Thanks again to everyone who reviewed!
Well, this is the final chapter! It took me a while to make sure I had all the little details about the binding right (I swear those pages from Abhorsen are about to fall out), so hopefully I haven't missed anything out, and I hope you like it! And please don't eat me if the character death isn't what you expected...
I've decided to post this on my 19th birthday, because... well, because I felt like it. :P
Astarael was not aware of anything other than pain until Saraneth collided with her, pushing her to the ground and casting a protective Charter spell around them both. The burning sensation that was coursing through her body abruptly ended, and she tried to remember where she was. She felt as though she had just woken from a dream-like state of semi-consciousness.
At the same time, Orannis glowed brighter and brighter, confidently surveying his surroundings and imagining how the land would look once he had finished with it. Only a second later, a white-hot explosion burst from his glowing form, obliterating anything and everything in its path. The Red Lake instantly evaporated, trees burned to nothing, and the rocky earth itself turned black and charred.
Saraneth and Astarael slowly stood up, and Astarael stared in shock at the burnt wasteland that surrounded her. She had felt every living thing in the area die, and she hadn't been prepared for how much it had hurt. Saraneth lead her silently to join with the others, and Astarael gave no resistance. Her whole body felt numb now.
'Teach her the spell,' Saraneth told Belgaer, 'and give me the sword.'
Belgaer did as she was told and passed the sword to Saraneth before repeating the binding spell to Astarael, who was struggling to stop herself crying. Saraneth looked at the blade for a moment and then sighed heavily.
'Give me your hand,' she said to Astarael, who obediently held her left hand out. Saraneth touched the blade to Astarael's palm and muttered a Charter mark. Astarael's palm shone blue-white for a moment, as did the marks around her wrist, and a small fragment of light broke away from her and dissolved into the Charter-spelled blade. Saraneth ran her hand slowly over the metal, and then led the way towards Orannis.
'Make a circle around him,' Saraneth instructed, placing Astarael between herself and Ranna so they could both keep an eye on her. The others spread themselves out to form a rough circle around Orannis.
'You are all fools,' Orannis said, his voice quietly threatening. He was no longer glowing. Instead, his whole body seemed to be made of darkness, save for the occasional line of fire swimming through him. 'You know that you do not stand a chance against me, even now you stand together. I will destroy this world, and all of you with it!' He turned to face Saraneth. 'My offer still stands.'
'As does my answer,' Saraneth replied coldly. She looked sideways at Astarael and nodded, giving the cue for Astarael to begin the binding spell.
Astarael hesitated for a moment, and she closed her eyes, unable to look at Orannis.
'I am Astarael,' she said softly, 'and I stand against you.' Her shaking fingers drew her Charter mark in the air in front of her, where it hovered, glowing faintly.
Saraneth nodded at her again, and then turned to face Orannis herself. 'I am Saraneth, and I will always stand against you.' She flicked the tip of her sword to draw her own mark in front of her.
'I am Belgaer, and I stand against you.'
'I am Dyrim, and I stand against you.'
'I am Kibeth, and I stand against you.'
'I am Mosrael, and I stand against you.'
'I am Ranna, and I stand against you.'
Then, Ranna started singing. Mosrael joined in soon after, followed by Kibeth, then Dyrim, then Belgaer, and then Saraneth, all of them singing of life, of the Charter.
Astarael wavered as she smelled the rosemary again and part of her told her to stop what she was doing and stand with Orannis instead. Her tears welled up as she fought against herself and they finally spilled over as she added her voice to the others', weaving a lamentation into the song.
As the singing continued, the Charter marks flared bright silver with the power that each of the Seven was pouring into it, and then spread out to join with the adjacent marks on either side, forming a shining ring that was in stark contrast to the dark figure of Orannis.
Through her song, Saraneth called out the rest of the binding spell and the ring constricted a little. The Seven stepped forward with it, advancing one step at a time, tightening their own ring at the same time as the Charter-spelled one in front of them. The force of the spell made Orannis' form darken even more, the flames vanishing as the Free Magic substance he was made of collapsed in on itself to form a sphere that was as black as coal.
'Impossible,' Orannis growled as the sphere started to take on a silvery sheen that appeared to harden almost as soon as it appeared, becoming metal.
Saraneth gripped the hilt of her sword in her hand as she stepped closer along with the others. It seemed strangely heavy as she lifted it and rested the blade on her shoulder.
'No sword can harm me,' Orannis taunted, still trying to break free of the binding silver that now fully encased him.
'This one can,' Saraneth replied firmly.
With that, she raised the sword above her head and brought it down on the sphere with all the force she could find, white sparks blazing upwards as the sword hit the metal, accompanied by a terrible shriek. The singing faltered, and then stopped completely, the singers distracted.
As Saraneth drove her sword through the sphere, Orannis sent a blast of fire up the blade, melting it, and then into Saraneth. She winced as the flames hit her, but she refused to scream. She could feel Orannis in the heat, directing the last remnant of his power in the only way it could go: through the last physical bridge he had with anything, and into her. The pain intensified and Saraneth briefly considered letting go of the sword, but she made herself hold on. If she let go now, he may still have the power to escape the binding sphere.
The sword finally broke through the sphere and, in the last moments that he was still whole, kept so by what was left of the sword between the two hemispheres, Orannis forced more heat and fire into Saraneth, mixing it this time with his anger at the realisation that the Seven had managed to defeat him. This wave of flames hurt more than the first, and a scream was finally torn from Saraneth's lips.
On hearing her scream, Ranna tried to run towards her, but Mosrael quickly caught her around her waist and held her back.
'Let me go!' Ranna protested, trying frantically to fight her off.
'I can't, I'm sorry,' Mosrael cried. 'I promised!'
A final surge of flames surrounded Saraneth, and the hemispheres were thrown apart. One landed just behind Ranna and the other behind Dyrim, and the impact sent more dust into the cloudy air.
Ranna finally managed to break away from Mosrael and, before the dust had time to settle, she was running to the centre of the circle, where Orannis had been. The other five found that they could only stand still and watch. The sound of Saraneth's scream had rooted them to the ground.
Ranna half-knelt, half-collapsed beside Saraneth, who was lying on her back where the sphere had been, the mangled remains of the sword by her side. Ranna clutched both of Saraneth's hands desperately, and Saraneth's eyes opened slowly.
'We did it,' she smiled weakly. 'It's over.'
'It's over,' Ranna repeated, but she still looked worried. She reached into the Charter for the marks for healing.
'Ranna, stop,' Saraneth said gently. 'Charter spells won't help me. Nothing will. I...' she paused and bit her lip, unsure of how to finish. 'I have to leave you now.'
Ranna stared at her for a moment, shocked. 'No! You can't!' she cried, tears suddenly springing into her eyes.
'I have to,' Saraneth whispered. 'I'm sorry.'
'But we need you!'
'No, you don't,' Saraneth answered, with a small laugh. 'We did what we had to do. This world is safe, and so are many others. It is my time to go now.' A single tear rolled down her cheek. 'Goodbye, Ranna.'
Then, she was gone, and Ranna was left clutching only the dusty air in front of her. She blinked and her unshed tears escaped, silent at first, but then Ranna's hands dropped down to her lap and she began to shake with helpless, heartbroken sobs.
* * * * * *
Astarael couldn't remember much of the journey back to the mountains. She was dimly aware that none of the others had returned to the mountains with her, and that Ranna had flown away before anyone could speak to her, but everything else was a blur, both in her mind and her eyes, which were still overflowing over with seemingly never-ending tears.
Back in her private room, all she could do was throw herself down on her bed and sob, an overwhelming sense of guilt building up inside her. After a while, she became conscious of the fact that she still held the amaranth flowers in one hand. The vibrant magenta flowers seemed too bright for the grey coldness that was filling her, but they were also oddly comforting. She looked at them and thought about laying them carefully on the table next to her bed, but she couldn't bring herself to let go of them.
The flowers brought another thought back into her mind: that sprig of rosemary still entangled in her hair. Its sweet aroma brought back unwanted memories of Orannis, so she felt for the herb and tugged at it. She felt it come free and she threw it from her, then turned away from it to look back at the amaranth.
In the darkness of her room, she didn't see the rosemary catch once again in the ends of her hair. It refused to be thrown away, no matter how much Astarael ignored it.
So, that's the end, people! Actually, I can't believe I've finished this – I don't have a particularly good record when it comes to finishing stories... I quite liked how this fic divided itself rather neatly into nine chapters too. Nine chapters, nine Shiners... Funny how these things randomly happen. Lol
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading it, and I hope this chapter was a good enough ending. I've got a slightly random Christmas fic in progress at the moment, which I'll post (surprise, surprise) at Christmas, and I'm working on a sequel to this, involving the Great Charters and the like, which I'll probably start posting early next year, so look out for those!
As always, let me know what you thought of this chapter, and of the story as a whole. Thanks for reading!