Chapter 4 – Alpha (2)

Alpha – Part 2

     I glance up at Charlotte’s back and study her. Dignified and graceful – those words are probably the closest I could come to describe her from this angle. “What is it Zero?” She says as if sensing my eyes on her.

     “Why “Zero”?” I ask as we take a corner further towards our destination.

     “Because it is your name,” she says as we approach a building. I say “building,” but it’s huge. Not the Coliseum in old books about Rome big, but still huge. It appears to be made of stone and has arches that bend and curve this way and that.

     “But that’s not my name,” I say distractedly- the beautiful sculptures of probable heroes and fighters of days gone by, demanding my attention. “My name’s Evangeline,” I say, only to be quickly met with a denial from Charlotte.

     “Zeroth is your title, part of it at any rate. Are all peoples from the Outerlands as uneducated as you? Or are you a beautiful representation of your people?” This woman is amazing. She insults me while teaching me, all the while mixing me up with someone else. I know I’m not from around here but I feel admitting that won’t end well.

     So instead of causing more issues by snapping back or correcting where I’m from I simply ask, “Then why Zero?”

     She glances briefly at me and says, “Zero is the name of Zeroth. Zeroth is a title within the Knighthood. The Lord Zeroth oversees the Ten Royal Knights and heads-” her sentence is cut off as she lets out a small grunt and pushes open the massive wooden doors. Inside is largely barren, besides the apparent receptionist. “And heads the Consulate which in turn answers only to the One King.” Her explanation ends far too quickly as she moves to make conversation with the receptionist.

     They’re far too quiet to hear, but the severity of the conversation is obvious by the glances the girl shoots my way. And indeed she is a girl; she can’t be older than thirteen or fourteen. With a nod to the girl, Charlotte turns our way and motions to a hallway. The guards force me along to the hallway; to what I know to be where my life may come to an end. The walk has taken its toll on me and my exhaustion is severe. My breathing is ragged as the men release me and wordlessly walk away. I hear a slam in the distance as I fall to my knees.

     My vision darkens around the edges and I attempt to stabilize my breathing. Some hulking brute of a man enters from a different door than the one I was brought in from. I can’t stress how absolutely gargantuan he is, yet he hands me a cup of water with more gentleness than I would have expected, and returns from where he came. His bald head and massive frame reminded me of my Grandpa, causing my chest to pang in hurt.

     I hear the door slam in the distance. I down the liquid as fast as I could- bad idea. The water is cool as it spews out of my mouth and lands on me. But I relish the coolness on my skin. It’s only now that I realize how hot I am. I won’t say it’s scorching. but the weather is an obvious summer. I feel terrible as if a cloud hangs over my mind. I’m shaking from nerves at the impending sentence- death for what it’s worth.

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     Yet in a way, I’m happy to be so nervous. My senses have felt dull this entire time, so it’s nice to know that I still have them. I suppose it’s a lack of energy?

     It’s mute but I can hear the cheer of the crowd through the gate in front of me. I hear the gears begin to turn. The door is in no hurry to raise and so I do the only thing I can do- I force myself to stand. I will face my day on my feet and whatever may come, I will face without disappointing myself. As the gate reaches the halfway point, the sounds of the spectators intensify and explode into me.

     As I’m walking out to the fantastical, I am made wholly a part of the chorus that surrounds me. But as quick as any song could begin, it ends. The silence is deafening as I make my way to the center of the arena to meet a near-familiar face. The man stands in front of me with his shoulder-length, blue hair in a bun of some sort. He’s wearing basically what the other guards were wearing, with perhaps with a bit more thickness behind his leather. He stares indignantly at me.

     The condescension drips from his tone, “So good to see you show up to my challenge, Heretic.” He looks to the crowd and loudly proclaims “A heretic I say of she!” The crowd goes absolutely nuts over his statement. The roar shakes the foundation of the colosseum.

     “Silence.”

     I hear a small voice proclaim. The power beyond such a small murmur amongst the sea of voices is tremendous. As if unified on an unseen level, all noise stops, even the birds respect the voice.

     “What for is the arena gathering today? Speak it before all to hear.” He stands on the balcony, gesturing to the crowd. I can’t see him well from here but I can tell he’s wearing some kind of purple and white robes.

     “My Lord of Lords, we stand here today among a heretic whose title is undeserved. Our Lord Zeroth Knight is unworthy of her title and I demand she be stripped of it post haste and the title returned to its rightful owner.” The crowd falls silent and I feel eyes upon me.

     “I don’t really understand, but you want whatever has happened to me for yourself right? Then take it!” I shout.

     All around me the crowd murmurs. The old man on high is blinding with the sun behind him. I can’t make out much but I can tell he’s contemplating me. “You wish to give up the title of Zeroth. As unheard of as it is, we do have contingency plans in place to do so.” His voice is quiet, but booming, ever the contradiction, and causes the crowd to erupt into silence.

     The man I can only assume to be Fennis, turns to me smugly. “Wise choice you cur.” He turns to readdress the man on high, “You heard her admission of guilt. Strip the heretic and allow me to take my proper place!” Fennis bellows. I recoil at “admission of guilt” because I’ve done nothing wrong. I didn’t choose this – any of this. But I don’t care. I want it to end.

     I stare up at the man on high- this kingly man and shout, “I am guilty of nothing! But I do not seek the title. It found me and so I return it!”

     The man contemplates me for a moment before addressing the crowd. “What has been given can always be taken, and so it is so.”

     He raises his arm and extends one finger to me. I recognize this motion and all I can think is, “s***” before I feel pain unimaginable, yet experienced before. My blood gushes with fire and my body tries to melt from the inside out. Yet this time there is something subtle. Something just beneath the skin; within me, I feel a pounding separate from the burning. Something within, wants out so bad but there’s a pressure- a build up that won’t release; the all-consuming fire demands a sacrifice that just won’t.

     I hear the gasps and silent screams across the colosseum through burning ears. I don’t know when it happened but I’m on my knees, staring at the ground and smelling the earthen-blood mixture. As blinding light dissipates and my vision clears up, I can see Fennis standing and facing the crowd with his broad shoulders extended and his arms wide. The crowd is silent. I look down at the ground as I push myself up. It takes a moment to stabilize myself and I feel as if something is out of place but can’t put my finger on it.

     Fennis turns this way and that, checking himself out as if expecting something to have changed. “You! What does the Zeroth feel like? How did you know it?!” He demands while turning to face me with a scowl on his face. He storms up to me and grabs me by my collar. My head bobs up and down as I try to form words.

     “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” I grab his hands and yank them off me, “I felt, I don’t know, good I guess.”

     He looks at me with fire in his eyes, almost literally for how red they were, and he turns around and stares up to the Man On High and asks if the title was stripped and transferred. The man, looking down on us all says, “It is… not so. Cannot be so.” For once, his confidence falters as he continues, “The Transcendence has faltered…”

     In a flash, Fennis was running towards me and takes a swing aimed at my jaw. I duck it, or more like, I fall and he happens to miss. “What the hell are you doing?” I shout. But he slams a foot down where my head just was- missing because I rolled. I jump up and block the incoming blow. Again and again, he unleashes a flurry of attacks all meant to maim or kill.

     “I’ll take your head here and-” he kicks up dirt into my eyes and in my blindness, he lands a kick to the sternum. I fall back several feet and roll off the ground as a stomp misses me again. I falter as I stand, and fall over. “And then I’ll become the Zeroth. The Transcendence may have failed but the rules still stand. Upon your head shall my power grow. None unworthy may have the title!” He swings his right arm to his side and the air itself blurs.

     I can’t stand up, but I can stare. And stare I do- at the unbelievable event before me; the crowd falls into a deadly hush and even the clouds stop their movement. He grips something, something that can not be and yet is. His hand slithers around it and he pulls it towards himself. As if tearing apart the void of creation itself, he pulls a sword, if you can call it that, from the space to his side. The very sky cracks open and the clouds part. Fennis is dyed in a heavenly light as the sun smiles upon him. In that moment, the universe has seemingly shown favor upon this man.

     His hair shimmers and the very air feels chill around us as he swings his blade this way and that, as if testing its existence.

     “I am First Knight Fennis Halsothun! I am he who is destined to stand upon the pinnacle of this world and the next.”

     He takes a step closer to me, testing his blade. I can see even the King on High is visibly shivering, and I don’t think he can feel the chill from where he is. This, that Fennis wields, is power. True power. Why had he used his hands and legs? I’d imagine, for the joy. The pleasure of feeling my bones crack under his blows.

     He’s closer now, no more than four feet away. With this, I understand that I am dead. My life wasn’t all that bad. It’s a shame to have to die in some strange world far from home but what can you do? Life doesn’t give a damn about us or our circumstances.

     The sheer fact that I am even here, was merely life tossing some scraps my way. A small way of saying, “See what else could possibly be? Your hubris proclaims your superiority and yet look, look upon the unknown and unknowable. No miracles are coming this day,” it says.

     I watch as Fennis walks toward me, eventually kneeling next to me. His lips near my ear, his voice is raspy; a god offering final words to the departed.

     “When this is over, the fact of your death will not be enough. My shame is unforgivable and so I will cast a greater shame on you,” he says as he slides a stray portion of my locks to the side. “I shall remove my shame by removing you. Everything you are, and everything known to you shall be stripped from the annals of history.”

     He slides an arm around me and grabs as much of my hair in one hand as can be mustered and yanks my head backward. I let out a hiss of pain and utter, “Please, just end it. I wanted nothing to do with any of this!”

     While pulling my head back he continues to the final words this life has to offer me. “And that bitch maid of yours will be split into pieces and thus your existence will have been forgotten. Only then shall my shame be appeased.”

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     I shoot my eyes open in shock, and allow as much air into my lungs as I could muster, nearing the bursting point. Nina… Oh, Nina. Gentle, compassionate Nina. The woman who took not one, but two blows for me. For a stranger. All because she didn’t want senseless violence. And this senseless violence will be the death of her.

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