Disclaimer: You think I own Diadem? Ha! I don't. There would be fewer inconsistencies if I did.
Chibby: Hey, look! An update!
Mark: Anyone have a heart attack? Anyone?
Chen: Wait, I think Meneil did!
Chibby: Hush. No she didn't. At least, I don't think she did….
Mark: So do you actually know what's going to happen here?
Chibby: More or less.
Mark and Chen together: "More or less?"
Chibby: Just about. Wait, you didn't think I actually had any control over how this story goes, did you? I really don't. Anyway, here we go. Picking up where I left off in Chapter Three, here's Chapter Four!
Trista leapt into the black tear in space, not sure what would happen but choosing to believe it had to be better than getting burned to death.
She landed on soft, moonlit grass. She waited for her eyes to adjust to the moonlight, rubbing them to ease the sting from the smoke. Behind her, she could hear Hiro and then Khanru land on the grass.
Her eyes feeling better, Trista glanced around before turning to Hiro and Khanru. She idly wondered where Treen was. It looked the same as anywhere else on Earth.
Hiro rounded on Khanru. "Okay, so now we're on Treen. Mind explaining what you're after now?"
Khanru backed up, holding her hands in front of her like a shield. "Please, I was just sent to help you, I swear." Her honeyed-amber eyes darted back and forth between them, finally resting on Trista. "Aranak was the one that told me to go to Earth and help the magic-user there."
Hiro scowled. "Aranak. He the head on Treen?"
Khanru nodded. "He is the most powerful magic-user on this world." She bit her lip and twisted her fingers together nervously.
"So how did he know about the Shadows?"
Khanru shook her head. "I don't know. He told me only to go to Earth. He didn't tell me any more."
Hiro's scowl deepened. "Figures." He sighed and raked a hand back through his hair. He started muttering to himself and walked off a few steps.
Trista made a face and stood a little closer to Khanru. "It's useless to talk to him when he gets like this." She rolled her eyes and smiled, trying to reassure the fox girl, who still seemed scared to death of Hiro. "He's really not that bad. He won't hurt you."
Khanru started, but managed to smile weakly back at Trista, fox ears drooping. "I will be fine." She looked away. "What about you?"
Trista had a flash of the burned-out orphanage, of the other kids. What sense of normalcy she had gathered abruptly vanished. "I…."
Khanru shook her head, her tail twitching. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked that."
Hiro snapped his fingers and turned on his heel, coming back towards them. "It's no good. I can't get anything about any 'Aranak'. I'll have to sleep on it."
Trista and Khanru stared at him. "What good will that do?" Trista asked.
Hiro shrugged. "My Sight works better if I don't have to think on anything else. Though, that's no guarantee I'll get anything relevant." He looked off over the horizon then. "Well, I guess it is relevant, just not…." He shook his head. "Anyway, I can think better when I'm not so tired. So let's get some rest and set out in the morning."
He glanced to Khanru. "I'm guessing Aranak's got his own castle?" The fox girl nodded. Hiro sighed again. "Figures," he repeated. His eyes clouded over for a moment. "Anyway, let's just get some sleep." He looked over at Trista. "We can talk in the morning, while we're walking."
"You won't have to walk," Khanru put in. She shrank back when Hiro looked at her. "There will be horses in the morning. You will be able to ride them."
Hiro stared for a moment, then nodded absently. "Right, okay, sure, sure." He started walking off towards a stand of trees, mumbling to himself.
Khanru shrugged and headed in the same direction. Trista followed, her mind partially distracted from remembering what had happened at the orphanage. When they got to the stand, they saw that Hiro had built a small pile of wood for a fire.
He held a hand over the pile and murmured something. A small flame leapt up and started licking at the wood. He looked up and grinned. "'Least we won't be cold now." He moved back and leaned against the trunk of a tree, some of the spikes in his hair catching on the rough bark. His eyes closed as his head tilted back, then opened to look at Khanru.
"Are there any settlements around here?" he asked.
Trista thought it was an odd question, but Khanru nodded. "There is a human village that we will have to avoid. They usually do not travel at night, however." She bared her surprisingly sharp teeth, the firelight making her honey-amber eyes suddenly menacing. "They fear what may be hiding in the dark. Once we reach Aranak's castle, you will be safe and I will be able to join the rest of my people."
Hiro nodded. "Great." He looked up at the night sky. "Well, guess we don't need a watch, then."
"Why are we avoiding any villages?" Trista asked.
Khanru grimaced. "Because they would kill us for being what we are."
Trista started to ask another question, but Hiro stopped her with a wave of his hand. He smiled lightly towards Trista when she looked over. "Get some sleep. I've got a feeling tomorrow's going to be busy."
Trista made a face but nodded, sitting down on the ground. She leaned against another tree. "Can I ask one more question first?"
Hiro shrugged. "I guess." Khanru nodded.
"Khanru, what exactly are you?" Trista had been wondering about that, despite having seen the girl change and Hiro's tagged-on title of "Beastial."
Khanru's eyes searched for something to look at. "I am a Beastial," she said. Her eyes finally settled on Trista's. "I am not sure how to explain it."
Hiro held a hand up, like a little kid in school. "Here's something. Beastials are magic, but because of that, they can't use magic. They tend to congregate in large groups, but are rarely seen. They'll do just about anything to…." He noticed Khanru staring at him. "Well, I guess that's enough. The main thing with Beastials is that they can change between an animal form and a form that's more human."
Trista frowned. "But how do you do that?"
Khanru shrugged. "I just do it."
Trista opened her mouth to ask something else, but Hiro cut her off. "That'd be three, Kiru. You only asked for one."
Trista blinked, then laughed. She knew what Hiro was doing, of course. He was trying to keep her mind off what had happened. She let him, not wanting to find out what would happen if she fully comprehended it.
"So this is another world." She made sure that the tone of her voice kept it from sounding like a question.
"Yep," Hiro said. "This is Treen."
Trista wondered if he'd let her get away with another question. "How did you know about Treen, anyway? Or about Beastials, or any of this?"
Hiro smiled slightly, eyes not quite meeting hers. "In the morning, Kiru. Get some sleep."
Trista sighed, knowing she wouldn't get anything else out of him. "Alright." She lay down on the ground, using her arms as a pillow. Khanru shifted, changing from a fox with a human shape back into a full fox. The little red fox curled up on the opposite side of the fire from Hiro. He still scared her, apparently.
She thought she heard Hiro whisper something, but she suddenly felt incredibly tired. Her eyes slid closed, and soon Trista was in a deep, dreamless sleep.
She was woken by a hand shaking her shoulder.
"Wha…?" she murmured sleepily, passing partially through the realm of dreams before opening her eyes slightly.
"Kiru. Come with me a sec." Hiro pulled her to her feet and started leading her out of the stand of trees.
"Hiro? What are you…?" Trista was following him, that much she knew. But she was still half-asleep, and couldn't figure out what was happening beyond that.
"Just follow me for a minute. Trust me, it's important. And stay quiet, I don't wanna wake Khanru."
They walked for a few minutes in silence, Trista becoming more awake after Hiro murmured something when she had tripped. They stopped when the light from the fire was out of sight.
"Okay," Hiro said, keeping his voice quiet. "This is really important, alright? Listen. Listen really, really carefully."
Trista nodded. "I'm listening."
"You're going to die."
Trista stared at him, wide-eyed. "What?"
Hiro raked a hand back through his spiky white hair, not looking at her. "You're going to die, very, very soon, if I don't do something very important that will cause both of us a lot of pain. We'll live through it, but it'll hurt worse than anything you can imagine. And even then, it would only give you a chance of still living."
Trista was quiet for what seemed a long time. "How am I supposed to die?"
Hiro still didn't look at her. "My visions are kinda blurry sometimes, or more symbolic than realistic. The vision I had was that you were bleeding from all over, your life draining away, and a man covered in shadows was the one responsible. I'm not sure how this is significant, but you were bleeding over an emerald, and when you died, a light flared to life in the emerald."
Trista looked over her shoulder for no real reason. "So how can I live?"
Hiro made a small sound in his throat, half like he was trying to clear it. "I have to give you a certain mark, a mark that only I can give you, and that will protect you, a little, because it's proof that you know me."
"What kind of mark?" Trista had turned back, but she and Hiro still weren't looking at each other.
"A Constant's bloodmark."
"What?" Trista's face turned to Hiro's, just in time to see him draw a knife across his upper arm. Where he had gotten the knife, she didn't even have time to wonder. Blood began to flow from the cut, much more than seemed normal.
Hiro started chanting words Trista didn't catch. The blood from his arm lifted, forming a sphere as it floated in the air. Trista watched with wide eyes as Hiro continued chanting. When the sphere was about half the size of a fist, it split, and the blood rushed into Trista's eyes.
Unimaginable burning pain radiated from her eyes as the blood entered them. It was so intense she couldn't even scream. Even the tips of her toes felt like they had been plunged into molten lead, and her eyes were much worse than that.
She wasn't sure how long the pain lasted, but she could somehow still faintly hear Hiro chanting. Eventually, it lessened enough for her to realize that she was lying on the ground. The pain was starting to retreat, lessen, so that soon only her eyes still hurt. She slowly opened her eyes, just barely more than a squint. Hiro was next to her, kneeling on the ground. He was facing away from her, breathing heavily, the knife nowhere to be seen.
She tried to stand, or at least sit up. Her movement caught Hiro's attention, and he turned around to help her.
"Hiro…" she said softly, her head pounding.
"Yeah?" Bad as she felt, Hiro sounded like he was much worse-off.
"What the hell was that?" Her voice wasn't loud, or even angry, but Hiro winced as though she was yelling right in his ear.
"That…" Hiro said. "…Was much, much harder than I thought it'd be. That's what it was." He rubbed his hand back and forth through his hair rapidly, mussing it up. "Damn wizards. No wonder they all died making Constants…."
"What are you talking about?"
Hiro closed his eyes. "Well, you remember earlier, when I was telling you about magic? Remember how I said mine was more specialized?"
"Well, I'm a really, really rare type of magic-user. In fact, I think I'm the only one left." Hiro still didn't open his eyes. "I'm what's called a Constant."
"And what is a Constant?" Trista asked, making sure to keep her voice soft so it wouldn't aggravate the headache Hiro obviously had.
He sighed. "A Constant is a magic-user whose power won't decrease. No matter how far they get from the Center, no matter how far they are from Jewel, their power level won't drop once it increases."
He raked his hand back through his hair again. "You see, the Diadem, the universe of magic, is multi-tiered, and each tier, each Circuit, is a different distance from the Center. The Center is the source of magic, and so, the farther you get from the Center, the weaker the magic. Earth is the farthest, so it's the weakest.
"Normally, when a magic-user goes to a Circuit that is further away from the Center, their power levels decrease according to the distance from the Center. But that doesn't happen with Constants."
Trista frowned. "So, Constants were made? They weren't like someone's special trick or something?"
Hiro shook his head. "It might have started that way, one person being 'constant,' but some group of wizards latched onto the idea and tried to figure out how to make their own powers constant." He let out a breath, the wind of it lifting some of the hair that fell around his eyes. "They wanted to make sure it'd work, first, of course, so they grabbed some random magic-users from other worlds, brought them all together, and tried casting the spells over them that would make their power constant."
"And it worked?" Trista asked. "Those wizards managed to make their power constant?"
Hiro shook his head, but his eyes were even now still closed. "I'm sure they would have. After all, it worked fine on the people they cast the spells over. Except for the fact that the strain of it killed them all." He rolled his head back. "Leaving those clueless magic-users stranded on that world, with little or no idea of what was going on, even though they were now just about the most powerful beings in the universe, except for maybe the rulers of Jewel."
He sighed, head still tilted back. "Eventually, those people all decided to stick together on that world. It was a only few years before any kind of trouble came, however. Other magic-users somehow found out about the 'Constant' trait, and wanted it for themselves. So the Constants were hunted down so that other magic-users could try to make their own power 'constant.' They were eventually forced to leave that world, and go into hiding."
"Is that why you're the only one left?" Trista asked. "You were in that group, but haven't been found yet?"
Hiro shook his head. "No, this all happened about a millennium ago. I'm different. I wasn't 'made' a Constant, I was born one."
"How does that work?"
Hiro gave up on sitting and fell to the ground. "Well, the Constants that were left figured that they needed to do something to protect themselves. Most of them had figured out a goodly amount about magic by this time." He turned his head towards Trista, but still didn't open his eyes. Trista's own still hurt enough that she wanted to close them, but she felt that she should watch Hiro. Something told her it was important.
"So," Hiro went on, "one of the strongest in the group, Silas Corrine, figured out how to make it so that a Constant's power was tied to his blood, rather than his soul. He even figured out how to prevent a Constant from being seen with magic." A smile crossed his face briefly. "That's my personal favorite, there. Nothing that uses magic to see, like a scrying pool, or certain magical creatures, can even tell I exist."
"So how would someone have found you at the orphanage?" Trista asked, remembering how Hiro had asked Khanru if she had come from Hiro or Trista. But if he couldn't be found by magic, how could someone have tried to hunt him down?
"I never said it was foolproof. If someone was scrying you, for example, and happened to see you while you were talking to me, you would seem to be talking to yourself. That means you're either crazy, have an imaginary friend, or there's a Constant around. If someone else walked by, and also started talking to me, they're either humoring your insanity or there's actually something there." He breathed in loudly. "Someone that knows about Constants never rules out the possibility of one being where there's even the slightest chance of it."
He sighed before continuing. "Anyway, usually, when a magic-user steals the powers of another, they kill the person and absorb the certain traces of magic in the soul that contains the magic as it leaves the body. So by tying the 'Constant' enchantment and thus the magic it affected to the blood, that wouldn't work, and by the time whoever killed them figured it out, the traces would have evaporated. The only problem is that Silas didn't count on what would happen once the spells were over the blood instead of the soul. Of course, most of the people that changed the magic didn't get to see it anyway. Silly little thing about the strain of that casting that he left out of his calculations." Trista had the feeling that Hiro was rolling his eyes behind his eyelids.
"So about half of the Constants were left, and a Constant's blood was one of the most magical substances in the universe. It had become a lot like a parasite, actually. If a Constant was killed, the blood would stain the eyes of the killer, but lose the enchantment if it wasn't another magic-user. So if someone killed a Constant, they didn't even need to bother with draining them; they'd get the power automatically from the blood. And when Constants had kids, they realized that they had passed on the Constant trait. Funny how traits occasionally pass through blood. Except the kids didn't have the distinctive mark of red eyes that the 'made' Constants did, so it took awhile to figure out. Although the communal memory bit helped with that. Seems some memories are passed on through blood, too. Or maybe just the magic." He let out a breath. "That's how I knew about Treen, and Beastials, and all the rest. Other Constants in the past have seen them, so I remember them, too. Of course, I also remember how they all died…. That's a pleasant thing to remember."
He twirled a hand in the air. "Anyway, the Constants wandered around the Diadem for a bit after that. When they were still hunted down, and beginning to realize what happened when one of them was kill, they decided to go somewhere safer, where the magic was too weak for another magic-user to be a threat. So they ended up on Earth, and joined a certain clan of ninja back in feudal Japan."
"The Ryu Kaze?"
"Yep." Hiro finally opened his eyes. "After a few generations, the Constant trait had spread through the entire clan, so the symbol of the Ryu Kaze also became the symbol of the Constants on Earth." He pointed to the necklace that Trista wore around her neck. "That little dragon, there. 'Just as the wind goes on forever, so will the magic of the Constants.' As long as anyone from that clan has children, anyway." He smiled wryly, then frowned. "I'm pretty sure that the rest of them have died out. Magic-users tend to be paranoid, and generally for good reason."
He sat up carefully, obviously still with a headache. Resting on the ground seemed to have helped him a bit, though.
"Now, you're going to have red eyes for a while," he told her. "Maybe a few days, maybe months, maybe even a year or so. It depends, though I'm not sure on what. But I didn't make you a full Constant; I just gave you some of my spelled blood, and tied it to your own magic that still lies in your soul. You'll barely feel the effects, but your magic will be slightly stronger than it should be when you go to lesser worlds. Maybe… ten percent more, tops. And, of course, you'll have at least a little red in your eyes for the rest of your life." He stood shakily, offering a hand to Trista. She took the hand, but didn't use it to pull herself up; Hiro looked like he would fall over any second.
"So, I'll have a little more of my power than I should?" Trista asked.
The older boy nodded. "And I'll have a little less than I'm used to. Not a big deal, though. I'm actually not that strong. I would only be able to get to the Middle Circuit."
"How many Circuits are there?"
Hiro thought a moment. "Five, if you count the Center. And different worlds can be farther or closer to the Center, but still in the same Circuit. The Middle Circuit, of course, is the third level, only halfway through."
He staggered suddenly, and Trista caught him, having a hard time keeping him up.
"Sorry," he said, standing back up. "Let's get back to the camp, okay? I really need some rest."
Trista nodded. "Of course."
Trista helped Hiro make the way back to the camp. The fire had dwindled, so Trista went to build it back up after helping Hiro lean next to a tree.
"Let me teach you a quick spell before we go back to sleep. It'll make having a fire much easier." Hiro smiled slightly. "Just picture a flame in your mind, and say 'Shriker Kula Prior'."
"Shriker Kula Prior," Trista repeated. Looking at the small remaining flame, she pictured a fire and said the words again. A flame leapt up, licking eagerly around the wood. Trista grinned. "Okay, I'll remember it."
Hiro nodded. "Good." His eyes closed and his head went back against the tree trunk. "See you in the morning, Kiru."
"Yeah," Trista agreed. "In the morning."
When they woke in the morning, as Khanru had promised, there were two horses, already fitted with saddles and reins. The fox girl had been startled by Trista's suddenly blood-red eyes, but a quick dismissal convinced her that she must have misconstrued Trista's appearance at first.
Hiro mounted up easily, seeming to be as good at riding a horse as he was at everything else. Trista, on the other hand, balked.
Hiro laughed and slid out of his saddle. If the shine in his grey eyes hadn't been so dim, Trista would think he had fully recovered from what he had done to her last night. "Kiru, it's easy. Just put one foot in the stirrup, and swing your other leg over to the other one."
"That's not what's bothering me." She glanced over to him. "I have no clue how to ride a horse. I barely even know what the equipment is."
He grinned. "Actually, that's a good start." He walked over and helped her mount. "Here, look. Take the reins…" he held them up for her, "and squeeze your heels, just a little. You can use your knees to steer, just push on the side of the direction you want to go. Pull back slightly on the reins to stop." He arched his eyebrows. "Got it?"
Trista nodded, and Hiro went back to the other horse. It had a rust-colored coat, different from the buttery brown of the horse Trista was on. Hiro flicked the reins, and his horse started moving at a walk. Trista imitated the move, squeezing her heels, and her horse was soon following. Khanru kept pace beside them, having said she didn't need a horse to keep up with one.
Their ride was largely uneventful. They talked some, Hiro explaining some to Trista about magic. Khanru finally got over her fear of Hiro, and talked openly with them, though most of what she said was vague and made little sense to Trista. It wasn't until a few hours later, close to noon, that there was trouble.
Hiro stopped his horse suddenly, and Trista pulled back on the reins of her own.
"Hey, Kiru. Do you hear anything?"
Trista strained her ears, and then shook her head. "Nothing."
Hiro frowned, looking around the woods. "Funny. I could have sworn I heard shouting…."
He pulled his horse around, leading it off the course they had been traveling.
"That will lead you away from Aranak's tower," Khanru protested.
Hiro stopped again and shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "I get that you have a job to do, but I just have a bad feeling about that direction." He looked around again, eying the trees uneasily. "Actually, I've got a bad feeling about this whole place now. It's almost like we're about to be attacked…."
"Seems you've got sharp senses, boy," a rough voice said.
The three of them whipped around to the voice's origin. A man matching the voice stepped out from behind a tree and spat on the ground. "Damn magicians. And keeping company with filthy beast folk." Disgust was clear in his voice. More men came out from behind trees, surrounding them. They all had some sort of weapon, though simple ones, mostly crude swords and knives. "You shouldn't trust those Beastials, you know. They're a treacherous bunch, the lot of them."
Khanru bared her teeth, hissing softly. Trista was wholly confused, but Hiro didn't miss a beat. His horse took a few steps so it was ahead of them, and he held a hand up to stay the men. "I'll admit I am a magic-user, sir, but I've taken an oath to use my powers for the betterment of others."
The man stared at Hiro for a moment, then laughed. "Who do you think would believe that?"
Hiro shook his head. "No, sir, it's true. I've been training under a priest for the last few years, and I was just on the way to meet with my master to get his help in exorcising the demon that's possessing this girl, here." He held up a hand to indicate Trista. "And the Beastial, she was escorting me past the tower ahead as a favor, since I saved her life." Hiro glanced between the two of them, winking to Khanru.
Just play along, Trista heard when his eyes met hers.
Khanru was nodding, so Trista did as well.
The man before them still looked unconvinced. "A priest wouldn't be so far from his apprentice. Beast folk never do anyone a favor, even if you did save her. And that girl doesn't look possessed to me."
"Ah, sir, but this demon is very devious. It only takes control of her at night, for that is when its power is strongest. If you doubt me, look closely at her eyes." Hiro waved a hand for the man to come closer. "They are red with the demon's wrath."
The man came a few steps closer, squinting to see Trista's blood-red eyes. He abruptly lurched back, his own eyes widening. He dropped the crude sword he held to point at her eyes. He stammered unintelligibly, finally forcing out the word, "Demon."
Many of the other men ran, only a few standing their ground. Even those, however, took several steps back.
"Why do you not simply kill her and the demon as well?" one asked, fear evident in his voice and his eyes.
Hiro shook his head. "For one thing, I have sworn to never kill an innocent when there is a possibility to save them, and this girl is about as innocent as one can be. Also…" Hiro's face darkened slightly in a way that made him very intimidating. "...Don't you know what happens when you spill a demon's blood?"
The men didn't answer, so Hiro continued. "Their blood is a poison, contaminating the land so that no crops will ever grow on it again. Its vengeful spirit will set a plague across the land, killing the young and old. Women become barren and men will produce no heirs, even with women from other lands." His face lowered slightly, making him even more intimidating. "But that is nothing compared to what happens to those who kill the demon. No one can say for sure what happens to them, because all close enough to see die with them, but the echoing screams from it are said to carry across half the land clearly. Those screams are so tortured and full of pain and anguish that they give those that hear them terrifying nightmares for the rest of their lives."
Hiro lifted a hand towards Trista, a faint light gathering in his palm. Trista's eyes widened. "But, if you are willing to risk it..." He looked over to her, and though his face was still frightening, she could read in his mind that he wouldn't hurt her. She still kept her face scared, however, for the sake of the act. It wasn't hard, despite what she could read.
The few men remaining had been slowly backing up as they listened, and now they broke away and ran, crying back pleas for mercy. Hiro, Trista, and Khanru watched them go.
Hiro let his hand drop, and a few minutes later he turned his horse back the way they had been going before. "Well, that was fun," he said, rolling his eyes. "Gotta love superstitious people. I've always wanted to do something like that."
Trista gave him a funny look. "You probably just scarred those men for life, you know. They might go crazy from this."
Hiro shrugged. "Those men would have killed you and me without a second thought. They would have felt no regret over it, because we are magic-users." He fixed his grey eyes on her, a small spark going across them. "'Better to kill them now, before they're too powerful to kill.' That's what those men were thinking when they ambushed us. To those men, magic-users are all selfish, evil people. They're a menace that needs to be gotten rid of. No exceptions. Not even kids. And their view isn't unique, either."
Trista was shocked. "But… why would they think that?"
Hiro shrugged. "Probably because most magic-users aren't exactly the best people." He rolled his eyes. "You know the old saying, 'power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'? That's especially true for magic-users. It's way too easy to take over with this kind of power." His eyes looked off, glazing over slightly. "Whole countries, even whole worlds…."
"And here I thought I was the mind-reader," Trista muttered.
"I don't have to know what they think. I already know how they think." Hiro was still looking off. "No one wants to be ruled by a tyrant, and magicians tend to become that. So normal people tend to assume the worst when it comes to magic-users."
"But that's stupid."
Hiro's eyes snapped back to her. He looked at her for a moment, then laughed. "'From the mouth of babes'," he said softly.
"Why do you keep quoting stuff?" Trista asked, slightly irritated now.
Hiro's grin widened. "Because it fits. Why do you think it's stupid to generalize magic-users as selfish, evil people?"
Trista frowned. "Because it is. People are individuals, so you need to judge them as individuals. If you judge a group as a whole based on a single characteristic they share, you're going to misjudge a lot of people. What's true for one person isn't true for the whole group."
Hiro smiled warmly. "And that is why I like you, Kiru." He flicked his reins and started moving again, Khanru keeping pace. Trista paused for a moment, pondering those words, then followed before she lost sight of them.
They didn't speak anymore as they rode. Eventually, they came to a clearing, in which sat what had to be Aranak's Tower. It was huge, reaching somewhere around a hundred and fifty feet into the air, and seemed to be carved of a single, smoky blue crystal.
"That is Aranak's castle," Khanru said. "I have done my part and led you here."
"Thank you, Khanru," Trista said. "So, you can go back to your people now?"
The fox girl nodded. "Yes." She looked at both of them. "I am… glad to have met you. I will miss you." She bowed her head, then shifted to fox form and ran into the woods before Trista or Hiro could say anything.
"Good-bye, Khanru!" Trista called anyway. She turned around to start walking to the Tower, but stopped and looked back.
Hiro had stopped just before entering the clearing. Trista went back, by now having gotten the hang of riding well enough that the horse would do what she wanted.
"This is where we part ways, Kiru," Hiro said softly.
"What?" Trista blinked, trying to understand what he meant. He couldn't beleaving, could he? No, Hiro wouldn't do that. He wouldn't leave her alone, not when she didn't know what was going on.
Hiro looked into her eyes, and she knew. It was what he meant, he was leaving her. She could feel how much he didn't want to, but she could also tell that he knew he needed to.
"I'm sorry, Kiru. I've got to go for a while." He looked away. "I don't want to, but…"
"But you have to," Trista finished. She looked towards the ground. "I get it. It's because of the Constant thing, right?"
Hiro nodded. "Yeah, that's mostly it. Most magic-users would kill for the power of a Constant, and that's not an exaggeration in the slightest. And I can't let that happen." He slid off the side of his horse and stood in front of her. Since she was still on her horse, she was higher than he was. It was one of the few times Trista could remember having to look down to see Hiro's eyes.
He smiled slightly. "If I died, we wouldn't be able to meet again." He reached up and took her hand, holding it gently. "And we will, okay? We'll meet each other again, I promise."
Trista smiled weakly. This was it. Her best friend was leaving. The tears she had been fighting to hold in suddenly burst out with a cry. She slid off her horse and hugged Hiro tightly, face burying against his shoulder. "You sure?" she cried. "You're not just going to disappear, right? We really will see each other again?"
Hiro put one arm around her, the other reaching up to stroke her hair. "Really, truly. Cross my heart."
"Do you know when?" she asked, crying harder.
"Not exactly," he said softly. "But it will be at a time and place where both of us are safe."
Trista lifted her head enough to look at Hiro. "So where are you going to go?"
Hiro was thoughtful a moment. "Probably back to Earth. Magic's weak there, but I'll be fine, since I'll have almost an Outer Circuit level of power. And no magic-users would go there. The magic's not strong enough to support a Gateway back to the Outer Circuit, so it'd take two magic-users to track me down. And there's only one of me, so no two magic-users would trust each other enough. Earth is where I'll be safest." Hiro smiled. "And besides, it's home, you know?"
Trista nodded. "So what am I supposed to do?"
"I'm not really sure." Hiro looked towards the Tower. "But I don't think you'll be coming back to Earth for a while. I'm not sure what it is, but I get this feeling that there's something important you're supposed to do. Something…" His eyes got misty for a moment. "Something that might even save the universe. And it'll save you, too."
Trista wiped her eyes, having finally managed to stop crying. "Well, that's pretty impressive, isn't it. Saving the universe." She sniffed and smiled weakly. "Just like a story."
Hiro smiled. "Yeah, just like a story."
"So… I'll see you later?"
Hiro nodded. "Definitely." He took her hand again, squeezing it, and then gave her a light push towards the Tower. "Now go on. And don't look back." He gave her one last smile, and Trista looked into his shining grey eyes one last time. She could feel that he had a strong desire to say something, but her mind-reading ability couldn't tell her what. So she smiled, wiping the last traces of the tears from her face. Then she turned away and started walking towards Aranak's Tower, her hand tightly clasping the small, silver dragon pendant that hung around her neck.
She never looked back.
Chibby: Holy bleep, this thing is almost fourteen pages long! That's almost as long as an actual chapter from the books! And that's not even counting these little Author's Notes sections thingies (which I guess shouldn't really count….). Then it's about sixteen!
Mark: What were you on?
Chen: A substance yet to be know to mankind.
Mark: Apparently! Jeez, I know she didn't get all this stuff from me.
Chen: Well, she didn't get it all from me, either.
Mark: So wait, is there another one of us somewhere in here?
Chibby: Yeah, didn't you know about her? She's the one that's been in my head the longest, but I still don't know her name, remember?
Chen: Oh, right. That one. The Other You.
Mark: Well, at least this thing is done. Even if it took you almost another year to do.
Chen: At least it's long enough to make up for it this time!
Chibby: Well, I had a lot of stuff to put in this chapter. I felt I was taking too long with all the short little chapters (even before DragonEyedChild's review), and I wanted Trista to get to Aranak's tower by the end of this chapter. And Hiro had a lot of things to explain. Oh, and that scene with the villagers. I've had that in my head since before I started writing this thing officially, when it was just an idea in the back of my mind. Do you know how long that is? Almost four years! And I'm only now getting to it.
Mark: Anyway, now Trista is by her little lonesome. Can't have the boy-who-knows-way-too-much stick around forever, after all. Then Trista couldn't develop like Chibby wants her to.
Chen: And Chibby's planning to reveal certain things in the next chapter that will shock and amaze you. Maybe. Possibly. Actually, it's just some stuff she made up when she heard the name of the city, Kiev, from the country Kievan Rus, in the area currently known as Russia. She managed to spin a whole plot point from just that. Ain't it amazing what she can do every now and again?
Mark: Anyway, it's time to wrap this up.
Chibby: Thank you to my few reviewers! I love you dearly! Even if I don't respond to your reviews for a long time, you have no idea how much I appreciate them! If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be writing this anymore. No, seriously, I would have given up. Even with the long time between updates, I do still think about this story. If I hadn't gotten any reviews for it, I would have stopped.
Chen: In other words, if you want to keep reading, keep reviewing, at least if you're if you're feeling especially nice enough to do so. Chibby will try to update sooner next time, but again, she can't make any promises. She can tell you that she's already started writing the next chapter, however.
Mark: So, we'll see you next time!