The Hirac Delest

Chapter One

Ax

My name is Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill. I am an Andalite aristh, and the sole survivor of the Dome ship GalaxyTree that was once stationed in Earth's atmosphere. Everyone else, including my brother, Prince Elfangor, was killed.

But before my brother died he met five human youths and gave them something. He gave them the power to morph. He knew it was against our most important law, but he did it anyway. He wanted the humans to have a chance against the Yeerks. Soon after, my brother was murdered by Visser Three.

A few weeks later, the humans found me. The only aristh on the ship, I had been sent to the Dome when Visser Three's Blade ship attacked, so I would be safe. The Dome was detached in the fight and ended up on the bottom of one of Earth's vast oceans. The humans rescued me and we have fought together ever since. My human friends – Prince Jake, Cassie, Rachel, Marco, and my shorm Tobias – and I are all that stands between Earth and total domination by the Yeerks. We have fought many great and important battles, including facing Visser Three, the Abomination himself, many times and surviving.

But that particular day we weren't fighting. We were flying, which is what we do sometimes when we don't have an urgent mission. It was a perfect day for flying, with no clouds and many warm thermals to glide on.

The Andalite homeworld has only three species of birds. Earth has many. At the moment I was a northern harrier, a type of bird of prey. Prince Jake was a peregrine falcon, Cassie and Marco were ospreys, Rachel was a bald eagle, and Tobias was a red-tailed hawk. We were spread out over about a mile so we wouldn't, as Tobias had said, "look like a raptor convention."

I am so glad summer is here, Rachel said happily.

Me, too, agreed Prince Jake. He was climbing back up from a dive. He settled into a glide and stretched his wings out.

What is significant about summer? I asked.

No school, Marco said somewhat giddily. And the weather's warm.

Yes, warm weather is very enjoyable, especially for flying, I agreed.

So where do you guys want to go? asked Tobias. He was flying higher up than the rest of us, and in front. He is the best flyer, because he has had a great deal of practice. He is a nothlit, a person trapped in a morph – in Tobias's case, as a red-tailed hawk. The Ellimist gave him back the power to morph, and even let him acquire his former human body, but Tobias can't stay in it for more than two hours or he will be trapped again.

Let's just fly, suggested Cassie. The thermals are great today.

Yeah, they are, Tobias said. How long have you guys been in morph?

Twenty-one minutes, I answered. We had plenty of time left.

For awhile no one spoke. We were just soaring, watching the humans on the ground and enjoying the feeling of complete freedom that comes with flying, when I looked down and realized where I was.

The construction site.

I'd been there only once – when we trapped David, the traitor, as a rat – so I had a very unpleasant memory associated with it. In addition, I knew it was the place where my brother was murdered by the Abomination. Despite the warm day, I suddenly felt a chill travel up my spine. I dropped a few feet in the air.

Ax, are you okay? Tobias asked. He was using private thought speech so the others wouldn't hear him.

Yes, I am fine, I lied.

It's hard to be so close to that place, isn't it? he remarked.

I hesitated. How had Tobias known? Yes, it is, I finally agreed. I didn't say much the rest of the time. My mood had darkened and even flying didn't help. I was relieved when we landed and the others left. I waited until the sun went down and then I fed, even though I wasn't hungry.

Before I went to sleep I stood at the edge of the woods and gazed up at the stars. I found the home star and stared at it. I was remembering a time when Elfangor had been home and my family had all been together. It suddenly occurred to me that we would never be together again.

Elfangor would always be missing. And nothing, even avenging his death by killing Visser Three, would bring him back.

Chapter Two

Ax

I had difficulty sleeping that night. Every time I closed my eyes, my mind conjured up imagined pictures of Elfangor's final moments in the hands of Visser Three. Up until this point, I had done my best not to think about my brother. I had a job to do on Earth, one that kept me very busy, and I didn't really have time to think about Elfangor, to grieve for him. All of a sudden, it was as if I didn't have a choice. And I wasn't prepared.

The next morning I stood at the stream, performing the morning ritual. I was having a hard time concentrating because memories of performing the ritual with Elfangor were distracting me. As I finally finished, I heard a fluttering of wings. Tobias was landing in a tree next to the stream.

What's up, Ax-man? he asked me.

Nothing, I answered. I tried to sound normal, but I knew I didn't succeed.

Have you eaten? I just finished this morning's unlucky rodent, Tobias said, trying to lighten my mood.

No, I replied, staring at the rushing stream with all four of my eyes. But I am not hungry this morning.

Tobias said nothing for a moment. Finally he said quietly, Seeing the construction site yesterday really got to you, huh?

I nodded. I'm not sure why. I hadn't really thought about him being . . . gone. Even when I contacted my homeworld and told my father – it never really – I broke off.

Sank in? suggested Tobias. I nodded again. Well, sometimes it's best not to ignore it. Why don't we take a little field trip tonight?

Where? I asked. The thought of going anywhere was exhausting. I had a throbbing headache and felt completely drained, both because of my restless night and the onslaught of intense emotion I'd been feeling since yesterday.

The construction site. You need to grieve, Ax-man. And you shouldn't do it alone. I was with your brother when he died. I was the last one to leave him. I felt . . . like there was a connection between us. I'd suggest we go now, but there's too much chance of us being noticed. Tobias looked at me with his fierce hawk's gaze.

I thought you were seeing Rachel tonight, I said, resisting the idea of purposely going to a place I knew would cause me pain.

I'll cancel, Tobias said simply. It's summer. She and I can do something this afternoon or tomorrow. I'll go talk to her now. And you need to eat, Ax.

I nodded. Tobias was right. As he flew off I slowly trotted along the grassy edge of the stream.

Chapter Three

Tobias

I flew in the direction of Rachel's house. I knew she wouldn't be pleased about my canceling, but I also knew she would understand.

My thoughts drifted to what would almost certainly happen that night. I had known for some time that Elfangor was my father, but I had never told anyone. They would have thought I was crazy – heck, I thought I was crazy. But I knew that if I was going to tell Ax, today would have to be the day.

I flew up to Rachel's window and rustled it with my wing. It was seven-thirty on a summer morning. Boy, she was going to be PO'ed at me.

Sure enough: "Tobias, what the heck are you doing?" she demanded. "I thought we weren't going to meet until eight o'clock tonight."

That's why I'm here. I have to cancel. I'm really sorry, I said.

"Why?" she asked.

It's Ax. When we flew over the construction site yesterday – I think it triggered something. All of a sudden, he's really hurting. You know, about Elfangor and stuff. He and I are going over to the construction site tonight, I explained.

"Oh," Rachel said, her eyes softening. "Do you want the rest of us to come, too?"

No, I said quickly. I think he and I need to do this alone.

"Yeah, you're probably right," she agreed. "Something deep seemed to go on between you and Elfangor that night."

Yes, I said. I wanted to add, Because he was my father, but I didn't. I owed it to Ax to tell him first.

"Well, good luck," she said.

Thanks. Do you want to do something this afternoon?

"I can't. I have to baby-sit Sara. We can do something tomorrow, though."

Sure. I'll see you later. Rachel waved as I flew away.

Chapter Four

Ax

I spent most of the day sleeping. Somehow the idea of going to the construction site set me more at ease – or maybe it was just the idea that Tobias would be with me, and I wouldn't have to be alone with my grief.

It gets dark on Earth very late during the summer, so Tobias didn't come for me until about eight-thirty. I was standing by the stream with one hoof in the water drinking when he flew up.

You're finally awake, he remarked. I flew by your scoop a couple times today to make sure you were all right and you were always sound asleep.

I was very tired, I replied. I did not sleep well last night.

You're sure you feel up to this? Tobias asked me.

I hesitated for just a second. Yes, I said.

Okay, then. Time for you to get feathery. I morphed quickly, and within a few minutes Tobias and I were in the air.

Chapter Five

Tobias

The construction site was just as dark as it had been the night we met Elfangor. It was tough flying to get there because there weren't any thermals, so we had to flap a lot. Ax didn't say much as we flew. I led him to the place where Elfangor's fighter had landed.

This is the spot, I said. Ax said nothing. He just looked at the ground.

Memories came rushing back at me. We were just innocent kids back then, oblivious to the fact that our lives were about to be turned upside down. Jake was already the type of person you looked to in a crisis, but he didn't have the "weight of the world on his shoulders" aura that he acquired later on. Cassie just wanted to take care of her animals. Marco was trying to survive and help his dad, who'd sort of lost it after Marco's mom "died." And Rachel . . . well, Rachel was a smart, beautiful, basically normal girl. She hadn't found her warrior side yet. As for me, I was a messed up kid looking for someone to care for him. My parents had died when I was very little, and since then I'd been shuttled around between my aunt (who wouldn't have cared if I'd fallen off the face of the planet) and my uncle (who drank all the time). And in fact, when I did sort of fall off the face of the planet, neither of them seemed to notice.

I stared at the spot where Elfangor's fighter had been. He'd told us to run and the others had fled. We couldn't as much see as we could feel Visser Three. But there was something about Elfangor . . . I had knelt next to him and taken his hand.

Your mother, he said. Tell me about your mother, Tobias. Your family.

"She disappeared," I replied quietly. "When I was just little. I don't know what happened. I guess she died. People say she just left because she was messed up. They said she never got over my father. I don't know. But I know she has to be dead because she'd never have just left me. No matter what. But maybe that's just what I told myself. I don't exactly have a family."

Go to your friends, Tobias. They are your family now.

I had never able to figure out how he knew my name or why he asked about my mother – or why, when I answered, he seemed to be hurt by it. Then, a few months ago, I found out.

I hadn't been able to figure out how to tell Ax. Now as he and I stood there, silently perched on an old crane, I tried to gather my courage. Finally, I said, Ax, I have to tell you some –

Tobias, look! Ax suddenly swooped off the crane and landed on the ground.

What is it? I asked, landing next to him.

Tobias, you need to morph to human, Ax said urgently.

Why?

Because I have found something. Something very important. We'll need to carry it back and I would have to pass through my Andalite body to get to my human morph.

What? What did you find?

My brother's hirac delest. His final statement.

Chapter Six

Ax

The hirac delest was nondescript, small, about the diameter of a human computer disk, but thicker. No passing human or Yeerk would have noticed it, but I had spotted it lying in a corner tucked beneath a wall.

Tobias and I took it back to my scoop. He morphed to human and carried it in his hands. Be careful, I told him.

"Don't worry. I won't drop it," he promised me.

We reached my scoop without incident. We went inside and demorphed. The hirac delest was lying on the ground next to my television. I watched it the whole time. I was almost afraid it would disappear.

Do you want to listen to it now? Tobias asked. He was sitting on a low branch that protruded into my scoop. He often sat there when we talked or watched television together.

I was suddenly exhausted. My brother's final statement. These were the last words I would ever hear him speak. I wasn't sure whether I should listen to it immediately or wait, and listen later. Part of me wanted to be alone when I heard it, and part of me was afraid of being alone. Finally, after a long silence, I said, I am very tired right now. I know you are seeing Rachel tomorrow afternoon. Could we listen to it tomorrow evening?

We? Are you sure you want me there? This is really private, Tobias said.

I know. But as you said, you were with Elfangor when he died. You were the last to leave him. Also – I am slightly afraid to listen to it alone.

After a brief hesitation, he said, I would be honored to listen to Elfangor's hirac delest with you.

Thank you, Tobias. I think I will sleep well tonight.

Do you want me to stay? I could sleep on this branch.

I was a little surprised to hear myself say, Yes, thank you.

I prepared for sleep, relaxing my tail and closing my main eyes. After a few minutes I opened them again. Tobias?

Yes, he answered in the darkness.

Did I ever tell you what a shorm is?

No, I don't think you've mentioned that.

Shorm, I said quietly, means "tailblade." A shorm is a deep friend, someone you trust with all your secrets, someone who knows everything there is to know about you. Someone who could put their tailblade to your throat and you wouldn't have to worry.

For a moment there was silence. Then Tobias said, Are we shorm?

I think so, I replied. I did not hesitate to ask you to listen to Elfangor's hirac delest with me. But . . . please don't tell the others. Even Rachel. Perhaps after I listen to it for the first time . . .

I understand, Ax-man. This is your call.

I fell asleep shortly after. I dreamt of my brother again, but they weren't the tortuous dreams of his final moments, and they didn't leave me as sad as the ones the night before.

Chapter Seven

Tobias

I woke up as dawn was breaking. Ax was still asleep, his tail limp against the ground, his main eyes closed, and his stalk eyes half shut. I looked up at the sky and watched the sun rise, something I often did. I thought briefly about what was most likely on that disk. I was nervous about Ax hearing it, but also glad that I didn't have to tell him. After a few minutes, I opened my wings and swooped off the branch in search of breakfast.

I returned about an hour later with my stomach full of fresh mouse meat. Ax was waking up slowly and reluctantly.

Rise and shine, I said cheerfully. He opened one stalk eye and looked at me with something resembling annoyance. C'mon, Ax-man. It's a new day.

I'm still tired, he said, unusually grumpy. Ax is normally a morning person. I slept all night and most of yesterday, and all I want to do is fall asleep again. He shook his head like he was trying to clear it.

Well, you went through an emotional wringer yesterday, I reminded him. That can be extremely tiring.

I suppose so, he said.

Look, eat some breakfast and stretch your muscles. Do your morning ritual. You'll probably feel better then. If you want, I'll stay here with the disk.

Okay, he said with a sigh. With all the enthusiasm of Cassie when Rachel's dragging her out shopping, Ax trotted off toward the stream.

He returned about an hour later. Feel better? I asked.

Slightly, he answered. I morphed to human and flicked on the TV. I channel surfed until I hit a rerun of Life Goes On, but I turned it because it looked depressing. Ax did not need a depressing show.

Finally I came across an old Mad About You episode. Ax, do you want to watch – Ax? He looked half asleep.

What? he replied groggily. Oh. I'm sorry, Tobias. I turned the TV off.

Maybe I should tell Rachel that I can't see her until tomorrow. Maybe we should listen to that disk now. It seems to be sucking the energy out of you.

He sighed. No, see Rachel. I think I will try to sleep – again. He sounded frustrated with himself, like it was his fault he was so tired and depressed.

Are you sure?

Yes.

Okay. I'll see you later then.

I flew off and met Rachel at the edge of my meadow. I was late.

"Where were you?" she asked impatiently as I landed on her shoulder. I tried not to dig my talons in.

I spent the night on a branch next to Ax's scoop.

"How's he doing?"

Not great. He's exhausted, even though he's slept about nineteen of the last twenty-four hours. It's like Elfangor's death just hit him out of nowhere, even though he's known about it for months.

"Did going to the construction site help?"

Yes and no. It seemed to last night, and he definitely slept easier. But this morning he woke up tired and just hasn't been able to get out of this funk.

"Tell him we all hope he feels better. It was like pulling teeth yesterday to keep Cassie from running out and trying to mother him."

It's probably better just to let him be for a little while. What do you want to do?

"I don't know. You want to go flying?"

Sure. Anywhere but over that construction site. And I want to check on Ax once more before we leave.

Rachel morphed and we took off. I snuck a look in Ax's scoop as we passed by. He was out cold.

Chapter Eight

Ax

I woke about six o'clock as Tobias was coming back. He landed on his branch and began preening his feathers. You up? he asked.

Yes, I answered a little drowsily. How is Rachel?

Good. She says to tell you that they all hope you feel better. She's says she had a hard time keeping Cassie from running out here and playing mother hen yesterday.

I smiled faintly. Ah-ha! Tobias said triumphantly. That's the first look of non-depression to cross your face in two days.

Cassie has a very maternal nature. You – you didn't tell Rachel about the hirac delest, did you?

You asked me not to, so I didn't, Tobias answered.

Thank you.

Are you ready? he asked.

No – part of me wants to put this off as long as possible.

You need to do this, Ax. Do you mind if I morph to human first?

No, that's fine. But why? I asked, puzzled.

I don't know. I just . . . I guess I was human when I met your brother, so I guess I should be human when I say good-bye.

I suddenly couldn't move. Say good-bye. That was what I was doing. I was saying good-bye to my brother. After this, I could listen to his hirac delest every day for the rest of my life if I wanted, but this was the last time I would truly hear him speak. I do not want to do this, I whispered, my thought speech almost inaudible.

You need to, Ax. I think it will really help you. Once again, Tobias was right.

He morphed to human and sat on the floor of my scoop. I took the disk and held it in my trembling hands, pressing my fingers against it. The disk read my DNA. You are authorized to access the hirac delest. I inhaled deeply and touched the small start pad on the side of the disk.

My name is Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul. I am an Andalite Prince. And I am about to die. I closed my eyes and lowered my tail.

Chapter Nine

Tobias

Listening to the hirac delest took about an hour. From his reaction I guessed that Ax hadn't heard most of what was on the disk before. He didn't say much, just sort of stood there with his eyes closed and his tail limp. When Elfangor told of how Visser Three had come to infest War-Prince Alloran's body, Ax's eyes opened and widened. When he spoke of the Time Matrix and his battle against Visser Three, his eyes widened again.

I knew Visser Three had a personal hostility toward my brother, but I never knew why, Ax murmured at one point.

Then we reached the end, and the part I half-dreaded came. He could only be Loren's son. My son. Ax's head whipped up and he stared at me.

Soon after, the hirac delest came to an end with Elfangor's final word, Hope . . . Ax turned the disk off and laid it on the floor. He was silent for what was probably about thirty seconds, but felt like hours.

You knew, he finally said flatly. You weren't surprised. You knew and you didn't tell me! His voice rose at the end, almost like a shriek.

"Yes, I knew," I replied, my voice choked. "That Aria woman, remember? I never told any of you what happened that day, what I found out. This is what I found out. He left me a letter . . ."

How could you not have told me?! Ax cried. He was my brother! His breathing was rough and uneven.

"You wouldn't have believed me," I whispered. "I almost didn't believe me. I – I was going to tell you last night, but then we found the hirac delest . . ."

We are shorm, Tobias. Shorms don't keep secrets, he said, but he was calming down, and sounded more hurt than angry. Why didn't he tell me? Why didn't my brother tell me? he finally said after a long silence.

"You idolized him, Ax. You had him on a pedestal that it was impossible for him to live up to. But he didn't want to let you down by admitting that he ran away."

Ax didn't say anything. Finally he said, Tomorrow . . . could you ask the others to come? They should listen to this, also.

"Yeah," I agreed. "I'll tell Jake." Ax and I sat there for awhile, not talking. He still hadn't lost his shocked look.

After about forty minutes I demorphed and said, I should go talk to Jake. Ax nodded.

Are you going to be okay? I asked.

Yes, eventually, Ax replied, sounding dazed.

I'll check back in before I go to sleep. He nodded again.

Chapter Ten

Ax

The next day the others gathered at my scoop. Tobias hadn't told them why I wanted them to come, just that they needed to be there.

"Okay, we're all here. What's up, Ax?" Prince Jake said.

I paused for a moment, trying to think of what to say. Finally, I began, When an Andalite, especially an Andalite warrior, is dying, it is our custom that they make a final statement – a hirac delest. When you told me that Elfangor's fighter had been destroyed by Visser Three, I assumed that his hirac delest had been destroyed also. However, when Tobias and I went to the construction site last night, we found it. I held it out in my palm. My friends stared at it.

"So that disk has Elfangor's last words on it?" Marco said.

Yes, I replied quietly.

"Can we listen to it?" Cassie asked gently.

Yes, I said again. Tobias and I have already heard it, but I think it is important for you to hear it also.

The others sat on the ground in my scoop in a half circle. I pressed the start pad, and Elfangor's voice began. Most of my friends closed their eyes, and I saw Prince Jake take Cassie's hand.

Midway through the recording I morphed to human and sat next to my friends. Cassie was on my left and Tobias, also in his human morph, was on my right. Cassie reached out and touched my arm in a gesture of comfort.

When the hirac delest ended, there was a long, stunned silence. "Tobias," Rachel whispered. "Did you know?"

He nodded. "Yes, I knew. I found out that day when I went to that lawyer's office – you know, the trap that was set up by Visser Three. He'd found a letter to me from Elfangor and tracked me down. I acted like I didn't believe it, like it was ridiculous, and he bought it."

"I can't believe it," Cassie said in amazement. The others were just as astonished.

I stared at the ground while the others talked. Unlike Andalites, humans are a species very open to expressing emotion. However, something I hadn't experienced before, despite spending a great deal of time in my human morph, is their response to intense emotion – tears. Suddenly, my throat felt blocked and my eyes burned. The first time I had listened to the hirac delest, I had been too shocked by the news that Tobias was Elfangor's son to react to the recording itself. Now, hearing my brother after all this time, and knowing that this was all I had left of him, finally sank in. My eyes filled with hot tears and they spilled over. I reached up to wipe them away and try to stop them before my friends noticed, but Cassie caught my hand.

"It's okay," she whispered. "This is normal, Ax." She put her arms around me and I stiffened. Humans also use touch a great deal more than Andalites do, and it has taken me some time to become accustomed to it. After a moment I relaxed and lowered my head so it rested on her shoulder.

"I should have gone with him," I murmured as Cassie stroked my hair. "That day . . . I should have gone. Maybe he wouldn't have died. Perhaps I could have helped – " I broke off with a choked gasp.

"No," Cassie answered kindly. "There was nothing you could have done. It's not your fault."

As I said, Andalites did not evolve to cry in response to emotion. But as I sat there with my friends, the tears seemed wash away some of my grief. After about twenty minutes, I managed to stop. I pulled away from Cassie.

"Thank you," I whispered.

"No problem," she answered with a smile. She handed me a thin white cloth, and when I looked at it, unsure of what I was supposed to do, she used to it wipe the tears off my face.

"I'm sorry," I finally said, my voice sounding slightly strangled. I was suddenly embarrassed for having become so emotional in front of Rachel and Marco – and Prince Jake. For some reason, I did not feel that way about Cassie and Tobias.

"Don't sweat it, Ax-man," Marco said. I was surprised. I had almost been expecting some type of disparaging remark from him. "I cried myself to sleep every night for two years after my mom disappeared." Marco's mother was Visser One, the most powerful Visser in the Yeerk empire. Marco's father, and all other free humans, thought she was dead.

"Yeah, it's good for you to get it out of your system," Prince Jake said. Rachel nodded in agreement.

"What time is it?" Prince Jake suddenly asked.

Rachel checked her watch. "It's five-oh-five."

"Oh, crap! My dad said to be home at five." He suddenly bolted up from the floor. "I'll see you guys later. 'Bye, Ax."

"Good-bye, Prince Jake," I replied.

"Don't call me 'prince,'" he reminded me.

"Yes, Prince Jake," I answered. I smiled shakily with my human mouth as the others shook their heads. They left soon after Prince Jake. Tobias and I sat alone in my scoop.

How are you? he asked after awhile. We were back in our natural forms.

I feel better, I answered. I will always miss him, though.

Yeah, it never really goes away. I wish I'd been able to know him.

I studied Tobias with all four of my eyes. I knew my brother very well, Tobias. And I can see some of him in you. It is very comforting for me.

Tobias said nothing for a moment. Then he said softly, Ax-man, that is maybe the greatest compliment I will ever receive.