A Life Less Ordinary: Chapter 23

By Sulia Serafine

[1-11-01. This is a Protector of the Small fanfic; all credit goes to Tamora Pierce. I'm broke, so you can't sue me.

Oh, one more thing: BAD LANGUAGE (I. E. cursing, swearing…). You have been warned!

I'd also like to thank those who gave me help with the character descriptions. Your names will be in the "closing credits" of the new stories as soon as I do them. If anyone else want to help me, please e-mail me at silverwLng , okay? I'm finally getting around to working on my tiny website, and there's a new section for my Tortall stories. I'll tell you the address when I deem it worthy to be seen by you. Enjoy the chapter, I know you've been waiting for it! Please, tell me what you think.]

Now… now is the time…

No. No, stop it. I don't want this.

It doesn't matter whether you want it or not. We've talked about this. Everyone is depending on you.

I can't take this anymore! Stop it! I won't do it!

What will you tell her when she asks why you let the world die?

…I…I don't know.

Go now.

Keladry cried out as she abruptly awoke. She sat up and began to catch her fevered breath. She touched her face, and felt the sweat on her fingertips. Her sheets were damp. The young woman swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. The cold air against her moist skin made her shiver. She paced about her tiny room nervously, wondering what just happened.

"That was too real. Those voices were so familiar. It's like I know them by heart," she whispered to herself. She stopped in the middle of the floor and sank down to a sitting position. She leaned her chin on her palm while her elbow rested on her knee. "I don't get it. What did the voice refuse to do? Why doesn't he want to do whatever it is he has to do?"

She growled. "This is too confusing!" She plopped back down on her bed and shut her eyes. "Just go back to sleep. Everything will be fine."

"I love my husband. But sometimes, it's not enough to save a person."

With a stifled cry of frustration, she threw the quilt over her head and kicked at the wet blankets underneath. She was still sweating cold. "What's wrong with me? Why am I hearing this?"

She rose from her bed a second time and changed into some day clothes. A walk to clear her mind was what she needed. So, she crept out of her room and down the hall. One guard passed her in the hall, eyeing her suspiciously, but letting her continue on. She breezed past him without a care to the rest of the world. Her head didn't have the room for worldly cares.

It did have room to think of the fight raging on inside her. She never would have guessed five years ago that she could have so much emotion built up inside of her, waiting to be released.

"I guess that's what happens when you hide your feelings."

She leaned on a wall, tilting her head back. "It's going to be fine. Everything's going to be just fine."

She growled softly. "I really shouldn't lie to myself."

Neal, the Owen-look-alike, and Joren sat down in the servants quarters. The former promptly offered the latter some meager bits of food saved from his meal. Joren mumbled a 'thanks' and ate it without feeling. Sensing that his thoughts were somewhere else, Neal tried to pull him back to reality.

"So, are you really going to help the Empress?" he asked. His enthusiastic expression was almost too good to be true. Since when did kind-minded enthusiasm exist in Mira?

Joren set down his cup of water. He smiled good-naturedly. The boy's attitude was infectious. "Yes. I don't have much of a choice."

"But, you want to help, right?"

"Well," he began, "it's not always as easy as that. Every action has its repercussions." "Mental in my case," he added silently. Joren shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about it if I were you."

"Easy for you to say. You haven't lived here," Neal replied. "You come from some far off place, like the Empress said."

The young man tried not to laugh. It was ironic at most. "Oh, you'd be surprised where I've lived." He scratched his head. There was something more important that he wanted the young boy to answer for him. "Now, what can you tell me about the Emperor?"

There was an awkward pause before the youth could say anything. He wasn't sure of what to say. The Emperor had many faces and no one knew- save for his wife- which was real. Neal lowered his gaze. "There's not much to tell. He's as stately as any noble is, but even more so as a king. And contrary to popular belief, he doesn't act violently. Well, I've never seen him violent." He looked up into Joren's eyes. "I'm not saying that he's not. But his Majesty is cool and collected. I've only seen a hint of warmth when he talks to my Empress."

He nodded. "I see." He studied Neal's face. "Do you think I resemble him?"

"I guess. It would be very strange if you were related." He paused. "A jolly joke, you think?"

"Sure." Joren rolled his eyes. He suddenly became aware of the time. He nervously sat up straighter. "When am I to, uh, carry out my job? What time is it?"

Neal frowned. "You still have a good hour left before then. The Empress will excuse herself from the chambers to get a drink of water, and then-"

"I see."

"…Hey."

"Yes?"

"What's it like?"

Joren shook his head. "I don't understand. What's what like?"

"Being an assassin. I know it's an impolite question. Mother thinks I'm very rude, but my curiosity is eating me alive!" The younger boy clasped his hands together. There was an unmistakable look of adoration on his face. The Tortallian cursed under his breath.

"Don't start thinking that the life of any type of warrior is great because it's not. Not by a long shot," he growled and turned away. "If you'd only seen the things that I have, you would be grateful to the gods for your place here in this palace." He closed his eyes. "There are only so many things that a warrior does that are great- to protect, to serve, to win. But the rest of it is terrible- to kill, to show no mercy, to die. It's worse when you're a piece of scum like an assassin." He stifled a cry of frustration. "And even worse when you don't know the first thing about assassinating!" He stared at the younger man. "You think it's a big adventure? Like I said before, be grateful-"

Neal folded his arms. "I am grateful. It isn't any of those things that I admire about people like you." In a softer tone, he said, "It's the fact that you- as one man- can change things. That's what I admire."

"One man? It rarely happens," he commented.

"But still," Neal protested. "It has happened. You're going to do that tonight. You're going to change things by killing the Emperor."

Joren started to laugh. "I guess you're right." He lifted his cup. "A toast to murderers, eh?"

"But-" There was a look of absolute horror on his face.

"I'm kidding, Neal. Calm down."

The defense crumbled.

"We're under attack!" a man screamed as the legions of Mira flooded into the palace. Men, women, and children fled inside while soldiers and knights fought. The Queen's Riders protected the people while they ran. The King's Own charged into the fight with great battle cries that echoed all around.

Keladry drew her sword and thought back to a time not too long ago, when she lost her hope.

Swords clashed.

The fire- Gods, how it burned. The heated air is filled with smoke…

And cries of death.

Soldiers. Miran soldiers. Why are they so bent on killing and conquering everyone?

Do they not know that sooner or later, someone would rise against them and destroy evil?

That's the way the story goes. Doesn't it always happen that way?

Blood. Fire. Smoke. There it goes again.

"Oh, Goddess. Please, not again."

"Kel!"

She turned around, searching the throngs of people with her eyes for the one who called her name. She spied Egavar waving from a window. "Get down, fool! You'll be shot with an arrow!"

"It doesn't matter! Kel, the portal in the sky is gone! It's closed!"

She whirled around and squinted. He was right. The black whole in the blue sky had disappeared without a trace. The portal was closed. She could have screamed her lungs out. There was no way to put the Mirans back where they belonged. It was either kill or be killed.

"Don't rush in," Egavar urged. "Not like last time. Joren would kill me if anything-" He couldn't see her anymore. He swore and ran down the hall.

She was waiting for him at the end of the hall. In one hand was a candelabrum to light her way. She beckoned for him to approach, while glancing around her nervously. Her nightgown was a pale yellow, covered by a blue shawl that she must have worn to go down for the drink of water.

"I'm glad you came," she whispered.

"Where else would I be?" Joren retorted. His words made her wince. He refused to look at her, and stood with his arms folded across his chest. She gazed at him. Her pain was only beginning. It would be agony for the rest of her years.

The Empress reached out with her empty hand to touch his cheek. He shook her off. "Joren, I know sorry will never be good enough. For all the things I've made you do to fix problems that aren't even yours." She sighed. "You need not worry about magic or weapons in our chambers. My husband is asleep." She paused and stifled a sob. "It… it will be easier that way. Please, forgive me."

"No."

She stared at him with watery eyes. Numbly, she nodded, and hurried down the hall and out of sight. Joren stood in the darkness, regretting his cruel response.

"I forgive you," he whispered, and grasped the brass doorknob to the Emperor's room.

It was too quiet for comfort. Joren slowed his breathing, so he could hear everything around him, and closed the door gently. The room was large. Plush red rugs once again covered the floor. Fearing any trace of his presence, let alone footsteps, to be left behind, he rolled up the rugs and moved them aside.

He advanced slowly to the canopied bed. He tied a black bandanna over the lower half of his face. He didn't know why. It was too dim to be seen. Still, he didn't take any chances. The moonlight entered through the glass window and shone through the gossamer bed curtains.

"This isn't right," his mind repeatedly whispered. "I can't kill in cold blood. This man has not directly attacked me. His armies have, at his will, but that's still not enough excuse."

He froze. "I've really changed, haven't I? Guess I'm not so much the jerk as I thought."

Joren took his dagger from its sheath and reached forward with his other gloved hand to carefully pull back the bed curtain. He held his breath…

And let the curtain fall back into place. He backed away and scolded himself. "Don't stop now," he thought to himself. "You're this close to getting it over with. Think of the good this will bring. The Empire will fall. The forces will be divided without their mighty leader and all the countries of the world will be able to bring the remaining armies down. It's the beginning of peace."

He took a deep breath. "Peace achieved through murder. What a nice thought… No matter what you do, the fact is there. I'm killing a man in his sleep. It's murder. No matter how you try to justify it…" He slapped his forehead. "I can't get soft now! Damn it, damn it, damn it!"

The Emperor stirred. Joren gasped. Was he waking up?

No. He only turned his head toward the window. Joren raised his dagger up again. He walked back to the side of the bed with determination. There was only one thing left to do.

"Kill them all!" a Miran captain screeched. Keladry turned just in time. She spun around as a soldier passed her and struck him in the back. Then she reversed and struck him again in the front.

"Too many," she said under her breath as she dislodged her sword from the body. Keladry looked around quickly for her next opponent.

And there he stood with a bloodied sword in his hands. He marked her with his dark eyes; silently challenging her amidst the battle that surrounded them. She accepted, and advanced swiftly toward him.

Their swords clashed. A strike from above, another from below. Each was either countered or dodged. Keladry deflected another attempt at her flank and spun around to catch him in the shoulder. Her muscles burned. His strength was overwhelming.

His expression did not change. It was as cold and lifeless as her mask and even colder because of the blood that smeared it. She jumped back, watching out for two men behind her that almost skewed her with their spears. She ran around another man, falling to the dirt. Her eyes searched for that cold man, that man whose face resembled her own.

"Ah!" she cried out as he caught her off guard. The blade bit into her thigh. She moved out of the way before she lost her leg and shifted her weight to her other foot. The man recoiled. He took a defensive stance, inviting her to try her luck again.

"Give up while you can!" she shouted uselessly at him. "I've shed enough blood today. You're too good a warrior to die for the Miran Empire!"

He smiled at her.

"The portal to your home is closed! Your fight is practically over!" she screamed with her hoarse voice. The sounds of the war nearly drowned out her voice. The man shook his head. He reached up and removed his helmet. Then he flung it away like trash. He lifted his hands and made a beckoning gesture. He wanted her to attack.

And who was she to disappoint?

As she neared, he lunged at her, almost forcing her down with his strength. She jerked away and struck quickly at his unprotected back. He spun around and countered. Keladry nearly lost her grip on her sword.

"Damn you," she whispered. "Who are you?"

He only continued to smile. He didn't even look winded from their fight. For the next few minutes, they danced their waltz of death among the bloodied battlefields. He never tired, and she never quit.

Just when Keladry thought it was over for her, he backed away, lowering his sword. Sweat poured down her face from the exertion of endurance.

"What? Why did you stop? Fight me!"

He shook his head, dodging other soldiers that dared to interrupt their unspoken area. Keladry grew angry.

"Why not? You refuse to stop when I ask you to, and now you stop when I don't want you to? Fight me, damn it! Come here!" She screamed at the top of her lungs. Her soul seethed with fury. The war within herself and the war outside were making her go crazy. She needed to stop it, no matter what it took- even her death.

"What is wrong with you?" she yelled, tears now glistening on her eyelashes. "Fight me! Fight me!"

The man, with his dark penetrating eyes, only looked at her and shook his head. He saluted her casually and sheathed his sword.

And then, another man impaled him upon a spear.

Keladry's eyes widened. She ran forward and watched the dark-eyed man fall, glaring at the young soldier who dared to interfere with her fight. She cursed again, her fury still not satisfied. She raced off to find another opponent to single out, all the while knowing it would not be as good as the man before.

The man, who despite all her provoking sentences, never spoke one word.

Joren examined the facial features of the man he was to assassinate. His blonde hair and bone structure resembled his. And his skin even matched. Yes, the man who slept there was definitely his counterpart. His age was probably in the mid-thirties. Neal was right. He did appear to be cool and collected.

"Get a grip, Joren. You can do this," he told himself, raising the dagger to eye level. "Do it before you lose your nerve."

It could be finished all in a matter of seconds. There was nothing to stop him but his fear. And his conscience. He breathed in sharply. He hesitated. But hesitating was enough for all of his courage to be lost.

Joren dropped the dagger. It made a loud sound as it hit the floor. The Emperor immediately awoke, sitting up as fast as he could. Joren stepped back, trying not to panic.

"Who… who are you?" the Emperor whispered. He reached forward to tug down the black bandanna on his assailant's face. Joren did not move and allowed him to do so. When the cloth fell away, the older man gasped. He looked as if he were having a stroke. And then, he cried out, "Guards!"

The Emperor began chanting words of New Magic. When he found they had no affect on the young man, he called again for his guards. The woman was right. Joren was resistant to his own power.

Joren drew his sword. He sliced through the bed curtains. The Emperor rolled out of bed to the opposite side. He ran to the door. Still in a state of panic, Joren fumbled with his crossbow. He missed on purpose, only to intimidate the man from exiting the room.

"You… you… I don't know who you are, but you'll die for this!"

Joren picked up a chair from the other side of the room and jammed it under the doorknob. The Emperor fled to his dresser, taking a knife from his drawer and holding it to defend himself.

"Please, don't make this any harder. I don't want to…" Joren pleaded, but the man screamed profanities at him. Joren steadied himself. He could hear the sounds of guards running down the hall. He turned and faced his enemy.

The sword flashing in the moonlight.

Fight me! Fight me!

The unmistakable look of fear.

What is wrong with you?

The blade connecting with tender flesh.

Your fight is practically over!

The blood splattering on his face.

I've shed enough blood today.

And the scream of the unwilling killer.

He dropped to his knees. Then, he dropped his sword. It made a lot of noise as it clattered onto the floor. The blood was already soaking in. He never took his eyes off the body. It held him hypnotized by its gruesome display. The glassy eyes looked at him blankly. The mouth was open, blood dribbling down the side of his chin. And yet, it wasn't he who screamed. He made a gagging sound as the sword plunged into his chest. And that was all.

"Oh, Mithros," Joren sobbed. "What have I done?"

He stared into the face of this shell of a man. The face so much like his own.

"My own death," he whispered.

"He's barred the door!" a man shouted from outside the room. Joren stood up and ran to the window. He opened it and slipped out onto the large ledge that encompassed the royal wing. He spied a woman below. Her light brown hair wafted in the wind.

"I'm… I'm sorry," Joren told the Empress. "He was not asleep."

The sad woman nodded. She mouthed one word. "Go."

Joren reached into his pouch. He withdrew the Truth Stone and gripped it tightly in his hand. "Labafrets, make a portal, send me home safely."

The palace guards burst through the doors. They immediately saw their mighty Emperor where he lay dead. The captain of the guard pointed at Joren. "Get him! He shall suffer!"

"Now!" he cried as he jumped out of the window, preparing to be dashed upon the ground below. He shut his eyes and threw his arms up over his head, unaware of the black hole beneath him.

"We won," King Jonathan said to Thayet. She nodded, and hugged him.

"Those remaining have been taken prisoner," she confirmed. "And I hope we will be able to teach them the error of their ways." She gestured around. "The palace is mostly intact, but…"

"But there's work to be done. And lives to bid goodbye," the sapphire-eyed king said quietly and sighed.

Elsewhere, Egavar was running around, hoping to find his friend. He called out to Keladry, and asked others if they'd seen her. No one had.

"This is not good… not good at all," he thought. "I have to find her! She can't be dead. No, I won't believe it. She's too young to die!"

He leaned on a part of crumbling wall and ran his hand over his face. "I'm exhausted."

"I'd say you smell, too."

He blinked. "Eh?"

"Over here, Egavar."

He looked to his left. Keladry smirked at him. She was favoring her left leg. Blood stained her clothing and armor, but she paid it no heed. Instead, she walked to the Nodestrum and folded her arms. She looked at him accusingly. "Did you actually think I was dead?"

"N-no," Egavar stammered. He jumped up from his resting position and hugged her fiercely. "You brats always give me a heart attack, you know that?"

"Egavar…stop it. You're crushing my solar plexus."

He let go and grinned. "Sorry. But you see? It's over! It's all over!"

She nodded. "Yeah. I suppose it is."

"Is something wrong?"

She glared at him. "I thought you'd figured it out by now. There's always something wrong."

He shrugged. "I know… but… you want to talk about it?"

"I thought you'd figured out that I don't like to talk either."

"Oops. Sorry, again." He laughed.

"Will you miss your forest?"

Egavar sighed. They started to walk back to the palace and find out the conditions of everything. "Well, I guess I will. I mean, my fishing pole was there…"

"By the Gods, Egavar…"

"What? What did I say?"

"You may be forty looking like twenty-five, but I swear you are still a child," she drawled.

He laughed at his own expense. Keladry shook her head. "Go on. I'll meet you later."

"Okay. See you later!"

She watched him jog ahead. Then, she strayed off the path and sat down on a flat stone that was once apart of the main gate. She leaned her elbow on her knee and rested her chin on her palm. The sky was beautiful, she observed with wary eyes. Despite the war that raged on below for the last week or so, nature still retained its innocence.

"Sunset," she whispered. The sky was orange and red, whilst the open clouds looked peach colored under the light of the setting sun. Keladry allowed herself to smile. "And so the sun sets on this battle," she thought. "And so sets the sun that is my anger. And my fight."

"Do I? I don't want love. I don't want peace of mind. I was born to fight. That's why we're here. We're never going home."

She closed her eyes. The fight was over. She had no reason to continue fighting. Her anger was spent. Owen had been avenged, through and through. Tortall was safe. She was home.

They sat in silence for what seemed like hours, but was really only minutes. Joren suddenly spoke, breaking the tranquil glass built around them like a hammer. "Hey, do you think we'll ever get home?"

"Don't say that. I hate it when say that," Keladry said in a heartbeat. She could have kicked herself for betraying her uneasiness.

"I've never said it to you before," he corrected in a nearly inaudible voice. She turned away. A pang of sorrow settled somewhere in his chest. He ignored the ache and stood up.

"I am home," she said to no one in particular. "It is over." She frowned. "Then why can't I stop feeling sad?"

Author's Notes:

Yes, it is what you're thinking. I'm bringing A Life Less Ordinary to an end. But Fear Not! There is an epilogue (go, hurry!) and a brand new series that I will begin soon. It's not set in Tortall, but basically has everyone in an alternate universe. Mostly futuristic, but don't worry. I'll keep you entertained with a fresh new plot (well, I hope it's a fresh new plot…). Anyway, tell me what you think! All your reviews are much appreciated.