#LastSunReadalong Week 5: Final Chapters & Epilogue

Posted 16th December 2019 by Siavahda in Let's Dig In: Fannish Analysis, Promos, Queer Lit, Reading Challenges / 0 Comments

Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists, Urban Fantasy

This post was late because I moved house on Friday, and also, it seemed very appropriate to let this go up on the last day before Hanged Man‘s release! It’s out TOMORROW, people! TOMORROW! I can’t wait for the reactions of all the cool people I’ve met through this promo. I’m so excited!!!

My livetweeting thread for this section is up over here, and I encourage you to peruse it for the usual overabundance of gifs!

But. The ending.

Talk about a feels!fest.

*

When we left our favourite scion and his Companion, the wards on the Moral Certainties compound had just fallen. As usual, Rune and Brand are the ones who grasp the realities of the situation most quickly; Addam, and then Geoffrey, waste precious moments trying to get the wards up again (through their connection to the compound’s mass sigils – which is interesting, since I think this is the first time we’ve been told that sigils can be connected to multiple individuals, not just one person).

This is just the moment for the Sun Court mass sigil – the one Quinn told Brand to dig out of the foundations of his and Rune’s home and bring with him. So Rune triggers the spell inside it.

We don’t know the name of the spell, but it fans out to barricade the entire compound. It sweeps through the building, over corpses hidden in the walls and a little girl hiding in a dumbwaiter – but when Rune reaches the outer walls, he makes the hard but tactically sound decision to stop the spell there. If he stretched it over the grounds, the spell would be weaker and not last as long; even as it is, with a building the size of the compound, the spell will only last an hour.

But that means sacrificing the groundskeepers and anyone else working outside.

We know Rune is intensely invested in protecting bystanders, and he was genuinely grieved and horrified by the death-powered seeking spell Rurik used before. He has a huge amount of empathy for those who can’t protect themselves, for innocents and victims. So we know that sacrificing those people is hard for him. But at the same time, it shows us his ruthless, warrior-practical side in a way I’m not sure we’ve seen before. He may grieve later; he may have nightmares of those he couldn’t save, I don’t know. But to save as many people as he can, he has to let those ones go. And it means something that he is able to make that call, quickly and decisively, where many people would have hesitated – and potentially lost more lives by hesitating. Addam, for example, feels responsibility to all the compound’s employees and tries to insist that they go and retrieve/assist the groundskeepers. It’s a reaction I can definitely understand – I’d feel the same impulse myself – but it’s not the right course of action now.

“We need to find a way to get to them.”

“No, we don’t,” Brand said. “Not now. Now, you save who you can, because in an hour we’ll be right back where we started. Do you have any idea how little time that is? How isolated we are? We are in trouble.”

Addam’s sense of responsibility speaks well of him. The fact that he looks to Rune for confirmation after Brand’s No, we don’t does not.

It’s a tiny moment, just one sentence. ‘Whatever ground Addam had gained with Brand, he lost when he turned to be for confirmation.’ Rune tells us. But there’s a lot to unpack there.

The best-case scenario is that Addam would have looked for confirmation no matter who was speaking, because ‘we can’t save them’ was an answer he desperately didn’t want to be true. While that makes him a good person, it doesn’t speak well for his experience as a warrior or his ability to face harsh truths quickly, both of which are potentially huge weaknesses right now given that Ashton is out there determined to kill them all. It means it may not be safe to depend on him, now, when Rune and Brand need to be able to depend on him.

A worse scenario is that this is Addam’s internalised bias/prejudice showing. Brand is human; Rune is a scion. It may just be that simple. However, I find this unlikely, given how Addam has treated Brand up to this point.

On the other, other hand, those who’ve been participating in the #LastSunReadalong Q&A sessions (or who have already read book two, Hanged Man) will know that Addam’s older brother Christian has a Companion of his own. Which means Addam ought to have experience with the tactical abilities of Companions, enough to believe Brand right away. Although I suppose it’s possible – maybe even probable? – that Addam has never been in a situation where his brother’s Companion was dealing out harsh battlefield truth-bombs. Christian (and thus his Companion) lived through the Atlantean World War, so they’ve presumably seen – well, war, whether or not they were on the front lines. Addam was born after the war, and there’s been no indication that he’s ever been in a really dangerous situation before. So he’s quite probably heard a Companion’s tactical assessment before, or had to quickly internalise it.

I still don’t blame Brand for deducting a whole bunch of points from him, though.

They all quickly establish that there’s no way to call for help, and gather the compound’s employees into a central ballroom – along with Ciaran and Max, whom they pick up on the way – where Rune and Brand can divide everyone up (those who can hold a weapon, those who need to be safeguarded) and establish some kind of plan.

The stakes get higher when it becomes clear that Ashton is using weather magic – completely forbidden and completely taboo – to summon up a storm above and around the compound. Rune’s wards will only keep out anything that intends them harm – but debris thrown around by a storm? Not so much. Flying rocks don’t really have intent, even if the person tossing them around does.

(Which raises the question: could you use Telekenesis to throw rocks at a warded window? I suspect not, otherwise Ashton would pick up logs and whatnot and break into the compound directly. Whereas summoning up a storm and hoping that something breaks all the skylights etc…without actually directing any of the debris yourself…that apparently slithers through the ‘intent’ rule.)

(And it is heavily implied that there are other kinds of wards that would keep out the debris, the question of intent irrelevant. However, that’s not the kind of magic Rune was packing, unfortunately.)

A question is raised, though, that I didn’t catch the first, second, or third time reading – I only caught it now.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Geoff said under his breath. “If he [Ashton] needs the imbued circle like you said, why waste time coming after us?”

“Without Rurik, I’m not sure he’d be able to break through the Magician’s estate wards,” I said.

This sounds like a catch-22; Ashton needs the summoning circle on Lord Magician’s Westlands estate to summon Rurik…but can’t get into the estate without Rurik.

I understand why Rune and the others don’t catch this either – they have far more immediate problems – but once you stop and think, it raises an enormous red flag. It’s not clear whether Ashton needed the imbued circle every time he summoned Rurik – although I think maybe he might have, given that Lord Tower said Ashton would need it chapters ago, and Brand’s magic bullet dematerialised Rurik between that point and now. It’s entirely possible Lord Tower always planned to dematerialise Rurik and force Ashton to have to summon him again – it would be a smart plan. But it actually doesn’t matter too much. Whether Ashton has had to repeatedly breach Lord Magician’s wards or whether he’s only had to do it once, he’s been able to do it. Without Rurik, since that was the whole reason he needed the summoning circle in the first place.

Which means that he, or someone helping him, is strong enough or knows some secret to get through the Magician’s wards. And that’s really, really bad. Because it doesn’t seem likely that Ashton could get through the wards himself – yes, he managed to summon Rurik, but Rurik himself told Rune that any idiot could have summoned him; the summoning isn’t the hard part. There’s no evidence to suggest Ashton is toting the kind of magical firepower necessary to break into the Magician’s estate, and even if he did, I seriously doubt the Magician wouldn’t have been alerted when someone broke in.

Which makes it more likely that Ashton has some kind of key or trick to getting in. And it’s most likely that someone else gave it to him.

It might be that Lord Magician himself is one of Ashton’s allies. But if not, it means Ashton is working with or has a patron capable of subverting the wards of a sitting Arcana. That implies incredible strength, skill, or knowledge – or all three. In other words, not someone we want backing someone like Ashton, and more importantly, really, really not someone we want to have it in for our favourite boys.

Fuck.

*

Everyone is divided into non-combatants and patrols – who knows if anything got inside before Rune’s ward spell went up? – and the home team splits up; Ciaran, whose sigils are full, takes Max (who has no sigils) and a reluctant Brand to help the compound’s people, while Rune, Addam, and Geoffrey go to the compound sanctum to refill their sigils with combat magic.

That Brand agrees to leave – eventually – tells us a fair bit about him, and about Rune as well. Brand says outright that Rune can protect himself, which takes us all the way back to the first chapter when he said he’d have Rune melt the side of the house if he needed a safe exit. The other thing, though, is that I think this is the first time we’ve seen Brand willing to take care of ‘bystanders’. In all fairness, the previous times the issue came up, Rune was under fire, and there was no way in any Hell that Brand would leave him in that kind of scenario. Now that Rune is not being actively attacked (right this second), however, there’s space in Brand to care about the people who can’t take care of themselves. If there was any concern that he might be unable to empathise with people other than Rune, that’s just gone out the window. I imagine there’s plenty of Companions who wouldn’t leave their scion like this; that Brand does…it says that he cares, like Rune cares.

It’s just that Brand stops caring if Rune is in danger. And to be honest, I suspect if their positions were reversed – if Brand were the one in harm’s way – Rune would burn New Atlantis down to get him home safe and sound.

So.

That being said, Brand might not have left if he had seen the sanctum, which turns out to be a great big conservatory-type thing made all of glass. Or, as Rune puts it;

This space–a sanctum, the very heart of sigil magic–was now so indefensible that it could be taken down by nothing more complicated than a big rock.

I admit to being very curious about the dependence of scions on sanctums. We know it’s possible to store magic in sigils without one – Lord Tower mentioned doing so in the past, although it took a great deal more effort and time to do so. But so far, all that’s been explicitly explained is that sanctums tend to have a variety of items stored in them to allow for all the different ways people charge sigils. The sanctum back in the hospital had music, meditation spaces, art supplies, porn, crystals, and a bunch of other stuff. But those are things you could store in any random closet, and meditation doesn’t have to take place in a particular room, even if that can make it easier. So it’s something else, presumably, that makes sanctums special – because there’s no way Rune would charge his sigils in a giant glasshouse in the middle of a storm if he could have done it elsewhere. Especially since he, unlike Addam, who needs music and space to dance, doesn’t require any kind of supplies for his charging.

Whatever it is that makes sanctums sanctums, it’s not a lost art like sigil-making. Every sanctum we’ve encountered so far was built after the fall of Old Atlantis, up to and including the one in Rune and Brand’s home – whereas there don’t seem to be any sigils younger than New Atlantis. (That’s a guess, because we’ve yet to learn the exact age of any sigil. But I’d be willing to bet on it.)

Hm.

The scions manage to charge their sigils in their various ways – including Rune’s mass sigil, which he fills with Fire – just in time; a deer breaks through the glass, presumably terrified by something outside. (Given that the outside is the Westlands, the possibilities are pretty literally limitless). Brand, who felt Rune’s alarm through their bond, checks in through a walkie-talkie, and lets them know that Ciaran is with one of the patrols sweeping the compound. Rune and the others start to make their way towards Brand, with Addam directing their route.

What follows is messy, nasty, and emotional by turns. There’s fighting. There’s monsters. Innocent people die in heartbreaking ways. It’s not pretty or nice or easy – as it shouldn’t be. Some of the monsters are ‘just’ monsters, but the recarnates are humanised and tragic even as they’re forced to fight our heroes. One of the stand-out moments – and one of the ones I found the most painful – is Ciaran granting them…a kind of mercy.

He tells them to “Remember!” and when they do, they destroy themselves.

I have so many questions about what Ciaran is and the things he can do. And I’m so grateful that he gave the recarnates their way out that it actually brings tears to my eyes.

(He couldn’t do it for all of them at once, unfortunately. Only those present. But still.)

Another important scene is Rune calling on his Aspect deliberately and consciously – for the first time ever. Aspects are still pretty mysterious things at this point; we don’t know much about them, but they’re tied to power and I suspect Rune gaining more control over his signals that he’s leveling up. Perhaps passing into whatever the next stage of an Arcana’s life-cycle might be?

Eventually the main team, with Brand now reasonably badly injured to the leg, and with added Max, regroup. Kind of. They’re attacked hard, the worst yet, and even Max is fighting to protect the servants – and Geoffrey, who has been almost worse than useless this entire time – with a kitchen knife.

And then Max goes down. Claws to the throat. And there’s more monsters coming – and Brand is wounded – and the mass sigil is out of reach –

From that space in my heart where desperation lived, my Aspect finally answered my need.

Rune does – something. Even he doesn’t know what. It’s not a spell. He uses no sigil. But he howls and magic sears up into the sky, disintegrating the storm that gives the monsters cover from the sunlight. They burn, and the storm dies, and the living are safe, for the moment.

It’s just that it’s a very short moment. And the battle’s not done.

No one knows what Rune just did, but far more important is Max, who’s still – just – breathing, if bleeding badly and unlikely to survive for very long. And I know it’s designed to rip at my heart-strings, but that doesn’t stop it from working when Max asks “Did I do good?”

Yeah, baby. You did so good.

I’M TEARING UP AND I’M NOT EVEN READING THE DAMN SCENE.

Ahem.

Rune shouts for someone to find him the healing kit they had with them, but it’s not enough. The healing spell contained in the kit’s sigil isn’t enough to fix all the damage the claws did to Max.

He’s still the only survivor, outside of the sigil-wearers. None of the servants lived.

And this is where we see a side of Rune we haven’t seen before. Maybe because the only people Rune considers family – Brand and Queenie – haven’t been in danger before. (Or rather, Brand has. But not going to die danger. Except, perhaps, for that last attack, and for that Rune unlocked some part of himself and his powers he never knew existed. So maybe it has, actually, been established that he will break the rules of reality before he’ll let the ones he loves be hurt.) But now Rune stalks up to whiny, useless, cowardly Geoffrey, and orders him to go back to the sanctum and fill his sigils with healing spells for Max.

That’s not the side we haven’t seen before.

That comes when Geoffrey refuses. Repeatedly. Wasting precious seconds that Max doesn’t have to spare.

He pointed a finger at my chest.

I grabbed the finger in an overhand grip, twisted it around, and stabbed my sabre through the center of his palm. The heated blade slid through bone and tendon with only a small, jerking resistance. When Geoffrey started to scream, I grabbed his jaw in my free hand and shoved him backward. He windmilled four or five steps before losing his footing. As soon as he hit the ground, I pinned him with my knee, and waited until he stopped screaming.

When I had all of his attention, I yanked my sabre blade loose. More screaming. I didn’t have to wait long this time for him to subside to a dog-whistle whine.

“If I find out you used a healing spell on yourself before everyone else is healed,” I told him, “I won’t just kill you. I’ll kill you slowly.”

It’s cold and unhesitating and unstoppable. There’s no emotion there – none shared with the reader, anyway. Rune doesn’t waste more time arguing. He doesn’t let social conventions – or even the most core aspects of human interaction – stop him. He is ruthlessly, mercilessly efficient at causing the maximum amount of fear and pain while still leaving Geoffrey functional (although I do think the pain is going to make charging his sigils harder for him? Guess that’s Geoffrey’s problem) and it’s not something we’ve seen him do before. I’m not scared of him here, but I do find myself feeling a little bit sorry for Geoffrey. Just a tiny bit.

Our hands are one of the things that make us human. As someone with chronic pain in mine, I know – really know – what it’s like to lose the use of your hands. You don’t really know how much we use them and depend on them until suddenly, you can’t. There’s a reason Rune goes for Geoffrey’s hand, rather than driving straight through his forearm or upper-arm, or even giving him a through-and-through fleshwound to the torso. I’m sure part of it is that, if it’s too debilitating, Geoffrey isn’t going to be functional, and Rune needs him useful, not useless. But there’s also a special kind of horror to hand injuries, like there are with injuries to the eyes. And Rune uses that.

Needless to say, Geoffrey takes off running.

(Needless to say, Max is family now.)

Addam is shocked, clearly taken aback by the part of Rune he didn’t realise was there. But it’s important that rather than rejecting Rune, Addam does try to go to him – he only holds back when Rune indicates he wants a minute to himself.

Addam will never be what Rune is. But he is not afraid of what Rune is. Or if he is, it’s not enough to overcome everything else he feels for Rune. And that matters. His mother, Lady Justice, might prefer pretty feather-heads for her consorts, but Rune never will. If Addam wants to stay with Rune long-term? He needs to be able to stand beside him, and not flinch away.

And it looks like he can. So hopefully, he will.

They’re almost out of time. The ward spell Rune used is about to fall, and Rune’s team is on their last legs or close to it.

Rune picks up a picture that fell out of the pockets of one of the recarnates. It was clearly done by the man’s child – it’s described as ‘the sort of thing a kid might slip into a coffin’. And I think it says so much about who Rune is – what kind of man he is – that this is what gives him the idea for his final plan. The reminder that the recarnates were, and in some ways still are, people. The idea of this recarnate’s family, lost who knows where, but including a child who cared enough to leave a picture with their dad when he was buried. Family and love and innocence all wrapped up together.

It sounds like a perfectly good, if dangerous, plan: Rune will use his mass sigil and the Exodus spell he still has stored to take out the monsters outside. If he goes alone, he doesn’t have to worry about controlling his magic; he can just let it loose. Predictably, and understandably, Brand hates this plan – hates being left behind again. Hates that he can’t stand with Rune, again. “Don’t ask this of me,” he says, because what this chapter needed was absolutely more tears.

Rune reassures him by reminding him of the words Brand spoke to him just a few hours ago, and by this time, I’m definitely sobbing.

It’s a cruelly beautiful moment, one that illustrates – maybe better than any other yet – that what they have is so much more than normal friendship. It’s not just the lack of toxic masculinity – Rune touching Brand’s cheek, and Brand letting him; Brand not being afraid to look weak when he whispers – it’s more than that. Deeper and truer than that. We know not every Companion bond looks like this – Lord Tower and Mayan are more like business partners or something – but they should look like this.

These are soulmates, and platonic or romantic doesn’t matter. The Atlantean concept of tallas doesn’t matter. Friendship, brotherhood, Companions – none of those words are big enough. They’re soulmates. They match. They’re a pair. Two halves of one whole. I don’t mean to imply there’s no room for Addam there, because there is, but when push comes to shove they don’t need Addam. Like and even love does not equate need.

I don’t know how Rune ever thought, for even a second, that Lord Tower could keep Brand from ‘following’ him if he, Rune, died. Brand wouldn’t need poison or a knife. His heart would just stop. Just as Rune’s would, if he ever lost Brand.

Don’t you dare ever do that to them, KD. Don’t you dare.

*

Of course, the very first sentence after Rune convinces the others to leave – and let him leave – is the most terrifying in the entire book.

Rune promised them this wasn’t a suicide strike, and you know, heroes never die. Even during my first read of the book, I knew Rune wouldn’t die. This is the first book of the series, and it’s his story. But there are a lot of other things that could happen instead. What if Ashton captures him? Or the ‘powerful friends’ Geoffrey mentioned? What if this damn book ends on a cliffhanger with Rune taken captive? WHAT THEN?

That’s not what happens, though. Thank all the gods.

Rune goes out to fight ready to die. He unleashes the Fire from his mass sigil, and it’s like nothing he’s ever felt before. I think it’s fair to say the power makes him a little high, a little giddy, if that’s the right word. Bullets disintegrate before they reach him, vaporised by the heat of the Fire. The recarnates burn, and burn, and burn, and Rune gathers as many of them as he can into as tight a space as possible, twisting and turning as he runs through them to make them bunch up tighter and tighter.

Then he lets it all loose.

It’s like an atom bomb going off in an enclosed space. It’s a moment that belongs on a screen, with the most epic of soundtracks.

But it’s not enough.

Because he didn’t get them all. He got all the recarnates near him, for sure. A football-pitch sized space is now clear of anything but ash. But beyond that? Ashton still has an army. And the worst part is, Rune can see immediately what he did wrong, how he should have used his available sigil spells to wipe them all out. I think that’s maybe even worse than failure – realising exactly what you did wrong, and how you could have done it right. Coming so close to success, and missing it by a hair’s breadth.

No matter what he does now, he won’t get them all. The people he loves will have to face those he can’t bring down.

But there’s nothing else he can do. And this time, he gets ready to die for real.

I’d spent twenty years ready for this moment. Ready to close my eyes without the weight of knowing they’d reopen.

I don’t want to cheapen the moment, but… Rune, honey. When this is all over, we desperately need to get you a therapist.

(If I don’t make jokes, I’ll start crying again. HUSH.)

This, of course, is when Lord Tower swoops in to save the day. It is all too appropriate that this enormous drama queen comes with with a tiara. Granted, it’s a tiara packed full of mass sigils, but it is still a crown for the drama queen and there’s no way KD didn’t mean it that way, either.

It really drives home the power of an Arcana, the next little bit. With little more than waves of his hands, Lord Tower takes care of the recarnates and recharges the compound’s wards. He astral-projects to search for Rurik – who has been successfully summoned, it seems – while a now-healed Brand, Addam, and Ciaran make their way from the house – along with Mayan and the Rune-golem we met a few chapters ago. And when it’s decided who’s going where – Ciaran will return to the house to watch over everyone, the others go with Lord Tower to deal with Ashton and Rurik – the Tower just…makes a path. A safe, warded path through the Westlands, to take them to Ashton’s location.

It took Rune and Addam days to get through the Westlands safely. Lord Tower makes his path in seconds.

Rune has a long way to go before he’s anywhere near the league of a full Arcana.

(Ciaran, by the by, is the only one who seems to catch the whole ‘Ashton made it into the Magician’s estate’ thing. But the issue is put aside in face of the more immediate problems.)

Lord Tower lends Addam and Rune two sigils each, and I kind of want to dig into the symbolism – the sigils Addam receives are platinum and gold; Rune gets bronze and brass. Yes, the spells in the sigils Rune receives suit him better – Fire and Shatter, both of which he can use well – but it’s such a pointed difference that it’s difficult to see it as pure coincidence. And yet sigils aren’t less worthy or precious based on what material they’re made of – I mean, a platinum sigil might be worth more financially than a brass one, but probably not by all that much? (Now I want to know if Rune’s leather cock-ring sigil will ever wear out and break, the way normal leather eventually will. ???) Still. It’s…odd? I can’t see exactly what it says – maybe I’m reading too much into it for once – but it just seems so deliberate. Addam, Lord Tower’s godson, gets precious metals – and Rune gets bronze and brass? The contrast is so stark.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

*

There’s banter, and Rune and Brand reconnecting and together again, but the next big thing, is, of course, the endgame this final chapter is named for.

Ashton and Rurik are in a church on the compound’s grounds, one dedicated to past Moral Certainties Arcana. Ashton’s been injured – by Rurik, apparently, who didn’t behave during his summoning. I can’t imagine why.

Ashton – kind of jokingly, I think – asks if he and Lord Tower will now negotiate. Lord Tower simply tells him “No.”

(There’s a magical barrier, between Rune & co and Ashton and Rurik. It takes the Tower three strikes to bring it down. Three. Is there any spell Ashton could cast that would give an Arcana that much trouble? Like, okay, it’s not much trouble. It’s still more than I’d expect. Is it some kind of gift from his ‘friends’?)

Addam takes care of the recarnates; Lord Tower deals with Rurik; Rune goes for Ashton. Rune continues to be dazzlingly imaginative and efficient in his use of firepower – even if Lord Tower doesn’t quite approve – and when Ashton slips away, he, Brand and Addam follow, leaving Lord Tower and Mayan to take Rurik. (It’s not like those two need the help of some baby scions and a Companion, anyway. That’s been made abundantly clear.)

Brand sends the Rune-golem to take point, which is far safer than risking one of them. When they tangle with Ashton again, the golem deals with the last of the recarnates – but there’s a wild card. Before the battle can really start with Ashton, Ella appears.

She doesn’t look good. I can’t really blame her for that, considering what she’s been through. But I also don’t feel that sympathetic, and what traces of it I do feel go up in smoke almost instantly.

There are things all Atlanteans know how to do. Bad things. Like burning ants with magnifying glasses, but on the scale of young gods.

She deals with the recarnates, all right. By shredding their souls. She doesn’t kill them, the way everyone up till now has been doing. She doesn’t release them – presumably they can be banished just like they were summoned up. As Rune says,

It would take decades before they found the cohesion to properly die. It was their final desecration.

Maybe it’s being raised Catholic (even though I left that behind a long, long time ago), but I have a Thing for people messing with souls. Not a good Thing, like the Addam-wearing-Rune’s-sigils Thing. An anti-Thing. I get irrationally upset when a story allows someone to sell someone else’s soul, or use some method to poison someone else’s soul, etc. You should only be able to affect your own soul.

And if you know for sure they exist, as Atlanteans apparently do? YOU DO NOT SHRED THEM.

You can make the argument that Ella was manipulated into everything up to this point. Given the toxic society she’s been raised in, I can even mostly forgive her for how she treats Quinn – she’s never actively been cruel to him, as far as I can recall, ‘just’ ignored him, and that’s a pretty understandable reaction when she was raised to care about power and prestige, neither of which Quinn has. (Or so she thinks). But this? What she does to the recarnates? This is a kind of evil no one else in this series has yet demonstrated. Even Rurik, awful as he is, ‘only’ kills. Killing the body, if you know souls exist, is not as bad as shredding a soul; you know that person will continue past their body. But wrecking a soul?

I’d argue, honestly, that this is the single most evil act we’ve seen so far. And maybe that’s the religious upbringing I mentioned, I don’t know. But.

And she does it so casually. She does it just to get the recarnates out of her way. She could have done literally anything else, and she chose to do that.

Fuck her. I didn’t like her before, but this? I can’t forgive this. I hate her for this. The recarnates are innocent. They were dragged out of their rest against their will, forced into dead bodies against their will, and that does not make them enemy combatants.

Even if it did, we have the Hague Conventions. Some things are not okay even in war. THIS IS ONE OF THEM.

Ella is also, to be blunt, a fucking idiot, not just for going up against Ashton in the middle of all this, but for turning and slicing open the golem. Which is, apparently, the equivalent of skinning a grenade. The blast knocks Brand out, even under cover, and Addam as well – he’s not moving, although Rune doesn’t have a Companion bond and thus can’t verify that he’s okay without going over to them. Which he can’t do, because Ashton and Ella.

It’s darkly, awfully funny, because just as Ashton and Ella are facing off, we’re reminded of the battle happening in the other room. A null thread lashes through the room, nullifying the spells in Ashton and Ella’s sigils (though Ella, again proving herself an idiot, doesn’t seem to realise) – though no doubt the real target was Lord Tower.

(I hope his tiara survived okay.)

When Ella starts monologuing – she doesn’t care about anything except that the man who finally wanted her for her, aka Michael, is dead at Ashton’s hand – Ashton takes the opportunity to punch her, hard, and she goes down.

When Ella starts monologuing – she doesn’t care about anything except that the man who finally wanted her for her, aka Michael, is dead at Ashton’s hand – Ashton takes the opportunity to punch her, hard, and she goes down.

Finally.

Then it’s Rune’s turn.

I prodded the end of the rebar into his gut so that he tumbled backward. I said, “There was a household servant who heard his friend being hurt, and ran toward him, right into the arms of a draug.”

I stabbed at his gut again. “There was another who caught fire, and died while I put him out.”

Now I swung, and took out Ashton’s knee. He crumpled with a howl. I spoke above his shouts. “And there’s a woman whose son worked in the gardens and who probably died when I trapped him outside my defense spell. Do you think there are any remains? Do you think she’ll have anything to bury? Do you feel anything for these people you’ve destroyed, you miserable, useless inbred?”

It’s not about him. It’s not, in this moment, even about Brand, or Addam, or Max. It’s about all the innocents who got caught in the crossfire. All the people Ashton never gave a thought to, just like Ella didn’t stop to think about the recarnates. The people who weren’t people, as far as Ashton and everyone else in his little conspiracy were concerned.

Rune is a wonderful character and I love him, but this is what makes him a hero. This. That he cares.

And Ashton…Ashton starts laughing. Because he can see it now, he says. This was always meant to happen. ‘They’ didn’t care about helping him. ‘They’ wanted Rune involved all along.

Rune’s not interested, and when Ashton tells Rune to kill him, Rune only assures him that his death will come. For what he’s done, Ashton will face the death penalty on his own – even his father will raise his hand against this scion-son.

Ashton claims it will never go to trial. That the people he’s involved with will destroy his soul before they let that happen. Not shred it, like Ella did to the recarnates – destroy him completely. Permanently. So Rune has to kill him first, kill him now.

And when Rune refuses –

There were nine men who assaulted fifteen-year-old Rune the night the Sun Court fell. They all wore animal masks.

It’s not enough to make Rune kill him, though he’s thrown by the revelation. More thrown when Ashton reveals enough details to prove he’s telling the truth, details no one else could know. Rune can’t process it, and who can blame him? He doesn’t freeze, but he definitely loses focus on the moment. In favor of getting thrown back towards the past.

But then.

Then Ashton says something else.

“Kill me or I’ll tell everything. Have you forgotten what I saw? What I know? I was there. I know what happened. I know the secrets you keep. What will happen when he finds out?”

Just like that, my anger became terror.

What secret? Which ‘he’? Maybe Lord Tower, who comes into the room at just that moment. Lord Tower, who absolutely cannot be allowed to hear the secret, or else Rune will lose everything.

“Kill me or–“

“No,” I said. “No, no, you–“

He raised his voice into a shout. “On the night–“

I touched my white-gold ring and unleashed Exodus.

*

I think Rune dies. A little bit. Just for a while.

Before a woman’s voice throws him back to the living.

*

Addam, it seems, heard a little of what Ashton said – he must have been waking up by then. Brand did not, though he wakes up and is fine. Lord Tower must have, but he doesn’t ask.

*

The epilogue is a lot of fluff and feels, much-needed after the turmoil of Endgame. Ciaran goes back to doing whatever it is Ciaran does. Lord Tower is silent, which means he’s gone hunting. (For who? For what?) Max learns that he really is staying, Rune and Brand are keeping him – and though he was promised into a marital alliance with the Hanged Man, Rune promises it won’t happen.

That’s an issue for later.

In a secret apartment Brand doesn’t know about, Rune opens the door to find Quinn, who gifts him an eighth sigil for saving Addam’s life – or maybe Quinn’s life. Maybe both. They have a talk about his powers, about how Quinn manipulated things – like insisting Max go to the compound, just so he could take the wound that otherwise would have gone to Rune.

“So you let Max get stabbed so that I wasn’t taken out. So that, what, I would still be able to save Addam?”

“No! That’s not–I’m not that selfish! I let Max get stabbed so that you could part the clouds!”

I blinked, surprised. “And that was important.”

“It was the most important thing in the world,” Quinn whispered.

Not that Quinn can tell him why. Only time can do that.

(I wonder if he means Time. If the Time Court maybe isn’t as gone as everyone thinks.

Hmm.)

*

They wrap up with a barbecue. It’s sweet. It’s wonderful. Quinn is invited, and gets to be a kid, and is delighted to learn Brand considered him as a suspect for a while with Addam’s kidnapping. Addam brings a densuke watermelon, because Rune said to bring a normal barbecue thing like a watermelon and Addam is a cheeky sod.

Addam still thinks they’re tallas.

The story is just getting started.

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