The Last Stand (excerpt from upcoming novel)

The damp walls began to crumble with each vibration from above.

“You sure about this, old man?”  Asked Gray.

Van waved his hand at them with his back turned.  “You kids go on ahead.  This one’s mine.”

“Hey—“

Van turned around.  Gray had that earnest look again.

“—Don’t die.”  With that the group headed up the stairs and into the grasp of ultimate despair.

Dust fell from the ceiling as the two enemies stared across at each other.

“Tossing everything away before the end?” Said Zephyr.

A smirk shot quickly across Van’s face, “You say that like you’ve already won.”

“You know you’ve never beaten me.  What makes you think this time will be different?”

“Those kids’re countin’ on me.  This time I have somethin’ to lose.”  He replied.

Zephyr straightened his posture with one hand relaxed on his belt and pointed the other haughtily at Van.  “Look at you trying to be the hero.  Not really your style at all.”

“Heh.  I’m not the hero.  I’m not even the main character anymore.  Somewhere along the way I just…lost the strength and gave up on livin’,” said Van.  His eyes focused on the floor for a moment and then closed.

Zephyr took out his knives.  “You should have stayed there.”

“Those kids…they let me dream again.  I know now I still got somethin’  t’give to this world.”

“They won’t succeed.  And when they die, you know what I’m planning to do.”

Van nodded, “If I know you at all, then ya plan on killing him and taking it all for yourself once everyone else is outta’ the way.”

Zephyr let out a nostalgiac sigh, “You always knew me best.  I’m sorry it had to go down this way.”

Van smiled back, “That’s why I kept ya here all t’myself, old pal.  I’m not gonna give ya the chance.”

Another vibration above caused the floor to rattle as Zephyr let out a burst of laughter.  “Looks like you got your arrogance back.  Well then, shall we?”

“For old times sake!”  Shouted Van as he notched an arrow into his bow and pointed it toward his enemy.

Zephyr ducked his head and launched himself forward.  Quickly, several arrows flew by him; each dodged with a slight change of direction and agility.  Like the wind he was upon Van with multiple slashes to his waist.  Van hopped backward; narrowly avoiding the bloodletting at the expense of a few tears in his clothes.  A few strikes were close, but he was able to block with his bow and fire an arrow just beside Zephyr’s face.  The audacity of Van’s attack angered him into several brutal swipes that pushed Van back even further.

Over and over they danced in the small room with deadly precision that only missed their marks by the sheer skills they had mastered over the many years.  Van took a cut to the shoulder that spun him around, but managed a shot to Zephyr’s left leg.  He cringed for a moment before pulling it out.  Slowly he fell into a rage over how much more of a fight Van was putting up.  He thought it would be over much quicker, but something about the old man had changed.  Van was calm and maneuvered fluidly around each attack.  And then it became clear to Zephyr that this was not the shell of a man he had fought so many times before.  This was the legend returned to life from all those years of war.  He would have to give it his all.

The knives drew closer until they tasted more blood.  Van could see the determination in Zephyr’s eyes as he realized what he was up against.  He fired another arrow, slightly tearing at Zephyr’s arm and embedding itself in the far wall, and then distanced himself from his opponent.

The dust continued to fall from the ceiling as the final battle was about to take place above them.  Van wiped blood from his brow as he attempted to stand up straight.  Zephyr flipped a knife in his left hand with a murderous grin across his face.

“You got some spark, old man, but looks like I’m going to win again.”

“Never fails.  Ya never could multitask,” said Van with a sinister glance.  A small red tag draped itself from an arrow in his hand.

Suddenly Zephyr appeared shocked and looked around nervously until he noticed the slew of tagged arrows pinned to the walls with him standing in the center.

“How did you–?!”

“Seems this old man learned a few new tricks along the way.”

Zephyr slowly began to grind his teeth in anger.  “You can’t!  You’ll take us both out and the shrine with us!”

Van’s face was suddenly serious.  “I’ve already died once before.  This world belongs to those kids now.”

In a rage Zephyr leapt toward him slinging both knives as hard as he could.  “DAMN YOU!  I WON’T LET YOU TAKE THIS FROM ME!”

Swiftly Van dodged one of the knives while activating the circle with a quick motion.  As it began to crackle he simply watched on as the second knife sunk into his chest.  Embers and lightning shot all around from each arrow as the building let out a shudder—splintering the ceiling above.  This was the end and for some reason he was okay with it.  There was no doubt in his mind that the others would succeed.  With this last act, he thought he could die happily.  As he fell backward he saw Zephyr crash into the opposing wall with electricity surging through his entire body.  The armor on his arms burned red until finally the room itself exploded into flames and rubble.

Up above Gray could see the darkness awaiting him at the top of the spiral stone staircase.   Suddenly he gripped the walls tightly while the whole structure roared and quaked.  He could feel the direction of the explosion and took a long look behind him.  The others stopped just ahead of him with the same concern.

“Gray.  We have to keep moving.”  Said Silna with her hand on his shoulder.  He didn’t turn around.  It became eerily silent for what seemed like eternity.

“Don’t discount the old man,” said Thash.  Everyone turned to him surprised, but he did not look back at them.  “He’s stronger than you know.”

Gray couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  In a moment of concern the once prideful warrior had become the advocate of the very man he had so openly hated since the journey’s start.

“Alright, let’s not disappoint him,” He said as they continued their ascent toward what would be their final stand.

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