In the spirit of the post immediately preceding this one, I'd like to offer an excerpt from Book One of Melody and the Pier to Forever. Here we read about the king's confrontation with Necrolius Anaxagorius in the apartment above Ye Scurvy Dog.
Conor doesn't look away or back down. He doesn't yield or cower. Necrolius is stronger than him, but that doesn't matter.
You'll tell me now that it's just a story, one that I wrote. It isn't real, you say. It's just fiction.
To paraphrase Luis Arroyo, stories are how humans live life. Fascism is a story. And so is the courage to face it down. Each of us, every day, lives a story--our story. Because such is so does not mean we should discount it, or the power within it to sustain us and inspire us. In fact, nothing else can.
Donald Trump wants to force the story of oppression and fear and nationalism down our throats. We don't have to allow it. Our story can be one of inclusion, love, diversity, courage, and faith. We just need to be like Conor Kieran and fearlessly face the darkness before us.
The Keeper stood just ten feet away in a very sparsely furnished living room, facing forward, his arms by his sides, his pupilless black eyes inscrutable. The Eleysian Teardrop was somehow contained within him, its heavenly blue radiance steady and bright. Maggie came fully into the freezing room, looked in the same direction that the stocky, bald Asian man was.
Necrolius Anaxagorius floated blackly at the back wall, just left of a large, curtained picture window, his cloaked form forbidding, the lightless, faceless cowl pointed right at Conor’s mysterious ally. Maggie clutched at the doorjamb with her left hand, her back flush against the wall, ready to run, to get away the first moment the Emperor of the Gyss came too close. Biting chills like electric shocks ran down her spine. But the Keeper seemed completely unfazed by the cold as still and deep as that in an ice box, his breath appearing in regular puffs of fog from his nostrils.
Necrolius spoke over the barely muted roar of his hurricane, a multitude of voices issuing forth as one.
“I must applaud the leader of that mutinous fleet,” he said, “for his inventiveness, his guile—and his cruelty. He has been so very cruel ... and to one of his own family, no less! An admittedly surprising strategy. And yet, sadly, it was not enough.”
“You are trapped, Keeper, and you know that I can destroy you. All of your kind are dead. You are the last. It would be a pity to completely extinguish your race from existence, wouldn’t you agree? Surely you have a purpose beyond taking up huge amounts of space ...”
But the Keeper did not respond, did not budge an inch. He stared at Necrolius impudently, coldly, expressionlessly. The emperor said:
“The Samanlainen was human when he perished—I can feel it. Give his soul to me! Give it to me—now!”
He floated towards the Keeper, his arms stretching wide, his thin fingers lengthening ...
The bright blue light in the Keeper’s midsection suddenly blazed blindingly to life, warding the Black Coffin off, who raised his arms protectively over his cowl. The evil church choir cried and screamed in frustration.
It was then that Maggie saw the genius in Conor’s plan. In Eleysius’ decision to be human when he died. Killing the Keeper would require enormous amounts of aecxal energy, and might just kill the Teardrop as well. Necrolius couldn’t be sure. The Samanlainen’s decision to be human at the end of his life was an irresistible lure to the Black Coffin, whose craving for such a powerful—and now human—soul could not be denied. Now that soul was here, just fifteen feet away from him—and he could not approach it. Maggie remembered Eleysius’ words to Conor in the Temple Kentein Intersectum: only a child could give Necrolius the Teardrop, and then only in an act of free will. Necrolius hadn’t figured this out. He’d been lured into a trap—and had taken the bait.
The Emperor of the Gyss whipped his arms to his sides, red sparks flying out his fingertips. He raged:
“Give me the Samanlainen’s soul now! NOW, I tell you! Do it NOW—”
“Or you’ll do what?” came a deep, angry, Irish voice from directly behind Maggie. She jerked her chin left, watched as Conor Kieran strode into the Teardrop-illuminated living room, the lizard and the snake shimmering like potent ghosts on his shoulders. She stepped quickly away from him as he passed. She could sense the same deadly anger coursing through him that had on the island. Anger so potent it could kill her.
Necrolius instantly attacked. Red-laced lightning bolted forth from his outstretched fingertips, streaking towards both Conor and the Keeper. But Conor was inhumanly quick: the Pearl-Yang Serpenthelm sparked into gleaming swords that intercepted both deadly bolts as he stepped in front of the Keeper, shielding him. The lightning crackled and disappeared inside the fantastic blades as the king held steady, gritting his teeth, his knees bent in a fighting stance, his broad body surrounded by an evil halo of red-tinted light.
“Outside, Keeper!” ordered the king over the deafening thunderclap. “Go now—NOW!”
The Keeper did as told, turning and walking past Maggie like a robot through the doorway and into the kitchen to the back door beyond. Over the attack she could hear the door slam open and felt the sudden blast of wet wind as it rushed into the small apartment—and then: a huge, white, sustained flash of light, as though someone had dropped a nuke into the sink.
Conor held against the malevolent lightning for seeming minutes, until suddenly it sparked out of existence, leaving Maggie half-blinded with vivid orange-white afterimages. She blinked heavily, her ears ringing.
The king slowly lowered the swords to his sides, a smile of furious contempt forming on his lips. “Depleted, are ye? Keeping tens of thousands of demons subdued must have taken real concentration. They’re all dead now—good work. And this bollocks storm ... eh? And then crossing the Tangent where ye don’t belong ...”
In rising waves of sound the multitude within the black cowl wailed “DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!” and the lightning struck at Conor again, but again the king was up to the emperor’s incredible power, the swords crossing defensively before him, the red bolts pulled to them, to where they met. Conor held against the onslaught as against a tremendous dam threatening to burst, pressing forward, his face mirroring the immense effort it took to withstand Necrolius’ assault. But again the lightning sparked and died, this time more quickly, and again the king lowered the swords, which seemed utterly unfazed by the attacks, glinting unnaturally in the sudden gloom of the room. Earthly lightning flickered without, illuminating the Black Coffin’s lightless, floating silhouette, and threading through Conor’s vivid green eyes, who growled, “My turn.”
The emperor tried firing again as Conor stepped boldly towards him, but nothing but weak red sparks flew from his extended fingers. The swords the king grasped disappeared at the exact moment he swung a haymaker at Necrolius Anaxagorius’ hidden chin. His fist crashed into the cowl, and the Gyssian ruler flew backward into the wall just next to the picture window, crashing with a bone-crunching thud and collapsing at his feet.
The king brought his brown boot down hard on the Necrolius’ exposed neck. The emperor made a pathetic choking sound and grabbed fruitlessly at Conor’s leg, his dark cowl falling back, revealing his face, one that repulsed Maggie: misshapen, black-on-green, the eyes bottomless slits, the nose a hooked beak, no hair on his head, the ears small and flat. The Red Talon spoke through gritted teeth, pointing down at him, his right index finger extended stiffly. Tiny twin stars spun faster and faster about it.
“Suck on this—”
And what came out of that finger was Conor’s answer to the murder of his beloved Espriella, and to the murder of his grandfather, Exeter Chaundran, the king, and to the invasion of Vanerrincourt, and to the certain slaughter of hundreds of thousands of his countrymen and anonymous, voiceless millions beyond Vanerrincourtian shores; what came out of that finger was the justice sought by tens of faceless nations, all now subjugated and defenseless, their cities burning, their people enslaved; what came out of that finger was for the many warriors who had died serving him, who had died proudly, who fell to the demons and the Tracluse, who had left their lands behind, to be labeled by those lands as mutineers and traitors: those who chose instead to fight back, to stand against oppression, against this oppressor, this contemptible, loathsome, consuming, soul-sucking monster. What came out of Conor Kieran Faramond Benedictus the First’s finger was called up from a soul genuine and deep and powerful, a soul living and breathing and creating, from the union of the Seen and the Unseen, from the towering and righteous Cathedral in his very center. There was no one else on Aquanus strong enough to offer it. It had to come from him. And it did.
The bolt that issued from Conor’s index finger, shooting directly into the face of the Black Coffin, would have blinded Maggie, would have exploded her eardrums, had she not wished earlier for protection. As it was, the power of the lightning shook the entire building and shattered the apartment’s windows all at once with its ferocity, the light pure and true and white, a ramrod of fury like one of Satelemark’s own talons given to the Mathematician, who wielded it indomitably in defense of all she believed and held true. The aecxal bolt tore into Necrolius’ face, and the emperor soundlessly shrieked, thrashing under Conor’s steady boot, clutching at his leg, trying futilely to escape. Disgusting black tentacles sprouted forth from all over the dark cloak, sought for Conor’s leg, sought for anything to grab, but they couldn’t seem to hold on to anything for long, turning into smoke and disappearing seconds later. They sprouted forth again, then again, the hated Mathematician twisting and writhing and dying, the man standing rock-solid above him leaning into the light he was using to destroy him. The hurricane blowing through the windows was silenced utterly, the storm outside nothing compared to the raging tempest within the spirit of Conor Kieran himself, the absolute sum of that tempest’s energy focused entirely on the destruction of the unbeing under his crushing heel.
The icy chill of death suddenly seeped into Maggie’s body. Glancing down, she stared, horrified, as a tentacle wound grotesquely up an invisible pole directly beneath her, tightening and lengthening. It was her right leg! Necrolius had somehow found her! He was killing her! She went to scream, but then the tentacle suddenly withered, loosening, before dissolving into black smoke and disappearing.
She looked up.
Laughter. Joy. Both were barely discernible, but she could hear one and sense the other anyway. It was the laughter of people. And the joy ... it blew past her in random happy bursts, like butterflies released from a cage, or ...
Souls! They were souls! Souls released from the unspeakable prison of Necrolius’ fathomless, pitiless, infernal unexistence, released to open and glorious eternity. Conor was winning! He was killing the Emperor of the Gyss!
It was that exact moment that, in what seemed to be a final, desperate gesture of survival, Necrolius released his grip of Conor’s leg and motioned at the broken picture window, as if calling something to him.
The freak storm wave crashed into the building the very next second, gray water blasting through the tattered and flying curtains with the intensity of a fire hose, knocking the king completely off his feet and away from his hated enemy. The entire edifice shook, the room falling into darkness.
Conor came to his feet instantly in two feet of standing water, dripping head to toe, having been bowled across the room, but too late: with a blinding red flash the Black Coffin was through the window and gone. Conor bellowed in fury and followed, flashing white into a seahawk as he dove through the window and into the shrieking wind and rain.
Maggie didn’t wait for the prompting; she thought: I wish to follow the king.She accelerated after him through the shattered window and into the storm, doubling back as she soared over the roof of the bar. The Keeper suddenly appeared overheard, a great blue heron once more, its midsection brightly glowing, making its way east, away from the ocean. Beneath it all, sitting in a gutter in the flooded street, a tattooed and emaciated woman stared up in disbelief, a bent, waterlogged cigarette dangling between her thin lips, her thin blond hair plastered against her craggy, mascara-streaked face.