Chapter 16- Life and Death

Wither was shocked when he beheld the humbling sight before him. Yarrow had crafted the hive into a monster. Before, it was merely a dome made out of roots and vines with thorns sticking out every which way. It looked nothing like that now. Yarrow's entire house acted as a ring that wrapped around the garden that Yarrow kept in the center. Normally, one couldn't even see the garden from outside the home, but today was a bit different. A monstrous, writhing, pulsating creature stood rooted in the center of the garden. The house looked a little like the lip of a gigantic pot for the massive being that continued to grow in the center. It had a long stalk that was about twenty feet thick and three hundred feet tall. Several massive tentacles with bulky, spiked ends grew up out of the ground all around the main body of the beast, each stretching at least fifty feet. The creature had two arms that ended with fingers as big around as a youngling and sharp as knives. At the top of the stalk, where one would expect to see some kind of canopy like that of a tree, or a huge flower bloom, there sat something far more unsettling, a head. The head had a crown of nine long spikes protruding from the top and curling slightly toward the back. It had a gaping mouth that dripped with a foul looking substance and ugly looking thorns for teeth. The monster also had eyes, which were difficult to look at for fear of having them stare back. There were two beady little eyes that watched the ground far below. They were positioned in the middle of what everyone supposed was its face, right below two large, bulbous domes that rested on its forehead, protruding out just enough to be noticeable. Upon closer inspection, one could see that the creature wasn't just one massive entity that had grown from out of nowhere, but thousands upon thousands of intertwined trees, bushes, flowers, grasses, weeds, vines, and anything else that could help form the collective.

After looking the creature over, Renna asked what everyone else was thinking. "What is that?"

Wither recalled the tales that Yarrow had recounted for him in the past and answered without looking away as he continued to observe the thing in awe, "It's a Ranvacoya."

"A what?" asked Psy.

"A Ranvacoya is a monstrous creature that life dragons can bring to life when they are lent enough energy to sustain it. The entire city must be powering it, and Yarrow is acting as a conduit, channeling all the energy into it. Come on. We need to get in there."

"What? Next to that thing? Are you serious?" asked Roxy in a panic.

Looking back up at the titan, Wither replied, "Don't worry. It may look dangerous, but Yarrow's controlling it. You could even say that it is Yarrow right now. He won't hurt us. Now let's go."

Trusting in Wither's confidence, his friends followed him up to the front door, through the house, and into the garden. Arragor and his group of thugs were already there, staring up at the Ranvacoya, possibly wondering how to take it down or perhaps just trying not to panic. The Ranvacoya looked down at them and opened its massive jaws, and to everyone's surprise, it began to speak. Its voice was that of a thousand beings chanting as one, all of them speaking softly to allow the collection to mingle together and form a single consciousness, addressing the intruders as a unit.

"Ah, we have visitors. Tell us, my foes, why have you come?"

War shivered as the beast spoke and found himself almost unable to maintain eye contact. Breathing quickly and trying to shoo away the butterflies in his stomach, he steeled himself as he shouted up at the monster with more courage than he felt, "We have come for Zar! Hand him over and there won't have to be a fight." Once he was finished with his demand, he blinked and backed up a step. Even he seemed shocked by his bravery. In truth, he was frightened out of his mind, which was quite apparent as the Ranvacoya watched him quiver under its gaze.

As the creature stared back at him with its beady, contemplating eyes, it swayed on the spot ever so slightly, towering over the youths and breathing huge breaths, causing its body to expand and contract. Its appraisal of the orange dragon was quick, but noticeable, especially since it gave the young upstart a hideous, thorny grin before replying to the tiny dragon's demands. "Zar is one of us now. He belongs to the hive."

War snarled and shouted, "Fiend! Release him at once!"

The Ranvacoya merely chuckled at this, eliciting more shivers from his opponents, and replied, "Zar is free to go any time he likes. He is not being held prisoner. He submitted to the hive just before you got here. However, once joined with the collective, one's thoughts and memories become entangled with all the other members', and it becomes difficult to discern the difference between one's thoughts as an individual and those of everyone else. We live together now, as one, and breaking his bonds with us will be all but impossible."

Letting a low growl escape his throat, War said, "Then at least let us see him."

Allowing the same wicked looking grin to creep across its face again, the creature replied, "Ah, but you're already talking to us."

Glancing sideways at the beast, War asked in a suspicious tone, "What do you mean by that?"

The Ranvacoya's eyes, which were currently as green as spring time, shifted out of focus for a moment. The irises slowly faded to a light blue before the creature focused on the youths once more. "Hello, Arragor."

Everyone in the garden let out quiet gasps of surprise. Zar's voice rose up through the collective, speaking above all the others, but still allowing them to whisper and mumble along with him. Stepping forward again, War asked, "Zar?"

Becoming still, the Ranvacoya replied, "Yes, Arragor. It is I, Zar."

Forgetting his terror for a moment, War looked the monster over, asking in utter disbelief, "Zar, how is this happening?"

The Ranvacoya straightened up, taking a deep breath and rolling its eyes up to the sky. After a moment, it let out a big sigh and said, "It's glorious, Arragor, the sense of belonging, knowing you'll never be alone, having all this power. Oh, the power, Arragor, you have no idea. You should join us, Arragor. You should all join us. Submit to the hive, and you'll never have to worry about anything ever again."

War backed up a step again at this. "No. No, you may have Zar's eyes, and you may have Zar's voice, but I can still hear the rest of the city speaking with you. You may think you have all this new power now, but you're not the one in control. Deep down you know the hive is influencing you. You're smart, Zar, really smart. I know that. You may feel like you want to stay, but it's not you. The hive wants you to stay. You may be a part of the hive, but you're an individual, too. You don't have to listen to them, Zar. Separate yourself from the hive for just a second, and see if you feel the same on your own."

The Ranvacoya faltered for a moment as it pondered these words, but then the domes on the creature's forehead suddenly opened and revealed another set of massive eyes. They shone every conceivable color in a brilliant array that lit up the creature's head and made it hard to stare at for a moment. As the upper eyes dazzled in place, the clarity that had begun to form in the Ranvacoya's rendition of Zar's eyes was washed away and replaced by the peaceful expression they had held before. Zar's voice was drowned out by the others as it mingled with the collective again. "No. We are happy. We are in control. We are all powerful. And you can't have us."

The massive creature raised its head up and stretched to its full height. It towered over the intruders and brought one of the gigantic tentacles down on War. He was instantly pounded a foot into the ground. When the tentacle rose up, his body could be seen lying limp in the small crater. The armor he wore had protected him from the deadly force that was used against him, but it was clearly damaged from the concussive blow, sparking and releasing violent flashes of energy that lashed out like dark purple lightning.

Famine and Pestilence took defensive positions on either side of their fallen leader and attacked the tentacles that came at them. Famine was able to blow one back with a sonic roar, but the effect was only temporary. The giant vines were highly resilient and were only repulsed by the blows before trying to come back for more. Pestilence's attacks only appeared more effective. He tried his best to spit and slash at the Ranvacoya's lashing fingers when they neared him even with his body partially frozen in stone. This infected the plants, causing the corruption to spread, but before it could go too far, the Ranvacoya's body rejected the infected plants and replaced the missing bits by more twisting vines that regenerated any damaged sections.

As both of the attackers fought against the plants, they received several blows, unable to hold all of them at bay. Their armor protected them from the hits that the tentacles were able to land, but the force of the assault sent them reeling every time and they quickly began to tire. They tried to run in opposite directions, but no matter where they ran, the ground around them was teeming with a forest of thick, wriggling tendrils. Roots shot out of the ground and grabbed at their feet and tails, but they were just barely able to dodge them. Pestilence clawed at them with awkward movements that were exceedingly difficult to maneuver, and his poison ate away at them as a result. Famine bit down on them, using unnaturally strong jaw muscles and razor sharp teeth to chomp them to bits.

The Ranvacoya crossed its arms as it watched them struggle against the violent forest from above. "You can do this as long as you like. Go ahead and tire yourselves out. We'd rather not kill all of you. There is still a chance for redemption. Should you choose to hand over that armor of yours, we'll stop attacking you right now and heal all of your injuries as we're sure you're accumulating quite a lot of them. We can discuss punishment later, but we promise you we'll go easier on you if you give in. Your sentence is going to be much harsher if we have to beat you into submission. Surely you know that you cannot win. We're not even trying."

As the attackers continued to fight the onslaught of vegetation and ignore the giant observing them, the Ranvacoya turned its attention to Wither and his friends. It uncrossed its arms and waved at the group, giving them one of its horrifying smiles. "Relax. We have this under control."

Shooting the mountain of plants a huge smile back, Wither shouted to the sky, "How's the weather up there, Yarrow?"

Chuckling at the youngling below, the Ranvacoya replied, "Oh Wither, it's not just me in here, you know. Everyone's doing their part."

A sudden pulse of powerful energy lit up the section of the now barren courtyard where all of the chaos was taking place, gaining the Ranvacoya's attention again. Reaching down with both of its humongous arms, it picked up its two enemies, one in each hand. Pestilence began to secrete a vile acid that caused the hand he was held in to smoke and sizzle. In response to this, he was raised over three hundred feet in the air, high above the Ranvacoya's head, and slammed down to the ground below. Seeing the lethal move coming, Pestilence commanded all of the energy in his armor to divert to the shielding around him. Powerful though it was, it didn't stop the impact from breaching the shield, cracking the armor in several places, and knocking him unconscious in an instant.

With Pestilence and War taken care of, the Ranvacoya brought Famine up to eye level. "Give in, Obsidius. You cannot defeat us."

"Talk all you want, but we're not leaving without Zar."

The Ranvacoya snarled at him and allowed Yarrow's voice to take the fore, pushing the others to the background. "Why do you fight? What is your cause? Do you take pleasure in attacking the citizens of the city you grew up in? How important is Zar that you would dare oppose us?"

Famine squinted his eyes as he stared into the Ranvacoya's for a moment. "Yarrow?"

"Yes. Who else? I am the one who controls us. Zar belongs to us, to me right now because he wouldn't make the right decision on his own. I tried to convince him not to try to escape me and join up with you, but he wouldn't listen. He needs the guidance of the hive to help him. Now two things can happen from here. You can either take off that armor and let me destroy it or force me to finish you. Either way, it's your choice."

Famine squirmed around in the Ranvacoya's grasp, trying to free himself, but to no avail. He looked below at his friend's unconscious bodies, their armor too damaged to allow it to take over for them. After a couple seconds, he also noticed Wither and his friends watching everything. Then he looked back at the Ranvacoya and said, "You know, there's a third option that you haven't considered."

The creature's eyes watched him with suspicion before asking, "And just what might that be?"

Famine suddenly used one of his free paws to touch the helmet on his head. "Master Malefor, General Famine reporting in. We have failed the mission, but have the target in our sights. Your assistance is requested."

After hearing this, everyone stood stock-still, waiting to see what would happen. Seconds later, the air shuddered at the edge of the once beautiful garden opposite of Wither and his friends. Wither could feel the strange energy wash over him and course all around him and watched as the portal opened up and a large, menacing purple dragon stepped out of it and into the garden. There was no mistaking that Malefor was no ordinary dragon. Anyone else who would have entered the garden would have ogled the Ranvacoya and lost themselves in a panic, but from the moment Malefor had stepped out of the portal, his eyes were upon Wither. The two dragons stared at each other from across the vast emptiness of the garden, ignoring the Ranvacoya that turned to get a look at the new intruder.

Once the massive creature could see Malefor, it threw Famine at him with all its might. The armored youngling slammed into a previously invisible barrier that shifted into focus once disturbed before falling to the ground at his master's feet, unconscious. A few seconds later, the hazy bubble that wrapped around the Dark Master faded out of view and he could be seen surveying the scene with an indifferent stare. The Ranvacoya had no problem taking care of the trio that had caused everyone else so much grief, but Malefor would be different, Wither could tell. He wasn't much bigger than the boys when compared to the size of the Ranvacoya, but somehow Wither got the feeling that this didn't matter too much.

The huge beast turned to Wither and his friends and said, "Run. Now. You have to get out of here."

Taking a step forward, Wither said, "But Yarrow—"

"Don't argue with me young dragon. You're not ready to face Malefor yet. Go!"

"No, Yarrow! I'm not running away." Wither leaped forward and shifted into the air right behind Malefor just inside his barrier. As he closed the distance between him and the Dark Master, he pulled his dark crystal out of a black cloud and plunged it deep into Malefor's neck. The purple dragon let out a growl of pain as the sharp point pierced his hide, but started to laugh once the initial pain was gone.

Turning his head, trying to address Wither properly, Malefor spoke in a deep, rumbling voice that was every bit as twisted as he was. "Nice try youngling, but you'll have to do better than that. One measly black crystal will take a life time to drain all of my power." He reached back, pulled the crystal out of his neck, and tossed it aside. It was consumed by one of Wither's black clouds before it could even hit the ground. Afterwards, Wither dug his claws deep into Malefor's back and turned transparent. Once he was settled in, he began to drain away at Malefor's strength. This only made the Dark Master chuckle some more. "How cute. You've learned some interesting tricks on your own, but you still know less about the Void than I do. Remember, I found it first. I know how it works."

Malefor started to give off the strange energy that Wither could feel again, and he reached around and pulled the youngling off his back. Wither didn't know how Malefor was able to touch him, but he could, and now he was terrified. However, the Ranvacoya slammed several of its tentacles into Malefor's barrier before bringing both fists together and shattering the invisible wall, loosening the Dark Master's grip on Wither and allowing him to escape. He shifted over to his friends again and told them to get back. The Dark Master became enraged by the attack and launched a purple beam of pure, concentrated Convexity at the Ranvacoya, blowing huge chunks of it away and setting it on fire.

"No!" shouted Wither. He watched as the shock from the blast made the massive guardian whip back, smoking from the raging fire that consumed the vegetation that made up its body.

The Dark Master took to the air and began to circle the Ranvacoya, firing volley after volley of Convexity blasts into the monster. Each blast bloomed outward in a violent purple wave that distorted the image of burning vegetation behind it like rippling waves in a pond after a stone is thrown in. Extensive damage was being inflicted on the Ranvacoya, but it still held on, trying to knock Malefor out of the air with its gigantic arms. As the fire burned away, consuming that which wasn't already completely blown away by the attacks, the creature opened its mouth and it upper eyes. In a last ditch effort, the beast let out everything it had, pumping all of its energy into three beams of white hot energy that spiraled around each other, chasing Malefor through the air, hunting him down and eventually colliding with him. He was sent crashing into the inner wall of Yarrow's house, where a plume of dust was scattered into the air.

Everyone cheered when the Dark Master went down, but their celebration was short lived. The Ranvacoya that towered over them swayed for a moment, watching as a giant column of smoke drifted away from its own body and up into the sky. Then it fell. It hit the ground with earth shattering force, but as a final act of defiance, it chose to land where Malefor had fallen. Wither and the rest of his friends held their breath, waiting to see if Yarrow would emerge from the wreckage, but to their dismay, it was Malefor who got up first. He blew the piece of burning vegetation that held him down into oblivion and charged toward the base of the stalk. Another blast erupted and Malefor gestured with both paws, using his powers to drag two beings out of the hollow that he revealed. One was the unconscious body of Zar, who was carefully picked up and placed one the ground where Malefor told the bodies of his other disciples to go. They floated through the air and placed themselves next to their master, where they waited quietly in their sleep.

The other figure was not so lucky. Yarrow looked up at Malefor's face and smiled. "Malefor. My greatest student, and my most colossal failure."

Malefor smirked at the dragon that lay before him and said, "We meet again, old man. After all these years and all I've done, you're still not proud of me. You never were, you stubborn fool. Nothing I ever did was enough for you!" With this last exclamation, the smile drained away from Malefor's face and was replaced by one of fury, hatred, and something else. Wither watched the exchange with a mixture of horror and curiosity. No one had ever told him that Yarrow was Malefor's old teacher. The youngling observed the look of disappointment on Yarrow's face and the resulting look in Malefor's eyes. It almost seemed like some sort of pleading or longing. Then the Dark Master continued. "Why? Why were you never satisfied? Why could you never afford me any praise? Answer me, old man. I want to know why I was never good enough to you."

Yarrow raised his sorrowful eyes and looked deep into Malefor's, checking to see if there was still some trace of him there. After a moment of searching, unable to find his former student, he shook his head and replied, "Because every time I looked into those eyes of yours, I saw your heart. You know that I've always been able to see the hearts of others through their eyes. Every time I looked at yours, I could see that it was growing into something more twisted and corrupted than anything the world has ever known. The others couldn't see it, and I chose to ignore it, and for that, I am sorry." After this Yarrow turned to Wither and said as Malefor opened his maw, "Don't worry, Wither. Everything will be all right."

The purple light gathering in Malefor's throat lashed out in a bright flash, washing the horrific image from sight. It wasn't long before the light died down and revealed something that Wither would remember until his dying day. Yarrow's body lay at Malefor's feet, a faint smile still blessing his face. Wither looked at him with a numb feeling. He wasn't dead. He couldn't be. He had lived for so long. He was his best friend, the one person he could go to for anything. They had been through so much together, but now . . .

Wither looked up at the Dark Master, the cause of endless suffering. He had killed countless innocent lives and for what? He had corrupted and controlled his mother, taking away her childhood. His father was never given the opportunity to grow up normally either. No one's lives had been normal while Malefor's influence plagued the land. All of these things were the fault of this one dragon, this one beast. How could something so evil be gifted with so much power? The very idea was inconceivable. Had the gods no mercy? Had they no shame? What kind of sick joke was it to take the time to build such a beautiful world, just to send in a ruthless war machine to wreck it all? Wither looked into Malefor's eyes with disbelief.

Then Wither held his head low. Through his grief, he felt something begin to whisper to him. "You're strong enough."

"For what?" asked Wither in despair.

"For this. You want him gone. Just like your friend. Take him away."

"He's too strong."

"No, you're strong enough."

"I know I'm not strong enough."

"The Void will give you strength. It is always with you. I am always with you. With us, you are always strong enough."

"I want to make him go away. Forever."

"Then let me in. Step over the edge."

Wither suddenly whipped his head up, letting out a deafening cry that shattered all of the windows in Yarrow's house and knocked his friends down since they were unfortunate enough to be standing right behind him. He spread his wings and the air began to ripple around his body in intricate, flowing streams that wove around his body, forming a net like structure. His eyes began to glow black and his tail spade opened up into tiny slivers that swirled in circles around his crystal at a violent speed. The air around his crystal rippled the most, almost as if its very presence was ripping the fabric of the universe apart. Wither pointed his tail and the crystal at Malefor and his followers. The black crystal armor his disciples wore instantly disintegrated. The pieces crumbled to dust and were swept into the crystal. Malefor was brought to his knees with a grunt as he moved a paw to push his followers out of the way so that they would not be consumed by the yawning darkness of the Void. Wither could feel him summoning up the strange energy again, but all of it was torn away and cast into the Void as fast as Malefor could generate it. The cycle seemed to repeat itself in a never ending circle. Malefor drew power from an indiscernible source and Wither took it all away.

Once he was able to adjust to the hostile environment, Malefor opened his eyes and gazed upon Wither as though he were a massive pile of gold. In his awestruck state he was able to whisper, "Ah, at last you show your true form, the Destroying Creation."

Wither advanced upon the Dark Master at a slow but steady rate. With each step he took, small pebbles and torn up clumps of dirt were pulled into the vortex around his body and lost forever. Before he got too close, Malefor shook himself out of his reverie and said, "I wouldn't come any closer if I were you. Our powers cancel each other out. We are at a stalemate."

"No! I'll kill you!"

Such fury, thought Malefor. The pure, unbridled hatred seething out of Wither was fueling his abilities in a way he couldn't do on his own. Yes, this was definitely the Destroying Creation. There was no doubt about that. Even the youngling's very words slammed into him with more force than Yarrow's Ranvacoya had. Malefor's shield began to quiver and he was actually forced back a step by the powerful exclamation. "Not today you won't. Not while I control the Amophis."

"Enough talk. This ends now."

Malefor had to take several deep breaths before willing more energy into the insatiable drain he was being subjected to. "Fool. You know only half the power the Void has to offer. It's a shame you were able to claim it before I came back. That complicates things."

Now Wither faltered. Some memories began to trickle back to him. The scene flashed before his eyes and the Chronicler stood before him once again. 'You will represent the forces of good, for you already have a hold on half the power, but the other half is for the forces of evil.' Wither glared at Malefor, all emotion in his eyes hidden by the dark glow. Even so, it was apparent that there was a mixture of anger and sorrow on his face. Now curiosity joined in for a moment. "What do you mean by half the power?"

Malefor smiled knowingly and said, "Well, now that I have your attention, maybe I can teach you something yet. Wither, you are a very unique being, much like a purple dragon. However, there are many things that set you apart from all dragons, including one such as myself. Purple Dragons are different because we can learn any element. Void Kings are even more special because their powers are unique for several reasons.

"First of all, the powers of a Void King are unlimited. Most dragons, like your friends over there, fuel their powers with energy, but Void Kings don't need energy to work their magic. The second rule of the Void is that the powers of a Void King actually have a sense of loyalty. This means that once a dragon claims a certain aspect of the Void's power, they gain a hold over it. This is to say that even as a Purple Dragon, I myself am not able to use the powers that you do. No one can. Now that you have claimed them, they are loyal to you and you alone. The third thing you should know is that the Void's power is twofold. You discovered one half of the Void's power, the fact that it has none. This is the Nothing side of the Void, also referred to in ancient prophecy as the Shield. However, there is a Sword, too. This is the Amophis side of the Void, the side that I now control. Luckily, I was able to claim it back before you figured it out."

Wither took all of this in, his head reeling with the new information. Keeping his crystal trained on Malefor, he began to press him for more. "What is Amophis?"

"Ah, as a Void King, I'm sure you're naturally able to feel it. I'm using it to keep myself alive right now. From what you know of the Void, it has nothing in it, because it doesn't exist, right? The Void is nowhere and yet it is all around us. You can swallow up energy and matter and whisk it away to the Void, am I right? Well, I'm sure you've wondered where it goes once it's there. This is an inversion of the laws of nature. When energy is spent or matter is stored away, it has to go somewhere. This is not the case for the Void. It technically does not exist and therefore nothing in it can exist either.

"Now let me explain something to you. When you wave your paw through the air, where do you think the energy it took to perform that action goes? I'm not talking about the transference of energy from your paw to the air. That specific moment, that exact paw movement can't be reproduced. You can do the same movement again and again, but it will never be that one again. Sure the energy is just transferred somewhere else, but the energy that went into that paw movement can never be put into it again because it already happened. What happens to this specific instance where the energy is used up? Now that the energy has been used up in this instance in a way that it can never be done again, it ceases to exist."

A gasp escaped Wither's throat as comprehension suddenly dawned on him. "So you're saying—"

"That this energy that been spent, that you can never get back, becomes nonexistent energy. This nonexistent energy gathers in the only place where nonexistent things can reside."

"The Void."

"Exactly. This nonexistent energy becomes inverted by the laws of its nature. It's energy, but it doesn't exist. Now that you understand how that works, let me put something into perspective for you. Think about everything that's ever happened in the history of the entire universe. Be it a gust of wind, a violent explosion, or the flow of a river, everything is in a constant state of motion, always expending energy, and once that energy is spent, it can't be done the same way again. Nonexistent energy is always being born. There is an unlimited supply, and it doesn't end there. This nonexistent energy, this Amophis, can also be born of energy that never was used. Take young War over there, what was his name? Arragor? Let's say he wanted to attack you by hitting you in the face, but changed his mind and decided to engulf you in fire. Not only would the energy he spent breathing fire at you generate Amophis due to the fact that it won't exist anymore, but the energy that he would have spent hitting you is also turned into Amophis because it never existed in the first place. Now think not only about everything that has ever happened, but everything that ever could have happened. Amophis is endless. There is no limit to its capabilities. Even now, if you think I could actually run out, think about where it's going. Where are you putting the energy, Wither? The Amophis may be nonexistent energy, but it's still energy nonetheless, and I'm spending massive quantities of it to hold the powers of your crystal at bay. Just think about it, Wither. Amophis is recyclable. We're just creating a loop, accomplishing nothing."

Wither balked at the implications of what Malefor had just told him, but he still collected himself to ask, "How do you know so much about the Void?"

"Hmm, that's for me to know. It's really too bad, you know? What happened twenty years ago. I spent all the Amophis I could muster keeping the Destroyer going even after your parents destroyed the black crystals giving it the Amophis needed to power it. Oh, the Void truly is a lovely work of art. The crystals that I created spread my influence across the land. The Sword powered my grublin army and the golems of the deep, and the Shield prevented any dragons from using their magic against creatures with large enough crystal deposits. A flawless system."

"Why are you telling me all of this so willingly?" asked Wither in suspicion. "That has to be the worst strategy in the world."

Malefor blinked at Wither and said, "Because, in all honesty, it doesn't matter if you know how I do it or not. The knowledge does nothing but perhaps sate your curiosity. There's nothing you can do to stop me."

"Then maybe you can explain why you can touch me when I don't exist."

"Oh, that? When I exist and you don't, it's impossible to hit you, but if I hit something nonexistent with nonexistent energy, it's a double negative. It's like multiplying two negative numbers together. You always get a positive. Things that don't exist lie on the same plane, so they can interact with each other."

This was it. This was what Yarrow had wanted to know, but it was too late now, and it didn't matter anyway. From what Malefor had told him, he had stolen half of the power that rightfully belonged to him. He couldn't use it anyway, but one thought struck him that hadn't occurred to Malefor. "There may be an endless supply of Amophis, but you said yourself that you spent all you could muster twenty years ago for one large task. That means you can't control more than a certain amount of it at once. I am the true Void King. The powers belong to me. And though you've claimed half of them, they know I am their rightful master. Can you keep up with me, you thieving murderer?"

Wither turned it up and gave it everything he had. The crystal hovering at the end of his tail hummed and the air around it shuddered. The pieces of his tail spade swirled faster and faster until they appeared as though they were three solid rings floating around the black gem. Wither put his all into his attack now, screaming, "This is for mother, for father, for Yarrow, for everyone you've killed, and everyone they knew and loved!" Now Malefor grunted again as the reserve of energy he held around him began to ebb away.

Suddenly, cheetahs started running out of Yarrow's house and into the garden. They came from all entrances and quickly surrounded the two dragons caught in an epic struggle. They cheered Wither on and his friends soon joined in. Things were starting to look grim for Malefor, but he wasn't going down that easy. He smirked at Wither and asked, "So how long do you plan on remaining in Hypoactive Mode? You've been that way for an awfully long time. Your power may be limitless, but you can only control so much at once too, you know? And seeing as you're still a youngling, I'd say you couldn't have more than a few seconds left in you. While you may control the Shield a bit better than I the Sword when you're in this form, I have more experience. I can do it longer."

He was right. Wither cursed himself as he already began to feel weakened by his immense display of power. He tried to empty his mind, but every time he did so, all he could see was Yarrow's body lying on the ground. His hold on the power faltered and his tail spade slowed down. The pieces snapped back into place and covered the crystal. The rippling streams flowing around his body died out and his eyes returned to normal. Malefor immediately took the opportunity to use what energy Wither hadn't taken away to form a rift. He was still able to drag the four boys into the rift despite his weakened state, using the last remnants of his magic. Once they were through, the rift closed, leaving everyone behind.

Hunter and Wylee pushed their way through the crowd and ran to Wither. When they saw the tears in his eyes, Hunter kneeled down and placed a hand on the young dragon's shoulder. "Don't worry yourself too much. You did your best and that's all that matters. No one will blame you for letting him get away."

Wylee looked around and brought his hand to his mouth. His eyes had followed the giant charred heap of smoldering compost that had once been the Ranvacoya. When his gaze reached the base of the fallen creature, his eyes widened in shock as he realized what he was looking at. He whirled around and saw Wither breaking down as his father tried in vain to comfort him. "Dad, I don't think that's why he's upset."

Hunter looked up at Wylee as the young cheetah pointed to the body of the ancient dragon lying at the base of the Ranavcoya. He left Wither's side and rushed to the elder. Stepping up to the still body, he leaned down and placed a hand on the dragon's wrist. Waiting for a moment, he then tried the neck. After a few second, he put an ear to Yarrow's chest. When he looked up, he just shook his head and Wither's sobs became even more uncontrollable. He rushed over to Yarrow's lifeless body and nearly knocked Hunter aside as he jumped up on Yarrow's chest and pounded on him, shouting for him to wake up. Everyone stood in silence, not knowing what to do. The only sounds that could be heard were the crackling fires of the still burning Ranvacoya and Wither's cries of anguish.

Hunter almost stepped forward to pull Wither away, but Renna stepped forward to stop him and shook her head. She pressed onward, getting closer to Wither and gesturing at Hunter to back up. As she inched her way closer, tears continued to stream down Wither's face. He wasn't even trying to hide his overwhelming pain at the loss of his best and oldest friend. Just seeing Wither cry like that brought glistening droplets to Renna's eyes, too, and after a moment of watching, the first one made a slow path down her face as well.

The weeping dragon buried his head in Yarrow's chest, burrowing under one of his arms and trying to get close to the fallen ancient. "No! No, it isn't fair! I didn't even get to say goodbye! Yarrow!" More sobs echoed through the courtyard before he inhaled deeply and was forced to continue his mourning. After several minutes, he felt a paw on his shoulder. Fearing that those around him were trying to pull him away from Yarrow, he shouted, "No!" Renna fell to the ground, left with barely enough energy to crawl away from her grieving friend.

Dragging her body to the group, she said, "Maybe we should give him a moment. I wouldn't suggest touching him right now."

Leaning down to look her over, Roxy asked, "Did he hurt you?"

Renna decided to lie down and roll over on her side to look at Wither. "He drained me, but I don't blame him. He's not thinking straight right now."

Everyone glanced up at the still bawling dragon then back down to Renna. Psy stepped away from the group, looking far less casual than usual, and helped Renna to her feet. He looked over at Wither again and had to actually look away, trying to suppress the sorrow that welled up inside him. However, the same uncontrollable fury that caused him to damage Xath and knock out Obsidius in the competition rose to the surface and burst out of him in a rage. He let out a roar and slammed a paw on the ground, a misty wave of shadows pushing outward from the impact. Wisps of shadows began to dance about his form and lash the air several inches away from his flesh as he began to beat the ground and tear deep gouges out of the soil beneath his feet. His roars of rage were so intense, that they even drowned out the dreadful wails of his distraught friend.

The cheetahs turned their attention to the source of the noise and began to back away from the boy, seeing that the magic in his body was being influenced by his emotions and becoming highly volatile. Though the details surrounding the workings of magic were lost on the cheetah tribes, they all knew that standing next to a dragon that was working up a fury wasn't a good idea. Even Psy's friends, who knew of his rare, yet almost legendary bursts of fury, began to retreat. The only ones that didn't seem frightened of his tantrum were Wither, who was in no condition to notice anything, and Sora, who quietly padded up to Psy.

As he roared and raged, trying to destroy everything around him, Sora reached out and placed a paw between his shoulder blades, pressing lightly at the base of his neck. He turned around and yelled, "No! He can't just get away with this! I'll kill that purple dragon if it's the last thing I do! Look at what he did to Yarrow!" He pointed at the limp figure several yards away where Wither was beginning to convulse silently, his face nearly impossible to bear. Gesturing harder, Psy screamed, "Look at what he did to Wither! The poor guy couldn't do it on his own, but the next time Malefor shows his face in Warfang I'll help him! We can do it together! We can all fight him together and win! We should have done something! Why didn't we help? We just stood behind him and gawked like a bunch of useless idiots!"

In a voice smooth as silk, Sora replied, "There was nothing we could do, Psy. It was Wither's fight, and you know it. Our powers wouldn't have broken through Malefor's shield."

"No! I refuse to believe that! You saw how exhausted he looked when he left! We would have made a difference!"

Closing her eyes, Sora pulled Psy in and placed his head under her chin. Then she began to hum. As she hummed the soft tune to Psy and pushed harder on his pressure point, his huffing and puffing started to slow down and the shadows began to sink back down beneath his scales. After a few seconds, he released the tension in his muscles and Sora grabbed him with her other paw, to prevent his limp body from hitting the ground. The dragoness let go of his pressure point and began to rub his forehead with the backs of her claws as she finished up the lullaby. Once Psy was calm, she helped him up and asked, "Better?"

Letting out a sigh and regaining his usual cool, Psy replied, "No, but thank you. Too bad that probably won't work on him." He gestured halfheartedly at Wither again and dragged his tail through the dirt as he made his way back to his friends.

"Feeling better?" asked Elleca. "You kind of lost it for a minute there."

Taking another deep breath to compose himself, Psy said, "I'm just lucky Sora's here. She always seems to know how to calm me down."

"Well, that was genuinely scary, and I don't say that often. That wasn't like you at all, Psy. You're usually so—"


"No. Just . . . reserved."

Kicking a half buried stone out of the ground, Psy replied, "Yeah well, I've always had this kind of problem, see? My parents say I have anger issues. I try to control it, but this . . . this is just too much to bear. I mean look at Wither. He is absolutely inconsolable right now. I don't know how close he was to Yarrow, but I've heard that they were pretty close. From the looks of things I don't know if he's ever going to get over this."

"What's going on here?" shouted someone as they pushed through the crowd. Several elders were making their way toward the center of the commotion. When they saw the sight before them, they all lowered their heads. More tears were shed for the Grand High Elder, but these were silent. Spyro and Cynder made their way forward and stepped up to Wither. Tugging Wither in for a hug, Spyro rubbed his back and said, "I know, I know." The Purple Dragon looked up at Cynder as Wither continued to lose himself to grief in his arms. The look on Spyro's face was one that could only be described as lost. Shaking his head, he mouthed, 'What are we going to do?'

She stared back at him and took a shaky breath before looking toward the rest of the elders and gesturing at Yarrow's body. They stepped forward and began to pick him up in an attempt to carry him away. Upon hearing the noises they were making, Wither looked up and leaped out of his father's arms, shouting, "No! No, you can't take him away! Don't! I won't let you take him!" The already tired and bruised elders began to stagger away from Yarrow's body, one by one, dropping it and trying not to fall down.

Spyro and Cynder rushed toward their son to pull him away from the body, but they too began to sway on the spot as he let out an unintelligible scream at them. Backing away from him and allowing him to continue to hold on to Yarrow, Spyro whispered to Cynder. "I feel terrible about this, but we have to move the body. Normally, it would be all too easy to throw energy into his drain long enough to pull him away, but I'm all tapped out. What do you think?"

Shaking her head and rubbing her eyes, Cynder raised her head and said, "I just don't know, Spyro. Keeping that acid from eating me has got me feeling like less than a dragon at the moment. He's completely beyond reason right now. As much as I hate to say it, we'll have to find a way to remove him from the body by force."

Stepping up to the two parents, Hunter placed a hand on Spyro's knee to gain his attention. "If you're not against it, I think my son has a solution."

"We just have to get Wither away from the body so we can put it somewhere safe. I think we'll be willing to try anything."

After a moment of quiet whispering, Spyro and Cynder looked into each other's eyes for several long seconds before looking down at Hunter and nodding. Hunter looked over at Wylee and nodded, giving him the signal to quietly step forward. As he made his way to Wither from behind, he reached into one of the pouches at his waist and pulled out and small rag and a vial of clear liquid. Wylee opened the vial and placed the rag on top of it before upending it for a few seconds. Once this was done, he screwed the lid back on the vial and placed it back in the pouch. By now, he was right behind Wither and was able to reach around and place the rag over his snout and muzzle. After about two seconds of struggling, Wither's world went dark and his body fell limp in Wylee's arms.


When Wither woke up, he was lying on the cushions in his parents' room. His head felt fuzzy, and he wasn't exactly sure how he had gotten there, being unable to remember anything too recent. Once he saw that he was lying between his parents on their bed, all the memories came rushing back. However, rather than jumping up and demanding to know where Yarrow was, he just laid his head on his paws and stared unblinkingly at the doorway to his parents' room. When they noticed that he was awake, Cynder leaned down and started licking the top of his head. "My poor baby. I'm so sorry. We just want you to know that we are so proud of you for standing up to Malefor like you did. Your friends told us what happened. We had no idea you were capable of such things."

Spyro gently placed a paw on his son's back and said, "Yarrow would be proud too, you know? Wither, understand that Yarrow was very old, much older than other dragons get to live. I just want you to know that he had a long and fulfilling life. I know how close you two were, and we're not expecting you to get over this right away. We understand that this is going to take some time to heal. The rest of the elders are preparing a ceremony for Yarrow. It's going to be held tomorrow in the plaza just outside the Council Chamber. You don't have to do anything, but we want you to go. Do you think you can do that?"

Silence was his only answer. Spyro asked Wither if he could hear him several times before looking up at Cynder. She stared down at Wither and looked back up to Spyro, saying, "I don't know about you, but I'm not leaving him alone."

Sighing, Spyro got up and said, "I don't blame you. Don't let him out of your sight. I don't trust him by himself either. I'm going to go help with the preparations. Are you sure you can handle everything without me?"

"I think I'll be fine. Go on. The others need your help."

"All right, I'll be back later. I love you both." He leaned down and kissed Wither on the forehead and walked out the door.

Several times throughout the afternoon, Cynder tried to get Wither to interact with her, but each time she failed, unable to obtain any sort of response. Instead of getting up and trying to do anything, he just lay in bed and slept all day long, drifting in and out of consciousness like a sick youngling. At some point he couldn't quite remember, his father came back and started talking with his mother. He barely caught bits and pieces of their conversation through his daze, things like, no response, hasn't moved a muscle, right there all day. What stood out the most was when he heard, "Everything's all ready." After hearing these words, he closed his eyes and drifted away again, letting sleep take him.


The next day Spyro and Cynder got up and got ready for the ceremony. They exchanged worried glances when Wither lay next to them and wouldn't eat. After trying to get him to eat something, they gave up and told him they'd try again later or else they would be late. Cynder helped place Wither on Spyro's back since the young dragon refused to walk, and together they walked to the plaza.

All of the citizens of Warfang, including the cheetahs, attended the funeral. All day long, dragons stepped up to the podium that had been placed at the top of the stairs leading to the Council Chamber so that they could look out over the crowd and say a few words about Yarrow and all of the things he had done for them in life. It was amazing to hear of the countless deeds he had performed to better the lives of the citizens of Warfang. When Spyro and Cynder asked Wither if he wanted to say anything, he only sat in silence in his place in the front row of the crowded plaza. He stared at a large wagon between the front row of the crowd and the base of the Council Chamber stairs. Resting upon the wagon, was Yarrow's body, waiting to be carried away once the first half of the ceremony was over. After seeing that Wither was in no condition to speak, Spyro got up and walked past the body of their leader and up the steps to the podium. When he turned around, everyone was watching him except for Wither, who couldn't take his eyes off of Yarrow.

Spyro cleared his throat and began to speak, his voice cracking a bit at the start. "There's not much left to say about Yarrow that hasn't already been said. He was a wise, kind, and intelligent dragon. His generosity and love of all things was unending. He was a great leader to us all, and an excellent protector, too. He gave his life defending the city from the forces of darkness without a second thought. My son, Wither, was closer to Yarrow than any other can boast. They spent many days and nights together. Yarrow took a special interest in my boy, not just because of how unique he was, but because from the moment Wither was born, and he looked past his mother and I to peer into Yarrow's ancient eyes with his brand new ones, old Yarrow felt something. He told me once that he didn't have any children, but when he looked at Wither, he saw the son he had always wanted. I'm up here to say that after hearing all the things that Yarrow has done for us and all that he sacrificed to help others, it feels good to know that my family was able to help him, to give something back. Wither, you may not realize it, but you brought Yarrow more joy than anything else in the world. Your friendship with him meant as much to him as it did to you. Take solace in the fact that you made a lonely old dragon happy."

Spyro turned back to the main audience and addressed them again. "Yarrow's death has hit all of us very hard. It will take some time to recover, but we must not let his death be in vain. We have a long way to go, and the road ahead will be harder without Yarrow to guide us, but do not lose faith. Cynder and I have defeated Malefor before, and though he has new followers to aid him this time, a new generation of heroes is currently being trained, paw picked by the prophetic powers of the Chronicler himself, and my son, Wither, will lead them into the fray! Together we will avenge Yarrow's death, and the deaths of all of Malefor's victims!"

The somber mood that pervaded the early morning air was briefly lifted as all of Warfang roared at Spyro's encouragement. However, the effect did not last long. Spyro looked back down at Yarrow's lifeless body from atop the stairs and said, "Rest in peace, Yarrow. May you live forever with the ancestors in the other world."

Two dragons picked out by the elders were helped into harnesses attached to Yarrow's cart and then set off through the streets of Warfang. The crowd got up and began to follow the wagon as it made its way down one of the main streets away from the city center. Finally, Wither was able to get up and walk on his own. He followed his parents, taking a place right behind the cart with the rest of the elders. Even Volteer hobbled along behind the cart. His shortened limb was bandaged at the end and held several inches off the ground, but despite the evident pain and difficulty, he had insisted on being a part of the escort. The only guardians missing from their ranks were Spire, who was currently being held in the Warfang prison, and Valorie, who had taken a turn for the worse after the attack and was currently resting in Yarrow's house, where the other elders had taken her in hopes that Yarrow could heal her again. Now that he was gone, everyone feared that she was soon to follow.

The procession behind the cart was a long one. Nearly the entire city came to witness the final portion of the ceremony. Once they were through the city streets and out the gates, they made their way up a hill. Spyro and Cynder watched Wither, who took step after step, his eyes glazed over and staring forward at Yarrow. They could tell that he wasn't all there and decided to leave him be, happy that he was at least walking now.

Finally, after what seemed like ages, they reached the top of the hill. The sun dared to shine down happily on the dragons below and the birds all around had the audacity to fly around and sing their merry songs as they chased one another through the air. A light breeze rolled across the gathering, making the lush grass ripple beneath their feet. How ironic, thought Wither. A life dragon had died, and life went on as though nothing had happened.

Spyro leaned down and said, "You know, Wither, and old friend once told me that when a dragon dies, he does not truly leave this world. His spirit lives on, binding itself with nature, offering hope for the future."

Wither still found it impossible to speak or respond in any other way, but if he could, he would have told his dad that Yarrow had already been bonded with nature. He had used his powers to connect with every form of life, be it plants, insects, or other dragons. He kept his garden alive and it, in turn, had kept him alive. Wither remembered watching during the times Yarrow connected with his garden. The plants always seemed to move and breathe with him, even talk with him. When he had spread his connection in preparation for the war, the plants had done everything he asked them to. He even went as far as to make himself one with the entire city and gathered the minds of the dragons and the plants of Warfang to create the Ranvacoya. You couldn't connect with nature any more than that. It pretty much looked like he was just dead now, but he still refused to accept that.

However, once Spyro lit the wagon ablaze and everyone watched as the body was quickly consumed by the hungry flames, it was impossible to deny any longer. Yarrow was dead, and he wasn't coming back. Ashes rose up into the air and were carried by the wind for over a mile. After watching the ashes drift away for a moment, Spyro stepped forward and began to speak. "I'm sorry I kept holding off our training, Yarrow. I know you wanted to teach me everything about your art, but I never was interested enough to get into the powers of life. I thought there would be more time. I thought you would be around to teach me later. I guess everyone thought you would live forever, but even you admitted that everything must die eventually. Cynder and I should have held off on reading those books in our library that you and the rest of the elders assigned us. Those are always going to be there. Even though I never gave you much opportunity to teach me, I can remember enough from what you did show me to do this."

Spyro placed a paw on the ground before him and began to draw his paw upward over and over again, pulling his claws in every time as though attempting to pull something out of the ground. A tiny stalk poked its way out of the dirt and slowly began to rise up above the grass. Stroking the air around the plant, but never actually touching it, Spyro continued to make it grow. Eventually, it formed several buds all the way up the stalk, which bloomed into beautiful tiger lilies. Once this flower was mature, Spyro then connected the roots of the creation to those of the tree next to it and gave the flower priority over the tree. "There. An everlasting tiger lily plant. Your favorite, if I'm not mistaken. It will always be here to mark your final resting place. Goodbye, Yarrow."

For a time, everyone watched as the fire took Yarrow's body away. However, one by one, everyone began to walk away, the crowd dwindling down as the fire raged on. Eventually, the only ones left were Spyro and his family, who stayed so that Wither could be there when the last ember's glow faded away.


The next day, everyone in the city picked up where they had left off just before the attack. The citizens of Warfang continued to prepare the defenses around the city, the cheetahs moved their training into the plaza, and Spyro and Cynder continued to train their students in the arena. Though they tried to get Wither to join in, he just sat in the stands and stared off into space. His parents had to carry him to the arena. Once they got there, they set him down where he lay now and told him that he could join in at any time.

However, he kept to himself and watched as his classmates improved without him. Motivated by the recent tragedy, all of his friends pushed themselves to learn new tricks. Vera finally perfected her Scorpion Strike, something she had been working on for a few days, while her sister mastered the Phantom Fright ability. Sora was finally able to summon a Sylph, one of the invisible wind spirits that could slam into foes and blow them away. Unfortunately, controlling the powerful elemental was a drain on her and the spirit quickly flew away once her influence keeping it in the arena was lifted. Cynder congratulated Sora for the impressive accomplishment before returning her attention to Roxy, who was still working on maintaining his Earth Flail.

Several yards away, Spyro taught Elleca how to solidify her electricity into orbs that she could launch and detonate from a distance, while Psy used his powers to create a shadow clone, which, for all intents and purposes, looked exactly like him. Spyro gave him a smile and said, "That's it Psy! That's perfect. Hold it as long as you can. Try to walk it around. You're all doing great."

Though Renna was supposed to be learning with Spyro, she moved to the other side of the arena to tend to her own project. Spyro figured it was just as well since neither he nor Cynder had ever tapped into their powers over light and thus, had little to teach her in the way of light techniques. Near the end of the day, the lesson was disrupted when a massive explosion emanating from Renna engulfed half the arena. It blackened everything within the blast radius and sent out powerful shock waves and heat waves that floored everyone and singed their scales a bit. Being in the stands, Wither was further away from the explosion than everyone else and was not as affected by it, but he wasn't completely unfazed by it. Slowly, he turned his head and focused his gaze long enough to see that she was okay. He didn't mean to make eye contact, but when he looked to see if she was okay, she was staring right at him. The concern in his eyes slowly faded, as did his focus on her as he turned his head and stared off into space again.

Everyone else rushed to see if she was okay. After making sure that there were no negative effects on her health, Cynder asked, "What was that?"

Renna grinned sheepishly and wavered back and forth before falling down in exhaustion. She rolled over on her back and said, "That was a Nova."

"A Nova?" exclaimed Spyro and Cynder in unison.

"That's the strongest thing a light dragon can summon next to a Supernova," said Cynder.

Spyro joined in and said, "Yeah, you have to be careful. You didn't know if that could have killed everyone."

"I did too," said Renna with a pout. "I was very careful. I went all the way over here. Yesterday, when I went home, I stopped by the library and checked the Book of Light to make sure how big a Nova is. It said that since I'm a youngling, it probably wouldn't be much bigger than a hundred feet in every direction. That's easily a safe distance from where I was in relation to you."

Spyro shook his head and replied, "At any rate, it's good to see that you're tapping into the highly destructive aspects of your element, seeing as you're most likely going to need them in the future. However, I will add that while a Nova is extremely effective for ending a battle, they are always meant as a last resort for a light dragon, since setting one off will drain you of all your energy at once as you can clearly see."

"I'll remember that."

"Good. See that you do. All right everyone, I think we'll stop there for the day. You've all shown fantastic improvement. Cynder and I are both proud of you."

"Thank you, Master Spyro," said everyone together.

"Heh, oh please. I'm only thirty-five. Just call me Spyro."

"Spyro?" asked Elleca.

"Yes? What is it Elleca?"

"Is Wither going to be all right? He hasn't moved or said anything since . . ."

Letting out a sigh and looking toward the stands, Spyro replied, "I just don't know, Elleca. Wither and Yarrow shared a bond that was stronger than almost anything I have ever seen. It's no surprise that he's not taking Yarrow's death very well. Truth be told, Cynder and I fear for his health. He hasn't eaten since the incident. Already, he's beginning to show signs of atrophy. There isn't much to his body to keep him healthy under such conditions for long. Unless he somehow breaks out of his depression in the next few hours, I'll have to call for some moles to come and use some of their strange devices to help him."

Elleca's eyes widened when she heard Spyro mention the moles and their devices. The world swirled around her and she was just a hatchling again. Several moles were huddled around her, using foreign objects of an unknown nature to inspect her. She was crying because she was frightened by the unfamiliar situation. Then the accident happened. She squirmed around in their grasp, trying to get away from them so she could run to her parents who watched from several feet away. The strands at the end of her tail whipped around and started to spark. Moles started shouting at one another to hold her still and her parents tried to calm her down, but she wasn't listening. The end of one of the strands brushed against one of the moles holding her down and a bright flash lit up the room.

Elleca looked at Wither and shuddered. "No, he shouldn't have to deal with that. No one should have to deal with such a horrifying experience."

She started off toward the stands, leaving everyone to stare after her. "Oh, that's right," said Cynder as she looked up thoughtfully. "Elleca was that youngling who had to be inspected by the moles because of her unique tail spade."

"Really?" asked Tera.

"What happened?" continued Vera.

"She got scared when they tried to examine her and accidently almost killed one of them," replied Roxy. Everyone looked at him in surprise before he added, "Uh, her tail spade, it's really unusual. It's actually more of a whip than a tail spade, but it can electrocute anyone she touches with it if she activates it. She doesn't really have much control over it, so she usually just keeps it turned off."

"Huh," commented Psy. "I always thought she had an odd tail piece there, but I didn't know there was an interesting story behind it."

Roxy nodded and said, "Oh yes. The mole examining her was very lucky. I think the only thing that saved him was the fact that the tip of just one of the strands barely grazed him, but that didn't stop him from needing special care down in Mjölnir."

"Wow. So wait, what's she doing?" asked Spyro.

Roxy watched as Elleca ascended the steps and said, "Hmm, if I had to guess, I'd say she's going to go cheer him up before he needs medical attention from the moles. She's actually quite good at that when she's not being a bi—uh jerk."

The twins suppressed some giggles while Spyro and Cynder eyed Roxy for a moment before turning to watch Elleca. She sat down next to Wither and began to talk to him. They were a little too far away, so they couldn't exactly tell what was being said between the two of them.

Elleca sat down with Wither and said, "All right hon, talk to me. You've been sitting up here all day long, your parents just told us that you haven't been eating, and you haven't said a word in two days. Everyone's starting to worry about you."

Though Wither was surprised by how gentle and soothing Elleca was being for once, it wasn't enough to get him to acknowledge her presence. He watched the far side of the arena where his parents and his friends tried not to look at him or Elleca. Instead, they all stood around and talked to one another, the murmur of their speech just audible enough to make out, but unintelligible from such a distance.

Seeing that he wasn't going to give in that easily, Elleca gave a sigh and said, "I get it. I really do. You lost someone very close to you, and that's hard. It's sad, Wither. Everyone misses Yarrow, you most of all, no doubt. But you can't let that be the end of it. Yarrow's with the ancestors now, watching you as we speak. You want to know what I think, Wither? I think he's weeping. Not for himself, but for you. Do you know what you're doing to yourself? Take a look at yourself. You're wasting away. You've always been a tiny guy, so there's not much of you to lose to begin with. Yarrow wouldn't want this for you. He loved you so much, that he would hate to see that he was the reason why you couldn't go on. You still have lots of friends and family that care about you, Wither. Your mom and dad love you. They don't want to lose you. They're worried about you, you know that? Then there're the rest of us. What can I say, Wither? We love you, too. We don't want to see anything happen to you either."

Elleca stood up and stepped closer to Wither. "If you ask me, you can pick one of two options from here. You can let the pain of Yarrow's death crush you and choose to never recover from it, or you can pick yourself up, get in the arena with the rest of us, and learn what you need to avenge him. This isn't over, not even close. You want to know what I would do? I would want to become all that I can be. I would want to rise above my sorrow and fight. I would want to hunt down those responsible for Yarrow's death and let my unyielding vengeance rain down upon them like it's the end of the world. I'm not asking you to stop mourning for Yarrow. I'm just saying he gave you an even bigger reason to fight."

Wither turned to her, revealing more tears running down his face. Something unspoken passed between them and the distance between them closed as she brought him in for a tight hug. She pat him on the back as he shuddered against her shoulder, trying to be as quiet as possible. She slowly swayed on the spot to rock him a bit and said, "You're going to be just fine. Welcome back, Wither."

Behind her, she could hear him sniffling and whispering to her, unable to use his vocal cords, "Thank you, Elleca."

"Hey, what are friends for, right? So we can expect to have you join us tomorrow?"

Nodding, Wither pulled away from Elleca and wiped his face with a paw before looking up into the sky and speaking, his voice cracking. "Yeah, I'll be there."

"Great. Now go home and eat something. You look awful," said Elleca with a grin.

Wither gave her a half-hearted smile as she started to walk back down the stairs and said, "Hey, Elleca."

She turned around and looked at him. "Yeah?"

"Thank you. Really."

"You're welcome, Wither."

Spyro looked at Cynder and asked his students, "What's going on now?"

Roxy looked at Wither and Elleca and said, "Let's see, she's talking to him, and he's crying. Wait. Now he's getting up. He's looking at her. Hey."

"What?" asked Spyro as he looked at Roxy. "And be more discreet. You're looking right at them."

Renna looked at them out of the corner of her eye and saw what Roxy was talking about. "He hugged her."

"Yeah," said Roxy. "Now they're talking again. Now she's walking away. Wait. They're talking again, uh, oh! They're coming over!" he hissed.

Everyone looked away and started talking about how their training was going until Elleca and Wither joined them again. Cynder looked down and said, "You're looking better."

Wither gave a quick nod and said, "I'm feeling better."

"Glad to hear it," said Spyro. "Uh, are you okay? You look like you're in pain."

"I just realized that I'm starving."

"Good, you need some food. We'll be happy to feed you as soon as we get home."

"Before we go," interrupted Wither as his parents made to pick him up, stopping them. "I'd just like to say something." All of his friends looked at him and silently waited to hear what he had to say. He swung his gaze from one end of the crowd to the other then address them all. "The next time Malefor shows his face in Warfang, I would very much appreciate it if we all worked together to destroy him. I don't want him dead, I want him gone. Let there be nothing left to burn, nothing left to bury, nothing left to spit on or dance around in celebration when the fight is over. I'm counting on all of you to make that a reality. Are you with me?"

Though the image that Wither's words brought to everyone's mind was rather dark, they all nodded. Psy actually stepped forward and placed a paw over his heart, staring straight into Wither's eyes as he said, "Always."

Elleca nodded with a smile and saluted, saying, "To the end of Avalar, I'll go with you."

"Into certain doom, I'll follow you," added Roxy.

"Through every trial, we'll be with you," said Tera and Vera.

"Around the world, I'll fly for you," continued Sora.

"In the world of the ancestors, I'll forever rest for you," finished Renna.

Spyro and Cynder looked at each other, sharing looks of surprise as they realized for the first time just how much Wither's friends respected him. They looked back down as Wither began to speak again. "I know you will. I couldn't ask for more. Now go home and rest. I'm sorry I didn't join you today, but I promise tomorrow will be different."

Everyone said their goodbyes and left to go home. Wither crawled on his dad's back and said, "I'd walk home, but I don't feel so good."

"You're weak. Don't worry, it'll wear off soon enough. Come on, let's go home." Together, the Spyro family left the arena and set out for their tower, relieved that they had their son back.