Chapter 12: Infamous last words

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Algor's dawn was red as blood.

The colour filled the sky, ominous, foreboding. I looked up, squinting in the light, and shivered. I'd discarded my jacket, my shirt, my shoes. They'd only hinder me when I submerged myself in the pond in search of the necklace. Goosebumps ran over my skin as I stood in the breeze, waiting, wishing for warmth. I'd never liked feeling so… Exposed.

Harris sat next to where I stood, leaning against a weeping willow, hugging his knees. He'd stopped screaming and raging, but his eyes were reddened from crying and he looked exhausted. His sword lay next to him, but he didn't look at it, didn't touch it. Isla could have picked it up and told him she'd keep it without ever getting a reaction out of him.

"You okay?" I felt obliged to ask the question, though I knew the answer. He wasn't okay. I didn't feel so okay myself either.

"Don't think so." Harris' voice was hoarse from overexertion; I was surprised he hadn't lost it entirely. "I… Thought I could save her, you know? Thought I could be, like, like… A modern-day Hercules or something. It was naive."

"I'm sorry."

"It's fine." He sighed. "I just… I couldn't help. Too late. She's gone."

I nodded and didn't say anything anymore, for what was there to say? I could tell him everything would be okay, but I didn't believe that myself. I could tell him he'd find someone else eventually, but he was mourning, and those words would be the last he'd want to hear. So I left him with his sorrows, turning my attention to Isla, who approached with the hand of glory in her hands, keeping it from Harris' sight. There was a chance he'd flip if he knew we'd taken his girlfriend's hand, even though he was so out of it he barely even noticed what went on around him.

"All set," Isla announced, holding the hand out for me to take. She didn't show explicit discomfort at holding it, but I still felt she was eager to be rid of the thing. "I've kept you alive for this, Jack. Now you can fetch me the necklace, and when we get out of this place, your debt will be repaid."

I grimaced as I took the hand. "Or I could die trying."

"Chin up." Isla smiled, gave me a well-intended, painful clap on the shoulder. "You've got the hand, don't you? And we've already gotten so far. You'll be fine. You'll be sipping cocktails in Los-fucking-Angeles in no time."

She seemed excited, almost cheerful, and I couldn't judge her for it. We've already gotten so far. Finally, the end drew near. All I still needed to do was dive into the pond beneath that cursed, blood-red sky and emerge victorious.

My silence didn't satisfy my boss, who gave me a final thumbs-up. "Remember, cocktails in L.A." We'd made it this far together, and now I had to finish the job. We'd made a good team while it lasted, Isla and I. There'd been struggles, there'd been danger, but we'd made it work somehow. Maybe, in another life, I thought to myself, we could've been friends.

I had to get this over with.

Steeling myself, I made my way over to the pond, the lit candle held by the severed hand warming my bare flesh. Our DIY-ing had succeeded; Isla had found a small candle while searching the stilt house, while I had taken care of the magic. Many items, I knew from the forums I'd scoured, were suitable vessels for magic, and a hanged person's severed hand was among those. Magic itself could be led to that vessel like electricity from an outlet. I'd tinkered and managed to lead some of the magic powering my watch into the hand. The end result wasn't perfect, but I'd tested it, and it had functioned fine… I supposed.

I plunged headfirst into the water, wanting nothing more than to be done with the whole ordeal as soon as possible.

With all my might, I wished to render the guardian motionless when he showed up. I breathed in deeply, held the hand tight, and dove. It was dark in the pond; dark and dirty, muddy and murky, the bottom full of plants I didn't recognise. I hated being in that water, but luck was on my side: the hand of glory's candle, powered by magic, burned underwater and lit my way, bright as the guardian's eyes.

Infamous Last Words | ONC 2021 Honourable Mention | ✔Where stories live. Discover now