Nii spared a moment to glance at what was left of Houtou Castle.
If he’d been able to view it from a safe distance instead of up close and personal, he would have applauded. The effect was breathtaking -- better than anything he’d seen in the movies or on TV. Portals to other dimensions appeared on all sides, white dust swirling within iridescent indigo and amethyst edged with carmine and citrine. Walls were breaking free of their moorings, crumbling and collapsing at random. Glass was creaking, ready to crack and join the shards already littering the floor, making it dangerous to walk around without thick, protective soles. A few small pieces had even lodged themselves in his habitually unkempt hair.
All hell was breaking loose. He’d known that gathering all five sutras together in one place would wreak destruction on an unimaginable scale. What had created Togenkyo and was meant to sustain it was now tearing it apart.
But there was a catch.
He’d been so absorbed in his pursuit of negation and chaos that he hadn’t thought about what it might mean for him.
Where did he fit in a world where Gyumaoh was revived and ascendant, he owed his freedom to Gyokumen, and the two of them ruled over slavering, mindless youkai whose primary instinct was to feed on humans? What place did he have when natural disasters or rampaging youkai had destroyed everything he needed to continue his experiments?
He’d known all along that he was Gyokumen’s plaything and that her primary allegiance -- after herself -- was to Gyumaoh, not to him. Their liaison had been a way of passing the time, of scratching an itch. He had no reason to expect mercy or consideration from her.
He had even less reason to expect them from Gyumaoh.
Gyumaoh was pulsing within the ugly womb in which he was suspended, nearly able to free himself. Gyokumen punched holes in his chrysalis with her sharp claws. Nii -- or was he Ukoku now? It was difficult to keep track anymore -- was struck with the sudden conviction that Gyumaoh’s first act, at Gyokumen’s behest, would be to snatch and thrust him down his sizeable gullet. In his mind, he heard the sound of his bones breaking and of Gyumaoh’s molars grinding his flesh to paste. He foresaw how his power would rejuvenate the demon king.
His victory had proved hollow. Even though the death and utter destruction of every last one of his opponents was assured, from that brat who called himself Genjyo Sanzo, to the human form that hid the Seiten Taisei, to the turncoats from Houtou like Kougaiji and Professor Hwan, it wasn’t enough. For him to perish along with them ... well, that wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out, was it?
If that bitch Gyokumen hadn’t lied to Kougaiji about reviving his mother, he would have remained loyal, as would the rest of his group and Professor Hwan. If everyone had remained loyal, it might not have been necessary to use all five sutras, and the revival wouldn’t have meant the end of the world as they knew it. Damn Gyokumen and her shortsightedness. She and Gyumaoh might rule, but once their subjects made short work of the few remaining humans, what kind of world would it be? Would it even be worth ruling over?
Now that his personal calculus had concluded that zero equals zero, he picked a large shard of glass off the floor. He shrugged shoulders now bereft of the Muten Sutra and pierced his heart with surgical precision. Just before he crumbled into nothingness, he wondered: was there room in their bet for a draw?
Soon, it was as if he’d never existed in the first place. The sutras twined and writhed around each other, the castle walls continued to collapse, and a large window blew out and shattered on the cold stone floor. A beam pierced Gyumaoh’s cocoon. When Gyokumen realized that he was bleeding out and there was no way left to revive him, she slashed herself with claws that had killed so many others.
In the wasteland around the castle, a single blade of grass poked through the ground, but there was no one left to see it. Perhaps the gods would try again and repopulate Togenkyo. Or perhaps they would wash their hands of the whole thing and leave that single plant and its progeny as a memorial and silent witness to what had gone before.