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Pieces of the End

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.01

Wave-Rider's hands were clammy in his, and Quest knew that if he let go, she would sink, and die, and be free.

He did not want to let go of her hands, but he suspected that she would not give him a choice - as was, perhaps, only right. He'd done enough to upset her life already.

"Someone has to remember," Wave-Rider whispered. The water had cooled her body. She was no longer shivering, merely floating. If Quest squinted, he might imagine the rest of her body, hidden by the sea: tendrils and long legs and something that might almost be a smile, just for him.

Wave-Rider's hands squeezed his. "Someone has to remember, Quest."

Isn't it enough that I started this? Quest wanted to ask. Why do I have to end it, too? Why - but she had slipped away already, or he had let go, because he couldn't forgive her, couldn't forgive any of them for what they had done. Least of all himself.

It had to be done, he told the sea. My lady, you knew it had to be done.

A seagull cried out over his head: but, Quest, did it have to be you?

 

.02

"I'm going to kill the gods," Quest said. He said it simply, straightforward. He did not want there to be any chance of misunderstandings.

He did not want anyone to sign up for this without knowing exactly what they were signing up for, to be taken aside after three or four years, to a small room where the truth would be revealed to them and where they'd be able to come to terms with it without bothering anyone else.

He had chosen Spill because people said Spill was more devoted to Kalmaddoth than anyone else. Quest knew that the people he looked for weren't ones motivated by hatred. You could not hate the gods and still be sane.

Spill said nothing.

Quest didn't allow this to discourage him. Silence meant there was room, time, air - silence meant Spill had not yet jumped up to tell everyone what Quest had just told him.

"I'm going to kill the gods," Quest repeated, as much to remind himself as to remind Spill. "But I'm going to need some help."

Spill smiled at that. A sad, small smile, and Quest knew that he had made the right choice, that his life was safe for another day, that his mission was one step closer to success, even though there were still so many steps to go that Quest did not want to think about them.

(He always said 'the gods' now, as if they were all the same, all monsters. He never said, I am going to take the heart of the woman I love and use it to bring about the end of the world as we know it - or possibly just the end of the world.)

Spill did not ask what Quest thought would happen, after. He did not ask if Quest had lost his mind. He only asked one thing.

"How?"

 

.03

"We should - " Mist swallowed, and for a moment, Quest saw a terrible horror in her eyes. Horror at what they had done, but also horror at what they would do again, and again, and again, as many times as it took. "We should celebrate."

Quest realized he had half-expected her to say something like, 'we should stop' or maybe 'we should confess what we have done and accept our deaths as punishment'. Quest did not doubt that if the other priests ever found out what they had done here today, their lives wold be forfeit. The best they might hope for would be to be used as sacrifices.

It might not even be so bad, to slowly sink into the darkness, knowing she would be there, waiting. Quest knew that in her own way, she had grown fond of him, maybe even loved him, but how else could this have ended?

She wouldn't hurt him - not deliberately, anyway. She'd simply touch him, hold him, whisper her stories to him. It wouldn't hurt at all, like slipping into a dream.

And then Mist said, "Quest?" sounding a bit worried, and Quest remembered that he had killed her.

Well, not Mist obviously, although that might come to pass yet. The other her.

"Yes," he said, forcing himself to smile, to look cheerful. There was nothing he could do now to change things. "You're right."

There would be people mourning, despairing, feeling lost now that their god was gone - but there were always some people who would respond to grief by trying to convince themselves that they were fine, or better than fine. It was only a matter of finding and joining them.

Perhaps, he tried to tell himself, his and Mist's presence might even help comfort people, reassure them that everything was going to be fine.

 

.04

As he browsed through the wreckage, Quest realized his hands were trembling. He should be mourning his friends, who had given their lives for what had always been his dream, his vision. His idea. His quest (and had someone somehow known, even at the beginning? how could they have known and accepted him as an acolyte - unless perhaps he'd been wrong all along, and the other priests simply hadn't known how?).

Salt touched his shoulder. "You couldn't have saved them, Quest."

Quest wanted to snap back that he knew that, but he also wanted to point out that actually, it would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to save them. All he'd needed to do was not ask them to join him. As easy as that, Roils-in-the-Tide and SeaSong might still be alive, perhaps even happy, content to serve the gods they loved, their beautiful, frecht monsters who would never love them back. (Except for one, Quest thought, before he could stop himself. Except for her.)

He said, "We have to find it." It was true. It was what they had come for. Not to look for their friends's bodies: to look for the only weapon they had against the gods.

If they lost it - Quest's hands had formed two trembling fists. They would not get a second chance. There had only ever been the one chance, the one option, the one choice.

"They knew how important it was," Salt said soothingly.

Quest wanted to snap at him again. What would dying people care about a mission, a cause? Did Salt think any of the sacrifices had cared about anything other than that they wanted to live, that they hadn't done anything to deserve to die?

Sacrifices weren't criminals, punished for their crimes. They were just ordinary people who'd gotten unlucky, like all of the other victims of the gods.

Quest didn't want to blame them for that, didn't want to think ill of people who had become his friends, his comrades, his brothers-and-sisters-in-arms - but he was only human. His sacrifices hadn't been a matter of luck or coincidence; they had been painfully made choices, and he couldn't bear the thought that it all might have been for nothing.

Salt cried out, holding up a package wrapped in oilcloth, and Quest had to force himself not to rip it out of his hands.

It helped that he felt ashamed of himself for his lack of belief, of faith.

 

.05

Quest knew that some of the religions on the mainland said that when you died, part of you went somewhere else, to a better place - or a worse one, if you were a criminal.

It had always sounded rather silly to Quest. Death wasn't some new beginning; death was death. The end of life.

And yet, as he felt himself slipping away into the darkness that was almost like the sea, except quiet, and not as wet, and peaceful, he thought he sensed someone else, a presence, waiting for him, welcoming him, perhaps beckoning him to come, come, come and be devoured at last.

All his imagination, of course, but still, perhaps a dying man deserved some nice fantasy to make things easier, to reassure the people who stayed behind that dying wasn't such a terrible thing, after all, and nothing to be afraid of.

Quest thought that was rather a nice idea.