He rides into the city in resplendent armor, ivory and silver, wolf-fur cloak draped around his slim shoulders, and he wishes only for a mourning veil.
He has no tears to hide—he still has that much control of his physicality, at least—but his sorrow burns cold inside his chest, beating waves against his ribcage and threatening to burst out of his fingertips at the drop of a needle. Has the crystalline shard of his shadow form finally broken free of the divine prison of his heart? Will it consume him, bring him back into the Heat and the Dark and all he’d once been? What would the citizens who line the street think of him, an otherworldly terror come to rain divine fire on them all? Some twisted creature to pity, perhaps?
But they will see none of that. He straightens on his horse, shakes his golden curls behind his silver-plated pauldrons, and focuses his gaze straight ahead.
A bloodless victory, his general had said, no casualties. It’s all we could have hoped for .
He knows better. He’d felt it, when... when...
The city is not burning. There was no siege to be had. All around him, there are few signs of struggle. The cobblestones remain intact, the walls whole. Below him, the divine cogs of Reconfiguration are silent, null, the echoes of their magic fading like a dream the harder he tries to capture their traces. His own magic feels shot through with snagging thorns. Stagnant. Like walking through briar woods, or swimming against the current.
The conquering procession clears the canopied undercity, and then he sees the tower. And oh, what a tower it is, beautifully proportioned, terrific in its dimensions. He’d felt the world freeze, fixed into place with almighty force, when...
He’d imagined some terrible obsidian jag, a fatal wound made metal, but the terraced tower is stately in its dark stone columns and utilitarian in the windows that gesture towards yet-unseen interior space. Even in death, Samothes would not see a building go to disuse. What better way to mourn the god of labor, indeed.
Above them, the sun burns, blinding white and hot in the sky. It feels closer now than ever before; the city steams, mirage-shimmers, under its unrelenting attention. The first of Samothes’ creations, his most holy gift. Soon, it will have outlived him.
The crowd thins as they approach the tower. He does not blame them; the air is thick with the aftertaste of Reconfiguration. It tastes of gunpowder, then molten iron, then a twist that he can describe only as Samothes , and he’s in a workshop under a volcano watching the hammer come down on the metal, catching sparks as they fly off the anvil, tasting Samothes’ sweat on the air— no. Not now. He cannot think of it. He cannot think of him. The city needs to see their new ruler, steadfast and steady, not a grieving widower.
They disembark at the base of the tower. Up close, he can see the intricate stonework that adorns the walls. He wants to stop and study them, to forestall his party’s entrance into the mausoleum, but there will be time enough for that later. He can hear his entourage assembling behind him, their soft dismounts and the clanking of fine armor.
It will be over soon, he reminds himself. It’s already over , a soft voice offers, but he slides it away.
It sounds like his father, or his husband.
A step forward, then another. His feet do not feel like his own. The doorway, now. He pauses and places a hand on the jamb.
How cruelly in character for his husband to build himself a mausoleum. He always held tight to his knowledge of creation, did not trust others to do the work he did, and so his widow must walk the cold stone halls of his tomb.
Before he can hesitate further, he strides through the entryway. Torches ignite as he walks, casting orange shadows on the stone walls, and he thinks of the burning golden sea and the precise shade of molten iron, and of the sun.
Another doorway, and he feels the air pressure change as the entryway expands into a cavernous chamber. The high-vaulted ceilings are alight with miniscule suns, and he follows their arc downward to the far side of the room, and there lies the sarcophagus.
It is so small.
He knows how bodies shrink when their souls move beyond, understands the metaphysics of animation, yet Samothes had emanated power, shone larger than the human form he kept. The sarcophagus cannot be his, and yet... it is the size of a human. Or of a god. And who else could it be?
If his step falters, nobody comments nor offers him assistance. Up the marble steps, armored footfalls echoing, and then the sarcophagus is in front of him. He reaches out his hand, removes his glove, and traces his fingertips along the smooth surface. He finds he does not need to bend down at all, that the marble top is at the ideal level for his hand, and he wonders if this was intentional. Did Samothes recall his height, the precise bend of his elbow, when he... when he designed this... this...
The marble is cold, too cold for Marielda, for Samothes. The cold is his domain, carried with him on his white pelt. Samothes should be warm, was always warm against his back, was always in motion. He should not be cold, not be still, not be gone.
“Leave me.” His retainer nods, and he traces the echo of his retinue’s steps as they retreat through the cavernous mausoleum.
His white-wolf cloak hangs heavy in the still air. He feels the tears beginning to trace hot tracks down his cheeks, then quickly cool to the surrounding air.
Then out of the corner of his eye, a flash of gold—he turns, and for a moment he sees the echo of a broad form in gilded robes—Samothes. But the tomb is empty. He is alone.
He kneels down, presses his forehead against the cool marble, and sobs.
Samothes may have been content to stay in one place, but he was never so still as this. If Samot traced his flights across the plains, a whirling festival of bright silks and fine wine and tantalizing conversation, Samothes was a living fire, the swing of his hammer, the sparks of ingenuity and the will to bring his ideas to life.
Samothes had built a land of pendulums, constant and predictable motion. A solid place for his flighty husband to land. A home for him to return to.
And now he is here, in that spark-filled land, alone. His husband gone, his father gone, his son gone. All beyond his reach.
Oh, Samothes. Never did I think I would have to live in a world without you.
The marble has begun to warm to his touch, damp from his wet breath. Breath. In, out. In, out. He draws his hand back and replaces his glove. He straightens, stands, brushes off his silk robes, dries his eyes.
Breath . Compose yourself.
He has a city to command, in the wake.
They’re in the kitchen of their house in the woods. Children’s laughter carries on the breeze; the angle of the sunlight on the wooden table suggests late afternoon. Samothes sits with a mug of steaming drink, a smile on his handsome face, and Samot looks down at his hands to see a matching mug gripped between them.
“It’s... good to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you, too.”
Samothes takes a sip of his drink, and Samot mirrors him. It’s a smoky tea, a special blend of Samol’s. Samot hasn’t tasted it in... how long has it... time eludes his grasp, feels distant and inconsequential as he sits in the afternoon sunlight in their house in the woods, and Samothes sets down his mug with a soft thud.
“How have you been?”
Samot sighs, “I miss you.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“It’s not, no.”
Samothes hums, takes a sip of his tea. “Why are you here, my love?”
“I... I live here. With you, and Mael.”
Something shifts. No, it was nothing. He has nothing to concern himself with.
Samothes sets down his mug with an echoing tap. “If you’ll excuse me.”
Samot nods, and Samothes pushes out his chair, stretches his arms— a small detail, and yet so vivid —and walks out of the kitchen into the hallway Samot knows to be beyond the door.
He leans back in his chair and savors the sunlight, the warmth, the wood carvings above the doors. What a beautiful home they share.
The laughter sounds closer, now; Maelgwyn must be on his way home for dinner. He should go meet him at the front door, apprehend him before Confidence Alive tracks dirt onto the carpet he just cleaned.
He strides out the kitchen doorway into a battlefield.
Around him, foot soldiers fall, jewel-tone uniforms on a field of trampled grass. Fire streaks through the sky; his mages shoot back ice, and the winds pick up as the earth of Hieron tries valiantly to reconcile the disparate temperatures. Or perhaps it’s Hieron Himself watching his sons clash on the plains, gesturing towards the reconciliation that will not come.
Behind him, the clank of plate armor. He turns, and Samothes blinds him. Sun-crafter, radiant in armor of shining gold, the image of authority, of divinity, of pure power, yet Samot can look only at his eyes and the kindness they hold, the forgiveness they presuppose.
Wait. This isn’t how it happened.
And Samot feels his stomach sink as the façade cracks, bleeds.
“I—you’re not real. I’m dreaming.”
Samothes nods, unmoving. “Wake up if you wish, but I hope you at least give me the chance to take in the details of your face.”
And oh, how Samot wants nothing more than that, so he nods and lowers his sword. Samothes approaches, his footfalls the only sounds on the battlefield, and reaches out his hands towards his husband. Samot places his fingers in Samothes’ own and lets himself be drawn into his husband’s arms, warm even through the shining armor.
Samothes holds him tight and rocks back and forth, whispering into his hair, and Samot buries his face into the place where Samothes’ shoulder and neck meet. He smells like home.
One breath, two. He pulls back, stares up into his husband’s loving eyes. Here is what he’d missed with every fiber of his being. This feeling of completion, of harmony, of desire.
Then his arm moves of its own accord, and his blade slides clean into Samothes’ sternum.
He’s frozen. His body is infinitely heavy as Samothes coughs ruby red ichor.
“I—no, I can, I can fix this, I can—”
He reaches for reconfiguration, and nothing comes. Samothes slumps against him, heavy and solid and dying and Samot can do nothing but murmur empty platitudes as he helps him to the ground, the jeweled hilt of his sword still protruding from under his breastplate.
“I’m sorry... I’m so sorry.”
Samothes coughs, gasps out, “Are you?”
And Samot wakes atop the tower in the city of his first light with sunlight in his eyes.
He does not sleep for many years.
The sun is brighter here than ever I knew it before, yet its light feels harsh without your guiding touch. It is not the harshness that I mind, no, but the unrelenting constancy, the unchanging quality of it. You used to sing me melodies in sunbeams, but now your instrument is frozen in a static, discordant chord.
I remember when I was a feral child, new to my skin, and I spent my days burrowed within the hyphae under pine forests, until one day I emerged to your sun. I stood and stared up at the blazing sun until my new eyes went white hot. I didn’t mind the sensation—it was novel, as most sensations then were—and I still enjoy the pain of looking upon your most holy creation.
I’ve chosen to call this place the City of First Light. After you, of course. My first light. How you burned me then, and burn me still.
Your love, alone,
Samot consolidates power quickly enough in the City of First Light, and as soon as the parliament is stable he begins to pass off control. Within a decade, he finds he can be a figurehead more often than not, and then that he can be absent more often than not.
The City of First Light heals, rebuilds, flourishes. The walls rebuilt, and soon bridges connect the island to the mainland, and Samot thinks of Samol and wherever he’s run off to.
Without reconfiguration, Hieron trembles under the weight of permanence. Severea and Galenica suture the disintegrating edges, his old plains of revelry now barren and piecemeal. This Hieron was not meant to be permanent; they are a ship becalmed. The Heat and the Dark lap hungry at the edges.
Papa, papa! Tell me the story! Again!
Settle down, settle down, I will. Ahem.
“In the beginning, there was Nothing, and then Nothing flinched, and your grandfather was born.”
“And from that moment on, Nothing regretted its mistake. ”
Well, that last part he left out.
He occupies himself with the search for solutions, for plans, for anything to delay the inevitable. He is not so guileless as to believe his search to be for a panacea, but he pores over manuscripts and treatises anyway, gathers his mages, builds a university for them to work. They desolate the land further in their hubris, and he does not cry.
He sees Samothes everywhere—in the sun-drenched halls of the tower, in the candlelight nights he roams the city. A hint of cinnamon in the air, the bitter tang of steel on his tongue, a tall figure in an anonymous crowd with dark hair and broad shoulders and none of his radiance.
Centuries pass. Around him, the world changes. Communities reconnect, trade resumes, the Church of Samothes spreads, festers. He does not know what has become of their house in the woods.
He rarely leaves the tower. What keeps him here, he wonders: is it the selfsame force that pins his son to the lowest depths of Hieron? Is it guilt?
Are they one and the same?
He expects to wake up one day and realize that he has not thought of his husband for a long time, but Samothes lingers, unresolved, on the edge of his thoughts. On occasion he turns a corner in the tower and sees Samothes; not a passing resemblance, not a fleeting sensation, but Samothes himself.
Then he blinks, and Samothes is gone. A ghost, or a figment of his imagination?
Is there a difference?
Samot is at his desk scratching out a treatise on alchemic interaction when he hears his suite’s door creak open.
“Who is it?”
No response, just a familiar step behind him. Soft and sure. Fitting for his king-god.
Warm fingers brush his hair aside, and Samot sets down his pen, rubs his eyes, and hums at the sensation. He feels a warm breath, then a kiss pressed to the nape of his neck, gentle and soothing and so foreign he could cry.
He tilts back in his chair and leans into his husband’s comforting embrace as cool air blows through the open window.
“What are you working on?”
“This? A treatise on alchemic interaction and musical tones, with attention towards... you know this.”
Samothes chuckles, and Samot feels it against his back, “How would I know what you’re working on? I just got here.”
“You’re just in my head.”
“You’re not real. I’m dreaming.”
“Well, I wanted to hear it in your voice.”
Samot knows better than to think this real. He spoke to Samothes—to the real Samothes—last week, through an ancient mask of his own creation. His husband, still alive, beyond his reach. Safe from the encroaching end.
He knows this is not Samothes, and yet... Samot breaths in, feels the tension leaving his thin frame. Samothes is warm and solid against his back, and keeps bending down to press kisses up and down the back of his neck.
Eventually, Samothes murmurs, “What are you thinking?”
“...Did you change the height of your sarcophagus to match me?”
Samothes laughs, “Of all the questions I expected, that was not one of them.”
“Well, did you?”
Samot pauses, feels the weight of Samothes’ hands on his shoulders.
“I could have grown shorter or taller, shed this form entirely in my grief. How could you have known?”
“I had hoped you would find comfort in your oldest, most enduring form. It... it seems I was not mistaken.”
“How long have you been turning over that question in your mind?”
“How long has it been since that day?”
Samot reaches up to unbutton the top buttons of his shirt, and Samothes runs his hand under the loosened collar and traces his fingers down to the curves of Samot’s chest. The action has a quality of completion; no precursor to something more, but an end in and of itself. A gesture of comfort, of intimacy.
How long it’s been.
Samot clears his throat. “I’m departing for the Last University soon. Will you follow me?”
Samothes chuckles, “Did you not just say I was in your head?”
“You are... not entirely my own creation. You left echoes of yourself in this tower, my love.”
“I see. Well then, I shall await your safe return.”
Outside, the wind has picked up. The sky darkens, the clouds heavy with hot summer rain. Samothes hums, pensive.
“There’s a storm coming.”
Samot nods and places his hand over his husband’s. “I should close the window.”
A pause, then Samothes hums, “You don’t seem to be moving.”
Samot gives a small laugh. “No... your hands feel so nice.”
The rain begins, and Samothes lifts his hands away. Samot grumbles and rises to close the window. Distantly, thunder claps.
“I’ll see you soon.”
He turns back, but Samothes is gone.
How long, now, have I been writing you letters you shall never read, and speaking to your ghost? I still have so many things left to say to you, will never run out of words I wish I could say to your face, but that is not how the world works. The Heat and the Dark rage against the land, have taken large swaths without hope of return, and from the top of my tower here I can see the arcs of my holy panacea crackling under the strain of resistance. As I write, the Stars begin their descent, and I will arrive to their imminent victory.
I wish for many things. I wish the wheel of history had turned differently. I wish, selfishly, that you were with me now, that we were facing the end together. I wish, even more selfishly, that I were by your side in another place as Hieron succumbs. I wish I’d had more time.
I've put on my wedding ring under my armor. I can only hope that when they bury me, the ring will remain.
Your love, always and forever,
He opens his eyes and sees only light.
Then opens his eyes and stares up into—Samothes.
Samothes. His sun.
“Samot... it’s good to see you again.”
And Samot bursts into tears.