She thought the world was ending.
It was a thought that had passed her mind fleetingly more than once: on the battlefield, when all she could hear was the deafening ringing in her ears, or the time when she’d been shot, and the bullet in her abdomen had caused her to bleed so heavily she’d blacked out for a week where just before she’d closed her eyes, she had wondered whether she would ever wake up again. Sometimes, in the dark of the night, when even the silence held its breath in trepidation, she would think everything was burning.
Her hand would be sweaty and tight, interlocked with Kit’s as he slept fitfully, and she would concentrate on the thrum of her heart, pounding so hard against her chest she was sure it would shatter her ribcage. Every now and then, when the stillness of the night threatened to suffocate her, she would stretch a finger along his wrist, just to check whether his pulse was still fluttering.
It was. Against all odds, Kit was still alive.
Often, Nova wondered whether it would be so bad if everything just stopped. She wondered whether the pain would dull, and the worry that gnawed at her mind every time Kit left their hideout would cease to constrict and poison every thought she dared to entertain. She wondered whether there would be peace, in those final moments before everything stopped forever.
This was a different kind of feeling.
It felt like everything around her was imploding; violently shattering because this could end no other way. They had fought, and fought valiantly, fought until they were forced to gulp down their last breath, and this was what it came to.
Nova could see the fire approaching. It galloped along the barren wasteland, tipping its head back and roaring, spitting and hissing its contempt for all who empathised with the Neph. They wouldn’t survive it.
It was the only resolute thought that settled within her:
I am going to die.
We are going to die.
His scream pierced through the air that seemed to be frozen in place, struck motionless with terror. She whipped around to face him. Kit stood opposite her, just a few metres away. His face was bloody and broken, and there was a fresh cut that oozed blood, slicing his cheek from his temple to the corner of his lip. For some reason, he was smiling, and the cut sliced straight through a lonely dimple on his right cheek. Nova was used to seeing him broken but whole. She ignored the purple bruises, and the trails of blood that matted his dark hair to his pale skin, and focused on his eyes.
They were green and bright, brimming with that hope that she had long forgotten. It baffled her, how he could still be so hopeful, even when the world was ending.
“I’ve got an idea,” Kit told her.
He only raised his voice enough so that she could hear him, over the metres echoing between them. There was no tremble to it. He spoke like he was commenting on something as trivial as the weather.
Nova swallowed. “Oh?” she asked, moving closer.
He held up his hand, stopping her dead in her tracks. “Stay there.”
She did so. Her chest heaved, fear spiking her bloodstream because he was so calm and yet Death was inching closer. The Agonarch had won. They’d set off their bomb. This was it.
“What’s your big idea?” she forced herself to question. It stopped her from crying.
“Look at me,” he said softly. Nova hadn’t even realised it, but her eyes had been locked on the colossal wall of fire bearing down on them. She tore her eyes to her best friend, her soulmate, the only person she had left.
Kit smiled at her. Gods, it was such a soft smile. It was one of youth and love and light, and she wished he could smile like that for all the time left in the world.
But as it was, the world was ending.
“Your idea,” she reminded him. She swallowed. There was a lump lodged in her throat, one she couldn’t budge, and she wondered if she would choke to death before she could be incinerated. She didn’t know which would be worse.
Was there a death that wouldn’t hurt? She doubted she’d ever have the chance to find out.
“You’re not going to like it,” Kit warned her, eyes dancing.
“Is it better than dying?” Nova asked. Her voice was small and quiet, but he heard it nevertheless. She knew he heard it because his grin softened into a sad smile.
“I’d say so.”
She felt the ground shake as the explosion clawed its way closer, and her eyes clenched shut. She’d never been particularly scared of anything. Nova had spent her entire life fighting. She’d spent her entire life thinking she would die the next day.
The Neph had almost had a chance. They had almost been winning. How had it all gone so wrong?
“They’ve resorted to this for a reason,” Kit said. “You know that, don’t you?”
Of course she did.
It was the same reason they’d been on the run for the past four years; the same reason Kit was the most hunted Potent in the history of the war.
His power was dangerous. His power could change everything.
She realised it suddenly.
The world was ending, and yet he could stop it.
“Your power,” Nova whispered. Then realised he wouldn’t be able to hear her, so she raised her voice. “Your power! You can go back! You can stop this!”
Kit smiled at her. There was that dimple, threaded into his right cheek. There was a pause where he parted his lips, but no words came out.
“I can’t,” he said simply, after a second.
Nova’s body deflated. It felt like a balloon had been popped within her chest, and everything left was hollow and cavernous. Any hope she may have savoured was squashed and extinguished, and she succumbed to the darkness that followed.
“Then what-?” the question dropped from her lips. “No,” she said, shaking her head vehemently. “No. No, I won’t let you. Kit, you can’t- you can’t do that. I won’t leave you!”
She was crying now. She couldn’t hold the tears back. Dying was something she could deal with, but Kit- oh Kit, with his bright eyes and his unwavering smile and his asymmetrical dimple- could not die. She refused to let him.
“You don’t have a choice,” he told her. He swallowed thickly. Even he was crying; silent tears interrupting the dirt and blood on his cheeks. “I don’t have the energy or the power to send us both back. I can only send one-”
“Then send yourself!” Nova pleaded, stepping closer. He moved backwards, maintaining the distance between them. She wanted to breach it, needed to hold him and tell him this was stupid and that she would never let him get away with it.
“I can’t offer the past anything,” said Kit. He seemed resigned to the fact but his smile never faltered.
“Yes you can!” Nova stressed. “You can offer them so much more than I can! You’re Potent, Kit!”
“But you can offer them hope,” he said.
Nova felt her heart stop in her chest. Unbelievably, she laughed. It was less amused than it was bewildered, as she retorted, “Hope? I don’t have any hope left…” her voice broke. “I won’t have any hope left if you die.”
She felt the heat burn her face. It was still miles off, but she could see it across the empty desert, serving as a reminder to their fate.
Kit was staring at her, and his face finally cracked. “You’re stronger than what you think, Nova. All this time, you think I kept going because I wanted to? I wanted to turn myself in so much! I was so close to giving up so many times and you know what kept me going?”
She closed her eyes, shaking her head, because it was too painful to look at him.
“You,” he stressed. Nova opened her eyes. She was sobbing silently, face screwed up as she tried to bite her anguish back, but it consumed her.
“I’m just one person,” she murmured. “How can one person save the world?”
“Nova…” her name lived and died on his lips. He sighed, but forced the words out because he knew she needed to hear them. “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle… One person is enough.”
“Kit,” she whispered.
He smiled. One last time.
“I love you,” he said.
She felt it like a knife in her chest, wrenching through heart and sinew, tearing her apart at the seams, and Nova came undone.
He inhaled deeply, and she could only stare as his veins glowed blue. The light trickled up his body, igniting his arteries with illuminated essence as his power surged through him. His entire body radiated light.
All she could do was stare. This is what the Agonarch had been so afraid of. She had to admit, it was terrifying. Terrifying but inspirational.
When Kit opened his eyes, they burned a bright blue, the colour of the sky in summer, when it was untouched by cloud and trouble. His face was lax, and she could see his lips moving, but couldn’t hear what he was whispering.
“Wait,” Nova uttered.
It was too late.
A tunnel of white light stretched languidly towards her, absolving the world of its greyness and making everything bright again. It engulfed her, swathing her so that all Nova could see was Kit. He looked himself again. His smile was small but real, curling his lips and she noticed his dimple. Though he was facing death, his green eyes were more alive than she had ever seen them.
“Blow them away, Montane,” he said.
The light touched her-
And then there was nothing.