Epilogue Two: Janesha
[A/N: this chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by the author of Ties That Bind and The Long Way Home, Karen Buckeridge.]
[A/N 2: For those who have already read the story, chapters 26-28 have been revised, from a little to a lot.]
Fifteen Years Later
"Ugh," groaned Janesha. "Why does my everything hurt?"
"Because you have not consciously moved your body in twenty-seven years," Columbine said gently, helping her sit up. Edeena stood to the side where Janesha could reach out for support, but giving her a chance to stand upright by herself first. Even though she was tempted, she refrained, determined to own this and move forward.
Taking a deep breath (and when was the last time she'd done that?), Janesha tensed and prepared to lever herself to her feet, aches and pains be damned. Then she paused. "Why in all the realms am I doing this the hard way?" she demanded.
"That is a question only you can answer, sweetheart," Columbine answered with a gentle smile. "Shifting is quite within your capability."
"Realm-damned right it is," Janesha retorted and sent a stimulation wave throughout her entire body, resetting everything to optimum function in an instant. Then she stood up smoothly and stretched, enjoying the sensation. For all of two seconds.
"Strike one," Columbine said, holding up one finger.
Realising what she meant, Janesha's eyes widened and she turned to face her cousin. "Oh, uh, I didn't mean to swear," she said. "That was my bad. I won't do it again." She knew of some relatives who had been sentenced to 'profanity jail', unable to voice any kind of rude language for a month, for swearing too much around Columbine. Nobody came back for a second try.
"You have two strikes left, sweetheart. You are now on notice for your first offense." Columbine smiled and just like that, the issue was dealt with. "Did you wish to bloodlink back to Mystal immediately, or stay for a while? You are very welcome to do either."
"Where's Cloudstrike?" Janesha asked immediately.
"She is back in Mystal with the rest of the herd," Columbine said. "She misses you, of course, but your cousins have been spending time with her and taking her for regular rides."
A pang went through Janesha's heart. Twenty-seven years was a mere pittance to a celestial, but for a mystallion awaiting her rider's return, it would be forever. "First thing I do when I get back," she promised herself out loud. Then she gasped, her eyes going wide. "Taylor! Earth Bet! Did Armina—are they—"
"They're both still there," Edeena assured her with a smile. "Sagun bloodlinks me on a daily basis. They wanted to know as soon as you woke up. I think Taylor misses you, too."
"Can you bloodlink with him right now?" Janesha didn't want Taylor worrying any longer than she had to—realms, she has to be over forty by now! That's half her life, just gone!—and she also had questions about exactly how Armina had removed her establishment so easily. A little embarrassed, she turned to her host. "I didn't mean to just ignore you like that."
"It is entirely understandable," Columbine said graciously. "I would indeed advise you to get your bloodlinks over and done with in good time, because the moment I pass on word to Mystal and Rangi-Taurea of your recovery, there will be several people competing for your attention. Your father, so that he can yell at you and ground you. Your mother, so that she can yell at you and ground you. And your grandmother …" She trailed off.
Janesha nodded. "So that she can yell at me and ground me … into dust. Yeah, I kinda see the pattern." But she was happier than she normally would've been. Yes, being yelled at and grounded by three of her elders was going to rate among the least favourite experiences of her life, but Taylor was alive and Earth Bet hadn't been obliterated by vengeful gods. "Thanks for the heads-up, Cousin Col."
"You are welcome." Columbine smiled, then looked back at Edeena. "I, of course, will be incredibly busy for the next … say, two hours. I suggest you make the most of my absence." Implicit was the understanding that her family would know if she tried to stall for too long, and of course the fact that she wanted to get back to Cloudstrike as soon as possible. Nobody knows how to brush her down like I do.
She didn't even bother asking why Cloudstrike hadn't been brought out to Earlafaol for when she woke up. It was incredibly difficult for the flying mounts to travel through a bloodlink, and Lady Col preferred that none of her family knew exactly where in the Unknown Realms her home realm was situated. Besides, giving Janesha access to a mystallion in the Unknown Realms was what had started this whole mess in the first place.
With a polite nod to both Janesha and Edeena, Columbine removed herself from the room, with Bianca and Dee close behind.
Immediately, Janesha hugged Edeena. "Thank you for sitting with me. I remember you being here, from time to time."
"It was all my pleasure," Edeena said, returning the hug. "Lady Columbine said it was good for the both of us, so I didn't have any problem at all. Did you want me to bloodlink to Sagun now?"
"Oh, totally." Janesha stepped back from the older woman, so that she could perform the link.
Edeena kept hold of Janesha's hand and gestured with the other. "Sagun," she said clearly.
The link formed immediately, showing Sagun holding out his hands and projecting some sort of power from them. A brilliant blue sky above a distant cityscape was visible behind him.
"Excuse me one moment," he said absently. "Dealing with a tsunami. And … done. So what's …" For the first time, he appeared to notice that Janesha was in frame as well. "Whoa! Janesha! You're awake!" A broad smile split his bearded face. "When did this happen?"
"About five minutes ago." Janesha couldn't keep the silly grin off her face. "It's good to see you again, Lord Scion."
"Pfft, call me Sagun." He laughed delightedly. "Oh, wow. Taylor's gonna be so thrilled. She's been counting the days."
"Oh, uh, what's she been doing with her life since I, um, left?" Somehow, Janesha had trouble visualising Taylor as a middle aged housewife.
"Well, just now she's been calming the population while I took care of business, but I've told her you're up so she'll be here in a moment." Sagun shook his head. "How are you feeling? Is everything alright with you? When are they going to let you visit?"
"I'm fine … wait." Janesha tilted her head. "Calming the population? She's there with you right now?"
"Well, yeah, where else would my high priestess be?" Sagun reached off to the side, out of range of the bloodlink. "Check it out, Taylor. Janesha's back."
In the next moment, Taylor came into view. Her outfit wasn't quite as formal as the high-priestess robes Janesha had given her, but it was still definitely along the same lines. Her hand clasped with Sagun's, she smiled through the bloodlink at Janesha and Edeena. "Janesha, how are you? You look amazing!" Her eyes were dancing with excitement and she couldn't keep a smile off her face. Far from looking old, as Janesha had feared, she simply looked … grown up. As Janesha herself was. Her eyes were clear and her long curly black hair bore no tinge of grey.
"... you too, petal." As she spoke the familiar nickname, Janesha felt an odd jolt behind her sternum. You were my high priestess! It wasn't betrayal, exactly, but she couldn't help but feel a little let down. "So, you went straight from one high priestess position to another, huh?"
"'Petal'. Wow, that takes me back." Taylor laughed light-heartedly. "No, Sagun made the offer but Mom made me finish high school first. I took college courses in civics so I understood the underlying dynamics, too. We finished what you started, by the way. Took us a couple of years to get some traction, but once the holdouts saw the strides the compliant nations were making, they voted the asshole politicians out and fell into line."
"... oh. Right. Good for you." So they'd even done it the way Danny Hebert had wanted it done, and it had worked. Janesha nodded, forcing her smile to look natural. Everything I tried to do, they did it better. "Do they … do they even remember me?"
"As a goddess?" Sagun shook his head. "No. But there's a statue, of you and Cloudstrike, outside the United Nations building."
"And don't forget the feature films, the TV show and the Saturday morning cartoon," Taylor added with a mischievous grin. "'Janesha' was the third most popular girl's name in the continental United States for about four or five years running. Just saying."
A statue was actually kind of cool, but … "Wait, Feature films? As in, more than one? And a TV show, and a cartoon? All of that, in twenty-seven years?"
"Oh, yeah." Taylor nodded. "The first one came out just a couple of years after you left, and the second one …" She tilted her head in recollection.
"Year before last," Sagun supplied. "The TV show was good at first, but the second season lagged, and the third season really didn't work at all. They had to wrap it up with an ass-pull reveal that you were really an alien princess, going back to your people. Which I suppose isn't too far off the mark." He waggled his hand. "In a manner of speaking. And the cartoon … oh, good grief, the cartoon."
"Why, what was wrong with the cartoon?" asked Janesha suspiciously.
Taylor smirked. "They de-aged you to about eight years old, and had you going on wacky adventures with younger versions of the Wards and Protectorate. Li'l Armsy had the biggest crush on your character. It was hilarious."
Janesha really wasn't sure how to take that. Celestials were not supposed to be figures of fun. Unless their establishment field dictated that, of course. Now I know how Uncle Avis felt. "At least tell me the films were okay."
Sagun rubbed his chin. "They were … good," he decided, then glanced sideways at Taylor. "Would you say 'good'?"
She nodded. "'Good' works for me. They didn't have a lot of the background details, for obvious reasons, but they didn't mischaracterise you beyond a few verbal tics that Sagun and I didn't feel like correcting them on. For the most part, they got you down pretty well."
"The fight with the Simurgh was a lot more dramatic, of course," Sagun said. "Taylor wasn't involved, and it went all the way down to the wire. You had a great one-liner when you finally punched her out. "'Sing this one off', or something like that."
"The TV show was a spin-off of the first one, and you know how that turned out," Taylor added. "The second one was a remake, and they went deeper into your character and background. Added some totally fictitious elements, but kept your core concept valid. Though this time around you apparently rescued Cloudstrike from some unscrupulous bio-Tinker's lab." She shrugged. "I thought it wasn't terrible, for something that was made up from whole cloth."
Janesha shook her head. "Well, one thing's for certain. Even if I was allowed to come visit before I'm finished being grounded, I'd never be able to get an establishment there again. My image there's so fractured, it would take me a thousand years just to get everyone believing the same thing about me all at once."
"Well, you're still totally welcome to visit anyway," Taylor said without hesitation.
"It totally sucks that you had to go through the withdrawal coma then get grounded on top of that," Sagun added. "So how long do you think you're gonna be grounded for?"
"I have no idea." Janesha sighed. "Considering how many people are mad at me for running off like that and refusing bloodlinks, anywhere from five hundred to fifteen hundred years." She looked sadly at the girl who was still her best mortal friend. "Sorry, petal." I'm gonna miss her.
"What are you sorry for?" asked Taylor. "It's not like it's your fault or anything … well, yeah, yeah, I know. It kinda is. Shut up." She elbowed Sagun in the ribs.
"What? I didn't say anything." The smirk on his features said otherwise, though.
"You were gonna. I heard you do your 'well, actually' inhale." Taylor rolled her eyes. "Don't worry, Janesha. This big golden lunk couldn't find his well-toned ass with both hands and an atlas unless I was there to hold the atlas, so I'm gonna be around for awhile yet.."
"Hey!" objected Sagun. "I resemble that remark!"
Taylor pretended to ignore the interjection. "So whenever you want to drop by, I'll be here."
Janesha tilted her head. "... so how long have you two been a couple?"
"What?" Taylor looked startled. "A couple? Us?" She looked around at Sagun. "We're not a couple, are we?"
He looked just as bemused. "Not the last time I checked. No, we aren't a couple, Janesha. She's my high priestess. That's as far as it goes."
"Could've fooled me." Janesha looked from one to the other. "You two are finishing each other's sentences, did you know that? You're more comfortable with each other than some happily married couples that I know of."
Sagun cleared his throat. "Well, I do like Taylor a lot, but there's the whole dipping the pen in the company inkwell thing, you know? I don't want it to get awkward."
"What, more awkward than having people think we're a couple when we're not?" Taylor raised her eyebrows. "I've been wondering why Mom and Dad smirk whenever I say I'm going out to meet up with you."
"Well, whatever you decide, just make sure nothing comes out of it," Janesha said seriously. "You know how pure-blood celestials think about hybrids."
"What, even inside their own realm?" asked Sagun. "Not bothering anyone outside it?"
"Even then," Janesha insisted. "If anyone in the Known Realms heard that a celestial-mortal couple in the Unknown Realms was getting it on and having hybrid kids, there would be a crusade the likes of which you've never seen before. They'd swarm the Unknown Realms until they found you, then they'd kill off every hybrid they saw, and burn your realm down to the bedrock just to make sure it won't happen again."
"Wait, didn't you say Lady Columbine had hybrids in her realm?" asked Taylor.
"Yeah, but they never get to leave." Janesha shook her head. "Her power level is off the scales, and then there's her army at her back. Nobody wants to mess with those bad boys."
"Just out of curiosity, what do you personally think of hybrids?" asked Sagun. "I mean, would you recognise one if you met one?"
"Only if I knew their parentage," admitted Janesha. "Showing off divine powers outside their own realm would be a big indicator, too. But … well, after getting to know Taylor, I can empathise with mortals a lot more now, so if you did end up having hybrid kids and I found out, I wouldn't rat you out. But I would put guards up around your borders, to make sure you all stayed put. The threat would have to be contained. If so much as one got out, I'd have to alert Mystal. It's my duty to the Known Realms."
Taylor laughed. "Well, there's no danger of that happening right now. So let's not even go there."
"Oh, good." Janesha felt a surge of relief. "So, I guess I'll see you when they finally unground me."
Sagun nodded. "We'll be looking forward to it. See you tomorrow, Edeena."
"See you, Sagun. See you, Taylor." Edeena waved, and cut the bloodlink.
"Well, that was interesting," Janesha said thoughtfully. "They really seem to be doing well."
"Yeah, Sagun's happy." Edeena smiled. "They've got a couple of lunar colonies and one on Mars, and they're talking about terraforming Venus. Hey, did you want to go swimming in the lake? The hatchlings will be down there, and they're so silly."
Janesha considered that, the issues of Earth Bet discarded for the moment. Swimming with true gryps hatchlings? Who even got to do that? "I'm in," she decided.
"Woo! Last one in's a—hey, no realm-stepping!"
"Well, that was interesting." Taylor looked around at Sagun. "Do you think she knows?"
"That I'm a hybrid?" He shook his head. "No. She would've been even more direct than she was already." He paused awkwardly. "So, do you, uh …"
"Do I what?" She frowned for a moment, then light dawned. "Oh. Oh! Do I like you like you?"
"Well, yeah, um …" The golden tone of his cheeks darkened. "I didn't want to say anything before, because you weren't saying anything and I didn't think it was the sort of thing I could just bring up. I mean, it's the ultimate 'dating the boss' scenario, and we both know how that kind of thing goes. Besides, I'm like seventy-five, and—"
She put her finger up to cover his lips and he shut up. "Hush. I'm forty-two. Neither one of us looks our age. And yes, I do like you like that. I've just been waiting for you to say something."
Sagun looked into her eyes for the longest time. His lips parted. "Something," he whispered.
"Right, of course." Taylor rolled her eyes. "What else should I expect from a comic book nerd?" She took him by the hand, lacing her fingers through his. "Well, we've got all the time in the world. Let's take it one step at a time and figure this out."
"That works for me," he agreed. "So, uh, what if we—"
"Have kids?" Taylor glanced over her shoulder at where the bloodlink had been. "What the Known Realms don't know won't hurt us. Let's go home."
"Right." Sagun opened a portal, and they stepped through.
End of Epilogue Two
End of Celestial Worm
Hope you enjoyed the read!