Lina felt the breath vanish from her lungs as she saw Luna on the road, holding the hand of a small boy. From beside her Gourry wrapped an arm around her as Min and Attie exchanged a glance. Lina stopped in her tracks, and everyone else moved just a bit behind her as she stared at Luna in shock. For a moment the sisters looked each other over quietly, each waiting for the other one to speak. Sylphiel watched the impending confrontation, confusion evident on her face, but read from the demeanor of the group that this was not the time to ask questions. Meanwhile, Lina fumbled through her feelings, realizing as she did that while she had started to come to terms in some ways with Dianna's death, she still wasn't ready to forgive her sister for her coldness in the aftermath of the event.
"I didn't expect to see you here." Lina finally spat as she folded her arms across her chest, her stance clearly indicating that this was not a welcome surprise.
"I'm not surprised." Luna said quietly, and if she was perturbed by Lina's thinly veiled hostility, she did not show it, "Considering the reason I'm even on the road in the first place."
"Must be the same damn reason we're here if you decided to get out and do your own dirty work." Lina replied.
Unaccustomedly, Luna glanced at the ground for a moment before she looked at Lina again, "Couldn't help it this time. I guess you know Mazoku are searching for the people who conceal Shabranigdu in their souls."
And I'll be damned before I tell you they learned the spell from me, Lina thought as she nodded, "Why don't you tell me what you know first for once? And then I'll think about telling you what I know."
Attie looked at Min in surprise as Min kept her gaze focused on Luna as everyone waited to see what the other woman would do. Finally Luna explained, "A few days ago I caught a Mazoku performing that reveal spell on this boy, Charlie. His shadow turned red. They tried to kidnap him but I prevented it. We've been on the road since for obvious reasons."
Lina put her hand over her mouth as she felt Gourry's fingers dig into her shoulder as Luna continued, "Charlie is Morris' son. Born about a month before Luke was if I recall correctly."
"What?" Lina gasped.
"Morris wasn't happy that I took him, but I do have to protect him."
Lina felt as though her knees were going to buckle as Gourry grabbed hold of her, whether to keep himself up or to steady her she wasn't sure. She shook her head as she said, "Di's fragment was reborn in Morris' son!? Morris' son!"
Charlie took a step back behind Luna as she confirmed, "Yes. After testing him I'm sure of it." Luna suddenly moved forward to Lina, who took a step back, "Lina, the irony…"
"Irony?" Lina repeated, "Irony, that Morris's son is alive and stricken with the same condition that Di was, while my daughter is dead because of Morris? Irony is not the word I would use!"
"No," Lina said, "You listen, you do what you have to with that boy, but you keep him far away from me, because I want Morris to feel what I feel every damn moment of every day! Now, get out of my way!"
"I know this isn't fair…"
Lina laughed sardonically, "Don't try to pretend like you care. It's six years too late for that, Sis. Now, don't make me ask you again to get out of my way."
Luna sighed as she moved along the side of the road, and Lina raced forward with Gourry at her side, his expression unreadable. Min and Attie looked at each other and walked over to Luna while Zel and Sylphiel stayed to the side. Once their parents were further down the road Min moved forward to give Luna a hug, "It's good to see you." Min whispered.
"All this time I was looking for people with the passenger," Attie said as she went to hug Luna once Min had stepped away, "I hadn't thought to look in Zefiel City. It just didn't seem likely it would happen twice in the same place."
"I made the same error in thinking." Luna admitted. "He was right under our noses."
"Do you remember Zelgadis?" Attie asked.
"Yes," Luna said, "I don't remember the woman, though."
"This is Sylphiel. She helped my parents out back in the day apparently, and is along for the ride again." Attie explained.
"Lina mentioned you." Luna said, "I'm Luna Inverse."
"Lina's sister?" Sylphiel asked.
"It's good to meet you. You must be a powerful sorceress yourself."
Luna shook her head, "My talents lie in other directions."
"Aunt Luna," Min said quietly, "I don't know if Mom will come around or not, and I'm not sure if Dad is mad at you as well or if he's presenting a united front with Mom. Either way, I don't think it would be a good idea for you to join us right now."
"Even if your mother were delighted to see me I would advise against it." Luna said.
Attie nodded as she thought for a moment before she asked, "When she calms down she is going to kick herself for not asking if Charlie has more control over Shabranigdu than Di did to gauge whether or not we were successful. Is there anything I can tell them that would bring them solace?"
Luna grasped Attie's hands, "We were successful. The fact that she was channeling a healing spell to save Zelgadis counted for quite a lot actually. One of the reasons no one ever suspected Charlie is because he does have so much more control over his passenger than Di did. Oh, the brat still has a temper, but nothing like Di's. Be sure to tell your parents that they did well. And so did you and Min."
Min reached a hand up and wiped some tears from her eyes as Attie wrapped an arm around her. "Thank you for telling us." Min said.
"Is he like Di?" Attie asked.
Luna shook her head, "Not really. His favorite color is blue and he hates books. Jealousy does seem to set him off, but that's it."
Attie nodded as she looked off to where her parents had taken off down the road. "We'd better catch up with them."
"Of course." Luna said, "Stay safe. We will meet again."
Min and Attie both gave her a departing hug as Sylphiel said, "It was good to meet you."
An awkward silence descended upon the group as they parted with Luna. Once they had got a certain distance away Sylphiel asked quietly, "I'm sorry, this is so personal and feel free not to say anything if I overstepped my bounds. But what was all that about?"
Zelgadis watched as Attie and Min glanced at each other. Then Min said, "I guess it's all relevant. Where to start?"
Rubia smiled warmly as Nigel was escorted into the dining room by one of her neighbor's boys that she often paid to run various errands for her, "Welcome." Rubia said as she indicated that Nigel take a seat.
Nigel looked at her suspiciously as he sat down and looked at the food for a moment before glancing back at her. Rubia, meanwhile, got out a gold coin and gave it to the boy, "Thank you. Tell your mother I said 'hi.'"
"Thanks, miss!" he said as he ran off, leaving Rubia alone with Nigel.
"What is this about?" Nigel asked.
"I see you want to get straight to business." Rubia said, "That's fine. But be sure to eat. You've had a long journey."
"Which you know about how?" he asked.
"There is very little that the Dark Lord does not tell me." Rubia said as she allowed her aura to show, causing Nigel's mouth to drop.
"You're another seventh!" he said.
"Yes." Rubia confirmed.
"But, why didn't mine say anything about you?"
"I am quite a bit older than you," Rubia pointed out, "And through the years I've gotten better at learning things from him that he doesn't want me to know."
"So you know where the other people containing him are." Nigel said. "And what I'm planning to do."
Rubia grabbed her glass and drank a sip of wine. "There is a child who until recently was living in Zefiel City. And then another, an older man. But he is so guarded that even I can't determine where he is."
Nigel smiled as he grabbed a fork and stabbed his steak, "This is great! I have people working to secure the child."
"I know." Rubia said.
"And with your help it won't be too difficult to track down the old man." Nigel said as he cut up the steak and took a bite. "Wow, this is incredible!"
"Thank you." Rubia said.
"I take it you know my plan."
"Yes." Rubia said as Nigel took another bite.
"And since you called me here I presume that you're willing to help." Nigel said as he grabbed his flask and took a sip of wine.
Rubia smiled sadly, "I think your plan could use some adjustments."
Nigel slammed the glass down, "Such as?"
"Hush." Rubia said, "Save the questions for later."
"No," Nigel said, "I…I…"
But his mouth felt heavy as a fog seemed to descend upon his brain and it suddenly became difficult to stay awake, "Wh…what did you do…"
"Hush." Rubia said, "It's time to take a long nap, that's all."
"What?" Nigel managed to croak before he slumped onto the floor.
"Olev." Rubia said quietly as she got up to check on Nigel. In a matter of minutes the chimera appeared. Halciform had been constructing Olev when he died so they could have someone to do the heavy lifting, and heavy lifting was about all he was good for. "Please take this man to the basement."
"Yes, Miss Rubia." Olev said as he picked Nigel up. Quietly Rubia walked beside Olev as he carried Nigel to the steps and to the room that Rubia had prepared. Within her head her passenger protested. But as always, Rubia was good at ignoring him.
It was hard for Sylphiel to not feel as though she was intruding on the Gabriev sisters. The inn had only three rooms available, so Lina and Gourry had taken one, Zelgadis another, which left Sylphiel with having to share with Min and Attie. It didn't help that the current mess they had found themselves in involved a good deal of personal family history. Still, Sylphiel tried to look immersed in her book as Attie said, "I told Mom and Dad about what Aunt Luna had said. I think it meant a lot to Dad, but I don't think Mom was ready to hear it."
"To be honest it doesn't mean much to me, either." Min said quietly, "I just want my sister back, but that's not happening."
"I want her back, too. I mean, she understood what it was like to live in someone's shadow." Attie replied.
"Huh?" Min said.
But Attie continued, "But she's not coming back. And considering how much she suffered, and how hard we all worked, well, it means something that it didn't go to waste, doesn't it?"
Min patted Attie on her knee, "You and Dad. I swear there's not a selfish bone in your bodies."
Attie scoffed, "I wouldn't be so sure about that."
Attie thought for a moment, and then rested her head on Min's shoulder. "I've been furious lately if you must know. Events are finally starting to kick into action, and I'm on the battlefield with my parents like some green novice. But what can be done about it? I'm not exactly powerful enough for them to hand the reigns to. So off to battle I go with my Mommy and Daddy holding my hand."
Min turned a little to look at her, "Someone is gathering all of the pieces of Shabranigdu to resurrect him, and you're worried that people are going to judge you for having the only people who have taken him down with you on the battlefield?"
Attie smiled a little, "Yeah, it's crazy when you put it like that. Still. You were smart enough to go and make your own name in research and got a small measure of fame and recognition. Idiot me has nothing."
"Hey, you're not as dumb as you think you are." Min said consolingly.
"Am I? I figured that if I traveled I would have taken down someone big by now, earned my legacy as their daughter. But nothing. Not even a low level Mazoku! Granted, I'm not the sorceress that Mom is, but with the Blast Sword I thought I could take someone big down. I even went to Wolf Pack Island to draw Xellos out…"
"I take it back, you are as dumb as you think you are!" Min snapped as Sylphiel gave up the pretense of pretending to read as she put her book down.
"Yeah, because Xellos is smart enough to know that if a hair on your head was so much as singed he would open the door on Mom's wrath!" Min said, "Come on, Atalanta. Losing Di was hard enough for them, they don't need you foolishly rushing into the lion's den!"
"At least I would have the chance to make a name for myself!" Attie retorted, "Instead of being Lina and Gourry's daughter. Hell, Mom understands. She knew what it was like growing up in Aunt Luna's shadow. Well, try growing up in hers!"
"I did, and you don't see me going to Wolf Pack Island or dreaming of Shabranigdu's rebirth." Min stated.
Attie shook her head, "This is what I meant by Di understanding. Min, you were so popular growing up, and you are so good at your job. Things just came so easily for you and you were quickly able to make a name for yourself, forge an identity outside of being Lina Inverse's daughter. For Di and I it was harder, and while Di did get recognition for her skills, she had to overcome a lot of fear and hatred people had towards her. She was never popular and she knew it. Me, well people liked me well enough but I was never able to break out of the Lina Inverse's daughter mold. I guess I shouldn't have tried to follow in their footsteps, you and Di were smart to try something different. Decades later and I'm still just Lina and Gourry's kid. And people wonder why I don't want to go and be some man's wife!"
"Sometimes life doesn't turn out how we want it, or plan it to." Sylphiel cut in, "We do have to make peace with how things end up though."
Attie smiled wryly, "Says the High Priestess who rebuilt Sairaag."
"I'm proud of what I did," Sylphiel said, "It wasn't my first choice, though."
Suddenly Sylphiel wished she hadn't said anything as they both looked at her inquiringly. "What was Plan A then?" Attie asked.
"For Sairaag to have never been destroyed in the first place." Sylphiel said as she felt incredibly self-conscious.
"That would be a big thing to carry with you." Min agreed. "And she's right, Attie, if she can come to terms with that surely you can accept where you are."
"Respectfully," Attie said, "The reason Mom got to be so accomplished was because she didn't accept that she couldn't make a difference."
"That's not what…" Min said.
"Even your mother has to accept that things didn't turn out as planned." Sylphiel said, "Such as with Dianna."
"Dianna is something we all have to accept." Attie said, "But being unaccomplished? That's different. My shot will come one day, and I'm going to grab it by the horns when it does."
"I always thought of you as very accomplished," Min said, "But in the behind the shadows way that people tend to miss. Like Dad really."
Attie smiled as she rested her head on her knees, "One day I plan to step out into the sun."