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The End.

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What do you say to your best friend at the end of the world?

Maybe ‘best’ friend was pushing it. Only friend might be more appropriate- because, well, it was true. Bard was the only friend Miriam had. Still, there was a hollow comfort in the assumption that perhaps this wasn’t a one-way friendship street, and that- despite their uncanny ability to make nice with everyone they met -Bard also thought of Miriam as their ‘best’ friend. Even if it was just for this moment. Or the next couple of them.

Both of their last moments.

Miriam felt her grip tighten around the handle of her broom. Her knuckles had been white for a while- or maybe that was just the horrendous lighting of their current surrounding. She couldn’t tell. Her head hurt. She just had to focus on keeping up with Bard now- that was all.

They would reach the overseer, and then…what?

This could really be it.

They could fail. They could die.

And that would have been a profound realization had it not been hanging over Miriam for every step of her shared world-saving journey. After all, Eya had made it apparent that everything was nearing its end; the stars blinking out one by one, monsters bursting from the seams of reality itself, people losing hope, and every time Miriam closed her eyes, all she could see was that flash of lighting, the sound of a cold crown hitting colder stone. It was enough to send a shiver down her back, a phantom pain blooming fresh between her shoulders.

Bard stumbled on gnarled, glowing root, but quickly righted themselves, and pressed onward. They tried to hide the stutter in their step on the side where a well-aimed bolt from their good ‘pal’ The Hero had struck in an attempt to bring their journey to an early end. It was hard not to notice when she was so close.

“Careful.”

“I’m okay!” They laughed it off.

With no small amount of restraint, Miriam stopped herself from rolling her eyes. Figures. Even now, they’d still try to smile at her.

Hard to believe that at one point she had found the energy to detest this fount of boundless optimism. But she had. They were a real pain at first- singing, smiling, dancing, like looking directly into the sun for too long, a stupidly bright silhouette burned against the back of her eyelids. It had been unbearable. But when that light had threatened to snuff itself out under the weight of their reality, she’d realized how much people depended on it- how much she depended on it. Now it wasn’t burning, it didn’t hurt to look directly at…it had rekindled itself into something softer; a warm, comforting presence, instead of an overwhelming one. The light at the end of a tunnel. The soft glow of coming home. And as they climbed towards the Dream King’s palace, it was a spark of hope- the embers of a fire that rebelled against the end of the world. Literally.

Bard lifted their voice, a plant under their feet slowly unfurling at the soft song. She watched from her broom as the leaves sprouted in time with the stuttering heartbeat of the warped reality around them; a metronome that guided the tempo for Bard as they gently rose to their next platform of jagged rock or unnaturally colored tree branch.

A white dove watched them from nearby, and sang along when Bard got close enough. They reached out their arm and the bird rose from its perch to gently alight onto their gloved hand.

Making a new friend wherever they went, even at a time like this. Or was this an old friend, maybe? Hard to tell sometimes.

“Saying goodbye?” Miriam asked, quirking a brow.

“Saying hello! I’m glad they’re okay.” Bard lifted their arm out again and the bird took off, disappearing into the yellow branches of what used to be the autumn leaves of Langtree.

“Oh.”

They really did know every person, plant, and animal around here. Miriam lowered her gaze back towards her broom handle as they pressed onward. They were close now. Too close. She still didn’t know what she wanted to say to Bard...should she thank them? For- what? Hanging around despite her constant berating and complaints? Should she reminisce with them about their journey together? About all the deep discussions they’ve had about their place in the universe? Eugh, hard pass. She’d never been good at talking- much less talking about how she felt. Eya forbid she try to be honest about something as closed off as her heart during the real, actual apocalypse.

But before Miriam could come up with an answer to her question, the Dream King’s castle came into view. Its imposing building cut a sharp silhouette against the harsh purple of the sky around them. The double doors glowed with the light of the spirit world, shifting and warping as if trying to decide what form to take in front of two different people. Miriam’s broom slowed to a halt as Bard’s footsteps faltered, and then ceased. She looked over at her best friend, and when Bard finally turned to meet her gaze she swore she caught something- uncertainty? Fear? Regret? -flicker across their expression. But it was gone as quickly as it had come, and they instead smiled at her reassuringly.

Miriam’s heart fluttered, and her stomach twisted uncomfortably.

This was really it.

With what few nerves she had left, Miriam managed to smile back-it was weak and worn, but she hoped the message would get across.