"The Long Journey Home"
Mel slowly opened her eyes, her entire body aching. She yawned, trying to figure out why her bed was so uncomfortable this morning . . . but then she realized that she was slumped over someone else's body. She quickly shot up to a sitting position and saw Te'ijal's face, which immediately brought back everything that happened last night.
"Te'ijal?" she asked quickly, grabbing the ex-vampire's shoulder. "Te'ijal? Are you all right? Please be all right."
Te'ijal's eyelids were quivering, as if she were struggling to wake up. Should Mel see that as a good sign or a bad sign? She couldn't figure that out – she could only watch. "Come on . . ." she muttered. "Come on . . . wake up . . . come on . . . wake up."
The former vampire made a slight sound, something that almost sounded like a word, though Mel couldn't guess what word it might be. But then it became a murmur . . . which became a whisper . . . which became a very definite word.
"Mm . . . Mmm . . . Mmmeeel?"
Mel nearly fell off the bunk, but she managed to steady herself. She almost screamed to everyone else that Te'ijal was all right, but she remembered Ulf's warning. A small word didn't necessarily mean she was all right. "Te'ijal? Can you hear me?"
Te'ijal's eyelids fluttered, gradually revealing her newly-violet eyes. "M-Mel?" she whispered in a shaky voice. "What happened? . . . I feel like I've been . . ."
Mel gasped in delight. "It's all right," she managed to say between relieved breaths, reaching over to brush the confused ex-vampire's forehead, which was drenched in cold sweat. "You're going to be fine."
Te'ijal was blinking rapidly. "I saw things . . . I relived events from the past . . ."
"You were probably dreaming," Mel said, still unable to steady her breath. "Don't worry, we'll explain everything."
"Dreaming?" Te'ijal said in a dazed voice. "That's impossible, vampires don't . . ." She stopped abruptly, her eyes widening, as if she only now remembered what had happened to her. Slowly, hesitantly, she raised her hand in front of her eyes, staring with horror at her new skin tone.
Mel thought it best to quickly wake the others and offer Te'ijal a distraction. She dashed over to Galahad's bunk and began shaking his body. "Galahad! Wake up! She's awake!"
It was as if Galahad's mind had been prepared to wake up if it heard these words – he practically jumped out of bed and rushed to his wife's side. "Te'ijal?" he breathed, encircling her head with his arms. "Are you all right?"
"Galahad?" Te'ijal blinked again, as if trying to make sure that it was her husband in front of her.
"Yes," Galahad replied, making no effort to hide the relief in his voice. "I'm here, Te'ijal, I'm here."
Though she would have wanted to talk to Te'ijal for a long time, Mel figured it was probably best to leave the husband and wife alone for a moment. Smiling the entire time, she walked backwards out of the sleeping quarters.
Once more Mel stood on the deck, once more she leaned against the rail and stared out at the ocean. The sun was rising, giving off a peaceful light, making the ocean sparkle. Mel didn't usually care much for sunrises – most of the time she was asleep during them anyway – but today the sunrise brought a calming presence, a sense of hope.
She heard footsteps behind her and turned around to find Te'ijal heading for the rail. The former vampire was wearing a dark blue shawl around her arms – apparently the crisp morning air was too cold for someone not used to feeling temperature. She didn't acknowledge Mel's presence; she merely leaned against the rail next to her.
Was she expecting Mel to say something? If so, what was she expecting Mel to say?
Te'ijal stared out at the ocean, a solemn expression on her face, her hands folded on the rail, the slight breeze blowing little tufts of her red hair. "Galahad told me what happened to Stella . . ." she said in a distant voice, as if she were talking to herself instead of Mel.
Stella. Mel shuddered unexpectedly, struggling not to think of the Naylithian lying dead and cold in the bunk. Why hadn't Te'ijal already known about her death? Had she really passed out that quickly, or did she simply not remember?
"Ulf told me what you did last night," Te'ijal said in that same distant, monotone voice. "How you apparently saved my . . . life." She said the last word with an air of unfamiliarity, communicating that the very idea of being alive was alien to her.
Mel halfway expected a thank you or some other form of gratitude, but nothing came. For a moment she was disappointed, though her reasonable side told her that Te'ijal was still recovering from the shock of becoming human.
Or maybe she wasn't grateful because she wanted to die.
"It must have taken a lot of willpower to do that," Te'ijal finally said, though there still wasn't a hint of either gratitude or anger in her voice. It was a mere statement, not an emotional expression.
Mel shrugged. "Well, you saved my life. Now I've finally repaid you."
Te'ijal was once again silent, gazing into the distance. Now that she was no longer in danger, Mel could really study how different she looked as a human. It wasn't just her different skin tone or eye color, either. When she was a vampire, Te'ijal always carried herself with confidence and dignity. Her stare alone was enough to generate a shudder – there was always a real sensation that this was a dangerous woman, even though she was a friend.
She certainly didn't look dangerous now. In fact, there was uncertainty in her face, something Mel would have never imagined that Te'ijal was able to feel. Uncertainty and . . . loneliness? Why would she be lonely? Aside from Stella, her friends were still there, she still had her husband . . .
No . . . Mel was looking at it from her limited human perspective. She had only been around for eighteen years – Te'ijal had existed for centuries. As a vampire, she saw humans die all the time. She probably couldn't ever get too attached to humans – it was other vampires who could be her true friends.
And aside from Galahad, she might never see any of her vampire friends again.
Acting on impulse, Mel gently placed her hand on Te'ijal's. Her skin was warm now, no longer cold like death – quite pleasant, actually. Surprisingly, the ex-vampire didn't yank her hand away. In fact, she seemed to relax a tiny bit.
"My brother is in custody," Te'ijal said in that monotone voice. "The Orb has been destroyed. Now you and your prince can go live happily ever after. It's over."
Was it over? Mel wasn't sure if she could say it was. Gyendal might have been captured, but he was still alive. He was human now, but he was still a powerful mage. Mel hoped the king and queen of Thais would sentence him to death, but for some reason she was hesitant to say it in front of Te'ijal. "I don't want to kill you, Gyendal," she had said all those months ago. Did she still feel that way about her brother? What had led to such division between the siblings, anyway?
And what about the Orb of Death? The Oracle's records said it was never finished . . . but what if they were wrong? If it actually existed, it could still be used – perhaps not by Mel, but by another descendent of Darkthrop. Mel shuddered when she remembered that since she and Edward were getting married, it would be required for them to reproduce. Would her child end up being the one who fulfilled the prophecy?
"But what happens next?" Te'ijal suddenly said, blinking at the ocean, almost looking like she was trying to keep herself from crying.
Mel's fingers curled around Te'ijal's until they were actually holding hands, something she couldn't recall ever doing with the former vampire before. Once again Te'ijal didn't resist – perhaps she even took some comfort from it.
But for her question, Mel had no answers for either of them. Everything had changed for them both. Everything. As they stood together, both gazing at the hypnotic waves and pondering their futures, Mel knew there was only one possible answer.
"I don't know."