Gloved hands trembled as Rett reached for the clothes the guard dropped off earlier that morning. They told him the Alfath held him for over six weeks. He’d spent another three locked up in Ananke while Dawn’s Light tried to determine if the Alfath were able to break him. He’d cooperated fully with the interviews and interrogations, eager to put it all behind him and go home. But now that he was finally cleared, he hesitated. He felt himself balancing on a precipice, afraid to move lest he go tumbling back into Hell.
“Get over yourself, Rett.” He chastised himself as he stripped off his prison tunic. Once changed, he signaled the guards who escorted him to the admin office on the surface. A clerk there confirmed his release had been processed and directed him to a waiting med tech in the next room.
Rett stiffened as he approached the door but relaxed as he stepped through and saw the tech. Feliza was the first person he saw when he woke up in the detention center’s small med wing, and had cared for him through most of his recovery. She didn’t treat him as a prisoner, but instead regarded him as a survivor. She was gentle and patient without being pitying.
She patted the seat of a tall stool and waited for him to settle before tapping a command into a tablet. Rett’s gloves melted away as the nanobots holding them together retreated into the bands circling his wrists. She examined the healing scars on the back of his right hand and nodded in satisfaction. “Do you want to take the gloves with you just in case?” Rett declined the offer, and she tapped in another command on the tablet to release the wrist bands.
“I need to stand behind you to remove the inhibitors. I’ll tell you everything I’m doing so there won’t be any surprises. Alright?”
Rett clenched his jaw, but nodded. “I’m ready.”
She talked Rett through the process, letting him know where she was and when to expect her touch on the back of his neck. After an initial tense moment, Rett was able to relax through the rest of the procedure.
“He’s just in there.” The admin clerk’s voice drifted in through the open door. “Med is doing a final check and is removing the inhibitors now.”
Ken appeared at the entrance a few seconds later and leaned on the doorway, his arms folded across his chest as he waited for the tech to finish her work. His lips were curved in a slight, amused smile, but Rett could tell something was not quite right. There was a tightness about Ken’s eyes — a gauntness of spirit — that reminded Rett of the haunted, hunted little boy Ken had been when they first met.
“All done,” Feliza announced, breaking Rett’s musings. “Your medical records have been transferred to the Lyceum’s med wing so they can take excellent care of you from here on out. You’re free to go, sir.”
Ken straightened as Rett approached, and offered his hand. Rett responded by taking his hand and pulling him into a hug. “It’s so good to see you again, Brother.”
Ken grinned and hugged him back. “Let’s get you out of here.” The two remained quiet as they walked out of the office and through the main doors of the detention facility. “Magic inhibitors?” Ken asked in a low voice when they were halfway to the car.
Rett smirked. “They’d installed them while I was still unconscious. There’s supposed to be a note in my records that inhibitors don’t work on me, but I wasn’t going to go asking about it. It was annoying, though, having to remember not to use magic for little things. My tea kept going cold.”
They were ten minutes into the half-hour drive before Rett took a deep breath and relaxed in his seat. “It still seems like a dream,” he murmured as he looked out the window. “I keep expecting to wake up and find I’m back in Raqmu.” He forced a smile and glanced to Ken, but couldn’t meet his eyes. “God, I just want to hold Meli — this must have been hell for her.”
“That woman is stronger than both of us put together. She never gave up hope of you coming home.” Ken chuckled slightly. “I don’t think she’s left the kitchen since we got word you were cleared, so I hope you’re hungry.”
Rett grinned. “That’s my girl.”
Ken stopped at the gates to Arion Valley, the headquarters of Dawn’s Light. The guards welcomed Rett back and cleared them to proceed. Rett’s breath caught in his throat as they crested a hill and he caught a glimpse of gleaming white marble towers across the valley. The Lyceum was home to the Order, Dawn’s Light’s magical combat division, and Rett could make out the windows of his apartment about half-way up the central spire.
Instead of pulling up to the main entrance of the Lyceum, Ken drove down the ramp to the underground garage. Rett looked around the garage, concern wrinkling his brow when he realized there weren’t any attendants in sight. He looked over to Ken and slumped with relief. “You sent word ahead, didn’t you?”
Ken nodded. “Figured you may want some privacy for now. I arranged for the gate guards to send the message when we passed through.”
The two strode towards the lift that would take them to the paladin apartments, but it took Rett a few moments to force himself to step into the tiny chamber. Ken pretended not to notice the hesitation, nor the way Rett quickly stepped to the back of the lift to keep a wall at his back and an eye on the door. Both pretended Rett’s nervousness was because he was eager to be home and reunite with his wife.
The lift dinged and the doors slid open , admitting them to a hallway that bisected the spire. A door halfway down the hall opened, and Meli stepped out. She turned to them, and months of worry and fear melted away when she saw Rett. Her greying brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail but several wisps had come loose to form a frilly halo about her face.
Rett froze and stared at her, tears shimmering in his eyes. “God, Ken, she looks like an angel.”
Ken chuckled, recalling Rett whispering the same words with the same fervor forty years prior on their wedding day. He remained by the lift and studied a fascinating detail in the wallpaper as Rett dashed down the hall to swing his wife up into a tight hug.
Many tears, laughs, and kisses later, Rett was still hugging Meli close when he sniffed. “Is that lemon cakes?”
Meli chuckled and pulled herself from his arms. “Dinner first.” She looked down the hall to where Ken was still waiting. “You, too. Come on.” She waited for Ken to approach, then reached out to give him a hug, too. “Thank you for bringing him home.”
Rett waited for Ken and Meli to enter before following them inside. He stood in the doorway and took in the apartment before slowly walking around the living room. He let his fingers trail along the furniture as he passed, as if assuring it was real. “Is Linc here, or did he have to go back to Delphinia?”
Ken and Meli exchanged uncomfortable glances. “Linc… isn’t here.” Meli’s voice was gentle, as if breaking bad news.
Rett stiffened. “What’s wrong? Is he all right?”
“He’s fine as far as we know,” Ken answered. “Do you remember talking with me in Raqmu?”
Rett narrowed his eyes and nodded.
“Then you remember Linc was there… as well as Caelynn.”
Rett clenched his jaw and nodded again. “I remember finding out that she’s Peter Jorrall’s daughter — and that they aren’t human.”
Ken took a deep breath before continuing. “With Jorrall’s death, Caelynn became the de facto leader of the Alfath. Lincon stayed to help her. He was hoping to take a leave of absence, but Director Evans removed him from Dawn’s Light.”
“He stayed…” Rett shook his head. “He wouldn’t… why would…” He grew quiet as confusion gave way to understanding and then rage. He clenched his jaw and a vein pulsed in his neck. “He stayed for her.” He growled the words and shot a murderous glare at Ken.
“It isn’t that simple.” Ken’s voice was even, controlled.
“You let him throw away his life for… for… that -thing-”
Ken straightened and anger flashed in his eyes, but he took a deep breath, and when he spoke his voice was patient, compassionate. “My daughter isn’t a ‘thing.’ You know she isn’t like the Alfath, Rett. You told me yourself she saved Lincon. She didn’t want to stay, either, but didn’t have much choice.”
“Unless they strapped her to a table and bled her for her power, do not try to tell me she had no choice!” Rett snarled. “Yes, she took a shot for Linc, but right before that she was crying over the body of the bastard who did this to me!” He stalked across the room, running his hand through his hair. “I know about your bond, Ken. I know you won’t do anything to counter her. But I didn’t think you were so far cowed that you’d let my son break his oath and throw away his life, too!”
Ken remained quiet through the tirade and turned to leave once Rett grew quiet.
Rett clenched his fists as he watched the door slide shut behind Ken. He spun back to face Meli and froze when he saw a figure standing in the kitchen doorway.
Angela gawped at the closed apartment door, then looked down to the plate of lemon cakes in her hands. She stepped over to the table to set the plate down, gave Meli a gentle, sympathetic squeeze on her arm, and scurried out the door after Ken.
Rett blinked and looked back to his wife. “… Angie’s alive?”
Meli nodded. “The Alfath ambushed her in Dagr and left her buried under a landslide, but she made her way back a few days before the mission to Raqmu.”
The news initially drew a slight smile from Rett, but his relief turned into a sneer. “Well isn’t that just peachy for Ken.”
“There are a lot of details you don’t know, Rett. Ken has suffered, too.”
“So you’re taking his side?” Rett snapped.
“No, you hot-headed idiot, I have always and will always be on your side. But aside from me, Ken is the best thing that has ever happened to you and I don’t want to see you damage that.”
Rett took a deep breath as Meli invoked the nickname she too-frequently had to use for him over the years, and realized how fortunate he was to hear her call him that again. His shoulders slumped as he let go of his building ire. “You think I should go apologize.”
“Eventually, but not now.” Meli approached him for a hug.
Rett flinched as Meli drew close, then sucked in a breath when he realized what he’d done. “I’m sorry, Mel…”
She backed away and shook her head. “You still have a lot to work through.”
Rett stepped over to wrap his arms around her, and trembled as he held her close. “I can’t do this alone.”
“You aren’t alone,” Meli soothed. “We’ll figure it out together.”
Please know that nobody is alone. There is help.