To all students, honored guests, and curious passersby whom the threads of fate have brought here, I bid you welcome. You may ask what purpose there is in celebrating the life of an immortal; to that I say what greater challenge could there be, to speak of what has been spoken of forever and still find something new in the telling? These words are, in many ways, my gift.

I have known many joys in my time here in the halls of the Mercura Academy, from my earliest days as an initiate polishing floors to my current tenure as a Grand Scholar polishing minds. It has been ageless centuries of knowledge and wisdom for me here, lit by the light of discovery and warmed by the intense love I have felt–we all have felt–for Nevra, our beloved Witch Queen.

I still remember, when I had first gotten it into my mind to enter the Dark Room for my Ordeal, Nevra drew me aside and asked what I foresaw. That has always been my gift and my curse, to see plainly the threads of fate which stretch out and intertwine before us, much like it has always been the Witch Queen’s gift and curse to inspire her students to ever-greater heights of learning and achievement. I told her that I saw two threads leaving that room; one bore me to ever-greater feats of arcane discovery, and one was a miserable shadow of death.

That day, I survived – I survived the Ordeal that we must all pass through to prove our worthiness to the Witch Queen, the fire in which we are tempered. But I have often thought of those two threads in the Dark Room, the thread of discovery and the thread of death. When my research seemed at a dead end, when all seemed lost, I reflected upon the alternative, and all that beloved Nevra has given us.

Now I wonder if perhaps I was mistaken. Could it be that I have followed the thread of death’s shadow all these long and many years?

After all, we Grand Scholars of the Witch Queen are bound to the Academy for all eternity. Once we have survived the Ordeal, our sole purpose is to produce research and the arcane. We worship our Queen with our minds and bodies forever. I ask you: is that not a purgatory? Is that not a hell? For what is an afterlife but an eternity in the service of, under the heel of, a capricious deity?

None here have ever seen the Dark Room of the Witch Queen, none but we Grand Scholars, and I hope that you never do. It is a cruel machine, a murder engine, and Nevra’s most promising students are its meals and repast. What just and loving goddess would need such a thing? What just and loving goddess would want it? The Ordeal requires an hour in that chamber of horrors, but it might as well be a year for all the hundreds of lives it has claimed. The souls of those who have failed haunt me in my waking life, even as I have relied upon them to drive my quest for discoveries. Lectra knows of what I speak, and Richenda. My dear brother, here with me today, knows in the most bitter way of all.

The Nevra we have all seen is a Witch Queen indeed, insatiable in her hunger for knowledge of the arcane arts. We have put aside our health, our friendships, and even our love of anything but Nevra herself, in the pursuit of knowledge. She directed us to cast aside our familiar bonds as relics of an old world, of dead lives. New life was denied us, for who could need a child when they were in possession of life eternal? There could only be love of, and love for, our dear Witch Queen.

And what has the Witch Queen done with all her knowledge of life and death? What has she done with secrets carved from the bodies of innocents in order to make strides in their research? I have loved pursuing new ways of enriching and lengthening lives with Nevra. Once I thought it was a noble and worthy calling, but slowly the lives that we have achieved have become cursed. The Witch Queen has build a gilded cage for all of us, and I have been complicit in this, singing sweetly the whole time.

What do the threads tell me now, when I look into the future farther than I have ever been able to, or dared? I see that the people, Nevra’s people, need death. They–you–ache for release. I can see this as clearly as I’ve ever seen anything. Death must walk among the people once more, for without death, life is void of meaning. I see clearly now that this entire place exists only to please Nevra, to feed her insatiable need for adoration. Immortality is lonely, and we are the toys and trinkets with which the Witch Queen surrounds herself in order to feel whole.

You don’t know that you want death, but you do. You’ve longed for it for so long. This whole kingdom is built from bones and we’re the living corpses that haunt its streets. You and I are dancing ghosts stuck in an endless waltz. The time has come to end things, to give death back its reign, before the Witch Queen gathers the threads of fate into her own hands and ushers in a terrible world where she has slain death itself.

But I am forgetting myself! This is a celebration, after all, and what is a celebration without gifts? Gifts for Nevra, gifts from her three Grand Scholars!

The first birthday gift is from Lectra the Infector. It’s called the Long Farewell; you may have heard of it. A poison so deadly that the gods themselves would wither and die if it touched their lips. Sometimes it takes week to take effect, sometimes only days, but death is a guarantee. Everyone who has touched the wine will bid adieu, even if they merely brushed a bottle in passing.

“It’s been a pleasure, my queen. May my gift leave you trembling, breathless, flushed. Do not weep for your lost years, for the last moments will be as aeons. Pain is the ultimate immortality.”

And, of course, Richenda has a gift to bestow as well, do you not, my pale and wan cutter of threads?

“My lady, whisper low and hear my plea. My gift unwrapped is but a token, for what follows is the barren rage of death’s eternal cold. Death your bones with dust shall cover, for no love toward others in that bosom sits. A wyvern’s bone, not yet still in its grave, for those for whom a death envenomed is too slow.”

And now, my dear Witch Queen, dearest Nevra, I give to you my gift: this final prophecy. I have followed the threads of fate to their conclusion, and they tell me thus. You, who has long sought to conquer death, shall see your long life ended by the one you love most.

We leave you now with our gifts; enjoy them to the full. Happy birthday, my beloved.

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