And back to Heaven!
â€œThat is your plan?â€ Cyrus sneered as he faced off against Serafin, speaking quickly before her words could sink in. â€œYou approached us with this idea once before, Gaia. We gave you our answer then. The Yozi will not take humans into their souls. They will never bow their heads.â€
Serafin shook her head in frustration, looking behind her. The Perfect stepped up smoothly, laying a hand on her shoulder for support. â€œShe Who Lives In Her Name disagrees, Sacheverell. She is of the opnion that you were not entirely truthful to us back then.â€
Many of the assembled gods were beginning to murmur again. Serafin had explained Gaia's gambit to force the Primordials and the Incarnae onto a field where they could understand each other, but they were clearly becoming lost. Sensing their confusion, the Perfect elaborated. â€œCenturies ago, as we raged within our prison, Gaia came to us. Secretly, she showed us how she, long ago, had come to understand the world. She offered us that gift, so that we could understand humans and gods alike.â€
Iselsi Thelos broke in before the Perfect could speak further. â€œYou offered us lies. You claimed that you could broker a peace between the gods and the Primordials, but Sacheverell looked into the future and saw where such a path would lead. Ruin and slavery, for all time. An end to any of our hopes, replaced by subjugation. The Incarnae would not be satisfied until we had given up the last of our pride, and abased ourselves before them.â€
Gaia looked at the Incarnae, who sat and watched the conflict wordlessly. She spoke softly. â€œThat is never what they wanted.â€
â€œThen what?!â€ Parakk shouted, all of the fury and sorrow of Cytherea boiling through him and lending power to his voice. â€œYou locked us away in the darkness, and now you claim you never even wanted our fealty? Why?â€
â€œYou can't see it?â€ The voice that spoke echoed from the thrones, and everyone's eyes turned. Though the Sun remained stubbornly silent, Luna had opened her mouth. â€œDon't look with the eyes of the Primordials towards their slaves. Look with the eyes of the Conduits, towards their children.â€
Parakk swallowed heavily, taking a step back from the endless sorrow in Luna's eyes. â€œYou aren't... you were...â€
â€œOur respect.â€ The Perfect spoke with bitter irony, his words carrying the precise intonations of She Who Lives In Her Name. â€œThey came before us, wishing to be acknowledged as our children, instead of our slaves. We responded by binding them with oaths until their devotion turned to hatred, and then responded with shock when they rose up against us. The gods sit on our thrones and mimic our hatreds, and the world turns dark.â€ He shook his head, as worlds away a Primordial sighed. â€œTruly, they are our children.â€
â€œNo.â€ Thelos spoke again, but uncertainly. He looked to Cyrus, who was watching Serafin with hatred. â€œThe Incarnae would never be satisfied with something so small. Cyrus, you said...â€
â€œHe lied.â€ Serafin's voice was flat. â€œHe saw the Yozi fragmenting under the decision, so he removed it.â€
Cyrus's shock twisted into rage in a moment. â€œI never lied!â€ He waved his hand around the room. â€œYou are sick, Gaia! Yes, I looked into the future, and I saw the Primordials brought low! I saw them bowing their heads and acknowledging the gods as equals â€“ as though these paltry things are even a fragment of our glory! I saw the Yozi break in two, some joining with the gods and abandoning their kin at the first sign of freedom! I saw any chance that we had to gain revenge, to repair the world and make it as we always meant it to be, vanish!â€ His eyes burned with hate as he took a step towards Serafin. â€œI never lied, Serafin. Your patron is merely too pathetic to see the truth. They would take our thrones and pull us down into the dirt with them, and nothing glorious will remain in this world. Where you see equality, I see the end.â€
â€œUnfortunately, you don't have a choice anymore.â€ Serafin met Cyrus's gaze evenly, ignored the looks passing between Parakk and Sillia behind him. Iselsi Thelos seemed transmuted to stone, watching the proceedings grimly. â€œAutochthon is awake. You were right to try and stop him, Thelos, but you failed. I have an agent in the Imperial Palace right now, and it will come online in minutes. When that happens, the world will change, and you no longer have the time to stop it. Even if the four of you decide to fight, and win, it won't stop the power from activating.â€ She shook her head, and Gaia echoed her voice as she spoke directly to the Yozi. â€œThe Competition is over. You can incorporate your souls and work to join the Incarnae as equals, free of your prison on the conditions that you become a part of the Mandate of Heaven, or you can reject it, allow your Conduits to die, and give up another chance to realize what you've been doing wrong.â€ Both voices were flat. â€œTwice you have rejected my aid, and millions have died. This is the final attempt.â€
Cyrus took another step forwards. â€œAnd that is all? We agree to join your love-in and everything is forgiven?â€ His eyes narrowed as he hissed the words. â€œI murdered your daughter, Serafin. I took this knife,â€ and here he drew it for emphasis, â€œand I stabbed her through the chest. I held her and let her life drain away. You would have me believe that you will simply forget that?â€
Serafin hesitated. She saw Cyrus begin to smile, and the looks of uncertainty on the faces of Sillia and Parakk. And she spoke. â€œI will never forget that, Cyrus. I will never stop hating you for taking her from me. But Millia's life had meaning. Her death had meaning. That meaning can be bloodshed, endless violence until the world falls into the Void, or it can be hope. The proof that I may never forget... but I can forgive. I think she would like that.â€ She held out one hand to him, palm up. â€œThe world doesn't have to be as dark as you see it.â€
Cyrus stared at her, as she watched him evenly. He looked down at her hand, slowly looked at his own as though seeing it for the first time. He whispered a phrase, and Serafin strained to hear it.
â€œI will never settle for a world that would accept my deeds.â€
And even as she heard the defiance, the futile rage that encompassed those words, he was striking her. Her charms deployed around her, recognizing the attack, but in doing so she could already tell that there was no way for her to avoid it. The knife that he had held was driving towards her neck, and although Gaia's power was suddenly raging through her, Sacheverell's power was there to block it and bring her low. She closed her eyes in acceptance of the end, feeling the breath of air of motion before her, and then a sudden jolt of motion.
And as it had once before for her, a stillness fell across the world. Serafin opened her eyes, to still a familiar greyness shrouded everything. On the two thrones before the ruins of the Games, Luna watched with a sad smile, inclining her head. Before her, Cyrus was frozen in an endless moment, his face frozen in a grimace of hate.
And between them, in the space where she should have been, chest frozen mid-explosion from the sheer force of Cyrus's blade, stood Thetram Nash.