((I didn't ask anyone's permission about this... so if I make anyone mad, lemme know and I'll edit.))
Ayu stood in stunned disbelief. It was Sldis she saw... Sldis, after that fatal beating... Sldis looked up at her with those intelligent, defiant eyes - she tried to speak, but couldn't...
Kael's eyes were also open, but there was no defiance there. There was nothing there. Ayu reached for his hand the same way she had grasped Sldis' hand. She was dreading it... Sldis squeezed her hand gently, and then relaxed as her greater self went into the abyss. Kael wasn't able to squeeze her hand. He was gone, without her to be there for his final moments. Her tears hit the ground before she knew she was crying.
Never before had she been so grateful that Tourel was in charge of the children. She walked by Kael's stretcher, unwilling to even look up at who was carrying it. She didn't even acknowledge them when they laid the stretcher down, somewhere in what she dimly recognized as the mine. She sank silently next to his body. She didn't let go of his lifeless hand.
Another place? She remembered Kael speaking of his sister, Rune. He often spoke as if she was always nearby. If this was true, was he nearby as well? Could he be close, whispering words of comfort? She didn't feel him nearby. She didn't feel much of anything. Angrily, she choked back her tears. She didn't cry for Sldis... she could get by without crying now. Rage swelled up inside her.
"First, close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. In through the nose, and out through the mouth, as if you are simply taking a longer breath." Her first lesson in the Gale Wind style.
Ayu tried. Her breath came in gasps. It was harder without him... she felt so alone.
And then a warm hand fell on her shoulder. She spun around to see the rather startled face of Jana. "Ayu?"
A warm feeling rose in her chest. It centered behind her eyes, heating them. Dampening them. Jana reached for her shoulder again, and the heat overflowed into tears. There she was, crying like a boy. Jana pulled her in. Ayu gave in and let the tears flow.
She never knew how long they sat there. Eventually, she pulled away to see that Jana had been crying, too. This made her feel better, somehow. She reached up and wiped a tear away from her sister's cheek. "I'm OK. And you're OK. Is Niar and Cress all right?"
"Niar yes, Cress'in..." Jana's eyes lowered. Ayu's heart dropped. "...I think he'll live," Jana finally finished. Ayu pulled her into a bone-crunching hug.
"Can I see him?" Ayu felt a little better. As the oldest, she was the unofficial matriarch. Having someone to take care of made her feel more... pulled together. She had responsibilities. She had people that needed her. She had loved ones. She had... a family.
<i>"In the face of despair, joy usurps tears, and hope unites us."</i>
In the days that followed, Ayu and her family moved from the mine to the Nal's territory, and prepared to move to the world above. She felt numb during the funeral, except for an aching pain in her body. She had no idea grief could be physical. Meditation had no effect. The pain puzzled her for a few moons' turns, even after she arrived on the surface to see the actual moon. She finally confided in Jana.
Jana giggled. "I was wondering if that was the case."
Smiling, Jana gently prodded Ayu's stomach with two fingers. "It hurts in there, right?"
"Yes... how did you know?"
"Ayu!" Jana was giggling again. "You've been grumpy, constantly hungry, and pains right there..."
"Yes, I'm sorry," Ayu snapped. She had been snapping a lot lately. She sighed. "I really am. I don't know what's wrong with me."
"There's nothing wrong," said Jana. "In another few moons' turns, you'll get a swollen belly. Ayu, you're pregnant!"
Ayu stared. A baby!! A baby born free, under the vast sky. The child would learn Gale Wind, and would feel the actual wind on its face. She had never dared dream of bearing a child - a legacy. A spark of Kael was still alive... in her.
"Do Cress and Niar know?" she asked in a whisper. Niar was also a nurse, so he might.
"I haven't told anyone," Jana replied. "I thought you would want to be the one to make it public."
Ayu hugged her sister. "Thank you." And then they went off, arm in arm, to tell the rest of the family together.