Last chapter . . . it's all over after this . . . Thank God. I love you all, just for making it this far with me.


When Talitha and Zephyr finally returned to the others, the fire had burned itself out and the tiny group of survivors were fast asleep. Zephyr said nothing more, and only settled on the ground with the others to his back, and slipped into sleep almost immediately.

Talitha sat next to Estelle for an age not counted, watching her face in sleep. The scar was a little more bearable now, knowing what she did. She could change it. She still had one more chance, and Gods smite her if she didn't get it right this time. Finally, she reached out and brushed her hand through Estelle's hair, just once. Estelle's face twisted in sleep and she rolled away from the touch, but Talitha didn't stop her. She continually grasped at the one thought, as if it might slip away at any moment. I can change this.

She settled at the tree once again, but now with a view of the others. She faced east, so the sun would wake her before anyone else. So she could have time to do her work.


The next morning dawned clear and eerily still, without birdsong or the chatter of forest animals. Even the river seemed to have silenced itself, in reverence or fear of what Talitha was about to do. In the light of day it felt foolhardy, dangerous, perhaps impossible. But Talitha did not let herself hesitate, and within a half hour of her waking she had a sloppily written, poorly explained letter in her hands. She dropped the quill in her hand, which she had found bent and nearly dry in the wreckage of the camp, and folded the paper, placing it on top of Estelle's sword. She took a final, lingering look at the young woman's face, still peaceful in whatever dream held her. Then Talitha turned, picked up the blue vial, and walked down the riverbank.

Zephyr's instructions had been clear, and Talitha had heard Blaise agonize over the concoction enough to know it's basic principles. She knew what to say, what words to use, and if she missed the pronunciation a little, she didn't think anyone would care. The only thing left to worry about would be if it actually worked.

She stopped near a bend in the river and slid down the bank. Cold water splashed at her feet and Talitha breathed in a large lungful of the cool morning air. And without any further pause, she uncorked the bottle and stepped into the frigid water and waded to the middle of the river, still holding the vial high above her head.

When she closed her eyes the words flowed out of her like waves in the ocean. An ocean she had never seen, and now never would. Her life had one purpose now, and she would hold to it for the rest of her days. She spoke the final sentence, tongue tripping momentarily over the strange elvish syllables, and with relief, spoke a date in her native tongue. She knew now how many days would be left in her life. She would make the best of each of them.

She raised the vial to her lips and drank, in large, almost gagging gulps. When the bottle was empty she dropped it into the water, eyes staring forward into the rising sun. Colors blurred around her, the light bent until it seemed to be night, and a feeling like a ball of lead settling in her stomach became stronger as the seconds passed.

Then Talitha Frewin disappeared from the river, and a lark began to sing.


Estelle

Estelle woke slowly, morning light playing across her face in shadows dappled by the leaves above her. When it finally grew too much she threw a hand out blindly, expecting to strike the set of drawers next to her bed. Instead there was moss and dewy leaves, and she slowly remembered why her bed was so uncomfortable.

She sat up slowly, squinting at the forms on the ground. Leila and Travis were still asleep, and Blaise was beginning to stir. Zephyr was sitting up as well, staring at his hands. The lines of his face were deep, and Estelle decided not to disturb whatever he was thinking so intently about.

She rose to her knees, having every intention to slide down the bank and see what state Malcolm was in, but that was the moment she saw Talitha was gone. She hadn't heard her come back from her conversation with Zephyr the night before, so perhaps she had snuck out early this morning? Estelle rose to her feet, and her foot knocked against her sword that lay in the grass next to her.

There was a paper places on top of it, now smudged slightly with mud. Estelle reached down and took it. She looked at Zephyr, who was watching her. "What's this?" Zephyr shook his head. Estelle looked down at it, and unfolded it slowly.

Estelle, The first line read. Estelle's eyes scanned it quickly. Then she read it again, and again. She read it agonizingly slowly a fourth time, as if the words might have changed by the time she had started over. Her vision was blurring when she finished the last time, and the letter fell from her shaking hands, landing on the grass.

"She is dead," she said quietly. Zephyr did not respond. Estelle looked at him, a molten feeling rising in her chest, growing hotter and larger with every breath she took. "She is dead," she repeated.

"I think she is." Zephyr responded finally, staring at his hands again. The fire in her chest flared, and her vision blurred again. A single tear fought its way down her cheek, and rage shook her small body.

"Oh, you think so, do you?" she spat. Zephyr looked up at her in surprise.

"What did she tell you?" Zephyr asked.

"Hm," Estelle said mockingly. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean. In the letter, or in my childhood?" she didn't wait for him to respond before barreling on. "She told me enough. She told me everything, and she told me absolutely nothing. All I know, is that she has confirmed how little I can trust you."

Zephyr's brow furrowed, and he rose to his feet slowly. "Child, what are you-"

"I am not a child," she said, her voice quiet and deadly in its calm. "You only like to pretend so to make up for lying to me."
Zephyr bowed his head. "I had hoped to-"

"No." Estelle said shortly, holding up a hand. "You do not get to talk. You have been making decision for me from the moment of my birth. Through Talitha," she stopped, laughing without any trace of humor, rubbing a hand over her left wrist. The skin there was raw. "Should I call her that? I don't know. I don't know what to call her, Zephyr. Doesn't that strike you as wrong?"

"I always meant to tell you," he said, and something inside Estelle snapped.

"She. Was. My. Mother!" Estelle screamed, and their three companions jerked awake. "She was my mother, Zephyr! She's already gone back!" Estelle snatched up the letter again, waving it in Zephyr's face as the three on the ground glanced at each other in confusion. "She said so here, that she would do it before I woke up! She's gone back in time. She's married Raul Medalia, and she gave birth to me, and my brother, and then she died, Zephyr, she died of a sickness that could not take me. And she changed nothing." she paused after each word, anger pouring out of her in waves that shook her whole body.

Zephyr raised his hands in a pacifying gesture that only made her anger grow, but she did not speak. If she did, Estelle knew she would never stop. "I only . . ." Zephyr paused, glancing at their companions, now wide awake and watching. "I only meant to protect you, to help you," he said hurriedly when Estelle drew herself up, seemingly for another onslaught. "I thought, and she did as well, that she could go back and change all of this, to prepare you for your role in the prophecy."

"That's what this is about, then?" she said, nodding to herself. A hysterical smile twisted her face momentarily. "It's all about the prophecy. The damn prophecy. Let me tell you a story, Zephyr."

Estelle took a step closer, the letter crumpling in her hand. "There was a girl, the daughter of a mayor in a prosperous city. Her father never had much time for her, and her brother was so much older they could never be close. But her mother was there, always there. Even when she didn't want her, even when I wanted to strangle her, she was there." she paused, but continued before Zephyr could interrupt. "My mother was insane, Zephyr. She hardly let me out of her sight. She was terrified of fog and fire and rain. She nearly had a heart attack when she saw me on a horse the first time! She was overbearing, and overprotective, but when life was bad and there was no one else, she was always there. I loved her. Because she was my mother, and because she was there. Because she was honest and for all her stupid lessons she gave me-" she struggled with the words, the words that were pouring out of her like water from a broken pipe. Tumbling one over the other, tangling together until they didn't make sense anymore. When she began again, her voice was much quieter. "For all her lessons, I knew she had my best interests at heart. I knew she was honest, and that she trusted me. But apparently, I was wrong.

"Would someone who trusted me do this?" she waved the crumpled letter in her fist at Zephyr. "Would she run in the middle of the night so she didn't have to confront me? Would she promise over and over that everything would be fine, when she knew that it never would? Would she . . ." Estelle stopped, sobs wracking her small frame that she hadn't known were building. Blaise was at her side a moment later, pressing a hand to her shoulder and she slumped into him, letting him hold her up. Blaise looked from her to Zephyr, and whispered a question in her ear. She shook her head because she couldn't hear him over the cold pain and burning fury in her chest, and because Zephyr looked like he was going to talk again. Instead Estelle pushed away from Blaise, standing straight in the ashes of last night's fire.

"My mother didn't trust me. Talitha didn't trust me. You have never trusted me. And now that it's all gone to hell, you want me to jump in and save it all with your little prophecy. Well I have news for you, Zephyr." she reached down and picked up her sword, sheath and all, and tossed it at him. He barely caught it, fumbling with the strap. "After that," she waved her hand in the general direction of the battlefield, miles and miles away and still smoking. "I am never touching a sword again. Find someone else to fulfill your prophecy." Ebony, who stood by the riverbed, knickered quietly, uneasy with the tension in the air. The earth rumbled softly beneath them, a tremor seeming to emanate from Estelle's feet, who now stood alone in front of the oak

"I'm done." she said. A cold wind whipped around them, buffeting Zephyr until he nearly fell. Estelle paid him no heed, and walked instead to Ebony. The black horse snorted in displeasure but stood still to let Estelle mount her. She turned without instruction to the west, seeming to understand Estelle's intentions without need for nudging.

"What about Malcolm?" Blaise called. Estelle stopped, and felt Ebony shudder under her.

"Malcolm is dead," Estelle said, just loud enough for them to hear. "He died in his sleep last night." She didn't know how she knew, but she did. Just as she knew that the dropping temperature and howling wind around them was her doing, a deep primal part of her come to life in the chaos of the battlefield. Just as she understood now that her own mystical healing, and the blue orb she had found herself encased in was her work as well. Something in her was waking, something writhing with her emotions. Something that she could not control, and did not particularly want to at the moment.

She closed her eyes and felt Ebony tense under her. "Goodbye Blaise," she whispered. "Goodbye Malcolm," and with that Ebony began to move, and she did what she had longed to do all her life.

Estelle escaped.


Seeing as I've never finished a book before, I think I'm allowed to get a little mushy here. Feel free to skip the profuse thanking and sobbing if you wish. Final notes at the very bottom.

The biggest thanks in the universe to every singe person who reviewed (I'm obsessed and sentimental so I'm listing you all):

dragons for life

Oci Oceana

Who'sObsessed10

Richy the Raconteur

Ashmir (thanks so much for your sweet thoughts! :D)

MorWolfMor

Alpha-Bread

Miggles

InfatuatedCritic

Sierra

Lasair97

alienfromx

and every single guest who's ever reviewed. You know who you are.

Also my love goes to all those silent favoriters/followers. Luv ya babes.

To Miggles, my first reviewer: Thank you for the encouragement and continued reviews. I could not have done this without that first push. :)

To Sierra, the second: You didn't comment that often, but you were so sweet when you did. Just thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.

And of course, my every present and persistent friend Oci Oceana: thank you for not killing me when I was late. Really late. So late the story rotted in my absence. You're awesome! (I'm getting mushy, ignore me)

Aaaand, the mush is over. This is the first book in a trilogy, but since we've clearly established I'm a jerk who has no concept of deadlines, I wouldn't hold my breath for the next one. Or anything from me, really. Perhaps some randomly inspired short stories or teasers will pop out of me occasionally, and you might see some crap around Nano later this year. But until then . . .