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Interlude Five

The cloudless sky hung far above their heads; each individual star seemed to live with its own vibrance, its own independence. With a chill in the air, Alis pulled her tunic tightly around herself. The seasons were just changing; the cool late summer days were ebbing away. She sat with Odin at the edge of Gothic, not far from the home of Doctor Luveno. Myau and Noah were responding well to what little treatment the town medic could give them; it was expected that they would be healthy within a few days.

Alis had come out into the misty evening alone. Ragged from their experience battling the Gorgon, she needed rest. Emotional rest. She could not find it. Later, Odin had silently joined her on the bench, choosing to allow Myau and Noah to sleep undisturbed. He had not spoken to her at all, each lost in thought, each unsure of the other. And so they sat, nearly oblivious, gazing up at the glistening stars. As the minutes ticked by, Alis' mind continued to drift.

We came so close, she thought to herself, we almost lost him. We did lose him. But what if it happens again? What about the next time? We're not immortal. How could I ever have believed that I could...

She turned her head slightly, enough to catch a glimpse of Odin; he was still staring upward into the sky. I've drawn them into this... taken them away from the life they knew... They've given up all to help me, and we've only just scraped through it by the slimmest of margins. How can I endanger them so? How can I ask them to risk everything to avenge Nero? It isn't right. They shouldn't be doing this... they've placed their trust in a fraud, an incompetent. I've been so overcome with desire to see Lassic be held accountable for what he's done, that I've let myself become blinded to the hopelessness of our goal. And I'm going to drag them down with me.

Her lips parted to speak, to tell Odin everything she was feeling, every thought that was cascading through her mind... but her voice was silent. She couldn't express it. Not to this man, this rock of determination and invariability. She had assumed leadership of them all; she had a responsibility to be strong for them. They'd lose faith in me. I have to keep them out, I have to be their rock. To survive, they need me to be unbreakable.

If I don't, we'll all pay for it.

"You know, Alis," Odin began. His voice startled her, pulling her back from self-indulgent oblivion. "I've never come that close to losing him... to losing anyone... like that."

She didn't know how to respond. With strength? Compassion? Distance?

"He's alive," she said.

He needs to hear more than that.

"Yes, thank goodness. But I've never come that close. It makes me think about things... about what we're doing..."

Oh no, Odin, please, don't. I can't be strong for you now, I can't. Please don't seek that from me. Not now. Not when I can't even be strong for myself.

"Something hasn't been sitting well with me ever since I met you," he continued. "Everything I've done, for years and years, up till the moment I saw Myau lying there... something has been... unnatural... sterile, about it all."

Please, I don't know what you want. I don't have it in me.

"I don't understand what you mean, Odin." Alis was lost, expecting to be called upon for answers, called to give the very thing she couldn't.

"Everything until that moment has been me going through the motions. It's like I'm there, but there's something missing... a spark, or a light, or... I don't know. But that's changed. I can feel something now. I realize exactly what we're doing."

We're risking our lives, sacrificing everything we've ever had, for an insane quest to

"We're not doing this to save the world. We're not doing this to save Palma." His resolute tone was inexplicable to her.

"Then what...?" she stuttered. Finally Odin turned to look at her, eyes locking with hers, a slight smile forming on his face. There was power in that smile. Power to drive away the haze, the confusion that clouded her mind. Power to see things for what they were.

"We're doing it to save you. And me. And Myau. And Noah. And every person we've ever known, or ever will know. We're not trying to save a world, we're trying to save people. Real people. Individual people. That's what makes the difference. That's what we can all get behind. That's..."

"That's what we're risking our lives for..." Alis finished, sharing Odin's growing smile. He clasped her hand, and they both raised their heads to the stars once more.

I'm asking them to follow me into the abyss, she thought, and they wouldn't have it any other way. They've given me their trust, their very lives, with open minds and wide eyes... and why? Because they're human. They can do no less.

Her smile widened, and they spoke no more that night.

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