"I smelled blood," Areladalie said, shrugging. "Outside, I was growing rather accustomed to the scent, but it's strange to smell blood within this corridor." Areladalie stepped forward, smiling. "This corridor, where no one ever goes."

"I'm going to go ahead and use the spell," Ynsandrailia murmured, quickly turning her attention from Areladalie to Egewe. "Efia, guard my back, please." She gently pushed Egewe's arm down and ignored the question that he had presented her with.

Egewe suspected that this was deliberate, so he stared hard at her, glaring with the hopes of forcing her to give him some kind of acknowledgment.

She did not, but her steady, lightly bloody hands began their work. Eventually, Egewe looked down, watching in wonder as Ynsandrailia's fingers laced together in the air before Egewe's form. Her nimble, slender fingers hooked, then rolled together like ocean waves. Egewe watched, hearing the whisper of slumber as it called to him. It would have been easier to sleep, to dream, but he could not do so. Not now. Not when Efia depended upon him, and when Ynsandrailia and Efia both wished for him to live. He did not like the idea of disappointing them.

Egewe caught sight of Areladalie regarding Ynsandrailia with a peculiar look. The blue-haired woman had stopped advancing forward. She stood with her arms folded. Her lips looked as though they were caught by some invisible force and were now unsure of what to do with themselves. The top lip looked to be pulling just barely upwards on one side, as though it was undecided if a sneer or a smile or something else entirely was in order. Her dark blue brows were raised. She watched Ynsandrailia, and Egewe felt her curiosity. He also felt something else, but it was a stranger emotion, perhaps even a mingling of lesser emotions into one whole, and Egewe could not readily offer it any name.

"I'll answer your question, Egewe," Ynsandrailia said at last.

Egewe blinked, lowering his head to watch the hypnotic movements of her fingers. It had felt like such a long time since he had asked her the question that he was almost tempted to ask what question she meant, but at the last, he recalled it. His mind was slipping quickly. Too quickly.

"I hadn't wanted to speak of it in front of her." Ynsandrailia nodded in Efia's direction. "Or her." She cast one brief glance at Areladalie, too. "Nothing against them, but, well, some things are private. I wanted to say these words to you in private." The corners of her lips tightened. "But now I have no other choice."

"Wha--"

"I realized something, my friend. I meditated. I sought solace in my god." Shadows graced her face, making her green eyes look tormented. Ynsandrailia's soft, pretty young face was cloaked in enough darkness to create the illusion of hard angles upon her visage, making her look almost as severe as Kjarian did. A sharp wince overtook her. "I--I--saw Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios for the first time. Really saw him."

Egewe's eyes widened. He thought he saw droplets of liquid pooling in the corners of Ynsandrailia's eyes. She lowered her head, causing the eyes to darken beneath a hood of shadows. Ynsandrailia's hair, once a flame and now a mess of brittle cords and drying blood, surrounded her like a tangled nest.

"It was all in the faces, Egewe. I saw." Egewe could not see her tears anymore, but he heard the choking, stifled sobs as they broke her voice. "But I can't tell you anything else about that. I'm sorry. My relationship with the god is a private one, between us two only."

"I understand."

"I realized that I was not a very good friend to you. I decided to rectify that as best I still could. I'm sorry, Egewe. I'm sorry that I abandoned you earlier."

"I understand."

"No, you don't, because you've never abandoned me that way. You've always done everything in your power to help me and everyone else no matter the cost." She sucked her breath in sharply, and Egewe heard another round of sobs as she swallowed them. Pain, Egewe felt from her. Pain. Grief. Contentment. Such an odd mixture of emotions.

There was no joy, but there was complacency. The complacency and the pain knotted together, entwining like the woman's fingers. Those fingers were working with more haste now, producing ribbons of white light. The light was warm. It spread across Egewe, heating his belly, heating his wounds. At first, it hurt, and he shifted in discomfort. Ynsandrailia instantly reached forward and stilled him. Once he had stopped moving, she resumed her work.

"I remembered the day that you brought Zylnain back in your arms, cradling him. I remembered the look on your face. You were hurt, and yet all that you cared about was saving your friend. I thought about that, and I realized that you would have done the same if it had been me."

Egewe said nothing, but he did give a slight nod to indicate that yes, he would have done so, had Ynsandrailia been hurt. He looked at his strangely quiet sister. Efia was still impatient. She still looked like she wanted to break into a run at any instant, which Egewe completely understood. Still, she had said nothing. For all her sense of hurry, she appeared to be content to let Ynsandrailia do what she had to do to keep Egewe alive for at least a little while longer.

"Kjarian was right. I was a child. Am a child. A child who turned a friend aside in her hot-tempered, foolish anger."

"You're not a child. A child would not have returned. A child would not have admitted that she found error with her ways."

A small, tight, pained smile crossed Ynsandrailia's lips. She lifted her head, and Egewe saw the tears that were being squeezed from her eyes. Long, shimmering with the light of the sconces, salty crystals trailed down the shadowed smooth planes of her cheeks. Her laugh, tiny and hollow, cut the silence and sent tremors throughout it. Efia and Areladalie watched, while the flickering light seemed to be the only other indication of movement within the tightly enclosed space of the corridor.

"That's why I knew I had to do this, Egewe. You just named the reason in your own unintentional way. You always see the best in people. Zlatthanalian and Kjarian were right when they said that you inspired hope in the people of Yzableth-Ara because you inspire hope in me." The warmth increased, giving Egewe the distant sensation of pleasure. The glow from Ynsandrailia's hands had increased, and now the magic pulsed there like a beating heart.

"You have taught me what it truly means to love, what it truly means to be selfless." She shook her head as more tears sprang forth. "Not romantic love, or platonic love, or spiritual love, even, but just love. Love from one being to another. Pure love. Innocent love that wants nothing in return for being given. Love that thinks it is just natural, that it is only to be expected. A love of the world, the stars, the light and the shadows, and all things. Love that is, here, a simple bond with everything, with humans and with the De'eash."

This time, when she inhaled, she began to tremble. Her body shook violently and her teeth started to crash together, making loud chattering noises. "I'm afraid."

"Why, Ynsandrailia?"

"I'm afraid." Egewe could tell that she was trying to keep her body from reacting so strongly. Her hands twitched as she went about completing the spell, but as Egewe watched, she fought the tremors out of them. What was this reaction for? Egewe wondered. It could have been the magic, and yet, it was strange for a simple healing spell to hurt an experienced person like Ynsandrailia so much. "But I'm going to do it. Going to--" Her eyes closed. "--going to just focus on what you've taught me, and not anything else, and I can do it."

Egewe was not used to seeing such emotions upon Ynsandrailia's face. Such a youthful face it was, very smooth, with flawless young skin that had the appearance of ripe peaches. The sun of the Wilds had never broken her, and her hair still had a soft appearance--or, it had, before blood had caked it. The priests and priestesses were in such good physical health compared to many Wild Landers, Egewe mused. If it had not been for his longings toward freedom, perhaps he could have been happier among them, Egewe thought. But he had always wanted freedom. Something bigger than Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios had placed that craving within his bosom.

Something was definitely wrong with Ynsandrailia. Earlier, Egewe had taken her severe reaction as a sign of being distraught over betraying all that she had once believed in, but no, that was not all of it. Something else was wrong.

"You do inspire me, and everyone," she half-said and half-groaned, teeth chattering so loudly that they sounded inhuman. "Not because of the god, though. Not because of him at all. Just because of who you are."

"Who", she had said, Egewe noticed, and not "what".

"What a human truly can be."

Egewe parted his dry lips, preparing to patiently and pointlessly remind her that his blood was not entirely human, and that humans could be much more than he was, as he was a frail man in body. Besides that, he had no significant magic. Many humans could have been better than he was. He could have been better than he was, he thought ruefully, although it was far too late to feel disappointed in himself.

The warmth was spreading through him at a more rapid pace, now. When he looked down, he still felt some pain, but at least the sensation of slipping into oblivion was vanishing. Not that he minded the oblivion for himself. It seemed quite peaceful, actually. However, he had to live for his sister. She depended upon him. He had let her down before. He would not let her down again. His mind repeated this, making it a mantra of sorts. His hands clenched, becoming fists into which his body's tension leaked. When they unclenched, he winced, allowing the pain to surge through his body, allowing himself to live.

Life was frightening, much more so than death.

"I hope you don't blame me, Egewe. I would really appreciate it if you did not blame me."

When Egewe looked up from his stained, bloody body to stare at Ynsandrailia, he saw that her features had contorted to a disturbing extent. Realization covered Egewe's hazy mind like a blanket of clarity. It was not a sharp, precise realization. No, nothing of the sort. It was porous, appearing in dazzling arrays of lights and shadows, becoming visible little by little. It sank into him, biting his flesh, chewing his mind, and leaving nothing when it swallowed.

"You--"

Ynsandrailia must have known that her words would have at last given the true nature of her deed away, so she cut him off with a loud sound just as he had been trying to speak. Egewe, still dazed and dizzy, watched as sweat and tears spilled over her face, hair, and robes. Slowly, her fear and horror were ebbing away, and in their place, Egewe felt resignation.

"I can't let you blame me for this. I'm sorry," said Ynsandrailia, still shaking vigorously. "I'm not going to have that, Egewe. I'm sorry. You can blame me for anything else and I'll be fine with your judgment, but this is something that I have to believe to be right, just as I had to believe in Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios's goodness." Her eyes, solemn now, met Egewe's. Within them, Egewe saw more wisdom and maturity than had ever before seemed to exist within Ynsandrailia.

Egewe nodded weakly, and said nothing.

That, that little gesture, was one of the most difficult things that he had ever done. He wanted to be numb then. He did not want the pain that came to him unbidden. He despised the way that it coursed through him so freely. He did not like the tears that were welling in his eyes--could he do nothing these days but weep? He hated feeling Ynsandrailia's resignation more than it seemed possible to hate any emotion. He wished that she would be angry. Gods help him, he would even prefer it if she were afraid. At least those would have been emotions that he could have associated with life. Resignation was the first step toward death's threshold.

Ynsandrailia began to slump. Egewe felt the resignation slide out of her. The light faded, and the final indication of her condition proceeded to appear. Even after her body had fallen like a sack of crops, her hands, like the ghosts of long dead butterflies, had been fluttering before her face. Even after her eyes had dulled from bright to shadowed, and even after her spine had seemed to become jelly, her hands had moved.

But then, they did not. Now they did not.

As pain flooded him, his muscles came to life. He grabbed Ynsandrailia tightly, squeezing her. He knew that he might have been hurting her by the force of his grip, and by the way that his nails must have been digging into her flesh, but for once, he had little caring that he was hurting someone else. He wanted to hurt Ynsandrailia. Any sign of pain from the woman would have been, by extension, a sign of life. Egewe shook the limp form, feeling the icy swirls that galloped throughout the pit of his stomach. The ice mingled with the fire of Ynsandrailia's spell, causing Egewe to feel that a convulsion was near.

He was vaguely aware of the fact that he was probably about to go into shock. He was not aware of very much else. His fingers twisted and drove in hard, impaling Ynsandrailia's soft flesh with his nails and his hard bones. He thought he might have been making noises--choked noises, at that, but he was not certain of this.

The silence was back. The silence that went beyond silence washed across him, drowning his mind, sucking it beneath the depths. Oblivion called again. His heart was beating. Blood was pumping. He was alive. He was hurting.

Blood. The blood of his dream. The emotion.

Egewe released Ynsandrailia's arm and slowly moved his fingertips to brush against her hair. It did not feel soft, not anymore. It was brittle and hard with blood from the veins of others. That blood had been taken for his sake, Egewe realized. Sacrifices. For him. He stared in wonder, bewildered and unable to speak. The only thoughts which his mind was really allowing involved warmth, and the texture of Ynsandrailia's hair. He could not allow anything else, because anything else was too painful. He saw it, though. There it was, right before him over a gulf of sorts.

Something like a face appeared on the other side of the gulf. It was evanescent, fading just as quickly as it had appeared, and translucent to begin with. A smile flashed to life, then died.

Died.

It fell away, dissipated, floated off, or something like that, and then Egewe exhaled.

Efia's voice cut through the sound, through the pain, through the delirium.

"We have to go, brother."

That was new pain.

"I knew she was dying," Areladalie observed so nonchalantly that Egewe instantly cringed and wrestled down the urge to scream at her. He looked up, regarding the woman fully, although his mind was urging him not to do so. She stood there, hands upon her hips. She was expressionless, save for a faint trace of curiosity which Egewe saw within her eyes. He was glad that his mind was mercifully still too numb to feel whatever she was feeling. He did not suppose he could have handled sensing that mild curiosity without wanting to lunge forward to strangle the woman.

His hands twitched. Strands of hair slid between his fingers.

"I knew she was dying because I smelled her blood. Look under her robes if you don't believe me." Areladalie leaned back against the stone wall, thumbing her sword. "She took a blow in battle. I suppose she hid it from you to keep you from getting upset like you're doing now. You should be grateful, you know." Areladalie tilted her head, regarding Egewe. "Not just any friend would have given her life for your life."

She pulled away from the wall and stepped forward. "There was one man I would have given my life for, and that's the only person that I can say that about. I don't care about dying, unless my death is boring, but--" She stroked her hair, closing her eyes as she did so. A sigh fled from her lips. "--I want to die for myself, not anyone else, except for that one man, and he's dead now, so my life is entirely my own."

As Egewe shifted his gaze back and forth between Ynsandrailia and Areladalie, he saw that the standing woman was rubbing her lips together. "I'm not really talking about myself right now except to prove a point, though, Egewe. Your friend gave her life to keep your heart beating. Respect that sacrifice by getting onto your feet and coming with us."

"You're not going to attempt to stop us?" Efia asked, eying Areladalie. His sister's emotions penetrated Egewe's mind, and at once, he felt her apprehension. She was distrustful of Areladalie. Looking at her, Egewe could discern that Efia had adopted the tension that one usually took on when sporting for a fight. Her muscles had gone rigid.

"Why should I?" Areladalie blinked, stretched her arms, and returned her hands to her hips. She then gave an eloquent shrug. "I like controversy. Letting you go would cause a good deal of controversy. Besides, who am I to disrespect this woman's sacrifice? I've lost jobs before." Areladalie grinned, and winked. "I'll lose this job, too. Right now, there are much more important things to worry about, like, oh, the destruction of this village."

"Sacrifice--" Egewe croaked. "I hate it. Never wanted it. Always wanted to get away from it." He trembled, lips quivering. "Never wanted anyone to die--for--"

"Mourn her later, brother! We have to leave this place!"

"Your sister is right, you know." Areladalie raised an eyebrow. "There's more or less the beginning of a war going on outside. Fires are everywhere, and blood is spilling in the streets--"

"What?!"

"Certainly. Hell itself has opened its maw. Why do you think there were guards in this place, even?" She shook her head. "You can never be too careful in a situation like this. Another mob arose and attacked the temple. This corridor is something of a secret exit and a secret entrance, so extra guards were placed here just in case this area was attacked. That, I suppose, is why Ynsandrailia chose to free you when she did. People are very preoccupied right now, so this is a perfect opportunity for you to escape, Egewe."

"Why? Why would she die for--"

"Don't ask that yet. Maybe you should never ask it. It was for her to know."

"--why would anyone...?" Egewe sobbed, digging his nails into his palms, then his wrists, then his arms, and, finally, into his chest.

He was not worth so much death. He was only one person. Ynsandrailia was worth every bit as much as he was, and those guards had been worth as much, too. He despised the fact that his only craving was freedom, and life, and yet all he caused was death and destruction.

He was tempted to blame Ynsandrailia for doing what she had done. He wanted to look at her corpse. He wanted to memorize its features perfectly. He wanted to yell at it, to accuse her of having wronged herself. He was angry at Ynsandrailia for dying on his behalf. He should have been the one to die.

His nails pressed more deeply, drawing blood.

He should have been the one to die. Ynsandrailia had had enough magic left to save either herself, or him. She could have saved herself. She could have live! Egewe looked down at the body, at the placid features of his friend. Her face was mostly hidden by shadows, but Egewe could see enough to make his heart ache. He choked on a fresh round of sobs, feeling the pain of suppression as it wrestled with his throat.

She had asked him not to blame her. In the long run, he would not do so. He knew that even as he stared at her lifeless body. Presently, though, he could not fight off the idea that what she had done had been wrong. She should not have let herself die. She should not have allowed it!

Ynsandrailia was dead. Ynsandrailia was truly dead! Another friend was dead! Another friend! Everyone was dying! Everyone!

"Areladalie is correct, brother," Efia said in a husky whisper as she leaned close to her sibling. "We must go." She tugged at Egewe's sleeve with just enough force to suggest that she would tug much harder if he did not comply with her wishes. "I know you've been through a lot. So have I. We've both survived our own hell of sorts, but now we're close to escaping and we have to make that final leap across the abyss. Come with me now. Ynsandrailia's body shall be burned or buried as those of her religion see fit."

"She shall be called a traitor! Her flesh shall likely be taken outside of the gates and cast to the dogs of the Wilds!"

"Her soul is what matters, Egewe, and I think she has saved that by saving you. I like to believe that there are powers far beyond Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios's, powers which reward people for breaking out of grips such as his and for doing things like what Ynsandrailia did here."

Efia looked to Areladalie, as if expecting a response to that. Areladalie looked wistful. She pushed several strands of hair away from her face.

"I suppose that may be possible," she conceded. "Dash 'mee' liahla is all throughout Ansana and the De'eash, and Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios never gave it life. I think the true power of the De'eash comes from within its centre, but, you know, I've never been a very philosophical woman." She pointed. "And this woman? Ynsandrailia? She has lived her whole life worshipping that god, so he may have the biggest claim on her soul."

Egewe stared, confused. Areladalie must have noticed, for she then added,

"Hasn't it ever occurred to you that perhaps people can only give their souls to Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios? That is, I'm not at all certain that he can take them himself. His power seems very limited, really. If he had such power over everyone, then why doesn't he simply set this village ablaze? He never has, though."

"You're saying that people give power to gods by believing in them, by offering them their souls?"

"I'm saying it's a possibility, and one that I personally am inclined to agree with, based on what I've seen over the years. I don't think most of the gods would have any power if humans and other creatures did not bestow it upon them. Now, Ynsandrailia spent her whole life being devoted to Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios. It sounds as if, in the last moments, she broke away from him, but did his grip upon her soul carry over beyond death's threshold?"

Egewe's mouth had gone dry. He swallowed, listening to his heartbeat.

"That's something that none of us can answer," said Areladalie in response to her own question. "Only Ynsandrailia knows what she felt in the end, and what her final opinion of Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios was. She saw something. She made her peace with something, or she rejected it. She kept her faith, or gave it up. We'll never really know, and we really shouldn't. She knows. Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios knows. The other gods may know, too. And death, if death is sentient, also might have something to say about the matter. Us, though? We need to get out of here before I keep rambling endlessly about something I know nothing about."

Egewe felt Efia's eyes upon him again, though he did not immediately look at her. He chewed his lips, and, slowly, he arose. He closed his eyes and forced his feet forward, pushing his mind away from thoughts of Ynsandrailia beside him, and the dead guards lying in a neat pile, and his own worries about the fate of Ynsandrailia's soul and body. There was nothing he could do. He had no power over her soul, and he could not bury her.

He slowly opened his eyes as he walked forward, falling into step beside his sister. He did not look at her, either. He let his eyes fall out of focus, so that only the pulsing light of the sconces was manifest to him. Everything else blurred, becoming spectres.

So much death for his sake, Egewe thought, tasting bile. So much sacrifice. Even when he tried to escape the sacrifices, Egewe found himself in the presence of them. Now, though, the sacrifices were for him. Hungry gods had dark senses of humour, Egewe supposed.

Egewe saw the door at the end of the corridor. He saw a sliver of starlight and moonlight. He felt a chill. He felt waves of tumultuous emotions bustling beyond the door. He felt his sister's heavy emotions, and Areladalie's lighter ones. He did not look back. He wanted to cry. He really wanted to die, but he was trying to fight that feeling. It was hard, because in some ways, he felt dead already. In all other ways, he just ached.

Ynsandrailia was a woman in the end, Egewe thought to himself. She had ceased being a girl sometime ago.

He was still clutching his chest, but he loosened his grasp upon the thin collarbone flesh so that his blood did not continue to fleck his nails. He felt his heart beating within the cage of his ribs. Well, he thought, if everyone else was so intent that it keep beating, and if Ynsandrailia and his sister were willing to go to such lengths for that heart, then he supposed that he would encourage the muscle to keep up its work. Anything less would have been disrespectful.

Egewe swallowed a round of anger. Ynsandrailia should not have done what she did. It was his choice if he lived or died. Well, it should have been his choice. Egewe was overcome with the belief that he did not even have the freedom to die. No, Efia and Ynsandrailia would not have permitted that. He had no freedom in life. He had no freedom in death.

He knew that he would never change his opinion about this subject. What Ynsandrailia had done had been wrong. She should have used her healing spell for herself, and lived. Egewe would never agree with her choice to do otherwise, but he could respect her decision. Although he hated it, he could respect it. His anger at her would subside in time, he knew, but his hurt over this night never would.

The only way not to feel it, that emptiness, was to think of something else, something such as that sliver of moonlight and starlight that awaited him. There it was, the open night air. Freedom.

They came to the doorway one after the next, each a shadow dancing on the wall. Immediately, Egewe felt the coolness of the breeze. He smelled the rich scents of early winter and late autumn. He shivered and wrapped his arms around himself, shielding his body against the cold.

Egewe saw the fires that Areladalie had spoken of earlier. He saw flurries of snow, too. Or, were those ashes? Egewe took another step forward, hoping that he would continue to feel the bite of the frigid air. Tendrils of smoke curled in the sky. Ashes and snow danced together in merriment. The sky was bright with moonlight, with starlight, with the red tint of blazes, and with the black smudge of smoke.

The world was melting away, and freezing to death. The buildings would collapse and the snows would cover them, and when those melted, a hot sea of murky water would inundate the village, while debris mated like serpents in the muck.

"Yzableth-Ara really is going to perish," Egewe said.

Areladalie cocked her head. "Maybe it will perish. Or, maybe it will do like the best villages do, and learn from its mistakes. Maybe this whole disaster will give everyone a good lesson about what not to do. You can't feel sorry for this village, though. That's pointless. It brought these fires down upon itself. When humans get fanatical, now, there's your true wrath of the gods!"

Egewe exhaled, watching a line of white breath stream from his lips. "I am not sorry for the village. I am sorry for the people."

Areladalie's lips shimmered faintly in the light, as if awaiting a phantom smirk. None came. Her starry eyes regarded Egewe with what looked to be inquisitive interest, though the feelings he received from her mind were quick and shallow enough for him to be uncertain. "Yes. That part is sad. People die."

"I care when they do, too."

"As well you should. I lost someone who was dear to me a few years ago." She stepped past Egewe, edging close to the exit of the temple. The wind stirred her hair, and the flashing colours of the night made it appear to become many different shades of blue. "It hurts. With a village like this, people are going to die. With any place, people are going to die. And you should mourn them. It's better if they have someone left behind to mourn them."

"It would be best if they did not die at all."

"Yes, that would be best, but that would also be unrealistic. Still, perhaps the village itself has a chance for life." Areladalie turned to face Egewe. She raised a thumb and indicated the burning village that awaited their entrance. "See, Egewe, if you live, I figure a part of the village is living. You're living. You're a part of the village. So, right now, what you need to think about is staying alive. What I need to think about is staying alive. What Efia needs to think about is staying alive."

At that, a smile did form. It was a very wide smile, as most of Areladalie's were. Egewe sensed--what? Not happiness, no, but something good. Confidence. That was it. He sensed the woman's confidence.

"You see, I'm thinking that you seem like the type who thinks he should be a hero. You probably want to save the village, am I right?"
"I had wanted to, but I know I'm not capable of that."

"No, no, you're missing the point. You are just one person, and, no offense but, not a very powerful person at that. Here you've gone around with these heroic ideals, wanting to save the village, wanting to get rid of Zlatthanalian and Illi-Tay-Ynnaudraurios and have a revolution and, I guess, have a feast afterwards, right?"

Egewe frowned. He was too tired and had far more important matters to be concerned about than whether or not Areladalie mocked him, but, still, in his weakened and wounded state, he wished that she would not.

"What I'm saying is, you're been so intent on trying to save every life within the gates of this place that you haven't really realized that another way to save the village would be by saving yourself, and your sister, and whoever else you can. You won't go down in the history books as a hero, but there will be sunsets in your future. You will be one person in the world who will continue living for the years that remain, and really, that's the best that any of us can hope for."

"I suppose so." Egewe sighed. "It sounds so grim when you think about it, though. It just feels like I should be able to do something more. It feels as though I should at least try for something more." He looked down. "I feel like I'm letting everyone down and being a coward if I don't. I feel as though I'm wronging everyone. I know that I don't have a hero's mettle, but--"

He trailed off. He really did not know where he was going with that.

"But you felt like you had to try to do the best you could?" Areladalie laughed. "Of course. That's human. You may not have wanted to be a hero or thought you could be one, but you wanted to accomplish what a hero would, and that is natural. It's just that heroes are few and far between and if you're not one, then you can still be a good person, the best that you can be."

Emotions flashed throughout her strange eyes. "And, if people are willing to die for you, then I'm thinking you're a really good person. Not all heroes are twenty feet tall, with muscles made of steel. Not all are recorded in textbooks. Some, the unsung kind, are quiet and meek and gentle, and their friends love them more than life. The world may not remember you, but in the minds of people like Ynsandrailia, you're a hero. If you're a hero to just one person, if you've saved even one person, then you've gone beyond what most people have done."

Egewe looked at her, watching her face for any traces of subtleties to the emotions that he felt from her. She laughed. It sounded to be an uncomfortable laugh, but Egewe felt no ill emotions within her.

"You make good speeches," said Efia. There was no humour within her voice.
"I like to hear myself talk. I like to hear myself talk maybe even more than Zlatthanalian likes his own voice, but I don't claim to be the orator that he is." She snickered. "Well, was there anything in my clutters of words which meant anything to you, Egewe?"

"Everything. It all meant something to me. You're completely right. I say that. I believe it." He looked at Efia. "I don't feel it right now, though. I can't be happy about what I'm doing."

"But you can do it?"

Egewe did not hesitate long enough for his mind to create doubts. "Yes. I can."