15. Epilogue – Tears of the Wicked

They travelled for a time, cascading into the hidden valleys of the O.Z., climbing the feral mountains, standing in the face of the sea, yet finding no ledge at the ends of the world. News of their supposed deaths didn't meet them at first as they shun other people, keeping to themselves, seeking little trouble. In time even the wicked learned of the forgiveness they had been granted, struck down in confusion when a new opportunity was presented upon them.

They crept back into the world, into the safety of trees and wilderness where isolation protected them from outside influence as much as it protected the world from their presence. They became little more than shadows, their existence mired in myth as the swamp witch and her champion. But no connection was made between the martyred Princess who had died to pay her sins and the crone that wandered in the wilderness.

In the beginning Zero often wondered about the difference between the Sorceress and Azkadellia. The woman beside him had her harshest edges smoothened, her greatest vices cured. Enough remained that she still felt familiar to him, still made him feel sated in her presence and, most importantly, complete. Other things he learned through trial and error, argument and violent struggle, forced to obscenity and rage in the heat of the moment, yet afterwards they always returned, always reverted back. The hateful shadows of the past could only rage on so much, until the now vanquished them.

Azkadellia often dreamed of DG. In her dreams she could apologize to her sister for leaving without forewarning, for disappointing her younger sibling, and her sister would reply with love and hold her wordlessly. In her dreams they would talk for hours, relating how their lives had changed since their last encounter. DG, now a Queen, would tell Azkadellia of the worries of rulers, the burden of the crown, and her attempts to be worth it. Sometimes Azkadellia would listen with that overwhelming irritation, her insides twisting and speaking, the crown was mine; it belonged to me. But the pangs of envy were few and far between, and solitude suited her better.

Cain, bound by the Queen's council, felt hatred dissipating in his heart as the time passed. The lie became easy to live in, comfortable to pretend. There were days when he forgot all about him, all about the blinding pain. They never spoke about Azkadellia or Zero. The past lied undisturbed, a shared secret that didn't weigh so much in the end. The poison in his gut became weaker, its power dwindling with every new morning.

You'll be alright, DG had once told him. Little by little he came to realize how right she'd been. And the man on the road without a name, he remained unknown, his shadow too small to reach Cain anymore.

DG ascended to the throne with universal acceptance from the people. She was well-loved and respected, albeit without a husband. Ambrose stood by her side through-out the hardships, acting as advisor, friend, and confidant. Together they restored the OZ of old, rebuilding what had been lost.

The first years were trying, setbacks occurred and she would often wonder if Azkadellia had been better at this than her. Such doubts were often quickly brushed away. Azkadellia remained in her thoughts though, seeped into her dreams, always assuring her she was happy. Upon waking DG would think about this, about this Azkadellia in her dream, appearing so vivid and soft-spoken.

Their mother gave up the crown when her health began to fail her, but she did so without qualms or fear; DG was ready, the people turned to her like flowers towards the sun, and her time was over. She remained respected and retreated to Finaqua with her husband by her side, enjoying the beautiful lakeside DG had restored. While not having actively thought of Azkadellia for some time, it was there that she took to reminiscing the past again.

For after the play had finished and the actors had left the stage, the Coffin always returned, singing its siren's song to the guilty, promising them just judgment. Its reappearance proved that Azkadellia had rather battled her inner judgment than that of the ancient relic. It proved the Coffin had let her go in the only manner Azkadellia could've accepted release; through fierce battle, her victory earned with scars.

When the Coffin reappeared it also put to rest an old promise she had once made. The former Queen gained confidence her decision was not the wrong one, and that in the years to come she would not need to worry about her daughter. If there was darkness in Azkadellia, there was also light, something good enough for the Coffin to have given her freedom instead of death.

In the anniversary of Azkadellia's death the Queen, DG, addressed the people each year, inviting them to a silent reverie. A martyred princess, a blood sacrifice, Zero would find it endlessly amusing. But Azkadellia respected this legacy, tried to live up to her name even in anonymity.

Women would come to her, driven at their limits, tired of the mundane, filled with evil thoughts. Some times Azkadellia would help them and sometimes she would not. She could always tell the bad ones apart, would feel a pang of recognition in her chest when they spoke. She would guide the good ones adroitly, show them conviviality, palliate their pain so akin to her own. And the ones that did not pass her test she would cast to the wolves, knowing evil needed only a seed. Although reacquainted with the title of witch, she did not mind being this crone in the wild, a revered and feared tale. It gave her some purpose at least.

If Zero felt regret, he did not voice it to her. At first to him his actions were only considered unspeakable crimes when power exchanged hands; before they had just been the way of war, the way of dominance: Her orders, her ideals, his suffocating need to be acknowledged. Even while imprisoned, he had decided his life would not be governed by sycophants. Change did not reach him easily.

She instilled him with something though, gave him the chance to be Adrian again. Azkadellia didn't do this to domesticate him or ensure survival; He was incongruous with the world around him, and his ribald nature was part of his charm. By fixing him she fixed herself. By restoring his faith in himself, she restored hers. By loving him, the real him, she also loved herself.

In time she came to see more Adrian than Zero in him.

Zero was content by her side; a realization which did not dawn on him immediately, but became apparent as days became elongated, months stretched on, years become vast and endless in her company. He mitigated her burdens, returning to his former state of mind, the rules of engagement carved into his backbone. He was no longer wasteful, no longer indulged himself in violence, thrills and wine. She held onto his leash, helping rein in the animal she had helped him become. He had always been good at following rules; now they were the condition to their relationship, a necessity to remain protected.

The future wasn't fearful in the end. They held onto one another, reformed. Many annuals of love left in them after two lifetimes of loneliness.

THE END