EPILOGUE

Home by the River

Epilogue

Caravans crossed the snowing plateau in busy droves. A blimp took off from the makeshift landing pad made of magically raised stones in the short distance. Through windows, figures waved at the people below, many waving back from their tents as a large bonfire centred the pop-up camp. The Arena loomed over them in the cold weather, an ominous reminder of where they had just came from. And though the structure had many rooms within, none of the gladiators chose to stay within, instead opting to brave the white outside.

Nadier watched out the window from his bed in the tavern as a second copper blimp came in from the east to land. A maroon-green flag flew on its tail. Aside from the bullet hole in his leg, he was also recovering two broken ribs. Ratface snored loudly from the second bed in the darker corner of the room where the light from the fireplace refused to reach.

The door opened without any knocks and Ierba strolled in with his injured arm in a sling. "They're here."

"I saw them coming," Nadier replied.

With a grunt, he got out of his bed slowly and leaned on his one good leg, balancing through the pain in his ribs. First, he swiped his coat off a hangar, put it on, and pulled up its hood. Then, he took a pair of gloves off the nightstand and slid those on. Grabbing the wooden crutches off the wall, he limped-walked over to Ierba, who held the door opened for him and closed the door as they left.

The Twins were out in full that day, and while the icy cold of the north continued to blow through, a warm tingle heated up their coats. Nadier stopped for a moment to pull his scarf up further and adjusted his gloves to further cover his wrist. Most of his aeronium layer had faded, and he was now the generic white of elves with blotches of dark patches on his skin, as if he had a reverse case of vitiligo.

"Come back to Aleynonlia with us," Ierba offered. "I'm sure we can reverse engineer the technology needed to make you a new set of aeronium skin."

"I appreciate the offer, but as I've said, the skin's not really the reason why I'm headed north."

"Right..."

They continued through the town. Many of the establishments were "allowed" to continue their existence. Since a good number of them were simply people who were looking to escape the law or past with no real ties to the Arena aside from existing in its shadows. Though most of the shadier businesses had long since escaped or were put down unceremoniously by the freed gladiators. The newly emptied building had been converted to living quarters for most of the released slaves.

As they neared the landing pad, the newly arrived blimp began its descent.

Trini stood atop a crate and shouted directions to the on-site workers - former defected guards of the arena - to move supplies unloaded from the previous blimp between stations. Immediately after her father's death, she had forgone all her dresses. Now in a sleek grey coat and simplistic navy blue shirts and pants, she dressed no differently from those she commanded. Though Nadier found her to look good all the same.

Her sights dawned on them and quickly she waved the last few instructions away. Getting off her perch, she sauntered over. "How's the ribs?"

"Honestly?" Nadier replied. "Quite bad."

Ignoring his whining, Ierba greeted, "Looks like leadership suits you."

"Don't get used to it," Trini reminded.

After the battle, there was a short power struggle, but very quickly a large number of forces, guards and gladiators alike, consolidated under Trini. The former recognising her as the orchestrator of the escape and killer of her father, and the latter either still loyal to her or seeking shelter from the mob.

"I'm just in charge until your Clover allies gets here and takeover. Speaking of which..."

The blimp landed, and before the cabin platform even lowered, out jumped a man dressed in dark leather armour and jet black winter coat. Behind him waiting for the platform to descend was a woman in a flowing white winter dress, puffed up hood and all like a petal of snow.

His arms wide opened, he announced, "I have returned, as promised."

Trini walked up to shake the boisterous man's hand. "Thank you, Neo."

Nadier got up beside them. "So you're Neo Deskett?"

"And you must be Nadier." He sized the elf. "You don't look so good."

"Had to fight a dragon."

"So did I. Not a scratch, though." Neo grinned.

"Boys."

Ierba stepped in. "Wag you dick all you want, asshole. You still could have intervened earlier." The knight reprimanded Neo, his fellow Clover.

The gruff man smiled. "Then I wouldn't see your ass getting kicked in those fights."

"I've won all my fights."

The woman in white reached them. "Are they still measuring their codpieces?"

Trini agreed. "Lesser species, these men."

Ierba approached the woman in white. "You've become so mean!" The two kissed tenderly, to the surprise of both Nadier and Trini.

The dark elf pointed out in confusion. "That's sexual assault, right? You can't kiss random people."

The knight's arm was hugged around the woman's shoulder. "This is my wife. I've told you about her dozens of times."

"I always thought you were joking. I mean... who could love..." Nadier simply gestured to Ierba in his entirety, causing Ierba to shoot daggers from his eyes.

A rare grin flashed briefly on Trini's face before the usual stoic expression took over. "Speaking of, I assume all of you Clovers can handle things here momentarily? Nadier and I have someone we must meet."

Initially, he simply glanced at her questioningly. It was the first time he had heard of this meeting. After bidding farewell to the others, he followed Trini towards the edge of the town where the caravans of tribes had set up a campsite. Trini was greeted everywhere she moved, some with trepidation, while others with respect.

She slowed down to match pace with him by her side. "The Clovers asked me to take charge of the full relocation effort of this place."

He conversed, "That seems like a tall order."

"The way I see it, the area will likely turn into a town of some sort. A shelter for the displaced. If I take up the job, I'll probably end up the leader."

"Mayor Trini," Nadier mused. His ribs, which had been leaning against his crutches, were starting to hurt. "Are you considering it?"

She gave a wry laugh. "Not one bit. I've had enough of ordering people around for one lifetime."

They proceeded through the campsite. Gladiators returning to the mercenary life was pitching their services to the tribes, while others worked as muscled labour to save up enough resources for their journey out. The pair was reaching the edge of the camp and approaching a single tent, campfire burning, separated from the rest.

Nadier asked, "Then what will you do after this?"

Trini mused, "I'll probably go north. Make sure a certain dark elf doesn't get himself killed after all my efforts." She exchanged looks with him. Before he could reply, she stopped walking and pointed at the lone tent ahead. "We're here."

An old hume woman sat patiently by the fireside. The short grey hair and wrinkles on her face were the only physical attributes that showed her age. The woman was built tall and proud, with defined physique even in her elder years. Nadier was sure that if they were to fight, the old woman would be more than a challenge for him. He had seen such body builds before, especially on retired soldiers and warriors who trained even into their twilight years.

Next to the old woman was Zen, who was napping with her head on the woman's lap.

He looked to Trini, who simply gestured with her head for him to engage in conversation. Warily but not combative, he limped over to the old woman's side. The latter looked up to him with an aged smile.

"It's been a while," she greeted.

"Do I know you?" Nadier asked.

He had these conversations before with his human friends. The differences between their specie's ageing speed differed so greatly, it was sometimes difficult to recognise old acquaintances.

"She has heard of your memory lost, but she still feels insulted at having you forget a roommate's face."

"Enthes..."

"Hello, dear."

"I'm...I..." he was unsure what to say.

Enthes merely smiled. "Do you mind if Enthes were to speak with Arbor, please?"

Nadier stared blankly at her and simply nodded. Somewhere inside, Arbor fought against the decision, but Nadier ignored him and removed his eye patch. Almost instantly, his consciousness faded into the background of his mind and Arbor took over. Immediately, the dark elf's eyes dodged away to the flames.

"Scared?" Enthes asked.

Though flustered but unafraid, Arbor answered, "Terrified."

"Well don't be. Enthes is alive today because of you."

Not turning his head but glancing over ever so slightly, Arbor asked, "And Raven?"

"She's dead," Enthes answered nonchalantly.

"I'm sorry. It's my fault."

"You give yourself too much credit, dear. She lived another six years after they escaped. Then she got sick." He slowly turned his head to Enthes, whose eyes glistened in the fire. "Those were wonderful years."

Arbor admitted, "If I had fought alongside you all, we might have won."

"Maybe. Guess they'll never know. What they do know is that you bought the two them six years. And six years frozen in the snow is forever."

Zen woke up from their talking. The wolf looked around, and upon seeing her partner, nuzzled Enthes in thanks before trotting over to his side, switching the lap she slept on over to his. He felt a sudden sense of reassurance at having the warmth of Zen seep into his blood.

"Zen lived with Enthes all this time. Imagine her surprise when she woke up one day and the girl was gone. She ran away, just like her master."

"I'm sorry."

"Stop apologising," she punctuated. "If you want to make it up to Enthes, you will promise her just one thing."

She paused, and Arbor waited for her to continue. Eventually, he realised she wanted him to look her in the eyes first, and so, reluctantly, he raised his head up to the old woman.

Her finger raised and pointed to him. "Have a good life."

"That's..." Arbor began, then swallowed. "That's a tall order."

Enthes reached her hand out to give Zen one final ruffle of her fur before creakily standing up. Without another word, the woman simply smiled and walked away. As Arbor got to his feet, Nadier slowly reasserted control of his body. He wore his eye patch back over his injured eye, signalling the full exchange between the two consciousness.

When Trini came up beside him, Nadier muttered blankly, "She wasn't angry. I can't comprehend how after what Arbor did, she can simply forgive him. I can never do that."

The sea elf stood by his side and nodded empathetically. "There's an old saying amongst sea elves that lives in the deep ocean." They looked to each other, eyes locking in recognition of where they stood, and how far they've come. "The greatest love can only come from the depth of darkness."

Around them, snowfall began to drift in.