Brian walked ahead of Gale down the corridor, his sword held with both hands; the bluish overhead lights glinting off the polished steel caused the runes and glyphs along the blade to stand out in bold relief. The air conditioning chilled him, the artificial breeze licking the sweat from his skin. His wet clothes stuck to him, heavy and uncomfortable. They heard no sounds except their coupled footsteps, the puffing of cool air through the vents in the ceiling, their own nervous breathing.
And then another: the electrical purring of Konrad Selivanov’s wheelchair motor, becoming more audible as he came rolling down the hallway to meet them. He smiled.
“Ah, you must be Brian Alderman,” he said. “And you’ve brought back the good doctor, I see.”
Brian tensed. Gale’s breath caught.
“Oh, yes,” Selivanov said. “I can see you.” He took off his dark-lensed glasses and tossed them aside. His empty eye sockets now gleamed black, radiating nothingness, two peepholes into the abyss. “A gift of the Master. A token of gratitude, if you will, for services rendered. A hint of the greater reward to follow. At long last, it seems I have proven my worth.”
Brian charged him, swinging downward at Selivanov’s head. The scientist’s right hand, so many years useless, caught the hilt of the sword, overlapping Brian’s fingers, checking the downward arc of the blade. He began to twist the weapon out of Brian’s grasp, as an adult might take a dangerous toy from a child. Brian released the hilt with his right hand, grabbing Selivanov’s collar. The older man’s left hand clamped around Brian’s throat. Still in the wheelchair, he shoved Brian, hurling him against the wall. Brian lost his grip on the sword, falling to the floor.
Gale ran at Selivanov with her club raised.
“I’m sorry, my dear,” Selivanov said, “but this is men’s work.” His once-crippled leg gave her a kick to the ribs that sent her rolling. “You’ll have to wait your turn.”
Brian got his knees under him, groping for the sword.
“Surprised you, did I?” Selivanov chuckled. “Did you believe the Master would allow you to harm its favored servant? Oh, yes, oh, yes. I have regained its favor. It understands that my brilliance has allowed it this victory!”
“You haven’t won anything yet,” Brian said, standing.
“Can’t you feel it? The world is dying, even as we speak! Can’t you hear it shrieking in its death throes?!”
Brian stepped backward until he reached Gale where she was attempting to get to her feet. He reached down to help her with his free hand, but he never took his eyes off
Selivanov. “I’m okay,” she muttered.
Selivanov laughed. “Oh, my dear children, why do you resist the inevitable? Do you not realize the futility? Look, see what the Master can accomplish!” With exaggerated, deliberate theatricality, Selivanov stood. “For a quarter-century I was crippled. Now I am whole once more!”
Brian slashed at Selivanov again, and again he failed. The Avatar of the Darkness raised his left forearm to collide with Brian’s wrist, blocking the sword. The impact numbed Brian’s hand, the weapon slipping from his grasp, as Selivanov drove his right fist into Brian’s stomach. The breath exploded from Brian’s lungs and he collapsed to his knees. The sword clanged against the tile floor.
“Oh, what a disappointment you are, Mr. Alderman,” Selivanov said. “I expected at least a good tussle, yet you can’t even mount a defense. How unprepared you are. How pitiful.”
Brian managed to stand, fighting to refill his lungs. “In truth, I should pity you,” Selivanov considered. “I doubt you had any more say in the matter than I did, at first. Neither of us asked to be chosen, did we?” He turned, grabbing the wheelchair by its armrests. With ease he lifted it over his head. He turned and threw it. Brian tried to leap aside but the wheelchair collided with him in the act, knocking him back to the floor. Brian yelped in pain.
“Brian!” Gale ran to him, but Brian pushed her away.
“The sole difference between us, I think,” Selivanov continued. “Is that I was recruited by the winning side.”
Brian rolled out from under the wheelchair. He spat out a mouthful of blood. It felt warm as it dribbled over his chin. Selivanov grabbed Brian by the hair and collar, jerking him to his feet. “Goodbye, Mr. Alderman,” Selivanov said. “I give you to the Darkness.” He locked his hands around Brian’s throat.