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Vince winced in pain as he pulled himself from the wreckage of twisted metal. He staggered upright as best he could, but immediately bent over in pain, his right arm shooting to the left side of his waist. He looked down at his hand and cautiously pulled it away, expecting to see a bright red blossom spread across his hand. Instead, his hand was coated with the grime and ash from the wing support that had nearly impaled him.
After checking himself over and concluding that he wasn’t bleeding to death, he looked up and squinted at the harsh glow swirling and pulsing above him. He had tried to avoid the pinnacle of the tower, with its pulsating orb of light, and had instead smashed directly into the uppermost of the numerous bizarre platforms that jutted out from the walls of the tower. The flickering fire of the wreck was almost completely lost in the dizzyingly bright light of the Beacon. He looked forward, towards where the platform joined with the vertical pull of the tower and made out the dark, blurred figure he thought he recognized halfway across the platform in front of him.
The figure was facing away from Vince, staring up at the light. Her head turned to the side when she heard Vince limping towards her.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, turning her head back to face the light.
Vince stopped twenty feet from the dark shape. she turned her head again, and in its profile he could make out the strong nose and the sharp shoulders of-
“Kris,” he uttered weakly.
She turned back to face the light. When she spoke, it was with the hushed tones of reverence.
“It’s magnificent.” She continued to stare up towards the blinding light.
Vince shaded his eyes with his free hand and squinted at the dark shape of Kris. She was standing straight but looked like she hadn’t emerged from the wreck unscathed. He could just make out a dark trickle of blood running down her neck, catching the slimmest sliver of light in its wet gleam.
Kris, still keeping her eyes fixed to the Beacon, cocked her head and called over her shoulder, “look how far you’ve come, Vincent. It was a long journey, but you’re finally here, basking in the light of the Beacon.”
Vince tried to straighten his back, and only managed to suppress a groan. He unclenched his teeth and decided to keep his back bent. “Was it worth it?” he called out. He saw her turn to face him, saw her gaze linger on the light for as long as it could.
She raised her arms, hands outstretched, and motioned around her. “Of course,” she chuckled, “I’ve waited nearly half my life for this. Don’t you feel the same? It’s like being surrounded by the gaze of a god. It’s reassuring, and dangerous. We’ve finally reached the end.”
He shook his head. “No. I didn’t wanted this. And even if I had never figured out about you, this isn’t what I would have expected.”
“Of course not,” Kris snapped. “The reality never turns out the same as the dream. But we’re here now. This is how it was supposed to happen.”
“No!” Vince shouted. He hung his head. “This isn’t how it was supposed to be at all. I was never supposed to ascend the tower. The prophet-”
“I don’t put any store in prophets,” interrupted Kris, dropping her arms, “and neither should you. You didn’t seem to have any problem dismissing her before. It doesn’t matter though; we’re here now. He- it” she hastily corrected, “was wrong. This is where we wanted to be.”
Vince shook his head, incredulous. “I didn’t want this.” He shut his eyes from the light. It was getting hard to even stare at her. “All I was supposed to do- all I wanted to do was help you all across those chasms.”
Kris gave a short laugh. “You could have left at the crossroads. That would have been easy. Why didn’t you then?”
Vince was silent at this.
Kris shook her head and took a few steps forward. Vince opening his eyes took a hesitant step back, his eyes focused on her hands hanging close to her belt, brushing the small tools and weapons affixed to it.
“You keep saying you wanted to go back,” she continued, “But your actions seem to say otherwise. Following that lizard into the storeroom? Taking control of a Mantis and crashing it into the tower? If I hadn’t had to endure your complaining this entire trip I would have said you wanted this.” She nonchalantly kicked a piece of the wreckage near her feet.
Vince’s eyes, now narrowed to slits, stayed fixed on her hands. “Are you going to kill me?”
Kris’s face actually broke into a smile at this. “No,” she said, almost laughing. “You won’t stop me. I’m almost disappointed actually.”
“Why, because I crashed the machine? Because I didn’t go along with your plan to-”
“No, I knew.” Her face was only hard lines now. “I knew you wouldn’t agree with it, just like those damnable brothers.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Why do you think I kept it from you at first? No, I’m disappointed because I thought you had conviction.” Her face softened. “You saved my life in the Mantis, even after you knew.”
“I didn’t know you-”
“You knew. Maybe you didn’t understand the extent, but you knew. It doesn’t matter, now. I’ve almost reached the summit, thanks to you. You saved me a lot of time climbing. If you run now, you might make it to the bottom before I light the Beacon. You can go and live your normal life. The North Mountains will be unchanged for years; you know this. So why not go back? It’s over now.”
She sighed and looked past Vince out to the horizon, towards the rising sun whose light could not possibly matter this close to the harsh influence of the Beacon. “Such a shame you turned out to be such a disappointment.”
Vince replied venomously, “It won’t work. I know what you’re trying to do here.”
“What won’t? It’s over. What could you possibly think I’m trying to do? It’s obvious you have already made up your mind. Go worry about yourself.” She pulled an oblong object out of her belt. Vince flinched as she tossed the small stone token onto the floor between them. “See how far that life has gotten you.” It wasn’t a question.
Vince exhaled, relaxing. “Don’t do this.” He tried to meet her eyes but the light was causing his vision to blur, his eyes to water.
Kris, bemused, clicked her tongue, “Aw, do you care about me?”
“You do, don’t you?”
Vince took a deep breath. He tried again, “Don’t go up there. Don’t go to the Beacon.”
Now with a sneer on her face, Kris took one step forward.
Vince stood there, hunched, eyes squinted shut. He felt the blood pounding in his eyes and in the spot under his right hand. He could see the light probing the corners of his eyelid, could feel it pulsating beyond the tower, shredding clouds and crushing mountains, could smell its sterile beams like some unnatural sting penetrating the platform, his clothes, his skin. He could hear Kris’s steady breathing and he understood.
He stepped forward, removing his hand from his waist and pulling himself upright. His eyes opened and fixed Kris with the steady glare.
Kris smiled, unhooked her belt, and tossed it to the side. She squared her shoulders to him as he raised his arms in a somewhat inexpert imitation of a Blind-Warrior fighting stance.
The only witness to the two figures alone on the platform was the Beacon. It’s glare engulfed and surrounded the two, framing them in shadowless light.