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5.

He buried his mother next to his father in Oakvale's little cemetery. It was a small affair with little ceremony; Theresa came, blind but not needing to see, and Donny was there, because it would have been wrong to visit and not say hello. A few of the other townspeople stopped by to pay their respects, those friends of his parents left living, and others closer to his age whose vague memories of their childhood included stories of the great Scarlet Robe. The memorial was short, and afterwards people left to give the siblings space. He dug and filled the grave himself, and when he was done, he wiped his hands and leaned on his shovel, and sighed.

"Thank you, brother," Theresa said. "It's good that Mother and Father are together again."

"Yes," he said, devoid of triumph.

"You've done well," his sister said, resting her hand on his shoulder, though how she knew exactly where it was mystified him. "Albion is safe thanks to you."

"Yes," he said, standing by his parents' graves, looking at the bandages on his sister's face, feeling the aches and pains in his own body that might never fully heal. They stood together, yet the costs of the journey drove a wedge into the silence between them.

"Well," Theresa said finally, "little brother, I think this is goodbye."

He looked up at her, surprised. She smiled and said, "There's always work to be done, after all."

"Do you need help?"

She shook her head. "No," she said, "you've earned your rest. But my Sight will never let me sleep easy, I'm afraid, and I must follow where it leads me." She squeezed his shoulder. "But perhaps we'll meet again."

"Perhaps," he said.

"Do you have somewhere to go?"

He felt the corners of his mouth turn up for the first time, free from the burden of fear and sadness and guilt, simply—happy. "Yes," he said, and he couldn't keep satisfaction out of his voice.

"Good," said his sister, and then she kissed him on the cheek, and dropped her hand, and turned and walked away. He cast one last look at his parents' tombstones, then shouldered his shovel and followed the path she had taken to the gate; he looked in all directions, but she was gone.

He wandered through Oakvale, remembering his childhood, chasing Theresa through pumpkin patches, catching Orwin Gown with his mistress, kicking chickens over fences, playing in the surf at sunset. He barely remembered being that boy without a care in the world, a world now out of his reach. And so he waved goodbye to Donny's house, and walked to the outskirts of town, and stood in the Cullis Gate, and activated his Guild Seal.

He appeared in Bowerstone South in the late afternoon, the sun stretching his shadow the length of his days as he passed through the shopping district, trying and failing to keep his pace from quickening. He wanted to run up the hill and managed to save his dignity thanks to the crowd of children who gathered around him, chanting his name and asking about his battles, stumbling as they ran in backwards circles around him. He could barely understand them and had to watch his step to avoid crushing them, but they hardly noticed, begging him to show them his tattoos. Their enthusiasm was infectious; as the ground leveled out beneath his feet, he looked up with a smile on his face, and what he saw took his breath away.

His wife was waiting for him, her hands on her hips, her hair up, her clothing tight, her smile saucy, just as they had been so long ago; her necklace sparkled and the ring on her finger glinted as she came forward, the children scattering in her wake, and put her arms around his neck.

"Well met, Liberator," she said, the smirk on her face not quite hiding the relief in her eyes. "I see you've made it home safe."

"Yes," he said, pulling her close, closing his eyes and resting his head against hers. She squeezed him, the grip of her hands tight on his shoulders, and for several long, peaceful minutes they stood there, holding each other, until he thought he heard her sniffle and pulled away.

She blinked up at him, smiling fiercely. "Well, come on then," she said. "Let's get you inside."

He took her hand and let her guide him to their house; he stood on the threshold and looked around. There were still too many pieces he'd bought to make it fancy, and not yet enough to make it theirs, but that could change; and she was standing before him, tugging at his hand and looking up at him with heat in her gaze and love on her lips. "You coming?" she asked.

"Yes," the Hero said, and he stepped into his home.