A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

By Lara Nicosia

 

 

 

For Brent Barrett, who's responsible for this being written. Those two hour IRC chats can really mess with your mind. We had a conversation that got my imagination working in overdrive. And when that started, I had a lot of trouble resting until I had written this. It took me five days . . . I think that's a record.

   Warning: This is a four- or five-hankie story. Be prepared.

 

 

 

 

 *****

I sat on the couch in our cabin, staring out the transport window and feeling slightly numb. This wasn't right. I had always wanted to see Minbar. My mother had always told me that it was a beautiful world. But I didn't want to see it because of this. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be.

   "Jay?" my brother asked. I looked over at him as he sat down next to me.

   "How is she?"

   "Tired. Dad's sitting with her until she goes to sleep." He put his hand on my shoulder. "Are you okay? You haven't said much of anything since all this started."

   I looked away, getting up from the couch and pacing. "What am I supposed to say, David? That it's unfair? That this shouldn't be happening? All right, it's unfair. Mother is sick and it's unfair and it shouldn't be happening."

   David didn't say anything for a moment. "That's not what I mean, Jay."

   Sighing, I stopped in front of the window and leaned my head against it. I knew that hadn't been what he meant. But I couldn't help it. I didn't know what to do. What could I do? "I'm sorry, David. It's just . . ."

   "I know. We all feel helpless; we all wish we could help her."

   "How do you do that?"

   "Do what?"

   "You always seem to know what I or Dad or Mother is thinking."

   He shrugged. "I don't know." He came over and put his arm around me, giving me a big brotherly hug. "We're going to get through this, Jaylen."

   I didn't answer him. I didn't ask him how we were going to get through this. I could only think of my mother, fighting a losing battle against a disease that was killing her little by little every day. She had always been the binding force in our family -- the cool, level head and the caring heart. How would we get through without her? It was hard to face the fact of why we were going to Minbar.

   We were taking my mother home to die.

   A little while later, my father came out from the bedroom. He looked so pale and drawn. He ran a hand through his short, greying brown hair as he dropped into a chair. Neither David nor I said anything. What could we say? We were all in pain, but for our father it was the worst. We were losing our mother, but he was losing much more. He was losing his wife, his best friend, his confidant. He was losing the person he had traveled to Hell and back again with.

   He was losing his true soulmate.

   I could see in his eyes that this was tearing him apart inside. If he could, he would have traded places with my mother in an instant. I knew they would die for each other -- their love was that strong. But that love seemed to be killing my father as surely as that disease was killing my mother.

   How could my father get through without her?

   "She's sleeping," he said quietly. "We should arrive at Minbar tomorrow afternoon."

   Silently, I went over to him. My father looked at me with those eyes for a moment, then drew me into a hug.

   It seemed that we were all lost.

   

   When we reached Minbar, a man with dark hair and a beard, which were just beginning to grey came to our cabin.

   "Marcus," my father said. "Thank you for coming."

   "Anything for Delenn," he answered in an accent I had never heard before. "How is she?"

   "Not well. She's taking a lot of medication to control the pain. It's hard, though she won't tell you that, and . . . well, maybe you should come see her yourself. She'll be very glad to see you."

   I followed them into the bedroom where David was sitting with her. Marcus Cole. My father had told me about him when he had finally decided to tell me about the Rangers. I reached down into my dress pocket and felt the Ranger pin my mother had given me five years before. I always carried it with me, no matter where I went. It was the one thing I could never bear to let go.

   "Marcus!" my mother said happily. She was sitting up in bed, looking very frail. The pillows she leaned against seemed larger than she was. She reached out her hands, which he took and kissed in a gentlemanly fashion.

   "It's been a long time, Delenn. I wish the circumstances were different."

   "We all do."

   "Quarters have been arranged for you near the Main Temple. I can get a . . ."

   My mother slowly began rising from the bed, causing my father to jump forward. "Delenn, you . . ."

   "I can do it, John . . . if you help me."

   A look passed between the two of them, and my father helped her to her feet. I went over, grabbed her outer robe from the chair it lay on and wrapped it around her. My father made sure it was on, then gently put his arm around her waist. Together they walked toward the door.

   David and I gathered up the rest of our belongings from the cabin and followed them and Marcus.

   

   My mother was right, Minbar was beautiful. Once we had gotten everything taken care of, Marcus offered to show David and me some of the area surrounding the Main Temple. There was water everywhere on Minbar. All the plant life was lush and green.

   As we walked through one of the corridors near the main temple, a large, elderly Minbari came walking our direction. He stopped when he saw us.

   "By Valen . . ." he said under his breath.

   "Neroon," Marcus greeted him with a slight bow.

   "Cole . . . are these . . . ?"

   "Neroon, may I present David and Jaylen, John Sheridan and --"

   "Delenn's children. So it's true. Entil'Zha has come home to --"

   "Neroon!" Marcus admonished. "Please. Have some respect."

   He looked at Marcus, then over at us. "Yes, perhaps you're right. Excuse me."

   David stared after the Minbari as he hurried away down the corridor. Marcus must have seen the look at his face because he said, "You must excuse Neroon. You see, he and your mother never saw eye to eye in the time of the Shadow War. You can imagine what happened when two personalities like theirs clashed."

   So that was the Neroon who challenged our mother for the leadership of the Rangers. He didn't look anything like what I had expected. I didn't really know what I had expected. Maybe it was because he was old.

   We went back to our quarters. I was surprised to see a human male who looked to be slightly older than David standing outside the door. He looked slightly nervous.

   "Aaron?" Marcus called out. "Is something wrong?"

   "Marcus, I . . . no, I just . . . wanted to pay my respects to the former Minbari ambassador and the former commander of Babylon 5." He looked over at us, our eyes locking momentarily. "Are these . . . ?"

   Hadn't we just gone through this?

   "This is David and Jaylen Sheridan. David, Jaylen, I'd like to introduce you to Aaron Clark, my assistant."

   He shook hands with my brother, then turned and smiled at me. "Glad to meet you."

   I smiled back. Then something just beyond him caught my eye. A person of a species I had never seen before was lurking in the corridor.

   "Marcus!" I cried.

   But it was too late. Whoever it was had disappeared.

   "What is it, Jaylen?" Marcus asked.

   "There was someone there. I've never seen that sort of person before."

   "What did he look like?"

   "Um . . . he was medium-height, bald with a large doomed forehead. He had some sort of headdress that wrapped around his head and arched eyebrows. And something that looked like a beige stone in the middle of his forehead."

   Marcus drew in a deep breath. "A Soul Hunter. I thought they were all dead."

   "A what?" David asked.

   "Nothing," Marcus responded, shaking his head. "Come on, I'm sure your parents are wondering what I've done with you two."

   We went into our quarters with Aaron hanging back a little. My parents were in the main living area. My mother sat on the couch, propped up by pillows, while my father tucked a blanket in around her.

   "Did you enjoy the tour?" she asked.

   "You're right, Mother, Minbar is beautiful," I said as I went over and kissed her on the forehead. My father gave me a hug.

   Then they noticed our guest, standing back by the door.

   "Did you guys pick up someone and forget to take him home?" my father asked.

   "I'm sorry, John. Where are my manners," Marcus said. "He came to pay his respects. This is Aaron Clark. He's my assistant."

   My father studied Aaron for a few moments. "You're not the son of Morgan Clark?"

   Aaron looked down. "I am, sir."

   My father looked slightly uncomfortable. Morgan Clark had been president of Earth during the Shadow War. I knew there had been no love lost between Clark and my father when Babylon 5 had split away from Earth Alliance. No wonder Aaron had looked so nervous standing outside in the corridor.

   Aaron continued, "I know that you probably don't want me here and that you see me as the enemy, but I came here today as a friend. I hope you'll accept me and my respect, knowing that I despise everything my father did or stood for during the War."

   My father did not say anything right away. Would he accept Aaron? Then silently, he walked over to Aaron and put out his hand. Aaron glanced at Marcus, then at me before taking it.

   "I . . . I don't know what to say, sir," Aaron said in awe.

   "Well, I learned about forgiveness a long time ago," my father responded, looking over at my mother with a slight smile. "Besides, anyone who leaves Earth to come to Minbar and work for Marcus can't be anything like his father."

   Aaron let out a slight sigh I don't think he realized he had been holding up. Then he came over to my mother and took her outstretched hands.

   "I'm honored to meet Entil'Zha," he told her.

   "It is I who am honored. I would be pleased if you would join us for dinner."

   I saw my father open his mouth to say something, then apparently change his mind. He was concerned that having a guest would tire her too much.

   Aaron shook his head. "Thank you, but I have to say no. I just wanted to pay my respects."

   "Yes, both of us should be going," Marcus broke in. "We'll see you later."

   He and Aaron went to the door, accompanied by my father. They shook hands, then before they left Aaron looked back at me and gave me a smile.

   

   "May I join you?"

   I had been sitting on a bench overlooking some Minbari gardens, trying to read a book and forget everything for a little while. It wasn't working very well, though, and my thoughts had been wandering when the voice interrupted me. I looked up to see Aaron standing there. He had the same smile I had last seen him wearing -- one of slight nervousness, but utterly sweet.

   "Please," I said, moving over to let him sit down.

   "How's your mother?"

   "She has her good days and bad days. Coming back to Minbar seems to have done her some good." I stared out across the Minbari landscape surrounding the Main Temple. "We don't know how much longer she'll be here."

   "This is difficult for you," he observed.

   I nodded. "My mother and father have always been there for me, no matter what happened. The one thing they made sure of was that we would never be separated. Now, she's going to be separated from us forever. I keep praying for a miracle, that maybe somehow she'll survive . . ."

   I stopped and put my hand to my face, trying to keep myself from crying. A reassuring hand touched my shoulder.

   "I'm sorry, Jaylen. I didn't mean to . . ."

   "It's all right," I told him, brushing away the tears. "But I should be getting back, in case Mother needs me."

   Aaron nodded, rising with me from the bench. "Jaylen, I'm here if you ever need me. I just want you to know."

   "Thank . . ." I trailed off as that man I had seen earlier came into view. He was walking through the pathways and apparently didn't see us. I didn't make any loud noises this time. "Aaron, slowly turn arond and look behind you."

   "What?"

   "Just do it."

   He did, his eyes opening wide when he saw the man. "Is that who you saw the other day?"

   "Yes. I wonder where he's going."

   "I'll follow him. You go back to your mother."

   "Aaron, I don't want you to get . . ."

   "Don't worry about me."

   He took off after the man before I could get in another word edgewise. I sighed, wondering if this was something Aaron did often -- running off into something without a second thought. There was nothing I could do now, short of trying to go after him, but I had no idea where they went. Besides, he was an adult, he could take of himself. I could take care of myself when I was eight years old.

   I went back to our quarters. My father was standing by the window in the main living area, staring out, when I came in. David didn't seem to be anywhere around. I set my book down and went over to stand beside him.

   "Your mother is sleeping. David's gone with Marcus to get some things," he said quietly as if reading my mind. "What have you been doing?"

   "I was sitting outside, trying to read, but I ended up thinking and staring at everything around me."

   "And what were you thinking about?" He put his arm around my shoulder.

   "A lot of things; mostly about Mother." I put my hand on the window, letting the coolness spread through my fingers. "It's hard to think about anything else."

   "I know. Sometimes, I wonder if I would be able to get through this if it wasn't for you and David."

   "Oh, Dad."

   "Your mother and I have been a team for a long time. We've been through a lot together. It's hard to imagine going on without the person who's been your other half for so long."

   It was then that I noticed the tears running down his face. I don't think I had ever seen him cry before. He noticed that I saw the tears, but didn't do anything to try to hide them.

   We stood there in silence for a few moments, watching as rain began to fall outside. The raindrops beaded up on the window. A few slid down slowly, joining with others and creating large drops. As I stared out the window, I thought of that man -- the Soul Hunter.

   "Dad, have you ever heard of a Soul Hunter before?"

   He looked over at me with surprise. "Where did you hear that name?"

   "I heard it from Marcus, but he wouldn't tell me who they are."

   "Soul Hunters are a race of people who believe it is their job to preserve' the souls of certain people. They are said to capture the soul at the moment of death before it can escape into the universe and keep it as part of a collection."

   "But Minbari believe a soul must be set free to join other so it can be reborn. If it's captured . . ."

   "There's been a lot of heavy disagreement and fighting between the Minbari and Soul Hunters because of this. Your mother has always hated them. The only way a soul can be protected from a Soul Hunter is by a wall of people surrounding the person until the soul has left. Your mother did that for the Minbari Dukhat before the Earth-Minbari War."

   A cold chill ran through me as I listened to my father's words. There was a Soul Hunter on Minbar and my mother was dying. Was he here to capture my mother's soul?

   "Jay, what's wrong?" he asked, apparently seeing my horrified look. "Why did you ask about this?"

   I couldn't tell him I had seen a Soul Hunter. It would just worry him and he had enough to deal with.

   "It was just something I heard . . . how could they do something like that, Dad? Capture a soul, hold it prisoner?"

   "They think they're doing the universe a great service."

   "Who's doing the universe a great service?" my mother's voice asked from behind us.

   We turned around to see her standing in the bedroom doorway, her robe wrapped around her thin frame. My father immediately went over to her.

   "What are you doing up? You should be resting, Delenn."

   "I couldn't sleep anymore and I heard you two talking out here," she said as my father led her to the couch. "What were you talking about?"

   "Nothing important. We were just watching the rain. David should be back soon."

   Obviously, the subject of Soul Hunters was something my father did not want to bring up in front of my mother. After what he told me, I didn't blame him.

   My mother glanced at my father, over to me, then back at him again. If she suspected anything, she didn't say so.

   "Where is David?" she asked instead.

   "With Marcus. He's getting some more pain medication for you."

   My mother nodded, then put her head back against the couch rest. She would never say it, but I knew she was tired of taking that medication. However, it was the only way she was able to function. Without it, the pain would be too great for even her to bear.

   "I'm tired of being cooped up inside," she said. "I want to go out."

   My father shook his head. "I don't know if that's such a good idea."

   "Please, John. It doesn't have to be right now, but I want to go to Crystal Falls. See them once more."

   My father slowly sat down on the couch next to my mother. His eyes were closed -- he was fighting with himself. Part of him wanted to protect her, but part of him wanted to grant her every wish. When he finally opened his eyes, he looked at her with love bright in them.

   "I never could say no to you, Delenn. We'll go after it stops raining," he told her, taking her hand in his. "You know, you always were a pain in the butt."

   "And you're a grouch," she answered lightly. Then she said quietly, "Thank you, John."

   The look that passed between them was one I hadn't seen in a long time. Suddenly, the pain and suffering were forgotten. Everything was forgotten, including me. For that moment, they were the only two people in the universe in each other's eyes.

   

   The rain continued for the next few days. I was cleaning up around our quarters when Aaron came by. He had a small bouquet of Minbari flowers from my mother . . . and a single Earth rose for me. I wondered where he got it, but he refused to tell me. All he would say was that he had his sources.

   "Would you like to go for a walk in the gardens?" he asked. "I know it's raining, but there are a number of covered pathways."

   I wasn't sure what to say. "I . . . I don't know. I don't want to leave Mother . . ."

   "Go on, Jaylen," my mother said.

   I hesitated, but the look on my mother's face convinced me to go. Now, I was the one who was nervous. I had never been in a situation like this before.

   We walked along the pathways, watching the rain beat down. Fog blanketed the landscape, making Minbar appear mysterious.

   Finally, Aaron broke the silence. "I wasn't able to find out where that Soul Hunter was going. I think he realized I was following him because he suddenly disappeared without a trace. I did do some research and found out about them."

   "I asked my father -- he told me about their collection methods."

   "Do you think --?"

   "Don't," I said, cutting him off. "Don't say it, please. I don't want to think about that."

   "I'm sorry."

   We walked on for a few minutes.

   "You know, you've been here a while now and I don't know all that much about you other than you're the daughter of the famous Captain John Sheridan and Ambassador Delenn."

   "I could say the same. You're President Morgan Clark's son, but what else?"

   "Well, let's see . . . I'm 1.85 meters tall, brown hair, brown eyes. I was born twenty-three years ago in Geneva, Switzerland on Earth. My parents named me Aaron because my mother loved that name. I enjoy flying, working with others, and walking with pretty girls through Minbari gardens."

   I laughed in spite of myself. "That's quite a summary. But that's not what I meant. Tell me about you, your life. For example, why did you leave Earth and come to Minbar?"

   "I came here because I never felt that was where I was supposed to be on Earth. I went to school, studied for the diplomatic core, but the whole time I felt something was missing. I met Marcus and decided to come here . . . actually, there were two reasons. Part of it was to try to find what I was looking for, the other was to try to make up for what my father did."

   "Did you find what you were looking for?"

   He nodded, staring off into the distance for a few seconds. "What about you? I've told you something about me, now it's your turn."

   I started off by telling him a little bit about my life. How my family had always been moving from place to place, ever since I could remember. We ended up talking for a long time, sharing stories. He told me about how his father's shadow had hung over him his whole life. It struck me as very appropriate that he used the word shadow' to describe his father's legacy. I ended up telling him about the time I had been forced to kill a man to save my family five years before. I had never talked to anyone about that since it had happened. It felt good to have someone new to talk to. I had spent my whole life with my family and had never had the chance to make many friends.

   It wasn't until later that I realized sometime, along the way, we had taken each other's hand.

   We stopped and looked at each other. A strange feeling washed over me as I stared into his brown eyes.

   Suddenly, I dropped his hand and backed away. "I-I need to get back," I stammered, feeling very guilty. My mother was dying and here I was . . .

   "Can I walk you back?"

   I shook my head. "No . . . no . . . I have to go."

   I ran back to our quarters, leaving Aaron alone in the gardens. My mother looked up from the Minbari book she had been reading in surprise as I burst into our quarters.

   "Jaylen, what in the stars?"

   "Oh, Mother," I cried as I went over to her. I knelt down next to her. "I'm so sorry."

   "Whatever for?"

   "I . . . how could I have done that? Enjoying myself like there's nothing wrong where you're here? When you're . . . How could I be so selfish? Please forgive me."

   "There's nothing to forgive, Jaylen," she said, putting her hand on my bent head to reassure me. "The universe will not stop because of me. It cannot. Your life cannot stop either. There is enough room in your heart for more that just me and your father and David."

   "But . . . how can I think of myself?"

   "When the Shadow War first came upon us years ago, it seemed that we could not think of anything else but doing what we could to win the War. Yet somewhere in there, your father and I fell in love. And we still did what we set out to do. You can't let this take over your life. If happiness presents itself to you, don't let it slip away."

   I gazed admiringly at my mother. Even when her body was weak, she was still strong. In that moment it hit me all at once. She hadn't uttered a single complaint since the disease had first started attacking her. She just seemed to accept what was happening to her with the quiet dignity I had seen her accept everything else that had happened to us.

   "Jaylen?"

   "I wish I could be more like you," I blurted out.

   "Why would you wish to be more like me? You are yourself."

   "But I'm not strong like you are," I said, choking back tears. "It's hard for me to think of anything else, not when you're . . . you're . . ."

   "You can say it to me, Jaylen," she said softly. "Not when I'm going to die."

   I turned away and rose from my kneeling position next to her. "You see? I can't even say it to you, yet you can and you've accepted it! I can't seem to accept it, no matter how hard I try! No matter how many times I tell myself that it's going to happen!"

   "That doesn't mean you're not strong. You're one of the strongest people I know. The life you've had and the choices you're made have shown your strength."

   "Then how come I don't feel it?" I asked.

   "Because in this one instant, at this point, you are unable to." She motioned me back over. Silently, I knelt back down and put my head in her lap. She ran her fingers through my long hair. "You will be strong again. Just give it time and accept what strength other people give you. And never, ever, let anyone make you believe that you're not, especially yourself."

   I nodded, blinking back the tears.

   "It's all right, Jaylen. You can cry."

   

   The next day, I went back to the Minbari gardens, where I found Aaron almost exactly where I had left him.

   "Have you been here all this time?" I asked.

   Startled, he looked over at me. He must have been deep in thought or meditation. "What are you doing here?"

   "I . . . came to apologize."

   "You don't have to apologize, Jaylen. I understand if --"

   "It's not that, Aaron. It had nothing to do with you. I panicked. I've never been in a situation like this before. I've never had a friend outside my family and I've never . . ." I paused. "I'm 1.69 meters tall, brown hair, hazel eyes. I was born eighteen years ago in space. My parents named me Jaylen, a combination of Jeffrey and Valen, which were important names in my parents' lives. I enjoy writing, reading, and meeting new friends."

   Aaron laughed. "That's quite a summary." Then he took my hand in his, saying, quite seriously, "I'm honored to be your friend."

   

   The rain had finally stopped. The Minbari sun appeared, almost illuminating the green landscape and making the residual droplets of water sparkle wherever someone looked.

   My father was keeping his promise and taking my mother up to Crystal Falls. As we got ready to leave, he seemed to fuss over her more than usual, wanting to make sure everything was all right before he would allow her out of our quarters. But finally, we were on our way to the Falls.

   When we arrived, it was almost dusk. The sun was starting to drop below the horizon, sending ribbons of pink and purple across the sky. The colors of the sky reflected in the Falls, giving the whole place an almost mystical, magical look. As we stood there, looking down across the water, my mother slowly walked forward. For a moment, her body seemed to regain the strength that had been slowly leached away from her over the last few, long months. But when she turned around and smiled, I knew that there would be no miracle for my mother.

   My father went over to her and held her in his arms.

   I'm not sure how long we were there. It seemed that time had come to a standstill. My mother leaned against my father, neither of them saying anything. Yet their togetherness said it all. As I watched them, I wished that I would have what they had -- the love, the friendship, everything that made them so right for one another.

   Suddenly, my father gasped. My mother was beginning to droop in his arms. "Delenn! Jaylen, David, get some help!"

   "No," my mother said as they sank to the ground. "No, John."

   "Delenn, you can't. Not now."

   "It's my time, John. I want to spend it here."

   My father looked up toward the sky, tears glistening in his eyes. Weakly, my mother reached up and touched his face. He clasped his hand over hers and didn't say another word.

   I heard rustling behind me. David and I turned to see the Soul Hunter.

   "I am here for the soul of Delenn."

   "No," I said fiercely. "You can't."

   "It is for the good of the universe. Someday you will understand."

   "You will not be taking Entil'Zha's soul," a deep voice suddenly said from beside me.

   It was Neroon. Looking around, I was stunned to see a number of people had suddenly appeared from seemingly nowhere. Marcus and Aaron were there, as were other humans and Minbari. They all stood before the Soul Hunter, blocking him off from my mother and father.

   "You will not be stealing any souls today," Neroon told him. "Delenn's soul will be allowed to go to its rightful place. She will not become a part of your . . . collection."

   Marcus looked down at me. "When you said you saw the Soul Hunter, I realized he had to be here for your mother. When I told Neroon, he said she had to be protected at all costs. We had decided that we would never be far away so we could keep him away when the time came."

   I looked at Neroon. "Why?"

   The elderly Minbari smiled sadly at me. "Because no matter what I said in the past, she is still Minbari in her heart and actions. And she is still Entil'Zha. And what she did for us can never be repaid. Her soul must be free."

   "Jaylen, David!" my father called.

   The people parted to let us through, then formed the wall again. We went over to our mother and father, kneeling down on the ground next to them.

   She reached out to us, touching each of our faces briefly. "You belong to the universe, but you also belong to yourselves. Remember that always."

   Tears began to roll down my cheeks.

   She looked up at my father. He smoothed her hair away from her face. /I love you, Delenn,/ he said in Minbari.

   "I love you," she responded in English. "I will always be with you, John. No matter where you are."

   "Starstuff," he whispered, then he kissed her gently.

   She smiled that smile of hers, then closed her eyes. "There's no more pain."

   A gentle breeze picked up for a moment, then died away. I looked down at the ground and saw that my Ranger pin had fallen out of my pocket. It seemed, as I stared at it, that it shed three tears. When I looked back up, I saw that my father had gathered my mother to him tightly, crying. David and I held each other for support as we grieved.

   She was gone.

   

   It was again dusk at Crystal Falls. My father, David, and I stood overlooking the Falls. Tonight the Falls seemed even more brilliant than they had the night my mother had died.

   My father knelt down next to a stone inscribed in both Minbari and English. It marked my mother's resting place. This was where she would have wanted to be and the Minbari government had agreed to it. She would forever be a part of Crystal Falls.

   "We'll never forget you, Delenn," he said, placing his hand on the stone. "I'll never forget you, the day you walked into my life, all the things you taught me. We went through so much together. I'm thankful for every day you were in my life."

   He rested his head against the stone for a moment. David and I each placed a hand on his shoulders. He looked up at us. From his pocket, he took out a crystal.

   "What's that?" David asked.

   "Neroon gave it to me. He said that it is Minbari custom to place it at the final resting place of True Seekers'."

   He put it in the small depression on the top of the stone, then took a small rock and crushed the crystal beneath it. I was surprised by this. Why was he destroying it? But something happened to the crystal. It began emitting a strong, white light. It was a comforting light, one that didn't hurt to look into.

   "It's beautiful," I said.

   "Neroon said it will burn bright for a hundred years. A light for her, a reminder of the light she fought for against the Shadows," he said, his fingers tracing the engraved words on the stone.

   Finally, he got up. David and I each placed a rose Aaron had gotten for us by the stone and said our last goodbyes. Then together, we left my mother to forever overlook the Falls of her homeworld.

   

   Later that night, I stood outside, staring up into the hills where Crystal Falls was. Footsteps came up behind me. I didn't turn around because I knew it was Aaron. He stopped beside me and took my hand.

   "How are you doing?"

   "I miss her," I said. "But I'm okay. She's in a place where she doesn't have to take pain medication just to be able function. She's free."

   "Is she really up by Crystal Falls?" he asked.

   I nodded. "You see that light up there on the hill?"

   "Yes. I've never seen that before."

   "That's where my mother is resting. That light is her."

   "So whenever you miss her, you can look up there and see that light and know that she's there."

   I looked down. "I'm not staying here, Aaron."

   "You're leaving?"

   "I'm going with my father. He can't stay here and I won't without him and David. They need me."

   "What about you? You can't live the rest of your life for other people, Jaylen."

   I knew he was hoping I would stay, but this was something I had to do. "I know I can't. But for right now, I want to be with my father and my brother. They need me, but I need them just as much."

   Aaron smiled. "I understand. And somehow, Jaylen Sheridan, I have this feeling that I'm going to see you again someday."

   "I'm sure of that, too."

   He leaned over and kissed me gently on the lips. When we parted, I looked over to hills and my mother's light radiating through the darkness.

   For a moment, I saw her smile in it.

 

 *****

 

 

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