To Hell and Back - 13 | ii

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You left us.

You left us to die.

Ava screamed her hands over her ears as she dropped to her knees. The voices got louder, incessant. Merging into one all-consuming condemnation.

Will you save them?

Traitor.

Will you abandon them as you did us?

Will you die with them?

Come into the darkness. It is where you belong.

They will see you for what you are.

Ava kept screaming, rocking on her knees, willing the voices to go away as they crowded her mind, bombarding her with their grief, their anger. All their pain jabbed into her mind like red-hot spikes of raw emotions.

"Ava? Ava!"

She heard her name but could not respond. She was back in Lansguard. Cowering at the feet of the nine other members of the Order. She pleaded with them for clemency, for them to see the folly of their ways, for them to end the war. She heard Kunz laugh; he banished her, stripping her of her stone. Ava escaped death by the skin of her teeth. That was when she knew she had to close the portal. Seal it for all eternity from the another side. From Earth. It was a choice she made knowing not only the consequence for her but her people. Would she make that same choice again? Knowing what she did now, would it have changed the outcome? Her mind started to fracture.

"Ava!"

"I did this," she screamed. "The worlds will end because of me."

Silence. Sudden and sharp fell over Ava's mind. Over the world around her. She didn't move. She didn't dare. She braced for a final blow.

"Ava!"

She jumped when hands wrapped around her arms shaking her. It was Marx. Relief caused her to crumple into him, wrapping her arms around him as she wept tears decades overdue.

"Ava, it's OK. I've got you."

He tried to pull her from him, and she all but crawled into his body seeking solace. Seeking forgiveness. "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

"I know. I know you are. I need you to hear me. None of that was real."

"It was real. It was real. I saw it. I felt it." He used more force to pry her off him as she tried in desperation to cling to him.

"Look at me." He shook her to gain her attention. "Look at me, Ava."

She did.

"None of it was real."

Clarity, slow and measured crept into her mind. Her gaze lifted going pass Marx to the scene behind him. Penny was holding a man by the throat her other hand inside his torso.

"Malik." She said the name in a whisper.

The man's smile, though pained, held the smugness of the man she knew all too well.

"Losing—your touch—my Queen."

Marx helped Ava to her feet. Anger heated her skin, her eyes swirling in twin balls of mist. "How dare you," she said, striding over to him. Penny could not kill the man, and he could not harm her with shadow magic. Malik was never the one for physical combat, so all he could do was dangle there inside of the human form he had taken.

"It—was—too easy. When did you grow a heart?"

"Release him."

Penny brought the man down to his feet taking her time as she pulled her hand from inside of him. He gasped in pain. Penny released his throat last, Malik staggering away from her. He raised his hand to form a rune in retaliation.

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