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Pen Your Pride

Where the Birds Go to Die -- #BattletheBeast

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After months of hunting the Beast together, Quentin and Alice came to an ancient watchtower surrounded by the sharp bramble thorns of a monstrous dying hedge. Somewhere on the horizon there was a thunderstorm in Fillory. The air was electric, crackling with potential. It smelled of coming winter, of travel, of death.

The path underfoot was made up of the skulls of birds.

Thousands of birds had flown through the sky overhead, circling Fillory and singing in the trees. Birds that reminded Quentin of better times. Of Brakebills. Now the birds were gone, like so many of his friends, and this crumbling keep was where the last of the birds had come to die.

There was an arch through the hedge, leading to the ruins beyond. The keystone of the arch had Eliot's face carved in stone. Sweet, sardonic Eliot, who'd been the first killed when they'd cornered the Beast outside Ember's Tomb, so many months before.

Quentin held out a hand, and Alice took it. She was ragged, exhausted, determined. She reached up to settle her glasses on her face--a gesture she hadn't been able to shake in their months of travel, though her glasses were broken and forgotten beside the shallow grave they'd dug for Eliot's body. It was a useless gesture, and it reminded Quentin how vulnerable they both were. It made him question why they were so eager to rush into destruction.

Bird skulls shattered under their boots. Fillorian boots, that at any other time in his life Quentin would've laughed to wear them. Ren-Faire chic. His old sneakers had worn out with the miles of travel through the rough, beautiful territory.

A voice boomed out through the dead air, echoing down from Eliot's carved face above them. "After so long, you'd think I'd know every secret this world has to offer, but over and over again you continue to surprise me with cast-off-relics and forgotten trinkets. What is it this time? A ladle? Enchanted slings and talking arrows? Another dagger, perhaps?"

The Beast's words, using Eliot's voice.

"He's here," Quentin said.

Alice looked ready to roll her eyes. She had an ornate compass clutched in her hand, and the arrow, shaped like a silver hummingbird, pointed directly to the watchtower.

"This is it." Quentin said. "For Eliot."

"For all of them," Alice said, "and for Fillory." Quentin's heart nearly broke at the power in her voice. The resolve.

Alice wasn't dicking around.

Beyond the brambles were labyrinthine ruins leading up a hill to the watchtower. The path twisted past cracked stone, tumbled rubble. The chalky, toxic taste of bone dust clung to the back of Quentin's throat. They smelled of sweat and determination.

A pillar of broken marble, carved in Margo's likeness, waited for them at the next corner. She seemed to be suffering, caught for eternity reaching for the stars.

Margo had been lost soon after Eliot. The Beast had impaled her on the iron spire of a tower steeple. It had taken days to get her down because the tower swelled when so close to grief. They were forced to climb and climb as she rose higher and higher. At the end, Penny had ordered them off so he could do it himself. "None of you know how to compartmentalize." He carried her body down so Margo could be laid to rest.

The Beast had moved on. They heard his laughter in the wind as a sky full of birds tumbled one after the other in his wake, their winged bodies broken on the unforgiving ground.

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