The crowd watched in somber silence as the tiny coffin was lowered into the ground. Sarah hugged her mother around the neck as they watched, sniffling. To her right stood Porter, holding hands with Glenda, whose leg was wrapped in a cast. His eyes were downcast, and his teeth clenched together in an effort to keep his face expressionless. Standing between them both was Tick, who was sobbing into his father’s chest fur, unable to watch as the first few shovelfuls of dirt were thrown into Manchi’s grave.
“She died saving me,” the little boy managed to croak for the hundredth time. “It’s not fair. It should have been me!”
“Ssh,” Gwinn whispered, stroking his son’s hair. “It’s all right. Just let it all out.”
It took several minutes, but the grave was eventually filled in. A group of fairies flew over the mound of dirt, sprinkling magic over it. Immediately, green grass sprang up over it, followed by a wide assortment of wildflowers. Behind them stood a slate gray headstone.
“Manchi,” it read, having no last name to give her. “A Protector and a Friend. Rest in Peace.”
Bravvius, who was acting as the new Arch-Mythic stepped up to say a few words on her behalf. He’d never known the brave little chimera, but it didn’t matter. Nobody was paying him much attention anyway.
Eventually the funeral ended, and the crowd dispersed. Humans and Mythics went in every direction, but not without suspicious stares from both sides. There was peace, for now at least, but it would still take everyone a long time to become accustomed to living side by side, in no small part because of the cities the Mythics had destroyed on their way to Red Castle. Likewise, a lot of the Mythics had grown up fearing the Slayers, and weren’t ready to accept that the threat was gone. There was already talk of putting the Mythics into segregation camps until a suitable solution to the problem arose.
Neither Porter nor Sarah could bring themselves to think about that right now, though. Not after watching one of their friends be buried. Politics and arguments could wait until another day. Once the crowd was gone, the entire group came together without a word to stand around Manchi’s grave. Eventually, Porter raised his head and looked at each of his friends in turn.
“So,” he said, “what now?”
“The war is over,” Azkular said softly, returning Porter’s gaze. His eyes still had their eerie black and red coloring, as did all the Repurposed Mythics. “No more fighting, no more hiding… Everything I’ve ever known is gone.”
“We have both been offered seats in the Mythic Council,” Droma said, clapping his hand on the djinn’s shoulder. “I suppose it would be in everyone’s best interests for us to accept.”
The Mythic Council had been formed a day after the war ended. Even though Bravvius was the Arch-Mythic, it was the Council’s responsibility to keep his power in check. It was their way of preventing another catastrophe like the one Rayalga had caused. Porter and Sarah had been offered seats on it as well, which they had turned down— not because they didn’t want to help, but because they felt they’d had enough excitement for a lifetime. Maybe in the future they would join, but for now everyone agreed that they’d earned a reprieve.
“Bravvius said that he would find us a local pack,” Misty spoke up, motioning to herself and the other werewolf standing beside her. They had all been shocked to find out it was Ozzie, but he didn’t seem too upset with the changes. They had to keep a muzzle on him, though. Like all werewolves, it would take time for him to get control over his new instincts.
“The Ragga Elves don’t do well living in crowded areas,” Faska said. He had turned up the day after the battle, reporting that his tribe was safe and sound. He’d felt bad for not being present for the battle, but, true to their word, nobody harbored any ill feelings for him. “I’m taking them deep into the forest, where we can live in the isolation we need.”
Tick pulled himself away from his father and looked at the others. His eyes were red from crying, and it was obvious he still had a lot of crying to do before he would be done.
“I’m going with my dad,” he said, his voice hoarse. “With my mom gone, he’s the only family I have left. I want to… to…”
He couldn’t finish his sentence as emotion welled up inside him again, and he broke down into tears once more. Porter and Sarah exchanged glances, and Porter knelt down in front of him.
“Go with Gwinn, Tick,” he said softly, putting a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder. “But always remember: we’re your family too. If you ever need to come back, you’ll have a home here. I promise.”
Tick looked up at him, and then lunged forward to hug the older chimera. Porter returned the hug, pulling him close like the little brother he’d never had.
“Thank you, Porter,” Gwinn said when his son finally pulled away. “And you too, Sarah. I was wrong to say what I did back at the Caravan. You two took better care of my son than I ever did, and for that I am in your debt.”
Porter smiled, and nodded his farewell as the wampus cat picked his son up and placed him on his back. Giving Manchi’s grave one last look, they took off, a white blur racing down the street. Porter and Sarah watched them go until they vanished from sight.
“Bravvius said that he’s going to build Porter and me a new mansion,” Sarah said. “We’re going to live there together once it’s finished.” She paused and looked at all her friends. “You’re all welcome to stay there with us if you want.”
With a smile, Porter took Sarah’s hand and gave it a happy squeeze.
“I’ll think about it,” Azkular said, but Sarah knew that the rough-n-tough djinn would never be happy living in a big, cushy mansion.
“My cabin and forge in the woods sounds very nice right now, actually,” Droma agreed. “I think I will go back there for a while.”
“Will it have lots of pillows we can chew up?” Misty asked jokingly, giving her brother a playful nudge. Ozzie perked up at this and wagged his tail.
Sarah laughed. “I think I’d better keep them all hidden when you come to visit. Dad was furious when he found what you did to them last time.”
The thought sent a little twinge of pain into her heart. When Mrs. Heisen had come around after being freed, she’d revealed that at least part of what Rayalga had said was true. Her father never made it out of Jellaska Kob Lertan. The revelation had been devastating, but she took a little comfort in knowing that she still had her mother. And Porter, she reminded herself as the young man squeezed her hand.
She would always have Porter.
There was little more to say. Everyone said their goodbyes, promising they would stay in touch, and went their separate ways. The sun was beginning to set as Porter and Sarah walked back toward the apartments they were staying in while their new mansion was being built. Their mothers walked behind them, chatting with each other as they went. The two of them had become friends the moment they met, which was a huge relief to both Porter and Sarah.
“You know,” Sarah said into Porter’s heart, “after all we’ve been through, I don’t know if I can go back to living in a mansion all the time.”
“Why not?” Porter asked with a laugh. “Don’t tell me you miss sleeping on the ground already.”
“Maybe I do,” she replied, giving him a playful whack with her tail. “Maybe the thought of sleeping under the stars still sounds nice to me.”
Porter chuckled, and smiled at his beautiful chimera.
“I still don’t have that teleportation spell down yet,” she added with a sly grin.
“We could end up anywhere,” Porter said, his smile widening as well.
“Who knows how long it would take us to find our way back?” she asked as excitement filled her heart and spilled over into Porter’s.
“Or what will happen to us on the way? You’re right, that doesn’t sound bad at all.”
“So, what do you say?”
“I’ll think about it,” he said teasingly, and took off running into the sunset. “Come on, I’ll race you home.”