Magic was soft. It was the softness of a dandelion puff, of a cotton mist, white tinged with rainbow around the edges. She didn’t think she was falling anymore, but nor was she lying on any surface she could feel. She drifted with the currents.
It was peaceful here. Pain had vanished, every ache soothed, every bruise healed. With it went Ayda’s every care, brushed away like an artist painting over a canvas. She was safe here. The magic… it was all. All magics, all powers, no distinctions or separation.
Separation.… Ayda struggled to remember. She had been doing something important when she fell. What was that? Did it really matter? All she wanted to do was drift on the currents….
Ayda’s fingers and toes began to tingle. Warmth filled her, spreading from her limbs to her center and converging on her heart. It blazed, surging in with the heat of sunlight on her skin and the smell of green and growing things, settling in her blood and sinew. Filling the hole.
Ayda snapped upright. My magic! She let out a wild cry of delight. The fogginess in her thoughts vanished. Memory flooded back and with it came purpose. She didn’t have a plan. But her magic thrilled through her. It would have to be enough.
Though all she could see was white clouds of magic, she knew the only way out of the Well was up. Ayda stretched her wings, healed and whole, and flew back into battle.
When Ayda burst over the rim of the Well, Nadra was a stride away from Madeline, reaching down to seize the girl’s arm. Only seconds had passed. Madeline looked up in fear, Cinder in her lap, clutching — her necklace?
Ayda’s hands moved automatically to twist sunbeams. Something, anything, to distract Nadra. There’s not enough time!
Nadra grabbed Madeline, hauling her to her feet. She breathed in sharply. And in that same instant, Madeline’s magic coiled near her chest and winked out. Ayda dropped her hands, staring, and her sunbeams scattered.
“What did you do?” demanded Nadra.
Madeline actually smiled, dropping her hand to reveal her necklace. The bird charm glowed, unshaped pink magic curling inside. “I put it in here. All of it. And you know I can’t get it back out. You went too far.”
Nadra tore the necklace away and threw it to the floor with a curse. Her eyes were wild as she pushed Madeline away and stumbled back to the Well, scanning the room.
Ayda followed Nadra’s gaze. Everywhere she looked, the unicorns were driving the Shades back, powerful spells making up for their few numbers. Were they actually winning?
Nadra’s chest heaved. “Very well. You win. But I will see my world live again. Even if I am magicless in it.” She spun around and seized the diamond on the Well, which still blazed with magic. Ayda sprang forward, twisting sunbeams again. A curl of smoke rose from Nadra’s dress but she hardly seemed to notice. Ayda seized her knife but Nadra was already pouring her own magic into the diamond and where was everyone couldn’t they see the danger — ?
The last of Nadra’s magic entered the diamond. The pattern locked into place. It was finished. Nadra collapsed, spent, but the diamond remained in the air, blazing with multicolored light. The floor shook. Ayda dimly realized that all fighting had stopped, that the second Nadra had given away her magic all the Shades had been freed, but her whole attention was occupied by the disaster unfolding in front of her.
Ayda had failed, again and again and again, and now it was over. She had gotten her magic back for nothing. There was nothing she could do!
“Ayda!” Madeline’s voice cut through the terror and Ayda turned. Her friend stood at the base of the dais, and in three strides she was beside Ayda, clutching her necklace in her hand.
“I need your magic. As much as you can, shaped the way you twist sunbeams.”
Beside them, the diamond had begun to pour magic into the Well.
Ayda met Madeline’s eyes and found only a tiny part of her wavered. She had made enough mistakes. Madeline was her friend, and Ayda trusted her.
And so Ayda twisted her magic as asked, fingers working as they had so many times in carving. The pattern complete, she pushed her magic forward. All of it. Madeline would need it.
The void swelled in Ayda once more, but Ayda triumphed instead of despairing. I chose this. This is my gift, a friend to a friend.
Madeline held her necklace, which still glowed pink, and shoved Ayda’s magic inside, adding one last tweak to it. The pink swirled to match the green, snapping into place and flashing with light.
And the magic from the diamond turned back on itself, pulled to the necklace like a needle to a lodestone. Multicolored light enveloped the necklace Madeline held outstretched. The magic was pulled inside and redirected, twisted to a single powerful beam angled at a prone figure on the floor.
Nadra screamed as the magic hit her. It washed around her, but in seconds her shields collapsed under the onslaught. The whole river, thousands of individuals’ worth of magic aimed expertly, slammed into the talisman Nadra wore.
It absorbed most of it, but the magic kept coming, drilling into the talisman until Nadra was a dark figure in an envelope of light. Ayda started forward in delight. Whatever Madeline had done, it was working! It was —
There was a resounding crack, and Ayda knew no more.