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Endurance

Fire, screaming, running, choking smoke. Rapid gunfire from machine guns, bullets whistling through the night. An explosion from a grenade thrown into a burning building launches shards of wood, glass and stone into the air. More screaming. I’m running as fast as I can towards the shelter of the trees, towards the ocean. The prophesied day has arrived and I’m terrified. Soldiers march to exterminate our kind and I feel so helpless. A bullet strikes the dirt in front of me, but I keep running. I call the names of my sisters, of my mother over and over again, but none answer. The soldiers are yelling “In the name of our King, Palioxis! King Soter has fallen and his son rises! Long live King Palioxis! On with the Great Extermination” I spin around, my heart pounding with terror.

To my right, a child falls, shot through the head with a pistol. To my left, one of my comrades is being forcibly undressed by two soldiers. She resists and is struck in the face with the butt of a rifle. In front of me looms a pillar of flame that once was the home to me and my sisters, the witches. A woman stumbles out of the flames and I recognize her. Mother...I start to run, my bare feet slipping on the trampled grass. Hot cinders rain down on me but I sprint towards the flames. Mother reaches out to me and runs forward trying to reach me. Gunfire and I feel bullets burrow into my flesh. Pain lances up my side, up my leg, up my arm, almost causing me to faint. I scream and watch my mother fall from the bullets.

Somehow, I make it to her side and collapse to my knees. I roll her over onto her back and watch blood spill from her chest. Sobbing, I clutch at her, shaking her. Her eyes flutter open and I beg her not to die. She reaches out her hand and in it is a crystal flask. “Drink it, my darling. It will heal you and save you from this place.” I take it and her hand falls limp, hitting the earth heavily. I look into her face and her eyes are glassy, a small smile lingers on her lips. I shriek her name into the night, cursing the soldiers, cursing the king. More bullets hit my back and I fall over her body. I feel the little flask in my hand and I lift it to my eyes. The liquid inside it glows luminescent blue. With shaking fingers I uncork it and drink it in one gulp. I tremble with tears and slowly drift off into what I hope will be a white oblivion. At dawn, I open my eyes and I think it is the silence that wakes me. My wounds are healed, although my clothes are bloodstained. I sit up and look at my mother’s corpse and the smoldering ruins of the buildings around me. Bodies litter the ground in every direction and there is nothing but silence. I am alone.

Nyx jerked awake, opening her eyes to pressing darkness. How many times must I relive that night in my dreams? Images raced through her mind, the ones in her dream and the soldiers that found her that morning, how they had shot her over and over but she did not die. How confused she was by her immortality as she rode captive in a ship to reach this dungeon to be imprisoned with Kratos, the King’s younger brother. How he told her about being unjustly accused of killing King Soter and thrown in this dungeon to await his execution.

Heavy boots clomped down the stone steps outside. Nyx heard Kratos’s shackles rattle as he moved next to her. A door creaked open, only wide enough for a man with a flashlight to pass through. White light from a few LED lightbulbs hit Nyx’s retinas with staggering force. Tears rolled down her cheeks as her eyes watered with pain.

The guard grinned, showing a mouthful of rotted teeth. “Hurts don’t it my pets? First light you’ve seen in days I’d wager.” He chuckled. “Been told to bring you up top. Hope you can still stand, my pretties.”

Kratos leered at the guard. “Off to our execution I suppose?”

The guard chuckled again. “Hit the nail on the head laddie. Your big brother is none too pleased with you two.” A lock clicked and Kratos’s arms fell to his sides. “Ready for it?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Kratos glanced towards the spot where Nyx was shackled to the wall. She met his gaze and was surprised to see his white teeth glinting in a smile.

“Don’t worry boy, I’m letting the girl out too.” The guard shuffled over to her. Nyx’s arms fell to her sides and she flexed her fingers as blood flowed back into them, making them sting uncomfortably.

“You alright there girly?” The guard leaned in close to her face, his stale breath almost making her retch. “Shame the king is having your pretty face wiped off this earth today isn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t worry about that.” Nyx tossed her silver hair. “I can’t die.”

“Keep telling yourself that, dearie.” The guard tugged at the chains attached to collars around their necks. “Come along. It’s time.”

They were led upwards, higher and higher. The stairs seemed like they would never end. Nyx watched her feet, listening to the chain links clink together. Her dress was still singed and bloodstained from that night of destruction. She glanced sideways at Kratos, who marched up the stairs with a straight back and his head held high, proudly striding to his death.

When they reached ground level, the guard led them, not to an execution ground, but to an antechamber, where he handed the chains to a severe looking man with a goatee and a revolver. The man tugged roughly on the chains, making them stumble as they entered an enormous circular chamber with a stained glass ceiling. The chains were handed over to a heavyset man wearing a black hood and holding a machine gun. Palioxis sprawled lazily in a golden chair that sat on a raised platform. Surrounding him were a handful of nobles, dressed up like peacocks He wore a robe of deepest magenta, a gaudy crown and a smug smile.

“Where is Father’s crown, Brother?” Kratos called to Palioxis. “Did you throw it into the ocean and replace it with that lurid abomination that adorns your skull? Or is it still resting on Father’s noble brow that now rots five feet beneath the earth?”

Palioxis’s face darkened for a moment. “And how fare you little brother? Locked in the deepest pit of this castle, charged with the murder? Keeping company with that witch’s daughter? How you dishonor our house Kratos.”

“I dishonor nothing!” Kratos retorted. “I have not murdered, unlike you, who has slaughtered many and usurped our own father!”

The guard clapped his hand over Kratos’s mouth. “I’m sorry, my liege. The whelp will speak no more until the execution.”

“Let him speak, let him speak. After all, they will become his last words.” Palioxis straightened up in his throne and his voice became smooth and syrupy. “Why the harsh accusations, friend? Shouldn’t we enjoy our final moments together as brothers and not as enemies? You will be shot dead within the hour. Shouldn’t we make use of our time to reconcile ourselves before you are sent to the River Styx?”

“I would rather become Hades’s right hand man before I reconcile myself with you, you traitor!” spat Kratos.

“I see.” Palioxis smirked. “And what say you, girl of the moonlit hair? I can see no fear radiating from your countenance.”

Nyx tossed her head. “I will not die.”

“Ah yes. The witches gave you the Eternal Elixir?”

“Lady Hecate watches over all her servants.” Nyx felt anger wrack her small form. Sweat dripped down her forehead and soaked her frayed garments. This vulgar man seated on the throne angered her as nothing else ever had. He killed my family, my sisters. He must lose and I must win. I will win though. I can’t die.

“This could be problematic when we try to kill you.” Palioxis frowned. “I suppose we could just leave you in the dungeon until this castle collapses.” A lord at his elbow leaned in and whispered something in his ear. Palioxis mumbled back and returned his attention to Nyx. “Lord Dolos makes a good point. How do we know you are really immortal? Guard, shoot her.”

The guard raised his gun and fired. Nyx felt the bullets hit her flesh and embed themselves there. Two entered her skull, while six or seven more sank into her appendages and torso. She heard Kratos shout something as her body went limp and she fell to the floor. Her head smacked into the stone and she gasped as the pain hit her. Nyx felt hot blood running to her hairline and pooling beneath her prostrate form. She heard footsteps through the haze of blood and the throbbing of her wounds.

“Well? Is she alive?” Palioxis’s voice rang out from somewhere above her. Nyx felt a hand grasp her wrist and press hard to test her pulse.

“I...I don’t believe it. She’s alive.” It was the guard who shot her. “And look sir. The bullets are being pushed back out, the wounds are healing!”

Nyx opened her eyes and saw Palioxis sitting on his heels, bending over her. “Well Miss Everlasting, that was a most interesting display.”

“I would prefer if you refrained from doing that again sire.” Nyx sat up, wiping the blood out of her eyes and off of her face.

Palioxis grinned and cupped her cheek in his hand, turning her face towards his. “I would very much like to know your name, Miss Everlasting.”

“My name is Nyx.” she said as she got to her feet, feeling blood trickle down her leg.

“Who made the Eternal Elixir of which you drank?” Palioxis stared at her greedily.

“My mother and my teacher, Eupraxia.”

“And where is this Eupraxia now?”

“She is dead, by your army.”

“Ah. That is most unfortunate.” Palioxis turned away and paced to a window. “Would you know how to concoct the Elixir?”

“No sir.” Nyx answered quietly.

“What kind of magic do you practice?”

“I was taught destructive and transformative magic.”

Palioxis turned and walked back over to her, grinning slyly. “Would you be so kind as to give me a demonstration?”

“As you wish, Your Highness.” Nyx raised her hand and pointed at the wall that overlooked a courtyard. A blue bolt exploded from her fingertip and the wall blew apart, throwing shards of stone and glass in all directions. The nobles that surrounded the throne ducked to the floor and Palioxis covered his face with his arms. But before the shards could reach anyone, Nyx waved her hand in a sweeping motion and the shards turned into a shower of a thousand glittering diamonds.

Palioxis grinned again, and bent down to collect a handful of diamonds. “That is a beautiful power, a most excellent magic. Tell me, why did you not defeat my army with that power? And these diamonds? Are they real?”

Nyx lifted her chin. “It is against the witches’ laws to harm a living being. We may warp their shapes, for better or for worse, but we may not cause pain or death. And yes, those diamonds are genuine.” She noticed that the nobles had abandoned their posts and were gathering the diamonds like rats gather crumbs in a kitchen.

“Why did you exterminate their kind, Palioxis? What need was there to butcher these peaceful peoples?” Kratos roared, thrashing against his chains.

Palioxis ignored him and continued to inspect the diamonds, an ecstatic expression on his face. “Miss Nyx, you have enchanted the most inner part of my heart, with your mysterious beauty, your sad, cruel eyes and your long, silver hair.” Turning to her, he tipped Nyx’s face up with a finger and lowered his towards her, breathing heavily. “Your immaculate power, though, is what charms me completely. Marry me, become my queen and you will never know another unhappiness.” With a savage movement, Palioxis dropped the diamonds and slammed his hand into her back, forcing her to him. His other hand grasped the back of her head, pulling her hair and pressed his mouth lustfully to hers.

Lurching away from him, Nyx spat on the floor. Kratos bellowed angrily from behind her. Nyx stumbled backwards, tripping over the shackles on her ankles.

“How dare you?” Nyx shrieked, wiping her mouth in disgust. “You killed my mother and my sisters, my family! And you dare to think I would...that I would...” Nyx’s breath ran short and she stood, gasping with outrage in the middle of that arching room. She swept her hand parallel to the floor and a transparent green wave spread out over the diamonds.

“What did you do?” Palioxis bent down, pinching a diamond between his fingers. It changed to a glass splinter as soon as his hand touched and he howled in agony as blood spurted from a laceration. The nobles reacted with similar cries of pain as the diamonds changed to shattered glass.

Kratos laughed maniacally as Palioxis clutched at diamond after diamond, trying to salvage some of the wealth and each touched diamond opened a new gash on his covetous fingers “Your greed is unbecoming, Brother.” Kratos cackled.

“You wench!” Palioxis bawled, running at Nyx, his bloodied hands outstretched. “You she-devil, you hellcat! I am your king and my word is law! You are in my realm and you will do as I say, you damned harpy!” He grabbed her neck and pressed down on her throat, shaking her brutally.

Nyx choked as her windpipe was restricted. She scrabbled at the hands that were throttling her, trying to free herself. Her vision began to narrow down to tunnels as the lack of oxygen forced her into unconsciousness. Thinking as quickly as her fogged mind would allow, Nyx pointed at her feet and blew the chain connecting the two shackles apart. With all her strength, she raised her leg and kicked the king’s midriff as hard as she could. Palioxis released her and staggered backwards, bent double over his stomach.

Kratos laughed again and Nyx turned her attention to him. She raised her hand and destroyed the shackles on his ankles as well. The guard rushed forwards, raising his gun, but Nyx quickly blew that apart too.

Running towards Kratos, Nyx pressed a hand to her chest and she felt wings burst from her back, the force almost throwing her to her knees. She heard Palioxis scream something but she knew not what. Nyx grabbed Kratos and slammed her hand into his chest as well. He gasped as white wings erupted from his spine. Then, still keeping a firm grip on Kratos, Nyx leaped into the air in a flurry of white feathers. Up and up she flew, towards the vaulted ceiling. She reached the top and looked down. She could hear Kratos panting nervously next to her. Guards poured in from the double doors, all carrying weapons. As the sentries raised their guns, Nyx raised her arm and pointed above her at the peak of the roof. She felt her muscles jump as the magic ran through them to her finger tip where a blue bolt exploded once more. The world seemed to slow down as Nyx flew upward towards the sky. The rubble falling around her appeared to be fall slowly so she could dodge it with ease. From a distance, Nyx heard gunfire and she felt stabbing pain as a few lucky shots hit her legs. Cursing, Nyx flapped harder, her arm outstretched, reaching for the sunlight.

And then they were out, and flying hundreds of feet above the ground. Nyx started to laugh a giddy, high pitched trill. Adrenaline pumped through her veins and she whooped, kicking her feet happily. She looked sideways at Kratos and felt the triumphant sensation drain out of her. His face was gray and his eyes were glazed. She looked down and saw red liquid streaming down his calf and darkening the garments on his back. Two small, dark bullet wounds marked his left leg and another one blemished his lower back. Nyx seized the collar of his shirt and struggled to hold him up as he lost consciousness. Her wings strained as she wheeled about, aiming south, towards her home.



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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

webbiv said...
Dec. 7, 2010 at 3:12 pm:
This was really amazing!
 
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Ice Cream = happy said...
Dec. 4, 2010 at 9:31 pm:
I love your story :)
 
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