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"Two years " Justin breathed the word. "My father has been dead for two years " His whole body shook. For a moment, Rika wanted to reach out to him, but what was she supposed to say?
Kyra knelt back over Tamerus' body, still lying where it fell, a charred hole in the front of his armor. Tamerus was dead-without the t'santari to make him stronger then Kyra, the first blow had slain him.
"Fascinating," Kyra murmured, probing Tamerus' chest and face with her fingertips. "Simply fascinating. They used these crystals," she indicated Tamerus' ring, "to detect the Alisa III while it was still far from Algo. Then they used the crystals again to Jump Tamerus the necessary distance. He killed Nevak, and took his place." Another pause. "Names, too. Morovin, Morgan and there's something else. A a sense of a being no name, no form, but a sense, as if he was envisioning a spirit." She shook her head. "There's nothing more I can learn. His soul has departed." Rising, she walked over to Rika, standing near Chaz, gently holding her brother by the arm. Chaz was limp from weariness and pain, and his arm hung limp by his side.
Reaching out, Kyra clasped Rika's shoulder. "That was very brave, Rika. Your mother would be proud." Then she turned to Chaz. "You were a fool to try this, Chaz, but it isn't your fault, I suppose. Come here."
Kyra gently touched the tips of her fingers to Chaz's forehead, her brow knit in concentration. Chaz gasped, stiffened, and a sweat broke out on his brow. Momentarily, Kyra exhaled sharply, and released Chaz, who sighed and shook his head.
"There," Kyra told him, smiling, "those should hold up better then the old ones did."
"How do you feel?" Tamgren asked.
Chaz exhaled slowly and scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Stupid," he replied. "But I feel better then I have in a really long time."
The funeral ended, the sun set. Night came. A few of the well-wishers hung around for a time after the empty coffin had been placed in the ground, but dispersed after they had given their condolences to the grieving family.
For the first time in a long while, Rika had cried.
Her father, really, truly, was dead.
Soon most of the people were gone, leaving a small group clustered around the grave sight. Kyra and Narrel stood a short distance from Alys, Lars, Rika, Chaz, Tamgren, Lant, Demi, Wren, Daughter and Justin. A few moments passed as the darkness crept forward, and Kyra approached, Narrel trailing nearby. The Esper's face was sad as she approached Alys.
"I am sorry for what you have lost, Alys. And I am sorry for what I must do to you, now." Kyra sighed. "If you'd like to say goodbye, now is the time. Narrel and I can't wait any longer."
Alys was silent for a long moment, her face cast in such absolute pain and sadness that Rika's soul withered further just to look at her mother. Next to Alys was Lant, his face still swollen but looking much better. His eyes drifted occasionally to the sheathed sword at Kyra's side.
Once the Elsydeon had left the Alisa III, it had reverted to it's previous form as if the Sword of Orakio had never been. Kyra still didn't fully understand the nature of Elsydeon's shapeshifting, save that it seemed to be more a change of state then form.
Nodding, Alys turned from Kyra and embraced Chaz, clutching him tightly to her body. He might a slight noise of complaint-his broken shoulder was still wrapped tightly-but then returned Alys' hug.
"I'll come back as soon as I can," he whispered.
"I'm going to miss you," Alys told her son, weeping quietly.
Chaz exchanged a brief handshake and a word of farewell with Lars, Tamgren, Demi, Daughter and Wren, then approached Lant. He embraced his brother, who was already weeping-as most of the people were.
"Hey," Chaz grinned thinly, "don't worry. I'll be back in a year, just as soon as I learn how to make do. You really think I want to be an Esper? I'll be back home before you start to miss me."
"Liar," Lant accused.
Chaz nodded. "Yeah. See you around, Lant."
Rika clasped her brother warmly by the shoulder before drawing him in to a fierce embrace. Chaz looked for a moment to Justin. "I'm sorry I couldn't know you better," Justin told him.
"Maybe someday I'll get to repay you for the bruise," Chaz replied. He extended his hand to Justin, who took it. "I'm a better man for knowing you, Justin Hondaile, and I'm sorry for what you've lost. Rika," he turned to his sister, "We've never been apart."
"We won't be," Rika whispered quietly, choking on her words. "You are a part of me, now and forever, we're one." There was a moment of silence. "Get going, Lain," she laughed weakly. "I hate long good-byes."
Chaz nodded, quickly ran down the lines of hugs, kisses and well wishes once again, and then approached Narrel and Kyra. Kyra exchanged a long, silent, sad look with Alys, and then the flare of light enveloped them and the three were gone.
The ride back to Aiedo was long, and quiet. Rika rode next to Justin, Lant next to Alys, Lars in front, Tamgren in back. Demi, Daughter and Wren had already returned to Zelan.
Lars wheeled his horse and rode next to Alys. "If you wanted to be alone for a while, I could take them back to the city," he offered.
Alys nodded, wiping at her eyes. "Thanks." Leaning out of her saddle, she embraced Lant tightly as if afraid he might float away. Turning, she smiled thinly, but knowingly, at Justin and Rika before turning and riding away.
"Hey, Lars," Rika called out. "Justin and I are going for a ride. We'll be back." A moment later, they too were gone, and the three remaining people continued on to Aiedo.
"You've come a very long way," Demi said. Daughter turned to regard the other Android-she hadn't heard Demi's approach.
The main viewscreen of Zelan showed Motavia in enormous panorama, and Daughter found it quite satisfying to gaze upon. That must have distracted her.
"Perhaps not far enough," Daughter replied. "I am much older then either you or Wren, but in my life I have done very little of importance."
"Save for now, true. But my follies springs from my failure to understand human nature. I saw them as biological organisms, sets of thermal readings, pulse rates, brain-wave patterns, anatomy. In the past few weeks, I've come to realize that they are more then the sum of their parts, and I am not."
"It is true." Daughter paused. "I have a new form, but not a new program. I think it is time to start over." Seeing that Demi looked vaguely startled, Daughter continued. "I do not suggest that we re-program me once more, Demi. I am simply saying it would be best for me to try to understand humankind. Daughter is was is a machine, and I do not wish to be that anymore." Another pause. "I do like Danielle."
Demi was silent for a moment, then she laughed. "All right, Danielle it is. What are you going to do now?"
"I do not know," Danielle replied. "Perhaps perhaps you could help me?"
Demi smiled, seating herself next to Danielle. "Dani, nothing would give me greater pleasure."
"Of course. My apologies."
"I forgive you."
"We have a long way to go, don't we?"
The shadows were deep where Justin and Rika sat with their backs against the tree. Nearby, their horses grazed. Rika shifted so she was leaning up against Justin with her head on his chest. It was comforting, the warmth of his body, the sounds of his stomach, the beating of his heart. In the distance, she could see Aiedo's lights, and in the sky, the blue sparkle of Dezolis was rising, mirroring the moon.
"So what happens now?" she asked.
"Rika " Justin said the word as if it was a prayer. "We're leaving, Rika," he whispered brokenly.
"Leaving I don't "
"We can't stay in Algo," he said the words practically into her hair. "No one wants to, Rika. I-I couldn't stay here and walk down a street without asking 'Did I hurt him?' or 'Who could be walking down this street that I killed?' I couldn't live with that."
"You didn't kill anyone."
"I didn't try to stop it, either."
"Can't you stay?"
Another long silence. "No, Rika. I'm the King, now."
"There is no one else. My father is dead, Tareela is dead I am the Dragon-Knight. I have to rule them. There's no one else anywhere, and I can't ask my people to stay."
"What about your great plan?"
"It'll have to stay a dream, for now. Maybe, in a few decades, we'll come back, maybe, and live with Algolians the way we were supposed to. But not now." Justin sighed. "I do love you, Rika."
"I love you."
"Come with me, Rika, travel the stars with me, be my queen. I love you too much to lose you now."
"That's not fair," Rika whispered. "You couldn't stay any more then I could go with you. Everything I have is here. When are you leaving, then? How long do we have?"
"As soon as we're ready. Your friends in Zelan are conferring with the Aeronians last I heard. We won't stay long."
"I'll never see you again."
"No," he replied, "probably not. So why can't we just live the time we have left?" He kissed her hair, and she could feel the tears on his face, tears that mimicked her own. "I can't promise I'll be here when next the sun sets, but I'll be here when it rises in the morning, I swear to you. Let us have one day, Rika, one day for peace."
Rika looked up into his eyes, and kissed him passionately. His hands wound around her back and they fell into the leaves together, in the deepening dusk.
The hill was as good a place to sit as any, and Alys couldn't force herself to ride any farther. The grief rode her like a tide, and she was numb to everything else.
She sensed more then she saw the presence that had walked up the hill to join her, and didn't acknowledge Kyra until she spoke. "I am truly sorry, Alys, for everything you have lost."
"What I have lost? Everything you have taken."
"That isn't fair."
"To a certain extent. Alys, please, this once, let's not argue about the past." Kyra lowered herself to kneel beside Alys, looking out across the plains.
"You ruined my life!"
Kyra was silent in the face of Alys' fury. She simply hung her head. "I did what I felt I had to. You were the one who was supposed to carry Elsydeon, not me. I adored you, from the moment you were a baby, Alys. You made me think of the woman I'd let down when she really needed me. I loved you like the daughter I never had, and if I could have made that easier, I would have. I didn't want to kill Shaedal, whatever else you might think of me. I am not a murderer."
"I know that. But Damn it. I don't want to fight this fight again, anymore."
"I am sorry if I caused you pain. Maybe I shouldn't have come, but My deepest condolences, Alys. I am sorry, more then you could ever imagine, and if it's any consolation, that sorrow will last until the end of time. I never wanted to hurt you, or your children, or your parents, or your husband Lutz is as damning a mantle as it is a powerful one, and I have had to do things I never wanted to do. Goodbye, Alys." She rose and started off down the hill.
Kyra half turned to look at Alys.
"Kyra take care of my baby."
Kyra nodded, her eyes brimming. "Oh, yes, Alys. Always."
A moment later, a snowy white owl took wing, circled the hill once, and then started off across the desert.
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