"What do you mean, 'they got him'?"
"After getting that special equipment, they scanned through the rubble and found a humanoid chiropteran reading. Then a plane came in and dropped the charges on the rubble . When the agents returned to the site afterwards, they scanned again; the body was gone and there weren't any tunnels leading away from it."
Anna looked at her feet. It felt like her brain was enlarging or her skull was shrinking, because everything seemed compressed.
"He's gone, Anna. We're safe."
She looked up into her sister's eyes; there was no lie trying to hide in them. Sakina wasn't just saying something to calm her down, she actually meant it.
Forcing herself to stand up, Anna looked over the seats at everyone's faces. There was no mistaking the genuine look of relief in most of their eyes, and the relaxed nature of everyone else. It was true.
"Alessandro is dead." Anna said to herself out loud, almost to see if she could do so and not be struck by lightning.
Sakina nodded, and Anna couldn't help but stare at her for a few moments. An overwhelming sensation passed; the kind which paralyzes you until it's gone. Then Anna sighed and fell back into the seat.
The sun was up, but had yet to truly ignite; for now, a melting sphere of orange brilliance was all that looked over Okinawa. It was enough, though. It really was. Despite the passage of time, everything still looked quite similar. Saya smiled, thinking that it must just be a magical place, untouchable by the outside world.
After the news of Alessandro's demise, Saya had discovered that the plane's intended destination was in fact Okinawa; it was as if Joel had so ardently hoped that everything was over that he'd set the course based on faith alone. Regardless of the reason, she was happy to be home.
Kai was the first one out the door when the plane landed, and the first to smell the air. Saya had never seen him take such a big breath in her entire life, and the girl might have laughed if she hadn't immediately felt the need to follow suit. It was confirmed; this was no illusion. The air, the buildings, the people… everything sang of Okinawa.
"I have to admit, I was kind of worried." Saya spoke, walking beside Kai as they left the airport.
"Worried? About what?"
She gestured out at everything in front of them, giving it all a double-take.
"This. Home. I was worried that in those fifteen years Diva and I spent traveling the world, Okinawa might have changed. I don't know what I would have done if we'd come back after all this time and there were just a bunch of… I don't know… hotels and car dealerships everywhere." She admitted, laughing out the last few words.
Kai smiled, but he didn't laugh. The seasoned man gazed out at everything as she had and told her he hadn't doubted for a moment that everything would be the same when they returned.
"Joel made sure Omoro was taken care of all these years. Knowing that, and remembering what kind of place Okinawa is, I knew it wouldn't change."
Everyone eventually gathered in the main lobby of the airport, where rides were waiting for them. Kai, Haji and Saya rode in the same car. Even though Haji didn't speak of how happy he was to be back in Okinawa, she could tell by the man's eyes that he had developed an attachment to the place as well.
A wall of buildings stretched out to their left for the first five minutes of the drive, but a small sliver of shining blue appeared in the distance, and as they drew nearer, Saya felt herself sinking against the seat.
"Kai, do you remember? This was the route we took when you drove me back from school on your motorcycle."
"I remember… it was so long ago; I haven't ridden a motorcycle since I went underground. The closest I got was riding on the girls' bicycles and pretending I was going really fast."
The two of them laughed and they reminisced all the way back to Omoro; the bar their father had owned so many years ago, and which they had agreed to take over together once everything was over. It looked the same as ever; a worn but well-maintained exterior that befitted a casual bar. Their home was in the same building, but set behind the business.
Saya got out of the car and walked up to the front door. She was vaguely aware of the other vehicles arriving and their occupants exiting as well. But the girl couldn't move; it was like everything she had been through hit her at once, and then was overcome by the even stronger feeling that it was finally over; that she was home. Saya felt something slip into her hand, and she looked down; it was the pink key Kai had gotten made for her not long before the night of Diva's performance at the Metropolitan Opera House.
"It's alright, Saya. Go ahead."
She looked at Kai and smiled. Then she put the key in the lock and turned.
The interior of Omoro hadn't changed any more than the outside. Kai was convinced that if a glass had broken, Joel must have had the exact same kind bought to replace it. Kai rested a hand against the counter and noticed how much smaller it felt. For that matter, the whole room seemed smaller than before.
"I guess I really did grow." He thought.
The others came in behind them, and Kai turned around. A sense of significance- he imagined it was the same one Saya had felt –washed over the man as he observed the new family that had stepped in. The girls still kept their relative distance from Diva, but she at the very least seemed reassured that the plane trip had concluded without incident. David and Joel, who had seemed so weighed down by their previous responsibilities, looked as relieved as anyone else.
"I'll get the chairs down for you guys." He said, walking over to one of the tables. Saya said she would help, and they insisted against anyone getting their own. Return to Okinawa and run Omoro together; that had been the sibling's agreement since before the sisters ceased their fight against each other.
In around five minutes they had gotten all the chairs down, the lights on, and something for everyone to drink. Haji and Diva each got one as well, even though neither of them would probably drink theirs. Kai glanced at Anna, who still seemed to be reeling from the news she'd gotten not twelve hours ago. He couldn't really blame her; their fight had been far worse than his. And there was still the manner of what had made them feint to be dealt with, but that could wait. For now, he just wanted to enjoy having everyone around.
Saya and Kai sat down with their own drinks, and noticed David was checking his phone. Kai asked him what was going on; apparently Julia was on her way to the bar. He smiled wryly and called the man an "old dog", to which David responded with his usual indifference. Then, a few moments later, he laughed. Anyone who could be was dumbfounded; not in all the years anyone knew him had David laughed. Even the girls seemed visibly affected by it.
Kai's comment served as an ice breaker, and soon mini conversations had sprouted up between Saya, Kai, Joel and David. Via questions or other friendly coercion, the girls and Diva eventually got involved in it as well. By the time Julia arrived, the tense atmosphere was mostly gone. They all eventually had lunch, with a number of them participating in its creation. The hours passed as they somehow managed to pass the time without leaving the bar. Sunlight came and went, and eventually turned orange as sunset came. The group decided to head out to the ocean to watch it happen, and walked most of the way.
"Everything came to an end so quickly, it's almost like I'm dreaming." Saya admitted to Kai as they walked towards the beach.
"If I wasn't having so much fun, I might have been afraid I would wake up from it."
Kai smiled and pinched her. She yelped in surprise and glared at him.
"I guess you're not sleeping after all." He said before being chased down the sidewalk. It was hard to believe that so much time had passed; Kai felt like a teenager again. All the filters and awareness he'd developed during the fight with the chiropterans had been coming down during the day, and were now finally gone. It was like he'd taken his first real breath since he could remember.
He and Saya reached the beach first, since they were a bit ahead of everyone else, but no one was too far behind. It was a good thing, too; the sun's base had just reached the horizon of the ocean, and the visual effect was indescribable. The two leaned against a fence and gazed out like they had so many years ago. Time seemed to melt away like the dipping sun and Kai felt himself almost on the brink of tears. They had lost so much in the long, drawn-out war started by Diva's chevaliers, and then continued by Alessandro. But now, like a war veteran, Kai felt he had somehow woken up from all of that and come through the other side of some big door.
"It isn't just my own happiness that I have to live for, but dad, and Riku and Luis' too." He thought, glancing at their group as they approached. There had been losses, but there had also been blessings; whether it was raising two wonderful girls, the return of Diva and Saya, or simply returning to Okinawa, there was so much to be grateful for.
"Saya, no matter what might be waiting for us in the years to come, I think we'll be alright. I'm so glad that you and everyone else are here. We're going to find out what's going on with the girls, and whether their sleep is coming or not, I'm going to make sure they get to experience everything they've deserved to for all these years. You, Haji and Diva could sign up for a local school band or something. Or maybe you could take up pole vaulting again. Julia can reopen her clinic. We can run Omoro and watch over the girls if they go to sleep. We can have barbecues with Joel and David and Julia and anyone else we meet… we're finally free, Saya."
His sister pulled him into a hug and whispered the magic word their father had taught them what felt like a lifetime ago. Then they headed down to the beach.
Diva watched Kai and Saya head down towards the beach, and couldn't help but feel a little lonely being left behind. Of course, she was walking in a much larger group, but the only person she really knew well among them was Haji. He, of course, was only hanging back because it was obvious Saya and Kai were having a moment.
Her view fell upon Anna and Sakina, who were walking in front of everyone else in the group. They hadn't talked much since leaving the bar, but the duo certainly seemed to be in higher spirits. Anna, in particular, had been a concern of Diva's since she was having such a hard time earlier on. While Diva doubted Saya would have attacked her in the midst of everything that was happening, it was never worth testing the girl's temper or her judgment of using lethal force. As she considered the matter, a perhaps more important issue was revealed to her.
"Wait… are they taller than I am?" She thought, leaning in to inspect the two. She had never noticed since the difference was so minimal but…
Diva's lips drew up into a pout and she looked down at the ground.
"That's not fair… I was malnourished for my first thirty years. They were probably being fed super growth shakes." The girl continued in her head.
"Is something wrong, Diva?" Haji asked. She was surprised he'd been paying attention.
"Oh… it's nothing. What's that?"
Diva pointed at something out in the water. It was obviously a sailboat. Haji gazed at it, anyway, and by the time he had responded and looked back, Diva was no longer pouting.
"Did you just grow taller?"
"Silly; I haven't grown since I was their age."
Diva smirked on the inside, with victory having been achieved. She gazed on- down on her daughters and hoped that as time passed they would warm up to her. Even if it took decades, she could wait. They were her children after all.
Neither Anna nor Sakina were aware that Diva was looking at them as they walked. Even if they had, it probably wouldn't have affected them too much. The two had both enjoyed the seemingly endless conversation throughout the day. At first it was hard to get invested, but Sakina started talking at first and Anna eventually felt an obligation to correct her. From there they just talked more and more. As the sisters walked down the steps to the beach, that atmosphere of fun was gone, but it was hard to deny that the experience had affected their moods. Even Anna- who hadn't been entirely convinced of the legitimacy of the intelligence report –had finally let it slide.
Anna pointed towards a tall stone cylinder which looked almost like an ancient watchtower. Around its expanse rose a staircase that had been carved into the side, leading up to what seemed to be an overlook area. For girls who had spent their entire lives underground, the idea of getting up as high as they could was irresistible. They made sure not to move faster than a normal human would, but other than that they spared no expense to race each other up the side. They nearly crashed into some tourists on the way, but ultimately the two reached their destination and gazed down on the beach. Everyone else had joined together to gaze out at the sunset, and their eyes followed suit. It was the first legitimate sunset the two had ever witnessed, and it was impossible to do the scene justice. They had watched countless movies, read a library's worth of books, and viewed several works of art which depicted the sunset at one point or another, but nothing quite compared.
Sakina glanced at her sister, who for the first time in a long while seemed at ease. She wanted to say something; to tell her that everything would be alright, that they would find out what was going on with their bodies, and that they would never have to fight again. In the end, though, by the time she had decided on what to say, Sakina realized it was best not to say anything at all. They stood there for a while and watched the sunset until Anna pushed away from the supports.
"Hey, Sakina… you want to go back down and get something to eat? I'm kind of starving."
"Sure. I am too."
The twins made their way back down the steps together… and then when they got halfway down, raced the rest of the way.
"You guys are hungry again?" Kai asked, surprised.
"Your stomachs must be bigger than Saya's."
It was difficult to leave the beach with the sunset still raging, but they managed it. The tide was starting to come in, and it would probably be best to head back before it got too late anyway. David, Julia and Joel would probably be staying at the most expensive hotel in town, but as for the four queens and Kai, they still had to figure out which rooms they were going to sleep in. It was strangely ironic, but Kai noted on the walk back that their home had four bedrooms; one for Kai, one for Saya, one for their father, and one for Riku. As luck would have it, there was now one for Saya, one for Diva, one for the girls, and one for Kai. He knew Anna and Sakina would probably want their own rooms, but it still seemed to fit just right; almost as if this was how things were meant to turn out.
On their way back to Omoro, the group reached a flower shop. The girls and Haji had smelled it coming long before anyone saw it, given the variety of aromas. It was closed, of course, but several of the colorful plants were still set out to bathe in tomorrow's early light. Kai didn't remember the store being around when he used to live in Okinawa, but it looked like a nice place. There were far more flowers and shrubs than he could put a name on, and they seemed very well taken care of.
Passing by the shop, they were so busy deciding what to eat, talking about the sunset and whatnot that they didn't pay much attention to it when they finally got there. That was, until Anna spotted something sticking out of the cracks between the cement. It was hard to see in the deep shadows cast by the sunset, but she could just barely make it out. Sakina asked her what she was looking at, and Anna shrugged it off.
The group passed by the shop without another thought about it, and they all went by the flower without a care. The sunset's light was fading, but as it did, the red rays splayed out along the open street and sidewalk. Like a curtain, the orange blanket stretched up further towards the group, as if it were reaching out to them. Finally the light reached the flower; it was a black rose.