Elysium. Temple crypts.
Yellow torchlight filled the huge cave, reflecting off mirrors of polished bronze and giving it an almost ripply quality, like golden water. The crypt was filled with stone slabs, each covered in flowers. And each bearing the body of a fallen Guardian or hero. There weren't just Zenithi. Here or there, a Feloisa or Yakunzu bird slept the eternal sleep, safe from the cold hand of decay in the timeless cave.
And, at the latest slab to be filled, Ratchet and Clank paid their final respects to a fallen friend.
Looking at Drake, Ratchet found it difficult to believe that the part of him that had made him…well…Drake…was gone. He looked as though he was just sleeping, that at any moment, he would wake up, and this would never have happened. Ratchet sighed.
"Hard to believe he's really gone, huh Clank?"
Clank had braved the temples disorientating effect on him to say goodbye.
"He died bravely, Ratchet. You would have been killed had it not been for him."
"And Mia seems capable enough. I am sure she will be a credit to the Guardian name."
Ratchet closed his eyes, remembering the painful moment the Guardianship had been passed on. The search for Mia hadn't taken long. The strongholds explosion had attracted the attention of Zenithi from all over the area. Mia had flown over to them as soon as she had spotted them, confused and concerned about the grim expressions on their faces. She had asked what was wrong, and Ratchet had been unable to answer, unable to find the words. Instead, he had knelt down in front of her, and gently placed the B'rr-tanya over her head. She had looked from it, to Ratchet, then back to the B'rr-tanya again as the meaning of what had just happened slowly sank in. Then she had slumped down, thrown her head back and screamed. It had been the most heartbreaking sound he'd ever heard.
Ratchet got to his feet, stroking Drakes cold wing for the last time.
"We should go. We don't want to waste time."
He held up an arm, and an attendant Zenithi fluttered up obligingly. There was the familiar rush of warm air, and they found themselves in the main clearing.
"Come on, Clank. Lets find Mia."
Elysium was full of clearings. Some, like the main clearing, were huge, others barely fit two people. Jasmine was sitting slumped against a tree in one of the miniature clearings, watching the flight of birds with dull eyes. She had needed to be alone. There was too much sadness…
She was a sensitive soul, a fact that would surprise those who knew her. In the grim, desolate Lombax Dimension, sadness had been all around her. It would have broken her like it had broken so many others, if it hadn't been for her natural sense of humour. She had developed a goofy, puckish sense of humour in response to the desolation, always showing off and cracking jokes, striving to make others laugh to drive away the darkness. It had meant she had never risen above Corporal due to her unprofessional nature, but she didn't care. As long as she could bring a little happiness to others, she could live with that.
But Drakes loss tore at her. She had come to terms with her mothers loss, had accepted it. It hadn't been her fault, she knew that. But Drake…Perhaps she could have saved him if she's been faster. If she hadn't been so reckless on Quantos and driven Ratchet to revenge. If she had met up with Ratchet quicker. If. If. If…
She sighed. There were too many 'ifs' in her life.
Something pecked her lightly on the arm, and she looked down. A large Yakunzu bird was looking up at her.
Mia requests your presence in the main clearing. The words sank into her brain without bothering to reach her ears, and she nodded.
"'Kay. Be there in a tick."
She got up, following the rebuilt paths to the main clearing. Ratchet and Clank were there already, and her stomach gave a weird flip at the sight of the other Lombax. Odd…
Mia was perched on a rock, scanning the crowd that had gathered. She nodded at Jasmine when she saw her.
"Good of you to join us. I imagine you know what this is about?"
Jasmine nodded grimly.
"Well done." Mia addressed the crowd. "Yes, her stronghold is destroyed, and the Balance is more in our favour, but she is still out there somewhere, and we have very little time left. We don't know where she is or what she has planned. We must find out as soon as possible."
Ratchet raised a hand. The first glimmer of an idea was forming in his head.
"Is it possible to find some way of calling her out into the open?"
"Do you have a plan, Ratchet?"
"I think I do…"
In the temples main hall, Mia, Clank and Jasmine listened carefully as Ratchet outlined his tentative idea. It was being kept hush-hush for now, to avoid raising and dashing the hopes of the others if it didn't work.
"Kaos probably has some hidey hole somewhere. It may not even be on Sargasso. She may have gone off planet. Looking for her is going to waste time we just don't have. We have to get her out in the open if we have any chance of destroying her and getting that crystal."
"How ya gonna lure her out?" asked Jasmine.
"I don't know yet. I'm still working on that part."
Mia spoke up.
"It would have to be very good bait. All Kaos has to do to drag the Balance down is stay hidden. She could win without lifting a finger."
Bewildered by the lack of time in the temple, Clank managed to settle his scattered thoughts for a moment.
"Possibly some kind of public service announcement?" he said, swaying slightly.
Mia shook her head.
"We have no computers in the temple-"
"Yes, you do."
All heads turned in Jasmines direction. She grinned and waved her communicator.
"This is Lombax engineering. The best. This was designed to link up all the Guards, even if they're planets away. Hacking into the public service announcement system should be a cakewalk! We just gotta hope she's got the nuts to come out in the open."
"I do not understand. Where do nuts come into this? What kind? Walnuts?"
There was an awkward silence as the others carefully avoided each others eye. Jasmine nudged Ratchet and whispered quietly in his ear.
"You really need to have a talk with him one of these days…"
"I know, I know…"
He quickly changed the subject.
"That could work." he said. "We destroyed her stronghold. She's bound to want revenge for that."
"As plans go, it's a good one." Mia conceded. "But assuming she answers the challenge, what then? Her force out numbers us! How do you plan on destroying her?"
"One on one combat. We'll make that part of the challenge. I bet she'd love a chance to have a go at us personally."
"What?! Ratchet, no! That's suicide!" Jasmine dropped her wrench in horror. "Kaos doesn't play by the rules! That's certain death!"
Ratchet looked her square in the eye.
"I've been a hero for a long time, Jasmine. I know a few things about death. It takes the cowards, the fearful, those who turn and run. But if you face it, if you look it in the eye and stare it down, it'll give you a nod and walk by. We can't afford to let this chance slip. Too much rides on this."
"For your information, killing Kaos is…is my..my duty…" Mia's voice trailed off, as she contemplated with dread the thought of taking a life, even one as evil as Kaos.
"Not this one, Mia." Ratchet replied. "I know Zenithi don't like killing. This ones out of your hands. Or wings, or talons or…whatever,"
"But who's going to fight her? said Jasmine. "You said one on one."
"I know what to do." said Mia. She quickly plucked two feathers from her wing, notching the end of one with her teeth and passing them up to Ratchet.
"Whoever draws the notched feather will be the one to fight her."
Ratchet held the feathers out to Jasmine, keeping the ends hidden in his fist.
She reached out and drew a feather, closing her hand over it.
"On three." she said. "One. Two. Three."
They opened their hands, and Ratchets face went grim. In his hand was a notched feather…
"So be it." said Mia. "Jasmine, how long do you think it will take you to hack into the announcement system?"
Jasmine sat down on a bench and began twiddling with her communicator.
"Fifteen minutes or less. Don't worry. It's pretty simple code. I've seen the Guard use it when they need to warn civilians about migrating Ishkhans and such."
She lapsed into industrious silence, face lit with blue highlights from the communicators glow. As she busied herself with the hacking, Ratchet began planning what to say. He had to do this right. He'd only got one chance…
Ten minutes later, Jasmine looked up with a grin.
"Got it! Gimmie the word and we'll start broadcasting."
"I'm ready. Lets do this."
She held up her communicator so the screen was facing Ratchet, finger hovering over a button.
"Lights. Camera. Action!"
All over Polaris, holovisions flickered, radios stopped in midsong as the transmission overrode them. Everyone in Polaris recognised the face (or voice, in the case of those listening to the radio) that replaced their programmes. Many owed their lives to it.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As some of you are no doubt aware, over the last few days, an individual known as Kaos has ordered a number of attacks on innocent planets. Well, I have a message for her: This ends now!
If you truly are as tough as you say, prove it! You and me, one on one combat. This is the last time innocent people die for your entertainment. It's time to finish this, once and for all. If you think you have the guts to face me, meet me on the place it all started. You should know where that is. One way or another, it's over. Don't be late…
"And now, back to your original programme."
In her hide out, Kaos hissed and slammed her fist down on the main computers keyboard. The screen cut to black.
"Insolent fools!" she roared.
Justin hid behind his clipboard as she raged.
"They dare speak to me in that way? How dare they?"
A swipe of her hand demolished a chair.
"To think they can just order me around. They must be insane!"
She clenched her fists. Rage was boiling up inside her. Rage…and something else. Her whole body seemed to tingle, then to burn as the dark power of Kaos built up.
"Oh, if only I could get my hands on them…They will beg for death, they will regret the day they were whelped, they will…they will burn."
Justin reared back in terror as black fire flared over her skin. Drakes worst fear had been confirmed…
Kaos looked down at her hands with interest. Black nyght fire outlined her, the flames moving in an odd, almost oily way. It was clearly hot. The keyboard in front of her was melting and blistering, yet she felt merely warm. Her clothes weren't even scorched. Her jewellery, being mostly gold, should have melted by now, yet it too had its own aura of fire.
Kaos concentrated, and the fire fled.
"Well, that was interesting." she said, thoughtfully. "Justin?"
"Get my private ship ready. Oh, and speak of this to no one."
He hurried out gratefully.
Kaos clicked her fingers, marvelling at the tiny black flame that flared and danced under her mental control. She grinned, ignoring the tiny, niggling voice of Selene in the back of her mind.
"So, you want to play ball, do you, Ratchet? Lets play ball…"
Elysium abounded with talk. The topic of conversation everywhere was the same:
Everyone, even the Yakunzu birds, normally a taciturn lot, were discussing the possible outcomes. A current of tension wound its way through Elysiums ever present song.
Mia listened to the chatter with half an ear. Most of her attention was focused on Ratchet and Jasmine, huddled around the Guards communicator with Clank keeping look-out. They were planning something, but they weren't telling.
Mia was slightly over two and a half thousand years old, still very young by Zenithi standards, yet already she was skilled in the art of stealth. She dropped her body low to the ground and slunk towards them, keeping to the shadows. They were talking to someone on the communicator, but she couldn't see who…
"…Look, I know you guys don't get along, but we need this."
"You know the history between our races, Ratchet. I am having considerable trouble getting them focused on their task, and not on killing each other."
"Just try, please. We need all the help we can-"
"Good day, Mia!" said Clank loudly, as his re-booted bio-scanner detected her. The two Lombaxes jumped, and Jasmine shut off her communicator guiltily.
"What are you two up to? Mia asked suspiciously.
"Er, nothing you need to worry about." said Jasmine. "Just a little something to give us an edge-"
She was interrupted by Zoe and Shona, who had piled on her, giggling uproariously. They had been overjoyed when Jasmine had returned, and now hardly ever left her alone. They hadn't been told about Drake. The girls hadn't been on Elysium long enough to understand Drakes death song, and no one had the heart to explain its meaning to them. All they knew was that he wasn't there. Ratchet couldn't help feeling a pang of guilt as he watched the three collapse in a giggling heap. They would need to be told one day…
"Why won't you tell me?" queried Mia. There was a cry of "Get offa me, you two!" in the background.
"I don't know if it'll work or not. It's a long shot."
"Are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be, I guess. Kinda scared, though. I mean, if I lose…" He trailed off in mid-sentence.
"Well, I'm afraid to say, it may be harder than you anticipated. A little while ago, workers in the temple reported a drastic surge in the dark half of the Balance. Look!" She swept aside her wing, revealing the B'rr-Tanya, and Ratchet swallowed. It was nearly entirely black…
"We suspect she may have reached stage four. Did Jasmine explain that to you?"
"She's going to be very tough to fight. If she shows up at all." Mia looked very worried, and when she next spoke, it was barely a whisper. "We may have barely hours left…"
"Any advice for fighting her if she's so powerful?"
"I thought you might say that, so I asked some of the elders. All they could suggest for a stage four incarnation was move fast and keep your wits about you."
Ratchet picked up his wrench.
"Better than nothing-"
The clearing froze as the cry was heard. Ace Hardlight crashed through the bushes, nearly falling as he burst into the clearing. Raw fear suffused his face.
"Her ship just entered our airspace! She's here! She's here!"
Jasmine gently shook off Shona and Zoe and leapt to her feet.
"You two go somewhere safe. This is grownup business."
They remembered too clearly Elysiums attack, and ran off to where a Feloisa was gathering young ones to take to safety. Jasmine looked up as a roar echoed through the clearing. A sleek, matt black ship carefully touched down in front of them. Ratchet's heart hammered in his chest. This was it. A door opened with a hiss, a gangplank sliding down. A ripple of tension swept through the watching crowd as Kaos sedately made her way down the gangplank, hood drawn over her head.
She caught sight of Ratchet, and a nerve scraping grin spread across her face. He felt a growl rising in his throat as she walked towards him, still smiling that worrying smile.
She came to a halt in front of him.
"You called, Ratchet?"
"Didn't think you would come."
"Are you joking? I wouldn't miss this for worlds. A chance to kill the ones who've bugged me for so long? Priceless. Speaking of price, on the off chance you win, what's in it for you?"
Ratchet couldn't stop himself. His eyes automatically flicked to her necklace. She noticed his look, and for a moment, was confused, before understanding dawned.
"Ah, the crystal. Of course. I had no idea it was the one you were after. I just selected it because it was pretty." She took it off, holding it up to the light. For a moment, it flashed red as the sun hit it. "Like crystallized blood." She put it back on. "I am willing to bet, however, that the price of me losing is going to be slightly more than my necklace?"
"Two walk in, one walks out." Ratchet said grimly.
Kaos thought for a moment, fingering the gem on her necklace. As the light struck it, it seemed her face was bathed in blood.
"I think that's fair. You know the price of your failure, of course. And I'm sure I don't need to tell you that this is just between you and me. Any outside assistance," She nodded at Clank and Jasmine. "and you will forfeit." She waved a hand, and a small group of hand picked guards left the ship. They glared at him and cracked their knuckles meaningfully.
"They are under orders to…take steps…if you try any funny business."
"Are we gonna talk, or are we gonna fight?"
"Patience, my impulsive little friend. We're hardly going to fight here, are we? It's big, yes, but we're going to need a lot more room." For a moment, her face went strange, like there was someone else behind it. She pointed a finger to the two huge cliffs dominating the sky line. Usually a few teenagers could be seen exercising their wings, but today they were deserted.
"We fight on top of the left one. The one with the waterfall. I have fond memories of that place." The evil smile of Kaos returned, as though it had never left. "It would be nice to kill you there." The skinny male Lombax who had come up behind her placed a remote in her hand. Jasmine recognised it as the one Ginger had built. It worked well as a normal teleporter as well…
"See you there."
There was a flash of electricity, and Kaos and her troops were gone. Ratchet felt a Zenithi land on his shoulder, and the warm breeze of a Zenithi teleport embraced him. He'd never been on the cliff tops here before. Besides the large river that was the source of the waterfall tumbling over the edge, there wasn't much of interest. It was mainly rocky scree, with a few shrubs. And Kaos.
She stood still, watching him, a mocking smile playing around her muzzle, gaze not even flickering as a number as a number of puffs of air indicated the arrival of an audience. Ratchet felt a tug on his leg, and looked down into Clanks worried face.
"Be careful, Ratchet…"
"Don't worry, pal."
Jasmine gripped her wrench and snarled.
"If it starts getting hairy, I'll act as backup. She's got something planned, I know it!"
Ratchet shook her head.
"You heard her. If you step in, I forfeit. And those goons look like they can really mess up our day."
A Feloisa scurried around in a large circle, tracking a line in the dust with its thick tail. Kaos stepped inside the circle.
"Ready to face me, Ratchet? You know once you enter, you can't leave till one of us is dead."
Ratchet breathed out.
And stepped in.
Kaos nodded to Justin, who threw something to her. She caught it in one hand without looking around. It was a long, coiled up bull whip.
"My weapon. You don't expect me to face you unarmed, do you?"
"Of course, you realise this is pointless. Even as we face each other, my fleet launches more attacks. I don't have many ships left, but the ones I have are well armed. Countless civilians will die during the course of this battle, and there is nothing you can do to save them."
Kaos had expected to see guilt or sadness on his face. She hadn't expected Ratchet's expression of smug satisfaction as Jasmines annoying ringtone sounded.
"Gosh, really?" he said. "Put that on speaker phone, would ya, Jaz?"
She nodded and answered it.
"This is Captain Halifax of the Cragmite fleet. The raider ship has been captured. Jasindu airspace is secure."
"Captain Fleena reporting. Kerchu fleet has defeated attackers in Luminopilis. No more sighted."
"Captain Rynon of Igliak defence force. Reepor airspace is secure. No more raiders sighted."
Kaos blinked, bewildered at the sudden turn of events. This was not how she had intended it to go. Mia was surprised as well. So that was what they had planned! Brilliant!
"You're so predictable, Kaos. We knew you were going to try and launch one final attack before the fight. Ever heard the saying 'united we stand, divided we fall'? It took a bit of convincing to get the other planets to work together, but we managed in the end. And it looks like it worked. Your fleet is gone, Kaos. You're on your own."
She hissed, and Ratchet gasped as black fire enveloped her body. Kaos cracked her whip, and the nyght-fire flared along its length.
"You will pay for that." She hissed, and lashed out.
The battle begun.
Only Ratchet's lightning fast reflexes saved him from a nasty burn as the flaming whip cracked barely half a foot from his ear. He drew his constructo pistol and fired, biting back a groan as the dark flames acted as some sort of infernal armour, absorbing the shot. It did some damage. Ratchet had seen her wince. But It didn't do much. Kaos stamped her foot, sending a shockwave of nyght-fire roaring towards him. He vaulted over it, feeling the intense heat start to frizzle his fur. From the side lines, he could hear the calls of encouragement, both from his side and the few guards Kaos had brought with her.
"Come on, Ratchet! Do it for the Lombaxes!"
"Get 'im, boss! Cook 'is hide!"
"We have faced stronger than her, Ratchet! Show her what heroes can do!"
"Try and get the whip around his neck, ma'am! If you can cut off his air supply, he'll be helpless!"
Ratchet crouched, dodging a burst of nyght-fire, and fired off a round of buzz blades. Not one missed its target, each striking, ricocheting and striking her again. But the flaming barrier and otherworldly strength of the Entity were on her side. Only tiny cuts were inflicted. He had hit her with nearly everything in his arsenal. Her shield of fire had even shrugged off a Negotiator round, leaving her slightly scorched and stunned for the merest fraction of a second. She shook her head, growled, and struck out with her whip, lashing his cheek, cutting and burning at the same time.
Watching from the sidelines, Jasmine bit her nails anxiously as she watched the action in the ring, wincing in sympathetic pain with each blow Ratchet took. Beside her, Clank covered his optic sensors with his hands. He could barely stand to watch…
Ratchet cried out in pain as the whip coiled and tightened around his wrist. Despite appearances, Kaos was tiring as Ratchets assault slowly chipped away at her health, and her nyght-fire was losing some of its heat, but Ratchet still had to grit his teeth against the pain as the leather of his glove began to scorch. It was pure instinct that kept him holding his wrench. His free hand fired off a constructo-pistol shot, which went wild. Through a fog of agony, he saw the taut whip, and an idea struck. Bracing himself for the pain, he grabbed hold of the whip and pulled…
His unexpected move surprised Kaos, and caught her off balance. She staggered, and fell back heavily. There was a cheer from the Zenithi, but Mia remained silent. Ancient instincts detected a wrongness all around her. A glance at the B'rr-Tanya confirmed it. The Balance was moving. She could feel it, could see the faint warping on the very edge of her vision. Reality was beginning to tear…
Ratchet limped over to where Kaos was still trying to rise, nyght-fire reduced to the occasional curling wisp writhing in the breeze. As he cast a shadow over her, she looked up and snarled.
"Well? Aren't you going to shoot me? Or are you too much of a bleeding heart for that?"
Silence fell as Ratchet sighted his pistol between her eyes. He tensed his finger on the trigger…and hesitated.
Kaos seized her chance. Her foot kicked up with forensic accuracy, and every male in the area winced. Ratchet's eyes crossed, and he made a small whimper as he slumped to the ground, curled around his own private universe of pain. There was a groan from the Zenithi, and a cheer from Kaos' supporters.
She got to her feet, and picked up the gun Ratchet had dropped. Jasmine cried out, and made to charge at Kaos, who merely grinned and clicked her fingers. Jasmine reared back as a wall of nyght-fire sprang up in her face, blocking her.
"And so ends a hero." Kaos said, as Ratchet managed to get to his knees, still gasping in agony. Kaos pointed the gun at his head. "And so ends all hope."
Ratchet closed his eyes and waited for the end….
There was silence. Ratchet cautiously opened one eye. The bullet had struck the ground next to him, barely half a foot away.
Kaos was swaying, eyes closed.Sweat poured down her forehead as she twitched and jerked spasmodically.
"No…" she muttered. "This is my mind. My body. I am in charge here. What I say goes!"
The gun clattered to the ground as she clutched at her head. When next she spoke, her voice was different. It was younger, softer. Scared. She opened pale blue eyes, normal ones.
"No more death, Kaos. I will no longer kill for you!"
A surge of whispering swept through the Zenithi. The Entity was weakening! The Incarnation was fighting back!
Clank nudged Mia.
"What is happening?"
"I…I don't know….This shouldn't be happening. The Incarnation can never escape the Entity! Can't it…?"
Kaos wrenched control back momentarily, darkness flowing like ink over her eyes.
"I forced you down! You should not be able to do this! I am Kaos! None can stand against me! I am stronger than the Balance itself!"
The blackness fled from her eyes as Selene took control.
"The Zenithi have a saying. "There is strength in weakness". I never understood it fully till now. Now I know. True strength lies in understanding weakness, and using it.The grass bows to the storm and emerges unscathed. It doesn't matter how strong you are. If there is nothing to resist you, you're helpless!"
"Fool! Only the strong can take control! The weak die!"
But Kaos was beginning to realise she was wrong. No matter how hard she lashed out, no matter how powerful the mental attack, Selene simply went with it. Resistance could be knocked over, but this was like punching fog…
"This will not last! I will win!"
"It will last for long enough! Ratchet! Shoot me!"
He scrabbled in the dust for the gun, only to leap back as a blast of nyght-fire nearly took his hand off. Oily black flames were curling around Kaos, lashing back and forward in the rage of the struggle. Mia prayed as she saw the warping in her vision increase.
Great sky help us…
Jasmine could see it now as well. Panic rose.
"Come on, Selene! Fight her! You can do it! Come on!"
The black flames rose higher, as the two personalities writhed against each other, seeking an opening. Then the bone white Lombax slumped to her knees, and screamed at the sky. A pillar of dark fire rose, sending hot winds roaring around the cliff top, nearly blowing over the watchers. It winked out with a suddenness that surprised. There was quiet, broken only by a faint sizzle on the edge of hearing as reality twisted.
Ratchet took up the gun and began slowly walking towards her. He couldn't tell who was in control. Her long white hair obscured her face. Then she looked up at him through the white tresses, and he winced at the expression of sheer anguish on her face. Both Kaos and Selene were there, black patches writhing obscenely in terrified blue eyes.
"Shoot me, Ratchet." She whispered. "Please."
He raised the gun. The muzzle of the Constructo pistol was a mere inch away from her fore head.
And once again, he hesitated.
She was so young. Her only crime was having the misfortune to be chosen by a force beyond her control, and now he had to kill her for it. She would never grow up, never go to college…
"Ratchet, you must!" Mia yelled. "Listen! Can't you hear it?" The sizzle and crackle of warping reality was louder now."Reality is fracturing! This is your only chance!"
…Never fall in love, never raise a family. So much potential, wasted. Ratchet was a hero. He prided himself on that fact. He saved lives. He didn't take them. What kind of hero shot someone who was helpless and on their knees?
"It's easy, Ratchet." said Selene quietly. "Just make a fist. The bullet does all the hitting for you."
He could see things moving strangely in his vision. Even his hand looked weird, warping like a heat mirage. He took a deep breath…
"I can't." he whispered. He lowered his gun. "I can't kill someone who's helpless. I'm sorry."
She got to her feet.
"You are a hero, Ratchet. No hero kills those who are helpless. I shouldn't have asked you too. Here."
She removed her necklace, tossing it at Ratchets feet.
"You've gone through much for that. Use it well. Good luck."
She began to step back. Ratchet noticed the edge of the cliff, and with a shock, realised her intentions. He caught Jasmines eye, and she nodded and began circling around, hoping to cut her off. Selene was headed to where the waterfall tumbled into space. The teenagers who practised here avoided it carefully. It was certain death if they were carried down into the deep, fast flowing river far below. They always jumped further along, over the large mushrooms that grew there.
Ratchet began to carefully move forward, reaching out a hand.
"Just…stay still for a moment, will you? If you can fight it, maybe you don't need to die at all. You can keep it under control!"
She shook her head sadly, still smiling, still walking backwards.
"It doesn't work that way. You can feel reality shifting, can't you? I have to do this."
"There has to be some way-"
"I'm so sorry for what I've done. It really is better this way…" She was right up against the cliff edge now, spray from the falls soaking her.
"Goodbye. And thank you."
She smiled, closed her eyes…
And stepped back.