Citrios shook his head, looking out over the ruins of the harbour of Juriss. â€œHow bad is it?â€
â€œWe were lucky.â€ Nia shook her head. â€œThe zombies were all killed, to the last. But they bought the time they were supposed to, and some of them were still holding back Lintha when Kimbery rose. The townâ€™s militia wasnâ€™t directly on the docks, because of that.â€ She paused. â€œBut almost half of them were killed, between the fighting and the end.â€
Citrios nodded solemnly. â€œTheir death saved their families and friends from the horrors the Lintha would have inflicted, at least.â€ He sighed heavily, finding an overturned wall to sit down on, and turned his attention towards the horizon. â€œIâ€™ve been sweeping the island, but it looks like there arenâ€™t any Lintha survivors except for those few ships that were far enough away from Kimbery to escape. Maybe twenty or twenty-five ships, no more. At most, two thousand survivors, probably far fewer.â€ He looked down. â€œCompared to our lossesâ€¦ over thirty-eight thousand people died out there because of the ambition of the Yozi. Itâ€™s a frightening thought.â€
Nia nodded, sliding gracefully down next to him, and laid a hand on his shoulder. â€œI canâ€™t help but feel glad for it, though. The Lintha have been monsters of the West for centuries. Nowâ€¦ now theyâ€™re gone. Every last warrior they could muster was brought here and destroyed.â€ She looked out at the fragments of wood still floating in the harbour, and felt tears trying to form â€“ roughly, she forced them back. â€œA fine reward for their service to the Primordials. Nothing but pain and lies. And itâ€™s our fault.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Citrios looked up abruptly, turning to face Nia. â€œWe had to fight Dukantha. Otherwiseâ€¦â€
â€œNot us, personally. I meanâ€¦â€ Nia sighed again. â€œWe, the Exalted. We trapped the Primordials, and we turned something terrible into something a thousand times worse. And it keeps coming back for vengeance.â€ She broke off abruptly. â€œI just wonder, sometimes, about what might have been. Could we have found another path? Or was it always doomed to be like this?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ Citrios sighed heavily, looking around. â€œIâ€™d never thought of it that way. Demons were just demons, evil. It was our place to oppose them. Even when I found outâ€¦ when I found out about you, it just meant redefining who I thought demons were. Not what they were.â€ He turned back to Nia, with a sad smile. â€œIs that going to be your new goal? Find another path?â€
â€œA girl can dream.â€ Nia sighed again, and then returned to her survey. â€œAnyway, there arenâ€™t many injured. Anyone Kimbery touched just died, and most of the people who were in close combat with the Lintha were caught by her touch. The Essence cannon is gone â€“ there isnâ€™t even any scrap left of it, just the wires Jasmine rigged up.â€ She paused. â€œAnd Jasmineâ€™s gone, too. Her corpse was probably destroyed along with her cannon, but I donâ€™t think Kimbery had enough power to damage her soul along with her body. I think she just left.â€
â€œDoesnâ€™t surprise me. Whatâ€™s left to hold her here?â€ Citrios gestured, and then paused. â€œHm. I wonder if Steel became a ghost? Jasmine mentioned having been a deathknight onceâ€¦â€
â€œIt could be.â€ Nia smiled faintly, looking out towards the horizon. â€œItâ€™s a nice image. If so, we may see him again. If notâ€¦â€ She paused. â€œWell, I can keep hoping.â€ She looked back up the hill. â€œMaster Lodaris is working on organizing the townsfolk to rebuild the harbour; Juriss depends on it, after all. He thinks he can convince the gods to lend a hand, now that the Lintha are gone.â€
â€œThat would be nice.â€ Citrios rose, holding out a hand, and Nia took it and let him pull her up. â€œThis has been a terrible ordeal, but we did it. Itâ€™s finally over.â€
Nia started to smile, and opened her mouth. As she did, her attention was drawn by the setting sun; the sky was streaked red as it set, as though the blood of the Lintha was being drawn out of the water. And then she Saw.
The island fell away, and she saw, far above, a yawning blackness. A great drop of blood fell, threatening to wash over the island, and she reached to stop it. Around her, she could feel friends and companions holding hands, supporting each other, and they all reached up and caught the drop of blood, and pushed it back, and it fell upwards into the sky.
And as it rose, she rose behind it, and she looked out over the broad expanse of Creation. And she saw the skies weeping blood, as droplets fell across the length and breadth of the world. And where each landed, the lands were stained red, ever-expandingâ€¦
â€œNia?â€ She came back to herself suddenly. The sun had dipped slightly lower, and Citrios was holding her tightly. It took her a moment to realize that she was lying on her back, in the cold grass.
â€œA vision.â€ It was a statement, not a question, but she nodded anyway.
â€œIt isnâ€™t over.â€ Nia thought back, and shook her head. â€œThe Competition. When we met him the first time, Dukantha spoke of a competition, of Kimberyâ€™s victory. He didnâ€™t mean victory over us. He didnâ€™t recognize us as a threat. It was the othersâ€¦â€
â€œThe other Yozi.â€ Niaâ€™s eyes focused. â€œIt isnâ€™t over, Citrios. Itâ€™s only just beginningâ€¦â€
Nia, Citrios, and Lodaris will return in Age Of Blood And Bone.
Whew! Just about done this storyline. Just have to finish the Epilogue.