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The End (For Good)




The End (For Good)


“You don’t need her? You’re sure?” Tommy seemed a little bewildered. It was finally—again—time to vacate The Smiling Goat, and Discord at large. But Muirne and Gil revealed that they wouldn’t be returning with them.


“We appreciate you lending her to us,” Muirne began.


“But I have learned much since we last parted ways,” Gil added. “We happened to cross paths with a very wise magus, and he instructed me in the ways of creating a device very much like your ‘Mathilda’.”


“It will be much simpler, of course, but we wouldn’t want to keep her from you. I think she missed you while we were gone.” Muirne giggled. “She kept trying to take us back to Ede Valley.”


“That’s my girl,” Tommy laughed along with her.


As the others were talking, Cindy pulled Gil aside. “This magus you met with,” she asked him, “is he that Cephias Griffin guy you told me about?”


“The very same.”


“And this device he told you about, it must be pretty hard to make.”


“That depends on many factors. One needs to be a rather powerful magus. Or, at the very least, willing to put in the work for it.”


She paused, considering his words. “I… don’t suppose you’d be willing to share?”


A small, wry smile crept into Gil’s features. “Considering a manhunt, are you?”


“I’m thinking about it.”


“In that case, I have something for you.” He rummaged around in his trunk, before finally finding what he was looking for. After dusting it off, he handed Cindy a small, leather-bound book. “It’s a bit thinner than ideal,” he added as she thumbed through many dozens of blank pages. “But I figured it’d be more convenient for travel.”


“A new grimoire,” she realized. “All the pages are blank so I… guess it’s up to me to fill it, right?”


“All except one.” He flipped to the very first page. There, scrawled in a hand that was all too familiar to her, were instructions for an enchantment, one that could take her anywhere in the cosmos.


“Thank you…” she mumbled. “I… I don’t know what to say.”


He just shook his head. “No thanks are necessary. All I ask is that you learn much, so that the next time we meet you’ll be teaching me.”


And that was that. They said their goodbyes—Flora made them promise to come visit again through loud sniffles—and they were off. At the end of their bittersweet adventure to the city of daemons and back, finally, to Ede Valley.


It was at that moment, when that familiar, not quite fresh suburban air hit their nostrils that both Tommy and Cindy knew they wouldn’t be staying long.


For Tommy it was more of an inevitability than anything. As close as Ede Valley had come to feeling like home, he belonged out there. Discord had reminded him of that. Getting Mathilda back only solidified the thought. It was time for him to head back home.


For Cindy it was more complicated. Ede Valley was the only real place she’d ever known. It would be easier, and safer, to stay behind, go to school, live a normal life. But a normal life wouldn’t help her. Back in Discord, she had failed. In the end, there hadn’t been anything she could do for Doug. That was one thing, one that she could let go, especially once she realized that she would have been working against fate itself had she even tried, but what if he’d been Tommy or Mike? What if he’d been Lucius? She never wanted to be in a position like that ever again. So she had to get stronger. And Ede Valley certainly wouldn’t provide her with that, a normal life wouldn’t grant her that power. But in the end, Cindy knew that deep down, she didn’t want her life to be normal.


Which meant that she had to go.


Once they arrived safe and sound, Cowell scurried off to check on the pub—he seemed a little irritated for some reason—and Niko followed shortly thereafter. He needed a little space after everything that had happened. Cindy lingered. It had been a long time since she and Tommy had had a chance to talk, and she had a lot of things to ask him.


“So what’s it like?” she broached the subject casually, as Tommy fiddled with a couple of the dials. “You know, traveling around and stuff.”


He shrugged. “It’s like anything, I guess. Sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes beautiful. Sometimes it’s scary and sometimes it makes you want to die.”


“So, just like life, then?”


“Yeah, pretty much,” he chuckled. “Why do you ask?”


“No particular reason,” Cindy ran a hand through her hair, trying to figure out how to say it. “It’s just—”


“Oh, wait,” he smiled. “I’m being stupid. You figured out I’m leaving, didn’t you?”


You’re leaving? But that’s what I was gonna do!”


Needless to say, Tommy was very confused. So they sat down, Cindy leaning against the doorway and Tommy further in, and she explained everything. He listened, and nodded, and when she was done, she was a little worried that he was going to discourage her, to tell her it was dangerous. All he did, however, was smile and wish her luck.


He was just starting to give her some tips and suggest some good places to start her search, when they heard someone clear their throat. They turned to the doorway, only to see—of all people—Mike staring in at them a little sheepishly.


“Mike?” Cindy asked. “What are you doing here?”


He held up his cellphone. “I finally got your message. I know it said to meet at the East Branch, but I just… had a hunch you’d be here.”


For a second, they were both very confused, but then they remembered that even though it had been a couple of weeks for them since Tommy had sent that message, for Mike it had only been a couple of hours.


“I see you got your wagon back.”


“Yep!” Tommy grinned. “All safe and sound.”


“You sounded a little… shaken over the phone.”


“Just a little hiccup, but everything’s kosher now.” There was no reason not to tell him, but Tommy was a little afraid he might be mad they went without him.


“Good,” Mike said, “because there’s something I need to talk to you two about.”


As it turned out, he was planning on leaving too. Both of the elder siblings’ first instincts was to tell him he was too young to leave on his own, but he quickly pointed out that both mentally and physically, he was more capable than either of them. If anything, they should be more worried about themselves. So eventually, they ran out of arguments.


“Wait a second!” Cindy gasped, her eyes widening before her face fell back into concern. “We’re forgetting something really important!”


The brothers glanced over to her, confused.


“We can’t all leave! What about mom?”


“Oh…” Tommy’s face fell. “Shit.”


If all three of them left Ede Valley, then their mom would be all alone.


“I think there’s actually a very simple solution.” Mike broke the silence, and the others waited for him to explain. “We tell her everything.”


“What do you mean?” Cindy asked.


Everything,” he repeated. “What Cindy’s been up to, where Tommy’s been all these years, and what… what happened to me. And then we all decide what to do together.”


It was a scary prospect. All of them had so many things they hadn’t told her. And she was just so… ordinary. Was it right to shatter that illusion for her? But she was their mother, and each one of them had always felt bad about lying to her. Deep down, they all knew that it would have to come out someday.


They each just hoped she wouldn’t be pissed.


~~ o ~~


It took a surprisingly short amount of time to get Carol to believe them. They sat her down at the dining room table, and started with Tommy. She listened, looking a little confused, but once they got to Cindy and she was able to demonstrate, well, then she got even more confused. Yet somehow, she seemed to get it. Eerily quickly.


So they finally moved on to Mike. And, just as they were afraid it would, that one kind of destroyed her.


“Mom, please… don’t cry,” Mike looked like he didn’t know what to do. “It’s not like any of this is your fault.”


“B… but all of you have gone through so much and… and I should have been there for you.”


“That is entirely on us for being little shits and thinking we could handle it all on our own.” Cindy wrapped her arms around her. Then Tommy joined her, and finally Mike, and all the Millers cried together.


After a good while, Carol managed to pull herself together. She took a deep breath, sniffed a few times, then glanced between her children. “Well,” she said, “since you three were courageous enough to come clean, then I should probably confess that… I’ve been keeping a secret from you as well.”


As she spoke, all three of their mouths fell open one by one. “A… a hitman,” Cindy stuttered. “You… you mean… this whole time…”


“Being a single mother is hard!” she tried to defend herself. “And I never went to college or anything like that. After… after Tommy left I… I just wanted you kids to have a good childhood.”


“So you’ve been axing criminals this whole time so we could live on nice, normal Williams Street?” Mike managed.


“I know that there are probably better ways,” she sighed. “And that what I’ve done doesn’t make me a good person.”


“But mom,” Tommy couldn’t help the grin spreading across his face, “that’s so badass!”


“Wha…” she seemed genuinely surprised. “You really think so?”


“Of course!” Cindy chimed in. “Hold on, how the hell didn’t we ever find out about all this?”


And so she explained to them about the garden shed, and her clients, and just what she’d been doing every day after they’d all gone to school, and it dawned on all of them just where that patented Miller Tenacity had really come from.


“But, wait!” A thought that seemingly had nothing to do with their conversation occurred to Carol, as they were often wont to do. “Why did you three decide to tell me now, of all times?”


The smiles fell off their faces. When neither of the others spoke, Tommy sighed. “It’s cuz we’ve been talking,” he tried to explain, “and we’ve realized that we’ve all… we’ve all got places we need to go. I never had any plans to stay for good in the first place, Cindy’s got so much to learn about magic, and Mike, well, Mike’s doing something.”


“Please don’t ask.”


“But also,” Cindy interjected. “We can’t just leave you behind, especially not now that we know just how much you’ve sacrificed for us! So we wanted to get everything out in the open, and decide what we should do as a family.”


Carol thought for a second, looking off somewhere over Cindy’s shoulder. “I think…” she said. “That you three are all grown up now, faster than I ever could have imagined. If you have a chance to see the world, then you should go for it. I have a few requests, of course, but all of you have your whole lives ahead of you. And I wouldn’t worry too much about me,” she added as Tommy opened his mouth. “I won’t be lonely. In fact, recently I actually… well, met somebody.”


“Wait, you’re dating again?” Cindy asked. “You’ve never dated.”


“Well, I just never met the right guy…”


Tommy leaned forward a little. “He must be a pretty special guy then.”


“We met through work.”


Mike frowned. “Aright, now that concerns me.”


She laughed. “Oh, don’t worry, he is a perfect gentleman. Keeps work and his personal life very separate.”


And so she gave them her blessings to head off in all directions, though there were several conditions. One of them was that they had to meet her new beau and all sit down to have dinner as a family. Of course they agreed.


They were all so curious about him anyway.


~~ o ~~


It took a week or so to find a good time to have that dinner. Apparently Carol’s boyfriend was a very busy man. That suited Cindy just fine. She had some preparations to do, after all.


The construction of a device capable of traversing the Other was complicated—according to Gil’s notes—but not as complicated as she imagined. It mostly depended on its size and capabilities, but all Cindy needed was something that could get her to where she needed to go. The first step was, of course, picking out a base for the enchantment. Cindy thought long and hard about it, pacing around her workshop in the abandoned house next door, until her eyes fell upon an old, wooden broomstick that was leaning against the wall in the corner. She had to laugh. Even if she wasn’t technically a witch anymore, that didn’t mean that she had to stop acting like one.


It was perfect.


She made a few comfort-based modifications, including finagling a carrier rack from an old bike onto its tail end for a bag, and Niko helped her acquire some of the needed ritual accoutrement. One part stumped them both, however. Gil’s instructions stated that in order to protect yourself from the Other’s influence, the device needed to be equipped with a ‘shard of reality’.


Cindy had no idea where to get something like that, or what it even was. One afternoon, however, Tommy happened to stop by while she was working and she explained her predicament. He thought about it seriously for a second, his chin in a hand. “Actually,” he said. “I think I might know where to get one of those.”


“Really?”


He nodded slowly. “Yeah. There’s this reality called ‘The Starfield.’ I guess it was near the site of some big battle or something. A bunch of realities were destroyed and a lot of their remains got embedded in the rock there, so now the whole thing shines like the night sky.” Glancing over at her, and seeing the nearly pleading look growing on her face, he sighed and grinned. “Well, I guess I promised Servus a fun adventure.”


Cindy would have tagged along as well, but they were there and back in a matter of hours. When they emerged from Mathilda, Servus’ eyes were as wide as saucers, so she was glad that the two of them had gone together. Apparently, Aurum wasn’t quite as pleased, as she spent the next several days listening to him try to tell her about it in his stumbling sort of way.


The shard was a small, blue crystal, and though it was very clear, if she squinted, Cindy thought she could see something reflected inside of it, like some sort of a memory. After painting a few symbols on her hands, she managed to graft the shard right into the handle of the broom.


There were still many things she needed to do, but they would have to wait, as tonight was finally the night. Cindy didn’t know why she felt nervous. Maybe it was because she’d be meeting the man that she was essentially leaving her mother with.


She could sense Tommy was feeling the same. His jaw was far tighter than usual as the two of them set the table. It was probably worse for him, since he had much more direct experience with their mother’s previous taste in men. Even Mike was present and helping, maybe a little too competently, as Carol was running out of tasks for him to do.


But finally, the appointed hour was upon them, and promptly at exactly six o’clock a black car pulled into the driveway. A very nice black car. The doorbell rang a second later, and in a rush, more flustered and red than they had ever seen her, Carol ran to let him in.


The man that stood a little awkwardly in the foyer was not necessarily tall, but for some reason it felt like he was. He was certainly not unattractive, with his salt and pepper hair gelled back and his suit neatly pressed.


“Tommy, Cindy, Mike,” Carol turned to them, “this is—”


But none of them actually heard what came after, as their eyes were all locked on the second man who walked through the door after him.


Niko Borozov looked just as confused as the Miller siblings. His mouth opened and shut several times like a gaping fish.


“What’s wrong?” Carol asked, rapidly turning to look at all of them. Then out of nowhere, she gasped. “Oh my god, I forgot that you all know each other.”


Cindy was the first one to snap out of her stupor. “You’re dating Mikhail Borozov?”


“We met… through work…” Carol repeated lamely.


“Nikolai?” Mikhail finally spoke. “These are friends of yours?”


“Uh, yeah, you could say that.”


For a man with such an intimidating presence, Mikhail was surprisingly awkward. He cleared his throat, and turned to the three siblings. “Well, this is even more of an odd first meeting than I imagined it being.”


“I’m so sorry,” Carol moaned into her hands.


But upon seeing her face, Mikhail burst into laughter. It was a very loud, surprisingly infectious laugh that filled the room. “It is fine, my Lisichka. I had a whole speech planned about not being intimidated by my line of work, despite how strange it may be. But it looks like I, uh, won’t be needing it.”


“I don’t think you’d need to, anyway,” Mike spoke up. “We’re not exactly… normal ourselves.”


Tommy sighed, and Cindy watched the tension visibly leave his shoulders. It appeared they’d come to the same conclusion. Mikhail Borozov was not a bad man. How could he be, when he was Niko’s father? “In fact,” he added, extending a hand out to the older man. “I’d say you’ll fit in just fine.”


After a split second hesitation, Mikhail took it, only for Tommy to pull him in close. “Do not ever marry my mother, cuz if that little shitheel becomes my stepbrother I swear to god…”


From behind his father’s back, Niko flipped Tommy off.


But this just caused Mikhail to laugh harder. “I’d say it’s a little early for talk like that.”


“We should probably have dinner first,” Carol chimed in.


And so they did. Even if they were all still reeling a little. Still, at the end of the night, they all agreed that there were far worse people that their mother could have ended up with. Somehow.


They were all plenty strange, anyway. Might as well throw two mobsters right on top of the pile of weird.


~~ o ~~


They all met at the East Branch to say goodbye. The mood was decidedly bittersweet, of course it was. All three of the Millers were leaving today. They’d already said goodbye to their mom, so now all that was left was to say farewell to the “nerd squad” as a certain someone would have called them.


Niko seemed almost too happy to see them go, but they all knew him well enough to pick out false bravado when they saw it. Tommy still had to pick at him though. “Hey, I never said I wasn’t gonna miss ya,” he muttered. “But you guys gotta get out of this nowhere town, like, for real.”


Cowell was equally as chipper, but it wasn’t as if that was a new emotion for him. Aurum was significantly more subdued, though it seemed a feeling born more of slight jealousy than anything. Servus was sulking. Tommy wouldn’t be taking him with him this time.


The real problem, for Cindy at least, was Marcell. The two of them stood a short distance away from the others, talking quietly.


“Are you sure you don’t wanna come along?” Cindy asked.


He chuckled bitterly. “I’ve had enough adventures for several lifetimes, I think. Besides, you don’t want an old fogey like me slowing you down. You’ve got a lot of things to see, after all.”


“I’m gonna miss you, you bastard,” Cindy hugged him to prevent him from seeing her tear up.


“You can come home wherever you want, you know,” he said gently. “I will certainly always be here.”


“I do know,” she sniffed a little. “There’s just something that feels so… final about this.”


“It always does, the first time. But you’ve got a whole cosmos to see, and the start of a new journey is always so exciting.” He wiped a tear from her cheek. “So go have some adventures, and then come back and tell me all about them.”


“I love you,” she whispered.


“I love you too.”


Eventually, they joined the group again, just in time to hear Niko ask Mike about what was in the rather conspicuous laptop bag he was carrying around.


“Noneya,” he muttered.


“Pardon?” Niko asked.


Mike’s facial expression did not deviate an inch as he stared Niko square in the face and simply said: “Noneya business.”


Niko looked like he wanted to punch him.


They all lingered there until way past when they should, and the sun was high in the sky by the time Cindy grabbed her broomstick, nervously fingering the numerous runes freshly carved into its wood, and said: “Well, I guess there’s nothing left to do but… do it.”


After one final round of hugs for everyone, the three Miller siblings took one last look around the library, and walked out into the sun together.


With a little trial and error, Tommy had managed to relocate Mathilda to just outside, and it was next to her that they all stood for a moment in silence.


“I have something for both of you,” Cindy eventually broke it, and placed in their hands two small stones. “Gil told me how to make them. Cellphones obviously don’t work out there, but these will. They’re called sending stones, and with them we can get in contact at any point.”


Tommy smiled broadly, and even Mike’s usual deadpan expression softened. He gripped the stone firmly, and some strange sort of tension seemed to leave his shoulders. “Thank you,” he said quietly.


“So, one month,” Tommy said. “We agree to meet back here in one month, right?”


Cindy nodded, but when they turned to Mike, he just shrugged. “I’ll try.”


“Mike…” Cindy frowned. “You remember what mom said.”


“Fine,” he sighed. “Yes, I’ll be there.”


“Don’t be too much of a stranger,” Tommy said, ruffling his hair, much to the shorter boy’s chagrin. “It’d be nice to actually get to know my little brother at some point.”


“Like I said: ‘I’ll try.’”


“I guess that’s all we can ask,” Cindy shrugged.


There were another few seconds of quiet. “Well,” Tommy grinned, trying to lighten the mood, “ladies first.”


“Alright,” she hopped onto the broom. “Let’s see if this works.”


She focused on the runes, and upon forcing her magic into the broom through them. Shortly, they started to glow a soft blue. She took a deep breath, and commanded it to rise. And unsteadily, jerking her around a little, it did. Cindy supposed it was something she’d have to practice to get the hang of.


“Welp,” she dared to take one hand off the pole to wave. “See you guys in a month.”


Slowly, she climbed higher and higher, and everything below her, everything she’d ever known, grew smaller and smaller until even the East Branch looked like a dollhouse.


But that was making her dizzy, so she looked upward instead, where, if she squinted, she could see the barest hint of roiling greens and purples behind the clouds. That’s where she was going, somewhere alien and strange, where the rules as she knew them no longer applied. And she was so very excited.


Back on the ground, the brothers watched her go. Mike only lingered for a second after she disappeared. He waved a small goodbye and then was simply gone. Tommy just shook his head. What a little shit.


He turned then to Mathilda, and hopped up her singular, creaky step. Now that he knew how to drive her, he could go anywhere he wanted, anywhere at all. But he smiled. There’d be plenty of time to see all those places he wanted to. His first trip alone had to be special. So he flipped the very chunky lever on the middle of her console back to automatic, and let her take him wherever she wanted.


~~ o ~~


The others didn’t stay very long. Niko—as always—had business to attend to and Marcell wanted to get out of the sun.


Only Cowell lingered, grinning inanely at Aurum as he caught her somewhat grumpy expression.


“Well?” she asked him, as she saw he wasn’t leaving. “What do you want?”


“Me? Nothing at all.”


“Then why are you still here?” A small amount of steam emerged from her mouth.


Though he raised his hands in response, Cowell’s expression didn’t budge an inch. “Fine. I’ll go if you want, but then you won’t get to know why I was still hanging around in the first place.”


“I’m not playing these games with you,” her eyes narrowed. “Not today.”


“Alright, alright,” he said. “The truth is, I was cleaning out the office the other day, and I found something you might be interested in.” Digging into his vest pocket, he fished out a small vial and held it up to the light. Inside was a strange red substance that rippled in such a way that it nearly resembled scales.


Aurum’s eyes widened. “B…” was all she could get out for a second. “But that’s my…”


“Your permanence, That’s right.” His grin grew somehow even broader.


“So you’re here to deal again.”


“Well, of course. That is sort of my entire shtick, after all.”


She did not look amused. “What else could you want from me?”


“Oh I’m sure there are any number of things I could ask for,” he shrugged. “But I dunno. Today I’m feeling a tad sentimental, I suppose. I will give you this back, no strings attached. But in exchange,” and here he paused for dramatic effect, “you aren’t allowed to hate me anymore.”


It took her a moment to register what he’d just said, but when she did, she burst into laughter. “Is that really all?” she asked. “All this time and you’re really just going to give it back?”


“Of course. It is the end, after all. Got to have all the leftover little strings tied up in a neat little bow.”


“I don’t think I will ever come to understand you.”


“Very few have,” he said, and after throwing her the vial, turned towards the door and waved. She clutched it in her hands and watched him go.


It wasn’t until much later that she realized he hadn’t even made her shake on it.


~~ o ~~


As evening fell over Ede Valley, Cowell opened the door to The Smiling Goat for what very well could have been the last time, admiring once again how well it stuck. He would certainly miss this place, and all the very strange people he had come to know.


This was the place that had made it all real, in a way. Made him feel like he was actually part of something, not just standing outside, looking in. It felt… sad to simply leave it all behind, after it had been home for so long.


But, ultimately, all things had to come to an end. The office was cleaned out, the expensive liquor all shipped off to the various other locations around the cosmos that would need them. It was time. Truly, there was nothing left for him to do here.


He stood behind the bar one more time, and grinned to no one in particular. “Thank you for listening to this nobody prattle on,” he said to the empty bar. “I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. It’s true that everything does have to end, unfortunate as it is. But… it’s also true that after every story ends, another one begins, doesn’t it?”

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