Epilogue
The Final Battle

AZ 1456 - Spring
Near the Sigil of Omnimancy, The Darklands

Between the ruins of Castle Euros and the Black Keep lay a mighty relic of a bygone age. The old Kingdom of Euros was the very peak of human civilization with a mastery of magic that rivaled even the Xotika. The cornerstone of this mastery was the Sigil of Omnimancy, a vast stone edifice at least a day's march across, situated on one of the great confluences of the Planet's æther currents. There was great power to be wielded here for good as well as for ill. It was through the power of the Sigil that the Black Dragon Prince Xargon cursed the land and perhaps through the Sigil, the land might be healed as well.
Of the thirty-one men who accompanied Xanthe on the scouting expedition, only ten remained. Once they reached the Sigil, though, they could not follow her.
Raising her hand, she said, "You can go with me no farther. Remain here."
"But, Your Majesty..." one of the Xotikan spearmen objected.
"I must face him alone," she said sharply. "It has to be this way."
"It shall be done, Your Majesty," a battlemage replied with a bow.
"May El-Naia go before you and shield you, Your Majesty," another battlemage said.
"May El-Naia guard you as well," Xanthe said. "Should I fall, try to make it back to the camp and tell Lord Aristides to fall back to the ships and leave this place. Zephyr will have a few years to regroup before Darklanders can mount an attack. Perhaps, perhaps they can be bested away from this cursed land. With the power of El-Alar..."
Xanthe knew she was speaking vanity and she was rather certain the men knew this as well. The miracle of three hundred years ago only happened because the Dominion was not ruled by a Lord of Shadow in those days. It would not be repeated again.
If she failed, there was little chance of anyone escaping the Darklands. Notos would fall quickly and Zephyr would not stand much longer. The human cities would be overwhelmed one after the next and though El-Alar could resist for a time, it would be like a lonely candle whose flickering light would eventually be snuffed out by the all-consuming darkness. With each conquest, the dead would rise to join the enemy ranks and the corruption would spread to all corners of the globe. El-Okur, El-Sidar, and El-Simil. The rest of the Five Ancients would suffer the same fate as El-Haman. Xotika, men, Nanoi, and all races would be overthrown. The world itself would languish and slowly perish in the everlasting night.
Who was she to stand in the way of such a fate? Her power could not possibly be enough to defeat the Monarch Lich. There was no comparison.
She pulled out the medal given to her by Lord Aristides. The image of Solon, inaccurate though it was, made her heart ache. She could not allow herself to dwell on those feelings, though.
Gripping the medal tightly, she reached out with her mind to speak to Lord Aristides.
Lord Aristides, hear me. I have arrived at the Sigil. I will not lie about my chances of victory. At very least, perhaps I can disrupt the enemy to buy you time. If I should fall, retreat to the ships and back to Zephyr. The people back in the motherland will need your knowledge and experience to prepare for the coming storm.
If her entourage did not make it back to the camp, at least Lord Aristides would know what she would have him do. It was all she could do for him and the men. Now she had to go forward to face her destiny.
She slowly walked up onto the Sigil. When her foot first touched the lines of the great magic circle, the overwhelming power of that place shook her to her very core. Just as the wind and water have their currents, so too does the æther that fuels all magic. At the confluences of these currents, magical power is magnified many times over. El-Alar and the others of the Five Ancients were all planted at such confluences, as was the Sigil.
"Old Euros knew to found his kingdom in this place to establish his reign and ensure an age of prosperity... for a time."
The voice belonged to a dark figure at the other end of the Sigil. The æther currents carried his voice so that it sounded like he was only a few feet away rather than so many miles. She could sense the telltale signs of the Lords of Shadow's power. This was the Monarch Lich.
"Welcome to the Sigil of Omnimancy, child of the forest," the Monarch Lich said. "This is... disappointing, I must say. The one I was hoping to meet this day was my other half, but human flesh is so frail and the ravages of time kill a king the same as any man, but it is a sad, pitiful end."
"What do you mean by 'other half', you Lord of Shadow?" Xanthe asked coolly.
"Can you not see it," the Monarch Lich asked in turn, "the resemblance to your mate?"
There was a flash of magical energy and then the Monarch Lich was standing mere inches from the Queen. He was a terrible sight to behold. His flesh was translucent, exposing the blue veins and coal-black skeleton underneath.
His power then diminished sharply and his skin clouded over to take on the pale grey of a corpse. It was then that the resemblance came out. It was uncanny. Xanthe did not want to believe it.
"No... It cannot be."
"But it is," the Monarch Lich replied with a cruel grin. "Human seed and the seed of the Dark Race abode in the same flesh and then we were born, we two brothers."
The whispers and rumors that hounded Solon his entire life suddenly became clear.
"His cursed birth..."
The Monarch Lich looked down on Xanthe contemptuously and turned away.
"Indeed," he said as he began to walk away. "Your mate was left the sole survivor and none knew of the other child that was born that day, a child of prouder lineage than any mere human can boast. That child was transported to this land of death, decay and chaos. Fostered by the remnants of the dead nation known as the Chaos Dominion, the child grew in stature and might and revived the nation as its new king. The new king dedicated his life to building his power that he might return to the land of his birth to engulf it in darkness."
"A petty goal for a creature of your power," Xanthe replied scornfully. "Solon was your better."
"Perhaps he can prove that to me when I arrive," the Monarch Lich said, turning back to face the Queen. "After I have killed you, my armies of the dead will march on the tattered remnants of your forces in Arkadia and ten generations of the slain will rise from the earth to finish them off. Your dead will rise again as my servants and then march on your ships moored at Talis. Those ships will convey my legions first to Notos. I will lay waste to the land and add their dead to my ranks.
"When my forces move on to Zephyr, I will strike at Hesperia first. From the sepulcher of kings, I will raise my brother so that he might bear witness to the devastation of his kingdom. I will save you precious El-Alar for last. I will hack it to pieces, tear it out by the roots and burn the remains."
No longer suppressing his power, the Monarch Lich's flesh went translucent again and he looked more like an animate skeleton as he continued his boasting.
"Know that I will not stop there," he declared. "North, east, south and west, my armies will spread death and darkness until the Planet herself chokes her last miserable gasp and perishes along with all her children. In that moment, the work of the Dark Race will be perfected, complete. I will be perfected, complete."
Xanthe gathered her courage that she might not waver in the face of the nightmare the Monarch Lich spread before her.
"Your words are great and terrible, Lord of Shadow," she said, "but they are just that, words. For all your power, you are not immortal. You have huddled in your Black Keep this whole time. Only now do you make an appearance, not to face an army but a single woman."
"Do you think my human blood makes me easy to provoke to anger?" the Monarch Lich sneered. "You underestimate me to your doom. But, come, take up your place and make your challenge. I am certain you can find the way."
The Monarch Lich transported himself back across the Sigil and the two opponents began the slow walk to their places. Each point in the massive octagram etched in the stone represented a different kind of magic, eight antipodal pairs in total. Each point bore the particular touch of its brand of magic and the two of them were destined for the cardinal points of Light and Darkness.
Upon taking up their places, the Monarch Lich spoke again.
"My power alone is more than enough to sweep you away like a grain of sand before the tide, but this war is greater than we two. Surely you can feel it. The Light is perishing, a dying ember. The Darkness is all. The land welcomes it. The Darkness feeds this land and this land in turn feeds the Darkness.
"The dam cannot hold back the waters any longer. With your death, the dam will break apart and the red seas will surge forth and wash over all the lands of the earth. Are you ready to fulfill your destiny as the final sacrifice, my sister?"
Flush with anger, Xanthe growled, "Never again will you call me that, fiend. El-Naia preserve me. You will fall this day."
The Monarch Lich cackled so loudly that he would not have even needed to aid of magic to carry his voice to her.
"Show me, Queen of the forest folk! Show me the power of your dying Light!"
Immediately the two went to chanting, drawing in power and channeling it into the Sigil. A white light shone about Xanthe and a black light around the Monarch Lich. The two lights then began to spread along the lines of the Sigil. They moved slowly at first but gained momentum as more power was channeled into the Sigil.
The scales were, of course, hopelessly lopsided in the Monarch Lich's favor. The land, sea and air spanning one of the greatest nations of Man were brimming with dark energy at the beck and call of its true master. The pace of the black lines quickly outstripped the white and it was not long before the two sides collided. The shockwave from the collision of the two energies unsteadied Xanthe, but she was able to stand her ground. However, the dark energy continued its advance, pushing back the light.
Xanthe had to redouble her focus while also stretching out with her mind to draw on any possible source of light energy. It was a delicate balance to maintain even if she did not have to contend with rapidly advancing darkness.
She could feel the walls closing in on her. She would not be able to resist much longer. She would fail and all would be lost.
And then it came to her, her one last hope. It was the one thing her nemesis for all his power could not do nor could he possibly understand.
Self-sacrifice.
By surrendering herself mind, body and soul, Xanthe could unleash a far greater power than she could ever command in life. There was still a chance it might not be enough to defeat the Monarch Lich, but Xanthe had little choice but to grasp at even the slimmest chance at victory.
For a brief moment, she thought of her children and the cruelty of abandoning them, but if she did not do this, all would be lost.
She let go of all her mortal attachments. She gave up being Xanthe, Queen of Zephyr, and Relinia, Queen of Goldleaf. She passed into nothingness with a prayer for a future where the Light was strong enough to cast back the Darkness.