Ripples. They were solid as an illusion. Steps across the water that left no trace at the source, and wore down mountains over time. She could no longer touch the surge, the storm she'd called down that swept them to safety, but she'd seen all the possibilities, and she could still catch glimpses as they flowed by. They wondered why she was less clear the more they needed her. By whose measure of clarity? None of them could see as far as she could, even in the turbulence, and in the calmer moments she was satisfied by the present.

That was not to say she wasn't paying attention, even while the play of light under the surface distracted her. They moved in a circle, ankle deep amid the lotus flowers and fragile blossoms scattered around them - teachers and novices, friends and colleagues, carrying bowls of incense with them as they held out sprigs of mint and lilies crossed overhead. The air hummed with music, poetry from a high court about the seasons as an allegory about the rite of passage.

A young man and several companies of forgetful marines who had disappeared for three months under different names traveled home. Nothing to cover up. Investigation into the program revealed the technology was still unreliable, and without the three Academy students to serve as a focus, the project was quietly dismantled and shelved. Rumours lingered about a priority target and an unprecedented display of psychic ability. The fugitive had again eluded capture.

Interest in several associates - whereabouts unknown, two possibly dead according to a video feed - participated in a major theft and security leak related to Paxilon Hydrochlorate and antidote supplies. They shouldn't have been able to break into the compound. A confirmed rogue agent of parliament had been involved in the event, but had not granted the parliamentary override that had given them access.

There were whispers among the assembly about an assassination and an inherited title, about an unknown history and other secrets. The knight errant wouldn't have believed them if he knew. He was aware only of the new ambassador as she knelt like an initiate in the pool, of sprinkling droplets into her hair as a baptism, of wrapping her in borrowed robes when her own became sodden. On Shadow, a blackrock moon forgotten except for the greed of a few and given up for lost, seedlings broke through the darkened crust on the northern continent and blossomed.

Despite how little they cared about the politics and the factions as they struggled to make a living, they would make ripples just by existing. One of them would leave soon, taking medicine to family, welcome again after a father's passing. But after? She couldn't see if they would all stay together, couldn't see if they would even all survive. They'd fight for their own pasts as much as for their future. But the memory of the fallen would live on. A girl, tan and dark eyed with lighter curls, learning to fly. A former Operative, every day more the Shepherd than himself, a sentinel instead of a murderer by the time he arrived at Southdown Abbey. Someday, she knew they would visit the graves of Serenity Valley and not hear the howl of the ghosts. Someday, they would walk across the green prairie of a restored world and watch the rain.

River looked forward to everything. This was just the beginning.

- - - - - End - - - - -

And that's it! Thanks everyone for reading, writing, commenting, discussing, and helping me beta for the last four years. Couldn't have done this without you all, helping me sort out my thoughts or see where I needed to be clearer and elaborate. EB, Platonist, GR, AR, Aliasse, Riona, you've all been amazingly supportive and patient. Writing isn't my strong point, as I think is abundantly clear, and I also think maybe I need to not take the writing so seriously. So for my next project, I'll probably do something fun, and short, instead of another 125K doorstopper. See you in a few months probably, after I have a chance to unwind - and I get a head start because I write at a snail pace. In the meantime, drop me a word, I always like talking Firefly.