Come dance with the gypsies... Circulation: 90,554,371 Issue: 172 | 7th day of Sleeping, Y7
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Retribution: Part Five


by child_dragon

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They broke free of the thin atmosphere and spun away from the moon like stones from a slingshot. Heavy over their heads was Neopia, that ball of blue and green that was once their home. Before them were the running fighters, the one in the rear their target.

"You take left, I'll take right," Nina ordered. "Let's take him down."

Dimly, Danner realized that his foe didn't stand a chance. He was already running wounded, smoke trailed from one of the engines. The speed was reduced and so it was a simple matter for the ships to catch up to him. His comrades had already fled, leaving him vulnerable and ready for the picking. Danner's finger closed around the trigger and his tail lashed in wild anticipation.

"He's splitting!" Nina cried and fired a steady stream of shots to turn his course back towards Danner.

"On him."

The targeting crosshairs locked and flashed red. Danner fired and held down the trigger, sending bolts lancing through the void and into the hull of the ship. It tore it apart and scattered it to the emptiness.

There was a vast hollowness within him as he let go of the trigger, every muscle in his body slumping out of agitated tension.

"Danner?"

Dully, he turned his ship around, leading the way back to the surface of Kreludor. Things seemed hazy before him, the sharp clarity of thought and action lost when the nine kill markings had disintegrated into dust. He didn't feel as good as he thought he would. Just… wrong. As if oil had been slicked into his fur and would never come out.

"Are you alright?"

"No," he replied, his voice flat, "I think I made a mistake."

She tried to say something more but the gulf between them stopped her words. He switched his comm. back on and heard the tail-end of Nina reporting to their captain that they were headed back to base. The rest of the Gallions would meet them there.

"Danner, can we talk about this?" she then asked privately.

And the Kougra merely switched his comm. off again, private line and all.

The captain yelled at them for a long time when they landed. Danner soaked it in, barely hearing what the Kyrii was saying. Nina kept her head low and watched her friend out of the corner of her eyes. After they both dutifully repeated that yes, they would follow orders or face the consequences, they were free to go. Danner walked away without another word and Nina trailed along behind him.

"We did this together," she said desperately. "Please, did I do something wrong? Are you mad at me?"

"No - just go," he finally retorted and hurt, she stopped and stared at his back.

But she didn't try to follow him anymore.

"The way I see it," Allan conferred later that evening as day sunk into night, "he's having trouble sorting out everything that's happened."

The two were in Danner and Allan's shared room, Nina sitting on the bottom bunk in rapt attention and the Zafara leaning on the wall. Danner had been missing all day and Nina was about to gnaw her tail off in worry.

"I mean, let's face it. Danner is quite proud about his ability as a pilot."

"That's apparent," the Wocky commented wryly.

"So he gets shot down. That hurts a lot," Allan continued. "Plus, he was talking in his sleep. Apparently they found him helpless."

"Who?"

"Sloth's minions. Nina, don't look so frightened! I guess he got away somehow or else he wouldn't be here, now would he? But still - that's an awful large dose of humility he got served there. Wrap up this entire war, what happened to Rya, and the fact he got shot down and you have a big honking mess for Danner to sort through."

"Then he destroys the person who shot him down."

"And what happens then? Absolutely nothing!" he elaborated, "It's a big letdown. Danner thinks that this will end things, make everything better. But in the end it's just another fighter and nothing is resolved because things aren't so simple like that."

"What can I do?"

He shrugged and gestured at the door. Nina stood and waited for his final response.

"Go to him. He's on a ledge near the base, watching the stars. Been there for hours. I figured it best to let him have his time to sort things out himself. He should be done now - and he'll be wanting to see you I imagine."

"Thank you," Nina murmured, making her way out into the hallway.

At the last moment she paused and turned.

"How do you know all this?"

He smiled gently, a wistful and sorrowful smile.

"I helped with the resistance on Virtupets," he said, "until a mercenary by the name of Ylana Skyfire found my group. I was the only person who escaped. Sorrow teaches you well, Nina, it is the hardest teacher of all. You will bear its lessons for your entire life."

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"It'll be alright. This is what war is about after all. At least you have Danner. Now go to him."

She nodded her thanks, words being unable to even come close to expressing the gratitude she felt. Then with a turn she broke into a sprint and the Zafara watched her go in silence.

Danner was throwing rocks. Every now and then his paw would clasp on another smooth gray stone, raise it, poised silhouetted against the darkened sky, then the muscles would flash under the striped fur and it would hurtle out over the edge to rattle down the steep side and rest somewhere in the darkness. For a while Nina watched him do this until his grasping fingers realized that there were no more stones within easy reach. Only then did she walk over, settling herself down cross-legged beside him and dropping a stone by his leg.

There were no words, just a mute acceptance. Danner took the stone and tossed it from hand to hand for a moment.

"I'm sorry," he finally said.

"So many apologies," she sighed, "Must we spend our lives apologizing?"

"Sorry. I mean… sorry, no."

"Shhhh."

He fell silent and listened.

"What has happened these past few days is not your fault. This is war, this is reality. Things change, things happen that are far beyond our control."

"I thought I could end things," he whispered, "Could make the hurt go away. But… I didn't accomplish anything."

There was silence and the rock fell into Danner's lap, his hands lifeless above it.

"I feel cheap."

"You aren't. You are very brave."

"Am I? I still hurt."

She smiled gently and took the rock from his lap, turning it over in her own paws, brushing furred fingers against the cold smoothness.

"Danner, who do you fear losing more? Yourself or I?"

"You," he replied immediately. "For then I'd be left behind to bear that sorrow."

"And yet, you let us go after that ship together, regardless of the dangers," she persisted. "We both made a promise and although you say otherwise, you were brave enough to allow both of us to keep it, despite the possible cost."

He turned to face her, his face solemn. She smiled, despite herself. The singed remains of his whiskers hadn't started to grow back yet.

"Was that a victory?"

"I think," she replied delicately, "That was the only victory this war can ever afford us."

They thought on that together, both of them turning their eyes to the stars to search the constellations. Perhaps they held answers.

"I don't hate anymore," Danner finally said, "I did. But not anymore."

"I am glad."

"I don't think that really solves anything. Retribution isn't worth it."

The words were coming very fast now and each one was like a raindrop, lightening the clouds so they could soar at great altitudes once more.

"We're going to see a lot of grief and suffering as this war goes on. That's just how it is. I think, if I let that hate consume me, I'd become nothing. Because hate can drive and fuel a person through this but after the war ends - what then? I don't want to be like that Nina, I don't want to burn so bright that after its over there's nothing left to be light."

"Then don't."

He shook his head, marveling at the sheer simplicity of her answer.

"I won't," he affirmed. "We'll keep our promises and I won't let hate rule me anymore."

He stood and she stood as well. Side by side, they stared off over the ledge and across the surface of Kreludor, watched by the infinite stars overhead.

"I would count them someday," the Kougra said, "and weave their numbers into a bouquet for you."

"So eloquent," Nina laughed. "Let's go inside, Danner."

He nodded and turned to go. The Wocky paused a moment, considering the stone in her hand. So smooth, so perfect. With a burst of movement she raised it up and threw, sending it soaring through the sky in a gentle arc, brushing the belly of the heavens. She never heard the rattle of its landing - in her mind it would remain forever suspended in the sky, frozen in time. For she had already ran to catch up by Danner's side so that the two of them could walk back to the base. Together.

The End

 
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Other Episodes


» Retribution: Part One
» Retribution: Part Two
» Retribution: Part Three
» Retribution: Part Four



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