The next few hours were a blur.

Not in the sense of it being too busy to remember any detail, although they were busy. Mulin was dizzy from fatigue; he spent a moment in meditation, trying to clear the toxins of it from his body. It gave him only a momentary reprieve from his aching head, though it did much better in keeping his hands from shaking; still, he kept himself to the rougher work of chiselling grooves for the new elements of the spell-forms. Kralin smoothed them out and finished the finer detail. Arnak, the old Stonekin, toiled with passionate intensity; his body did not wear its nearly two centuries as well as some Archwizards did, and from time to time his step would falter, but his eyes and hands never did so; he shaped cold metal through the raw force of a Stonekin’s affinity for anything of the earth, bending it into the proper shapes to amend the existing forms, pressing the new pieces into the grooves the twins cut. At first he forced the metal to merge, as well, but it proved easier to simply have one of the twins go back and melt the metal together; at some point, Kralin took over the cutting entirely and left the welding to his exhausted twin.

Thinking was made no easier by the discordant feeling that built in the air. The flow of mana was unstable even here, now, where before it had been intense but quite straightforward; it was starting to eddy, and as the eddies gained strength the turbulence would grow.

Steadying the flow was in principle a simple task, but the sheer power involved in it was daunting.

They suffered no distraction. At some point Mulin was aware of familiar voices, but Kralin and Arnak together shooed them away.

Finally, the last form flowed under his fingers into its new shape.

The turbulence in this room was now the result of the already-turbulent flow surging backward through it; the forms themselves had a crude but effective symmetry to them, enough for the purpose at hand, and better for having that element of tolerance. A more rigid spell-form would have crumbled under the forces it would try to constrain.

Now they stood at the final threshold, the last gates sealing the mechanism proper.

“Once the door is closed,” Kralin said to Arnak, “give us to the count of a hundred before you divert the steam. We’ll do what we must in that time.”

“If this doesn’t work,” Arnak warned, turning dials and pulling back bolts, “I’ll have no choice but to to complete the font. If I can do so in time. If I can even shape that much mana at all.”

“If this doesn’t work, we won’t be in any condition to contest you,” Mulin pointed out.

“Then may the strength of your names go with you,” the Stonekin prayed. “You’ll need it.” One last wheel he spun, and then nodded his readiness.

The twins crowded against the jamb, wings slightly raised. Mulin drew a breath and let the mana flow through him. Even with the door still closed, it crackled over his skin, distorting the swirl of colour, making it flow.

It was a physical shock when the door cracked open; it hummed in the very air, sizzling over the pair of Magekin. They slipped sideways through the door as soon as it was wide enough to pass them, and Arnak shoved the stone panel shut once more.

As the bolts began to slide home, Kralin looked over. “Are you quite certain about this course, brother?” he murmured. “You look wretched from exhaustion; shouldn’t I be the one to…?”

“That’s exactly why I should do it this way,” protested Mulin. “I need to trust you, brother, not only to allow a great deal of mana to pass through you yourself – no small task, even without attempting to properly channel it – but to hold me to you, to keep your thoughts upon me. In my state I doubt I could manage both, maybe not the former at all – but once it begins I’ll be in no state to worry.”

The last bolt slid into place; Kralin’s head shifted slightly as he started counting. Some seconds in, he nodded. “Very well. Take as much care as you can, Mulin, and come back to me.” Leaning in, he touched his horns to his twin’s with a gentle tap. “I… I love you dearly, Mulin, and I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

Mulin sighed. Thoughts of love touched on painful things, now, but the sheer affection he felt for his twin chased most such cares away. “And as I love you, brother, to the last I will not let go.”

They held to each other some moments more, though Kralin’s expression remained somewhat distracted; finally he lifted his head. “It is time, or nearly so,” he announced.

Indeed, the upwelling of mana from below was flagging; the flywheels still spun, but now that very motion was sapping the flow, not feeding it. “Give me a moment to join the flow,” he instructed. “But then follow close. I will keep it to me, and shield you, but I will need your form to focus on.” He considered a moment, and added, “You might wish to set your clothing aside; I’m not so sure I can protect it as well as I can you yourself.”

With that, he turned, conscious of Kralin’s anxious motion as he disrobed, but not allowing himself to be distracted by watching. He swallowed, took a deep breath, and strode along the narrow spit of stone, toward the circular platform in the centre; the greatest wheel ground its way along, not ten feet below. The mana was so thick now that its buzz began to surpass even his body’s limits; it was painful, now, but the discomfort gave him focus of sorts.

He closed his eyes, wings half-spreading, mana crackling from their tips. The pain, he now felt, was from a dissonance of sorts; with greater harmony between himself and the rush of energy, it would vanish.

He cracked his eyes open for one last glance around, and saw that the colour flowed across his hide at a dizzying rate, whirling, shifting. He met his twin’s concerned eyes, and felt a smile touch his muzzle, a similar one flickering over Kralin’s.

And then he let himself tumble back, into the very heart of the surge of mana, and surrendered to it.

For an instant, the colours on his hide spun so fast, they blended together in incandescent white; then his physical being tore away.

An instant of agony gave place to a heady thrill of power. He’d first felt its like that day by the Nexus of Druumat, what felt like a small eternity ago, but that had been nothing. There, he’d simply felt the power coursing through him. Now, it was him – he was part of it, his frail physical form replaced instead by a glimmering shape of raw mana, held together by the very force of his own will. Fatigue had vanished; there was nothing left of him that could be tired.

The sheer height of awareness brought a thrill of its own. He could sense every detail of the mechanism, every curl of metal that had been charged and inlaid in the stone; not one swirl of the mana it threw off escaped his attention as it tumbled across the room. He gathered it all to him, feeling the surge grow stronger still, focused on that one tiny place he occupied.

Kralin stepped forward, mana no longer crackling over his hide. He lifted his hands, eyes wide with wonder; Mulin stared into them in turn, glimpsing a reflection of his own luminous form – much the same shape as ever, but with bright sparks of mana boiling off of him.

The rush of power could be his doom, if he let it. His shape was already starting to lose coherence.

He reached forward in turn. As his hands touched his twin’s, Kralin shivered; his colours flowed up along his arms and from there along his body. Mana surged through him, but it was under Mulin’s will, now; it did not bite at Kralin’s hide, it danced, it caressed. Kralin arched forward, wings quivering, muzzle stretching up.

Even in his insubstantial form, Mulin craved that touch. Muzzle met muzzle, matching move for move; one a perfect reflection of the other, but crafted of energy rather than flesh.

The wheels were slowing. Mulin diverted a scrap of his attention, pouring power down into them. The motes of mana drifting off of him started to go the other way; not boiling upward, but falling from his feet and his arms and the back edge of his spread wings. The rest of his attention he focused on gathering more back to him, keeping his form a perfect match for his twin’s, reforming himself anew from the impossible torrent of power surging through him.

Mulin tugged Kralin closer, directly into the heart of the flow; Kralin gasped as the raw mana coursed over him, but it was only the fringe – enough to fill him, enough to excite, but not enough to harm. The vast majority of it coursed through Mulin now, sustaining him even as it tried in vain to undo him. It was more perilous than fire, this scintillating stream; but it was also unimaginably more wondrous. It did not rage, did not bite at him as fire might; it beckoned, it sang, it danced through him. It adored him, and it wanted him to surrender, to be a part of it.

It would be so easy to join it, so delicious to let himself sink into pure, distilled mana. But it would be a hollow pleasure. True happiness was there with him, excess mana wafting from his hide in a shining cloud.

True fulfilment was not with the magic, but with his twin.

His left hand unwound from Kralin’s right; unconsciously, so too did Kralin release him, echoing the motions he made. Right hand to partner’s muzzle; left hand following partner’s right, stroking along his arm and down. Mulin’s insubstantial fingers were not entirely stopped by Kralin’s hide, but pressed into it ever so slightly, feeling him deeper than ever could have been before, drawing swirls of colour in their wake; similarly, Kralin’s fingers dipped into his surface, making ripples and eddies in the rush of mana.

Each found his twin’s raging arousal; each arched into his twin’s touch. They overlapped for one glorious moment, one instant of pleasure that the physical world alone could never have offered them.

Through the pleasure, Mulin became aware of a shift in the pressure of mana. The reservoir was equalizing; it was working. The torrent was still dazzling in its intensity, but it must eventually end. He could lose himself in his twin, but if he wasn’t careful, he would be lost.

He spun a thread of essence, cast out with his thought; he found the crystal of his own discarded knife. That would do. If he found himself without the strength to fully restore himself, he could store his essence there, to wait until he was once again exposed to enough power to reform. He had an escape.

The knife spun and glittered in the air; in spite of himself, Kralin looked over at the motion, staring as Mulin’s fingers slid around the hilt; after a moment, Kralin grasped it with him, holding it point-up between them. He didn’t wholly understand, but that didn’t matter; it was close at hand, there if Mulin needed it. He could feel the lattice of crystal, could feel it pulse in time with Kralin’s racing heart.

It’d be enough. For now, he got back to more pleasing matters.

Under normal conditions, their touches to each other would have been so gentle as to be nearly maddening in their own hesitation. This, however, was far from ordinary. Even though Mulin was careful not to touch beneath the surface, and Kralin just as cautious in turn, the interface of flesh and mana drew an intensity all its own. The awareness of Kralin’s pleasure served to remind him in turn of how it would feel, heart racing, the thrill coursing through his body…

In the same instant that Kralin surged upward, Mulin felt the flow of mana flicker.

With the last surge of magic he reshaped himself, gathered matter, formed it into a copy of the form before him; with the final flicker of mana he reincarnated himself – and the thrill of power gave place in that same instant to the thrill of pleasure; they thrust together, each into the other’s clenching fist, in a hurried and perfectly synchronized climax.

And even as the first jet of each one’s seed arced toward the other’s body, a thunderous cacophony of shattering stone sounded beneath their feet.

The platform lurched, but for a few seconds they held together; Mulin cared only for the wonder in Kralin’s eyes as a few more quick pulses followed.

Then common sense reasserted itself. They shoved themselves toward the ramp, tumbling down it.

They landed in a panting heap, safe – or safer, anyway – on the more solid stone around the sides of the chamber. The platform they had just occupied stood for the moment, but fragments of rock spun up from below. Perhaps they would have been safe where they had been, perhaps not; even where they were, shards ricocheted from the web of force they hurriedly spun together.

And then peace settled; the echoes of noise faded, leaving only their panting breath.

Mulin extricated his arms; Kralin disentangled their legs and was first to stand. He glanced over the edge of the bore, and gasped.

Joining him, Mulin had to agree. The flow of mana and the motion it forced had, in the end, been too much for the flywheels, weakening the stone; at the same time, the mana had been all that bound them together. When the mana had faltered, the wheels’ own furious motion had torn them apart. The font was no more.

And all around them, mana felt… normal. Well, mostly; there were echoes of turbulence still lingering, and Mulin couldn’t help but wince at what that turbulence might do as it spread outward.

But in its wake was normalcy. There was no longer the intense saturation, all the mana for countless miles around gathered into one place; it had dispersed to a more natural level. They’d done it. They’d actually done it!

A few guilty moments were spent cleaning each other up; neither of them really wanted to explain what had gone on between them just now, to try to make people understand that the erotic moment between them had not been the goal, but merely an incidental consequence of that close union. And just as they were finishing that, the bolts started to rattle back.

Kralin dressed in a hurry; Mulin reclaimed his knife, which they’d set aside in that scramble. They were both standing – more or less presentable; Mulin was still unclad, but decent – when the door began to open; not merely a crack, this time, but being drawn back all the way.

Arnak was there, of course, eyes wide with amazement only made that much stronger by a sort of professional curiosity; Vhish as well, and Kisa; in the corridor beyond them, dark Sachi eyes gleamed – Vhish’s patient had apparently been made well enough to accompany her.

“I don’t know what’s more incredible,” Arnak breathed. “That you moved that much mana around, or that you’re still on your feet to greet us afterwards.”

Vhish squinted between them; after a moment’s pause, she asked, “Why are there two of Kralin?”

Kisa started, and looked a little closer.

Arnak looked over his shoulder. “They’re twins, aren’t they?”

“They are,” the Stormkin confirmed, “but for all they may have started identical… Vhish is right. Mulin had a bit more muscle on him. Now…”

“Now,” Sharliss broke in, “he is remade in his twin’s image of the moment. But see how they stand, it is not so hard tell one from another; the one still stands as ever he did.”

“It’s a bit complicated,” Kralin sighed. “But if you don’t mind, can it wait until after we’ve had a chance to rest?”

Mulin didn’t feel in the least bit tired anymore, not physically; his reformation had been patterned after Kralin’s well-rested body. He didn’t need sleep.

But as the awareness that they were done began to run its course, it allowed awareness of the cost to sink in.

He didn’t need or want to sleep. He needed to mourn. So much blood had been shed to bring them this far; lives lost in the building of the font, cast aside in a vain effort to keep them from it. And then, most pointless of all…

Mulin sagged, shivering as Kralin gathered him in close. Four Winds bear you high and far, Liri. You showed me why I was doing this; this triumph is for you.