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Shibboleth Arrives (Alternate Ending)

Shibboleth Arrives (Alternate Ending)

Note: I recommend reading both endings for Shibboleth arrives, and feel free to let me know which you like better. This one doesn't quite pick up from the ending of Part 1, as it would be redundant with the beginning of the Original Part 2. Pay attention to details in both endings, though, because they show the different underlying narratives that either us or Francis, or both, must discern apart from an explicit explanation.

“I have yet to meet one.”

Francis saw the broad bladed sword on the rack beside her, the figures engraved on the blade entwining, their eyes bulging as if pleading with her to withstand.

“I cannot guarantee to change that,” Francis said, gripping the hilt with both hands, “But I will try my damnedest to.”

“Oh! When you permitted me take your hand, I knew you could bear the blade against Shibboleth,” Niko exclaimed.

The sinew enwrapping her shoulders groaned as she raised the sword, the tendons of her ankles trembling mightily beneath the weight. He clapped his hands as he watched her. Shibboleth, though brimming with constrained glee, withdrew several steps toward the flooded mountainside. The remaining settlers mirrored her tread. The rain carried on piercing the earth around the building.

“Ill-earned flattery,” Shibboleth smiled.

As Shibboleth’s gaze swung upon him, Niko toppled into the water. Francis bit back a smile that blossomed at the sight. She turned to Shibboleth, whose features had sunken within Cymbeline’s skin, her bones less distinct in their scaffolding of her flesh. A lidless eye fixed upon Francis.

“You can hardly lift the sword, much less know the fitting protocol. Inevitability is as much yours as mine. Besides, have the others not willingly given themselves over to me? Have you not, Fyodor?”

Shibboleth turned toward Fyodor, who knelt by her with face serene.

"Yes, as it must be," he lisped.

He collapsed in a formless cascade of water, his face the last feature to dissipate.

Francis strode through the water with as much swiftness as the sword permitted, Shibboleth shifting further from her with each step. The settlers had flocked together behind Shibboleth, and as Francis neared, they lay themselves upon the grass beside Vincent and Hiram, bearing the rain as silently as trusting lambs. They grew still within moments, and their forms melted into Shibboleth’s wake. The water about Shibboleth and Francis blushed a dawn-pink.

“If inevitability favours you, then why shan’t you wander near where I may strike you?” Francis called.

Her body wavered as she stood several paces before Shibboleth, and she let the sword’s end rest on the floor, both hands clasped about the hilt. With resignation, she slipped her feet back through the water. The sword’s edge dragged along the floor between her and Shibboleth, who drew nearer.

“I needn’t put myself in harm’s way,” Shibboleth spoke, the voice unusually rounded, “With inevitability, I am as much a slave to it as you, as you must participate perpetually, so must I. Spare yourself this grating against the gears, you shall only be crushed before entering the maw.”

Shibboleth’s waters gathered up beneath Cymbeline, bearing her towards Francis, who swung the sword as the Shibboleth in the flesh bore down upon her. The roaring of the waters drowned the sound of the sword shattering against Shibboleth’s extended finger as the metal met it. It’s a game, Francis thought as she gazed the force of fate in its indistinct face, And it shan’t let me forget the futility of this, it permits not even a smack of hope, but yet it toys with me.

Francis sought to move her legs but found herself bindings of water. Her eyes bulged, and she shook her head to toss away the droplets from her eyes. Shibboleth bent forward, extending a finger to brush down Francis’ hooked nose.

“Come now, the last step is ever so simple,” Shibboleth whispered.

“No,” she bellowed, “No, and damn you!”

Shibboleth smiled pityingly, eyeing the water encasing Francis.

“One more time, you really aren’t getting the words right.”

Francis pointed a finger at the towering Shibboleth, her chattering teeth grinding against each other, wishing she could speak through her noncompliant muscles. She shook her head as the water entwined itself about her accusatory arm, her trembling jaw flicking water droplets from her chin.

Shibboleth glowered, but her disapproving silence was snatched up by her roar of multiple tones, the water falling away from Francis. She tossed away the sword, diving beneath Shibboleth in the flesh, swimming through the waters of the fallen. As the water grew too shallow, she raised herself up, running though it clung about her knees. Her pulse dulled, grew weary, for there was not the long awaited first victory for her here, nor anywhere else. In a bog of ennui, she would remain entrenched.

The rain had ceased as she reached the outside, the waters withdrawn from the mountain, flocking about Shibboleth. The shepherd of the waters lingered behind Francis, a languidity in its drifting. A lone pine crouched upon a hillock not far from the settlement. Francis slipped along the flood-swept grass, boring her fingers into the soaked earth as the incline increased. The pine beckoned to her.

“Francis, are you not forgetting a little matter?” Shibboleth’s voice sounded in her ears, as if standing beside her.

Francis turned to glance behind, sighting Niko bobbing in a bundle of water at Shibboleth’s feet. She groaned—the jackanape, the shackle, the dead weight! But a foreign compassion swept over her. She slid down to stand before the Shibboleth, Niko laying between them. She and Shibboleth locked eyes, one grim-faced, the other beaming. Shibboleth’s finger, extending and shrinking as Cymbeline’s features ebbed and flowed, pointed to the unconscious man.

“Will you take your own husband with you, or do you loathe him enough for me to keep him?”

Francis eyed her as she scraped a dirt filled nail along her chin. Shibboleth’s smile rippled on its shifting face, features grown more inconsistent in placement. Francis knelt by Niko, heaving him over her shoulders and turned to run.

“Take the sword, you may have need of it yet,” Cymbeline said.

Francis’s eyes darted to the voice, finding Cymbeline gnawing at her lip, per usual. A hand of hers held the hilt and remaining blade of the sword, extended towards Francis, who reached out tentatively. She caught sight of the Shibboleth’s smile splitting a once again indistinct face, and recoiled.

“I shall have none of yours,” Francis spat.

She sprung to her feet, bearing herself away from the pine, for no salvation awaited there. Her feet slid from beneath her as she coursed down the mountain, though the earth had already drunk away the rain. Had Cymbeline known of the cellar beneath the settlement?

Shibboleth lasted a whole day, and only most of one had passed. Where could she bear herself and the jackanape until Shibboleth ended?  Niko’s people had survived Shibboleth before, if barely. But none of the settlers she knew had witnessed the previous one, as they had so clearly shown. She caught sight of where the cellar door rested, concealed beneath turf.

Francis stomped down on the cellar door, dropping down, Niko’s body flailing about her. The cellar door snapped shut above her, and her feet struck the floor. A soft light hummed as Francis crouched, panting, Niko’s body laying splayed out on the floor beside her. The shock of the fall caused her knees to tremble, but she took Niko’s wrist and dragged him down the hallway. Blood dribbled from his lips, but she hoped he had merely broken a tooth. If he had bitten off his tongue while unconscious, then this effort would be for nothing.

As she rounded a corner of the passage, the cellar door snapped open and shut once more, echoing throughout the cellar maze. Francis wiped an unbidden stream of saliva from her chin. ‘Twas all for nothing, they would be caught. The jackanape once again bogged her down, not in a pointless life, but a pointless pursuit of survival. She hunted a purpose for most of her life, and now a purpose proved her uselessness, no? She could not save even herself. Whatever strength of will against Shibboleth she maintained, it was futile in the face of inevitability.

She saw a little latched door, a wall cupboard, a potential place of salvation. She shoved Niko into it as quietly as she could and huddled next to him. Her neck curled most uncomfortably, but she daren’t move. The soft, source-less light hummed on in the cupboard, by which she saw his relaxed features, his hair streaked and plastered to his forehead. He couldn’t conceal the receding hairline, or strong widow’s peak, but she hardly noticed him.

“Even becoming a bog body would surpass this nightmare of an end,” she whispered, “But I ended up here. What a dowry this is.”

Niko’s arms and legs thrashed about, and Francis protected her face as he kicked her against the cupboard door, which drew open.

“Alas! Alack! Calamity eternal befalls us!” his voice enveloped her.

Francis hooked a finger in the cupboard door and shut it. She held his jaws shut as she clamped her own against her shivering. Her fingertips slid on his soaked skin. Yet he made no effort to speak, no muscles shifted in his throat or face as the voice carried on. Though she felt flesh beneath her hands, as she peered at him, he appeared sheer as a veil.

“But you were not when,” Francis said, pausing a groan seized her throat, “Oh, I had forgotten, had I not?”

She wished she could remember. Saliva dribbled from the corners of her mouth, trickling down her neck from her ears.