The Beginning After The End (Web Novel)-Chapter 479

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Chapter 479

Chapter 477: Ascension


It all made sense now. For whatever reason, Tess was the vessel for Cecilia. Maybe it was because of our relationship in this world, which had to create the bridge, but that didn’t matter. 

If both Nico and I became this strong after reincarnating into this world, how strong would Cecilia—the “Legacy”—be if she reincarnated into Tess’s body? 

The distant echoes of my thoughts resounded over and under my present, wakeful self.

“Sylvie. You know what Rinia said.” My voice came out pleading, but only because of the keystone’s strange effect that caused events to play out just as they had. “We can’t let them have Tess.” 

I felt Sylvie shake her head against the small of my back. She was holding me, keeping me from continuing to fight. Because Cadell and Nico were about to take her. And I was dying. “We’ll both get stronger,” she said, her voice muffled. “As long as we’re alive, we have a chance.”

With Aroa’s Requiem channeled, I reached out and pinched the golden thread between my fingers. Time froze.

Tessia was still in the act of turning away from me. She had just spoken the words I had feared might be the last she ever would. It was almost funny, in a way; I was so distracted that I still hadn’t heard what she said. I considered reversing time, paying closer attention, only…

Beyond Tessia, battle-weary and blood-stained, Cadell and Nico waited for her. The city of Telmore was burning around them, the sky-high flames like stained glass against the smoke-filled sky. 

This was the moment everything changed.

And this is our next challenge to bypass if we want to continue forward, I communicated to Sylvie and Regis.

Sylvie’s body untensed from behind me as her conscious self exerted control. Her arms relaxed, falling to her sides, and she stepped around, her gaze sweeping across the frozen battlefield.

Regis manifested beside me, stepping out of the darkness and into the keystone world in his large shadow wolf form. “And how exactly do we do that, princess?”

We had spent some time following the threads of time and Fate back and forth through these early years of my life, but we hadn’t unlocked any new insight into the keystone’s mechanics or the aspect of Fate. Whether by the nature of interacting directly with the golden threads through Aroa’s Requiem or Sylvie and Regis’s grounding presence, I’d discovered that I could make changes and explore alternate events without forgetting myself.

Even as I thought this, Regis loped away from me to stand beside Nico. With a mischievous look, Regis reared up and closed his jaws around Nico’s throat. The thread jerked loose from my grip, and the world lurched into motion again. There was a spray of blood, and Nico stumbled backwards, falling hard on the ground with a choked, gurgling cry.

Before the scene could go any further, I grabbed hold of the thread again with Aroa’s Requiem and pulled slightly, reversing time to before Regis’s attack. “Feel better now?” I asked Regis, my voice thick with exasperation.

“Not really,” he admitted, his lupine shoulders rising and falling as he sighed deeply.

“Focus,” Sylvie chided him gently before turning back to me. “Go ahead, Arthur. I’m ready.”

I focused on the Aroa’s Requiem godrune again, barely noticing the constant itch in my physical core anymore. Slowly, wanting to experience everything as it happened, I pulled us forward along the golden thread, experiencing again my creation of the pocket dimension that allowed me to safely remove Tessia and the others from the battlefield through a portal created from Rinia’s medallion.

Sylvie cast her own spell—if that was even the right word for what she’d done in transferring her own life energy to me—and we looked at each other as, once again, she faded.

I gripped the thread tight, freezing us again.

Sylvie was still there, a person in two parts: a ghostly aspect formed within the lavender and gold dust, and a bright silver spark of her own life force that was drifting toward me with all the rest of her energy, attaching itself to me. Sylv?

The silver mote sparkled while the ghostly image remained frozen. I clenched my fists and pumped my arms in excitement. It worked!

‘It did, although…I’m having a hard time forcing myself to remain conscious in this form…’

Of course, I thought back, feeling foolish. Drift into me. Regis, guide her.

Regis, who had already returned to his incorporeal state, drifted out of me and flitted to the silver spark. Buzzing around each other like glowflies, the dark wisp and the silver spark fluttered jaggedly, growing closer with each sharp turn until they vanished into my chest.

‘Oh!’ Sylvie thought, her mind relaxing and allowing me to release a tension I hadn’t realized I was carrying. ‘That’s a lot better.’

Let’s go.

The thread again moved through my fingers, and I fell into the portal that I had conjured.

Only…it didn’t take me to the underground sanctuary as was intended. It had worked for Nyphia, Madam Astera, and Tessia, but as I fell into it now, stepping carefully forward through time, I could see the weave of aetheric magic coming undone. As the portal collapsed, it left behind a sort of hole.

A hole into the aetheric realm, I realized.

Just on the other side was a large circular hall with smooth white pillars holding the ceiling up, lit by a warm glow.

Golden energy was oozing out of solid stone, pressing against the edges of the hole left behind by the portal, keeping it open as I entered. The portal was gone, and the hole between dimensions swallowed itself the moment I passed through it. The golden light flickered and faded, and I was left lying on the floor, just as I had been when I first awoke in the Relictombs.

Sylvie? Regis?

‘We’re here,’ they answered together, two nodes of warmth and consciousness within my now broken core.

I rolled onto my back and grinned up at the blank ceiling. “It worked.”

Regis manifested beside me and trotted across the chamber. He sniffed around for a minute.  ‘The egg thing. It isn’t here.’

We must not need it then, I thought, nervous and hopeful both. Sylv? Are you able to come out?

‘I’ll try.’

The silver spark drifted out of my chest. It was hesitant, bobbing the air just beyond the shelter of my flesh and bone. Regis’s wolf form became transparent and immaterial, then changed into a dark wisp, which zipped to Sylvie’s side. The two whirled around each other momentarily, then—

Regis swallowed the silver spark. Or at least, that’s what it looked like. For a couple of seconds, Sylvie was visible only as a small amount of silver light leaking through the dark wisp’s incorporeal body. Their combined thoughts were distorted and difficult to parse, but I waited, trusting them both just as much as I trusted my own self.

Regis began to glow with dim golden light. Gold and lavender particles began emanating from the wisp and to take shape in front of me. Sylvie was drawn in bright gold out of thin air, her features coming clear as the halo around her faded. Regis reappeared at her side, dark against her light.

With Realmheart still active, I watched the threads of Fate carefully. Interestingly, the timeline was not drastically altered by Sylvie’s appearance in the flesh.

“I was always here, in a way,” she said, picturing the stone egg in her mind. “That piece of me never left you.” She turned her hands over and looked at them questioningly. “It’s strange, though. I don’t feel quite…real.” Then, without warning, she dissolved back into light, appearing only as the spark. ‘Look! I can—’

The spark darted forward, moving effortlessly through my flesh to drift around the ruined remains of my core. ‘But why would I be able to do this?’

“Could be just a glitch in the matrix,” Regis said, sitting back on his haunches, his tongue lolling. “But my incredibly educated opinion is that Fate is just fucking with us.”

Sylvie reappeared before me again. “Mouth, Regis,” Sylvie scolded gently, biting back a smile.

“The laws of reality do seem to be breaking down the more powerful we get,” I said as I reached out and squeezed my bond’s hand. “It does beg the question though: what happens when we leave here? It makes sense we will still know anything new that we learn or any insight we gain through the keystone, but what if I—I don’t know—unlock a new godrune? Just as an example.”

“An interesting question, but the bigger one still remains,” Sylvie replied. “How is this getting us any closer to insight into Fate and escaping the keystone?”

I couldn’t quite hold back the frown that I fell across my face. “The Relictombs is where all the djinn knowledge is kept. Everything they knew about Fate is here, somewhere. Looking back, my path through it was full of missed opportunities. First, I want to see what happens when I rebuild my aether core inside the keystone. After that…we do what all ascenders do.”


Navigating the Relictombs inside of the keystone was different than it had been in reality. My ability to pull us back and forth through time allowed me to explore in a way I couldn’t before. Curious, I drifted forward until Caera and I claimed the Compass from the Central Academy reliquary, then stored the Compass in my extradimensional storage rune and reversed time again, all the way back to the first zone I’d entered.

Once again standing inside the unadorned chamber, I looked into the extradimensional space. The Compass was there, waiting for me, despite my having technically acquired it in the future. Feeling a rising excitement, I withdrew the Compass and turned it over in my hand. The burnished sphere was still a dead relic, so I channeled Aroa’s Requiem and proceeded to again repair it.

“Now we can go anywhere,” Regis said, padding around me eagerly, his claws tapping against the stone floor. The tapping stopped, and he looked up at me with a frown on his lupine face. “Anywhere except the millipede. Never again…”

I chuckled in good humor. There was a sense of hopefulness shared between the three of us. “Actually, I was thinking. We’ve now got everything we need to navigate the Relictombs together, but before we do, there is something else I want to know.”

Sylvie’s brows rose as she realized my intention. “I…would like that. Do you think…”

“Yeah, I don’t see why not. It’s the keystone, after all. And if something goes wrong, now we can easily try again.” I tapped my sternum. “Better get inside me, though. We’re going pretty far back.”

Sylvie’s gold eyes shone brightly for just a moment before she transformed back into the sprite, and both her and Regis took shelter within my core. Taking a deep breath, I activated Realmheart and Aroa’s Requiem, took the golden thread in my fingertips, and pulled hard.

My lifetime flew past in reverse, unspooling all my many accomplishments and failures in a matter of moments. The war, Epheotus, Xyrus Academy, the Beast Glades with Jasmine…and then I was again standing in front of Sylvia’s cave, only a boy freshly separated from my family. And yet my young skin was marked by the spellforms and godrunes. More strangely, the core in my chest swarmed with both aether and mana.

“We’ll see what grandma has to say about this…” I muttered, starting the climb down into the cave where Sylvia awaited.

All the other times I had lived through this moment played in the back of my mind, the memories overlapping and blurring together. A realization struck me. After enough time in here, one life would become indistinguishable from another.

‘The keystone would swallow you whole,’ Sylvie added, and a shiver ran down my spine.

The end is in sight. It has to be.

I landed at the bottom of the long fall, supporting my body with both mana and aether and landing comfortably.

“So child, we finally…” Sylvia’s resounding voice trailed off. She gaped down at me, her tree-story-tall frame sitting stiffly in the throne of jagged stone. Those red eyes—so petrifying to me as a child—were  full of wonder, confusion, and…fear as they burrowed into and through me. The massive horns growing up from her demonic visage turned slightly as her head did the same. “But I don’t understand…”

“I’d be surprised if you did,” I answered casually. Sticking my hands in the pockets of my childhood trousers, I bobbed up and down on the balls of my feet and regarded her with a smile. “There is a lot we need to talk about, Grandma Sylvia.”

An hour later, Sylvia and I sat together on the ground in front of a small fire. Instead of her demonic or dragon forms, Sylvia looked the way I had seen her in her portrait. She was a handsome woman, refined and noble, somewhere in her middle years by human standards. Her light blonde hair wasn’t braided around her head like a crown, as it had been for the painting, but hung in a single thick braid over her shoulder.

Her iridescent lavender eyes met mine, still the azure I’d inherited from my father. “That is…quite a story, Arthur. How many times have you rewound time to bring us to this point?”

“None,” I said in my small voice. “Assuming you believe me. Otherwise—” Realmheart activated, lifting the hair on my head and conjuring glowing runes under my eyes.

She raised a hand to forestall me. “I do. How could I not? But then, you are filled with the confidence of one who knows they cannot fail.”

I grimaced and released the godrune. “Can’t fail here, with you, maybe. But the greater picture—Fate—is still very much undecided.”

“And…” She hesitated, her fingers unconsciously playing with her braid. “And my daughter?”

I smiled softly. “Prepare yourself, Grandma Sylvia.” Come out, Sylv.

The silver sprite floated free of me, drifting like a leaf on the wind around me. Sylvia watched it with intense apprehension. After several long seconds, the little light spread out, molding into Sylvie in much the same way her human form changed into the dragon. She appeared with her hair intricately braided and wrapped around her head, not entirely unlike Sylvia’s portrait, and wearing a battledress of black scales.

Sylvie’s jaw worked silently. Grandma Sylvia stood, favoring her wounded side. The two regarded each other without words, a subtle tension building between them.

Then, at the same moment, they both stepped forward and wrapped their arms around one another. All the tension flowed away as if carried on a receding tide. Sylvie let out a surprised, childish, lovely laugh, and her mother followed suit. Grandma Sylvia looked down at me over Sylvie’s shoulders, and her eyes shone with tears.

Finally, Grandma Sylvia pulled back, although she kept her hands on Sylvie’s arms. “You are more beautiful than I ever could have hoped. Oh, my daughter. I thought—well…” She swallowed visibly and gave a small shake of her head, causing a single tear to slip free of her eye and trail down her cheek. “It seems as though entrusting your egg to Arthur was the wisest decision I could have made.”

The two began to talk, Grandma Sylvia asking questions and Sylvie answering them as best she could. The tale of Sylvie’s life so far was not entirely a happy one, and Grandma Sylvia alternated between flushing red and growing pale as Sylvie answered her questions to the best of her ability. It was strange, seeing her like this: huddled around the little fire, sitting on the ground with Sylvie, both in their humanoid forms.

I’m glad I got to see her like this, even if it’s only a simulation, I thought to myself, my throat constricting with suppressed emotion. 

Regis shifted, resting his chin on my leg. ‘Emotional support weapon of mass destruction, reporting for duty, sir,’ he teased.

I felt a small smile smooth away my frown and rubbed him between the ears. At ease.

The conversation between Sylvie and her mother continued only for ten minutes before Grandma Sylvia hesitantly broached the topic of Agrona.

“Yes. I know Agrona is my father,” Sylvie answered, lifting her chin and looking suddenly defiant. “I have tried not to let that fact color my view of you too negatively.”

Grandma Sylvia gave her daughter a soft, understanding smile, but her eyes were cast toward the ground. “That is maybe more than I deserve, then. Thank you.”

I cleared my throat and rubbed the back of my neck, hesitant to intrude on the moment, but I reminded myself that, as real as this may feel to Sylvie, this version of Grandma Sylvia didn’t exist. We had come for a reason, and I needed those answers.  “When you fled from him, how did you learn about the djinn ruins? Where did you get that map?”

Grandma Sylvia bit her lip, an unexpected expression to see on her regal features, and shot a look at Sylvie before turning her attention back to me. “Since you already know so much, I don’t see the harm in explaining further, although I…never expected to be telling this to anyone.” She paused to gather her thoughts. “There was a device in Agrona’s fortress—a relic of the djinn. Only, it had a djinn mind housed within it.”

“Like in the ruins,” I said, startled. “But how?”

Sylvia’s brows pinched together slightly, and her eyes were focused somewhere beyond the fire, looking at a past only she could see. “He found her in the early days, when his people had only just begun exploring the Relictombs for him. It was her job to help navigate the place, as well as to store and catalog the djinn’s knowledge related to their creations. But Agrona had already managed to remove her from the Relictombs and install her deep beneath his fortress by the time he was banished and I so foolishly tried to warn him of my father’s plans.”

“Her?” Sylvie asked.

“The djinn…spirit. Ji-ae,” Grandma Sylvia answered, looking away. “It was from her that I learned the truth.”

Sylvie leaned forward and hugged her knees to her chest. “What truth?”

“When I returned for Agrona, I found him a shell of the asura I had fallen in love with. Perhaps it was the real him, and I had only ever known a shadow, or perhaps his banishment and betrayal of the other asura—including, he thought, me—broke something in him. He imprisoned me when he learned I was pregnant, desiring to experiment on his own child, to learn more about how dragons manipulated aether and how he could use it against them. His own daughter, and he saw you as nothing but another experiment.”

Her teeth clenched tight, and a bright fire burned in her eyes. “Ji-ae showed me what was in store for you—for both of us. But she said…” Sylvia hesitated, taking a shaky breath. “She said Fate had something else in store for you. She showed me a boy, told me about the reincarnation of a king from another world, Grey, and how he would protect you, if only I could find him.”

“And that’s how you got the map to the djinn ruins.” I shook my head in disbelief. “Yet again, Fate seems to be playing with me. Lining everything up just so.”

We lapsed into silence, and I watched the small fire crackle away merrily, its bright orange flames blissfully ignorant of the pressure resting on my shoulders.

Although I had learned what I’d come for, it didn’t leave me satisfied. In fact, the revelation that Agrona had one of the djinn remnants at his disposal, and that it was apparently both willing to help him and had a more in-depth understanding of the djinn people’s knowledge than any of the remnants I had discovered, did not bring me peace of mind.

It’s time. We should go, I sent to Sylvie.

‘Just a bit longer,’ she thought back, her golden eyes turning toward me pleadingly. ‘I may never get the chance to speak to her again.’

You’re not speaking to her now, I replied gently, consolingly. This isn’t Sylvia, only a shadow of her created by the keystone.

‘I…you’re right, of course.’ Sylvie stood stiffly, no longer looking at me. ‘I’m losing hold of my emotions.’

Standing, I gave a respectful bow. “Grandma. Thank you. I…know this conversation probably hasn’t made a lot of sense from your perspective, but you’ve been a great help. Unfortunately, we should go—”

“Wait,” she said, clutching her side as she stood. “Before you do, I’ve been thinking. You said I gave you my will and that through it you were able to utilize the Realmheart technique. I know why it destroyed you, and I think that I can provide you with the insight necessary to better control it.”

“That isn’t necessary,” I answered with a small shake of my head. “When this is over, I won’t be able to use mana anymore, and although I’ll regain Realmheart eventually, it will be in a different form.”

“Still,” Sylvia said, a pleading tone audible in her voice, and I remembered the fact that, when I stayed with her in my real life, she had kept me for months longer than necessary. She’s lonely, I knew. She continued, saying, “Perhaps this insight will be applicable to your version of Realmheart, then. I’d like to know that…this knowledge lives on when I am gone.”

My building urge to be on our way subsided, and I released a deep breath, feeling myself deflate. Forcing on a grateful smile to hide the complicated emotions this meeting had stirred up within me, I said, “Of course, Grandma Sylvia. Please, show us.”


“Well, the first djinn remnant wasn’t any more helpful this time around,” Regis noted grumpily as I activated the Compass to take us away from the first ruin.

“He was helpful enough, but he didn’t have anything more to give us,” Sylvie replied, her gaze sweeping across the messy laboratory one last time.

“At least I got another look at that aether technique of his,” I said. I had tried to get the old djinn remnant to teach me, but he was fixated on the test.

The portal whirled as its destination changed under influence of the Compass, and my companions took shelter within my core. I stepped through.

The shattered entrance to the second ruin lay behind. I hurried through until I reached the black crystal gate, trapped in its cycle of breaking and reforming. ‘Enter-welcome-descendant-please.’ The words formed in my head. As before, I activated God Step and jumped to the other side, coming to stand before the second djinn remnant pedestal.

As Sylvia had taught me more about Realmheart, I came to a realization that had previously only floated on the edges of conscious thought.

I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, really. I couldn’t escape without discovering insight into Fate, but I didn’t know exactly how to pursue that insight. Unlike the previous keystones, this one was completely open-ended. No puzzle was laid out before me, no goal provided. I had learned how to navigate and manipulate the world created by the keystone, and that had brought on some small insight in the form of the golden threads, but since then I had gotten no closer to unlocking whatever power the keystone contained.

But that didn’t mean I couldn’t do something.

The second djinn projection stepped out from behind the pillar. Short and thin with muted pinkish-lavender skin and short-cropped amethyst hair, she wore white shorts and a chest wrap that displayed the interlocking patterns of spellform runes that covered her body. 

She gave me a weak, sad smile. “So someone recovered my creation after all. In truth, I expected its shrine to sit undisturbed until the end of time—wait. You’ve heard these words before. You’ve…seen me before.” The smile turned down into a distrustful frown. “Who are you?”

“You already know. And I think you also know what I’ve come for. There is no need to worry about the test you’ve been tasked with. Instead, I want to learn what only you can teach me.”

Her brows slowly rose. “I can see it in your mind. You have the strength to fight back, to strike and spill the blood of our enemies. You are exactly who I have been waiting for, and I will train you to wield aether not only as a tool of creation, but as a true weapon of destruction.”

A long, thin, curved aether blade appeared in her left hand, then a second in her right. She crossed them in front of her, sparks flying through the air where they touched. “I will train you.”

I summoned my own sword of aether, holding it in both hands. Then a second manifested to my right at shoulder height, and a third to my left beside my hip.

The djinn regarded me with surprise and delight. She took a step back, and several more swords appeared around her. “Yes, you are who I have been waiting for.”

It is difficult to say how long we trained. Time became an aetheric blur, space shrank to that single small chamber. Her words came back to me as we fought: Only after you understand aether as itself can you begin to understand Fate. I recited it like a mantra, pushing myself to understand every aspect of my abilities as I fought her. When she began to slow, no longer capable of pushing herself to the full depth of her abilities due to the failing mechanics of her housing, I pulled the thread back to the beginning and did it all over again.

My companions were not left to watch. Although they didn’t fight beside me, the djinn projection kept up a steady lecture on the aevum and vivum arts. It turned out that she knew quite a lot about the nature of Destruction, and I could feel Regis’s insight deepening as he absorbed her teachings.

By the third repetition, however, I knew there was a limit to what this single djinn remnant could teach us. I needed to push myself further, harder—we all did. And so, we moved on.

The three of us passed from zone to zone, finding and conquering challenge after challenge. Instead of passing through each zone, or chapter as the djinn called them, we examined the foundations of the spaces and the tests they provided us. After all, that was the purpose of the Relictombs: to house the djinn’s aetheric knowledge, with each chapter providing a real, physical example of said aether arts.

It proved a difficult task. I was reminded of the computers of my old world, with programs coded in a special language invented just for the task. Studying the Relictombs was like trying to learn that language by studying the output of a program. I lacked the underlying knowledge required to even begin seeing the entire picture.

But through use, practice, and hardship, Sylvie, Regis, and I honed our own abilities across dozens of chapters and trials, against thousands of enemies. Only one ability didn’t increase in potency. In fact, I had yet to be able to make use of it at all.

As we stood in the frozen dome at the heart of the snowy zone where I had originally met Three Steps and the other tribes with Caera at my side, I considered King’s Gambit. The godrune was provided by a keystone; it would have made sense for it to be an essential part of navigating this keystone, just like Realmheart and Aroa’s Requiem. And yet it seemed to do nothing at all. Nothing aside from filling my thoughts with fog and giving me a headache, anyway.

It was for that reason that I had returned to this zone. The zone’s tribes had an instinctive sense of aether use that even the dragons couldn’t claim. The Shadow Claws in particular communicated in a way that required mental manipulation of aether, and I thought that they might be able to offer some useful insight.

What I found instead was an empty wasteland. The tribes were gone. There was evidence of battle spread across the zone, the skeletons of Shadow Claws, Spear Beaks, Four Fists, and Ghost Bears scattered through the snow like leaves fallen from the trees. Frozen wounds like claws and bites marred their bodies, and although we had searched, we found none alive.

“Maybe, since you and Caera never came, the ‘wild things’ grew beyond control,” Sylvie mused as I repaired the exit portal.

“Where are they now then?” Regis asked from where he was nosing through a pile of bones at the foot of the central dais.

“It doesn’t matter.”

The aetheric motes of Aroa’s Requiem ran down my arms and along the portal frame. I didn’t have the pieces of the portal frame, but I didn’t need them this time. As the godrune rebuilt the portal, I reminded myself that this wasn’t real.

“We could return back to the time when you’d just entered the Relictombs and then allow time to move forward as normal until you reach this place again?” Sylvie suggested, her face bathed in a lightly purple glow from the portal that appeared inside the repaired frame.

“That could work. I…” I trailed off as I looked through the portal.

It was translucent, showing a slightly blurred version of what was behind it. Only…the portal didn’t show a different place, only the other side of the frame. On that side, though, the weathering of the dais was different, the stone smoother. The light was a warmer shade, and there were…

“It’s the same place, but a different time,” I gasped. “Regis!”

He leapt from the floor below all the way to the top of the dais, then vanished into me. Sylvie did the same just behind him, and I stepped through the portal.

It didn’t feel like traveling through the Relictombs’ portals usually did. It was more like walking through a door from a cold outside to the warm interior of a house. Spring smells hit my nose, as did the musky odor of some kind of animal. The air was filled with voices, some deep and sonorous, others more cutting and beaky.

I stared around in wonder.

The white stone of the zone’s central dome gleamed with clean golden-white light. Dozens of Shadow Claws, Spear Beaks, Four Fists, and Ghost Bears wandered between rows of tables and stalls on one side of the dome. The other was an open space where even more played games or sat and watched, chatting animatedly. The bipedal catlike Shadow Claws touched paws with huge white Ghost Bears, engaged in memory-speech, while Four Fists and Spear Beaks eagerly exchanged bags of nuts for vials of greenish liquid.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

I spun around, realizing a man was leaning against the other side of the portal frame, watching the people move around below. He had light-blue skin with a tinge of purple around his eyes and mouth, purple hair that was dark enough that it was almost black, and every inch of his exposed flesh was covered in spellforms.

“You’re a djinn,” I said stupidly.

His soft pink eyes flicked to me for barely an instant before turning back to the mingling tribes. “They all said I was mad, trying to create sentient life. And that was from the nice ones. Those who were more honest compared me to the dragons.” He laughed lightly, a soft and musical sound. “Imagine? All that, everything that was happening, and still a djinn would have the gall to call another djinn an Indrath under her breath as she passed me in the halls?”

I stared blankly at the djinn man, utterly bemused.

“Anyway, I’m glad you could come, Arthur-Grey.” The djinn pushed himself away from the portal frame and held out his arms. “There is much to discuss, my old friend. About the future.”

I rubbed the back of my neck and regarded him uncertainly. “I’m sorry, how do you know me?”

He cocked his head slightly to the side. “We’re old friends, Arthur-Grey. I’ve told you everything about my work, and now I need to discuss what happens next. In the future. The far future, in fact. I can’t do this without you, old friend.”

‘This is getting weird,’ Regis thought, his focus turning around and around as he attempted to watch everyone inside the dome all at once. ‘It feels like one of those build-ups just before a jumpscare moment. I don't like it.’ 

‘I can’t help but agree. Something is definitely not what it seems,’ Sylvie added.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know you,” I said firmly, taking a step back. “What is your name?”

“Arthur-Grey, I am Haneul, your old friend.” The djinn regarded me not with confusion or suspicion, but with a soft smile and deep, trusting eyes. “You know all about my creation of this chapter and the many trials I’ve overcome.

I looked around, feeling more and more like I was on the outside of some joke I didn’t understand.

“Ah, but I see my mistake now,” Haneul said, frowning down at his feet. “I have chosen poorly. These memories were stored in some kind of device. Because the device is within your extradimensional space, I did not immediately recognize them as being separate from your person.” Haneul sighed. “I think you might say it is humorously ironic that I have waited for so long to introduce myself to you, and yet still I have somehow managed to make a mistake.”

“What device? What are you—”

The djinn memory crystal. Clear as day, I recalled picking up the crystal and the way many versions of the same voice were played across my mind. It was Hanuel’s voice. I never listened to the messages contained inside that crystal. It must have been like a journal. His log of the work being done…here, in this chapter of the Relictombs.

‘If this ‘Hanuel’ can see even into the extradimensional storage space linked by that spellform…’ Regis’s thoughts trailed off meaningfully. Suddenly, I understood.

As if responding to my understanding, reality began to unwind.

It started with the portal frame, the stone of which turned to something like cotton candy, which pulled apart and floated away. Then the dome was billowing above us, dispersing like light clouds to reveal the blue sky beyond. But cracks were running through the sky to reveal the black-purple emptiness beyond.

By the time I looked back down, all of the tribal people were gone, as was the dais on which I’d been standing.

Only the djinn and the portal remained, floating in the emptiness of the aether realm.

“Fate.” The word came out without my meaning it to, but as soon as I said it, I was sure it was true. I activated Realmheart.

Sylvie manifested to one side, Regis to the other. Our three connected minds were equally in awe of what we were seeing.

The djinn was no more. Instead, a knotwork of golden threads was tied together into a vaguely human form. Dozens, maybe hundreds or even thousands, of threads extended away in every direction, vanishing into the endless expanse of the aetheric realm.

“Arthur-Grey. I have been awaiting your ascension.”