Kiukiu looked up into the face of Vayanna, her firstborn daughter and Priestess of Anagini.
Vayanna was holding her hand as Kiukiu lay in her own bed in the small house near the Jade Springs that her family had lived in for many years. "I know, dear one," Kiukiu said, her voice still warm and strong and her eyes as bright as ever in spite of her age. Kiukiu was dying and she knew it, and so did all the family and friends who were there to bid her farewell.
Gavril had died some twelve years ago, having lived just long enough to see the birth of their great-grandchild, Nirihina. Now that the girl had her own gusly and knew the basics well, Kiukiu no longer needed to be around to train her.
Gusly... That reminded her. She reached with a trembling hand for a low shelf next to her bed.
Nirihina, understanding what Kiukiu wanted, got down the ancient gusly from the shelf and handed it to her great-grandmother.
Kiukiu smiled her thanks to Nirihina. She held the gusly tightly for a moment, then placed it carefully into Vayanna's hands.
"Give this to the first child you find who needs it." Vayanna was not a Spirit Singer herself, but Kiukiu had taught her enough that she was able to recognize a child who had the Gift.
"Of course, Mother," Vayanna said with only the slightest catch of tears in her voice. "Bayar will help me." She nodded to Khan Bayar, the wise, old Khitari clan ruler who was a great friend of Kiukiu's family and had been the first new Spirit Singer Kiukiu had trained, many years ago when she was still young. Bayar nodded back with a small smile of agreement.
It was getting harder for Kiukiu to breathe. " Nirihina," she said, "make sure you listen to Khan Bayar and let him teach you everything you don't know about being a Guslyar. With only the four of you in the world, you'd better be good at what you do."
Nirihina, who had been quiet until then, suddenly burst into a flood of tears and threw her arms around her great-grandmother. "I promise!" she said, then, when she could speak again through her sobbing, "Goodbye, Grandma!"
"Goodbye, my dear ones." Kiukiu breathed in one last time. "Anagini and Chinua will keep you."
It's time to go, Spirit Singer, Kiukiu thought, floating away from her stiffening body. But first, you have one more soul to save.
She paused long enough for one last look at her family - Vayanna holding Nirihina close in her arms, Khan Bayar gently closing Kiukiu's own dead eyes, and all the others. She knew she would not have to worry about her family, with the wise guidance of Anagini and with the immortal wolf Chinua to guard them.
Then she willed her spirit to travel, not to the Ways Beyond, but to the dust and whirling winds of the Realm of Shadows.
Nagazdiel would have wished to go back to the children's island, if he could have remembered it. All he knew was that he was lost, utterly lost, and needing to go back to a place even more wonderful than the one he wasn't quite able to remember.
Fallen... For some reason that word seemed to mean something to him, but he couldn't understand why. With a cry that not even he could hear above the wind, Nagazdiel gave himself up once more to despair.
"Nagazdiel...!" The dark prince opened his eyes, not having known that he closed them. Far away in the shadows, someone was calling... his name?
"Nagazdiel! Where are you?" He tried to answer, but it took three tries before he was able to form a word. "Here!" he cried out in desperate loneliness, terrified that the voice would be swallowed up by the darkness. "Where are you?"
A small figure appeared through the darkness of the howling storm, walking toward Nagazdiel. A child? he wondered, but then, as she came nearer, he saw that she was an old woman.
Nagazdiel stood perfectly still, not daring to move, as the old woman ran to meet him and took both of his daemon hands in her own, unafraid. "Don't you know me?" she said, looking up at his eyes, and suddenly he remembered everything.
"Kiukirilya..." he said, then stared at her for a long moment before he could speak again. "You're the one who came here before to free the others. But why did you come back for me?"
Kiukiu squeezed Nagazdiel's hands tightly, reassuringly, as if to prove that she wouldn't let go and let him be lost again. "The Realm of Shadows is no place for an angel."
Kiukiu had never seen anyone look as lost or afraid as Nagazdiel, not in all her long years of traveling the paths beyond life as a Spirit Singer. And no wonder, she thought, he's been lost longer than any of them...
"You never had a soul-child, she said aloud, feeling the connection between herself and Nagazdiel growing stronger, "I was never sacrificed for you, but I think you and I can find our way home together, anyway." In his eyes she saw shock, then a hope so painful that it must have been uncounted years since he had felt it last. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him, wanting her last fallen angel to stop being afraid, forever.
"Let's sing the doorway open," she said, and started to sing the Sending Song with all the power she had used many years before.
"I've forgotten how to sing..." Nagazdiel said helplessly, but Kiukiu could feel his heart trying to follow along with the music, and slowly, he did begin to sing, in a harsh, disused voice that gradually sweetened and strengthened until it became the radiant voice of an angel.
Kiukiu smiled up at Nagazdiel, and let go of him with one arm to point out the doorway that was starting to open, outlined in starlight. Kiukiu and Nagazdiel kept singing, watching the starlight spilling brighter and brighter into the Realm of Shadows until the door stood fully open.
Nagazdiel, his face transformed by an incredible joy, could not speak. Kiukiu rested her head against his shoulder, tired from singing but exultant.
"Let's go home, Nagazdiel."
Together they walked toward the doorway, and as they walked, a radiant light started to glow around them, and Kiukiu felt herself becoming one with Nagazdiel - still herself, but forever united with an angel.
Nagazdiel walked slowly toward the small group of once-fallen angels. As he stopped a few feet away, one of them - twilight Adramelech - turned and saw him.
"My prince..." Adramelech said, staring at him in wonder.
"I am restored," Nagazdiel said. His black eyes were as warm as the darkness between the stars. "The Spirit Singer healed me."
Sahariel, crying tears of fire, ran to embrace him. "My lord Nagazdiel," he whispered as the other Drakhaoul-angels gathered around. "You've come home."
- The End -