PART FOUR: WORLD'S END
"Chancellor, it is good to see you have survived," lied Guc smoothly.
Fixing the king of Tsab with an icy stare, Wil responded. "Thank you, Your Majesty. For my part, I never doubted you would emerge alive from our latest engagement."
Guc frowned at the implied insult, but said nothing further.
The small group of five dignitaries was meeting in the same sitting room where Wil had been reunited with Lea only hours earlier. In addition to Vorti's chancellor and the king, present were Queens Lea and Mia and the seeress Meg. Lea, having bathed and changed clothing, appeared more regal than when Wil had spoken with her less than two hours ago atop the ramparts. Guc and Meg were weary and spattered with mud, as expected, but neither appeared to have suffered any serious injury.
"Meg, how are you?" asked Wil.
"I am alive, Chancellor, and perhaps that is all that matters at this point. My sight has not returned, but I am again in possession of my wits, which may be a greater boon. In my blindness, I have been able to sort through the jumble of images that have assailed me over the years, and I have recognized many truths I would otherwise have missed. There are benefits, it seems, from experiencing a respite from the relentless intrusion of my sight.
"But we have no time for pleasantries. I am assured the quatics will be here soon, and there are many things we must talk of before they arrive. The world is about to change, Chancellor, and you will be at the epicenter of those changes."
"We'll be in the throne room," said Mia. "Queen Lea and I will update King Guc on the situation." Gazing after them as they withdrew, Wil noted the marked coldness between Lea and Guc. There would be no marriage there; whatever feelings his queen had once harbored for her fellow ruler had curdled. How Guc felt was unclear; he was harder to read. However, since Lea no longer had a city to offer him, it was likely that he too had lost interest in the match. Considering how things had turned out, it seemed foolish that he and Eya had devoted so many hours to concerns about that potential relationship.
When he and Meg were alone, Wil began, "I worry about Lea. She and Sor are going to attempt a crossing of World's End."
"I know," said Meg. "I am going with them."
For some reason, that surprised Wil. "Do you think your site will return on the other side of the great maelstrom?"
"My loss of sight and its return have nothing to do with location on this world. They are impacted by the weakening of the barrier between life and death, and the entropy that is seeping through the wound. Once it is healed, I believe my sight will return. The restoration of my abilities is not germane to our discussion, but the closing of the barrier is. You, Chancellor, are the one who must close it. The only one who can, in fact."
"There's nothing like putting pressure on a person," muttered Wil.
Meg ignored him, as was her wont. "We know that King Sor is not fully dead, but neither is he alive. He has been trapped in a limbo since that night seventeen years ago when he succumbed to burgeoning apathy. He remained there until your magic weakened the barrier holding him enough for him to come through. Inadvertant though it may have been on your part, that action created the rupture through which Sor emerged. Unfortunately, it had the unwanted side effect of weakening the shields that compartmentalize one life from another, and some became aware of a previous identity or identities."
"So it's possible that Grundig knows he was Vas."
"To what extent the knowledge goes, I cannot say. Perhaps it is a subconscious experience. Perhaps memories of a previous life are as memories of his current one. Or perhaps there are multiple voices in his head. He may even remember back further than Vas. I never looked deeply enough into the situation to be able to understand it.
"One question that has puzzled me since this happened – why was Sor not reborn? I do not pretend to understand the workings of fate, but much of my life has been comprised of looking into people's souls and understanding who they were in their previous life. The gap between death and rebirth can be as little as a few minutes or as long as a few years. Yet, more than a decade after dying, Sor had not been reborn. What's more, when he was alive, I was never able to see into his past. The same, Chancellor, is true of you.
"Others have confounded my sight. The second Queen Joi, for instance, was a blank. I have come to believe this was the result of her being a 'new soul' – one whom the universe created to populate a body. Things like that happen all the time – souls being created, spltting, or recombining, depending on the needs of the universe. There are other souls I have looked for, but not found: King Kan, Prince Bem, Princess Jen, Queen Sye, the first Queen Joi, and so on. That doesn't mean they were not reincarnated; it simply means I have not discovered their new bodies. I thought that was the case with Sor until you released him."
Wil interrupted. "I remember you saying that Eya was the re-incarnation of Prince Kir, who was Kan's heir before Queen Sye assassinated him."
"That is true. Now, with her death, that illustrious soul will be born anew. Fate is not as capricious as some think. There is a designed purpose behind it which hints at structure or intelligence. Kir was robbed of a chance to govern in his life; he was given another opportunity as Eya. Many souls are tied together. Often, you will be close to people in one life that you were close to in the past, although the relationships may change. It is not unheard for a king of one era to be reborn as a king in another era."
"Before you lost your sight, did you look into Lea's soul?" asked Wil. Something in the way Meg was talking had aroused his curiosity.
"I did. Her past was not obscured."
"Who was she?"
"The understanding of who a person was in a previous existence can be dangerous knowledge. It can impact how you think about that person. It can make you think of them not as themselves, but as another."
"But if the barriers are weak, it's possible she remembers who she was."
"For most humans, Lea included, I do not believe that to be the case, beyond moments of déjà vu and subconscious ticklings. It takes a being of power, such as Grundig, to have his past opened to him."
"Who was Lea in her previous life?"
"I will warn you one final time. Are you certain you wish to be the recipient of this knowledge?"
Wil considered, but there was really no decision. Lea was leaving; even if learning her past identity changed the way he thought of her, it would have no lasting impact. His curiosity burned, so he said, "I understand your warning, Meg. All the same, I would like to know who she was."
Meg did not hesitate. "She was Queen Lis of Vorti, your wife and the mother of your son."
Wil felt a rush of emotion unlike anything he had experienced since his early years on the Halcyon Meadows. Lis – alive and so close to him after all these years. It made sense, as well. Lis' opportunity to rule Vorti at Sor's side had been cut short by palace intrigue. She had died shortly before Lea's birth. And he had always sensed a deeper, more trusting bond between himself and the queen than would be normal between a ruler and her chancellor.
"She is not Lis," said Meg sternly. "She is Lea. She was Lis, but that part of her is buried. You must know let this realization impact how you interact with her."
Wil was tempted to ask how he could not, but he knew. "After tomorrow, I'll never see her again. It won't matter." He suspected that if Meg was not well aware of this fact, she wouldn't have informed him.
"Have you sufficiently recovered from your shock for me to continue?"
Wil shook his head then, belatedly realizing Meg could not see him, muttered his assent. This revelation, however, was not something he would recover from, even if he survived the morrow.
"I have given much thought to the mystery of Sor, re-interpreting many visions I had of him over the years, and I believe I have arrived at an inescapable conclusion. He cannot die because he is not whole.
"Over the years, I am certain it has occurred to you that there are more similarities between you and Sor than can be explained by coincidence. You were born not only on the same day, but at the same hour. You are both Apaths. You contested for the same throne and the same woman. In the end, you raised both his children. I believe you and Sor are not merely similar; you are the same – two factions of one soul. Under normal circumstances, this would not be an issue. As I said earlier, souls are often split as well as created to support an increasing population. But this time, a 'cornerstone' soul was inadvertently divided, and the universe can not move forward until its restoration is accomplished. A soul such as that of Garvad."
Wil's head was spinning as he tried to absorb everything Meg was surmising. As impossible as her words sounded, they struck a resonant chord within Wil. It was as if he had secretly known this truth all along, but was waiting for someone with the knowledge to turn the key and unlock the door.
When he responded, his words were surprisingly calm. Inside, however, his emotions were churning. To think, only hours before he had felt threatened by Lea's belief that World's End might be crossed. Now, every remaining certainty in his life had been shattered. "Garvad's soul was divided into Sor and I and for the breach between life and death to be healed, I must join him in death."
"Yes. Only your death can heal this wound. When it happens, things will return to how they were. And when you are born next, your half of the soul will be reunited with Sor's. As an individual, you will never again exist.
"One other thing. Though you may live many more years without damaging the universe, you may not survive the upcoming battle. You are as aware of this as I am. It would be best if Sor were to be by your side at the end. He can be summoned once or twice more without doing irreparable damage to the barrier. When you are sure of the end, call to him and he will come. You will face the end of this life and the beginning of the next one together.
"I will leave you now, Chancellor. You have much to consider and I have a journey to prepare for. If you need to speak with me this night, you will find me at the harbor."
Wil hardly heard her leave. His mind was reeling. Lea was Lis. He and Sor were the same, fragments of Garvad. Was he back here to face the quatics again, as he had done all those years ago? Or should he have died with Sor after the dwarf attack, preserving the symmetry of their lives? In his youth, he had hated Sor. In his middle-age, he had pitied him. In later years, he had come to respect the man, his ideals, and what he had stood for. He had loved the king's son and daughter as his own. His feelings about Sor had always been conflicted. To learn this, now… It did not invalidate who he was as a person, but it made him feel less than adequate to the task at hand. As far as the universe was concerned, all he had to do was die. Such a simple act, even though his ego rebelled against it. For the sake of humanity, however, his death had to have meaning. That was the hard part. That was the part that might be decided tomorrow.
He had originally planned to spend the small hours of the morning in slumber, husbanding his resources for the battle. Now, after Meg's revelations, he knew sleep would never come. The Wil who had entered Xert was not the one who would depart it.
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