Volume 5:  Among the Stars, like Giants Part VII:  .... Let No God Tear Asunder




Chapter 9


BEFORE:
      Susan: You have a plan?
      Sinoval: I always have a plan.  It has merely been a long time crystallising.  Now, it is done.
      Susan: Well, let's hear it then.  Unless you're planning on keeping me in the dark.
      Sinoval: Perish the thought.  I have been gathering up as many of the gateways as I can.  The Vorlons still have some, including the master gateway.
      Susan: Master gateway?
      Sinoval: I am sure I have explained this to you before.
      Susan: Maybe I wasn't listening.
      Sinoval: I would imagine not.  The lesser gateways, the orbs and mirrors and the like.  The Enemy can look through them, talk through them, extend some of their will.  They cannot move through them physically, not unless appropriate rituals have been performed and the environment is right.  There must be blood sacrifices, madness, and death.
      Susan: Fun.
      Sinoval: The Vorlons have been using these lesser gateways to bring the Aliens through.  The more power the Aliens have, the more power is needed.  Those already in this universe are no more than foot soldiers.  The generals, the lords and the priests remain in their universe.  Tirivail worked all this out.  She was right, for the most part.
      Susan: Fine, so this master gateway is?
      Sinoval: As it is described.  A master gateway.  A physical doorway to that universe.  If it is open, anything can come through.  All the armies and fleets and all the lords of that realm - even their ruler itself, if it so wishes.
      Susan: So why isn't it open already?
      Sinoval: Because, like most doorways, it can allow things in as well as out.  The lesser gateways are slower, but more controllable.  And with the lesser gateways, I think I can force open the master gateway and allow us to enter their universe.
      Susan: Take the fight to the enemy.  Nice.  I approve.
      Sinoval: Thank you.  Just what I needed.
      Susan: Sarcasm doesn't become you.  So, what do we do when we get there?
      Sinoval: Ah, now that is the best part.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

They were waiting at the gateway.  If beings such as these can be said to be afraid of anything, given their age and power and fanatical determination, they were afraid of this.
      An invasion of their own realm.  The desecration of their shrineworld - their most holy place, a reminder of the sacred task which they had begun and fulfilled so long ago, a graveworld in which they interred the bodies and souls of all the numberless races of this universe that they had destroyed.
      Under attack.
      Their fleets were ready at the gateway.  They had been waiting patiently for twelve years, a short enough time by their reckoning.  They could have opened the master gateway twelve years before and flooded into the new cosmos like the fury of Heaven and Hell combined.
      But a door opens two ways, and in creating an exit for themselves, they could have allowed others in.  And so they had waited.  There were other ways, other gateways - slower perhaps, less immediate, less direct, but these beings had time and dreams and immortality and they could wait.  It was, they all accepted, for the best.
      None of them had ever dreamed that the enemy would be able to force an entry, to break down the master gateway by strength and ritual and power.
      None of them had ever imagined that the enemy would dare to attack them on their own ground, at the site of their own greatest victory.
      Not least the God-Emperor itself, black and terrifying in the dead sky of lifeless stars.
      A thought flickered through its world-sized brain.  A sensation for which it had no word, no concept.  It was something like anticipation, but not quite.  It was akin to mystery, but there was something else there too.  It was the unknown, the mysterious, the alien.
      The invaders had a word for it, although they would all - even Sinoval - have hesitated to ascribe such a.... a mortal emotion to such a creature.
      Such a simple word as fear.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The eye between the worlds was open, forced open, a thing it had never conceived of, never thought possible.
      Too long.  It had been too long alone, with only its own slavish followers for company, and they provided naught but worship and adulation.  How long had it been?
      Millions of years since there had been anything of true sentience, anything of technology or civilisation or maturity, and they had been pitiful things before its might.  They had known laws and language and philosophy, but they were as nothing before it.
      Before them, before that race of sentients, some races had taken to the stars, moving to the other worlds in their systems by mechanics or flight or teleportation.  But they were children, crawling, shielding their eyes from the majesty of the universe.
      How long since there had been a race that could face up to it, that could understand what it truly was, that could appreciate its glory and its divinity even if they did not worship it?
      How long since it had been truly challenged?
      How long since it had passed the First Ones of this cosmos?
      And now there came more, the elder beings of this new galaxy.  And they came not in peace, not in diplomacy, not in wonder or awe or subdued surrender - they came bringing war and fire.
      How long since it had truly fought - not merely killed or sacrificed, but fought?
      How long since it had faced anything that would dare to face it back?
      How long?
      It could not remember.
      How long since it had stirred from its ancient slumber, drawn by an act of such magnitude?
      It stirred, and began to move, thoughts and ideas sparkling through its brain.  It managed to distill so much down to one simple essence.
      The stronghold was breached.  The place of its rest was in danger.  The enemy were near, and the structure of its very body would soon be assailed.
      This was blasphemy and heresy.  These creatures would die, would know the blessed and holy oblivion of death.
      But there was something there.  Something ancient, something oddly akin to its shrineworld, a place dedicated to the slain - but different.  A place like it, but not it, too different to be explained or described or delineated.
      This force would have to be destroyed. The culling of the new galaxy could wait.  These beings were the force against which the eye had been kept closed.  Once they were gone, immortalised in eternity, then nothing else would remain.  Nothing that could stop it from entering the new universe.
      Once these forces were dead.
      Everything else was secondary.  Everything else was unnecessary.  For now it had time, and little else but time.  Its servants and soldiers and priests were needed here.  The purging of the other place must wait until these beings were dead.
      All were to return to defend the God-Emperor and the shrineworld.
      And then it would be done, and these beings would be gone, and it would be able to think again.
      The strange sensation it could not describe as fear died down, as it began to consider what to do once that was so.
      Perhaps a new shrineworld could be created somewhere in that new universe.
      Yes, that would be most fine indeed.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The enemy was waiting for them beyond the gateway, gathered in a defensive stance, black and terrifying, foully ancient creatures whose very presence brought fear.
      No one here knew fear.  Veterans of a twelve-year war, everyone had known loss and suffering, seen family and friends and worlds die.
      That loss gave them strength, as it gave them passion and fury.  Each had known what their fate would be when they accepted this task.
      There would be no return.
      They would enter the universe of the Aliens expecting death, and they would find it there.
      That chill cry rang throughout all their minds, the whisper of the Aliens.
      Death eath eath ath ath th th h h
      Marrain spoke for them all, and they all heard his reply.
      "Death?" he laughed.  "I have been dead, fools!  I have seen far worse in my lives to fear than you!"
      The fleets swept forward, seeking not victory, but a beachhead.
      A foothold into the Realm of the Dead.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Sinoval could feel them now, so very clearly.  He could hear them, whispered conversations as if from the next room.  The door had been opened and their words reached out to him.
      Words pleading for remembrance, for annihilation, for one last chance - a billion different voices asking for a billion different things, but all of them overjoyed to have someone who could hear them at last.
      "Patience," he whispered.  "I will be there soon.
      "Soon."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"Something has happened to them," Delenn whispered.
      Sheridan nodded, tracking the ebb and flow of the battle.  The heart had been torn from the Vorlons.  The Dark Stars and the station's defence system had turned against them.  The Vorlon ships were dying, surrounded and battered.
      The battle was won.
      This battle was won.  The war was being fought somewhere else, by someone else.  He wished he could be part of it.  To be at war again, to have a clear enemy....
      But no, that would be too easy.  Sinoval had not brought him back to be a warrior.  Sinoval had brought him back to be a leader.
      A leader in peace, not in war.
      "It must be over," he said, with a hint of bitterness.  "Sinoval's gone somewhere else."
      He started as Delenn touched his hand.  Her skin felt very warm against his.  "Leave him to his war," she said.  "He has had the courage to leave us to ours."
      He tried to say something, but then stopped and turned away, looking back to the battle.
      --- Can you hear me? ---
      He started at the sound which disturbed his concentration.  He looked around for a moment, then realised it was coming from the commchannel.  It was annoyingly familiar, but he could not quite place it.
      --- Is anyone there? ---
      "I'm here," he replied.  "This is.... ah.... the....  Delenn, what ship are we on?"
      "The Remembrance."
      "This is the Remembrance," he continued.  "This is John Sheridan.  I.... ah....  I guess I'm in charge."
      --- Sheridan?  I thought you were dead.  Ah, never mind.  Who am I to talk about returning from the abyss?  What do you want done with this mess? ---
      "What do you mean?"
      --- The Vorlon network is under my control.  As part of the bargain we made with Sinoval, I've shut down the station's defence systems and freed the Dark Star ships.  They do what we want now.  I'm in a generous mood, so I thought I'd run things past you before I take any further action.  Do you want me to take that station out? ---
      "What?  No!  The Vorlons can't fight back?"
      --- I can see them very clearly.  They have their own ships, but nothing else.  They relied a little too much on one weapon and now that weapon has been turned against them.  Poetic, don't you think?  There's a lesson in there somewhere. ---
      "Who are you?"
      --- I'm disappointed you don't remember me, but then being dead does tend to scramble the memory.  I am Alfred Bester, new ruler of Vorlon Space. ---
      "New what?"
      --- Well, we may need to come up with a better title than that.  President-for-life, perhaps.  Lord High Emperor?  I like the sound of King Alfred myself....  Oh, calm down.  You've won.  I've won.  We can share a little post-victory bonhomie, no? ---
      "The war's not over yet," Sheridan replied coldly.
      --- Our part of it is.  I have faith in Sinoval. ---
      "And if it doesn't work out, then you've at least got your countless planets in Vorlon space to keep you safe, right?  Never mind the rest of us, as long as you're protected?"
      --- Something like that.  However, I do have faith in Sinoval, and if he fails, then I shall continue to fight this war to the best of my ability.  I would like to maintain good relations with the rest of you, but if that isn't possible, well then, so be it.  My people have a homeworld now.  We don't need the rest of you. ---
      Sheridan stood back.  He felt sick to the bottom of his stomach.
      "The Vorlons are practically helpless now?  Everywhere?  Not just here?"
      --- They have some planets left.  I'll get to them eventually.  I've scoured as much of their homeworld as I can, and I've taken the network away from them, at least the parts of it that are still functioning. ---
      "Fine.  I'd like you to keep things safe here.  Don't destroy the station, but keep the remaining Vorlons off my back in case they try something."
      --- Very well.  Consider this service a gift.  Future services will have to be paid for. ---
      "John," Delenn whispered.  "Do you have a plan?"
      "Have people forgotten all about me while I've been dead?"  His eyes blazed with a furious rage.  "When do I ever not have a plan?"

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The Alien ships were terrifying and sinister, ancient and fell and mysterious.
      But they were fighting forces who knew war and death and defeat and victory.  The Aliens had lost much of their terror over the years.  They had been beaten - at great cost, yes, but they had been beaten.  They had been wounded, and bled, and died.
      And once a creature has been shown to be mortal, to be vulnerable, it loses its myth, its magic, its power.  The Aliens were still strong, still fast, still deadly, but they were no longer invincible.
      Slowly they were forced back, cleared away from their defences at the mouth of the gateway.  Sinoval's opening of the gateway had confused them, even as it had confused their God-Emperor.
      The First Ones led the attack, raining power upon the Aliens, shattering their defences.  The priests, the generals, and of course the God-Emperor, had power to equal the First Ones, but they were not here.  These ships were small by comparison.
      The presence of their Gods inspired the mortal warriors of Sinoval's army far more than the presence of their devils demoralised them.  They attacked as hard and as fast as they could.
      And Cathedral....  On top of Cathedral, Sinoval simply sat and waited, meditating, regaining his strength and his will and waiting for his moment.  Nevertheless, his presence invigorated the allies.
      Finally the defences of the Aliens were shattered.  They pulled back, retreating carefully, giving ground grudgingly.  The scattered allied forces regrouped and gathered around the gateway.
      They formed an honour guard, and stood aside to allow Cathedral be the first to enter this strange, alien new universe.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

return return all of you the shrineworld is in danger return at the will of your God
      all else is secondary nothing else matters the shrineworld is threatened
      return at the will of your God

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

And they did.  From across the galaxy they heard the call and obeyed, returning to their universe, to their shrineworld, heeding a voice they could not ignore, could not deny.
      There were priests on dead worlds, such as Kara and Tressna, cataloguing the slain and the destroyed.  They put aside their work and returned.
      There were beings inside the network, hidden and lost, having fled there from Proxima a decade before.  They heard the call of their God-Emperor and followed it, and found a pathway home at last.
      There was the Lord at Centauri Prime, penetrating the tear between the worlds, ready to bring the wrath and power and glory of the God-Emperor to this wretched place.  It heard the call of the God-Emperor and abandoned Centauri Prime.
      They all returned home - some immediately, some slowly, but they all came.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The creature was dying.
      Vast and terrifying in the tear in the sky, it looked as majestic and as powerful as ever, but it was dying.  Marrago could sense it.  The visions that filled his mind, that swept through his senses, all of them spoke of the same thing.
      The creature was dying.
      He almost believed he had forged some sort of connection with the thing, however ludicrous the idea sounded.  It was a giant beside which he was nothing but an insect.  But he could still dream.
      It was a lord, mighty amongst its people, ancient even by the standards of that immortal race.  It had sterilised worlds, purging all life from them in the name of its monstrous creed.  And yet, it had almost come to love the beings it had killed.
      As he directed the fight, Marrago knew an epiphany, revelation rising in his mind.
      These creatures did not kill for lust for murder.  They were not bloodthirsty, they were not filled with passion or desire.
      They worshipped death, idolised it.  They killed out of a strange, perverted sense of love.  Life and death were interlinked.  These creatures were immortal.  Old age could not touch them.  Disease could not kill them.  They worshipped the one thing nature had denied them.
      Strange to think of the destruction of the things you had loved, but then Marrago's mind brought him to the memory of Lyndisty slain, and Senna covered in her own blood, and he realised it all too well.
      This creature, this Lord, would purge each and every life-form from Centauri Prime.  The Centauri themselves, their pets, their livestock, their plants, their bacteria.  Intelligent or not, sentient or not, advanced or not, the creature would kill them all.
      And somewhere, across uncharted stars and rifts and gateways, it would set a marker, a place where the memory of the Centauri homeworld would remain forever, immortalised by the beings who had killed it.
      But the creature was dying.  It had wreaked a terrible toll on Marrago's fleet, tearing ship after ship from space, dashing them to pieces, lightning bolts tearing through their fragile hulls.  It was a giant attacked by insects, and yet the insects were killing it.  Carn's suicide charge had been the start, but the others continued the battle.  They were men and women, soldiers all, with nothing to live for, and nothing to die for.  These creatures and forces like them had erased all life and all hope from them.
      Marrago closed his eyes.  The darkness around him was no lesser and no greater.  It was thick and oppressive and filled with the smell of Senna's blood and Lyndisty's perfume.  The creature was everywhere, its senses far more acute than Marrago's own.
      If you can hear this, he thought, I want you to know that I do not hate you.  I do not hate what you are, or what you have done.  We are nothing beside you.  But we exist for ourselves.
      I want you to know that.

      There was no reply, but then he was not really expecting one.  He sighed and prepared to open his eyes, willing himself for the act of courage that would require.  He was afraid of what he might see, but even more afraid of what he would not see.
      Then the psychic ripple blasted through the tear in space.  Marrago could not put the sensation into words, or even feelings.  It was a blend of age and agelessness and power and affection and fear and concern and emotions he simply did not have words to express.
      It threw him backwards across the room, dashing his head against the far wall, drawing blood from his eyes and his mouth.
      He lay unconscious for long minutes, not realising that he had forged a connection with one of the Alien lords, and that he had caught some little part of the psychic power of the God-Emperor's summons.  Still, he gained enough understanding that when he finally recovered, blinking blood from his eyes and spitting it from his mouth, and the report came through that the creature had disappeared and the rift had closed, he was not the least bit surprised.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I know you can hear me.  Don't try and pretend you can't.
      You've lost this now, and you know it.  What's to be gained by fighting any longer?  You've lost your fleet, your homeworld, your network thing.  But most of all, you've lost the moral high ground, if you ever had it in the first place.
      This was about something once, wasn't it?  You didn't just wake up one morning and decide to take over the galaxy.  You wanted to do something good and worthwhile.  Fine.  You failed, and badly, but that's not the point.  You tried.
      But then, so did the Shadows.  They tried, too.  They had good motives once as well.  But they lost their way.  They failed, and in the end, when they realised that, they backed out of here and left.  You remember.  You were there, right?
      Well, guess what?  They won.  In this whole, worthless, pointless war the two of you had going, they won!  They admitted they were wrong, and they did something about it.
      There's two things we can do about this now.  You can fight, and we can blast that space station out of existence, or you can be reasonable.  You can surrender and we can negotiate terms.  Maybe we'll even let you leave and head off beyond the Rim.
      And for those of you thinking that those Alien allies of yours are going to help, then look around, because I don't see any of them.  Do you?  They don't belong in this universe, and this has nothing to do with them.
      Well, your decision.  Don't take too long over it.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Sheridan stood back from the commpanel.  Everything was silent.  The Vorlon ships that were left were motionless, awaiting their orders.  The remains of the alliance fleet were still, awaiting his orders.
      He did not want to be in charge, but somehow everyone who was left looked to him for inspiration.  Why him?
      "Well," he said, looking at Delenn.  "What did you think?"
      "They will not listen," she said sorrowfully.  "They would rather die than admit they are wrong."
      "The Shadows didn't."
      "The Shadows were not worshippers of these Aliens.  They worship death, John.  Worship it.  They will be glad to die, and even more glad to take some of us with them."
      "I think there's a chance.... some of them must be prepared to admit they were wrong.  Some of them must remember what they were.  I'm giving them a chance, Delenn, a chance to look in the metaphorical mirror and realise what they are and what they used to be and what they want to be."
      She looked up at him, and he saw a mirror in her eyes, and he knew she saw the same in his.  He took her hand.  He could hardly breathe.
      Twelve years.  Twelve years of lost memories suddenly evaporated as if they had never been.  Even the years before that, the dark years, the years of hatred and anger and a lost child, even these faded.
      There had been a time, so long ago now that neither could remember it clearly, when all that had mattered was each other - when they had truly believed they could change the galaxy for the better, when there had still been hope, when each one's very presence had changed the other.
      Slowly, tenderly, lovingly, as if the last decade and a half had not happened and they were young and in love for the first time, they kissed.
      Then they pulled back, unwillingly and awkwardly, just looking at each other.  It was John who broke the silence.
      By laughing.
      "I've missed you, Delenn," he said.  "Oh, God, how much I've missed you."
      She said nothing.  But her eyes, deep and green and alive once again, they said everything that needed to be said.
      A moment's silence later, the Vorlons replied.
      <We will discuss terms.>

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

It was a world given over entirely to the dead, a city where no one and nothing lived.  At the centre of it all was a vast tower, stretching black and midnight to the stars.
      If it had a name, then no one knew it - not even Sinoval.  Each race gathered in the fleet to bring war and justice and revenge to the Aliens had its own name for this place, but most of them boiled down to the same thing:
      Hell.
      Except Sinoval.  He looked at it and saw something else entirely.  But then he would.
      There was a plan, quite a technical and complicated battle plan, mainly worked out by Sinoval, Marrain, the other captains and the First Ones.  Susan had been on the periphery of that discussion.  The plan, however, broke down fundamentally to two simple points:
      Get Cathedral as near to the planet as possible
      and
      Keep it there.
      The ships were waiting for them and each metaphorical step was paid for.  But slowly, the army edged forward.
      On the very top of the pinnacle, standing at the very edge of the abyss, Sinoval looked down as the shrineworld grew closer and closer.
      How near do we have to be? came Susan's voice, carried to him through the walls and stones and bones of Cathedral.
      Nearer, he replied.  He reached out and tried to touch what he sought.  No, not yet.  Too far out of his reach.  Nearer, he confirmed.
      I thought you said this is where their leader would be.
      Yes, I did.
      Then where is it?
      Up.
  Sinoval could feel the God-Emperor, malevolent and hateful and terribly familiar.  A great many races across the galaxy had a saying, one he had become quite fond of during the twelve years of his exile.  He did not believe in the entity referred to, but it made sense all the same.
      'There but for the grace of God, go I.'
      In the sky?
      Sinoval reached out again.  He still could not find what he was looking for, but he could sense the God-Emperor.  It was moving, and thinking, and calling out.  Cathedral and the First Ones shielded as many as they could from the psychic onslaught of that call, and from the simple terror of just being so near to such a being.
      It moved, and one long, barbed tentacle extended.  Sinoval actually breathed out slowly.  The stars rippled and danced and moved.
      No, Susan.
      One of the God-Emperor's eyes opened.  Dead stars sparkled once again as it looked upon them all, those invaders of its holiest place.  They moved and flickered within that massive orb, the single eye the size of star systems, dead worlds orbiting dead stars.
      It is the sky.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

who are you life but death alien alive so long since any so long
      There are many words that could be spoken now.  I have waited for this moment for twelve years.  Not long by your time, I admit, but long enough by mine.  And do you know.... I just cannot think of anything to say.
      are you a God
      No, but I could be if I wanted to, if I was less lucky in my choice of companions, if I was less lucky in the companions that were chosen for me.
      are you me
      No, but close.  We are as alike and as different as images in a mirror - a dark, distorted mirror, but the reflection almost the same.
      who are you
      I cannot answer that.  Not any longer.  Who are you?
      God.  Emperor.  God-Emperor.
      No.  You are nothing.  God of nothing and lord of nothing.  I pity you.  The Vorlons, the Shadows, when they failed, when they realised they had failed, they at least had another galaxy to go to.  So many wonders, so many mysteries, a second chance, an opportunity to redeem themselves.  You don't even have that.  You have been to the other galaxies and you have murdered them all.
      a gift of death of oblivion of worship
      Murder.  But this is all just semantics.  You did not have to come to our universe.  You did not have to try to do to us what you did here.
      we were called
      You did not have to answer.
      death is sacred a worshipful eternity of peace holy a sacred task for us all must know death wherever they are whatever they are
      Even a God?
      all things....
      You're thinking, aren't you?  How long has it been?
      you are here....
      Yes?
      to kill me
      No, but close.  Or, from another perspective, very far away indeed.

      Sinoval reached out, and this time he was close enough.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

They were all gathered around Cathedral, a defensive sphere.  The Aliens attacked them furiously, filled with righteous rage and unholy fury at this desecration of their shrineworld.  They were beaten back, again and again.  The power of the First Ones was equal to these creatures, if only just, and their wrath and certainty held the line.
      Above them dead lights flickered in the sky, as the God-Emperor slowly moved and watched.  But it did not act, not yet.  Perhaps its attention was elsewhere.
      Other Alien ships arrived, some larger and more powerful than others.  One vast being, a mass of tentacles and barbed spines and a long, thin, bone-white body, was the size of the First One vessels, ageless and powerful and nothing but a vassal to the God-Emperor.
      But it was already wounded, struck by countless blows in a battle an entire universe away.  Its spines tore the life from two ships, one Drazi, one Soul Hunter, but the First Ones rained their holy fire on it and it fell, sinking weakly towards the unholy planet it had given its life to defend.
      The Aliens continued their attack, ebbing and flowing.  During all this, the God-Emperor did not move.
      It was waiting, as were they all.
      For Sinoval.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

At some point during this:
      They were ready to die, both of them.  They had known this was a mission from which no one would return, not even Sinoval himself.  He did not mind, but then he had never feared death.  This would be a death more glorious and epic by far than anything he had dreamed of, and he could not pass up this chance.
      There was, however, one thing which might have given him pause, one possibility which might have changed his mind: if she had asked him to stay.  But she had not.  In fact, she had insisted on coming with him.
      She had known fear all her life, but never the fear of dying.  She feared failure, and weakness, and herself, but she had never feared death.
      Neither of them spoke about this, for there was nothing to say.  Both of them understood, or thought they understood, which was almost good enough.  They were both uncomfortable with this, with each other, with themselves.  Neither was an expert when it came to such matters.
      It could never have worked.  Their love was forged in war and tempered by battle and the risk of death.  In peace, it would have crumbled and collapsed and become as dust.  But then neither of them was suited for peace.
      There was one brief exchange, somewhere during the battle, during a momentary lull and a brief pause for breath and thought.
      "Do you believe," she asked, "that there will be another time, another age for us?  That we could do things again, and do them right?"
      "No," he replied.  "What new age could match up to this?  What other life could I possibly want but this?  What other death could I possibly want but this?  What other could I possibly want to die beside?"
      Names came to her, but she did not mention them.  Instead she moved beside him, touched his hand gently, and then kissed him softly, her cracked and burned skin touching his young face and ageless soul.
      Neither of them said anything more, not so much as a single word.
      None were necessary.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

no what are you doing
      Sinoval ignored the voice as much as he was able to.  It hissed through his skull, ancient and powerful and indescribably alien, but he shut it out as best he could.
      what are you doing
      He could feel them all now.  Their memories, their lives.  They were alien, too - different from him in a billion different ways and for a billion different reasons, but he could feel them all.
      what do you dare
      Taken from world after dead world, from star after dead star, taken and brought here, a memorial to their deaths, an act of worship and devotion.
      I am a God a God there is no artistry no plan no desire that can stand against Me
      Their bodies were long gone, corroded into dust and ashes.  Their bones - those that had bones - crumbled away and become one with the black soil of the graveyard planet.
      no mercy no afterlife nothing beyond nothing and nothing and forever nothing
      They were different, each one.  Their bodies and genetics and minds, all different.  Some had eyes, others did not.  Some had bones, others did not.  Some had organs that fulfilled functions he could not even begin to imagine.  Some were almost like him.
      no bliss and no pain their beliefs were all wrong their hopes were all in vain they were proven to be as slight as the passing of time and this they learned from Me
      But there was one thing all of them had, every single one.
      and you shall learn it as well you shall know death for that is all there is
      A soul.
      you shall know death
      Sinoval stood on the very edge of the precipice, his arms raised high, his eyes closed, his heart pounding deafeningly, almost loud enough to drown out the God-Emperor's voice.
      eath eath ath ath th th h h h h
      "Live," he whispered.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The God-Emperor stirred, most unfamiliar sensations coursing through its ancient form.  It extended its tentacles, as long as continents, barbed with spines the size of mountains.
      It lashed out, tearing through four ships simultaneously.
      The tendrils moved outwards, entangling and trapping the ships of the enemies.  It ignored their feeble pinpricks against its skin.
      But it dared not touch the thing it feared.  Not yet.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

There was the sound of movement beneath the black, deep earth of the shrineworld, a slow and slight scrabbling,
      as if the earth were being moved.
      It was not just soil, not just rocks and minerals, that covered the world of the dead.  It was a miasma of death and suffering and the absence of life.  The souls of the dead had rested there for so long, trapped silent and still and choking, that they had begun to forget that there was anything else.
      Sinoval had just reminded them.
      They began to awake.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Lightning was crackling around him; an unseen wind raged against him, dashing at his body.  Still he maintained his balance, ignoring the tempest.  Nothing could shift him now.  Nothing could move him.
      He had done much that was wrong, even some things that were evil.  He knew death, knew it more familiarly and more intimately than he had known any of his few friends or fewer lovers.  Some things could never be redeemed.
      But he would try.
      He would try by resurrecting an entire planet - nay, an entire universe - of the slain.
      He raised his head skyward, staring with shut eyes directly into the star-crusted body of the God-Emperor.
      "Live!" Sinoval roared.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

And the Well of Souls, for so long silent, added its cry to his, screaming out in solidarity to its twisted, malformed, broken twin.
      LIVE!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The God-Emperor could not comprehend it.  There was an itching inside its head, a whispering, a soft singing.
      The sound of things moving, the sound of things becoming alive again.
      It had spent its entire existence bringing death to the living.  Never in all its deepest dreams had it imagined there existed anything that could bring life to the dead.
      no this shall not be this shall not be permitted
      But the voice continued.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Live live ive ive ve ve e e e e e e e

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

There was one Tamyakin ship there, a golden sphere with several satellites.  They were an ancient race - wise, but aloof.  They had been wounded badly at Golgotha, but they had never sought vengeance.  They had retreated into themselves, retiring to their lost, abandoned worlds at the far edges of the Rim.
      They had come in answer to Sinoval's call, finally moved to action by the murder of Lorien.  They had never sought to fight, but fight they had, over twelve years that were long to the mortal beings and longer still to the Tamyakin.  All that remained of the race were here, fighting, ready to die.
      In years immeasurably long gone, before the Tamyakin race had gone to the stars, there had grown a legend, of a dark and soulless creature that devoured the light from the heavens.  They had feared this Dead God, and some had even worshipped it, but they had met Lorien and his race and they had gone to the stars themselves, and they had put aside foolish superstitions.
      The sky writhed and seethed with the limbs of the Dead God, and they knew now, at last, that some superstitions were not foolish.
      The tendrils of the God-Emperor embraced the Tamyakin ship and pulled it upwards, wrenching it away from its defensive position.  Something on the invincibly hard skin opened to reveal a maw, full of teeth the size of asteroids.
      The Tamyakin did not believe in Gods any more, except for Lorien.  They did not pray to him as they died, and the God-Emperor devoured their souls.
      In time, if it endured, a new marker would be placed on the shrineworld, for the Tamyakin, and a new soul imprisoned there.
      That would be the only memorial the Tamyakin would ever be granted.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

LIVE!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The heart of the planet, still for so long, began to wake.  Above it, the spirits of a billion dead looked upwards, hearing the call.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Before:
      Sinoval: There is a world on the other side of the master gateway, the homeworld of the Aliens, I believe.  It is a holy place for them.  I believe their ruler is based there, although I will not be able to tell for certain until I am there in person, as it were.
      Susan: That would be nice to know.
      Sinoval: It would only scare you.
      Susan: I don't scare easily.  I put up with you, after all.
      Sinoval: True.  I have visited this world in spirit form, using the power of the lesser gateways.  It is.... an unpleasant place, the complete antithesis of the Well of Souls.  The Aliens have taken a single soul of each of the races they purged from their own universe and imprisoned them there, trapped in a sort of museum, as a memorial to what they have accomplished.
      Susan: Sounds.... not nice.
      Sinoval: It is worse than that.  Words cannot describe it, and I have only been there as a spirit.  The souls are trapped, bound forever at the point of death.  Some of them are weak, not even truly sentient.
      Susan: Non-sentient races have souls?
      Sinoval: Everything living has a soul, of a sort.  Although the word 'soul' does carry certain connotations, it is the best word to use.  As I was saying, some of the souls are weak, but some are strong, very strong indeed.  That universe has First Ones just as ours does.  The Aliens themselves are kin to the Eldest race, but there are many others almost as old, and they had a whole universe to destroy, not just a single galaxy.
      Susan: And?
      Sinoval: I will free them.  Perhaps I should say 'we'.  I have studied the ritual used to create the Well of Souls, to give it freedom and its own sentience.
      Susan: Oh, my God.
      Sinoval: I am going to create a new Well of Souls, from their shrineworld.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The defensive sphere had collapsed utterly, the ships torn asunder, shattered and torn.  The forces of the Aliens themselves had largely pulled back, partly in respect, partly in awe.  Their God-Emperor was awake and at war.
      Nothing could stand before it.  Nothing could even face it.  The First Ones had rained blow after blow upon it, and nothing had so much as scratched the surface of the God-Emperor's skin.  It had crushed their ships with its mass and drawn them into itself.
      Of the First Ones, only they whom mortals called the Walkers remained.  They spiralled around, ready for one last burst of energy.  Four tentacles wrapped around their ship and crushed the life from them.
      The First Ones, the oldest beings in a galaxy of life, were all gone, alive now only in the orbs of the Well of Souls, and the memories of the God-Emperor.
      Cathedral itself was still unharmed, but little remained to defend it.
      On the pinnacle, Sinoval was oblivious, his arms raised, his head tipped back, his voice and mind raised in one eternal scream.
      Bloody tears started to trickle from his eyes. 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

LIVE.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

For all its existence, the Well had been alone.  It had its Primarch of course, and the countless souls within it, but it was alone in and of itself.  Nothing existed that was its equal.  Cursed by knowledge and immortality and power, it was alone.  Even the strongholds and storehouses of the Soul Hunters were nothing but extensions of its will.
      Now it sang with joy, despite the pain which surged through it.
      There would be another like it.  A new Well was being born.
      The souls moved and rose from the hollows of the shrineworld.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Sinoval's gaze was tinged with crimson.  A tingling began to surge through his fingers.  He risked a look and saw the surface of his hands begin to crumble away, black dust rising and falling and dissipating into space.
      His body was failing, collapsing under the energies he was channelling.
      His hands were gone, reduced to atoms and to less than atoms.
      His head snapped back, and he continued his cry.
      "LIVE!"
      IVE IVE IVE VE VE VE E E E
      IVE IVE VE VE VE E E E
      IVE VE VE VE E E E
      VE VE VE E E E
      VE VE E E E
      VE E E E
      E E E
      E E
      E

      LIVE.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Marrain was never one to die weakly, with a whimper.  The first time he had died in flames, insane and raving, and the halls of his fortress had become his funeral pyre.  He had spent a thousand years dead, trapped in his own madness, until he had been brought back, salvaged from insanity and death, given a second chance.
      There would be no third, he knew that.  He had never expected one.
      He was a warrior, and he would die in the greatest battle ever fought.  What more could he ask?
      Above them the God-Emperor writhed, lashing out.  Marrain knew his orders: keep the creature away from Cathedral for as long as possible.  He saw one of the tentacles extend downwards, almost hesitating, as if it were....
      afraid....
      The God-Emperor had killed all the First Ones, destroyed them or ripped them to shreds or absorbed them into itself.  Could such a thing know fear?
      Marrain thought about this for a moment and realised that he did not care.  He swept his ship upwards to charge the enemy he could not destroy, could not scare, could not even wound.
      A spine the size of Shirohida itself tore into the side of his ship.
      Marrain felt Tirivail's hand tighten on his shoulder as they both died.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Susan Ivanova sat back in her ever-darkening room.  There was nothing much for her to do now.  Her task had been to co-ordinate the battle, to ensure that everyone kept Cathedral safe while Sinoval performed his ritual.  That was done.  There was simply nothing left to co-ordinate but Cathedral itself.  They had not so much as scratched the thing that filled the sky.
      And so she did something she had not done in a very, very long time.
      She knelt down to pray.
      She had seen Gods and monsters and demons.  Sinoval was a God by some standards, and she knew him well enough to see all his flaws and all his monstrous arrogance.  Lorien had been a God, and she had known his wisdom and compassion.  She knew almost as much about the metaphysics of the universe as any living thing.  She knew there was no creator, no benevolent and benign entity waiting to shuffle the souls of the virtuously dead into Heaven.
      And yet she wanted to believe that there was.  Faith is a potent thing.
      And so she prayed.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Before:
      Susan: Are any of us going to be coming back from this?
      Sinoval: No.
      Sinoval: No one.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Blood filled his mouth.  He could not speak, but his cry went on.  They could hear it now, all of them could.  He could see them, breaking out from the surface of their world, scrabbling upwards - not to the light, for there was no light here.
      Not yet.
      His arms were gone now, crumbled away.  He could feel himself discorporating.  Strangely, there was no pain.
      The call continued.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

this shall not be permitted all things die death is the only constant there is nothing else no art no plan no scheme can prevent it
      their souls are mine
      A moment's pain, a tiny thing, a moment's inconvenience, a reminder of times long ago, long before at the very dawning of all things, when it had looked up at the stars and thought about snuffing out their light.
      The stars it had later taken inside itself, absorbed into its essence, immortalised in their dead black states....
      Inside itself.
      Inside
      itself.
      Understanding came more quickly this time, and the feeling of discomfort began to grow.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The Well, the first Well, was dying.  The energies involved were too immense to imagine.  It took the combined forces of the dead of a galaxy to comprehend them.
      One by one the lights were dying, turning black and dead, the soul-energies consumed by the power Sinoval channelled.
      The Well was dying - but as it died, another was being born.
      The first star inside the God-Emperor flickered and began to splutter into life.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I know I haven't done this for a while, and maybe I'm not very good at it any more.  I'm not scared, and I'm ready to die.  There are just some things I wanted to say.
      I've done a lot that I'm not proud of.  I've hurt people, badly.  I served the Shadows willingly.  I let my hatred for the Minbari and the Vorlons and the Psi Corps blind me to a lot of things.
      I hurt Marcus, and Lyta, and Delenn.
      And David.  I hurt him badly.
      I'm ready to die.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Finally the God-Emperor struck against Cathedral, something akin to fear finally spurring it to action.  The call was coming from that place, and if Cathedral could be destroyed, then maybe the call would end.
      It smashed open the side of the stronghold.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

With each passing second, another soul globe died.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Please.... if I could have anything at all.... if I could ask for one thing.... let David have got my message.  I said everything I needed to say.
      I wish I knew if he received it.
      I wish I knew if he understood.
      I wish I knew if he forgave me.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

He was blind now, the skin of his skull tearing away, blood filling his eyes.  Still the call resounded from him.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The ground of the shrineworld broke open and the souls began to rise.  They looked up.  The sky was dark, nothing visible.
      Then there came a spark of light.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Another star reignited inside the God-Emperor.  One limb spasmed in a paroxysm of pain, then disintegrated as the star burst into life within it.  Another limb tore one of the turrets from Cathedral.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Another soul globe died.
      And another.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

      LIVE LIVE
      IVE IVE

      VE VE
      E E
      E
      e
      e

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Still.... we did well, didn't we?  We won.  All this time, all this war, all this death....
      And we won.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Writhing in pain from the fire and the light and life blazing inside it, the God-Emperor lashed out again, striking furiously and frenziedly at Cathedral.  Susan did not look up as one tentacle tore through the wall of her chamber and dashed her body to pieces.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

      no
      no
      it will not
      be
      this way

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

He had no more feeling as a body any longer.  Nothing remained but his will....
      And his soul, long ago promised to the Soul Hunters.
      He fell forward and gave himself to the Void.
      The Void rushed up to claim him.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

They swarmed to the surface of the world, staring up into the sky.  Some of them took wing and soared upwards, or rose, or floated, or even walked.
      The sky was full of lights.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The God-Emperor was dying.
      Another star returned to life.
      And the God-Emperor was no more.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

There was a single moment's peace, and then the voices and the thoughts returned.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

It was done.  The Vorlons had surrendered.
      There would be a great deal to do yet, but the agreement had been thrashed out slowly, in very broad terms.  They had little choice.  Their leaders were dead, their allies had abandoned them, and they knew that the twin threats of Sinoval and Bester would be more than willing to spend the rest of their lives purging every last Vorlon from the galaxy.
      They would leave this galaxy and depart beyond the Rim.  Their homeworld would belong to Bester and his people.  Their network would be destroyed and dismantled, the Alien spirits inside it purged.  Their other planets would be left untouched, although John privately doubted that would last long.  The Vorlons would be allowed enough time to retrieve what they required from their former territory.
      Above all, they would renounce any claim to guide or control the Younger Races.
      Some of the Cult of Death would be left of course, seeking to bring back their Masters, and if Sinoval failed this could become very difficult, but they would be ready if that happened.  Those that remained or returned would be dealt with.
      Sheridan did not doubt that most of the Vorlons would leave.  They had known the loss of their homeworld, felt the grief and misery to which they had subjected so many other races.  They were wanderers now, just like the Narns and....
      And the humans.
      Bester had listened in on the negotiations, occasionally chipping in with his own opinions.  John did not like it, but Bester's presence was a constant reminder of what could be done to the Vorlons if they decided to continue fighting.
      Evidently the Cult of Death was not so widespread as Sinoval had thought.
      The war was over.  This war was over.  There would be another, there always would be, but this one was done.
      At last.
      --- You have made a mistake, Sheridan,---  said Bester over the commchannel.  --- They should all have been wiped out. ---
      "There's been enough death," he said simply.  "They've lost, and they know it.  They had such grand dreams once, and now they've all been turned to dust and ashes.  That's enough of a punishment for anyone."
      --- True. ---  John was convinced there was a chuckle following on from that.  --- Their world is ours now, Sheridan.  Do not try to take it from us.  My people have paid a great deal to achieve their homeworld at last. ---
      "You deserve it, and for myself, I won't try to stop you.  But mess with us, and you will regret it."
      --- An uneasy peace, is it not?  You have nothing to worry about, Sheridan.  You have nothing we want any more.  Not a single thing. ---
      --- You see, Sheridan.  We have.... become. ---
      The conversation ended, and John turned to Delenn.  Her expression betrayed her doubts.  She evidently did not trust Bester any more than he did.
      But that was a problem for another day, and quite possibly another person.
      For now, the two of them would enter Babylon 5, accepting the surrender of the Vorlons as king and victorious queen.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

A sense of joy overwhelmed him as he set foot on his homeworld again.  All around were the signs of devastation and madness.  Buildings still burned, men and women were still screaming, bodies lay still and unmoving.
      It was a scene from nightmare, but it was his home, and having come home, Jorah Marrago would never leave it again.
      The sky was still dark, and occasional flickers of lightning seared the heavens, but the effect of the rift had lessened.  The attention of the Aliens had turned elsewhere, and with that, their influence had grown less.
      Marrago felt nothing but grief and joy and the strange sensation of tears trickling down his face.
      His guard by his side, he headed for the palace.  He was pleased to see that many of his soldiers were as affected as he was.  This had been a long war.
      Much of the centre of the capital had been secured by his initial force, and so they could move unmolested.  The skyline was torn and ravaged, the city burned and devastated.  It might be that the city would have to be abandoned, razed to the ground and rebuilt.  It might even be that the homeworld itself was no longer viable.  After so much war, it might be that the Centauri people would have to forsake their homeworld and seek newer, healthier worlds.
      Marrago did not care.  He was home.
      He reached the palace and was surprised to find that he was almost running.  A tinge of fear had clouded his good humour.  What would he find there?  Would Londo still be alive?  Could he bear to look at the place where Lyndisty had died?  What if....
      What if he found only death there?
      It did not matter.  Nothing mattered.  He had somehow achieved a connection with the Enemy, and that had strengthened him.  He had learned that to empathise with one's enemy was the surest route to defeat for a general, but in this case he was glad of it.  That understanding had given him the strength he needed to endure whatever he would face here.
      Still, he was surprised to see what awaited him at the entrance to the throne room.  At first he had not seen it at all, but then he stopped, and it was there, as black and ethereal as the Shadows themselves.  He reached for his sword, but then paused.  The war was over.  He had no more enemies any longer.
      "I am Lord-General Jorah Marrago," he said.  "I request an audience with the Emperor."
      The Faceless made a gesture that might have been a bow, and then it stood aside to allow Marrago to proceed.  He walked forward.
      Timov was sitting on the throne.  Durla was standing beside it, a Z'shailyl on the other side.  Marrago paused, cold rage and cold terror warring within him.  His eyes narrowed.  No, not Moreil.  But one of the Shadow vassals nonetheless.
      Timov seemed.... older.  A stupid observation, of course.  She was older.  All of them were.  But she looked it.  She looked thin and tired and worn, but still regal.  Something in her eyes glinted with power and control, as well as sadness.
      For a moment he simply stared at her, and then he swept down into a bow.
      "Lady Consort," he said, simply and formally.
      "Lord-General," she said, in one perfect moment restoring his title and prestige and rescinding his exile.  "Welcome back to Centauri Prime."
      "It is an honour to return, lady," he said, rising.  He looked at her for a long moment, trying to read her expression, but he could not.  Too much warred within her eyes, and she had always been better at the Great Game than he was.  His had been the game of warfare, hers that of the Court.
      Finally, unable to discern the truth from her bearing alone, he asked the question to which he did not really want to know the answer.  "The Emperor?"
      "He lives," Timov whispered, and his hearts sang.  "Perhaps.  He is not well, and he is not strong, but for now he lives.  G'Kar is here as well.  He lives too.  Perhaps."
      "That is good," Marrago said.  He could not think of what else to say, so he repeated himself lamely.  "That is good."
      "It is good that you have returned, Lord-General," she said.  "The Republic has need of you."
      He made to open his mouth to tell her.... what?  He had no love for war any more, and no desire to lead.  His retirement to his garden was long overdue.  But with Carn dead, there was no logical successor.
      He just could not come up with the words.
      Fortunately, he was denied the chance to say them.  The sound of people entering the throne room diverted his attention and he turned, his hearts stopping for a single instant.
      There were three figures.  Two of them were Faceless, their shadowy and unclear forms flanking another.
      "Found," it said.  "In the dungeons.  Imprisoned there - by his own will, so it would seem.  Brought to you, lady."
      He looked weak and gaunt, a faint light of madness in his eyes.  One of his arms was nothing but a stump, and a foul smell emanated from the wound.  He was covered with scratches and just-forming bruises.  He looked defeated, utterly dejected and lost, a man given over to despair.
      It was Morden.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I'm sorry!
      Mother!

      Dexter Smith shook in his sleep, sweat starting all across his body, racked with nightmares and decades of bad memories.
      He had killed her.  He had killed Delenn.  He had shot her and she had died.  There had been a shrine to her on Proxima, a shrine devoted to her.  Some people had called her a Saint.
      And he had killed her.
      He had seen monsters.  He had seen the things from the other place, and he had not been able to cope with them.  He had looked at them, and he had seen the most horrible thing he could imagine.
      Himself.
      He was no hero.  He was a weak, pathetic man.  He was no hero.
      He moaned as he saw the sky become black with shadows.  Screams rose from the ground, and the air was full of the smell of the dead and the dying.  The sky was alive with thrashing tentacles and the débris of dead ships.
      Then they were all gone.  Only Cathedral remained, and that was shattered and torn, floating dead in space.  Nothing else remained.
      Except for the lights in the sky....
      Lights....
      They had not been there before.  The sky had been dark and moving and terrifying.  There had been no light there.
      Now there was, and down below, at the city, things were moving, crawling up to the ground, breaking the surface, becoming alive.
      "Live," said a voice that might have been his.
      "Live."
      He awoke with a start, sensing with renewed awareness.  The images of his dream were fading, but the memory of....
      .... of an entire universe returning to life....
      .... it stayed with him.
      He breathed in deeply and remembered where he was.  A place of healing and hope, where people sought to bring life from death, and sanity from madness.
      He remembered what he had seen, and he wanted to weep - not tears of sorrow, but of joy and forgiveness and the promise of a fresh and clean future.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

In her life Delenn had known much sorrow, and some happiness.  She had seen loved ones die, and felt the utter, soul-crushing hopelessness of being able to do nothing against the darkness of the galaxy, and the ambition of men like Sinoval.
      But in spite of all the grief and loss she had suffered, there had been moments of joy - few admittedly, but there had been some.  Making love with John, the feeling of building something new, her feeble efforts to forgive Mr. Welles before his death....
      This victory was greater than any of them.  Before long, she knew, the cost of it would become painfully apparent, but for now, it was a victory.  The Vorlons had surrendered, their power broken.  Hours had passed since Sinoval had taken his forces into the universe of the Aliens, and there had been no sound from anything there.  Whatever had happened, the Aliens were gone, and if they returned....
      Then she would be ready for them.
      Walking onto Babylon 5 felt right somehow.  She had not spent much time on the station and most of that time had been filled with sadness and fear and a terrible coldness, but this time....
      It felt right.
      It felt almost like home.
      The crowds gathered to meet her.  Thin, hollow-eyed.  The fearful and the moralistic.  Those who had remained behind those long years ago, those who had followed the Vorlons out of choice or obligation or faith, those who had seen their dreams crumble and die, those who had lived beneath the ever-present threat of the Inquisitors and the Aliens and the Vorlons themselves.
      Of course there were others.  The Inquisitors themselves, collaborators, cultists.  There would be a lot of work to do.  War crimes tribunals, perhaps, although that phrase sent a shiver down Delenn's spine.  Perhaps the Vorlons would take their followers away with them beyond the Rim.  That would be.... convenient.
      Their honour guard around them, John and Delenn walked forward to the council chamber to receive the Vorlons' surrender formally.  One of the Vorlons was waiting for them, a shabbily-dressed human standing beside it.  He looked.... familiar.
      "General Sheridan," the human said.  "I am an Inquisitor in the service of the Vorlon Lights Cardinal.  This is Ambassador Ulkesh."
      Delenn looked up at the Vorlon.  Its eye stalk swivelled dispassionately.  She heard the distant, slow beating of wings.
      "I know you," John said, but to the human.  "You.... you tortured us....  You...."
      "I was assigned to test you," the human said.  "I was assigned as a lesson in obedience and faith."
      "No, you weren't," Delenn said calmly, remembering him herself now.  "You were a warning to us.  Kosh sent you to warn us of what you and your masters really were.  We did not listen, of course."  She sighed.  "Not until it was too late."
      The Inquisitor blinked.  Once.  He looked lost for words.
      "That doesn't matter," John said.  "We are here to accept your surrender.  Normally I imagine there'd be some sort of treaty to sign or something, but as it is, we'll have to forgo the formalities.  You lost.  Admit it, and leave."
      <We were defeated,> the Vorlon said.  <We were betrayed.>
      "Explain how that matters?  You lost."
      <We were defeated.>
      "You will leave this galaxy, and never return.  You have a reasonable amount of time to gather what you need, but we'll be watching you.  Try to come back and we'll be ready for you."
      The Vorlon's eye stalk swivelled again and the wing-beats grew a little louder.
      <Yes.>
      "We'll cope without you in future."
      <You will be lost.  You will wither and die, consumed by chance and chaos.  You will call out to us to shelter you, but it will be too late.  You are unworthy of us, and we condemn you to your fate.>
      "I think we'll be fine."
      Ulkesh turned and made for the door.  There was an audible sigh from their honour guard.  Delenn watched him closely, as she did the Inquisitor.
      Something niggled at the back of her mind.  She could not quite place it, but she had an uncomfortable feeling.
      John turned to her, and took her hand.  She looked into his eyes, and, heedless of their companions, she embraced him lovingly.  It was over.
      "We've won," he said, almost crying.  "It's over, Delenn."
      That niggling feeling was growing worse.
      "Yes," she said, laughing.  "It's over....  It...."
      Something rose up before them, swamping everything with its shadow.  She could not see what it was.  It was huge.
      A light burst out, burning and blazing.
      Delenn started, memory coming to her.
      A long time ago.  On Babylon 4.
      A memory of the future, forgotten all this time.
      A vision.
      John threw her aside and turned to face it.
      No!  Not again!  She would not lose him again.
      John made to throw her aside.  She resisted and pushed him away with all her strength.  He fell backwards, against the far wall.
      She would not lose him again.
      What was it Sinoval said?
      Nothing is written in stone....
      and even if it were, stones can be shattered.

      The light was killing her.
      And she knew nothing else.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

He moved without thought, reacting with the speed of a man half his age, striking with a skill and precision he would have envied even as a young man.  His skills as a duellist had always been barely adequate, and age had corrupted him a great deal.
      But that blow was perfect, flawless, the finest strike of his life.
      Morden's eyes widened once, and his mouth moved as if to say something.  But then it was too late, and his head was parted from his shoulders.
      Marrago looked down at the headless body and realised with a slight shock that there was no blood on his sword.  The two Faceless were in front of him, ready to attack, but even they seemed surprised, if such things were capable of such an emotion.
      It was strange.  He should feel something.  Elation, perhaps.  He had finally avenged Lyndisty after all this time.  And yet this vengeance would not bring her back.  It might satisfy her ghost, wherever it was now, but he was not sure he believed in such things.  A long time had passed since she had died.
      He did not feel hollow or empty or unfulfilled.  He did not feel complete.  He did not feel anything.  A task had been completed.  That was all.
      He turned to the throne.  Even Timov looked surprised.  She must be tired, he thought.  She played the Game better than that, usually.  Durla almost looked shocked, and Marrago could tell he was having to revise his opinion of him.
      "I am sorry, lady," Marrago said, flatly, with no emotion at all.  "I am unable to serve the Emperor, long may he continue to reign.  I wish you well in choosing a successor."
      He bowed deeply, and placed his sword at her feet.  Then he rose, leaving it there, and began to walk away.  He was at the door when she spoke.
      "Jorah, do you wish me to pass a message on to Londo?"
      He paused, thinking.  He and Londo were old friends.  They had been young men together, with the dreams of young men.  Now they were old men, and the young of today did not dream.  He, Londo and others had created this world, and the young had to endure it.
      Still, Londo was his friend, and his Emperor.  Marrago was happy he lived, to some extent, but he knew only too well the burdens that life could place on some people.
      "Nothing that needs to be said," he replied.
      And then he left the throne and the throne room, and there he passed out of Centauri politics and Centauri power forever.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"Hey, boss!  Wake up!"
      "I wasn't asleep.  What is it, Zack?"
      "You've got to come and look at this."
      "Can't you just tell me what it is?  Wouldn't that be easier?"
      "This you've got to see.  Is something wrong?  You don't look...."
      "I just received a message someone left for me.  It's.... ah.... complicated.  So what is this thing I've got to see?"
      "It's the sky!"
      "Yes?"
      "The Vorlons up there."
      "Yes?"
      "They've gone."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The burst of light from Ulkesh's encounter suit had faded.  Reeling, his head swimming, John rose to his feet, trying to make sense of what had happened.  He had been holding Delenn, and then the Vorlon had turned back to them.  Its encounter suit had opened, a flash of light had burst out....
      He had tried to push Delenn away, more out of instinct than anything else, and....
      .... and....
      .... she had resisted, and thrown him back.  He had hit the wall, and....
      .... and....
      Delenn.  He looked around, but she was gone.  Nothing remained of her.  Nothing at all.
      His guards had moved forward, weapons aimed at the unrepentant form of Ulkesh.  The Vorlon was waiting for them.
      "No!" John cried out, running forward.  "No!  Don't fire!"  Hesitantly, the guards stepped back.  Eyes blazing, John stared at the Vorlon.
      "What did you do?"
      <Death,> Ulkesh intoned hollowly.  <Holy, sacred, blissful.  Destruction is the salvation of all.  You have cast us aside, but you cannot hide from the terminus.>
      "You're telling me that?  I've been dead, remember!  Twelve years!"
      <Holy.>
      "Oh, for the....  Don't you dare!"  He was not crying.  He felt angry enough to cry, but he did not.  "This was nothing to do with some holy cause.  This was petty revenge, that's all.  This was about getting your own back....
      "Oh, wait a minute.  No, it wasn't.  You wanted us to kill you.  That's it.  You wanted us to kill you, because you're too scared to face what's out there."
      <We do not know fear.>
      "Now, I know that's a lie.  You're pathetic, you really are.  You're.... nothing.  You're all nothing.  You...."  He turned to his guard.  "Whatever happens, whatever it does, don't kill it.  Just make sure it leaves, and soon.  It's lost.
      "It doesn't deserve any more of my time."
      He walked away, the watchers parting for him in measured silence.  Ulkesh could have moved against him at any time.  He knew that.  He was very aware of that.
      It didn't, of course.  John had won at the last, taking away everything the Vorlon had left.
      No, that was Delenn's victory.
      Only later, much later, did the pointlessness of her death overwhelm him, and the tears come.



Into jump gate




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