Three months later…
Ryden landed hard, sinking into the drifts of snow. Up the bank Theresa touched down. Her face was chapped red from flying. She pocketing her mended garden hoe as if folded up in her hands like a collapsible spyglass, lifting her flying goggles over her hat brim.
He dropped his eyes to the green vines stitched in a wreath around the red and gold shield emblazoned on her shoulder patch. It still jarred him to see her in a uniform other than green. At least it wasn't black.
It didn't matter what color she wore. Nothing would change the fact that she was now officially a Red. A Red Green to be more precise, hence the pistols strapped in holsters at her hip. Theresa was pioneering the cross-training effort, organizing participants in all the wings. Crossing race boundaries to include even daemons. But there was only so much Calcifer and Heen could do to calm and keep peace with the Kindred. Akarshan tried to help as much as he could. Many Kin remembered him from the War. Unfortunately, it just wasn't enough.
Not enough to make up for what they'd lost.
Together they stared at the ruin.
The bones of the building poked from the drifts of snow like some great behemoth that had fallen asleep beneath the blanket of winter. Others lurked beneath the mounds of ice. Ryden looked down at the exposed cobbles of the street uncovered by the wind of his passing. This place was a ghost, a remnant of a town bombed to dust in the Mardan Ingarian War. The Wastes were peppered with them.
And he couldn't help but notice that shoots of green poked out of the ice. Flowers of some kind. Theresa would know what they were but Ryden didn't. All he knew was they didn't belong to the Wastes. But still they pushed their way out of the ice, turning their leaved to the first touches of spring thaw.
"You sure this is the place?" He called.
"It looks right." Theresa squinted up at the stones.
"Looks like a daemon warren to me…" Ryden muttered under his breath. These places were always crawling with spirits. Already he was getting the creeps.
"Can you smell that?"
He breathed in. Catching a hint of wood smoke. "Yup."
She trudged ahead of him, breaking a path through the snow.
She was always going first.
And he had to keep reminding her that was his job. He was Theresa's bodyguard now, which got her dander up every time he mentioned it. Because around her neck hung the ruby inscribed with the Ingarian Arms.
The mark of the Royal Sorcerer.
Or in this case his unborn heir.
Theresa paused, looking at the snow leading to the listing building. "I don't see any tracks… But Merra said she saw him here this morning."
Ryden frowned. He didn't know what to think of Merra. She wasn't a person you got along with. He didn't like her for a lot of reasons. But the black clad Mardan had bonded with Theresa over the past few months. He wasn't going to say it was because the freckle faced woman saved her life. But that was the most probable explanation. All the same, he'd caught glimpses of a side he'd never seen before in Merra. She got pink in the face whenever she put her hands on Theresa's stomach. Just like Martha. Ryden never understood what it was about babies that made women go all nutty. But it did bring them together. And for that he was grateful. Because Theresa needed Martha more than ever.
"Whoo…" Theresa paused.
"What?" Ryden half ran through the snow, "What!?"
"Just butterflies. Caedir's moving a lot more now."
She pulled on the bottom of her jacket, which did nothing to hide the swelling bump of her belly. Nor did the brimmed hat hide the sorrow etched in deep lines on her face.
They matched in that department.
Ryden knew from watching Peoter that it would never really go away. Never got easier. Because it was easy to forget. Easy to slip. Easy to think he was still here. It was like loosing his friend all over again each time.
It wasn't fair.
But that was life.
Good people died all the time for no reason at all.
And memory was bitter solace for those left behind.
Barimus especially. He was still wearing black.
"Y-you sure you're okay for this?"
"Yeah… The lines on her face eased as her hand drifted back to her stomach. "I don't think he'll listen to anyone but me."
Because thanks to the Merra they finally found him.
Although Ryden had his suspicions that the Mardan had gotten a tip from Dierdrie. The Lady of the Wall was looking out of a lot of mirrors recently. Checking in on them. The Stars were bound not to interfere, but they had a soft spot when it came to Markl.
Shadows skittered in the dark shadows as they entered a sagging stone doorway. And the Red Guard went first, his hand on his pistol as the followed the smell of wood smoke through the cavernous interior, up a dripping, listing flight of stairs, until light spilled over the landing of the dark room. There was a slowly smoldering fire in the crooked hearth. And his insides scrambled uneasily. Because hundreds of wind chimes hung from the rafters. Plaited, stitched, or woven of sticks, grass and stones. It was eerie to see so many of them. They clinked lazily as a draft blew up the stairs, shifting a pile of rags and feathers on the floor in front of the fire. But it was what lay beneath the pile that mattered most.
Ryden hesitated. Not sure what to do.
Fortunately, Theresa didn't seem to have that problem.
"Markl?" She called softly.
"Go away…" A whisper crept from beneath the pile.
"I'm not going anywhere," She came closer, kneeling beside him.
Awkwardly Ryden watched as they sat in silence. But then the feathers transformed. Loosing their ragged edges as it resumed being a cloak. And the trembling fists protruded from beneath its hem tightened into fists. Shaking. Just as did his shoulders.
"I cursed him, Theresa! I killed him!"
So Markl did know.
He figured that's what was keeping him away.
"No, you didn't." She countered evenly, "You know that."
"I should've been there!" Markl choked, "I could've done something!"
Ryden didn't know how Theresa could be so composed. He was close to breaking down. His chest was constricting painfully, searing his eyes, closing his throat as he watched his friend sob and curling up even tighter.
But she'd been this way ever since Nalir's memorial.
Bloody Black Bricks, it freaked him out sometimes, the way she exuded calm. Like she'd taken a long look into the future and seen that everything was going to be okay. He wished he could be so optimistic. Whatever it was, just being near Theresa helped. And he was glad she was here. Ryden didn't think Markl would've stayed if anyone else had come in her stead.
The Wallmaker's son jolted as Theresa put her hand on his shoulder. Still trembling, he uncurled, rolling over so he could rest his forehead on her knee.
"This isn't your fault. There's nothing any of us could've done differently. Drie said so." She whispered the last part. Smoothing his tattered tangled hair. Her green eyes were endlessly sad in the firelight. "Come home, Markl. I need you… We need you. I can't do this by myself."
He shifted at something in her tone, lifting his head, looking at her as if for the first time. Revealing he'd grown quite a beard. Markl's troubled amber eyes dropped to her stomach. And he stared for a long moment. All kinds of things were going on inside his eyes. But decision wiped his features clean as he got up off the floor. Standing stooped shouldered like a confused child.
Ryden watched as Theresa took his hand.
He followed them as she led Markl out of the room.
Down the stairs.
Back out into the daylight.
Back into the world.
Author's Note - 3/7/09
GAH!!!! I totally HATED writing this chapter!
I'm sorry, I don't usually put in author's notes, but I felt like I had to explain this ending.
This story was supposed to be different from the rest of the Wallmaker's Saga, which was very much a fairy tale. Bad things happen, but everything works out in the end. And I wanted to do something different with the Kindred Cycle.
Why, you may ask, did I call it the Kindred Cycle when it didn't have a thing to do with the daemons? I was referencing the meaning of the word kindred. Theresa and Nalir are very much kindred spirits. It was about them more than anything. I hope this wasn't too sappy or too much of a tear jerker. It was supposed to be more realistic. As I mentioned earlier, the Kindred Cycle was supposed to be a grown up story. One that dealt with grown up problems. People make mistakes. People hurt each other. People fall in love. People die. And no matter what we do, sometimes there nothing we can do to fix things. No matter how much we want to. No matter how much we try.
The Kindred Cycle is exactly that, a cycle. People say that history is a circle, that it repeats itself. So this was in a way a retelling of the Wallmaker's saga. Barimus and Howl were at odds in the beginning about the ascension to Royal Sorcerer. And so Nalir and Markl find themselves in the same situation. I'll spare you the list. You can pick the story apart if you want. There are lost of other parallels.
Probably most importantly, the Kindred Cycle is about love. Love, in a way, is a kind of sacrifice. Invariable you're forced to give up something for its sake. Freedom, friendship, pride: whatever it may be, we willingly pay a price for it. And sometimes the cost is quite high. Problem is (save for a very, very lucky few) we often don't get to keep that love for long. Love and loss go hand in hand. But we all loose things we love. All we're left with in the end is ourselves. But without the people we've loved we wouldn't be who we are. So in a way I guess we never loose them. They're still with us. Even though it's not in the way we want. But then again, we don't always get our way, now do we?
The Kindred Cycle was also about Nalir. We love Markl and the others because they make it easy for us to love them. Nalir was an ass. At first he was hard to like. That's because he was difficult. He was special. I really love Nalir. I didn't realize how special he was until this story started. And I hate that he had to die. But I started this story knowing he was going to die. But I want to give another option just in case you can't stand this. Because I really can't stand it either (I cried a lot when I finished chapter 9. Now my partner things I'm totally nuts ).
I'm going to write an alternate ending. And you can decide which one you want to keep.
This is the last installment of the Wallmaker's World that I'll write. I could keep going, but then I'd never stop. So I'm done now. On to other things.
As always, thank you so much for reading. I wrote this for you. And even though I don't know you, I couldn't have done it without you.