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[Jaded] - Epilogues 1

JaqueRabbit May 20th, 2019 81 Never
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  1. Fighting her was like fighting the universe itself. A goddess of wrath, a gaping maw so wide Arella could see all the way back to the ancient incisors that cut through her gums unnaturally. The Condesce, in her worst moments, resembled things Arella had seen in alleys; creatures from spellbooks so entangled with the Terrors that they required exorcising from the Empress herself.
  2.  
  3. The Condesce was nothing if not intelligent; millions of years of experience would lend wisdom to nearly anyone. Trollkind's extinction was not a fact. It was a falsehood. The strongest of violets, the sharp-witted blues, obedient rusts and bronzes and yellows grateful to be spared from the worst death possible were all gathered within the bowels of Alternia; inoculated against certain destruction.
  4.  
  5. She was proud when she said it. She was proud that she had done it before, would do it again. The Empire had not been long-lived at all; instead it fell, over and over, as rebellion after rebellion came against her, after the Sufferer and twenty Sufferers after him passed. It was born again from the grateful few, who would serve her loyally. Rebellion would only come again after uncountable years, when their descendants no longer knew the necessity of obedience, when the sting of the Empire's whip was no longer a constant pain against their backs.
  6.  
  7. It was smart. It explained every single question Arella had about the Empire--how it had stood such cruelty and subjugation for so long, how it worked despite a boiling undercurrent of hatred for the Condesce, how Trollkind flourished, content to keep killing aliens and to spread across the galaxies like a cancer.
  8.  
  9. There was an unsaid assumption that Arella would simply hand over the throne. The violet knew the Condesce would still kill her out of distrust the moment she surrendered the throne anyways, no matter how much false gratitude she showed. That didn't stop her, for a split second, from thinking of giving up. Fighting for something she never wanted, for people she'd grown to hate.
  10.  
  11. The only consideration that made her raise her trident was the image of Siddon kneeling to the Condesce.
  12.  
  13. Something aching tore through her chest, and as the Condesce turned to survey her throne, Arella whipped her trident out and aimed for her back.
  14.  
  15. It was parried, of course. She'd doubted she would ever hit the Condesce. Every attack she flung at the Condesce was just another act of treason against the Empire. Metal against metal, flesh against flesh, over and over again. Halfway through their battle, the most highly-honored of the Saved filtered in to stand on the edges of the room; Arella could barely think as she struggled to just *survive* against the creature in front of her, but she managed to blearily wonder if they were here to kill her as well.
  16.  
  17. They watched instead. There was a helmsman with darkness streaking up his arms and pulling against his throat. There was a woman shrouded in jade, kept in chains, trembling slightly. And further back, there was a little sprout of a troll, with mutant-red eyes and an intensely focused gaze.
  18.  
  19. The Condesce spoke. She mocked. She had air to spare, of course, goading and quipping and throwing insults that would sting her skin if Arella was not so concerned with merely managing to dodge the woman's swinging blows. Arella would have no last words; there was no breath to force through her lips.
  20.  
  21. It was not an even battle at all. Her arm had been sliced open first, oozing violet. She went half-blind and for an agonizing moment wondered if the other eye would go. Something in her calf gave way within the first five minutes. She kept spitting up blood.
  22.  
  23. The Condesce was untouched and untouchable. Time had worn her skin into a thick, shelled carapace, had honed her skills with the trident. There was nothing to do.
  24.  
  25. It was only by mistake that she won.
  26.  
  27. The Condesce lunged forward, the tines of her trident lit by the filtering sunlight through the palace's windows. A more gentle sun; a warmer sky than Alternia's.
  28.  
  29. Arella had just let her.
  30.  
  31. The trident dug into her chest, glancing past her bloodpusher and ripping into her shoulder. The maw grinned, and she stared back into the blackness.
  32.  
  33. Arella's good arm lifted her trident, and gored the Condesce through the throat.
  34.  
  35. It was not an even battle at all.
  36.  
  37. She ripped the trident out and went again, before the Condesce could fight it. This would not be something she could recover from. The trident was thrust into her throat until it no longer ripped out sinew; until there was nothing between the Condesce's neck and head beyond emptiness.
  38.  
  39. The Condesce's trident was still embedded within Arella's chest.
  40.  
  41. ---
  42.  
  43. Her youth had been her downfall, but had become her greatest strength. The mediculler had said her healing was quicker than an older seadweller's would've been. The mediculler had also said they'd never seen anything like it--
  44.  
  45. Siddon's heart had been pumping in vain, swelling and deflating in the ugliest of ways. His heart was broken. It had always been, but he'd fought in spite of it, and almost died for it.
  46.  
  47. Arella's was whole, and vivid pink.
  48.  
  49. It had escaped any damage. It was a relief.
  50.  
  51. "I've lost an eye, the use of my arm for the next two months, a large chunk of my sternum, and possibly my ability to reproduce," Arella whispered as loudly as she could in the general direction of the teal visitor to her hospital room. It had been three weeks since the fight, yet she'd not quite recovered her voice, or her ability to catch her breath. "Please tell me. You have a good reason. For coming here."
  52.  
  53. It was Ceteus, of course.
  54.  
  55. "I've given him the throne already," Arella muttered. "He can't--" a heaving breath-- "take it, announce it, until I'm off planet with the Fleet." The Saved, millions strong and loyal. Ready to fight for the Empire, or the Empress--and the Empress was as good as the Empire anyways. "If he's...Complaining--"
  56.  
  57. "It's just a l-letter," the legislacerator stammered in an all-too familiar way. Damacy stared back at her with wide eyes and shaking hands as he slipped the letter into her lap, clothed by the sterile, white hospital sheets. "I'm not sure what he needs to--ask about--"
  58.  
  59. There's no time for this. Arella wearily examined the letter and decided once and for all that she would just have a frank conversation with someone for once in her life. No more passing letters back and forth, no more agonizing in her bedchambers about anything. Well, she amended--first she'd read the letter, then she'd go to Ceteus and tell him to shut up and take the governance. If he tried to stab her over it then at least she'd have an exciting dynamic in her life that could even possibly end in her death.
  60.  
  61. Damacy was dismissed quickly and seemed grateful for it, ready to return to Ceteus' side. Arella had heard he was managing Ceteus' PR, and that was almost enough to make her wax pale for the poor fool. Ceteus was smart, smarter than he let on, but was capable of saying things which offended everyone in the vicinity. It was a talent of its own. Still, Damacy didn't seem bothered, and almost seemed to harbor a fondness. True loyalty.
  62.  
  63. It must be nice, Arella thought, to have someone love you like that.
  64.  
  65. Ceteus' court was already forming around him, a thatch of friends that weren't fairweather. Arella supposed that if you were hard to love, you knew the ones that were around you really -were- there for you. If you made it too easy, let down every wall and let anyone in, it was easy for those people to leave, too.
  66.  
  67. She dragged her hands down her face, careful to avoid the bandaged left eye. She was starting to assign wisdom to Ceteus, of all people. It was high time she stopped thinking about this.
  68.  
  69. ---
  70.  
  71. There was news of a scientist known as the Automata. Her eye could be repaired, or at least replaced with a beautiful prosthetic, nonfunctional or otherwise. Arella couldn't find it in her to summon up much hope about it, but she figured at least it would make her beautiful again, or as close to it as she could manage with a wrecked body and an equally ruined mind.
  72.  
  73. The medical side of things gave her plenty to worry about and deal with. The politics of the remaining Fuchsias also kept her busy. Ceteus was the governor of Verdant as far as she was concerned, but Mahlie was someone who needed distraction. Arella had no clue what to do with her--she buried herself in politics and crept in public channels anonymously. A tweeting bird told her that the girl was busy with a yellowblood and adequately distracted. It was a relief and another problem temporarily solved.
  74.  
  75. There was the matter of who would lead her Fleet, and the matter of the Caverns' upkeep now that the local broodmother had went to work for Ceteus and a mutant had been assigned to his role. There was the matter of the re-salination of numerous bodies of water. And of course, one could not forget about the lusii that needed farming, god forbid.
  76.  
  77. She'd learned to pass these things off to someone who was not dealing with the weight of the Universe on their shoulders. She picked people without asking nicely and told them to do things. A head of Lusus management, as stupid as the title was, now existed. A system of jades and purples managed the caverns alongside local broodmothers, never superseding them. It was easy to find a Threshecutioner ready to lead its corps, when she went for people who were competent and not people who loved her the most. That was the key--to not care if people liked you or not. They would end up liking you a lot more than if you'd tried hard.
  78.  
  79. Then, there was the matter of Siddon. It was not an issue that could be delegated.
  80.  
  81. It had taken time to drive into her head that Siddon was not her equal in the eyes of the Empire, but he was entirely her better in her heart. It was not healthy for her to look up to him like an ancestor, and it was not healthy of her to try to be him, or even to make him proud. She couldn't make him happy by promising him she'd give him whatever he wanted, like she had with so many people in the past--trying to be whatever they wanted, trying to give them the world. *Siddon* didn't even know what Siddon wanted. Arella wondered if he wanted for anything at all, or if he'd given up on selfish desires.
  82.  
  83. The aching in her heart and the swings in her emotions had slowly ebbed away as her duties were given to competent underlings and her rages were soothed by nameless midbloods. That was how she knew the concern weighing on her, the sting in her chest, was of actual importance and wasn't a passing pain.
  84.  
  85. It was just that she wanted him to come with her. Arella had come to hate Verdant and all it stood for. In her worst moments, she silently agreed with the Condesce's choice to kill anyone who rose against her and compromised her rule. Verdant was not a place for Siddon, but more than that, Verdant did not deserve Siddon. Siddon had loved them wholly, and Verdant had fallen into weakness and pettiness and strife.
  86.  
  87. There was nothing Arella could promise Siddon. It was difficult to imagine why he would run away with a child to conquer the dead universe. The only thing she could tell herself was that Siddon had never left her side, not even when every other person who had claimed to love her had abandoned her. Siddon had never draped her in loving words or doted on her excessively or had even promised her his presence. He had just been...there.
  88.  
  89. It was her greatest hope that he would keep being there. The only thing she could think of to promise him was that she would be there for him, too.
  90.  
  91. Arella wasn't sure what being pale for someone felt like, and she didn't really want to know right now. Instead she just sent the offer for Commurdant of her Fleet to Siddon via one of Ceteus' aids, an instructamer that, after her drug-induced haze had lessened, she recognized as Zeeroh's adoptive mother.
  92.  
  93. It was fitting that she delivered it, and with a surprising lack of hatred for the woman she'd previously wanted dead.
  94.  
  95. "We do not know where he is," Minuet had admitted. "And neither do any of his partners. He did not tell Enomia, or...even Cosmea." Her voice dropped into a pained waver. "And he did not tell you?"
  96.  
  97. It was like picking at a scab. "No," Arella admitted with some shame. "His ring was returned to me through a custom-made drone. Untrackable. I believe he's off-planet."
  98.  
  99. "He was never meant to..." Minuet's voice cracked. "We were wrong to...Even in the caverns, he..."
  100.  
  101. "I know," Arella muttered, awkwardly.
  102.  
  103. ---
  104.  
  105. For some reason it felt like things were supposed to be wrapped up more neatly. Arella announced her plan to leave with the Fleet and to cede governance of Verdant as a colony to Ceteus. The planet seemed to hate it at first, complained and rioted. And then, as dispassionately as every other thing in Verdant had ended, the anger was gone. The people did not have the courage nor patience to begin a revolution.
  106.  
  107. Ceteus looked every bit the ruler. Mahlie hadn't yet grown into her assignation as the head of Ceteus' fleet, but she at least grinned when the cameras were on her, and stood tall. Her fingers were wrapped through a yellowblood's. They seemed happy. *Good*, Arella thought. They deserved it, didn't they?
  108.  
  109. Artume's proclamations of overthrowing her if she was a poor ruler or compromised the Empire, similarly, faded into nothing. Arella felt ashamed over who she was as a person, at the core of herself, reading their previous messages. From one broken engagement to another; pledging herself, and half of her power, to Artume? It was insanity, and she was glad it hadn't carried through.
  110.  
  111. Again, it was only Siddon that kept it from happening. He didn't give Artume the throne. He gave her the throne.
  112.  
  113. The existence of a pale harem around the Empress was well known and as embarrassing as Arella had expected it to be, though she feigned stoicism and boredom in the public eye, detached from judgment. Her highblood rage hadn't manifested as cruelty or even coldness; her violent mood swings, her desire to be loved and admired, her inability to make logical decisions were all attributable to it (along with her own stupidity, she admitted). It had taken her too long to accept the fact that she needed an actual diamond, or at least the facade of it; not one that wanted to fuck.
  114.  
  115. It wasn't a fairy-tale ending. There had been a riot in the lower Eastern quadrant of the capital city just hours prior. A large stock of grain and dried food, meant to provide for the Palace in times of famine, had been ransacked. Half of her prior friends hated her (for good reason, she thought bitterly) and the other half never even thought of her.
  116.  
  117. It still felt nice to look at the gleaming carapaces of her new Fleet.
  118.  
  119. There'd been a yellowblood who'd mouthed off to Ceteus so viciously during his reign that Arella still recalled it with a smile. He'd also been someone who, if allowed, she would've obsessed over and ruined her life over. Thank god Noisia had never replied to her fangirling comments on his stream, and later, had the good grace to not talk to her at all.
  120.  
  121. He'd managed a colony-repopulating program unprompted--at least, the helmsman side of it. Arella had woken up one day to a long list of planets that were within 'reasonable Helmsman hopping distance' from Verdant. (Later, Noisia would smile to himself, thinking about the fact that he'd drawn them away from a little 'blue' planet that was already full; that wasn't important for now.) It felt like an appropriate thank-you to offer him something.
  122.  
  123. "Dude, I don't want a ship. No offense." Noisia kicked at the ground. "Also, it's nice of you to do all this shit, but I didn't send you that ironic Katy Perry mixtape titled 'Empress' as like...a friend thing. Just celebrating the fact that, ding dong, the bigger bitch is dead, don't cull me 'cause I told off our current governor forever ago."
  124.  
  125. "I know we aren't close." Arella's eyebrows drew up. "I recall my assistant telling me they overheard you remarking on my 'concerning horniness regarding yellowbloods'."
  126.  
  127. Noisia paused, as if weighing the options, before shrugging. "A dude's married. Gotta make sure you understand those vows, ma'am. Marriage is sacred." He said it wisely, and as if he and Arkana were an actual quadrant.
  128.  
  129. Arella knew little of the blue but didn't care to dig into that comment. "I understand them. I didn't invite you here to give you a ship." Arella tucked her hands into the pockets of her fleet slacks, looking out towards the ships. "I've heard of a scientist named Automata."
  130.  
  131. "Why's that concern me." Noisia frowned. "I mean. No offense I guess. But yes offense."
  132.  
  133. Arella was reminded of why she hated socializing with anyone and ignored the irritation. "They deal in medical issues. I know that you're dying," she said frankly. "Automata can do something about that."
  134.  
  135. "I'm one foot in the fucking grave, my guy. Why do you think I'm speaking so casually to Miss Murder? I'm already dead." Noisia shrugged roughly. "Between you and me, I'm not really enjoying the farm life anyways. Lowbloods are dying left and right, I'm just here to manage my ancestor's property now that he's...you know."
  136.  
  137. "You have nothing left for you on Verdant," Arella concluded simply.
  138.  
  139. "Yep." Noisia snorted. "And no, doesn't mean I want to crawl up into your ship and play battery. I'm done existing around people. That shit sucks."
  140.  
  141. Arella could agree with that. "Automata won't prevent you from dying. It's to do something about the time after death." Arella shrugged. "Your wife."
  142.  
  143. "My wife." Noisia replied blankly.
  144.  
  145. "The gem in your ring is important for more than you know. Automata can embed it into a chassis. You can live once you're dead with your wife."
  146.  
  147. Noisia went quiet for a moment before, in an instant, he tugged his helmet over his head and snapped the visor shut. It meant: conversation over. It meant: I'm three seconds from losing my shit if you don't stop whatever you're doing. Shut off. "I need to shovel the pig shit or whatever. Message me about this later."
  148.  
  149. Insolence that she couldn't, or wasn't willing, to punish. Arella looked out towards the ships and pretended to not see him leaving, slipping past the guards quietly despite his upset.
  150.  
  151. There was no reason to linger here; Arella certainly didn't like looking at Verdant. In fact, it was so bad it made her miss Alternia, a previously impossible feat. Still, she hesitated.
  152.  
  153. There was no need to stay here, she reasoned.
  154.  
  155. A large shadow cast against the ground, and a broad figure cut against the horizon.
  156.  
  157. Arella looked back, and swallowed, and smiled.
  158.  
  159. "You came."
  160.  
  161. ---
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