Ardent returned to her apartment to grab a few things to make traveling the Broken Lands less annoying, and to leave her aether-hungry locket and other items behind. It wasn’t hard to pick out the things she wanted to bring. She’d been a barbarian for the last fourteen years: she travelled light.
She sent messages to several people to let them know she was leaving and wasn’t sure when she’d be back, and didn’t respond to most of their replies. Ardent answered a few from the Queen, who wanted to know if she should be worried about the Sun Host army (“1: it’s not an army. 2: No.”) and when Ardent was coming back. “If and when I feel like it, Skein. I know, it’s a mess here. But you know what? It’s not my mess. And I think it’s past time I started dealing with the mess I did make. Love, Ardent. PS: I’m resigning my affiliation again, so you don’t need to threaten to kick me out.”
But when Rain messaged her, Ardent stopped packing to invite Rain to the apartment.
The satyress sat at the dining room table, picking through the contents of her locket, when Rain appeared above the collection, butterfly wings fluttering. Ardent leaned back to look up at her. “I guess you always knew I wasn’t staying.”
“Are you going to find out what happened to Mirohirokon finally?” Rain asked.
Ardent half-smiled. “Yes.”
“Good.” Rain nodded decisively. “You’ve been moping around here too long. And you care about him.”
“Mph. What makes you think I care about him?”
“You call him ‘honey’.”
“Honey, I call everyone honey. In case you didn’t notice.”
A sudden smile lit Rain’s blue lips. “No, you don’t.” She landed on the table before Ardent, and crouched to touch Ardent’s mouth. “You call everyone ‘sugar’. And ‘kid’, and ‘sweetie’. You only call the people you love ‘honey’.”
“Oh.” Ardent blinked at her. “Really?”
Rain nodded. “For thirty-two years, Ardent.”
“Guess you know I still love you, then. Honey.”
Rain slid into Ardent’s lap and rested her head under the satyress’s chin. “I knew that when you never got married again.”
“You’re hard to replace, love.” Ardent closed her arms around the other woman’s slight form, butterfly wings folding neatly under her embrace. They looked so delicate, but they weren’t. Not at all.
“It’s not a matter of replacing.”
“I wish…I wish I’d said no to Fallen a long time ago, Ardent. I especially wish I hadn’t let her use me against you. I’m sorry.”
Ardent dipped her head into Rain’s silky blue hair, and breathed in her scent. “I wish you hadn’t, too. But I still love you. And I’m glad you came to face her with us at the end.”
Rain nodded against Ardent’s chest, and sighed. “All right. You go find Mirohirokon. Tell him I’m sorry, too. I never wanted anyone to get hurt. And if there’s ever anything I can do to make amends…let me know. I love you too, Ardent.” She sat up and pulled Ardent’s head down for a long, lingering kiss.
Then she was gone.
Ardent sighed. After wrangling her hooves into a pair of traveling boots, she announced three times to the aether: “I am quit with you, Moon Etherium.” It was all the ritual required to dissolve an affiliation. It always felt like there should be more. Ardent sighed and ported to the edge of the Etherium.
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