Robert smiled with satisfaction at his sign: BobPods: Robert's Prize Winning Hotpods, painted in blue and yellow. It didn't look half bad hung over the front door of his house, in plain view of any travelers who passed by on the way to New Raide. The plans to rebuild the city had finally begun, and he knew plenty of people would now be leaving the boondocks, eager for money and opportunity. And hotpods. Oh, yes.
His eldest child, six year old Tenda, thumped into him, her brow butting his hip. "Da-ad, Mo's being a poop-head."
"Poop-head isn't a nice thing to call someone," Robert recited, stepping away from her to consider the sign from a slight distance. "And Mo's only three, so you should learn to ignore him."
"Ugh." She rolled her eyes with a sarcasm beyond her years. "I can't wait for Mom to pop out the next baby." She chewed her pinkie nail while Robert surveyed the house. It seemed to be...holding up. It was nothing like the hut he'd grown up in, nor even the hut he'd brought his wife home to. But people were finding that, without the threat of the reaper, they were able to devote time to building more permanent structures, closer communities. He studied the flat roof. He could learn to like it.
"Hey, Dad, did you hear? They say Lady Tricia might be coming to Madora this summer. At least, that's what Kelsey said. She didn't believe me when I told her Lady Tricia is friends with a World Eater. But it's true, isn't it?"
"Yes, yes," Robert said absently. "Now, I want you to help me pick some lettuce for tonight's dinner. Mom can't handle everything these days, and - oh!"
Tenda glanced around him to see what he was surprised by. "Ooo! Strangers!"
Two figures were approaching on the road that wound past their small farm.
Robert leaned towards his daughter. "Go get a box of hotpods. Sit on the stoop. Talk to yourself about how yummy they are." As Tenda ran to oblige, Robert picked up the first tool he could find (a rake) and set about raking the grass of his front lawn, the picture of a busy, if unintelligent, farmer. As the strangers drew near, he studied them out of the corner of his eye.
They seemed to be of an age, both in their mid-twenties. The man was tall and skinny, his hair and skin unnaturally pale. He had a long scythe in one hand which appeared to double as a walking stick. He wore drab clothes, and his face was tattooed. The woman was slightly shorter, her red hair cropped and, in Robert's opinion, her clothes were more attention-grabbing than practical. But the longsword on her back seemed to be all business.
Just as they approached the house, Tenda flumped down in the grass, a crate of pods on her lap. She bit into one. "Mmmmmm, yummy. This is, like, the best hotpod I've tasted in, like, an hour. The ones I had with breakfast were yummy too. They're all so good."
The strangers' strides slowed as they came abreast of the house, heads angled up to read the sign. Then they stopped. Still staring at the sign.
"'BlobPods'?" Robert heard the woman mutter.
"Your eyesight's going," the man muttered back. "It says 'PobPods'." He turned to her. "So what's a pob?"
"You're the ex-gob - er - god. You tell me."
Robert hadn't heard the end of the exchange, as he was gazing sadly at his sign. It was a good sign. It was. His writing hadn't been that messy. Had it?
The woman stepped up to the front gate. "Hello."
Robert put on a pleasant face and bustled towards her. "Hello. Traveled far?"
"Yes." She ran her hand through her hair. "We've come all the way from Tellis. We're headed for Corsius."
Robert raised his eyebrows. "You...do know there's a dragon in that area? It's been destroying the crops, and I think it's killed several people."
The woman gave him a friendly shrug. "That's why we're going. See if we can help out. So anyway, how much for a pod or two?"
"Very cheap," Robert sparkled.
The woman half turned to the man. "Hey, Vig." The name rhymed with dig, and Robert couldn't help thinking that it was sort of a stupid name. "Do you want one?"
As Tenda was holding up the crate, allowing the woman to pick her pods, Robert heard his wife step outside. "Bobbo, have you seen the hammer? I swear, I am going to fix that chair, I don't care how many times you tell me I can't. It creaks every time I - I - Atendil, get away!"
Tenda jumped back, dropping the crate. The strange woman tensed, face lifted, eyes as wide as a trapped animal's. Robert glanced at the man, wondering if there was about to be some serious trouble, but he seemed to be looking deliberately away, his face hidden. He'd inverted the scythe, hiding its blade in the long grass by the roadside.
"Danette, what's wrong?" Robert crossed to his wife, standing between her and the strangers. Tenda had run back, her arms around Danette's swollen middle.
Danette didn't speak, her large eyes narrowed, her lip quivering slightly.
"Sorry," the woman whispered, backing away. The moment her heel touched the road, she turned and began walking quickly. Her companion didn't linger.
Tenda watched until they were gone, then tilted her head back to look up at her mother. "Mommy?"
Danette drew a sharp breath and bit her lip.
They hadn't talked after leaving the hotpod farm and when, an hour later, they came across a field, Revya said she wanted a rest. Vig shrugged. While Revya lay back in the grass, he wandered off.
She cloud-gazed for a while, trying to think only of the clouds' aimless drifting, trying not to think about Danette. She'd occasionally run into some of the vigilantes, at least those who had lived through the final confrontation. Tricia had become famous simply by saving Raksha. Revya had heard rumors of Levin and Endorph taking on Christophe's black markets. Odie once invited Revya to stay a week at his fancy home in Orviska, though he'd looked rather concerned when he'd seen Vig. Luckily he hadn't asked questions, because Revya wasn't sure how she would've answered them. She was glad, for everyone's sake, that Dio hadn't been there.
But Danette...that was one reunion she'd hoped would never take place. Revya closed her eyes, remembering Danette's face, the mixture of fear and anger, old wounds reopened. She sighed, and as she breathed in, she smelled something familiar.
Revya sat up, then crawled through the grass to a spot of color: a spearlike spray of purple flowers. It's my favorite flower, she remembered being told. Out of all the flowers I've made. It's called loosestrife.
"What's wrong?" came Vig's voice, rather kindly. Revya realized she'd been on hands and knees in front of the flower, unmoving, for at least a minute.
"Um...well. Nothing." She shrugged and sat up in a kneeling position.
Vig sighed. "Can you hear me rolling my eyes? Here, I'll do it again."
Revya ran her hand over the buds. "I just...I don't know. I don't think I'll ever see her again."
Vig reached down and fingered her hair, lightly rubbing the nape of her neck. "Let's hope not."
Revya frowned up at him in confusion, then shook her head. "No, not...Danette. I meant..." She sighed and stood. "I meant Haephnes."
"I wouldn't commit myself to never seeing her again." Vig stepped back and started walking away. "She's a slippery bitch."
Revya gave the loosestrife one last look, then caught up in a few strides. "It's been eight years. If she wanted to see me again, she could've..."
He looked sharply at her. "Do you want to go back to that garden?"
"No," she admitted. It was a question she'd asked and answered many times over the years. "Not to stay. But - still - she could've come here."
"Hell knows she probably will," Vig replied grimly. "She'll drop in when we least want her, yakking about some grand destiny she's picked out for us. All she needs is a big screw-up for us to fix. I'm still waiting on that penance to atone for my past lives."
Revya sighed, then took a deep breath, letting herself laugh. "Count your blessings. We've been walking for half a day, the road ends here and it looks we'll have to trudge through fields now, I forgot our food back at the inn, and we're headed for an angry dragon."
"I am noble and pure of heart," Vig replied. "Such trivialities do not qualify as penance." Then muttered, "You lard-brained wench."
She lengthened her stride. "If I can hope that I'll see Haephnes again, you can hope we'll find food somewhere."
He sighed and began switching his scythe as they walked, moodily cutting the long grass.
"I hope Danette doesn't spread rumors," Revya said presently. No one but she and Vig knew that she had killed the Master of Death. No one had been there when they struggled out of the cycle and returned to Prodesto. Still, someone might have heard a story, might remember that she once had been unable to die. And... "I hope she didn't recognize you."
He shrugged. "Who'd believe her if she did?"
"I hope you're right." She shook out her hair, thinking. "Tricia, Endorph, Thorndyke... they're the war heroes. People can spread rumors about them. Honestly...I'm glad nobody really knows who I am."
He smiled. "So I'm a nobody now? What makes you think anyone will remember you instead of me?"
Revya stared up at the sky. After a moment, Vig's voice broke through her musings. "Stop brooding on it, kid. You'll see her again."
"It's all right," Revya said after a moment. She glanced at him. "I'm with you. I'm not bored."