosion echoed from the corridor. Jarrock glanced up, then smiled. "It's almost over. This is the night. And now I have everything I need." He moved to stand in front of Eddie. "You're arrival is destiny. We will end this farce of a world together."

Eddie stared up at him. "I'm not going to help you hurt anyone. You need to stop."

"What will you do if I don't?"

"I'll... I'll kick your ass is what I'll do."

Jarrock laughed out loud. "You? Look at you. You're trembling like a scared rabbit. Unlike your friends, you have no fight at all."

He turned to regard Montrose and Ruby. Ruby was on her hands and knees, unable to rise any higher, as if a boulder rested on her back. She stared up at Jarrock, unable to hide the fear in her eyes. What made her think she could make a difference here?

Jarrock nudged Montrose's forearm with his foot. "You have no spark at all." He moved to Ruby. "But you..."

"Leave her alone," Eddie shouted. His paralysis lifted, and he struggled to free himself from his captors. "Get away!"

Jarrock grinned. "She means that much to you? You would fight for her?"

"I'll kill you."

"You'll cooperate, or she'll die."

"Eddie, don't do anything he says," Ruby said.

Jarrock kicked her in the side, sending her sprawling to the side. Pain bloomed through Ruby's ribcage.

"No," Eddie screamed.

"Don't do anything," Ruby repeated, now cringing with pain.

Jarrock leaned down and grabbed Ruby by the throat. He smiled at her, his breath in her face. "You've got quite the store of power in you. I'll..." He paused, frowning. "You are... you are a leach," he said with distaste. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed her into the pile of fallen bodies of prisoners.

"You bastard," Eddie shouted.

Jarrock moved back to him but stopped short. He turned to the door. "Who is out there? Show yourself at once."

Ruby hoped it was the troll, the colonel, anyone. She'd been powerless against the high priest. She'd been stupid to think she could do anything. It was time for the grown ups to come in and save her.

Instead of a rescue, three more Ord priests entered, one shepherding a young boy before him.

"What do you want," Jarrock demanded.

"Your grace," said an Ord. "You asked us to fetch the companions of your prisoner. This boy was the only one we found.

Ruby pushed herself off the bodies of the fallen prisoners, their bodies growing cold. As the Ord priests spoke, she looked for a place to escape. She glanced up and found the faces of the cowering prisoners against the back wall. Mai was there, her attention fixed on Jarrock, not noticing Ruby at all.

"Girl."

Ruby turned. Where had that voice come from?

"Girl, you're... I thought I was too late."

The speaker was an old woman, lying amidst the fallen bodies. Her hand loosely clasped the hand of another victim, a much younger woman. The old woman's eyes were narrow slits, her voice came out in a labored whisper.

"Are you okay? Can I help you?" Ruby moved to the woman's side.

"You can... stop him."

Ruby felt hollow. She'd just abandoned any hope of making a difference. She was ready for someone else to finish the fight. Surely the troll could...

"You have power. You have magic."

"I don't have any magic. I'm not like him." She nodded at Jarrock.

"Your magic is not in... your hands. It's... in your fists."

"My— what?"

"Fight. Let go of fear. Draw power from your enemy. Fight. Don't let him pull the lever. Don't let him..."

The old woman's head relaxed only a millimeter, her eyes fluttering just a fraction. Then she was still.

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page published 8/14/2017