The sudden cessation of the storm staggered Mycroft and he stumbled as Gregory fell. Flinging one arm about the man, he dropped to his knees, barely managing to save him from ending up on his face in the blood-churned mud of the battlefield. Jiang-Li reached out quickly, grabbing Mycroft by one shoulder and keeping him from tumbling as well. The three of them sank to their knees, with Gregory unconscious in Mycroft's arms.
"Is he alive?"
Mycroft nodded, seeing that Gregory still breathed. He pulled the unconscious man slightly closer. Jiang-Li took a deep breath and looked around them. "What happened to the gate?"
Mycroft raised his eyes from Gregory's mud- and blood-streaked face, casting his gaze over the now half-empty battlefield, and the mute stone cliff immediately before them. Where there had been a subtle vibration and inscribed sigils there was now… nothing. No marks on the stone beyond those of battle. No metal in the cliffside. No muted, unseen glimmer of magic. Nothing. He looked down at Greg's limp frame. "I don't know."
"We need to get him back to Feldspar." She paused. "We need to find out if the Court is still standing."
He nodded as Jiang-Li helped him lift Gregory out of the muck, both of them still in shock in the near-silence of what had, only moments ago, been a tidal wave of battle. The only sounds Mycroft could hear were the moans and subdued cries of the wounded and dying, and the still-falling rain. He looked for anything that resembled organization, but found nothing nearby. Overhead, there were ravens. He called out to them and one banked in its flight, soaring toward them; it fluttered for a moment and perched on Jiang-Li's shoulder, tilting its head to look at Mycroft.
"Taran," Mycroft said.
The raven made a quiet, guttural sound, and clacked its beak twice. "Don't know yet," it replied, its voice a rough croak. It puffed its feathers and shook itself. "What happened, too sudden. Nothing is as it was."
"We must find a safe place for him." Mycroft indicated Gregory with the tilt of his chin. The raven nodded once. It flapped heavily and launched itself back into the air. Once aloft, it called out to its comrades, and the flock of them wheeled then scattered. Mycroft looked for something at least resembling a dry place to sit as they waited the raven's return with news.
"Over here," Jiang-Li said, gesturing to a slightly less muddy piece of tree trunk. Mycroft eyed it suspiciously, but there was nothing better in the immediate vicinity. He lay Gregory carefully onto the trunk, feet dangling off one edge, while he supported the man's body in his arms. Jiang-Li sat next to him, gently removing Gregory's goggles; his flight mask dangled beneath his chin where he had pushed it aside. The pale skin around his eyes was the only part of him spared from the filth. Mycroft's eyes closed and he bowed his head, touching his forehead to Gregory's for a moment. Jiang-Li rested one hand on his back, her staff in her other hand. After a moment, her fingers moved, rubbing gently. Mycroft didn't object.
The rain still poured down upon them, and Mycroft was cold and wet. He sighed and opened his umbrella over them. Late, perhaps, but better than nothing. "That's… really an umbrella?" Jiang-Li asked.
"Among other things, yes."
Jiang-Li nodded. She tucked in closer to him for shelter from the downpour. "They're gone, aren't they?" she asked.
"The way openers?" Mycroft nodded, then looked up at her. "I believe so. I don't feel any of them here." He'd seen the violet flash of their movement, the brilliant light erupting from Gregory's body, and the explosion of power as he'd drawn the gate closed. "They may well be the only reason any of us are alive." His fingers tightened on Gregory's arm for a moment. Gregory made a small sound, his eyelids moving slightly but not opening. "Gregory?" He paused for a moment but got no response. "Greg?" Mycroft cupped Gregory's jaw in one hand, his thumb caressing the man's cheek.
Gregory moved one arm, slowly and carefully, but his hand fell limp on his chest. His eyes opened, a sliver of dark brown between dark lashes. He made a sound; his eyes closed again before he managed to form coherent words.
"Definitely not dead," Jiang-Li muttered. She took Gregory's hand. "Come on, Greg, open those eyes again. Let us know you're still in there."
"Myc…" His voice was strained and soft, and he didn't have the strength to finish the word.
"It's all right, Gregory. It's over. We're here." Mycroft took a deep breath and let it out, relief flowing through him.
Gregory's eyes opened again, slightly wider this time. "Done?"
"Yes. Done. You did well." The ultimate situation was unknown, but their primary goal had been met. That was all Gregory needed to know right now. Mycroft wanted so badly to protect him, but all he had was the air and his hands.
"What…" Gregory tried to sit up but Mycroft laid his palm on the man's chest. "Mycroft, what's happening? The battle?"
"It's over, Gregory. You're exhausted. Rest."
Gregory looked up at the umbrella above them. He shook his head. "How is this my life?" he muttered.
"What happened to the gate?" Jiang-Li asked.
"It's… I couldn't let it stay that way."
"It's gone, Gregory," Mycroft said. "Where did it go?"
Greg shifted and pressed his face to Mycroft's body for a moment. "It couldn't stay like that. Someone else would try to open it again. It would always be there."
All of them looked up as the sky darkened above them. A huge red dragon spiraled down, ravens in her wake, and Mycroft's chest loosened with relief as he saw Taran astride her. The dragon flapped her wings, setting down heavily nearby. Taran and several of the Gems dismounted, approaching quickly. "Is he all right?" Taran asked, looking at Gregory.
Gregory struggled to his feet despite Mycroft's protestations. "Star-Born." He wobbled slightly and Mycroft and Jiang-Li each put a steadying hand on him to keep him upright.
Taran reached out to him. "Come, we should return to the Court."
"It's still standing?" Jiang-Li looked at Taran and the Gems, then at the dragon.
Taran nodded. "The battle yet rages, but yes. For the moment." The three of them helped Gregory onto the back of the dragon, then mounted up themselves, while the tiny toggug all leapt up and clung to the dragon's scales. Goggles down and face masks up, Taran signalled the dragon, who leapt into the air. Mycroft held Gregory close as they flew, anxiety tight in his chest, both for the man and for the city to which they were returning.
Greg watched through a dizzy haze of exhaustion as they spiraled down over the besieged city. Toward the back the enemy's ranks were breaking, but it seemed obvious that news of Sralthan's loss at the gate was only now beginning to arrive. He wondered if the various armies would abandon the war, or if they would press on for their own reasons. Feldspar was still a prize they might want.
The scene below them was chaos, with Taran's limited remaining troops doing their best to hold off the overwhelming numbers of the attackers. He'd seen that some of her armies had survived at the gate, and knew they would return as quickly as they could. He had hope that Feldspar would hold out until the reinforcements arrived.
"We can turn this," Jiang-Li shouted, over the sound of the wind in his ears. "I think we can turn this."
The red dragon soared above the battle then swooped down to the landing space atop one of the towers, setting down heavily and crouching to allow them to dismount. Greg needed help moving, still feeling entirely like a scrambled egg after the invasion of his mind and body by the other way openers, and the strain of the gate working itself. He stumbled as his feet touched the ground, but Mycroft was there, solid and supporting him.
"Go," Taran said, waving one hand in the direction of the door as staff from the Court hurried out to meet her. "Help him get clean and warm and dry. We will all meet in your quarters, Magus. Half an hour."
Mycroft nodded and led Greg away, and Greg was thankful for the reprieve. He hadn't the ability to string thoughts together again very well yet, but hoped being warm and dry would help. Mycroft stopped one of the people in the corridor along the way and asked him to arrange for hot tea and food to be sent up to their rooms; Greg realized belatedly just how much he wanted that once he was clean and dry. "Thanks," he murmured. Mycroft just nodded in response.
When they got to their rooms, Greg dropped his mask and goggles, then stripped down with Mycroft's assistance. It wasn't until he was clean and dressed in clean clothes again that he collapsed into a chair and shook. Mycroft wrapped a blanket around him and handed him a mug with hot tea, and Greg could see his trembling in the liquid. He held the mug with both hands and rested it on one arm of the chair to minimize the shaking. He closed his eyes and focused on trying to slow his breathing, aware of Mycroft hovering nearby with a close eye on him. "I'll be all right," he said, trying to be reassuring, but his voice shook just as his hands did.
"You're still in shock," Mycroft said. He sat on the other arm of Greg's chair and gently rubbed one hand along the top of Greg's shoulders, fingertips straying into the hair on the back of his head. Greg let out a deep breath and his muscles relaxed a bit. Carefully, he lifted the mug and sipped at the hot tea.
There was a tap at the door, and Mycroft called out to enter; Taran came in, followed closely by Jiang-Li, Arfas, and Larris. Mycroft nodded and gestured for them to sit. "How are you, Gregory?" Taran asked as she seated herself. Jiang-Li sat in the chair next to hers.
"Still in shock," Mycroft finished, "but recovering."
Greg stared down into his mug. "I can speak for myself," he grumbled.
"You're a terrible liar. It's obvious you're not 'fine.'" Mycroft's fingers tightened slightly on his shoulder. Despite the comment, the gesture was reassuring.
"Right, okay," Greg admitted. "Ta for that. I'm not fine. I'm shaking like a bloody leaf. I can still hardly think."
"Do you remember what happened, Gregory?" Taran shifted in her chair.
Jiang-Li tapped a finger on the arm of her chair. "I released the souls of the other way openers from the soul traps. The souls flew toward him. I think they entered him somehow. I have no idea what happened after that. It was chaotic."
"They did," Greg said. "I didn't know what was happening at first. I'm still not sure I can sort it all." He tugged the blanket more closely about himself as he tried to think. "I don't... I'm not sure I could have done it without their help."
"And what was it you did?" Taran's voice was calm and clear. It helped Greg focus a little.
"It was… there were too many of them, all talking at once. It was like being invaded. I'm still kind of, kind of scrambled." Greg rubbed his eyes with the heel of one hand. "Still trying to sort it. I know what I did. I think I know. But explaining -- I don't have all the words back yet. It's just…" He made a frustrated sound. Things were on the tip of his tongue but his mind wasn't cooperating.
"So they came to you, their souls all blended with yours?" Jiang-Li asked.
Greg nodded. "I didn't know what was happening at first. It all happened so fast, you know?" He took a slow breath and sipped his tea before speaking again, the others waiting patiently. Greg looked over at Mycroft, bruised and battered. The man needed a doctor, probably more that Greg did. He tried to focus, knowing Mycroft wasn't going to accept any attention until the debrief was finished. "There were voices. So many voices. I could see how everything fit together, could feel the lines of the sigils. Everything was sharp and clear and…" He trailed off, trying to figure out how to explain what he'd done.
"You changed something, something critical." Mycroft's voice was quiet and his fingers trailed through the hair at the nape of Greg's neck.
"Yeah. I just…" Greg traced a figure eight in the air. "You know how you twist a strip of paper and join the ends, and then you can draw one continuous line along both sides of it? A moebius strip, like that. The gate, that's what I did to it."
Mycroft's eyes widened. "Brilliant," he whispered.
"So the gate opens into itself," Taran said.
Jiang-Li nodded. "That's perfect."
"No in, no out. It doesn't exist here anymore, because there's no gate to here anymore. Anything inside can try to open it, but it only leads back to itself. We'll never have to worry about it again." Greg sipped at his tea again as Taran nodded.
"That truly is brilliant," she said. She looked at Mycroft. "And now, the three of you will be seen by the healers and you will rest."
"But the battle continues," Mycroft objected.
Taran nodded. "So it does. But this is why I have generals, Magus. You are injured, as are they," she gestured to Geg and Jiang-Li, "and you can be spared now, long enough to be treated and to sleep. It's been days since you got any proper rest."
"And you?" Mycroft asked.
"Soon enough," she said. She nodded to Arfas, who rose with a bow, and hurried from the room. "Larris, see that the Magus complies when the physicians arrive."
"Of course, Star-Born."
Mycroft didn't object, and Greg looked him over more closely now that his own responsibilities were discharged for the moment. "How badly are you hurt, Mycroft?" Greg asked.
Mycroft shrugged but didn't reply. Taran rose. "I expect your full cooperation, Mycroft." She looked at Jiang-Li. "I know you have more sense."
Jiang-Li made a humorless sound. "I'll be in my room." She rose and nodded to Taran. "If you need me for anything, let me know."
"Of course. I have things to attend to. I shall see you no sooner than tomorrow afternoon, Mycroft, unless the battle is at the castle's gates."
Taran and Jiang-Li both departed, leaving Larris hovering like an anxious puppy. "Please don't be stubborn, Magus," he said.
"I am not my brother, Larris."
Greg took a small piece of cheese from the plate of food nearby, watching, still dizzy and overwhelmed but finally convinced that it might be all right to rest.
"No, this is true. Yet you do share stubbornness as a trait, and I know that your concern for the Court may well overcome your common sense if you are not, shall we say, encouraged to comply with the Star-Born's wishes."
Mycroft opened his mouth to object, but closed it again and nodded. "That is a fair assessment."
It was over an hour before Greg and Mycroft were alone again, curled together in the warmth of a shared bed. They were both silent, holding one another carefully in consideration of injuries and exhaustion. Greg's mind was still spinning, and he tried not to dwell too much of the battle going on beyond the city's walls.
"Stop thinking," Mycroft murmured.
"You're one to talk."
Greg paused. "How many people died today? I mean, so far?"
Mycroft shook his head. "I don't know."
"You could have died. We all could have died." The thought was horrifying to contemplate. "I killed people, Mycroft. Hundreds, probably thousands of people died today because of me."
"You saved a world, Gregory. Everyone dies eventually, even dragons. Even the uncanny. All of us. But the world goes on and, today, you made that possible. Your brilliance and your efforts stopped what could have been the destruction of all life in this realm, and possibly others as well." Mycroft's fingers traced the line of Greg's stubbled jaw gently. "I am very proud, and very honored to know you."
Greg closed his eyes, not wanting anything to leak out. His chest tightened, and he took a shaky breath. "I'm just--"
"Don't finish that sentence. You are not 'just' anything. Your progenitor saw this within you -- your courage, your persistence, your heart, your resilience. You have survived so much horror recently, and you have acquitted yourself with honor. Don't diminish that. Don't diminish yourself, despite any doubts you may harbour."
"I never wanted this," Greg whispered.
"None of us ever do," Mycroft said, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "None of us ever do."