November, 707 CR
Yvarra was used to waking up with pain. Great burning stabbing pain. But then, pain was better than being dead. Even when each breath was a study in agony, it didn't take long until the screaming pain was swallowed up by a pleasant burning warmth as her alicorn did its work.
Closing her eyes she sniffed the air with gentle inhales, slowly puzzling out the clues from the salty stench of her own blood. There was stone— cold, wet. A stench worse than the mud, the shit, the waste dumped out of upper story windows. A stench of ancient death, putrid and decaying, filling the air with a heavy cold that almost made her gag as she took shallower and shallower breaths. And—
Almost, almost she screamed. It was a— a nothingness that scraped against her soul again and again, rubbing it raw with its wrongness.
She found herself curling up in a ball to try and hide. The physical pain was easy, but this— Grasping the Sword of Songs for its support, she found that it was gone! On her back was an empty scabbard. And her daggers— gone! All she had left was the tattered remnants of her clothing, the battered fedora, and the necklace she'd found that reminded her of those blue eyes—
Those trusting blue eyes that would be destroyed if she failed.
From somewhere deep within herself she forced her soul to uncurl from its sobbing state, forced her body to relax. She was alive, and that meant there was hope. Hope even though there was no one else. Only herself. A unicorn.
She prayed to Klepnos that that was enough.
Clasping the fedora between her breasts, she hid the blue stone beneath it. Her ears flicked as she heard the sound of movement, booted feet and— and the irregular heavy thump of paws on stone. And a clang-clang of something banging against the stone with each thump. It wasn't armour, it wasn't anything light, instead something heavy. There were— three? She sniffed, forced her way past the cloying ancient death, picking out hints nearly overwhelmed by the stench that surrounded her. A hint of the blood and warmth of a female human. And a male badger nearby. And— and— a rabbit?
Why not, around this damn place!
The two approaching stopped. The rabbit panting from exertion. His scent was tinged— no, not tinged, overwhelmed, with hatred. Hatred and soul burning pain. A faint tinkle came from the rabbit — the Sword of Songs?
"Wake her!" The voice was cold, naked, filled with pain and anger. And high pitched, almost a squeak. If not for the gravel rubbing undertones she'd have laughed out loud. Instead, it terrified her even more.
Someone, the human, walked over. The one as she who'd stabbed her again and again. The human was wearing boots of some kind, and the heel thudded on the wet stone. Something rattled, and then icy muddy water poured onto her. It drained into the still healing wounds reawakening their stabbing pain. It oozed along her fur, between her breasts, down her legs. Slimy coldness oozed down her nostrils and she coughed and gagged and sneezed, struggling to get the dirty water out.
"You wanted to kill me," the rabbit squeaked.
Yvarra needed information. She stopped moving, letting her body sag into apparent unconsciousness.
"Cut the crap! You're conscious. I can smell it, and I can see it!"
So much for that idea. With a moan, Yvarra raised her muzzle and looked at him. He was indeed a rabbit, thin, scrawny, almost nothing but flesh and bones. His eyes were sunken into his skull and they glowed with a preternatural hatred. His fur, it may have been a rich tan once, was wet, matted with calcium and dirt. His ears were limp along his back. And in his hand, battered, abused, bent but not broken, was the Sword of Songs.
And yet— All that paled beside the dim blue-purple light. Not steady, a swirling pulse of colour slowly turning, rotating. The light was alive— no, not alive. It hated life. Hated existence with a screaming insanity so beyond mortal knowledge that it seemed sane. Looking up, she felt herself, her soul, falling towards the slowly swirling— gate? It had to be, there was nothing else it could be. It was an irregular circle, the edge formed from twisted and cracked rock that glistened with crystal deposits. Rock that seemed to scream in agony, that seemed to twist and try to flee even though it was cold and wet and solid. The gate—
It looked solid, looked like patterned marble of glistening, shining, blue and purple. It was solid, carved and patterned rock. And yet— and yet it moved. It turned, it twisted, it spun, it rotated around and around. And not a single motion. Each fraction of the irregular disc swirled in its own pattern, some in the opposite direction of that around it. All curdling and twisting, like thick tar pulled together and stirred endlessly, flickering with— hot coals of the deepest black. And— and there were— hints? Patterns that suggested a face of inhuman beauty and age and wisdom. Utter and complete kindness and saintliness that screamed evil into her soul.
"Damn you! Damn you to all nine of the hells!" The rabbit's squeaky grating voice pulled her, dragged her soul back from the abyss it has been falling into all unaware.
Turning her head slightly, she looked at him. And then ignored him as unworthy. Her eyes turned away as she stretched and straightened her fedora, slowly bringing it back into semblance of its original shape. Looking at it critically, she worked out some of the mud and dirt, forcing it back to what it should look like. Only when she was satisified, well, more resigned that it was the best she could do, did she slip it back on her head, fitting the slot over her alicorn.
Yvarra turned away. She was naked, no weapons, no tools, imprisoned. She was in their power. And that meant that her only hope was for them to make a mistake. Mistakes were more often made when emotions overwhelmed common sense. This was going to hurt, but she was certain they weren't going to kill her. If they were, she'd already be dead. If she could even die. And that meant her best hope was to invite the pain, to feed the hatred that created it.
Screaming, the rabbit slashed the whip across her arm, its edge digging into the fur, into the flesh, splattering her body with fresh crimson. It was a fresh pain, a cruel pain. It was like the whip was alive, laughing, taunting her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw that his other hand was still holding the Sword of Songs and she could hear it whimpering in a clattering tone of high pitched harp strings.
She closed her eyes, turning her head as far away from the rabbit as she could.
She let his hatred shape her voice, let her pain fill it with sorrow and agony. "Klepnos take you," she whispered.
The rabbit coiled the whip. "We have all the time in the world, you and I. All the time we can ever need." Holding the sword in one hand and the whip in the other, he struck her again and again. Each strike was the caress of a cruel lover. Each strike caused a fresh wound, and made sure to caress an existing one, peeling back her flesh, splattering her blood, tearing her muzzle. Her alicorn glowed, her stomachs growled, all she could taste was bile and blood. Almost she whimpered, but she clenched her hands, one around itself, one around the blue gem that was all she lived for, and kept her silence.
He snapped the whip and knocked the fedora from her head. Letting go of the gem, she grabbed for it, but wasn't fast enough.
The rabbit stared. Then he squeaked out in a loud voice that grated around the cavern. "You said you'd searched her! Stripped her!"
Her hand whipped back to grab the gem, but he was too fast. The glass and metal tipped leather snapped against the necklace, digging into her neck, laying bare her windpipe. And knocking the necklace off where it clattered and slid across the floor. Gasping for breath, the air gurgling out the wound as it healed, blood tinting the dark flesh around her lips, she tried to crawl towards the necklace.
The rabbit threw the Sword of Songs away towards the gate, the whip fell form his grasp, and his hand grabbed the necklace, yanked it out of reach.
All she could do was glare her hatred at him. All she could do was grab her fedora from the wet floor and put it back on. A last act of defiance.
"But— we checked for magic—" the woman said.
"You didn't check hard enough." He picked up the necklace by its chain and looked at the blue teardrop it held.
She couldn't stop one hand from making a futile grab in its direction, as she stared at him with complete and utter hatred.
"You want this, don't you?"
She spit a glob of blood towards him. It landed on the damn stone just in front of one of his large, scratched and bloody, rabbit paws.
"You've lost it. Like you've lost the game." She watched as he put the chain around his neck. "Do you know how much I hate you? Do you know?"
Oh, she knew. This had started as a tactic to make him make a mistake. But, not any more. Before she'd worked because she was being paid. She'd kept going for her own pride, for a promise to protect an innocent. And now— now it was personal. She glared at him.
"Oh— I'll teach you. By Eli I'll teach you what hate really means."
The third strike grabbed her fedora; it fled past her clutching hands and slid on the damp cave floor.
If she had thought she'd been whipped before, she'd have been wrong. The instrument of pain rose again and again, snapping across her body like the caresses of a lover. Enough to cause pain, so very very much pain. But never ever enough to kill her.
And that was fine. It fed her hatred. It kept her alive. By Klepnos, the rabbit would pay!
Eventually the pain stopped. They left, they all left. A clay bowl was tossed in, and filled with slop Yvarra wouldn't have fed a pig. But, she knew she needed food. Her stomachs overrode her disgust and she ate the garbage, even licking the last little bits out of the bowl.
Her complete exhaustion abated a bit.
Pain, somebody had once told her, purified the soul. She'd had a lot of pain in her life. Knife wounds. Broken bones and bruises from her misspent youth when she'd had to fight for everything she'd gotten. Weeks spent without food. Stealing water that had been left out for the fey and risking their wrath that had never come. But—
But, what she had experienced in this one day overshadowed all her life into the games of a child. This was real. The stakes weren't just her life, they were everybody's life. And that included Ansela's.
Instinctively her hand clasped at the necklace, forgetting that it was gone.
Damn him! Damn him to every hell. Damn him to every doom imagined by a thousand years of human hate.
All she had left was the body she'd been gifted with, or cursed. That and her hate.
And yet, what had hate gotten her?
Through her entire life she had hated the privledged, the rich who'd had what she'd never had. She'd taught herself the skills of a thief not out of any altruistic motives, but for the purpose of vengeance. As she'd grown older, she'd buried that fact — taken it as a matter of honour, that her word meant something, that she would always succeed in redistributing wealth to those who hired her.
And yet, the real reason she'd done so was to strike out at those who'd owned the objects. To attempt to make them feel some of what she had.
The pain seeped into her bones, always present. Dull. She had enough strength to stay alive, but never enough to fully heal.
The first thing was to create options. They'd left her with only her alicorn, and her wits. Her tools were gone, her weapons were gone. And the gate was always watching. The thing inside it always pulling at her soul, scratching rusty metal claws all along it.
Options. Options that they would not detect. Options that they would not expect.
Even though she could barely move, she examined the cage. It was rough, crude, thick heavy pieces of scrap iron. Far too heavy to break, or to cut. And yet— Yet there was door, and it was held only by one heavy metal bar that had been hammered around the post of the gate and of a wall to keep it closed. The metal bar was far heaver than she could move — that was obvious just from looking at it, even in the dim purple light, even when she used some of her faltering magic to bring the warm light of her alicorn into brave defiance.
She had her alicorn. It's sharp bone piercing edge.
Moving forward, twisting, she began scraping its edge back and forth along the inside of the metal strap imprisoning her. Only on the inside. Only where they couldn't see it. For as long as she could. Scrapping and rubbing, slowly slowly working her way through the metal. To cut it, to weaken it—
To do what she could.
Every day he came. The insane rabbit. He yelled at her, screamed at her. She refused to answer. She refused to dignify his presence with an answer. It was the innate stubbornness in her soul. And yet, what would she say? What could she say?
All she did was bear it. Bear it until he stopped, exhausted. Then he left, and she was fed. She ate, and then went back to work rubbing, scraping her alicorn back and forth, until she collapsed into a stiff sleep until he came again.
Yet, rubbing her alicorn back and forth, back and forth, wasn't intellectually demanding. All she could do was think. Think, and dream.
All her life she'd fought to revenge. Cloaked it in words and deals and money. And she'd been very good at it. So very good. And, where had it gotten her? Was she rich, powerful? Not at all. All it had done was gotten the attention of Gods, and gotten her damned to this never-ending hell.
And it had made her what she was now. Gifted her with magic. Transformed her into a symbol. Given her the chance to save the innocent. To protect the likes of Ansela. Through her delirious dreams the little girls face looked at her. Wide blue eyes. Trusting blue eyes. Eyes that knew she would protect them against all the evil in the world.
The evil that she faced every day. The evil that glared at her, growing stronger, more aware.
What had she made of her life? A reputation, personal honour— and what more?
People knew her. Those who had need of her special services hired her. But, did any of them respect her.
She remembered meeting after meeting. In sailor-filled taverns. In mercenary-filled inns. Cloaked hidden individuals hiring her to deal with their enemies. So ashamed of what they were doing that they hid themselves beneath false names and false faces.
Using her. Using her and disgarding her because she was meaningless in the greater realm of things.
Never treating her as a person, never respecting her. Never honouring her.
So, what was her life worth?
More whipping. More pain. Brine dumped on her digging into the wounds with stabs of hot fire. Garbage tossed onto the stone for her to lap up like a dog. And the thing, the God of the Cult watching, growing, waiting.
Pain purified she'd been told. And pain tears away all the lies, all the rationalities. Pain reveals the naked truth.
She'd been as bad as those she'd despised. Oh, maybe she had more personal honour than they did, but it was her own rationalization. Her own attempts to make herself better than they were, when she was actually worse. Until now she'd never killed, but she had destroyed careers, livelihoods. She had destroyed reputations. She had planted false evidence.
And what had she done it for? For nothing but momentary wealth that she'd then dumped into personal gratification. Nothing more.
She was the kind of person that Ansela would run away from screaming.
She'd been given a new chance, a new form, a new blessing, and a task of honour and importance. And, what had she done?
Into her mind flowed memories of when she'd gone to Metamor Keep. Of the room that had been offered. Of a new start. And, likely, of help. Maybe she'd have had to kill to find her way to the cult. And yet, maybe she wouldn't have had to either. Maybe she could've had help. Had friends. Had Ansela coming to her, thanking her for what she was doing.
No, she'd had to do it her way. Alone. Bumbling and finding the only way she could. A way, not necessarily the best way, or the safest way, or the most honourable way. Her way.
And now she was in a cage, waiting for her fate, trying to give herself one last chance at redemption.
Sometimes after the daily whipping, the endless stream of squeaking hatred, she hated herself too. Hated her inadequacies, her failures. She'd murdered, something she'd sworn never to do. And done it so much that it had become evil.
Murdered because she was alone. Without help. Without friends. Without anybody she could depend on.
Without the friendship offered her in Metamor that could have saved her, that could have saved the world from the cost of her selfishness.
She'd had a chance. She'd thrown it away. Tossed it onto the rubbish heap. Betrayed the simple look of a little girl who knew that a unicorn would do only what was right.
Thrown away everything until all she had was her naked form, her alicorn, and the ceaseless rubbing of her soul back and forth as the thing beyond the gate watched, growing stronger and clearer, the swirling light brighter, more twisted and soul searing as the colours moved up the spectrum.
More whipping. More hatred. A bit more food, but then she needed more to live given what they were doing to her.
More pain and more desperation that ripped every last bit of lie and false belief from her soul.
Pain purifed. Pain scraped away everything that was not the truth. It revealed what was real, what mattered, and tore away what was lies and selfish protections.
Yvarra had only her core left. Her soul. Her soul that had been given a chance at redemption. Offered trust. Offered help. And then thrown it away in the ultimate selfishness. A soul that still lived, though the Gods knew way. A soul that could still redeem itself, could still do what mattered.
A soul that no longer lied to itself. A soul that lived for one last promise. For one last eradication of evil that had proven itself unworthy of life. For one last act to save the world, no matter the cost.
For the trusting eyes of one little girl.
Time passed. The whippings, the hatreds, all blurred together into sameness. She ignored them because they didn't matter. They were meaningless. All that mattered was herself, and the thing beyond the gate.
The thing that grew stronger. The thing who's beauty was so perfect, so absolute, that it burned her eyes if she dared look at it. A beauty too powerful to witness. A beauty so powerful that it could only be insanity.
The gate swirled faster, faster, as the whippings started and ended. The face grew more distinct. Its presence more solid. Its texture more inhumanly perfect and powerful and beautiful and graceful. And more and more utterly insane and insufferable. It had to be stopped. Part of it even knew it had to be stopped, and that part was all that kept its ceaseless watch from piercing what she was doing. From stopping her and destroying the world.
The thing that came closer, and closer. More solid, more real. More painful to bear as it tore at her soul. More insane and wonderful and necessary to stop.
It watched her. It judged her and found her wanting. Found her inadequate. Found her laughable.
But it did not damn her as the child's trusting blue eyes that damned her in her nightmares when she failed the ultimate test and let the thing loose.
She hadn't fallen asleep when she heard voices. The gate was brighter now, a swirling pool of bubbling marble of rolling blues and purples and red. She never faced it anymore, tried to never look at it, but she couldn't avoid it. The face was clearer now. Before it was a hint, a promise. Now it was real. A face of inhuman beauty and sanity and madness. Eyes of kindness and wonder and then flashing to hatred and insanity. Sometimes the face itself would change, falling from its perfection into snarling mindlessness madness.
And all the time the thing was calling to her. Promising her what had been her dreams. Promises or recognition, of power. And when she refused to respond, the thing dug its mental claws into her soul, tearing and ripping as she screamed into the silence. The only sound she made — always maintaining a stoic stubborn silence when the rabbit came.
But— he was early—
She watched the rabbit approach, wearing the threadbare robe he always wore. The necklace with the blue of Ansela's eyes was around his neck. The Sword of Songs was silent, abandoned on the rock, slowly going to rust. Behind him, in two columns, were five more figures, each bearing a staff of polished bone. Six total.
She watched. Staring at the rabbit. Staring as the rabbit threw away the hated whip. His voice squeaked out, commanding the silence. "It is time. You know your places. Our salvation is at hand!"
"Our salvation!" the five chorused back.
She watched the rabbit turn to face the gate, arms upraised, three cultists forming on one side, two on the other. As one they crouched down, praying to their lord beyond the gate. Or was it praying? It was more a chant, and cascading grate of syllables not meant for human or any tongue. A chant that twisted down corridors of sound never to be pursued. Syllables that tore at the ear, that shattered the normal reality. And, as they chanted, the gate grew brighter, the colours rising to putrid pinks and yellows and oranges. A sound began from the gate, a nearly inaudible grumble, the scrape of rock on rock, of reality on damnation. And the smells, the stenches rose, higher and higher. The cultists continued their chant, their voices rising higher and higher.
Yvarra pulled her ears tight against her skull, tried to hide from the sound but there was no escape. Just like there was no escape from the thing. Even though it wasn't the darkness night of this year, it was close enough. Now was his time. He was ready. He would come to the world and remake it. He—
No! You will not have Ansela!
With a sound like tearing rock, Yvarra tore her soul from its hypnotism. She stood up, her alicorn glowing a healing light that battered against the pulsing colours from beyond space, from beyond time, that poured form the gate. A solitary hope. A single soul refusing to give up. Her body filled as her alicorn glowed. She screamed, a sound of anger, of hatred, of hope. She threw herself against the gate, praying she'd done enough—
With the sound of tearing metal, of metal straining to maintain its order in the chaos pouring onto it from beyond, the bolt she'd worked at so hard and so long snapped with a sound of blessed normality. The gate flung open, its ill-made hinges squeaking and complaining.
Yvarra was free!
The door clanged open, the chanting continued, the gate swirled, though she could see that the rabbit could see her. Lowering her head, she ran towards him, faster and faster, diving towards the bastard who had tortured her for days, weeks, months. A small part of sanity grabbed her poor battered fedora where it'd been left on the ground to rot—
And then she slammed into him.
There was no resistance. Her alicorn, glistening in the flickering amber light passed through the scrawny rabbit's skull like a hot knife through butter. The chant faltered, as the rabbit gurgled his last. He whispered, loud enough that Yvarra could hear, his voice the voice of the damned, without hope: "Eli curse you, you lying bastard!"
Somehow Yvarra knew the rabbit wasn't talking to her.
She ran through the cultists parting before her, slowing as the weight of the rabbit dragged on the rock. Staggering to a stop almost touching the swirling pulsing gate, she lowered her alicorn and the rabbit slid off, blood oozing off like thick gelatin that glowed with an unholy radiance. Black fingers, twisting like thick tar, were sucked out of the rabbit and she heard him scream as his soul was dragged off into the gate.
She didn't care.
Reaching down she ripped off the necklace and put it on. Spinning around, she put her soaked, twisted fedora on her head.
The thing in the gate laughed behind her.
The chanting faltered and stopped and the cultists stared.
"Give me the One!" The voice— the voice was like nothing Yvarra had ever heard. Both beautiful, promising infinite forgiveness, and full of twisted insane hatred. It sang, syllables tumbling one over the other like Eli's heavenly choir, even as they twisted and tore and shredded each other moments later.
With a shock Yvarra realized it was coming from the gate behind her.
Was the thing through? It couldn't be. It couldn't! What was she going to do? What?
Screaming and growling the cultists charged her, all five, brandishing the staffs and drawing short swords.
Yvarra turned away and fled. Not towards the gate, dear Klepnos not towards the gate! She ran off at an angle, her hooves clicking on the stone, their lobes stretching and twisting so that she somehow kept from falling.
The thing in the gate laughed.
What to do? What to do?
A dull tone, piercing, full of agony and pain called to her. It pierced the rising hum of the gate that tore at her bones, ripped at her ears, and gave her some hope, even as it sobbed out its pain.
It was the Sword of Songs.
She remembered it lying there, bent, rusty, dull. And yet— it had to be better than nothing. Curving her course towards it, she leaned down, grabbing it as energy filled her. Turning, she faced her enemies, the gate behind them, the thing laughing at her. Laughing at them all. The sword glowed, it's light burning bright and clear and normal as it sang, as it healed, straightening and sharpening itself, humming with eagerness in her hand.
"Maybe you are the key to the gate—" Yvarra mumbled.
She had time for no more as the cultists swarmed upon her. Using what little she'd learned, she parried the bone staves, and stabbed, but the cultists knew what they were doing. Time and again she needed her alicorn to save her neck. Somehow she was flush with energy, full of vitality and strength. Wherefrom, she had no clue. Yet, there were so many, if she faltered for even a second—
Step by step she was forced back. Forced back to the gate swirling now in mustard yellows and sickly whites. She could hear the thing laughing; she could feel its presence.
"To me! Give her to me and all you wish will be yours!"
She shoved the Sword of Songs against one cultist, two more battered on her alicorn with their staves as she swung it wildly around. Growing more and more desperate she swung it, tearing into the cloth of a lion as he leapt backward preventing further injury.
The gate howled its hunger and she could feel a pulsing ice against her back as rusty claws tore into her soul, tearing, pulling. She almost stumbled, her strength, wherever it had come from, was fading—
One of the cultists screamed as a heavy black arrow passed through is chest, clacking off of her alicorn. Gurgling he fell, and she watched the sickly tar of his soul being sucked out into the gate.
"More! More! Drive the One to me!"
Klepnos! The death of the cultists was going to be enough to release the thing!
In her hands the Sword of Songs sang the march it had whispered at her at the fountain so long ago. A military march of hope and glee. But— but what was she going to do?
The cultists pressed their attack and she stepped back as a staff slammed into her side, knocking the wind out of her. Somehow she raised the Sword of Songs as blows rained down upon.
"Give me the One! Free me!"
A roar burst through the cavern and an immense white tiger bowled into the cultists, fighting with claws and teeth and sword. A monstrous tiger. Oberon? But— how? How in the Seven Hells did he get here?
The thing in the gate screamed and howled. Another soul got sucked down, and another. The essence of deluded fools screaming as they were dragged to eternal torment. She had to close the gate. Had to close it now. The cultists— Klepnos, if they all died— Would it be enough?
She spun around, turned to face the gate. It was all a face now, inhumanly handsome and perfect. Full of ageless wisdom and kindness.
And with glowing silver eyes that glistened with insanity.
"Free! After all these eons!"
What to do? What to do? The Sword of Songs! The leader had tried to destroy it. It had to be the key. "Keep them busy!" she screamed, raising the Sword of Songs and running towards the gate.
It wasn't like running on rock. To her eyes she was, but she could feel her hooves sink into what had been solid stone as though it was a thick mud. The air, it was like walking through taffy, dragging and clinging at her. The gate grew, larger, larger, far more monstrous than it could possibly be. It glimmered now, shining in gold and silver white as the face grew more and more solid.
Step by step she shoved herself forward. Closer and closer, the world twisting more and more. Angles twisting into impossibilities. The face growing larger and larger. Combed and braided hair appeared, gold in colour. A noble neck—
Another thick twisted tarry strand soul got sucked down, swirling and twisting into one of its nostrils as the thing laughed.
The Sword of Songs was above her now. It was silent. The world was silent. No sound, nothing but the looming face. It was impossible to miss. She struck, swinging the Sword of Songs down. The blade twisting, the tip stretching from the base, the blade moving down impossible paths. It slammed into the face, she could feel the impact in her hand, up her arm—
And the thing laughed. A warm laugh of delightful humour that decayed into a mocking cackle of insanity that rose like a howling banshee, echoing and reverberating, growling louder and louder.
By all the Gods—
Yvarra struck again, and again. Nothing, nothing! She could feel it clawing at her soul, pulling it, pulling it out— Her alicorn glowed with silver brightness, holding her soul back.
Why was the sword not working? Why?
And she remembered—
Alicorn it will
Close the shining gate
It wasn't the sword. It was herself. Her alicorn.
For a moment ice gripped her soul. Shove her alicorn, her essence into that?
It's mocking laughter grew louder and louder. She could see shoulders now.
And, in her mind she could see Ansela's trusting eyes—
If that's what it'll take, that's what it'll take. No regrets!
Lowering her head, she charged towards the gate. Her alicorn pierced the air that was thick as tar, staying straight and burning with a rich golden light. It stayed straight as dimensions spun and tore around it and she ran and ran—
And her alicorn pierced the thing's neck.
It screamed. It begged. It cried. It sobbed. It thanked her. It cursed her.
Her alicorn slid into its stoney flesh, drawing the swirling energies of the gate into it, glowing with a radiance of all colours. But, whereas the gate's light burned the soul, the light from her alicorn healed, blessed. Restored normality to the universe.
Time stopped. Her alicorn slid in further and further. The last cultist died. It's soul swept towards her, swirled around her alicorn, the strands that tied it to the thing tearing, letting it escape to its destiny. And the thing— the thing—
Whimpered. "Please— please— it's been so long. So very, very long—"
Her alicorn kept sliding in further and further, all of its length being swallowed by the thing in the gate.
But— but was it a thing? It was—
"I'm so alone— so very very alone. Please— mercy— you're the ones who drove us to our madness. Haven't we paid enough?"
She looked up into the thing's eyes as they looked down at her, eyes filled with the light of sanity for the first time in unknown eons. Her alicorn slid further and further in. Would it stop?
"Well you— come, come and join me! Stay with me. A—" The voice turned dark and cold, glistening with hints of insanity. "—toy, a thing. To keep me company. To pay, oh to pay!"
The Sword of Songs fell from her fingers and she leaned backwards, hooves scrabbling on the wet normal stone. But, remorsely, her alicorn slid further and further in, pulling her with it.
No, no! This couldn't be the price— couldn't!
She could feel the thing being pushed back. Around the wall of her alicorn it scratched and clawed, but it was imprisoned. Pushed back inch by inch as divine energies poured from all the world into the alicorn, and from the alicorn into the gate. Closing it. Dulling it.
The alicorn— the alicorn. It wasn't her, it was her alicorn! She could get rid of it, she could be free. She could fulfill her mission, and live!
If she was right.
She wanted to live!
"Please—" the thing whispered. "Don't leave me alone— Please—"
She didn't want to! She didn't deserve it! She dug her hooves in but the alicorn sank further, dragging her remorselessly forward.
Or do you? a part of her whispered.
Raising the Sword of Songs she tried to strike at her alicorn. To cut it off.
To cut off her very essence—
It was all she could do to live!
If she was right. If.
Ansela's face appeared in her eyes. Trusting. Innocent.
No! "No!" She couldn't take the risk. If stopping the thing would cost her life. Then— so be it!
She flung the Sword of Songs away so that she couldn't be tempted. Cymbals clashed, the sword was angry.
But it had to be done.
She was sucked further and further in. A nobility settled upon her. Her entire life had led to this moment. This supreme sacrifice for the good for the world. For the good of Ansela.
"Please stay with me—" the saintly voice whispered.
Oberon appeared beside her, sword and claws bloody. He glistened white in the rainbow of colours pouring from her alicorn. He shouted something she couldn't hear in the silence. He grabbed her, tried to drag her back, but her remorseless advance continued. She struggled, fought him, not knowing if he could hear her or if his world was as silent as hers.
He let go, raising his sword. An ancient thing of power and wisdom.
"No! No no no no!" She threw her arms in its path, but the steel swung through them, tearing at her flesh, opening her arm to the bone.
And slamming into her alicorn. In and through.
Pain. Pain like nothing she had ever experienced. Pain as her soul was ripped asunder, as her essence was torn—