Epilogue: Is This Goodbye?: Reflections and Returns
Bound in bandages and barely able to walk, Dumuzi stood atop the highest balcony of the towers on the Ziggurat, observing the festivities below at the base of the mountain. The citizens of the Tribes had gathered in his honour, and a full procession and sacred dance was being held to commemorate the long-awaited age of peace. The melody of tambourines, trumpets and flutes were whisked up Mt. Sumeru by the cool wind, and the jubilant singing was easily audible.
Now, all that remained was to gently guide this land into its glorious future, with Miria by his side.
Formal diplomatic relations with the Isles of Man had been established. Such a thing was an impossibility in past generations, when the War between humans and Dragons had reached the peak of its fury. But with the new ways of new generations came an overturning of the old order – the violence, the bloodshed, the despair. It felt awkward indeed, not planning for war every waking moment, but it was an awkward serenity that he felt within his bosom, and he would much rather feel awkwardly peaceful than exultantly murderous.
He did not turn as Anu made his way outside the Throneroom, to join his son on the balcony. "You have explained to your courtiers?"
"Yes," said Anu. "A year from now, you shall be Emperor, and I will pass into the ranks of the Ancestors."
"They will look upon you as a god," said Dumuzi, looking down sombrely at the dancing Dragons, "just as they look to all the past Ancestors as protective spirits."
"Yes. But the true administration of the land begins with you, my son. The people may look to me as a god, but they will look to you as their saviour. And that role is far more important. But I believe that the new world needs a leader like you. My time has passed, and I am happy for that." He snorted. "I suppose any longer, and I would have become a fossil."
His son did not laugh.
"Miria has gone home," declared Anu. "But she will come to see you again. I do hope you will write to her."
"That is welcome news," smiled the heir. "Truth be told, I can barely wait to see her again, and it has only been several weeks. Yet I sincerely believe that the closer she and I grow, the closer our two nations will become, too. For it is her courage and her trust that gave life to this ambition of mine, to unite the land through an alliance rather than conquest. I owe it all to her, and her noble friends."
There was little else to say.
Anu leaned on the stone balcony, breathing in the cold mist. His black robes fluttered in the air. "I… did not know Inanna had joined you in battle. Why did you not stop her?"
Dumuzi did not answer.
"But… it is foolish of me to accuse you, when it is I who was wrong," admitted the Emperor, his voice filled with a hint of grief for the first time. His eagle eyes remained dry – of course, Dumuzi had never seen him shed a tear, not even when Mother passed on – but for Inanna to have been lost like this… "I neglected her, to both our detriment," he admitted. "I was not there when she died; I was not even there when she lived. She was stolen from me, and I shoved her into that traitor's arms. I let the world steal her from me…"
"Inanna fell in battle for me," replied Dumuzi. "And I have no doubt she died with you on her lips too. I do not believe she would wish us to dwell on her sacrifice, although I still continue to disappoint her, every day I rise."
A silence settled on the balcony even as the merriment of the festivals could be faintly heard.
"Son," mumbled Anu suddenly. "Do you remember those bone-kites Inanna always wanted me to fly with her…?"
Dumuzi smiled sadly. "Yes, Father. Even though she made almost a dozen kites, hoping you would join her, you never found the time to."
"Where has she kept them? I wish to fly them on the fields beyond the Palace, if possible. I must confess my sin of neglect to her spirit. I wish to… have some time alone to myself with those kites."
Dumuzi smiled tenderly at him, for the first time in many decades. "I will go to Inanna's chambers and fetch them for you."
Anu bowed his head. Suddenly, he didn't look like the majestic Emperor of the Dragon Nations, nor a fearsome, godlike monarch destined to pass into the fame of Ancestral glory.
He simply looked like an old, lonely father who had lost his daughter.
"Thank you, dear son," he said gratefully.
Three weeks of sailing the treacherous seas, and they had come home. Home to the Continent.
Before they headed towards Rabona, Riful and Dauf bade their Claymore compatriots a noticably sarcastic farewell, which was reciprocated all too willingly by Miria. "So, our alliance ends here," she had confirmed, looking emotionlessly at Riful. "We won't hunt you, but if we see you again, we won't be showing mercy, either."
The Abyssal One shrugged. "I suppose there's really no point in getting you to Awaken anymore, either. There's nothing left to fight; nothing left to conquer. But I might just try. If I get bored of hiding in my little cave."
"You're despicable," said Raphaela.
"Do you really hate us so?" frowned Riful, throwing up her arms. "Ungrateful brats," she said, in a rare flare of bitterness. "In case you and your precious commander forget, I was the one who came up with the alliance – and was refused by you several times, before your own mistakes pushed you into my arms. So I keep my word, I stick by my pact. And this is how you thank me? You and Number Forty-Seven will never learn, just like the last time I helped her out." She took Dauf's hand and turned away. "Have it your way. But if you ever decide to attain your true potential one day, don't hold back. Until you see things my way again, it's war."
"Riful," called Miria.
"What?" pouted the other.
Miria paused, keeping her face expressionless. She let a moment of silence pass between them, before she quietly spoke.
Riful stared at her, surprise on her face. But she quickly recovered, and waved one last time. "Cheers, sister," she laughed, as Dauf made a rude gesture at them with his hand, before departing.
Doubtless, they would eventually venture out of their domain to feed on human, but only then would conflict erupt. Human beings would not die because of some brutal, cruel Organization. Battle would not rage because a former warrior rose amongst her comrades against the tyranny of their masters. Lives would not be lost because the Dragon Nations invaded the Isles. No. That belonged to the old world.
It seemed that lasting peace was, for now, not too much to ask for.
Rabona. Where it all began
It was like a dream. They had now passed through the city gates, their legs sore from walking for several days on end. Having laid all the hauntings of the past to rest, Rabona looked like an oasis of solicitude, a temple that offered sanctuary for travellers who had almost lost their way.
They were back.
They were all exhausted, and it was somewhat of a relief that life went on as usual in the holy city. Unlike Mt. Sumeru, there were no crowds, no dancers, no blaring trumpets or choirs. Just the sound of mules and the marketplace, the laughing of small children, and the ringing of the city bells. The denizens of the streets paid little attention to them apart from a friendly nod, or perhaps a shy glance. It was like returning to a warm hearth, where nothing mattered save the hot roast by the fireplace and the gentle, coy touch of a lovely maiden.
"Home sweet home," cried Cid, stretching out his arms. "D'you smell the freshly baked bread we always used to stop for while on patrol, Galk? I'm in the mood for some of them now."
The Grand General smiled as the civilians parted ways respectfully for him. They shuffled to the side of the streets, recognizing his familiar face, but fondly taking note of his new armour, his new insignia of office. He had almost forgotten that the Isles and Continent were now united, and he was their supreme commander. He gave a brief wave, unable to resist the children who followed the footsteps of his metal boots in friendly curiosity. It was, in a word, wonderful.
Miria stopped walking and stared ahead, sighing quietly.
At long last, they had arrived at their true destination.
A small church, where they once fought an Awakened Being called Agatha.
Where… everything had begun…
Outside the small church, on its humble steps, sat two women, cuddling. One was taller, and blind with scars across her eyes. She was dressed in the robes of a high-ranking nun within the Rabonic Church. The other took a few moments to recognize. She no longer wore black leather, and instead wore a simple floral dress with sandals exposing her arms and feet. Nevertheless, two familiar hairtails draped down the front of her bare shoulders. And despite the bitter scars that still remained on her fair body, she was beautiful, and her expression was radiant as she snuggled in her beloved's arms. The sightless Holy Mother stroked her hair, holding her like she was the most precious thing in the world.
It seemed that they were waiting for someone.
Having travelled across the world, Miria felt her eyes welling with tears.
Clare and Raphaela both remained emotionless, although their faces, for the first time in a long bygone era, were finally at peace. And Galk looked away, his shoulders heaving with emotion. "Oh, goddamit," gritted Cid, unable to control his trembling lip. "Guys!"
It was time to bask in the fruit of the new world Miria had created with her own hands.
The lady with tails looked up, and her eyes shone with an immeasurable joy. She could not speak, but she squeezed her partner's hand excitedly. The other still had her eyes closed, but it was obvious she could sense the three women and two men.
"Hey," called Galatea, her sardonic face beaming. "Cynthia and I been waiting for you. We've got a lot to catch up on. Come in. The tea's getting cold."
My name is Cynthia. I'm just a normal person who lives in a city called Rabona. I can no longer laugh or sing. However, I am happy, because I am in love with a beautiful nun, although our illicit romance must be kept secret from her holy colleagues. She blames herself for my predicament, and it's one of those times when I really wish I still had my voice. I've almost forgotten what it sounds like. I want to tell her she is so silly, such a silly, beautiful, angel, but all I can do is shake my head. But she still kisses me, still clasps me to her, still adores me.
I'm a spoilt one.
I love you, Galatea. That's why I don't want to see you like this, especially after you've fought so hard. I can see it in your white eyes, in the way you walk, in the way you hold me. You're so tired. You're tired of fighting for a new world. You're tired of standing alone against the relentless darkness, against enemies who can never die.
But you're not alone, darling. You have never been.
The new age Miria promised is here. You heard her. The world is at peace. There is no one who can stop us from being together. There is no one who can threaten our lives. You know this already. But you still blame yourself, because of because of what I've suffered. Silly darling! You are troubled when you sleep, and you can only rest when I lay my hands and lips on you. Please, let the wounds within you lift away, like the white clouds we see in the blue sky today. You've endured so much. But now, we'll always be together, until we die together. Doesn't that make it all worth it?
I believe so.
Let me bear your burden, if only for a little while. At the very least, if I share your pain… someday, you may finally leave it all behind.
The new world is here.
So, for now, my sweet Holiness… rest.
Rest, and let me take care of you.