Chapter Four The Stars Align
Time passed, and the number of things that needed doing dwindled to almost nothing. Braan and Sintel spent almost all of every day together, closing up and securing all the buildings, and putting away everything except what they needed right at the moment.
They shared cooking and cleanup duties, and in the evening Braan continued to tutor Sintel on whatever struck her as interesting. They spent their nights together, as well.
The orphaned Ishtarian had only been this happy during her time with Scales. Her companion had never been as happy.
When the rocket waiting overhead was due to be visible, they sat in the cool of the evening as the sun's light faded and the stars winked into existence.
"THERE IT IS!" exclaimed Sintel, pointing at the bright yellow point that suddenly snapped into view. It moved rapidly from west to east, beckoning with the promise of a new start. They watched it until it fell into the world's shadow and vanished, coincidentally near where the Goddess sat, it's light casting a faint shadow.
"Hmm?" she asked, distracted.
She looked at her lover. "Time for what?"
"Time for me to go," he answered, sadly.
She sat stunned. "Oh. Already?" She had known it was coming, but had hoped it wouldn't.
"I have to leave within nine days."
Her heart cracked, but she didn't let it show. She felt numb all over.
"Will you ever... come back?" she asked, not looking at him.
"I wasn't planning to. We've taken almost everything we need to start anew, so there's no reason to come back," he said.
"Besides, we are going to dismantle the rockets for the materials."
"I... understand..." she said, still looking away from him. "And you don't have any reason to delay going?"
"Yes, I do," he said softly, "But it will take months for everything to line up again, and what I'm taking won't last that long. I'm committed to the delivery; it's important, and everyone is depending on it."
The long silence, punctuated by the calls of nocturnal animals and insects, stretched uncomfortably.
"I'm tired," Sintel said at last, and went inside, taking her chair with her.
Braan sat in the darkness, eyes closed, and tears falling down his cheeks. He... he loved her. He didn't want to be without her. But he had no choice.
There was an alternative, of course. She could go with him, if she wanted to. The rocket had been designed for two, and it would be no problem. But it wasn't completely up to her. His people were very insular, and marrying someone not of them was not well-accepted. Their life would be hard in a new place with others rejecting her. On the other hand, she had traveled widely and knew how to take care of herself. Would it really be that bad, if they wanted to be together?
He had to talk to her, tell her everything, but she needed some time first. He got up and followed her path inside, carrying his own chair.
Later that night he went to her room and knocked softly.
"Open," he heard her say, and went inside. She was lying in bed, facing away from the door. The light was off. He went over to her and sat down beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder.
"Sintel..." he started.
"Don't," she interrupted, "I understand completely. You have to go, so go. Leave me alone."
"Come with me."
Startled, she turned slightly and looked at him. "What?"
"Come with me. Share my life on a new world," his voice shook. "I love you."
She gasped, then sat up and caught him in a hard hug. "I love you, too."
They talked for several hours, with him telling her the unvarnished facts of life there, and the attitude of his people. But he kept telling her he wanted to be with her, no matter what. Finally they fell into a troubled sleep.
The next day he agreed to let her think about it for a day, and to answer any questions she had. She packed a lunch and dinner, and went to the farthest corner of the ring of hills to be alone.
In the meantime, he continued with last-minute preparations; primarily making sure the supply of food, water, and air was more than enough for two. He kept looking in the direction she had gone, hoping to see her coming back before tomorrow. He really hoped she would go with him.
She came in the next morning, finding him in the dining hall. She dropped her backpack and leaned her staff against the wall. He put a plate of breakfast in front of her as she sat down.
They ate in silence, then she looked at him. "As much as I want to... I can't go with you."
His heart, in turn, broke. "Why not?" he asked, voice cracking as well.
"Scales. I can't abandon him, not after all this time looking," she answered, "And there is so much of this world I haven't seen."
Braan pushed his plate away, his appetite lost.
"I'm sorry." she gave him a wan smile. "Maybe someday I'll build my own rocket, and come find you."
"Yeah... maybe..." he said, then looked at her with his own smile. "I'd like that. You know, I really have to admire your loyalty to Scales."
"He's my friend. He made me happy, as happy as I'd ever been with my parents, if not more," she answered. "I have to know what's happened to him."
"He's worth it, then," said Braan.
The next few days were spent with both slowly, and reluctantly, getting ready to go. Finally everything had been packed, and almost everything said.
Sintel's backpack was heavier, with warmer clothing folded away and food for some time with care. They stood by the gate, talking.
"I love you, and I'll miss you," said Braan, hugging her close. "I wish things didn't have to be like this."
"Me too," she said softly, "I love you too. I'll be back. you know. As Keeper of the Library, I'll have to check on things once in a while. I wish you would be here."
"I do too. But I can't." He gathered her even closer, memorizing the feel of her body against him, and her scent. "But whenever you look at the Goddess, you can see where I am."
She looked up into his eyes. "And you can see where I am too."
They shared a last kiss, and let go. She picked up her staff, and walked out the gate. She was crying, but didn't want him to see.
"I'll wait one day for you," he called to her retreating back.
"That makes it so much harder," she said softly, but kept walking. She heard the gate close behind her and waved a hand in acknowledgement.
Sintel turned her thoughts to the journey ahead of her. She now had a map that gave the paths and locations of villages along them. She was still traveling more-or-less west, seeking information on dragon sightings, or where they might live.
She hiked along the deserted road that Nature was reclaiming. Nothing bothered her as she did, but she kept alert anyway, listening for changes in bird calls, or warning growls.
She slept under the stars that night in an open place where another road crossed her path. She would be taking the west way in the morning. Maybe she would still be close enough to see the rocket leave. When the Goddess rose, she watched it for a long time before falling asleep.
Early the next morning she sat up, wide awake. She gathered her things quickly, and headed back the way she had come at a run. She had to get back in time. She had to go with him. Scales was a dragon. He was with his own kind now, and could take care of himself. She hated that she'd never see him again, but she wanted... no, NEEDED Braan.
She set a pace that was faster than walking that she could sustain for a long time. But she had come across buckled and treacherous places in the road, and had to be careful. A sprained or broken ankle would not do.
At last she saw the gate just ahead, and ran faster. As she got to it, a rumbling sound and hard vibrations hit her.
"No, no, no, NO!" she said, fumbling with the latch. In her haste she had forgotten the trick to opening it. After a moment it yielded to her efforts, and she yanked it aside, running in and leaving her staff where it had fallen.
She stood and watched as the rocket lifted off, having trouble keeping her feet under her. She saw panicked birds flying away. The upside-down candle moved up, slowly at first, then faster and faster, heading east.
"No, come back... I want to go with you..." she shouted, but her voice was lost in the crackling, rumbling noise.
The rocket disappeared in the distance, leaving a trail of smoke, and the cries of upset animals behind. She sat down and cried for some time.
She spent the night in the black building, finding a letter in the dining hall addressed to her. She read it several times before putting it safely away in her backpack. The place was too quiet, and she was too alone without him.
The next morning she went back to the gate, retrieving her staff and closing the rusted metal behind her.
She would be back someday, but for now, Scales was waiting.
Sintel strode off on the path through the woods, never looking back.