The Universe, Reversed. Some time later, and far away.

The little AI lurking on Kyra's computer had reported back at last. Reported back to the woman who had been a priestess, had been a healer, had been an assassin, had recruited a team of killers on behalf of both a mortal and immortal empress.

It showed the two of them on a ship together, intoxicated with one another. If they could let it end there, the story would be a comedy. Order symbolically restored with the coming together of man and woman. Well, as much order as could be restored, symbolically or otherwise, by the coming together of a brutal killer and a borderline hybristophiliac.

Made absolute sense they'd fall for each other. He would not have seen another Furyan for years; Kyra had probably never seen any Furyan but him. What was a decade's age difference to that?

He would storm the gates of hell for her. They might not prevail against him. And since she had been young and foolish enough to give herself body and soul to a goddess, the girl could be swept up and dumped down behind those gates at any time.

She wondered, not for the first time, how the Elementals had found a Furian child she'd missed; how they'd arranged to have her on the Hunter-Grazner. Her reward for asking was a smile that chilled her to the bone.

Behind that chilling smile was the hard fact that these other agents of the gods had engineered an accident that thrust those two together. Given them time to attach. At the cost of dozens of people, good and bad. Unwilling sacrifices, men and women translated to nothing more than a means to an end.

A rebellious part of her was glad he'd frelled up their plans for a while. Managed to hide himself and the girl for months. By the time the girl surfaced, he was long gone, and there was nothing to do but look for him, and wait, and watch. Though in that time, millions had died who might have lived, if only it had gone seamlessly.

In the end, they calculated right. All about what buttons to push. Personal was important, to that extent, because it worked on him. Sending men he hated to hurt a little girl he loved had worked. Put him back in play; brought him back into the light from whatever darkness he had hidden himself in.

Life's last best chance, in the hands of an incarnation of death. The best possible future was much more likely now.

But the best possible future had the girl dead at his feet, killed by a dead branch of a dead tree. Tricked by gods and groomed by dreams to walk, head high, spear in hand, to the gallows ground. An unwilling sacrifice, tricked into dying for the greater good. There were other futures possible, but this was optimal; the least cost for the most gain. One life for billions.

One life. A means to an ends.