Vignettes of the End
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Darkness…

Mael dreams of darkness.

It is thick, heavy, a swirling mass, a maelstrom, shades of emptiness cast against the eternity that awaits him. Nothingness has swallowed Mael whole, and yet… he is

Darkness…

Gods do not die. It is not in their nature. Darkness cannot be defined by what it is, but by what stands against it, by what it is not. Thus are the gods opposite to nothingness, undying, unyielding… eternal.

Darkness…

Mael will live forever, like his siblings, like his children. Time will pass him by, his being untouched by the ravages of a collapsing cosmos. His name might be forgotten, his spirit entombed, and still he will remain, drifting in the nothingness…

Darkness…

Sleep is as close as gods can be to death. It is a shroud, a sanctuary, a refuge for beings who live forever, whether they like it or not. They slumber for eons, dreaming of the all-encompassing void, peacefully fading away into eternity.

It is nothingness.

It is oblivion.

It is welcomed.

Darkness…

Mael dreams of darkness… and is at peace.

Darkness…

And in his wake, one last light shines.


The world Ari has been born in is always ending.

Landmasses collapse into the sea of nothingness, erased forever from existence; refugees from dead and dying worlds arrive and try to make do; wars between factions break out, and it takes the Withstanders intervening to keep the bloodshed to a minimum. At times, everyone seems on the verge of madness, about to give in to despair. Who can blame them? They have survived the end of their worlds, and now they are forced to live with what comes next.

Ari has never known another world, a better world than the Last Place. He has been born to parents he never met, raised by orphans like himself, taught to thrive in chaos and squalor. The slums are his home, the streets his hunting grounds. All he knows is struggle; all he cares for is survival. Why should children like him care about what lies beyond the Last Place, when every reality eventually collapses into theirs? The Orphanage looks after their own, the wayward progeny of a harsh, uncaring world.

Today, that world brings Ari prey. His body shifts into a stance that screams readiness, fingers itching as he envisions his move. Crouched behind foul-smelling crates, he waits for his opening, his colleagues' signal to strike.

The man in black robes strolls through the crowded streets of Dead-End Market, oblivious to the squallid, sunken-eyed children that observe him from a distance. His face and hands are tattooed with arcane symbols of death and desolation, rotting fingernails clasping a purse made of black leather. A thick cloud of pestilent spores floats around him, a tell-tale sign of where his loyalties lie: the man is a Nihl, the deadliest of prey.

Ari understands the risk of this theft: the Nihl are cruel, pitiless worshippers of death and oblivion. They will not hesitate to harm children if vexed. But Ari also knows the worth of his prize: steal from a Nihl and survive, and his reputation will be legendary amongst his peers. Do or die; such is the challenge of a lifetime.

As he ponders, a trio of kids as filthy and emaciated as himself rush through the crowd, worming their way towards their target: the Orphanage is on the move. Ari smiles as the plan he and his friends have concocted finally takes shape before his eyes.

The children swarm the cultist, sad eyes speaking louder than words ever could, the art of begging polished to perfection. They beg for food, for refuge, for charity, and the Nihl, ever craving new members for his death-cult, responds in the warmest voice he can fashion. He leans forward to bless them with his dark words, and a glint in the corner of Ari's eye lets him know the time has come.

With quick, light-footed steps, Ari rises from his hiding spot and races towards the distracted Nihl, eyes square on his small purse. In and out he breathes, his feet gracefully treading the ground below, his body preparing to pierce the cultist's noxious halo. Time slows down as Ari holds his breath and stretches forward, his arm a striking serpent, fingers clawing at the air… and snatches the purse like a hawk snatching a rabbit.

And now, we run

The market becomes a blur of shapes and sounds as Ari claims his prize, the cultist barely able to react before the boy disappears into the maelstrom of market-goers. The other children disperse in an instant, expertly dodging the passerby as irate screams trail behind them. It seems the Nihl are not as detached from the material world as they like to claim.

A frenzy follows as the Nihl attempts to catch the thief, bumping into every person not fast enough to get out of his path, crashing into every cart and crate in his way. Ari dodges and dashes and slips through every crack, every opening, every alley in his path, smiling as the furious cultist is left behind, trapped by the twitching flow of people, powerless in the face of simple street urchins. As he heads for the slums, he weighs the contents of the purse, and smiles. Tonight, everyone gets a share.

The Orphanage always looks after their own; for good, for bad… for triumph.


The Holder's name is Be'eriol, first of her kin. Dark is her flesh, fashioned from the primordial substance of First Existence; wide are her eyes, dutiful beholders of the abyss; and strong is her back, charged with protecting the last embers of reality in a failing Multiverse. This is her destiny, this is her burden.

Be'eriol knows the importance of her task. Upon her back lies the bulk of the Last Place, her brothers and sisters holding the outlying regions of this final sanctuary amidst the sea of nothingness. Such are the obligations of the eldest, the duties of the first.

Life has flourished here thanks to the Holders, defiantly standing up to the encroaching tide of darkness. Scores of islands are now held in place by the ancient colossi, the final sanctuary for refugees and castaways, survivors of a dying cosmos. Still they thrive and struggle and fight and love and die and multiply… seldom aware of the sacrifices made to keep this last point of light from being swallowed by the sea of darkness.

Be'eriol does not dream, does not drift away. To hold something in place requires will; every instant of her and her siblings' existence is spent keeping the islands from crashing down into the void, keeping their people from being erased.

The task is not easy.

As Creation falls apart, more and more people flock to the Last Place; more and more space is occupied. Settlements are built, structures hastily assembled to accomodate the unending deluge of lives. People brave the borders of the Last Place… and find themselves falling into the emptiness below. The Multiverse might be infinite, but the Holders' reach is not.

This is why Be'eriol stays awake, aware, though at times she wonders what it would be like to join the gods in their slumber.

The gods…

Be'eriol remembers the gods, her makers. Old were they, eternal as the nothingness against which they stood. They built her and her kin in the image of one of their own, the Titan whose name is Atlas, and imposed on them a task to match: to forever hold a part of Creation upon their backs. Then they set off into the unknown, to endlessly dream the dreams of the deathless.

Thus have Be'eriol and her siblings remained, giants stranded in the void, broad backs forever crouched under the weight of duty, bodies perpetually postrated and unmoving, slowly fusing with the burden they hold. No way to break free, no way to unchain themselves from their task, no way to join their makers in their peace. Where does the Last Place end, and the Holders start? Not even they know for sure.

Perhaps, the thought crosses Be'eriol's mind as she stares into the darkness, it has never made any difference at all.


Tinged red by dusk, colossal towers and smoking chimneys sprawl well into the borders of the Last Place, scrapmetal and wires precariously hanging over the void. Brass and iron and steel structures cast shadows made long by the fading light, their forms built to accommodate the great shells of this area's inhabitants, the guild of giant, part-machine crabs called the Foundry.

Night is closing in over the Brass Reef, the great forge-island. Soon, only the glow of its furnaces and fiery exhausts will light the starless darkness, but the roar of machinery, the clang of red-hot steel struck by hammers, the whirring of new engines, will echo well into the morning, when the crabs will go off into the neighboring islands, off to seek things to fix and improve with the dedicated skill of their specialized pincers.

The Last Place needs the Foundry, everyone says. Without them, whatever machines the people have are as good as junk, condemned to break down and fail, sinking entire communities into darkness. The people are thankful for the crabs, but few understand the true nature of their work: all they do is follow their instincts; why would they stop to receive praise or demand payment?

No. The crabs, ever silent, ever watchful, simply move, marching on to the next thing in need of repair.

Tonight, however, something else is taking place amidst the towering mounds of metal and refuse. The furnaces are lit, yes, but unattended; the hammers are silent, and the engines do not purr. Tonight, the Foundry have gathered at the edge of their territory, where the Brass Reef borders the nothingness beyond. Their pincers click together, their hydraulics buzzing, but their legs are firmly set in place, their usual scuttling replaced by somber stillness. A multitude of eyestalks all face forward, towards the one for whom they have all reunited here, the one to whom they have come to say goodbye.

A broken, off-colored shell lies limp on the ground before the assembled crustaceans, pincers still, eyes empty, legs collapsed under two tons of flesh and machinery. The whirr of its biomechanical augments is no more, the flame of its life extinguished; whatever soul once resided within it, it is long departed to the beyond. This is a sight of the future, the Foundry know, a sight of the destined end; the crabs can fix anything, indeed, anything but death.

The Foundry clicks and chirrups, pincers and mandibles expressing what vocal chords never could: the solemn mourning of a species who knows no afterlife, no believer's bliss. For them, there is but an eternal certainty, and that is the abyss.

Still, the crabs know that this is not the end, not even for them. For the Foundry, death is a time of sadness and remembrance, but also one of hope and renewal. Nothing awaits for them on the other side, but there is still much here that must be done, so much that must be fixed, made anew. The Last Place must be upheld, life must be preserved; such is the crabs' duty, their purpose.

The clicking of pincers dies out as daylight fades from the heavens, the Brass Reef darkened for that which must be done. From the multitude, a dozen crabs step forth, their shells black and red and white, extremities fitted with tools fearsome in appereance and even more fearsome in touch. They scuttle towards the corpse, remains of a life lived in service of the Last Place, a service that cannot be allowed to end.

The sounds of harvest are not pretty, not pleasant. They are sounds of ripping and tearing, of slicing and breaking, flesh ground into fertile feed for the soil, biomechanics reclaimed for the living. When the crabs are done, nothing will remain of the fallen, nothing but the new life its death will seed. Such is the cycle, such is the wheel.

The crabs are masters of adaptability, their enhanced bodies repaired and augmented a thousand thousand times before finally breaking down beyond all help. They will scrounge, scrape, weld and stitch, their drive to build and repair unfettered by calamity, by death: nothing goes to waste, not even those most dearly held in one's heart. This is how the Foundry thrives, how they have remained even as others fade away, as much a constant as the Last Place itself, forever in service of those who seek refuge amidst its islands. These are the ways of life, the ways of survival.

The Last Place must be upheld, life must be preserved.

The crabs must march on.

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