A/N: It's the end! The end is near! Whoohoo!
FOURTEEN - THE END
The next day, Taka ran out of the painkiller. He let everyone rest for half a day, before getting them all to move on. But he gritted his teeth, and bore it, while he led his people along a wide river toward Hope. He lasted until the evening.
They were about a day's travel from Hope. They were walking quietly along the river, when Taka suddenly fell to his knees with a faint cry. At once, everyone stopped with alarmed cries. Naki ran from the back to the front, while Sunaki came from ahead. The two Cliff people kept everyone back, while they knelt anxiously beside the fallen Cliff.
Taka was on all fours, teeth clenched together. Naki reached out a hand to help but Taka shook his head.
"Don't. . .touch." They watched as he slowly staggered to his feet. He stood, swaying, and looked toward the distant horizon through glazed eyes. "Just. . .one more day."
"Taka, you have to stop this!" Naki cried. "If you go on, you'll just kill yourself!"
"Better listen to him," a new voice came from the river. Everyone turned to see a two people in a small canoe on the river. They had come up so silently, no one noticed their approach. It was a father and his son, and both had white-blonde hair, and pale blue eyes. They wore light tunics, and were tall and slender.
Taka stared at the newcomers. "Who...are you?"
The father smiled. "We are the Anthoreans, the people of the waterways. Our people have associated with yours, young Cliff, for years and years." Then he frowned. "You aren't looking very well."
"Anthorean?" Sunaki took a step forward. "I've heard of you. You are very skilled with healing, are you not?"
"That we are," the father bowed his head modestly.
"Then would you mind taking a look at our young leader here?"
"What?!" Taka spluttered. "We can't - I can't -"
"Taka." Naki's voice was soft, but firm. Taka turned to see his friend at his side. "You took that spear for me. You saved my life. But if you continue on this way, you aren't going to live long.
"You said we're only a day away from Hope. Your men know the way, and they can take us there. We'll be fine."
But Taka was not convinced. The expression on his face said so. He turned around to face Sunaki, only to have a cool hand placed on his forehead. His eyes widened in surprise to see the Anthorean father standing before him.
When had he gotten there?
"Oh, dear," the father shook his head. "You, my Cliff friend, are very, very sick. You shouldn't be walking around like this."
"I know," Taka said, "But can't you look at me after we've reached Hope?"
"Uh. . ." Sunaki said, trying to address the Anthorean man.
"It's Leomi," the man said, being helpful.
"Leomi," Sunaki said. "Taka has a hole right through him. He's in serious need of help, but he doesn't think so. Perhaps you could do something to change his mind?"
"What?" Taka turned to stare at Sunaki, but winced as pain shot through him, blurring his vision. They were talking about him as if he wasn't there. "Sunaki, Naki. . ."
"I think I can," Leomi smiled pleasantly at Sunaki, as both of them ignored Taka's weak protests. "Jeoni," he called to his son, "Bring me my box, please."
The youth in the canoe nodded, and grabbed a box before leaping out of the canoe onto the shore. As he ran toward them, Taka suddenly fell to his knees once more, coughing violently. He coughed up blood, and suddenly, Leomi was serious.
He took the box that his son gave him, and opened it. He pulled out a sterile syringe, and filled it with a pale green liquid. Giving it a test squirt, he then plunged it into Taka's arm. Taka was too busy coughing to notice. But almost at once, his coughing stopped, and his entire body relaxed. He slowly slumped onto the ground, unconscious.
Leomi looked up at Sunaki and the others. "Go on. I will take care of your leader, and when he is better, I will bring him to this Hope."
"Thank-you," Sunaki smiled gratefully. "If you hadn't shown up, he probably would have died."
"It's all right." Sunaki moved to the front of the group of people.
"Let's move out, everybody. Taka is going with these people to get fixed up, so don't worry about him. We are going on to Hope."
As the long line of people passes, they all threw anxious glances at Taka's unconscious from. Leomi noticed this, and looked down at the young Cliff. Here was one person who was loved by many. All these people, perhaps more, care for him, and depend on him. Leomi gave a small smile. He would do his very best to heal this young man.
Sunaki let out all his breath in one whoosh as he stared at the gigantic frame of the megacity. "This is. . .Hope?" he asked Scial, who walked beside him.
"Not all of it. At least, not yet. One day, all of it will be filled with people who survived the Redder's attack. This is Taka's dream, really. His idea."
"It's beautiful," Sunaki smiled, seeing past the ugly twisted buildings, the broken rubble of the remains. He envisioned it, built up again, strong and sturdy, and safe. Young children played together, safe from the evil clutches of the Redders. Young couples walked together down the streets, and older people sat on balconies, sharing news of the old times.
As they neared it, Sunaki saw that the whole place looked like it was in ruins. Yet, as they approached, he could see people, a few at first, coming out of seemingly broken down buildings, then a lot. All in all, it was a small group, but it brought a smile to his face, as they cheered at the newcomers.
A tall, dark man approached, and Sunaki stepped forward to meet him. The man smiled when they met, and gave a respectful nod.
"I see Taka has found some more of his kind."
"Yes," Sunaki agreed. "But not only that, but a lot of refugees."
"We all have been waiting. . .but, where is Taka?"
Sunaki bowed his head. "He was severely injured in a battle with some Redders. He took a spear meant for my son." Sunaki paused, then looked up. "He traveled, leading us with a hole in his shoulder, for seven days. A day ago, he collapsed beside the river that flows past here. As it happens, some Anthoreans were passing by, and they agreed to take him in. I would not worry, for he is in good hands."
"Taka. . ." the man whispered, then shook his head. "He's come a far, far ways from the uncertain sweeper boy. He's changed, and grown into a great leader."
"That he has," Sunaki agreed.
It was nearly a month later, before a small group of people approached the city of Hope. There were seven of them. Six of them wore light tunics, and had white-blond hair. The seventh was a tall, lean black-haired man. He had brilliant green eyes that shone under a thick thatch of black hair.
As he approached Hope, he paused, staring up at the gigantic megacity. The wind suddenly picked up, swirling around him, and blowing his hair and clothing to one side. It brought a clean smell of flowers with it, bringing a smile to his face. Flowers. . .in ths barren place. The wind blew on, gusting into the city, and whipping through the streets. It played havoc with a string of laundry, then whispered through the hair of children playing in the streets. The wind passed on, then, swirling up into the sky, leaving a faint smell of flowers in the air.
The black-haired man then stepped into the city, into Hope, with a smile on his face. Yes, things have changed since a year and a half ago. But they had changed for the better.