A year minus three weeks. I admit that I was... distracted. But I promised that I would finish this, even if it would take time. It had - six years minus seven weeks - but eventually, I stuck to my word. I only hope it's worth it.
In space, a galaxy; in the galaxy, a planet; on the planet, a continent; on the continent, a desert; in the dessert, a crater; in the crater, a dying giant and two beings of light hovering over him; by the edge of the crater a bluff, and on the bluff two women and two men.
"Don't worry," said Yakumo. "I know what to do."
And she stepped over the edge.
Sago and Kutall both cried out and threw themselves out to stop her. Emma could not stop them. She didn't need to: a wall of Light kept them from falling.
All around them there were rays of light, white tinted with colours, like the columns of giants rising from the earth to the sky and descending from the sky to the air. From each of these rays there came a voice, in each of these rays there was the shadow of a figure: the Guardians have come.
On top of the bluff in the middle of a desert on a continent at a dying planet, Sago and Kutall pounded at the wall of Light.
The ground shook.
"Sago, stop!" shouted Emma over the noise. "Please!"
"I have to get to her!"
"You can't!" Another tremor made him lose his balance and she used that to drag him back. "We can't get to her. She's not ours, had never been."
Kutall turned, angry. "You barely even knew her!"
"She's not yours!" she replied, hotly. "Had never been. She's the Guardians'. She's the Bearer of the Gem of Light. Look around you!"
Another tremor, more violent than the former, knocked the three of them to the ground.
"What's happening?" asked Sago.
"The planet's dying," she said shortly. "Unless Yakumo can get the Guardians to stop it somehow."
"The Guardians…" said Kutall. The beams of Light finally registered through his fear for Yakumo. There were thousands of them present, now, casting a brilliance clearer than day. "These are the Guardians?"
"Wow," said Sago softly.
"Yes," agreed Emma. "We're treated to a sight no one had seen in tens of thousands of years."
"I could do without the honour," said Sago wryly.
The beams narrowed, the colours in them swiveled and coalesced into figures. Way down below, Lanacuras' body lay. Melissa had flown to Mushra's side, flaming wings of yellow behind her back like a bird of prey's. And there, next to Mushra –
"Yakumo," whispered Sago. Then he cried out: "Yakumo!" But she was too far away for his voice to reach.
The column of Light closest to Mushra and Yakumo was majestic purple, tinted silver. From it a voice spoke. Deep and resonating, it blasted back from the crater's walls.
"Mushra, my son. It is with sorrow that I welcome you back into our fold of the Eternal Guardians of Blessed Shinzo, for it is with the death of your brother and enemy that you have regained your life, and this life is the death of this very planet and all the life that it bears."
"Enterra shouldn't be destroyed," said Mushra hotly. "Not for his sins."
"That is not for me to decide. Even that all of our Council have come here at this time we may not undo the Rules as they had been set since the beginning of time."
"We're the protectors of these people! We, all of us, not just him. What kind of protectors are we if we fail everyone on Enterra because of one?"
The Father's voice remained grave and steady. "Even one grain of sand, if missing, can cause a grand rock to collapse."
"My Lord," spoke Yakumo from Mushra's side. "I would be your daughter, and protect this planet and all the life it bears, if you'll so please."
"Earth is dead, little one," said the Father of the Guardians gently.
"Knock off the formalities," said Melissa. "Last time around all you had was a semi-mortal Guardian and two gems. This time, you've got a full Guardian who's also a Phoenix and a double on one of the gems, and the sacrifice has already been made. So the rules change, and you can take her," she nodded at Yakumo, "at her offer without wrecking the timestream beyond repair. So what's more sacred, the rules or the duty?"
"Please," said Yakumo. In the wake of Melissa's defiance her voice sounded doubly pleading.
The Father of the Guardians sighed, the sound passing through the crater like a momentary gale. "Very well, then. Come here, you who would be a Guardian." And to Mushra, he added: "If you would join us now."
Light shot up from Mushra, upwards and downwards, forming a column of red and gold around him. Yakumo floated closer to the father's column, Mushra at her back.
The Light exploded.
When they could see again the lightshow was still going on, Yakumo hidden within it, and Melissa had joined them on top of the bluff. Where her light reached there were no tremors. "It's done," she said quietly. "Earth is no more."
"Can a name make such a difference?" asked Sago.
"You've known him," said Melissa. The toss of her head meant Mushra. "Do you need to ask?"
Sago shook his head.
"Will it undo the damage?" asked Emma. "With every second – "
"I hope he'll come up with something," said Melissa. "And if not, I've healed a planet in the past. I'll do it again if needed. I daresay the local Guardian is Phoenix-friendly."
"Did she – " asked Kutall. "Did she die?"
"Yes," said Melissa, "And no. A Guardian may not have a corporeal body, but she did not so much as cross into the in-between between Life and Death."
"We lost them both," said Sago, so quietly that his voice was barely heard above the nonstop tremors. "But at least they're together. He's always loved her, I think. Look!"
Where Yakumo had to be, Light blossomed: brilliant pearly white, green and brown crisscrossing in it. Then the sphere narrowed, became brighter and formed into a vertical beam like the others.
The tremors ceased.
A Celestial Guardian had been born.
When the Guardians departed they did so suddenly, plunging the desert into sudden darkness. The night sky was dark, too: the battle there had stopped some time earlier, perhaps as easrly as Lanancuras' destruction, perhaps later. The desert was impossibly quiet, not even the sound of a rodent or a mosquito to disturb the silence, only the voice of their own breathing, ragged with adrenaline and hitched with emotion.
Only two Guardians remained behind, their auras minimized to glowing spheres not much larger than they: Mushra and Yakumo.
Hand in hand, they floated to where their friends were waiting.
"Hey, guys," said Mushra, attitude and smile same as ever.
"I'm sorry I scared you," said Yakumo. "There was so much that I didn't understand until it actually happened…"
Sago and Kutall were both too choked to speak. Kutall reached forward to hug them and they'd come a little closer, so that Sago too could reach without the risk of fall.
"I don't understand." Said Sago. Yakumo and Emma were translucent, but solid enough to the touch. "You're real."
"Of course we are," said Musrha.
Yakumo's smile was warm. "We can't maintain this for long," she said. "I'm sorry. And I'm going to need my strength." She turned, looking around. "So much damage," she said sadly. "So much destruction, and us Guardians are better at maintaining then rebuilding. This will take a long time."
"You're not alone," reminded her Melissa. "Us here are quite capable of landing a hand."
"Is the timestream really all right?" asked Emma suddenly. "Is there really no need to – "
"To what?" asked Sago.
"I was afraid you'll have to go back," said Emma in a very low, quiet voice. "To when you came from. Temporal stability is so delicate."
Sago reached for her hand, squeezing it tight. She stepped towards him, burying her face in his shoulder.
"Lucky Rusphine had sent me also," said Yakumo. "Two Gems of Life, two Gems of Light – things balanced out."
"Karen gets to live and we get to stay because you…" Kutall's voice broke. "Because you gave your life for it."
Yakumo's life was radiant, even that her eyes brimmed with tears. "I'll miss you," she said. "I will. And I will miss grass beneath my feet and sun on my fact, but… I am alive, Kutall. And I'll never leave you, any of you. Don't you understand? I'm the Guardian of this planet. I'll be in every rainfall and in every blooming flower."
"We'll still miss you," said Sago. "Both of you."
Mushra's regular cockiness faded a little at that. "It won't be the same," he agreed. "And I had a good time with you. I'm happy to have known you. But – I have work to do. Lots of it. But I promise to drop by, so watch out for me!"
And he was a Guardian, dressed in gleaming white and gold and with light showing through translucent imitation of skin, but he was still Mushra and Sago and Kutall couldn't help but laugh.
"This is goodbye, then," said Kutall.
"Goodbye," agreed Yakumo. "But not farewell."
"Goodbye!" called out Musrha as he and Yakumo spiraled upwards.
When they were high in the sky and only just still visible, Yakumo's figure began to fade.
"Wait!" called Mushra.
From down below, they could see her becoming visible again, and Mushra reaching for her face and bringing his closer.
Sago cheered. Emma and Melissa laughed. Kutall added his own encouragement.
There was no surge of Light, when Mushra's lips touched Yakumo's skin, but there was movement: like wind, like a single ray of sun, like the first breath of spring. Then Mushra and Yakumo were gone.
There was no dust in the air. There were no cracks and gaps in the rocks were the tremors passed. There was no debris below but trees and bushes, and where Lanancuras' body had been there was – incredibly enough – a lake. They were standing over a newborn oasis, and around them Enterra's broken surface healed before their very eyes.
"But Yakumo said it'll take years," said Kutall, awed.
Melissa huffed. "Obviously."
Emma turned around in Sago's arms, offering Kutall a smile. "Obviously," she agreed, and explained: "Phoenixes."
Melissa offered to return them to the base under the mountains, but they refused. The did accept the offer of a shortcut to the oasis below, rather than hiking down the cliffs in the dark.
The others showed up through the night. Karone with power still shining in her eyes and Caris, now looking at her with awe rather than hostility; Tommy and Kat with the other Rangers as well Franken, Gyasa and Daku's heir, all of them with fresh injuries and involved in a rapid discussion until sweet air of the oasis made them fall silent and look around them; and lastly Shiera and Carlos, holding the four kids between them.
The kittens ran to their uncle, high childish voices loud and clear and unburdened by the weariness of the adults surrounding them and then, finally, Sago felt that it was over.
They had won.
The world he, Kutall, Mushra and Yakumo had set out from no longer exist; would no longer come to pass, even. Instead, a new world would evolve, where perhaps Humans and Enterrans will learn to coexist, even if it will take a very long time for the two people to consider each other the sibling species that they were. A world with safe roads and no tyranny. A world where a little girl will not wake up alone, hundreds of years after her time and with the weight of the world on her slim shoulder…
A world Yakumo would watch over but never set foot in. A world without Mushra.
Sago bowed his head and turned his face aside as his vision blurred.
Emma touched his chin, made him turn to face her. "Tears are sacred," she told him gently. "Let them fall. Don't be ashamed of crying."
I don't want to bring pain to here, he wanted to tell her, but when he opened his mouth to say so no words would come out, and the first tears slid down his cheek and unto the ground.
Emma looked down and smiled. "Look," she said.
Where his tears touched the ground, tender white flowers rose like the first offering of peace.
He had no words, so he bent forward and kissed her.
Within a year a memorial was erected in the oasis crater, the figures of two figures hand in hand, flying upwards to the stars, a man and a woman, an Enterran and a Human, both of them young and full of hope. Every year a memorial would be held there, speeches spoken and prayers led, and later, at dusk, those who had fought that day would come and their children with them, with picnic baskets and laughter, so that life may be celebrated alongside with memory.
The first year Sago and Emma already brought their month-old firstborn daughter with them, her eyes green and blue like the ocean and her smile like the cousin she had been named for; and a leaf that fell from a tree was caught by a late, red ray of sunlight, and a clear crystal hanging from a golden chain fell into little Yakumo's hand, Guardians' gift.
With each passing year more people would want to come to the service and so another site was erected on top of one of the surrounding cliffs, so that the peace of the Valley of Rebirth – as it came to be known – would not be disturbed. Some called it simply the White Temple, and others called it the Temple of Light or the Temple of Peace.
Five hundred years later, at the grand ceremony marking time's full circle, the priestess at the Temple – of mixed blood, like most of Enterra's population by then – still wore a crystal leaf pendant, hanging from a necklace woven of fire.