The Archon awoke--in as much as he slept these days--from visions of the eye which he knew now had fixed upon him--from seeing that which was always seeing him. He was cold. He was always cold now, really, but sometimes the cold was an awful, gripping thing that got into him, so that he felt his bones. Not felt it to his bones--he felt his bones, inside of him, a mass of icy knives within his flesh that stabbed him with sharp pains whenever he shifted, and tormented him with dull ones when he did not.
“Filled with knives…” he muttered to himself, and sat up slowly and looked around the tent. He was alone. Sylvester was not here. “Sylvester? Sylvester…?” he cried weakly. The Archon remembered then the duel. The duel between the Dark Lord and the Archon of the forces that had been sent to Monleone. That was why Sylvester was not here. He was at the duel.
The duel that should not be happening. The duel that would not happen if only he, Archon Septimus Seraphim, had done his duty. Septimus nodded to himself, and even managed to ignore the sudden jolt of pain that accompanied the nod. He took a deep breath, and rose, unsteadily to his feet. The pain was intense, but still he stood, and then, slowly, uncertainly, he began to move towards the entrance of the tent.
After a sizable, painful interval--the exact time of which the Archon could not be sure of--he reached the entrance, and crawled out, and saw the miracle.
There, right by the entrance, was a horse. Truly, a miracle, sent by the Seven, in Their bountiful love of him, and all like him who loyally served the Holy Light. With great effort, he pulled himself upwards, and mounted the horse. The steed waited patiently for him to do so. Then, with a tug of the reins, he sent the horse forward towards the great white walls of Montalban.
The ride was fairly easy, for the horse was patient, even though the jostling movement was painful for the Archon at times. As he rode, Septimus fixed his mind on what he would do. He would ride to the duel, and he would stop his counterpart, and he would draw his sword, and bravely face the Dark Lord as he should have, all those months ago, and his shame would be erased, and the Dark Lord would fall, and the Seven would reward him for his faithful service and he would finally be able to sleep again. Really sleep.
There was a crowd up ahead--people, gathered to watch the duel, the Archon imagined. Well, they would soon see something greater… the vanquishing of the Dark by the Light. True, they were not looking at him now, but soon--soon, all eyes would be upon him, when he screwed up his courage and…
And that was when he saw the Dark Lord. An Eremite he did not recognize was fighting him--or rather, trying to. The Dark Lord moved with an eerie grace, dodging the man’s blows as if they were made by a man standing submerged in water. The Dark Lord’s skill was so evident--so remarkable--that suddenly, Septimus Seraphim was recalling the last time he had seen it displayed, that night when Mansemat Cthonique had cut through man after man with the casual ease that a mere mortal might brush off flies with, and he was reminded of standing before the man, with his sword in hand, and he remembered throwing down his sword, and he remembered running…
“The DARK LORD!” shrieked Septimus, spurring his horse into a gallop. “The Dark Lord! Save yourselves! Save yourselves! The Dark Lord will kill you all! Flee! Flee! His sword! His bloody sword! We are all to die at the hands of the Dark Lord!”
The men were reacting now, running in bunches, some away from the fight, but others towards it. The Eremite who’d been dueling with the Dark Lord raised his hand, as if trying to get them to stand back, while keeping his eyes fixed on the Dark Lord--but still, still many of the crowd rushed forward, many with swords drawn, and then a very fair woman flew through the air towards the crowd, and she shouted “Treachery! Treachery!” in a voice so loud that Septimus’ ears ached and that made all of him ache, and then--then he saw Mansemat Cthonique turn towards him, and fix his bright green eyes on him and…
Septimus screamed wordlessly, and wheeled his horse around. He rode, rode far away, spurring his horse to run as fast as possible until suddenly the beast gave a whinny and toppled to the ground and he felt another stab of pain in his leg, the greatest stab he’d felt in a while, and then Septimus realized his cowardice, and he wept, and wept, and wept.
And he was still weeping hours later when Sylvester found him.