“Tristan! What are you doing!?”
Tristan skirted the edge of the pool, approaching Scheherazade with a determined look in his eye despite the insistence in her question. While he wasn’t sure he could trust Nevala, his instincts were telling him Scheherazade wasn’t telling him the whole truth, and he wasn’t about to throw himself into the pool like she was suggesting until he knew why.
“I’m still willing to sacrifice myself, Scheherazade,” Tristan replied, “But not until I hear what Nevala has to say.”
“There’s no time. Oberon will be here any moment, and then your chance to destroy him will be gone,” Scheherazade said, glancing between Tristan and Nevala, both of whom were regarding her with intense stares. “Fine. You don’t believe me? Then I’ll throw you into the pool myself!”
Scheherazade gestured upward with her hand and Tristan found his feet lifting off the ground by an invisible force. “Nevala! Help me!” He cried, as his body started pitching toward the pool.
Nevala began chanting, focusing on Scheherazade as he uttered words in ancient Atlantean; words which resonated through the chamber, echoing off the walls and filling the room with an uncomfortable cacophony. Scheherazade’s hold on Tristan faltered, and he started falling back toward the ground, but then she clenched her fist and regained control of him, glaring at Nevala.
“You really think you can exorcise me, Nevala?” Scheherazade snarled. “I’ve been a ghost for over a thousand years, and spent all of that time fantasizing of how to destroy you for your betrayal on the day I perished.”
Nevala continued his chanting, the power of the exorcism he was attempting was shaking the very stones of the room. As close to the Spirit Pool as he was, it was almost guaranteed to be a losing battle, but he had to try. Scheherazade could draw on an almost infinite supply of power if she wished in order to resist him, though it would cost her as well.
Tristan respected Nevala’s determination, and was grateful for it. He was glad he had decided to trust his teacher and mentor rather than give in to Scheherazade’s wishes. It was becoming clearer and clearer she was motivated by some interest other than what she had said, but did that mean she was evil or just determined?
Tristan tried to stretch out with his foot toward the edge of the pool, hoping to push off the rim to get him further away from the pool, but it was still several inches away. He needed to find a way to help Nevala if he were going to get out of this mess.
For that he needed more information. “Why are you really doing this, Scheherazade?” he asked. “Was it to redeem your son as Nevala said?”
“You have to understand the eternal perspective, Tristan,” Scheherazade said, her attention returning to him. “The world was in need of a change, and my son had the power to change it and rebuild it in his image. He is a God, the epitome of everything I worked for. I can’t let you destroy him.”
“So, this really was all a ploy to get me to sacrifice myself. You were going to sacrifice Nevala as well, weren’t you?” Tristan asked. He had to shout to be heard over Nevala’s chanting, though despite the exorcism, Tristan could feel Scheherazade’s power over him increasing as she stabilized her hold.
“Were?” Scheherazade questioned. “I still intend to. He has no hope of winning, and once I only have one phoenix to worry about there won’t be anything to be done. Ivan is dead already, and I will be sure to hunt down his essence and deliver it to the pool as well. There will be no one left to stop Oberon.”
She spoke with such nonchalance that Tristan felt a shiver travel down his spine. Scheherazade was completely certain that she would win, and as he felt himself move another inch toward the pool he suddenly realized she had every right to feel that way.
“It’s only a matter of time, young phoenix,” Scheherazade said with a sickly smile. “I suggest you prepare to meet your end.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Zach backed away slowly, keeping the sword between him and Oberon. He was weak from loss of blood and mobility in his shoulder, and he doubted he’d be much good against Oberon at this point, even if Oberon had been disarmed of his weapon.
The fire shrouding the King of Avalon was enough to give him pause, and one glance at Micah told Zach that the shape shifter had no idea how to proceed, either. Fire was his bane, and he would risk serious harm simply by attacking Oberon now.
“You could have power beyond your imagining, child,” Oberon said, meeting Zach’s eyes. “You could join me, you know. I can unlock your elven heritage and make you strong.”
Zach glanced at Puck, seeing the pained expression on the Goblin’s face before looking back to Oberon. “I’m good, thanks. Seems to me that you don’t treat your subjects very well.”
Oberon shrugged and swept out with his hand, sending a fan of flames toward Zach. The fire singed Zach’s arm as he danced away, and he almost lost his grip on Excalibur.
“Puck is hardly a subject,” Oberon said, rolling his eyes. “He is a traitor, just as you are.”
“You brand me a traitor when I have never served you?” Zach asked. “Your worldview perplexes me.”
Micah shifted to his human form and picked up Oberon’s sword. It had cooled enough for him to handle it, and it was a better weapon than his own body, now. Using it against Oberon wouldn’t cause him damage, at the very least. Zach tried to avoid looking at Micah directly as he stalked forward, trying to get behind Oberon to make use of the weapon.
“You are a traitor simply because of the blood flowing in your veins,” Oberon replied, sending flames lashing out at Zach again. Zach jumped to the side, where Oberon was already summoning more flames at eye level. Zach closed his eyes and turned his head just in time, catching the fire on the side of his head instead of his face. His hair caught fire and he batted it out, keeping his eyes closed as he felt the sting of heat so near them.
He stumbled away, waving the sword in front of him, hoping to keep Oberon at bay, but he managed to put the fire out and look up to see Micah standing behind Oberon, Oberon’s own sword piercing him to the hilt.
Oberon was staring down at the sword curiously, and then spun around to look at Micah. “I told you, you can’t kill me. You think this sword will end my life?” He threw back his head and laughed before gripping the blade of the sword with both of his hands and began forcing it backwards and out of his body. It clattered to the ground behind him as he stared Micah down.
“If you wanted my wrath directed at you again, changeling, you’ve got it!” Oberon roared as he unleashed a torrent of fire in Micah’s direction. Micah tumbled out of the way, but the fire clipped his heel and started to burn.
Yelping in pain, Micah continued to dance away as Oberon chased him, spouting fire every time Micah stopped. A new dance had begun, but it was even more dangerous for Micah than it had been before, and Oberon was no longer holding back at all. He was furious.
“You’ve got to end this, Zach,” Puck said, standing again and approaching Zach. “You’re the only one who can.”
“What did that prophecy say exactly?” Zach asked.
“Faust said that one who shares blood with Oberon will pierce the heart of the king. Then the king will fall, and Avalon will crumble,” Puck explained, eyes clouding over as he recalled the words he had heard so long ago and which had given him such hope.
“But then why did Faust come hunting Tristan?” Zach asked, keeping his eye on the combatants as he searched for an opening. “Tristan doesn’t share blood with Oberon.”
“There were two parts to the prophecy,” Puck replied. “Faust also said ‘A new phoenix will rise from the ashes of the old, and prepare the undoing of Oberon. The spirits of the past will rise together to stop the ancient ruler.”
“What does it mean, Puck?” Zach asked. “I have a feeling I’m only going to get one opening, and then Oberon will kill me.”
“You’ll have to trust your instinct, Zach, I have no idea,” Puck said, shaking his head solemnly. “This is the last hope I have of ending him, and freeing myself.”
“Don’t you share blood with him as well? You’re of Avalon, are you not?” Zach asked.
Puck sighed and nodded. “Oberon is my father. My mother, Morganna, was a witch who rose to power after Merlin abandoned Oberon. After she learned the monster he truly was, however, she too betrayed him, and died for the trouble.”
“Then you share even more blood with him than I. Why don’t you wield Excalibur against him?” Zach asked.
“I can’t attack him. I was an infant when my mother betrayed him, and he bent my will when I was younger and made me his slave, performing dark magic my mother had taught him . . .” Puck shook his head helplessly. “I can’t even think about attacking him before my body is wracked with enough pain to keep me immobile.”
Zach stared at Puck for a moment before returning his attention to Micah and Oberon. Micah was quickly being backed against the hillside, as every time Micah tried to move past Oberon, the king would bring up a wall of fire to prevent his escape.
“Maybe you don’t have to think about it,” Zach said, struck with a sudden idea. “Sparrow was able to teleport with others. Is that within your realm of power as well?”
“Yes,” Puck said, starting to catch on.
“Then put me in front of Oberon,” Zach said, firming up his grip on Excalibur. “Let’s put prophecy to the test.”
Puck nodded and put his hand on Zach’s shoulder. It was a strange sensation to Zach, as if he were being ripped from reality, taken apart and reconstructed on the end. It happened so quickly he didn’t take the time to analyze it, and he kept his focus on his intended path of action instead.
As soon as he rematerialized in front of Oberon, he put both hands on Excalibur and let out a primal yell, stabbing forward with all his might toward Oberon’s chest. Excalibur struck true, the keen blade piercing armor and flesh alike as it punctured near the center of Oberon’s chest, and Oberon fell forward onto the blade as it impaled him to the hilt.
The flames enshrouding Oberon lapped at Zach’s hand, but he maintained his grip on the sword, twisting it in the wound. Oberon grunted and then stared down at the sword in apparent disbelief. Then he looked up and met Zach’s eyes, a wicked gleam in his emerald orbs. He reached out with his hands and gripped Zach’s arm, burning Zach’s flesh and causing him to rip his arm away and fall backward, screaming in pain.
Oberon stared down at him in contempt before he threw his head back and laughed, resting his hand on the hilt of the sword which remained embedded in his chest. “Oh no, someone with my blood stabbed me through the heart!” Oberon cackled, and then sneered at Zach and Micah as he said, “I suppose I’m going to die now, isn’t that what Puck told you?” His smile faded as he started to slowly slide the sword from his chest. “Foolish mortals, did you really think you could slay a god?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Tristan had one leg dangling over the pool, and the other was desperately trying to find purchase on the lip of the pool so he could push himself away, but Scheherazade held him steady in the air, not moving him up or down but merely to the side in a slow progression toward his doom.
Nevala’s chanting was weakening, and he had fallen to one knee, his body trembling. He had done his best, but Tristan knew this was the end. He would be sacrificed, and everything they had worked for would have been for naught. They had failed.
“What are you doing to Tristan?”
Tristan tried to turn his head to see Jacob, but without being able to turn his upper body he couldn’t see far enough behind him. He heard the defiance in Jacob’s voice however, and held onto the hope that Jacob would have the answer to get him out of this situation.
“Foolish ghost. Do you think to challenge me now, too?” Scheherazade spat. “Go back to the pool. I have no patience for you.”
Tristan felt Scheherazade’s grip on him start to wobble, and he glanced down nervously at the swirling white waters of the pool. He was closer to the gates of death than he’d ever been; he could feel it in his bones.
“You think to take control from me, ghostling?” Scheherazade roared. “I will not suffer this insolence!”
And then Tristan found himself falling. No, he was being dropped as Scheherazade let go of him, but forced Jacob’s control away at the same time. Tristan fell onto the edge of the pool, straddling the rim, one side falling to the outside, and the other falling into the white waters.
He screamed as the waters ripped into his flesh like icy teeth, biting and nibbling at his flesh as it consumed him and made his muscles and bones ache with frigid fire. He forced himself to roll away from the pool, clutching at his leg. His hand met empty air, and he forced his eyes open through the searing pain so see that his leg was gone beneath the knee, sheared off as if it had never been there.
The stub of his leg had been cauterized, but it did little to reduce the pain, or the horror he felt over his missing limb. He barely noticed as the chanting stopped, as Scheherazade threw her full attention on Nevala.
“Nevala!” She roared. “You bastard. You’ve disrupted everything! Every single time, you’re meddling in things you couldn’t hope to understand.”
She raised her hand and flung him hard against the wall with a blast of malevolent telekinesis. His head cracked against the stone hard enough to make the sound echo through the room, and Nevala dropped to the floor, unmoving.
And then Scheherazade turned to face Jacob, her fiery eyes smoldering. “I will destroy your spirit forever for meddling here, ghostling. I am more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
Jacob smiled and shook his head, and Scheherazade paused, her eyes narrowing uncertainly. “You may be able to defeat me, but I did not come alone, Scheherazade,” Jacob said, focusing on her intently. “We have fought the good fight more diligently than you, it seems, and we have always stuck together.”
Tristan gasped in surprise as he saw Kurt appear next to Jacob, followed quickly by Hayden, Luke, Ethan, Corban . . . and then others. Indrus Krane, appeared, blue eyes so much like Micah’s fixing her with his hawk-like stare. Nurim, the elf who betrayed his own people to do the right thing, stood stoically in front of her, his arms crossed over his chest. More and more spirits appeared in the room, each one turning their full attention on Scheherazade, her eyes widening with each new ghost who faced her.
The chamber filled with spirits, quickly approaching a hundred strong as Tristan watched, his pain momentarily forgotten in his awe. Scheherazade backed away, but in the process she only left more space for spirits to fill.
And then she backed into another spirit, a white-haired man with icy blue eyes and a weathered face. He gripped her arm and shook his head sadly as she turned to face him. Ivan wore an expression of utter betrayal as he stared into his former love’s eyes.
“You will not stop us this time, my love,” He said quietly. “We will not stand for it any longer, and you have lost. You are banned from this place.”
Scheherazade’s body began to glow with a white-hot light, and she began to scream in denial as the light consumed her form. Ivan continued to hold her, and the spirits continued to stare at her, watching her form shatter and dissipate until she was gone in a violent explosion of light.
“We will keep her banished from this chamber,” Jacob explained as he turned toward Tristan, frowning as he saw Tristan’s missing leg. “I am sorry for your pain, and that we trusted Scheherazade. She duped us as well.”
“Wake up, Nevala.” Tristan turned to see Ethan crouching over Nevala, speaking softly in his ear. “Nevala, Tristan needs you, this is no time to be sleeping.”
Nevala stirred, and blinked as he stared into Ethan’s eyes. “It’s you,” he said with a sad smile. “I didn’t get a chance to thank you for saving my life.”
“Thank me by saving the world,” Ethan said, gesturing to the pool. “Do you know how to stop Oberon?”
“I believe so,” Nevala replied, struggling to his feet and then staggering forward, clutching at his head with a groan of pain. “If I can keep my head on straight, anyway.”
“Nevala,” Tristan said. The pain was slowly fading from his leg, but the fear of having lost it was still strong. He didn’t know how to move or feel, and he latched onto the only person in the room who had a chance of making it all right. “Nevala, what do we do?”
“Tristan, do you remember how I saved you and Micah in Arizona?” Nevala asked, meeting Tristan’s eyes.
“Yes. You sacrificed yourself, turning your entire body into fuel for the flames which destroyed our attackers. I remember it well,” Tristan replied, struggling to a sitting position. “Is that what we have to do?”
“That is the most powerful thing a phoenix can do. We unleash all of our power at once through great sacrifice of self. The pool does require a sacrifice, Tristan . . .” Nevala said, approaching the pool and staring into the waters. “The pool is only vulnerable while the conduit is completely open, but it must be destroyed from the outside. It will take all you have, Tristan, I hope you have it in you to give.” He smiled as he turned to Tristan, bowing one last time as a single tear rolled down his cheek. It’s been great knowing you, but I suppose this is fate for me not to remember. Ashes to Ashes.”
“But . . .” Tristan began, and then his heart skipped a beat as Nevala vaulted over the side of the pool and disappeared into the turbulent waters. The pool surged to life, a geyser of white water erupting into the air. “Nevala!” Tristan cried as he crawled toward the side of the pool, searching desperately for his friend in the waters.
But Nevala was gone, consumed by the well of power, the heart of Avalon. Tristan heard Nevala’s final words resonating in his head. Ashes to ashes. What one comes from, one will become. Nevala had taught him the cycle of death and rebirth, and he had also taught him that death was necessary.
He bowed his head, knowing what must be done, and he focused inwardly, calling on his blood; calling on the fire within his soul. He would answer the call of his mentor, even if it took his whole body and soul.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Oberon surged with sudden strength, almost glowing with vigor and power. “And Nevala has fallen,” He whispered sweetly. “I can taste his essence within me! He has been sacrificed in my name!” He drew Excalibur from his chest and held it above his head triumphantly.
A loud explosion from the north drew Micah’s attention. The hillside erupted at the top of the valley, exploding in stone and dust, sending a shockwave which slammed into the four on the valley floor and sent them staggering.
Puck was the first to recover, and he climbed to his feet as he stared at the source of the explosion, dumbfounded. “Micah, Zach!” he shouted as he regained control of his senses. “We need to go!”
“Puck, what are you talking about?” Zach asked.
Oberon staggered forward, looking to the North in disbelief. “Now,” Puck said urgently. “We have to go now.”
“But, Oberon . . .” Micah started to protest, but when he looked back at Oberon, he saw the king clutching at his chest. The hole where the sword had been hadn’t closed, and Oberon was now oozing blood down his armor, soaking the ground at his feet.
“Is dead already . . .” Puck said, then waved them close. “Come to me, I need to get you back to the portal. Micah, take Excalibur. We’ll need it.”
Micah eyed Oberon cautiously, but the flames which had enshrouded the king were now gone as he fell forward, clutching at his chest. Micah snatched the sword as it fell from Oberon’s hand, and then stepped back to stand with Puck.
“No, how could . . .” Oberon gasped. “Mother, how could this happen?”
Scheherazade appeared in front of them, kneeling down and stroking Oberon’s face. “I’m here for you, son. I’m sorry.”
And then Micah, Zach, and Puck were moving through time and space more quickly than Micah had ever moved before. Puck dropped them out of the teleportation at the portal through which they could see Peter, Finn, and Max waiting for them.
The ground trembled beneath their feet, and Micah gazed back inland, watching as the very hills they had traveled through earlier that day began to crumble. “I have to rescue Tristan,” Micah said, starting toward the hills, but Puck stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
“There won’t be time enough for that,” Puck replied, shaking his head. “Give me Excalibur, and I’ll go back for him. I can teleport him out.”
Micah nodded numbly and handed Excalibur to Puck. “Bring him back to me, please.”
“I’ll do my best,” Puck said, smiling sadly. “Now get through the portal. The entire island is collapsing beneath our feet.”
Zach led the way through the portal, and Micah cast one final glance over his shoulder, hoping Tristan would be all right. He then stepped through, seeing Peter looking at him anxiously.
“Micah,” Peter said, surprising Micah with an earnest embrace. He then touched Zach’s arm gently. “Zach! You made it! Where is Nevala? Tristan? Jacob?”
“I’m sorry, Peter . . .” Micah mumbled, staring into the portal. “I don’t know . . .”
Puck appeared again at the mouth of the portal, shaking his head sadly as he held Excalibur in front of him. Micah gasped and started toward the portal as he realized what Puck was about to do, but before he reached the gateway it was gone, and he stumbled forward, falling to the patch of dirt where it had been.
“No . . .” He whispered, “Tristan . . .”
“It’s over,” Finn said reverently. “We’ve won, haven’t we?”
Have we? Micah thought, turning around and facing Peter and Zach, whose expressions matched the breaking of his heart. Oberon was dead, Avalon destroyed, but at what price? Micah no longer had to question if he was beyond remorse as the tears began falling down his face. He was broken as surely as Avalon.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Are you sure you really want to do this?”
Micah looked at Zach, and nodded numbly before looking at Peter, whose determination matched Micah’s own. His eyes were hard, but he wanted closure as much as Micah did, and there seemed no better way to do that beyond what they were about to do.
“This is where we spent all of our time together. It’s where we fell in love, were we learned to strive for a better world,” Peter said from Zach’s shoulder. “I think this is the only place we could possibly find solace.”
The tigress walked out of the woods, rubbing against Peter’s legs as if sensing his discomfort. Micah understood. It was definitely uncomfortable to stand in front of the door to the Icarus Confederacy headquarters, knowing they would never see their friends inside again.
Micah would never again hear Kurt’s grandfatherly laugh in those halls, or feel Jacob’s comforting presence. He’d never be scolded by Hayden or Luke, or be told to stay out of the lab by Ethan.
He’d never hold Tristan again and be able to tell him he loved him. He’d never be loved back.
Months had passed since Avalon had sunk beneath the waves. After desperately seeking a way to reach the island, exhausting every resource Micah could track down, they’d finally agreed to return to North America with Finn and Max, hoping to find answers there.
They’d only been met with more dead ends. There was no way back to Avalon without the keys, except Zach’s blood. When they’d finally run out of other options, Zach had agreed to the ritual bloodletting to open the portal, slicing into his wrist and nearly dying from the loss of blood in the process.
And the ritual had been for naught. No portal had opened. No Avalon had awaited them. No Puck. No Nevala. No Tristan.
And so they had finally reconciled themselves to the fact that they would never see their friends again, that they were the only survivors.
The world itself was better off. Finn and Max managed to maintain control of Skinwalker, and continued Ivan’s work, offering amnesty to all resistance forces and promising to end the persecution of humans. Fenrir had seized control in Europe, and had made similar moves toward peace. Noh-Kitsune, under the urging of Lady Amaya, was pursuing an alliance with both Fenrir and Skinwalker in the name of peaceful coexistence for human and nonhuman alike.
But it all seemed irrelevant to Micah, Zach, and Peter. They had lost everyone they cared about. That didn’t change anything, however, and they had to move on, or risk wasting away.
At least they had each other, and together they had made a final pact; an attempt at closure. They would return to headquarters and destroy the facility, destroying the last tie to their old life so they could build life anew.
Micah cracked open the door, which creaked in protest. It hadn’t been opened in months, and a thin layer of dust seemed to coat everything on the other side. He shifted his eyes to become catlike, allowing him to gain greater use of the little light and stepped inside.
The air was musty like a tomb, but Micah breathed in deeply. The emotion was palpable, and he drank the scent in to become high on the nostalgia. This was still home to him, and always would be.
“I’d like to head to the lab first,” Peter said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Sure,” Micah said, shrugging. “Anywhere is fine by me. I want to spend the day here, if it’s all the same to the two of you.”
“Sounds reasonable to me,” Zach replied, sighing. “I know I didn’t spend the time here that the two of you did, but it’s almost like I can feel them here, watching us. I’m glad we came.”
“Me too,” Peter said and then started forward. “Come on, let’s go.”
Peter turned on a flashlight and led the way, but he kept a slow pace, allowing the group to soak in the emotion of the place. So many memories, Micah thought as they entered the mess hall. They would never again share a meal over those tables. The memories haunted him.
They continued toward the lab, and Peter paused outside the door, resting his hand on the handle. “I’m not sure I can do this,” he whispered. “Ethan and I spent nearly every day here.”
“It has to be done,” Micah insisted. “I can open the door if you prefer.”
“No.” Peter shook his head. “No, I’ve got it.”
He opened the door and stepped inside, and the three of them gasped in surprise at the sight which awaited them. Puck lounged atop one of the two examination tables, arms crossed behind his head. The other examination table held two egg-shaped rocks, the color of cooling lava.
“I was wondering when you’d come back,” Puck said, smiling wide. “But, I knew you would be. I have some gifts for you.”
“W-what?” Peter sputtered. “H-how?”
“Two phoenixes perished on Avalon months ago, but it took me forever to fish their cocoons from the ocean,” Puck replied nodding toward the egg-shaped rocks. “By the time I finally found them, I searched for the three of you, but I couldn’t seem to find you anywhere. Finn finally suggested you may be coming here, and so I arrived a few days ago. Glad to see he wasn’t wrong. I was getting bored.”
“That’s . . .” Micah walked forward, resting his hand on one of the rocks. “Tristan and Nevala?”
“The life of a phoenix, my friend,” Puck said, glancing at Zach and winking before returning his attention to Micah. “Even when they try to sacrifice themselves, you just can’t get rid of them. It’s their fate to rise from the ashes, it’s only a question of when.”
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