Epilogue

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Lapis settled her chin in her palm, sank her elbow into the thin sill, and stared at the deep shadows of evening spreading across the pitted road. Back to the workstation, back to the cabins, back to Jiy, back to the Eaves, with Rin. Cassa sat opposite her, on a bench that ran the length of the transport’s side, hands wrapped snugly about her arms, her reddened eyes blankly staring at the landscape. The Black Hat vehicle jostled them, but it did not snap her from her sorrow.

Tovi pressed against her, his chin on her shoulder, her hand clasped in his claws. Dagby slumped down on her other side, head down, his bangs falling into his eyes, a non-intrusive but comforting presence. Considering what Lapis had previously heard of the man, she never would have anticipated his concern for Cassa, nor his willingness to let her cry on his shoulder.

Rin looked at her out of the corner of his eyes as Path prodded at him. Tovi had already gone through the khentauree’s exam, and she refused to take no for an answer. Lapis thought it cute, to have her so concerned about the teens. The teens, in typical boy fashion, grumbled about the attention.

Ghost wanted a representative at the workstation, and Path eagerly volunteered. Reeds decided to help Duxe with Cuddle Bear, so Ghost caved and let her go, though he thought the other mechanical being better suited to interact with humans.

Cuddle Bear. Sanna told them the giant khentauree was a heavy lifter, and expected to cart about a couple of cows’ worth of weight. His last recorded action concerned lifting a crane into place, a few years after Taangis left the mines. He assumed he broke during the construction of it. He did not know how he arrived in the room under the lab, or who roused him. He, as the other khentauree, expressed puzzled shocked he had not gone to silence, like the other lifters.

Ghost, Sanna and Chiddle had many things to say to Cuddle Bear about refusing to tell them he had not gone to silence. His relaxed attitude concerning their chastisement, and their annoyance he did not take their words seriously, amused Lapis. Or it had, until Faelan demanded she return to Jiy and hand an armful of papers and codes to Wrethe. A generous metgal offer accompanied it; when her brother wanted something done, he did not skimp on the payout.

Of course, they both knew, he sent her away because the Minq had not caught Hoyt or Gredy, and his concern for her wellbeing overrode the help she might give in getting the mines into a semblance of order. Yes, trepidation waged war with her dutiful need to see things right at Ambercaast, but she still did not enjoy the command.

She still thought it insulting, that he barely acknowledged that Nathala sent terrons as guards. Good luck to any Trident, Meergeven, merc or shank who thought to battle them. She could have stayed in their company, no concern about bad guys. Vali was more than happy to provide protection.

“You heal fast,” Path said, moving back and settling on the floor, knees curled under her. Brander quickly moved his legs to give her room, and grinned.

“He’s young and spry,” he teased.

Rin made a face. “You’s speakin’ like a nanny,” he grumbled.

“I dare you to tell Nanny Solli that,” Lapis said. Both Dagby and Brander snickered.

“Nanny Solli?” Cassa asked.

“She’s a Lells merchant,” Lapis told her. “When she likes a rat, she mothers them. Now, she and Rin have a love-hate relationship, in that she loves to tease him and he hates it but won’t deny her the fun.”

“ ’Cause I’s a gentleman,” he reminded her. She looked at him, then hugged him tight before plunking her chin on her palm again. She would allow him that delusion.

Tovi signed something, and Rin nodded. “Yeah, the Lells is an interestin’ place. You should visit. I c’n introduce you t’ lots o’ people who won’t get all knotted up, talkin’ t’ a terron.”

“Once Rin tells the rats you’re safe, you’ll have them bugging you with questions all day,” Lapis said. “They’ll be curious about terrons and Meergevenis and the workstation—and Rin’s adventures with you.”

“We’s already discussed it,” Rin said with pride. “What we’s needin’ to say and what’s to not.”

“I want to come!” Path piped up. “Even when Ambercaast was living, I could not visit. I want to see a city!”

“Sure,” Lapis said. “And I know the perfect night to make an appearance.”

“Oh?” Cassa asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Fools and Ghouls Day. People dress in costume, and the Lells has a nice celebration where we throw powder on a bonfire and it changes color. There’s lots of food and drink, singing, dancing, and company.”

“ ’N iffen you wants trinkets ‘n tourist stuff, there’s good sales, too,” Rin said. “Is fun. Y’all should come.”

Cassa looked at Dagby. “Do you attend?”

He smiled and peeked out from beneath his bangs. “I mainly hang at the Night Market, but the Lells is entertaining. I’ve taken my nieces and nephews so they can throw powder on the bonfire.”

“It’s coming up soon, too,” Brander said. “It’ll give you a chance to meet a few important others.”

Path hummed in happiness. “Important others?”

“The most important man in Jilvayna will definitely want to meet you,” Lapis said. Brander’s humor at the description, and Path’s excitement, made her warmly anticipate Midir’s reaction to the khentauree—and her reaction to him.

The door between the back of the transport and the tech housed in front slid open, and Patch carted a giant thermos of wake juice through it. How he acquired such a humongous container, she had no idea. The Minq? Lord Adrastos’s people? He just grinned, stepped past Path, and planted himself on her other side, snaking an arm about her and drawing her close. He told Faelan he was going with her back to Jiy. It highlighted her brother’s worry, that he agreed.

He smoothed her hair with the tip of his nose, and leaned back, glancing out the window at the twilight. “We’ll be spending the night at the work station and heading back on horse tomorrow,” he told them. “Faelan has a list of things he wants us to look into when we get there.”

“How big is the list?” Lapis asked suspiciously. His mischievous grin elicited a sigh for the malicious delight it covered. If many of the tasks concerned his family, she did not know, whether she could hold him back from exacting ruthless revenge. She turned and threaded her arms under his, around his back, and clutched him close.

In this, she would stand as his love and his rock, as he had for her, and remind him that life’s sweet bounty did not hold hands with vengeance.

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2 May, 2022 23:17

Talking about the ranch- riding past and looking at the "site" rather than "sight".

3 May, 2022 05:06

thanks!