Gideon’s sword cleaved blindly through the pitch darkness that surrounded him. Sticking ooze splattered and another monster, invisible through the black, gurgled to the ground. When they had started their journey, his sword had illuminated the hunting shadows. How long ago was that now? Days, weeks, months, or only minutes? There was no time in this space, only the slog forward, the burning fatigue in his limbs, the cold seeping through armour towards his heart. The blade now was slick with black blood that ate the metal’s inherent light, but at least it glued the pommel into his hand.
Gideon looked over his shoulder as he swung through the mass again. Black clawed at his Lady, tangling in her golden hair. She had been their torch, her hair and fair skin a bright shining promise of a way through this underground. With each thorn that scratched her skin, her brightness dimmed further. He could only just see her now, if he remained close. He would not stray far. Her steps slowed, bare feet coated with black, it stained the hem of her once shimmering dress. His Lady, his charge, his Mother.
He turned away before the sight of her, gold dimmed to grey, wilted his hopes and forged ahead. Not even his strength could protect her from the bleakness that surrounded, trying to drown them. His only recourse to push through and find the other side, if it still existed.
“How much further?” Her voice, a hoarse whisper afraid to enter the bitter air, barely reached his ears.
That question cut deeper than tooth or talon. His Lady knew as well as he that no answer could be given. How weakened her spirit that she would ask it anyway. His arm sagged, sword-point struck obsidian floor and the shock rang through his bones. Something cool touched his cheek. He had not known he had closed his eyes but he opened them to see his Lady before him, hand wiping black blood from his face. Her touch would have seared him were she in full power. Her eyes, before too bright to look upon without blinding him, were dimmed to brown. Sadness creased her brow. I have failed you, and doomed us all. The words rose to his lips but he had not the air to release them.
Legs jellied and Gideon crashed to the ground. Black blood seeped around his armour, gumming the joints. She knelt before him, holding his face in her hands. No warmth could penetrate his flesh.
“Please, you must… I need you.”
Excited murmurs encircled them. Closing in. So this is how it ends. Gideon hung his head in shame.
A tiny spark of light made him raise his head. A single tear rolled down his Lady’s cheek, clearing the grime without dirtying. Her hand — was it warmer or was he colder — enclosed his and pried the sword from his grip, tearing a layer of flesh from his palm. She stood and faced the dark.
“Back! We shall pass.”
The black hissed and writhed. Talons swiped at her face but she cut them down with Gideon’s sword.
Her command broke the ice that had become his knees. He straightened and followed mechanical behind his Lady. With every slice the darkness retreated another inch. The blood that tarred the sword thinned and flew from its edge as she swung, revealing the glittering bronze underneath. With every stride forward she brightened. Gideon raised his arm to shield his eyes from the glow emanating from his Lady. She blazoned, burning away the dark.
“The morning comes.”
“How much longer?” Christine yawned into her father’s side, burrowed under the heavy quilt.
The fire crackled warmly behind their backs, the couch turned unusually to face the picture window and the east. Jack’s wife, Jules, forced drooping eyes open and peered down at Tom, their youngest, fast asleep in their lap. Snores rose from Thunder, the massive husky curled over Christine’s toes.
Jack checked his watch. 7:46 am. He frowned. Sunrise should have been eight minutes earlier. He had checked before their vigil started. The sky was still black. He licked cracked lips.
“Soon, sweetie. Soon.”
He looked over his shoulder. Their special solstice candle, bright yellow like the sun they kept watch for, sputtered but burned on. The Yule log sat warming by the fire, a red bow perched on top by Christine, waiting to be lit with the returning sun.
He turned back to the window. Pale grey lined the horizon, separating land from sky. He watched as that line grew and was edged by yellow. The figure of a golden woman appeared in the centre of that light, brandishing a bronze sword. Her other hand clasped that of a young man with eyes and armour the green of new spring grass. Jack exhaled softly.
“Look, Christine,” he whispered, “the morning comes. Let us welcome her.”
Nicole Lavigne has a BA in English and Theatre from the University of Ottawa. She still lives in Ottawa but considers all of Canada her home after bouncing across the country as a military brat during her childhood. She is a professional storyteller, published writer, Can-Con web monkey, Editorial Assistant for Beneath Ceaseless Skies magazine, Co-Chair for the Ottawa ChiSeries, and daylights as an administrative assistant for the government. She is a member of the Scrawling Narwhals critiquing group. Find out more about Nicole’s writing at nllavigne.wordpress.com.