Disclaimer: I don't own it. Well, I'm not sure whether I technically own what's left of the Woodland Wanderers or not. It's hard to own people like them. :)

Chapter Twenty-One

For a while, all was silent. Phoebe and Arnold entered the room. Phoebe couldn't conceal a shudder as she saw Morgan's body. Blood was everywhere. Her clothes were torn, and wounds lay open. Yet though her body was broken, a smile was on the young teenager's face, and an incredible expression of peace.

None of them spoke. For they all knew without saying so that if a word was spoken, it would break the trance. It would mean this was not some horrible nightmare. The first word would bring them all back to reality. And no one wanted to be the one to do that.

It was Athos who at last spoke. "Mellon nin," he said softly, repeating Morgan's last words. "Mellon nin."

"It means friend, doesn't it?" Arnold asked, but it wasn't really a question. He knew the answer before the words left his mouth. Yet it seemed the right thing to say.

"It's Elvish," Athos nodded. "'My friend.' And make no mistake; she was my friend."

Tim looked up. "Dorothy Ann was right."

Athos smiled weakly. "Your little friend called my bluff beautifully. I never had any intention of killing any of you. I didn't know I had hurt Morgan that badly during the battle. Then the gleems came and told me there was nothing they could do . . . I . . . I went mad. Tim, I'm sorry I threatened you, but it was the fastest way to get all of you down here."

Tim nodded. "I understand."

"If you were anyone else, Tim, I would make you eat those words. But you do understand. Tim, do me one favor. Take this." He held out a small jar.

Tim looked inside. "That's impossible! How did you know?"

"Some things are best left a secret, my young friend." Phoebe and Arnold had already joined Tim in staring in astonishment. "But your teacher will be wanting her bus back. As far as the others know, you three, this fell out of my pocket, and you took it and ran. Understand?"

Phoebe, Arnold, and Tim all nodded in unison. "Good," Athos smiled. "Now take it and run."

Tandro made his way over to Peter's side as the elves' footsteps faded once more into the distance. They hadn't even bothered to rechain them; it was pointless. "Peter," Tandro whispered, and the old man turned his head slightly.

Just then, a blinding light lit the dungeon, and a school bus appeared in front of them, seemingly out of nowhere. The two captives struggled to their feet as the bus doors opened. As soon as they were inside, the doors closed, and the bus began to shrink.

It didn't take Peter long to see that Morgan's body lay on one of the seats. He fell to his knees beside her as the bus took off. Soon, nine pairs of arms were wrapped around him. Peter looked around. "So where did the bus come from?"

"Athos," Tim explained, then added, "It fell out of his pocket."

Peter managed a smile. "The pocket he cut a hole in, maybe. More likely he just gave it to you, but I won't argue with your story." His eyes scanned the group. "Morgan had a message, for all of you. She said this isn't your fault, that it was her choice. And she was wholeheartedly right. She said to tell you that she flew. And . . . she was right about that, too. In fact, today she flew higher than ever before."

Most of the students looked confused, but Phoebe, Arnold, and Tim nodded. They understood.

Ms. Frizzle was pacing the floors of the library when the bus flew in. It grew to its normal size, and the kids piled out. Behind them came Tandro, and Peter carrying Morgan's body. Eric rushed to his side, took one look, and threw his arms around the old man, crying. Ms. Frizzle was startled. Eric had seemed to have so much control. But, then, so had she, before today. Before . . .

Tim rushed over to Latano and wrapped him in a huge hug. "You're all right! I thought--"

"I know," the elf cut him off. "It's all right, Tim. It's all right."

Tim shook his head. "No. No, it's not all right. It'll never be all right. Morgan's gone, Latano."

"I know," the elf said softly. "We talked before the end. She knew. She may have known the moment she set foot in this school, the moment she took those steps into your classroom. But she took them anyway, Tim. It was her choice."

Tim nodded slowly. "I know. I know, really, I do. But that doesn't make it any easier."

"Of course not. It will never be easy, Tim. In fact, I pity the person who accepts death easily. But there is a difference between easily and willingly. One implies indifference, the other acceptance. And acceptance is a wonderful gift."

Tim smiled. "I saw that."

Eric turned. "So Athos was with her when . . ."

"You got that out of that?" Ms. Frizzle asked, confused.

Tim nodded, ignoring his teacher. "Yes, he was. By the way, thank you. Latano said you said to tell me my parents were brave."

Eric blinked. After everything that had happened, Tim could remember that? "Yes," he nodded. "I see a lot of them in you, Tim. But with a unique twist. You're different. And maybe you don't realize it yet, but today . . . today will change your life, Tim. You'll be different."

"How do you mean?" Ms. Frizzle asked.

It was Peter who answered. "You'll never be able to go back to the way things were. Walls will be rebuilt. Classrooms will be restored. Lessons resumed. Games played. And there will be fieldtrips, more adventures. But at the end of the day, what really matters are your experiences, your memories, and this is one that you will never be able to forget. No matter how normal your lives are from now on, you know things, you've seen things, things that set you apart from everyone else. But you will always have these friends to come back to. As strong as the bond between you was before, it has now been forged by fire and the sword, and together you found the strength to rise above.

"There will be times when you will wish you could go back to the way things were before. When you wish you could forget. When you wish things could be simple. But you can't, and they won't. This is what your life is now. This is who you are. And yet that has not changed. Because things like this don't build character. They reveal it. What you've found today isn't some new person, some new courageous spirit who popped up out of nowhere and will vanish again just as quickly. This is who you really are."

Ms. Frizzle nodded, then echoed, "Who we really are."

The Beginning

Wow. I actually finished it. That makes this the second-longest fic I've actually finished. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. Thanks for reading.
--Smeagol Fasir Kenobi