- Epilogue -
The Tolanai Red Wings Airbase at Valfrahn
The sonorous bass and baritone voices of the Tolan Military Choir rose in a solemn hymn, soon to be joined by alto and soprano voices that gave the hymn its majestic touch. Three hundred voices sang the slow, tender melody with the deepest possible feeling. For the words of the hymn were sung for the men of the Red Wings. All of whom now rested within the long line of coffins along the tarmac of their own base of operations.
The voices grew in strength as the hymn enveloped everyone with its power and grace. The words were of honor, of bravery, of giving of oneself for the greater good. Words that conjured memories of legendary Tolanai across a collective past of hundreds and thousands of years. Memories that went to the heart of every Tolanai.
Those same honorable words and history were now too of these men.
All the provincial representatives from around the planet attended the service with the families and relatives of the pilots now gone. Behind them, thousands more citizens of Tolan gathered. They knew what these men had done. All of them knew and all of them felt a great need to be there on that day.
Carpathia stood at the front and a bit to the side of the large crowd that swept in a wide arc facing the coffins on the concrete ramp. On the far side of the ramp were two Tolan Warhawk fighters, their elliptical wings gleaming in the sunlight. These were the reserve of the Red Wings, the spare aircraft, the last of the squadron. There were none others.
The service had gone on for almost two hours. In all that time, Carpathia had stood alone and silent. Lillith sat directly behind Carpathia, deeply touched by the strong emotions of this place. Emotions that were felt intensely by the sensitive, young Velorian woman.
It was Carpathia who held Lilliths eyes. Carpathia, who stood completely still and steady, the high cheekbones of her beautiful face glowing in the same sunlight that etched her angular features with wisps of shadow. Her face remained proud, determined, noble as she stared intently at some distant point. For days, Carpathia had said little about her own feelings. She merely did what was asked of her without question. Her thoughts, her emotions, everything was kept put away as if there were no time for them yet. Lillith could see, no, feel that something was churning around inside her friend. A something kept hidden even from the Protector of Tetra. Not wanting to press or intrude, Lillith now merely watched, waited, and worried.
The mornings breeze moved Carpathias long, blonde hair in almost hesitant motions, always returning it to the place where it had rested quietly. That same breeze rolled her long cape majestically, as if in honor of the day. Blonde hair and her cape, nothing else moved on the Protector of Tolan.
How proud she looks, thought Lillith, how proud and how regal. Lillith so admired Carpathia, convinced that she was the smartest and most capable of all of the Protectors. Lillith wished in her heart that she could someday be as good as Carpathia, a thought that always ended in a sigh of resignation that she would probably not be. The honor, perhaps, was in knowing her and in being her friend.
The melodic tones of the choir rose and
fell as the emotional hymn continued. Intense green eyes stared
from an aft window of an Arion ship as it passed in slow-cruise
from the Tolan system into the depths of Deep Space. Casan looked
with a calm interest back at the bright star around which the
planet Tolan revolved. So much had happened back there. So much.
Casan set her jaw resolutely and moved her head with a subtle
nod. The thoughts and feelings that she now took with her would
remain within her as hers alone. It was done and now the future
demanded her attention. Her absence had not changed her standing
in the Arion military. As the sole survivor of Section-5, she
had inherited command, been given the appropriate rank, and ordered
to return to Aria to rebuild the Section. Casan was to lead a
new group of Protector killers. She had given fair warning to
the brave young Protector. That was all she could or would do.
Life goes on.
Lillith closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun, feeling as if she were being carried aloft by the hymn as it grew more powerful. Along the coast near the Ghen Estuary, Arin Cao threw back the flap of the cloth tent he now lived in and returned to the site of the old towerlight. There was much to do even though work had been going on constantly for the last couple of days. So many had come to help restore the tower. It already rose nearly fifty feet and the new light was twice as powerful as the old one had been. To him, it was not only good to be alive, but it was good to be alive on this world, on this beach, on this spot he had always and would always call home. He still wondered what the name of that young pilot was, the one that had so frightened him on that terrible night, but the sun felt good on his face this morning and there was much to do.
Life goes on.
The choir began building to a moving crescendo, bringing tears to faces throughout the crowd listening with their hearts. In his quarters aboard the Kintzi Zhar-class Cruiser, Daunt Ne, Captain Fhar brooded sullenly over his fate as the leader of six new replacements. They were useless, all of them useless. They knew the stories, heard the rumors. He could see it in their eyes. They knew and they wondered. Wondered how he was the only one to survive, the only one to live. The unspoken questions gnawed at him like a Kintzi Cub gnawed at a Terran thigh and he grew more sullen. He wished for the solitary life of a hunter, not this spittle of leading idiots in these infernal machines. The looks they had in their eyes were insubordinate, even if they did cower at his approach. Still, he was a warrior and he would train these cubs to be the same.
Life goes on.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the choir finished the moving hymn to the fallen Tolanai. For long moments, no one spoke, letting the silence become another expression of their grief. Lillith took the opportunity to stand and discreetly whisper to her friend.
Carpie? Are you alright?
Carpathia blinked, as if coming out of some kind of hypnotic trance. With a sad smile she took Lilliths hand in hers and nodded once.
Im fine, Lillith. Thanks.
Carpathia returned her gaze to the line of coffins and spoke her thoughts aloud to her friend.
Im a Protector. All my life has been about is protecting the beings on this planet. My life, my whole life. To give my life to protect theirs.
Taye, Carpie, it is what we do. Lillith whispered.
Taye. said Carpathia, her eyes welling up with tears. It is what we do.
Carpathia paused a moment, returning her gaze to the distance. Her voice sounded just as distant.
I remember when I was a young girl during training on Velor. They taught us all the values. Inspired us with all the stories. Remember? They told us how to fight for our planets and how to take care not to interfere with the affairs of the beings on them. They taught us to be strong and made us swear to give our lives if needed to protect. Remember?
Lillith nodded as Carpathia turned her anguished face toward her.
They forgot to teach us how not to care too much for these beings, Lillith. They didnt tell us how not to do that. They didnt tell us... Carpathia couldnt speak for a moment as she fought to regain control of her emotions. It was becoming more difficult for her. They gave their lives...for me. For me, Lillith. Carpathia slowly shook her head. Its not suppose to be that way. Its not suppose to....
Come on, Carpie. soothed Lillith as she put her arm around her friend. Come and sit down.
No. The word was barely audible through Carpathias emotions that were forcing their way to the surface. She tried to smile but the tears were overwhelming. No. I will always stand in the presence of these men.
Carpathia? The grave voice of the Base Commander took Carpathias attention away from Lillith. Would you like to say a few words before we end the ceremony?
Taye. said the Protector of Tolan resolutely. I have something to say.
Carpathia squeezed Lilliths hand once and walked slowly down the row of coffins, stopping before the cluster of provincial and military flags displayed at the center of the row. The squadron flag of the Red Wings faced forward, the staff tipped to allow the flag to be shown prominently. For a moment, Carpathia watched the silk flag roll silently in the light wind. Calmly, she stepped forward. Gathering the low corner of the flag in her hand, Carpathia gracefully lowered herself to one knee as she kissed the red silk in her right hand. Her left hand rested on the polished coffin of the squadrons commander, the one called Dorn. Watching Carpathia now turn her head toward the coffin from the flag, Lillith could see how tears had wetted cheeks that for hours had remained dry and composed. Lillith and everyone else watched in silence as Carpathia looked at the dark coffin under her slender hand. Only Lillith could hear the words Carpathia whispered gently through her tears.
Thank you.....for my life.
On the planet Tetra, four days later
There had been no sign of another Kintzi attack for days, so William took a chance to make the needed repairs to the Sabre. With the craft down, there was no defense against air attack, but he had no choice. They only had the one.
Walking by with her chin in the air was a small Tetrite who was trying very hard to maintain a certain dignity that she was convinced she had lost. She appeared to be performing a parody of Queen Victoria, but, unfortunately, was quite serious. William cleared his throat to warn the others of her approach.
Good morning, Mina. he said with his most friendly voice. A beautiful day, isnt it?
It is. responded Queen Victoria without changing a step or even looking his way.
Its looking much better today, Mina. remarked William.
I am sure I do not know what you are talking about. replied the Queen. Phil knew.
I believe the William is referring to your posterior.
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH MY FUR! IT WOULD BE MOST KIND OF YOU NOT TO SAY SUCH THINGS! she exploded at Phil. Catching herself, Mina quickly tried to speak a bit more calmly. Queen Victoria did not bellow. The William merely had to trim a bit of my fur, thats all! Now, if you will excuse me, I will spend the rest of the day in my nest.
Before Phil could offer an apology, Mina spun around and trundled angrily down the path. A broad, vertical swath of naked butt shown clearly where William had to cut her fur away from the impossible tangle with the hooknloop material in the Sabre. He hadnt thought about that when he had stuck her there during the combat with the Kintzi. Her fur had to be trimmed right down to the skin and her embarrassment was just as deep.
Damn it, Phil, he admonished. Are you trying to get us in trouble? You know how sensitive she is about that.
My apologies, sir. I merely thought she required information.
What she requires is a hairpiece. William sighed. How long before it grows out enough not to be a problem for her?
I know of no hair in the Universe that grows that fast, sir. complained Phil. Perhaps...
The sound of Flare made everyones head snap in her direction. William felt a cold shudder when he saw the huge blue dog looking upward toward the Faldref. He glanced in the same direction and saw a single dot moving north to south in the distance.
Shit, they got us with our pants down! Phil! Get em into their nests! Ladies, please move Mara into the shelter right now!
Two large female Tetrites trundled quickly toward a nearby underground shelter with a half-awake baby held overhead. There was no panic, just quick movement to save the Little One.
William stepped forward to peer into the distance, focusing his telescopic vision on the far speck in the sky. He fingered a large, silver wrench in his right hand nervously as he mumbled to himself.
Shit, theyve got us. Were going to just have to take whatever they deal us.
Sir, shall we sound the Sweetheart device? asked a concerned Phil as he glanced up at the tower. William was still staring into the distance when the wrench suddenly slipped from his hand to the ground. Phil glanced down at the tool, half buried in the tan dust. Sir? he asked nervously. Shall we sound the alarm?
William rapidly used the back of his hands to wipe the dirt and sweat out of his eyes. There. Now he could see better. He focused his eyes quickly to make sure that what he saw was really....
Yeah, Phil, sound it! Crank that thing! commanded William. But, get em OUT of their nests! Its her! ITS LILLITH!
Lillith approached quickly, soaring overhead as thousands of Tetrites jumped and cheered the return of their beloved Protector. On the tower, Toomey cranked the new handle of the siren wildly, its pitch rose as steadily as the excitement all around him.
Lillith beamed brightly, waving just as enthusiastically down to them all as she swooped and spun overhead. Standing calmly, William watched every move, convinced that he had never seen a more beautiful sight in his life.
I know you are pleased at her return, sir. commented Phil, touching the leg of his friend lightly.
His eyes glistening, William couldnt talk at that moment. He merely nodded.
Then she saw him.
With a burst of unimaginable acceleration, Lillith was instantly above him so fast that her movement wasnt even a blur. She was merely in one place, then the other. Her descent to him was just the opposite. Slowly she lowered to him, standing upright all the way down. The front of her body slipped gently along the front of his, her breasts grazing his face tenderly. When her feet touched the ground, her arms were around his neck, and her lips mere inches from his. Her voice was as smooth as velvet and as rich as honey.
Im home, darling.
Their kiss lasted a very long time. Almost as long as the cheering of the Tetrites.
Later that night
Lillith had kept everyone gathered around the large bonfire spellbound with her story of what had happen out there. Her enthusiastically animated way of telling a story sometimes amused William, but kept the Tetrites in wide-eyed suspense. It was agreed by all that they were fortunate to see her again.
Earlier, William had fed her a welcome home dinner of waffles and hovered over her like a mother hen. He couldnt hide how much he had missed her and he pampered her shamelessly. She loved every minute of it.
Eventually, all the waffles were eaten, all the stories were told, and all the kisses were made. William and Lillith settled into their bed for the night, face to face, wrapped within each others arms. Neither had slept this sound since this whole problem with Aya had started.
Lillith had been asleep for only a few minutes when she found herself standing in a place of mists. There was no floor or ground under her feet, yet she felt as if she were standing on something solid. All around her, a slowly swirling fog of mist encapsulated her within a space not more than twenty feet around. A voice, dry as dust, spoke to her.
Do you fear the Fallen?
Lillith spun around to see the same hooded figure that had plagued her dreams throughout this entire time standing alone at the far edge of the mist. She still could not see his face, but she recognized the tattered robe of rags.
Its over. she said calmly. Leave me to my life.
A second hooded figure appeared from the mist to stand next to the first.
Do you not fear the Fallen? he demanded.
Yes. she said resolutely.
Do you? asked the first. And why is that?
Because she did not know what I know. She did not feel what I feel. She did not love those whom she was to protect. Without that, everything is without meaning and useless. She knew only greed and evil. They did not teach us and so we must learn for ourselves. Carpathia knows. She will never fall. I know too. And our fear of the Fallen will never let us forget.
Excellent. said a new, yet familiar voice from behind her.
Lillith turned to see the Thort that she had encountered on Ayas stolen ship smiling at her through the mist.
It is good to see that you are alive. said Lillith pleasantly.
No, I am not. remarked the Thort as he slowly and silently moved around Lillith to the two hooded figures. But it is quite alright. I have all that I had wished for.
Do you know these guys? asked Lillith.
Oh, yes. said the Thort, stopping next to the two hooded figures. His back was to Lillith and he looked back at her over his shoulder. Do you recall when I told you on the ship that if you were to do away with Aya, my brothers would smile upon you?
Lillith nodded just before the two figures slipped their hoods back from their heads.
They chose well in you. said the Thort with a smile.
Cuddling close, her head against his chest, a sleeping Lillith smiled and mumbled unintelligibly, still engrossed in her dream. The tip of her pink tongue slipped between her lips just before she blew a proper Thort greeting.
The farting sound startled a sleeping William awake. Raising his head, he looked over at Phil who slept soundly in the window. Lowering his eyebrows with minor concern, he peered down at his cuddling lover who still slept quietly and contentedly in his arms. With a drowsy shrug, William kissed her lightly on her head and laid his own back where it had been. He resumed his sleep quickly, resigned not to know where the annoying sound had come from.
Bi-eee. Lillith muttered just before she snuggled closer to sleep a quiet sleep throughout the rest of a peaceful night.
A peace shared by three brothers, reunited for eternity.
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