The two of them snapped back into existence with a sudden jolt, their feet hitting the hard-packed dirt as Marijka held on tightly to Tyler, not stumbling thankfully as she felt her feet turn beneath her. Tyler was solid, not moving as she could feel that his arms were almost directly in front of him, his entire body tensed as though in deep, intense concentration.
“Tyler?” She spoke his name softly, the rumbling of the stone and tons of dirt was now thankfully far enough away that she didn’t sense that they were in any impending danger. Tyler did not answer her though.
Marijka felt the corded muscles, the power that Tyler held within, and for a moment she was afraid, thinking that he’d not come through their ordeal as well as she’d hoped. As she managed to unlock her hands from his body however she stepped to where she could see his face, noting that his eyes were wide open, the silvery mists that flowed through them were churning madly, almost like a sparkling, turbulent sea. His face was locked in deep concentration, she couldn’t even tell if he was able to see her just then, though something told her that he knew she was there.
“Tyler?” she repeated.
“I’m not letting them go,” he said, his voice solid and stern as he held his hands with fingers crooked slightly, splayed as though he were holding something, a large ball, or a parcel. Marijka felt her heart throb as she looked back from whence they’d come, expecting to see a crumbling ruin upon the highway, the dissolution of tons upon tons of dirt and rock. Instead she saw the boiling, dark mass that had attacked them, churning crazily as it no longer had a guiding mind by which to follow. She could not make out where the Chosen might be, nor Josh or the missing hellhounds, though as she stiffened her upper lip, Marijka realized why the mountains had not yet fallen, why the wavering dunes of earth she could see attempting to crest the peaks and break upon the enemy had not been allowed to collapse inward. Tyler was holding it all back.
Her breath was effectively stolen away as she came to this realization, the power that she felt no doubt small in comparison to what Tyler was truly holding back. He was foiling the Elemental’s sacrifice, attempting to keep them alive when it was they who wished the same for the rest of them.
Marijka’s heart was in her throat in that moment, though she still turned back to Tyler, her eyes pleading and her tone earnest as she spoke.
“Tyler, let them go.” He shook his head, the strain of holding back the megatons of earth and rock showing as his entire body began to shake, his hands trembling as he remained stoic, not willing to give in. It was undoubtedly one of his greatest strengths, the ability to care for his friends, but it was also a great weakness, one that far too many enemies knew how to exploit. And if she could not convince him to let go, it would be their undoing. The Chosen of long ago had given them a chance to live, they could not in good conscience squander it, though he would choose to risk all if only to keep them alive. She loved him in that moment, much as any proud sister will love a brother, but this was folly, and she knew it.
“Tyler, please,” Marijka said, standing closer now to the man that was her leader, her friend, and her brother in all but blood, “They’ve made the choice, don’t dishonor them like this. Let them go.” Still, for several moments, Tyler refused. Marijka did not turn her attention from the man in that moment, her gaze penetrating Tyler in such a way that she could feel his heartbeat, could sense the sorrow that threatened to drag him down, and the fierce determination he seemed to live by each second of the day.
Stepping even closer as he did not release the power, Marijka folded her arms around him again, placing her head upon Tyler’s chest as she could now feel the power like a heavy blanket, wrapping around her and offering protection, and doom if she got too close. She didn’t care what happened to her, so long as Tyler knew that she was here for him, as the rest of them would be, always.
“Let them go brother,” she whispered, hoping her words were being heard, and felt, “For the love of our kind, and the love of our people, let them go.” Tyler was trembling even harder now, the power threatening to explode from within if he held on any longer, or perhaps lash out at the first available conduit. Marijka found in that second that she would gladly be that target, if only to be sure that Tyler realized the error of his current action.
It did not come to that however. Tyler, lowering his gaze, closed his eyes, not shrugging her away but not drawing her into his arms as she held onto him, feeling the sorrow that coursed through him now, the guilt that sprang to life within seconds. He let go, his hands opening wide once before he lifted his arms, as though letting go of a tremendous weight that had been holding him back. And as the tension fled, Tyler roared, long, and loud. And still, Marijka held onto him, suffering the storm for the love of a brother.
* * *
Aulik felt the pressure lessen, the restraint release, and he exulted in the absolute power that flooded through his body, threatening to tear him apart as it ran rampant throughout his large form. Elemental of the Chosen he might have been, but he was still human, and the physiology of human beings had never been meant to withstand such power, no matter how tough a person might be. He died with a roar upon his lips, a battle cry as fierce as any his people had ever uttered, a smile upon his lips as he went to meet his gods, his last act upon this earth to create his own burial, along with his fellow Chosen and their enemies.
The others felt him go, felt his life force slipping away as he collapsed, and they knew. Aulik had succeeded, the pounding and thrumming of earth and stone as it began to pummel their enemies was enough for any one of them to know that death had finally come, that they would finally be allowed the rest they’d been denied so very long ago. And for each one of them, it was long overdue.
Not a one of them stopped, fighting until the last, when the crushing waves of earth and rock overcame first their enemies and then them, crushing, tearing, burying, and pummeling so that bones broke, flesh tore, and dirt filled every last available spot. Before the deluge of dirt consumed them all however Moriggan uttered a long, maniacal laugh of joy, one that each of the other Chosen mirrored as they continued to hew and hack at their enemies, a laughter that defied the Dark, that spat in the face of all that had come before the Darkfall, and all that would come after. The Chosen of that long ago age defied the Dark, they trod upon it, and in their final, selfless act, their laughter echoed into the halls of their gods, allowing them to meet death with smiles upon their faces, defiant to the last.
And thus did the Chosen of the third age fall, not with dishonor, but with joy.