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In another life, Wild Flower lives happy and carefree, married now with a young daughter of her own.  It is this life that he unwound to suit his goals, pulling the thread free to create life where life was not.

In this life, she shifts her weight, uncomfortable with the atmosphere in camp, where even the Black Whirlwind is still and silent in the chill autumn air.  Night’s frost melts in the cold morning sunlight, but the flight and the fear lingers, and soon the girl will no longer be able to hold back her tears.

The argument begins small, a causal suggestion, a snide remark.  It begins differently every time, but the core conflict is the same – a clash of wills, both unwilling to back down.  Both Empresses of conflicting dynasties, across the span of time.

Their argument reaches a peak, and, within the small girl, the dam breaks.  The flood of grief, of knowing this is real, wells up in her eyes.  Though she tries her best to hold them back, the tears inevitably overflow, and Wild Flower soon left sopping them up with her sleeve.

Chai Ka could suppress her pain, but he has never been willing to twist her so.  Ya Zhen, considering her emotions a nuisance, would simply reduce her being to nothing.  The others do nothing, for she is small and they do not see.

In the end, it is the thief that sits down beside her and gathers her into his arms, setting her head upon his shoulder and rubbing comforting circles into her back.

The guardian within her allows this, for the child needs simple kindnesses, not celestial truths.  Were it not beyond her comprehension, it would do her no good to know that the Scion of Dirge is dead and yet alive.

Not entirely unlike Wild Flower herself.

And if Sky has noticed that her heart does not beat, that her only breath is in the tiny sobs the wracked her small and fragile form, he makes no outward sign.  There is no revulsion in his heart, he merely comforts her as he would the daughter that outlived him in one life, that was never born in another, and that he mourns in this life and countless others.

Exhausted by grief, the child slips into the dreamless sleep of the dead.  Encircling them, Chai Ka feels the potential within Sky reaching out into the ages, multiple pasts and futures, entwining and creating with other threads.

In other lives, he stands a hundred miles away, and rests in an unmarked grave, yet here he sits comforting a small girl.  He would understand no more than she.  In the distance, their threads tangle across the path of their lost leader, and even Chai Ka cannot discern their most probable ends.

The Scion of Dirge now swings like a pendulum in the Balance, with a future that diverges and converges and crisscrosses so many times that even the Gods in their many heavens cannot untangle the Knot of Providence.  Despite all efforts to the contrary, the Jade Empire converges upon a single moment, towards which the World That Is holds its breath in anticipation.

The Gods fear their end.

They are, perhaps, right to fear.  Even the Gods cannot see what Chai Ka sees.

The convergence splits into two distinct paths.  In one the Gods shall wither.  In one the Gods shall fade.

Ya Zhen tightens, a dormant serpent coiled around the child’s heart.  Chai Ka waits, ever vigilant.  Bound as they are, the matters of men and gods do not concern them.  Between them, they have watched empires rise and fall, and gods live and die.

They are ancient, formless.  Substance without shape.  Together, they are one.  Sundered, they are still one, bound together eternally, but it is a distant time out of memory and even if the Celestial Bureaucracy falls from the Heavens, there is nothing to say they will return to that which they once were.

It is a dim and distant memory, on the edge of a forgotten dream of a long dead goddess.

In Dirge, another dead goddess pours the last of herself into a mortal shell, as they were poured into the stone to guard a meager temple.

She is dwindling.

The wheel continues to turn,

and history repeats.

The argument is over.  The Silk Fox disappears, to mourn a father she never knew – and a father that never existed – in private.  Sullen, Dawn Star lifts her head to the north, uncertain of what she is seeing.  Of what Chai Ka has already seen.

She is uncertain of what she knows to be true.

She will not mention it yet.

The miasma of the dead of this life surrounds them, while phantoms of other configurations drift in and out, tangling in the threshold of Chai Ka’s heightened awareness.

Aimless, the Black Whirlwind and Hou have taken to exchanging bowls.  Lord Lao teaches Master Zin Bu how best to use his soft, idle hands, though the machine he will have brought to life is nothing more grand than a child’s toy.

Sky’s embrace tightens around the girl, the occasional faded sob still hitching in her chest, all the while his mind wanders, ignorant of the choice that looms on his horizon, and he can’t but feel the weight of those he could not protect.  In his arms, twin spirits twine around one another under Wild Flower’s skin as she sleeps, their intangible strife as real as the grief in her heart.

Many days away, the Scion of Dirge rouses in a snow-capped temple, bare and graceless as a newborn.  Alone, under the discerning gaze of the temple’s stone guardians.  The heart of the convergence and the fulcrum of destiny itself.

In another life, none of them would ever have met.  In many other lives, they didn’t, so fragile are the threads.

In this life, wind rustles through the pine needles, and a thief comforts a child.  There is little more to it than that.