I blink wildly, Campestris’ bright sun temporarily blinding me. Once I readjust, I sit on my knees, looking out at the expanse and thanking the heavens I haven’t ever misfired and landed off the plateau. I’m still breathing heavy, and I softly rub my neck where I still feel Sigiwald’s sword on my neck. I need to get back there. I need to find some way to help Finn. Then, I see boots running up in front of me.
“Elizabeth!” It’s Rhett, the kid I met earlier today. “I saw you land! How are…”
Before he finishes his thought, I’m upright, grabbing him by the arm. “Come on!”
“’Come on’ where?” He asks, too late. I am already fiddling with the watch, changing the number that was already on there, the one for Gerheli, ever so slightly.
Hand tight on Rhett’s arm, I hit the watch against my thigh to push it in. A flash of gold light, a second of breathlessness. We land, me just barely on my feet and Rhett on the ground, and we send a cloud of dust puffing up around us.
“Okay, no.” Rhett says from the ground. “No, that was too weird. Never again.”
But I’m not listening, searching around through the dust, which is much thicker now, more like fog. I hear clangs and clashes, the sounds of swords slamming together. I pull Rhett up and drag him by the wrist, trying to follow the sounds of what I can only assume is Finn and Sigiwald. Then, just when I think I lost them, a sword comes swinging toward my face, and I instinctively raise mine to meet it.
It’s Sigiwald, with his mouth in a snarl and his eyes like ice. Rhett, to my right, pulls out two curved swords. Finn runs up from somewhere behind me, saying my name softly.
“Go get the thing.” I say over my shoulder. “We got this.”
Finn disappears into a cloud of dust, and Sigiwald, like, literally growls.
My mind goes blank as the next few minutes are a blur of swords and blows. Sigiwald attacks fiercely, swinging angrily but calculated. Rhett and I surprisingly work together seamlessly, weaving in and out of the Forever King’s swings. But no one makes any headway, Rhett and I a solid match for the man.
Then, out of nowhere, Sigiwald turns, launching his sword tip-first through the air. I have no idea how he knew where we were, for I had lost all sense of direction in the fight, but Finn knocks the sword away a second before it pierces his chest. And in his right hand, he holds the arrow.
Sigiwald screams, and the three of us watch breathlessly as the man ages before our eyes, slight tones and wrinkles appearing on his skin. Blood starts trickling from his nose in a dark red line. He falls to his knees dramatically, breathing heavy, and I roll my eyes.
“Oh, come on, it was only ten years! I mean, it’s not like…” I trail off as the man collapses face-down on the ground.
Finn runs up to him, sliding on his knees to assess Sigiwald. Rhett and I stand in silence for a minute, no one moving. Finn rolls him over onto his back, revealing a face covered in dust with glassy eyes, and then he looks up at us slowly.
An hour later, as the guardsmen of Gerheli prepare to transport their king back to the city, I sit on the ground, arms hugging my knees, outside the circle of death with Rhett, catching him up on the extremely weird day I’ve been having. Finn, who had convinced the guards to let him examine the body, had disappeared behind a small tent they had set up on the opposite side of where we sit.
“Wow.” Rhett says, as I fall silent. He starts to say more but can’t, and we simply sit in the quiet, the rustling and sniffling of the guards the only sounds some feet away.
Eventually, Finn exits the tent, making his way to where we are. I don’t look up when he approaches, but Rhett asks him what he found.
“A tumor.” He sighs, sitting down on the ground in front of us. “In the brain. I guessed there had to be something, some real reason to stop time. Sigiwald wasn’t trying to protect his kingdom; he was trying to save himself. Or live longer, at any rate. I’d reckon he wouldn’t have lived longer than five years after what…what I did ten years ago.”
When I don’t say anything, he continues. “ I think he may have even planted the arrow in the Repository for someone to find. I’ll have to check in with Irby, but it’s very possible. The people seem alright, happy for the return of time, and they will recover.”
When I still don’t say anything, Rhett quietly and carefully gets up and walks a little ways, and Finn puts his hand on my arm. “Elizabeth. Did you hear that?”
“Yes, I heard it; I’m sitting literally right here.” I say, and Finn draws his hand back. He starts to say something, but I’m not done. “I’m sitting literally right here, a few feet away from where I saw a guy die. A guy I had been talking to, like, five seconds before. Sure, he wanted to kill me, but, I mean, he’s actually dead right now. Like, he was alive, and now he’s not.”
“That’s not what’s bothering you.” It wasn’t a question. Not even an implied one.
“Oh, really?” I shoot up to my feet, my hands shaking. “Really, why don’t you tell me what’s bothering me since obviously I don’t know?”
Finn stands and puts his hands on my shoulders, but I just look past him. “What’s bothering you is that it was me. I killed him, and that bothers you.”
Finally, I look at him. He said it so matter-of-fact, but his jaw clenches. “You didn’t….”
But I can’t finish that sentence with conviction, and he knows it.
“Elizabeth,” he sighs, his hands tightening on my shoulders, “I’m not a good man. I’ve never claimed to be. And the truth is hard, but with this life and who I am, I never will be. While I tell myself different, I shouldn’t have tried to make you believe different. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be better. You’ll learn, in time, that I have a lot of mistakes. This whole place, this is just one of my mistakes. With huge repercussions, granted.”
He laughs a little, but it’s his usual laugh. Not the one I can get out of him, the one that lights up his eyes. It’s his hollow one.
I wring my hands, suddenly uncomfortable. “Let’s…let’s just go.”
He nods, his eyes still sad, and he gestures Rhett over. Finn nods at me, and I wonder why for half a second. Then, I open the watch and grab onto both of them, and, in spite of myself and everything that happened, I smile. A little softer than yesterday, a little sadder than yesterday, but I’m also a little wiser than yesterday. So I smile, and the three of us, together, jump.
The Adventures of Elizabeth Shelley will continue next week in the Christmas Special! Be sure to tune in!