Thomas fired his gun three times yet he missed with every shot. Peccant didn’t appear to dodge. He didn’t appear to be moving very fast at all. Yet his backhand swing connected unexpectedly to Thomas’ face which sent him sprawling to the floor. Thomas scrambled to his feet and ran for cover in the back behind the pews. How did that man move so fast? He hurled himself around the back pillar hoping to come around for another round of shots only to discover Rue waiting for him.
Her blade swung in at him and desperately he blasted her back with his first set of stunning runes. She skidded back towards the altar, hitting the floor. Twisting around Thomas sought for Peccant with barely enough time to duck his blade. Fuck this shit. Thomas dove behind the pews and holstered his gun. Fuck this noise. He unsheathed the Astrum Rotero and scripted filigree runes across the blade. Fuck this guy. Peccant kicked the pew Thomas was hiding behind across the aisle. Oh just fuck all this shit.
The runes and the beads almost burned on his skin as Thomas brought his blade up in time to parry. Kicking Peccant in the knee, he got him to back off enough so he could stand up but he came right back at him. Peccant jabbed, swung, and chopped at him relentlessly. Thomas focused everything on the movement of that sword. Nothing else mattered. Pews splintered under his blade any time Thomas tried to gain reprieve. At one point Rue did try to cut into him but this time he shot out two layers of his stunning runes in the hopes of getting Peccant as well. Rue was thrown back into the pillar Rhae was tied to. Her head struck hard and she slumped down with her eyes rolling back.
Lunging in with his sword, Peccant sneered. Thomas parried but the sword sliced into his coat. Remembering his fight with Lisha, he called upon the spirit of Luann to guide his hand. Sliding his finger across the blade, the filigree runes took on a rosier glow to match the beads. Tracers followed the blade with his counter-strike, cutting a thin line across Peccant’s cheek as the man pulled back. He would not do as he was told. He would not die this night. Tonight he would dance with the blade and blow shit up. Stepping boldly in, he planted his free hand on Peccant’s chest and launched the final layer of charged runes on his skin. Thomas felt more than heard the thunderous crack as Peccant flew back into the pews. He didn’t wait for Peccant to stand back up so he was charging into the debris.
Peccant parried as he stood up in his tattered robes. A grim smile played his face as sweat beaded his skin. The tracers multiplied into ribbons of singing light. Adrenaline coursed through Thomas as a white cold flame of rage pushed him forward. He used his aunt, abused his sister, and now he toyed with his friend and him. He wouldn’t let him win and continue to spread his misery to others like this. The beads flashed a deep reddish purple as if to answer his thoughts. Peccant’s movements felt slower and heavier to him now. Feeling triumphant, Thomas increased his attacks with vigor.
Falling back, Peccant held his hand up to his forehead in a gesture Thomas didn’t recognize but sensed it meant trouble. He attempted a lunge to interrupt whatever his opponent had planned but it was too late. The ground shook and broke apart, throwing Thomas back. Stumbling, he struggled to stay on his feet as Peccant roared with laughter. More hand movements and shards of rock flew at him at high speeds. Dropping to the ground, Thomas heard their high whistling before they crashed into the wall behind him. He glanced up to locate Peccant to find the man moving toward the altar for cover. The man was still too slow. Sheathing the sword and drawing the gun, Thomas shot three times. This time he saw the bullets reaching him but they were crushed in his aura. That’s what happened. So that’s how it was.
Thomas twisted around to hide behind a pillar as Peccant dipped behind the altar. He reloaded his gun and considered the runes he needed to penetrate that aura. A few light taps at the right points and charging up the correct corresponding grids would give the bullets an aether coating. He had better chances with the sword than the gun but with the chasm Peccant created he had to figure out how to get across first. For now this would have to do. Closing his eyes, he layered his skin with more runes and reset the orbital array. He charged them all with everything he had. This needed to end.
“I’m waiting boy.”
“Well let’s dance then.”
Thomas turned around the pillar from the left, he used one layer of runes to shield himself from the stone arrows Peccant fired at him. He counter fired with his orbital runes while running towards the chasm, but Peccant ducked back behind the altar. He came back up to fire another volley of stone missiles at Thomas. He expended another layer of runes to defend himself. Reaching the edge of the chasm, he shot his gun as fast as the trigger would let him. Every shot hit Peccant but no where like he wanted it to: two in the left shoulder, one in the right shoulder, two in the right thigh, and one in the left calf. He ducked behind the next pillar to reload. It’s not like he really wanted to kill Peccant but he was sure he had taken better aim than that.
Wind swirled around inside the church walls. It was slow at first but picked up speed. The building groaned as the air currents howled. Pressed against the pillar from the force, Thomas peered around to see Peccant clutching his head with one hand in pain. The walls shook and the ceiling trembled as the pillar across the chasm to the left of the altar came crashing down. Peccant stumbled forward with unsteady steps. Rue struggled to reach him to lend him aid. The life forces being sucked in from outside healed his wounds but the pain he felt overwhelmed him.
“You did this,” he said. “This is your fault.” He launched his sword like a spear at Rhae.
“No,” Thomas said.
Forever lived and died in this moment. Everything moved too fast and too slow all at once. Thomas fired off all his remaining layered runes at the sword to deflect it away from Rhae. Rue swung around to shield Rhae. The blade sank into Rhae. With Rue in the way, he couldn’t tell if it hit her in the chest or the shoulder. With shock and horror, his soul bottomed out as Peccant collapsed to the floor. Fury welled up into him. He was sick of all this bullshit. Thomas pulled out the Ruta Special from the dimensional pocket and loaded it into his gun as Rue twisted toward him. Ripping off the dark reddish purple beads from his wrist, he tossed them up in the air. He was done with all of this shit. As the largest bead lined up with Rue’s fate chains on her neck, he fired his gun.
Dropping to his knees, fighting the pull of the keening winds, he saw the bullet shatter the string. Thomas focused on the bullet as it drove the largest bead into the fate chains, untangling them as Rue tried to dodge it. Rue caught the bead as it buzzed past but the bullet dissolved the chain. Thomas hoped it was the right one as he felt his soul pull away. Some of the beads were caught up in the torrent of the wind. A few struck Rhae and dissolved. Most disintegrated in the air while the rest were crushed by the force.
None of that mattered to Thomas as he watched Rue yank Peccant’s sword from Rhae’s body. Rue trudged to Peccant, dragging his blade and dropped to her knees. She opened her hand near his neck to offer the lone large bead to him. It floated to the hollow of his neck, forming a new collar of pearls. A great wave of light pulsed from the beads. The wind died down and the fog lifted. The pearls reverted to midnight black.
Thomas ran across the fallen pillar to reach Rhae. Rue stood and collected her sword. She cut Rhae down from her bonds and eased her to the floor. Thomas cradled Rhae into his arms. Rue’s face remained emotionless as she returned to Peccant’s still body. Supporting Peccant under the shoulder, she raised her hand to summon a portal but paused.
“Thank you brother,” she said, “but I have to go back. The people need me.”
“I understand,” Thomas said and watched her depart through the portal.
The wound Rhae sustained was in the shoulder. Relief washed over him to know that she survived. Praising Galen’s thoughtfulness, Thomas patched and wrapped the wound the best he could to stop the bleeding. As he did, three small reddish purple beads rolled free from his coat sleeve. Plucking them up from the floor, he wondered if he could make a new bracelet with them. It would be a new kind of Experiment Number Five. One that didn’t involve blowing things up. Something to forever remind him the need to serve and protect the ones he loved to honor the Will of Amunetta.