THE CASTLE OF THE CRYSTAL - DAY
Cloudy, but not overcast. The suns peeked out from the clouds.
A SEED POD - DAY
One of the pods the Podlings made their homes out of. This one had been made into a one room home. In one corner was a bed. In another corner were a few comfortable looking straw padded chairs. In another corner, a small kitchen area with a stone fireplace and wooden cupboards.
Kira was in the corner, working in the kitchen area. She was heating a kettle of soup over a fire. She ladled soup into a bowl on a tray a wheeled cart. Next to the bowl was a plate with a pile of green stringy vegetables and a sandwich of some sort. A glass of some kind of milk filled out the meal.
Jen entered, walking over to Kira, putting his arms around her from behind, taking in the scent of her hair. Kira smiled faintly, continuing to ladle soup into the bowl.
"Did she eat at all yesterday?" Jen asked.
Kira's face fell into a frown of worry. She shook her head.
"Maybe she just needs some time." Jen said.
"She hasn't eaten in 3 days. I'm getting really worried." Kira said.
Jen squeezed her reassuringly. "I don't understand how she can resist your cooking…"
Kira couldn't help but smile. She turned to Jen and held him close. He returned the embrace.
After a moment, Kira's face fell again. She pushed back to look into Jen's eyes. "Jen… I'm sorry."
Jen was taken aback. "For what?"
"For the way I acted towards you. When you were trying to talk me out of fighting." Kira said.
"It's alright…" Jen said.
"No, it's not. I should have been more considerate of your feelings." She said.
"You were angry." He said.
"That's no excuse." Kira said.
"Kira… it's all right. After what you'd been through, you were entitled to a brief period of… insanity…" Jen said.
Kira couldn't help but smile… a little… "Maybe."
Jen gently pulled Kira to him and held her close. Kira closed her eyes, enjoying the feeling of his arms around her.
Doria laid on her bed. She still wore her uniform, wrinkled and unkempt, like she'd been sleeping in it. Her hair was a mass of cowlicks and tangles. The bedclothes were in disarray. She laid on her side, staring straight ahead.
There was a knock at the door. She didn't react.
The chamber door opened. Kira entered, wheeling in the cart with the tray of food on it.
Doria didn't even look at her. Indeed, she didn't move at all. Her eyes remained fixed and staring.
"Doria…?" Kira said.
If Doria knew Kira was there, there was no sign of it.
Kira slowly walked in front of Doria. She stood directly in her unwavering gaze. "Doria…"
There was no reaction at all. If it were not for the soft sound of her breathing, she could easily be mistaken for dead.
Kira sat on the side of the bed. She gently stroked Doria's hair comfortingly, then withdrew her hand when she realized she was not reacting.
"I'll leave the food. Try to eat something. I'll be back to check on you." Kira said. Finally, she rose and moved toward the door.
Then Doria spoke, "Why didn't you kill him?"
Kira froze in mid-step. She turned back. Doria still laid there, exactly the same as before.
Slowly, Doria sat up and swung her feet to the floor. She turned and gazed directly into Kira's eyes. "You had him on his knees, your sword at his throat. You could have killed him right there. Why didn't you?"
Kira looked away in shame.
All at once, Doria's face curled in rage. She leapt swiftly to her feet, marched up to Kira and grabbed her by the tunic. Startled, Kira yelped. Doria's face was nose to nose with Kira's. Doria's voice was low and intense:
"You wanted to kill him."
"I couldn't." Kira said.
"But you wanted to." D said.
Kira looked away. Doria grabbed her by the face and forced her to look back up at her. "Didn't you?"
Kira closed her eyes tight.
"DIDN'T YOU?" Doria yelled.
Suddenly seized with rage, Kira grabbed Doria and hurled her away. She glared at her with unmitigated fury.
"YES! I wanted to kill him!" Kira yelled back. Breathing hard, she glared a Doria for a moment. Then:
"When I had my sword at throat, I wanted to kill him so badly, my entire body tingled with anticipation. I wanted to. More than I've ever wanted anything."
Guilt dropped like a curtain over Kira's eyes. She looked away. "I've never wanted to kill before. I've had to kill animals in self defense, but never have I ever wanted to kill… until now. When I realized what I was doing…"
Kira closed her eyes, trying to shut away the guilt. "The worst part is, if I had killed him… I think I would have enjoyed it. I would have enjoyed it…"
Doria regarded Kira for a long moment. She was finally beginning to see just how much this experience had affected her… and Doria was beginning to feel responsible. She lowered her eyes in shame.
"I'm a coward. I made you fight the battle I should've fought myself long ago." Doria said.
Kira looked at Doria sympathetically.
"You didn't make me do anything. I would have fought him with or without your help. You saved my life. You taught me the skills I needed to survive." Kira said.
"Too little, too late. I've known for a long time what Jolen was capable of. If I had had the courage to face him earlier… your grandfather would still be alive…" Doria said.
Kira reached out to squeeze Doria's shoulder. "Doria… don't…"
Doria shrugged roughly out of Kira's grip.
"It wasn't your fault." Kira said.
"How can you even look at me?" Doria asked.
"You're my friend." Kira replied.
The simple sincerity of the statement bore right through to Doria's soul. In that moment, she was destroyed by her shame.
"It wasn't your fault, Doria." Kira said.
"I could have stopped it…" Doria said.
"I should have…" Doria said.
Kira reached out and took Doria by the arm. Doria flung her arm violently out of Kira's grasp. Kira grabbed it again, pulling Doria towards her. "Don't touch me!" Doria said.
Refusing to give up, Kira eventually managed to get a firm enough grip on Doria's arms to pull her into an embrace. Doria, even in her weakened state, was a handful to hold onto.
"Let me go! Let me go!" She shouted. She was too disoriented and weak to use her martial arts techniques to break away, struggled vainly in Kira's work strong arms. Kira held onto her fiercely, pulling her close, trying to sooth her.
Finally, Doria gave up the struggle. All the strength seemed to go out of her at once, and her legs began to buckle under her. Gently, Kira lowered Doria to sit on the side of the bed, all the while holding her in a comforting embrace.
Unable to hold back any longer, Doria began weeping openly. Sobs wracked her body. For the first time in her life, all her barriers were down, and all feelings of guilt, rage, and sorrow she had kept bottled up for so long were at last finding some release.
Kira pulled Doria closer, resting her head on her chest, gently stroking her hair and rocking her comfortingly. Kira wept quietly along with her friend.
DORIA'S CHAMER - DAWN
Doria and Kira laid on the bed together. Kira still held Doria comfortingly in her arms. Kira was awake, watching the golden rays of the rising Great Sun spilling in through the window. (There was something subtly different about Kira, but can't quite put the finger on it…)
Doria stirred and slowly opened her eyes. She looked up, and was astonished to see that Kira was still there. "You stayed with me all night?"
Kira nodded. "You needed a friend."
Doria was overwhelmed. This was the first time in her life someone had ever shown so much concern for her feelings.
Slowly, Doria turned to face Kira, leaned forward and gently, lovingly, kissed Kira on the cheek, just next to her lips. Then, her arms went around Kira and she held her close. Kira returned the embrace in kind. Finally, Doria pulled back to gaze into Kira's eyes.
Kira's subtle smile and kind gaze returned Doria's affection more effectively than words.
A cacophony of frantic barking at the door broke the moment. They both turned.
Jen stood at the door with Fizzgig barking frantically at his feet. Jen smiled affectionately. He said to Kira, "I thought you might be here."
Then he looked down at the frantic Fizzgig. He glared at him, then scooped him up and clamped his hands tightly above and below him. The pressure kept Fizzgig from opening his mouth. Fizzgig growled and whimpered, squirming in frustration.
Kira didn't approve. "Jen…"
Jen sighed heavily… then released Fizzgig. He immediately jumped down with a yelp and tumbled into the room, growling and yapping.
Doria's eyes followed him as he tumbled past Kira. Her eyes locked onto Kira's legs. "Kira…! Your spots!"
Kira looked down at herself.
For the first time, it is now realized what's different about Kira. The lovely spots that normally adorned her legs were gone.
Kira slapped her hands on her thighs, startled. She looked up at Doria, a little frightened.
Doria broke into a wide grin. "Congratulations!"
"Congratulations…?" Kira looked at her questioningly.
Doria raised her eyebrows in surprise. "You mean you don't know what it means when a woman loses her spots?"
Kira shook her head.
Doria smiles a knowing smile. She gently patted Kira's belly. "You two had better start thinking of some names."
"Names…" Jen asked.
"For your baby." Doria said.
Jen and Kira just stared at Doria blankly for a moment. Finally, the meaning of what she had just said started to register. Their mouths dropped open in shock. They looked at each other then, all at once, they started to laugh, overwhelmed with excitement and unbridled joy.
Jen leapt forward and clasped Kira to him tightly, picking her off the ground and twirling her around in his arms. They both laughed out loud, elated by the realization that they finally had the lives they had always dreamed of.
Finally, Kira turned to Doria, who looked on with a sad smile. She was happy for them, but she longed to share in their joy. Kira smiled at her friend, then both her and Jen reached out to Doria, drawing her to them to share their embrace.
Doria closed her eyes, swept up in the tenderness of the moment.
THE CASTLE OF THE CRYSTAL - THRONE ROOM - DAY
A red carpet had been laid leading up to two thrones. The thrones were wooden with plush velvet cushions and decorated with crystals of all shapes and sizes. The thrones sat on a raised platform with four steps up.
Hundreds of Gelfling were assembled. There was a chatter of anticipation. The assembled Gelfling formed two huge groups on either side of the red carpet. Rows of soldiers (wearing their uniforms, but not the Dellin Empire emblem) stood in rows all along its length.
Doria stood before the thrones, her hair brushed to a sheen and wearing her best uniform. A soldier stood on each side of her, each holding an exquisite crown made of crystal.
The points of crowns were reminiscent of the castle's spires.
Aughra watched from within the crowd holding Fizzgig in her arms. Fizzgig barked excitedly. Aughra shushed him.
Jen and Kira slowly marched down the carpet. Both wore beautifully elaborate outfits made of a white silk-like fabric embroidered in gold with a lovely, interconnecting spiral pattern. The outfits were studded with bits of crystal which glinted and sparkled as they walked.
All eyes in the room were on Jen and Kira as they walked slowly towards Doria before the thrones. When they reached her, they each fold their hands before themselves and bow their heads.
Doria reached to the soldier on her left. He handed her his crown. Doria took it gently in both hands and reverently placed it on Kira's head.
Kira looked up and met Doria's gaze. Their eyes locked.
Doria smiled at Kira warmly.
Kira returned her smile and nodded.
Doria closed her eyes, crossed her arms in front of her so her fingertips touched her shoulders, then bowed her head in traditional salute.
Then, Doria stepped in front of Jen and reached to her right. The other soldier handed her his crown, which Doria then placed on Jen's head. He raised his head, and Doria respectfully saluted him.
Then, Doria stepped aside. Jen and Kira unclasped their hands and stepped forward, stepping up onto the platform. They turned, and reverently sat on their thrones before the assembly.
The moment they were seated, the crowd cheered, throwing hats into the air in jubilation.
In the excitement, Fizzgig broke away from Aughra's grasp.
Fizzgig tumbled down the aisle and excitedly leapt into Kira's lat, barking up at her happily. Kira smiled, gazing down at her beloved pet affectionately. She scratched his head, and Fizzgig whimpered appreciatively.
Jen and Kira sat proudly upon their thrones… the new rulers of the restored Gelfling Kingdom of Rindaar.
CASTLE OF THE CRYSTAL
The 3 suns glint majestically on the castle's beautiful crystalline exterior. And perhaps the suns seemed to burn just a little brighter than before, for balance had once again returned to the world.
And the baby that was born later on, their firstborn, was a little girl.