Epilogue: Time All Things Upends

Sometimes humans just die. And you cannot save them.
Sometimes humans do not die, and you cannot save them.
—Natalie Young

Later

Moriko sat at the table with her back to the café entrance. She only saw the sea.

Again she wondered if this was a good idea.

Probably not, but she'd live either way.

I shall not pretend to know wisdom in this matter, Vleridin told her, but if she speaks falsely or cruelly, you need only say the word and I will bite off her nose or fingers.

Moriko laughed. She had her pokédex out so she wouldn't seem unstable, laughing at nothing. The server had brought her a hard cider that she'd drained in a few swallows, and she made herself drink the second one more slowly.

The sunset was beautiful, turning the ocean into a river of fire, and dolphins leapt far away in the surf. One last night before her life started again. She hoped the rest of it would have no more fucking demons.

Hey, she could hope.

She caught sight of a familiar silhouette as Angela circled the café tables, looking for her; Moriko stood as she approached.

"Hi, Moriko," Angela said. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear like she always did. She smiled, nervously.

The movies said that she should hug her dramatically, have a grand reconciliation to fix everything.

You couldn't build on sand. You had to build, slowly, on rock. Maybe it would never be enough. But she could try.

"Hi, Angela," Moriko said. "Thanks for coming."

x.x.x.x.x

Yesterday

The ocean went from azure to blue to indigo as the gray man swam down and down, until the water was like ink and the sun just a memory.

The pressure was excruciating; he was caught in a vise, in the earth, in the center of a star. He would not drown, but would be crushed to death by water.

No, drowning was beyond him now, or death by pressure, or guns, or bombs, or orbital lasers; he was in the master's hands, and the master required his pain, only. He had endured much for it, and had always been rewarded.

Strange lights flickered here and there in the deepest dark; weird creatures flitted through the crushing pressure, defying description. A pattern twinkling like a distant constellation suggested a tibyss. They went to die here, at the bottom of the sea.

The gray man seemed to swim for an aeon, down and down and down. Perhaps he was travelling to the past, or to a pocket of old time held deep underneath the sea, where the world was new and still held a place for titans.

At last he slowed, hovering over the silt at the bottom of the ocean. He let his mind wander through the darkness that no eye could pierce; the landscape was uneven, shaped into hills and drumlins with distant mountains beyond. There were vents in places, where the heat of the earth bubbled out and boiled the ocean. Warmth and sulfur, fire and brimstone, giving life where light had never reached.

Nothing lived here, on this cold, barren plain—or at least not for long.

Below them, millions of years' worth, were the dead.

He kneeled in the silt and sent, as strongly as he could:

Hail, lord. I wish an audience. I speak for the master.

The thought would go a long way, he knew, and could awaken something unintended. He grinned there in the inky, crushing water. He hoped so.

But no reply came for long minutes, the silence total aside from the gray man's own pulse in his ears and the straining of his bones under the equal and opposite hands of the ocean and the master.

The Lord of Currents is capricious, the master whispered to him. It will test me, defy me. So!

At that moment there came a noise, too low to hear with the ears but felt in the bones and teeth, a groan from the earth itself. The hills shifted out in the dark, falling flat and reappearing elsewhere.

The noise went on and on until he wondered if the earth was about to rend apart, boiling water about to erupt where it touched the blood of the world.

Then an eye opened in front of him, an eye the width of a street. Silt and grime encrusted it. Red light streamed out of the iris, which glowed and swirled like molten metal; the cross-shaped pupil was a window into an abyss.

A thought came, a single word, and the force of it would have destroyed him if not for the master's protection.

SPEAK.

x.x.x.x.x

Tomorrow

The whitikhan lay alone in the capture ball for—it couldn't say how long; the ball's walls were opaque, shadowed, but for confused sensations vaguely transmitted from the other side.

All at once it felt a presence, a human presence, though not the soft, easily-plucked auras it was used to. This one was tall, rigid, strong, as sharp as a claw and burning with might.

It was a demon master's aura, and the whitikhan longed to be protected, as once the Night's Empress had protected it, as once it had served Ituras, whose strength had stood between it and ruin.

The walls opened, and the whitikhan reformed on concrete strung with wires—some human trap—and it waited for the demon master to appear.

"Who are you?" the master asked it.

"I am hunger. I am thirst. I can lie on the ice a hundred nights and not freeze. I can drink a river of blood and not burst. Show me your enemies."

Linden grinned.

x.x.x.x.x

A/N: :) So Comes Ice After Fire will be followed by Gods and Demons II: Among the Exiles. Thanks for reading!