She is the last ringing echo of what she once was.
Memory stalks her. It catches her and she is swept away in a sea of hazy dreams. In bits and pieces she cannot quite puzzle together, she remembers a boy and a girl and a cloudy afternoon when the world fell apart. She blinks and her mind clears, leaving her at the edge of the park, silently watching a group of children play some distance away.
She joins them, sometimes. It had been Maya's suggestion, that she find something to occupy her time and familiarize herself with Terra Venture. Leo had brought her to the daycare. In spite of her initial reservations, she sometimes finds it easiest to be in the company of children if she must be in the company of anyone at all.
Today, though, she prefers to keep to herself, and walks deeper into the trees. There are no true forests on Terra Venture, but further on, in the heart of the park, there is a small wooded area she goes to be alone.
Her boots are quiet on the path. She follows the trail, thinking of everything and nothing at all, only to be startled to a quick halt by the sudden knowledge of the fact that she is no longer alone. It takes her a moment to focus her awareness (she is out of practice, it seems; she should work on that, now that she finds herself in the midst of battle again), and she approaches the source of it warily.
Her heart slows back down to normal as she stands at the base of a tall tree and peers up it, only to see Maya smiling back down at her. "Karone!" she says, and drops—only to land gracefully in a perfect crouch, with the ease that comes only from experience. "What are you doing here?" she asks, not even breathless.
"It's always quiet here."
Maya nods in understanding. "That's why I come here."
"And," Karone says. She hesitates. "Darkonda kidnapped me from a park. Sometimes, coming here, it's easier to remember."
"Does it remind you of your home?"
Karone considers the question with her hand resting against the tree trunk, the bark rough beneath her hand. "No," she says at last. "I don't remember much of KO-35. And the Dark Fortress was nothing like this."
"It's not very much like Mirinoi, either," Maya says, her face turning wistful. "The trees are the wrong kind and there were more of them, and our towns were smaller."
"What was it like there?" Karone asks.
"Someday, I'll show you." Maya stares at something far away. "When we're done here, I'm going to find my way home."
There is no doubt in her. Karone studies the determined lines of Maya's face. It's a familiar look. Andros wears it often. Not for the first time, she wonders if it's faith or simply an unwillingness to consider failure.
"I think you would like it there," Maya says, and they sit shoulder to shoulder against the tree as Maya speaks, so close their fingers brush together.
Perhaps her parents had been affectionate. She can't remember now. All she knows is that Andros responds when Ashley and Zhane extend it to him, but rarely initiates it himself. They had offered it to her, too, freely and without reservation. It had been almost more than she knew what to do with. Ecliptor had loved her (she mourned and mourns him still), but it was something he'd had little need of.
But even with her limited experience, she knows something is... different, when Maya hugs her. Karone stands before her and memorizes her face, the precise shade of brown in her eyes and the stray hairs that curl against her forehead. The warmth in her cheeks reminds her of what she felt for Zhane once and what they might have become if they'd had the chance.
She makes her own chances now. Carefully, she leans closer and brushes her mouth across Maya's.
Eventually, as days become weeks, they speak of Kendrix. "I loved her," Maya says, and tears glisten unshed in her eyes. "I'll always love her. But I can love you too, and—I do."
They rest hand in hand, side by side in Maya's hammock. Karone supposes it's her hammock now, too.
"Me too," she says. Maya's fingers tighten around hers.
It's into a comfortable silence that she ventures, "Do you know why I came here? The saber was only part of it."
Maya shakes her head and waits.
"I had to leave," Karone explains. "Just for awhile. I never felt unwelcome, but Andros—he's had a long time to imagine the sister I could've been. I'm not sure that girl is me. As long as I was around him, I couldn't be sure."
She'd worried, in the beginning, that she would find a similar problem here. She knows now that they were never looking to replace Kendrix and that they love her for who she is. It's a comfort that she never expected to have.
"I like who you are," Maya offers, and Karone kisses her in reply.
She is the last ringing echo of what she once was, and fading fast.
The transformation is joyous.