AN: Wow, another Aveyond fic, I seem to be obsessed. Well, this one doesn't exactly follow the canon, merely because of that one narration that says the group arrived at Thais "a few hours later" after defeating Gyendal. I find that a tad difficult to believe, but anyway, this fic idea wouldn't leave me alone. Also, most of this was written before TLO came out.

"The Long Journey Home"

By EsmeAmelia

Chapter 1

"Take us to our ship," Mel ordered, squeezing the compass in her hand, praying that it would work even though it had never failed them before. Her eyes shut for a second before feeling that familiar drop of being whisked back to the ship, away from that awful cave.

Once her feet landed gently on solid ground, her eyes popped open, making sure everyone had made it safely back. She was still gripping Stella's legs. Lydia was still across from her, holding Stella's shoulders. Edward was behind Lydia, with Gyendal still slumped over his shoulder. Ulf was next to Edward, his head down in silent grief.

Behind everyone else was Galahad, carrying his wife. Te'ijal was lying limp in his arms, but still Mel could hear tiny moans of, "No . . . no . . ." coming from her. She couldn't tell whether or not the former vampire was conscious.

Former vampire. Mel didn't know how she'd ever associate that term with Te'ijal.

The entire group unanimously boarded the ship, even though it would take a good three days to sail to the port closest to Thais. Though it would probably be a shorter trip if they walked, no one felt up to walking after all they had just experienced.

Everyone was silent, even Lydia. Mel blinked hard as they carried Stella's body to the sleeping area and laid her in what used to be her berth. She kept blinking as Lydia touched Stella's head and murmured a spell that would preserve her body until her burial.

"That should do it," was all Lydia said when she looked back up. Her eyes were empty, as if all the energy had been drained out of her. "Well . . . I guess I should cast a sleeping spell on our prisoner so he doesn't wake up and try to kill us before we get there."

Mel couldn't respond. Something was stuck in her throat, something large and hard. Her eyes darted downward and stared vaguely at Stella's pale face with its eyes forever closed, unable to look up when she heard Lydia leaving, unable to even move.

Was this real? It didn't feel real – there was a cloud in Mel's mind, as if she were in a dream. Perhaps this was a dream and she would wake up soon in some inn, stirred awake by Lydia's complaining, Te'ijal and Galahad's bickering, and Stella's gentle voice reminding her that they had better set off soon.

Without any thought, Mel's hand slowly, hesitantly reached out to touch Stella's cheek and feel how horribly stiff it was, how cold it already was, keeping her hand there until she knew for certain that it couldn't be a dream, that Stella was truly dead. After removing her hand, she took hold of the sheet and spread it over the Nalythian's face, as was respectful to the dead, or so Mel had heard.

Shouldn't she be crying? Wasn't crying the appropriate response to a death? Mel was certain that Edward must be crying now – why couldn't she? Even when she concentrated on releasing tears from her eyes, still they wouldn't come. Why was that?

She wasn't sure how long she remained in that stupor. It was only a moan coming from somewhere nearby that compelled her to leave Stella's side and head for the berth in which Te'ijal lay.

Te'ijal . . .

Galahad was sitting next to his wife's berth, leaning over with his hand on her forehead. He had removed his armor, exposing his dusty brown shirt. "Te'ijal?" he whispered. "Te'ijal, can you hear me?"

Mel gulped – Galahad almost never called his wife by her real name. It was always, "demon spawn," "evil one," or when he was in a good mood, simply "wife." In fact, Mel could only remember him even saying his wife's name once, when he gave them the urgent news that Te'ijal had been captured.

Galahad leaned in closer to his wife's ear, his hand still on her forehead. "Te'ijal?" he said desperately. "Te'ijal . . . please . . ."

"What's wrong with her?" Mel asked softly, slightly intimidated by his display of emotion.

"I don't know," said Galahad, not turning away from his wife. "She just . . . fainted in my arms."

"Well . . . maybe it was just out of horror that she's no longer a vampire," Mel said in a feeble attempt to be humorous.

"No," Galahad said firmly. His fingers rubbed Te'ijal's forehead, digging into her now-soft skin. "She's feverish."

"Well . . . that could be an illusion. You know, because you've been a vampire so long that you're not used to feeling body warmth."

Galahad's head snapped up to glare at Mel. "Then you feel her."

"All right, I will." Mel stepped around Galahad, pushing him out of the way, but ceased her action suddenly when she got a full view of Te'ijal's ailing body. The ex-vampire was breathing unevenly, moaning every few seconds. Her head was twitching and her eyes were tightly shut, so much so that there were wrinkles in her eyelids. It took Mel a moment to gain enough courage to touch her head and find that Galahad was right – her skin was unnaturally hot.

"But . . . how?" Mel stammered.

Galahad sighed. "She's been cold for eight hundred years . . . maybe her body can't adjust to being warm . . . oh, I don't know!"

Mel whirled around to face him. "Well we need to help her!"

"How?"

Galahad exclaimed in a voice close to a shout, making Mel jump back in surprise.

After a moment of regaining her composure, Mel looked back at Te'ijal's frail body, feeling her chest tighten up. "I don't know."