Magic’s Price – Paradox – Backup
As one, the hunters of the Order burst from their hiding places behind stacked crates and piles of refuse, their weapons tarred so as not to reflect light and prematurely alert their quarry.
Not that it mattered, Kalus had known they were waiting for him from the time that he’d stepped into the alleyway that had led him here, to the grimy, isolated dead-end where he usually met his agent, the perfect place to stage an ambush. His man was probably dead and would need replacement, curse them.
Focusing his will, Kalus began to chant softly, his eyes on the the one with the red cloak, clearly the leader, as he took aim at Kalus with a throwing dart. Kalus had heard of this tactic being employed by hunters before. The dart would be poisoned, something to cloud the wits, making it difficult for a spell-worker to bring their full powers to bear. Unconcerned, both by this and the other two warriors closing on him, Kalus continued to chant.
In a smooth, practised motion, the Captain set the dart to flight. Kalus felt the strands of fate thrumming around him, the subtle flow of the time stream as it channeled the infinite possibilities of the future into the concrete reality of the now. The spell he’d cast when first he’d sensed the danger waiting for him hovered like a waiting spider, plucking at those threads, shaping probability to Kalus’ will. The dart flew past him, missing his ear by a finger’s width.
Lifting his arms, Kalus chant became a roar of triumph, even as the two hunters brought their blades down on him. Magic lashed out from Kalus in an invisible wave and the path of those deadly weapons slowed to near stand-still, the hunters held fast as if insects trapped in honey.
Unhindered by his own magic, Kalus stepped out of their path. With a small smile he stepped behind the one on the left, grunting with exertion as he pushed him into the path of his fellow’s blade. Then, unsheathing his knife, he turned and casually drew it across the second warrior’s neck. Blood welled lazily from the wound, droplets escaping his throat like lazy bumblebees taking flight. When the spell ended the man would feel his life blood gushing forth at the very moment that he witnessed his companion impaling himself on his sword. Delighted with his own artistry, Kalus turned from the two to gaze at their captain. He, like his soldiers, had been trapped in the temporal distortion field; he’d managed to draw his blade only a few inches in the time it had taken Kalus to deal with other two. Contemplating the most fitting manner of death for this fool, this insignificant insect who’d thought to challenge one who wielded Time itself as a weapon, Kalus moved toward the man.
He’d taken barely two strides when he felt a quivering tension run through those invisible strands around him. He stopped, casting about for the source even as he felt that tension growing, growing into a great, tearing agony that scoured all thought from his mind, driving him to his knees, even as his field of slowed time collapsed around him. The two hunters behind him met their shrieking, gurgling ends even as the captain freed his sword in a sudden ringing of steel, spitting curses as he did so.
But the pain wasn’t over yet, it continued to build towards a climax that threatened to shatter Kalus’ very sanity. The air writhed before his eyes like a thing alive, heavy with the scent of ozone. A form began to take shape between Kalus and the captain, indistinct at first but solidifying quickly. With growing dread, Kalus looked up at…himself. A perfect copy of himself, smiling lazily down at him.
No, not a perfect copy. There was grey in this Kalus’ hair, deeper wrinkles around the eyes. This was himself as he would be in years to come.
The moment of paralyzed shock passing, the captain leaped forward, sword raised. Kalus’ doppelganger turned and casually raised a hand in response, lightning lashing out at the captain, flinging him back into the piles of refuse. He lay where he landed, twisted, unmoving. The other Kalus turned back to look at his kneeling self, that same familiar grin twisting his lips, lightning still playing in his palm. They stared at each other, the man on the floor and the one standing, while around them the threads of destiny danced and whispered of things that could be, that should be and that would never be.
Despairing, Kalus attempted to form a ward even as his clone lifted his arm to hurl death at him. White-hot fury surged through his feeble defense, picking him up and hurling him down the alleyway, the impact of his landing leaving him stunned. Face pressed against the cobbles, muscles spasming, Kalus could do nothing as he heard the other’s footsteps approaching. A whisper of steel announced a dagger being drawn, almost certainly a clone to the one Kalus habitually kept on his belt. A boot rolled him over, onto his back, and he stared helplessly into his own brown eyes. The blade hung above him for a long moment, then plunged into his chest.
Agony lanced through him, tore his focus even as he tried to form a spell of healing. Time, if only he had time…
With a last shudder, Kalus’ time ran out. And as he died, so too did the Paradox spirit begin to fade out, evaporating like fog in sunlight. The wounds that Kalus had inflicted on the tapestry of time had begun to heal over, soon it would be as if they’d never been.