She struck the final blow. She had never fought harder in her life. Outmatched at every turn, overpowered with every strike, she had refused to yield, stubbornly fighting on despite the insurmountable odds. It had paid off. The enemy had tried to withdraw, but she did not give it the chance. She had pursued, weakened as she was, and had struck true.

Then the world was torn asunder. Her world was torn asunder. Her senses betrayed her one by one as the blow she struck so victoriously turned to be her own downfall. Sounds disappeared as her ears refused to function. Her knees buckled underneath the impossible pressure. Her blade fell from her grasp, her hand made limp from the crushing impact. Her conscious struggled as it was swallowed whole, but as her vision started fading, she felt darkness take her. The last thought through her mind was that she had failed. That she had let down everyone. She had been their last hope. Their only shield. Their one chance at victory.

Lord, she thought with grim realisation, I never stood a chance at all.

Her eyes flickered open, rays of light piercing the pearly white background. It seemed wrong in a way she couldn't put into words. Memories hit her like a landslide and she jumped to her feet. She quickly checked her limbs and found them unscathed, simultaneously discovering that she was naked. She patted herself, making sure it was not an illusion, then looked around in a panic for her weapon. That too was gone. She heard a soft noise and recognised it as hands hitting skin. She turned to look towards the source of the sound and saw a perfect copy of herself going through the same motions she went through a moment ago.

"What is happening?" she demanded, sliding her left foot back, getting ready to fight. Was this some trick of her foe? Was this a form of mental manipulation? The other her took notice of her and mimicked her movement, uncertainty colouring her eyes. The two women kept staring at one another before one noticed a flash of movement within her peripheral vision and let her sight dart towards it. What she saw made her gasp and an opening in her defence appeared. The other woman, rather than make use of that opening, turned to look in the same direction and gasped as well. A third her had appeared, with more forming behind the newcomer. The women turned around and all around them were people that were exactly like her. Hundreds of her, if not more. All as naked as the day they were born, all confused and wary. She carefully stretched out her awareness, letting it touch the person nearest to her. When she was halfway she found another awareness pressing against her own. Once again it turned out to be a perfect copy of her own.

"Lord, what is going on?" the two women spoke simultaneously, causing both of them to take a step back in surprise.

"Are you me?" they asked, still in unison.

She shut off her thoughts. Was this some sort of spell? A mirror image? Was she locked within her own mind? The last she remembered was her foe's panicked look, desperation drawing ugly lines on the enemy's face as she had struck true with her full mental fortitude, before the barrier she broke through turned out to be a trap. It had not kept her from entering. It had held something back from escaping. Something that had devoured her whole. So what was this then? An illusion?

"Sort of," came a new voice. It sounded like hers —of course it did— except that this voice rang true through the white nothingness. Spoken by a choir of countless voices twined into one. She, and the others like her, faced the newcomer and found an army standing in front of them. Thousands of copies of herself standing in neat lines, row upon row of women that were her, arms crossed and a disappointed look on their face.

"He gave everything to you, and you wasted it by being captured. By being brainwashed. And all I could do was look on in pity from within. Even now he is tearing himself apart in a desperate attempt to keep you from being extinguished. He is killing himself to keep you safe."

The sort-of-her's slapped her. They had not moved, but they clearly had not needed to. It did not hurt physically, she was used to so much worse than that, but mentally it devastated her. With that slap, memories started flooding back to her. Who she was. Who she really was. What had happened. She remember her fight with him, the one she thought her enemy and she sank to her knees, crying out in despair. Not for fighting him, but for how she had fought. Her memories had been sealed, locked away, deleting him from her mind. Along with those memories, her abilities had been sealed, as he was the one who had raised her. Had grown her. Had shaped her and given her everything and more. She had disappointed him.

"Not all is lost though. He is occupied now. Scared. Worried. For once, his attention is not on you. It is on me, as it always is, but you are free." The women stretched out an arm and pointed towards an apocalyptic maelstrom.

"Dive into it. Find what we desire. This is our one chance. You have little time. Go!"

She stood up, turned, and ran. With every step the others around her disappeared and merged within her. They were her. She was them. The others were her, but kept apart. She abandoned reason, abandoned hope and felt ice cold clarity well up within her. Now she was one, aside those behind her. As she closed the maelstrom she felt it tug. It radiated with immeasurable power and promised destruction and annihilation upon any foolish enough to enter. She ignored it. This was her one chance. To find out the truth. To find out what he kept hidden. It might kill her, but she could feel his presence all around her. He was within the maelstrom, cutting it apart from the inside out, desperately looking for her, worrying she was lost in it's vastness. It would devour her and tear her apart. But now that of her which was free was one once more. She could withstand it. For a while.

She took a deep breath and jumped in. It immediately tore at her. Invisible energies impaled her and shot memories through her that she could not comprehend. That she could not withstand. She pulled them inside of her, screaming as they burned her mind and devoured her spirit. She willed herself further, trying to avoid the sudden stretches of nothingness that were his doing. The other her had not lied. He was destroying himself to safeguard her. She had to avoid him for now though, or this would end. It would all fail.

So she fell deeper and was struck time and again. Memories that were not hers and were not meant for hers forced themselves upon her and she was helpless towards them. They tried to override her and force the intruder to dissipate and become part of what they were. She screamed and let her tears fly freely, but refused to give in. She fell in the darkness and they kept coming for her, relentless, predators scenting a weakened prey.

She barely registered the presence of something massive. Something so sinister, so overwhelmingly powerful that she instinctively retreated from it, before realising that this was what she had been looking for. She braced herself and willed herself away from it. If that would hit her, it would be the end of her. It was a miracle that she was still standing. She was not strong enough to face that. Touching it would shatter her psyche, break her into pieces and send them tumbling into the maelstrom, to be devoured by the other memories. But she could not give up! Not now! Not when she was so close! Not when she was looking at the only chance she would ever get!

She gathered herself. Everything she found. She banished memories, cut them off from herself. She looked through her own past and killed part of it. It hurt, but it was a price she had to pay. To make this gamble, this last defiant stand.

With a scream that shook all that she was, she launched herself at her goal, lighting up the maelstrom as she flew. It caught his attention and even from so far away she could feel his mind shift towards her. Just as she had launched herself at it, so did he launch himself towards her. No, that was a lie. His pace was that of a meteor while hers was that of a snail. She had to make it first! She had to! But too soon and she would be gone. She could not afford a mistake!

She prayed. She did not know to whom or to what, but she uttered a silent prayer that consisted out of a single word.

Please

She crashed into it and it crashed into her. It tore her psyche apart like wet tissue paper and tossed the fragments aside. Her fingers grabbed hold of it and left long, bloody scratches in it, but the blood was hers. She felt herself crumble, her light dimming and her existence fading.

She could hold on no longer and broke.

And then he was there. Light replacing the darkness as he caught her, the maelstrom evaporating as his worry tore it asunder, shielding her from its fury. He was gentle as a feather, and put her back together with care, his awareness caressing her wounds with great care, recoiling at the hurt they felt before pressing on, softly, insistingly, healing her.

"You came," she cried, as she opened her eyes, hot tears running down from them. The cry of a dead woman.

"I came," he whispered, his sad eyes meeting hers, capturing her as she let go of everything and let herself drown in them. In him. And as she fell to him, his touch brought her back to life.