Title: Final Strike

Author: Aerial Bard

Rating: PG for un-detailed violence

Disclaimor: I don't own Florian or anything for any of Mercedes Lackey's books. Like the rest of you, I am merely a devoted fan.

Author's Notes: This is based off of Florian, Karal's "Companion" from the Mage Storms series. But you'd have to be pretty dense not to get that. This is my own version of what might have happened, and if it goes against anything written about it that or any other book, I'm sorry, I tried to do thorough research. This also takes place before Vanyel's time and subsequently, before the Mage ban. Thanks for reading, please R&R, I will love you forever. :)


From his vantage point on top a cliff, Herald-Mage Floryn looked over the armies that stretched across the countryside. To his right was a swarm of blue and silver, with a few green and white dots barely making a dent in the overall color. To his left the Karsite army raged, the metallic gold of their sun pendants flashing in the evening light. His own uniform, a bleached white, seemed inconsequential against the barrage of other colors.

You know better than to think that, he chided himself. He was hardly inconsequential in this battle, and despite his deep wish to just go home and live out the rest of his days in peace, he knew his own importance, and couldn't abandon it. They say hindsight brings perfect vision, but perhaps height does too, he thought, looking down at the rows of armies; from this height he could not only see the battle, but his place in it.

Years from now they would call him a traitor. He would be stricken from all Heraldic records. They would say his Companion abandoned him after he went mad, and no one could stop him from what he was about to do. However, stories are often different than the truth. Trala still stood next to him, a gleaming white against the orange sunset, her whole body tensed in purpose and defense. She was his guard, to make sure that no one could stop him.

: Are you ready, love?: She mindspoke him, concern in her voice. Although she knew why he was doing this, and approved, Floryn knew it was not easy for her to face what would happen next.

He spared a glance away from the battle field to give her a comforting smile, "Don't worry about me. Just pray for all of those people down there."

Prayer. Not something most Heralds resorted to. Heralds were always self-reliant, and while they could preach about there being no one true way, most of them believed there was no way at all. So had he. Until he received a quick dose of faith by a very obnoxious cat.

As if catching onto his thoughts, the large Firecat looked up and winked at him. Riene had come to him almost a season ago, when the rest of the world was busy with the fall planting season. Floryn remembered the cat's first appearance with a fond, reminiscent smile, though he was sure that at the time the Firecat hadn't appreciated a large vase crashing over his head.

: No, and if I hadn't been sent to guide you I would have clawed your eyes out right then.:

Floryn furrowed his brow, : I wish you wouldn't do that.: he 'spoke, referring to the cat's annoying habit of listening in on his thoughts.

With a particularly feline shrug, Riene resumed his overview of the field. Floryn rolled his eyes. Cats. He'd choose Trala over the Firecat any day of the week, though it might not be helpful to let Riene know that. Messengers from Gods usually didn't like to know that they were in second place.

At the time he had wondered why Vkandis had chosen him, a non-Karsite, "demon-spawn", to be the receiver of one of his avatars. Now, with the battlefield lying below him like an elaborate game of hinds and hounds, the answers were finally clear.

He was needed, to make this sacrificial alliance on behalf of both their countries. His death, the death of an enemy, the death of a hero, would show that there were some willing to die to stop this war. But with his death would also come the death of both Sun-Priests and Heralds. It was murder, suicide, betrayal of all those who had trusted him with Valdemar's safety. And years from now he would be known as the villain who abandoned his country in a fit of madness. But a few would take his message to heart, and the beginnings of an alliance could take place between Karse and Valdemar. At least, that's what Riene said.

As for why he was chosen… he'd never quite figured that out. His father and mother, both woodworkers, had never instilled any real religious beliefs into him. He supported the basic view of there being no one true way, and let those of faith bask in it, while never choosing to lay in that sun. He'd always believed in the simpler things: life itself and his own personal responsibility; and didn't particularly give any concern to if there was a higher power.

But perhaps that was Vkandis' intent. If Riene was correct, there was a lot of corruption in the Karse courts, and the priests were at the center of it. An impartial might have been needed to go along with the plan. In any case, it really wasn't Floryn's place to speculate about it. He had a duty, and like any good Herald, he would do it, despite confusing orders.

There were only a few more moments left, the sun was already three-quarters set below the mountainous front. Trala walked toward him, her usually steady hooves shaking with each step. There was no more need to guard; any one coming now wouldn't be able to stop him. Riene jumped on her saddle as Floryn climbed into his accustomed place. At least he would die with those he loved surrounding him. Trala's eyes' were large and filled with unshed tears as she looked up her Chosen for the last time. But it was too late for regrets. They knew what needed to be done.

Floryn took a deep breath, slowly gathering node energies about himself and through Trala's channeling. But he didn't find the usual comfort he felt running through the ley lines. Instead of the calm that one would assume accompanied certain death, all he felt was fear. Uncontrollable thoughts ran through him, distorted and panicky. They would hate him for this. War would rage for centuries. Heralds would be banned from saying his name.

He shook his head to clear it. This battle would be stopped, these lives would be saved, this sacrifice would succeed. And in the end, this battle determined everything.

He stroked Trala's mane one more time, no longer bothering to keep the tears from his eyes, and raised shaky hands. Finally, the sun was completely behind the mountains. The battlefield was illuminated with both moonlight and Magelight. Below him the first Herald-Mages were crossing the front lines. An assembly of Priests in black robes gathered and began their targeting. So many lives…

To save them. To save them all.

He invoked his Fetching Gift, amplified with Trala and Riene's help, and the two groups began to move toward each other slowly, their feet lifted from the ground to speed across the dirt. Heralds and Priests alike searched for their unknown attackers in bewilderment as they quickened, racing toward the center of the field on invisible tracks.

He felt heat begin to sear the back of his neck as the sun rose behind him. A gasp went through the crowd; the Sun-Priests gaped at the miracle of Vkandis as the Heralds stared at his white robes illuminated in a fiery glow.

: Heralds!: he proclaimed; magnified by whatever divine powers Riene possessed so even those with out Mindspeech could hear him, :Worshippers of Vkandis! Please, hear this call for peace!:

: There's no time for eloquent speeches, Floryn,: Riene said, : Time is short.:

Tears streamed from his eyes as he looked at all the people, staring wide-eyed at him. : But can't they understand? Why must it go on like this?:

The Firecat curled up against him, drying his tears on his soft coat. : Now.: he said regretfully.

Floryn nodded, carefully spinning the threads of energy he had gathered earlier, Channeling through Trala and Riene to expand the attack farther. The sun reached its midday position and the whole world seemed bathed in Vkandis' light. He swallowed the last of his tears, and looked straight at the sun, blazing in power, the last of his preparations for a Final Strike. Vkandis help me-help us all.

Time melted. Colors swirled around each other and shapes ran into undistinguishable smudges until orange and yellow light was all that could be seen. Bright yellow and orange light.

Floryn opened his eyes, not realizing he'd shut them. He was surrounded in black, despite the light that still burned at his eyes. In front of him was a woman he didn't recognize except for perhaps, having seen her in dreams-or nightmares. She was covered in a gray shroud, which showed only her eyes.

The agitated black that had surrounded them subdued to a peaceful, tranquil gray emptiness as he looked up at her. Her eyes shone with the gold radiance that illuminated the room.

"My Lady," Floryn said, bowing, realizing she was no mortal creature.

She only smiled and guided him back to his feet. "Not 'Lady', I am only a servant for the greater powers."

"Vkandis?"

"He is among them."

Floryn looked around him again, no longer afraid of where he was, but curious. "Who are you?"

"I am what most fear and few come to willingly. Why ask my name? Since you have come to me as the exception, you already know me."

"The Shadow-Lover."

She smiled, her eyes radiant.

"Then it succeeded," he said slowly, the events of those final moments coming back to his faded and fuzzy mind.

"In a sense," Death said, as if trying to remain optimistic, but her eyes betrayed Her, and She turned to him in sorrow. She took him into her arms, enfolding his body, and brought him to the ground to sit beside her. "Infallible plans do not always go according to plan. What They believed would bring peace has only furthered the animosity between the warring nations. Though your message has reached a few, the public has taken it to ill view and has used it to further the gap."

He gaped at Her, "But-but that's what Riene said would happen, anyway. How do you know it's not working?"

But the look in her eyes told him She was right. "I'm sorry."

"What about Riene and Trala?"

"They have come to me also."

"So they're-we're-dead?"

"Your body no longer exists on your world, but your spirit lives on. You may return, if you choose."

Return to what? "What of Valdemar and Karse?"

She bowed her head so that Floryn could no longer see her eyes, "Their feud will continue. Others will come to stop the warring, but it will be unsuccessful. They will maintain their foolish fight until the world as they know it is threatened, many years from now."

"And then?"

"Then they may stop, but each side needs convincing that they can trust each other."

"Why are you telling me this? What can I do?"

"You can return. Many years from your own time, when this fragile alliance is beginning, and help it grow."

"Alone?"

"No, there will be others. A boy, and his teacher. Plus-" She paused and looked contemplatively at him, "Not all that witnessed what you did were unaffected. The Son of the Sun, Altra, believes in the alliance, but he will be outvoted by the corruption beginning in the Karse courts. He will help you."

"How?"

"Are you always so curious, Herald?" She asked lightly.

He didn't respond to her smile, and asked seriously, "You would not expect me to make a decision like this lightly, would you?"

"No, I'm afraid impulsive thinking will destroy in the end," She sighed, and somehow he knew She was thinking of his own futile charge.

"Then how?"

"You can come back as a Companion: Florian," and he noticed She pronounced his name differently before he heard exactly what she said.

"I-I can do that?" He said as her suggestion registered. She laughed playfully at him, "Of course. Where do you think Companions come from, any way?"

His mouth hung open, "Heralds?"

"With the exception of Grove Borns, yes."

He struggled to return to the conversation. "What can I do once I return?"

"That will be for you to figure out."

"And if I don't?"

"I'm not sure." And for once, She did not seem to know of an ineffable plan. "The boy who you are helping may not succeed, and the other Companions may not support the alliance. Velgarth, as you know it, may be destroyed."

"And if I do?"

"I know We have already asked you to do a lot. And there would be no difference if you do this. You will most likely live alone. You will never Choose, and you will be virtually outcaste by the other Companions for supporting the alliance. However, Florian, you will help this alliance triumph, and complete what was unsuccessful in your own life."

He heard the name She used before She even realized what She'd said. He had already been named, and thus, already had his path chosen. Yet, somehow, this didn't bother him. He knew what he would choose anyway, and this was only reaffirmation.

He smiled, "When do I go?'

"Time doesn't exist here; you can go whenever you wish."

"Now then." She nodded slowly, and he stared into her golden eyes as they encompassed him. Once again, there was only the fiery light as it panned out, becoming less harsh, and then farther away. He felt the nothingness beneath him harden, and awaken as soft grass. The light was nothing but sun now, as Florian stretched his long legs in the morning dew. He nickered softly, throwing his head back to shake his now silky mane, and set off across the field.