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This is it, folks. It's all over but the epilogue. There may be more Kieran stuff some day, but for the foreseeable future, this is his last appearance.
Showers of purple rock flew as Kieran darted among the tendrils of Mokrelus, slashing and stabbing as he fought. Below him, Elena did the same, smashing through spires as best she could and drawing them away, dancing across the surface of the great indigo rocks like a zephyr.
The battle was progressing, but Kieran didnâ€™t like their chances. Instead of gaining ground, he and Elena had been forced into a holding action, trying to protect the alabaster shards that were Niaâ€™s consciousness from being absorbed. Mokrelus seemed tireless, and for every tendril that collapsed, two more rose to attack. At the current rate, it was only a matter of time before something slipped. Worse, there had been no sign of Khory since he had been absorbed, and Kieran was afraid that the worst had occurred.
Pushing the thought aside, Kieran dove at another branching tendril, slicing it in half, just as three more zeroed in on him. His golden sword, unblemished from the fighting, danced around him to ward them off, and he pulled back for a moment to catch his breath.
â€œKieran, Iâ€™m sorry. Weâ€™ve failed.â€ Niaâ€™s voice was rough and ragged in his mind, and he gritted his teeth at the pain that he felt. â€œI thought that we could cure us, but heâ€™s too powerful. You have to run, while you still can. Maybe someday you canâ€¦â€
â€œNo!â€ Kieran yelled the answer out, his fists clenched. â€œI wonâ€™t give up on you! On anyone!â€ His sword flared a brilliant white as he dove forwards again, and a tendril dissolved into nothing. Elena flew in behind him, slashing and dropping tendrils that were coiling towards his back, as he unleashed his pent-up rage. â€œI canâ€™t abandon you!â€
â€œYou have to!â€ Niaâ€™s voice was panicked. â€œMokrelus is too strong, and his attention is entirely focused on us! If you donâ€™t leave now, heâ€™llâ€¦â€
The surface of the purple crystal started to ripple and distort, and the tendrils on one side collapsed downwards, twisting into a single massive crimson strand. For a moment, everything was silent. Then, with a silent explosion that sent Kieran and Elena tumbling away, the massive spike exploded, sending shards of crystal in every direction. The mists roiled in fury, and the white crystal rocked from the impact.
Khory, a thin layer of crimson crystal coating him, raised one hand. A great white hammer appeared in it. He grinned. â€œThere we go. Thanks for the distractions. Letâ€™s do this.â€
Kieran laughed, and dove downwards, with Elena just behind him. Khory spun and started attacking tendrils with a vengeance, leaving red stains behind him as he pounded on them. Tendrils withered and shattered, and Niaâ€™s spires began to slide into the core of Mokrelus.
How long the battle went on, Kieran could not tell. Time dissolved into an endless stream of attack and retreat, without pause or comment. The sound of shattering crystal was everywhere, and his entire consciousness began to ache with fatigue, but he fought on.
And then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. With the sound of glass chimes, the last of the white spires slid into place, and the attack ended. Purple tendrils shifted, warped, and retreated, leaving only a perfect, smooth orb lying below them, a beautiful purple-white shade that was without blemish or outcropping.
Khory flew up to the others. Much of the crystal stuck to him had been shaken free in the fight, but shards of crimson still jutted from his skin, and he shrugged at Kieranâ€™s look. â€œThat it?â€
â€œYes.â€ The voice was sweet, neither male nor female, with echoes of Nia and Mokrelus in it. â€œI am whole. Come, before you fall from exhaustion â€“ you should leave here.â€
And with that Kieran woke. He was lying on the rocky surface, and fallen beings littered the ground around him. Standing, ignoring the aches and a terrible headache that was forming, he saw Khory and Elena doing the same. Skulking Bear chuckled, watching them.
â€œHello, heroes. The attacks ceased a minute ago; I trust you succeeded?â€
â€œI think so.â€ Kieran grinned, but his smile faded as he saw Niaâ€™s motionless body. â€œIs sheâ€¦?â€
â€œShe stopped breathing when this began.â€ Skulking Bear shook his head. â€œFor better or worse, she is with her Maker now.â€
â€œThen we see him. And we see if this was worth the loss.â€ Kieran was glum, but determined. He began the march back to the throne room.
It took only a few minutes. No guards barred their passage, no force tried to stop them. Soon, the three were back in the throne room they had fled so recently. Mokrelus was standing by the window once more, and turned, tears staining his eyes.
â€œSo much painâ€¦â€ There was a softness to his voice that had not been present before. â€œThank you, Kieran, Elena, Khory. You saved me.â€
â€œNia?â€ Kieranâ€™s voice whispered across the room, and Mokrelus frowned unhappily.
â€œNot really. I told you â€“ or rather, she did. Nia was only a piece of me. The dominant piece, now that you repaired me, but a Splinter nonetheless. And yetâ€¦ so much of her is within me â€“ her memories, her feelings. I understand now.â€ Mokrelus sighed. â€œI forgot the most important truth, you know. Even when I understood that the Primordials were a terrible thing for Creation, I kept trying to force humanity back into the role they had once served. To care for something, you must let it grow.â€ He smiled sadly. â€œYou reminded me of that. Thank you for all that you have done. Nowâ€¦ you should continue your journeys. I have much work to do, if I am to put the knowledge of the Deathlordsâ€™ weakness to good use.â€ He turned back towards the window, hands still.
There was a faint pause, as the others nodded, before Khory spoke. â€œAnd what are we, chopped liver?â€
Mokrelus turned again, surprise evident in his features. â€œExcuse me?â€
â€œWe came this far to help.â€ Kieranâ€™s voice was firm, and he smiled as he walked towards the Caretaker. â€œYou think weâ€™re going to let you go it alone from here?â€
â€œKieran, Iâ€¦ Iâ€™m not precisely Nia. Iâ€™m someone new.â€ Mokrelus smiled wryly. â€œEven I donâ€™t entirely understand what has happened here today.â€
â€œBut youâ€™re a part of our friend. And she gave up everything so that you could be whole. How can we turn our backs on you now?â€ Elena walked up beside Khory, taking one of Mokrelusâ€™s hands. â€œAssuming you want the help, of course.â€
â€œIâ€¦â€ Mokrelus choked for a moment, and then grinned. â€œIt is more than I could dream of, my friends.â€ His face turned determined, although tears glittered in his eyes. â€œIt will take more work that I had thought to destroy the Deathlords, but I believe that we can do it. With your help, I will make this happen.â€
Khory laughed, stepping up, and the four companions looked out over the waves. â€œThey arenâ€™t going to know what hit them.â€
The sun was setting, turning the sea to gold. Tommorow would be a new beginning.