Alexander Rahl paced about a wooded clearing west of Trinsic, surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds of shades who had come to silently watch his slow descent into insanity. He paced about the clearing, pounding his fist into his hand, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, and sometimes both. Even the shades, with millennia of knowledge and experience as watchers, couldn’t tell which was which anymore.
“The world stood up…” he cried…or laughed…to no one in particular, “…the world stood up…”
He had been saying that for a while, much to the confusion and dismay of the gathering. The shade of Kironius Mengst stepped forward from a tree he had been attempting futilely to lean on and put himself into Alexander’s field of view.
“I think it’s about time you stopped fuckin’ about kid,” he said gruffly, trying to determine where Alexander’s black orbs were looking. He laughed then, a hollow, tearful, disturbing laugh.
“Oh yes…must stop ”˜fuckin’ about’,” he laughed, imitating Mengst’s strange accent, “yes…I imagine it is…my forces are on the run, two of the Five have betrayed me…no rings…no Luthenium to make more…yes…I must immediately begin to stop ”˜fuckin’ about’!” He laughed weakly and leaned back against a tree, closing his eyes.
“You know, kid, I’m about sick and bloody tired of you runnin’ about like you don’t know what yer bloody well here for. You knew all that was going to happen. You knew getting into this, jes the Mad Bitch didn’t, and you still let ”˜er string you along like an addle-brained child.”
“What’re you going to do about it Mengst, haunt me?”
“Dammit Alexander I’m try-“
“I KNOW!” screamed Alexander, hopping upright from the tree to face the shade nose to nose, “DON’T YOU THINK I’VE DONE THAT ON PURPOSE?!?! DON’T YOU THINK I HAD A PLAN!?!?”
Mengst didn’t flinch, he’d been dead a long time and was surprised – and intimidated – by very little.
“I think you *had* a plan, lad. I really believe that, even though some of these ol’ dead haughties don’t. But you lost it somewhere along the way…you know it as well as I do. Now that lass is dead and gone for good, and who knows what other trouble will come of it. It’s time to end it.”
Alexander shook his head, then nodded, then closed his eyes and shook his head again.
“How long do you think you can keep going with Her in your head huh? You’ve about already lost it kid.”
“I’m scared Cap’n,” whispered Alexander, shaking slightly, “I’m scared of the fire…”
“I would be too, lad,” he said, “but it’ll only be long enough for you to do what you have to.”
Alexander nodded slowly, crying now.
“The world stood up…” he said quietly,”…the world stood up…and said ”˜No’.”
“That it did lad.”
Alexander nodded and sat down on the ground and closed his eyes. He reached into the dark places in his mind, the places he’d been frightened to go his entire life. He reached to the feeling that had been with him since his birth, the connection he had ignored, the birthright he had forsaken. At once, the roaring of Kishara in his head went strangely silent. He took a deep breath, taking in the balmy southern air and savoring the first moment of peace and clarity he had felt since before his first journey to Tablenhelm.
“I am Terath’Anim,” he whispered, “I walk in the shadows so the innocent may walk in the light…”
“No,” said Mengst softly, “you’re the Chosen One. Do what you were sent here for.”
Alexander nodded, and he did.
He reached out, and opened himself up to Aluviel.
Immediately, he was filled with a searing flame, his blood felt as if it were on fire as the light flooded into him burning out Kishara’s taint. In a moment of panic, he tried to stem the flow, tried to sever the connection, his instincts for self-preservation taking over, but it was too late. The light came, and burned the shadows from his soul. He screamed – an inhuman, horrifying scream of pain.
After a while, though the pain had not subsided, he became somewhat detached from it, as a soldier would a grievous wound. He stood slowly, looked to the north, and vanished.
General Debinani Rahl sat in his battered old chair in his shattered office, sipping from a flask of whiskey. It had been a hard night and a hard week. The possessed ones were on the run and he had his home back, but there were others trying to use his weakness for their own gain, and he had drawn far too much of the taint than he should have from Fox the night before. Unlike his son, he wasn’t born to be a vessel for such things, and he still felt the sickness inside him.
He took another swig of the whiskey to try to warm up the dark, cold place that had been growing in his soul, but it didn’t help.
He examined the tiny portrait of Xavierra that still sat on his desk. Alexander had not touched the picture of his mother, it sat in the same place as it did before this had all started. The portrait and the mirror were the only two things in the small room not destroyed by what the General could only assume, was his son’s battle against the presence in his head. When he looked up, Alexander was standing in the room with him.
His face was dirty and streaked with tears, his fingertips bloody, but his countenance was calm, and from his eyes radiated a warm, white glow. He shuddered slightly as he stood there, and his jaw was set against the pain.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” said Alexander, his voice hollow and distant, “you could’ve been consumed…”
“Almost was, a few times,” replied the General quietly, still not entirely sure what to make of it all, “but I had to stay a step ahead of you…had to know what you were doing and why.”
Alexander nodded. “Take it off. It’s over now, and I’ve caused you enough suffering I think.”
Slowly, hesitant to take his eyes from his son, the General removed his boot, and plucked a small white ring from his toe. He tossed it to Alexander, who didn’t move to catch it. The ring struck his chest and burned away with a sizzle.
“This is going to hurt,” said Alexander flatly.
“What is-“ And then it struck. The General convulsed slightly as the pain ripped through him, burning away the taint that he had been drawing into himself for over a week, burning away the old connection he still felt to Kishara from his time wielding the Ring of Spirit, burning away the shadow over his soul that Erlich’s foul concoctions had left behind. When it was over, he took a moment to make sure all his parts were still where they should be, and looked back to his son.
“I’m sorry,” said Alexander quietly, “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done.”
“So am I,” replied the General, “Alex, you don’t-“ Alexander cut him off with a gesture.
“There is nothing left to be done but this,” he said firmly, “and it must be done now…while I’m still capable of doing it.”
And then the halls of the dark tower north of Trinsic were filled with light.
Across the lands, men and women in crimson cloaks hid in dark places, out of the eyes of a world that hunted them. They sat in dark cells and chained to beds, they huddled together in basements and caves. As one, their veins were filled with the fire, their bodies were wracked with pain, and their screams could be heard throughout the world. Their eyes were filled with a soft white light that burned away the black flecks that had swirled in them previously, and the rings on their fingers turned to dust and blew away in an unnatural wind.
All but one.
The woman who was once Sarah Athens sat in a secluded hovel in Nujel’m, cradling her lover’s head in her lap as he screamed and convulsed with the burning light that consumed him. She ran her fingers through his hair, tried to offer him some comfort until the worst of it was over. When he had fallen into a fitful, restless sleep, she sighed sadly and slid the Ring of Water from her finger, which immediately turned to dust and blew away, taking the warmth of Cyan Marinetta’s faith and strength with it, leaving her feeling cold and empty, a wanted woman, sitting in the dark, a wounded soldier quietly sobbing in her lap.
One by one, those that could walk and those that were free to, returned home. They found their family – their brothers and sisters – waiting for them with whiskey and tears. They sat on barstools and lay in beds, some embracing their family with apologies on their lips, and some alone in silence. They laid roses in the shield of their fallen sister, and set it out upon the ocean to be carried away with the tide into the long night.
Soldiers live, and wonder why.
A bonfire was lit in front of the tower, a pyre of crimson cloaks, and together they sat and watched the flames consume them.
All but one.
In the jungles to the north of the tower, out of sight of the rest, another pyre burned, attended by a lone man. His uniform was neatly pressed, the roses embroidered into his cloak seemed to shimmer, and he wore a violet rose broach. His black hair had touches of grey at the temples, but not for the first time, and hung long and loose about his shoulders.
General Debinani Rahl stood alone and watched the flames consume the body of his first-born son, the last of his children, and he could not bring himself to weep. For the rest of his days, it would tear at his heart that he could not cry for his fallen child.
He later put the ashes in a white stonework urn, and buried them next to Alexander’s mother in the woods east of Vesper – and on that spot black roses would grow, and no beast of the land or air would come there for many years.
The Aluvian Cycle foretold that the Chosen One would be born into the world of men, and would spill his blood to save it. It never told that he would have to save it from himself. The world may never know what designs Aluviel and Kishara had for him, what purposes they wished him to fulfill, but the world will never know many things, and this was no different.
In the end, it was a moment of clarity, and a leap of faith. There are worse lessons.
What will come next for the soldiers of the Black Rose Society – now that their work is done – is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for certain:
History rarely lets her champions rest.
Thus ends the Aluvian Cycle.