by Gary Inbinder
Table of Contents|
Chapter 7, part 2
appear in this issue.
“Get out of my way, Finn, unless you’re prepared to fight to the death.” Ludwig drew his sword, glaring at Consul Finn as the storm intensified.
Finn’s eyes blazed with yellow light; his mouth curled upward in a sneer. “Do you really believe you can defeat me? You’re easily deceived, Ludwig. Nevertheless, I’m willing to forgive you and my daughter. Follow me into the castle, help me destroy Cato and his knights, and I’ll name you my heir.”
“You’re the great deceiver, Consul, the noble liar. I won’t be fooled by your tricks.”
“You are simple, aren’t you? Both Cato and I use technology to advance our interests. We both create androids in our image, and we both use legends and illusions to manipulate the ignorant masses. Grow up, Ludwig. I’m offering you a galaxy and virtual immortality. Follow me or die.”
“I’m through talking.” Raising his sword, Ludwig advanced toward Finn.
As Ludwig neared the drawbridge, Consul Finn raised his right hand. A lightning bolt shot from the dark sky, striking the path between Ludwig and the Consul. Swirling white smoke rose from the ground. Finn stood within a smoldering ring of fire; the wind carried an acrid odor of ozone and burning brush.
A shaft of golden light appeared in the Consul’s right hand. As the smoke cleared, Ludwig saw the light transform into the shape of a gleaming spear. “Many years ago,” Finn shouted, “this spear pierced Cato’s side. Since then he suffers from a wound that will not heal. Surrender to me now or feel its sharp, burning point.”
Ludwig rushed at Finn through the torrential downpour, aiming a killing blow at the Consul’s throat. Reaching his target, Ludwig slashed; feeling no resistance, he turned and saw the Consul several feet behind him, laughing. Instantly, Ludwig sensed the spear-point coming for his abdomen; rather than attempting a parry, he thought himself out of the way.
“That’s good, Ludwig,” Finn scoffed, “it appears you’ve learned a trick or two. This may be interesting.”
Finn and Ludwig flew at each other, like dazzling white comets streaking across the purple rain-swept sky. When their weapons crossed, the earth below quaked and the heavens rumbled and blazed crimson, orange and white. It was as though a fleet of Republican battle cruisers was bombarding the alternate world.
For hours they fought on and above the storm-drenched field, with neither gaining the upper hand. Each time Ludwig attempted to get around his opponent and cross the drawbridge, Finn appeared blocking the way.
Eventually, the tempest dissipated, and a fiery red sun rose above the eastern mountains. For a moment, Finn faced Ludwig, with the sun at the Consul’s back. Taking advantage of Ludwig’s momentary blindness, Finn hurled his spear at Ludwig’s heart. A form appeared shielding Ludwig and giving him a split-second to avoid the deathblow. Pierced in the side by the deflected spear-point, Ludwig thought himself back to the safe house anteroom. Lying on the floor in the dimly lit chamber, he touched his side, feeling warm blood oozing through the white, linen robe.
Remembering the healing powers of the Aureus, he took the medal from his neck, and applied it to the gash. He winced as the coin seared the wound shut without leaving a scar. The dark red bloodstains on the robe vanished; the hole in the fabric closed.
Feeling perfectly fit and refreshed, Ludwig got up on his feet just as Aurelia entered the room. Only then did he notice Bambi, lying motionless on the floor, in a pool of blood. Her eyes were open, and her face serene and beautiful. Finn’s spear had pierced her heart.
Ludwig knelt by her side; he placed the Aureus on the wound, but it didn’t revive her. Looking up at Aurelia, he said, “She died saving my life; I don’t understand. She wasn’t just a machine, after all.”
“No, Luddy, she wasn’t a machine,” Aurelia replied. Stroking his face with her hand, she added, “She loved you.” Coming closer, Aurelia noticed a mark on Ludwig’s chest. “Luddy,” she asked, “have you seen this?”
Looking down, Ludwig noticed a circular scar where we wore the Aureus. Not able to see it clearly, he answered, “No, I hadn’t noticed it before. What is it?”
Spreading his golden-blonde chest hair to get a better view, Aurelia exclaimed, “It’s the sign from the reverse of the coin.”
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Inbinder