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Jun 05, 2020 8:33 AM
Bruce Banner as Vanyel, from end of book 1 of "A Song for Two Voices"
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The rope digs into his wrists, twisted painfully behind his back, which are tied to his bound ankles and completely numb. He's freezing cold. The bale of hay behind him scratches through his shirt. His head throbs, and he can feel a trickle of blood through his hair. It's hard to breathe through the rag shoved into his mouth and tied in place. 

“No, I don’t think I can kill you,” the creepy flaxen-haired mage in front of him says, voice like honey. “I do believe I will take you with me.”

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Abras has never felt this helpless. He twists his hands in the ropes, but all it does is strain bones and muscles he can barely feel. 

Gods, he thinks, I wish Lendel was here! No, I don't, then he'd be trapped too, but at least I wouldn't be alone. He reaches inside himself for the feeling of his Lifebond, trying to draw strength from it.

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...And then there's a thud, a flash of light, and a Companion crashing through the door, bowling the two guards over. It must be Gala because Tylendel is on her back, still in sleeping-clothes, he flings a levinbolt and misses and the mage starts to turn and it's too late, Gala's hooves slam into him and he goes flying into a haybale. Before he can rise, a fireball hits him in the face–

Things happen very quickly for a while. Abras can feel the attacks striking at Tylendel's shields, but by the time he can see straight again, Tylendel is already rising from the last fallen body, dagger wet with blood. He makes his way over a bit unsteadily, hugs Abras tightly, and then steps back and makes sure Abras is looking him in the eye before he reaches in to cut away the gag.

"Gods, ashke, are you all right? Did he hurt you?" He looks furious. It's practically rolling off him in waves. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry it took me this long to find you." 

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"I'm alright, you were fast enough, thank you--we have to get out of here--" he doesn't sound alright, he's shaking with what little range of motion he has, but he's going to be alright now, because 'Lendel's here and because he has to be alright, has to not slow them down.

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"I know, listen, there're wyrsa out there, Pelagirs monsters – Savil's back there somewhere holding them off with Mardic and Donni, I felt you and split off to come find you. Figure the mage must've brought them in. We have to move." 'Lendel cuts through the ropes on Abras' wrists and ankles, slightly nicking his skin in haste. "Can you stand?" 

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"Shit--I think so--" he gets his feet under him, though it feels like trying to balance on a pair of tree branches that only intermittently exist. "Which way?"

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"Gala can carry both of us – back to Savil, I think, she's–" 'Lendel points vaguely. "Come on, up, you sit in front of me and I'll help you stay on–" Gala knees, and 'Lendel helps Abras wrestle his leg over the saddle. "Gods, you're bleeding – they hit your head?" 

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Abras sits on Gala like a sack of potatoes and holds onto the front edge of her saddle. "It's just a cut." He tries to wipe the blood away, wincing, but just ends up smearing it across more of his face. He stares in the direction 'Lendel pointed, hoping to see some sign of friends and none of Pelagirs monsters.

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Mostly he just sees trees, dimly – it's pretty dark. 

'Lendel scrambles up behind Abras, gripping him tightly. "Good, Savil is that wa– Gods!" Gala bolts forward, nearly dislodging both of them, but 'Lendel hangs on and now they're galloping through a forest with only a bit of moonlight to show the trees. Gala somehow manages to avoid running headlong into any, but a branch whacks Abras in the face before he can dodge. 

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Well, now he's bleeding from the face in two spots. And also got whacked in the eye and can't convince himself to open it, so he can see even less. At least he can cling to Gala, try to make it as easy as possible for her to run without flinging him off.

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And then Gala plants all four hooves and skids to a stop, almost but not quite unseating him. There's a...ruined cottage? Stone building, not very large, gaping doorway and pool of darkness inside, windows like missing teeth. The roof's gone and the top of the wall is crumbled on one corner, but it's still standing. 

:Get off: The voice in his head is female, and stressed. It has to be Gala; she's never spoken into his mind before. :Go in there and I'll hold them off: 

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He knew Companions could speak to people other than their Heralds but he hadn't expected to ever be involved in enough Serious Business to experience it. He slides off Gala, manages to stumble onto the ground instead of flopping on it, takes a step toward the ruined cottage and then looks back to see if Tylendel is coming too.

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Tylendel, halfway through slipping down from Gala's saddle, gasps and then throws out a hand and sends a levinbolt into the darkness. From its brief light, Abras can see what looks like half a dozen black, scaly, sinuous, wrong-looking creatures rushing toward them. 

"Get in!" Tylendel shouts. "I'm coming – I can shield the doorway I think – get in get in get in–"

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Of course Tylendel is taking the maximally brave option. Abras isn't nearly as brave, or nearly as useful; he gets in the cottage. And watches the fight because the only thing worse than watching would be not watching.

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Tylendel stands in the doorway and holds up a shimmering half-transparent shield from one trembling hand, and flings fireballs with the other. He sags a little after each strike; Abras can sense his growing exhaustion through the lifebond. In the flashes of firelight, Abras can see one of the creatures crumpling, its hide on fire – another crunching under Gala's hooves – but there are too many and Gala's not moving as quickly now, there are gashes in her hide, 'Lendel isn't attacking anymore he's clinging to the doorway with one hand and just barely holding up a shield–

:You need to get out!: Gala's voice again. :Can't hold them off much longer. Chosen, you have to Gate. I'll help. You can do this: 

"I can't–"

:Abras. You're pulling from him already. Open the bond fully. You can do this, Chosen. GO: 

And 'Lendel glances back at him, his eyes naked and helpless. "Ashke, are you, can you...?" the rest of the question isn't in words. 

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"What do you need?" He shoves at the Lifebond, trying to pour strength and reassurance across it. Whatever 'Lendel needs, if Abras has it to give, it's his.

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:That: He can hear 'Lendel in his mind now; they're so close they're practically the same entity. :I love you, ashke. Hold on: 

Abras will feel Tylendel's effort, his concentration, following instructions from Gala that Abras can't quite hear but can somehow feel the edges of, the magic flowing, building a glowing threshold on the abandoned doorway while Gala defends their position with hooves and teeth, despite the gashes in her hide–

And then, just once, she's a fraction of a second too slow. 

Blood, gushing from her ripped-open throat. 

'Lendel screams. 

:Chosen: Her mindvoice already fading. :Chosen, I love you. Hold on. Please. I love you–:

And Abras will feel it, when the last of her light slips away, the gaping emptiness it tears open in 'Lendel's mind, and he's screaming as well–

–and somehow Tylendel holds the threshold...

...and, somehow, impossibly, he adds a final layer, and the spell reaches, Tylendel clings to the image of the Heralds' temple, in Haven, hundreds of miles away, the threshold that Savil used to Gate out, it must have been the first place to come to mind. Gala isn't there to hold off the wyrsa, they can't have much time–

And the shimmering archway is suddenly a door to somewhere else. 

"Ashke, go, gogogogo–" Tylendel rips Abras' fingers away from their grip on his arm, and shoves him, hard, so that he – a moment weightless in the icy dark – and he falls sprawling in the mud on the other side of the Gate. 

And Tylendel turns, turns his back on Abras and faces the wyrsa now scrambling over the crumbled cottage walls, he's never had any intention of coming through the Gate, not since the moment he knew Gala wouldn't be coming with them. 

'Lendel raises his hands. 

On the other side of a faltering Gate, the horizon turns to fire. A fire made up of everything that 'Lendel is or has ever been, going up like a candle, hopes and dreams, rage, determination, love–

Even in the final moments, no pain, and no fear. 

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"No," he whispers in denial, but he can't deny it, he can feel it, and now he's screaming "No! NO! LENDEL!" 

He wants to dive back through the Gate into the fire, wants to dive back through time and make this not have happened, this thing that must not happen, that has made the world Wrong, everything is wrong and nothing can be right, and all he can do is scream. Loud enough to echo off the buildings at first, then quietly as his throat and vocal cords can't keep up with his pain.

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The fire dies away. The Gate, still standing and looking out on smouldering ruins, drains away his strength, it's starting to rain and thunder crackles and his body is colder and colder.

And then there's a blurred form through the Gate, and staggering footsteps. A shadow over him, hands on his cheek, a familiar voice. "Abras! Hey, hey, can you look at me... It's Mardic. Stay with me. It's going to be all right–" his voice cracks. "I just need, to, take down the Gate – hang on..."

Mardic does something, and the glowing archway comes crashing down – and Abras feels it as well, it wants to ground itself in the earth but he's in the middle, and so it tears through him, rips at his insides, like the bolt of lightning that simultaneously lances the sky above. 

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Abras thrashes on the ground, trying to curl up to dodge a blow coming from no direction, to curl up around an injury that's nowhere and everywhere. It feels like parts of him being ripped open that he didn't know he had, and now there are thoughts in his head that make no sense. It's not long before his body grants him the mercy of passing out.

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Mardic, dizzy from the backlashing magic, tries to hold him as he flails and shakes, to cushion his friend's head from the stone and prevent him from hurting himself – hurting himself worse, he doesn't understand what just happened but it can't be good and it's got to be somehow his fault, for taking down the Gate wrong, it's not like he's ever practiced taking down someone else's Gate. He's not sure whether to be relieved or panicked when Abras finally goes limp. 

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And then a white shape comes galloping through the rain toward them. Skidding to a stop in the mud, the mare kneels, muzzle nosing at Abras' face. Too-human blue eyes full of pain. :Chosen. Wake up: A mental voice that stings fresh wounds in places that didn't exist before, but it calls to Abras. :Chosen. Please. Come back to me. Please: 

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"Nnnnnhhh? Grnk?" He wants to answer whatever's trying to get his attention, if only because then they might go away and stop hurting him. He turns his head a bit, and immediately stops because that's too much motion and now he's dizzy.

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:Abras Ashkevron, I Choose you: During the fraction of a second that his eyes are open, orb-like blue eyes stare directly into his from at most a couple of inches away, and then...

– skip – 

...there's a blue place with silver threads woven through it, and a woman with tears on her cheeks, holding him, rocking him, whispering it's going to be all right, I love you, but we have to go back...

– skip –

...and then there's just cold and rain and agony, and a horse's nostrils blowing in his hair. 

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...And a preteen girl in trainee Healers' robes too big for her, sprinting through the rain. "What – I felt – called me – what's happening?" She's almost too out of breath to speak, but she falls to her knees at Abras' side, pushing the mare's muzzle out of the way, and her small warm hand is on his forehead, offering a tiny inflow of strength. "Hey. Can you hear me? I'm a Healer. I mean, um, a student. Er, blink if you can hear me?" 

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Where is he?

(Pain, Grief)

Someone loves him?

(Pain, Loss)

Something feels nice

(Pain, Loneliness)

Oh, those were words, what were they, something something blink if you can hear me?

(Pain, Grief)

He drags his eyes open, fails at keeping them open, drags them open again. That's sort of like a blink, right? 

(Pain)

There's a Companion kneeling over him. He realizes she's the source of the love, and the mindspeech. That means something, something important, but he can't quite hold onto the thought long enough to finish it. There's a girl there too. He tries to focus his eyes on them and listen in case either one says something else.

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