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pavement

~*~

“No!”

Varian tightened his grip on the controls, forcing his mech upright again.

Adrenaline sent his heartrate into a frenzy, his mind racing. What had that been? The princess, the rocks- she’d connected with them, and then an explosion of blue light had sent him staggering. All over the clearing, black rocks shot up from the earth to rip through his automatons like they were made of paper.

How was she doing that? It shouldn’t be possible! And yet there she was, wielding the black rocks like deadly weapons, and the sick irony of the situation wasn’t lost on Varian. She would have the black rocks be his defeat, the very thing that’d ravaged his home and gotten his dad entombed.

White, hot rage blocked everything else out. Varian urged his mech forward in a full-on charge, metal groaning as it thudded against the earth.

Rapunzel met his approach with a volley of black rocks. One by one, they tore off the limbs of his mech until just the right arm remained, sending him into a wild, uncontrolled skid. Gritting his teeth, Varian shoved at the joystick to raise the final limb up, a giant fist prepared to come down on top of the princess-

A black rock shot up through the front of the mech. It narrowly missed Varian by a few inches, whistling past his ear. With a loud shriek, it smashed through the glass window and punched through the metal hull, piercing the very heart of the machine.

The mech jolted from the impact, and the forward momentum sent Varian through the front of it, crashing through the already shattered glass. As he tumbled weightless through the air and the screeching of crushed metal filled his ears, Varian had a single moment to regret not installing a seatbelt before he hit the ground.

It wasn’t a high fall, but the landing was rough. Reeling, Varian hissed through clenched teeth. Slowly, he pushed himself upright onto his hands and knees, shaking his head blearily. A dull ache radiated through his body, and he had a few cuts from broken glass shards, but nothing felt broken.

He looked up at the cause of his crash; the princess. Rapunzel. She was still connecting with the rocks, her hands tight around the two spires at her side and an unearthly light about her, a blue glow rippling up and down the black stone. A part of her seemed not all there, but the hard look in her eyes was all hers.

With mounting despair, Varian looked out over the battlefield that was once his home. All his automatons were destroyed, impaled on black rocks at the command of the princess. His dad was still trapped in the amber. And he hadn’t even managed to make them pay for it.

He’d lost.

Varian’s eyes burned with tears, quickly blinked away. It wasn’t fair. He’d done everything right, all his careful planning- the automaton attack at the castle, Ruddiger’s rampage through the town, the kidnapping- all to get the princess here. And it didn’t work.

The ragtag army had gathered in a sort of loose circle around the wreckage, wary of getting too close to the princess in her current state. No chance of escape. Shakily, Varian rose to his feet. He knew how this was going to end, but before they took him away, there was something he needed to know.

Varian met Rapunzel’s gaze. “Why now?” he asked hoarsely. “Why can you connect with them now? For this? And not to s- save my dad?”

Rapunzel didn’t answer, her expression unchanging as she stared back at Varian. It was unclear if she was simply too far in her trance to respond, or if she really didn’t know the answer herself, but suddenly Varian didn’t care.

Anger and frustration boiled over into desperation, grief, sorrow, everything he’d buried deep down inside himself to stay sane. “I w- wouldn’t have had to do any of it if you’d j- just kept your promise,” Varian said, his voice wavering. He took a step forward, his vision blurring with tears. “I just wanted my da-”

Crunch.

The ground split open somewhere behind him, rumbling beneath his feet. Something slammed into the small of his back, jerking him forward, and the sound of it was unlike anything he’d ever heard before, a wet, ripping sound that made his hair stand on end. Black flashed across his vision, accented by a spray of bright red.

Varian stared, uncomprehending, at the black rock protruding through his stomach.

The spike was about as thick as a sword and streaked with his blood. The wickedly sharp end had speared cleanly through the soft tissue of his stomach, glancing past his spine. He thought it might’ve caught on a rib on the way out, though, cause he’d felt rather than heard a sickening crack as it tore through him. It’d missed his heart by mere inches, but it might’ve stopped beating, anyways, as the realization fully hit him.

All the breath drew out of Varian in a strangled gasp. Pain immediately ripped through his body, like he’d been set on fire, and he couldn’t even scream from how intense it was. Knees buckling, his hands came up to grip the spike, eyes wide with shock.

Varian tasted blood. The smell of it flooded his senses; a sharp, metallic tang that sent a wave of nausea through him. It dripped warm down his chin, the front of his shirt- he choked on it, a horrible, wet gasping sound that rang out through the deadly silent clearing.

Internal bleeding, his mind supplied, unhelpfully.

Panic seized him, like a giant fist wrapping around him and squeezing. He struggled for breath, each movement of his chest sending a fresh wave of agony to hack away at his nerves. Oh god, it hurt, more than he thought anything ever could. He was lightheaded but his limbs felt like they’d turned to lead and the feeling of the spike through his midsection was an overwhelming sense of wrongness.

No, no, no, this couldn’t be happening! Please, no, he didn’t want to die- ice cold fear prickled through his veins, his heart fluttering madly like a caged bird. He hadn’t meant for things to go this far, he just wanted his dad back, please.

There were tears streaming freely down his face, and he found that he no longer cared what anyone thought of it. He let himself cry.

“Varian!”

Rapunzel seemed to have finally snapped out of her trance, her eyes going wide with horror. She let go of the rocks and took a step towards Varian, but the second her fingers left the stone, she collapsed, the glow fading.

The strange energy filling the air dissipated, but the black rocks remained in place, including the one speared through Varian’s stomach. An oddly calm, detached part of his brain noted that if the spike pulled back out, it’d just kill him twice as fast.

Rapunzel struggled to her feet, expression filled with panic and terror. “No, no, Varian!” She ran to him, her hands hovering uncertainly over the rock, wanting to help but not knowing how. “I- I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for this to happen!” she gasped out.

Varian spat the blood from his mouth. “N- now you care,” he managed, the corner of his lips quirking up in a rueful smile. His dark humor faded quickly though, his face twisting in pain as more tears spilled down his cheeks. He could feel himself fading, the blood rushing in his ears with each labored breath as spots danced across his vision.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. He’d tried so hard to fix it. To save his dad from his mistake, to save his village from the black rocks, to be a hero. That’d gotten twisted, somewhere along the way. Somewhere between one failed plan after another- the flower didn’t work, Rapunzel’s hair didn’t work, and he didn’t understand it. How could he hope to fix the problem if he didn’t understand it?

It wasn’t fair. It should’ve worked. The spike impaling him was further proof, and it was like the universe was playing a cruel joke on him, that Rapunzel had been able to connect with the rocks now, but not then, for this, but not that. Facts and logic and careful planning had all failed him.

He’d tried. It hadn’t been enough.

“Just- just hang on, Varian.” Rapunzel was crying now. Varian was oddly touched. “We’ll get you off of there and everything’s going to be okay, I-”

With the last of his strength, Varian grabbed Rapunzel’s hand, quieting her. “You… promise?” he asked softly, almost teasingly.

Rapunzel bit her lip, her shoulders shaking with sobs. She seemed to realize what Varian already had; there was no saving him from this.

She squeezed his hand. “I’m so sorry.”

Varian took a ragged breath. “If- if you e- ever… get h- him out…” and he trusted that he didn’t have to specify who he was talking about, “t- tell him… I t- tried.”

He let go of her hand, his arm dropping to his side. Darkness rushed to meet him. Its embrace was almost comforting, like the embrace of a father. Varian relented to it with relief, his body falling limp as the last of his breath left him and everything faded away.

His fight was over.

… he really had tried his best.

~*~

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

~*~