The Unseen Kingdoms - Chapter 14

Once outside of the hotel, Edgar had been able to track the beam across the surface of Protea to a city that affectionately got called the "High City" because it had been built upward from ruined other cities more than once over the last few millennia. Approaching it involved an interesting winding drive up over human-made hills. For fun, and for a small cost, people could go on tours under the city to the two levels of city that had existed prior. The sewers and waterways for the city diverted around the ruins safely and sanitarily.

Finding Maxim's old home amid the double ruins would be like finding a needle in a snowbank. Siobhan spread out a map on the table between her and Edgar and said, "This is where we need Shana and her rubber brain! She remembers even more clearly of the Royal Era than we do. You remember where Max lived, but not relative to all the stuff that sprang up around his old house as that once tiny city grew bigger."

Edgar sighed as he reached for his glass of water. "I'm not going to lie. I look forward to living through to the future Era because we'll know where everything is and was."

They were sitting at a little outdoor coffee shop while they tried to find their elusive needle. Even after going over all the tourist books, the maps, and the old folklore, they still couldn't determine which part of which level of which old city might have the small house in it.

They had two days left to find the stone and get back to Lux before Edgar's vacation at the ranch ended. Within a short time of that, they would all get together—all Cultivators and Commanders alike—to restore the broken Commanders to their rightful whole self. It might not be a moment too soon. Siobhan and Edgar's mutual Present Sight had been giving them an idea of the things happening to their friends. Andromedian had failed each time to get to the Commanders, and he would inevitably try a final ditch effort before they could be restored.

Siobhan and Shana had actually discussed their plans for the restoration of the stones before leaving to find them. They had formed a plan that would be damned dangerous to them, but would not just fix their beloved friends but also do the most possible damage to Andromedian—if he attempted to do what Shana's all-encompassing Sight told her he might.

Unfortunately, Siobhan and Edgar sat at an impasse. They had no legends, no old ruins, no sense, no nothing. They also hadn't had a 'mysterious stranger' show up to help them as he had twice before. Siobhan frowned and thoughtfully poked at her sorbet with her spoon. He had told her that he didn't have much time left, and that some sort of door was closing. What door? A door between life and death? She vaguely had recollection of seeing a door when she had been caught between life and the Realm after sacrificing her Seed for Shana, so was he stuck there too? She really hoped not! Her brief stay had been terrible enough. If he had been stuck there for five thousand years, he would be in pretty bad shape.

"Heavy thoughts?" Edgar asked softly. She only got that quiet when she went deep in her thoughts. He had long, long before learned to let her disappear into her mind as she needed. She always came back with an insight he had never imagined, and she had yet to be wrong. With Light types, you listened if they became quiet. Versus Dark types who you listened to if they became loud. It took all kinds of balance.

"Sort of." She started to expand on what she had been thinking when she heard a hush fall through the coffee shop as everyone turned and began staring at her and Edgar. Knowing only one person who had the sort of personality that he could literally make an entire shop fall quiet, she fatalistically turned her head and saw the familiar form dressed in white standing next to her. Even knowing he would be there didn't stop her from jolting slightly. "Don't do that!" she snapped.

"Sorry." He didn't sound sorry at all though, and she just sighed. He studied her for a moment and then smiled ever so slightly before looking at Edgar. "This is my last appearance to you unless you find Maxim's stone."

"Where is it?" Edgar asked. He did his best not to smile at Siobhan's reaction. She had told him this man's identity after finding Navidan's stone, so he felt more comfortable than he had in a while. Rubeo Chance had not been a Commander, nor a Caretaker, but he had always held gifts that meant he could be.

"Under the city," Chance said in his quiet way.

"That's a big help," Siobhan scowled. "You realize there are two other cities under this one, right?"

Again, he smiled a bit. "But what is under the city yet not part of it?" That said, he turned and began walking away.

She watched as hard as she could but still couldn't see the precise moment he disappeared. It was clear with it happened, though, as normal conversation resumed in the coffee shop.

"Under the city but not part of it," Edgar muttered. He paid for their meal and quickly ushered Siobhan out onto the main street. The statement made no sense until his eyes fell on a grate that covered access to the running water under the city. It ran under the city, between the other cities, but was not actually part of them.

Siobhan followed his gaze and winced. "No. No, and no. Did I say no yet?"

He wasn't surprised, and he really couldn't blame her. He disliked the idea of even accidentally contaminating the water, too. They started to walk down the pedestrian path of the street when he heard an uncomfortably familiar sound of carriage tires squealing in a way that meant someone's brakes had failed. Sheer reflex had him diving to the side with Siobhan safely held in his arms.

The carriage skidded past where they had been standing and then up onto the shop walkway where a water pump stood. The pump busted clear off, and water began gushing upward with gusty force. People began to scramble to either get out of the way or get to the pump and try to fix it, and the poor driver of the carriage found themselves drenched.

Siobhan and Edgar looked at each other and then up at the top of the fountain where they could see something bouncing along the top of the blast. It began glowing, and so did Siobhan's Marks under her shirt.

Accident or Destiny, Edgar thought. You be the judge.

* * * * *

It couldn't be easy, of course. Knowing that Maxim's stone of Dark had to be somewhere along the massive wall that surrounded the Protea Kingdom did nothing to change the fact that the wall stretched for miles in both directions. It had taken nearly a week to walk the entire thing in the old days, even moving at a decent pace. Shana and Rocky did not have a week. They had already used up one of their remaining days, and they needed to find the stone with the next few hours so they could go home and have some sleep before Rocky went back to work. He refused to let her look alone. Alexandria and Virginia alike would have his head.

Shana raked her hands through her hair in frustration. She wanted to go home and pick up the threads of her semi-normal life. She didn't mind the traveling and seeing different places, but the hectic schedule had actually been wearing on her worse than it had worn on her slightly whiny lover. At least he liked the crowds.

Rocky slipped an arm around her waist and held her close as they walked slowly. He wanted nothing more than to simply lock them in their house and not do anything but be alone for a week or a month. Unfortunately, they had a mission to complete, and there was more than just the Commanders' return that rode on it.

Speak of the devil. The silent figure stood just ahead of them. Rocky felt Shana look at him curiously and then follow his gaze to where the man dressed in black stared out over the scenery. He stood absolutely silent, motionless, and the wind fluttered both his red hair and his black shirt.

Shana walked closer without concern. "It's been a long time," she said only.

He glanced at her, then looked at Rocky. "I warned you."

"I know." Rocky smiled and pulled Shana close again. "I knew what I was getting into."

Her eyes narrowed. "Warned you what?"

"He went out of his way to tell me that you would run me ragged." He caught a handful of her hair and tugged her head back so she looked at him. "He was right, but you don't hear me complaining about it. Why do you think he wanted me to not court you?"

"I didn't even know you were courting me!" she complained. "All I knew was that he got pissy over something after your twenty-fifth birthday! I just assumed you had kicked his ass in a training match again."

Chance coughed, and Rocky grinned briefly. The smile slowly faded as he asked softly, "How do we bring you back? You're stuck in limbo, aren't you? The space between the Realm and the Plane, where people who can't ascend or be reborn go." He had spent some time there recently himself, and now he thought he understood why he had felt a familiar presence near.

"Yes." Chance looked at Shana. "I still don't fully understand the why of how limbo had been opened before I died. All I know is that it had. My death was . . . uncomfortable. How it happened and why."

Shana knew the details, and she would never share them with Rocky. She knew then that Chance would not either. In that, they united. "Understandably. So limbo had been opened and you got sucked in. Then the Commanders got split, and it prevented you from getting out of limbo over the intervening years. That makes sense, and is weirdly reassuring. It has bothered me that I could confirm the where and when of how you died, but not where you were now. You should have been reborn." She cocked her head. "You managed to force a door open recently. How?"

He hesitated. "There was . . . a strong power. It . . . did things. During something . . . terrible. Maybe it was a miracle."

It dawned. Shana's fingers clenched briefly together, and she felt Rocky immediately covering her hands with his. "Okay," she said. "Okay. That makes me feel . . . a little happy. That I helped you. So when we do what we need to do, it'll be enough to get the door open the rest of the way so you can get out and be restored. Is there anything else we need to do?"

"Prayer might be nice."

"Did he just make a joke?" she asked Rocky. "Do you think if we leave him in limbo for a while longer, he'll find a real sense of humor?"

He smirked openly in his old friend's face. "It wouldn't help."

A little smile touched Chance's lips and then he lifted a hand in farewell and walked away. As he went, he simply seemed to dissolve into the shadows along the wall until he was no longer visible. "'They who walk in shadows," Shana murmured, "are truly blessed for they are balanced. They are the Light and Dark. They are the harbingers of Chaos, that which is truth.'"

Rocky glanced at her curiously. "Pardon?"

"It's something Jean said to me. It was important enough that she called my PPS rather than wait for me to check my spider mail back home. I think she was not only confirming Chance's change to a Dark Shadow, but maybe offering me comfort. Somehow when she mentioned Chaos . . . it didn't hurt."

"Interesting." He started to take a step forward, and his foot caught on a loose tile. He couldn't catch himself in time and landed flat on the wall with a particularly vile curse. As Shana knelt beside him, he muttered, "Not a word." As much as he had tried to tame the propensity to clumsiness inherit in his Delphinian lineage—magic casters were terribly unbalanced—he still could literally trip himself up.

Shana just smiled. "Yes, dear." She started to offer a hand when she saw that the stone he had tripped over had come loose entirely. A sudden premonition filled her, and she moved closer to the hole left behind. There, inside, she saw a black gem that began to glow darkly at her presence.

He just sighed. "It's almost worth the humiliation to find it." He rolled over and sat up nimbly. He covered her hands with his and they both felt the stone pulsing with the heat of melted Glass. "Let's go home," he said softly.

* * * * *

Rocky and Edgar managed to get home in time to collapse into bed and sleep for ten hours before needing to be back to work. Siobhan and Shana cheerfully took on role of Caretaker and made sure both men didn't forget food for returning to work, or walk out of their apartments half-dressed. The latter had been the closer one, really.

The week that followed ticked by with an odd pace. It felt slow as they awaited the arrival of the Commanders to Lux, yet it felt stressfully fast as everyone waited on alert for Andromedian to attempt something. Shana and Sherry alike felt downright itchy with the sense of evil on the move.

Yet nothing happened. Slowly, one by one, the Commanders came home. Rocky and Edgar alike could just feel when they entered the city. Some arrivals coincided with their free time, so they intended to be there for them, but others would happen while they were in the middle of work and not free. Rocky really would not have minded a second vacation, but he had too much responsibility to abandon his poor employees a second time on short notice. He would have to wait to see who he could when he could, and at least be comforted by knowing he would see them on Saturday.

However, he got the biggest surprise halfway through the week when he was out working in the corral with some horses. Behind him, a familiar male voice said, "It didn't surprise me when Lexie said I could find you here."

Rocky froze and then slowly turned around. His heart tripped over itself as he saw his lost best friend and former companion-at-arms leaning on the fence with utter casual calm. "Diego," he managed to say. He stepped closer and slowly reached out to touch the other male's arm. "You're real."

Diaz smiled. "I am. It's Diaz now. Diaz Francisco." His smile faded as he straightened. "There is a need you have for me, my prince. A position rightfully mine. I want to be your fourth Commander, as I should have been before. No age bars me now. I will defend you with everything I am, keep you safe so you may serve as a Caretaker to your Defender."

Tears welled in Rocky's eyes but he managed to smile. "I would want no one else, Diaz. And I know the other three will be happy to have you on their side! Have you reported to Sam yet?"

"Not officially."

"Then we can do that this weekend when Uwe and Tyson come home as well." Softer, he added, "I never . . . thought how happy I would be right now. It hurts. What Vermillion did. But having you makes it better."

Nathaniel made the next to arrive in the city since he came via ship. He walked out into the port area in the evening and found an unexpected surprise. He had anticipated Juliet waiting for him, of course, but beside her stood a very familiar black-haired man with protea pink eyes. The gut punch of emotion almost staggered Nathaniel. He walked over to them slowly and automatically let his fingers lace with Juliet's. Carefully, he told Edgar, "I'd bow, my prince, but I worry I might fall on my face. It was a long trip."

Edgar grinned. "I'd settle for a hug."

He found himself smiling and immediately hugged his prince tightly. "That I can do."

"Welcome home," Edgar said simply. "I missed you. To finally have all my friends back . . . I couldn't be any happier." He had already reunited with Justin upon returning home, and now he had his second Commander once more at his side. Having them, he could better understand his sister and his lover alike and their need for the Defenders.

Doug arrived on Thursday. Yvonne did not get a chance to meet his ship since she had been at work herself, but he didn't mind since he knew she would come over to his new apartment as soon as she got free. She would live there with him for a bit until they decided on a more permanent home. He took advantage of the hours to start unpacking his bags, and he had gotten partway through when a knock sounded on his door. He opened it and felt his stomach drop. "Evan."

Edgar smiled. "You look so surprised, Dane! By the way, does this belong to you? It followed me, and I can't get rid of it."

Doug dropped his gaze to see a giggling Yvonne, and all of his worries faded. Nothing important had changed. Their relationships were no different. If anything, perhaps they were better. "Yes, I think it is. May I keep her?"

Early Friday morning, Michael arrived. There was no need for Edgar to guess that his ship had arrived. The minute Michael's feet touched the land, Edgar felt the gut punch all the way into his soul. Pain and loneliness rose sharp and powerful. His twin. The only person he loved as much as his wife and his sister. He found himself calling Virginia's PPS before he was fully conscious of it.

A painfully familiar male voice answered, "Hello?"

Very softly, Edgar said, "You do know I won't make your life easy, right?"

In an equally soft voice, Michael countered, "If I wanted easy, I would not be here, my prince." He took a deep breath. "We knew you'd call. If I felt you when I arrived, you had to have felt me. Damn." His voice broke, then steadied. "Know any place we can get a fermented drink around here?"

Edgar found himself smiling. "I know a few. I'm sure my boss will let me off work early today, if it's for you."

Saturday morning rolled around, and Shana got the surprise to wake just after dawn and discover her Delphinium lover had already gotten up. Bemused, she pulled on her robe and walked out to the living room. He sat on the couch with his PCM, and a smile tugged at her lips. "Are we a little wired?" she asked tenderly.

"Maybe," he muttered. "I skipped coffee. I want to see them, Shana! They're finally home. They're coming over very soon, and then we'll head for Sam's place together. I just . . ." He broke off as she leaned over and softly kissed the top of his head. "I know," he said softly. "You understand." He smiled up at her. "Mother and Aunt Genevieve really did know what was best for me and Evan."

"Good moms do. Octavia certainly has had all our numbers for years." She only referred to her adopted mother by her first name when trying to keep straight which mother she discussed. Octavia had been 'Mom' to her almost the day she and Edgar had arrived at the Toulume household. She honestly did not think either she or her brother would have survived let alone thrived at the Care House.

Only two hours later, the doorbell rang. Rocky dashed over to open it and found both Uwe and Tyson in the entry. They looked . . . almost exactly the same. Some pressure inside his chest eased as he saw them, and he smiled. "Good morning."

"We thought about bowing," Tyson told him with all seriousness, "but there's not much room here and we might well trip over each other. That's your job."

"You will never let me live that down!" Rocky complained. He stepped back to let them in, and then grinned as both Diaz and Sam stepped out of the nearby stairwell. "Perfect timing! But, well, it's Sam. He better have perfect timing by now." Once they had entered, he shut the door behind them. He looked at the four men standing in his living room, and let out a little breath. "I'm happy," he said. Tears blurred his eyes that he blinked away. "Unfairly happy maybe. I just . . . wanted you all with me for so long."

"It was not easier on us," Uwe admitted. "Especially for Tyson and I. We just did not feel we could protect you properly, Rocky. That we would be more a danger than not to you and our soul mates alike." He slowly shook his head. "We willingly accepted the pain of staying away in exchange for your security." He smiled. "I don't know Sam's excuse, or Diaz's."

Sam shook his head. "Timing. Ironically, timing."

Blithely, Diaz said, "I just wanted to see Lexie come knock down my door."

Tyson snorted. "You and your tugging on the blue tiger's tail! I don't know how you two survived your courtship!" He thought about it. "Did you have courtship?"

"To be honest, I don't think we really did. I mean, we were only seventeen when I told her parents I would marry her." Thoughtfully, Diaz said, "And we were really lucky to be alone after we were twenty-one. Luckier still after twenty-five. Holy shit. Actually, in light of that, yeah, there was no courtship. We went right to betrothal because reasons."

Rocky fought laughter. "She says that because it was so mutual, she doesn't get to join Veronica and Asheria in this generation's 'strategic use of laws' group. There's always at least two or three." He let out a long breath as any lingering pain of the past went away. "Well." He looked at Sam a little helplessly.

Sam just smiled. "Diaz, do you formally accept the role and responsibilities of being a Delphinium Commander assigned to the protection of High Prince Robert Delphinium first, High Queen Sayena Delphinium and High Queen Shanae Protea second, and yourself only third?" He did not mention Alexandria for the simple fact that she would want those other three named before herself anyway. And, really, Diaz being her Caretaker meant he would always put her first—as he rightfully should, and Rocky would prefer.

"I accept that role and responsibility with honor," Diaz answered immediately. He grinned. "Do I finally get to wear the uniform, too?"

"Sherry is in fact making it for you right now." Sam grinned back. "Said something about Alexandria having your measurements. I can't imagine why."

"Behave yourselves," Uwe scolded them. He shook his head and then smiled at Rocky. "Where's Shanae—er, Shana?" Because of the complicated threads connecting everyone, though the Delphinium Commanders had technically been closer to Sayena for obvious reasons, they had honestly loved Shanae just as much. It had worked the other way for the Protea Commanders as well. All Commanders had mutually served as backup for all Defenders, and vice-versa.

"Shana is pretending she has other things to do," Rocky said solemnly. "Which she doesn't, but she's pretending."

"Bah!" Sam headed down the hall. "Incoming cranky Dark Apex."

The others waited, and then all grinned as they heard Shana yelp, "Damn it, Samuel! Put me down! You're not allowed to do that!"

Sam strode back into the living room with Shana in his arms, and she glared at everyone equally before back to Sam. He put her down and then tweaked her nose. "I am too allowed to do that because Rocky said I could."

"Traitor," she muttered at her lover. "I'll get you back, Samuel. Just you wait!"

"Aw, come on." Diaz grinned at her. Because of Alexandria being her twin soul, and he being Alexandria's lover soul, he could not help but love Shana almost as much. Reciprocity happened quite powerfully between the ways souls connected. "Didn't you want to see us too?"

"Maybe," she said airily, and then burst into laughter as Uwe grabbed her in a hug. She actually was taller than all of the Commanders except for Sam, but, as with Rocky, it had never stopped any of them from being willing to protect her bodily. She may never stop being bemused by it though. It was unfair of Destiny to make her the strongest and tallest, really. "I missed you all too," she admitted as Tyson hugged her first and then Diaz. "Not just because Rocky did, or my Defenders did, but because I did." She smiled. "Welcome home."

They spent a little longer together and then headed for Sam's big backyard that had become the new large meeting space. They proved the last to arrive, and Shana brightened at seeing the four Protea Commanders standing with Edgar. Like her five boys, the other five would probably spend as much time together as they could until some of the past lessened its chokehold and all felt secure again.

Michael sensed her first and looked over quickly. He gave a distinct whoop and ran over to catch her in his arms and swing her around happily. Unlike the other Commanders shorter than her, he actually could manhandle her. He could not exactly carry her, but he could assuredly get her off her feet and into the air for short distances. She had never minded. Probably that reciprocity thing again, this time from Edgar. "Max!" She hugged him fiercely.

"Look at you!" He hugged her tight in return for a long moment. "I missed you." He put her down and studied her eyes intently. Virginia had told him everything she knew, and the lingering glimpse of hell in Shana's eyes broke his heart. Because he wanted her to smile, he glanced at Rocky disdainfully. "I never liked him."

She grinned. "Of course not. That's why you told me when I was sixteen that I should marry him!" She half-shrieked with laughter as Doug pounced on her and hugged her tight as well. She happily threw her arms around him. "You owe me a song still!"

"Yes'm." He gave her a smacking kiss and then turned her around. "Your turn," he told Nathaniel on a grin.

Nathaniel grinned and hugged Shana as she jumped on him for a hug. He stood the same height as she did, and had the strength to move her, but she had made him promise he would never do such a thing except in case of extreme emergency. He had obliged. "You look more beautiful than ever," he told her. "Maybe because you seem happier than ever." He hid his face in her fine hair for a moment. He had honestly missed her as much as he had missed his lover and his prince.

He released her, and she instead grinned at Justin. "I don't have to hug you. I hugged you the other day!"

Justin complained with good nature, "You scared the hell out of me. You didn't let the bell ring so I didn't know you were there until you hugged me out of nowhere!" He hugged her again anyway, just because he loved her no less than the others did. "Honestly, when you revealed you had known about me longer than Sam had, I was surprised you hadn't come by sooner."

"I knew things would work out." She kissed his cheek and then smiled at Siobhan who had just finished reuniting with the other three Delphinium Commanders. "Let's put the stones together and go back over what we want to do." She picked up the bag with the stones that she had dropped and walked over to her sister, and then they both walked a few steps away.

While the two of them conversed, Rocky sidled over to Sherry and Justin. In the way Arista and Evan had gotten along by sharing a sister, Robert and Asheria had gotten along. It was why he had always seen her as a sister to him in this life as well, and why he wanted to make sure she was happy. "How much trouble did he give you?" he asked in a sotto voice.

She grinned. "Not that much, I promise."

Justin snorted. "She marched into my shop and threw things."

"I did not!" Sherry planted an elbow in her lover's side. "And I resent the implication that I am violent."

He rubbed his stomach and hid a smile. "Yes, dear."

"Okay!" Shana swung around to face the others. "Here's how this is going to work. We will actually need Sam and Diaz involved because they're going to be the blueprint of sorts to fix the others." And because they might be able to react the fastest if what she thought would happen did in fact happen. "Everyone else move back enough to allow room for the Commanders to make a circle around Siobhan and me. Sam stands at the top position, by rights as Lead Commander. Go counterclockwise in descending hierarchy from his spot."

Everyone moved as ordered, and more than one Defender grabbed her Mask as she changed her position. Rachel's ankh even waited on the table beside where she and Aldan sat. The Commanders moved into place, and it put Michael to Sam's right followed by Diaz, Justin, Tyson, Uwe, Nathaniel, and Doug. Once they took their spots, Siobhan and Shana walked around the circle in the same order to hand out the stones of Light and Dark to the six who owned them. They then returned to the center where they turned to face one another.

The two sisters reached out and linked their hands with their wrists crossed. Sparks immediately flew from the touch as their Light and Dark cores connected and automatically produced sparks of Chaos. It happened every time they clasped hands, and always ebbed fast as long as they did not actively use power. This time, however, they did.

The sparks began to grow larger and larger until they formed bolts of lightning that looked nothing like the lightning inherent to Thunder magic. It began to arc wildly over their hands as black Dark and white Light merged to form perfect Gray. Both Apexes paled as the Chaos came back to bite at them, but they did not let go. The chaotic lightning snapped outward and began to shatter the stones. Each shatter released a surge of Flower Element power relative to the holder of the stone. The six who had been severed suddenly felt the return of their magic, and the sensation that their weapons had returned to the magical holding pocket where they belonged as well.

Andromedian appeared in the air over the two Apexes, and his face had twisted to a grotesque mask of hate and evil. "DIE!" he screamed as he lunged toward them. Both looked up at him, and the Chaos fired upward like a concentrated beam. He screamed as it consumed him and stopped his flight. He hit the ground with a meaty thump and then slowly looked up to see Nathaniel and Sam standing over him. Both had swords aimed right at his neck. "No one . . . needs . . . Defenders," he managed to wheeze.

"As long as there are creatures like you," Sam countered coldly, "there will always be a need for Defenders."

It would be a fitting end for Andromedian to find destruction at the hands of Caretakers driven to protect Defenders, rather than the Defender Cultivators themselves. Certainly, none of the women complained with the outcome overall. In fact, they had other concerns at that very moment. "Shana." Clara spoke with utter calm. "Siobhan. Can you let go?"

"We don't know," Siobhan whispered. "We're trying to bring it down but we—we're not meant to control Chaos. We have to let it go. It should be okay. It's small Chaos. Just . . . just brace yourselves, okay?"

Rocky and Edgar started forward but Sam and Michael shoved them back again; they would take almost as much damage from Chaos as the Apexes. Instead, the two Commanders moved to ground zero right behind their twin soul's lover. Shana and Siobhan released the Chaos, and it exploded outward. It did not do much damage to anyone else standing far enough away, just knocking them back a step.

Shana and Siobhan themselves would have been flung hard, but the two Commanders caught them safely. "Easy," Sam said softly as he lifted Shana more fully into his arms. "Shana?" The pallor to her skin alarmed him deeply, as much as the feeling that she had no strength left in her normally powerful body.

Her lashes fluttered slightly and then lifted a bit. "I'm okay. The Chaos was a little painful. Siobhan?"

"I'm fine." Her eyes stayed closed as her head rested on Michael's shoulder. "Tired."

The Chaos that had exploded outward began to draw back together into a central point where it formed something that looked like a door. As it faded entirely, it left behind a figure familiar to one and all. Dark red hair, darker brown skin, and crystal blue eyes. A scar ran over the bridge of his nose almost perfectly even, and similar silvery scars ran along each side of his jaw for an inch or two.

Chance shook his head sharply to clear it and looked at his hands for a long moment. He then let out a little breath and looked to where Shana and Siobhan were still being held by the Commanders. "Thank you," he said softly.

"Yay. We got a thanks." Shana dropped her head onto Sam's shoulder after lifting it only briefly. "I call that a success."

"Why doesn't he ever smile?" was all Siobhan complained.

Rocky bit back his own smile as he walked over to Chance with a hand held out. "Welcome home, Chance, even if neither one of them is inclined to say it. You may not be a Commander, but you belong with us all. Hey, you can do what Diego once did and be backup for anyone as needed. You've got the skills for it, and maybe you can help Aldan figure out his Shadow skills. You've got similar ones, though different origins."

Chance looked at him with what could only be called bemusement and then shook his head anew. "I guess . . . I can't turn that down. And . . . thanks. I'm glad to be back."

"What do you know?" Tyson told Justin solemnly. "Limbo is good for something after all!"

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