After Axra and the others woke up, Lilly told everyone about Gail’s visit. Flushing when it got to her parting.
“I’ll kill her!” Axra cried, kicking the ground.
“Calm down,” Twila pleaded. “Getting angry won’t help.”
“She kissed my… our Lilly!” Axra declared. “Who in Tartarus does she think she is?”
“Princess,” Bonnie stated, her voice calm and measured. “I understand your feelings, but I think you’re focusing on the wrong part of the story.”
“Bon, you can’t expect her to focus on anything else,” Lysara said, putting a hand on Bonnie’s shoulder. “I mean, any girl would be furious at the thought of someone stealing a kiss from their love. Wouldn’t you be super mad if someone besides you kissed me?”
“Bonnie is right regardless,” Twila stated. “The battle between the Gods and Titans is the concern.”
“Isn’t it a good thing?” Velvet inquired. “After all, the half-Gods probably won’t survive. Which means we won’t have to go to the trouble of getting the staff or fighting Eritos.”
“We should retrieve the staff regardless,” Twila argued. “Just in case she does make it, but there is a strong possibility that we won’t have to use it.”
“She’d better hope that she doesn’t,” Axra said. “Because the Titans’ll be more merciful than I will.”
Lennard galloped into the Great Forest, taking care not to cause any damage to it. After all, he was already delivering bad news. He didn’t need to give Jayko’s followers another reason to be angry with him. He waited until he’d traveled a good distance before stopping.
“Yo, I know you guys are listening!” He shouted. “I have news for you about Jayko, so come on out!”
He heard a shuffling around him. Eventually, two masked figures approached him. He knew there were more lying in wait, but he wasn’t worried. He also knew they wouldn’t make a move if he didn’t.
“We know of you, Lennard of Maero,” a feminine voice said. “Since you’re here alone, I take it you don’t bring pleasant tidings. What misfortune has befallen our Master?”
Lennard dismounted his horse and reached into his saddlebag, pulling out Jayko’s katana and holding it out to her. “Your master, my friend, he has fallen.”
The two were visibly taken aback, but she still took the blade. Her hands trembling as she did. “How?”
“The Hestial League summoned Typhon, the great destroyer. During the battle with him, Jayko nobly sacrificed himself to protect another.”
“Great was our Master’s heart,” her companion spoke for the first time, his voice cracking as he did.
“The final rites?” she inquired.
“Conducted by Reira Risa,” Lennard answered. “He was honoured.”
“I see,” she said. “Then we shall begin our mourning without the ceremony. Thank you, for telling us.”
The group spent another day without incident, eventually stopping to make camp. Twila estimated that they’d reach Deflum in another day if all went well. The first watch was taken by Twila and Velvet. The second by Lilly and Axra.
“Are… are you mad at me?” Lilly asked.
“It’s not your fault she kissed you,” Axra said.
“I… I know,” Lilly stated. “But I… I did defend her the other day… so…”
“That, huh,” Axra muttered. When she started talking again her voice was louder, clearer. “Lilly, one of your best features is that kindness of yours, the way you try to see the good in everyone. I know that I’ve told you that before. It’s what I love the most about you! Sure, it can get frustrating when you’re defending someone like that, but I still wouldn’t change that aspect of you for anything.”
“Axra,” Lilly whispered.
“I love you, Lilly,” Axra stated, leaning close to her. “May I?”
“You can any time,” Lilly said, she was smiling even while her cheeks reddened.
Axra tenderly kissed her. The two stayed together for a moment, but pulled away when they heard the sound of footsteps nearby. Axra grabbed her sword while Lilly prepared her bow.
Axra looked in the direction of the sound and gasped.
“Wh… what is it?” Lilly asked.
“It’s my mother!” Axra declared. “Why is she here? Isn’t her mind too far gone for her to wander around out here?”
Airell approached them, meandering from side to side as she went, as though she wasn’t quite sure where she was going. “This is a dangerous place,” she muttered, once she’d gotten close to them. “These lands, they’re full of dangerous things. Travelers should be wary.”
“We’re being careful,” Axra said. “Why are…”
“I had a daughter once,” Airell muttered, interrupting Axra’s query. “She was so small, so fragile.” Airell’s bony hand reached toward Axra. “The Wastes were no place for her. No place at all. So I took her to her father. He was a king, you know. She’d be safe with him. She shouldn’t be here. Better that she be safe in the castle. So many dangerous things here.”
“I’m okay,” Axra reassured her. “I have…”
“She mustn’t be here!” Airell cried, tears were streaming down her face. “She needs to be with him, where it’s safe. So many dangerous things in these lands. So many deadly things.” She wandered away from their campsite, muttering to herself. “Not safe for her here. All the dangerous things. Especially me.” She looked back at Axra as she said it. “Especially me.”
Axra sank to her knees. “Oh, Mother,” she whispered. Lilly moved over and put her arms around Axra. “Zero Papa told me that she gave me up for my own good, because she loved me.”
“I’m sure she did,” Lilly said. “In her own way, she’s still trying to keep you safe.”
Axra let herself sink into Lilly’s arms.