The Solars face their deadliest adversary yet and prepare for the worst.
“Fifty is the golden anniversary… the orichalcum anniversary, maybe?”
The unnatural storm cloud continues to roll in across the river as the Circle looks on. They rush to get Hope and Exquisite Tide to the manse; All Fates Saved is rooted to the spot because of the approaching Deathlord, and Jorek persuades her to get moving, although he is a little too harsh in his attempt. A voice rumbles from the cloud: “Your tactic of assembling all targets in one location has been noted.” The Deathlord claims to be owed one father, one sister, and one lover, having already taken one daughter from the Solars, a part of the bargain he made with Three Fates Shadow. And even though she no longer exists, he is single-mindedly pursuing the other targets, unable to be budged. Jorek is able to discover some other things the Deathlord would accept in lieu of the three deaths: the destruction of three of the Solars; total fealty from one; or the death of an Incarnae.
Valeria uses her considerable strength to try to weaken the Deathlord’s resolve, but to no avail. When the Gentle Father asks for an hour of truce in order to show them one other possible option, they agree. The dark stormcloud parts, revealing Sola, now a girl of twelve, with a cracked, bloody disc on her forehead: Requiem of the Unnecessarily Sacrificed. The Deathlord offers the return of Sola in exchange for the lives of the three targets, but Jorek delivers an ultimatum: pull back, or be destroyed. The storm cloud rolls back over the water, waiting for the hour to elapse. As the Solars move back towards the manse to see their loved ones again before the coming battle, Valeria is distinctly cold, refusing to see Hope or Speaks-of-Silence again. Jorek moves to inspire confidence in her, but Valeria uses her Essence to banish the thought from his mind. All Fates Shadow, looking on, can only lament: “This is how it begins.”
Valeria and Exquisite Tide stand, looking out at the cloud: the Zenith lets Tide off easily, saying she won’t be disappointed if she chooses to flee the coming battle, but the Terrestrial stands her ground. She also tells Val that she had found Ember’s mother, very much alive, currently hiding out “in a cave once made for foxes”. Back in the manse, Rey is terrified of the coming battle, but Speaks-of-Silence boosts her confidence, playing the Deathlord off as no big deal.
The cloud rolls back, and the Circle engages in an epic battle for their loved ones lives. All Fates Shadow screams defiance at him: “I fight not for the Unconquered Sun, but for Creation!” The Deathlord is initially hidden in the dark cloud, unable to be attacked. He summons lightning down onto the surface of the river, which Exquisite Tide attempts to hold back by icing it over. Jorek and Valeria attempt to drive off Requiem in order to avoid hurting her; Rey leaps up into the cloud and, along with the others, is able to locate the Deathlord. Knocking him down from a tree in which he was taking refuge, the beast summons some wights from the ground and goes on the offensive. He is able to hurt Val and, catching Rey, rips off her jaw and throws her against a tree, killing her. Jorek and Valeria, fighting with renewed strength, manage to find a chink in the plate armour of the Deathlord and end him. Final Beat, brimming with Essence, rewinds time, reversing the Gentle Father’s actions from the previous few moments, saving Rey’s life. The Deathlord’s spirit begins to escape: All Fates Shadow leaps up to grab him as Valeria uses her Zenith powers to re-materialize him. Pummeling his weak form on the ground, All Fates Shadow is at a loss as to what to do, her journey to free herself finally at an end. Valeria burns his form away… and the Circle takes in their victory, intact.