Jesse raced to the edge of the arena, dodging out of the way as the Beast hurled lightning-covered spheres of dark energy in every direction. He turned back just in time to see Jack fall to the ground, the lightning-like substance dancing all over his skin.
He hadn’t even moved out of the way – paralysed by fear, no doubt. The others, like Jesse, had all raced to the outskirts of the arena and were now looking nervously around as the Beast approached Jack.
Without a hint of caution or regret, it withdrew a long blade from somewhere in the depths of its many cloaks and plunged the blade straight down into Jack’s heart.
The boy shuddered wildly for a few seconds, and then fell back, perfectly still.
Fiona began to scream.
The little girl was banging her fists against the bottom of the stands, screaming at the crowds to help her. The Guardians who’d brought them in were all gazing at her, and Jesse imagined them laughing as they appraised her through those narrow eye holes – laughing at the girl they were about to murder. He felt a sudden flame of fury bubble up inside of him and, in that instant, he wanted nothing more than to rip those Guardians apart.
He didn’t care that the Beast was hurling more spheres of lightning out at them. He didn’t care that he would probably never even reach the Guardians. All he knew in that moment was that the Guardians were there with them, not behind tall fences like the crowds were. They were with them in the dirt, right where Jesse could get to them.
Like a bull seen red, he charged across the arena, passing right by the Beast, itself. It raised its sword against Jesse, but he swerved out of the way and was past the Beast before it had time to throw any more of its spheres. He reached the Guardians within seconds and, with no thought left in his head but that flame of fury, he threw himself into their midst.
The next few minutes were only confused; Jesse had knocked over a couple of the Guardians as he’d leapt at them, and they rolled about in the dirt for a while as they attempted to get back to their feet. Jesse was backing up, his sides burning from where he’d hit them. He’d forgotten how strong they were: they were more metal than bone.
From behind him, Jesse could hear more screams. He glanced behind him, expecting to see the Beast closing in on Fiona or one of the others, but the screams weren’t coming from the arena. They were coming from the crowds.
People were standing up, turning to stare at the back doors, which were open wide. There, amidst a crowd of onlookers, stood Amata, her dark hair a mess about her shoulders and her expression furious.
Jesse felt a pang of fear in his heart as he turned to watch, forgetting the danger all around him. All that mattered now was Amata. There were Guardians moving towards her in the stands, but Amata took no notice of them. She and her friend, Nala, marched deliberately towards one of the doors to the arena. Jesse couldn’t really hear what was happening, but he saw his sister shouting something as the crowds turned away from her to close in on the Guardians, instead.
He didn’t understand how she’d done it, but Amata had somehow rallied them all together, convincing them to stand against their captors. Jesse watched with sheer amazement as the villagers crowded around the Guardians, brandishing sticks and bits of the stands that they’d ripped apart. Half forgetting himself, he ran straight to Amata as she swung open the door to the arena, pulling her into a tight hug.
Fiona and the others were running towards the door, too, but the Beast was in the way, blocking them.
“We have to help them!” Amata was saying, but Jesse didn’t need her words. He already knew, and he already knew exactly how to do it.
“I’m going back out there,” he said, turning to his sister. “I’m going back out there and I’m going to distract it. When the others run in here, I want you to shut these doors and, no matter what happens, you can’t open them again.”
“Jesse,” there were tears in Amata’s eyes now. “I did all this for you! I can’t lose you now, not after all this…” She was clinging to him, but Jesse was running out of time. He couldn’t let anyone else die. He pulled her off him impatiently, leaning down to stare her straight in the eyes.
“Amata, we can end this all right now, but you have to trust me,” he wheezed. “I love you,” he added, pulling her in for another quick hug before he grabbed up a piece of the armrest that had been lying by his foot, and raced back towards the Beast.
Circling it, he was careful to stay on the opposite side of the arena from the door. Then, he rushed forwards, and, swallowing hard, he stopped moving.
He dropped the armrest, staring the Beast straight on as it turned towards him.
In his peripheral vision, he could sense Fiona, Alica and Jaime all running to the door. The Beast was tilting its head to the side again, a movement that Jesse now recognised as its way of summoning those dark, lightning spheres. He gritted his teeth and then darted suddenly to the right, away from Amata and his only way out, but towards the Guardians who remained huddled against the far wall.
The Beast’s spheres shot out in every direction, and Jesse felt himself fall as one of them caught him right in his midriff. He doubled over, the lightning crippling him. He could hear a girl screaming and knew that Amata was watching. He prayed that she’d do as he asked; if she opened that door again, this was all for nothing. There would be nothing stopping the Guardians in the arena from escaping. If she kept it closed, though, they would be trapped with the Beast for as long as it took it to finish them off.
Jesse could sense that the Beast was standing over him now, but he couldn’t move. He could only lie there, crippled by the lightning that still coursed up and down his body.
His time was finally up. He tried to smile, despite his paralysis. It wasn’t how he’d imagined it. It was much better… because he’d finally realised. No one does want to die, but when there’s something worth dying for – when there’s a chance to free an entire population from a lifetime of slavery – and when there’s a chance to save the only person who you have loved – then it doesn’t matter.
Jesse tilted his head just slightly, enough to glimpse the terrified expression of his sister. It’s not your fault, he thought desperately, as he closed his eyes for the last time.
Thank you so much for reading and I hope that you enjoyed this conclusion to the story of “Guarded”. If you liked this story, please do let me know, as I very much enjoyed writing it and hope to be working on a lot more serial-based fiction in the future.