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"So youíre leaving?" Rika looked up from her book at the sound of Myrelleís voice. The Musk Cat padded into her room on silent feet. "Itís only been two days since...are you sure youíre ready to go back?"
Rika closed the book and stood up. "Itís time, Most Reverent," she told him, still feeling oddly about the honorific. "Tamgren and the others have already gone back to Motavia. The Esper Mansion is a wonderful home away from home, bu t..."
"Too much of Chaz?"
She nodded, momentarily unable to speak. "What..." she paused and collected herself. "What are you going to do now, Most Reverent?"
"Please, Rika," the Musk Cat pleaded. "Myrelle?"
"Iím sorry, Myrelle," she replied, smiling faintly.
"Well, once youíve left Iíve no other immediate obligations...itís time for me to go back to the Myst Vale. I need to pay my respects and move on. It sounds callous, but...I have a new life and new responsibilities here in the Esper Mansion. T hereís a village of refugees out there that need me, Dezolis and Motavia are in shambles...and Iím told Iím the one whoís supposed to make it right."
Evidently it was Rikaís turn to hit close to the mark. Myrelle didnít respond, and she decided to change the subject. "Any sign of the Elsydeon?"
Myrelle shook his head. "None at all. Some people still arenít convinced it wasnít stolen while you and Lant were seeing to Chaz, but I think itís gone. The sacred sword doesnít just disappear unless it wants to, Rika. I think, for whatever it ís worth, that thatís the surest sign weíll ever get that itís over. Elsydeonís not coming back, and in a way, Iím happy about that. Itís served its purpose."
"Well, if you want to go to the Myst Vale, I guess Lant and I should think about going."
"No hurry," Myrelle told her wistfully, then sighed. "Iíll get someone to Jump you two to Aiedo." He turned and walked to the doorway. "Oh, and I sent Narrel to find Lant for you, so they should be along."
"Like all of us. Heís healing."
* * *
"It took me a long time to find you," Narrel told Lant, coming up behind him. The younger man sat on a rock about a hundred feet out from the Mansion, staring across the chasm. Lant glanced up at the Speaker, and saw he was wearing a heav y cloak, and a hood that hid his face.
"Rikaís ready to go, then?"
"Yes." The Speaker sighed. "It feels like its been such a long, long time. So much has happened."
Lant suddenly perceived Narrelís deep-seated need to talk, and to talk to him, though Lant couldnít understand why. He hardly knew Narrel. He looked up once more. "How are you doing, Narrel?"
"Iím all right. I can look in the mirror, or touch my face, without wanting to cry. The painís gone, but in so many ways it isnít...itíll stay with me forever." Narrel looked down, and Lant could see that his face was wrapped as well, and he wore an eyepatch. One piercing blue eye stared at Lant from beneath the hood. "I always respected you, Lantamaral," he said suddenly.
"Whyís that?" Lant asked, taken aback.
"We went through similar things in the wars, I think...I heard from your brother what was done to you."
Lant nodded. "I know you were Morovinís prisoner."
"It went deeper than that. They tried to...destroy me from the inside." Lant nodded, and that seemed to empower the Speaker to go on. "I always respected you for going on, but in the wrong way...I saw you in me. I was wrong. You took what happened to you and made it into something positive, used it to change your life. All I did with it was use it to fuel my hatred. And it...hurt me."
Lant was silent for a moment while he thought about it. "Thank you, Narrel," he said after a moment. "Would you like to take off your hood?"
The Speaker started in surprise. Lant stared straight ahead and said nothing. Slowly, Narrel reached up and pushed down the hood, then peeled away the wrappings and the eyepatch. His hands dropped to his sides and Lant looked up once more. A tear ran from Narrelís good eye as he met Lantís gaze, eyes-to-eyes, and Lant knew it took all of his strength. Lant stood up and gently clapped Narrel on the shoulder. "Thatís right. Look me in the eye." He raised his other hand to the Speakerís othr shoulder and they stood there in the snow. Lant knew how naked Narrel must feel, exposing his disfigurements Ė and they were quite awful Ė for probably the first time since heíd come out of the coma. He held the Speakerís gaze by sheer force of will.>
Lant smiled. "We should go."
Narrel nodded and reached up, carefully replacing the eyepatch over the mangled socket that had once been his eye. He looked down into his hand for a moment at the wrappings he held, then slowly opened his fingers and let them fall, let the wind ca rry them away. Narrel looked up and this time met Lantís gaze immediately, without prompting.
"Iím ready," he said.
* * *
"I guess thatís everything," Tamgren said, surprised at the lump in his throat. He looked around at the room that had once been his...Zelan had reclaimed its own, and it looked just like another room again, as if Tamgren had never been.
"Itís for the best," Demi told him, leaning up against the doorframe. "It really is. Youíll be happier on Dezolis."
"Itís a struggle," Demi replied. "But I think itís one we can win. It took me awhile to get used to the fact that the things she did for Seth werenít really her fault. That was my big hurdle. Iíve overcome it now. Iím ready to help h er."
"Eldara resigned her Councilman position. She said there was too much...too many memories, in Gumbious. Most of the Magi died."
"For now, weíve decided to live by the Esper Mansion. There are more refugees coming into the town every day. They need us, I guess." He sighed again, and cast his eyes about the room. "It was hard to lose my family, Demi," he w hispered. "I never thought it would be so hard to lose my home, too."
"Youíre not losing a home," Demi chided gently. "Youíre gaining a new one. Youíll always be welcome here, you know that. But Eldara can give you something Wren, Danielle, and I never could."
He sighed once more. Demi patted him on the arm. "Stop that. Youíre making me sad. Youíre getting married, Tamgren!" He was silent. "I know how youíre hurting right now, Tamgren," she said after a moment, "and there are som e wounds nobody but you can heal. But listen to me. Listen!" She waited to make sure she had his full attention. "You arenít betraying anyone to be happy. Chaz, Alys...none of them would want you to wait on them. Not Chaz, not Alys, not your fam ily. You donít owe them anything, Tamgren, because they gave themselves willingly."
Tamgren took a shuddering breath. "Itís okay," Demi said. "I know. The others are coming. Itís time." As if on queue, Danielle and Wren appeared at the doorway.
"Your shuttle is ready now, Tamgren," Wren told him.
"If youíre ready too," Danielle pointed out.
"I guess so. If you guys think you can keep this place running without me." He grinned at them. He paused. "Wren, Danielle..."
"I think I know what you are going to say," Wren told him. He glanced down at Danielle. "I donít agree with everything Danielle wants to do, but...I will try."
Danielle nodded. "Wren and I have reached an agreement which is viable, Tamgren." The Android smiled at him. "We both realized that we were being petty to one another. There are...more important things." Danielle looked up at th e larger Android. "We will try together."
Tamgren nodded. "Thanks. Do you think I could have a moment, alone?"
"Of course," Demi said firmly before the others could speak. "Take as much time as you like." She quickly bustled the other two out. "Weíll wait." He heard the door click behind her.
Is this what life is? Goodbyes? Heíd lived in this room, this satellite, for five years. The Androids had taken him in, probably against their better judgement, after his parentís death. Five years ago, still running from the pain, living like a re cluse had seemed like a pretty good idea. It had taken a war to bring him back into the affairs of real, biological life...and regardless of whether or not he regretted it, he was stuck now.
Eldara was waiting for him. That made it worth it, all of it, and he was thankful for that much. Demi was right...Chaz, Alys...they were gone, but he still had hope, still had friends. Tamgren Aiedern was still alive. If Chaz or Alys had seen him m oping around like he had been, they would have slapped him back in line so fast...
He found himself laughing and crying at the same time, and he knew it was time to leave. Waiting for him here were the Androids to give him a send-off to his new home, and below was Eldara, waiting for him. His wife. Tamgren Aiedernís wife. He said it out loud and liked the way it rolled off his tongue. Maybe even...his family, eventually.
Tamgren wiped his eyes, smiled, and turned off the lights on his way out.
* * *
Rika stood alone in the tent with the coffins. Outside she could hear the crowds who had come to watch Ė from Motavia, from Dezolis...the Androids had come from Zelan to pay tribute to the fallen.
She was terrified. Sheíd written a speech, they expected her to say something, but it didnít work, it just didnít fit...She looked around her, at the coffins of the people she was speaking for. Kyra, fallen before the war began. Rachel, who had tou ched off the end of the violence through her sacrifice. Alys, her mother, who had died for the people who couldnít fight. And Chaz...
She heard the flap of the tent rustle behind her, and turned as Lant entered. "Are you ready?" he asked.
"Everythingís set?" Lant nodded. Rika carefully straightened her dress uniform. "I shouldnít be doing this, Lant. Iím not a speaker, you know me..."
"Youíll do fine." Lant looked at the set of three wooden stairs leading out of the tent, onto the podium, where the people of Algo expected her to give a speech. He crossed the tent and tapped the first step with his foot. "Itís only wood. The hardest thing youíll do today, Rika, is put your foot on that step. Once youíve done that, youíre committed and youíve got no choice about anything. The thing is, you know youíve got to take that first step, but youíre afraid of it, too. All yo u have to do is get started. The rest will fall into place. What about your speech?"
Rika threw up her hands. "It doesnít fit at all! Mom I could speak for, and Chaz, but Rachel? Kyra?"
"You knew them."
Lant sighed. "Iím not much a of a speaker myself, Rika, but Iíd just talk. Nobody wants great rehearsed speeches from you. Theyíre here because they need closure Ė we all do. We need some great sign to show us this is all over. They need to kn ow Morovin LaníTearin isnít going to rise from his shallow grave with the Profound Darkness at his heels. Just let them know weíre finished, we can all go home and have a good nightís sleep."
"You sound a little like Gryz."
"Heís a smart man. Anyway, I should go." He glanced out at the stage. "Looks like theyíre about ready. You set, big sister?"
Rika looked with trepidation out at the stage. "Not quite. Lant, Iím sorry. I wasted eight years because I was angry. I had to think you were dead before I realized what Iíd done wrong. I...I was wrong about you, Lant, and Iím sorry. Youíre my brother. I shouldíve had more faith.í
Lant smiled, his eyes shining. "We have plenty of time."
"Yeah. Youíre...going to hang around Aiedo afterwards, right?"
Lant nodded. "If youíd like me to."
"I would, Lant." Her brother nodded again and raised the tent flap.
"Consider it done, Rika. Iíve...missed you a lot." He wiped at his eyes. "Just remember...take the first step and youíll be fine." The flap fell behind him, and Rika was alone.
"Thank you," she whispered at the flap after he was gone. She glanced out. The stage was set. They were ready for her. "I never should have let Lars talk me into this." She looked down at the step at her feet, then up again at t he coffins around her. "Mom, Chaz, Kyra, Rachel...wish me luck."
Her foot touched the steps, and she ascended them into the light.
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