In the days that followed, life returned to normal. Shana recovered with great speed physically thanks to a combination of magic from Siobhan and Kellie and incessant nagging from her loved ones to take it easy for once. They played off that she and her brother had caught the same illness, and their teachers did not mark down their grades in response. The nice thing about being reliable academic stars was that they got more leeway than the average student.
However, saying that Shana had recovered only referred entirely to her physical health. Her lingering survivors' stress from fighting Nemesis had become exacerbated from her evolutionary battle, and rather than risk sending her into a panicked terror, her friends did everything they could to effectively not speak of the events at all. It would have to be addressed someday, but, again, without a spiritual healer, they could only take what little actions were actually available.
Watching as she and Tara chatted casually with Siobhan about alliance, Yvonne murmured to the others, "I didn't even think it possible someone could shatter their own soul. We break in order to heal—not evolve. And doing that . . . reforging herself like that . . . she just made it harder for herself to break or heal at all." Softer, she added, "I don't think I'm wrong in saying she may well be the greatest of all Cultivators that Destiny has ever made."
Desiree nodded. "If ever anyone is more deliberately created by Destiny, I think the entire universe will change." She rubbed her hands over her arms. "At least she's smiling again." She found a smile of her own as Siobhan waved them all closer. "Have we figured things out?"
Siobhan nodded firmly. "I don't know why this was so difficult in the past, really. We're blaming Destiny for it. We've got the details all done up, and we'll have Virginia take them to the world leaders for us when she reports on the recent war." She nodded again. "Also, there's something else to report."
Shana braced her hands beside her hips where she sat on top of a picnic bench. "We felt it this morning, that there's been a really big shift. As in there was an actual shift in the fabric of Time. Clara confirmed it for us. With all of our generation, including her for once, being fully bloomed as Cultivators, we have unintentionally ended an era. The Royal Era will end next month in December of Year 5104, and the following month will be January of Year 1 of the Rebirth Era."
"Rebirth, huh? Well, that sounds fitting," Virginia decided. "I wonder how long that era will run until. It usually changes over with a generation." She grinned. "We'll have to watch for it once we start having kids eventually."
"We need soul mates for that first!" Kellie told her dryly. "Maybe we should be watching for those instead?"
Siobhan bit her lip to hide a smile, and Shana briefly glanced at Rocky and Edgar who mutually looked amused. None of them said a word. "Anyway," Shana continued smoothly, "I guess it's just about time to say goodbye to Tara and Byron."
Byron nodded and then smiled. "It was a little easier than I expected to get everything in order to go home. I told my manager outright about being from Ranunculus and sort of stretched the truth by saying I came to form alliance, and with that done, I am returning home. I'm apparently going to break hearts all over Protea, and there will never be anyone to take my place," he clasped his hand to his heart dramatically, "and if ever I return again, the masses will weep for joy."
It sent several of the others into a fit of giggles, including his sister—a sound he did not think he would ever tire of hearing. "It was only a little stretch," Virginia assured him. She walked closer and held out her hand palm up. When he placed his hand on hers, she held on tight. "Byron, by my right as Lead Defender for Blossom Field, I would like to offer you honorary standing as one of us. If we need help, we will call you, and we hope you will call us."
"In an instant!" he vowed. "And I am both honored and humbled you would give me such a position."
"Well," her eyes flicked to Shana and then back, "you more than proved yourself to all of us." She gave him a hug and then moved back so everyone else could do the same. She then changed her mind and hugged Tara equally. "I'm glad we saved you," she told the Ruler. "Byron would hate being a king."
"Yes he would," Byron grumbled.
Tara laughed. "Oh, you. It's not that terrible." She hugged Siobhan, and then Shana, and held on a little tighter to the latter. "You are my savior," she whispered into Shana's ear. "And no matter what, no matter how small, if ever you need me for anything, I will be there."
Shana hugged her back. "Thank you." She felt Siobhan and Rocky each take her hands, and they watched with the others of their galaxy as the two Ranunculus siblings walked away. It felt a little less like a farewell than it did a promise to meet again, so no one felt any real sadness. Neither time nor space could separate friends, and even those with Dark cores knew it.
Everyone scattered to various events, and Shana and Rocky headed off in their own direction. It felt nice to not be worrying anymore, and to be allowed out without bodyguards. He tugged her under his arm and teased, "It's so hard to find privacy with so many overprotective people dogging your every step." He nibbled teasingly at her ear. "Sure you want to just go get lunch? We could pick something up and take it home. My home, that is. Bet we can convince Siobhan without any difficulty to take Edgar back to your place instead."
She smiled up at him, and with more ease than she had in a long while. "You do tempt a woman." She laughed and caught his shoulders for balance as he swung her around into his arms properly. She eased up the bit needed and nibbled at his lip the way he had teased her ear. "Maybe we can just call for delivery," she whispered. "Juliet would be willing to run us over something."
"Well, you've convinced me." He swept her up against his chest just to make her laugh again. "Delivery it is." He contently began walking down the lane, and he ignored the giggles and laughter from observers who saw them. "The Rebirth Era, huh? My Sight seems curiously quiet about anything it will hold. What have you got?"
"A few things here and there. Nothing set in stone, and nothing that bothers me." She rested her head on his shoulder with a contented sigh. Maybe, just maybe, she did sort of like it when he moved her places against her will; possibly because it never actually went against her will. Just her stubbornness. That seemed fair. "I think we'll handle them as they come, you know? And for now, just having everyone by my side is enough for me."
He could not argue with that. They knew inevitably more wars would loom on the horizon for, as she had said before, they would always come so long as unbalance and evil fed onto each other. Loose threads left from the start of the Royal Era five thousand years before would soon have to be woven into the new fabric of the Rebirth Era, and unaccounted for friends would have to be found. A distant future with resurrected kingdoms also loomed, as did the end of the freedom they all coveted so greatly—especially Shana. Yet, for right then, everything could be perfect.
The price had been paid. They had all fully bloomed. Their galactic garden could be a beautiful one once more.
©Stacy J. Garrett. Do not reprint or redistribute without permission.