Numair was exhausted, his breathing was ragged and the wound in his side had begun to bleed again, soaking through his cloak. The stone steps had seemed to go on forever, rising from the courtyard of the castle until he could see the heavy clouds beyond the embrasures. The sword felt alien in his hand, a heavy malice that dragged him down.
He paused as he reached the heavy wooden door at the top. The metal braces had been stretched, the thick boards bent outward. Set had already been here.
“I smell your fear old man,” a voice called out, beyond the door. “I can taste your blood on the air. Come, face us.”
Numair hesitated, free hand resting against the door. Us? That monster worked alone, he had wrought his reign of terror with nothing and no-one by his side. Numair bit back the lump in his throat. Kaylee had been with him, ever since he had dragged her from that hell hole of a prison and given her a chance to get revenge on that which had harmed her.
It was a cheap trick and one over which he had felt guilty of never confessing while he had had the chance. Too late now. He regretted many things, but failing her still clawed at him each night.
The door creaked open, scraping against the rough hewn peak of the tower. Numair walked out slowly, sword held downwards by his side.
Set stood in the centre of the small terrace. The black cloak, trimmed with red, was moving in the wind and rain. He stood a head taller than the tallest man Numair had ever met, and he had seen many in his travels. Battleaxes twirled lazily in Set’s hands.
“By the people of the nine lands, I have come to end your reign,” Numair announced, with as much bravado and gusto as his ageing lungs could muster.
“Pathetic,” Set drawled, grinding metal against metal to emphasise his point. “But you didn’t have faith in your puny words, did you? That has always been your problem. To have faith, you must believe in what you are doing. And to believe, you must be truthful. To yourself, and to others.”
The staff caught him in the knees, old wounds and aching joints crumbling at the blow until he crashed to the stone, his sword clattering away beyond his grasp. The air whistled as the staff pinned his outstretched hand, breaking the small bones in his fingers as he reached for his sword.
Numair screamed and clutched the broken hand to his chest. But the pain he felt was nothing compared to that which he felt as he knelt and saw his attacker take her place beside Set.
“Kaylee,” he whispered.
Her skin was still bone white, with ragged black marks from where the Sanddwellers had torn at it. She wore loose robes of her own, red with black streaks that seemed to continue on from those across her eyes. Eyes that held no light.
“Kaylee. Remember. Remember what I told you in the Knell. When I found you in that prison, clutching at life. I gave you purpose.”
Set chuckled and wrapped one long arm around his protégé.
“You lied,” she said.
It was her. A combination of the frightened girl and skilled fighter, but now there was more to her voice. Parts missing, and parts… different.
“You did not rescue me. You used me.”
“Kaylee, it’s not true. I set you free, and together we have battled the wickedness set forth by this… this monstrosity. I never lied to you!”
“Tell that, to her parents,” Set said, circling the pair with a grin beneath his cloak.
Kaylee tightened her grip on the staff, her knuckles turning red as the skin nearly tore. Numair hung his head.
“You told me I must avenge my family. My mother and my father. You,” she said, stressing the syllables, “told me Set had ordered their deaths. That his forces had swept through my village and taken everything from me!”
Numair unclasped his cloak, letting it fall behind him.
“And when you came for me, and offered me the chance to revenge myself upon the beast that had done this to me, I leapt at the chance.”
The breastplate, a gift from the Olrichs in the South lands, clattered apart in two pieces. Numair knelt now in only his rough tunic.
“And when I fought in the Pits with you, and you left me rather than give up your own quest, I thought it righteous. You would go on, to slay the beast.” She shifted her staff, gripping it ready to throw. “But in death, Set found me. And he showed me the truth in death that had been denied to me in life.”
Numair plucked a small blade from his waist band. If either of them found it threatening in the least they didn’t show it.
“You razed my parents village to the ground!” Kaylee roared, reliving her memories. “You took the village to rob Set of soldiers and slaves. You salted the fields and burnt our homes. To spite an enemy you had made yourself.”
“We didn’t know,” Numair said. “We had no way of knowing.”
Kaylee raised the staff.
“You followed a mad emperor who created his worst fear. There is nothing you can do to remove that stain from your soul,” she said.
Numair cut at his tunic, until it too fell about him revealing a chest covered in layers of tattoos. All soldiers received their marks from battle. Victories and promotions, etched into the skin. And above his left breast, a ragged patch of skin where a hot iron had seared away at the flesh.
“When I left the Emperor I tried my hardest to undo what had been done. I can only hide my failure with pain.” Numair smiled at Kaylee and offered her his blade. “I leave it to you to decide my fate.”
Prompt originally posted by SixtyNineTimes on reddit and received 3 upvotes.