• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,684 Views, 228 Comments

Back and There Again - Sun Sage



A strange gem takes Rarity to a world she almost recognizes. She's going to make it back home no matter what, but she might need some help to do it. And why is it all so familiar?

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24. Defend Your Path

The street outside had gone surprisingly quiet. Rarity could feel why though; the aura of the monster they faced was oppressive. He’d apparently thrown the car Aiden had smashed into him: it was imbedded in a building across from them. Garken stood, none the worse for wear, staring them down with a grim smile.

Aiden held one baston almost negligently in his right hand. His left glowed with energy as the second weapon circled defensively. Rarity felt him as well, stretching out his influence, probing at the diamond hard defenses of the former Oni-koru leader.

Garken sighed, though it didn’t touch his smile. “This isn’t how this was supposed to go, you know. She should be dead, and I should be fighting three of the most impressive Espers Earth has to offer. Instead, one dead Esper, one cripple, and you. ...And a living unicorn as my consolation prize. ...The two of you won’t be enough, even if the Paladin manages to stand up and throw another punch or two.”

“How about three?”

Will came out of a portal, and his fist met Garken’s open hand, forcing him back but not sending him flying. He disappeared again.

Aiden was through on the other side of the Oni, baston met blade as Garken pulled another from nowhere, though it felt different from Aiden’s portals. Rarity sent Joyeuse in, wisely not wanting to get too close. She could feel Aiden’s magic almost as though it were her own; there was no chance she’d hit him. The other target was just as distinct.

Garken’s strength was monstrous. She hated to think it… but was this what an alicorn felt like? Her instincts were telling her… she was facing Nightmare Moon. And there were no Elements of Harmony here to help them.

Garken was laughing. He switched his own sword to deflecting Joyeuse’s attacks while his open hand blocked Aiden’s. Said hand was looking quite pummeled, and also missing the finger he’d lost to Joyeuse earlier. But he was holding his ground. “It’s not enough!” he shouted, and a pulse of aether shoved Aiden away. A portal opened, and he came out behind Garken, landing a dropkick to his back that shoved him forward, causing him to mistime a parry. Joyeuse slipped past his defense to slice into his arm. He spun, attempting to smash Aiden out of midair, but hit nothing as the Esper disappeared again. He came out above Garken, but this time the Oni reacted in time. He spun, leveling a surprisingly acrobatic kick that met Aiden’s own attack, sending him flying to land roughly, rolling in the street. He knocked aside Joyeuse’s follow up and Rarity felt the shock of that strike through her telekinetic hold. Garken’s eyes met hers, and despite the terror that tried to grip her, she held his gaze and snarled.

And then he was inches from her.

She’d felt a pulse of aether, just before what was apparently movement, and then his sword was descending toward her. She had just enough time to put up a shield… that shattered when the blade hit it. She felt Aiden’s aether as she fell into his verse, inches before the blade would’ve…

She landed in a familiar field of flowers, and screamed. The feedback of her shield being destroyed was painful enough, but… He was too strong. She could feel it. He’d been right; they wouldn’t be enough. She looked over at Will, who was sprawled in the grass, breathing heavily. She ran over to him. “Are you alright?”

“Nope. Pissed at Ferreles, too. And now he’s dead and I can’t even yell at him. I guess I get it, though. Not many would’ve given Garken Caedum a chance to be anything other than an enemy. ...Ferreles had a good heart. But if I’d known… I would’ve taken the time to gather more power before this meeting. Aiden’s got a ton in here… more than I can hold at once, these days. But I can’t get at most of it. I can’t absorb it; it’s spoken for. And he can’t use it…”

“I know. Everything in here… it’s all locked in place, all part of a single piece,” she stirred the flowers around her with one hoof. They moved, but didn’t break, unless… she reached with her magic, surprised to realize she could still hear and feel Joyeuse, and plucked another flower. As she did, she felt a pulse through the entire dimension.

Will’s eyes were wide. “How did you do that?”

“I don’t know! I didn’t know there was anything to it! That didn’t happen last time!”

“I wasn’t ready for it last time.”

Will and Rarity spun to look at the source of the new voice.

------------------------------------------

Aiden sighed in relief; he’d managed to open the portal in time to save Rarity. Joyeuse still floated in place where it had last been. Aiden blinked. It was still floating? Meanwhile, Garken’s blade had stopped mid air when she’d vanished. The former Grand Marshal wouldn’t overswing. He chuckled. “You’ve improved, little hero. It saddens me that you and I didn’t know each other as well as we might have. You were always Keia’s pet adversary. We missed an opportunity, I think. Your fighting style is interesting. As I understood it, you used your portals mostly like you did when this started, throwing objects at your enemies. Or dropping-”

As he said that, a pickup truck landed on him.

“Yeah, pretty much. You know the most important rule of-”

“Timing!” Garken said, flinging the truck at Aiden. It flew through a portal before getting to him, and smashed into a telekinetically enhanced fist as Garken swatted it away when it re-entered their world just a few feet from him. “Honestly I’m impressed. There was a time you couldn’t open a portal within 100 feet of me. Your control has improved immensely.”

“This the part where you say ‘but it’s still not enough’?”

He grinned. “I thought that was implied,” he lunged, covering the distance in less than an eye blink. The floating baston parried as Aiden spun to the side, landing a punch that Garken partially blocked with a forearm, and a weapon strike that landed cleanly to his shoulder but did no apparent harm. A sidekick nearly cost him his leg as Garken repositioned too quickly and countered.

A telekinetic shove pushed them away from each other, and Aiden hissed quietly as blood spattered around his wounded leg. It wasn’t deep enough to hinder him, but it was a distraction. He threw himself backward and down as the tip of Garken’s sword thrust past where his eye had just been. He hit the ground and rolled, but not before a kick to the ribs sent him up and flying into a building. It was too fast, he couldn’t open a portal in time. He fell towards the ground, but not before a fist smashed into his chest. It was preferable to the sword that had also been incoming, deflected by the floating baston that stayed in defensive. The blow sent him through the wall of the building, and completed the breaking of his ribs that the kick had begun. He hit the floor inside hard, and slid to a stop near the far wall.

Garken stepped in through the hole he’d made. “You aren’t going to call them back out? You can’t face me alone. Even your Paladin couldn’t. Did you know? I used him as a shield when our Spire exploded? It’s the reason he’s in his current state. I honestly thought he’d recover, but… well it was a great deal of concentrated aether. Perhaps his talent overloaded and poisoned him, trying to absorb it all. What do you think?” As he said this, he stepped down hard on Aiden’s broken ribs, drawing a pained growl. “Shall we call him out and ask him? Or perhaps… well I’ve always wondered what would happen to your little pocket dimension if you died. A normal gravity drive has parameters for releasing its contents safely when it activates, but I don’t see how you could do that. You absorbed far more than they were ever intended for. Shall we find out?” He held his sword over Aiden’s heart, looking him in the eyes.

Steely grey eyes looked back, narrowed. “You’re right.”

“Am I-”

An explosion of aetheric force flung Garken away, and Aiden dropped through a portal to land next to a heavily armed Grumman. “Are you alright, young man?”

“Not particularly. Is Valerie okay?”

“She got Mr. Slocum and a few others out of the area to safety and is signaling reinforcements. Local police have been called off; they’d just be casualties. Marines will be inbound, but I don’t know how effective they’ll be against him.”

“Not at all, General,” Garken said, standing up from the blast as though nothing had happened. Despite his nonchalance, His torso and head were burned heavily on one side. They were healing as Aiden watched, but not as quickly as he’d have expected. “Though that weapon is interesting.” He nodded towards Grumman’s massive gun. “I recall the rifle Gungnir, but that’s quite different.

“Gungnir wasn’t effective against you during the war. This is our newest design. Repurposed from Veritech’s models, actually. Learning from your enemies is a key to war.”

“Indeed so. Adstrum hasn’t focused on weaponry. Helping you rebuild and advance was one thing, but as Cade I refused to sign off on anything you could use to kill my people. You understand.”

“Certainly.” Grumman replied, and with no changing expression fired again. Garken deflected the blast with an open palm, heavily reinforced with aether. He charged forward, his blade seeking Grumman’s throat. Aiden deflected it as the General backed off. The Esper and Oni attacked one another fiercely, with Aiden clearly getting the worse of it. Splatters of blood hit the walls and floor as again and again Garken made it past his defenses enough to inflict wounds but not finish the fight. Now and again, he took a damaging counter strike as the aether infused bastons danced as best Aiden could make them. Garken was bleeding far less. A savage kick, placed squarely into the broken ribs, sent the smaller fighter flying again, and in that opening another blast from Grumman’s weapon hit the Oni.

But this time he only staggered before throwing his sword at Grumman. With no choice, Grumman blocked with his rifle, destroying it in the process. He limped away from the impact, dazed by the weapon’s feedback.

A hand grabbed his throat, lifting him into the air effortlessly.

Garken held him there, and stared into his wide eyes. There was no fear in those eyes. “Determination. Yes, General Albert Grumman. It’s a shame you didn’t inherit the powers of an Esper.” He flung him away to the concrete, drawing a snarl of pain as the older man bounced among the debri. “Nonetheless, you too were a fine opponent, across the chessboard. But this isn’t a war room. On this battlefield, you’re nothing more than a distraction. And that has now ended. I can feel Aiden, trying to focus his aether. His ribs have punctured his lung; he cannot properly fight me any further. As soon as he releases Will and Rarity, I will kill them all and end this. If he doesn’t… well then I’ll find out what happens to them if he dies while they’re still inside his inner space.”

Buy time. Grumman thought. “I don’t understand.”

“Do you not?”

“No. You’ve been helping Adstrum. You said yourself the war was over. Why her? Why try to stop our two people’s uniting? It’s pointless. Even if you kill her, and everyone here-”

“And everyone at your base? And destroy all the data concerning her? You’ve played it all close to the chest, General. A wise decision, but it does place all your eggs in that one basket. Without the location for Equus, which only you have… this will all just be a fading dream.”

“You said… to ‘protect two worlds…’”

Garken smiled faintly. “I did indeed. What do you know about the Command Crystal in your possession? For example, did you know they are all accounted for in our records?”

Grumman’s eyes widened. “But then…”

“Ah no, not their locations. If deactivated, we cannot simply track them down. If we could, Equus would not be hidden to us, and you would have garnered its location from the records you’ve stolen from us. However… Rarity reactivated the one in your possession. We cannot trace its origin remotely… that I know of. It would not transmit where it was, only that it was returning to its partnered ship. It’s not unlike a black box in a sense, but now that it has transmitted its return to its vessel, whose location we did know, we can continue to track its progress.”

“That won’t matter; it’s not leaving Earth. We don’t need it to get to Equus, just the location we garnered from its records.”

“The ship you’re taking… do you think my king won’t be watching for it?”

“Not from nearby. Thanks to…” Grumman blinked. “Adstrum’s sensors… their satellites… you…?”

Garken smiled, and for the first time it seemed genuine. “I’m no spy, or saboteur. Those satellites are working as well as you think, better even. There is no Oni presence within fifty light years of this world. My people have fled, and if they return it will be the technology Johnathan and I built that shoots them down before they’re even in range of this world. I won't build weapons for you, but I will build them for me. The Oni do not fight wars of revenge before at least a century of that world’s time passes. My king can go rot; he’s lost his way. If he tries to return here, I will remind him of that.”

“From that distance, based on what I know, they won’t know if we launch anything, unless…”

“Indeed. Rewrite the ship’s main computer, from the ground up. Gut it and you’ll find the programs allowing it to be monitored, connecting it to our mothership. It shouldn’t take your people more than a week.”

“But… why tell me this? I thought you were going to kill us all?” Grumman asked, wearing a lopsided grin.

“Oh I intend to. But if I can’t… you deserve a true victory. If I can’t stop you… my king doesn’t deserve to follow you to that world.”

“...Why not just tell us this? Why-”

Garken was suddenly crouching next to Grumman, covering the distance instantly. “Because… I may not hold grudges, but I am not your ally. My reparations do not include protecting your diplomatic endeavors from my king. Equus too, does not have my protection, not without a price. You want to pay it? It costs blood: yours or mine. Mercy-”

“-Is for the strong. Yes, I do remember your fondness for that phrase.” He snorted. “And of course, if you kill me now, the knowledge you just gave away dies with me. Rather pointless, wasn’t it?”

“You wanted to buy time. Aiden has repaired his lung. That boy’s growth is astonishing to me. An Oni twenty years his senior could not have come so far. Your race… it’s a shame we met as we did.”

“You started it.”

Garken chuckled. “That he did. As to killing you… I’ll do that last. You can watch everyone else die first. You’re a tactician, not a soldier, not on this battlefield. It’s your job to watch all your troops die before the enemy comes for you. You know this.”

Grumman’s eyes narrowed. “I will find a way to end you.”

“I believe you could, given time. But that time will now be bought by the blood of others.” He stood, and turned, just as Aiden came through a portal to his side. Garken’s eyes widened slightly at the ruse: two portals had opened nearly at the same time, dividing his attention as a charged baston stabbed into his torso. It sank in less than an inch before Garken had moved away, but blood dripped down as he did so. The first portal then ejected a parking brick at terminal velocity, smashing violently into Garken’s face. He staggered back, spitting blood that ran down from a broken nose and crushed teeth. All were regenerating quickly, but Aiden pressed the attack. A shoulder tackle added to Garken’s backpedal, and a follow up strike from the side swept his legs. A double slash downward took him to the pavement, hard, followed by telekinetic blasts that cracked his previously struck shoulder, and widened the minor stab wound Aiden had inflicted.

Garken’s counter ran along Aiden’s side, the thrust parried wide by the floating defensive weapon still circling the Esper with deceptive timing. Another portal opened, dropping a car that had been falling since Garken had refocused his attentions to Grumman. Aiden stepped back as said car smashed into Garken with thunderous force. With a flash of aether, he ignited the gas tank. A bit more aether enhanced and focused the blast, and for the first time he felt a flicker in his opponent’s own magical reserves.

Not stopping to pat himself on the back, he parted the blastwave with an energy shield and went back in. Garken was burned, and his eyes were glazed over as Aiden struck again, stabbing both bastons into his torso to pin him to the concrete. He channeled to change the auras surrounding them to portals, to tear his enemy apart once and for all.

A telekinetic blast threw him away from the weapons, sent them flying, and snuffed the fires around them.

He caught himself, rolling to his feet as Garken regained his. The Oni was grinning like a true demon. The holes in his chest had already closed. His aether had definitely dropped, but so had Aiden’s. Neither could do this forever. “Marvelous. If you can last another minute, I’ll spare the unicorn. Last five, and I’ll spare Grumman’s compound.”

“Well gosh, and here I was thinking I had no reason to keep going.” He charged forward again, vanished as he did so to come out on Garken’s plasma burned side, but feinted a second time to Garken’s good side as the Oni had begun to turn. The attack was blocked off balance, but blocked all the same, as the two continued exchanging blows.

------------------------------------------

100 meters, give or take, isn’t that great a distance even with obstacles in the way. As such it didn’t take long to work their way around to the road, and its load of vehicles, unmoving for over fifteen years now. The voice had come from this direction, and Rarity had felt its familiarity in her bones. She wasn’t eager to see inside those cars… and Will was even less enthusiastic. But there was little choice in the matter. She could feel a way out; as Aiden had once mentioned, his verse was no prison. The right concentration of aether and will would expel her back into reality at any time. And yet… the second flower she’d plucked floated before her, and not by her magic. It both was and wasn’t the source of the voice, and when it began to fly towards the road she felt compelled to follow.

“Rarity… I’d suggest not looking in any cars. Upshot is you’re too short to really do so, but… wait… the Hell?”

As they hopped over the short, concrete walls, she stopped atop one of them, and saw what had surprised him. She’d already decided she wouldn’t avoid looking. Aiden had to live with what had happened here; she wouldn’t shy away.

But there was nothing to see. Every vehicle was empty, as if they always had been. There was no trace of any-

“Over here! Geez, hurry up before I doze off… again.”

Looking at each other briefly, Will and Rarity shrugged and moved towards the voice, the flower still leading them. She still couldn’t feel anyone else’s magic moving it. Indeed, it felt as though it were still bathed in the aether that had held it in place. Rarity looked past it, and gasped.

She had known she’d see that car. She’d seen it once before, riding along in Aiden’s old memory. But the rest of what she saw…

The roof of the vehicle was dented downward a bit. The reason for that was the massive greatsword impaled through it, all the way through to the road beneath the vehicle. That alone would be odd enough, but sitting there next to the hilt, on the roof, and glowing just a bit to remind Rarity of the ‘ghost’ Obi-wan…

Was Moira Windborne.

She hopped down, making no sound as her sandaled feet touched the road. “Hah! Pure maiden meets unicorn, right out of a storybook!”

“You’re…”

“Oh please, you know who I am,” she said with a wide grin. Rarity bit her lip… Pinkie…

“Oho… I remind you of somepony, eh? Yeah I know a few words. Even when I was asleep I could still check in on Aiden sometimes.”

“Sleeping? So then…?”

“Eh? Oh, no, not literally… well maybe literally… err… well I’m also dead. Like… as a doornail, whatever that means. But hey, I sped up your perceptions so we’re not too rushed. Still, we don’t have a ton of time to go into it. We all died that day, no doubt about it.”

“But then… everyone who died… they’re all still…” Will looked around, eyes wide in horror. “They’re trapped here?!”

“Well yeah… for now but I mean… what’s fifteen years next to eternity, right? I don’t think they’ve even noticed. Their bodies sort of poofed into the aether, like Jedi or something, right? Heh, Star Wars, the easiest of references. Good thing you watched it. Anyway, none of them are anywhere near the surface.” She grimaced. “Just me. Mom and dad had each other, right? So they slept together,” she snickered, “...rimshot. And everyone else that died here I guess did the same. I can’t reach the others, but they’re there, snoozing away. Maybe it’s ‘cause I was closest to Aiden, physically and probably emotionally, when it happened. Dunno.”

“What’s that sword?” Rarity asked.

“Ooh, you don’t recognize it? Well, maybe you wouldn’t. It dropped in about six years ago. It’s what really woke me up. Before that… dozing, keeping an eye on Aiden, trying to talk to the others… but it’s all hazy. That thing though… that stirred me up!”

“But-”

“It belonged to Keia Luxuria. Aiden took it from her during the Spire Assault.” Will said.

Rarity nodded. “I remember now.”

“Yeah… he never did say what he did with it. Huh… I’ll be damned. Dropped it right through his family’s car? Wouldn’t have expected that.”

“Nah, wasn’t on purpose," Moira added. "It was drawn here… a nexus point. That sword has a lot of the aether of its creator in it. I think her will led it here. And now…”

Rarity gasped. “‘Riot’s blade divides the wind! Draw it to open the path…” she winced. “Clearing the way to death.”

Moira tilted her head. “Wat? I’m just saying it woke me up, there was hardly a riot since it’s just me.”

“No… Keia Luxuria… it’s something I noticed with my translator. Her name, it means ‘riot’. Her blade…”

“Huh… where’d you hear that?”

“Well I was thinking you, but now I’m not so sure since you seem lost.”

“Hey now, I don’t do prophecies. What kind of ghost girl do you take me for?”

“I don’t… so you don’t know anything about a pegasus filly?”

“Nope. I’ll hug one if you’ve got one though, sounds adorable. All I know about the blade is that it’s here… and maybe getting rid of it will do something. Especially so if you’ve heard some cryptic words about it from a mysterious source. I mean that’s just begging us to try it!”

“Leading the way to death doesn’t sound encouraging.”

“Depends on your point of view. I am dead… so maybe it leads to me? That was the trick with the flowers, after all. If I’d known you’d pluck that first one, I would have concentrated my consciousness in it and gotten out. When you plucked the second, it was jarring enough that I was able to get some stray aether and materialize. ...Doesn’t hurt that Aiden’s channeling like mad right now.” She gestured of in a seemingly random direction. Rarity looked and her eyes went wide. She watched a moving van falling through the air, only to vanish through a portal and fall through the same path again. There were a few such spectacles to see.

“So if we take another flower out of here?”

“I might be able to leave… but so what? I wouldn’t mind but I can do that any time now that you know. That’s just small potatoes. But this? It created a fault when it stabbed through here. It's not just the car, of course. The whole aetherial construct that is this world got shaken by it. It woke me up and then merged with the place, sort of healing into the flaw like gravel scabbed over after a bike wreck.”

Rarity made a face at that imagery.

“Yeah, exactly why we should fix it. This place is already a wound before that sword got here, and now we have a tool to repair it. Draw the blade… and that flaw will widen until we can all get out of here… cleanse the wound. Free every poor soul that doesn’t even know they’re trapped.”

“But… what would that do to Aiden?”

Moira grinned. “I have a theory on that…”

------------------------------------------

Aiden crashed into another wall. He noted with a touch of satisfaction that he hadn’t gone through this one. His aether had managed to cushion and spread the point of impact, lessening the damage to the structure and, more importantly, himself. Garken’s follow up did smash the wall, but in part because he missed Aiden as the smaller combatant ducked out of the way. Several pieces of debri were grabbed telekinetically to harry the Oni before a street sign bounced off of his head. A blast of aether from his open hand obliterated a moving van that had appeared in the sky. He flung another such blast at Aiden, but realized his error as that blast, re-directed through portals, smashed into him. It was his own aether, and caused minimal harm.

He chuckled. “You won’t win that way, little hero.”

“Maybe not, but I’m getting close to the five minutes.”

“Not close enough.”

Aiden tried to sidestep, as the voice came from nearly in his ear. Garken could just plain move too quickly. He didn’t use portals, or teleportation, he just brute strength pulled himself through the aether field as though grabbing the world to move it as he pleased. And worse he did it so quietly. Aiden’s admittedly low perception just couldn’t keep up. As the blade pierced his side, he tried to open a portal and failed. The feedback felt even worse than usual, but he managed to channel it into a concussive burst that pushed the two of them apart. Garken held his sword as he was shoved away, twisting the blade as it came back out from between Aiden’s ribs. He stumbled and fell.

“But… I will spare the unicorn, as agreed. She may incur some difficulties without any of you to support her now, but if she overcomes those, she will be stronger than ever. Perhaps, one day, she’ll be able to hunt me down… and avenge you.” As he said this, he took the two steps forward to reclaim the distance Aiden’s blast had pushed him, and raised his sword.

Aiden grimaced. Decapitation, was it? Yeah… that’d probably do it. No sense finding out. He lunged forward, tackling Garken, or trying to. With little momentum and low magic, he scarcely affected the considerably larger fighter… other than getting him to check his swing. That was enough. The floating baston had long fallen to the ground, but Aiden grabbed it with a touch of power and flung it at Garken, channeling force to increase its piercing point. Garken deflected it with his own blade, finally cutting through the aether hardened carbon fibers of Aiden’s weapon. The pieces hit the ground as Garken grabbed Aiden in his free hand and held him aloft.

Until Joyeuse pierced that same arm like a stick through water.

Reflexively he dropped Aiden and backstepped for distance, dropping his own weapon as he grabbed at Joyeuse’s hilt. Before he could do so, a massive pulse of aether exploded from it, throwing it clear of his arm. It spun through the air, landing embedded partway in the concrete near Aiden.

And a portal opened beside it. It was glowing white, and the aether field all around them condensed as though they’d suddenly teleported to the bottom of a deep lake. Yet to Aiden… it felt like home. For better and for worse.

Garken had fallen to his knees, crushed down beneath the massive force of the new aether. He never had a chance to dodge as an enormous, familiar greatsword flew through the air at him. He deflected it, poorly, costing himself more harm to the already damaged arm to prevent being impaled. That hand was useless now. The blade vanished through another portal, and clearly not of Aiden’s making. He was… occupied.

His eyes were glowing as the condensed aether infused him. He could feel everything. There were so many voices… just like Vera said… but they weren’t angry, or sad, or frightening. They were saying ‘goodbye’. Each of them leaving, heading on their way… each of them released from the aetheric concentration that had held them like quicksand.

Each released… from my verse… where they’d all been imprisoned…

“Oi… none of that mopey shit now, little brother. Fifteen years is nothing. Luna was imprisoned for a thousand, and she came out fine. This was a catnap!”

“...Moira…”

“Eeeyup! And now that we’re not taking up room in the place, you can air it out a bit! You already feel it, right?”

“Aiden..?”

He looked over, the glow already fading from his eyes as the rampant aether came under control. “Rarity?”

“We weren’t sure what would happen, but we had to do something! And Keia’s sword was there, and…” she lifted her chin. “I’m sorry, I know it’s a lot to take in… but all the people who died in that moment can move on, now. We cleared the path for them. But…”

“But ours is still waiting on us. Yeah… yeah I can break down and cry later.”

“I’ll be there with you the whole way, darling.”

“Yeah… gonna need you, no way around that.”

Moira chuckled, her glow brightening a bit. “Aiden and Rarity, sittin’ in a-”

“Shaddup, Moira...”

She grinned innocently. “Not a chance. I got fifteen years of backup teasing to catch up on, and not a lot of time to cram it in.”

“Wait… what do you mean-”

“She means, little hero, that her time is short. As expected of your sister, her will is strong. But she’s dead, and she won’t stay here as she is for much longer.” Garken stood, but didn’t move towards them. “Take your time, and say your goodbyes; she has-”

“More time than you!” Moira shouted as Keia’s blade flew at him from another portal. He dodged, but Joyeuse caught him, carving deep into his side before he could deflect it. He staggered away, right into a massive, aether enhanced punch as Will kept him from getting distance while crushing what was left of his damaged arm. He was thrown back towards the portals, and moved to catch Keia’s blade as it came around again, but his arm was caught. He roared in pain and fury as the greatsword impaled his chest. He turned to look to his caught arm, trying to raise the injured one without success.

Aiden held his forearm in an iron grip. His wounds had mostly healed, and the condensed aether that had filled the air moments ago now in part coursed through his veins. He looked up with a grim smile. “So this is what you meant, by ‘second strongest Esper’? I could get used to it.”

Garken chuckled. “Intoxicating, isn’t it?”

“Heh, nah. Wine is intoxicating. I fully intend to split several bottles while I cry over my family again.”

“He’ll be splitting them with his new family.” Rarity added, stepping forward with Joyeuse at the ready. The aether coursed in her, as well. The portals Keia’s sword had gone through had not been opened by Moira.

“All of us.” Will added. “Strange to see you cornered… old friend.”

“Indeed so,” Garken chuckled, seeming to ignore the huge sword sticking through him and the blood running down between his lips. It was red… as human looking as any of them had seen. “A fitting end then. All of you… I wish…” he blinked, his eyes widened. “No… that’s not… you can’t…” His form flickered. Keia’s blade fell to the ground with a clatter, and the briefly insubstantial forearm slipped from Aiden’s grasp. “No… no! I will not…” he snarled, focusing inward. The flickers lessened briefly but didn’t subside. He sighed. “Ahh well… it seems this is as far as I go here. There was more I’d wished to do…”

“Hmph, little late to lament dying. But hey don’t worry, it’s not so bad on the other side. ...I think?” Moira muttered.

“Dear girl, I would welcome death and rebirth. I’m sure your own will be wonderful. You have the strength of will to demand that of the universe. The fate awaiting me is… less pleasant. My king… is a far greater bastard than I ever realized.” He shook his head. “No matter. Grumman knows what must be done, to protect all of you. You’ve won. Lady Rarity… my compliments to your people. I had thought you weak… soft. I was a fool… Johnathan paid for that… and now… so will I.”

With another flicker, he staggered back, sinking slightly into the ground as though he were merely an image. A light exploded around him, from within his head before completely engulfing him. When it faded, he was gone.

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