|Chapter 16: Colossus|
Some instinct warned him. He ducked, and the Staff of Law hissed past his head.
He jumped away, turned, caught his balance. Elena was advancing toward him. She held the Staff poised in both hands. Her face was full of murder.
She could have felled him with an exertion of the Staff's might, ravaged him where he stood by unleashing her power against him. But she was too mad with rage for such fighting. She wanted to crush him physically, beat him to death with the strength of her own arms. As he faced her, she gestured toward Foamfollower and Bannor without even glancing in their direction. They crumpled like puppets with cut strings, fell on their faces and lay still. Then she raised the Staff over his head like an ax and hacked at Covenant.
With a desperate fling of his arm, he deflected the Staff so that it slammed against his right shoulder rather than his head. The force of the blow seemed to paralyze his whole right side, but he grappled for the Staff with his left hand, caught hold of it, prevented her from snatching it back for another strike.
Quickly, she shifted her hands on the Staff and threw her weight onto the wood to take advantage of his defense. Bearing down on his shoulder, she drove him to his knees.
He braced his numb arm on the ground and strained to resist her, tried to get his feet under him. But he was too weak. She changed the direction of her pressure so that it jammed squarely against his throat. He had to fight the Staff with both hands to keep his larynx from being crushed. Slowly, almost effortlessly, she bent him back.
Then she had him flat on the ground. He pushed against the Staff with all his waning strength, but he could not stop her. His breathing was cut off. His bloodied eyes throbbed in their sockets as he stared at her ferocity.
Her gaze was focused on him as if he were food for the rankest hunger of her ill soul. Through it, he seemed to see the Despiser slavering in triumph and scorn. And yet her eyes showed something else as well. Triock had told the truth about her. Behind the savagery of her glare, he felt the last unconquerable core of her sobbing with revulsion.
He lacked the strength to save himself. If he could have hated her, met her fury with fury, he might have been capable of one convulsive heave, one thrust to buy himself another moment or two of life. But he could not. She was his daughter; he loved her. He had put her where she was as surely as if he had been a conscious servant of the Despiser all along. She was about to kill him, and he loved her. The only thing left for him was to die without breaking faith with himself.
He used his last air and his last resistance to croak, "You don't even exist."
His words inflamed her like an ultimate denial. In mad fury, she eased the pressure for an instant while she gathered all her force, all her strength, and all the power of the Staff, for one crush which would eradicate the offense of his life. She took a deep breath as if she were inhaling illimitable might, then threw her weight and muscle and power, her very Foul-given existence, through the Staff at his throat.
But his hands were clenched on the Staff. His ring pressed the wood. When her force touched his white gold, the wild magic erupted like an uncapped volcano.
His senses went blank at the immensity of the blast. Yet not one flame or thrust of it touched him; all the detonation went back through the Staff at Elena.
It did not hurl her off him; it was not that kind of power. But it tore through the rune-carved wood of the Staff like white sun-fire, rent the Staff fiber from fiber as if its Law were nothing but a shod bundle of splinters. A sharp riving shook the atmosphere, so that even the Colossus seemed to recoil from this unleashing of power.
The Staff of Law turned to ash in dead Elena's hands.
At once, the wind lurched as if the eruption of wild magic were an arrow in its bosom. With flutters and gusts and silent cries; it tumbled to the ground, came to an end as if the raw demon of winter had been stricken out of the air with one shaft.
A whirl of force sprang up around Elena, mounted like a wind devil with her in its center. Her death had come back for her; the Law she had broken was sucking her out of life again. As Covenant watched--stunned and uncomprehending, almost blinded by his reprieve--she began to dissipate. Particle by particle, her being vanished into the gyre, fled into dissolution. But while she faded and failed, lost her ill existence, she found the solidity for one final cry.
"Covenant," she called like a lorn voice of desolation. "Beloved! Strike a blow for me!"