Part 117: Epilogue - ...if all are to be saved.
Epilogue - ...if all are to be saved.
Music - "Conclusion of a Destiny"
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This is a wordy chapter, so I suggest you listen to the music for background.
I walked to the altar where the baby lay resting. I checked, it was a boy. My nephew, Jenna's son, whose body had now been possessed with the soul of the Lord of Chaos.
My throat was dry. That blasted holy dagger Zandalor had given me was strapped to my side. It suddenly felt like it weighed 30 stone. I knew what Zandalor wanted me to do.
Intellectually, I even understood all the reasons why. I could not refute them. But the idea of it was horrible to contemplate.
I don't know what to do...
I thought that after my journey through the Hall of Echoes, that I had left all doubt behind. What a foolish notion that was. I was partly a god, but mostly human and mortal still. I was not omniscient, there is no way I could ever be free of doubt or hesitation completely.
You cannot put it off anymore. It is now, or not at all. But you are strong, Jeremiah. You were chosen because you are strong.
Chosen? By whom?
I can offer you no reassurances about the fate of your sister. It is as unknown to me as it is to you. I can lend you no aid nor comfort if she is lost. Only you have the strength to persevere through what is to come. Are you going to find your strength?
... Yes. I will see this through, no matter what.
"No matter what." Three words, so deceptively simple. No one ever knows the meaning of them until it is too late. And only then, in that moment balanced on the edge of a knife, do they learn who they are, how far they're willing to go.
Maybe I'm not the ideal candidate to be the Divine One. I have made mistakes in the past, and I will continue to make them in the future - if I have a future, that is. But I know that I can do this, whatever it takes.
Whatever it takes, mortal?
Whatever it takes.
Very well then.
The Prophecy of Ruben Ferol had said: Three elements are required to become the true Divine One: Summoning, Blessing and Sacrifice.
I had been Marked in the Summoning... I had received the Blessing from the Council of Seven, and the Gods themselves... but the Sacrifice... I thought it had meant the sacrifice of my life, but I had come back, so it wasn't really a sacrifice. I hadn't realized what the real meaning of sacrifice was until now...
No... I couldn't make this choice, not THIS choice. Let someone else decide. Hadn't I given enough already? Hadn't I lost enough already? Did I have to take this burden on as well? No. I'd let someone else decide. I'd let someone else...
22 Declianum 1216
"Yeah?" Tom asked, "And do you think this... this demon-summoning... madness will help?"
I stayed silent for a moment.
"No. I'm doing this so that next time I'm in that kind of situation, I will have enough power to make sure no one else dies. I don't want to be a coward who runs from the hard decisions."
Damn. Those were my own words, returning to haunt me. Back then I wanted power to save people. Now I had more power than I had imagined was possible. And now I had a decision which was also harder than I had imagined possible.
My hand shook as I raised the knife.
24 Declianum 1216
That couldn't have been excused by an accident, or poor judgment. I stabbed a man. I could have run away. I-I am a killer... a murderer.
That's not what's bothering you, though. You know you'll gladly do it again... to save her.
Yes... Yes, if I have to... I will kill for my family.
Yes... I would kill to protect my family. This boy... whatever he is, he is Jenna's son. He IS my family. I owe it to Jenna, and Richard to protect him.
"You've got to hold on, Richard. For Jenna - for your child."
"You... does that mean..."
"I-I-I've seen Jenna. She's alive. I know that she's carrying your child, Richard. That's why I know you'll make it. You need to be there for your son or daughter for many more years to come" I put on a false smile, trying to bolster his spirits.
A tear rolled out of Richard's left eye.
"A son... I-I wish I could see him growing up... but I don't think I'll be able to."
His breathing was very laboured now.
"Jeremiah? Come closer. I want to name my son... I want to name him..."
I had to lean in closely to hear Richard speak the name he'd chosen. And then I heard him stop breathing. His eyes no longer showed the spark of life. I gently closed the lids.
I... I can't kill the boy. I have a duty to my family.
Isolde! You met her? Is she well? She is the reason why I wish to flee these barracks! I must be with my Isolde again, please!
You're a jackass.
You enrolled in the army of your own will. If every man would be like you, the orcs would have won this battle, even without a fight!
And if the orcs had sacked the barracks, who'd be left to protect your Isolde then, huh? Answer me?
I-I don't know.
No one wants to make sacrifices for strangers, but you are a SOLDIER. You have a duty.
I do have a duty to my family... but I also have a duty to the world.
Soon the spirit of Chaos in the Sword of Lies will be strong enough to open a gateway to Hell. Then the sundered soul of the Lord of Chaos will be rejoined, here in Rivellon. If that happens, none can guess the outcome. At best, we will all be conquered and enslaved by the minions of hell. At worst, the whole world may be returned to Primal Chaos: the endless, starless night that was here before the coming of the Gods.
I accepted the mantle of the Divine One. The Council of Seven... they had DIED so that I could gain the power to stop the Black Ring.
The surgeon must never flinch from extreme measures if the patient's life is at stake.
Don't I have a duty to them as well? The Gods gave me their blessing. Don't I have a duty to the Gods?
If they incarnate him into a mortal body, Lord Chaos' powers will be tremendous, unimaginable! He could enslave the world with his magics, or fully open the gates of Hell to allow all the demons and every damned soul loose on the troubled land, or he might simply destroy everything and return the universe to Primal Chaos.
4 Febirium 1218
"Father... don't give up. Please! There must be something we can do!"
"There might be... but unfortunately... I don't think there's any more time. Jenna... Jeremiah... look after each other..."
My father's eyes closed.
I had failed to take care of Jenna. She was probably dead. But it was Father's dying wish. That meant taking care of Jenna's son. Would it really be right to just give up without trying? I... I had to try, didn't I?
Jenna was the kindest, most selfless and noble woman I had ever known. This boy was her son, there must be some piece of her in the child. Surely... surely that would be enough, if raised properly, surely that would be enough to prevent the demon from taking over!
I mean, who knows what sin and corruption lay in the heart of Janus, and before him the Adept Ralph. That must have been what allowed the Demon of Lies to wear them down and possess them. Surely I could find a way to keep this from happening to my beloved sister's son. With Zandalor's many years of experience, and my newfound Divine wisdom... I-I could do it.
You haven't had any formal magical training, have you.
Perhaps if I had stuck with it, I might be better at this. I might not make so many mistakes.
"Experience is no guarantee that you won't make foolish mistakes. Trust me - I know," I said with a sudden seriousness.
Yes, I had power and knowledge... but not even I could predict the future. I would inevitably make mistakes. The boy had the power of a god in him. Probably more power than even I had. If I made a mistake... I might not be able to fix it... and the world would pay the price.
The Demon of Lies was just a fragment of the soul of the Lord of Chaos. And yet the power he had... he destroyed the country of Ferol. The reincarnation of Chaos would surely be even more powerful. It took the sacrifice of seven powerful people to banish the Lord of Chaos; Not even that many lives were enough to kill him.
Would it be possible to raise a child possessed by the Lord of Chaos into a good person? Could I kill the demon with kindness? The knife edge I had to walk was so small, so very small... but then, wasn't I the Divine One prophesized?
I had been blessed by the gods, yet mortal and flawed I remained. Was I really so arrogant to believe that I could erase the existence of the most powerful demon of them all? Did I dare attempt it, with the world in the balance?
And yet, despite everything, I realized that one thing mattered to me more than anything else. It all came down to my sister.
"Jeremiah... please," Jenna said, her voice wavering. Another tear rolled down. I could feel a matching tear on my own face as well. "They're going to do horrible things, Jeremiah... not just to me, but to everyone..." mid-sentence, her voice changed, regaining the strength and the edge I remembered from back home. "Whatever they threaten, whatever they do..." She opened her eyes and started right into mine... "Don't give up, no matter what! Promise me that no matter what it takes, you'll stop their mad scheme!"
I looked at my nephew again. He opened his eyes and looked at me.
"A baby should have a name," I said softly. "Your father had one picked out for you."
I said the name Richard had whispered to me before he died. "James. That's a good name."
Video: The Decision (MOST IMPORTANT VIDEO - There are no screenshots, so watch this even if you haven't watched any videos before)
I was unable to prevent myself from crying, but there were none to see, and all would understand the reason for the tears. "I'm sorry, Jenna," I whispered. Then I plunged the dagger into my nephew's heart.
The man who was merely Jeremiah Liro never would have done that. He never could have done that. Jeremiah Liro didn't come to Ferol for fame, fortune, fancy titles, or even incredible power. Jeremiah Liro had come to Ferol to save his sister.
But I was not longer merely Jeremiah Liro. I was the Divine One. The Divine One had to think about more than just protecting a handful of people. The Divine One had to think about protecting everyone.
Now, it was over. I collapsed from fatigue and grief. Without focused chaotic energy, the natural magic of the world was exerting pressure, and sealing the pit to Hell back up on its own.
I sat back against a wall and closed my eyes. And I talked to Richard and Jenna, even though they weren't here.
I'm sorry, Jenna, Richard... I didn't want to do that. In my entire life, there has never been anything I wanted to do less then that. ... You always tried to help people, Jenna, and I suppose since I started looking for you, I did as well. I wanted you to be safe and happy. It was my highest priority. I never thought that would change. But it did. ... I don't want what happened in Ferol to happen to Idfrennia, or anywhere else, and I know you wouldn't have wanted that either. ... I made so many bad decisions because I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought I had the situation well in hand. Here in this room, I was more uncertain than ever, Jenna. I just couldn't take that chance. I can only hope that wherever you are, you can forgive me, Jenna.
I didn't even remember falling asleep, because I suddenly woke up. Nothing had changed, except the pit to Hell had sealed up some more, and my mind was refreshed and clear.
I'm sorry Jenna... I don't know what happened to -
I jumped to my feet. I couldn't believe I hadn't sensed it until now.
Oh Gods! Oh Gods!
I raced off.
The double doors were locked. I could have picked it, but that would have taken nearly ten seconds, and I didn't want to wait that long. Instead I melted the lock until it dribbled down the doors, and wrenched the doors wide open, ignoring the molten metal that spattered on my armor.
I had found her. But when she saw me, her face paled.
Go away, Iona. Stop it. I'm done playing your cruel games! Just leave me alone! Stop it stop it stop it...
She's dead, Jenna. Iona's dead. I killed her. I killed them all. You're free. If you don't believe me, I'll show you their bodies. I'm sorry. I never thought it would take me this long. I'm sorry... I'm so sorry, Jenna.
Jeremiah?! I... is it really you? Oh my gods, Jeremiah! It's been forever.
For her, six months had passed since we had seen each other, for me, just a few weeks. But finally, I had saved her.
Jeremiah, I'm sorry. They told me you were dead.
I was. I'm better now.
I can't believe you're safe! Where's Richard? Is he here, too?
My face fell. I removed the silver chain from around my neck. The two rings gently clinked together sadly. I put it in her hand and closed her fingers around it.
I... I'm sorry.
She said it in almost a whisper, like she was already broken. My heart ached at the sight, because I knew that for her, the worst was still to come.
Richard was a brave and noble man. He died facing an impossible number of foes, in defense of another, and he took many of them with him.
There was a moment of silence.
Jeremiah... they took my son from me. I think that's what they wanted me for all along. I don't know what they wanted him for. Did you find my son, Jeremiah?
I didn't have the words to tell her... which in itself told her all she needed to know.
I helped her through the corridors back to the altar room. When she saw the tiny motionless bundle on the altar she turned away. She couldn't look at it.
I bundled up the body and gently carried him out of the dungeon, with Jenna following behind me, numb with a mixture of grief, exhaustion, and relief that the ordeal was over.
When I emerged from the teleporter, the sun was shining brightly. The entire night had come and gone while I was in the dungeon. It was a beautiful day. The evil aura had vanished from the Black lake.
I gently put the bundled body on the ground and helped Jenna down the stairs after she emerged from the teleporter.
I don't understand. Why did the Black Ring keep me alive and healthy all this time, just so that they could kill my baby? Why...
I sank to my knees.
Jeremiah? What's wrong?
She came over and knelt in front of me.
I'm surprised at you. You lied to him.
I know. But I can't help him anymore... at least, not physically. Sometimes lying is the greater kindness. ... Look, I know this is troubling, you don't have to be here.
Your vow wouldn't let you make a choice, would it? So I did it for you. You and the rest of the healers get to go home and comfort yourself with the truth - that it wasn't your decision. I don't have that luxury. So yes, I do have to be here, and see exactly what I have done.
Maybe lying would be the greater kindness. ... But in this case, I couldn't do this. Jenna was the person who mattered to me the most in the entire world. I couldn't lie to her. She needed to know. Even if it made her hate me, even if she never wanted to see me ever again - and I wouldn't blame her at all - I had to tell her. Lying to her now, and being honest later would be worse.
She was the only thing I had left, but even if it meant losing her, I had to tell her.
"I...I am sorry. I am so, so, sorry... I..."
Fresh tears started pouring down my face as the words spilled from my mouth.
Some call me a God.
Some call me a murderer.