(This is part 6 of an 8-part series on the ending of the Alex Verus novels. The master post with links to all the other parts is here.)
Over the last two weeks we’ve talked about an alternate ending where everything goes right for Alex and he becomes a new supreme overlord.
But let’s be honest here – “everything goes right” has never really been the theme of the Alex Verus series, has it? So let’s turn the dial the other way.
At the end of Risen, Alex is dying. The fateweaver’s transforming his body, and shutting down his heart and lungs in the process. Anne gets to him just in time, and manages to figure out a way to merge Alex with the fateweaver and keep both of them alive. But doing so was very difficult, and required Anne to push her abilities to the limit. It wouldn’t have taken much for her to fail.
Anne tries to save Alex, but can’t. Alex dies at the end of Chapter 20.
Judging from reviews, a sizeable minority of readers seemed to like the idea of Risen ending like this. Alex had been prophesied to die, after all, so I think these readers thought that Alex sacrificing himself made for a fitting, if tragic, end to the story.
I think it might come as a surprise to most of those readers that, in this alternate version, the character who gets the happiest ending is in fact Alex. Yes, he dies, but he dies peacefully, in Anne’s arms, having prevented a second jinn war and finally defeated his old master. He voluntarily sacrifices himself to save his friends and his lover, and passes away believing that he was successful.
Unfortunately, he’s wrong.
To begin with, things in this alternate ending play out much the same. Under Landis’s command, the Council forces retreat from the shadow realm, with Luna, Variam, and Ji-yeong accompanying them.
Luna and Variam wait to hear from Alex, but as days turn into weeks, it becomes clear that this isn’t going to happen. Both of them mourn Alex, but recover, relying on each other to get through the loss.
The Council do their divinations and conclude that Anne is alive and that Alex and Richard are dead. With Alex gone, they have less reason to moderate their behaviour and will act somewhat worse than they would have done in the epilogue to Risen, but Levistus being dead does at least improve things somewhat.
So why is this ending called “Bad Things Happen”? Well, you might have noticed that there’s one very important character we’re leaving out.
Things Start To Go Wrong
In this ending, Anne escapes on her own just before the shadow realm’s final collapse, taking the marid’s ring with her.
Like Luna and Variam, Anne has to manage the shock of Alex’s death, but it’s much worse for her than for them since Anne knows that she’s probably the single person most directly responsible for Alex’s death. Alex took up the fateweaver to save her, replacing the hand lost to the injury that she caused, to try to protect her from the consequences of a decision that she made. Anne is an integrated person now, with both her dark and light selves merged into a single personality again, and that means that she can’t dodge responsibility for Dark Anne’s actions any more – everything that Dark Anne did is now something that was done by her. In the canon ending, Anne has Alex with her to help her through this, but in this version she’s got no-one.
With no-one else to turn to, Anne finally reaches out to Luna and Variam.
Things Get Worse
Anne meets with Luna and Variam and the three of them share news. Anne fills Luna and Vari in on what happened, but what she’s really looking for is forgiveness, and to try to regain their friendship.
Luna and Vari are having none of it. They’ve had time to accept Alex’s death, and they’ve also had time to draw the same conclusions that Anne has – they know that Alex would have wanted Anne to be safe, but they still very definitely blame her for what happened. Besides, the last time Anne met with Luna and Variam, it was to try to kidnap them (in the case of Luna) or to actually kidnap them (in the case of Variam). The fact that Anne killed Sonder in cold blood less than a month ago also doesn’t help.
Anne keeps calling on Luna and Variam in the following weeks, but the future encounters go no better. Luna and Variam don’t trust Anne any more, and aren’t shy about showing it. Eventually Anne has a run-in with a Council team, and is forcibly reminded that she’s still considered a criminal. The agreement that Alex negotiated before his death gives her some limited protection, but it’s clear that she can never go home.
At this point the full horrifying reality of Anne’s situation hits her as she’s forced to realise that she’s either driven away or caused the death of every single person who’s ever loved or cared about her. She’s lost everyone and everything, and it’s her own fault.
At which point Anne snaps.
Things Get Even Worse
Anne’s never been the most mentally stable of people. Now she’s got a combination of loneliness and crushing guilt pushing her over the edge, and no friends or family to pull her back from it.
It doesn’t take long before the first hunters start coming after Anne. Anne has inherited several imbued items from Alex, but not the divination tricks Alex used to hide them, and on top of that, it’s widely known that she’s in possession of the marid’s ring. Unfortunately, while the hunters know that she no longer has the marid’s powers, they make the mistake of assuming that that makes her an easy target. The encounters with the hunting parties quickly turn violent, and end with Anne as the only survivor.
Realising that she needs some kind of safe haven, Anne tracks down and gains entry to a shadow realm, wrests control of it from its current owners, and starts fortifying it against attackers. Taking a cue from Karyos, the hamadryad from the Hollow, she takes various plants, animals and other living creatures, and modifies them into living weapons. By this point the only human contact Anne is still getting is from people trying to rob and/or kill her, and so she programmes her creations to attack intruders on sight. She succeeds in securing her new shadow realm, at the cost of further isolating herself.
Alone, with no-one to talk to or break her out of her depression, Anne’s mental state continues to worsen. She starts brooding on everything that’s gone wrong for her, and all the people that are responsible. Her anger and resentment grows, until she decides to start doing something about it.
Things Get Even Worse Than Even Worse
Anne starts making raids into the normal world, targeting people who had hurt or victimised her, and spiriting them away to an unknown fate. Her adoptive family are the first to go, followed by the Dark mage Ji-yeong. After that Anne starts on more tangential figures, such as Council-affiliated figures connected to the times she was tortured or arrested.
After Anne attacks and kidnaps Saffron, a Keeper from the Order of the Star, the Council is finally provoked into a response. They send a Keeper task force to attack Anne’s shadow realm. Variam and Luna join the raid.
The Keeper task force breaks into the shadow realm and discovers a place of death and horror. Anne has devoted all of her considerable power and combat skill towards turning the place into a deathtrap, filling it with poisons, bioweapons, monsters, and the twisted, altered remnants of her kidnapped victims. The battle is vicious and bloody. Variam battles Anne; both try to kill the other and fail. Anne’s army is destroyed, but in the end Variam, Luna, and the rest of the Council mages are forced to retreat, leaving Anne in possession of a ruined and empty shadow realm.
And, Eventually . . .
Variam and Luna never see Anne again. Variam rises to a high rank in the Keepers, while Luna continues to run the Arcana Emporium. The Council considers a second punitive expedition against Anne, but after much argument Variam and Luna manage to persuade the Council that it would be unproductive. An uneasy peace is established.
Anne rebuilds the defences of her shadow realm and refills it with a new army of traps and monsters, even more horrifying and lethal than the last ones. Paranoid and convinced that everyone is her enemy, she stops leaving her shadow realm, waiting for the next invasion that she’s sure will eventually come.
The Council marks Anne’s shadow realm as “do not enter under any circumstances”. Over the years, rumours grow of the treasures that lie within. From time to time, adventurers defy the Council ban. Drawn by the tales of unfathomable riches, they sneak in alone or in small groups. They don’t return.
Decades pass. Anne grows old within her shadow realm, still continuing to fortify it. In reality the Council has long since forgotten about her, but Anne doesn’t know this, and wouldn’t believe it if anyone told her. By this point she’s gone completely insane, though it’s a highly functional insanity that doesn’t at all impair her magic or combat skills. She lives an extremely long life, extended to an unnatural length by her magic, protected and isolated in her fortress-realm. Essentially she’s become exactly like her old teacher, and were Sagash still alive, he would probably look upon Anne with approval.
By the time Anne’s longevity magic finally fails, almost no-one remembers the story of how her shadow realm got that way; all they know is that anyone who goes there never comes back. Anne dies alone and insane, with only her guardian monsters for company. Even after her death, her creations continue to prowl the shadow realm’s empty halls, still fulfilling their mission to kill anyone who enters.
And some day, far, far in the future, some very brave soul will enter the shadow realm. They’ll make their way past the decaying remnants of traps and guardian beasts, and somewhere in the treasury they’ll discover a mysterious golden ring . . .