Dawn breaks in a calm blue haze. It hasn't been this quiet anywhere on Phoenix in a long time. Kaine wakes up to urgent pangs thrumming down his left side, but no vision comes; just the knowledge that this is the last day. He sits up and looks around the room. Jynx is curled into a ball in the center of his bed. His eyelids flutter with dreams. McBride is sleeping in a chair in the corner of the room near the door. His head is tilted back, and his mouth is open. A thin line of drool runs from the corner of his mouth.
Kaine gets up and gets dressed. He watches Jynx for a while and decides there's no need to wake him up. He takes Jynx's gun and knife and quietly slips out of the room.
Nothing in the hotel is stirring. Light seeps through the curtains on the windows in the lobby. Dust sifts through the narrow white slants. Kaine walks silently down the hall to Kumiko's room. She sleeps soundly now, the pain of her wound having at last dropped off to an annoying soreness. He removes her guns from her gun belt and checks the chambers. Both are loaded. He hides them away in his coat. He looks at her face for a long time. He doesn't want to leave without saying goodbye to her, but he's afraid that if he wakes her up, he won't want to leave. He has to go. If he doesn't come back, she'll get over it. Eventually. And if for some reason he does make it back, he thinks he can handle her being mad at him for a little while. He kisses her forehead and leaves the room without looking over his shoulder.
Kaine descends the stairs to the lobby, passing through shafts of light as he goes. The light feels cold. He wonders for a moment if it snowed while he slept. It's never snowed on Phoenix. It hasn't even rained in years. He pulls open the front doors and steps out onto the porch. A cool breeze whisks past him. The air smells wet. He looks up. The sky is pale blue. Tufts of grey clouds drift across it. The silvery edge of the sun is still pushing its way over the horizon. In the distance, glass sparkles like water.
Iai is standing in the middle of the street, staring out at the sheet of glass. Kaine walks down the steps and stands next to him.
"She's waiting," Iai says. "I can feel her."
"Stay here," Kaine says.
Iai grins. "No."
"You know what's gonna happen."
"I kinda think it's wasteful."
"And somehow your death isn't?"
"Talon said I have to be prepared to make sacrifices."
"And I am."
"No, not you. Me."
"Samurai made the greatest sacrifice of all. He gave his life so that humanity might have a chance to survive. He'll be making that sacrifice for eternity. If I am part of that, why would I be destined to end any differently?"
Kaine shakes his head. "You're not. It's just that I don't think it's necessary right now."
"It doesn't matter what you think. It is necessary. Even if I stay here, you'll have to draw on my power to defeat her. I have enough to give, but this body has become fragile. I won't survive."
"That isn't fair."
"I don't want to survive."
"I'm done. I think the change in the weather means Phoenix is going into labor. We should hurry." Iai walks towards the desert.
Kaine hesitates, watching the light glint off the blades that unfurl from Iai's back. He feels like he's trapped in some kind of nightmare. No matter what he does, he's powerless to change the outcome. He starts to follow Iai.
The front doors of the Seven Seas Hotel burst open. "Hey!" Jynx shouts. "Where the hell do you think you're going?" He's half dressed and disheveled. He staggers out into the bright morning, blinking and still half asleep.
"Go back to sleep, Jynx," Kaine says. "I'll be done by the time you wake up."
"Fuck that. Gimme my gun back. You're not going without me."
"Yes, I am."
Kaine sighs and pulls out Hizashi.
Jynx puts out his right hand and takes a few steps towards Kaine.
"I love you, Jynx," Kaine says. "I'm sorry."
Kaine pulls the trigger.
For a second Jynx makes no sound. He's too stunned. He feels pain somewhere, but it's nothing compared the shock. He looks down. His left foot is bleeding. That must be where the pain is coming from. He looks back up at Kaine. Kaine isn't looking at him. "You just shot me," Jynx says.
Kaine glances at him briefly as he slides a bullet into the empty chamber.
"You shot my fucking foot! What the hell is wrong with you? Damn it! I can't believe you just did that!"
Kaine shrugs. "I said I was sorry."
"You fucking asshole!" Jynx takes a step towards Kaine. Pain howls through his foot. He sits down hard. "Ow!"
Iai turns around and walks back to the twins. "Now that's unnecessary," he says.
Kaine shrugs again. "I said I was sorry."
Iai passes his hand over the wound. It heals instantly, leaving the bullet in Jynx's foot.
"Hey, whose side are you on?" Jynx asks. "You're gonna let him get away with that?"
"He doesn't want you to get hurt. I'm just doing what he wants."
"So he shoots me. As if that doesn't fucking hurt."
There's a commotion in the lobby. Several of the guests were awakened by the gunshot. Now they're pouring downstairs to find out what happened. McBride and Winston are the first to reach the porch.
"What's goin' on?" McBride asks.
"He fucking shot me!" Jynx says.
"And I said I was sorry," Kaine says.
In the three days since Kaine woke up, Winston has seen both of them several times but never together. Seeing them leaves him feeling a little short of breath and quite foolish. He looks at them for a long time.
Iai puts his hand on Jynx's elbow and pulls him off the ground. Jynx puts his weight on his left foot. It hurts. He won't be able to walk on it much.
Why? he asks Kaine.
Because I love you, Kaine says.
You don't have to do this alone.
I'm not. You're always with me.
I'm gonna kick your ass when you get back.
Not with that foot you're not.
I love you, moron.
The twins embrace, and then Kaine and Iai walk out into the desert. No one bothers to wish them good luck or to tell them to be careful or come back safely. Everyone seems to know that the encouraging words mean nothing at this point.
"May God be with you," Winston mutters.
"She is," McBride says.
Nightfall comes quickly as Phoenix rolls in her labor pains. Kaine and Iai can feel her contractions as the leylines clench and unclench at increasingly shorter intervals. The stars are brighter. All three moons remain hidden. They can hear wind scorpions hissing and clicking their claws.
After almost an hour of walking, they come to a hole in the ground. A line of train tracks runs from the mouth of the hole towards the east.
"It's just like the one in Grave," Kaine says.
"There are four more, all heading for Rune," Iai says. "We can't destroy them all."
"But if we destroy Michiyo, the trains won't run."
The ground begins to tremble. A train whistle sounds. Iai steps back from the hole and draws his sword.
Kaine sees a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. He turns and shoots down a jeep-sized wind scorpion as it lunges.
"You take care of the wind scorpions," Iai says. "I'll take the train."
The train blasts up out of the hole, its whistle screaming. It arches and plunges towards them. Kaine scrambles out of the way as its nose plows into the sand. The train blocks Iai from his view, but before he has time to worry, wind scorpions are nipping at him from all sides. For a moment, he considers just incinerating them like he did the star demons, but he can't risk falling back into that black whirlpool. He needs to save that energy for Michiyo anyway. He shoots down the wind scorpions, backing slowly down the track towards Michiyo.
When another quick blue dawn rises, Kaine is half a mile from the hole where the train came up. Wind scorpion corpses are everywhere. He's tired and sore. He's covered in gashes and bruises, and he thinks at least one bone in his leg is cracked. It hurts every time he puts his weight on it, but he keeps testing it. If it crumbles, he'll stop. Otherwise, he knows he's nowhere near finished.
Closer to the hole, he sees the black outline of the train lying across the track like a severed length of rubber hose. Broken glass and pieces of Iai's wings shine in the sand. White feathers drift on the morning breeze, but Kaine doesn't see Iai. He closes his eyes.
Shaman, Michiyo says in his head.
He says nothing.
You can't stop me. The trains will run again.
Don't bet on it.
Michiyo laughs. You can't stop me!
Kaine turns towards the east. He can't see Michiyo. She's too far away, but he can feel her. Her presence is just like that whirlpool. Cold and black. It makes him ache. He lifts Hizashi and Getsuei and draws a bead on Michiyo. She's still laughing in his head.
I know where you've been, he tells her.
Her laughter falls silent.
I know what you've felt. I felt it a long time ago, but now I've been there, too.
You don't know a damn thing!
I used to think we could help you and that if we did that, we could keep my heart from tearing itself to shreds.
I don't need your help, Shaman. All you want to do is take away my trains and take away my shadows!
I wanted to save you, Michiyo.
I will tear you apart.
The best I can do for you is put you down before you're too far gone for God's hands. I wish I could do more, but that's all I have to offer. The next time the sun rises, it's over.
Michiyo remains silent. The contact slithers away.
Kaine fires the guns. The bullets slam into the tracks, and the tracks shatter.
"No!" Michiyo screams.
Kaine puts the guns away and limps down the track towards the dead train to find Iai.
Kaine finds Iai slumped against the train's front wheel. The blades of his wings are battered and torn. Feathers clot up terrible cuts on his upper body. His sword is still buried to the hilt in the train's headlight. As Kaine moves around to see if Iai is conscious, he sees the reason for Iai's somewhat awkward position. His left arm is caught beneath the wheel.
Kaine crouches next to Iai and presses his fingers to Iai's neck. Iai's skin is icy, and if there's a pulse, Kaine can't feel it. He holds his hand in front of Iai's nose and mouth. He feels warm breath. "Iai," he says.
Iai's eyes flutter open. "It's somewhat difficult to tell who won, isn't it?" he asks.
"Just stay still."
"Not a problem."
Kaine shoves his shoulder against the train. Metal groans, but it isn't going to move. He shuts his eyes. Drawing on Yuusei's power is harder with Michiyo that close. She can feel what he's doing and tries to stop him. He pulls harder and feels a leyline spring out of the ground at his feet. It curls itself around his shoulders and arms and helps him lift the train off Iai's arm. He tries to push the train away, but he can only hold it there. He looks down to tell Iai to move. Several of Phoenix's children have grabbed Iai and are tugging him away from the train. "Hurry up," he tells them. "I can't hold this for too much longer."
The misshapen white spirits nod, chattering amongst themselves. When they've gotten Iai a safe distance from the train, Kaine lets the train drop. His head spins, and he feels himself falling.
When Kaine wakes up, the sun is going down in a blaze of violet, rose and orange. He stares at the sky for a while. He feels the contractions in the leylines. There isn't much time.
Iai is sitting up, looking down at his injured arm. Or rather what's left of his arm. It ends about an inch above where his elbow used to be.
"Are you okay?" Kaine asks.
"That's a silly question," Iai says.
"Um, yeah, I guess it is."
"You're going to die, you know that, don't you?"
"Go on. I'll be waiting."
Kaine gets to his feet and follows the shattered track to where Michiyo is waiting.
As night falls, Kaine fights off more wind scorpions, but their attacks are half-hearted, as if they know they can't stop him. After a while, they don't even bother to approach him. They hide themselves in the cold grey sand, hissing and snapping their jaws.
Ahead of him, he can see Michiyo's silhouette. Her long black hair whips around her as the wind kicks up tiny whirlwinds of sand. The track under his feet is broken, and the line is crooked. That part of the vision holds true.
Other parts of what he saw the day they left Whatcheer aren't quite the same. He's alone, but it's because he chose to come alone. He doesn't feel that buzzing, stinging emptiness he felt in the vision. All the stinging and pain is on the outside. The wind scorpions have left him in tatters, and the wind drives needles of sand at his wounds. He stumbles down the broken track under Michiyo's phosphorescent glare. She seems surprised he's made it this far.
There are only four stars in the sky. Kaine doesn't bother to look up at them. He would see nothing new, except the wings that spread from Samurai aren't reaching down to gather the pieces Yuusei is flinging from itself as it spins.
Michiyo is ten feet away from him, but all he sees of her is her shadowed silhouette and the sulfurous yellow of her eyes. "I will tear you apart," she hisses. She lifts shards of the track off the sand and hurls them at Kaine.
Kaine raises his left hand and the shards bounce harmlessly off the shield. "I don't think so," he says. He draws Kumiko's guns and empties them into Michiyo, but not one bullet actually strikes her. Just like in the vision, she's gathered them all. She laughs and sends them back to him.
He tries to bring the shield up, but he can't do it fast enough. The impact tears him open. Some of the bullets pass clean through him, while others lodge in his heart, his lungs and in bones. He drops the guns and goes down on one knee. Michiyo laughs. He draws Hizashi and Getsuei and unloads those bullets into her. Her right eye winks out. She stumbles. Blood spills onto the sand.
She staggers towards him. "You ... you ..."
He drops the guns and pulls out the knives. The world is fading and wavering. His eyes turn pale blue. Michiyo begins to scream. "Go in peace," he whispers. He throws the knives. Both catch in her throat. He falls face first into the sand. He turns his head to the sky. The black night is full of tiny streaking lights in brilliant colors and white feathers. Stardust and feathers settle on his back as he drags out one last breath. He closes his eyes.
If he hears the voice that whispers to him or feels the presence that leans over him, he doesn't remember. For a time there is only darkness.
The darkness fills gradually with dusky, sparkling strands. Voices murmur. A bell rings. Kaine reaches out to the streams of time that flow past him. His fingers brush past thousands of visions, and they burst through his mind like flashbulbs. He closes in on one. He thinks it's in the future. It's hard to tell. Whatever it is, it's cold, and then it's gone. He goes back into the darkness with a sense of relief. It's over now. The only thing left is moving on.
Kaine wakes up with voices fluttering around his head. They dissipate before he can make out any words. He sits up and looks down at his chest. He sees no wounds and no new scars. He doesn't remember what happened or how he got back to the hotel.
Jynx is sitting on the floor next to the bed with his head on his knees and his fingers laced together at the back of his head. His cheeks are wet with tears.
Jynx, what ... Kaine starts to ask.
Iai, Jynx says.
Iai is slumped over the foot of the bed. His skin is grey and his hair is dull. His wings are limp against his back. Kaine leans forward and runs his fingers over the blades. They don't feel like metal at all. They're soft and silky, and at Kaine's touch, a few of the blades drop off and flutter to the floor.
Help me, Kaine says.
Jynx lifts his head and rubs the tears off his face. He didn't have to die like that, he says.
He wanted to.
The twins carry Iai's body outside and a little way out of town. In the east, the sky is full of dancing auroras and flickers of white light. They lay Iai in the sand, and Kaine sets him on fire. The fire burns silver and hotter than any fire they've ever felt. They stand back and watch. Small white feathers drift out of the flames into the sky as it slowly turns a deep clear blue.