Chapter 6

Xivu Arath's claw wraps around a hiltless, slender vantablack blade impaled into the spine of a prostrated Knight, whose own sword clatters to the ground, inches from its grip, defeated.

She twists her blade, and the Knight's roars echo within the Dreadnaught. Xivu's will soars through the Ascendant Plane and crosses the barrier between this world and the next to find communion with the Witness.

Within a distant hollow, they converse.

"They resist." The Witness's many voices cascade over each other.

LIKE WOUNDED PREY. ALL TIRE IN TIME.

"If they do not?"

Xivu Arath sees the hidden thrust of its question. She knows it doubts her but does not understand why. No matter the outcome, they stand at the precipice of the Final Shape.

THE SWORD WILL DECIDE AND BE FORGED STRONGER FOR IT.

"It is beyond that now."

She does not want to fall before the end. She is so close now. She saw her past failures as blood-penance, paid for strength; notches where blades and Light met her carapace were legends given form. But it is not hers to decide, nor the Witness's. The logic is a perfect, deterministic sequence of causality, built into the experience of conscious existence. None can usurp it.

Struggle within the finite is eternal.

"To deny the blade is heresy"—her sister's words played in her thoughts like fingertips plucking dissonant chords.

The Witness enters the solace of Xivu's mind. Her inner throne. A salt flat sliver extending eternally into darkness. Armaments of all fashion sleep, partially sheathed between the cracks of a battlefield, where there is no place to run.

And from Its gaze, there is no place to run.

"They hold the worm; they will pursue her knowledge." The words echo throughout the desolate realm. "The Final Shape remains to be hewn."

THAT I MAY WIELD IT, GLORIOUS, AGAINST THE SKY.

"Not as you are. Weakened by defeat." The echoes slither over her mind but find little purchase.

[LAUGHTER LIKE SCREAMING FEAR]

MEAGER VICTORIES OF NO CONSEQUENCE; BLURRED BATTLES LOST WITHIN MY GREATER WAR.

"No victory is of no consequence. They scheme."

WAR IS FED, REGARDLESS. THE SKY CAN GRANT NO PASSAGE.

"That time will soon come to an end. Show her your love, Xi Ro."

She is alone again.

Her blade: buried in spent ash.