Bastien had been determined to face his death with dignity, so he was appalled by the agonized wail that erupted the moment Gris Neath's sword plunged into his belly. He bit his lip to force himself into silence, but the weeping went on and on, growing louder and louder, until the whole world trembled with it.
All around him was a great upheaval, a deep, shuddering groan as if the very air were in pain. Then the ground shook in a series of impacts. Through his blurring vision, Bastien realized that Gris Neath's armor was falling apart, striking and thudding against the ground piece by piece.
There was nothing and no one underneath.
Then he was on the ground himself, and Thistle's hands were trying to cover his wound, and Thistle's strained, pale face was bent over him. "Why?" he was demanding, through gritted teeth, "Why didn't you defend yourself? Why aren't you calling your power?"
A wave of amusement washed over his pain. "What power would that be, my dear?"
"You know! Oh you know. Why are you pretending like this? Why do you keep dying? Why won't you stop bleeding?"
It was becoming more difficult to speak, but Bastien's mind was also growing clearer and clearer, as if he were waking from a long, dreary sleep. He drew Thistle's hand to his pendant, holding it fast despite all its efforts to wriggle away and return to his bleeding stomach.
The ivory blazed to life. It burned through their skin and charred their flesh, but they were both past pain now, past fear. Light rushed through them both until their blood ignited and their very bones glowed. And Bastien, who was not really Bastien Brume at all, remembered all that he was.
He still bled around the sword that now blazed silver, for even a deity was not immune to one of the most powerful of heaven's divine blades. But he was smiling, for his Fate had not been so futile after all.
"Your sentence has been commuted for decades now, my heart," he said, fighting for every word. "There is a new emperor in heaven. He's sent envoys to tell you that the old regime has passed. You're free. But it seems you've bound yourself so tightly to these old, singing chains that they're all you can hear."
Thistle--who was not really Thistle, nor a demon, nor the dark god Gris Neath--gnashed his teeth. "Yes, I was wrong! I'm mad, aren't I? I'm always wrong. Didn't you say so, back when we fought? Or have you forgotten our old war?"
"I have," the dying god admitted. "All I remember now is how I've missed you. I must have been wrong too. I'm sorry."
"But why did you have to come yourself, you stupid dog? Why didn't you just send me a messenger with this pendant?"
Brontide, the Thunderdog, sighed affectionately. "But could you have borne touching it? If I didn't hold your hand?"
And Thaloglas, the Cat-of-Lightning who had been cast down from heaven so long ago, laid his head down on his lover's breast. "You must go back to heaven," he insisted. "The Moon Mare must heal you. Oh, you silly puppy, I'm so afraid-- Someone must fly you back. But it's been so long, I think I've forgotten how."
"I told them." Brontide was wheezing now. "That I will bring you back. In a human lifetime. And not only that. But you will carry me. All the way home." He favored his lover with his silly, besotted smile. "You've done it before. Many times now. Stronger than you think."
Then the weary Thunderdog lapsed back into silence. For he was a god of few words and the sky shook each time he spoke.