Chapter Eighteen: The Blistering Void

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The chanting still rang in her ear even as she exploded into a gate to send Splitface home. Their words were strong, they were pulling Splitface back into the world, away from the portal.

"Leave him!" she screeched, stretching one hand towards them and, promising to borrow Splitface's power for the final time, sent a blast of heat and light in the direction of the chanting. Doing so caused a irreparable and agonizing lance through her body, and with it, the final physical form she had could no longer support itself, and nothing but the glowing fire of the portal remained.

They stood in the Threshold once more, but it was no longer cold and dark, but blinding and covered in smoke and movement. Splitface's outline stood there, lost and still, barely an outline. His power pumped through her. Power she had stolen to free him, and power she intended to return.

Within a moment of a second, yet seemed like an eternity, Maddie grasped both hands into her abdomen and began to pull. Pain like a hot needle sprouted from her insides, coiling around her, wrenching from deep within her. She felt his name. Ash. His memories, his consciousness. Almost everything about him was powering her, lighting her on fire. Tempting her and whispering in her ear the countless possibilities it offered to her.

Disparity to a being like her was almost impossible to control, especially when almost the entirety of Ash's power clawed through her frail and fickle body. Maddie clung on to whatever she was, barely only swirls of power and light that danced in the air. If she let go of everything that Ash was, it might be lost forever. It burned her, causing the remains of her fingers to blister and sear under its intense heat. She was crumbling, parts of her being caught by the wind and crisping into burnt, feathery fragments. She didn't have much time.

Grasping as much of Ash as she could, she withdrew it from her. It clung tight, wanting to invert itself and her with it, setting her alight like a star. Maddie resisted the call of its power and pulled once again.

"I do not belong here. Please, set him alight, not me."

It resisted. He resisted. "Maddie. Be with me. I love you, Maddie."

And he did love her. His desire, how much he cared for her, what he felt for her. It wrenched inside her, wanting her. Needing her.

She needed him too. In that moment, there was nothing she wanted more than his warm embrace, to escape this pain, the horror of returning back to where she had come. She didn't know what waited for her there, if she was even going back there. There might not be enough of her to return anywhere.

A shadow was emerging from the rift, where she had commanded the girl to grab Ash to try and save his essence from this world. Ash was protesting though, desperate to remain with Maddie.

"Don't leave me, Maddie. Don't leave me alone."

She was losing control of him as his emotions flared, begging her to stay with him. "I can't, Ash. I can't."

With her last bit of strength, she wrenched him up, into the arms of the one waiting at the gate, the go between worlds. Hoping it was enough.

"Maddie! Please! Stay with me. I love you."

"I love you, too, Ash. I love you so much." Maddie let go of him, and he took all of the color, the light through the rift and left her hollow, trembling, barely a husk.

*****

Ashley Everson burst into life. It flew through him, sending his limbs juddering and his mind firing with electricity. In a fraction, everything was in perfect clarity and complete and utter chaos. He took a breath, and color swirled into his vision. He could feel himself running through his body, his very consciousness entering his fingers, right down his legs and beating in his chest. He thought he could hear a familiar voice shouting "Ash! Ash!" at him, but there was too much light blinding his eyes.

Eventually, a silhouette came into focus from the brightness. Short hair, a freckled nose, concerned wide eyes.

"Ma, Mol. Molly?" He breathed.

Warm arms cradled his head as he identified his dear friend. "Molly," he said once more, as if to confirm it to himself this time.

Molly nodded, tears in her eyes. The side of her face looked burnt and charred, and there was a nasty looking burn down one arm. The skin was raw and covered in welts. He reached up to touch her face, to make sure she was there, and stroked her uninjured cheek with his thumb, catching the tear that rolled down. She shivered as he touched her warm skin.

"Ash," she whispered, touching her forehead to his. Ash shut his eyes, feeling the warmth from Molly's body.

Ash reopened his eyes, and only then noticed a flicker of movement beside Molly. Another familiar face beside her. "Kal?" Ash gasped with incredulity. What was he doing here? His arms were blistered and raw just like Molly's.

But Kal wasn't looking at him. His attention was on something right beside him, something with trembling, ragged breath. Ash sat up, much to the surprise of Molly who let go and he looked at the woman lying beside him.

She looked burned almost beyond recognition, and her limbs smoked in the limited, flickering light. Ash noticed far too late it was actually he that emitted the only light source, and his very body seemed to glow from right under his skin. It was fading fast.

From his position, Ash swore he recognized her: wild hair strewn about her that was gray and brittle rather than full and white. He couldn't take his eyes off her.

Her eyelids flickered, snapped open, and met his gaze.

Ash saw a part of himself strewn out on the floor next to him, somewhere inside of that rapidly crumbling body. Her eyes looked almost glazed, but they were definitely focused on him. Her lips opened, as if she was about to speak.

But she didn't. She only smiled. A gentle, beautiful smile. Ash, unbidden, felt tears pricking at the corner of his eyes. Why was he crying?

The other two here with him seemed to melt into the back of his mind, and he took the woman's hand that was cold and covered in dust. Her fingers coiled around his, and an inexplicable warmth passed right through him.

"This is yours, little Splitface. My Ash."

The woman crumbled into dust. Into ash. Within a second, her form disintegrated, and the whispering wind blew on the pile, carrying it away is small swirls.

Ash collapsed.

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