Ever After

The room is dark, coated with heavy silence. It has been hours since the last of the gunshots echoed away, and the final scream gurgled to its conclusion. It is almost possible to make out a figure kneeling in the centre, their body occasionally shivering in spasms of grief, though their voice has long since given way to quiet tears.

Far away in the tunnels, the sound of footsteps approaches, but the figure either ignores it or does not hear. They come closer, until they are almost at the door. Then all at once the peace is shattered by a heavy impact and a violent curse.

“Tim, you rancid prat! Why didn’t you warn me that was there?”

“Because being able to see in the dark also means being able to see you fall over.”

A gunshot rings out, loud and jarring. In the brief illumination, a handful of figures can be seen standing in the doorway.

“Jonny…”

“Oh, he’ll be fine. I shot him in the brain, so there’s not much needs repairing. Anyway, if you’d done your job and found us something to burn, Ashes, we wouldn’t be having this illumination problem in the first place.”

“You said the lights would still be working.”

“Well, they should be, I assumed–”

A voice cuts him off, the Cyberian accent edged with disdain. “If you’ll allow me.”

The lights come on all at once and the scene is laid bare: the king’s body slumped over his broken throne, the ragged red of his shattered chest patterning its ivory; General White, her remaining eye still widened in a mask of rage and hate; the three little pigs, their innards strewn across the floor, their masks crumpled and split.

The Mechanisms stand in the doorway, watching.

“So what did you do? Weird tech stuff or…?”

“Light switch,” Nastya pointed, “most rooms have one.”

A groan comes from behind them, as Gunpowder Tim stands slowly, rubbing his temple. He gazes around the room. “Bloody hell.”

“Yes it is,” Jonny turns to face the woman who walks with them, “I told you we’d be too late. I mean, I understand you were asleep for a good while, but you can’t expect a juicy battle like this to wait around while you recover. Maybe if you were more of a morning person, this wouldn’t have happened.”

She stares at him. Her hair cascades over her shoulders in an angry red waterfall and she has a good few inches on him. “I could kill you again, you know.”

“Yes you could, and don’t think I don’t appreciate the offer. Murder performed by a master such as yourself is a rare thing.”

It is Drumbot Brian who breaks the standoff, having spotted the kneeling figure and investigated.

“I think we have a survivor. It looks like…”

“Cinders!”

In a flash of red hair the Briar Rose is there beside her. Cinders looks up and for several long moments silence falls once again. The Briar Rose looks at what could be her own corpse, cradled in Cinders’ arms. Her face still has the vibrant glow of youth to it, a stark contrast to the aged and careworn features of Cinders. They embrace and the world is forgotten.

The Mechanisms watch. A smile plays on Jonny’s lips as the robot approaches him.

“I do love a happy ending, Brian.”

“That’s not the real Rose. All the memories and feelings were merely planted in her head.”

“Very true.”

“And given the effective age difference, it’s unlikely they’ll have much of a life together, not to mention the massive amount of trauma they’ve both endured.”

“Absolutely.”

“Not only that, but everyone else they’ve ever known or loved is dead and they’re trapped on a planet full of corpses in a vast interstellar empire that is going to suffer the most horrendous power vacuum and associated bloodshed the galaxy has ever seen. Oh, and they’re both known war criminals and will likely be on the run for the rest of their lives.”

“Like I said. I love a happy ending.”

They depart.