Appendix A: Chapter 28

[Editor's note: Chapter 28 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Everyone in the room stared at Derek. Roland suspected that if the summoning worked, something was about to happen. Instead, though, Derek just stood there looking around the room, his face a mix of confusion and deep thought.

“What just happened?” Roland asked softly.

“I’ve had enough of this,” Lord Calvert said to the guards, pointing at Derek and the wizard. “I’ll pay double to whoever gets those two out of here.”

“Triple,” Lord Caldwell added.

Two guards on the far side of the room ran to the wizard and grabbed him the same way Roland and Anna were each still being held. The two others charged towards Derek.

As they approached him, Derek suddenly sprang into action. Roland had difficulty seeing exactly what was happening, but he did hear the sound of two swords being drawn, followed by what Roland guess to be the sound of hammer-on-sword fighting as the guards circled Derek, lunging forward and jumping back. Soon, however, they backed away, and Derek stood there calmly, holding a sword in each hand.

“Get him!” Lord Arundel screamed.

The six remaining guards released their prisoners, drew their swords, and charged Derek. Over the din of clashing swords, Roland asked Anna, “Is that’s how summoning is supposed to work?”

“I don’t get it,” Anna replied. “The Demon King should’ve been standing behind him when Derek was finished.”

“All I saw was some black… thing… behind him. And now all of a sudden Derek is fighting six armed guards by himself.” Roland looked across the room and corrected himself, “Well, only four guards now.”

“I don’t know where he would have learned to do that.”

Roland thought. “What if the Demon King isn’t corporeal? What if it’s… inside of him now?”

The sudden silence at the other end of the room caught Roland’s attention, and he saw the last guard, now unarmed, running towards him and away from Derek. Derek kicked a couple swords away from his feet and slowly stepped towards the table. He studied the faces of each of the nobles sitting there, staring back at him. Derek remained silent.

If Derek was posessed by the Demon King, Roland couldn’t let him establish a foothold in Doomhammer, or anywhere else. He considered his sword, now lying on the floor where one of the guards holding him had dropped it. But Derek was still in there, somewhere, presumably. Roland couldn’t bring himself to seriously consider fighting Derek. But what else could be done?

Roland watched Derek carefully. Now that Derek was no longer fighting for his life, he again looked to be lost in thought. Roland wondered if the Demon King himself — itself? — was still trying to figure out what to do. Roland tried to think of how he would conquer the world if he were a young boy, but couldn’t come up with anything plausible. But Roland knew he didn’t have the luxury of time to consider it too fully.

And that gave Roland an idea. A desperate one, to be sure, but it was marginally better than standing by, watching the beginning of the end of the world.

“Anna,” Roland said quietly.

“Yes?” she replied.

“I’m going to draw the Demon King’s attention. When I do, get everyone one else out of here. Including Derek.”

“But won’t he still–”

“Not if this works. Once everyone else is out, see to it that nobody, nothing, escapes this building alive.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“You’ll think of something. Collapse it, burn it down, something. The nobles might be petty but they aren’t stupid; they can probably help somehow. I’ll buy you as much time as I can.”

“But what about–”

“Don’t worry about me,” Roland said as he approached the table.

The nobles continued to sit there, watching Derek. Apparently none of them were willing to make a move against someone dual-wielding swords who had just defeated eight guards single-handedly.

“So this is the best the Demon King can do?” Roland shouted towards Derek. “Posess a little boy and use him as his puppet?”

Derek turned to stare at Roland, as did the nobles seated at the table.

“So what is it exactly that you’re going to do now?” Roland continued. “Or do you not know? What good is all that power you supposedly have if you don’t know how to use it? And you’ve handicapped yourself with the least powerful person in this room. Hardly a promising start. Or perhaps that is all you are able to do after all these years?”

Derek glared at him.

“Have you nothing to say for yourself?” Roland continued. “Oh, sure, you fought off a few guards, but what happens when they send armies after you? I think you’re going to need someone a little more powerful than a scared little boy. So why don’t you take me instead? Maybe you remember what happened last time you tried to fight a paladin? Are you so afraid to face me that you hide behind a mere child? If you really are worthy of all those stories they say about you, why don’t you fight me yourself?”

Derek continued staring directly at Roland. Slowly, a cloud of darkness took shape around Derek and rose into the air above him. As soon as it was no longer touching him, Derek fell to the ground. The cloud swirled in the air above the table.

“Anna, get everyone out of here, now!” Roland shouted behind him.

The cloud lunged towards Roland.

—-

Roland found himself alone. He couldn’t see anything, but wasn’t sure whether his vision was being blocked or if there was no longer anything to be seen. Roland was aware only of himself, and a presence that surrounded him.

Roland said a silent prayer to Yssindria for help. Not to save himself from the Demon King, but to save everyone else. Roland had spent the last couple weeks ignoring his instructions from the Order, slulking about like some common thug instead of the noble paladin he was supposed to be, even going so far as to turn his sword against his fellow soldiers. Destruction at the hands of the Demon King was probably the fate that Roland deserved, and he was not going to be so bold as to suggest to Her otherwise. If that was the cost of preventing another Demon War, then so be it.

But what if She doesn’t listen at all? Roland shoved the fleeting thought out of his mind as he felt the presence outside him grow closer and stronger.

Roland focused on his faith that Yssindria’s light would hold off the encroaching darkness long enough for Anna to get everyone to safety. Roland knew in his heart that he was still virtuous, even if he had done unvirtuous things. That light would hold the Demon King at bay. The Demon King would never be able to corrupt that.

Unless Roland had already corrupted himself anyway. Roland stifled that fear as best he could.

Roland now felt the presence begin to creep inside his mind. Roland focused his thoughts on the great Temple of Yssindria in Castle Telerand, picturing the statue of the Lady that towered within it. It was not a sword that slew the Demon King decades ago; it was but a conduit for Yssindria Herself, smiting the foul demon through it. Roland did not need a sword to win this battle; he merely needed to allow Yssindria to act through him.

Isn’t making yourself a vessel for the Lady awfully presumptuous? Roland tried to ignore the thought.

Roland replayed the story of the defeat of the Demon King in his mind. Normally, he pictured it as though he were overhead, watching the battle unfold below him. This time, however, he pictured it through the eyes of the Demon King himself, watching the horde of knights charge through his ranks, being led by a paladin holding aloft a sword giving off a blinding light. The sword approached his position, and…

And then I was here, the thought flickered on the periphery of his mind. No blow was struck, just pulled into the hall.

The Demon King is already drawing you in, the fear bubbled forth from the pit of Roland’s stomach. Roland refused to listen to it.

Roland countered by remembering the decades of history he had learned that passed after the fall of the Demon King. The liberation of the fallen kingdoms. The growth and ascendancy of the two remaining kingdoms, the victors of the Demon War. A world no longer under the shadow of the Demon King, a world where the Demon King was nothing but a distant memory.

Still more distant memories rushed into Roland’s mind. The careful, deliberate, relentless expansion of the Demon King’s armies as they spread out from Castle Helioth. Before that, the long sessions spent planning and strategizing the decades-long campaign. And still before that, years on end spent huddled over dusty tomes full of histories of battles now long since forgotten, fought between kingdoms whose names no one no longer knew. Four lifetimes’ worth of memories, leaping from one body to the next as age took its toll.

And you’re next on the list, Roland’s gut told him.

Roland challenged the presence as he felt it press ever inward. What did it hope to gain through conquest? Through laying waste to dozens of villages, countless lives? Telerand and Lantaria would fight to the last man to stop it. If it did conquer them, there would be nothing left to rule. What then?

Because that’s what the Demon King was created to do, the presence told him. Conquer the world and deliver control to its creator. The Demon King would continue until its purpose, its reason for being, was complete. It was nothing personal.

For a master who died half a dozen lifetimes ago?

The presence insisted it could probably figure a way around that when the time came. And even if it couldn’t, the Demon King could no more stop its conquest than an ocean could stop being wet.

You’ve given up on trying to stop the Demon King and are now trying to reason with it, the growing fear shouted. And you’re even failing at that.

Roland resolved himself to fight until the very end, if nothing else than to delay the inevitable.

Resigning yourself to failure so quickly? You failed to follow orders, failed to protect the boy, failed to live up to your vows. You had become all too familiar with failure.

Roland struggled to shove the voice of doubt away as the presence grew stronger within him.

Somewhere, in what felt to be a long distance away, he thought he felt a hand reaching for a sword.

It used to be your hand, the doubt told him. Now it’s the Demon King’s.

Roland refused to give up. Everyone was counting on him. The kingdom. Both of them. The people in Doomhammer. Derek. Anna. He couldn’t let them down.

Too late, the doubt countered, drowning out Roland’s own thoughts.

Roland screamed.

Chapter word count: 1,849 (according to wc)
Total word count: 51,347 / 50,000 (102.694% complete)

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