Welcome to the next installment of my serial story, Beyond the Parchment. Only one more left!
Thus far, dysfunctional portal, invented by a weary writer, May Ann, actually began to work, bringing characters to our world. And herself into their world. General maham is the result. Check out the rest of the story here!
“Ethred!” I grasp the older woman as she collapses and crumple to the floor, half holding her.
Daraton bolts toward Varizan with a strangled cry. Thrayton brings him to a skidding stop with the edge of his blade, but Jerin ducks beneath the man’s grasp and collapses by my side.
“Ethred!” He bends over her, his eyes wide.
She grimaces. “I don’t think… You’ll not be able to cure this one. Deal with it.”
“Deal with…” I choke. “You’re not dying on us!”
“It does happen, even outside of stories.” The corner of her lip curls. “The mentor dying for the apprentice.”
I blink. “You are not my mentor.” I reach out to touch the dagger, then pull back with a wince. She’ll bleed out if I pull it out. She’ll bleed out internally anyway. I may not have researched healing a well as I should have, but I know quite a bit about wounds, mortal and otherwise.
“Out!” Thrayton’s shadow falls over us. He still has Daraton at sword point and has his other arm crossed against Varizan’s chest.
“Thrayton!” Varizan’s voice is sharp.
For a long moment, time seems to freeze. Daraton hesitating, ready to leap back and engage Thrayton’s blade. Jerin, crouched across from me at Ethred’s side. Varizan glares at Thrayton.
Thrayton’s gaze flicks between us, his face grim. “Did you all want to die? Get out!”
Jerin slips his arms beneath Ethred and stumbles to his feet. I rise. Daraton rolls his eyes and retreats a step, but doesn’t lower his blade.
Varizan closes his eyes and drags a hand across his face. “Thrayton, really? Again?”
Thrayton’s jaw clenches as he steps between his commander and us.
“Daraton!” Jerin shouts.
The older twin scowls and springs toward a side door I hadn’t even noticed. I leave Thrayton and Varizan to whatever argument they are about to have and dash after Jerin as Daraton flings open the door. I spring through and he slams it behind us. The snapping lock reverberates down the narrow corridor. Then the brothers are sprinting around turns and weaving through doors. I almost ask how they know where we are going and if they even know, then I remember that this is their house. Or was, until Varizan took it over.
We break into a small room and Adella springs to her feet with a gasp. Where had she come from? “What have you done to my mother?”
Jerin doesn’t answer as he lays Ethred on the bed, one of the few pieces of furniture in the bare room.
I stumble to a stop and grip the door frame. “We’re… staying here?”
Daraton raises an eyebrow. “Getting out is not as easy as getting in. There’s a reason Varizan let us go. He knows we can’t get away.” He grips my elbow and pulls me into the room, then shuts the door. “We’ll be safe enough in here. For a bit.”
“Very comforting,” I mutter. I spring to the end of the bed as Adella bends over her mother.
Ethred closes her eyes, her breath shallow. “You’ve got me. Get back out there and stop him.”
Daraton steps to his wife’s side, taking Jerin’s place. “You’re half dead and you’re still trying to order us about?”
Ethred’s lip twists. “I got you all back here, didn’t I?”
I blink. “What even…?”
“You think thing happen for no reason?” The words are thin as Adella bends over her, tearing the sheet into long bandages. Though the younger lady’s face is pale, it’s not yet despairing.
“Hush.” She puts a hand over her mother’s lips. “Rest.”
“When… when I’ve said what I needed to.” Ethred said. “I’m not about to die without telling you to get back.”
“You’re not going to die at all.”
Ethred opens her eyes and rolls them. “Quiet, child. And you.” She pins her gaze on me. “You have that stone still? The one they thought was mine?”
I blink. “The… right.” I’d forgotten about it. I pull out the stone with the silver etchings of petals from my pocket.
Ethred nods. “It controls the portal. Least mine does. I assume yours will too. From stone to stone with some allowance. That’s how it opened in your house.”
I rub my thumb over the stone. “And how…” I straightened. “You? You were the one messing with the portal?”
Ethred’s breath rasps. “Varizan figured it out, partly. And then there was Lord Balstin’s death and the twin poisoned against each other. I had to do something.”
“And send them to kill each other in my house was the way to do it, was it?” I demand.
“They didn’t, though.” Her voice is weak now and Adella shoots me a pleading glance.
I retreat a step. “Rest.” I hesitate, flipping the stone between my fingers. “How does this work again?”
Ethred chuckles faintly. “You’ll figure it out. Leave it here, so no more portals will open.”
I bite my lip.
Adella glances past me and pauses. “Where are you going?”
My gaze flicks to the twins. Daraton’s hand is on the latch. “To deal with Varizan, of course.” He yanks the door open. Jerin follows him. I glance at Adella.
She jerks her head after the others. “Go on. There’s nothing you can do here.”
I bit my lip, then spin and follow the twins. What they think they’re going to do now that they couldn’t do five minutes ago? But what do I know? The corridors pass in a blur and this time we enter the hall by the main doors.
“Halt!” A captain barks the order as we break into the chamber we left only minutes earlier. I blink. Thrayton and Varizan’s argument must not have taken long. The hall is filled with nearly a score of soldiers and Thrayton stands in the shadows of a window, his arms crossed as he scowls.
“Back already?” Varizan rises from where he was sitting at the table, flipping a dagger between his fingers. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he’d been waiting for us just to make a theatrical rise. Actually, knowing Varizan…
Daraton doesn’t flinch at the sight of the soldiers. Instead he strides to the middle of the room and draws his blade. “Stand and witness.” He points the blade at the guards who start forward then pins his gaze on Varizan. “If you dare come out from behind your daggers and fight like a man, that is.”
I hold my breath. Surely not. Varizan only needs to take what he wants…
His lip curls upward. “If I win, the Wordsmith writes what I please.”
I choke. “I will not.”
Varizan raises an eyebrow. “You’d rather die with them here?”
I open my mouth, then close it again. He really will risk the fight and losing it all?
“She’ll write it,” Daraton says.
I scowl and cross my arms, but don’t reply. What is there to say, in any case?
“Well then!” Varizan smiles and clasps his hands behind his back. “Thrayton will act as my second, of course. Do you have one?”
“Are you blind?” Jerin growls.
“Ah, you.” Varizan whips out his sword with a flourish and tosses the scabbard aside. Honestly. As if he could be any more cliche. Varizan inclines his head slightly and Daraton repeats the gesture, his eyes cold as ice and never leaving Varizan’s.
Both men spring toward each other and the clash of steel echoes through the chamber.