We’re all dead, in a way. In a way, all of aren’t living. In a way, even though our hearts are beating, we’re truly trapped in the abyss that awaits after death.
Liandros and I sit in my room, sipping wine. Tomorrow we die.
And for tonight…? We say everything that needs to be said.
“I love you. I’ve always loved you as more than as a friend,” Liandros says, watching my reaction.
“I always thought you did. I love you, too. I always have loved you as more than as a friend, Liandros. I love you as a brother.”
The words cut deep into him. His eyes drop. “That’s….not how I meant it, but…..Well, it’s good to hear that you care about me enough to view me that…that way.”
There’s a moment of silence, before I break it with: “You know I’m straight.”
Liandros nods, acceptingly. Resignedly. “And you know I’m not.”
A thought pops into my mind, and I slip to my feet, and pull him into my arms. He sighs into my neck, hugging me tightly. We just stand there, wrapped in each other’s arms, everything known. Every secret known. And everything accepted.
Liandros pulls back suddenly, looking at me strangely. “Kelree, you’re still wearing the Key. Why don’t you use it?”
“To do what? End our lives even sooner?” I laugh. “There’s nothing I can do to get out of here—I’ll just be found, and we’ll have to go through all of this again.”
Liandros shakes his head, shrugging. “Wishful thinking never goes anywhere….”
I give him a half smile, slapping him on the shoulder affectionately. “Come on. Before we die, I wouldn’t mind having a few questions answered.”
Eyeing me warily but trustingly, Liandros follows me into the hall as I seek out Taurion.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ He isn’t surprised at all when we walk into his study. “Hello, there. I take it I have some explaining to do, some questions to answer?”
“Yes, you do.” I reply, sitting across from him. He rests his elbows on his desk, and smiles welcomingly.
Liandros begins. “I’ve heard quite a bit about the Stone Gate—what is it?”
“The only thing keeping this world and the world of the abyss apart. They’re called Keys for a reason,” Taurion says, indicating the bracelet upon his wrist, “That’s why Kelree cannot be allowed to live. He has the power to unlock it, and the madness to be stupid enough to do so. Because the Source, as powerful as it is, is nothing compared to the hell that waits beyond the Stone Gate.”
I eye the bracelet calmly. “So, when it wants us to destroy the world, it really just needs us to open the gate?” Taurion nods, and I go on, “So what’s stopping me from opening it right now?”
“You’re on the wrong side of the country.”
“Oh…..So it’s like a real-world thing? Physical and everything?”
“Yes. Which is why it’s so hard to keep safe—it’s too easy for a common person to get close to and maybe damage.”
“Where is it?”
“Stavaks, on the outskirts. Near to the shore. If you’re going, go. I won’t stop you. In a way, it would be a relief, for someone to end the world.”
I look briefly at Liandros, but he doesn’t meet my eyes. He only murmurs, “There’s another question you need to ask him….”
“What question?” I didn’t think I’d missed anything—and it wasn’t like it mattered. I was going to open the Stone Gate no matter what.
“Taurion, what does it take to open the Stone Gate?”
“It takes the Sacrifice of the one the opener loves most.”
Liandros nods, and turns to me. “That’s why Ari and Nalika gave up their lives saving me—I was the one you loved most. That’s why the elves took me to Sheeler—they wanted to see if I could be kept away from you. They knew you were going to get your hands on a bracelet before long. They knew that, one way or another, you would find this out. This secret. This way to end the world once and for all. The elves want the world to go on—but Ari and Nalika, along with many others, don’t.”
I’ve stopped, frozen. It took the death of Liandros to end the world…..
I force out, “Does it have to be by the opener’s hand that they…they die?”
“Yes.” Two throats, one answer.
I look at Liandros, and he nods calmly.
He takes my outstretched hand.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In a single burst of power, the manor at Serria disappears and the port town of Stavaks appears around us. Not meeting the gaze of those around us, Liandros and I walk in silence towards the coast.
Towards the end of the world.
It doesn’t take long to find it.
All we do is find the largest batch of best-armed elves, and follow them.
We don’t even try to be stealthy. The elves see us, but they don’t oppose us. They are only soldiers, not Sourcerors. As long as Liandros and I reach our destination before long, we should not face any opposition.
We’re going to end the world.
And no one’s going to stop us.