Pan Post 150 has the Sepulchral Phantom guide Rosebud Emp through the various realities of Highemperor and what might have been. This Rosebud married Harriet Emp and had children and doesn't regret his life. First the phantom shows Rosebud a reality where he accepted his birthright as king of Armenia and in that reality he is alone on the island of Atlantis with his wife Alole and their daughter Iriana. Rosebud sees nothing to make him regret his choices. The second vision is of Highemperor the Lazarus Lord who sleeps every one hundred years to rejuvenate himself. He stands adored by the masses and is with his wife Losien the Lazarus Queen and daughter, also Iriana. He does, however, have cruel and sinister servants that Rosebud dislikes and the Phantom reveals that Alole died in this timeline. The Phantom shows Rosebud the fate of the Highdeity who controls all Multiverses and realities in a dreamlike state. Rosebud asks why he is shown these things because he is ever resolute that his life was best. The next sees the end of the Time-Lock War but it ends with Highemperor declaring a truce and becoming friends with his former enemies. The Phantom states this as the saddest of all the visions as it was the one that might have come true. In the end he is returned to his deathbed where he meets Death, or Aire as she is known, who takes his soul. He is still determined that he has had the best life of all those shown to him and when he dies he sees his long dead wife, Harriet Emp.
Dreams That Never Were
But not the one we know.
A forested hamlet in Europe is bright with lights, despite the darkness of the night. A holiday feast is still in full swing on this Yuletide[Ext 1]. In the large banquet hall at the center of the town, the old man at the head of one table finishes his drink, and smiles as one of his many great-grandchildren runs past, being chased by another.
Rosebud Emp: I think I'm gonna call it a night.
The significantly less elderly man next to him turns to him.
William Emp: You okay, Dad?
Rosebud Emp: I'll be 90 in three days. At that age, these old bones get tired quick.
William Emp: Well, at least let the kids hug you goodnight.
William and his wife Candy summon the grandkids and great-grandkids to hug the patriarch of their family, bidding him sweet dreams, before he shuffles off to bed in the hamlet's biggest house, now practically a manor. He had built most of it with his own hands as a young man, raising a son there with his wife, and a town had sprung up around it.
Now, though, his son and daughter-in-law dwell in the manor, which he had freely relinquished to them, claiming only a single bedroom for his own. His wife Harriet is gone, passed a year ago, and Rosebud feels Death coming for him soon too. He is ready for it, having lived a full and happy life, and leaving many happy and prosperous scions behind.
It seems scarcely an instant has passed after closing his eyes, but when he blinks them open at the sound of a whisper of motion, it is deep in the night. A tall, imposing figure stands beside the bed.
Rosebud Emp: Erro?
This said blearily as he blinks the sleep out of his eyes. That is ridiculous, of course; Erro died back in the 1930s at a ripe old age himself. But no, it isn't his old friend and fellow Leaguer. This is a spectre, hooded and cloaked in a midnight blue so dark it's barely distinguishable from black.
Sepulchral Phantom: Tell me, Rosebud Emp...are you satisfied?
And Rosebud knows it is his time.
Rosebud Emp: Yes, I am. And I am ready to be reunited with Harriet.
Sepulchral Phantom: You have lived a strange life, Rosebud Emp. Once you were a prince, and your wife was but the 87th of your harem. But you forswore the crown and, after many years as a successful adventurer with the League, settled down with her in this forest. You and she both relinquished the titles by which you were known, and chose names for yourselves. The prince became the hunter became Rosebud. The 87th Harem Girl become First and Only Wife became Harriet.
Rosebud Emp: It does not seem so strange to me, though I know many are less fortunate than I have been.
Sepulchral Phantom: Indeed, Rosebud Emp. There are some less fortunate...and there are some more fortunate. Tell me, do you ever doubt the course that your life might have taken?
Rosebud Emp: I do not, spectre.
Sepulchral Phantom: Then heed me well, for it may be said that sowing doubt is a purpose to which I abscribe. Dream, and see that which never was...
But not the one we know.
Nor the one Rosebud Emp knows.
A tiny island is but a speck in the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. A lush forest of palms lends shade to the briny air, and on one side of the island lies an ancient structure surrounded by gardens and a grove of snowblossom trees.
Alole: I am happy, Highemp, here with you.
The young princess of the lost Atlantean dynasty is cradling a newborn babe to her breast, feeding her. She sits on a swing in the grove next to her husband, whose arm is around her shoulders. He smiles broadly at her, affection evident in his face.
Highemp: And I with you, my darling. I...do not honestly know if I have ever truly been happy before. But I like it, I like it very much. I love you dearly.
She snuggles her head into his shoulder.
Alole: And I you, Highemp. Oh! Iriana is done feeding, and now it seems she wants a nap. Shall we put her to bed and give her a sibling?
Highemp laughs happily and kisses his wife and daughter...
On the seashore, Rosebud Emp and the Sepulchral Phantom watch unseen.
Rosebud Emp: Who is he, spectre? That man...he seems so very familiar.
Sepulchral Phantom: He is the man you might have been, if you had claimed the power that is your birthright, and not suffered tragedy.
Rosebud Emp: I have claimed no power, birthright or no, but neither have I suffered tragedy. He is happy, and I am glad for him; but it does not change my happiness with my own life, my real life, the one I chose.
The Sepulchral Phantom makes no reply, and Rosebud finds himself falling into mist...
But not the one we, or Rosebud, or the happy husband of a living Alole, know.
Instead of a tiny island, a great continent has been wrenched from the seabed, and a grand and futuristic city of sophisticated magitech covers it in a maze of spires and pyramids. The tallest and widest building lies in the very center: the Lazarus Citadel. Around it are large, excited crowds, cheering as the snow falls lightly.
TLTE the Royal Herald: Rejoice, O people, for our lord awakens, and with him the eternal spring returns!
Hourglasses everywhere throughout the rebuilt Atlantean continent, and across the multiverse, empty completely into their bottoms. Within the tallest tower of the Lazarus Citadel, the shell encasing a fabulous throne recedes in overlapping plates. A man steps out of it, glowing brightly, and walks to the balcony. As he appears, the sun comes out, and warm winds blow throughout the world, melting the snow as flowers bloom spontaneously.
Highemp, the Lazarus Lord: My people!
Raucous cheering greets him, and it is some time before he is able to complete his speech. When he does, he enters his palace once more, as wild celebration erupts outside. His wife, the Queen Losien, and his daughter, Iriana Emp, greet him with embraces.
Queen Losien: We missed you that year.
Iriana: Don't worry, Daddy, I kept her company. The NeSferatu are waiting to report to you.
Highemp, the Lazarus Lord: I will see them now. I trust you two are well?
The queen and princess nod as three lank, pale figures cloaked in black enter the room. One is a woman, two are men.
Highemp nods at them but looks at the central figure between the other too. He too is draped in a black cloak, but he is less human looking. Whereas the other two take pains to maintain their good looks, this one is gaunt and even paler. His fangs are so long it's a wonder he can talk with them, and his eyes glow red. Curiously, an iron pot is upon his head like a hat.
NeSferatu King Tony: The NeSferatu remain loyal to you, my lord. Though as always we hunger for your bloodink.
Highemp smiles thinly. Thanks to his rejuvenation every one hundred years, he is invulnerable, and his bloodink untouchable. As the only user of bloodink - all others hunted down by his NeSferatu servants - he is virtually all-powerful in the narrative realms.
Highemp, the Lazarus Lord: Excellent. You have done well.
Watching unseen from the balcony are Rosebud Emp and the Sepulchral Phantom. When they speak, their words are unheard except by each other.
Rosebud Emp: It's that same man. The other "me". But what happened to his first wife?
Sepulchral Phantom: He is and he is not the same man. In the same way that he is and is not you. In this reality, his first wife, as you called her, died. But his schemes to bring all stories to heel bore fruition. He is the Phoenix King, the Lazarus Lord, the Holy-Blooded.
Rosebud Emp: Those terms mean nothing to me. Is he truly happy? He has it good now, it seems, but he has suffered loss in the past, it seems. Surely that must still weigh on him. And he employs such sinister servants.
Sepulchral Phantom: He think he is happy. In the end, is that not the trait shared by all happy people?
Rosebud Emp makes a noncommital answer, and then he is falling into mist a second time...
Date: Beyond Forever.
Location: Beyond Forever.
Beyond anything we, or Rosebud, or his alternate selves, know.
A great city, carved of invulnerable marble in Greco[Ext 3]-Roman[Ext 4] style and lush with greenery, floats in the golden sky of eternity. At its heart, soaring up into the sky, is a magnificent palace, and in the throne room gods hold court. Five thrones are arrayed on a great dais. Twin sisters and a former peasant, all queens, claim three of them, and at the central throne's right hand is the empress Galatea. The central throne itself, the grandest, holds Highemp, but he is radiant with power and glory. Supplicants bow before him, and he grants them fabulous boons.
Rosebud Emp: I don't understand. What are we seeing? Another power fantasy like the last one?
Sepulchral Phantom: That, and more. This man's master narrative succeeded. He ascended and is now truly and totally supreme, fully omnpotent and omnisicient. He is no longer Highemperor, but Highdeity.
Rosebud Emp: Wait...Highemp was short for Highemperor? So what do they call Highdeity for short? Heidi?
He guffaws. The spectre makes no sound, but after a moment, resumes.
Sepulchral Phantom: Highdeity lives in splendid bliss, and all multiverses everywhere and everywhen prosper, time and space utterly rewritten. Everyone loves him, and even his fleet of God-Killer Machines cannot harm him.
Rosebud Emp: Wait, everyone loves him? Did he... control their minds or something?
Sepulchral Phantom: When you are a dreaming, and someone in a dream does as you wish, are you controlling their minds?
Rosebud Emp: I suppose not, but that's because they're just a figment of my imagination.
Sepulchral Emp: And so all the multiverses are to him.
Rosebud Emp: To view people that way, that's...monstrous.
Rosebud Emp: Or is all this simply in his own head, and not actually real?
Sepulchral Phantom: It is as real as any dream. And yet, this is one reality that would not, could never, happen. The flimsiest of all impossibilities.
Rosebud Emp: Even if it were possible, I don't know that I would want it. It's...it's not me. Why do you show me these things, spectre? To make me doubt my lot? To what purpose? It is not working, you know.
He receives no answer, but instead falls into mist yet again.
The Solar System.
But not the solar system we-- You know what? You get the point by now. Carry on.
Space is littered with debris as a great battle is fought between two cities floating in the void. Hovering over the balcony at the top of the tallest tower in one city, is a girl, addressing her father.
God-Monarch Chimaat: This doesn't have to happen, Daddy. You can end the fight, walk away, and enjoy your harem forever.
Highemp's eyes brighten, evidently remembering his pre-battle orgy the previous night.
Highemperor: A lovely thought! And of course, I shall do exactly that - after I ascend to true Godhood over Forever and fill everyone and everything with utter eternal joy.
God-Monarch Chimaat: No, Daddy. Stop the battle. You don't need true Godhood to be forever happy with your harem, do you?
Highemp eyes her shrewdly.
Highemperor: Do you remember something about how this turns out?
God-Monarch Chimaat: I can't, Daddy. Not for sure. It's all vague and hazy. But I know it does not end well.
Highemperor opens his mouth to retort, then stops. He considers, and for the first time in eons, truly searches himself. Then he finally speaks.
Highemperor: I have striven for so long, and never has the striving brought anything but more striving. Have I forgotten what it means to be content?
A glimmer of hope appears in his daughter's eyes.
Chimaat: You'll remember, Daddy. I know you will.
And so Highemp commands a full withdrawal of his forces. He resurrects his pantheon, and makes peace with Imeryn and her God-Monarchs. Imeryn, Ameryl, and Peasant Girl are not willing to rejoin his side, as he had once dreamed, but they at least part on somewhat amicable terms, and for the first time, Highemp, Imeryn, and Peasant Girl are able to think of lives that are not wrapped around old obsessions.
Highemp immediately halts all High Imperial conquest initiatives and gives orders that any and all parts of the High Empire that wish independence are to be given it. About half of his far-reaching realm adores their god-king, and gladly stays with him, but the rest are too pleased to be given autonomy once more. He releases the sciences of replication magitech to all who wish it, so that any may prosper with its freely given bounty.
Highemp releases Serleria back to Mootchief Minos' control, which is truthfully all the old alitaur ever wanted. Minos gives Highemp a slap on the back and invites him to party at his place any time, and they become friends. Highemp works with the titans to make a new and perfect primal she-dragon mate for Typhon, and the ancient dragon at least releases his old hatred. Highemp frees all the quantum gods composing his flagship, and the Ascension is more than happy to rebuild its home univese side-by-side with the quantum deity it once worshipped. Neith Lieren, upon seeing that Highemp is no longer a threat, takes command of her Void Rangers again and resumes her long vigil over the multiverse. Zhuge returns to his shoe on Orion, satisfied that Highemp has seen the error of his ways.
Dave shacks up with Chimaat (both of her!), and...well, actually, they're just as happy as they would have otherwise been, that is to say VERY.
And Highemp lives happily ever after with his harem.
Rosebud Emp: You know, you really didn't have to show me the harem. Hearsay would have been great. This seems to be a very happy ending. He turned back from the path of obsession and destruction, and achieved some concrete good before settling down happily ever after. Wouldn't trade it for my life, but I'm nonetheless glad for him.
There is a silence, and after a moment, Rosebud turns to look at his companion.
Rosebud Emp: Spectre?
[i]Sepulchral Phantom: This is the saddest of all the realities I have shown you.
Rosebud Emp: What? Why?
[i]Sepulchral Phantom: Because of all the possibilities I have shown you, this one was the closest to becoming reality.
Rosebud Emp: Uh...I don't know if you noticed, but my life is far removed from all of them.
Sepulchral Phantom: Therein lies your error, Rosebud. These men are not reflections of you, but they are reflections of the same man you yourself are a reflection of.
Rosebud Emp: Wha--?
Then he is falling through mist.
When next Rosebud opens his eyes, he is back in his bed. A young woman dressed in a fashion with which he is entirely unfamiliar greets them with a pout.
The Sepulchral Phantom says nothing, but a light bulb goes off inside Rosebud's head.
Rosebud Emp: Wait - he's not Death? You are?!
Death/Aire: I get that a lot. I blame ol' Pesu. Always dressing up in cloaks and skull masks. Now people expect me to the do the same thing, but I'll be damned if I'm not gonna look fashionable!
Rosebud Emp: I am pleased to meet you, er, Death.
Rosebud eyes the soda can in her hand askance.
Rosebud Emp: The door to heaven is through there?
The girl has the grace to blush.
Death/Aire: Nnnnnot exactly, it's just what I keep your soul in till I get to you final destination, which is, yes, heaven for you, in case you were worried.
Sepulchral Phantom: Hold, before you go. Rosebud Emp, with all you have seen, what say you?
The old man smiles.
Rosebud Emp: My answer is the same as before. I am content.
Death/Aire: Happy, Morthy? Alright, Mister Emp, in you go, I promise it only stings a little--
For one final time, Rosebud falls into mist, and this time he falls further and further than before. Then his eyes blink open. Light his surrounding him, and old friends are gathered around him to greet him enthusiastically. A woman as gorgeous as she is familiar takes his hand.
Harriet Emp: I missed you, Rosebud.