This is the most painful cut I have ever had to make. I really love this scene; it's action packed and it pits the hero against his arch-nemesis. After all, this is what haunts Xandr for life. But in looking at the novel as a whole, I found that the scene---as written---just didn't fit anywhere. While the bogrens, led by Nessus, do destroy his home---Nessus is not the real conflict in the story, only a symptom of it. Just like Batman's true enemy wasn't the individual that shot his parents, but the culture of crime that led to their deaths. But don't worry, evil centaur lovers, Nessus still makes an appearance in Ages of Aenya, but his role has been reduced. Nessus exists to hint at the larger world that is Aenya and he will be back for future novels, I can guarantee.
The centaur loomed heads over the youth, coming down with animal fury to sever his brash opponent from both the left and right shoulders. But Emmaxis moved with improbable swiftness in Xandr’s hands, joining the twin blades as Nessus met his own scowling countenance upon its mirrored surface.
Stepping away, the young monk drew the centaur into a wider circle, just as QuasiI had taught him, till Xandr’s heel touched upon dry soil, on the north side of the river, leaving the other’s hooves to splash in the current. The boy danced in dizzying loops, sprang and rebounded, lurched with deadly accuracy. Feet skirted sideways, tendons stretched low imitating the killing motions of the horned beetle. He could not manage to swing the sword around him swiftly enough, but rather appeared left of it, right of it.
“You are powerful . . . for a child,” the low voice rumbled. “Unfortunate that you were not born to us!”
The centaur was heavier than a warhorse, with limited lateral movement, made more so by the river coursing about him. The fact did not go unnoticed and Xandr acted to outflank his foe, to sink his metal into broad horse flesh.
Between man and monster, intersections formed and reformed with violent suddenness, tossing embers as their weapons came together. An exhaustive array of thrusts, parries and near misses showcased a plethora of arts, including the delayed counter, which was intended to lure Nessus into an overreaching attack. But reversals gave way to counter-reversals, and soon Xandr succumbed to thought, in how to compensate for the extra weight and length of his blade. Reach and force were its advantages, but whether the sword possessed any fantastic qualities, he could not tell; there was but the eerie, life-like quiver of its alloy and the constant drone in his head to kill, kill, and kill—if not Nessus—something.
Every fiber of the young nude’s muscle throbbed in defense. For though the centaur proved less agile, it offered no more advantage to Xandr than if he were fighting a windmill. Nessus possessed monstrous power, using hoof as elegantly as saber, fighting with a battle-hardened lack of pretense the youth could never counter. Each deflected blow weakened the pubescent warrior’s resolve, and it was not long before the two-handed sword chaffed in his palms and tugged at his spine.
With his hatred spent, Xandr’s grip loosened, and Nessus sent the sword spinning away. In falling, Emmaxis sank deep into a boulder at the river’s edge. Rebounding from the impact, the first of the centaur’s sabers flew back as the second cut diagonally, from hip to collarbone. Xandr’s torso peeled open. Blood pooled between his toes.
Hooves clomping through dirt and clay, the Dark Centaur began to pace the river. “What know you of Aenya in this paradise?” Between his outstretched fingers a sphere erupted, a ruptured surface of arid reds and cobalt. “You know nothing of hunger, of those who hunger . . . You do not even know the true wealth of this land. But wait . . . do you feel it?” he said, studying the air as if a change was taking place, “a chill wind blows from the East. Soon, your people shall know what we have known for millennia. Aenya turns slowly . . . but it does turn . . . and as the world changes so does the land, so will your lands be as ours, so does the light become the dark. Alas, when the darkening comes, that which we seek shall be no more.”
The red bearded face, and the gleaming black blades, and the rushing of the Potamis, it all became distant and unfocused, and Xandr wet his fingers into the fresh cavity in his breast, lifting the blood to his eyes. Each breath stabbed at him, a terrible reminder of life, and he felt himself plummet and the ground wheel about him.
“I could have killed you at any instant. But I am a connoisseur of torment, and I find it more satisfying to first crush the spirit. Idealism is, after all, so nauseating.”
Closing his fist, the projection of Aenya extinguished like a candle-flame, and his attention turned to the sword. “ . . . I have never seen its equal—a sword that cuts through solid rock—and the blade, unscathed, even against my sabers! An old relic, no doubt, from the age of the Zo. Perhaps this little duel was not completely fruitless.”
With all the might of his four legs, the Ravager of Kingdoms could not remove the sword. Emmaxis remained as though moored to the earth and at some length sank further into the stone. “It mocks me!” Nessus grumbled, the skull-face mirroring the convex of his daemonic eyes. “And this hilt, it differs somehow from before . . . What sorcery is this?”
As the blood ebbed from his body, Xandr could do nothing but watch the centaur curse and struggle. In time, the Chariot of Solos crept behind the greater moon, and the sky dulled to sullen shades of violet, and Nessus was no more. All the young monk knew was that the centaur had been and now was not.
Thought and understanding navigated dark regions in his mind. There was no sensation beyond the cold permeating his membranes without the comfort of a shudder. Resolved to this state, he welcomed the Taker’s embrace and the absence of being that lifted all pain.
But it did not come.
Oh Alashiya . . . What glory is in this? Was I not to be Batal? Has my life been a lie?
Moons mingled amid deities and stars drew ellipses in the sky. Leaves curled and twirled off sinewy stems, framing him in earthen colors. Seedlings broke through the soil and ilms pillowed under his limbs. A screech rent the abyss, and looking again toward heaven, he spied upon the great sword once more, its ghoulish face ever grinning, and sitting upon it now was a phoenix with feathers of orange, white, and blue. It was the icon from the mural, resonating with power, gravitating cords of fate and matter about its beak.
Planes and galaxies swirled in the phoenix’s eyes, and as it looked into him, all knowing, the black came down and he was gone.