41. Joah

I focused only on small patches of skin so I wouldn’t have to see the full ruin I made of the emaciated body below me. When I shredded the face I closed my eyes entirely. Reality set into sanity again.

I pulled back from the wizard’s ravaged corpse, catching my breath. It was over. Rough stone under my hands scraped my skin as I crawled backwards, as far as I could get. Not far in these confines. I put my back to a wall, then slipped my penknife back into my belt with shaking fingers.

To my left Eydis hacked wet coughs. They burst from her lips in splurts. She still lived.

“Only delayed… ” she gasped. “God can’t sleep forever. Why prolong… ”

I rolled my head toward her, blood dripping from my scalp. Her eyes met mine, wracked with pain. She wouldn’t ask for help, not from me, but her eyes did it for her. They pled for mercy, they screamed for life. Her arm clenched against her oozing flank. The cuts weren’t deep, and even as numerous as they were it would take her a while to bleed out. I could still drag her to a Healer in time.

I braced myself against the wall and retook my feet. My skull pulsed with branching pains from where she’d struck me. I stumbled behind her, hooked my elbows under her armpits, and pulled slowly, grunting. She shrieked at the first movement, then fell into whimpers.

“W-why?” she asked, as I dragged her past the wizard’s flayed body. “He will wake… You’ve only drawn… drawn out the… the suffering.”

A cold pain formed in my chest, a deep winter chill, but I didn’t yet know why.

“Why prolong this hateful… hateful…”

I stopped dead nearly at the door. I couldn’t do this, could I? She knew how to wake God. She would do it again, if she could. I couldn’t leave a weapon of total annihilation wandering our world. Her knowledge could never spread beyond this room. The chill spread to the ends of my fingers and toes.

Eydis’s eyes lost their focus. Sharp, irregular pants fluttered her chest.

“I can’t accept your price for a better world,” I said. I set her slumped against the wooden wall. “There are people I care about in this one.”

Eydis didn’t react, only gurgled. She couldn’t hear me anymore. The hand of her uninjured side lifted barely from the ground, scratching feebly at the air.

“…hateful… w… worrr…”

Thin rivulets of dirty water trickled from the ceiling. They ran down the walls in crooked paths, pooled in grey ponds. The Tiber was coming to flush us out. A miniature stream opened over Eydis, leaked down the wood behind her, and pooled where she lay. Vicious shivers seized her blanching body.

I sat at her side and took hold of her scratching hand. “Eydis.” My voice low, like I was calming a panicked doe. I pulled my penknife from my belt. “I’m sorry. You must die so that I–”

My throat closed up on “I”. I swallowed.

“You must die so–”

The words lodged themselves in my throat like the snapped-off blade of a penknife. I couldn’t say them. I couldn’t do this.

I would never repeat that mantra of surrender again.

I put the penknife away. I knew it was cowardly. But no one would ever know. This was just between me and God, now.

I gripped Eydis’s hand tight in mine, and brushed her hair from her face.  “I’m sorry,” I said, and left it at that.

I stayed there, murmuring soothing noises. My years at the Ludus had prepared me well for this task. I held her as her world ended. Dirty water rose around us slowly. Broken syllables spilled from her lips intermittently, but she never spoke a coherent word again.

The cell had flooded halfway to our laps when her shivering finally faded away. Her eyes fixed forever upwards, still probing for her god.


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Read next week’s chapter today by becoming a patron on Patreon. Also get author’s notes and deleted content.
First line of next week’s chapter: Marcus swung his sword in a downward chop, reckless and overbalanced, like a peasant.
First line of this week’s author’s notes: I’m a firm believer in Death Of The Author, so I want y’all to take the following as “one guy’s opinion only.”
Word-count of chapter 41 deleted content: 429

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