Halls of Power Extended Ending

I promised some time ago to write up an extended ending of Halls of Power to answer some of the questions that came up. Not all of them, just some of them. This is the resulting ending of the book. This ending will be integrated into the eventual Ancient Dreams Omnibus, along with any other changes I make to the books to try to make them better in the end.

Now with that said…

Spoilers Ahead. If you haven’t read Halls of Power, I suggest you stop now.

Still here? Alright, here we go.


Chapter 49

Coughing at the liquid flowing down his throat, Daniel gasped and sputtered as the simple act sent a spike of pain through him.

“Knock it off and swallow, you rock-headed, foolhardy fisherman.” Darak’s voice was loud, and Daniel felt someone holding him down.

It took a moment, but Daniel forced himself to swallow, blinking as his eyesight slowly returned. He could hear sobbing, and as his eyes regained focus, the fuzzy blurs above him slowly turned into three people. Albert was scowling at him, Darak was smirking in a way that made him nervous, and Sina’s face was streaked with tears.

“W-what happened?” Daniel gasped, the pain through his chest and right arm duller than it had been, but still present.

“You stupid idiot! You attacked that demon who’d disabled all of us!” Sina exclaimed, hitting Daniel’s shoulder and sending a spike of pain through him. “She killed you, you big fool! What did you think you were doing?”

“I… I died? How did I…?” Daniel asked, slowly raising his arms to look at them, and wincing at the sight of his right sleeve covered in blood.

“You’re fortunate that Sistina’s dungeon has the occasional silvercap mushroom,” Albert replied tartly, scowling at Daniel. “It was fairly uncommon in the beginning, but after she realized how valuable they were to us, she started making them rarer. We only had a half dozen that the Guild didn’t purchase and have carted off, which means I only had six resurrection elixirs. Congratulations, Daniel. You owe me fifty gold.”

“What?” Daniel exclaimed, his eyes huge. “I… how could I possibly pay that? I’ve only got one gold and fifty silver!”

“Should’ve thought about that before you attacked something way out of your league, Danny,” Darak interrupted, shaking his head. “It was brave, I’ll give you that, but it was damned stupid, too. The Guild prices accordingly.”

“I’m willing to write off half of it, Daniel, but you’re going to have to pay it back eventually, if you’re going to stay in good standing,” the Guildmaster informed him, and offered a hand to help Daniel up. “Now get up, and we’ll get you back to your room. A resurrection elixir never fully heals you.”

“We also need to have words! What were you thinking, Daniel?” Sina demanded, and Daniel’s thoughts ground to a halt as he looked around the plaza. It looked oddly calm, but he shook off the odd fuzz to his thoughts.

“I… she was talking about enslaving everyone. Enslaving you. I… I couldn’t stand it, so I didn’t even think, really. I thought that since my spirit let me ignore her presence, I had a chance,” Daniel replied slowly, flushing. “Obviously not.”

“Stupid dumbass. Don’t you dare ever do something like that again,” Sina retorted, hitting him gently and causing another wince.

“Alright, alright… but what happened? Why has the fighting stopped?” Daniel asked, nodding toward the gates.

“Well… first Tyria came flying out of the dungeon and attacked ‘her enslavers’ for a bit before heading off, and then we found out that all of the slave brands in Kelvanis’ control just vanished,” Sina replied, her eyes glittering. “It seems that there’s a bit of a revolt going on out there, and the siege has pretty much broken.”

“Oh. That’s good,” Daniel replied, hesitant. As he considered the situation, though, he blanched and shook his head. “That’s… going to be unpleasant. I’m glad I’m here, not in Kelvanis.”

“So am I. Now come on, you need to rest up and heal,” Sina replied, prodding him toward her shop.

***

“There you are. May the Goddess’ blessing go with you,” Elissa told the man, nodding as she stepped back, his injury almost fully healed.

The elven man nodded and smiled, his voice friendly as he hefted his stolen sword. “Thank you, Your Grace. I’ll do my best to keep from needing your attention again.”

“Please do,” the priestess replied, and she watched him go as her smile faded.

Kelvanath may not have actively been in flames, but large parts of it were. The temple had taken damage when the palace had exploded, but that had been relatively minor, as shortly afterward the carnage had truly ensued. With the loss of every slave brand in the city, things had descended into chaos, and she’d already heard of dozens of harsh slave-owners having been torn apart by their servants. If similar events were playing out across the country, as she suspected they were, Kelvanis was going to tear itself apart.

Fortunately the church had already gotten onto the good side of the slaves, otherwise their rampaging mobs might have attacked the temple. As it was, Elissa was spending a lot of time putting the faithful back together.

“High Priestess? You’re needed in the back.” The voice of one of the acolytes interrupted Elissa’s thoughts, and her nervous tone caught the High Priestess’ attention.

“Is something wrong, Megan?” Elissa asked, frowning.

“It’s… it’s Our Lady. She wants you to come back to your rooms!” Megan replied, her eyes wide.

“Oh! I’ll go attend to her immediately, then!” Elissa exclaimed. What was Her Lady doing here, considering the situation? “Tend to the injured as they come in, and keep an eye out for people who’re combative. We want to stay out of the conflict outside.”

“Yes, High Priestess,” Megan assured her, and quickly got to work as Elissa briskly walked toward her room, making sure the door that led to the priestess’ wing was locked, just to be safe.

Her door was slightly ajar, and Elissa opened it to find Tyria looking out the window at the smoke-shrouded city. The goddess turned to face her, and Elissa felt her knees almost buckle under Tyria’s gaze, a strange, restrained anger in it.

“M-my Goddess? May I ask why you’re upset?” Elissa asked, going to her knees after an instant of hesitation.

“I have learned something very, very disturbing, Elissa.” Tyria’s voice was oddly calm, and she looked the priestess in the eyes as she asked, “Were you aware that I was once Medaea, and that I had succubus blood introduced to my body?”

“I was. I saw you when you were first sleeping in the chamber where you woke, My Lady.” Elissa didn’t hesitate to reply, not with Ulvian almost certainly dead. “I suspected on the blood, but the method they used to change you wasn’t shared with me.”

“Why did you not tell me this during our last conversation? This seems exceedingly important to me,” Tyria demanded, and Elissa’s eyes dropped to the floor.

The priestess considered several answers to the question. All of them were true, from the fact she hadn’t really thought about it, to the possibility that it might cause problems for Tyria. But in the end she chose to go with the simplest, and most true of the answers.

“I was too scared to tell you. Scared that you might revoke your blessing, or that you might grow enraged or something more. I was also too scared of Ulvian,” Elissa explained, not daring to move as her hands shook. “He captured you, and I was enslaved to Irethiel for sixty years, with that hanging over my head. If I told you and things went wrong, I feared what would happen to me. I planned to tell you if you asked, but not to volunteer the information.”

“Ah.” Tyria turned away and looked at the city.

For a long minute there was silence in the room, broken by the occasional sound of fighting and cries of alarm or pain from outside. It was a telling thing to Elissa, and she looked at the floor and her hands, not daring to speak.

“I will have to deal with the consequences of the demon blood sooner than later. It was made into part of me, and I cannot simply remove it,” Tyria finally said, a little more brightly and with determination in her voice. “As to who I am and was… this is going to lead to many difficulties in the future. I do not like that, but it is something that must be dealt with. Your tasks are going to be difficult, Elissa.”

“Milady?” Elissa asked nervously, afraid of what might be coming.

“Your first task is to try to reduce the scale of the destruction in the city outside. Not all of those who are being harmed deserve it. Try to mitigate the damage and keep the nation from entirely imploding,” Tyria told her, smiling thinly. “Difficult, I know, but you have some standing here.”

“You’re right. I’ll do what I can, Milady,” Elissa replied, her spine firming at the goal. She’d always been good at convincing others, so the task played to her strengths.

“Good. Once the city has settled down, you will come to Beacon, as will representatives of the church of Medaea. I will spend the intervening time figuring out what it is I wish to do about my identity, and trying to repair the damage done to Zenith.” The goddess paused, then smiled at Elissa. “That will be an unpleasant experience. But I will not have two radically different churches dedicated to me in two separate names. You and they will meet, with myself present. Then we will figure out a compromise that I can live with.”

“Oh. That could be… painful, Milady,” Elissa replied, swallowing hard at the thought of being in the same room as members of Medaea’s church.

“I agree. But it must be done,” Tyria told her, and nodded. “Now, get out there and see about keeping the city from burning to the ground.”

“Yes, My Goddess,” Elissa acknowledged, bowing her head, then rising to her feet in relief.

A faint part of her was simply thrilled that, unlike Ulvian, she’d at least gotten what she’d always wanted.

***

“This is one hell of a lot better than sitting on the castle walls waiting for the next attack,” Vendis commented, trotting along the trail with a smile.

“Yep.” Slaid’s reply was oddly short, and Vendis gave him a sidelong look.

“What, you don’t think hunting down orcs is a good plan?” she asked skeptically. “They raid everything in the neighborhood!”

“Oh, sorry! I was just thinking about something else,” Slaid quickly replied, shaking his head and smiling at her. “I definitely agree with you! I’m just thinking about the invasion of Kelvanis, and a few other things.”

“What sort of other things?” Vendis asked, smirking.

“Simple things. What do I do if I actually manage to take the throne? What about the succession?” Slaid explained. Then he asked, quite bluntly, “Captain Vendis Cascade, would you marry me?”

“Those are good… wait, what?” Vendis asked, her eyes wide as he smiled at her. For a long moment she stared and then spoke incredulously. “You asked like that?”

“Yep!” He grinned and shrugged. “I thought about something more complicated, but it didn’t feel right. What do you think?”

“Of course I will! But you’d better do it properly in town,” Vendis told him, blushing deeply and shaking her head. “That was just…”

When the man started chuckling, Vendis grabbed a few rocks and tossed them at him, leading to even more laughter.

***

“Your Majesty, I request leave to join your army.” Isana Dayrest’s voice was soft, and her eyes were oddly dead, with little of the liveliness that Phynis had grown to expect from the otherwise icy woman.

“May I ask why? You seemed content enough as the majordomo,” Phynis asked, sitting forward in her throne. Sistina was actually paying attention, which caused a bit more worry, but not too much. The dryad seemed a little more aware since she’d recreated her body again, and Phynis suspected it was the divine power she’d used to remake it.

“Of course, Your Majesty. The reason is simple enough… I want to exact what vengeance I can on Kelvanis,” Isana replied courteously. “I have lost too many friends and loved ones to their hands. My father died during their invasion, and most of those who lived in Dayrest are dead or slaves, or former slaves. I don’t believe you were aware, but Desa and I had also grown close, and she…”

Isana’s voice began to trail off, and Phynis blinked in surprise. Desa and Isana? She hadn’t noticed anything of the sort! But now that she thought about it, it did rather explain how much she’d found the two of them in the same rooms over the past few weeks, before Desa had gone on her ill-fated trip.

“I… I hadn’t realized. You have my sympathies, Isana. I wish that I could say she was well, but I have not heard anything about her since she was transported to Kelvanath. I—” Phynis blinked away unshed tears, but in mid-word another voice spoke.

“If that wasn’t a cue, I don’t know what is!” A woman’s voice, eerily similar to Phynis’ own, rang out in the room, and a portion of the air took on a mirror sheen. The woman who stepped out of the mirror looked identical to Phynis, save that her coloration was reversed, and her hair was blue instead of pink. The woman smiled, gesturing behind her as she spoke. “Come along, ladies. I told you I’d bring you back.”

Three women followed the first, and as they did, Phynis stood up in disbelief. Desa was there, wearing a dress for the first time in Phynis’ memory and with her cheeks flushed in embarrassment. Behind her was Alissa, also in a dress and seeming much more poised. Last was Wenris, of all people, though she was grinning broadly and actually wearing what Phynis could think of as clothing this time. The portal closed behind them, and Phynis tried not to gape.

“Desa!” Isana cried out, clambering to her feet and almost tackling the other woman. “What happened to you? How did you get here?”

“Easy, Isana, not so tight,” Desa replied, hugging her and looking at Phynis as she blushed more deeply. “As to that… we were going to die. The Archon was going to have Alissa torture me to death, but just before that happened we were rescued by our host. I’m told you know of Emonael?”

“You’re Emonael?” Phynis asked, suppressing her shock and looking more closely at her mirror, who grinned in return.

“I am, Queen Phynis. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Emonael told her brightly.

“Why? Why would you be interfering in all of… this?” Phynis asked her, frowning.

“I owed a debt to Kathyria, which I never had a chance to repay, as well as one to your Sistina, who I knew as Marin. I also wished to see Irethiel fail,” Emonael replied with a smile, glancing over at Sistina. “I got to see all of them occur, so I am quite happy with how things have progressed.”

“Wait, wait… you’re doing this because of Sistina? Did you manipulate all of this, then?” Phynis exclaimed, her eyes widening as she considered the possible implications, swallowing before she asked. “Even… even me meeting Sistina?”

“While I would love to take credit for such an… epic manipulation over the course of countless centuries, I’m afraid that I cannot do so.” Emonael replied, smiling broadly and shrugging. “While I did a few minor things, I’m afraid your meeting can be blamed entirely on your own ancestors, Your Majesty.”

“How is that possible? None of my family ever came close to this place, at least to my knowledge.” Phynis murmured, skeptical and wondering just why the goddess was allowing herself to be questioned so readily.

“You’re thinking far too recently, Phynis.” The goddess chided, shaking her head as she dropped the honorific she’d used. “I’m speaking of two millennia before the Godsrage. After a near-disaster, the rulers of the old Kingdom of Everium decided that there were too many dangers, and they wished to extend their rule of Everium, and the kingdom’s existence itself, as far as possible. So they consulted the Archmagi of the kingdom, and they built a high magic ritual. Twelve Archmagi, gathered from the surrounding regions came together to cast a spell… and in the end, it moved a single rock the size of your hand.”

Phynis stared at Emonael speechlessly for a moment, but the woman continued before she could interrupt. “I know, it sounds silly. That spell, Phynis, was powerful and difficult beyond measure. Its purpose, its sole design, was to look into the future and take whatever actions it could to preserve Everium for as long as possible, under the rule of the royal line. So it did. It moved a rock several millennia in the future, long after all those who cast it were no more than dust in the wake of the Godsrage.”

“That single stone was of far more import than you can imagine. If that rock had not been where it was, a human prospector wouldn’t have stumbled into the cavern, and would never have gotten greedy on seeing Sistina Constella’s tomb. He never would have attempted to loot it and died to a trap.” Emonael’s voice was soft and steady, and her smile never varied as understanding began to dawn on Phynis. “By his actions, Marin was freed of her soulgem before her ultimate destruction, and by so doing, they crowned you Queen of Everium. Their spell worked perfectly, Phynis. I must say that I was impressed.”

“Oh. So what did you do?” Phynis asked, having trouble grasping the changes that rock had caused, even if it’d been via magic.

“Very little. I offered Alissa and Desa a bargain, and positioned Wenris at the point that she could sabotage the efforts with Tyria when appropriate. I couldn’t do much more than little touches like that without breaking divine law.” Emonael explained, and she smiled. “I do think that’s enough of an explanation for you, Your Majesty. I have to keep some secrets, after all.”

“You are not Emonael. You are a projection,” Sistina spoke up calmly, smiling slightly as she tilted her head at Emonael, having been studying her closely the entire time. “Why?”

Emonael’s form flickered and flowed, and in moments she looked like an elf with chestnut hair down to her buttocks and tanned skin, her brown eyes glittering warmly as she took a step toward Sistina. To Phynis’ surprise, the woman then curtsied deeply.

“Hello, teacher. Though you have taken a new name, you are still one of those who I’ve looked up to for longer than I care to think about,” Emonael said respectfully, then she rose and continued. “As to that, I’ve ascended to full godhood. I cannot enter the mortal world any longer. I believe that to be a credit to you, teacher, and have come to give a final gift to you, not just to deliver your wayward guards.”

Extending her hand, the goddess smiled and a spindle of lights appeared above her hand as she explained. “Your work was the underpinnings of many of my greatest achievements, the theory upon which it was based. This is an even greater piece of my work. My teacher, I gift you a spell which I developed to unravel the slave brands which Kathyria and Irethiel wove. While I dare not unleash your tenth volume on the world, it is only right that you wield a piece of it.”

“You are not my student. This… is a spell which is beyond me,” Sistina murmured, extending her hand and allowing the lights to float and swirl over it. She smiled, then nodded. “Thank you, Emonael. There are many who should be freed.”

“It will not work on Tyria. The chain which she forged can only be broken by her,” Emonael warned. “Things have not worked out exactly as I’d hoped, but they are close enough. Now, since I’m done I’ll leave all of you alone. Fate is unhappy enough with me as it is.”

With a jaunty wave, Emonael vanished, leaving behind the others. Blinking in surprise, Phynis asked after a moment, “And you, Wenris?”

“Me? Oh, I’m just here to have a brief conversation with Diane,” the succubus told her happily. “I have far too much going on at the moment to take her with me, so rest assured that isn’t going to happen. I intend to speak with her and leave immediately afterward. Is that permissible?”

“It is, if that’s all you intend,” Phynis replied, frowning slightly.

“Excellent! I will go speak with her and be on my way,” Wenris replied, grinning as she left the room. Watching her go, Phynis took a deep breath and nodded at a guard, who quickly followed the succubus.

Once the man was gone, Phynis turned her attention to the women and smiled at Alissa. “Welcome back, Alissa. And you as well, Desa. I thought I’d lost you.”

“I wish we could have told you that we were fine, but Emonael wouldn’t let us. She said it could mess everything up,” Alissa replied with a small smile in return, looking at the floor and holding her hands in front of her, blinking back the tears welling up in her eyes, her voice growing unsteady. “I… I’m so happy to be back!”

“As am I. Though if Isana would let go of me so I could breathe, I’d be very happy,” Desa added, gasping for breath as Isana giggled and let go.

“Are you still wanting to join the army, Isana?” Phynis asked with a smile.

“No, not anymore,” Isana replied, smiling radiantly, then blushing and putting on her icy mask once more. “I mean, if that is acceptable, Your Majesty?”

“Of course it is. I’m glad you’re staying, Isana,” the Queen told her, and reached out to squeeze Sistina’s fingers gently.

A few minutes later the women left, and after a few moments of quiet, Phynis sat back with a sigh, looking at Sistina with a gentle smile, hesitating for a moment before she asked. “Sistina? I was wondering…”

“Yes?” Sistina replied, and Phynis almost broke down laughing, shaking her head as she smiled.

“You like teasing me like that, don’t you? I was just… it’s about your body. When I saw you create it, it looked like it was a glowing white light went to where the body appeared. It looked a lot like your soul did when you nearly died.” Phynis explained, her eyes dimming with tears as she remembered the horrific events from a few weeks before. Blinking them back, she continued. “Are you… mortal now? Are you still a tree, or the world tree, like Irethiel claimed?”

“No, I am still a tree. I am also here, though. The last spark…” Sistina paused, seeming to consider, then shrugged slowly, smiling at Phynis. “With the last, I remade this body. Flesh and blood, made to live as long as you. Through life, and to death. Both are mine, and I am yours. Promise.”

Smiling more widely, Phynis leaned forward to hug Sistina, wrapping her arms around her beloved as she whispered. “Thank you, Sistina.”

***

“Hello, Diane!” Wenris’ voice was unexpected, and Diane let out a yelp as the succubus suddenly embraced her from behind.

“Wenris, unhand my mother!” Jaine spoke crossly, prompting a laugh from the succubus.

“Don’t worry about it, Jaine,” Diane hastily interjected, looking away from the garden to meet the demon’s eyes. Something about Wenris felt different, but she ignored it as she asked, “S-so… did you finish your business?”

“Indeed! I went where Emonael told me to go, and was pleasantly surprised by the result,” Wenris replied happily, her tail lashing like a cat’s. “I’m just back to have a quick chat with you before I go off to deal with a few fires.”

“Oh?” Diane asked, blinking at Wenris’ odd tone, and the succubus gave her a quick kiss.

“Miss Wenris! You’re in public!” Lily’s voice was unexpected, and everyone in the area froze as the gardener glared at them from a nearby field, her eyes narrowed. “This is my garden! Behave!”

Diane’s jaw nearly dropped. She’d never heard such a sharp tone from Lily before, and the way the young woman was glaring at the succubus was different too. Beside Lily was Kitten, and the panther cub gave an almost chiding growl of its own.

“Whatever do you mean, Lily? I just gave her a kiss,” Wenris asked, seeming startled herself.

“You’re in my garden, in front of Diane’s daughter, and I’ve heard about succubi from Sistina,” Lily retorted, her cheeks coloring as she looked away, swallowing. “A-and I won’t have anything like that going on in my garden!”

“Very well, I promise to behave,” Wenris replied, detaching in amusement.

“Good!” Lily replied, and as her courage seemed to vanish she gave Diane an embarrassed look and vanished behind a hedge.

“That was unexpected,” Jaine murmured.

“Quite. The gardener is growing a backbone,” Wenris agreed, smiling. “It’s adorable, really.”

“Wenris? May I ask what it is you were going to talk to me about?” Diane asked, shifting a little. Lily’s interruption had helped her regain some of her poise.

“Oh, yes! Right, I’m a demon lord now, and my responsibilities are going to keep me busy enough I’m not going to be able to attend to you with the attention you deserve,” Wenris explained, a wicked smile on her face as Jaine gasped, but she continued. “Because of that, I’m leaving you here. Go where you want, have relations with whomever you want, but every new moon you’re to sleep alone, waiting for me. That’s it, really.”

“Are… are you serious?” Diane asked, swaying in sudden shock.

“Very. Unless you would like me to drag you off to my new realm?” Wenris asked, raising an eyebrow skeptically. “It’s in desperate need of housekeeping at the moment, I’m afraid. I’ve only got one maid, and she’s untrained.”

“No, no! I just… I have a hard time believing it,” Diane told her in a daze.

“Well, it’s true. Have fun, Diane, I’ll be in touch. Dream of me.” The succubus grinned again as she cut the air open and vanished through her planar portal.

“Mother? Does… does this mean we can go home?” Jaine asked after a moment, the garden all but empty save for the two of them and their maids.

A slow smile grew on Diane’s face, and her voice was soft as tears welled up in her eyes, then began to spill down her face. “I think it does.”

***

“Lily?” Diane’s voice broke the silence of the remote section of the gardens where the young woman had been working, and Lily couldn’t help a yelp of surprise as she jumped.

“Calm down, dear.” Ilmas chuckled softly as he pushed the wheelbarrow toward the new section, grinning. “You really shouldn’t be so nervous.”

“Sorry, I just… I keep worrying that Wenris is going to jump out of the bushes or something.” Lily admitted, taking a deep breath and stepping back, habitually studying the topsoil he’d brought with a critical eye. She tried to avoid looking at Diane, but that became almost impossible when the former monarch spoke.

“You don’t have to worry about that, Lily. She had other things to take care of, and left again.” Diane interjected gently, her words drawing Lily’s eyes to her, almost reluctantly. The idea of speaking to her Queen, even her former Queen, scared Lily.

“I… I suppose that makes me a little happier. Thank you, Your Majesty.” Lily replied, feeling a little more relieved.

“Please, just call me Diane.” The other woman murmured, prompting a laugh from Ilmas as he began shoveling the topsoil into the plot.

“I don’t think she can do that, milady.” He explained, looking up and grinning. “I love Lily, and I’ve come to know her well. To her, you’ll always be her Queen, and that has her scared. She was just a commoner, after all. At least I have the excuse of being from Sifaren.”

“He’s right, Your Majesty. I just… I don’t know what else to do.” Lily admitted, resisting the urge to wring her hands.

“I suppose I can understand that. Still, I wanted to thank you, Lily.” Diane conceded.

“Thank me? Why me?” Lily asked, her eyes jerking up from the ground in shock.

“Because you did interrupt her. You gave me time to calm down and think, Lily, and kept Wenris from possibly doing anything too blatant. You helped, and I appreciate it.” Diane replied, smiling slightly. “I just wanted to let you know that.”

“I… well, thank you. I just thought she was being way too forward and impolite.” Lily mumbled, looking away as she felt her cheeks color. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Is there anything I can help you with? I don’t think I can help much with gardening, but if I can help in some way, it would make me feel better.” Diane asked, looking between them.

“Not that I can think of… wait, umm…” Lily began, then paused and frowned, debating. There was a curiosity that she had but she couldn’t decide if it was worth asking. She was just too scared to ask Phynis or Sistina!

“What is it?” Diane asked after a moment, her interruption causing Lily to start again. After a moment more hesitation, she finally decided to ask her question.

“I just… well, do you have any idea who’s going to be Queen after Phynis? I know that you had your heir, but Phynis doesn’t have that.” Lily explained. “I’m just worried that she’s going to die, and something horrible with the succession. I’d ask, but it just feels… awkward.”

“Ah, I see. That does make sense. You’re from a small town, Lily?” Diane asked, tilting her head curiously.

“Yes. I lived in Vernglade, right on the border.” Lily admitted softly.

“Mmm, that would do it. You likely haven’t heard much about the larger temples of Emira.” Diane murmured, and Lily blinked at the mention of the goddess of love. “They have solutions for when a couple is of the same gender.”

“They do?” Lily asked, blinking in surprise. “What kind of solutions?”

“I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of them. The rituals are difficult and very mana intensive.” Diane explained gently. “The more powerful priests and priestesses of Emira can allow two women to have a child together, even if one of them is infertile. This also can be used for a man and woman, or even for two men… though in the latter case they require a woman to bear the child to term. It’s not commonly used, though.”

“I see. That explains it.” Lily felt relief flood through her, and she shook her head. “I’m glad I didn’t ask. That would have been unpleasant.”

Diane laughed, smiling in return. “I can imagine. Still, I’m going to be here for at least a few more weeks, until we’re certain I can be escorted back to Yisara safely. Feel free to come see me if you want to ask anything else, Lily.”

“I… well, yes, Your Majesty.” Lily agreed, giving an abbreviated curtsy.

At her response, both Diane and Ilmas began to laugh in amusement.

***

“So… now what?” Topaz asked, and Phynis looked up from braiding Ruby’s hair.

“What do you mean?” Amethyst asked first, her voice soft.

The Jewels, Phynis, and Sistina had all retreated back to her cavern for a chance to relax in relative peace and quiet, and Sistina had even been willing to relax her normal meticulous nature and allow the lights to keep it bright in the cavern for an extra few hours. Most of the Jewels were chatting, while Topaz was laying with her head in Ruby’s lap, and Phynis braided the crimson-tressed woman’s hair.

“Well, it sounds like the Archon is dead, and Medaea is… well, mostly free. Kelvanis isn’t really a threat anymore, and the brands are broken.” Topaz replied, shrugging. “It’s going to take some time to work things out, but… what do we do now? I do intend to stay here with all of you, but now what?”

“It’s fortunate that we’re mostly freed of the effects, but there is still much in the way of healing ahead of us, Topaz.” Diamond spoke softly, looking up from a knitting project. “Our own minds are still impacted, and the wounds inflicted on the world as a whole are not going to vanish easily. Medaea’s church is going to have harsh times ahead of it. We need to help the healing, at least as much as we can.”

“I agree. I’m going to have to build Everium as well, which is going to be difficult.” Phynis agreed, nodding soberly.

Little though she liked to admit it, despite everything having come to a relatively good conclusion, there were many difficulties ahead of them. Sistina’s personal power reserves had diminished greatly, and her recovery was further hampered by her freeing all but a handful of people who’d chosen to remain ‘bonded’ to her, as they called it. Phynis had expected Tyria, as the goddess preferred being called, to make up for that, but Sistina had gently explained that the goddess wouldn’t help much more than a few magi would. It had something to do with the nature of divine power, and the discussion had been so complex that she’d had to lay down with a headache.

The only saving grace was that the changes to the Jewels’ minds hadn’t caused problems. Phynis had feared that they might have lost any affection for Sistina or herself, but that hadn’t happened. All the change had done was to allow them the ability to choose and develop emotions on their own, rather than being induced by magic.

“It is. Diamond, what do you think the odds of a schism in the church are?” Ruby asked. “I’m afraid of the answer, but I’d rather know.”

Diamond didn’t respond for a minute, but she finally sighed and shrugged. “With Tyria there to mediate, I don’t think we’ll have so much as a schism as a part of the church choosing to find a new god or goddess. I think that a majority of the church will remain with her in the end, as she finds a new purpose in her life, but it isn’t going to be easy. We can do little about that but accept their choices and wish them the best.”

“Still, all of that is in the future. We’re in a far better position, with people we love.” Opal said, her voice determined as she smiled at the others, and leaned over to give Sistina a kiss. “Right?”

At that, Phynis could just smile and nodded, smirking at Sistina as she stole her line. “Yes. Yes we are.”

Epilogue

“Phynis, it’s so good to see you!” Queen Calath exclaimed, stepping forward to embrace her daughter.

Smiling, Phynis hugged her right back, her voice teasing as she spoke. “Really? I thought you’d be giving me grief about annexing Westgate and the other towns in the area.”

Most of the summer had passed, and fall was bearing down on Beacon and the other nations around it, Calath reflected, looking out at the trees, the leaves starting to change colors. Much had changed, but after a decade of war, the changes didn’t leave her despairing about the future of Sifaren and her people.

Kelvanis had descended into a short, brutal civil war as those enslaved had risen up against their owners, at least most of them. The church of Tyria had been a stabilizing influence, but it hadn’t completely helped, as a surprising number of slaves had actually been criminals that even the Crown Loyalists wouldn’t have trusted. Those criminals had broken out of their slave camps and the quarries where they’d been forced to work and had done an enormous amount of damage in their rage.

Slaid Darkeye, again going by his birth name of Slaid Damrung, had led a group of rebels and Crown Loyalists to quell the rebellion, and in so doing he’d garnered enough support to take control of Kelvanis. His rule was very unsteady for the time being, but one of his first acts had been to sign Fate-bound peace treaties with Sifaren and Yisara, ceding all the territory Kelvanis had taken from the elven nations. He’d also proposed to and married one of Sifaren’s elite scout captains, which had surprised Calath. She didn’t object, though, as Captain Vendis’ life was her own to live. Hopefully they could scale back the army anyway.

Yisara’s army, led by Queen Beryl herself, had actually managed to capture Timberfall and several other fortresses controlled by Kelvanis. Even better, a large number of the border guards had been enslaved elves, and when the brands had vanished they’d promptly switched sides. After a great deal of discussion back and forth, Yisara had chosen to annex Timberfall and the lands south of it instead of expanding to their former borders. The Queen had come to Beacon as well, and Calath was looking forward to meeting the young monarch in person, as well as seeing Diane again.

Sifaren hadn’t reclaimed much of its lands by comparison, as many of the inhabitants had instead chosen to request annexation by Phynis and her new kingdom of Everium. It had been something of a shock, but in truth Calath was relieved. Trying to rebuild there would have been depressing, and she hadn’t looked forward to it. The nobility had complained, but between the support of the new king of Kelvanis, Yisara, and the support of Tyria, they hadn’t objected too much. Now she was here to attend Phynis’ wedding, and to fulfill the promise she’d made.

“I’m not going to object to something the majority of the people in the area wanted. No matter what happened, I still love you,” Calath told Phynis, letting go and smiling. “Even if you are marrying… eight women? Isn’t that a bit much?”

“I’ve come to love them,” Phynis replied with a gentle smile that warmed Calath’s heart, as she led the way into the palace.

The building was beautiful, and Calath admired it as they went, her happiness infecting her tone. “I’m glad to hear that. I assume we’re going to meet them now?”

“That’s right.” Phynis nodded, looking a little nervous as she took the handle of a door, then opened it.

Eight women were waiting for them, and Calath couldn’t help the sense of surprise at the appearance of them. Though she’d been warned about the Jewels, she hadn’t truly believed the claims of what had been done to them until now, with their glittering, jewel-toned hair and eyes. They looked serene for the most part, and the one with fiery orange hair gave a nervous wave.

Sistina stood in front, and the dryad smiled, nodding. “Queen Calath Constella. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Hello, Sistina. I’ve heard a great deal about you. You are… much more than I ever had been willing to believe,” Calath replied slowly, stepping into the room. The door shut behind her as Phynis stepped inside, and after a moment Calath curtsied, deep and long, as she bowed her head. “I owe you an apology, Sistina. I believed you a foe, when without you I would have lost everything that was important to me. I’m sorry, and hope you will forgive me.”

For a long, long moment the room was silent, as Sistina looked on Calath carefully.

“Your trespass is forgotten.” Sistina’s words seemed to echo in the room, and she smiled gently, shaking her head. “To live is to make mistakes. One simply must be willing to learn from them. I learned much from my namesake. All is forgiven, Queen Calath.”

Calath rose from her curtsey, blinking in surprise at how calmly and easily Sistina had forgiven her. Her surprise was interrupted as Phynis giggled, taking her hand and dragging her forward, smiling brightly.

“Here, Mother, let me introduce you to everyone!” Phynis said, grinning as she pulled Calath forward.

Seeing the gentle smile flicker across Sistina’s face, Calath’s tension vanished utterly, and she laughed as she was pulled forward to meet the other women, the last of her fears finally gone.