Exposure Level 1 - 9 iv

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This was not what Ava expected to see. All around her there was a war. Bodies littered the ground. A blackened spread of flesh and scorched earth. In the sky above the battlefield, shadows fought. A whirlwind of dark mist sparks of light flashing in random places signaling death.

On the ground, Ava saw Kunz. She stopped her advance looking at the one man she feared. Fighting him were two werewolves. They were the only ones alive. With a wave of his hand, Kunz sent Marx flying through the air. He landed a distance away in the litter of bodies strewn around. While Marx recovered, Penny was on Kunz, teeth, and claws. No amount of black magic armed her. The sounds she made... Ava felt a chill run down her spine.

Ava raced over to Marx. He seemed surprised to see her.

"You're dead," he said. "I saw it."

"I'm alive, and we need to go."

"Go where? There is nothing left. This is it. This is Earth. All the others," he dropped his gave, "they're dead."

Ava felt a tug in her stomach at the knowledge that 'others' included Daniel. She reminded herself that none of this was real. Glancing over her shoulder at Kunz, Ava repeated it a million times. What she was seeing was not real, and it would never happen. Not if she had anything to say about it.

"Marx. I need you to listen to me. None of this is true. You are on a spiritual journey. What you're seeing—" She looked around her. What was he seeing? What was she seeing? All around her was death. She could smell it. Feel the violence that electrified the air. She could understand why Marx would think this was real. It felt real. Grief for those she was yet to lose swelled in her gut.

Ava forced her attention back to Marx. "I need you to focus on me."

"I need to kill him." Marx got on his feet and entered the fray again.

Ava dreaded what was happening on the ground, but it was the scene playing out above her head that gave her the most pause. Shadows fighting shadows?

"Focus, Ava," she said to herself. "You came here for Marx, and you are not leaving without him."

Squaring her shoulders, she marched over to the three. Ava created the portal—their way out. Using all the magic she had, she started to pull Marx towards it. He fought to get free but unlike Penny, he was not immune to shadow magic. As he moved further away, Kunz jeered him about running. About not being able to finish the fight. Neither the King of Shadows nor Penny seemed to notice Ava was there. A small blessing. Spiritual world or no Kunz frightened her. Through her actions, she had created a monster around which other monsters quivered.

She wanted to get as far away from her husband as she could. Far away from the death. She dragged Marx to the portal as he thrashed and roared. They left the fight behind. Who would become the victor? Neither of them will ever know.

***

Marx gasped, his spirit becoming one with his body. Ava swayed. She opted to lay on the cave floor before she collapsed to it. Marx looked around taking in his environment. He was dazed, trying to figure out where he was. The Shaman was the one to explain everything—or most things. Ava needed a few minutes.

"With your journey incomplete," the Shaman was saying. Ava did not miss the accusatory tone he used. "There is no way of knowing if the joining was complete."

Ava sat up. "Put a rug in it, Shaman."

"I think you mean sock," the Shaman said.

"Tomatoes, potatoes. It needed to be done." Ava laid down again. "Just—give me another minute."

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