Moana waited anxiously in the central room of Azad's underground home, and tried to think about anything other than her reason for being there.
She looked at the walls. Dug from dark brown earth, they were a stark contrast to the pale blue crystal she had lived in for the last several months. Though smaller than her cell had been in the Crystifice, the proximity of the walls no longer had a claustrophobic effect on her. A hatch overhead was used to let in light and fresh air, but it was night now, and the moon was in its season of hiding.
The darkness outside mirrored the somberness in her heart.
Unbidden, she found her attention back on an adjoining bedroom.
There, she and Kanin had worked to make Ada as comfortable as possible. The fair-skinned woman had been placed on a bed of straw piled atop an earthen mound, and covered with tattered robes. Ada had not left the bed, and Kanin had not left her side.
And Moana had not left this room, where she watched, waited, and tried unsuccessfully to distract herself. She felt guilty about trying to think of others things, but dwelling on the present was agonizing.
She shifted focus and tried thinking about the events of the last few days.
One night ago, they were escaping from their prison inside the Crystifice. Only after making it out and up the narrow passage that lead to the surface did they realize they didn't know where to go. They waited, and by morning's light found Azad, Deena, Cyrus, Kanin and Zee alive and making their ascent, which had been too treacherous for the humans in the darkness of night.
Later that morning, after they arrived at Azad's home, they had what Azad called the first annual Freedom Feast, in celebration of their escape to freedom. They ate fruits and vegetables, and something called lizard jerky.
The lizard jerky was odd, to her. It provided no Drycana when consumed, and lacked the robust flavor of the other items. Truly though, the feast was primarily for the humans. As food was in short supply, the Dryn Mar ate only a little bit as a symbol of participation and unity.
The sound of Ada's breath quickening brought her back to the present. Kanin tenderly stroked Ada's golden hair, and spoke in a hushed whisper. Moana's sensitive ears could hear every bit of need in his voice when he told Ada she couldn't leave him yet.
She wished Cyrus were there. His presence was always a comfort.
She'd never imagined she would become so emotionally invested in someone that their presence alone was enough to give her peace. Dryn Mar were created to fight a war. The idea of peace in their lifetime was something she had never thought within reach.
Certainly not something that would come at the hands of another individual.
Peace only came one way on Rut Nasaal: through death.
Ada's breathing quickened and evened out again.
Moana wasn't sure Kanin would last much longer if Ada didn't pull through. The two of them forged a special bond after the Dryn side of them had been stripped away, leaving them basically human.
Looking at them both there, it was easy to understand the bond was love, or at least became that, whatever it started as.
Moana wondered if they had ever said as much to each other.
Again, her thoughts drifted to Cyrus, but before she could begin to untangle them a tingling sensation formed at the edge of her senses. It was as if hearing someone call her name, and then turning to find nobody there.
It was Drycana being realeased.
She stood and approached the archway to the bedroom.
Ada was still, and Moana now keenly felt the life energy as it ebbed from the golden-haired woman.
With a deep breath she opened herself up to it, felt the shiver course through her as Ada's Drycana joined her own. The abundance of Drycana dwelling inside her now was great, almost overwhelming.
She opened eyes she didn't realize she'd closed. Kanin stood beside the bed and looked back at her. Tears streamed down his face, and she so envied his ability to cry them. She went and held him until his body no longer shook with weeping.
"I'll give you some time alone with her," she said softly once he had caught his breath. "Too soon."
"Too soon," he agreed.
She found everyone standing around the hatch as she emerged. She knew the Dryn Mar would have felt Ada's Drycana release, and the humans were perceptive. They would have realized what was happened.
Deena cried while Azad held her tightly. Beside them, Zee fidgeted nervously. Cyrus looked like he wanted to go to her, but wasn't sure if he should. They Dryn Mar all stood straight, heads bowed in the customary sign of respect for those who died too soon.
"At sunrise, Ada will take her final flight," she announced in Dryn, and then again in the human language.
She'd been unsure about hosting the final flight ritual for Ada, and was relieved to notice several of the Dryn Mar looked up and nodded their approval, including Taleb.
"I need some volunteers to help prepare for the ceremony."
Every Dryn Mar came forward, and she assigned tasks to each. It was too dark for the humans to work effectively at what she needed done, so she encouraged them to rest. Once the tasks were assigned, and the work begun, she ducked back down into the dugout shelter.
She was surprised to find Kanin pacing the main room, instead of by Ada's side. He became aware of her presence and stopped to face her.
"I heard you say she will take her final flight at sunrise."
"Yes," she said.
"Thank you for that," he said, and she could tell he was fighting to hold back tears.
Moana smiled faintly. "It seemed appropriate. Will you speak?"
He shook his head.
"No, I don't think I could."
"I understand. May I?"
He offered the closest thing to a smile she'd seen on his face since they arrived on the surface.
"I would like that."
"It's settled, then. Some of the others would probably like to talk to you. Would you rather be alone?"
He nodded. A tear escaped his efforts to keep them at bay and made its way down his face.
"I'll be close," she said, then she turned and made her way back up the hatch.
Cyrus was there as she emerged into the warm night air. He hesitated for a moment, then opened his arms to offer a hug. Grateful, she fell into it, and took comfort in being held.
"What's final flight?" Cyrus asked after they released each-other.
She looped her arm in his and walked slowly.
"Do you remember when you and Azad came to visit me many months ago," she replied in Dryn, "and he asked if we die? Because we don't eat?"
"Yes." He said,
"Do you remember what I said?"
"Yes. You weren't sure, because when you reach a certain age you get sent through the Galen Doors and down to the world below."
She chuckled at him. He knew well what it was called, she knew. He was trying to lighten the mood, and she loved that.
"The Gaden Mor, yes. What else?"
"I said the only way to die before then, is if Matka gets you."
He nodded vigorously, and with a hint of laughter in his voice, said, "Yes! That's right, I remember that now. Azad thought Matka was a what, not a he."
"Don't be smug," she chided him, though she kept her tone slightly playful so as not to hurt his feelings. "It's not as if you knew any better."
The reached a boulder, and as she sat she motioned for him to join her.
"What do you do with the dead on Bron Nasaal?" she asked.
Cyrus accepted her offer, and when he was sitting she laced her fingers through his.
"We drop them off the Drop Rock," he said. "But you already knew that."
"And so it is much the same for us. Those lives that Matka claimed, when the bodies were found, they were taken to the edge of the skyland. There, they took their final flight, down to the world below. It is an important ritual to us, reserved only for those who die too soon."
For a while the only sound between them was the rustling of the brush in the wind.
"When Taleb lost the match to Mady, you used Drycana to heal his wounds. Why didn't you do the same for Mady?"
"I wish I could have," she said. "Drycana can heal bodiliy wounds. It cannot heal a broken heart, or a fractured mind, however. That is where Ada's fight took place. There is a song we will sing. I will teach you the words and tune, so that you may teach Azad and his family."
She taught him the song of the final flight, and then they sat in silence for a while after that, and watched the stars in the sky. After a while, she left his side to check on the preparations. Before long, the eastern horizon was turning from black to blue, and the time had come.
Ada's body had been brought out of the home and laid on a bed of woven twigs and brush gathered from the surrounding area. Someone even managed to find a handful of desert flowers, which were arranged around her head. Kanin stood at one end of the bed, with Taleb, Kisi and Tollin on the other sides.
When everyone was gathered, Moana addressed them.
"Though Ada has breathed her last breath, she is alive. Her Drycana, which is the essence of her life, exists inside me. With it, I will water the seeds that Azad has provided. From those seeds will grow fruits that provide us sustenance, and fuel our Drycana, which will in turn be used to water the new seeds. And through that cycle, Ada will live on forever, continuing to provide for us and live in us."
She motioned to Kanin and the others, and they each took a side of the bed and lifted.
"And now, we take bid Ada farewell as she takes her final flight."
The bearers of Ada's corpse led the group on the walk to the skyland's edge. It took but a few minutes to make the trip, and as the skyland's edge came into view, Kisi began to sing.
soldier the time has come
for final flight and freedom
from this unending war
fighting Lon on blood stained shores
all your suffering ceased
now you will know peace
though sky calls but once more
in our hearts forever soar
The only sound was the wind as the bearers released the bed, and Ada took her final flight.
Taleb left to wander on his own for a while.
Though he held no particular fondness for Kanin nor Ada, singing the words moved him. He knew the lyrics intimately, having sung it more times than he cared to recall. Those had been different, though. Rarely did he know the victims closely, he sang out of a sense of duty.
No, he did not hold a fondness for Kanin or Ada, but he did have a lot of respect for them, and what they had gone through.
If he could help it, no more Dryn Mar would have to suffer that same fate.
Moana's words came back to him. You have a ship, but no army.
Now he had neither a ship nor an army.
A small surface lizard darted in front of him and froze, distracting him from his thoughts.
He recalled eating lizard meat at their celebration meal. It lacked the flavor of the fruits and vegetables, but was oddly satisfying still. Zee maintained a garden, but it required daily care. Since Zee's capture it had seen no attention, and it showed. Nursing it back to health would take time.
The humans needed food, and he wanted to practice with his Drycana. If nothing else, bringing back a dead lizard to eat would provide him a reason for wandering around the surface other than being alone with his thoughts.
Slowly, Taleb crouched down and placed his palms on the ground. His eyes stayed on the small reptile as he considered what it might take to catch it. When Mady tossed Moana over the edge, he had reacted on instinct and fear, releasing his Drycana without any calculation. The vines had shot from his hands and snared her, enabling him to pull her to the surface like they were ropes, before they withered.
Of course, he had practiced with Drycan under Rasmusen's guidance back on Rut Nasaal, and knew some of what he could do with it. He knew how to harness and control it, even though making vines was never something he'd practiced. Still, he did his best to put those lessons to use here.
The energy hummed inside him, buzzing as he called upon it. In his mind, he envisioned what he wanted, and then released the Drycana.
Like a thief in the night, the vine emerged from his palm and dug silently into the ground. Moments later, it popped up just beneath the lizard, which tried to dart forward, but too late. The tiny vines were quicker still, wrapping around the lizard and entangling it. Seconds later, Taleb managed to formulate a smaller vine off the original one and snake it around the lizard's neck.
With a thought, it constricted, and as the lizard's life faded Taleb sensed the familiar, invisible tingle of its life essence release. He opened himself up to it and drank it in before it could dissipate, and was surprised to find it surpassed what he released in killing it.
The experience left him with many questions, and the desire to find the answers.
He needed to find another lizard.
v 1.1 - Updated 12/8/17 - Updated to reflect something I forgot (eep!) that is kind of a big deal.