The Age of Autonomy was not, as many past histories have suggested, an era of complete and total separation between the Shardworlds and their Shards. Worldhopping was forbidden, of course. Interplanetary trade was stifled. But the memory of the Shardic Wars was deeply ingrained in the Cosmere-aware populace of the Realms, and despite Autonomy's edicts, they built structures designed specifically so that such a thing could never happen again.
Of these, the Conclave of Shards was the most potent deterrent to war. The representatives of the Shardic powers met there and negotiated all throughout the Age of Autonomy and up through the beginning stages of the Final Shardic War.
Transcripts and recordings of their last meetings are instructive as to the efficacy of such institutions to maintain order in the absence of cultural supports. By all accounts, the Conclave worked exactly as it had been intended to. Even in the last weeks before the war became total, even after the meetings and representatives were publicly factionalized, the Conclave members met, attempting to negotiate their way out of a war that seemed increasingly inevitable.
As late as a single day before the final breakdowns, Conclave negotiators had identified ways for the factions to reconcile, and to pursue their aims in without resorting to violence. Open conversations on the Conclave floor were devoted to trying to work out plans for mutual cooperation. However, reticence on the part of several factions to reveal their true aims, paranoia that other factions would take advantage of apparent weakness, and several key communications breakdowns in the final stages of the negotiations meant that those negotations had failed to come to a conclusive agreement by the time factions made their move.
As far as can be reconstructed from the historical record, the faction that called itself the Stewards of Creation moved first, utilizing the power of Endowment to Return one of the fallen agitators who had been blamed for many of the increased tensions during the leadup to war, joining a suite of other Returned who - wittingly or unwittingly - provided intelligence to the Steward's central command. In response, GLaDOS abandoned their offers to cooperate for mutually beneficial ends, and accelerated their plans to indebt members of other factions to them by staging false attacks and saving their lives, thus acquiring leverage over influential individuals.
Seeing their position grow more and more precarious as the faction alliances began to fray apart, the Hidden Garden abandoned their own aims, instead throwing their weight fully behind the eviscerated remnants of the Utility Company, who had been the subject of a number of unfortunate 'incidents' and had not yet recovered. Together, they made a ploy to hold dominion over a network of Shardworlds, controlling the newly reopened trade routes from Roshar, Silverlight, and Taldain.
Those plans were foiled at the last moment by the inadvertent action of players trying to remain neutral in the growing struggle. The retaliation was swift and brutal, and only the intervention of the hidden Shard of Survival saved the worldhopper Toucan from a grisly fate.
Abandoned and friendless, the Joe Cloud faction could only watch as their own goals grew increasingly distant, holding the stolen Shard of Odium tight and threatening to unleash its wrath on anyone who got in their way.
The tragic result, of course, is well known.
- - - - - - - - - -
On a small island of stability in the far reaches of the Cognitive Realm, Sheon Idris sat alone. The wreckage of the last Shardic War had reached even here. As he watched, a stray bit of Odious investiture curled itself like a wisp of smoke. The crown that he had once worn lay on the ground in front of him, broken and twisted.
The woman's voice behind him startled himself out of his reverie. He half-turned out of reflex, the hint of a smile on his face. It was gone just as quickly as it had come. She hadn't come for ages and ages.
Khriss stood there, a scowl on her face, and a defeated slump to her posture. He hadn't heard the exact words she'd said. The look on her face told him everything he needed to know regardless.
"It's over, then?"
The look she gave him could have evaporated steel. "Odium and Dominion have shattered each other on Sel. There is nothing left. Not a single Shard remains intact." Her voice began to rise in anger. "Not a single Shardworld remains untouched, and only three of them can still support life unaided. Half a trillion souls are dead, and the wellsprings of all Investiture in the entire Cosmere are gone. Are you happy now?" The venom in her voice surprised him, a little.
He looked back at her with mild bemusement. "Happy? Why should I be happy? Why should anyone be happy now?"
She spat at him. "Look at you, sitting there. Still meddling and pulling strings, like some grotesque spider. Well, this is what you've brought us to. Even the factions you supported are all gone. The Stewards and GLaDOS control what's left. Maybe now you'll see that, if we had just left well enough alone, things might have stayed the way they were before you took it in your head to meddle with forces beyond the power of human reckoning!"
She took a breath as if to say more, then cut off when she saw his face, and the haunted look in his eyes. "You're more right than you know, of course. Completely wrong, but more right than you know."
"Once upon a time, long before you were born, there was...something more. Adonalsium, we called it. God, maybe. I don't remember why, anymore, but it was important that we killed him. We, Khrissala. I was there. By the end, I opposed the others, but it was my meddling that set them on their journey in the first place. It was my fault that the Shards came to be. You think my meddling caused these? You give me too much credit. The seeds of this were sown in the Shards themselves. But without my meddling, there would never have been Shards to war against each other."
"You said something right, though. The Shards are power beyond human reckoning. They shape and mold their bearers until they are something that is no longer human. They are parasites that slowly invade a consciousness until they have subsumed it, and then they follow their nature as surely as any animal. While the Shards rule, these wars are inevitable. This destruction is written into the future of Shardic rule as clearly as words on a page."
Khriss bit back a bitter laugh. "And that justifies you manipulating things, egging them on? I'm sure that's a comfort to the loved ones of half a *trillion* dead souls. I’m sure that the orphaned children and the widowed spouses and the childless parents will be so comforted to hear that your warmongering was just the acceleration of an inevitable event."
“Do you think that I wanted this? I tried to stop all of this.” Sheon gestured out at the devastation. “Everything I’ve ever done was in the service of peace.”
“Well you’ve done a piss-poor job of it!”
“Do you think I don’t know that! Do you think I can’t see it! Do you think that a day goes by that I don’t wonder if I had done something else, that all of the pain and suffering could have been averted?”
They were both practically shouting now. “Well if you had left well enough alone in the first place...”
Sheon cut her off. “The wars were inevitable. The Shards brought out the worst in us, our drive for power, our lust for mastery over other beings. I...” He paused for a moment. “My actions made them worse. I tried to stop them, tried to build something that could contain them. I failed. Maybe nothing I did could have prevented them.”
“Then you should have recognized that to start with, and left things alone.”
“How could I? I created the problem. And I have the power to fix it, if given half a chance.”
“What are you talking about? How could you possibly have fixed it?”
When Sheon did not respond, she turned back to look at him, and then stopped in mingled surprise and horror. Beyond him, in the distance, but somehow also so close that she could reach out and touch it, Investiture was gathering, streaming from myriad places. Fragments of Dominion raced in front of her face so close that she could almost feel it touch her.
Startled, she spun to follow the glowing trails of Investiture as they swirled past. Odium, Ruin, Preservation, Dominion. All of the shards and more, coming from every world and every corner of every realm, twisting and cavorting in complicated spirals that grew more and more intricate the longer they spun. And at the center...a figure, glowing so bright that even her eyes, used to the radiance of the Shards themselves, had to turn away from.
"Is that...is that?"
Sheon gave her a wan smile. "It is. It's taken long enough, but it is."
Shivering a little, she turned from the spectacle. "And I suppose you think that this end justifies everything?"
"Of course not. But it might just redeem everything."
"With Adonalsium back, humanity has another chance. A fresh start, without all-powerful but fatally flawed Shards interfering with each other and with the worlds. All of us, together, with a God who might actually deserve the name. Not just a personified force of nature that we tried to imbue with human visions of what a God ought to be, but a God put back together out of all the broken pieces."
As he spoke, he began to fade. Khriss began to stammer. "Where are you going? What are you doing?"
"My work is done. My crime is atoned for. I killed God once. I’ve brought God back now. But you, Khriss? Yours is just beginning. Just maybe, this time humanity can do better. And just maybe, you can be the one to make it so."
And then he was gone, the twisted crown clattering to the floor from where he had held it. A single word etched into it, in letters that burned like fire. Forgiven.
- - - - - - - - - -
AG5: One Final Blaze of Light is finished!
The Stewards of Creation have met their win condition to have Returned from 5 unique factions!
GLaDOS has met their win condition to prevent players from 5 unique factions from dying!
The Utility Company has failed to meet their win condition of outnumbering all other factions on three separate worlds!
ALL HAIL THE JOE CLOUD has failed to meet their win condition of having their living faction mates plus all players with the Shade role outnumber all other living players!
The Hidden Garden has failed to meet their win condition of fusing 5 Shards together!
Hoid failed to meet his win condition of getting any faction to collect all the Shards of Adonalsium!
Khriss failed to meet her win condition of inviting a member of 5 unique factions into her doc, killing Hoid, and preventing any team from winning via the Adonalsium Reborn condition!
Survival has met the win condition of surviving until the end of the game!