The rain dribbled to a stop as though they had walked out of a storm cloud, the tempest still roaring somewhere behind them. It was a relief to get out of the uphill battle they'd been fighting against the wind, and if anyone was concerned at the sudden, abrupt changes in the weather they didn't voice it. And, obviously, the silence on the matter wasn't due to a lack of speaking.
Kaim and Seth led the way up the steep cliff face, Jansen lagging behind them, panting hard. He'd given up complaining for the time being, settling instead upon grumbled curses just loud enough for them to hear. Every now and then he would attempt to start up another one-sided conversation, the way he was doing now. The man didn't seem to understand the concept of quiet, introspective travels.
"So, you guys have lived a long time, right?" Jansen waved one arm for emphasis. "What, a thousand years? Maybe longer? So you must have seen a lot in that time. A lot of things nobody living has ever laid eyes on."
Kaim mentally willed Seth to hold both her tongue and her blade, the irritation evident in her face. She knew as well as he did, though, that no amount of annoyance warranted the price of more blood on their hands. He answered as evenly as he could, watching the pirate out of the corner of his eye. "Perhaps we have; none of that matters if we can't remember it."
"Yeah, but you gotta remember some things. I mean, you guys just said it yourselves, your bodies know all that stuff even though you don't think you do."
There was something unsettling about Jansen's apparent interest in their memories, and Kaim was reminded that there was a fine line between a just and unjust cause to take a life. Suspicion teetered on either side.
"So, I mean, you must have some amazing, earth-shattering advice for those of us who are actually out here living, right?" That was the second time he'd used the word 'living.' Kaim wasn't sure if that had been an accident or an intentional dig, but either way neither of them bothered to answer. "You, uh, what? Can't think of any?" Still, silence. "Okay, that's cool. You know what? Let's turn this into a game. We'll each make up a five-word sentence for something we've learned and then go around the circle and share it." There was another long pause, and Seth rolled her eyes as Jansen added, "…Yeah, I got nothing, so we'll come back to me. How about Seth? What advice do you have to enlightenthe masses?"
She shot him a glare, and Kaim almost reached out to keep her from attacking. "Just shut. The hell. Up."
"Ooh, five words, very nice. I was kinda hoping for a little more poignant, though, you know, maybe–"
Seth really did turn around this time, stopping so fast Jansen ran into her. "I mean it," she muttered through gritted teeth, pulling her sword a little ways out of its sheath. "If you can't say something nice, just bite your tongue—or else I'll be happy to cut it out for you."
He was startled enough that he didn't have an immediate comeback, just nodding frantically until she wheeled back around to face the oncoming wind. "Okay, okay, fine. Sheesh. Look who woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."
She pursed her lips and kept walking, her eyes on the steeply winding road before them. She seemed to know they were getting close.
"Well, how about you, Kaim? You're a pretty smart guy, I bet you've got plenty of stuff you could share with us. Tell me something you learned in all that traveling."
Just then they broke above the top of the cliffs as though breaking through the waves of the ocean, the same sudden breathlessness making them all stop short. Before them on one side was a mass of unbroken mountain chains, and on the other the gleaming water that marked the beginnings of a sea. Above it all was Grand Staff, still miles away, silhouetted in its own magic light against the deep-afternoon cerulean blue sky.
There was a feeling as though he'd been here before, but also a rush of fragmented memories, all the warnings and the lessons, the losses and gains that sometimes turned out to be one and the same. They were nothing more than fleeting thoughts before they were gone, but suddenly Kaim knew what he'd learned on his long journey; there was one rule, and only one rule, he'd ever found to be unfailingly, undyingly true, everywhere and always:
"This, too, shall pass away."
No one said anything. There was nothing left for them to say. Instead they stood together at the crest of the cliff in silence, watching the ethereal glow of the staff in the distance, a testament to the conceited stubbornness of mortal man; his refusal to accept his place in this world—and his silent plea to never be forgotten.
After a moment Kaim turned away, murmuring, "Let's keep going."