Now that Jason is dead, his tale is over. There remains, however, a bit more for me to tell: about the three friends Jason betrayed, about his legacy, and about his world in general.

With the supporting power of Life and Death gone, their works disintegrated. Every rabbit in the multiverse dropped dead; every undead creature stiffened, never to move again; and every more conventional magical beast—dragons included—disappeared without a trace. More important, what alterations the gods' influence had wrought on human minds were reversed. Not only did that sudden zeal for Life that had lately gripped every person in the multiverse disappear: that older, more gradually developed kind of chauvinism—the feelings that had caused two very heterogeneous groups of verses to put aside their differences and band together to fight an ideological foe to the last breath—began to gradually deteriorate. The fighting continued; after all, many of the smaller intradimensional wars that were the great war's origin hadn't needed divine help to begin. But no more were there only two sides. The individual nations began to bicker, then to fight, amongst themselves; the great war split into hundreds of normal-sized wars. And no more did anyone want to fight to the very end. For the first time in a long time, oaths of surrender, cease-fires, and peace treaties were drafted—and signed. Within a few years, the great war was for the most part over, and the Schism was beginning to narrow.

The world was still very different from what it had been a year ago. The most obvious changes were the omissions—billions of people had died in the war, never to be resurrected, and innumerable verses had been either nuked past the point of habitability or obliterated by the colossal magical explosion. It is difficult to overstate how much effect this had on those who lived, now that they were free of partisan frenzy. Analysts estimated that, modern society being highly interdimensional, at least half of all currently living humans had been personally affected—by the loss of a family member, a friend, a home, a job, or all of these and more. And this was only the most direct of the harm. The economic consequences rippled outwards through space and time like shockwaves, making rich nations poor and reversing developing nations' development.

If the war did any good at all, though, it was the end of the Prime Directive, the rule that verses with verseportation couldn't interact with those without. Such interaction had already very much occurred, so there was no use in trying to keep the truth from, for example, Earth. Thus it was that the UN was integrated into the IDC, and the United States suddenly became, by comparison, a deal less powerful than its citizens were used to. The Americans were humiliated—after stubbornly holding out against metrication for years, they now had to adopt not only new units of measure but hexadecimal, the IDC calendar, and Common. As you can imagine, though, the newly opened lines of communication across the multiverse benefited everyone.

How did most people look back on the war now? They shuddered—bloodlust was at an all-time low. How did they look back on the gods? With no great fondness. Few liked the prospect of eternal nothingness or eternal change; the religious increasingly saw both as antithetical to, rather than consonant with, their own gods' agendas. How did they look back on Jason Blue? Largely, with hatred and disgust.

Does that surprise you? I want you to realize that the truth of Jason's means and ends—not the lies about them he perpetuated, but the truth—was, by 2010 or so, well known. The popular opinion of Jason was founded on fact. Specifically, he was despised as conniving, treacherous, pitiless—as a destroyer of worlds. Had his divine enemies been worse yet? Probably. Had he ultimately done more good than harm? Few denied that. Yet these things didn't really absolve him of guilt in the public mind, no more than the trickster-god Loki's help with fighting frost giants and gifts of mighty magic had endeared him to the Æsir. It was, most thought, merely a stroke of good luck that Jason had saved part of the multiverse (and helped ruin the rest) instead of destroying the whole of it. And everyone was thankful that Jason had taken himself out as well.

Secretly, ever since devising his plan to destroy both gods simultaneously with a suicide strike, Jason had hoped for lasting fame. In a few difficult straits, he'd kept himself going by imagining the praises future poets would lavish upon him. Yet when he'd held the Black Scythe all alone, and all the world had turned against him, he'd abandoned such dreams, clinging instead to his own convictions. It was only appropriate, then, that the word "Jason" and various corruptions of it came to be used as insults. Thus branded were the sly, the self-centered, the unfeeling, and the traitorous. It wasn't too long before a particular kind of stock character had established itself in fiction: a deceitful, strangely powerful villain who befriends the protagonists and later betrays them. Though both his support and his betrayal end up helping the protagonists somehow, he is rotten to the core, and invariably finishes his role with an especially gruesome death, usually one he in some sense brings upon himself.

Jason's reputation did have one consequence that would've gratified Jason himself: the myth of the innocence of children was permanently debunked.

There were a few people who had, even years after the war, lost none of their passion for their late patron deity and its dream. Roland was one of these people.

The gods' destruction hadn't worked out well for him. All the years Life had lifted from his shoulders when he'd become its Champion had returned, while his right hand hadn't. His vengefulness and his dedication to his cause, without themselves declining, gave rise to intense bitterness as he aged. He wore contact lenses and a prosthetic hand, and hated them both.

Roland spent the rest of his life in futility, as the leader of an impromptu free city founded by a few hundred thousand diehard Life fanatics, whose goal was not just to recreate Gyeeds but to achieve as much of Life's ends as possible. They lived almost without laws, bred like rabbits, and conducted frequent guerrilla warfare against all nations that aroused their ire, which group comprised a good three-fourths of all known verses. They called their city Love.

Not a day went by that Roland didn't curse the name of Jason Blue. He wished he had simply killed the boy the day they'd met. He probably would've been executed for it, he thought. Still, he was convinced that, all things considered, it would've been for the better.

Curtis took about a year to recover from the shock. Increasingly, he'd come to sympathize with Life; for the space of a few hours, he'd been an adult, a husband, and a father. Now Life was gone, he was a young boy again, and his wife and son were dead. Despite his best efforts, he couldn't feel lasting grief for the latter two, given that he'd known them for less than a day. He simply didn't know what to make of it all.

In the meantime, Curtis had to decide what to do with himself. Where was he to live? Roland earnestly entreated him to come to Love, to take an important place in its administration, in fact. At that time, in mid-2005, the city was still in its infancy. Curtis declined (nudist colonies brought back bad memories for him), and the two of them never spoke again. He tried to reach his father, Akolos, King of Dojum, but a servant told him curtly that Akolos had long ago officially disowned him for joining Life's side. He wasn't even allowed anywhere on the island. Listlessly, he wandered through the multiverse for years, moving from one job and country to another every couple of months, whenever his need to be needed became intolerable.

Curtis finally came to rest at the age of thirteen, in a place called River Farm. It was a community of some three hundred children, mostly orphans, who worked together to live independently of adults without interrupting their educations. Each resident worked on the farm for a set amount of time each week. They put their products to use both by consuming them themselves and selling them, the profit going towards their living expenses. While they weren't working, they attended nearby schools (there were plenty to choose from; River Farm was in the suburbs of a major city) and also educated each other. Standards for productivity were high—newcomers who didn't pull their weight were quickly kicked out—so the farm was efficient and profitable. Curtis, wary of physical labor, was assigned clerical duties. He forced himself to do them well, and soon, the community came to accept him.

The very day he returned to school, Curtis began falling back in love with mathematics. It was cold and artificial, just as he'd said to Jason years ago, but he now realized—nay, remembered—how those qualities made math great. Math was free of the petty concerns of living things and the physical world; it was the study of pure thought, and not the vague, qualitative sort of thought that characterized art and literature, but a definite, quantitative sort all its own. In a world in which everything real was fuzzy and indistinct, only the unreal could be clear and precisely definite, and there was nothing so unreal as math. Mathematical truth was universal truth, and vica-versa.

The real turning point in Curtis's life came after he'd lived on River Farm for a little over a year, and advanced through many math courses. He was flipping through a textbook, looking for a discussion of trigonometric substitution to refresh his memory (no longer so keen as it had been at eight, alas), when he stumbled upon a unique equation, known on Earth as Euler's identity:

eiπ + 1 = 0

Its magnificence startled him. Here was a simple relation between what were probably the five most important complex numbers: the ubiquitous, fundamental integers 0 and 1; π, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter; e, the base of the exponential function that was its own rate of change; and i, the square root of −1 and the imaginary equivalent of 1. Moreover, the simplest arithmetic operation, addition, along with its iterated equivalent, multiplication, and multiplication's iterated equivalent, exponentiation, were all represented exactly once. Never before had Curtis seen nearly as much meaning compressed into so few symbols. Then and there, he decided to become a mathematician.

And so he did. Though he'd previously been most famous as an Imagination mage, Curtis all but abandoned sorcery to work on axiomatic set theory. Over decades, he published a handful of theorems that, despite their deceptively simple appearance, had profound implications for mathematics as a whole.

When he was twenty-nine, already a well-respected scholar, Curtis married a woman he'd met as a teenager on River Farm. They had two children. Curtis delighted to talk to his children about math and science and philosophy, and watch their intellects grow. The children likewise admired him. But they didn't feel altogether close to him; nor did his wife or anybody else. He was always at least a little removed from the real world. Long ago, he'd turned his attention to a loftier realm and never looked back.

Simon felt it was nothing less than a miracle that he was alive. Roland had killed him, Death had reanimated him, Roland had destroyed his skeleton, Life had reincarnated him, and then Jason had destroyed Life. In the end, Simon found himself back in his old body, squeaky voice and all—and Roland didn't even care to try hunting him down.

There still existed at this time Death-fanatics, people whose devotion to Death hadn't waned with its destruction and who were now forming a society of their own, just like Roland and friends. You may expect that Simon joined them. In fact, he steered well clear of them. Free both of Life's brainwashing and Roland's hatred, Simon no longer wanted anything to do with either side. Even if Death's old dream still appealed to him, he didn't want to kill again.

No longer did Simon's murder of his mother rest easily in his heart. For the first time, he grieved for Leela; he felt both despair and guilt acutely. Everyone else in the world, while praising Leela as the real hero of the multiverse, didn't hold any of Simon's atrocities against him; the consensus was that only one person could be properly held responsible for his actions in those last few months. Simon himself, on the other hand, more than once felt suicidal. He stayed his hand only because he thought that Leela wouldn't have wanted him dead. But what would she have wanted? he asked himself. What was the best thing to do now? How could he possibly redeem himself?

It was with these questions still at the forefront of his mind that Simon sought out the surviving Blues: Jason's mother, father, and sister. The Blues now knew Jason's fate as well as anybody else; they too had been part of the great hive-mind that had watched Jason climb the staircase. Recall that they had almost tried to stop him. And now that the multiverse was open for good, the Blues could watch the old television news stories that had featured Jason. But they'd never met Roland or Curtis; they didn't know anything more about him than the public did. Simon took it upon himself to visit them one day in 2007, two years after Jason's death, and tell them everything he knew of Jason's story. They listened with rapt attention, never interrupting even to ask a question. When he was finished, they offered not a word in reply. He could see them all thinking intently. For whatever reason, they didn't wish to share their thoughts with him. Eventually, they thanked him, and after a little more conversation, he left.

Barely had Simon closed the front door behind him when it popped open again. He looked back, and there was Joan. Though she'd turned seventeen four days earlier, the resemblance to Jason was striking: she looked like a teenage, female version of him. Simon imagined that some kind of Jason was staring back at him. No, he realized, he had it the wrong way around: Joan, being three years Jason's senior, had been born first. Joan wasn't a variation on Jason; Jason had been a variation on Joan.

"May I ask you something?" Joan asked. Her Common was superb.

"Yes, what is it?"

Joan took a few moments to carefully formulate her question. "Did my brother completely abandon his television theory after he heard your mother's theory of the gods?"

Simon blinked in surprise. "Oh, yes. He never mentioned it again. Clearly, he felt Leela's explanation had superseded it."

Joan nodded. "I'm not sure he was right about that, though."

"Really? You don't doubt the reality of the gods, do you?"

"Not at all. It's just that the gods and Leela's explanation of how they formed don't explain a few things Jason's idea explained. I'm thinking of magic spells in particular. They don't make sense if we assume a totally realistic and coherent world."

"Why not?"

"Well… don't you remember what you thought of magic, before you learned it was real?"

"I've always known it was real. I was born in Droydania, where spellcasting was discovered centuries ago."

"Oh." The idea seemed to deeply disturb Joan. "It's quite different for me. Magic has long had a place in our fiction, you know, but nobody on my planet ever discovered real spellcasting. We were all sure it was purely fictional until the Death-army came here to recruit the US military. Now, I'm a beginning Will mage." (The Gyeedian tradition of barring girls and women from spellcasting was rapidly declining.) "But magic still seems incredible to me. In English, we use the word for magic to mean something inexplicable."

"And so you―"

"Well, life for me is much more like a fairy tale than it used to be, even with the gods gone. That's all." She shrugged. "I'm surprised my brother was so willing to abandon that conviction."

As Simon had said, he'd always known magic was possible. He'd always been aware of a distinction between the spells of fiction and the spells of fact. At the same time, Joan's words rang true to him. Whereas technologies like electrical power and computers had developed out of pure mathematical or scientific theory, magic had been discovered by accident—and even now, it was the worst-understood major topic in science. Physicists had made the most progress in the last century or so by ignoring magic, since its behavior was so pathological. Countless fundamental questions remained unanswered. How was energy in the human body converted to spells? Why were some people natural mages and others magically inept? Why did different spells need the reagents they did? Why were some things easy with magic and other things impossible? And why was it that while most civilizations, given enough time, had discovered all major conventional technologies, many verses hadn't seen any magic at all until foreign spellcasters had visited?

Thus it was that Simon realized how best to carry on his mother's work. He became a thaumatologist—a researcher of magic.

The necessary education, formal and otherwise, took nearly a decade. As soon as it was over, Simon threw himself into study and experimentation. He wasn't rewarded—not at first, at least. His attempts to rough out a physical theory of magic, or at least some ground rules for its behavior that were consistent with the rest of science, were no more successful than those of his many, many predecessors. Instead, he found only a few new details of how magic interacted with itself.

By his fortieth birthday, Simon was thoroughly dispirited. Reminding himself that Leela had gotten nowhere in her investigation of the supernatural until she had stumbled upon the right approach, he cast about for a new line of inquiry. He flipped through a few scholarly journals. He couldn't avoid noticing that theoretical thaumatology was generally much less successful than applied thaumatology—that is to say, spell development. Could it be that spell inventors, seeking only practical utility and seeing deeper understanding as merely a means to that end, actually ended up learning much more than theorists? Could it be that magic, unlike physics and chemistry and biology, was simply resistant to the scientific method? It made no sense—but neither did magic. Simon decided to try it.

Like his mother before him, he had plenty of false starts. In years of investigating and working with all kinds of magic—flame-conjuring, animal-creating, telekinesis, teleportation, alchemy—he learned a good deal, more than he had as a theorist, but none of this knowledge was the kind he wanted. What he knew now was all kinds of tricks to make spellcasting more flexible and efficient, and countless rules of thumb for what to expect from unusual uses of magic. What he wanted to know was how to reconcile magic with basic rules of physics, or, at the very least, magic's internal logic: what made it tick.

Simon was fifty-two by the time he found the right field. In part, this was because the field in question barely existed until the 2030s. It was the magic of perception—sorcery similar in spirit to already existing alchemical artifacts like the Sensory Enhancer. As sorcery was more flexible than alchemy, much more interesting effects were now possible: "tactimancy", if you will, had begun with the invention of a spell that allowed one to see electromagnetic fields. Next came spells for identifying precious metals by taste and smelling strong emotions in nearby people. Many thaumatologists felt practical applications weren't far away. Simon's interest, on the other hand, was piqued by one researcher's offhand comment that "perhaps we'll find a way to magically detect one of those fields or forces the theorists have proposed". He might thus use magic to learn about magic. It seemed entirely appropriate.

Once he began his work on tactimancy, Simon was pleased to find himself making quick progress. With his first success, he could see latent magical energy, in people or in objects, as a pale blue glow. With his second, he designed a machine that could, with a little help from a human mage, tell any spellcaster's favored domain from a sample of their hair. He realized he had a good chance of making some fresh discoveries if he used these inventions as research tools, but he was inclined instead to dig deeper into tactimancy, so he left that work to the theorists.

The day to end all days came when Simon was sixty-seven—the same age that Leela had been when he had killed her.

After many years of labor, Simon had finally created a spell which, if his many calculations and wild guesses were correct, would give him unique insight into reality itself. He cast it.

At once, in his mind's eye, he saw some words. They were all arranged in a line, like text on a printed page, but the line seemed of vast length. He couldn't imagine how many sentences it comprised. He looked closely at the leftmost end. The script was wholly unfamiliar to him—compared to the stark, simple symbols of Common, these characters looked like pictographs. Yet somehow, without gaining any knowledge of the language the words were written in, he understood them. He read the sentence:

Jason's first impulse was that he was dreaming, since he had never seen a dragon before, much less been carried away by one.

Jason? Surely the text didn't refer to just any Jason. Continuing to read, Simon realized with a shock that he was looking at the very story he knew so well—Jason's story. Except, bizarrely, the style in which it was written was reminiscent not of a biography or a memoir but a novel.

Simon skimmed ahead. Soon, yes, he found mention of himself; despite the many decades that had elapsed since, the dialog sounded eerily familiar—he had a feeling that the work was no mere dramatization but a verbatim transcript. His eyes roved ahead yet more. Near the end of that mile-long line of text, he read of Jason's suicide strike. Immediately thereafter came the epilogue, which had a few things to say about Roland and Curtis that Simon hadn't known, and then—then, yes, there was this sentence.

But that was not the last sentence; nor was this one. The words weren't being written as the events they described happened; rather, there were a few more—just a few—past the ones Simon was reading right now—past the ones that described the present. He was quite suddenly more frightened than he had ever been before, in life or undeath, but he couldn't help it: he glanced at the end.

"No!" Simon shrieked, with yet more desperation, at a yet higher pitch, than Jason had shrieked that same word. He fell to his knees; tears fell from his eyes. He cowered on the floor and begged the world that he might wake up from this nightmare.

But Simon was not asleep; on the contrary, he'd seen a glimpse of the truth that no one of his world ever had before or ever would again. He'd sought that truth for over forty years. It was nothing less than what he'd wanted; it explained everything. Yet now that he'd experienced the horror of it, he wished for nothing so much as to forget it.

He was a fictional character.

And that was not the worst! The worst was—nay, is yet to come.

The story is over.