The pain is coming back again. Since the day her home was ravaged apart, it has been growing, a pressure seeping between her ears. And now it growls, rumbles, pounds a drumming rhythm that pushes her down the path.
At the end of the road is the face of heaven. The angel surveys her with half-closed, indifferent eyes. As though she’s tired. Or bored. Her feet don’t touch the ground. Her wings are as still as her gaze, most of the time. They wrap around her body, her head, hang in the air, and there – there are so many wings, she must be hallucinating.
Her heart thuds. It is getting uncomfortably fast. It has never been this fast before. It has never hurt so much.
She just has to keep walking. Has to march on.
(In the end, Gulcasa, who had held such a vile place in her heart for so long – just seeing him devoured by delirious bloodlust, crawling by his fingertips through the burning tomb of the castle, made her insides twist with pity. Regret, even.
They said he had planned to take the world down with him, but she thinks, somehow, that he couldn’t have known what he was going to do, because – because he took care of his own. He took care of his people, he took care of Elena, he took care of her sisters, loved them like she would have, and they loved him enough to die for him, and – she thinks he must have loved Nessiah, too.
He would do whatever it took to protect his people. In the end, he would do the right thing.)
Yggdra must strain her neck to look at the angel in the eye.
“Do not defy us.” The angel’s tone is even, her gaze admonishing. “Lay down the sword, or face damnation.”
“Why didn’t you help us?” She breathes deeper to quell her heartbeat. It barely works. “I asked for your guidance, every day. I believed that this sword was given to us from you – from the gods.”
The angel does not respond.
Colored spots dot her vision, purple, red, blue, yellow, it’s such a mess – they blur the edge of her vision, shudder with the thunder piercing behind her eyes. This has happened before, when countless questions wracked her and the sight and stench of blood inundated her in jolts of pain and punches of pressure; the only pause was when she could close her eyes and sit with the others, sure that everything would be all right, that justice was their guide.
She cannot close her eyes here.
(Kylier had hated her more than anything. It must have been hate. But she had died for them, twice, to set things right. Yggdra had heard her screams mingling with the pounding in her heart, and they never stopped because she could not put down the sword, had to bring it down on her makeshift body of all the people they had torn apart, had to tear it through again and again – and yet, she still believed in her, still believed that Yggdra could fix everything.
And she would fix everything. She would.)
She does not hesitate. “Why didn’t you stop this?”
The angel’s face is unreadable. Her eyes are emptier than any dead man’s.
“It is not within our masters’ responsibilities to interfere with the affairs of man.”
It’s enough to make her hands shake. Sweat gathers on her back and around her forehead and her hands. She feels the sword slipping out of her fingers and clings even harder. There is a scream fighting in the pit of her throat; she bites it back, barely, because it does not suit a queen.
She will make a better queen than these masters, she knew. They claimed to not interfere, but they were the rotting root of all this evil. They are the ones who dug out the mess of graves that linger behind her.
Yggdra stands with her shoulders pulled back.
(Nessiah was a monster, to be sure. But he hurt. Kylier said so. And she saw it, too – certainly, he decorated his pain with unforgivable grotesques and perverse giggles, but his voice cracked in little moments, as though he had been crying. The sound of his grief had been too much like hers, sometimes.
Grief, she thinks, must have made Nessiah do it all. It was the feeling that had driven all of this, from the start. It took her from rallying a liberation army to slaying good people for the sake of a world without war, without cruelty, without pain thudding thudding thudding in her skull—
She wonders, if things had gone in a different order, if she would have given him this sword, this part of her. Or maybe they would stand here together.)
There is a shout from far behind her as lightning plunges, singes the air around her, blinds her in white. She does not flinch but remains tall, breathes through her nose, steadies herself. She stares into pale red eyes, keeps her face as motionless as the angel’s even as her heart is about to rip out of the cage in her chest, even as her head is about to burst apart.
She has held herself together before, in the genocides she carved out, in the face of death, in the heart of hell itself. To do so this time is easier than anything.
The angel closes her eyes. Perhaps in thought.
“This is your final warning. Seal the sword, and return to your world.”
Her – her grip slips again. She grabs the sword with both hands, and looks down the now-dull eye in the pommel. There are centuries of souls wrapped in this weapon. She thinks about leaving them behind, can’t even consider it without her stomach wrenching. But Paltina’s castle shines bright in the daylight, and the people are waiting for their queen, and there are fiefs in need of a ruler, families waiting for them to come back, people who need them, things that some part of her believed she would never, ever see again – her head is splitting apart, it is splitting apart, she can barely see anything, and if she thinks any longer she will miss this chance to save everything she loves and bring peace once and for all and restore justice to this world—
The sword snaps up. A lot of things break.
The matter is resolved in the same way she has resolved everything else.