Chapter 18: Execution
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CW: Violence, Blood, Death

Alena hammered on the door of a little stone building, drawing her cloak tighter around her. The wind was picking up. She glanced up above the rooftops, where roiling clouds were sliding across the sky.

The door opened and grabbed her attention. A middle-aged man was looking at Alena, utterly confused as to why she was standing on his porch. She looked past him to see if anyone else was in the house. It looked empty.

“Everyone is gathering in the forum,” Alena said. “There’s some big announcement about the prefect that’s going to change everything.”

She ran off to the next house before the man had a chance to demand a further explanation. She just had to get people interested enough to make their way to the forum. And she had quite a few houses left to hit.

Alena made it to the forum as it started to get dark. A few torches had been lit, but the barest hint of a drizzle threatened to put them out. The forum was crowded with people of all walks of life, but fortunately not many guards in sight. Alena made her way to the big wooden stage at the center of the forum where her co-conspirators had gathered.

“Are we ready for this?” Roshni asked.

“I’m ready,” Alena replied.

“Me too,” Hasso said.

Irma and Dovid nodded as well.

“Then let’s go.”

The gang climbed up onto the stage. Alena raised her hands, but it didn’t silence the crowd. She took a deep breath and sighed. Organizing a small group was one thing, but she didn’t know if she could control a crowd this big.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” she cried, before adding a hasty, “and others!” She gulped and glanced over to where she’d seen the guards earlier. “Torben, the town prefect, has threatened our lives for far too long! Like his father before him, he wants to enrich the lives of the wealthy at our expense! His edicts have made it hard for us to afford food, made it nearly impossible for women and immigrants to own our own businesses, and even run some of us from our own homes!”

She stepped back as Dovid took over, then Hasso joined in. Irma and Roshni had their own things to add. The crowd was responding well, getting agitated. Alena could see guards trying to approach the stage but they were blocked by the throng of people.

“We’re not going to stand by and take this!” Alena cried, raising her fist into the air. “Join with me and take back this city from the elite snobs hoarding wealth from people who actually work!”

She leapt from the stage and her gang followed her. They started leading the crowd through the streets toward the Prefecture Estate. The town guard was trying to break the crowd up, but without their riot weapons there wasn’t much they could do.

More and more of the guard was showing up, though. The rioters had started smashing windows and attacking the guard members with their bare hands. Alena started to get nervous; her heart was racing. But she was feeling something else: intoxicated, almost.

“I have to find Lotte,” Alena told Roshni. “I need you to lead the crowd.”

“Can do!” Roshni replied, giving Alena a salute.

Alena ran, taking a back alley to dodge some of the approaching guards. It was starting to get really dark now, and she passed by a lamplighter on her way. Worst-case scenarios ran through her head: what if Lotte had been caught? What if she was already dead? What if she fell and hit her head and got amnesia and was tricked into working for the bad guys? Any number of things could have gone wrong since they last saw each other.

Then she turned a corner and saw a small crowd outside the gates of the Prefecture Estate. Lotte and Kurt were surrounded by guards. Alena’s breath caught in her throat, fear clutching her heart for a moment. Then Lotte turned and waved at Alena.

“Alena!” Lotte cried, running forward.

The two met and embraced like they had been apart for a year.

“Where are the guards?” Alena asked, glancing at the gates.

“Claus convinced them that these were reinforcements to protect the building and the guards who were here went off to fight the riot. Come on, let’s go.”

They had six guards with them, including Claus, as well as Kurt. Kurt handed Alena a small sheathed sword that she clipped to her waist. Then she took a deep breath and nodded at Lotte.

“I’m ready. Let’s finish this.”

***

The halls of the Prefecture Estate were silent and dark. Two of the guards picked up torches, sending harsh shadows across stone walls. Their footsteps were hard against the tile as they scurried behind Claus. He brought them to a locked door.

“Shit,” he muttered, before turning to Lotte. “Can you—?”

Lotte placed her hand on the knobs and sent a surge of heat into them. The inner mechanisms started to melt. Pouring all her magical energy into her arms, Lotte pulled and the doors were nearly jerked from their hinges.

She walked into the lit library first, sending out a burst of magic to knock a flock of arrows out of the air. The near-dozen armed guards surrounding Torben reacted with surprise, some of them dropping their bows. Beside Torben, himself huddled up against the wall, was Gunter holding a gnarled wooden staff covered with fine glowing silver lines.

“Hellfire and damnation!” Torben cried, snarling. “It’s always you two! Guards! Kill them!”

The guards—nine, Lotte counted quickly—drew their swords and ran forward. Lotte’s own guards, accompanied by Alena and Kurt, charged forward to meet them. Lightning danced at Lotte’s fingertips, but her gaze was drawn to Gunter. The wizard was striding forward, raising his staff. If Lotte didn’t stop him, he’d slaughter her entire side.

Gunter swung his staff and a blade of light went spinning toward one of the guards, but Lotte circled around him and raised her arms to shield the poor man. The magic bounced off her skin and dissipated, leaving a shallow cut. Lotte threw a punch and a gust of wind hit Gunter from the side. He was sent toppling, but quickly climbed to his feet.

The wizard was muttering quickly under his breath. Lotte charged forward. A burst of lightning flew from Gunter’s staff. With her magic, Lotte was shielded from the blow. Then she heard a scream and a burning smell filled the air. She glanced behind her to see Kurt toppling to the ground. The lightning had simply gone around her to the next target.

“Shit,” she muttered, stomping her foot down.

A crack appeared in the floor, headed for Gunter. He barely managed to step out of the way, and the crack hit the bookshelf and climbed up like ivy. Lotte exploited the distraction. From her hand came a long  string of glowing light, which she whipped in Gunter’s direction. It hit the shelf behind him when he ducked and several books exploded.

This wasn’t working. Lotte needed to get in close to hit him. She took a few steps forward, but Gunter finished his next spell and knocked her off of her feet, sprawling backward until she hit some of the fighting guards.

“Lotte!” She glanced over to where Zisald was standing, watching her fearfully. “Hit him from behind!”

She nodded and dodged a blade that had been swung at her. Focusing on Gunter, she reached her hands out and curled them into fists. Then she pulled with all her strength. The books behind Gunter all came flying from their shelves with enough force to knock him forward. Lotte closed the gap quickly, pouring her magic into her hand. She jabbed at the wizard’s neck. He blocked her with his staff. With her other hand, she grabbed on and started pulling.

“No you don’t, you little bitch!” he growled. Lotte could feel the staff start to warm up as it glowed. She poured her own energy into it, and sparks began to fly from the staff. Both were pulling with all their might, but Lotte could feel Gunter’s hold slipping.

With one last heave she fell away with the staff in her hands. Gunter climbed to his feet, already muttering a new spell. Lotte pointed the staff at the wizard and poured all of her energy into the staff. She didn’t know how to use it, but if she could force the matter she didn’t really need to.

A beam of energy shot out from the end of the staff, hitting Gunter in the chest and knocking him back into the shelves. The bolt pierced his sternum and Gunter jerked once before going still. The beam of light dissipated and the wizard’s body fell to the floor.

The fight was still happening around Lotte. She dropped the staff and grabbed onto the nearest guard, sending a surge of electricity into his body and causing him to collapse to the ground. Her ears sprang forth and her teeth sharpened into fangs. Lotte growled and jumped at the next guard, grabbing his neck and releasing a long breath of fire into his face. He fell to the ground and she rolled off of him, slashing at another guard’s legs and effortlessly tearing through the metal plates protecting him.

Lotte didn’t stop until she felt someone from behind wrap their arms around her neck and cry, “Lotte, enough! We won!”

***

The remaining few guards had given up quickly once Lotte joined the fray. Losing their own magic-user had been incredibly demoralizing. But Lotte was too frenzied to stop on her own. Alena had to be the one to grab onto her and calm her down. Lotte, claws dripping with blood, had stopped, but was still breathing heavily in Alena’s arms.

The remaining guards stepped toward the edge of the room, leaving Torben exposed. He was on the ground up against the wall, trembling as he started up at Alena. She let go of Lotte and took a few steps toward him.

“Stop!” Torben cried, scrambling to his feet. “Stop! I order you! I… I… Please, Alena, you have to let me live.”

“Why should I?” Alena asked. “You brought this on yourself.”

“I’ll make you a deal.” Torben adjusted his suit and cleared his throat. “You and Lotte both, you can become my wives. You’ll have all the security and power that you could ever ask for, as long as you help me to maintain stability in Marusta.”

Alena shook her head.

“You still don’t get it,” she said, striding forward with her own bloody sword. “You honestly can’t see any other kind of motivation. Not everyone is like you, Torben; you’ve just spent so long surrounding yourself with people who are that you can’t actually understand the things we’re fighting for. All I wanted to do was protect the people who you put in danger. Even your last resort, to offer me whatever I want to spare you, is so pathetic that it’s unbelievable you thought any woman, let alone myself, would actually want to marry you. But I’m not going to kill you.” Torben blinked in surprise. “You’re going to rot in prison for what you’ve done to this town. You’ll never again be a free man.”

She signaled to her remaining guards to apprehend Torben. For a moment, the prefect was still as it dawned on him what was happening. Then his face contorted in rage and he charged at Alena.

Alena had just a moment to raise her sword before Torben was on her. Torben knocked her down, but she felt her blade sink into something just before his expression shifted. He stared into her eyes, utterly disbelieving.

“Alena!”

Lotte knocked Torben off of Alena, wrenching the sword from her hands in the process and pulling her close. Alena stared at Torben, who was still making small movements and grasping at the sword in his stomach. He looked so utterly confused as he finally stopped moving.

“Are you alright?” Lotte asked, turning Alena’s head away from the sight.

“Yeah, I think I’m—” A door slammed open and Alena yelped in surprise.

Ursel walked into the room, dragging a well-dressed brown-haired woman by the scruff of her neck before dropping her. Fadia crawled toward the wall, clutching a familiar small chest. It was the same chest Manfred had confiscated from Lotte and Alena.

“I caught her trying to flee,” Ursel said. “Apparently, she’d realized that things were turning sour for her side. I thought it best that her fate be decided by one of us instead.” She looked around the room, then frowned. “I’m sorry that I missed the fight. Things seemed to have gone well for us.”

Alena stood up and walked over to Fadia, who was shaking and trying to make herself look as small as possible. She grabbed the chest and yanked it out of Fadia’s hands. Tears were streaming down Fadia’s face.

All Alena did, though, was take a handful of tied up bills and drop them into Fadia’s lap.

“You want to leave?” she asked. “Then go. And don’t ever step foot in this town again.”

Fadia grabbed the scant amount of cash and tried to climb to her feet. She stumbled once before running out of the room. For a minute, everyone just listened to her receding footsteps.

“Not what I would have done,” Ursel admitted, “but justice either way, I suppose.”

“What’s going to happen now?” Alena asked, helping a disoriented Kurt back to his feet. His skin was still charred and he looked like he wanted to vomit. It would take time to recover from the damage done to him.

“Now,” Ursel said, striding over and giving Torben’s body a good kick just to be sure, “the council is going to have to call a new general election. Hopefully, the new prefect will be better than this one was.”

“We shouldn’t be here when the town guard returns,” Lotte said suddenly.

“I’ll stay to report what happened,” Ursel said, before barking at one of their guards, “You! Start rounding up the injured and get them to the hospital.” To Alena, she added, “I’ll make sure that your name is kept out of this. You won’t have to leave town again, I promise.”

“Thank you.”

“In that case,” Lotte said, walking up to stand next to Alena, “we should go back to Herbert’s home for the night and… and I think I just need you to hold me for a while.”

“Can do, my love.”

This story has been a little darker than all my others, but I think that this ending is warranted after everything these characters have been through.

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