Illana is not an idiot.

She knows she should be afraid of these Citizens of Zenecore—they think she is insane, and insanity is never viewed highly by people who rely entirely on their minds. In Zenecore, those views long ago become dangerous. Under normal circumstances, she would be worried or frightened, because despite how slowly Zenecorans progress—they have to delay, for the sake of their precious minds—ten thousand years is a long time, and if they wanted to get rid of her, they should have been able to do so.

And they want do to get rid of her; their faces say it plainly enough. Because despite what they think she's not a lunatic and she can process what they said enough to understand that she frightens them. She's now the oldest living Zenecoran—and that means the oldest living thing anywhere, aside from the Ausjzmahjzk, maybe—by a good fifteen thousand years, and they think she's insane.

But she's not afraid, not of dying at their hands, because if they don't realize that the Ausjzmahjzk is perfectly capable of walking out of Zenecore all by itself they cannot have progressed at all—they must have regressed. Zenecorans are a slow, private, brilliant people; where others have destroyed themselves, the race of Zenecore has prospered, because they go slowly and the tortoise beats the hare. It doesn't hurt that the tortoise has a ten-trillion mile head start, too. Except the downside is that after so long, Zenecorans keep things in their heads, because there is no point to keeping records—except to teach children the very basics—when you have a perfect memory and are going to live forever or die trying.

Which means that getting rid of all of the older Citizens—she can't understand the logic there; did the ruling council lose its collective mind?—erases hundreds of millennia of history. With that gone…Illana does not want to contemplate it. It infuriates her. She's spent ten millennia guarding them, has sacrificed so much of her own mind, gave up Cthren—and what have they done with her gift?

They've ruined everything.

Robotic eyes see with crystal clarity; no rage clouds her vision, only her voice and judgment. "Get out," she snarls at them, barely keeping herself under control; the room reverts back to a grey cube as she hisses to Tershicore that its creators have dropped themselves on their heads. "GET OUT!"

The broody Zenecoran stands up too slowly—his name is Phillip, Tershicore tells him as she uses the city mainframe to hack her way past his firewalls, despite that entering the mind of another is the most despicable thing a Zenecoran can do…but she doesn't want to be Zenecoran, not what they've become. They're not leaving fast enough; they need to go now, so she hacks into their minds and takes control of their limbs, making them stand and walk out the door.

The resistance they put up is wretchedly feeble; she could write better firewalls than this when she was a few centuries old.

Her city—no, she is Tershicoran, not of them; she can't be one of those pathetic creatures—their city has fallen. No wonder the Ausjzmahjzk left.

The native is a bit more difficult to deal with—no software in his mind to tap into—but a quick morphing of the room surrounds him in gas synthesized to make him compliant, and he leaves docilely at her order, following the other two as she makes them run out of her last solace. When they are gone, she turns on the external cameras and views them through the eyes of the city as the gate slams shut behind them—decaying polytopes aside, the left half of the gate still functions, and the right was stuck closed. They appear furious.

She doesn't care. Instead, she sits and cries from her ruined eye-sockets, the tears burning their way down her face.

But there is no way to turn back time, there is no way to see the future, and there is no way to resurrect the past, unless the Ausjzmahjzk drops Zenecore. Which it won't.

Some part of Illana wishes it would. It has to know they'd all deserve it. Their city has fallen.

Why can't it do so literally?

---

"FRAKKNG BITCH!"

Phil is screaming, some part of Gil realizes. Not that it really matters. Right now Gil is cruising along in a wonderful, wonderful world, and if Phil needs to express his joy for life through screaming, that's not such a bad idea. On a whim, Gil joins in.

"YAAAHASH KEBOSH!" he screams happily—sure, it's gibberish, because he doesn't know what else to say, but it's happy and loud and that's what counts, isn't is? He screams it again, and then a few more times just for good measure. This really is fun! Maybe Phil knows more about being happy than he lets on.

"Shut up," Grant snaps bitterly, and Gil complies—if it'll make someone else happy, then not screaming is worth it. It's not like Gil needs to scream to be happy, or do anything to be happy—because he's discovered that true bliss comes from within, and the physical doesn't matter. It's a great feeling.

"Calm down. We have sixty days left before pickup—there's still places to go, people to see," Grant says angrily to Phil, and Gil bemusedly notes that it's not just Phil who needs to calm down.

"Like what?" Phil demands in reply, but he's stopped screaming—Gil takes a moment to wonder if that means he's happier now, or sadder, or if he's calmer but less happy, or what might be going on in his head. If he's stopped screaming, does that mean that being calm means not being happy?

"Trevakavich is frakking insane, every other institute will be either dead or under her control, and she's a bloody monster! SHE HACKED INTO OUR HEADS!"

Oh, he's screaming again. So that must mean that being calm is counterproductive to being happy.

"Cthren might not be—they had their own firewalls," Grant says, looking very tired. Yes, being calm is definitely not a way to be happy; if only Grant would loosen up a bit, Gil is sure he wouldn't be so sad.

"Cthren's dead," Gil points out happily. He has a vague idea that will get Grant worked up, and surely that can only be beneficial for the man's mental health, which is clearly in need of some lightening.

Both of them turn to stare at him, and Gil frowns—now he's the only one who is happy, because Phil has gone quiet—both of the Zenecorans are quiet—and that means they're calm, which is bad. Shouldn't that statement have made them loud?

"What do you mean, it's dead?" Grant asks, his voice frigid.

At the too-calm tone, Gil feels a wave of pity for the man, so he tries to explain carefully, "All the systems went off-line last year—we couldn't get them to turn on again. We thought power might be shot, but the generator worked fine when we tested it with a closed system we made. So we thought that there was a saboteur, except that no Scion would do that and no one else would come anywhere near the University, so then we thought maybe it had something to do with the mother-system at Tershicore. So here I am!" He feels like laughing gleefully—and does, and then starts humming cheerfully. At one point he remembers being not-happy about Cthren, but the systems there are dead, and death is Eternal and Enlightening, is it not? Nothing Eternal and Enlightening can be anything short of fantastic.

"Damn that frakking bitch," Phil hisses from between clenched teeth. Clenching his own teeth in imitation, Gil wonders if this is some form of exercise popular in Zenecore—for strengthening the jaw, maybe? Well, self-improvement is good, so Gil keeps up with the mimicry.

For a long time Grant just stands there with his eyes closed, before he finally opens them—that's too bad, because a nap would probably make him happier; the man is more grouchy than his usual self, and Gil knows that such things mean he's not getting enough sleep, right?—and says firmly, "Fine. Dead-end. We'll report to the council and recommend demolition. It's still going to take us sixty days to get back to drop-off, so let's get moving before Trevakavich decides we aren't, alright?" There's a lot of sarcasm in his voice—maybe Grant would be happier if he wasn't sarcastic.

"What about him?" Phil is pointing in Gil's direction—that means he's important!—and Gil grins goofily. Life is so wonderful.

"We can't risk it," Grant replies, sounding if he's admitting something, and then he shoots Gil an annoyed look. "It seems like he's damaged, anyway. I wonder what she hit him with."

Evidently, that's a cue of some sort for Phil, because the other Zenecoran looks relieved at this verdict and points at him again, but this time he twists his fingers slightly.

Abruptly, Gil realizes he's looking up at the sky—and his heart swells as he realizes that he's never taken the time to really appreciate how beautiful the sky is. Leaves wave hazily overhead, creating a border for the magnificent orange backdrop, and Gil's so filled with joy that his heart feels like it will burst from his chest.

The light begins to fade, and that only makes it more beautiful—the dimming sky—that sounds almost poetic; he's never been a poet before but looking up at this he could be. The feeling in his heart is so great that at one point in his life he would have called it pain, but right now it's just one more wonderful sensation; how can any feeling actually be bad?

Everything is very dark, but he thinks now that this awesome, glorious picture before him, this overwhelming feeling—this has to be true Enlightenment…

---

"Sometimes people just fall apart," Janna says sadly. Privately, Gavel doesn't understand why the healer is so upset. This concludes that family's tragic tale—and while it may be a bit disrespectful to write them off so easily, Gavel is a practical man. The family of Kan was cursed, and it is sad that the one who caused the curse to fall was the last to die, but such things happen.

Tosh, of course, looks a bit shocked. Only last fullmark he found Gitta wandering outside Amardeen in a daze and brought her back—and now, not one full round of the clock later, the girl is dead. Dead, after she went missing two divimarks ago with nothing more than the clothing she had on at the time. That she survived the wilderness—losing her boots along the way—is remarkable…and yet now she is dead by her own hands, which are wrapped around the knife she plunged into her heart.

An overly symbolic gesture, and Gavel wonders at it—but tales of It mention It is very formal and he well remembers how symbolic It was fifteen longmarks ago, so it makes sense that the final death wrought by Its curse would be formal as well.

"What is…" Tosh trails off as the other two members of the Inner Circle turn to look at where he is pointing. They three are the only ones present, for Janna thought it best to summon only the two men and not the entire Circle to view this death. That is Janna's right, for after the girl was found they all decided the healer would be the best one to look after her…at least for her last few days. Thus it was in Janna's house that this death occurred.

None of them had doubted Gitta would die soon, despite Janna's comment that she seemed to be in perfect health, but the addition to the death is chilling. Lying on the floor near the girl's corpse are five toes, severed at their bases, and there is a small pool of blood at the end of her right foot.

"We'll need to pray against the curse lingering," Gavel says to Janna.

---

Later, Illana looks out through the eyes of her city and sees that the Citizens are gone.

Night never falls on Encrys. She had forgotten that such is not true of other worlds.

Fin