Welcome to the final installment of my serial story, Beyond the Parchment, completed a little over a year since I posted part one. I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay, dropped plotlines, whatever typoes have found their way in, and all. It’s what happens when I write something for a year and can’t go back to change what I’ve written. 😉
If you’ve not read any of the story thus far, a 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!
Time to End
It could have been worse, I suppose. I mean, two men fighting over whether I will write one of them into another world? Barely hostile soldiers on all sides who don’t really mind who wins so long as they get paid? At least I can see the fight. Not that there is really much to see beyond the heart-pounding clashes as each man twists or wards off the blows of the other. It is too fast to track properly or break down into blows like I sometimes try to do in my own writing. Not to mention there is no locking of blades and clever banter back and forth. Probably for the best. Daraton would be destroyed in minutes if it were up to speeches against the likes of Varizan.
The fight ranges across the hall. The soldiers giving back before it and pressing after. Jerin and Thrayton hover half a dozen paces beyond the fight. Two and a half minutes. Yes, I timed it. In the end, it is the spin that takes Varizan down. He draws a dagger from his belt and hurls it. Daraton ducks and the blade flies over his head, clattering against a watching soldier’s shield. Daraton stumbles to one knee. And Varizan spins, twisting his cloak behind him.
I muffle a groan and press my hands to my eyes. “This is not my fault,” I mutter to myself. “I would never have put so many cliches…” I let my voice trail off in disgust and lift my head. Varizan completes his spin, his sword lifted. Daraton rises to his feet. And thrusts his own blade deep into Varizan’s chest.
The man staggers back with a gasp. He doesn’t speak. No final threats or words of regret. His hand remains clenched around his sword. His other hand presses against the wound as if that alone will keep the blood from spilling between his fingers. The tip of his blade droops downward, hitting the ground with the rasp of breaking glass. He slumps forward and Thrayton catches him. The soldier lowers his master to the ground. Thrayton’s jaw is clenched, his lips tight as he shakes his head over his fallen Captain. I bite my lip and swallow hard.
Daraton retreats a step, his bloodied blade still clenched tight. He nods to Jerin who approaches Thrayton warily. He needn’t worry. I didn’t know Thrayton through whatever Wordsmith abilities I have, but do I know he’s not going to attack. Daraton turns toward the waiting soldiers. Some of them have their hands on the hilts of their swords. Most are just watching.
“Out,” Daraton orders. “Yes, I’ll pay you.” He motions in a half-circle with his blade. “A bonus too, if you help set things to right. Now get out.”
I hesitate, then slip out after them, leaving those that remain alive to settle their differences in the presence of the dead.
It’s time to go home.
Apparently, I can’t go home until Ethred wakes up. Adella informs me the Wordsmith tends to be dramatic about wounds and that this is hardly the first time she’s almost died. But the slight tremor in the healer’s voice and hands betray her. It had been close. Whatever medicines they have here must be superior than the normal methods in other fantasy— I mean, in other worlds we know of. Though I suppose there isn’t much of a way to know if we’re correct about them unless I travel there as well. I shiver.
Ethred does wake, eventually. Adella is asleep by her bed and I’m almost dozing, or would be if the benches were more comfortable. Ethred blinks at me. “Did you need something?”
I don’t twitch a muscle in my face. “A portal, I think.”
A faint smile crosses her lips. “Couldn’t figure it out on your own, could you?”
I frown. “I’m sure I could. Do you think I’d leave without saying goodbye?”
This time she does chuckle, then reaches out with a swiftness belying her weakened state, pulls my head down, and plants a quick kiss on my forehead. “There.” She releases me. “You’ve said your goodbye. And you’re giving me that pendant before you leave. You’d not want a real villain appearing in your house now,” she adds as I open my mouth in protest.
“I’d not keep it at the house!”
Ethred closes her eyes and shakes her head. “And having someone appear in the middle of some forest with you not even aware would be so much better, would it?” She holds out a hand.
I sigh, then place the stone in her palm.
“Quickly then,” she says as Adella begins to wake. “I can only keep the portal open for so long.”
I nod and bite my lip. Adella meets my gaze and exhales softly. “Well, hurry on then. You’d not want her overexerting herself.”
I duck my head to hide a smile. “Of course not.”
Daraton and Jerin are waiting for me when I reach the stables. And Thrayton. He leans against the entrance, watching silently. He’s still wearing his sword.
He inclines his head. “Leaving?”
I nod. “And you?”
He shrugs. “I’ll stay, I think. I suppose I always knew it would end this way.” His expression twists as he glances back toward the house. “I always hoped…” He sighs and shakes his head. “No matter now. He chose his own path but I will stay on mine.”
“I’ll see you, then.” I hold out one arm. “Actually, I won’t. Well, not really.” I frown. Thrayton is one character, I mean person, I’d love to know more about. He must have a fascinating history. Sorrow, probably, sometime in his past. Perhaps a young wife who died or— his fingers close tightly over my arm.
“I know that look.” He raises an eyebrow. “Stop thinking and get out of here.”
A pity I don’t get to ask him about it. Probably for the best. I turn away toward the twins.
They are both as wearied and dirtied as the other, though I can tell them apart at a glance. Daraton stands straight, hands clasped behind his back, pale lips pressed into a tight line. He must be exhausted, the poor man. Jerin leans against the stable wall, one foot cocked against the wall, his gaze fastened absently on the whirlpool of blue light.
“I… I suppose I’d best leave,” I say.
Daraton nods. “Probably.” His gaze flickers and he meets my eyes. “Thank you, by the way.”
“It was a pleasure.” My brow furrows. “No, it wasn’t. It was horrible, actually. But I’m glad I met you and was able to help regardless. And you.” I glance at Jerin. “You’re not going to kill each other when I leave, are you?”
Both brothers snort.
Jerin eyes his twin. “Not right away.”
I suppose that is the best I can hope for. I draw a deep breath and stare at the portal. Is it me, or has it really shrunk since I entered? I swallow hard. So many things to say, yet no words to actually say them. “I… goodbye, then.”
Daraton inclines his head.
“Farewell,” Jerin hesitates, “and if you ever come back, bring some more clothing styles with you.”
I nearly choke. “I will not.” I meet his gaze, then close my eyes and step forward.
Icy blueness surges around me. I can feel myself, this time. My whole self, spinning and twisting until my stomach churns. A chill sweeps over my skin. Something hard is beneath my feet and I stumble forward into empty air. Strong arms catch and steady me. A hand grips my shoulder. “May Ann!” Leinad’s blue eyes hover inches from my own. “And I’d just cleaned the fridge too.” The next moment, his arms are around my shoulders, pulling me into a crushing hug.
I rest my head on his shoulder for a long moment, letting the spinning kitchen settle into some semblance of order. Weariness floods my veins. “Well.” I exhale softly. “I came back.”
“I’m glad of that.” My brother releases me. A smile twists his lips, but I can see the relief behind his eyes. “I’d not wanted to have explained your absence to everyone else. Besides, I could use some help cleaning all this up.”
I laugh, then drag a hand over my face. I need to think. To rest. To… something. Clean, I suppose. The rest will come in some order or another.
Leinad has actually done a decent job of tidying up. Or at least what can be fixed. There are some things, like the broken fridge and the smashed walls, that there will be no getting around. But dawn is seeping through the windows as I make a last round of the house, checking all the rooms for things Varizan’s men might have tinkered with. Everything is as it should be. The house is silent. Still.
Leinad is sprawled on the couch when I enter the living room again, fingers interlocked behind his head, fast asleep. I close my eyes, letting the light from the window seep across my bare feet. A cool breeze brushes through a window against my cheek. Distantly I hear the crunch of gravel as a van rolls into our driveway. The rest of the family is home, apparently.
And I smile.