I breathed in the salty sea breeze while the waves roared against the shore. The armies of Erath were arrayed on either side of the Bridge of Babel, weapons poised, maps drawn, and prayers dancing on every soldier’s lips. There hadn’t been a large-scale war like this in centuries because of the demon lords’ disappearances. Most battles had been one-sided invasions by the Union, crushed by the Alliance once they reached the demon lord’s castle.
But this time, both sides were fully mobilized. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, magicians, tacticians, and the like had all been gathered. Farmers were conscripted, merchants’ goods were appropriated, and factories and idle workers were put to work manufacturing weapons or maintaining the supply lines.
Amy stood over the red army, gazing in my direction but showing no signs of having noticed me. Zoe was dispatched to scout the Union’s vanguard. Runir was in a large command tent on his side of the bridge, accompanied by Azoth and a few other ministers, while Lily stood alone near the front of her army, standing silent but upright, letting her gleaming white armor and confidence motivate her army.
Both Runir and Lily had the same sentiments but had reached different conclusions. If they couldn’t avoid the war, they wanted to make sure it ended quickly. Their decisions on how to achieve that were very different. Runir wanted to efficiently dismantle the Union. Lily wanted to die.
The rest of the goddesses floated high in the sky, behind a cloud just thick enough to hide their shadows. Lunaris argued that they continue searching for me, but Solaron reminded her they’d been doing so for weeks, to no avail. Adriana complained about not being able to sell arms to the Alliance because Runir had blocked her. She grumbled that they’d lose without her weapons but Opal countered by reminding her that she was short on raw materials and couldn’t make any weapons in the first place. Breize tinkered with a new contraption, claiming it could be useful in the war. They were trying to distract themselves from the carnage that was about to ensue below. Despite having lived for a millennium, they hadn’t gotten used to watching people suffer and die. Even Opal, who enslaved some of her people, couldn’t stomach war.
Zoe reached the bridge. I waited for her to near the center before materializing there. The goddesses stopped bickering. Amy bit her lips as her prism vibrated. Runir cursed at his prism. Lily chucked hers far away. All of them shot into the air, rushing towards me as fast as they could.
I faced the sky and listened to the waves to pass the time. No, that wasn’t true. I couldn’t pass the time, the concept had no meaning for me. I was listening to the waves to distract myself.
That wasn’t true either, I couldn’t be distracted.
Zoe was the first to spot me. I looked at her without turning, always futilely wondering if I’d made the right choice in suppressing her memories. Of course I had, I knew I had.
The goddesses were the first to touch down. It took Lily and Runir several milliseconds to reach me, but that didn’t matter, I could wait. I’d been waiting forever, after all.
Amy tried to catch my attention so I gazed at her without meeting her gaze. She regretted betraying me, both because of her internal moral anguish, and because I’d escaped. The other goddesses were afraid but defiant. Runir had his poker face on but was furiously trying to think of a solution while slowly coming to terms with his inability to do so. Lily was the firmest in her convictions, being straight up angry.
I knew what was going to happen. I was going to hesitate, sigh, look at them one by one, relive my memories with them, then resign myself to the inevitability of my actions. I was going to rewrite everything. I’d seen myself do it on the Hill outside Reneste, and almost every night since then.
I sighed and looked at Amy directly. Stories around a campfire, saving her from the Ashfiend’s curse, flirting with her on a boat while skirting the Alderan wastes, and finally, spending a warm night on a cold mountaintop with her in my arms; all memories I cherished at the time, despite knowing how our relationship would end.
I moved my gaze to Lily. She had a fierce glint in her eye that reminded me of how impressed I’d been when she escaped the Palace. Her resistance to authority and propensity to steal things contrasted sharply with her sense of justice and love for the weak. I’d always admired that about her. I’d also come to think of her as my little sister; one I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to have.
Runir was like me in many ways. His calculating nature, his inscrutable demeanor, and his initial disregard for other people’s feelings reminded me of the Kai who had first come to this world as well as the person I was now. Would he have done things differently if he’d been in my position? Probably not, but who knows.
Solaron, the goddess who never gave up on the game. Finding loopholes to give her side any advantage she could, capitalizing on Lunaris’ absence and lack of enthusiasm, and trying to win the game as quickly and painlessly as possible. She’d long since realized that her actions were useless, she was killing people and inflicting more pain yet victory was never within sight. She guessed that victory was impossible, that the game was not meant to be won. She guessed right.
Adriana became a business tycoon after helping boats traverse the myriad canals and rivers of her territory. At some point, she’d met an old lady who changed the way she saw the world. Although it didn’t stop her from selling weapons to both sides of the war, she did keep the worst weapons locked away.
Opal dealt with the pain of her people by trying to control their lives as directly as possible. However, when famine struck, she had no idea what to do. She watched her people starve but couldn’t access the plentiful resources being traded right outside her country’s borders. When Breize expressed a desire in the minerals in her mines, she went all out in procuring them. She worked them to the bone so they could survive. She hoarded excess minerals so scarcity would make them more valuable while having a stockpile for rainy days.
The Air kingdom had always had the best engineers but Breize felt she could take them even higher. Into the sky, in fact. She developed all sorts of contraptions to make her people’s lives better and sold weapons to buy food and raw materials for her machines. She made the peacetime sweeter but the wars deadlier.
Lunaris locked herself up in a shack in the mountains, having tea-parties with herself for hundreds of years. I always felt guilty when I thought about her, knowing that I’d dragged her into this but never gotten to know her. I needed to let her hatred of Fate stew, and stop her from realizing her otherworldly magic didn’t work on me, but watching her drink tea all alone for so long was saddening, to say the least.
I looked back into the sky. I focused on Zoe without turning to her, remembering all the fun I’d had taking care of the little tyke. I also recalled the pain of suppressing her memories, again, and shifted my attention elsewhere.
Azoth was in the command tent of the dark kingdom. He’d been a bit of a wildcard. Despite being a bonus boss unlocked after the end of the main campaign, he’d left his mountain and assumed command of the Dark kingdom himself. A mix of ambition and self-righteousness motivated his actions, although he’d grown apathetic after killing his fifth hero.
Finally, I focused on Clare. She lay on top of the Hill, scratching Waon’s head while staring at the sky. I looked at her eyes and she felt it, gazing into the empty air intensely. She didn’t want me to do it. She thought I could come up with another answer, something less extreme, less depressing.
But she didn’t understand – none of them did. It’s why they tried to lock me up. It’s why they were so angry at me for not fixing everything despite being able to do so. But that was because they were ignorant.
Being ridiculously powerful isn’t as cool as people think. Even if you could do everything you wanted to, you couldn’t really do it. There was no happiness to be found in power, no love, no satisfaction. If you had any morals, any concept of right and wrong, any humanity at all, you wouldn’t find absolute power fun. No, you’d come to the same conclusion that I had:
Absolute power is pretty depressing.
I said the word and the world went dark.