(Not really - there will be two epilogue chapters. But this is the end in the major sense.)
Serafin stepped over to the Princeâ€™s robes, shaking her head slowly as she looked at all that remained of what had been one of the greatest threats to Creation. â€œPoor man.â€ She said slowly. â€œHow can you get so wrapped up in vengeance and death?â€
â€œSurprisingly easily.â€ Mnemonâ€™s voice was reflective, as the Sword of Creation began to glow with a multitude of lights beyond the protective walls, its energies passing through thick orichalcum and jade walls to bathe Serafin in light. â€œLose sight of what matters most, and the rest follows quickly. My mother did, I think.â€
â€œOh?â€ Serafin asked, torn between curiousity and a desire not to prod. Mnemon obliged her.
â€œShe meant well, at first. I was never sure about that, but I think I am now. But the cost â€“ first, her family, her friends, dead to the plague and the fae. Her sworn brotherhood slaughtered around her as they fought their way down here, and finally, her last friend binding his soul to the Manse so that she could become Empress.â€ Mnemonâ€™s tone was sad. â€œAnd the world that she sacrificed everything for? How many weeks was it before the first warlords tried to tear her down? How many years of watching her children murder each other, her husband cut down by assassins? What was the point of it all?â€
â€œYou sound like you agree.â€ Serafin said slowly.
There was a hesitation. â€œNo.â€ Mnemon finally replied. â€œI did, once. My brother tried to kill me as a child, and I was responsible for the deaths of at least two of my siblings. I donâ€™t really know about a few others. All because my mother gave up, stopped trying to make the world a better place and let it make her worse. And I was a monster.â€ A low chuckle filled the room. â€œAnd now I am a ghost. It fits. Vâ€™Neef saw better than I did. She will make a fine Empress, if this new world of yours needs one.â€ The room dimmed for a moment, and she spoke again. â€œItâ€™s time. Iâ€¦ you have permission to visit again, after your transformation.â€
â€œThank you, Mnemon.â€ Serafin bowed deeply. â€œI will take you up on that.â€
And the light cascaded through the room. It struck Serafin as a physical blow, and she felt something deep inside her shuddering to tear itself free. For an instant, she fought it, and the pain that arced through her was as though every mote of her being was aflame. And then the pain became a welcoming warmth, and light flowed around her, and she felt Gaiaâ€™s embrace. Come to me, my Ordered-Chaos. Let us be one.
And far away, in the gleaming halls of Yu-Shan, the light rippled across the marbled buildings, turning the sky from a dull grey to a riot of colors, and the gods stopped in their jobs and their indolence to stare in wonder. It rippled through the halls of the five Bureaus, to the centre of Yu-Shan itself, and flowed through the shattered roof of the Jade Pleasure Dome, over the assembled spirits and the Conduits who waited. The Perfect of Paragon closed his eyes and smiled, letting his spirit fly free without a second thought. Beside him, the others hesitated, before the shock of the Sword forced them from their bodies, flowing along their conduits to the Primordials. Iselsi Thelos, still standing over the body of his friend and mentor, closed his eyes as he felt his pain melting away. â€œMy mistress.â€ He whispered.
My saviour. Came Adorjanâ€™s reply.
And far away, on the borders of Halta, the Queen of the Haslanti collapsed as the sky burned overhead, screaming out for the Yozi who had abandoned her in terror. Deep within the once-proud city of Sperimen, the Lord of Seven Splendours died in silence, mute acceptance of his mistressâ€™s wishes. Across the sea, a once-great general cried out in rage, collapsing as he reached for his daiklave in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable. One after another, the Yozi faced their decision, and chose the hell that they knew over the terrible peace that was presented to them.
And deep in the heart of Nexus, the Emissary felt the power washing over him, and he asked, â€œIs this the path that you would have me take?â€
And Malfeas replied, I will not take their mercy. Not so long as one of my brethren remains trapped within my flesh.
â€œThen I wish you well, my lord. Win your siblings their freedom.â€ And with a smile on his lips, he died.
And half a world away, Saloy Hin, lord of the Southeast, felt his death approach, and looked out over his people. â€œThey will miss me.â€ He said sadly. â€œBut they will live.â€
They must. As must you. And as Hin looked up, Thari caught him in her words, and brought him to her.
In the depths of the Invisible Fortress, a frightened Solar who had turned to the Yozi to live took one last step into a mirror, and became one with his master. In his nameless home, Ma-Ha-Suichi saw a new path opening, and wept with sorrow and joy alongside his master as they became one, seeking out a new way. In the Hundred Kingdoms, a warlord vanished before the startled eyes of his followers, promising that he would return alongside his master, Oramus, and soon. In the northwest, a Lunar warlord who had led the Haslanti to war against the Varajtul cannibals bowed his head and fell into his master, who swore to follow his sister anywhere, even to freedom. Whatever the cost.
And in the frozen wastes of Gethemane, the shadows pooled and faded, and the woman who had been the Scarlet Empress watched as the weapon she had used to conquer the world was turned against her, and felt her daughterâ€™s will scouring Creation clean of the Yoziâ€™s taint. â€œSo this is how I die.â€ She said softly. â€œAt least it is over.â€
Over? The Ebon Dragonâ€™s voice was a whisper in her mind. No. Not over. They have given us what we need. He looked through her eyes, seeing opportunity where she saw the Void. Come to me, my beautiful queen. Let us walk in the world that Gaia would build, and show her just how human we can become. And he held out a claw, and she reached out her hand.
And pulled it back.
â€œNo.â€ She took a step back, and the Conduit cracked. â€œThey were right. I donâ€™t know how, I didnâ€™t think it was possible, but they found a way.â€ She glanced down at a broken wall, where days before she had sipped tea. â€œOur conquerers are offering you a second chance.â€
And we will turn that trust against them. The Dragonâ€™s voice was faintly desperate, as the connection that bound him to the Empress continued to fray. You can have your throne again, my love. You can have everything.
â€œI donâ€™t want it anymore.â€ The woman who had been an Empress sat down slowly, face raised to the sun, and watched the sky. â€œIâ€™m sorry, my lord. Iâ€™m not the woman you thought I was.â€
And the Ebon Dragonâ€™s howl was rage and loss and sorrow, as the woman that he had loved, used, and broken died with a smile on her lips, free of him at last.