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Terminus Est

The night was silent, deep, and dark. No moon hung in the sky, and even the stars seemed subdued. Something dark loomed expectantly, but it nibbled at the subconscious more than it pounced upon the vigilant outskirts of the mind. When people walked anywhere that night, they skittered with hurried steps to and from their destinations, barely glancing around or even lifting their eyes beyond the ground before them. The air grew chill quickly, and anywhere with a fire grew increasingly welcoming as opposed to the darkness looming outside.

Overlooking the town was a barren hill, and all that ever grew upon it was lichen and moss. A circle of stones ringed a halo at its top, and within that ring there were three monolithic pillars connected by glowing white lintels. Atop one lintel stood a crone, atop another stood a woman, and atop the third stood a maiden, all three with bone white hair.

They were not the cause of the gloom, but they watched it form in silence, speaking to each other with only their eyes and then at once turning to the north. They heard a sound that no mortal would be able to hear at such a distance, but they knew it for the beat of great wings. When was the last time a dragon took flight within the realm?

Too long, by far.

Too long.

The sound grew until even the town below could not mistake the sound, and the inhabitants hurried to hide indoors until their terrors could pass.

Upon the hill the dragon landed, and he bowed to the women on the stones. In hisses and growls he spoke to them. "Where is he? Where is the Magus who agreed upon his soul to be here every hundred years?"

"Dead," replied the crone.

"His time had played beyond its time," continued the woman.

"Even stolen time must run its course, eventually," added the maiden with a sweet smile.

"I see," said the dragon thoughtfully. "He was human, once? Mortal, beneath it all?"

"Indeed," said the three, as if they were one.

"It is the end of an age," the dragon mused. "If one such as he could die, so then could any one of us."

The three of them exchanged glances and then shrugged, as one. 

"In the beginning," began the maiden, "for there is always a beginning, no one can imagine an end. They've seen only beginnings, and everything stays fresh and new. We dance as if our joints will never ache, we sing as if our voices will never falter, and we live as if the world is our playground."

"What then, is a mortal?" asked the woman. "Some cycles are shorter than others, and when we live beyond beginnings. Insects live such a short span, and when mortals see that end they wonder if they, too, have an end. When dragons see mortals die, they wonder if they might some day see an end. When gods see dragons die...."

"I see the shadow of death upon you, dragon," said the crone. "You could ignore it when you were young, and saw the end of millions of generations of insects, and thousands of generations of humans. You grow old now, though. You wonder if even the oldest of your kind will meet an end, when you find that you sleep longer and wake less rested than when you had your youth. And with that wondering, comes a possibility. You may come to an end some day, and so you shall. Even the Magus who gave you hope that my hand would never grip your soul, even he could not escape me in the end."

If dragons could smile, that is the expression he would have worn. "You tell me this," he said, "but it is your fear as well. Even gods, at the death of a dragon, begin to fear. This world begins to erase my power, with every generation of insect who fuels disbelief. With every babe who grows to meet his grave without seeing my kind, they rob my vitality. You thus ensure my end, but so also do you ensure your own."

"All things end," said the crone.

"Every season ends," said the dragon. "But every season comes again. Spring kills winter, but that does not mean winter is ended and will never come again."

From the center of the stones arose a man from the shadows, garbed in black and encircled by power. A sword was in his hands, and from it came light to bring anew the day. In one tremendous leap he stood beside the crone. The sword swung in a mighty arc and the crone's head was severed from her body to roll across the earth to the feet of the dragon.

"For whom looms the shadow of death?" asked the dragon, before devouring the head.

"You can't do that!" cried the woman.

"And yet, he did," said the dragon, sounding distinctly amused. "You're late, Magus."

"My apologies," said the black-clad human. "I was slightly dead."

"So the fates told me," the dragon chuckled. "They gave me the impression you meant to stay that way. I was just about to correct them."

"So I heard."

The lintel that had been inhabited by the crone grew dark.

"Hurry," said the maiden. "Time grows short."

The woman turned on her with alarm, but already the Magus was in motion. He leaped from one lintel to the next, and embraced the maiden fully, gracing her lips with her first kiss and bringing to her cheeks the first flush of love and passion. Knowledge and power became hers in an instant, and as their embrace grew more intimate the woman slumped to her knees and sighed.

"You know not what you do," she said sadly, "in betraying us all."

The dragon stepped closer, and with infinite care softly caressed the woman's cheek with the soft sheath of one claw. "They do know. They bring an end to this world, so a cycle can begin anew. She shall become, as you are, a mother to a world, a creator in her own right. Even to the Fates, fate can not be denied."

The two who met in passion and the culmination of ages of magic gathered into one spot suddenly disappeared from that world. They were swept to another, while the dragon and the woman watched with cold wisdom of ages.

"They shall not return," said the dragon. "The Magus can no longer keep the world safe from my wrath, as he bargained for so long ago."

"They shall not return," the woman agreed. "The powers of beginnings, and of endings, have fled this world and doomed it."

"For now," said the dragon. He allowed his form to shrink until his size met her own, and his body became less draconic and more human. "But you are not the crone, and you do not have to become her, now that the maiden has fled. For you, I would destroy this world, that together we may birth one anew."

"You are not as romantic as the Magus," the woman said with a sigh, "but I am too old to believe romantic words. In every woman there is a maiden, and a crone. But I will be a mother once again, and together we will leave this world."

Thus she spared her children on one world, leaving them behind with no Fate, but with a future, and with the Fae. And as cycles continued, the mortals divided from the Fae, and more worlds were born. Beginnings. And endings. And All.

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