Second Chances are Hard to Come By

Character Information:

(Summary of the story is in chapter 1)

Credits to larastraw for the title

Chapter 28

A Chance Encounter {Cynric Estelly}

Everything disappeared, leaving nothing between me and those terrible, alluring black holes, rimmed with green. I drew my sword, and the glittering emerald jewel on its pommel seemed to catch the monster's attention. As it stared in my direction, the whispers in the air grew louder, and clearer. I could hear the people I knew, my parents, Gerio, even my companions, shouting in anguish. Their voices... it made my blood boil.

Someone shouted at me to run.

"No", I said firmly. "If Jorie is right, and this beast is the cause of all our hallucinations, we must destroy it here and now."

In truth, I wanted only to end the suffering of my loved ones. I could not take any more of this; it was maddening. I would hack and slash at this creature until there was nothing left of it but ashes. No, I would prolong its death, make it suffer, make it scream in agony... I raised my Catharsis over my shoulder, ready to strike.

"Cynric, stop!" I gaped in surprise as Scott, usually so timid and soft-spoken, sprinted up to me and wrenched my sword-arm back with such force that I almost dropped my weapon. I was even more astonished to see tears shining on his cheeks.

"I can hear them too, the voices", he said. "But even our combined strengths cannot overcome this terror. We need to run."

I shook him off. "I will not flee from this battle like a coward", I growled.

"Anger has blinded you, my friend", Annis said. "Scott is right. We cannot win this battle. You've always been a tactical thinker. You know what the best course of action is now."

Something about her voice cleared my head, if only by a little. I nodded, and sheathed my sword. As soon as I did so, the monster sprang at us. Alaula screamed, and Jorie gave an audible gasp. Its body was hideous, a pale, malformed creature cloaked under a veil of black smoke. I shouted in pain as I was knocked down flat onto my back, the impact jarring the still raw whip mark there. It growled above me, its teeth an inch away from my face. In desperation, I drew Catharsis again, and... again the monster stared transfixed at the emerald pommel.

"It's the jewel", Dom said softly. "It hypnotizes the beast, in a way."

"This is our chance to get a head start on this thing. Quick, all of you! Run!" Annis ordered.

"Wait!" Jorie said. "Shoot it right now, Lady Annis. Shoot it in the heart while it's distracted. Then we won't have to worry about it anymore."

Annis shook her head. "Things are different in this world, Jorie. It might die, or it might not. And if it doesn't, I wouldn't count on Cynric's sword for saving us from its wrath. If you ask me, I do believe we came across this beast by chance. We are not meant to fight it."

The creature growled, as if in agreement with Annis' words. Jorie, Scott, Dom, and Alaula nodded and took off running. Annis too prepared to flee, but looked back at me hesitantly.

"I'll be fine, my lady", I said, trying to give some sort of a reassuring smile as I inched my way out from under the beast. "Run."

After Annis had gone, I pondered on how to escape with as few injuries as possible, and on how to lose the monster without throwing away my sword. Catharsis was my most prized possession; I was not about to dispose of it, even for something as dire as this. I took a few experimental steps backwards, still holding the sword out in front of me, and sure enough, the beast followed. I cursed. I had no options left.

"God help me", I whispered, wondering if my prayers had any effect. Then, I sheathed my sword, tucked its pommel underneath my tunic, and ran.

I managed to lead the monster into a dense forest and lose it there among the thick undergrowth. The sprinting had taken its toll though. I felt winded, and the wound on my back had opened up again. I hoped my bearing did not fail me as I retraced my steps back to the place where we first met the beast, and then went on in the direction my companions had ran.

After a long while of walking, I saw my friends in the distance, sitting around a campfire. There has never been a more welcome sight.

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