As Fate lay dying on the bloody sands, he was more moved by disbelief than the pain in his crushed chest. He was not supposed to die a slave. He had vengeance to carry out and his name to clear. His body gave a dying spasm and Fate knew he would die remembered as an oath breaker. He sucked deep within himself, using his monk’s training to slow his body’s ultimate shut down. Was death only a waiting game while regret ate through your organs with things left undone? The pain centered on his chest where smashed ribs splintered into his heart and lungs. Each cough grew feebler. The shards of bones cut deeply. The pain was a red rose in full bloom. He had been Death’s apprentice too long to be afraid when it finally came for him. But then he smelled her, like an animal scents water. And pain that had nothing to do with his wounds threatened to drown him. She came into his vision wearing a simple white dress, her eyes so green they hurt. Fate forced himself to meet the censure in them, but his stomach flipped when he saw only kindness. He tried to speak. Would have used the last of his energy to tell her, but she hushed him with her perfume scented fingertips. He lost himself in the slight caress. “I forgive you, Fate,” she whispered, kissing his forehead. Her hair fell like a shroud, but all he could smell was the ocean breeze. His soul slipped his grip on his body as she softly shut his eyes and laid kisses like coppers on his shut lids. “No,” Fate wrenched back and let the mind clearing agony break him into himself again. The roar of the crowd filled his ears as they chanted his opponent’s name over and over again. His eyes flew open in defiance and watered as the sun glared into them. His mouth was full of the metallic taste of death. She frowned and cast a shadow on the sun. He felt her magic, familiar and soft like a childhood blanket, return him to the ethereal. “Go in peace,” she said and sealed the order with a last kiss on his lips. Peace was in his grasp. He saw it as a desert oasis with icy water. She lay a white rose on his chest and it melted into his wounds. She faded and her sad smile and the hint of loneliness in her eyes remained with him. She was gone before he could tell her he had done nothing for her to forgive. Except perhaps for his last words to her, flung at her in frustration and bitterness: “I feel nothing for you,” And as he had turned to leave her, “What a waste.” Yet after all this time, she was still connected to him to return to his side on his deathbed to offer benediction. “I forgive you, Fate. Go in Peace.” “I feel nothing for you. What a waste.” The white rose burned inside of him, purifying and directing his rage. Were those the last words he wanted her to remember him by? White petals were strangely soothing and drove the pain, but not the shame from him. He had enjoyed watching the hurt flash across her face. Bastard. The pieces of bones lifted from his heart and sealed together. Arturus was still alive. Would Fate let him live to old age? Arturus, who held Fate’s Queen and honor, imprisoned both. Tears of effort streamed out of Fate’s eyes as he writhed on the bloody sands. The heat of the Earth held him to the ground and the desiccated air robbed his breath. Yet still his heart beat. In his mind’s eye he was a novice back at the monastery, pledging his vow of service. “I am the day’s protector. I am the night’s hunter. My arm is the shield of our Faith. My body is the temple of justice and truth. I will strive for perfection.” “Nemesis! Nemesis!” The crowd was apoplectic with blood lust. Nemesis had downed Fate. Fate drew in a deep breath that filled his renewed lungs. He centered his breathing and pictured the day he became Master and chose his life’s path. “I am the bearer of death. I will not kill for profit, but for right. I will become the darkness so there will be light.” Nemesis strode around the arena, posturing for the crowd. He raised his mailed fist and rejoiced in the crowd’s adulation. Fate tested his arms and then his legs. He breathed. He was alive. His tunic was soaked with blood under his destroyed armor. But his flesh was unbroken. He waited until Nemesis’ shadow was before him. The idiot backed towards his fallen foe. Patience was Fate’s and an odd peace came with remembrance when he bent his knee to the Queen with the emerald eyes. “I am your left hand of Fate. I will let no enemy harm you and I will not conspire against you through action or inaction. I am your weapon.” Fate’s back muscles clenched as he rolled up to his feet. The gasp of the crowd was too late of a warning as Fate grabbed Nemesis’ jaw and snapped it harshly back and to the side. Fate drove his fist into the base of his spine and then let Nemesis fall with a broken neck and back. For once the arena was eerily silent and Fate fought the urge to scan for her in the crowd. He remembered what he should have said to her when she released him from his vow. “I feel nothing for you.” “Then I no longer need your services then. I am no longer your Queen. You are free to go.” “What a waste.” No, what he should have said instead:
“You do not have the power to release me from that vow.” Fate was already back at the Gladiator’s gate when the crowd reacted.
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