Eldnium, p.40
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       Eldnium, p.40

           Enoch Pyle, Jr
 
When they reached the village, Landon was horrified to see with his own eyes what Tommy had described. Li’an lay against the rubble, as frozen as ever, with a bullet pressed against her forehead. It had clearly started breaking the skin, but the blood had yet to start leaking out. It was a nightmarish thing to see.

  Landon turned to Jackson. “What do we do?” But Jackson was standing, whispering, his eyes rolled back into his head with only their whites exposed.

  Tommy, shocked, said, “What’s wrong with him?”

  “He’s traveling. He’s a time traveler. He’s trying to change something.” Landon reached out a hand to touch Jackson’s arm…to get a glimpse of what Jackson was doing.

  But Landon was too late. Jackson snapped out of his daze and said, “I know what I have to do.” He walked over to Li’an and stared at her for a moment, his fingers trembling. “Landon, you stand here.” Jackson moved closer to Li’an while Landon took his spot a few steps between her and the man in the red cape. Then, Jackson grabbed hold of the bullet with his forefinger and thumb and said, “Tommy…nice to meet you, by the way…you’re huge, by the way…” Tommy smiled against the seriousness of the situation. “Tommy, can you get the fingers of your good hand around this bullet? You’re the only one of us with the strength to stop it from moving once we unfreeze time.”

  “I think so,” Tommy said, and Jackson moved aside so that Tommy could take his place. His fingers were much larger than Jackson’s, but he seemed able to get a pretty good grip on the bullet. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ve got it,” Tommy confirmed.

  “Good,” Jackson said. “Landon, you’re going to have to use your eldnium stone to protect Li’an from a second shot. You’re a shield. Can you do that?”

  “Of course,” Landon answered.

  “Okay.” Jackson paused again. “Landon, I just want you to know…” Landon thought he saw a tear welling in Jackson’s eye. “I appreciate you coming for me.”

  Landon cocked his head, a little puzzled, rolling the eldnium in his fingers. And before he knew it, Jackson had raised a hand out to this oddly choreographed scene and the whole world began flashing blue.

  First, it was a flickering of the past and present being overlaid onto each other, but then the blue melted away, there was a flash of white light, and the sound of the gun filled the air again.

  It all happened so quickly. Tommy had stopped the bullet. Li’an was screaming. The gun fired another shot, which bounced harmlessly off of Landon’s chest. And Tommy spun around, raised his massive fist into the air, and brought it down on the caped man’s head in one fluid motion, crushing the man to the ground, his gas mask peeling from his face.

  He was dead.

  “It worked!” Landon shouted. “Jackson, it worked!”

  Everyone looked to Jackson. Landon looked with words of thanks on his lips. Tommy looked with amazement beaming from his eyes. Li’an looked with curiosity curling her brow. But Jackson was looking at his hand, which was pressed to his chest, and as he pulled it away, everyone could see his fingers dripping with a crimson liquid. And Jackson collapsed onto his back.

  “Jackson!” Landon ran over, kneeling in the dirt beside him, dust pooling into the air. “Jackson! No!”

  “Is that blood?” Tommy asked.

  Jackson coughed.

  “What happened? What went wrong?” Landon cried hysterically.

  “Nothing,” Jackson said. Another cough. “Nothing went wrong.” He squinted with pain. “This is how it had to happen.”

  “What? Why?” Landon was shaking Jackson, unable to control his panic.

  “The Oracle. She told me that I would chose whether or not The One would die.”

  “But I saw you traveling right before we set everything up. Couldn’t you have found a way?”

  “No. Every solution ended with death. If not me, then Li’an. If not Li’an, then me. If not one of us, then all of us. This was the most painless death I could find.”

  “But how do you know you’re not the one?” Tommy asked. “You control time. You could have just doomed the entire universe!”

  “I knew I wasn’t The One as soon as Landon told me the first prophecy.” Jackson coughed again, this time spattering blood down his shirt. “Time bows to The One. I can’t change time. The One can. Li’an…Li’an is The One. She must be.”

  Li’an looked shocked. “No,” she said. “That’s impossible. I have no abilities.”

  “Yes, you do,” Jackson corrected. “You just haven’t used them, yet.” Jackson coughed again, cringing, more blood leaking from his mouth.

  “There’s still time, Jackson,” Landon pleaded. “You can go back and change this. We can figure something else out!”

  Jackson shook his head. “Do you remember what my mother said when I begged her to change her death?” Landon nodded. Jackson continued, “By sacrificing my life, I can give the world more in death than I could ever have given in life. Please…give me this honor.”

  Landon opened his mouth to argue, but Tommy put a massive hand on his shoulder, and Landon stayed himself. And the three heroes, whom Jackson saved, watched in sorrow and regret as Jackson’s life began to slip away like a fading electric spark.

  In mere seconds, Jackson was dead.

  Landon, tears streaming down his face, jumped to his feet and spun in the direction of the caped man’s corpse.

  “This is YOUR FAULT!” he shouted, and he ran over to the man and kicked him in the head as hard as he could, forgetting to harden himself with eldnium and hurting his toe. He had kicked with such force that the man’s mask, already loosened by Tommy’s death blow, flew into a pile of rubble some twenty feet away.

  He fell to the ground beside the caped man’s body, grabbing at his injured toe.

  A whisper floated through the air. “How can this be?” Li’an said, speaking for the first time.

  Landon didn’t know what to say. When he looked at Li’an, however, he found that she wasn’t asking a question about herself or about Jackson. She was staring at the caped man, her mouth hanging open, her eyes wide with shock. Landon turned his head to see what had caught her attention.

  “What? It can’t be,” Landon said, jumping to his feet and scooting away from the caped man, half startled, half afraid, Jackson’s death fleeing from his mind.

  Even Tommy noticed now, and the three of them looked from the caped man to Isaac’s crumpled body near the center of the courtyard and back again to the caped man. The face was more than familiar, and it wrapped them in horror.

  Finally, Landon broke the silence.

  “He looks just like Isaac.”

  A Coward’s Way

 
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