Author's Note: And now to commit the gravest of sins - a songfic.
The song is "Space is Dark" by Bill Roper. Looking up the lyrics should show I'm only quoting only about half of them, so hopefully I'm not offending too much against the Rules & Guidelines.
Space is dark, and space is deep,
And the price we've paid is far too steep.
Though we've gained a hero's name,
We're all cripples, just the same.
And the scars we bear will testify
To the pain we found beyond the sky.
Life trickled back into his flesh, sensation by sensation.
The first of which he was aware was a horrible, burning tingling: he half-thought they had not destroyed Mayfil after all, and this was the last revenge of the Winglies' fallen Empire.
Then came the violent coughing, as he inhaled a thick mixture of dust and sand that seemed calculated to make him half-retch, half-hack, his eyes streaming like a baby's. Trapped as he was, the mere movement was pain, and he forced his numb limbs to push the rubble away at least far enough for his ribcage to expand. Blind, he began crawling any way he could, scratching and scraping his way through the darkness.
The third was the relief that he was surely not in Mayfil, for the Winglies were far too dramatic to have such a mundane hell. The total darkness, he could believe, but not the mundane details of his fingers being torn up by the roughened stone. Nor would they leave him his armor, or...
He scrabbled back over the rocks, undoing all his progress, and groped blindly in the utter darkness until his hand closed around a familiar hilt. His chest contracted in shock and sorrow as he withdrew a sword much lighter than it should have been, and careful patting revealed half the blade had been snapped off by some immense impact. He inhaled sharply, then cursed himself as he coughed out the barely-breathable air, but he felt irrationally safer - he was a warrior, before almost anything else, and the mere feeling of a weapon in his head provided him comfort when he was alone against an unknown fate.
Useless sword dragged along with him, he crawled through endless, vast tunnels formed by broken stone, pushing aside rubble when he could and retreating when he could not. Had his eyes not already been uncontrollably watering, he would have wept at the first sight of light: he had feared he was buried far too far to ever make his way out, and he would have awakened only to die.
That shaft of light, he soon discovered to his despair, did not mark a gap he could reach; it would be some time longer, perhaps minutes and perhaps days, before he found one which, pushing with all his might, he could clear. The sudden burst of daylight nearly blinded him for good, but he gave a cry of joy nonetheless, and with no more thought than an animal he clambered out to open space and clean air.
The shock of the ruined landscape all around him stopped his gulps of air. Steadying himself, he looked all around, and found a place utterly abandoned to the elements: whatever paint and gilt had once coated these buildings, time had long since eroded them away. A few vermin were the only proof of life in this world; all civilization had long since gone.
And yet he recognized the rough lines of the architecture from his final memories - the ones that should have been only a short time ago, a short time that could not possibly have produced this -
Yet he could not deny it. This was Kadessa.
They put us in our coffins, and gently closed the lid.
If I'd known then what I know now, I'd have wished I'd wake up dead.
Rose sat at a bar, curtly gathering information, and knew that, in a scant few years, she might have to butcher everyone there.
The thought troubled her less than it should. The past thousand years had been colder than she had dreamed - she had learned, for the last and lasting time, that there was nothing for her in this world save duty.
Her dragon dying on her own blade had taught her that. It was almost as though, when her rapier had pierced Michael's heart for the final time, it had pierced hers as well.
She gave a minuscule shrug. For the best, perhaps. There was no use holding on to sentimental illusion, and Michael had been that. A dragon could no more love than the Moon Child did; he had proven that in the end. At least the devastation he had wrought, before she could catch up to him and end both his rampage and his life, had been miniscule compared to what the God of Destruction would have accomplished.
If only he had stayed raging and resentful to the end. If only, as the core of darkness had pulsed and disintegrated, the last incoherent transmission over their bond hadn't been a cry of anguish, and a betrayed, uncomprehending shriek why -
She looked up sharply and ordered the strongest drink they had. It would have no effect - the choker protected her from all lesser poisons, alcohol included. But she wanted it nonetheless, so she might pretend, for a few minutes of her throat burning and her body gagging, that any mere brew might wash away her memories.
And so we flew a thousand years through interstellar space.
Light years separated us from the human race.
Eleven thousand years.
When he had awoken, he had thought all the Dragoons but he and Rose were dead.
Now he knew better.
Everyone was dead.
Himself included, quite possibly.
It had taken him a year to understand the language of this era well enough to learn the fate of the Dragon Campaign - another year before he could comprehend it. He still did not, truth be told.
The humans of the present day were stranger to him than a Giganto or Minito - not in form, but in function. So many had never known slavery; their lords might keep them poor and starved, but none knew intimately the crack of the whip. A human dynasty held court in the ruins of Birth City Deningrad, never understanding that their citadel of sacred glory was the merest shard of what it had once been. The gospels of the Wingly-built religion still rang through the streets, but without any comprehension of the purpose for which they had been wrought; the priests considered the resemblance of archangels to idealized Winglies a mere irony, and he laughed until he wept when he learned that the Archangel Michael himself had lent his might to the Dragoons' side. Never had he dreamed that Rose's blasphemous jest might have taken hold so effectively.
They remembered Michael's name, but not hers. Nor did they recall Belzac, nor Damia, nor Kanzas, nor Syuveil - he had discovered from a mercenary from a far-away country that there were legends of a cult of Shirley, but that had been so impossibly long ago that the mercenary doubted it still existed. There remained only one Dragoon whose name they knew, and it was his.
Zieg Feld. Far more myth than man. Certainly more than the pale, gaunt shell that wandered this strange and snowy land.
Zieg Feld had certainly ascended to heaven, that fair day that saw the death of three of the people he loved most in all the world - oh Soa, please Soa, say it had not been four - and end of all the Winglies held dear. In a pillar of fire, perhaps, or aboard a shining chariot borne up by dragons. He had indeed achieved apotheosis.
The man named Zieg, a drifter in dented armor, eyes as blue and glassy as the sea on a windless day, hand mindlessly squeezing a red stone that no longer felt like his - he was nothing more than the mortal part of that god, a statue to his glory that, against all goodness and reason, had turned to flesh thousands of years too late.
He could not hope to understand whether Melbu Frahma's curse had failed, the eternal spell giving way under an unimaginable weight of time, or whether this had been the dictator's sick idea of a final jest. The ultimate cruelty to a mayfly race - to strand one far beyond the reach of any he knew and loved, in a world changed beyond comprehension, where even his native tongue had been killed by time. The myths of his youth, the fashions and the sayings, the manners and the customs... His friends, his foes, even many of the species he knew... Even the natural marvels of his day, the mountains and lakes he thought would outlast the end of the world...
All gone, as to mock the very concept of human endeavor having any meaning. What had they lived and loved for? Had even a single word spoken had any meaning? Had any kindness meant anything - had any cruelty? What had Diaz's speeches amounted to, when not a man alive could quote the true text? What had his Empire of Humanity amounted to, when that unity had splintered into three kingdoms upon Endiness alone, and more across the sea? What significance had any thought had, what depth had any contemplation held, when subject and consideration alike had long passed from all mortal memory? What had anything anyone had done to another meant, when all had been swallowed by time?
But he did have one final counter to throw in the Wingly emperor's face: they had won the world.
No matter how changed this world was, how incomprehensible its alterations - it was a human world. The people still celebrated the culmination of their great work, even if they could not name a single battle fought or comrade lost. Against everything, against the weight of time... the ring of freedom echoed, and that resonance would never end in all the eons of the world.
Whatever became of the last shard of that long-gone era, that would remain.
It would have to be enough.
Ten years we had been on our way, when they found the hyperdrive.
And man spread to a thousand stars while we were half-alive.
But still they could not stop our ship to save us from our fate,
And so we have arrived here, but nine hundred years too late.
The Moon That Never Sets looked almost like a gigantic Red-Eyed Dragoon Spirit, hanging rotted and bloated in the sky.
The Black Monster shook her head. What a senseless comparison.
But then, she had thought of Zieg often in the past few years. She could not say why; she had even asked Charle to inspect her choker, lest the enchantment be failing and madness coming to claim her. The old woman had found nothing amiss. As for her sanity - she had disliked how Charle had looked upon her long and quietly, and, an indefinable emotion trembling in her eyes, said that she would be entirely within her rights to be far less sane than she was.
She cared not for pity. Charle's pity, if pity it was, came nearly a dozen millennia too late. Pity would have been to let her age, and go to join her friends; pity would have been to say that Charle's baby brother's curse had merely killed Zieg, rather than locking his spirit in an unfeeling, unknowing, unmoving shell, there to languish for all the ages of the world. With intricate, impervious magic, sickly-sweet in its care, Melbu Frahma had preserved his killer beyond any other remnant of his empire - as though to quash any doubt of the dictator's true nature, that he had held one last petty ounce of spite more precious than all the works of the Wingly race. A slave might rebel, a slave might burn the master's house, a slave might pierce the master's heart - but freedom, the slave would never be allowed, not even that of death.
An ugly smile, more a dragon's snarl than anything human, worked its way across the Black Monster's visage. And the Frahmas were not so different - if so in their methods, at least not in the strength of their bindings. Freedom the slave would never be allowed, not even that of death. Abolitionist Charle might have declared herself in the days of the Campaign, but she had put a collar around the final Dragoon's neck all the same. The order the mistress gave, and the slave could do naught but obey.
That it was Soa's madness that compelled her obedience, and not her master's - that she acted to preserve the world, and not her own hide - these things did nothing to disguise that truth. Her role had been carved out for her aeons past, and she went about her duties as mercilessly and mechanically as the automatons of Zenebatos. Should she pause and sway on her feet, the thought of her comrades' sacrifices going to waste drove her onward as swiftly and cruelly as any overseer's whip. And the beauty of it - the terrible Wingly efficiency - was that she did it to herself. Eleven thousand years of slavery, and her neck had remained willingly bent beneath the yoke.
But she had no choice.
There never had been a choice. Not for her. Not for who she had been then, and not for she was now.
She and Zieg retained a certain kinship, then - bound to unfeeling half-lives by the Frahma siblings through all the ages of the world. And her captivity would be as eternal as his.
Silencing her own self-pity, the Black Monster threw back her head, howled at the blood-red Moon, and took flight.
They told us we were heroes, pinned medals to our chests,
And they gave us a fine pension and sent us off to rest.
The sun beat down on their faces, bright and fair.
The sweat rolled down their faces, but they gave no signs of discomfort; they were dressed in finery almost godlike, meant to seem more than mortal, and they would not be so crass as to shatter the illusion. The common folk, the infantry, and the saboteurs needed inspiration - no, vindication, proof that their efforts did have some meaning. That was why they were here today.
"For exceptional valor in battle, for extraordinary deeds, for exceeding virtue -"
Down the line, he heard Kanzas start to snicker. He kept his gaze fixed ahead; from the abrupt way it cut off, he knew Shirley had given the man a sharp glance, and that would be more effective than any word of reprimand. No one in the crowd seemed to have noticed.
"- we now grant the Dragoons a special order of merit on behalf of the will of the entire Liberation Army of Humans, for there can be no greater freedom than liberation from the jaws of Hell itself."
The smallest sound from Syuveil was immediately drowned out by the crowd's roar, and Zieg bowed his head as Emperor Diaz looped the first medal around his neck. As his liege proceeded with the ceremony, he permitted himself a surreptitious glance to the side, only to find Rose already smiling back at him.
The small curl of her lips meant more to him than all this pomp and circumstance. His gaze softened, and he thought on the ring hidden in a small box in his room. He would present it to her tonight. They were mortal - Mayfil had driven that home more cruelly than anything but death itself - and life was too short and fragile for hesitation. Let others take the medals and the honors; he would have be happy as the lowest infantryman in the Liberation Army, if Rose would be his-
All at once, light gave way to darkness. Groggy and bewildered, he looked around, only to find himself in a cold and dark place, far, far from the ceremony and cheering crowds.
A moment later, the crushing reality made itself known to him, and he hunched over, breathing heavily. It had not been the first dream of that sort - not by far. The knowledge did not lessen the pain, nor the urge to lie back down, shut his eyes, and pray to never wake up.
But it had... become more bearable, in recent times. He looked down at the woman in the bed beside him, and caressed her cheek; she made a small sound, and turned over in her sleep. Zieg Feld was a myth from eleven thousand years past, all he knew and loved enshrouded by the mists of time. But a strange woman had found a man named Zieg, lost and weary as he was, worthy of loving, and together they had found some happiness. If it had not been the life of which he dreamed... the same would have been true of Rose, and it was his most private and sincerely-held hope that, after the Campaign, she would have lived on and found happiness for herself.
And if, at times, he bitterly wished he had been with her... he had a wife and young son now. And, by any rule of decency, he owed far more allegiance to them than to a dream eleven thousand years dead.
As he bent to kiss Claire's hair, he wondered what had awoken him so abruptly, and why it seemed too light outside for the present time of night.
His question was answered when the first screams began.
With a madman's vigor, he shook Claire awake; he was at the door and heading to Dart's room by the time she was conscious. "Zieg, what..."
"It's here!" he shouted over his shoulder as the firelight shone in through their window, half of Neet coming ablaze. "Black Monster!"
For we're anachronisms from another place and time,
And so they have retired us though we're all still in our prime.
She never expected to be fond of this band of fate-tossed fools.
At first, she had joined them out of mild curiosity. Though she had seen other Dragoons throughout history, never had she witnessed a Red-Eyed Dragoon; she had thought the Spirit sealed away with Zieg. It helped not at all that Dart was all but Zieg's doppelganger; had Zieg merely died, she might have wondered if... but no, Zieg's soul was locked away beyond the reach of dissolution and incarnation. Nonetheless, she could not shake some strange, superstitious idea of a connection... perhaps Charle had been wrong, and madness was indeed making inroads upon her heart.
But perhaps it was the world that was going mad, for the Dragoon Spirits were emerging from their slumber. She could only shake her head as they all chose wielders among the growing group, so reminiscent of when it seemed a month could not pass without a new Dragoon finding their way to Diaz and pledging allegiance... but what had stirred the Spirits so? What threat, what task deserving of worthiness in the suspicious and savage eyes of dragons, could equal that of the Wingly Empire? She could not understand it.
Even less could she understand how she had abandoned the cold knowledge of eleven thousand years in sentimental folly, and allowed herself to grow fond of those who, one cycle hence, would all - almost all, she corrected, thinking of Meru - be gone. She had smiled, and she had laughed, and she had gone so far as to risk her life - and, thus, the world - in a moment of madness for the sake of one fool in red armor with hair the color of ripened grain and eyes the color of the sky.
Hmph. What a fool she sounded. The sight of Vellweb must be unsettling her mind.
Perhaps it was the reminder that she was an artifact as dusty as any here, if better-preserved. Little good that it did. What army needed her service, what cause required her might? Once every hundred-and-eight years, the Black Monster scoured the earth with blood, and Rose... was left to wander in all the time between. The centuries had stripped her of her dedication to any time or place; the millennia had made all things transient and meaningless. Without a mission, she might as well have been any broken, dead-eyed veteran, alive in body, but void of spirit, soul trapped upon the battlefields of a war long ended.
Perhaps that was why she had allowed herself to become attached to these people, even knowing it was folly. To feel alive again.
She shook herself and turned to Dart, some ways ahead. The rest of the group was even further away, and one or two were calling back to him. "It is nothing. Forget it."
Shoving her thoughts aside, she sprinted forward to rejoin the others. They could not afford to tarry, after all.
The man who called himself Diaz was waiting.
And of the ten men of our crew, but two of us remain,
For trapped here in the future, we all have gone insane.
He would have wept.
But not even his tears belonged to him, any longer.
Eighteen years of a slavery more thorough than he had imagined possible had benumbed him to almost everything. His hands had killed, his mouth had spewed lies, his whole flesh had served the monster he had given his life to end. But this was a cruelty that pierced even through the fog of his living death.
The son he had thought dead until this last year and the woman he had once thought dead for eleven thousand years - both stared at him, at his body, first in shock, and then in horror. Abomination spilled forth from his tongue, and he could do nothing to stop it. No feat of willpower could overcome Melbu Frahma's dominance; had such a thing been possible, the Crystal Sphere would have shattered of its own volition. All through the dead emperor's speech, he screamed silently, reaching out to Rose, to Dart, to any of the strangers before him, trying to let them know by any possible sign that this was not him, that this was not his will, that they must kill him, that he was sorry, so sorry -
And not a single muscle twitched in response. Melbu himself scarcely noticed; the only sign he heard at all was that, when he briefly stumbled in his speech, there was a squeeze, and the helpless host spent an interminable time barely able to form a thought.
But perhaps that had merely been a moment of spite, a cruel master taking out his own misstep on his slave in the manner of all slave-owners, and the reigning spirit had not cared at all.
Soa did not. The truth upon Melbu acted had made that abundantly clear. Humans, Winglies, Giganto, Minitos, mermaids, dragons, and every other species... All were mere props, set-pieces for the ascension of the final race. And so he faced the crushing truth that the heartless dictator, father of atrocity and master of savagery... was nothing more than the creation most perfectly in the creator's image. The struggles of the Dragoons - the battle of all humanity - had been nothing but a cruel joke.
All their grief and all their glory had existed for no higher purpose than the shattering of the Crystal Sphere.
Oh, Rose had fought hard - so terribly hard, and so terribly alone, for a time beyond all mortal comprehension - but it had all been a joke in the end. Before even the battle of Kadessa, Melbu Frahma had calculated the intricacies of the cycles of incarnation, and prepared his spell precisely long enough to last until the final cycle: the hundred-and-eighth, when the pattern so long established would be broken, and a single soul be split into two different bodies. Had he lived, and all his enemies been slain, he would have torn the Divine Moon Objects from his foolish sister's bloodied and broken hands, and called down the Moon himself. But he had prepared well in the case of his own death, and, in the manner of wasps that laid their young within a paralyzed spider, he had prepared his very killer as his meal, and made of the Red-Eyed Dragoon Spirit an egg, biding his time until the day he hatched and devoured his host from within.
There had been an apotheosis indeed, but it had never been Zieg's. It had been Melbu's.
That was one way to view it. The other was far crueler, though such a thing seemed impossible.
Those who surrounded the Moon Child became evangelists for the god. Had Zieg's feelings still had any effect upon his own body, his stomach would have roiled at the way Dart's attention fixed upon the girl. He wanted to believe it was love. But he remembered the way Michael, darkest and most savage of dragons, had hovered at attention by his mistress's side, awaiting commands like a dog.
Melbu Frahma had spent more time channeling the scarcely-filtered energy of the God of Destruction than any other living being; as a Dragoon Spirit was to its wielder, so that divine soul had very nearly been to him. Zieg remembered the presence of Louvia - that sweet, comforting, nigh-celestial aura, which seemed to speak of something greater than them all, a place beyond all mortal pains... that which Syuveil might have deemed "oblivion". But that hypnotic emanation had been the soul's mere presence. The one who had torn the soul from its original housing... who had drawn upon its power to exalt the Winglies above all other races... who, in time, had succumbed to his own arrogant madness, neglecting the war effort while he drew up the plans for his ascension to godhood...
Had he become a puppet, too? Did he, too, dance on strings - his deluded dreams of apotheosis nothing more than the only way his pride would allow him to kneel before the God, and devote himself mind, stolen body, and soul to hastening the day of its birth?
The long-dead dictator gave not an instant's thought to the possibility, and had silenced Zieg for days the one time he dared raise the volume of his thoughts on the matter to one Melbu could, at length, no longer ignore. There was no point, anyway. If it were true, Melbu would be beyond all reason.
And the world would have been beyond all reason from the start. There never had been any hope of resistance. It was a joke, a lie, an illusion permitted only to worsen the agony of the truth. All would serve the God in the end. All was Soa's will. The players, the Ziegs and Melbus and Charles and Roses of the world, existed only in jest, as inconsequential as dust motes swirling within a beam of light. Their efforts meant nothing. Their efforts had never meant anything at all. Their motivations were delusions, their decisions frivolity. When the appointed time came, they would carry out the actions Soa had decreed for them at the start of time, whether they knew it or not, enacting the opening rites for the birth of the God of Destruction.
Zieg would have prayed it were not so, if he had any respect for Soa left.
Instead, trapped inside his own mind, he begged only to go mad.
We knew when we set out that we'd be gone a thousand years,
But we never thought we'd end up as unwanted pensioneers.
Shirley. Belzac. Damia. Syuveil. Kanzas.
For the sake of the world they had taken back... the world for which they had given all they had...
She had gone on.
The weight of eleven thousand years lay heavy upon her. And, long after she ceased even to remember the hope thereof, an ancient, desperate wish had come to pass: her duty was coming to an end.
The possibility that it would end in Soa's victory had not escaped her. There was no use contemplating absolute defeat, however: that way lay madness, and she would not succumb to the insanity that had taken her Vassal Dragon, not so close to the end. Besides which, if that were her fate... it couldn't be helped, anyway. So she had to focus on the path she could help.
It was one neither of grief nor of joy - only duty. As she had killed the only companion she had throughout ten thousand years of vigil, when he had turned to mindless madness - so she would kill the only man she had ever loved, because he had done the same.
And then she would kill Shana, and Dart would kill her for it.
The Winglies of old had not been fools. Had they been able to destroy the core, and thus render the birth of the God impossible forever, they would have done so. That they had ripped free the soul, and left the core intact, meant that the core could not be rendered vulnerable without the implantation of the soul.
It was like Michael: if somehow his soul had been torn free, nothing in heaven and earth could have destroyed his shell. Only through striking at his "heart" - the infinitely vulnerable core, the naked manifestation of his spirit - could he be killed.
So it must be with the God of Destruction. And its heart was Shana.
She had not told any of the others. They sought to save both Shana and the world, and she dared not press them on it: they had spent far too long in the Moon Child's company to be willing to accept her death. Even she felt herself futilely seeking a way by which the girl might be saved. But there was no way, and, in truth, it was a cruel joke: she had murdered Shana one hundred and seven times before. So what if she had known her and pitied her this incarnation? Did that make such a difference?
No. The difference was that, if Shana died at the core of the God of Destruction, it would be a true death. A disembodied soul might be placed into fresh vessels; the soul that lived in its own body perished with the flesh. This last time counted for all.
Black Monster, Moon Child, final survivor of the Dragon Campaign: all would die together today, and this twisted tableau that had persisted for over ten thousand years would meet its bloody end.
She steeled herself with that thought as they strode towards the core of the moon. Somewhere within her heart, which seemed not to have been stronger than Michael's after all, she longed for it.
And soon we two will follow where the other eight have gone.
And then our long sad journey will finally be done.
So Melbu had gone ahead with his plan after all.
Had he the strength, Zieg might have laughed. Wielding the power of the Virage Embryo's body was no more a guarantee of invincibility than wielding the power of its spirit. The union of the two was what formed the God of Destruction - and that union had hesitated on the cusp of its birth.
The divine plan had failed at the only link still permitted free will. Yes. If he could laugh, that would indeed be worthy of a laugh.
And Melbu, not realizing that only divine grace had spared him, and the whole world, annihilation from the instant he placed Shana within the core, had failed to realize that the only god within the room, as opposed to a madman puppeteering a living corpse, lay sprawled upon the floor, pale and still as death, yet still living - still, in some sense, human.
And for that, she had only Melbu to thank. How very interesting. Perhaps the servants of the Moon Child were indeed obligated to preserve its life, after all.
He was drifting. This was no longer the time for contemplation. He knew...
He knew, having seen Melbu Frahma's mind before he tossed aside his broken husk, that there were no contingencies this time. If Melbu could be killed, beyond any hope of regeneration, he would die for good. No hundred-and-eight-year cycle would pluck a false god from the jaws of death.
Nor would any false death pluck his slayer from those jaws. But... that was all right. Eleven thousand years ago, Zieg Feld had failed in the very act that had raised him to godhood in myth and legend, and only a lost and ragged man named Zieg had remained.
This day, Zieg Feld would return one final time, so the task in which he had failed might at last be complete.
As though in answer, boots clicked on the boots beside him: someone had landed. Even before she spoke, he knew who it was; it was as though the years were falling away, and a bond that never should have been sundered had returned whole, just for this hour.
"I have been waiting for this moment."
"I kept you..." He swallowed as hard as he could, attempting to speak. "Waiting. So long." Eleven thousand years.
Eleven thousand years. Eleven thousand years that had not been a victory, but a ceasefire; eleven thousand years in which she had been forced to play saboteur, saving uncountable lives through treachery and murder, existing in a state of universal revilement, submitting to official denunciation for her actions even as she carried out her missions unwavering, unflinching.
There was silence. Quietly, she knelt down beside him, and armored arms took him up.
This... would be a good place to die, in her arms. He had fought hard, and suffered much. Even if he had not endured the merest fraction of what she had... a man's body was ultimately the ultimate decider of what he could bear, not his ideals. To be with her in his final moments... it was a dream whose hope he had long since given up...
But the incoherent, gurgling screams from within the flames had taken on renewed strength, and he struggled to raise his head and turn his eyes towards his foe. No. He had not yet earned his rest.
Their rest. After eleven thousand years of separation, their battles concluded in the same place: for him, the final death of Melbu Frahma; for her, the final death of the Virage Embryo...
It was... fitting, that it would end this way.
"Rose." She, too, was gazing upon the failed god, her expression unreadable. "The time has come. This... is the end of our long journey."
"Zieg..." Now she leaned over him, eyes filled with love, grief, and some indefinable emotion. Unbidden, an ancient, absurd flash of memory went through his mind: when they were young and strong and free of sorrow, the reveling chaos after the destruction of Mayfil going on all around them, and he'd had no more thought for anything than the question he was about to ask and the ring hidden within his hand...
"Will you come with me?"
In the next room waiting is my time-lost lonely wife,
And I'll see her one last time as we take each other's life.
For one last, shining time, it was as though the years meant nothing, and the pair who had forged into the heart of Kadessa were together once more. Zieg and Rose, the invincible team...
The pair who had outlived all their friends, their emperor, and their world.
This era would belong to Dart... and, yes, even to the Moon Child, who had not needed to die after all. Perhaps these young, naive idealists had been in the right all along. She was strangely glad of that. Let them have whatever happiness they could make for themselves.
Her time to have any part of that was done.
"Yes." She laid her cheek against Zieg's, allowing her eyes to shut for one single moment of peace, even as she readied her wings for flight. "I will never leave you again."
Space is dark, and space is deep,
And the price we've paid is far too steep.
Though we've gained a hero's name,
We're all cripples, just the same.
And the scars we bear will testify
To the pain we found beyond the sky.