52. Epilogue 2

Somewhere in the mountains outside Los Angeles

Uneki waited to be recognized before entering the chamber. The Lady, in her true form now, lounged on a great rock overlooking a deep underground canyon; her tail and one graceful leg were draped over the edge. She looked more relaxed than he had seen her in quite some time. “Lady?”

Yes, Uneki? What is it?” She waited for the spirit to float over near her, then lowered her head. Her golden eyes picked up the faint light from the few torches in the cavern in a way that almost made them seem as if they were whirling.

“I have been thinking about the young one and his companions.”

As have I, my friend.

“It is still difficult for me to believe that they have managed to triumph despite all the Enemy’s attempts to destroy them. Such a thing would have been a challenge even for a fully mature representative of your people.”

Neferet considered that, then lowered her head further until it rested gently on her forelegs. “It is true,” she said contemplatively. “They are brave, I will give them that, and resourceful. I am impressed by them, although it would not have been the path I would have chosen.

“No,” Uneki agreed, “nor I. Perhaps it is the province of youth.” He smiled up at her, showing bright white teeth. “Perhaps, Lady, you and I have simply been too long in this world to believe any longer in idealism.”

Perhaps.” Neferet’s tone was good-natured, but there was an odd note to it as well. “In any case, it is done, and all of them have managed to return. It is more than I expected.

Uneki nodded. For a long moment he was silent, as if trying to decide whether to continue. Finally he looked up at her. “Lady...”

Yes, Uneki?

“Did you notice—?”

He did not finish the question, but apparently Neferet did not need him to. “Yes,” she said softly. “I noticed.

The spirit, although he did not need to breathe, took a deep breath nonetheless. “And—you chose not to speak of it to them?”

Neferet regarded him fondly, her expression turning aside his apprehension at the question. “They have been through enough for now, Uneki. I do not think that either of them know yet. She will find out soon enough, and he has been too preoccupied to even consider the possibility. Let them have their peace. It is not for me to interfere in such things.

Again Uneki waited several moments before he spoke. “It is possible that they will come to you when they make the discovery. Will you help them if they do?”

This time it was Neferet’s turn to pause. She shifted position on her rocky couch, staring down into the canyon as if she expected to find some answer there. “I do not know, Uneki. This is not the realm of the Enemy, but something much closer to home. You know the law as I do, but this is a new age and perhaps it is time to consider new law. I do not know. I will make my decision if and when they come to me. It is not something I wish to decide quickly or lightly, either way.

Uneki pondered that, his dark eyes quiet and subdued. “It will not be easy for them whatever they decide to do.”

No, and that is true, I believe, in more ways than one. If they do not take care, they risk becoming the focal point of something that has been building since before many of us were hatched.” She sighed, rolling her head to the side a bit to rub it against her foreleg. “I wish it could be otherwise, my friend, but I fear it is begun now and there is little we can do about it. It will be to them to decide. He knows, as all of us do, the implications and the ramifications of whatever decision is made.

Uneki nodded. “I hope I have not disturbed you, Lady. It is simply that I too have grown fond of the young one—of all of them, if truth is to be told—and—”

I know,” she said, her voice gentle. “Wait and see, Uneki. He has proven himself to be an exceptional youngster, at the same time wise beyond his years and reckless enough that he might just be the one to see changes made. Do not count him out yet, nor his friends. Observe and learn—perhaps we will yet see something else extraordinary.

Uneki tilted his head to look up at her. “You will support them, then, will you not?” he asked with a hint of amusement in his eyes.

Neferet sighed, but there was a twinkle in her eyes as well. “I do not know why I keep you around, Uneki. You are far too wise for your own good. Now go and let me rest.

Uneki did as he was told, but as he left the cavern, he was smiling.

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